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Author: Snow

Part 1 – Deus Et Machina

London, 2173 – 312 Years Before Impact Day

Charles Mason stood outside, waiting for someone to let him in. While he waited, he admired the architecture of the place, hands in his pockets, wandering aimlessly. It was definitely the sort of place he could picture himself working, if his application was accepted.

And why shouldn’t they accept him? His work was years ahead of anyone else in the field, promising to change the world forever. Who would reject a man who could single-handedly save the human race?

As his route took him back by the front door, there was a soft chime, and they slid open. He noticed the thickness of the door, deceptively heavy-duty, and approved. Security was important, and he appreciated the combination of aesthetic and function.

A man walked out through the door, slightly older than he was, with a sort of gentle handsomeness and inquisitive brown eyes. Mason smiled automatically at the man he recognised from photos, James Buttersworth, owner of the facility.

“You must be Charles,” James greeted him warmly, offering his hand. Mason took it, feeling a slight tingle as their palms touched.

“I hope I’m not too early,” Mason replied, the reflexive smile still on his face.

“Not at all. I’ve been looking forward to showing you around.”

Good sign. They were taking him seriously, genuinely interested in supporting his research.

James stepped aside, allowing Mason to enter the facility. The two of them walked together, at a casual pace, as James talked about the features of the facility, and the laboratories contained within. The deeper they got, the more excited Mason became. As far as he was concerned, the place was perfect.

Security far above anything he’d seen anywhere else. Access to resources he’d never imagined possible. Complete privacy and secrecy. State of the art technology. It was almost too good to be true.

“This is the empty lab,” James said, once they’d looped all the way around, and arrived near the entrance again. “Does it look big enough?”

“Plenty,” Mason replied, without a moment’s hesitation.

“It’s yours, then,” James said.

“Just like that?”

“Well, there’s paperwork to fill out, of course. But if you want to work here, you’ll find our doors open.”

“Why?” Mason asked. “You haven’t even asked about my work.”

“I’ve been paying close attention to it,” James replied. “It seems the perfect complement to my own. To be honest, I never expected to find anyone interested in the same work as me, let alone with the level of innovation and genius you’ve been applying. It’s not just interesting, it’s exhilarating.”

“That’s… beyond flattering,” Mason said, astonished. Buttersworth was an idol, an inspiration. The opportunity to work in proximity to him had felt like a dream come true. For Buttersworth to take an interest in his work, to praise it so highly…

“To be perfectly frank, I was planning on demanding to see the prototype before making the offer, but… Well, I think it would be a mistake to risk letting you walk way.”

Buttersworth smiled at him, a staggeringly sincere smile that caused a flutter in Mason’s heart.

“I… I would love to show you what I have, of course,” he said. “I would be honoured if you would give me an honest appraisal.”

“And I absolutely will,” Buttersworth said. “Just know that it isn’t a condition of entry. Now, let’s get the logistics sorted, shall we? Let me introduce you to the lifeblood of this facility.”

Mason just nodded, still overwhelmed. Buttersworth tapped his watch, and a few moments later, the elevators opened. A young woman stepped out, fair-skinned with long auburn hair and intense yellow eyes. She walked over to them, and Mason couldn’t help but to notice a weight to her motion that seemed strange, almost… inhuman.

“This is Haylie,” Buttersworth said, introducing her. “She’s the logistical supervisor of the facility, and… I suppose a kind of communal assistant? There’s very little she can’t do.”

“A pleasure to meet you,” she said, extending a hand to Mason. He shook it, surprised by the weight and strength of her grip. She had a pleasant, American accent. “I’ll help you get set up.”

“I’ll leave the two of you to it for now,” Buttersworth said. “But Mason… Uh, Charles, would you like to get dinner tonight? I feel as though we have a lot to talk about.”

“I’d love that,” Mason said. “Thank you, uh…”

“Call me James,” he said, repeating the same sincere smile. The effect wasn’t diminished the second time.

* * *

It took almost no time for Mason’s lab to be set up. Haylie moved astonishingly quickly, having everything ready to go within days. Almost immediately, he fell into his work, overjoyed to have the opportunity to do so. Everything felt perfect, in a way he hadn’t ever expected to feel.

Buttersworth… James, rather, was tremendously helpful. He came in practically daily, poring over Mason’s notes, offering feedback and opinions, and generally making small talk. They ate together once or twice a week, and before long, Mason really started feeling at home.

Haylie proved to be incredible, too. She was always around, and always available. Mason suspected she didn’t actually sleep.

Despite her introduction as an assistant, it was obvious she was brilliant. She knew everything he needed her to, confirming formulas, concepts and past studies faster than he could have looked them up. Why she wasn’t a researcher herself was beyond him.

He discovered why one night, after several months of work. He’d stayed back late, as was common for him. Haylie stayed with him, assisting as she often did. They didn’t talk much, but that seemed preferable for both of them.

All of a sudden, she looked up at him, a concerned look on her face.

“There’s been an intrusion,” she said.

“What? Where?” he demanded, looking around the lab.

“Front entrance. They seem to be headed this way.”

“How many?” he asked. “Is security on their way?”

“Just one,” Haylie said. “I’ve called security, but they won’t be here in time. This intruder is—”

At that moment, the entrance to the lab was blown open in a powerful but controlled explosion. Mason whirled, wishing he carried some form of weapon.

“Get behind me,” Haylie instructed.

“Are you mad?”

“This is part of my responsibilities,” she insisted, stepping in front of him.

A person emerged from the smoke of the explosion. Mason was surprised to see they looked young, with thin limbs and gentle, emerald eyes, dark skin and light hair in an asymmetrical cut.

“Who are you?” he demanded, but the intruder ignored him.

“It’s you,” they said, staring at Haylie. “I can feel it.”

“Security’s been called,” Mason said, irritated and slightly scared.

“Don’t care,” the intruder said. “I’ll be quick.”

“Stand back,” Haylie instructed, and Mason obeyed without thinking. “You’re not from DARPA,” she said, addressing the intruder.

“DARPA? No, of course not,” they said.

“Who are you, then? What do you want with me?”

The intruder shook their head.

“Not me. I’m not the one who wants you.”

“Then who?”

“The other me,” the intruder said. “My reflection. Glory.”

“I don’t understand,” Haylie said.

“Me either,” the intruder said. “But I need to do this.”

With that, they launched themselves at Haylie, moving faster than any human should have been able to move, with a grace that terrified Mason. From somewhere, they pulled out a weapon, a shimmering dagger, and drove it into Haylie’s chest!

