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Author: Rachel Fierro

Chapter 58 – That Was A Horrible Experience

Rachel, Impact Day

Watching Charlie reassemble herself from a tiny piece was simultaneously beautiful and unsettling. It wasn’t like a body growing in high speed motion. It was more like each and every cell was comparing its current location to where it should be, and simply relocating itself in the world to be in the right spot. The visual effect was almost more like pixels appearing, one after another. The whole process took less than half an hour.

I sat over her, waiting for her to regain consciousness, hoping the others wouldn’t discover the ruse before she did. When her face was fully reconstructed, I reached out, and stroked it.

Finally, she opened her eyes. I said nothing as she sat up, holding her head, and looked around. Her gaze settled on me, and she smiled.

“Welcome back,” I said, trying to contain the rush of emotions I felt at her return.

“That was a horrible experience,” she said, but her hand found mine, and latched onto it.

“I wanna hear all about it,” I said. “Every gory detail. If you want to talk about it.”

“Man, I don’t even remember all of it,” she said. “They fucked me up so bad, I was certain the whole plan was gonna fall apart, and I was gonna regrow here early. I think something about the facility kept me there, though. I had to wait until I was outside to blow myself up.”

“We would have figured something out,” I reassured her. “But I’m glad we don’t have to.”

“You have it?”

“I do,” I said, before exhaling slowly. “But I also have some bad news. Well, bad news for me.”

Her face fell. Her hazel eyes scanned me, piercing right through me. It made me feel guilty.

I didn’t want the moment to end. I wanted for us to be happy together, to enjoy being reunited after six months. We couldn’t, though. We had to move quickly.

“What is it?”

“You’re going to have to cut me open to get it,” I said.


“It’s crystalised,” I said. “Which is better than having to filter it out of my blood, but you are going to have to cut me open to get it.”

“Shit,” she said, looking away.

“Hey, it’s okay,” I said, grabbing her arm gently. “I was prepared for worse, and I’ve done the math. It works like a power source, providing the energy for my body to regenerate rapidly, without the need for organic processes. It also recodes the genetic material for enhanced strength and speed, but my body will replace all of that eventually. Still, I’ll be almost as strong as you for a while.”

“So it won’t kill you?” she asked.

“No. There should be enough left in my system to repair the damage of extracting it. It’s gonna hurt like Hell, though.”

Charlie made a face like she’d just swallowed something disgusting. I squeezed her arm.

“Anaesthetic won’t work while it’s in me, not that I have any,” I said. “We’re gonna have to do this the hard way.”

“I hate this,” she said.

“After everything you went through?” I asked. “This is nothing. Unless you’re saying I’m not as tough as you.”

“I think you’re tougher than I’ll ever be,” she said, leaning in. She kissed me gently, and it was very hard not to stretch that out.

Biting my lip, I pulled away, and extracted the scalpel I’d obtained for this very purpose. Charlie took one look at it, and gagged. I handed it to her, and she took it reluctantly, like it might electrocute her.

I pulled my shirt up over my head, and unhooked my bra, before lying down on the bed, face-up. There was already a plastic sheet over it. She stood over me, scalpel in hand.

“You really want to do this?” she asked, her eyes pleading with me to say no.

“Don’t be a wimp,” I joked.

“I just…”

“Charlie, as painful as this is going to be, as much as it’s going to suck, I’d do it as many times as you needed. You know I would.”

“I do,” she said, with a drawn out sigh.

“So cut me the Hell open,” I said.

* * *

“Welcome back,” she said, when I finally regained consciousness. Judging by the light, it couldn’t have been that much later. I smiled, and rubbed my chest. The pain was gone, the wound was healed, but the memory was very vivid.

“That was a horrible experience,” I said, completing the echo.

I noticed she’d dressed me again. I was still lying on the bed, but the plastic sheet had been removed. I saw it in the corner, crumpled up, stained with blood.

“I can’t believe you got through that whole thing without once asking me to stop,” she said, brushing my hair gently.

“If I’d asked you to stop, you would have,” I said. “Besides, tell me honestly you haven’t endured worse.”

“That didn’t make it any more tolerable.”

“Just please tell me it worked,” I said.

“I don’t know,” she said, and I deflated. “I got it out of you, but I haven’t done anything with it yet.” She held it up, a strange red crystal that could have been congealed blood, or could have been a precious stone.

“Why not?” I asked, stretching out. My body still felt strong, but not as much as before. “I didn’t think you’d waste any time.”

“I don’t know what it’ll do to me,” she said, her eyes lowered. “How it will interact with my… with whatever I am.” She placed her hand on mine, and met my eye. Her gaze was intense, but I didn’t look away. “I didn’t want to risk it until I had a chance to say I love you.”

“Wow, all that time apart really turned you into a sap, huh?” I joked, as my heart pounded in my chest.

“Shut up,” she said, removing her hand.

“Alright, before I completely kill the moment, I got you something,” I told her. She raised an eyebrow.


“A present, you idiot.”

I reached into the set of drawers nearby, and pulled out a small box. I held onto it as she watched me suspiciously.

“Why?” she asked.

“You do realise you had a birthday while you were in there, right?”

Her eyes opened wide as she processed it.

“Oh shit, I did!”

“So, happy birthday,” I said, handing her the box. My heart continued to thud as she took it, and looked back at me.

I watched silently as she undid the ribbon, and slowly opened the box. Time felt so slow, and I could have sworn she was taking her time on purpose.

She pulled it out, turning it over in her hand. It was a ring, white-gold with a pink diamond inlay. I thought it was beautiful, but not half as beautiful as she was.

“Rachel, this is beautiful,” she said, her voice catching. “How did you… Actually, I don’t need an answer to that.”

“You really don’t,” I said, laughing.

“Wow. It’s… I love it. I love you. Thank you,” she said, pulling me into a tight embrace. I felt a warm tear splash against my cheek.

“I love you too, Charlie.”

She pulled back just enough to kiss me, a kiss I so wanted to melt into. We were still racing the clock, and I didn’t want to take even a single chance.

“Now, hurry up,” I chided her. “I need to know if all that pain was worth it.”

“Alright, alright,” she said, but kept looking at the ring. She slipped it onto a finger, the ring finger of her right hand. “Okay. Let’s see what happens, shall we?”


Next Week: She Deserves This

Chapter 53 – Impossible Is Her Bread And Butter

Rachel, One Day Before Impact Day

“What are you doing here?” Sadie asked. The holographic version of her projected onto my glasses folded its arms, pouting.

I knew from what she’d told me that Charlie could actually see Sadie, as clearly as any corporeal person. That had confused me for a while, but so far as I could figure without Charlie herself to test on, what she was seeing was a psychic projection. In reality, Sadie was effectively constructed of a collection of quantum-locked molecules combined in some combination unlike any naturally-forming material, in some impossible state of matter. A fifth state.

It was the closest to a confirmation of the existence of a soul I expected to ever see. Though it was difficult to pull any hard data, the soul particles, as I was thinking of them, seemed to radiate pure energy in a way that entirely contradicted what I understood about the rules of the universe. That energy seemed to be responsible for connecting a soul to a body, and without a body…

She should have dissipated long ago, or more likely detonated, releasing all of that energy all at once. Instead, some impossible force was keeping her together. An impossible force called Charlie.

Regardless, it was that output of energy that let me track her position in the first place. I couldn’t measure the soul particles themselves, but I could measure their impact on the air around them. They didn’t create sound in the sense of vibrations in the air, but it was did broadcast something on a wavelength not dissimilar to the technology behind wireless communication.

All that added up to my ability to track and interact with her, albeit through several complicated pieces of tech I’d thrown together. It was a fun challenge.


