Home > Ocean Light (Psy-Changeling Trinity #2)(8)

Ocean Light (Psy-Changeling Trinity #2)(8)
Author: Nalini Singh

Having confirmed that the room was free of threats, he swung his legs over the side of the bed, then—abdomen tensed and hands braced on the bed—got out onto his feet. His legs held. Not as well as he would’ve liked, but well enough to keep him upright and mobile for a short period.

He’d use the cane; pride was useless if it kept him confined to this room in an unknown location. A “BlackSea installation” could mean anything, but as he hadn’t felt even a slight sense of movement under him, he didn’t think he was on one of their floating cities. Which meant he must still be on land—and unquestionably near water.

Ocean or lake, he’d have to see.

His gaze went to the opposite wall, but—Kaia’s warning about curious clanmates in mind—he decided against sliding open the window panel. Not only did he need to get out of this room, he wasn’t keen to feel like a sideshow attraction at a carnival.

Having stretched out by then, he reached for the cane. He’d forgotten to look at the time on the data panel before he crashed, so he had no idea how long he’d been out—but his hair was dry and he felt a deep sense of refreshment, so it must’ve been two, three hours at least.

Making his way to the bathroom, he did what needed to be done. Hands washed and dried, he was about to turn away from the washbasin when his eyes caught on the image in the mirror. The midbrown of his skin was paler than usual, the color having faded without sunlight, lines creased the left side of his face from his heavy, unmoving sleep, his jaw was stubbled, and he was thinner through the face and in the body.

But there was no sign of the ticking time bomb in his head.

Holding to his decision to focus on the chance of success—the chance of life—he didn’t linger on that thought. Instead, he made his way out and spent a few minutes getting properly dressed.

He’d already put on his jeans and was pulling out a short-sleeved navy shirt with stud detailing from the duffel when he realized his back left jeans pocket felt slightly stiffer than the right. Shrugging on the shirt but leaving it unbuttoned, he reached into the pocket. At first, he felt nothing . . . and then his fingers caught on the edge of a seam that shouldn’t be there.

His lips curved.

Going into the bathroom just in case he was interrupted, he removed the jeans and tore open the top of that false pocket to retrieve a paper-thin phone with very few metal components. “Thank you, Cassius,” he muttered, dead certain it was his best friend who’d made sure he had a way to contact the outside world.

Malachai’s people must’ve checked the bag before bringing it onto their installation, so either their scans hadn’t picked up the minor metal components, or they’d left it inside in an act of good faith. On the flip side, the phone could’ve been hacked so BlackSea could track all data sent and received, but Bo knew this model and how to check for signs of tampering.

After pulling the jeans back on and buttoning up his shirt, he examined the phone with a critical eye. It bore zero signs of tampering—and the plas was designed to be easy to mark for exactly that reason. Satisfied the physical phone itself hadn’t been touched, he turned it on to check that it hadn’t been remotely hacked.

A security icon glowed on the screen. He touched it and it asked for a retinal scan. Then it asked him Cassius’s middle name.

Cassius didn’t have a middle name, but Bowen had often said his best friend should add the word “cynical” to his name. He input that answer . . . and got asked the name of Lily’s doll that he’d accidentally decapitated with a hedge trimmer one long-ago summer. After that came a question asking for the date a woman on a balcony had accidentally nailed him with a ripe tomato while attempting to hit the man in front of him—a date Cassius knew because he’d also been hit by an awry missile.

Neither one of them could ever get the date wrong, not when it had happened the night of Cassius’s twenty-first birthday: February 14, 2072.

Bowen’s shoulders shook.

His sister and best friend had made it impossible for anyone but Bowen to get through the encryption. Regardless, he went deep into the phone’s programming to search for any indications of trouble. It appeared pristine and the battery was fully charged. The phone also proved to have satellite access—though it had taken an unusually long time for it to forge a successful uplink and that link was weak.

He must be in an isolated region. A remote island?

He’d find out soon enough.

Inputting a familiar call code after stepping out of the privacy of the bathroom, he lifted the phone to his ear as he walked slowly around the room with the aid of the cane to further stretch his muscles. The room was antiseptically clean, could’ve been a clinic room anywhere in the world except for the high-spec data panel. His most recent readings sat glowing on the screen—as did the period of time he’d been asleep: 3 hours and 47 minutes.

The phone was picked up on the other end.

“Who is this?” A sharp question.

“Your favorite bionic zombie.”

Lily’s gasp trembled. “Bo?”

