JONATHAN knows he could have gotten away. There was a moment, just as the smoke began to seep down the tunnel hall but before the flashlights appeared, that he could have run. He could have done what he’s been perfecting for the past decade and slipped away, vanishing into the night. But he didn’t.
Sharp, percussive pain against his torso and forehead blur an already hazy world, and he goes down onto his knees, still holding obstinately to the man lying next to him. So still… Sam had been dangerously still before the PsyCo soldiers showed up, too far gone to walk on his own and too heavy for Jonathan to carry. His dark skin looks as thin as paper, sallow, sick. His heart is beating, though… Jonathan has to make sure Sam’s heart keeps beating.
Blows from matte-black batons crack against his upper back, missing the spine and the base of the skull, but still hard enough to lay Jonathan out on the floor. His attackers’ minds are so infuriatingly muffled—not the pure, soothing blankness that’s Sam’s natal gift—the dull-edged muzziness of a mind soaked in drugs, a mind not so much blind as deaf and dumb. Jonathan can’t manipulate those minds. He can destroy them, wear them down until eventually nothing is left but the basest of functions, but there are too many minds and not enough time. Not nearly enough time.
The last thing Jonathan feels before he loses consciousness are Sam’s fingers slipping away.
THE first thing Jonathan Hatcher notices when he wakes up is the smell. It isn’t the smell of sewers. It isn’t the smell of dust and old wax and slowly encroaching earth. This is the smell of antiseptic, overwhelming the nose with rubbing alcohol and the sickly sweet scent of menthol. It wafts up from his body like an assault, and he grimaces unconsciously. There are notes of bleach as well, a scanty miasma of antibacterial soap, and the barest hint of… mashed potatoes? Jonathan groans. His eyes won’t open for some reason, but his arm lifts itself reluctantly to the back of his aching skull. Questing fingertips touch a metal bulge projecting from his medulla, and he groans again. He’s been suppressed. Wonderful.
Even the best suppressors can’t entirely shut down Jonathan’s psychic ability, not insofar as it pertains to himself, and he runs a personal inventory that’s far more thorough than “arms, legs, hands, feet.” Apart from a very nasty knot on the side of his forehead, dangerously close to his temple, he’s sustained a few stitched-up gashes from batons across his back and shoulders and contusions where the rubber bullets impacted his chest. Aside from the metal now sticking out of his skull, he’s okay. Sore as hell, pissed as hell, and trying to ignore the rising panic born of ignorance inside of him, but okay.
“Jonnie, Jonnie, angry Jonnie….” Wizened vocal cords rasp the mocking chorus, and bare gums smack obscenely. “It’s Jezebel in hell. Wakey wakey, you stupid little fuck.”
“Patience,” Jonathan mumbles, forcing his eyes open. Lead-grey ceiling tiles stare back at him, heavy and dull, just like he feels right now.
“Look familiar?” she asks, her voice filled with relish.
“Unfortunately,” Jonathan replies, schooling his tone to be dry. Feeding Pattie emotions is a surefire way to go insane. He pushes slowly to a sitting position, anticipating the wave of pain that batters against the dregs of morphine floating through his system. Morphine… he got morphine for the suppressor’s implantation, right. Morphine for a three minute surgery. Jonathan would have killed for morphine a few days ago, anything to ease Sam’s pain… Sam. Fuck!
He looks across the hall at the holding cell opposite his. A round old woman in a sack-like jumper stares back at him. Her feet and hands are completely enclosed by cloth mitts, not even her thumbs protruding for mobility. The garment zips up the back, where it’s locked into place against her security collar. She’s mostly bald, but wisps of grey hair hang lank across her face. Her jaw is short and sharp, her mouth entirely toothless, and her eyes entirely gone. Sunken lids close over the empty pits, dark purple splotches in the paleness of her face. She is a specter from Jonathan’s past, ten years older but hardly changed at all.
“Jonnie,” the old woman cackles. Her lips curl in around her gums, garbling her consonants, but Jonathan has a lot of experience at interpreting her speech, far more than he wants. “Little puppy turned into a bitch, not a wolf.”
“How long have I been here?” Jonathan asks.
Pattie grins, her mouth a venomous hole. “Feels like you never left.”
“I’m serious, Pattie, how long?” He needs to know. Sam… he needs to find out about Sam. He needs to know how much time he’s lost.
