“My son, I know you have many good ideas, but can’t you wait a month? You and Kala will be away celebrating your anniversary, and your father will have some time to…to understand what you are trying to do.”
“Ammi, what I’m trying to do is to make the company stop engaging in unethical and illegal actions,” Rajan said, frustrated. “I’m not going to act like that is something to be ashamed of, or run away from Dad to do it.” Then something his mother had said struck him. “Wait, Ma…”
His mother was a quiet woman in general, but she had much to say in response to the implication that her husband was unethical. Rajan had not been as careful in his words as he should have been, as he usually was. But he did not mind her scolding, as he was still processing the reminder that his and Kala’s second wedding anniversary was only some five weeks away.
Of course his mother had assumed that Rajan had already arranged for a romantic getaway for them to celebrate, because it was the sort of thing that Rajan should have done. It was the sort of thing he would have done before—before he’d agreed to assist a parliamentary subcommittee root out corruption, before he’d sent Kala off to Paris, before his entire world had been rocked on its axis. Rajan didn’t know what it said about him that his mother could predict so well his tendency toward grand, expensive, romantic gestures—whether that was better or worse than what it said about him that he had not even thought about his wedding anniversary.
He ended his conversation with his mother with bland assurances that he would be as tactful as he could in dealing with the corporate restructuring with his father. Tossing his cell phone onto the bed, he resolved to think about his anniversary plans later and went out to the pool.
The sun sparkled on the water, the sky a brilliant blue. His beautiful Kala lay on a deck chair in a swimsuit, her back to the stunning view of the coastline behind her, a book open in her lap as she laughed at the antics happening in the pool. Wolfgang, cheerful and boisterous and dressed only in a pair of short red swim trunks that left very little to the imagination, was splashing Felix as the two of them wrestled over a foam ball.
They were happy, relaxed, and Rajan felt his own tension ease the tiniest bit as he strode out to join them. His life was so very odd, and yet he had been so fortunate.
He settled himself on a deck chair next to Kala and looked over to her with a smile. “Ah, that water looks very tempting,” he said.
“It is very nice,” she agreed, before adding, in a louder voice, “although someone has been in the pool for an hour and will have to come out eventually or he’s going to have an awful sunburn.”
Wolfgang paused in his splashing. “Eh,” he said with a dismissive wave. “We put on sunscreen earlier.”
“Yes, but that was before lunch and football and whatever this is,” said Kala. “It has been over two hours, and I can see you getting pink. If only you weren’t so allergic to shirts, this would not be such a problem.”
Felix snorted at that, and Wolfgang laughed. “All right,” he said. “You win.” He swam deftly over to the side of the pool where Kala and Rajan were sitting and hoisted himself out. Water dripped over the muscled planes of his chest and stomach and shone in big droplets on his shoulders and in his hair, and Rajan swallowed, his mouth suddenly dry.
Wolfgang, seemingly oblivious, grabbed a towel from where someone had left it folded on the concrete deck and wrapped it around his shoulders. “How did the phone call with your mother go?” he asked. “You’ve been in your office a long time.”
There was always something a little strange in talking about his parents with Wolfgang, Rajan thought—Wolfgang had long known them through Kala’s eyes and viewed them with a kind of protective wariness that was no doubt a mix of Kala’s feelings and his innate tendency to claim his loved ones’ loved ones as his own. But Rajan’s parents knew Wolfgang only as a low-rent German bodyguard Rajan had hired in the aftermath of Ajay’s veiled threats. It was not fair, not to any of them, and Rajan’s earlier tension returned. “It went as well as could be expected,” he said. “You know she is very hesitant about rocking the boat at the company.”
“Well, it’s gonna piss people off,” said Wolfgang bluntly. “Your father included.”
Next to him, Felix shook his head. “Who knew rich CEOs were just like crime bosses when it comes to this kind of shit, eh? It’s like a TV drama.” To Rajan he added, “No offense, man.”
“None taken,” said Rajan sincerely. He didn’t quite understand the details of the world Wolfgang and Felix came from, but he did understand that they spoke from experience when they made remarks like that.
Kala took his hand and squeezed it. “You are doing the right thing, Rajan,” she said seriously. “I know it is not easy, and it will take time, but you are making Rasal Pharmaceuticals a better company, and that is not just good for us, but for the world.”
He searched her face—beautiful, beloved, earnest, and for just a moment he thought he saw the flicker behind her eyes that signaled that she and Wolfgang spoke as one. “Thank you, my love,” he said, and he made certain to look at both her and Wolfgang as he said it. “She suggested that I wait until next month’s board meeting.”
“What good’s that going to do?” asked Felix with a frown. “Why not get it out of the way?”
Kala and Wolfgang’s eyes met, and Rajan knew that they understood. “Next month is our two-year wedding anniversary,” Kala explained. “I think she’s expecting that Rajan will roll out his proposed reforms at the meeting, and then we will go to the Bahamas or Greece or something, and Babaji will have no one to fight with.”
Felix nodded. “Ah, okay. I like it—he gets mad, we drink cocktails on the beach. Or…” He looked from Kala to Rajan to Wolfgang, and his eyebrows raised. “Yeah, no, romantic getaway, I get it. I can stay here and watch all the Mission Impossible movies back to back.”
It didn’t seem to be complicated in Felix’s mind. Rajan wondered if he was being stupid. “We haven’t actually decided to go anywhere,” he said. “What…what would you like to do?”
The faraway look that entered Kala’s eyes had become familiar to Rajan over the last year—it was a look that meant that her mind had traveled far from where they sat together, and was with one of the other pieces of her soul in someplace far away. “Riley says that she likes Amsterdam, and there are lots of things to do,” she said finally. “We didn’t get to see much of it when she and Will were there. But it might be nice also to go to California and see Nomi and Amanita, and Lito would be thrilled if we drove down to Los Angeles. He wants to show off his movie set to everyone. But perhaps that would not be very relaxing. What do you think, Wolfgang?”
“I think it’s not my wedding anniversary,” said Wolfgang with a shrug. “I’ll go wherever. Or not, if it would be a pain in the ass to explain. Whatever.” Rajan felt his own heart sink at this—it was just what he had been afraid of. Kala frowned, and Wolfgang gave her a crooked smile. “You know I don’t have to go with you to go with you,” he said. “But I don’t know. Rajan, you think your board of directors is gonna object to corporate restructuring the way my family objects to corporate restructuring?”
“If you mean will there be death threats, I don’t believe so,” said Rajan. “I’ve known most of the board, or their families, since I was a child.”
Wolfgang gave him a heavy look. “That means less than you think, sometimes. Maybe Felix was right—get it out of the way, and then you know whether or not there’s gonna be a problem before you go on vacation.”
“‘Maybe Felix was right,’” Felix scoffed. “‘Maybe.’”
Wolfgang said something to Felix in German. Rajan caught the words “ready,” “angry,” and “money,” but that wasn’t enough to piece the whole thing together, and he wished, not for the first time, that his German was better. Kala, who did understand German through the psychic means of which Rajan was still learning the rules, rolled her eyes and said to Rajan, “Whatever you decide, we will back you up. All of us.”
Much of Rajan’s adult life had involved choosing his battles with his father, whom he knew wanted nothing but good things for him but who was also something of a steam roller. He had known the first moment he lay eyes on Kala that she was worth the unpleasant conversations with his father that it would take to get his family’s support to marry her. And when he had explained to Kala about the cost-reduction measures the company took with expired medication, he had known in the instant that she had looked at him with horror in her eyes that whatever fights with his father would be necessary, he needed to rethink the way he did business.
He hoped he was growing in wisdom enough to recognize the battles he needed to fight now.
“I think you are right, Wolfgang,” he said. “If the board is angry enough at my proposed changes to cause problems that will affect all of us, better to know now, so that we can take care of it.”
Wolfgang nodded once, firm. “Okay,” he said. “Then we damn well better make sure you’re prepared for this meeting.”
Although it was a Saturday, and Rajan had already been gathering material and putting together presentation materials for weeks, he sat for a couple of hours with Kala, Wolfgang, and Felix, going over the wording in the proposals Rajan was making to the board, highlighting a few particularly egregious examples of corner-cutting and outsourcing jobs to shady subcontractors, and drawing up some figures to demonstrate that a rebranding of Rasal Pharmaceuticals as the ‘ethical choice’ would actually offset the costs of cleaning the company up and help its bottom line.
“Of course, it’s a bit ironic to use this argument, since caring more about profits than morals was what got us into this situation in the first place,” Rajan commented.
Wolfgang shrugged. “A lot of people don’t give a shit about morals. They’ll do the right thing, but not for the right reason.”
“That’s rather cynical,” Kala scolded, but she lay her hand on Wolfgang’s while she said it.
“In the words of the Wu-Tang Clan,” said Felix, “Cash rules everything around me.”
There was something to that, Rajan reflected, not feeling especially comfortable about it.
He cooked that night, knowing that his garam masala murgha didn’t hold a candle to his father-in-law’s but feeling desperate for something he could do for his beloveds. It was such a strange and unfamiliar feeling, this sense he got sometimes that there was nothing he could offer them. Insecurity was not one of his typical faults—quite the opposite, really—but in his defense, the challenges of being married to one psychic person with the talents and knowledge of eight very different people, while also being in love with another psychic person whose relationship with Rajan and Kala was invisible to most of the world, were not ones that most men had to manage.
After dinner, they got out one of Rajan’s nicer red wines and watched Devdas, which Wolfgang and Felix had never seen and which would allow Kala to indulge in her crush on Shahrukh Khan.
Felix, whose tastes ran more to action movies where things blew up, was clearly only sitting through it for Wolfgang’s sake. Wolfgang, meanwhile, watched the musical scenes with an entranced expression on his face and periodically asked Kala questions about the plot, which she answered without ever taking her eyes from the screen.
Rajan didn’t often have the attention span for a three-hour movie and tended toward small independent films when he watched them at all, but he’d been charmed from early in his acquaintance with Kala how much she and her family loved going to the cinema together, and he found Wolfgang’s love of musicals equally charming, mostly because it was so unexpected. He spent most of the evening watching the two of them enjoying the film.
When the end credits rolled, Felix let out a thunderous sigh. “Wow, kind of a downer, huh?” Rajan privately agreed—but then, perhaps it was only his own anxiety about his anniversary that made him uncomfortable with a plot whose heroine was trapped in a loveless marriage.
