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Author: Snow

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

Bonus – The Price They Paid

103 Years Before Impact Day

The sound of an unfamiliar voice down the corridor proved too irresistible of a curiosity to Ami, and for the first time in months, she left her bed. Immediately, she was flooded with new information about the room, her new abilities filling the space. Her brother hadn’t moved.

“Kaito,” she said softly. “There’s someone new.”

“I know,” he replied, his voice thick with pain.

“What can you tell about them?”

Kaito grimaced. He was far more sensitive to the thoughts of those around him, and it left him nearly incapacitated most of the time. She placed a comforting hand on his shoulder, wishing she could ease his burden. If either of them had known what their new abilities would feel like, they never would have consented to the procedure.

“Nothing,” he said weakly. “Everything is too fast. Whoever they are, they’re different. And they think in English. It… it hurts.”

“Alright, don’t strain yourself,” she said. “I’ll go check it out.”

“I can’t shut them out,” Kaito whimpered. “They’re so loud.”

“I’ll take care of it,” she promised.

Leaving her brother in their room, she crept up the corridor, feeling ahead for any clues as to the identity of the newcomer. They seemed masculine, tall and athletic, and well-dressed. Their features seemed Caucasian. Ami stopped before entering the room, listening to the conversation.

“How many have you created?” the newcomer asked, with a strong pre-outbreak accent. Despite what Kaito had said, though, he was speaking Japanese.

“So far, only two,” one of the researchers said. “We’re working on-”

“Where did you learn the technique?” the newcomer demanded.

“We developed it ourselves.”

“Impossible,” the newcomer said. “Don’t worry, this won’t affect your payment. We’re just trying to identify possible leaks.”

“It wasn’t from you,” the researcher said. “The technique is a little different, allowing for more versatility in metaphysical capabilities.”

“That doesn’t answer the question.”

“I’m afraid we can’t disclose the source,” the researcher insisted.

“Very well. Talk me through the metaphysical abilities, then. What do you believe is possible?”

“Well, we’ve already demonstrated telekinetic and telepathic abilities, as complementary evolutions. We also have promising schematics for ferrokinesis, hydrokinesis and, though unstable, polymorphism.”

She felt the newcomer tense up, though it would have been invisible to anyone in the room.

“Tell me about your two successful prototypes,” the newcomer said. “What’s their count? How much have they been told about the procedure? What side-effects have you observed?”

“The girl’s count is about one-hundred thousand,” the researcher said. “Her brother is about twice that. They were briefed on the entire process, and the expected results, except for that part, which I’m sure you can understand.”

“Of course.”

“As for side-effects, it’s hard to say. They’re still adjusting to their new abilities, both of which have led to intense sensitivities. Beyond that, there’s not much we’ve had the opportunity to observe.”

“I see,” the newcomer said, still very tense. “I’m assuming you have more extensive notes in their files?”

“Absolutely. Now, would you care to meet the prototypes? If they meet your expectations, we can begin discussions on providing the service to your soldiers, and the costs involved.”

“I’d love to meet them,” the newcomer said.

The researcher gestured in the direction of her room, and both he and the newcomer began to walk her way. She scampered back to her room, where Kaito was waiting. He was sitting up, his hands pressed against the sides of his head.

“They’re coming this way,” she said. “I think whoever it is, is here because of us.”

“Right you are,” the newcomer said, standing in their doorway. She hadn’t felt him approach. How had he done that?

“Hello,” she said timidly. Kaito only grunted.

“They’re teenagers,” the newcomer said. “You did this to children?”

“They were bred for it,” the researcher said. “We’ve been working on this for a very long time. Physiologically speaking, seventeen years of age was the ideal time for the procedure.”

“He’s angry,” Kaito said.

“That I am,” the newcomer said. Then, switching to English, he continued, “I’ve seen everything I need to see. Haylie, you in?”

An English voice with a different pre-outbreak accent to him spoke through the lab’s PA system.

“I’m in, Gabriel. I have all the files, and I’ve isolated everyone to their chambers.”

“Thank you, Haylie,” the one Ami now knew was Gabriel said. He turned to the researcher, and spoke to him in Japanese. “What you’ve done here is unforgiveable, all of you. What you’ve created is monstrous, and the price was not yours to pay.” He turned to Ami and Kaito, and nodded to them both. “I’m sorry for what’s about to happen.”

In a movement almost too fast for her to follow, Gabriel pulled out a pistol, shooting the researcher right between the eyes. Kaito flinched, Ami screamed.

“Stay here,” Gabriel said, turning and running down the corridor.

Ami stared at the researcher, a man whose name she never knew, but who was still, in some small way, a part of her family. Now dead, blood splattered across the walls. Murdered by a stranger who’d called her a monster. Called her brother a monster.

“What’s happening?” Kaito asked, his voice trembling.

“We have to stop him,” Ami said.

“How?”

She didn’t know how to answer him. They had power, but neither of them knew how to use it. This murderer, this demon, was something they didn’t understand. All Ami knew was that she had to try.

She closed her eyes, focusing on the room around her. All she needed was something she could use as a weapon, something to stop the demon, something to save her remaining family. In a cupboard, buried under old clothes and discarded toys, she found what she needed.

Throwing open the cupboard doors, she rummaged, digging until she pulled them out, turning to show them to Kaito. He shrank back, shaking his head.

“Ami, those are…”

She tossed the smaller sword to him, keeping the longer for herself. Kaito gripped his tightly as she unsheathed hers.

“An eye for an eye,” she said darkly. “I swear, Kaito, I will kill him.”

“You’ll die trying,” he said, staring deep into her eyes. “Please.”

“I can’t do nothing,” she said. He just shook his head, sitting back down on his bed.

Ami walked towards the door, but it slid shut, closing her in. Irritated, she pressed the button to open it, but nothing happened.

“What the-”

“Please remain safely in your room,” the feminine voice from the PA system said. Ami recognised the voice as the one who’d spoken to Gabriel before. She was with him.

