Lucas didn't say anything, but she knew what he was thinking - there wasn't any way out that would leave all parties without scars.
Dorian is in my blood, in my very veins. Never in all my lectures on "sexual biology" and "animal behavior" did anyone tell me of this incandescent joy. When I lie with him, there's pleasure, incredible pleasure - my cat knows how to drive a woman to insanity. But there's more, this indefinable, near-painful happiness. I don't know what to call it, how to describe it. I just know that I would die for him.
- From the encrypted personal files of Ashaya Aleine
Psy Councilor Anthony Kyriakus had been part of the rebellion for longer than most people had known it even existed. But now Ashaya Aleine had taken it public.
He could understand her actions - a life in hiding was nothing he'd choose for his own child either. He glanced reflexively at the holo-image he kept in a highly secure file in his computer: Faith, laughing. He could almost hear the sound. His daughter had grown into a beautiful, gifted woman. Anthony, too, had broken rules for his child. He'd let Faith know that she mattered. As her sister had mattered. As her brother mattered.
However, the goalposts had shifted again. He was a Councilor now, under intense scrutiny from every quarter. His contact with Faith wouldn't have to cease, but he'd have to be very, very careful. As he would have to be with this new contact. He touched the screen, pulling up the untraceable e-mail that had come in a week ago.
It was signed by the Ghost, the most notorious rebel in the Net.
Anthony wanted very much to know how and where the Ghost got his information. Only a select few knew Anthony's true loyalties. And no one in his tight circle would've betrayed him. Zie Zen had never even told Ashaya.
But the Ghost had a way of unearthing secrets - in this, the other rebel could prove an invaluable asset. Anthony didn't agree with everything the Ghost had done, but their basic vision aligned. Still, he hadn't risen to the Council by being stupid. This would be a very slow and careful process.
As he closed the message, he recalled the conversation he'd had with Zie Zen yesterday - they'd agreed that Ashaya needed to make a follow-up broadcast. Otherwise, she'd lose all the support she'd gained to date. And, since the Council had decided to focus on damage control rather than disruption, her message would get out far easier this time.
But, he thought, snapping upright, it would also leave Council resources free to trace any broadcast back to the originating location. When added to the fact that all his fellow Councilors knew Ashaya was in the greater San Francisco area... "It could be done." He picked up the secure line immediately and put through a call to his daughter. "Faith, you have to warn Ashaya," he said as soon as she answered. "Ming will be waiting to trace back any new broadcast signal. He could recapture - "
"It's too late," Faith whispered, her voice echoing the way it sometimes did in the midst of a vision. "There's blood, so much blood. Oh, my God, Dorian! Dorian!"
Dorian knew he'd made a fatal mistake the second he saw Ashaya walk out in front of the camera and begin to speak. She was bathed in light, the area around her in shadow. The perfect target.
Perhaps it was simply a leopard sentinel's honed instincts that had him moving before anyone else even realized what was happening... or perhaps he'd received a message he couldn't consciously hear, a scream from a cardinal F-Psy connected to him through the Web of Stars. It didn't matter why he did what he did. It just mattered that when the Tk-Psy blinked into place before Ashaya and fired the gun, it was Dorian who took the hit... straight through his carotid artery.
Ashaya screamed as she slammed to the ground, carried there by Dorian's momentum as he pushed her out of the way. But it wasn't physical hurt that had her screaming. She could feel Dorian's life slipping away, the fledgling bond that tied her to him retreating at the speed of light. "No, no, no."
Twisting out from under his unconscious body and into a sitting position, she cradled his head in her lap and tore off her jacket, using it in a futile attempt to stanch the bleeding. Blood soaked through the wadded material to drench her fingers. She knew what that meant - the wound was fatal. "No." A steely denial that hid her shattered heart. Forgetting about shields, about protection, she opened her psychic eye and searched for the bond she could feel sliding out into nowhere.
He was hers. He couldn't leave her.
But she couldn't find the bond, couldn't use it to hold him to her. It was still invisible, still piggybacking on her emotions for this man who lay dying in her lap. She felt hands on her shoulders, a familiar female voice telling her the paramedics were on their way. Shut up, she thought, just shut up.
In the chaos, a moment of silence inside her mind, of clarity.
She couldn't see the bond because she was locked into the PsyNet.
She didn't know how to cut that link, but she continued to feel the pull of the mating bond. So she gave in to it. A choice made in an instant. A choice she'd made the first time she'd heard his voice.
The bond spiraled through her like wild lightning, ripping her from the PsyNet with such fury that she felt fine blood vessels burst behind her eyelids. As her mind screamed, she was aware of Amara screaming with her, struggling to follow. Ashaya held out a psychic hand.
She had been born first. Amara was her responsibility.
Amara grabbed that hand and left the Net with the same violence, falling into unconsciousness an instant later. Ashaya refused to go into the void with her sister. Shoving away her own pain as unimportant, she searched for and found the new bond that had snapped into place with such raw force. It was dying, fading in front of her.