All at once, he realized he didn’t have to process her words. He understood that mental tone now, knew she was teasing him again. This time, he had an answer for her. Arrows sleep in full uniform, he said, setting the armor aside.

A pause. Are you teasing me?

Tugging off his boots, he put them under the cot. They were designed to allow him to slam his feet into them in two seconds flat in an emergency. Where would an Arrow learn to tease? he responded as he removed his belt and placed it with the armor.

From me, came the suspicious response. You’re very smart. Don’t think I haven’t noticed.

Having decided to strip off his long-sleeved black uniform top since it wouldn’t protect his upper half from attack anyway, and needed to be washed, he rolled it up to use as a pillow as he lay down dressed only in his uniform pants. He should’ve showered, but giving his body time to restore itself was a higher priority. I’m going to sleep now, Ivy.

Have a good rest.

Her voice was the last thing he heard before he shut himself down like the lethal living machine that he was.

Chapter 18

What gives Kaleb Krychek the right to decide the future of our entire race? What of those of us who do not wish to live in his new world? Will he now eliminate our voices as he is rumored to have eliminated his rivals?

Opinion piece from Ida Mill, PsyNet Beacon

KALEB STOOD IN the living room of his and Sahara’s home, his eyes on the wall-mounted comm-screen. The feed was of placard-waving protestors walking in a circle below his Moscow HQ chanting pro-Silence slogans into the early evening foot traffic in the square directly adjacent.

“Do they not realize I could crush their skulls with a single thought?”

Glancing up from where she was curled up on the couch, translating a document for him, Sahara looked at the screen. “The protestors and Ms. Mill feel passionately enough to die for their cause.”

“More would-be martyrs.” Kaleb slid his hands into the pockets of his slate gray suit pants, the cuffs of his white shirt rolled up to bare his forearms. “I’m considering giving them their wish.” He had to focus on rebuilding the very foundations of the Net after eradicating the infection, not on people who couldn’t embrace change.

“Stop being big, bad Kaleb Krychek and come sit with me.”

He only took orders from one person. Sitting down to her left, he wrapped an arm around the front of her shoulders as she leaned back against him. “They call themselves Silent Voices,” she told him, tapping the laser pen she’d been using against her lip. “And they’ve made it a point to say they are nonviolent and unassociated with Pure Psy.”

“A small sign of intelligence.” Kaleb had promised to execute anyone who attempted to revive the genocidal group of fanatics. “They’re disruptive.”

Sahara patted his arm. “A common occurrence in a normal political system.”

“We’re not in a normal political system. This is a dictatorship.” Nothing else would work with the Net on the brink of cataclysm.

Sahara turned her head to press a kiss to his upper arm through the fine cotton of his shirt, long strands of silken hair sliding over his forearm. “The Council would’ve shut them down, ended their lives for daring to challenge the status quo.”

It was a gentle reminder that Kaleb had spent his life bringing down that corrupt structure. Considering the protestors for another minute, he turned off the screen. “They can protest so long as they don’t threaten the stability of the Net.”

“I think we need disparate voices.” Sahara sat up and twisted to face him after putting her datapad and pen on the carpet, expression thoughtful. “Attempting to create a homogenous society is what got us into this situation in the first place.”

Kaleb didn’t see the world as Sahara did; his priority was to give her a safe, stable life. No matter what it took. “Ms. Mill and her merry band may get their Silent enclave if I’m forced to excise sections of the Net to stem the tide of infection.”

Dark blue eyes locking with his own. “Is it worse?”

“Yes, and increasing in virulence by the day.” While the empaths remained locked in their dormant state.

Chapter 19

Please reupload all technical data about the performance of the gauntlet for the previous thirty-four days. Our current data is leading to conclusions well outside the anticipated and may have been corrupted during one of the weekly uploads.

Message from Dr. Edgard Bashir to Vasic

SASCHA DIDN’T ARGUE with the security measures Lucas put in place for her visit to the E compound early afternoon on the second day of the empaths’ residence in the area. The other Es might not be able to do her direct harm without it rebounding back on them, but there were Arrows in that compound, and regardless of how much she trusted Judd, the squad wasn’t homogenous.

“Neither are empaths,” Lucas reminded her when she vocalized her thoughts after they stepped out of the car on the edge of the yellow zone.

Cupping her face in strong, warm hands, he bent his knees slightly to meet her eyes. “Don’t forget that. They’ve already had an internal security breach.”

“I won’t,” she promised, and cuddled into the wild heat of his body, drawing in his scent until her own cells were drunk with it. “I feel like such a fraud, pretending to have expertise in the E designation.” When all she had was a store of cobbled-together knowledge that might or might not help.

Lucas tugged on her braid. “An expert is simply someone who knows more than those she’s teaching. That’s you.” A feline kiss, licks and flicks and persuasion that melted her bones. “As for the rest”—he wrapped her scarf around her neck—“you’ll learn with them.” Copyright 2016 - 2023