“No,” she snarled. The voice didn’t say anything more.

The door was staying shut, then. Even after the procedure, Ami knew she didn’t have the strength to force it open. At least, not the physical strength.

“Stand back,” she ordered her brother.

Closing her eyes, she focussed on the door, letting her awareness slip through and around it. She could feel the mechanisms that held it closed, all the structurally weak points, the electronic systems that commanded it to open. She took a deep breath.

Without moving a muscle, Ami tore the entire door out of its frame, slamming it against the opposite wall. Kaito whimpered, and almost immediately, an alarm rang out.

“Wow,” Ami muttered. “Maybe I won’t need the sword after all…”

She raced out of the room, trying to figure out where Gabriel would have gone. Doors continually closed in her way, giving her plenty of practice removing them. Wherever she went, she saw evidence of Gabriel’s rampage, blood and corpses leaving her a grisly trail to follow.

“It had to be done,” he said, surprising her. He was behind her? How had he managed to sneak up on her?

“You killed everyone,” she said, turning and holding the blade towards him. He didn’t even flinch.

“Not everyone,” he said. “Just the guilty.”

“What did they ever do to you?” she demanded, fighting back tears.

“I’m not the victim here,” he said solemnly. “Just an avenger. I wish you could understand that I’m doing this for you.”

“They’re all dead. You killed my family, my friends… For me?”

“For what they did to you,” he said. “For the price they paid. One day, you’ll understand. I just hope that isn’t any time soon.”

“Well, now you have a price to pay.” Her grip on the sword tightened. “I won’t let you leave here.”

“Be careful, Gabriel,” the PA voice warned him. “She’s-”

Ami lunged forwards, thrusting the sword right through his chest. He didn’t even try to avoid it. He just stood there, looking down at her.

“I’m sorry,” he said, his expression looking almost like affection. “You deserved better.”

In a movement too fast for her to follow, he broke her grip on the sword, pulled a gun out from somewhere, pressed it against her head, and pulled the trigger.

 

Next Week: Does Our Friendship Ever Seem Weird To You?

Step 5 – What Death Fears

Melbourne, 2003 – 12 Years Before Impact Day

Roxie and Felix sat on the branches of a tall tree, watching the accident unfold. She’d seen dozens of deaths now, carried as many souls to whatever was waiting for them. She still felt the loss of each and every one.

“Does it ever stop feeling so tragic?” she asked, as a car pulled to a stop in front of a level crossing, waiting for the train to pass.

“Knowing what comes after helps,” Felix replied.

“The people they’re leaving behind don’t know,” Roxie pointed out.

A car was hurtling down the road, swerving slightly, showing no signs of slowing down.

“Loss is a part of the human experience,” Felix said.

The train was growing closer.

“Still, a family of four, all dead?” she asked.

“I’ll take the kids,” he said.

“Thanks.”

The swerving car collided with the back of the stopped vehicle, sending it lurching forwards, crashing through the barricade and onto the train tracks. The train’s horn blared, but it was far too late for it to stop.

The force of the collision sent the car flying forward, rolling and bouncing until it landed in a crumpled, smoking heap beside the tracks. The train was screeching to a stop, but there was nothing that could be done.

Roxie and Felix dropped from the tree, landing lightly on their feet, and approached the vehicle. Three spirits shimmered into existence around it. One must still be clinging to life, Roxie realised. Won’t be long now, though.

She approached the parents, a moderately attractive heterosexual Caucasian couple, with fair skin and brown hair. They acknowledged her approach with a mixture of confusion and relief. Carol and Jason Farrow.

“What happened?” Jason asked, his arm wrapped around the shoulder of his wife.

“Are we… dead?” Carol added, glancing back at the wreckage.

“Yes,” Roxie told them, her voice gentle and soft. “I’m sorry.”

“And the girls?” Jason asked, his voice pained.

“I’m so sorry. There was no-”

“STAY AWAY!” a child’s voice screeched, cutting her off. It sent a chill down her spine, and she looked over to Felix, who had already drawn his rapier.

Two girls, looking maybe six and four, were backed up against the car. The older one was standing in front of her sister, defiant and fierce.

“What the…” Roxie muttered.

“Charlotte, I’m sorry,” Felix said calmly. “It has to be this way.”

“No…” Jason said, staring at his daughters.

“Uh, maybe we should wrap this up,” Roxie said, feeling a sudden spike of anxiety.

“But our girls,” Carol said, hesitantly.

“We’ll take care of them,” Roxie assured her. “I promise.”

“What’s going to happen to them?” Jason asked.

“Same thing that’s gonna happen to you. We’re going to take you somewhere safe, and everything will be fine.”

I mean, it’s mostly true.

“Heaven?” Carol asked.

“Yes,” Roxie lied.

Well, it wasn’t technically a lie. Hell basically served the same functions that people attributed to Heaven. The only reason it was called Hell was because… Actually, she didn’t know why it was called Hell. She knew it had about a dozen other names, but none of them were Heaven. There probably was a reason for that, but it didn’t seem important, or pertinent.

“Okay,” Jason said, squeezing Carol’s shoulder. She leaned into him, smiling.

Roxie summoned her scythe, collecting both of them in a single swipe. She could feel their sparks inside of her, and it was a comforting feeling. Every time she collected a soul, she felt connected to them, to the lives they’d once had, to her place in the universe.

“YOU. CAN’T. HAVE. HER.” the older child was screaming, and Roxie turned in time to see Felix actually take a step back. The girl scared him that much? Why?

“What’s going on?” Roxie asked, rushing to his side. As she got closer, she realised there was something different about the girl, though she couldn’t put her finger on exactly what.

“She’s… not dead,” Felix said, eyeing the girl warily.

“What? Then how can she-”

“I don’t know,” he said nervously.

“GO AWAY!” the girl shouted. There was weight behind her words, a force that even Roxie had to admit was a little frightening.

“There’s something wrong here,” Felix said. “She’s not human.”

“Her name is Charlotte, right?”

“Yes.”

