* * *
KALEB didn’t teleport inside DarkRiver’s HQ after leaving Sahara and Vaughn at the station. He walked through the door in a gesture of goodwill that had him receiving a curt nod of welcome from the leopard alpha. The green-eyed male was around Kaleb’s height, with the sleek, muscular build so common in the feline changelings.
“Krychek. You’ve beaten Anthony here.”
The head of NightStar walked in two minutes later and Lucas gestured for them to follow him into a large meeting room dominated by an oval-shaped table that currently held seven people. Kaleb caught Judd’s eye, noting the other man sat beside the wolf alpha, Hawke. Next to Hawke was a male Kaleb ID’ed as Nathan Ryder, DarkRiver’s most senior lieutenant.
Nikita was on the other side of the table, next to Max Shannon, her security chief. According to Kaleb’s informants, Max’s wife, Sophia, an ex-J with a huge network of contacts, had also quietly become one of Nikita’s most trusted advisers. Her reliance on the couple was a fact many in Nikita’s organization struggled to understand, since Max and Sophia were apparently as often in conflict with Nikita as they were in agreement.
Kaleb understood. He didn’t employ the weak, either.
Now Max Shannon caught his gaze and nodded in a silent thank-you.
Kaleb thought to tell the other man theirs was a debt he might one day collect, but didn’t for the same reason he’d helped save Sophia’s life from a madman over half a year ago. He hadn’t been able to help the one woman who was everything to him, his mind a place of angry darkness, but in saving Sophia, he had gained, if not redemption, then an instant of grace in the darkness.
Sahara, he’d thought, would’ve been proud of him for his actions that day.
Accepting the thanks with the slightest incline of his head, he turned his attention to Teijan, alpha of the Rats and head of the best spy organization in the region. Opposite the sharply dressed alpha was a man Kaleb couldn’t immediately identify, until he realized the copper-skinned male had cut off his formerly long hair: Adam Garrett of the WindHaven falcons.
“Your assistance,” he said to the falcon as he took a seat, “may be invaluable in pinpointing possible targets.” A falcon could fly lower than any aircraft, follow suspicious movements at the turn of a wing.
“My people are already doing sweeps,” Adam replied, “working in partnership with teams on the ground. Nothing as yet.”
The Enforcement vice commissioner for the city entered the room right then and took a seat. The middle-aged Psy woman, her skin an unusual papery white, was followed by an elderly human male of Asian descent identified as Jim Wong, representative of the shopkeepers in the warren of Chinatown, their reach extending citywide through a network of family, friends, and customers. At his heels came a tall black male the DarkRiver alpha introduced as the liaison from the Human Alliance.
The silence was taut, as people who would never normally term one another allies found themselves facing each other across the glossy wood of the table. It was, Kaleb mused, a sight that would inflame Pure Psy.
“Everyone’s here,” Lucas Hunter said after shutting the door, the savage markings on his face echoed by the look in his eyes. “Let’s get straight to it—we need to narrow down the list of possible targets.”
“The offices of the mayor,” the vice commissioner suggested.
Kaleb shook his head. “It doesn’t have as much shock value as a school, a nursery, or a hospital.”
Pure Psy wanted to cause pain and loss and anger that would turn humans and changelings against the Psy. “Vasquez intends to cause a war that’ll leave only the ‘pure’ standing.”
It was Hawke who next spoke, his ice blue eyes and silver-gold hair those of the predator within— a predator who now had Ming in his sights. “I have to agree with Krychek,” the wolf alpha said. “But we’ve already put all obviously vulnerable institutions on high alert, beefed up security, and Vasquez had to have realized that would happen. I think he’ll go for a softer target.”
“Hawke’s right.” The Rat alpha leaned forward on the table, his dark eyes quick and watchful.
“We’ve picked up nothing that even hints Pure Psy’s managed to infiltrate San Francisco like they did Hong Kong—I have enough faith in my people to state categorically that Vasquez is working without a foundation. Whatever he’s planning, it’s going to be quick and dirty.”
“The scorch charges used in Hong Kong,” Judd said, evidencing his connections. “Even a limited number could do serious damage to the city.”
“They’re too unstable to transport without proper containers: specifically, lead-lined boxes.”
Kaleb knew that because he’d made it a point to access the hidden files on the charges. “All sightings of the operative we believe to be Vasquez state he’s moving with nothing but a small backpack. He could, however, have access to other weaponry if he was smart enough to hide a small cache in the city at some stage in the past—in a public locker hired under another name, for example.” Nothing that would set off alarm bells, even with the packs’ tight security.
“So”—Lucas Hunter’s voice was grim as he spoke—“soft target, high possibility of casualties, intense political fallout, those are the parameters.”
“Airports and skytrain stations fit,” Nikita said, “and have been alerted by my security team”—a nod of confirmation from Max—“but they’re more difficult to monitor, given the constant foot traffic.”