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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.

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