In the howling storm, cruel winds whipped the sea against dark rock. White foam crashed into jagged edges that rose up into the night like black, stone teeth. In a time before smoke stacks stained the skies, men came here and carved a prison out of the mountain. This ancient rock is the realm of men whose cries of misery are swallowed up in the dark sea. This place of the unforgiven is Purgatory Prison. Prologue The rapid fire clicking of a keyboard echoed in the silence of the dark basement. Kyle's fingers flew across the keys of his laptop in a fury, desperate to undo the damage he'd done. What began as a game, had blossomed into an obsession. Every night for nearly two months, Kyle rushed home from his job washing dishes and fired up his laptop. Last night, he'd found the last piece, and crashed the Array, a weapon whose existence was categorically denied by the President. Game over, and Kyle, a nineteen year old hacker, scored the winning point. It all went wrong when Kyle realized he couldn't bring the Array back online. Not in time to evade the Hunters who were already on his trail. He'd hidden all day, typing hundreds of lines of code, but it was no good. Last time he'd tripped one of their systems, Homeland Security injected him with a Guardian chip. No problem. Kyle knew how to blind the Eye in the Sky, but his evasion code lasted only twenty four hours. He had to get the Array back up and running before they found him. He glanced at the tiny digital hourglass on his screen. Falling grains of virtual sand ticked away his moments of freedom. Coppery red hair fell across his face. He bit his pink lips hard enough to leave teeth marks. His dark green eyes were narrowed in concentration. Codes flowed across his laptop screen like a red river of madness. As a new sun shed light on a tired world, frustration lined Kyle's smooth face. Nothing he did brought the Array back online. The top half of the hour glass was empty. Time to go. He tried not to tremble when he shut his lap top. If he didn't haul ass, Homeland Security would land on him with God's vengeance. An explosion of sound froze Kyle in the act of scooping his laptop off the floor. A brutal kick smashed the door, hurling wooden splinters through the darkness. Kyle jumped up, shielding his face. Men the size of refrigerators poured in through the dark hole that used to be a door. Kyle ran for the giant packing crates scattered around the dark corners. A soldier, who made Hercules look like a backstreet wimp, grabbed the back of Kyle's t-shirt and reeled him in. 'Where you going, kid?' the soldier said. Then he spoke into the radio on his collar. 'Got him, Sir.' 'Shoot him,' the short command came back. Before Kyle could beg for his life, he felt the sharp sting of a needle in the tender cheek of his backside. Blackness pulled him down into oblivion. Chapter 1 Everyday for the last two weeks in the Patriot Act Homeland Security Detention Center, Kyle had waited for someone to come and ask him about the Array. Muscle bound soldiers brought him food in unbroken silence. When Kyle tried to talk to them, they looked through him, and walked around him with the same care they'd use to avoid upsetting furniture. A week ago, Kyle blocked the way of a soldier, and asked him when he'd be able to leave. The man looked at Kyle with hard eyes for a long time before he said, 'You're pretty. You're real lucky we ain't allowed to touch you, boy. Real lucky.' The animal lust that flared in the soldier's dark eyes made Kyle fall back a step. The soldier walked past him without a backward glance. After that, Kyle stopped trying to talk to the soldiers. At night, Kyle tried not to hear the distant screams echoing down the metal corridors, like souls falling into Hell. Tonight, beyond the bars of his cell, two soldiers walked by, shadows among shadows in their black uniforms. 'Fucking Heretic's gonna get what's coming to him,' a voice said out of the darkness. 'He's going straight to Redemption when he gets to Purgatory. I hear Matthew can't wait to make him scream.' Their hushed voices faded as they walked by. Heretic. For as long as Kyle could remember, that had been a forbidden thought. Hearing the word said so casually, with night's darkness crowding in all around, sent a cool shiver down his spine. Kyle's father was a martyred leader of the Heretics. Starving people who watched their children die from drinking dirty water, called Kyle's father a hero. Homeland Security called him an Enemy of the State. Trapped in the belly of night, with sleep a broken promise, the vision of his father's brutal death assaulted him with unmerciful cruelty. In his mind, Kyle heard the echoing sound of the soldiers' boots. The pipes of the underground sewer caves had filled with the sound of screams and running feet. When the soldiers took his father, Trent had looked back at his son. Kyle had