The short, plump, silver-haired human female running the show didn’t blink at their arrival and began to use their skills with a quick-thinking clarity that meant no one attempted to usurp her position. “Quadrant two, at two o’clock,” she said when he checked in after helping to stabilize a building that had threatened to collapse on top of injured and immobile survivors. “Equipment’s picking up breathing.”
A younger man who moved with the fluid grace of a changeling, the university logo on his T-shirt torn but not bloody, ran up the section before Kaleb could begin to shift the pieces of old plascrete.
“Wait.” He held out a hand, his skin tawny brown in the afternoon light. “I can scent them.”
Kaleb contained his Tk. While he could sense a number of minds, their pain and panic blanketed the area, making it impossible to pinpoint specific locations.
Moving carefully over the broken section, the changeling nodded at Kaleb, his eyes the amber- green of a large predator, possibly one of the reclusive tigers. “Here.”
Kaleb moved the jagged plascrete with care. Trapped underneath was a tall human student who appeared to have a broken clavicle and ankle. Kaleb shook his head when the changeling boy—and he was a boy, not more than nineteen—would’ve lifted her out. “I’ve alerted the paramedics. She needs care in case of spinal injuries.”
The next live recovery was of a pair of Psy students, both with severe crush injuries. Three more followed. Everyone else was dead—including an older changeling whose lab coat identified her as a professor, and whose eyes the boy closed with trembling fingertips that had become tipped with claws.
“Confirm no further heat signatures!” called the human scientist who’d been scanning the wreckage with specialized radar equipment.
The changeling boy, his face drawn, nodded. “The scents are confused . . . but all I scent nearby is death.”
Kaleb scanned for live minds in the immediate vicinity, found none. “It’s time to check in, get a new assignment.”
Two Psy paramedics ran past right then, heading for the next quadrant, a human doctor already on the scene, a changeling nurse at his elbow. Kaleb hadn’t ever seen such cooperation between the three races—and he wasn’t the only one who noticed. Journalists from around the world interviewed the rescued who could talk, bystanders who’d survived the initial blast, rescuers benched because of exhaustion, anyone who’d sit still for a few minutes.
Kaleb, you must be exhausted. According to the news reports, you haven’t stopped since you arrived.
He was almost expecting the telepathic message. My energy reserves are higher than that of most cardinals. The fact was, he didn’t know how long he could go for as an adult, had never been pushed to the point where he’d flatlined.
Have you eaten?
Yes. If his body failed, it wouldn’t matter if his psychic reserves remained high. I’m in no danger of overload. How is your father?
He expected her to retreat as he continued to work, but she stayed with him throughout, the telepathic pathway open but quiet.
No one but Sahara had ever cared enough about him to worry.
It wasn’t until almost twenty hours later that Kaleb stopped working. According to the equipment, there were no further signs that anyone had survived, and the changelings had been over the area multiple times with the same results. Because of the number of rescue personnel in the area, Psy telepathic scans weren’t as useful, but they’d been done, too.
“No further chance of survivors,” was the ruling by the silver-haired female who hadn’t taken a break throughout. “Thank you. All of you. Go home now, and rest. It’s time for the body recovery teams to take over.”
Physically spent in a way he hadn’t been for longer than he could remember, Kaleb considered his next move. The cooperation today had come in the aftermath of a terrible tragedy—it would not hold if Pure Psy continued to attack racially mixed targets, particularly if those targets focused on the young.
The majority of people understood the bloodshed stemmed from a radical fringe of the Psy population, but according to the media reports flowing through the PsyNet, a small element was beginning to believe differently: that the Psy were sacrificing some of their own in order to hide their true aim—to kill large numbers of humans and changelings, setting the stage for a worldwide takeover by their race.
If that element reacted to protect their own by violent action against those they considered the enemy, the civil war in the PsyNet could tip over into a true global war. The carnage would result in a broken world, its people demoralized and without hope.
The perfect time for a new emperor to come to power.
VASQUEZ WATCHED THE news feeds with a growing sense of unease. The situation was even worse than he’d believed: Psy journalists were not only praising the skills of and the assistance provided by the lesser races in the aftermath of the university strike, they were calling it a bright new dawn in interracial cooperation.
If this continued, his people would soon begin to see the animal emotions of the changelings and humans in a positive light, and the traitors in the Net would have another weapon in their fight to topple Silence. That could not be permitted to happen—and Pure Psy’s next strike would make certain of it, splintering all hope of cooperation in a miasma of distrust.
The university hit had been nothing, a decoy to distract those who hunted Vasquez and his faithful soldiers. Pure Psy’s true message was yet to be heard, would be written in the skies in deadly flame, the omega site going down in the history of the world.