“I can help who’s next!” the barista called, and she stepped forward, ordering a venti. She had cash, but she turned her phone back on and used it instead, knowing it would pop up on their security in about fifteen minutes. She’d either be in Opti’s custody or long gone by then. There was a pen by the register, and she took it, keeping it in her hand to gouge with if needed.
She edged to the pickup counter, going still when Allen’s pacing brought him close. Freedom was a glass door away. No matter what happened next, she was gaining that curb. If she could do it without him seeing her, all the better.
“I don’t know, Bill,” he said into his phone, clearly irate. “She was complacent enough this morning. I grounded everything, but she’s gone. I doubt a plane was her goal, but we’re watching to see if she tries to exchange it for another flight. I’m at baggage claim.”
Her order came up, and she took her large coffee, wishing he’d look the other way.
“To see if she’s going to walk out the front door. Why do you think?” Allen snapped, then abruptly ended the call. “What an ass,” he added softly, and then their eyes met.
Allen’s lips parted. “Hey!” he exclaimed, hesitating when she ambled forward to meet him. The world waited behind double glass doors, and she was tired of being afraid.
“This is for lying to me!” Peri shouted, squeezing the cup to make the lid pop off, and then tossing the contents at him.
He ducked, coming up angry as the scalding liquid nicked him, but her foot was already swinging. He blocked the first kick, and screaming, she backed him up onto the door’s sensor pad with two front kicks that never landed. Cooler air blew in, smelling of exhaust and icy pavement.
“And this is for making me think I trusted you!” she shouted, grabbing a suitcase off a cart and throwing it at him with a cry of frustration.
Allen shifted out of its way, and Peri lunged forward, grabbing his arm to swing him into the unbreakable glass doors. He hit with a satisfying thud, groaning as he slid down—out cold. Cars had stopped, and she stood over him, breathing hard. “It was a very bad vacation,” she said to the man whose suitcase she’d thrown, and he nervously smiled, clearly trying to stay out of it.
Chin lifted, Peri strode out, crossing the road and making cars stop. A shuttle was leaving, and she swung onto it. She jerked, shocked, at the top of the stairs when she realized there was no driver, then hit the SAME key to input wherever the previous passenger had. It pulled away even before she’d found a seat.
“You forget three years and everything changes,” she whispered. The shakes started right about then. She was alone. For the first time in five years, she was completely alone, and she felt the pen in her pocket for reassurance. What if she drafted? She’d never know what had happened. Enough blank spots in her memory, and she’d go insane.
“What are you doing, Peri?” she whispered. But she knew. She was running for control of her life, for the answers to what had happened in Charlotte, for the knowledge of whether she was a dirty operative, or if just her anchor had been.
Fingers trembling, Peri took off her watch and shoved it between the seat and the backrest. She had a feeling that Jack had given it to her and it probably had a tracker in it. Her phone, too, was suspect; popping open the side of it, she took the wafer-thin, glass SIM card out and dropped the phone under the seat. The wallpaper of a desert sunrise didn’t mean anything to her, but she was sure she’d taken it.
Exhaling with what sounded almost like a sob, she leaned her head against the cold window, feeling the bus shift and jerk as it worked its way past passenger pickup, gathering people as it went. Someone was probably going to a hotel, and from there, she could get a bus ticket to Charlotte. That’s where the answers were.
But she pulled to a full, adrenaline-pounding stiffness when out the window of the bus she saw a familiar face.
“Silas,” she breathed, and the man in an exquisitely cut brown jacket leaning against the pylon met her eyes, not smiling as he folded up his paper and let it drop to the planter beside him. She tensed, but the bus jerked back into motion, and her heart pounded when he crossed the road and headed into the airport.
He knew about Charlotte—had told her it was her last task. He’d know that’s where she was going.
Silas got out of the cab, his hand going to his head when he thought he’d left his hat behind, only to find it right where it belonged. Checking the street addresses against the list of Charlotte’s Internet cafés on his phone, he crossed the street, hand raised to stop a slow-moving car.
Electric bikes darted unnervingly around him, and he eyed an erratic, low-flying drone, relaxing as he decided it was a courier and therefore not a threat. He was in university territory, and his high-end coat was getting noticed. She’ll know I’m not a student anyway, he thought as he took his tie off and stuffed it in his coat pocket.
It had been almost twenty-four hours, and if he didn’t locate her soon, Opti might find her first. She’d done a fair job of muddling her destination, but they weren’t stupid. Once they ruled out her apartment, they’d realize she’d bucked her deep conditioning against being alone and focus on the obvious: the city her last task had been in. He figured she’d ditch her phone and search for both answers and anonymity at an Internet-access café, but after finding nothing at the three that were closest to the bus station and claimed to have gen-three glass technology, he was starting to wonder if she’d instead gone to the library and their slower system.