seen the sure knowledge of his own death in his father's eyes. As his trembling son watched, Trent faced forward, straightened his back, and fell in step with the soldiers on either side of him. Two days later, Kyle's father was executed at a Traitor Redemption, a version of the punishment reserved for Enemies of the State. Although his father's friends tried to stop him, Kyle watched every moment of the state sponsored torture. Shouts of 'heretic' and 'freedom' rose from the throat of the live audience. Gratitude was stamped on every wildly gleeful face. Again, the state had destroyed a dangerous enemy lurking among them. The utopia of freedom and justice for all was just around the corner. They would get there one dead traitor at a time. After the death of his father, the Heretics cared for Kyle. In the underground world of the sewers, he learned to be a sewer rat, and how to use a simple lap top to bring the government to their knees. When Kyle hacked the banking system, and brought it crashing down, Homeland Security caught him, and tagged him with a Guardian Chip. After that, the same men who'd cared for him, kept him out of the sewers with guns aimed between his eyes. Kyle wandered the streets for weeks, hungry, dirty and scared. He wandered into Nick's Eats, and offered to wash dishes for a meal. Nick took him in, and let Kyle stay in the spare room over the restaurant. When Nick caught Kyle sneaking into his office to use his computer, he said how a smart boy like him should have his own lap top. It wasn't long before Nick was calling Kyle into his office, or pushing him to his knees as soon as he closed up for the night. The lap top came soon after. The horror that started with crashing the Array followed on the heels of the new lap top, like a blaring train ripping the midnight silence of tormented sleep. Chapter 2 On the fourteenth day of detention, Kyle sat on his bunk, staring at the brick wall of his cell, wondering how much worse his life could get. When The Principal walked in, Kyle stopped wondering. 'Holy Mary, Mother of God,' Kyle said. He felt like a skydiver, who'd just remembered his parachute was still on the plane. The Principal sat on the small wooden chair that was the only furniture in Kyle's cell. His grey tailored suit would have cost most men a month's salary. Everyone in the country knew the man's face. On holo, he was a trusted grandfather who looked straight into the cameras and told God's own truth. His reputation was impeccable, his sincerity unquestioned. It was the dark green eyes behind his round, rimless spectacles that shattered the illusion. 'Hey, kid,' he said, staring at Kyle. Kyle looked at him wide eyed, unable to make his frozen lips form words. He watched as the President's closest assistant and confidante lit a cigarette. Holo called him 'The Principal', because nobody wanted to end up in his office, not even the President. The Principal stared at Kyle through a cloud of smoke that clung to him, as if he smoked the way other people sweat. 'They been treating you okay?' Kyle didn't bother to ask about his right to know the charges against him, his right to representation. 'Yes, Sir.' His voice was a bare whisper. 'You came up in the world since last time. You got the chip that time, right?' Kyle nodded. 'Yes, Sir.' They were the only two words he could bring himself to say. The Principal looked at Kyle with expressionless eyes. 'I told you then that if you fucked with me again, I was gonna make you one sorry kid, didn't I?' His monotone voice was eerily calm. He flicked ashes onto the stone floor. Kyle spoke in the hollow tones of a condemned man. 'I didn't mean to. I'm sorry.' 'You know where they're sending you, boy?' Kyle shrugged. 'Work camp, I guess.' 'Guess again.' Dark thoughts glittered in The Principal's dead green eyes. 'You're going to Purgatory.' 'What?' Kyle jumped up and paced his tiny cell. 'That's a hell hole. Toughest prison in the country.' He stopped in front of The Principal, looking down into his seamed face that held not an ounce of compassion. 'I'm just some kid who fucked with your Array. Christ. I'm sorry.' Kyle ran shaky fingers through his coppery hair. 'Jesus.' 'Bring it back online,' the Principal said. He took a deep drag on his cigarette and blew smoke up to the ceiling. 'Or I'll make you suffer in ways you never dreamed of, kid.' Kyle's pounding heart made his words shaky, uncertain. 'I don't know how,' he said in a mad rush. 'I tried. I can't. I'm telling the truth. God. Please.' The last two words came out in a desperate plea. The Principal looked up at Kyle with the cool eyes of a sniper honing in on his target. 