“Veronica’s dead,” Rachel said.
I just stared at her, willing her to take it back, to tell me it was a lie, a bad joke, anything. She shook her head.
I didn’t know what to say. I wasn’t sure there was anything I could say. It didn’t seem real. Veronica couldn’t be dead. Charlie was going to save her, wasn’t she? How could she be dead?
Maybe it was a mistake. Maybe Rachel had confused somebody else for Veronica. How did Rachel even know who Veronica was? Surely it was possible it was just a mix-up…
“No,” was all I managed to croak out.
“I’m sorry,” Rachel said. “I-“
“Take me to her,” I said, cutting her off. It didn’t matter what she said. It didn’t matter what anyone said. I needed to see her.
Rachel looked hesitant, almost uncomfortable.
“Are you sure? She’s not…”
“I need to see,” I insisted. “Who did it? Charlie?”
“It didn’t look like Charlie’s work,” Rachel said, trying to conceal a grim expression. I immediately felt guilty, remembering exactly how intimately Rachel was familiar with Charlie’s… work.
“Right. I’m sorry,” I said, though even I didn’t really believe the forced compassion in my voice. I couldn’t barely think about anything other than Veronica.
Rachel didn’t say anything. The silence began to drag out, then Zoe joined us, as unreadable and aloof as ever.
“Who was she?” she asked, as if she’d been present for the entire conversation. Well, knowing what her hearing was like, she probably had been, wherever she’d been in our little base.
“My best friend,” I said, nearly choking over the words.
“Nobody important, Zoe,” Rachel said, almost like she was trying to argue with me. “Mortal. Inconsequential.”
Rage flared up instantly. How dare she?
“She was not-“
“Why was she in the city?” Zoe asked, dispassionately.
Keep your cool, Sabrina. Zoe is not your enemy. She’s being logical, considering the angles. You need that.
“She was looking for me,” I said. “It’s my fault.”
“Why do you want to see the body?” she asked, catching me off guard.
What did it matter why I wanted to see the body? Did she not possess basic empathy? My best friend was dead, and she-
Right. Not human. Not even close. Of course she wouldn’t understand.
“What do you mean, why? She was my best friend. I want to say goodbye. I want to know what happened.”
She considered that for a few seconds, then turned to leave. As she did, she called back over her shoulder, “Don’t take too long. We don’t have that luxury.”
“You are not the boss of me, you-“
Rachel stepped in front of me, her eyes flashing with a warning of danger. It was enough to shut me up.
“Alright, I’ll take you.”
That was her last word on the subject. She grabbed her jacket, that black fake-leather thing, and a utility belt. Was she expecting a fight? Well, the city basically wasn’t ever safe. I grabbed the gauntlet she’d made for me, transformed, and we left together.
We walked in silence, keeping as rapid a pace as Rachel was capable of. I probably would have been impressed with her, under better circumstances. She was still recovering from her fight with Miss Murder, and between her skeleton and her portable armoury, she was carrying more weight than a person her size should even be able to support. Somehow, she still moved as fast as any athlete I’d ever seen.
She was so different to when we’d first met. No longer the frail, shivering husk of a human, ruined by Charlie; she was powerful, determined, unafraid. I had to wonder about that. Like me, her power was getting stronger. Where had hers come from, though? What was causing them to become stronger? At least I partially understood mine.
“You need to be careful with her,” she said, out of nowhere. “Don’t provoke her.”
This was about Zoe? Why did she care?
“Or what? She’s gonna attack me? Why would she? Besides, I can take her.”
I wasn’t actually as confident about that as I hoped I sounded, but it felt unimportant. Zoe and I, we weren’t enemies. We had no reason to fight, even if we occasionally got on each other’s nerves.
“I doubt that, but fine. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”
She seemed annoyed. Whatever. No skin off my nose. We didn’t need to be friends.
As we walked, I realised I recognised the neighbourhood. A deep, chilling dread washed over me.
“This is where I saw her,” I said weakly. “She was with Charlie…”
“I really don’t think-” Rachel began, but however she was going to finish that sentence got drowned out by my guttural scream.
I saw Veronica, lying on the ground, glassy eyes staring up at the sky. A massive gash replaced her throat. The pool of blood she was lying in had already started to congeal. The smell was overpowering.
“Veronica! Oh, no, no. Oh god, no.”
Whatever I’d been picturing, however bleak, however grim, it wasn’t even close to what seeing her in front of me actually felt like. I felt unstable, like the ground was moving, my head was spinning, the world was racing past me. Nothing felt real.
“I’m sorry,” Rachel said, placing her hand on my shoulder. It felt heavy. I shrugged it off.
“Her throat is slit,” I growled, trying to focus on something productive. Something useful.
“The Celestial’s assassin?” Rachel offered, crouching by the body. “If Veronica was poking around…”
“She didn’t deserve this,” I said, barely able to look at her. None of this was right. None of it made sense. I wanted to hit something, tear something apart, but it wouldn’t help. Nothing I could do would make a difference.
“No arguments here,” Rachel said.
“I’ll kill them,” I snarled, as the thought crystallised in my mind. If not progress, then justice. “Both of them.” The Celestial and his wretched assassin. I’d rip them to pieces with my bare hands, and whisper Veronica’s name in their ears before they died.
“Hey, that’s a sentiment I can get behind,” Rachel said patiently. “But…”
“You know how dangerous they are,” she cautioned.
“And you know how powerful I am,” I retorted.
