New York Signal
EXHAUSTED DOWN TO the bone, Ivy nonetheless put Rabbit on a leash during a mercifully peaceful afternoon, and she and Vasic took him out, their intended destination a Central Park clothed in sparkling white snow. It wasn’t fair to their pet to be cooped up now that he was back to his usual energetic self.
“It’s so quiet.” Ivy had quickly become used to the frantic energy and wild vitality of New York, but that vitality was nowhere in evidence today; people’s faces were strained and their eyes downcast. “How many have left the city, do you know?” she asked Vasic.
“A tiny percentage in comparison to the city’s population.”
“People have jobs, lives they can’t just leave,” she murmured, thinking aloud. “And word’s out that pretty much nowhere is safe.” Her parents’ region of the Net was holding strong at the moment, but Ivy continued to worry. “I wish I could cover my parents in my empathic shield and your great-grandfather, too.” She hadn’t yet met Zie Zen, but Vasic had told her a lot about the extraordinary man.
Vasic, dressed in his “civilian” clothes of jeans and leather-synth jacket—though the T-shirt wasn’t black today, but dark blue—put his arm around her waist, his fingers at her hip. “Neither of the three would thank us for abandoning hundreds of thousands to shield them, regardless of how much we might want to ensure their safety.”
Ivy sighed, having had that exact conversation with her parents. “Yes.” It took her a few seconds to realize her Arrow was stabilizing her using Tk as she walked on the icy sidewalk. Those sidewalks should’ve been cleared of snow early that morning, but systems were breaking down all over the world.
As were the systems in Vasic’s gauntlet. While he hadn’t been using its weapons capability since the command failure during the attack by Ming’s men, the program had come on spontaneously during an outbreak. He’d suffered a small overload in the fight to shut it down.
The burns had been minor and treated on-site. It didn’t matter—Ivy had felt her heart crack in two when she saw the wounds, though she’d fought not to let her panic and fear show. He’d known. He always knew. Holding her tucked against him, he’d told her that Aden had found a surgeon willing to attempt the risky operation to remove the critical malfunctioning components.
Only if we don’t hear back from Samuel Rain before time runs out, he’d told her. The surgeon is exceptional. She’s known to be a maverick with a reputation for accepting risky cases and coming through with flying colors, but she’s not Rain.
Ivy’s nerves were stretched to the breaking point at the sustained silence from Rain, but she agreed with Vasic’s choice. Her stomach a lump of ice, she knew there was a high risk the surgeon might kill him. Samuel Rain might as well . . . but if the engineer wasn’t brain damaged, the risk was lower.
That didn’t mean it wasn’t still unacceptably high.
Shoving that brutal truth to the back of her mind on this sunny afternoon when she was out for a walk with her man, she tugged his hand off her hip to lace their fingers together. “You should wear color,” she said when Rabbit, nimble and curious, paused to scrutinize the window display of a menswear shop. “With those gorgeous eyes, any vibrant shade would look good on you.”
He examined the display. “Would it please you if I wore color?”
Ivy’s heart flipped. “You please me by being you. I was just . . . flirting.” It was silly and awkward, and she wanted to try it with him. She wanted to try everything with him, couldn’t bear the thought of living in a world where Vasic wasn’t there to be her partner in exploration.
He didn’t speak again until they were deep in Central Park. “Why would you flirt with me?” he said as they walked along an otherwise deserted pathway enclosed on all sides by snow-dusted trees, the white carpet of it unbroken but for Rabbit’s paw prints in front of them. “I’m already yours.”
She stopped, unable to look at him because there was so much inside her for him that it terrified.
Breaking their handclasp, he closed his fingers over her nape, his thumb brushing her skin in a quiet caress. “I don’t know how to play games of courtship. I can learn if that’s what you need.”
Rabbit’s leash dropping from her hand, she swiveled to face him. “No, I want you to be you.” An Arrow who said what he meant and who didn’t speak except when he had something to say. “I want you to be you,” she repeated in a whisper, her hands clenched tight in his T-shirt. “I want to make mistakes with you, learn how to be in a relationship with you.”
Vasic stroked his thumb over her skin again, his hair gleaming blue-black in the ray of sunshine that pierced the canopy, his skin golden. “I’m used to working with plans, with blueprints,” he said, “but observation of the other races tells me life doesn’t come with a blueprint.” The Psy had attempted to change that, create rules, but all that had done was buy them a little time before the inevitable crash. “We have to make the plan ourselves.”
Ivy, his empath who’d wrenched him out of the gray numbness in which he’d existed and into a world of vibrant color, reached up to play her fingers through his hair. “Samuel Rain,” she said, determined fury in every word, “is going to come through. I will believe nothing else.”
Vasic had never been afraid of death, but now he fought the idea of it with every breath in his body. “I could kidnap him,” he said, his hands on her hips. “Force him to work on the gauntlet under threat of being left in a jungle full of his favorite primates.”