And, Judd thought as he packed the surveillance equipment he'd need tonight, he was very good at causing death, had been since he was ten years of age. Tonight was a simple tracking job, but only days remained until the hit. The bombs were nearing completion. All he needed now was a window of time, of opportunity. Then blood would spread across his skin once more, a scarlet flower that told the true story of what he was.
In the rich velvet night of the PsyNet, the door to an impenetrable vault slammed shut. A vast mental network that connected millions of Psy across the world, the Net housed their collective knowledge and was updated trillions of times a day as Psy uploaded data. It also allowed those of their race to meet at a moment's notice, no matter their physical location. Tonight, seven minds blazed into brightness in the darkest core of the Net, each appearing as a white star so cold, it threatened to cut.
The Psy Council was in session.
Kaleb was the first to speak. "What could you possibly have been thinking?" The question was directed at the dangerously powerful minds of Henry and Shoshanna Scott, married couple and fellow Councilors. "The Liu Group was not amused to find that their family archives had been hacked and several members' files tagged as 'at risk.'" They all knew the at risk label was one step away from a sentence of full rehabilitation.
"We are Council." Shoshanna spoke for both Scotts, something she seemed to be doing more and more. "We don't have to explain our actions to the populace."
Tatiana Rika-Smythe entered the conversation. "I assume you targeted other family groups as well. What was your purpose in placing the tags?"
"To monitor those who might be susceptible to breaking Silence."
"Rehabilitation takes care of that problem." Tatiana's voice held a ring of finality.
"If that's the case, then explain Sascha Duncan and Faith NightStar to me," Shoshanna said, referring to the two recent defectors from the Net. "Nikita? Sascha is your daughter after all."
"Two anomalies." Kaleb very deliberately backed Nikita. "Furthermore, it appears you were running unsanctioned searches long before those anomalies took place, so there can be no logical connection between the two."
"We saw those anomalies approaching, as the rest of you didn't." Shoshanna wasted none of the calculated Psy charm she pulled out for media appearances. "Have you heard the whispers in the Net? They're talking openly of rebellion."
"She's correct," Tatiana said, her allegiance unclear as always.
"I suggest we let them talk. To a certain extent." Kaleb directed his words to the entire Council. "Trying to stifle all dissent is what caused problems in the past. As the situation stands, we can keep an eye on the agitators...and take care of any problems before they have a chance to do any real damage."
"Be that as it may, that's not the issue at hand," Nikita pointed out. "I submit that the Scotts' findings be turned over to the Council. If they were acting as Councilors, then the information belongs to the Council. If they were acting on their own, they had no authority and the data should be seized in any case."
Kaleb was impressed by Nikita's neat trap, but said nothing to that effect. Shoshanna was already well on the way to becoming his enemy. But that wasn't what kept him silent - he wanted to see who would speak in the Scotts' favor, betraying a possible alliance.
"I'd be interested in seeing the data." Ming LeBon finally spoke. A master of mental combat, he was a Councilor no one but his most elite soldiers ever actually saw. Kaleb had been unable to find a single image of him - Ming was a true shadow.
"It may prove useful." Tatiana.
"Put it on the table and then we'll decide." Marshall, the most senior Councilor and their unofficial chair - by virtue of having survived longest as Council.
Three whose loyalties were unclear. Nikita and Shoshanna plainly stood on opposite sides of the line, and Henry was Shoshanna's.
"Unfortunately, that's impossible." Shoshanna's mental tone remained supremely confident. "It would require reentering each of the targeted files."
"Surely you kept a master log?" Marshall articulated what they were all thinking.
"Of course. However, that log was hacked ten hours ago. The data has been scrambled beyond recovery."
"Do you take us for rehabilitated idiots?" Nikita said, her psychic voice a razor. "No hacker in the Net is capable of circumventing a Councilor's security."
"It was a virus." Shoshanna refused to back down. "The proof is here." Something slammed into the empty "dark-space" inside the vault, a data file that vibrated with a broken viral signature.
Everyone but Nikita drew back. "It's safe," she pronounced a second later. "Not designed to spread through dark-space. Even if it were, all such viruses dissipate within a few inches at most. Dark-space is an inhospitable environment."
"For that we should be grateful. Otherwise the viral transmitters would've corrupted the entire Net by now," Shoshanna said, in a cool reference to Nikita's rumored abilities.
They took time to examine Shoshanna's evidence. It was compelling. The psychic file she'd presented should have been readable by their Psy minds, the streams of data clean and well ordered. But this data was tangled into a giant clump, distorted by twisted sparks of internal lightning that dissected and further destroyed as they watched.
"It's feeding on itself," Marshall murmured. "A cycle that constantly degrades."
"Undeniably an extraordinary piece of programming." Tatiana went even closer. "We need this individual working for us. I'd like to take on the task of tracking the perpetrator."