------------three : This could be the last mistake that I would ever want to do

    Jonas didn't know when he started to count time in terms of Crawford; he only knew that he did. During Crawford's first year in China, the prescient did a lot of traveling: between the Chinese headquarters in Shanghai and Beijing and back and forth from China to Austria. During his second year, the visits started to peter off, as Crawford was busy turning China on its head and quietly usurping Alex's power. When Jonas first suspected what Crawford was doing, he asked the teenager point-blank. Crawford's response was that he wished to be no man's subordinate but Jonas's. It wasn't flattery; it wasn't devotion. It was Crawford's arrogance, more see-through than ever before.

    Crawford's unrelenting work paid off around his eighteenth birthday, when he broke rank again. Alex finally had to give up the fight for control. A telekinetic, no matter how strong, couldn't compete with a level seven prescient. There were only twelve precognitives in the world with that ranking, and all but four were restricted to Rosenkreuz grounds due to blindness. Crawford was the strongest prescient in Jonas' sector, which meant his promotion was inevitable.

    The rest of the Five accepted the news with somewhat resigned amusement, save for Adrian, who had little to no sense of humor. Jonas idly wondered if Crawford felt their lingering condescension even half a world away, because his first few weeks in office were violent enough to reverberate as far as Rosenkreuz. He destroyed half of China's projects, reassigned a dozen-odd agents to other sectors, and executed almost as many. Jonas' sector, which had flourished under his command, now plummeted.

    For two weeks, Rosenkreuz held its breath, expecting the bottom to give out on their largest and most profitable division. The Five demanded Jonas intervene and take his precog to task, but he refused to second-guess Crawford's decisions. Crawford and his teams fought day and night to secure new alliances, and Jonas watched in silence to see what came of it.

    On the twelfth day, Asia's budget evened out: Crawford had cut just enough people to balance their losses.

    By the end of the third week, Asia's projects had more than tripled.

    Traditionally, Rosenkreuz sold its teams to the industries with the greatest returns: sex, drugs, and violence. Crawford turned that on its head, signing additional contracts with politicians and businessmen. His Talents went out as consultants, negotiators, bodyguards, and a myriad of other duties that should have been below a psychic's dignity. It opened up a whole new world of opportunities, and Asia profited right off the bat.

    The real pieces finally inched into place a year later, when Crawford had put his fingers in enough pies that Rosenkreuz controlled Asia. Crawford had made a web across his sector, connecting gangs to law enforcement to politicians to CEOs to federal officials. Now there was nothing in Crawford's way. If he wanted a project approved, or a change pushed through legislation, he simply pulled a string and watched it fall into place.

    In return, Jonas gave Crawford what he wanted most: he reassigned Chizuru. He would have killed her, except Elizabeth offered to take the woman off his hands. When the Council approved the transfer, she put Chizuru into her genetics program at Rosenkreuz. Jonas almost regretted that decision, because Chizuru's moping was a constant, dull weight at the back of his mind day-in and day-out. The first time Crawford visited Rosenkreuz after her reassignment, however, Jonas decided it was worth it. Jonas didn't say a word about her, and Crawford was careful not to cross her path, but Jonas still felt it—that pulse of vicious satisfaction at being free of her.

    People assumed Crawford was cold, and for the most part, he was. At nineteen he knew exactly what he wanted, exactly how to get it, and exactly who was or was not a waste of his time. He lived with the disconnection and disassociation of a man who spent half of his life living in the future. He tendered no friendships, tolerated no disrespect, and was completely blind to ninety percent of normal human emotions.

    But behind cold eyes and callous words and dismissing little gestures was something very human indeed. If Jonas ever were to speak of it, no one would believe him, because the Crawford he felt was one no one else would ever see. Jonas doubted even Crawford understood what went on in his head half the time, as emotions were useless to a precognitive. Someone with Crawford's talent couldn't be bothered dwelling on them.

    If Crawford operated on one-third ambition, one-third instinct, and one-third hate—well, only Jonas lingered over the latter.