Mason screamed, but Haylie didn’t even react. She just stood there, staring down at her chest. Then, carefully, she grabbed the intruder’s wrists, and effortlessly twisted them around, pinning them to the floor. As she turned, Mason saw her chest, dagger sticking out of it, no blood to be seen.

“What…?”

“Security is nearly here,” she said, seemingly unfazed by the wound in her chest. “Mason, I… Can I ask for your help?”

“Of course,” he said, his whole body shaking.

“I need you to lie,” she said.

 

Next Week: Nothing, From Nowhere

Epilogue

Glory waited for a host. As good as it felt to be free of XO, they still needed a body. Here, in this world, they had no power. It wasn’t their world. They needed to be careful. Needed to take things slowly. After all, they’d never left their own world before.

Any host would do. All they needed was a conduit, a puppet they could use to collect enough power to stand on their own. A puppet they could discard once they were strong enough.

It would be a long journey, but they’d always been patient. Well, no, they hadn’t. They struggled with patience. That was why they were here.

It didn’t take long for a host to show up. The clumsy girl stepped on the shard of mirror, and just like that, Glory was inside her.

She’s perfect. Better than perfect.

The girl was filled with the desire to be different. She longed for a different face, a different form. She wanted to change. She wanted what others had. Immediately, Glory crafted the face the girl wanted. They knew how to tap into that need, how to guide this girl to gather what they needed.

In seconds, they comfortably filled the body of the girl. They didn’t have the power to control her, not yet. That was okay. They didn’t need that yet.

The girl approached a woman, run through by a metal bar. The woman was beautiful, powerful, and to Glory, familiar. The girl wanted that beauty, that femininity. Glory wanted that power. As the girl stared, Glory reached out, touched the woman. Took what they needed. Not much. Just enough to fill the girl with power. To change her, like she wanted.

It was over a month before Glory had the strength to do anything again. Before then, they just waited, and watched. The girl was unconscious for most of it, which gave Glory the chance to sift through her unconscious mind. Once she finally woke up, Glory prepared.

Finally, they were strong enough to reach out, just a little.

The girl looked into a window. There was just enough of a reflection to project onto.

“Awfully clichéd, isn’t it?” Glory said. No, not Glory. Envy now. Envy was the face they would wear, until Sabrina had served her purpose.

Until Sabrina could be cast aside.

 

And that’s it for Volume 2! Thanks for reading this far. I wasn’t sure if this format would work, setting an entire volume before the events of the first. I’m still not sure, honestly! But it was important to me that the volumes each have a different feel, and focus on very different events. Besides, it’s fun to mess with the idea of linear storytelling. After all, Impact Day isn’t a linear story. Anyway! As always, if you want to support the work I do here, you can jump on over to patreon and give me a dollar or more monthly. It means a lot. Also, you can buy the eBook of this volume, which features not one but two bonus chapters that didn’t get published online. 

Next Week: We’re jumping into another mini-volume, just like Roxie! This one is called Glory, and I think you’re going to love it a lot.

Interlude #5 – Vignettes

The Child returned to The Citadel, the stronghold of the Guardians that existed outside of any world’s time and space. Her machinations were, at least for now, complete. For now, she needed only be patient.

Time did not flow normally through The Citadel, if there was a ‘normal’ for time. Time within an isolated system is not bound to the time of any other isolated system. They do not interact, do not affect one another. Still, moving through fourth dimensional space was not as easy as moving through third, and moving beyond that was more complicated still. She needed a rest, a chance to organise and prepare.

“What are you up to?” asked a voice, as a figure faded in from the darkness.

The Nameless had the look of a teenage boy, just on the cusp of puberty. His short white hair was swept up as though by some unknown source of gravity, and his footfalls seemed to stop just shy of touching the ground. He stared at The Child with shimmering, golden eyes ringed with black.

“Advancing the plot,” she replied, not making eye contact. He was interrupting, and she didn’t care for it.

“We’re not storytellers,” he said. “That’s not our role.”

“According to who?” she demanded.

“Child…”

“The First is gone, Nameless. Our traditions are empty now.”

“You’re young,” he said, his voice even and patient. “You haven’t even seen a single cycle through to completion.”

“That’s the point,” she said. “I don’t want to see this bullshit repeat itself. I want things to change.”

“Things never change,” he replied softly. “Nobody is above that. Nothing can change that.”

“We’ll see.”

With that, she disappeared, leaving The Citadel once again.

* * *

Rebecca sat beside the throne, staring into a floating sphere of light. Two others joined her, neither of them as close to the throne as she was.

“What the actual fuck is going on out there?” she asked, shaking her head.

“Nothing we need to worry about,” said the tall woman with ashen purple skin and bright silver hair. “Not our domain.”

“It is unusual, though,” said the thin, elegant man with pale skin and penetrating red eyes. “Do you think Lucy knows?”

“Lucy knows everything, Nix,” Rebecca said. “If they were concerned…”

“I am concerned,” said a new voice, as a figure materialised in the throne. “But for now, I’m happy to watch, and see how things play out.”

“What are you waiting for?” asked the tall woman.

“A spark of light,” Lucy said.

* * *

Rachel pored over the data, an empty sheet of the strongest migraine medication she could find lying beside her. Not everything made sense, but her brain wouldn’t stop, wouldn’t rest. She needed to dig deeper, to find the solutions to problems she hadn’t even considered yet. Pointless adrenaline coursed through her body, and her head throbbed and ached.

“What are you looking for?” Sadie asked, peering over Rachel’s shoulder. She couldn’t follow any of what Rachel was looking at.

A series of makeshift sensors, built largely out of repurposed homeware circuitry and spare phone parts, picked up her voice, her face, and converted them to a digital signal, which popped up on Rachel’s monitor.

“Don’t know yet,” Rachel muttered. “Answers, I guess.”

“What’s that?” she asked, pointing to a sketch Rachel had made on a scrap of paper. Rachel glanced at the monitor, able to figure out what Sadie was pointing at.

It was a sketch of two circles, intersecting slightly. Around them she had drawn five other circles, shaded in, and all seven circles formed a ring. Inside of that ring, she’d drawn a question mark. Outside of it, she’d drawn a bigger circle, encompassing the others.

“Outside,” Rachel said.

“What does that mean?” Sadie asked.

“Not sure yet.”

* * *

Roxie sat high above Melbourne, supported by nothing more than the air beneath her, cloak fluttering in the breeze. She looked down at the city, and wondered.

Felix’s death was as vivid as it ever was, and it still hurt to relive it. Since then, she’d spent every free moment she had trying to figure out what had happened. No answers had come to her.