“It was beautiful,” said Wolfgang sincerely, and Kala smiled at him.
“I loved this movie so much when I was a teenager,” she said. “My friends and I would take packets of tissues into the cinema because we cried so much at the ending.”
“And…this was fun?” Felix asked skeptically, one eyebrow raised.
Wolfgang frowned at him, but Kala laughed. “Sometimes it’s nice to have a good cry. I don’t know, don’t you like to feel very strongly sometimes about things that don’t actually have anything to do with your life?”
“It’s like the end of The Magnificent Seven,” said Wolfgang, and Felix nodded with sudden understanding.
“Yeah, okay, I think I get the idea.” He stretched his thin arms above his head and yawned. “Well, I’m wiped. Thanks for showing me the movie, India Plan, but I’m hitting the sack now.”
They exchanged their goodnights before Felix headed off to the other side of the apartment. There were two bedrooms past the kitchen, one of them ostensibly Wolfgang’s, but he only slept in it on nights he was having particularly bad nightmares and didn’t want to wake Rajan. (Kala, of course, got the nightmares regardless of what room Wolfgang slept in, unless one of them took blockers.) Those rooms were as far from the master bedroom as one could be and still be in the same apartment, which was ideal on evenings that Kala, Rajan, and Wolfgang were feeling amorous.
“I’m glad you liked the movie,” said Rajan to Wolfgang, and Kala smiled and kissed first Rajan’s temple and then Wolfgang’s before standing up to put the DVD back into its case..
“Yes,” she said, “thank you both for watching it with me.”
“Wasn’t a hardship,” said Wolfgang. “With the music and the romance…it was kind of a kaleidoscope of feeling.” His face reddened. “Maybe that’s a bullshit way of putting it, but…”
Rajan felt a warm tenderness in his heart, and he leaned over the space Kala had left to kiss Wolfgang, reveling in the joy of being free to do such things. “Not at all,” he said.
One side of Wolfgang’s mouth pulled up in a grin, and he brought his hand to Rajan’s face, stroking a thumb over his cheek.
“You know,” Rajan began, “if it would make you happy, we could just do something like this for our anniversary. Or—” His eyes flicked over to Kala. “Perhaps if it was something the rest of the cluster could participate in without drawing too much attention?”
But it had been a mistake to bring such things up at all, because Wolfgang was pulling away, his grin vanishing, and Kala heaved a sigh, no doubt feeling whatever it was that had darkened Wolfgang’s mood.
“Rajan,” said Wolfgang, “you’re doing a brave thing. With your company. Don’t think I need a lot of romantic gestures while you’re dealing with all this legal bullshit, because I don’t.”
Kala wriggled back into the place on the sofa she had left, her lips drawn together in that determined way that Rajan admired so much. “Nobody needs romantic gestures,” she said. “But they can be very nice. And you know perfectly well that we are not going to celebrate our wedding anniversary without you, because we love you, and if it is hard for society to get over itself and accept that, it isn’t hard for us.”
Rajan wanted to agree, but it occurred to him that of the three of them, maybe he was the one who needed romantic gestures. Perhaps all of his worrying was doing nothing more than making a mountain out of a molehill, and causing Wolfgang and Kala stress to boot. “We don’t need to decide anything tonight, my loves,” he said. “I only thought of it because my mother mentioned it, but perhaps you’re right, Wolfgang, we ought to get through this board meeting, first.”
The wrinkle between Wolfgang’s eyebrows smoothed, and he lowered his eyes for a moment, his mouth turning down at the corners, before they flicked up again and Rajan was caught in his steady gaze. “Whatever you need,” he said. “All I want is for you two to be happy.”
“Well,” said Kala, who had learnt a measure of coy confidence in the last year that never ceased to delight Rajan, “I have some ideas for how we might all make each other happy.”
In bed that night, Rajan made love slowly to Kala while Wolfgang licked and fingered at his ass. Kala was fearless and passionate, saying Rajan’s name in the heat of lust with no doubt in her voice, and Wolfgang was steady and sure and intense as he murmured dirty and loving things into Rajan’s back, and Rajan’s own unsteadiness faded away. What, in the end, mattered more than this? What tabloid gossip or board room rumors could diminish the fact that Rajan was loved by two of the most extraordinary people in the world?
The next day was a Sunday, and Rajan had determined he would take at least one day off before returning to his preparations for the meeting. Though they were moving into monsoon season and the week had been marked by thunderstorms, the weekend had brought with it unseasonably fair weather, and the morning was clear and bright, a good day to be out and about. The looming board meeting and worries of the previous day had made Rajan feel a bit claustrophobic, almost, so he and his little family took a drive down the coast, stopping occasionally at beaches and tourist traps so they could stretch their legs and point out things for Felix and Wolfgang to look at with impressed faces.
When they hit Alibag, Kala took Felix and Wolfgang to see the temple to Lord Ganesha at the fort—the tide was low enough that they could walk there. She invited Rajan along, but he begged off, saying that he had to make a few calls.
It was true enough, as far as it went. To Rajan’s mind, this was a very important call.
According to Rajan’s calculations, it should be about 11:00 PM in California—not terribly late in movie star time, he imagined, but when Hernando answered the phone, he still said, “I’m sorry to call so late. Do you have a minute?”
“Certainly,” said Hernando. “Is everything all right?” His voice was concerned but calm, and Rajan felt very strongly that he had made the right decision in calling him.
“Everything is fine,” he said. “I’d just like to ask your advice about something. It’s to do with Kala and Wolfgang,” he added, in case this would be useful information.
“I see,” Hernando said, before saying something over his shoulder to Lito and Daniela. In the background, a television blared cheery music that faded as Hernando evidently walked into a room and shut the door behind him. “All right,” he said. “How can I help?”
When Rajan had asked the advice of friends before courting Kala, it had been with a very solid sense of how he wanted things to end: the swelling chords of romance as the film closed on the couple’s happily ever after. Now, though, he didn’t quite know what it was he was seeking. “My wedding anniversary is next month,” he began.
Hernando made a pleased noise. “Congratulations.”
“Thank you,” said Rajan. “The thing is, Wolfgang is also a part of my marriage, and I don’t know exactly how to celebrate in a way that honors that.”
“I see,” Hernando said, and Rajan could picture him nodding thoughtfully on the other end of the phone. “Well, what were you thinking of?”
His first wedding anniversary had been spent with Wolfgang helping Kala through her physical therapy after being shot. It had been a deeply meaningful experience in many ways, but it was not one that he was eager to repeat. “I’ve always been one to…well, let us put it this way. I have a lot of money, and what better to do with it than to show the people I love how I feel?”
“Of course. Lito is the same way.”
That was not especially surprising to Rajan, though he wasn’t entirely sure how he felt about the comparison. “For our honeymoon, we went to Italy. As far as my family and friends know, that was how we spent our first anniversary, too.”
“Ah,” said Hernando. “Naples?”
“Naples,” Rajan agreed. “They expect that we’ll be going on another romantic trip this year. And it isn’t that I wouldn’t like to. But I cannot help but feel that there would be something dishonest about it. You know, pretending that Wolfgang is our bodyguard, and not the man I love, and Kala’s soulmate. Wolfgang does not object, I know. But I object.”
Hernando hummed thoughtfully, and Rajan abruptly hoped that he had not brought up any sort of bad memories for him. Hernando had spent years pretending that he and Lito were not together, even for a while pretending that he was Lito’s bodyguard. This was part of why Rajan had called him, but perhaps it had been selfish to do so.
When Hernando spoke again, he did not sound hurt or offended, though, only calm and friendly. “I believe you like to do things that will make your loved ones happy, yes?”
Rajan thought of the months he had spent learning dance choreography for his engagement party, the pleasure he had taken in planning Kala’s birthday party on their honeymoon, what it had felt like to call Jean-Pierre and ask if he could borrow his country house on short notice. What it had felt like for Kala to kiss him wholeheartedly afterward, for Wolfgang to thank him. “Yes, very much.”
“I believe—I believe that the society we live in has set out many rituals between men and women for them to express their love for each other. Things like flowers, and jewelry, and romantic getaways. There is a sort of comfort in these rituals, because we know what they mean—it’s a sort of language of love that we’re taught from a very young age. They’re not always tailored to the individual, so they may feel impersonal, but it is this very generality that makes them easy to interpret.”
“I suppose that’s true,” Rajan admitted. His every gesture in courting Kala had been sincere, motivated by longing and love so intense he had felt them like electricity under his skin. But it hadn’t sparked kindred feeling in Kala. Perhaps because he hadn’t really known her. The gesture that had been most meaningful for her, in the end, had been to accept her in all her complexity. Rajan knew that this acceptance, and being willing to help him escape from BPO, had been profoundly meaningful to Wolfgang as well, but gratitude was not the feeling Rajan was looking to inspire in him.
“It becomes more difficult, I think, when there is no ritual. I feel that way sometimes, you know. For example, Lito and I can get married, and I believe we will, but that is not the kind of ritual he and I have used to express our love, and I honestly don’t know how to explain what Dani is to us in a way that honors the love we have for her, to use your term. We have needed to find our own language. But perhaps it is the same for every relationship. The ritual can provide the structure, but in the end, we must find ways to show how we feel that are true to the people we love and who they are.” He paused, then added, sounding embarrassed. “I’m sorry, I’m rambling again.”
“No, not at all,” Rajan assured him. “You’ve been very helpful.” He sighed, wondering how to phrase his next question. “The thing also about the language of ritual, though, is that it means other people will also know who you love. And that is very important to me.”
“Yes,” said Hernando softly. “There is that.”
They were quiet for a moment, as Rajan once more considered his options, and how unsatisfying he found them. Even he had only so much capital. If he were forced to choose between using it to clean Rasal Pharmaceuticals up or using it to compel others to recognize the love he shared with Kala and Wolfgang, he knew what Kala and Wolfgang would tell him, but he didn’t know if it were what he himself would choose. Love, he thought, ought never to fear the judgment of the ignorant.
The pause had lasted long enough that Rajan wondered if he ought to say something, when Hernando said, “That is the challenge, is it not? Finding that thing that will be true to them, and deciding whether it matters whether other people know about or not. I can’t speak for Wolfgang, but for myself, I have never thought that the secret itself is the problem. It is the price that you are willing to pay for the secret.”
