Lucas was stroking Sascha's cheek with his knuckles now and she seemed to gain strength from her mate's touch. Taking a shuddering breath, she continued, "But if Mika disappeared because she dropped out of the Net, that means she did it after Ai turned eighteen, well after Silence was first put into place."
"Is that important?" Talin released the other woman's hand, tangled her own with one of Clay's. Her heart was in her throat - if they were right, then Jon was in even more danger than she'd believed.
"I don't know. What I do know is that Psy can't survive outside the Net. We need the biofeedback provided by a neural net of some kind. Our brains are different. This Mika Kumamoto not only survived, it says here that she went on to have another child."
Talin didn't ask how Sascha was still alive. She didn't need to know to make the connection. "So if she was your ancestor, she had to have had a net in place to link to?"
Sascha's eyes were bright with hope. "Exactly. And unless humans have some unknown way of providing such a net, that means there are more Psy out there, Psy who have never been part of the PsyNet."
Talin shook her head, her mind immediately seeing the patterns Sascha couldn't. "Not quite - they would be mixed race, all of them." She stared at family tree after family tree. "There might have been Psy-Psy marriages at the start, but after Silence went into effect, the conditioned Psy wouldn't have wanted to drop out, right?"
"Not unless they were renegades," Sascha said, her excitement dimming. "I didn't hear of any others before my defection, but that doesn't mean there weren't any."
"True. But most likely," Clay picked up, "the children and grandchildren of the Psy who left the Net would have mated with changelings or humans."
"Yes." Sascha's renewed sadness was so heavy, Talin felt it in her bones. "I just wanted to believe that more people had escaped Silence. If this is my Mika, then she left her own child because she couldn't stand what her child had become. Can you imagine how much that must've hurt?"
"Come on, kitten," Lucas muttered, a tenderness to his tone that made Talin turn away, it was such a private thing.
As she did, her eyes met Clay's and she saw something dark in them, something so passionate it was beyond intense. It shook her. "Clay?" she mouthed more than said.
His response was to brush the thumb of his free hand over her lower lip. "Later."
Feeling herself teetering on the jagged edge of that glass bridge, she nodded and returned her gaze to her notes. An instant later, Sascha turned back to the table, too.
"So," Lucas began, "let's think this through. One thing's clear - some Psy were already married to, or had mated with, non-Psy, when Silence began."
Sascha nodded. "There was no way the Council could have torn mates apart."
"They might have tried," Lucas said with a careless shrug that did nothing to hide the steel in his tone. "Wouldn't have got them very far."
Sascha's lips curved. "So, the mated pairs would've stayed outside but they - at least the ones with predatory changeling mates - probably wouldn't have needed a separate net."
Her words confirmed Talin's guess that DarkRiver was somehow able to give Sascha and Faith the biofeedback they needed. "But the ones who loved humans," she said, "or even other Psy, would have needed a net, right? Unless two Psy can provide it for each other?"
"No, it doesn't reach the critical threshold for the multiplication effect."
"English, Sascha," Clay drawled.
"Sorry. With the millions of minds in the Net, the biofeedback actually multiplies, so that it becomes more than what was put out. The same principle holds true for a smaller net. But two isn't enough. The one - " Sascha broke off so quickly, Talin knew she had been about to betray confidential information.
Her hands tightened on the chair arms. "Would you like me to leave the room?" She wasn't going to let pride get in the way of finding Jon, no matter how angry it made her to come face-to-face with the truth that she remained on the outside - because Clay hadn't brought her in. That was what hurt the most.
Clay touched the stiffness of her shoulder. "Stay."
"She can't," Lucas said. "This isn't about us."
"It's all right, Clay," she began, mollified by his support.
His hand closed around her nape, hard and inflexible. "She stays. Talk around it."
There was a taut moment when the two men stared at each other, then Sascha whispered something very low to Lucas and the alpha seemed to relax his stance. "Fine."
Clay gave a short nod, glad that Lucas had understood. If he hadn't, they would've had a serious problem. Clay wasn't a sentinel because he bowed down to his alpha's every word. He was a sentinel because he could fight back and draw blood. And for Tally, he'd do a lot worse. "Sascha?"
"We know of a small net," Sascha said, referring, Clay knew, to the Laurens, the family of defectors who had found unlikely sanctuary with the SnowDancers. "That net is strained. I'd say their number is at the outer limit of what's safe. And it's more than two."
Talin's hand clenched on his thigh. He wondered if she realized she'd put it there when the first signs of aggression had entered the room. The desire it sparked aggravated the hell out of him but the leopard was pleased she saw him as a point of safety. He eased his hold on her nape, though she didn't seem to mind the possessive gesture.
She gave him a small smile before returning her attention to the others. The utter rightness of it cut him off at the knees, made him want to wipe away the past and make her his. Only his. It was what she should have always been. "If we carry our theory through," she said, "it means that Shine is tracking down children with a Psy bloodline, more specifically descendants of those Psy who defected from the Net because of Silence."