“My daughter’s flaw,” Nikita had said during the meeting, staring right across at that daughter, “makes her the lone individual we can trust absolutely not to use the information to cause harm.”
Sascha’s reply had been as frank. “I’ll share it with Judd—he’s the only person who’d be able to get to the anchors in an emergency.”
“The decision is yours,” Nikita had said. “As an E, you have the capability to judge whether or not a former Arrow will use the information to kill.”
It was, Judd knew, the first time Nikita had ever acknowledged that Sascha wasn’t a failed cardinal, but a powerful one. And because he, Sascha, Lucas, and Hawke all knew that even if the civil war in the Net turned brutal and threatened to engulf the packs, none of them would seek to collapse the Net, to murder indiscriminately, he held the file inside his mind, tucked away in a section that would immediately and automatically degrade if his shields were ever breached.
Only the people who had been at that meeting, as well as Walker and Sienna, knew that he and Sascha carried the files. The information was too explosive, too dangerous, could make them both targets if it got out. Unless an anchor in the relevant area sent out an emergency distress call, no one would ever know.
“The same is being attempted in every region across the world,” Aden now said, “but the task is massive, and the majority of cities don’t have the resources of two Councilors. For the time being, we’re recommending the anchors move their furniture around in unexpected ways and never go unarmed.”
No Tk ever used the layout of furniture as a lock—it was too transient. And all teleport-capable Tks had an inbuilt space-sensing ability that meant they would never materialize in solid matter. Unless there was a psychic failure, the teleport would abort at the obstruction. However, if a Tk did ’port in, the unfamiliar layout could grant the anchor an extra few seconds in which to run or use a weapon. “It’s a smart move.”
“Henry is dead.”
“Vasic.” A pause. “We can’t trust him, not after this is done.”
Judd didn’t misunderstand the warning. “The children in the Arrow schools,” he said, instead of responding directly to the statement, “who’s watching out for them?” Even with the darkness swallowing the Net and the Arrows’ attention, Aden would not have forgotten their youngest brethren.
“The most stable of us each have a group we monitor.” Aden passed Judd a small black data crystal. “The names and addresses of the children. If anything happens to us, they are the ones you must protect.” A pause. “Trust it to Walker—he’ll understand and be able to help them better than you or I.”
Judd put the crystal into the inside pocket of his leather-synth jacket, the act an unspoken promise. “Does Vasic monitor a group?” Vasic might not feel, but he had a conscience, would never damage a child by abandoning him. That conscience was why the Tk-V hated himself, though he would not put it in those terms.
“No.” Aden looked out into the night. “He doesn’t trust himself not to kill if he sees a teacher hurting a child—we can’t yet intervene. It risks giving everything away before we’re in a position to take total control of the training system.”
“How close are you?”
“On the verge. Unlike Ming, Kaleb appears to have no inclination to take a direct hand in the schools.” A long pause. “Even when we seize the reins, total liberation will be impossible.”
“I know.” Without the mental discipline forged by his rigid Arrow training, Judd’s abilities might have self-destructed long ago. “But the process doesn’t have to be cruel.” A young boy’s arm didn’t have to be broken over and over again until he stopped screaming.
“Some would say such a stance will destroy the foundation of the program.”
That pain was a state of mind, to be overcome. “And perhaps we’ll discover it makes us stronger.”
Aden didn’t say anything for a long time. “I have to go. There has been an explosion at a Psy research facility in Belgrade.”
Judd watched the other Arrow disappear into the darkness before rising and entering the church to take the second pew from the back. He felt the slightest brush of air as the Ghost slid into the pew behind him a minute later. “Do you know about Belgrade?” Judd asked while they waited for Father Xavier Perez, the third part of their unexpected triumvirate, to finish speaking with a parishioner in his office.
“Of course.” No arrogance, simple fact. “It was small and is being contained, no fatalities.”
“Luck or a lack of planning on the part of the attackers?”
“The latter. The facility is privately funded, and about to begin a critical assessment of the Silence Protocol—somehow, their mission statement leaked into the Net twenty-four hours ago.”
The fact that any group had gained permission to conduct such a study was momentous, though Judd had a very good idea of how it had been done. As he had about the leak. “Pure Psy acted in the heat of the moment.” Judd knew what the Ghost knew about Vasquez, and so he knew this act was out of character. “Henry’s death may have severed the leash that kept Vasquez rational.” He had no doubt his fellow rebel was aware of the ex-Councilor’s demise.
“Perhaps.” No concern. “It’s time, Judd.”
Yes, the dominoes had begun to fall, unstoppable and inexorable. “Is the violence necessary?”