Skip to content

Author: Charlie Farrow

Chapter 33 – Not Broody Enough To Be A Superhero

Seven Months Before Impact Day

“We need something big,” Rachel had said, looking down at the city below. “Something public. We need to undermine the control they feel like they have. Challenge their authority.”

“I don’t like where this is going,” Sadie had objected, though nobody heard but me.

“They need a reason to want to capture me,” I’d agreed. “What did you have in mind?”

She’d only grinned. If only I’d listened to Sadie…

I took a deep breath, now ready to enact Rachel’s absurd plan. Doesn’t get much more public than this…

There were hundreds, maybe thousands of people gathered in Federation Square, including just about every media outlet in the city. Aidan had done a remarkably good job of making sure this would be as public as possible. I knew Mark would be among the journalists gathered, and silently hoped he wouldn’t recognise me.

If everything went according to plan, there was no way he could. The mask Rachel had crafted for me covered my face completely, and the armour more or less disguised my body shape. The glowing red eyes gave me a vaguely demonic look, and the black and grey colour scheme only added to that.

“This is a terrible idea,” Sadie said.

“Shut up,” I replied, my voice filtered through the mask.

The crowd was getting restless. None of them knew why they were here, only that it was important. All they could see was a large black box on a stage.

“No time like the present,” Rachel’s voice buzzed in my ear. She was far away, and safe, but I was still worried.

I stepped out onto the stage, causing a wave of murmuring and confused stares. For a few moments, I just stood there, staring back at them, trying to quieten down my thumping heart.

“This is not performance art,” I said, my voice amplified through dozens of speakers, and filtered to the point of being unrecognisable. “This is not a publicity stunt. This city is poisoned, and today, I’ve officially declared war on the source.”

Confusion, incredulity, scepticism. Nothing I hadn’t anticipated. Still, it was a little unnerving.

I nodded, and the sides of the box fell away, revealing a cage. Inside of it, a high-ranking member of Vengeance, looking thoroughly pissed off and just a little worried. Above me, a screen lit up, scrolling through incriminating photos, documents, messages, all acquired by Aidan.

“These gangs are everywhere. They touch everything, control everything, make our streets unsafe. Their masters hide in the shadows, puppet masters pulling your strings, profiting off your fear, above the law and beyond reproach.”

The bars of the cage lowered into the stage, freeing the man. He froze, unsure of what to do.

“One by one, I’ll dig them up, and air their dirty laundry. I’ll disrupt their operations, destroy their safehouses, and bring their empires to their knees.”

Movement in the audience. Several Vengeance members burst forth, revealing concealed weapons, screams erupting from the civilian masses. A gun was thrown to the captive, and within seconds, a hail of bullets tore through me.

Rachel’s armour was surprisingly effective. In less than a month, she’d constructed something even militaries would have killed to their hands on. It wasn’t enough to make me completely bulletproof, but what damage was done would heal. The illusion would be that the armour was even more effective than it was.

I ran across the stage to the captive, my left hand slamming into his face. An electric current travelled through the gauntlet I wore, delivering a shock strong enough to drop him to the ground, twitching.

The police present acted quickly, shutting down the other gang members. They’d all shot at someone, with illegal firearms, in a public place, in front of cameras. This time, the police had crimes to charge them with and evidence to arrest them. More importantly, my message had been sent. The city knew I was here. The gangs knew I was coming for them.

Of course, the police tried to come for me next. I kicked a hidden switch on the stage, causing thick black smoke to fill the air. A catapult built into the stage launched me into the air, carefully calculated by Rachel. I landed in the Yarra River, sinking fast, where Liz met me, helping me strip off the armour, stuff it into a bag, and with the help of an oxygen tank, stay underwater until we emerged in the harbour.

We pulled ourselves out of the water, and disappeared into a public restroom where changes of clothing were waiting. We dried ourselves off, got changed, and began to make our way back to the apartment where we’d made our base.

Rachel and Aidan met us when we returned, grinning. Rachel hugged me tight, whilst Aiden and Liz just nodded awkwardly at each other.

“How’d we go?” I asked, when Rachel finally let go.

“They’re pissed off,” Aidan said, scrolling through tabs on his laptop. “There’s a lot of confusion, a few heads rolling, and talk of a bounty.”

“Sounds like mission accomplished,” Rachel said smugly.

“I still say it was needlessly showy,” Aidan said. “We could do this entire thing discreetly, digging up information and passing it to the authorities.”

“They’d figure out ways around it,” I said. “And it wouldn’t teach them anything. They’re used to dodging the law. What they’re not used to is me, and besides, isn’t this more fun?”

“I didn’t realise fun was an important factor,” Liz said coldly.

“Why shouldn’t it be?” I asked. “What, am I not broody enough to be a superhero?”

“Is that how you think of yourself?” she asked, irritated.

“How would you describe me, if not that?”

“An egotistical, self-centred clown,” she said.

“Ouch.”

“You’re welcome to leave, you know,” Rachel said, right on cue.

“And leave you without a voice of reason?” Liz asked. “No, I think you need me.”

“Well, I think everything is going great,” I said. “But sure, I can take things more seriously. Aidan, let me know when they’ve set a trap for me, so I can get myself captured.”

“Shouldn’t be long,” he said.

“For now, we should get home. Mark’s probably expecting us.”

“Right, right.”

Rachel and I said our goodbyes, and I promised to call her after dinner. She was sticking around in the apartment, tinkering with whatever her latest project was. Liz, not wanting to be left alone with her, opted to return home too.

“Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” Aidan asked, as we sat on the bus together.

“About what?”

“Everything,” he said. “Rachel, how you were feeling, what you did…”

“I don’t know,” I lied. “I guess I never really found the words for any of it, and I was worried…”

“Worried? About what? Did you really think I would judge you? Don’t you trust me?”

“No,” I said. “It wasn’t about you. It wasn’t about trust. I just…” I leaned into him, resting my head on his shoulder. He wrapped an arm around me, idly playing with my hair.

“It’s complicated?” he offered.

“It’s complicated,” I agreed.

“I just don’t want to lose you,” he said. “You know I love you, right?”

“Of course,” I replied. “And I love you too. You’re family, and I promise, nothing will ever change that.”

 

Next Week: Collateral Damage

Chapter 32 – This Was Doomed From The Start

Seven Months Before Impact Day

After a month of solid training, planning and preparing, everything was finally ready. All the pieces were in place, and all that was left was to give the push that set it all off.

Things were tense with Liz for a while, but the friendship endured. I may not have wanted to date her, but she was precious to me, and I worked hard to make sure she knew that. We reconciled, and she and Aidan were entirely invested in my mission. They were so loyal; it almost broke my heart to think that wasn’t going to last much longer.

I didn’t want to use them, but there was no other way. The stakes were so much higher than anyone realised, and I couldn’t let sentiment get in the way of what needed to be done. Once it was done, they’d understand, surely. I could explain it all to them, and they’d forgive me. Together, I really believed we could save the city.

