The fresh air was amazing. It felt refreshing, even more so than just the abundance of space around me. I’d been cooped up indoors for far too long.
Zoe had, of course, been opposed to by going out. She’d suggested that at the very least, I should wait and go out with Sabrina, who could protect me. I’d had to bite my tongue, assuring her I knew how to handle myself without giving too much away. I promised I’d be safe, avoid conflict, not stray too far.
I lied, in other words.
It wasn’t that I was specifically looking for a fight. I just had no intention of backing away from one, and a small part of me did relish the thought of getting the chance to take all of my frustration out on someone, no hold barred.
Zoe had also reminded me of the risk I might bump into Charlie. We both knew she was out here, somewhere, and for all my confidence, I knew full well I wouldn’t stand a chance against her in a fight.
It was a risk I was willing to take.
I walked slowly, enjoying the tranquility. In the distance, there were the sounds of violence, the omnipresent backdrop of Melbourne ever since Impact Day. Gunfire, explosions, the inhuman screeching of the infected. By rights, I should have been terrified, but I’d never felt calmer. I was exactly where I wanted to be, and more importantly, I was alive, functioning, capable.
Even with all my upgrades, I knew better than to consider myself superhuman. Zoe, Sabrina, Charlie, they were all considerably stronger than me, faster than me, a lot more durable than me. They could heal wounds almost instantly, I couldn’t. In a fistfight, any one of them would trounce me in under a minute. At best, I could rest assured my bones wouldn’t break, I could hit harder than any human and my reflexes were sharp enough I likely wouldn’t be caught unawares.
It didn’t matter. I never intended to be a superhero. I wasn’t looking to save the city, not like Charlie. I didn’t want to put my abilities to good use, like Sabrina. I didn’t have a home to go back to, like Rachel. All I had was my mind, and all I wanted was the chance to push it.
I stopped in front of a storefront, the lighting perfectly positioned for me to admire my reflection in the window. I was on the scrawny side, not as athletic as I once was. Still as flat-chested as ever. My hair was shorter than I was used to, a styled mess of curls that barely touched my shoulders. I wore combat boots from an army surplus store, and fake leather pants and a jacket, the kind you’d wear for protection on a motorbike. They weren’t without modifications.
A glint in the reflection caught my eye, and I focussed on it, saw the source in a window behind me. Sniper. SR98, standard issue for the army. Military presence. Uncomfortably close to our base.
I gave no impression of noticing. It didn’t matter. Several soldiers emerged from around corners, twelve counting the sniper. All of them had their rifles trained on me. One of them stepped forward. Lieutenant.
“This area’s under quarantine,” he said gruffly. “No civilians allowed out after curfew. Identify yourself.”
My eyes scanned the soldiers around me. They were on edge, ready for a fight. They didn’t see me as a civilian. Would be foolish to. A teenage girl out in the dark, alone, in the middle of what was effectively a war zone? Not likely to be there by accident.
Would they believe me if I convinced them I was? Even if I did, they’d just try to escort me to the nearest safe place, outside the combat zone. Not interested, and the likelihood of convincing them was low enough it probably wasn’t worth the effort. More likely, they’d decide I was a member of a gang member. Not one of the Stars, because I didn’t have the tattoo on the back of my hand. Well, technically they couldn’t see my hands under the gloves, but it was tantamount to the same thing. The Stars did not hide their identifiers.
A lesser gang, then. They’d try to detain me. When I refused, resisted, they’d use force. Lethal, if necessary. Twelve of them, including one sniper. One of me.
“Must’ve gotten turned around,” I lied, making no effort to disguise that fact. “Don’t worry, I know my way back.”
“Check her,” the lieutenant ordered. One of the other soldiers lowered his gun, and pulled out a small device that looked like a diabetic’s insulin checker. He began to approach me.
I knew what he was looking for. It would take a sample of my blood, test for markers, compare it to both human blood and their likely limited database of supernatural samples. 83% accuracy on identifying if I was supernatural.
My blood, though mostly my own, had traces of Zoe still interspersed through it. Would the machine identify me as supernatural? Instincts said yes. Which meant they’d try to kill me on sight. Too dangerous to detain.
“Don’t try anything,” the soldier said as he approached me. He was young, not more than a couple of years older than me. Things hadn’t gotten bad enough to send every available soldier into the city, so he probably volunteered. Eager. His mistake. I grinned at him.
My hand grabbed his throat, discharging enough electricity from the glove to temporarily overload his nervous system. He twitched and then went limp, but I was strong enough to hold him up. I needed him as a shield.
