Chapter One

The guard pushed me down into the plastic chair at the table and made sure that my cuffs were tightly secured to the bar that was directly in front of me before he left the room. I sat there, staring at the clock directly across from me on the concrete wall. It was three fourteen in the afternoon, just a little less than two hours left until visiting hours were over and the nighttime meals were disbursed. I watched as my life slowly ticked away, second by second, minute by minute.

I tore my gaze from the clock and slumped down in my chair the best that I could. What was taking so long? Didn't they know that I had given up my brief amount of time that I was allowed to be outside so that I could be in this room? Well, that wasn't entirely true. I had been forced to be there because of some kind of prison rule, but that was beside the point. I was missing the little bit of freedom that I was granted. Even if the world outside of these walls was just as crappy as the inside was. There were still walls in the courtyard, so it still wasn't really freedom.

The door opened again and a dark haired man entered with a blonde girl next to him. The guard stepped in behind them and shut the door, standing in front of it as though I was planning to make an escape. Which, might I add, I would have if I had been able to get out of the cuffs that were now so tight that I was beginning to bleed. It was something that I was known for, escaping, not bleeding because of the cuffs being so tight. That may have been my own fault, though. If I sat up straight, as my mother had always asked us to, then there would have been less tension.

"Tyler," the blonde girl breathed as she sat down in one of the plastic chairs that sat on the other side of the table. The man didn't say anything as he sat down. That was just as well. We normally ended up fighting, anyway. "Are you alright?"

I looked at her. "Of course. Didn't you notice that this place is a five star hotel?" She opened her mouth and then closed it, glancing at the man.

"I warned you, Charlie," my father said in a weary voice. She looked back at me and I knew she was giving me the once over, taking in my now shaggy hair, the lack of body fat, the once blue eyes that were now bloodshot, the scars that covered my body. I could see her visibly swallow as she tried to think of something to say.

"Your sister said that you were involved in some special project," she said finally. I arched an eyebrow. "She said it was a really big deal." I snorted, looking out one of the small, barred windows in the room. "Okay…maybe you don't agree. Do you want to tell me about it?"

"Not really," I said coolly.

"Tyler," she whispered, "there has to be some way out of this. I mean, if they think that you are able to be assigned to a special project, then they must trust you enough to grant you a shorter sentence of something." I looked at her and shook my head. Did she not remember what I was a part of? Did she not remember the severity of it all?

"This," I told her, leaning forward, causing the guard to shift into a more alert stance, "is a place that you do not get out of. Ever. So, I would appreciate it if you would just drop it."

"At least they let you have visitors," Charlie said, forcing a smile onto her face. I rolled my eyes and looked at the guard. "What?"

"I'm not allowed to have visitors other than my parents and sister after I start this so called special project," I informed her. She was staring at me, trying to figure out what would make that the case.

"Why not?" she asked finally. I looked back at her.

"Because I'm not allowed," I told her coldly before sitting back in my chair. I flinched as the cuffs dug in even more, but I refused to give into the pain. It reminded me that I was still human and that I was still very much alive.

"For how long?" she asked softly. I shrugged, jiggling my leg as I stared at the guard.

"Until my funeral," I replied. She was staring at me again, trying to figure out if I was joking or not. I wasn't. When I had been sentenced, it was for life. When I had been assigned to this project, my sentencing changed to death. A very painful death, I had been informed. It was just as well. I had done the crime. Well, a crime. It wasn't the exact crime that I had set out to commit. Either way, I was still subject to the punishment.

"They can't just do that," Charlie exclaimed, standing up. The guard stepped forward, but I shook my head at him. He stopped, his eyes narrowing in on us. Why did he stop, though? It wasn't like I was the one who was in control anymore. That was assuming I had been in control to begin with. "Who do they think they are?"

"They," I told Charlie, "are the people in charge of this fine establishment and the people who are ordered around by the government. It's a very nice thing they have going on here." Charlie had always stood up for me and the fact that she wanted to take on the government was proof of that, but, in truth, I didn't want her to do it. Everything that was happening to me was something that I deserved. The nightmares, the what if's that ran through my mind, the regrets. If I hadn't come back, what would have happened? If I had been more thorough, would we have succeeded? If I had just let someone in, would I have been a free man?

"Don't be sarcastic with me, Tyler. I'm not in the mood." She wasn't in the mood? Was she the one who would soon be dead? I may have been in prison, but at least I was still alive. Now, I was destined to die before I even turned twenty-one. I was destined to die by an unknown date, but they told me it would most likely be before I was even twenty since this was all just trial experiments. They didn't expect me to make it very long. Now, Charlie thought she had the right to say that she wasn't in the mood for sarcastic remarks?

"This is the last time we'll see each other, Charlie," I told her. She stared at me, her mouth open with a retort that she never uttered. "I would like for us to be able to say goodbye without fighting, thank you very much." She shook her head and sunk back down onto the plastic chair, her eyes filling with tears.

