“I should just kill you right now!” she shouted, the butt of the rifle pulled back to crush his throat, and he stared up at her, his face smudged and his glasses knocked askew.
“Allen, she knows!” Silas shouted. “She just doesn’t believe it yet!”
Under her, Allen seemed to steady. His gaze fastened on her, and his fear seemed to vanish. “You won’t kill me because I haven’t killed you first,” he said, smiling though he was clearly in pain. “It’s okay, Peri. It’s over. All of it. You did good. Stand down.”
Peri’s lips parted, and, shocked, she did nothing as they were suddenly surrounded by the alliance, all of them screaming at her to put the gun down and get off Allen. Allen waited, her weapon ready to end his life.
“Peri,” Silas called out. “Listen to your intuition. It’s over.”
But her intuition was gone. All she had left was a need to trust someone. Anyone.
Her eyes met Silas’s, and in a swift motion, she pulled the weapon away from Allen and clicked the safety on. She tried to toss it aside, but as soon as he was clear, someone plowed into her, knocking her down. She didn’t struggle, letting them pull her arms behind her. Her shot leg was in agony, and she blinked the dirt out of her eye as Taf and Silas protested that she was okay and to let her go. She didn’t feel okay. Allen is alliance? It was all my idea? “I don’t know my own life,” she whispered to herself in disbelief.
Fran appeared and said, “Let her up.” The weight on Peri was shoved away so she could breathe. “I said, let her up!”
“She doesn’t remember anything,” a man said, his pistol pointed at her. “You can’t let her go. She’s been brainwashed!”
“She’s not brainwashed, she’s just forgotten,” Fran said bitingly. “The woman just brought in half the corrupt Opti agents for us and saved my daughter. How much more proof do you need that she’s not gone native? She’s one of us. Let Reed up!” Fran shouted, and Peri cautiously sat up, her leg throbbing as she looked at the weapons ringing her.
“Where’s Bill?” she asked as Fran crouched beside her, looking odd in her tight dress, now torn and smeared with grease and dirt. Peri slapped the woman’s hand away when she tried to look under the makeshift bandage, and weapons were brought to bear again.
“Will you all just relax?” Fran barked, and then to Peri, just as annoyed, “Out of your reach. One of his birds came back. He’s gone.” Her expression shifted. “He didn’t get Taf. Thank you.” Blinking fast, she beckoned for a med officer. “Get Agent Reed an ambulance. Today, maybe?”
Two men in fatigues with slung rifles ran to get a stretcher from an arriving ambulance. She would have protested, but her leg was throbbing and she felt sick. Her head hurt, too, and she looked at the weapons pointed at the ground, and then at the second ring around them pointing outward. The house was on fire, but several people were coming out of it. She recognized Howard, his shoulder under another man’s as he helped him walk, and the horrid tightness in her face eased.
She hadn’t found Jack’s list, but it felt as if she’d found something vastly more important. She’d landed safely, and not just her, but the people she cared about. That she didn’t remember why she cared didn’t matter. She was here, they were here, and no one was pointing a gun at her—mostly.
Maybe it would all be okay.
“Did we win?” Peri asked as she squinted up at them.
From beside a chuckling Taf, Silas laughed. “Hell if I know.”
Peri pulled her coat tight across her shoulders, her spirit low and her shot leg throbbing as she sat at Overdraft’s bar. The place was empty but for Allen banging around in the back room and Silas at the fireplace. He was trying to get a fire going to warm the place up, but Peri could tell he wasn’t laying it right. All the heat from his matches and half-burned paper was not being trapped—wasted up the flue. A part of her wanted to slide from the stool and fix it. Another part, the indifferent, complacent part of her, didn’t care. Her focus blurred when he swore under his breath, his words tickling something in her brain. She’d heard him swear at a fire before. Her memories had more holes than Swiss cheese. It could be anything.
“You’ll never be rid of me,” Jack said as he tucked behind the bar and helped himself to a mug of beer. She knew he wasn’t here. She knew he wasn’t filling up a glass. She knew he wasn’t downing it with his Adam’s apple bobbing and a thin ribbon of beer escaping to run down his chin—but it sure looked as if he was.
Jack was a constant reminder of everything she hated about herself: her insecurity, her dependence on others, a show of strength that was just that—a show, nothing more. And she wanted him gone, even if that meant she’d never have a memory of what had happened that night. She’d killed the man she loved. Why would she want to remember that?
“You think Allen wiping that night will do any good?” Jack mocked as he leaned over the counter. The beer spilled onto the bar surface, and Peri wondered if she’d feel anything if she wiped her hand across it. “Opti is in you, babe. You liked it. You were powerful and that turned you on. Now you’re nothing but a dangerous liability who can’t remember shit. That’s why you didn’t tell the alliance they were coming. You want to go back.”
Peri’s eyes flicked past him to Silas swearing over his fire. The government, embarrassed at the unfolding story, had granted the alliance control of Opti’s shutdown, and at Fran’s urging, Silas was taking up management of Overdraft, maintaining a way for Opti’s anchors and drafters to come in without reprisal. “I can’t get this stupid thing to light,” Silas grumped. “The instant this place starts making money, I’m ripping it out and putting in a gas burner.” He straightened, sighing when the gray smoke turned black and vanished.