Branded by Fire (Psy-Changeling 6) - Page 70

"Yes, but he wouldn't share any details of his research over the comm link," Ashaya replied. "I'm sorry - I know you need more to evaluate his protection needs."

"Not your fault." She leaned back against the seat. "Let me see if I can set up a face-to-face. Might get something that way."

"Good luck."

The NetMind came calling while Faith was sitting in the office Vaughn had rigged for her - an office she absolutely adored, because it was as wild as the man who was her mate, being situated in a hollow cavern off the spectacular main cave that Vaughn had made into a home. The walls in this cavern glittered with embedded minerals, setting off the glow in the thin tubes threaded through the walls of the entire "house." Those tubes provided both heat and light in an eco-friendly way, leaving her cocooned in warmth.

It was, she thought, just one element in the whole that added up to a feeling of total safety. No one would dare touch her now that she belonged to Vaughn, but it was nice to be able to work without any worry whatsoever - the route to her and Vaughn's home was booby-trapped in every way you could imagine, and some most people never would.

Lying back in her favorite easy chair, she began to go through the list of forecasts she'd been requested to make. She never made any business predictions alone, of course. There was always the potential for a Cassandra Spiral, the major mental cascade that could destroy her - the mating bond limited the danger, but neither she nor Vaughn wanted to take chances. Not when she was already so vulnerable to the dark visions, the ones that entered her mind without warning.

But even there, she thought with pride, she'd learned to use the mating bond to anchor herself so the nightmare didn't take her over. In comparison, this - playing with the list, "priming" her brain - was utterly safe.

It was as she was going through the list for the third time that the NetMind "knocked." She couldn't really see it - had never been able to. She simply knew it was there, a vast, endless presence that was at once ageless and childish. Today she caught the tumble of roses it threw into her mind in its version of hello, and laughed.

Talking to the NetMind was difficult - it seemed to understand images better than words, and yet it was the librarian of the PsyNet, holding on to and organizing the billions of words that passed through the Net. And it was a sentience, one that changed with the Net. Now its roses were followed by torrent of images Faith could barely process.

Violence. Blood. Suicide. Over and over.

She showed the NetMind a hand, palm-out, their by-now familiar signal for "slow down." It obeyed, though its version of slow was still almost too fast for her brain to process. But it was better than before. Catching the avalanche of images, she put them aside for later review, sensing the NetMind's distress. Worried, she sent it an image of a woman colored in darkness.

The DarkMind.

It was the twin of the NetMind, created out of all the horror, the hurt, the badness that the Psy had Silenced. Faith knew from painful experience that the DarkMind was mute - but it had found a way to scream, to vent its rage through acts of violence committed by those fragile minds already predisposed toward darkness.

Now she asked the NetMind if its twin was behind the wave of violence.

The answer came within a split second, less.

The image she'd sent was returned to her, but with the DarkMind scrubbed out. So this wasn't the DarkMind trying to speak in whatever limited, tortured way it could. But then the NetMind sent her another image - of the PsyNet, with tendrils of darkness creeping through it. Except this darkness wasn't normal, wasn't healthy. It was putrid in a way Faith couldn't explain - she just felt it deep in her soul.

An image of a thousand tears overlaid the snapshot of the PsyNet.

The PsyNet was dying, Faith thought, and the NetMind was the PsyNet in many ways. Her heart stuttered. But this sending also had another message - the DarkMind might not be driving these acts, but its influence had subtly corrupted another, or others. However, though it was tempting to think of the DarkMind as evil, Faith knew that was wrong. It was also a sentience, and the blame for its insanity lay in Silence.

She sent the NetMind an image of arms outstretched, an offer of help.

The response was of a globe, but a globe colored in the shades of the Net - white stars against a background of black velvet. Around that globe was a shimmering shield that repelled her hands.

The Net wasn't ready for help.

But there were cracks in the shield. She touched a finger to one crack, and knew that was Judd. The one next to it, Walker. And not far from them, Sascha. So many fine, fine cracks. The most isolated one, the newest . . . no, this was the very first, but it was hidden, hidden deep. And it was male, powerful, so very powerful. When this ghost . . . "Oh," she whispered, realizing who it was she touched. "The Ghost." When the most notorious rebel in the Net broke his Silence, the shield would well and truly shatter.

What the NetMind couldn't tell her, and her foreseeing gift refused to see, was if the PsyNet would survive . . . or drown.

Chapter 40

"It's later."

Riley looked around Mercy's office, curious. It was neat, but with an indefinable flair that was indisputably her. "Where'd you get this?" He gestured at the striking wall hanging behind her desk.

To his surprise, she didn't push him. "Peru. I went roaming down south after I decided medicine wasn't for me." Coming to stand beside him, she smiled. "That was a hell of a lot of fun. I hung out with my grandmother's pack for a while - even went to Carnaval in my leopard form."

He could see her in the wild color of Rio de Janeiro. "With Eduardo and Joaquin?"