She smiled. "Sorry."
"As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted" - she laughed at his severe tone - "there's some kind of psychic feedback in times of either great emotional stress or arousal." A gleam in those beautiful eyes. "I think you gave me both today."
"That's what I like to hear," she said, in deliberate echo. "Jonquil," she whispered. "I thought his eyes were simply an extraordinary blue, but I think he exhibits the phenomenon."
Dev cupped her face in his hands. "It's not connected to the level of power," he told her. "It seems to be a random mutation that's occurred in a certain percentage of the population."
"Maybe you're in the process of developing your own version of cardinal eyes," she murmured. "Even if it's not connected to power now, it might one day end up being so."
"I hope to hell not," Dev said, jaw firming. "It'd make the strong ones easier to identify and target."
"I thought this was a safe question." Chest tight, she closed her hand over his shoulder. "Don't worry, Dev. I won't let anyone take the knowledge from my mind." Not this time. Not ever again.
"Why do you think I told you?" A tone that left no room for doubt. And then he said the words she'd waited what felt like a lifetime to hear. "You won't betray us, Katya, no matter what the cost."
"You beat him. You survived," he said quietly. "Ming has no claim on you anymore."
PETROKOV FAMILY ARCHIVES
Letter dated July 17, 1982
You're growing so big and strong, my boy. Your talent shines ever brighter. I wish we didn't have to uproot you at such a critical time, but I'd rather be safe than sorry. Several of the defectors have recently disappeared without a trace. They were all at the powerful end of the spectrum. There's speculation the Council is eradicating us.
Your father. . . he had a vision yesterday. He's so rarely truly with us these days that I wanted only to talk to him, but he used the minutes that he was awake and lucid to warn me. They're going to come after you, Matthew. You're too powerful a telepath. So we have to run. And we have to keep running until they can no longer find even a trace of the Petrokovs.
Your father won't come with us. He calls himself a liability. And he won't listen to me when I say different. Before Silence, I used to tease him by quoting the Manual of Psy Designations. It says that F-Psy are considered some of the strongest individuals among our race because of what their ability demands. But today, he proved the definition true to the last word, my strong, courageous David.
He made me promise to go tomorrow. I don't know if I can. I don't know if I can leave the only man I've ever loved.
You won't betray us, Katya, no matter what the cost.
He was more right than he knew, Katya thought two hours later, pain beating at her temples. Reaching out, she whispered her fingers over Dev's cheekbones, conscious he'd wake to anything but the most butterfly of touches. Even then, he shifted.
"It's just me," she whispered, as the exquisite ache in her heart threatened to tear her wide open. This, she thought, was love. She'd never felt it before but she knew. This feeling, it went soul deep, and it ravaged even as it healed. Devraj Santos had become an integral part of her. She couldn't let him go after Ming - she had every faith in his abilities, but she refused to lose him to a fool's errand.
There was no way to save her.
She'd realized that the instant after Dev had said she could live out her whole life without anyone being the wiser. True. Except that her whole life might only equal another month . . . if she was lucky. The thing with being in a prison was that after a while, your skin got pasty, your body got weak, and your mind began to beat itself against the walls in a vain effort to escape.
She was Psy.
She couldn't survive being permanently cut off from the Net.
The biofeedback alone wasn't enough. She had to be some part of the fabric of a neural network. Psychic isolation . . . It would drive her mad, increment by slow increment.
Her fingers lifted to her nose. Dev hadn't seen it. She'd hidden it. But there, in Sunshine, her nose had bled again. Just a little. But more than on the plane. It had been easy to shrug off the incident as being a consequence of the bitter cold - yet even then, part of her had begun to wonder. And now, tonight, as her skull threatened to implode from the agony of a sudden spiking headache, she accepted the truth - her brain was already starting to lose the battle. Her mind had begun its slow, steady beat against the walls of its prison.
Even if she somehow managed to hang on to her sanity, Ming had assured her end. She'd told Dev she was remembering more and more. She hadn't told him she'd remembered the final session.
Talons sinking into her mind, deep, so deep she knew she'd never get them out. "It hurts," she said tonelessly. It wasn't a complaint. He'd ordered her to tell him her reactions. She didn't understand why, when he could simply read her mind, but she wasn't going to rebel without reason. That brought pain so excruciating, one more episode might snap the final, fragile threads of her very self.
"Good." A "snick" that she heard with her psychic ear. "It's done."
"Open your psychic eye."
It took her almost a minute, she'd been forced to keep herself contained for so long. All she saw was blackness. Then, as her eye adjusted, she began to make out the spiderweb linked to every part of her mind. Those thin threads fed back to thicker, darker, obscenely jagged roots.
Chilled, she moved around those talons. . . and slammed into an impenetrable black wall. Panic gripped her throat but she didn't make a sound. Instead, she padded around the walls until she was back at her starting point. "I'm locked inside my mind." It was the worst kind of nightmare. Even the rehabilitated, those Psy who'd had their minds destroyed by a psychic brainwipe, had access to the Net. Ming might as well have buried her alive.