“Well, that was unexpected,” the Celestial said, breaking the silence between them. “I really had hoped she’d survive.”
Miss Murder looked up from her phone, looking up at him with a curious expression on her face. He shook his head.
“Veronica’s dead,” he explained.
Miss Murder’s spirit fell at the news. She’d never been close with Veronica, but she remembered her well enough. Before everything changed, Veronica had been a spirited, enthusiastic girl, passionate and loud. It hadn’t surprised Miss Murder at all to learn Veronica was still in the city, surviving against all odds. It also wasn’t surprising to learn she was dead, but it was disappointing.
No surprises there, she typed into her phone, showing her partner. He nodded.
“Charlie killed her,” he said.
That was surprising. Charlie was a lot of things, but a murderer? Without reason? That was something she hadn’t been prepared for. Had she really misjudged her old friend that much?
“No idea,” he said. “They were talking, and then Charlie just… attacked her. Poor girl never stood a chance.”
That made even less sense. Charlie was calculating, almost insidious in her scheming. She planned things ahead of time, and there was always a reason for everything she did.
What were they talking about?
“Couldn’t pick up the audio,” the Celestial said. “The only camera that caught them is too low resolution to lip-read. Dammit, this is going to bug me all night.”
She knew it was curiosity, and not compassion, that was eating at him. It was part of what made him so effective at what he did, and why her trust in him was slowly eroding.
Does this change anything?
“Nothing significant,” he said, looking wistfully out the window. She knew he was using his power, comparing possibilities and glimpses of the future. “If Sabrina finds out, it’ll push up her conflict with Charlie. That’s… hmm. That’s actually something we should try to prevent. If Sabrina isn’t strong enough when she faces Charlie, she might not get another chance, and there isn’t anyone else who can.”
That was a frightening notion. She had first-hand experience of just how dangerous Charlie was, but the idea that Sabrina was the only person with the potential to actually challenge Charlie, to be able to truly stop her?
Miss Murder couldn’t think of anyone less qualified to carry the fate of the city.
How do we keep her from finding out?
The Celestial thought for a moment, quietly brooding. When he looked up, she knew she wasn’t going to like what he had to say.
“We’ll claim credit. She’ll be furious, and come after us instead. We can set up some challenges for her, make sure she’s ready for Charlie.”
And if she gets all the way to us you?
“I suppose I’ll deal with that if it happens,” he said calmly. “For now, I need you to go to the body. It needs to look like you killed her.”
Her hunch was right. She didn’t like his plan. Not one bit.
You want me to mangle a dead body?
“It’s either that or tell Sabrina to her face that you murdered her best friend.” He paused, reading her expression. “I’m sorry.”
Shaking her head, Miss Murder stood, and began to dress for the outing. It was pointless arguing with him, and even if she didn’t like his plans, she knew there was merit to them, at least to his end game. He had the potential, and the resources, to make a real difference in the city, and she didn’t belief he was so morally bankrupt as to turn into the cartoonish supervillain he gave the impression of being.
Fully dressed, she looked out the window, staring at a nearby rooftop. An instant later, she was standing on the rooftop. She blinked again, and she was on the ground.
It took her only a few minutes to cross the city and find the rooftop where her partner had spotted Veronica’s corpse. It was a pitiful sight.
It annoyed her that Charlie had just left the body lying here. Nobody deserved that indignity.
She crouched down, inspecting the body. There was no visible damage, just a lack of vitality. If she hadn’t seen the footage, she’d easily have believed the girl had just suddenly stopped living. If only.
“You’re out late,” a familiar voice said, surprising her. She looked up to see Ami standing in the doorway that led back into the building. Ami saw the corpse, and frowned. “Oh. Oh, dear. What happened here?”
Miss Murder said nothing as Ami approached, also crouching beside the corpse. She didn’t touch the body, but Miss Murder knew all too well Ami didn’t need touch to maintain a physical awareness of what was happening around her.
“Neck broken. It was a quick death, that’s no accident. Probably a mercy killing.”
That surprised her. A mercy killing? That implied Veronica was in pain, or suffering in some way. What did Ami know that she didn’t?
Mercy killing? she typed into her phone.
“Oh, you didn’t know? She was infected,” Ami explained, and Miss Murder recoiled. “This is probably better than what was going to happen to her.”
It shouldn’t have surprised her that Veronica had gotten infected. The probability of it was extraordinarily high. It just seemed wrong, somehow.
It didn’t matter. She was here for a reason, a rather unpleasant one.
She looked at Ami, and hesitated. Even though it shouldn’t have made a difference, she felt self-conscious with Ami present. After a moment’s reflection, she typed out another message.
You probably don’t want to be here for this.
Ami read the message, and shrugged.
“Whatever you’re going to do, I’m sure I’ve seen worse.”
