“Good news is,” Hawke said, “it’s highly likely we’re no longer target numero uno as far as Pure Psy is concerned.”
“Why aren’t you celebrating?” Indigo asked, reaching for the carafe and pouring herself a second cup of coffee, topping up Riley’s when he held it out.
Hawke’s expression was grim, the words he spoke even grimmer. “Because the civil war in the Net isn’t a possibility—it’s begun. The most recent casualty count is five hundred and seventeen.”
“Shit.” Matthias rubbed his face, his dark skin gleaming in the light of the little table lamp he hadn’t yet turned off. “An explosion of some kind?”
Judd was the one who answered. “Part of the Net collapsed last night.”
A shocked hush.
“The victims’ separation from the Net was so violent,” he continued, “they would’ve had no chance to attempt to reintegrate. Men, women, children … entire families wiped out.”
“Angry as this makes me,” Coop said, his scar white from the force of his emotions, “we can’t affect the Net. Why did Nikita and Anthony contact us?”
“The Net collapsed because the anchor in the region was murdered, as were all his fail-safes,” Judd explained. “Anchors are protected on the psychic plane by permanent shielding that’s close to impossible to break. However, they’re still mortal.”
Riaz saw it then, what Nikita and Anthony wanted them to do. “They need our help to protect the anchors in the territory.” It was a historic request … especially when Riaz thought it through and realized the two Psy were willing to trust SnowDancer with the locations of people who were the greatest vulnerability of their race.
“Yes.” Judd pushed his hand through his hair, a rare physical betrayal of his emotions. “Before we make up our minds on that, there’s something I’m not sure you all realize.”
“Wait,” Indigo said, pushing over a cup of coffee. “Drink this first. No offense, gorgeous, but you look like hell.”
Judd gave Indigo the faintest of smiles, obeyed the order. “Ever since the discovery that SnowDancer protected Marlee and Toby from rehabilitation,” he said, after drinking a good third of the cup, “a lot of the Psy in the area are looking to DarkRiver and SnowDancer for some kind of leadership. At the heart of it is the knowledge that you protected the defenseless their own leadership sought to destroy.”
“Changeling packs,” Riley said in his measured way, “have managed to retain our sense of identity, to survive being sucked into the Psy machine, because we’re careful about who we call our own.”
Changelings would fight to the death to protect the pack, Riaz thought, but gaining the trust of that pack was a hard thing—as Judd himself knew. However—“It doesn’t sit right with me that we turn our backs on people who trust us to help.”
“With me either,” Riley said as the other lieutenants nodded. “At the same time, our wolves would go insane trying to protect such a large ‘pack.’”
Because once a dominant took responsibility for a group, he took full responsibility.
“Hell of a mess,” Matthias muttered.
Having tipped his chair back on two legs, Hawke now brought it down on all four. “Putting that aside for now, first we need numbers. Judd?”
“Twenty anchors across the state,” the lieutenant replied. “Two hundred backups—ten per anchor.”
Tomás whistled. “That’s a damn low number on which to pin the lives of millions of people.”
“There are others, like Sophia Russo, Max’s wife, who also help stabilize the Net, but they can’t hold back a collapse, so they aren’t targets.” Judd drank the rest of his coffee. “Three of the twenty are cardinals and technically the only true anchors in the network. However, the secondary anchors, trained since childhood, are just as integrated into the psychic fabric of the PsyNet, have the same vulnerabilities. While the cardinals control exponentially larger areas, taking out a single secondary hub will mean tens of thousands of deaths.”
Alexei leaned forward, his blond hair tied back with a piece of string. “How long would we have to maintain the watch?”
“Not long,” Judd said to their surprise. “There are very, very few Tks who can teleport to people rather than places. The odds are excellent that the telekinetic behind the anchor murder doesn’t have that ability. Which means he needs images of his targets’ living spaces—and those he’s probably sourcing from the ‘in case of emergency’ files kept on anchors.”
“Anthony and Nikita are arranging new bolt holes,” Coop guessed. “Clever, simple, and effective.”
“We can do it,” Riley said, having had his head together with Indigo while the rest of them spoke. “Factoring in DarkRiver, the Rats, and WindHaven, along with certain trained humans we know we can trust in the city, we have more than enough people to cover all the anchors and backups twenty-four seven.”
“Will it leave the territory vulnerable?” Hawke asked, the question that of an alpha whose primary goal was to keep his people safe, even if that meant making a ruthless choice.
Indigo shook her head. “No, we’re in very good shape.”
Hawke’s pale eyes scanned the room. “Yes or no. The decision will affect every single sector of SnowDancer territory, and if we say yes, it puts us on one side of the line in this civil war.”