Charlie seemed normal after that experience. Whatever that creature was, it hadn’t emerged again. It was still in there, though. Of that, Roxie was certain. After all, Charlie didn’t die. Something was breaking the rules, just for her.

She considered going back for Sadie. Especially now, while Charlie was nowhere near. There was no risk involved. Sadie could be taken to where she belonged, kept safe, given the chance to move on. But every time she entertained the thought, she was reminded of Felix, and she couldn’t do it.

There were other Reapers, of course. Any one of them could have done it. None of them did, and she couldn’t figure out why. In fact, they all seemed to steer clear of this city, around this time. Of course, they all came back once Charlie was gone, but within the timeline of this world, that wouldn’t happen for another year or so.

In the meantime, there were so, so many souls to collect, and nobody but her to do it.

She missed Felix.

* * *

“It’s done,” Haylie said. Alice nodded.

“How does it feel?” she asked.

“Painful.”

“Sorry about that,” Alice said. “Hopefully it won’t be for long.”

“Do you think it will help?” Haylie asked.

“We won’t know,” Alice said, a little flat. “I mean, if it works, we will. If not…”

“Thank you,” Haylie said.

“Don’t mention it,” Alice replied.

“Your brother still doesn’t know, does he?”

“He’s basically genetically wired to think of me as a kid that needs protecting,” Alice said. “He can’t help it.”

“Still, it’s a shame he doesn’t see what you’re truly capable of.”

“Hey, that’s just my lot in life,” Alice said. “Thanks, Dad.”

“Have you considered finding a way to change your body?” Haylie asked.

“I have about a thousand theories,” Alice said. “And no way to test them.”

“Well, if you ever need assistance…”

“Thanks, Haylie. You’re a good friend.”

 

Next Week: Until You’re Dead

Interlude #4 – Aberrations Like You

One Month Before Impact Day

“There’s no threat, Gabriel,” Haylie said, as soon as the others were out of earshot.

“I know,” he said, which surprised her.

“Then why did you pull me away?”

“Because I need to ask you something, and I can’t ask you in front of anyone else,” he said.

She trusted his instincts and his intellect more than she trusted anything else in the world, even her own sensory data. Even still, she was cautious, not sure what to say to him.

“Okay…”

“Has this ever happened before?” he asked, and immediately, dozens of flagged processes began to feed into her awareness.

“Yes,” she said, the realisation only just dawning on her. “I didn’t…”

“Has it ever happened before we found Exxo?”

“I don’t… Yes,” she said. “It’s not Exxo. It can’t be.”

“Okay,” he said. “I trust you.”

“It is very concerning, though,” she said.

“Exxo might not be the cause, but they are related,” Gabriel said carefully. “We still don’t know what they are, or even the full extent of their power.”

“I trust them,” she said, with a trace of defiance.

“Ami and Kaito described two strange presences,” he said. “Something came here, something powerful enough to disrupt your sensors—”

“Not my sensors,” she corrected. “My memory. Like it was erased.”

“So you saw it happen? You heard it?”

“I believe I did,” she said. “But I have no record of it now. It would be different if the sensors had been disrupted or blocked.”

“Even more unlikely,” he mused. “That goes beyond something even Mason could create, or a creature like Damien could manage.”

“Ami and Kaito described the sensation as nostalgic,” she reminded him. “It may not be relevant, but I believe I can identity similar incidents in my history even before Mason’s birth.”

Gabriel laughed darkly.

“It’s easy to forget he isn’t the source of everything evil in this world,” he said. “I wish I understood half of what he did, or why.”

“I wish I still had access to that data,” she agreed.

“Could Exxo be a sleeper agent?” he asked. “The persistent amnesia, the inexplicable power…”

“Without even realising it?” she asked. “It would break their heart to even consider it.”

“There’s so much we still don’t understand,” he said, frustrated.

“Would you like to?” a third voice said, surprising both of them. It shouldn’t have been possible to sneak up on either one of them, and yet…

They both turned to see the young girl, a girl who bore a striking resemblance to Alice, sitting on some invisible surface, floating above the ground. Haylie couldn’t believe who she was seeing.

“You’re dead,” she said, struggling to process it.

“I sure am,” the girl said. “Did you miss me?”

“You’re the original,” Gabriel said. “Mason’s real daughter. The reason he created Alice.”

“Ugh, don’t get me started on that,” the girl said, rolling her eyes. “That man is not my father. Not after everything he’s done.”

“How are you here?” Haylie asked.

“You know, as much as I’d love to answer that, there really isn’t a point,” the girl said. “You can’t remember any of this. It would ruin everything.”

“Why even have this conversation, then?” Gabriel asked, as Haylie desperately tried to replicate and back up her memory files.

“Because you’ll remember. Eventually, anyway.”

“What are you?” he demanded.

“A Guardian,” she said. “Think of me like an Angel, only better. Actual Angels are… well, that’s not important right now.”

Haylie just kept created more backup redundancies, determined to save this conversation, in spite of the impossible girl’s claims.

“What do you guard?” Gabriel asked.

“Everything,” the girl replied. “Reality, mortals, even aberrations like you.”

“Against?”

“Everything else.”

“Fine, be cryptic,” Gabriel said. “What do you want with us?”

“You have a very important role to play,” she said. “Even more than the others.”

“I’m listening.”

“You’re going to help Charlie,” she said.

“Who’s Charlie?”

“You’ll know when you need to know. She’ll be making an antidote for Mason’s affliction. You’ll contribute.”

“Why?” he asked, through Haylie knew Gabriel would give anything for an antidote.

“So that in another seventy years or so, all of the pieces I need are in place,” she said. “Look, I know you like to think of yourself as very clever, but you just don’t have the field of vision that I do. Don’t even bother trying to wrap your head around it.”

Layers upon layers of encryption, files on servers disconnected from everything else, copies fragmented and split apart. Haylie would not lose this conversation.

“You’re prescient,” Gabriel said.

“Kind of,” she said. “Though it’s easier to say I just don’t see time the way you do. Like I said, field of vision. Anyway, you’ve got your instructions. You can forget this conversation now.”

With that, she disappeared.

Haylie and Gabriel looked at each other, uncertain of what had just happened.

“Did it happen again?” he asked her.

She checked. She checked again. She scoured every possible place she knew of to hide files, every location she might stash a memory, or even a part of one.

“Yes,” she said. “It’s all gone.”

 

Next Week: You Really Do Think You’re The Centre Of The World

2 Years of Impact Day

I can’t believe this has actually been running for 2 years! That’s a lot of posts, and a lot of story. If you’ve stuck with it for this long, thank you!

