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The Drafter

The Drafter

Page 1

PROLOGUE

2025

The room was a featureless eight-by-eight, the monotony 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 tops 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. Im getting excessive feedback from my slick-suit.

A soft chime fell flat in the tiny room as the audio connection opened. Im sorry, a mans 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 didnt 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-suits 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 one of the wires 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 shed been working for, everything shed 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, hes huge! she thought as his slick-suit flashed white. But it was fading to black even as she watched. He wasnt out of ityet.

Nothing personal, right?she said, her eyes jerking from his holstered weapon to the two men sprinting toward her. Three against one wasnt 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 shed 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 shadowed with electronics 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 on the training floor, dripped from the one mans ear.

Peri straightened, keeping the pin as she turned her back on the men and walked confidently to the distant door. No more lame excuses, she thought, the adrenaline high still spilling through her, though shifting to a more enduring burn of anticipation. Shed been working toward this for months. How many times did she need to prove 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, 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 mans handgun. I already killed you, she said when the mans 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 its 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.

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