Her mind snap-shot to a piece of data she'd absorbed during her peek into the PsyNet.
A virulent flu had swept through several sectors without warning, raising fears of a pandemic.
Unless she'd caught an extremely lucky break - unlikely - it seemed that Zie Zen had gotten the note she'd smuggled out and been ready for her to act. That left the cameras - she'd have to take the chance that the morgue itself wasn't monitored. Why should it be? But just as she was about to attempt to move, she heard footsteps. A door opened, smooth, silent, but for the whish of air. A single pair of feet, boots clicking against the plascrete floor. They came to stand beside her. She lay immobile... then realized she was breathing.
"Ms. Aleine, are you conscious? I know you're alive."
It had all been for nothing. Refusing to show any reaction, she raised her hands to her eyes and peeled off the tape, blinking against the stark white light. The russet-haired woman who'd woken her was already taking things out of a small pack and putting them beside her. Clothing, shoes, socks.
She rose to a sitting position. Swallowed. "Liquids?" Her voice was gravel and dust with a topcoat of broken glass.
The woman put a bottle in her hand, nothing but cool efficiency in her brown eyes. "Zie Zen sends his regards." She opened her palm to show Ashaya a small gold coin stamped with the Chinese character for "unity."
There are only ten. Each carried by an individual worthy of trust.
Ashaya didn't need any more proof. "He got my note."
A short nod. "You have a limited window of time," the woman said. "The panic we created with a viral bioagent is starting to die down. Councilor LeBon will be here very soon to take charge of your body."
Finishing the juice, Ashaya got off the table, holding herself steady with her hands flat on the table. Her head swam, and she knew without a doubt that she was about to throw up. Staggering to the sink, she slotted in the plug just before her stomach revolted. What came out was mostly juice, but the spasms felt like muscle tearing and ripping.
"Are you all right?" The stranger passed Ashaya a box of tissues and another bottle - this time of water.
"Yes." Her voice came out husky. "Give me a minute."
As the other woman turned away, Ashaya focused on the contents of the sink and, to her relief, found the chip she'd swallowed - her digestive tract had shut down with the rest of her body, leaving the chip in her stomach. Rinsing it clean as she washed out the sink, she wrapped the priceless object in a piece of tissue and went back to the table.
The stranger had laid out an outfit, and Ashaya wasted no time in pulling it on - underwear, jeans, and a long-sleeved white T-shirt followed by a short-sleeved navy blue one. Spring was heating into summer, but the nights could be cool depending on the location. Putting the chip into a pocket, she braided her hair and stuffed it under the black beret her rescuer held out.
Contact lenses came next. Her pale blue gray eyes were unusual for her dark skin tone. Now they turned brown. That done, she pulled on the socks and sneakers laid out on the morgue slab. Remnants of the poison continued to send twinges through her body, and her stomach was a raw mess, but it was nothing compared to when she'd first woken.
"There's a small stunner in the front pocket - it's a weapon you're trained to use, correct?" Not waiting for an answer, the woman helped Ashaya with the pack. It fit neatly across her back, with straps across her chest and around her hips. "Cosmetics and cheap jewelry in the side pocket. Use them to further your disguise. Misdirection is key. You're not Ashaya Aleine, M-Psy, you're Chantelle James, art student. I'm telepathing the profile."
"I have it." But Ashaya had no intention of using that profile, of escaping one cage only to enter another. To force her child - and he had to be alive - into a lifetime spent looking over his shoulder, a lifetime of secrets and lies... no, she would not do that to Keenan. He'd been hurt enough.
"Stick to the profile, and keep your PsyNet shields at maximum. We were able to hide your reentry into the Net, but we can't spare the manpower to give you around-the-clock protection."
"I understand." She turned to face her rescuer. "Thank you."
"Keep yourself safe." The woman's eyes were dark, but there was a strange awareness in them. "When this breaks and the war begins in earnest, we'll need your skills to battle the bio-agents they use against us."
This. Silence. The protocol that kept them sane while removing their emotions. The protocol that put sociopaths at the top of their hierarchy. But when that Silence fell, minds were going to crack. Emotion could not simply come rushing back... not without causing permanent, irreversible fractures in the psyche. Ashaya knew that far too well.
"I'll try my best." But she would not deviate from the path she'd set herself. "How do I get out of here?"
"A teleporter will take you out." She went motionless. "We've run out of time."
The same man who'd teleported Ashaya to the Center - Vasic - was suddenly beside her. An instant later, her bones melted from the inside out and she was falling, falling. She staggered and almost crashed to her knees as they reached their destination. "Where - " she began, but Vasic was already blinking out.
She rubbed her forehead, guessing things had gotten hot very fast. Vasic had most likely returned to get the other woman out. The man had to be the rarest of the rare - a Traveler. Most strong telekinetics could 'port, but not even a cardinal Tk could do so with such effortless speed. Only a true teleporter. A Traveler. Designation Tk. Subdesignation V.
But where had this Traveler brought her?