To Anu fua, for loving books . . . and for loving my books!
Death followed the Forgotten like a scourge. Relentless. Without pity.
They’d sought to find hope when they dropped from the PsyNet, wanting only to build a new life away from the cold choices of their brethren. But the Psy in the Net, their hearts iced over with the emotionless chill of Silence, refused to let the dissidents go in peace—for the Forgotten, with their hopes and dreams of a better life, were a roadblock to the Psy goal of absolute power.
Among their numbers the defectors counted a large contingent of telepaths and medical specialists, men and women gifted in psychometry, foresight, and so much more. These powerful individuals, these rebels, stood as the only real psychic threat to the increasingly omnipotent Psy Council.
So the Council cut them down.
One by one.
Family by family.
Father. Mother. Child.
Again and again and again.
Until the Forgotten had to run, to hide.
In time, memories were lost, truths were concealed, and the Forgotten almost ceased to exist.
But old secrets cannot be kept forever. Now, in the final months of the year 2080, the dust is rising, light is shining through, and the Forgotten stand at a crossroads. To fight is to face death once more, perhaps the total annihilation of their kind. But to run . . . is that not also a kind of annihilation?
She opened her eyes and for a second, it felt as if the world shifted. Those eyes, the ones looking back at her, they were brown, but it was a brown unlike any she’d ever seen. There was gold in there. Flecks of amber. And bronze. So many colors.
That voice, she remembered that voice.
“Shh. I’ve got you.”
She swallowed, tried to find her own voice.
A raw hiss of air. Soundless. Without form.
The man with the brown eyes slipped a hand under her head and tilted it up as he put something to her lips.
She parted her lips, working desperately to melt the ice chips in her mouth. Her throat grew wet but it wasn’t enough. She needed water. Again, she attempted to speak. She couldn’t even hear herself, but he did.
It was like trying to swim through the most viscous of fluids—her bones were jelly, her muscles useless.
“Hold on.” He all but lifted her into a sitting position on the bed. Her heart thudded in her chest, a fluttering trapped bird.
Warm hands on her face, turning her head. His face shimmered into view, then twisted impossibly sideways.
“I don’t think the drugs are fully out of her system.” His voice was deep, reached deep, right into her beating, fluttering heart. “Have you got—thanks.” He raised something.
She gripped his wrist, her fingers almost sliding off the vivid masculine heat of his skin.
He continued to hold the cup out of reach. “Slow. Understood?” It was less a question than an order—in a voice that said he was used to being obeyed.
She nodded and let him bring something to her lips. A straw.
Her hand tightened on him, she was so thirsty.
“Slow,” he repeated.
She sipped. Rich. Orange. Sweet. Despite the ruthless edge in her rescuer’s voice, she might’ve disobeyed and gulped, but her mouth wasn’t working right. She could barely draw up the thinnest of streams. But it was enough to soothe the raw flesh of her throat, fill the empty ache in her stomach.
She’d been hungry for so long.
A flash of something in the corner of her mind, too fast for her to grasp. And then she was staring into those strangely compelling eyes. But he wasn’t just eyes. He was clean, almost harsh lines and golden brown skin. Exotic eyes. Exotic skin.
His mouth moved.
Her eyes lingered on his lips. The lower one was a little fuller than seemed right on that uncompromisingly masculine face. But not soft. Never soft. This man, he was all hardness and command.
Another touch, fingers on her cheek. She blinked, focused on his lips again. Tried to hear.
“. . . name?”
She pushed away the juice and swallowed, dropping her hands to the sheets. He wanted to know her name. It was a reasonable question. She wanted to know his name, too. People always exchanged names when they met. It was normal.
Her fingers clenched on the soft cotton sheets.
That fluttering bird was back, trapped in her chest. How cruel.
“What’s your name?” His eyes were piercing in their directness, refusing to let her look away.
And she had to answer. “I don’t know.”
Dev looked into that cloudy hazel gaze and saw only a confused kind of fear. “Glen?”
Dr. Glen Herriford frowned from the other side of the bed. “Could be a side effect of the drugs. She was pretty doped up when she came in. Give it a few more hours.”