'You fucking think I was born yesterday?' Filled with the fear of a child trapped with a nightmare ogre, Kyle said, 'I'm telling the truth.' His voice teetered on the razor edge of hysteria. The Principal pulled a black box from his jacket pocket. Like a demon summoned from the depths of Hell, a hologram sprang to life next to Kyle. He stared at the man, blacker than midnight. He was naked to the waist, his chest and arms were roped with muscle. He had the hard face of a hunter who stalked men to the death, and enjoyed the hunt. 'Know who that is, kid?' 'Everyone knows who he is. JT. Prisoner gladiator.' Kyle looked up into the gladiator's eyes, merciless and cold. 'Know where he is?' 'Purgatory,' Kyle said. His mind ticked over furiously, trying to see where this was leading. 'He's the most vicious gladiator in Purgatory,' The Principal said. 'Won the State Wide Championship. Brought in a lot of money. They're giving him a virgin to be his wife in there.' The Principal paused, looking into Kyle's terrified eyes. 'You still a virgin, kid?' Kyle blushed, looked down at his feet. 'There's nothing JT likes better than breaking in a pretty virgin.' Looking at the dark gladiator, all at once, Kyle knew what was coming. The Principal bared his crooked teeth in a humorless grin. 'You're JT's new cellmate.' He leaned an inch closer to Kyle and said, soft and low, 'His new wife.' The gladiator's image towered over Kyle. JT was a lithe sculpture of strength, built with the sleek grace of a panther. Staring at his thick arms, heavy with muscle, a terrible truth hammered through the whirlwind in Kyle's mind, I won't be a virgin for long. 'I don't know how to fix it. I'm telling the truth,' Kyle said. The Principal smoked in silence for a long time. 'No. You're trying to lie to a man who fought in two wars before you were born.' He pointed at Kyle with the two fingers holding his cigarette. 'Last chance, kid.' Kyle fought a brief battle with himself that could have ended with the truth slipping from his traitorous lips. At the end, flesh had hung from his father's limp body, like delicate strips of raw meat. 'I don't know how to fix it.' His eyes slipped away to the scarred stone floor. 'You're just like your dad, you know that, boy?' The mention of his father made Kyle cold all over. 'I'm giving you a couple of months to be JT's punk,' The Principal said thoughtfully. 'I hear he likes it real rough with his punks. Maybe he'll help you remember things, so you can fix what you broke.' Kyle stared at the hologram. Words flew through his mind in a fury. He had the face of a prisoner watching men hammer his gallows together. The man who stood beside the President when he spoke of the triumph of Democracy in foreign lands, had eyes that were windows on cold, depthless darkness. 'I signed your father's arrest warrant,' the Principal said. 'Don't talk about my father,' Kyle said through clenched teeth. The Principal laughed. 'You wanna come get me, boy? Come on.' Kyle flew at him in blind rage. The Principal sprang up, quick as a rattlesnake. He caught Kyle, shoved him through the hologram, and pressed him hard into the brick wall. He bent close and whispered. 'When JT fucks your ass real hard and makes you scream, remember something, kid.' 'What?' Kyle said, trying to shake free. 'Purgatory isn't as bad as it can get. If you don't give me what I want, you'll end up in a room that ain't got no fucking windows. Nobody hears you scream in those back rooms, boy.' 'I'll fucking die before I help you,' Kyle said in a low whisper. The Principal stood back, straightened his jacket, pushed his thick gray hair from his cold eyes. He gave Kyle a long look, the unfeeling gaze of a lion stalking a gazelle. 'You're real young, boy. I got a lot to teach you.' 'Like what?' Kyle said. 'Like how there's worse things than dying.' The Principal dropped a card at Kyle's feet. 'Don't make me wait too long. Or I'll come for you.' Chapter 3 Kyle sat behind a small metal desk in the prison's library. Today was the end of his first week in Purgatory. He slid in another blank disc and downloaded the replacement file for the damaged Book Disc. The steady boredom of downloading data lured him onto forbidden highways. Dangerous thoughts chased through his mind. He scanned the empty aisles of neatly racked discs. No one was watching him. Kyle launched another window on his screen, and logged into the library's Card Catalog. A question blinked across the screen - 'Search by: Author, Title, Keyword?' Kyle peeked over the top of his monitor and saw no one. He slid down on the wooden chair, leaning back and staring at the screen through half lidded eyes. Anyone looking at Kyle would have thought he was in a trance, hypnotized by his screen. It was the look that came over his face when he was in the zone, hacking, walking to nowhere. Kyle lived to chase down the code. His fingers moved over the keys like a wizard conjuring his way to strange lands. He loved walking the dark labyrinth of numbers and symbols that programmers built. In his mind, he saw not the screen, but a dark castle; a fortress