Well, Kaleb’s voice whispered in Nikita’s mind, it seems this will make strange bedfellows out of us all.
He may have an ulterior motive, Nikita replied. Let us wait and see.
“Keeping our people apart from the other races,” Henry said, “is not the worst of choices. If we could achieve isolation, our Silence would soon be pristine.”
“If you believe that”—Anthony Kyriakus’s cool, considered voice—“then you’re a fool.”
Shoshanna’s riposte was quick. “It’s only the weaker members of our populace who are prone to breaks from conditioning—”
“So now you’ll add two cardinals and a gifted scientist to that list?” Anthony’s question was measured, no less lethal for its absolute calm. “It’s time we faced up to the facts. Silence is beginning to crumble at far more than just the edges, and if we don’t make a choice on how to handle it, we risk an uncontrollable breakdown.”
“Surely,” Tatiana Rika-Smythe said, entering the conversation for the first time, “it’s not that urgent. Yes, there have been incidents, but nothing to suggest a Net-wide emergency.”
Ming’s mind swirled an icy razor. “I made note of an incident at the Sunshine mining station several months ago.”
“The mass psychotic outbreak?” Nikita clarified, not having been immediately involved with the situation. According to the data she quickly accessed, the episode had resulted in over a hundred fatalities.
“Yes. It seemed an aberration at the time, but in the past three days, we’ve had another mass incident at a remote science station on the Russian steppes.”
“How many dead?” Kaleb, speaking aloud for the first time.
“Three hundred,” was the response. “And of the fifty survivors, at least thirty are candidates for total rehabilitation. Their minds are broken.”
There was a moment’s silence as they digested that. Nikita decided to speak first, draw a line in the sand. “We can’t just keep rehabilitating people. It’s akin to putting your finger in a dyke when the dam has burst.”
“Rehabilitation is key,” Henry argued. “It will remove the unstable part of the populace—”
“How many?” Nikita asked, holding her own Silence, holding the cold that had been conditioned into her as a child—a cold so deep and true that nothing would ever thaw it. “Stopping when all our people are dead seems rather pointless.”
“A melodramatic statement,” Tatiana responded. “It’s still a minority who are experiencing problems, and you said yourself that more and more people are getting themselves voluntarily reconditioned, so the situation will correct itself.”
“As to that,” Anthony said, “it seems you haven’t been reading your reports, Councilor.”
Shoshanna spoke into the silence. “Anthony?”
“There’s been a marked decline in the number of individuals choosing to have their conditioning checked over the past two months.”
“How is that possible?” Henry asked. “I’ve been kept updated on all the numbers.”
“Either someone is lying to you,” Nikita said, “or you misinterpreted the data. The fact is, the Net is buzzing with new whispers of dissent—”
“The Ghost,” Shoshanna interrupted, referring to the most infamous insurgent in the PsyNet. “He’s been spreading his brand of rebellion.”
“No,” Nikita said, “he simply pointed out the truth—that the violence that began the reconditionings was planned, that the populace was being shepherded toward the Center. Even Psy, it seems, do not like being so openly manipulated.” In truth, that had come as an unexpected realization. Nikita had begun to see their people as the herd of sheep they’d been for so long. But the tides were shifting. And Nikita did not intend to drown.
There was a moment of silence, and she knew telepathic messages were being exchanged, data scanned as her claims were verified.
“Silence,” Henry finally said, “cannot fall.”
“It is,” Tatiana added, “the bedrock of our stability.”
“Agreed.” Shoshanna’s voice.
“That stability is failing,” Ming said. “There is no way to halt the momentum now.”
“Then it may be time,” Anthony murmured, “for Silence to fall.”
“No.” Three voices.
Ming said nothing.
“This isn’t a decision we can make in a single day,” Kaleb said, “wherever we stand. But Pure Psy is a problem that needs to be eliminated. Their actions are only muddying the issue.”
“Pure Psy is composed of those who support Silence,” Henry said. “If you’re suggesting taking them out of the equation, that’s unacceptable.”
“Are you saying they’re under your protection?” Nikita asked.
“And acting under your orders?”
There was a heavy pause, as Henry realized what his answer would reveal. They all knew, of course, that he’d been the one pulling Quentin Gareth’s strings—at least for the past half year—but for him to admit it was a different matter.
Shoshanna “saved” her husband. “Pure Psy has its own set of principles. That Henry happens to agree with them is no cause to label him a conspirator in their attacks against you, Nikita.”
So wifely. The low murmur of Kaleb’s telepathic tone was filled with nothing, so empty that Nikita wondered what she was doing allying herself with him. But in a pit full of vipers, he was at least one she partially understood.