Rachel, Six Months Before Impact Day
We arrived late in the day, with only a few people left in the cafe. Wendy noticed us immediately, as expected. She was sharper than she gave the impression of being. A quick glower at me, unnoticed by the others.
“You’re Wendy, right?” Aidan asked, with his usual friendly charm.
“That’s me,” Wendy replied, with just a hint of venom in her voice. It was clear she knew why we were here.
“We need your help,” Aidan asked, and I bit my tongue. Don’t say anything, I told myself. She won’t respond if you’re leading the charge.
Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed a sudden movement. Two high school students, wearing Charlie’s uniform. Neither Aidan nor Liz responded to them, but there was a strange energy to them.
“You need help from a barista?” Wendy asked, playing coy. She did have an audience, after all.
“Not exactly,” Aidan said.
“We’re looking for a different kind of help,” Liz said, with a surprising lack of tact for a trained assassin.
“Well, I only have the one kind available,” Wendy said, with forced ease.
Aidan sighed, and pulled the envelope I’d given him out of his pocket. Charlie’s letter. Our trump card. If that didn’t work… Well, we weren’t out of options. It just made it trickier.
“You might change your mind when you see this,” he said.
“What’s this?” She took the envelope from him.
“Open it, and find out,” he said.
Despite the awkwardness to him, there was an underlying confidence, a sense of control that put me off. Like the awkwardness was a front, an attempt to seem more accessible, more harmless.
“Okay…” Wendy said, glancing over the letter. I watched her eyes as she read it several times in the space of only a few seconds, growing more and more tense each time. By the time she lowered it, she was practically shaking with anger. “Ah,” she said. “That clever little…”
“So?” Liz asked, a little too smugly. We haven’t got her yet.
“Back room,” Wendy said sharply.
The four of us moved quickly to the back room, the secret one beyond the kitchen. Liz and Aidan reacted with surprise. I remained silent.
“Wow, Charlie was right, huh,” Aidan said, glancing around.
“How much did she tell you?” Wendy asked sharply. Her demeanour had changed dramatically. We were seeing the colder, more guarded Wendy now.
“Not everything,” I said. Wendy relaxed slightly, while the other two looked at me carefully.
“What do you want?” Wendy demanded.
“Your help,” Aidan said. “We need to save Charlie.”
“Save?” Wendy asked.
“She’s been taken,” I explained. “Vengeance, we think.”
“I warned her,” Wendy grumbled. “What are you worried about, though? You know what she is, don’t you?”
“We know she’s immortal,” Liz said. “That doesn’t mean she’s not in danger.”
“Not my problem,” Wendy shrugged.
“Bullshit,” Aidan said. “We read that letter. Something is going to happen if you don’t help her.”
“So Charlie assumes,” Wendy said easily. “She assumes a lot about her own importance. That doesn’t make it true.”
In that moment, I was struck with a realisation. Wendy doesn’t know. She had some idea, certainly more than either of the other two in the room, but she didn’t know.
My brain whirred, filling in some of the blanks. Wendy had seen beyond the world. I wasn’t entirely sure what that meant, but she had experience beyond that of a mortal. Beyond that of any of us. She understood, intellectually and instinctively, more about the world, and the metaphysical scaffolding behind it, than she should. But she didn’t know.
What did that mean? What had she seen, and how? She wasn’t from here, I knew that much. I’d assumed she’d time traveled, given the advanced technology required to create something like her. I understood now that that was wrong. She wasn’t from the future. She wasn’t avoiding involving herself from some fear of creating a paradox.
She came from an alternate reality, then. The very concept struck me like a bolt of lightning. More realisations flooded in, one after another, as my perception shifted violently. Multiple realities changed so much about… everything. Literally everything. I couldn’t make sense of it yet. Too many missing pieces. I needed more.
“The terms of your agreement,” I said. “What are they?”
“Do no harm,” she said. “I do not hurt anyone. I do not change anyone. I just live.”
“Change?” Liz asked, as my brain already began planning what came next.
“Never you mind,” Wendy said.
“So you won’t help?” Aidan asked. “You’re happy to let a teenage girl be tortured by a cruel gang because you made an agreement?”
Wendy faltered for just a moment, but held strong.
“Charlie’s tough,” she insisted. “More than you know. I told her not to play with fire, and she ignored me.”
“And when she breaks?” I asked.
“She’s strong,” Wendy said.
“Everybody has a breaking point,” Liz said. “What happens when she reaches hers?”
“Ask your friend,” Wendy said. Liz and Aidan looked at me.
“I don’t know,” I said, and it was the truth. I had fears, but nothing I could say for certain. “But it’s bad. For everyone.”
“This was a waste of time,” Aidan said.
“Sure seems like it,” I said, glaring at Wendy.
“You know the way out,” Wendy said.
“What happens if you break your word?” I asked Wendy, one final ditch attempt.
“I end,” she said.
“And that’s worth more than the sanity of an innocent girl?”
She didn’t say anything after that. The three of us left, walking through a now empty cafe. Once we were out, Aidan slammed his fist into a nearby wall.
“What do we do now?” he asked, shaking his wrist.
“We take care of it ourselves,” Liz said.
“We find her, we get her out,” Liz said. “And I kill everyone that gets in the way of that.”
They were determined. That was good. I could use that.
“I have something of my own I want to work on,” I said.
“You’re not gonna help?” Aidan asked.
“I didn’t say that. But you two have a flow that clearly doesn’t need me. I’m going to try a different approach, and between us…”
“What are you going to do?” Liz asked.
“Work on Wendy,” I said. “Without her, we don’t have a chance.”
“Great,” Aidan said, sarcasm dripping off his tongue.
“Look, I love the optics of three teenagers taking on the largest gang in the city, I do. It would make a great comic book. But the three of us, we’re mortal, and we’re not exactly experienced. We will die, and we won’t achieve shit. And hey, if you’re willing to die for her, great. I’m not. So we need this, whether you like it or not. Whether you like me or not.”
“That’s not—” Aidan began, but Liz cut him off.
“Do what you want,” she said sharply. “Aidan, we have a lot of work to do.”
“I guess so,” he said. “Bye, Rachel.”
“Have fun, you two,” I said.
As they left, I glanced up at the security camera watching us. Good. I needed Wendy to hear that. I needed her to believe that what I really wanted to do was save Charlie. I needed them all to believe that.
Next Week: Shades of Grey