Cindy Koepp

Writing on the Edge

Although the male patient’s condition would slowly decline, Calla could afford to leave him for now and come back later, provided she didn’t wait too long. From the other bed, the pain and instability in the woman’s mind demanded more immediate attention. Calla hated to leave her current patient, but the woman’s physical and mental injuries might compound each other.


With a promise to return, Calla pulled away from the young man and spun one hundred eighty degrees to the other victim.


Shielding herself from the distraction the woman’s injuries would cause, Calla formed a connection with the second patient’s mind and summoned the glass maze. She whistled.


Obsidian shards and broken, mangled supports were strewn across a ragged, uneven floor. Deep crevices and wide sinkholes further disrupted what should have been a smooth, level plain for the rest of the structures. Of a maze that should’ve held hundreds, only a couple dozen panes remained standing, but they were so badly burnt, she couldn’t even guess what part of the woman’s life they belonged to.


Debris plugged the stairwell leading deeper into the patient’s mind, so Calla went to one of the sinkholes. Changing her personal avatar from herself to a bird, she flew down through the hole, and then shifted her form back. The pillars of this level were cracked and crumbling. Many had already fallen. Here, as above, the jagged floor spoke to more severe damage.


Calla winced. The lower level held the most basic life functions. Problems that far down were not always correctable. Matt wouldn’t be the only one working late tonight.


“Talk to me.” Nikk’s strained voice aimed away from her. “Whatever you’re finding in there, it doesn’t sound good.”


“Male is not stable, but the progress of his decline is slow enough that I can leave him for now.” She paused and drew a breath. “The female has severe trauma. I’m still assessing the extent. I’ll keep you apprised as I go.”


Calla found the ladder to the third level of the woman’s mind and descended into the veritable web of biological wiring. Nerve fibers criss-crossed the space. Electric impulses carried along the axons illuminated the area with their zipping lights. The section associated with pain flickered like a psychotic strobe.


Some parts of the visualized network remained dark, which wasn’t unusual. Those suffering from critical wounds wouldn’t be engaged in philosophical thought or many other activities.


Ferreting out the damaged sector took less time than getting there. Calla wove her way through the three-dimensional web. She came across shriveled dendrites and bruised cell bodies. For each, she stopped and imparted restorative power to heal the injuries. In the worst of the damage, several axon-images had been severed, and their dangling ends spewed sparks like high-voltage power lines. Matching the jagged ends and sealing them with psychic glue took seconds.


Back in the middle level, Calla confirmed her previous work successful by examining the now even floor. “Nikk, innermost level is healed. Starting on the midlevel now.”


“Excellent. I’m working on the second bullet.”


She nodded once. “Understood.”


Calla’s next task would be fixing the pillars that held up the outer level. With the deepest region repaired, some of the middle area had recovered spontaneously. A few columns needed a little tweaking. A bit of mental effort sealed over a handful of cracks.


Of the collapsed ones remaining, Calla started with the center and spiraled outward. She mentally fitted the large disks atop each other, healed any surface damage, then went on to the next.


While assembling the pieces, she learned about deep-seated preferences. Brilliant purple swirls outlined a vivid image of a jazz band. A collage of romance novel covers decorated another section of a column. The things she enjoyed were contrasted with the dull, flat icons of things she hated: children, tomatoes, and insects. What sort of interesting story linked those together?


Calla set the last piece in place, and then took a quick tour to make sure she hadn’t missed anything. “That’s two. Only the maze to go.”


“Good. Keep at it,” Nikk said.


With a nod, Calla rose up to the most superficial region. Shattered panes in expansive groups left few memories standing. Where to begin? She blew out a breath and picked the nearest set of burnt but steady panes.


No real fire had caused the wreckage, but the scorched appearance sent Calla back one month to the fire in her own apartment. Her brain conjured recollections of the burning smell and the intense heat. Smoke had all but choked her. If Matt hadn’t come --


Calla shook her head. She would not allow the distraction of her own problems to interfere.


Starting at one end of a short run of standing panes, Calla rested her image’s hand on the damaged glass. A soft white light radiated from her hand. When the light faded, the cracks had sealed and the glass had cleared to show the cartoon-like pictures of a child’s party. She didn’t have time to admire the happy kids running around before going on to the next one in the chain.


A baker’s dozen later and she was out of standing panes in the short group. Next came the more time-consuming part of constructing the rest of the maze from pieces scattered about the floor. She knelt among the debris of random shards and sought two pieces to put together. No sooner had she selected a couple than the psychic equivalent of an earthquake hit.


The wail of a nearby heart monitor signaled arrest. Calla zoomed back out to see the overall maze again. Another group of damaged but still standing panes fell one after another like huge, ponderous dominoes.


Calla rushed to that area of the maze. After getting ahead of the cascade, she used every scrap of power she could to push back against the falling pane. The rate slowed enough to notice, but picking up a rhinoceros one-handed would be easier.


“Nikk, I’ve got a collapse going on in here, and I can’t stop it alone.” Calla kept her voice level. Panicking helped none of them.


“Do the best you can.” He spoke fast and clipped some of his words. “When I get her heart and lungs going again, I’ll help.”


The tone of his voice had clearly indicated he would not be swayed. If the woman’s mind collapsed, reviving her body would be useless. She would go into a coma and stay there. All the same, if he couldn’t resuscitate the woman, putting her brain back together wouldn’t do any good, either. She would still be dead.


In spite of Calla’s best efforts, the collapse continued at a rate that would render their efforts unnecessary in a minute, maybe less. Not for the first time, Calla cursed the genetic quirk that limited her telepathic power levels.


At least her efforts bought Nikk a little time. That would have to do.


Seconds ticked by while Calla listened to him working through the protocols. When a second group of panes started a new domino effect, she grabbed the leg of the stool with a white-knuckled grip and grimaced as she tried to slow down each of the collapsing sets. The extra effort made her head hurt with the throb of her pulse. She needed support, and she needed it now.


“Nikk, I’m losing her,” she said through clenched teeth.


The remaining parts of the woman’s mind fell into a scrap heap of shattered glass images. Calla’s visualization vanished as she found herself alone in her own mind again. When she relaxed, the headache subsided to a tolerable level.


Sighing, she let go of the stool’s leg and opened her eyes. “Never mind. She’s gone.”


Nikk tore off his gloves and hurled them into the trash as he held back the curses written on his face.


Calla glanced at the patient and then looked at Nikk. “I’m sorry.”


He shook his head and ran his fingers through his sweat-dampened hair. “Not your fault, Calla. I should have sent someone to help you, but I don’t think that would have helped.” He indicated the man lying behind her. “You’ve got another patient. I’ll notify the family.”


Calla nodded and turned back to the other bed. She had lost one, and sometimes that happened in this job, but she would have to find time to mourn the woman’s death later. Someone else still needed her help.