There wasn't much left of Khol by the time Bester arrived. Another telepath had already tried to make contact, and failed. Bester didn't waste time talking to the medical staff - he took off his right glove and placed his fingers to the woman's temples. There was no time to lose.
Her mind, he saw instantly, had been shredded right through. Gavriil, in self-defense, had destroyed most of what remained of the woman who had once been Anastasia Khol. It was a shame, Bester knew - if she'd only surrendered peacefully, it never would have come to this. He'd never wanted to use force against one of his own, and neither had Gavriil, but the former Psi Cop made the decision to attack instead.
She was very strong, Khol - stronger than Gavriil, who was no cop, only a bloodhound, a high P10. Whether Gavriil knew it or not, in that fateful moment, it had been her life or his. If Bester hadn't intervened, both Gavriil and Khol would be dead. In such situations, one had to make decisions.
What had caused her to go rogue, though? None of it made sense. This was no "typical" case: she was no Liz Montoya or Fatima Cristoban, running away for the illusory promise of a better life with the Underground. Khol was raised in the Corps. She had a clean record. Was Gavriil right, that she'd been possessed?
In her mindscape, Khol stood, quivering, at the liminality, a sort of storm front in which each of many lightning bolts was a dying memory, blazing out one last time. In the storm, a black eye was opening, waiting to swallow her forever.
Khol, he said softly. Khol. I have to know why you went rogue. I have to know who led you to your death.
She turned toward him. Her face came and went like a bad transmission. It shifted from large-eyed child to the hollow, gaunt visage they had hunted. It distorted from abstract - like the face of a Grin - to photographic as she tried to hang on to herself. She wasn't succeeding.
I was a good cop. I was.
I know. You loved the Corps. What happened?
I was - I was good...
A shrieking, then, a terrible inhuman sound that tore into him, that set his teeth on edge, that threatened to rip open his mind. For an instant he knew a terrible attraction in despair, in destruction, and yearned for oblivion so much that if he had had a PPG in his hand he might have turned it on himself.
Lightning struck, and he was on Mars, wide open in a wind-swept red plain. The sky was still a hurricane, the eye bigger than ever. It struck again, and Khol was fingering a small object, a black fragment-
-a fragment identical to one in Bester's own gloved hand, a fragment of something monstrous-
-which was now somehow huge, arachnoid, hideous, looming over him, screeching with a penetrating shrill not meant for human ears-
-and for a moment, Bester remembered something Director Vacit had said to him as a boy. He hadn't been more than six years old when the director had called him to his office in the middle of the night, but he remembered the old director's warning as clearly as if it were only yesterday-
Watch for the Shadows. Watch, and beware...
In the director's mind that night, when the director had mentioned "shadows," Bester had seen the image of a spider take shape, sink, and vanish into his memory. He hadn't ever recalled that moment again until now, standing in Khol's mindscape under the literal shadow of the hideous alien form.
Together, he and Khol screamed, for different reasons - and then she was shrieking away from him, into eternity, and he was following, grasping the trail of her dying mind, riding the current of her spent life toward - toward-
Something that called him. A woman's face. A man's voice. Answers...
No. Answers he no longer wanted. He felt his ruined hand spasm with the effort of wrenching free, of abandoning Khol's desperate flight into nothing. She wanted to die, and he did, too, to know what was beyond, oblivion or solace.
The storm had him, he had gone in too far, and for a moment he was glad-
Then the eye dilated, rushed away, and she was gone. Too late, he redoubled his efforts to catch it, but it was like the old problem of taking half a step toward a door, and then half of that step, and half of that. He could get closer, but never reach it. She was gone, and he was withdrawing his bare, trembling fingers from her dead face. He was weeping.
"I'm sorry, Mr. Bester," Dr. Koabawa said, softly. "I shouldn't have asked this of you."
"No," he managed. "I'll be all right in a moment. Just - give me a moment." It felt as if something had been cut out of him, something he couldn't even remember anymore. Was it true, what they said? That a part of your soul went with those who died? How much of him was left?
"Were you able to find out why she went rogue?" the doctor asked.
"No," he lied. "There wasn't enough of her left for me to get more than fragments."
Whatever otherworldly horror he had seen in Khol's mind would have to wait.