Home > Last Guard (Psy-Changeling Trinity #5)(2)

Last Guard (Psy-Changeling Trinity #5)(2)
Author: Nalini Singh

Through it all, Vara stood, solid and enduring.

Her father had once considered bulldozing it and rebuilding out of steel and glass, then decided the mahal was an important symbol of their long-term power. “The Raos were here long before others who might think to defeat our hold on this city,” he’d said as they stood at Vara’s highest viewpoint, the rooftop garden hidden from below by decorative crenellations. “And we’ll be here long after they’re dead and buried.”

It was silent and cool in her third-floor office, but she knew that should she step out onto the stone balcony, she’d be hit with a tumult of horns and cries and scorching heat—the monsoon winds hadn’t yet arrived, bringing with them a humidity that was a wet pressure on the skin.

Payal would then wait for the rains to come wash away the muggy air.

Her office was situated at the front of Vara, only meters from the street. She could see motorcycles zipping through traffic with apparent insouciance, while multiple auto rickshaws stood lined up in front of Vara, hoping for a passenger.

A Psy in San Francisco or Monaco might turn up their nose at that mode of transport, but Psy in Delhi knew that the small and nimble vehicles were far more adept at navigating the city’s heavy traffic than bigger town cars. The more intrepid drivers even dared take on Old Delhi’s narrow lanes—but it was far smarter to travel via motorcycle in those mixed pedestrian/vehicle zones.

The traffic chaos was an accident of history. Delhi had grown too fast at a time when it had more pressing issues to address, and now there was simply no room to expand the roading or underground rail. The rickshaws were here to stay.

Even Payal was known to hail one on occasion despite the fact she was a teleport-capable telekinetic. It helped her keep a finger on the pulse of the city. She’d seen too many powerful Psy fall because they had no idea what was happening beyond their insulated bubble.

Nikita Duncan was the perfect example—the ex-Councilor held considerable financial and political sway, but she’d lost her once-tight grip on her home base. The DarkRiver leopard pack had grown exponentially in power right under her nose. San Francisco would never again be Nikita’s city.

Payal kept an eye on multiple small groups like DarkRiver that wielded more power than they should—she watched and she learned. Always.

After spending several minutes focused on the patterns of movement out on the street, she glanced down at the signature at the bottom of the unexpected e-mail: Canto Mercant, Mercant Corp.

Mercant.

Talk about a small group that held an excessive amount of power. Though the rumored scion of the family was now one of the most famous faces in the world, the Mercants didn’t generally seek fame or overt political power. Rather, they were the primary shadow players in the PsyNet, with a network of spies so skilled they were said to have something on everyone.

Payal knew the latter to be an overstatement for the simple reason that they had nothing on her. The fact she was an anchor wasn’t any kind of a smoking gun or threat. No doubt she was on a list of As somewhere in the Ruling Coalition’s archives. But she didn’t exactly advertise her status. Not when the most well-known telekinetic anchor of recent years had ended up a serial killer.

So how had Canto Mercant worked out her root designation?

Anchor minds weren’t visibly different on the PsyNet, couldn’t be pinpointed that way. And because A was an “inert” designation during early childhood, when Psy were sorted into various designations for the necessary specialized training, it would’ve appeared nowhere on her early records.

In point of fact, all her public-facing records listed her as a Tk.

Canto Mercant shouldn’t have the data on her true status. She certainly hadn’t known the Mercants had an anchor in their midst. Not only an anchor but a hub, born to merge into the fabric of the PsyNet. Chances were Canto Mercant was a cardinal.

Non-cardinal hub-anchors were rare inside an already rare designation.

Setting aside her organizer on her desk, she used her intercom to contact her assistant: Ruhi, bring me our files on the Mercants.

 

 

Before

 

Severe behavioral and psychic problems that manifest in physical disobedience. No medical issues found to explain sudden bouts of uncoordinated motion, loss of balance, and apparent migraines that lead to blackouts.

Full re-education authorized by legal guardian.

—Intake Report: 7J

THE BOY FOUGHT against the psychic walls that blocked him in, made him helpless. His brain burned, a bruise hot and aching, but he couldn’t get through, couldn’t shatter the chains that caged his child’s mind.

“Stand!” It was a harsh order.

He’d long ago stopped trying to resist the orders—better to save his energy for more useful rebellion—but he couldn’t follow this one. No matter how hard he tried, his legs wouldn’t move, wouldn’t even twitch anymore.

He’d been able to drag himself through the corridors earlier that day, even though pain had been a hot poker up his spine, and his legs had felt as numb and as heavy as dead logs. Now he couldn’t even feel them. But he kept on trying, his brain struggling to understand the truth.

Nothing. No movement. No sensation.

Each failure brought with it a fresh wave of terror that had nothing to do with his tormentor.

“You think this is a game? You were warned what would happen if you kept up this charade!”

A telekinetic hand around his small neck, lifting him up off the schoolroom floor and slamming him to the wall. The teacher then walked close to him and used an object he couldn’t see to physically smash his tibia in two.

He should’ve felt incredible pain.

He felt nothing.

Terror might’ve eaten his brain had he not become aware that the man who’d hurt him was stumbling back, clutching at his neck, while children screamed and small feet thundered out the door. Thick dark red fluid gushed between the teacher’s fingers, dripped down his uniform.

As the man stumbled away, the child crumpled to the ground, the trainer’s telekinesis no longer holding him up.

No pain, even now.

He should’ve been scared, should’ve worried. But his entire attention was on the wild-haired little girl who’d jumped up onto a desk to thrust a sharpened toothbrush into the teacher’s jugular. “Run!” he cried. “Run!”

 

 

Chapter 2

 

“The boy has encompassed the newborn in his shields.”

“Is the infant under threat?”

“Unknown.”

—Ena Mercant to Magdalene Mercant (February 2054)

CANTO HAD NO way to confirm if Payal Rao had read—or even received—his message. He’d embedded a subtle tracker in the e-mail so he’d know when it was opened, but it had been neutralized at some point in the process. It had been a long shot regardless—Payal wasn’t the head of the biggest energy conglomerate in Southeast Asia and India because she was anything less than icily intelligent.

Two of the other hub-anchors he’d contacted had already responded to him, wary but interested. But for this to work, they needed Payal. Canto and the other hubs on his list were outliers in their designation because of how functional they were in external spheres. Payal, however, was the one who’d automatically garner immediate respect from the most ruthless players in the Net.

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