The Drafter

Page 35

Allen slipped his ID from a shirt pocket. “I can tell,” he said as the woman on duty stepped forward. “You hit your head. I’m not letting you go to sleep until you get checked out.”

“I’m fine,” she complained as the snow-crisp air slipped in his lowered window, but she dutifully showed the security woman her ID across the expanse for her to scan it. “A good night’s sleep would do me more good than being here.”

“Let me do my job,” Allen said, the bitterness catching the security woman’s attention. “We’re going to the med offices,” he said to her, though he didn’t have to. “She overdrafted, and I want her checked out.”

Overdrafted, as in losing too much memory to function properly, Peri thought. Bullshit. She’d probably lost large chunks of time before. And therein lies the problem….

The woman waved them through, and Allen’s grip on the wheel tightened as he drove toward the small Opti infirmary across campus from the larger office building. His frustration was obvious in the occasional glimmer of a streetlight. “I know you’re tired, but you drafted twice in twenty-four hours. I want you checked out before I go mucking about in your head.”

I drafted twice? Uneasy, she dropped her glass phone into her purse to figure out how to use later. “You think I might MEP?”

He didn’t answer, worrying her even more. MEPs were usually preceded by multiple drafts with no time between to sort things out, but occasionally old damage or a memory knot could trigger it. Peri suddenly felt fragile.

“I don’t want to muddle it up,” he said softly, the car slowing as he pulled up right before the door of an unassuming three-story building. “I’d feel better if we checked your synaptic activity levels.”

His uncertainty bothered her more than anything else, and she looked straight ahead as he turned the car off. Her gaze went to her broken nail, and her pulse throbbed at her eye and at the back of her head. Her hip was bruised, and her shoulder had been wrenched. The faint scent of gunpowder lingered in the seat cushions. Her Mantis could be cleaned and the sundry hurts in her body would mend. The damage to her mind … that’s where the darkness lay.

Seeing her unmoving, Allen set a tentative hand on her knee. “It’s going to be okay,” he said, but his smile held doubt, and she was glad when he took his hand away.

They got out at the same time, the doors shutting loud in the crisp, snowy night. Opti’s infirmary building looked like all the rest. There weren’t many Opti operatives, and their unique ailments didn’t take up much room.

Allen held the heavy glass door, and she murmured her thanks as she went in, too tired to smile at the receptionist. Allen could be personable for both of them. “Special needs,” he said by way of explanation, but Peri was already following the teal line on the floor. Allen jogged to catch up, the cadence telling her he ran regularly. She felt only a minor flash of irritation when he looped his arm in hers to slow her down. He was only a few inches taller, and that seemed odd somehow. Muscle memory never vanished, and her suspicions tightened.

“Why are you in such a hurry?” Allen said, and she forced her pace to ease.

“Sorry,” she said, and the large man in a lab coat riffling through his paperwork glanced up at them and away. The guy was tall without an ounce of fat on him, his tie loosened as if at the end of a hard day, but his face was clean-shaven—only hours ago. He’d be good at subduing unruly patients. Maybe that was why he worked nights.

Stop it, Peri. She was seeing assassins in the shadows, but all she had to go on at the moment was intuition, and it was in overdrive. “I can’t believe anyone is here,” she said when they turned the corner and the man was out of earshot. “It’s two in the morning.”

“You don’t think Frank called ahead?” he asked. The teal line made a sharp left to a glass door and window wall. Beyond it was a tiny waiting room with an efficient-looking woman in purple scrubs behind the reception counter. She’d be in a suit during normal work hours, but things relaxed on the night shift as she’d have to do everything from file the paperwork to draw blood. It was Ruth, and Peri didn’t have to fake a smile as she and Allen went in.

“Peri,” Ruth said as she stood, her relief obvious. She vanished behind a wall, and in half a second she was coming through the heavy wooden door that separated her from the waiting room. “I just heard,” she said, giving Peri a hug that was so honest Peri’s eyes shut as she basked in the other woman’s warmth. “I’m so sorry. You okay?”

Peri nodded when Ruth held her at arm’s length and searched her expression. “I’m okay. Really,” she added when the nurse looked doubtfully at Allen.

“Hi, Allen,” she said as she let go of Peri, and paranoia pinged at Ruth’s guarded tone.

“She hit her head, but it’s the proximity drafts I’m worried about,” Allen said, his tone just as telling. He didn’t like Ruth, either. “I’d like to get moving on this. Is Bill here?”

Ruth frowned, her pique obvious at his implication that she was slowing things up. “No,” she said, pushing open the heavy door and leading them back. “We’ll have you out of here in an hour, though. Get your synaptic baseline and send you home. No need to check you in.”

“Thank God,” Peri said softly, feeling the late hour all the way to her bones.

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