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Month: December 2016

Interlude #1 – My Little House of Cards

One Month Before Impact Day

The soldiers did their best to avoid her. Zoe didn’t mind. They were too slow, to weak. They only slowed her down. She was far more effective on her own. There was only one person who never got in her way, and he…

A pile of bodies lay at her feet. All human, mindless and bestial. No great loss to the planet, though she still wished there was another way. Not out of any misplaced sense of compassion, it was just that so much death felt like a waste. Every life had value. More specifically, every soul had value.

Still, there was something cathartic about being let loose to cut a swathe through anything and everything that got in her way. She was built as a weapon, and that would never leave her. It was who she was, what she was. It wasn’t all she was, but some part of her would always need that feeling, that release. Better she took it out on humans than actual people. She always felt those losses far more keenly.

It would take them months to clear out this district of the city, more if Genesis intervened. She doubted they would, not with the military presence they held in the city, but she’d learned a long time ago not to underestimate Genesis arrogance.

She closed her eyes, focusing on her other senses. Technically, the HUD provided by her helmet could point her to the next nest of humans, but she preferred relying on her own senses. Technology could be tampered with. She couldn’t.

Something’s here.

She opened her eyes, entire body tensed for a fight. Someone had gotten close, standing right in front of her, and she hadn’t noticed their approach at all. How was that possible?

When she saw who it was, that question no longer seemed important. A thousand other questions flooded her mind as the young girl with lilac hair smiled absently.

“Hello, Zoe.”

“Alice?” she asked, but something was wrong. The girl in front of her wasn’t quite right. Her features were just a little less perfect, a little less symmetrical. Her skin wasn’t quite so flawless. She seemed both more human, and less real. “No, you’re not Alice. You’re…” She trailed off as she realised who it was she must be speaking to. “No. No, that’s not possible.”

“Figured it out already?” the girl replied, her smile widening. “I’m not disappointed.”

The girl she was looking at shouldn’t be alive. She’d died, before Zoe was ever born.

“How are you here? Why are you here?”

“This is just a small stop on a very, very long road,” the girl replied enigmatically.

“It’s been two-hundred years,” Zoe said. “Why have you returned now?” It was obvious she wasn’t getting an answer to the how. She wasn’t entirely sure she wanted one. In her experience, immortality always came with a price.

“Oh, I’ve been in and out this whole time,” the girl responded. “I just never needed you before.”

Suspicious. Curious. Surprisingly hurtful.

“You need me? What for?”

“For my little house of cards,” the girl said.

“Don’t be vague with me,” Zoe growled. A passing resemblance to Alice wouldn’t save this girl, and Zoe wasn’t known for her patience.

“Fine. Here’s the deal. You do what I say, and I’ll give you what you really want.”

“I have everything I want,” Zoe retorted.

“No, you don’t.”

Zoe bristled. This girl spoke with entirely too much certainty, too much authority. It rubbed her the wrong way.

“What would you know?” she snarled.

“Everything, Zoe.”

The weight behind those words hit Zoe like a physical blow. Something in the girl’s tone, in her eye, in her body language. It wasn’t just a line.

“What are you?”

The girl’s demeanour changed almost immediately, brightening up. The change made Zoe even more uncomfortable.

“Right, I didn’t properly introduce myself, did I? That was rude of me.” She straightened the pleats of her dress, smiling up at Zoe. “I no longer have a name, but you can call me the Child. I’m a Guardian.”


“Don’t worry about it,” the girl said, waving her hand dismissively. “Look, you want your family back, right?”

Zoe froze. Emotions long-buried rushed to the surface, flooding her, threatening to overwhelm her. How did this girl’s words carry so much weight? What was she?

“I don’t have a family,” Zoe said coldly.

“Exactly. But you did.”

“That was never-”

“There’s no point lying to me, Zoe,” the girl said. “I’ve seen everything. You, Gabriel, that creepy little clone of me. You want to be together again.”

Of course she wanted them to be together again. That had been the only time in her life when she’d ever been happy. That didn’t mean it was possible. Some bridges could never be un-burned.

“It’s never going to happen,” Zoe said.

