Then she saw the determination in his eyes and knew she had to speak. "I think it was a response to a trigger of some kind. The words I said. . . there was something in them that my brain couldn't process, so it shut down for a few seconds to allow me to reboot."
Dev's expression changed, becoming almost ascetic in the stark purity of its focus. "It's coming back to you, isn't it?"
"Things come out of my mouth," she told him, her gaze locked to his, "and then I know them." It made sense to her, but she could see he wasn't convinced. "I'm not misleading you on purpose." It was so important that he believe her, that he know her, though he was all but a stranger.
But Devraj Santos wasn't a man who'd ever give her an easy answer.
Now, his lashes came down to hood his eyes for a second before he said, "I guess we'll find out soon enough." Getting up, he motioned her out of the car. "We might as well take a break so you can eat a bite."
She stared at the mall, at the mass of people, and felt herself shrinking back. "I'd rather stay here."
Dev's gaze rested on her for a long moment. She knew he hadn't missed her retreat when he said, "I'll bring you something." Closing her door, he walked around to the driver's side and pressed something on the dash. "Wouldn't want you taking off with my car." A piercing glance.
It was difficult to keep her face expressionless, her frustration contained. "If I wanted to, I could simply walk away."
"You're too weak to go far." A highly pragmatic answer. "And, I'm not taking that chance." The doors locked around her as he stepped back, activating the car's antitheft systems with what she guessed was some kind of a remote.
Katya waited only until his back was turned before trying to restart the car. She had to get there, had to see, had to bear witness.
It was a drumbeat in her head, that strange compulsion, but she didn't know where she had to go, didn't know who or what she had to find. All she knew was that if she managed to get free, she had to keep going, keep running until she ended up there.
But first, she had to escape.
Looking up, she saw Dev's tall form disappear into the mall - just as she located the panel that concealed the car's computronic safeguards.
PETROKOV FAMILY ARCHIVES
Letter dated February 24, 1971
My sweet Matthew,
Debate is raging across the Net. I can't set foot in the slip-stream without getting caught up in it. There's a sense of disbelief at this proposal, this Silence the Council is calling "our best, perhaps our only, hope."
Maybe my fears were for naught. It appears that no matter the demons that savage us, in the end, we're far too human to do such irreparable harm to our young. For that mercy, I thank God with everything in me.
Katya broke several nails but the panel wouldn't shift. It took her ten precious seconds to realize it had been locked in place by a second layer of security. Frustrated, she moved on, trying things she hadn't even known she knew until her brain put her fingers into motion.
All for naught.
The car's systems were as impregnable as a tank's. Giving up when it became obvious she was wasting her energy, she slid back into her seat and pressed two fingers to her forehead in an attempt to follow the thread of the compulsion, find out if her need to go there. . . go north - yes, north! - was nothing but another booby trap.
At first, there was only the sticky blankness of the cobweb, a prison that trapped her hands, muted her mouth. But then, she found herself standing in a quiet, hidden part of her psyche, a part protected by the phoenix's wings. That part whispered that this need, this urge, came from within herself. Yet how could she trust that it did when her mind was a cracked and fractured thing, full of holes and lies, illusions and nightmares? What if the phoenix she'd glimpsed was only a madness-induced fantasy, something she'd clung to when all else was taken from her?
A click of sound.
She snapped up her head to see the driver's-side door sliding back. Dev got in, his tall, muscular body taking up what felt like every inch of spare space. "Here."
Accepting the take-out drink container he held out, she frowned. "This is heavy for juice."
"Milk shake," he said, unscrewing the lid on a bottle of water and putting a spare bottle in the holder between them. "That's for you, too."
"Thank you." The cold of the milk shake seeped through the insulated container, a small thing, but she luxuriated in it, in the reminder that she was no longer in the dark.
"I made a call while I was in there," Dev said, surprising her. "The panther? It's a real memory."
"Oh." A slow bloom of hope unfurled. "Are you certain?"
A quick nod that sent his hair sliding across his forehead, drawing her eye. Pushing it back, he looked at the container she held. "Drink."
Aware she'd likely never tasted such a thing before, she took a cautious sip. Nothing came up. "The straw's defective."
Dev shot her a quick grin. It altered his face, turning him strikingly beautiful. But that wasn't the odd part. The odd part was that seeing him smile made her heart change its rhythm. She lifted her hand a fraction, compelled to trace the curve of his lips, the crease in his cheek. Would he let her, she thought, this man who moved with the liquid grace of a soldier. . . or a beast of prey?
"Did I say milk shake?" he said, withheld laughter in his voice. "I meant ice cream smoothie - with enough fresh fruit blended into it to turn it solid." Glancing at her when she didn't move, he raised an eyebrow.
She felt a wave of heat across her face, and the sensation was so strange, it broke through her fascination. Looking down, she took off the lid after removing the straw and stared at the swirls of pink and white that dominated the delicious-smelling concoction. Intrigued, she poked at it with the tip of her straw. "I can see pieces of strawberry, and what's that?" She looked more closely at the pink-coated black seeds. "Passion fruit?"