The blunt answer seemed to set her off balance. But only for an instant. "You can't do this, Dev."
"Do what?" He played with a strand of her hair that was flirting with the breeze.
She reached up to push away his hand. "Tell me you've given orders to allow the use of deadly force against me one minute and stroke me the next!"
"I was supremely pissed when I told you that," he said, breaking every one of his rules about engaging with the enemy.
"Because you thought I'd played you." A furious mix of hurt and anger. "And you still think that."
"What else am I supposed to think?" He lost his own temper. "You're a f**king powerful telepath and yet you forgot? It's like not remembering you have a limb!"
"It's not the same!" she yelled back, then clutched her head.
He immediately cupped her cheek. "What is it?"
"Shh." Lines formed between her eyes.
He waited for almost two minutes as she stood there, her head cocked in a way that implied listening, as if she was beginning to divine the secrets of her past. But when she looked up, there was only a haunted kind of pain in her eyes. "I'm starting to see even the parts that were hidden deep."
At that instant, he couldn't not believe her. "Good."
"I'm not sure." Her throat worked as she swallowed. "I did things in those labs, Dev, things I don't want to remember."
The fear in her voice rocked him. He'd become used to seeing her as the survivor who'd woken in that hospital bed, the steel-willed woman who'd asked him for a promise of death. But that woman had once been a Psy scientist, might well have done unforgivable things. "Whoever that woman was," he said, voice harsh, "she died in the months you spent with that monster."
"That's too easy." An implacable decision. "No, I have to see, I have to know."
"Then you will." He closed his hand over her nape, soothing his hunger to touch her, claim her. "If there's one thing I know, it's that your will is unbreakable."
"Then you know I'm not going to back down," she said, looking up at him with those changeable eyes. At this instant, in the sunlight, they were so clear as to be translucent. But that made them no less determined. "I want you to scan my mind."
Having read the report his aide had prepared for him on the situation in Sri Lanka, Kaleb walked outside - to the very edge of the patio that stuck out over a jagged gorge - and opened the psychic pathways of his mind. But instead of entering the Net as Kaleb Krychek, Councilor and cardinal Tk, he wrapped himself in a mobile firewall that shifted endlessly, hiding his identity.
Nikita Duncan would've been very surprised to hear who he'd learned that little trick from. He'd monitored Sascha Duncan for some time before she defected - the NetMind had shown a decided preference for the Councilor's daughter and he'd wanted to know why. But he hadn't been able to get through her shields - Sascha Duncan, he thought impartially, might be the best shield technician he'd ever seen. What he'd learned from the glimpses he'd caught of her before she lost herself in the pathways of the Net had been more useful than all the things he'd learned to that point.
Now, using those shields that made him effectively invisible, he shot out through the midnight skies of the Net and toward the spreading stain he'd shown Nikita. Instead of taking the usual route, he found one of the slipstreams that fed into the pool and let it sweep him to the exact spot, much like riding a river into the sea.
He had no fear of contamination - he recognized the dead area for what it was. It held echoes of the DarkMind - the mute, hidden twin of the NetMind, created from all the rage and pain the Psy refused to feel. Part of that echo existed within Kaleb, too. It wasn't that he was a cardinal Tk, it was that he was a very special cardinal Tk, one who'd been molded by time and circumstance into the perfect conduit. So he rode the dark rapids with impunity, even as he "spoke" to the NetMind.
The neosentience could tell him nothing about the uprising in Colombo, but sent him a cascade of images from which Kaleb filtered out a single dark thread that snaked almost directly to the anchor in that region. He hadn't lied to Nikita - he didn't think the recent surge in violence by Psy was responsible for this lifeless patch of the Net, but it was a factor. . . and it was starting to undermine the very foundations of the Net. That disintegration wasn't yet an avalanche, and the increase in voluntary rehabilitations might slow it further, but sooner or later something would have to give.
When it did, this stain would spread. And wherever it went, death would follow.
Katya stayed behind the closed door to her room when she heard the others arrive. Dev hadn't ordered her to do so, hadn't even set a guard on her door, but she wasn't going to put people in danger because she felt hurt at being excluded. Maybe she was right and Ming wasn't monitoring her every thought - all the signs pointed to a lack of mind control - but how could she justify playing with lives on the strength of a belief built on such shaky ground?
But if she was right and Ming had effectively created a fence around her mind in the PsyNet, how was that fence staying in place? As far as she could see, she had no psychic link to anyone or anything aside from her life-giving connection to the PsyNet.
No link. . .
"Oh," she said aloud, realizing the depths of Ming's skill at mental combat. The fence, the shield, the prison - she was feeding it. He'd locked her inside herself, and then, as a final insult, programmed her own mind to reinforce the walls he'd put in place.
Her hand clawed into the sheets, into the mattress. She wasn't just inside a prison, she was part of the prison itself.