“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.