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The chances of that were pretty good, and, feeling the pinch of avarice, Silas let the testing door shut behind him with a small click. The expansive hallway was open to the courtyard at both ends, and he looked for any activity, seeing nothing. Getting more data would be worth it, and he went still as he remembered that tidy little draft, wishing she’d been wearing a slick-suit at the time so he could have seen her reach. It bothered him that he didn’t know her by sight, but he’d been letting his students do most of the slick-suit fittings lately, and so he didn’t know everyone anymore.

“Fine, I’ll do it,” he said, and Professor Woo brightened, slapping him across the shoulders. “Where are they?”

“Thank you, Silas.” His professor reached into his suit coat’s inner pocket for an envelope. “If you’d said no, I would’ve had to do it, and I don’t know how to fix the suits if there’s a problem.”

Silas took the extended envelope. There were too many eyes and ears in Opti’s academy to risk saying aloud where this year’s drafter/anchor testing was, not when every student vied for any advantage.

“He’d like you there by eleven tonight to set up. You’re a lifesaver,” Professor Woo said. Then, giving Silas a last nod, he turned and strode briskly back to the testing room.

“Lifesaver,” Silas grumbled, not agreeing as he opened the paper. Sighing, he folded it back up and stuffed it away.

God bless it, I’m going to have to wear my good tie.


Electronic dance music thumped through the walls. It made the swelling on Silas’s head throb as he sat in the club’s cramped security office. The outdated wood paneling and metal furniture from the ’90s made him loath to touch anything, and he twitched his new Dolce & Gabbana suit coat clear of the cigarette burns and chip crumbs.

“Skinny-man models,” he muttered as his thick fingers skated competently across his tablet. You had four, maybe six years of lanky adolescence, and then it was gone. Why were all the models, and therefore all the suits, stuck there? Real men had shoulders and arms.

Thinking he was talking about the meat market/dance club visible through the club’s grainy monitors, Professor Milo’s secondary assistant chuckled. “Me, I like eating,” the man said, casting envious glances at Silas’s state-of-the-art glass tablet spilling data in a crystalline, unending stream. Silas had justified getting it because of his work, but the truth of it was he just liked having the best.

The semitransparent data phased out, and Silas thunked the tablet against the desk to phase it back in. Even if it doesn’t work all the time.

Behind them, Professor Milo cleared his throat, and Silas focused on the biofeedback data rather than the screens. Per tradition, the anchor/drafter finals were not on Opti’s training floor but in a real-life situation involving people oblivious to the fact. The electronic dance club was loud, noisy, and rife with distractions: the perfect microcosm of reality.

By rights, he shouldn’t be here, seeing as he was close to two of the participants; Allen and he had been friends for years, and he and Summer had been living together for nearly as long. But it was still an exercise, meaning they had light pistols and slick-suits under their clubbing attire. Since he had designed both the suits and the basics behind the light pistols, he was the logical choice to be in the cramped back room monitoring them. A room far too small for someone to have eaten garlic bread at dinner, he thought, wincing.

Allen’s and Summer’s goal was a four-piece ribbon-tied box of chocolates sitting at a distant table, already in the possession of the first team on site, but Silas was tempted to text Allen to bring back a handful of mints from behind the bar instead. Possessing the chocolates was one thing; getting out with them was another.

The dish of rusted paperclips on the desk before him rattled in time with the music, and Silas moved it to a stained coaster. Satisfied with the data coming in from the four students’ slick-suits, Silas shifted his weight on the rolling office chair to reach for his gum. The plastic crackled as he punched a square out, then he handed it around in a show of friendly impartiality. Professor Milo brusquely waved him off, but his assistant took one with a sheepish, knowing smile.

“Thanks,” the assistant whispered as he scooted closer, his eyes on the club’s grainy monitors. “You don’t know who the blonde is, do you? Damn, she looks good.”

Silas smirked, his fingers adroitly flashing over his tablet to log in the incoming data. Summer looked more than good in the flowing slitted skirt and blouse, the slick-suit a glistening hint under it from her neck to wrists to ankles, her hair cut to a short, safe length. She was an Amazon goddess in the spinning lights, sipping her orange juice and flirting as she waited for Allen to get into position before making a play for the box of chocolates. “That’s my girlfriend.”

The technician jerked in surprise. “Oh,” he said, eyes flicking over Silas’s iron-pumping physique. “Lucky you.”

“You got that right.” Contentment pulled him straighter as he checked his tablet. Allen’s pulse was up, but Summer was an even metro­nome. Karen and Heidi across the dance floor were elevated as well, but that was not unexpected, seeing as they had the chocolate and were on the defensive.

He settled back, not liking the way the walls were rattling. He’d be getting no data for his thesis tonight. No one was going to draft—not with two teams on site. The chance someone might draft within a draft was too great. Double-drafting wasn’t fatal, but it hurt. No, tonight would be decided by wits and the light pistols they all had, each shooting a harmless stream of particles that immobilized the section of slick-suit it impacted. It mimicked a gunshot, and Silas didn’t like that Opti had taken his synaptic isolation technology and turned it into a gun.

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