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Month: January 2016

Interlude #4

All around him, countless worlds spun. Fragments of possibility sat at the edges of his consciousness, taunting him, tempting him.

He forced himself to focus. Sometimes it was easier. Currently, it was difficult. Too many open doors, too many threads. The worlds around him were ephemeral, insubstantial, but they were hard to ignore completely. Reality was much easier to leave behind.

Far too dangerous for that, the way that things were. He couldn’t afford a single slip. Too much at stake. Too much that could go wrong.

He stared at the monitors in front of him. All of them showed the same room, from different angles. An overlay of messages and sensory data scrolled across them. In the centre of the room, she stood. Trapped. Livid.

It had taken months to set up this trap. Bait seeded far in advance, a cascading sequence of events that had too many opportunities to fail.

Except it didn’t fail. He could see every possibility, every eventuality. There were no flaws in his plan, no gaps for her to slip through. One way or another, it was inevitable that she’d find herself here.

He allowed himself a simple smile. Nobody was around to see it.

He leaned forward, turned on his microphone.

“Hello again, Charlie. I was wondering when we’d get the chance to speak.”

On the monitors, Charlie reacted. The fury slipped away, but he could still see it, simmering beneath the surface, beneath her farcical act of confidence.

“And you’re somewhere far away, I’m sure. You think you’re safe?”

“I know I’m safe,” he replied, with complete surety. “Even you can’t reach me here, Charlie.”

She shrugged, pacing back and forth in the room. There were marks on the walls where she’d tried to fight her way out, but the room had been designed with her considerable strength in mind.

“That seems unlikely, but it hardly matters. I’m not interested in you.”

“Oh, come now, we both know that’s not true,” he replied. Just speaking to her, his legs had begun to throb. It was the only sensation they’d felt in months. He did his best to ignore it. “You’re content to leave me alone for now, but sooner or later you’ll come after me again. Perhaps once you’ve cleared the extradimensional raiders from our city?”

It was dangerous, revealing how much of her plan he knew. If she had a way of contacting anyone on the outside…

But then, she didn’t have anyone on the outside, did she? She was alone, which was only fitting. All she did was use people, lie to them and manipulate them for her own ends. He could almost respect that, but she lacked the ambition to do anything worthwhile with her talents. Instead, she was nothing more than a supremely powerful toddler, throwing a tantrum.

“You are running the most dangerous gang in the city,” she pointed out.

“I’m trying to save this city, just like you,” he argued, wishing he didn’t still rise to her bait so readily. “Only instead of a reckless, one-man crusade, I have a plan. Resources. I can make a difference.”

She grew still, and he knew he’d hit a nerve.

“I think you’ve done enough, don’t you?” she said softly. A chill ran down his spine.

“Clearly not.”

She sighed, running her hand through her shaggy mop of hair. For a moment, her body language seemed to indicate defeat.

“We’re never going to see eye to eye again, are we?”

“Doubtful,” he replied, just to watch her shoulders slump. Instead, she bristled.

“So what’s the plan here? You think you can keep me trapped?”

The idea of keeping her trapped had occurred to him. Actually, it was the first idea that had occurred to him, when he’d begun formulating this plan. But he couldn’t see a way to keep her trapped, not permanently. The solution needed to be permanent. It was the only way.

“No, Charlie. I’m going to kill you.”

She laughed. It was a short, broken sound, almost like a weak imitation of a sound a human might make.

“You know better than that,” she said coldly. “I can’t be killed.”

She was wrong. She thought herself indestructible, but he knew better. She wasn’t immortal. She had limits.

“Do you know what happened to me, Charlie?” he asked. “To us? After our last encounter?”

The memory was burned into his mind, an omnipresent reminder, a private hell he couldn’t escape.

“You lost your legs. She lost her voice.”

No remorse. No pity. Just a harsh statement of fact.

“We didn’t lose them,” he corrected her. “We sacrificed them. Traded them. For greater power.”

“You’d better hope you have something more dangerous than teleportation, then,” she said, an implied threat that shook him more than he’d have liked.

“Considerably. I see the future, Charlie. I see probability and outcomes and chance and fate.”

He didn’t tell her it was almost impossible to control, or that it was slowly driving him out of his mind. She didn’t need to know, and it didn’t matter anyway. He was getting better at controlling it, and thinks would change before it was too late. He had Haylie.

“Is that why you call yourself the Celestial, now?” she asked, a condescending smirk appearing on several monitors.

“That, and it seemed fitting, as the leader of the Stars.”

She shook her head, looking around the room yet again. He knew she was trying to find a way out, a weakness she could exploit, but there was nothing. He’d prepared for every possibility, no matter how small.

“You think you know how this goes, but you don’t,” she said threateningly.

“I’ve seen every possible outcome of this scenario,” he said calmly. “No matter what you do, there isn’t a piece of you left.”

She snarled; a primal, animalistic sound that all but reached through the screens and speakers, wrapping around his throat.

“You’d better be damn sure, Celestial.” She practically spat his name. “Because if you’re wrong, and I do survive this, whatever it is you’re going to do, I am going to destroy you. I’m going to tear apart your worthless empire, and then I’m going to kill you.”

“Trust me,” he said, his finger hovering above the keyboard, hand trembling slightly. “I’m sure.”

He hit the button. Panels in the walls of the room opened, revealing a dozen specialised weapons. All of them activated in the same moment.

He didn’t look away. Charlie screamed and shouted, lashed out, broke a couple of the weapons. It wasn’t enough. As her body was torn away, it tried to regenerate, but it wasn’t fast enough.

He watched until there was nothing left of her. No flesh, no blood, not even dust.

He watched even once she was gone, staring at the monitor, waiting for any trace that he’d failed. After half an hour with no changes, he let himself relax.

The door opened, and Miss Murder walked in. She looked at his face, glanced at the monitors.

“It’s done,” he said. She pulled out her phone, already typing out a response.

She’s dead?

“See for yourself,” he said, inviting her to observe the monitors more closely. She stared for several long minutes before typing a response.

Chance of survival?

“None. I saw every possibility. I watched her die.”

You can’t see all the possibilities around her. Or the others.

Her insight bothered him. He hadn’t specifically told her that the others clouded his clairvoyance, especially Charlie. Whatever mysterious force powered his ability to see the future, or possible futures, it seemingly couldn’t keep up with the supernatural.

“I can see enough,” he insisted. “Look, the room is empty. She’s not recovering.”

What if she can teleport?

“She can’t,” he said, trying to refrain from snapping at her. He knew caution and skepticism was the appropriate attitude, especially when it came to Charlie. It still frustrated him. He wanted to feel victorious, and he didn’t. “She got one power, just like us. She stole another one, but she couldn’t steal teleportation.”

Invisibility? Illusion? A fake?

Sometimes, she was more clever than he typically credited her. It was an unfortunate flaw of his, and he knew she resented it.

“All accounted for, along with several dozen other impossible ideas. Why is this so hard for you to believe?”

You failed before.

His fingers curled into a fist.

“You’re talking about Zoe and Sabrina. That wasn’t a failure. All I needed to do was delay them. It worked.”

You never told me.

“You didn’t need to know. Besides, Sabrina has Ami’s powers, remember? What if she read your mind?”

That hadn’t ever been a concern, but it was better than the truth. He couldn’t tell her that he just didn’t trust her, that he expected her to turn on him at any moment. Just because it didn’t happen in any of his visions, didn’t mean it was impossible. She, like the others, had a way of clouding his ability.

It doesn’t work like that.

How could she be so sure? So far as he knew, he was her primary source for information about them all. Did she know more than she was telling him? He made a mental note to keep a closer eye on her.