"This wasn't what was supposed to happen," she whispered. "We weren't supposed to end this way." I looked away. There wasn't anything that I could have said to make her feel somewhat comforted. "We were supposed to be a good thing."

"We are a good thing," I said finally. "It just is going to come to an end early."

She shook her head, the tears spilling from her eyes and running down her cheeks. She stared at me, not moving to brush them away. "I can't lose you, Tyler." I swallowed the lump that was forming in my throat and clenched my fists. She could do better. She could do way better than me.

"You lost me a long time ago, Charlie," I whispered. Then, I told the guard I was ready to leave.


After my last visit with Charlie, I ate the slop that they fed us and sat on the floor of my cell, staring at the wall directly across from me while other inmates jeered and shouted at one another in the hallway and rec room. I had no interest in any of that. Tomorrow was supposed to be my last day as a normal prisoner and I had a meeting with my parents and sister just after lunch, not to say goodbye, but to prep them for the weeks to come. I was just thankful that I would be able to go outdoors one last time.

The prisoner from the cell next to mine shuffled in. He had a habit of forgetting which cell was his and who his cellmate was. He grunted at me as he made his way to what he believed to be his bunk. I watched him flop down onto the lower bunk and let out a loud belch. I wrinkled my nose and got to my feet before heading out of the cell. Out in the hallway, guards paced up and down, sometimes eavesdropping on the conversations of the inmates or giving advice to the card players. I skirted around them and climbed the stairs to the top level of the cellblock.

"Hey," Trey Chambers said as I sat down next to him at the edge of the platform. Our legs dangled off the edge and we leaned against the railing, watching the inmate's mill around below us. "So, you start your new sentencing in a day, don't you?"

"Yeah," I replied, closing my eyes. I just wanted to block everything out, to pretend, just for a moment, that none of this was real and it all had been a dream.

"Lucky you," Trey mused. I snorted.

"Yeah, lucky me," I muttered.

We sat in silence for several minutes. In a way, I was lucky. My life sentence was going to be less than the rest of the inmates' sentences. I just had to go through what the doctors and the hospital officials told me was excruciating pain. Until I succumbed to the treatments, I would be allowed to see my mother, father, and sister. The visit tomorrow would just be the last visit that I was supposedly the same old Tyler Martin. They didn't tell me who I'd be once the treatments started and I hadn't asked. I hadn't wanted to know what the answer was.

"Well, at least you get a party," Trey finally said. I opened my eyes and looked at him. "The party that is being thrown in your honor tomorrow?"

"I have no idea what you're talking about," I said in a flat voice. He sighed and turned his attention back to the scene below.

"Every time someone leaves to do the experiments, the prison throws a party. The food is exactly what we get served every day. It's just actually cooked right and fully," he told me. I nodded slowly. "Really, people are just happy for you because it means that we get good food and someone new to torment."

"Good to know," I muttered, closing my eyes again. We both fell silent again, each one of us lost in our own thoughts.

There was only one way that I was able to deal with my sentencing. That was by shutting everything out and shutting my brain off. For some reason, people expected me to be willing to talk about what was going on, to share my thoughts and opinions of what it might be like to die a lab rat. What they didn't expect was that I might not have wanted to talk about it. Which, might I add, I didn't. If only everyone else could understand that.

Instead, what I did was sit and stare at the walls forever, watching as tiny bugs maneuvered in and out of tiny pinholes. I would slump over my food and ignore everyone around me. I made sarcastic remarks to the people who came to visit, hoping that they would just get fed up with me and leave. None of it really worked, though. The thoughts still came creeping in when I least expected them to.

"How long do you think it will be?" Trey asked finally, looking at me. I forced myself to stare straight ahead, pretending that I didn't hear what he had said. "How long do you think it will take for you to die?"

"I don't want to talk about it," I muttered. He sighed and pulled his legs up to his chest.

"I couldn't do it, Tyler. I don't see how you aren't going nuts. I would have gone crazy the moment that they told me. Who knows, maybe that would have been better than actually going through with it because that means that you'd be thrown into the loony bin instead," he said. I shot him a dirty look. "Sorry, man. I'm just telling you how I would be acting." Did he honestly think that I cared how he would act if he were in my situation?

"Well, thank God I'm not you, Trey," I said as I stood up.

"Hey," he called as I walked away, "I hope that you die quick! At least then you won't have to go through so much pain and suffering!"

I thought about turning around and decking him. The guards would have thrown me in solitary confinement and I would have been free from having to deal with the rest of the inmates forever. I didn't, though. The fear of the nightmares and thoughts that would invade my mind when I was finally alone terrified me. The man in the cave, my past clients, being betrayed by my own sister. It would consume me.

I forced myself to keep walking. It would all be over soon enough, anyway, and then everyone would be able to forget I even existed. My family would finally be rid of the black sheep that ruined the family reputation.