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The Drafter & Waylaid ~ PUYB
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The room was a featureless eight-by-eight, relieved by a single chair and the door pad softly glowing in the recessed overhead lights. Pulling up from a stretch, Peri stifled a shudder as a feeling of electricity crawled over her skin, pooling where the training suit pinched.
Concerned, she passed a hand over the spiderweb of white stress lines in the otherwise black leather, frown deepening when her hand turned to pinpricks as the electric field in the fabric phased. Seriously? The slick-suit ran from her neck to the top of her boots, elevating her slight form to dangerous and sexy, but a wardrobe malfunction would slow her down.
“Hey! Excuse me?” she called toward the ceiling, her high voice laced with demand. “I’m getting excessive feedback from my slick-suit.”
A soft chime fell flat in the tiny room as the audio connection opened. “I’m sorry,” a man’s voice said, the hint of sarcasm telling her they knew it. “Possible suit malfunctions are acceptable under the parameters of the exercise. Begin.”
Again the chime rang. Adrenaline surged with her quick intake of breath. She didn’t see the cameras, but people were watching, comparing every move to an unattainable perfection. Squandering a cocky three seconds, she stretched to show her confidence along with her lithe shape. Challenge one: technological fence, she thought, glancing at the locked door pad.
In a swift motion, she grasped the back of the wooden chair, flinging it into the wall. It hit with a startling crack of wood, and she knelt before the pieces. Nimble fingers bare of the slick-suit’s gloves sifted through until she found a metal pin. Rising, she padded to the locked door and used it to wedge open the door pad.
This task is mine, she thought, then walled it off, concentrating on the maze of wires until she found the one she wanted. Hand fisted, she tensed to yank it free, then hesitated. With her “malfunctioning” suit, she might end up on her ass, blowing out smoke as she tried to remember how to focus. Not worth the risk, she thought, following the wire back to the circuit board and shorting the door with the pin instead. The ceiling chimed her success. Peri saluted the unseen cameras, smug as the door slid open. Eleven seconds.
Pin set between her fingers to gouge, she dove into the cooler air and into a spacious, spongy-floored room. The ceilings were higher, the light brighter, and at the far end, a closed door beckoned, the light on the lock already a steady green. Beyond it was everything she’d been working for, everything she’d been promised. She just had to get there.
A faint whisper of air gave her warning. Peri ducked, lashing out with a back kick to send a man pinwheeling into the wall. Shit, he’s huge! she thought as his slick-suit flashed white. But it was fading to black even as she watched. He wasn’t out of it—yet.
“Nothing personal, right?” she said, her eyes jerking from his holstered weapon to the two men sprinting to her. Three against one wasn’t fair, but when was life ever?
They attacked together. Peri dropped, rolling to take out the closest. He fell and she swarmed him, jabbing his throat with her elbow. There was the telltale thump of a pad, but she’d struck hard enough to make him gag. His slick-suit flashed white as she rolled to her feet. One down.
The second grabbed her, a glass knife at her throat. Screaming in defiance, she stabbed his ear with the chair pin. He howled in real pain, and she threw him over her shoulder and into the first man, now recovered.
Following them both down, she scrambled for his blade, running the glass training knife across both their throats. The glow of the technological blade against their skin flashed, indicating a kill, and their slick-suits turned white. Gasping, they went still, paralyzed. Real blood, looking alien in the training floor, dripped from the one man’s ear.
Peri straightened, keeping the pin as she turned her back on the men and walked confidently to the distant door. No more of their lame excuses, she thought, the adrenaline high still spilling through her, though shifting to a more enduring burn of anticipation. She’d been working toward this for months. How many times did she need toprove she was ready?
With a heavy thunk, the lights went up. At the door, the pad shifted to a locked red.
Peri jerked to a halt. “Excuse me?” she directed at the ceiling, and the audio connection pinged open.
“You failed to demonstrate proficiency with projection weapons,” the man said again, but she could hear an argument in the background.
Peri cocked her hip, knowing the time was still running, ruining her perfect score. “You mean a gun?” she asked with disdain. “Handguns are noisy and can be taken away, and then I have to do more damage to fix it.”
“Your time is still running,” the man said, smug.
“How can I prove my value if you keep changing the rules?” she muttered, stomping back to the three men, still paralyzed in their white slick-suits. Jaw clenched, she snatched the nearest man’s handgun. “I already killed you,” she said when the man’s eyes widened, and she spun, shooting out the cameras in the corners instead: one, two, three.
“Reed!” the man shouted as his screens undoubtedly went black.
Peri dropped the weapon and waited, shaking the pinpricks from her fingertips. The audio channel was still open, and a smile quirked her lips as she caught some argued phrases, “best we have” and “it’s that shitty attitude of hers that makes her perfect.”
Glancing at her watch, Peri shifted her weight. “So am I going, or do you want me to try it again with feeling? I have stuff to do today.”
There was silence, and then a younger voice took the mic. “You will report to medical tomorrow at nine. Congratulations, Agent Reed. It’s yours.”
