A New Life

Steven Bergom


Levitt was a smaller town nestled at the southern end of a valley in the Appalachian mountains. The valley was 20 miles from the northern end to southern and approximately 10 miles across. There was only one road into or out of the valley, which is how the U.S. government liked it.

The principle purpose of the town of Levitt was to support scientists performing research that was not secret enough to be classified but was not ready to be discussed at large. It also provided a place of solitude for those who had had enough of security protocols and the bustle of big city life or just wanted a small plot of land to settle down with their family. Around a third of its population of 11053 were military — your basic soldiery — who provided the patrols that discouraged errant hikers.

Levitt boasted a movie theater, three four-star restaurants and a symphony. The streets were laid out on a grid and the sidewalks were always kept clean. The houses were neat and ordered and showed the unmistakable pride of their owner. The school system that existed was necessarily small with a total of around 600 students. However small the system was, owing to the intellectual nature of the parentage, it was a rival to any school system in the country.

And, as student, parent and teacher alike prepared for another school year to begin on the morrow, fathers and mothers informed their sons and daughters that there would be a new girl attending the high school that year that they were to treat like any other person. She had been through a lot recently, and they were to behave with their utmost courtesy towards her. Of course, due to the nature of teens everywhere, this had the exact opposite affect and alienate her before anyone met her. Did she have some hideous deformity? Was she handicapped? Was she a psycho that would flip out at the wrong word? None knew, but the thoughts never-the-less ran through heads as adolescents went to bed awaiting another year of assignments, sports, and classroom pranks.

Eisenhower High was a modern facility that had the subtle air of permanence. During the 19th century it had served as a carriage house for wealthy businessmen on vacation, and even later it was a veterinary hospital for a private horse farm at the northern end of the valley. The structure was a single story with high ceilings and large doorways. It was even a long-standing joke amongst generations of students to refer to the classrooms as "stalls" because of the original purpose of those rooms. As the bell for the first class rang, teens raced to their assigned classrooms and hustled to their assigned seats. In most of the rooms it was noted that a rather large section remained clear of desks and instead was fronted by a table. Speculation ran rampant on whether this was some new teaching aid or whether the new student really was handicapped and needed a wheelchair. Ms. Beasley's first period calculus class learned its purpose first.

Chattering ceased and syllabi, books and other materials needed to survive the semester were handed out. As papers ceased their shuffling and grunts from the size of the textbooks quieted (why did it always seem that they got larger the higher the grade you attained?) a new noise could be hear coming down the hall. It was not the hum of an electric motor as was expected, but boots, not quite stomping, but not attempting to be silent either. This sound of a group of people moving through the hallway passed by several doors, piquing the curiosity of the students within, before settling in front of room 20. The door to Ms. Beasley's class opened and Dr. Hardwin, principal of Eisenhower High School and mayor of Levitt(the jobs went hand-in-hand since there was not much for either to do in such a small, orderly community) escorted the new student in. She ducked to enter the doorway and the class was respectfully silent with how she towered over the principal, who at 59 was 6'4" and had the musculature of a marine sergeant. What brought gasps and rounded eyes, however, was the way she continued to enter the room.

The sound of a booted group walking through the halls was now explained by the four hooves that were covered in a rubber over­shoe. The hooves, of course, were attached to four legs that were, themselves, attached to a barrel that belonged to a horse. The oddity was that the head of the horse was missing and replaced with the torso of a strongly built — though not in any way fat — 16-year-old girl. She had a face that could easily be called beautiful framed by rich mahogany hair that hung to the middle of her back. Her eyes, downcast by nerves and a certain amount of fear were a deep green and there was evidence that they had seen not a small amount of tears. She held her long-fingered hands in front of her, nervously twitching and at times playing with the tails of her lavender shirt.

"Kyra, this is Ms. Beasley, your calculus teacher," Dr. Hardwin said unnecessarily as she had met all of the faculty a few days earlier. Ms. Beasley smiled and welcomed her pointing out the place prepared for her. Kyra moved to the cleared space as Dr. Hardwin patted her on the arm and said, "If you need anything else, Kyra, let me know." She moved to her place and took off her back pack while the large man swept a look across the room that clearly said, "Be nice to her." With a nod to the instructor, he made his exit.

All eyes were on Kyra Tanaille as she maneuvered self-consciously into position to settle down at the table. She quietly took out a folder, pencil and paper and accepted the information sheets and large book from the teacher. Acting as if nothing out of the ordinary happened, Ms. Beasley began her instructional material and soon eyes turned from Kyra to the front of the room, though sideway glances were evident throughout the lecture. Kyra, during the entire period, moved her eyes little between the teacher and the notes that she was taking.

The day continued the same way. Students, warned to be nice to her, stared wide-eyed. In the hallway when classes were moving locations, teens would give her a wide berth and conversation ceased in response to her presence. Kyra gave no notice of this, keeping her eyes cast down except to watch where she was going. The only words spoken to her during the day were from teachers and, at the end of the day, a polite inquiry from Dr. Hardwin on how her day went. In a quiet voice she answered politely, "Fine, thank you," and left the school grounds for home.

For two weeks this non-treatment continued. As students got used to her presence, the staring in the classrooms and hallways became less overt, but still she was avoided by the student body, all with the thoughts of parental warnings to be nice and not to say anything rude. Kyra was exempt from phys ed for various reasons, so she spent her time in the field by the school under a tree a hundred yards from any building entrance. Since PE was scheduled directly before lunch, she had time to do homework and eat her very large meal. It was during the third week of classes that a junior that shared several classes with Kyra found the unintentioned rudeness in others and especially himself wrong swallowed his nerves and walked his own brown-bagged lunch to the tree where Kyra sat.

"Excuse me, but is this seat taken?" he asked in as urbane a voice as he could manage. Kyra, startled from her reverie over the large plastic container of granola, looked up at the boy and blinked rapidly. Since no answer was given, he tried again. "Would you mind it if I were to join you for lunch?" Without speaking, Kyra shook her head. The boy smiled and held out his right hand. "The name's Jamie Thompson."

Kyra looked at his hand a moment and hesitantly brought up her own, lightly touching his. "Kyra," she said quietly in response and quickly brought her hand out of contact and set her eyes back to her own lunch. Jamie looked a little startled, but, too, quickly recovered. He sat down a few feet from the quiet girl; not too close to be considered close friends, but not far enough away to seem rude. They both finished their respective meals in solitude.

As they got up to prepare for their afternoon classes, Jamie asked if he could join her again the next day. Again, startled at this unexpected human interaction, Kyra nodded, and they went their separate ways.

For a week they followed their routine, eating lunch without speaking and, before they had to return to the building for afternoon classes, Jamie asked permission to join her the following day. Never did they talk beyond the asking and granting of permission.

After this week of becoming comfortable in the other's presence, Jamie tried for conversation. His question, "You're in my calc class, right?" elicited a you-have-got-to-be-kidding stare from Kyra and a what-the-heck-did-I-just-say response from Jamie. Flustered and quickly turning red, Jamie tried to recover. "I mean… uh… that is… Have you had a chance to look over today's homework?" At a slow nod from Kyra, he continued. "Did you understand today's material? I had some trouble with it. Do ya' think you could help me with a couple of the problems?"

Kyra looked at him for a moment and reached back for her bag. She pulled out her math notebook and asked, "Which ones did you have in mind?" Stunned at this slight victory, Jamie took a moment before reaching for his bag, quickly rummaging for his math folder. "How about 14 and 21?"

They finished the lunch hour discussing the assignment, with Jamie doing most of the talking. Kyra was still reticent on any sort of speech, but answered any question put to her quietly and concisely, not volunteering any information.

This, too, continued for a few days. Her tutoring, though not completely necessary, was very helpful and he felt that by way of the syllabus he would definitely need her help later on. After the requisite week Jamie's plan entered into it's next phase. While they were discussing calculus problems, a black girl and a boy who was most definitely her boyfriend walked up to the duo. "You're Kyra, right?" the girl asked. Kyra swiveled her head to look at the new person. "I'm Shani, and this is Dallas. Jamie tells me you're pretty good at math. Think ya' could help me with a couple of problems I've been having?"

Kyra looked at Jamie who shrugged. She gestured for Shani and Dallas to have a seat, and their little group became four.

Shani liked to talk, and lunchtime conversations started to stray away from math into relatively normal teenaged talk: sports, fashion, who's dating whom, et. al. Again Kyra did not volunteer information, but she noticeably relaxed in the group.

It was in one of these relaxed discussions on fashion that the topic of footwear came up. Dallas and Jamie agreed that only two or three pairs of shoes were needed while Shani was arguing for all she was worth on the fashionability of having the right shoes for the outfit or occasion. Jamie, continually looking to bring Kyra into the conversation, turned to her without much thought and said, "I've never seen those boots you're wearing. I thought you'd be wearing horseshoes."

Several different emotions warred across Kyra's face as her shy smile slipped away and silence reigned as no one breathed. Jamie mentally berated himself, wondering how he was going to reclaim all the work he had done to draw her out. Finally, Kyra, staring off into space, responded. "I… I have metal shoes. The… boots are to protect the floor…" Shaking herself she looked around, eyes wide and looking like a deer caught in headlights, made a comment about getting ready for her next class and started shoving her things back into her backpack. Less gracefully than usual she stood up and quickly made her way to the school.

When she was gone, Shani turned to Jamie to give him a piece of her mind when she saw that it was unneeded as he was pounding his forehead with the rather large and heavy calculus book while muttering, "Stupid-stupid-stupid," over and over again. Instead she closed her mouth and decided to save it for later.

Jamie spent the rest of the school day reliving what came out of his mouth, why he didn't think, and what type of penance he would need to do to erase this event with Shani. During his last period, Advanced Drawing, he barely noticed that he had drawn variations of Kyra throughout his notebook. He definitely needed to do something.

So, with the end of the day, he waited around the side of the school where he had noticed that Kyra headed each day. Sure enough, he saw Kyra exit the building and head down a path toward what he assumed was her home. He hurried after her. "Kyra!" he shouted, trying to catch up to her walk. "Kyra! Wait up!" Kyra stopped and looked behind her. She momentarily thought about running a bit, but stayed. Soon Jamie was by her side, and she began walking again, albeit at a much slower pace.

"Kyra, I just wanted to say… you know… well… I didn't mean to touch on any sensitive subject, but… well… I've worked a lot with horses… I mean… I work at the stable up north and… Ah, shit… I did it again but…"

"Jamie," Kyra interrupted politely, but Jamie rambled on.

"… how do I put this…"

"Jamie," she tried again.

"…I was being an idiot and all, and…"

"Jamie!" Stunned, he shut up and looked up at her. "I forgive you." Incomprehension blossomed on his face as if she were speaking a foreign language. "And I thank you for what you're doing." Noticing that they had stopped, she continued walking at her slowed pace. Jamie woke a bit from his stupor as the import of what she said sank in and followed on.

"Why, what am I doing?"

"You're being a friend. Penny says I should talk to more people, but it's hard when… Did Penny put you up to this?" She looked down at Jamie, who blinked.

"Who's Penny?" he asked.

She studied him and his response for a moment. "No, I didn't think so. So, why are you doing it?"

"Well, I've been the new kid more times than I can count, and I know how hard it is to meet new people and start to fit in, so I decided to take the step. Besides, I'd be repaying all those that helped me horribly if I didn't. And you can help me with math, which is always a good thing. By the way, how did you get so good?" he added as an afterthought.

Kyra walked along and quietly answered, "I had a lot of time to study." This time Jamie caught the tone and chose not to pursue the inquiry.

"This isn't your normal route home, is it?" Kyra asked finally.

"Yes it is. Well, sort of. I usually take that last turn, but I needed to apologize. If you want me to leave…"

"No, no. Please stay. It's just that, well, this pace is a little slow for me and it's kinda' hard to keep it."

"Why didn't you say so!" Jamie brightened up. He started to tighten the straps on his backpack. "I need to keep in shape anyway, and a little jog won't hurt!"

Kyra looked a little surprised, but she kicked up her pace a notch and watched as Jamie started into an easy jog. At her normal walk he was easily keeping up. They continued on and before long they reached Kyra's house. Jamie noted that it was the same house that was being built at the beginning of the summer at what he thought was a rather isolated spot. Now the reasons became clear.

They parted and Jamie continued to jog on his way home. Kyra entered the house thankful that she didn't have to duck, but bent dutifully to let her mother kiss her on the cheek. "Who was that you were walking with, dear?" her mother asked.

Shyly Kyra answered, "That was Jamie. He's been sitting with me at lunch." Her mother smiled. 'Perhaps this will help,' she thought as Kyra went to finish her homework.