Roxie approached the girl, letting go of her scythe. It vanished back into her, and Charlotte relaxed a little, but still stood protectively in front of her sister. Sadie.

“Charlotte, listen. It’s gonna be okay. We’re taking her somewhere safe. She’ll be looked after.”

“She’s staying with me,” Charlotte insisted.

“She can’t,” Felix insisted. “She’s dead. We can’t undo that.”

Charlotte folded her arms and shook her head. Her mannerisms were very much those of a child, but there was something else to them, something unnatural.

“I can still see her. I can still talk to her. She’s staying with me.”

“If she stays, she’ll get worse,” Felix told her. “She won’t be happy. She won’t be herself.”

“I’ll make her happy,” Charlotte insisted.

“It won’t be good for her, Charlotte,” Roxie said gently.

“You can’t take her,” Charlotte repeated, widening her stance. Roxie’s skin was crawling. Something was very, very off about this girl.

“Distract her,” Felix whispered, beginning to circle around her.

Bad idea, her instincts screamed, but she obliged. She had no choice.

“Charlotte, talk to me. Are you afraid to lose her?” she asked.

“I’m not losing her.”

“You have to say goodbye, Charlotte,” Roxie said, her heart breaking a little. “I’m sorry.”

“No,” Charlie said.

Felix stood behind Sadie, on the other side to Charlie. He moved quickly, thrusting his blade into the girl’s chest. It was faster than Roxie had ever seen him move. Did fear motivate him that much?

It didn’t matter. However fast he was, the girl was fast. Charlotte whirled, grabbing his blade before it could touch her sister, stopping it. Fear burst forth onto Felix’s face, no longer concealed.

“What the-” he began, but she cut him off.

“MINE!” she shouted, the words booming out into the night.

With a single, savage movement, Charlotte grabbed the sword with her other hand, and snapped it in half. Roxie watched as Felix convulsed, as if his spine had been shattered, and he collapsed to the ground.

“Run,” he whispered.

Charlotte stood over him, cuts appeared all across her body. Blood flowed out of the wounds, circling around her, a gruesome aura that effectively doubled her size. Roxie could feel fury emanating from her in waves, and she was barely able to move.

Helpless, she watched as Charlotte picked up Felix, holding him in the air before snapping his neck and tearing him in half. She flung the two halves away from her, though they disintegrated in the air before getting very far.

Felix is dead. This girl, this thing, just killed a Reaper.

In that moment, she realized it wasn’t Charlotte she was looking at. There was something inside of her, something very dangerous, and very powerful, and very angry. Something Felix had just pissed off. If she wasn’t careful, it would kill her, too.

“What are you?” she asked it.

“DESTROYER,” it replied.

“Why are you protecting her?” Roxie asked, gesturing towards the other girl, tiny and terrified. “You’re not human. She’s not your sister.”

“CHARLOTTE LOVES HER,” it said.

“I need to-” Roxie began, but she was interrupted by the appearance of another young girl. Fair skin, lilac hair, deep purple eyes.

The girl from the hotel? Before I died?

“Don’t,” the girl said.

“Who are you?” Roxie asked, certain it couldn’t be the same person.

“The Child. You collected my soul,” the girl said.

“No, I didn’t”

“You will.”

“How?” Roxie asked, still staring at Charlotte, or the Destroyer, or whatever that thing was. It seemed content to simply stand over Sadie, protecting her.

“Time is weird for your kind,” the Child said. “And mine.”

“Your kind?” What are you?”

“Guardian,” the Child said.

“Which means…?”

“I outrank you. So listen to me, and run.”

“I can’t leave a soul here,” Roxie said, summoning her scythe. If she had to fight both of them, she would. Even if it meant ending up like Felix.

“You don’t have a choice,” the Child said.

“I can-” Roxie began, but the Child interrupted her.

“No, you can’t.”

“What are you doing here?” she asked, one of a thousand questions racing through her mind.

“Protecting an investment,” the Child replied.

Roxie tried to move, but the Child was faster. Her movements were graceful, fluid, and completely inhuman. All it took was a single finger, placed on Roxie’s forehead, and everything around her faded to nothing. A blink of her eyes, and she realized she was back in the clearing, now in the midst of winter.

The souls of Jason and Carol Farrow had left her. Felix was gone. She lay there, staring up at the black and purple sky, snowflakes landing gently on her skin.

Who was Charlotte Farrow, really? What was she? And who was that girl?

If she was lucky, it would be a very long time before she had to see either of them again.

 

Next Week: Dead Girls Don’t Cry (Impact Day, Volume 2 begins!)

 

RoxieSo there you go! That’s the end of our 5 week hiatus, and the bonus story that filled the space. I hope you enjoyed it! It’s a bit weird, but it’s all important in the end.

Anyway, if you’ve enjoyed the story so far, consider supporting me on on Patreon, so I can afford to keep writing it. Additionally, you can buy the complete collection of Impact Day on Gumroad. It features a bonus chapter that I’m not releasing online! Also, you can get Roxie as a standalone purchase.

Next Week, Dead Girls Don’t Cry begins! It’s basically like Impact Day, only set earlier, and more full of personal drama and angst. I hope you enjoy it!

Step 4 – Bring Out Your Dead

London, 2209 – 276 Years Before Impact Day

“So, how does this work?” Roxie asked, her gaze sweeping the clearing. She couldn’t see a single visible way out.

“Like this,” Felix said, pressing his palm against the air in front of him. The air shimmered and rippled, and faded to reveal a doorway. “Shall we?”

“You just, make a hole in space, and we walk through it?”

“Yep.”

“Fair enough,” she said, shrugging.

They walked through together, finding themselves on a quiet, familiar street. Roxie looked around, nostalgia warring with a creeping sense of dread.

“This is home.”

“Feels like… about a month,” Felix said. “Since you died. This isn’t your home anymore, Roxie.”

“It’s quiet. And it feels…”

“There’s a lot of death here. Hundreds of thousands in the last month. It’s not usually like this,” Felix said.

