“I’m not a part of this,” Silas seethed. “They’re using my techniques, perverting them.” He glared at the man with the handgun who jabbed him to be quiet.
Bill checked his phone, nodding as if pleased. “By this time tomorrow, maybe the next day, you will be back to your usual self, and any latent memories that might surface will have Silas’s face for Allen’s actions. You know what your first task will be? Find and kill Silas. You’ll enjoy it. Be driven to break the rules to do it.”
“You can’t do that,” Peri said, but Bill’s satisfaction said otherwise.
“We can.” Bill checked his phone again before tucking it away. “But a little housecleaning will make it more effective. Allen?”
“Keep her off me,” Allen muttered, and Peri’s chin lifted when the guy she’d knocked out in the bathroom stepped behind her, pulling her arms up until she flinched.
“Much of what Silas pioneered to buffer drafters from long-term memory loss has a wider potential in designing more efficient agents,” Bill said.
“You mean brainwashed dolls,” Peri accused, not liking Allen picking through the rubble of her life.
“If you like, but very dangerous dolls. It never lasted long with you, though.”
Her breath came fast as Allen straightened with the picture of Jack and herself.
“We get around that by artificially scrubbing several weeks at the end of a draft, but you kept coming back from more and more difficult assignments intact, without a need to jump to survive them. Unfortunately, if you don’t draft, we can’t clean house. That’s why we took matters into our own hands at Overdraft. It might have worked even then. But Jack screwed it up. He’s not good enough for you anymore.”
My God. How long have they been doing this? Is anyone at Opti not corrupt?
Allen pulled out the picture and let the frame drop to dent the wood floor. “If we destroy everything that links you to your past, you might never recall anything. It works best if you see the destruction.” He turned to his cohorts, expression ugly. “Burning works.”
She clenched her jaw when he folded the picture in two, knowing what was going to happen next. “New Year’s, right?” Allen said. “I never liked Jack. He thought he was smarter than me. Guess not.”
“Start with this,” Bill said, tossing a loose-leaf journal to land at Allen’s feet with a sliding hiss of sound. It was her diary—a year’s worth at least.
“Bastard,” she whispered as Allen tucked the photo in a pocket and began ripping pages out. “You’re all bastards. I’m not going to forget this.”
“Today should be no different from last week,” Bill said, throwing a lighter to Allen.
Silas shrugged off his captor’s hand. “Peri, I’m sorry!” he said, but she didn’t know what for. It wasn’t his fault. It was hers for having gotten caught. Her jaw clenched as Allen lit a corner of the book, the flame rising up on the outside, black smoke falling from the inner pages. He dropped it, and it flared before subsiding to a low burn that would choke itself if left alone. But he didn’t leave it alone, adding torn pages one by one.
“Light it up,” Bill said, a thick hand waving to encompass the entire apartment. Peri watched helplessly as men scampered like rats over the apartment, disconnecting the smoke alarms and bringing back more of her life to drop on the growing pile. The sliding doors to the balcony were retracted into the walls, and the smoke escaped, taking with it her desire to fight.
“There will be nothing left of your past, Peri,” Bill said in the new chill sweeping in, and Peri bowed her head to the floor in grief. “I gave it to you, and now I’m taking it back. I’ll give you a new one, a better one. You will accept the past we give you without question. You will take the jobs that Allen brings you, and you will never think twice about their validity.”
“You bastard,” Peri whispered. “You won’t walk away from this. I promise you.”
“No,” he said, and she steeled herself when he reached out a fleshy ringed finger and touched her cheek. “I promise you,” he said. “You should be glad you’re my best or you would’ve ended up like poor Jack.”
She seethed, coughing on the smoke as she knelt before him, and he turned to leave. Allen hesitated to follow. “You want me to save anything? Her clothes, maybe?” he asked.
Bill paused on the threshold, giving Silas a long look. “Just the cookbooks and yarn. I believe we still have that yarn bag she left at the airport.” Turning, he smiled at Peri. “Mustn’t let those Opti-approved obsessive-compulsive stress relievers go by the wayside. I like your hair long, though. Allen, implant the thought that she likes it that way.”
“You can’t do this!” she shouted, starting at the prick of another dart. A part of her was victorious—they were afraid of her—bound and darted, they were still afraid of her.
“Get him!” someone yelled, and she blinked the smoke from her eyes as she realized that Silas had shoved Allen down and run. He’d left her. Again.
“Let him go,” Bill said, bringing everyone to a halt. “Finding him will be part of her conditioning. Someone called in the smoke. City services are on the way. Everyone out.”
She was pulled to her feet, and she fought to stay where she was, with her past. Her shoulder burned as she fell on the heated picture frame, and she rolled from the flames. “Get off me!” she screamed when another dart struck her.