Nodding, Dev put the juice on the table and returned his attention to the woman. Her lashes were already dropping. Not saying anything, he helped her down into a position flat on her back. She was asleep moments later.
Jerking his head to the door, he walked out with Glen following. “What did you find in her system?”
“That’s the funny thing.” Glen tapped the electronic chart in his hand. “The chemicals all add up to plain old sleeping pills.”
“That’s not what it looks like.” She was too disoriented, her pupils hugely dilated.
“Unless . . .” Glen raised an eyebrow.
Dev’s mouth tightened. “Chance she did it to herself?”
“There’s always a chance—but someone dumped her in front of your apartment.”
“I went inside at ten p.m., came back out at ten fifteen.” He’d left his phone in the car, had been irritated at having to stop work to return to the garage. “She was unconscious when I found her.”
Glen shook his head. “No way she had the coordination to get through security then—she’d have lost her fine motor skills well beforehand.”
Fighting the rush of anger provoked by the thought of how helpless she must’ve felt, what might’ve been done to her in that time, Dev glanced back into the room. The bright white overhead light glinted off her matted blonde hair, highlighting the scratches on the face, the sharp bones slicing her skin. “She looks half-starved.”
Glen’s usually smiling face was a grim mask. “We haven’t had the opportunity to do a full checkup but there are bruises on her arms, her legs.”
“You telling me she was beaten?” Raw fury pulsed through Dev’s body, hot and violent.
“Tortured would be the word I’d use. There are old bruises beneath the new ones.”
Dev swore under his breath. “How long before she’s functional?”
“It’ll probably take forty-eight hours to flush the drugs out completely. I think it was a one-time hit. If she’d been on them longer, she’d have been even more messed up.”
“Keep me updated.”
“Are you going to call Enforcement?”
“No.” Dev had no intention of letting her out of his sight. “She was dumped in front of my door for a reason. She stays with us until we figure out what the hell is going on.”
“Dev . . .” Glen blew out a breath. “Her reaction to the drugs says she has to be Psy.”
“I know.” His own psychic senses had picked up an “echo” from the woman. Muted but there. “She’s not a threat at this stage. We’ll reassess the situation after she’s up and around.”
Something beeped inside the room, making Glen glance at his chart. “It’s nothing. Don’t you have a meeting with Talin this morning?”
Taking the hint, Dev drove home to shower and change. It was just ticking over six thirty when he walked back into the building that housed the headquarters of the Shine Foundation. Though the top four floors were sectioned into a number of guest apartments, the middle ten were taken up with various administration offices, while the floors below the basement housed the testing and medical facilities. And today—a Psy. A woman who might turn out to be the latest move in the Council’s attempts to destroy the Forgotten.
But, he reminded himself, right now she was asleep and he had work to do. “Activate. Voice code—Devraj Santos.” The clear screen of his computer slid up and out of his desk, showing a number of unread messages. His secretary, Maggie, was good at weeding out the “can-waits” from the “must-responds” and all ten on-screen fell into the latter category—and today hadn’t yet begun. Leaning back in his chair, he glanced at his watch.
Too early to return the calls—even in New York, most people weren’t at their desks by six forty-five. Then again, most people didn’t run the Shine Foundation, much less act as the head of a “family” of thousands scattered across the country, and in many cases, the world.
It was inevitable he’d think of Marty at that moment.
“This job,” his predecessor had said the night Dev accepted the directorship, “will eat up your life, suck the marrow from your bones for good measure, and spit you out on the other end, a dry husk.”
“You stuck to it.” Marty had run Shine for over forty years.
“I was lucky,” the older man had said in that blunt, no-nonsense way of his. “I was married when I took the job, and to my eternal gratitude, my wife stayed with me through all the shit. You go in alone, you’ll end up staying that way.”
Dev could still remember how he’d laughed. “What, you have a very low opinion of my charm?”
“Charm all you like,” Marty had said with a snort, “but women have a way of wanting time. The director of the Shine Foundation doesn’t have time. All he has is the weight of thousands of dreams and hopes and fears resting on his shoulders.” A glance filled with shadows. “It’ll change you, Dev, turn you cruel if you’re not careful.”
“We’re a stable unit now,” Dev had argued. “The past is past.”
