“The series keeps getting better and better.”—Bobbie Christmas, Zebra Communications
“I loved all three books in this series. They were well written, fast paced & grab the reader from the first page. The characters are fully developed , complex & fascinating. The moral/ideological issues of genetic manipulation add to the enjoyment of this series.”—Charles, Amazon Reviewer
“Jade Kerrion has created a memorable series in the Double Helix series. The only problem I have is they are very hard to put down.”—C.M.Lance, Amazon Reviewer
Don’t fear the army of genetically engineered perfect killers.
Fear the cripple who leads them.
An alpha empath, Danyael Sabre is powerful, rare, and coveted, even among the alpha mutants who dominate the Genetic Revolution. Betrayed by his friends and abandoned to a life sentence in a maximum-security prison, Danyael receives freedom and sanctuary from an unlikely quarter—the Mutant Assault Group, an elite mutant task force within the US military. Physically crippled and emotionally vulnerable, Danyael succumbs to the warmth of friendships and the promise of love he finds within their ranks.
Friendship and love, however, demand his loyalty, and Danyael rises to the challenge of training and leading the assault group’s genetically modified super soldier army. The super soldiers are faster and stronger than the military’s human soldiers; their animal instincts spur ferocity and fearlessness in battle. Who is the perfect weapon, though, the super soldiers or Danyael, the alpha empath, who can, with a touch, heal or kill?
Adversaries swarm like vultures around carrion; the pawn is once again in play. The threads of betrayal that sent Danyael to prison spin into a web, ensnaring him. When a terrorist group strikes Washington, D.C., how far will Danyael go to defend a government that sent him to prison to die?
PERFECT WEAPON is the third novel in the award-winning Double Helix series.
READ AN EXCERPT
Fifty-five, fifty-six, fifty-seven.
Talons of pain tore down Danyael Sabre’s spine. The man arched, convulsing, when shards of agony pierced his mind. He had missed the last count by three seconds. His chest heaved in jagged bursts as he inhaled through the aftershocks of pain. He started counting again. One. Two. Three.
Life was measured in sixty-second increments. He spent the hours of every day counting the seconds between each shock that surged from the electric collar around his neck. On a scale of one to ten, the last surge was a six. He needed at least a nine to overwhelm his exhausted body and mind and stun him into unconsciousness for several minutes or hours. The irony did not escape him. He had been reduced to desiring pain if only because it offered blessed oblivion, however brief, from his unending hell.
Seven, eight, nine.
The door of his cell opened. He raised his head from the cold floor, squinting against the glare of spotlights. Two guards, tall and brawny in their olive green uniforms, strode in. One he recognized as a frequent tormentor. The other was a new face.
Danyael clung to the wall for support and dragged himself to his feet. Vertigo spun his world, but willpower kept him upright.
“It’s time for your shots.” The first guard passed a small syringe-filled tray to his companion and rolled up his sleeves. “It looks like I missed the window of opportunity.” He looked at the new prison guard; his tone was conversational, a discussion between teacher and student. “If you time it right, he’ll still be woozy from the effects of the last dose, and you can shoot him up without worrying about his empathic powers.”
The second guard snorted. “Hah. He’s just an empath.”
“Tell that to Clark. He made the mistake of allowing Danyael to touch him.” The guard’s upper lip curled into a sneer. His glare raked over Danyael. “You didn’t manage to kill him, you bastard. He’s alive. He’s going to make it.”
The new guard stared down at the tray of syringes and frowned. “So how do we get these into him if we can’t touch him?”
“You can, just not when he’s conscious and aware enough to use his empathic powers. We soak him down.” The guard’s grin was malicious. “The water, combined with the shock from the electric collar, will knock him out for at least an hour, maybe even longer. The drugs we pump into him keep him docile for four to five hours.”
“And then we do this again?”
“And again and again. You don’t take any chances with class-five mutants.” The guard unwound the hose coiled in a corner of the cell. He placed a hand on the valve. His eyes narrowed on Danyael, and he bared his teeth in a macabre grin.
The blast of icy water drove Danyael to his knees and tore a scream from him. The sound, emitted by damaged throat muscles, sounded like a guttural croak. He shuddered, shivering as water sloughed dirt from him.
The guard spun the valve. The escalating volume and pressure of the water slammed Danyael to the floor.
The cell shook, walls and floor vibrating. The guards looked around, startled, and then panicked when the door blew in. Solid steel smashed into the two men, crushing their bodies against the far wall. Danyael looked up, too exhausted to summon bewilderment, as several people swarmed into the cell.
A young man knelt beside him. “Danyael Sabre?”
“Stay away,” he whispered. “Electric shock.” Fifty-three, fifty-four.
“We’re here to get you out. It’s going to be all right. You’re safe now.”
If only he could believe it. Danyael’s lips tugged into a bittersweet smile. Fifty-seven, fifty-eight, fifty-nine.
He had been right on the count. Danyael was soaking wet and in contact with the steel floor. When electricity surged from the collar, the current charged through the length of his body. Pain, white and brutal, ripped through him, shredded awareness from his mind, and plunged him into merciful darkness.