Oh yeah, she asked me a question, didn’t she?

“I like it here,” I said. “It smells like Charlie. Besides, I figured you could use the company.”

“Shouldn’t you be looking for Charlie?” she asked, with a hint of accusation.

“I told you, I know where she is. I just can’t get to her.”

“Can’t you build some kind of mech suit or something?” she asked.

I laughed. The idea wasn’t actually impossible. Given enough time and infinite resources, I probably could put together some kind of super suit. Unfortunately, I had neither of those things. Still, it was a fun idea for the future. Maybe Charlie and I could be like Captain America and Iron Man. But like, the angsty teen versions.

“I told you my plan,” I said.

“Your plan is stupid,” she told me. “It’s been five months.

Don’t take the bait. She’s hurting, just like you.

“I’m doing the best I can,” I said, through gritted teeth. “I’ve examined every possible approach, okay? I’m keeping an eye on Aidan and Liz, who are doing everything you want me to be doing. And surprise, they’re failing. Because it will never work, because we’re three teenagers who don’t have any powers between us except a superhuman ability to understand how things work. Meanwhile, there’s a superhuman just sitting around running a fucking café who could just walk right in and pluck Charlie out, and she’s doing nothing. You get it? She’s the best hope we have. And I am working on it.”

Sadie sat there in silence, and I couldn’t tell what she was thinking. My tech wasn’t precise enough to pick up micro-expressions or the nuances of body language.

“What if she doesn’t ever change her mind?” Sadie asked.

“There’s got to be a way,” I said. “I’m not just giving up. I’m not leaving her. I just won’t.”

“…What if I talked to her?” Sadie suggested.


“You could use this stuff. Let her see me. Maybe she’d listen to me. Maybe if she knew…”

A smile began to creep across my face.

“Sadie, you have the makings of a genius yourself.”

Wendy frowned as I entered the café, Sadie trailing behind.

“We’re closed,” she said. “And I’m not interested in talking about—” She stopped, and sniffed the air. “What is that?”

“You mean my fancy eyewear?” I asked. “That’s actually—”

“Not that,” Wendy snapped, dropping the visage of pleasantness. “That smell, it’s…”

She approaches rapidly, with that inhuman speed and grace that she usually worked so hard to keep hidden. Astonishingly, she stopped right in front of Sadie.

“Me?” Sadie asked, squeaking in surprise.

“What’s here?” Wendy asked. “Who’s here?”

“Incredible,” I said. “It was your nose that gave her away? That’s gonna have some implications…”

Who is it?” Wendy demanded.

“Sadie,” I said. “Charlie’s sister. That’s why I’m here.”

I handed her a pair of glasses with connected earphones, a matching set to my own.

“You figured out how to communicate with the dead?” Wendy asked.

“Just one,” I replied. “I don’t have a lot of test cases to work with.”

She put the glasses on, and gasped when she looked at Sadie properly.

“Impossible,” she said. “You should be…”

“Welcome to Charlie’s world,” I said. “Impossible is her bread and butter.”

“It’s nice to meet you…” Sadie said.

“How long have you been like this?” Wendy asked.

“Twelve years,” Sadie replied.

“I think Charlie keeps her stable,” I said. “But it’s getting weaker. I think… I think Charlie’s losing hope. And if she does…”

Sadie stared at me, mouth agape. I hadn’t shared any of that with her. I hadn’t wanted to. But if we were going to save Charlie, we needed to convince Wendy. And if we were going to convince Wendy…

“A single soul contains enough energy to level half the state,” Wendy said.

“Five million dead in an instant,” I said.”

“No!” Sadie said. “No, you never told me that!”

“I didn’t want to,” I said. I wanted to save your genuine reaction for Wendy, I didn’t say.

“I need to get away,” she said. “Far away, where I can’t hurt anyone.”

“It’s not just that,” Wendy said. “Soul energy isn’t like, well, energy. Energy is just a property of matter. Specifically, local matter. But soul energy exists outside of the local space. A detonation of that magnitude could rip a hole in the walls of reality itself.”

“Like to the version of Earth that you come from,” I said.

“Yes,” Wendy replied, confirming my suspicions.

“I’ll try to find a way to contain it,” I said. “I’ll find a way to save you, Sadie. Maybe I can shove you inside a different body, or…”

“No,” Wendy said. “That won’t… Just trust me. It won’t work.”

“Then what do we do?”

“I need to think,” Wendy said. “And you need to leave.”

“Don’t take too long,” I said. “There’s a lot at stake here.”


Next Week: Charlie Can’t Know

Chapter 49 – This Is Brilliant, Even For Me

Rachel, Five Months Before Impact Day

I cackled as I shut off the connection to the computer Liz was using. I had considered not letting them know I was watching them, but it had already been a month, and they weren’t making any progress. I was starting to get anxious.

It hadn’t been a fun month. Not being able to talk to Charlie, not knowing if she was okay…

Obviously, I knew she was physically fine. Whatever damage they did to her would just be reversed. She was inviolable, after all. But I couldn’t imagine the emotional toll their torture was taking on her. She was resilient, for sure, but who knew what they could do to her over a whole month.

I was starting to feel a little resentment towards Liz and Aidan. Without them, Wendy would never offer her help to me. But they were dragging their feet, trying to do things the hard way. And Charlie had already spent a month in enemy hands because of it.

I knew I needed to spur them on, but they weren’t making it easy. Liz was easier to manipulate, because she was less intelligent, and less independent. But Aidan already knew that, and any attempt to manipulate her would be competing with him. He was the one calling the shots, after all.

How was I supposed to get to him, though? He was so careful, so calculating. The exact opposite of what I needed him to be. I needed him desperate, reckless, making mistakes. I needed Wendy to be his only hope.

Why are they so annoying?” I asked my empty room.

Talking to myself wasn’t going to get anything done. Instead, I packed up my laptop, and headed back to Charlie’s place. I knew Aidan wouldn’t be returning, and Mark was swept up in a fruitless quest to find his adoptive daughter.

I almost felt bad for him. He was sharp, perceptive, and kind. He knew what Charlie was up to, at least in part, of that I was certain. Now he knew she was missing, and exactly the kind of trouble she might find herself in. It must be keeping him up at night.

I doubted he knew exactly what she was, but he probably knew that there was something different about her. Charlie suspected that was why he adopted her in the first place. I agreed.

In any case, he either wouldn’t be home, or wouldn’t be paying attention. I’d snuck into Charlie’s room a few times before, just to be closer to her, and he hadn’t noticed once.

It wasn’t a long trip. I snuck in the same way she used to sneak out, and settled down on her couch, legs folded beneath me. Pulling out my laptop, I tried running a program I’d been tweaking for a while.

“Here goes nothing,” I said. “Sadie? If you’re here, try talking.”

For a few moments, nothing happened. Then, a waveform on my screen expanded and contracted, and the sound of static burst forth from my speakers.

“Holy shit,” I muttered. “Progress.”

Pulling up the software’s CLI, I started tinkering with the settings. There was an awful lot to try and figure out all at once.

“Keep talking, Sadie. Sing or something. I’ll get this working, I promise.”

The static continued, and the waveform quivered and stretched. I kept tinker, and eventually, I heard a very faint, static-filled voice.

“…wherever you are…”



My heart pounded in my chest. Had I really finally done it?

“Sadie, is that you? It’s you, right?” I asked, not even sure where to look.

“You can hear me?” she replied, her voice shaking. As she talked, I kept changing the settings slightly, trying to get a clearer sound.

“Oh man, this is brilliant, even for me,” I said. “You bet I can hear you.”


