“I agree.” Sophia felt her muscles relax at the realization that Max didn’t intend to press her to take the next step in this unforeseen, unpredictable dance. The part of her that had been waiting for him for a broken, tormented eternity wanted to rush, to race, but the simple fact was, she didn’t have the capacity to process anything more than what they’d already done. Not yet. “Nikita also seems to be one of the few high-level Psy who thinks in truly global terms—she is, as far as I know, the solitary Councilor who has such close ties with a changeling group.”
“I heard that Anthony Kyriakus is still subcontracting foreseeing work out to his daughter, Faith.”
Sophia nodded, having followed the news of Faith NightStar’s defection. Foreseers were rumored to be even more mentally unstable than Js—and yet Faith had survived. Though Sophia had always known that any such defection was out of the question for her, her mind woven inextricably into the fabric of the Net, Faith NightStar’s survival had seemed a victory for all of them who were labeled mad and had their lives erased from existence.
“Yes,” she said in response to Max’s question. “Anthony is also involved with the changelings, but according to my research, Nikita was the one who took the first step into such an arrangement when she formed a business alliance with DarkRiver’s construction arm.”
Max switched lanes, his brow furrowed in thought. “Could be something there,” he murmured, and she could almost hear his brain working, making connections with a speed that many Psy, certain of the superiority of their mental abilities, would find extraordinary. “Any more details on the construction deals?”
Forcing herself to look away from the clean lines of his profile, the sleek strands of black hair that glimmered with hidden red highlights in direct sunlight, Sophia checked her data. “It looks like her firm is gaining changeling housing contracts not only in the U.S., but also internationally. The murders may be motivated by professional rivalry.”
“It would fit.” Max tapped a finger on the steering wheel. “Each of the victims died on the verge of a major deal.”
Surprised, Sophia quickly skimmed through the relevant parts of the file and realized he was right. “All three were linchpins, bringing something unique to the table,” she said out loud. “Their deaths derailed the entire process in each case.”
“Nothing obvious connects the three deals,” Max said. “We need to find out if there’s a link beneath the surface, if one particular competitor benefits with Nikita effectively out of the run—” A beeping interrupted his words. “That’s my cell.” He nodded at where it sat in the holder on the dash. “Can you check the caller’s name?”
“Of course.” Picking it up, she glanced at the ID . . . and felt her mind go quiet, cold, the otherness stirring to life. “It is the prosecutor, Mr. Reuben.”
I can only show you what the defendant did in that room ten months ago. To ask me whether or not he is a monster is to presume I have an intimate knowledge of monsters.
—Response by Sophia Russo (J) to a question posed by the
prosecution in case 23180: State of Nebraska v Donnelly
Mouth a grim line, Max brought the vehicle to a stop in the half-empty car park of a restaurant that hadn’t yet opened.
Listening to his end of the conversation, she’d divined the reason for the call by the time he hung up. “Bonner wants to talk to me again.” The thought of trawling through that mind full of malice made her entire body stiffen in revulsion.
Better to kill him.
Because he might just be the final weight, the one that would cause her shields to shred beyond any hope of repair. And Sophia wasn’t ready to have her brain crushed, her psyche, her personality, wiped from existence. Not when she’d just found Max, found this man who made the cold, dark places fill with light. Clenching her fingers on her organizer, she fought past the whispers of vengeance that seemed to originate in the dark tendrils snaking through her mind and soothed the otherness back to sleep.
“Bastard says he’s got something to share, some memory he’s apparently been able to dig up.” Max braced his arm on the back of her seat, playing with a strand of her hair as he’d done in the apartment.
She didn’t pull away. They had trust between them now, a fragile thing born in the electrical storm of their first real touch. “I suggest that this one time, we let him play his games.” No matter her hunger to live, to steal and claw every extra day she could out of this life, she couldn’t walk away from Bonner’s evil. Not when the cost of protecting herself would be to abandon those lost girls, leave them buried and forgotten in the dark. No one should be forgotten. No one.
“If we play it right,” she said, remembering three other young lives that had been willfully erased from every mind but her own, “it’ll only increase his frustration, make him more malleable.”
Max’s eyes filled with raw, edgy emotions she’d never get the chance to study, to truly know. Not in this lifetime. So she asked, “What are you thinking?”
“That it’s a pity torture is illegal.” A visceral anger in every world. “We’ll set up a comm-conference. We’re not traipsing up to him so he can have a convenient memory lapse.”
“The comm systems at our apartment won’t have the necessary encryption.” Sophia’s own anger was a colder thing, a thing that saw nothing wrong in taking an eye for an eye, a life for a life. “We could ask Enforcement if they have a secure link.”