“Ugh, you’re so frustrating,” the girl said, idly kicking at one of the dead humans. “You’re like a divorced couple, and creepy clone Alice is the child bouncing between you.”

If only.

“She made her choice.”

“You don’t understand the concept of joint custody?” the girl asked, her tone dripping with condescension.

For two centuries, Alice had bounced between them, though it had never seemed like her choice. She would venture out of the city limits, and whoever got to her first would take her home.

Had… had that been her choice? Did she ‘let’ herself get captured so she could move between the two of them? She always refused to talk about her time at Genesis…

Fine, but even if Alice still cared for both of them, Gabriel was another story. The two of them had spent too much time opposed, too much time trying to hurt each other, and there were some wounds that would never heal.

“He would never-”

“Wroooong.” The girl seemed frustrated, and a little distracted.

“Fine,” Zoe said, giving up on arguing. “Just tell me what you want.”

“I want you take a trip for me,” the girl said.


“Specifically, there’s business I want you to attend to in Melbourne.”

Zoe baulked at the idea. Australia was notable for precisely one thing, and that was the only city that would never be recovered or restored. Melbourne was possibly the single most unpleasant place on the planet.

“Melbourne? In Australia? Why would I want to go there?”

“Well, you need the energy of the Tower.”

Zoe might not have been surprised, but she was appalled. Ever since the construction of the Tower, well before she was born, people had been trying and failing to harness it. Somehow capable of producing seemingly unlimited energy, every attempt to make use of that power had ended in ruin. After the Outbreak, everyone had collectively decided to just leave Melbourne alone for good.

“For what?” she asked. Fighting this girl seemed pointless.

“A failed experiment.”


“I mean, it might work,” the girl said, shrugging. “You could probably figure it out. That’s not the point.”

Is this girl insane?

“You’re gonna need to give me more to go on than that,” Zoe said.

“Look,” the girl said, clearly exasperated. “If I give you too much information, you’ll mess it up. Besides, you’re more or less a genius. You can fill in the gaps.”

“And why would I listen to you at all?” Zoe asked, waiting for the catch. The girl wouldn’t have bothered starting the conversation if she didn’t have something more up her sleeve. She was too confident, and too outrageous, for anything else.

“Because I have this,” the girl said, reaching behind her and pulling out a stack of paper, seemingly out of thin air. She waved it in front of Zoe, just out of reach.

Even from a distance and in motion, Zoe’s eyes were capable of reading the visible contents of the pages. It was a list of names, and if the size of the stack was anything to go by, there were hundreds of thousands of them. Her heart caught in her chest.

“Is that…?”

“Yep. Every single one.”

That’s not fair.

“How?” Zoe asked, repeating the two dozen or so names she could read over and over in her head. She had an eidetic memory; those names would never leave her again.

“I’ll tell you, if you do what I say.”

“I… I’ll do it,” Zoe said, knowing she couldn’t possibly refuse. Nothing terrified her more than the contents of that list, but she needed to know. She needed to memorise ever name.

“Here’s what it’ll take, then. Go to Melbourne. Don’t tell Mason where you’re going, or why. I’ll provide you with the schematics. You build until they show up, then you stall for as long as you can. If everything works out…”

“You want me to get captured?” Zoe asked, realising the only possible ending to that scenario. Genesis would only send their Alpha team, the full Alpha team. That meant Gabriel, Ami, Haylie and XO. She couldn’t take all four of them, and they wouldn’t kill her.

“It won’t last,” the girl assured her.

“And if they kill me?”

“Gabriel would never let you die,” the girl said.

She’s right, Zoe thought. But how could she possibly know that? How does she know any of this?

“Why can’t I tell Mason?”

“Because I have other plans for him, and the less he knows, the better,” the girl replied, still exasperated. There was also a trace of venom in her voice.

“But he’s your father,” Zoe said.

“Don’t remind me.”


The girl pulled a face, somewhere between confusion and contempt.

“You… you really love him, don’t you?” she asked.

“He’s my father, too.”

“Then I’m sorry,” the girl said, and she sounded genuine. “Say goodbye to him before you leave.”

“You’re going to-” kill your own father? she wanted to finish, but couldn’t get the words out.


“That’s…” What could she say about that? “Okay. Is there anything else?”

