Part 6 – Zoe
“I need to ask you something,” I said. Zoe looked up from her work, curious.
“Ask away, kid.”
“I need to know about Haylie,” I said. “Rachel said she’s awake now. I know a lot of people have been looking for her. Is she… should we be worried?”
More importantly, tell me something, anything I can use to find her. She’s the last piece of the puzzle. Without her, Envy won’t let me fight Charlie.
Zoe sighed, putting her tools down. Rachel looked up briefly, then decided she wasn’t interested, and went back to her work.
“I don’t know what to tell you,” Zoe said, uncharacteristically tender. We began to walk together. “She’s not…”
“Like the rest of you?” I guessed.
“Well, that much is certainly true,” she agreed. “But not what I meant. She’s dangerous, but not aggressive. It’s hard to explain. I…”
“What is she?”
Zoe smiled, a more wistful, nostalgic smile than I’d ever seen on her before. She sat down, folding her legs and holding one knee against her chest.
“She’s unique,” Zoe said. “She was the first voice I ever heard.”
“Wait, really? So she’s older than you? Is she like, your mother? Another sibling?”
“Good grief, no,” Zoe said, laughing. “Sorry, that doesn’t answer anything, does it? It’s all very complicated.”
“Tell me about it, then,” I said.
“I dunno, it seems like a good idea,” I said. “Things have been… tense, between us. That’s mostly on me. So I want to, you know…”
She smiled again, looking genuinely touched. Either she actually believed me, which seemed unlikely, or she was playing along for her own reasons. So long as she told me what I wanted, it didn’t matter. And if I had to listen to a bunch of irrelevant, sentimental drivel, that was a small price to pay.
“It’s kind of a long story,” she said. “You sure you wanna hear it?”
“I’m not exactly busy,” I lied.
“I’m sure I can come up with more tasks for you,” she said.
“Or we could try actually talking,” I countered. “Look, you were there for me, when I woke up and everything was different. When I was different. Without you, I don’t know what would have happened to me. And I’m sorry I haven’t been great at showing my gratitude for that.”
“Gratitude’s unnecessary,” she said. “But sure, if you’re that interested. Take a seat. Let’s talk.”
Just get it on with it already, fuck.
I sat down opposite her, waiting for her to speak. To my surprise, Rachel joined us, hanging out in the doorway, her arms folded across her chest. Zoe nodded to her.
“I was born in a lab,” she began, leaning back in her chair. “You probably already knew that. I was the last of us to be born. I don’t know if he went with twenty-six specifically to match the letters of the alphabet, or if that was just a coincidence. I guess it doesn’t matter.”
“That explains Specimen Z,” I said. “And Gabriel, he was what, seventh? Did you all pick names based on your code letter? Or did this mysterious creator pick them for you?”
“Neither, actually. Alice chose our names for us. She was the second voice any of us heard, and the first face we saw.”
“And Alice is…?” Rachel prompted, surprisingly interested.
“Specimen A,” Zoe said. “The first of us. A child, really. The prototype, never meant for combat. A little sister to us all. She loved each and every one of us.”
“So Haylie is Specimen H?” I asked.
“No. H was… well, they’re dead now. Most of them are. Haylie predates even Alice. She helped Mason create us. She looked after us, taught us, nurtured us.”
“Did you say Mason?” Rachel asked.
“Does that name mean something to you?” Zoe responded, curious.
“Does the name Genesis mean anything to you?”
“Yes,” Zoe said, a little concerned. “Genesis was Mason’s company, the name of the company when we were born. How do you know it?”
“I’m not sure yet,” Rachel said cryptically. “Forget about it. Continue your story.”
“Curious. But fine, I’ll continue. There was a divide, between us. We knew we were being prepared for war. Not all of us wanted that. A fight broke out. The lab was nearly destroyed. Gabriel and I escaped together, along with Alice. All we wanted was our freedom. Haylie let us go. She didn’t know. None of us knew.”
“About what?” I asked.
“The infection,” Rachel guessed.
“Gabriel and I both carry it,” Zoe confirmed. “Alice doesn’t. Not that it matters. We let the virus out into the world. It’s still unchecked. More than ninety percent of the population is, well, you’ve seen the results. We did that.
“Gabriel wanted to keep running. I didn’t. Mason hunted us, but not because we left. He just wanted his daughter back.”
“Alice was special,” Rachel said. “The first, not designed for combat, a child… a replacement?”
“His daughter died. The reason we exist is because Mason wanted a way to bring her back, and make sure he never lost her again. So he made me a deal. He told me he’d cure me if I returned with her. So I did. I betrayed Gabriel and returned with Alice.”
“But he didn’t cure you,” I said.
“No. But by the time he realised he couldn’t cure it, it didn’t matter. The world had changed. And Haylie had left. She and Gabriel built a new Genesis. I stayed with Mason. Eventually, Alice returned to Gabriel. I don’t think Mason ever recovered from that.”
“I guess that explains the animosity between you and Gabriel. Doesn’t explain much about Haylie, though,” I said.
“She’s an artificial intelligence,” Rachel said. “An android.”
“Not exactly,” Zoe said. “She’s not artificial. Her consciousness doesn’t run on code. Her body is synthetic, but her mind is… different. She’s unique. Kind of.”
“I’m not sure I understand the distinction,” Rachel said.
“You don’t really need to. The important thing is, I don’t think you really need to worry about her. She’s a good person, and I doubt this Celestial clown can say anything that’d change that.”
That doesn’t help me at all, though.
“Tell that to my arm,” Rachel said, waving her stump impotently.
“That was… out of character,” Zoe said. “Did you provoke her somehow?”
“I threatened the Celestial. She seems attached to him for some reason.”
“That doesn’t make sense. She’s not…”
“She didn’t seem all there,” Rachel said. “Kind of… hollow. Hard to explain.”
“Then we have a problem. The body she’s inhabiting right now, it’s just one of many. A combat unit designed especially to go up against someone like me. That kind of destructive power, without… her controlling it…”
“With the Celestial controlling it,” I corrected. The two of them looked at me, annoyed. Annoyed because I was right.
The conversation apparently over, the three of us parted ways. Zoe and Rachel went back to whatever they were working on, and I began to wander. Once I was far enough away from the other two, Envy appeared.
“Don’t worry,” she said, leaning against the wall. “We’ll find her. And we can handle her.”
“Why do we need to?” I asked.
“Not sure I follow,” Envy said.
“Everyone else, I get. I lock eyes, you copy their power. We both get stronger. But Haylie’s an android. What would you even copy?”
“Haylie’s the key,” Envy insisted. “It’s not her power I’m after. It’s what’s inside of her.”
“Now I’m the one that doesn’t follow…”
“Don’t fret about it,” Envy said. “All you need to do is find her. I can take it from there.”
“Alright,” I agreed reluctantly. “Any ideas on where to find her, then?”
“Kind of. You won’t like it, though.”
“You don’t need to find her,” Envy said. “Just make enough of a scene, and she’ll come to you.”
“You’re right. I don’t like it. But…”
“But I’ll do it,” I said.
Next: The First and The Last (Bonus)