“What happened?” she asked, her skin crawling.

“The Outbreak,” he answered, as they started to walk again. “A weaponised virus. Sooner or later it takes over the whole planet. Turns almost everyone into, well, something else. Violent, dangerous, unstable. Those who survive…” He let out a heavy sigh. “You’re gonna come back here a lot, Roxie.”

“Did you know? When you came for me, did you know what was going to happen?”

He didn’t answer her. They walked in silence, and all around them, she could see the signs of a world descending into chaos. Buildings burned, bodies lay strewn across the streets, blood splattered every surface.

She couldn’t even begin to imagine what could have caused something like this. A weaponised virus? Someone had done this intentionally? Why? To what end?

Felix led her into a building, passing right through the door. Roxie tried to follow, but found the door as solid as if she were alive. Felix stuck his head through the door.

“Right. Next lesson. Physical objects only exist if you want them to.”

“What?”

“Act like the door isn’t there, and walk through it,” he said, disappearing back inside.

“Fucker,” she muttered.

Alright, just act like the door isn’t there, she repeated to herself. That’s fine. You can do this. It’s not like walking into it would hurt you.

She walked forward with purpose, and was pleasantly surprised when the door offered no resistance. It might as well not have been there.

Weird. But kind of cool.

He led them upstairs, stopping in front of an apartment door. She noticed the lack of blood and bodies. Maybe the violence outside hadn’t made its way in here yet? So then, what were they doing here?

“This is the part that sucks,” he said, resting a hand on the door, not passing through. “Just remember, there’s nothing we can do, nothing we can change. All we do is perform a function.”

“Oliver White,” she said, unprompted. “Why did that name just pop into my head?”

“That’s our soul,” he said.

“Right.”

They passed through the door, into a small apartment. An older man was standing at the window, staring down at the street below. Roxie flinched when he turned around, but his gaze passed right through them.

“He can’t see us?”

“It’s pretty uncommon for people to see us before they die,” Felix explained.

“I saw you.”

“Your business continued after dying,” he said.

“Right.”

The two of them watched as Oliver opened a cupboard, stoic resolution plastered across his face. His fingers trembled as he pulled down a cereal box, and extracted a pistol from it.

“Oh, fuck,” Roxie said.

“We can’t do anything,” Felix reminded her.

His hand found hers and squeezed. Oliver sat on his couch, jaw clenched, hand shaking almost too much to press the gun up into his chin. Roxie could barely maintain her gaze, but it felt disrespectful to look away, somehow.

He pulled the trigger, the gun went off, a bang echoed through the room. His body slumped backwards, and a copy of him shimmered into existence, standing over him.

“What happened?” he asked.

Roxie glanced at Felix, who just inclined his head towards Oliver. Taking the hint, she took a step forwards.

“You’re dead,” she said gently.

“Oh.”

“We’re here to help you move on,” she said, feeling the throbbing of her core, ready to summon her blade.

“I don’t want to move on,” he said. “I just want it all to be over.”

“I can do that, too,” she lied. “Just tell me you’re ready to go.”

He glanced down at his body, seemingly oblivious to the fact that it was him. Without any trace of emotion, he looked back over at her, and nodded.

“I’m ready.”

With a flick of her wrist, she summoned her scythe. It materialised in her hand, growing out from her palm.

She didn’t need Felix to explain the process. She just knew, and with a single swipe, she sliced right through Oliver, who winked out of existence, a small spark of energy added to her own.

“He’s inside me,” she said.

“Now we take him home,” Felix told her.

Without needing to be told, she pressed her palm against the air in front of her, thinking about Hell. The space in front of her shimmered and vanished, a portal back to Hell. She stepped through, and Felix followed.

As she passed through, the spark escaped, dissipating into the air. Her instincts told her that was normal, that was okay. That was the Process. Felix nodded at her, confirming her assumptions.

They were back in the clearing, quiet and peaceful. It had changed, though. Rather than feeling like spring, it felt like autumn. All of the trees were orange and red, their leaves scattered across the ground. The sky was a hazy greenish-orange, with no visible source of light.

“So now what?” she asked. “Is there anything between collecting souls?”

“Plenty,” he said. “Once you’ve finished your training.”

She sighed, but nodded, and pressed her palm against the air again. Somehow, she knew where to go. Together, they passed through the portal, into somewhere new.

 

Italy, 1599 – 416 Years Before Impact Day

The air was thick, a black haze that took Roxie too long to identify. Smoke. They were far from any buildings, though in the distance she could see a small village, with very old-fashioned buildings. European architecture, but that was as far as she could identify it.

A crowd of people had gathered around a fire, dressed in dark clothing, voices murmuring. Roxie and Felix wandered through them, completely unnoticed. An uncomfortable stench permeated the air, and Roxie found herself grateful she didn’t need to breath. Inhaling that would have been unbearable. She didn’t know how the crowd could stand that.

When she reached the fire, she felt all of the strength go out of her. It shouldn’t have surprised her, given the apparent time period and their reason for being there, but she wasn’t prepared. Her gut turned over, and she felt like she was going to be sick.

In the middle of the fire was a single pole, and tied to the pole, the blackening body of a young woman, probably not even out of her teenage years. Renata. The girl she was here to collect.

A witch burning? Why? Why did she have to be here? To witness this?

She forced herself to look at the girl, screaming and writhing, struggling against her bonds as her skin blistered and bubbled. Even through the smoke, she recognised the face.

Rebecca?

“Wait, this is…”

“Yeah, it’s her,” Felix confirmed, his shoulders slumping.

“But how? She’s already…”

It didn’t make since. She couldn’t wrap her head around it. How could she be collecting the soul of somebody already dead? Somebody she’d spoken to, who had been her guide?

“Time works differently for us,” Felix reminded her. “And especially for her.”

“For her?”

“She’s… special, I think,” Felix said. “I don’t know the specifics.”

Best not to think about it. Just do your job. Don’t think about it.

“So how does this work?”

“Same as any other,” Felix said gently.

