No Reflections
rating: +15+x

No Reflections

Joseph Minster didn't deserve the death penalty. After all, he was innocent! At least, that's what the evidence said. At least, that's what his lawyer said. Joe thought back to that conversation, held in a dimly lit office not much bigger than the cell where he was now confined. "You'd be a fool to take that plea bargain," the lawyer had said, seemingly full of confidence, "the only reason they're offering it is because they know this case won't stick. It's too high profile!" Joe remembered how that sleeze had grinned as he gave his explanation, "You've already been hanged in the court of public opinion. The DA trumped up the charges to satisfy the mob, but they have no way to prove aggravated murder. Maybe they could get you on second degree. Manslaughter? Then you'd be in some trouble. But aggravated? First degree? No way! The guy's dead, and you did it, they've got hard evidence on that. But they've got nothin' for intent."

The man thought he was so slick, and he'd talked a good game as far as Joe could tell. He made it sound easy. Joe should've known it was too good to be true. Should've known not to trust… him. What was his name? Joe realized that he couldn't remember, but supposed it didn't matter. That guy was a fraud in a cheap suit. The only thing slick about him was the grease in his hair. Joe shouldn't have listened to him. He should've gotten life in prison. They'd had his fingerprints and a witness for god's sake! There was no way they wouldn't have convicted him! But the lawyer had kept on talking and Joe had kept on listening.

"Look, we're in Illinois, not Texas. No jury here is going to approve the death penalty. A life sentence is the most the prosecution could go for, and that ain't how a plea deal is supposed to work. They're supposed to show you a stick, and offer a carrot… or uh, a slightly smaller stick, I suppose. Instead, they offered you the biggest stick they got, because they wanna scare you enough that you won't realize they can't swing it. And if they do, you're only getting exactly what you'd get if you took the plea bargain! You've got no incentive, trust me." And he had. The man threw him a lifeline, so he grabbed it.

And sunk like a stone.

He'd appealed the decision, of course, and that's when someone approached him with another bargain. One month of work at some secret facility, and he'd be free to go. He should've gotten life in prison. This was his way out.

He was still a prisoner, obviously. He still slept in a cell, still wore an orange jumpsuit, still ate the same awful food. The difference was that he knew it was temporary. Now he had hope, and that was all he needed.

There were other differences too, the nature of his work being the most obvious. Joe saw things in this place he never would've believed before, and heard about more that he never could've imagined. But there were smaller differences too. Little details, easy to overlook if you didn't care. In prison, Joe had seen all kinds of haircuts and styles. Here though, the D-class all had military-short buzz cuts. Another way to strip them of their individuality, he supposed, like their numbers.

It must be easier to send us to our deaths if they think we're all the same, Joe thought to himself as he walked through the cafeteria one day. He was waiting in line for his second daily dose of nutrition (he refused to call that stuff "food"). Moving through a sea of orange, he understood his exact value in the eyes of the Foundation. I'm just another criminal to them.

"The 'D' stands for 'disposable'," he'd been told on his first day, alongside a number of other new conscripts, "because that's exactly what you are if you cease to cooperate." The introductory speech had been brief, but absolutely clear. Their work was important, but potentially extremely dangerous. That was why people like them were selected for certain tasks. Joe looked around the room at his fellows, some eating, some laughing, some staring sullenly at nothing. He wondered how many of them would survive their month.

It doesn't matter how many of them survive. I just need to make sure I do.

He remembered the end of the speech clearly, "Yes, D-class die. But believe it or not, we try to make sure that happens as little as possible. You're disposable, but you're not cheap, and there isn't an endless supply of qualified inmates. Just do what you're told, keep your wits about you, and you'll probably be fine." So that's what Joe did. He kept in line. For two weeks now, he'd done what he was told without question, and for two weeks, he hadn't died.

A puddle of over-boiled vegetables and some kind of processed meat patty were dispensed onto his tray, and he began to look for a relatively empty table. Joe didn't see much point in socializing with the other D-class. None of them were here on a long-term basis, and most of them weren't really social creatures anyway. He spotted a table with only two occupants and turned to walk towards it. As he turned though, another man pivoted to stand up from his stool and bumped right into him. In an attempt to keep his tray from spilling, Joe stumbled through the smaller man, who promptly fell back onto his seat. Had the stool not been bolted in place, he may have fallen all the way to the floor. But it was, so he was saved from that embarrassment, at least.

