His file was in her hand, the photo of him with his close-cropped hair and lab coat three years out of date but still accurate. He’d put on some muscle since then, but his frame had always been bulky, earning him the nickname Hulk from those who didn’t like him, and that had been more than a few.
Fran ran her attention up and down his body, smiling in appreciation. Weight shifting, he clasped his hands into a fig leaf, trying not to look obvious about it. “I was done three years ago. Nothing has changed. You going to shoot me?”
“But it has changed.” Fran gestured for the men ringing them to fall back. “We got word this morning that she might be ready for extraction.”
Twin feelings of elation and betrayal flooded him. “Might be?” he said softly. “You have nothing!” He gestured wildly, catching his anger when the men tightened their grips in threat on their weapons. “This idea was flawed from the beginning. It will not work. Not in a year. Not in ten! Every time she has something, they scrub her and she loses more. It was a bad idea, Fran. All you’re doing is making it worse, and I’ll have nothing to do with it.”
Fran smacked his file against his chest. “Update your info. You leave tomorrow. The way in is already prepared. Even have a friend waiting for you.”
His lip curled, and he refused to take the file. Toy soldiers playing war. “You’re not listening to me.”
“No.” Fran leaned into him, and he backed up, knocking into one of the guards. “You’re not listening to me,” the woman said, her head tilted to look up at him and the light showing where she’d had some work done. “She’s got what we need. She doesn’t know it yet, which is why it is going to work this time. Go in. Get it. Now, before they figure it out and scrub her. You want to end it? Then end it.”
But even ended, it would never be as it had been. Angry, Silas turned to the man he’d bumped into, glaring until he shifted aside to show an empty hallway. Truly, they had no call to detain him, and they knew it.
“I need you, Silas,” Fran said, not pleading, but close to it. “What are you going to do? Go back to your hobby? Clean your historical relics and pretend you’re something you’re not? You are a master, Silas. You are the best. And you are pissing your genius away.”
He turned, seeing her surrounded by her guns and men, playing at a war that no one knew existed. He wasn’t a genius, just lucky in how he saw the world. “You used me.”
“But it all worked out, didn’t it?” she said with a false brightness. “If we have any chance of ending this, it’s going to be through you. You’re the only one smart enough to see the extent of the damage and fluid enough to adapt a program to fix it. Don’t walk away from her. Not now.”
Jaw clenched, Silas turned. Arms swinging, he strode down the corridor, the slick-suit pinching. His clothes were around here somewhere, and, he hoped, his car.
“Tonight,” Fran called after him, her smug voice irritating. “Five sharp.”
“I don’t think he’s going to do it,” Fran’s aide said, and Silas’s neck warmed when Fran laughed.
“He will. Make sure you have something that fits him. That’s one big man.”
Ticked, he strode faster, knowing the way to the garage. He hated that she knew him so well. He’d sulk and stew, and probably break something expensive. Then he’d show up at ten minutes to five because she was right. He wasn’t the best they had, but if anyone could do it, it would be him.
Peri lingered under the motel’s shower, the tiny world of warmth and fog working over every muscle to ease her aching body. Post-task injuries weren’t unusual. What was unusual, what had Jack so unnerved that he’d driven all night, was that damned memory knot.
Brow furrowed, Peri reached for the shampoo. She felt fragile, as if something in her past might loom out of nothing and bring her down. It was obvious what had triggered the knot: the taste of chocolate, the scent of whiskey, Jack’s face, stark in the club’s lights. But she daren’t even think about it. Not until Jack got back with breakfast, anyway.
It had been hard to bring Jack to a halt this morning, so intent was he on getting back to Detroit. He’d driven all night, watching over her while she slept. The man was dead tired, and she was going to insist on finishing the last leg behind the wheel herself. It was her car, damn it. She was fine. She’d be even better after a defrag. Besides, it wasn’t often she had the chance to open her Mantis up and let it joyously run until the voltage-sensitive paint paled from its usual black and silver to an energy-saving, low-state white.
She’d needed to play the “I’m hungry” card to get him to pull off at a sad-looking truck-stop restaurant. That had led to the idea of taking a shower at the even sadder-looking adjoining motel while breakfast was being prepared. If she got her way—and she usually did—their break would extend into a memory defrag. Then Jack would sleep. He wouldn’t be able to help it. After three years of saving each other’s asses, her trust in Jack was absolute, but her gut said to stay off her employer’s radar until Jack returned her memory¸ especially if a knot was involved.
Jack was right to be concerned, but defragging her thoughts was the quickest way to unsnarl and prevent another knot. Before I start to hallucinate, she thought as she squirted cream rinse onto her palm. Though, to be honest, it would take weeks of unattended memory issues before that happened.