built to keep intruders out. He crept around the castle walls, looking for a chink, a crack that would let him in. He found the tiny rabbit hole, and slipped through. JT's mug shot slid down from the top of the screen. Kyle sent a request for JT's arrest record. The answer that came back, blinking in red, was no surprise, 'Category Five ' Record Secure'. Kyle didn't have time to hack past it. He didn't need to; he knew enough. Cat five killers made their victims die hard, screaming to their last breath. Backdoors like the one Kyle had slipped through were like watchdogs. They let you in, but they kept sniffing around. Kyle had a simple code that interfaced with watchdogs and captured their alert times. He glanced down at the code that appeared on his screen as a stop watch. The digits were blinking in red. He had about three minutes before the watchdogs sent an alert to the main program. Kyle clicked to JT's record in Purgatory Prison. He scanned through page after page. His fight or flight instinct dumped adrenaline into his bloodstream, making his heart pound in his ears. He skimmed reports of brutal assaults, shattered bones, knifings, fist fights and two suspected cases of cruel and unusual torture. Kyle closed his dark green eyes, and willed his thundering heart to slow. He glanced at the stopwatch; minute and a half. Kyle typed steadily, scaling the castle wall to another floor. He slipped through another open window of code. When he found what he'd come for, cold sweat popped out on his pale face. He took in every detail of the prisoner. The caption read 'Jessi Sinclair', followed by his prison number. Above the words, Jessi's swollen face was distorted by a black eye and a swollen lip. Black and blue bruises decorated his smooth cheeks like strange, abstract artwork. The stopwatch was down to '00:10'. Kyle backed out the way he'd come, smoothing over his tracks; hiding from the watchdog programs that would be on his trail. For the first time since he'd seen the Principal, Kyle considered calling the number on the card. He'd get an offer he couldn't refuse - a job with Homeland Security, with a lifetime contract. He'd be trading Purgatory Prison for a life sentence, with The Principal as his jailer. Somehow he knew his father had turned down the same offer, and the Principal had made him pay an obscenely high price. Kyle stared at the screen, not seeing the question, 'Search by: Author, Title, Keyword?' blinking in serene inquiry. His mind kept going back to the cast on Jessi's right arm. He tried not to think about the words above Jessi's picture. Fear is an unrelenting predator. The five words fell through Kyle's mind like the whickering sound of the axe in a man's ears, just before his head rolls away into forever: 'Prior Cell Mate: James Tanning'. Chapter 4 What's it worth? Kyle's secret life as a hacker always turned on that question. The answer: what do you wanna risk? Kyle thought that the note on the top bunk might answer at least one of the questions. The box on the top bunk was the soft pink of a sunrise. Kyle's eyes were drawn to it because everything else in the cell was grey or black, or some other shade of hopeless. 'You want some free advice?' the guard said. 'Nothing's free,' Kyle said, reading the note beside the pink box of chocolates. Wanna be my girl? the note said. 'You ever been in a hurricane?' Kyle shot the guard a distrustful look. Solid muscle, wrapped in a grey uniform. 'What?' There was something unyielding and stony about his crew cut, his hard grey eyes, his polished shoes. Like a gargoyle guarding Purgatory from any ray of light. 'When a hurricane hits, you get away from the windows, hunker down, and pray the roof don't get ripped off from over your head.' He looked at Kyle, squinting a little. 'You following me, kid?' 'No idea,' Kyle said, staring at the note. 'Alright. Plain talk. If you don't wanna know how loud you can scream, don't fuck with JT.' He turned with military precision and slammed the heavy cell door behind him, leaving Kyle stranded in JT's cell. For a long moment, Kyle thought of how the guard hadn't slid the lock in place. As if no one would walk into JT's cell without his say so. Not unless they were willing to pay the price. The painting on the wall of the cell emerged from the darkness, as if the Horsemen were riding from far off. In the painting, a silver scythe lay in a cloud of dust left by the Horsemen of the Apocalypse. The Horsemen were hooded black figures, like shadows of doom in the shapes of men. Where their faces should have been, there was only darkness. The things that warned of their return had been cast away in their headlong rush. The signs of their coming lay on the on the dark, twisted road behind them ' scythe, sword, arrows, scales. The time of warnings and prophecies was long gone in the world of the painting. Victory rode a white horse that