Enrique was too powerful a Psy, had had too many years of experience at spotting mistakes. She didn't want him connected to her in any way. None of the other Councilors had ever approached her telepathically or on the PsyNet - they preferred to talk face-to-face if necessary. She knew why, of course. They weren't sure that she hadn't inherited her mother's deadly little ability.
Refusing Enrique's call wasn't an option. Hurriedly completing the repairs on her shields, she closed her eyes and took a step into darkness. The glittering plane of the PsyNet opened before her, filled with the endless stars, bright and faded, large and small, that represented the minds of the Psy. Enrique blazed and so did she. They were both cardinals. The crucial difference was, she had no real power, while he could pulverize her with a thought.
His consciousness was waiting for her. "Thank you for coming, Sascha."
"I can't stay long, sir. I'm in the midst of a delicate situation for which I need my full attention." While in the Net, she couldn't even allow herself to think that what she was saying was a lie. She had to believe absolutely.
"The deal with the changelings."
It wasn't a question so she didn't answer.
"An interesting choice. Unusual. Why did you decide to do what the rest of the families haven't?"
"I'm sorry, sir. I'm not permitted to discuss our business practices. Please speak to my mother - she's the head of our household." Nikita had officially achieved that pinnacle in 2075 when Sascha's grandmother, Reina, had died. In truth, Nikita had been the power behind the throne for almost ten years prior to that.
"I had the impression you'd been granted more independence."
If they'd come from anyone but a Psy, she would've said that the words were meant to prick her pride and make her speak without thinking. Unless, of course, that was his plan. Was that why he was paying her so much attention suddenly - because he suspected she was flawed?
All these frantic thoughts buzzed in a small, secret part of her. It was the same place where she hid the core of her self - the shining rainbow of her mind. Layered in multiple shields she continually reinforced, it couldn't be breached by anyone without using such brutal force that it would kill her.
"Would you like me to link you to my mother?"
"No, Sascha. I wanted to ask you a favor."
Fear spiked in that small, secret heart. "What, sir?" This had to be a trap. Why would a Councilor, a cardinal with off-the-scale Tk powers, be asking her for a favor?
"You'll be coming into a lot of contact with changelings during this project. I'd like you to pass me any new information you discover about them."
It was the last thing she'd expected. "I'd be happy to do so, sir, but - "
"Think carefully, Sascha. There could be... benefits for you. Some of us are starting to think it's past time we utilized you properly."
It was a bribe, pure and simple. Her hunger to finally be accepted and valued as a cardinal urged her to accept the offer and not look back. Conversely, that very hunger also made her aware that no matter how much she tried, she'd never be normal. Getting closer to the Council would only increase her chances of being exposed.
The ashes of lost dreams floated to her feet and in the deepest, most hidden core of her soul, she cried. Only years of Psy training and a desperate desire to hide the truth of her broken mind had her answering logically. "They're understandably cautious around me. I'm not sure I'll discover anything." It was a lie. Already she knew so much no Psy had ever known, but she found herself unable to give up their secrets... Lucas's secrets.
"They're animals. Treat them well and they'll start to trust you." It was evident he thought trust a weakness.
Sascha saw it as a gift. "I'd be happy to cooperate but first I have to - "
"I've already cleared this with Nikita." Enrique neatly cut her off.
"Then I'll get the information to you."
"I'd like to meet you once a day for briefings."
Sascha was beyond scared now. She didn't want Enrique evaluating her daily. "I'm sorry, sir. That could interfere with my work and I'm sure Mother wouldn't like that. I'll contact you as soon as I have anything worth sharing." It was a daring statement and if she'd allowed herself to feel, she would've been trembling.
Enrique's presence on the PsyNet was a pure white star, so cold that she wanted to shiver. "Don't wait too long."
"Is that all, sir?"
Sascha dropped out of the PsyNet and immediately contacted the head of her household as any good Psy would do. She could telepath without problem at this range, which at least gave her relief from keeping constant vigilance over her consciousness. During telepathic communications, neither party could "see" the other.
As soon as Nikita answered, she outlined Enrique's requests, hugging her arms so tight around her body that she almost bruised her own ribs. If her mother told her to keep those daily meetings...
Enrique has overstepped his bounds. Nikita's mental voice was frigid. I gave him permission to solicit information, not tie you to a schedule.
Relief threatened to turn her limbs to jelly. Mother, I think it would be preferable if I gave you any pertinent information and you... shared it with Enrique. The pause was calculated. Nikita enjoyed being in a position of power. You're the head of the household - I should be reporting to you first in any case.
Nikita was silent for a couple of seconds. I'd already considered that. Unfortunately, Enrique is too strong to defy without consequences. And he wants to talk to you.
Perhaps, Sascha said, thinking desperately, you could imply to him that I find dealing with his powerful presence too much on top of my first independent project.