Xin watched the media broadcast from her breakfast table. Sakti’s assault on ADX Florence made headlines the following morning with good and bad news in equal measure. The good news was that the terrorist group had breached only one sector of the super-max federal detention center. The bad news? That breached sector was the mutant sector, home to some of the most dangerous criminals in the country.
Barefoot, she padded across the length of her kitchen to refill her coffee mug. Unlike the general public, she knew that the mutant sector at ADX Florence had also contained an innocent man, a man who had languished at ADX for fourteen months and whose name was now listed among the escaped criminals. The government did not negotiate with class-five criminals; federal and local authorities were under orders to kill all escapees on sight.
Her cell phone rang, its customized ring tone as intrusive and jarring as the personality of the woman it had been programmed to announce. Right on time, Zara. Predictable, as always. If she did not answer the phone, she would find an irate assassin on her doorstep within the hour. Smiling, Xin picked up the phone. In lieu of hello, she said, “I’m still not interested in helping you.” In contrast to her brusque words, her voice was softly cultured and pleasant, with a hint of her upper-class upbringing.
“At least you’re accepting my call, which is one step up from being persona non grata.” Zara Itani’s voice was as warm and sultry as a summer night. Zara’s husky “porn-star” voice typically kicked in moments before she sent her blade into a heart or a bullet into a brain. The Lebanese-Venezuelan woman had gone way past irate and was steadily working her mood beyond furious into livid. “I want to find Danyael.”
“Sounds great. Have at it.” Xin leaned against her kitchen counter. She chuckled softly at the unmistakable sound of Zara grinding her teeth.
Zara pointed out the obvious. “He’s in the hands of terrorists.”
“How is that any worse than being in a super-maximum-security prison for life?”
“I thought you’d be interested in helping Danyael. You were the only one who helped when Galahad, Miriya, and I hunted him down.”
“I have since learned that helping you and helping him are diametrically opposing goals.”
Xin snorted. “Using him until he no longer serves your purpose does not count. Besides, I thought you’d be worried about Danyael coming back for his daughter. Or were you planning to pre-empt that possibility?”
A brief silence filled the space between them. “Danyael doesn’t know his daughter exists.”
Xin set down her mug. Interesting. The anger had seeped out of Zara’s voice; she must have been feeling even guiltier than Xin had anticipated. Deliberately Xin twisted the blade. “I know you’d always believed that Danyael was too screwed up to be worthy of you. You should be thrilled now, because after a year at ADX, it’s finally true. You did the right thing a year ago when you walked away from the love he offered.”
“I walked away from a lie,” Zara protested.
“It was not a lie to him.”
The long silence confirmed that Xin had struck home with her words. “What should I expect?” Zara asked quietly.
“Not the same Danyael you knew.” Xin picked up an apple and bit into it. Its sweet, tart flavor flooded her mouth. She closed her eyes, savoring its taste.
“Do you want the ADX reports?”
“They’ll keep you up at night,” Xin warned.
“I’m a big girl. I can handle them.”
So you think. “All right. I’ll send them your way.”
“Are you going to help me find him?” Zara asked.
“I don’t think so,” Xin said. She turned the apple around in her hand, searching for imperfections on its rosy surface. “Whoever freed him from ADX took a huge risk. Chances are they’d fight to hold on to him. Besides, whatever’s happening to him now cannot possibly be worse than what happened to him at ADX. If he’s better off, he deserves a chance to stay that way. Furthermore,” Xin continued, “unless he leaves an electronic trail of some sort, I can’t track him down. Why don’t you ask the GPS?”
“She still has the psychic hook in his mind. She could, theoretically, track him down anywhere in the world.”
“Is Miriya still an enforcer with the council?”
“Last I heard, she left, disenfranchised by the execution of the council’s philosophy with respect to Danyael. I suspect Miriya also took it upon herself to spread her discontent. The council lost a great deal of credibility with its voter base.”
“How long ago was that?” Zara asked.
“Since she left?” Xin took another bite out of the apple and chewed on it, thinking. “Roughly five months. She stuck around for longer than I expected, given her front-row seat into Danyael’s life.”
“Where is she now?”
“Damned if I know.”
Zara sighed loudly. “Can you give me her address?”
“I’ll consider it.”
“You’re planning to make this difficult for me, aren’t you?” Zara asked.
“I think Danyael has earned a break from you.”
“Galahad wants to find Danyael too.”
“And he called you for help? Why?” Xin asked. “Is the perfect human being afraid of an empath?”
Zara chuckled. “I asked him the same question. I don’t understand Galahad any more than I understand Danyael. The male mind is a goddamned mystery to me.”
Xin smirked into her partially eaten apple. “The fundamental male mind is easy enough to understand. Add perfection or empathy to it, and it becomes a mess. Like a female mind.”
Their laughter was mutual, the camaraderie warm. In the lingering silence that followed, Xin recalled why she and Zara had become friends in spite of the many differences in their upbringing, profession, and philosophy.