    Halfway through Crawford's second year as head advisor, Jonas went to see him.

    It was unusual for the Five to leave their posts in Rosenkreuz, but Jonas considered it necessary, and the Council approved it after mulling it over for a few days. Crawford picked Jonas up from the airport, and the two spent the next three weeks touring Asia's facilities. The days were a blur of conferences and names and faces and plans—and Crawford. Jonas spent just as much time studying him as he did studying the rest of his property.

    Crawford had been in Asia for almost four years; he was a few weeks shy of turning twenty. Looking at him, Jonas wasn't really sure where the time had gone. He blamed it on too many years spent in an office; time moved by without one's notice or permission when they were throat-deep in work. Still, it startled him.

    He'd known years ago that Crawford would be tall, and he was right. And despite a job that kept him at a desk most of the time, Crawford was all lean muscle. His eyes, behind his glasses, were knowing and sharp. His expression was unreadable stone, and his voice was smooth and disinterested. He'd started wearing suits somewhere along the way. Put all together, Crawford looked like a tycoon. Powerful. Indestructible. Deadly.

    His clients bought it hook, line, and sinker. So did his subordinates. Jonas wasn't sure what to make of it. A part of him found it amusing. The other part, he wasn't quite sure about. Satisfaction that this was his power to command, perhaps, but satisfaction wasn't the right word to pin on it.

    "They believe in you," he observed one day.

    Crawford said nothing immediately. His gaze was pointed at the seatback in front of him; his gift was a day or week or year away from the plane they were on. The distance between their bodies was so short. The space between their minds was infinite. Jonas could feel Crawford's body heat, but the precognitive's mind was cold as his consciousness flitted between present and future. The conflicting signals of touchable and unreachable were dizzying. Jonas wanted to strike the precog with his gift just to see if he could wake Crawford up, but he stubbornly bit down on instinct.

    "I am glad to have earned their trust, Herr Hoffmann," Crawford said at last.

    Jonas gave a quiet snort and slid his advisor a sly look. "Don't think too highly of their opinions," he said. "You might start believing you're as flawless as they all think you are."

    "I will be careful, Herr Hoffmann."

    "You're not perfect, you know."

    Crawford inclined his head, not at all insulted, not at all bothered by that easy assessment. "Herr Hoffmann."

    Jonas propped his chin in his hand and studied the younger man. How his eyes deceived him; there was nothing in Crawford's expression or in any of his recent work that could say the man had flaws, that could say the man had faults. But his gift told him the truth, in little bits and bursts, a truth no one else could see. No one else should see? he wondered. Crawford was the focal point of Asia, right beneath himself. He ruled it as well as he did because people trusted him within an inch of their lives. If they saw him stumble, that would introduce doubt, and doubt would cause hesitation, and hesitation led to loss.

    The only one who could see Crawford's flaws was the only man allowed to see them. It felt like a deadly little secret, and Jonas' mouth twitched into a vicious smile. "Let them have their delusions," he decided. "It is better for us."

    "Yes, Herr Hoffmann."

    That need came again, knifing its way through his gut and lungs. He wanted to show Crawford what he could see, what Crawford couldn't see about himself. He wanted to show him his humanity by bleeding it out of him. Cut and dig and rend until Crawford's pretty little control snapped, until the curtain fell and Crawford was just as human and breakable as anyone under his command. Jonas wanted Crawford to see just how easy it would be to fall.

    This was not the time or place, however, so he forced himself to look away. He stared out the window instead, past the clouds the plane was skimming above to the stars that dotted the sky. The sight of them made him huff a bit in amusement. Cold, focused, bright, unreachable – same as his precog. But like his precog, they were all fire at the core, and one day, one day, they were going to burn out.

    But while they lasted, oh, they were beautiful.


    "So, little Jonas is alive and back at Rosenkreuz?"

    Jonas didn't bother to look up. Seraphim had been hovering in his doorway for several minutes now. He hadn't seen the Council's Eyes in four years. Jonas didn't know if the Five had complained about her indiscretion or if the Council had found out on their own what she'd been up to. He hadn't mourned her absence.

