A glimpse. It’s . . . extraordinary. His heart beat under her cheek, steady and solid and alive. Can you show me the linkage?
I think so.
Vasic was quiet for several minutes. There aren’t enough Arrows.
I wouldn’t expect to be connected to them all.
Yes, but you’re already connected to more than you should be—through Aden, and if it’s through Aden, you should be connected to every single Arrow in the squad.
Because Aden, she understood, was their acknowledged and accepted leader. “Is Aden particularly close to any other Arrows?” she said out loud.
“There are three or four senior Arrows with whom he works on a regular basis, but he knows and is aware of the mental health of every single member of the squad.”
So, again, she should be connected to them all through Aden, yet Ivy saw only a scattering.
Deciding to focus on those connections, she traced them outward . . . and found all but one Arrow she could see through Aden appeared to have no other connection to anyone. Abbot was the single exception. That didn’t make sense, since Arrows were all connected to one another. Unless— “It cuts off at the second layer,” she murmured, even as she realized these bonds were different from the kind of bond that tied Sahara and Kaleb to each other.
She’d thought fractured Silence was a necessity, but clearly it was simply something that often happened to coexist alongside these ties. A majority of the squad walked the edge of absolute Silence, and yet the golden links had formed . . . almost as if they were so necessary, all that was needed was a single crack for it to take hold. Such as the loyalty that bound the members of the squad to one another or the responsibility an Arrow felt for the safety of his E.
Chewing on that, she traced her link to Jaya, the other E’s constellation of bonds opening up in front of her as if she was flying over a city lit up for the night. She didn’t know the minds in Jaya’s network except for Abbot and Aden. Jaya, too, was linked to unknown Arrows through the leader of the squad, but they were different from the ones in Ivy’s group.
Jaya’s network held a surprise: another E. Perhaps a family member. That E was linked only to a tiny number of others, no secondary layer. Ivy woke Jaya up with a telepathic hail, though she knew her friend needed the rest. This was too important. Jaya, do you have another empath in your family? What Gradient?
Jaya’s sleep-hazy voice mumbled, Yes, a child. Untested for E abilities, but I think he’s probably around 3 or 4 on the Gradient. Why?
Go back to sleep. I’ll tell you later.
“We’re the Band-Aids,” she whispered, sitting up to face her Arrow. “I get it now. I understand how we can save the Net, why there are so many of us.”
Vasic spread the fingers of one hand on her lower back. “Tell me.”
“The Es need to find ways to connect with a circle of people. Jaya and I are both on the high end of the Gradient, can share our immunity with a secondary layer, but others will only be able to shield those with whom they’re directly bonded.”
She knew she wasn’t explaining it properly, told herself to slow down.
Then Vasic spoke. “You have a direct bond with Aden, but you can also protect those with whom he has a bond. A weaker E would only have been able to protect Aden.”
“Yes!” Ivy shoved both hands through her hair, trying to contain the beautiful audacity of the image in her mind. It would mean restructuring the entire PsyNet, but it could work. It would work! “One E, I think, can only protect a finite number of people. That’s why I can only see some of the Arrows.”
“How many will depend on the E’s psychic strength.”
“I’m guessing, yes.” Spreading out her hands, she drew a diagram of her vision in the air. “But isolated clusters aren’t enough—it’s no use shielding individuals if the Net crumbles around them.” The psychic fabric was too riddled by infection, too damaged to sustain itself. “To hold the PsyNet together, we need to create a massive honeycomb pattern of interlinked clusters across the world.”
“Stitch the Net back together using the Es as the glue?”
Ivy grabbed his face, kissed him. “Exactly!” Tumbling onto his chest when he nudged at her back, she wriggled up to straddle him. “I saw serious damage directly outside the area Jaya and I cover with our clusters, but inside? Vasic, it’s strong as steel.”
“If you’re right,” he said, sliding his hands up her rib cage, “the only stumbling block remains the issue of emotional connections and how to create them.”
Ivy blew out a breath and fell forward onto his chest on crossed arms, but she wasn’t about to give up. “Are there any Arrows who aren’t already paired with an empath? Ones who aren’t linked to me through Aden, either.”
“Yes, a number couldn’t be pulled off core tasks.”
Core tasks. Hunting the serial killers who continued to prowl the Net. “Would they talk to me?” she asked, not voicing the dark truth.
Vasic paused. “Yes, two of them are at Central Command and available to talk.” He sat up. “We’ll have to go now to catch them.”
Dressing quickly, Ivy cuddled Rabbit when he bounded over, ready for an adventure. “Can he come?” The Arrows had cared for their pet more than once already, but Ivy didn’t assume welcome.
“Rabbit is now an accepted fixture,” Vasic said, and teleported them into a lush green space she’d never have known was underground if he hadn’t already told her of it. The kiss of moonlight on the trees was a muted silver, the starlit sky above a perfect illusion.