“Science!” I said, then cringed. It was a little too loud.

“Where’s Charlie?” she asked. God, she sounds so frightened, so timid.

“She didn’t tell you?” I asked.

“Tell me what?”

I sighed. What are you doing, Charlie?

“It doesn’t matter. She was captured. By Vengeance.”

“Captured? Who are Vengeance?”

“A gang,” I explained. “Probably the biggest, scariest gang.”

Silence for a few seconds.

“I told her,” she said. “You know what she said to me? A little pain never hurt anyone.”

I laughed.

“Of course she did.”

“Why are you laughing? This is serious!” she said, her voice a strained whisper.

“Because that’s who she is,” I said. “It’s why I love her.”

“You’re the reason she’s in this mess,” Sadie said. “If you didn’t keep encouraging her…”

“You know there’s no force in this world that could stop Charlie from doing anything. She was always going to do whatever she wanted,” I said. “Besides, I liked her ambition. What’s wrong with wanting to change the world?”

She left me alone!

The smile dropped from my face.

“She’s all you’ve got, huh?” I asked.

“Fuck you,” she replied.

“No wonder you don’t like me. You literally can’t talk to anyone else, and here I am, taking her away from you.”

“You don’t understand me,” she said.

“Maybe not. But now I have the chance to try. Hell, if you wanted, now anyone could have the chance to try.”

More silence for a while.


“Why what” I asked.

“Why did you do this?” she asked.

“Because I wanted to be able to talk to you,” I said.

“But why?”

“Do I need a reason?”

“I’m nobody,” Sadie said. “I’m not even real. I’m just a ghost.”

Inspiration struck me like lightning.

“Oh, Sadie,” I said. “You’re so much more than that.”

It was hard to keep all of the information pouring into my head. Every new piece sparked new understanding, but the more pieces I collected, the more I realised I didn’t know.


“No, Sadie. Listen. You’re not just a ghost. You’re a conduit.”

“I don’t know what that means,” she said.

“Souls can’t exist outside of bodies. If a body can’t host a soul, you die. You physically shouldn’t exist.”


“It’s not just that,” I said. “You’re syphoning Charlie’s energy. That’s why she can interact with you. And it’s why you’re getting stronger.”

“How did you know about that?” she asked. “Not even Charlie knows about that.”

“Logical leap,” I said, shrugging. “Sadie, you and I both know that Charlie is something more than human. And slowly, you’re absorbing some of that power.”

Information kept surging, and my head started to ache. I closed my eyes, pressing my fists into my temples.

“Are you okay?” Sadie asked.

“Learning hurts,” I said. “It’ll pass.”

“You’re not normal either, are you?”

“Nope,” I said. “And I think I have Charlie to thank for that, too. Anyway, a mind is a terrible thing to waste, or whatever. Now that I can hear you, let’s find out what else I can do with you. Oh, and Sadie?”


“It’s such a pleasure to meet you.”


Next Week: 

Chapter 46 – Willing To Die For Her

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

Chapter 57 – Believe It Or Not, I’m Trying To Save You


I found Zoe hunched over the console, rapidly tapping at keys. Presumably running another diagnostic. I took a deep breath, centering myself. I was only going to get one chance at this.

“What’s with the commotion?” she asked, sounding mildly irritated.

You think you’re irritated now…

She was on the other side of the room. Thank goodness. Slowly, carefully, I approached the gateway, running my hand along the side of it.

“Minor emergency,” I said.

My hand stopped over one particular spot, a panel with slightly different colouration to everything around it. Now or never, Rachel. Do it. My fingers twitched. Zoe remained oblivious.

I punched through the panel with my left hand, breaking several critical systems along the way. Didn’t matter. They were never going to be used.

My fingers found the component that was connected there, wrapped around it, pulled it out again. A small, silver tube, with glowing blue lines running across the sides of it. Entirely Zoe’s design. That was what I needed.

Zoe slammed into me, the force of it carrying me all the way to the wall. She pinned me there, fury in her reddish eyes, snarling.

“What the hell are you doing?” she demanded.

I still had a grip on the component. Slowly, carefully, I slipped it into my pocket, and began to extract the part I had designed, a pistol-shaped delivery mechanism.

Keep her distracted.

“In summary? Betraying you,” I said.


Because I have to. And I’m sorry.

“What, you think I’m an idiot?” I said, staring her in the eye. “Your gateway isn’t a way home, it’s a permanent hole. A hole that would let you bring your entire warped cadre of psychos back here with you. You think I wasn’t listening when you talked about how awful it is over there?”

“Then why help at all?”

The delivery mechanism was ready. I opened the slot for Zoe’s component, then slid the whole device into the holster on my thigh. With my hand free, I fumbled in my pocket for the component.

“I needed this,” I said, as my fingers wrapped around it. “To get rid of you. Seemed easier than killing you.”

Before I could slide the component into my weapon, she snarled again, and knocked it out of my hands. Fuck!

“Why now?”

“Because Charlie’s here,” I said. “And she will kill you. And me. Believe it or not, I’m trying to save you, here.”

“And yet all you’ve managed to do is kill yourself.”

My eyes scanned the room, looking for the component. This wasn’t over yet. If I could just get away from her…

“You can’t take Charlie alone,” I said, as my eyes settled on the blue glow. Found it.

“I beg to differ. She’s made a big mistake, coming here. And I’m in a bad mood, all of a sudden.”

I saw the victory on her face, betraying the lethal strike. Too bad.

“Yeah, I’m not done with you yet,” I said.

Please fuck let this work.

I activated the blade I’d built into my wrist, based loosely on the one that Haylie had wielded. I couldn’t copy her design exactly, especially not without a comparable power source, but what I did have should be enough.

Essentially, it projected a small field, in the shape of a blade, that used a combination of magnetic and radioactive elements. The field disrupted molecular connections, causing things to split apart at a molecular level. A blade that could quite literally cut through anything.

I could activate it for maybe three seconds at the most.

I swung, aiming to sever the arm that was pinning me to the wall. Nothing lethal. She reacted too quickly, dancing backwards, my one chance to use it for the next day or so.

“Close,” she said, grinning. “Not fast enough.”

“Got you away from me, didn’t it?”

Now just stay away long enough for me to get that component back. That’s not too much to ask, right?

“You really think you can take me in a fight?” she taunted.

Like this? No. Not a chance. None of my weapons have been designed to take you out. Couldn’t, not without arousing your suspicion.

“You really think I can’t?”

She laughed, a cruel, cold sound. Her hand went to her belt, and pulled out a small black box from a pouch.

“You’re nothing, kid,” she said, and pressed a button on the device.

My tinker brain took in the device, broke it down, immediately understood it. It sent a signal, a very simple signal. The signal that locked up all of the joints in my mechanical skeleton, rendering me completely immobile.

Helpless. Powerless. At her mercy.

Except the signal never reached my skeleton. I’d removed that system weeks ago, during one of my routine upgrades.

I flexed my fingers, watching her process the sight, and realise what had happened.

“Problem?” I asked.

“You knew.”

“I went over everything in excruciatingly dull detail, even made modifications. You really thought I wouldn’t notice?”

The victorious smile returned. That wasn’t good. That wasn’t what I wanted.

“Guess I’m tearing you apart the old-fashioned way, then,” she said.

“Good luck.”

I threw myself towards the component as she charged at me. She got to me first, her nails sharp enough to shred the bulletproof covering of my pants, and the skin beneath it. I cried out, and hit the ground hard.

Don’t let her get the upper hand.

I rolled away, leaping to my feet, but I wasn’t fast enough to get away from her. She moved like an animal, all killer instinct. I raised my arms to protect my face, only to have the right one ripped open by her claws. Warm blood rushed out of the wounds, though thankfully the left one held up.

