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Bedlam Boyz

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Bedlam Boyz

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Author: Ellen Guon
Publisher: Baen, 1993
Series: Bedlam Bard: Book 3
Book Type: Novel
Genre: Fantasy
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Prequel to Bedlam's Bard

When one of her friends is gunned down, Kayla uses her latent healing powers to heal her friend--and the gang member who shot him--and soon the city's gangs are eager to use her powers for evil.


Act X-January 28, 2022

3,000 meters above the surface of the Ring

Two hours after the convergence of probehound and ship, a kilometer-wide gap between the severed edges of the Ring glistened in the sunlight like two giant fluorescent light bulbs standing on end. Since the Ring was no thicker than a sheet of aluminum foil, the bright edgewise shine was proof that some process was under way.

"The edges look lined with fur," Aki said as she looked at an image capture from the Phalanx's telescope. What she saw was pure white, reminiscent of a rabbit pelt. A closer look showed a massive number of small fibers growing densely near the severed edges.

"It is some sort of fibrous growth with dense threading." Per paused, then added, "If we cut the Ring, the material starts to grow. If it comes into contact with something, the fibers expand and grow onto the foreign body. It is like a fungus that thinks, and its capabilities are unaffected by the heat of the engine blast. I would like to move closer if we can."
"Leave that to me," Mark responded, carefully lowering the ship toward one of the edges. "We're at five hundred meters."

A colony of white fibers began to shimmer just beneath them.

"We're burning them."

"No, the engine blast cannot reach from here. The Ring is deflecting the blast by bifurcating it."

"Then why is the fur wavering so much?" Aki said.

Per thought for a moment and then yelled, "Commander, we need to get out of here. Now. It's going to spread to the ship."

"Mark, pull us up," Kindersley ordered. Without a word, Mark revved the engines to direct the ship away from the Ring. Aki fell backwards from the sudden acceleration as the ship retreated to a distance of ten kilometers.

"Are you sure, Per?" asked the commander.

"That fungus was watching us!"

"Watching us?"

"It is a tropism; the fiber reacts to any heat source other than the sun by pointing toward it and growing fast."

"How do we check for signs of contamination?"

"The sensors aren't showing warnings. I'll run a detailed inspection to be sure," Mark said.

"We were five hundred meters away. We should be fine, don't you think?" asked the commander.

"The gap it is trying to bridge between the edges is a full kilometer. I cannot be certain," Per said.

"Good point. We'll proceed with caution."

"Commander, I'm getting abnormal readings from some of the gimbal actuator stress sensors," Mark announced, his voice going soft.

Aki coughed. "Just a few is normal, right?" There were tens of thousands of sensors. It was not unusual for a few to show abnormal readings at any given time.

"No, this is different. We have a problem," replied Mark, surprisingly calm now.

"Let's hold out for a minute, see what happens."

"If we lose only one actuator, we can still continue. We'll just balance out a bit more slowly, but if something is hanging on out there," Mark explained, "if the contamination has reached our backup, it's game over. Let's run an inspection to see where we stand. If there's no infection, we go back. If there's any contamination at all, then I'll remove the parts by hand and dispose of them. That would mean working next to the reactors for several hours while the reactors are running. And, of course, it would mean that I wouldn't come back inside since I would risk bringing the contaminant with me."

"Wait. Could we eject the engine to solve the problem? We can continue with just one," Aki protested, her fear hanging in the air.

"Yeah, but if the other engine fails, we're stranded."

"But if the only other choice is to leave you to die, I vote that it is worth the risk."

"Think about that one, Aki," said Per, "We have two engines, but four people. The math is clear."

Mark said nothing. An engineer does what his duties require of him whether he likes it or not. Aki remembered Mark's words, and now it was crystal clear what they meant.

"Out of the cocoons. Everybody to the crew area," Kindersley said, his voice limned with authority.


Mark was suiting up in front of the airlock. The other three took turns offering farewells. Aki went last.

"Can I finally kiss you?" he asked.