“Couldn’t take the risk. Anyway, that’s not what this is about. You haven’t lost faith in me, so just say what you want to say.”

She hesitated before typing her response to that. He watched the expression she wore with great interest.

I don’t want it to be true.

Neither did he, loathe as he was to admit it. But it was for the best.

“We talked about this. We agreed, it was the only option. Sooner or later, she was going to come after us, and she’s too dangerous to keep trapped. This was the only way.”

That doesn’t mean I like it.

“No. Me either.” He sighed. “It’s going to make things a lot harder in the short term, too. Without her getting in the way, everyone else is going to move that much more freely, but I-” he stopped mid-sentence as new visions burst forth around him. New futures, possibilities and certainties all danced around his head. Something had changed. The future was starting to catch up.

Except, impossibly, Charlie was in them. All of them.

“No. No, that’s not possible.”

Miss Murder shoved her phone in his face.


He shook in his chair, petrified. That wasn’t possible. That wasn’t fair.

“She’s- I can see her. Not now, but in the future. A possible outcome. And another. She’s showing up again. Or she will.”

He was babbling, but it didn’t matter. Most of his mind was focussed on the future. The present didn’t matter. He needed answers, and they wouldn’t be found with his present company.


“I don’t know,” he said, distantly. “I don’t understand. The trap was perfect. There was nothing left. I destroyed every cell. There’s nothing in that room but dust. She can’t still be alive.”

We’re fucked.

He looked up at her. She didn’t look afraid. If anything, she looked almost relieved. Alleviated guilt, maybe? If only he could feel that, but the twisting feeling in the pit of his stomach had only worsened.

“No. She still can’t hurt us. We just need to hold on for a little longer. I’m close, so close.”

You’re obsessed.

His instinct was to disagree with her, but she was right. He was obsessed. He had to be. Haylie was the key to everything. Haylie would change everything. She was the only future that mattered.

“Yes. Because I can see everything, and I know. I know. If I can wake her up, we win. We’re unstoppable.”

And if Charlie finds us first?

The Celestial sighed. He fought to keep those visions at bay. He would do everything in his power to avoid that future.

“If I can’t wake her up in time, Charlie wins. She destroys us, destroys the Stars. Then she destroys all the others, one by one. I even know the order. First Zoe, then Gabriel, Ami, Sabrina. Rachel lasts until the end, but even she can’t outlast Charlie. Then, when they’re all dead, when there’s nobody left to fight her? That’s when she destroys the world.”

Interlude 3

XO sat on the edge of the craft, staring down at the city below, racing past in the dawn light. The closer they got to the city centre, the greater their sense of unease. There was something about this city that just felt wrong.

“This feels like a trap,” they said, feeling the need to voice their concerns.

“It probably is,” Ami agreed, leaning with her arms folded. XO met her eyes, and saw the same concerns, only better hidden.

In her armoured bodysuit, she looked so tiny, but she more than made up for it with presence. A natural fit for the group’s second in command.

“So of course we’re going straight in. With no backup,” XO complained.

“Whatever it is, we can handle it,” Gabriel said, speaking from the back of the craft. His easy confidence, once inspiring, now just grated on XO’s nerves.

Unlike Ami, his bodysuit only served to make him look bigger, grander. His body language was regal, bordering on arrogant. If they were being honest with themselves, XO might have admitted they really didn’t like Gabriel, didn’t trust him, but even then, they’d have to admit he was the right choice for leader.

“That’s what you said last time,” they pointed out.

“Last time was different,” Ami interjected. “She had her attack dog with her.”

XO shuddered. Tyson Briggs was a man who was terrifying just by virtue of his presence. The fact that he’d been re-creating and upgrading himself for the past, what, two centuries? Purely for the purposes of destroying Gabriel? That made him an incredibly dangerous man.

“And how do we know she doesn’t this time?” XO asked. “Or worse?”

“She doesn’t,” Haylie said, surprising them. She didn’t usually weigh in on these conversations. “And it’s not a trap.”

Haylie was the only of them them not wearing combat gear. Instead, she wore a plain white shirt under a long red coat, the colour chosen to compliment her long auburn hair. Her yellow eyes, vaguely luminescent, were fixated on XO.

“You’re sure?” Ami asked, clearly as surprised as XO was.

“I didn’t say she’s unprepared,” Haylie clarified. “But she’s here for a reason, and it’s not us.”

“She’s been here for weeks, right?” XO asked. “I don’t see how she can stand it. I hate Melbourne.”

“None of us feel that quite as strongly as you, Exxo,” Gabriel said diplomatically.

“It’s not nothing, though,” Ami contributed. “Especially close to the Tower…”

XO twitched involuntarily, an instinctual reaction to a troubled memory. They didn’t know what was in the Tower, nobody did, but whatever it was, it radiated discomfort. The last time they were anywhere near it, they were overcome by feelings of rage, to the point where they nearly attacked their teammates.

“The screaming?” they asked, shaking the memory from their head as best they could. Ami’s experience was arguably worse; a never-ending tirade of psychic screams.

“I can’t hear it from this far out, at least,” was all she said in response.

The four of them were silent, as they flew closer to the city centre. XO knew the others would be going over attack plans, memorising street and building layouts, rehashing previous encounters. For their part, all they did was try to stay calm.

“I don’t believe the Tower is her objective,” Haylie said, breaking the silence.

“Any idea what is?” Gabriel pushed, trying and failing to disguise his desperation. His hunt for his ‘sister’ had been his focus for as long as they’d known each other, some eighty years.

“She’s building something,” Haylie said vaguely.

“Alone?” Ami asked. It was a good question. Zoe had access to nearly all of the resources Mason could provide, which was significant. She could have had an entire construction crew, a contingent of soldiers, a temporary base of operations.

“It’s odd, I’ll admit,” Haylie said. “But there’s no-one else nearby. Only humans.”

Xo cringed again. Humans were the last thing they wanted to deal with. Vicious pack hunters, with the strength and cunning to make them dangerous even to someone like Gabriel.

“Exxo,” he began, the discomfort in his voice alerting XO to what he was about to ask. “Are we close enough for you to use your… ability?”

XO closed their eyes, blocking out all stimuli. Slowly, silently, remaining completely still, they reached out, searching. It didn’t take long to find.

Most of the mirrors in the city were broken, shattered. That was okay. They were only relays. XO kept reaching, kept searching. Found more, used them to reach further.

They inhaled sharply as the world burst into light and colour around them, as they attuned themselves to the mirrors, seeing through the reflective surfaces. As they focussed, glass and polished metal began to resonate as well.

It was’t quite a complete picture of the city, but it was a lot, massive amounts of information that threatened to overwhelm them. It took a few more moments of calm, and forced breathing, before they were able to open their eyes again, adding their normal vision to the supernatural expanse their power provided them.

“Not yet,” they said, replying to Gabriel’s question. “But it’s always weaker here.”

“She’s set up a large number of traps,” Haylie said. “And she knows we’re coming.”

“We stick to the plan,” Gabriel said, clearly frustrated. “We can handle this.”

“That’s what you said last time…” XO repeated. Gabriel said nothing.

“We can’t fly any closer,” Haylie announced. “Setting us down on the closest rooftop.”

“I still can’t see her,” XO said.

A 3D holographic map of the city materialised in XO’s vision, through the visor across their eyes. Another layer of vision to try and wrap their head around.

A symbol lit up a particular building in the 3D map.

“She’s here,” Haylie said.

It was within XO’s range, but in the middle of a black spot.

“No mirrors,” they said. “Right.”

“Don’t be reckless, Exxo,” Ami cautioned. “Gabriel, stay focussed.”

“I’ll be fine,” he said coldly. “Everyone ready?”




