Branded by Fire (Psy-Changeling 6) - Page 12

Both Enid and Iain shook their heads. "It's all hush-hush," Iain said. "The university got a grant from some big company and that company has first rights to the results."

"But his professor would know," Enid added. "I'm sure he'd help you."

"Merce," Lucas said, "why don't you and Riley head out to the house. I'll organize the data collection on Nash. Enid and Iain can see if Willow remembers anything."

The shift of muscle against her own, a slight rasp of fabric against fabric that made every hair on her body stand up in attention. But this time, the wolf hadn't done it on purpose, his attention elsewhere.

"We have to guard against tunnel vision," he warned, his fury apparent in the vicious control with which he spoke. Riley, Mercy knew, despised the monsters who preyed on those weaker and less able to defend themselves. It was one of the few things they agreed on. "Could be a professional relationship gone bad, a competitor, anything. We need to explore all angles until we have more intel."

The others made sounds of agreement, and Mercy and Riley drove off after grabbing a quick meal. Despite Riley's attempt at wresting control - even though it was her car - Mercy was in the driver's seat. It was obvious Riley hated that fact with a feral kind of passion.

"If you don't stop clenching your fists," she said sweetly, "your veins might explode."

"I'll take that under advisement, Melisande."

She barely stopped herself from slamming on the brakes. "Who told you that?" She needed to know who to dismember.

He snorted. "I ran the background check on you."

"What?"

"Did you think SnowDancer was sitting on its ass while you cats set up your territory here?"

Given that she'd done some spying of her own, she couldn't exactly argue with that. But - "That name is off-limits. On pain of death."

"I'm quaking in my boots, pu**ycat."

She screamed. "Why do you live to aggravate me? Why?"

A smile that told her nothing. "One thing I've always wondered - why did you enter that bikini contest when you were a teenager?"

Her face flushed with a mixture of anger and embarrassment. "How far back did you trace me?"

"Far enough." A pause. "You didn't answer my question."

"And you didn't turn into a puff of smoke and disappear. The world is full of disappointments."

A low growl filled the vehicle.

Chapter 7

Councilor Kaleb Krychek sifted through the reports flowing in via his constant connection to the PsyNet, the vast mental network created by the minds of millions of Psy, and paused.

Living "jacked in" to the Net, without firewalls or shields, was not recommended, and such complete immersion, such obscene openness to others, was not something he'd ever practice. But as a Councilor, he had to be aware of everything the instant it happened. And, given that most Psy uploaded data almost without thought, the Net was the quickest and most efficient information highway in the world.

Hence his very, very well-guarded link.

"Silver," he said, as another report "pinged" in his mind, alerting him to news that had set off one of his keywords.

His most senior aide walked into the room, smart and coolly elegant despite the fact that beyond the windows, Moscow lay swathed in darkness. "Sir?"

"I've caught three reports of public violence by Psy in the past twelve hours," he said, and it was the word "public" that was important - because Silence had been meant to wipe out violence among their race. "Find out what's happening."

"Yes, sir." She paused, and waited until he'd raised his head from his desk before speaking. "There is a slight possibility that Pure Psy might be behind this."

Kaleb had considered that - the pro-Silence vigilante group had the potential to spin out of control. And Kaleb did not countenance anything outside his control. "Do you have any evidence to back that up?" Because Silver's family were spies, betraying Pure Psy without a blink because Kaleb was more powerful, and therefore had the potential to offer them a better gain - loyalty to anyone outside their own family was a cost-benefit calculation for the Mercants.

"No," Silver said. "However, I'll ask members of my family if they've heard anything. There's also a chance it's a cluster."

He didn't ask how she knew about clusters - he hadn't chosen Silver as his aide because she was stupid. "Make a list of all recent events that fit the parameters. Go back a month." Clusters of violence - when a ripple in Silence broke certain fragile minds - only took place over a limited period of time. Two weeks was the maximum. If this had been going on any longer, they had to start looking for another explanation.

Even as Kaleb spoke to Silver, another man, one known only as the Information Merchant, received a request through an e-mail address available to those who knew where to look.

The request was . . . unexpected.

It might even, he thought, be impossible to fulfill. But the Information Merchant was the best in the business. He did not accept failure.

Decision made, he tapped out a reply using the wireless keyboard beamed onto his desk.

Request received. Transfer one million dollars to the account specified below. Work will begin as soon as the transfer has been verified. Further payments will depend on hours of work, and, in this case, the level of threat.

Chapter 8

The echoes of Riley's growl reverberated inside the vehicle.

Satisfied she'd finally gotten to him, Mercy relaxed her hold on the steering wheel and literally shoved her mind into work mode. "So, the 'explore all options' stuff aside, what's your gut say on this? Alliance?"

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