“Possible but unconfirmed.”
Vasic knew there was more to come.
“What’s also unconfirmed is if she still has access to her abilities—or if they were terminally damaged by the reconditioning process.” Aden stared unblinking through the glass. “I watched the recording, and it was one of the most brutal sessions I’ve ever seen, a hairsbreadth from a rehabilitation.”
“Then why is she on the list?” The ugliness of rehabilitation erased the personality, left the individual a drooling vegetable, and if this E had come so close to it, she had to bear major mental scars.
“To be valid, the experiment needs not only Psy who have never been reconditioned, but those who’ve been through the process. She’s one of six in the group who have, but the others underwent only a minor reset.”
It made absolute sense . . . because the majority of empaths in the Net would’ve undergone reconditioning at some stage, the process designed to force their minds back into the accepted norm, in denial of the fact those minds had never been meant to be emotionless constructs. Which meant the PsyNet had to deal not only with Es who didn’t have any idea of how to utilize their abilities, but also ones damaged on a fundamental level.
“The flip side to their problematic conditioning,” Aden added, faultlessly following Vasic’s line of thought, “is that they’ll suffer no pain breaking it.”
“Of course.” The process known as dissonance was designed to reinforce Silence by punishing any unacceptable emotional deviation with pain, but clearly that approach wouldn’t work on an individual whose mental pathways were structured with emotion as the core. It would simply kill. “The details of the retrieval.”
Aden handed Vasic an envelope. “A letter to her directly from Krychek, setting out the parameters of her engagement, as well as the payment schedule.”
“He’s offering them jobs?” The Council had always just taken.
“We both know how intelligent he is. Why coerce when you can contract?” With that cool statement that perfectly described the way Krychek’s mind worked, Aden sent Vasic a telepathic image.
It was of a small female with black hair to her shoulders, the strands shaping themselves into soft natural curls, and eyes so unusual, he took a second look. The pupils were jet-black against irises of translucent copper ringed by a fine rim of gold. They stood out against the golden cream of her skin, somehow too old, too perceptive.
As if she saw beneath the skin.
Storing the photograph in a mental vault after imprinting a geographic location on his mind using her appearance as a lock, he looked down at the envelope. Her name was hand-written across it in black ink: Ivy Jane.
He wondered what Ivy Jane would think of the Arrow about to enter her life, a man who could never again feel anything. Even were it physiologically possible, Vasic had no intention of allowing his Silence to fragment . . . because behind it lay only a howling madness created of blood and death and endless horror.
Ruling Coalition or not, Kaleb Krychek is now the effective leader of the Psy race. It remains to be seen where he will take us.
Editorial, PsyNet Beacon
KALEB CAME TO a halt, his upper body gleaming from the martial arts drill he’d been doing in the cleared living room of his and Sahara’s home on the outskirts of Moscow. The terrace, his usual practice ground, was currently under several inches of snow and being pounded by screaming hail.
That had never before stopped him, but Sahara would follow if he went out there now, and she had a tendency to shiver even under a telekinetic shield. So he’d temporarily teleported the living room furniture into another part of the house instead.
Seated not far from him, her legs stretched out over the carpet as she bent over in a toning exercise she’d learned as a dancer, she said, “What is it?”
Kaleb watched her rise back into a sitting position, then get lithely to her feet, her body clad in black tights paired with a white T-shirt, and felt a deep sense of possession in his blood. She was here. Safe. No one would ever again cause her harm. He considered whether the news he’d just received from the NetMind would disturb her, thought about how much to share.
Her lips quirked as she redid the tie that held back the silky dark of her hair, the hidden strands of red-gold not apparent in this light. “You do realize I know you?”
Yes, she knew him, saw him, and still she loved him.
And he’d made her a promise that he’d never hide anything. “Subject 8-91 is dead.” Sahara didn’t agree with the way he’d left the man to slowly sicken, oblivious of the infection in his brain, but Kaleb didn’t see the point in informing the male of his certain demise—because there was no cure.
Subject 8-91 had functioned as a barometer of the infection that was crawling into countless minds in the Net. It would torture and kill millions if left unchecked. Not only was the biofeedback toxic in affected parts of the Net, the infection had begun to corrode the actual fabric of the psychic landscape itself in the worst-hit sections. If—when—any of the heavily populated sections collapsed, the death toll would be in the thousands each time.
“Calling it an infection,” he said to Sahara now, “is useful shorthand, but inaccurate.”
A slow nod. “It’s a corruption, isn’t it?” The dark blue of her eyes filled with sadness. “It’s risen from within, no bacteria or virus or other outside source involved.”
Kaleb cupped her jaw, rubbed his thumb over her lower lip. “Subject 8-91 was the most deeply infected. If he’s dead, we’re now on a countdown.”