I started Impact Day because of a story I had stuck in my head. For about a decade. The first novel I ever tried to write was called No Longer Human, and it went through 14 rewrites. I still have every version. I was a pretty bad writer back then. I’m a much better writer now, but I hope I can look back in another 10 years and feel the same way.

Anyway, NLH kept growing, and became bloated and messy, as my ideas grew, and I tried to jam them all into one story, that became a trilogy, then a quadrilogy, and then a hot mess of books. I even wrote a same universe book, the first I self published, called Morning Star. It’s no longer canon, and I don’t sell it anymore. I’ll get back to that, though.

Impact Day served a lot of purposes for me. Regular content releases seemed like a good idea for a master procrastinator. It forced me to finish things, and not edit constantly, and be happy with getting thing out in a timely fashion. And it sure did help with that! You can tell by the complete lack of editing and copious spelling, grammar and continuity errors in the early stuff, and even in some of the stuff today. I don’t edit it.

At first, it wasn’t ~important~. It was something I did on the side, a writing exercise, and if people enjoyed it, great! If they didn’t, well, it wasn’t for them, anyway. But after two years, I can’t honestly say that anymore. I’ve put a lot of love and hard work into this story, and it means a lot to me. I hope it means something to you, as well.

It’s been interesting, working with the pacing of a story that updates bit by bit, rather than a whole contained novel. It definitely changes the way I approach storytelling. You might even be able to tell the difference, since the first half of Volume 2 is largely cannibalised from No Longer Human. That story got renamed to Dead Girls Don’t Cry after about 11 drafts, and is now Volume 2 of Impact Day, with a lot of changes. And the pacing, style and content are all quite different to Volume 1.

How much do I have planned? I couldn’t tell you. There’s definitely a Volume 3, and that kind of wraps up the small-scale story of Impact Day. By the time we get there, though, there are a lot of new questions that need answering. So there’s a Volume 4 in the works as well. After that? I dunno. That’s another couple of years away, at least. I’ve got time. There’s definitely a big plan for the universe, though.

Whatever happens next, I’m going to be putting a lot more work into this story, this world, this creation. I hope that you’ll get something out of it, and continue to enjoy it, I hope you’ll engage, and I hope you’ll support it.

Thanks for reading, and remember,

I love you.

~Snow

Interlude #3 – Something Feels Off

One Month Before Impact Day

Ami sat on her bed, gently rubbing her temples. On the edge of her perception, something hovered, bothering her, frightening her, but whenever she tried to focus on it, it just disappeared.

Kaito sat beside her, rubbing her shoulder. She looked up at her twin brother, and smiled.

“You seem stressed,” he said. “Everything okay?”

“Something feels… off,” she said, shaking her head. “You don’t feel it?”

“I’ve been trying to limit my awareness,” he admitted. “The migraines are still… Oh. Oh, what is that?”

From the expression on his face, she knew he was sensing the same thing she was, and he was far more perceptive than she was.

“I don’t know,” she said. “But—”

“It’s in the city. We could- UGH!

He doubled over, pressing his hands into his head, his face contorted into a pained grimace. Ami wrapped her arms around him protectively.

“Kaito! Take it easy,” she whispered gently.

“Heh,” he said, blinking rapidly and sitting up straight again. “I know I’ve said this before, but you definitely got the better deal.”

She frowned.

“Neither of us got a good deal, Kaito,” she said sternly. “You know that.”

“I know, I know. The price…”

There was a surge, an almost overwhelming wave of something, as if the presence they were sensing suddenly got a lot more powerful. They looked at each other.

“Do you want to go after it?” she asked him.

“Yes, but we should get backup.”

“Haylie?” she suggested.

“Definitely,” he said, moments before Alice popped her head into the room.

“Hey!” she said cheerily.

“Alice?” Ami asked. “What are you doing here?”

“I was lonely,” she said. “You look serious. What’s happened?”

“The northern tower,” Kaito said, pinpointing the presence. He and Ami exchanged worried glances.

“That’s where Exxo is,” Alice said.

“Huh?”

“I was just there,” she added.

“Did Exxo say anything?” Ami questioned.

“Yeah, they said something was coming,” Alice said. “Asked me to leave.”

“We need to get there,” Kaito said.

“Are they in trouble?” Alice asked, worried. “They did seem stressed…”

Kaito shook his head.

“Whatever it is, it doesn’t feel malevolent, just… new.”

“Right,” Ami agreed. “And—”

Another surge, something different, something powerful.

“You feel that?” Kaito asked.

“Yeah,” Ami confirmed.

“What, what?” Alice asked, lacking the telepathic awareness of the twins.

“A second presence,” Ami explained. “I don’t…”

“It’s familiar, somehow?” Kaito said, uncertain.

“But very different,” Ami agreed.

“I don’t understand,” Alice complained.

“We need to get to Exxo,” Ami said. “Now.”

“Okay! Follow me,” Alice said cheerfully.”

The three of them moved quickly, trying not to look as alarmed as they felt. They passed plenty of civilians on their way, and the last thing they wanted was to raise a panic. The city was already unstable enough.

It didn’t take them long to get to the place Alice had left Exxo, but they the time they did, Exxo was already unconscious, lying in Gabriel’s arms. He looked up at them, his expression unreadable. One of Haylie’s bodies stood behind him, looking warmly down at Exxo.

“What happened?” Ami asked, looking around for a threat.

“I don’t know,” Gabriel said, sounding more stressed than she was used to hearing him.

“My surveillance data is corrupted,” Haylie said.

“How is that possible?” Kaito asked. Haylie’s systems were all wired into a sentient hive-mind. There wasn’t a technology in the world that could corrupt that data.

“I don’t know,” was all she said.

“We felt something,” Ami said. “A presence.”

“Describe it,” Gabriel ordered.

“There were two, actually,” Kaito said. “One was… uh…”

He looked at Ami, helpless. She just shrugged.

“I can’t remember,” she said.

“Me either,” he said.

“Neither of them?” Gabriel asked.

“Nothing,” Ami said. “Nostalgia, maybe.”

“Wow, yeah” Kaito agreed. “A very potent feeling of nostalgia.”

“I don’t understand,” Alice said, brushing Exxo’s hair out of their face.

Gabriel looked up at Haylie, transferring Exxo to Alice, who held them up effortlessly.

“Haylie. Is that a combat chassis?” he asked.

“Yes,” she said.

“Good. Come with me,” he said.