Zara broke the silence first. “Xin, please. You have access to more information than God. I can’t find Danyael without you.”
Xin hesitated. Tension edged through her, visible only in the slight narrowing of her eyes. She took the plunge and rattled off an address in Brooklyn, New York.
Zara gasped. “Is that—”
“Danyael’s former apartment.”
“That’s insane. What would Miriya be doing there?”
Xin shrugged. “I only provide information. The psychiatric evaluation costs extra.” She glanced at the digital clock on the microwave oven. The countdown begins. “I suggest you hurry, and take Galahad with you.”
No sooner had she hung up on Zara than her cell phone rang again. Xin glanced at the caller ID and a slow smile crept across her face. She knew Zara Itani well enough to handle over a cell phone. Alex Saunders was a different matter. Xin tugged her black hair into a messy knot that left tendrils to frame her narrow face and hurried across the length of her small condominium to her home office.
A wall of networked computers, screens lit, greeted her. The temperature in the room hovered marginally above frigid to keep Xin’s electronic heaven from overheating. She grabbed a shawl off a chair and wrapped it around her shoulders before transferring the call from her cell phone to her video-conferencing equipment.
Alex Saunders’s startled countenance appeared on a large screen mounted on the far wall. With a wave of his hand, the director general of the Mutant Affairs Council dismissed his aides from his office and then sat slowly behind his desk. His gaze bored into her.
She knew what he saw, a small-framed Chinese woman with regular, though unremarkable, features and skin pale from lack of exposure to sunlight. Alex, though, seemed to focus on the amused gleam in her brown eyes.
He scowled, bushy eyebrows drawing together in an expression of ferocious disapproval. “I’ve been calling you for months. What finally inspired you to take my call?”
“Would you believe that my social schedule cleared up?”
He ignored her sarcasm. “It’s time to face up to it, Xin. You were wrong about General Howard.”
“Was I?” Xin asked. She sat at her own desk, leaned forward, and propped her chin up on the heel of her hand. “I think it’s too early to draw any conclusions.”
Alex frowned. “We sent Danyael to ADX. You said—and I believed you—that it would force General Howard to do something equally drastic to get Danyael out. I know you want to tie Howard to the super soldier program, but nothing has happened. Instead, Sakti, which has been attacking mutant holding facilities for the past seven months to build its ranks, has freed him instead. Danyael has suffered enough. It’s time to bring him home.”
“Do you know what he went through at ADX?”
“Yes, I read the reports.”
“And you can sit there and calmly suggest that it may not be time to bring him home? What the hell flows through your veins? Ice water?”
Xin laughed softly. “Slightly chilled, highly caffeinated sugar water, but that’s not the point. I have evidence that we’re approaching the end game.”
“End game? Do you even hear yourself? This is America, not ancient China. We don’t treat our people like pawns in some elaborate chess game.”
Xin arched an eyebrow. “Are you afraid of what I used to be, or who I am now?”
Alex stiffened at her cool question. “The fact that you’re Fu Hao’s clone is irrelevant. All I know is that you are dabbling in political and military affairs beyond your authority and manipulating lives you have no right to control.”
“I am American, Alex, and I resent any implication that I am somehow unpatriotic just because my genes came from a Chinese woman who has been dead for more than three thousand years. Furthermore, as a NSA analyst with top-level security access, it is my duty to use the tools at my disposal to protect my country.”
“Even if it means sacrificing individuals? We don’t do things like that in America,” Alex said.
Xin smirked. “I know Americans like to believe that the rights of the individual is our greatest good and noblest calling, but even on our best day, we’re hypocrites. Look all around you, Alex. Derivatives are routinely discriminated against if they can’t wrangle up enough wealth or power to counter it. The richer clones, in vitros, and mutants are migrating to more hospitable nations, while the poorer ones are rounded up and locked away for minor infractions.”
“We’ve had our growing pains, but—”
“You’d think that our national experiences in dealing with racial issues would have given us a clue on how to handle genetic issues; however, it appears we’re determined to make the same mistakes all over again, if only to prove how stubborn and stupid we can be.”
“The mistakes we make as a nation do not justify what you and I did to Danyael.”
“I have no need to justify what I did to Danyael. I sleep well at night. I’m guessing you don’t.”
Alex dragged a hand over his face and sagged back in his chair. “This isn’t about me and how I sleep at night. It’s about Danyael, and finally doing what’s right for him.”
“What about what’s right for the country?”
Alex shook his head. “The imaginary threat of the super soldier program has not materialized. I’m not going to sacrifice Danyael in pursuit of a conspiracy theory.”
“Two days ago, Professor Sadgati boarded a plane for America.”
“Is that’s all you have, Xin, after a year of waiting and watching for General Howard to snap at the bait? That’s not good enough. Besides, Danyael is with Sakti. He’s even further out of the general’s reach than he was while at ADX. Whatever tie the general has to Sadgati and the super soldier program, you won’t be able to prove it now, at least not with Danyael.”
