Skip to content

Month: February 2016

Chapter 35 – I’m Not The Villain Here

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.

Chapter 34 – There’s Still Time

A few days. Three days at the most, before I turned into a mindless pack hunter, inhuman and ugly and pointless. My impossible task had just become even more impossible.

How the hell was I supposed to manage this? Should I waste time looking for a cure? Gabriel had said that was impossible, but my brain refused to believe it. It had to be possible, even if he didn’t know how. Maybe he just didn’t care enough.

The problem was, even if a cure was possible, would I find it within three days? Almost certainly not. The chances were tiny. Infinitesimal. And if I wasted time on that, it was that much less time I had to dedicate to finding Sabrina.

There had to be another way. Something, anything, that could get me out of this situation. There was no way it was hopeless already.

You’re such an idiot, Veronica. Such a fucking idiot. ‘Oh, I know the risks. Sure, I might get shot or captured or infected, but that’s okay! I don’t mind!’ Fuck you, past me. This is not okay. I mind.

Had to think. Had to come up with a solution. Could someone help me?

Nobody outside the city. Hunter, my sister, Sabrina’s family? Not a chance. Someone in the city? Who did I even know?

Charlie wouldn’t help me, even if I did know how to get in touch with her still. Did I have her number? Didn’t matter. If she knew I was infected, she’d probably carry me off with the rest of them.

Desperately, I tried calling Sabrina again, but just like always, it rang out.

It was weird. Her phone should have run out of battery by now, if something had happened to her. So she probably was okay, right? Keeping her phone charged? So why wasn’t she taking my calls? Did someone else have her phone?

Another name showed up in my contacts. Ami. It was a chance. A slim one, but I’d take what I could get. She knew Gabriel, seemed to not want me dead. Maybe she could help. Maybe she could at least give me a clue. Anything, please.


I hit dial. The phone rang. On the third ring, she picked up.

“I met Gabriel,” I said, before she could say anything. My voice was still croaky from before. “I’m infected.”

A moment’s pause.

“I’m sorry.”

“Tell me there’s something I can do about this. Please.”

“There isn’t.”

Two words, and the last of my resolve broke.

Not fair. Not fucking fair.

“No,” I whispered. “That’s not fair.”

I hadn’t meant to say that. It didn’t matter. I didn’t care if she thought I was weak. I just wanted to live.

“Now that you’re infected, you’re a carrier too.” Her voice was hard, cold. “If you can, avoid others. I’m sorry, Veronica.”

She hung up.

I screamed.

I screamed until my body was physically incapable of screaming anymore, then threw my phone against the wall. It shattered. I didn’t care.

I ran. I needed to feel in motion, feel like I was moving towards something, even if I didn’t know what that something was.

Everything else felt cold. My body felt hot. My thoughts were distant, distracted, unable to focus. That was fine. I didn’t need to focus. I didn’t want to focus.

Straight ahead. Turn left. Turn right. No point to any of it. No idea where I was going.

If I kept running, I’d eventually run into the middle of a fight. Gangsters, soldiers, more infected. I didn’t care. There wasn’t anyone left in this city who deserved to be safe, and even if I wasn’t strong, now I was dangerous. They wouldn’t know, and then it would be too late.

The whole damned city could get infected for all I cared. Sabrina didn’t deserve it, Sabrina would be a tragedy, but who was I kidding, thinking she was still alive? Of course she was dead. She wasn’t strong, wasn’t resilient, wasn’t even clever. She didn’t stand a chance, never did.

So fine, let the whole city get infected. Then maybe the rest of the country, the rest of the world would give up on it, and nuke the whole lot of us. No more infection. Probably no more superhumans. Even they couldn’t survive a nuke, surely.

Something distracted me. A face, a reflection in a window. A young girl with lilac hair.

I ran headfirst into something, bouncing backwards. Pain shout through my chest and shoulder where I’d collided with it, and then in my butt and hands as I landed on them. Snarling, I looked up, and felt my blood run cold.

A long, flowing coat. Short brown hair. Piercing blue-green eyes. A look of surprise on her face, harder than when I last saw it.

“Veronica?” Charlie asked, reaching down to help me up. I slapped her hand away, scrabbling backwards.

“You,” I snarled. “No, not now. I cannot deal with you right now.”

I got to my feet, glaring at her. My thoughts were more present, more focussed, but they all revolved around violence. That wasn’t helpful. I knew better than to think I could win a fight against her.

“Veronica, I’m sorry I didn’t tell you,” she said, as if that was what I cared about. Couldn’t be less important, not anymore.

“Fine. Apology accepted. Now leave me alone.”

She looked concerned, and moved to stay close to me as I began to walk away. Her movements were fluid, controlled. She didn’t move like a human anymore. She moved like him, the asshole that did this to me.

“Veronica, you just screamed loud enough to stir a city block. You’re in danger.”

Stop saying my name.

“I’m already dead, Charlie. It doesn’t matter.”

Her expression softened. For just a moment, she looked like my friend, a little bit odd, the quiet nerd. It wasn’t her, though. That Charlie was gone. This one was just a pretender, a monster, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and the mask was slipping.

“You’re infected,” she said.


“How long?”

How long what? Until I turned into a monster? No, how long since it had happened.

