Again, neither man said anything, and the tension coiled tighter. Peri pulled her face into a mask of balanced poise as her intuition sparked.
“Bill thinks you need a full workup in the hole,” Jack said, voice flat. “I disagreed.”
“The hole” was one of the nicer terms for the underground medical floor where drafters went when they had … issues. The walls were a horrid purple and bounced back a specific light wavelength, which caused the release of a hormone that hampered the ability to draft. Opti went further to pump a steady 741 MHz from the speakers. Both prevented drafting, both were as annoying as hell, but they were required safety precautions when someone might freak out and MEP.
She could hear the lie in Jack’s voice, but long association told her to go with it. “Full workup,” she said, pretending to relax. “I lost six weeks, not six months, Bill. Jack already brought back the rewrite. I’m fine.”
Jack took a too-casual sip of his wine. “See,” he said, but his face was pale and she could smell his sweat. “I told you she was okay.”
“Good!” The enthusiasm was one hundred percent Bill, but the recent sight of him pinning Jack to the wall was too real. “I’m glad to hear that. What about the memory knot?”
“It untangled with the defrag,” she said simply. Bill seemed genuinely relieved to see her, and when he strode forward with his usual sparse motion, she forced herself to smile as if she hadn’t walked in and found him threatening Jack.
“Whoa, who gave you the shiner, kiddo?” Bill said, reaching to touch it.
“The man I left bleeding his life out on the thirtieth floor of Global Genetics,” she said, leaning out of his reach. Why do they always try to touch it? It hurts, damn it!
“No-o-o … let me see,” Bill cajoled, and she grimaced, not moving as his rough hand encompassed most of her face, concern thick and honest on him as he looked it over. “When my best drafter takes a deathblow, I want to make sure she’s okay.”
“I’m going to have a lousy night trying to find Carnac, but I’m fine,” she said for the third time. “Jack took care of me.” She looked at Jack, his hand steady as he topped off his glass. His other hand was in a fist on the counter, and he opened it as he saw her notice. “Are you here for the data? I thought we were meeting at Overdraft tonight,” Peri said, casting about until she saw Jack’s phone on the counter. Is that what this is about? Bill thought I’d left with it?
Pace fast, she went to get it, ignoring Jack’s uncomfortable umm when she snatched it up and went to stand toe-to-toe with Bill. Everything she knew said Bill was her confidant. Everything she’d spent the last five years doing had strengthened that trust. He gave her the chance to prove herself, and she rewarded him by giving him all she had. But if there was one thing Opti psychologists drummed into their drafters, it was to listen to their intuition. Emotion was never forgotten, and it lingered to guide them until enough new memory was laid down.
“Here you go,” she said, not liking her new mistrust as she extended it, and he took it, Jack’s phone small in his thick hands, misshapen from being broken too many times in his martial arts practice. “Task accomplished.”
Bill took it, his smile a shade too wide. “Thank you. Well done.” She fought the urge to back up. “Jack was the one who found the file,” she said, to keep the silence from becoming awkward.
“Then thank you, Jack,” Bill said jovially, and it felt even more wrong. “I’ll get your phone back to you tonight.”
“Great. Thanks.” Jack poured another swallow into his glass and downed it.
Still standing in the middle of their apartment, Bill tapped the phone against his palm and tucked it away. The Opti logo on it meant it probably did more than her phone did. The memory of Jack’s face, pale from the city’s lights, flashed before her. “You don’t want to do the entire debrief now, do you?” she prompted.
“No. It can wait until tonight,” Bill said. Peri stiffened when he reached into an inner coat pocket. But he was only after his driving glasses, and she mentally kicked herself. She was on high alert, and she couldn’t say why.
Jack was pouring a new glass of wine. “That’s for me, right?” she said to try to ease the tension and pretend everything was okay. “Bill, can you have a glass, or are you working?”
“I’m always working,” he said, halfway to the door. “I know you just drafted, but if Sandy and Frank green-light you tonight, we have an emergency. Everyone else is out on task.”
Jack handed her the glass, avoiding her eyes. Peri set it on the granite counter with an attention-getting click. “What happened to my two weeks’ downtime?” she complained as the man’s heavy fingers worked the buttons on his overcoat to bring himself back to a full military mien.
“Delayed.” He opened the door. “If Sandy okays you, will you work or not?”
If she didn’t, she’d be in the hole having a full psych review. “This sucks, Bill,” she said since she had a right to be pissed if they made her work this soon after a draft.
Bill hesitated at the open door. “Yes, it does. I’ll see you tonight for your full debrief.”
“Tonight,” she echoed sourly.
Nodding, Bill stepped into the hall and closed the door. She didn’t move until she heard the fire exit door bang. Peeved, she went to stand at the balcony. The small visitor lot was right under her window, and if Bill looked up, she was going to flip him off whether he could see her or not. The sun was setting, and the towers’ shadows seemed to stretch all the way to the city’s rebuilt, redesigned, and renewed core, miles away. The glow of the raised magnetic train wove like a ribbon through the neon-rich common, making it into a glorious pendant. Behind her, Jack heaved a frustrated sigh.