Rajan thought he knew the price already, or what it had been. The price was Wolfgang withdrawing from love and burying himself in the harshness he had grown up in. The price was Kala, hiding her true self behind indecision and what others told her she ought to do or feel. Neither of those was a price he was willing to pay. To Hernando, though, he said, “It’s a difficult question, is it not?”
“It is,” said Hernando. “When it comes to practical ideas, I have to admit I’m drawing a blank. I can ask Lito, if you like. He knows Wolfgang much better than I do.”
In the tense hours of planning before the rescue mission in Paris was to take place, Rajan had tried as subtly as he could to get a sense of who this Wolfgang was, this missing piece who affected his wife so deeply. Of the bits of information he had gleaned, some had unsettled him, and some had filled him with a deep sense of compassion, and some had seemed frankly unbelievable, but now, a year later, he remembered none so clearly as Lito Rodriguez, the action star, telling him matter-of-factly, “Wolfgang is like a character in one of my movies, but he is also the brother of my heart.”
“Please do,” he said. It would of course come back to Wolfgang and Kala, but that was all right. He had no secrets from them, not really.
Kala, Wolfgang, and Felix came back from Kulaba Fort pleased and a bit sweaty and ready for lunch. Kala’s father had a friend who ran a small restaurant in Alibag, so they piled back into the car in search of jitada fish fry and chapati. They’d been on the road for only a handful of minutes when Kala and Wolfang, in the unnerving simultaneous way they had, told him to stop the car.
Rajan, whose sense of urgency had been honed during those strange days in France and Italy when his life had taken such an abrupt turn, knew to listen when they said such things in such a way, and he pulled off the road into a muddy ditch, thinking only for a moment that he would need to wash his car before the thought dissolved in a tense haze of worry.
“What is it?” asked Felix, looking nervously around as if he expected men with guns to descend on them at any minute.
But Wolfgang and Kala were not with them in the car anymore. “It’s Nyx,” said Kala, but somehow Rajan did not think it was actually Kala.
“That fucker,” said Wolfgang venomously. Rajan felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up.
“Who is it?” he asked, and then, perhaps more to the point, “Is anyone in immediate danger?”
Wolfgang’s eyes scanned the back of Rajan’s car seat as if he were scanning a crowd. “He’s not alone,” he announced. “The two guys hovering near the door, they keep looking over at him. They’ve got guns. Will?” As if answering his own question, he—or rather Will—said, “On it. Back door’s clear, we can get to the van before he can.”
Rajan’s mind was racing, adrenaline making his hands shake. “Will and Riley?”
Kala nodded, bringing her hand to her mouth.
They waited in tense silence for a moment before Wolfgang opened the car door and shut it again. This was always an odd thing to witness, when one of the cluster mirrored another’s actions, but in some ways it was comforting to Rajan as a visible sign of a connection he could not actually see. “They made it to the van,” Wolfgang announced, shaking his hand as if to knock some stiff tightness from it.
“Oh,” said Kala, panting, her hand now over her heart. “Thank God.” Her breath was thin and panting, and Rajan tentatively put a hand on her shoulder for comfort, drawing her against him more surely when she leaned into it.
Felix’s eyes darted around the car, wide and incredulous. “Okay,” he said. “What the fuck?”
Wolfgang and Kala exchanged a tense look before Wolfgang announced, “Trouble.”
Perhaps, thought Rajan, the question of what to do for his anniversary would prove to be a moot one after all.
“It was right after our sensate birth,” Kala said. She took a sip of the whiskey Rajan had given her, as if to steady herself, and then made a face at the taste before continuing. “We didn’t yet understand what was happening to us.”
“We’d just…” Wolfgang shrugged. “Show up randomly in each other’s worlds.”
Rajan tried to imagine it. How strange it must have been for them. How frightening.
Will and Riley had been staying in Dublin for the last six months, which had the advantage of being not so far from Iceland and speaking a language that all eight of the cluster knew. But Dublin was thousands of miles away from Mumbai. Rajan thought he had gotten used to the way that Kala and Wolfgang could talk to each other even when one was at the office and one was at home, but the occasional reminder that sometimes their minds were countries, even continents away, still caught him off-guard. How much stranger would it be if it happened to him, without someone to explain what was going on?
Kala looked out the window. “Riley was in London at the time. Her boyfriend….” She swallowed, and when she spoke again, Rajan thought it was Riley speaking through her voice. “Jacks. He introduced me to Nyx one night, after a show. They knew each other because Nyx dealt drugs. He came back to our place to get high, and he told me about a drug called DMT.”
“DMT?” Rajan frowned. “It’s a psychedelic hallucinogen, yes?” He wasn’t a pharmacist himself, but he’d spent enough of his life working for a pharmaceutical company to know a few things.
“A modified version, I think.” It was Kala again. “In some ways it functions as an opposite to the blockers—for us, I think it heightens our bond, causes spontaneous visitation and memory sharing. When Riley took it, she went to Chicago to visit Will and then began to have very vivid memories of her childhood. For a normal person, I believe it can imitate the feeling of connectedness we feel to other sensates.”
Felix made an impressed face. “Sounds cool. I should try some.”
“Not from Nyx.” Wolfgang’s face was hard, and he drained his own glass of whiskey as if it were water. “Riley’s boyfriend robbed him, and Nyx killed him. Later he tracked down Riley and tortured her to try and find the money Jacks stole.”
“My God,” Rajan breathed, but Wolfgang wasn’t listening. Something changed in his face, and when he spoke again, it was no longer Wolfgang speaking.
“He smothered her with a plastic bag, over and over. I was in a bar in Chicago at the time, and I thought I was going to die,” said someone who was undoubtedly Will. Rajan’s breath caught in his throat, imagining what such terror and pain would have felt like to experience without understanding why it was happening. “I fought them off, and Riley ran. She went back to Iceland, and none of us ever saw Nyx again.”
“Until last night.” Kala spoke, but Rajan wasn’t sure it was actually Kala. He didn’t think he would ever get over the sort of awed, humbled feeling it gave him to think that at any given time a business executive in South Korea or a bus driver-turned-politician in Kenya might be speaking through his wife’s body. How strange it was, what a weighty reminder of how much there was in the world that he didn’t understand.
But in another sense, the strangeness of it was nothing compared to the knowledge that once again, one of his wife’s soulmates was in danger.
They sat around the living room with the weight of that in silence for a seemingly endless moment, before Felix said, “Okay, so, what do we do?”
“I say we go see what the hell Nyx thinks he’s doing,” said Wolfgang, his face like a thundercloud.
“Fly to Dublin?” asked Kala. “Without any sort of a plan?”
Felix made a considering noise. “She has a point, Wolfie,” he said. “I mean, you don’t actually have to get on a plane to see what’s going on Dublin. And can’t Nomi, like, hack into security cameras or something?”
“She can,” said Kala, or maybe Nomi, confidently.
“If he still wants the money,” Rajan said, “can we not just pay him off?”
Wolfgang scowled. “And give him what he wants? Fuck that.”
“We don’t even know if that is what he wants.” Felix screwed up his face. “Of course, if he wants revenge, that’s not good, either.”
Rajan felt a tightness in his chest. He liked Riley and Will very much, knew how dear they were to Kala and Wolfgang. But threats from a murderous drug dealer were hardly what one wanted to deal with when planning a corporate restructuring that was likely to piss off people in low places, and also struggling with one’s complicated personal life. He let himself imagine, for a moment, some alternate universe in which the psycellium did not exist and such problems on the other side of the world were not his problems.
But of course, this alternate universe would be one in which Kala was unhappy and Wolfgang was still immersed in Berlin’s criminal underworld, one in which their hearts had never been opened to Rajan and in which Rajan had never known what parts of his own character would emerge under pressure. The Rajan of that world would perhaps still be selling expired drugs to poorer countries and going through life believing that money would get him everything he wanted.
The Rajan of this world had obligations to the people he loved.
“I don’t think we should do anything hasty,” he said “It’s obvious that this Nyx fellow has bad intentions, but we don’t know if Riley in particular is being targeted, or how many men he has, or whether perhaps he is being backed by someone more dangerous than he is.”
Wolfgang shot him a sharp look and then looked down, nodding. “You’re right, Rajan,” he said. “Riley never knew that much about him to begin with. Could be he’s working for someone else.”
The light of the window cast a lovely glow over Kala’s face, but her sadness made the beautiful sight difficult to appreciate. “Why now?” she asked. “Why can we not just be happy for a while?”
Wordlessly, Wolfgang reached over to grasp her hand. It made something loving and painful squeeze at Rajan’s heart, and he covered their clasped hands with his own, relieved at the way they looked up at him and smiled.
“Nomi says she’ll do some digging, to see if there’s any information on Nyx that might tell us what he’s up to,” Kala said. “And Will and Riley aren’t going back to their flat tonight—Riley’s borrowing another place from a friend.”
“Good,” said Rajan. “That’s good. And from everything I know, Will is not an easy man to get the better of.”
That got a quick, not entirely nice grin out of Wolfgang. “You’re right about that.”
“You think Ralf has connections in Ireland?” mused Felix.
Wolfgang rolled his eyes. “I think Ralf’s not going to talk to us after we burned our bridges with Sebastian Fuchs.” To Rajan, he said, “Drug dealer we knew back in Berlin. Specialized in weird club drugs. He had connections with several of the crime families there, but that doesn’t mean he knows shit about the scene in Ireland, or that he’d tell us if he did.”
“Right.” Rajan nodded and tried not to look like he felt completely out of his depth. “Well, I don’t know if I can do anything that will be helpful, but it may be that this Nyx has shown up on the radar of law enforcement elsewhere, and I think I can help research that as much as the next person who is not a computer hacker.”
“Rajan,” Kala said, “you have research of your own to be doing, for the board meeting on Thursday. It’s important.”
“It’s not as important as your safety,” Rajan retorted, but Wolfgang shook his head.
“It’s like you said, nothing hasty. We’ll work our end of it. Maybe we’ll be able to take care of it without getting you involved.” Rajan would have protested that he was already involved, and deeply so, but Wolfgang kept going. “You think your safety doesn’t matter to us?”
That shut Rajan up. He was very much used to being the one to take care of others, but he was still wrapping his mind around the idea that sometimes the best way to take care of them was to let them look out for him.
Felix poured himself another shot of Rajan’s expensive whiskey and gulped it down. “Fuck,” he said with feeling. “This was supposed to be our day off!”
