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