Besides, they both needed a push to become what I knew they could be. Liz might not have wanted to be a killer, but she was born to be a hero. She was the perfect sidekick, and once it was all done, I felt sure she’d embrace her destiny. She had too much potential to spend it on anything other than helping people.

And Aidan, he was incredible. I wasn’t sure if he even realised it, but his ability to manage information, contacts and plans was almost preternatural. With him helping with the planning and running of missions, it was all but guaranteed things would go smoothly. He was exactly what I needed.

Of course, Rachel continued to excel. Her brilliant mind continued to allow her to create more and more useful tools for me, and while I might not have been Batman, I sure was getting close. She was the only one who knew what I was really planning, the only reason any of it was possible. I couldn’t have asked for a better partner in crime.

Sadie eventually came to terms with my new lifestyle, often coming with me to play lookout or just keep my company. Things weren’t necessarily great, but as she put it, at least they were interesting. It was more than I’d hoped for.

Wendy, for the most part, stayed out of our way. That was just fine. Every so often, I prodded her, asking her to help, to fight with me, because that’s what I needed her to believe I wanted. Every time, she refused, much to my relief. She gave no indication she knew what I was really planning.

“Alright, here’s what I’ve got,” Aidan said, as Liz, Rachel and I took our seats around the dining table in our new ‘secret’ base, an apartment owned by Liz’s parents that they never used. Some kind of emergency safehouse they didn’t mind loaning to her without asking questions. Aidan placed a laptop on the table, swivelling it so we could see the screen.

“Did you make a slideshow?” Liz asked, smirking at him.

“As a matter of fact, I did,” he retorted.

“You’re such a nerd.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

“Less flirting, more working,” I interrupted, and they both blushed.

“There are four major gangs in the city,” Aidan said. “Vengeance, The Clan, The Imperials, and The Stars.”

“I’ve never heard of the Stars,” Liz said.

“They’re new, and not really worth our time right now,” Aidan said. “Their activities are all pretty low-key, they don’t hold any territory, and they haven’t caused much trouble.”

“Odd.”

“I didn’t even know they were distinct gangs,” I admitted. “I thought they were all just, kind of… Actually, I don’t know what I thought.”

“That much is obvious,” Aidan said critically. “You didn’t think, and that’s why you never made any headway. Honestly, without us, this was doomed from the start.”

“Well, that’s why you’re here,” I said sweetly. “So, what’s our next move?”

“We focus on Vengeance,” he said. “They’re the biggest, and most dangerous. Taking them down has the biggest impact, and sends the strongest message.”

“Lovely,” I said. “How do we take them down?”

“Well, like we discussed before, you need to get yourself ‘captured’ by them. Right now, they don’t know you’re not working alone. Rachel provides you with a tracking device, and Liz rescues you, taking one of their leaders at the same time, and we interrogate them.”

“I thought we were luring them out with fake military technology?” I asked.

“That’s for phase 2,” he said. “Just trust me, okay?”

“Always,” I lied.

“We’re going to convince them this is a much bigger operation than it is,” he explained. “That’s what you’ll tell them, when you get captured. And when Liz rescues you, it’ll confirm it. When I leak that we have some big-time hardware, they’ll pull out all the stops to get their hands on it.”

“Only, it’ll be a trap,” Rachel chimed in. “We let them take the device, use it to spy on them for a bit, then set it off, hopefully gassing some of their higher-up members, letting us swoop in, recover it, kidnap a bunch of them, and keep climbing that ladder.”

“Sounds solid to me,” I said. “Alright. Let’s do this thing.”

“Great. Rachel, you get Charlie ready. Liz, you and I have some last-minute planning to do.”

Aidan and Liz disappeared into the office, and Rachel and I made our way into the bedroom. She pulled out a sturdy black briefcase.

“More presents?” I asked.

“Not the fun kind,” she said, opening it. “For once, your immortality is actually working against us.”

“How so?”

“Your body rejects foreign objects too quickly,” she said. “I can’t just implant a sub-dermal tracking chip, it’d get pushed out within minutes. So I gotta plant it way deeper, and wrap it in something your body won’t reject, while somehow still be able to receive its signal.”

“Hey, if anyone can do it, I’m sure you can,” I said.

“Oh, I already figured it out,” she told me. “It just won’t be very comfortable for you.” It was only then I noticed there was a plastic sheet over the bed, and surrounding floor. “Take your top off and lie down.”

“Uh…”

“What, no flirty quip this time?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Right now I’m more concerned with that scalpel you’re holding,” I said.

“Told you it wouldn’t be comfortable.”

I sighed, pulling off my top and lying down on the bed. She climbed on top of me, wrapped in a surgical smock and wearing gloves.

“At least talk me through what you’re doing,” I grumbled.

“If you want…”

“I do.”

“Alright. I’m going to cut open your chest, and drill into your collarbone, leaving a small gap for me to insert the chip. Bone won’t reject it the way flesh will, and it’ll be close to the surface.”

“I really wish anaesthetic worked on me,” I muttered.

“Me too, love.”

“Well, fair is fair. My body is yours. Cut me open.”

 

Next Week: Not Broody Enough To Be A Superhero

Chapter 31 – The Deluded Fantasy Of A Lonely Teenage Girl

Part 4 – Everything Goes Wrong

Two Months Before Impact Day

“So, is this the point where you tell me that getting captured was your plan the entire time?” he asked, more amused than concerned.

“No, that comes later,” I told him.

“Of course it does,” he said dryly. “So, tell me about this secret plan that you and Rachel hatched.”

I shook my head. “Not yet. We have to get through the next part first.”

“Your little ill-conceived trick? I am curious to hear how that went.”

“I’m surprised you don’t remember it,” I said.

“It would have needed to be significantly more widespread to have warranted my attention,” he told me. “I was vaguely aware of some minor vigilante work, but until I heard about your unique… gift, you weren’t even on my radar.”

That surprised me a little, but it also told me a lot about where he stood within the organisation. It was useful information.

“It’s nice to feel special,” I quipped.

“And what about your theory?” he asked. “About why you wanted to wage this little war of yours?”

“Oh, that. Well, let me put it this way. If you didn’t know that I was immortal, and I was telling you the rest of this story, what would it sound like to you?” I asked.

“The deluded fantasy of a lonely teenage girl,” he answered immediately. I felt my lips twitch into a sneer, but I held a straight face.

“Harsh,” I said. “But essentially accurate. So now consider that I am immortal, and everything I’m telling you is true. What does it say about that fantasy?”

“I’m not sure what to make of that,” he said.

“Well, that’s about as well as I can explain it. So, do you want me to continue my story?”

Eight Months Before Impact Day

Liz and I stood perfectly still, staring at one another. The padded floor was comfortably familiar beneath my bare feet. Like me, Liz was wearing loose, baggy clothing. She’d traded her glasses for contacts, and her already short hair was tied up.

It was obvious that neither of us wanted to make the first move. I’d never sparred with her before, and I didn’t really know what to expect. Would she be aggressive? Defensive? Was she better on her feet or on the floor? I could see in her eyes she was wondering the same things about me.

