But she reluctantly pulled back a little, remaining in his arms even as she used the same wipe to take the smut from his face in turn. “I hope this works,” she said, eyes flicking behind him to where Allen stood, quiet as he cleaned the incriminating black lines from himself.
“It has to,” Silas said, letting Summer go as he realized Peri was carefully not watching them as well. “No one has ever done it before. That has to count for something.”
“So who wants to go for a beer?” Allen said, the glow from his phone lighting his face as he checked the time. “We’ve got almost an hour before last call.”
As if nothing bad could ever happen, they turned to cross campus, arm in arm and laughing like the drunken students scattered about. “ ‘This is bad for my asthma’?” Silas said, poking fun at Peri, and the woman flushed, her embarrassment overshadowed by the obvious pleasure of having found her place among new friends.
But her reply never came, and her expression fell.
Allen halted, swearing, and Silas and Summer scuffed to a halt, following their companions’ attention across campus to the upperclassman apartments.
There were cars parked askew in the lot before the building’s main door, and people were standing in the glow of headlamps.
Silas’s thick hands clenched as he stood in the small kitchen, refusing to sit in the living room like a chastised little boy. Summer called it a fanny-bumper kitchen, and he took up the space nearly in its entirety, hunched and angry as the accusations mounted and the night went from bad to worse.
The small apartment had hosted larger parties, but the venom pouring from Professor Milo combined with Professor Woo’s frustration made it claustrophobic. Peri’s advocate, an old man in his seventies named Dr. Cavana, had been a silent, closed pillar standing behind the small woman, but the deference the other two were showing him was enough to give Silas pause.
The wrinkle-lined man had arrived earlier that evening, called in by the two professors to discuss Peri’s probable involvement in the previous day’s drone incident. Failing to find her, he and Professor Milo had tracked her down to the empty apartment and the thwarted, chipped wristbands. Milo’s anger over the wristbands was nothing compared to the outpouring when the tech call came in about the mainframe’s failure. That had been about twenty minutes ago.
Silas’s eyes went to the ceiling vent when the air conditioner clicked on. Mood bad, he reached out and turned it off so he could see Professor Milo sweat in the coat and tie he’d put on for the dignitary. A lump showed on his right arm where he’d been bandaged, and Silas didn’t feel any remorse at all that he had it in a sling.
Coming into the small kitchen, Summer swayed around him in a familiar dance, eyebrows high as she flicked the air conditioner back on again.
Silas ignored the heated argument between the two retired Opti agents, bending close over Summer to breathe in the scent of her hair. It still held the hint of that hideous perfume from the manager’s office. “You always were the smarter of us,” he said as she poured coffee into two mugs. His eyes flicked to the silent, tall man behind Peri, wondering why the mismatched mugs bothered him. They never had before.
Summer’s hands were steady as she extended the full mugs to him and nodded toward Allen and Peri. Exhaling heavily, he took them, shoulders back in unrepentance as he passed within feet of Professor Milo. Why do you hate me so much, old man?
Peri beamed up at him, sitting in Summer’s reading chair with her arms draped across it as if nothing were wrong. “Thanks, Silas,” she said as she reached for the offered coffee. But he couldn’t help but notice she set it aside untasted.
“Allen?” he prompted, and Allen looked up from where he sat perched at the front of the couch, his elbows on his knees as his fate was decided.
“No, thanks. I want to sleep tonight,” he muttered, and Silas kept the mug, retreating to stand before the tiny fireplace where he could see everyone. In the kitchen, Summer made a second pot of coffee, desperately trying to do something normal.
That they had removed Allen’s and Summer’s chipped bracelets wasn’t a direct link to the malfunctioning mainframe, but that didn’t seem to matter to Professor Milo.
“You will be expelled for this, Dr. Denier,” Professor Milo said, face red. “Removed from the program entirely.”
Fat chance, Silas thought as Professor Woo drew himself up in anger. “You can’t do that, Milo,” he said, and Milo looked the smaller man up and down in threat.
“No? See if I don’t.”
Head craned, Professor Woo pushed into Milo’s space, almost shoving the taller man onto the couch. “I have listened to you rant for twenty minutes now. Get off my student’s back. It’s a year-end prank. Let it go at that.”
“Prank!” Milo became choleric. “They destroyed an entire semester’s grades.”
“Prove it,” Allen muttered, and behind Peri, Dr. Cavana chuckled, hiding it with a cough.
Professor Woo backed up, his expression grim. “I checked into it while you were on your tirade. It doesn’t need rebuilding. The system is in a reboot spiral. Whoever did it can undo it. Your reactions are not based on the current situation but on your bruised pride, and I won’t let you kick Denier out of the program because he’s smarter than you and you can’t handle it.”
Speechless, Professor Milo stared at the slight man, his face flushed as his darting gaze read amusement all around. His eyes fastened on Silas, and the hatred poured from him.