Once there, she heaved a sigh of relief. A twenty-four-hour gas station at the corner of MacArthur and Seventy-third. The attendant told her that the bus ran hourly, and the next one would come at 3:07. He seemed nice, a college age boy with shiny black skin and a flattop, and Kaitlyn hung around his booth until she saw the bus approaching.
The bus driver was nice, too, and let her sit behind him. He was a fat man with an endless supply of ham sandwiches wrapped in greasy paper, which he took from a bag under his seat. He offered Kait one; she accepted politely but didn't eat it, just looked out the window at the dark buildings and yellowish streetlights.
This was really an adventure. Going to Canada, she'd been with the others. But now she was alone and out of mind-shot-she could scream mentally and none of them would hear. As they approached the Bay Bridge, its swooping girders lit up like Christmas, Kaitlyn felt a thrill of joy in life. She clutched her duffel bag with both hands, sitting up very straight on her seat.
When they got to the terminal where she'd have to change buses, the driver scratched under his chins.
"What you want now is the San Mateo line, okay? You go across the street and wait for the Seven B-it'll be along in about an hour. They keep the terminal closed because of homeless people, so you got to wait outside." He closed the bus door, shouting, "Good luck, sweetie."
Kaitlyn gulped and crossed the street.
I'm not afraid of homeless people, she told herself. I was a homeless person; I slept in a vacant lot, and in a van on the beach, and . . .
But when a man with a plaid jacket over his head came toward her pushing a shopping cart, she felt her heart begin to pound.
He was coming closer and closer. She couldn't see what was in the cart; it was covered with newspapers. She couldn't see his face either, she only thought it was a man because of the husky build.
He kept coming, slowly. Why slowly? So he could check her out? Kaitlyn's heart was going faster and faster, and her joy in life had disappeared. She'd been stupid, stupid to go wandering around at night by herself. If she'd only stayed in her nice safe bed . . .
The figure under the plaid jacket was almost on her now. And there was no place to run. She was on a deserted street in a dangerous city and she couldn't even see a phone booth. The only thing she could think of to do was sit up straight and pretend she didn't even see him. Act as if she weren't afraid.
He was right in front of her now. For an instant a streetlight shone into the hood of his jacket, and Kaitlyn saw his face.
An old man, with grizzled hair and gentle features.
He looked a little baffled and his lips moved as he walked-as he shuffled. That was why he was going so slowly, because he was old.
Or, Kaitlyn thought suddenly, maybe because he's weak or hungry. It would make me hungry to push a shopping cart around at four o'clock in the morning.
It was one of those moments when impulse overrode thought. Kaitlyn pulled the ham sandwich out of her duffel bag.
"Want a sandwich?" she said, which was exactly what the bus driver had said to her. "It's Virginia ham."
The old man took the sandwich. His eyes wandered over Kaitlyn for a moment and he gave a smile of astonishing sweetness. Then he shuffled on.
Kaitlyn felt very happy.
She was cold and tired, though, by the time the bus came. It wasn't a nice bus like the "N." It had a lot of graffiti on the outside and split vinyl seats on the inside. There was chewing gum on the floor and it smelled like a bathroom.
But Kaitlyn was too sleepy to care, too sleepy to ask to sit behind the driver. She didn't pay much attention to the tall man in the torn overcoat until he got off the bus with her.
Then she realized he was following her. It was nine or ten blocks walk to the Institute, and by the third block she was sure. What hadn't happened in the depths of Oakland or the wilds of San Francisco was happening here.
Or ... he might be okay. Like the man with the shopping cart. But the man of the cart hadn't been following her.
What to do? Knock on somebody's door? This was a residential neighborhood, but all the houses were dark. Run? Kaitlyn was a good runner; she could probably outdistance the man if he wasn't in good shape.
But she couldn't seem to make herself do anything. Her legs just kept walking mechanically down Ex-moor Street, while shivers ran up her spine at the thought of him behind her. It was as if she were caught in some dream, where the monsters couldn't get her as long as she didn't show she was afraid.
When she turned a corner she glanced back at him. Foxy red hair-she could see that under a streetlight.
His clothes were ragged but he looked strong, athletic. Like somebody who could easily overtake a seventeen-year-old girl running.
