“You’re about to wake up,” an unfamiliar voice told me. “Be very, very careful.”
Her voice was soft, pleasant, almost sensual. She also had a strong, refined British accent.
“Try to remain still,” she said. “This is going to be a bit of a shock.”
I opened my eyes, and immediately felt like I’d been punched in the brain. It was like looking into the sun from right in front of it.
“Everything is so bright, ugh-”
“Don’t move,” she said urgently, and I felt her hand pressing down on my shoulder. “Please, it’s important.”
“Who…” I began to ask, but changed my mind. “Where am I?”
I was slowly able to make out blurred shapes, but nothing looked familiar. Strangely, there was no panic, only curiosity.
“Somewhere safe. Try to sit up, very slowly.”
I let her guide me into a sitting position, expecting to feel dizzy and disoriented. Instead, I felt that same sensation you get during a plane takeoff.
“I feel weird,” I told her. “Everything feels…”
“Fast and weightless, right?” she said, nailing it exactly.
I turned to look at her, and realised it was the woman from the wreckage, only cleaned up. She was wearing cargo pants and a hoodie, but also the sort of makeup that looked like it belonged in a Hollywood movie. It was an odd look.
“What happened to me?” I asked, my head full of questions. “Am I dead?”
“Not exactly,” she said, which was not the definitive yes-or-no answer I was expecting. “There was an accident. You’re… different.”
She sighed, taking a step back. Her movements all had a striking sort of easy grace, as if every action were a carefully choreographed dance.
She looked me up and down, her expression suggesting she was considering what to say to me.
“Do you want the real explanation, or the one that will make sense?” she asked, watching me carefully.
“Both?” I asked, confused as to why I was getting the choice. My answer seemed to amuse her.
“Alright. You’ve absorbed some of my genetic material,” she said.
I had a sudden flashback to finding her in the wreckage, lifeless and then suddenly not, effortlessly snapping a metal pipe. She was giving no indication of being a person who had been impaled through the chest.
“What are you?” I asked, hating myself for the movie cliche.
She tilted her head, as if considering how best to answer my question. I desperately wanted her to tell me she was just normal, that all of this was normal, but I also knew I wouldn’t believe it even if she said it.
“Let me put it this way,” she said. “I wasn’t born so much as… designed.”
She sighed again, leaning against a table behind her.
“Right. Sorry. I’ve only been here a short while, but everything seems different here. Do you understand genetic modification?”
“You mean like cloning?” I asked, but I knew as soon as I said it that it was wrong.
She shook her head, then stopped.
“Err, sort of. It’s like… Imagine you could build a person in the same way that you build a machine. Imagine what you could make that person. That’s me.”
She walked across the room, gentle, elegant steps, catlike.
“Basically, I’m the perfect soldier. Or I was supposed to be. I turned out to be something of a disappointment, but physically, that’s exactly what I am.”
“I’m stronger, smarter, faster and tougher than any human could ever be. By a significant margin. And now, so are you.”
I met her gaze, still struggling to believe what I was hearing. It was entirely too surreal.
“How?” I asked, grasping for anything.
“I’m still trying to figure that out. I’m pretty sure it was a combination of residual temporal energy and direct exposure to my blood.”
I tried to resist the urge to tell her that half of those weren’t real words, and focussed instead on what I understood.
“Your blood? Because I stepped in it?”
“My blood is special, even more than my body. It’s what makes me capable of, well, being me.”
That couldn’t have less to me. If anything, it was just making me doubt more than ever that any of what I was experiencing was real.
I shook my head.
“Well, this is officially the weirdest dream I’ve ever had.”
“I wish I could tell you it was just a dream,” she said, sighing.
She leant against the wall, running a hand through her hair before folding them across her chest.
“Who are you, anyway?” I asked, realising I hadn’t even gotten her name. She had me feeling surprisingly comfortable, all things considered. She almost felt like an old friend. Which, when I thought about it, was a little concerning.
“Right, sorry,” she said, shaking her head in surprise. “I guess I neglected to introduce myself. You can call me Zoe.”
“It’s… nice to meet you?” I said, awkwardly offering her my hand.
She took it gingerly, her skin soft but her grip firm.
“Do you have a name?”
“Se-” I began, then hesitated. That familiar, comforting feeling wouldn’t go away. I felt like I could be honest with her. “Sabrina.”
She smiled, and squeezed my hand a little tighter.
