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Author: Sabrina Labelle

Chapter 9 – There Are Other Possibilities

“Welcome back,” Zoe said, looking exactly like she was waiting for me.

“You don’t seem surprised to see me,” I said cautiously.

“Should I be?”

“I guess not. I have too many questions,” I said.

“So do I,” she said, striding gracefully across the room. She pulled out a chair, and gestured for me to sit in it.

I sat, and gave her a confused look, wondering what questions she could have for me. She caught my expression, and shook her head.

“I think I’ve answered the most pressing of both our questions,” she reassured me.

“You have?”

She nodded.

“You wanted to know where I’m from. I wanted to know where I am.”

“And?

“Well, let me put it to you this way,” she said. “I was born in London. You’ve heard of it?”

“Of course,” I said, confused and not entirely sure what she was implying.

“I was born in the year 2205,” she said.

For a moment, I thought she’d said 2005. But no, it was definitely 2205. Twenty-two-oh-five.

“Um-”

“And I’m over two hundred years old,” she continued.

“What?”

“You do the math,” she said.

“So you’re, what, from the future?” I asked, wondering why I ever believed there would be a normal, believable explanation for any of what was going on.

“Well, I have been considering the possibility,” she said.

“There are other possibilities?”

She smiled patiently at me, sitting down in a chair opposite me.

“Several. But I think I’ve narrowed it down.”

“To?” I asked, already knowing I didn’t want to hear the answer.

“Essentially, a parallel world,” she said, without a trace of irony.

I felt like bashing my head against a wall. Just once, I wanted the answer to whatever weird bullshit was going to be something normal, something rational.

“When did I walk into a science fiction movie?” I asked, cradling my head in my hands.

She shrugged, leaning back in her chair and resting her legs on the desk beside me.

“I’ve already run several tests. I’m fairly confident.”

“How do you even test for something like that?” I asked.

“Mostly using molecular physics,” she said. “It’s complicated. Very technical. Easiest thing in the world for me.”

I frowned. Every time she spoke, I got more and more confused about who she was. What she was.

“I thought you said you were a soldier,” I said, my tone a little accusatory.

“I’m a lot of things,” she said simply, unfazed.

I sighed, frustrated. Clearly I was not going to get anywhere with her.

“Okay, okay fine. So, can you get home?”

“Well, that’s the question,” she said, before her expression darkened. “I believe i can, but…”

“But?”

“But it’s going to take a lot of tech, and, well, I’d rather not leave this place,” she said, with a certainty to her tone that made me hesitate.

“Why not?”

“I assume you’ve seen them by now, yes?” she asked, her shoulders slumped. “The infected?”

“I’ve encountered them,” I admitted. “They’re… terrifying.”

“I’m not frightened of them,” she said. “They can’t hurt me. I’m the carrier.”

I took an involuntary step back.

“You- What?”

“Don’t worry, you’re immune,” she said, sounding exhausted.

“That wasn’t really my concern.”

“You’re also not a carrier,” she said, eyeing me up and down.

“Are you sure?”

“Certain,” she said. “Otherwise I would never have let you leave.”

I forced myself to slow down, take a deep breath. I was torn between distress and anger, maybe somewhere in between, and I just wanted to lash out at her.

“So all those people, that’s your fault,” I said, through gritted teeth.

“I’ve been avoiding people as much as possible, but yes, some of them are because of me,” she said.

“Some?”

“Gabriel is also a carrier,” she said, her voice thick with venom.

My eyes widened in realisation.

“But he was out-”

“Yesterday,” she said, cutting me off. “I know. I told you, he’s dangerous.”

He’d seemed so charming, but I did remember his complete disregard for human life. He’d have killed those soldiers if I hadn’t been there to stop him.

Those soldiers were doomed anyway, I realised. If he was a carrier, they could all have been infected. He knew that. He had to have known that.

“What about the other one?” I asked, remembering what Veronica had said.

“Other one?”

“Um, apparently there was another one,” I said, trying to think back. It was only yesterday. “An Asian girl, maybe with telekinesis?”

“Ami,” Zoe said, nodding. “She works with Gabriel.”

“Is she…?”

“She’s not a carrier. But she’s every bit as dangerous.”

I pondered that for a moment. At least three incredibly dangerous people had come through on that ship. I knew Gabriel and Zoe were at odds, and Ami seemed to work with Gabriel.

“Were you on that ship with them?” I asked, already knowing the answer. I was more interested in how she answered me.

“Yes,” was all she said.

“Why?”

“Why?” she asked, seemingly confused. “I was a prisoner. And as much as I wish that I wasn’t here, that we hadn’t brought our affliction here, a part of me is… relieved.”

A new resolution filled me. Zoe didn’t belong here, didn’t want to be here. She’d done nothing wrong, been as honest with me as possible. I wanted to help her.

“So, what do you need?”

“Excuse me?” she asked.

“To get back home. What do you need?”

She frowned, leaning back in her chair and appraising me anew.

“It’s a rather extensive list.”

“Write it down,” I said. “I’ll help you.

“Are you sure?”

She sounded genuinely surprised. I wasn’t sure if I should feel pity or irritation.

“This… affliction. Where you’re from, is there a cure?” I asked, hopeful.

“A cure? No, not exactly.”

My shoulders slumped. I wasn’t expecting much but it was still disappointing.

“So, you’re reclusive there as well?”

“No, I’m…” She shook her head. “The only people I’m ever around are immune.”

A spark of hope.

“So there’s a vaccination?”

“Not in the way you’re thinking,” she said, and I deflated. “Where I’m from, people are different. Usually enhanced, genetically and mechanically.”

“Everyone?”

“Everyone who wants to survive.” She shrugged. “There’s not that many of us.”

“That sounds horrible.”

“Maybe.” She sighed. “But it’s home.”

“Can we do anything for the people here?” I asked, already expecting the worst.

“Stop the infection from spreading. Isolate the infected.” She hesitated. “Remove the sources.”

“And those already infected? There’s nothing we can do for them?”

“I don’t know. I’ll work on it, if you get the things that I need.”

I nodded, determined.

“I’ll do it.”

Chapter 8 – It’s Not Me

I sat on the roof, cross-legged, with the guy I’d run into and knocked over. He was leaning against the side of a higher building that backed onto the one we were sitting on.

I hadn’t really looked at him before, he was more of a roughly human-shaped blob. Now that things were calmer, I could actually get a good look at him.

Surprisingly, he was actually kind of cute, though I couldn’t help but feel like there was something weird about thinking that. Inappropriate, maybe. After all, I had just saved his life. Twice.

My body twitched, and I felt it begin to revert back to its normal state. Mr Whatshisface just stared, mouth open. He actually even blinked a few times.

“So it was you,” he said, when his mouth finally started working again. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting him to say.

“I’m sorry?” I asked, wincing as I heard my own voice in my ears. At least the super version of me sounded like a girl.

“The person I ran into,” he said. “You looked… different.”

My mouth felt dry. How the hell was I supposed to explain this to him? ‘Hi, I recently became able to shapeshift into a white woman with superpowers, oh and also I’m actually a woman myself, even if I look like a guy to you’?

“I do that, sometimes,” I said, feeling about as awkward as I ever had in my life.

“So is this your normal body, then?” he asked, clearly thinking very hard about what he said. “Or is this a disguise?”

I sighed. I couldn’t come up with a clever enough lie to bother telling him anything other than the truth.