That was what she saw with her eyes. With her other sense-the one that sometimes showed her the future -she got no picture but a distinct impression. Bad. This man was bad, dangerous, full of evil thoughts. He wanted to do something bad to her.
Everything seemed to go clear and cold. Time stretched and all Kait's instincts were turned to survival.
Her brain was whirring furiously, but no matter which way she turned the situation looked the same. Very bad. No inspiration came about to save herself.
And underneath her thoughts ran a sickening litany: I should have known I couldn't get away with this.
Wandering around at night on my own ... I should have known.
Think of something, girl. Think. If you can't run, you'd better find shelter, fast.
All the houses around her looked asleep, locked-up. She had a horrible certainty that no one would let her in ... but she had to do something. Kait felt a sort of wrenching in her guts-and then she had turned and
was heading for the nearest house, taking the single porch step in a jump and landing on the welcome mat. Something inside her cringed from banging on the door, even in this extremity, but she clamped down on the cringe and did it. Hollow bangs echoed-not loud enough, to Kait's ears. She saw a doorbell, pushed on it frantically. She kept pounding, using the side of her fist because it hurt less than using her knuckles.
Inside, she could hear only silence. No reaction to her noisy intrusion. No footsteps running to the door.
Oh, God, answer! Come here and answer your door, you idiots!
Kaitlyn looked behind her and her heart nearly jumped out of her body.
Because the foxy man was there; he was standing on the walkway of the house. Looking at her.
And he was veryveryvery bad. His mind was full of things that Kaitlyn couldn't sense directly, but that when put together sounded like one long scream. He'd done things to other girls-he wanted to do them to her.
No sound from the house. No help. And she was cornered prey here on the porch. Kait made her decision in an instant. She was off the porch and running, running for the Institute, before the man could move a step.
She heard her own pounding footsteps in the street -and pounding feet behind her. Her breath began to sob.
And it was dark and she was confused. She didn't know which way the Institute was anymore.
Somewhere around here she turned left-but where? It was a street that sounded like a flower or plant-but she couldn't read street signs anyway.
That street looked familiar. Kait swerved toward it, trying to get a glimpse of the sign. Ivy Street-was that right? There was no time to debate. She veered down the street, trying to push her legs into going faster
.. . and realized almost instantly that it was a mistake.
A cul-de-sac. When she reached the end, she'd be caught.
She glanced behind her. He was there, running, overcoat flapping like the wings of a bird of prey. He was ungainly but very fast.
She wasn't even going to make it to the end of the cul-de-sac.
If she ran to a house, he'd grab her as she stood on the porch. If she slowed, he'd tackle her from behind. If she tried to double back, he'd cut her off.
The only thing she could think of to do was stand and fight.
Once again, the feeling of clear coldness swept over her. Right, then. She pulled up short, staggering a little, and whirled. She was standing in the widest part of the cul-de-sac, surrounded by parked cars.
He saw her and stumbled, slowing down, hesitating. Then, at a shambling half-run, he started toward her again. Kaitlyn stood her ground.
She was glad she hadn't dropped her duffel bag. Maybe she could use it as a weapon. Or maybe there was something in it to use. . . .
No, everything was too soft. Except the pencils, but they were in her art kit. She'd never get them out in time.
Then I'll use my fingers to stab his eyes out, she thought savagely. And my knees and my feet and fists.
Adrenaline was singing in her veins; she was almost
glad of the chance to fight. The things she sensed inside him made her want to rip him to pieces. He'd killed, he was a killer.
"Come on, you creep," she said, and realized she was saying it out loud.
He came. He was grinning, a crazy-happy grin. His eyes were crazy, too. Kaitlyn tensed her muscles and then he was on her.
Gabriel was blocking the world out, but the scream came through.
He was pacing in front of the Institute, loitering. He'd been out all night, and didn't particularly want to go in. Not that anyone inside now would bother him-but he still had an impulse to avoid the place. He'd screwed up; he hadn't gotten the crystal shard. And tonight he'd have to explain to him.