“For us, there is no spring. Just the wind that smells fresh before the storm,” said Wolfgang. Rajan knew him well enough by now to know that he was quoting a film.
In response, Felix made a rude noise. “Shit. Let’s Google this Nyx son of a bitch and see what we find out.”
To the surprise of nobody, “Nyx” was not Nyx’s real name, and so their initial searches didn’t reveal much except some stories about Jacks’s death that upset Riley but weren’t very informative. As far as Rajan could tell, the case had never been solved and had joined the countless numbers of cold cases in Scotland Yard’s files. Given that, according to Riley, Nyx had not acted alone but had well-armed bodyguards, Rajan wondered if there might be some gang or organized crime connections, but Felix and Wolfgang’s connections were primarily in Germany and eastern Europe, and they simply didn’t know enough about the criminal underworld of the UK or Ireland to offer anything concrete.
Though it satisfied nobody, they eventually agreed that Will and Riley would do some local inquiries while Nomi would use her less-than-legal but always effective means to track down Nyx’s image and see if anything could be found about him through that direction.
By the time that even Wolfgang admitted they were getting nowhere, the sun was low on the horizon, and they were all tired and hungry. They ordered takeout from a restaurant down the block and spent the evening watching a women’s field hockey match. Kala sat between Wolfgang and Rajan on the sofa, her head leaning against Wolfgang’s shoulder and her fingers twined with Rajan’s, and Rajan tried to relax. Nyx was thousands of miles away. Kala and Wolfgang were here. All would be well.
Despite Rajan’s protests, the next day, and for the rest of the week leading up to the meeting, he and Kala went to work as usual, and Felix and Wolfgang also went to work as usual, in their half-pretense half-sincere guise as bodyguards. Rajan thought it was more sincere than not this week, as they were all on edge, and Wolfgang in particular looked as if he would cheerfully remove the head of anyone who posed a threat to Kala or Rajan.
It wasn’t as if Rajan didn’t have plenty to distract him. In the first place, Rasal Pharmaceuticals was a massive company, and on any given day there were a million little fires to put out with the marketing department or research and development or the legal team. Rajan had a longer-than-usual meeting with this last on Tuesday. He and legal had been in close conversation ever since his father had stepped away for a life in politics and left Rajan as CEO and primary shareholder, but in the last months they’d devoted much time to walking Rajan through international business law, where his father had—skirted, say, the edges of what was legal (not to say ethical), and what Rajan could and could not do in his efforts to reform the company. As his reform plan was a year in the making, most of the details had already been finalized, but he left his Tuesday meeting feeling, for once, distracted from his personal problems by the overwhelming sense that he was ill-prepared for the board meeting on Thursday.
Ever since Kala had confronted him about the falsified shipping reports, Rajan had looked at his company and his role in it with new eyes, and he had done a rather thorough inventory of the things he had written off as ‘what everyone does’ before that day. Rajan genuinely believed that his father had convinced himself these things were justifiable in the service of some greater good, and many of the cost-cutting measures were shitty but not so harmful that they could not be phased out gradually. Some things, though, needed to be changed immediately, and it was to the records he had pulled on these things that Rajan turned on Wednesday. His presentation to the board was largely complete, but he could always tweak something here, add an example there.
He went again through the problematic company practices he’d planned to bring up in his presentation while Wolfgang sat in the corner of his office with a chai and a book. Not being one for wearing suits on a day-to-day basis, he was dressed in what he and Felix called his ‘bodyguard’ outfit—jeans, practical boots, and his well-worn black jacket which, despite the coolness of the air-conditioned office, he had thrown over the back of the chair. The gray tee-shirt he had on underneath did very nice things for his well-muscled shoulders, the kind of thing that Rajan hadn’t spent much time noticing since his cricket days in undergrad but took pleasure in now.
Only for a moment, though. Wolfgang of course was never invisible in the way that the first bodyguard agency Rajan had hired had claimed their agents would be, but his presence was a comfort rather than a distraction. The occasional glimpse of him out of the corner of the eye made Rajan smile, but it did not take his focus from his research.
Something, however, did catch his eye.
Rajan blinked and went back through the file he had been reading, double-checking that he had read it correctly.
This didn’t mean it would be useful, however. His presentation the next day forgotten, Rajan went down a rabbit hole of grant applications and subcontractors. When he emerged from his research haze, he saw Wolfgang frowning at him, his gaze alert and concerned.
“You okay?” he asked. “You seem, I don’t know, like you found something you didn’t expect to find.”
“I did.” He motioned Wolfgang over, a tense excitement making him feel twitchy and breathless. “Is Kala here?”
Wolfgang’s eyes darted over to the doorway as he made his way over to Rajan’s desk, then back to Rajan. “She is now. What’s up?”
“Okay. I don’t know if she will remember this, but about three years ago, our research and development department received a grant from an international research consortium to study the effects of psychotropic drugs to treat PTSD and substance addiction.”
“Yeah,” said Wolfgang. “She remembers. So?”
“Well! One of the drug families that they were testing was an assortment of psychedelic tryptamines, including N,N-Dimethyltryptamine.”
“DMT.” Whether it was Wolfgang, Kala, or both of them together who spoke, their curiosity had been well and truly awoken now.
“Exactly! Well, the clinical trial itself was ended prematurely because one of the collaborating departments failed to obtain informed consent from its testing subjects, one of them attacked his family while in the throes of his hallucinations, and the funding was withdrawn. But one thing the ethics board didn’t even address was the pharmaceutical subcontractors used by some of the other collaborating departments and irregularities there.”
“What kind of irregularities?”
“Our R & D was working on what you might call the standard oral form of DMT, which has negative, even fatal, interactions with antidepressants. This served as the control for many of cases run in the study. One of the departments working in the UK, however, was working with a modified version of vaporized DMT which they hoped would have fewer contraindications for patients on various SSRIs. They were using a subcontractor in Scotland we’ve worked with a few times to produce the modified version. About three months after the study began, a lab technician working at the pharmaceutical subcontractor reported a batch of the modified DMT missing. Shortly afterward, though, this same lab technician said that her earlier report had been an error and left the company. It only showed up in a footnote on one of our internal memos, so it never came up in any of the major discussions with the funding organization.”
“So you think this subcontractor has something to do with Nyx, and his supply of DMT?” asked Wolfgang, his eyes sharp.
“That is what I was thinking. But I was also thinking something else.” Rajan pulled up a website, clean and visually appealing in the bland sort of way that many corporate websites were. “This is the subcontractor I was talking about. It lists its board of directors on the ‘about’ page of the company, and I was looking at one of the operating partners, and….” He pointed at the ruddy, Winston Churchill-looking face of the man in question, beaming in his tweed suit. “Look.”
Wolfgang leaned in over Rajan’s shoulder, so close that Rajan could feel his warmth, and inhaled in what in a less controlled man might have been a gasp. “Holy shit,” he said.
Mr. Jonathan Fotheringay-Stewart, proud operating partner of New Horizons Pharmaceuticals, was also a chief financial officer of SapienCorp, a subsidiary of the Biologic Preservation Organization.
It was at this point that Kala—physical, in-person Kala—appeared at the door, tailed closely by Felix. She was dressed in her white lab coat, her hair tied back severely with only one curly wisp threatening to escape. Her eyes were alight with excitement, and she had never been more beautiful. “We have it,” she said. “Nomi and I. Nyx’s real name.”
She was carrying a tablet, on which she enlarged an image. Grainy and dim, it appeared to have come from the camera of some private eye or paparazzo crouched in the bushes. It showed a woman, mid-fifties, perhaps, dressed in simple clothes that Rajan could nonetheless recognize as expensive, and a younger man with a washed-out, hungry look to him. “The woman,” Kala said, “is Christina Fotheringay-Stewart.”
“Jonathan’s wife,” Rajan hypothesized, and Kala nodded.
“Former wife—they divorced after this picture was taken four years ago—but yes. And the man is Nicholas Rasmussen, otherwise known as—”
“Nyx,” she and Wolfgang completed at the same time.
“Not just a drug dealer after all,” Felix mused. “But if he’s into all this BPO, homo sensorium shit, what do you think he wants? I thought they were cleaning that place up—you don’t think they’re after you again?”
“If they are,” said Wolfgang grimly, “they had better be ready for a war.”
Rajan could hardly sleep at all that night, despite Wolfgang and Kala’s efforts to wear him out. Sun and Capheus, who had invested time and energy into making the new BPO a force for good not only for the world’s sensates but also for those in need who could benefit from that interconnected network of skilled psychics, had had a conversation with River El-Saadawi that had convinced both of them that, whatever Nyx’s connections with BPO had been, they no longer existed. Wolfgang was not entirely convinced—as far as he could tell, Nyx’s connections had never been official and could well have slipped between the cracks—but at least it seemed that an all-out fight against the new incarnation of BPO would not be necessary, which was a relief.
It did not, however, eliminate the problem. Riley and Will had noticed themselves being followed the previous day, and though they hadn’t seen Nyx, none of them had any reason not to assume that it had been him. In the meantime, Nomi had been able to piece together a tentative idea of how Nyx had gotten mixed up in BPO in the first place. Christina Fotheringay-Stewart was a neuroscientist at New Horizons Pharmaceuticals who’d been one of the investigators on the modified DMT trials.
Riley, meanwhile, had recounted for all of them what she could remember of that first conversation with Nyx, one where he’d talked about his own feelings of disconnection and isolation before a woman had given him DMT. Though her motives in doing so weren’t yet clear to any of them, it seemed at least a reasonable working theory that Christina had been the one to introduce Nyx to DMT, and that the missing shipment of DMT had something to do with the hallucinogen’s ability to enhance or mimic the empathic sense of interconnectedness that homo sensorium fell into naturally.
None of this, however, gave the cluster or their loved ones any insight into what Nyx’s agenda now was, or what they should do about it, and none of them made thoughts of Rajan’s board meeting the next day any less intimidating.
“Hey,” Wolfgang mumbled into Rajan’s shoulder. “Stop thinking so loudly.”
Damn. “You can’t actually read my mind, right?”
“Who needs to read your mind when you’re tossing and turning like this?” He threw an arm over Rajan’s chest and pressed himself more firmly against his side. “You don’t want to show up at your meeting tomorrow all—I don’t know, whatever schlafmützig is in English or Hindi. Go to sleep.”
“I can’t,” Rajan whispered. “How can I think of Rasal Pharmaceuticals when you might be in danger? How am I still so worried about this meeting with everything else that’s going on?”