“What is time in here?” she asks, shrugging her hunched shoulders. “Time doesn’t pass in here. Not for me, not for…”—she lifts her chin in the direction of Jonathan’s right and the cell next door—“him. Not for you either.”
It’s useless to try to get information from Patience when you need it. Jonathan closes his eyes and goes back into himself, evaluating the freshness of his wounds and the cloudiness of his mind. Twelve hours… maybe as much as fourteen. That had been long enough for PsyCo to extract him from his bunker in the ruins of London and get him to Heidelberg, perform the suppressor surgery, and put him back in the super-maximum security prison that’s the dumping ground for the most dangerous, high-risk, high-reward psychics. Fourteen hours. It’s an eternity away from Sam. He’d been so bad, failing so fast… had they just left him there? Had they brought him along? Jonathan needs to know what happened to him.
“What’s wrong, little puppy?” Patience doesn’t need to be able to see to know he’s worried. She’s probably the most powerful offensive psychic alive today, and like with Jonathan, a suppressor isn’t enough to wholly take away her ability. “Missing the tit?”
“I haven’t missed anything about this place,” he says flatly.
“Then why come back? You’re a stupid little fuck, but you’re not careless.”
Jonathan doesn’t say anything. He feels her mind like a pressure around him, trying to penetrate, but where Patience is gifted in attack, Jonathan is unparalleled in defense. He blocks her best efforts out with a thought, but whatever glimpse she manages before the walls went up, that coupled with her predator’s intuition is enough to give her a target.
“Bitch is right!” she shrieks gleefully. “Panting after a man, trading freedom for some pretty boy’s cock. Freedom.” Her voice drops lower, its register harsh and growling. “Freedom. All yours, all wasted. The things I could have done with that freedom, and it went to a filthy, puling puppy who couldn’t keep his nose out of the shit.” Her speech devolves into a litany of curses and insults, spit flying from her maw as she hisses at him.
Jonathan ignores her. That’s another thing that comes back with ready, unfortunate ease—ignoring Patience. Memories of ignoring other indignities crowd at the back of his consciousness as well, demanding entrance, but Jonathan pushes them away. He can work through all that later, all the mental crap that comes up as a result of being in this hellacious place again, this fucking… no. Not now. He needs to focus on Sam, find out what happened to him.
Jonathan is prepared to bargain for good information, and that will please the PsyCo brass. PsyCo, aka the Bureau of Psychological Corrections, is the European Coalition’s black ops headquarters. They’re in charge of the psychics, the spies, the mercenaries, and the officially sanctioned murderers. They’d had Jonathan in their grasp from the age of five until his escape at sixteen, and the ten intervening years haven’t done much to dull his memories. Fleeing for his life has tended to focus them instead.
God damn it, think of something different. Something better. Dwelling on PsyCo is a pit that Jonathan doesn’t want to fall into. Something better… like Sam. Jonathan leans back against the wall and thinks about Sam. Not the way he’d been at the end, so sick from infection and exhaustion that he could barely move. Not the way he’d been at the beginning either, freshly wounded and highly suspicious. The middle, though… the honeymoon phase, Jonathan dubs it, his sarcasm tinged with longing. That had been amazing.
Sam. Samuel Darion Sharpe. Thirty-two, African American, tall, broad, dangerous. Muscles on his muscles, but not so much that he can’t move quietly when he needs to. Capable with a gun and absolutely lethal with a knife. Coffee-colored skin, dark brown eyes, a surprisingly natural smile that transforms his face from forbidding to enticing in an instant. Sam Sharpe. He carried hundred-year-old paperback novels side by side with his spare ammunition, and he speaks better Spanish than Jonathan does. His palms are ridged with calluses, but they’re gentle when he touches Jonathan, gentle even before Sam liked him, before they were friends, before they became lovers.
Those memories are too good, too close to be borne when he doesn’t know whether Sam is alive or dead. Jonathan can’t think those thoughts now, and he forces himself away from them and back to the basic facts of the man. That strange American accent, so rare now after the United States’ implosion at the end of the Third World War. Sam’s family was from Chicago, he said. The Windy City. No more city now, just twisted rubble and buried bodies. Jonathan’s seen satellite photos. It’s more than Sam himself has ever seen, but his parents described it to him.
The best part about Sam? Well, the best G-rated part, anyhow, is his mind. His ability. His total, utter blankness when it comes to a psychic imprint. Sam thinks, he feels, he plans, but it doesn’t show up. Not even Jonathan could detect him, and he can feel the mind of a fetus less than a month along in the womb. Sam’s invisibility is the biggest advantage he has in his line of work, which was—no, is—hunting down rogue or enemy psychics.