She didn’t let up, knocking my arms out of the way and driving her nails into my chest. They sliced through the fatty tissue of my breast, and I screamed in pain, but they didn’t get further than my ribcage, protecting everything vital.

I slammed my fist, the left one, into her face, and felt a satisfying crunch of bone. It would heal, but I’d hurt her. That was enough.

She picked me up and threw me across the room. I bounced off a table, sending tools and parts flying, pain flaring through my shoulder and hip. Her mistake.

I used the distance to reach into my pocket, pulling out a foam grenade. Since she never left the building, she’d never seen one in action. Surprise would give me an edge.

I cooked the grenade for a couple of seconds before tossing it, and even she wasn’t fast enough to avoid the blast. Foam erupted outwards and wrapped around her, holding her in place.


I rushed to grab the component again, but she simply ripped her way free from the foam and lunged at me again. Not a good way to field test the foam against superhumans. Dammit.

I curled up and rolled away from her, protecting anything vulnerable and pulling out the venom dart gun. Testing on humans? Not okay. Testing on her? No time like the present.

A volley of shots, and every one of them missed. She was too fast. She was on me before I could get away, but that put her close enough that she couldn’t avoid the final dart. She carved a gouge out of my shoulder, but the dart landed right in her neck.

She backed off, pulling the dart out and holding her hand against her neck, waiting to see what the effects were. When nothing happened, she smiled.


She picked up a metal bar, just long and thin enough to be used as a weapon. I braced myself, but she was too quick. She launched herself at me, grabbing me by the collar and lifting me into the air. She dropped me before I could fight back, pulling up my shirt as I fell, exposing my stomach.

I screamed as she drove the bar through my stomach, all the way through. Pain radiated outwards, and blood began to bubble out around the bar. She drove the bar into the floor, pinning me.

I struggled to pull the bar out, but she reached out, grabbing both sides of the gateway. With a grunt, she pulled it down on top of me, almost a tonne of metal falling on me, burying me alive. My arms and legs were pinned, my head was being crushed, I could scarcely breathe.

Sharp bits of metal had pierced my skin in several locations, and I could feel the blood pooling underneath me. My entire body was screaming in agony, and I couldn’t move a muscle.



Next Week: A Necessary Evil

Chapter 55 – The Gateway Is Ready To Be Opened

“You know, this really is incredible,” Zoe said, holding up my replacement hand. “Even I couldn’t put together something like this.”

“Yeah, well, I got a bit of a boost.”

“A boost?”

“When I saw Haylie,” I explained. “The tech behind her is incredible, I couldn’t even begin to understand it all. Maybe if I had the chance to take her apart.”

“You got all of this from just a glance?”

“A glance and having her beat the stuffing out of me,” I corrected. “She would’ve killed me if you hadn’t shown up.”

“Your ability continues to confuse me. Even Mason isn’t capable of this. It’s not intelligence, it’s just…”

“Another impossibility. Seems to be a lot of them, doesn’t there? All centred around Charlie. It’s almost like there’s something special about her.”

She turned the mechanical hand over a few times, inspecting it in closer detail. The ridges on the back of the forearm caught her attention.

“Is this…?”

“I was trying to replicate one of Haylie’s weapons,” I said. “I couldn’t figure it out, though. Not without more information. Still, I’m pretty proud of this.”

“Even with your ability, I’d be surprised if you could replicate all of Haylie’s armoury. There’s a reason she’s unique, and why we’re not all running around with the same weapons.”

“Yeah, this one was a real pain in the ass. Whatever is powering that blade of hers must require an ungodly amount of energy, and whatever is powering that body is producing more than a nuclear reactor. I can’t exactly replicate that.”

“Even still, this is exceptional,” Zoe said. “All of it. Except for, well…”

She trailed off, but turned the base of the arm part around to face me. I grimaced.

“Connecting the nerve endings is going to hurt like a bitch,” I finished for her. “No way around that. Still won’t be worse than everything I endured after Charlie…”

I shuddered involuntarily, vivid images of Charlie standing over me, cutting me open, ripping the coalesced blood from my body. I remembered the poison that was supposed to burn that blood out of my system, blood that was already gone. I remembered the fire of Zoe’s blood slowly pushing out the poison. I remembered her cutting me open again, fusing metal and wires to my skeleton.

“Bit of a masochist, aren’t you?”

“We all do strange things for love,” I murmured.


“Always love,” I replied, almost too quickly. “Before all of this, it was my love for Charlie. Now…”


“Now it’s my love for me. What happened to me, I won’t let that happen again. I won’t be weak, helpless, powerless.”

“Better brace yourself, then,” she said, with a sadistic grin.

I tried not to scream. I bit down hard on my gag and squeezed a steel bar which began to bend under the pressure. A thousand needles seemed to be driven into my raw, bloody stump, sending fire and lightning up my arm and through my body.

Consciousness threatened to leave me, but I refused to let go of it, refused to give in to the pain for even a second. I was stronger, would be stronger. Pain was my victory.

The more synthetic nerves connected to organic ones, the more intense the pain became. New sensory data began to flood my brain, overwhelming it, and because it was alien and new, my brain interpreted it as more pain.

It took over an hour for the pain to subside. It was all I could manage to just lay there, staring up at the ceiling, panting and shaking. Zoe sat with me for half of it, until she was certain I wasn’t in danger of worsening, then went back to her own work.

Eventually, I tried moving it. It responded just like my original hand, just as natural, just as responsive. I inspected the connection to the rest of my arm, an obvious distinction since the synthetic material was all black. It wouldn’t pass as ‘real’ but then, I didn’t really need it to.

I spent longer than I needed to flexing my fingers and watching them move. It had only been a few days without my arm, but it felt like a lifetime.

I desperately wanted to test out the blade, but I knew Zoe had cameras everywhere, and I didn’t want to give her a sneak peek. She’d already seen more than I wanted by handling it physically, but that was unavoidable. She was the only one who could’ve connected it.

In any case, with my arm restored, my productivity skyrocketed. Zoe and I continued to work on the gateway, so close to completion we could almost taste it. Sabrina switched erratically between loitering and brooding, and disappearing for hours at a time. Neither Zoe nor I put much thought into what she was up to.

Then, one day, we were finished. Just like that, the final piece was slotted in, the diagnostics were run, and there was nothing left to do except test it. And, since both Zoe, an engineering genius, and myself, a powerful tinker, had worked on it, we were both pretty confident it would work the first time.

We’d done it.

“I almost don’t believe it,” she said, running a hand over one of the smoother edges. “We finally did it. The gateway is ready to be opened.”

“I really hope it works first go,” I said. “Soon as we turn this thing on, everyone in the city is gonna know exactly where we are.”

“If you can figure out a more subtle way to punch a doorway between dimensions, I’m all ears,” she said dryly.

“Just saying. Anyway, I’m gonna go break the good news to Sabrina.”

“Go, go,” she said. “I want to run over the schematics a few more times, and maybe run the diagnostics again.”

I left her with a wave, wandering into the smaller, more central space that had unofficially become the lounge room. Zoe and Sabrina never got tired, and didn’t need to sleep, and with a few tweaks here and there, I’d managed to cut down my own need for rest by a significant margin. Still, it felt good to have a space dedicated to something other than work.

Sabrina was standing in front of a mirror, glaring at it, playing with the knife I’d taken from Miss Murder. She was in her natural body, which was unusual for her. Most of the time, she seemed more comfortable in her Zoe inspired form, possible because in case we were randomly attacked again.