He could feel Wolfgang wrinkle his nose before pulling his head up to stare at Rajan, his features obscured by darkness. “Don’t worry about us,” he said in a low voice. “It’s your company, and it’s important.”
On Rajan’s other side, Kala groaned. “Could this conversation not wait until tomorrow?” she asked plaintively.
“I’m sorry, my love,” said Rajan, pinched with remorse. He stroked a stray lock of hair out of Kala’s face. “I didn’t mean to wake you two up.”
“Too late now,” Wolfgang said philosophically, sitting up to switch on the lamp. “So.” He looked down at Rajan, the dark smudges under his eyes making him look even more intense than he usually did. “Do you want to talk, or do you want us to…distract you?”
“Far be it from me to turn down lovemaking twice in the same night,” said Rajan, “but I don’t know if it would help now.”
Kala propped herself up on one elbow. “What would?” she asked.
A perfect world where scientific organizations were never chasing you, my company had never done anything wrong, and nobody had any problems with bisexual men or polyamory, Rajan thought. He sighed. “I don’t know,” he said. “I think perhaps if I knew that you were happy and all right.” He shifted back a little so that he could look at Wolfgang, too. “Both of you,” he added, so as to be as clear as possible.
“I’m fine,” said Wolfgang with a frown, and Kala gave him an admonishing look.
“He is not fine, we are all very worried about Nyx and this, this mysterious BPO connection, and about what will come of your meeting tomorrow, but it’s not like it was before—we are not on the run, and we are not alone, and we don’t need to hide what’s going on from the people we love, and so in the grand scheme of things I suppose we are fine.”
“That’s what I just said.”
Kala and Wolfgang’s squabble went silent, conducted through facial expressions or perhaps through some senate means that Rajan did not entirely understand. For his part, Rajan found he could not be as reassured as he wished. Because they were hiding what was going on from the people they loved—there were whole layers of their life together that neither Rajan’s nor Kala’s parents knew anything about, nor any friend Rajan had not met through the sensate Cluster. He knew what Kala had meant, knew how monumental it had been for her to let him and Felix in on the truth, but it felt shabby nonetheless to inhabit a world of warmth and love and mystery that he had continuously to lie about.
“Do you think,” he said, “that for the anniversary we should go somewhere where there aren’t many other people? Some sort of retreat? Perhaps it would be relaxing to not have to put on a show for others.”
At this Wolfgang made an incredulous noise. “You’re still thinking about the fucking wedding anniversary? Now?”
It was perhaps a foolish thing to focus on at this particular moment, but nonetheless Rajan felt a jolt of hurt like a physical blow. “You’re right,” he said. “Of course it isn’t important at a time like this.”
“Don’t say that,” said Kala, glaring at Wolfgang. “Just because you don’t want to talk about it doesn’t mean you can take it out on Rajan. Such things are important to many people—it doesn’t mean they don’t matter just because you don’t like them.”
“I didn’t say it didn’t matter,” Wolfgang protested, but he couldn’t seem to think of anything else to say after that, and the conversation died; Rajan’s thoughts kept jumping from topic to topic, and he didn’t trust himself not to say something else silly or irrelevant, and he had never had a particularly good track record at guessing what Kala was thinking. After a seemingly endless period of awkward silence, Wolfgang switched the light back off and rolled over with his back to Rajan and Kala, and Rajan lay with his eyes closed for a long time before slipping off into a troubled sleep.
Breakfast the next morning was a tense affair, and Rajan tried very hard to clear his mind of everything but his presentation to the board. Felix, after his initial greeting of, “Whoa, who pissed in your cereal this morning?” seemed to take his cue from Wolfgang and devoted himself to his aloo and kachoris without further conversation. Kala and Wolfgang were not fully present; Rajan thought that they were having an argument, but they were also in conversation with Will and Riley, if not the whole cluster, about what they’d discovered about Nyx, and so they were distracted and had little to say out loud.
Part of the appeal of having a home on Marine Drive was that Rajan and Kala could walk to work when the weather was pleasant. Often they went holding hands, with Wolfgang in mental contact with Kala and physically a half-step behind Rajan, but today Wolfgang and Kala seemed to be their own little unit, and Felix fell into step beside Rajan.
“Hey,” he said in a low voice, “You okay? Kind of sucks that this thing with this drug dealer had to happen right when you were getting ready for your big meeting, huh?”
“Yes,” Rajan agreed. “It sucks very much.”
“Not to, ah, stick my big nose where it doesn’t belong, but it seems like a bad time for you three to be arguing. What’s up?”
Rajan cast a quick look over his shoulder, but it didn’t seem as if Kala and Wolfgang were paying attention, instead grimly ignoring each other as they dodged other pedestrians, and so he turned back to Felix. “I wouldn’t say we’re arguing,” he said.
“Bullshit,” said Felix. “I mean, no offense, but that’s bullshit.”
Rajan groaned inwardly. He and Felix got along without difficulties, but it wasn’t because of some deep intimacy between them—Wolfgang and Felix loved each other, and Rajan and Wolfgang loved each other, and that was enough for each to respect the other, but he and Felix had very little in common and did not often have deep or emotional things to say to each other. “It’s nothing,” he said. “I only brought up our anniversary again last night, but it wasn’t a good time, when we were already worrying about so many other things. That’s all.”
“Huh.” Felix seemed to digest this. “I didn’t know it was such a big deal to you. Last year I thought you just got dinner.”
“Last year,” Rajan said with more asperity than he had meant to, “my wife had just been shot, I had just discovered she was another sort of human being and was also in love with another man, and I was having a sort of sexuality crisis for the first time in a decade. I had other things on my mind.”
Felix nodded. “Fair enough, fair enough.” He scratched at his perpetually scruffy stubble. “That was a crazy time, eh?”
“Very much so.” Rajan was not sure how much more he wanted to talk about this with Felix this morning.
“Did Wolfgang say he didn’t give a shit what you did for the anniversary?”
“Not in so many words, though I suppose that was the jist of it. Why?”
“I don’t know,” said Felix with a shrug. “What do people do on their anniversaries, anyway? My parents are divorced. Wolfie’s weren’t married, and even if they had been, they were really fucked up, you know. Neither of us has ever dated someone so long you had to remember an anniversary before. This thing where you go on vacations and have romantic dinners is like a jewelry commercial. It’s not bad, just the whole thing doesn’t seem like real life sometimes.”
Hernando’s words about rituals and the languages of love came back to Rajan, and suddenly he was very interested in what Felix had to say. “I think I’m going about this in the wrong way,” he said, “but I don’t know what I should be doing instead. You know Wolfgang better than anyone—or at least, anyone who cannot read his mind.”
Felix snorted. “Better than that, I bet—Wolfgang can’t read his own mind sometimes.”
“Okay, so, what would you do on this anniversary to make him feel…well, loved, and included, I suppose? I didn’t know about him when Kala and I got married, but now I think that the relationship between Kala and me could never truly be truly complete without him. And I hate that we cannot be open about our relationship without my board of directors and stockholders and…and people on the street pitching a fit about it.”
“When I got married, my Senior Vice President for Communications asked me when Kala would be leaving Research and Development to take care of the children.”
Felix winced. “Wow.”
“He’s not a bad man,” Rajan felt compelled to say. Not that Uncle Sharma would have cared what a German locksmith-slash-burglar-slash-bodyguard thought about him, but still. “He’s known me since I was a child, and I know he wants what’s best for me, he’s just…well, old-fashioned, as you said.”
“Yeah, well, you’d think people wouldn’t be so hung up on this shit in the twenty-first century, but it is what it is, I guess.” He wrinkled his nose, visibly thinking, before saying, “I don’t know, man, I don’t think you have to do anything special for your anniversary. I mean, Wolfgang gets it, about why you’re not going public about you and him and Kala. I think the most important thing for him is just to be there for him when he needs, it, you know, have his back. But if you want something else, maybe just tell him.”
Once again, the answer came down to talking with Wolfgang. But how did one do that if Wolfgang himself wouldn’t talk about it?
But there was no time to think about it now, as they had reached the door of Rasal Pharmaceuticals. Felix dropped back to stand next to Wolfgang, and Kala stepped forward to take Rajan’s hand. “Did you and Felix have a good talk?” she asked.
“I think so, my wonderful wife,” he said.
“And are you ready for this board meeting?”
“Now that is another question altogether.”
Wolfgang stepped forward to open the door and hold it for Rajan and Kala to walk through. As he did so, he turned to look Rajan square in the face. “You’ll be great,” he said sincerely. “They’re not gonna know what hit them.”
Rajan felt himself stand a little straighter, his mood a little lighter as he pushed his worries to the back of his mind. “Thank you all,” he said, and then he strode in to greet Priya at the reception desk. One way or another, this meeting wouldn’t be hanging over his mind anymore after this day.
He’d scheduled it weeks ago to be the first thing on the day’s agenda, so as to get it out of the way. Despite the early hour, several members of the board had gotten there before him, and he endured some awkward small talk and tea from the executive lounge while they waited for the others to show up.
In some ways, despite the tension of the last week, there was actually something familiar and comforting about arranging his notes and asking about Rakesh Khanna’s son at Oxford and complimenting Nandita Joshi’s recent marketing campaign for asthma medication. Rajan’s father had had him attending board meetings since he was a teenager; he had known all of the members of the board for years, some for decades, and he knew what each of them liked and disliked, what they might find persuasive and what would set their hackles up.
One by one they filtered in. Shortly before the meeting was set to begin, Wolfgang slid in unobtrusively. The board members recognized him as Rajan’s bodyguard, and their eyes passed over him as if he were invisible, which set Rajan’s teeth on edge. Wolfgang, though, scanned them unemotionally before meeting Rajan’s eyes. They didn’t need to share a bond through the psycellium for Wolfgang to ask silently, Do you mind if I stay and watch? His hand went briefly to his heart, a sign he and Kala used among company to tell Rajan they were both present, even if he could only see one of them.
Rajan smiled at him. Of course, he hoped Wolfgang could read in his face. Stay. He checked his watch. Time to begin.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” he said, “thank you for coming out so early today. I’ve got a lot to talk about, but I’ll try to get through it all as quickly as I can. As you know, I participated a year ago in a parliamentary investigation into corruption. As I was preparing my report for Parliament, I discovered a number of things about Rasal Pharmaceuticals that shocked me.”