Without warning, I struck, lashing out with a quick double step and a side kick. Liz reacted immediately, side-stepping my attack and going for my throat with an open palm strike. Crap, she was fast.

I managed to deflect her strike with my forearm, and regained my balance just as she came at me again. I twisted my body at the last second, and her attack glanced off harmlessly. Before she could recover, I locked my arm around hers, and hooked my foot behind her ankle.

She recognised the movement before I could drop her to the floor, turning with me and breaking free of the hold. I tried to sweep her legs out from under her, but she leapt backwards, putting some distance between us.

The expression on her face was vicious. My own must have reflected it, because she quickly forced her face back to neutral.

“So,” I said, moving around her, planning my next attack, “are you gonna tell me what’s bothering you?”

I slid forward, feinting, then came at her with a roundhouse kick. She danced backwards, avoiding it.

“Do you really want to have this conversation now?” she asked, her eyes darting between my feet and my face.

“We’re alone, seems like a good time for it,” I said.

I stepped into her attack radius deliberately, trying to look distracted. She took the bait, coming at my throat again with a viper strike. I moved just as quickly, using her momentum against her and turning her around, but she recovered before I could drop her.

“Fine,” she said, backing away momentarily. “I’m mad at you.”

“For?”

“For not trusting me,” she said.

I slid in close and went for her face with a quick jab. She flinched sideways and attacked my wrist, connecting with a pressure point. Pain shot down my arm.

“Like you trusted me, you mean?” I asked, trying and failing to keep the venom out of my voice.

I rubbed my wrist, glad to not have lost any mobility. I was starting to get a feel for how Liz fought. It was brutal.

“That’s not what I’m talking about,” she said.

“Well, it’s what I’m talking about,” I told her, coming at her with a feint to see how she’d react. She moved away. “Why didn’t you ever tell me?”

“Because that’s not who I am,” she said darkly.

“What?” I said as she lunged suddenly, a painful jab that connected with my shoulder. “Of course it is.”

“No, it’s not,” she insisted, as I charged towards her. “I am not a killer.”

She leapt away from me again, just as I’d predicted. I shifted quickly, turning my momentum into a travelling kick that connected with her stomach. The force knocked her backwards, but she recovered before I could press the advantage.

“I don’t think you are,” I told her. “But your parents, your training, that’s all a part of you.”

“Well, I don’t want it to be,” she said, rubbing her stomach.

“Maybe not, but it is,” I said. She met my eye. “And I love you no matter what.”

Her face froze, then she threw herself at me. I caught a flash of metal and realised she’d pulled a knife from somewhere.

I hurled myself sideways, rolling and turning. She followed me, surprisingly aggressive, and I got a good look at the knife in her hand. There was no way it was anything but a weapon.

Still low to the ground, I shifted my weight to my hands, and used them to balance as I struck out with my feet, slamming them into her chest. She staggered back, but kept her grip on the knife.

“Don’t,” she said, shaking her head.

“What?”

“Don’t you dare say that to me,” she snarled.

Her anger stunned me. Were things really that bad between us?

“What, because of Rachel?” I asked, terrified that her answer would be yes. The last thing I wanted was for that to come between us.

“Yes, because of her,” Liz said.

I let my guard down, I was so astonished. She came at me again, and I rolled away too slowly. The knife cut through my arm, sending a spray of blood across the floor.

“Seriously?” I asked, instinctively applying pressure to the open wound.

Liz looked bashful all of a sudden, her body language far less aggressive. She lowered the knife.

“Not… Not like that,” she said. “I don’t care that she’s a girl.”

“Then what is your problem?” I demanded. The wound on my arm was already beginning to heal.

“You never told me you were gay,” she said. “Or whatever you are.”

“I never really thought about it,” I told her. “It just kind of happened. Why does it matter?”

She blushed, something I hadn’t seen in the entire time that I’d known her. She met my eye, and her face was full of regret.

“Fine, whatever,” she said. “I think I’m done for today anyway.”

“Like hell you are,” I snapped. “What is going on with you?”

Anger flashed in her eyes, and suddenly the knife was raised again. I silently willed her to try and attack me again.

“Did you ever think about me?” she asked, taking me by surprise yet again. “Was I ever even an option?”

I didn’t know what to say. She stared at me, waiting for an answer, and when I didn’t say anything, she sneered. Then she threw the knife at me.

I flinched, avoiding the knife, but it was just a distraction, and she was coming at me with another knife. She thrust it at me, an attack that would have killed anyone else if it connected.

Annoyed, I slammed my palm into the blade, which cut right through. With the blade embedded in my hand, I twisted it and wrenched it out of her hand. I caught her by surprise, grabbing her wrist and twisting it around behind her, holding her in a painful arm lock.

“No, I never thought about you,” I told her. “And you don’t get to throw that in my face.”

I let her go, and she pulled away from me, glaring.

“I’m not—”

“Liz, I love you,” I said. “You’re one of my best friends, and I can’t imagine my life without you. If that’s not enough for you…”

She sighed, her shoulders slumping.

“Of course that’s enough,” she said. “I’m sorry. I just…”

“I know,” I said.

“I want to support you, I really do.”

“You have been,” I told her. “I know this is hard for you, with your family history.”

“I have a thousand and one complicated feelings bouncing around my brain, and I don’t know how to express any of them,” she said.

“Try hitting me.”

She laughed.

“I don’t think that would help,” she said.

“You’d be surprised. Come on, really try and hurt me. I promise, I can take it.”

“You’re really weird, you know that?”

“So I’ve been told,” I said with a grin.

 

Next Week: This Was Doomed From The Start

Chapter 30 – Irredeemably Stupid

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

Chapter 29 – Ignorance Is Bliss

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.

“What?”

“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

Chapter 28 – There’s Something You Don’t Know About Me

Nine Months Before Impact Day

“I need your help,” I said, my arms locked around Rachel’s waist. She was staring right into my eyes, and before she answered, she kissed me.

“I take it Wendy was less than forthcoming?” she guessed.

“That’s putting it mildly,” I grumbled.

Rachel pulled away, sitting in her desk chair with one knee pulled up against her chest. It was her thinking pose.

“So what are we gonna do about it?” she asked, talking to herself as much as me.

“Well, I do have a plan,” I told her. “But you have to promise me you’ll say no if you don’t want to do it.”

“I trust you. Whatever you need, I’ll help.”

“I need to use Liz and Aidan,” I said. “It won’t work with just the two of us.”

“Can you trust them?” she asked. “I mean, there’s a reason you haven’t told them anything before now, right?”

“They won’t be supportive, not in the same way you are. But I know them, and I know what to say to them to convince them to help.”

“And what not to tell them, I’m assuming,” she said.

“Right. And I understand if you don’t want to be a part of that,” I said.

“Charlie, I’m on your side. No matter what.”

“I’ll try not to make you regret that,” I said.

