Ivy, I have your back, Vasic told her. Go!
Her faith in him absolute, Ivy ran, stopping only once she was over the defensive line set up by the local authorities. The officers, all armed with weapons designed to disable not kill, waved her behind them. She knelt on the asphalt and gulped in the cold night air as the little girl clung to her, sobbing.
Fear, pungent and blessedly normal, pulsed off her tiny frame.
Thank God. Murmuring comforting words to the traumatized child, Ivy got up again with the little girl in her arms, and jogged to the wall of Enforcement vehicles that formed a heavy barricade on this end of the street. Behind them were the ambulances. She guessed it was the same on the other end of the affected street.
Having scraped together just enough empathic ability to leech off the worst of her small charge’s shock and panic, Ivy left the girl in the capable hands of a medic who promised not to let the girl out of her sight.
No one stopped Ivy when she returned to the fray afterward, the carnage on the street unbelievable. Vasic was using both his Tk and the laser built into his gauntlet to try to contain the insane without causing death, but each time he took one out of the equation, ten more seemed to appear out of nowhere. The sheer overwhelming number of infected wasn’t the only problem.
In front of Ivy, two human Enforcement officers went down without warning, and she realized they’d fallen victim to one of the erratic telepathic strikes being thrown out by the infected. Checking the pulse of first one, then the other, she exhaled a breath she hadn’t been aware of holding. Both were alive, but given that a powerful Tp could turn a human mind to soup, that was more luck than anything else. Weak as her telepathy was, she tried to do what she could to protect the men and women around her as the fighting continued.
A light touch on her shoulder. “I’ll take over,” Aden said, crouching by her side. “I’m a strong telepath.”
Ceding the task to him, she accessed her empathic ability and discovered it had revived to a certain degree. Though she was barely able to slow the infected down, her efforts made it easier for Enforcement to stun them. A large group of humans who lived in the street had also joined the fight to control their psychotic neighbors, and were doing whatever they could to immobilize people without causing serious injuries.
When large predatory birds, their talons wickedly curved, swooped from the sky to take down a number of aggressive infected, Ivy thought she’d begun to hallucinate as a result of the pulsing in her brain. But the feather that floated down in front of her a minute later argued otherwise. Changeling eagles, she realized through her exhaustion.
Their help turned the tide, and the street was under control within the next forty minutes.
Tongue thick, mind fuzzy, and body not quite under control, Ivy forced herself to her feet. Vasic?
I’m helping to check the buildings. You’re hurt.
The ice of his voice was balm on senses rubbed raw, as refreshing as the soft flakes of snow that kissed her upturned face. Psychic strain, she said as the vise around her head continued to tighten, the migraine vicious. I’m going to talk to Jaya. Her first stop, however, was to check on the little girl she’d rescued, but the child was gone, already claimed by her noncustodial parent.
“She was real happy to go with her mom,” said the Enforcement uniform who’d handled the transfer. “I checked the mom’s identification against the national database to make sure she wasn’t some weirdo out to steal a kid, but the way the two of them were clinging to each other, it was pretty obvious they were mother and daughter.” Blinking to dislodge a tiny snowflake caught on his lashes, he passed over a card. “Mother’s details. I figured you’d want to know.”
Ivy slipped it into a pocket, happy the child had a surviving parent who cared for her well-being. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.” He reached into an open first aid box on the hood of a squad car, came out with a cotton pad meant to go under bandages. “Your nose is bleeding, and I think one of your ears, too.”
Ivy cleaned up as best she could so as not to worry Jaya.
“Whatever you did,” the other empath said when Ivy found her, “it’s put some of the victims in a place I can reach.” There was a tired but hopeful glow in her eyes, the hood of her fluffy jacket protecting her face from the snow. “But”—a haunted look shadowed the hope—“I don’t know if I’m actually helping or just providing palliative care. Do you think I should keep going?”
Ivy nodded and hugged her friend. “Any victim you treat seems more at peace.” She didn’t tell Jaya of the report Vasic had received earlier that day that said a third of the infected survivors from the Alaskan outbreak were already dead. The victims had apparently convulsed in their hospital beds, strange blood clots breaking open in their brains.
It was clear the infection had mutated, become more virulent. But Jaya didn’t need the pressure of that knowledge on her; if she could change the odds with the instinctive use of her gift, that was a different matter. “You’re doing something good,” she reassured the other empath.
Shoulders squared, Jaya nodded and returned to her work. Sensing she’d be okay, Ivy walked slowly back down the street littered with blood, shattered glass, feathers, weapons of opportunity, paramedics, Enforcement personnel . . . and bodies. Dead, immobilized, injured, slumped over against walls and flat on their backs, the horror and agony in the air was a crushing weight.
And over it all fell a delicate, pure snow.