There are fates worse than death...
"You got a call!" the guard's voice booms out of the roof speaker at the same the time the armoured panel screen set into the wall of my cell lights up with usual message about what can and can't be said or done over the phone. "Ya wanna take it?" he asks.
"Yeah." I mumble."S'not like I was doing anything else..."
The link connects, and I'm surprised to see Ava Dawson's face appear. Her daughter was killed in the attempted robbery I was a part of, but she forgave me and worked hard for my clemency. She's red-eyed and crying.
"Hi Raylon; I just wanted to call you and tell you I'm thinking of you. I hope that even at this late hour you will allow Jesus into your heart and be saved by His grace." she sobs.
"Uh, thank you Mrs Dawson.
"Call me Ava."
"Well Ava, this means a lot to me; really it does. I just want to say I appreciate everything you've done for me over the years and I only wish I could have my time over again to do things differently. Believe me, I'm sorry. I wish this never would have happened."
There's a pause for a few seconds. We don't know what to say to each other; what you can say to each other at a time like this. Then Ava can't hold herself back any longer and new floods of years begin. "I'll keep praying for you." she says.
"Thank you, Mrs Dawson."
"Stay strong Raylon."
"Goodbye." and she hangs up.
Damn! I've just realised that'll probably be the last time I speak to her, and that brings it all back home. In less the two hours I'll be getting The Drip: Oh man, that makes me feel like shit. I wanna puke but I can't. Anyway I already ate my last meal a while back; it was nothing special, just the regular shit you get in here.
The countdown has already started. Truth is it's been running from the day I was born and life began sending me down this road. Time began running out when Mom died early, leaving me with no family; when I ran out of care and dropped out of school; when I had to do what I needed to do to survive; when I got hooked on what I was dealing; when I teamed up with Jaydee Watts and Terell Patterson when we decided to risk it all on one big gamble that went wrong...
Yeah, eight years ago; it doesn't seem possible. It shoulda been easy; all we had to do was roll up to the mini-mart just before it closed and drive away with the day's takings. If it had gone right we'd have been set up to get out of that crappy town and move our hustle in the city, but then it all went down. Shit, I'd hardly busted out of there when my getaway car was boxed in by cruisers responding to the silent alarm and a cop had his gun in my face.
What happened inside the store came out in the trial. The hiest was going down easy until Jaydee and Terell were leaving with the money. Then the dumb owner freaked and decided to play hero. He pulled out a gun and pointed it at Terell. Jaydee was high and twitchy; he shot the guy down, and Laurenne Dawson who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. My homies both ran out as the law arrived and died in a hail of police bullets. Under the Joint Enterprise law I was left holding the bag for the two homicides. It was an open and shut case. Bang! Down went the gavel and I was on Drip Row.
There's a countdown ticker on that screen. I can't take my eyes off it. Fact is that's all there is to look at in this cell; you don't get anything in here apart from three crappy meals a day and access to the religious book of your choice, but I never was one for reading or faith. My only human contact is with the wardens or medical staff, and sometimes I get a personal visit from my defense team, but most of the time their access is by remote link. I've been locked up in solitary like this most of the time; no TV, no internet, no magazines, no family visits as I don't have a family, no nothing but boredom. I can't even jack off because of the shit they put in the water. I ain't seen the daylight for so long I can't remember; it's all artificial light that only dims at night: That's how I know the days have passed. That and the rundown to The Date. It used to be a sentencing option, then an event which would take place sometime in the future, and then after all the hearings and appeals and assessments had dragged by a moment which suddenly speeded up to meet you. So here I am, waiting for my time to run out.
What the -? The screen lights again and the call gets connected right away without being screened. It has to be my lawyer. It is. He looks ragged and worn down.
"Mr Young, I just wanted you to know I'm still working on getting a stay, so don't give up. I'm hopeful a late filing to the virtual circuit will be accepted."
"But haven't you been doing that already? I thought you'd been through every way of stopping this thing!"
"Your team have been exploring every avenue we can think of Mr Young. This is a novel approach we've come up with; it may be highly proceedural, but if it works this could be the chink in the law's armor which could get your entire sentencing process reviewed."
