“I had to make specific requests to see each one Sahara suspected.” Slipping off the tie on the other woman’s hair, he ran his palm over the dark strands. “The NetMind has been protecting the vulnerable for a long time.”
Ivy watched the cardinal interact with Sahara, understood intellectually that the two were “mated,” to use the changeling term, but though she felt their connection, she had difficulty comprehending how someone so hard, so cold, could’ve bonded with anyone. Much less powerfully enough to rip through the fabric of Silence itself.
A polite telepathic knock on her mind. When Ivy accepted, Sahara said, You do realize your Arrow is just as lethal as my Kaleb?
Your Kaleb only acts “human” with you.
Um, have you noticed Vasic touching anyone else?
Okay, Ivy conceded, you may have a point. Vasic didn’t even touch Aden that she’d seen, and the two might as well be twin brothers, they were so close. I’ll try not to sidle away next time Kaleb appears.
Sahara hid her smile behind a raised hand. It’s all right. The first time Vasic teleported me anywhere, I was half-afraid he’d decide to lose me mid-’port.
Ivy reached up to touch her Arrow’s hand. His fingers curled around her own, though he was listening to the conversation between Aden and Kaleb. The two of us, she said to Sahara, need to have lunch together after this is all over.
Yes—Sahara’s ocean deep gaze held hers, solemn and haunted—after this is all over.
Both of them knew that might be a long time coming.
• • •
UNABLE to sleep despite the fact she’d attended a bad outbreak with Vasic two hours earlier that had come close to wiping her out, Ivy sat up in bed that night and gnawed on the knowledge she could feel just beyond her reach.
“Ivy, you need to rest.”
She looked down at Vasic, the light from the streetlamps coming through the thinly opened blinds marking him in tiger stripes. “Shh”—she bent to press a kiss to his shoulder—“I’m thinking.”
Rising from bed after a minute, he left the bedroom and came back with a hot nutrient drink. “You’re losing too much weight.”
Ivy frowned. “What ab—”
“I already had mine.” He tapped her on the nose, the affectionate act making her toes curl. “Now stop stalling and drink. I drowned it in your caramel syrup.”
She stuck out her tongue at him but accepted the glass. Taking a sip to find he’d made it a drinkable temperature, she narrowed her eyes as he sat down beside her and pulled up something on a reader. “That better not be another manual.”
“I thought you were thinking?” He looked pointedly at her glass as Rabbit raised his head in his basket, ears pricked.
Gulping the drink, Ivy put the empty glass on the bedside table and sat up on her knees facing him. His eyes went to her br**sts, her ni**les pushing shamelessly against the camisole she’d worn to bed with her flannel pants. “Focus,” she said through the pulsing ache he aroused in her with a single look. “I need to see the bonds Sahara told us about.”
“I can contact Krychek.” He patted the bed, and an ecstatic Rabbit scampered over to curl up in his favorite spot at the bottom end.
“No.” She ran her fingers along the ridges of Vasic’s abdomen, scrunching up her forehead in thought. “I have this nagging sense that he isn’t naturally built to see the bonds. It seems more like the purview of an E.”
Vasic nodded slowly. “It might be why the NetMind can only show him pieces.”
Yes, Ivy thought. Because psychic minds were wired differently, depending on their designation. “Sascha told me the NetMind likes empaths.” She nibbled on her lower lip, made a decision. “It can’t hurt to ask.”
Snuggling to his side, she opened her eyes on the psychic plane and wasn’t surprised to see her Arrow right beside her. The black velvet night of the PsyNet, each mind a glittering star, was now “contaminated” with sparks of color, but those sparks couldn’t seem to reach the stars . . . as if blocked by the invisible tendrils of a terrible, voracious corruption.
Ivy put her palm over Vasic’s heart, anchored herself in the steadfast strength of him before she said, “NetMind?” It felt foolish to attempt to contact a vast neosentience this way, but she couldn’t figure out any other. “May I please speak to you?”
Her heart kicked at the overwhelming and immediate sense that she was no longer alone inside her mind. Joy was a waterfall on her senses, flowers falling over her eyes as a sense of infinite sorrow, of such a long wait, made her want to sob. “I need to see,” she said when the raw emotional cascade faded enough that she could think. “I need to see the bonds I have with others.”
Thinking of how the neosentience had greeted her, Ivy tried again, this time by visualizing her loved ones as she asked the question.
It was as if a filter was placed over her mind. Her visual field changed to show a Net lit with faint golden lines. She could see her parents on those lines, her friends from the settlement, from the compound . . . and she could see Aden.
Him she could understand, but there were other Arrows, including total strangers.
Vasic wasn’t visible, but she sensed him all around her, their shields interlinked. Inside her pulsed the driving need to reach out across the void to him, lock her soul to his. His own need was a dark, passionate force that stole her breath, but he fought it. Stubborn, protective Arrow.
Multihued stars falling around her, racing from a voracious rain of black arrows. Ivy grinned and replied to the NetMind by creating an image of the stars pouncing on the arrows. It laughed and the laughter was a dazzling kaleidoscope that she tried to telepath to Vasic. Can you see?