Shani glared at Jamie the next day at lunch, but, since Kyra didn't seem to harbor any hard feelings, she dropped it making a mental note to discuss with Jamie, at length, about what happened. Shani continued her strategy of talking about whatever topic came to mind. Carefully she gauged the reactions of Dallas, Jamie and Kyra, pulling responses from them as needed. When Jamie talked, he was blunt and always tried to do the right thing, but more often than not he stumbled along like a young colt running into a covey of grouse. But he was nice, in a cute sort of way. Dallas, on the other hand, was quiet, lending direction when needed. He acted more the big brother, guiding a younger sibling into the wiles of the real world. He also knew how to listen, and there were times that she liked to go on and on about something, but there were times that even he rolled his eyes and don't think Shani didn't notice. She loved him, though. His classic good looks had several girls chasing him, but he belonged to her, Shani.

And then there was Kyra. She was still quiet, not adding to the conversation except her presence. Occasionally a word or two could be dragged from her lips, but mostly she said nothing. She definitely relaxed from those first weeks, smiling a little, and the aura of tearfulness had begun to dissipate. It wasn't gone, and from time to time her eyes looked as if they had gone ten rounds with a sad movie. She will need more friends, but for now their group should be enough.

As September turned into October and the fall started to wage war with the elements, the quartet decided to move their lunchtime convocations inside. The lunchroom was loud, but Jamie could always count on 20 minutes of quiet companionship with Kyra on their jog home in the afternoon.

Jamie didn't know what to make of Kyra. He had helped quite a few new kids to fit in to the crowd. He could get them talking and was always able to point them to a group who had similar interests, sometimes his own group. Jamie was never sad to see any of these new people go because he had moved them from the outside in.

Kyra was different. Well, of course, there were the obvious physical and fashion differences — not many people could walk around half-naked and get away with it — but what intrigued him was her need for someone. Maybe she denied that need, or perhaps she felt like a monster and didn't think anyone would want her, but the need for an arm around her shoulders was self-evident. So, with (mostly) calculated blunders, he worked to draw more and more information from Kyra. He just hoped that it would work.

Their walks home in the afternoon were his time to work the magic that Shani was during lunch. By talking aimlessly he wanted to find those cues he needed to take the focus on her. Some days he talked about the city of Levitt, its history as a resort and the army base, and others he would talk about the different places he had lived during his father's transfers. Today he talked about sports.

"Sports are funny at Eisenhower," he started. "We don't really have any teams because we're so small, and the fact that we're quite a ways away from the nearest town keeps the competition to a minimum. Heck, most of the time we can't even remember that the mascot is a hawk! Instead we have leagues with everyone invited; parents, students and even some of the marines from the base. It gets kinda weird, and usually we don't care about who scores what, but we just have fun. They tell me one year they tried a young bucks/old farts season but it disintegrated quickly due to some lopsided scores. Unfortunately, I never could find out who had the high score." At this he heard a giggle coming from Kyra and, heartened, continued on.

"If you're interested, there's basketball and badminton in the winter, and some wrestling. In the summer there are some pretty good track competitions. Of course all year round there are some indoor sports like Tai-Kwon-Do and gymnastics. Now that's a cool sport! On occasion I take my neighbor to the gym. That's when her parents have to work late, Tuesdays, usually. The gym here is pretty good. I found that the coach was a national champion once, almost went to the Olympics before a stress fracture kept her from the trials. She's showed me a couple things, tried to get me interested, but I'm a little tall for the normal gymnast." Pausing to take a breath, he looked over at Kyra and found she wasn't beside him anymore. Turning and jogging backwards before stopping, he saw that she had halted in the path. Her eyes were wide and starting to water and her mouth was working soundlessly. At her sides, she opened and closed her hands as if trying to grasp something that was no longer there.

"Kyra? Are you all right?" Jamie asked. "Kyra, what's wrong?" Kyra shook her head, but was not looking at Jamie. She opened her mouth again and took a step closer to Jamie, who held out his hand. "Kyra, I…" was all that he got out when she quickened to a gallop and raced past him.

"Kyra wait!" he called after her disappearing form. "Strike two, Jamie-boy! Only this time, what did you say…" He tightened his pack straps, made sure his shoes were tied and followed after her.

Sharon Tanaille was rather startled as her daughter entered the house without a kiss or letting her mother ask how her day was. Instead, the heavy rubber over-boots thudded on the flooring and Kyra's bedroom door shut as an exclamation point. Sharon knew these moods. Kyra just needed some time to herself to straighten out. She must have had a bad day or was feeling overwhelmed with school to cause her to act in this manner. Sharon would go in in a little while, they would talk, and all would be better.

Fifteen minutes passed when a knock came at the front door. Curious, Sharon opened the door and saw a boy, 17 or 18 years in age, blond-haired with intelligent eyes, panting and rubbing his right knee. He was the one who walked with Kyra from school. Jamie, that's it. She smiled when she noticed that he was gingerly putting weight on his right leg. "Are you okay?" she asked. "Please, come in. Sit down. What happened?"

"You've got some loose gravel at the end of your driveway and my knee was itching to meet your mailbox." Misreading the startled expression on Sharon's face, he rushed to assure her. "Oh, don't worry. The mailbox is okay! I don't know what they made it with, but it should put up a good fight with the snow plows! My knee'll be fine too, just give me some time to get rid of the tingling feeling and I'll be able to walk with a barely noticeable limp in no time!"

"That's good to hear," she said glad to be able to dispel some of her concern. "How can I help you? You look like you ran from the school?"

"Pretty much!" Jamie replied bending his leg to make sure no permanent damage occurred. "Kyra an' I were walking and talking — that is, I was jogging and doing most, if not all of the talking, when she stopped and then ran off. I think I may have said something to upset her, but I don't know what."

Sharon, now concerned, brought her eyebrows together and pursed her lips. When Jamie flinched, she realized what she was doing and waved it off. "I'm not angry with you. It's just that she's been through so much, we're trying to get her adjusted back into a somewhat normal life. It's not easy walking delicately, but…" she trailed off.

"Well," Jamie started, "maybe she needs to be startled back to a base of stability." Again he started to shy back from Mrs. Tanaille's scrutiny.

"Have you been talking with Penny?" she finally asked. At his confused look and mumble of "de-ja vu" she dismissed her own query. "I think it best that you talk with her. You're probably more of what she needs instead of a mother prying into her life." Jamie was led, somewhat in a state of confusion to a door off at the end of an intersecting hallway. Knocking briefly, Sharon opened the door and announced that Kyra had a visitor and unceremoniously shoved Jamie into the room, shutting the door behind him.

Kyra's room was large, as expected. It was here Jamie first noticed that the ceiling in the house was easily over ten feet high. The surfaces of the furniture were all higher than normal, and made him feel like a little kid again. A glance to his right showed a door to what was a bathroom and to his left was a large mattress that lay on the floor in lieu of a bed. What held his attention, though, was the display on walking in. On the wall were ribbons and pictures, framed newspaper clippings and trophies. In each of the pictures was the image of a young, mahogany-haired girl, here walking confidently on a balance beam, there flying over uneven bars or even chasing a ribbon across the floor. In the center of the room sat Kyra, facing a TV/VCR combo that was playing the product of proud parents, wobbly pans and refocusing complementing the encouragements, a tape of a gymnastics competition in which a two-legged Kyra was the star.

Jamie, appalled now at what he had said, slid his backpack off his shoulders next to hers and walked around to her left side where he sat down on the edge of her mattress. "Kyra? You okay? I'm sorry if I upset you, I didn't know…"

Kyra continued to stare at the screen. She did not cry, but chords stood on her neck and her face was red. Now that he had a better angle Jamie noticed that Kyra was clutching a picture frame to her chest. Kyra began to speak quietly. "I can't do that any more. No more. I was good, so good. I… we… would win all the meets, but now… I'm a freak! A mythological creature trying to go through the motions of fitting into a human society! I'm monster! It… I…" and she ground her teeth in frustration at being unable to find the words.

"Kyra, look at me. Look at me, Kyra!" When she moved her eyes from the screen and faced him, he continued. "You are not a freak! You are a very pretty girl who is also very smart. If you don't think you will fit society, then society will have to change to fit you. It's flexible, it'll get over it. Besides, we all grow out of things and can't do something ever again. There is always something new to do."

"Like what?!" Kyra shot back.

"Like, uh… Have you thought about trying out for track?" Kyra blinked at this line of attack. "I mean, you're a pretty fast runner, and I should know since I can usually outrun most guys twice my age! Hey, I know!" Jamie snapped his fingers and got an ingenious look on his face. "How tall are you?"


"How tall are you?"

The corner of Kyra's mouth twitched up into an almost smile. "Seven foot six. Why?"

"Basketball! You're tall, and could probably even dunk without jumping! You'd be a great addition when we play the base squad!" Kyra was beginning to openly smile now.

"But you forget, my hooves would probably damage the flooring."

"There is that, and the crowd probably wouldn't appreciate it if you dove for any loose balls!"

Kyra was now caught up in it. "How about polo? I should be a shoe-in for that!"

Jamie threw up his hands. "You said it, not me!" At this comical turn of events, Kyra laughed away the rest of her sudden depression and pulled Jamie in for a one-armed hug.

Snuffling and wiping the standing tears from her eyes, Kyra released Jamie. "Thanks, I really needed that. It's been a while." Jamie grabbed a tissue from the box near her bed and handed it to her, which she accepted gratefully.

"Good. I'm glad I'm off the hook. Oh, and, since I'm here and all, and you're here, can I ask you a question?" She nodded. "Now, don't feel like you have to, only if you want to, but, there's a dance coming up in two weeks at school. Would you like to join me?" He put this last bit out tentatively, nervously scratching at the back of his head.

Kyra gave it some thought before answering, "Sure, I'd be delighted! But, I've never been to a dance before."

"Oh don't worry. It's an informal affair at this time of year so it's not a real dress-up type thing. I'd stop by around six-thirtyish and we'd head over to the gym, that sort of thing."

Smiling more openly now, Kyra answered, "Okay. That sounds good to me. Let's do it."

"Great! Then it's a date." Jamie stood up. "Though I'd love to stay and get some math help, it's my turn to take Jessica to the gym, so I should be leaving now."

As he walked back to pick up his backpack from where he dropped it by the door, Kyra told him to wait, that she'd walk him to the door. Still holding the picture frame clutched to her chest, she got up and went first to the display of awards and reverently placed it where it could be seen from every angle in the room. Jamie caught a glimpse of two pre-pubescent girls, their arms around each others shoulders with faces that were eternally on the verge of laughter. The girl on the right was definitely Kyra, but the dark-haired girl with slightly tilted eyes was unknown. With the obvious respect Kyra gave the picture, she was a good friend. Maybe in time, Kyra would tell him who she was.

The moment passed and Kyra escorted him to the door. She made certain to give him another hug before leaving and lingered a moment to watch him go down the drive. Sharon watched discretely from the living room and high-fived Jamie in her thoughts.

The days before the dance passed quickly for Kyra. Little by little she began to talk more, hesitantly at first, as if wary of the sound of her own voice, but gaining confidence. Shani was surprised and impressed with this change and mentally tacked on this turn of events to her ever-lengthening list of things to talk to Jamie about. It had to be something he said on their walks. That was the only thing that she could think of.

Three days before, Kyra had startled Shani out of a few years growth when she asked Shani if she could help her get ready for her first dance. The opportunity presents itself only once and Shani wasn't about to miss this one. So, forty-five minutes before the boys — that is, Jamie and Dallas; she had talked Dallas into coming over with Jamie — she was standing in front of the Tanaille's doorway ready to give Kyra a night to remember.

Kyra answered the door and escorted her through the wide hallways to her room. Shani looked around a bit before settling eyes on the tall girl standing nervously in the middle of the room. "Now, girl, what did you plan on wearing?" she asked closing the bedroom door.

"Well, I hadn't really planned. I didn't know… I mean… I've never done this before…" but Shani wasn't paying attention, her eyes homing in on the double sliding doors to the right of the bedroom door.

Pointing, she asked, "This your closet?" and barely waited for the nod before opening wide. Inside she found a blah in-differentness in shirts. "Okay, strip!" Turning to note the nervous glance that Kyra gave her, Shani formed a wry smile. "Just your shirt. You can leave your bra on. Wouldn't want you to catch cold." Kyra pulled off the long-sleeve polo shirt she had been wearing and watched Shani turn back to the closet and took out the light pink blouse, which she carefully laid on a chair that was nearby. Turning back to Kyra, she quickly ignored the faded scars on her torso and arms and made no notice of the stretch marks on her body. Instead she stepped up to Kyra, looked her in the eyes and said, "Now, we are going to make you a star!

