Subject 8-91, however, remained alive, functional, and with no awareness of the disease that had eaten into his frontal cortex. Clearly, the infection advanced at a different rate in an individual than it did in the psychic fabric that connected ninety-nine-point-nine percent of Psy on the planet.
Kaleb’s cell phone rang.
He’d been expecting the call. “Nikita , ” he said, dropping out of the Net to speak to the woman who had been a Councilor before the Council imploded, and who now held power in a region that had become a focal point for those whose Silence was fractured.
“I assume,” she said, “you’re aware of the shock wave that just rolled through the Net?”
“I’ve seen the cause. One minute.” Hanging up, he stepped out to check on Sahara, saw that she’d fallen asleep, her hair a silken pool of black as she lay curled on her side. It wasn’t as vivid and as glossy as it should be, but he saw the promise. Yet she was nowhere near to the Sahara she was meant to be—tiny, her skin too pale, she looked as if she’d disappear any second.
Reaching out, he lifted a single strand of hair, rubbed it between his fingertips. Real, very much so.
And safe in the home he’d turned into an impregnable vault.
Resetting the perimeter alarms to remote alert, and changing the angle of the sun umbrella so that she was fully protected, he pulled on his suit jacket, thought of Nikita Duncan’s high-rise office in San Francisco, and was there, his mind making the transition with a speed and an accuracy that the dead Councilor Santano Enrique had once considered a tool for his exclusive use.
“No one has any explanations,” Nikita said to him the second he appeared, her voice as businesslike as the skirt-suit she wore, the lights of San Francisco bright in the midnight darkness behind her. “Yet you said you’ve seen the cause.”
He saw no reason not to share the truth—it was one that would become apparent soon enough if his theory about what was happening proved correct. “Part of the Net has ceased to exist.”
“Another anchor attack?” The blunt edge of Nikita’s hair swept over her jaw as she leaned on her desk, hands flat on the glass and almond-shaped eyes steady with an icy intelligence that had led to her position as one of the wealthiest women in the world. “I’ve heard no reports—”
“No. The Net itself has disintegrated.”
Nikita stared at him, barely containing a jerk when the comm panel on the wall chimed an incoming call. “It’s Anthony,” she said, touching the discreet pad built into her desk to accept the call and bring the other man into their conversation.
Kaleb considered what Anthony Kyriakus would do if he knew that his niece was currently in Kaleb’s care. Likely unleash the full force of NightStar’s power in an attempt to retrieve her— Sahara’s clan had been searching for her with quiet, relentless persistence since her disappearance.
Kaleb knew that because he’d had to take care to skirt their trackers more than once, and because he’d hacked into their files. Had they pinpointed her location before he did, he would’ve appropriated and used that information without compunction—Sahara belonged to him, no one else.
“The outbreak at Sunshine Station,” he said after Nikita had brought Anthony up-to-date. “Do you recall the details?”
“Of course.” Anthony’s reply was immediate. “One hundred and forty-one lives lost to a sudden psychosis—they attacked one another in brutal, bloody ways.”
Nikita picked up the narrative with a flawless ease that told Kaleb the two were in telepathic communication. “The outbreak was deemed to have been an indication of critical problems with the Protocol, as was the incident at the science station in Russia.” A pause. “You showed me a ‘sick’ section of the Net once. It was small, hidden—you’re saying the psychosis was caused by this infection? That it’s grown big enough to create such a massive disturbance in the Net?”
Kaleb wasn’t surprised Nikita had made the connection—mental viruses were her specialty, after all. “Yes.” Connected to the psychic network from birth, there was no way for those of his race to avoid the virus—every millisecond of the biofeedback they needed to live carried a potentially lethal payload. “It appears the infection has begun to attack its primary host.”
The PsyNet was vast, could take a considerable beating, but it wasn’t indestructible. “Tonight’s damage,” he continued, “caused no fatalities, but only because it was localized in the region that would’ve supported the minds at Sunshine.” And that station was abandoned, an icy monument to death, blood splatter frozen on the walls and meals abandoned half-eaten, no living beings within miles.
“We can’t allow the infection to hit a populated zone,” Nikita said, cutting to the point as always.
“If it has the same impact it did at Sunshine, we’d be looking at a massacre.”
A taut silence, and Kaleb knew they were all thinking of a San Francisco or a Moscow overrun with Psy who had given in to murderous insanity. Mindless, their cells factories for the virus, they’d kill anything in their path, hack their fellow citizens to pieces, paint the streets in blood.
ANTHONY WAS THE one who spoke. “Can the virus be contained?”
“The NetMind is building a barricade to ensure people don’t venture into the infected area, but I don’t believe it’ll hold against the virus itself.” Kaleb had a theory about a “cure,” but it wasn’t one he planned to share with either Nikita or Anthony until he had all the pieces in place for his takeover of the Net.