The Tree: 21 May 2128
Mila couldn't sleep. Her mind buzzed with all that had happened the previous day and her thoughts kept returning to the strange young man called Rick. He had violated her in a way she had not thought possible. Yet, even as he'd crashed through her consciousness, she knew he had not intended any harm. He had no idea of the power he possessed.
Or, he hadn't, until he had ransacked her head and then, through her, all the others in the Tree. She had been the conduit through which he had rampaged wildly, plundering the minds of all those who had held anything of significance. She had been forced to mentally stand on the sidelines while the experiences and knowledge of everyone else poured through her and into him. Just how had he managed to make sense of it all? Up until that point it had been them shielding him from the full onslaught of this world. But, once he had seen how to take control of that shielding himself, it had opened up the rest to him, and he had taken it, all of it, in a few scant seconds.
She had to admit that he fascinated her in more than just a professional sense. Not just his wildness, nor the raw, untamed power he now had at his disposal; it was something deeper than that. She had helped to build the initial shield around him, and had watched remotely, seeing him journey through self-discovery and becoming fascinated by his method of self-recovery. Subtly, she had probed him, analysing what he was discovering as he unwittingly opened himself up before her.
But now he had gone, and it left a chasm within her that she no longer knew how to fill. She felt like crying. She hadn't cried properly since coming to the Tree when she was a child.
Being a child now seemed so long ago. Her talent had been discovered when she was seven and she had spent most of her life within the group of young adepts, quickly rising above many of them, and finally, at only eighteen, climbing to her position as top adept within the Tree. In all that time she had never taken a lover, had never even considered it with any of the adepts or those outside the group. Somehow, she had always known that they were way below her and, thereby, not worth considering. She was shocked at the acknowledgement of her own arrogance, and wondered if it had been obvious to others. Maybe Morton Fisk and Krista Hartmann had seen it. But they were two of the few for which she had held any meaningful respect. Also, their age had precluded any thoughts of anything more than a professional relationship.
But her intimate observation of Rick, along with the manner in which he had used her, had made her realise that here was someone who was worth more of her attention. She sighed, knowing that he stirred within her something that she had never felt before, something more carnal and primitive.
Her train of thought was disrupted when the Tree shuddered as another aftershock hit the city. She was conscious of the network of minds trying to reduce its effects, lubricating the bedrock deep down, helping it to slide instead of grate. She had instigated that network in the first place.
Maybe it wasn't the only thing that required lubrication. She had always looked up to Alec Garter, acknowledging him as a worthy second in command to Morton Fisk. But, just lately, she had come to see him in a different light. Devoid of Fisk's guidance the man had become more reckless and judgemental. And, under Alin Yan's deliberate provocations, Garter was going to pieces. In the past she had often been present when Garter and Yan had chided each other in a friendly manner, their banter mildly insulting but always done in jest. Garter, it seemed, could no longer see past the banter and was taking the insults at face value.
Today, it had become far too obvious that he was not good in a crisis and too ready to place blame where it was not due. He had been a good second in command but, it had become far too obvious, he would never be a great leader.
And that was what they really needed right now.
She sighed and tried to switch her mind off. She knew she desperately needed to sleep but it would not come.
Suddenly, she sat bolt upright, thoughts of sleep banished from her mind.
"The signature," she gasped. "Rick – he's back!"
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