Bertram slammed his cell mate Russell against the cement wall, pressing his fingers into Russell's mouth.
"I'm not sharing," said Bertram in a low, nicotine soaked voice.
"Gnahh," replied Russell.
Bertram shoved a fist in to Russell's soft belly for good measure, before letting him crumple to the floor. Bertram slid back to his bottom cot and eyed Russell from the gloom.
"Don't worry," said Russell. "I won't touch her, okay? It's not worth it."
"I don't even know if it's true, what they're saying. It seems really expensive," said Russell, cleaning his glasses with his orange t-shirt. "I can't see the state spending that much money on us." He replaced his glasses.
"It's a pilot program," breathed Bertram.
"Maybe so, but I think there's something else behind this."
"You think too much."
"Yes, so I've been told."
"And you talk too much."
Russell opened his mouth, then closed it and nodded. Bertram curled up in his cot and turned his back to Russell. Shortly he was snoring. Russell carefully returned to the top bunk and spent the rest of the night staring at the ceiling and counting over the days left until his parole board hearing.
The prisoners spent the next morning sequestered in their cells. Russell sat on his bunk, pressed against the wall with his knees pulled up to his chin, trying to inhabit the least volume of space possible and not irritate Bertram in any way. Bertram paced from the bars to the toilet and back again, audibly breathing through his nose like a galloping horse.
At 9am the entire block burst into cacophonous cheering. The guards walked a line of self-same female androids down the catwalk. They were dressed in knee length blue cotton dresses.
Betram shoved his face through the bars and watched as one android was delivered to each cell. Russell leaned over to look.
"They're all identical," he exclaimed.
"So?" grunted Bertram.
"Well, how do we tell ours apart from everyone else's?"
"Yours. Sorry." Russell hopped down and squeezed next to Bertram. "I wonder if their skin can take a tattoo. I wonder what their skin is made of. It's probably some sort of plastic polymer. Probably something that doesn't scratch or mar very easily. I'm not sure if plastic can absorb and hold ink very well, if you press it in with a needle. Or I supposed we could use a magic marker. We could get one from the library, but then that might not be very permanent--"
Russell nodded silently.
Soon enough the guards reached their cell. With a rattle the bars were slid open. A slit-eyed guard with a slack face pushed one of the androids through the threshold and into Bertram's arms. Then the guard threw a thick paper book at Russell before closing the door.
"Up," breathed Bertram. Russell dutifully scrambled up to his bunk. He read the manual while Bertram proceeded to have sex with the android--in his bunk, on the floor, next to the wall, and over the toilet. Similar scenarios were playing out all down the block. Russell eventually had to put the book down and cover his head with his pillow.
Finally at noon they were released from their cells. Relieved, Russell walked quickly down the catwalk to the cafeteria. There were fewer occupants than usual and it didn't take Russell long to realize that almost everyone there was a zeta male or gay couples trying to pimp out their allotted androids for cigarettes. Russell went through a sparse line for food and then sat alone in one corner. One of the old-timers, a once menacing individual named Billy, now rendered harmless with an advanced case of osteoporosis and severe arthritis, came and sat next to him.
"I never though I'd see something like this," said Billy, grinning. Russell shivered and shifted down the bench a few inches farther away from Billy.
"It's certainly an interesting turn of events," mumbled Russell. He shoved raspberry jello in his mouth and chewed unnecessarily.
"Your cellmate not sharing with you?"
Russell looked at Billy with a look of extreme disgust.
"Wouldn't want to. Yikes. There isn't enough Lysol in the world."
"You could always go for one of those ones," said Billy, pointing a shaking hand vaguely at one of the prostituted androids. "I'm sure they'll be kept much cleaner."
"That's not...it's just that they're not real, you know?"
"What does it matter? Life is short. It can end...so quickly." Billy's grin slowly faded as he searched Russell's face with darting eyes. "I hear they're warm. They don't talk much, but who cares about that? Real women talk to much. That's why I killed my fourth and fifth wives. You should give it a go with one of them."
