The Tests of Time (Book 1) ✔

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A Proposition

Present Day


The harrowing sound of voices shouting down the hallway of the vast prison disrupted the slumber of several inmates, the usual morning antics of the prisoners drawing frustrated groans or curse words from other cells.

Ivan Hayes was one of the men rudely awakened by the ruckus, a low groan of protest grumbling from his throat as he shifted in the uncomfortable cot. Over time he slowly grew used to the unpleasant noise and found himself numb to it. He found himself to be numb to almost anything.

However, today there was a different feeling in the air. Though his mind was struggling to wake up as exhaustion wore on him, he could still sense that there was something going on outside his own cell.

Sitting up in his cot, Ivan tried his best to rub the sleep out of his eyes in an attempt to get himself up and ready for the day. He barely had the chance to grumble in response to his sore body from the rough night of rest when the sound of clanking drew his attention to the cell bars.

His eyes narrowed when one of the prison guards stood smugly at the entrance to the cell, a pale man with a buzzcut and stern expression. The guard's eyes locked on Ivan with an intense stare as he stared at the guard expectantly.

“You have a visitor, Mr. Hayes,” the prison guards gruff voice explained.

The guard shook his head at the sight of Ivan’s eyebrows rising to his hairline, prompting him to snort in response to the prisoner. “Believe me, I’m just as shocked as you are. After two years, who is finally coming to see your sorry ass?”

Ivan didn’t bother mustering a word to the prison guard, knowing that the guard was trying to provoke him. The two have shared their unpleasant moments at odds with one another, and Ivan wasn’t entirely in the mood to start up something. Not today, at least - especially not with the knowledge that some mysterious person was waiting to meet with him.

Nodding curtly, Ivan simply stood from his cot and made his way towards the cell door, towering over the short guard. He decided to go against his original thoughts and respond to the guard's comment.

“It’s nice to see you decided to visit today as well. Really makes a guy’s year when he gets two prison visits in one day,” Ivan responded, giving the tense guard a smirk. “Do you have any visitors today? Oh, wait… probably not... Seeing as your wife is probably still pissed at you for sleeping with that woman you met on vacation. Shame, I guess you’re going to have a rough year...”

As the prison guard opened the cell door for him, Ivan could tell he was doing his best to bite back any sudden urge to respond to Ivan’s rude jab. A breathy grumble was barely audible over the noise of the other prisoner's endless noise, the guard staring darkly at Ivan.

“Walk, before I change my mind and lock your ass back up.”

With his smirk lingering, Ivan did as the guard asked and walked in the direction the guard had prodded him.

It was a decent walk before the two of them made it to the visitation area, where Ivan scanned the area for any signs of a familiar face. Aside from his lawyer, he hadn’t had a visit from anyone he knew in the two years of his long sentence.

Needless to say, the actions that landed him here made him a sore subject for the people in his life, so visiting him was on the very bottom of their list. Those that did care enough to visit were no longer living, so, unfortunately, it wasn’t an option.

Adding to the confusion he already felt, the guard guided him over to a table where he found himself standing before an unfamiliar woman, her tender gaze staying locked on him as he sat down at the table before him when the guard commanded.

He was so focused on the stranger before him, he barely noticed that the guard had firmly stated that he’d be back in a few to return him to his cell.

In fact, his narrowed eyes scanned the strange woman before him, taking in the way that she was dressed professionally in a black business suit complimented with a white dress shirt. Her brown hair was clearly straightened, her face decorated with neutral makeup that complimented her dark complexion.

Sucking on his teeth, Ivan shook his head as he put together who the woman was before him. “You’re another lawyer,” he pointed out, tilting his head in response to the way her eyes lit up. “Listen, there’s no point in wasting your breath. I am-”

“I know exactly who you are, Ivan Hayes,” the woman confessed, her voice poised.

“Do you?” Ivan scoffed, leaning back to stare at her.

He saw the flicker of amusement in her eyes, a half smile crossing her face as she folded her hands together on the surface of the table. “More than you realize. I know that you were driving a vehicle one night a few years ago when you shouldn’t have been… driving while intoxicated is messy to clean up. Causing an accident that took three lives while you were intoxicated? Well, that is near impossible to clean up without a long sentence.”

Ivan’s lips pressed into a tight line, his fingers twitching beneath the table as they rested against his knees. Whoever this woman was, she was either brilliant or suicidal - talking nonchalantly about his past as if she were simply talking about the weather.

