Authors: K.M. Ruiz
For Kelly Weingart, because you've always been a brilliant friend. This one is for you.
Just a few thank-yous to everyone who helped me through this process. First and always, I have to thank my mom and dad, who never doubted me. This wouldn't be possible without my patient, awesome, wonderful agent, Jason Yarn. He's a godsend and this book is so much better because of him. My editor, Brendan Deneen, for telling me not to freak out (confession: I still freaked out), and his spot-on guidance.
To all my friends and family who've cheered me on this journey, especially Trudy North for her wonderful help and sharp eyes. A special, wholehearted thanks goes out to my best friend, Kelly Weingart. I promised her this story for years and I swore one day I would deliver. Kelly? I have delivered. And to all the readers who stuck with me. Thank you.
: Institute of Psionics Research
: Dr. Amy Bennett
She is young, only a child, bent over the table and coloring furiously. The wires attached to her hands, arms, back, and head shake with the motion. The crayon she is rubbing down to nothing is red, the black one tossed away. The paper she is using is covered with a shapeless picture. It's the only color in the white room, save for the yellow dress she wears.
The doctor sits across from her and touches a finger to the waxy residue on the large drawing paper. “Is this how you see the world?”
“This is how the world is now,” Aisling says, pushing a trailing wire out of the way.
“You could change that,” the doctor says. Her hand beneath the table is shaking. “You could tell us how to stop the wars.”
“No, I can't.”
“You are being a very selfish little girl, Aisling.”
The girl looks up, her bleached-out violet eyes wide and unblinking as the EEG and supporting machines she is connected to whine shrilly behind her. “Am I in trouble?”
“Not if you help us. Not if you save us.”
When Aisling speaks, she sounds mournful. “I can't do that.”
They flew east into Bellsund, the arctic waters below mostly free of ice floes. The group of shuttles descended into the Van Mijenfjord beneath the government's security grid, light from the midnight sun shining down on their wings. They stayed locked in tight formation, all nine following a route uploaded on another continent. The whine of the engines echoed eerily across the vast emptiness of the island they were approaching.
The Van Mijenfjord began to narrow after the first forty or so kilometers, the lack of airspace noticeable, but not dangerous. Skimming above the still arctic waters between ragged shorelines, the shuttles sped toward their destination.
Sveagruva was a mining settlement abandoned long ago, located some distance from the head of the Van Mijenfjord. A dilapidated airfield sat at its edge, where the nine shuttles finally came to ground, landing gear sliding dangerously on uneven terrain. Less than half a kilometer away were the remnants of Sveagruva, the dormitories and the supply center long since iced over and eaten away by the elements.
The shuttles switched to standby mode, only their environmental systems running at full. Inside Alpha shuttle, the pilot leaned back in her seat and looked at her navigator.
“Well?” Matron asked. “Now what?”
Lucas Serca didn't answer. He stared out the forward windshield, dark blue eyes red from burst capillaries. Bruises pressed beneath his eyes and dried blood clung to the skin of his face, his ears, his neck. As a Class I triad psion, Lucas possessed one of the most powerful minds born in this generation, and it was killing him.
“We need a day,” Lucas finally said, glancing at the leader of the scavengers. “Can the shuttles' stealth systems handle that?”
Matron pressed her lips together, brow furrowing. The exhaustion on her dark face was impossible to miss. “They got us here, so they should be good for it. Let me check with Novak, since he was the only one jacked into the system.”
Lucas levered himself out of the seat, his lean frame rigid with pain. “You do that.”
He stumbled back into the cargo bay. It was warmer in the main guts of the shuttle than on the flight deck. Lucas leaned his back against the cool metal of the hatch, letting it hold him up as he surveyed their passengers.
Threnody Corwin, a Class III electrokinetic, was pale-faced and sitting up, a vast improvement from the beginning of this trip, when she couldn't even breathe on her own. Wrapped in several thermal blankets, the former Stryker was carefully peeling off blackened skin from one hand, revealing healed pink flesh beneath the damage. She was still hooked up to an IV and trauma kit, her blue eyes glassy, but she no longer looked mostly dead.
Sitting beside her, one hand gently pressed to the back of her neck, was Jason Garret. The only Class 0 microtelekinetic in existence wasn't looking at either of them. Jason's attention was focused on where his partner, Kerr MacDougal, sat slouched in a seat against the bulkhead beside Quinton Martinez. Both men were unconscious with exhaustion. The IVs hooked to their arms were almost empty and would need to be replaced soon.
