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Nikita put down the remote but didn’t erase the image. “Several of the individuals who suicided were on the rehabilitation watchlist. The others could’ve been fragmenting.” “So Henry could see it as removing violence from the Net.” Kaleb considered the idea. “Can you send me the full data on the suicides?” The file was telepathed into his mind an instant later. Nikita checked messages on her organizer as he went through the list. “He eliminated an erratic but highly intelligent chemist,” Kaleb said, “two medical specialists, and at least one trained sharpshooter. And that’s at first glance.” “It continues like that,” Nikita told him. “He might see it as erasing the weak from the Net, but he’s also shoving the balance toward mediocrity.” Kaleb looked at her. “Or perhaps Henry hasn’t yet given up on the idea of a fully coherent Net.” Before her defection, Council scientist Ashaya Aleine had been close to developing a neural implant that would’ve instituted Silence at the biological level, creating a true hive mind. She’d destroyed all the pertinent data when she’d defected, but that knowledge could’ve been recreated. “He may be pruning those he thinks will prove a challenge to that goal.” “In that case, I suggest you be careful.” Kaleb turned away from the screen as she flicked it off. Her windows cleared a moment later. “I appreciate the information—we’ll have to consider how to proceed with this. But I wanted to speak to you about another matter.” Nikita waited in pristine silence. “I’ve discovered some rather interesting facts about E-Psy.” Facts that could turn Nikita’s “failure” into an asset. Nikita put aside her organizer. “Really?” CHAPTER 36 You make me feel strong, make me feel as if I can fight fate itself. If you’re reading this letter, I failed. But be proud of me Max—I tried so hard. —Sophia Russo in an encrypted and time-coded letter to be sent to Max Shannon after her death Sophia wasn’t used to having anyone but Max in her living space. Faith NightStar wasn’t anywhere near as physically imposing as Max, but she had a presence. Then there was the long-limbed female who’d accompanied her. “Sophia,” Faith said. “This is Desiree.” Recognizing Desiree for what she was—a bodyguard—Sophia told her guests to make themselves comfortable in the living area before she walked into the bedroom and took a cross-legged position in the middle of the bed. Surfing the Net didn’t require much preparation for most people, but the more centered she was, the less chance of an accidental breach. Because even in the Net, there were individuals with weak or useless shields. Their thoughts leaked out in a constant barrage. A Sensitive could easily get caught in the psychic storm. But Sophia had no intention of being thrown up against the rocks. Narrowing her thoughts to a fine, fine point, she took a careful step into the dark skies of the PsyNet and dropped her highly effective automatic firewalls, wrapping herself in much more mundane ones instead—so she could go where she needed to go without being noticed. There was an element of risk to her choice. If any of her fragmentation . . . her feelings, leaked out, she’d be hunted down in minutes. And once they found her, rehabilitation would follow so fast, she’d have no chance of escape. “So I’ll be very careful,” she muttered, and went to merge into the slipstream of the Net. Except her shields reset to the distinctive new formation without warning. And no matter how many times she tried, they wouldn’t remain ordinary, unremarkable. “I need you to behave,” she finally muttered aloud in frustration. “I might as well be wearing a target on my back if I go out like this.” Her shields turned the exact velvet black of the Net, making her effectively invisible. Sophia swallowed on the physical plane. “Oh . . . that’ll work.” No response, but she had the impression that something was watching, listening. It should’ve disconcerted her, and it did to an extent. But whatever that something was, it was also protecting her. And she wasn’t about to reject it . . . not when the otherness in her, the broken girl who’d finally become an integrated part of her after two long decades, recognized the pain in that entity, as if it expected to be kicked aside, to be shoved into a corner, to be forgotten. I accept, Sophia thought deep in her mind. Thank you. No response, but her shields seem to strengthen even further as she slipped into the Net—sleek, dark, impenetrable. The psychic network around her was the biggest data archive in the world, its information highways updated every second of every day by uploads from the millions of minds jacked into its psychic fabric, but as a J in possession of often confidential information, Sophia was trained to be far more careful about what she shared. The majority of the time, the only things she uploaded were the official, court-approved results of her cases. But it wasn’t just purposefully uploaded data that filled the Net. There were fragments of thought, images, things that had escaped as a result of inadequate or fragmented shielding, conversations that had taken place in the Net outside of a mental vault. Things did decay after a period of time—but that period could never be predicted. She’d once caught whispers that had mentioned events of a hundred-years past. Other comments decayed almost as soon as they were spoken. You could spend an eternity surfing the slipstream. However, as a young intern, Sophia had been taught to search using highly refined filters—she’d worked for a prosecutor one summer, a judge another, tracking down specific pieces of data. Now, she used those same skills to search for any mention of Pure Psy.
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