Three Months Before Impact Day

“Her name is Wendy, then?” he asked, practically drooling over the information. Already I was glad I’d left out the other part of the story. It was crucial he didn’t know the full extent of what she could do.

He was already typing rapidly on his phone, no doubt issuing orders for people to track her down. If it had been anyone else, I’d have been worried. Even as it was, I found myself hoping I’d given the others enough time.

“That’s her,” I said. “I wouldn’t bother trying to find her. Your men wouldn’t stand a chance.”

“We’ll see,” he said. “We’re not without resources. Did you find out why she wouldn’t help you? Seems like she could have made a way bigger difference than you did.”

“If she wanted, she could march right in here and break your neck,” I told him. “And I’m sure she’d like to, but she won’t. But I don’t know why.”

His expression turned sour for just a moment, but he hid it well. The phone buzzed loudly, but he ignored it.

“Nobody is coming for you, Charlie,” he said. “They won’t find this place. And believe me, even your superhuman friend couldn’t get through the security here.”

I was a little taken aback by how confident he was about that. Not quite the reaction I was expecting. Still, I couldn’t doubt myself, or my friends, just yet.

“Guess that means more time for stories, then,” I said. “We’re still only halfway there, you know. And this is where it starts to get interesting.”

Eight Months Before Impact Day

Liz and Aidan sat on my couch, alternating between looking concerned at one another and looking patiently at me. Sadie was reclined on my bed, watching with veiled curiosity. Rachel was coming later, but I didn’t need her to be around for the first part. I took a deep breath.

“I need to tell you guys something,” I began, playing with the knife behind my back. I’d put a lot of thought into how to do this.

“You know we’re here for you,” Aidan said, though he was clearly fretting. Liz seemed fixated on my body language.

“Okay. So, there’s something about me you don’t know. There’s a lot of things you don’t know about me, actually. But let’s start with the big one. I can’t die.”

Neither of them really reacted. They just sort of sat there, staring at me. Liz was the one to break the silence.

“How do you know?” she asked.

I sighed, then pulled the knife out from behind my back. Aidan’s eyes grew wide, while Liz’s narrowed intensely.

“Towel,” Sadie reminded me. Without acknowledging her, I grabbed the towel I’d left on the back of my chair, and laid it out beneath me. Liz stood up, looking ready to pounce.

“Charlie, you’re not about to do what I think you are, right?” she asked.

“Trust me, I’ve done this before,” I said. Before she could respond, I slashed the knife across my wrist, and blood immediately began gushing out. I hissed in pain.

“Charlie!” Liz shouted, and went to grab me, but Aidan reached out and took hold of her hand. She turned back to him.

“She’s fine,” he said. “Just watch.”

“So you did know, then?” I asked. My wrist was already beginning to heal. Liz was just staring, wide-eyed.

“I had my suspicions,” he said. “I think… I think it’s why Dad adopted you. Not that he doesn’t love you, but…”

“The accident that killed your family,” Liz said. “You miraculously survived. Is this how?”

“Probably. I don’t really know much about the whole thing except that, as you can see, I can’t die. Which leads me to my next point.”

I picked up the towel and wiped the knife on it, then bundled it up and dropped it in a plastic bag. I left the bag on the floor and went over to the wardrobe, dragging out my supply bag.

“This is what I’ve been doing at night,” I told them. “I’m trying to take out the gang presence in the city.”

“What? Why on earth would you—”

“Because someone has to,” I said, cutting Liz off. “It’s not like I’m gonna get myself killed, right?”

“There are worse things than dying, Charlie,” Aidan said.

“You don’t know what they’re like!” Liz said. “If they find out what you’re doing, if they come after you…”

“Come after us, you mean,” Aidan said.

We can still die, Charlie. And I saw your face when you cut yourself. You still feel pain. If they capture you, they’ll torture you until you go mad.”

“You seem familiar with them, Liz,” I said, keeping just a hint of accusation in my tone. “Why is that?”

“What? They’re gangs! Everybody knows what they’re like. Everyone except you, apparently.”

“Trust me, I know,” I told her. “I’ve been on the receiving end of their hospitality more than once, and I don’t recommend it. That’s why I need your help.”

“You want to get us dragged into this mess with you?” she asked, looking mortified.

“I don’t want to,” I said. “But I do need you. There’s just one of me, and even with Rachel’s help—”

“You told Rachel?” Liz asked.

“Yeah. A while ago, actually. She’s been helping me, trying to keep me safe, but there’s only so much—”

“Why would you tell her and not us?” Liz demanded.

I sighed. “Because when I told her, she asked what she could do to help. Because she trusted me, and because unlike you, she’s never lied to me.”

“What are you talking about? I’ve never lied to you,” Liz said, but I saw her defiant expression waver.

“It’s okay, Liz,” Aidan said. “It doesn’t change anything. We still love you.”

Liz took a step back, trying to keep both of us in her field of vision, as if we might attack her at any second.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said.

“Liz, I know who your parents are,” I told her. “Seems like Aidan does too. I don’t care. But it’s why I need your help.”

Slowly, I saw her relax. She looked back and forth between Aidan and I, then slumped back on the couch.

“I’ve never killed anyone,” she said flatly.

“Neither have I,” I said. “I don’t want you to be a killer. Actually, I wouldn’t be asking for your help if I thought that’s what you were.”

“So what do you want me to do, then?”

“Fight with me,” I said. “We can give them the old tank’n’spank.”

“What the hell is a tank and spank?” she asked, side-eyeing me.

“It’s a game thing,” I explained. “I keep their attention focussed on me, and you pick them off safely.”

She glanced over at Aidan, who was completely expressionless. Still, it seemed to satisfy her. She nodded to me.

“It’s a bad idea. But I know you well enough to realise you’re gonna do this with or without my help. I’d rather be there to watch your back.”

“Thank you,” I said.

“Not that I don’t appreciate being included in this,” Aidan said hesitantly, “but why exactly am I a part of this? You’re not expecting me to get into a fist fight with any thugs, are you?”

Liz and I both laughed, much to his chagrin. The idea of Aidan in any sort of fight was comical.

“No, I need something else from you,” I told him. “I need information.”

“Unfortunately, I don’t have any familial ties to the criminal underworld,” he said, sounding a lot like his father. “I don’t think I’ll be much help to you.”

“It’s not about what you know. It’s about what you can do,” I said.

“I wasn’t aware I could do anything particularly unusual,” he said.

“Oh, please. Nobody’s been able to keep a secret from you since you could talk,” I told him. “Not even the two of us. I need you to find out everything you can about the gangs in this city, and how I can hurt them.”

His sharp grey eyes swept over me, and his brow furrowed contemplatively. He looked over at the bag that contained the bloody towel, and sighed.

“I don’t know why you think I can help you, but I’d be happy to try. It seems like you could use the help.”

“Trust me, she needs all the help she can get,” said Rachel, standing at the top of the stares. She grinned at me as she bounded down them excitedly.

“Guys, this is Rachel,” I said, taking a deep breath before saying the next part. “My girlfriend.”

