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.
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.
“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.
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.”
“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.
“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
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