Sascha knew who the five people were the instant she saw them - Nikita had told her the details of the case. "The Lauren family," she whispered. She'd never known the ages of the five Psy who'd disappeared into SnowDancer territory, had never expected any of them to be children, because even after everything she'd learned, she hadn't been ready to admit that her own people would so callously turn their backs on the most innocent of the innocent.
The oldest two were males, one dark blond, the other with hair the color of rich chocolate. Both had human eyes. The fair-haired male looked to be around forty, but the other was nearer Sascha's age. Then there was a teenage girl with deep red hair and the eyes of a cardinal Psy. She sat protectively next to a young boy who had the same hair and the same eyes. Last, a girl of about ten sat between the two older males. She had strawberry blonde hair and the feel of a powerful Psy. Her eyes were a pale green.
"How?" How had they survived being cut off from the Net? How had they survived at all?
"We're not cold-blooded murderers, Sascha." Hawke's voice was ice. "Not like the Psy." He sat down and Sascha let Lucas nudge her into a seat, too.
The teenager's head shot up and Sascha swore she felt a spike of temper. "You're making generalizations again. That's the same as saying all wolves are vicious."
Instead of getting angry, Hawke seemed to relax a fraction. "Sascha Duncan, meet Sienna Lauren. Next to her is her brother, Toby." He gestured to the two older males.
The blond one stood, his bearing as erect as a soldier's. "I'm Walker Lauren. Sienna and Toby are the children of my deceased sister. This is my daughter, Marlee." He nodded to the girl who sat beside him. A small hand slipped into his and his fingers curled around it.
"I'm Judd Lauren," the dark-haired man said after Walker sat down. "Walker's brother."
"I don't understand." Sascha could barely think through the riot of questions in her mind. "You're listed as dead on the Net." And the NetMind did not make mistakes.
"As far as the Net is concerned, we are," Walker answered.
In spite of the way he'd accepted Marlee's touch, she could feel nothing from him. Nothing. The same with Judd Lauren. The youngest two, Marlee and Toby, were definitely giving off emotion but Sienna was harder to read. "Are you all E-Psy?"
Sienna shook her head. "What's an E-Psy?"
Walker threw her a sharp look. "Sienna."
The teenager sat back, her mouth shut. Sascha knew that the two males had to be worried that Sascha would betray them, linked as she was to the Net.
"Why did you come into SnowDancer territory? You had to know it was courting death."
Walker and Judd glanced at each other and when Walker spoke, she knew he spoke for all of them. "We defected."
Her shock had her reaching for Lucas's hand, clasping it tight as it sat on the table. "What?"
"The entire family was slated for rehabilitation after our sister committed suicide." Walker's calm tone gave away nothing but Sascha could feel pain and anguish coming off Marlee and Toby.
Instinctively, she did what she could to soothe them. Sienna's eyes widened. "What are you doing, Sascha?"
Walker and Judd froze, looking at Sascha as one would eye a poisonous snake. Judd turned to Hawke. "You promised us she was safe." The words were razor sharp.
"She is." The pale eyes of a wolf met Sascha's. "Tell them what you were doing, sweetheart."
Lucas bristled. "Watch it, wolf."
Hawke's smile was slow and very satisfied. Next to him, Sienna sat up absolutely straight in her chair, looking from the two alphas back to Sascha.
"I'm sorry," Sascha apologized, ignoring the byplay between the males. "My control over my powers is still a little erratic. I'm an E-Psy, an empath."
Walker leaned forward. "There's no such thing as an E designation."
"There used to be before Silence," she told him. "E-Psy are healers of the mind. We're supposed to help people who are drowning under the weight of emotion, but I guess our existence was a roadblock to the implementation of the Protocol." So they'd been quietly destroyed. Despite everything she knew about her race, that admission of ultimate betrayal felt like a knife cut to the soul.
"I think we need to talk," Walker said.
"Yes." She felt Lucas's beast awaken, his possessive instincts disliking the idea of her alone with the other male. "I think we all need to talk more."
Walker took the hint. "Of course."
She thought back to what they'd been speaking about. "Why was the whole family sentenced to the Center?" She looked at the innocent faces of the children and wondered what kind of a cruel mind could deprive them of their personalities before they'd even had a chance to develop. She wasn't naive enough to think that the Lauren children had been the first to be so condemned, but nothing she'd seen thus far had prepared her for this new horror.
"My mother took her life in a most unusual fashion for a Psy - a cardinal Psy," Sienna said, ignoring Walker's look. "She stripped herself na**d and teleported off Golden Gate Bridge, screaming that she was finally free."
Sascha looked into the young cardinal's eyes and wanted to tell her to let the anger and pain out. Damming it up behind a wall of silence would only equal a slow death. She'd learned that the hard way.
"We'd also had several... incidents in the past. The Council decided they needed to 'purge' our family tree of undesirable traits." Judd's eyes went to Marlee. "Non-biological members of the family were given the choice to renounce any relationship or undergo rehabilitation."