“Shut up!” Brian barked, and she started when he poked her.
“I haven’t said anything,” Peri protested. “Why don’t you go poke Taf? She’s the one who won’t shut up.”
“You still maintain your actions were for the benefit of the alliance?” Fran said as Taf was pulled to the bar where Howard tried to mollify her. Fran’s attitude was so familiar that Peri felt as if she should know her, but nothing was clicking.
“I do.” Silas shifted on the couch so he could see Peri. It put him at odds with the camera, and the tech guy made an exasperated sigh and went to adjust it.
“From our first encounter in February, Peri Reed has been looking for asylum from the same corrupt Opti faction that we’re trying to eradicate. My actions and those of the people with me were to prevent her from being returned to Opti—where she would be scrubbed and remade into what they wanted. Our actions were never intended to betray the alliance but to prevent a mistake that would set us back another three years. It’s time to end this, Fran.”
“I agree,” the woman said with so much bile and frustration, a sudden doubt erased Peri’s confidence. Something was going wrong. “But let’s finish with you first. You ran with her, Denier. After you were instructed to bring her back in. You refused to disclose where she was until we could do nothing. How do you explain that?”
Silas’s expression was peeved. “You were hell-bent on giving her back to Opti. I never agreed to that.”
Fran took a step closer, almost in front of the camera. “That’s where she belongs. She doesn’t have what we need to bring Opti down, and I don’t think she ever will.”
Peri’s lips pressed. Clearing her throat, she said loudly, “I do. I simply need Dr. Denier’s help to dig it out.”
“On the couch …,” the tech guy bitched. “Say it in front of the camera on the couch. The mic doesn’t pick up the back of the room.”
“Then tell grabby fingers here to let go of me,” Peri said, yanking out of the agent’s grip again. I’m going to take those glasses of yours and shove them up your nose.
Fran waved the tech guy back to his station. “You’ll have a chance to state your case shortly, Ms. Reed. Please refrain from comment until then.”
“I should be allowed the opportunity to regain my memory before an inquiry,” Peri said loudly, and the woman narrowed her eyes. “That’s what this is, isn’t it?”
“If there are enough credible witnesses, your recalling your actions won’t factor in,” she said, then turned to Silas. “Nothing has been changed by what you have said. You’ll join Howard in protective custody until such time as we can be certain of your loyalties.”
“My loyalty is to the alliance,” Silas exclaimed, but an agent had come forward at Fran’s directive and pulled him to his feet. The screen on the tech’s temporary desk showed only an empty couch, but the chat room associated with it was busy.
Peri’s gut clenched as they forced Silas to sit at the bar beside Howard and Taf. Her past made her appear both guilty and untrustworthy, and her association with Silas wasn’t helping.
“Your actions show that your loyalty is to yourself,” Fran said, gesturing for security to bring Peri forward to take Silas’s place.
“Thinking for oneself does not imply disloyalty,” Silas said, but it was likely no one outside the room heard him. “She thought she was giving us the information we needed,” he added as Brian manhandled her forward. “She shouldn’t be standing before you justifying her actions. She should be in conference with you to bring Opti down!”
Pulse fast, Peri scrambled for a way to make this work for her. Clearly Silas hadn’t told them about the chemical tracker. Opti was likely on their way, to find out where she’d gone if nothing else. And Opti was coming. She could feel it—brewing just over the horizon like a summer storm.
“Enough,” Fran hissed. “Get her on camera.”
That man shoved her again. Peri had had enough, and she spun, arms jabbing out with a palm thrust to break his nose. Brian fell back, screaming and clutching his face. Peri froze, cuffed hands in the air as safeties clicked off, but Howard only laughed.
“Someone get Brian a towel,” Fran directed tiredly. “Can we move forward, please?”
“Peri, this isn’t how I wanted to do this.”
It was Silas, and Peri’s expression blanked. Someone else had said nearly the exact same thing to her—right before her world fell apart the first time. First chance she got, she was going to run and keep running. But she wouldn’t leave without Silas. He’d brought her back, given her something to build herself on. His own people were turning against him. She didn’t know which side was right, but she knew how that felt. The alliance and Opti could tear themselves apart for all she cared.
Finally they got Brian behind the bar with a pack of ice. The new agent at her side was more polite, and Peri smiled at his gesture for her to continue, putting a sway in her hips as she made her way to sit in front of the camera.
“Please state your name,” Fran said, though it was obvious everyone knew who she was.
“Peri Reed,” she said as she settled herself into the white cushions and the technician adjusted the camera.
“You’re here to account for your crimes done under the auspices of Opti,” Fran began, careful not to get her face on camera, “your actions against humanity, and your efforts to reduce the inherent rights of every citizen. If found guilty, you’ll be taken from here and permanently stripped of your ability to draft.”