“Hey!” he exclaimed when the tablet’s rim became red, recognizing it wasn’t him and shutting down. “You just invalidated my exam!”
She winced, the tips of her hair swinging as she turned to a sudden noise in the hall. “Sorry. I didn’t know they were biometric. Ours aren’t.”
Taking a running hop, she raced to the broken window. The class erupted in noise, and Silas stood, gasping when someone stuck out a leg and tripped her. The woman tried to recover by diving into a roll, but there were too many desks and she slammed into one, dazed as her arms and legs sprawled. Someone laughed, and Silas’s face burned in anger.
The door to the room was yanked open, and a professionally dressed small Asian man and an older woman strode in. Seeing his professor, Silas sighed at his defunct test.
“Someone pick her up. Who is that?” Professor Woo demanded, and then Silas stiffened as vertigo spilled through him. The light streaming through the windows flashed blue, and the shock of an utter absence of sound shook him.
She’s drafting, he thought as time was yanked back five seconds.
With a startling flicker, the light returned to a warm yellow. The door to the hall was still shut, and he was again sitting at his desk. People were shouting, oblivious that they were replaying the last five seconds in time.
“Look out!” he exclaimed as he stood—not knowing why—but she’d remember both timelines until they meshed and her psyche rubbed them both out.
Giving him a surprised grin, she leapt over the foot even before it was extended. Like an exotic rock climber, she jumped for a handhold, using the decorative trim to swarm up the wall until she reached the broken window frame—just as the door was again yanked open.
Brow furrowed in anger, his instructor walked in, the small man silent this time, hands on his hips as he scanned for whoever had drafted.
And then the light flashed red as time meshed. Silas took a slow breath, habit making him scan the room for a response, but clearly everyone but his professor was oblivious to what had happened. Even the woman herself had forgotten what she’d done, only knowing by a chunk of missing memory that she’d made a mistake that needed to be rubbed out. She met Silas’s eyes, winking at him before she dropped down. Gone.
Unclenching his thick hands, Silas looked at his defunct exam. No one in here was a potential anchor. Not even a blip of déjà vu. Opti’s students went on to the FBI, CIA, and mall security. It was only the top one percent who continued in the program to become Opti agents, and then one percent of them became the gods and goddesses of time.
He ignored Professor Woo as he came forward, depressed at the thought of Summer and their grand, sophomoric plans. He could have been an anchor, being good at recognizing drafted timelines and even better at fixing them back into a drafter’s mind. Too good, actually, to risk in the field. Blaming it on his size, they shoved him into theoretical, where he excelled in meshing the surety of electronics to the vagaries of the human mind. He already had one doctorate degree in psychology, gained before he found out he had the ability to be an anchor. Earning another in drafter studies was easy, seeing as he was adding to the technologies as he went.
“Silas.” Professor Woo was closer this time, and, seeing his professor’s inquiring glance, Silas shrugged. He didn’t know every drafter, just most.
Scowling, Professor Woo turned to the instructor who’d come in with him. “Go see if you can find out who that was,” he said, and, nodding, the older woman paced quickly back into the hall.
Students were beginning to stand, questions rising, and Professor Woo held up a hand. “Sit down. Sit down!” he said in perfect midwestern English. “Or all your tablets will be invalidated.” Eyebrows high, he looked at Silas’s red-framed tablet. “Doctor?” he questioned.
“She touched my tablet,” Silas said sourly, wondering if he could find out who she was that way.
Professor Woo squinted in concern as he pulled a handkerchief from his suit coat pocket and handed it to Silas. “It looks like she touched your forehead, too.”
Silas dabbed at it, relieved the blood had slowed.
Taking up Silas’s tablet, his professor typed in his instructor code and the flexible screen went dark. “You can retake it tomorrow,” he said as he rolled the tablet into a tube and tucked it away.
Annoyed, Silas glanced at the window. There was shouting coming in from beyond it, but he doubted the woman would need to draft again. She was good, exceptionally so, and probably a freshman, since he hadn’t seen her before. “Why?” he said, taking his coat as Professor Woo handed it to him. “Can’t you reset it? It was just a bump.”
But his professor shook his head and gestured at the door. The instructor had returned and was addressing the class, trying to get them settled and explaining how they were going to adjust the time for the interruption.
“I was coming to get you,” Professor Woo said as he put a small hand on Silas’s shoulder and got him moving toward the door. “Professor Milo’s assistant took a bad hit this morning in training and broke his wrist. They need someone to monitor the slick-suits in his finals. Now.”
Professor Milo? Silas’s pace slowed to a halt. The man was a prejudiced prick. “Can’t you get one of my students—?”
Smiling, Professor Woo shook his head and pushed open the door. Echoes from the hallway slipped in. “Busy with finals or gone for the summer, and no one needs extra credit that badly. Just do it, Silas,” the smaller man coaxed. “You never know when you’re going to need a favor. And besides, you might get more data for your thesis if someone drafts.”