(this is the second in a series. the first story here: https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/855s6w/)
Mark was not happy about his promotion.
The way he saw it, his old job was the best possible position. The highest pay for the lowest risk. All you had to do was stand there for a couple hours, and then change out. You weren’t dealing with the violent or magic prisoners, but you made enough to buy some luxuries from time to time. A whole lot better than some of the other jobs out there. And he had worked hard to get to where he was! He had climbed through the ranks in just a couple months! Maybe he was too good, he thought as he stood glumly in the captain’s office.
“To put it simply, we’re short on guards.” The captain rubbed his temples. “And I've been under a lot of pressure from the guys up top since the last breakout. I’m promoting you to cellblock B2 duty.”
“Yes sir.” Mark nodded.
“You only get a couple crystals, since it’s just B2. You shouldn’t need any wards or anything, but it might vary from shift to shift. We’ll let you know. Have Paris grab your stuff from storage, and here’s your designation.”
The captain pulled a pin with a bold “2” on it out from a drawer. The color of the pin was blue, or so Mark was told. He was colorblind.
After grabbing a bag of crystals from Paris, the equipment supplier, he trudged down the hall to the elevator.
“I need floor-” He began.
“A20.” The elevator operator pressed the button and grinned at him. “How’re the husbands?”
“Actually, I need B2.” Mark sighed.
“Got promoted, eh?” The operator raised an eyebrow. “Oh, I should’ve noticed the crystals.”
“That’s rough, buddy. My nephew’s fiance used to work down in the B levels. Got cursed pretty badly in one of the breakouts.” Noticing Mark’s face, the operator quickly switched gears. “But of course, he was working in B10. You know, elementals and the like. B2 should be a piece of cake.”
“Piece of cake,” Mark repeated gloomily as the elevator dinged open.
“Hey, and uh, after your shift, I’ll buy you a beer on the house. To celebrate your promotion.”
“Sure thing, Nate.” Mark tipped his hat at the operator and continued down the hall. A bored-looking guard was leaning against the wall.
“You the new guy?” She asked.
“That’s me.” He answered.
“It’s been pretty quiet these past couple weeks- only people on this level are some long-timers right now, about four total. B2105 just went on trial two days ago and should be back any day now. Think you can handle it?”
“Sure.” Mark shrugged.
“Alright, have fun.” The guard handed him the keys and walked off towards the elevator.
Mark clipped the keys to his belt and walked back and forth across the hall. Just like the guard had said, all there was were some dejected-looking people huddled in the corners of their cells. B2 wasn’t the worst place to guard- like the operator had said, he could be working down in B10. All there was on this level were some basic mages. Ones that might’ve crossed the line and broken the law, but only just a bit. Mark perked up. Maybe this wasn’t so bad. He usually avoided any contact with mages, even the ones that worked for the captain, but if this was all they were-
“I can walk, you know.” A protest echoed down the hall. Mark quickly put a hand on his keys and hurried to the prisoner's entrance.
“Hey, there. Can we see some ID?”
Mark held out his wrist, and the lead guard of the convoy scanned the embedded chip. There were three guards total and a handcuffed prisoner. The prisoner was standing in the middle of all of them and gazed sullenly at Mark.
“This is B2105.” The guard nodded when the scan came back. “Should be in here for a couple more days before heading out to the service center. The trial didn’t go great for them.”
B2105 flinched back when Mark reached out to take their arm. “I just told these guys that I can walk by myself fine. What am I going to do? Make a run for it?”
They gestured with their cuffed hands to the triple-locked security system that brought mage prisoners down into the B block. All sorts of wards and harming spells were etched onto the floor and elevator doors.
“Fine. But walk in front of me. You know the way to your cell, I presume?”
“Yeah.” B2105 rolled their eyes and began leading the way down the corridor. Mark nodded to the security team and hurried to catch up to them.
“My name’s Sam, by the way.” B2105 turned the corner and sat down on the bed in their cell.
Mark didn’t say anything as he closed and locked the door to their cell. He stood outside of it- he had a pretty good view of all of the other prisoners, and B2105 seemed the most likely to cause trouble.
“B2105 is kind of a mouthful. It’ll be easier if you know my name.”
“Why would I need to address you at all?” Mark asked. “You’re going to be gone soon.”
“Yeah…” Sam winced. “To the service center. I hate that place.”
“You’ve been there before?” Mark asked, despite himself.
“Yep. Three times, actually. I had a relatively short sentence each time, but they start upping the length the more you’re there. This time I think it’s gonna be six months.”
“Three times being an indentured servant wasn’t enough to teach you to follow the law?”
“I thought I had it this time!” Sam exclaimed. A prisoner stirred. “I was leaving town in a day, right? All I did was a little tiny bit of Object Magic. How should I have known that they had a backup?”
“You could just not break the law,” Mark suggested.
“The laws on magic use are stupid. Did you know that government mages are allowed to use whatever magic they want? Even Blood and Death Magic? Object Magic is nothing compared to that.”
“What’s the service center like?” Mark changed the subject. He didn’t particularly enjoy talking about magic, especially the kinds.
“The service center?” Sam laughed. “They just put you in a cell- that’s a lot smaller than these, by the way, and then they put you through all sorts of tests to see what you’re good at- the types of legal magic, physical labor, household chores. And then, when someone requests a specific service, the center rents you out to them, which happens over and over until your sentence is done.”
“And three times of that weren’t enough to make you stop?”
Sam shrugged. “It’s more spite than anything at this point.”
Mark heard the ding of the guard’s elevator, and the clomp of boots coming his way. He gave one last look at Sam and then left to go collect his free beer.