sparkled beside Famine's black horse. War's stallion was the color of a sea of blood. Death rode his pale horse hard. In the sky, a cruel scythe moon hung among the stars. Famine's shadow body hunched over his horse, urging him on. Come on boy, he seemed to say, you can do it. Just a little further. Armageddon's just ahead. These were no messengers of the Apocalypse. They were the real thing - dark angels, come to wage ruin on the face of the world. Galloping madly, the Horsemen raced the sun, bringing night with them. Kyle shuddered at the sight of the Horsemen racing from the wall, like the ultimate Hell Raisers. His eyes slid to the unlocked cell door. What if he slid the door back, and walked out? His fingers were curled around the bars, ready to ease the heavy door back, when a thought hit him with the blinding terror of glaring headlights on a midnight road. The Principal will come for me, he thought, and take me to room with no windows. His hands fall away from the iron bars. He walked back to the narrow cot, not seeing the box of chocolates. Kyle saw himself on a cold metal chair, the Principal standing there, looking down at him through a haze of smoke. And behind him, grey brick walls; no windows. Where do you go from Purgatory? Hell was the closest neighborhood. Chapter 5 Kyle slumped down on the bottom bunk, leaned his head back against the grey brick wall. His hair fell away from his pale face. He pulled his legs close, wrapped his arms around, and sank into dark thoughts of paying for what he'd bought. Echoing footsteps and harsh voices out in the stone corridor jolted Kyle from his gloomy thoughts. He looked up when JT slid the heavy door open with a bang. His dark face glistened with sweat. The tattoo of a screaming skull on his arm glared with malevolent red eyes. 'Somebody thinks he's fucking funny,' JT said. Gladiators didn't talk on holo. It was the first time Kyle had ever heard JT's deep voice. He watched JT crumple the note, then dump the chocolates down the toilet. The harsh sound of rushing water made Kyle jump a little. JT took off his sleeveless t-shirt. His chest and arms rippled with sleek muscle. He soaked the faded grey shirt under the pipe, and wrung it dry. Kyle couldn't help noticing how powerful JT's hands looked with water seeping between his thick fingers. He wiped down his body, took a fresh t-shirt from the wooden shelf behind him, and slipped it on. 'You liking the show?' JT said. 'I saw you a lot on holo,' Kyle said. 'You're different. I thought - ' 'I know what you thought,' JT said. He leaned against the wall, covering a Horseman, and pulled a pack of cigarettes from his jeans. 'I got you something.' His eyes shifted to the grey metal desk against the wall. For the first time Kyle noticed the package on the desk. The wrapping was faded and dull, as if the color had worn out. He went over to the desk, feeling JT's eyes on him. 'I didn't know how many pieces you like,' JT said. Kyle tore away the dull wrapping. The antique must have cost JT enough to keep him in smokes for a year. Almost all models were virtual games. The picture on the box showed a sleek jet, all shining silver edges against a clear, blue sky. Kyle was running his fingers over the words stamped into the corner when JT said, 'Fifteen hundred pieces too many?' 'How'd you know I like puzzles?' Kyle said. 'You broke into one to get in here, didn't you?' A thoughtful look came over Kyle's face. 'Yeah. I guess I did.' 'How come you messed with their shit?' JT said. 'I like cracking code,' Kyle said. 'What else you like?' Kyle blushed, thinking of the fantasy he'd had a thousand times. JT towering over him, his bulging crotch inches from his lips. Unzipping JT's jeans, his fingers trembling with desire, then - - 'Must be something you like a lot,' JT said. 'You got a nice smile on your face.' Kyle's cheeks flushed brilliant red. 'You still a virgin, boy?' 'I sucked dick before.' 'I bet that's all you done,' JT said. He laughed soft and low. Two long steps brought him to the desk. Kyle tried to back up, but the chair was behind him. He fell onto the hard metal, making the metal feet scrape against the concrete floor. JT squatted, so he was on eye level. 'Shit, boy. You're even prettier than I heard.' Jessi's picture rose in Kyle's mind. He pressed back into the small chair. 'I'll do what you want.' Kyle licked his dry lips. 'You don't have to hurt me.' JT stood up, looking down at Kyle. 'You think I gotta take what I want?' 'The guard said if I don't wanna scream, don't fuck with you,' Kyle said. 'I can't help it if people talk shit like they got a asshole for a mouth.' Kyle's mind whirled in confusion. Was this some interrogation trick? Was the Principal listening, ready to pounce the second Kyle admitted the truth about the Array? ' - - clue you in,' JT was saying. 'What?' Kyle said. 