“I don’t know,” I said. “A few hours, maybe.” I’d lost track of the time.

“Then there’s still time,” Charlie said.

My heart skipped a beat, and every thought process in my head ground to a halt.

Don’t get your hopes up, Veronica.

“What? Time for what?”

She didn’t have a cure. There was no way she had a cure.

“To keep you the same,” Charlie said.

This is a trick. She’s playing you. Manipulating you. Don’t trust her.

“There’s a cure?” I asked, despite my doubts. My brain was so desperate it was clinging to any chance of hope.

“No, no cure. At least, not that I’ve seen. But we can delay the symptoms.”

Delay? Time? That was all I needed. Could she really do that for me?

Could I trust her?

“Seriously?” I asked, trying to sound sceptical, instead of hopelessly hopeful. “How? And how do you know?”

“It’s a long story,” she said dismissively. “What matters is that I can help you.”

My resolve hardened. My feelings didn’t matter. Only Sabrina did.

Sabrina, who was definitely not dead. I refused to believe it.

“Well, I’ve got nothing left to lose,” I said. “Why not?”

“I don’t have anything on me,” Charlie said. “I need to…. You’re not safe here, and I can’t bring you with me.”

“I can look after myself,” I insisted, knowing full well it was a lie. It had been a reflex response, and I regretted it immediately.

“Not here, you can’t,” she said, irritating me and filling me with relief in the same sentence. “Hmm. Rooftop.”

“Fine. I’ll head to a-“

I was cut off as she wrapped an arm around my chest, bent her legs, and jumped. With only one free hand, she scaled the side of the building, driven by supernatural strength and agility. When we reached the top, she placed me down gently.

“What the fuck,” I said, a little out of breath.

“Stay here,” she instructed.

“Like I have a choice,” I complained.

She stepped off the side of the roof, disappearing into the growing darkness. Was it evening already? How long had my little breakdown taken? How much time had it cost me?

As the sky continued to darken, I listened to the sounds of the street below me. I heard infected snarling, snapping, but they didn’t seem to be able to find me. Or maybe they just couldn’t get up. It didn’t matter, really. So long as they didn’t try to take a bite out of me.

Would I stop seeming like food to them at some point? Would they realise I was infected, just like them, and lost interest? Would it happen before I changed, or after?

A soft thud alerted me to someone’s presence. I twisted, ready to complain to Charlie about leaving me alone on a rooftop, but a part of me already knew it wasn’t her.

They stepped out of the shadows, their gait somewhere between the supernatural elegance of Gabriel and a clumsy teenager who just went through a growth spurt.

A uniform? No, a costume. White and purple, with gold trim. Her face revealed, white skin and blonde hair. Bright blue eyes, long silver nails. She was tall, beautiful, just slightly unnatural looking.

What was she doing here?

How had Miss Melbourne found me?

Chapter 33 – I’m Very Easy To Talk To

Another week passed, and I found myself no closer to finding Sabrina. I had two leads, neither of which was at all easy to follow up on.

Miss Melbourne apparently hadn’t been seen in almost two weeks. Admittedly my information network was limited at best, and it wasn’t that long to go under the radar. Still, without anything to go on, it was basically a dead end.

The Stars were my other option. Not that I could work with them, but they clearly had the biggest information network across the city. If I could find a way to tap into that…

Risky, sure, but so was just being in the city. So was holding a conversation with two of the most dangerous people in the city. Danger wasn’t really an issue for me. I just needed to find Sabrina, and if could, find answers.

Obviously, I’d already checked the obvious places. Sabrina’s house, my house, Hunter’s house. All abandoned. Our school, establishments we used to haunt. Not a damn thing.

On a whim, I tried Charlie’s house. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting. The lair of a supervillain, hidden beneath the basement? A garage full of evil schemes pinned to the walls?

It was as abandoned as the rest of the city. There was a brief moment when I thought I’d caught someone hiding in there, a kid with purple hair, but she ran when I saw her, and disappeared before I could catch her, leaving me doubting whether she’d ever been there at all.

I found myself gravitating towards conflict. It wasn’t exactly in short supply, really. Couldn’t go more than a few hours without hearing something in the distance. From what I managed to gather, there were three remaining gangs in the city, including the Stars. There was a military presence, though it was dwindling. The infected were growing in number, and they seemed to be grouping up, almost like packs. The lot of them seemed to be engaged in a perpetual turf war.

Then there were what I’d come to thinking of as the Independants.

Zoe was missing, so far as I could tell. Nobody knew where she was. Same with Miss Melbourne.

Silver was around, but nobody seemed to have any idea what she was up to. She seemed to be collecting electronic components, mostly.

Ami was searching for Haylie, I knew. Haylie was nowhere to be seen, but there was a good chance the Celestial knew more about that.

Charlie seemed to be hunting the infected. I rarely saw her from close up, but I’d witnessed her from a distance a few times, disabling groups at a time, then carrying them off, too fast for me to follow. Not that I wanted to get too close to them anyway, just in case.

Then there was Gabriel, who seemed to just leave a trail of corpses in his week. If anyone had survived an encounter with him, they weren’t talking about it. Was that necessary, in his apparently single-minded quest to recapture Zoe?

