I cant do mine if you leave my sight, Jack said. Stay put, Peri. I mean it.
Arcs of harsh light played over the ceilingcloser, coming closer. Adrenaline coursed through Peri once more, and the soles of her feet began to ache. Catch, she said, rolling the phone into a tube and tossing it at him. He scrambled for it, his silhouette tight with anger against the city lights.
Let me know if we get more than one, she said as she yanked on her pendant, jerking the tiny felt marker from its cap. Otherwise, keep working.
Dont go out there without me, he said, his sudden alarm at the click of the pen uncapping jerking through her.
Just find the files. Ill be right back. J IN OFFICE she wrote on her palm, avoiding him as she blew it dry, recapped the pen, and tucked it behind her top.
I wrote a note, she said, nervous at his angst, and she slipped out, easing the door nearly closed behind her. Dropping to the flat carpet, she wiggled across the receptionists office and peered around the end of the desk, propping herself up on the flats of her arms to wait for a visual on the guard. Jack was right to be concerned. He had to witness a draft to anchor her. But to fail meant the deadly virus might reach an already decimated Asia.
Thats why they were here, to find and remove the files concerning the virus before a second wave of death washed through what had once been nearly two-thirds of the worlds population. Opti had commissioned the first wave three years ago, when Asias political hierarchy thumbed their noses at the new CO2 levels set by the United Nations and therefore threatened the entire world with continued rising global temperatures. But this second wave of tactical bioengineered population reduction was illegal, funded by the Billion by Thirty club with the sole intent of broadening their financial interests in Europe. Peri thought it amusing that she and Jack had helped almost half of its members gain their admission.
The light on the ceiling became focused. Warning prickled her skin as the jingling keys grew louder and a uniformed man came around the desks. Peris brow furrowed.
It wasnt the guard that Bill, their handler, had told them would be here. This man was younger and thinner, and wasnt singing along with his phone. As Peri watched, he tucked his flashlight under his arm and used a card reader to go into one of the private offices ringing the floor. Lips pressed, she waited until the guard came out with a square bottle of something sloshy.
Damn. He was a lifter: familiar with every office and comfortable with treating the building as his personal, no-card-required shopping mall. The best case would have him on the alert for anything out of the ordinary as he strove not to get caught. The worst case would have him in the CEOs office sampling the chocolate.
Breath held, Peri crept back to Jack. He looked up from her phone as she eased the door shut, frowning when the lock clicked on and a red light from the door pad glowed in the dark. Dont leave mysight! he whispered, yelling at her in a soft hush.
We got a lifter, she said, and Jacks fingers hesitated.
He coming in here?
Give me a second, Ill go ask him.
Mood sour, he returned his attention to the crystalline projection. Peri padded over for her phone, breathing in the light scent of his sweat as she tucked it away. Her mind drifted to the sensation of his touch on her skin as his quick fingers searched folders and files. Maybe the files have a biometric lock? she suggested.
No. I simply think its not here. We might need to hit the labs downstairs, Jack grumbled, doing a double take when he realized her lips were inches from his ear. Peri, back up. I cant work when youre that close.
The labs? Good God. I hope not. Peri leaned to put her arms across his shoulders. Her bagfilled with all sorts of interesting things that needed an artists touch to get past TSArested on the desk, and she wondered if she should get something out of it, but everything was noisy. Why dont you shut it down. Hes just shopping, and weve got all night.
Its not here, he muttered, and she pushed off his shoulders and went to listen at the door. Hearing a sliding clatter, she roughly gestured for Jack to cut the light. Grim, Jack stood, fingers still flicking files about the screen. I thought wave technology had a sleep corner, he whispered.
Peri tensed. Footsteps. Coming closer. Shut it off. Now!
Jacks face was creased in the dim glow. Im trying.
The guard was in the secretarys outer office, and she settled into a balanced readiness beside the door. He was coming through itshe knew by the prickling of her thumb and the itch in her feet. Damn it, Jack. I havent drafted in six months. Dont make me do it now.
Got it! he whispered, fingers waving across the monitor as he found the off switch.
Got it wasnt good enough, and with a tiny beep from the locking pad, the door clicked open and the security guard came in, flashlight searching.
He was a cool customer, shed give him that. Silent, he took in Jack, standing behind the desk like a guilty teen found looking at his dads porn. Expression twisting, the man dropped the bottle and reached for the pistol on his belt.
Peri moved as the bottle clunked on the carpet. The man yelped, shocked when her crescent kick slammed out of the dark and into his wrist, knocking his handgun into the secretarys office. Hand to his middle, the security guard dropped back. His shock turned to anger when he saw Peris slim figure cloaked in chic black. True, it looked suspicious, her in the dark and in an upper office where she had no right to be, but add some jewelry and Louboutins, and she was ready for a five-star restaurant. Youre nothing but a little bitty girl, he said, reaching for her.