    "I've been back for weeks now," he reminded her.

    If her words hadn't been enough to get his attention, her reaction to his response certainly was. The knot that skittered across his gift was a chaotic mess: condescension, anticipation, malice... He set his pen aside and looked up at her. He couldn't hurt her, but she still felt the heat of his gift as they locked gazes. As soon as she knew he was looking at her, she smiled. It was slow and cold and cruel.

    Jonas perched his chin on his hand and studied her, looking for a reason behind her mockery, looking for an explanation for her vicious amusement. He came up empty-handed. "If you have something to say, say it, Seraphim, and do not waste my time."

    "You are lucky I speak to you at all."

    "Remind me to thank you for your patronage."

    "I will remind you to choose a successor," she said. "Soon. Nikolai is fracturing. It is all downhill from here."

    Jonas thought of Alessa and Enrique. Bile burned his tongue. "How long?"

    "I do not believe that is your business."

    Jonas gave an irritated huff. "I can see why Crawford hates you."

    "You don't know the half of it," she said easily. "You will hate me one day, too. I care not. I did try to warn you. When the time comes, remember that before you remember anything else. I warned you."

    And without another word, she slipped out of the doorway and left. Jonas listened to her quiet footsteps in the hall, gift still roiling beneath the weight of her emotions. Something was—wrong. There was too much there, in a woman that was not supposed to be able to feel. The Council's Eyes should not be such a disorganized mess. But what had changed in the last few hours to bring back her humanity?

    His watch beeped in warning, startling him out of his thoughts, and he glanced at the time. He snapped his folders shut and pushed himself out of his chair. It was a short walk from his office to the rooms the Five used for their weekly meetings. His colleagues were surprised to see him, but on the tail-end of that was wary discomfort. They could pick up on his bad mood, even if they didn't know what had caused it.

    He slouched low in his seat and stared balefully around the room, just to watch the other four look away. "Do not be obnoxious," Adrian warned him even as he averted his gaze. Jonas curled his lip in scorn.

    Ricard decided to intervene before things got ugly. "My report," he said, and the Five settled down to business. They went around the table, announcing the latest changes in rankings, business, and talents. Miguel brought up a few points about the psychics' training that he thought the Five should look into. Jonas missed most of it; his thoughts were on Seraphim and Nikolai.

    "Hoffmann," Miguel pressed, sounding annoying.

    Jonas glanced up at him, not really sure where they were in the conversation or why the Five wanted his input. Ricard picked up on his confusion. He offered the empath a lazy smile and said, "I assume you have something to say?"

    "He saves all his breath and words for his precog darling," Elizabeth said. "Don't expect him to waste any time or consideration on us."

    "He came," Miguel pointed out, because it had been months since he'd last stopped by their meetings.

    Elizabeth pointed at the desk in front of Jonas, which was clear of any papers and reports. The other four had brought along appropriate notes and numbers; Jonas had obviously not planned to be here tonight. His watch was set to warn him of the meeting times, but he generally ignored the alarm and kept on with his own projects. Jonas wouldn't have even bothered today if not for Seraphim's visit. Still, he hadn't really thought this through.

    Does it need thinking about? he asked himself wryly. There were no other choices.

    "Hoffmann?" Ricard pressed. "Going once, going twice?"

    "If he has nothing to add," Elizabeth started.

    "I am naming Crawford my successor," Jonas said at last.

    That shut them up—for a moment, anyway, and then Ricard laughed. "A prescient!" he said in amused, mocking delight.

    Miguel looked bewildered. "You would put a prescient on the Five? We haven't ranked them in years – for a reason! How could they possibly do their job when their visions eat so much of their time? No, Hoffmann. A prescient is born to be an advisor."

    "You have all already admitted how unlikely it is that I will ascend," Jonas reminded them, "so the argument of whether or not he will ever make Five is irrelevant. The final say is the Council's. If you have so little faith in his abilities, then we will go before them now."

