Ten seconds later, she stood alone, the only evidence of Vasic’s presence boot prints in the snow . . . and a single perfectly repaired window.

Chapter 10

This world was once a true triumvirate, but we now exist as disparate pieces. Humans in their insular enclaves, Psy in steel and glass high-rises armed against intrusion, changelings in packs generally closed to outsiders. This cannot be a viable long-term existence. Change is inevitable.

Excerpted from an essay by Keelie Schaeffer, PhD (December 2073)

VASIC CALLED A meeting of his security team two hours after retrieving the parachutes used by Ivy’s assailants and assigning a covert guard to watch over her. He’d already made the decision that the ratio of Arrows to empaths at the compound would be one-to-one, with each Arrow being paired with a specific E. Security had to be high and it had to be tight; Pure Psy wasn’t the only group that might see the empaths as a threat.

The six males and three females he’d personally chosen for this duty stood in front him in the glade situated near the back of the subterranean green space at Central Command. All were dressed in identical black uniforms embellished only with a single silver star on one shoulder. “The empaths,” he said to them now, “are our priority. Anything that places them at risk is to be eliminated.”

“If we receive orders that contradict that directive?” asked a female operative trained as a combat telepath.

“You’re under my direct command,” Vasic responded. “Designation: Arrow Unit E1. If anyone else attempts to give you an order, you come straight to me.” Krychek wasn’t stupid enough to attempt to subvert Arrow leadership in that fashion, but the ragged remnants of Pure Psy weren’t as intelligent.

Not that Vasic believed any of these men or women would be disloyal. Some had been tempted by the idea of psychic peace espoused by the fanatical group, but any such leanings had died a quick death with the group’s first violent act. “If you believe yourself unsuitable for this task,” he said, because the Es would push them all to their limits with their simple proximity, “speak to me afterward.”

There will, he added telepathically, be no negative repercussions should you wish to withdraw from the team. During Ming LeBon’s leadership of the squad, the former Councilor had crushed any attempt at defiance or disagreement, to the extent of dosing Arrows with Jax, a drug designed to amplify their abilities as it turned them into ruthless assassins with no ability to distinguish right from wrong.

Vasic knew the team in front of him trusted him not to do the same, but he always made it a point to reiterate the message, remind his squadmates of their right to choose. Never again would anyone treat an Arrow as a disposable tool.

One of the males in the back row spoke up. “Will it cause problems if we request a transfer after the start of the operation?”

It was an astute question. None of the others had as yet spent any real time with an E, couldn’t know how he or she might react. “No,” Vasic said. “I’ve factored that into my plans.” He had a backup list of five substitutes. “Alert me to any issues as early as possible, however.”

Seeing there were no further questions, he used his gauntlet to bring up a holo-map and projected it to the left of his body. “We’ve been given access to a section of DarkRiver-SnowDancer territory.” The map delineated an area the wolves and leopards had described as “small” but that to Psy eyes was an expansive landscape.

Vasic preferred open spaces over the more contained areas favored by most of his race, but he could function in either. “The instant we move beyond the marked perimeter we’ll be considered hostiles and eliminated. The perimeter will also be rigged to cause injury or death.”

Abbot stirred. “If there is an exigent risk to the Es and the teleporters in the unit are inaccessible or out of commission?”

There were three Tks in E1—Vasic, Abbot, and Nerida, the latter one of the extremely limited number of strong female Tks in the Net. Telekinesis had been statistically shown to express more heavily in the male gender; Vasic had always considered it unusual that there was no counterbalance in the female population.

That mystery had been solved with the data coming in about the dormant empaths, the females outnumbering the males by a significant percentage.

Shelving that fact for the moment, he said, “I’ll arrange for an emergency code to be embedded into your wrist units that’ll link you directly to the changeling security team.” He and Aden had a meeting with the DarkRiver-SnowDancer team in an hour to discuss the finer aspects of the operation. “Study the details of your assigned assets, alert me of any security threats.”

Dismissing the team soon afterward, with none of the nine asking to be taken off the protection detail, he downloaded the files on the other Es. As the leader of the team, he had to have a complete profile of the situation. Paying specific attention to the images, he confirmed a fact he’d already suspected—it was only Ivy Jane’s copper gaze that made him feel stripped to the bone.

Aden found Vasic when it was time to ’port to the meeting with the changelings, the image he needed to anchor the transfer having been forwarded five minutes prior. “It’s an unknown situation,” he said to Aden. “I should do a reconnaissance.” Even Vasic wasn’t fast enough to avoid a bullet shot at him from point-blank range directly after a teleport, but it would be one death rather than two.

However, his partner shook his head, his stick-straight black hair having outgrown its severe military cut enough for the strands to slide against one another. “The changelings have never shown a tendency to pick a fight, and this situation is a delicate one. We should meet them halfway—not for Krychek, but because the squad needs to build alliances of its own.”

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