Oh, God, he’d been dying, shot in the gut. Jack had lied to protect her. Bill was corrupt. Sandy and Frank…. They’d fought. She had thrown a knife at Sandy and missed.
“That’s the one, Peri,” Allen said, his presence in her mind becoming clearer. “Remember everything. I’ll take it away.”
Jack’s breath seemed to brush her cheek. “It never goes away. You’re a bad person. You like who you were, and you miss it already.”
He was giving voice to her deepest fear. Flashes of that night came fast and without order. Blood on her hands. Her scarf pressed against Jack’s middle. The sound of breaking glass. Sandy’s long hair flying before her as she fell back to break the bar’s mirror. Peri couldn’t make sense of the disjointed images. Allen scrambled to catch them, but they were too fast and she wasn’t letting him in deep enough to destroy any of them.
“Peri,” he pleaded. “Please. I need to do this.”
Maybe I deserve to be left in the chaos of my own creating, she thought.
“You do,” Jack whispered, his breath sending her hair to tickle her neck. “I’m going to take you there. Right now.”
With a sudden twist, the entire night came back in a flash. Both timelines sparkled in irreconcilable clarity. She gasped, jumping to a stand. Her pulse thundered as she spun to Allen, his mouth gaping as he stared at her from his chair. He wasn’t supposed to be in a chair. He’d been by the bar, throwing Frank’s rifle to her.
“I shot him!” she cried out, staring at the stage where Jack had fallen, his belly punctured. Slick blood covered the floor, smeared where he’d gotten up. Terrified, she looked at her blood-covered hands. But her chest had a hole in it, and she staggered. The mirror was broken, and Sandy’s soft sobs rose from behind the bar.
Scared, Jack ran for the door. In her mind, she lifted the rifle to her unblemished shoulder and blew a hole in his back.
“He’s dead!” she groaned as the memory of Jack slid to the floor, unhelped and uncared for. No one was moving to save him. Not even her.
“Allen! What the hell are you doing! You want her in MEP?” Silas shouted.
“She used the framework you left to twist control from me! What did you do to her?”
Peri turned to the bar. Panic joined her confusion when the mirror was unbroken and Silas stood there instead of Frank. She backed up, eyes darting for a way out.
“Easy now,” Allen called, and she spun. Silas moved, and her eyes flicked to him. Both men were between her and the door. She was trapped.
“Stay back,” she warned, fixated on the space on the floor where Jack had died. “Where’s my rifle? I had a rifle!” Spinning, Peri looked at the door, shocked to see it clean and unblemished. Her heart thudded as she whirled to the stage. There was no blood. But she had shot Jack. “Someone tell me where Jack is!” she screamed.
Silas came forward, hands raised in placation. She kept moving, looking for a way out.
A tiny, rational part of her knew she needed to stop, but instinct kept her backing up almost into the fireplace. She could go no farther, and she grabbed a fire poker.
“Peri, relax,” Silas said calmly, and she jabbed the poker at him to keep him away.
“He’s dead, isn’t he,” she said, iron held tight. “Is Jack dead?”
Angry, she took a step forward, and Silas shifted. “I’m sorry about this,” he said, and then she swung at him. Swearing, he blocked it, twisting the iron from her grip. She screamed, furious when he grabbed her wrist and spun her into a submission hold as they went down and hit the floor together.
“Call Fran,” Silas said to Allen as he wrapped his legs around Peri in a wrestler hold, and she howled, flinging her head back. He leaned out of the way and she hit nothing.
“Hold still,” he grunted, binding her with his own arms and legs. “Just. Hold. Still,” he panted, gripping her tight. “It’s okay. Allen fucked up your defragment, but it’s my fault. I never should have done what I did. Remember me. Remember me, Peri, and let me in! I’m your anchor! Trust me, damn it!” he shouted, angry. “Be still and let me fix this!”
“Let go …,” she wheezed, gasping when he reached into her mind as if it were his own and pulled up an image of Jack standing before the door, his gun smoking. It was aimed at her, and her chest felt as if it was being squeezed to a singularity. “Jack!” she screamed, and froze as she felt the memory burn to ash, the edges of it folding in on itself until it was gone. Under it was the memory of Jack running for the door, leaving her as if the last three years together had meant nothing. Then her, blowing a hole in his back.
“Oh, God, no,” she moaned, knowing it was true. She had gone to Opti to find the corruption, but she hadn’t been able to break from it and had become the tool she’d gone in to expose. He’d never loved her, not really, and she sobbed as Silas crumbled the memory in the fist of his mind and it was gone. But the pain remained, staining the folds of her brain.
Silas has done this before, and then a flash of insight poured through her, flooding the very gaps that Silas had just made. Allen had been in Opti to protect her, playing the part of the corrupt Opti agent to keep her safe. He’d been there to allay Bill’s concerns at her lapses as she balanced on a knife’s edge. Only now did she realize why he’d never tried to defragment anything. She knew him, and he’d been afraid he’d missed something when she’d agreed to let him erase all memories of him … and Silas.