“This is me,” I said.

“Cool,” he said, nodding. “Uh, I’m Qiu. Thanks for saving me.”

“Oh, yeah. Don’t mention it,” I said. “I’d tell you my name, but honestly I’m still trying to figure out what to do now that you’ve seen my real face.”

His eyes grew wide, almost panicked.

“Hey, your secret is safe with me,” he said, and even mimed zipping his lips shut. I couldn’t help but laugh.

“Thanks, I feel much safer now.”

His expression turned serious, and his eyes narrowed.

“Hey, I need to ask something,” he said, a little shyly. “You don’t need to answer me, but…” He shook his head, struggling to find the words. “How much control do you have over your transformation?”

I sighed, figuring the question would come out sooner or later. Better to just get it out of the way.

“None,” I told him. “It’s complicated, but the short answer is that I don’t really have any say in what I look like.”

“So you didn’t choose to turn white, then,” he said bluntly. I started at him, surprised. That was not the point I’d expected him to fixate on.

“No, I definitely did not choose to turn white,” I said. “And if I could change that, I would. I mean, it makes for a good disguise, but… it’s not me.”

“I’m guessing you only have your powers when you transform?” he asked, sounding almost sympathetic.

“Seems that way. I don’t know, I haven’t been this way for very long. I’m not even sure what I’m doing, honestly.”

He smiled at me, a bright, warm smile.

“Maybe not, but you saved my life,” he said. “You’re already a hero in my eyes.”

I could feel myself turning red.

“I, uh, I guess I should get you home, hey?” I asked, cringing inwardly. It sounded like the end of a date.

“I’d, uh, I’d say I’ll get myself home, but I don’t even know how to get down from this roof,” he said, sounding just as awkward as I felt. It actually made me feel a little better.

“I guess I can give you a lift,” I said. “Where to?”

Chapter 7 – What Did You Do That For?

Halfway back to Zoe’s place, or at least the building I remembered her being in, I heard someone shouting, only a street away. They sounded scared. I froze.

Part of me wanted to just keep walking. To ignore it. Whatever was happening, it wasn’t my problem, didn’t affect me, and getting involved could make things worse.

It was a very small part of me. The rest of me was already moving towards the source of the sound. Apparently I wasn’t the type to learn from my mistakes.

I ran around the corner running at full speed and barrelled right into somebody. They grunted as we both fell backwards, though I barely felt the impact at all.

“Sorry,” I said, already standing up again.

The guy I’d run into looked up at me, a look of pure terror plastered across his face. He quickly scrambled to his feet before pushing past me.

“Run, dude,” he said, his voice hoarse. I turned to look past him, and realised why he was running.

I didn’t know what I was looking at, but it was running right at me, and it showed no signs of slowing down. I clenched my first, already feeling my body begin to change. The world slowed, the cold receded. Everything became clearer.

Whatever it was, it almost looked human. It had a human face, albeit one twisted by rage and an intense focus on the guy I’d knocked over. It wasn’t even paying attention to me.

It was a good couple of feet taller than me, with pallid grey skin and prominent black veins. Every muscle on its body bulged, and despite its humanoid stature it ran on all fours.

I stood my ground as it got closer, saliva dripping from its lips. It seemed like it was just going to run right through me. I almost couldn’t wait for it to try. I felt strong.

As soon as it got close enough, I pulled my fist back and punched it right in the jaw. I felt the force of the impact travel up my arm, and an ache begin in my shoulder, but the creature was thrown sideways, growling as it slid across the ground.

I smiled as it snarled at me, its focus on the boy completely lost. Just what I wanted. I braced myself as it charged again.

It occurred to me as it threw itself through the air towards me that I didn’t have the first idea how to fight. I’d always avoided violence, and yet here I was, throwing myself headfirst into a fight with some kind of inhuman monster. Never mind wondering what the creature even was, or what it was doing in Melbourne.

The creature collided with me, and it hurt a lot more than the bullets did. It threw me back into the wall behind me, and I felt the bricks crumble and break.

It sank its teeth into my shoulder, and I cried out, surprised by how much it hurt. As strong as I was, this thing seemed to be able to match, and it had size and weight behind it on top. It suddenly occurred to me I was in an extremely bad position.

Adrenaline surged through me as I grabbed it by the shoulders, and threw it backwards off of me. It rolled along the ground, landing on its feet, looking even more pissed than before.

It charged again, and I knew there was nothing I could do if it hit me. Instead, I leap-frogged over it, landing behind it as it crashed into the wall, almost running right through it. Just how strong was this thing?

My mind was racing, trying to come up with some way to stop it. If it could shake off running headfirst into a solid brick wall, I wasn’t so sure there was a lot I could throw at it that would have much more of an impact. I could keep punching it until it fell down, but I was more likely to end up getting beaten up myself that way.

The creature snarled loudly, a sound that echoed throughout the streets. Moments later, I heard several snarled responses. I could only assume that meant more were on the way.

“What did you do?” a voice shouted, their voice shaking a little. The guy I’d knocked over had stuck around, hiding behind a bin.

Before I could say anything to him, the creature charged at me again. This time, instinct took over.

I ducked as it threw itself at me, driving my forearm into its neck. I slammed my fist into its stomach, and flipped it over the top of me, smashing it into the wall behind me. It dropped to the ground headfirst, and without thinking, I brought my foot down on its neck.

I shuddered as I heard it crunch beneath me, and the creature twitched and stopped moving. The guy was just staring, his mouth gaping open.

A dark shape dropped down from above, landing in a graceful stance, arms spread wide. The guy went back to hiding behind the bin.

“What the hell did you do that for?” the newcomer asked, standing up straight. A long coat fluttered behind them, and their face was hidden behind a dark mask, the eyes glowing an eerie red. Their voice was distorted, filtered through the mask.

“You’re the Vigilante,” I said, suddenly feeling intimidated.

“And you’re a murderer,” they said, taking a step towards me. “Do you have any idea who you just killed?”

I looked down at the motionless body beneath me. All I saw was a grotesque, mutated monster.

“How could I possibly know who that was?”

The Vigilante took another, aggressive step towards me.

“And that makes it okay to kill them? Because you don’t know who they used to be?”

I shrank back, not feeling frightened, but guilty. I had a sinking, twisting feeling in my gut, as I realised what the creature was.

“They’re human,” I said, my voice strangled. “Infected. This is what happens to them.”

The Vigilante crouched beside me, running their hand across the dead body’s hairless head.

“I don’t know if there’s a way to save them, after they get infected,” they said. “But I’m determined to find out. We owe them that much.”

“How are we supposed to do that?” I asked. “Nothing seems to stop them, and people, uninfected people, we need to protect them, too…”

The Vigilante reached into their coat, and pulled out a syringe, filled with a clear liquid. With their other hand, they pulled out what appeared to be a toy pistol. After twirling it through their fingers, they handed both to me.

“I’ve tested a lot of sedatives, this is the only one that seems to work. A full syringe will knock them out for about an hour, half a syringe for a quarter of that.”

“And the gun?” I asked, holding it awkwardly away from me.

“It’s a flare gun. Shoot it if you manage to subdue one, and I’ll come retrieve it,” the Vigilante said, looking down at the dead one again.

“And do what?”

“I’ve been keeping them somewhere,” they said. “It’s safe, they can’t hurt anyone and they can’t get out.”

