He woke in a cage. Again. Well, fuck it, that escape had gone to hell in a hand basket. Hadn’t it?
Dean Steele groaned as he opened his eyes, blinking until they cooperated and focused on the scene above him. Sure enough, bars stood between him and the ceiling high above. Yeah. He could smell the rust and metal. Once you’d been in one cage, smelled one, it was unmistakable. With a sigh, he shut his eyes again, not making an effort to move from where he was sprawled on his back.
Why bother? What was the point? He lived and died at the will of others and had done so from the moment he’d been infected months ago.
He was stupid if he thought any differently. That he could affect his fate. Negate it somehow. He wasn’t human now. Why should he expect to be treated as one?
For a while, there had been hope. He’d thought Alpha Three could do what he hadn’t been able to do on his own and beat the system. Beat the Project. There were eight of them. Eight fully converted lycans doing something they shouldn’t have been doing… operating as a pack.
More than that, they’d done something that had totally put the shits up the Project. They’d developed the ability to partially shift. Somehow they’d gained the ability to tap into their animal side while still retaining their human intelligence. It wasn’t supposed to be possible. All the eggheads said they would be little more than animals, always ruled by their primal sides. His lips almost curved into a smile. How wrong they’d been. He’d have loved to have been a fly on that lab wall when they’d discovered the truth.
But Alpha Three, with all their talents, hadn’t been able to give him his freedom. Not even with those freaky new intelligent re-animates on their side. Because here he was in a fucking cage again, locked up like the animal he was.
Hay scratched at his bare back, but he ignored it and the hot surge of anger that wanted to escape his chest in a feral snarl. No point. He didn’t move, not to scratch the itch or to investigate the smell of rust from the bars around him.
At one point, he would have. He’d have tested each and every one of the bars with his Project-enhanced strength to see if he could break out. Not now. There was no point. They’d just track him down. Eventually they’d throw him in a ring again and he’d have to fight. Kill again.
The killing never stopped.
Not for him.
Agony ate at his soul but he ignored it too. Sighing, he let the darkness in his blood wash over him and the emptiness soothe the pain. Perhaps that was all he was worth keeping alive for. To kill.
He’d been a soldier once. Protected his country with pride. Put his body and blood on the line, not because he hated his enemy but because he loved what he protected with every ounce of his being. He’d gotten his men through Iraq… Afghanistan… shit holes he didn’t even have names for and if he did, he wouldn’t have been allowed to admit he’d been there anyway. He’d gotten them through all that, only for them to die in pain at the hands of the Project.
Sounds from around him caught his attention even though he tried to ignore them. Without his permission, his analytical brain—the part of him that had made him such a good soldier—kicked in. The soft scuffles and small noises told the tale of others around him. The rattle of a loose bar said they were also in cages.
His sense of smell got in on the act. There were lycans and, surprisingly, bloods—both werewolves and vampires—around him. Cracking an eyelid, he turned his head to look to the side. Sure enough, a blood sat in the cage opposite with enough space between for a small walkway.
He frowned. Interesting. The Project normally used bloods as heavies although he had been forced to fight some in the cage—the underground recorded fights the Project used to make money on the side. But from what he’d gathered from the guards’ chatter, those bloods were the weaker ones from earlier experiments. They weren’t nearly as useful to the Project as the newer versions. Didn’t matter. They died just as easy as the others.
He moved his head, his gaze scanning the cages on either side of the blood. Then he stopped dead on a cage two down. There were humans here as well. Steele dragged a breath in, rolling the air over his tongue to isolate the scents. They weren’t just human, but fully human. Not those who had been infected and were undergoing conversion.
Why would they have full humans here? If it was a cage fight setup, they wouldn’t last more than five seconds. Humans were little more than prey for any of the Project’s creations. It didn’t make sense.
Rolling to sit up with the ease and economy of movement that marked his blood side, Steele looked around. The cage to his right was empty with the door open, but the one on his left was occupied. Sanders, one of the Alpha Three lycans, lay on his side, eyes closed.
“Hey…” Steele frowned and scanned his memories of the attack on the Project when Sanders and the rest of his pack had rescued Steele and the others in the ring. Although, to be fair, they hadn’t been after Steele himself but rather the lycan he’d been fighting.
He latched on to a name.
“Hey… Joe… wake up.”