Sahara thought of the dark places Kaleb had shown her, the dead places, and knew he was right.
“You need the time to speak to the Arrows, don’t you?”
“Yes. I have to find out if they’ll fight me or support me when I announce the fall of Silence. I don’t want to execute men and women who are more like me than any others in the Net, but I will if necessary.”
If the squad fought him, Sahara thought, the resulting conflict would be far more devastating than anything Pure Psy had done. “The Arrows are intelligent; they must see Silence is rotten at the core.”
“It’s difficult to fight over a century of unyielding tradition.”
Kaleb’s words had Sahara thinking of the teleporter with the cold gray eyes. Could a man like Vasic exist in a world without Silence? It might be an impossible demand. Her heart hurt for him, for the choices he had never had, and she wished there was an easy answer, some way to give him a path out of the darkness.
Then the midnight star pulsed inside her, and it was a silent reminder that life wasn’t easy.
Sometimes, it demanded heart’s blood and gave back only unbearable pain. Sometimes, it broke you.
“When you’re broken,” she whispered to the man who would save the world for her, “you can’t see hope. We must be their hope.”
Kaleb held her close as she tucked her head under his chin. “You want me to drop the shielding around our bond when I talk to them.”
“It’ll be a risk, I know. They could immediately turn on us, but, Kaleb, that could’ve been us in another life.” The idea of never meeting Kaleb, never loving him, made her heart thud in a panicked rhythm. “You’re as lethal as any Arrow, but you made it out. Let them see that life isn’t only pain and survival.”
“Even if they join us, we won’t save all of them.” It was a grim truth.
“Then,” Sahara said, the fingers of one hand locking tightly with Kaleb’s, “we save the ones we can. Together.”
ADEN WAS STANDING under a heavy desert moon, the dunes desolate waves of silver and shadow, when Kaleb appeared beside him. He’d realized long ago that, like Vasic, the cardinal could go to people as well as places, but the other man had never before been so confrontational about his ability. He had, Aden thought, been courting the Arrows.
Clearly, the courtship was over.
“Vasic is practicing the weapons capability of his gauntlet?” Krychek asked, his eyes on the churned-up sand around Aden’s partner, Vasic having chosen a position midway down the dune that was Aden’s watchtower.
“Yes,” he said, and refused Vasic’s telepathic offer of assistance at the same time. If Krychek had come with hostile intent, he’d have struck already. “It’s meant to integrate with his base telekinetic strength, but there are glitches.”
Vasic teleported in and shot a small, personal laser missile at a target they’d set up on another dune a hundred meters away. It not only went haywire, it doubled back toward the teleporter. Not showing any indication of being concerned, Vasic pressed something on the gauntlet and the missile exploded in midair.
“I’d say the glitches are significant,” was Kaleb’s cool appraisal. “He shouldn’t have been implanted with the device if it’s at this level of development. Its usefulness doesn’t balance the risk.”
Aden found himself in the unusual position of being caught unprepared. Because Kaleb had just repeated Aden’s own argument when he’d tried to talk Vasic out of volunteering for the risky procedure. “There was no way,” he said after a slight pause, “for the scientists to progress further without implanting it onto a live subject.”
“Can it be removed?”
“No, it’s fused too deeply to his body.” Aden watched as Vasic launched another missile. “You didn’t track us down to watch Vasic target practice,” he said as this missile did exactly what it was meant to do, sand exploding in a silver geyser.
“Why are you here?” Kaleb asked instead of answering the implied question. “There’s nothing you can do to stop an accident.”
Aden had no intention of answering with the truth. “I’m here to monitor the tests, provide a backup account of the results.”
Kaleb was quiet for a long time, the two of them watching the arcing blue flare of weapons fire as Vasic tested another setting on the gauntlet. When he spoke, Kaleb again said the unexpected. “You’re here so that if something goes wrong, Vasic doesn’t die alone. He’s so close to the edge, you aren’t certain he won’t engineer a fatal accident.”
There were very few people in the world who knew Vasic that well. Kaleb Krychek was not one of them, and yet he’d come to the right conclusion. Turning toward the man who was dressed in black combat pants and a black T-shirt, a large thin-skin bandage on the inside of his left forearm and scuffed boots on his feet, Aden said, “What do you want?”
Kaleb shifted to face him. “To know if I’m going to have to leave you dead on the desert sands.”
“What makes you so certain you could?”
The white stars in the cardinal Tk’s eyes gleamed as hard as diamonds. “You could incapacitate or kill me if you had the element of surprise, but in brute strength, I have no equal.”
“Vasic has a lock on your position.” His partner had taken that action the instant Kaleb first appeared. “He can have a gun to your head in the space between one breath and the next. And I am no medic.” The only reason he told Kaleb that was because he was certain the other man already knew the true nature of his abilities.