“Don’t they hurt each other?” I asked, surprised.

“No, they don’t. This infection, it seems almost deliberate. They cooperate, working together. And they’re not as mindless as they seem. The more of them that are together, the smarter they seem.”

“And you’re putting more and more into one place?”

The Vigilante laughed.

“Trust me, nothing’s getting out of where I’m keeping them, no matter how clever and coordinated they become.”

“How do you know?” I asked.

“Because it took me six months to get out, with help from the outside,” they said.

Our conversation was interrupted by another echoing snarl. One of the infected humans came rushing into the street, another dropping down from a rooftop.

“Take the boy and go,” the Vigilante ordered. “I’ll take care of these two.”

Chapter 6 – It Suits You

“So,” Charlie said, when the three of us were alone.

“So?” I asked, slightly worried she was suspicious of my story.

“Your parents don’t know,” she said, raising her eyebrows in a knowing fashion.

My heart skipped a beat. There were only a few things she could have been referring to, and I didn’t want her to know any of them.

“D-don’t know what?” I asked, shooting a terrified glance at Veronica. Her face immediately turned red, and the guilt that appeared there told me what was going on.

“I’m sorry, I slipped up. I was distraught, and not thinking,” she said, flustered.

“To be fair, I already had my suspicions,” Charlie said.

“I…”

I didn’t know what to say. Veronica and Ashley were the only people that knew, and they’d basically already figured it out before I said anything.

Charlie seemed to recognise the panic in my eyes. Her body language immediately softened, and she smiled gently.

“Don’t worry, your secret is safe with me,” she said. “For as long as you want to keep it a secret, anyway.”

She reached out, offering a hand to shake.

“So, Sabrina?” she asked.

“I, um, yes,” I said, taking her hand. I felt lightheaded, uncomfortable and yet weirdly happy.

“It suits you,” she said, and I blushed.

“Thank you,” I mumbled.

Veronica cleared her throat.

“I know this is probably the last thing you want to think about right now, but when are you going to tell your parents?” she asked. “Like, totally your decision, I get that, it just really bugs me hearing them call you Seth.”

I felt myself twitch involuntarily.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I don’t know what I’d say to them. I don’t know what they’ll say to me.”

“Give it time,” Charlie said. “Better to do it right than do it early.”

“Maybe,” I mumbled, feeling overwhelmed.

“We can talk about it tomorrow, if you want,” Veronica said, her tone unusually soft. “You must be exhausted.”

“Maybe,” I repeated.

“Go to sleep,” she advised. “We’ll be here in the morning.”

Veronica hugged me, then the three of us went about brushing our teeth and changing into pajamas. The two of them slept on my floor, with sleeping bags recovered from a closet. They were both offered guest rooms, but they opted to stay with me.

I sighed contentedly as I lay down, closing my eyes and letting the exhaustion wash over me.

I couldn’t sleep. My entire body felt bloated and heavy, I had a killer headache and I couldn’t keep my eyes open, but I couldn’t sleep.

Frustrated, I eventually gave up trying. If my body didn’t want to sleep, then fine. I wouldn’t bother.

I had questions. One person had answers. Why not go talk to her? Why was I wasting my time at home, with people who had no idea what was going on? It wasn’t like it helped me feel any better. It was only making me feel worse.

Silently, I slipped out of bed. Veronica’s sleeping bag was right beside it, and I gingerly stepped over her, terrified of waking her. She didn’t stir. Charlie’s sleeping back was in the corner, and it was too dark to see, so I assumed she was sleeping too.

I stepped out into the hallway, blinking as my eyes adjusted to the weak moonlight.

“Can’t sleep?” Charlie asked, surprising me. She was standing in front of the window, staring out at the moon, a melancholy expression on her face.

“Ah, u-um,” I stammered, not sure of what to say. My heart started thudding in my chest.

“You’re awfully nervous around me,” she said, sounding almost disapproving.

“Sorry,” I said, averting my eyes. “I’m just not used to, you know. People knowing.”

She smirked, stepping away from the window. The reflection of light on her eyes made her look almost supernatural.

“Well, if it makes you feel any better, I don’t really care,” she said bluntly. “To be honest, it’s the least interesting about you.”

My heart slammed into my ribcage. What did she mean by that? Surely she didn’t know about the other thing. Or was she hitting on me? No, why would anyone do that?

“I-”

“Anyway, don’t worry about me,” she said, waving me away. “I won’t tell anyone I saw you leave.”

“Um, thank you.”

She hesitated before moving out of my way. I hadn’t even realised she’d moved to block my leaving until then.

“We should talk some time, though,” she said ominously.

“Y-yeah, okay.”

“Good,” she said, smiling again. “Now go, before Veronica wakes up. She won’t be nearly as happy with you sneaking out.”

Chapter 5 – Either a Publicity Stunt or an Alien Invasion

I stood on my front porch, forcing myself to breath slowly. I found myself obsessively checking my reflection anywhere I could see it, worried I’d look and see blonde hair and pale skin. Thankfully, I was looking as normal as I ever had, except for the dishevelled school uniform.

It had been six weeks since I’d last seen my parents. I had no idea how they were going to react to seeing me. They’d probably feel some relief, but they’d also want to know what had happened to me, where I’d been, and I wasn’t ready to answer those questions.

Then there was the other thing I needed to brace myself for. My parents loved me, I knew that, but they also didn’t really know me.

I wanted to tell them, wanted them to really meet me, the real me, but I wasn’t ready. Meeting the real me would mean losing the me they thought they knew, and it would break their hearts.

Taking one last deep breath, I opened the door, and stepped inside.

“Mum? Dad? I’m home,” I called out, closing the door behind me. Almost immediately, my parents materialised in front of me, their expressions shifting from harrowed to overjoyed in less than a second.

“Oh my God, he’s home!” my mother crooned, throwing her arms around me.

“Seth? Thank goodness you’re okay,” my dad added, joining in the hug.

The two of them squeezed, almost crushing me. I make a weak gurgling noise, and they gave me a little space.

“Where have you been?” Dad asked, folding his arms.

“Uh, I don’t really know,” I said, which was mostly true. “There was an accident, and-”

“What matters is that you’re okay,” Mum said, squeezing me again.

Are you okay?” Dad asked.

“I’m fine, I promise,” I said, smiling weakly. Okay was a very subjective concept for me, but I wasn’t in the mood to discuss any of it.

I heard the door open again, much to my surprise. Then I heard a familiar voice, which only surprised me even more.

“Hey, anyone home?”

“Is that Veronica?” I asked, confused.

“She’s been helping us look for you, along with your…” Mum hesitated. “Other friend.”

“What other friend?” I asked, trying to figure out who they could have been talking about. It had to be someone whose name they didn’t know, but-

“Holy fuck,” Veronica said, appearing in the doorway.

“H-hey, Veroni-”

She practically tackled me, throwing her arms around me and squeezing.

“I’m so glad you’re okay,” she said, refusing to let go.

Another person appeared behind her.

“She’s been running herself ragged trying to find you,” Charlie said, smirking.

Last I’d heard, Charlie had been missing for months. The rumours going around school were that she’d run away with a secret girlfriend. I’d never asked, but she did sort of have that vibe about her.

What she was doing at my house, I had no idea. It wasn’t like we hated each other, but we never really spoke.

“Charlie? What are you-”

“Part of the search party,” she said abruptly, cutting me off.

