A single light burned in the apparently ordinary cottage set in the midst of a huge plot of land, the house surrounded by sparse native foliage. He saw footprints that suggested animals had passed near his current position—kangaroos from the shape—but the area closer to the house was apt to be alarmed and set with booby traps.
Retrieving the high-powered binoculars he’d slid into his pocket, he focused on the single square of light until Tatiana rose to get something, crossing the window, then back. Target confirmed, he worked with the binoculars until the focus was sharp enough to pick up a very specific knot pattern in the pine paneling opposite the window.
It was time to exact payment for seven years of Sahara’s life.
Since perception was often everything when it came to the dance of power, he slid away the binoculars. He wanted Tatiana to know he could find her wherever she went; wanted her to taste fear, acrid and acidic.
He wanted her to beg for her life.
Seated behind the desk in front of which he appeared, Tatiana had a gun pointed at his head before he finished the teleport, but he’d long ago worked out how to compensate for the split-second vulnerability that came with entering an unknown situation. He avoided the laser fire with a fluid shift, then knocked the gun out of her hand, blocking her vicious telepathic strike at the same time.
“An unfriendly welcome for a colleague who wishes to talk business,” he said to the brunette, undoing the buttons on his suit jacket before taking a seat in the chair on his side of the desk.
Though Tatiana’s hazel-green eyes remained flat with suspicion, she didn’t attempt to go for another weapon. “What are you doing here, Kaleb? We didn’t have a meeting scheduled.”
“I came across an item I thought might be of particular interest to you.”
Relaxing into the black leather of her chair in a show of indifference, Tatiana picked up and tapped a stylus against the electronic blotter in front of her. “Really?”
Kaleb smiled and it was a calculated act. He’d learned to mimic the facial movement to placate the humans and changelings with whom he did business, but knew full well that it had the opposite effect on those of his own race. “Why such a violent welcome?” he asked, shoulders relaxed and arm lying loosely along the armrest.
“I wasn’t conscious this location had been compromised,” she said with just enough of a hesitation that he knew it had been as deliberate as his own actions.
Tatiana, he thought, would not pause at playing wounded prey if it got her what she wanted. “Ah.”
“How did you penetrate my defenses?”
“I’m a teleport-capable Tk, Tatiana,” he said with a gentleness that was a threat. “Do you honestly believe any security could keep me out if I wanted to get into a location, in the PsyNet or out?”
A flicker of comprehension, flawless olive-toned skin tightening over the razor-sharp blades of her cheekbones, but it wasn’t enough. He needed absolute and categorical confirmation of her guilt, because this punishment would fit the crime in ways Tatiana couldn’t comprehend.
“So,” she said, continuing to tap the stylus in an unsteady rhythm he guessed was meant to distract him—because Psy did not make such “unconscious” nervous movements, “the business you have to discuss.”
He smiled again. “I think you know.”
“This will be an interminable negotiation if you don’t put things on the table.”
Yes, Tatiana was clever, but Kaleb had expected the demand. “I have in my possession,” he murmured, “an item that may belong to you. It was retrieved by an Arrow”—a lie with just enough of a possibility of truth that she wouldn’t question it—“after he became suspicious of a section of the Net that was blocked off for no rational reason.”
“Really?” A thoughtful pause. “What makes you believe this item is of any value to me?”
“Your telepathic work is unmistakable in its complexity and dexterity.”
“You flatter me.”
“The truth is not flattery.”
Tatiana responded with a smile as practiced and as false as his own. “I’ve heard that you’re doing business with Nikita and Anthony as well.”
He shrugged, the movement another one he’d copied from the more emotional races, and answered with the absolute truth. “It makes logical sense to create and utilize multiple strategic partnerships.
Unlike the changelings, we do not blood-ally ourselves to one another; fidelity is understood to be a fluid concept.” By some.
“That,” Tatiana said, putting down the stylus, “is why we’d make an unbeatable team. Neither one of us has any flaws in our Silence.”
Kaleb thought of the woman who slept in the house he’d built for her, of the man with a broken neck who had burned to ash in a crematorium incinerator hours ago, and knew his Silence was far more complex than Tatiana could imagine. “I insist on loyalty in my partners,” he said. “I do not believe you capable of it.” Even Nikita, ruthless as she was, would not stab him in the back as long as he kept his end of their bargain.
“I’ve never had a partner who deserved loyalty,” Tatiana responded. “You, however, would.”
“Now you flatter me.”
“Truth is the best defense.” The stylus in her grasp again, tap-tapping. “What do you want in exchange for the item?”
“NOTHING YOU CAN’T afford,” Kaleb said, his blood calm and as cold as death as he gave Tatiana more rope with which to hang herself. “A piece of information.”