“One more thing,” the girl said.


“It would be better if you don’t remember any of this.”

“Remember what?” Zoe asked the air, unsure of where those words came from, or what they were in response to.


Next Week: Maybe Punching Someone Would Help

Chapter 10 – Can I Ask You Something Weird?

One Year Before Impact Day

Later that night, I was lying on Rachel’s bed, replaying that conversation over and over in my head. Something about it had stuck out to me, but I couldn’t figure out what. Rachel seemed to be distracted by something too, since she was just sitting at her desk, poking idly at bits of random electronics.

Most of the contents of Rachel’s room had been salvaged. Her family didn’t have a lot of money, and her mother wasn’t exactly the type to give her anything she wasn’t legally required to, so Rachel had acquired a lot of her possessions and furniture from the side of the road, or as second-hand throwaways from friends, and occasionally supplies ‘borrowed’ from her school. It wasn’t a lot, but she seemed happy enough with what she had.

It wasn’t uncommon for us to hang out and not talk. Often we just enjoyed each other’s company; I would read while she worked, or we’d both do our homework, or just relax in the same space. We couldn’t afford to be too loud anyways, in case her mother overheard, so we usually tried to keep things pretty laid back.

It felt different this time, though. It felt like both of us had things we wanted to say, but neither of us knew how to say it. I didn’t even know what it was that was bothering me, but I knew it was something, and I wanted to talk to Rachel about it. I sighed loudly.

A few minutes later, Rachel turned around, sitting backwards in her chair. She looked like she was struggling with something, but before I could ask what it was, she beat me to it.

“Hey, can I ask you something weird?”

“Wouldn’t be the first time,” I said.

She sat there for a few seconds, her mental debate clearly still raging on. Then she sighed.

“Would it be weird if I told you I loved you?” she asked.

I felt my chest tighten, and my skin turn cold. Of all the things I’d expected to be on her mind, that was about the last thing I’d ever think of. For several seconds, I was literally speechless.

What was I supposed to say to that? What did she even mean by it? Was she being serious?

For that matter, what did I think of it? What did it mean? What did I want it to mean? Did I want her to be serious? Or did I want it to just be a joke that we could laugh about and never mention again?

“Weird?” I asked, my throat suddenly very dry. “Well, I guess that would depend on how you meant it…”

“Yeah, I guess so,” she said. I still had no idea what she meant. Or rather, I had a lot of ideas, but I didn’t know which of them to believe.

“Mostly it would be weird of you to say something so sappy,” I said, trying to lighten the mood a little. It didn’t work.

She sat in silence for a few minutes, staring at the floor. I felt like I’d said something wrong, but I didn’t know what to do to make it better. A thousand different things to say kept running through my head, but nothing seemed right, and it was just giving me a headache.

“Do you think it’s weird for a girl to be attracted to another girl?” she asked, still unable to look at me.

My heart skipped a beat, then slammed into my ribcage and started racing. That cleared up what she meant, at least. It didn’t do a damn thing to help me figure out how I felt about it. How long had she been feeling that way?

“Not really,” I said, struggling to find the right words to say. “I mean, it’s not something we really get to choose, right? Not that it would be worse if it was a choice, but you know.”

She looked up at me, her dark, sullen eyes staring right into mine. I felt my mouth going dry again.

“It wouldn’t make you uncomfortable, or anything?” she asked nervously.

To be honest, I did feel pretty uncomfortable, but it wasn’t because of what she’d said. I was uncomfortable because I’d never really had to think about, well, basically anything that I was thinking about in that moment.

“You’re usually more subtle than this,” I told her, without really thinking. I didn’t meant to sound cold, but I also knew I couldn’t continue the conversation if we were just going to keep pretending it was only hypothetical.

“God, I’m sorry,” she said, burying her face in her arms. “It’s just, after what we talked about, I guess I started thinking about, you know, all of that.”

And there it was. That was what had been bothering me. From the moment Sadie had put the idea in my head, it had just sort of sat there, and I hadn’t been able to shake it.

“Yeah,” I said, feeling a lot more relaxed, but at the same time, way more anxious than I was before. “Me too.”