"No shit!" As if life without parole in a supermax would be like scooping the state lottery, but compared to what I'm facing...
"I really believe this will work!" he says. Well maybe he is sure, but he's only the latest in a long line of public defenders to take on my case. I've seen all this before in previous review stages where an AI justice has been convinced by the right legal phrases, only to have the decision reversed by a human judge.
"And another thing; your advocate, Ms Aliza Villarreal has arrived on-scene. She's one of the best people we have. When you get the statutory opportunity to talk to her, you tell her right away if you think any part of the procedure isn't being carried out strictly according to the rules, and don't hold anything back!"
"Aw c'mon man! I'm going to get dripped! Isn't that one hell of a breach of procedures?"
"Listen up, I'm serious; given the right circumstances the sentencee's advocate has the power to order a suspension. She's on your side. Now I know we're going to the wire but I'm certain we'll win this. I've got to break off and present another deposition now, but I'll get back to you the moment there's any news, OK?"
"Hang on in there Mr Young; we're going to beat this! We'll talk again soon." and the call cuts out.
Whatever the attorney promises I'm not going to get my hopes up. I've had them raised too often and beaten right down again to be caught like that. Instead I'm gonna concentrate on wiping out any emotion inside me; to feel numb and hold it all in; to not let Them see how I am on the inside. What I feel right now is a cold fear gnawing at my insides, spreading up my spine, tickling my neck as well as shrinking my guts down to a small solid knot. I wonder if this isn't a part of Their plan to break me; to stretch my emotions all over the place and then give me false hope right up to the point where I'm strapped on to that bench and the truth crashes down on me like a heavy weight.
Time passes really slow, like endlessly, but then the cell door locks click back and it swings open. There's been no call. I'm out of time and out of luck. Filling the entrance are six big guards and Mason W Harrison, the head warden.
"It's time." he says. "Now we can do this the easy way, or the hard way. You don't wanna make it harder on yourself... You behave, and we keep the spit hood off, OK?" They all come spilling through and grab me by the arms and legs, hustling me out and throwing me into a wheelchair parked outside. I'm too shocked to struggle as they strap me into it. I've got goosebumps all over; they're actually gonna do this to me!
"Let's go!" says Harrison. Flanked by the guards I'm pushed along a corridor I've never been along before towards the Drip Suite. The route looks, even smells like a hospital gallery, but it isn't. Suddenly my senses are hyper aware and I can feel my heart thumping quickly in my chest, I feel faint, and short of breath. This is for fucking real man!
We arrive at the staging area. It's just like they explained the process in detail when I was evaluated to find out if I was mentally competent to understand the reason for my punishment. There's a small crowd of legal people in suits with slates in their hand and some selected media, cameras rolling. I'm gonna be leading the news again for the final time. The lights are brighter here and it hurts my eyes. Right away the Identity Verification Team go to work, taking my fingerprints and pointing a scanner at my eyes - like after all this time they might have got the wrong guy! - and I meet Ms Villarreal; too bad there's been nothing so far she can call a suspension over. The the prison governer steps forward and begins formally reading out all that official legal shit but I'm somewhere else, feeling detached from myself like I'm watching it all on TV. And then it all snaps back in again when he asks me if I have any final words to say.
Well here we go. I've had plenty of time to think it over, this is my last chance so I'd better make it a good one. "Yeah, I got something to say! Warden Harrison sucks lousy dick. You know he blows every inmate who gets dripped as a kinda goodbye thing, but he really sucks at it!" It's the law they gotta quote my last words; let's see them get out of that! Harrison freaks when he hears it; his face turns red and I swear he wants to lump me right there, but the governer faces him down and Ms Villarreal looks daggers at him like go ahead and I'll pull the plug on the whole show, so he does nothing apart from barking "Get him in there!" to the Restraint Team.
They wheel me into the Drip Room and I get my first sight of The Bench. It's a sick medical pale green color and covered by a clear plastic sheet. The door is closed and locked, then the goons get to work, unstrapping me from the wheelchair, then picking me up and throwing me down on the pad. They tie down most every part of me and make sure all those straps are cinched down real tight so I can't move. When they've finished they take the chair out with them; now it's the medics' turn. Each of the pair wearing scrubs rolls up one of my sleeves and swabs the inside of my elbow before pushing a needle deep into a vein, I can tell by the looks on their faces they enjoy hurting me. Then they pull two IV stands over - one for each arm - before setting up the bags of clear and colored fluid on them; and hooking the tubes into me.
