"Ninety seven, ninety eight, ninety nine, one hundred."
Electronique pushed the weights up one last time and her spotter hooked them in place.
"Heads up, the hacks are coming this way."
The electrical villainess sat up and sure enough, a half-squad of guards were coming her way.
"Hey, Sparky! Go get cleaned up, the warden wants a word with you."
"Don't call me Sparky. I've got a name, you know."
"Yeah, yeah. But I like Sparky better so you just shut up and get to the showers."
The Go City Womens' Maximum Security Correctional Facility for Super Powered Criminals (or the 'Bitch Bin' as it was more commonly known) was no different from any other prison in the world. The guards could find dozens of ways, if not hundreds, to make life for a prisoner difficult.
For some reason they had decided to give the woman with the blue-grey skin a bit of grief today.
That surprised her. The last years she had been a model prisoner even after the effects of the attitudinator had worn off. Her continued good behaviour was from sheer habit at first but later became a means to an end.
"Do you mind?"
They had reached the showers and the guards seemed intent on going with her.
"We don't mind at all. We'll just wait here while you shower."
Once again they were doing this just to annoy her. Privacy was a commodity more precious than gold in the Bitch Bin and the guards knew this. By denying it to Electronique the uniformed women made sure she was made aware of how little she was in charge here.
The one advantage she got out of the shower, except getting cleaned up, was an opportunity to take her goggles off. The noise of the shower blocked some of the guards' snide comments. And the flow of water reduced and blurred the sharp, garish images if electric patterns and magnetic fields that were always visible to her.
Just to irk the hacks, Electronique took her time and it gave her some small satisfaction when the boss guard finally told her it was enough already.
They herded her back to her cell. Still no privacy. Three packs of cigarettes were on the bed.
"Good girl, paying what you owe." Toxine, a fellow inmate, had lost a game of poker a week back and had paid up as she'd promised.
Electronique got dressed and stuffed the smokes in her pocket.
"You've kept the warden waiting long enough, Sparky. Get that blue ass of yours moving!"
The chief guard pushed Electronique hard with her truncheon and the villainess spun around to face the five guards.
"You want a fight, Sparky? Come on, we've got what it takes!" The uniformed women grinned, trying to provoke their opponent.
"Let's go see the warden." Electronique snarled, not because she was afraid but because she didn't want to give the guards the satisfaction of a chance to beat her up.
The warden, she was never called anything else by guards and prisoners alike, was an older, hard bitten woman who did everything by the book. That at least made her predictable and more or less fair. Her greatest failing was that she tended to trust her staff to be as disciplined as herself.
"Have a seat, Electronique. It seems I have some good news for you. Bad news for society if I know you, and I think I do."
The warden didn't even try to conceal her contempt for the criminals in her charge.
Electronique in turn didn't even bother to reply although she was curious about the good news.
"Don't get your hopes up." She thought. "Optimism is uncalled for."
The warden produced a binder with documents and began to read aloud.
"The Parole Commission have decided that Prisoner 1129 of the Go City Womens' Maximum Security Correctional Facility for Super Powered Criminals, Veronica Iordanescu, has shown sufficient improvement in behaviour, displayed a willingness to adapt to society and has been granted parole under the Grant Act of 1998, with the following conditions:
1: Veronica Iordanescu may not take up permanent residence in Go City for the duration of the parole.
2: She must report on a weekly basis to her appointed parole officer (See Attachment A).
3: She must list and report all and any possession/ownership of electrical equipment or equipment potentially usable to construct devices in relation to the super powers displayed by V. Iordanescu.
4: She will agree to partake in the Reentry Program (See Attachment B, Attachment C) and report the results to her parole officer.
5: She may not engage in any criminal activity of any kind.
Should V. Iordanescu fail to comply with the above conditions she will be returned to Go City Womens' Maximum Security Correctional Facility for Super Powered Criminals, with any relevant time of imprisonment for crimes committed, added to the remainder of her sentence."
