She didn’t like leaving her car on the street. Not that anyone could steal it, but the Mantis was illegal outside Detroit because of the solar-gathering, color-changing paint that charged the batteries. Though, to be honest, most cops would only ogle the sleek lines instead of impounding the two-seater. It sort of looked like a Porsche Boxter, only sexier.
Jack jogged around the front, giving her an encouraging smile as he got in and waited for the car to recognize him and release the controls. “Home by dawn, Peri. You’ll be fine.”
“I’m fine now,” she protested, but she’d be glad to get home.
Damn memory knot had ruined everything. She had saved Jack’s life more times than she could count, and he had saved hers more than she could remember, but as he flicked the warming engine off and found his way to the interstate, a little niggling of warning bit deep and burrowed deeper.
She was only going to remember one past, and Jack … he’d remember both.
His head hurt, but it was the smell of electronics and polymers from the slick-suit that pulled him awake. Silas snorted, jerking upright only to groan and hold his head. He was sitting at a small table. Squinting, he recognized the small, featureless, eight-by-eight room immediately, and anger pulled his shoulders stiff and made his pounding head worse.
“God-blessed idiot,” he muttered, pushing the sleeve of the slick-suit up his arm to find the tiny puncture wound where they’d darted him—darted him like an animal and dragged him back into something he’d worked hard to leave behind. He’d been in his car the last he remembered, on the way to the restoration site. He rolled the sleeve back down, struggling because it was a size too small.
“I’m not doing this,” he said, directing the statement at the watching eyes. “You hear me?” he said louder. “I’m done, Fran. Done!”
He frowned as the chime rang out, hating that they knew his pulse had quickened. God-blessed slick-suit. God-blessed idiot for helping them design it.
“Good morning, Dr. Denier,” a woman said pleasantly over the unseen intercom. “I’d say I’m sorry, but you and I both know you wouldn’t have come if I’d just asked.”
Silas sat back from the table, thick arms across his chest, making the slick-suit run with stress lines. “I fulfilled my contract. Open the door.”
“Open it yourself,” Fran said, her confident smugness irritating.
Silas’s face twisted in frustration. He was not an agent. He was a designer, a tinkerer, an innovator whose playground was where the surety of electronics met the vagaries of the human mind. And they wanted him to run a maze like one of his rats? “You can’t make me do this.”
“Yes we can.”
A wave of sensation rippled over him, cramping his muscles and making him grunt in surprise. It was the slick-suit. Silas reached for the sensitive brain of it, then choked as someone tightened the wavelengths. Gagging, he fell prostrate, shaking with convulsions.
They stopped as quickly as they had begun, and he lay on the asbestos tile floor, his anger turning cold. Son of a bitch …
“Begin,” Fran said, and then the chime.
It rankled him no end that he’d chosen the sound himself.
Seething, Silas pulled himself up. Grasping the back of the chair, he flung it at the door lock, shattering the chair and damaging the panel. With a primal shout of anger, he punched it, satisfied when the light went out and a wisp of smoke trailed to the floor.
“Don’t be stupid, Denier,” Fran said, and Silas sucked on his bleeding knuckles. “You want to talk to me? Tell me how wrong I am? Get out of the room.”
“I’m no one’s lab rat,” he muttered. Levering himself up onto the table, he stood and hammered his way into the ceiling. The audio link was still open, and he couldn’t help his satisfaction at the sudden uproar.
Years of bench-pressing paid off, and he pulled himself up into the low crawl space above the training floor. It was cooler up here, and the outlines of the various rooms were easy to see. Besides, they hadn’t changed them. Keeping atop the sturdier walls, he walked to the hallway in a low hunch, clear of the training room’s potential immobilizing field.
“Silas, get back on the training floor!” Fran demanded, faint through the ceiling.
“Maybe you shouldn’t have forgotten that I designed it,” he grumbled, gauging that he’d cleared the active areas, and jumped clear through a ceiling panel and down into the outer hallway.
He’d landed badly, his ankle twinging as his arms pinwheeled to keep him from falling outright. Dust and ceiling rained down, and he slowly rose through it, grimacing at the five men in combat gear pointing close-range weapons at him. He felt vulnerable in that outrageous slick-suit, clinging like a second, uncomfortable skin.
Her heels clicking, an older woman with short, dyed blond hair styled back off her face pushed through to confront him, an aide tight behind. “You designed it. Isn’t that the point, Denier? You owe us.”
“I don’t owe you anything. I quit Opti. And I quit you.”
“If you’re not Opti, you’re alliance. And you are alliance,” she said, and he held his breath against the sneeze her perfume tickled forth. Most women would have looked odd in a flamboyant red business suit with an orchid-and-silk corsage, surrounded by squat men in bulky combat gear, but not Fran. Her sure confidence made it all work.
But she had a right to be confident. The alliance was made up of renegade Opti personnel who believed the government shouldn’t control the ability to manipulate time. They’d make their fight public except that their ranks consisted of anchors and drafters themselves, and if word got out, the populace would panic and kill them all. So they worked in the shadows funded by benefactors, benefactors like Fran. It was exchanging one power-hungry boss for another as far as Silas was concerned.