Visions of Heat (Psy-Changeling 2) - Page 26

Such as being interned at the Center, her mind wiped clean in a process of "rehabilitation."

Put that way, arrogance was almost a given. Merely because they'd subjugated their feelings, it didn't mean that her people were no longer cognizant of distinctions of class, wealth, and power. For the first time, she considered the untapped reservoir of her own political power. Perhaps she even had enough to delete all monitoring of her, aside from when she was in the chair. Maybe not at once, but slowly?

Glancing at the object on which she'd spent so much of her life, she made her decision. Instead of sliding onto it, she returned to her bedroom and lay down on the bed. She was going to use this free time to surf the PsyNet, to look for information she'd never before considered might exist -  because her keepers had surrounded her in so much cotton wool that it had become a prison.

They'd gone so far as to warn her against too much exposure to the Net, telling her that her mind was more vulnerable than those of other designations and therefore more easily breached. In response, Faith had built ever stronger firewalls and rarely ventured outside them. But if Sascha Duncan wasn't a flawed Psy, then maybe Faith NightStar wasn't a weak one. Flickers of memory rippled through her mind. Vaughn had touched her, kissed her, had never hidden the intense nature of his personality. But she'd begun to learn how to cope. And if she could handle a jaguar...

Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes and opened her mind to the dark velvet night of the PsyNet. Stars glittered in the darkness, but these flickering lights were alive, the unique minds of millions of psychic beings. The instant she stepped out into the Net, her mobile firewalls rose to protect her surfing psyche. Those without firewalls were vulnerable to sabotage and possible ambush, as cutting off the roaming mind from the physical brain was a sure way to ensure an irreversible coma. Most Psy were fanatical about their firewalls. Faith had gone straight to obsession.

She'd been out a couple of minutes at most, aimlessly letting information filter through her, when she felt something neosentient brush by her. The NetMind. It paused and she felt a second brush, as if it was verifying.

Apparently satisfied by her brain patterns, the NetMind moved on. The pause had been unusual, but Faith could understand it - even the all-seeing NetMind had probably rarely logged one of the F-Psy engaged in an active surf of the data streams.

Around her, the Net buzzed with information and activity. Minds flew smoothly to various destinations, some disappearing without warning as they followed links not visible to Faith's mind. That was normal. The PsyNet was based to some extent on what each Psy already knew - how could she link to a mind, and therefore to a location, for which she had no imprint?

The intensity and unfamiliarity of the flows around her had her moving quietly, keeping her presence low-key. With her cardinal star left behind, she was simply another Psy in the Net. Most cardinals didn't bother to shield their supernova brightness even when they roamed, but Faith preferred to travel incognito. Her complex firewalls did the job of keeping her anonymous. Oddly enough, it was the PsyClan that had first taught the techniques that masked her identity -  they'd considered it a precaution against her being taken hostage.

She drifted into a psychic chat room, something she'd never before done. The M-Psy had been very specific about the danger of overload in this completely unpredictable venue.

"I hear they're discussing candidates," a mind threw out into the conversation.

"Took them long enough," another responded.

"Losing a cardinal of Santano's strength has to be worrying some of the weaker members," a third mind said.

Faith might've had no clue as to what they were discussing if she hadn't run across former councilor Santano Enrique's name during her research on Sascha Duncan. Paying more attention, she found an unobtrusive listening point and went mind-quiet.

"None of the Councilors is weak," the first mind retorted. "The only ones who like to think that are the aspirants."

"Any word on the possibilities?"

"I heard the Council's imposed a gag order. Anyone breaking it faces automatic rehabilitation."

"Does anybody actually know what happened to Santano? All that was reported was that he'd died of unknown causes."

"Nobody knows nothing from what I hear."

The same mind that had posed the Santano question now said, "What I'd really like to know is how Sascha Duncan left the Net."

"That's old news - she was weak and couldn't hold the link. Likely her mind was never meant to maintain it in the first place, which is why she survived."

"A tidy answer, but don't you consider it a little too convenient?"

A small silence and then someone said, "Perhaps we should continue this conversation in a more secure venue." The mind blinked out and two of the others followed, probably going to a destination known to all three.

Intrigued by what she'd heard, Faith let herself float through several other rooms, but nobody else was discussing such incendiary matters. However, it was as well that she'd been floating so seemingly without focus, because it became clear toward the end that she had two shadows. She tracked back through her mind and realized they'd been there from the start.

She knew exactly who was responsible for setting them on her. Even in the supposed anonymity of the PsyNet, she was too valuable to be left alone. A kind of cold fury settled in her gut and it was so pure she could feel it burning her. And she didn't care if that sounded like an emotional reaction.

She returned to her mind in as straight a line as possible. The second she was back behind the walls of her psyche, she opened her eyes and considered her next move. Would it betray too much of the changes in her if she demanded privacy? Could she live knowing she'd never be let alone?

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