Faith stared at the ceiling of her darkened bedroom, the two words slamming around and around her skull in an unstoppable loop. It was tempting to call the whole thing a coincidence and shove it to the back of her mind. Part of her wanted to do precisely that. It would be so much easier, so much more bearable. But it would be a lie.
Marine was dead.
And Faith had foreseen her murder.
If only she'd known how to interpret the visions, her younger sister might still be alive. If only. She'd been taught since childhood that it did no good to cry over the past, that it did no good to cry at all, and so now she didn't cry. She didn't even think she needed to, but deep inside herself, a caged and almost irretrievably broken part of her screamed in torment.
Faith was deaf to those agonized screams from her disintegrating psyche. All she knew was that she couldn't turn back from this. This wasn't some misjudged market trend, but the matter of a life. She couldn't choose to look away .. . not when she continued to feel the weight of the darkness pressing against her eyelids, violent and ugly.
The killer wasn't finished.
A discreet chime split the heavy silence. Glad that the bedroom hookup was vocal, not visual, she answered without turning on the lights. "Yes?"
"We've received no readings since yesterday." It was Xi Yun himself.
"I'm tired." And she hadn't wanted to sit in that red chair and possibly give away the tumult in her mind. "I need to catch up on my sleep as you suggested."
"I won't be back online for a few days."
"How many?" The question was supposed to be a precaution against her kind's tendency to forget, but Faith had begun to resent the intrusion of late, begun to see it as yet one more way to chain her, to ensure her talents were never out of reach.
"Three days." It was the longest they'd allow her, the longest they'd "trust" her capacity to care for herself. She'd often thought it was as well that NightStar and the Council were wary of damaging her abilities. Otherwise, they'd probably shove aside her PsyNet shields and monitor her on the most intensely private level - through mind control. All for her own good, of course.
She shivered and told herself it was because the room temperature was low. It had nothing to do with fear. She felt no fear. She felt nothing. She was Psy. More than that, she was an F-Psy. Her conditioning had been harsher than that of even other cardinals - she'd been taught to never allow even the faintest tendril of emotion to filter through to her conscious mind, because to do so would equal the utter destruction of her psyche. That, she believed. Her PsyClan had a history of producing F-Psy and in the days prior to Silence, one in every four had ended up in a mental institution before they'd completed their second decade of life.
Why had she asked for that? Regardless of what Xi Yun thought, she wasn't tired. She slept less than most Psy, satisfied with four hours at most. But she hadn't asked for those three days in order to do nothing. Her mind had a purpose, a destination, albeit one she wasn't consciously aware of at that point. Despite that, she suddenly got out of bed and began packing a small backpack with enough clothing and toiletries for a few days.
She'd asked a member of her PsyClan to buy the backpack for her a month ago, for no reason that she could fathom. No one had questioned her demand, assuming it had to do with using a physical trigger for a vision. She hadn't disabused them of that notion because she hadn't been sure it wasn't in fact the truth. But now she saw that once again, her ability had led her to act in preparation for something that was yet to be.
Even as Faith packed for a journey she didn't know she was about to take, a psychic door slammed shut on the PsyNet, enclosing the six minds within it in a seemingly impenetrable vault. The Psy Council was in session.
"It's becoming imperative that we find a replacement for Santano Enrique." Nikita glanced at the minds surrounding hers - each appearing as a cold white star against the blackness of the Net - and wondered who was, at this moment, plotting to knife her in the back. Someone always was. The fact that their physical bodies were scattered across the world was no guarantee against attack.
"Maybe it's not just Enrique we need a replacement for." The silky suggestion came from Shoshanna Scott. "Are you sure you weren't the one who passed on your daughter's genetic deficiency?"
"We all know Sascha wasn't deficient," Marshall answered. "Nikita produced a cardinal - how many cardinals in your family tree, Shoshanna?"
Nikita was surprised by Marshall's support. As the most senior member of the Council and its tacit leader, he tended to remain neutral. "We can't afford to be divided at this stage," she pointed out. "DarkRiver and SnowDancer will take advantage of any weakness."
"How sure are we that they'll follow through on their threat?" This came from Tatiana Rika-Smythe, the youngest mind in the vault.
"We all got pieces of Enrique after they executed him. I think we know exactly how the leopards and wolves will react if we attempt to harm Sascha." Henry Scott's mind wasn't the star of a born cardinal, but it was extremely powerful nonetheless. Added to Shoshanna's razor-sharp political skills, the pair had the potential to rise to the leadership of the Council. Perhaps that was why Marshall was suddenly so willing to support Nikita.
"We need another cardinal to replace Enrique," Ming LeBon asserted, his mental voice as coolly lethal as his physical presence would've been in a meeting on the physical plane. An expert at mental combat, he was also a master in the human disciplines of karate and jujitsu. "No other Gradient will do - he was an anchor and did the most to keep the NetMind in check."