'Gladiators like me get what they want in here. I could sell your virgin ass for a shit load, boy.' 'Sell me?' Kyle said. 'Most men, they share a bitch between the whole gang. Eight, ten men would own your ass.' 'You're selling me?' Kyle said. The words felt strange, like another language. JT said slowly, 'I didn't say that. I said I wasn't gonna force you.' He ground his half smoked cigarette into the brick wall and tossed it into the toilet. 'You was on my bunk,' JT said in a low voice. 'I got a game. When I get back tonight, if I find you on my bunk, you're my girl. My property. Any questions?' 'What happened to Jessi?' Kyle counted three hammering heartbeats before JT said, 'You're real good at getting into shit that ain't your business.' Category Five. Kyle didn't heed the warning thought. The mad need to know drove words from his lips. 'Did you beat him up like that?' 'JT, we got to go.' Beyond the cell bars, Kyle saw a man with Rastafarian dreads that fell past his shoulders. 'Coming,' JT said, still looking at Kyle. 'Remember what I told you, boy.' # 'What?' JT said the moment he was alone with Dante. 'Doc says he needs to see you.' 'How come?' Dante shrugged his broad shoulders, but there was worry in his light brown eyes. When he spoke, his voice was soft and low, with a subtle rhythm born of life on deadly streets. 'I don't know. He just said he got to see you before game time.' 'Shit.' JT and Dante wound their way through the dark corridors of Purgatory Prison, on their way to see a smuggler of human cargo. For a price, Dr. Fagan smuggled prisoners out of Purgatory, no questions asked. Until tonight, JT's escape had been planned for two months from now, right after the Maze. Chapter 6 When they walked into the back room of the infirmary, they found Dr. Fagan slouched down low behind his desk. JT's sharp eyes took in the way his dark hair clung to his head, the lines of dirt under his manicured nails, the hollow look in his haunted eyes. 'You know we ain't supposed to meet like this doc,' JT said. Dante closed the door behind them. Fluorescent lights flickered overhead, giving the infirmary the grainy look of a cheap movie. The doctor looked JT in the eye. 'I have to call it off.' JT's jaw clenched tight. 'You're hotter than the sun,' Dr. Fagan said into the silence. 'My people aren't willing to risk it.' 'Why?' 'If they're caught, they're dead.' Fagan met JT's eyes with a level gaze, but his slender fingers trembled slightly as he reached for a dirty glass of water. 'I ain't nothing but a con with a past.' JT's mild voice gave the anger in his eyes a dangerous edge. 'How come I'm suddenly hotter than the sun? What the fuck doc?' Fagan avoided JT's eyes. The doctor looked down at his fingers tapping on the desk. 'Things change. I can't.' JT became perfectly still, like a panther about to pounce on his prey. 'You think that freak Matthew's gonna take no for a answer forever? He been appealing my chip for years. He wins, and every Eye in the Sky's gonna know when I take a shit. Escape won't mean nothing. I got to get out. Now, doc.' Tiny beads of sweat broke out on Dr. Fagan's forehead. 'I'm sorry.' The doctor reached for the glass of water again. JT lunged across the desk and grabbed his bony wrist. His muscled body was inches away from Fagan. 'What the fuck's going on?' JT said. Security in Purgatory Prison was notoriously slow. All three of them knew that if Fagan called for help, JT could beat him to a pulp long before the guards got there. Dr. Fagan licked his dry lips. A distant look came into his eyes. He did the last thing JT expected. His wrist still caught in JT's cruel grip, he got to his feet. 'Go ahead,' the trembling doctor said, almost lost in the dark shadow of JT towering over him. 'I know you carry a knife. Cut me. Do whatever you do to men who betray you. Alexa and Siarra will live if I die in here.' JT let go of the doctor's wrist and fell back a step. He looked at Dante. A quick nod told him no one would interrupt what he might have to do next. 'Sit the fuck down and talk to me,' JT said. 'You got one minute to tell me why I should let you live past tonight.' Dr. Fagan sank back into his chair. His shoulders slumped. He looked down at his hands lying limp in his lap. JT thought he looked like a man beaten before the fight even started. 'Two days ago I got a phone call from a man who says he knows all about me getting men out. He gave me dates, names ' all of it true. He said if I help you, he'll kill my whole family.' He paused a moment, then looked up at JT with shell shocked eyes. 'Told me what he'd do to my wife before he slit her throat, and how he'd tie my little girl to her bed so she couldn't get out when he burned my house to the ground. Said he'd do my dog first, so they could watch.' JT listened in stone silence, his heart beating too hard and fast. From the door, Dante said, 'Who called you?' Fagan went on as if Dante hadn't spoken, talking in the steady monotone of a man caught up in a grinding nightmare. 