Part 5 – Celestial
Watching Rachel patch herself up, it occurred to me how severely I’d underestimated her. When Miss Murder had appeared and they’d both blinked out of the fight, I was half convinced it was the last time I’d see her alive. She was already exhausted, and she’d used all of her weapons. I’d seen her in a fight, and outside of a very durable skeleton, there wasn’t anything superpowered about her.
Zoe and I had been left with a couple dozen armed thugs, and for the first time, I’d seen her fight. It was terrifying. She moved like a wild animal, literally tearing the gangsters apart like they were toys. I only saw her get hurt once, a single cut that sprayed a tiny splatter of her blood against a wall. A second later, the gangster was dead, and the wound had already healed.
Rachel had dragged herself back in shortly after, bleeding but mostly intact. When I asked her about Miss Murder, she just grunted and said the assassin was ‘handled’. She staggered into her workshop, and the sounds of grunting and banging followed.
We began cleaning up immediately. There wasn’t a lot of stuff outside of the rooms of salvaged tech we’d really collected, and Rachel and Zoe had been pretty good at disposing of waste. What was left we managed to quickly transfer into a shipping container, which Zoe and I were capable of carrying between us. Perhaps not the most subtle, but in the middle of the night, in a largely abandoned city, we managed. Rachel stayed behind longer, and met up with us later.
All three of us laid low for a while. Zoe and Rachel more or less had everything they needed, at least for a while, so I spent my time trying to get the hang of switching between Zoe’s and Ami’s powers.
Ami’s power was a lot more difficult to get a grasp on than Zoe’s. Whenever I took her form, I gained an incredible situational awareness, as far around me as maybe three metres. It was an overwhelming sensation, like my body had expanded and was pressing up against everything nearby. I tried to visualise it like I’d grown dozens of new arms, extending out in every direction, and I had to manage sensory input from all of them, and learn to control them. It was like that, only much more complicated.
On the other hand, switching between the forms was pretty simple to grasp. In both cases, my body changed physically to someone with a physical resemblance to the person I was copying, but nobody would ever confuse me for them.
I kept Zoe’s as my main form, the sort of secret identity I claimed as the vigilante that protected the city. Considering it changed my race, build and even perceived gender, it was a pretty solid disguise. Ami’s form was more useful for utility than any sort of combat application, and I had a feeling my telekinesis wasn’t as potent as hers. It was possible I just didn’t have the same degree of control, though.
Only Zoe knew I could take more than one form. Rachel knew I could shift between my natural form and Zoe’s, obviously, but I deliberately kept my second transformation from her. I still didn’t entirely trust her. So far as I was aware, nobody else knew I could shapeshift at all, or ‘steal’ powers. There was that one boy who’d seen me shapeshift on the rooftop that one time, but I wasn’t particularly worried about him. Oh, and Charlie had insinuated something, before her declaration on TV…
Without much to do, I found myself wandering the city, enjoying the freedom of moving unhindered. With Zoe’s power it felt amazing, like I could do anything. Running as fast as a car, jumping over buildings, and hardly anyone in the city to hide from.
Then I saw Veronica. I wasn’t at all prepared to find her in the city, and I was immediately petrified for her. She didn’t have any superpowers, and there was a reason everyone was evacuated from the city.
She was slumped against a wall on a rooftop, and I probably would have missed her if I hadn’t smelled her from a block away. That was another weird side to Zoe’s power, her senses were ridiculously heightened, and though I didn’t immediately know that what I smelled was Veronica, I did know it was familiar.
She stirred when she saw me, giving me a curious sort of look, almost like she didn’t quite believe I was there.
“A rooftop is an odd place to take a rest,” I said, hoping my voice was different enough that she wouldn’t know it was me.
“Stay away from me,” she threatened. “I’m contagious.”
I could feel my heart drop down to my feet. Contagious? She’d been infected? Of course, the chances of her avoiding that were next to none. The damn virus, or whatever it was, was airborne, and there were plenty of infected around spreading it.
I did my best to keep my face neutral. She didn’t know we had any connection, and I wanted to keep it that way.
“I’m immune, it’s fine,” I said. “What are you doing up here? The city’s been evacuated.”
She shifted uncomfortably.
“Probably. Doesn’t matter. I can’t leave,” she said.
She couldn’t leave? Oh, she was infected. Of course-
No, that didn’t make sense.
“Because you’re infected? That can only be recent,” I pointed out. It only took a day or so to turn, from what I’d seen. “The evacuation was weeks ago.”
“I’m looking for someone,” she said, surprising me.
