"There is another possibility," he said. "That the Scotts have inserted their influence into Ming's project without his knowledge - they've already shown a willingness to act without majority authorization."
"That would shift Ming's allegiance, or at least limit his support for their motions." Nikita seemed to come to a decision. "We'll discuss our next step when we have more data, unless you see a cogent reason for not waiting."
"There's no need to rush."
"I see a lot of changelings down there." She nodded at the square. "How's the racial situation in your town?"
Moscow was hardly a town, but he let it go. "Stable. The local wolf pack is at present fighting for dominance against a well-established bear clan. As a result, they have no interest in Psy affairs. The humans pose no threat."
"They never do." Nikita dismissed the entire race with the flick of a hand. "Before Sascha dropped out of the Net, we learned that changeling packs aren't as isolated as previously believed - I'm now investigating how far that goes. Any indication your wolves might be linked to the SnowDancers?"
Kaleb shook his head. "BlackEdge has no connections outside the immediate region. They're too busy with petty local matters to think big."
"Let's hope they remain that way." Nikita started toward the door.
He fell into step beside her. "Leaving so soon?"
"I have a meeting in San Francisco in a few hours."
"The airjet should get you there in plenty of time." It was one of his, designed and built by a corporation of which he had majority control. "I'll keep you updated. I'm sure you have enough to handle in relation to the execution of the plan targeting DarkRiver and the SnowDancers." It was a very deliberate comment on his part.
As Nikita had made clear, she didn't support the Council's plan. However, she'd been placed in charge of it because Shoshanna had made a point of saying that as the mess was in Nikita's backyard, she should be the one to clean it up. Especially since her daughter was part of the problem.
Nikita gave him a chilly Psy smile. It meant nothing, of course. "If stage one of the plan works as expected, we should see a number of changeling fatalities within the next few hours."
The morning after she'd witnessed Judd's dream, Brenna left the cabin for a walk. The air was fresh and crisp under the snow-heavy trees. Judd had already gone to check things at the boundary line, leaving her plenty of time to think.
You aren't seeing what I'm telling you.
Judd believed she was viewing him through rose-colored lenses, but he was wrong. She understood what he'd done, realized the darkness inside of him. But she'd also looked true evil in the face, had had the sliminess of it invade her mind. She knew categorically that Judd was not cut from the same cloth.
Not that his confession had come as a surprise. She'd sensed from the start that he was no angel. Still, he'd attracted her, the changeling heart of her sensing a strength in him that would complement and nurture her own. It had never scared her that -
Something made a sound to her left.
Freezing, she sniffed the air and felt her eyes widen. Her first instinct was to call out to Judd, but she had no idea of his exact location. Neither could she backtrack to the cabin - she'd walked a long way and was now cut off from both it and the weapons hidden inside. She couldn't even defend herself by going wolf.
Her stomach twisted, but she forced herself to think past the bitter taste of rage. If the intruders scented her, she was dead. Right then, she was downwind, a small advantage - she could probably take out two or three of them before they realized they were under attack. The trouble was, there were a lot more than three hyenas out there. And while hyena changelings were often cowards one-on-one, they wouldn't hesitate to go for a more dominant target if a pack of them found you alone and unprotected. She'd be torn to pieces in minutes.
Moving carefully to avoid betraying her position, she thanked the heavens for the firs that provided cover. Ordinarily, she would've gone up into those same trees, but that would trigger snowfall from the branches.
Brenna, you idiot! It was a mental curse as she looked behind her and saw the solitary trail of footprints. She didn't have time to go back and erase them, but she made sure to cover her tracks from that point onward. Too late. Too slow. She was far too slow. She considered breaking out into a full run, but with so many of them, they would run her to ground before she reached safe harbor.
It wasn't exactly a sound in her head, not a spoken word in any way. She couldn't explain how she heard it, but she knew it was Judd. It "smelled" like him.
Still. Be still.
An illogical request, but she trusted him - and his abilities - too much not to realize he had to have a plan. She froze, even though the hyenas were getting perilously close.
She felt a push on her mind. Her mouth dried, her heart closed into a tight shell, and fear bloomed on her tongue. No! She didn't want anyone in her mind ever again.
Alright. But don't move. Trust me.
The hyenas were going to see her at any moment, but she obeyed his order. And when her skin seemed to shift over her skeleton, she tried not to panic. Then she felt her bones change shape in a way that wasn't anything similar to how they transformed during the shift from human to animal. It was too much. Her reactions were born from instinct, hard to control under normal conditions, impossible in a situation where she was already hovering an inch from panic. She would've fought then, disturbed the quiet and given herself away, but he set her free.