'Siarra's two years old. I spent some of the money you gave me. If you kill me in here, I'll die knowing my wife and daughter are okay.' 'I ain't making no two year old a orphan over money,' JT said, trying to hide his mounting impatience. 'Who called you?' Dr Fagan spoke without looking up. 'All I know is the new boy in your cell made you suddenly untouchable.' JT's voice turned deadly calm, the voice of a man fighting his hideous, darker side. 'You ain't fucking with me, right, doc?' Dr. Fagan reached for the water, but the glass slid through his jittering fingers, and shattered on the metal desk. He didn't move when the water flowed over the edge of the desk onto his pants. 'I knew you wouldn't believe me,' Fagan said. He swallowed, leaned back in his chair. 'Guess I'm dead.' The lights flared bright a few seconds, then dimmed to semi darkness. The doctor's eyes flicked up to the ceiling. When JT saw the sleepless, staring terror of a hunted man in Fagan's bloodshot eyes, he knew it was all true. 'Give me another name, and I'll call it even,' JT said. 'Maxell,' Dr. Fagan said. 'Good Samaritan type. Hates the government.' 'How am I gonna find him without asking questions? They bring in a whole bunch of doctors for the Maze,' JT said. 'You'll find him. Look for the doctor with the chip on his shoulder. When you find him, tell him your favorite Bible story is Samson and Delilah.' 'Who?' JT said. 'I got it,' Dante said, grabbing JT's thick arm. 'We got to go. Time for Pre Game Check In. You're late. They'll be looking for you.' 'Will he do it?' JT said, looking back at the doctor before he walked out. Dr. Fagan squinted at JT through grey smoke. 'I don't know. Whoever these people are, they don't fuck around.' After he slammed the door shut behind them, Dante said, 'Get rid of him. Sell him.' 'And start a gang war?' JT said. 'What?' 'Spector got me a virgin for a peace offering. You know what he'll do if I turn around and sell Kyle? I can't disrespect him like that.' 'You got a problem.' They walked on in silence, sliding through shadows that leapt ahead of them like dark waters parting. 'No problem,' JT said, staring into the darkness ahead of them. 'All I gotta do is make him not wanna be in my cell no more.' Chapter 7 The harsh sound of men's laugher grated on Kyle's strained nerves. From his bunk, he watched a river of slow moving men walk by. They looked like a strange, rag tag army in their tattered prison clothes, uncombed hair, and battered, bruised faces. Men stopped to look in at him, like Kyle was a new exhibit in a zoo. They said things he tried not to hear. 'Hope you got a tight ass, boy,' one prisoner said, looking in at Kyle through the bars. 'JT likes his punks real tight.' 'Come on, man. You ain't never gonna find out how tight that pussy is,' someone said. 'Don't be worrying about it.' Kyle was staring at the Horsemen riding out of the wall opposite him, enduring the taunts about what JT would do to him when the lights went out, when a low voice said, 'Hey, boy.' Something in the voice made Kyle look up. A man stood with his face pressed between the bars. His midnight black skin was shiny with beads of sweat. Short, thick Rastafarian dreads floated around his head like lazy snakes. Kyle was about to lean back into the brick wall, and let the shadows hide his face again, when the man said something that made him cold all over. 'They're watching you Nero,' he said in a low whisper. 'Heretics say, Trent's son can't trust nobody.' Kyle sprang off his bed and leapt to the bars, pressing his face to the exact spot where the man had been. But he was too late. The prisoner had melted into the river flowing by. Kyle backed away on shaky legs. He'd been haunted by the same nightmare since he got to Purgatory. In his dream, Homeland Security came and dragged him out of JT's cell. They took him to a back room, without any windows. The Principal was always there, playing a holo of his father's whipping over and over until Kyle finally screamed, promising anything if he would turn it off and silence his father's dying screams. He always woke from those dreams with the same words echoing through his mind, nobody hears you scream in those back rooms, kid. 'Come on, boy,' a soft voice said. Kyle pushed himself into the brick wall behind him so hard, the metal legs of the bed creaked against the concrete. He thought for a nightmarish moment it was the Principal come to get him. Fuck Purgatory. Let's get to the part where we make you scream, boy. The man outside the cell bars was tall like JT, but where JT was thick and solid with hard, chiseled muscle, this man had the thick, heavy build of a wrestler and creamy skin the color of coffee with milk. Long Rastafarian dreads gave him the exotic look of a pirate on a rum runner's ship. His full lips covered even, white teeth that reminded Kyle of the wolf in grandma's bed. 