Thanks. That helps a lot, Professor Woo.
Dr. Cavana bent at the waist, his lips near Peri’s ear as he touched her shoulder and said, “Doesn’t take you long, does it.”
Leaning to the side, she beamed up at him. “I was trying to make friends.”
Sighing, he straightened, hand still atop her shoulder. “Maybe I should transfer out here,” he said, and Peri’s expression froze as his fingers gave her shoulder a squeeze. “Or do you think you can keep from antagonizing the apple cart from here on out.”
Silas’s eyebrows rose. Two sentences. That’s all the punishment she had needed. Peri, while clearly not about to subscribe to a halo, would be more careful in her independence, if only to make sure she maintained it. It was a warning well heard.
“Are we being questioned?” Silas suddenly asked. “Is this a formal hearing? If not, I’d like you all to leave.”
“Silas,” Summer quietly protested, but he was well within his rights, and they all knew it.
Dr. Cavana cleared his throat to speak, but Professor Milo nervously blurted, “I see no reason to take this outside academia. Silas will be removed from the program—”
“On what grounds?” Allen protested, jaw clenching when Milo turned his anger to him. “You can’t prove we had anything to do with anything.”
“Tampering with and removing an underclassman’s security bracelet. Interfering with six students’ finals. Give me time,” Milo said forcefully. “I’ll come up with more. You and Summer will remain on probation and will be required to repeat the entire semester, since we seem to be unable to access your grades. And as for Reed?”
Peri looked up from under her bangs, placidly waiting.
“There is no way I will approve accelerating her studies,” Professor Milo said, missing the danger as he was focused on Peri and not Dr. Cavana behind her. “She can start with the freshmen like every other incoming student.”
Peri looked up and behind her at Dr. Cavana with an easy expectance. Silas could almost see her silent communication: I’ll behave if you get me out of this.
“That is not what is going to happen,” Dr. Cavana said calmly. “I warned you not to underestimate her, and you housed her with beginners and maybes,” he said, his tone edging into disgust. “She found the excellence among your ranks and took them somewhere new, as I trained her. If you force her to stay with the freshmen, you will have four years of this, not one.” Lips in a wry smile, he turned to Professor Woo. “You’re right. I’m beginning to see where the issues are stemming from.”
“How dare you,” Milo said, and Silas stiffened at the rising tension.
“How dare I?” Dr. Cavana thundered, and Silas jumped, startled at the depth of the old man’s voice. “How dare you! Setting your students against each other for chocolates and calling it a final exam. Did you even see what happened, Milo, when a true threat rose? I saw the record. They became one unit. They protected! They minimized! They succeeded in the spirit of the goal. I see excellence where you see deficiency. You are hung up on checked boxes and to-do lists of protocol and method when you should be fostering the ability to improvise. Perhaps you need to take a sabbatical.”
For three long seconds, Professor Milo gaped at him, hands shaking. Then he turned to Silas, face grim with promise. “No one is too valuable to be sacrificed, Silas. I might not be able to kick you out, but I can cut off your funding. You will never have the chance to prove your insane theories and will forever be chained to my lab bench.”
He turned to go, and Silas forced his hands to unclench. “Professor Milo?”
“What?” The angry man spun, and Silas clasped his hands behind his back.
“It’s Dr. Denier, if you don’t mind.”
Professor Milo left, slamming the door behind him, awkward with his arm in a sling.
Summer slumped against the kitchen counter, arms over her chest as she stared at the ceiling.
Dr. Cavana gave Peri a pat on the shoulder. “I like your new friends,” he said as he ambled to the door. “Try not to get them expelled.”
Silas watched him adjust his tie, his free hand surreptitiously touching his side as if checking for a sidearm. Old habits die hard, he thought. Cavana had probably been active in the eighties, and he resolved to look him up. Cold War agents were a unique, dying breed. But the old man hesitated at the threshold, his gaze lingering on the defunct wristbands sitting on the kitchen counter like guilt itself. “Which one of you figured out how to circumvent the bio-based tamper fence?” he asked, and Silas cleared his throat, liking the old man.
An eyebrow rose. Grunting his approval, he bowed his head over his cell phone as he went into the hall. Silas looked closer. A glass phone? Since when did those exist?
Allen jostled Peri with his elbow. “Where did he get a glass phone?”
Peri snorted, clearly not impressed. “Pretty, huh? It doesn’t work for crap,” she said.
“Woo, can you give me a ride back to my hotel?” Dr. Cavana asked from the hallway, leaving the door open and clearly expecting the man to follow.
Professor Woo started, eyes wide as the remainder of his night was rearranged for him. “Yes, sir. May I have a moment?”
Oh, really . . . Silas thought as Peri caught his eye and smugly shrugged. Perhaps their new friend had more clout than they realized.
“Take your time!” Cavana called, his voice becoming fainter, but Woo grimaced, his pace fast as he crossed the room to slide the defunct cuffs from the counter into his hands.