Without speaking, Aki closed her eyes and leaned toward him. She was taken by surprise when she felt his tongue touch hers. Her instinct was to pull back, but she let herself go, giving in to the desire she had felt since the day they met. Mark was the one to finally pull away.

He looked small inside the oversized suit as he finished getting ready for the EVA. He ran a diagnostic, then entered the airlock. Closing the inner door, he gave a thumbs-up through the tiny round window

Three hours later, Mark completed the mission. He had removed and discarded all of the contaminated parts. All that was left to discard was himself. Aki was unable to speak.

"Looks like you still have some time, Mark. You're free to do whatever you like," said Commander Kindersley. Mark mumbled a short prayer to himself, something about how dying was acceptable if his sacrifice led to saving what was left of the world's population.

Then he said, "I think I'll go check out that Ring over there."

From inside her cocoon, Aki watched the ship diminish in size through Mark's helmet camera as he propelled himself toward the Ring.

Mark fired his thruster to close the ten-kilometer gap between him and the Ring. In the footage he was sending, it was almost impossible to distinguish the inky surface of the Ring from the blackness of space.

After some time, his searchlight finally began to reflect off the surface of the Ring, producing a circle of light that gradually grew brighter. Aki wanted to look away, but she needed to see the Ring.

"The surface is silvery velvet. Firing my thruster, on the Ring...creating waves rippling away from the contact. I'm at three meters and closing in... Okay, I've just touched down."

For a moment, Mark's stuttered breathing was all they could hear.

"It's incredible, a mirror that goes endlessly in all directions. I'm a dimple on the surface. I weigh one kilo, but it's enough to cause the surface to sink where I'm standing. I'm standing on an enormous pillow, a cloud." There was a choked sob.
A warning light appeared on the monitor mounted on the arm of his suit. The red glow was visible on the monitor before he looked down and flashed on the screen.

"Uh-oh. Feeding has begun, boots are changing color. A spiderweb is wrapping itself around me, moving on its own," he said with a calm unlike anything Aki had ever heard from him before.

"Into my suit. A mouse crawling around in here. Depressurization has stopped. There's no pain..."

His voice began to murmur as if he were drifting into sleep. "Aki, can you hear me?"

"Yes. Yes, Mark, I can hear you."

"I'm sorry. There's so much more I wanted to say to you."

"I know. Don't worry about that now."

Two minutes later all readings transmitting from Mark's suit ceased.

The image coming from the telescopic camera on the Phalanx showed a human-sized caterpillar's cocoon resting in the center of a large indentation on the Ring. It was shrinking in size. Eventually, Aki looked away.

She could not find a use for her feelings. Aki regretted being on the ship and on the mission. After forty hours, she finally emerged from her cocoon. Per and Kindersley found her, grabbed her by the wrists and wrapped their arms around her. She pressed her face onto their shoulders and hugged them back, crying like she had not cried since she was a child.

Chapter One

Sunset Boulevard was a blur of lights and noise, too many radios and car stereos, too many people talking and shouting and laughing. Kayla jammed her hands in the pockets of her denim jacket and wished all of it would just go away.

At midnight, it seemed like everyone was on the street, all the weird and lonely and "professional" residents of Los Angeles: the punks and the pretty boys in tight black leather, the women in brightly colored miniskirts, the dealers with too many gold chains beneath their open shirt collars. Ten feet away from where she stood, a nervous-looking blond man traded cash for a little ziplock bag with a bored-looking guy in a cowboy hat; both men stepped back into the shadows of the alley as a black-and-white LAPD patrol car glided past, like a silent shark prowling through the late night traffic.

Liane and Billy were twenty feet further up the sidewalk, gawking at leather jackets in a storefront window. She took her eyes off the panorama of the street around her, and joined them at the window. "Nice stuff," she commented, looking at a tailored leather jacket with metal studs. The price tag said $249... but it might as well have been a million dollars, she still couldn't afford it.

She leaned against the cold metal bars over the glass and thought about stealing some aspirin. Just the same as every night for the last few months, it felt like someone was pounding on her skull with a hammer. The noise from the traffic only made it worse. "Guys, okay if we stop someplace for some more aspirin?"