"Do you have any make-up? No? Good. I brought some. Now, go wash your face and I'll get ready in here." As Kyra moved to the bathroom Shani began to lay out the contents of her bag on small dresser. All the strange and esoteric implements — torture devices, her father called them — that she needed. Indeed, she did have some weird looking things, and some of them did hurt, but it was always worth it. When she was done, Kyra had moved back into the bedroom proper, drying her face and hands on a hand-towel. Shani motioned her in front of the dresser and had her sit down so that she could more easily reach Kyra's hair and face. A quick inquiry yielded a brush and comb from the bathroom, and Shani set to work.

She fingered Kyra's rich mahogany hair with envy. "If only I had a mane like that," she said half to herself, and started because Kyra actually had a mane. The hair on her head hung down to mid-back, but running down her spine was a short width of hair, trimmed to about 4 inches. Again she recovered quickly and began brushing out Kyra's long thing hair. It wasn't coarse, but very smooth and plentiful. She would never get cold in the winter with this stuff. Shani ran through a monologue as she brushed and combed this luxurious hair, talking of how she was going to style it. She threw out many suggestions, catching the girl's reaction, and finally settled on two small parallel braids above her right ear and hung down their length where they were tied off by red and green rubber bands. The front of her hair Shani parted on the right and gave a little flip to the left side so that it resembled a breaking wave. The mass of hair was held at the nape of her neck with a large, flat barrette. Now Shani turned to Kyra's face.

Kyra was naturally beautiful. She had a look of innocence, but her eyes were darkened from too many tears. With a quick study, Shani set to work. First came the tweezers, plucking at a hair here, shaping an eyebrow slightly there. The base makeup came next, providing a light foundation and blending in the darker circles under her eyes. Third came the actual painting, but not too much. Shani did not want to mask Kyra's face, only highlight it. A pencil filled in her eyebrows and set her eyelashes. A darker lipstick brought focus to the lips and a touch of the blush brush accented an otherwise pale face.

Studying her face a moment more, Shani nodded to herself and started on Kyra's nails. This was relaxing for Shani and Kyra both and they found themselves talking about life in general. A clear polish was applied to keep her nails from becoming dull and finally Shani was ready for the shirt. Kyra stood and put it on, waiting expectantly for Shani, who looked at her critically. Stepping forward, Shani unbuttoned the cuffs and rolled them twice. Satisfied, she motioned Kyra to look at herself in the mirror.

Kyra was stunned, and stunning. The little extra graces added to her outlook and she found herself unconsciously straightening her back to compensate. After a few moments Kyra turned back to Shani who was grinning fit to split her face. "I see I do good work!" A knock on the door by Kyra's mother announced that their escorts had arrived. "And not a moment too soon. Come on, let's go." Shani gathered the last of her implements but left the lipstick, blush and foundation since she was too dark-complected to use them, and ushered Shani to proceed her.

Her parents were as stunned as she was as Kyra put in an appearance. Wide-eyed and wide-mouthed, they gawked at the transformation of their daughter before Dr. Tanaille groaned. The three ladies turned the eyes quickly toward him, and he said in mock despair, "Now I guess I'll have to start fighting off the hordes of hormone-crazed teenage boys! I was not looking forward to this!" Kyra ducked her head and Sharon elbowed her husband in the ribs.

They then made their way to the front door, where the young men were waiting outside. Dallas raised his eyebrows appreciatively as Kyra followed Shani out of the door and nodded his head in bow. Shani found Jamie almost comical in his expression, but refrained from laughing at the look in his eyes. Wide-eyed wonder painted itself to his eyes and his mouth dropped wide enough for a family of wrens to nest.

Quickly Jamie shook off his stupor and assumed a classic English gentleman pose. "Pray, dear lady, allow me to escort thine beauty this evening. And shouldst mine ministrations not evoke an even passable fest, then let us part our ways with nary a word. But, should a smile make itself known on thy ravishing face, then let me be thy servant forever." With a flourish he bowed deeply to Kyra.

Shannon and Dr. Tanaille stepped out of the doorway to witness this transaction. They bid the group a good time, telling Kyra to be home at a reasonable time. Kyra's father told her that he should have the fences up by the morning, but this earned the girls confused looks from their dates and another elbow in the ribs from his wife. As the children set out, Mark looked at his wife. "That boy has quite a good effect on Kyra. Are you sure he hasn't been talking with Penny?" Sharon shook her head, but Jamie was still close enough to witness the comment and turned his head to glance at the couple.

The dance was an average high-school dance. A DJ from within the student body was hired to set up oversized speakers and a battered light system in the cafeteria of the school where the janitor set up several tables. On a table far from the dance area sat a bowl of punch consisting of red dye, water, flat 7-Up and quickly melting ice cubes. The dance floor contained roughly 15 couples and a group of girls who danced in a bunch. Off to one side was a couple, pasted together, slow-dancing to all songs, even a hard rock song that a reputation, according to some parents, of encouraging Satan worship. Watching this conglomeration were five members of the faculty, trying hard to not look bored, all the while wishing they were at home grading papers.

Dallas, Shani, Jamie and Kyra had taken over a table close to the dance floor, watching the gyrations of "American Bandstand"-wanna-bes. They talked and laughed, and Kyra became more relaxed, and took lead of the conversation on occasion for the first time since the three had met her. Other friends and acquaintances would join the group and the size would fluctuate, but the original four remained together.

Jamie attempted several times to bring Kyra onto the dance floor but she declined. He didn't press, but he made sure to ask every few songs whether she was ready to dance yet. At about an hour into the gathering, Shani announced that she and Dallas were going to shake some booty even if Kyra wasn't. Kyra accepted this ribbing and remained to converse with Jamie and the small group around them.

Dallas and Shani danced a few sets before making their way to the table to rest for later. Kyra complemented Dallas on his moves during a particular energetic number and, Shani, proud to Dallas' humble, informed everyone in the vicinity that Dallas was a junior instructor at a dance school in town. "By the way," Shani asked, "where did Jamie get off to?"

"I don't know. He said he was going to get something about ten minutes ago and I haven't seen him since." Speculation ran rampant among the girls of the table, but Dallas sat in his chair with a light smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye.

Dallas went to get a glass of punch for himself and Shani, stopping by the DJ on his way back. Shani thanked him when he sat back down, and was in the act of taking a sip when her eyes caught a figure about twenty feet back from Kyra. The others at the table followed her gaze and soon their faces bore expressions of confusion and amusement.

Kyra was not sure if they were looking at her until she felt a hand on her right shoulder. "Milady," Jamie began, "would you care to dance?" Kyra turned her head to look at where she thought Jamie's eyes would be but found herself staring directly at Jamie's navel. She looked up quite a bit before she found his smiling face. At her look, he explained. "I thought you might not like to dance with short guys, so I borrowed a pair of plasterer's stilts and practiced like mad for the past ten days. 'Still haven't gotten used to ducking through door. I should have a pretty good headache tomorrow. How do you stand it?"

Kyra's face, first questioning, turned delighted. "You get used to it."

"So, you still have not answered my question. Would Milady like to dance?" With an, "I'd love to," the two made their way to the dance area and, on cue, Eric Clapton's "Tears in Heaven" played. Kyra found that Jamie had adjusted the stilts so that she had to tilt her head up to look into his eyes. Relaxing in his arms, Kyra felt, for the first time in a long time, happy.

All too soon the last refrain of the music died away and the strains of a big band revival started to stream through the speakers. Kyra started to move back to the table but Jamie held her to the floor and began crazy moves that had her giggling. Kyra laughed at his audacity, but gave as good as she got prancing her front hooves but keeping her rear feet on the ground. The crowd on the dance floor stepped back to give them room and soon clapping to the rhythm of the music. The chaperones stopped looking bored and joined in with the clapping and cheering. Jamie and Kyra took turns in the spotlight and, when Jamie tripped over his extended feet on one complicated movement, Kyra caught him and held him above the ground while he untangled his legs. After that excitement Jamie begged his way off the floor and a newly energized crowd took their place.

Kyra was laughing hard has she supported Jamie back to where Dallas was standing with two cups of watered down punch and Shani applauded. Gratefully accepting the proferred drink, Jamie sat on the table while Dallas bent to undo the stilts. Breathing hard as he took a drink, Jamie looked at Kyra, "I now understand how you got all those awards. My hat's off to you! But I just want to know one thing; you were dancing just as hard as me, but you aren't breathing like a bellows. Why?"

"I've got two sets of lungs. I can get more air than you. Come to think of it, I could probably hold my breath longer than you, too!" Jamie stuck out his tongue and the compliments came from all quarters.

It was the compliments that took the night into a drastic turn. Tim, a short freshman who always was hanging with the big kids, but never quite fitting in, gave his own compliments. "Wow! I didn't know you had moves like that, Jamie! How'd you learn that? Must've been practicing for years! And Kyra, I never knew a horse could dance!"

The music played on, the students continued dancing, but the little group around Kyra stopped. Kyra's hard-won ebulliance drained from her face and her smile collapsed. Her three companions watched her reversed metamorphosis and silently cursed as the hours they spent were neatly ruined. Shani started to smolder as Jamie looked in concern at Kyra. Dallas, keeping a cool head, stepped to a befuddled Tim and led him off explaining his error at length.

Life slowly settled into the group as Chronos lifted his control. Jamie touched Kyra's arm. "Kyra? Are you all right?" he asked.

"I'd like to go home now."

Jamie nodded. "I'll get your coat." He came back a moment later and, standing on a chair, held her coat for her. Shani handed her her backpack-like purse as Jamie picked up his stilts. As she watched Jamie and Kyra leave, Shani mentally made a new list with Tim's name em-blazoned at the top.

Jamie led her around to the outer door of the art room. Mr. Lemmon, he explained, had given him a key so that he could work after school hours on various art projects, and to help matting and framing media for showing. This was also the place where he stored his stilts, as they would never fit in his locker. "You know, if you just want to be alone to think, I know of a great place back behind the school. 'Found it exploring after I moved here last year."

Kyra gave it a moments thought. "That sounds good. I… I just need to think. I don't want to worry my parents. They've worried enough as it is. How far is it?" Jamie replied that it was up the hills a little. "Then I might as well take these off," she indicated her over-boots. She got the front ones off and Jamie helped her with the hind hooves. They secured her footwear behind the art room door and made their way into the hills.

They didn't talk much as they walked from civilization into the wild hills behind the school structure. The track they followed up was obviously a game track but it served their purposes quite well. After a while Jamie began talking again. "Like I said, I found this while exploring last year. I was still new, and I liked to get away from the bustle at times. This place is kinda' out of the way but…" he stopped at a tree that had an orange plastic strip tied to it and motioned Kyra to precede him. " … but it has a great view."

Kyra gasped at what she saw. Hidden from the track by bushes was a small clearing, about ten feet in any direction. A small boulder just the right size for sitting on sat a little off center but perfect to view the valley framed by young trees on either side.

While Kyra viewed this marvel Jamie stepped over to a side of the glade and rummaged in the bushes until he came up with a large plastic container whose contents produced several blankets. He opened up one, laid it on the ground by the boulder and motioned Kyra to have a seat. He set a folded second blanket on the rock to pad his back as he rested against it. Finished, he turned off his flashlight.

After silence reigned for several minutes, Kyra sighed. "Miriam would have loved this."

"Who's Miriam?"

"Miriam was my best friend." From her purse she extracted a small cache of pictures and showed one to Jamie. He recognized the dark-haired girl from the image that Kyra hugged to her on that day two weeks past. "She loved to sit and stare at the clouds as they raced past. One time when we visited the coast of California, we found a cliff and sat watching the ocean for hours talking about what we would be like when we grew up." Miriam paused and took a deep breath. "They took us together."

Kyra's Story

We had taken first and second place at a regional meet the day before and, as a treat, Mom and Dad took Miriam and myself to the carnival. Miriam wanted to go to a movie, but I convinced her that, being the last day that the carnival was set up, it would be our last chance. Besides, we were entitled to something special after our performances. She agreed and we spent the afternoon and well into the night eating cotton candy, playing the games of skill and chance and making ourselves sick on fried delicacies.

We met my parents by the giant slide at 9, but we wanted one more chance at the ring toss before we called it a day. They agreed and told us to meet them at the car. So with a setting June California sun, Miriam and I set off for the ring toss.

It didn't work. None of the rings landed, but our day was nothing to complain about so we made our way through the crowds to the front gate.

We never made it.

The crowd swirled around us and I lost hold of Miriam's hand. I felt a grip and a pinch on my arm, and then blackness reigned.

When I awoke, everything was hazy. There was a pressure on my entire body and I couldn't move my arms or legs, but I could feel things sticking in my arms, legs and other places. I drifted in and out of this state for quite a while. In one of my more lucid moments I realized that I was under water or some other strange liquid, and I was breathing it in like a fish.

I woke to great pain, as if every cell in my body were on fire. I couldn't scream, but it didn't take too long to pass out.

