Clay kept his face expressionless in spite of that unexpected bit of news. "Why?"
"These children represent the best humanity has to offer. They are the brightest stars in our arsenal - a potential threat to Psy power." He nodded at Talin. "Your ability to remember everything you ever see is almost a Psy ability in itself."
True enough as far as that went, but Clay didn't buy it. Neither, it seemed, did Talin. "There are gifted kids around the world. Heck, a lot of them are in special schools, ripe for the picking. Why take only Shine children?"
"Because" - Santos's tone turned bitter - "we've painted bull's-eyes on their backs."
An answer that told them exactly nothing, Clay thought. "Why the interest in DarkRiver?"
"You have Psy connections." The other man leaned back in his chair but continued to keep both hands in view. "Your alpha is mated to a cardinal. Sascha Duncan's mother, Nikita, is a Councilor."
"That relationship has been terminated," Clay said, knowing he was betraying no secrets. Nikita had made it publicly clear that she no longer considered Sascha her daughter.
"You also have Faith NightStar, the strongest F-Psy in the world. She has ongoing links with the PsyNet."
"She subcontracts her services." Clay shrugged. "She's not in the Net." The biggest information archive in the world, it could only be accessed by those Psy uplinked to it. Sascha and Faith had both cut that link on their defection to DarkRiver.
"That doesn't mean she's not in touch with others who are uplinked." He paused but Clay remained silent. "The deciding factor is that DarkRiver has shown itself both capable of, and willing to, go up against the Psy. The foundation's backers believe you may prove amenable to helping us mount a search and rescue operation for the children."
"You had to have followed me to get to Clay, so you know the pack's already agreed to help," Talin said, cutting through the bullshit in her direct way. "You could've told us your theories in a simple call."
Santos's lips curved at her arch reference to the fact that he hadn't given them anything worth shit. "I wanted to express the foundation's support of DarkRiver's actions. You will have our total cooperation."
"We want to put people inside Shine to weed out the spy," Clay said.
"We can't allow that, but we're taking all possible measures to corner the culprit."
"Nice definition of total cooperation," Talin muttered.
"So, in a nutshell - you have nothing we don't already know and you came to give us permission?" Clay let the leopard's arrogance out to play. "Is that right?"
Santos's hand fisted against the tablecloth. "There are things we're not ready to share."
"How about the complete files on the missing kids?" Talin's tone was harsh. "The ones you gave Max are doctored."
Santos couldn't hide his surprise this time. "You don't simply remember everything, do you, Talin? You rearrange the pieces until you find a pattern. I forgot that aspect of your abilities."
"Answer the question. Can you get her the files or are you even more useless than you appear?"
The other man's eyes turned assassin cold. "Careful, Mr. Bennett. I'm not the easy prey you think I am."
"I think you're a wolf in corporate clothing but as far as the search goes, you haven't given us shit. Either front up or get out of it."
"These are our kids." Santos's voice held a raw protectiveness Clay hadn't expected. "Everything we do is to keep them safe."
"Then give me the files," Talin pleaded. "You said it yourself - I see patterns. Maybe I'll see something that'll help us find the children."
The Shine director didn't say anything for several minutes. "I'll have hard copies couriered to DarkRiver's Chinatown HQ by tomorrow morning. Destroy them after you memorize them." He pushed back his chair. "I have a flight to catch."
Clay rose. "We'll call you if we find anything."
"I'll give you what I can." His sophisticated mask slipped to display the ruthless interior. "There are those who want to go softly, but I'm not having any more children die on my watch." He seemed about to say something else but then glanced at Talin. "Read the files without the blinders of knowledge. Let's see what patterns you find."
Dev waited until he was in his soundproofed rental car before making the call. "You underestimated them."
"We can't risk - "
"Yes, we can." His hand threatened to crush the phone. "Children are dying."
"We need to know if DarkRiver is secure enough to entrust with this information."
"Who are you afraid will find out?" He was an inch away from throwing the phone through the windshield. "They already know. That's why they're taking our children!"
Talin was irritated and tired by the time they parked the Tank in its hiding place next to the lair. She had wanted to visit Max, but Clay had nixed that idea on the grounds that they could lead danger to Max and vice versa. Instead, he'd made a call on a secure line and been told that Max was unconscious but stable.
Frustrated by her own inability to protect those she cared for, she struck out. "I can't believe Dev's hiding things that might help us find Jon!"
"He did give us one crucial piece of information," Clay said, his hand on her lower back as they walked toward the lair. "The Psy."
She shook off his hold. Her skin reacted to his touch in ways she found disturbing - because, her bold statement to Faith aside, she wasn't sure what the hell she wanted. Only that she couldn't lose Clay. "We have no proof of a Psy link. Max is a good cop - he'd have found it if it existed."