Mercy scowled. "This seeing-the-future stuff makes my head hurt."
"It's more probable that instead of a specific target, they had the parameters of what they were looking for - a large, nonaggressive changeling group in a region not under direct watch by either SnowDancer or DarkRiver. Then they set up sentries and waited."
"The deer were just meat to them," Brenna said, outrage making her voice tremble. "Bugs to be squashed."
"Unfortunately Brenna is right. The deer were chess pieces."
Lucas shoved his free hand through his hair. "They messed up on the location - if they'd waited until the deer were deeper, Dorian and Mercy might not have made it in time."
Judd nodded. "Before the recent series of events, Psy and changeling concerns rarely collided. The Council's unaware of the nuances of life in the forests - the importance of scents and wind direction, the ranges leopard sentinels travel, a hundred small things that influence a successful raid."
"They're not going to remain that way," Hawke pointed out. "Each time they come in, they learn more."
Sascha made a sound of agreement. "And Psy are very good at collating data."
"This time, it won't be enough to simply track down and eliminate those personally responsible for the kills." Judd had seen how the changelings operated. An eye for an eye. Blood for blood. It was a law that worked with their system of honor. However, the Psy had no such honor. "You need to send a bigger message."
"He's right." Lucas looked at Hawke. "They've already figured out how to fake our scents. At least well enough to fool a casual observer. If they hit a man's family - he's not going to wait to make sure he's got the right scent. He'll go for your young in retaliation."
It was an ugly but clear description of the consequences of escalation. "You can't afford to go to full-scale war with the Council." Judd knew what the leaders of his people were capable of, the lines they'd cross. "It could be what they want - if you begin the aggression, then they're justified in using lethal force."
For several minutes the only sounds were of the wind whistling through the trees, and for Judd, the steady sound of Brenna's breathing. She was something he'd never expected and certainly didn't deserve. He could give her nothing of what she needed, but the dark heart of him was starting to understand that letting her go might not be an option.
She awakened something in him that was raw, desperate, and violent in a way that sprang not from anger but from passion. Sweat beaded down his spine as he fought the rising incursions of dissonance. It was stronger with each admission, each touch. And he didn't care. Part of him wanted to forget why the dissonance had been hooked so viciously into his psyche, forget what would happen if he snapped the threads of conditioning.
"Data," Hawke said, before Judd could give in to the mad ness. "The Psy love their computers. We hack their systems and destroy things, they're going to get the message."
You mess with our territory, we'll mess with yours.
Judd had always known that Hawke was one of the most highly intelligent predators he had ever met, but this was inspired even for him. Most alphas would've sought some form of bloody retribution - as had Hawke in the past - but for this particular game of chess, a lateral move was better, far better. "If you hit one of the major databases, such as the ones that feed data to the stock market, you disrupt things worldwide."
"Isn't most of the information backed up in the PsyNet?" Brenna asked. "I never really got why Psy like computers so much."
It was Sascha who answered. "The major factor is power. Because a lot of clerical jobs are held by low-Gradient Psy - people who don't have the psychic strength to access secure data vaults on a continual basis, it's inefficient to store day-today business records in the Net." When no one interrupted, she continued. "The other issue is that Psy have to do deals with the other races. Human and changelings both demand data they can access. If the systems go down, the Councilors' heads might explode. It really is a brilliant idea, Hawke."
The wolf flashed a smile. "Thank you, Sascha darling. Maybe you're with the wrong alpha, hmm?"
"I swear, Hawke." Lucas muttered, shifting so he was pinning Sascha to him with an arm around the front of her neck. "One of these days - "
The threat was cut off as Sascha twisted in his hold and kissed him. It was a short, affectionate act, yet Judd found himself transfixed by it. But it wasn't Lucas and Sascha he saw. When he looked down at the glossy strands of Brenna's hair, he could suddenly imagine what they'd feel like as they brushed over his skin in the most intimate of circumstances.
She looked up, eyes wide. "Judd." A low whisper meant for his ears alone.
He watched the rise of color flush her cheeks.
"Your timing sucks," she muttered, leaning deeper into him.
He absorbed the psychic impact of the touch, refusing to push her away. Contrary to her words, he thought his timing perfect. It was when they were alone and the fever started to rise that he became aware of the myriad ways in which he could hurt her, mutilate her. She called Enrique a butcher - she hadn't seen the things Judd had done as an Arrow.
"Do you have any hackers I can use?" Lucas asked, appearing mollified by his mate's kiss. "We've got the setup to run this in the second subbasement of our city HQ."
"How good are you at hiding your trail? The whole point is to not give them anything they can use against DarkRiver or SnowDancer." Judd forced his attention away from Brenna, from the unpalatable images of his past.