Peri’s head snapped up. “I thought this was to discuss what I had to offer you in exchange for asylum.”
Fran’s thin lips pressed as she scrolled through a tablet. “You thought wrong. We’re going to make you normal, Peri Reed.”
“I am normal.” Peri glanced at Silas, whose expression mirrored the surprise and horror she knew were evident on her own features. “The only way to eliminate my ability to draft will leave me unable to make any long-term memories, and that’s if you do it right. Pardon my concern, but you can’t possibly possess the equipment or the finesse. You’ll make a vegetable out of me.”
Fran put on a pair of diamond-encrusted bifocals and brought her gaze back from the hazy mountains, thick with the coming rain. “Your actions carry their own sins. You’re accused of the murders of Hans Marston, James Thomas, Daniel H. Parsole, Kevin Arnold, Thomas Franklin, Nicole Amsterdam, and, most recently, Samuel Smity.”
Seven deaths, most of them probably people who’d been in the wrong place at the wrong time. It bothered Peri that she didn’t remember most of them. Taf had gone pale, and even Silas looked uncomfortable. “Hans beat his children and mutilated other men’s wives to convince their husbands to do what he wanted them to. I did the world a favor. Kevin Arnold was an accident. He didn’t move when I told him to, and someone shot him as he went over a fence. I don’t remember the rest,” Peri said, ignoring the rising murmur of outrage behind her. “You can’t try me for something you might have made up.”
“You’ve been linked to a multitude of corporate espionage events that resulted in massive illegal gains in the private sector,” Fran continued, peering down through her glasses. “I have them listed here, if you feel the need to refute them. Numerous accounts of theft or arson to eliminate records detrimental to Opti personnel … several mentions of technological terrorism. Most of them involving biological warfare.” She peered accusingly at Peri over the glass tablet. “We’re not sure what you were doing in old Russia, but I’m not liking that the Korean ambassador developed Legionnaires’ disease the same week you were there and died of complications. Here’s my favorite, though. Under the cover of installing a U.S.-friendly government, you set in power an extremist group who went on to commit a nationwide genocide, more commonly known as the White Plague.”
“That wasn’t me,” she whispered, going cold. “That was Nina and Trey.” She looked at Silas, seeing his empty expression. “I didn’t do that!” But a faint memory ticked in the back of her skull, a wisp of unfragmented memory of trying to sneak frightened people past a blockade as the night lit up in a fiery hell behind them. Maybe she’d been there, but it had been to stop it, right?
But even as Peri thought it, doubt paralyzed her. Had she ever been anything other than Bill’s tool? Had she believed everything Jack had said because he’d rubbed her feet and made her dinner? Sick to her stomach, she looked up when Fran said, “How plead you?”
Silas stood, shoving the sudden hands off him. “How can you stand there as if you’ve never bought a drafter’s skills before, Fran?”
Fran covered her mic, and the tech guy jumped. “I am not on trial,” she hissed, furious.
“Maybe you should be.” Silas fell back into his chair, pushed by security.
“Everything I’ve done is for the benefit of mankind,” Fran said earnestly, but her face was red from more than anger.
“End justifies the means, eh?” Silas said bitterly, and from outside, thunder rolled between the hills. “You are a hypocritical elitist,” Silas accused, straining against the guards’ hands. “How dare you, Fran. She’s been used. By you most of all, turned into something she might not come back from. How dare you accuse her of this? You owe her!”
“Mother, this is not fair!” Taf exclaimed, pushed back to the windows with Howard.
“Fair doesn’t enter into it,” Fran said coldly as the three men kept him unmoving. “You’re correct in your diagnosis, though, Silas. There’s no way she can come back from this. She is a tool. And she needs to be destroyed before she brings us all down. You either perform the incision, or you will remain in alliance custody for the rest of your life.”
Peri was numb as the thunder grew and beat on her. Had she been blind to Jack’s lies for three years, or had she known and gone along with it?
“Uh, guys?” the tech geek said, eyes on the mountains as he stood over his tablets.
“I won’t do it,” Silas promised. “I’m not going to mutilate her so you can hide your guilt. She volunteered for this. Everything she’s done has been for the alliance. You have a responsibility to fix her!”
Volunteered? Volunteered for what?
“Guys! That’s not mine,” the tech guy said, pointing, and someone gasped at the massive high-Q drone hovering just outside the window. Three seconds later, a military helicopter thumped overhead. Behind it, half a dozen more rolled over the mountains. It hadn’t been thunder. It was a flight of Black Hawks, no insignia marring their sleek black shadows against the low clouds as they roared overhead and swung back around. Fast and light.
Fran paled. Spinning, she turned to Taf. A house alarm began to sound, filtering up through the stairway.
Opti was here.
“Get them to the cars!” Fran shouted, hustling to the bar and physically pulling Taf to the elevator. “You”—Fran pushed an agent toward Taf—“escort my daughter to a secure location. I want Reed out of here. Now! Move!”