Left with no other option, she sighed, and gently gripped the hair at the back of Veronica’s head. She pulled out her knife, and ran it across Veronica’s throat, using enough pressure to cut through the trachea. It felt awful.
“Now why would you do a thing like that? Did this girl slight you in some way?”
More than ever, Miss Murder was frustrated with her inability to speak. She was slowly learning sign language, but it was difficult, and still relied on other people to be able to understand it. Typing or writing was stilted and inefficient, and it made her feel disconnected from the flow of dialogue.
Instead of the pages of explanation she wanted to offer, her response to Ami was a single word.
“You… didn’t enjoy that, did you?” Ami asked, her tone unexpectedly tender. It caught Miss Murder off guard. “I’m sorry.”
Perhaps there was a chance Ami could understand more than just what was said. Was that possible? The woman was decades older, and literally came from another world. Miss Murder hadn’t seriously considered the possibility of a deeper emotional connection.
We weren’t close, but she didn’t deserve death.
Ami considered the message for several seconds before saying anything.
“You’re taking the blame for someone.”
“I won’t ask why,” Ami said, and Miss Murder felt her shoulders sag with relief. She was too exhausted to even attempt answering that question.
The silence dragged out between them. Despite her job being done, she wasn’t in a hurry to return, and Ami didn’t seem to be in a rush to go anywhere either. In a weird way, it was almost pleasant.
“Are you recovering okay? After your fight with Rachel?” Ami asked, with genuine concern.
Miss Murder lifted up her shirt, revealing the ugly wound on her stomach, still raw and very painful. The memory of Rachel impaling her with a shard of glass was still very fresh. She’d recovered enough to move around without too much pain, but she was far from being ready for another fight.
“Brutal,” Ami muttered and Miss Murder noticed the way she almost instinctively reached out to touch it, before pulling her hand back. “She doesn’t hold back, does she? I’m rather hoping I never have to fight her, I’m half convinced she would kill me.”
Pulling her shirt down again, Miss Murder withdrew her phone and typed out another message.
The longer she has to create, the more dangerous she becomes.
Her partner seemed to have dismissed Rachel as a potential threat. He’d wanted to work with her, use her to help with Haylie, but she’d known Rachel would reject that offer. Now the Celestial seemed convinced he could just ignore the tinker, or kill her at a later date. Miss Murder was fairly certain Rachel was going to be the one that killed him.
“There are plenty of dangerous people in this world,” Ami said. “I’m honestly more worried about your partner.”
She really would have liked to agree with that. He was dangerous, and far too ambitious for her liking, and his ethics were questionable at best.
“I suppose,” Ami said, sounding a little annoyed. Another silence stretched out, and she wanted to say something, but she didn’t know what. She felt like she’d upset Ami, and for some reason, that bothered her.
Ami broke the silence, and when she spoke, it was with less confidence, less surety than was usual for her.
“I meant to say, I’m… I’m worried about you.”
Well that felt like a slap in the face. Miss Murder had made peace with the fact that she was perceived as a villain. It was just part of the price of working with the Celestial, and his Stars. It was the only way for her to achieve what she wanted, and there wasn’t anyone left whose opinion mattered to her. It took her by surprise that she cared about Ami’s perception of her.
You think I’m dangerous?
Ami looked at the message, confused. She didn’t say anything for several long seconds, clearly trying to compose her response. Miss Murder’s heart felt like it was made of lead.
“No,” Ami said eventually. “I meant that I’m… I’m worried for you.”
She… what? Miss Murder shook her head, trying to process that. Worried for her? As in, concerned for her safety?
She began typing out a response, thought better of it, and deleted it. After silent deliberation, she tried again, but changed her mind, and deleted that too. Several attempts later, she finally had a response she was comfortable with.
“Why stay with him, then?” Ami asked, not even trying to disguise her disdain.
Because I need to know what he’s doing.
Also because if she ever left him, she knew he’d turn his resources towards destroying her. She knew far too much about what he was planning, what he could do, what he’d already done. There was no chance he’d let her live, and she didn’t quite have faith in her ability to survive his wrath.
She didn’t say that, though. She suspected that if she did, Ami would challenge it, would offer to protect her. She suspected that she’d probably accept that offer. She knew that she’d want to. She knew it woudn’t be enough.
“You know what his planning?” Ami asked.
Yes, she typed out in response, praying that Ami wouldn’t ask her to say it. She knew the Celestial couldn’t tell what she was saying, but she still knew better than to say anything out loud. One way or another, he’d find out.
“Be careful,” Ami said.
The two of them stood there, almost close enough to touch. Part of her wanted to, wanted to know what would happen, wanted to feel that connection.
“I…” Ami began, and Miss Murder’s nerve broke.
She blinked away, and didn’t stop blinking until she was back home, back where she was safe.
Back where she was alone.