Zetes. Gabriel felt a muscle in his jaw twitch. He understood now why Marisol had been so afraid of the old man. He had a sort of malevolent power about him, a power that was best observed in day-to-day living. He seemed to drain the will out of everyone around him. Not suddenly, the way Gabriel drained life energy, but slowly. People around him began to feel nervous and exhausted-and dazed. Like birds looking into the eyes of a snake.
A quiet form of terrorization.
Gabriel didn't intend to be terrorized. But now that he'd chosen his path, he needed Zetes. The old man had the structure, the organization, the contacts. Gabriel planned to use all those things on his journey to the top.
He was debating going in when the scream sliced through his consciousness. It wasn't a vocal sound, purely mental. It was composed of hate and anger as well as fear. And it was Kaitlyn.
Close. North and west of him, he thought. He was moving before he thought anything else.And he probably couldn't have explained why if anyone had asked him.He moved with the smooth long steps of a hunting wolf. The scream came again-the sound of someone fighting for her life. Gabriel moved faster, homing in on it.Ivy Street. It was coming from down there-and now he could see it, in the streetlights at the end of the cul-de-sac. He couldn't hear anything except mentally; Kaitlyn never did scream out loud when she was in trouble.Gabriel reached the grappling figures at a dead run. A red-haired man was on top of Kaitlyn, and she was biting, kicking, and clawing. The man was considerably damaged but sure to win in the end. He was heavier and stronger; he could outlast her.Deja vu, Gabriel thought. Once in back of the Institute he'd found another man attacking Kaitlyn-a man who'd turned out to be from the Fellowship. This one, Gabriel thought, eyeing the unwashed hair and unsavory appearance of Kaitlyn's attacker, was unlikely to be anything but a bum.He could just leave things as they were. The old man would be happy to hear Kaitlyn was dead, and it would mean one less person keeping the shard from them. But. . .All these thoughts flashed through Gabriel's mind in seconds. Before he'd even consciously come to a conclusion, he was reaching for the man.He tangled a hand in the back of the dirty overcoat and pulled, yanking the man up. Kaitlyn rolled out from under, and he could hear the surprise in her mind. Gabriel!So she hadn't seen him. Well, she'd been busy trying to stay alive. The man in the overcoat was reacting now, pulling away. He saw Gabriel and threw a punch.Gabriel ducked around it. He jerked his arm and the knife in his sleeve snicked out. His hand closed around it, feeling the welcome weight, the smoothness of the handle.The man's eyes got big.Just like Wolverine, Gabriel thought, cutting the knife in front of him in a practice move. The red-haired man's eyes followed it. He was scared; Gabriel could already taste the flavor of his fear.But don't worry about the knife, he thought, knowing the man couldn't hear him. That's just a distraction, to keep you watching . . . while I do this. . . .Gabriel's other hand rose almost gracefully, gracefully and stealthily, and touched the man on the back of the spine. Just above the soiled collar of the overcoat, just at the nape of the neck.His fingers made contact with skin, found the transfer point. He could find it easier with his mouth, but he wasn't going any nearer this filthy derelict than he had to. There was a feeling of breakage, as if something was tearing loose. The red-haired man stiffened violently, his muscles jerking. Then Gabriel felt it-the rush of energy, like blue-white light streaking up from the transfer point, fountaining into the air.Into Gabriel's fingers, filling channels and rushing through them, warming his entire body.Ahhhhh.It was something like a cold drink on a hot day-a cold drink in a tall glass, with ice cubes clinking against the inside and drops of water condensing on the outside. And it was something like getting your second wind when running-a sudden feeling of strength and peace and vigor. And it was something like standing on the bow of a catamaran with the wind in your face. It wasn't much like any of those things, but they were as close as Gabriel could get to the feelings of refreshment and vitality and excitement.Drinking pure life, that was what it was. And even from a filthy derelict, it tasted pretty good. This guy had been more alive, in his creepy, slimy way, than most. Gabriel let go of him, then pushed the knife back into its casing.The red-haired man gave a shudder and collapsed, falling as if he'd been deboned. On the ground, he twitched once and was still. He smelled bad.Kaitlyn, breathing hard, was getting to her feet."Is he dead?" she