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.
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?”
“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.”