He froze for an instant, then groaned. "You're going to drive me to the asylum."
She smiled. "That's the point." Riley liked rules. She didn't. Let's see if her wolf could drop his guard enough to tantalize a cat.
Sascha sat in her home "office" - the balcony outside the aerie - and stared at the book her mother had sent her. She kept hoping for a distraction so she wouldn't have to open the pages, wouldn't have to consider why Nikita had done this, whether it was a trap or a peace offering.
As if on cue, the comm panel chimed. Relief washing through her like a rainstorm, she answered using the handset she'd placed on the balcony table. "Sascha speaking."
"Sascha, it's Nicki."
"Hiya, kitten." Looking away from the book, she stared out at the trees. "What's up?" Nicki was only eighteen, but had recently become apprenticed to the pack's historian, Keely, after it became obvious she'd been born for the role.
"Keely asked me to do some research - she said you were interested in Alice Eldridge?"
The feeling of buoyancy deflated. "You found something already?"
"I got super lucky with the first person I spoke to - one of Keely's contacts." The sound of rustling, as if she was settling papers. "Sorry," Nicki said. "I never expected to be given something this cool so soon - it's exciting."
Sascha made a murmur of agreement and waited.
"Okay, so the deal is, Alice Eldridge was a Ph.D. student who was doing this big study on different kinds of Psy around 1968."
Nineteen sixty-eight - the year before the concept of Silence was first floated. "She got permission?"
"Yeah, looks like it from the info I was able to hunt up. All the stuff about her is buried deep - I got most of my intel from a rare books dealer slash conspiracy theorist after I turned up in person this morning and convinced him I wasn't Psy. I actually had to show him my claws, if you can believe it."
"He was that hesitant?"
"Oh yeah, and once he told me the history behind Eldridge, I understood why." A long inhale. "Okay, so it seems that midway through her study, Alice Eldridge decided to focus only on E-Psy, and her results were considered ground-breaking, the best work on E-Psy ever done."
"Her work was well-known?"
"In academic circles, yes. The original 1972 print run - done through a university press - was small, around two thousand, but there were rumors she'd been approached by a bigger publisher. Her style was apparently one that would've translated well to the popular market." Nicki paused to take a breath. "Unfortunately, Alice Eldridge died in a mountain-climbing accident in 1975, and that deal never eventuated."
A chill rippled down Sascha's spine. So close to the implementation of total Silence, had it truly been an accident? "Why isn't there any mention of her online?"
"That's the thing - the rare books guy told me that her work was destroyed in a massive purge around a hundred years ago."
Sascha's hand fisted. Silence had been fully implemented in 1979, a hundred and one years ago. And that was when E-Psy had become a liability . . . so they'd been buried, broken, erased. Somehow, she found the voice to say, "That's great work, Nicki."
"Thanks." The girl sounded so pleased that the chill melted a little. "I found a few bits and pieces on her other book - do you want that information, too?"
"Sure." Anything to delay the return to her "gift."
"Actually," Nicki corrected herself, "it wasn't a book but a manuscript. It seems Eldridge had begun to research another group of Psy after she finished her thesis."
Sascha frowned. "If it was a manuscript, how did you find out about it?"
"Well, it's sort of the Holy Grail to Eldridge scholars," the girl said. "The woman I spoke to - after the rare books dealer introduced us - told me that Eldridge was openly working on a new project before she died. Helene - my source - said there's a reference to it in the book on E-Psy."
Sascha made a mental note to keep an eye out. "Go on."
"The thing is, after her death, no one could find any hint of that work in her office or home. It was like she'd been doing nothing for several years." Nicki hummed a spooky tune. "Weird, huh?"
"Very," Sascha said, but she saw another angle. "The conspiracy theorists think someone got rid of her work."
"Bingo. Even though they don't know what that work was." A pause. "I mean, they think they do - according to Helene, the information was passed down through the family of a colleague of Eldridge's - but they have no clue what it means."
"Did they give you any hint of what they think she was working on?"
"Yes. Helene said Eldridge was doing a long-term project on X-Psy." Nicki paused again. "Do you know what the X stands for?"
Sascha swallowed and sidestepped the question. "You did a fantastic job, Nicki. I'll be sure to tell Keely."
Nicki made a little noise of delight. Laughing, Sascha was about to say good-bye when Nicki said, "Oh, wait, Sascha, I almost forgot - a copy of Eldridge's book goes for over five hundred thousand dollars, it's so rare. Any that are left are mostly in very private collections."
"Thanks, Nicki." Breath lost, she hung up and just sat there for several minutes. Five hundred thousand dollars? Dear God. Not that Nikita couldn't afford it - that amount was nothing to her - but still . . .
She stared at the book once again, knowing it might provide the very answers she'd been seeking. Freed from the bondage of Silence, her empathic powers were changing, developing, growing. What she didn't know was what they were growing into.