"How many in a generation?"
She triggered the memory files in her mind. "At least one."
"How many F-Psy in each generation?"
"The NightStar PsyClan has always produced an unusually high number of the F designation. Each generation has had at least one, but sometimes two, F cardinals and around ten lower-Gradient foreseers."
"One in eleven or twelve sounds like pretty good odds compared to what you're facing now."
Certain madness in twenty or thirty years if she was lucky, sentenced to spend the next five or six decades locked in the hell of her fragmented mind. "But the ones who went mad before - they were young. What if I'm the flawed one in this generation? If I break Silence, I'll fall."
"And if you don't break it, you'll spend your life in a cage."
"It's so easy for you to say." She shook her head. "You grew up on the outside, feeling and experiencing everything. You can't begin to imagine what you're asking me to consider."
A big hand flattened on her back, bare inches from the curve of her bottom. "Look at me, Faith."
She turned her body until her toes almost brushed his jeans at the thigh, her eyes on his face. He was nothing tame and she was drawn to that. But she was different. "All my life that I remember, I've lived in this compound. Even the freedom of the PsyNet was almost closed to me by some very delicate conditioning." Conditioning she'd broken on her own, she realized with a warm glow she couldn't fully explain. "I'm changing that. I'm going out into the Net and seeing the information it has to offer."
"None of that involves leaving your safe little cocoon."
It was the blunt response of a man whose animal side clearly saw no reason for lies.
"You think that makes me a coward, that I should go out there and experience the world. What you don't understand is that the world might kill me."
"Then tell me."
She'd known there would be no easy acceptance from this jaguar stretched out on her bed, all gleaming skin and amber-gold hair. "One thing no one can fake is the reaction of my designation when surrounded by a large number of unshielded individuals. All species have a natural shield, though the changeling shield is far tougher, but the upper layer of the mind, the public self, is almost universally unshielded."
"Mine?" His jaw tightened.
She shook her head. "You're fully blocked. That happens with some individuals - an extension of the natural shield. However, in your case I'm guessing Sascha had something to do with it." He didn't answer and she felt some unknown thing inside her shrivel. "Not worthy of your trust, right?"
His fingers pressed lightly on her spine. "Trust is earned."
"I trust you."
"Do you? Or have you been forced into that position?"
There was no answer she could give him, because she didn't know. Moving, she felt his fingers fall off her back, but now her toes were nudging his jean-covered thighs. "The public mind," she began, turning to what was familiar as a means of grounding herself, "throws out a constant bombardment of thought and feeling. All Psy are trained to shield against those random pieces of data, to the extent that most no longer even notice the background chatter. But it's been well documented that F-Psy, no matter how strong their shields, are affected by those thoughts."
"Affected how?" His hand slipped under the thin material of her top to lie against her lower spine.
She felt her stomach twist itself into a tight knot. "You must stop touching me."
"It's too much." Especially on top of the betrayals he was asking her to attribute to her own people, her own family. "Please, Vaughn."
She looked so fragile sitting there, all night-sky eyes and creamy skin. With any other woman, he'd have tugged her down and held her tight. Doing that with Faith, however, might cause her to panic, and right now he didn't want to make her vulnerable in any sense - the darkness could be waiting for a break in her defenses. But neither could he let her run. "Each time I do what you want, I'm helping your PsyClan and the Council imprison you."
"Do you really believe that?"
"Fear of touch is part of how they manipulate you."
The arms she had wrapped around her knees seemed to tighten. "If I ask you to break contact because I'm going to go into a seizure or unconsciousness, you have to do it. That's the only way I'll let you keep getting closer."
Satisfaction was his blood. "So you admit you've been letting me."
She cocked her head with a haughtiness that would've done any cat proud. "I'm a cardinal. We're all born with more than our share of powers - I've spent the time since our initial meeting working out how to use them in offense."
"No." Enticing in their confident mischief, her eyes were no longer the cold slate he'd seen that first night. "Why should I show someone I don't trust - and who doesn't trust me - my secrets?"
"Ouch." He traced his fingers up and down her delicate spine. "You know how to go for the throat."
"It keeps me alive."
The jaguar didn't like hearing that, didn't like the thought of her needing such weapons, because that implied danger. "You have to leave. Find a way to boost your shields so you can deal on the outside and leave."
Her smile was without any hint of amusement. "I'll die. That's an undeniable fact. The second I drop out of the PsyNet and lose the necessary biofeedback, my mind will shut down. Unless you can do for me whatever it is that Lucas does for Sascha."