    "No," Elizabeth said, looking ill. "No. Today is not the day to seek the Council's word. Herr Nikolai is—not well."

    Adrian shot her a sharp look. "I had not heard."

    "I went before the Council this morning," Elizabeth admitted, glancing around the room at her companions. "That is the message I brought to the meeting today. I lost one of my, ahh, training teams. Their mentor brought them into the field to test their shields and stability, and they strayed too close to an unregistered telepath with shattered shields. They couldn't withstand his raw gift and their minds collapsed."

    "What pathetic shields they must have had," Adrian said scornfully. "Your mentor should be executed for his negligence."

    "I leave it to you," Elizabeth said. Her tone was casual, but Jonas could feel her knifing bitterness and fury. He found it interesting that the loss could mean so much to her. If their shields had been that weak, they had to have been young. He didn't know how they'd earned her favor so quickly. Elizabeth was not known for her sentimentality.

    "And the telepath?" Ricard asked.

    "Still loose," she admitted.

    "You should have killed it," Miguel said.

    "With us so shy on telepaths?" she asked, flicking him an arch look. "I know better than to kill a 'path without the Council's say-so. No. Herr Nikolai needs to know if the child can be salvaged. I'm to send another team out after him."

    "Because your last team did so well," Adrian said snidely.

    She pressed her lips into a bloodless line and said nothing. The Five sat in tense silence for a few seconds longer. At last Ricard flipped his folders shut. "I have nothing to add," he said. When no one else spoke up, he nodded and excused himself back to his office. Jonas would have followed suit, but Elizabeth slid her hand a few millimeters across the table toward him. It was a short enough gesture that the others missed it, but Jonas understood the silent request and went still. Miguel and Adrian weren't waiting around for them.

    Elizabeth was quiet until the door shut behind the other men. "I think it's Alessa's child."

    Jonas stopped breathing. "No."

    It had been eight years since Alessa's death. Very few people remembered she had ever existed. She'd been at Rosenkreuz for only a year before her mind broke, and most assumed she'd been executed when she went mad. Only eight outside of Jonas knew she'd been moved to Berlin to reproduce. Elizabeth was included in that number because of her genetics research. Telepaths were a weak breed, but some, like Alessa and Nikolai, defied expectations. Among Elizabeth's projects was the order to find out how to strengthen the telepaths' line, which meant she'd done work on Alessa's blood.

    Elizabeth was also one of very few who knew exactly who Alessa was to Jonas. There was a ten year age gap between the siblings; most assumed their closeness had meant something else. Elizabeth could read their relationship in her microscopes, just as Ikida could. Jonas doubted even the Council knew. It wasn't important in the grand scheme of things, so Jonas didn't think Elizabeth or Ikida—or Seraphim—had bothered to tell them.

    Because she was an insider, Elizabeth knew better than to argue with his denial. Instead she carefully said, "I am sending Franz and Ikida to Berlin to investigate. Ikida will know for sure."

    Jonas tasted blood and bile. Seraphim's greeting rang in his ears, mocking him. "I will send Crawford along."

    She frowned. "Franz is a six," she said. "He is fine enough for this."

    "Crawford's shields are incomparable," Jonas said. "I will send him along."

    Elizabeth considered that, thinking about the pair she'd lost that morning. At last she nodded. "Perhaps that would be best."

    "He will be on the next plane out," Jonas said, getting to his feet.

    Elizabeth reached for him but knew better than to touch him. "Hoffmann, the child's name," she said. "Alessa never gave it to us. We will need it for his file."

    "Then I suggest you come up with one."

    "What does it matter to you?" Elizabeth asked, annoyed. "It is only a name."

    "I will never hear him called it," Jonas said savagely. He stormed out of there before she could get another word in edgewise.

    Anger made the walk back to his office a blur. He snatched his phone off its cradle and hit the speed dial for Crawford's office. There was a click as it rerouted to Crawford's home phone. Jonas glanced at the clock. It was three in the morning in Beijing. Despite the hour, Crawford answered on the second ring.