“Then let’s go,” Gabriel said. “Don’t let her get away again.”

XO waited until last to move. They weren’t as strong as the others, not as fast or as durable. In a one-on-one fight, Zoe would tear them apart. Chances were they wouldn’t even make it that far, with all of the traps.

Gabriel and Ami were Inheritors. In addition to everything else, they could heal almost indefinitely, from all but the most grievous of wounds. Haylie was, well, Haylie didn’t need to worry. There was a reason she didn’t need to wear armour.

Through the reflections, XO watched as Gabriel descended with an almost ethereal grace. His body moved so quickly, his weight placed on surfaces that shouldn’t support it just long enough, from just the right angles, that he wasn’t even slowed down.

Gabriel was known for being strong and fast, and he certainly was those things, but they weren’t what made him dangerous. He was able to process and analyse information as fast as any computer, able to make thousands of tiny decisions in fractions of a second, and his body was fast enough to keep up. Brilliant, analytical, and a master strategist. Just like his sister.

Ami was far less delicate with her descent, but no less graceful. She leapt off the side of the building. The fall wouldn’t have killed her, would barely have slowed her down, but she didn’t hit the ground. Telekinetic forcefields bloomed around her, providing platforms for her to leap across the air, covering ground almost as quickly as Gabriel.

It was a facade, XO knew. Ami presented her telekinetic abilities as large, brutish even, even claimed fine control was impossible. The reality was that she could sever every major artery in a person’s body from across the room in a single instant, without so much as blinking. If you were alive in her presence, it was because she wanted you to be.

Haylie was slower, more methodical. She was capable of moving as quickly as Gabriel, had the mobility of Ami. She didn’t need it. Haylie was patient, and nothing would slow her down.

As XO watched, a pack of humans, roused from sleep, snarled and snapped and took off, chasing down Gabriel. XO considered a warning, but Gabriel’s senses were sharper than most, and he doubtless already knew.

Eight of them leapt from the shadows, each one a biological machine of destruction, all muscle and bone and fury. Gabriel tore through them, not even bothering to use a weapon, barely losing any forward momentum. Blood dripped from his boots and gauntlets.

In any other team, XO’s ability would have been useful. Awareness of an entire battlefield, a subconscious ability to process it all, they’d have been able to coordinate, to direct and control the flow of battle. Instead, they’d been teamed up with three people with absolutely no need for their ability. With Haylie on the team, XO was almost redundant.

XO knew why they’d been assigned to this team, though. Everyone else was frightened. XO was an anomaly, an impossibility, and Genesis only felt safe with XO being watched by the most powerful, dangerous people they had on hand.

Eighty years ago, they’d woken up with no understanding of the world. No language, no memory, barely able to control their own body. Genesis had found them, an infant in an adult’s body.

Genesis had experimented, of course. It would have been foolish not to. Had XO understood enough to consent, they’d have given it. That they couldn’t, and didn’t, was a minor issue in their mind.

The more Genesis discovered, though, the less warm and welcoming they became. XO learned quickly, absorbing language, culture, history in days and weeks. It didn’t take them long to be able to differentiate between the lies and the truth, the subtext and the stated facts.

Gabriel, Ami, Haylie, the many other superhuman entities in Genesis’ employ, they were all understood. They could be explained, if not replicated. They knew their own origins, the ways they functioned. XO defied all reason.

When their powers had begun to develop, it had gotten worse. There was no reason, no science behind what they could do. It broke their laws of physics, where the Inheritors just bent them. XO was impossible, and therefore, XO was dangerous.

Back to the present. XO leapt off the building, activating a gravity distorter before they hit the ground. It provided only a second’s reprieve from gravity, warped it, and they landed softly.

Like Ami, the fall wouldn’t have killed them, would barely slow them down, but it felt unnecessary, brutish even.

With their ability to see almost the entire battlefield, it was easier to avoid the humans than to engage them. XO wasn’t fond of violence, another thing that set them apart from the others. Gabriel could almost sadistic in combat, Ami was cold, unaffected. Haylie was a mystery, but she certainly didn’t seem adverse.

Without warning, six humans materialised in Ami’s presence. That didn’t make sense. There was nowhere for them to have come from.

The moment they appeared, they’d entered the field of Ami’s telekinetic awareness. She knew about them, no need to warn her. Within a second, they were dead, torn apart from the inside out.

Five more appeared, around XO this time. How? There were none nearby a second ago. No, there was something.

Through the mirrors, XO could only see. Complete sight, but no other senses. They could lipread, but they were still limited. Now, with the humans appearing so close, XO’s other senses contributed.

A sound, soft, like a distant crack.

A smell, metallic and acidic.

A taste in the air, chemical.

A feeling, a disturbance in the air, like a brief gust of wind.

And XO knew. The humans had been teleported.

“Haylie. Teleporting humans,” they said, activating their mic. “How?”

“Not sure,” came the response, almost immediately.

The humans attacked, and XO was forced to respond. Leap over that one’s head, only just agile enough to avoid being torn in two. Gun drawn, safety off.

The humans were fast, vicious, coordinated. Not just that, they looked different. Slimmer, sleeker than they should have been. Their eyes, eerily focussed. Calculating.

XO fired, a headshot, right between the eyes. The human was knocked backwards, but stood back up, the wound closing over, the grey skin knitting together.


What about Ami’s lot?

They’d stayed down. Why were XO’s different?

Another group appeared, teleporting around Gabriel.

“They heal, even from a headshot. And they look different. Almost like-“

“Zoe’s blood,” Gabriel interjected. “She’s injecting humans, turning them into soldiers. And teleporting them right to us.”

Another human attacked. XO twisted out of the way, holstering the gun, pulling out a short blade. A press of a button, and the air around the blade began to twist and distort. Gabriel had pulled out a pistol.

“But how?” Ami asked. “We can’t even manage teleportation, how did she figure that out?”

A human lunged. XO moved in, running on instinct, slicing through the chest. Human physiology wasn’t that different. The blood should have crystalised in the same place…

“It’s not a technological limitation,” Haylie said. “We understand how to do it, but the energy required makes it unfeasible at best, impossible at worst.”

The human collapsed, twitching but not getting up. Gabriel unleashed a barrage, still not breaking his momentum. All of his humans were hit, right in the chest. None of them got up.

“So where’s she getting the energy from?”

XO dispatched the rest of their humans in the same way, taking a hit to the shoulder in the process. The human’s nails, elongated and hardened like claws, tore through XO’s armour. Blood splashed, but the wound began to heal, the suit injecting localised painkillers that wouldn’t interrupt motor functions.

“The Tower,” Gabriel answered. “Now we know what she’s doing. And we’re a test run.”

“She lured us here?” Ami asked, suddenly angry.

“It’s fine,” Gabriel said. “We can handle this.”

“I can’t see where the humans are coming from,” XO said. “They must be gathered in my blind spot. She has an army protecting her.”

“So we dismantle the army,” Gabriel said simply. “I’m not letting her go. Not this time.”

“We should call for backup,” XO insisted. “Aaron, Mia…”

“No time,” Gabriel snapped.

They’d nearly reached the building Haylie had identified as Zoe’s base of operations, right in the centre of the blind spot, each approaching from a separate angle. None of them slowed down.

Ami, still about ten stories up, simply through herself through a window, forming a spearhead of telekinetic energy around her.

Gabriel leapt up the side of the building, magnets in his gauntlets and boots allowing him to ascend rapidly up the smooth exterior.

Haylie simply sauntered in the front doors.

As soon as they entered, they disappeared from XO’s sight.