“But-”

“Roxie, do not give anything away,” he cautioned.

“Fine,” she said. “You handle this. It’s too weird for me.”

“Not this time,” he said sadly.

“I can’t. I just, it’s too weird.”

“You don’t have a choice.”

“Ugh,” she said.

She couldn’t look at the girl any longer. Instead, she stared at the crowd, wondering how they could be so passionate, so angry, so full of hate. How could they watch this at all? How could they allow it to happen?

When the screaming finally stopped, she let herself look again. The body continued to burn, but the girl’s spirit stood beside the fire, staring up at it. Felix nudged her forwards.

“Uh, hey,” Roxie said.

“Who are you?” the girl demanded, turning around. It surprised Roxie to realise they were both speaking Italian. She didn’t even understand Italian. Or, she hadn’t. Apparently she did now.

“Uh. Roxie,” she said. “You’re-”

“Renata,” the girl said.

“Right. I guess so.”

“Are you angels?” Renata asked, tilting her head.

“Yes?”

“Then you can piss off.”

“Excuse me?” Roxie asked, wondering if there was something missing in the translation. How did that even work, anyway?

“I’ve no interest in Heaven,” Renata said coldly. “Goodbye.”

What the Hell is with this girl?

“You don’t just-”

“Look,” Renata interrupted. “I practiced witchcraft. I fell in love with a woman. A demon. You have to send me to Hell.”

“What?”

“Please. I don’t know what else to do.”

She seemed scared, vulnerable. At the same time, there was a fierce determination in her eyes, and Roxie was completely at a loss.

“You want to go to Hell?”

“It’s the only way to see her again,” Renata said.

“Well, this just keeps getting weirder,” Roxie muttered. “Fine, have it your way. Hell it is.”

It’s where you were going anyway, you know.

“Really?”

Roxie reached out her arm, summoning the scythe. Renata watched, fascinated.

“Don’t move. I promise this part doesn’t hurt.”

“I wouldn’t care if it did,” Renata scoffed. “I just got burned to death, remember?”

At that point, Felix stepped in, placing a hand on Roxie’s shoulder. “You shouldn’t remember that pain,” he told Renata.

“Well, I do,” she said irritably.

“Not for long,” Roxie said, shrugging off Felix’s hand.

“Roxie, wait-” Felix called out, but it was too late. She swung the scythe, feeling it connect with Renata’s soul, but it didn’t pass through. Rather, it bounced off, as it if it had hit another blade. Roxie recoiled, feeling the impact all the way up her arm.

“What the shit?

“What are you?” Felix demanded, stepping between Roxie and Renata.

“What?” the girl asked, clearly confused.

“What just happened?” Roxie asked, holding her aching arm.

“She’s still tethered,” Felix said.

“And that means…?”

“She broke off a piece of her soul,” he explained. “We can’t touch her. It’s… It’s magic, incredibly complex witchcraft.”

Renata baulked, staring back at her body. Tears were welling in her eyes.

“But that’s not what I wanted! I just, I wanted a way back, in case…” She trailed off, but the rest of the sentence was clear enough to Roxie.

“So what do we do now?” she asked Felix.

“We open a door,” he said. “She can still go, but she has to choose it.”

“Gladly,” Renata said instantly.

“So you really were weird from the start, huh,” Roxie said, appraising Renata, wondering how one went from that to the person she’d met before.

“What?”

“Nothing,” Roxie said. “Let’s go, kid.”

“Right,” Renata agreed. “Let’s go.” Her eyes scanned the crowed, locating a younger girl with a passing resemblance. The only person in the crowd who seemed to be genuinely upset at Renata’s fate. “Goodbye, Annabelle,” she whispered.

For just a second, Roxie could have sworn she saw the girl smile.

 

Next Week: What Death Fears

Step 3 – If You Can’t Beat Them, Join Them

Hell, ???

The word hung in the air between them. Reaper. Unfamiliar, ominous, strangely resonant. Roxie frowned.

“A Reaper? Black cloak, scythe, that whole business?”

“Is that what the Reaper who collected you looked like?” Rebecca asked, somewhat amused.

“What?” Roxie’s thoughts flashed back to Felix, the well-dressed man who’d chased her down the street. “Oh, right, that guy. Uh. No.”

“Reapers don’t have a set look,” Rebecca said, smirking.

Roxie sighed, turning the hilt over in her hands. She couldn’t help but to feel it looked slightly pathetic.

“Why would I want to be a Reaper? That sounds depressing as all Hell.”

Rebecca’s smirk grew wider.

“Well, they’re stronger than demons. And they spend most of their time anywhere but Hell.”

Roxie tilted her head. “Stronger than demons?”

“They’re the ones who keep stray demons in line. And they can’t be killed.”

“I guess that makes sense.” It was difficult to imagine anything that could kill something that was a part of the cycle of death. Plus, if her experience was anything to go by, you had to already be dead to be a Reaper.

“So?” Rebecca asked.

“I’m not really big on violence,” Roxie said, waving Rebecca off. “Or death.”

“Demons fight a lot more than Reapers do.”

That was an easy enough calculation, then.

“Looks like I’m gonna be a Reaper.”

“Thought so,” Rebecca said. “Let’s go.”

“Just like that?”

“You want more time to think about it?”

“No, I just…” She wasn’t quite sure how to finish that sentence. “I was expecting a slower process, I guess.”

“Sorry to disappoint.”

“No, no, let’s get on with it,” Roxie said. “Lead the way.”

Rebecca put her hand on the door, resting her palm against the wood. She held it there for several seconds before reaching down and pulling it open, revealing an entirely new area behind it.

Roxie followed her through door, into a warm, sunlight clearing surrounded by trees. She couldn’t help but smile to feel the sun on her skin. The breeze was sweetly scented, and she liked the way it tousled her hair.

All around the clearing appeared to be the ruins of a large stone building. At a guess, Roxie would’ve said it was a cathedral of some kind.

A familiar sight awaited her just behind one of the collapsed walls. Felix leant against it, arms folded, eyes closed.