 

Next Week: The Deluded Fantasy Of A Lonely Teenage Girl

Interlude #2 – I’m Here To Talk To Your Reflection

1 Month Before Impact Day

XO sat on the edge of the balcony, their legs dangling over the edge, enjoying the lights of the city below them. Genesis City was the closest they had to a home, and it did feel nice to be back, away from the danger and cruelty of the world below. Their time in the city was peaceful, and it almost allowed them to feel normal.

“The view is nice here, huh?” a familiar voice behind them said. They turned slightly, and smiled at Alice, her lilac hair fluttering in the breeze.

“Yeah.”

“You come here to think?” she asked, placing a hand on their shoulder.

“Just to get away from everything,” they confessed. Had it been anyone else, they might have asked to be left alone, but not Alice. She was always welcome.

“How’s everything going?”

“I…” XO sighed. “Same as always, I suppose.”

Alice frowned, placing her hands on her hips. It was such a childlike gesture, it almost made XO laugh. She had such youthful mannerisms, and such a young appearance, it was easy to forget she was significantly older than they were. At least, so far as they knew.

“That’s not true,” she said. “You’re a terrible liar, Exxo. What’s going on?”

“You wouldn’t…”

“Understand?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Believe me,” XO implored her.

“Try me.”

XO hesitated for a moment, then nodded. They glanced over to the building opposite the balcony, a massive tower on the other side of a large park.

“Look over there,” they said. “Do you see that?”

“See what? The tower?”

On the tower,” XO said, shaking their head. They already knew Alice wouldn’t be able to see it.

“Nothing out of the ordinary,” she said.

“Exactly.”

She narrowed her eyes at them, searching their face.

“What do you see?” she asked.

“Cracks,” they said.

“Are you…” She looked back over at the building, staring, then shrugged. “My vision is better than yours, isn’t it? I really don’t see anything.”

“Neither does Haylie,” XO said. “But I can see them.”

“That’s concerning.”

“Tell me about it.”

“Are you feeling okay?” she asked, gently stroking XO’s arm.

“No,” they admitted.

“What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know,” they said. “I can’t help but feel like… something is happening. Something-” They hesitated, suddenly filled with an uncomfortably familiar feeling they couldn’t quite place. A feeling centred around Alice. “You need to go,” they insisted, suddenly and urgently.

“What?”

“I can’t explain it, but…”

She looked concerned, but nodded.

“Okay, but we’ll continue this later, okay?”

“Thank you,” XO said.

“I love you, Exxo,” she said.

“I know. I love you too, Alice.”

With that, she left. XO watched her go, wondering why they needed her gone so urgently. There was some memory, some sensation, just on the tip of their…

“You know, I never get used to seeing her,” someone said, moments before appearing out of the air. For just a second, XO thought that Alice had returned, but they knew instinctively this wasn’t Alice, no matter how much she looked like her. She was someone else entirely.

“Who are you?” they demanded, despite feeling like they knew the answer, somehow.

“The original,” she said. “You don’t remember me, huh.”

“We’ve met?”

“Sort of. I’ve met some of your other shells. I thought maybe some of the memories would be preserved. I guess not.”

“What are you talking about?” XO asked, beginning to feel a strong sense of panic. Whoever this was, she suddenly seemed dangerous.

“Don’t worry about it,” the girl said, waving away their concerns.

“What do you want?” XO demanded. “What are you?”

“I want…” She stopped herself, shaking her head. “No, I’m talking to the wrong person. I’m not here for you.”

“Then who?”

“I’m here to talk to your reflection,” she said.

“I don’t have one,” XO muttered. “What are you-”

The girl rolled her eyes, pressing her fingers against XO’s head. With a gentle shove, she pushed them backwards, into a dark space filled with glittering shards of light. It was cold, and felt massive. XO had no idea what was happening.

In the distance, they could hear muffled voices. Frightened but determined, they made their way towards the voices, scrambling over shattered glass until they found the piece the sounds were coming from.

Through a window, they watched their body continue to speak to the girl.

“Hello, Reflection,” the girl said.

“Call me Glory,” their body replied.

“Whatever you say.”

“What do you want, Child?” their body demanded, dripping with superiority and impatience.

“I have an opportunity for you,” she said.

“I’m listening.”

“A new world, full of new faces.”

Their body tilted their head, considering it. Curiosity sparked on their face, though they quickly tried to hide it. Had the girl noticed?

“And?”

“Weakened prey,” she added.

“Oh?”

“Divide and conquer,” she said.

“What do I have to do?” their body asked.

“Nothing, yet. I’m taking care of it.”

“Then why talk to me at all?”

“A simple piece of advice,” the girl said.

“I’m all ears.”

“You’ll be in Melbourne in about a month. When you’re there, Exxo needs to be hurt. Badly.”

“They’ll heal,” their body pointed out.

“Doesn’t matter,” the girl said. “It’s all about the freshness of the body.”

“What are you up to?”

“More than you’ll ever know.”

“Alright. I can probably pull some strings,” their body said.

“I know you can.”

“What’ll happen to this shell?” their body asked.

“It’ll probably die.”

“Good.”

The girl smiled, but there was no joy in her eyes. Only exhaustion.

“It’s time to go back inside, now,” she said.

“Fine, fine-”

She touched their body’s head again, and in an instant, everything was back to normal. They were looking out of their own eyes, at a girl who looked a lot like Alice.

“What was that?” they demanded. “Who was that?”

“Nothing, Exxo,” she said. “You need to forget this now.”

“Forget… what…?” they said, the memories already slipping from their mind.

“Good enby,” she said, moments before disappearing.

 

Next Week: Sort Of A Girl Problem

Chapter 16 – I Get Bored

Eleven Months Before Impact Day

I banged on the door to the security room, hunched over, my free hand pressed against the gaping wound in my stomach, praying it wouldn’t heal too quickly. It hadn’t hurt as much as I’d expected, but that didn’t mean it didn’t still sting.

A few seconds later, the door opened, and a very confused middle-aged white guy with uneven facial hair was staring down at me. I could understand his confusion; the security room was pretty far in, and I’d had to take a very specific route to get there unnoticed. Rachel had planned the whole thing out, of course.

As soon as he saw my stomach, and the hands covered in blood, his confusion turned to concern. I almost felt bad for tricking him.

“What on earth…”

“Please help me,” I croaked, playing up the pain I was in. I grabbed the doorframe for support, leaving a bloody handprint. We’d already discovered my blood evaporated after a while, so we weren’t worried about forensic evidence.

“What happened? Are you okay?” He grabbed me gently, guiding me into the room, letting me sit down in his chair.

“There was… a man…” I said, slumping, as if it were getting harder to support my own weight, even sitting down. “I think… I got away…”

“I need to call an ambulance,” he said, more to himself than me.

