“You know, this really is incredible,” Zoe said, holding up my replacement hand. “Even I couldn’t put together something like this.”
“Yeah, well, I got a bit of a boost.”
“When I saw Haylie,” I explained. “The tech behind her is incredible, I couldn’t even begin to understand it all. Maybe if I had the chance to take her apart.”
“You got all of this from just a glance?”
“A glance and having her beat the stuffing out of me,” I corrected. “She would’ve killed me if you hadn’t shown up.”
“Your ability continues to confuse me. Even Mason isn’t capable of this. It’s not intelligence, it’s just…”
“Another impossibility. Seems to be a lot of them, doesn’t there? All centred around Charlie. It’s almost like there’s something special about her.”
She turned the mechanical hand over a few times, inspecting it in closer detail. The ridges on the back of the forearm caught her attention.
“I was trying to replicate one of Haylie’s weapons,” I said. “I couldn’t figure it out, though. Not without more information. Still, I’m pretty proud of this.”
“Even with your ability, I’d be surprised if you could replicate all of Haylie’s armoury. There’s a reason she’s unique, and why we’re not all running around with the same weapons.”
“Yeah, this one was a real pain in the ass. Whatever is powering that blade of hers must require an ungodly amount of energy, and whatever is powering that body is producing more than a nuclear reactor. I can’t exactly replicate that.”
“Even still, this is exceptional,” Zoe said. “All of it. Except for, well…”
She trailed off, but turned the base of the arm part around to face me. I grimaced.
“Connecting the nerve endings is going to hurt like a bitch,” I finished for her. “No way around that. Still won’t be worse than everything I endured after Charlie…”
I shuddered involuntarily, vivid images of Charlie standing over me, cutting me open, ripping the coalesced blood from my body. I remembered the poison that was supposed to burn that blood out of my system, blood that was already gone. I remembered the fire of Zoe’s blood slowly pushing out the poison. I remembered her cutting me open again, fusing metal and wires to my skeleton.
“Bit of a masochist, aren’t you?”
“We all do strange things for love,” I murmured.
“Always love,” I replied, almost too quickly. “Before all of this, it was my love for Charlie. Now…”
“Now it’s my love for me. What happened to me, I won’t let that happen again. I won’t be weak, helpless, powerless.”
“Better brace yourself, then,” she said, with a sadistic grin.
I tried not to scream. I bit down hard on my gag and squeezed a steel bar which began to bend under the pressure. A thousand needles seemed to be driven into my raw, bloody stump, sending fire and lightning up my arm and through my body.
Consciousness threatened to leave me, but I refused to let go of it, refused to give in to the pain for even a second. I was stronger, would be stronger. Pain was my victory.
The more synthetic nerves connected to organic ones, the more intense the pain became. New sensory data began to flood my brain, overwhelming it, and because it was alien and new, my brain interpreted it as more pain.
It took over an hour for the pain to subside. It was all I could manage to just lay there, staring up at the ceiling, panting and shaking. Zoe sat with me for half of it, until she was certain I wasn’t in danger of worsening, then went back to her own work.
Eventually, I tried moving it. It responded just like my original hand, just as natural, just as responsive. I inspected the connection to the rest of my arm, an obvious distinction since the synthetic material was all black. It wouldn’t pass as ‘real’ but then, I didn’t really need it to.
I spent longer than I needed to flexing my fingers and watching them move. It had only been a few days without my arm, but it felt like a lifetime.
I desperately wanted to test out the blade, but I knew Zoe had cameras everywhere, and I didn’t want to give her a sneak peek. She’d already seen more than I wanted by handling it physically, but that was unavoidable. She was the only one who could’ve connected it.
In any case, with my arm restored, my productivity skyrocketed. Zoe and I continued to work on the gateway, so close to completion we could almost taste it. Sabrina switched erratically between loitering and brooding, and disappearing for hours at a time. Neither Zoe nor I put much thought into what she was up to.
Then, one day, we were finished. Just like that, the final piece was slotted in, the diagnostics were run, and there was nothing left to do except test it. And, since both Zoe, an engineering genius, and myself, a powerful tinker, had worked on it, we were both pretty confident it would work the first time.
We’d done it.
“I almost don’t believe it,” she said, running a hand over one of the smoother edges. “We finally did it. The gateway is ready to be opened.”
“I really hope it works first go,” I said. “Soon as we turn this thing on, everyone in the city is gonna know exactly where we are.”
“If you can figure out a more subtle way to punch a doorway between dimensions, I’m all ears,” she said dryly.
“Just saying. Anyway, I’m gonna go break the good news to Sabrina.”
“Go, go,” she said. “I want to run over the schematics a few more times, and maybe run the diagnostics again.”
I left her with a wave, wandering into the smaller, more central space that had unofficially become the lounge room. Zoe and Sabrina never got tired, and didn’t need to sleep, and with a few tweaks here and there, I’d managed to cut down my own need for rest by a significant margin. Still, it felt good to have a space dedicated to something other than work.
Sabrina was standing in front of a mirror, glaring at it, playing with the knife I’d taken from Miss Murder. She was in her natural body, which was unusual for her. Most of the time, she seemed more comfortable in her Zoe inspired form, possible because in case we were randomly attacked again.
“Having fun?” I asked, surprising her. She dropped the knife, and turned to glare at me instead of the mirror.
“Just trying to figure some stuff out,” she said, her shoulders slumping. “What do you want?”
“Actually, I’m here with good news. We finished it. The gateway is ready.”
“Wow,” she said, her eyes widening. “Really? I…”
“Never really seemed real, did it?”
“I didn’t even know you guys were close. Guess I haven’t exactly asked.”
“You helped a lot, y’know,” I said. “All those trips to gather materials, we couldn’t have done that without you.”
“Zoe spreads the infection,” I pointed out.
“Well, I’m glad I could help.”
“We’re going to activate it soon. No sense tempting fate, right?”
“Wow, no, yeah, you’re right,” she said. “How soon?”
A deep boom resonated through the building, and I immediately tensed for a fight, adrenaline coursing through me.
“It’s coming from above us,” I said.
“It sounds like-”
I was interrupting by a buzzing against my thigh. My phone? Confused, I pulled it out, and looked at the screen.
“It’s Charlie,” I said, my mouth running dry. If Sabrina had looked scared before, she looked positively terrified now.
Hand trembling, I answered the call, raising the phone to my ear.
“Knock, knock,” she said.
Next Week: I Told You She’d Find Us