The Drafter Page 49

“This isn’t a recall technique,” he said. “It’s to bring you to a centered position.”

He sounded like a psychologist, which was both reassuring and unnerving. “What branch of Opti did you wash out of?” she asked. There was no answer, but his pressure on her foot didn’t change. “Silas, what branch?”

“I didn’t wash out. I quit.” His thumb ran up the outside arch of her foot again to show that all the tension was gone. “Find a spot. Tell me what you liked about it. How you felt there.”

Fine. She was willing to do almost anything if he’d keep rubbing her feet. Her headache was almost gone. “Can I pick a person instead?”

His motion on her foot hesitated. “Ah, no.”

She held her breath, exhaling when she had an idea. “When I was a kid, I spent a few summers at my grandparents’ farm. They had a couple of trees right in the middle of one of their fields where there was an old graveyard. Just a few faded markers. Couldn’t even read them. But it was peaceful, and the wind was sweet.” Peri smiled, and the last of her headache vanished. Maybe there was more to this than she gave him credit for.

“What did it smell like?”

Her reluctance to tell him something so personal vanished at his logic. The triggers of scent and touch were important in making a successful connection between a drafter and an anchor, and so she was willing to give him more and see where it went.

“The earth was both hard from roots and loamy between them,” she said, fingers moving as if she could feel the black soil. “The bark was smooth to the touch and detailed in grays. I could be alone there, just me and the sun and the wind, and like the world, it smelled like dry dirt down low, and like freedom when I climbed into the leafy green.”

She was totally relaxed, even if recalling the scent of the dirt seemed to stick in her.

“Centered and still,” Silas said, no longer working pressure points, but maintaining a gentle touch to tell her he was there, listening. “Peri?”

“Mmmm?”

“Do you want to try to remember the airport?”

“Sure.” She could do that, and she cracked an eye to see the bands of the noon light on the ceiling. The TV had gone on in the room next door, and the drone of sound was comforting.

“You were anxious,” he said, and she closed her eyes to deepen the connection so as to let him in. “Now you’re calm and nothing can touch you, but then, you were anxious.”

Though unable to remember the precise recall technique used by her last anchor, she’d worked with enough professionals through the years to know what to do—and she relaxed.

“You had a coffee and you sipped it to allay suspicions,” he said, and Peri fastened on the memory that she still retained, shoving away the concern that he’d been spying on her even then. “You set it downwhen the woman you’d marked went to the bathroom. The planes were starting to board. You were ready to act.”

In her thoughts, she was in the sun, but she knew she’d sat in the shade at the airport. She could smell the wind and dirt, taste the caramel from the coffee Allen had brought her, but it mixed with bitter, expensive chocolate. A flight announcement echoed in her memory, and the flash of a white face in the haze of a holographic monitor came and went.

The memories of several events were meshing. Silas’s calming techniques were not mixing well with her last anchor’s, but she could do this, and she focused on the known impressions of the airport, pulse quickening when Silas’s confidence suddenly congealed about her conviction. He had found her fully, his presence in her mind professionally light but certain as they began to share the same vision, each leading the other. He’d found her mind with unusual quickness, settling in with a cool detachment that she appreciated, but if he had once been an Opti psychologist, he’d have the knack. Satisfied, she slipped deeper into the light trance.

“Safe now,” he soothed as if she might be afraid, “but you were in danger, and you had a plan. A guard went with you.”

A flash of a man’s pale face lit by a monitor came and went again, and Peri shoved it aside in favor of crowds of people and rolling bags. “I went in first,” she said, taking up the narration as she felt wisps of unrealized fragments gathering in the background of her mind. It was almost as if Peri could sense Silas ordering them, seeing them before she did. “I had to wait for a woman to leave, but it gave me time to throw a wad of paper at the camera.”

She caught the scent of the hotel shampoo and the cloying dust from the grove. No, from the carpet. She frowned as the image of the underside of a bed intruded, drawn by the conflicting sensations of clean hair and dirty carpet. The warp and weft was unforgivably matted, but where her fingers were splayed open over it, it was dusty and uncrushed. Her palm lay open in welcome. A crumpled sock lay at the edge of shadow and golden light, a blue button beside it. It was a talisman, and she worried she’d forget it. The fragments didn’t mesh with the fading impressions of the airport. They didn’t fit, and she sensed Silas’s rising concern.

“I knocked the guard into a stall,” Peri said, forcing her thoughts from the contented feeling the image of the sock under the bed filled her with. “I followed her in and hit her head on the pipe.”

The expected empty ache of missing memories thickened, a morass of conflicting images. Instead of a crowded airport, Peri saw a flash of pure gold light from under a door across a matted carpet. It didn’t fit, and her heart hurt as more fragments intruded, scaring her. “Silas …,” she whispered, and she felt him take her hands as his presence in her strengthened.

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