"Another headache?" Billy asked.

"It's nothing," Kayla lied.

"You've been having headaches every day for weeks now," Liane said. "Maybe we should take you to a doctor. What if this is something serious?"

"It's nothing, guys. I'll get some aspirin, it'll go away. There's a QuickStart down the street, we can stop there."

A red convertible slowed on the street next to them, the man in the driver's seat calling out to them. "Hey, chickies, want to party?"

Billy glared at the driver until he shrugged and looked away. The convertible pulled away back into the traffic.

"We could've just let him buy us some dinner and drinks," Liane said softly. "Nothing more than that." Liane had a hungry look in her eyes, the way she stared wistfully after the fancy red convertible.

Kayla thought about the man, and that he had a hungry look in his eyes, too. A different kind of hunger.

Billy shook his head. "He'd want something for his money, wouldn't he? And then we'd end up in a situation like last weekend with you and Nick."

Liane, already pale under the streetlights with her white-blond hair and very fair skin, turned even paler. That had been an awful night, one that Kayla thought they wouldn't survive. Nick, a local "businessman," had been watching Liane for a few days. When Kayla and Billy were busy buying Cokes from a street vendor, Nick told Liane that he wanted her to work for him. Billy and Kayla weren't his style... Billy was too mean-looking, with that knife-scar on his chin and that cold blue-eyed "Don't mess with me" look, a trick that he said he'd learned from his old man, who was currently up for armed robbery in Folsom. Not at all like the pretty boys on Melrose Avenue. And Kayla, with her long brown hair and green eyes that were too big for her face, knew she just wasn't cute enough for the chickenhawks, either.

Liane, on the other hand, was drop-dead gorgeous, blond and with the face of an angel. And she attracted men like a magnet. Especially slimeballs like Nick.

Maybe Billy telling Nick to go sit and spin wasn't the best idea, she thought. Billy and Nick had screamed at each other for fifteen minutes. Nick had stormed away, and they were walking down the street two hours later when he and some friends had pulled up in Nick's blue Chevy, waving a pistol at them. It'd been a fast run through the back streets of Hollywood, with Nick screaming curses in two languages at them, until they'd managed to lose him by climbing over several fences and hiding in a gardening shed in someone's backyard.

But, even after a night like that, she knew that getting out of that latest foster home had been a good idea. The lady who ran the place was nice enough, but her husband was slime, and he'd already started hitting on Liane, not even two days after she arrived there. True, every straight guy with hormones tried to hit on Liane, she was just too pretty for her own good, but this place was a foster home. It was supposed to be safe. Especially for someone like Liane, who was just a little too quiet, too easily spooked by people yelling, and scared of crowds and people standing too close to her.

Liane was quiet and shy, and it had surprised Kayla that the blonde girl had been the one who'd first talked about running away, about how she, Billy, and Kayla could go out on their own. It had started out easily enough, stealing enough money to take the bus from Orange County to downtown L.A. From there, they went to Hollywood, mostly because Liane wanted to see the Chinese Theater. It was Kayla who'd spotted the abandoned office building across the street from Mann's Chinese, and now Suite 230 (formerly an insurance agency, by the stationery they'd found in a closet) was their new home.

It wasn't bad: running water, though no showers or bathtubs, and plenty of old carpet padding to use for blankets. Kayla just wasn't certain how long all of this could keep working out for them, though--she knew they were balancing on the edge, with too many people like Nick waiting around to catch them if they fell.

Billy was the one who kept them together. Billy, who knew all about shoplifting and jimmying locks and using Sterno to heat up cans of chili. He treated them like his kid sisters, though sometimes Kayla caught him looking at Liane in a way that wasn't very brotherly. Kayla knew that she and Liane would never have made it on their own without him. We're lucky he was at that foster home, too, she thought. I don't think I would've been brave enough to leave there without him....

Billy's words broke into her thoughts. "Hey, Kay, there's the QuickStart. Didn't you want some aspirin?"

