Nine Months Before Impact Day
I was sprawled on Rachel’s bed, watching her fiddle with another of her projects, enjoying the moment of peace. Peace that could be shattered at any moment if her mother discovered me here, but it was a risk we’d both decided to take.
Her laptop, brand new and relatively powerful, chimed, demanding attention. It had been one of her first purchases with the money from her new job, at my insistence. She only agreed because I’d pointed out ways she could use it to help me.
She carefully put down the circuit board she was poking at, and put the little soldering iron thing on its stand. Then she wheeled her chair away from her desk, fishing the laptop out from under her bed, and crawled onto the bed with me.
I wrapped my arms around her waist as she flipped it open, resting my head against her back. She made a quiet purring noise, but stopped it short.
“You need to see this,” she said.
I pulled myself up so I could look at the screen over her shoulder. She’d received an email from an email account I didn’t recognise: firstname.lastname@example.org. It meant nothing to me, but the content of the email did.
It was a video of Wendy, the owner of the café I liked to go to with Aidan and Liz. Except she looked different. Her hair was longer, and carefully styled. She didn’t wear glasses, and she was wearing some kind of futuristic-looking bodysuit that left very little to the imagination, to borrow a tired cliché.
She was in some kind of clinic or laboratory, all white walls and silver equipment. When she moved, she moved with an animal grace, nothing like the nervous shuffle I was familiar with.
In the bottom corner of the video, a line of text read: “Specimen W, test #24”
Rachel and I watched in silence as Wendy was asked by a voice with a British accent, “Are you ready to begin testing?”
She nodded, and somebody drove a knife right into her stomach. When she pulled it out again, the wound was already beginning to heal. Faster than mine would have. I was irrationally jealous.
Several other tests followed, and it wasn’t just her healing that was tested. Despite her small stature, she was able to easily lift several times her own body weight. When the video finished, Rachel and I looked at each other.
“Do you think it was real?” she asked, immediately searching for the domain the email had been sent from. It didn’t exist.
“Yes,” I said, though I didn’t know why. My gut was telling me it was true, that was all I knew. “I need to talk to her. I need to know.”
“What can I do?” she asked.
“Keep the door unlocked,” I said. “I’m gonna want to come back here after.”
“Of course,” she said.
Sneaking out wasn’t difficult. I had it down to a fine art after all the times I’d had to do it, and Rachel’s mother wasn’t the most observant type even at her best. And she was rarely at her best.
The walk to the café wasn’t too long. Despite it being fairly late in the evening, I knew I would find her there. My gut told me that was where she’d be.
I wasn’t wrong. I could see her inside, slowly packing up for the day. I checked the door, and smiled to find it unlocked. I let myself in.
“Charlie,” she said, without looking up. “What are you doing here?”
“Just thought I’d pay a visit. Since I was in the neighbourhood.”
“Well unfortunately, we’re closed. You can’t stay here,” she told me.
“Don’t worry, I’m not planning on staying long,” I said. “There’s just one little thing before I go.”
“Whatever it is, I’m sure it can wait until tomorrow.”
I took a deep breath. Now or never, Charlie. Time to find out just how much she knows.
“I know you’ve been watching me,” I accused her. “Keeping tabs on me.”
I didn’t know that, of course. It was entirely possible that we were two superhuman people in the same city, who happened to know each other, completely by coincidence. Possible, but extremely unlikely.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said, and she really did sound genuinely confused. I had a flicker of doubt, but I pushed it aside.
“I also know you’re not human,” I told her, and that much at least I was sure of.
“Now you’re just being rude,” she snapped.
“Don’t lie to me, Wendy. I’m not here to play games with you,” I said, sounding a lot more threatening than I felt.
“Charlie, please. You’re being—”
“You’re afraid,” I said, as the realisation struck me. I could smell it on her. Or, not smell, but something like that. I could feel it. “You are genuinely afraid of me. Even with everything you can do. Why? What am I?”
Wendy’s eyes flicked away for just a second. When they returned and met mine again, they were different. They were the eyes of the Wendy from the video.
“I can’t tell you,” she said.
“TELL ME!” I shouted, and she cringed.
Where did that come from?
“I can’t,” she insisted. “You wouldn’t understand, even if I could tell you. Please, just drop it. For your own good, drop it.”
There was no way that was going to happen. She had answers, and I wasn’t going to leave until she gave them to me.
“Drop it?” I snarled. “I can’t die. The people around me, they’re all… different.” I took a deep breath. There was one other thing. The thing I hadn’t told anyone about. Not Rachel, not Sadie. Nobody. “I keep seeing these cracks. Everywhere I look. Even in places where that should be impossible. Water, air, even people, and nobody else can see them.”
“I’m sorry, Charlie,” was all she said.
No. I was not going to give up that easily. I couldn’t.
“If you’re not going to tell me anything, then at least give me your help,” I said, almost demanded.
“You’re still playing dumb? I told you, I know you’re not human. And I’ve seen what you can do.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said, but her tone told me otherwise. She was still lying to me. “You won’t find what you’re looking for here, Charlie. I’m sorry.”
The sad part was, she really did sound sorry. It was obvious she had her reasons for not helping me. For keeping secrets from me. I just didn’t care.
“You will regret this,” I told her.
“I already do,” she said. “Believe me, I’m not doing this because I want to. I really wish I could help you, but I can’t. It’s impossible.”
I didn’t say anything else. What would have been the point? She’d made it perfectly clear I wasn’t going to get any answers from her. At least, not by asking.
Next Week: There’s Something You Don’t Know About Me