“Oh,” she said, clearly not sure what else to say. She looked up at me, and I couldn’t help but think that she looked like an abandoned puppy.

“I don’t really know what to think, to be honest,” I told her, struggling to make sense of what was going on in my head. “I mean, I’ve never really been the romantic type, but…”


“But you’re definitely special to me,” I said. “In a way that nobody else is.”

And that was the truth. I trusted her more than anybody else, and there was no-one I wanted to be around more. I had no idea what that meant, but I was certain of it just the same.

“I feel the same way. I just don’t know what it means,” she said, mirroring my own thoughts. In a way, that was encouraging, but it also didn’t seem like it would help either of us figure anything out.


“So you’re not freaked out or anything?” she asked, biting her lip.

“No,” I said, shaking my head. “At least, not because of you. Maybe a little bit because of me.”

“Yeah,” she said.

“For what it’s worth, I do love you too,” I told her. “I just don’t know what that means right now.”

“Me either. But I know that you’re more than just a friend to me.”

The two of us just sort of sat there, looking at each other awkwardly. It wasn’t the conversation either of us had expected to have, but I knew that I felt better for having had it, at least. I hoped that she did too.

“Okay, this is getting entirely too sappy for me. Say something snarky, please,” I begged her.

“We should spar,” she said, leaning back in her chair.

“You want me to beat you up?” I asked, teasing her a little.

“I’m pretty sure I can hold my own.”

“I’m pretty sure that’s just the lie you tell yourself so that your pride will let you keep hanging out with me.”

“I’m willing to find out,” she challenged me.

“Where do you want to do this?” I asked, wondering how we could even make that work. It wasn’t like we could do it anywhere in either of our houses, and we definitely couldn’t do it outdoors anywhere.

“Our old club has basically zero security,” she said confidently. “We could sneak in and out and nobody would ever know.”

“They do still have a lock,” I pointed out.

“And I still have a key,” she said, gloating a little.

“You have a key?”

“I thought it would come in handy,” she said, shrugging. “So I made a copy of one.”

“I take it they don’t know about that.”

“God, no,” she said, smirking.

“Sounds perfect,” I told her.

She slid open her desk drawer, and pulled out a rather full keyring, making me wonder just how many other places she had keys to. Maybe there were other places we could sneak into together. That sounded fun.

The two of us snuck out the back door, though the snoring made it pretty obvious her mother was asleep. Even still, it was a risky move, because it Rachel was caught leaving the house, especially with a friend in tow, she probably would have been executed on the spot.

Once we’d safely reached the street, we walked side by side, not saying anything. I felt a tingle against my hang, and reflexively stretched it out. Her fingers wrapped around mine, and I squeezed gently, both of us looking in the complete opposite direction.


Five Months Before Impact Day

“I’m sorry, why exactly do I need to hear about your burgeoning teenage romance?” he asked, his voice thick with discomfort.

“Just trying to warm your cold, dead heart,” I said.

“Well, don’t. Unless it’s relevant to the story, I don’t need to hear it.”

I sighed. “It’s relevant. The things that happened never would have, well, happened, if she and I had had a different relationship. I don’t really know how else to explain it, but…”

He grimaced, shifting in his seat. I stretched my arms, still cuffed, up over my head. It was about as much mobility as I could manage.

“Fine. But keep the details to yourself.” He’d stopped making eye contact with me. “Also, you keep mentioning cracks. Is there some reason for that, or are you just going crazy?”

“I honestly don’t know,” I told him, trying very hard to ignore the crack running across the wall behind him. “But given the circumstances, I’m willing to bet it’s more than that. And like you said, you never know what details will be important.”

“Okay, okay. I take your point. Keep going. Tell me about your next attempt to pick an ill-advised fight with my men.”


Next Week: Interlude #1 – My Little House of Cards

Chapter 9 – You Don’t Have A Secret Boyfriend, Do You?

One Year Before Impact Day

Sadie spent the next few days sulking, but I hardly even noticed. I felt happier than I had in months, and I didn’t want to let anyone take that away from me.

Liz and Aidan remained somewhat suspicious of me, but neither of them said anything more. That was enough for me, really. They could wonder about what I was up to all they wanted, it didn’t make a difference to me.

