Chess is a game. water polo is a game. Murder is a crime, and you will go to jail for it.

The night the cops come knocking, they bring handcuffs and flashlights. They arrest him in his own home, and when Ma realises what he's done, she claps a hand over her mouth and falls silent, for the first time in a long time.

She listens to their accusations: counts of vandalism, affray, multiple charges of grand theft auto and misdemeanour murder. In the past year he has certainly made a name for himself. The cop who cuffs his hands tells Ma that down at the station, they call him 'the road runner', like that little cartoon bird.

He wasn't fast enough, though.

The last thing she says to him before they load him into the car and haul him off to the station is hard to catch, at first. She smacks him –and all the officers let her, saying 'it's her perogative' and stepping back. It isn't until they're halfway down the road that Scout realised what she'd said. "This is how you repay me?"

A debt is a debt, either way.

Down at the courthouse, the judge gives him a strange ultimatum. He says, "You can go to jail for five years, or you can go to a detainment facility in New Mexico for four."

There's no real difference to him. A debt is a debt. He looks at Ma, and then the judge, and shrugs. "I ain't never been to Albuquerque before."

There is silent in the courtroom. The judge clears his throat. "Very well." That's all it takes for Scout to sign away the rest of his life.

-

After the conviction, he gets to say his goodbye. It's brief, and sort of trite –Ma's eyes trembling with tears. Behind her, the remains of his brothers –Buddy heading the bunch, with Walt, Danny, Frankie, and Tony. Waker is long gone. Seymour, too.

It's nothing he hasn't survived. Hastily, trying to be passive and cold, he says his goodbyes with a mouthful of gravel –and blood, too, from biting down on his tongue. The boys wave him off with outwardly cold exteriors, staring down at the floor while they mumble. It doesn't matter: Scout knows they mean it. Ma's a mess, but she keeps it together.

She gives him Seymour's old tags –from Vietnam. Hidden from the others, of course, and she doesn't make a fuss of it.

"Hold onto these." She says. "Jus' until you get back. Awright?"

He never does get to reply.

They take him out to a shuttle, with the destination card in the window simply reading 'RED, NM'. That bemuses him, but more so is how empty the bus is. There are about 50 seats, and aside from the office escorting him, he is entirely alone. The spring is brisk, and it leaves the windows a wobbling view of the dusk outside. He doesn't know what he'll be outside of Boston.

The officer uncuffs his left wrist and he sighs. "Aw, man, thankyou. That's-"

Almost immediately, he is forced into the seat, and cuffed to the headrest in front of him. The cold of the metal is stifling, and he is left awkwardly slumped forward. "Hey!" He squawks, trying to stand, but struggling. Ultimately he fails, leant into the aisle, shackled to the headrest. The officer is now sat leisurely at the back of the shuttle, feet up, a newspaper on his lap.

Scout rattles his cuffs angrily. "Hey!" He says again, for good measure. "You ain't gonna let me siddown properly?"

In turn, the officer shakers the newspaper back at him. "You ain't gonna let me read peacefully?"

It takes him back, for a second. Scout is unused to being bitten in the same breath that he'd bite others with, and he doesn't like it. Not a bit. Almost recoiling, he tries to stand to some semblance of his full height, and juts his chin out in defiance.

"I got rights to sit, y'know." He complains. The officer, now engrossed in the one of the smaller stories, shrugs one shoulder.

"You had rights. Then you went an' got jailed. Now-"The man licks the tip of his index finger and turns his page slowly, as if deeply invested in the story. "—you ain't got shit. The quicker you shut your face, the quicker we get to Albuquerque."

Scout gives serious consideration to another protest. But the moment he goes to open his mouth, the shuttle jerks into transit, and he falls into the aisle, snagged painfully by the cuffs. For one bright second of pain he thinks about yelling, but at the officer's chuckle, he decides on keeping quiet. The police have guns after all, and he learned from Seymour that if you think too much and ask the wrong men clever questions, it's a neat way to get yourself made.

After a second on the surly shuttle floor, he manages to heave himself up and clamber into the seat behind the headrest he' chained to. It takes a little leaning forward, but he manages to sit. Outside of the windows, Fenway is getting smaller and smaller, and home is becoming less recognisable ad they leave his parts of town, bound for unknown roads.

He might never have struck gold under concrete in Boston. But it's home: and it's disappearing before his helpless sight.

There is some pride in him, yet. The officer hasn't spotted Seymour's tags, slipped like a goodbye into his pocket. They don't jangle all that much –the fabric permitting, but knowing they're there puts him just the smallest bit at ease. Home might be far away from wherever 'RED, NM' is, but at least what remains of Seymour will be close by.