Alex ground his teeth. “I’m sending in my teams to pull Danyael out. I’m going to give you the same ultimatum you gave me a year ago: you can help or you can get run over.”
Xin laughed. “Really, Alex?”
“Would you like me to tell Zara, Galahad, and Lucien why exactly I changed Danyael’s status to a class-five threat? How do you think they’d react if they knew the role you played?”
Xin shrugged again. “Friendships do not interfere with my responsibilities. Furthermore, I imagine you’d come across as something of a laughingstock to have gambled away the freedom, and maybe even the life, of one of the world’s most powerful empaths merely on a clone’s hunch.” She flashed a wicked smile. “Still, I will help you, Alex. What can I do for you?”
“Can you track Danyael down?”
“No, but I know someone who can.”
“Miriya?” Alex’s eyes widened. “Do you know where she is? We lost track of her after she left the council.”
“I can do one better. I’ve sent someone to retrieve her for you. They’ll call me when they’ve located her.” Her smile vanished from her face. “Let me make this clear. I’m not giving you carte blanche access to Miriya, and consequently, Danyael. We started this together, and we will finish it together. I’ll arrange for a short-term assignment to the council. Make sure you sign the paperwork when it shows up on your desk in the morning.”
After Alex Saunders disconnected the video call, he leaned back in his chair and stared out of the window. His office overlooked a scenic bend of the Potomac River, but he noticed little of the view that day. As director general of the Mutant Affairs Council, he was, politically, the most powerful mutant in the country, yet he always felt disconcerted by his conversations with Xin. He was not sure which unnerved him more, her cool certainty that she was absolutely, positively right or her willingness to sacrifice whatever necessary to prove it.
Alex sighed heavily and squeezed his eyes shut. Xin was the worst kind of devil—the well-intentioned one—and damn his soul to hell, he had made deals with the devil herself.
Zara stepped out of the cab and peered up at the grimy brick facade of the apartment complex. She squared her shoulders against the uncomfortable tickle of deja vu. Tendrils of long dark hair peeked out from under her white-furred hood. She brushed them back impatiently with an elegant hand.
Galahad joined her on the pavement. He raked his hand through his pale blond hair, styled in the latest fashion. He too looked up, studying the building and its surroundings, before returning his attention to her. “And you say Danyael lived here?”
“Yes. I came out here after you and Miriya left the country.”
“I never asked before why you came after him. You seemed to despise him back then.”
Zara’s smile was bittersweet. “You did tell me never to trust anything I feel about Danyael, or anything I feel when around him. Call it guilt, misplaced, perhaps, but he did give you his ID, which allowed you to leave the country safely.”
“We never talked about what happened afterward, between you and Danyael.”
Had she imagined the veiled resentment in his tone? Zara shrugged. While the action was indifferent, her tone was not. “Whatever happened between Danyael and me is private.”
“Don’t I have a right to know? You left me for him.”
“I left you for him? I walked out on you nine months ago, and until this morning, Danyael was in a super-maximum security prison, for life. Tell me exactly how that constitutes ‘leaving you for him.’”
He caught her arm to keep her from turning her back on him.
Zara twisted out of his grip, like water sliding through grasping fingers, and shoved him against the wall. She caught him off guard, surprising, given his enhanced kinesthetic awareness and his genetically optimized reflexes. “Careful,” she warned in a low purr.
Galahad said nothing. His features, as perfect as a Michelangelo sculpture, were immobile. His dark eyes looked at her with intensity.
Danyael’s gaze, Zara reflected, was never so direct.
She checked herself; she had to stop comparing Danyael and Galahad. They were physically identical, but in every other way that mattered, they had nothing in common. Any attempt to compare them would—as she well knew—only result in the frustration of realizing that perfection could be imperfect, and that imperfection could be perfect.
The “why” of it she had yet to figure out. If it could not be directly attributed to Danyael’s empathic manipulation, then the only possible conclusion was that she had to be the most contrary female who had ever lived. When offered perfection, pick the physically and emotionally crippled alpha empath instead. Zara gritted her teeth. Maybe I need to get my head, and heart, checked.
She turned her back on Galahad; she did not have time for distractions. “This isn’t about us.”
“And it’s about Danyael instead?”
Maybe it should have been. If even one of us had given a damn about him when we should have, we wouldn’t be here trying to salvage the ruins of his life out of the hell we put him in.
Galahad’s response was a twisted smile, as if her extended silence had provided the answers he needed. Abruptly he asked, “Why would Miriya take over his apartment?”
Grateful for the change in topic, Zara played along. “Damned if I know why mutants do the things they do.” She led the way into the concrete stairwell and up five flights of stairs. Frowning slightly, she laid a hand on the rail and shook it. It wobbled like a loose tooth. “This isn’t in any better condition than it was last year.”
“I’m surprised you expected it to be,” Galahad said. He knocked on the door. Its wooden edges were frayed beneath the cracking paint. He glanced up at the ceiling where naked light bulbs hung from rusted fixtures, and he shook his head. “Why did Danyael surround himself with so much ugliness?”
