Eight Months Before Impact Day
“Your plan sucks,” Aidan said bluntly, and I had to resist the urge to hit him.
“It was working,” I said. “Reported crimes in the areas I’ve patrolled—”
“Look, I don’t think it’s worth explaining statistical significance to you, so I’m gonna put it this way,” he said. “Crime rates in other areas have gone up. Thugs on the streets are carrying more guns, which puts other people in more danger. You might stop a crime here and there, maybe scare them off one little area temporarily, but you’re not making a scrap of difference.”
“What? Even after I hit one of their safe houses?” I demanded, glancing at Rachel. She just shrugged. Liz rolled her eyes. Wendy was silent.
“Charlie, these gangs are funded by millions, maybe billions of dollars. You put a handful of nobodies in the hospital and trashed a cheap apartment. You really thought they would care?” Aidan asked.
My heart sank. A quick look around the table told me nobody else felt any better about my progress. I could just picture Sadie’s smug grin. I was glad I’d left her at home.
“Alright then,” I said, taking deep breaths. “That’s why you’re here. Give me a better plan.”
“Cut off their funding,” he said. “We need to find out who’s providing them with weapons, who’s organising them, and mostly, who’s benefiting.”
“That sounds like your job,” Rachel told him.
“And I’ll do my best,” he said, exasperated. “But I can’t exactly just jump on a computer and find out. You’re gonna need to do some groundwork for me.”
“Now you’re talking,” I said. “Groundwork I can do.”
“There’s a few other things we’re going to need,” he said. “A car. Nondescript. An isolated, soundproof building. A place near the centre of the city. A few, er, specific chemicals.”
A picture was already starting to form in my head. Everyone else seemed to have something of an idea of what he was suggesting.
“Leave the chemicals to me,” Rachel said. “I already have some ideas.”
“I can take care of the car, and I know of an isolated cabin that would be perfect,” Liz said reluctantly. “What’s with the place in the city, though?”
“I need somewhere to work from, and to direct you from. Also, if someone manages to track down my IP address, the denser area will make it harder to narrow down,” Aidan explained.
Liz made a disgruntled sound, and we all turned to look at her. She was grimacing.
“Problem?” I asked her.
“Charlie, this is ridiculous,” she said. “Think about what you’re trying to do here. What you’re asking everyone here to do. Is this really what you want?”
“What should I want?” I demanded. “A normal life? You want me to just forget that I’m immortal, go back to school, graduate, get a job? Am I even going to get old?”
“I’m just saying that putting yourself in harm’s way is foolish, even for someone who can’t die. What’s wrong with a normal life?”
A wave of anger rushed through me. I slammed my hands on the table, standing up so I could look down on her.
“You want me to live a normal life? Liz, a few months ago, I tried to kill myself. And everyone here has done a great job of pretending I didn’t, but it happened, and I haven’t forgotten. That is my normal life.”
Rachel reached over, and rested a hand on mine. I could feel it calming me. I didn’t want to be calm. I pulled away.
“You can all act like this is insane if you want,” I snarled. “But this is all I fucking have. This, this darkness inside of me is driving me crazy. I have no idea what I am, or why I’m like this. I’m so angry all of the time, and the only time I feel in control of it is when I’m doing this, and when I’m with Rachel.”
“Charlie,” Rachel said, this time grabbing my wrist and not letting go. She didn’t say anything else, but there was love in her eyes.
“I had no idea,” Liz said. “Charlie, if I was sceptical, it was only because—”
“It’s fine, Liz,” I told her. “I don’t want to talk about it. Just, let’s focus on doing something worthwhile, okay?”
“Why this, though?” Liz asked. “Why is fighting street gangs the battle you want to fight?”
My mouth shot open to reply, but I stopped myself. I couldn’t tell her the real reason. I couldn’t tell anybody the real reason, not yet. Even Rachel, if she knew… Well, she might not care, but I wasn’t ready to take the risk.
“Because it was the first thing that popped into my head,” I said. “I read a lot of comic books, okay? It just felt natural.”
The scary thing was, that was partially true. Not in the way that I was implying, but I had my suspicions. Everything seemed too perfectly tailored to me.
“Shit,” Rachel said, as if she understood. Maybe she did.
“Well, it doesn’t matter now,” Aidan said. “This is where we’re at, and we’ve all agreed to do what we can for Charlie.”
“Thank you,” I said.
“So, I don’t want to question your expertise, Aidan,” Rachel began, still holding my wrist. “But I think your plan is a little lacking too.”
“I haven’t even told you what my plan is,” he objected.
“It seems pretty obvious,” Liz said. “Car, cabin, drugs… we’re gonna kidnap and interrogate a gang member.”
“Not exactly,” Aidan said.
“No, street thugs wouldn’t know anything useful,” Rachel agreed. “So how are we going to nab someone higher up?”