With that in mind, Scout tries to take his mind off of the whole arrest thing. It isn't quite late enough for him to dream of sleeping, and there's far too much going on for him to think. His only company –the office still reading the newspaper, is the only viable option.

Very slowly, as if testing for some lesser known, lesser recognised horror, he clears his throat. The response is virtually indistinguishable. Mustering wit, as he knows he'll need it, he tests out words.

"Y'know what time it is?" He asks, trying to twist in the chair. It is awkward, but he manages the task to some degree. Of course, his efforts are in vain almost entirely. The officer looks on as if Scout were silent, or dead. "You got a watch, hey? Hey, chief?"

It's all he can seem to say. Eventually, with a mechanical action, the officer wrenches his wrist up and gives the watch on it a long and very cold glance. Without looking up, the man grins out "Eleven eighteen,".

The streetlights concur. Scout tries to sit up. "What time are we gettin' there?" He swallows. "To Albuquerque, I mean."

The officer sighs, and lifts his watch again. The pause is awkward and unsettling. "About nine." That doesn't dishearten him. If anything, it's a sunnier and more optimistic prognosis than he had anticipated, and it makes him brighten, visibly. Scout leans back as best he can, given the cuffs, and nods.

"That ain't so bad." He settles. The officer laughs.

"Thirty-four hours with nothin' but road an' a newspaper? Maybe that's your idea of luxury, but it sure ain't mine."

Suddenly, he is no longer conscious of transit and something heavy lands of the brakes of life. He swings forward, and practically open, in shock. "Thirty-four hours!" He explodes, just about standing. "What the hell am I supposed to do for thirty-four hours?"

The officer shrugs. "You oughtta thought about that before you went an' broke the law. You been dropped to the bottom of the pile now, an let me tell you there ain't a side a' the tracks more wrong then under 'em."

"I ain't-" He nearly defends himself, but catches the rest of the sentence and swallows it. The taste is bitter and nasty, but the poison is slow –a dull ache. It won't kill him to keep quiet yet. Maybe he isn't a murderer. But the sum of every other sin of his is heavier, darker. Maybe it would be better to have killed a man instead.

Instead, Scout sits down, slowly, and tries to focus on the passing scenery. He has to pass through alot of states before getting to NM. The least he can do is soak in the sights.

-

When Scout is told they have an hour left, he's almost excited. Not to reach his destination –no, perish the thought –but to end his wretched journey.

Dirt isn't much to get excited about.

They've been driving through what's known as 'the badlands' for nearly an hour now, and it all looks exactly the same. Even to the keenest of eyes, Scout can only see empty expanses of dry, dry desert, and the distant shape of shadows and brambles clutching to red rock formations. There are no gas stations. No birds. Not even the most basic sign of life; water.

He wonders if the whole thing has been some clever ruse. That he's going to be dropped in the middle of the desert, without food and water, and left to die. Maybe that's the nature of RED's debt collections. They have been driving for some small eternity, and Scout hasn't even seen a payphone.

The shuttle is effectually a tin can. Where he'd shivered in the chilly East Coast spring, he now affords no such luxury. The cuffs are stiflingly hot. They burn if he leans hard against them for even a second. From sleeping in such a slumped position, his neck is incredibly tender. But Scout can't even lift a hand to rub it. Instead, he's left to quietly swelter.

"Hey, is there-" The officer at the back of the bus is slumped back, mouth ajar, looking unimaginably bored. His body is limp against the seat letting each jut and rattle of the bus sustain him. Scout realises he's asleep.

For a second, Scout thinks about making out of the emergency back door and running. After all, there's not a cop on any beat he can't outrun.

Then again, there's nothing to run to, and even the longest headstart Scout would be likely to receive wouldn't be enough. He can see the gun holstered on the office. Hell, Scout is fast, but he can't outrun a bullet.

Distracted, he doesn't notice the shuttle breaking until he lurches forward, nose-first into the headrest he's cuffed to. His yelp wakes the officer up with a start, who clears his throat, spits, and stands.

"We're here, Daley. On your feet."

Scout tries, at the very least. Blindly, he grapples with the seat until he can haul himself up. The officer comes around him and uncuffs him from the seat, and then re-cuffs his hands together. Still dizzy from the whack to the nose, and mildly alarmed by what feels like blood under his nose, Scout grunts.

He tests the cuffs petulantly. "This really necessary?" He asks. "I mean, where am I gonna go?"

