“Including Tulane’s mysterious weekly appointments?”
Max nodded. “He’s been very careful not to raise any red flags. Could be a case of hiding in plain sight.” It would, Max thought, require balls of steel to pull that off in Nikita’s territory.
“If you don’t need me,” Sophia said, her lips lush and distracting, “I want to go back to the apartment and look through the PsyNet. I have a few ideas.”
He frowned. “I don’t know much about the PsyNet, but what I do know tells me it’ll put a huge amount of pressure on you to be surrounded by so much data, so many minds.”
“My PsyNet shields appear to be adapting to my increasing . . . need,” she said, and he heard the thread of confusion in her tone, “so that shouldn’t be an issue.”
“I don’t like it.” His protective instincts burned a hot white flame. “You’ll be alone if something happens.”
That gave her pause. “There is a risk, but—”
“Faith,” Max interrupted, recalling the almost protective way the F-Psy had looked at Sophia. “Call her. Ask if she’ll spot you while you go diving through the Net.”
“She’s a cardinal F-Psy,” Sophia said. “Her time is worth hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dollars. Why should she agree to waste it on me?”
Max saw that she truly didn’t understand. “Because DarkRiver’s come to consider me a friend.” And the cats understood—even if they didn’t exactly approve—that Sophia was his. Plus—“You got the message to Nikita when Sascha was threatened. Changelings don’t forget things like that.” He saw her absorb that, give a small nod.
“I’ll call her—but doesn’t the fact that Faith saved our lives cancel out any obligation on their part?”
“It’s not obligation. It’s about building bonds.” Placing his hand on the back of her chair, he met her gaze, the luxuriant softness of her hair brushing his skin. “Promise me you’ll be careful. I don’t want you bleeding out because you’ve been taking risks.”
Her expression never changed, but he could see steam coming out her ears. “I am not stupid, Detective Shannon. Kindly get that thought into your head.”
He wanted to kiss her.
Kaleb walked into Nikita’s office to find her just ending a conversation with a tall male of mixed ethnicity who didn’t move like a changeling but a human. Kaleb knew who the male was, of course. He’d known all about Max Shannon almost the instant after Nikita requested him. The Enforcement detective wasn’t only good at his job, he was as tenacious and stubborn as a bloodhound.
“Councilor Krychek,” the detective said with a small nod as he walked out of the room, closing the door behind himself.
“What do you need with an Enforcement agent?” he asked Nikita as he took a seat in the chair across from her. “We have Arrows for a reason.”
“The Arrows are Ming’s,” she said. “I needed an impartial party.”
Kaleb thought of the continued attempts to hack his shields, the sense of being very closely observed—and the failed tries to track him through the PsyNet when he didn’t want to be tracked. He could have ended the game days ago, turning the tables on his trackers—though, given their skill, it would’ve taken a concentrated amount of time and effort—but he was intrigued enough to let it continue. Because there was one group and one group alone in the Net with the covert skills to evade the traps he’d laid to date—and if that group had decided to shift its allegiance . . .
“You’re hemorrhaging people,” he said to Nikita, keeping his other thoughts to himself.
“The fact that you’ve noticed puts you at the top of the suspect list.”
“On the contrary. We both know that I do what needs to be done myself. I don’t need to rely on others who might make mistakes.”
Nikita settled back in her chair at his plain speaking. “Have you noticed something in Henry’s pattern of behavior?”
Kaleb hadn’t, and being out of the loop was not something he appreciated. “Tell me.”
“I’d rather show you.” Turning her chair toward the thin comm screen mounted on one wall, she darkened her windows and brought up a map of the world. “The red dots indicate the places where Henry has been in the past six months. The blue dots indicate incidents that took place at the same time.”
There were clusters of blue around every single red dot.
“Incidents have been increasing,” Kaleb said. “It’s not impossible that he could have coincidentally been at the same locations—but I’m assuming the incidents were major enough to have caught your notice.”
“Not the first five or so, no,” Nikita said. “As you say, there have been little outbursts of violence here and there, so I paid them no notice. But these incidents don’t involve violence—except of the self-inflicted kind.”
“Suicides?” That pricked his interest. Suicide wasn’t considered taboo in Psy culture. The majority of those who recognized their mental patterns as aberrant chose to end their existence rather than face rehabilitation. But the chances of the suicides—ten or more in each location—lining up so neatly with Henry’s travels was exceptionally low.
“I’m certain he’s used the tactic before,” Nikita said.
Kaleb agreed. There’d been a string of violent incidents several months ago, with Psy breaking conditioning in public. All of those Psy appeared to have been programmed to suicide after completing their task, or if caught. “His recent behavior does, however, suggest that he’s seen the error of that line of thinking.” Given the way the PsyNet functioned, violence only spawned more violence. A constant feedback loop.