As it was, she’d made a natural connection to multiple Es and brought him in.
“Yes,” she said now. “I received reports from the final cities an hour ago.”
Opening his eyes on the PsyNet, Kaleb took in the honeycomb effect. It hadn’t been visible to non-E eyes in the first week of the rollout, or in the second, but things had reached some kind of critical mass in the third. The entire network had blazed to life in an instant that had stunned disbelievers into faith and brought the hopeful to their knees.
No more was the PsyNet a star-studded night; it was now an intricate tapestry.
His bond with Sahara overlay the golden threads, obsidian strong in comparison to the delicate filigree of the links below. “The Es have created a new psychic foundation for our race.”
“Now,” Sahara said, “we have to make sure we don’t break it again.”
Please advise me of your response within the next seven days.
Excerpted from a letter to Ivy Jane from the office of Kaleb Krychek
“KALEB KRYCHEK IS making me another offer!”
Vasic turned from where he stood between the rows of winter-dressed apple trees, playing stick slave for Rabbit, to find his empath tugging on her boots in the doorway to their cabin. Her face was flushed, her curls awry, and she’d pulled on his Arrow jacket like she always did now that they were home.
“As a counselor?” he asked when she reached him, referring to the resurrection of a pre-Silence employment option for Es; such therapeutic help was needed at a critical level as millions of people struggled to cope with the staggering changes in their lives. Ivy was already training under and being supervised by a cadre of human specialists and changeling healers.
But she shook her head, an unfolded letter in one hand. “He wants me to represent the empaths on the Ruling Coalition.” Her eyes were huge, the copper brilliant and the gold shimmering under the North Dakota sun.
“Not unexpected,” he said, cupping her jaw with his gauntleted hand. “You came up with the Honeycomb Protocol, and you seem to know every empath in the world.”
“Ha ha.” She poked his side. “I don’t know why I’ve become one-third of E-Psy Central.” The other two-thirds were Sahara Kyriakus and Sascha Duncan.
Sahara handled data while Sascha was in charge of the education of Es. Ivy, on the other hand, had slowly become the port of call for any E who had a problem, psychic or otherwise. She’d already had multiple dealings with the Ruling Coalition in that role.
“I do like it though,” she said now, “keeping an eye on them all, making sure no one feels isolated or overwhelmed.”
Wrapping an arm around her shoulders, Vasic made sure she was warm as they walked the snowy paths, Rabbit racing imaginary opponents in front of them. “What else did the letter say?”
Ivy made a face. “That I’d be paid by the rest of the ruling group.”
Vasic immediately saw the problem. “You wouldn’t be an equal at the table.”
“Exactly.” Ivy put the letter into a pocket of his jacket. “Any ideas?”
“Politics is Aden’s field of expertise. Let me ask him.”
His partner came back with an answer five minutes after Vasic ’pathed him, while Ivy was throwing a snowball at Vasic’s head. Ducking it, he got her in the leg with his own snowball before hauling her laughing face close for a kiss.
“Aden says you need to set up an E-Psy union,” he said when they parted, both breathless. “Ask the membership to pay a small percentage of their income to belong. That would cover your salary, as well as giving designation E funds to use to fight another attack such as the one that almost wiped you out once.”
It was a solemn reminder. “We’d have to have a vote,” Ivy said. “I don’t want to just assume I’ll be the leader of this union.”
“No one else,” Vasic said, “will relish the idea of sitting across from Krychek, Nikita, and Anthony.”
“Neither do I.” She’d do it though, because Vasic and Aden were right—designation E had to fight to make sure it was never again sidelined or buried. “Thank Aden for his idea. It’s a good one—I’ll talk to the others.”
Taking a trembling breath, she stroked her free hand down the gauntlet. It was covered by his jacket, but she could feel the hardness of the carapace. “How bad?” The question was a terrible one, but she had to ask it, had to know how much time they had together before he had to go under the surgeon’s knife.
His forehead touched hers. “Approximately seventy-two hours, maybe less if the power surges become more erratic.”
Ivy tried to stifle her sob, but she couldn’t, not this time. Burying her face against his chest, she held on to him with all her strength, hands cupped desperately around the flickering hope inside her. Please, she said, not sure to whom she was speaking, please don’t take him away from me.
There was no answer.
• • •
VASIC hated seeing Ivy cry. She was so strong, his empath. Day by day, week by week, she’d pushed on, determined and relentless in her belief that fate wouldn’t do this to them, wouldn’t so maliciously destroy their love. Now he held her, rocked her, aware of Rabbit nudging at her with his head. And he knew what he was about to ask her to do would cause her even more pain, but his Ivy was strong . . . and he needed her with him as he made good on a promise.
It had taken the elderly stonemason longer than he’d initially estimated to finish his commission, but he’d made it just in time. Vasic would never be able to wash the stain of his sins from his flesh, but at least he would go into the operating room as a man who’d accepted those sins and laid them bare.