The warden looked up from the papers.
"Congratulations, Electronique. Or should I call you Veronica? You're getting out of here. Not that I expect it to last, but allow me to say that no one would be happier than me if I never ever saw you inside my prison again."
"On that we agree, Ma'am." Electronique had to bite her lip hard to keep herself from jumping up and cheering loudly at the news. This really was good news! Playing the role of a model prisoner had actually paid off.
"One more thing. This came for you when word got out that you were getting paroled."
The warden handed Electronique a paper.
She read it once and she read it twice.
"This is a restraining order!"
"You don't say? Seems you have to keep your distance, doesn't it?"
"But it is not fair!"
"If you violate the restraining order you've failed to comply with your parole conditions."
"I know that."
"So stop whining and get out of my prison."
The warden handed Electronique the parole papers and the guards hustled the villainess out of the office.
It was with very mixed feelings that Electronique found herself on a bus to Middleton. The ticket had been Attachment C.
Although happy to be out of prison the restraining order weighed heavily on her. She had planned to simply ignore the parole conditions and start doing her thing again. That's what was expected of her. As an electrical super villainess and general evil genius she had a certain reputation to maintain after all.
That restraining order ruined it all. It was the one thing that forced her to play it the way the Law wanted it.
If she didn't comply now she might never have the restraining order removed.
She would appeal to have it overturned, of course. Failing that she simply had to bite the proverbial bullet and be a good citizen for eighteen months.
A few hours later the bus arrived in Middleton where a small committee had gathered to greet her.
A young, Asian man in a Global Justice uniform stepped up first.
"Veronica Iordanescu, a.k.a Electronique? I'm agent Will Du. I am your appointed parole officer for the duration of the sentence."
"Charmed, I'm sure." Electronique didn't look charmed at all. "He's just a kid. How old can he be? 22, 23? And I'm supposed to report to him?"
The other people were from the Reentry Program and from Middleton University.
The Reentry Program was one of those things whipped up to get criminals adjusted to a law abiding life and become 'productive members of society'. Electronique scoffed at the very idea.
Her spirits rose slightly when it was revealed that they had arranged for Middleton University to take her in as an employee. Since she held a degree in electrical engineering Electronique was pleased at the prospect of working in an academic environment again.
As quickly as her spirits had begun to rise, they dropped when she was informed that she would work as a caretaker on campus.
"A handyman? I am to be a...a minion?" She bristled at the insult.
The men from the university and the Reentry Program shied away from the outburst.
"I'll have you know I have received special training in dealing with extraordinary opponents." Will Du said as he stepped in between Electronique and the others.
"And any act of violence or threat thereof is a violation of your parole."
Electronique sighed and her shoulders fell in resignation.
"Very well. If I must, I must. I will be a henchwoman at your University."
"No no, it will be a proper job and you will be paid." the man from Reentry explained. "We've even arranged for an apartment for you here in Middleton. There are also counselling classes for ex-villains every Wednesday. They are voluntary but I really think they could do you a lot of good, Miss Iordanescu."
"I'll consider it."
She considered it for a tenth of a second and dismissed the idea.
They drove to the Reentry Program offices to fill in more papers and wrap up some final formalities.
"How about you come in to the University next Monday? That would give you some time to settle in before you begin your new employment."
"I will come in this Monday, thank you. I might as well get this show on the road right away."
"A commendable attitude, Miss Iordanescu."
"Why is it so hard for people to call me Electronique?"
The apartment they had provided was far from impressive. It was a single room and a kitchenette. Electronique used some of her small savings to buy cheap furniture, some clothes and several rolls of tinfoil from Smarty Mart.
She put the tinfoil up on the walls by her bed to block out the electronic patters at least partially so she could sleep without her goggles.
"Welcome to the outside world, Electronique. Don't you feel welcome?" she thought bitterly before she turned the lights out.