“Dear boy, the past will never be past. We’re in a war, and as director, you’re the general.”
It had taken Dev three years into the job before he’d truly understood Marty’s warning. When his ancestors had defected from the PsyNet, they’d hoped to make a life outside the cold rigidity of Silence. They’d chosen chaos over control, the dangers of emotion over the certain sanity of a life lived without hope, without love, without joy. But with those choices had come consequences.
The Psy Council had never stopped hunting the Forgotten.
To fight back, to keep his people safe, Dev had had to make some brutal choices of his own.
His fingers curled around the pen in his grip, threatening to crush it. “Enough,” he muttered, glancing at his watch again. Still too early to call.
Pushing back his chair, he got up, intending to grab some coffee. Instead, he found himself taking the elevator down to the subbasement level. The corridors were quiet, but he knew the labs would already be humming with activity—the workload was simply too big to allow for much downtime.
Because while the Forgotten had once been as Psy as those who looked to the Council for leadership, time and intermarriage with the other races had changed things in their genetic structure. Strange new abilities had begun to appear . . . but so had strange new diseases.
But that wasn’t the threat he had to assess today.
If they were right, the unknown woman in the hospital bed in front of him was linked to the PsyNet itself. That made her beyond dangerous—a Trojan horse, her mind used as a conduit through which to siphon data or implement deadly strategies.
The last spy stupid enough to try to infiltrate Shine had discovered the lethal truth far too late—that Devraj Santos had never left his military background behind. Now, as he looked down into the woman’s bruised, scratched, and emaciated face, he considered whether he’d be able to snap her neck with cold-blooded precision should the time come.
He was afraid the answer might just be an icily practical yes.
Chilled, he was about to leave the room when he noticed her eyes moving rapidly beneath her lids. “Psy,” he murmured, “aren’t supposed to dream.”
She swallowed the blood on her tongue. “I’ve told you everything. You’ve taken everything.”
Eyes as black as night with a bare few flecks of white stared down at her as mental fingers spread in her mind, thrusting, clawing, destroying. She swallowed a scream, bit another line in her tongue.
“Yes,” her torturer said. “It does seem as if I’ve stripped you of all your secrets.”
She didn’t respond, didn’t relax. He’d done this before. So many times. But the next minute, the questions would begin again. She didn’t know what he wanted, didn’t know what he searched for. All she knew was that she’d broken. There was nothing left in her now. She was cracked, shattered, gone.
“Now,” he said, in that same, always-patient voice. “Tell me about the experiments.”
She opened her mouth and repeated what she’d already confessed over and over again. “We doctored the results.” He’d known that from the start; that was no betrayal. “We never gave you the actual data.”
“Tell me the truth. Tell me what you found.”
Those fingers gouged mercilessly at her brain, shooting red fire that threatened to obliterate her very self. She couldn’t hold on, couldn’t protect them, couldn’t even protect herself—because through it all he sat, a large black spider within her mind, watching, learning, knowing. In the end, he took her secrets, her honor, her loyalty, and when he was done, the only thing she remembered was the rich copper scent of blood.
She came awake with a jagged scream stuck in her throat. “He knows.”
Brown eyes looking down into hers again. “Who knows?” The name formed on her tongue and then was lost in the miasma of her ravaged mind. “He knows,” she repeated, desperate that someone understand what she’d done. “He knows.” Her fingers gripped his.
“What does he know?” Electricity arced like an inferno beneath his skin.
“About the children,” she whispered, as her head grew heavy again, as her eyes grew dark again. “About the boy.”
Gold turned to bronze and she wanted to watch, but it was too late.
Letter dated January 17, 1969
At today’s meeting of government heads, the Council proposed a radical new approach to the problems we’ve been facing. I knew it was coming, but still, I can’t quite imagine how it will work.
The aim of this new program would be to condition all negative emotion out of the coming generation of Psy. If we could cure rage, what a boon that would be—so much of the violence could be stopped, so many lives saved. But the theorists have gone even further. They say that once we have a handle on rage, we may be able to control other damaging emotional events—things that cause the fractures that lead to mental illness.
I’m cautiously optimistic. God knows, this family has paid the price for its gifts one too many times.