XO reactivated the gravity distortion bubble, much weaker, attaching it to a grappling hook they fired up at the top of the building. With weaker gravity, the hook flew much further, hitting the top of the skyscraper easily, and latching on. Moments later, XO was pulled up into the air.

They smashed through the ceiling entrance, still reaching out with their power, but it seemed as though every reflective surface in the building had been removed. There was nothing to reach out to. They were going in blind.

A trap, placed in full knowledge of the approach they would use. XO knew the others would be facing something similar. Specimen Z knew them too well, had the same analytic capabilities as her brother. An explosion tore through the stairwell, filling the space in an instant. Nowhere to go.

Tech solution? Kinetic shielding, only good for projectiles. Gravity distortion field, no use against this. Weapons, useless. Comms? Stupid to even consider.

Doing nothing? The explosion would incinerate their armour, including the comms systems. They’d be even more blind, without being connected to the others. Their body would burn, but it would recover, back to the same state it began in, just like always. Zoe knew that. Wanted that. Not an option, then.

In the split second before the explosion reached them, they’d considered all the possibilities, but come up with no solution. That was the difference between them and Gabriel. He would have had a solution. Then again, his trap would have been different, taking that into account.

XO just stood there, letting the explosion knock them backwards, slamming them against the wall. Their armour withstood the impact, but not the heat. It melted, twisted, broke apart. XO’s body was already gone, reduced to nothing more than ash.

The next moment, time had passed. They didn’t know how long. They were naked, but unharmed. The stairwell was scorched. No mirrors. No way of seeing. They ran.

Without their helmet, and the HUD that it provided, XO had no concept of the interior of the building. They hadn’t memorised the layout, didn’t even know what floor Specimen Z would be on.

Down. They needed to descend. Keep going down the stairs, listening for any sound of fighting, or Z’s army, or her device. Anything.

One floor below. Two. They kept going, ten stories down, no signs of anything but calm and quiet.

There was a sound. Above them, somehow. They heard shouting. A familiar voice. Ami’s?

“Found them!” she shouted, to whoever was behind her. Then she dropped. A forcefield caught her, and she landed gracefully, reaching out to XO.

“Let’s go,” she said gently.

They took her hand, and she pulled them onto the forcefield. It rocketed them both upwards, back to the ceiling.

Ami and XO walked out onto the ceiling. Haylie had moved their transport to this roof. XO blinked, not quite believing what they were seeing.

Z was captured. Alive, furious, restrained. Gagged, because even letting her speak was dangerous.

“We did it?” they asked, in awe.

“Mostly Haylie,” Ami said. Gabriel glowered at her, but didn’t say anything. His anger was tempered by victory.

This was what he’d wanted, what he’d been working towards for two hundred years. He didn’t seem happy.

Both Ami and Gabriel’s bodysuits were wrecked. Whatever had happened, it had been one hell of a fight. XO had missed it entirely.

“Where is Haylie?” they asked, looking around.

“In the ship,” Ami said. “She took some damage, more than us. She’s resting.”

XO breathed a sigh of relief. Haylie was the closest thing they had to a friend. They respected Gabriel, liked Ami even, but the two of them were cautious, distant. With orders to keep an eye on them, it made sense. That didn’t make it any less uncomfortable.

Haylie was always kind, gentle. Understanding, even. She wasn’t frightened of them, not even concerned. Maybe she sympathised a little. Those who knew what she was, what she really was, tended to treat her similarly.

“Let’s go,” Gabriel said, tense, almost hostile. He disappeared onto the ship.

“What’s with him?” XO asked, once he was out of sight, knowing he’d hear anyway.

“They talked,” Ami said, shrugging.

“They..? Oh. Oh.

Gabriel and Z, they weren’t accidents. Every part of them had been designed, for very specific purposes. Of all their siblings, living or dead, they were the two that had the most in common.

Part of their design was a vicious social cunning. XO had seen it in Gabriel, knew Z was capable of the same. He picked up social cues, processed and analysed them like combat data. He was an expert on knowing exactly what to say and how to say it, to get the exact outcomes he needed.

Z had needled him, gotten under his defences. The only way he was really vulnerable. Gabriel must have reached her first, and she’d been prepared.

XO didn’t even want to think about whatever she could have said to get to him.

Ami climbed into the transport, offering her hand to XO again. Once on board, she handed them a spare bodysuit, unarmoured. They’d forgotten about being naked. It didn’t bother them, but for modesty’s sake, they dressed.

The ship took off, rising into the air. In the distance, XO could see the Tower. It sent a chill down their spine, unsettling in a way they didn’t understand.

“I can’t believe we did it,” XO said.

“Believe it,” Ami said, placing a hand on their shoulder. “We-“

She didn’t finished whatever she was going to say. A scream filled the air, deafening, painful. XO dropped to their knees, clutching their head, trying in vain to block out the sound.

Ami collapsed to the floor, eyes glazing over. Not an audible scream, then. A psychic scream. One they could all hear.

Gabriel was frantic, panicking. XO had never seen that before. He looked at Zoe, accusatory, but she looked as bad as he did, overcome by fear.

No, not fear. Pain. The scream was one of pain, and they all felt that pain. It overwhelmed them, filled every part of their being, threatened to tear them apart.

XO staggered to the cockpit, looking for Haylie. She looked unconscious, slumped in the seat, eyes closed. XO looked ahead, saw the sky tear open in front of them. Another world expanded, unfolded before them.


The voice filled their head, alien. It was their voice, but it wasn’t.

You cannot enter.

I don’t want to enter, XO thought in response.

The ship kept flying straight ahead, right into the tear, almost as if it were opened just for them. XO tried to seize the controls, but they were non-responsive. Nothing they could do.

The ship hit the tear, began to pass through it. XO did not. Like hitting an invisible wall, their forward momentum was arrested.

The ship continued forward around them, and they were torn out of their seat, thrown to the back of it. The momentum of the ship kept pulling it forward. XO became an immovable object. The ship strained, but it was more than its own engines pulling it forward. The tear had a sort of gravity of its own.

The back of the ship tore apart, rent in two. The ship launched forwards, and XO fell, reaching helplessly.

As they plummeted back towards the ground, knowing the fall would rip their body apart, watching their teammates disappear through a tear in reality, into another dimension, they felt something else. Something new.

Something gone.

A tiny sliver, barely noticeable. Almost nonexistent. They were aware of it, until it passed through the tear. The moment it did, it disappeared from XO’s awareness.

Part of them, gone forever.

Their team, gone forever.

They fell.

They hit the ground.

They died.

They returned.

The sliver was still gone.

Chapter 30 – Tinker v Blinker

“Miss Murder? Kill her.”

His voice cut off, the connection clearly dropped. Suddenly, it was just the two of us again. That wasn’t as comforting as it could have been.

Had to think quick. I was fresh out of secret weapons, or weapons of any kind. I’d even taken my gloves off. My opponent could blink, and she knew more ways to kill a person than I knew people. It wasn’t a great match-up.

There was a kevlar weave in my clothing that would probably protect against most knife attacks, it was probably even bulletproof. My skin didn’t have that same advantage, and my face and neck were exposed. Far too vulnerable.

My skeleton was difficult to break, and unless she teleported me off the side of a skyscraper I doubted she could hurt me that way. Small comfort.

No super-strength or super-speed. No accelerated healing. Just me and my tough bones. Not a lot to work with.

Miss Murder was fast, I knew that much. Maybe hyperkinetic? Nothing like Zoe or Sabrina, but it felt like something

When she’d teleported me, I’d glimpsed something else about her power. It wasn’t just teleportation. She could actually deconstruct her body, turning it temporarily incorporeal. Could she use that defensively? Probably. That would make her difficult to hurt, even more difficult to contain.

