When the commander spoke, he didn’t address Max’s implied question, didn’t tell him what happened to Js who reached the end of their working lives. “Ms. Russo has considerable experience in interacting with humans—you should find her a satisfactory partner.” A pause. “Detective, I need an answer today.”
Max played the data crystal over his fingers. He still wasn’t sure what the hell he was doing considering working for the Psy, or the real reason why Nikita had asked for him, but if you stripped away all the bullshit, one thing remained unchanged—he was a cop. And Nikita Duncan was a citizen. “I’ll do it.”
Sophia sat across from the M-Psy in charge of her evaluation at the Pittsburgh branch of the Center, her hands placed on the table, her eyes calm.
“There’s been,” the M-Psy said, “a report of an incident at Liberty Penitentiary.”
She didn’t fall for that trick, didn’t respond. Because he hadn’t asked a question.
“Did you have anything to do with that incident?”
“What was the incident?”
The M-Psy looked down at his notes. “A pedophile mutilated himself.”
It was easy to keep her face expressionless—she’d been practicing since she was eight years old and about to be euthanized. “Was he human?”
“Perhaps he felt remorse,” she suggested, knowing the creature in that cell had felt pity only for himself, for the fact that he’d been caught and locked up. “Humans have emotions after all.”
“There’s no indication he felt remorse.”
At least the man hadn’t managed to fool the prison psychiatrists. “Is he speaking?”
The M-Psy shook his head. “Not coherently.”
“Then it’s impossible to know if he felt remorse,” she responded with total equanimity. Perhaps she should’ve felt guilt, but of course, she was Silent. She felt nothing. But she knew what that prisoner had done, knew every tiny detail of the horror he’d imprinted on a young, unformed psyche. Sophia had buried the memories even as she extracted them from the child’s mind, leaving him with a week-long blank in his past that would only unlock when he was old enough and strong enough to bear it.
It was unfortunate that the trick didn’t work on children who were born with the J facility. If it had, perhaps she would have had a different life . . . Perhaps.
The M-Psy tapped something on his datapad. “This is the third such incident in the past year where you’ve been in close proximity.”
“I need to be in prisons often,” Sophia replied, though her mind was in another room in a well-appointed cabin two decades in the past. “My chances of being near an incident are higher than that of an ordinary individual.”
“The J-Psy Management Board has determined that you need to go in for reconditioning”—the M-Psy turned his datapad so she could see the authorization—“especially given your recent contact with Gerard Bonner.”
“I have no disagreement with that.” They’d poke and prod at her during the reconditioning process, but Sophia knew what they’d find. Nothing. Complete or partial memory erasure might not work on Js, but a woman who made her living retrieving the memories of others got very good at clouding her own when necessary. “Would it be possible to schedule it today? I need to appear as an expert witness in a case first thing tomorrow morning.”
Total reconditioning—known as rehabilitation—effectively turned the individual into a vegetable. But the basic reconditioning that Sophia had gone through any number of times took a bare few hours to complete. Add a full night’s sleep and she’d be functioning at peak efficiency again when the sun rose.
The M-Psy checked his schedule. “We can slot you in at six tonight.”
And, Sophia thought, she’d lose several hours to a semi-conscious state—when time was running out for her at an inexorable pace. But all she said was, “Excellent.”
“There is another matter.”
Sophia looked up at the comment. “Yes?”
“The Management Board has reassigned you.” The M-Psy sent an electronic file through to Sophia’s organizer. “You’ve been selected to work directly for Councilor Nikita Duncan as a special advisor.”
The first step, Sophia thought, having expected the transfer on some level. Js who began to show too many cracks were phased out step-by-step. By the time they disappeared, nobody remembered they’d once known a Justice Psy by that name. Nobody realized the J had simply vanished, never to be seen again. “My duties?”
“Councilor Duncan will brief you—you have an appointment with her at one tomorrow. Given the time of your court appearance, you should have no difficulty making your flight.” The M-Psy stood. Paused. “I haven’t been authorized to inform you of this, but you should have time to put your affairs in order.”
Sophia waited. The words were unusual, could well be another trap.
But when he spoke, he gave her the answer to a question that had been circling in her mind for months now. “This reconditioning will be your last—your telepathic shields are too severely degraded to allow for a further reset.” Cool green eyes met hers. “Do you understand?”
“Yes.” The next time she walked into a Center, only a shambling, empty-eyed shell would walk back out.
The child has been damaged on a fundamental level. Any attempt to save her will require the allocation of considerable time and resources with no guarantee of a productive return.