Once, I was nearly captured by a bunch of gangsters. Couldn’t tell who they were with, but they caught me watching them from a window, and made a beeline for me. I ran, and they would have caught me if not for the sudden appearance of a pack of infected. Luckily, the infected seemed more interested in tearing apart the people shooting them, not the teenage girl running from them. Still, it was a terrifyingly close call.

Undeterred, I kept pushing and searching. Every day I survived felt like another victory, another step closer, even if that wasn’t quantifiably true. For all I knew, whatever clues or evidence remained could disappear, and I was actually getting further from my goal. I tried not to think about that, as best I could.

My food supplies were running low. Thankfully, the gangs seemed to have their own food supplies, so despite the vaguely apocalyptic feeling the city gave off, none of the supermarkets I’d encountered had been looted.

I slipped into one, listening out for any signs of infected. It had been long enough that some things with shorter shelf lives were expiring, so I made my way right to the long life and non-perishable items were. Not as tasty, but better than dealing with food poisoning.

As I was grabbing cans of food, a voice behind me caused my entire body to seize up.

“Well, well, well. What do we have here?”

I hadn’t heard him approach at all. The supermarket was empty, how had he managed to move so silently?

I turned to face him, a man every bit as beautiful as his velvet voice. Tall, fair skin, dark hair, warm amber eyes. A shirt and slacks, just loose enough to look sensual. An amused smirk playing on his lips.

“You.” I choked out the word. “Gabriel?”

“You know my name? I’m flattered,” he said. I couldn’t help but notice how unnaturally still his body was. “Sadly, I’ve not yet had the pleasure of hearing yours.”

What did he want with me? He’d clearly followed me here, but why? Did I somehow release a pheromone that attracted all of the superhumans in the city to me?

Was I going to die?

“Maybe let’s keep it that way,” I said, feigning a confidence I certainly didn’t feel.

“Your confidence is refreshing, even if it is just a mask,” he said, chilling me. Another mind reader? Or just really perceptive? “Might I ask what you’re doing here, in the middle of what seems to have become a battlefield?”

No chance of escaping, not even a sliver of hope. It was difficult to even breathe.

“Trying to stay alive.”

“And you’ve done a remarkable job of that so far, considering your physical limitations,” he said, too gently.

“How do you know I’m not a superhuman?” I demanded, as if there was the slightest hope of deceiving him.

“The way you move. The way you smell. The way you speak.”

“I could be very good at hiding it,” I offered, and he smiled.


Great. So much for that approach. Switch tracks, find another angle.

“Well, then you know I’m no threat to you, at least.”

Please don’t kill me.

“The thought never even occurred to me,” he said, still smiling. The way he looked at me, it was distant, indulgent. What did he see me as, a child? Less than that?

“Then what do you want with me?” I demanded.

“Curiosity, of course,” he said, as if that were obvious. “How have you managed to stay alive this long? What are you even still doing here?”

If I could keep his interest, would that save my life? Would it only delay the inevitable?

“I’m resourceful,” I said simply. “And curious,” I added, almost as an afterthought.

“A girl after my own heart.” Another indulgent smile. “I congratulate you on all you’ve achieved.”

“Thanks, I guess.”

“Tell me, how did you hear my name?”

There was just a trace of urgency to that question, like it was actually important. Could it be?

I’d heard his name from Ami. They were on the same side, more or less. Would that save me?

No, I had to play this cooler than that. He’d see right through something that obvious.

“From what I hear, you haven’t exactly been keeping it a secret,” I pointed out. I didn’t actually know if that was true, but Ami had implied it.

Gabriel nodded in agreement. I didn’t understand him at all.

“No, but there’s another name that seems to have taken preferential position in people’s minds. I’m curious as to why you didn’t use that one.”

Fine, have it your way.

“It’s what Ami told me your name was,” I said.

His expression was unreadable. Not quite a blank slate, but nothing recognisable.

“So, you’ve spoken to Ami? And survived? That alone speaks volumes. What else did she tell you about me?”

I really hoped I wasn’t getting her into trouble. A quiet corner of my brain began to wonder who would win in a fight between the two of them, but I had no way of knowing that. Not important. Focus on Gabriel, Veronica.

“Not a lot. You’re trying to recapture Zoe, she’s looking for your other teammates.”

“And why would she tell you that?” he asked.

Good question.

“I’m very easy to talk to.”

“Evidently.” There was that smile again, but it was tempered this time. Disappointment? Regret? “It’s a shame we had to meet like this. I apologise deeply.”


A mental image flashed through my mind, of him killing me by simply reaching out and breaking my neck. I was a witness, and he didn’t leave witnesses.

“What for?” I asked, barely bothering to hide the lump in my throat.

“Have you not heard?” he asked, sounding genuinely surprised. Well, almost genuine.

“Clearly not.”

“The infection,” he said. “I’m a carrier. You’re almost certainly infected by now.”

What? Fucking what?

The lump in my throat expanded as a piece fell into place. He was the source of the infection? A Typhoid Mary for this plague of zombies?

It would explain why he killed everyone he met, to avoid it spreading. It seemed almost merciful.

Except I didn’t want to die. Being infected sounded worse, but a part of my brain was denying it, telling me it wasn’t true. It wanted a chance of survival, at the risk of turning into one of them.

