Trey gave me one final looking-over. Then he closed the closet door, and I was alone in the darkness. I listened to his retreating footsteps, the sudden silence of his absence. Despite my best efforts, the first prickle of panic rose, and with it, the memories. The suffocating heat of the trunk. The gators bellowing on the banks. The green dot of the laser sight centered on my heart.
I tilted my head back and closed my eyes. It's just a simulation, I told myself. Nothing but fake guns and fake bad guys. The chemicals surging in my veins were real, though, and my body responded as if the threat were real too. That was the point, I knew, to stir up the adrenaline spike and then deconstruct it. Rewire the experience, my brother had explained, rewire the response.
I wasn't sure I was buying his theory.
I heard it then, the light susurration of combat gear sliding against ripstop fabric, the unmistakable thump of police boots on the wooden floor. Not from the back, though, where the team was supposed to enter, but from the front. The sentry abandoning his
I frowned. This wasn't how things were supposed to play out.
I could feel the slosh of my pulse, and as I wrapped my hands around the butt of the weapon, the nervousness peaked and swelled into...something else. Something darker. I recognized that sharp clean jolt, red at the edges. Red, like my nightmares, like kill or be killed. And in my dreams, I killed. I slashed and screamed and bit and...
I pushed out of the closet, unable to take the confinement a second longer.
The trainee stood in the door, fully turned out in riot gear, his eyes wide and bright behind the plastic visor. He switched his gun my way. "Hands up! Weapon down!"
My vision narrowed to the barrel of the weapon, pointed straight at me, and I remembered in a flash all of the other times I'd stared down the wrong end of a firearm. My hands shook, and my finger itched to squeeze the trigger, but I forced myself to place the gun on the counter, orange muzzle pointing at the wall.
I raised my hands to shoulder height. "I surrender."
The trainee came around the counter, rifle aimed at my heart, and the fight instinct sang in hot spiked surges. He tried to grab my arm, but I snatched it away. He cursed and popped two paintballs into my chest.
The thud against the vest hurt like hell at that close proximity, and I gasped, partly from pain and partly from astonishment. "I just surrendered, you moron!"
"You're down. So get down."
"Touch me again, and I will rip your arm off!"
I heard the opening of the back door at the other end of the house, the boots, the hushed voices. The covert entry team. And I could feel the panic rising. I was trapped, again, with a man with a gun, again. And I remembered what I was supposed to do—breathe and ground—but suddenly all I wanted to do was get out of there before I lost it, and in my mind, losing it looked like kicking the trainee's kneecaps into jelly.
Behind him, I saw movement at the door. Not Trey. This man wore the same clothes but was shorter, with red hair. Garrity. I was surprised to see him—as the supervisor of this particular training, he was supposed to be evaluating, not participating. He stayed in the threshold, orange-tipped carbine rifle in hand.
The trainee was sharper than I'd expected, though, and he caught the motion too. He whirled around and aimed his weapon at Garrity, a satisfied smirk on his face. "Got you, sir. Nice try, sir."