“Having fun?” I asked, surprising her. She dropped the knife, and turned to glare at me instead of the mirror.

“Just trying to figure some stuff out,” she said, her shoulders slumping. “What do you want?”

“Actually, I’m here with good news. We finished it. The gateway is ready.”

“Wow,” she said, her eyes widening. “Really? I…”

“Never really seemed real, did it?”

“I didn’t even know you guys were close. Guess I haven’t exactly asked.”

“You helped a lot, y’know,” I said. “All those trips to gather materials, we couldn’t have done that without you.”

“Zoe could’ve.”

“Zoe spreads the infection,” I pointed out.

“Well, I’m glad I could help.”

“We’re going to activate it soon. No sense tempting fate, right?”

“Wow, no, yeah, you’re right,” she said. “How soon?”



A deep boom resonated through the building, and I immediately tensed for a fight, adrenaline coursing through me.

“What was-”

Thud, thud.

“It’s coming from above us,” I said.

“The door.”

Thud, thud.

“It sounds like-”

I was interrupting by a buzzing against my thigh. My phone? Confused, I pulled it out, and looked at the screen.

Thud, thud.

“It’s Charlie,” I said, my mouth running dry. If Sabrina had looked scared before, she looked positively terrified now.

Thud, thud.

Hand trembling, I answered the call, raising the phone to my ear.

“Knock, knock,” she said.


Next Week: I Told You She’d Find Us

Chapter 50b – You Should Have Joined Me When You Had The Chance

“You go on ahead,” I grunted, summoning all of my strength to toss her across the room. She crashed through the fire stairs door. Close enough. “I’ll take care of this clown, then catch up with you!”

She didn’t respond to that. Just took off. That was fine. Wasn’t exactly in the mood for conversation.

Electrified spikes? Not a bad tactic, I had to admit. Might have even worked, if he hadn’t already played his hand by equipping street thugs with a similar design. Should’ve been more creative. I’d already made sure my body could channel excess electricity into a safe outlet.

The poor boy twitching at my feet clearly didn’t have the same advantage. He was already done. Not that it mattered, the temporary boost he got from Zoe’s blood would burn up within minutes. They couldn’t have collected that much, and I doubted they’d waste it all on an untrained brat like him.

Still, it had gotten rid of Sabrina, and that was what I needed. By the time she got all the way up to his office, he’d be long gone. There’d probably be a trap waiting for Sabrina. Not my concern.

I’d already done the math. His only escape from that office was with Miss Murder’s blinking. Her range was limited, and she needed to reorient herself before teleporting again. Given the limited time frame before her needing to be back to ambush Sabrina, she’d only be able to get him a short distance away. There was only one building that made sense.

I left the boy twitching and convulsing on the floor. He might follow later, but he’d already proven he wasn’t a threat. No instinct, no fighting experience. Not a problem.

The second I left the building, I felt a dozen weapons pointed at me. Reinforcements. God, but he was annoying.

“I don’t have time for this,” I muttered.

A dozen thugs, all armed. I had approximately zero time for their shit, but they weren’t exactly going to let me just walk away. Time to weigh up the risks.

My clothing would protect most of my body from bullets. There’d be bruising, but nothing I couldn’t handle. The only place I was vulnerable was my head. Even there, bullets would rip up the skin and muscle, but wouldn’t penetrate bone. Unless they hit my eyes, the damage would only be cosmetic.

I could cover my face with my arm and run, but I didn’t want them on my tail when I confronted him. The damned floor spikes had ruined the propulsion systems in my boots, so that wasn’t an option.

Had to take them out.

Killing them would be so much easier. Physically, at least. Emotionally, I wasn’t comfortable with it. They didn’t deserve to die. But disabling them was a lot more work.

Inventory. I had a flashbang, two foam grenades, my shock baton, a shock gauntlet, a pistol with non-lethal rounds, a small supply of plastic ties, Miss Murder’s knife and an untested venom dart gun. Theoretically, that one would induce a process that mimicked that of Zoe’s blood, but in reverse, making them weak and close to useless, temporarily. Unfortunately, my abilities as a tinker were limited when it came to biochemistry, and I wasn’t entirely certain how accurate my formula was.

“Fuck it.”

One arm in front of my face, I ran into the nearest cluster of thugs. I had very little time to put them all down. No pulling punches.

Stun baton to the throat. One down. Draw the pistol, two headshots. Probable concussions, but they’ll live. Three down. Trip the next up with the baton, kick them in the side of the head. Four down.

Drop the baton, throw a foam grenade. Two more headshots, then the grenade explodes, catching three in the blast. Nine down.

A hail of bullets hits me in the back, staggers me. Drop the pistol, vault over cover. Punch to the sternum, enough force to crack ribs. Ten down. Grab their gun, snap it in half. Twist their arms behind their back, tie their wrists. Eleven down. Shove them into the last remaining thug, gauntlet to the face, deliver a strong charge.

No time to waste.

I ran towards the building I’d marked off beforehand. Motion sensors I’d planted confirmed something was happening there, but that was as much as I’d been able to set up. It was enough.

It was possible he’d set another trap, but paranoid as he was, I didn’t think he was that prepared. Not for this.

I crashed through the entrance, disregarding subtlety entirely. He was no threat to me, and he had nowhere to go. Better to intimidate than to surprise.

He was waiting for me, still in his chair, a pained expression on his face. Haylie was nowhere to be seen. It was annoying that he’d already found time to stash her, but I could beat the information out of him if I had to. I wouldn’t torture his thugs, but him? He deserved it.

“It’s good to see you again, Rachel.”

“You’re awfully chipper for someone who’s about to get flayed alive,” I snapped. “Where’s Haylie?”

“Right behind you,” he said, smirking.

I whirled around, and clichéd as it was, she really was standing right behind me. How long had he been waiting to pull that trick?

More importantly, she was awake. That changed everything.

She was beautiful, with long, wavy red hair, fair skin, and a smattering of freckles. Her eyes were yellow, almost luminescent, and just slightly vacant. She was taller than me, but not by much. Dark jeans, combat boots, a white shirt, all kind of worn and dirty.

Just one look at her set my mind ablaze. Concepts, ideas, schematics and blueprints formed in my head, distracting, disrupting. Stop.

“You’re awake,” I said, nearly stumbling over my words.

“I’m alive,” she corrected, though I didn’t understand the distinction. Surprisingly, her accent sounded American. Gabriel and Zoe had British accents, Ami’s was… surprisingly neutral. I could never pick it.

I didn’t know anything about her. I didn’t know what she wanted, or who she was. I knew she was dangerous, but not if she was a threat.

“I’m honoured to meet you,” I said carefully.

“Are you,” she replied, no question in her tone.

“A lot of people have been looking for you, you know.”

“I don’t. And I don’t particularly care.”

There was no life in her. She seemed half-baked, distant, unfocussed. It was disappointing, but it also seemed wrong. Like she wasn’t supposed to be like this. Not that I had any idea what she was supposed to be like…

“What do you care about?”

“I haven’t worked that out yet,” she said. “I might have a better idea after killing you.”

“Why do you want to kill me?” I asked, feeling a pang of genuine fear. She was an unknown, a potential enemy I knew nothing about. The small fragments of data I did have suggested I probably didn’t stand a chance.

“Because he wants you dead.”

I glanced back over my shoulder. The satisfied, smug look on his face made it really difficult to resist the urge to punch him.

I had to resist, though. Haylie seemed to have latched onto him, and I needed to know why if there was any chance of detaching her from him. Until then, if she was protecting him, he was far less vulnerable than I thought.

“You should have joined me when you had the chance, Rachel,” he said.

“Fuck off.”