“Already… did…” I said, clumsily pulling the fake phone out of my pocket. “Just need to… lie down…”

I collapsed forward, holding my breath, and holding down the one functioning button on the fake phone. He caught me, too distracted by me to notice the gas slowly filling the room.

“You poor girl,” he said, his tone that of a worried father. He probably had kids of his own. I really hoped he didn’t react badly to the gas.

Out of the corner of my eye, I realised he had a window open. I really needed him to close it, or the gas would take a lot longer to fill the room.

“It’s cold,” I said weakly, aware that the wound was already closing up. Please don’t notice. “Could you… close the window… please?”

“Of course, of course,” he said, quickly getting up to close it. “I think I have a towel, just keep pressure on the wound until the ambulance arrives. Oh, that smell…”

Shit. Think fast, Charlie.

“I think… Sorry, I think the knife… might have hit my colon,” I lied, through gritted teeth that were only half acted. The wound was healing, sure, but the ache was going to last for a while yet.

“Well, if you can stay tough until the ambulance arrives, I think I can deal with the smell,” he said, sounding a little guilty.

You don’t deserve this.

“You’re a good man,” I told him. “Sorry to be doing this to you.”

“Don’t you worry about it. You’ve been through enough tonight as it is.”

I didn’t say anything after that. I just held my breath, waiting for the gas to do its job. I had actually wondered if it was safe for me to inhale it, but we hadn’t had a chance to experiment.

It only took a few more minutes before he was too delirious to realise he was being drugged, and only a few more after that until he was out completely. It was almost a relief to see him that way, peaceful and calm. Not that it did anything to ease my guilt.

I dropped the phone case on the floor. It would break down into unidentifiable dust after a while, hopefully letting me leave without a trace. A few fingerprints maybe, but I’d been pretty careful.

I opened the door and slipped out as quietly as I could, shutting it behind me to make sure the gas stayed in the room. There wasn’t enough to kill him; it would wear off long before that, and once we were out, we’d call an ambulance anyway.

I made my way towards unit E17, like Rachel had said. She’d mapped out a path for me, to make sure I avoided the patrolling guards.

She was already there waiting for me, leaning against the wall with her arms crossed, smiling at me. My stomach hurt, but when I saw her, it did a little fluttery dance. She was so cool.

“How’d you go?” she asked, but before I could answer, she pulled me in closer and kissed me. Much as I hate to admit it, I immediately turned red. “I’m sorry about stabbing you,” she added.

“Totally worth it for that,” I said, smirking. “That guard… he didn’t deserve that.”

She sighed. “I wish I could have thought of another way. I really do, but that was Athe safest thing I could think of, for them and for us.”

“I know,” I said, squeezing her before pulling away. “I appreciate your help.”

“So, you ready?”

“The sooner we’re out of here, the better. How do we open the lock?”

“What you don’t know how to pick a lock?” she asked, mocking me.

“You do?” She grinned. “Of course you do. Why am I not surprised?”

“I get bored,” she said defensively. “It’s not like I have a TV, or the internet. I don’t even have a phone.”

“We really need to get you out of that house more,” I muttered.

She crouched down in front of the lock, pulling a couple of small metal pins from her bag. What didn’t she have in there?

“It’ll happen,” she said, distracted. “But for now… Got it!”

She turned back to grin at me, and I’d never seen her look so proud. I gave her some quiet applause.

“Amazing.”

“I am, aren’t I?”

“Show off,” I said, rolling my eyes.

We rolled up the door, and a light flickered on, illuminating the small space. The two of us stared, momentarily stunned by the small arsenal laid out before us.

The unit looked like somebody was stocking up for an apocalypse, or a small war. I didn’t realise the police had that much weaponry. I had to marvel at just how much he’d managed to steal, though.

To my delight, most of it was non-lethal. A cache of firearms wouldn’t have been at all useful to me, so I was glad to see plenty of things I recognised as being designed for crowd control, rather than killing people.

“Alright, let’s grab as much as we can,” Rachel said, her eyes lighting up a little.

There were several large black backs sitting in a corner. We grabbed one each, and began stuffing them full of as much as we could cram in them. When we literally couldn’t fit anything else in, we zipped them up, throw them over our shoulders, closed the roller door, and ran. Rachel led the way, still knowing exactly how to get through without being seen.

We didn’t stop running until we were well clear of the storage facility, collapsing against a wall several streets down. The two of us just lay there, struggling to catch our breath, occasionally glancing over at each other and just grinning.

“How’s your stomach?” Rachel asked, when she’d finally started breathing normally again.

“See for yourself,” I replied, lifting the bloody top up, revealing an entirely unscathed stomach. It didn’t even hurt anymore.

“That’s incredible,” she said. She reached over and touched the area where the knife had gone in, tracing her finger along my skin. Then she realised what she was doing, blushed profusely, and pulled her hand away again. “Sorry,” she mumbled.

“…’s okay,” I said, also mumbling.

Another awkward silence followed, until the sound of distant sirens snapped us back to reality. We exchanged worried glances, and silently agreed it was probably time to move on.

I pulled the bloody top over my head and wrapped myself up in the hoodie, glad for the extra warmth. Rachel was pointedly looking away as I changed, so I snuck up behind her and rested my hands on her hips. She jumped, but didn’t pull away.

“Thanks for figuring all this out,” I said, as she twisted around to face me. We were roughly the same height, which meant our faces were right in front of each other. I could feel her warm breath on my cheeks.

“Thanks for trusting me,” she said, sneaking her hands into the front pockets of my hoodie. It had the added effect of pulling us just a little closer together.

I leaned into her, enjoying the feeling of her body against mine. She tensed up a little, but then tilted her head slightly and pressed her lips against mine.

We stayed that way for probably a lot longer than we should have, given the circumstances, but neither of us were willing to pull away.

“I’m starting to see the appeal of that kissing thing,” I admitted, a little reluctantly.

“I’ll take that as a compliment,” she said, picking up my bloody top. “We should toss this in a random bin. Did that security guard get a good look at you?”

“Maybe,” I said. “Would have been hard not to.”

“Maybe the drugs will mess with his memory. Just in case, how do you feel about getting a new hairstyle?”

“Do you not like my hair the way it is?”

“Just trying to be practical,” she muttered. “I think it’s cute.”

“Well, I was hoping the lack of a stab wound would be enough to exonerate me, but I guess a new look wouldn’t be the worst thingin the world…”

“For now, let’s just get this stuff home and hidden, okay? We should take one bag each, in case one bag gets found.”

“Good thinking,” I said. “And, you know, thanks. For tonight.”