“Wha- where have you been?” I asked, as Veronica finally let go of me.

“It’s kind of a long story,” Charlie said enigmatically.

“Forget that, where have you been?” Veronica demanded.

All eyes in the room fell on me, and I felt my stomach curl into a knot. I had nothing to say, no explanation for my absence. At least, not one I could share with any of them.

“I… don’t know,” I confessed. “I only just woke up today.”

At least that part was true, I told myself.

“Where?” Veronica asked. “Hospital? On the side of the road?”

“Does it matter?” I snapped, surprised at myself. “I’m fine now. Just very confused.”

Veronica’s face fell. Everybody exchanged worried looks.

“Shit, you don’t know what’s happened, do you?” she asked, her tone almost apologetic.

“No clue.”

“We can do this tomorrow,” Mum said, pushing between Veronica and I. “After he’s-”

“No, I’m okay,” I said. “I want to know.”

“Okay, what do you remember?”” Veronica asked, much to Mum’s disdain.

“I left your place,” I said, painfully aware of how much attention was on me. “I heard a… a scream. The sky tore open. Something came through. I went to check it out, some part of it that landed near me, and then… nothing.”

“Oh, something came through alright,” Veronica said, her eyes practically sparkling. “A motherfucking alien spaceship came through.”

“We have absolutely no reason to believe it’s alien,” Charlie disagreed.

“What would you call it, then?” Veronica snapped, her hands on her hips.

Charlie shrugged.

“Could be a lot of things,” she said. “Military experiment, publicity stunt-”

“You think that was a publicity stunt?” Veronica said, sounding almost angry.

“No, but it’s more likely than an alien invasion,” Charlie said.

Veronica rolled her eyes.

“Okay, well some kind of flying ship came through. It broke apart in midair, and scattered all across the city.”

“There were people on board,” Charlie added. “Survivors.”

“Not people,” Veronica said. “Whatever they are, the three of them, they’re not human.”

I felt a chill run down my spine, knowing exactly what she meant. After all, I’d met two of them. I practically was one of them.

“Three?” I asked, wondering who the third could be. Neither of them had mentioned another.

“A blonde woman, a brunette guy, and an Asian girl,” Veronica said.

Two of those descriptions lined up with who I’d met. I was surprised with how curious I was about the third one.

“How do you know they’re… not human?” I asked, hoping I didn’t sound offended.

“Caught on camera,” Veronica said. “The woman is fast, really fast. The guy is… I don’t even know how to describe it.”

I had to suppress a smile. I knew exactly what she was talking about.

“And the third one?”

“Looked like telekinesis,” Charlie said, as it that were a totally commonplace thing to say. Everyone looked at her, surprised.

“So the curfew is because of them?”

“No,” Charlie said, her expression growing dark.

“It wasn’t just them,” Veronica said, her own expression mirroring Charlie’s.

“Someone else?”

“Not exactly. People have been getting… sick,” Veronica said.

“A virus?”

“Zombies,” Charlie said, drawing more strange looks.

“They are not zombies,” Veronica said.

“Okay, probably not,” Charlie conceded. “But the result is pretty similar. Infected people become hyper-aggressive, their muscles expand, and their skin starts to lose its colour.”

“And that started after the crash?”

“The army moved in within like five days,” Veronica said.

“Wow.”

“Yep, you’ve missed all the excitement,” Charlie said.

“Well, it’s not over yet,” Veronica said. “Melbourne is still in complete lockdown.”

My parents frowned at each other, then both cleared their throats in unison. It was a bad habit they’d had for as long as I could remember.

“And now that we know Seth is okay, the two of you can stop going out on your own,” Dad said sternly.

“It’s already much too late to go home now,” Mum added. “You should stay the night.”

“Works for me,” Veronica said, shrugging.

“I have nowhere better to be,” Charlie agreed, nodding.

I looked at Veronica, concerned. Surely she wasn’t just going to let Ashley stay at home by herself.

“What about Ash?” I asked. “Will she be okay alone?”

“She’s been staying with Hunter and his family while I’ve been out, y’know, looking for you,” Veronica explained.

“Poor guy,” I said, laughing. I did not envy anyone who had to play the role of babysitter to her.

“Alright, let’s go to bed,” Charlie said, with an exaggerated stretch. “I’m exhausted.”

Chapter 4 – Stranger Things Have Happened

Somehow, I found my way back to the building I’d woken up. I hadn’t consciously decided that was where I wanted to go, but I knew I wasn’t ready to go back home. Not looking the way that I did.

“Welcome home,” Zoe said, hardly glancing up as I stormed into the room.

“What the hell happened out there?”

“We did,” she said casually. Then she did look up, and smiled. “You look different.”

“Don’t change the subject,” I said. “Who’s we? You and Gabriel?”

She sniffed the air around me, and her expression darkened.

“You met Gabriel?” she asked, though it wasn’t really a question.

“What is with you two?”

“I’d avoid him,” she warned. “He’s dangerous.”

“What makes you any different?” I demanded.

“Nothing,” she said, shrugging. “We’re far too similar for my own comfort.”

“Then shouldn’t I be avoiding you, too?”

“Probably,” she said.

“Huh.” I was expecting her to defend herself, to tell me that she was different to him. I didn’t really know how to respond to that, so instead, I changed the subject.

“You said I looked different,” I said. “What did you mean?”

“Why not check the mirror?” she asked.

Confused, I went back to the mirror. I had to bite my lip to keep myself from crying out in surprise.

I looked exactly like myself again. Tan skin, curly brown hair, freckles, all of it.

“I look like me again,” I muttered, forgetting that Zoe could almost certainly hear as well as I’d been able to when I was pumped full of adrenaline.

“Stranger things have happened,” she said.

I turned to face her. She met my eye, a relaxed smile spreading across her face, and waited for me to speak.

“I want to go home,” I told her, half prepared for a fight. Instead, she just nodded.

“So go,” she said. “You’ll be fine.”

“What do I tell my family?” I asked.

“Whatever you want,” she said, shrugging.

“You’re not like, swearing me to secrecy or anything?” I asked, not sure why I was surprised.

“Why should I? The only thing I’d ask you to do is not let anyone know where I am. Especially Gabriel.”

I nodded.

“I can do that.”

“Go see your family, then,” she said gently. “You know where to find me if you need me.”

“I will probably have more questions,” I said.

“I will answer as best I can.”

Chapter 3 – You Smell Like Her

Despite it being the middle of the night, I could see as well as if it were the brightest part of the day. I was still wearing my school uniform, but the small amounts of skin that were exposed were telling me the air was chilly. Somehow, I didn’t feel the cold. I just new that it was cold.

I began to wander, trying to figure out where I was. It was definitely somewhere near the city centre, but just far enough out to not be considered part of the CBD. Everything was eerily quiet, as if the entire suburb had been abandoned.

I walked slowly, enjoying the cool air I was sucking into my lungs. I could feel my body begin to relax, and as it did, the cold began to seep in. I shivered, rubbing my arms and shrugging my shoulders upwards. The world seemed to get darker.

“Some superhuman,” I muttered. “Can’t even handle a little bit of chill.”

Further ahead, I could just make out a light. Whatever it was, it was moving, and kind of wobbling around a little. It almost looked like someone carrying a torch.

Forgetting momentarily how dangerous it was to be out at night alone, I began to walk towards the light. At the same time, the light seemed to change direction, heading towards me.

