Her nails dug into her palm.

Whatever Concetta and her ilk did or did not do, Ivy intended to see this through to the end. Her choice was both selfish and not—she wanted to help the innocents in the Net, but she also wanted to be more than the glued-together shards of the broken teenage girl who’d come out of the reconditioning chamber. She wanted to be the promise that had been stifled inside her for a lifetime. Good or bad, weak or strong, resilient or fragile, she needed to know who Ivy Jane was beyond the cage of Silence.

She found herself searching for Vasic on the heels of that passionate thought.

Four years old.

His life must’ve been brutally regimented, countless choices taken from him, his cage a punishing Arrow black. Would he ever choose to step out of the dark, or would he always stand as a lethal sentinel on the border? Protecting, shielding . . . but never being part of the world.

• • •

THE secondary security sweep complete, Vasic looked to where Ivy sat with the other Es. She appeared involved in an intense discussion with Jaya, while Rabbit drowsed at her feet.

“An idyllic image,” said the man who’d just ’ported in a short distance from Vasic, his black on black suit a stark contrast to the combat uniforms worn by the squad. “If we don’t consider the deadly infection they’ve been brought here to combat.”

Vasic had known Krychek would appear sooner or later. “Have you channeled the infection to this part of the Net?”

“I was able to nudge it in this direction.” Krychek’s cardinal gaze lingered on the empaths. “At its current rate of spread, it’ll take approximately twenty-four hours to intrude on this location.

“Will we be surrounded?” He had to make certain their exit strategy remained viable.

“No. Indications are it’ll come in from one side in a creeping wave, then extrude tendrils inward.”

A safer state of affairs, relatively speaking.

Krychek slid his hands into the pockets of his suit pants. “Are there any obvious problems?”

“It’s highly likely that Concetta Galeano’s family coerced her into accepting the contract.” The Arrow in charge of the female E had reported his reading of the situation to Vasic an hour ago.

“Suggested course of action?”

“Give her another twenty-four hours,” Vasic said, noting that Ivy’s hair was beginning to come loose from her ponytail. “If Ms. Galeano’s mind doesn’t reanchor to this region”—thus proving the depth of her reluctance—“I’ll return her to her family.”

“Should that happen, I’ll pay her a quiet visit to reiterate the importance of the confidentiality clause.”

Vasic was unsurprised by the decision. The last thing Krychek wanted, or the Net needed, was a leak about this experiment. Pure Psy might be in pieces, but as evidenced by the attack on Ivy, even if the fanatical group no longer posed a threat to the Net as a whole, the last remaining Pure Psy faithful were still dangerous on an individual level.

The more problematic and potentially lethal threat, however, came from those in the general population who were having difficulty adapting to a life beyond Silence—to them the empaths would be the enemy, a direct risk to the way of life they sought to cling to with increasing desperation.

“Anything else I should know?”

“No.” Vasic saw Ivy glance toward him, see Kaleb Krychek at his side. Shoulders going stiff, her copper-colored gaze swung back to him. It was odd, but he could almost imagine she was concerned about him.


Then he felt her mind brush his, her telepathic touch so gentle it was unlike any he’d ever before experienced. Vasic, be careful.

He thought he should tell her he was as capable of deadly force as Krychek, that they’d been formed in, if not the same, then analogous bloody crucibles. But now that he’d tasted Ivy’s smile, now that he’d felt her psychic touch, he didn’t want to see fear chill her skin again when she looked at him.

So all he said was, I am safe, Ivy.

And he thought perhaps if he had met her a lifetime ago, he would’ve been better than he was . . . but he hadn’t. Now it was too late, his soul pitted and shredded, his hands instruments of death. Still, he could do one thing, he thought, his eyes dropping to the gauntlet that was an outward reminder of his inhumanity.

He could protect her to the last beat of his heart.

Chapter 13

Authorization not recognized. Any further attempt at access will be met with terminal action.

Automated security system response to Ming LeBon’s final bid to reenter Arrow Central Command

MING LEBON HAD lost the Arrows. He’d accepted that, accepted too that it had been a mistake to treat them as ordinary grunts who would come to heel at his command. The Arrows were not the least ordinary, each operative having gone through rigorous psychological testing before being inducted into the squad. The majority were also acutely intelligent.

There was one loss, however, that he was unwilling to accept: Vasic.

The sole known true teleporter in the PsyNet was a critical asset. He’d saved Ming’s life more than once by ’porting him out in the split second before terminal impact. No other Tk on the planet could do it as fast, and Ming had no intention of losing access to Vasic’s ability. Vasic, however, was loyal to the squad and to Aden.

That left a single viable way for Ming to secure the teleporter’s abilities. “You have the Jax?” he asked the medic who was the only one who knew of his plans.

The other man nodded at Ming’s reference to the drug that, used as Ming planned to use it, could turn an Arrow into a weapon that could be pointed in any direction wished by its master. “Prepped and ready at the correct dosage.”

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