There was something oddly comforting in seeing Miss Melbourne in the flesh. She was awe-inspiring, to be sure, but there was an approachable, almost friendly element to her, too. She was giving me an odd look, like she couldn’t figure out something. Well, a random girl on a roof would raise questions for me.
“A rooftop is an odd place to take a rest,” she said, her voice surprising me. It sounded like it was being run through a filter, yet somehow completely natural. Like talking with someone else’s voice, maybe?
“Stay away from me,” I cautioned. “I’m contagious.”
I didn’t know if that would be an issue for her, but it didn’t seem fair not to warn her. She was one of the good ones, at least as far as I could tell.
“I’m immune, it’s fine. What are you doing up here? The city’s been evacuated.”
She sounded genuinely concerned, and I was almost overcome by the desire to hug her. Any friendly face in the midst of this chaos.
“Probably,” I said. “Doesn’t matter. I can’t leave.”
She cocked her head, like a dog or a bird might.
“Because you’re infected? That can only be recent. The evacuation was weeks ago.”
“I’m looking for someone,” I said, with far fewer reservations than I’d had telling anyone else. She, at least, I felt like I could trust.
“You are?” she asked, sounding surprised. “Who?”
“I… My best friend.”
“They’re missing?” she asked, still sounding concerned.
“Yes. She should have been evacuated, but she wasn’t. I need to find her.”
A grim expression crossed her face. She looked almost… hurt? Was that it?
“How do you know she’s not dead?” she asked.
“I don’t,” I confessed, shaking my head. “But until I know that she is dead, I’m not giving up on her.”
She didn’t like that. Her expression soured, her body language becoming more defensive.
“If she was infected, you’d never know,” she told me.
You’re not helping, lady.
“Yeah. Thanks for the pep talk.”
A flicker of something, on her face. Regret?
“Sorry. I just… think you should get somewhere safe.”
“Too late for that,” I pointed out. “Infected, remember?” I wouldn’t ever be able to leave.
A horrible thought occurred to me. Even if I did find Sabrina, I couldn’t get close to her, or I’d infect her. If she was stuck somewhere, or if I accidentally got too close…
How far was the infection range, anyway? Gabriel said it was airborne, but it had to have a limited range. The bacteria, or whatever it was, would die outside of the body. Otherwise the whole city would be infected already. I made a mental note to try to figure that out.
“Yeah,” she said, too softly. It roused me from my introspection. “I’m so sorry.”
She sounded so sincere, it was almost upsetting.
“Oh, what do you care?” I snapped, still feeling uncharacteristically aggressive. “You don’t even know me.”
“I don’t need to know you to feel empathy,” she retorted, almost too quickly. “I wish I could help you.”
“Yeah, well, you can’t.”
That expression again. Almost certainly regret. But why?
“I’m sorry,” she said again.
You’re being an ass, Veronica.
Miss Melbourne didn’t look quite as intimidating as she first had. Honestly, she looked almost vulnerable, though I knew physically, she was tougher than she looked.
I had to guess that didn’t extend to her emotional well-being. Whoever she was, getting superpowers couldn’t be an easy process, and she’d suffered the same losses as the rest of us. Being safe from harm didn’t mean those she cared about were safe.
“Ah, hey. I’m sorry,” I said, feeling guilty. “I’m a little crabby right now. Maybe you can understand.”
“Of course,” she said, smiling gratefully, but without mirth.
Just say it, Veronica. You might not get another chance.
“I don’t know how much longer I’m going to live,” I began, and her focus became laser sharp. “But I did want to say. You’re… you’re an inspiration. It seems like you’re the only person trying to make the city safer, and not just working to some secretive personal agenda. So, thank you.”
“Making the city safe is my agenda,” she said, nodding. “But thank you. I appreciate hearing that.”
A perfect comic book hero response. Almost like she was just playing a role.