Hoping to leave well enough alone, Joe continued awkwardly on his way. Unfortunately, the other man had too much pride or too little sense for that. Possibly both. "Hey! Watch where you're going old man!" Joe rolled his eyes and kept walking. "Old man"? Was that really the best he could come up with? The other man looked to be in his early twenties, certainly younger than Joe, but not that much younger.

"Hey, I'm talking to you old man! Are you deaf and blind?"

Joe sighed and turned around. He wasn't surprised to see the other man had again gotten up from his seat and was now walking towards him. "No, you're just stupid. Now-" Joe was going to say "walk away before you do something to prove it," but the smaller man beat him to the punch. Right in the nose. Joe took the hit without flinching and glanced at some guards by the wall. They had apparently decided that the situation did not require their interference. Not yet.

Joe let go of his tray with one hand and grabbed the other man by the shoulder. The man tried to pull back, but Joe's grip was firm. He tried to resist as Joe physically moved him down the row of tables, but he weighed maybe 120 pounds, soaking wet. How a twig like him ended up here, Joe had no idea. He moved the man back to his stool and pushed him down. Without letting go of his shoulder, Joe leaned forward, "Listen here, you little punk," he said, "I don't know where you think you are, but this isn't prison, and it ain't the streets. Look around you." The man took a moment to react, but then slowly turned his head to take in his surroundings, his eyes flicking back to Joe as he did so. "Look at these guys," Joe continued, "no one here cares how tough you think you are, because you're not. And even if you were, it wouldn't matter. I saw three men die today at the hands of a monster I literally can't describe. Do you honestly think I care about a skinny little shit like you?"

The man didn't respond.


"We're here to do a job. We do it right, and maybe some of us get out of here. Focus on that, and let your stupid little pride get you killed somewhere else." Joe let go. The man did not get up. Joe decided to look for a new table, he wanted some distance from that man, just in case. As he walked, he noticed a warm wetness dripping onto his lips. He touched gingerly at his nose. Broken. Joe looked at his tray and saw a spatter of blood had dripped on it. Whatever, maybe that would make it taste better.

The table he ended up sitting at was almost full, but he didn't care at this point. He just wanted to finish his meal in peace. "Was that true?" Joe looked up from his food, one of the men sitting across from him had asked the question, but he wasn't sure which one, or how he should answer. "Hmm?" he asked, glancing at the two men closest to him. It was the one on the left who had spoken, a thin man with thinner hair. "Was it true," he asked again, "that thing you said about three people dying?" Joe shrugged noncommittally. He hadn't actually seen anyone die that day. He hadn't seen any indescribable horrors either. But should he tell them that? I suppose it doesn't matter.

"Nah," he said around a mouthful of the vegetables, "I just cleaned up some kind of black goo and fed it to a bag with teeth. It was weird, but not really terrifying." The other man cocked his head slightly, and his eyebrows furrowed. "So… why'd you say that, then?" Joe thought about the question before answering. "The guy's an idiot," he finally said, "I just told him what he needed to hear to get a proper sense of perspective." The thin man chuckled, and Joe might've smiled in return if the stuff he was eating wasn't so awful. Blood did not make it taste better, apparently. "I'm Craig, by the way," the man said, holding a hand out across the table. Joe hesitated briefly, then shook his hand. "Joe," he said. With the social ritual complete, the two men released their grips and resumed eating.

When Joe returned to his cell at the end of the day, he had intended to look in a mirror and see how crooked his nose was. It was only then that he realized that his cell didn't actually have a mirror. One more difference from prison, he thought. In prison, his cell had had a small mirror mounted to the wall above his sink. Not glass, for obvious reasons, but a sheet of reflective metal that served well enough. Here though, all he had were dull, grey walls. Of course those are the same. Joe found the thought oddly discomforting as he went to sleep.

The next day, Joe woke up sore all over. This had happened every day since he came here. "Stupid, cheap mattress," he muttered as he cracked his joints and stretched his limbs. While waiting for whatever task he'd have to perform that day, Joe brushed his teeth, drank some water, and dropped to the floor. Some people in confinement let their bodies waste away, but he wasn't one of them. He began doing pushups. Not so many that he would have trouble with his work later, just enough to get his blood flowing. He was going to make sure he was ready for whatever got thrown at him. He was not going to die here. He did not deserve the death penalty.

Later, as he was shuttled from one location to another, Joe kept an eye out for a mirror, or some other sufficiently reflective surface. He still wanted to get a look at his nose. After a few hours though, he became frustrated with how dull everything was. Not only were there no mirrors, there were no windows either, and the metal doors were all painted various shades of boring. Eventually, it became less about seeing the damage to his face and more of a personal challenge. There had to be something around here that was at least a little reflective, and he was going to find it.

