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Table of Contents
A Sneak Peek of Altered
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Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
Dylan Thomas. A line from one of my favorite poems.
Never has it been more apt.
In the dark, it's hard to know how many hours, days, weeks pass. Sometimes you wonder if you're already dead, and if what comes after is nothing more than an infinite black. It's why they put you in the dark to begin with. And the longer you stay in it, the further away from sane you feel. The further away from alive you feel.
It felt like I'd been in this holding cell for weeks.
I shifted, trying to stretch my body, ease out the soreness in my bones.
I'd spent the first few days—or what felt like days—in here, shackled to the ceiling, getting the shit kicked out of me. My old unit, the unit I'd turned on and delivered back to the Branch after they'd escaped, had disappeared from this building with dozens of stolen files in tow.
Of course, I'd been the one to steal those files, and I'd been the one to help them slip out a back door, but Riley, the Branch's commander, didn't know that, not really. Which was why I'd been subjected to such brutal questioning.
Riley wanted the truth, and he believed I'd helped Anna, Sam, Cas, and Nick escape. What he hadn't counted on, though, was my unremitting resolve. I was sticking to this story—I didn't help them escape. I didn't steal those files. I wasn't anywhere near the scene of the crime when it happened.
Stick to the truth, I whispered to myself in the dark, over and over again.
Didn't matter that the truth was actually a lie. If I cemented it as the only truth in my head, then eventually Riley would believe me. And I needed him to believe me. Because the only way I could help Anna and Sam and the others now was by being who they thought I was. A Branch agent. An enemy. A traitor.
The best way to crumble the foundation of the corrupt is by cementing yourself as one of the bricks in the wall.
I heard the lock on my cell door scrape open, and every muscle in my body tensed.
They'd unshackled me a while ago, so I had full use of my hands if I needed to fight my way out of here, but it wasn't the right time for that, and I didn't much look forward to more beatings.
Still, I needed to prepare myself for it, just in case.
Light spilled into the cell and I squeezed my eyes shut against the burn. Too much light too quickly.
"It reeks in here," Riley said.
The sound of his voice made my stomach sink. A visit from Riley was never a good sign.
He'd been second-in-command when I'd entered the Branch, the organization that had genetically altered me into a super soldier. But now that Connor, the Branch commander, was dead, Riley had installed himself as de facto leader. No one seemed to care that he wasn't leader material. Guys like Riley were born followers, and always would be.
"Open your eyes," he said, so I did. He came into view, his face blurred as my eyes began to water. Behind him stood two Branch agents. Also a bad sign.
The last time Riley visited with an entourage, I'd ended up with a swollen eye, a split lip, and a few broken ribs. The ribs were still healing, as a matter of fact.
Riley circled me, and when he disappeared from my line of sight, I cringed, bracing for a hit. It took everything within me not to turn with him, follow his movements.
Fear is a mind killer. I would not be afraid.
"So, Trev," he said, "it's time to sink or swim."
I once read that the worst thing you can do in a situation of vulnerability is to show your weaknesses. Another thing I'd read: Be the person you need to be when you need to be it.
It was one of those supervague philosophy essays that talked about life and death and the human condition. Applied to my current situation, I decided I needed to be an asshole. If I was going to die, I might as well die pissing Riley off.
"If you wanted to get me in a bathing suit," I said to him, "all you had to do was ask."
Riley hated humor and sarcasm. He hated anything that even remotely resembled levity.
"Don't be a smart-ass," he said, his voice uncomfortably close to my ear. "We are at a pivotal point in your almost fruitless career. We need to know if you're any use to us. Because if you're not…"
"Then I sink?"
He ignored the question. "Tell me, Trev," Riley said, "are you loyal to the Branch?"
"Yes. Christ, Riley, I turned on them, didn't I?"
They were my old unit, Anna, Sam, Cas, and Nick. I'd been held right along with them in a basement lab beneath an old farmhouse for five years. We'd all been genetically altered, but I'd been planted inside the unit to observe their behavior and, more important, to discover their secrets. Which was hard when all four of them had had their memories scrambled by the very agency that wanted to know what they were hiding.
Sam had stolen valuable information from the Branch five years ago and hidden it. He'd staged a coup. When he broke free of the farmhouse lab, he followed clues he'd left for himself, and ran us straight back to the old case files he'd stolen. Inside were the sordid details on kill missions, alteration experiments, and behavioral modifications.
The whole time, I'd thought Sam was the bad guy. I'd thought the Branch was working in the name of science and evolution. Which was why I'd turned on Sam.
Now I knew better. Now I knew who the real enemy was.
The Branch failed to tell me they'd planned on killing Sam and altering Anna's memory a second time so they could use her over and over again for their own end game.
Riley came around to face me. He and I both knew which way the power flowed between us, but power is fickle, and it can be taken away. Riley wasn't a big guy. Five ten at the most. I was closer to six foot. Shy by a few centimeters. I had more muscle, thanks to the Branch, and I was willing to bet that I was smarter, too. Strength of mind, and strength of body are perpetual.
I think, deep down, he knew how tenuous his position was. And if he didn't, even better for me.
"Tomorrow, you'll be briefed on a new mission," Riley said. "Fail"—he got in close—"and I'll terminate you myself."
- On Sale
- Aug 26, 2014
- Page Count
- 32 pages
- Little, Brown Books for Young Readers