What Have You Got to Lose
rating: +14+x

There were anomalies that needed attention, like the one just down the hall who kept speaking in riddles to confuse the guards. There were anomalies that needed the utmost care, like in the cell block just down the hall. Then there was Summer, and Summer had headphones.

And bitterness.

She wore them around her neck as she sat down at her bed to flip through the pages of a music magazine that featured her, however hidden away she may have been in its limited amount of hiding spaces. It was only forty-some pages long, mostly ads, and yet she had to do some serious digging to find out where she was buried in it.

“Aww, really?” she said out loud, noticing how the article didn’t even bother to spell her name right. “Who the hell is Summer Ruke? It’s Duke, you unbelievable assholes.”

She heard laughing outside of her cell as the guard, who was only stationed there because every other cell in the block had a guard and they didn’t want to give anyone ‘special treatment,’ spoke up as he was prone to do. “Gonna start calling you Ruke from now on.”

Summer offered the man a fake laugh and dropped the magazine on the floor beside her. It’s not like it mattered anymore. She and her headphones belonged to the Foundation to be ‘contained’ as if she was some kind of threat to civilization. Maybe if the music that came from her headphones was anomalous in some way, like a siren song luring in victims, but she couldn’t even have that.

“Big Slime moving day?” she asked, unlocking her Foundation-issued phone and browsing for current events. “Think it’s gonna go any better this time?”

The guard scoffed and said, “We were unprepared last time. You should see the new equipment they’ve got now. Never underestimate the Foundation, Ruke.”

“Mhm,” she breathed, “so many things to love about them…”

“Don’t gotta love ‘em, just gotta respect what they do.”

Summer faked a retching noise and went quiet. Hours passed as more and more boots touched the ground in the hallway outside in preparation to move what everyone knew as Big Slime in the next hallway over. Orders were hollered, doors were pried open, and ultimately, failure ensued.

Agents were thrown across the halls, devoured into its slimy mass, and eventually driven out of its way only to reconvene in the next hallway over. As its massive body passed by Summer’s room, its blue slime seeped into the corners of her door and puddled on the floor.

“Hey, whoa, c’mon now, we’re on the same side,” she said, watching it retreat from her door as she went back to scrolling on her phone.

Dinner was late that night, seeing as how the entire hallway needed to be scrubbed down, the cafeteria tables included. She pushed the slime away from the bench with her foot and sat down at her usual table, food tray in hand. It wasn’t the most talkative bunch in that cell block, so she would eat with her headphones on to block out the noise so she could eat in peace. It wasn’t that she didn’t like to be social, it was more that she was afraid of most of the others. Low-risk reality benders were still reality benders at the end of the day, and staying out of their way was high on her list of priorities in Foundation survival.

Luckily for her, she had her own way of escaping, the soothing wave of melodic bliss coming from her headphones washing over her, transporting her mind elsewhere to a place inhabited only by music and colors.

It was always a woman’s voice accompanied by a cacophony of synthetic sounds, all of which were various shapes and colors haphazardly swirling around the steady, pulsing line that was the beat. Sometimes that line would come to an abrupt end, leaving the orbiting shapes to float off on their own before another line came to pick up what was left and begin anew. The sky was a mix of pink and blue this time, setting over a calm, still sea that met with the edge of the world on the horizon. The song’s voice echoed and reverberated off invisible walls in the distance, stretching to hit its notes and flooding the world before vanishing seamlessly into several puffs of smoke.

She became reliant on them for sleeping, as the sounds of a not-prison-but-basically-still-prison cell block were about as pleasant as one would expect. The neon lights that lined the corners of her room would fade out, the world created by her headphones would seep in, and all else went by the wayside. It was a world only she could access, simultaneously giving her one of the greatest gifts of all as well as damning her to a life in custody.

Staff: 0, Inmates: 1

It wasn’t often she was woken up by an outside noise, but that morning’s struggle was loud enough for her to take her headphones off and peer out through the hatch in the center of her door. A maned wolf, with its long legs and fox-like face, roamed freely in the halls outside, objects swirling around it and crashing into walls like a tornado. Foundation staff was getting tangled in its vortex as Summer watched on, pushing her bleach blonde bangs to one side and eating from a bag of chips.

