A slight nod.
"You're very good." Psy didn't truly understand art, but there was a store of data in her head that told her she'd learned how to value it. Because, to those of her race, anything that gained in value was a sound investment, whether or not the owner actually found the piece aesthetically pleasing.
Dev's eyes gleamed when she looked to him. "How do you know they're mine?"
"They echo with you." Even as she spoke, she wasn't sure what she meant. She just knew she'd sensed his fingerprint on each and every piece. The clarity, the focus, it rang with his personality. But that warmth. . . something had changed. "When did you take these?"
"A few years back."
She wondered what had happened in the ensuing time. Because while he'd laughed with her, she sensed a cool kind of distance in Dev, a feeling that he held everything behind multiple shields. But then again, she was the enemy. Why should he share anything of himself with her?
Dev tapped the photograph of the shell. "Ever been to the beach?"
Sand in her shoes, in her hair, in her clothes.
"Yes." Grabbing the memory with frantic hands, she held on. "Once, when I was a child. It was . . . an accident. Our vehicle had a malfunction and my father had to pull to a stop near the beach."
"You grew up with your father?"
"Yes." Again, fragments of memory, sharp, almost vicious, as if they were being rammed out through the cells of her very brain. "No. Both."
"Yes." She shook her head, searching through the scraps for the piece that would complete the puzzle. Pain resonated down her spine, but she found that last, broken fragment. "They had a joint-parenting agreement."
"Sometimes," Dev murmured, "I think the Psy have it right with their agreements." The expression on his face was strangely remote. "Leaves no room for human error."
"There's no room for anything." Her mind continued to withhold so much, but she remembered the sense of isolation she'd always felt, even as a child. "There are no emotional bonds. My father could as easily have been a stranger - to him, I was an investment, his genetic legacy."
"Yet you feel strongly about him - you mentioned him first."
That halted her. She blinked, looked into those eyes she'd begun to see in her dreams. "Yes. I suppose . . . but isn't that a paradox? I didn't feel in the Net. I was Silent."
"Or maybe," he murmured, reaching out to slide a strand of her hair behind her ear, the touch inciting a shocking burst of sensation along her nerves, "you were simply silenced."
EARTHTWO COMMAND LOG: SUNSHINE STATION
18 May 2080: The medical team is reporting a higher than average number of minor illnesses, with headaches being the main complaint. Tests to date have revealed that a small number of staff are suffering from recurring pinprick hemorrhages in the cerebral cortex.
Those affected are being regularly monitored, while a biomed team has been instructed to scan the area for any toxins that may be causing the problem.
However, no one has been disabled or seriously compromised as a result of these illnesses, and productivity remains high. There is no need for replacement personnel.
Dev's words - the impact of his touch - circled endlessly in Katya's head as he showed her upstairs and to her bedroom. That room proved lovely and airy, the sheets on the double bed a rich cream shot with rose. "It's perfect, thank you."
"Unfortunately, they don't open." He nodded at the two wide windows on the opposite side of the room. "The wood swelled last winter, and I haven't gotten around to replacing it. But you'll get plenty of fresh air if you leave your door open during the day."
Katya looked at that handsome face and saw a merciless conqueror, a warrior king whose sense of honor would never allow her to be mistreated. And yet . . . "It's a very comfortable prison." A low curl of anger unfurled in her stomach.
He didn't flinch, didn't pretend surprise. "What I said about why the windows don't work? Truth. But yeah, that's why you're getting this room and not one of the others."
"What do you expect me to do?" She waved at the endless spread of green and white beyond the glass. "We're in the middle of nowhere - I doubt I could find my way out if you gave me a map and a compass."
"But the car has a nav system," he said with quiet implacability. "It also has security features that tell me when someone's tried to start it without authorization."
Ice trickled down her spine, extinguishing the anger. "I'm a captive. It's my duty to escape."
"And go where?" A harsh question from the warrior, all traces of civilization stripped away. "You were dumped on my doorstep like trash."
She was the one who flinched. "That doesn't mean I'm not wanted by someone. My father, for one."
"Never lose an investment?" The razor of his words sliced over her flesh, slitting her open.
"Yes," she whispered, wanting to believe that the cold man who'd raised her, with a woman as cold, cared whether she lived or died. "He'll help me."
"Against the Council?"
No, she thought. Her father was no rebel. He'd brought her up to be a good Council soldier. But she'd chosen her own path - and in that truth, she had found her strength. "I'll help myself."
Dev shook his head, sunlight gleaming off the black of his hair, highlighting the hidden strands of bronze. "You can't even stand for ten minutes without your legs getting shaky."
It angered her, his sheer disregard for her abilities. She was - a blank. No one. She was no one. But she would become someone, she vowed, looking into that arrogant face. Devraj Santos was going to eat his words.