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Flight of Angels
Part 2 of Under Beyond
by Michael Mendoza


PREVIOUSLY: Nyla joined the rescue effort at LA after the Northridge earthquake. Among the missing there was Nyla's father, who was in LA on business. PRIME agent Sylvester Grier ambushed Nyla while she grieved over the horrors she witnessed. Just before Grier was about to kill her, an Emissary drove him away. The Emissary was intrigued by Nyla's longstanding emotional problems, so it spared her life. For now, at least.
    

A LONG WAY FROM HOME
   My name is Nyla Shapire, and I'm a child who wants nothing but separation from a world which scares the hell out of me.
   I grew up in Haven Falls, NY, where everything I ever needed or wanted was provided. In return, my parents never demanded anything; they were afraid to inflict the emotional scarring they read about in all their pop psychology books. Not that I'm bitter at my parents. How can I be angry with them for giving me unconditional love? No, I'm my own fault.
   My teachers were pleased with my B grade average. I gave them no need for special help or recognition.
   On the other hand, there was my older sister Lisa. She was smart, beautiful, and charming. Most girls would hate to have her for an older sister. Believe me, I can sympathize. But Lisa was the rarest of the rare: a prodigy who recognized the special qualities of her inferiors.
   Especially my special qualities. She thought that I could be everything she was, and somehow she managed to persuade me to believe it. She had that inborn talent for self-delusion. So she pushed me out of my womb of mediocrity. She nagged at me like a little parrot, but it moved me to boost my GPA over the 3.5 mark my junior year. She also got me the summer job busing tables at the country club she worked at. I had no intention of giving up a vacation on the French Riviera for terrible pay and grumpy retirees, but you'd be amazed at the persuasive power of her tapping foot and endless stare.
   The work was hard and I savored my first real taste of responsibility. But I have no illusions. It was Lisa who got me that job and it was Lisa who covered my ass when I screwed up. Like my first night on the job, when I mixed up three orders in a row. The only reason I didn't get fired on the spot was because I was Lisa Shapire's little sister.
   At the waning end of that indian summer, Lisa was hit by a car while jogging. My lifeline was cut by a broken stoplight, and I drifted back into apathy. By that time, I'd barely squeaked my way into the University of Michigan.
   But it didn't matter. Without Lisa I had nothing to live up to. So day by day, week by week, my self-confidence dwindled, until I fell apart on October 5, 1993. Faced with the prospect of having to find my own way, choose my own values, shape my own life, I was terrified. So I declared a retreat from life.
   First came the nervous breakdown which got me out of school. Nobody suspected that my collapse had anything to do with Lisa's death. She had died years before, and I had carried myself well since then; I lived life with a poker face. So my hysterics were perplexing, to say the least. My parents didn't know what to do with me, and I was in no condition to give them any hints. So they sent me to France for help - two more people out of the picture.
   I felt terribly awkward and edgy when I arrived in Nice, where my oldest friends Lexi and Jen shared a penthouse apartment. It was bad enough that I was still in college while they had both established their places in the real world. Lexi was studying architecture in grad school (So it's not exactly the real world; it's still a step up from my current status), and Jen was on the fast track to international fame and glamour.
   I was insular and temperamental and I wouldn't give them word one about what I was going through. Jen the beauty queen was ready to write me off as a basket case. Lexi was stubborn. In our childhood trinity of best friends, she was the most mature of us and therefore designated mother figure.
   And then there was Dr. Marcus Valenti. He had to bend quite a few ethics to treat the daughter of an old lover, the daughter whom he saw grow up over the years. He knew how much I had depended on Lisa, even before I came to him. That's how familiar he was with my family. He came dangerously close to forcing me to face the bland emptiness that I was, so I devised the final solution. My leap into solitude and oblivion.
   A Recharger got in my way, and I found a surrogate sister. But I failed to keep in contact with it, so now it's gone. Just like Lisa. Once again I'm a puppet with no one to hold my strings.
   How do I know all this? The Nothing Man told me, and he promised to keep me in a safe place where no one could reach me. Where there's no one I can disappoint.


   A thousand scholars have devoted their lives studying the writings of the legendary Patroller [01372xV], who believed that the Enemy was trying to form its own emotions. One of those scholars was the Nzgi warrior-philosopher Yolen. He applied [01372xV]'s theories to the few cases of Patroller-Emissary contact in which the Emissary did not try to destroy the Patroller outright. Yolen stipulated that some Emissaries were created not to kill Patrollers and harvest emotional energy, but to study the emotional processes so that the Enemy could one day duplicate them.
   Nyla's Nothing Man was one of these Emissaries. It had observed her, mostly in her dreams, in the months before her fateful encounter with Grier. Her deep emotional conflicts made her a choice subject for study, and the fact that she was a Patroller was the icing on the cake.
   The Emissary insured her delivery to a hospital, where her physical wounds were healed. Then it began its experiment. It used its psionic powers to keep her in a coma-like state. The Emissary isolated her self-doubt and suppressed all her other emotions. For six months it let her stay in that safe little corner of her mind. She had grown utterly content within her isolation.
   Now, it wondered what would happen if she were suddenly forced back into the world?