Haylie reacted to that. Her fists clenched, and her body weight shifted. Crap. Did I upset her-

She hit me before I had a chance to brace myself. The impact sent me flying across the room, right over the Celestial’s head. I slammed against the wall, and she was already right there in front of me, her expression still completely blank.

Her next hit threw me sideways, the shock resonating through my entire body. If not for my reinforced skeleton, I’d have been borderline liquefied by that. She hit harder than Zoe or Sabrina could. And she was every bit as fast. That was intimidating.

I was ready for the next blow. I managed to block it, absorbing the force of it and counterattacking with Miss Murder’s knife. The blade didn’t even pierce her skin. Her fingers wrapped around my throat, and she tossed me across the room again.

“Stop playing with her, Haylie,” the Celestial ordered. “Just kill her.”

“Your wish is my command,” she replied.

She began walking towards me, her expression completely neutral. Her right arm stretched out, and the air beyond her hand began to shimmer and warp, forming the shape of a blade, barely visible.

Panic flooded my system. My tinker brain was already analysing what I was seeing, and though I didn’t fully understand it, I knew that blade was dangerous.

She swung at me, and I hurled myself sideways, out of the way. I wasn’t fast enough. The blade sliced right through my left arm, completely severing it at the elbow. Even my reinforced skeleton didn’t offer any resistance.

I screamed, and scrambled backwards, holding the stump of my elbow. She attacked again, but something knocked her out of the air, throwing her backwards. She recovered quickly, but her assailant was already dashing towards me.

Zoe picked me up with one arm, and carried me out of the room. She moved quickly, bouncing between buildings, staying away from street level. Haylie didn’t follow.

We didn’t slow down until we reached her base, our home. She dropped me gently onto a bed, took one look at my arm, and swore.

I glanced down. The wound had cauterised, which was probably good for me, but it was a horrific sight.

“Thank you,” I said, looking up at her.

“Any time,” she replied.

“Where’s Sabrina?” I asked.

“Here,” Sabrina said, entering the room. She looked a little shell-shocked, but her expression turned soft when she saw my arm. “What happened?”

“Haylie’s awake,” I said.

“We’re in a lot of trouble,” Zoe said.


Next Week: She Was The First Voice I Ever Heard

Chapter 30 – Tinker v Blinker

“Miss Murder? Kill her.”

His voice cut off, the connection clearly dropped. Suddenly, it was just the two of us again. That wasn’t as comforting as it could have been.

Had to think quick. I was fresh out of secret weapons, or weapons of any kind. I’d even taken my gloves off. My opponent could blink, and she knew more ways to kill a person than I knew people. It wasn’t a great match-up.

There was a kevlar weave in my clothing that would probably protect against most knife attacks, it was probably even bulletproof. My skin didn’t have that same advantage, and my face and neck were exposed. Far too vulnerable.

My skeleton was difficult to break, and unless she teleported me off the side of a skyscraper I doubted she could hurt me that way. Small comfort.

No super-strength or super-speed. No accelerated healing. Just me and my tough bones. Not a lot to work with.

Miss Murder was fast, I knew that much. Maybe hyperkinetic? Nothing like Zoe or Sabrina, but it felt like something

When she’d teleported me, I’d glimpsed something else about her power. It wasn’t just teleportation. She could actually deconstruct her body, turning it temporarily incorporeal. Could she use that defensively? Probably. That would make her difficult to hurt, even more difficult to contain.

Despite what I’d said, I had no intention of killing her. Cathartic as that might have been, I doubted I’d be able to live with myself. The Celestial was right. I wasn’t a killer.

What else did I know about her? As deadly as she was, she only used a knife. No guns. Her bare hands would have been just as deadly, though, had to keep that in mind. Still, if I could keep my distance, I’d be mostly safe. That’d be helpful if she wasn’t also a teleporter.

She blinked, appearing in front of me, slashing with the knife. I was fast enough to throw up my arms as I leapt away from her, and thankfully, the knife did not cut through. I had some protection, at least.

She didn’t give me more than a second’s reprieve before coming at me again, teleporting behind me, nearly catching me off guard. She was relentless, never staying in the same spot for more than a second, never attacking from the same direction twice. There was no strategy on my part keeping me alive, only reflexes.

Still, I was learning. Nothing useful, but any information could become useful in the right circumstances. If I could stay in one piece for long enough, I could find a way to use it.

There are a lot of ways teleportation is theoretically possible. Deconstruction at the molecular level, followed by reconstruction at the destination. Creating a copy at the destination and transferring consciousness, before terminating the original. Freezing time, moving from A to B before resuming it. She wasn’t doing any of that.

She grabbed me, cutting off my train of thought, and the world faded to black around me. When it snapped back, we were nearly ten metres in the air. She let go, blinking back down to the ground, letting me fall.

I hit the ground hard, landing on my hands and knees, the shock reverberating through my body, but I managed to stay in one piece, no significant damage. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the point of it. She took advantage of the temporary stunned state, dragging the blade of her knife across my throat.

Before she could get it in too deep, I let my body slump to the side, sliding off the edge of the knife. She managed to draw blood, but the wound wasn’t enough to cause any serious harm. I got lucky.

She grabbed me again, teleporting me up to about the same height as before. I felt the same distortion, confirming my suspicions from earlier. Her teleportation worked by folding two spaces in three-dimensional space together. Did she know that? Did she realised the implications of that?

I dropped again, the ground rushing up to meet me. This time, I was more prepared, and knowing what my body was capable of, I twisted, landing on my feet, my legs absorbing the impact. Before Miss Murder could assault me again, I threw myself to the side, less than a second before her knife slashed through the spot I landed.

Fuck, she was fast. Faster than I was, and blinking didn’t seem to be tiring her out at all. That actually made sense. The amount of energy required to do what she was doing would be phenomenal, way more than her body could possibly have access to. Which meant she was drawing it from somewhere else.

I wanted to know how she was doing that, more than anything, but it wasn’t the time. Even if I could figure it out, maybe even figure out how to cut her off from it, chances of me being able to do it in the middle of a fight more infinitesimal. Not a helpful line of thinking.

She teleported me again, this time directly over an antenna. I cried out as the sharp point drove into me, but it couldn’t get through my jacket. It was going to leave a killer bruise, though.

I needed a way to stop her without killing her. That was going to be difficult. I’d need to hurt her, badly, but not in a way she couldn’t recover from. Enough that she’d have to stop fighting, that she’d give up and leave. I wouldn’t be able to do that without perfect timing, and I’d need to surprise her.

She slashed at me, and I raised my arms to protect my face. As I did, I saw her body shimmer and fade to shadow, and the blade past right through my arm, solidifying again just in time to cut my cheek open, spilling blood out everywhere.

Fuck. She was smarter than I was giving her credit for. Stupid of me, I’d always known she was clever. I was going to lose if I didn’t come up with something, and fast.

Needed to be reckless. I looked around, saw a window. Good enough. I ran for it, and she didn’t try to stop me. I hurled myself through it, letting my protected shoulder take the brunt of the impact, glass shattering around me.

I landed painfully as a cascade of glass shards rained around me. Miss Murder materialised in front of me, still pristine. Not for much longer, though.

I grabbed a shard of glass large enough to be used as a knife and charged at her. The first time, she blinked away. I staggered forwards, only slightly exaggerating it.

The second time I charged, she simply turned to shadow, letting me pass through, then turned and slashing at the back of my head. It only barely missed. Fuck.

My grip on the glass was too tight, cutting through the skin on my palm. I swapped it to the other hand. The cut was deep enough that I could see the bone, or rather, the synthetic exoskeleton covering it. It stung, but I could handle a little pain.