“What?” It was all I was able to manage. The world was spinning, my chest tight, almost too tight to breathe.

“I’m so very sorry,” he said, and that did sound genuine.

“You didn’t touch me,” I said, grasping for any hope.

“It’s airborne.”

I could feel rage building in the back of my head. Was that a reasonable response, or was that the infection, already taking hold?

“What are you doing out here, then?” I shouted. “Why would you come talk to me?”

He was unruffled by my sudden outburst.

“It would be impossible to explain to you, child. Capturing Zoe is the most important thing. If I don’t, your lives would all be forfeit anyway.”

No. No, no, no. Fuck!

“You’ve… you’ve killed me,” I snarled.

Why me? What made him think talking to me would have anything to do with his stupid sister?

“I’m sorry,” was all he said.

“Sorry? Fuck you!

“You have a few days,” he said softly. “I suggest you make the most of them.”

I staggered back, my shoulders bumping against the shelves.

“There’s no cure? No way to stop it?”

“No,” he said, shaking his head. “Believe me, I’ve tried.”

That’s not fair.

“Well, fuck. Fuck you,” I snapped.

He just shook his head, turned on his heel, and began to walk off. He didn’t care at all.

“Again, I’m sorry,” he lied, calling back over his shoulder. “There’s nothing that can be done.”

I screamed at him, threw cans at him, knocked food off shelves onto the floor when he was out of sight. When my throat was hoarse and raw, my chest aching, I dropped to my knees, sobbing.

It wasn’t fair. I still had so much to do. I had to find Sabrina, had to figure out what was going on.

A few days? Not nearly enough.

Didn’t matter.

If I had to find Sabrina in the next three days, I would find a way.

Fuck you, Gabriel.

Chapter 32 – You Seem Honest

Well, this is a fine mess you’ve gotten yourself into, I admonished myself. An explosive impact rocked the building I’d taken cover in, and I had to work to suppress a cry of fear. Outside, the fight carried on, oblivious to my presence.

I hadn’t intentionally gotten caught up in the middle of a conflict. It had just sort of erupted around me, and I couldn’t get away from it, not without going through the line of fire directly. Not that it was much safer inside, but at least they couldn’t see me.

Would they care? Would they perceive me as an enemy combatant? A spy? A threat? Even if they recognised me as a civilian, would they let me live?

Near as I could tell, the fight was between a group of soldiers, whatever that collective is called, and a bunch of gangsters. Not the Stars, one of the other ones. I hadn’t gotten a good enough look to know for sure.

Neither of them seemed likely to show mercy. The gangs were brutal, callous, driven by desire for power more than anything. The individuals seemed to have all lost their sense of, well, individuality. Was that normal, in situations like this? Was there a normal, for situations like this?

For their part, the soldiers in the city didn’t seem much better. They were desperate, cut off from the rest of the world, surrounded by chaos. Surrounded by madness.

I crawled over to the window, knowing it was a bad idea. My curiosity would be the death of me, but I needed to know what was going on. If I couldn’t get away, I could at least try and learn something. That was worth the risk of a stray bullet, right?

There were maybe a dozen fighters on each side that I could see, all armed to the teeth. Assault rifles, rocket launchers, machine guns. Not exactly easy stuff to come by in Australia. Who was supplying them? The gang’s gear was different to the soldiers’, so it wasn’t like they’d just looted army supply depots or something.

I thought I caught a glimpse of someone in a window opposite, doing the same thing I was, looking out at the street below. It was a young girl, with long, lilac hair, but as soon as I caught her eye, she disappeared, and I’d already forgotten what I was looking at.

I heard a loud crack, realised a sniper had taken a shot. I couldn’t see them, but I saw one of the gangsters’ heads literally explode. I felt sick to my stomach.

Then everything changed. Both sides stopped firing at each other, and starting attacking something else. No, someone else. She strolled casually through the battlefield, barely paying attention to them.

As she moved, people near her died. Decapitated by invisible swords, torn apart from the inside, shot with their own weapons. It was obviously this girl, but all she was doing was walking. Well, I could guess who she was, then. Didn’t know her name, but I’d heard about her. The girl from before, Silver, had mentioned her. Had she said her name? Couldn’t remember. Didn’t matter.

It took this girl less than a minute to take apart both sides, and suddenly, everything was quiet. I let out a tense sigh. At least it was safe to leave, so long as she didn’t decide I needed to die as well. I retreated from the window.

I waited for a few minutes, not sure how long the girl would be out there, no way of knowing without having any idea what she was doing here in the first place. Was it her territory? Maybe she was here for whatever the gang and the soldiers were fighting over.

When several minutes had passed without me hearing anything, I risked moving. Down the stairs, out the back door, away from the street. No sense taking any chances.

“You shouldn’t be here,” the girl said, surprising me. She was perched on a streetlight, and I had to crane my neck up to look at her. “The city was evacuated.”

I was surprised how gentle her voice was. Not her tone, that was hard, almost military, but her voice was soft. It was a little odd.

She dropped, landing elegantly beside me, looking at me curiously. Up close, I realised just how young she was. My age, thereabouts. Possibly younger, possibly older. Too young to have the sort of power she had.

She was pretty, too. That was even more unnerving. It didn’t fit, with what I’d just seen her do. Pretty, young, just murdered more than twenty people.

