Dev was waiting for Katya on the psychic plane when she opened the mental doorway of her mind and took the first step out into the shimmering chaos of a network of thousands of minds, millions of emotional connections. He felt her shock, but she held on to their bond and stayed in place, looking, learning.
"It's . . ." He felt her wonder, her terror.
"You get used to it."
"You do?" A laughing question. "Dear God, Dev. How do you navigate this?"
"Follow the threads."
"But I only have one to you."
"You can bounce off the threads of others," he explained. "As long as you don't actually try to hook into an emotional line without permission, no one minds if you use the threads as navigation points."
"And this," she said with a deep breath, "is definitely a place that requires navigation."
"You're wrong, you know," Dev said, nudging her attention sideways. "You have got other threads."
"But I don't know anyone else in here." She touched the thread. "It's your grandmother!"
He felt her follow the thread, knew when she'd reached the end. "I see her, but I also see . . . your grandfather?"
"Yes, you have a link to him through her. As you have a link to thousands through me."
He could see her thinking that over. "When I form more connections, you'll be able to access them, too?"
"On a certain level," he said. "It depends on my own emotional bond with the individual. Look."
She followed his finger to a sparkling silver-blue thread that glittered diamond bright. "Who is that and why am I linked to her?" Curious as a child, she touched her psychic hand to the silver-blue thread. "Tiara." He saw her smile on the physical plane. "She likes me enough that this link's formed."
"She's always been a lunatic."
"I think she has excellent taste." She played her fingers over the thread. "It's very fine."
"You've just begun a friendship. If you grow apart instead of together, the thread will fade, too."
"I guess," she murmured, "lovers in the ShadowNet always know where they stand."
"If both are psychic," he pointed out. "If a Forgotten forms an intimate bond with a human, that human is pulled nominally into the net. We can see the mind, but it's automatically shielded - we think the ShadowNet does that because otherwise humans would be too vulnerable. But it has the side effect of blocking their access to the network." A sound of frustration. "We never even considered that it would be otherwise with Psy, that the ShadowNet would recognize you as different."
"You had no reason to think that," she said, calming him. "The ShadowNet's acceptance of me is a gift - but it's only an answer to those who love."
"Those who dare to love."
"Yes." Another pause as she scanned the multitude of intertwined and entangled threads around them. "This network is very, very complex."
He smiled. "That's my Psy."
A playful mental slap came down the line as she began to figure out how things functioned. "It's open, that's what the difference is. Your ShadowNet is open to outside connections and influences - even shielded, those human minds bring something to the network."
He took time to consider it. "Yes, I think you're right."
"But that also means," she pointed out, "this network can't retain information with the same efficiency as the PsyNet. Or can you still find data in this chaos?"
"Not without searching a whole heck of a lot. Easier to use computers." He laughed at her expression on the physical plane. "It can be useful in that way sometimes, but mostly, the ShadowNet is about feeding our psychic need for connection, for family."
"What about the biofeedback?" she asked, worry a jagged thread in her emotional signature. "I'm taking so much. If your network leaks energy - "
"It doesn't matter. Look around. We're overloading with it."
"You are, aren't you?" she murmured. "It's because you feed things back to each other, somehow increasing the output. Love goes out, love comes back, and the energy grows with each exchange . . ." Another pause. "Dev, the psychic pathways are different. It's as if my mind is slightly out of sync."
He knew that, had hoped she'd be able to navigate them. "Can you move along them?"
"Not easily or instinctively, but yes." Almost a minute of silence. "Actually, I think I'll enjoy the intellectual challenge. There's so much to explore."
In spite of her intrigued comments, he could feel her beginning to overload with the intensity of the emotions in the ShadowNet. Making a command decision, he bullied her back down to the physical plane.
"I wasn't finished," she almost growled at him.
He held her close. "You're exhausted."
"It was just so much input." She snuggled into him, tugging up his shirt to touch skin that tightened at the first brush of her fingertips. "The PsyNet is full of pure data - there are uncountable pieces flowing past every split second."
The Shine director in Dev could see the appeal. "You'd be able to know what was happening every minute of every day." That, he had to admit, would be highly useful.
"Yes. But it's cold. Data is always cold - it just exists. But the ShadowNet - each thread tells a story and each carries a different emotional flavor. I want to touch every one, know every one!"
"That, my beautiful Psy rebel," he said, speaking against the lush fullness of her lips, "will take at least a million years."