“Hello again,” he said, without opening his eyes.

“Uh, hey.”

She didn’t really know what she was supposed to say to him. It was kind of his fault she was here, wasn’t it? She supposed he was only doing his job, but it was hard not to take it personally.

“I’m not at all surprised to see you here,” he said, opening his eyes and smiling at her.

“Well, that makes one of us.”

“Ha!” He grinned. “I do enjoy your fire.”

“Alright then…”

“I think you’ll make a fantastic Reaper.”

She looked around, trying to figure out exactly where they were. Presumably, some strange corner of Hell, but it seemed far too pleasant for that. A Reaper training ground? There wasn’t a lot around, and no other Reapers that she could see.

“What should I be expecting, here?”

“Heh,” was all Felix said.

“What, ‘heh’?”

“Nothing.”

“Don’t you ‘nothing’ me,” she said, feeling a lot like she wanted to punch him.

“You’ll see,” he said, grinning. “It’s quite the experience.”

“You-” she began, but she was cut off.

“Careful,” Rebecca said from behind her, placing a hand on her shoulder.

“Where did you come from?” Roxie asked.

“Nowhere,” Rebecca replied.

“What’s the deal?”

“You’ve been assigned a mentor,” Rebecca said.

“Oh, no.”

“Oh?” Felix said, bemused.

“Yep,” Rebecca confirmed. “Meet your mentor, Roxie.”

“A pleasure to meet you,” Felix said, grinning.

“Kill me,” Roxie muttered. Felix laughed.

Rebecca left the two of them alone, chuckling to herself before vanishing into thin air. At least, Roxie assumed that there was air around them. She didn’t seem to be breathing, except maybe by force of habit.

“Would you like to learn, then?” Felix asked, extending a hand to her. Reluctantly, and a little unsure, she took it.

A very still, cold sense of calm washed over her, radiating from his touch. Her body felt distant, almost intangible, and at the centre of her, a warm, humming presence grew in size.

“Whoa,” she murmured.

“You feel it?”

“It’s warm. I like it.”

“That’s your core,” he explained. “That’s what you form into your blade. If it breaks, you break.”

“That seems risky,” she said.

“I’ve yet to encounter a single force that could break a Reaper’s blade,” he said. “We’re the embodiment of Death itself. Nothing is exempt from that. Nothing can change that.”

She closed her eyes, focusing on the core. She felt the energy pulse and ripple, settling into a comfortable throbbing. Slowly, she let it spread out and fill her, channelling it down her arm, feeling it in her fingers, holding it in her hand. She opened her eyes, let go of Felix’s hand, and felt the energy solidify.

In her hand, she held a messy lump of jagged metal, twisted in on itself. Felix appraised it, his expression bemused.

“Well, that’s…”

“Ugly?” she asked, sighing. “What am I supposed to do with this?”

“Shape it,” he said.

“How?”

“Hmm…” He took a step back from her, his hand flicking to the side. In an instant, he was holding his rapier, which he immediately pointed at her. “Defend yourself.”

“What-” she began, but he was already attacking. He moved quickly, and she struggled to fend off his blows with her unwieldy scrap-heap of a weapon.

She was pleased to find how easily her body moved. It felt just like it always had, only with all physical restrictions removed. There was no sense of fatigue, or lack of strength, or poor balance. Everything just worked the way it was supposed to, the way she wanted it to.

Felix was relentless, though. She reflected attack after attack, unsure of what would happen if anything actually hit her. Her instincts told her it wasn’t worth finding out, as difficult as it was to protect herself. Her weapon stubbornly retained its shape, though she was at least relieved to find she couldn’t feel the impacts of his blade connecting roughly with it.

“Is something supposed to be happening?” she asked, not the least bit out of breath despite how hard she was pushing herself. That was going to take some getting used to.

“It will when I stop going easy on you,” he said, grinning. His movements grew faster, less predictable. Within seconds, a strike got past her defences, his blade coming within an inch of slicing her open. It was knocked back at the last second by a long, wickedly-curved edge.

Her weapon had changed. No longer a warped mess of misshapen metal, she was holding a long, straight staff, the end of which held a curved blade with a sharp point.

“A scythe?” she said, staring at it with her mouth agape. “A fucking scythe?

“Evidently so,” Felix said, his rapier disappearing.

“You’ve got to be kidding me.”

“Something wrong?” he asked, clearly holding back laughter.

“I am not going to be a fuckin’ cliché,” she snapped. “Next thing you know I’ll be wearing a black cloak and a skull mask.”

She let go of the scythe, feeling the energy of it flow back into her, its familiar warmth filling her chest. Felix just smiled, adopting a more relaxed pose.

“Fine, so I’m stuck with a scythe. What’s next?” she asked, folding her arms.

“The rest is mostly academic,” he said. “Since you’re such a quick study, I’m sure the rest will be just as painless.”

“Wait, seriously? That’s it?”

“Well, that part usually takes longer, but yes,” he told her. “But if you’d like to spend longer on it, we can delay the lessons on time manipulation?”

Time manipulation?”

If not for the dead seriousness of his tone, she would have assumed he was joking. There was life after death, there was work after death, now there was literal time travel? It was all too much for one day.

“It’s not quite as complicated as it sounds,” he said. “Then again, depending on your perspective, it might be more complicated.”

“Has anyone ever told you how bad you are at explaining things?” she asked.

“Only people too impatient to listen to the explanations,” he retorted.

“Fine. Explain whatever weird time bullshit I need to know.”

“Envision this,” he said, drawing a line in the dirt between them. “This is time, in the world you know.”

“Sure.”

He drew a second line, parallel to the first.

“This is time, in another world,” he said.

“Another world?”

“The world you know is only one of several. Each of them has its own timeline. Though they all mostly match up, they are independent, and not perfectly in synch.”

He drew more lines in the dirt, all parallel. Then he drew two more, running perpendicular, across the top and bottom of the others.