When I regained consciousness for the last time, I was laying on a bed. The bed was soft, a foam, I thought, and didn't have any sheets. I was warm without being hot, so it took a while to realize that I was naked. An iv was stuck in my arm and I had no desire to move from the comfortable position I was in. Finally breathing real air again, I took a deep breath, luxuriating in the sensations and lack of raw pain. The room was white, completely sterile to the eyes and all other senses. From what I could see, the room was a cube, completely empty except for my bed, my iv and me.

I laid on the bed, too weak to move, just gaining strength. After a while, I could push myself up onto my right side where I saw a large window. Through the window I saw another room, exactly like the one that I was in, including the bed, iv stand, and a naked figure alone on the bed.

Miriam. She was in this with me, whatever it was. I was tired from my exertions and fell back, asleep.

Over the next days I was poked and prodded by sterilized, white-clothed technicians who said not a word. If I asked what they were doing, they would frown at me and continue on in silence. Once I tried fighting their needles but with a press of a button I had as much life as a rag doll. The window between our rooms had been blanked so I could only assume that Miriam was going through the same torture that I was, and only hope that she wasn't.

Finally the studying was complete. For a few hours I could breath and somehow enjoy the tasteless glop that they fed me. The iv had been replaced by a metal cuff that could not be removed, unlike the needle and tape from before. Still, I was naked, but it didn't seem to matter now that they knew all my innermost secrets.

It was during a lull of activity that the wall that I faced sprouted seams and two men entered the room. They were both wearing the white, sterile garments and latex gloves. The man on the left was the shorter. He was rather round and sported a grey beard shot through with black. Hanging from his neck were a pair of reading glasses and he carried a page-size LCD in one hand. In one sense he struck me as a bachelor who would spend his days teaching the kids in the neighborhood the intricacies of kite flying and stopping at all lemonade stands, as much to improve their profits as to sample the homemade treats sold alongside the lemonade. The other was tall and thin, but not bony. His face was lined and set in a permanent scowl and his white hair was set so that it would never move without his conscious thought. This man was in control.

How I learned to fear him.

They stopped at the foot of the bed and paused before the thin one came to my side. He moved my head firmly and stared at something before moving to my hips and legs, examining me like a butcher examines a side of beef before deciding how to cut. On finishing he pulled out a palm-sized device which then displayed a rotating skeleton in 3D. He studied the skeleton for a while, manipulating it in space, sketching in muscles and comparing it against a second. Satisfied he turned off the device and put it away. "Prepare subject 14 for series AV-22," he told the bearded man, "and prepare this one, subject 15, for EQ-2B."

Stunned at the pronouncement for me, the second man stopped writing on his screen and looked at my judge. "But, Dr. Daniels, the EQ series hasn't been completely tested! We haven't finished the computer models, and there are issues that still need to be resolved…"

"What needs to be resolved at this time has been resolved and what is yet to be resolved will not be needed until later in the process," Dr. Daniels spoke calmly. "EQ-2B is well suited for subject 15."

"But, but… the mass displacement vectors…"

"…will be calculated when we need them, Dr. Malloy. EQ-2B." Dr. Daniels did not need to lose his patience, he had won before he even made his pronouncement. After a brief silence, Dr. Malloy sighed in resignation and made the appropriate notations on his screen.

Dr. Daniels left the room. Dr. Malloy stayed briefly, staring at me with sorrow writ plainly on his face. He reached out to my foot and gave it a reassuring squeeze before turning to quickly follow his superior.

I didn't know what series EQ-2B was, but I began to feel it fully the next morning. Actually, I could only guess at the time of day since I had no access to windows or a clock, and my room was artificially darkened for what I assumed would be night. I was first fitted with more steel bands like the one I wore for the permanent iv: one each for my right arm, chest and left and right thighs. The chest band was attached to several probes that had been placed under my skin. A long cable ran from the band and hooked into some monitoring equipment. The other bands contained several ports scattered around their circumference where they could — and would — receive tubes, needles and other paraphanelia.

When the first sets of tubes were attached, I felt a momentary prick where needles bit into my skin and arteries and veins were sought. At first I felt nothing but the gentle pressure of fluid entering my veins. Soon, however I began shivering and sweating. My bones and muscles began to ache and I shivered more. And with the aching and shivering came the hallucinations.

I saw my cat, Mathilde, curled up by my legs, but I couldn't reach her to pet her. My schoolmates gathered at the foot of my bed, talking amongst themselves often glancing at me and laughing maliciously. I could see my parents sipping champaign and talking to each other but they couldn't see me. If they only would turn their heads just a little they would be able to see me, to touch my outstretched hand. I pleaded with them, but they continued to look away.

Through it all, I could see Dr. Daniels. I do not know if he was actually there, but he was always watching, detached, like he was doing nothing more than studying a lab rat.

When the fever finally broke, I was introduced to all new pains. I was paralyzed as several technicians swathed my joints with iodine and then inserted long, thick needles deep within me and released their compounds where it hurt most. I could not move, and I could not scream. I could only lay there and exist in the sea that I had been plunged into.

Dr. Malloy came in later to check on me. He examined my legs and arms clinically before looking at my face. He gave a quick reassuring smile and asked, "How are you feeling today?" while brushing some errant hair from my face with his gloved hands.

I could not respond because any movement would set off spikes of pain throughout my body. "Pain? Yes, I'm sorry we can't do anything about that. Any pain relief that we give you would adversely affect the many chemicals coursing through your system right now, and an epidural would block nervous system signals that are desperately needed at this point." He saw my eyes shift to look at the wall with the opaqued window. "Oh, your friend? She's fine right now. Resting, actually, which you should probably be doing right now. Try to get some sleep." He touched my cheek — one of the few places on my body that didn't hurt — and left me alone to sleep.

When the pain from the injections wore off, Dr. Daniels came in and, with his cold detachment, examined me, paying special attention to my hips thighs and knees. "Prepare room 4 for stage one scaffolding insertion."

I woke strapped to my front on a bed tilted at an angle. I couldn't feel anything below my waist and got nervous when I heard the seamless door open. I hoped beyond hope it was not Dr. Daniels, and my prayers were answered. "Ah, you're awake! How are you doing today, Kyra?" Dr. Malloy asked.

"What did they do to me?"

"We… ah… this is an awkward position to talk to someone in." He moved to the head of my bed and did something that made the bed fold downward just below my shoulders and the curved back so that it was parallel to the rest of the bed. I could now see Dr. Malloy more easily and he smiled at his handiwork. "There, that's better. Now, back to your question. What we did was add a bio-scaffolding to your legs and pelvis to grow tissue in a specified direction. Have you had growing pains yet?" I shook my head and he grimaced. "Well, you will now."

He shook himself. "Well, that's not the reason I came in here. The next few weeks are liable to get kinda' boring, because we're only in the waiting stage right now so I brought you this." He handed me an LCD similar to the one he was using when I first met him but larger. I accepted it and placed it on the flat bed before me. "It's a computer. I programmed it with a curriculum for your age group and threw in some books I thought you'd like." He switched it on for me and I tapped a little at the interface. It was touch-sensitive and responded quite accurately to where I pressed. "It's not connected to the net," he said, "so you can't do any surfing or such." He glanced nervously at the door and I figured that this gift was very much his own and not part of the experiment. "If you have any questions, or want something else to read, let me know, and I'll see what I can do.

"In the meantime, you've got some highly nutritional meals to eat." It was my turn to grimace and he chuckled at the face I made.

He turned to the door. "Dr. Malloy?" I said hesitantly. He paused. "Thank you."

"You're welcome." He paused. "And you can call me Charlie." And I was alone.

I explored that pad, looking over Charlie's curriculum and noted with some distaste that it was just like being in school again. I also found that some of the books that he included were on my summer reading list. My reading list. Mom and Dad made that list for me, to "expand my horizons" instead of completely shutting down during the summer. Expand my horizons… Huh! Sometimes it was annoying to have parents with degrees in psychology and both teachers; Mom in the school system and Dad with his PhD at the University. What were they doing now? Were they still looking for me, or did they think I was dead? Had they remembered to feed Mathilde?

Melancholy thoughts were broken by a flashing icon in the corner of my computer. I pressed it and a window unfolded showing…



"What… How are you?! What's happened to you?"

"Not too shabby, except for the fact that it feels like I have just experienced several roller coaster rides tied to back of the carriage."

"You look it, too!"

"You don't look much better. What's up with you?"

We spent quite a while talking to each other. It was good to know that the other was alive and our experiences were shared. I didn't seem to hurt as much as before and a lot of weight was shifted off of my shoulders. We avoided talking about what was happening to us, because hopefully, by ignoring it, it might go away. It wouldn't but maybe if we believed hard enough…

Eventually the topics of conversation were worn away and we lapsed into an awkward silence. We agreed to talk at least once a day, if we were both conscious, and signed off.

Playing with the pad some more I found that I could minimally control the position of the bed. I saved the position that Charlie had set it at and moved it flat. Since I was tired I placed the pad computer on a table that was put by my bed and settled off to sleep.

The days and weeks passed by and my 14th birthday came and went. We still didn't know what day it was because our computers didn't include software to tell us what time it was. Miriam decided to just use the light cues provided by whomever to mark off the days and leave it at that. When we weren't talking to each other, we actually started to work through our courses, helping each other where we were stuck. I took to the maths and sciences but Miriam loved reading about history and other cultures. Charlie made good on his promise and got new books for us. Sometimes he got us in a three-way teleconference discussing some topic. It was those times that he seemed to be really enjoying. When he came to us in our rooms, however, he lost some of his energy and always looked like he wanted to say he was sorry.

Not all was fun and roses, though. Miriam and I were wheeled in for some sort of operation from time to time, and at others we were so injected full of chemical concoctions that we couldn't see straight. Always, though, we forgot about our agony when we talked to each other and ended our conversations with a cheery, "See you later."

Dr. Daniels stopped by, too, and usually his visits ended with a proclamation of another treatment regimen. He never talked to me, just his assistants. When I tried to get him to respond in some way to me by either screaming at him or waving my arms he would take anything I did in stride with that infuriatingly calm exterior or press the button that made me limp.

I continued to lay in bed. My legs felt like they had swollen to three times their normal size and constantly ached. An air bladder was placed below my navel to stretch out my skin and various places on my legs and hips were injected with something to encourage skin growth. A little more than three months after my original scaffolding surgery, I found out.

I had woken in pain three times before, and this time was no different.

I found myself not in a bed this time, but suspended in a vat of bluish gel to just under my chest. My shoulders and head were held up by way of a harness and I could just reach my pad on the table in front of me. Also, on this table was a towel, ostensibly for wiping my hands and any other implements if the gel got on them, but I had another use for it at this time. Instead I twisted the towel up, put it between my teeth, bit down hard, and screamed.

I screamed for a long time. I screamed until I was hoarse and gasping for breath, and then I had to be satisfied with whimpering.

Charlie came in to check on me after I got my breath back and had a chance to sleep some. He glanced at the various monitors that crowded around me and then looked at my face. "What happened? What did they do to me now? I can't see." I whispered.

He turned my pad around and tapped at it a bit. When he turned it back to me, it displayed a human skeleton. "Over the last months, you've been growing, with the help of the scaffolding, a second set of legs. This last surgery split the two sets of legs so that they are now separate." The picture on the screen changed with his words. "At the same time your pelvis was cracked into several plates so that it could be reformed. As a result, we placed you in this tub to support both your internal organs and modified pelvis. More scaffolding was added to grow new vertebra and ribs and to guide you leg growth." The skeleton on the screen lengthened along the horizontal spine and the legs grew down to not feet, but bony nubs. Ribs sprouted from the new vertebra to complete the picture.

"Now," he sighed, "starts the massive growth. Several devices were implanted in your torso to aid in digestion and to prepare your gastro-intestinal track for migration into this second body. A second heart will form there as well as lungs and various other organs. This will happen over the next year and more."

I now saw what I was to become. I would soon be a freak if I wasn't one already. Were they doing the same thing to Miriam, or were was something different happening to her. "Why are you doing this to me? to us? Why?!" I managed to whisper.

"I'm not doing anything! It's not… No, that's not right, I am at fault. The blame can land on my shoulders as much as anyone else. I'm not really directly involved with anything. There are endocrinologists, physiologists, physicists, biochemists and MDs by the score here, but there's only one me. I am the hub that ties everyone together and lays down the track for people to build on. I was never happy with specializing, so I learned a little bit about everything. As such, I am the perfect one to guide and nudge these scientists according to Dr. Daniels' plan." He paused, settling himself. Half to himself he continued. "I never wanted to do this! He's perverted everything! Why couldn't he leave me alone!"

