"Go ahead." Shoshanna "pushed" the file toward Tatiana. "You're unlikely to have much success. The hacker left no useful signature."
"The virus is the signature," Nikita pointed out. "Unless he was smart enough to mask it. This could fit into the pattern of disturbances attributed to the Ghost." She named the saboteur who had become a dangerous thorn in the Council's side.
"Possible," Kaleb said. "But there is another option - perhaps the Liu family decided to take the matter into their own hands after all."
"Whoever it was," Nikita said, "how much data did they siphon?"
"None. They inserted the virus and left. Nothing was removed."
"How certain are you of that?" Nikita again.
"Absolutely." Henry spoke for the first time.
"I assume you're aware you have to stop." Marshall. "With the ripples from the NightStar Affair still spreading, we can't run the risk of further alienating the most powerful of the family groups."
"Agreed." Shoshanna obviously knew when to cut and run. "However, while the majority of the details were destroyed, we have put together a list of ten individuals from memory. We intend to continue to monitor them...with the Council's permission."
"I see no problem with that, so long as you're discreet," Tatiana answered.
"Agreed. There is a further matter I wish to discuss." Shoshanna brought up another file, this one fairly thin in terms of data. "Brenna Shane Kincaid."
Kaleb recalled the name immediately. "Santano Enrique's last victim? What's your interest in her?"
"I assume you've all read the most recent report on what we've been able to decipher of Enrique's notes?" Shoshanna waited until everyone had confirmed her supposition. "So you know it appears he might have achieved extraordinary things with her mind. We need to examine her."
"You know as well as I," Nikita interrupted, "that any attempt to remove Brenna Kincaid would be tantamount to a declaration of war against the SnowDancers."
"Don't want another mess in your backyard, Nikita?" Shoshanna's question was valid - both the recent renegades had come from Nikita's home region.
Nikita's mind remained undisturbed. "Not when the mess results from the mistakes of other Councilors." A cool response that reminded everyone of the Scotts' aborted attempt to capture Faith NightStar. "The girl is too well protected to be a viable target."
"Nikita is correct," Ming said unexpectedly. "Also, while Brenna Kincaid is interesting from a scientific standpoint, I'm sure none of us plan to duplicate the process."
"No." Tatiana. "The animals should remain animals. In any case, it may be that Enrique's alterations will close the issue for us."
"How so?" Marshall asked. "We can't chance the changelings discovering and attempting to utilize the process themselves."
"Her brain isn't built for what Enrique tried to do," Tatiana explained. "It may simply implode as a result of the internal pressure."
"And," Ming reminded them, "we've already set a plan in motion to take care of the changeling problem. I suggest we wait for that to bear fruit. Even if Brenna Kincaid's brain somehow survives the pressure, she'll be dead soon enough - along with the rest of her pack."
It wasn't until the morning of the fifth day after the murder that Judd saw Brenna again. He was on his way to speak to Hawke when she walked into him from the opposite direction, destroying his decision to keep her at a distance - Brenna might look soft and harmless, but she had a way of turning his behavior treacherously unpredictable. Like now.
Catching her by her upper arms was reflex. Continuing to hold on afterward was a small but significant deviation from the Protocol. And he didn't care. "Where are - " He cut himself off when she lifted her face.
Her skin was drawn, her eyes almost sunken.
"Talk to me." An order.
Where she would've normally sharpened her claws on him for daring to give her one, today she shot a nervous glance over her shoulder before putting her fisted hands on his chest. "I was looking for you," she whispered, while he was still trying to assimilate the impact of her touch. "Drew and Riley haven't let me leave the apartment since after I returned from talking to you - someone saw us together. I only got out now by sheer luck."
Judd felt ice spread through his veins but it was a cold that burned. "I'll talk to them." No one was going to lock Brenna in again.
"Just take me outside, far enough away that they can't track my scent." A ragged plea. "Please get me out before I lose my mind."
"Follow me." Releasing his hold on her, he turned to lead her out. A feminine hand curved around his upper left arm, over the leather-synth of his jacket.
It if had been any other woman, he would've broken the contact and made very sure it wouldn't be repeated. But this wasn't another woman. "How far?" He asked because she'd become almost agoraphobic since the abduction - though she did sometimes venture a small distance beyond the den, she'd stopped attending college and never went for runs with her packmates.
"Far." Her voice was resolute but her hand a vise around his arm.
He took her through several back tunnels to an exit that he knew was kept less well guarded than others because it opened directly into a garden in the White Zone. That zone was the closest section of the inner perimeter and was considered safe enough for pups to play in unattended. "Wait here while I check the area."