"Yeah, sure." Though she was sure that it wouldn't help. Nothing seemed to help, not anymore. "You guys hang around up front, I'll get the pills."

The headaches weren't the worst of it; she could live with the pain, not a problem. It was the weird dizziness that hit her every so often, making her feel like she'd touched a live electrical wire. She was sick with something, she knew that, but it didn't pay to worry about it... there was no way she could go to a doctor, at least, not now.

They walked into the store, a brightly-lit building with rows of metal shelves, past a cheerful woman who was chatting with the store clerk, a quiet-looking young man with shoulder-length blond hair. Liane and Billy started looking through magazines near the front counter, and Kayla moved to the back of the store. In the last few weeks, they'd refined shoplifting to an art, running interference and distracting the people so one of them could walk out with enough food for dinner. It was a lot easier than other kinds of theft. Kayla smiled in spite of herself, remembering how Billy had climbed through an open apartment window only to find the occupant, a fat middle-aged man, up to his neck in bubbles in his bathtub with several rubber ducks floating around him. He'd yelled and Billy had practically fallen out the window, terrified but still unable to keep from laughing.

The three of them still laughed about that one, but the time when Billy had gone through an open house window and another guy had reached for a handgun next to his bed, that hadn't been so funny. Fortunately for him, the gun hadn't been loaded, and by the time the guy had managed to put some bullets in the revolver, Billy, Kayla, and Liane were already two blocks away and still running.

Since then, Billy had said that they'd have to get by without any more breaking-and-entering. Shoplifting, that was a good trick, though Kayla was getting very tired of pork-and-beans heated in the can, chili, and stew. Sometimes she caught herself fantasizing about fresh-cooked food, something that didn't come out of a can: baked potatoes, pancakes, or even bowls of oatmeal. Anything but canned spaghetti.

She found the brand of aspirin she was looking for and checked the overhead mirror to make sure the clerk wasn't watching--those mirrors worked both ways, if you knew what you were doing--and slipped the package into her jacket pocket, smiling to herself. It was a quiet night, all right, and once she took some pills to get rid of the headache, she'd be feeling fine....

Gunshots shattered the silence.

Liane screamed a moment later, a sound that echoed through the store. Kayla didn't even think about it; she ran toward the sound of Liane's scream and skidded around the corner of the row of shelves, stopping short at the sight before her.

The woman was lying very still in a pool of her own blood, sprawled across a small potted palm. The clerk's body wasn't in sight, but Kayla could see more blood sprayed across the wall behind the counter. A man wearing a long leather coat stood near the doorway and smiled at her, a military assault rifle clenched in his hands.

Not three feet away from her, Billy held Liane in his arms, both of them frozen with terror. The man brought the assault rifle up, aiming at the three of them. Kayla brought up her hands instinctively to shield her face.

Nothing happened.

He isn't going to kill us, Kayla thought with a faint wave of relief, and opened her eyes.

The man was staring at her. Directly at her, not at Billy, not at Liane. A split-second later, she realized why: her hands were on fire. No, not exactly fire... it was a blue light that flickered over her hands, lines of light that weaved and danced around her fingers.

She was too startled to do anything except stare at her hands and the pale blue light. A wave of dizziness hit her, and that strange feeling of hot power, like electricity running through her entire body--she could feel the hair on her forearms standing on end, her hands tingling faintly where the light touched her.

Oh my... oh my God...

The light faded away. She stared at her fingers, and through them, saw the gunman shaking his head slowly, as though he couldn't believe what he'd just seen.

Then she saw his hands tighten on the rifle and knew that in another split-second he'd shoot them anyhow....

Kayla didn't even think about it; she dived for him and that gun, sending both of them crashing into a rack of magazines. She tried to pull the gun out of his grip; he shoved her, hard, and she fell back against the blond woman's body, which gave way beneath her. She landed on the floor; her head hit hard against the linoleum. She blinked; the barrel of the gun was only inches from her face... she could see the man, smiling with delight, as his finger tightened on the trigger....