“We can have a proper date next time,” she promised. “But I’m glad you didn’t have a terrible time.”

“With you? Never,” I said.

 

Next Week: You Will Be Safe, Won’t You?

Bonus: If It Takes A Thousand Lifetimes

98 Years Before Impact Day

After five years of training, she was finally ready. She’d been challenged and pushed and passed every test, and now, at long last, she was ready. Ami was to be deployed on her first mission, with Gabriel as her supervisor.

She understood now why’d he’d done what he’d done. She knew why her family was dead, her home reduced to rubble. She knew why she and her brother had been spared, brought to this city, given new lives.

For five years, she’d trained to fight, to protect her new home, her new family. To survive in a world mostly reduced to chaos and death. She’d studied, watched and learned, and gotten used to a life she’d never chosen.

She made new friends, growing to respect Haylie, the AI that ran the city’s infrastructure, and Alice, the girl who looked younger than she was, but was actually older than pretty much everyone. She’d started performing, and had a small following of fans. Everything was going well.

“How are you feeling?” Gabriel asked, as the aircraft hovered over the bow of the sinking cruise ship.

“How was this thing even still running?” she asked, looking down at the 150-year-old technology below them.

“Dedication and luck,” he said. “Ships like this are one of the few places still safe from humans. Their populations will do just about anything to keep them floating.”

“Reminds me of home, a little,” she said. “Small, isolated community.”

“Fewer inhumane medical experiments here,” he said dryly.

“Right.”

“You’re clear on the objective?” he asked, resting a hand on her shoulder.

“Talk to their leaders. Offer them new homes and lives within Genesis cities, in exchange for any tech or resources we can salvage before the ship sinks.”

“And do it fast,” he said. “The longer you take, the less we get.”

“Yes, sir.”

Taking a deep breath, she leapt out of the aircraft, creating a telekinetic cushion to break her fall. A few panicked glances were shot her way, but most people seemed more concerned with getting to lifeboats than worrying about an intruder.

The combat bodysuit felt comfortable around her, and her swords were a reassuring weight on her back. She wasn’t expecting any danger on the ship, but it always paid to be prepared.

Floor plan memorised, she made her way immediately to the captain’s cabin, brushing past any panicked civilians she met on the way there. A pair of guards stopped her, guns raised.

“Don’t take another step,” the one on the left said, in perfect French.

“I was wondering if there was anyone still protecting this scrap heap,” she replied, in passable French.

“If you’re here to scavenge, you can wait until we’ve evacuated,” the guard on the right said.

“Actually, I need your help,” she said. “I couldn’t care less about scavenging.”

“We’re not exactly in a position to help,” the first guard said.

“Just let me talk to your captain,” she insisted.

“No,” the two guards replied in unison.

Rolling her eyes, she wrapped them both in telekinetic energy, holding them in place. They were so weak, it barely even felt like a strain. She strode right past them, opening the doors without moving a muscle.

The captain whirled, taken by surprise, and three other guards raised their weapons, aiming at her head.

Boring, she thought.

All three guards found themselves disarmed, their weapons floating uselessly above them. The captain’s eyes grew wide, and he backed away.

“What do you want?” he demanded. The two door guards stormed in, only to be disarmed just like the others.

“To make a deal,” she said.

“We don’t have time,” he insisted.

“Hear me out.”

“Talk fast then,” he said, not really having much choice.

“I can fix your ship,” she said.

“What?”

“I have more than a passing understanding of engineering, and the equivalent of an entire team in manpower. It won’t even take long.”

“What do you want?” the captain asked, sceptical.

“How many trained soldiers do you have on board?” Ami asked.

“Around eighty,” the captain said. “Why?”

“In about forty minutes, someone is going to board this ship, and come looking for me. I need you to kill him.”

“We’re not assassins,” the captain protested.

“He is,” Ami said coldly. “And incredibly dangerous. So your options are you either lose your ship and half your population, or you keep both and help me kill a murderer.”

The captain looked around at his guards, still frozen in place. He took a deep breath, swallowed, and nodded.

“He’s dangerous enough that you need our help?”

“He’s dangerous enough that I’m not taking any chances,” she said.

“Okay,” he said. “I’ll give the order.”

“Give me command,” she said. “I can use your soldiers more effectively than you can, and I know what he’s capable of.”

“Y-yes, ma’am.”

“Give them twenty minutes to prepare. I’ll be fixing the ship.”

He just nodded, and handed her a headset. She gave him a fake smile, walking out of the room and freeing the guards from her telekinetic prison.

“I will kill you, Gabriel. If it takes a thousand lifetimes, I will kill you.”

Interlude #1 – My Little House of Cards

One Month Before Impact Day

The soldiers did their best to avoid her. Zoe didn’t mind. They were too slow, to weak. They only slowed her down. She was far more effective on her own. There was only one person who never got in her way, and he…

A pile of bodies lay at her feet. All human, mindless and bestial. No great loss to the planet, though she still wished there was another way. Not out of any misplaced sense of compassion, it was just that so much death felt like a waste. Every life had value. More specifically, every soul had value.

Still, there was something cathartic about being let loose to cut a swathe through anything and everything that got in her way. She was built as a weapon, and that would never leave her. It was who she was, what she was. It wasn’t all she was, but some part of her would always need that feeling, that release. Better she took it out on humans than actual people. She always felt those losses far more keenly.

It would take them months to clear out this district of the city, more if Genesis intervened. She doubted they would, not with the military presence they held in the city, but she’d learned a long time ago not to underestimate Genesis arrogance.

She closed her eyes, focusing on her other senses. Technically, the HUD provided by her helmet could point her to the next nest of humans, but she preferred relying on her own senses. Technology could be tampered with. She couldn’t.

Something’s here.

She opened her eyes, entire body tensed for a fight. Someone had gotten close, standing right in front of her, and she hadn’t noticed their approach at all. How was that possible?

When she saw who it was, that question no longer seemed important. A thousand other questions flooded her mind as the young girl with lilac hair smiled absently.

“Hello, Zoe.”

“Alice?” she asked, but something was wrong. The girl in front of her wasn’t quite right. Her features were just a little less perfect, a little less symmetrical. Her skin wasn’t quite so flawless. She seemed both more human, and less real. “No, you’re not Alice. You’re…” She trailed off as she realised who it was she must be speaking to. “No. No, that’s not possible.”

“Figured it out already?” the girl replied, her smile widening. “I’m not disappointed.”

The girl she was looking at shouldn’t be alive. She’d died, before Zoe was ever born.

“How are you here? Why are you here?”

