(The copy in this email is used by permission, from an uncorrected advanced proof. In quoting from this book for reviews or any other purpose, it is essential that the final printed book be referred to, since the author may make changes on these proofs before the book goes to press. This book will be available in bookstores April 2018.)
The closet was narrow and dusty, with barely enough room for me to stand. Dead insects crunched under my sneakers, and spider webs glued themselves to my ponytail. Though empty of appliances and devoid of air conditioning, the foreclosed duplex was crammed with beat-up sofas and ratty mattresses, and it smelled like sawdust and old shoes. Faux suburban meth-dealer chic.
Trey handed me a weapon. "Do you remember the plan?"
I wrapped my hands around the gun, a semi-auto designed to shoot projectiles, not bullets. My palms were slick with sweat, and I had to concentrate to keep the thing from thudding to the floor.
"Surrender," I said.
"This scenario is designed to practice surrender protocol."
"And you are not to...?"
"Fight. Not even a little bit." I wiped my hands on my jeans one at a time. "What are their chances of getting past you?"
"Not very good. These particular trainees haven't yet grasped the concept of three-sixty periphery."
"But they will, after they tangle with you."
A ghost of a smile flickered at the edge of Trey's mouth. "Yes."
He knelt and adjusted my protective vest. He was dressed for special ops—his black BDU pants paired with a long-sleeved tee, also black, plus his old service boots, the ones he'd shoved into storage almost four years ago. His orange-tipped training weapon was a ridiculous contrast, but it was the only thing keeping me in the moment. Otherwise, it would have been easy to get pulled back in time into his SWAT days, and to believe that the Trey on his knees in front of me was the Trey I'd never met, the man who'd existed before the car accident, before the frontal lobe damage, the Trey who really was a cop and not just volunteering at a training session.
I brushed a stray cobweb from his dark hair. "If any of them do make it past you, I'm going to get pocked with paintballs."
Trey stood and double-checked my body camera, wiped a smudge from my eye protection with his sleeve. "If you surrender and drop your weapon, you're supposed to come out unharmed. That's the protocol."
I sneezed. He produced a bottle of allergy medicine from some hidden pocket, and I swallowed two tablets dry.
"Does this really help?" I said.
"For the dust, yes. The pigeons, however..."
"Not the pills, these scenarios. Deliberately wading into a simulation where people come after you. Does it really make the nightmares better?"
Trey stopped messing with my gear, his blue eyes serious in the slanted light. "Yes. It does."
When my brother the psychologist had suggested moving Trey back into simulations training, I hadn't been convinced. I still wasn't. But I knew he needed something, some way to work out the part of him that sometimes sizzled like an overloaded circuit. There was only so much aggression he could exorcise through running, after all, and smothering it with routine and structure hadn't worked either. He needed an outlet, and this one—one without actual bullets and bad guys—seemed a safe alternative.
I adjusted my goggles and felt for the spare ammo on my belt. Training rounds, the SWAT version of paintballs. Each pellet contained a harmless green dye, though for actual combat, they came as capsaicin-filled pepperballs. Trey had assured me that the hot shots were banned for this scenario. Only green boxes on the training ground, only orange-marked weapons. It was an elaborately structured game of cops and robbers, and I was a robber. So was Trey.
He gave me a searching evaluation. "Are you sure you're okay?"
He watched my mouth to make sure I was telling the truth. I was. Mostly.
"Okay," he said. "But remember, you can leave at any time. Tell the sentry you're vacating the scenario." He lowered his head to look me in the eye. "You're not trapped here, Tai. Not at all."
It was the right thing to say. "Ten-four. I'm good. Let's go."