Billy slammed into the gunman with a football tackle. The gun went off again, gunshots echoing through the small store. A bullet zinged past Kayla to impact the floor next to her.

She lay there for a moment, concentrating on breathing, then climbed unsteadily to her feet. Her legs were shaking so much she could barely stand as she moved to where Billy and the man were both lying motionless on the floor.

Billy was still alive, blood slowly staining through his shirt and jeans. She could see where the bullets had hit him, one in his leg, another in his shoulder. The shoulder wound was the worst, blood welling out in a wide stain down his side and onto the floor.

She wanted to scream, but knew there wasn't time for it. Billy was always the one who knew exactly what to do in a bad situation; she had to think the way he did, do something fast before all of his life spilled out onto the floor.

She tried to remember what first aid you were supposed to do for gunshot wounds. Applying pressure to stop the bleeding, that was the only thing she could think of. And shock--you had to cover them with a blanket or something so they'd stay warm. She didn't have a blanket, or anything to use on the wound... she pressed her hand against the ripped skin and shirt on Billy's shoulder. Blood flowed out around her fingers, more with every heartbeat.

This isn't working....

She pressed harder. "It isn't working," she whispered. She looked up suddenly at Liane, still standing by the candy racks. "Go get help, damn it!" she yelled. Liane didn't move: she was standing silently, staring at Kayla... at Kayla's hands... the tendrils of blue light, twisting around her fingertips. The light brightened as she looked at it, radiating out from her hands, moving in rippling circles over Billy's shoulder and chest. Suddenly she saw Billy's wound beneath her hands, through her hands, as though she was a ghost. No, it wasn't exactly seeing... it was feeling, knowing, sensing the tears through the skin and muscle, the pressure of the tiny bullet lodged against the bone... so small, to do so much damage! The bullet, a little squashed piece of metal, was buried beneath a layer of muscle--she reached the part of her mind that was sensing all of this deep into the wound and tugged at the bullet, carefully working it loose.

It slid into her hand before she realized it. With a shudder, she flung it under the magazine rack, then turned back to Billy. There was more blood now, flowing from an artery that had been nicked by the bullet's passage. She touched the wound with unsteady fingers, and the blue light intensified, so incandescent that she had to close her eyes.

The light still shone through her closed eyelids, impossibly bright. Now she could feel the cut artery sealing itself, the muscles knitting together beneath her fingertips. She could feel the energy pouring out of her and into Billy, into the damaged tissue. And she knew this without seeing it, her eyes still tightly closed against the brilliance of the light. Somehow she knew how to help him, how to do whatever it was that she was doing, and it felt terrific. It felt better than anything she'd ever done before, exhilarating and electric, as though she was finally alive at last after being half-awake for years. Then it was over; the light faded away, leaving her dizzy and light-headed and as exhausted as though she'd been running for miles.

She opened her eyes to see what she'd done.

The bullet hole was gone. Billy's shirt was still soaked with blood, but the wound had disappeared, only a dull pink line marking where it had been. Her friend was still unconscious, but she could feel the life returning to his body, that the danger of immediate death was over. He was still in pain from another bullet in his leg, but even without looking at it, Kayla knew that she could close that wound as well. As soon as she took another couple seconds to catch her breath, she would... she would...

Dizziness and nausea hit her like a fist, and she fell back against the magazine rack, closing her eyes and concentrating on breathing.

This isn't real, she thought. People don't just wake up one morning able to seal up bullet holes in their friends just by wanting it to happen. Something is going on here, something weirder than anything I've ever heard of in my entire life....

She heard a choked noise behind her and turned. Liane was still standing there, visibly trembling, making odd gasping sounds like she couldn't get enough air to breathe. Without saying a word, she ran for the door, flinging it open. The noise of the street outside was deafening in the deathly silence of the store.

"Liane, wait!" Kayla shouted. Not even glancing back at her, Liane ran through the doorway and out into the street.

Kayla tried to get up and follow her, but another tide of dizziness washed over her. She slumped back against the magazine rack.

"... help me..." a weak voice whispered, very close to her. "... please..."

