“Stroke of luck.” The prosecutor put the files in his briefcase. “When Bonner said he’d cooperate with a scan, we requested the closest J. Russo had just completed a job here. She’s on her way to the airport now—heading to our neck of the woods as a matter of fact.”
“Liberty?” Max asked, mentioning the maximum-security penitentiary located on an artificial island off the New York coast.
Bart nodded as they walked out and toward the first security door. “She’s scheduled to meet a prisoner who claims another prisoner confessed to the currently unsolved mutilation murder of a high-profile victim.”
Max thought of what Bonner had done to the only one of his victims they’d ever found, the bloody ruin that had been the once-gamine beauty of Carissa White. And he wondered what Sophia Russo saw when she closed her eyes at night.
Nikita Duncan, Psy Councilor and one of the most powerful women in the world, scanned the biographical data in the confidential file in front of her, pausing for a second on the attached digital image.
The human male had a distinctive face. Sharp cheekbones, skin that spoke of a complex genetic heritage, and eyes that hinted of a parent from central Asia. But it wasn’t Detective Max Shannon’s appearance that interested Nikita.
No, she was interested in something far more important—his mind.
The patient is no longer connected to the PsyNet by a single biofeedback link—her mind survived by anchoring its entire consciousness into the fabric of the neural network. Any attempt at separation will lead not only to death, but to the total and complete destruction of her personality.
—PsyMed report on Sophia Russo, minor, age 8
Sophia hadn’t slept for twenty-four hours when she walked into the ironically named Liberty Penitentiary the next morning, but no one could’ve guessed that from the crisp clarity of her tone, the smartness of her dress. She was taken directly to an interview room upon arrival. The assistant district attorney in charge of the case arrived a minute later.
Five minutes after that, she began the memory retrieval. Unlike Bonner’s, this inmate’s mind was full of nothing but forty years of living and violence. Some young Js got lost in the mess, but Sophia had learned to filter very well. She went directly to the memories of the day in question and took no more than the relevant minutes.
Humans tended to be suspicious of telepaths, and Js in particular, afraid the Psy would steal their secrets. The truth was, Sophia already had too many pieces of other people’s lives in her head. She didn’t want any more—especially the kinds of memories she was invariably asked to retrieve. In all her years of service, she’d found only four innocents. “I have it,” she said to the A.D.A.
Asking the prisoner and his attorney to wait, he walked her to the waiting area outside the warden’s office. “Could you project the memories to me?”
Nodding, she did as asked. This little telepathic quirk was what turned a Tp into a J. Most telepaths could transmit words and/or isolated visuals, but Js could not only retract, but transmit the entire memory in a continuous stream. This A.D.A. was human, his shields no barrier. That could have been a handicap in other circumstances—however, given that this case had no associated cost or benefit to the Council, he was safe from Psy coercion.
“Thank you,” he said after she completed the projection. “That does put a different spin on things, doesn’t it?”
She didn’t answer, aware he wasn’t talking to her. And even if he had been, she would’ve made no response. She tried not to “see” the memories anymore. It was a futile effort, but sometimes, she could distance herself a fraction.
The A.D.A. released a breath. “I’d like to go back and chat with the witness and his attorney. The jet-chopper will be arriving to take you back to the mainland soon.”
“Please go ahead.” She saw him looking around for the warden. “This location is tightly guarded. I’ll be safe on my own.”
“You sure?” A concerned look.
“I spend a lot of time in prisons.”
“I guess you must at that. Alright, you’ve got my secretary’s number. Give her a buzz if the chopper doesn’t arrive in the next ten minutes.”
“I will.” Nodding good-bye as he left, she took a seat, outwardly calm. But the truth was, she should’ve never, ever been left alone. As she’d told the A.D.A., it wasn’t because her physical position put her at risk. There were at least four double-keyed electronic security doors, full of bars and steel, between her and the first inmate.
It wasn’t even because she might get scared sitting alone in such a cold, gray place.
She had witnessed thousands of moments of the most depraved violence and pain, but she herself didn’t feel fear. She didn’t feel anything. The Silence Protocol, the conditioning that chilled Psy madnesses as it chilled their emotions, ensured that. However, in Sophia’s case, Silence didn’t work as well as it should. And everybody knew it. Most Psy would have been summarily rehabilitated, but Sophia was a Justice Psy. And Js were rare enough and necessary enough that they were allowed their little . . . peculiarities.
Of course, Js were also never to be left alone in “suggestive” locations.
Evil is hard to define, but it’s sitting in that room.
The reminder of Max Shannon’s grim words stayed her hand for a second. Would he consider this evil? Perhaps. But as her path was unlikely to ever again cross with that of a man who’d made her, for a fleeting instant, wish to be something better, she couldn’t let him guide her actions. Because though what she was about to do wasn’t in any official manual, like all Js, she considered it part of her job description.