"What pack was it this time?" Enrique.
"The SnowDancers." Marshall.
"It's a wonder hundreds of us aren't already dead." Nikita. "Those wolves are vicious."
"They're only changelings." Ming's cool menace. "What can they do?"
"Don't be stupid." Nikita. "They know we have to get close to influence them - close enough to be vulnerable to their weaponry. The SnowDancers took out five Psy last year. The Net was never alerted that they were in any danger. They simply winked out of existence one after the other. Their bodies have never been found."
"Why didn't we make an example of them?" Henry.
"The Psy who got taken out were acting foolishly. They went alone into restricted territory open only to the wolves." Marshall 's cold darkness. "We don't support fools."
"There's no mistake this killer is Psy?" Nikita.
"The NetMind has picked up traces of certain pathological traits within the patterns of a Psy mind. The traits peak during the week that he holds the women." Marshall. "There's been no success in tracking him."
"Only a very powerful psychic could hide himself so well." Nikita. "It has to be a cardinal or someone close to cardinal level, someone who has access to the highest levels of the PsyNet and can nudge the NetMind into looking the other way occasionally. Otherwise it would've picked up more than traces."
"We can't risk exposure." Tatiana. "He must be contained before he gives himself away."
"I agree. It's the only way to uphold the integrity of the PsyNet." Shoshanna. "What if he's a high-level Psy who's necessary to the functioning of the Net? We need to maintain the ratio of cardinal anchors. Too many of them have proven vulnerable to this particular side effect."
"If required, we leash him and keep him satisfied. We bring him the women he needs, women who won't be missed, women not from aggressive packs like DarkRiver or SnowDancer. And we ensure he's never discovered." Marshall. "As of now, we all devote a quarter of our minds to monitoring the NetMind - the second it picks up any hint of the applicable pathology, we track it back to him."
Applicable pathology? Something, which had once had a separate consciousness as a cardinal named Sascha, worried over the strange word choice.
"How do you know he won't choose to go underground until we give up?" Nikita. "If he's that good at hiding his tracks, he's going to be aware we're keeping watch."
"He hasn't killed the newest girl yet. I don't think he'll be able to stop himself from doing so." Marshall. "All our research on serial killing in the Psy populace supports the compulsion theory."
"How many others are operating at present?" Nikita. "The last data I received said fifty."
"Those are all the ones we're aware of. None are as much of a concern as our unknown - they aren't preying on high-visibility victims. Most are targeting other Psy, which makes our job considerably easier."
"What's being done about them?" Henry.
"They're being set up to be sentenced to rehabilitation for unrelated reasons. The ones we can't afford to lose are being provided for. Every one of them will be taken care of without alerting the PsyNet."
"But there will always be more."
"That is the nature of the Psy."
The meeting concluded without further discussion. Henry made his way back through the door and the outer core, Shoshanna by his side. They didn't speak until they were inside the walled rooms of their private vault.
"What do you think?" Henry asked.
"It's a reasonable outcome. We can take care of this matter without anyone knowing."
"The changelings are suspicious."
"Suspicion is worthless without proof. Nobody has uncovered even a single Psy serial killer since the first generation of Silence. We know how to keep our secrets." Shoshanna's energy flared. "Where were you?"
"In the history archives."
"Yes. You were right again - the indicators are present in several members of the extended family, but it's the youngest boy who might become a cause for concern."
"Let's discuss it tonight." She left without a backward look.
Henry checked his calendar and began the return journey to the archives.
The part of him that was Sascha rose sluggishly to the surface, prodded awake by the recall of her earlier near-trapping in the vault. It took her precious seconds to realize her own consciousness. She'd come perilously close to losing herself in Henry. Detaching from him before he reached the vault was imperative but she had to separate as softly as she'd merged.
So she waited. They were almost to the vault when they passed a guard with a sloppy alarm system. She flowed from Henry to the guard's shadow. When the man completed his circular route and reached the outer level of the restricted zone, she flowed onto another guard. Step-shadowing her way back to her own mind took over three hours in real time because she was tired, exhausted by the extended immersion in another's consciousness.
At long last, she slipped back around her firewall and released the gathered information into her mind. It was like letting go of a data bomb loaded with shrapnel. Her eyes opened with a snap and she collapsed backward on the bed, her heart racing at a thousand beats per second. There was too much new information in her mind. She let it process while she lay there staring at the ceiling and thinking she was starving.
A look at her watch confirmed it was well past dinnertime. Groaning, she went to the console and checked for messages. There was one from Lucas. He looked very much like the predator he was, the lines on his face vivid against the golden heat of his skin. "Ms. Duncan. If you could spare some time this evening I'd like to discuss a matter to do with the design change. I'll be at our earlier meeting place." The message ended.