A hand on her lower back. Dorian's voice in her ear. "Get in the car. It's around the front."
They pulled away less than a minute later. "This is a longer route to Tammy's," Dorian said. "I want to make sure we don't have a tail."
Heading into the shadows created by the tall stands of trees that covered the Presidio, he put the car on automatic. While most forested regions weren't embedded for automatic navigation, this area was close enough to the city that it was a wild playground of sorts, hence the embedding, at least along the main route through it.
"Now," he said, sliding away the manual controls and turning to face her, his arm braced on the seat behind her, "tell me about your twin."
Amara's lips curled upward when Ming LeBon's face appeared on the large communications panel at the other end of the lab, a lab located somewhere in Death Valley - they'd moved her there after she'd told them she could find Ashaya, but only if she was in the same state. It was a lie, of course. One that got her closer to her twin. "Councilor. I trust your hunt was successful."
Ming looked at her with those too black eyes of his. Conversely, one side of his face was covered in a bright red birth-mark. Some problem with pigmentation, Amara thought, unconcerned. Very few things concerned Amara.
"No," Ming finally replied. "Your coordinates were incorrect."
"Truly?" Amara played innocent. "She was there."
"There were indications she might've been in the area. But the net was too wide."
"Ah." She smiled and spread her arms open, palms upturned. "I'll try to do better next time."
"I would rather you tell me how you're able to track her in the first place."
Raising a finger, she waved it in a chiding manner. "No, no, no. That would break the rules."
"Oh, no, Councilor." Amara laughed, and it was a premeditated act. "We both know I'm not quite right in the head." She took a cold delight in being deliberately offensive to his calculating Psy mind. "But it doesn't affect my intelligence so don't treat me like I have the IQ of one of the rehabilitated."
She knew the words were meaningless. He was humoring her because he thought she could hand him the implant that would allow him to control the entire Psy race. Perhaps he would share it with the other Councilors. Perhaps he wouldn't. It made no difference to Amara. "As to how I track Ashaya, I - " She broke off with a theatrical gasp. "Oops, I almost let the cat out of the bag. Naughty me."
Ming stared at her and she wondered if he expected her to break. However, when he spoke, it was nothing expected. "You and Ashaya are identical genetic specimens. You gestated in the same womb, were brought up in the same environment."
"Until you made me run away." She pouted. "Why did you have to go put a rehab order on me?"
"And yet," he continued, as if she hadn't spoken, "you are fundamentally flawed, while Ashaya - despite her unfortunate political bent - has always been the perfect Psy."
Amara wondered if Ming really was as blind as he appeared. Or had her twin managed to perfect her mask to that high a degree? Well, now, if that was true, then the game was going to be very, very interesting. Goody. "We are an enigma. Perhaps you'd care to study us before you eliminate us?"
"You speak of your death with ease."
"I'm no fool, Ming. The second I hand you the implant, I'm dead and so is Ashaya."
"Which gives you good reason to delay."
"True," she agreed with a careless shrug. "However, I find the thought of immortality quite... enticing. The implant will live on long after we're both wiped from existence."
"Then you're certain you can deliver?"
She raised an eyebrow, giggling inwardly at the secret only she and Ashaya knew. Ming would forget all about the implant if he realized there was something far better already in existence.
But that was their secret. Hers, Ashaya's... and Keenan's.
When he smiles, he could demand anything from me and I would give it to him. I've never felt more vulnerable in my life. This man, this leopard, he could break me.
- From the encrypted personal files of Ashaya Aleine
Ashaya took a deep breath. "My sister." She stared out at the eucalyptus trees that had been brought into the region in an ecologically ill-informed decision, and survived all attempts at eradication. When fire struck, they burned up in a blaze of sublime fury. "My sister is like these trees. Perfect to look at, brilliant in her design - her brain is flawless, her intellect staggering - but all it takes to crumble that perfection is a single match."
Dorian brushed her shoulder with his fingertips, and she found herself leaning toward him. Right then, she needed his strength, needed to know she wasn't alone. "She's not insane," Ashaya said. "On the surface, she appears to understand the difference between right and wrong. But... she doesn't, not really. She does things without thinking through the consequences, things an ordinary person would consider cruel."
Dorian's eyes turned flint hard without warning, his fingers stilling in their stroking reassurance. "She's the sociopath you've been protecting."
"Yes," she admitted, refusing to look away, refusing to apologize. "She's my twin." And the giver of the greatest gift in Ashaya's life. "It was the only possible decision."
"Not for a true Psy."
"I suppose both of us were born flawed, just in different ways." She waited to see what he would do, this predator who hated the Silent chill of her race with a blind rage that cut.