“Well, this is where having someone like Charlie comes in handy,” he said. “We’re gonna get them to take her right to them.”
“How?” Rachel asked, sounding ready to reject the idea out of hand.
“We need to package her up in something that would get taken straight to the higher ups,” Aidan said. “Liz?”
Liz pondered the question for a few seconds. “Can’t be anything normal. Guns, drugs, money, wouldn’t rate a mention, even in large amounts.”
“Something rare, then,” Aidan said. “Like…”
“Military prototypes,” Rachel said.
“That might be a little out of our reach,” Liz said sceptically.
“Real ones, yes,” Rachel agreed. “But they only have to believe that’s what they’re looking at, right?”
“You think you can make something convincing?” Aidan asked.
“With the right supplies and enough time,” she said. “Actually… Charlie, can I talk to you after this?”
“Huh?” Of course I was going to talk to her after. What did she think I was going to do, just wander off alone? “Yeah, for sure.”
“Okay, so this is all going to take some time to organise,” Aidan said. “I’m gonna keep digging for information. Rachel, you have a lot to do. Liz, you’ve got a few things, but it seems like they won’t take long, so I think you and Charlie should spend some time training together.”
Liz and I exchanged surprised glances. She looked uncomfortable, but didn’t say anything. I just shrugged.
“Sure, we probably need to get a good feel for what to expect from one another,” I agreed. “Maybe some after school sessions?”
“Fine,” she said. She was being surprisingly short, but I decided not to comment on it.
“Right. Uh, anyone else?”
“I’m good,” Aidan said. “We all have enough to get started, anyway.”
“Let’s get to work then,” Liz said. “And Charlie, try not to do anything irredeemably stupid in the meantime.”
Not sure what to say to that, I just smiled diplomatically, and nodded. Seemingly satisfied, Liz and Aidan walked off together, talking about something in hushed voices. I turned to Rachel.
“Hey,” she said, smiling.
“Hey, yourself,” I said back. “What’s up?”
She fidgeted uncomfortably, then met my eye. “This is going to be too much for me,” she said eventually. “On top of school, and work, I don’t think I can handle it all.”
Did she feel like I was putting too much pressure on her? A spark of panic flickered to life, but I quickly crushed it.
“I don’t want you to push yourself,” I said. “We can figure out a way to make this all work without—”
“No,” she snapped. “That’s not what I want.”
“What do you want, then?”
“You,” she said. “This. Nothing else.”
I frowned, confused. What was she actually saying?
“I don’t follow,” I told her.
“Look, you and I both know I’m not getting anything out of school,” she said. “And this job is fine, but I could make a lot more money, and hate myself a lot less, doing things I’m actually good at.”
“Your mum would kill you,” I pointed out.
“My mum has done everything she can for me,” Rachel said. “That’s not my home, and it never will be.”
I looked into her eyes. She was completely serious, and more determined than I’d seen her before. She didn’t need my approval, but she wanted it. She wanted me to tell her she was right, and it was going to be okay.
“What are you going to do?” I asked instead.
She reached into her bag, pulled out a crumpled piece of paper, and thrust it into my hands. I unfurled it and straightened it out.
It was a real estate listing. A small unit, not really close to anything familiar. A little old, and fairly cheap rent. Cheap, but still out of her price range, and even if I wanted to help, I didn’t have any money at all.
“Well?” she prompted.
“How are you going to afford it?” I asked, wishing I could just give her the enthusiasm she wanted. “Also, you’re only seventeen. Don’t you need to be eighteen-“
“I know,” she said. “Charlie, I know. Don’t look at the rent. Just the place. Tell me what you think of it.”
“It’s… cute,” I said. “But—”
She sighed loudly, and snatched the sheet of paper back from my hands, shoving it back into her bag. When she looked back up at me, she was biting her lip.
“Okay, look. The owner is one of mum’s ex-boyfriends. I already spoke to him, he’s willing to let me stay there for a few months for free, to find my feet.”
“Wow, really?” I hadn’t expected that. “That’s really cool.” I didn’t know what to say to her. I didn’t even know how to feel about it.
“What’s wrong?” she asked.
“Nothing,” I told her. “I don’t know. It’s just not what I was expecting,” I admitted.
“Then you’re missing the point,” she said, smirking. I frowned. Did that mean what it sounded like? Because that was not what I was in the mood for.
“Rachel, I’m not—”
She rolled her eyes, and I stopped mid-sentence. Her smirk hadn’t disappeared.
“Charlie, you do remember why we’re working with Wendy and the lovebirds, don’t you?”
Suddenly, I realised what she was getting at. My eyes grew wide, and so did her grin. I shoved her playfully.
“You’re brilliant,” I told her, then kissed her.
“I know,” she said, and kissed me back.
Next Week: Something Feels Off