Part III - Chapter 12 - Test Subjects

Pete awoke with a clearer head than normal and this time he was not strapped to a bed. It was a welcome relief to not have a flashlight shining in his eyes. In fact, there were not any lights at all and he was not laying on the hospital bed in the center of the room. Pete slowly sat up and took in the surroundings. As his eyes adjusted, he realized that he had been moved to the bench of one of the cells. He was on a tiny mat and a plate of food sat just in front of the door to his cage. The middle cage was empty but the man who had fascinated Pete was still in his cell, two cages over. In fact, the man was sitting in his bed, smoking a cigar, and watching Pete.

"Of all the gin joints, in all of time and space, it's Pete Hutter."

Pete's head was still dizzy but he struggled to stand up and ask, "Do I know you?"

"Not yet but you will, the name is Jayne Cobb," the prisoner said as he watched Pete attempt to struggle to get up. "I probably wouldn't push yourself too much. Think that the nutty professor had you truly doped up there for a while to fight all of the mutated diseases, or so he says. But even if he's lying about viruses, it will take a bit of time before your back to your old self. At least that was my experience when I got here."

"Where's the other guy?" asked Pete. His throat felt parched and scratchy but it was nice to have the tubes removed from his throat.

Jayne shrugged in the darkness and continued to smoke the cigar in silence. Realizing that the whereabouts of the 3rd man would not be gleaned from Jane, Pete decided to change tactics.

"How long have you been interned in this scientific nightmare?"

"Who knows? The days mesh together," Jayne responded nonchalantly before taking another puff from his cigar. "At least it's two master thieves here which means we have doubled the chance of escaping this hell."

At being called a thief, Pete was about to object but realized it was pointless in this futuristic lab so he instead replied, "You seem to know a lot about me."

"Spoilers for another day. Think the day is about to start here in a few."

"How did you get the cigar?"

"Told you. I'm one hell of a thief," boasted Jayne as he flashed a smile at Pete.


"Do you think that I would settle for less?"

At Jane's reply, there was suddenly a loud buzzing and the lights began to power on overhead.

"Feels like those lights get brighter and louder every single day," grunted Jayne.

Pete shakily forced himself up off the floor and onto the bench of a bed. He carefully leaned his back against the wall and took in the room from his new vantage point. He couldn't quite see the whole room but he could hear a door open and then the sound of small feet. They were skipping. Suddenly a child's voice came giggling and singing to herself before the tiny face of a girl peered around the corner to look at the two men. Pete looked over at Jayne to determine if this was normal but based on Jayne's shocked expression, this was new to him as well. In fact, Pete wasn't sure if the cigar was about to fall out of Jayne's mouth as it dangled down in confusion.

"Excuse me, sir, but is you one of them or one of us?" the innocent voice inquired.

"Who are we?" Pete asked trying to piece together what the hell a little girl was doing in a lab of torture and cages like this. She was thin and small with piercing blue eyes and a mop of brown curls framing her round face. If Pete had to guess, she could only be 3 or 4 years old.

"We're scientists. We don't live in boxes."

"Isn't this a box?" Pete asked pointing to the cage.

"No, silly, I can see you. The other people, the ones that live in boxes, you can't see them. And this is a lab. We don't sleep in boxes here, unless we're hiding from box people."

"I am unable to argue with that logic," Pete replied as he slowly moved off the bed to sit by the cage door. He studied the girl for any sign of abuse, trauma, or scars, but she had none. In fact, she looked to be every bit of a normal, healthy child. Albeit too pale and too skinny. She doesn't seem like a captive, so why would a child be allowed into the lab that kept men imprisoned? How is seeing caged individuals a normal spectacle for her?

"Are the box people bad?" asked Jayne in his gruff voice.

"No," replied the girl tentatively. Jayne's deep voice seemed to only slightly catch her off guard. But the true source of her hesitation and scrunched face seemed to be a struggle to remember a definition that she had been taught. When it seemed to be too big of an answer to recall, she put it out of her mind and simply said, "No, we just don't talk to them or play with them is all. Besides, we like being in the lab. Labs change things. Make things better. What's that?" she asked changing the subject to the food in front of Pete's cell. Just like a child to lose interest quickly.

"I think it's my breakfast," responded Pete in disgust.

"But that doesn't look like breakfast. I don't see any tato, potos, PO-TAT-TOES," she finally enunciated the words correctly and with pride almost shouted the word again, "Potatoes!" she began to grin at herself before sticking her fingers into the mush sitting in front of Pete's cell. "Feels yucky and I don't see any potatoes." She announced her finding as if to explain that the meal was certainly not Pete's breakfast.

"It's his dinner from last night," came the captor's voice.