The others wouldn’t open fire without a clean shot, or so I hoped. I didn’t want to kill any of them, which was going to make the next part a lot trickier. Not impossible, just difficult. That was fine. I liked a challenge.
A flick of my arm and a flashbang grenade dropped into my waiting palm. I pulled the pin with the hand that was holding it, waited a second, then tossed it into the midst of the soldiers, some of whom were already moving around to flank me. I shut my eyes just as it went off, the deafening bang filtered out by the implants in my ears.
Wouldn’t take them long to recover. Had to move quickly. I threw the still limp soldier into the path of one of his stalled comrades, knocking them both to the ground. With my free hand, I fetched another grenade, pulled the pin, and hurled it towards another soldier. It exploded in an eruption of foam, quickly encasing him, already solidifying. I was already moving.
I wrapped my hand around the lieutenant’s face, another electrical discharge ensuring he’d be down for the next thirty seconds or so. It was enough to twist his arms behind his back and wrap a zip-tie around his wrists.
Time for another experiment. I’d had the chance to put together so many new toys while I waited to recover. It felt good to finally have a chance to use some of them.
I pulled out a collapsible baton, flicking my wrist to extend it to its full length. I’d made something similar for Charlie, before everything happened, before she had superstrength. This one was better.
I thrust the end of it into another soldier’s throat, delivering another jolt of electrical energy that knocked him off his feet. The others were beginning to recover from the effects of the flashbang. That was fine.
There was a button at the base of the baton. I pressed it, and the casing around the tip retracted, revealing a sharp, pointed blade. I hurled it like a javelin, catching a soldier in the chest. The blade wasn’t designed to cut deep, but once it was embedded in the skin, through the protective gear, it unloaded another electrical charge.
Six down, six to go. Sniper was still a risk. Should’ve dropped a smoke grenade sooner. Too late to worry about that now. I pulled out a pistol that resembled a flare gun and fired it in their direction. A genade arced toward the window, further than I’d have been able to throw it, and exploded just in front of it, spraying the room, the sniper and anything under it in a white powder that immediately starting smoking, as well as giving off enough heat that the sniper would be forced to remove it all from him.
The butt of a rifle knocked the pistol out of my hands. Rude. I growled at the soldier, but he was already swinging again. Bad move.
I sidestepped the swing, leaving my foot in place, grabbing his arm and carrying his momentum forward. He tripped, falling face first, and I kicked him in the groin hard enough to feel a protective cup break. Four left.
I didn’t want to kill them, but that didn’t mean I had a problem hurting them.
The remaining soldiers had an open shot. I had to throw myself forward, taking advantage of my above-average speed to catch them by surprise. The sound of gunfire from up close was grating more than anything. I rolled forward, making myself a smaller target, pulling out a knife as I did. Quid pro quo, fuckers.
Coming out of my roll, I slashed across a soldier’s ankle, and he lost his footing, collapsing to the ground. Using my momentum, I sprung back up, throwing the knife and catching another soldier in the shoulder, causing enough damage to throw off his aim. That still left two pointing guns at me, fingers about to press down on triggers.
Why’d I only make one of everything? I muttered to myself, running out of options. Once again, I was reminded how much easier it would be if I could’ve just killed them. Good thing I’m better than that.
Still, I was getting valuable data. Next time, I’d have a better idea of what worked, what I needed more of, what needed adjusting. Not a complete waste of time.
Too early to be thinking about that yet. Still soldiers to deal with. Threats to subdue.
What did I have left? Not much. One more grenade, and a grappling hook. Good enough. Was I fast enough? Probably not. Unless…
Another hand gesture, triggering specific sensors in my glove. The pistol that had been knocked from my hands exploded, a loud bang that was enough to distract the soldiers. I dropped the last grenade from my belt and pointed up at the nearest rooftop, a cable bursting out from my sleeve. The soldiers looked back just in time to see me yanked up into the sky, then the grenade went off, quickly filling the area with thick black smoke.
I stood at the edge of the building, looking down. They had no way of following me, and under the circumstances, probably no inclination. Excellent. I’d gotten exactly what I wanted, and not a single injury in the process.
And Zoe thought I couldn’t take care of myself.
I allowed myself a smug grin, turning away from the edge. Mission successful. I felt great. Fresh air, open spaces and the chance to stretch my legs. Plus I got to throw down with a whole squad of soldiers.
I froze when I realised I wasn’t alone on the roof. She’d caught me by surprise, and I wasn’t the least bit prepared to deal with her.
Her blue-green eyes shimmered dangerously in the moonlight, her body language pure aggression and power. A victorious smile played across her lips as she watched my reaction.
“Fancy seeing you here,” Charlie said.