“I know you do.” It was the greatest, most inexplicable gift of his life that she saw him and didn’t turn away. “This one thing,” he said, “I won’t give you. This vengeance is mine to exact.”
Sahara pressed a lingering kiss to his jaw, a single tear escaping her closed eyelids. “What would we have become if we’d been free?”
Kaleb didn’t know the answer to that whispered question, couldn’t imagine an existence other than the one that had shaped him, but there was one request he could honor.
THE OBSIDIAN SHIELDS around Sahara’s mind slid away to leave her exposed to the PsyNet.
She hadn’t been on the psychic plane for so long that the sheer vastness of the mental network made her pulse roar, her mouth dry.
Sahara. Starless eyes connecting with her own as her lids flew open. I can reinitiate my protection if you aren’t ready.
No . She took a trembling breath, her hand spreading on the tensile muscle of his chest. It’s overwhelming . . . but it’s also freedom.
Freedom can be intoxicating. Be careful.
You won’t abandon me?
This telepathic channel will never be closed. “Slow and easy,” he said aloud, his fingers playing with the eagle charm on her bracelet. “You need to strengthen your wings before you can fly.”
Holding on to him, she looked into the Net again, each mind a glittering point of light in the psychic network that connected millions of Psy around the world. In the spaces in between flowed fine silver streams—data shared by those minds—until the landscape was a sea of sparkling silver, the waves ebbing and flowing in a beauty that closed her throat.
Another strand of memory worked loose of the vault.
“Why does everyone call it a starscape?” She frowned. “That doesn’t make any sense.”
“’Path me an image of what you see,” Kaleb said, his face young, the line of his jaw not yet refined to masculine hardness.
Sahara did so, her feet hanging off the high branch of the tree at the back of the NightStar compound.
When Kaleb turned to her, his eyes held a wonder that was so rare it made her go motionless. “I don’t see what you see. I don’t think anyone does.”
“Do you want to travel through it?” Kaleb asked, and the fine thread of her past wove into a present where that beautiful boy with a healing gash on his cheek had become a powerful man, his hand spread protectively on her lower back.
“Can I do so anonymously?” she asked, even as a section of her mind continued to disentangle the memories inside her, desperate to unravel the mystery of Kaleb before she asked the question no part of her wanted to ask. “Tatiana and Enrique both probably hoarded the truth about me, but just in case.”
A set of telepathic instructions flowed into her mind, and two minutes later, she drew what was effectively a cloak around her roaming mind and stepped out into the PsyNet.
Would you like to see something interesting? Kaleb asked almost an hour later.
Drunk on the pleasure of being free on the psychic plane, Sahara had to be careful not to surf the data streams with too much abandon, lest she give herself away. Yes!
Can you see me?
Yes. His cloaked presence was a shadow she could barely make out through the psychic filter he’d instructed her to build into her own cloak. Now he took her deep, to a part of the Net devoid of stars, but no less alive for it, the silver thick and calm, as if she and Kaleb stood in a bay.
Delighted, she dipped a finger in the sea and came away with streamers of information wrapped around her psychic skin. The filaments waved as if in a breeze, each one a random piece of data.
Astonished by the sight, she sent Kaleb a snapshot. I couldn’t do this before!
Outside the aerie, his hand clenched on the back of her top, the fabric a fine green knit. It’s been a long time since I saw the Net through your eyes.
She nuzzled at his throat, her arms around his body under his jacket. This place is wonderful.
Dipping her fingers into the silver water on the psychic plane, she scooped up shimmering handfuls of data with a joyous laugh, throwing them up to create a sparkling rain. Thank you for showing me.
This isn’t it. Taking her to the center of the bay, he held out a psychic hand. You have to connect so I can get you through.
She accepted the connection without hesitation, and they slipped through a fissure in the Net she couldn’t see, to come out into a stunning blackness—the data in this part of the Net was so heavily compressed that it had become a faceted jewel.
“This is effectively the backup drive of the PsyNet,” Kaleb said, switching from telepathy to psychic speech with a confidence that told her nothing would leak from this place. “If the Net ever fails, the data can be reintegrated to within twenty-four hours of the terminal event.”
Fascinated, she attempted to concentrate on a single minuscule block of data, but it was of such complexity as to be impossible to comprehend. “How did you find this?”
“The NetMind showed me.” He brought her to the center of the data archive and to a sphere that gleamed with a constantly shifting slick of color, an iridescent mirage that reminded her of the midnight colors she saw in his eyes when he let go of the leash. “This is the restart button for the Net, meant to sanitize it from the core.”
Horror cracked black fractures in her wonder. “Why does that even exist?”
“Because I created it.”
* * *
KALEB disconnected from the Net on Sahara’s heels, her face a strained white where she looked up at him. “That’s how you planned to kill everyone.”