"Chucky, I was wondering when you would show back up!" called Jayne from the cell. Jayne's voice and smile were dripping with ironic good humor, while his eyes were filled with loathing as he watched the scientist move towards the cages.

"Livi, don't play with Mr. Hutter's food."

"Food is for eating and not for painting," the girl recited as though this was a common reproach at the dinner table. She then ran to the captor and hid her face behind the back of his leg as though suddenly shy around the two prisoners. She peaked around at the two of them gave Pete a smile, wiped her hand on the lab coat, and then hid her face again in the back of the captor's leg.

The professor, or Chucky, as Jayne called him, gently picked up the girl, kissed her cheek and then turned back to the prisoners. "Mr. Hutter, may I introduce you to my daughter? Livi. Livi, this is Daddy's...friend."

"Friends! Ha!" came Jayne's voice. "Hey kid, I'll give you a big 'ole Silver Dollar if you can run and get another adult for us. Or even just scream, scream really loud."

The girl's eyes widened in misunderstanding before suddenly dismissing the idea as preposterous and giggled. "You're silly, Mister. I scream all the time in here and no one ever comes in to see me," her words brought chills to Pete's spine.

Charles turned to address the little girl in his arms, "Now, Daddy has to get some work done. Can you go to your play area?"

"Yes, Daddy," the girl nodded as he kissed her forehead and gently set her down. She began her shy act as she hid behind her father and waved at the men. As the scientist gently nudged her towards the door, she began skipping away out of their sight and back out the door.

As soon as his daughter was out of hearing, Charles turned to Jayne before sternly exclaiming, "Prisoner 2187 - you will refrain from addressing my daughter ever again!"

"What kind of sick bastard are you? To allow your daughter to watch as you experiment and imprison people? And what place is this that no one comes to check on screaming people, Chuck?" demanded Jayne.

The scientist cooly pulled out his tablet from an oversized pocket in his lab coat. He quickly slid his fingers from the bottom of the screen to the top which resulted in Jayne falling off his bench and writhing on the floor in pain. Pete shakily moved away and onto his bench and he watched Jayne continued to shake on the floor. It had been a long time since Pete had last experienced a high voltage electrocution situation but the sound and smell still haunted him. Luckily, Jayne's experience lasted only a couple moments before Charles slid his hand back down across the tablet.

"As I have explained before and in tedious detail," the scientist began in a sadistic tone, "the name is Charles, not Chuck, Chucky, or Chuckster. And no, I do not allow her in here but she wanted to meet Mr. Hutter so I allowed her in today before your experiments begin. As for the location, this is a government funded lab. Of course, no one will come in, because no one cares if you live or die Prisoner 2187. And as I have stated on numerous occasions, there is no escape."

In an effort to collect himself and to illustrate his silent rebellion, Jayne took the opportunity to sit back up on his bench and made a show of putting the cigar back inside his mouth before taking another deep inhale and slowly blowing smoke in Charles' direction.

For a moment, Pete thought that Charles was going to use his tablet to punish Jayne but to Pete's relief, Charles simply placed the tablet on a nearby table before turning to address Jayne again. "While I am not pleased that you stole one of my cigars, I am glad to see that you are putting your talents to a use other than escape attempts." Jayne merely grunted in reply and began to blow smoke circles into the air.

Charles turned back to Pete and instructed him to stand up and to place his hands through the bars. As Pete shakily complied, the scientist tied Pete's hands together. "I see that you did not eat last night, Mr. Hutter. How unfortunate."

"Due to my gut shot from years ago, I have a small appetite," came Pete's wry reply. "Furthermore, I prefer to get some exercise between waking up and eating. Gets the blood moving. So, anyway that you can be a gracious host, open the door, and let me mosey on home?"

Charles gave an amused smile to Pete and replied, "Not at this time."

Unphased by Charles' denial, Pete continued, "Then how about something more appetizing. I'm with your daughter, I prefer potatoes for breakfast."

Charles smiled amicably before responding, "She has only seen pictures of potatoes but she has never actually eaten potatoes. What you have there is a meal staple. Three times a day you get this-"

"Disgusting mush-" grunted Jayne.

Charles shot Jayne a look demanding silence before addressing Pete, "I do agree, there is not much taste. However, it does have all of the basic nutrients to make a meal. That said she has an impressive imagination which has somehow convinced her that she has potatoes every morning." Charles stated all of this information as he took Pete's blood pressure, listened to Pete's heartbeat, and performed other random tests with odd gizmos and gadgets.

"Aside from the normal dizziness, how do you feel? Any chills? Fever? Pain?"

"I thought you just said no one cares if I live or die," responded Pete as coldly as he could muster.

