Kissing his thumb, Sahara broke contact to walk to the corner where he’d discarded his T-shirt, and picked it up. “You need to go check the scene,” she guessed, returning with the camouflage green cotton in her grasp, frown lines marring her brow. “You’ll be careful.” It was an order.
He nodded after pulling on the T-shirt, still unused to the fact that he once again had her in his life—the one person who cared about him. Every time she showed that care, whether through her words or her actions, it curled around the dark part of him that lived in the void, a petting caress.
“I’ll be home soon,” he said. “Don’t link telepathically.” She was always with him, but he didn’t want her seeing what he was sure awaited in 8-91’s home. Since he’d never reject her psychic touch, he had to have her promise.
Rising on tiptoe, she kissed him sweet and soft, the way she had of doing sometimes—as if he was the vulnerable one. It was true. But only when it came to Sahara, his obsidian shields mist against her touch; her slender fingers could cage him more effectively than any chain or prison.
“I won’t,” she promised. “We’ll talk about it afterward.” Her gaze held his own in a trust he’d never break, the charm bracelet on her wrist catching the light. “Take care, Kaleb,” she repeated. “You belong to me.”
He teleported out with the warmth of her a lingering kiss against his skin, and into a bloody hell. Subject 8-91 hadn’t simply died. He’d gone critical. And he’d taken someone with him. Crouching by the body that lay just inside the closed doorway, Kaleb attempted to count the stab marks that had sliced through the man’s pin-striped shirt, got to nineteen before it became impossible to separate the wounds.
The flicker came to the right of him a second later. “We have a situation,” he said to the two Arrows he’d telepathed on arrival. “Subject 8-91”—he pointed to the slender male who sat slumped against the opposing wall, his face bruised and cut, a streak of red behind his head, as if he’d slid down the wall after being thrown onto it—“was infected. The most advanced case in the Net.”
Vasic stayed in place as Aden stepped over the nearest body, skirting the blood that splattered the room to scan 8-91 using a small medical device. “He suffered blunt force injuries to the face as well as a cracked skull, but my initial judgment is that he died of an implosion in his brain.”
Rising to a standing position, Kaleb considered the facts. “Sunshine Station,” he said, dead certain both Arrows knew of the remote Alaskan science station where the disease had first claimed Psy lives. “The infected didn’t die that way.”
“No.” Aden came across to scan the stabbing victim. “The staff of the science station went mad, bludgeoned, stabbed, and otherwise assaulted one another. The survivors were weak but still psychotic by the time we arrived. A number were so aggressive they died during the containment process; the remainder were put into involuntary comas.”
Aden’s first-person account jibed with the details Kaleb had been able to dig up, though former Councilor Ming LeBon had done his best to conceal the scale and nature of the deaths. As a result, Kaleb knew that none of the comatose victims had ever woken up. Brain death had followed within a week of the incident. “Does 8-91’s mode of death mean the infection’s become more virulent?”
The Arrow medic got to his feet. “Possible—but it’s also possible he had a genetic vulnerability that coincided with the final stages of the infection. A full autopsy will be necessary to know for certain.” Aden held Kaleb’s eyes. “You have his history?”
Kaleb telepathed across the detailed files he’d kept on 8-91’s disintegration, even as he stared at the room, analyzed the damage, then returned his gaze to the stabbed male. “It’s possible 8-91’s victim was also infected. I recognize him as 8-91’s closest neighbor.” Meaning there was a high chance they’d been next to each other on the psychic plane as well.
“Do we need to evacuate this region of the PsyNet?”
“I’ll quarantine the area for the time being, but it’s a stopgap measure.” The oily black of the infection was crawling across vast swathes of the Net.
Vasic spoke for the first time. “I’ll teleport the bodies to the secure morgue where they can be autopsied, clean up this room.”
He’s so close to the edge; I don’t know if anything can save him.
Words Sahara had spoken about Vasic, hurt in her voice for a man she saw as kin to Kaleb. He didn’t disagree. He might’ve been trained by a sociopath, but the same was true of many Arrows; the only difference was that Kaleb’s trainer had slipped the leash into unsanctioned murder. In the end, they’d all grown up under a regime that attempted to turn them into tools for the use of others—tools meant to be discarded once they passed their use-by date.
Kaleb had no illusions about himself, knew he’d use anyone and everyone if it would keep the world safe for Sahara, but he also had no intention of becoming the Council he’d destroyed. “No,” he said in response to Vasic’s offer. “Let Enforcement handle this scene as a murder.
“If we don’t find a way to halt the infection, such incidents will become all too common soon enough.” Even if Enforcement discovered the truth of what had happened here tonight, they’d only be ahead of the curve by weeks at most. News of the infection hadn’t yet made front-page news, but it was already being whispered of in hidden corners of the Net. “I’ll make sure the autopsy is done by one of my people.”