Nikita continued to speak. "We can't allow Aleine's use of Omega to distract us from the real issue. Though the data leak is a problem, especially given the Net's current instability, our priority has to be on stemming the ripples caused by her defection."
"How do we discredit her?" Shoshanna asked. "Not only is it clear that she's in full control of her faculties, it's well known that she worked for the Council."
"The easiest way would be for her to retract her statement," Nikita said. "Doesn't she have an identical twin? Would we be able to use her to complicate things?"
"That's... problematic," Ming said. "Though Amara Aleine's mind is brilliant in certain useful respects and she may, in fact, be able to complete her twin's work, it's doubtful she could appear enough like her sister, in terms of Ashaya's control, to pull off a broadcast. Even telepathic coercion may not work. If it doesn't - "
" - the attempt will do more harm than good," Nikita completed. "Ashaya Aleine's child?"
"Dead, but we haven't yet found a body."
"Convenient, but it matters little," Tatiana said. "The boy lost his value as a hostage the instant Ashaya escaped our control. Getting back to Amara Aleine, do we need her anymore? The inception of Protocol I is now highly unlikely."
"I predict that will change," Shoshanna said. "We need to be ready with a functioning implant when that happens."
Kaleb knew she was right. Tides changed swiftly in the rapidly flowing rivers of the PsyNet. A man who intended to hold the Net in the palm of his hand had to be careful which rapids he rode.
"The most efficient way to stop discontent would be to take Ashaya out of the equation," Henry said, breaking his silence.
Kaleb watched the other Councilor. Of course, the man's shields made it impossible for Kaleb to read his patterns, but the fact that Henry had put forth such a radical idea without input from Shoshanna was another piece of the puzzle he'd suddenly become.
"She's high-profile," Nikita pointed out. "It could backfire."
"But Henry is correct - dead women can't speak." Tatiana's practical mind. "It may take years to recover from the effect of Aleine's revelations, but the process will go much faster if she's not around to feed the populace on rebellion."
"I'd advise caution." Anthony's compelling voice. "Ashaya has influence in intellectual circles. If we attempt to assassinate her, we chance alienating the very scientists we'll need if she carries through her implied threat and releases a bioagent as a weapon."
"Surely you're reaching with that interpretation," Tatiana said. "This is a political issue. Ashaya won't take it to the level of war."
"We're the ones who've become too political, too worried about perception," Shoshanna said, pure ice in her tone. "There was a time when we would've had no hesitation in executing Ashaya, as well as any who dared stand with her."
Kaleb waited, expecting Nikita to speak. She did.
"Times have changed," she said. "We are - through our own mistakes - no longer the sole powers in the world. If we become too openly manipulative, the defectors may decide to look to the changelings for protection."
"They're not that much of a threat," Shoshanna retorted. "Perhaps in California, yes, but elsewhere? They're too caught up in their petty animal concerns."
"But are you willing to chance a war on US soil for the sake of a single scientist?" Kaleb asked, backing Nikita. "If we do come down hard and even a small percentage of the populace decides to turn to the changelings, we'll have the beginnings of an untenable rupture in the Net." He would not allow war to shatter that which would one day be his.
"Might I suggest a two-step approach," Anthony said into the silence. "As a first step, we attempt to recapture her, with the aim of forcing her to recant. We're all capable of overcoming her psychic defenses - she's an M-Psy, with no offensive abilities."
"An excellent point," Shoshanna accepted. "And step two?"
"We take her out of the equation."
"It's a sound plan," Tatiana said. "It won't only silence her, it'll have the dual effect of demoralizing the rebels - they'll see that even if they manage to get their voices heard, it means nothing."
"Agreed." It was a unanimous decision.
Kaleb was about to move back to his study when he caught the edge of a different newscast burning up the Net. He made immediate telepathic contact. Ming, I assume you're behind this?
It's a message. Ashaya Aleine is not a stupid woman. She'll understand.
I've just seen a broadcast that could change everything. We need to meet. 0800 hours. Tell the others.
- Handwritten note slipped under an apartment door in the sunken city of Venice
Dorian had trapped her against the balcony railing and Amara was trying to claw into her very psyche. Ashaya snapped, and, mind screaming at the sense of entrapment, shoved at Dorian's chest. "Get away from me." She snatched back her hands as the heat and power of him soaked through her palms.
He smiled and it wasn't pleasant. "Scared?"
"I'm Psy." Reminding herself of that helped block Amara. She was safe. This time. "I feel nothing." It was the same lie she'd told herself her entire adult life, only allowing the truth to surface in the deepest depths of night, when she was sure Amara slept. To leash her sister, and survive in the Net, she'd become the creature everyone expected her to be. The unrelenting charade had taken a toll, but she refused to crack. Not yet. Not while Keenan remained at risk.