As it got closer, I realised it was a small group, about seven or eight people. They got closer still, and I could tell they were all wearing army fatigues. Even closer, and I gathered they were all men. Finally, they were close enough for me to tell they were all armed, and staring intently at me.

“Hey, you there!” one of them barked, pointing a silver rifle at me.

“Huh?” I said, taken by surprise. What were they aiming at me for?

The soldiers advanced on me, more than one of them keeping their weapons pointed in my general direction. Before long, they’d surrounded me.

“What are you doing outside after curfew?” one of them demanded, the same one who had spoken before.

“What curfew?” I asked, turning slowly so I could take them all in. There seemed to be genuine tension on their faces. What were they so afraid of?

“Nice try,” the soldier who I was now assuming was the leader scoffed. “What are you doing outside?”

“Going for a walk,” I said, more irritated than concerned. That surprised me. “Seriously, since when do we have a curfew?”

The lead soldier frowned, as if weighing up whether to take me at face value or not.

“It’s been over a month now,” he said.

“Over a-”

I shook my head, refusing to believe it. Over a month? How long was I out for?

“I’m going to ask one more time, the lead soldier said, his tone severe. “What are you doing out after curfew?”

Weird as the situation was, I realised I didn’t have any reason not to be honest.

“I’m just trying to go home,” I told him.

The soldier sighed, and lowered his weapon. The others did not follow his lead.

“We’re going to need to test you,” he said.

For a second, I wondered if maybe I hadn’t heard him right. Then I wondered what strange dystopian hell I had wondered into.

“Test me? For what?”

“For infection,” he practically barked. “What do you think?”

“What infection?” I demanded. “What the hell is going on here?”

The soldier sighed again, his gun completely forgotten, hanging at his side.

“Look, it’s just a little prick on the finger, and a twenty second wait. If you’re clean, we can escort you home safely.”

Something about the way he said that bothered me.

“Safely?”

Another soldier stepped forward. Another rugged Caucasian man with short dark hair. I could scarcely tell them apart.

“Hold out your finger please, sir.”

That last word felt like a slap in the face. Not to mention, a complete surprise. I’d seen my reflection. I didn’t look the least bit masculine.

“Sir- fine, here,” I said, thrusting my finger towards him.

There was a slight prick as the needle broke the skin, not even painful. I was too busy noticing that my nails had lost that silver sheen I’d noticed just minutes earlier, and my skin looked like it’s usual darker shade.

“Alright, we’ll have the results shortly,” the second soldier said.

“So are you going to tell me what’s going on here?” I asked, practically growling.

“Do you really not know?” the lead soldier asked, shooting an unreadable look at the second soldier.

“Do you think I’m playing clueless for the fun of it?” I shot back, surprising myself with my own gall. That definitely wasn’t like me.

“After the alien impact-” he began, but I cut him off.

“The what?”

“Where have you been?” he asked, incredulous.

“That’s what I’m trying to figure out,” I told him.

The second soldier tensed up, and raised his rifle, pointing it directly at me. The other soldiers followed suit.

“Uh, we have a problem,” he said.

“Infected?” the lead soldier asked, raising his own gun.

“Not exactly,” the second soldier said, holding the little testing device he was holding towards the leader. “Here, take a look.”

“Uh, what’s going on?” I asked, again surprising myself with the amount of attitude I was able to muster, especially with several guns trained on me.

“Fuck,” the lead soldier muttered. “He’s one of them.”

“One of what?” I demanded, but they were already ignoring me.

“Do we engage?” the second soldier asked, and I detected a genuine note of panic in his voice. Was he afraid of me?

“Call for backup,” the lead soldier said. “Now.” Then he turned his focus onto me. “Sir, you’re going to need to come with us.”

Please stop calling me sir,” I said through gritted teeth.

“Don’t make this harder than it needs to be,” he said, his grip tightening on the trigger of his rifle.

“I don’t even know what’s going on,” I said, rolling my eyes. I still wasn’t scared. Why wasn’t I scared? “Where are you taking me?”

“Somewhere safe,” he said, his voice icy.

“Safe from what?” I demanded.

“Safe from you,” he replied, and for a second I honestly thought he was joking. Did he really just say that?

“What?”

“Drop the act,” he said. “We know what you are.”

“Well, I don’t,” I said, a little petulantly.

“This is your last chance,” he said, and I could hear the fear in his voice. “Surrender now, or we’ll be forced to treat you as hostile.”

From the darkness, another voice emerged.

“You really don’t need to listen to them,” it said, as the owner stepped into the light.

He was tall, somewhere between slender and athletic, with intense amber eyes, a perfectly lopsided smirk and short, dark hair. He seemed to be European, but in the relative darkness it was difficult to tell.

A shirt that was somehow simultaneously loose fighting and perfectly tight hung off his shoulders, and his hands rested casually in his trouser pockets. Despite the casual pose, he was emanating danger.

“Shit, another one,” the lead soldier said, training his weapon on the newcomer, whose eyes were focussed firmly on mine. I could feel my cheeks turning a little red.

“Wh-who are you?” I asked, thankful to have lost the attention of the soldiers, at least a little. The fact that I had traded it for the attention of an incredibly attractive man didn’t hurt either.

“Gabriel,” he said, all but ignoring the soldiers. He sniffed the air, somehow managing to pull it off without seeming like a complete weirdo. “And you, I believe, are acquainted with my sister. You smell like her.”

“Sister?” I asked, then realised what he was talking about. “Zoe?”

Like her, he had a strong British accent, elegant and almost theatrical. Somehow, I found that to be a little unnerving.

“That’s the one,” he said. “I’ve been looking for her.”

The weight of that revelation hit me immediately. If he was her brother, that meant he was like her. A genetic experiment. A supersoldier.

A weapon.

“Both of you, surrender now,” the lead soldier said, clearly on the verge of panic. I realised he must have known what Gabriel was, at least partially. “We have backup on the way.”

“That’s nice,” he said, barely even glancing at the soldier before focussing back on me. “Anyway, I don’t believe I caught your name.”

“S-Sabrina,” I said, unable to keep myself from blushing.

“A lovely name. Now, Sabrina, I don’t suppose I could convince you to tell me where my sister is?”

I opened my mouth to respond, but before any words could come out, I was cut off.

“Open fire,” the lead soldier said.

“Oh, for-” Gabriel began, but the sound of gunfire drowned him out immediately..

I felt dozens, maybe hundreds of bullets tear through me. At the exact same moment, I felt a surge of energy race down my spine, down my arms and legs, all the way to my fingers and toes. The world seemed to slow down, to grow brighter, more clear.

I threw my hands up in a vain attempt to protect myself from the hail of bullets, and noticed that my skin had grown paler again, and my nails were silver. I felt the bullets slice through me, but it wasn’t pain I felt so much as irritation.

“Ow!” I said, more from habit than any actual sensation of pain.

“Gentlemen, I really don’t want to kill you,” Gabriel said, and without so much as raising his voice, I knew they all heard him. “Please, stop.”

A rush of anger flared in the back of my mind.

“Kill them? They’re just doing their jobs,” I snapped, not even knowing if it was true.

“Do you have a better way to stop them from shooting at us?” he asked, flinching against the rain of bullets as though it was little more than actual water.

“As a matter of fact, I do,” I said, as an idea burst forth.