He went through the worst of his examples one by one—he knew that none of them was shocked by his every example, but some had not known about the unethical practices going on in other departments, and Rajan had decided from the beginning to allow them all to save face by behaving as if none of them had known about any of it. Some sat stone-faced, while others gasped or looked concerned at all the right places. When he had finished with that, he laid out his plans: the creation of a new committee to examine the company’s internal affairs; a year-long investigation into their subcontractors’ practices, in order to clean up the labor and safety violations in their supply chain; the immediate cessation of such illegal practices as falsifying shipping inventories and expiration dates on surplus medications. He finished with honey to sweeten the medicine: survey data on corporate trustworthiness, ideas for new ad campaigns that might clear the company’s name of Rajan’s father’s recent spate of notoriety in the political sphere and capitalize on a new, more ethical identity for the brand.
Throughout it all, Wolfgang stood, confident and encouraging, and Rajan thought about Kala looking at him with wonder and saying I married a good man, and Wolfgang’s frequent and blunt advice to either live with his mistakes or fix them, and stood a little taller. He’d made a lot of mistakes in his life, but this? This was not one of them.
When he had finished his speech, Mr. Khanna, his COO, cleared his throat. “This is all very admirable, Rajan,” he said, “and an ambitious plan, to be certain. But surely you cannot expect us to vote on such a wide-reaching proposal before we have had time to review its impact on company finances?”
“Of course I don’t,” he said, and he distributed the folders he’d put together earlier in the week. “You’ll find the details of the proposal here, complete with budget projections I’ve had an independent accounting firm run. We’ll vote on it at the next meeting. But I think once you’ve all read the proposal and the projections, you’ll agree with me that this is the right step at the right time. My father built this company intending it to be a force for good in the world—a way to bring India to the cutting edge of medical research and to provide high-quality, affordable medications for people who could not obtain them. If it has lost its way in recent years, that is no reason it cannot be brought back better than ever. It is the right thing to do, and it is also the smart thing to do. The world is smaller than ever these days, and we should do nothing in darkness we are ashamed to have brought to light.”
His tone must have made it clear that he would not be persuaded on this point—or at least that it would have been foolish to try at the moment—and so the rest of the conversation was about inane little details of the plan as the board leafed through it. Soon enough, they had all run out of time, and the board members shuffled out, some shaking his hand heartily and telling him they were sure his father was proud of him, some not meeting his eyes as they hurried from the room.
One, however, lingered behind with him and Wolfgang—Suraj Bhat, who had been head of R & D under Rajan’s father in the ‘80s but had later moved into a series of roles culminating in his current position as Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer. Ethics, that was a laugh—Rajan would have bet all the money he owned that Bhat was the one others went to if they wanted to do something that bent laws and regulations without breaking them.
Casting barely a glance at Wolfgang, Bhat said, “Now what’s all this, Rajan?”
“What do you mean, Uncle?”
“You know perfectly well that this kind of brownnosing soft-hearted nonsense is not what your father intended for this company. Rasal Pharmaceuticals has always been run responsibly and ethically, but that doesn’t mean running a shoddy business!”
“I have no intention of running a shoddy business, Uncle, and my father must trust my judgment, given that he has made me CEO.” Rajan was on dangerous territory here, as his father most likely would object to several points in his proposal, but Manendra Rasal knew the importance of good publicity and a united front, and Rajan for one didn’t feel like exposing any weaknesses to Suraj Bhat.
“Well, we shall see how he feels about your judgment the next time he and I play handball,” said Bhat.
Rajan could feel his smile go strained around the edges. “I’m sure he will enjoy that,” he said. “I hope you will have read the proposal thoroughly by then.”
Bhat eyed him with an assessing, narrow-eyed glance, before apparently deciding that his threat had not had the intended effect and bestowing a conciliatory smile on Rajan. “Of course I will. I understand of course what it is like to be young and idealistic, and you’re right that young people these days are very keen on ethical companies, what with their Twitter and their hashtags and whatnot. But there is more than one way to bring Rasal Pharmaceuticals into the future, you know. The advances we are making now will improve human life in ways we cannot now imagine, and it would be a shame for red tape to get in the way of that.”
“Of course it is always easy to tell ourselves that the ends justify the means,” said Rajan, “but we don’t always know what the future will hold, and I think it is better to focus on what is needed now and the people we can help now, rather than gamble the company’s moral standing on future advances that may not work out.”
“Ugh!” Bhat waved away this point with a disdainful gesture. “You know the advances this company has made in treating AIDS? Cancer? PTSD? We are not gambling anything.”
But Rajan was no longer interested in this argument. A thought had occurred to him. “PTSD? Uncle, by any chance do you recall a collaboration we did with New Horizons Pharmaceuticals, in the UK, some years back?”
Bhat blinked and something shifted in his eyes. Yes, thought Rajan. He knew exactly what Rajan was talking about. “I have been at this company for 30 years,” he said, his conciliatory tone gone. “You think I remember every project we have collaborated on?”
“I only thought,” Rajan said, “because you had mentioned PTSD, that perhaps you were thinking of that study. I know it ended badly, but from what I can tell, they were making some promising discoveries, not only in treating PTSD but in enhancing empathy and prosocial behavior. Perhaps if you wanted to propose revisions to my plan, if you had ideas for other directions we could take our research, that might be something to discuss at the next meeting.”
“Hmm,” said Bhat shrewdly. “Perhaps there is something to that, I don’t know. But if you are revising anything….” He reached out to tap the folder holding Rajan’s copy of the proposal. “Perhaps the section on genetic studies. I think there is great potential there. You want to change the world, you look at the genes. The DNA. That’s what I would say.” He drew back and gave Rajan a fatherly smile. “Well, I must be going. But as I have been saying, Rajan, don’t do anything hasty. If you would like to talk about any of this with me before the next board meeting, well, you have my number. Perhaps you and your father and I could all play handball together.”
“Perhaps so, Uncle.” Rajan made himself keep smiling as Bhat strode out of the boardroom as if he owned it.
They listened to his footsteps grow softer as he moved down the hallway before finally they vanished. Wolfgang stepped away from where he had been leaning against the wall and grinned. “Rajan, that was fantastic,” he said. “If we weren’t in your office, we would kiss you.”
But of course, they were. Rajan swallowed his disappointment and took a deep breath, feeling shaky and loose as the adrenaline dissipated. “Thank you,” he said. “I think it went about as well as could be expected.”
“Better than I expected,” said Wolfgang frankly. “I knew you would be great, but I wasn’t sure about some of the board members. I still think you’ll have trouble with some of them, and that Bhat guy is going to be a pain in the ass.”
“Perhaps. But are you thinking what I’m thinking about what he said to me?”
“If you’re thinking that you wouldn’t trust him to run genetic studies if he was the last man on earth, then yes.”
Rajan shook his head. “No. I mean, you’re right about that, but the fact that he brought that up right after I mentioned the study BPO was involved in—and after denying that he remembered anything about it---”
“I see what you mean,” said Wolfgang. He frowned. “Maybe whatever they were up to with the DMT had to do with figuring out how we work. Sensates.”
“Kala had mentioned that the drug, at least the version Nyx gave Riley, heightened your connection. Do you suppose BPO knew that?”
Wolfgang shrugged, but before he could say anything, Kala walked in with Felix close behind. Taking first Wolfgang and then Rajan by the face to kiss them, she said, “Rajan, I am so proud, you and your presentation were marvelous.”
“Thank you, my love,” said Rajan, twining his fingers around hers.
“But in answer to your question, I think BPO must have some idea of the effect of DMT on sensates. I know they must have been doing pharmacological studies to develop the blockers—”
“Yours are better,” Wolfgang murmured, and Kala shot him a quick smile.
“I like to think so, thank you. But what I have been wondering is, how does Nyx come into it? Nomi has been digging into New Horizons’ records, and there are some reports from Christina Fotheringay-Stewart that I do not entirely understand, but might be….” She hesitated.
“Might be what?” asked Rajan.
“Well, perhaps this sounds a bit outlandish, but I think she might be trying to create sensates.”
Rajan blinked, taken aback. “Why?” And then, realizing how that might sound to his beloveds, he added, “Being a sensate seems to have many wondrous benefits. But it also seems to require a great deal of vulnerability and openness—it doesn’t seem like an easy product to sell.”
Felix made a face as if he were considering the question, and Wolfgang said, “People would find a way to profit from it. I can think of lots of people who wouldn’t mind being able to combine a gang of fighters with different skills into one person’s body.”
“Right,” said Felix, nodding with agreement. “And fuck crime lords, it’d also be good for spies, assassins, shit like that, huh?”
Rajan thought back to the way the cluster and their friends had managed to invade a mob family’s fortress and overcome their enemies with no lasting casualties, and felt a cold chill as he realized what might happen if such skills could be shared with less ethical people for less ethical ends. It was a potential for exploitation and violence that had never occurred to him.
“I don’t know if that’s what Dr. Fotheringay-Stewart is doing,” said Kala nervously. “I don’t know if that’s why Nyx is following Will and Riley. She hasn’t officially worked for BPO or New Horizons in a couple of years. Perhaps it is only about the money and the drugs Riley got rid of, after all.”
Wolfgang shook his head. “Too much of a coincidence. And even if that is all they’re after, doesn’t help Will and Riley.” His expression grew distant. “Will and Sun and I could take them,” he said. “Wouldn’t need to involve anyone else.”
“You are not killing anybody, Wolfgang.” Kala’s voice was getting louder. Though the support staff were models of discretion, they might well come to investigate if they heard shouting. Rajan looked meaningfully the door of the boardroom, and Felix hurriedly shut it. “What good does that do us? If Dr. Fotheringay-Stewart really is trying to create sensates and thinks Will and Riley will be useful to her, she won’t just give up, and if she doesn’t already know that they’re sensates, she certainly will if you and Will and Sun take out her agents! It will bring attention to all of us that we do not need.”
“So what’s your plan, then?” Wolfgang’s chin set stubbornly. “We let Nyx and his gang just stalk Riley and Will until something happens?”
“Of course not! Why don’t we see if we can find out a bit more—”
“What’s the point in finding out more about them if we don’t do anything?”
“If I may,” Rajan interrupted, and both Kala and Wolfgang swung around to look at him. He cleared his throat. “Everyone is expecting that we will go out of town in the coming weeks for our anniversary anyway. We were all at Nomi and Amanita’s wedding, it isn’t as if no one knows about our friendship with Will and Riley. We can go and see the situation in person, and if it turns out that more than two sensates are needed to take care of the problem, well, you will also have me.”
