“You were never at risk.” The obsidian shield he’d placed around her was impregnable.
That very impermeability was the reason he couldn’t go obsidian himself. It would leave him cut off from the data streams of the Net, a deadly blindness. Now, his renewed shields fractured before reaching maximum strength, Sahara’s proximity problematic. Fixing an isolated location in his mind, he said, “I’ll return in an hour,” and teleported out.
* * *
SAHARA didn’t attempt to stop Kaleb, the glitter of glass when she turned to look into the living room proof enough of why he needed to distance himself from her. Staring at the sunlight as it was refracted by the shards, creating beauty out of destruction, she leaned her back against the iron bars that encircled the terrace.
“You were never at risk.”
“Wasn’t I?” she whispered, thinking of the madness of her surrender. Even after recognizing how far he walked in the darkness, even after hearing the chill inhumanity in his voice, even after seeing the calculation in his gaze before he kissed her, she had given in to the rage of need that lived inside her.
And in him.
Kaleb may have begun the kiss with a calculated motive—but he had been her partner in the madness by the end, his body as aroused as her own, his mind as enslaved as hers. Fingers trembling, she pushed back her hair and took a seat on the lounger, her eyes trained on the smooth wooden planks that made up the terrace. It wasn’t healthy, this obsessive need she had for Kaleb, not when her trust in him was born of a past she couldn’t consciously remember.
Even more, when she didn’t know who she was, who she’d become.
She was still there when Kaleb returned, walking onto the terrace through the doors of his study. It was clear he’d showered, washing off the blood and sweat both. His hair was in place, his suit pants a crisp black, the same color as the silk tie at his throat, a fresh white shirt covering his upper body.
He hadn’t folded back the sleeves as he often did at home. Instead, cuff links glinted at his wrists.
The mask was back in place.
“I’ve organized damage repair,” he said to her, sliding his hands into the pockets of his pants. “I’ll need to relocate you for a few hours tomorrow to give the human crew time to get the work done.”
Sahara, her body in a kind of shock at the rawness of what had passed, tried to find some hint of the same in Kaleb and failed. “Aren’t you afraid they’ll sell information about your home?”
“No.” It was said with the brutal confidence of a man who knew he scared people far more than could be alleviated by any monetary incentive.
The tiny hairs on her arms rose in shivering warning, though the sun shone overhead. “I can’t think here,” she said, the glinting shards of glass continuing to catch her eye, the bars around the terrace suddenly stifling. “The beach. Will you take me to the beach?”
She kicked off her shoes the instant they arrived at the isolated stretch of water, the endless horizon unlocking the chains around her ribs. Sucking in gulps of the sea air, she rolled up her jeans and waded into the shallows, her thoughts calming and settling with each lap of the waves against her shins. It was a long time later, her decision made, that she came to sit beside him on the sun-warmed sand, taking care to make certain their bodies didn’t touch.
As she’d learned in the house, the ice that encased Kaleb wasn’t indestructible. And if he crashed through it again, she’d fall with him. Regardless of her reasoned, rational thoughts, one thing she’d accepted as she stood in the water: Kaleb was an addiction so visceral, she could never hope to control it. Not while the past that connected them remained a smudged mirage.
“I want to ask you for something,” she said quietly. “But first, I need you to tell me what’s happening in the PsyNet.” It was critical she have that information if she was to enter the psychic network on her own in the near future.
* * *
KALEB had been primed to deal with the fallout from his significant loss of control, but this was one question he hadn’t expected. However, he didn’t even consider shielding her from the truth. Sahara’s strength was indisputable—she had survived seven years of captivity and, before that, she’d survived a monster and his apprentice.
“It’s being attacked on two fronts,” he said, the walls of his mind scrolling with images of a chipped blade as it sank into soft feminine flesh. “Pure Psy is the first and obvious aggressor, but the more dangerous one, long term, is a disease that’s causing the psychic fabric of the Net to rot and die.”
Seeing her interest, he gave her the full details, before adding, “In a Psy host, infection leads to mental degradation, including outbreaks of violence and, eventually, death.”
Expressive, her face hid nothing as she worked through the ramifications. “It’s us,” she said, her intelligence as acute as it had always been. “The Net is created out of the minds of our race, and we’re broken on a fundamental level.” Sadness lingered in the midnight blue. “If it’s a Netwide problem, it must be manifesting in more subtle ways even in areas that appear free of infection.”
She had understood in a single minute what others had not seen after months of exposure, even people who should know better. “There are those who are becoming more and more innocent”— almost childlike—“while others are turning twisted and dark to the extent that their future rampages will eclipse the insanity and serial killing that made Silence seem the better choice.”