This is The Drip. The two bags of clear stuff are there to make sure I don't get a bubble in my blood which could stop my heart or get to my brain and cause a stroke; it's as stupid as swabbing the catheter site, but They want to ensure my wellbeing right up to the end... What a fucking joke! The blue bag is the antidote, just in case a last-minute stay comes through, which I don't think it will. Anyway, it's only effective up to ten seconds after The Drip has been infused; after that it's too late. The red bag is the Bad Shit...
They've just about done now. One of them slips a wireless cuff around my wrist which will relay my vital signs, and the other opens a packet. In it is a gimp ball gag with a hole through the middle of it. It's supposed to stop me from biting myself or swallowing my tongue when the pain really kicks in. They prise my jaw open, check my tongue is depressed, and force it in there before pulling the headstrap tight so I can't spit it out. It stretches my jaws painfully wide. That done, they leave and close the door behind them with a solid, final clunk.
So here I am, alone. All I can see are the light panels in the ceiling, the bare, cream painted walls, the gurney parked in the corner they'll wheel me out on when it's all done, and The Drip. Now I'm just waiting for the remote controlled valve to be opened, and for that evil red fluid to inch down that thin tube toward my arm and start burning in my veins: There's not a damn thing I can do to stop it. So this is how it ends... Just waiting, waiting... No phone call's gonna save me now. Jesus, how long does it take to get started? Are They deliberately dragging it out some more?
After an age the Drip Suite door opens again. The medics are the first in followed by the Restraint Team and a really pissed off looking Harrison as well as Ms Villarreal.
"You've been granted a thirty day stay." she announces. "There's a preliminary hearing sheduled for next Tuesday, your attorney will brief you tomorrow, that's all I know." I don't know what to feel; yeah I'm relieved, but it's only thirty days before the chances are I'll be back in here with all hope gone.
"Get him back to the cell!" growls Harrison, the orderlies pull out the gag and tubes before bandaging me. Then I'm strapped back into the wheelchair before being pushed back to the room I thought I'd never see again. "Maintain him on suicide watch." orders the warden as the guards untie me. "I don't want him opening his veins and avoiding The Drip, you hear? You watch him real good!" They file out leaving just him and me.
"I bet you thought you were pretty smart, didn't ya?" he hisses quietly at me. "You think because you get the chance to cry off to any goddam lawyer or civil rights snowflake you can get away with the shit you pulled back there without any comeback... Yeah, well I may not be able to give you the whopping you so rightly deserve but you just remember this boy, In all my years here not one person sentenced to be dripped has ever wriggled out of it. Oh yes, a few of them managed to get stays like you, but they all got what was coming to them; every - single - one. You just think about that a while; because as sure as the sun rises every morning you're gonna get your due, and when you do I'll be looking on with a great big smile on my face. It's gonna make me so happy watching you thrashing around in agony as those nanobots tear you apart! You're gonna wish you were dead as they rewire your brain and nervous system to feel nothing but pain, but there's no escape and no parole from The Drip. You'll spend the rest of your natural life deaf and blind, eating tasteless liquid nutrients through a tube in your ball gag, feeling as if you're enduring the fiery torments of Hell! Your body's going to be wrecked so bad you couldn't even get off the holding facility bed if you weren't tied to it! You're going to get really fucked over boy! You'll become a twitching zombie forever pissing yourself and gasping for breath, but you'll have just enough of a mind left to be aware of yourself.
So are you still feeling smug? Still full of wisecracks, huh? Thirty days is all you've got left as a human being! Thirty days and the clock is running!" He gives me an evil sneer of a grin, turns and walks out, slamming the door behind him.
Yeah, thirty days... The countdown on the screen has been reset. 29 days, 23 hours, 49 minutes, 08 seconds... 07, 06, 05... I'd better try to get my head together, get my mind off of it, think of some new last words...