“And me,” Felix said. “I’m sure as shit not staying home.”
“And Felix,” Rajan corrected. “I don’t pretend to be good in a fight, but if it turns out you need bribery or someone to pose as a visiting pharmaceutical executive, I think I am your man.”
Wolfgang and Kala looked at each other, and then at Rajan. “You don’t have to do that,” Wolfgang began, but Kala cut him off.
“But would you, Rajan?”
As it turned out, it would not only be the four of them joining Will and Riley in Dublin. Nomi and Amanita’s own anniversary was coming up, and they had taken to traveling more in general after their romantic Paris honeymoon. Sun’s role as the head of an entirely restructured Bak Enterprises meant that she could arrange legitimate business reasons to take her to Ireland. Lito’s latest film, a spy thriller in which he played an enigmatic assassin, had wrapped up its shooting, and Daniela insisted that she needed to check out the set of a Game of Thrones-esque drama Lito was up for a role in which happened to be filming along the coast in County Clare. It was a bit more challenging for Capheus to find an excuse to travel—as he was now a public figure, all eyes were on him in a way they had never been before—but his prominent involvement in international AIDS charities meant that he would be able to snatch a few days after an international symposium in London.
Kala was thrilled about the opportunity to see the rest of the cluster together in person, and perhaps even more so their non-sensate friends and significant others. Wolfgang, meanwhile, seemed considerably more subdued on the plane ride. He had elected to sit next to Felix across the aisle from Kala and Rajan, and alternated between talking to Felix and listening to music.
Rajan tried not to eavesdrop. Sometimes, he thought, Wolfgang both feared and was eager for violence, and feared his own eagerness for it. At such times, Felix was of more use than him, much as he hated to admit it.
When he mentioned this to Kala, however, she made a doubtful noise. “Oh, that is part of it,” she said. “But he has other things on his mind as well.”
“Like what?” It was cheating, perhaps, to ask Kala such things, but Rajan had not slept well the night before, and he felt himself on edge.
She hesitated, her eyebrows wrinkling in concern. “Perhaps it would be better if you asked him that yourself,” she said. She shot a glance over at Wolfgang, and he met her eyes with a serious expression. Felix groaned.
“I should have known that Wolfie dating two people would mean twice the drama. Ugh. Hey, Mr. India Plan, want to switch seats?”
“I think that is a splendid idea,” said Kala before Rajan could respond. Wolfgang sighed, resigned, and Rajan awkwardly switched seats with Felix. First class was supposed to offer passengers more space, but he felt intensely claustrophobic as he settled in next to Wolfgang.
Wolfgang did not appear to be in the mood for conversation. The flight was some twenty hours long, Rajan told himself—they had plenty of time to talk later, and so, ignoring the exasperated looks from Kala and Felix, he dug out his tablet to answer some panicked emails from various board members. It seemed they were not nearly so hesitant to take issue with certain provisions of his reform plan when they knew that the rest of the board was not there to hear them.
“You didn’t have to come along, you know.”
It took him a moment to extract himself from his correspondence and realize that Wolfgang was talking to him. He was facing toward the window still, actually—perhaps he wasn’t talking to Rajan after all, but was talking to one of the other members of his cluster. “Pardon?”
Heaving a sigh, Wolfgang turned to face him. “You’re in the middle of all this bullshit with your company, and like you said, you’re not a fighter. You didn’t have to come.”
Rajan knew he had come on a bit strong in his early days of courting Kala, but he genuinely wasn’t used to his company being so unwanted, and he swallowed a bit of hurt. It wasn’t personal—or, well, it was, but given how Wolfgang tended to worry about the people he cared about, it probably had more to do with Rajan’s physical vulnerability than with not wanting him there. “Well. I promise not to get in the way. You don’t have to tell me twice not to get into the middle of a gunfight.”
“No, it’s not—I mean, you handled yourself fine in Naples.” He shook his head, apparently exasperated with himself. “I just mean, you’ve already done so much. Who invites someone like me not only to live in your house but be a part of your marriage? You’re always asking what I want to do for your anniversary, and what do you end up actually doing for it? Flying halfway across the world to fight some creep you’ve never even met. I’m just saying…I’m grateful. You know?”
This was it, thought Rajan. This was his moment. This was the language Wolfgang spoke. “Well,” he said, reaching to take Wolfgang’s hand. They didn’t often indulge in public displays of affection, but Wolfgang didn’t pull away, and Rajan felt his nerves settle. “You know me. I like doing things for the people I love.”
“Yeah,” said Wolfgang, staring at their joined hands, their intertwined fingers. “But what do I do for you?”
“It’s not a business deal. It’s not an exchange. But if you’re asking, you’ve opened the world to me. Because of you, I now know my wife like I didn’t before, and we can love each other for who we are and not who we thought we were supposed to be. Because of you, I know myself like I didn’t before, and I find that I have courage I never imagined. What do you do for me? You let me love you.”
It wasn’t a terribly romantic location. The engine of the plane was so loud Rajan could barely hear his own words, an advertisement for the airline’s complimentary beverage service was playing on the TV in his seat, and the child two rows behind him was complaining in a very loud voice that he was bored. But somehow all of it faded away when Wolfgang looked at him, his blue gaze weighty and sincere.
“You know,” he said, “I knew I was going to love Kala from the first moment I saw her. But you were a surprise. I never expected to love you the way that I do.”
A warmth flooded Rajan’s body, and he felt himself truly relax for the first time in weeks. He brought Wolfgang’s knuckles up to his mouth to kiss them. “I want to tell my parents about us,” he said. When Wolfgang looked like he would object, he said, “I know you don’t need it. I do. I know that we can’t go public with our relationship, not yet, but it hurts me to keep you and the love that we share with Kala a secret as if it is something to be ashamed of. If I fight with my parents about it, I fight with my parents about it, but it is a fight I am willing to have--if it won’t bother you too much.”
“I don’t give a shit what your parents say,” Wolfgang said in a low voice. “It only bothers me if it hurts you.”
“I know,” said Rajan. They still didn’t talk much about Wolfgang’s parents, but Rajan knew something horrific had happened there, something that made him both protective of Rajan and Kala’s parents and protective of Rajan and Kala whenever their parents (usually Rajan’s) upset them. He generally tried to hide both reactions when in the presence of either of their families, but the end result had been that Rajan’s father periodically urged him to sack Wolfgang and Felix and hire bodyguards with better manners. It was a typical effort on his father’s part to run Rajan’s life, but when it came down to it, Rajan knew, his father loved him and wanted him to be happy, and just as he had with Kala, he would eventually concede if Rajan fought for what he wanted. “I’ve gotten very good at fighting with my parents over the years,” he told Wolfgang. “Perhaps it will distract my father from complaining about what I’m doing to his company.”
Wolfgang huffed out a rough chuckle of a laugh. “A distraction, am I?”
“A very charming and handsome one.”
“Well.” Wolfgang quirked a grin at him and leaned back in his seat. “If it’ll make you happy.”
“It will,” said Rajan, pleased to see the cloud that had hung over Wolfgang begin to dissipate. “Think of it as your anniversary gift to me.”
“And I suppose this trip is your gift to Kala and me.” Wolfgang’s grin took on a cocky edge. “If this is what you do for your second anniversary, what are you going to do for number three?”
By this time next year, Rajan thought, they would not be where they were now. Rajan would doubtless have faced objections from his board and made changes to his company. Wolfgang and Felix would probably have dropped their guises as bodyguards and gotten to know Mumbai enough to strike out on their own. Perhaps Kala would have gone back to university for the PhD she was considering, or have made some brilliant breakthrough that took her career to a place they could not even see yet. The three of them would have continued to find their own rituals, their own ways to say that they loved each other. Rajan’s love of romantic gestures would take on new shapes. Who knew where next year would find them?
For now, it was enough for him to lean back in his seat to look Wolfgang in the eye, to say, “Trip to the moon, perhaps?” and listen to him laugh.
There were few things more joyful in this life, thought Rajan, than watching Kala and Wolfgang reunite with their other selves. He wasn’t sure what it was like for them, but for him, watching two people he loved so dearly embrace and take comfort from the people with whom they shared such special connections and such intense experiences made him feel as if all was well in the world, as if every distance that divided people could be overcome.
“Here we go again, huh?” said Daniela Velasquez, plopping herself next to Rajan on the couch. “Another BPO adventure.”
“You gotta admit, it’s never boring.” Amanita Caplan-Marks squeezed in on Rajan’s other side, kissing his cheek as she went. “So, Rajan! Tell us about fighting the good fight in the corporate world! Nomi explained some of it to me, but it was all kind of third-hand.”
Amanita and Dani were interesting people to talk about his plans for his company with, since Amanita had a deep and abiding hatred of corporate capitalism and Dani’s family ran a company with even more ethical problems than Rasal Pharmaceuticals. They weren’t people Rajan would ever have met under other circumstances, but he liked both of them, and he made a mental note to follow up on Kala’s idea for a California vacation the next time they traveled.
But of course, this wasn’t a vacation, despite the warmth and conviviality of the gathering. It was a strategy meeting. A war room.
After they’d all caught up with the details of each other’s lives that slid through the cracks even with the cluster’s frequent visiting and sharing, Will and Riley laid the most recent details on the table. Nyx hadn’t reached out by phone or tried to deliver any other kind of message, but he’d been a constant presence—a shadow in the back of a club, a set of footsteps when Riley and Will walked home, an implicit threat wherever they went. The longer the two of them explained the situation, the grimmer the faces of everyone in their little studio apartment became.
Nyx seemed at least aware enough of Will to know that he was Riley’s boyfriend, but his target continued to be Riley, which confirmed everyone’s suspicion that while he might know that Riley was a sensate, he hadn’t yet identified the rest of her cluster. Either Christina Fotheringay-Stewart was well and truly out of the loop since she and BPO had parted ways, or she didn’t share her information with Nyx.
It was obvious that something had to be done. Rajan remembered Riley as a sparklingly cheerful, endlessly kind and sensible person, but she seemed tired now, edgy, fearful, and Will, who had struck Rajan as both deeply protective and deeply in love with Riley, was tight-jawed and unhappy. Their fear and misery was painful to witness, and Rajan couldn’t even imagine what the rest of the cluster felt. After all they had gone through to escape the clutches of BPO, to be dragged back into their orbit now was the sort of thing to cause despair if it wasn’t taken care of.
