She leaned in and stared at the screen for several seconds. "Give it to me."
He swiveled the device so it remained on the flat of his palm, but faced her. Too intrigued by the intellectual challenge, she didn't argue his interpretation of her order. "I wasn't given the code," she murmured, "so it has to be logical, something I alone would know."
"Keenan?" For once, he didn't sound like he was baiting her. The cat apparently liked gadgets. It was an unexpected discovery.
"No." She looked up, startled at his closeness. "That would be the first word Ming LeBon would use."
Narrowing his eyes, Dorian pulled the organizer out of reach.
"Now that's a question I want answered. Why exactly was the Council able to keep you leashed by holding Keenan?"
She could've lied, but the truth, she decided, would serve as well. It would reinforce his image of her as a cold monster without any maternal feelings. She needed him to continue to treat her with disgust - because even this tiny hint of a thaw in his attitude was threatening to erode the Silence that was her only protection against Amara. "I was already working for the Council in another capacity," she began, "when the Councilors asked for my cooperation with Protocol I. Since I disagree with the aims of the protocol, I refused. Keenan was an infant at the time and living with me."
The tiny hairs on the back of Dorian's neck rose in warning. Whatever was coming was going to be bad, very bad.
"One night," Ashaya continued tonelessly, "I went to sleep in my bed and woke up in a room at the Center. I was told that my fallopian tubes had been tied." Her expression didn't change but he saw her hands clench on the holoframe she'd been attempting to slide quietly out of sight before he'd put her on the spot.
The gesture set all his sense to humming. It was the first true indication she'd given that maybe, just maybe, she wasn't the perfect Psy everyone believed her to be - Psy fully enmeshed in Silence never made any physical movements without purpose. Either it was an act to put him off guard, or M-Psy Ashaya Aleine had more secrets than anyone knew. There was nothing Dorian's cat loved better than a mystery.
He turned his mind to what she'd said. "I don't get it. It's reversible, right?"
"The technique they chose, yes."
"The point wasn't to make me infertile," Ashaya said with frightening calm. "The point was to teach me that they had control over every aspect of my life, including my body itself. I was told that if I dared reverse the procedure and get pregnant, they'd make sure my child was aborted."
Fury boiled in his gut. He stared at her, somehow knowing that that wasn't the worst of it. "And if you continued to defy them, they'd do worse?" The torture of it, of never knowing when you'd be violated, it gave him one hell of an insight into this woman's internal strength.
"They said they would remove my uterus and cause enough scar tissue that even a cloned organ wouldn't heal me."
"Okay," he said, clamping down on the need to touch her, to give comfort in the affectionate changeling way, "that leaves Keenan as your only child. But there's no emotional connection, so why would the threat to him hold you?"
"Psy are quite fanatical about bloodlines. Did you know?"
He shook his head, intrigued by the changes in her scent as she spoke. Snaps of cold, flares of heat. As if she was fighting a silent battle to maintain her conditioning - and yet nothing showed on her face. She was a very good actress, something he'd do well to remember, he thought, even as he said, "Enlighten me."
She seemed to take his words at face value. "We're a race that leaves behind no art, no music, no literature. Our immortality lies in the genetic inheritance we pass on to our offspring. Without that, we're nothing once we cease to exist. Our psychologists believe it's a primitive need for continuity, as well, of course, for the perpetuation of the species, that makes us reproduce, though children suck up time and effort that could be better spent elsewhere."
Smart words, cold words, but her tone was just a fraction off. "So that was all they had on you - if you didn't cooperate, there goes your genetic legacy?" Perhaps the Council had believed her motivation, but Dorian had seen her bleeding and wounded... and the only thing she'd cared about was whether Keenan was safe.
"No, there goes my immortality." She refused to break their locked gazes and the leopard approved. "You have no hope of understanding," she added. "You're changeling."
He scowled. "We love children."
"Children are commodities," she corrected. "Keenan, by virtue of being the single child it appeared I would ever produce, gained a higher market value. He was worth enough to me that I agreed to the Council's demands." She could've been talking about stocks and bonds. "Now that I'm out of their reach, I'm free to bear other children. Keenan is no longer important."
"Callous," he said, but he was watching that betraying hand. Those clever scientist's fingers were wrapped around the edge of the holoframe so tightly that bone pushed white against the thin membrane of her smooth, coffee and cream skin. "Except for one thing - why did you go to so much trouble to get Keenan out if you don't care if he lives or dies?"
A minuscule pause. "Because I knew changelings would be more inclined to help me if I showed some kind of an attachment toward a child." She looked down and began to shift things in the pack, finally releasing the holoframe. "I knew I'd need changeling assistance in certain matters, and your race's attitude toward the young is well-known."