That day, Joe was brought to the cafeteria for lunch at 11:30 rather than noon. He wondered if that was due to yesterday's mishap, or if the D-class schedules were regularly shuffled to keep them from getting too comfortable. He decided it was probably both.

He received his rations, some kind of chowder this time, and once again pondered where to sit. As he scanned the crowd, he noticed a familiar face. It's Craig, he realized, they must've changed his meal times too. Moving quickly, before he could second-guess his plan of action, Joe walked across the cafeteria and sat in the empty seat beside the man he'd met yesterday.

"Hey, Craig, funny seeing you here," he said. It sounded stupid even as he said it, but he didn't care. He wasn't here for small talk. Craig looked up, mildly surprised at hearing his name. "Oh it's you!" he said with a grin, "see anyone die a horrible death today?"

"Oh, um… nahhh, heh," Joe said, trying to force a laugh, he ended up just clearing his throat. A big man at the far side of the table looked at him with a placid, almost uninterested gaze, the man beside him with a weaselly face glanced briefly at Joe before looking back at his own trey. Joe continued, "Hey um, have any of you guys seen any mirrors around this place?" The big guy furrowed his eyebrows, Weasel looked at Joe suspiciously and glanced around, but didn't say anything.

"Mirrors?" Craig asked, "Why? You hear rumours about an anomaly or something?" Joe shook his head, "No, nothing like that. I mean just a regular mirror, or anything you could look at your reflection in, really. I don't think I've seen one since I got here." Weasel smirked, without looking up he said, "For you, I think that's for the best." Joe rolled bis eyes, then Craig sopke up again,  "I hadn't really thought about it, but I can't remember seeing any. What about you, Pedro?"

"No." The big man spoke softly, but with a strong voice, one of Weasel's eyes twitched at the sound, "I haven't seen any either. It's weird."

"To be fair though, this whole place is weird," the Craig said, earning shrugs of general agreement from the others. "Well, it's pretty obvious why you want one," he continued, "any idea why they wouldn't have them?" "I don't know," Joe confessed, "but they were pretty thorough about it. I've been looking since yesterday and haven't found anything."

Pedro seemed a bit more interested now. "My abuela used to say that mirrors can act like doorways for spirits," he said, "I never really believed in stuff like that, but now…" he let the thought hang in the air, and the rest of them nodded. This was a place where anything could be real.

"It's gotta be something locked up here, specifically," Craig said, gesturing around with his spoon, "they've got something that does something with mirrors, so they gotta keep it away from them." Pedro, nodded at this, but Weasel, was unconvinced. "They've still got rearview mirrors on their cars, right? We saw them when they brought us here." "Did we?" Joe asked, "I don't know about you, but when I was brought in, I was a bit too preoccupied to notice whether or not the cars were road-legal." "I don't think these guys care too much about the law, anyways," Pedro added.

"Maybe you didn't see them," Weasel retorted, "but I did. Granted, it's an easy detail to miss, but I'm attentive." "Is that what you call it?" Craig asked, quickly looking around with exaggerated jerks of his head. They all laughed at that, and it felt good. Joe couldn't remember the last time he'd had a good, honest laugh about something. His life had been a mess before he got here, even before he'd become a killer. He'd been cycling between dead-end jobs and unemployment, skirting the edge of homelessness, and generally focused more on his next fix than his next meal. When he got out of here, all of that would change. He didn't deserve the death penalty. He should've gotten life in prison. This was his second chance.

"-ven if they do have mirrors on their cars, that wouldn't matter if they were far enough away," it was Craig talking again, Joe realized that he'd been spacing out. "It would have to have some kind of limits to its range or keeping mirrors out of the facility wouldn't matter. It would just use one somewhere else in the world." "Unless the thing is outside, and they're trying to keep it from getting in," Pedro suggested. "Maybe," Weasel allowed, "but I don't think it has to do with an anomaly at all. It's about us." "How do you figure? Joe asked.

Weasel seemed all to glad to explain himself, "It's all about control," he said with a confident grin, "they wanna make sure we know our place. TV, books, windows, mirrors, all things we might get in prison we can't get here. We won't be here long enough for stuff like that to matter one way or another. They wanna make sure we know that. I guarantee that if you went into the guards' barracks or one of the proper employee bathrooms, they've got mirrors, a magazine rack, hell, they've probably got vending machines!" Craig laughed, "I guarantee that if you went into the guards' barracks, you'd be shot!" They laughed again, despite their circumstances, and because of them. It's the one thing they haven't taken away from us, Joe thought with a smile, our laughter.