She looked around for the source of the voice, then realized, with a tiny start of fear, who it was. She stared at the gunman, lying on the blood-stained floor not quite three feet away from her. "W-what?"

"Heal me," he whispered, his face contorted with pain. "I know you can do it, I saw you help the boy. Please."

She edged away from him, shaking her head. He grabbed for her hand, pulling her close. "Please..." His face was very pale, his lip bleeding where he'd bitten it in pain. He placed her hand on his chest, rising and falling with each painful breath, against the torn flesh and warm wet blood.

He killed those two people, she thought. And he nearly killed Billy. And he would've killed me and Liane, too, but now...

Now his eyes were human again, not smiling inhumanly at something she couldn't see or understand. She could feel her hands tingling again, that strange feeling like something was going to happen.

I should help Billy, he's still hurting, his leg is still bleeding. I shouldn't help this guy, even if he is dying.... She could feel, somehow, the sensation that his life was fading away in front of her eyes.

This time she called it to her, that strange cold blue fire, and felt it wreathe around her hands and flow down through her fingertips. The man made a faint noise, something between a whimper and a moan, as the light coursed over his chest. She worked slowly and methodically, drawing the bullet out and sealing the wound shut. It was easier this time, in a way, though she could feel the exhaustion and dizziness pulling at her, a wave of darkness threatening at the edges of her mind. She fought it off for as long as she could, trying to concentrate on the man's wounds, but everything was moving too fast, whirling around her....

No crowd had gathered in the convenience store parking lot yet. Thank God for small favors, Officer Dale Walker thought, drawing his service revolver and gesturing to his partner. She nodded, her pistol already out and ready, and edged closer to the door. He moved in quickly, gun held at waist height, covering the entrance to the QuickStart. Anne followed him in a moment later. He stepped over the bodies lying near the doorway, pushed the rifle away from the unconscious man in the long coat, then carefully bent to pick it up by the strap. Anne slipped past him, the petite red-haired woman checking through the rest of the store to make sure there was no one else in the building. He glanced behind the long counter: one motionless body, not a threat. She rejoined him at the entrance. "All clear, Dale," she reported, and hearing that there were no immediate dangers, he took a genuine look at the bodies for the first time.

"Damn." The woman was obviously dead. The young man behind the counter must have died almost instantly--a bullet had caught him in the throat. He had a surprised look frozen on his face, a look he'd carry with him to the city morgue.

A few feet away, Anne Houston knelt next to the man in the leather coat, touching his throat for a pulse. Two kids were sprawled on the floor beside him. Walker swallowed painfully; the kids couldn't have been older than fifteen, maybe sixteen. Too young to be caught up in whatever had happened here tonight.

He crouched down next to the kids, checking them quickly. Both were covered with blood, and the boy... there was a wound in the boy's leg and a bullet hole in the boy's jacket, and a lot of blood stains, but no apparent wound there. That doesn't make any sense, he thought. Maybe the kid moved after the first shot, fell into his own blood from the other wound, but it's unlikely....

He pushed that thought aside, concentrating on his work. The leg wound was bad but not life-threatening, and could wait until EMS arrived on the scene in a couple minutes. He turned to the girl, hearing the sirens as the ambulance pulled up in the parking lot outside.

As he leaned over her, the girl opened her eyes, blinking up at him. "You'll be all right," he said, smiling reassuringly. She looked up at him, dazed and uncomprehending.

"Dale," Anne Houston said, her voice sounding shaken, "This is too weird for words... the guy's covered with blood and there's a hole in his jacket, but there's no bullet hole in him!"

* * *

"Just shock," someone said directly above her. "I didn't find a head injury... she probably fainted during the attack."

Everything hurt. That was her first thought when she opened her eyes: her entire body felt like one big bruise, like she'd gone through the tumble-dry cycle on a clothes dryer. Someone was looking down at her, a tall man with graying brown hair, wearing the dark blue uniform of the LAPD.