“Knew it,” Aidan muttered. Liz glared at him, then smiled unconvincingly at Rachel.

“Nice to meet you,” she said. “Charlie’s told us a bit about you.”

“Really? She never mentioned you,” Rachel replied. I punched her in the arm, and she stuck her tongue out at me. “Kidding. You must be Liz. And Aidan, right?”

“That’s me. You were in one of Charlie’s martial arts classes, right?” he asked.

“That was like three years ago,” Rachel said. “You still remember that?”

“I have a good memory,” he said, shrugging.

“So where are we on the schedule?” Rachel asked me. “Unkillable girl? Crusade against the gangs? I know we covered the whole gay thing. That’s my favourite part, personally.”

Liz looked uncomfortable. Aidan’s expression was still unreadable.

“Charlie said you help her,” he said. “What do you do?”

“I make stuff,” Rachel replied.

“What kind of stuff?” Liz asked, narrowing her eyes accusingly.

“She customised a bulletproof vest for me,” I said quickly. “And she rigged a sleeping gas trap so I wouldn’t need to hurt or kill anyone.”

“Do you know any normal people, Charlie?” Aidan asked.

“Not that I can think of,” I answered, grinning. “So, you guys are all okay with helping me? And also keeping things a secret?”

“Every step of the way,” Rachel said immediately.

“Someone’s got to keep you out of trouble,” Aidan added.

“I still think it’s a bad idea,” Liz said. “But I’m here for you. And I promise not to tell anyone.”

“Great,” I said. “Because there’s one more person I need on board, and I need you to help me convince her.”

 

Next Week: Ignorance Is Bliss

Chapter 27 – You Are Genuinely Afraid Of Me

Nine Months Before Impact Day

I was sprawled on Rachel’s bed, watching her fiddle with another of her projects, enjoying the moment of peace. Peace that could be shattered at any moment if her mother discovered me here, but it was a risk we’d both decided to take.

Her laptop, brand new and relatively powerful, chimed, demanding attention. It had been one of her first purchases with the money from her new job, at my insistence. She only agreed because I’d pointed out ways she could use it to help me.

She carefully put down the circuit board she was poking at, and put the little soldering iron thing on its stand. Then she wheeled her chair away from her desk, fishing the laptop out from under her bed, and crawled onto the bed with me.

I wrapped my arms around her waist as she flipped it open, resting my head against her back. She made a quiet purring noise, but stopped it short.

“Charlie.”

“Mmm?”

“You need to see this,” she said.

I pulled myself up so I could look at the screen over her shoulder. She’d received an email from an email account I didn’t recognise: alice.mason@genesis.co.uk. It meant nothing to me, but the content of the email did.

It was a video of Wendy, the owner of the café I liked to go to with Aidan and Liz. Except she looked different. Her hair was longer, and carefully styled. She didn’t wear glasses, and she was wearing some kind of futuristic-looking bodysuit that left very little to the imagination, to borrow a tired cliché.

She was in some kind of clinic or laboratory, all white walls and silver equipment. When she moved, she moved with an animal grace, nothing like the nervous shuffle I was familiar with.

In the bottom corner of the video, a line of text read: “Specimen W, test #24”

Rachel and I watched in silence as Wendy was asked by a voice with a British accent, “Are you ready to begin testing?”

She nodded, and somebody drove a knife right into her stomach. When she pulled it out again, the wound was already beginning to heal. Faster than mine would have. I was irrationally jealous.

Several other tests followed, and it wasn’t just her healing that was tested. Despite her small stature, she was able to easily lift several times her own body weight. When the video finished, Rachel and I looked at each other.

“Do you think it was real?” she asked, immediately searching for the domain the email had been sent from. It didn’t exist.

“Yes,” I said, though I didn’t know why. My gut was telling me it was true, that was all I knew. “I need to talk to her. I need to know.”

“What can I do?” she asked.

“Keep the door unlocked,” I said. “I’m gonna want to come back here after.”

“Of course,” she said.

Sneaking out wasn’t difficult. I had it down to a fine art after all the times I’d had to do it, and Rachel’s mother wasn’t the most observant type even at her best. And she was rarely at her best.

The walk to the café wasn’t too long. Despite it being fairly late in the evening, I knew I would find her there. My gut told me that was where she’d be.

I wasn’t wrong. I could see her inside, slowly packing up for the day. I checked the door, and smiled to find it unlocked. I let myself in.

“Charlie,” she said, without looking up. “What are you doing here?”

“Just thought I’d pay a visit. Since I was in the neighbourhood.”

“Well unfortunately, we’re closed. You can’t stay here,” she told me.

“Don’t worry, I’m not planning on staying long,” I said. “There’s just one little thing before I go.”

“Whatever it is, I’m sure it can wait until tomorrow.”

I took a deep breath. Now or never, Charlie.  Time to find out just how much she knows.

“I know you’ve been watching me,” I accused her. “Keeping tabs on me.”

I didn’t know that, of course. It was entirely possible that we were two superhuman people in the same city, who happened to know each other, completely by coincidence. Possible, but extremely unlikely.

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said, and she really did sound genuinely confused. I had a flicker of doubt, but I pushed it aside.

“I also know you’re not human,” I told her, and that much at least I was sure of.

“Now you’re just being rude,” she snapped.

“Don’t lie to me, Wendy. I’m not here to play games with you,” I said, sounding a lot more threatening than I felt.

“Charlie, please. You’re being—”

“You’re afraid,” I said, as the realisation struck me. I could smell it on her. Or, not smell, but something like that. I could feel it. “You are genuinely afraid of me. Even with everything you can do. Why? What am I?”

Wendy’s eyes flicked away for just a second. When they returned and met mine again, they were different. They were the eyes of the Wendy from the video.

“I can’t tell you,” she said.

“TELL ME!” I shouted, and she cringed.

Where did that come from?

“I can’t,” she insisted. “You wouldn’t understand, even if I could tell you. Please, just drop it. For your own good, drop it.”

There was no way that was going to happen. She had answers, and I wasn’t going to leave until she gave them to me.

“Drop it?” I snarled. “I can’t die. The people around me, they’re all… different.” I took a deep breath. There was one other thing. The thing I hadn’t told anyone about. Not Rachel, not Sadie. Nobody. “I keep seeing these cracks. Everywhere I look. Even in places where that should be impossible. Water, air, even people, and nobody else can see them.”

“I’m sorry, Charlie,” was all she said.

No. I was not going to give up that easily. I couldn’t.

“If you’re not going to tell me anything, then at least give me your help,” I said, almost demanded.

“What?”

“You’re still playing dumb? I told you, I know you’re not human. And I’ve seen what you can do.”

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” she said, but her tone told me otherwise. She was still lying to me. “You won’t find what you’re looking for here, Charlie. I’m sorry.”

The sad part was, she really did sound sorry. It was obvious she had her reasons for not helping me. For keeping secrets from me. I just didn’t care.

“You will regret this,” I told her.