The hunter and his prey. Only Jonathan had turned that around beautifully. Sam had been a loan from the United States government, and like anyone entrusting their possession to another would, his owners had insisted he be well taken care of. That meant he was given backup in unfamiliar zones, which most of Europe was for the American soldier. There are so many dangerous things out there in the dead zones, the ruins, the fragments of the great and glorious past. Outside the walls of the EuroCo’s well-guarded cities, there are packs of roaming animals, mostly dogs gone feral generations ago and now breeding like mad. There are salvage teams and scavengers, some official but most little more than bandits preying on the stupid and unwary in-between forays into the cities. There are loners, often insane but always dangerous. Then there are the vics, those people who had been overexposed to chemical weapons during the war but somehow survived. They’re largely a dying breed, but those who survived the decades after the war are practically indestructible and often highly contagious.
So many dangerous things, so much that could go wrong for the American asset. His support staff was small and elite, but not quite up to speed on the particulars of their latest target. Better yet, the men had been overconfident, coming within range of Jonathan’s ability before sending Sam off on his own. It was all Jonathan had needed to turn the situation on its head.
The door at the end of the hall suddenly unlocks, and Jonathan opens his eyes with it, not wanting to continue down the mental track he’s been on just then. He doesn’t need to look to recognize the footsteps. That slow, steady cadence is something he’d listened to throughout his entire childhood. It used to make him feel good, protected. It had come to mean nothing but fear, however, and it’s the fear that he’s fighting now.
Jonathan tentatively reaches his mind out toward the man. Suppressed. Of course. Doctor Nelson Cagney is probably the only person in the entire command structure of PsyCo who wears a suppressor, not because he’s a rogue or damaged psychic, but because he’s their jailer. It’s an additional failsafe against mental assault. Cagney stops outside of Jonathan’s cell and looks at him through the tempered glass. Jonathan stares back impassively.
“You’re not half so wild-looking as your last known photograph, son.”
Don’t call me son. “The one taken outside of Edinburgh, I suppose.”
“Yes. That was, what, two years ago now?”
“You look much better now.” Cagney touches an index finger to his plump mouth as he assesses Jonathan’s appearance. “Your beard is gone, and I know how desperate you must have been to grow one. Your hair has been trimmed with actual scissors and not just hacked off with a knife, hasn’t it? Very nice. Who was your barber?”
“I think you know him.”
“I know a lot of people, son, but none of the ones I’ve sent after you over the years would have politely cut your hair without cutting your throat as well. Except maybe the last one. I didn’t have the training of him, so it’s no surprise if he turned out to be weaker than we expected.”
“He’s not weak.”
Cagney smiles blandly. “If he were truly strong, he would have captured you. If he were just strong enough, he would have killed you. It was a distant second objective, but preferable to you leading our psychics astray for another ten years. He did neither of these things. Therefore, weak.”
“Perhaps Lieutenant Sharpe has a different idea of what constitutes strength than you do.” It’s a risk being the first to mention his name, but Jonathan is truly desperate for information. Cagney opens his mouth to speak, but then Patience lets loose with such a raucous screech of laughter that neither of them would have been heard for a moment. After she’s done, Cagney glances over at her, then looks back.
“Perhaps,” he says, his eyes cool behind silver wire-rimmed frames. “Not that it matters now.”
Jonathan’s mouth is suddenly dry. “And why is that?”
“No.” Cagney shakes his head. “I think I’ve already given you more information than you deserve. I’d prefer for you to sit and think a while longer about what you’ve done before I open our channels of communication again. Your good behavior will earn it.”
He gestures at the corner of the cell. “You’ll be monitored constantly, of course. Your suppressor is top of the line, but given time you’re capable of just about anything, so we’re taking no chances. I have three psychics running shifts on you day and night, and naturally we’re starting up the medication regimen again.” Cagney smiles thinly. “A more docile personality suits you, Jonathan. Once I’m convinced you’re beginning to mend your ways, then we’ll talk about Lieutenant Sharpe.” He tilts his head mockingly. “Or is it ‘Sam’? I believe you referred to him like that a number of times while you were coming out of the anesthetic.” He turns and walks away down the hall, and if Jonathan thought for a moment that begging would get him anything, he would do it despite Patience’s presence.
Instead he lets the door close without another word.