Shocked, she stared into his eyes as she felt time overlap and begin to mesh. For an instant she saw herself on the floor as she choked to death in the original timeline. The guard was standing, and the man in the suit watched it all as Jack held her head in his lap.
“This is very bad for my asthma,” both she and her shadow-self whispered, one dying of confusion, the other just dying confused.
And then time mended and everything flashed the most beautiful red, scrubbing it away.
Peri pushed back, her heart pounding as her shoulder thudded against the leg of a desk. Jack was kneeling before her, and she looked at a door and the green light blinking on the locking panel. She was on the floor of a midnight-dark corner office. Her chin hurt, but the rest of her face was in agony. A bloody knife lay beside her, and a man in a security uniform twitched not three feet away, his life’s blood soaking the carpet.
“It’s okay, Peri,” Jack soothed, and she scrambled to her feet before the blood could reach her, slowing when she realized everything hurt. “It’s done.”
I drafted, she thought, looking at her palm to see J IN OFFICE. She’d left him? Heart beating fast, she picked up her sticky knife, conscious of Jack’s sudden wariness. She’d left him but she’d made it back, obviously, and he would return her memory of the night’s events.
A security guard was dead. Her knife thrust had killed him—she recognized the entry wound as one she knew. A handheld radio hissed, and a Glock lay in the guard’s grip. She smelled gunpowder. They were in a high-rise, the thirtieth floor at least. It was night. They were on task. She’d drafted to rub out a mistake, and in doing so, had forgotten everything. Charlotte? she wondered, spotting the crown building out the window.
“Did I die again?” she whispered.
“Pretty close. We gotta go,” he said, and she winced when he touched her elbow. Her short-job bag was under his arm and she took it, feeling unreal.
“Did we get what we came for? How long did I draft?” Peri asked, numb as she looked at the dead man. She only killed someone when they killed her first. Damn it all to hell, she hated it when she drafted.
“Not long, and it’s in my phone.” Eyes pinched, Jack stuck his head out the door and looked around. The office beyond was quiet. “What do you remember?”
Less than I like. “Wait.” Peri knelt beside the dead guard, cutting a button from his uniform with the knife still bloody from his own death. It wasn’t a trophy, but re-creating a memory would be easier with a talisman to focus it on: blood, the feel of the sticky blade, the scent of gunpowder, and the taste of … chocolate?
“You made a reservation, right?” Jack asked, looking awkward in his concern. “Did you write it down? I don’t know why you insist on keeping our post-task date a secret.”
“Because it’s fun to watch you squirm,” she said softly, still trying to find herself. He was overly anxious, wanting to move and keep moving, but as she glanced at the dead man, she didn’t wonder why. Pulse slow, she felt the new aches settle in, clueless as she looked out the huge windows at the dark city. “What day is it?” she said, and heartache marred Jack’s handsome face as he realized how deep the damage was.
“We’ll check your phone. I bet you wrote it down,” Jack said, avoiding her question as he took her elbow and carefully helped her through the secretary’s office and into a maze of low-partitioned cubicles. “Do you remember where the elevators are? I have a lousy sense of direction.”
“I don’t remember the friggin’ task, Jack. What day is it!” she snapped, and he stopped.
Facing her, he gently turned her right hand up to show her a watch. She didn’t wear a watch. Ever. “February the seventh. I’m sorry, Peri. It was a bad one.”
Peri stared at the watch. It looked like something Jack might have given her—all black and chrome, having more functions than a PTA mom with twins, but she didn’t remember it. “February?” The last she knew, it was late December. “I lost six weeks! How long did I draft?”
Emotion flashed over Jack, relief and then distress. “Thirty seconds?” he said, putting a hand on the small of her back and getting her moving again. “But you created a massive potential displacement. You were going to die. The guard? He was the one who did it.”
And now she was alive instead of him. That was a lot of change to absorb. She was lucky she’d lost only six weeks in those thirty seconds. She’d once drafted forty-five seconds, but the changes made had been so small that she’d lost only the time her draft had created. There were rules, but so much impacted them that estimating time lost from time rewritten was chancy at best.
“The car is outside,” Jack said as he led her through the dark to the elevators. Jack walked just a shade faster than she, falling into a well-practiced role of filling in the gaps in a way that wouldn’t make her feel stupid. If she didn’t move too fast, she could at least look as if she knew where they were going. There was an art to it, and they’d both had time to refine it. “We fixed the camera on the south elevator, right?” he asked as he hit the down button.
His nervous chatter was starting to get to her, but it was because he was worried, so she bit back her sharp retort, not wanting to make Jack feel any worse. Her body ached from a beating she didn’t remember getting, and her face felt as if it was on fire. Dancing was out, but they could still play some pool, relax before they turned to the task of rebuilding her memory. It was a tradition that stretched back almost to their first meeting.