Kaleb joined him, waited.

“My ancestors,” the other man said into the quiet, “formed the ShadowNet in desperation when it became clear the only way to escape Silence was to defect, but they brought with them the problems that led the rest of the Psy to choose the Protocol.

“We had foreseers who fell into their visions and never returned, telepaths whose shields splintered until they couldn’t block out the noise, telekinetics who broke the necks of the people they loved when their abilities spiraled out of control.”

Kaleb attempted to imagine what it must’ve been like for the defectors, alone and cut off from the vast resources of the PsyNet. “Yet the ShadowNet is producing individuals with unheard-of abilities”—the reason another Councilor had once attempted to hunt them—“while the PsyNet remains problematic.”

“Will you accept a ’pathed image?”

Kaleb inclined his head at the inquiry, and Santos sent him the image. It was of a chaos of multihued lines, intersecting and parallel, numerous threads coming in from opposing directions, curving below and above, often smashing into a knot no one could ever untangle, only to spread out in new directions on the other side.

“This is the ShadowNet?” It was the most anarchic mental landscape he’d ever seen.

A nod from Santos. “We’re connected to one another through multiple bonds of emotion. Friendship, love, even hate—negative emotions can create bonds as powerful as positive.”

Kaleb had never before considered that, but of course the other man was right. Kaleb had spent most of his adult life searching for a way to destroy the Council, his focus relentless. A vicious connection, but a connection nonetheless. “Emotion alone can’t be the key, or Silence would’ve never been necessary.”

“There is another element, but it’s not one you can replicate,” the other man answered. “The ShadowNet is smaller than the PsyNet by a magnitude of hundreds.” He turned to face Kaleb once again. “We keep a close eye on one another, notice the symptoms of any disintegration quickly, act even quicker. My personal, unscientific view is that the compactness of the ShadowNet also offers a certain level of automatic stability.”

Kaleb thought of the vast spaces between minds in the Net. “Akin to a village where trouble is easily spotted, in comparison to a city where an individual may walk alone amongst thousands.”

“Exactly. Consider the fact the changelings have been shown to have the lowest rates of psychopathy and mental illness of all the races. They almost always live in comparatively small, tightly linked pack groups.”

If Kaleb were to follow that logic, it would mean breaking the PsyNet into manifold pieces. “Your levels of insanity?” he asked, exploring another path. “I was unable to access any hard data.” His aide had compiled the information about the propensity for serial killing in this population by painstakingly tracking known members of the Forgotten in the prison system, then extrapolating that data using a statistical program.

“Attempting to break our encryptions?” There was unvarnished steel in Santos’s tone. “Don’t bother. We learned to protect ourselves a long time ago.”

Kaleb had come to the same conclusion when his best hackers failed to get into the Forgotten’s databases. “The data is less necessary than any coping mechanisms your people have discovered that can be adapted for use in the PsyNet.” He could and would execute the predators as soon as each was identified, but that wouldn’t fix the underlying problem.

The monsters would continue to spawn.

“Our elders,” said the leader of the Forgotten, “think we should keep our distance from your problems. The original adult defectors have all passed on, but many of the current elders were youths at that time, can remember the turbulence and pain of it. They say we shouldn’t get involved in your troubles.”

“What do you say?”

“I’m not a dictator, Krychek. I listen to my people.” He went silent as an airjet passed overhead, his expression giving nothing away. “But I listen to them all—including the ones who say that in working with you we may find answers to the problems that continue to haunt us.” Golden brown skin pulled taut over his cheekbones. “We have our mad still; people we simply cannot reach.”

“It’s been said the broken ones are the price our race pays for violent psychic abilities,” Kaleb pointed out. “We are our minds.”

“I’m not willing to give up on any of my people. Are you?”

Kaleb wasn’t used to thinking in such a way. The only person who mattered to him was Sahara. Everyone else was irrelevant . . . except that Sahara had asked him to save them. “I never give up on anything.” With that he asked another critical question, “Your empaths have been active throughout, and yet you continue to have problematic rates of mental illness?”

Santos’s answer was unexpected. “The Forgotten didn’t have many powerful empaths to begin with.” Face shadowed by the clouds that had moved in directly overhead, he said, “My great-grandmother says it’s because the Es thought the defectors would be all right. We had a strong mind-set, were brutally organized, while the Net was in chaos.

“So, despite the fact Silence was anathema to their very being, the vast majority of Es stayed behind.” He thrust a hand through his hair. “It meant our first generation was unbalanced enough that we never quite made up the numbers. Today, we have no high-level empaths as you’d judge them, but our mentally ill are far calmer and more productive in comparison to what I’ve heard of those in the Net.” A questioning look.

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