“I already do,” she said. “Believe me, I’m not doing this because I want to. I really wish I could help you, but I can’t. It’s impossible.”

I didn’t say anything else. What would have been the point? She’d made it perfectly clear I wasn’t going to get any answers from her. At least, not by asking.

 

Next Week: There’s Something You Don’t Know About Me

Chapter 26 – Sounds Like Something Out Of A Comic Book

Three Months Before Impact Day

Being cut out of solid concrete was just about the second least fun thing to ever happen to me. The first was spending a month trapped in a block of concrete.

It was impossible to keep track of the time, of course, but my captive wasn’t the brightest. He wore a watch with the date on it. His attempts to keep me in the dark weren’t entirely successful.

Three months, I’ve been waiting. How much longer does Rachel need?

An entire month of not being able to move, not being able to breathe, not being able to see. The entire first week was basically one extended panic attack, and after that, it was just crushingly, despairingly dull, and very, very uncomfortable.

They weren’t gentle when they cut me out. It wasn’t like they needed to be. I was going to be fine, regardless of what they did.

When they finally did have me completely freed, and I was sitting back down in that bloody interrogation room, there was just a hint of fear in my captor’s eyes. He tried to mask it with smugness, but the fact that I’d made it through what he’d done unscathed had gotten to him.

You ain’t seen nothing, yet, arsehole.

“Ready to resume your narrative?” he asked.

“I think I’d rather just take another concrete nap,” I said.

“Don’t tempt me.”

“Fine, where did I leave off?”

“Your girlfriend’s mum locked you out,” he said dryly.

“Right. Turns out my adoptive father was very supportive, approved of the relationship, gave me a phone, Rachel taught me to shoot, and then we came out to her mum, who took it very badly.”

“That was… blessedly brief,” he said, raising an eyebrow. “Maybe the concrete did you good after all.”

“Oh, and I took down a safehouse,” I said.

“Ah, yes. I recall.” He leaned across the table, and it would have been so easy to headbutt him. I tried hard to resist the temptation. “So tell me, did it ever occur to you to research the origins of your power?” he asked, leaning back slightly, relaxed and casual.

“No,” I answered with a completely straight face.

Seriously? You weren’t the least bit curi- oh. Sarcasm.”

“You’re very perceptive,” I mocked him.

“Did you ever learn anything about yourself?” he asked, ignoring the taunt.

“Have your scientists learned anything?” I asked, already knowing the answer.

“No.”

“I’m impossible,” I told him.

“Evidently not,” he replied, raising an eyebrow.

“I did find something. Or rather, someone.

“Colour me intrigued,” he said, suddenly interested. His attitude towards me had become almost friendly, and I did all I could to encourage that. I’d managed to strike the right balance of sarcastic and standoffish, and honesty and implied trust.

“I can’t tell you who they are,” I said.

“I can be very persuasive,” he said, and it almost sounded like a threat.

“I was wondering how long it would take before you started threatening me.”

He held his hands up in a show of surrender. I didn’t buy it, but it meant he was playing along just like I was. That was all I needed from him.

“Fine. Tell me as much as you can, and I’ll decide what the rest of the information is worth,” he said. Good enough for me.

“Okay.” I took a deep breath, more for dramatic effect than anything else. I wanted to have his attention. “I’m not the only supernatural in this city.”

“You said there wasn’t anyone like you,” he said, a dangerous glint in his eye.

“She’s not like me.”

“It’s a woman, then?” he asked, just like I knew he would. Better he focus on that than the fact that I lied.

“Either that or I’m lying to make it harder for you,” I said. He shrugged.

“Okay. Tell me about this woman.”

“Imagine a person who could lift a car,” I said. “Or move fast enough to punch you in the back of the head before you realised they weren’t standing in front of you anymore.”

“Sounds like something out of a comic book.”

“So does a lot of my life,” I pointed out.

“Point taken. So, you can’t tell me who it is, but you found this person?” he asked, desperate for any scrap of information I would give him. It was obvious just from looking at him.

“I did. And she knows what I am,” I added.

“Which is?”

“She wouldn’t tell me,” I said, which was only half true. “She wouldn’t help me.”

“Why not?” he asked, sounding almost personally slighted.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“So you just gave up?”

“Gave up? Not a chance. I decided to twist her arm,” I said, enjoying the intense curiosity on his face.

“And how did you do that?”

“I’m getting there,” I told him.

 

Next Week: You Are Genuinely Afraid Of Me

Chapter 25 – I’ve Let You Down

10 Months Before Impact Day

I woke up to my phone buzzing loudly beside me. Sadie was curled up on the far side of the bed, and even though she was still close enough to reach out and touch, it felt like she was on the other side of the world.

Right, phone. I reached over and picked it up. Rachel? What was she doing calling so early in the morning? I answered immediately, a worried smile spreading across my face.

“Hey!” I said, trying to keep the concern out of my voice.

“Hey,” Rachel said back, her own tone surprisingly calm. “You free to talk?”

“Sure, what’s up?”

“Well, I have good news and bad news,” she said cryptically. “Which do you want first?”

“I want them both at the same time,” I said, sticking my tongue out, knowing that even though she couldn’t see it, she would know I was doing it.

“Of course you do,” she said, and I could almost hear the eye roll  I knew she was giving me in return. “Okay, so the bad news is, Mum wants me to go see a counsellor, on account of me being so mentally ill.” Her voice was dripping with sarcasm at the end of that sentence.

“Wow, she really doesn’t want you to be gay, huh?”

“Not if she has anything to say about it, no,” Rachel said irritably.

“And do you have a say in the matter? Can you just, like, not go?”

“Actually, I don’t have to go see the counsellor if I don’t want,” Rachel said, surprising me.

“That doesn’t sound like your mum. What’s the catch?” I asked, smelling a trap.

“No trap. Actually, it’s really more like a… Well, it’s basically a bribe.”

“I’m listening…”

Rachel sighed audibly, and I wished I could reach through the phone and hold her hand. Sometimes even good news can feel like bad news when it’s not the news you were hoping to hear.

“If I do go see the counsellor, she’ll lift some of my restrictions,” she said carefully.

“How much?” I asked, just as cautiously.

“I can stay out after school until eight, and I can invite friends over. Well, friends that aren’t you,” she added reluctantly. I wasn’t surprised, but it still annoyed me.

“It’s still an improvement,” I said, trying to be positive for her. “Why on earth would she offer you that?”

“I don’t know. I want to think maybe she’s starting to reconsider things,” she said wistfully.

The two of us were silent for a while, and I just listened to the sound of her breathing. It was nice, almost relaxing. It made me feel like she was in the room with me.

“So do you want to take her up on her offer?” I asked, breaking the comfortable silence.

“I kind of don’t see a bad side,” she said after a brief pause. “I mean, seeing someone who’s trying to talk me out of being gay doesn’t exactly sound fun, but it’s not like it’s gonna work, right?”

I had to laugh at that. Something about the way she said it was just so … her.

“History would suggest not,” I said, grinning. “Also, common sense.”

