When, in a desperate attempt to save their people from the twin scourges of murder and insanity, the Psy race decided to embrace the Silence Protocol and eliminate emotion from their lives, it was by no means an easy decision. Blood was shed. Innocents and guilty alike died. Hearts were destroyed, and the pain of it split the PsyNet into two.
But perhaps the cruelest aspect of Silence was that it forced people to choose. Acceptance or rebellion, parent or lover, sister or child. There was no middle ground. Those left inside the Net would never again reach out to the ones who walked away. And the exiled would live forever with the heartbreak of knowing that those they loved were being taught to devalue love itself.
Like a bruise that would not heal, pulsing with the pain of memory, of loss.
Now, in the year 2080, the hurt has faded, the choices have been made, and those in the PsyNet live a life of cold Silence. Love is no longer something they understand, much less desire. Because to love is to be flawed.
And the Psy do not allow the flawed to live.
To survive, you must become more Silent than the Council, your heart ice, your mind a flawless prism. But never forget - prisms bend light, change the direction of what is known, generate fractures of beauty. Ultimately, prisms create their own truths.
- From a handwritten letter signed "Iliana," circa June 2069
In the end, the retraction was deadly simple. The sniper had been given the precise coordinates the car would travel along the sleepy rural road, knew exactly how many people were in the vehicle, where the child was sitting. According to his information, the child was blindfolded, but the sniper still didn't like doing this with an innocent in the vehicle.
However, if left in the hands of his captors, that child would become the unwitting instrument of the worst kind of evil. And then he would die. The sniper didn't kill lightly, but to keep a child safe, he would do much worse.
"Go," the sniper said into the air, the sound picked up by his earpiece and transmitted to those below.
A slow-moving truck veered out of the opposite lane without warning, crashing into the side of the target car with a smooth expertise that forced the vehicle off the road, but would do little damage to the people inside - they couldn't afford to harm the child. More than that, they refused to harm the child. But it wasn't the child the sniper found in his sights as soon as the car came to a halt.
A single precise shot and the windshield shattered.
The driver and his adult passenger were dead within the next two seconds, a clean bullet hole in the center of each of their foreheads. The bullets were designed not to exit, thereby minimizing danger to the backseat passengers.
An instant later, the rear doors slid back and two men jumped out, one of whom stared straight at the sniper's location high up in the spreading branches of an ancient pine. The sniper felt a blunt force graze his mind, but the guard had left his telepathic strike for too late. A bullet lodged in the Psy male's throat with fatal accuracy even as he focused his power. The fourth man went down with a silent bullet wound through his chest, having failed to locate the sniper's partner.
The sniper was already moving by the time the last body hit the ground, his rifle in hand. He left behind no trace of who he was and when he reached the car, he touched nothing. "Did they get out a psychic alert?" he asked the unseen watcher.
"Likely. Road's still clear, but we need to move fast - reinforcements will be here in minutes if the Council has teleportation-capable Tk's on hand."
The sniper looked through the open doors and saw the final remaining passenger. A tiny boy, barely four and a half years old. He wasn't only blindfolded. His ears had been plugged and his hands tied behind his back. Near-total sensory deprivation.
The sniper growled and became a man named Dorian again, his cold control falling away to expose the deeply protective nature of his beast. He might have been born lacking the changeling ability to shift into animal form, but he carried the leopard within. And that leopard was enraged by the callous treatment meted out to this defenseless child. Reaching in, he gathered the stiff, scared body in his arms, his hold far gentler than anyone would've believed. "I have him."
Another vehicle appeared out of nowhere. This one was sleek, silver, nothing like the now abandoned truck, though the driver was the same man. "Let's go," Clay said, his eyes a flat green.
Getting into the backseat, Dorian ripped off his face mask and put away the gun before cutting through the boy's bindings with the pocketknife he carried everywhere. Blood slicked his fingers and he drew back so fast, he sliced open a thin line on his own palm. But when he looked closer, he realized he hadn't accidentally cut the child - the boy had been struggling against his bonds for what must've been hours. His wrists were raw.
Biting off a brutal oath, Dorian slid the knife back into his jeans and took out the plugs from the boy's ears, removing his blindfold a second later. Unexpected blue gray eyes looked into his, startling in a face with skin the color of aged gold, a dusky brown that almost glowed. "Keenan."
The boy didn't say anything, his face preternaturally calm. So young and he'd already begun the road to Silence, begun to learn to suppress his emotions and become a good, robotic Psy. But his calm facade aside, he was too young to hide his bone-chilling fear from the changeling who watched him, the sharp bite of it insulting to Dorian's senses. Children were not meant to be bound and used as pawns. It was not a fair fight.
The car came to a stop. The opposite passenger-side door opened and then Judd was sliding inside, his gun strapped to his back. "We have to do it now or they'll track him through the PsyNet." The other man's eyes were a cold brown when he stripped off his own mask, but his hands careful as he touched the boy's face. "Keenan, we have to cut the Net link."