“Maybe it’s all he could afford,” Zara shot back.
“You are what you choose to surround yourself with. It’s true of both people and places. Life is too short, too precious to spend it…here.” He waved his hand to encompass his surroundings.
She sneered. “Why, Galahad. That almost sounded philosophical.”
“The one year I spent outside of Pioneer Labs taught me more about life than the twenty-five years I spent in there. I don’t take my surroundings lightly.”
Zara bit down on her lower lip. Galahad had adapted so easily, so perfectly to life outside Pioneer Labs that it was easy to forget that for most of his life, he had been little more than a caged lab animal. Where was the admiration, the respect she had felt for him in the early days of his freedom? Why had those feelings faded so quickly?
With a sharp shake of her head, her long dark hair swaying, Zara pushed those thoughts out of her mind. She never lingered too long in the past. The doubts and what-if questions were pointless; she could not undo her past actions and decisions. Only the future mattered.
Galahad knocked again. “Miriya? It’s Galahad. Open the door.”
“If she’s in there, she’ll sense you through the closed door. Move aside.”
He stepped away from the door. “What are you going to do?”
“Employ some of those borderline illegal skills that allow me to live a life of moderate luxury.” Zara pulled a lock pick out of her pocket and knelt in front of the door. Within seconds, the lock clicked. She stood up, put her lock pick away, and was about to turn the doorknob when Galahad placed a hand lightly on hers. She looked up, startled.
“I don’t think surprising a telepath is a good idea,” he said.
“You knocked twice and announced yourself. How would entering now constitute a surprise?”
“Let me go first, all right?” Galahad pushed the door open and stepped quietly into the studio apartment.
Zara rolled her eyes at his back. He was delusional if he thought that he was any better at protecting her than she was at protecting herself. She was right behind him. The smell hit her first, stale sweat mingling with the pungent scent of rot. She flicked the light switch next to the door. “Looks like power has been cut off,” she murmured.
“Someone’s in here,” Galahad said, his voice as quiet as hers. “I hear breathing. Up ahead.” He strode quickly to the main living area.
Zara would have followed him, but her attention was drawn to the kitchen. More than a year had passed since she had been in the apartment. She recalled sitting at the table, staring narrow-eyed at Danyael while he washed down dry toast with tap water. The kitchenette had seemed as small then, but it had been clean, the appliances old but treated with care. She wrinkled her nose in disgust. Pizza boxes, partly filled with rotting leftovers, were piled high on the floor. A rat scurried across the filthy tiles.
She frowned as she swiped a slender finger through a thin layer of white powder on the table. A quick taste confirmed her fears. Damn it.
Galahad called. “Zara, over here.”
He had found Miriya, but Zara scarcely recognized her. The alpha telepath appeared barely conscious, her breathing slow and languorous. She had always been slender, but she looked emaciated, her bones jutting out on her petite frame.
Zara nudged her head toward the kitchenette. “I found heroin.”
“How long do you think she’s been using it?”
“No idea. Xin said Miriya left the council about five months ago. Maybe since then?”
“What do we do?”
Zara reached for her cell phone and hit the first number on speed dial. “Xin? Do you know of any good drug detox clinics?”
Xin chuckled, soft and low. “Found Miriya, huh?”
Zara’s jaw dropped. For several seconds, words eluded her. “You knew?” Zara demanded finally. “And you did nothing?”
“The methods people employ to manage their pain, or someone else’s pain, are really none of my business.”
“What do you mean ‘someone else’s pain’? Danyael’s?”
“She’s hooked into his mind, after all,” Xin said.
Zara’s eyes widened. “She feels all his pain?”
“I don’t know. You’ll have to ask her. I don’t know what’s in her head. I’ve called ahead and made a reservation for Miriya at the Healen Addiction Treatment Center. It’s in Stowe, Vermont. There’s a private jet waiting for the three of you at Teterboro Airport, in New Jersey. A car will meet you at the Morrisville-Stowe airport and take you to Healen.”
Zara hung up on Xin. Her generous lips drew into a frown. “I’d forgotten how much I hate that about Xin.”
“The fact that she’s always three steps ahead of us?”
“It’s hard not to feel like an idiot child in comparison.” She pointed to the woman on the bed. “Can you carry her?”
Galahad nodded, lifting Miriya with no apparent effort. Zara wrapped a heavy coat around the telepath’s skinny frame and wrinkled her nose in disgust. “She’s in dire need of a bath.”
“She needs a great deal more than a bath,” Galahad said. “Let’s get her to the clinic. They should know what to do for her.”
Over the following two weeks, Xin monitored the reports of Miriya’s recovery. Annoyed by the lack of progress, she made a few phone calls and then headed out to Stowe. Zara was often a catalyst of events, most of them cataclysmic. All Xin had to do was to precipitate a confrontation between Zara and Miriya.
