The communications terminal clanged with a priority message, and William Foxkin jabbed the accept button before some computer system halfway across the City decided to take more drastic action against his ears. "Telepathic regulation and control, Foxkin speaking."
"It's Cathi. You won't believe what happened today." His secretary sounded worried, and William wondered with sudden dread what could have shaken her like this. As the silence stretched on, he prompted her with a quiet, "What?"
She continued tonelessly. "The Patrol found the seventh target - the one who called himself 'the Outsider'. They found him on the streets" - she paused, probably to look at some readout on her desk - "two hours and eleven minutes ago... and 'the Outsider' is exactly who he was. Mr. Foxkin..." Her voice broke again, but she continued as if her life depended on it - "...he's a regular. The Patrol's psychic energy monitors have been all over him, and they say he's lacking in native power traces."
Even through the shock, WIlliam caught her wording. "You mean the sniffers found someone else's Gift on him?"
"I mean exactly that. First-form telepathic contol, no less, and whoever did it left marks that should have identified him or her immediately. However, the observed frequencies are nothing like any of the telepaths in our databases, and that's something we keep completely organized. It's as clear as a purpose-taken fingerprint, but that doesn't help if he - or she - isn't in records."
"Why haven't we asked this 'Outsider' person? The teams had over two hours with the man, and no one can resist us that long, much less a regular." He slammed the desk with his hand in sheer frustration. "We've been looking for this man for two years, Cathi, and all we've gotten is more questions. Now we have him, and I want answers!"
Cathi was having trouble speaking, the words sticking in her throat. "I'm afraid you don't understand, sir," she said evenly. I should be home by now. I just have to finish this report. Then I can get off this endless adrenaline high and drug myself to sleep. "The teams," she forced out, "have had two hours with a dead man."
William sat back hard in his chair, feeling as if he had been punched in the stomach. "The controller killed him?"
"That's what the sniffers say, and General Intelligence concurs. I get the feeling Intel is actually pretty annoyed that they didn't figure it out ahead of time. I don't see how they could have. I mean, would you have guessed, without evidence one way or the other, that Seventh was a regular? And knowing only that he was killed by telepathic control, you would have to think of a rogue without orders from us, or the Underground kicking up a mess, not something completely foreign."
"I can understand why you would think that way, but intelligence analysts tend to blame themselves for not thinking far enough outside the box when a genuinely off-the-charts result comes along. Of course, this tendency leads them to be blamed by others for suggesting precautions against something that will never happen. They are justified... occasionally... when the aforementioned unlikely threat actually does turn out dangerous... and that's the kind of triple-think that they are burdened with every day of their lives."
Her head spun. "It's a wonder anyone ever gets useful information out of any of them!"
"I'm not convinced we do, Cathi," he said bitterly. "I'm not convinced we do."