Acting entirely on instinct, I rushed at the lead soldier. His movements were so slow, it was like he wasn’t reacting at all. I grabbed the gun and effortlessly tore it from his hands. The flimsy plastic and metal were easy to crumple, and I tossed it aside, my feet already carrying me to the next soldier.

Within seconds, the soldiers were all disarmed, and backing away, looking more than a little terrified. Adrenaline surged through my body.

“I suppose you could do it that way,” Gabriel said dismissively, the lopsided smirk returning to his face.

“You were really going to just… kill them?” I asked, shocked.

“I was considering it,” he said, shrugging.

“Why, because you can?”

“The simplest solutions are often the best,” he said.

I literally snarled at him.

“Killing people is not a solution.”

He blinked, a look of surprise crossing his face momentarily.

“You’re right. I suppose I’m too used to my own world. Thank you.”

He smiled graciously, and I found myself caught off guard. Already, I was doubting that I’d even had a reason to be angry at him.

“Where are you from, anyway?” I asked, my curiosity getting the better of me.

“I haven’t quite worked that out yet,” he said, sounding a little disappointed.

“You haven’t worked out where you’re from?” I asked, surprised.

“I haven’t worked out where, or what, home is in relation to here,” he said.

We both turned at the exact same moment, as we heard the lead soldier whisper, “Backup’s here.”

“And that’s my cue,” Gabriel said, bowing with an exaggerated flourish. “Take care, Sabrina.”

He took off just as a fresh batch of soldiers, more than two dozen of them, poured out of a pair of trucks, opening fire. With Gabriel gone in a matter of seconds, all of that gunfire was directed at me.

“Argh, leave me alone!” I shouted, taking off in another direction.

Chapter 2 – Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger

“You’re about to wake up,” an unfamiliar voice told me. “Be very, very careful.”

Her voice was soft, pleasant, almost sensual. She also had a strong, refined British accent.

“Huh?”

“Try to remain still,” she said. “This is going to be a bit of a shock.”

I opened my eyes, and immediately felt like I’d been punched in the brain. It was like looking into the sun from right in front of it.

“Everything is so bright, ugh-”

“Don’t move,” she said urgently, and I felt her hand pressing down on my shoulder. “Please, it’s important.”

“Who…” I began to ask, but changed my mind. “Where am I?”

I was slowly able to make out blurred shapes, but nothing looked familiar. Strangely, there was no panic, only curiosity.

“Somewhere safe. Try to sit up, very slowly.”

I let her guide me into a sitting position, expecting to feel dizzy and disoriented. Instead, I felt that same sensation you get during a plane takeoff.

“I feel weird,” I told her. “Everything feels…”

“Fast and weightless, right?” she said, nailing it exactly.

I turned to look at her, and realised it was the woman from the wreckage, only cleaned up. She was wearing cargo pants and a hoodie, but also the sort of makeup that looked like it belonged in a Hollywood movie. It was an odd look.

“What happened to me?” I asked, my head full of questions. “Am I dead?”

“Not exactly,” she said, which was not the definitive yes-or-no answer I was expecting. “There was an accident. You’re… different.”

“D-different?”

She sighed, taking a step back. Her movements all had a striking sort of easy grace, as if every action were a carefully choreographed dance.

She looked me up and down, her expression suggesting she was considering what to say to me.

“Do you want the real explanation, or the one that will make sense?” she asked, watching me carefully.

“Both?” I asked, confused as to why I was getting the choice. My answer seemed to amuse her.

“Alright. You’ve absorbed some of my genetic material,” she said.

I had a sudden flashback to finding her in the wreckage, lifeless and then suddenly not, effortlessly snapping a metal pipe. She was giving no indication of being a person who had been impaled through the chest.

“What are you?” I asked, hating myself for the movie cliche.

She tilted her head, as if considering how best to answer my question. I desperately wanted her to tell me she was just normal, that all of this was normal, but I also knew I wouldn’t believe it even if she said it.

“Let me put it this way,” she said. “I wasn’t born so much as… designed.”

“I… what?”

She sighed again, leaning against a table behind her.

“Right. Sorry. I’ve only been here a short while, but everything seems different here. Do you understand genetic modification?”

“You mean like cloning?” I asked, but I knew as soon as I said it that it was wrong.

She shook her head, then stopped.

“Err, sort of. It’s like… Imagine you could build a person in the same way that you build a machine. Imagine what you could make that person. That’s me.”

She walked across the room, gentle, elegant steps, catlike.

“Basically, I’m the perfect soldier. Or I was supposed to be. I turned out to be something of a disappointment, but physically, that’s exactly what I am.”

“Okay…”

“I’m stronger, smarter, faster and tougher than any human could ever be. By a significant margin. And now, so are you.”

I met her gaze, still struggling to believe what I was hearing. It was entirely too surreal.

“How?” I asked, grasping for anything.

“I’m still trying to figure that out. I’m pretty sure it was a combination of residual temporal energy and direct exposure to my blood.”

I tried to resist the urge to tell her that half of those weren’t real words, and focussed instead on what I understood.

“Your blood? Because I stepped in it?”

“My blood is special, even more than my body. It’s what makes me capable of, well, being me.”

That couldn’t have less to me. If anything, it was just making me doubt more than ever that any of what I was experiencing was real.

I shook my head.

“Well, this is officially the weirdest dream I’ve ever had.”

“I wish I could tell you it was just a dream,” she said, sighing.

She leant against the wall, running a hand through her hair before folding them across her chest.

“Who are you, anyway?” I asked, realising I hadn’t even gotten her name. She had me feeling surprisingly comfortable, all things considered. She almost felt like an old friend. Which, when I thought about it, was a little concerning.

“Right, sorry,” she said, shaking her head in surprise. “I guess I neglected to introduce myself. You can call me Zoe.”

“It’s… nice to meet you?” I said, awkwardly offering her my hand.

She took it gingerly, her skin soft but her grip firm.

“Do you have a name?”

“Se-” I began, then hesitated. That familiar, comforting feeling wouldn’t go away. I felt like I could be honest with her. “Sabrina.”

She smiled, and squeezed my hand a little tighter.

“Nice to meet you too, Sabrina.”

I dropped her hand, and tried standing again. The world swam a little, but I didn’t feel like I was going to fall over.

“I think I feel better now. Still weird, but… well, it’s more different than bad.”

“You’ll get used to it,” she said. “I guarantee nothing is wrong with you, though.”

Her confidence surprised me.

“How do you know?”

She smiled gently, but it was a smile I was painfully familiar with. It was the smile of somebody who knew something bad about me.

“Because there’s really not a lot that can be wrong with you at this point,” she said enigmatically.

“What?”

“It might be easier to just show you,” she said. “Stand still.”

She reached down and pulled a knife out of her boot. Something flashed through the back of my mind, but before I could do anything, she’d plunged the knife right into my chest.

Surprisingly, it didn’t actually hurt all that much. Then again, maybe that was normal. I’d never been stabbed before.

“Wow, what the fuck?” I demanded, staggering back. My hand instinctively went to grab it and pull it out, but common sense saved me just in time. You don’t just pull out a knife, that’s how you bleed to death.

“Give it a second,” was all she said.

“What the hell did you do that for?” I hissed, still waiting for it to really start hurting. She just smiled solemnly at me.

“Sabrina, I just stabbed you in the chest with an inch wide piece of metal, and you said ‘ow’.”