“I know,” I said, remembering she’d spoken to me. “I don’t want to go.”

“You’ll die,” she said, without a hint of emotion. Not a threat, not concerned. Just a fact.

“Or get infected,” I agreed. “That’d be worse. But I can’t leave.”

“Why not?” she asked.

What was with these people? These young, comic book supervillains, happy to just converse casually with me, it rubbed me the wrong way.

Not that I was complaining. Talking to me was definitely preferable to killing me.

“A lot of reasons,” I said, already looking for an escape. Not that I thought I had a chance of escaping her. Still, didn’t hurt to have an idea of where to run, if the opportunity did present itself. “I can’t find my friend. I need answers about what’s going on, and why. I can’t stand the idea of sitting out somewhere safe while my city burns.”

She nodded as if she understood. Did she? I doubted we had anything in common, she and I.

“Who’s your friend?” she asked.

How was I supposed to answer that? Give her Sabrina’s name, a physical description? What was she, the neighbourhood watch?

“I’d just as soon not say. No offence, but I’ve got no idea whose side you’re on,” I told her evenly, hoping I wasn’t about to be decapitated.

“I’m not on anyone’s side, but fair enough,” she said. Again, she nodded like she understood. “Name’s Ami, by the way.”

We were on first name terms, now?

“Veronica,” I said, after an awkward pause. “You’re okay telling me your name?”

Ami shrugged, and in doing so, revealed a pair of Japanese swords hidden beneath the folds of her clothing.

“What are you going to do with it? I’m not from here, I have no history here,” she said.

Well that was… completely reasonable. Damn.

“I’m just used to people keeping secrets,” I said. “Can I ask where you’re from? What you’re doing here?”

I mean, if she was in an expository mood…

“I don’t see why not,” she said, but didn’t answer the question.

I got momentarily distracted by her eyes. A vivid violet colour, unlike anything I’d seen before. My first instinct was to believe they weren’t real, contacts or something, but I reminded myself she was a monstrously powerful telekinetic. Maybe they were natural.


She looked surprised, as if she hadn’t parsed the question until I prompted her.

“I don’t know where I’m from,” she said, sounding almost vulnerable. “A world like this, but different. The future, maybe. We got sucked through some kind of wormhole, and now I just want to go home.”

The future? I could believe that. Maybe a thousand years into the future, when they’d figured out how to make supersoldiers with psychic powers, and time machines.

Wasn’t any less ridiculous than any other ideas I’d come up with.

“We?” I asked, latching on to something different. I knew there were others, but I wanted to hear how she described them. If she described them.

“Four of us,” she clarified. “Five, if you include Zoe.”

Five superhumans parading about the city, wreaking havoc? What a nightmare.

I did a mental tally. I knew about her. Silver had claimed to be from here, not one of them. Miss Melbourne, she was a local. Miss Murder? Didn’t know anything about her. That those three existed was interesting, but not relevant right now. I knew about Specimens G and Z, and I could guess Z was Zoe. G, Zoe and Ami. Two others, I didn’t know about.

“I’m guessing Specimen G is one of your group?” I asked, trying to confirm the data I did have, hoping it would lead to something new.

“Gabriel,” she corrected, sounding irritated. “I don’t know how that name managed to proliferate again.”

I made a mental note. Gabriel, Zoe, Ami. They had names. Human names, not superhero names. Not code names.

“Why aren’t you working together?” I asked, hoping it wasn’t a sore subject. She frowned, and I flinched. Don’t decapitate me.

“We have different priorities,” Ami said, as if that explained anything. I cocked my head, trying to suggest curiosity. She got it. “He’s obsessed with Zoe.”


“It’s complicated. She was our mission. We’d captured her, then, well, this happened. he wants to recapture her before trying to get home. I just want to cause as little damage as possible.”

By murdering soldiers and gangsters in the street? You have a funny concept of minimal damage, lady.

So Zoe was aligned against the other four, but Gabriel and Ami had different objectives. What about the other two, though? Wait, that was a question for her, not for me.

“And what about the other two?”

“M.I.A.,” she said, spelling out the letters. Missing In Action. “Haylie’s the key, she’s the one I’m looking for. Exxo, I’m not sure about. I have a lot of questions, and nobody to answer them.”

Haylie and Exxo. Now I have a list of names. Haylie was normal, Exxo wasn’t. And Haylie was the key? What did that mean?

“I know the feeling,” I grumbled sympathetically. “Which makes me wonder, why are you answering mine?”

She shrugged again, a harmless gesture turned into incidental threat, as the swords came into view again. Was that intentional?

“I don’t have a reason not to, and I know you’re not an enemy,” she said.

“You know? How?”

She’d said it with complete confidence. Did she know who I was?

“There’s no hostility,” she said. “Only curiosity.”

Wait. She was telekinetic, could control things with her mind. If I knew my science fiction, and I did, did that mean-

“Are you telepathic?” I asked. “Are you reading my mind?”

She laughed, which was not the reaction I was expecting.

“Yes, and no. Reading human minds is almost impossible. Thought patterns are jumbled and disjointed and way too fast, and they rely on internal context to even make sense of them. I could open a channel to your thoughts, for example, but it would be an unfiltered mess of words and images and emotions, half of which I wouldn’t understand. And it would completely overload me. But, traces of emotions and motivations are easy enough to pick out, from the surface.”

