Branded by Fire (Psy-Changeling 6) - Page 20

"Good." A SnowDancer lieutenant's flat statement. "That means he's not alert enough to be a problem." He got up, likely to scan the area for any further threats. Mercy wanted to contact Faith, have her get word about this to her father, Councilor Anthony Kyriakus, but she couldn't chance making the call in such a public location. Anthony's rebel sympathies were a well-guarded secret.

Then her eye caught that of a woman dressed in goth black, her lips painted midnight blue, her hands half-gloved. But it was the tiny tat on the top of her left index finger that interested Mercy. A little rat. Relieved, she nodded at the woman. An instant later, the human Rat - a member of the spy network that had allied to DarkRiver - took off. She knew word of the near massacre would reach DarkRiver within seconds.

Riley crouched back down. "Rat?" he asked so low that no one else could've heard.

She nodded. "Another Psy crazy?" As things grew increasingly unstable in the Net, more and more cracks had begun to appear in the Psy populace itself.

"Seems that way." Frown lines marked his forehead. "We wouldn't have to guess if we could question him after he's coherent, but we won't get a shot - Enforcement will take him in, and ten minutes later, the Psy Council will quietly secure him for rehabilitation."

She gritted her teeth. "This is where I wish I had Psy powers." Because after the horrific psychic brainwashing of re hab, this man would be lucky to be able to tie his shoelaces.

Enforcement sirens sounded right on cue. Since the would-be shooter was Psy, neither DarkRiver nor SnowDancer had any jurisdiction. The cops assumed control of the Psy male and - after taking one look at the big-ass gun - gave Mercy and Riley no shit for what they'd done.

The Enforcement guys, Mercy thought, weren't actually all bad. But the fact was, the Psy Council had so many spies in the organization, it leaked like a sieve. "You know how to get in touch with us if you need anything else," she said to the grizzled old cop who'd recorded her statement.

"Shouldn't need to," he said, tone easy. "Just patched into the security cameras - pretty obvious he was about to go whackjob on you."

"Technical."

The officer grinned. "I call 'em like I see 'em. There's been a few whackjobs operating last few days. They had a bomb go off in a restaurant in San Diego, and another guy drove this monster truck through a diner wall out in L.A. All Psy."

"Casualties?"

A nod. "But not bad. The bomb only took out the Psy. Injured a waitress, though, but she's gonna be okay. The weird thing was with the truck. It jammed - almost as if the crazy had second thoughts and braked real hard - it gave folks enough time to leap out of the way. He put a bullet in his brain before anyone could get to him. But if things keep going like this, more people are gonna start dying."

Mercy nodded. The senior members of both DarkRiver and SnowDancer knew that things were shaky in the PsyNet, but she'd had no idea it had gotten this bad. "So we're good to go?"

"Yep." He nodded at the kids huddled behind them. "We took their statements already. You driving them home?"

It was a reasonable assumption - predatory changelings ruled, but with it came responsibility. "Yeah." Watching as the crime scene techs began to vacuum up the glass, she realized they weren't going to be able to fit all the kids in the car.

Turning to them, she asked for names and locations. Three lived within walking distance, the other two a ten-minute drive away. "Right," she said, "we'll walk you three home, then drive you two."

The girl in the pink T-shirt - Jen - bit her lip. "We'll be okay. We were, you know, just freaked out."

"I know." She wrapped an arm around the girl. They were changeling. Touch was how they healed. "But I need to see you home safely." Or the leopard would go nuts.

A nod against her. The girl didn't move away until Mercy squeezed and released her. Riley came up beside Mercy right then, and she explained the plan. He began walking and the boys fell in with him, while the two girls chose to stick with Mercy. The girl Mercy hadn't hugged, the one dressed in a tiny miniskirt and belly-baring top, inched closer until Mercy took the hint and hugged her, too.

Ahead of them, Riley and the boys had paused, shooting the breeze. She saw him ruffle one kid's hair, pat another on the back, do that fake almost-hurting-but-not-quite punching thing guys do with the third. Taking care of them.

The girl tucked up against her - Lisha - relaxed and pulled away. "You were so fast," she said as they began walking again.

"Yeah," her friend said, almost jumping up and down in excitement. "It was like wow!"

"Totally." Lisha beamed at Mercy. "I heard that you were, you know, a sentinel but I never thought I'd see you in action. The boys sometimes say that, like - "

"You're probably not as tough as the men," Jen completed. "I'm so going to make them eat their words."

Mercy laughed. "You have to excuse them - boys suffer from an incurable disability."

"What?"

"Testosterone."

Both girls cracked up. And Riley turned to give her a look that reminded her of all the things she liked about testosterone. Especially when it was packed in the hard, muscled body of a wolf who seemed ready to devour her in small, sexy bites.

Chapter 11

Anthony Kyriakus dropped out of the telepathic conference and thought about the information he'd just received via his daughter. Today's violence was troubling, but given the time frame of events, it could be put down to an anomalous statistical cluster. The Net was normally a seamless river of data, without chaos, without emotion - but with the recent high-profile defections, as well as the activities of various rebel groups, it had begun to fluctuate with waves of uncertainty.

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