Sudden halt. Another brush. Silence.
Slow. Accompanied by forgiveness, happiness at the contact, pictures that conveyed the need for less speed.
Another silence, as if it was thinking or had been scared. Wanting to reassure it, she awakened one of her most cherished memories - the way Vaughn had stroked her hair when she'd spoken of Marine. She tried to put the unbearable tenderness of that caress in the next thought she sent out.
A slower rush of images answered her. Fast even for a Psy, but bearable. It was obvious that the NetMind thought much faster than she did, calculated much more quickly, much more easily, but it was also clearly young. It needed instructions and, even more, it needed care. Understanding its hunger as perhaps only a cardinal F-Psy could, she let it show her whatever it wanted, what mattered to it. A child's secrets.
They were not images per se, more like broken pieces of thought. Pieces of what it knew, snapshots of what it had seen, hints of mystery. It was testing her. She couldn't blame its wariness if the Council had indeed tried to enchain it. With that realization went her final fragile illusions about the leaders of her people, because after scant seconds of contact, she knew that the NetMind was a truly sentient being. As such, it should've been accorded respect and the freedom to develop without interference or manipulation. But then again, the Council didn't even accord those things to its own people.
She wanted to ask the NetMind why it had chosen to speak to her, but could think of no image to represent the question. Finally she sent out an image of her conversing with someone, but her partner was a blur. The answer came back at whiplash speed and she saw what the NetMind saw itself as - the PsyNet given form. It had mimicked the image she'd sent of herself, but colored it in starlit night. She got the sense that in spite of the feminine shape, it was in no way male or female. But it was beautiful and she attempted to say so.
In reply, it sent her a second self-portrait. But this one was eerily different. Not one, but two women stood side by side. The second was without starlight, such pure black that she was shadows within shadows. Faith was still trying to grasp the image when the NetMind sent her a snapshot of dark stars zeroing in on her position.
Faith didn't stop to think. She jumped to another remote anchor point, acting on instinct, instinct that screamed these dark stars were nothing friendly. Either Kaleb Krychek had hired others to do his dirty work or the Council had discovered the NetMind was in contact with an unauthorized individual. She'd have banked on the latter possibility - Krychek wasn't known for frontal attack.
It had found her again. When she remained silent, it sent her images of the dark stars becoming lost in the echoes of a false trail. A false trail the NetMind had laid in split seconds. Because it was everywhere.
Relief was a cool wind in her mind. Faith sent it a bouquet in thanks and, like the child it reminded her of, it multiplied the images a hundredfold and gave them back to her. She wanted to laugh, so she sent it copies of those feelings that Vaughn inspired when he teased. It responded by showing her a safe path home, one that would skirt the searchers and set off no alarms.
Her conclusions about it shifted again - while it might be childlike in some senses, it was an endless, ageless intelligence in others. Sending it a rose in thanks, she headed home via the links it had given her the imprints for.
She slipped into her core self like water melting into water, her inner mind recognizing and accepting her roaming self. She was safe, but that safety was precarious at best. Her firewalls might be impregnable, but if survival of the target weren't an issue, a massive burst of open power could kill her in minutes.
Vaughn had spent the night pounding out his frustration on a new sculpture - he couldn't stand to work on the one of Faith. But despite his sleepless night, his skin crawled with energy in the midmorning sun. The cat didn't like being in the same territory as the wolves, even if they were hemmed in by nothing but earth and sky.
"Nice suit." Hawke, the SnowDancer alpha and the one who'd called the morning meeting.
"What's so urgent?" Lucas scowled. "I have a meeting at Duncan HQ."
"Sascha going with you?" The wolf said Sascha's name as he always did, as if he had some intimate claim on her.
"It's a good thing she likes you." Lucas's skin pulled taut over the markings that scored the right side of his face. "Hell yes, she's coming with me. I'm not letting that ice-cold bitch Nikita ignore her. And my mate knows their secrets." An emphasis on my. After years of distance, Vaughn now understood the urge to claim, to mark, to brand.
"Indigo found something you should know about." Hawke jerked his head at his lieutenant.
The tall female with blue-black hair and cool white skin was beautiful. She was also lethal. Vaughn had seen her take down males twice her size without batting an eye. The cat's claws pricked at his skin.
"I ran into a lynx while out on patrol." She stepped up beside her alpha in a smooth movement that told him her skills were as sharp as ever.
"No clearance?" Vaughn frowned. The rules about entry into predatory packs' territories were explicit - if you wanted to visit, you asked permission. Otherwise, in most cases, you were signing on for a quick death. Harsh, but necessary. Without those rules, territorial wars would've destroyed them long ago.
"Yeah. But that's not the fun part." Indigo's jaw was a tight line. "He was out of his mind on Jax."
The mind-altering substance was the Psy poison of choice. "What the hell was a changeling doing on Jax?" Its effect on the Psy was well known - not only did the addictive substance eventually destroy their capacity for speech and rational thought, it stripped them of the very abilities that made them Psy. What did that say about their race?