    Jonas hung up on him.

    He threw himself into the chair and glared up at the ceiling, seething. When he could breathe without it hurting, he picked up the phone and dialed again. Crawford answered immediately. Jonas pinched the bridge of his nose almost hard enough to crush it and said, "Book a flight to Berlin. Stopover in Austria. Ikida will meet you at the airport and accompany you the rest of the way. He will have your orders with him."

    "Yes, Herr Hoffmann."

    Jonas hung up again and waited. It only took a couple minutes for Crawford to arrange things with his local travel agent, and then he called back. Jonas wrote down the times and confirmation numbers. He called Elizabeth's office next and gave her the flight information from Austria to Germany so she could book Ikida's flight accordingly. When she reported back with Ikida's information, Jonas gathered everything and left his office.

    Nikolai couldn't hear Jonas, but he could feel his approach. The Councilmen were waiting for him in their tower. He moved to the center of the room and stopped. He kept his gaze on the table and his gift open and testing. The Council was a mess; Nikolai had set them all on edge with whatever he'd said or done earlier. The telepath seemed to have gotten himself under control, but there was tension and despair at the back of his mind.

    "Hoffmann," Nikolai said, leaning back in his chair. "We expected you."

    "Councilmen," Jonas said, sweeping the tabletop with his gaze to include them all in the greeting.

    "Elizabeth told you," Ahmed guessed.

    "She did," Jonas agreed. "We have made this into a joint venture. Crawford will be accompanying Franz and Ikida to Berlin."

    "As if we trust you and your lot anywhere near the boy," Jean said, jerking his hand in a cutting motion.

    "Crawford does not suffer the same bias I do," Jonas said. "Furthermore, his shields protect him from the child's gift and madness."

    "Madness you caused," Nikolai said icily. There was a flare from him: hate, disgust, horror. Nikolai was thinking about Alessa and Enrique; he was thinking about himself. Jonas thought he would choke on the fear that thrashed this way and that within the telepath. He remembered Alessa's fear when she'd woken up in the hospital with shattered shields. He remembered her tears and panic—

    Jonas bit his tongue and sharpened the pain. It was the only buffer he had when his shields refused to keep anything out.

    Better than pain was the slow approach of another mind: Seraphim was on her way to the Council's chambers. She was cold all over, lost in visions.

    Mutinous bitch, he thought wonderingly. Seraphim was a level eight SIS precog; she could see the answer to almost any question asked of her. It made her one of the most dangerous tools in Rosenkreuz's arsenal. Because of that, the Council kept her power under lock and key. She was expressly forbidden to use her gift on her own. If they caught her reading the future for her own ends, they would execute her. Jonas wasn't sure what to think of finding that rebellious streak in Rosenkreuz's pillar.

    He would sort that out later. For now, he locked onto her ice to bring himself out of Nikolai's mind. "Crawford will know if we can save him."

    "Crawford this, Crawford that," Jean said, disgusted. "In a sector so large, that you choose to obsess only one man is annoying, Hoffmann."

    Jonas tipped his head up in defiance. "I wish him as my successor, Councilmen."

    They stared. Nikolai was the first to find his tongue. "I hadn't known you to have a sense of humor."

    "There is no one else I trust with Asia."

    "He is a prescient," Ahmed said, in that slow tone reserved for mentally ill. "He will never be Five. When his mother collapses, he will be the Council's Eyes. You should know this already."

    Jonas knew. Very few people outside of the Five were granted an audience with the Council in their chambers. Crawford was one of those favored few. Crawford made regular stops at Rosenkreuz to see Jonas and he was frequently called on by the Council during his visits. Desperation had to be a driving factor, because Nikolai wanted his death date from Crawford's mind, but there was more to it. Crawford had done so much with his gift and his division these last couple years, it would be foolish of the Council to ignore him.

    "I cannot choose anyone else, Councilmen," Jonas insisted quietly. "I have bet my division on his power."

    "That is not enough."