Realizing that he said to much, he stopped. "Miriam went into surgery today, so you probably won't be talking with her for a week or two. You were out of it for 10 days yourself!" He paused to reach out and touch my cheek with his gloved hand. "Eat well, and remember to study. If anything, it will keep you mind off of what is happening," and left.

I didn't do anything those first few days after surgery. I couldn't. I was trying to cope with the pain, and stay somewhat sane. Finally, worry for Miriam drove me back to my pad and my studies in hopes that I could forget everything. I found that my appetite had increased and I had no problem eating the large portions of that tasteless glop they gave me. I was growing into that creature on the screen.

The nameless doctors and technicians came in every day checking on me. On two occasions I was rolled into another room and left alone. There was a humming and pulses of light, and when it was over I would be wheeled back in silence.

I checked to see if Miriam was back every day and, when she wasn't, I would write her a quick note and send it to her computer. I was lonely, and that hurt more than the operation.

Finally my call to Miriam was answered. On the screen her gaunt face stared back at me without comprehension. After a few moments, she smiled and we exclaimed at the same time, "You're alive!"

"But, Miriam, if you don't mind me saying, you look awful!"

"I probably look better than I feel. How many days…"

"Twelve. Oh, I missed you during that time Miriam! What did they do?"

She shook her head. "I don't know, but right now I feel something like Igor. With my legs, I don't know if I'll ever be able to walk again." A month before my legs were split, they reshaped her legs by slicing a large portion out of her shins and put a strange mechanical structure on her feet to stretch them out.

"I've got two more legs now, Miriam."

She smiled faintly. "Great. Maybe you'll be better on the balance beam now." She was fighting to stay awake, and I felt like a heel for keeping her conscious.

"Miriam, go to sleep. We can talk later about what's happened. See you tomorrow." She smiled gratefully and I terminated the connection.

Why were they doing this to us? What was so special about Miriam and me that made us the subject of their experiments? I had always asked myself these questions, hoping that someday they would be answered. Now, I knew that there was no turning back. My past was destroyed and only the future remained.

The months passed and I was wheeled into the operating room for more operations. Some were minor, but others left me gasping for breath. I hurt most when primitive forms of my second heart and second set of lungs were brought online. There were times when I would feel successively hot, cold, tense and compressed. That, Dr. Malloy explained, was due to the fact that new nerves were growing and connecting to tissues. This heralded a new experience. Because so many new connections were being made, my brain had to grow to accommodate everything. Unfortunately, my skull was restricting this growth and causing me constant, blinding headaches. In the early part of February as we reckoned, my head was shaved and I was once again wheeled into the OR, but this time I was not put to sleep. Instead I was put under a local anesthetic, my scalp was peeled back from my skull, and my skull was split along the lines of fusion.

Charlie sat with me for the days after, just holding my hand. Even through the latex glove the comfort was wonderful. He gently told me that my skull would re-fuse so that more room would be available for my brain to grow and not to worry about the scars because they would heal quite well and new hair would cover them up anyway. Muscle control and speech took a long time to come back, but eventually they did, and the first words I said were to thank Dr. Malloy for being there.

Miriam wasn't looking too good. The wheezing that she exhibited before my skull-cracking had gotten worse. When she moved her hand over the display I saw that it was braced. She explained that during her restless sleep she lashed out with her hand and caught a nearby stand and broke it. She coughed out a chuckle and told me that I sounded worse than she felt. I assured her that I was getting better. We signed off, promising to talk to each other tomorrow, and I bent back to my studies.

Shortly thereafter a new doctor was introduced to us. Dr. Daniels showed Dr. Thompson in to see me, one of his prized lab rats. The new man was tall and blond-haired and looked physically fit in his white lab coat. He mirrored Dr. Daniels' aloof look but his blue eyes hid something. He walled something in so that even he couldn't see it.

"This is subject 15," Dr. Daniels began. "She has been receiving series…"

"Series EQ-2B. I know. I read the reports. If as much damage has been done to her as 14, I'll have someone's head. You will do the tests that I recommend?" This was not a question.

"We have scheduled the tests and you will have the information that you require." Dr. Thompson nodded his head briefly and was then allowed himself to be led out by Dr. Daniels.

Miriam and I talked about these never ending tests. Three weeks had passed and new needles were inserted deeply into our bodies to extract secrets we didn't know we were hiding. "It should be over soon," Miriam was telling me. "There can't be anything more they can find out." She was worrying me. While my speech had gotten better, she had only gotten worse. She was now constantly wheezing and every sentence was broken by a cough. Occasionally she would swallow and grimace in pain.

"I just can't wait until it's over."

"Hey, we'll survive. We can take anything."

"Even Billy Bostwick's birthday parties?" Billy Bostwick was a boy in our class. The last birthday party he had ended with two broken arms, a broken leg and a minor kitchen fire that called out half of the available fire trucks.

Miriam nodded and smiled. "Even that!" she said and started a laugh that quickly degenerated into a bronchial cough. She didn't stop and some fluid started coming out of her mouth.

"Miriam?" She continued coughing. "Miriam!" I realized that the fluid was blood. "Miriam!!" I screamed. "Someone, anyone! Miriam needs help! Oh, God please, help her!" I continued to scream for help, and was rewarded when I saw figures in the camera of her pad. The last face I saw was Dr. Thompson. I began screaming anew.

Eventually a technician came in to see what was the matter. When they couldn't calm me down I fell into the oblivion of sleep.

No one told me what happened. Technicians and doctors came in and out doing their normal routine. I pleaded with them, begged them to tell me what happened to Miriam, was she all right, but I was answered with stony silence. Dr. Malloy didn't even answer me when I asked him. He just looked at me with a mute apology and left. My calls to her pad were left just as unanswered.

Then Dr. Thompson came in. He placed his tray on a stand and began preparing a needle. I was hesitant to ask him. Like Dr. Daniels, he scared me. He checked my arm cuff, inserted the needle and pushed the plunger. "What happened to Miriam?" I asked.

He almost flinched and glanced quickly at my face. "She's dead," he said simply.

I was stunned. I half expected the answer, but it was stunning to hear it none-the-less. I was now alone and I feared that the same fate would befall me. "Dead? How can she… ? She can't be!" He started to put away his implements. I took a deep breath and looked at the doctor. "You killed her. You killed her! Why did you kill her?! What did she ever do to you?! What did we ever do to you?!"

With a surprising quickness he spun around and caught my jaw in his right hand. A fire flashed behind his eyes and I feared that he would hurt me with his bare hands. For a moment I felt that this would be a blessing, having a pain that I could put a name to, but the barely controlled rage rubbed that thought from my mind. "I did not kill her!" he got out between clenched teeth. "You can blame those idiots who don't know what they are doing! I have never lost anyone under my command and I am not about to lose you! You will live, if it is the last thing that I do, do you hear me! You will live!"

I nodded dumbly at his quiet outburst. He quickly got a hold of himself, finished setting his tray to rights and left the room without another look.

I continued to write letters to Miriam, telling her what was happening to me, wishing her well. Often I would beg her forgiveness for insisting on going to the carnival that night and agreeing to play that one last game. Numbly I continued studying and reading the occasional book. Dr. Malloy continued in his role as mentor, but something seemed to have gone out of him as well. Dr. Thompson continued taking samples and pumping me with new chemicals, but he said nothing after his outburst.

And Dr. Daniels continued to officiate at my surgeries. The scaffolding for my skeletal system tapered off and instead focus was placed on rebuilding my musculature. One day he came into my room while I was working on my lessons and nodded to the technician by his side. He commented that it was good that subject 15 was keeping up her manual dexterity and that other muscles should be exercised as well. Shortly thereafter probes were attached to my leg, back and arms and I could always count on spending 15 minutes four times a day of electric pulses sending every muscle in my body to twitching.

I finally learned the date when, on August 8th Charlie came into my room carrying a large cloth-covered bowl and wished me a happy birthday. He set the bowl on my table and looked up at me expectantly. He had to look up because, while I was being suspended by my harness, the hormones, drugs and other chemicals that I had been shot full of caused me to grow. I guessed that I was around seven feet tall if I would stand on my own four feet. I lifted the towel and saw fruit: apples and oranges and grapes and bananas. It was a dream that barely registered on my mind. "Thank you," I said.

"I know how nutritional the paste you eat is, and you could survive on that stuff for forever, but a body needs some new food once in a while. We couldn't get you anything else because this is such a clean environment. Cleaner than a microchip factory, actually. Still, I had to talk fast with Dr. Daniels, getting him to agree that your digestive system needed a change of pace, see what it could do now. If you like that and you can handle it, I'll see about getting more."

I nodded dumbly and picked up an apple. He stopped me with a hand on my wrist and I looked at his face. There concern was written plainly but I couldn't satisfy him because I couldn't smile. He sighed and let go of my hand. He turned to walk out of the room and I paused before taking a bite of the apple. Again, I thanked him. He mumbled a your welcome, opened the door and left.

In September nonessential characteristics such as body hair, tail and mane were stimulated to grow. At that time I was told indirectly through Dr. Daniels' comment to a technician that all constructive surgery was complete. Dr. Thompson's chemical regimen also tapered off and he now only stuck me with a needle to take samples.

It was in the middle of October when Dr. Thompson paid me his last visit. He checked me over, took a last sample and prepared to leave. First, however, he grabbed a stool and pulled it close to the tank I was suspended in and stood on it. With a pen light he flashed my eyes and looked at them, but in a voice almost too quiet to hear, he whispered, "Your pain is almost over, the cavalry is coming." He got down, put the stool back and left, never to return.

I continued to grow and slowly my dependence on the gel-tank was removed. I could not as yet support my new, larger body so a rigging of pullies and padded straps was made, but not before I went through one more bout of 'fever' as I had so long ago when I first arrived.

Christmas came and New Year's, and then I had a visitor.

A bulky, distinguished looking gentleman with a carriage indicating that he was a force to be reckoned with strode into my silent prison in the middle of January. He stopped four feet from where I was being supported and placed his hands behind his back. "Kyra Ann Tanaille," he began. It took a moment to register that he was speaking to me because everyone, except Charlie, called me subject 15. "Kyra, I am Supreme Court Justice Lawrence Worthing. As you know a grave injustice has been committed against you by Dr. Daniels and his staff. They have been apprehended and placed in the custody of the United States pending trial by the UN for crimes against yourself and humanity. Don't worry," he added in a much lighter tone, "judgment has already been made."

I was stunned. Was it all over? Could I go home now?

"Your parents have been told you are alive and should arrive on this island within a week. Dr. Malloy has informed me that you still are not completely done 'cooking', as it were, so it will be a while before you can leave." My parents were coming! Mom, Dad, I would see them again! Tears started to stream down my face, and I cried.

"I'm sorry," I heard Judge Worthing say. "I wish I could give you a hug, but I haven't gone through the complete decontamination procedures." He stood, looking uncomfortable. "I need to organize some things, so, if you don't mind, I'll send Dr. Malloy in." I didn't hear the judge leave or Charlie enter, but his gloved hand was holding mine before too long.

I cried myself to sleep that night.

Before the week was out my parents had arrived and were suited up to see me. My mother had to be restrained by Dr. Malloy and Dad to keep from rushing up to me. He explained that I had been living for more than a year without non-essential bacteria in my body and so my immune system was quite weak. She accepted this with a nod and stood still before me. They had aged. I knew I changed, but I didn't know what my missing had done to my parents. Where Mom's hair had been a dark, luxurious brown it was now shot through with gray and her face looked thinner. Dad, too hadn't escaped and his face was now lined in worry and his eyes had bags underneath them indicating many sleepless nights.

Now, because the couldn't touch me, they looked at me. They studied the creature that their daughter had become. I knew what I looked like. I had finally been given a chance to see myself in a mirror just a few days before. My head was larger and covered with reddish brown hair that was in need of a cutting. My cheekbones stood out and the skin on my face was tightened, making me look gaunt. Though not readily apparent because of the straps supporting my torso, my shoulders were broader and the muscles in arms and chest were larger, making my breasts look huge. And those had come in too. Gone were the nubbins of a young girl, replaced by breasts wanted by any teen. Running down the length of my still-human spine was a fine hair, not coarse as expected, that was the same color as what was on my head. Below my belly-button began the chestnut hair that belonged to an anemic horse.

I knew what I looked like, but what did my parents see? Was I still their daughter? Was I still their little girl? I watched them, as they studied me.

Finally my mother broke that interminable silence. "Did it hurt?" she asked. I could only nod my head. Dad put his arm around Mom, and I thought, 'So close, but so far away.'

"We missed you," Dad said after another silence.

I worked my jaw for a few moments before I got my voice back. "I missed you, too." Again we stood, unable to touch, shedding silent tears.

Charlie sensed the awkward pain of the moment and chose that time to interrupt. "Dr. Tanaille, Mrs. Tanaille, if you would come with me, we can put you through decom level 5 so that you may get closer to your daughter. If you will come with me?" They reluctantly turned their eyes from me and followed Dr. Malloy.