I shook my head, trying to process all of that. I understood what she was saying, more or less. What I wasn’t grasping was why she was telling me.

“Wow, you’re just an open book, huh.”

“I’m pretty used to it,” she said, with the faintest trace of a smile. “Where I’m from, I live a very public life. I talk to the media all the time.”

Again, I didn’t understand. It didn’t fit with my mental blueprint. She was basically a superhero, or a supervillain, right?

“You don’t want a life of secrecy?”

“Not particularly, no,” she said simply. Okay then. Probably better to turn my questions towards something useful, while she was still being accommodating.

“So, who’s Haylie, and why is she so important?”

“Now that, I can’t tell you,” Ami said, her face hardening. “There are already too many people looking for her. But maybe you can tell me something?”

What could I possible know that would be useful or interesting to her?

“I’ll do my best, I suppose. It’s only fair, right?”

“Who is the Celestial?” she asked bluntly. “Do you know anything about them?”

The Celestial? Leader of the Stars? Why did she care about him, of all people?

“Had a few run-ins with the Stars?” I asked, fishing for clues.

“Something like that.” Nothing.

“I wish I knew,” I said, my shoulders slumping. “I mean, I know that he’s been leading the Stars for a couple of years now, and they’ve gone from some small street gang to one of the most dangerous militias in the city. Most of that changed after Impact Day, but even before then, they were powerful. They changed too quickly, almost like they were ready for it. It’s like they always know where to be, and when. My best guess is that he’s an information broker, and a very clever one.”

Ami nodded, taking in everything I was saying. Would she consider me useful? Would that be enough to spare me?

“You keep saying ‘he’. Do you know for sure that he’s male?”

The question caught me off guard. I hadn’t even thought about it.

“Uh, no, not really,” I admitted. “But I’ve heard Stars referring to him that way.” I think.

“Interesting,” she said, still nodding. “And his… assassin?”

“Miss Murder,” I said. “I didn’t come up with it.”

“Do you know anything about her?”

“Nothing that isn’t, you know, considered common knowledge,” I said, shaking my head. “At least among people sharing this sort of information. She can teleport short distances, kills without hesitating, can turn her body to smoke, and she never speaks.” Another detail occurred to me. “Oh, and apparently she’s like, a teenager. My age.”

I almost said our age, but I remembered something Silver had said. This girl could have been one hundred years old. Future anti-aging technology?

Ami just nodded again, as if what I was saying was useful.

“I see. Thank you. And you know nothing about their base of operations, or how I might find it?”

“Afraid not.”

She got a curious look in her eye, almost dangerous, but not quite.

“Would you tell me, if you did?” she asked, almost accusingly, but tempered.

“Surprisingly, yes,” I told her. “They’re, well, possibly the worst thing to happen to this city, if you don’t count zombie infestations and military occupation. And you seem… honest,” I finished, after struggling to find the right word.

“You have a phone?” she asked, and for the umpeenth time, caught me off guard.


“Give it to me.”

I handed it to her, unlocked. She fiddled with it, then returned it to me. A tracking… something? She hadn’t changed the hardware. Downloaded a virus?

“I acquired a cell from from, well, I obtained one. It seems to function without issue. If you find anything, please, send a message to this number.” Wait, she’d just given me her number? “In return, I’ll keep an ear out for anything that might be useful to you.” She hesitated. “I’ll ask again. Your friend, the one you’re looking for. Who should I be looking for?”

Did I trust her more, now? Enough for this?

Well, what was the worst she could do, if I told her?

“Sabrina. Sabrina Labelle. She’s, uh, trans.” Would she even know what that meant? “You might think she’s a boy. A bit taller than me, a little chubbier, long dark hair, curly. Darker skin, too. Big eyes.”

Wait, I had a photo on my phone. Dozens, even. I pulled them up, and showed her. She nodded.

“I will relay anything I find,” she said.

“Thank you.”


Chapter 31 – Are You Always This Frustratingly Vague?

Part 4 – Veronica

I never thought I’d live to see an apocalypse. Never really even bought into the idea, worrying about the end of the world. Nuclear wastelands, zombie hordes, alien invasion, global warming, it all seemed kind of silly to me. The realm of fiction and fantasy, something for nerds to geek out over.

Several months ago, I saw the sky above Melbourne torn apart. I saw a futuristic spacecraft fly through it and crash into the ground. I saw people turn into rampaging monsters, I saw men and women who could shrug off bullets walking among us. I saw the gangs seize control, saw the military move in, struggling to contain it all.

No, not struggling. Failing.

Somehow, Melbourne had turned into a place where it wasn’t safe to walk the streets, where monsters ruled and the rest of the world seemingly had no idea what to do. I was half expecting them to eventually give up and nuke the whole city, except I had a sneaking suspicion that wouldn’t do much to stop what was happening.

Technically, a few weeks ago, an official evacuation had been ordered, and the city was placed under quarantine. No traffic in or out, after the initial exodus, and anyone who left was kept in temporary housing just outside the city limits. I’d seen it, and it was terrible. Tents and preserved food and no electricity.

Somehow, still better conditions than our refugee camps.