He gets a hard shove in the back for his trouble. "Standard procedure. Keep it movin'." The shoving continues until Scout shuffles out into the dusty air, onto the dusty ground, before a wire-mesh fence surrounding two very dusty buildings. One is an industrial blue, with cylinders and sleek, sharp shapes. The other is a tall, organic timber building. The architect must have been in two minds about that one.

The architect isn't what springs to Scout's mind. What captures and sustains his attention is the full-frontal entropy of the war zone beyond the fence. He can see rockets, and hear a flickering gunnery, worse than screams but no less bright. It comes together so suddenly, and climactically that he is paralysed. Lost.

"Chief, this don't look like no detention facility I ever seen." He says, very softly. Half-expecting a grunt, he finds solidarity in the officer's stunned silence.

"Me, neither, kid." And then, after a few more seconds, he grunts out. "And she don't look like no warden, either."

-

In the cool office, she gives him only the assumed pseudonym 'Miss Pauling'.

And she seems delighted to have Scout there.

"I've been anticipating your arrival, Mister Daley." She says to him, warmly. Her hand gestured to the chair in front. "Feel free to sit. The journey coming in is always hellish."

The officer goes to sit, and she pauses. "Excuse me." Her voice becomes softer. "Your services are no longer required."

As if penalised, the man stiffens, nods shortly, and leaves with the smallest amount of delineation. There are never any questions asked. From what Scout has already seen, he's too intimidated to do so.

Looking up, Miss Pauling is offering him a cold coca cola. He takes it, gratefully. "I'm so glad to have you join us at Mann Co. When I heard about your trial –the 'fastest boy on the east coast', I simply had to inquire."

Scout pauses. His frown sets in very slowly. Very slowly, he finds his words. "I-" it's the best he can do. Sun-drowsed, dehydrated and fatigued, his focus is poor. "I'm supposed to be servin' a sentence. I didn't sign up to no-"

She sits across from him. "They'd waste you in an institute." Is her line of conversational seduction. At his unresponsiveness, she enumerates further. "You are a man of particular talents. We're offering you-...a way out."

He squirms in his seat. The whole thing doesn't sit right with him. Perhaps it's some kind of test. Or some kind of pretence, before they get the others to start shooting at him. The grounds were more furious than any blitzkrieg earlier, and scout doesn't feel a burning desire to contribute.

His voice is dry, but it raises at his behest. "But-" He swallows. "I'm supposed to be in jail. To be –to be repayin' my debt to society." After a moment, he adds. "Or somethin'."

Miss Pauling becomes very solemn. "Mister Daley –I may call you that, mayn't I?-I am offering you a time-sensitive deal. Four years, and I can wipe away the debt. A new start. A clean record." At his silence, she repeats herself a little. "Four years, and you can consider that debt repaid."

Scout fidgets. "Are you some sorta shylock?"

Her eyes narrow for a second, but she doesn't give him any more than that. Reaching for an ashtray, she lights a cigarette. "It's not that kind of debt."

Scout swallows. "What do you know about it, anyhow?"

The woman looks at him for a moment, before opening a drawer to her left and pulling out a thick, gray folder. Laying it on the table, she opens a tab and opens the cover sheet. Scout can see fingerprints, and a booking photograph, and some writing but can't read it upside down.

That's not a problem. She readers it aloud –so much the better.

"Daley, Scout. Twenty-three years of age. Height; five seven. Weight: approximately 150lbs. A history of assault, misdemeanours and affray. Track athlete. Record holder at Fenway High for the 100m, 200m, 400m and 1500m."

She pauses a moment to exhale and tip some ash daintily into the ray before continuing.

"Youngest of eight to Teresa Moretti and the late Patrick Daley. Eldest brother commits suicide at the age of thirty-one, third-oldest dies serving in Vietnam –I think that's rather enough, don't you?"

He shrugs one shoulder.

She persists. "I'm not trying to threaten you, Mister Daley. I'm trying to offer you a way out. This is not a detention facility. It's a place where your particular talents may be made useful."

He holds up a hand. "Lemme get this straight." After a moment of careful deliberation, he rests his chin in his hand. "You wanna use me –'cause I can run—for whatever. Sure." The nod she gives him inclines him to take the hypothesis to an accusation. "What's in this for me?"

Miss Pauling laughs, very quietly. Her amusement is not sinister, but rather sunny. She quiets herself, not because she is mirthless, but because it appears she doesn't want to embarrass him. "What's in this for you?" She repeats, and at his nodding, continues. "Well, aside from taking a year off of your sentence and giving you complete mobility within the grounds and surrounding areas, We also offer a handsome financial motivation, as you like."