“Hell, or whatever else you want to call it, exists independently of time. We exist independently of even Hell’s time stream, so we tend to come and go in the other worlds in a somewhat non-linear fashion.”

“So, we can time travel?” she asked, struggling to keep up with his explanation.

“Not intentionally,” he replied patiently. “We just go where, and when, we’re sent. It just doesn’t always happen in order.”

“That makes no fuckin’ sense,” she complained. “But sure. Fine. What’s next?”

“Next? Well, I suppose we can teach you the rest on the job,” he said. “Would you like to harvest your first soul?”

“Can you make it sound a little less creepy?”

“Nope,” he said, grinning.

 

Next Week: Bring Out Your Dead

Step 2 – Dying Was The Easy Part

Hell, ???

It was impossible to tell how much time had passed. She woke suddenly, almost forcefully, startled by her new surroundings. It certainly wasn’t the street she’d been stabbed to… death? Life? Re-death? Something, on.

“What the…” she muttered, looking around.

So far as she could tell, she was in her own bed, in her cheap, run-down apartment. The same worn posters adorned the walls, barely concealing the same cracks. The same street was visible out the window. The same bedcovers wrapped her up.

It didn’t feel the same, though. Instinctively, part of her knew it wasn’t really home. She wasn’t even certain it was real.

Well, she was dead. Presumably, that made this the afterlife.

“Man, the afterlife sucks,” she complained aloud. “Can’t even get a fancy mansion or anything?”

To her surprise, someone replied. A quiet, restrained voice that somehow communicated an inordinate level of power.

“It’s constructed from your memories,” the voice explained. “You wouldn’t get a mansion unless you were familiar with one.”

Roxie looked around, trying to locate the source of the voice. Someone was standing in the doorway, leaning against the frame. She could have sworn there was no-one there a second ago.

She took in the mystery figure. A young woman, similar in age to herself, maybe younger. Pale, porcelain skin that contrasted sharply with long, black hair and surprisingly gentle brown eyes. The woman wore an elaborate, gothic black and red dress covered in lace and frills, mixed with a few more modern accessories, like striped gloves and heavy black boots.

“Who the Hell are you?” Roxie demanded, vaulting out of bed.

“Rebecca.”

Roxie glared at her, then glanced out the window. Traffic wasn’t movie. What a cheap illusion. She couldn’t help but be underwhelmed by her first impressions of Hell.

“What a monumentally unhelpful answer,” she said.

“I am here to help,” Rebecca said, shrugging.

“I don’t know that I want help.”

She recalled Felix’s words, before he’d attacked her. They’d included processed and moving on. There was no way she was ready for that.

“Well, you need to be inducted sooner or later,” Rebecca said, seemingly unbothered by Roxie’s resistance.

“Inducted? What is this, some kind of a cult?” She shook her head, indicating it wasn’t a question in want of an answer. “You didn’t exactly give me a lot of time to get acclimatised.”

“We usually step in once someone realises they’re dead,” Rebecca explained. “For most people, that takes a lot longer.”

“Kinda hard to forget your own death.”

“Actually, you’re kind of the exception here. You’re supposed to forget. Trauma, and all that.”

There was a sort of mischievous undertone to Rebecca that Roxie couldn’t quite put her finger on, and didn’t quite understand. It wasn’t that Rebecca seemed at all dishonest, just… chaotic? Whatever it was, Roxie was amused to find it made her trust Rebecca more.

“Lucky me.”

“Well, I can leave you alone if you want,” Rebecca said, “but you can’t leave this area. There’s nothing outside of it.”

Something about the mental image that conjured made Roxie laugh.

“What, Hell running out of real estate?”

“We’re not in Hell currently,” Rebecca said. “This is more like a waiting room.”

“Well, maybe I’ll wait a little longer.”

“Suit yourself.”

Rebecca turned to leave, a dignified elegance to her movements Roxie hadn’t expected. The girl’s fashion sense was so odd she’d half expected, well, something more eccentric.

It alarmed her to find herself experiencing a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach, watching Rebecca leave. The last thing she wanted was to be trapped in a fake replica of her crappy home indefinitely. Her bravado was waning, and she needed answers.

“Wait.”

Rebecca turned, traces of a smug smile forming on her lips.

“Uh-huh.”

“Fill me in,” Roxie said, swallowing her pride. “What’s gonna happen?”

“Depends,” Rebecca replied, shrugging.

“On?”

“Whether you want to hang on.”

“As opposed to what?” Roxie asked, a little frustrated. “Letting go? Moving on?”

“Exactly.”

She sighed. Talking to this girl was like pulling teeth.

“So I don’t have to move on?”

“You do not,” Rebecca said, the smile growing ever so slightly more smug.

“Then why would I?”

“Well, if you don’t move on, your other option is to live in Hell.”

There was always a catch.

“Sounds delightful.”

“You either move on, or you become a demon,” Rebecca continued. The way she said it, she almost made it sound normal.

“I’m back in,” Roxie said, enjoying picturing herself as a demon, until she remembered what a demon actually was. “Uh, not so big on the whole evil thing, actually. How evil do I have to be, exactly?”

The level of smugness in Rebecca’s grin reached an almost infuriating level. Somehow, she managed to keep her tone completely neutral.

“It’s not like that,” she said.

“Then what is it like?” Roxie asked, wondering if she was going to have to play Twenty Questions every time she wanted a straight answer.

“Very complicated.”

Apparently so.

“Not like I’m going anywhere,” Roxie pointed out.

“Well, the short version is this. Become a demon, and you’re functionally immortal, but you generally can’t leave Hell.”

She latched onto the noncommittal language, firing up a spark of hope.

“Generally?”

“There are always exceptions,” Rebecca said.

“Noted. Keep going.”

Rebecca sighed.

“Demons are… constructs, of mental and spiritual energy. They have a hierarchy. You start at the bottom, with no power. You pledge yourself to a stronger demon, they use your power to get stronger, they protect you. Eventually, weaker demons pledge themselves to you.”

