Skin Deep Page 10

“But Rahul is very helpful,” Kalyani said. “He’s a photographer, and since Armando is so unhelpful lately . . .”

“I’ll consider it,” I said, which seemed to placate her. Kalyani was new, and didn’t yet know how all this worked. I couldn’t create new aspects at will, and though many of my aspects spoke of their lives—their families, friends, and hobbies—I never actually saw any of this. Good thing too. Keeping track of forty-seven hallucinations is tough enough. If I had to imagine their in-laws too, I just might end up going crazy.

Tobias cleared his throat, trying to draw everyone’s attention. That proved to be futile before the jabbering hoard of aspects; getting together at once was too novel, and they were enjoying it. So J.C. pulled out his sidearm and shot once into the air.

The room immediately silenced, then was filled with the sounds of aspects grousing and complaining as they rubbed their ears. Tobias stepped out of the way of a small trail of dust that floated down from above.

I glared at J.C. “You realize, genius, that now I’m going to have to imagine a hole in the ceiling every time we come in here?”

J.C. gave a little shrug, holstering his weapon. He at least had the decency to look embarrassed.

Tobias patted me on the arm. “I’ll patch the hole,” he told me, then turned to the now-silenced crowd. “A corpse has been stolen. We have been employed to recover it.”

Ivy walked among the aspects, delivering sheets of paper.

“You’ll find the details explained here,” Tobias continued. Though they all knew what I did, sometimes going through the motions of delivering information was better for us all. “It is important you understand that lives are at stake. Perhaps many lives. We need a plan, and quickly. Get to work.”

Ivy finished distributing the sheets, ending next to me. She handed me the last group of papers.

“I already know the details,” I said.

“Your sheet is different,” Ivy said. “It’s everything you know about I3’s rival companies.”

I glanced it over, and was surprised at how much information it contained. I’d spent the ride here pondering the things Yol had told me, and hadn’t read his briefings beyond glancing at the names of the three companies he thought most likely to have stolen the corpse. Well, information about each company was apparently tucked in the back of my brain. I flipped through the pages, thoughtful. I hadn’t done any research on biotech companies since Ignacio had . . . left us. I’d assumed that knowledge like this would have gone with him.

“Thanks,” I said to Ivy.

“No problem.”

My aspects spread through the White Room, each starting to work in his or her own way. Kalyani sat on the floor beside a wall and took out a bright red marker. Dylan paced. Lua sidled up to whomever was closest and started a conversation. Most wrote their ideas, using the walls like whiteboards. Some sketched as they wrote, others had a linear progression of ideas, others kept writing things and crossing them out.

I read through Ivy’s pages to refresh my memory, then dug into the material Yol had given me. This included the coroner’s report, with pictures of the dead man who did indeed look very dead. Liza herself had filled out the report. Might need to visit her, unfortunately.

Once done reading, I strolled through the room looking over each aspect’s work, Tobias at my side. Some aspects focused on whether or not Yol was playing us. Others—like Ivy—extrapolated from what we knew about Panos, trying to decide where they thought he’d be most likely to hide the data key. Still others worked on the problem of the virus.

After one circuit through the room, I leaned back against the wall and picked up the larger stack of papers Yol had given me—the one that contained the record of Panos’s web and email interactions over the last few months. It was thick, but this time I didn’t worry about paying conscious attention to what I was reading. I just wanted to do a quick speed read to dump it into my brain so the aspects could play with it.

That still took over an hour. By the time I stood up, stretching, much of the white space in the room was filled with theories, ideas, and—in Marinda’s case—large floral patterns and an impressively detailed sketch of a dragon. I clasped my hands behind my back and did another circuit of the room, encouraging those who had gotten bored, asking questions about what they’d written, breaking up a few arguments.

In the midst of it I passed Audrey, who was writing her comments in the middle of the air before her, using her finger instead of a pen.

I stopped and raised an eyebrow at her. “Taking liberties, I see.”

Audrey shrugged. Self-described as “curvaceous,” she had long dark hair and a pretty face. For an expert in handwriting analysis, her penmanship was awful.

“There wasn’t space left on the wall,” Audrey said.

“I’m sure,” I said, looking at her hovering text. A second later a pane of glass appeared in the room where she had been writing, making it seem like she’d been writing on glass all along. I felt a headache coming on.

“Oh, that’s no fun,” she said, folding her arms.

“It is what must be, Audrey,” I said. “There are rules.”

“Rules you made up.”

“Rules we all live by,” I said, “for our own good.” I frowned, reading what she’d written. “Biochemistry equations? Since when have you been interested in that?”

She shrugged. “I figured that somebody ought to do a little studying on the topic, and I had the time, since you pointedly refuse to imagine me a pet.”

I rested my fingers on the pane of glass, looking over her cramped notes. She was trying to figure out the method Panos had used to create the virus. There were large gaps in her diagrams, however—breaks that looked as if they’d been ripped free of the writing. What was left went barely beyond basic chemistry.

“It’s not going to work, Audrey,” I said. “This just isn’t something we can do anymore.”

“Shouldn’t it still be in there, somewhere?”

“No. It’s gone.”


“Gone,” I said firmly.

“You are one messed-up person.”

“I’m the sanest one in this room.”

“Technically,” she said, “you’re also the most insane.”

Prev Next
Romance | Vampires | Fantasy | Billionaire | Werewolves | Zombies