“ ‘Take your time,’ ” Professor Woo muttered. “Last time I checked, that meant, Hustle your ass.” Hand on Silas’s back, he drew him to the door. “You do know he invented the technology behind these, right?” he asked as he jiggled the cuffs and dropped them in a pocket.
Silas shook his head, Dr. Cavana’s last look at him taking on new meaning. But Professor Woo had drawn him into the building’s empty hallway, his expression holding a surprising, shared pain. “Silas, I have an idea of what you’re feeling,” he said as he turned him away from Peri and Allen. “That you think your size and your skills in the labs are dictating the limits of your life, but they aren’t.”
“I fail to understand how they are not, Professor,” Silas said. “How can you possibly know what I’m feeling?”
“You don’t see it.” He shifted his coat aside as he put his hands on his hips. “That’s nice. Gives me hope. Silas, I went active during the Cold War.”
Silas gave him a questioning look. “And?” he prompted, still not getting it.
“An Asian?” Professor Woo said, eyebrows high. “During the Cold War? I never got a single task. Fully trained, then shelved into academia. Too valuable, they said, but I knew it was because of what I looked like. It was hard, Silas. I hated it, but it was the closest I could get to what I was meant for, so I stayed, helpless to change anything. Or so I thought.”
Silas let his shoulders slump. There was no silver lining.
“I know how it feels to want something and be denied simply because of how you look,” Woo said. “But you will make a difference. Trust me. Something good will come of it.”
“What good came of you being stuck in a dead-end job for forty years?” Silas said bitterly, not expecting an answer. But a wicked smile curved on Professor Woo’s thin lips.
“Milo has seniority on paper, but as you say, I’ve been here forty years. I run the place through favors owed and ground-floor knowledge.” Woo glanced past Silas into the apartment, to where Allen and Peri commiserated glumly. “I know every single agent Opti has, their weaknesses and strengths. Their needs. You think Milo has any real pull inside these walls? No.” Professor Woo’s eyes came back to Silas. “Which is very good for you, yes?”
Head down, Silas was silent. It wasn’t what he wanted.
Slowly Professor Woo’s smile faded. “Don’t worry about Professor Milo,” he said. “He can’t remove you from the program. We’ll talk about this Monday, okay? Oh, and, ah, no one leaves the campus.”
Silas nodded, but it was only to get the man to leave. Maybe Professor Milo couldn’t remove him from the program, but he could cut off his funding. And whereas Silas wouldn’t be chained to the professor’s lab bench, if he couldn’t prove his theory, he wouldn’t have the letters behind his name to rise much further than he was.
Professor Woo shifted his weight, clearly anxious to rejoin Dr. Cavana. “You can take the system out of the spiral, right?” he asked.
To say yes would be an admission of guilt, but the school would find something to link them to the act, even if it had to be invented. “Takes two minutes,” Silas said.
“Good.” Professor Woo touched his arm in parting. “You’re the best Opti has. Quit screwing around.” Saying nothing more, he turned and left, his pace fast with deference.
His steps slow as he thought, Silas went back into his apartment and shut the door. Thank God the semester was over and he wouldn’t have to deal with the gossip. At least not until everyone came back.
Allen exhaled loudly as the whine of Woo’s electric car rose high and irritating. “We’re going to be legends.”
Peri snickered, rolling her eyes.
“Excuse me,” Summer said, voice quavering as she quickly paced to the bedroom. The door shut hard and Silas slumped.
He wasn’t going to let this go. If he had to fight for what he wanted, he would.
The sensation that something was wrong seeped through the disjointed cracks of Silas’s dream, fragmenting his slumber until it broke away and left his mind bare to the world again. Between one breath and the next, he woke, fully aware as he stared at the ceiling of the darkened room.
He turned to the faint ribbon of light coming in from under the door. Summer’s side of the bed was empty, but a faint click of keys muffled his worry. She was in the living room working on something, as was her wont when she couldn’t sleep.
Sighing, he swung his feet to the floor, reaching for his phone to see what time it was.
“Three forty-five?” he whispered, knowing she probably hadn’t slept at all.
Fatigue weighed him down as he rubbed his hand over his bristles and collected himself. Summer had been closed off and silent after Allen and Peri had left, depressed but not resigned. He loved her resilience and refusal to give up. Standing, he looked at her empty side of the bed, vowing that wouldn’t become permanent. They complemented each other too well. Tonight had proved it. Together, he and Summer could do more than he could ever do alone. It was more than her needs being a muse to his jumps of thought. She excelled where he faltered, and he excelled . . . well . . . Summer was good at everything Opti prized in their agents.
Maybe that was the problem, he thought as he scuffed his way to the living room.
Summer looked up as the door opened, her short hair catching the glow of her laptop in the otherwise darkened room. No, it was his tablet.