"This is where I have to choose which parts of Silence to delete and which to leave functional. Too much and the dissonance will keep trying to disable me. Too little and I'll eliminate the safety systems that stop me from killing by accident." As he had killed eight-year-old Paul, a name he'd never forget, a face that would haunt his dreams forever.
"Why don't you take a break?" Brenna stroked his hair off his forehead in that habit she had. "You were under for an hour."
He allowed himself to touch her cheek with his knuckles. "No. It's better if I do it all at once. If I delay, some of the embedded protocols may reinitiate."
She rubbed back against his touch. "All right. Do what you have to do. But remember - if you kill yourself you'll be in big trouble."
Nodding, he closed his eyes and returned to his mind. And found a hidden reservoir of emotion. The conditioning was anchored in guilt, fear, protectiveness, and a fierce desire to keep people safe. They'd used his own emotions to chain him. Part of him appreciated the efficiency, but another part was so incredibly angry, it was a chill across his soul.
However, he didn't have time for anger. Not today. Calming his mind again, he began to unlace the threads of control. Step by slow step. It felt like hours passed. Then suddenly he was at the center point, where a choice had to be made. Reason clashed with his need to be free. He needed the warning system, but he didn't need it crippling him. He undid the entire structure.
It took as long as it took. But finally, it was done. His Psy powers were now free of any restraint. But it wasn't a freedom that was good. As Tai had to learn discipline over his physical strength, Judd had to maintain it over his psychic abilities. The only difference was that Judd couldn't afford any mistakes.
It took him a long time to find a solution and, once again, it was his training as an Arrow that came to his aid. "I'm setting a trip wire," he said out loud, knowing in his bones that Brenna was terrified for him.
"What will activate it?"
"It'll snap my ability shut if I attempt to use it to kill." For anything short of a killing rage, he'd have to rely on his skills at regulating emotion. That, he could do.
A small pause. "Won't that disadvantage you?"
"No. I can reverse the tripped wire in a split second, and my other abilities will continue to function during that time."
"A split second."
He recalled the way she'd kissed him to stop him from ending Dieter's life. "That's all I need." A moment's clarity to make the decision to kill rather than being held hostage to his dark gift.
No, he thought, it wasn't wholly dark. It had helped save Andrew's life - there was a way it could be utilized for good. Pre-Silence Tk-Cells, trapped by their out-of-control emotions, had never learned that. And post-Silence Tk-Cells had never been given the chance to be anything but sanctioned killers. But now he had that chance, that choice. "It'll work."
"Then do it." A statement of loyalty, of togetherness, of such complete trust that he felt it inside his mind. Mentally frowning at the impossibility, he finished laying the psychic trip wire. That done, he went even deeper, to the place where the conditioning was a hard shell around his emotional core, segregating that part of him. The shields were fragmented but holding. He put a psychic hand on the first one.
A shock wave of excruciating pain shot through his body.
Then Brenna cried out.
Gritting his teeth, he opened his eyes to see her face gone white. "Brenna?"
"Oh, God, Judd." She squeezed his hand. "I felt the...shadow of that, an echo. If what I felt was diluted, how are you still conscious?"
"Why did you feel it?" Protective instincts roared to life. "We aren't mated."
Her shattered eyes went wide. "Are you sure?"
His heart actually stopped for a second, he wanted so much for her to belong to him on the most irrevocable level. "I guess we'll find out." He went back into the minefield of his consciousness, throwing a shield around Brenna at the same time. But he knew that that would only mute the impact, not stop it altogether, not when he didn't know the origin of the link that connected them.
He spent several minutes looking at the emotional blocks. "I have to destroy them. No subtlety. A total wipeout."
"What will it do to you?"
The real question was - what would it do to her? He could weather just about anything except her hurt. "There'll be pain."
The soft brush of lips against his cheek. "Pain I can take."
He didn't question her, didn't doubt her. Brenna had earned his respect the day she'd come out sane from that bloody room where she'd been held. "No matter what happens," he told her, "don't let anyone else interfere."
"But - "
"Fine, but not if it gets to the point where you might die."
"Accepted." Arrowing his senses to a fine laser point, he sliced the shields in half.
For a moment, there was nothing. True silence. Pure calm.
Then agony streaked through every nerve ending, every synapse, every sense he possessed. He heard Brenna scream and the protective core of him refused to allow that. He threw up an instinctive block against a connection that shouldn't have existed and had the satisfaction of hearing her shudder in relief. A second later, the pain blanked everything from his mind.
Shoshanna Scott met her husband, Henry, in their living quarters after their operations had been completed. Ashaya Aleine's closest aide, the one who had implanted them in the first place, had done the retraction. It had taken an hour each, the procedures complicated by the way the implants had integrated into their neural cells.