"I said no one cares if Prisoner 2187 lives or dies, he's just a common thief from the past. Not even a notable one..."

"Gee thanks. It's not like I'm a few feet away and can hear you," muttered Jayne sarcastically.

"But you, Mr. Hutter, you are the beginning. You are the start of something much bigger. No, no I can't have you getting sick. You have so much more living to do."

- - - - - - - - - - - - -

The rest of the day, Pete laid in bed. He still felt tired and weak so he simply watched the activity of the lab to seek possible escape times and routes. Unfortunately, Jayne's experience was not so peaceful.

In an effort to move Jayne, an unwilling test subject and well built individual, Charles had to utilize a variety of electrically charged instruments to stun Jayne into a paralyzed state. At which point, the scientist could utilize a machine to drag a gagged and bound unconscious Jayne to the center of the room. However, Jayne was not moved to the bed that Pete had experienced but left on the floor as Charles sat at his desk.

Upon sitting at his desk, Charles tossed a bright red die into the air and let it fall onto the desk. For a moment, the familiar object reminded Pete of happier times and poker games with Bly's gang or with Bowler in Hard Rock but the pleasant thought was quickly twisted as Charles clattered away while typing the results. No matter what number had been revealed on the die's face, the result always led to torture for Jayne.

Pete had to stretch his neck to watch Charles lean down from his seat to attach a leather bracelet to Jayne's foot before kicking the prisoner awake. Jayne grunted awake and expressed his dislike through a series of grunts before Charles pressed a couple buttons on the bracelet which caused Jayne to disappear with a blinding light. After ten minutes or so, Jayne reappeared, still tied up and gagged.

The scientist would then take notes, measurements, consult the screens, and if Jayne did not wake up quickly enough, the scientist would inject Jayne with something that would cause him to bolt awake in a shriek of pain and anger. Then the scientist would roll the die again, record the results of the die, press buttons on the bracelet, before Jayne would disappear and reappear.

The first few appearances seemed to go well as Jayne looked exactly the same. Occasionally, the doctor would ask Jayne if he was experiencing any pain which Jayne responded with grunts that seemed to intonate "No," "Fuck you," or "Go to hell, Chuck!"

However, as the day went on, Jayne seemed to disappear for longer periods of time and his body seemed to stiffen as though he was starting to experience more intense levels of pain. Unfortunately, Pete could feel his own body temperature rising, maybe he was getting a fever. But if he was going to go through the same hell as Jayne, it would probably be better to expire of fever rather than endure the mad scientist's experiments.

Finally, the day seemed to end and Jayne was shoved back into his cell before the scientist loosened the bindings. When Pete couldn't move to the bars to have his hands rebound for evening medical checks, the scientist rushed inside. He took Pete's measurements and chastised Pete for not speaking up, as a father would chastise a son with gentle sternness. Why did Pete get all of the affection and Jayne got all of the hate? No, not hate. Just complete apathy and lack of basic humanity. He gave Pete a shot of something called an antibiotic to boost something or other and then provided a new bowl of mush and placed it gently by Pete's bed before locking Pete back in. And then the lights went out.

Jayne grunted as he sat up in bed, moved to the door, and then quietly started whittling away at the door. "I've picked my fair share of locks in time but this one's innards keep changing every time I try to get it open. It's almost like its learning. There must be something special about his key that enables it to open for him but I have yet to get a good look at the key or attempt to steal it from him."

When Pete didn't respond, Jayne looked over at his co-prisoner before commenting, "You look like shit."

"Gee, you mean that I won't win the beauty contest? You've dashed my dreams of becoming a fashion icon," Pete replied in mock disappointment. After a few more minutes, Pete noticed that his shivering was starting to feel uncontrollable. "D-Did you g-go through whatever this fever i-is?" Pete asked through chattering teeth.

"Yeah, most people seem to live through it," grunted Jayne.

Pete thought back to the 3rd prisoner who had disappeared and again decided that he didn't want to know the fate of other prisoners so he changed the subject to learn what the nearer threat might be, "What was he doing to you today? And what the hell is up with that die?"

"Not totally sure. The bracelet that he straps on my ankle sends me to different places. It might also be various points in time. It's hard to tell where or when I have arrived but I can tell that it's no longer here or now based on what I can see and the length of nearby shadows. I think the die is how he decides where and when I travel to. We have to find a way out of here soon though because the first few trips didn't hurt, but the last few were different. The last couple started to feel like there was a stabbing pain in all of my muscles. That last one felt like my insides were out to murder me." At that Jayne started muttering to himself and all that Pete could catch was "betrayal of body."

Before Pete could ask what Jayne meant, Pete's eyes began to struggle to stay open. In a matter of seconds, the world faded away into darkness.

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