For the most part, they went back to being their normal selves, at least around me. We talked about the usual things, complained about school, joked about each other and generally just tried to enjoy ourselves. It was exactly what I needed.

One Friday after school, we decided to stop by a café that we frequented. We stopped by often enough that the proprietor knew us by name, anyway. She smiled at us as we entered, though it was the most pleasantly sarcastic smile I think I’ve ever seen.

“You three again? Don’t you have anywhere better to be?”

Despite her best efforts to look plain, Wendy was a strikingly beautiful woman. She left her short reddish-orange hair wild, and the glasses she wore were clearly fake, but beneath them, she had the features of a supermodel, not to mention the perfect, lightly-freckled skin.

“Is that any way to speak to your best customers?” I asked her, matching her smirk.

“You think you’re my best customers?”

“We are in here a lot…” Liz said, a little nervously.

“We don’t order a lot, though,” Aidan pointed out.

“That’s an understatement,” Wendy said dryly.

“We’re students,” I told her. “Sue us.”

“Don’t tempt me.”

“We’ll just go and sit down then,” I said cheerfully. “I’ll have the same thing I always do.”

“Me too,” Aidan chimed in.

“I guess I will as well,” Liz added. Wendy’s face twitched.

“You expect me to just remember what you like?” she demanded.

“Yep,” I said, enjoying her faux aggravation. I knew that she didn’t actually mind, because I’d seen how she treated customers she didn’t like.

“Lucky for you I have a good memory, or you’d all be getting water,” she muttered.

“Thank you for being such a good host,” Liz said.

“Just go sit down,” Wendy said, laughing.

The three of us took a seat in an empty booth, Liz and Aidan sitting beside each other, opposite me. The moment they sat down, I could tell that something was up.

“So, Charlie,” Liz began, causing me to cringe. “Aidan said you’ve been sneaking out at night. What’s up with that?”

“Oh he did, did he?” I asked, glaring at him. He shrunk down at my withering gaze.

“I may have let it slip,” he mumbled.

“You know Mark is going to kill you if he finds out,” Liz warned, her tone annoyingly authoritative.

“And is he going to find out?” I asked, continuing to glare at Aidan.

I already knew they weren’t going to say anything, and even if they did, there wasn’t actually much of a danger Mark would do anything about it. He wasn’t exactly the hands-on type.

“Hey, I’m not gonna tell him,” Aidan said, holding his hands up. “But he is a journalist, you know. He’ll probably figure it out sooner or later.”

“Well, I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it,” I said nonchalantly.

Wendy brought a tray of drinks for us, placing them in front of us silently. She really had memorised our orders.

“Why have you been sneaking out, anyway?” Liz asked.

“Is it even safe for you to be out at night? In this city?” Aidan chimed in. I was actually grateful for it, because if I could focus on the issue of safety, I wouldn’t have to talk about why I was out in the first place.

“I’m fine, you big baby,” I told him. “I know how to stay safe.”

“You don’t have a secret boyfriend, do you?” Liz asked, and I nearly choked on my tea. Why would she assume that? Most nights, I was sneaking out to see Rachel, not some boy.

“What? No, why would you even-”

“You turned red!” Aidan exclaimed, just a little too loud. “She was right! Charlie, how could you not tell us about this?”

“He’s not some kind of thug, is he?” Liz asked. “Or an older man?”

How had they latched onto the idea of me having a boyfriend? Why did that seem like the most likely explanation?

“There’s no boyfriend,” I insisted. “Guys, come on. You know me better than that.”

“So what are you doing, then?” Aidan asked.

Suddenly, I wished I hadn’t denied the boyfriend suggestion. It actually would have been a halfway decent cover for what I was actually doing, which they would never approve of.


“If you don’t tell us, we’re just going to keep assuming it’s a guy,” Liz threatened.

“And we’ll know if you’re lying,” Aidan added.

I doubted that, but I couldn’t think of a good enough lie anyway. I opted to go for the safe route, and give them just enough truth to avoid telling them anything important.

“I’m just visiting a friend,” I told them.

“At night?” Liz asked, concerned.

“Wait, guy or girl?” Aidan added, and I wanted to punch him.