'Time for dinner,' the man said, his light brown eyes boring into Kyle. 'Thought JT didn't want me going anywhere.' Kyle sat where he was, hearing the man slide a key into the old fashioned lock. 'I don't want him mad at me.' 'He ain't gonna be mad at you for being with me.' Kyle looked the man up and down. 'Who are you?' 'Dante. JT's right hand.' 'Great,' Kyle said, quietly. 'And that Heretic is his left hand, right?' Dante's cold eyes fell on Kyle. His face had the hardened look of a natural born killer. 'Who?' Kyle realized he'd made a bad mistake, saying that word out loud. 'Nothing. Just men saying shit. About what kind of boys JT likes.'' He looked down at the floor, hiding his fear, hoping Dante would think he was embarrassed. He shrugged. 'No big deal.' Just someone who knows who my father is; someone who could wake up dead for knowing my secrets, Kyle thought. No big deal. Dante hesitated long enough for Kyle to feel uncomfortable under his steady gaze before he said, 'Get used to it. Let's go.' 'How come I couldn't get out for dinner?' Kyle said, following Dante out of the cell. Dante whirled and grabbed Kyle's arm tight. 'JT got enough trouble cause of you. Don't be going no place by yourself. You heard me, bitch?' Dante's eyes weren't as cold and dark as the Principal's, but it was close enough. 'Sure,' Kyle said in a voice tense with pain. 'Whatever you say.' 'Good. Come on.' Kyle followed Dante down twisting, narrow stone passages in silence. Walls pressed too close. Naked light bulbs dangling from thin wires cast cones of light that made too many shadows. Every few feet, on both sides, shadowy archways opened in the stone walls. Kyle counted three turns into dark openings, before they left the noise of the prison behind. He wondered if they were heading for a room with no windows. Chapter 14 Kyle watched JT lock the cell door, and thought, oh God, this is it. 'Come here, boy,' JT said. Kyle slipped to his knees, between JT's spread legs. 'No,' JT said quietly. He pulled Kyle to his feet. 'I wanna taste those pretty lips before you wrap them around my cock.' He pulled Kyle close, and kissed him, running his tongue into his mouth, grabbing his tight ass. 'You do what I say, boy,' JT said, kissing Kyle's neck, squeezing his round ass, 'and you won't have no problems.' He kissed Kyle's soft lips again, pulling him close, grinding his hard cock into him. 'Fuck baby,' JT said, breathing hard. 'You could drive a man crazy.' He pushed Kyle. 'Over there, in the corner.' Kyle reeled into the shadowy corner between the bed and the wall that smelled of piss. He slipped to his knees, his back to the wall. The feel of JT's lips was still on his mouth. He'd thought of servicing JT so many times. But this was nothing like his fantasies. 'You seen me fight tonight?' JT said, looking down at him. Kyle nodded. 'You scared of me now?' The truth rose to Kyle's lips before he could stop himself. 'I was scared of you before I got here.' He bit his lip. 'Jesus. I didn't mean anything.' Kyle looked up at JT in the shadowy light. Feeling JT's thick fingers running through his hair, Kyle wondered what it would be like to feel JT's cock sliding between his lips. Then, all at once, the Principal's warning about back rooms with no windows flashed across his mind. He couldn't keep the fear that jolted his heart out of his eyes. 'You're scared of something, boy. And it ain't just me fucking your tight little virgin ass. You keeping secrets from me?' Secrets? Like you wouldn't believe, Kyle thought. He tried desperately to think of something to tell JT, throw him off the scent of his deepest fears. He said the first thing that came to his mind. 'How come you got mad at Jessi?' 'Who told you about him?' Kyle shrugged, unwilling to reveal his search in the library. 'I heard stuff.' 'He didn't wanna be my bitch.' JT ran his dark fingers along Kyle's soft pink lips. 'But you ain't like that. You're gonna be a real good girl for me, right?' 'I never had a man in my ass,' Kyle said. 'I'm real scared.' 'You plan on fucking with me?' Kyle shook his head, looking up into JT's eyes, glittering in the darkness. 'Then you ain't got nothing to be scared about,' JT said. Kyle watched JT take off his shirt, uncovering his broad chest, sculpted in muscle. His belly was flat and hard. With a swollen hard on, Kyle watched JT undo the draw string holding up his pants. He let them slide down his hips, revealing his thick cock jutting straight up, past his navel. 'You gonna suck my dick like a good girl?' JT said, looking down at Kyle. Oh God, yes, Kyle thought. He nodded, not taking his eyes off JT's fat cock. 'Get to it, bitch.' JT pulled Kyle's silky hair, pressing the boy's face into his crotch. 'Show me how good those pretty pink lips feel on a man's dick.'