Ethan Rayne's leg hurt.

That was the first thought that crossed his mind as he came to consciousness. The second was that he was no longer in his very comfortable bedroom at Hayden's place. The room he was in was remarkably . . . white.

Other bits and pieces slowly assembled in his drugged mind. Like good old Ripper shooting him in the leg. And those lovely men in black suits bundling him into a car and shooting him full of sedatives.

Overall, he came to the conclusion that he was back in U.S. government custody. And, to add insult to injury, all the plans for escape he'd been working on before Hayden's people had sprung him were now shot to hell.

"Bugger," he muttered.


"Merde," muttered Nicole D'Armand as soon as she was conscious enough to have an opinion about her current state. Her head hadn't hurt this bad since she was twelve, when her powers were first developing. The Frenchwoman covered her eyes against the light boring its way through her eyelids. Where was she?

Movement made her nauseous, but she managed to tip her head to the side without throwing up. Cautiously, she moved her hand away from her eyes and took a look.

The room she was in was about eight foot by eight foot, with all the amenities of a jail cell and all the charm of a sanitarium. The white surfaces shot daggers right through her skull.

"Merde," she repeated with more feeling. Now she was going to have to escape from a prison, which would be no easy task, even for her. Perhaps Lucas would help. Of course, first, she had to be able to think, which was extremely hard thanks to the drum and bugle corps that was playing in her head. Just what had that little Slayer done to her, anyway?

The door to her cell hissed open, and a woman dressed in a lab coat and carrying a machine Nicole didn't recognize walked in. The woman pressed a few buttons on whatever it was, and it responded with a pipping noise.

"Who are you?" Nicole asked.

"I'm Dr. Paula Denmar," the woman said, not looking up. "How are you feeling, Nicole?"

"I want out," said Nicole. She wasn't, at this point, actively trying to control Denmar. However, a statement like that would generally have brought to the forefront of the doctor's mind useful information like why she was here, where she was, and what kind of security she would be facing when she tried to escape.

Nicole got nothing. The doctor remained a blank.

Denmar looked at Nicole. The doctor was an attractive woman in her mid- forties with short, light brown hair speckled here and there with gray. Something in her green eyes, though, chilled Nicole to the bone. Not an easy task, but this woman managed it, especially when she smiled.

"Don't bother trying to read my mind, Nicole; I'm completely psi-blind. That's why I was assigned to you, as a matter of fact," Denmar said.

Nicole's stomach sank. Most people possessed a small amount of psychic ability, whether they knew it or not. In most cases, it gave them very little or no power, but it allowed those like Nicole access to their minds. The psi-blind, however, were utterly opaque.

Worse, the woman's knowledge of Nicole's powers and statement that she'd been "assigned" to Nicole specifically because of her psi-blindness suggested that this wasn't an ordinary prison. It wasn't much of a leap to come to the conclusion that Nicole was in a place very similar to that which Ethan Rayne had been in (and perhaps was again).

Denmar brought the machine she was carrying up to Nicole's temple. Its pipping set Nicole's nerves even further on edge.

"Good," Denmar murmured to herself with a satisfied smile.

Nicole didn't want to think about what that might mean. Instead, she tried to find another mind nearby. Say, the person she heard coughing a short distance away.

Nothing. Nicole could feel nothing. In fact, it didn't even feel like she'd been reaching out mentally. She tried again and was only rewarded with a more intense headache and a wave of nausea. The psychic let out a gasp and closed her eyes against the pain.

Denmar spoke again. "You might not want to try using your powers, Nicole. They're not going to work for you, and all you'll end up doing is giving yourself a case of vertigo."

"What have you done to me?" Nicole demanded weakly.

"There's a microchip implanted in your brain that will inhibit your abilities until we feel you're ready to become, shall we say, a more productive citizen," said Denmar. "You're going to serve your country very well."

"I'm French, you imbecile."

"You're nothing, Nicole. Nothing and no one," stated Denmar. "As far as the world is concerned, you're dead. No one outside a very select group knows where you are, or even that you exist. The sooner you understand that and start cooperating, the better your life will be. Do I make myself clear?"

Nicole opened her eyes and glared at the doctor. "My employer will know, Doctor. Be prepared for one hell of a lawsuit. He will . . ."

The psychic trailed off. Something was forming in her mind: a picture of Lucas Hayden, driving. Something caught his attention, something important, and drew it off the road for a second-

Flying, tumbling over the edge, falling down and down and down until there was nothing left.

"He's dead," whispered Nicole. Lucas Hayden, the one man who was never afraid of her abilities, the one person she had ever truly considered her friend, was dead. "His car went over the edge, and he's dead." Her chest felt hollow.

Denmar looked startled. "You can tell that, even with the telepathic inhibitor? How intriguing. It makes me think there are more areas of your very fascinating brain that should be mapped. I think, Nicole, that we'll be seeing a great deal of each other." Denmar stood and walked to the door.

A wave of panic washed over Nicole. "You can't do this. You can't imprison me. I can't . . ." The Frenchwoman looked around the confines of the cell and tried to struggle to her feet, but nausea kept her from getting further than the edge of the bed. Her muscles felt weak, slack. "I can't stay in here. Please, let me out."

Denmar smiled that icy, frightening smile. "I'm afraid I can't do that, Nicole. There are just too many uses for you."

As the door hissed shut behind the doctor, Nicole had another vision: Dawn, standing cocksure in that teenaged way of hers, saying, "Karmic payback's a bitch, isn't it, Nicole?"

Then even she was gone, and for the first time in her life, Nicole was utterly alone.