I charged again, and just like last time, she turned to shadow. This time, I thrust my hand in, the one with the cut open palm, with a hand gesture that would normally have provided a surge of power to the glove I usually wore.

In the middle of her shadowy form, the electrical energy burst forth, spreading out, filling her. She twitched, staggering backwards, forced back into her physical form. I didn’t have long.

I kicked her, knocking her to the floor. As she hit the ground, I fell on her, using my weight to drive the shard of glass into her stomach. She convulsed, then turned to shadow, rolling away from me. The glass shard stayed behind.

She stood up, clutching her stomach, blood dripping from the open wound. It was bad, worse than I’d intended. Damn it. Still, she’d have access to top-notch medical care. She’d be fine, so long as she left in time to get it looked at.

The glare she gave me could only be described as withering, but then she vanished, teleporting away. I waited a few seconds, on the off chance she had some final sneak attack planned, then slumped to the ground, my arm twitching. That electrical surge had hurt me almost as much as it had hurt her.

My breathing was heavy, my throat hoarse, my body ached. It didn’t matter. I survived. I’d won, and next time, I’d be prepared.

Now to find out of Zoe and Sabrina had been as successful.

Chapter 29 – You, I Could Kill

As soon as I saw the words appear on the screens, I knew I could rule out Charlie. The theatrics weren’t her style. That narrowed it down considerably.

Gabriel? I knew he was looking for Zoe. Was he the type to make a show out of it? Even if he was, he wouldn’t risk timing it when all three of us were here. He wasn’t interested in Sabrina or me. It didn’t make sense.

It had to be someone who wanted the three of us. That made it painfully obvious. The only two people I wanted to see less than Charlie. My chest ached just from the memory.

A series of explosions signalled the breaching of our outer defences. I knew Zoe had the place booby-trapped, had considered adding a few mechanisms of my own. Wouldn’t have made a difference. Within a minute, the building was swarmed with gang thugs, armed like soldiers. The Stars.

Sabrina changed in a heartbeat, her skin paling, her hair lightening, her body elongating and her nails growing. Zoe had tensed up, and I got the impression she was struggling to contain her rage. Her sanctuary had been violated. I could understand.

The gang-soldiers surrounded us, not looking nearly as afraid as they should have. Their faces were concealed, but their body language was confident, almost arrogant, every last one of them. They knew something I didn’t, that was the only explanation.

A wisp of smoke congealed in the centre of the room, quickly taking the form of a young woman. She solidified, a teenage girl dressed entirely in black, her neck and mouth concealed, a vicious looking knife held in her left hand. Her eyes settled on me, fear and anger and hatred all emerging in equal measure.

She vanished in another puff of smoke, appearing in front of me in the same second. Her hand wrapped around my throat, and before I could react, the world around me faded to black, and everything was silent.

The world snapped back into place with an almost physical impact, but it wasn’t the same. My eyes scanned around me, looking for any identifiable feature. It didn’t take long.

We were on the roof. She’d teleported us straight up. Why so close? Was her range that limited? Was that a weakness I could exploit?

To my surprise, she let go of me, taking a couple of steps back. She didn’t want to kill me? What else could it be? Was she just removing me from the fight? No, she’d have taken me further to do that, even if she had to do multiple hops. Besides, I was the least dangerous of the three of us, in that situation. Unprepared and exhausted? I was basically useless.

I knew she didn’t want to talk. Did she want to show me something? Was removing me just a demonstration of her power? I already knew she could blink, and letting me see it up close, experience it, all she was doing was giving me the tools to fight against it. Assuming I survived this fight, at least. Was she showing the other two?

Protecting me? No, there was no way. She had no love for me. Her partner had even less. If they weren’t trying to kill me, it was because they wanted something from me.

Miss Murder, as she was going by, reached into a concealed fold in her black top. I stood my ground, not entirely sure what to expect.

“Hello, Rachel,” a distorted voice said, coming from her general direction. It wasn’t her voice, though. I recognised it, even through the filter. It was him. The Celestial. Leader of the Stars, the most powerful gang in the city, especially now.

The man who was responsible for poisoning me.

“Why are you disguising your voice?” I asked, trying to read Miss Murder’s body language. She kept very deliberately still. “You know I know who you are.”

“But anyone who might be listening in doesn’t,” he replied.

“And what’s to stop me revealing your identity anyway?” I asked, and saw Miss Murder tense. So, her secret identity was important to her? Interesting.

“That would cut this conversation unfortunately short,” the Celestial replied, already sounding impatient. That was good. He was far less dangerous when he didn’t feel in control, and I knew exactly how to press his buttons.

“Not seeing a downside,” I said, wondering if he could see my smirk. He was almost certainly watching through some kind of video feed.

“I believe we can help each other, Rachel,” he said, in a perfect imitation of a supervillain. I wondered if that was how he saw himself. Or the dark saviour of the city? That seemed more his flavour.

“Not interested.”

So, he was trying to recruit me? Why would he ever think I would want to work for him? Or even with him? He’d need something incredible to even entice me.

“I have resources-” he began, but I cut him off.

“Don’t care.” Even as I spoke, I kept processing, the pieces falling together. I realised what it was he had. “Wait. No. That’s not what you mean. You have her.” My heart was pounding. I was livid. That wasn’t fair. “You have Haylie, and you’re stumped. So of course you’d come to me.”

No trace of surprise on Miss Murder’s face, at least, the half of it I could see. She knew what the Celestial was offering. She knew I’d figure it out before he told me.

“You’ll never get another opportunity like this,” he said, still acting like he had control of the situation. He didn’t. He’d played his hand too early, and I was going to make him regret it.

“You’re an idiot. Do you have any idea what I could do, if I had access-” I stopped. Recomposed myself. “Of course you do. And you’re already prepared for it.”

He was shooting himself in the foot. The one thing he had to bargain with, the one thing I actually wanted, he knew he couldn’t actually give me. It was far too dangerous for him. Hell, it might have been dangerous for me.

“Her power is mine, needs to be mine,” he said evenly. “But you would see enough, learn enough to make it worth your while.”

How did he see this going? He needed my help, but anything I was able to help him with, I could weaponise, would use against him. It would be a desperate race to the end, him trying to get enough out of me to be useful before he killed me, or before I managed to turn the tables and use it against him.

I didn’t want to get stuck like that. Not that I wasn’t confident I could win, but I had my own agenda to work towards.

“Or, I could just kill you,” I said casually, but I still saw Miss Murder twitch. How hard was it for her to just stand there, completely still, nothing more than a glorified handset? How much did it gall her to be a puppet for him, after everything?

There was a surprising pause before he replied. When he did, it was with more reservation and humility than I was prepared for.

“As much as I deserve that,” he said, “you’d fail. You know you’d fail.”

Regret? No, just a ploy. Trying to cultivate a sense of trust and honesty, make me easier to manipulate.

He was right, though. I wouldn’t have a chance of killing him, not the way things were now. He was protected by more than just his gang, more than his supernatural sidekick. He had information, power, money, secrets. I had a few half-baked gadgets.

“Maybe now,” I conceded. “But I’ll keep building, keep preparing.”

“I’ll figure her out before then,” he told me, fully confident. He might have been right about that, too. I had no idea how close he was to being able to actually use her.

“I have allies,” I said, knowing I was reaching. Dammit, he had me on the back foot all of a sudden. How had that happened?

“Tenuous at best,” he said, calling my bluff. I growled. “Besides, they’re already dead.”

How long had we been speaking? A couple of minutes? More?

“You’re more arrogant than I thought. Your thugs don’t stand a chance against Zoe or-“

“You know me well enough to know that I had a plan,” he interrupted. “I know what they’re capable of.”