Despite what I’d said, I had no intention of killing her. Cathartic as that might have been, I doubted I’d be able to live with myself. The Celestial was right. I wasn’t a killer.

What else did I know about her? As deadly as she was, she only used a knife. No guns. Her bare hands would have been just as deadly, though, had to keep that in mind. Still, if I could keep my distance, I’d be mostly safe. That’d be helpful if she wasn’t also a teleporter.

She blinked, appearing in front of me, slashing with the knife. I was fast enough to throw up my arms as I leapt away from her, and thankfully, the knife did not cut through. I had some protection, at least.

She didn’t give me more than a second’s reprieve before coming at me again, teleporting behind me, nearly catching me off guard. She was relentless, never staying in the same spot for more than a second, never attacking from the same direction twice. There was no strategy on my part keeping me alive, only reflexes.

Still, I was learning. Nothing useful, but any information could become useful in the right circumstances. If I could stay in one piece for long enough, I could find a way to use it.

There are a lot of ways teleportation is theoretically possible. Deconstruction at the molecular level, followed by reconstruction at the destination. Creating a copy at the destination and transferring consciousness, before terminating the original. Freezing time, moving from A to B before resuming it. She wasn’t doing any of that.

She grabbed me, cutting off my train of thought, and the world faded to black around me. When it snapped back, we were nearly ten metres in the air. She let go, blinking back down to the ground, letting me fall.

I hit the ground hard, landing on my hands and knees, the shock reverberating through my body, but I managed to stay in one piece, no significant damage. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the point of it. She took advantage of the temporary stunned state, dragging the blade of her knife across my throat.

Before she could get it in too deep, I let my body slump to the side, sliding off the edge of the knife. She managed to draw blood, but the wound wasn’t enough to cause any serious harm. I got lucky.

She grabbed me again, teleporting me up to about the same height as before. I felt the same distortion, confirming my suspicions from earlier. Her teleportation worked by folding two spaces in three-dimensional space together. Did she know that? Did she realised the implications of that?

I dropped again, the ground rushing up to meet me. This time, I was more prepared, and knowing what my body was capable of, I twisted, landing on my feet, my legs absorbing the impact. Before Miss Murder could assault me again, I threw myself to the side, less than a second before her knife slashed through the spot I landed.

Fuck, she was fast. Faster than I was, and blinking didn’t seem to be tiring her out at all. That actually made sense. The amount of energy required to do what she was doing would be phenomenal, way more than her body could possibly have access to. Which meant she was drawing it from somewhere else.

I wanted to know how she was doing that, more than anything, but it wasn’t the time. Even if I could figure it out, maybe even figure out how to cut her off from it, chances of me being able to do it in the middle of a fight more infinitesimal. Not a helpful line of thinking.

She teleported me again, this time directly over an antenna. I cried out as the sharp point drove into me, but it couldn’t get through my jacket. It was going to leave a killer bruise, though.

I needed a way to stop her without killing her. That was going to be difficult. I’d need to hurt her, badly, but not in a way she couldn’t recover from. Enough that she’d have to stop fighting, that she’d give up and leave. I wouldn’t be able to do that without perfect timing, and I’d need to surprise her.

She slashed at me, and I raised my arms to protect my face. As I did, I saw her body shimmer and fade to shadow, and the blade past right through my arm, solidifying again just in time to cut my cheek open, spilling blood out everywhere.

Fuck. She was smarter than I was giving her credit for. Stupid of me, I’d always known she was clever. I was going to lose if I didn’t come up with something, and fast.

Needed to be reckless. I looked around, saw a window. Good enough. I ran for it, and she didn’t try to stop me. I hurled myself through it, letting my protected shoulder take the brunt of the impact, glass shattering around me.

I landed painfully as a cascade of glass shards rained around me. Miss Murder materialised in front of me, still pristine. Not for much longer, though.

I grabbed a shard of glass large enough to be used as a knife and charged at her. The first time, she blinked away. I staggered forwards, only slightly exaggerating it.

The second time I charged, she simply turned to shadow, letting me pass through, then turned and slashing at the back of my head. It only barely missed. Fuck.

My grip on the glass was too tight, cutting through the skin on my palm. I swapped it to the other hand. The cut was deep enough that I could see the bone, or rather, the synthetic exoskeleton covering it. It stung, but I could handle a little pain.

I charged again, and just like last time, she turned to shadow. This time, I thrust my hand in, the one with the cut open palm, with a hand gesture that would normally have provided a surge of power to the glove I usually wore.

In the middle of her shadowy form, the electrical energy burst forth, spreading out, filling her. She twitched, staggering backwards, forced back into her physical form. I didn’t have long.

I kicked her, knocking her to the floor. As she hit the ground, I fell on her, using my weight to drive the shard of glass into her stomach. She convulsed, then turned to shadow, rolling away from me. The glass shard stayed behind.

She stood up, clutching her stomach, blood dripping from the open wound. It was bad, worse than I’d intended. Damn it. Still, she’d have access to top-notch medical care. She’d be fine, so long as she left in time to get it looked at.

The glare she gave me could only be described as withering, but then she vanished, teleporting away. I waited a few seconds, on the off chance she had some final sneak attack planned, then slumped to the ground, my arm twitching. That electrical surge had hurt me almost as much as it had hurt her.

My breathing was heavy, my throat hoarse, my body ached. It didn’t matter. I survived. I’d won, and next time, I’d be prepared.

Now to find out of Zoe and Sabrina had been as successful.

Bonus – That’s A Cute Trick

Miss Murder sat on the very edge of the building, her feet dangling over the ten-story drop. The wind blew her short hair across her face, but she barely noticed, lost in thought.

Part of her wished things had gone differently, that she hadn’t ended up in the situation she was in. It wasn’t that she didn’t like her partner, she did. It was more that she didn’t trust him.

Would he turn on her, eventually? Almost certainly. His fascination with Haylie had turned into obsession, almost single-minded. Once he’d figured her out, would he even need their partnership anymore? If he decided he didn’t, there was no way he would let her live.

What other options did she have, though? Even if she left now, he’d come after her, and she knew better than to think she could hide from him, even with her power. Besides, if she left him, she’d be alone. It wasn’t like Charlie would ever take her back.

Could she kill him? Maybe, but she didn’t want to. He didn’t deserve that, and it wasn’t in her nature. Killing was a job, one she was good at, one she could justify because the death was never her choice. She was a weapon, nothing more. Killing him would be different.

She shook the thoughts from her head. She was already in the middle of a job, couldn’t afford to delay any longer. She looked across the road, focussing on a spot on the opposite rooftop. Close enough? Just.

As she looked, the space between here and there shrank, until they seemed to be the same. Then they snapped apart again, except she was in the other place, leaving only her shadow behind, and even that followed her before long.

As far as the Celestial knew, her power was limited to ‘blinking’, short range teleportation. She wanted to keep it that way, just in case.

Blink. Another rooftop. Then another. Then down to the ground, across the street, moving faster than she could run, and it used no energy at all.

It didn’t take her long to find them, not with how quickly she could cover ground. Five members, none she recognised. All dead. Nothing more than an inconvenience to her.

She walked among the bodies, getting just close enough to check their causes of death. One was covered in lacerations, dead by blood loss. Another had been decapitated, that was easy. Blunt trauma, no visible weapon. If her suspicions were correct, there wouldn’t have been one. Another, internal bleeding. The last was tricky, but she was familiar enough with the symptoms of a heart attack to recognise it as a cause of death.

Her fingers wrapped around the grip of her knife, her nerves on edge. It wasn’t like she was any more durable than those corpses had been.

A sound, barely audible, but she was trained to noticed that sort of thing. A footstep behind her. She whirled, saw the culprit, hesitated.