Her breath caught, the quick intake lighting a fire all the way to her groin, and then she steadied herself. “Friday,” she countered, ignoring the men behind her, groaning as their slick-suits returned to a black neutrality. “I want to say good-bye to my mother.”
Again the silence, and Peri’s good mood tarnished as she caught a whispered “Might not remember her when she gets back.”
“Friday,” the young voice came back, and Peri’s jaw clenched at the pity in it. Her mother didn’t deserve anyone’s pity, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t going to say good-bye.
But the door lock had shifted green, a solid thump echoing as it opened onto an empty, white hallway. Her thoughts already on a shower and what was in her closetthat her mother might actually approve of, Peri paced forward into the light.
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Here’s an excerpt for you to enjoy!
“You know what I’d like to do?” Jack leaned in to Peri, his hand curving suggestively about her waist, and she breathed in the faint scent of ozone and aftershave like a balm. Under it was a hint of gun oil, and Peri was hard-pressed to decide which one intrigued her more as they stood outside her apartment door with their carry-ons, glad they had the next week off.
“Mmmm, I like games,” Peri said as she tapped her key card to her apartment door pad. It disengaged the lock with an almost unheard click, and she turned to him, seeing the bound heat behind his sandy hair and blue eyes as he leaned to nuzzle under her ear. The tips of her short black hair tickled her neck along with his lips, and she stifled a quiver.
“I’d like to be there tomorrow when they find that ball of wax you left them,” Jack whispered. “That’s all. What did you think I meant?”
Peri exhaled in annoyance, giving him a little shove as he pulled back and took up their bags. Eyes rolling, she pushed open the door, her faint smile widening as Carnac, their cat, came out to weave between their feet, threatening to trip them.
“Hi, Carnac. Did you miss me more than Jack is going to tonight?” she said, scooping up the orange tabby and cuddling him as she followed Jack into the spacious apartment they shared. It was dark, and Detroit’s neon-draped skyline sparkled through the wide glass windows. The lighted mass-transit rail circled to touch upon the city’s hot spots to look like jewels on a necklace, and she let Carnac slide from her. It hadn’t been a strenuous job, but the timing had been meticulous, requiring several days and multiple dry runs. She was mind-weary and ready for some downtime.
“Lights up,” she said, to shake the apartment out of extended leave, and the glow brightened to show the comfortable mix of her and Jack among the modern open-floor plan, everything angled to take advantage of the view of a glittering new Detroit.
“Sure is a pretty thing,” Jack said as she dropped her coat and purse on a chair and went into the open kitchen to give Carnac some soft food.
“The accelerator?” she asked, seeing that he’d taken it from his pocket and was holding it up to the spotlight over the gas fireplace. The walnut-size, meticulously engineered crystal was one-of-a-kind, and it caught the light like a disco ball, sending wavelengths too short to be seen ricocheting around the apartment to make her back teeth hurt. She’d held it briefly before giving it back for Jack to carry. It gave her the willies, the orb’s facets feeling warm and malleable even as they pricked her skin.
Jack lowered the glittering crystal. “Hard to believe something this small is worth an entire city,” he said as he put it back in his pocket.
Hard to believe you can hold it like that in your bare fingers, she thought as she ripped open a pouch of cat food. “Whenit’s plugged in, sure,” she muttered, watching Carnac weave between her feet as she set the bowl on the floor and fondled the cat’s ears. “Right now it’s giving me a headache.”
The small orb was Event Horizon’s latest wonder, fracturing wavelengths to allow information to be sent outon a particle, instead of an entire wave. In layman’s terms, it was like having a single bandwidth hold a hundred thousand conversations instead of one, and it would revolutionize how information was handled. Whoever held it would own the world.
And it’s in Jack’s pocket, she thought as she seriously considered sleeping with it under her pillow tonight. It would go to Opti in the morning, and from there, returned to Event
Horizon, the company that had developed it. It bothered Peri how often corporations stole or patented technology just to shove it in a drawer so their older technology would remain viable.
The pop of a wine bottle brought her head up, and she smiled at Jack, loving him. The accelerator had been in a research facility outside of Cincinnati, and they’d done well to
get in and out with no one the wiser. Preparation and skill had meant there’d been no need for her to draft, transposing a small part of time and space a few seconds into the past in order to erase a mistake. Content, Peri gave Carnac a last fondle about the ears and went to join Jack in the living room. It had been months since she’d needed to draft to rub out what could have been a fatal error, and she enjoyed feeling normal.
“Oh, please tell me you’re joking,” she said as Jack turned on the TV and settled back into the cushions, eyes riveted on the menu as he loaded his latest fix. “Ja-a-a-ack . . .” she moaned as opening credits flowed over the flashing images of an athletic girl and her sidekick parrot, doing a magic spell and catching the sexy vampire. “Can’t you fall in love with something remotely possible?”
Peri Reed Chronicles ~ Goodreads
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