“It hurt,” I snarled, even if the pain wasn’t much more than a dull throbbing.

“That’s my point,” she said calmly. “Kind of.”

“Your point is that it hurt?”

“My point is that it only hurt. Try taking it out,” she suggested.

I stared at her, incredulous. She’d just stabbed me in the chest, and she was acting like it was the most normal thing in the world.

“That seems like a really terrible idea,” I said, taking another step back away from her.

“Fine, fine,” she said, sounding exasperated.

She reached out, grabbed the handle of the knife, and pulled it out. I felt it slide out of my chest with minimal resistance, and my hands immediately pressed against the open wound.

I cried out more from surprise than pain, my eyes frantically scanning the room for something I could use to stop the bleeding. Zoe just stood there, looking almost amused.

“Let me know when you’ve bled to death,” she said dryly.

“Shit,” I said, breathing heavily. “I need to, where’s my phone, I…”

I trailed off as I realised there wasn’t nearly as much blood flowing out of the wound as there should have been. In fact, there was barely any at all.

“What?” I muttered, patting my chest.

There was nothing there. No wound, only the tiniest amount of blood.

What?

“Again,” Zoe said, “you’ll get used to it.”

“Human bodies do not heal this quickly,” I said, not quite meaning the level of accusation in my tone.

“I never said I was human,” she said with a shrug.

“I need a mirror,” I said. “I need to see-”

“I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” she said, looking a little concerned. “This is already a lot for you to take on board. Maybe you should-”

I shoved past her, looking for anything reflective. It didn’t take long; there was a mirror in the next room.

I stopped dead when I saw my reflection. At first, I didn’t even realise it was me, but I’ve spent long enough agonising over my mannerisms and expressions that I knew it couldn’t be anyone else.

“What the fuck…”

Zoe appeared in the reflection behind me, placing a reassuring hand on my shoulder. I pulled away violently. Seeing the two of us together…

“Like I said, you absorbed some of my genetic material,” she said. “Some of the changes are… external.”

My hair, once brown and curly, was now blonde and straight. My freckles and lightly tanned skin had been replaced with smooth, pale whiteness. My eyes had gone from dark green to bright blue.

As my eyes travelled down my reflection, I realised those weren’t the only changes. I had boobs, I had hips, my nails were a strange silvery colour.

A thought raced through my my mind, and without thinking, my hands slipped between my legs. That, surprisingly, was not different.

“I don’t understand,” I said, and I realised then that I even sounded different. My voice was higher, but also huskier.

“I’m sorry,” was all she said.

I couldn’t stop staring at my reflection. It should have made me happy; after all, I’d never looked more feminine, or, if I was being honest, more attractive.

It wasn’t me, though. I didn’t look like myself, and no matter how much I’d ever hated how I looked, I never wanted to look like anyone else.

“I need some air,” I said, trying in vain to slow my panicked breathing.

She just nodded, and gestured with her head towards the door. A little unsteady on my feet, I took a step towards it, and then it was right in front of me. I twitched involuntarily.

“Right. Faster. Stronger. Probably harder and better too,” I muttered to myself. “Fantastic.”

Chapter 1 – The Scream Heard ‘Round The World

Part 1 – Sabrina

I couldn’t tell Veronica what I was doing on Impact Day, because I was with her. It was a Friday night and we were doing the same thing we always did, hanging out and playing video games. Her younger sister, Ashley, was asleep on the armchair.

Veronica and I both sat cross-legged on the couch, controllers in hand, furiously mashing buttons as we attempted to virtually murder one another through brightly coloured avatars. She was focussing intensely, determined not to lose to me. I was wincing every time one of the characters got impaled by something sharp, and marvelling at their ability to keep fighting.

“If it were me,” I said, blocking a barrage of punches, “I’d give up after the first hit. What do these people even have to be fighting about?”

“Oh, who cares?” Veronica asked. “Honour, love, a desire to rip their shirts off and punch each other?”

There was a bright flash of light as my character unleashed some kind of energy beam, knocking Veronica’s off the screen.

“I do not understand how you’re so good at this,” she complained. “You don’t even like video games. Or fighting!”

“Maybe I’m not good,” I teased. “Maybe you’re just really bad.”

She responded by having her character flip over the top of mine, and kicking her up into the air. I cringed.

“Have you ever been in a fight?” she asked, suddenly serious.

“No,” I told her.

“Huh.”

“What, huh?” I demanded. “You think I would?”

“Well, I mean, I don’t think you’d go looking for a fight,” she said. “Just, you know, I can see people wanting to fight you. Because of the-”

“Oh, right,” I said, deflating. “Yeah, I’ve had some close calls. I think I’m too much of a shut-in to really have much to worry about, though.”

“Ashley got into a fight once,” she said.

“What?”

“Mmm. Wouldn’t tell me what it was about, but apparently some kid said something that pissed her off, and she just, let him have it.”

I looked over at Ashley, still asleep on the couch. I could have sworn I saw her lips curl into a slight smile.

Ashley was only thirteen, and as a general rule, soft spoken and quiet. Excitable around Veronica and I, but the rest of the time, she was more of the quiet nerdy type.

“What could have set her off?” I asked, resting my controller on the floor and stretching out on the couch.

“I don’t know,” Veronica said, shrugging. She dropped her controlled, and pulled my feet onto her lap. “I can guess, though.”

“What, me?” I asked, looking back over at Ashley.

“You know she loves you,” Veronica said. “You might as well be her second bigger sister.”

“I guess that’s kind of sweet,” I said. “Still, I’d really rather she kept out of trouble.”

“You’ll never guess who her new idol is,” Veronica said, rolling her eyes dramatically.

I frowned, not sure what she was talking about. Ashley wasn’t the type to idolise anyone, except…

“Oh, no,” I said.

“Yep. It’s a good thing they don’t sell merch, the house would be full of it.”

“What appeal could a vigilante thug have to a teenage girl?” I asked, and Veronica laughed at the expression on my face.

“Hey, you didn’t grow up on comic books. She did. The vigilante may as well be Batman as far as she’s concerned.”

“Batman? They’re a skinny punk in a ski mask and a hoodie. Not exactly superhero material,” I said. “Besides, they haven’t been seen for like, six months. They’re either dead, or coming back as a supervillain.”

“This city has enough villains,” Veronica said, shaking her head. “Sometimes it does feel like something out of a comic book, y’know?”

“More like a fifties gangster movie,” I said. “At worst, West Side Story.”

“Hey, you know the rules,” she snapped, then grinned.

“No musical theatre in this house,” I repeated monotonously. “You have no culture, you know that?”

My phone buzzed in my pocket, surprising me. I dug it out clumsily, and realised my mum was calling me.

“Hello?”

“Honey? It’s getting late, are you coming home soon?” she asked, her tone more concerned than annoyed.

I pulled the phone away from my ear, and checked the time. It was a good hour later than I’d thought.

“Sorry, I didn’t realise the time,” I said. “I’ll start heading home now.”

“Okay, honey. I’ll see you soon,” she said, and made a kissing sound before hanging up.

“Gotta go?” Veronica asked, pouting.

“I think I pushed my luck a little tonight,” I said apologetically. “She’s still not cool with me staying over at girls’ houses.”

“If only she knew,” Veronica said wistfully.

“I am so not ready for that conversation,” I said, shuddering. “For now, I’m just gonna put up with it.”

