"It wasn't actually a virus. Do you know anything about prions?"
"I've heard that somewhere." He frowned, thinking. "Mad cow disease?"
"Bovine spongiform encephalopathy," Ashaya said. "Prions are responsible for that as well as transmissible spongiform encephalopathies in humans. They're the most deadly infectious agents in the world because no cure has ever been discovered. The only reason TSEs haven't wiped us out is that they're extremely hard to catch."
"Hell." But he could see the logic of it, as Amara must've seen it. "Aren't prions proteins?" At her nod, he blew out a breath. "Easy stuff for her to work with." Ashaya and Amara could both see proteins without the need for a microscope.
"By the time I found out what she was doing," Ashaya said, her crisp scientist's voice beginning to grow ragged at the edges, "she simply wouldn't be stopped. The science, you see - it was brilliant, cutting-edge science." She seemed to be waiting for a response.
He shot her a dark look. "I'm not going to blame you for what she did. Go on."
"I heard Tammy say you could be charming. I haven't seen any proof yet."
Oh, his cat liked that. "I thought I was very charming when I petted you into orgasm." He shot her a look filled with sexual heat. "I plan to do more of that - right after I teach you about keeping secrets."
Her eyes narrowed, and color rode high on her cheeks, but the byplay seemed to have given her the will to go on. "I switched to damage control when I couldn't stop her - I pointed out that by killing everyone, she'd negate the reason for Omega in the first place. That's when she realized she'd need to work out a way to ensure the disease lay dormant until necessary. Once activated, there would have to be a means to either reverse it or slow it down. I was happy for her to work on that - to have a cure for prion diseases would be a good thing, but it's also such a difficult task that the answer's eluded scientists for over a century."
"You thought it would keep her occupied."
"Yes. But" - her next words were shredded with a violent mix of rage and pain - "I didn't know enough about prions then. They're notoriously difficult to culture."
Dorian didn't need her to explain the rest. "So she created a living petri dish." He imagined that was how Amara must've thought of it. To use a child in that way - it was a concept utterly abhorrent to his nature. And yet Amara was Keenan's mother. That was something that couldn't be ignored in any decision they made. Neither could his duty to DarkRiver. "Is he infectious?"
Amara threw the glass beaker against the wall and watched the liquid dribble down the white surface without seeing anything.
She glanced at Keishon Talbot, her assistant, and probable spy for Ming LeBon. "Get out before I kill you."
The other woman left without a word.
Amara threw another beaker, her mind chaotic. Ashaya had done something. The link between them, the one that nothing could break, it was getting weaker. It had always shifted in strength - from background noise to a pure telepathic bond when they both focused. But it was always there, easy to pick up from either end.
Something was interfering with the transmission - Amara didn't know how that was even possible. She considered all the parameters and came to the logical conclusion: he was the cause. The intruder. He had to be destroyed.
Calm descended with the decision.
She stepped over the broken glass on the floor and headed outside - though the psychic link between her and Ashaya was erratic, it was enough to lead Amara to her twin. The guards would try to stop her, of course. But they thought of her as a polite, controlled M-Psy, like Ashaya. Of course, Ashaya had never actually been controlled, either, but that was their secret.
She picked up several loaded pressure injectors as she walked.
Clay lets you get away with far too much, Ms. Smart-Ass. My mate is going to adore me so much, she'll do everything I say.
- Dorian Christensen in a text message to Talin McKade, six weeks ago
Is he infectious?
"I won't let anyone touch him," Dorian promised Ashaya, "and the pack will stand by you." As he'd stood by their mates and children. "But we need to know."
"To catch it from him," Ashaya said, her voice thick, "you'd have to cut him open and ingest sections of his brain tissue. Amara got that idea from an obscure New Guinean prion disease called kuru. She tinkered with the protein until ingestion was the only method of transmission - she didn't want anyone to be able to steal her research."
Unable to put the car on automatic, he reached out and tangled the fingers of one hand with hers. "Is he terminal?"
"No." To his amazement, her face lit up. "Keenan is absolutely, utterly healthy and he'll stay that way. I don't know what Amara did to him in the test tube, but Dorian, he's a miracle... he has antibodies in his blood."
He wasn't a scientist. It took him a second. "He holds the answer to a cure for all prion diseases." Hard on the heels of that joyful realization came another, darker one. "He's also the key the Council needs to unleash Omega." It was a truth they could never be allowed to discover.
Ashaya nodded. "Amara has no idea about the antibodies - I sabotaged her tests. But no matter what, I knew it would come down to her or him." Her eyes met his and in them he saw a heartbreaking decision, the bloody protectiveness of a mother winning out over the ties of a bond formed before birth. "Age five was the point at which she planned to dissect his brain."