"Tally said you shut down the recruitment process last time." Dorian looked over, his eyes a brilliant blue even more vivid against his distinctive white-blond hair. "You going to do that this time, too?"
"They need a mole to find those kids," Dev said, his tone flat. "And the mole is dead."
Ashaya blinked, glancing from him to Dorian, but didn't say a word. Her mate nodded. "Good."
Dev used his palm print to scan them in through a security door. "I can't justify shutting down the program again so soon without solid proof of trouble - we spend so much time and effort on finding descendants of the original rebels for a reason. There are kids out there going insane because they think they're human."
After a hundred years of Silence, of the Psy remaining locked within their own culture, no one bothered to test for psychic abilities. No one realized that some of those crazy kids actually were hearing voices in their heads. Some were latent telepaths whose gifts had broken through during puberty. Some were weak empaths, overwhelmed by the emotions of others. And some. . . some were secret treasures, gifts rising up out of a century of genetic drift.
Seeing Glen exiting a room, he waved the doctor down. The other man hurried over, dark circles under his eyes.
Dev took in his friend's wrinkled clothes, the way his ginger hair stuck up in untidy tufts. "I thought you were off shift."
Glen thrust a hand through his hair, further electrifying the strands. "I wanted to be here in case our guest woke. Caught some sleep in the break room."
Introductions took only a couple of seconds, and then they were walking into Ekaterina's room. To Dev's surprise, she was awake and sitting up, sipping something out of a small cup. He glanced at Glen.
"Just ten minutes ago," the doctor murmured.
Ekaterina looked straight at Dev, her eyes skating off Ashaya as if her former colleague didn't exist. "The cobwebs are starting to part." Her voice was husky, as if it hadn't been used for a long time. . . or as if it had been broken in the most brutal way.
Walking to her side, Dev took the cup she held out, caught by the shadows that swirled in the green-gold depths of her eyes. "How much do you remember?"
She swallowed but didn't break eye contact. "I don't know who I am." It was a plea, though her voice didn't shake, her eyes didn't glisten. Yet Dev heard the scream - a thin, piercing cry that stabbed him right in the heart.
Part of him, a small, barely salvageable part, wanted to offer comfort, but this woman, simply by existing, was a danger to his people. She was Psy. And Psy connected to the Net could not be trusted. No matter that she acted more human than her brethren, he had to treat her as a weapon, carrying within her the seeds of Shine's destruction. And if she proved to be that, he'd have to make the most lethal of decisions . . . even if it killed the last bit of humanity left in him.
"Ekaterina." Ashaya's voice, gentle, coaxing.
The woman on the bed blinked, shook her head. "No."
"That's your name," Dev said, refusing to let her look away.
Those changeable hazel eyes flickered and went out, a flame dying. "Ekaterina's dead," she said with absolute calm. "Everything is dead. There's nothing lef - " Her teeth snapped together as her body convulsed with vicious strength.
"Glen!" Catching her before she twisted off the bed, Dev tried to keep her from hurting herself, her bones startlingly fragile under his hands.
She kept her lips closed.
No. No. No.
He didn't tire, didn't stop, didn't shove into her mind. The horror of waiting for the pain, the terror, was somehow worse than the violation itself.
She held on to her sanity through the first days, the first weeks.
But still he wouldn't relent.
Her tongue felt so thick, so dry. Her stomach hurt. But she held on.
It took three months, but she did. She said it.
"Ekaterina is dead."
"She's unconscious." Glen shined a light into Ekaterina's eyes as she lay slumped on the pillows. "Could be the residue of the drugs in her system, but I think the trigger was her name - some kind of a psychic grenade."
"More likely a combination," Ashaya said, then reeled off the chemical compounds of the sleeping pills Glen had noted on the chart. "Some of these agents cause memory loss in Psy."
The doctor's eyes brightened at having found a colleague. "Yes. There's a possibility some of the drugs were used sparingly in conjunction with other methods to psychologically break her."
Dev stared down at Ekaterina Haas's scratched and bruised face, wondering what she'd given up to come out of the torture alive. . . what she'd let her captors put in her. His hands fisted inside the pockets of his pants - whatever bargain she'd made, it hadn't saved her. "What you said when you first arrived," he murmured to Dorian while the doctor and Ashaya were distracted, "it can't happen."
"Shaya wants her close." Dorian folded his arms, eyes on his mate. "It devastated her when she thought Ekaterina died."
"Whatever happened to her," Dev said, unable to take his own eyes off the thin figure in the bed, "whatever was done to her, she's not the woman your mate knew. We're far more capable of monitoring her."
"And if she proves a threat?"
Dev met the other man's gaze. "You know the answer to that." Dorian was a DarkRiver sentinel. And the leopard pack hadn't reached its current status as one of the most dominant changeling groups in the country by being weak . . . or easily forgiving.