It struck me that with this meeting here, I’d spoken to five of the most powerful people in the city in the space of two weeks. Silver, Ami, Gabriel, Charlie and now Miss Melbourne.
What the hell makes me so special?
An ordinary human, stuck in the middle of a city that should have killed me a long time ago. How had I managed to not just stay alive, but wind up in these situations, over and over again? Was there something special about me?
No. Definitely not.
“Well, isn’t this touching,” Charlie said. I hadn’t realised she’d returned.
Miss Melbourne whirled around, suddenly tense and ready for a fight. Looked like she was caught by surprise too.
Charlie, for her part, seemed completely unfazed. Was that part of her persona, or was she actually more dangerous than Miss Melbourne? If they did fight, could I help Miss Melbourne in some way?
No, Charlie still had the antidote, or whatever the hell it was. The thing that would give me more time.
“What are you doing here?” Miss Melbourne said, immediately hostile. It seemed like they had some history. That was interesting.
“Playing the saviour,” Charlie said, smirking. “I keep telling you, I’m not the villain here.”
“Says the person who threatened to kill someone on national TV,” Miss Melbourne retorted. Charlie didn’t even blink.
“How is Rachel doing, anyway?”
Miss Melbourne knew Rachel? Was that significant? Too many pieces of the puzzle still missing.
“You stay away from her,” Miss Melbourne said, defiantly.
Charlie sighed, taking a lazy step forward. Miss Melbourne took an unconscious step back. Definitely afraid.
“I wish I could,” Charlie said. “Unfortunately, that’s not an option.”
“I’ll stop you.”
“You can try. But right now, I need to take care of Veronica, here. Or would you prefer to let the infection take her?” Charlie asked, flashing me a smile.
Miss Melbourne faltered, looking over her shoulder at me, then back at Charlie.
“You have a cure? That’s impossible.”
“No, not a cure,” Charlie said, shaking her head. “Nothing quite that impressive. But…” She tossed a bottle to Miss Melbourne, who caught it easily. “Still fairly impressive, if I do say so myself.”
“What is it?” Miss Melbourne asked, turning the bottle over in her hand. I heard the rattle of pills.
“Resistance. You and I, we’re immune. And we’re not the only ones. There’s just enough of me in these pills to keep the infection at bay. One every eight hours. See if you can’t do something similar.”
“Since when are you a chemist?” Miss Melbourne asked, vaguely accusatory.
“Oh, I didn’t do the heavy lifting here,” Charlie said. “I just bled for them. Now take them and go.”
Miss Melbourne hesitated, but only for a second.
She turned, and jumped off the side of the roof.
Charlie walked up to me, another bottle of pills in her hand. She held it out to me, but I didn’t take it. Not just yet.
“I have so many questions,” I said.
“And I’ll answer none of them. Here, take one. I mean, take the whole bottle, but swallow one now.”
I made a face.
“Your blood is in these?”
Charlie rolled her eyes, exasperated. Or maybe it was just performance. Everything she did felt a little bit like that.
“Not literally,” she said. “They’re synthesised from something in my blood. And they are literally your only choice.”
I had so many more questions. Would there be side effects? What if I missed a pill? What if you gave one of the pills to someone fully lost to the infection? Was I still contagious?
What was it that made Charlie different, or Miss Melbourne? Or any of the others? I had to assume none of the Independents were vulnerable to it. The amount of power they had, it just made sense. Plus, if someone that powerful did lose their mind to aggression…
I shuddered to think of it.
In the end, none of those questions mattered. I had one goal, and one goal only. To find Sabrina. These pills, if what Charlie said was true, would give me the time I needed.
There were dozens of other ways I could fail, most of them involving death. Somehow, that didn’t scare me as much as it used to.
I had a chance to save Sabrina. I had to take it.
For the briefest of moments, across the road, on another roof, I thought I saw a flash of purple, but there was nothing there.
“Alright,” I said, taking the bottle. I screwed off the lid, placed a pill on my tongue, and swallowed.