“So what do you think?” she asked.

I didn’t even need to think about it. I just wanted to offer her the same support she had unquestioningly given me.

“I think if I can see you more often, I’d be thrilled. And I trust you to know what’s going on in your head.”

There was another pause, and I thought maybe I’d said the wrong thing. What did she want me to say?

“So, about that…”

My breath hitched. She sounded reluctant, nervous. My mouth went dry as possibilities starting whirling through my head.

“Which part?” I asked breathlessly.

“The seeing you more often part.”

Breathe, Charlie. Just breathe.

“Yeah?”

“I was thinking of trying to get a job,” she said. I found myself blinking at nothing for a few seconds, not entirely sure what to say. That wasn’t what I was expecting at all.

“Oh,” was all I managed to say.

“I know it won’t leave us much time to spend together…” she said apologetically., and I could picture her biting her lip as she said it. I forced myself to calm down.

“Rachel, half the stuff in your room is built out of scraps. Which is cool as hell, but if you want to have some money for a change, I’m hardly gonna hold that against you.”

She was quiet for a bit again. Then, in a quiet voice, she started to talk again.

“Well, I can’t deny that being able to buy stuff for myself would be nice, but I was thinking of putting most of it towards funding, you know, your stuff.”

God, she was a sweetheart. There was no way I was going to let her waste her hard earned money on me, though. Not when she’d lived the way she had for her entire life.

“What? No, you should absolutely do it for yourself!” I insisted.

Instead of a reply, I just heard Rachel grunt. She sounded annoyed. I was confused. Was she expecting me to say thank you? I probably should have.

“What?” I asked.

“Do you not want my help?” she asked shortly, and I could tell she was pissed off. I cringed.

“Of course I do, I just—”

“Do you think I’m helping just because I care about you?” she asked, cutting me off. I didn’t know what to say.

“Huh?”

“Charlie, I actually believe in what you’re trying to do. I really think you can make a difference, and I want to be a part of that,” she said, forcing herself to speak slowly and patiently. I felt like an idiot.

“I’m gonna be honest, I hadn’t even considered that,” I admitted, looking sheepishly at the wall.

“Well thanks a lot.”

“You’re right, I’m sorry,” I said, annoyed at myself for not being able to say more.

“That’s it?”

“That’s all I’ve got,” I said, shrugging to nobody. No, that wasn’t good enough. I took a deep breath, and tried again. “Rachel, I wouldn’t be able to do this without you, and if I haven’t made you feel like you’re essential, then I’ve let you down. I’m sorry.”

She was silent again. When she spoke again, her tone was a lot lighter, and there was a hint of amusement behind it.

“Can’t you at least be a little defensive?”

“You get less mad at me this way,” I said jokingly, as my heart rate slowly returned to normal.

“That is so manipulative,” she growled cutely.

“So where are you gonna work?” I asked, changing the subject.

“Don’t change the subject,” she said immediately.

“Will it have a cute uniform?”

“Stop it,” she growled again.

“Can I come make puppy dog eyes at you while you work?”

“You’re the worst,” she said, but I could hear the laughter she was trying to surpress. I giggled.

“Can you go out on weekends?” I asked, more seriously.

“No, I have chores,” she said.

“Want to go on a date on Monday, then?” I asked, in my most seductive voice. It was terrible, and I heard her laugh on the other end of the phone.

“…Yes,” she said, trying to sound as reluctant as she could. I stuck my tongue out at her again.

“Wow, that was easy,” I teased.

“Shut up.”

“I love you, Rachel,” I crooned.

“I love you too, idiot,” she said, and hung up. I spent the rest of the morning with a huge grin on my face.

 

Next Week: Sounds Like Something Out Of A Comic Book

Chapter 24 – I’ll Try Not To Give You A Reason To Scream

10 Months Before Impact Day

Unsurprisingly, Sadie was waiting up for me when I get home. She looked up with reserved enthusiasm when I walked in, using the front door and not bothering with the window, but as soon as she saw my face, her expression turned sour.

“You okay?” she asked, compassion in her eyes.

“Not even a little,” I said, collapsing into my bed.

Sadie climbed onto the bed beside me, sitting with her knees hugged to her chest. She placed a hand on my arm.

“Hey, what’s wrong?”

“It’s about Rachel,” I said, my tone suggesting she probably wouldn’t want to pry any further than that.

“You can tell me,” she said. I craned my neck up to look at her. She smiled back gently.

Sometimes I had to remind myself that Sadie was a genuinely caring and compassionate person. It was difficult when she disagreed with me on so many things, but I did know that she was a good person, and when I wasn’t mad at her, I was proud to have her as a sister.

“We kind of came out to her mum,” I said, my head collapsing back into the bed so I could stare up at the ceiling. Sadie knew enough about Rachel’s home situation to know what that would have entailed.

“The abusive alcoholic? How did that go?” she asked, worried.

“About as well as you’d expect.”

“I’m so sorry,” she said, sounding like she really meant it.

“I don’t know what’s gonna happen now,” I said. I felt completely powerless. I was scared Rachel was going to be taken away from me.

“You’ll make it work somehow,” Sadie said confidently.

“How?”

“Charlie, I know you,” she said seriously. “You’re the most loyal person I’ve ever seen. You’re resourceful and tenacious. And Rachel is as tough as they come, and she obviously cares a lot about you. If anyone could make this situation work, it’s you two.”

That was a surprise. I hadn’t expected her to be so supportive, not with the way she’d been acting. It was really nice.

“That’s surprisingly optimistic of you,” I said.

“I know I haven’t been your biggest supporter lately,” she said. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay. Life’s been crazy lately, and there’s been a lot to adjust to.”

I reached up with my hand, and felt Sadie clasp it, grabbing onto me like I was an anchor. As always, her, skin felt completely normal. If I hadn’t known better, it really would have been so easy to just assume she was just a normal girl.

“And as usual, I am powerless to do anything about it,” she said with a sigh. “I guess fighting you was the only thing I felt like I could do.”

“You wanna do something else?” I asked, an idea suddenly occurring to me. I sat up, enjoying the confused expression on her face.

“Like what?”

“I really need to punch something,” I told her.

“You can’t punch me,” she said, shrinking back.

“No, I mean I’m heading out. I could use an extra pair of eyes, and you might feel better when you see how much safer Rachel has made it all.”

“I was meaning to ask where all that stuff came from…” she muttered, eying the closet where I kept it all.

“Better you don’t know,” I told her.

“Okay, I’ll come with you,” she said, and I grinned happily. “But you can’t get mad at me for screaming again.”

“I’ll try not to give you a reason to scream, then.”

It felt good to have somebody by my side, even if nobody else knew she was there. She wouldn’t be much help in a fight, either, but just knowing I wasn’t alone made a big difference.

I climbed out the window, not wanting to be seen in my ‘combat gear’ as I liked to think of it, and helped her climb out after me. She stretched out dramatically, making a point of how rarely she was able to leave the house. I ignored her, and started walking.

