“I think I can probably last three days,” Sascha said, then twisted her mouth. “Okay, maybe two. She’s so tiny, and I can’t bear to think of her crying for me.”

Lucas dropped a kiss to Sascha’s hair as Vasic said, “There’ll be an outbreak in that time frame if the infection continues to escalate at its present pace.”

Shadows in Sascha’s eyes. “We’ll be there as soon as possible,” she said into the hush of the forest night. “I want to speak to Alice one more time first.”

“I’ll have to get in touch with the WaterSky eagles,” Lucas added, “clear my presence in their territory. Shouldn’t be an issue as we’re on good terms.”

Vasic nodded. “I’ll take Ivy home now.” She curled immediately into his chest when he lifted her into his arms, and it felt as if she’d burrowed into the raw vulnerability of his unprotected heart. He didn’t fight it. He was hers. It was as simple as that. “Do you want me to return to take you to New York?”

“No, save your energy,” Lucas responded. “We’ll catch a high-speed jet.”

Vasic left without further words, needing Ivy safe in an environment he could control. A wide-awake Rabbit jumped up onto the bed the instant Vasic laid her down on her side. Nuzzling at her as if to make certain she was okay, the dog settled down in front of her. Vasic did a security sweep of the rest of the apartment, the outer corridor, the two unoccupied apartments on this level, as well as any entrances onto the floor, then checked in with Abbot to find the other Tk was with Jaya at the hospital. It meant he had to clear Abbot and Jaya’s apartment, too, but the task didn’t take long.

His next contact was Aden. “Update?” he asked over the comm built into his gauntlet.

The news was harsh. “Krychek’s had confirmation from the NetMind and DarkMind that the entire span of the Net is riddled with the fine, invisible tendrils. Quarantining or slicing away parts of the population on the theory that some sections might be clean is no longer an option.”

That meant the only way to save their race was to find a cure. Before Vasic could respond, Aden told him something worse. “Nonempathic children aren’t immune; they’re carriers. Impossible to know when or if the infection will go active.”

Vasic’s mind filled with the image of an innocent little girl named Harriet. “That eliminates the possibility of an uninfected next generation.” It also cut off the option of segregating the young to give them a higher chance of survival.

“Krychek’s suggested the squad force the Es to defect, set up a clean network.”

Vasic might once have agreed with that tactic. Now, he shook his head in an immediate negative. “It’d kill something in Ivy.” He had no compunction in making her rest or otherwise take care of herself, but he knew his E. Ivy was a fighter, and she was loyal. To make her watch while those she loved perished, while millions screamed for help, it would do damage that could never be healed.

“I guessed that would be the case. I’ll touch base with the others, give the Es the choice.”

Vasic didn’t think any would accept it. “How many outbreaks since Seattle?”

“Five. Scattered around the world.”

Time was running out. “Wake me only if there’s no other option. I need to recharge.”

Double-checking the security after signing off, Vasic stripped and showered in Ivy’s bathroom. It only took a short second to grab fresh jeans from his room. Putting his boots near her bed so he could access them in case of an emergency, he was about to lie down next to her when he received a comm transmission on his gauntlet.

He stood, walked to the doorway so as not to disturb Ivy’s sleep, and answered the call. “Grandfather.”

Chapter 45

World financial markets fell steeply overnight, and the trend shows no signs of reversing itself.

The San Francisco Gazette

“THANKS FOR MEETING me so early,” Sascha said to Alice as they walked in the area immediately outside the SnowDancer den. It was empty, the little ones still asleep, and the unbroken span of fresh snow sparkling under the dawn was both excruciatingly beautiful and too quiet. This place was meant for forts and snowball fights and wolf pups pouncing on one another in rough-and-tumble play.

“It was no hardship,” Alice answered, tugging the ends of her royal blue sweater-tunic over her hands. “I tend to wake early to watch the sunrise.” She drew in a breath of the chilly mountain air, the sun not yet high enough to burn off the mist that licked the woods in front of them. “Before . . . this, I always lived in cities. I visited my parents in distant corners of the planet—Egypt, Peru, China—but I always returned to the university.”

“Do you miss being in a city?”

“A little, but it’s a kind of faded missing. A sepia-toned photograph that tells me nothing would be the same.”

The two of them wandered into the trees, boots leaving distinctive imprints on the snow.

“I’ve been watching news reports on the outbreaks.”

“The more the Net degrades,” Sascha said, her mind full of the heartbreaking images on the news this morning, “the worse the fallout—for everyone, not just the Psy.” All major cities had an entwined population—human, Psy, and changeling residents living next to each other, often in the same buildings. The infected didn’t discriminate when it came to their victims . . . even when the victims were too tiny to fight back.

Sascha had woken Naya after she’d understood the true horror of what had occurred in the night darkness. She’d held her sweet baby, warm and alive and safe in her arms, and she’d cried for the parents who had become monsters through no choice of their own and for the innocents who’d been butchered, Lucas’s own arms tight around them both.

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