"Thanks, Randall," he said to someone out of her sight. He smiled at her, his brown eyes crinkling at the corners, then looked up sharply as a woman shouted, "Dale, grab him!"

Kayla blinked and sat up, then wished she hadn't. Everything spun around her, and she felt like she was falling. Someone fell on top of her, and she screamed. It was the man in the leather coat, his face only inches from hers. "Got him, Anne," the police officer said, and hauled the man in the leather coat up against the magazine rack, twisting his arms behind him and slapping on a pair of handcuffs.

"Do you know this guy, kid?" the female officer asked.

Kayla found her voice. "I've never... never seen him before. But he... he killed those people. He would've killed all of us."

The gunman grinned at her, licking his lips. Whatever had been human in his eyes, for that brief moment when he'd pleaded with her to save his life, was gone again.

She tried to sit up, and everything went blurry again. When her head cleared, she saw two paramedics carefully moving Billy out of the store on a stretcher. The blonde woman's body was still lying by the counter, but someone had placed a blanket over her face. The policewoman was reading Miranda rights to the gunman, two other police officers holding the man by his handcuffed arms. The brown-haired policeman was next to her, watching her intently. "Do you feel up to a trip to the station, kid?"

She nodded, not trusting her voice.

"Good." He helped her stand up. Her knees were so wobbly, she had to hold onto his arm for support. "You're a tough kid," the cop continued. "You survive this, you'll survive anything."

Will I? she thought.

"She's magic!" the gunman shrieked suddenly, trying to wrest free from the policemen. He struggled briefly, staring at Kayla with insane eyes. Beneath the leather coat, his shirt was still wet with blood. "She healed me, she has the Devil's power! I saw it, she has the Devil in her!"

"Jesus, get him out of here," the policewoman said in an exasperated tone. The other officers complied, wrestling the man through the door.

"I'll take you to the station now," the brown-haired officer said. "Easy now, I know your legs aren't working too great just yet. We'll walk slowly, it's okay...."

Easy for you to say, she thought resentfully. You didn't just see these people get blown away in front of you, including your best friend almost dying, and then have that--whatever it was--blue light thing happen to you.

They moved out through the doorway, and Kayla stopped short, momentarily blinded by bright lights.

There were several camera crews aiming cameras at her, and a huge crowd of people gathered on the sidewalk, held back by several police officers.

Kayla wondered if she ought to faint or throw up. Either seemed likely right now....

"Just a little more," the policeman said in a gentle voice. His grip tightened on her arm, as though he realized that she was about to fall. Half-supporting her, they walked to a police car parked on the edge of the lot. The policeman helped her into the back seat; Kayla fumbled with the seat belt strap for a few seconds before the officer reached over to fasten it for her.

There was someone already seated in the car next to her, a beautiful Chicano girl with feathers knotted into her hair. The girl gave Kayla a curious look. "Why are they not taking you to the hospital?" she asked. "I saw you lying there, I thought you were dead."

"Please, witnesses can't talk," the policeman said from the driver's seat. "Neither of you can talk about what happened yet, okay?"

Okay by me, Kayla thought. I don't want to talk about it, anyhow. I don't even want to think about it.

The officer drove in silence through the brightly lit streets. Kayla leaned her face against the cold glass and tried not to think.

Billy was alive. She knew that much, from the moment that her entire world had faded back from bright blue lights and hot electricity into normal reality again. She'd saved his life, somehow, and the life of the guy in the leather coat.

I should have let that slimeball die, she thought, then shook her head. Even now, she knew she couldn't have done that. It didn't matter that the man was a murderer... even if he was slime, she couldn't just sit back and watch him die, not when she knew she could do something to help him.

Because she could. It didn't make any sense--none of this made any sense, really--but she could do it, whatever it was that she'd done. She could help people. A people-helper, that's what she was. The thought made her feel a little better, despite the awful headache and dizziness and pain.

Except... except that wasn't what the crazy man had called her. His words echoed in her mind: "She's magic. She has the Devil in her."

Oh God, Kayla thought. I sure as hell hope not.

Copyright © 1993 by Ellen Guon


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