"I'm not really interested." Russell scrunched up his paper napkin and threw it onto the tray. He got up and deposited his tray back at the end of the lunch line, then left for the yard.
He found himself alone outside, except for one guard, who smoked a cigarette and stared at him from the other end of the yard. Russell sat down on the cement and looked out the other side of the tall fence, at the distant freeway. He watched the cars and semi trucks pass, filled with people who had no idea he even existed. In the unusual silence of the yard he could finally hear the faint sound of tires on concrete.
"What's wrong with you?" asked the guard, sauntering up.
"Nothing," said Russell meekly. "Just enjoying the air."
"Why aren't you inside enjoying the fuckfest we've arranged for you?" said the guard, chuckling. Russell didn't respond. "What, do you like boys instead?" The guard nudged his knee against Russell's back with each syllable. "Why so silent? Are you retarded? Do you have a small dick? Why aren't you inside?"
"Please stop touching me," said Russell.
The guard laughed, then crouched down and held Russell in a headlock. He rubbed his knuckles into the top of Russell's head while Russell flailed and sputtered. Finally the guard let him go with one last shove against Russell's head.
"You're all just stupid animals. You can be controlled with food and you can be controlled with sex. You deserve everything you get." The guard turned and started walking towards the other side of the yard. Russell fixed his hair, brushing with his fingers, then stopped suddenly.
"What do you mean?" he yelled at the receding guard. The guard casually flipped him off without looking back.
That night, after Bertram finally fell asleep, the android turned on the faucet. Russell removed the pillow from his face and watched her. She was washing herself with Bertram's towel. She looked up and saw Russell but didn't acknowledge him, as if she looked right through him and only saw wall. He quickly shrank back to his corner.
"C'mere," grunted Bertram sleepily. She turned off the faucet and disappeared into the bunk below. Russell returned the pillow to his face as the bunk framework started to squeak again.
Within a week, some of the androids were missing limbs and most of them were marked up in some way, and had matted hair. One of the gay men complained that they looked like Barbie dolls in a dog's mouth, as he lovingly stroked his android's still silky hair, just before renting her out to a zeta male with a club foot.
Russell started to bring in some income by making basic repairs, but his tools were limited.
"You've got to read the care manual," he kept telling people. "They'll take care of themselves if you leave them alone for awhile. They're fragile, and can't heal like real people. You have to be gentler." Everyone kept ignoring him.
The day of his parole board hearing finally arrived, and he was escorted by a guard into a meeting room. Instead of the panel he expected, only the warden was present. He offered Russell a cigarette. Russell shook off the offer.
"How're you doing?" asked the warden. "Are you getting some?" He winked in a very obvious and amateur manner.
"Fine. No. Is everyone else late? I don't understand."
Yeah, about that," said the warden slowly.
"We don't do parole anymore."
"What? But I have good behavior--"
"It's not about you specifically."
Russell eyed him suspiciously.
"What do you mean?" he said slowly.
"It's a new law. Every crime is a one way ticket to prison now. You don't leave."
"The public was fed up with the recidivism. So they passed a law to stop it." The warden shrugged. "I don't necessarily agree, but the public pays for my mortgage so...you know."
Russell stared at the warden, his mouth agape.
"But that wasn't the law when I got sentenced!" he yelled.
"Settle down now," said the warden. "You've got your little dolls to play with." He chuckled.
"That's supposed to make it better? Do you really think they will pacify the prisoners when this gets out?"
"It's already been out. We didn't hide it. So yeah, it has been working."
Russell stretched his hands out against the table, feeling the cold metal.
"So, let me get this straight. No matter the crime, everyone has the same sentence now?"
"And I'm never getting out?"
Russell stood quickly and flipped the table onto the warden. He then leapt over it and grabbed the warden by his hair and started pounding his fists into the warden's face. A few seconds later a half dozen guards flooded into the room and pulled Russell away. The warden wailed in pain.
"I'm not going to be forgotten!" Russell screamed as he was led towards a stint in solitary confinement. "We won't be forgotten, we won't! We're not something you can just sweep away and ignore! You sad fuck, I will get you! I will get you!"