Drew had always had the ability to push her buttons, but she was not in the mood for games today. She was mad, so damn mad. At Judd, at her brothers, at Hawke, at the whole bloody universe. "Maybe I'm not the one with the problem," she said, something mean and nasty inside of her taking over. "Why don't you find Madeline and get laid?" The pack's young females were all highly sexual, but Madeline was getting perilously close to crossing the line into slutty. "Maybe a good rut will get you off my back."
Drew's expression was pure thunder. "You're not too old for me to wash out your mouth with soap." Quiet, lethal, a reminder that her usually easygoing middle sibling was also a high-ranking soldier.
"Try it." It was almost a hiss.
Her brother blinked, visibly taken aback by the venom in her voice. She had always been the sweetest of the three of them, the one who could talk both Drew and Riley into almost anything. They'd babied her, protected her, loved her. But that didn't give them the right to stick their noses into her business. "You seem to have forgotten that I'm an adult female, not a juvenile," she said when he remained silent. "Touch me and I'll shred your face." Her voice was cold, cutting...mean.
"Jesus, Bren. Where the hell is that poison coming from?"
The taste of bile bloomed on her tongue as her mind recognized the horror. This spiteful, violent woman isn't me. Even when he pissed her off, even when he acted suffocatingly arrogant, she adored Drew. But if it wasn't her, then who else could it be? This wasn't a dream - she was fully conscious and spewing hatred.
It made her want to be sick.
Covering her mouth with her hand, she ran the rest of the way to her room and slammed the door shut. When Drew pounded for entrance, she told him to leave her alone.
"Damn it, Bren. You're in no shape to be alone. Come out, baby sister."
Tears filled her eyes at his unflinching affection. "Please, Drew. I need to think. Just let me think."
A small silence. "I'll always be here if you need me, you know that, right?"
"Yes. I know." But he couldn't help with what was happening to her mind. No one but a Psy could - except the Psy she'd given her trust to had turned on her.
She heard Drew's footsteps as he padded to his own room. The shower started a few minutes later. Suddenly feeling sweaty and dirty, she stripped off her own clothes with such haste she tore holes in them. It didn't matter. She had to wash off the filth, scrub away the stench of evil and that of her own ugliness.
The water smelled like rain, fresh and pure. After use, it would flow back out, purified by an amalgam of old-tech methods using natural cleansers and high-tech filters regulated by precision computronic processors. A perfect, peaceful cycle that stole nothing from the Earth and put no pollutants into it. So brilliant that even the Psy used it. Not because they cared about the Earth, but because this method was so cheap as to be laughable.
Scrubbing at her skin till it reddened, she tried to keep her mind full of such technical matters. As long as her brain was busy, she'd be safe from the putrid evil he'd planted inside of her, the rot eating away at her insides.
No, don't think of that. Think of the tech. So beautiful, so complex.
Before Enrique had kidnapped her, she'd been close to completing her certification as a Level 1 computronic technician. It was the highest of the ten available grades, requiring skill, intelligence, and something extra - the ability to innovate new systems, create new designs. It was unheard of for a twenty-year-old to tackle the certification, but she'd finished school at fifteen, the exams a cakewalk. Over the next five years, she'd steadily increased her tech rating from an initial 6, to 5, all the way down to 2. She would've been a Level 1 by now if he hadn't taken her.
Blood scented the air. Acrid. Iron-rich.
Blinking awake out of her semishocked state, she saw that she'd scrubbed so hard, she'd taken skin off her forearm. And still she felt dirty - she wanted to keep scrubbing, keep removing layers. The things the monster had done, the things he had forced her to witness, to remember, they dirtied her from the inside out, transforming her mind into a cesspool of malice, hatred, and the sickest of desire.
"No!" Turning off the water, she got out and dried herself. She would defeat the butcher. And she'd do it without the help of a Psy who'd not only lied to her, but had abandoned her when he should've stood by her.
Why? her brain asked. Why did you expect him to stand by you?
It infuriated her that she had no real answer to that question. Nothing but a burning anger that sprang from something in her that was miraculously untouched by evil.
You survived and you kept him from your mind. You didn't break.
Sascha had said those words to her the day she'd discovered Brenna in the grip of the killer's madness. Somehow, despite the agony of a hurt that had been everywhere inside of her, Brenna had managed to keep part of herself, a strong precious part, safe. And now that part knew Judd should've stood by her, though it couldn't explain why.
But if she had no answer to that question, she did have one to the issue of what she was going to do about her career. Dressing quickly, she went to the communication panel and put through a call to her old course supervisor.
He seemed delighted to see her. "Bren! You back up and about?"
"Yes, Dr. Shah. I wanted to talk to you about my Level 1 certification." Already her mood was lifting, her sense of self returning. "I'd like to continue the course."
His eyes widened owlishly behind the old-tech spectacles he insisted on wearing. "But didn't anyone tell you?"
"Tell me what?"
"You're already a Level 1."