“This is just a small stop on a very, very long road,” the girl replied enigmatically.

“It’s been two-hundred years,” Zoe said. “Why have you returned now?” It was obvious she wasn’t getting an answer to the how. She wasn’t entirely sure she wanted one. In her experience, immortality always came with a price.

“Oh, I’ve been in and out this whole time,” the girl responded. “I just never needed you before.”

Suspicious. Curious. Surprisingly hurtful.

“You need me? What for?”

“For my little house of cards,” the girl said.

“Don’t be vague with me,” Zoe growled. A passing resemblance to Alice wouldn’t save this girl, and Zoe wasn’t known for her patience.

“Fine. Here’s the deal. You do what I say, and I’ll give you what you really want.”

“I have everything I want,” Zoe retorted.

“No, you don’t.”

Zoe bristled. This girl spoke with entirely too much certainty, too much authority. It rubbed her the wrong way.

“What would you know?” she snarled.

“Everything, Zoe.”

The weight behind those words hit Zoe like a physical blow. Something in the girl’s tone, in her eye, in her body language. It wasn’t just a line.

“What are you?”

The girl’s demeanour changed almost immediately, brightening up. The change made Zoe even more uncomfortable.

“Right, I didn’t properly introduce myself, did I? That was rude of me.” She straightened the pleats of her dress, smiling up at Zoe. “I no longer have a name, but you can call me the Child. I’m a Guardian.”

“What?”

“Don’t worry about it,” the girl said, waving her hand dismissively. “Look, you want your family back, right?”

Zoe froze. Emotions long-buried rushed to the surface, flooding her, threatening to overwhelm her. How did this girl’s words carry so much weight? What was she?

“I don’t have a family,” Zoe said coldly.

“Exactly. But you did.”

“That was never-”

“There’s no point lying to me, Zoe,” the girl said. “I’ve seen everything. You, Gabriel, that creepy little clone of me. You want to be together again.”

Of course she wanted them to be together again. That had been the only time in her life when she’d ever been happy. That didn’t mean it was possible. Some bridges could never be un-burned.

“It’s never going to happen,” Zoe said.

“Ugh, you’re so frustrating,” the girl said, idly kicking at one of the dead humans. “You’re like a divorced couple, and creepy clone Alice is the child bouncing between you.”

If only.

“She made her choice.”

“You don’t understand the concept of joint custody?” the girl asked, her tone dripping with condescension.

For two centuries, Alice had bounced between them, though it had never seemed like her choice. She would venture out of the city limits, and whoever got to her first would take her home.

Had… had that been her choice? Did she ‘let’ herself get captured so she could move between the two of them? She always refused to talk about her time at Genesis…

Fine, but even if Alice still cared for both of them, Gabriel was another story. The two of them had spent too much time opposed, too much time trying to hurt each other, and there were some wounds that would never heal.

“He would never-”

“Wroooong.” The girl seemed frustrated, and a little distracted.

“Fine,” Zoe said, giving up on arguing. “Just tell me what you want.”

“I want you take a trip for me,” the girl said.

“What?”

“Specifically, there’s business I want you to attend to in Melbourne.”

Zoe baulked at the idea. Australia was notable for precisely one thing, and that was the only city that would never be recovered or restored. Melbourne was possibly the single most unpleasant place on the planet.

“Melbourne? In Australia? Why would I want to go there?”

“Well, you need the energy of the Tower.”

Zoe might not have been surprised, but she was appalled. Ever since the construction of the Tower, well before she was born, people had been trying and failing to harness it. Somehow capable of producing seemingly unlimited energy, every attempt to make use of that power had ended in ruin. After the Outbreak, everyone had collectively decided to just leave Melbourne alone for good.

“For what?” she asked. Fighting this girl seemed pointless.

“A failed experiment.”

“Failed?”

“I mean, it might work,” the girl said, shrugging. “You could probably figure it out. That’s not the point.”

Is this girl insane?

“You’re gonna need to give me more to go on than that,” Zoe said.

“Look,” the girl said, clearly exasperated. “If I give you too much information, you’ll mess it up. Besides, you’re more or less a genius. You can fill in the gaps.”

“And why would I listen to you at all?” Zoe asked, waiting for the catch. The girl wouldn’t have bothered starting the conversation if she didn’t have something more up her sleeve. She was too confident, and too outrageous, for anything else.

“Because I have this,” the girl said, reaching behind her and pulling out a stack of paper, seemingly out of thin air. She waved it in front of Zoe, just out of reach.

Even from a distance and in motion, Zoe’s eyes were capable of reading the visible contents of the pages. It was a list of names, and if the size of the stack was anything to go by, there were hundreds of thousands of them. Her heart caught in her chest.

“Is that…?”

“Yep. Every single one.”

That’s not fair.

“How?” Zoe asked, repeating the two dozen or so names she could read over and over in her head. She had an eidetic memory; those names would never leave her again.

“I’ll tell you, if you do what I say.”

“I… I’ll do it,” Zoe said, knowing she couldn’t possibly refuse. Nothing terrified her more than the contents of that list, but she needed to know. She needed to memorise ever name.

“Here’s what it’ll take, then. Go to Melbourne. Don’t tell Mason where you’re going, or why. I’ll provide you with the schematics. You build until they show up, then you stall for as long as you can. If everything works out…”

“You want me to get captured?” Zoe asked, realising the only possible ending to that scenario. Genesis would only send their Alpha team, the full Alpha team. That meant Gabriel, Ami, Haylie and XO. She couldn’t take all four of them, and they wouldn’t kill her.

“It won’t last,” the girl assured her.

“And if they kill me?”

“Gabriel would never let you die,” the girl said.

She’s right, Zoe thought. But how could she possibly know that? How does she know any of this?

“Why can’t I tell Mason?”

“Because I have other plans for him, and the less he knows, the better,” the girl replied, still exasperated. There was also a trace of venom in her voice.

“But he’s your father,” Zoe said.

“Don’t remind me.”

“What?”

The girl pulled a face, somewhere between confusion and contempt.

“You… you really love him, don’t you?” she asked.

“He’s my father, too.”

“Then I’m sorry,” the girl said, and she sounded genuine. “Say goodbye to him before you leave.”

“You’re going to-” kill your own father? she wanted to finish, but couldn’t get the words out.

“Yes.”

“That’s…” What could she say about that? “Okay. Is there anything else?”

“One more thing,” the girl said.

“Yes?”

“It would be better if you don’t remember any of this.”

“Remember what?” Zoe asked the air, unsure of where those words came from, or what they were in response to.

 

Next Week: Maybe Punching Someone Would Help