Yes, sir. She knew the mind was male and guessed it to be Marshall Hyde, the most senior member of the Council.
You will be escorted there. The telepathic link terminated.
The first thing she did was check her inbox - she wouldn't put it past Krychek to use such tactics to ambush her. But there it was, the unforgeable reality of the Council seal. Cheeks blazing alternately hot and cold, she told the M-Psy not to disturb her under any circumstances and tried to calm her disordered thought processes. Nothing of her confusion could be allowed to leak through. Nothing.
Choosing a chair near the curtained window as her seat, she took a deep breath and entered the PsyNet without her cloak of anonymity. Today, she had to blaze cardinal bright, a silent statement of strength. Two minds were waiting for her. If she'd been in her body, the hairs on the back of her neck might've risen in primeval warning, there was something so intrinsically disturbing about them. As they led her link by link toward the dark core at the center of the Net, she considered whether she might be in the presence of two of the Arrow Squad.
Though their existence or nonexistence had never been confirmed, rumors of the unit had turned up repeatedly in the research materials she'd unearthed in her quest to understand the Council's interest in her. Faced with two highly martial minds, neither of whom had identified themselves with anything other than a high-level Council imprint, she came to the reluctant conclusion that the Arrow Squad wasn't merely an idle rumor.
The idea of a secret squad, one allegedly used to permanently silence the Council's critics, among other things, hardly inspired confidence. But none of that could show in the mental face she presented to the Council, so she buried her musings on the irrelevant matter. The guards led her through the first two checkpoints in the central core, then handed her over to a second pair, who took her even deeper. But when the door to the final vault opened, she alone walked in.
The door shut behind her.
She was locked in with the blazing minds of the six most powerful and deadly beings in the PsyNet. Nikita Duncan with her mental viruses. Ming LeBon, famed for his skill at mental combat. Tatiana Rika-Smythe, rumored to have the rare ability to disrupt the deepest shields. She was the one Faith was most wary of, because if the speculation were true, Tatiana could disrupt first-level shields without the victim's awareness.
Which was why Faith was shielded four times over. Perhaps it was an overreaction, but she didn't want anyone learning her secrets ... Vaughn's secrets. In addition to the layering, she'd learned an unusual and highly effective way to make certain her shields never settled into a static pattern, and were therefore nearly impossible to predict and unravel. Sascha had taught it to her that night on the porch - before Faith had broken conditioning on the most intimate level.
"Yes, sir." She answered Marshall without pause, having kept her other thoughts in a hidden segment of her mind. While with the Council, she couldn't afford to be anything but absolutely on guard.
"You're aware by now that we're considering you for Council membership." Marshall's mind was a blade, sharp enough to make others bleed.
"Yes, sir." If Vaughn was right, then the Psy Council protected murderers to protect Silence. Maybe they'd appreciate her warnings, appreciate stopping the murders before they made waves in the Net. And then? Vaughn's accusations of murder by official sanction rang in her brain. Those she might not be able to stop, those she might choose not to stop, because it was the will of the Council.
Could she become that inhuman? The slow creep of horror rolled through her veins, tiny claws that ripped and caused biting pain. She didn't want to think of her people that way, didn't want to be part of a race that would condone such a thing.
"What are your thoughts on the matter?" Ming LeBon, the Council member who never appeared in any news broadcasts or had his name linked to any high-profile events, a frighteningly dangerous power behind the civilized public facade presented by Henry and Shoshanna Scott.
"I'm young," she answered. "That may be seen as a vulnerability by certain sectors of the populace." And she wasn't equipped with the ruthless ability to kill. The thought of stealing a life, of not only accepting but sanctioning the sick evil of the darkness, nauseated her.
Yet she understood that Vaughn had killed and would do so again in defense of his people, perhaps even in defense of her. But that didn't fill her with revulsion. Maybe because there was a difference between the brutal but honest law of the wild, and cool, clear-eyed murder to increase the power of the very people most apt to misuse it.
"That's true. However, your shields are extremely strong. You appear to have the capability to withstand attack." Tatiana's comment seemed a substantiation of the rumors. Faith hadn't felt a thing, but her shields had evidently been tested and deemed adequate. It made her want to shiver - how many people had had their minds picked clean by Tatiana without ever perceiving the violation?
"Your foresight skills will also come in very useful," Marshall added.
She would not lend her mind to the furtherance of goals meant to keep her people in bondage to a Silence that was false. In that one second, her decision was made. That was when she realized that no other option had ever been truly viable - only her fear of going out into the unknown had made it seem that way.
Now all she had to do was survive the Council.
"While I'm flattered at being considered a candidate, I'm not ready to die." Not when she'd just learned to live. "I'm well aware that Kaleb Krychek is one of the other candidates. He's had years in the Council ranks to perfect his skills." The ability to get rid of competition chief among them.