Six Months Before Impact Day
“I think we’re just about ready,” I announced.
“Are you absolutely sure you want to go ahead with this?” Liz asked, a worried expression on her face.
“I’m not saying I’m looking forward to it,” I said. “But it’s the only way we’re ever gonna make any progress.”
“So long as everyone does their job, she’ll be perfectly safe,” Rachel said, with a pointed glance in Liz’s direction. Perfect timing.
“That’s easy for you to say,” Liz snapped. “Your job is already done, and you’re not exactly putting yourself on the line.”
“Oh that’s right,” Rachel said, taking the bait, “I forgot the only meaningful contributions come from an actual murderer.”
“I am not a murderer,” Liz said through gritted teeth. “I have never killed a single person in my life.”
“Right, right, sorry,” Rachel said dryly. “You haven’t actually killed anyone, you’ve only profited from murder. But I’m sure you never enjoyed the mansion your parents bought with their blood money, or the fancy clothes, or the five-star restaurants. And hey, they probably killed someone to pay for this apartment too, but I guess we can just ignore that, since they were kind enough to let us use it.”
“There’s a difference between an assassin and a murderer,” Liz said, clearly trying not to shout. “My parents don’t choose who lives and dies. They’re weapons, and if they don’t do it, someone else will.”
“Whatever helps you sleep at night,” Rachel said dismissively. “They’re still contributing to a system where those with money control the lives of those that don’t. Oh, but I’m sure they only kill bad people, right?”
“They don’t choose, you just said so. So who does? Crime lords with more money than my family’s made in eight generations? Businessmen who profit of the labour of the working class? Politicians who represent people who make less than a tenth of what they do?”
Aidan put a hand on Liz’s arm. I could feel the tension from across the room, but didn’t say anything. Rachel was pressing all of Liz’s buttons perfectly.
Just like I’d told her to.
“Let’s not punish Liz for the actions of her parents,” Aidan said carefully. “Regardless of whether or not you agree with them, Liz is her own person, who makes her own choices, and she’s helping us.”
“Oh, she just has you wrapped around her little finger, doesn’t she?” Rachel said, a vicious glint in her eye. She might be enjoying this too much…
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Aidan demanded.
“Dude, she’s not into you,” Rachel said. “She’s leading you on, because she’s in love with Charlie, and she hates me because Charlie chose me.”
“How dare you,” Liz snapped, going very, very still.
Please don’t try to kill Rachel, I begged silently.
“Am I wrong?” Rachel goaded.
“It doesn’t matter,” Aidan insisted. “We’re here because we all want to help Charlie.”
“Right, like you don’t have anything to gain from this,” Rachel said threateningly.
“I don’t follow,” Aidan said, but there was a shift in him. He was cautious now, wary.
“You think I don’t know what you’re up to?” she asked. “You think I don’t know about your Stars?”
“It’s just an information network—”
“Sure, sure. And the half-million dollars you’ve made in the past month, that’s all to help Charlie?”
Liz looked at him, stunned. I followed suit, even though I already knew about it.
“Aidan, is that true?” I asked, hoping it didn’t sound too rehearsed.
“It’s not as bad as she makes it sound,” he said quickly. “I’ve been buying and selling information between high-profile gang members. It’s not like that’s a profit, I’m using it for you.”
“How do you think I’ve gotten all the names and locations I have?” he asked, with just an edge of desperation.
“So you’re not planning on just taking over with a gang of your own?” Rachel asked, and Aidan visibly flinched. It was a perfect hit, not just because of the tension, but because the guilt would delay him doing exactly that.
He’s so clever, and yet so easily to manipulate. He’ll be a lot harder to manage when I can’t keep a close eye on him.
“Why would I want that?” he asked.
“Why are you looking for a fight?” Liz demanded. Finally.
“Because unlike you, I actually care about Charlie,” Rachel said. “And I don’t trust either of you.”
“Can you stop acting like you’re better than us?” Liz snapped, inching closer and closer to her breaking point.
“Can you stop believing you’re better than me?” Rachel said. “I get it, you’re rich, you go to a private school, you could kill someone with a single touch but you’re too good to do it. Take your moral superiority and shove it up your arse, Liz.”
“You’re such a petty bitch,” Liz growled. “You wanna be jealous, fine. Be jealous. But take your issues somewhere else, because we have a job to do, and if you have a problem with me, you can just… fuck off!”
I think that was the first time I ever heard Liz swear. It was a little scary, but mostly funny, and I had to try really hard not to laugh.
I kept a straight face as Rachel slammed her fists down on the table, rising with a furious energy.
“Fine. You win.”
“Wait, what?” I asked, right on cue.
“I’m leaving,” Rachel said. “I’m sorry.”
“You can’t!” I pleaded, glancing back at Liz and Aidan.
“It’s like Liz said, my job is done,” Rachel said. “You don’t need me anymore, and I’m clearly not wanted here. So I’m gonna go.”
“Rachel, I can’t do this without you!” I cried, grabbing her arm.
“Yes, you can,” she said. “Just try not to let these idiots talk you into something stupid.”
Before I could stop her, she stormed out of the building, leaving Aidan and Liz flabbergasted. After several minutes of silence, I glared at them.
“Are you happy now?”
“That was her fault,” Liz said.
“Do you guys not get how important she is to me?” I asked. “Could you not have even made an effort?”
“Charlie, we’ve been making an effort,” Aidan said. “For months now.”
“She was the one who had a problem with us,” Liz added. “We know you love her, but surely you have to see that.”
“Fine,” I said. “It’s done now, anyway.”
“You’re not gonna go after her?” Aidan asked.
“No. She clearly doesn’t want me to, and like she said, we have work to do.”
“Let’s get to work, then,” Liz said.
Next Week: This Is Beyond Ridiculous