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