Ming watched her. "Not at present. If you were to prove the traitor, I would have to kill you. That would be inconvenient."
Ashaya held his gaze, very aware her death would be nothing easy. "Indeed."
"Tell me, why did you sabotage Larsen's work?"
"Because this is my lab." Her tone was ice. "You assured me I was the head M-Psy on the project."
"Larsen was taking a parallel but different approach to the implant issue."
"Nonsense." She handed him a slim electronic data file. "Look at the results."
"Where did these scans come from?"
"From the experimental subjects."
"These don't correlate to the ones I've seen."
"Then I suggest you ask Larsen to explain." She kept her tone unflinching. "He must have been doctoring data in order to gain support for his unauthorized experiments." Anything that went on in her lab was supposed to go through her, and, when new lines of research were involved, through Ming.
"According to these readings, the brain patterns of the Forgotten are nothing like ours."
"Yes." Not quite the complete truth. If Larsen - now on his way to San Francisco - survived the next twenty-four hours, she would have to ensure she had enough "data" to refute his conclusions. Ashaya didn't think she'd need her backup plan, not if Talin McKade's friends were as lethal as they appeared.
The only problem was that Larsen had taken Ekaterina with him and Ashaya had no way to share that information with Ms. McKade - Security had cut off all access to the Internet. "Any experiments run on the Forgotten are worthless in terms of Protocol I, even had Larsen followed proper research methods."
Ming put down the file. "Be that as it may, these experiments allowed Larsen to exterminate those Forgotten who might one day have posed a threat."
"And who would these mythical creatures be?" She gave him another file, wondering what the line was between pragmatic unemotionalism and sociopathy. As far as she was concerned, genocide could not be justified, not by any logical reason. "None of Larsen's test subjects had anything comparable to our abilities. They've interbred with the humans and changelings for too long." Not a lie, as such. But there were things she was withholding, unexpected, powerful mutations caused by generations of intermingling.
Ming put down the file. "I could make it a condition of your...situation that you cooperate with Larsen's research."
The threat, to her son, caused an unknown cluster of neurons to spark to life in her brain. She was a researcher, but she didn't know what those awakening sparks implied. Her conditioning was flawless, her shields airtight. "You could," she responded. "But the time I spend on Larsen's useless endeavors will slow down my own progress."
"Is that a threat?"
"No, simple fact. I'll accede to whatever you decide, but I don't share power well." She had no doubt it was a trait Ming understood.
"We can run these experiments at another lab."
"Of course." She could not risk disagreeing with him. "However, I would suggest you not dispose of the subjects in so public a fashion."
Ming stilled. "Explain."
It had been a stab in the dark, but it seemed she'd hit on something Larsen had neglected to mention. "Larsen's method of disposal involves removing the organs, delivering a beating postmortem, and dumping the body in a major metropolitan location."
"I believe I need to have a discussion with Larsen."
Ashaya pushed her advantage. "I was under the impression that he had your support," she said. "According to the security logs, he's been using several of your officers to run interference with Enforcement. Their notes state he had authorization documents from you."
Ming's liquid black eyes swam. "Send a copy of those reports through to me. I don't have time to talk to him today." He rose. "Ashaya, it would be in your best interest to never forget that there is a difference between you and Larsen."
"He is nothing, a pawn. You are necessary. I would never simply kill you."
No, she thought, he would rip open her mind, dig into her inner core...and turn her into the most compliant of puppets.
On the PsyNet, a Council session was taking place, the second emergency session in a row. Kaleb Krychek, the newest member of the Psy Council and possibly its most dangerous, noted that Ming's mind was the last one to appear.
"Marshall is dead." Nikita's pronouncement met with chill silence.
"Are you certain?" Tatiana asked.
"His remains have been formally identified. DNA cross-matched. I saw the process take place, with Shoshanna as witness."
"Confirmed," Shoshanna said.
No one argued after that. Shoshanna and Nikita were sworn enemies. Neither would cover for the other.
Henry Scott stirred. "Was it a changeling attack as we thought?"
"No," Shoshanna informed her husband. "That would have been preferable."
"It was one of us," Nikita added. "A precision hit."
"Any similarities to the bombing of the original Implant lab?" Tatiana asked. "It could be the same saboteur."
"That was my first thought, too," Nikita said. "Ming, you examined the weapon fragments."
"The signatures are different," Ming told them. "However, the skill and speed of the offensive makes me conclude we're dealing with the same perpetrator. It may be that he's working with accomplices."
"The Ghost," Tatiana said. "He's fast becoming a real threat. He's scattering our resources to the point where several of those we would rather keep chained have escaped their bonds."