"Anything we can use?" Shoshanna again.
"Possibly." Ming paused. "I'm uploading it now."
Streams of data scrolled down the black walls, a silver waterfall comprehensible to only the most powerful Psy minds. Nikita absorbed the information, scanned through the salient points. "This concerns the Forgotten."
"It appears," Ming said, "that their most recent descendants are being born with abilities unseen in the Net."
"That's hardly surprising." Kaleb's smooth voice.
Nikita considered him the most lethal member of not only the Council, but of the Net itself. At present, he'd allied himself to her on certain issues, but she was in no doubt that he'd kill her without hesitation should it prove necessary.
"Councilor Krychek is correct," Tatiana said, speaking for the first time. "We've made a practice of eliminating mutations from the gene pool except where those mutations are essential to maintaining the functionality of the Net."
Nikita knew the dig was directed at her, a reminder of her daughter's unacceptable genetics. "The E designation isn't a mutation," she said with a calm that had been conditioned into her from the cradle. "Empaths form a critical component of the Net. Or have you forgotten your history lessons?" The last time the Council had tried to suppress the E designation - by destroying all embryos that tested positive for the ability - the PsyNet had come critically close to collapse.
"I've forgotten nothing." Tatiana's voice was utterly without inflection. "Getting back to the issue at hand - the deletion of mutations has made our core abilities stronger, purer, but with the inevitable side effect of stunting the development of new talents."
"Is that really a problem?" Anthony Kyriakus asked, matter-of-fact as always. "Surely if the Forgotten had developed any dangerous new abilities, they would have used them against us by now."
"That was my conclusion," Ming said. "However, if no one disagrees, I'd like to devote a small fraction of Council resources to monitoring the Forgotten population for evidence of more serious mutations - we need to ensure they never again become what they once were."
There were no objections.
"Nikita," Tatiana said as Ming's data disappeared from the walls, "how is the voluntary rehabilitation going in your sector?"
"The pace is steady." Allowing the populace to choose to have their conditioning checked - and, if necessary, bolstered - rather than coercing them into it, had reaped dividends beyond anything Nikita had expected. "I suggest we continue to permit people to come in voluntarily - the Net is already becoming calmer."
"Yes," Henry said. "The eruptions of violence have ceased."
Nikita hadn't been able to unmask the individual who'd orchestrated the recent surge of murderous public violence by Psy, but she knew it had most likely been someone in this room. If that individual's goal had been to drive people to cling to Silence, he or she had succeeded. But those bloody events had left a psychic echo - the Net was a closed system. Whatever went in, stayed in.
The other Councilors appeared to have forgotten that, but she hadn't. She was already building her shields, waiting for the moment when they paid the price for that violent piece of strategy.
Six hours after their early morning call, Dev found himself leading Ashaya Aleine down to the medical floor. Her mate, Dorian, walked by her side, his mouth grim. "If Ekaterina was taken from the lab when it was destroyed, she's likely been in Council hands for over five months."
Ashaya uttered a choked-off sound of pain, making Dorian swear under his breath. Dragging his mate to his side, he nuzzled the electric curls of her hair. "Sorry, Shaya."
"No." She sucked in a breath. "You're right."
"And if that's true," Dev said, "they now know everything she did."
Ashaya nodded. "Ming LeBon would've torn her mind open. He was behind the destruction of the lab - it had to be him that took her."
The mental violation, Dev thought with a burst of cold anger, would've been all consuming. A psychic assault left the victim with not even the slimmest avenue of escape, no place where she could even pretend that everything was okay.
"Why leave her on your doorstep?" Ashaya said, voice shaken. "A warning?"
"A taunt, more like it." Dev had made it his business to study the enemy. "Psychological warfare."
Dorian nodded. "Could be Ming wants to spook you into doing something rash."
"All the Shine kids are safe and accounted for," Dev said, having spent the past few hours verifying that. "Unfortunately, we've still got the gray area where we've tracked them down, but they haven't yet agreed to accept our help." The last Council mole had taken advantage of that gray area, fingering children for experimentation after they came into the field offices but before they'd been brought safely under the Shine umbrella.
Every single death haunted Dev. Because Shine was about safety, about locating those Forgotten who'd been lost, cut off from the group when the Council first began hunting their ancestors. But instead of safe harbor, it was only death the children had found . . . while the old Shine board sat by, their heads in the sand.
Dev had been ready to kill them for their blindness, their refusal to see that the culling had begun again - and according to some, he'd almost succeeded. One board member had had a heart attack after Dev threw pictures of the children's broken bodies in front of him. Several others had come close to nervous breakdowns.
But no one had stopped him when he took over, when he went after the mole with single-minded focus. "This way," he said, leading them down a silent corridor.