“Welcome back,” Zoe said, looking exactly like she was waiting for me.
“You don’t seem surprised to see me,” I said cautiously.
“Should I be?”
“I guess not. I have too many questions,” I said.
“So do I,” she said, striding gracefully across the room. She pulled out a chair, and gestured for me to sit in it.
I sat, and gave her a confused look, wondering what questions she could have for me. She caught my expression, and shook her head.
“I think I’ve answered the most pressing of both our questions,” she reassured me.
“You wanted to know where I’m from. I wanted to know where I am.”
“Well, let me put it to you this way,” she said. “I was born in London. You’ve heard of it?”
“Of course,” I said, confused and not entirely sure what she was implying.
“I was born in the year 2205,” she said.
For a moment, I thought she’d said 2005. But no, it was definitely 2205. Twenty-two-oh-five.
“And I’m over two hundred years old,” she continued.
“You do the math,” she said.
“So you’re, what, from the future?” I asked, wondering why I ever believed there would be a normal, believable explanation for any of what was going on.
“Well, I have been considering the possibility,” she said.
“There are other possibilities?”
She smiled patiently at me, sitting down in a chair opposite me.
“Several. But I think I’ve narrowed it down.”
“To?” I asked, already knowing I didn’t want to hear the answer.
“Essentially, a parallel world,” she said, without a trace of irony.
I felt like bashing my head against a wall. Just once, I wanted the answer to whatever weird bullshit was going to be something normal, something rational.
“When did I walk into a science fiction movie?” I asked, cradling my head in my hands.
She shrugged, leaning back in her chair and resting her legs on the desk beside me.
“I’ve already run several tests. I’m fairly confident.”
“How do you even test for something like that?” I asked.
“Mostly using molecular physics,” she said. “It’s complicated. Very technical. Easiest thing in the world for me.”
I frowned. Every time she spoke, I got more and more confused about who she was. What she was.
“I thought you said you were a soldier,” I said, my tone a little accusatory.
“I’m a lot of things,” she said simply, unfazed.
I sighed, frustrated. Clearly I was not going to get anywhere with her.
“Okay, okay fine. So, can you get home?”
“Well, that’s the question,” she said, before her expression darkened. “I believe i can, but…”
“But it’s going to take a lot of tech, and, well, I’d rather not leave this place,” she said, with a certainty to her tone that made me hesitate.
“I assume you’ve seen them by now, yes?” she asked, her shoulders slumped. “The infected?”
“I’ve encountered them,” I admitted. “They’re… terrifying.”
“I’m not frightened of them,” she said. “They can’t hurt me. I’m the carrier.”
I took an involuntary step back.
“Don’t worry, you’re immune,” she said, sounding exhausted.
“That wasn’t really my concern.”
“You’re also not a carrier,” she said, eyeing me up and down.
“Are you sure?”
“Certain,” she said. “Otherwise I would never have let you leave.”
I forced myself to slow down, take a deep breath. I was torn between distress and anger, maybe somewhere in between, and I just wanted to lash out at her.
“So all those people, that’s your fault,” I said, through gritted teeth.
“I’ve been avoiding people as much as possible, but yes, some of them are because of me,” she said.
“Gabriel is also a carrier,” she said, her voice thick with venom.
My eyes widened in realisation.
“But he was out-”
“Yesterday,” she said, cutting me off. “I know. I told you, he’s dangerous.”
He’d seemed so charming, but I did remember his complete disregard for human life. He’d have killed those soldiers if I hadn’t been there to stop him.
Those soldiers were doomed anyway, I realised. If he was a carrier, they could all have been infected. He knew that. He had to have known that.
“What about the other one?” I asked, remembering what Veronica had said.
“Um, apparently there was another one,” I said, trying to think back. It was only yesterday. “An Asian girl, maybe with telekinesis?”
“Ami,” Zoe said, nodding. “She works with Gabriel.”
“She’s not a carrier. But she’s every bit as dangerous.”
I pondered that for a moment. At least three incredibly dangerous people had come through on that ship. I knew Gabriel and Zoe were at odds, and Ami seemed to work with Gabriel.
“Were you on that ship with them?” I asked, already knowing the answer. I was more interested in how she answered me.
“Yes,” was all she said.
“Why?” she asked, seemingly confused. “I was a prisoner. And as much as I wish that I wasn’t here, that we hadn’t brought our affliction here, a part of me is… relieved.”
A new resolution filled me. Zoe didn’t belong here, didn’t want to be here. She’d done nothing wrong, been as honest with me as possible. I wanted to help her.
“So, what do you need?”
“Excuse me?” she asked.
“To get back home. What do you need?”
She frowned, leaning back in her chair and appraising me anew.
“It’s a rather extensive list.”
“Write it down,” I said. “I’ll help you.
“Are you sure?”
She sounded genuinely surprised. I wasn’t sure if I should feel pity or irritation.
“This… affliction. Where you’re from, is there a cure?” I asked, hopeful.
“A cure? No, not exactly.”
My shoulders slumped. I wasn’t expecting much but it was still disappointing.
“So, you’re reclusive there as well?”
“No, I’m…” She shook her head. “The only people I’m ever around are immune.”
A spark of hope.
“So there’s a vaccination?”
“Not in the way you’re thinking,” she said, and I deflated. “Where I’m from, people are different. Usually enhanced, genetically and mechanically.”
“Everyone who wants to survive.” She shrugged. “There’s not that many of us.”
“That sounds horrible.”
“Maybe.” She sighed. “But it’s home.”
“Can we do anything for the people here?” I asked, already expecting the worst.
“Stop the infection from spreading. Isolate the infected.” She hesitated. “Remove the sources.”
“And those already infected? There’s nothing we can do for them?”
“I don’t know. I’ll work on it, if you get the things that I need.”
I nodded, determined.
“I’ll do it.”