Galahad met Xin at the treatment center. He had, for reasons Xin did not understand, decided to stay in Stowe after delivering Miriya to the center. According to the clinic’s daily reports, Galahad spent hours each day with Miriya as she struggled through the detoxification process. Was that man the same one Zara had accused of being a self-centered, hedonistic pig? Xin found little to dislike in Galahad. He was easy on the eyes, though perhaps Danyael deserved credit for those rare good looks. Galahad’s formidable charm seemed subdued, but it could have been attributed to their surroundings; a drug detox clinic was not the right place for flirtation.
Xin cut off her quiet conversation with Galahad at the familiar sound of high-heeled boots clicking sharply against the polished wooden floor. She looked up at Zara. “What took you so long?”
Zara Itani tossed her long hair back over a shoulder. The assassin had the slender, long-legged build of a model and a face to match, courtesy of her mixed racial heritage. Her white cowl-necked dress offset her dark hair and her bronzed skin. She had, when she chose, a killer smile, but she was not smiling.
Her generous lips drew into a scowl. “It takes a while to get from Washington, D.C., to Stowe. Finding an emergency babysitter for Laura wasn’t easy either,” Zara retorted. “This had better not be another trip for nothing.”
Galahad led the way, striding down the corridors toward Miriya’s room. “You could have stayed around.” The accusation sounded sharp in spite of Galahad’s quiet, melodic tenor.
Zara kept pace beside him. “I had a life to get back to. I’m surprised you chose to stay. Are you going to tell me why it was so important I show up in person? Why couldn’t whatever problem you’ve run into with Miriya be resolved over the phone?” She glanced over her shoulder at Xin, who trailed behind them. “And what are you doing here, Xin?”
Xin, at a petite five feet four inches, was much shorter than Zara and Galahad. She walked faster to compensate for the length of her stride. “I thought I’d come by to see how she’s doing. You do know why she’s reluctant to help, don’t you?”
Zara stopped, turning on Xin. “No. Why?”
“Don’t you remember what Erin said to her, after Danyael was taken?”
Zara’s eyes widened and then narrowed. “You weren’t there.”
Xin gave her a flat stare. “Lots of others were, and I read their reports. You, however, were there, and you should have remembered.”
The rebuke did not register. Zara could be thick skinned when she chose and thin skinned when she was spoiling for a fight. The assassin spun and stalked down the corridor. Xin smiled; Zara was indeed spoiling for a fight, just not with Xin.
Without knocking, Zara flung open the door of Miriya’s room. The heavy drapes had been pulled back, and natural light flooded the room. The large clusters of medical equipment monitoring Miriya’s health were no longer required after her condition had stabilized. For the most part, the hospital room resembled a charming bedroom decorated in cool pastels.
Miriya was not alone. Zara paused at the door and tilted her head slightly. Her cool smile contrasted with the warm purr in her voice. “Well, this is a pleasant surprise. Alex Saunders. What brings you up here? Surely not the skiing?”
“Hello, Zara. I came up with Xin,” Alex said quietly. Three decades past his professional wrestling days, the director general of the Mutant Affairs Council radiated authority in the erectness and strength of his frame, but his eyes were tired, his natural energy subdued.
Miriya Templeton, gaunt and pale, looked up from the bed. Her blond hair was devoid of sheen and style, but her green eyes were alert and glittered with irritation. She glared at Zara and Galahad. “Great. Now that you’re both here, you can tell him the same thing I’ve been telling you two in person and over the phone for the past two weeks.”
Galahad smiled faintly. He propped a shoulder against the far wall. “With or without the curse words?”
Alex sighed. “Miriya, I need to know where Danyael is.”
“He’s not in pain, and he’s safe from all of you,” Miriya snapped. “That’s where he’s going to stay.”
“I know I hurt Danyael,” Alex said. “Changing his threat classification…it was not something I did lightly. I was convinced that it was the right thing to do at that time.”
“For who?” Zara challenged. She closed the distance and stood in front of Alex, hand poised on her hip.
Alex met Zara’s gaze without flinching. “For the country, but that point is moot now.” He turned back to Miriya. “You’re the only one who can tell us where he is, Miriya.”
Miriya shook her head sharply. “I didn’t hold on to the hook in his mind for an entire bloody year only to turn him over to his betrayers without so much as a fight.”
“Fight?” Zara chuckled. “You’re lucky to manage coherent thought processes after snorting that much heroin.”
“Why, Miriya?” Alex sounded pained. “Why did you use heroin? Why didn’t you just turn to the council for help?”
Miriya looked at him askance. “After the way you helped Danyael? Why in God’s name would I turn to the council?”
“As an alpha telepath and a former enforcer at the council, you should have known better. Drugs are hell on everyone, but they’re especially a bad idea for mutants. Your mind—more than anyone else’s—is a weapon, and to subject it to drugs—”
“I’m not interested in a sermon, Alex.” Miriya folded her arms across her chest. She scowled, her lower jaw jutting out. “I just needed a way to—”
“To what, Miriya?” Galahad asked, without moving away from his position by the wall. He exchanged a quick glance with Xin, and Xin nodded, acknowledging his unspoken observation. Miriya had spoken far more in the past ten minutes than she had in two weeks.