I couldn’t stay, even though I knew sneaking back into the city was tantamount to suicide. I knew I wouldn’t survive more than a day, probably not more than an hour, but I didn’t feel like I had a choice.

Sabrina was missing. Probably dead, but my gut told me she wasn’t.

No, okay, that’s a cop-out. I just didn’t want to accept it until I saw it for myself. Which was stupid, because I was effectively scouring a dead city for a corpse. What if she’d been turned? I’d never know. Or blown up? Wouldn’t be a trace.

It didn’t matter. I needed to know, couldn’t give up until I’d seen something. Anything. She was my best friend. She deserved that much.

I’m not sure how I managed to keep myself alive for as long as I did. Avoiding busy areas, keeping an ear to the ground, rationing the food I brought with me. Staying out of open areas. Mostly, I think it was just luck.

It certainly wasn’t by being overly cautious. To a certain degree, I couldn’t avoid trouble completely, because trouble was more likely to lead me to answers. More than anything, that was what I needed. So, a little personal risk here and there, why not? What was the worst that could happen?

So when I saw a nondescript van driving down the street, what else could I do but follow? From a safe distance, of course, but that didn’t make it any less dangerous.

The city had been evacuated. That meant anyone left behind was one of the bad guys, probably gang members. Or, incredibly stupid and/or stubborn. Which still made them dangerous.

The next street over, I saw another van. Suspicious, which helped confirm my theory a little. Almost certainly a gang operation. Probably a big one. They were clearly trying to avoid moving a large number of people, or maybe a not lot of equipment, without looking like it. Having the vans take different routes would help with that. So where were they going?

I followed as best I could, but on food, I was admittedly a little slow. I managed to keep them in sight for a while, but they were apparently travelling for a while, and I eventually completely lost them. Dejected, I kicked the curb, then kept moving, knowing better than to stay in one place for too long. Besides, I rationed, if I kept moving, maybe I’d accidentally stumble onto where they were going?

Ten minutes later, an explosion shook the ground, and I stumbled. That wasn’t far at all. Was it related to the vans? Almost certainly. I had to find out.

Like an idiot, I ran towards the source of the explosion.

It took me another fifteen minutes to cover the distance. I nearly got lost, but I saw a young girl ahead of me dash down an alley. By the time I caught up, she’d vanished. It was mildly disconcerting, but any thought of her disappeared from my head as I saw a column of smoke up ahead.

From there, the location was pretty obvious. One of the vans was a smouldering wreck, bits of it scattered across the street. The others were missing, but there were tire-tracks on the road. They’d been here.

They’d all been parked in front of a slightly derelict-looking office building. The weathered sign was impossible to read, but it looked like it might have been some kind of clinic as well as an office building? Weird, but not the weirdest thing I’d ever seen.

The front door was blown open, a gaping hole surrounded by scorch marks. Obviously, I needed to get inside. Just as obviously, going in the front door was a monumentally stupid idea. I checked the windows.

Reinforced with bars and melted closed. Not gonna happen. I circled the building, looking for another entrance. There was a back door, in the same condition as the front one.

This building had been turned into a fortress. A fortress that someone had forced their way into. Which meant the only way I was getting in was to go in the same way. Fuck. Well, at least they’d done the hard work for me.

The idea of just walking away didn’t really occur to me until much later. I was too curious, too desperate for answers.

I walked through the back entrance, as quietly as I could manage, sticking to the wall. Not one metre in, I had to gingerly step around a grotesque splatter of blood. There was no body, that must have been cleared out, but with that amount of blood, there was no way whoever it belonged to survived. Unless it was one of the superhumans, I mused.

The further in I got, the uglier the scene was. Too much blood, and it was already starting to smell. At least it made an effective trail for me to follow? I held my breath, pushing through the worst of it.

The trail went down some stairs, and the almost claustrophobic hallways opened up into a large space, almost completely empty, save for more blood. A few doorways led out into other, similarly sized areas. They seemed to be just as empty, and with a lot less blood.

“You missed the party,” a voice behind me said, startling me. I turned, backing away from the stairwell. A woman was sitting on the railing, legs dangling.

She looked to be young, not too far from my age. Latina, with choppy black hair and large, sullen eyes. She was dressed all in black, with blood dripping from her hand and cheek. She looked about ready to murder somebody.

“Who’re you?” I asked. Asking questions was my default defence mechanism, I’d discovered. Since I was potentially talking to a supervillain, maybe it would help me. Get her monologuing, or something.

“That’s a good question,” she said, dropping down to land on the floor. The impact barely seemed to register to her, but the thud she made was significant. Was she heavier than she looked? “I need a codename. I’m sure someone will come up with something soon enough.”

That didn’t tell me anything, except maybe that she didn’t want me to know her real name. Maybe that was significant, but I didn’t have the presence of mind to put it together.

“What are you doing here?” I asked, looking around, trying to find any clue in the environment before I got chased out. Or murdered, that was always a possibility.

“Waiting for nosy kids to stumble into places they have no business being,” she said, with a sort of lopsided grin.

“You can’t be any older than me,” I accused, not sure why that was the first thing that came to mind.

“It’s getting hard to tell though, isn’t it?” the girl asked, looking irritatingly smug. A glint in her bloody hand caught my attention. I gagged when I realised I could see through to the bone.

