“Why do you do this to me?” Karley leaned closer, moved by Peri’s dire appearance, if not by his words.
“Please,” he said again, begging. “This isn’t about me. She needs help.”
Karley made an ugly sound, but the door was still open. “All right. Hurry up,” she finally said, looking past him at the car and waving it off. “Get in here. How confident are you that you weren’t followed? Are you clean?”
The warmth and muffled sound of a well-furnished home enfolded him, pushing aside the images of blood and hard yellow floor that were leaking into his awareness. Peri was trying. She was fighting for her sanity even if her eyes were shut and she shook as if she’d been beaten.
“Howard brought us,” Silas said as the door clicked shut. “We’re clean. As for being followed? Who knows.”
“You are a bundle of good news, Silas. Nothing’s changed there. Put her on the couch.”
He knelt before the couch in the lavish living room, his chest clenching when Peri reached for him as she felt herself drop. She wasn’t as lost as he thought, and his indecision became almost unbearable. The hell with the information. He had to save her. Fingers trembling, he folded her hands over her chest, never letting go as he pushed the hair from her eyes.
Karley leaned close over them both, her lips pressed into a thin line as she professionally evaluated Peri’s state. The smell of hairspray grew strong, and he held his breath, praying Karley wouldn’t say it was too late. She’d always given up too easily. On everything.
“How long ago did it happen?” she asked, her tone holding that cold lilt he hated.
“Twenty minutes.” Karley straightened up, and he breathed easier. “I meant, how long ago was the draft you tried to render?” she asked pointedly.
“Four days.” Guilt sank its teeth in another inch, and he tugged the TV blanket up over her. “She was starting to hallucinate. I thought it was worth the risk.”
“She was hallucinating within four days?” Karley’s voice was raised in anger. “Are you blind or intentionally being an idiot? It must have been highly traumatic to cause hallucinations after only four days. Where’s her anchor?”
Silas glared up at her, wanting to stand but unwilling to let go of Peri. “She killed him,” he said drily.
Head shaking, Karley picked up her short glass of ice and something clear. Hand on one hip, she stood before the oversize flat screen currently displaying the house’s security. “That was the memory you tried to defragment? Her killing her anchor?”
Frustrated, he fixed the blanket tighter under Peri’s chin. “Part of it.”
“And you wonder why you lost control?” Karley’s professional outrage began to show. “No wonder Opti threw you out. What could she possibly know worth risking her mental stability for?”
“Opti didn’t throw me out. I quit.” He stood, bitter and not wanting to add to Peri’s already swirling emotions. “There’s no way I could’ve kept control of what I unearthed. The rewrite was intertwined with the original like hair in a dreadlock.”
Karley pointed at him with her glass, ice clinking. “What does she know that’s worth risking her sanity for?”
He stiffened. “I need a quiet place to piece her back together. Are you going to help me, or should I go to a Motel 6?”
“You left her with two timelines, didn’t you?” Setting her glass on the mantel, Karley waited, anger pulling her eyebrows together when he said nothing. “You are an idiot. Drafters can’t handle two timelines. That’s why they forget them! And you left them there?”
“I’m trying to help her,” Silas snapped, slumping when Karley made a frustrated Well? gesture. “Peri has information about the corruption in Opti. It goes deeper than Bill. I didn’t fragment anything yet because both timelines hold the proof.”
“Oh, my God. Bill?” Karley sat down, her anger replaced by shock. “Isn’t he her handler?”
Silas nodded. “It gets better. He was the one tasked with finding the corruption. He sent Peri and her anchor to get a list of bad agents so he could modify it before reporting them. Peri found out, killed her anchor. But the original list is still live somewhere. If we can find it before Bill does, we can end this.”
And if not, everything lost will have been for nothing, he thought. “Peri and I have a good working connection,” he said, and Karley’s head snapped up, eyes bright in warning. “I successfully untangled a memory knot created by Allen’s wipe.”
“Damn it, Silas, those things are dangerous,” Karley said in exasperation.
“No they’re not,” he said, his frustration at an old argument getting the best of him. “Opti uses fear to control drafters. Fear that unresolved timelines will cause madness. Fear of being alone so their leash holders are always there. Fear that they can’t do without anchors when they can. They filled her head with lies to make her helpless.”
Karley shook her head. “Even the best drafter will go insane with twin timelines.”
His pulse quickened at the truth of that. “I can hide them under enough distractions that she can live with it. We’d have our proof.”
“I can do this!” he said loudly, then glanced at Peri and lowered his voice. She’d regained enough motor control to curl into a fetal position, and guilt made him feel ill. If he didn’t hide the twin lines well enough, she’d ferret them out and go mad before his eyes. He couldn’t watch another drafter go mad like that. Not again.