“No!” Silas shouted, and he saw Allen’s eyes, full of pain as he realized his death was moments away. They were in a draft. To draft within it would cause them all pain.
But Silas looked at Summer, nodding. “Do it,” Beth said, grimacing, and Karen, gripping Heidi’s arm, nodded as well.
Summer took a shaky breath. Once more, blue sparkles spilled down from the spinning disco lights, racing over Silas’s already overstimulated nerves like poison. He breathed them out, and he shook, catching his balance as he again found himself just outside the back office’s door.
“Excuse me,” Silas said loudly to distract the bouncer, ducking when the frazzled man turned, the rifle going off. The shot was an instant of warmth past his face, and behind Silas, Professor Milo grunted in pain.
Allen lunged, bringing the bouncer down. Bellowing in anger, the man fought back, but there were seven of them and one of him.
And then time caught up and smacked Silas across the head.
With a simultaneous cry of pain, the students fell away from the incensed bouncer. Silas reached for the bar, knees giving way as pain blossomed from inside, fighting to find a way out of his skull through his eyes. Gasping, he leaned over the bar and panted, trying to keep from throwing up. He hadn’t been bitch-slapped by a double-draft for years.
“Yep. Still hurts,” he groaned. Someone was throwing up. Someone else was crying hysterically. But it wasn’t anyone he knew, so he didn’t care.
“Get that rifle!” Milo shouted, and Silas looked up, smiling weakly at Allen helping Summer up off the floor. She was pale but unhurt. Allen was alive—he’d replace her memory. That’s what an anchor did. It had been worth it. Everyone had agreed.
“Dr. Silas Denier,” Milo said sarcastically, and Silas’s stomach lurched when the angry man spun him around and Silas fell back against the bar. A wet, red stain spread from the professor’s shoulder. He’d been shot, but clearly it wasn’t life-threatening. Sirens were sounding louder in the nearby distance, and people were leaving, racing for the door. “I told you not to interfere,” the professor said as he roughly motioned for his students to get out as well. “This was a test.”
“Yeah?” Peeved, Silas used his coat to wipe his brow. The Band-Aid on his forehead caught, and he pulled it off, having forgotten it was there. “You can shove your test up your ass, sir. These are my friends.”
Milo pushed into his space, cheeks red. “It was a test. And you just failed. You, Summer, Allen, and everyone out here.”
“What!” Anger gave Silas the strength to stand upright. “Me? I wasn’t being tested. And why flunk them? I’m the one that hit you. Is it because they didn’t let one of their own die? Double-drafting isn’t grounds for failure. It just hurts like hell. If anything, you should commend them for ending this with all parties alive!”
“You didn’t fail because Summer drafted within a draft,” Milo said. “You didn’t even fail because you hit me. You failed because you didn’t adhere to the spirit of the test.”
Silas went still, seeing the understanding in the eyes of Karen and Heidi as they limped past him, supporting each other like fallen soldiers. “Is that so,” he said dryly.
“You were here to gather data for your thesis and monitor the slick-suits,” Milo said, jerking Silas’s attention back with a hard jab to his chest. “You interfered. They failed. Get out.”
Summer waited for him by the door. Allen leaned heavily on the wall beside her.
“I said get out!” the professor shouted when Silas turned on a heel to go back into the office for his tablet.
“I forgot my data,” he said as he passed Professor Milo, the man quivering in rage. The professor had not liked him ever since Silas had proved one of his theories wrong in his freshman year.
Silas looped his arm in Summer’s as they crossed the threshold, and she tucked her head against his shoulder, their pace matching perfectly. He breathed in her scent, fighting the shakes. He could have lost her. But he hadn’t. Her ability had saved not just herself, but everyone out there. How can I live with her doing this every day if I’m not the one at her side anchoring her? Keeping her safe?
“I think we won, Allen,” she said as they got into the waiting Opti van with the other drafters and anchors, all nursing migraines the size of Montana. “I got the chocolates out.”
She’d eaten them.
Silas looked up, seeing the rueful nods and rolling eyes of the students around them. Allen chuckled, the sound ending in a groan, and Silas smiled, even if it did hurt.
Failed? Not yet. They had three days until graduation, and time was on their side.
The bar’s thermostat was set blessedly low, and Summer had used her womanly charms to get them the large round table in the back, right under the air-conditioning vent. It wasn’t their usual place, but with seven of them, the bar’s usual community college clientele ignored them after their cursory assessment of “academy asshats.” Word had gotten out that they had been responsible for the campus-wide migraine every drafter, anchor, and the retired-agent staff had endured last night. Being out of sight was more than prudent.
Silas licked his fingers clean of the last of the wings; he’d been starving after the headache-instigated fast. His glass tablet was a soft glow before him as it scrolled through his most recent data, and he meticulously cleaned his fingers with the Handi Wipe that Summer had found him. The noise from the bar, full on a Friday night, was a pleasant background, and he could almost ignore the electric country the place seemed to be stuck on.