mind to the bare empty room he used as a gym. He was weight training, which explained the edge of fatigue in his thoughts. I let him put the weights down before I spoke. “My first job back in the Hive will be to check your candidates for the Strike team. I thought I could prepare for that now by taking a look at their holos and records.” Adika nodded, his face blank and incurious, and the top level of his thoughts concentrating on the mechanics of getting a data cube and copying the relevant records. Deeper down, his mind was busy speculating. … spending a lot of time with Lucas, but she surely can’t be leaping into his bed when he looks nothing like … … unshakeable if Amber supports him as well as Megan. Waste it! How can I trust the judgement of a Tactical Commander who acts like a small child? He’ll be ordering me and my team into danger and … The level below that was torn between his wish to tell Megan exactly what he thought of Lucas, and his desire to keep on good terms with her and … I pulled out of that train of thought hastily. I still found it disconcerting to be sucked into male reactions. Adika’s low opinion of Lucas was painfully obvious to everyone. Lucas was deeply amused by it, and mischievously fuelling the poor man’s fears by playing the fool in front of him. I considered reassuring Adika that Lucas was brilliant, but that would only convince him that we were a couple. In the current circumstances, it seemed an extremely bad idea. I kept quiet, accepted the data cube, and headed back to my apartment to start viewing the holos of Adika’s twenty preferred candidates for Alpha Strike team. My suspicions were quickly confirmed. The Lottery tests had been affected by my fascination with Forge. The candidates had skin tones that varied from pale to even darker than Adika, but they all had black hair, and there was something subtle about their cheekbones that reminded me of Forge. I skipped on through fifteen holos, estimating each young man’s resemblance to Forge, and was relieved that I felt no compulsion to sit staring at their faces. As far as I could tell, I was merely reacting to them with the natural interest any girl would have in good-looking young men who would be working closely with her. I stopped watching the holos when I got to number sixteen because there was no point after that. Number sixteen didn’t just look like Forge. Number sixteen was Forge.
I sat there, staring blankly at the holo of Forge, telling myself I was a fool to be so shocked by this. I’d known Forge was strong and a natural athlete. I’d known he was addicted to taking risks. I’d even known Lottery had assigned him to Law Enforcement. I should have realized there was a high risk of him showing up on my Strike team. There might be thousands of other candidates just as well qualified, but Lottery had made the final choice based on their resemblance to Forge, so he’d naturally be selected. I forced myself to turn off the holo, went to my bedroom, and floated in the warm air of the sleep field thinking about the situation. Lottery had weighted the odds in Forge’s favour, so he was one of the two hundred or so candidates imprinted for Strike team. The process hadn’t stopped then, because Adika had been impressed enough to choose him as one of his twenty preferred candidates for the Alpha team. It hadn’t stopped then, but it was going to stop right now. I could reject anyone in my unit, and I was going to reject Forge. You don’t argue with the telepath, so Adika would just accept my decision and replace Forge with a reserve candidate. He’d be surprised though, and might ask what I’d seen in Forge’s record that made me reject him. I could bend the truth, say I’d met Forge on Teen Level and hadn’t liked him, but a comment like that from a telepath might hurt Forge’s future career. He’d been allocated one of the highest prestige positions in Law