“You are? Who?”
“I…” She hesitated, and we locked eyes. She took a breath, and nodded. “My best friend.”
Her best… Me? She was looking for me? Oh, no, of course. I’d basically just disappeared once the evacuation was ordered. I hadn’t explained anything to anyone.
It was my fault she was here. Which meant it was my fault she was infected.
“They’re missing?” I asked, trying not to give away how I was feeling. It wouldn’t make sense to her.
“Yes. She should have been evacuated, but she wasn’t. I need to find her.”
I seriously considered dropping the disguise. I could just reveal myself to her, tell her it was okay, tell her she needed to be safe.
But it was too late. She was infected, and there was no coming back from that. If she knew who I was, what I’d been up to…
She’d blame me. It would be fair, but it would kill me. She’d blame me, she’d hate me, and I didn’t want her to feel like her sacrifice was in vain. She needed what little hope she could hold on to.
“How do you know she’s not dead?” I asked.
“I don’t,” she confessed. “But until I know that she is dead, I’m not giving up on her.”
Present tense. She was still looking, still fighting, even though she was infected. Still as tenacious as ever.
What a waste.
“If she was infected, you’d never know,” I pointed out to her, not entirely sure why.
“Yeah,” she agreed, coldly. “Thanks for the pep talk.”
“Sorry. I just… think you should get somewhere safe,” I said, knowing there was no point, to me saying it or her doing it.
“Too late for that. Infected, remember?”
She let that sit over my head for a while, unable to know just how much it was tearing me up inside.
“Yeah. I’m so sorry.”
“Oh, what do you care?” she snapped. “You don’t even know me.”
I want to hug you so badly right now.
“I don’t need to know you to feel empathy. I wish I could help you.”
“Yeah, well, you can’t,” she said.
Another pained silence. What else could I say?
“Ah, hey,” she said, her hostility melting away. “I’m sorry. I’m a little crabby right now. Maybe you can understand.”
“I don’t know how much longer I’m going to live,” she said, sounding a little distant. “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.”
Don’t do this to me, Veronica. God, you’re gonna make me cry.
“Making the city safe is my agenda. But thank you. I appreciate hearing that.”
Great, what a genuine response. You don’t sound like an asshole at all.
“Well, isn’t this touching,” a third voice said, surprising me. I knew that voice. She’d snuck up on me. How? I hadn’t heard or smelled anything…
“What are you doing here?” I demanded.
“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,” I retorted. I’d seen what Rachel had looked like, too. Without Zoe, she’d still be a broken husk. Charlie had done that.
“How is Rachel doing, anyway?” Charlie asked, infuriatingly smug.
“You stay away from her,” I warned her. I might not have trusted Rachel, but she certainly didn’t deserve whatever Charlie was gonna do to her.
Charlie sighed, taking a threatening step towards me. My body stepped back before I realised.
“I wish I could,” Charlie said wistfully. “Unfortunately, that’s not an option.”
“I’ll stop you,” I said instinctively. Apparently being protective was in my nature.
“You can try,” she said lazily. “But right now, I need to take care of Veronica, here. Or would you prefer to let the infection take her?”
The way she said it, it was almost like she was threatening me. She knew how important Veronica was to me, if she knew who I was. Did she know who I was? I had to assume so.
Wait. What did she mean by ‘take care’ of Veronica? Surely not…
“You have a cure?” I asked, desperately hopeful. “That’s impossible.”
“No, not a cure. Nothing quite that impressive. But…” She tossed a bottle to me. I caught it before I even realised my hand had moved. “Still fairly impressive, if I do say so myself.”
“What is it?” I asked, feeling stupid. I looked at the bottle, but it was just a bottle, unmarked. It sounded like it had pills inside of it.
“Resistance,” Charlie said. “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.”
You’re okay giving this to me? If I gave it to Zoe, or Rachel, and it really does have your genetic material in it…
“Since when are you a chemist?” I asked. She was still a girl my own age. Unless her super strength came with some kind of super intellect as well…
“Oh, I didn’t do the heavy lifting here,” she said. “I just bled for them. Now take them and go.”
She obviously wasn’t giving me a choice. That was fine. Being around Veronica was difficult enough, and Charlie did not make for good company. Even still, she’d given me some small glimmer of hope. If she really could keep Veronica from succumbing to the infection, I owed her more than I’d ever be able to express.
“Fine,” I said, before jumping off the roof. It was the biggest mistake of my life.
The very next day, Rachel approached me, a haunted look in her eye.
“Veronica’s dead,” she told me.