“For a lawyer, you do a very poor job at making your potential client feel like that can trust you,” Ivan noted.

“I’m not a lawyer,” she responded, her eyes unwavering as she noticed the glare on Ivan’s face. “And my guess is from the look on your face, you’ve already put that together.”

“Your poise gave you away,” Ivan agreed, nodding his head towards her. “You’re trying your hardest to be cordial but from what I can see, you’re used to playing the bad cop. Is that who you are? A bad cop just looking to stir up trouble?”

“Unlike any lawyer or any cop you’ve dealt with, Mr. Hayes, I can clean up this mess that you’re in. So unless you want to spend the next several years wasting away here, I’d control your tongue,” the woman snapped, an edge to her lowered voice.

Ivan licked his lips in an attempt to discourage a smirk from crossing his face, his green orbs focused on the woman.

“So, you are someone powerful, then? I mean, that’s what I am assuming, seeing as you’re flaunting around that you have the power to clean up my mess,” he acknowledged.

“I am merely here representing a friend who has asked me to post your bail,” the woman explained, watching as Ivan struggled to keep from perking up.

Unsure of how to respond, Ivan’s gaze flicked over the woman as she emitted a new sense of confidence that was different from a few moments prior. He could tell that she knew that she had gotten him right where she wanted him, the knowledge making it difficult to keep a series of curses from leaving his lips.

While giving her credit for her cleverness, he knew that there was more to what she had just blurted out there… it was evident in her expression.

“I sense that there’s a catch,” Ivan commented.

“There’s always a catch when someone in a high up place is willing to sacrifice their money to assist someone troubled like you, Mr. Hayes,” the woman explained.

It was the first time since he sat before her that he noticed a nervous glint in her dark amber eyes, the way they darted to make sure no one was within earshot as she leaned towards Ivan.

“You’ve previously worked for the Whittaker Foundation,” the woman stated, noticing the way Ivan tensed.

She knew she had his attention with the simple statement of this fact. The rigid nature of his body gave that away, followed by the sudden darkness that glistened in his gaze.

“I also know about your episode when you were arrested. You were trying to convince people that Whittaker planned the accident, an accident that took the lives of your wife and child as well as one other passenger. You swore they were trying to cross you off because you saw something-”

“Who the hell are you?” Ivan interrupted her with a growl. “Why are you here?”

The woman scowled at him for interrupting, a frustrated huff leaving her lips. “I’m with Homeland Security, Mr. Hayes. My name is Agent Simone. I’m here because you’re not the first person without proof to be wronged by the Whittaker Foundation,” she confessed, a hesitation to her voice.

Ivan’s expression softened when he picked up on the nervous way she glanced at him, his voice lowering to match hers.

“You’re frightened,” he pointed out, taking in the way she barely nodded.

“Believe me when I say this, Mr. Hayes, I trust the person who sent me. When that person tells me the state of our country and its future is in peril, I am going to jump to protect it. That means doing my part in building a team that can go against Whittaker and right some wrongs.”

“With all due respect, you’re not making much sense,” Ivan grumbled. “Right what wrongs, exactly? And why build a team, especially when one of your members is an imprisoned criminal when Homeland Security can probably handle it themselves?”

“Much like there’s no proof that you were wronged by Whittaker, there’s no proof that they truly stole from my friend. We only have his word to go on and that’s hardly enough to risk going after a company as big and as powerful as Whittaker,” she explained, sighing heavily. “If you were in my shoes, would you actually believe that an organization responsible for the scientific research of flying cars and an AI that can satisfy the imagination of lonely souls in the world is out to steal an impossible invention from a professor at some Institution?”

“I’d sooner say prison is an actual paradise,” Ivan cracked, rolling his eyes.

Agent Simone gave him a knowing look, her head shaking. “This is why I was sent here to you. You, along with the other members of this team, are the only shot he has at bringing Whittaker down.”

“Why me?” Ivan questioned, staring at her firmly. “And who is this person you keep speaking of?”

For the first time in a few moments, Agent Simone offered Ivan a weak smile as she leaned forward. “Professor Altman has a thing for helping those who are troubled, and when he heard you were a potential victim of Whittaker… he knew he had to have you on his team,” she explained, barely acknowledging the way Ivan stared at her with a confused glare. “So what do you say, Ivan Hayes? Are you willing to be a part of this team and be a free man, or would you rather wait out the rest of your sentence?”

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