Squeezing her arms around herself, Sahara walked away from the comm screen and surrendered to need at last, reaching out across the vast distance that separated them, and hoping Kaleb would pick up her psychic signal with his far greater reach as he always did. If he didn’t, if there was only silence . . . no, he was fine. He had to be fine. Kaleb? Are you all right?
* * *
IT took Kaleb a second to understand the question.
No one had cared if he lived or died for over seven years, and he found he didn’t know what to do with the knowledge that Sahara did, as she’d always done. As if his life was worth something quite separate from hers.
Halting with the fire suit hanging off his hips, his upper body drenched in sweat, he said, I’m uninjured, all the while aware that Sahara was wrong in her belief. His life was one that should’ve ended in the cradle, the genetic legacy inside him stifled like the fire had been, while he was too young to understand what it made him.
Now the only value he had was in keeping Sahara safe.
You promised me you’d never lie to me, she said, the words holding a weight of emotion he could feel even through the distance that separated them.
I never have. It was the one untainted point of honor in his life. What do you want to know?
The pause was long, her question a psychic whisper. Did you help create this incident?
The black ice shuddered, fractured. No.
Don’t be. It was a rational question given my history.
But I hurt you, and no one has the right to do that. Fierce words. Not even me.
Another fracture in the ice, this one deeper. Pure Psy did reach out to me, but our goals don’t align. He glanced around at the rubble of Hong Kong Island, thinking of how Vasquez had refused a face-to-face meet, suspicious of Kaleb’s motives. He’d been right to be. Kaleb would’ve executed the other man on sight. You know my stance on Silence—and I have never had anything against the humans or changelings.
Turning to the leader of the Arrows when Aden jogged over, he listened to the damage report and update on rescue efforts. “Am I needed?”
At Aden’s nod, he removed the fire gear and threw it on the pile where the Arrows were shedding their own. His cargo pants were as sweat soaked as his T-shirt, but there was no point in changing.
The fire might be dead, but the heat hadn’t yet seeped out of the ruins of the city.
Take care, Kaleb. A kiss against his mind. It would break my heart if you were hurt.
The city lay devastated around Kaleb as he jogged in the direction Aden had pointed him, yet he saw only the midnight blue eyes of the woman who, as her earlier question proved, knew exactly what he was capable of, but claimed him all the same. Always Sahara had seen him. And always she had refused to walk away.
The last time, it had cost her seven years of her life. This time, he’d lay the world itself at her feet.
I’ll come to you when this is over.
I’ll be waiting.
The promise kept him going through the grim hours that followed, his main task to assist in maintaining the structural integrity of buildings while rescuers, including changeling teams who had come in via watercraft, combed the floors for survivors, their heightened sense of smell a priceless advantage. For every burned and barely alive survivor, they found ten corpses.
“We saved millions of lives,” Vasic said once the final telekinetic task had been completed, “and yet it doesn’t seem enough when you see them bringing out curled-up bodies, skin blackened from the fire.”
Kaleb thought of the ash that was all that remained in the core, no bodies, no bones. “Vasquez intended this to be a demonstration of Pure Psy’s power.” He’d studied the leader of the fringe group, knew how his mind worked. “That’s why he deliberately chose a high-profile island rather than a larger landmass.”
“He knew we’d collapse the bridges and the water would’ve acted as a natural firebreak, containing the fire to within Hong Kong Island.” Vasic nodded. “A logical plan, but instead of proving Pure Psy’s power, he gave you a stage on which to demonstrate yours.”
Kaleb would answer questions, justify his actions to only Sahara. As he’d noted earlier, however, Ming’s mistake had been in thinking of the Arrows as his servants rather than his partners. “Pure Psy,” he said, giving Vasic an oblique response to his unasked question, “must be extinguished. Tell Aden that is no longer the Arrows’ top priority, but the squad’s only one.”
Vasic, his eyes on the charred and broken remnants of a once-tall skyscraper, said, “Kill or capture?”
“Kill.” The Arrows might believe Kaleb’s intent was to get rid of the group after they’d outlived their usefulness, but that wasn’t a supposition he could refute with any expectation of being believed.
The lethal squad would do its own investigations, make up its own mind—the one thing they would no longer find, of course, was evidence of Kaleb’s plan to annihilate the Net.
“My personal teams have already taken care of destroying a number of Pure Psy’s munitions and supply bases.” He’d initiated the sweep after the university bombing and considered the resulting actions successful, but as this strike showed, the group was more organized than anyone had previously realized. “I need the squad to put extreme pressure on their leadership.”
“You think they’ll make mistakes.”
“Everyone does if pushed hard enough.” It was a lesson he’d learned in a cheap hotel room over seven years ago and never forgotten. “I’ve been tracking three members of their leadership across the Net with the aim of unearthing Vasquez—I’m sending you the information in a telepathic file.