I was alone again with my thoughts. I couldn't help but analyze the reactions of my parents, how they stood, what they said. Mom's initial reaction was expected, her rush toward me, but afterward when she looked at me… Maybe it was in horror, maybe curiosity. To my mind, however, she looked at me like I was some freakish monster, and the little girl they knew no longer existed.

After they had been properly decontaminated my parents came back to spend time with me. They still couldn't touch me skin-to-skin, but I had learned over the course of 18 months to enjoy even the contact of latex gloves. I watched them as they moved and listened to their speech. They exuded a confidence and affection, like they were supposed to since they had their matching psychology degrees. Thankfully, they avoided my experiences, and steered clear of any questions about Miriam. They knew what happened, and they knew how close we were. Instead they talked about what was happening at home, who had gotten married, how my classmates wrote letters and how everyone thought I was dead. I found out that usually after a kidnapping, if the person isn't found after a year, it is assumed by various agencies that they were dead.

My parents never gave up hope. That was something.

Mom gave me a bath, as much as she could. She carefully scrubbed me down with the supplies she was given, rubbing out the sore spots that had born the brunt of the needles. Mom grew up on a farm and often worked with horses as a young girl and knew just what I needed, brushing out my hair and tail which she also trimmed. They had grown quite long and a little tangled. Some of the technicians came in to help her in this process, but they were always accompanied by a stern-faced guard who looked almost comical with their lack of a sidearm.

My parents were originally wary of Dr. Malloy, but when I told them about the basket of fruit, the lessons, and that he was my only friend during this time period, they relented. They still didn't trust him completely, but they at least listened when he talked. It was a good thing, too, because I found that he would be in charge of whatever happened to me during the rest of my stay on the island.

"She's not actually part horse," he explained to the three of us one day. "There is no DNA in her cells that one can positively identify as being equine in nature. We did introduce some gene-splicing and such, but that was mostly to redesign her metabolism to support a larger mass, to stimulate growth of new neurons and other minor details. The majority of changes came about by providing the right bracing and releasing chemical triggers at the right time. You see, every cell in the body contains all the genetic material needed by the body. For example, your left knee knows how to be an eye, an oil producing cell in your underarm knows how to be a liver cell, etc. But, some time during natal development, they were locked in their roles by some hormonal message. We just added a new scaffolding, provided synthetic hormones, rewrapped muscles and grew a few billion neurons to produce a new Kyra.

"What this all means, is, Kyra's genotype still screams 'homo sapiens'. Someone looking with today's technology will see chromosomal pairs that are slightly abnormal, but nothing to be concerned about. It also means that she doesn't have to stick to a vegetarian diet. Though I know how much you have enjoyed the meals you were served here," and here he answered my frown with a mischevious grin, "you can still safely enjoy a nice juicy steak. However, I recommend that she stick to a diet high in plant matter. We activated your appendix to help in the digestion of vegetation. You now have a much more efficient metabolism than us poor unmodified bipeds."

On whether I could have children: "Her reproductive system is completely active. As far as we have been able to model, Kyra can conceive and carry a child as any normal mammal. However, due to the modifications implicit on her DNA, conception might be difficult. Even harder to predict is if any of her offspring would exhibit any of the changes that she has gone through. Maybe they'd come out normal, or maybe her body would provide the chemical cues to make them a copy of her or some hybrid. We don't know. However, conception may be difficult due also to the fact that we had to slow down her menstrual cycle to cope with the hormonal fluctuation. Look at the bright side; you'll only have to go through PMS about twice a year now."

When asked about my lifespan, he grew somber. "That is something that we can't predict. The models and planning of her treatment were not complete when Dr. Daniels made his decision. This is the most radical of procedures that have been attempted. Kyra is also the only one to survive to this stage without being insane. Subjects 1 through 14 all either died during their treatment or suffered from various type of dementia until they died shortly after their treatment was complete."

"If it makes you feel any better," Dr. Malloy said at one time, "all of the information that we have collected over the years can and will be put to good use. We have learned how to regenerate nerves, perfected techniques of gene therapy, and learned how to grow new limbs and new organs. Nutritionists will have a heyday with what we have learned about the metabolism! You and I may not have wanted what happened to you, Kyra, but we can only use what we have learned and reach forward."

The parents of the other victims arrived over the course of two weeks, to identify the remains of their preserved children, and to bear witness to the trial of Dr. Daniels and his crew. Dad attended the sessions in the main gallery, but Mom stayed with me and we watched the spectacle from a monitor placed in my room. I didn't pay attention to the findings of fact, partly because I had lived through it, and partly because I was starting physical therapy. The harness supporting my torso had been taken off and I was sitting up on my own for the first time.

I did, however, make sure to listen to the final declaration of guilt, and the sentence laid down on Dr. Daniels.

Four UN officials had been called in as judges, but Judge Worthing commanded the trial. There were no lawyers, no arguments, no declarations of innocence. Dr. Daniels didn't scream his innocence or point a finger at the responsible party, but sat stoically wearing a face that declared that he knew what he did was for the betterment of mankind.

"It is true that humans have become the great experimenters," Judge Worthing spoke as he began to conclude the trial. "We have continuously tested the environment and animals to see what could happen, but it has always been known that there has been no adequate substitute for the human body for testing certain drugs. As such, groups of volunteers were informed of the risks of what they were doing, acknowledged that risk, and gave their lives for the betterment of mankind, and, if and when they died, were given a heroes burial. It is because of the sacrifice of these brave individuals that diseases such as malaria were conquered.

"Shortly after World War II, world leaders, confronted with the horrors of concentration camps and rampant experimentation, got together in Nuremburg to produce a code of action in cases where human experimentation is necessary. That code has been one of the most sacred documents held in the United Nations. But here, that code was not only ignored, but was torn asunder by the tortures inflicted not only on human beings, but children, our future! A mockery has been made of humanity, and it will not be tolerated in any way, shape or form.

"And so, it is with my extreme displeasure, Dr. Daniels that I revoke your citizenship of the United States of America. For your callous disregard of the Bill of Rights and the basic human rights of Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness, you have joined ranks led by Josef Menghele, and for that, we are horrified. You will also be refused citizenship to every country signatory to the United Nations. All will turn you out for your crimes; none will make you welcome.

"You and your followers will also stand trial in the various countries against which you committed individual crimes. You will not be tried again for your experimenting, for that punishment has been decided here.

"I, for one, no longer look upon you as a human being. So, as you used these children as tools, you will be used, too. So finds this court. Court is adjourned." The gavel clacked.

Miriam's parents grieved for their daughter. Her mother fainted when she saw Miriam's broken body and the stumps on her back that were supposed to become wings. They sent their apologies but, even though Miriam and I were close friends, they didn't want to see me. Dad told me that they even avoided him during and after the trial. I could understand; why would they want to be around a monster that their Miriam could have become?

Judge Worthing stopped by again to see how things were going. After pleasantries, he got down to why he was there. "We, the US government, are extremely embarrassed about what has happened here. How Dr. Daniels gained the control he did through that 'clerical error' and continued to stymie me and my fellows for so long, I don't think we'll ever find out. As it is, we would like to keep everything as quiet as possible to avoid uncomfortable inquiries."

Dad looked at the judge with a twinkle in his eye. "Who leaked it?" he asked.

"Stupid delivery boy tripped when he was delivering the unfolded letter to the President, who happened to be in discussion with the Secretary-General of the UN. That's the only reason we have those UN officials here. However, that is neither here nor there. Getting back on track, we know that Kyra's new form poses new difficulties, and want to offset any costs that her care may entail. Specifically, her presence would cause quite a stir wherever you moved, and we cannot provide the protection that is needed to keep you and her safe. We would like to relocate your family, Dr. Tanaille, to a place where the government can keep an eye on you and to give its expert help as needed.

"I know, I know," Judge Worthing held up his hand to stall my father's protests. "It sounds like we're asking for your permission to control your lives, jerking you around and studying the three of you like a bad anti-government sci-fi flick. At this point, we do have your best interests at heart. The place we have in mind is situated in the Appalachians, is quite isolated, though not inaccessible, and has served as a place of research since before World War II. The community truly is a community there and the people are honest and open. I've visited it several times to get away from things, and I think you'd enjoy it. You'll get more information later to help you decide."

And that was the first I heard of Levitt.

Dad went back to our home in California to finish his semester of teaching and to inform our friends and family that I was alive, and that we would be moving away. They were told that I had been through a lot of trauma during my captivity and that a smaller more rural setting was needed for my recovery. They weren't told what I had become, and for that I was thankful.

Mom stayed with me to help me through my recovery and training. It was with her help that I learned to stand and walk again. When my immune system began to be introduced to environments of less sterility, she was there to nurse me back to health. She made everything feel like old times. Almost.

Charlie continued to watch over my development, encouraging me when I fell, and patting me on both of my backs when I succeeded. I was relieved to find that he would not be in the group that was to be disowned. Instead, because he was blackmailed by Dr. Daniels to do what he did and that he acted with a humanity lacked by most of the other members of the project, he would be present to dismantle the programs set in place. Afterward, he would be part of the team to disseminate the gained technologies throughout the medical and scientific world.

My only task was to grow stronger. I quickly filled out so that I didn't look so gaunt anymore and learned to appreciate all those things that most people take for granted. I had to learn how to stand up, walk and control various bodily functions. Luckily my body was pretty much new and, with the chemicals still unflushed from my system, I recovered most of my dexterity in no time. It was hardest when I found that the muscles in my arms and chest had been strengthened to compensate for my increased mass. True, I had been using that computer for quite a while, but a machine can take a lot of abuse, and I was still pumped full of drugs.

August quickly rolled around and I, finally clothed, made my way to the house that had been prepared for us in Levitt.

An Ending

During the telling of her story, Jamie had moved himself to sit on top of the rock and Kyra shifted so that he could put his arms around her. They sat in the silence, staring out at the bright moon, drinking in all that they could see. An owl hooted, and the occasional nocturnal animal shifted the underbrush.

Jamie felt comfortable with his arms about this half-horse girl. He marveled at how she could bear the pain and sorrows of her past. He admired her strength, and he felt honored that she chose to share all of that with him. The night breeze shifted the trees and Jamie gave an involuntary shiver. "It's, ah, getting a little cold out. However, I've got a little something that will help that." Reluctantly he removed his arms and reached for a pack. There he pulled out a thermos, unscrewed the cap and poured a liquid that steamed in the cool October night. He hesitated a moment before handing Kyra the thermos and kept the cup for himself. "Hot chocolate," he said by way of explanation.

Kyra took the thermos and sipped the drink. "You planned this."

Jamie paused in his drinking and looked at her face by the light of the full moon. Briefly he touched the tracks on her cheeks laid down by tears. "Not all of it," he said. "Not all of it."

They finished their chocolate in silence. Jamie reassembled the thermos, put it back in his pack and started to collect the blankets. "Come on. It's getting kinda' late, and I'd promised your parents that I'd get you back before you turned into a pumpkin or somthin'."

Kyra smiled and got up, picking up the blanket she was laying on and folding it before handing it back to Jamie. "Or, in my case, probably a rat!" Jamie took the blanket and stored it with its mate in the box. "Jamie, when you look at me, what do you see?"

Jamie paused for a moment to look at Kyra as she looked over the town. "On the outside, I see a rather pretty young girl who happens to have a horse's body attached to her hips. But, looking closer, I see someone who is desperately lonely and needs a friend. I would like to be that friend, if you don't mind."

Kyra smiled and ducked her head. "I think you already are. Thanks." She resumed her contemplation of the town. "You know, I never said good-bye to her. I said 'See you soon' or 'Until next time', but I never said good-bye."

"We all do things that we wish we didn't, or could do differently. I still wish I hadn't left that rubber ball out where my dog could get at it. Had to go to the vet to have it surgically removed. But, that's in the past. If it's something that you forgot to do, maybe you'll be lucky to get to do it later. In the meantime, it's best not to dwell on such thoughts." Now Jamie paused to switch gears. "Kyra, back to your question, what do you see? When you look in the mirror, what do you see staring back?"

"When I looked in the mirror at the lab, I saw a beast. A freak of nature come to life in a laboratory like Frankensteins."

"And now?"

"Now," Kyra took a deep breath and smiled when she looked at Jamie. "Now, I see a centaur." They both smiled and began to make their way back down to the school.

A weight had been lifted from Kyra's chest and many noticed  — and commented on — her change in outlook. Kyra no longer stayed apart from the rest of the student body in silent contemplation of friends lost, but instead worked to gather as many friends around her. At the center of the crowd was Jamie.

