Throwing out a protective telepathic shield the instant he was close enough, he halted the collapse.
And knew that thousands were already dead, their minds severed from the Net at implosion in a brutal punch of pain that would’ve ended the lives of children at once. The adults would’ve lived a few seconds longer, the toughest lasting perhaps a minute.
The anchor network in Perth has been compromised, he communicated to the leader of the Arrows, covert operatives who were the most highly trained and dangerous in the world. Initiate secondary backup. That backup system, put quietly in place after Pure Psy began to target the anchors, the linchpins who kept the Net from collapsing, was still a work in progress.
Initiated, Aden replied within a split second. I’ll assist with the shield.
Unnecessary. Kaleb could seal up the breach on his own. Find out how this was done. The telekinetic behind the earlier murders was dead, gutted by a changeling during another attempted killing. Every other anchor in the world had been notified, and the majority were now in hiding, their locations known to only a select few in each region.
There are reports of fires in several parts of Perth, Aden said after a short pause. Vasic and I are teleporting to the affected area.
Suturing the bleeding gash in the psychic fabric of the Net with measured efficiency, Kaleb spoke to the minds whose lives hung by a thread he held in his grasp. This is Councilor Kaleb Krychek, he said, using his now-defunct title because it would foster calm. I am in the process of stabilizing this region. You are safe.
Simple. Matter-of-fact. Effective.
None of these people would ever forget who it was that had come to their aid when their world turned to hell.
* * *
ADEN looked across the road at the pile of burned timbers belching black smoke in the noon sunshine, the beams glowing dark red from the fire that continued to lick at the remains of what must’ve been a small cottage. One of his people in the region had just confirmed the cottage had been home to an anchor, regardless of the fact that it was in a suburban area when the majority of anchors were known to prefer solitude.
It had been thought the locality would provide better camouflage.
Eyes on the destruction that bore silent testament to the failure of the strategy, he said, “What did you use to facilitate the teleport?” to the man who’d brought him to the location.
Vasic nodded at the gathering of neighbors in the distance, many with sleek camera-enabled phones in their hands. “One of them is live-broadcasting and panned the area. I saw this building.”
“It was a good choice.” The whitewashed wooden church where they stood sat across the road from the burning house. It provided both privacy and an excellent vantage point. “This appears to have been a brute attack.” No finesse, nothing but the intent to take a life on which hinged the lives of thousands of others.
“Accelerant and a Molotov cocktail to set it off, if I’m reading the signs right.”
“Cheap and effective.” Aden considered the mechanics of the attack. “It’s the accelerant that’s the issue—how did they get enough of it on the house to trap the target inside?” Glimpsing a small sign on the mailbox of one of the neighboring homes, he had his answer. “Gas. They tampered with the gas lines, somehow initiated a leak—gas also explains the localized explosion reported by neighbors.
Victim could’ve already been dead by the time the fire started.”
“Doable . . . especially if Pure Psy had a believer in the utility company.” Vasic’s cool gaze took in the fire crew’s attempts to contain the ravenous flames, and suddenly the retardant was doing a much more effective job.
“Don’t waste your power,” Aden said, aware his partner had used his kinetic energy to fight the energy of the fire. “All of the nearby homes have been evacuated and we need to check out the other sites.”
Vasic glanced at the computronic gauntlet that had become part of his arm, fusing into his very cells in an experimental process to test biocompatible hardware. There were significant risks in the procedure, and Aden had advised Vasic against it, but the other male had made the decision that if someone in the squad needed to test it, it should be him.
Vasic wasn’t too concerned about his future life span.
“I have image locks for all of them,” he said now.
Each site proved identical to the first—a flaming and collapsed building. In two cases, the fire had consumed a number of neighboring houses, the inferno spreading before the crews could reach the scene, though their response times proved to have been impeccable in spite of the sheer number of simultaneous targets. The likelihood of gas and the violence of the fires also meant there was no chance of survivors—little chance of even finding a body still in one piece inside.
Outside was another story. A man identified as a worker with a gas utility had been discovered in the cul-de-sac in front of one of the sites, his body flung violently outward by the force of the blast when the house exploded. “He didn’t clear the scene fast enough,” Aden said. “Or he made a mistake.”
“He was only a pawn.”
As Vasic again used his telekinetic abilities to subtly assist the firefighters at the most dangerous location—the fire only a street away from a hospice, the patients too unwell to be evacuated—Aden made his report to the former Councilor who had almost completely sealed the tear in the Net using a vast telepathic ability that marked him as an impossible dual cardinal.
The region has suffered a significant information leak, he said. The locations of at least half of the anchors and their failsafe networks were fatally compromised. Pure Psy couldn’t have reached this many people at one time without a specific road map. No chance of survivors.