She’d seen footage of Ami, one of the superhumans who’d arrived in the crash on Impact Day. Read reports, many of which included physical descriptions. None of them quite captured what she was looking at.

Ami was short, probably the same height as her, and unsettlingly pretty. A slender frame, the body of a teenage girl. Vibrant eyes, an unnatural shade of violet. Other than the colour of eyes, her features were Asian, and she could easily have been a model. There was a curious smirk on her lips.

Focus on her eyes, Miss Murder reminded herself. Watch for sudden movements. She’s a threat, and you have a job to do. It would be a shame to kill someone so pretty, but she’d do it if she had to.

She noticed the katana strapped to Ami’s back. Ami’s eyes flicked to the corpses, then back to Miss Murder. Her smirk didn’t falter, but Miss Murder felt movement behind her. A telekinetic attack? Couldn’t take the risk.

She blinked forward, drawing her knife in the same movement. Rematerialising right in front of Ami, she slashed the blade across the girl’s throat, knowing the blade was sharp enough to cut through.

Ami staggered back, but not nearly enough blood spurted from the wound. It was already beginning to heal. Miss Murder swore to herself.

Almost too fast to see, Ami had drawn the katana, slashing at Miss Murder in the same motion. It was reflex alone that saved her, blinking away just before the blade passed through her. Ami grinned.

Psychic hands grabbed Miss Murder, pulling her off the ground, into the air. Instinctively, she tried to blink away. She focussed on a spot, felt the distance between here and there disappear, felt them snap back apart again, but when they did, she was still in the same place. She hadn’t moved.

Telekinesis could interrupt her blinking? No, that wasn’t fair. Not to mention it didn’t make sense.

Well, fair or unfair, sense or nonsense, she needed to get away. Taking a deep breath, she managed to calm herself, focussing on the same energy that let her teleport. It was like a crystal, right at her core, and as her thoughts settled on it, it burst, the energy contained within washing over her body.

She dropped to the ground, her body incorporeal, nothing but shadow and smoke. She ran, holding it for as long as she could, barely a couple of seconds, before the effect vanished, and she was returned to normal. The moment she did, a psychic hand grabbed her, pulling her back to where she began.

“That’s a cute trick,” Ami said, with a softness Miss Murder was not expecting, not prepared for. She sounded sweet, almost friendly.

For her part, Miss Murder said nothing. She was trapped, and both of them knew it. All she could do was glare at her captor, and wonder how she was going to die.

Instead, Ami smiled again, sheathing her katana. She leaned against an invisible wall, a casual display her of power, a reminder of who was in control of the situation.

“Alright, I’m sufficiently intrigued,” she said. “Let’s talk.”

One again, Miss Murder said nothing. Ami looked almost disappointed.

“Or not. Tell you what, I’ll give you two options. Either I let you go, just this once, and you learn nothing. Or, we talk, we both learn something, and maybe things don’t go this way next time.” She gestured to the dead gangsters.

Miss Murder hesitated. Ami was a mystery, a valuable one. The Celestial would want any information she could gather. She herself was curious. Talking was the better option.

It was also considerably more difficult, unless Ami was happy to monologue at her, and somehow that didn’t seem likely. Reluctantly, she tugged at the scarf that covered her mouth and neck, pulling it all the way off.

Ami’s reaction was exactly what Miss Murder expected. Surprise, horror, disgust, curiosity, confusion. It was always the same.

A handprint was seared into Miss Murder’s neck, a black mark against her tanned skin, ugly and painful. It wasn’t a scar, or a burn mark, not exactly.

“Ah,” Ami said, recovering quicker than most did. “That’s… Okay. Think. Think very simple concepts. How did that happen? I might be able to help.”

Stupidly, Miss Murder let a flash of hope through her defences. Her mind filled with painful memories.

Charlie’s hand around my throat. That look in her eyes, it isn’t human. My neck is burning, aching, it feels wrong, it feels wrong. Behind Charlie, Rachel grapples with him, her body barely able to move, but Charlie already got to him. His spine is broken, and it’s not healing. Why isn’t it healing?

I should be strong enough, should be able to break free from Charlie’s grip. Wendy’s blood still courses through me, I can feel it, but it’s getting weaker. Charlie’s doing something, taking it out of me, must have taken it out of him.

What is she? None of this makes sense, she’s not like us, not like us at all. She’s not human, can’t be human.

She tricked us, lied to us, used us all. Even Rachel, but Rachel should have known better. Rachel helped her trick us, should have known Charlie was playing her as well.

Charlie drops me, I fall to the ground, my neck is burning, I can’t breathe, can barely move. Everything’s getting dark, she crouches, whispers something in my ear, but I can’t hear it, can’t hear anything, can’t see anything.

Am I dying?

Ami staggered back, the same way she had when Miss Murder had tried to cut her throat. A look of fear and confusion passed over her face, quickly replaced by concern.

“I… What? She- No. Okay, no. I can’t help with that.” She took a few moments, breathing deeply, before reaching into a pocket. “How about this instead?”

She offered a pen and notebook to Miss Murder, who hesitated for only a moment before taking it. She needed to ask the question.

You can read minds?

Ami took the paper, then shook her head.

“No. Well, kind of. Not words, which is what people usually think. Not enough to be useful.”

Miss Murder nodded, not understanding at all. It didn’t matter. She wrote out another message, in careful, cursive script.

Is this your territory?

It was important to know. If she’d claimed it, it would be worth advising the Celestial to avoid it, at least until he was more prepared.

“No,” Ami said, reading the note. “I’m moving around. They just picked a fight.” She gestured to the dead again. “Bad idea. Now, you’ve asked two questions, so I get two.” She hesitated, thinking. “Are you with them? Who do you work for?”

Miss Murder was already writing the answer.

Yes. Celestial.

Ami frowned, looking back at the corpses.

“A local gang? With a superhuman like you? That sounds unlikely. Where did you get your powers?”

Miss Murder had to think about that. There were so many possible answers to that question, but only one that was really honest.

Don’t know. What do you want?

It was far too open of a question, but it kept the focus on Ami, not herself. And maybe it would teach her something useful.

“To go home,” Ami said, shrugging. “I miss my brother, my life. Can’t figure it out on my own, though. I’m not scientific, not clever like that. Never was. Gabriel could figure it out, but he’s focussed on Zoe. She might be able to figure it out, if she can avoid him. Haylie could do it, but she’s… missing.”

A pang of guilt washed over her, one she tried desperately to dismiss. Could Ami read that? Would she figure it out?

“Anyway, my question. What do you want?”

It took her by surprise, even though she felt like she should have expected it. She didn’t know how to answer it.

Ami watched as she began to write, before the answer was properly formulated in her head.

My old life. My voice. Freedom. Nothing I can have. How can we avoid conflict?

“Tell your thugs not to engage. Send yourself if you want to communicate. Don’t think I want to talk to anyone else.” Ami paused just long enough to come up with her own question. “What were they doing here?”

The corpses again. It occurred to her that she didn’t even know their names.

Scouting. Why only me?

Ami smiled as she read the question. It was a nice smile, honest and relaxed.

“Not sure. I’ve just got a good feeling about you. Is that going to be a problem?”

She had to think before answering that. Problem? Almost certainly. The Celestial wouldn’t take it well, but that was his problem. Did it bother her? Not at all. If anything, she liked the idea. Kept her valuable, and if it gave her more opportunities to learn more about Ami, so much the better.

No problem. How would I find you?

“Smartphone,” Ami said, procuring one from another pocket. How many of those did she have? “City haven’t shut off coverage yet. They might not. If they do, we’ll figure something else out. Oh, and don’t try to track me.”