“Should you be moving?” Lucas asked.
“Felt the landing,” Threnody rasped. “Jason took off my restraints.”
“She's doing better than she was even an hour ago,” Jason said. “Though she still has a long way to go.”
Lucas studied Jason. The microtelekinetic looked better than the rest of them, but that didn't mean he wasn't in pain. Jason's power now let him work on the subatomic level, let him manipulate DNA in order to heal, to create. It's what he was doing right now, still leaning on the nanites in Threnody's body to help heal her since he didn't trust his new strength alone yet.
Jason's upgraded Classification didn't come without cost. His mind had been violated by Lucas's youngest sister, Kristen Serca, a dysfunctional Class III empath, in order to give him access to his full power. The psychic bond Jason once shared with Kerr was severed after Kristen broke his nearly impenetrable natal shields. Lucas permanently reset the bond into Quinton, and the link between the pair was still raw. It had saved Jason's life, yes, but at what felt like the cost of Quinton's.
“We make it?” Jason asked in a low voice. He moved his head a little, tipping it back until he exposed his throat. Lucas could see the rise and fall of his Adam's apple as the older man swallowed.
“To Sveagruva, yes,” Lucas said. His English accent got thicker with every word he spoke, exhaustion heavy in his voice. Lucas shoved himself away from the hatch tiredly.
Jason frowned, blinking slowly as he turned his head to look at Lucas. “Thought it was supposed to be Longyearbyen? Those were the coordinates you uploaded.”
“We'll get there soon enough. In a day or so.” Lucas crossed over to where his sisters sat slumped together on the other side of the cargo bay. “We need a day to recover.”
“We need more time than that.”
Lucas said nothing as he looked down at Samantha and Kristen. Of the three siblings, Kristen came away from the fighting in Buffalo with the least amount of damage, not surprising when one considered her default damaged state. Most psions tried to keep insanity at bay; Kristen reveled in it. His sixteen-year-old sister destroyed the minds of others in her search for a balance she would never find. Kristen's dysfunction made her dangerous, yet also powerful. Even at full strength, Lucas was hard-pressed to keep her in check. Kristen was the only person who could have broken Jason's formidable mental shields and survived. If they were lucky, maybe she had learned how to build sanity out of Jason's neural pattern.
Lucas wasn't going to hold his breath.
Reaching out with a steady hand, Lucas stroked his fingers over Samantha's tangled blond hair, cradling her head. The eighteen-year-old Class II telepath didn't stir at his touch, her mind a mess that Lucas didn't bother to reach for. He could feel her wounds through his shields, those she sustained at his hands and also at her own. When Samantha severed the bond she once shared with her twin and Lucas's brother, Gideon, it nearly broke her. Lucas didn't attempt to heal her mind. She knew how to fix herself.
“Why didn't you take your brother?” Jason asked. “If you're saving your family from your father, why not save them all?”
“Aisling has no use for Gideon,” Lucas said as he pulled his hand away from Samantha. He returned to the center row of seats where Jason and Threnody sat.
“What about you?”
“Family ties mean little to Sercas and their Warhounds.”
“I find that hard to believe after you dragged your sisters into this mess.”
Lucas laughed, a dry, hacking sound. “They chose the lesser evil. That's all. We don't love each other. We don't even like each other. They're going to need to be reminded that this course of action is the right one, or the minute we turn our backs they'll try to kill us.”
“Your family is really fucked-up.”
“Says the man who was leashed and collared like a dog not even a month ago.”
“I still had people I could rely on,” Jason countered as he lifted his other hand to press it against Threnody's sternum beneath the blanket. His careful, gentle touch was at odds with the raw anger in his voice. “I still had Kerr.”
The loss was still too recent for the emotion to just be swept aside. Lucas didn't need to be an empath to understand that the twist to Jason's voice was fury, grief, and pain.
“You know, Lucas, I could probably kill you right now,” Jason said, his eyes locked on Threnody's face.
“I may be suffering from psi shock, but trust me when I say I'd survive whatever you tried to throw at me. Then I'd have to mindwipe you, and there goes all my hard work,” Lucas said evenly. “How is Threnody?”