I found you!
Ashaya tried to slam the mental door shut but it stuck. Too late. It was too late.
Dorian snorted, shattering her focus and making her fingers slip off the doorway. "You shook off excess baggage." He straightened. "Well, that's just too bad, Ms. Aleine. You're going to be a mother to your son. That kid deserves for you to f**king give a damn."
"No," she began to say, shoving back against Amara's insidious presence even as the primal energy of the changeling in front of her threatened to overwhelm her defenses. "I can't - "
"I don't care what you can or can't do." Dorian crowded her against the railing, his hands on either side of her. Pure heat. Pure muscle.
Claustrophobia rose. And the door shoved wide open.
Oh, Ashaya, you've been very, very, bad.
Kaleb watched a replay of the Aleine broadcast and knew that Protocol I was dead. There was no way for the Council to recover from this. Despite her statement about others being able to continue her work, Ashaya had been the linchpin of the entire operation, her expertise unique, her focus unparalleled.
Protocol I was finished. But Omega... that was a discussion that couldn't wait.
Not bothering to unfold the sleeves of his shirt, he walked out of his study and through to the balcony behind his home on the outskirts of Moscow. Night lay thick across this part of the world but he didn't turn on any of the external lights. Instead, he leaned against the outside wall and opened his mind to the dark skies of the PsyNet.
There was nothing else like it - an endless field of black, littered with the pure white of stars representing the minds of each and every Psy in the world, but for the recent renegades. And the Forgotten, of course. But those few lost ones took nothing away from the PsyNet. It was the largest mental construct in the world, the biggest information archive. Its pathways flowed with more data per second than even the most efficient computer highway.
However, today, Kaleb had no interest in mining the PsyNet for data - except for the one crucial piece of information that he searched for constantly, day and night, awake or asleep. That task hummed in the back of his head as usual, but his conscious mind was focused on reaching the dark core of the Net, home to the psychic vault of the Council chambers.
He was the first to arrive, followed by Shoshanna Scott, then Nikita Duncan. Ming LeBon and Anthony Kyriakus came together but from different directions. Henry Scott appeared an instant later. Tatiana Rika-Smythe was the last entry. The door to the vault slammed shut and the seven minds within it flared bright.
Nikita started the discussion. "I initiated emergency procedures since I was closest to the focal point. It worked as projected - we always knew there would be a high chance of failure in any worldwide shutdown. Aleine's message got through."
Tatiana spoke as soon as Nikita finished. "Then she's sunk the Implant Protocol."
"Isn't that a fatalistic approach?" Shoshanna queried. "We still have the relevant data - it was backed up in networks she couldn't access."
"Tatiana isn't talking about the technical aspects." Anthony's controlled mental voice. He was the newest member of the Council, but he'd ruled the influential NightStar clan for decades, was powerful enough that he'd defied the Council with impunity before his ascension. So when he spoke, everyone listened. Even Shoshanna.
"It's the political aspect," Anthony continued. "By associating Protocol I with Omega, and muddying the waters of what we have and have not told our allies, she's manufactured a political schism between the Council and the most powerful of those who support us."
"I don't agree," Shoshanna said. "We may not have stated it definitively, but our supporters have to know they would've been accorded preferential treatment under the Protocol."
"Yes," Anthony agreed. "But what use is having power over the masses if you have none over your own biology? Aleine has made it appear as if we were making fools of our allies, promising them supremacy, while planning to neuter them."
Kaleb made his move. "As to looking the fool, Anthony is correct - I'd like an explanation as to why there was nothing about Omega in the data files I was given at my ascension." He wondered if Anthony had known about the project. Likely. The NightStar clan was famous for the number of F-Psy in its gene pool. And foreseers saw many things when they looked into the future. Perhaps they had seen a tomorrow without progeny.
"An oversight," Ming said, his tone dismissive. "The project has been stagnant for so many decades, it's in mothballs - Aleine was never told to oversee it."
"Neither did she receive instructions to reinitiate the process," Nikita added. "In fact, her only involvement with Omega stems from some general research she did several years ago, when she first began working for us."
"That wasn't what she stated," Anthony pointed out.
Ming was the one who answered. "She lied. Ashaya knows full well that Protocol I has gained some support in the Net. If she'd based her broadcast on that alone, she would've chanced being ignored by a large number of people. So she increased the stakes and used her basic knowledge of Omega to turn her broadcast into a virtual nail bomb."
"Omega has always been more concept than reality." Nikita, siding with Ming once again. "If we'd thought there was any chance that Aleine was close to a breakthrough, we would've had her focusing on the virus, not Protocol I."
Kaleb couldn't disagree with that logic. Had Protocol I succeeded, the implants would've required a far longer rollout period than an easily transmittable virus.