Two steps later, terror silvered into her mind, into her very heart. "Dev." A husky plea to a man who seemed to have frozen his own heart with the dawn.
He took her hand, the heat of him soaking into her skin, through her blood, into her very cells. The terror remained, but she understood it now. It was an implanted fear, designed to stop her from reaching the end of this road. Her mind felt as if it was awash in blood by the time she completed the task, but she didn't stop.
And there it was, buried so deep that it was as much a part of her as her heartbeat - her link to the PsyNet, to the biofeedback that kept her Psy brain from dying. She looked at the solid column of light, brilliant and beautiful, and understood that it offered no means of escape. The link jacked her directly into the fabric of the Net itself, but it was no tunnel. No, this was the most solid of conduits, its only purpose to keep her alive. To get out, to actually surf the Net, she'd have to find a doorway.
She'd tried to do that once before, but then she'd been physically weak, her mind in chaos. It was possible she'd missed something. Today, she took every step with slow deliberation. . . and she found it. The psychic doorway was hidden behind several layers of barbed wire. Swallowing, she thrust her hands through the viciousness of the coils and cracked it open the barest millimeter.
Not the black of the Net, but the black of a shield. She knew the shield had been created by her torturer, that it linked back to him on some level. But . . . "It's not mind control," she said out loud. "It's not an open link. That would take too much energy." So he'd immured her in her mind, given her instructions, and set her free. "He doesn't know what I know, doesn't see what I see." The fist around her heart fell open.
"You're probably programmed to contact him if you discover something important." Dev's tone was flat as he came to a stop in a small clearing pierced by a ray of sunlight. "Could be as simple as a phone call."
Closing the psychic door, she backed down the path and returned completely to the world. It was an effort to keep her feet on the glittering white of the snow, to tell herself she wasn't truly bleeding. "I don't think I was ever meant to come out of this alive."
The tendons of Dev's jaw pulled white over bone. "What did you see?"
"The roots of his control, they're buried deep. I can't see a way to pull them out - even if I could figure out how - without killing myself in the process."
"He must have the psychic key to unlock it safely."
"Not like he's going to give it to me." She slid her hands into the pockets of her coat, chilled to her very soul. "So since I'm dead either way, do you know what I want to do?"
Dev simply watched her with those amazing, amber-flecked eyes.
"I want to follow the only thing I have left - my gut."
"What's it telling you to do?"
She met his gaze, hoping for understanding, for freedom. "To go north."
But it was ice that met her. Cold, blank . . . metallic.
Dev had every intention of continuing their conversation, but returned home to find a situation in progress. "We'll talk about this later," he told Katya.
"There's not much to talk about. Will you let me go?"
"You know the answer."
"Say it." Her body trembled, her hands fisted at her sides.
Angry at her for demanding something he could never give her, he answered with a curt "No."
Still feeling the impact of her flinch several minutes later, he switched the clear screen of his computer to comm mode, dialing through to Aubry. "Maggie says we've got an uprising in progress."
The other man nodded, face grim. "It's the young ones, twenty-year-olds who think they know everything there is to know."
"Are they with Jack?" His cousin stood on the opposite side of the fence to Dev on the most critical issue facing their people, but he'd never gone behind Dev's back before.
Aubry shook his head. "Looks like some kind of 'radical' college group. Snot-nosed punks aren't as radical as they think."
"Give me the short version."
"They think, and I quote, that 'there's no need for their families to be tied to Shine.' According to Beck, the pretty-boy academic leading the charge, we're an 'anachronism' that serves no purpose in today's society." A snort. "I think it's time we showed them the f**king reality - those tortured kids last - "
"No." Rage infused Dev's blood at the reminder of the children Shine had lost to the Council's coolly logical evil, children who'd been murdered simply for being who they were.
Aubry's scowl was pure thunder. "Why the hell not?"
"I won't use those children again." It was a line he'd drawn in the sand. He'd had to use them once, to save the ones who were still alive. It had scarred him. One more time and he'd be so far on the wrong side of the line there would be no redemption for him.
"Yeah, okay." Aubry rubbed a hand over his face, having had the nightmare branded into his memories, too. "What do we do with Beck's group, then?"
"Give them what they want. Take them off the Shine register, let them know we no longer expect them to come to our assistance if called." Those with money contributed to the coffers, but the basic requirement was for service.
"Dev." Aubry looked troubled. "They're just stupid kids - they don't know how much we do, how badly they might need us in the future. What about their own children? Some of the recessive genes can express out of nowhere."
"I know. But we can't afford to baby them." It was a ruthless decision, but he had to focus on the ones he could help, could save. "They're old enough - if they want out, give them out."