Switching on the image feed, Bo turned the phone so it became a miniature comm. The link was bad, the image pixelated, but he could tell Lily was Lily, which hopefully meant she could see his face well enough to know beyond a doubt that he’d woken. “Hello, Lilybit.”

The image blinked to black, then cleared for a single second.

It was long enough for Bo’s mind to take a snapshot of the lines of grief and pain that scored her creamy skin. He wanted to reach through the wavering connection and crush her against his chest, tell her it would be okay, that he’d fix it. From the moment his parents had walked into their house with the silent, gray-eyed little girl they’d adopted from an orphanage in Guiyang, China, Bo had looked after her.

“Bo,” Lily repeated in a teary whisper, touching her fingertips to the screen on her end. “You’re really awake.”

“I’m not all that steady on my feet yet, but I’m walking, too.” Leaning against the bed, he lifted up the cane to show her. “My new style accessory.”

She wiped away her tears, grinned. “Distinguished.” The slick black of her hair was longer than he remembered, her fine facial bones more obvious, but her smile the same quietly joyous gift.

“How are Mom and Dad, Lil?”

“Not good.” Her smile faded. “They’re furious because Cassius and I helped disappear you and won’t tell them where.”

When Bo raised an eyebrow, she shrugged. “Malachai Rhys came directly to me with the proposition. He said one of their scientists might have a partial solution to our problem—and no, I have no idea how he figured out the problem in the first place.”

Bowen did. The security chief of BlackSea was fully capable of inserting moles into the Alliance. Bo would’ve done the same with BlackSea except that by the time of the shooting, he hadn’t found a water changeling who might be open to negotiation. “Spying’s expected among new political friends,” he said. “You can’t expect two security chiefs to take each other at face value.”

Lily pursed her lips together and tried on a scowl, but her happiness kept peeking through. “I only told Cassius what was happening.” Pointed chin set firmly, she said, “You were dying and no one else was offering any solutions. So Cassius disabled the security systems and I put the guards on your door to sleep by giving them doctored coffee.”

“I keep telling people not to trust a pretty face, but do they listen?”

“Ha!” Lily’s smile peeked out again. “Can you please get better so I can stop having to fight everyone? Right now, every single knight but Cassius is mad at me.”

“Bowen’s Knights”—that’s what his nine closest friends and compatriots in the Alliance had named themselves. He’d thought they’d been messing around, but the nine—Lily included—had been dead serious. And they’d stuck by his side right into hell and back. “I’m working on it,” he said to his sister, his hand clenching hard on the head of the cane. “The shooter?”

“No longer a threat,” Lily said. “I’m going to send you a report that breaks it all down.” After giving him a summary of events, she swallowed audibly. “I made Dr. Kahananui promise that if the experiment failed, she was to bring me in and we’d shut off the machines together.”

Bo’s heart might’ve been mechanical, but it ached at that instant. “You’ve done everything I asked, Lil. I’ll take it from here.”

Chapter 10

Reception is notoriously unreliable at this location for reasons of geography even the most sophisticated modern technology can’t fully ameliorate. I appreciate your patience and apologize in advance for any delays in getting back to you.

—Dr. Atalina Kahananui in a confidential message to M-Psy Ashaya Aleine, regarding the status of their mutual subject Bowen Knight

ENDING THE CALL with Lily, Bo slid his phone into a pocket, then dug in the duffel to pull out a pair of socks and the scuffed brown boots he wore as often as not. It didn’t take him long to pull them on.

His stomach grumbled, the sound insistent.

It was time to track Kaia to her lair and see if he could talk her into feeding him.

Pulse quickening, he put his hand on the scanpad beside the door, and the door slid smoothly back to reveal a wall approximately five feet away. Painted a smooth off-white, it revealed absolutely nothing of his wider surroundings. Bo listened hard before he took a step outside. One glance and it was obvious he was alone in an internal corridor.

His room was located at the very end, nothing to his left but another wall.

He headed right, leaning on the cane as necessary but doing everything he could to support his own weight. The quicker his muscles fully rehabilitated, the better. Challenging a certain angry changeling would go much better for him if he could duck any projectiles she decided to throw at his head.

Bowen’s lips tugged up; truth was, he’d prefer such volcanic anger to cold distance—instinct whispered that Kaia wasn’t a cold or unfeeling creature. Because someone had turned up the temperature in his room, and only two people were authorized to access the data panel that controlled everything in the suite: Dr. Atalina Kahananui and Kaia Luna.

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