Miss Murder wrote her number down, and passed it to Ami, who entered it into her phone. Ami gave a number back.

If any Stars give you trouble, let me know, she wrote, deliberately keeping to paper and not sending a digital message. After a pause, she added, You can kill them first.

That got another smile out of Ami, a curious one.

“Not quite so invested, are you?” she asked. “Why stick with them?”

It’s complicated.

“Isn’t it always,” Ami said with a dramatic sigh. “Well, let me offer you something. If you see her, the one who did that to you-” she gestured at Miss Murder’s neck “let me know. I want to see what she can do.”

Miss Murder wasn’t quite prepared for the reaction she had to that. The thought of Ami confronting Charlie, engaging her, terrified her. She hurriedly scrawled a response.

You can’t kill her.

Ami shrugged dismissively. “Okay. I won’t.”

She shook her head, wishing she could actually speak. So much was lost in text.

No, you can’t kill her. She made an effort to underline can’t. It was important.

“Curiouser and curiouser, as Alice used to say,” Ami said, whistling. “I have one more question for you.” Another smirk preceded the question. “What’s your name?”

For reasons she didn’t quite understand, Miss Murder pressed the tip of the pen against the paper, and wrote her name.

Her real name.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m Ami.”

Chapter 29 – You, I Could Kill

As soon as I saw the words appear on the screens, I knew I could rule out Charlie. The theatrics weren’t her style. That narrowed it down considerably.

Gabriel? I knew he was looking for Zoe. Was he the type to make a show out of it? Even if he was, he wouldn’t risk timing it when all three of us were here. He wasn’t interested in Sabrina or me. It didn’t make sense.

It had to be someone who wanted the three of us. That made it painfully obvious. The only two people I wanted to see less than Charlie. My chest ached just from the memory.

A series of explosions signalled the breaching of our outer defences. I knew Zoe had the place booby-trapped, had considered adding a few mechanisms of my own. Wouldn’t have made a difference. Within a minute, the building was swarmed with gang thugs, armed like soldiers. The Stars.

Sabrina changed in a heartbeat, her skin paling, her hair lightening, her body elongating and her nails growing. Zoe had tensed up, and I got the impression she was struggling to contain her rage. Her sanctuary had been violated. I could understand.

The gang-soldiers surrounded us, not looking nearly as afraid as they should have. Their faces were concealed, but their body language was confident, almost arrogant, every last one of them. They knew something I didn’t, that was the only explanation.

A wisp of smoke congealed in the centre of the room, quickly taking the form of a young woman. She solidified, a teenage girl dressed entirely in black, her neck and mouth concealed, a vicious looking knife held in her left hand. Her eyes settled on me, fear and anger and hatred all emerging in equal measure.

She vanished in another puff of smoke, appearing in front of me in the same second. Her hand wrapped around my throat, and before I could react, the world around me faded to black, and everything was silent.

The world snapped back into place with an almost physical impact, but it wasn’t the same. My eyes scanned around me, looking for any identifiable feature. It didn’t take long.

We were on the roof. She’d teleported us straight up. Why so close? Was her range that limited? Was that a weakness I could exploit?

To my surprise, she let go of me, taking a couple of steps back. She didn’t want to kill me? What else could it be? Was she just removing me from the fight? No, she’d have taken me further to do that, even if she had to do multiple hops. Besides, I was the least dangerous of the three of us, in that situation. Unprepared and exhausted? I was basically useless.

I knew she didn’t want to talk. Did she want to show me something? Was removing me just a demonstration of her power? I already knew she could blink, and letting me see it up close, experience it, all she was doing was giving me the tools to fight against it. Assuming I survived this fight, at least. Was she showing the other two?

Protecting me? No, there was no way. She had no love for me. Her partner had even less. If they weren’t trying to kill me, it was because they wanted something from me.

Miss Murder, as she was going by, reached into a concealed fold in her black top. I stood my ground, not entirely sure what to expect.

“Hello, Rachel,” a distorted voice said, coming from her general direction. It wasn’t her voice, though. I recognised it, even through the filter. It was him. The Celestial. Leader of the Stars, the most powerful gang in the city, especially now.

The man who was responsible for poisoning me.

“Why are you disguising your voice?” I asked, trying to read Miss Murder’s body language. She kept very deliberately still. “You know I know who you are.”

“But anyone who might be listening in doesn’t,” he replied.

“And what’s to stop me revealing your identity anyway?” I asked, and saw Miss Murder tense. So, her secret identity was important to her? Interesting.

“That would cut this conversation unfortunately short,” the Celestial replied, already sounding impatient. That was good. He was far less dangerous when he didn’t feel in control, and I knew exactly how to press his buttons.

“Not seeing a downside,” I said, wondering if he could see my smirk. He was almost certainly watching through some kind of video feed.

“I believe we can help each other, Rachel,” he said, in a perfect imitation of a supervillain. I wondered if that was how he saw himself. Or the dark saviour of the city? That seemed more his flavour.

“Not interested.”

So, he was trying to recruit me? Why would he ever think I would want to work for him? Or even with him? He’d need something incredible to even entice me.

“I have resources-” he began, but I cut him off.

“Don’t care.” Even as I spoke, I kept processing, the pieces falling together. I realised what it was he had. “Wait. No. That’s not what you mean. You have her.” My heart was pounding. I was livid. That wasn’t fair. “You have Haylie, and you’re stumped. So of course you’d come to me.”

No trace of surprise on Miss Murder’s face, at least, the half of it I could see. She knew what the Celestial was offering. She knew I’d figure it out before he told me.

“You’ll never get another opportunity like this,” he said, still acting like he had control of the situation. He didn’t. He’d played his hand too early, and I was going to make him regret it.

“You’re an idiot. Do you have any idea what I could do, if I had access-” I stopped. Recomposed myself. “Of course you do. And you’re already prepared for it.”

He was shooting himself in the foot. The one thing he had to bargain with, the one thing I actually wanted, he knew he couldn’t actually give me. It was far too dangerous for him. Hell, it might have been dangerous for me.

“Her power is mine, needs to be mine,” he said evenly. “But you would see enough, learn enough to make it worth your while.”

How did he see this going? He needed my help, but anything I was able to help him with, I could weaponise, would use against him. It would be a desperate race to the end, him trying to get enough out of me to be useful before he killed me, or before I managed to turn the tables and use it against him.

I didn’t want to get stuck like that. Not that I wasn’t confident I could win, but I had my own agenda to work towards.

“Or, I could just kill you,” I said casually, but I still saw Miss Murder twitch. How hard was it for her to just stand there, completely still, nothing more than a glorified handset? How much did it gall her to be a puppet for him, after everything?

There was a surprising pause before he replied. When he did, it was with more reservation and humility than I was prepared for.

“As much as I deserve that,” he said, “you’d fail. You know you’d fail.”

Regret? No, just a ploy. Trying to cultivate a sense of trust and honesty, make me easier to manipulate.

He was right, though. I wouldn’t have a chance of killing him, not the way things were now. He was protected by more than just his gang, more than his supernatural sidekick. He had information, power, money, secrets. I had a few half-baked gadgets.

“Maybe now,” I conceded. “But I’ll keep building, keep preparing.”

“I’ll figure her out before then,” he told me, fully confident. He might have been right about that, too. I had no idea how close he was to being able to actually use her.

“I have allies,” I said, knowing I was reaching. Dammit, he had me on the back foot all of a sudden. How had that happened?

“Tenuous at best,” he said, calling my bluff. I growled. “Besides, they’re already dead.”

How long had we been speaking? A couple of minutes? More?

“You’re more arrogant than I thought. Your thugs don’t stand a chance against Zoe or-“

“You know me well enough to know that I had a plan,” he interrupted. “I know what they’re capable of.”

