Liz, Impact Day
It felt strange, being in the café with nobody else around. There was something strangely transgressive about it, like being behind the stage of a play. Wendy seemed different, too. In a sense, she seemed relaxed, as she shed the veneer of innocence and banality. In another, there was a different kind of tension filling her, like she was dreading a coming storm.
She sighed, resting her hands on the table. They seemed too delicate for her, somehow.
“I’ve done everything I can,” she said, her voice hollow, defeated. There was no soft, cute charm to it now. “I tried. I really, really tried.”
“Bullshit,” Rachel said, her voice full of venom. “You could walk right in there and pull her out. You could share your power with us, and we could do it. What have you done instead?”
“I’ve played by the rules,” Wendy snapped. “The one rule, really. The one rule that lets an immortal, superhuman abomination like myself live in a world like this one.”
“And how long have you lived in this world?” Aidan asked.
“Two hundred years,” she said, hanging her head.
“Six months,” Rachel said. “For six months, you’ve let her sit in there, being tortured and pulled apart and god knows what else, so you can continue with your two hundred year existence, as… what, a barista?”
“It’s not that simple,” Wendy said. “My life isn’t… It’s not just my own. It’s not something I can recklessly throw away. And I’m not just a barista. I’ve lived so many lives, trying to save as many people as I can, while still playing by the rules. With the time I have left, I could save so many more.”
“I think I understand,” I said. “It’s hard to turn down the chance to do good in the moment, so you can do more good later.”
“Sounds like a lazy justification to me,” Rachel growled.
“You’re not exactly neutral,” Aidan said.
“Let me make this as clear as possible,” Wendy said. “I owe my existence to more sacrifices than I’d care to count. To throw that away would be more than irresponsible. It would be selfish. What you’ve asked of me, without knowing, is so far beyond what I could ever do for you, I very nearly cast you out and ran so far away you’d never find me again.”
“Well, this is off to a good start,” Aidan said.
“Believe it or not, I actually like Charlie,” Wendy said. “Even before I realised what she was. And when I did…”
“You know what she is?” I asked, leaning forward.
“You wouldn’t like the answer,” she told me.
“I can handle it,” I insisted.
“You really don’t want to know,” Rachel chimed in.
“You know too?” Aidan asked.
“I have a pretty good guess,” she said, shrugging.
“I’m not telling you,” Wendy said. “And that’s that.”
Aidan and I both looked at Rachel.
“Hell no,” she said.
“Then why bring it up?” I complained.
“Because it’s important,” Wendy said. “It’s the reason I changed my mind.”
“You changed your mind?” I asked.
Wendy sighed, slumping in her chair. It seemed unnatural to see her without perfect posture, to look so utterly defeated.
“You’re missing the important part,” she said.
“You won’t tell us the important part,” Aidan countered.
“You know enough,” Wendy said.
“We know it’s enough for you to change your mind,” I said, thinking out loud. “Whatever Charlie is, that’s somehow tied into your desire to do the greatest good you can.”
“It’s important you understand that,” Wendy told us. “I want you to understand what I’m giving up, so you understand why I’m giving it up. Because I only get to do this once, and you’re the ones who will make it count.”
“Does Charlie know?” I asked.
“No,” Rachel said. “And it would be better to keep it that way.”
“Why?” Aidan asked.
“Let me put it this way,” she said. “If I put a button in front of you, and told you not to press it, what would you do?”
“I wouldn’t press it,” he said, though he didn’t sound sure.
“And how would that make you feel?”
He pondered that for a moment.
“Curious. Stressed, if I’m being honest. Tempted, too.”
“You would always be thinking about that button,” Rachel said. “And that’s why Charlie can’t know.”
“I don’t follow,” Aidan confessed.
“Me either,” I added.
“Good,” Rachel said. “For you, and for the sake of Charlie not finding out.”
“I have to agree with Rachel on this one,” Wendy said.
“Fine, Charlie doesn’t know,” Aidan said. “What happens now, then?”
Wendy held a hand up, delicate and graceful. She flexed her middle finger, and from under the nail, a small needle extended out.
“What the fuck,” Aidan said.
“Wow, that’s even weirder in person,” Rachel said.
Wendy gave Rachel a concerned look, but didn’t address it.
“Here’s how this goes. I inject you with the smallest amount of this that I can. It won’t last long, but while it does, you’ll be as strong and as fast as I am, and your body will recover from almost any wound as fast as Charlie might.”
“What if we got shot in the head?” Rachel asked.
“Huh?” Aidan gave her a confused look.
“A healing brain is a problem,” Rachel explained. “Thoughts and memories aren’t physical, they’re electrical patterns and signals. You can’t regrow those.”
“There’s a psychic web,” Wendy said. “Think of it like an impervious mental backup.”
“Impressive,” Aidan said.
“You have no idea,” Rachel told him.
“Alright, so it’s as simple as that?” I asked. “You inject us, we have superpowers, and we go rescue Charlie?”
“Pretty much,” Wendy said.
“And what about you?”
“In all probability, I’ll be gone by the time you get back,” she said. “If not… Well, I won’t have long, at any rate.”
There was a sad, hollow sort of smile on her face. Rachel and Aidan seemed oblivious to it, but I couldn’t look away. I wanted to know so much more about her, and I was only just realising I would never get that chance.
“You’re doing the right thing,” Rachel said.
“Maybe. But I’m not doing it for you,” Wendy replied. “Remember what I said, Rachel. Remember what’s at stake.”
“I know,” Rachel said. “Better than you give me credit for.”
Wendy just shook her head.
“So…” Aidan said.
Wendy stood, moving to his side so quickly I almost missed the movement. He jumped.
“Are you ready for this?” she asked. “The process is not pleasant.”
“How unpleasant are we talk-“
Wendy slid the needle into a vein on his arm, and his entire body just froze up, as if in shock. She pulled the needle out, and he started to convulse, as every muscle in his body contracted and expanded against his will. After a few seconds, he started screaming.
When he finally calmed down, he just lay there, breathing heavily.
“That did not look fun,” Rachel said. She held her arm out to Wendy. “Me next.”
She went through the exact same process, but didn’t scream like Aidan did. She grunted through gritted teeth, but she didn’t scream.
“Last one,” Wendy said. “Will you do this, seeing the results?”
I looked at the other two, sweating and panting, slouched in chairs, barely able to move.
I extended my arm.
“Anything for Charlie,” I said.
Next Week: For Charlie