   Nyla didn't know how long she had been running through the forest. The earth below her shook and her footsteps fell unevenly upon the crumbling ground.
   The whispers of unseen specters hissed behind the rumbling of the earth:
   "It has to end, Nyla."
   "We're forcing you out."
   "Beware."
   Nyla had no time worry about where the voices were coming from. She weaved between trees and thorny bushes and rocks, headed for a haven which she wasn't even sure existed.
   An angelic light flared over the trees and cast their shadows over Nyla. When her eyesight adjusted, she saw a beautiful glowing figure flying through the night sky.
   "Oh my God!" Nyla cried out. "It's the Rosemaiden!" It was the literary hero of her childhood, an otherworldly being blazing like a beacon. Nyla ran with renewed vigor to keep up with her. She was confident that the Rosemaiden would lead her to safety. And so she ran with no concern for where she was heading. She stumbled several times, and fell once, but still she persisted.
   Suddenly she broke out of the forest into a gravel-covered cliff ledge. The Rosemaiden flew over it, and Nyla followed. She leapt over the cliff into the night.
   For a brief moment, Nyla had nearly caught up with the Rosemaiden. The winds picked up and carried her leap. Behind her, the mountain on which she had been running collapsed into rubble. This was her moment, and she was going to follow the Rosemaiden into the coming dawn.
   But her moment ended and gravity took over. She plunged into the darkness and saw nothing, not even the ruins of the fallen mountain. Then she saw a pinpoint of light directly below her. It wasn't the comfortable glow of the Rosemaiden, but a harsh, sterile glare. The pinpoint grew into a gaping wound which marred the quiet darkness. Nyla's heartbeat pounded and she shrieked as she fell into the light —
   — and the coma ward of the St. Anthony hospital in San Diego came alive in the wee hours of the morning. Nurses and doctors rushed to care for the young woman who was reborn screaming into the world.
   None of them noticed the shadows which moved of their own accord in that resting place of the waking dead.


   The first person to visit Nyla was her mother. She wept openly at her side until she had no more tears to cry. Nyla absently patted her mother's back the whole time while watching the birds fly out the window.
   Then Maire Shapire told her daughter about all the fantastic events of the past few months. The fantastic new technology Karlmax released into the marketplace. The debut of Magnum Force. The attempt on the president's life and the first official government affiliation with the Patrol.
   "It seems that every day," Maire said, "another Patroller goes public and becomes a Marshall. The real marshals resent all the newcomers, of course, but most people love them. Even that Machine group gets good PR now. The world seems more and more like some comic book every day!"
   Maire laughed and noticed that Nyla was still staring blankly out the window. She took Nyla's hand in her own and said, "Darling, I know you're upset because you've lost your Gauntlet. But you've done your duty, and you've done it well. Let the others continue for-"
   "Mom," Nyla's voice cracked. "When did you hold Dad's funeral?"
   "Honey, you -"
   "Did you think I wouldn't notice? That I'd just listen to all this shit about the Patrol and not notice that you aren't bringing up Dad?" Nyla wiped the tears from her eyes with such force that she looked like she was slapping herself in the face. "When did you bury him, Mom?"
   "We held the funeral last month. We never found his body. Nyla, I know how bad you must feel. But you did your best. Most people wouldn't have had the courage to try to rescue your father..."
   Nyla phased out her mother's consoling words. She wanted to jump out of bed and demand that her mother give her the scorn she so richly deserved. After all, she had abysmally failed her one shot at being a true hero. Not only did she not rescue her dad, but she lost her Gauntlet and also nearly lost her life. Now here she was, in a hospital room, unable to do anything for herself.
   Story of her life.


   The following weeks were an endless parade of well- wishers. Lexi and Jen and a handful of college acquaintances who hadn't seen Nyla since she moved to France. Countless relatives like Aunt Llewella and her two brats. Practically everyone Nyla knew visited. Everyone but Mitsuko.
   Nyla's mom had told everyone who didn't know about Aventine that Nyla was visiting LA with her father when the earthquake struck. Of the few who knew that Nyla was a Patroller, only Jen asked how she could have possibly been injured when she was wielding such a powerful device. Nyla said that she was buried while searching a collapsed building. She didn't want anyone to know the truth. In fact, she didn't want to know the truth. Would whoever tried to kill her make another attempt? It was too horrible to speculate.
   After three weeks of physical therapy and psychiatric counseling, Nyla returned home.


   "Flights of Angels Sing Thee to Thy Rest." The words were chiseled onto the cold unyielding tombstone of Randolph Shapire. Although his body was never found, a funeral was held back in March, while Nyla was still in her coma.
   She couldn't grasp the reality that her father, such a vital, confident man, was slowly rotting under the earth. Yet there was his grave, right next to the grave of her sister. "It's really over," Nyla whispered. She stood calmly, resting her weight on her walker. All the tears she had were shed long before she gathered the courage to visit the cemetery.
   Slowly Nyla lowered herself to the ground, at the foot of Lisa's tombstone. The walk through the cemetery was more taxing than she'd expected, and she needed to rest her limbs. Her cheek laid against her sister's gravestone, and she longed for the comforting touch of Lisa's fingers running through her hair.
   No more Lisa.
   No more daddy.
   No more Patrol.
   Nyla made a silent plea to the Nothing Man who haunted her coma dreams. "Please take me back," she begged. And while that cold, untouchable being heard her thoughts, it did not reply. It merely observed. So Nyla lay lifeless on the green lawn of the cemetery, and mourned her paradise lost.


Next: Return to Innocence

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Copyright 1995, 1997 by Michael Mendoza