The Drafter Page 128

TRUST NO ONE, she wrote, eyes fixed on the two men creeping closer with the caution of Bushmen circling a lion. She shifted the pen’s position to gouge.

“No!” Silas protested as she silently rushed them.

“Watch it!” someone cried, and Peri crashed into the nearest man. He shouted, dropping out of her way when the pen buried itself deep between his shoulder and his neck. Teeth clenched, she shoved him at the other man, the jolt of her breakaway lanyard snapping through her. She darted left at the pop of a weapon. She was going to make it. She was going to make it!

And then the world hiccupped. She was running. Men were shouting behind her, and she didn’t know why. But she didn’t slow down, confused as she zigged when a red-fletched dart pinged on the window of the car she was passing. Heart pounding, she looked at her palm.

Trust no one.

It made perfect sense and none at all. She’d come here to buy her way into the alliance, but she didn’t remember talking to anyone. She’d lost at least ten minutes, maybe more. But it was that she might have damaged Silas’s patch job that struck fear into her. She’d be fine if she could just … get away!

“Jack?” she shouted, and she saw him thirty feet up the street, gesturing for her.

“Don’t stop!” he exclaimed, and she gasped when a man came out from behind a car and she plowed right into him, crashing them both to the pavement.

“No!” she howled as a dart hit her and her arms were pulled behind her. She fought until there were two, then three men sitting on her. Someone held her face to the ground, and her eyes screwed tight when a foam insert was wedged into her ear. A hum of sound stifled her ability to draft. She couldn’t breathe, and finally she gave up, her heart thudding and adrenaline making her head hurt. She clenched her fist to hide the writing on her palm—her fear—even as a plastic strip ratcheted tight about her wrists behind her back.

“Peri!”

Still on the ground, she spit the dirt from her mouth and turned her head. Silas? He was in the grip of two men as they moved to get him in a van. He was cuffed and there was a new welt on his cheek. Was it Opti who had her, then? Oh God, how had they known she was lying?

She kicked fruitlessly at them as they hauled her up. Her teeth clenched when they tossed her into the van as well, and she landed on Silas. His elbow jammed into her gut and she lost her breath even as she struggled to find her knees. The door slammed shut, and she fell when the van accelerated fast.

“Peri, stop fighting. You’re making it worse. I’m not going to let you go into MEP.”

Peri wiggled until she was off him. There were no windows, and she pressed into a dark corner, trying not to fall as the van rocked. The hum in her ears and the drugs in her system made her nauseated. She knew that she’d set out to talkto Silas and buy her freedom, but she couldn’t remember how she’d gotten here or what had gone wrong.

At the other side of the van, Silas slowly got himself upright. “You drafted,” Silas said breathlessly. “Just relax and breathe. It’s going to be okay. Opti doesn’t have us. It’s the alliance. Turn around. Let me get that audio blocker out.”

His voice was soothing, but she mistrusted it. “Alliance?” she whispered as the van leaned into a long curve that said entrance ramp. “Then why are you cuffed? You said you were alliance.” She couldn’t remember how she’d gotten to the ballpark. The unreasonable fear wound tighter about her heart and squeezed. She couldn’t breathe, and she pulled her knees to her chin and dropped her head, trying to relax.

But the harder she tried, the more the panic grew, the unknown hammering at her, eating her alive. It was that patch job. It was falling apart, and when it did, she’d go crazy. She was going crazy.

“Look at me.” Silas knelt before her, but she stared at the ceiling, terrified. The van was running full-out on a straightaway. She had no idea where she was going. She wanted to draft and keep drafting, but the drugs in her wouldn’t let her, and she hung in a hell of her own making of doubt and panic.

He inched forward, and her eyes shot to his. “Peri, I’m an anchor,” he said calmly, and she recoiled as far into the corner as she could. “You know I am. I was there when you drafted. I can bring it back, and with that, the rest will return. Trust me. At least let me get that earplug out.”

Her mouth was dry, and she couldn’t swallow. Trust no one. “I can’t,” she whispered, confusion swirling through her, muddling her thinking.

“You have to,” he said, inching closer, his eyes showing his pain from his bound wrists. “Listen to your gut. It was a tiny draft, but you’re teetering on collapse. Look at yourself. This isn’t you. Undo my hands. Let me help.”

“I can’t,” she said, almost pleading for him to help her, but he had turned to show her his back. His fingers looked swollen, the binding too tight.

“Please,” he said, and she saw the bent nail in his grip. “I know you’re confused, but I can fix this. You have to trust me.”

Her heart was thudding and she felt sick with the motion both outside and inside her head. “Okay,” she whispered. “But if you make one move I don’t like, I’ll kill you for real.”

“Fair enough,” he said, and she carefully moved to put her back to his. His fingers felt cold when she touched them, and he hissed when the nail slipped, gouging him. But his sigh was real when she finally got the tab wedged and he pulled out of the zip cuff.

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