Eight Months Before Impact Day
Rachel and I arrived at Wendy’s café just after closing time, with Sadie in tow. It was the only time I could be sure she would be there, but there wouldn’t be any customers. Just like last time, the door was unlocked. I supposed that made sense; it wasn’t like she needed to be worried about security.
She looked up at us with an expression of exaggerated surprise, but when she realised it was me, all traces of the gentle and awkward persona vanished.
“We’re closed,” she said coldly.
“You know we’re not here to order,” I said. “I do need to talk to you.”
Her eyes darted over to Rachel, and then briefly settled on Sadie. There was no way that was a coincidence. Could she actually see my sister?
Sadie obviously noticed too, but she didn’t seem surprised. That was something I needed to investigate later.
“I already told you, there’s nothing I can do for you,” Wendy said. “I’m sorry.”
“I disagree. But don’t worry, I’m not gonna ask you for answers again, and I’m not going to ask you to fight.”
“Then what do you want?”
“I told you. I want to talk,” I said. “Just talk.”
She sighed, tilting her head towards the back of the café. “Go through that door. I’ll meet you there after I lock up.”
Progress. I had to hide my smirk as I led the others out the back door. Rachel met my eye and gave her secret smile, the one where she bit her lower lip.
Wendy’s back room was not at all what I expected. Beyond the kitchen, pantry and freezer was another room, with glossy white walls, harsh lighting, and the largest assortment of weapons I think I’ve ever seen. A deep crack ran right down the centre of the room, but nobody else seemed to notice it.
A few seconds later, Wendy followed us in, shutting the door behind us. The room was small enough that all of us were standing close enough to touch, even spread out as far as we could get.
“So tell me, what is it that you think I can do for you?” she asked.
“I need a backup plan,” I told her. “In case something goes wrong. I… I hadn’t really considered the risks before. I mean, I know I’ll be fine, but if they find out who I am, my family and friends are in danger. So if something goes wrong, I just want you to pull me out of the fire. That’s in your best interest too, right?”
If she didn’t want me to know what I was, I figured it was a pretty safe bet she didn’t want anyone else knowing either. It was the only way I could think of to motivate her to get involved.
“In order to do that, I’d need to know every time you put yourself in danger,” she replied. “I can’t come after you if they take you anywhere protected.”
“Why not?” Rachel asked.
“I can’t hurt anyone,” she explained. “I definitely can’t kill anyone. That’s an agreement I can’t break, not for any reason.”
“Curious,” Rachel said. “What happens if you break it? You go back to your lab? You’re terminated?”
I knew Rachel was probing for more than just answers. Even if Wendy didn’t say anything, her body language and micro expressions might.
“It’s not about consequences,” Wendy said.
“I’m not asking you to hurt or kill anyone,” I said. “Just, you know, rescue me if I get caught. Or protect my friends and family, at the very least.”
“What exactly do you imagine me doing?” she asked.
“Why a barista?” Rachel asked.
“There’s so much you could do,” Rachel insisted. “Even without using your superhuman abilities. You’re so intelligent, so dextrous. You’re functionally immortal, and you have supermodel good looks. So why a barista, and why here?”
“You ask a lot of questions,” Wendy said.
“And you answer painfully few.”
“It makes me happy,” Wendy said. “I like this life, and I like this city.”
“But you only bought this café ten years ago,” Rachel said. “And you made an entirely new identity to go with it.”
“You’ve done your research.”
“You’re here for Charlie,” Rachel accused her.
“I can’t help you,” she insisted.
“You’re selfish,” Rachel said.
“Yes,” Wendy agreed.
“I’m sorry I threatened you,” I told her. “Last time, I mean.”
“It wasn’t you,” Wendy replied cryptically.
“You really won’t tell us anything?” Rachel asked.
“You already know more than you’re supposed to,” Wendy said. “But then, so do I. Trust me, ignorance is bliss.”
“That’s easy for you to say,” Rachel said.
“No,” Wendy replied, “it isn’t.”
We left after that, neither of us surprised with how things went. It wasn’t until we got back to Rachel’s place that we talked about it.
“Did you get anything useful?” I asked, watching out of the corner of my eye as Sadie perched on the edge of Rachel’s bed, taking in the room.
“A little,” Rachel said, trying unsuccessfully to follow my gaze. “More puzzle pieces, but not enough to see the big picture.”
“Do you think she’ll help?”
Not yet,” Rachel said. “And not us.”
“So I was right.”
“Are you sure you want to go through with this?” Rachel asked.
“It’s too late now, isn’t it?”
“We could find another way,” Rachel said.
“I think this is it,” I said, shaking my head.
“Well, you know I’ve got your back,” she said.
“Yeah, I know.”
Next Week: Irredeemably Stupid