There was a mouth-breather four feet behind him, and it was starting to bug Silas. Shifting on the hard-backed chair, he hunched lower over the scratched testing tablet, trying to concentrate on his final exam. But someone was tapping their stylus, and another kept changing their answer, the click, click, click distracting. The sighs were incessant, and the frustrated tension rose with the sour smell of sweat in the high-ceilinged room, ornate from a more elegant past.
Silas sat back, stretching his wide shoulders, feeling the fabric of his white collared shirt pull. His suit coat lay carefully across the seat in front of him, the empty instructor podium a good six rows beyond that. Most of the desks were occupied, but he didn’t know anyone, having been shoved in here with an undergrad class to take his final because the security was good and it was easier than arranging a proctor just for him.
Outside, through the row of glass windows high above head height, he could hear the shouts of someone on the commons celebrating the end of their classes, but in here, it was all nervous tension. Grimacing, he bent back over his exam, feeling cramped. It wasn’t that the station was small. He was just a big guy.
The activity of synaptic linkages able to resonate to time can be directly influenced by: diet, training, trauma, synaptic fatigue, ambient noise, drugs. Check all that apply. Silas used his stylus to check all of them, then undid diet, though he’d swear his undergrad students did better after lunch. He just hadn’t had an opportunity to prove it yet, and the last time he’d challenged his instructor, he’d lost a full grade.
Bored, he slumped to stretch his long legs out under the desk, trying to decide how much trouble he wanted to make. Head lolling, he squinted at the glowing orb on the ceiling. It was a bright red, indicating all incoming and outgoing communications were being blocked. Opti loved its gadgets, almost as much as it loved catching students trying to get around them—encouraged the activity, even as punishment for getting caught was harsh and swift.
Smirking, he sat up and tapped the diet icon to add it. He’d contest it if anyone gave him flak. He had only one more semester with which to finish his thesis, and then he’d have two sets of letters after his name. Silas’s smile faded. He was going to lose her after graduation. Summer was more than a girlfriend. Four years of shared sushi over a lab table and informal challenges at the shooting range had turned into a quiet intimacy he couldn’t bear to lose. He felt good when he could make her laugh, and she brought his frustrated turmoil to calm when the work was bad. Even better, she was the only woman whose height kept him from looking like an ape beside her. He needed her, and he wasn’t ashamed to admit it.
But once working, drafters seldom maintained long-term romantic relationships with anyone outside of their anchor partners. Come this fall, she’d be assigned her first real anchor, and it would be over.
With a sharp crack and cascading tinkle, one of the upper windows shattered. Silas looked up, barely having time to recognize the manhole-size drone before it careened into a light fixture and ricocheted toward him.
“Look out!” someone shouted, and then it struck him, knocking his head back.
“God bless it!” he exclaimed, hand to his forehead as the drone hit the floor and slid to a halt. The Opti logo caught the light, but it was a safe bet the drone had been misappropriated.
“Hey, are you all right?” someone asked, but no one moved, afraid if they did, their exam would be invalidated.
“Yeah.” Silas grimaced at the smear of blood on his hand. On the floor, the drone hummed, clicked, and stopped working. There was a small crackling at the window as a slight, petite woman vaulted into the broken frame. A remote in her hand, she crouched there, assessing the students looking up at her. Facial-recognition deterrent caked her face, making her eyes black holes and her chin more narrow than it probably was. Standing up in the broken window, she tucked the remote into the waistband of her skintight black athletic wear, then jumped the five feet to the floor, landing lightly to look like she was a sexy black cat.
“Excuse me,” she said, her voice surprisingly low for such a small frame. “Be out of your hair in a sec.”
Silas leaned back, his chair creaking. Irritation and anger swept over him, and he crossed his iron-pumping arms across his chest as she wove her way through the stunned class, arms swinging confidently.
He didn’t recognize her under the face paint, but her hair was short and black, and her chin angular. She was athletic without being blocky, with a narrow waist, ample hips, and a small chest. Her arrogant poise said she was in the field agent program. His best friend, Allen, could strut like that, and Summer had that same undeniable grace.
He cracked his knuckles as she stopped at his desk, her eyes going to the swelling bump on his forehead. “Sorry about that,” she said as she scooped up the drone. Her fingernail polish was metallic, the latest rage. Her eyes were hazel, and her safety glasses were Gucci. He hadn’t known they did safety glasses, and he made a mental note to look into it. Clearly the woman had money, had had it her entire life, by the look of it—too much to be here learning how to be a weapon.
Silas clenched his hand to hide the blood on it. “You going to draft to fix it?” he asked belligerently, and she smiled to show small, very white teeth, clearly pleased he’d recognized her status.
“You’re awfully big to want me to kiss your boo-boo away. You’ll heal.” She leaned over his tablet, clearly curious as to what he was taking. Slim finger jabbing out, she changed the icon of diet back to false. “Trust me on this. It’s secondary, not direct.”