Part of me knew she was right, but I didn’t care. It was the only thing left for me to do. I couldn’t save the city, couldn’t undo the damage that had been done. I couldn’t save Veronica. All I could do was get vengeance.
“You’d lose,” Rachel said. “We’d lose. At least, without a plan.”
“We could help each other,” she said, suddenly focused. Intense. “Your muscle, my brain. We could find them, make them pay.”
Telling me exactly what I wanted to hear. Why? What did she get out of it? What did she care if I ran off and got myself killed?
“What’s your stake in this?”
“I have my own issues with them,” she said, shuddering. “Let’s leave it at that.”
I noticed something then, sticking out of Veronica’s satchel bag. Ignoring Rachel, I leaned down and extracted it.
“She had a diary,” I commented, more to myself than to Rachel.
“Maybe you shouldn’t…” she cautioned, but I ignored her. This was the closest I could get to what was going on in Veronica’s head, before she died. I needed to know.
“Heh. She had a name for you,” I told Rachel. “You met her?”
“Once,” she replied, looking uncomfortable. “I liked her.”
“She called you Silver.”
“Huh. I like that.”
I kept flicking through pages. All of the notes, they were so very Veronica. Reckless, analytical, passionate. And her determination to find me, to save me…
It broke my heart.
“Okay, we-” I began, but stopped when I saw Envy, staring at me from a window.
“She’s lying to you,” Envy said.
“Huh?” Rachel asked, and I realised what it must have looked like. I stopped speaking halfway through my sentence. Dammit, I didn’t want her to know about Envy.
“Sorry, I…” I fumbled for some excuse, some explanation that would satisfy her.
“Phone call,” Envy suggested.
“Right. My phone. I need to… Can I have a few minutes?” I asked, certain I looked like a complete idiot. So long as Rachel left me alone, it didn’t matter.
“Sure,” she said, sounding sceptical. Still, she left.
“Talk fast,” I demanded, as soon as Rachel was out of earshot.
“The assassin didn’t do this,” Envy insisted.
“How do you know?”
“Traces of energy,” she said, as if that explained anything. Still, it was good enough for me. Envy was some kind of weird supernatural entity. It’d pass.
“So who did do it?” I asked. “Not…” If Rachel was lying, what reason could she possibly have? Who else could she be covering for?
“No, the cyborg is innocent,” Envy said, as if reading my mind. “Of this, anyway.”
“The Vigilante,” Envy said, and my heart stopped. “You’ve encountered her before.”
No. No, that’s not fair. I trusted her. I gave her a chance, I left Veronica with her…
“Yes,” Envy said. “I’m so sorry, Sabrina. I know how much this hurts you.”
“So Charlie did this,” I repeated, focussing once more. It didn’t actually change that much. It just gave me a new target.
“Then I’ll kill her, too.”
“What?” Envy said, clearly taken aback. “No, Sabrina, that’s not-”
“Not what?” I demanded. “Not a reasonable response? Not like me?”
Go on. Say it.
“Not like you,” she said.
“Yeah, well, surprise,” I snapped. “I’m not like me. Not anymore.”
“No. Listen. Everything has changed. Monsters are real. My city is burning. My best friend is dead. I’m turning into a… I don’t even know what. I’m sure as hell not human anymore. And you, you are just a voice in my head. You don’t get to judge me.”
Too loud. Rachel probably heard. Whatever. It didn’t matter. Maybe she was scared of Charlie, maybe that was reasonable. I didn’t care. Charlie was going to die, one way or another.
“You’re right,” Envy said. “I’m sorry. Just, please, don’t go after Charlie. It’s not a good idea. You can’t beat her.”
“I can try.”
“Not yet you can’t,” she said, her tone still soft. “But I can help you. Trust me, and I can make you strong enough to fight her.”
Of course, she had her own ideas. Everyone did. Everyone just wanted to use me. Rachel had her schemes. Zoe had her schemes. Envy had her schemes.
“I don’t see why we can’t do both,” I said, dismissing her with a wave. “Rachel! I know you’re listening.”
“Only for my name,” Rachel replied, stepping back into the alleyway.
“Whatever. We’re going home.”
I saw Envy watching me, watching us from windows and mirrors, but I ignored her. She needed me, and we both knew it. She’d help me get stronger, because she needed me to be stronger. That suited me just fine. We were just going to do it on my terms.
Rachel didn’t say anything the entire way back. She seemed pensive, lost in thought. For all I knew, she was just daydreaming about the next ridiculous weapon she was going to build. Didn’t really care.
I barged into the main room, surprising Zoe. Not with my presence, but with my attitude. She narrowed her eyes at me, putting down a welding torch.
“You seem… intense,” she said. “Did something happen?”
“Yes. We have a new objective,” I told her.
“We’re going after Charlie,” I announced.
“What?” Rachel asked, suddenly tense.
“Why?” Zoe asked, far more composed.
“You know why she’s a threat,” I said. “Let’s deal with her before she deals with us.”
A satisfied smirk played across Zoe’s lips. She folded her arms, leaning back against the bench behind her.
“You think I’m interested in your revenge fantasy?”
Don’t take the high road with me, you bitch. I know what you’re really like. I saw you tear apart those thugs.
“After everything I’ve done for you, you owe me,” I snarled.
“No, I don’t,” she replied, unfazed. “But I’ll help you find her. And that’s all.”
“This is a bad idea,” Rachel interjected.
“So I’ve been told,” I said. “I don’t care.”