Frustratingly, I knew there had to be truth to that. Attacking Zoe in her base of operations was a stupid, reckless move, and he wouldn’t have done it if he wasn’t absolutely sure he’d be successful. There was a good chance Zoe and Sabrina really were already dead, or captured. What a terrifying notion.

“Well, even if you’re right, I won’t lose any sleep over it,” I said, with more confidence than I felt.

“You’re alone now,” he pushed, and I realised Miss Murder was enjoying this. I glared at her. “Or, do you trust Charlie more than me?” he continued. A chill ran down my spine. “Would you go back to her?”

He wasn’t just taunting me, he was threatening me. Threatening me using Charlie. The conversation was officially over.

“Here’s what I’m going to do,” I told him. “First, I’m going to kill your girlfriend, here. Then I’m going to check on my heavy-hitters. If they’re alive, you’re fucked. If they’re dead, I’m going to disappear, and I’m going to dedicate every waking hour to building the tools I need to destroy you. Then, you’re fucked.”

I smiled at the momentary panic on Miss Murder’s face when I said I was going to kill her. For all her confidence, she was wary of me. Good.

“You’re not a killer, Rachel,” the Celestial responded after a pause, trying and failing to call my bluff.

“Not usually,” I conceded. “But you? You, I could kill. Happily.”


“I’m disappointed, Rachel.”

“Cry me a river,” I snapped, letting adrenaline flood my system.

“I will own this city,” he said. “There’s nothing you can do about that.”

“Fucking watch me,” I snarled.

No hesitation this time. “Miss Murder? Kill her.”

Chapter 28 – More Secrets?

“What happened?” Sabrina asked, as I stormed in through the main entrance, fuming. I swore silently at myself for not pulling it together before I entered. Seeing Charlie had thrown me off balance, and I needed to be on top of my game whenever I was around these two.

“Nothing,” I said, a terrible lie. “Why?”

Sabrina frowned, folding her arms across her chest. Interestingly, she was looking more feminine than when we’d first met. Had she gotten access to hormones? How? No, the changes were too rapid, even for that. A side-effect of her power? Subconscious minor shifting? No, that wasn’t important.

“You don’t need to lie to me, Rachel. What happened?”

She wasn’t the type to let it drop, and if I kept avoiding it, I would only seem more suspicious. Better to twist it to my advantage. Couldn’t be too obvious about that, though.

“I saw Charlie. I don’t want to talk about it.”

I said it with just enough aggression that it sounded genuine, but not so much that she’d be scared off entirely. At least, I hoped so.

“You survived,” she said, sounding genuinely surprised. Thanks for the vote of confidence. Not that she was wrong to be surprised. There was no chance I’d survive a one-on-one fight with Charlie. “Wasn’t she going to try and kill you?”

Yes, I thought. And instead, she chose to dance with me. Somehow, it was worse.

“It’s not that simple,” I said, cringing as I did. What an awful, cliched line.

“Do explain, then,” Zoe said, practically materialising behind me. As there so often was when speaking to me, a hint of danger accented her voice.

I had to play this very carefully. Give them just enough information to throw them off balance. Preferably without lying. Could I do it?

“I have something of hers,” I said slowly. Truth. “Something she needs.” Lie. “That’s why she threatened me.” Partial truth.

“What?” Sabrina asked, and even though I knew that would be the very next question, I didn’t have an answer prepared.

“I can’t tell you. I’m sorry.”

Both of them looked at me, more suspicious than ever. This wasn’t going the way I wanted, but I couldn’t tell them more. If they knew what I had, what I’d taken from Charlie, what I could do with it…

“More secrets?” Zoe asked, a rhetorical question that was somehow also a threat. I needed to change the tone, and quickly.

“I’m here to help you build your machine,” I said, my tone forceful, aggressive. Half-truth. “You helped fix me. That doesn’t mean I trust you.” Truth.

Zoe looked angry, the same way she always did, for the briefest of moments, so easy to miss if you didn’t know to look for it. Not enough to push me further. That was fine. I just needed more time.

After this, she would probably do another search of my belongings, my notes, everything I had within her grasp. Just like every other time, she wouldn’t find anything. My prize was hidden far from where she could find it, and by the time I was at risk of revealing the location, she wouldn’t be able to do a thing about it.

“So what happened with Charlie?” Sabrina asked, breaking the tension. Well, sort of. I glared at her.

“We… We talked,” I said, letting my shoulders slump. “I don’t think she was expecting to see me, or for me to be… You know. Better. I won’t catch her by surprise a second time.” Truth.

“Maybe it’s not safe for you to go out,” Sabrina suggested. I had to fight the urge to laugh at her, because there was some validity to what she was saying.

Also, it gave me the opportunity to lay some pressure on the two of them, undermine their confidence. Putting them on the back foot would make my job just that little bit easier.

“It’s not safe for me anywhere,” I said. Probably true. “Sooner or later, she’ll figure out where I am. Hell, maybe she already knows.” Truth. She almost certainly knew where I was, she just wasn’t stupid enough to risk taking on both Zoe and Sabrina in a head-on fight. For all her power, she wasn’t guaranteed victory against either of them, let alone both, and especially not on their own turf.

“Should we move?” Zoe asked, and I could tell my attempt to unbalance her had been successful. She was too confident in her ability to stay undetected, too afraid that someone else might find her. Letting Gabriel know her location was one of my backup plans. Let the two of them tear each other apart. I had enough of Zoe’s schematics that I probably didn’t need her anymore.

“She’s not a threat to you,” I said. Mostly true. “Her power, it’s basically the equivalent of Wendy’s.” Mostly true again. “That’s where it came from, after all.” Depending on what you considered ‘all’ of it. There was the power she had before we’d known about Wendy. “Mostly she’s just tenacious.” Definitely true.

“I guess there are three of us,” Sabrina mused. The sort of naive confidence that could get a girl killed.

“I don’t like anyone knowing we’re here,” Zoe said, almost growling the words. It was satisfying, seeing her so on edge.

“Wherever we go, she’d find us again. She’d find me again,” I said. Truth.

“Then maybe I should leave you behind,” Zoe threatened, though her body language told me it wasn’t a serious threat. She wanted me to capitulate, to acknowledge the power imbalance. I was worrying her.

“You can’t finish your machine without me,” I replied confidently. Both the statement, and the confidence, were lies.

“I’ll figure it out eventually,” she said, and we both knew she was right. I was accelerating the process, streamlining production, providing a safer alternative than trial and error for some key components, but I wasn’t essential.

“And risk Gabriel finding you in the meantime?” I countered, with just enough trace of a threat of my own that she’d take it seriously. I could, and would, go to him.

She snarled, a look of utter contempt and fury in her eyes. Sabrina didn’t seem to notice. It was gone in the blink of an eye.

“Fine,” she said, barely concealing her rage. “But we are going to move. And you’re going to do everything in your power to make sure Charlie doesn’t find us,” she added.

“Of course,” I said, lying again. I fully intended on giving her just enough information to find us, just not yet. Not until I was ready. “I’m assuming you already have a place lined up?”

She smiled, accepting the compliment. I genuinely couldn’t tell if her ego was such that she couldn’t tell that I was only playing up to it, or if she just didn’t care.

“How are we going to move all of this without anyone noticing?” Sabrina asked, looking around and the rather massive collection of assorted salvaged tech and scrap.

Before either of us could answer, all of the lights in the building went out. As the three of us tensed, ready for a fight. My mind was racing. Was this Charlie? Had she followed me back? Surely not.

Every monitor I could see lit up, all at once. On each of them, two words were printed.

“Found you.”