Pretend growling at him in turn, to his delighted laughter, Sascha carried him outside, one of his arms slung companionably around her neck. At least ten other pups near to Ben’s age were already playing in the fine white powder that coated the area. When she glimpsed Judd’s niece, Marlee, in the distance with a group of older children, she whispered, “Are you and Marlee still fighting?” The cause of the fight was a mystery to all as far as Sascha knew.
Ben smiled and waved at Marlee, but didn’t wriggle down to run over and join his friend. “No,” he said as Marlee waved back. “I ’pologized for messing up her girl party, and she said sorry for her friends calling me a dumb baby.”
Sascha’s curiosity won out. “How did you mess up her girl party?”
Sighing, Ben lay his head against her shoulder. “I shifted and jumped on their picnic blanket from a tree after Julian and Roman showed me how to climb, and I squished their cake and spilled stuff on their clothes.”
Sascha had a hard time not bursting into laughter, the image of a cake-and-cream-covered little wolf pup bringing tears to her eyes. “Was the cake nice?”
Ben grinned, glee in his expression. “Yes. I ate it all since everyone except Marlee ran away.”
Pressing a laughing kiss to his temple, she said, “I’m glad you two are friends again.”
“Me, too.” He pointed to the right. “Ally is over there. She likes to sit by the small waterfall pond. Sometimes I sit with her.”
Putting him on the ground, she said, “Thank you for showing me.”
A sweet smile. “I’m gonna go eat a cookie now. Mama said I could have one ’cause she’s baking. Bye!”
Watching after him until he was safely back inside, she walked out to the “waterfall pond.” It proved an apt description. Unlike the large waterfall a longer distance out from the den, this one was tiny, would barely create a splash as it poured into the pond in summer. Right now, it was a stunning piece of natural sculpture, the water frozen as it fell, the pond a mirror.
Alice sat on a sun-drenched boulder beside the sheet of ice, her eyes closed and face lifted up to the late-afternoon rays. That fine-boned face was no longer sallow, her brown skin holding a golden glow. Her hair, too, Sascha saw, had begun to grow, though it was only a delicate feathering on her scalp right now, the glorious curls that Sascha had seen in an old photograph not yet in evidence.
“Sascha.” A quiet smile, a faded shadow of the huge grin Sascha had seen in that same photo. “Have you come to see if my cracked egg of a brain has any more information?”
Sascha made a rueful face. “Does it feel like that’s the only reason I come to see you?” The truth was, she wanted desperately to help the other woman heal, but Alice wasn’t ready yet.
First, I have to mourn, she’d said on Sascha’s last visit. I lost everyone I loved when I was put into that cryonic chamber. I don’t know if my heart is strong enough to recover.
Sascha believed differently. Alice had already shown her strength in waking from a sleep that should’ve consumed her; it might take time, but the scientist would put the pieces of her self back together. When she did, she would be extraordinary, of that Sascha had not a single doubt.
“No,” Alice said in reply to her question. “It’s me.” Closing her eyes, she tilted her face up to the sun again. “I wish I could give you the answers you need.” She exhaled, lashes lifting as her gaze turned to the frozen water. “I heard about what happened, the madness and the violence.”
Taking a seat on a nearby boulder, Sascha told Alice what she knew. As a result of the relationships Sascha had formed with the Es in the compound, she’d heard from every one of them since their placements—it made her the one person who could see patterns within the individual experiences, mine answers that could help them all. The trouble was, the pattern was bleak.
“At least,” she said, clinging to the single point of light in the darkness, “we now understand one of the unofficial subdesignations.” Jaya did instinctively what it had taken Sascha considerable time and intense focus to accomplish. “An elderly Forgotten empath once told me only cardinals could stop riots,” she said, thinking aloud. “Something to do with a terminal field. But Ivy can clearly tap into a similar ability—though neither one of us can maintain it for long.”
Angling her face out of the sun, Alice frowned. “The Forgotten empath conflated two different elements, unsurprising given that the two are often used in concert. Only a cardinal can create a terminal field, but other high-level empaths can control crowds.”
Sascha stared at Alice . . . who blinked and stared back. “Did that just come out of my mouth?” the other woman whispered, her eyes huge and luminescent in the indirect sunlight.
“You sounded like a professor.” Sascha’s heart thudded against her ribs. “As if I was a student who’d made a basic error.”
Alice rubbed at her face with gloved hands. “It’s gone now, but for that instant, it was as if I was the Alice of before, my mind tumbling with ideas and concepts and a thousand thoughts instead of this dullness I can’t penetrate.”
Sascha touched the other woman’s shoulder, hope a golden surge in her blood. “It’s okay, Alice. I think . . . I think you’re coming back.” Bringing with her the knowledge that might save an entire race.
Aden—the surgical simulations you asked me to run all end in Vasic’s death. Given the seriousness of the matter, I went outside my official authorization and liaised with other surgeons after telling them the problem was a hypothetical model. None were able to offer any suggestions I haven’t already considered and ruled out.