Frustratingly, I knew there had to be truth to that. Attacking Zoe in her base of operations was a stupid, reckless move, and he wouldn’t have done it if he wasn’t absolutely sure he’d be successful. There was a good chance Zoe and Sabrina really were already dead, or captured. What a terrifying notion.

“Well, even if you’re right, I won’t lose any sleep over it,” I said, with more confidence than I felt.

“You’re alone now,” he pushed, and I realised Miss Murder was enjoying this. I glared at her. “Or, do you trust Charlie more than me?” he continued. A chill ran down my spine. “Would you go back to her?”

He wasn’t just taunting me, he was threatening me. Threatening me using Charlie. The conversation was officially over.

“Here’s what I’m going to do,” I told him. “First, I’m going to kill your girlfriend, here. Then I’m going to check on my heavy-hitters. If they’re alive, you’re fucked. If they’re dead, I’m going to disappear, and I’m going to dedicate every waking hour to building the tools I need to destroy you. Then, you’re fucked.”

I smiled at the momentary panic on Miss Murder’s face when I said I was going to kill her. For all her confidence, she was wary of me. Good.

“You’re not a killer, Rachel,” the Celestial responded after a pause, trying and failing to call my bluff.

“Not usually,” I conceded. “But you? You, I could kill. Happily.”


“I’m disappointed, Rachel.”

“Cry me a river,” I snapped, letting adrenaline flood my system.

“I will own this city,” he said. “There’s nothing you can do about that.”

“Fucking watch me,” I snarled.

No hesitation this time. “Miss Murder? Kill her.”

Chapter 28 – More Secrets?

“What happened?” Sabrina asked, as I stormed in through the main entrance, fuming. I swore silently at myself for not pulling it together before I entered. Seeing Charlie had thrown me off balance, and I needed to be on top of my game whenever I was around these two.

“Nothing,” I said, a terrible lie. “Why?”

Sabrina frowned, folding her arms across her chest. Interestingly, she was looking more feminine than when we’d first met. Had she gotten access to hormones? How? No, the changes were too rapid, even for that. A side-effect of her power? Subconscious minor shifting? No, that wasn’t important.

“You don’t need to lie to me, Rachel. What happened?”

She wasn’t the type to let it drop, and if I kept avoiding it, I would only seem more suspicious. Better to twist it to my advantage. Couldn’t be too obvious about that, though.

“I saw Charlie. I don’t want to talk about it.”

I said it with just enough aggression that it sounded genuine, but not so much that she’d be scared off entirely. At least, I hoped so.

“You survived,” she said, sounding genuinely surprised. Thanks for the vote of confidence. Not that she was wrong to be surprised. There was no chance I’d survive a one-on-one fight with Charlie. “Wasn’t she going to try and kill you?”

Yes, I thought. And instead, she chose to dance with me. Somehow, it was worse.

“It’s not that simple,” I said, cringing as I did. What an awful, cliched line.

“Do explain, then,” Zoe said, practically materialising behind me. As there so often was when speaking to me, a hint of danger accented her voice.

I had to play this very carefully. Give them just enough information to throw them off balance. Preferably without lying. Could I do it?

“I have something of hers,” I said slowly. Truth. “Something she needs.” Lie. “That’s why she threatened me.” Partial truth.

“What?” Sabrina asked, and even though I knew that would be the very next question, I didn’t have an answer prepared.

“I can’t tell you. I’m sorry.”

Both of them looked at me, more suspicious than ever. This wasn’t going the way I wanted, but I couldn’t tell them more. If they knew what I had, what I’d taken from Charlie, what I could do with it…

“More secrets?” Zoe asked, a rhetorical question that was somehow also a threat. I needed to change the tone, and quickly.

“I’m here to help you build your machine,” I said, my tone forceful, aggressive. Half-truth. “You helped fix me. That doesn’t mean I trust you.” Truth.

Zoe looked angry, the same way she always did, for the briefest of moments, so easy to miss if you didn’t know to look for it. Not enough to push me further. That was fine. I just needed more time.

After this, she would probably do another search of my belongings, my notes, everything I had within her grasp. Just like every other time, she wouldn’t find anything. My prize was hidden far from where she could find it, and by the time I was at risk of revealing the location, she wouldn’t be able to do a thing about it.

“So what happened with Charlie?” Sabrina asked, breaking the tension. Well, sort of. I glared at her.

“We… We talked,” I said, letting my shoulders slump. “I don’t think she was expecting to see me, or for me to be… You know. Better. I won’t catch her by surprise a second time.” Truth.

“Maybe it’s not safe for you to go out,” Sabrina suggested. I had to fight the urge to laugh at her, because there was some validity to what she was saying.

Also, it gave me the opportunity to lay some pressure on the two of them, undermine their confidence. Putting them on the back foot would make my job just that little bit easier.

“It’s not safe for me anywhere,” I said. Probably true. “Sooner or later, she’ll figure out where I am. Hell, maybe she already knows.” Truth. She almost certainly knew where I was, she just wasn’t stupid enough to risk taking on both Zoe and Sabrina in a head-on fight. For all her power, she wasn’t guaranteed victory against either of them, let alone both, and especially not on their own turf.

“Should we move?” Zoe asked, and I could tell my attempt to unbalance her had been successful. She was too confident in her ability to stay undetected, too afraid that someone else might find her. Letting Gabriel know her location was one of my backup plans. Let the two of them tear each other apart. I had enough of Zoe’s schematics that I probably didn’t need her anymore.

“She’s not a threat to you,” I said. Mostly true. “Her power, it’s basically the equivalent of Wendy’s.” Mostly true again. “That’s where it came from, after all.” Depending on what you considered ‘all’ of it. There was the power she had before we’d known about Wendy. “Mostly she’s just tenacious.” Definitely true.

“I guess there are three of us,” Sabrina mused. The sort of naive confidence that could get a girl killed.

“I don’t like anyone knowing we’re here,” Zoe said, almost growling the words. It was satisfying, seeing her so on edge.

“Wherever we go, she’d find us again. She’d find me again,” I said. Truth.

“Then maybe I should leave you behind,” Zoe threatened, though her body language told me it wasn’t a serious threat. She wanted me to capitulate, to acknowledge the power imbalance. I was worrying her.

“You can’t finish your machine without me,” I replied confidently. Both the statement, and the confidence, were lies.

“I’ll figure it out eventually,” she said, and we both knew she was right. I was accelerating the process, streamlining production, providing a safer alternative than trial and error for some key components, but I wasn’t essential.

“And risk Gabriel finding you in the meantime?” I countered, with just enough trace of a threat of my own that she’d take it seriously. I could, and would, go to him.

She snarled, a look of utter contempt and fury in her eyes. Sabrina didn’t seem to notice. It was gone in the blink of an eye.

“Fine,” she said, barely concealing her rage. “But we are going to move. And you’re going to do everything in your power to make sure Charlie doesn’t find us,” she added.

“Of course,” I said, lying again. I fully intended on giving her just enough information to find us, just not yet. Not until I was ready. “I’m assuming you already have a place lined up?”

She smiled, accepting the compliment. I genuinely couldn’t tell if her ego was such that she couldn’t tell that I was only playing up to it, or if she just didn’t care.

“How are we going to move all of this without anyone noticing?” Sabrina asked, looking around and the rather massive collection of assorted salvaged tech and scrap.

Before either of us could answer, all of the lights in the building went out. As the three of us tensed, ready for a fight. My mind was racing. Was this Charlie? Had she followed me back? Surely not.

Every monitor I could see lit up, all at once. On each of them, two words were printed.

“Found you.”