The question, though, was what was to be done. Club security had been notified about Nyx, but he seemed to evaporate whenever anyone actively looked for him, and the police had been apathetic, if not suspicious of Riley as a club DJ and Will as a former cop with a spotty record. Nomi was still working on tracking down Dr. Fotheringay-Stewart, but she seemed to live a rather off-the-radar life—if Whispers had been personally involved with many of BPO’s ground operations, Dr. Fotheringay-Stewart seemed to delegate the tasks involved in her experiments to people whose connections to her were difficult to trace.
“Obviously Nyx is the weak link,” said Wolfgang. “You don’t even have to find him, he comes to you.”
“He gets the advantage of surprise, though,” Will pointed out. “So far he’s been confronting us on public turf without any particular pattern, which makes it damn hard to catch him or find out what the hell he wants.”
Sun frowned in concentration. “We could draw him out. Lure him back to your place and ambush him.”
“Too smart,” said Riley, shaking her head. “We tried it, but he wouldn’t take the bait.”
“He didn’t have any problem attacking you alone before,” said Wolfgang, his face stormy.
She shrugged. “If he knows I’m a sensate, maybe he also knows I have help he can’t see. And I suppose it’s possible he’s not trying to get me alone at all—he might be watching us, reporting our movements to someone else.”
“I say we go to him,” said Nomi firmly. “Finding his home base is a snap. He won’t be expecting us on his own turf.”
Lito nodded vigorously. “Ah, yes, the hunter becomes the hunted. Very clever.”
“But then what do we do?” asked Capheus, frowning. “I do not wish to be involved in another…massacre, you know?”
“I agree entirely,” said Kala, shooting a glance at Sun and Wolfgang. “Killing Nyx will not tell us anything about what he’s after, and we have other options, now. We don’t always need to be turning to violence.”
Nomi raised her eyebrows. “Sure. Absolutely. Take murder off the table. How do we feel about blackmail?”
Hernando and Dani turned to look at Lito—though Rajan wasn’t sure why, curiosity made him turn in Lito’s direction as well. One by one, the rest of the cluster followed suit, and Lito sighed loudly. “Why is everyone looking at me? Am I the expert, just because I was blackmailed?”
“I tell you,” murmured the former Detective Mun to Rajan. “Every time I think I’ve heard it all, they pull out something like this. Every day’s an adventure!”
“Well, that’s one way to put it,” said Rajan.
The next evening found them in a rather nice two-bedroom flat Nyx was renting overlooking the River Liffey. Whether Nyx’s money came from dealing DMT or from nefarious scientific organizations, thought Rajan, he seemed to be doing all right for himself.
Their prey might have been somewhat unpredictable in his actions, but they’d gambled that he’d show up if Riley had a show, and it had paid off—though the show had been spontaneously arranged with a friend-of-a-friend club owner, Nyx had somehow gotten word of it and had appeared to hover ominously in the back, giving Wolfgang and Felix a chance to break into his apartment and the rest of them to take up their various positions.
The night was cool and moist, a silvery mist shimmering around the moon, and the streetlight streaming through the window cast an eerie glow on Nicholas ‘Nyx’ Rasmussen as he unlocked the door to his flat and stepped in. But he was not the one who would be doing the frightening tonight.
“Hi, Nyx,” said Riley as he flipped on the light next to his door. After rushing over once her show was done, she’d parked herself on one of the stools sat around the kitchen counter and was sitting there with one leg crossed over the other, looking very much at home. Nyx was clearly a more disciplined person than Rajan was, for rather than start in surprise, he simply stiffened and blinked at her.
“Riley Blue,” he said. “How nice to see you again.”
“Not really,” said Will, who’d been leaning against the wall next to the door.
Nyx really did start this time, and Wolfgang narrowed his eyes from the other side of the door. “Not so fun when someone shows up unexpectedly in your home, is it?” he asked roughly. “Not so fun to be outnumbered and alone.”
The man’s eyes darted around, clearly looking for backup. He wouldn’t find it. Sun and Mun stepped out of the guest bedroom, looking supremely satisfied with themselves. “Looking for your men?” asked Sun.
“They’re a little tied up at the moment.” Mun grinned at his own pun.
Rajan watched as Nyx took in the faces around him, some hidden in shadow still and most clearly unfamiliar to him. It was easy to see the moment he resigned himself to suffering whatever they had planned. He turned back to Riley, his pleasant expression not hiding the coldness of his eyes. “What is it you want, Riley?”
“What do I want?” She stood up and took a step closer to him, fixing him with a wide-eyed look of incredulity. “You’re the one following me, Nyx. What do you want? I told you I don’t have your money, but if you want it, I have friends who are willing to help me out. I’d be happy to pay you off if it meant never seeing you again.”
“As much as I appreciate your generous offer,” said Nyx, not sounding like he appreciated it at all, “that’s not what I, or my employer, want this time.”
“Then what is it?” asked Riley, her voice now earnest and imploring.
Nyx snorted rudely. “As if you don’t already know,” he said. “As if you don’t have access to knowledge that most of us can only dream of.”
Kala, who had hung back in the shadows with Rajan, squeezed his hand. Her features were difficult to make out in the shadows, but Rajan thought he read bafflement and uncertainty in the lines of her face, her lustrous eyes, and he squeezed her hand back in reassurance.
“I don’t understand, Nyx.” Riley looked as confused as Kala. “What knowledge is it that you think I have? What knowledge do you want?”
Nyx’s lip curled up in a sneer, and his voice, when he spoke, rang with genuine anger. “What do we all want, in this cold, isolating world? What is it all we despairing humans seek? Connection, Riley. I want what you have. The connection to the world and to each other that comes so easily to homo sensorium, and that you hoard away in your little secret societies and networks.”
Of all the emotions Rajan had expected to feel toward this man who was terrorizing his friends, pity had not been among them. And yet he felt it now at the honest pain and furious jealousy in Nyx’s voice. He didn’t know where Nyx had gotten this strange idea of hoarding sensate powers from, but wherever it had come from, it seemed to fuel some deeper yearning.
Apparently taking the room’s pity and bewilderment for surprise, Nyx continued. “Oh, yes, Dr. Fotheringay-Stewart told me all about this power you have, this ability to connect to the deeper resonances that tie the world together. And what do you do with it? Nothing. This…this gift you could give the world, to end loneliness and misunderstanding and war, and you use it what, to play music in a club?” He shook his head in disgust. “She’s a genius, you know. She’s working on a way to replicate it, so that others can do what you won’t. But to do that, she needs information. And that means having a sensate to participate in her studies. And that means you, Riley.”
He took a step forward toward Riley, but no more than one, because before he could get any closer, Will had wrestled his arms behind his back and Wolfgang was holding a knife to his throat. “You don’t touch her,” Will said in a low growl.
Nyx’s face remained calm, but his eyes, cold and hateful, sought out each of the faces in the room, and Rajan felt very grateful for the shadows that hid him and Kala.
If Riley was afraid, though, she didn’t show it. Instead, she simply looked sad as she shook her head. “You don’t understand anything, Nyx,” she said. “And if this Dr. Fotheringay-Stewart thinks she can eliminate misunderstanding and war by making more sensates, she doesn’t understand anything, either. You say you want what I have?” She gestured around the room. “You can have it, anytime you want! Love, connection, friendship? You don’t need to be a sensate for that! Half of the people in this room are normal humans, and they’re not here because we share a psychic bond, they’re here because we care about each other. That’s what connection is, Nyx—to love other people, and to want them to be well and happy. And if you don’t already know that, I don’t see how a science experiment is going to help you.”
At a glance from Riley, Nomi stepped forward, holding her laptop. “Here’s the deal, Nyx,” she said briskly. “You’re going to leave Riley and Will alone. And you’re going to leave the rest of us alone, too. I could threaten you—I could tell you that I have evidence linking you to multiple murders, not counting your attempted murder of Riley here.” She pointed to something on the screen, and whatever it was, Rajan could see it register as Nyx frowned.
Nomi pulled the screen away and glared at Nyx over the top of her glasses. “I could tell you that tracing your crimes back to Dr. Fotheringay-Stewart would be child’s play, and that the shit she’s into would get her put her away for a long time. Or I could tell you that half of the people in this room know how to kick your ass more ways than you can shake a stick at. But I’m not gonna do that. I’m gonna tell you that there’s actually ethical research being done on homo sensorium, and if you want to know about it, look up a woman called River El-Saadawi. But if you ever come around here harassing us again, we’re gonna make you regret it.”
“You fuck with one of us,” said Wolfgang, who was still holding a knife on Nyx, “you fuck with all of us.”
Though nobody spoke, everyone stood a little straighter. That was the heart of what Riley had meant, after all. Love drew connections inside and outside the psycellium, thought Rajan, and one person’s pain or joy reverberated across the world.
The stand-off lasted for an agonizingly long few seconds. Finally, Nyx closed his eyes. “Fine,” he said. “I’ll tell Dr. Fotheringay-Stewart. Are my friends still alive?”
“They’ll be fine,” Sun answered. “You’ll have to untie them yourself, though.” She tilted her head at him. “If they’re really your friends,” she said, “perhaps you should tell them to find a different line of work. This one gets rather dangerous.”
They filtered out of Nyx’s flat as quietly as they had entered it, though the lightness in everyone’s mood made the walk through the misty darkness romantic, rather than eerie. The cool, moist air left droplets in Rajan’s hair and beard, and the light of the moon cast everyone in a soft silvery glow. It shone from Kala’s hair, made Wolfgang’s seem white—they could have been a pair of moons themselves, passing in parallel orbit as they walked next to Rajan.
“Do you know,” he said, “this is not so bad a place for an anniversary vacation.”
Kala laughed, and Wolfgang shot Rajan a wry grin. “Feeling romantic?”
“Very much so. I’ve never been to Dublin, but I imagine that you two have seen some lovely sights with Will and Riley. Will you show me tomorrow?”
Wolfgang looked at him with a kind of aching tenderness that only appeared when he and Kala and Rajan were alone. Rajan supposed it could have been a trick of the moonlight, but he didn’t think so. “We’d love to.”
Kwon-Ho had spoken the truth—every day was an adventure, and Rajan could not wait to see what the next one would hold.