Miriya turned her face away from them, her thin fingers wrung together, tangling into the bed sheets. Her lips quivered, and she bit down hard before saying softly, “I just needed a way to silence his screams. I couldn’t take it anymore. For the first few months, I kept thinking that surely someone must know how much pain he’s in. Surely, someone’s going to step in and stop it. When no one did, I thought perhaps I could be strong enough to take it.” She swallowed hard and paused for a long moment before continuing. “I guess I was wrong about that, too.”
“Do you feel his pain, Miriya?” Zara asked.
Miriya shook her head. “No, it’s just a hook, not a psychic bond. Physical pain doesn’t transmit through the hook. In fact, in most cases, nothing but location transmits through the hook, but the rules don’t seem to apply in Danyael’s case.” She laughed, the sound bitter. “Nothing is ever simple with Danyael. I didn’t feel his physical pain, but his mental anguish came through loud and clear.”
“Why didn’t you drop the psychic hook, Miriya?” Alex asked.
“Because it was that damned hook that sent him to ADX. I led you—all of you—to him.” Her voice caught. She looked up at them, her emerald green eyes filling with tears. “I thought maybe someday the hook would actually be good for something…that even if I couldn’t help, I would at least know when he was dead and finally at peace.”
Zara chuckled, low and bitter. “Damn. There’s so much guilt going around over what we’ve all done to Danyael, it’s a wonder no one has started a support group yet.”
Miriya lifted her gaze and met Alex’s eyes. “Why didn’t you help him? How could you just let them hurt him so badly?”
“I never intended for Danyael to get hurt.”
Miriya’s eyes widened. “You classified him a class five criminal—”
“No. The classification is for threat, not criminal status.”
“Cut the bullshit, Alex,” Miriya said. “That threat-level classification gives the government the authority to treat mutants like criminals and take them into custody. You sent Danyael to a super-maximum security prison.”
Alex sighed. His shoulders sagged. “I sent him to ADX to keep him away from General Howard. I made provisions to protect him, even in prison, but…” He swallowed hard. “It went wrong. When the prison director realized how badly injured Danyael was, he had Danyael taken in for surgery. I don’t know exactly what happened. The reports are unclear, but it appears that Danyael’s internal psychic shields collapsed when he went under general anesthesia.”
“Oh, my God.”
Alex nodded. “Everyone in the operating theatre died; they committed suicide. The surgery was aborted, and Danyael was tossed back into solitary. Five guards who had lost friends in that accident went into Danyael’s cell. Maybe they wanted to rough him up for what happened, maybe they just wanted to question him. No one knows for certain, because they’re dead too. Danyael had been shot up with drugs to keep him docile, but he fought back anyway, and killed them.” Alex shook his head, his eyes downcast. “At that point, the prison director said to hell with the promises he’d made to me to keep Danyael safe. The electric collar was set for sixty-second intervals. There was nothing I could say or do to convince him that Danyael wasn’t a class-five threat.” A muscle twitched in his cheek. “They weren’t prepared to deal with an alpha empath, and I couldn’t get Danyael out.”
Zara arched a brow. “You screwed up, you’re sorry, and that’s it? Do you know what they did to him in there?”
“I know the reports glossed over the worst parts of it. Danyael is not well—in fact, he’s far from it—but you can help him now, Miriya. Tell me where he is.” Alex sat on the bed and reached out, placing his hands over hers. “I swear, I want only to help Danyael. He’s been through enough, and he needs to be protected until he’s strong enough to protect himself again.”
Miriya shook her head sharply, her blond hair swaying. “You will stay away from him. He’s okay now, or at least as okay as he’s ever going to be. No one’s hurting him anymore.”
Alex sighed. “Miriya…”
Zara’s eyes narrowed. “You’re afraid, aren’t you?” she asked.
Miriya looked up. “Afraid of what?”
“What Erin Bryne said.”
Miriya blanched. Her fingers clenched into the bed sheets.
Zara’s lips twisted into a humorless smirk. “I’ve been accused of being a selfish bitch, but it appears I’m not the only one. You don’t want us to find Danyael, but not for any reason associated with Danyael’s well-being. You don’t want us to find Danyael because you’re afraid. You’re petrified that Erin might be right.” Zara turned to look directly at Alex Saunders. “Has Erin ever been wrong?”
Alex shook his head. “Erin is an alpha precognitive. She’s never been known to be wrong, but occasionally, her tendency to be cryptic has led to misinterpretation. Am I missing something here?”
Galahad spoke up, his voice quiet. “Erin’s last words to Miriya after Danyael was arrested by the Mutant Assault Group was ‘Danyael will never see you alive again.’”
Alex’s shoulders moved in a silent sigh. “That can be interpreted in different ways.”
“But the most obvious interpretation is scaring you to death, isn’t it, Miriya?” Zara closed in on Miriya, intruding on the telepath’s personal space with the certainty of a predator stalking wounded prey. “You’re afraid that if you find him, or if you help us find him, you’ll die.”
