1 Chapter 1

Hera was sure that the sun would rise in the morning, as it did every morning. She was also sure that she would not be alive to see it.

She felt ready, on a physical level, for her death. Tense, rigid, cold as a stone. Ready for pain from whichever direction it would come. Ready to fight, and to go down fighting.

On an emotional level, she felt resigned. No, not resigned. Numb. Numb, because she had been consciously blocking her thoughts and feelings for some days now. Once she had made the decision that she would rather die than endure the abuse of the night guards, there was no need for thoughts and feelings anymore. Better to swallow them before they rose up the throat and choked her into cowardice. Better to clamp down on them with every muscle, every cell in her body, than to let them bubble over and cripple her into inaction. No. She didn't need thoughts and feelings anymore.

She lay still on the bottom bunk of her prison cell, eyes closed, breathing in and out, filling her cold numb lungs with more cold numbness, and blocking her thoughts and feelings. Her toes were cold under the thin blanket, and she rubbed her feet against each other. A clock ticked steadily in the cell block corridor, and she chose to listen to the seconds ticking away, rather than the persistent snore from her cellmate in the top bunk above her.

Shani was the type of person that fell asleep within two minutes of lying down. It always amazed Hera, who typically stayed up tossing and turning for about an hour after her cellmate had started snoring.

Hera's stomach churned. It was about 10pm now, she guessed. Almost time.

Someone was praying loudly a few cells down the corridor. One of those charismatic prayers that bound all the evil spirits from below and claimed all the blessings from above. Hera would listen to the prayer as she did every night, if only for entertainment value, but her own heart pounding in her chest was distracting.

The clang of metal grating against metal echoed down the corridor as the lock on the cell block gate was opened by some electronic mechanism. Keys had not been used in the cell blocks at the Lucky Summer Medium Security Prison for some years. Not since the Norwegian Embassy had funded an upgrade of the security system.

The cell block gate opened silently, and a pair of leather boots paced down the corridor. Not fast, not slow.

The prayer down the corridor stopped abruptly and the cell block fell silent, save for the boots making their way down the corridor. Standard prison-issue guards' boots. They came to a stop outside Hera's cell, and Shani's snores stopped.

Hera didn't move. She could hear the guard's rusty breathing above her own. Rough, like he was recovering from a cold. She could smell his sweat, wafting into the cell and hanging stubbornly in the air, as if the eight square feet of space was too small to contain the stench.

Another metallic sound as her cell door was unlocked electronically, and she heard the guard stepping into her cell.

It was time. Hera knew that she would die, but she wouldn't go down alone.

She opened her eyes.

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