In November, Jamie asked Kyra if she would like to stop by his house. "I've got something I'd like to show you. I didn't want to bring it to school because it's not quite done." After a slight hesitation, Kyra agreed.

Unlike the route to Kyra's house, they needed to skirt the edge of the business area of town. This time, they walked in relative silence. "You don't go out much, do you?" Jamie asked, noting Kyra's withdrawal.

"No. Just school and home. The dance was the first time that I've been out in the evening in a long time."

"I'm sorry. If you want to go back…"

"No. I need to get out more as it is. I can't hide in my safe haven forever." The walked past a fast-food chain restaurant.

"Do you get used to it?" At Kyra's querying sound, Jamie explained. "The stares. People looking at you."

"It's not so much the stares, but the non-stares. You know, where someone knows you're there, but try their hardest not to look because that's what they think is polite. I've kinda' gotten used to the stares of the kids at school. The years haven't yet drilled into their skulls the rules of propriety."

"Rules of what?"

"Rules of propriety. The unverbalized agreement of how one acts within a social context, otherwise known as the social contract." At Jamie's look of befuddlement, Kyra grinned sheepishly. "Sorry. My parents are psychologists, and you can't help but pick up the language over time."

"So, are you gonna' go into psychology like Mom and Pop? Make it a family thing?"

"Actually, that was more sociology. But, no, it doesn't quite interest me. People are too weird. I've been thinking more along the lines of biology. I've got more than enough experience along that area!"

"But, I thought that was all behind you now?" Jamie gave a meaningful backwards glance. Kyra caught it and smacked him on the top of the head.

"Watch it! I'm bigger than you, you know!"

The comfortable banter continued all the way to the Thompson house. "I'd, uh, ask you in, but, well…"

"I understand. I'll wait here." Looking relieved, Jamie bounced up the porch and into the house.

Kyra didn't have to wait long as Jamie returned momentarily carrying a large sketchpad. "I wanted your input before I finished it," he said as he walked to the porch railing. He flipped through the pages before coming to a page that was protected with a sheet of news-print. "Ah! I, uh, hope you like it." He handed the pad to Kyra, noting that with the advantage of the porch, he could look straight at Kyra's forehead.

The simple pencil drawing was a front, low-angle shot of a girl, lying in the grass, propped up by her elbows. The girls feet were crossed at the ankle and waving in the air while she squinted into the sky. What caused Kyra's hands to tremble, however, was that the face on the girl belonged to that of —

"Miriam!" Slowly she handed the book back to Jamie and then leaned on the porch railing for support. For several minutes she cried, gratefully accepting Jamie's arm around her shoulders. Finally, she sniffed and began to wipe the tears from her eyes.

"I'm sorry. I didn't mean to upset you. I'll put this away…"

"No, don't, it… I've just never let myself cry over her. I think about her always, but tears…" At a loss for words, she stopped.

"If you don't mind, I'm going to redo this in watercolor. I wanted to make sure that I got the face and positioning right before I move on to the final medium. I only saw her a couple times, and the best look I got was at night with a flashlight."

Kyra laughed and pulled his face to her to plant a kiss on his cheek. "You've captured her better than you could possibly imagine. Here," she reached for purse and pulled out her picture of Miriam. "So you can study it in better light!"

"No, I can't take…"

"Take it. Just make sure that you give it back when you are done, okay?" Jamie nodded, but looked up at a car that sped past the house. "What?"

He shook his head. "Nothin'. Coulda' swore that was my dad driving past. Anyway, I'll get this back to you when it's done. Thanks."

The two looked at each other longer, unaware that their hands had clasped involuntarily. Leaves still clinging to their perches rustled in the wind while the air tickled the nose with a promise of snow, and still their eyes locked. Unwilling to let go, Kyra mentioned that she shouldn't be late for dinner, and Jamie concurred. Finally, with embarrassed glances and warm cheeks, Kyra made her way down the street and to her home.

Jamie returned her photo of Miriam in early December at a small gathering between the Thompsons and Tanailles. Kyra grew misty-eyed as he also produced a framed watercolor matching the sketch of Miriam he had shown her the weeks before. Immediately Kyra and Jamie hung the frame in her bedroom so that she could see it every morning on waking.

Though Jamies father couldn't make it — a chemical spill at work forced him to stay behind and supervise the cleanup — everyone had a grand time. The adults talked of Christmases past and Jamie challenged Kyra to a desert eating contest, which Kyra won handily by eating two of the three pies provided for the occasion. The tree was trimmed by the ladies while Jamie and Steve finished hanging lights on the porch. When everyone was inside Kyra was unanimously voted to place the star on the topmost branch.

As Kyra prepared for sleep that night, she realized that for the first time in a long time, she was happy. Though her life hadn't quite turned out the way Miriam had dreamt it on those cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean, she had met Jamie and was thankful for that. She put her hand on the light switch and grief momentarily touched her eyes as she looked at the beautifully painted picture of her best friend. "Good night, Miriam," she said softly. "I'll see you tomorrow."

Looking out at the drifts of snow over the long driveway, Kyra sighed and dialed the phone. "Jamie? Hi, yeah, it's Kyra. How are you? Great. Really? Wow! Well, the reason I called is, Mom and Dad left this morning to pick up my grandparents from the airport… yeah, first time since then. Anyway it's snowed a little bit since then. I thought I'd be the good child and shovel the driveway before they got back, but the snow blower is a little short for me and I am not about to clear the driveway by hand. Yeah, I want you to run the blower. Uh, about 3 feet in places and the road crew shoved all the snow on the foot of the driveway. I can get that and the deeper places. What condition? Are you trying to take advantage of me? Well, I guess I am. Okay, see ya' in a bit. 'Bye!"

Jamie arrived shortly thereafter and the two worked hard at clearing away the wet snow. An impromptu snowball fight broke out, but Kyra called it off on the grounds that she was too large of a target. When they were done, they carefully stowed the equipment, brushed the snow off of each other and went indoors where Kyra fixed hot chocolate for two.

"So," Kyra began when they were settled in her room. "Let's get this over with."

"Hey, don't get huffy with me, young lady. It's not my fault that my cousin gave me a video game for a system I don't have and you do. Just wait, you might actually like it!"

She did, and they were so engrossed in the manipulation of hundreds of tiny pixels that her father had to shout several times when the rest of her clan arrived. With the game on pause, Jamie accompanied Kyra on seeing her grandparents for the first time in three years.

Activity in the entry way ceased as Kyra rounded the corner and everyone saw each other. Shannon's parents, though prepared for the sight of their granddaughter, could not help but stare.

"Thanks for clearing the driveway, Kyra," Steven broke the uncomfortable silence. Grateful for the shift of attention, Kyra explained the help that Jamie gave. "Thank you, too, Jamie. I hope that Kyra's rewarded your help in some way."

"Not really. She keeps beating me!"

"Hey, can I help it if your reflexes are slow?"

"Which reminds me, we still have three more levels to complete. Come on!" Kyra gave him a thankful look as the two made their way back to her room.

Three levels later, the foe was soundly vanquished and Kyra had her name entered in the highest score spot with Jamies at a distant second. Vowing revenge he took his leave and Kyra stayed in her room, playing a random video game.

A knock came at her door after a while, and a voice she identified as belonging to her grandmother asked for permission to enter. Her grandma hadn't changed since Kyra last saw her; maybe a few more gray hairs but she still had the wiry strength from years spent working on an Iowa farm. She sat down on the offered chair and worked to gather her thoughts before speaking.

"Gram-ma, don't worry about what you're going to say or how to say it, I've been through pretty much everything so far, so it won't be new."

She was slightly relieved, but still felt self-conscious when she finally spoke. "I wanted to apologize for how I acted — or how I didn't act — back there. It's been so long since I've seen you and, uhm…"

"You weren't quite ready to see me as half horse. I know. It was the same look I got from the entire student body on my first day of school here. It takes a while to get used to. Heck, I don't know if I'm used to it quite yet. Ask any question you want, and if Grampa wants to come in," here she raised her voice, "he can."

Guiltily her grandfather opened the door and walked in. Though he was generously built, he was no less spry than his wife as he took a seat on the floor. "So, have you always had this predilection toward spying on innocent conversations or was this a recent development?"

With reddened ears and a guilty look toward his wife, he mumbled something about the fifth and ducked his head. "We thought it best not to overwhelm you and come in one at a time, but, since you saw through our ruse…" she shrugged.

"Like I told you, I've probably been through it before. There are only so many ways people can react to you, and I've pretty much seen them all. So, how was your flight out?"

The conversation continued on with Kyra steering it towards topics that didn't degenerate to awkward silences, which wasn't hard to do since she still wasn't completely caught up on family activities during her years away. When they stood for dinner Kyra looked down at her grandfather and smilingly asked him if he was going to toss her in the air like he did when she little, but he begged off on account of a pulled back muscle.

During the their two-week stay Kyra was relieved to see her grandparents noticeably, though not completely, relax. Christmas brought many gifts, and everyone had a good laugh at the dress sent to Kyra by her cousin. It was realized then that not all members of the family had been appraised of her new fashion style and steps would have to be taken to correct that.

Sadly, the holiday season had to end and school started for the new year. Her grandparents left for Iowa and Kyra hoped that everything was as it used to be.

"Kyra! What are you doing here?" Jamie called out as he walked towards the stable.

"Enjoying a hot bath. What does it look like? I'm having a variant of bamboo shoved under my fingernails."

"It is not that bad! Hooves don't have nerves, and it's more like getting a pedicure," contradicted the burly gentleman who was putting the finishing touches on shaping her front hoof.

"It's still disconcerting!"

Jamie leaned against one of the supports, curious. "How so?"

"Well, look at it this way. Say the heel of your boot comes loose, so you go to the cobbler who promptly pulls off and nails on a new heel. While you're wearing the boots."

"Gotcha! Hey, Mr. Karch, I was thinking that the horses might be a little ansty after being cooped up all winter and so me and a couple of friends thought we might take 'em out for some exercise. Whaddaya' say?"

Hank Karch, a burly fellow in his late fifties gave Jamie a level stare as he reached for the last shoe, nails and hammer. "Oooh, aren't you such a nice guy. You're trying to con some free rides from me." He turned back to Kyra's hoof with a long-suffering sigh. "You, I'll let have the ride for free because I know you're the experienced rider, and you'll wash down the horses when you're done." This was not part of a bargain and Jamie's eyes bugged out. "Pete called in sick today and since it's spring it's a little muddy out. Your friends can pay half-price if they help wash, water and feed their horses when they're done."

"Pete's sick? Again? I hope this doesn't continue or else the summer will be a long one. Okay, agreed. Which ones should I grant the pleasure?"

"Betsy, Myra and Aberdeen. They need to stretch their legs a bit. You know where the saddles are. There, Kyra. See how that feels." Hank stood up and watched as Kyra trotted around the yard.

"Aaahh! Much better! Thanks, master Karch!" she said giving him a hug and kissed his balding pate.

"You think the shoeing is disconcerting, try it from my end! I've never had a horse thank, hug and kiss me after I put on their shoes. Had one chew on my hair, but that's another story altogether."

"That's another story," Jamie and Kyra repeated, together. Hank rolled his eyes and picked up his tools.

"Don't be too long, and watch the ground for muddy spots."

"Kyra, would you like to go ridin' with us? Well, not the actual riding part, but… uh, you know what I mean! Would you like to come along with us?"

"Sure. I've felt a little cooped up myself this past winter, and I was planning on running for a bit. I actually got here under my own power so that I could get that exercise."

"Cool! I'll get Brad and Jason to help me saddle the horses and we'll be off!"

The group of four spent a pleasant afternoon running through the northern end of the valley and partly into the foothills. The sun was pleasantly warm and Kyra discovered with a delighted laugh that she could run as fast — if not faster than — the mares the boys were riding. It was with a contented step that they made their way back to the stables.

Hank was talking with a tall, blonde-haired man when they walked their horses in. "Hey, Dad! I see you're here right on time!" Jamie swung down from his horse and began to lead her and his friends to where they could complete their deal with Hank. "Be done shortly."

Kyra had halted when Jamies father turned in response to his son's greeting. There were two faces that filled her with dread, and the planed face with icy-blue eyes staring at her were one. "Dr. Thompson," she breathed.

Dr. Thompson's face was painted with trepidation as he acknowledged her recognition. "Kyra. Hank, is there a private place where we can talk?" he asked without taking his eyes from the tall girl.

"Last stall on the left. It's also got supplies so she can get cleaned up." Dr. Thompson nodded and the two warily made their way into the stable.

The stall recommended was large with a door that closed completely for privacy. Dr. Thompson entered first and Kyra shut the door, blocking it with her body. There was a long silence.

"If it makes you feel any better, I still can't get her out of my head."

"No. It doesn't." Kyra, standing with her arms crossed, was stony-faced with keeping her anger checked. Another silence followed.

