Ignoring the additional pain, Kaleb walked to the door and into the compound with the girl called Sahara. They were in the hydroponic vegetable garden when she suddenly said, “My father’s an M. We can go see him.”
Kaleb froze. “Why?”
Sahara’s face held an expression he recognized as concern, but she said, “He has interesting scanners in his office,” and he knew it for a ruse to get him to the medical center.
“I’ve seen medical scanners before.” It was an answer forced out by the compulsions.
Searching his face, Sahara finally nodded, “Okay,” and carried on.
It wasn’t until ten minutes later that he realized she’d slowed the pace and ignored at least one slope . . . because she knew he was wounded. No one else had ever done anything to help him and he didn’t understand why she did, what she expected to gain.
“There’s fish in the pond,” she said at the end of the tour. “Do you want to see?”
Kaleb nodded to delay his return to the office . . . and to extend his time with this girl who saw his pain when no one else did. “Why was this created?” he asked once they reached the large pond bordered with smooth rocks.
Sahara knelt down beside him with a slight betraying movement of her shoulders that said she’d been about to shrug. “I heard Father say it was an ‘approved meditation aid,’” she said, her khaki-colored pants wet by a droplet of water as she dipped her hand in the pond and swirled.
“The F-Psy who live here use it.”
“Are you an F?” he asked, echoing her movements in the water.
“Not really.” Nothing in her said she was troubled by her lack of status in a family so well- known for its foreseers. “I’m subdesignation B. That means I have backsight.”
Flicking her hand dry, she looked at him with eyes of a deep, distinctive blue vivid against the thick black of hair contained in two neat braids. “What are you?”
Her cheeks flushed pink, her eyes shining. “Can you do any tricks?”
Accessing the part of his telekinesis that Santano hadn’t strangled when he wrenched the leash, Kaleb thought about what Sahara might consider a good trick and lifted her small body off the ground.
Eyes wide when she realized she was floating, she stood up and, after glancing furtively around, jumped up and down on the cushion of air, the sun sparking off hidden strands of red-gold in her hair. Waiting until she’d sat back down and was stable, he lowered her gently to the grass.
“That was wonderful,” she said, her lips curving into a smile before worry darkened her expression. “I’m sorry. Did it hurt you to do that?”
Kaleb shook his head at the unexpected question. He’d lain bloodied and broken in front of Santano and his pet medics, but not one had ever looked at him like Sahara was doing—as if he was a person and not a thing. “Your Silence is flawed for your age group,” he said, the water cool under his fingertips as he swirled it again.
Folding her arms, Sahara bit down on her lower lip. “Are you going to tell on me?”
“No.” He had no loyalty to anything or anyone, nothing worth betraying this girl who made him forget she’d been ordered to spend time with him.
When she waved surreptitiously at him as he left, he decided he had to come back, had to find out what she would do if she was free to choose whether or not to talk to him.
It took him almost two weeks to slip away from the training facility. He used Sahara’s face as a teleport lock, arriving in the backyard of a small home to find her sitting on a wide stump. Her feet were bare and her braids messy, a frown of concentration on her forehead as she stared at a datapad.
“Hello,” he said, and waited for her to scream that an intruder had breached the security of the compound.
Except . . . she broke out into a huge smile. “Hi!” Setting down the datapad, she said, “Is that man here again?” Her smile faded. “I don’t like him.”
Kaleb shook his head, a strange sensation in his chest at not being rejected. “I came to see you.” He thought about not adding the next part, but it seemed wrong to lie to Sahara when she’d trusted him with her own thoughts. “I don’t know any other children who talk to me.”
“That must be lonely.” Taking a squashed nutrition bar from her pocket, she broke it in half and held out a piece toward him. “I know you probably think I’m a baby, but you can be my friend if you like.”
When he accepted the offering, she shifted on the stump to make a space for him.
Taking the seat, he said, “I don’t think you’re a baby. I think you’re smart and you see things other people don’t.” Countless adults had seen him after Santano tortured him, but none had ever noticed that he was hurt. Worse, none had ever seen Santano for what he was. “I don’t like him, either.”
Sahara chewed on her half of the nutrition bar and banged the back of her feet on the stump.
He wasn’t aware of what he was about to say until the words were out. “You have to be more careful.” If someone like Santano found out how bad Sahara’s Silence was for her age group, they’d put her into intensive conditioning and crush her with pain until her responses were “correct.” Until she wasn’t Sahara anymore. “You smiled at me.”
“That’s because I like you.” It was a statement so absolute, he couldn’t not believe.
“I can help make your PsyNet shields stronger,” he said, a sensation inside him that he thought might be the beginning of loyalty. “So you’re not exposed there.” He’d have to take care, but the ugly things Santano had planted in his mind only reported back if he used too much energy.