    "And my life?" Jonas asked. He dragged his gaze up to meet their eyes. His gift roiled, but he grabbed it in an iron fist and kept it at bay. He slid his gaze along their faces, staring at them each in turn. "I will raise the stakes if it would convince you."

    That got their attention. The four stared hard at him, considering that. Nikolai was the first to look away when he cast Mosuli a sideways look. Whatever the Council thought of his bold remark, they kept it between themselves. Jonas wasn't sure if Nikolai was simply listening in on the others or if they were actually communicating until Jean gave an irritated flick of his fingers. They were definitely arguing, even if he could only sense the spikes and drops in their emotions.

    The door behind them opened. Seraphim stood in the doorway with Malachi close at her side.

    "Seraphim," Nikolai said without looking back at her. "Five Hoffmann wants your son as his successor."

    "Tell us, Seraphim," Mosuli said, lifting one hand in an order to move closer. Seraphim couldn't see the gesture, but Malachi touched her elbow in a silent command. She started across the room toward their table and stopped behind the middle two seats. "Will we regret granting this request?"

    Seraphim closed her eyes and sank deeper into her gift. There was silence as she watched her visions play out, and then—a brilliant smile.

    He felt something slip, felt something give, and he knew before anyone else did that Seraphim had gone too far. He started forward, mouth open on a warning, but it was too late. She collapsed like a puppet whose strings had been cut; Jonas heard the crack of her skull hitting the stone floor. Malachi was across the room in an instant to grab at her. Nikolai was snarling commands he had to be reinforcing with his gift, demanding her to wake up and get up.

    Jonas heard it all as if from a distance. There was nothing he could do but watch as the Council tried and failed to rouse their Eyes. Disbelief made him sick to his stomach; confusion made him lightheaded. Jonas knotted his hands in his shirt and struggled to figure out what he could have possibly missed. Crawford was—Crawford. His precognitive. His advisor. Crawford couldn't cause this. Jonas refused to believe it. Nothing in the world would make him believe it.

    He didn't know how long they tried to save Seraphim before they had to give up. Mosuli shattered every bone in her body with one blow, hitting her so hard that he cracked the floor beneath her. The four were slow to turn back on him. Their fury and suspicion cut him like knives; he had no trouble reading the accusation in their black expressions.

    "Get out," Nikolai warned him. "Get out!"

    Jonas took a slow step back, then another. He could smell Seraphim's blood; Mosuli had ruptured her skin. When he blinked, he saw Alessa sprawled on the ground, skin burst and sitting unevenly on her broken bones. He had to turn away before they saw the nausea on his face, and he left the chambers as quickly as he could. Mosuli slammed the door behind him.

    Jonas made it as far as the elevators before he lost the fight with his stomach.


    Jonas didn't sleep at all that night; nor did he get any work done. He sat silent and still at his desk as he tried to figure out what had happened. It was hard to think when the Council were equally sleepless: they had been fighting since he'd left their chambers. His gift hissed and snarled under the weight of their fury. They were as confused as they were angry, and the combination was deadly.

    It was morning before they finally went to sleep, but Jonas was too riled to follow suit. He spent the better part of the day staring through the wall. He was a level nine empath; he was the only one in the world who could read Crawford. If there was any reason to doubt Crawford, he would know. He refused to think he could have missed something.

    But for Seraphim to break…?

    There had to be a logical explanation. Seraphim was old. Seraphim had been seeing things before she'd even made it to the chambers, so the Council had triggered an overload. Crawford's future was so vast that Seraphim simply could not take in the width and breadth of it.

    There was a reason, and it wasn't what the Council thought it was.

    'No' – was one word so hard to say? Surely she could have at least said that much before snapping.

    "Fuck!" He slammed his fists down on his desk and lurched to his feet. His office was large; it had to be spacious to fit all of his paperwork and files. Today it felt cramped and suffocating. He paced along one wall, struggling to make sense of things, and came up empty-handed. If he couldn't win the Council over, if he couldn't convince them to take his side over Seraphim's, Crawford was lost. The Council would execute him. Jonas would not let that happen. He simply wouldn't.