His silence seems to stifle her. The promise of money does not encourage or discourage him from talking, which is unusual, at the very least. "If you have any other terms you'd like us to commit to, I suggest you avail yourself of them."

That grabs his attention. "I jus' figure-…" Awkwardly, he wrenches one shoulder up and drops it in a dispassionate shrug. "I jus' figure that I don't really need money. What with there being nothin' to buy around here anyway. But if you could send it to my Ma-"

Miss Pauling waves her hand –cigarette and all- in a pleasant but dismissive gesture. It leaves a horizontal trail of smoke burning through the air for a second. "Consider it done."

From underneath the thick file she pulls out a crisp white piece of paper and scans through it, as though checking. Scout's eyes never leave the folder, afraid that the paper is swelling with his indignities; or the truths he'd laid to rest when they buried Seymour. He was told they'd punish Seymour for the same sin Scout has indulged in: not for killing a thousand men, but daring to love a single one. But Miss Pauling doesn't say a word of guidance either way.

She smiles tightly at him. "Should you choose to take a contract out here, you'd be bound to four years of service for Reliable Excavation Demolition. The working day is from nine to five, six days a week." She carefully skips over any details of the work to be done, moving right ahead to something else. Scout won't dare stop her. "Expenses like food and accommodation are paid for, and are all taken care of on-site."

She takes the piece underneath to the front and resumes reading. "We travel a few times within a year –this isn't negotiable, I'm afraid. But we usually go during July, when the badlands are the least bearable. Don't worry –at any of our outposts, we have a mail service and access to a telephone." She only stops to breathe. Scout is unable to take most of it in. His silence gives him away.

"Have I been unclear?"

Scout swallows. He never has liked asking questions, but feels the heavy weight of necessity in this one. "It's not that." He says. "You jus' ain't exactly said what it is I'm actually gonna be doin' all day."

Never to be caught out or even outdone, she pauses, and then laughs. "No, no, quite right. It must have slipped right past me." For a moment, she ponders in thoughtful silence, as if wondering how to word bad news so that it appears brighter and altogether less insidious.

But Scout can call her bluff. For he knows –as well as any one person can, that anybody can be a villain with the right storytelling.

Her words are purposefully vague. "Oh, reconnaissance work, mainly." It isn't nearly enough.

"They never said nothin' about this down at the courthouse."

It doesn't falter her in the slightest. With an unblinking fierceness implicit in her genial manner, Miss Pauling leans forward and smiles. "I'm afraid you already signed your next four years over to me." She crushes out her cigarette.

There's an inch of threat in her statement, a dangerous foot-in-door that leaves him to draw in a sharp breath. "What about you?" He asks her. "Where d'you come in to all this?"

"I make the ends meet.." She says to him, simply. "That's all you need know."

"But-"

She raises her hand in a very slight warning. "If I wanted you to learn my life story, Mister Daley, I'd write my memoirs." Miss Pauling stands. "I'm assigning you to the RED group. I'll see to it that you get a uniform by this afternoon."

Scout has the awful feeling he's about to be left alone. "What about me?"

She turns, as if she had forgotten about him. "Oh, Mister Daley." She pauses for thought in a moment. "You'll have to have a physical examination before anything."

One of her fingers presses down a small red button by the telephone, one of many in a row, and picks up the receiver. She presses it to her ear, and smiles when the sound comes through. "..yes? Yes, he's here. Thursday, if not sooner…alright. Would you mind ever so much? I'm terribly busy, and –certainly! Yes, of course."

She looks at him, and then nods. "Bidwell will escort you down to the infirmary."

That's the only thanks he gets.

-

The man in the suit reminds of Seymour. The bookish sort. Not of many words. Both of them have this distant, glazed look in their eyes, like they're perfectly content in some other space, dreaming away, far away from the rest of them. They even look alike, too. A 'sensible haircut', tall, slim, with a crooked sort of mouth that half-smiles by itself.

The only real difference, of course, is that the man in the suit, Bidwell, is still very much alive.

He never says anything. He just walks Scout down to a small area of white tile and chairs, outside a set of double-doors. And then, just like that, he turns to go.

it makes Scout panicky. He calls after the man. "Hey?" He stays on the spot, helplessly. "Hey, am I s'pposed to go in or somethin'? Or –or wait? Hey! Hey, chief!" No friendly hint of answer is given. The man continues to walk, as if he hasn't heard at all, and it makes Scout angry. He demands an explanation for something.

Anything, even. Anything would do.

