Tatiana shook her head. “No. I didn’t think he allowed you to pick victims.”
No, it wasn’t then that Santano had needed him. “What are you doing, Tatiana?” He shifted the majority of his attention to his own mind as several alarms activated at once and found a secondary, near-invisible telepathic worm seconds away from penetrating his final shield.
His rebuff this time made blood vessels burst in her eyes, but she hissed out a breath, holding his gaze with the crimson of her own. “You aren’t unbeatable. I almost had you.”
“Almost is never good enough with someone like me, you know that.” Shutting her up by constricting her diaphragm to the point that she had to shunt all her concentration toward the task of drawing in enough air to survive, he leaned back in the chair and said, “You never should have taken what was mine.”
Despite her diminished oxygen supply, Tatiana began to struggle in earnest, striking at him with aggressive telepathic blows as vehicles running dark screamed to a halt outside. “Calling in reinforcements? Tut-tut.” With that, he walked unhurriedly around the desk and teleported them both out.
The blackness inside the old cement bunker was broken up only by a single long-life bulb hanging from a rusty chain in the ceiling. The dull light didn’t penetrate the shadows that gathered in deep pockets around the circular room, but it was enough to illuminate the yellowed and stained concrete beneath the steel table on which he dumped Tatiana’s body, the shoe still on her foot clanking against the metal.
Stepping back, he watched her struggle up into a sitting position and look carefully around. No feigned emotion, nothing but the frosty will of a woman who had always been able to negotiate or manipulate her way out of trouble. It was an admirable trait, one Kaleb appreciated for the way it would extend and intensify her torture.
Tatiana would spend countless hours plotting escape, only to realize her hell was permanent.
“What is this place?” she asked.
“You don’t know?” He waited for her to discover what he’d done.
It only took her a second. “Why can’t I access the PsyNet?” she asked in a tone an octave higher than her normal voice, the first true hint of panic she’d betrayed. “You have a shield over me.”
“I have other uses for my abilities. The DarkMind, however, finds it fun to play with a mind whose Silence promises to crack slowly and with great pain.” It had sucked Tatiana into itself, blocking out everything, including her telepathic channels, in endless nothingness. If it then began to feed off her ensuing terror, first she’d go slowly, insidiously insane, then she’d fall into a coma where terror would continue to be her sole companion, and from there, death wouldn’t be far behind.
That little habit of “eating” people was one tendency of the DarkMind Kaleb had never been able to stem—so he’d directed it at those who deserved a slow, maddening death. Kaleb did his own killing when it came to power and politics, but he had no compunction in setting the DarkMind loose on the other vermin. The last one had been a would-be pedophile with a collection of photographs that should have never existed, a man who had just gained a job as a nursery-school teacher.
However, the DarkMind knew not to feed off Tatiana. She was Kaleb’s, and the dark neosentience was delighted to help him hold her. Kaleb, after all, understood the cruelty and rage and malevolence that had created it . . . because he’d been created of the same ugly components. “The DarkMind,” he told Tatiana, “will keep you isolated in that black cocoon as long as I please.”
“If I disappear from the Net,” Tatiana said, not understanding that there was nothing she could say that would alter her fate, “it’ll have the same effect as my death. The resulting shock wave—”
“Tatiana, Tatiana.” He shook his head. “You disappeared from the Net when you created such beautiful shields to conceal your location.” She had made it so easy for him. “Soon after I leave, your security team will receive a sharply worded note ordering them to do a full security audit, since they failed their recent ‘test.’”
Again, she had paved the way for her own imprisonment—she was so paranoid about her enemies that she rarely used telepathy these days, preferring to communicate via secure e-mail. “As for your companies, as long as they continue to receive instructions from ‘you,’ no one will be any the wiser.”
Tatiana’s hand gripped the edge of the metal table hard enough to make her bones push against her skin. “Kaleb, I didn’t know she was yours.”
“That’s irrelevant.” Rage rolled through his bloodstream in a pitiless wave, cold and unforgiving.
“You still damaged her to the point where she may never fully come back.” Sahara had screamed in that bloody bed during their last meeting, but she had never begged, somehow managed to stay whole.
Then had come Tatiana, and a captivity that had forced Sahara to entomb herself to survive.
“What does it matter to you, if you intend to kill her anyway?” Tatiana asked, a desperation in her tone that was too ragged to be feigned.
Psychic isolation had a way of doing that to Psy. Sahara had lived the same nightmare for seven years. “My intent makes no difference to your culpability.”
Strolling around the circular room, he glanced at the food stores to make sure she had enough to survive on. The medical supplies were basic, but she’d be able to do some first aid. He’d been very careful about the injuries he’d done her—none of it was life threatening, and she could fix the dislocations herself.