James McAllister: Last day on Earth
James McAllister is my Mass Effect: Andromeda Oc, who will be a squad member to @slugette ‘s Moon Ryder.
Thank you so much, @slugette for beta reading and for always encouraging me to keep writting! I’m so happy we’re doing this again! :D
The buzzing sound of an old electric system was muffled and lost beneath the cacophony of unintelligible conversations echoing all the way up to the high ceiling of the dirty concrete wall cafeteria. Beneath a set of blinking lamps that no one cared enough to replace, several men in a similar dress code greeted morning in the exact same way they had done the day before.
There was a certain religiosity in morning coffee and luckily, in the 6 years James McAllister had been serving in the London penitentiary, the inmates had learned to respect that. He sat alone during breakfast, at the table closest to the window, where a small ray of sunlight might decide to pay him a visit. He liked his coffee strong and black with no sugar, but he still enjoyed the routine of swirling the plastic spoon a couple of times before taking it lazily to his lips.
Long gone were the days of lurking the corridors and sneaking into the cafeteria in search of whatever crumbs the kitchen staff would hand out to him. These days his coffee was hot, the kitchen inmate picked the fresher slice of bread for him and his favourite spot was always waiting.
Boredom dictated that every morning he mentally reviewed the last chapter of whatever book he had been reading the night before. This day, however, his mind was elsewhere. Today, as he had learned just yesterday, was to be his last day in prison.
“You are granted place in the Hyperion arc if you so wish,” the grey haired middle aged lawyer James hadn’t seen since his trial had said as soon as he entered the visitor’s room, long after the visiting hours were over. James was to be discharged the following morning at the care of the Andromeda initiative, or serve the remainder of his time in prison. No explanations, news or messages from the outside world, just a proposition with no time to ponder. “I am not authorized to discuss further than your acceptance” was the only answer he was given as to why the Initiative was approaching a convicted murderer with such an offering.
A rough voice behind him called James back from his thoughts. “You’re in my seat, Princess.”
Now this was new. Rather, it was old, but it was definitely something that didn’t happen in recent years. James had enjoyed his hard won, but well deserved, “don’t-fuck-with-me” status, which meant no one would come up to him alone and expect to be left standing. So this tall, large man in his mid thirties had to be a newcomer, trying to pick a fight to leave an impression.
Such impressions in prison determined their survivability chances. If you were regarded as prey, your days were numbered. If the top dogs with underlings saw you as a competition, you wouldn’t last long either. This applied to the prison guards as well. Guards controlled half of everyone’s lives and needs, the inmates the other half. And it was hard telling who’s wrong side was worse to be at. No chance to to guess if you’d end up beaten, forced work, lose whatever little possessions you were allowed, or raped.
So James didn’t take it personally. Acting tough did seem like a good idea for him on his first day too.
He took a last sip of coffee before suddenly pushing his chair back at the same time as he jumped to his feet. In one quick movement, James took a step sideways, grabbed the new comer by the hair and slammed his face hard against the table. Twice.
The loud repeated sound of bones clashing metal hushed the cafeteria just enough for the running footsteps of the guards to echo on the worn out tile floor. Silence couldn’t be interpreted as surprise in this case, however, brawls were everyday’s business, but no one wanted the guards to think they had any part in it.
By the time the two guards stationed at the door reached James, the new inmate was already laying on his back on the floor, leaving only a small red puddle where his nose came in contact with the metal table. Now in this kind of situations, a blunt hit to the head would be customary. James braced for the impact that never came, and found himself treated as gently as to have his arms twisted behind his back.
“Enough, break it up!” said the guard, pushing James roughly to the front, “let’s go, asshole.”
“You’re gentle this morning” James teased, gambling with his luck as he always did, while being taken, handcuffed, through the damp smelly corridor, “someone lubed your pockets?”
“Shut up, fucker,” the guard barked pushing him to move faster.
James stopped on his tracks, turned around and look straight at the guard. Uncaged hatred lit his blue eyes, the sort of anger that was nursed for years, and was now pulsing to become more than a mere lullaby. “And if I don’t?”
The guard didn’t have time to answer, as James headbutted him hard across the face. It only took a second, and the man staggered momentarily, blood running down his nose and lips. James used his weight to trip him, and the guard hit the floor. James then kicked him hard on the stomach. Once, twice, three, and four times. Each time harder and more determined.
The corridor had cameras, of course, and other guards would come running in any minute, but not applying retribution when he had the chance tasted like consent. James kicked him once more, this time in the head. He wouldn’t be sated by killing this one guard, but it would be a start.
But just before delivering another blow, James stopped and tried to regain his composure. Whatever deal was made with the Andromeda Initiative, another death might end his chance of starting a new life. “Remember this moment and how easily I could have killed you,“ James told the guard gasping for breath before walking away.
He slammed the door open on his own and felt slightly underwhelmed that no sunlight blinded his eyes with the promise of freedom. The day was grey and desolate, as any London morning ought to be, with cold wind whistling through tight spaces and fat drops of rain hitting the courtyard.
Still unaware of what happened just on the other side of the door, the two guards stationed outside paid him no heed, focusing their interest on the vehicle parked on the other side of the street. Outside the barred gate, a black limousine and two men in suits stared at the prison and stood up straight as soon as they saw James.
James’ heart pounded fast, but he wasn’t sure if he was just eager or angry. Were is parents inside the vehicle? In the 6 years he served in prison his mother and father haven’t visited him once. Were they ashamed of him? Disgusted? Did they fear him? Were they alright? “To hell with them” had been his determination years ago that he would stick with now, even if he couldn’t deny there was certain longing beneath all his wrath.
James exited into freedom with a steady but rushed pace, unsure of what would happen when the guard inside was discovered. And the first drops of rain touched his skin. A million small freezing needles stung his face one by one, and in the first second, James could almost count them. But it wasn’t the touch of the cold water that startled him, for more often than not the prison showers had nothing but freezing water. The fact was that it was dropping from the sky. So high above him. Freedom was pouring heavily down on his head, cold, overwhelming and unstoppable, crushing him on the spot. Had he been alone he would have fallen to his knees and laughed, instead he closed his eyes, wiped his face and moved on.
As he reached the limousine, the driver opened the backseat door for him. James stopped and looked at the man before entering. He wasn’t sure if he had been able to hide his shock at the words the driver had just spoke. They echoed something so distant and almost unreal, that James couldn’t help but wondered for a second if there was still even a trace of the bright and promising young man who had crossed that gate all those years ago. He knew who he had been when he was brought up there, and he knew who he had become in prison. He wasn’t sure who would be getting out. “Good morning, Mr McAllister,” the man had said respectfully as he opened the door.