“Does it matter?” I asked, annoyed.

“Just asking.”

“It’s a girl,” I said. “I met her through my jujitsu classes. I visit her at night because her mum is… well, she’s kind of abusive, and if she sees me, things get nasty.” I kind of wish that was a lie.

“That’s horrible!” Aidan said. “Why wouldn’t you tell us about that?”

“I dunno,” I just…”

What? Why haven’t I told them about Rachel? There wasn’t anything odd about having another friend, was there?

“Just what?” Liz demanded.

“Well, if she doesn’t want to tell us, she doesn’t have to,” Aidan said, diplomatically. It felt like he was playing good cop to Liz’s bad cop.

“Yes, but if she’s going to worry us by sneaking off in the middle of the night, it would be nice to at least know why,” Liz said, a little petulantly.

“I know,” I said, trying to sound more apologetic than I felt. “I didn’t really think about it that much. I was really only thinking about her.” That part was also true.

“What’s her name? Can we do anything for her?” Aidan asked, always wanting to be able to help. Also always wanting to know everything.

“Her name is Rachel, and no. You’d only make things worse,” I said. I didn’t actually want to give them her name, but I couldn’t think of a good way to avoid answering without sounding suspicious.

“Well, can we do anything to help you?” Lis asked.

“You could trust me,” I said, a little hurt.

“Charlie, we do trust you,” Aidan said. “We’re just worried.”

“What are you, my parents?”

“Friends are allowed to be worried too,” Aidan said.

“Besides, you and Aidan are practically siblings,” Liz pointed out. “That gives him family worrying rights.”

“I don’t think that’s how it works,” Aidan protested, to my surprise. He was even turning a little red.

“What, you don’t think of Charlie as a sister?” Liz asked, sounding a little accusatory.

“Let’s just not talk about this, okay?” Aidan pleaded.

“I agree. In fact, let’s just drop the whole subject,” I added.

“Alright, alright,” Liz conceded. “We just don’t want you to go missing one night.”

I rolled my eyes. Time to turn this around. I was tired of being interrogated.

“Have you noticed how the two of you talk like a unit?” I asked.

“Huh? We do?” Liz asked, confused.

“Like that. You both say ‘we’ a lot.”

“Well, we both feel the same way about this, so…” Aidan said, trailing off and clearly very embarrassed.

“I think it’s weirder to notice it than it is to do it,” Liz said, equally defensive.

“Whatever you say, guys,” I said. At least I’d taken their attention off of me for a little bit.

I glanced over at Wendy, who was serving another customer. She caught me looking, and smiled wearily at me. I was about to smile back when I noticed a crack beside her, which should have been impossible, because she was in the middle of the room. It looked as though the air itself was cracked. Nobody else seemed to notice it.

Recognising my concern, Wendy wandered over. She rested a hand on my shoulder, staring into my eyes through her messy fringe.

“You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” she said. “Everything okay?”

“Probably,” I replied, wondering what in the world was wrong with me. The crack was gone, but the feeling it had given me remained.

“You two taking care of Charlie?” Wendy asked. Liz and Aidan swapped surprised expressions.

“I can’t imagine anyone less needing to be taken care of than Charlie,” Liz said, but she looked at me with a warm, nurturing smile.

Wendy just smiled, filling up my glass of water from her jug. She squeezed my shoulder with surprising strength, and left us alone.

“I didn’t realise you were that close with her, Charlie,” Aidan mused.

“Neither did I,” I confessed. “I like that she’s looking out for me, though. She seems like she’d be good at that.”

“She certainly stares at you a lot,” Liz said. “She tries to hide it, too. Which means it’s not just a coincidence.”

And why would you notice something like that, Liz?

“Alright, don’t make it weird, guys,” I said, feeling embarrassed.

“Just be careful,” Aidan said. “Something about her seems…”

“Off?” Liz offered.

“That’ll do,” he said.

“You guys do realise she gives us a discount, right?” I asked, slightly annoyed.

“Caution retracted,” Aidan said. “She’s good people.”

The three of us laughed, but I couldn’t help looking out of the corner of my eye, trying to catch Wendy looking at me.


Next Week: Can I Ask You Something Weird?