Screams filled the air once again, followed by the dull, wet thud of weapons and fists meeting unprotected flesh. Her vision blurred from the pulsing agony in her frontal lobe, Ivy tried to push up off the sidewalk so she could try again, but she was in the living room of their apartment the next instant, Rabbit beside her.

Vasic was gone almost before she realized what he’d done.

“Ivy!” Jaya ran in through the door short seconds later, and Ivy knew Vasic must’ve ’pathed her. Ducking into Ivy’s bedroom, the younger woman returned with a small box of tissues and knelt down beside her. “What did you do?” Wonder in her intense, dark eyes. “It worked!”

Coughing, her chest filled with crushed rocks, Ivy leaned back against the wall and used the tissues to clean herself up. “Abbot?” It came out gritty, as if she’d been screaming.

“He’s helping Vasic, can be back here in a heartbeat if we need him.” Jaya stroked back Ivy’s hair. “It was perfect, Ivy, your peace.” Her eyes sheened wet. “I wanted to wrap it around myself like a blanket and just sleep, content and happy.”

Glass shattered outside, a car alarm went off. Rabbit barked and ran to jump up on the wide windowsill at agitated speed. He wanted to be out there, wanted to be with Vasic. So did Ivy, but right now she was a liability. Vasic couldn’t help the uninfected if he was concentrating on shielding her.

Curling her hand into a fist, Ivy focused on Jaya. “It was too short.” Disappointment was a leaden weight in her gut, though Sascha, too, had reported being unable to “control” her volunteer crowd for anything beyond a highly limited period.

“It’s a start.” Jaya sat back on her heels, her twin braids lying neat and tidy on her heavy green sweater. “Show me what you did. Maybe I can give Vasic and Abbot a little help.”

The other woman walked to look out the window after Ivy shared her process. Placing her hand on Rabbit’s neck, Jaya stroked him gently as she spoke. “It’s bad. Abbot says he and Vasic have managed to get most of the uninfected out,” she said, her lilting accent intensified by the stress of the situation, “but the infected are turning on one another.”

Ivy’s stomach knotted.

“Oh, my God.” Jaya pressed her face to the glass. “There’s a child wandering in the street! I don’t think anyone’s seen her!”

Now, Jaya, Ivy said urgently, alerting Vasic to the presence of the child at the same time.

Both hands dropping to grip the window ledge, Jaya stared down at the street. The peace lasted three short seconds, but it was enough to save the child’s life.

I have her, Ivy.

Crawling over to Jaya’s crumpled form as Vasic’s voice touched her mind, Ivy checked the younger woman’s pulse. It was thready but present beneath the clammy stickiness of her skin. Jaya? Using fresh tissues to soak up the blood trickling out of one of her friend’s ears, she continued to try to wake her, deeply worried by the abruptness of her collapse. Jaya, sweetheart, wake up.

It took over five minutes for the other empath to rouse, her eyes cloudy with pain when she did so. “Why did I collapse so fast?” were the first words she spoke.

“I don’t know.” The Gradient difference between them was a mere .5, Jaya at 8.8. “Did you feel anything before you collapsed?”

“It was like my mind just shut down,” she said, as Ivy pulled herself to the window. However, when she tried to assist Vasic with a particularly virulent knot of fighting, she couldn’t even muster a single pulse of empathic power. Her mind was fried.

Jaya hauled herself up beside Ivy. “My God, Ivy.” The helpless horror in the other empath’s whispered exclamation echoed Ivy’s own feelings.

Sirens pierced the air now, shots were fired. One woman fell the second after she sank her teeth into another woman’s jugular, blood painting her face in a macabre red mask.

Ivy knew from Vasic that Kaleb Krychek’s office had sent out instructions to all first responders on how best to deal with an outbreak should there be no or limited psychic assistance available, but the responders had clearly had no time to internalize those processes.

It was . . . bad.

By the time it ended, seventy-five people lay dead on the street, with fifty-one others critically injured. One hundred had been or would soon be placed into induced comas from which they would never awaken, the infection eating away at their brain. Allowing them to remain conscious was not an option—not only were the infected viciously violent, hurting themselves and others, the infection progressed at an accelerated pace in those who were awake and aware. A coma, at least, gave them a slightly higher chance of surviving long enough for a cure to be discovered.

Deciding to leave Rabbit safe in the apartment, Ivy and a still-hurting Jaya went down to sit on the top step of their apartment building, the street littered with blood and debris in front of them. Numb, her psychic senses dulled to fog, Ivy stared. The authorities had cordoned off the area, but it was simply too big to keep that way for long, and already some of the yellow caution tape was flapping in the wind.

“I thought I was ready but this . . .” Jaya hugged her arms around her knees. “Are we fooling ourselves that we have the ability to halt this?”

Ivy didn’t have an answer, all her hopes of helping to save her people in ashes at her feet. Vasic, Abbot, the cops, and firemen, even the strangers who’d stopped to assist the vulnerable, they’d done something. While Ivy had collapsed after ten seconds. Incredible as those ten seconds had been, they would never win this gruesome war.




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