I grabbed my blazer and pulled it on. Veronica leapt up from the couch, surprisingly graceful, and wrapped her arms around me.

“You know, whenever you are ready to talk to them, I’ll be there with you,” she said.

“Thank you,” I said, hugging her back.

I hugged her once more at the door, then started my walk home. Thankfully, we didn’t live too far away from each other, and I knew it wouldn’t take me long to get home.

Except I never got home.

It started with a scream. A single, piercing, mind-numbing scream that seemed to be coming from everywhere at once. The ground beneath me trembled and shook, and I lost my footing, landing hard on my butt.

All around me, everything seemed to warp and twist. I watched as cracks began to form, running through the ground, through houses and trees, even through the air itself.

High above me, in the sky, I saw the same thing that everyone else in the city saw that night. A massive tear, and a sparkling diamond sky beyond it.

There was a deep, sharp crack and some kind of silver construct came bursting through the tear, seconds before it sealed itself up again. The construct, looking like some kind of sci-fi spaceship, broke apart violently, pieces flying away in all directions.

A chunk of ship landed with a deafening boom a street away from where I was sitting, and I felt my stomach churn. Without even thinking, I leapt to my feet, running towards the billowing plume of smoke that had already begun to form.

By the time I got there, a crowd had already gathered around it, but nobody seemed game enough to actually step onto the property. I pushed my way to the front, and had to fight against my body’s urge to throw up.

The house had completely caved in, and parts of it were still burning. I couldn’t tell if anyone was inside it when the wreckage hit it, but there was definitely someone in there.

I could barely make them out, a silhouetted figure leaning against a wall, half surrounded by fire. Instinct took over again, and I ran towards them even as the crowd began to shout. I blocked them out.

I vaulted over the fence, stumbling but managing to maintain my balance. The heat and smell of burning wood hit me at the same time, and I covered my mouth with my elbow, squinting to see through the smoke that was making my eyes water.

The closer I got to the prone figure, the more I realised just how dire the situation was. Some piping had broken loose, and was currently jutting right out of their chest. I didn’t realise until it was too late that I was standing in a pool of their blood.

I staggered forward, and got a better look at the person who couldn’t possibly still be alive. It looked like a woman, possibly in her mid twenties, with short platinum-blonde hair. Her expression was eerily serene.

I’m not sure what came over me, but I found myself overwhelmed by the desire to touch her. I crouched beside her, my trembling hand reaching towards her face.

The moment my fingers touched her, I felt a painful shock race through me. My entire body spasmed, and I collapsed beside her, twitching, even as I saw her move.

Her eyes fluttered open, looking about curiously. If she felt any pain from the pipe sticking out of her chest, she sure didn’t show it. Her gaze fixated on me, and a strange sort of smile played across her lips.

She reached in front of her, her delicate fingers wrapping around the pipe, and effortlessly snapped it. I could only watch as she slowly stood up, separating herself from the pipe. She cracked her neck, her spine, her fingers, then stretched out like a cat.

The last thing I remember before I passed out was her crouching beside me, reaching out to touch my face, just as I’d touched hers, the same smile still sitting there.

Prologue

Veronica leans over the table, smiling at me, pen in hand. We’re out in public, and people are staring. Of course people are staring. I look ridiculous.

I try to block everything else out. Focus on Veronica. Focus on her questions. Maybe have a bite to eat.

At least Veronica doesn’t recognise me. That was my biggest fear, agreeing to this interview. She’s known me for years, better than anyone. If anyone could figure out who I am… but she doesn’t. My secret is safe.

I take a bite of the sandwich I ordered. It’s dry, unsatisfying. Doesn’t matter. It’s something to do with my hands, my mouth.

“So,” Veronica begins, her mouth curling into that smug smirk I know so well. “Woman of the hour. Hero of the city. How does that feel?”

I finish chewing, swallow, and take a moment before I answer. I need to be careful with what I say, especially to her.

“It’s still taking some getting used to,” I tell her, which is definitely true.

“I can only image,” she agrees, falling easily into the role of reporter. She’s a natural. “What’s been the hardest part to adjust to?”

I laugh. It’s a forced laugh, but if she notices, she doesn’t acknowledge it.

“You mean apart from the superpowers?”

She laughs in response, a much more genuine laugh.

“We’ll get to those,” she says.

“Honestly, the weirdest thing is just being normal,” I say, deciding to go with honesty over anything flashy.

She cocks her head, her brow furrowing. She seems genuinely surprised.

“Being normal?”

I sigh, pushing the food away from me. I can’t force myself to eat it, not even for the sake of appearances.

“In my real life, nobody knows who I am,” I explain. “Or what I’ve done.”

Veronica’s eyes narrow, and I worry that I might have said too much. Then her curious grin emerges, and I can see she’s just settled on an angle for her story.

“What do people think of the ‘real’ you?” she asks, pen poised and ready to write.

I do my best to smile warmly. It’s a hollow smile, but she doesn’t know that. She doesn’t know who I am.

“They don’t, really,” I say, somewhat melodramatically. Veronica just nods, as if that was the expected answer.

“I suppose that’s the life of a superhero with a secret identity,” she says.

We stare at each other across the table for a moment, and I wonder what she thinks of me. Of the person she doesn’t know, the me that I’ve become. Of the person that she’s known for so long, the me that’s still hiding.

I wonder if anyone will ever know all of me, if I will ever trust someone enough with both sides.

“So, let’s talk about your powers, then,” she says. “First of all, what exactly can you do? We’ve all seen you in action, but nobody seems to be able to quite agree on how to define them.”

For a moment, I’m hesitant, unsure of how much I should tell her. Aren’t superheroes supposed to keep their abilities as secret as possible, so nobody can find out their weaknesses?

“Honestly, I’m not completely certain myself,” I tell her. “I know that I’m fast, but exactly how fast seems to change. I’m strong, but again, it’s not consistent. Then there’s the invulnerability…”

“That’s the one that really interests me,” Veronica says, her eyes lighting up. “Since discovering your powers, has anything been able to hurt you? Do you think you might be genuinely indestructible?”

“No,” I say, shaking my head. “I’ve definitely been hurt. Badly, too. And unlike… unlike the others, I don’t heal particularly quickly.”

“So then,” Veronica says, pushing her glasses up her nose, “what does it take to hurt the incredible Miss Melbourne?”

I frown.

“Is that what they’re calling me?”

She laughs.

“It’s going around. Apparently people have noticed that you’re not just an incredible badass, you’re also an incredible babe.”

I find myself blushing, and try to shake it off immediately. That is so not in character.

“Not exactly what I was hoping to get noticed for, but I guess I shouldn’t be surprised,” I say, sighing. “Anyway, to answer your question, all I can say is: a surprising amount.”

“I can understand you not wanting to say more than that. So, where did the powers come from? Is there a secret formula we can all follow?”

I twitch involuntarily. Of all the things I don’t want to think about, it’s… that. Still, it’s a fair question, and one I don’t mind answering.

“It happened during the… what are we calling it? The calamity? The apocalypse? That time the sky tore open?”

“I’ve heard a few people refer to it as the rapture,” Veronica says. “Personally, I’m rather fond of Impact Day.”

“Works for me,” I say. “So, let’s talk about that day.”

I begin to talk, and she listens, and writes. I begin to talk, but I don’t tell her everything. There’s so much I can’t tell her.