asked."No, he's got a gasp or two left. But he's not at all well.""You enjoyed that." Her eyebrows were arched in scorn and her smoky blue eyes flashed. Wispy red curls clung to her forehead; the rest of her hair was loose in a glorious flame-colored waterfall. She looked flushed and windblown and very beautiful.Gabriel looked away angrily. He wouldn't think about her, he wouldn't see how beautiful she was, how fair her skin was or the way her breathing moved herchest. She belonged to someone else, and she meant nothing to him.He said, looking at the huddled figure on the ground, "You were doing a pretty good job on him yourself."Kaitlyn shivered, then controlled it. Her voice was softer when she answered. "I could see he was full of nasty things. His mind was . . ." She shivered again."You could see into his mind?" Gabriel asked sharply."Not exactly. I could sense it somehow-sort of like a feeling or a smell. I couldn't tell exactly what he was thinking." She looked up at Gabriel, hesitated, then took a deep breath. "I'm sorry. I didn't say thank you.But I am glad you showed up. If you hadn't. . ." Her voice trailed off again.He ignored this last. "Maybe being in the web has made you slightly telepathic for other people-or maybe that guy was slightly telepathic." He touched the overcoat with the toe of his running shoe. Then he looked at Kait. "Where are the others?"Kaitlyn drew herself up, looked back calmly. "What others?""You know what others." Gabriel stretched out his senses, listening for the slightest hint of their presence.Nothing. He narrowed his eyes at Kaitlyn. "They've got to be around somewhere. You wouldn't come out here alone.""Wouldn't I? I am alone. I came on the bus; it was easy. Aren't you going to ask why?"Behind her, the sky was green and palest pink, shading to ultramarine in the west. The last stars were going out, the first light was touching her hair with red-gold. She stood slim and proud as some medieval witch princess against the dawn. Gabriel had to workto keep his face expressionless, to keep his presence in the web icy. "All right," he said. "What are you doing here?""What do you mean, she's gone?" Rob demanded."She's gone," Anna repeated miserably. "I woke up and looked and there she wasn't. She isn't here."Lewis rolled over in his sleeping bag, squinting and scratching. "Did you check in the, uh . . .""Of course I've checked in the bathroom. I've looked everywhere, and she's just not anywhere. Her bag is gone, too, Rob.""What?" It came out a yell. Anna clapped a hand over his mouth, and Rob stared at her over it.If her bag's gone, she's gone, he said telepathically after a moment.That's what I've been telling you, Anna replied. Her beautiful dark eyes were wide but calm. Anna always could keep her head in a crisis-and Rob was close to losing his. Ever since last night his emotions had been in a turmoil.With an effort he collected himself. No, I mean that she's gone for a while-and probably of her own free will. Somebody kidnapping her wouldn't have taken the bag."But-why would she leave?" Lewis asked, sitting up. "I mean, she wouldn't leave, but if she did leave-well, why?"Rob looked past the dark, heavy shapes of the living room furniture to the window. It was just dawn."I think .. . she's maybe gone to the Institute."The other two stared at him."No," Anna said.Rob lifted his shoulders, lip caught between hislower teeth. He was still looking out the window. "I think yes.""But why?" Lewis said. Rob barely heard him. He was looking at the sky, translucently blue, like glass.Kait was out there somewhere. ..."Rob!" Lewis was shaking him. "Why would she have gone to the Institute?" he demanded."I don't know," Rob said, coming back to earth. "But she might have an idea she can influence Gabriel-or maybe she wants to try something on Mr. Zetes."Anna and Lewis audibly let air out of their lungs. "I thought-I mean I thought you were saying . . ."Rob blinked at him, bewildered."He thought you were saying that Kait defected like Gabriel," Anna said crisply. "I knew she didn't, but I thought maybe you thought she did.''"Of course she wouldn't do that," Rob said, shocked. It was hard for him to understand other people sometimes-they seemed so quick to think the worst about each other, even their friends. He knew better; Kaitlyn wasn't capable of anything evil."But she must have gone in the middle of the night," Lewis was saying. "You think she took the car?""The car's out front. I looked before I woke you up," Anna said. "I don't know how she could make it.""She'd find a way," Rob said briefly. Kaitlyn was silk and fire-over a steel-hard core of determination."No, she'll get there, if that's where she's going. The question is, what do we do about it?""What can we do?" Lewis said.