“That’s almost certainly taking Erin’s vision too far,” Alex said. He held out a hand, a warning to Zara to step back.
Zara, being Zara, ignored the warning. “I’m trying to find my daughter’s father. You’re leaving him wherever the hell he is, likely in the hands of terrorists, because you’re afraid of something someone said. Which are you, a selfish bitch or a spineless coward? Danyael said it once: dying is easy, it’s living that’s difficult. Suck it up, Miriya. Are you going to cower forever in a tiny apartment, mortally petrified of a chance encounter with Danyael, or are you going to face up to what we…what you did to him?”
Miriya’s lips trembled, and her emerald green eyes filled with tears. She looked away. “He’s still in Colorado,” she said, her voice scarcely a whisper.
“Will you lead us to him?” Alex asked.
Miriya nodded. She sagged back against the pillows. A single tear trickled down her cheek.
Alex tapped Zara lightly on her shoulder and jerked his head toward the door.
Xin followed Zara, Galahad, and Alex out of the room. She pressed back against the door of Miriya’s suite, closing it. Across from her, Zara tilted her chin up defiantly in reaction to the cool amusement in Alex’s gaze.
“You’ve just proven that you don’t have to be an alpha telepath to seriously screw with someone’s head,” Alex said.
Zara’s violet gaze turned flinty. “I challenge you to find a single thing I said that wasn’t true.”
“Let’s just say then that you package the truth in very interesting and effective ways.”
“This discussion of my questionable skills isn’t relevant. Will you send in a team after Danyael?” Zara asked. She leaned against the wall, her expression deceptively relaxed. Her muscles, however, were taut, coiled for a fight.
“Yes,” Alex said. “Miriya’s in no condition to enter what may become a pitched battle with Sakti, but she’ll lead our enforcers to wherever Danyael is held. They’ll take it from there.”
“And what if Danyael decides to fight back too? A pissed-off alpha empath is probably more than your teams can handle.”
“We’re saving him, Zara.”
She snorted. “God, you’re naive. We didn’t save him. Sakti saved him from a year of hell at ADX. Do you think he’ll return to the fold just because you asked nicely?”
“The council protected and guided him for sixteen years.”
“Sixteen years of the rarest, truest friendship can be undone in a single act. Just ask Lucien and Danyael,” Zara said quietly. “We’re going to have to earn Danyael’s trust all over again, and it’s going to take a bloody long time, because Danyael is incapable of making emotional commitments.”
Alex’s eyebrows shot up. “Danyael’s problem, I believe, is quite the opposite. As an alpha empath, he has an innate need for emotional closeness. Every time he reaches out to heal, or makes a decision not to strike out in self-defense, he is making an emotional commitment, usually to people who have done nothing to deserve it.”
Zara retorted, “From where I stand, a lot more goes into emotional commitment than merely ‘do good’ or ‘don’t be evil.’”
“That’s because you’re not an alpha empath with an emotional price attached to most decisions,” Alex murmured. “Trust me, things are quite different from Danyael’s perspective.”
“I want to be a part of the task force that recovers Danyael,” Zara said.
Alex shook his head. “Sakti is composed primarily of mutants. You’ll be outclassed.”
Her eyes narrowed at the insult. “Sakti is composed of terrorists. I hire former terrorists for the Three Fates. Those I don’t hire, I eat for breakfast. This is familiar ground for me.”
“Should you really be taking these kinds of risks? You have Laura to think of now.”
“That’s my decision, Alex. I know what I’m doing, and why.”
Alex acceded. “If you insist. I’ll talk to Miriya’s doctors and have them release her into my custody. Meet me back here in two hours, and we’ll fly out together to Colorado. It’s a big place, so I expect we’ll spend some time in the air, scouring the area by helicopter. I want Miriya to pinpoint Danyael’s location before she changes her mind. Once we get a lock on his location, I can get teams of enforcers out there within twenty-four hours.”
“You move fast.”
“We can when it matters, and Danyael matters a great deal.”
“I suppose that’s a nice change,” Zara said, pushing away from the wall. The curve of her lips was more sneer than smile.
“Nothing has changed,” Alex said quietly. “Danyael always mattered a great deal. The only difference is that his wellbeing comes first now. It’s time to make that change before we’re called to account for the sins of our past.”
Galahad spoke up. “I’m coming too.”
Alex frowned. “Galahad, I don’t think I can put you at risk—”
Galahad met Alex’s stare steadily. “It’s just as well then that the decision isn’t yours to make.”
Alex scowled. “I’ll see you in two hours.” He turned away to stride down the corridor.
“Round one to us,” Zara murmured. She placed her hand on the door handle, ready to reenter Miriya’s room, but Xin stopped her.
“No. You’ve made your point; you’ve won.” Xin kept her voice low. “Don’t weaken your position by going back to her.”
Besides, Miriya was exactly where Xin wanted her, guilt-ridden and vulnerable.