"Kyra, don't pass judgment until you know the whole story. You don't even know why I was there!"

"Let me guess: Daniels blackmailed you."

"No, he asked me to help, and I accepted." Dr. Thompson quickly backed into the wall as Kyra advanced. "But I was told to!" She stopped. "For years my superiors suspected that Dr. Daniels was continuing experiments that had been explicitly denied. Somehow he slipped through the cracks and continued slipping. They needed someone on the inside to gather as much information as possible before they acted. They knew that I had expressed displeasure at being unable to put my theories into clinical trials and, when Dr. Daniels approached me, I was told to go with him. I didn't know the extent of his depredations!"

The scientist was breathing hard at his exertion. Kyra studied him for a while before speaking softly. "Why didn't you stop it earlier?"

"I couldn't. I had to continue gathering data, to make sure that no one was unduly accused and to find every source in his organization. If you believe me, I wanted to bring down the wrath of God when I first saw the two of you, but your systems were too unstable. I had to wait until you could survive outside of the lab environment, and that took time and a cohesive organization. That, and you were on the verge of systemic collapse, just like what happened to Miriam.

"Did they tell you how it happened? No, of course they didn't. Part of what they needed to do to her was to decrease bone density and redistribute structural members throughout her body. Instead, the calcium redistributed itself to her fleshy tissues, especially her lungs. As they calcified, they began to tear at the soft parts. She literally drowned in the fluid from her lungs. And do you want to know the worst part?

"It was the equations I laid out in my work that they were using for the redistribution process. In effect, I killed her. It was my work that led to her demise, and your safety. When I saw Jamie painting her face, I almost died, too. Memories I left buried… Neither Jamie nor his mother know what I did during those months, and I would like to leave it that way."

Dr. Thompson stopped in his speaking to catch his breath and to rub at eyes that were suddenly haunted. Quietly, he continued, "You know, in my years as a Navy SEAL, not a single man died under my command. Miriam was the first to die from my work, and she will be the only. I stayed with you as long as it took to stabilize you and get you prepared for the final stages."

"And then," Kyra said after a long pause, "the cavalry came."

Dr. Thompson collected grooming supplies and, when Kyra didn't stop him, proceeded to wash the dried mud from her hide. They were quiet throughout the process. Kyra broke the silence when he was done. "I don't know if I can thank you, Dr. Thompson."

"Call me Jim. And if I am damned, so be it." Jim left the stall and Kyra could hear his exhortation for Jamie to hurry up. After they had left, Kyra came out and made her way home.

"So, what are you going to be doing this summer, Kyra?" Jamie asked as he, Kyra, Shani and Dallas walked across the school campus with the contents of their cleaned-out lockers in their arms.

"I hadn't quite decided, yet. I've got an offer to do odd jobs around the base research block. I've spent enough time there already that they thought this would be an ideal way of being around when they need me. Besides, I've already got most of the necessary security clearance."

Jamie rolled his eyes. "Sure, especially when you need clearance just to be around yourself! Hey, maybe you'll get to work with my dad."

"Maybe," Kyra responded eyeing Jamie dubiosly. "What are your plans?"

"Same as last year; work for Mr. Karch, hope that the other hired hand shows up more than once a week."

"Quit complaining, Jamie. At least you have a decent job," Shani added. "I'm going to be stuck back at that restaurant smelling like fries and grease all day long. Kyra, you have a very good opportunity. I'd take it if I were you, girl."

"Gee," Jamie asked quirking a smile, "you wouldn't happen to work for Penny, do you?"

Shani turned a confused face to Jamie. "No, and who's Penny?"

"That's what people have been asking me all year 'round and I have yet to find out who he/she/it/they is/are!"

"A psychologist," Kyra answered. "My psychologist, actually, and he has an uncanny tendency to know exactly what's going on in my life at any given…" She stopped and pointed at Jamie and Shani in turn. "If you're not working with Penny, and you're not either, then who…"

The small group turned slowly to face a silent Dallas who just raised his eyebrows and showed a small smile. "He also happens to be my neighbor, and when he found out that we would be having classes together he asked me to be an observer."

Kyra was wide-eyed in her stare of Dallas before she started to chuckle. "And all this time… We thought it was Jamie!"

Shani was a little less than amused with her boyfriend. "I thought we told each other everything! I thought the secret to a lasting relationship was truth and openness!"

Dallas just shrugged off Shani's accusing glare. "Penny told me to only observe, and to keep it secret. I did so because he asked nicely."

"We're going to have a long talk about this, Dallas. In private." Again Dallas just shrugged and looked nonplussed, used to his girlfriend's posessiveness.

They continued their walk to the parking lot, Shani still a little peeved about her boyfriend's revelation, talking about whatever came to mind.

Jamie's father was waiting for the group as the neared the line of parked cars. "Dad! What're you doing here?"

"Making sure you don't start off your summer as a delinquent," Dr. Thompson joked. "I left work early to see if anyone was up for a little post-academia celebration at Parrazzi's Pizza. Of course, if you have other plans…"

"No, nothing that can't be postponed," his son answered. "Kyra, you up for it?"

"Well, I don't know. I, uh…"

Jamie took in Kyra's uncomfortable response. Kyra still hadn't been out much since walking to his house in November, and most of the restaurants in town didn't have the seating for someone her size. "It's got a outdoor dining area where so you don't have to go in." With a gleam in his eye and a quirk of his lips he added, "And Papa Parrazzi's got a deal that anyone who can finish his 20-inch works pie in one sitting gets their next five pizzas free."

"May I ask how many people have finished the pizza?"

"We're hoping you'll be the first."

Kyra thought it over. "You're not sharing my lunches," she answered.

Jamie clapped his hands together. "Great! I'll put my things in the car and walk with you…"

"Actually, Jamie, why don't you drive. I'd like to walk with Kyra. That is, if you don't mind?"

Kyra's jaw tightened imperceptibly before she looked to Dr. Thompson and nodded. Jamie shrugged and caught the keys that were thrown to him. On Jim's suggestion Kyra stowed her bag in the car as Dallas, Jamie and Shane piled into the Thompson sedan.

The car pulled out and Kyra walked in silence beside the doctor. "Jamie's got a crush on you, you know," Jim said when they were clear of the shoolyard. Kyra made nocommittal noise and continued to stare straight ahead. "Do you, uh, feel the same?" She turned her head, but not before Jim caught a blush on her cheeks. He chuckled. "Almost like any teenaged girl now, aren't you?

"I know they — we — caused you a lot of pain, Kyra. It's been almost a year since you left Dr. Daniels' care and you probably don't want to think about him any more than you have to. Now, I want you to listen to what I am about to say, and think about it. Please don't jump too quickly.

"I've talked with those who have the power and they've allowed a visit for us — you, me, Jamie — to the island. I know that it's probably the last thing that you would want to do, but it may help in the long run. I don't know about you, but I still have nightmares about that place. Seeing it being dismantled might just help us close out a chapter in our lives."

They had stopped and Kyra now looked at Jim's pained and pleading expression with tear-filled eyes. "I'm not asking for an answer now, Kyra. Just think about it, and let me know what you decide." Jim and Kyra stared silently at each other for a few moments longer.

"Come on. If we don't get to Parrazzi's soon, my son will probably get vicious for lack of pizza!"

She thought about it, and July found Kyra, Jim and Jamie aboard ship on the last leg of their journey to a little island in the south pacific. Jamie did not know the full extent of his father's involvement, only that he played a role in shutting down the operation that hurt his girlfriend so much.

Marines met them at the dock and escorted them through the jungle to the manicured grounds of a large white building that, though harmless looking, held a torture chamber in its sub-basements.

When Kyra recognized some of the personnel roaming the grounds, she angrily stated, "I thought they were going to shut this place down!"

"They did," Jim replied. "What was originally done here has ceased, and only basic research is performed. Much of what was done still needs to be codified and tabulated, and who better to perform this task than those who were involved. For them, this island is a living prison. Each person who willingly followed Dr. Daniels had their citizenship stripped, and have an armed guard with them every hour of the day. Those who were blackmailed are treated more leniently. They are performing the duties that require more trust, namely, disseminating what was learned over the seventeen years that this facility was in operation. Your friend, Dr. Malloy, is in charge of that operation.

"When all of this is done, they will continue researching. They are too valuable to be wasted in prison. Remember the Judge's words, 'As you have used these children as tools, so shall you be used.' He wasn't lying."

They saw the labs where chemicals were mixed and DNA was tweaked. On a lower level, they viewed the mighty supercomputers that simulated strange bodies and helped to sculpt the same from living tissue. Here the mass vectors of Kyra's transformation were computed, and here is where her pain began. They avoided the lowest levels for good reason.

As they walked the corridor to the courtyard, their final destination, the group crossed paths with another group. In the center of four Marines walked a solitary man, white-haired and bespectacled, wearing an almost constant frown. "Dr. Thompson," he greeted as the group stopped. "Have you come back to help me, or betray me again?"

"I ended this mess, and I am glad that I did, Dr. Daniels."

Dr. Daniels ignored him, instead appraising Kyra as one would a race horse. "I see subject 15 has proceeded along lines as predicted. I assume that her endocrine system has stabilized so that we won't have any problems as we had with the others. I would love no more than to study why she was able to overcome the inherent instability in the sequencing but you had to ruin everything." He added the final while glaring at Jim, the only emotion that Kyra had ever seen on his face.

Jamie was livid. "She was nothing but a lab rat to you! For all the pain and suffering you caused her and her parents, she was never more than a rat that could be poked and prodded! You're a monster!"

The doctor calmly turned his gaze to Jamie. "My dear boy, history has taught us that great advancements can only be made at the expense of pain. Alchemy, steam energy, nuclear power; all came about through the pain and suffering of someone else. If we are to improve our knowledge of the human body and the care thereof, then someone must be hurt. What we learned from subjects 1 through 15 will prove the basis of cures for many of the ills that have plagued mankind for centuries. I was curious, and so were many others, so I acted. If others are hurt, than what is done is done and cannot be undone. I am proud of my actions and would willingly perform those same actions again. Read your Machiavelli, boy, and you will understand."

Before Dr. Daniels could fully turn back to his study of Kyra, she moved, stomping her metal-shod hoof on his own foot and hitting him in the nose. As he slid down the wall that he collided with Kyra picked him up by his lapels and held him at her eye level. Pressing him against the wall, she talked, calmly and quietly. "Let's see, face turning red, breathing coming in gasps. Hmm. Well, subject 16, here you are, dangling from the grasp of someone else, in pain and suffering for it. No one is moving to help you, and it's all because of curiosity." She pushed harder. "You see, we're all curious as to whether or not the human head will pop like a zit if the chest is compressed hard enough." Kyra smiled.

Dr. Daniels was no longer calm as he frantically tried to claw her arms away from him. "Aww, is the big doctor afraid? Your life hangs in the hands of someone you don't know, but science must come first." She held him longer and then dropped him so that she could swat at an imaginary fly. "Oh, darn. An unknown variable entered the experiment. I guess we'll just have to try later. Come on, or we'll be late for the rest of the days activities." No guard stopped her as she left, but one gave her a nod of approval before summoning medical staff.

"You know, Kyra, I don't normally condone random violence, but I have to say, good job, in this one instance. It was something I wish I could have done a long time ago."

Kyra shook her head sadly. "He needed to wake up. He forgot the reason that he exists in the first place. Many died to give him life, and he would not do the same."

In the courtyard there was a gathering around a cloth-covered object. Many of the members of the party had a uniformed guard glued to their side. As Kyra, Jim and Jamie moved to the center, the crowd parted respectfully. Jim Thompson moved to take a position beside the object of attention and the crowd quieted.

"After the atomic bomb was exploded over Nagasaki and Hiroshima, those that participated in the Manhattan project were horrified. They looked at their handiwork and, in their hearts pleaded, 'Let this never happen again!' What has happened on this site, let it never happen again." Jim pulled off the sheet.

Underneath was a pedestal. On it was a bronze sculpture of a young girl, laying on her stomach with her ankles crossed and pointed in the air. The girl was squinting as she smiled while watching the clouds. Below her was a plaque that listed fourteen names.

The crowd dispersed and Kyra gazed at the statue of her friend. Jim led his son off so that she could be alone.

"Kyra?" a voice hesitantly asked. "We, ah, that is, a group of us are sorry for what happened, what we did, and would like to apologize for…"

"Don't apologize to me," Kyra cut the tech off without taking her eyes from the statue. "Apologize to them. You may have destroyed my life, but I got a second chance. They never did." Ignoring the tech Kyra moved toward the image of her friend. She caressed the head of the girl, tears now streaming from her eyes. With a deep sigh, she spoke: "Good-bye, Miriam."

Kyra dropped her hand and left in search of Jim and Jamie.