She needed a haircut, as well as a redye, maybe red or orange this time around to match her headphones. Closing the hatch on her door, she went to her bathroom and began brushing her teeth as the chaos outside only grew in volume. Placing her headphones back over her ears, she began swaying to the music, pointing to herself in the mirror as she did so.

Staff: 0, Inmates: 2

“Look,” the guard would say later in the day when the situation had been maintained. “It’s not like there’s any right way to handle these kinds of things, just gotta learn and move on. That’s what this new book I’m reading is about. Self-help for the realistic, y’know? Shit’s gonna happen, you just gotta learn how to deal with it.”

“Mhm,” Summer muttered under her breath.

“I mean, they want the entire hallway moved in less than a week? I’d say we’re doing the best we can, given how volatile some of these things are. But hey, if they need more low-threat living space, you gotta do what you gotta do, right?”

“And what volatile beasts are you tackling today?”

The guard audibly sighed and said, “Man, I don’t know…”

It was a series of toy soldiers with real, functional weaponry attached to their arms, but Summer didn’t bother to watch out of fear that they might find their way through the hatch. She wasn’t even sure how they could have messed that one up, as they were literally just a bunch of sentient toy soldiers, but she banished the thought. There were Twitter threads to read and music to be heard.

Staff: 0, Inmates: 3

Later that day, she came out of the shower in a bathrobe and heard the grunting of her old pal, the guard. “Did they get ya?” she asked.

“I don’t know why they’re all choosing this week to show us something new and dangerous about themselves, but I’m fed up with it. This week can’t be done and over with quickly enough.”

“Sounds rough,” she said. “But hey, only one more day!”

“Yeah…” he growled.

The hallway was littered with pebbles, janitorial staff sweeping it up as she sat down to eat in the cafeteria down a floor below. She finished eating early and got the attention of one of the guards standing by, chatting with another guard as they leaned against a pillar. “Hey, uh,” she began, “I wanna put in a request to get a haircut. And a new color, if possible? I’ll leave the details for the stylist, obviously”

The guard raised a clipboard and jotted it down, giving her a nod when she was finished.

“Thank you,” she said in return. “I love your eye makeup, by the way!”

She looked at herself in the mirror that night, wishing she had access to scissors so she could cut her bangs herself. It’s what she always did back when she lived a normal life, although that felt like years ago by then. It had only been less than one. Time passed by more slowly in containment, giving her all the more time to long for the days of freedom once more.

Before she laid down in bed for the night, she listened to the noise outside as usual, looking through the hatch to get a good look at that night’s guest of honor. Things… predictably went south, and quickly this time. Masked individuals, at least a dozen of them, stormed the halls and faded in and out of reality to catch the staff off guard. One such individual was making their way to her door specifically as she closed the hatch and took a step back.

The masked figure phased through the doorway and bent over forward to catch their breath. “Sorry for the intrusion,” they said between breaths.

“Hey, no problem,” Summer said with a shrug. “You, uh… lookin’ to escape?”

“That’s the plan,” they nodded. “I can get you out of this cell, if you want. Whoever you are, you don’t deserve to be trapped like a rat in here. Come with us.”

Summer gritted her teeth and inhaled sharply, saying, “Yeah, I don’t know about that…”

“What have you got to lose?” the figure asked as she took a seat on the edge of her bed.

She opened her mouth only for the words to fall out slowly. “Not… a lot. But a little.” She grabbed hold of her headphones and lifted them from around her neck. There was no way she was surviving without access to the other part of herself and she wouldn’t put it past them to punish her in that way. “But, uh, I wish you luck.”

“So be it,” they concluded. “And thank you. We’ll be needing it.”

As they phased back through the door, she heaved a sigh and fell backward onto her sheets. It pained her, it really did, but despite how incompetent of a showing the Foundation had put on the past week, she knew they were still the Foundation.

The noises subsided later into the night, for better or for worse, and she was left with the usual cell block sounds to block out with her headphones. She stared up at the ceiling as it transformed before her very eyes, parting ways to make room for a gravity-defying parade for her eyes only.

The next day was quieter. No alarms, no shouting, no calamity, just the normal distant chatter.

“Did they get out?” she asked through the door, the guard merely chuckling to himself.

“Of course not.”

She shook her head. “Shame. They seemed like good people.”

“No such thing.”

She wanted to say something, but pursed her lips instead, retreating to one side of the bed to get some more rest. There were no rules against sleeping in, as far as she knew.

Final Tally: The house always wins.

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