“There is no second manuscript,” the Ghost said, walking to stand beside him, “but you have no need of it. I’ve brought you Alice Eldridge.”
HAWKE had made Sienna promise to stay in place when he left to get supplies. She’d broken that promise. But since he’d found her again before he got too grumpy and hungry, he didn’t snarl as he said, “Put up the tent,” and rolled the compact package to where she lay flat on her back, staring at the soft gray of the evening sky. “It’s your punishment.”
Clearly exhausted, she glared at him. “Do you never run out of energy?”
He pushed up the sleeves of his sweatshirt. “I’m alpha. Right now, I’m a hungry alpha who wants to take a bite out of you for making me run the extra miles. Put up the tent.”
She sat up but didn’t touch the tent. “Go bite yourself.”
So, she was feeling pissy. That was fine with him. He liked it much better than the defeated pain he sensed had come close to breaking her earlier today. “Actually, I’d prefer to use my teeth on softer flesh.” He was reaching out to snag her when flames erupted along her back, in her hair. “Sienna!”
She slapped up her hands. “I’m fine, I’m fine. Don’t touch.”
It was sheer hell to obey the order. He hauled her into his arms the instant the lick of red and yellow disappeared. “How bad?” he asked, seeing the pain at the corners of her eyes, knowing of the second layer of dissonance now.
“Bad. But not the dissonance. As soon as the power builds to a certain level, the dissonance either disengages or somehow short-circuits.” Her throat moved as she swallowed. “And it’s building faster and faster—I earthed after you left.”
He felt a lingering sense of ice—cold enough to burn—against his palm as he ran it over the silk of her hair. “Sienna, can the X-fire burn you?” His wolf wasn’t pacing anymore, its focus, the same focus that had helped a fifteen-year-old boy hold together a shattered pack, acute.
“That’s how Xs usually die, and if it reaches that point, then there’s no predicting how far the resulting explosion will spread.” Her smile was tight, painful. “It’s why we’re considered the most perfect weapon on the planet. An X can ‘scorch the earth,’ eradicating all that came before, but the damage to the environment is minimal. Much like after a real fire, the earth bounces back stronger and healthier—and the aggressors have a clean slate on which to build their own empire.”
He saw through the rational speech. “What aren’t you saying?”
“Ming had a theory—that if I could somehow purge my power on a level I can’t achieve with the earthing, I could initiate a restricted burst from the nascent buildup that would consume only me.” Her eyes met his. “If the flames ever turn blue . . . it means he was right. Promise me that you won’t come near me if that happens.”
“Come on,” he said instead of giving her a promise he knew he wouldn’t be able to keep. “Change of location.”
“Where are we going?” She grabbed the tent.
“Nearer a lake I know of up here. If all else fails, I’m throwing you in there.”
“I don’t know if that’ll work—X-fire isn’t like normal fire.”
“Better than turning into a human torch, don’t you think?” Turning, he went to touch his fingers to her jaw, felt his heart stop when she met his gaze.
Her eyes, those startling cardinal eyes, were drowning in shimmering, lethal gold kissed with crimson, and in them, he saw time running out at an inexorable pace.
JUDD didn’t know who was more surprised, him or Lara, when he teleported into the infirmary with Alice Eldridge’s frail body in his arms. But she threw off the shock to run to him at once, grabbing a scanner off a counter as she did so. “What do I need to know?” she asked as he placed the scientist’s na**d form on the nearest bed.
“Cryonic suspension,” he said, head still ringing in disbelief.
“Impossible.” Lara put down the scanner, picked up a pressure injector, and pressed it to Alice’s neck. “No one has ever been brought back from suspension with their mind intact. Even the Psy made it illegal over a half century ago.”
“She was suspended before that, when the experimentation was at its peak.” It had been a time of chaos and change when Alice Eldridge had been taken—probably on the orders of a schemer in the Council superstructure who’d had some vague idea of waking her up later when things had calmed down and she could be properly debriefed.
But no one had ever come to wake her, her existence submerged by the wave of Silence that had swept across the Net. Perhaps the architect of her abduction had been killed, perhaps he’d simply forgotten her, but whatever the cause, the result was that Alice had slept undisturbed for over a hundred years in a small facility deep in the Balkans. A facility that ran on solar power, but that had had no gatekeepers or personnel for decades, was listed as a storage warehouse. One so small and unimportant that it was continually pushed down the list when it came time for inspections and renovations.
Judd had asked the Ghost how he’d found it.
The other man had looked at him with those eyes that held nothing of humanity. “I found it because I go where no one goes. There are places in the Net that belong only to me.”
Now, Judd shook off his tiredness over the dual teleport and told Lara everything he knew. “She was found in an experimental chamber created by a scientist who was considered to be on the verge of unlocking the secret of cryonics.”