A single look showed her why.
A night-draped Hong Kong was burning, the smoke so thick, it was a roiling cloud over the glittering steel metropolis that was home to a majority Psy population and a minority human one, their combined numbers near to four million.
With the skyscrapers so close together, and the fact that the flames seemed impervious to the fire- retardant building materials used in most inner-city areas, the death toll could be in the hundreds of thousands. Horrified, she lifted her hand to her mouth, just as an emblem flashed on the right-hand side of the screen: a black star with a white P at its center.
“. . . whether or not it is a purposeful echo,” the Psy reporter was shouting into the camera in an effort to be heard over the cacophony of rescue vehicles and the voracious roar of the flames.
On the other side of the screen flashed a single silver star.
“The silver star is Councilor Kaleb Krychek’s highly recognizable emblem. With their new symbol, Pure Psy appears to be issuing a direct challenge to the man who has stopped or mitigated a number of their recent attacks.
“Our contacts in fire rescue tell us this fire is unlike anything they’ve seen. Their normal methods are having zero effect, and the size of the blaze means it’s too dangerous to be contained by even a team of Tks without Councilor Krychek’s assistance. He is the only individual who may have the power to contain, if not end, this inferno.”
Sahara’s heart stopped at the reporter’s final words.
The one question she hadn’t been able to ask Kaleb now burned red-hot across her irises, as fear for him—because she knew without a doubt that he’d soon be in the burning city if he wasn’t already —mingled with terror for what he might’ve done. She couldn’t bear to think that his soul was that pitiless, couldn’t bear to accept that she was too late, her heart clenching so hard within her chest that it was a physical pain that threatened to bring her to her knees . . . but the one thing she couldn’t avoid, couldn’t refuse to hear, was the evidence of his own words.
“I don’t have empathy, Sahara. I can’t feel for those who are going to die. It would be akin to asking a falcon to take flight when his wings had long been hacked off.”
* * *
KALEB had planned to sit out the next major Pure Psy attack. It would not do for people to become suspicious of his motives. The situation in Hong Kong, however, threatened to be so cataclysmic as to require a drastic change of plans.
Ordering his own teams in the region to respond, as well as giving the same command to all available telekinetic Arrows, he arrived to discover that Ming, the only other former Councilor with significant personal military might, had appeared with a Tk team. An interesting move for the telepath who ordinarily preferred to keep his face out of the media, and one that showed Ming was learning this war would not be won in the shadows.
Too bad he’d already lost it.
Acknowledging the other man with a nod, Kaleb turned to Aden, the blast of heat from the fire roaring a block away causing sweat to bead on his temples and plaster his long-sleeved T-shirt to his back. Aden shoved back sweat-damp hair before he spoke. He’d already been in the city for a meeting with other members of the squad based in the region and had reacted quickly to hook himself into the communications network.
“It’s obvious Pure Psy has a source for high-grade military-spec explosive charges,” the Arrow told him as the last of the Tks close enough to ’port in without exhausting themselves completed the transfer. “This operation had to have been put in place over months. The entire central core of the city was mined to blow, but the initial blasts only did minor damage—it’s the fire that’s the real assault.”
Kaleb looked at the images Aden had obtained of the devastated city center. The flames burned white-hot with an abnormal green tinge. “Fire retardant?”
“No effect.” Aden touched his finger to his ear. “Report from one of the fire crews—sky drops of water and retardant are both failing.”
Ming, having examined the same images, said, “They’ll continue to fail. These flames are distinctive of ‘scorch’ charges, meant for use in erasing isolated targets surrounded by large areas of rock or desert or water. Once lit, the fire will burn until every possible consumable is gone.”
Meaning after it engulfed Hong Kong Island, it would sprawl outward in any direction not marked by a water boundary. “The primary bridges and tunnels to Kowloon,” Kaleb said, pointing to a team of four Tks. “Collapse them, then take care of the secondary access routes and any physical links to outlying islands.” The other bridges weren’t as sturdy, with a lesser risk the fire would crawl across, but they needed to go as well.
“The squad,” Aden said as the four-man team left, “is unaware of such a weapon.”
“It was developed two decades ago,” Ming replied, “and shelved because of its ferocity. Given its lack of subtlety, I deemed it of no use to the squad.”
And that, Kaleb thought, was why Ming had lost the Arrows. He had treated them not as the highly intelligent, dangerous men and women they were, but as his personal army of assassins. It had been a fatal mistake. “Vasic,” Kaleb said to Aden’s thus far silent partner, “did you do a telekinetic test?”
Not every fire reacted the same way to their ability to manipulate the destructive energies.
“Yes. It’s a viable option, but”—the teleporter’s gray eyes locked with Kaleb’s—“the size of the blaze means it’ll be unstoppable without direct intervention by a Tk of your strength.”