Caressed By Ice (Psy-Changeling 3) - Page 32

"You weren't to know that. You trusted your leader." Her fingers spread on his chest, began to stroke. "It's what any soldier does."

"I was an assassin, Brenna," he said in a blunt repudiation of her attempt to find good in him. "I was given targets, told the preferred mode of death, and set a time limit. I never asked questions about who they were or what they'd done."

"Then how did you find out about the guy you were dreaming about?"

"A year into my work with the squad" - too late, far too late - "I did finally begin to ask those questions. The answers I received didn't ring true so I went searching." What he'd discovered had changed his identity from loyal soldier to cold-blooded murderer.

It was the second time in his life that his identity had been stolen from him. He had vowed that there wasn't going to be a third. "In the PsyNet, some segments of the populace call the Arrows a death squad, but we thought of ourselves as the first line of defense, protecting our people before they even knew they were in danger. Ming changed that, made us into bringers of death."

"Then you shouldn't blame yourself." Her voice was quiet, accepting. "You were - "

"Acting on orders?" he interrupted. "That's an excuse. I stopped making it the day I realized what I truly was."

Hand pressing down on his chest, she rose up on her elbow, eyes stormy. "Instead you're going to beat yourself up about it forever?"

"I'm Psy - I don't feel guilt."

A very unfeminine snort was his answer. "What do you call those nightmares?"

"You aren't seeing what I'm telling you," he said, staring into those extraordinary eyes. "I was the Council's pet assassin. There is nothing good or acceptable about that. Evil is the only applicable word." He paused. "This does clear up one thing."

"What?" Brenna asked, not yet finished with him.

"You have no need to worry that Enrique left some part of himself behind in you."

"Of course he did - otherwise I wouldn't be seeing your dreams."

"No, Brenna. You were afraid you were turning into a monster. But tonight, did you feel the same emotions you did when you saw the vision of Tim's death?"

Her eyes widened. "Oh." Dropping her head back down to his shoulder, she took several deep breaths. "I was seeing his dream, the person who killed Timothy, feeling his emotions as he thought about what he was going to do."

"Everything points to that conclusion."

Relief rushed through her like a flash flood. "I - " She shuddered.

"I know." Stark, unemotional words. More disturbingly, though he'd come to her last night, he didn't move to hold her as a changeling male would have done in the same situation. And she needed to be held.

But Judd wasn't changeling. He never would be.

Chapter 14

Kaleb read the precis of the report on his desk and looked up at his most senior aide. "You're sure there's been no error?"

"Yes, Councilor." Silver Mercant's eyes were an odd shade between gray and blue, and had apparently been the genesis of her given name. That extraneous fact was something Kaleb had made it his business to find out - he trusted no one near him he didn't know inside out.

"I rechecked every byte of data we were able to hack into and download. Unfortunately the facility was attacked before we broke the final encryptions," she said, "but we have enough to make a conclusive assessment. Someone has already authorized live trials of the Implant Protocol."

Kaleb leaned back in his chair and swiveled to stare out at the gray chill of Moscow. People hurried across the snow-flecked square, all walking as if they had somewhere to be - unsurprising, given the city's forty-year reign as one of the world's economic supercenters. "Were you able to determine who gave the order?" He turned back to Silver.

"Negative." Her eyes flicked to the window behind him. "It appears you have an engagement."

He'd already seen the trail laid by the approaching high-speed airjet. "We have ten minutes before my guest makes it down to this office. Tell me what else I need to know." This information could mean a change in his plans.

"The authorization came from very high up in the Council ranks. The individual or individuals were able to provide test subjects who either volunteered or were those who would not be missed - the notes are vague on that point."

An intentional oversight, Kaleb thought. No rational Psy would accede to having his or her brain implanted with a device that hadn't yet reached beta testing. He could almost guarantee there had been no volunteers.

"The data is fragmented," Silver continued, "but I'm ninety percent confident the test group is limited to ten members. They've already had one confirmed fatality."

"Find me that body." If not literally, then figuratively. A missing Psy who matched the description parameters.

"I'm already working on it." She glanced down at the flat screen of her organizer. "There are two other crucial factors. The first is that Ashaya Aleine appears to have solved the issue of Static."

Static, a term used to describe the buzz of background noise - the sound of millions of whispering Psy minds - produced during simulations to test the theory behind Protocol I. No Psy could function with that kind of mental distraction.

"The second factor?" A small light flashed on the surface of his fully computronic desk. The airjet had landed on the rooftop landing pad.

"It's common knowledge that Protocol I would never have worked as initially postulated because it would have reduced the entire population to one level. To use an analogy, we would have all become worker bees."