The group ran multiple experiments—with complete strangers, with men and women who lived deep in zones of infection, with those who’d already begun to exhibit the erratic behavior that had come to be known as a precursor to an outbreak.
Kaleb and Aden sealed up two severe Net breaches in the interim, while Sahara took the myriad reports that came in, crunched the data, and broke it down into bite-sized pieces that sleep-deprived Es and their Arrow partners could understand.
What they discovered was extraordinary.
And these are the men, women, and children Silent Voices and their like would have us erase from the gene pool.
Editorial, PsyNet Beacon
IT WOULD BECOME known as the Honeycomb Protocol.
Rolled out across the entire PsyNet in the space of a single month, the fear that gripped the populace helping to spread the effect faster than initially predicted, its success was soon a matter of unimpeachable fact. Outbreaks dropped apace with the spread of the honeycomb, and people in comas began to wake up.
None were yet who they’d once been, but the medical empaths were hopeful.
Ivy Jane, Kaleb thought where he stood behind his desk at home, had been correct: desperation was a great motivator of trust.
Of course, not everyone was happy with the situation.
Kaleb looked down at the lists his people were sending in from around the world. “These individuals refuse to join in.”
Sitting curled up in the chair on the other side of his desk, Sahara frowned at a datapad of her own. She was keeping track of how many connections an E at a particular Gradient could make before maxing out, as well as any other factor that altered the reach of a cluster. It wasn’t simple data collection and collation, but a record meant to ensure no E was placed under unnecessary stress, as well as a way to monitor the health of a very fluid network. The honeycomb altered constantly as new connections were made and others dropped.
The fact Sahara was fluent in every language under the sun meant there was no chance an E’s report would be mangled in translation. Her own lack of E abilities was considered an asset not a handicap.
“We’re too close to it,” Ivy Jane had said when she asked Sahara to take up the task. “The torrent of emotion in the Net is consuming our attention—we need someone who can see patterns, and you saw this pattern before anyone else. Plus, you might not be an empath, but you’re very empathic and able to handle dealing with us.”
Sahara had fallen to the task with relish. When Kaleb pointed out she was technically doing a type of math, she’d gasped and said he’d stabbed her through the heart. Then she’d hauled him down by his tie and made him apologize. Now, she chewed on the end of her laser pen and answered absently. “Forcing the holdouts into the honeycomb defeats the purpose. Coercion is what got the Net into this in the first place.”
“By staying unconnected,” Kaleb said, “they give the infection room to thrive.” An unacceptable risk.
Sahara looked up, the charms on her bracelet making tiny sounds as they clinked against one another. “That’d be true if they were concentrated in one area—and if they were, we both know their chances of survival would be minimal at best.” Sadness in her gaze, she rubbed at her forehead. “But I’m guessing they’re scattered throughout the Net.”
Scanning the data, Kaleb nodded. “At this point at least.”
“So I’d say they’re being balanced out by the connections around them.” She bit at her pen again.
Teleporting it out of her hand, he replaced it with a cookie. Her shoulders shook. “Funny.” But she bit into the snack. “Anyway,” she said after swallowing, “if they do start to congregate, then we can tell them the risks and ask the NetMind to quarantine their section.” Her lips turned downward. “It’s not the best option, but we can’t justify allowing them to create a hothouse for the infection.”
“If it comes to that, I have a feeling the objectors will defect to create their own network.” He met the eyes of the woman who knew every scarred, twisted corner of his soul and loved him anyway. “Since this dictatorship appears to be oddly lenient about rebellion, I won’t stand in the way of their plan.”
Cookie finished, Sahara came around the desk to straighten his shirt collar. “I think you’re becoming an incredible leader,” she said, pride in her voice.
No one but Sahara ever felt such emotions for him, saw such merit in him. “Nikita and Anthony are doing some heavy lifting at the moment”—freeing Kaleb to deal with more urgent matters—“but it’s all ad hoc. Long term, we need to come up with a political system to replace the Council.”
Kaleb knew he’d always be a power and that was how he wanted it. Never again was anyone going to hurt him or Sahara. But he also wanted time to dance with her, to live with her, and for that to happen, he needed to create an institution that wouldn’t collapse if he stepped away—and that wouldn’t eventually become rotten to the core, as had happened with the Council.
Sahara ran her fingers over his nape. “It’ll have to be a system that takes the specific strengths and weaknesses of our race into account, like the changeling pack structure does theirs.”
“Yes.” Right now, however, it was about survival. “Is the rollout complete except for the objectors?” Kaleb himself didn’t like the idea of being linked to anyone other than Sahara even on a basic level, but he’d been willing to accept it to ensure she was doubly protected. Both by his immunity and the relevant empath’s.