“I repeat: it’s not that simple.”
“Then we’ll get Dan or Sam in here to help.” Betrayal sliced through her again at the unmentioned Clare, and she pushed it firmly away, clinging to her skepticism like a shield. “I want you to prove it.” She picked up the box of threose mesh and offered it to him. “Go on. Show me.”
He took the box, but only because her jaw had tightened and her shoulder had grown rigid, and he couldn’t be certain that she wouldn’t throw it. He hadn’t seen the signs of her temper until now. Impatience and disbelief, yes, but not temper until it blazed sudden and fierce in her voice and stance. Ji not only respected the force of it, but her ability to have hidden its rise so well, and he took his time answering as his own temper began to stir, yearning to meet hers. Strange to feel it at all. “It’s not something the human body was designed for. The pain of transfer is debilitating. Too many transfers, especially too close together, can cause permanent damage or worse. It’s not done on a whim or to prove anything.”
Her jaw still had a mutinous set to it, her eyes burning temper, and he sighed.
“My colleague in the other room requests that her remain unconscious for a minimum of three days after every single one of his transfers. And he’s a villein like me. This is his life. It’s what he does, travel from world to world. He’s better equipped than anyone else in this world—other than myself—to make these transfers, and he would still rather lie in a coma than deal with the aftereffects. So, no.” He slapped the box onto the counter. “I won’t ‘show you’.”
“So I’m just supposed to trust you?”
He spread his hands. “Or just walk away. It’s your choice.”
She stared at him, her anger and frustration palpable, and he found himself holding his breath even as he struggled to maintain a calm, neutral expression. He met her challenge for challenge and, finally, Lyssa looked away. He released his breath softly, his body relaxing. He hadn’t realized how much he needed her to stay, and he didn’t stop to exam why.
Turning, she began to absently turn dials on the console. Ji suspected it was more to avoid eye contact than a manifestation of interest and let her. “So what makes villeins better equipped to handle the jump—the transfer?” she asked.
“Several things. Genetics. Training. And the mesh.”
“You have different stuff than that?” She lifted her hand from a cylinder long enough to wave at the box beside her.
“Yes. Ours is denser, more intelligent. More like one of your computers, I suppose, though more advanced of course.”
He lifted an eyebrow, though she didn’t see it. “Sarcasm? When you have evidence of our technological advantages in front of you?”
Ignoring him, her fingers found the button to turn on the screen, and she looked up at the symbols and images that appeared before her, the heart in the corner still beating steadily. She watched it a moment before glancing over at him. “Can I see it?”
“Yes and no.” He offered his hand, palm up. “Technically you’re looking at it now. It’s embedded in my skin.”
“Embedded in your—” Shock had her turning to stare at his palm, her expression bordering on the horrified. “Seriously? What, are you like some kind of Borg?”
No immediate reference known, Mesa whispered.
He looked down at his own palm, unwilling to watch the jumble of emotions pass through her eyes. “I really wish you’d stop with the references to popular culture.”
“Like a Terminator. A cyborg.”
Cyborg, noun—an entity part human, part machine. The term now identified, Mesa was able to flip through examples, in short order providing images and references for both the Terminator and the Borg. He had a strange urge to laugh. “No. Nothing like that.”
He risked a glance at her and found her still staring at his hand.