When the half hour ended, they all went their separate ways. Joe was made to go with a group of six other D-class and three guards. The guards didn't say where they were going, and no one asked. They just started walking. So they went, through checkpoints and down corridors, until they arrived in a part of the facility that Joe didn't think he'd been to before. Granted, it was hard to tell since it looked the same as every part he had been to, but he thought it smelled… different. Less sterile, more fresh. Maybe we're close to the outside. The thought gave him hope. Not hope of escape, that would be stupid. The feeling wasn't well defined, but promised that the future would be better than the past.

As they walked, Joe paid close attention to his surroundings. There still wasn't anything reflective, but the conversation at lunch had given him another idea. When he saw what he needed, he steeled his nerve, stopped in his tracks and asked, "Hey, can I use the bathroom?" It was poorly timed, the D-class walking behind him didn't react quickly enough and bumped into him. "Dude, what the hell?" the other man complained as the group came to a stop around them.

"Keep walking," one of the guards ordered. "Sorry, sorry! I just really need to use the bathroom," Joe said, trying to sound as sincere as possible. "Then you should have gone during your regularly scheduled lunch break," the guard said with agitation, "Keep. Walking."

"You're right, you're right, that would've been smart! It's just, well, that wasn't my regularly scheduled lunch break. See, I usually eat at noon, but they moved me to 11:30 today, and…" Joe swallowed, "well, I know it sounds lame, but I really didn't have to go then!"

The guard made a sound somewhere between a sigh and a growl, "That is really not my problem." Joe tried to sound just the right kind of desperate, "I know, I know, you're right, I- I'm sorry. I don't wanna be a problem, I just also don't wanna piss myself! And there's a bathroom right there!" He pointed at the door they'd just passed. The guard looked over, and sure enough, the sign marked it as a restroom.

One of the other guards spoke up, "Just let him go, Hitch. The lab coats can wait an extra thirty seconds, who cares?" "Fine," the guard named Hitch conceded, "but you have to watch him and make sure he doesn't cause trouble. That isn't a monitored restroom." So they did have cameras in the D-class bathrooms. Not surprising, but still disconcerting. "Okay, if anyone else has to go too, say something now or forever hold your peace," the second guard ordered. No one said anything.

The guard went to the door, knocked, called inside, then waived Joe over. Here we go… This was it. This was the place where Joe thought he was most likely to find a mirror. His heart was pounding, and he realized just how ridiculous he was for taking this so seriously. He chuckled despite himself as he walked towards the door. The guard must have taken it as a sign of nervousness, but showed no concern. "Just hurry up, I'm not gonna hurt you," the guard said, rolling his eyes. Joe nodded, "Y-yeah." He took a deep breath, pushed on the door…

And was met by the sight of a toilet, a sink, and three empty walls.

He walked in, feeling deflated, and the guard followed. He knew it would look suspicious if he suddenly decided not to go after all, so he walked over to the toilet and did his business. As he did, Joe saw a small trash can nestled between the toilet and the wall. A discarded newspaper was rolled up inside of it. Not much of a magazine rack, Weasel. As he bent over to flush, Joe reached out and grabbed the newspaper. He might as well get something out of this charade…

"Hey," the guard said "what's that?"


"Just an old newspaper," Joe answered, unfurling it to quickly scan the front page. He hoped that the guard would let him keep it, but doubted that he'd be lucky enough to be granted two favours in such quick succession. "I don't think I've seen one since…" the sentence died on his lips. He read the date at the top of the page, closed his eyes hard, opened them, and read it again. It hadn't changed. It read "June 4th, 2017".

The guard was shouting something, but Joe couldn't hear him, couldn't see him tear the paper from his shaking hands. All he saw were those four numbers. They didn't make any sense. It wasn't 2017, it was 1995. He'd only been here for two weeks! And yet, as the world moved in a blur around him, certain details about those two weeks stood out to him. Names he couldn't remember, joints feeling sore and stiff, and behind it all, a stupid, twenty-something punk shouting at him, "old man!"

Joe didn't need a mirror anymore. He didn't want one. He was too afraid of what he knew he would see. Not just a badly broken nose, but wrinkles, dimming eyes, and grey, receding hair. His mind processed this as he was made to sit in a chair fashioned with restraints. A chair that he didn't remember getting strapped to hundreds of times before. He couldn't speak. Tears were streaming down his face, but he didn't make a sound. All he could think was that this wasn't fair. He shouldn't even be here! He… he hadn't deserved the death penalty. He should have gotten life in prison.

He did.

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License