He leans heavy against the wall, and grumbles, "Stuffed shirt." Through two port-hole windows in the door, he can view the very bright lights of some small station. It looks to him like the nurse's office in his old highschool. He feigned sickness often and saw a lot of it, not for the attention, but for the nurse. She wasn't all that young, but she was pretty, and attentive. She reminded him of Ma, a little.

He can't see any pretty nurses inside there at all.

After a while, he resigns to sitting, because he lacks the nerve to enter. It's ironic, he thinks, that he could smile away in court, and turn white at the suggestion of the unknown. In his mind, it's justifiable, of course. Everything he does is. Realistically, he tells himself, who can afford to trust doctors?

Even sitting is dull after a while. He rises, deciding that enough is enough, and begins to wander back the way he came. The hallways are long and identical, and it makes him feel smaller. They turn off at places, and in his wandering he does peer inside. Mostly, there are filing cabinets, and other forms of storage, but after a while e, he happens upon white tile and the smell of rusty water.

Inside is full of lockers. Not even a meagre scrap of fabric separates the spigot heads from the open air. Scout's own footsteps alarm him, squeaking on the tile. He wonders, briefly, which locker is his. Most are open, or unlocked. They have names on –at least, all but one, where the name has been chipped off, but crudely, as if the culprit was in a hurry.

It sits between Reznikov, M and Janvier, P. Inside the empty locker are some shotgun shells, collecting on the bottom shelf of the long, tin body, and a picture pasted in the back of some generic pin-up girl with her skirt thrown up and her face all surprised. Scout figures, he could leave that in there. He wouldn't mind that so much.

In the middle off the thought, he turns when he hears the march of footsteps –with many owners- and the laughter of a group.

It makes him cold for a second –the others, coming, and himself, trespassing all guilty on their belongings. He doesn't want to test out how understanding 'RED Group' are feeling.

Scout skids about on the tile, trying to quiet his damn feet, but there isn't any other way out. And he can hear they drawing nearer to the doorway. He isn't exactly sure what to do, or where to go –there isn't anywhere to go!

In a moment of desperation that he isn't exactly proud of, he tucks himself –quickly, with great panic, into the long, slim locker, and swings shut the small door. One grate lines up with the bottom of his nose, and it quiets his breathing a little. He can't see anything outside of the locker –nothing but the light being cast into the locker in thick bands of three.

The suspense is awful. Scout wishes, uselessly, that Seymour were with him. Seymour might have been a little absent near the end of his life, but he was a systematiser. He could always figure a way in or out. In the end, though, his disappearing act was disappointing. There was no magic to finding a body.

The thought abandons him almost instantly when they enter. He hears the telltale squelch of shoe on damp tile, and the laughter and sharp conversation. It's hard to pinpoint exactly what is being said. Scout can hear bits of the Midwest and of the hard south in some of the voices, and something else entirely in others. Above it all, distracting him, is the harsh stink of dirt, and gunpowder and blood. Worse than it had been when he arrived; more concentrated.

It doesn't sound like some of them were even speaking English. Great! –Scout shuffles in the locker with a grimace. He's going to be working with a bunch of foreign invalids

Either side of him, he can hear the rattle of the other locker doors opening. It quiets his breathing instantly. What a spot to be found in.

Scout prays that they don't open the locker up and find him –not because of where he is, but because he has no explanation for it. The moment of panic has passed and now he has been left in a painful and strange scenario.

The murmurs closest to him are childlike and hard to get at. With great perseverance, Scout tries to make out whole words, but ultimately fails, and is left focusing in the dark for no reason.

What the hell is he going to do? They'll find him. That's a certainty. They'll find him and then –well, he doesn't know. But after being out there for hours with guns and weapons, and whatever else Scout can only imagine, he's not sure what to expect. They're criminals, after all. Just like him, only more ruthless. Worse, somehow.

He'll get through it. He has to. There's no going back home now. Not after hundreds of miles of dry, dry wasteland. He's sweating in a tin can because he doesn't know what to do.

"Goddamn it." He mutters, before he can even help it. The reaction is so natural that he doesn't realise his mistake until the time has passed. He cannot pull the definite sound back into his mouth. It hits the metal and travels. And suddenly, silence –the lung-swallowing kind, descends like a plague on the helpless.

The last thing he sees is the thick bands of light extinguish as shadow falls over them, before white hot light bursts into place of the locker door and Scout is pulled forward hard, onto the tile. When he looks up, his eyes burn, and he can see nothing.

That's when the shapes surrounding him burst into furious laughter.