For once, I actually had a pretty good idea of where I wanted to go. I’d done some research, trawling through old news articles and dozens of forums, and managed to figure out the address of a gang safe house. Once I had the address, I’d done more investigating, just to make sure, and I was completely confident about it.

It was an exciting prospect for me. Stopping petty crimes in progress wasn’t going to make a scrap of difference, not even if I dressed like a bat or left a calling card. They were never going to stop doing what they did because they were scared of one person out there trying to stop them.

Hitting back at them, though, that could really make them think. If they didn’t feel safe in their own territory, maybe they would start to think twice about the line of work they were in. Without the promise of protection, I had to assume the gang life lost a fair amount of appeal.

It was only a theory, but it was a lot more than I’d been working with, and even at worst, it couldn’t make things worse. At least, I hope it wouldn’t make things worse.

Sadie trotted along beside me, enjoying the opportunity to see areas she wasn’t used to being in. It was kind of like taking a puppy for a walk. I smiled at the thought.

It took as us the better part of an hour to reach the address, an apartment complex in a slightly more rundown neighbourhood. It wasn’t anything fancy, and I was able to just walk in and go straight up the stairs.

Realising that we had reached our destination, and the fun part of the night was over, Sadie’s demeanour changed drastically. She kept her lips clamped shut and her shoulders were raised and tense, but to her credit, she didn’t do anything to get in my way.

I stopped in front of the door, taking a second to listen. There were definitely people in there, and I had triple-checked the address. That was all I needed. And this time, I had the element of surprise. I wasn’t going to waste it again.

Slowly, carefully, I checked the door handle. Thankfully, it wasn’t even locked. They were almost making it too easy for me. Not that I was complaining. I grinned at Sadie, who just looked back at me with a confused expression on her face. I pulled a pair of swimming goggles over my eyes.

I opened the door the tiniest amount, listening for any reaction. When nothing changed, I unclipped one of the tear gas grenades, pulled out the pin, and rolled it into the room. I shut the door as quietly as I could, trying to get as much time before they noticed as possible.

It didn’t take long. Within seconds I heard shouts of ‘What the fuck?’ and the pounding of feet against the floor. Show time.

As soon as I heard the door handle begin to turn, I slammed my body into the door, taking whoever was on the other side completely by surprise. They staggered back, and I surveyed the room, keeping my mouth shut. The gas would be somewhat filtered by the ski mask, but I didn’t want to take any chances.

There were eight of them, all coughing and trying to cover their faces. I kicked the door shut again behind me, just as Sadie scrambled inside. No more time to waste.

The guy who was trying to get the door open charged at me, tears streaming down his face. The poor guy never stood a chance. He ran straight into the tip of my baton and buckled over, collapsing to the ground as his lungs struggled to inhale as much air as they could. Unfortunately for him, the air was full of tear gas.

Someone was trying to get the window open. I pulled out my pistol, already loaded with rubber bullets, and fired at her. The shot hit her in the side of the ribcage, and she was thrown off her feet, crying out as she hit the ground.

Another guy threw himself at me half-blindly, and it was almost too easy to move out of the way, my foot lashing out at the side of his leg, sending him crashing to the ground. I let him lift his head up just a little, then planted my foot on the back of it and slammed it into the floor. It seemed less barbaric than just kicking him in the head, and less likely to cause permanent damage.

Another person made a run for the door, and I slammed the baton into their throat, their own momentum delivering most of the force. They fell over backwards, the back of their head smashing into the ground.

With half of them already down for the count, and the other half struggling to cope with the gas filling the room, there was no challenge in taking care of the rest of them. When I was done, all eight were unconscious, and though more than one of them would need medical attention, it still felt like a victory to me.

I rounded up every weapon I could find in the place, stuffing them into a garbage bag. I also found wads of cash, and I took those as well, though I planned on actually using the cash. The weapons I was just going to dispose of, so nobody could use them.

A knock at the door surprised me, and I whipped around, holding the pistol aimed right at the entryway. If it was more of them, I was prepared. But what if it wasn’t?

When I didn’t respond, there was another knock, followed by somebody shouting “This is the police, open up!” and more knocking.

“Shit!” I hissed, panicking. What was I supposed to do about police? Getting into a fight with them wouldn’t do me any favours, but there was no way they were going to let me just walk away.

“What are we going to do?” Sadie whimpered. My mind was racing.

“What floor are we on?” I asked her. I already knew, but I needed her to confirm it for me, because I didn’t trust myself.

“Four…” she said hesitantly.

“Alright, good. Sorry in advance, sis. You’re not gonna like this.”

Before she could object, I dropped the garbage bag full of weapons, turned, and sprinted towards the window. I threw it up just as the police burst through the door and vaulted out, trying to at least angle it so I was falling feet first.

A wave of vertigo washed over me, but it was gone as soon as it came, and I hit the ground before I even realised it was there. The shock burst upwards through my legs, but somehow I managed not to break anything. At least, I didn’t think I’d broken anything.

The second I was able to move again, I was running. Looking back over my shoulder, I saw Sadie in the window. She hesitated, then jumped out after me, landing gracefully on her feet. Well, it wasn’t like she could even get hurt.

I slowed down just enough to let her catch up with me, and the two of us ran together even though we knew the cops weren’t chasing us. There was no way they would have been able to get down in time, and with a scene like the one I left for them, they probably figured there were bigger priorities anyway.

When we finally made it home, I stripped off all my combat gear and tossed in the back of my closet, making a mental note to figure out a stealthy way to clean it, or at least let it air out, because it was rank. I grabbed a t-shirt and clean underwear, and treated myself to a long, hot shower.

When I made it back to my room, Sadie was glaring at me, her arms folded across her chest. What had I done to set her off this time?

“What the hell was that?” she demanded, bristling.

“It was the only way out I could think of on short notice,” I said, shrugging.

“Not that, though that was incredibly stupid,” she said. “I’m talking about what you did to those people!”

“I did what I had to do,” I told her.

“Nothing about that was necessary. Charlie, you really scared me in there. It was like you were a different person.”

What was that supposed to mean? A different person? No, she just didn’t want to accept that I was strong enough to do what it took to make a difference.

“I never expected you to understand,” I said coldly. “I just wanted your support.”

“No, Charlie, this isn’t about what you did. I’ve never been in a fight, so I don’t know what it’s like. But Charlie, you were enjoying it. You probably hospitalised half those people, and you enjoyed it. Tell me that’s not messed up.”

“What do you mean, ‘enjoyed it’?” I asked. I didn’t recall enjoying myself. I was just doing what I had to do. “How could you even tell?”

“Because I’m always watching you. I don’t need to see your face to know what your expression is, and I don’t need to be a mind reader to know what you’re feeling,” she said.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said defiantly.

“Well, I’m coming with you next time, too,” she said, just as stubborn as I was. “Clearly you need a voice of reason.”

I didn’t say anything about that. I just stepped past her, getting into bed and turning the light off.

 

Next Week: I’ve Let You Down