“Nice to meet you too, Sabrina.”
I dropped her hand, and tried standing again. The world swam a little, but I didn’t feel like I was going to fall over.
“I think I feel better now. Still weird, but… well, it’s more different than bad.”
“You’ll get used to it,” she said. “I guarantee nothing is wrong with you, though.”
Her confidence surprised me.
“How do you know?”
She smiled gently, but it was a smile I was painfully familiar with. It was the smile of somebody who knew something bad about me.
“Because there’s really not a lot that can be wrong with you at this point,” she said enigmatically.
“It might be easier to just show you,” she said. “Stand still.”
She reached down and pulled a knife out of her boot. Something flashed through the back of my mind, but before I could do anything, she’d plunged the knife right into my chest.
Surprisingly, it didn’t actually hurt all that much. Then again, maybe that was normal. I’d never been stabbed before.
“Wow, what the fuck?” I demanded, staggering back. My hand instinctively went to grab it and pull it out, but common sense saved me just in time. You don’t just pull out a knife, that’s how you bleed to death.
“Give it a second,” was all she said.
“What the hell did you do that for?” I hissed, still waiting for it to really start hurting. She just smiled solemnly at me.
“Sabrina, I just stabbed you in the chest with an inch wide piece of metal, and you said ‘ow’.”
“It hurt,” I snarled, even if the pain wasn’t much more than a dull throbbing.
“That’s my point,” she said calmly. “Kind of.”
“Your point is that it hurt?”
“My point is that it only hurt. Try taking it out,” she suggested.
I stared at her, incredulous. She’d just stabbed me in the chest, and she was acting like it was the most normal thing in the world.
“That seems like a really terrible idea,” I said, taking another step back away from her.
“Fine, fine,” she said, sounding exasperated.
She reached out, grabbed the handle of the knife, and pulled it out. I felt it slide out of my chest with minimal resistance, and my hands immediately pressed against the open wound.
I cried out more from surprise than pain, my eyes frantically scanning the room for something I could use to stop the bleeding. Zoe just stood there, looking almost amused.
“Let me know when you’ve bled to death,” she said dryly.
“Shit,” I said, breathing heavily. “I need to, where’s my phone, I…”
I trailed off as I realised there wasn’t nearly as much blood flowing out of the wound as there should have been. In fact, there was barely any at all.
“What?” I muttered, patting my chest.
There was nothing there. No wound, only the tiniest amount of blood.
“Again,” Zoe said, “you’ll get used to it.”
“Human bodies do not heal this quickly,” I said, not quite meaning the level of accusation in my tone.
“I never said I was human,” she said with a shrug.
“I need a mirror,” I said. “I need to see-”
“I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” she said, looking a little concerned. “This is already a lot for you to take on board. Maybe you should-”
I shoved past her, looking for anything reflective. It didn’t take long; there was a mirror in the next room.
I stopped dead when I saw my reflection. At first, I didn’t even realise it was me, but I’ve spent long enough agonising over my mannerisms and expressions that I knew it couldn’t be anyone else.
“What the fuck…”
Zoe appeared in the reflection behind me, placing a reassuring hand on my shoulder. I pulled away violently. Seeing the two of us together…
“Like I said, you absorbed some of my genetic material,” she said. “Some of the changes are… external.”
My hair, once brown and curly, was now blonde and straight. My freckles and lightly tanned skin had been replaced with smooth, pale whiteness. My eyes had gone from dark green to bright blue.
As my eyes travelled down my reflection, I realised those weren’t the only changes. I had boobs, I had hips, my nails were a strange silvery colour.
A thought raced through my my mind, and without thinking, my hands slipped between my legs. That, surprisingly, was not different.
“I don’t understand,” I said, and I realised then that I even sounded different. My voice was higher, but also huskier.
“I’m sorry,” was all she said.
I couldn’t stop staring at my reflection. It should have made me happy; after all, I’d never looked more feminine, or, if I was being honest, more attractive.
It wasn’t me, though. I didn’t look like myself, and no matter how much I’d ever hated how I looked, I never wanted to look like anyone else.
“I need some air,” I said, trying in vain to slow my panicked breathing.
She just nodded, and gestured with her head towards the door. A little unsteady on my feet, I took a step towards it, and then it was right in front of me. I twitched involuntarily.
“Right. Faster. Stronger. Probably harder and better too,” I muttered to myself. “Fantastic.”