    There was a ripple at the edge of his gift: Ikida and Crawford were back from Berlin. Jonas dealt the wall a vicious kick and threw himself back into his desk chair. His range was wide enough that he had time to calm down before Crawford reached Rosenkreuz grounds. He'd forcibly choked his anger down to a dull roar by the time Crawford made it to his office.

    "Report," he said.

    Crawford kept his attention on the calendar as he talked about his stop in Berlin. They'd found the telepath, but Crawford had chosen to leave him there. Jonas barely listened to the reasons. He was too busy staring at Crawford. Nothing in Crawford's voice or face or mind justified Seraphim's death. Crawford was as he always had been: calm, loyal, and controlled.

    "Again," Jonas said when Crawford went quiet, and Crawford obediently started from the top. Jonas slouched low in his seat as he listened and propped his shoes on his desk. Reassured of his command over Crawford, he actually listened this time. He didn't like what he came away with.

    "Still sane," he mused, tossing the file to one side and scratching at his scalp. "That damn boy."

    It was impossible. How could a child so young have survived? He should have died with his worthless, scumbag father.

    He glanced up at Crawford again, then dug a clipboard out of one of his drawers. With him temporarily banned from the Council's chambers, he would have to file the report the old-fashioned way. "And your final decision and recommendation?"

    "If it were my place to offer an opinion, I would suggest that a telepath is pulled from the least critical post and sent to investigate his mind," Crawford said. He went quiet for a moment, as if making sure he had not spoken out of turn. Jonas motioned for him to continue. "He has been loose for years, but his safeguards are still intact enough that he is sane. Either the one who shielded his mind had a profitable Talent, or his own is strong enough to keep the shields in place regardless of his lack of training."

    "Or he's so weak that there's not much to protect," Jonas said derisively. "The telepaths are busy. We need them where they are now; the soonest any of them could get pulled away is two months from now. I want a team going out on regular checks to make sure he stays where he is until we can have his mind scanned. Who's there right now?"

    "Schrei is an hour to the east."

    "I'll tell Elizabeth to put them on it," Jonas decided. "You're going back to China in the morning." He looked up at Crawford from the notes he was filling his page with. He wanted to ask Crawford what Seraphim's problem was; he wanted to ask Crawford why the two hated each other so much. He wanted to break Crawford into pieces until Crawford proved to everyone that there wasn't a reason to doubt him. He wanted Crawford as his Five. But he bit down on all of that and focused on the problem at hand. "The reasons for your summons back to Rosenkreuz are confidential. Do you understand me?"

    "Yes, Herr Hoffmann."

    "Then get out of here, Oracle."

    Crawford bowed his head and left.

    It was all Jonas could do not to follow him.


    The Councilmen were awake and arguing again before dinnertime.

    At three a.m., they called on Jonas.

    The five considered each other in silence for several endless minutes before Jean spoke. "She did not say no," he said at last. "She did not say yes, either. Without a satisfactory answer, the only word we have to go on is yours. Your gift is enough to save his life this time. But we refuse him as your successor." There was a chilly warning in his eyes as he stared at Jonas, and Jonas swallowed his arguments. "Your precognitive is on probation as of now. We want him where the precognitives can watch him. You will reassign him to Rosenkreuz as soon as he can extract himself from Beijing."

    There was nothing Jonas could do but agree, and he went back to his quarters to think on that. He was still awake when the Council called on Crawford an hour later. He knew when things went sour by Crawford's jagged bolt of shock. Denial, bewilderment, anger—Jonas sucked in a deep breath as Crawford's precious control splintered. No grief for a lost mother, only disbelief that the Council had lost faith in him.

    On the heels of that mess was a cold determination. Crawford wasn't the sort to get stopped here. If the Council doubted him, Crawford would turn the world on its head to regain their favor.

    Jonas knew he could do it. All he had to do was sit back and wait.

Part 4