Wait, no, not bone. It was silver. Metal? Was she an android? No, too much blood for that, surely.

Distracted by the sight, I didn’t answer her question. She didn’t seem to mind.

“Have you seen Specimens G or Z?” she asked. “They’re well over two hundred years old. The small Japanese girl with the psychic powers? Nearly one hundred.”

I vaguely knew who she was talking about. Sightings, rumours, news reports. The superhumans from the other world, if the stories were to be believed. I didn’t have a better theory.

“And you’re one of them?” I asked, aware that my heart was beating just a little faster.

“No, I’m local,” she said, with that same smug grin. “So now, you tell me, Veronica. What are you doing here?”

Panic flared up, felt like a knife in my chest. She knew my name? How? Why?

“How do you know my name?” I asked, trying to sound demanding, barely managing to hide my fear.

“I keep tabs on people who might be important,” she said, with a simple shrug.

“I’m flattered,” I retorted, slowly recovering my composure.

“You’re avoiding the question,” she accused.

“Maybe I don’t feel like answering it,” I said, hoping I managed to sound more confident than I felt.

“Ah, well, in that case, I apologise,” she said. There was an edge of danger in her voice. “I shouldn’t have given you the impression you had a choice.”

“What are you going to do, threaten me?” Wow, way more confidence than I was feeling there. Probably too much.

“I could,” she replied, smirking. “Physically, you’re no match for me. I’m not sure you’re the easily intimidated type, though.” She waved her hand, the one that wasn’t caked in blood. “And it’s not really my style. I much prefer tricking the answers out of people.”

I sighed. “So neither of us is going to answer the other’s questions.”

“Doesn’t seem like it.” She didn’t seem too bothered by that, strangely.

“Are you going to stop me from looking around?” I asked, carefully. All of a sudden, it felt like I’d lost my read on her.

“Wasn’t planning on it. You won’t find anything, though.”

I looked around again. The place had been stripped clean. Only signs that anyone had been here at all was the blood.

I thought back to the vans from earlier, the blown-open doors. I felt like I had a pretty good idea who was behind all of that.

“Are you with the Celestial?” I asked. “Are you one of the Stars, keeping guard on your spoils?”

She smiled indulgently. “That’s certainly an interesting theory.”

“Are you always this frustratingly vague?” I groaned.

“Almost always.”

I sighed, wandering away from her. If she wasn’t planning on killing me, she wasn’t worth my time. I wasn’t here for small talk.

“Looks like one hell of a fight happened here,” I mused, more to myself than to her.

“Who do you suppose won?” the girl asked. I needed a name for her, I decided. Silver. Like her bones.

“I don’t even know who the combatants were,” I said, wondering if she’d feed me a little information after all.

“Sure you do,” Silver prompted. “The Stars, and…”

“And the new super,” I finished. “The one that’s been fighting against the gangs, and the infected. Protecting people.”

She was the only one that seemed even vaguely heroic. Certainly more heroic than the Vigilante. Charlie. I felt my face twist into a scowl at the very thought of her.

No, this new hero wasn’t like that. Something about her was different. She was a real hero. She needed a name to suit that. Maybe if I’d ever picked up a comic book in my life…

I thought about the limited amount I’d seen her. Fair skin, blonde hair, blue eyes. Like the other one, Specimen Z? But more human, somehow. More approachable? Supermodel good looks, but down to earth, so to speak. A hero of the people.

Miss Melbourne.

“You think this was her hideout?” Silver asked, a leading question.

“That’s what I was hoping to find out,” I said.

“So, assuming it was, who won?”

How the hell was I supposed to know that?

“If she did, she would have cleared out, tried to find somewhere new,” I said, thinking aloud. “So, it looks like she might have. But then again, if the Stars won, they’d have stripped the place, taken it back to one of their bases, before another gang or the military could find it.”

“So you have no idea?”

“So it would seem,” I confessed.

Silver sighed, seeming disappointed. Why did she care?

“And so the war continues,” she muttered.

“The city’s been evacuated,” I pointed out. “They can keep fighting over territory if they want, but eventually, someone will run out of supplies.”

Silver shook her head. “You’ve seen what the superhumans can do. Any one of them could just walk into a new city, and take it over.”

“They’re quarantining the city,” I argued. “Locking it down.”

“Again, you’ve seen what they can do. What could possibly keep them here?”

I had wondered the same thing myself. Nothing that was being done seemed sufficient to keep them here. For some reason, though, they did all seem to be staying put.

“Honestly? They seem to want to be here,” I said. “Otherwise, they would have left already. There’s something here they all want, that’s the only explanation I can think of.”

“And what happens when they get it?” Silver asked, raising an eyebrow.

“I don’t know. Probably depends who gets it. I’m guessing it’s not good for the rest of us, though, regardless.”

“So what are you going to do about it?” she asked, surprising me.

“Me? Nothing,” I said, almost argued. “I’m not a hero. Just… curious.”

“Well, you know what they say about curiosity,” she replied, that damned smirk returning.

“Yes, and ignorance is bliss. Seems like I’m just cut out for a life of misery, but at least it’ll be a short one.”

She laughed at that.

“I like you, Veronica. I hope you survive all of this.”

“So do I,” I muttered.