"That's irrelevant." Turning away, he looked out over the frozen vista. "Emotion is not one of my weaknesses."
Faith had just ended a short but disturbing conversation with Brenna Kincaid when Anthony Kyriakus, head of the NightStar Group - and her father - walked into the meeting room. Putting the phone in her pocket, she leaned into Vaughn, waiting for Anthony to speak.
"There's a Ghost in the Net." He circled to stand on the other side of the table.
It wasn't what she had wanted to hear, the child in her still hungry for things she knew Anthony might never be able to give her. Hurt was a dull ache in her body. Then Vaughn closed a hand over her nape and the sadness passed - she was loved, cherished, adored. "A ghost?" She sat and the men followed.
"No one knows the identity of this individual, but he or she is being credited with a number of insurgent activities." Anthony passed her a disc containing the names of companies that had requested a forecast since they last spoke - forecasts she provided under a subcontracting agreement with NightStar.
She put the disc to one side, more interested in this Ghost. "Is he one of us?" If there was one thing Faith and her father both agreed on, it was that they wanted their people freed from a Silence that was false - Anthony might be coldly Psy, but he was also the leader of a quiet revolution against the Council.
"There's no way to know. However, it is evident that the Ghost is part of the Council's superstructure - he or she has access to classified data, but hasn't acted on anything above a certain level. That could be because this individual doesn't have higher access, or because he - "
" - is being very careful not to do anything that might narrow the focus of inquiry as to his, or her, identity," Faith completed.
"Good strategy." The jaguar at her side finally spoke, his thumb continuing to stroke over her nape. "The Council's got to be pissed if this rebel is leaking classified data."
"Yes." Anthony turned back to Faith. "The Ghost was active while you were still part of the Net. Do you recall the explosion at Exogenesis Labs?"
"The place where they're theorizing about implants that might lower the percentage of defects?" She spit out the last word. It was the label the Council used to describe those who refused to buckle under the emotionless regime of the Silence Protocol. "They want to cut into developing brains and initiate Silence on an organic level."
Anthony didn't react to her open emotionalism. "The Exogenesis strike killed two of the lead scientists on the implant team and destroyed months of work."
"Your Ghost isn't afraid to kill."
Faith heard no judgment in Vaughn's tone - her cat had killed to protect the innocent. And children, the first victims of implantation should the procedure be put into practice, were the most innocent of all.
"It appears not. The explosion was investigated by both Enforcement and the Council, but without active support from a majority of the populace."
"Why?" Vaughn asked, his body heat so seductive she found herself leaning ever closer to him, her hand on the hard muscle of his thigh. "Wouldn't this implant make the Psy even more efficient?"
Anthony nodded. "In a sense. But the dissidents argue that Protocol I, while ensuring universal compliance with Silence, would have the unavoidable side effect of linking our minds together. Not as the PsyNet does, but on a biological level."
That it already had an official name was a bad sign. "They're talking about a true hive mind." Faith couldn't control the disgust that laced her words.
"Yes. It's nothing that appeals to those of us who prefer to run our enterprises free of interference. That would become impossible should the entire race begin to act as one entity." He picked up his organizer - the thin computer tablet ubiquitous among the Psy. "From the pattern of attacks, it appears the Ghost shares our goals, but without knowing his or her identity, we can't coordinate our efforts."
Vaughn leaned forward. "The more people who know a name, the higher the chance of exposure. I say let the Ghost do his - or her - thing, and ride the wave it generates."
"Your conclusion mirrors mine." His tone signaling the end of the topic, Anthony brought up something on his organizer. "BlueZ has been waiting for its latest prediction for a month. Can you move it to the top of your list?"
Faith picked up her own organizer. "I can try." She still hadn't cracked the secret of bringing on visions to order. It was beginning to appear that that was one thing the Council hadn't lied about - maybe there was no way to harness her gift that far.
Anthony moved on to another item on the agenda. Half an hour later, they were done and she was hugging him good-bye. He didn't return the gesture, but did pat her lower back once. Only a former inmate of Silence could have understood the incredible impact of that act. She had tears in her eyes when he pulled away and walked out the door.
Barker, a DarkRiver soldier, was waiting to escort him out of the pack's financial HQ. Located in downtown San Francisco, near the organized chaos of Chinatown, the building was both public and highly secure.
"Come here, Red." Vaughn dragged her into his arms, melting the lump in her throat with his rough brand of affection.
It scared her sometimes, the strength of what she felt for him. "He's important. The Ghost." She'd had a knowing, not a vision as such but a hint of how things might be.
That was when it hit her. A true vision. A split-second image of the future.
But this one had nothing to do with the Ghost. It was about Brenna. Death. The SnowDancer was surrounded by death, her hands drenched in blood. Whose blood? Faith didn't know but she could smell the raw-meat scent of it, the desperation, and the fear. Then it was gone - so fast she wasn't even left with an afterimage on her retinas, much less any of the disorientation that sometimes accompanied the flashes of foresight.