“Does strength matter?” Roxie asked, wondering why Hell sounded so much like prison. Maybe that was a redundant question.

“It’s a demon-eat-demon world.”

“Not a strong sell,” Roxie confessed. “Talk to me about getting out.”

“There are a few ways. Weak links, passageways, portals back are rare, but they do exist. Not recommended. Most worlds have some form of demon hunters. Plus, the Reapers tend to shut you down pretty quick, and they’re much less kind to demons than the recently deceased.”

Once again, Roxie latched onto the one word that seemed out of place.

“Most worlds? Plural?”

“Yes,” Rebecca said, her tone suggesting that was all the information she was prepared to provide.

“Right. That’s that, then. Next.”

“Demons can be summoned. That’s kind of a lottery, unless someone’s trying to summon you specifically.”

“I’ve seen movies, that never goes well,” Roxie said, adding a shudder for dramatic effect. “Next.”

Rebecca’s eyes lit up.

“Live long enough, accrue enough power, and you can become a demon prince.”

“No princesses?”

That made Rebecca laugh.

“I guess you can be a princess if you want. People don’t generally talk back to demon princes.”

“Power. Freedom. A life of your own.”

The way she said it, there was a sense of warmth, familiarity. Was she…? What was she?

“So, you’re…?

“Here to help,” Rebecca repeated, frustratingly vague. Roxie sighed.

“Right. Alright, let’s chart a course for demonic royalty, then.”

Rebecca grinned again, and offered Roxie her hand.

“Let’s go, then.”

Roxie reached out to take Rebecca’s hand, but was distracted by her stomach complaining. That sense of hunger hadn’t quite faded. If anything, it had grown stronger. She could honestly say she hadn’t expected ghosts to get hungry.

“Uh, can we grab food on the way?” she asked, pressing one hand against her stomach. “I am famished.”

Rebecca froze, staring at her with renewed intensity. All of a sudden, Roxie felt uncomfortably scrutinised. Her stomach growled again, and Rebecca seemed to glare at it.

“What?”

“Food,” Roxie said, a little on edge. “Hungry. Do demons not eat?”

“They don’t get hungry,” Rebecca said.

“Well, I’m hungry.”

“That’s… unorthodox.”

Rebecca stepped all the way into the room, closing the door behind her. It made the sound of a much heavier door slamming shut.

“Hurray for me,” Roxie muttered.

“Hold on,” Rebecca said, reaching into a pocket that Roxie was quite sure wasn’t there before. She pulled out a phone, an old-fashioned looking thing, and pressed her finger against the screen. After a moment’s pause, she pressed it to her ear. “Yo. Yeah, weird question. New soul. Says she’s hungry. Ya-huh. Got it. Thanks. Love ya. Bye.”

Rebecca smiled as she put the phone back into her pocket, the kind of smile that isn’t directed at anyone in the room. Roxie kept her eye on Rebecca’s hands, and sure enough, the pocket disappeared as soon as it wasn’t needed.

“Boyfriend?” she asked, hoping to get a reaction out of Rebecca. Rebecca burst out into hysterical laughter, nearly doubling over from the force of it. It took her several minutes to regain her composure.

“No, not, uh…” She cleared her throat. “It’s complicated.”

“Alright,” Roxie said, not interested enough to pry. “What’d they say, this mystery person?”

“How’d you die?” Rebecca asked.

“Gunshot.”

“Alright.”

Rebecca held her arm out, making a pose not unlike someone about to fire a gun. Roxie flinched, missing the moment where a gun actually materialised in Rebecca’s hands. It was a lot harder to miss Rebecca pulling the trigger, the boom of the gunshot, or the pain in her stomach.

“What the fuck?” she demanded, dropping to her knees and clutching her stomach.

“Focus on the pain,” Rebecca said, with the tone of a patient school teacher.

“Kind of hard not to.”

“Do you feel it?”

Yes!” she shouted. The pain wasn’t spreading, but it wasn’t subsiding either. It was static, and unexpectedly consistent. Pain had always felt more elusive than this.

“Hold onto it,” Rebecca instructed.

“What?”

“Visualise it, reach in and grab it.”

“You’re insane,” Roxie grumbled.

Rebecca rolled her eyes. “Here, let me.” She crouched beside Roxie, and gently, tenderly, reached out to hold Roxie’s hand. Roxie flinched, but didn’t resist as Rebecca guided her hand into her own chest, and somehow, through it.

It was a surreal experience, feeling her hand inside of herself. It was liking reaching into icy water, whilst simultaneously being injected with a burning liquid. There was nothing stopping her from reaching in further, and Rebecca’s hand continued to gently push.

Her fingers brushed up against something hard, the only solid part of the weird icy void her hand was in. Her first instinct was to recoil, but she fought the urge, wrapping her fingers around it.

It was… a hilt? She pulled at it, and it moved easily. In one quick movement, she pulled it out of her chest. All at once, the hunger subsided, and the pain stopped completely.

“What the fuck…” she murmured, staring at the silver hilt, unattached to any blade.

“Well, then,” Rebecca said, standing up and backing off.

“What? ‘Well, then’ what? What the Hell just happened?”

“That’s a piece of your soul,” Rebecca explained. “In the form of a blade.”

“What?”

“You have the potential to be a Reaper, Roxie.”

 

Next Week: If You Can’t Beat Them, Join Them

Step 1 – All You Have To Do Is Die

London, 2209 – 276 Years Before Impact Day

It started the same as any typical day. She slept in, ate an unhealthy breakfast in the early afternoon, dragged her guitar into the city centre and busked. When her throat was sore and her fingers were throbbing, she ate another greasy meal, and went to work.

Work consisted of sitting behind a counter in a cheap hotel, maintaining a presence, answering emails and calls that came once every few hours, and helping the people that came in looking for a room. She was lucky to see more than one of them a night.

She liked the quiet, though. The city was bright and noisy, full of people and advertisements. Are you happy with the way you look? Our new gene therapy works 50% faster, giving you the body you always dreamed of.

Gene mods for naturally blue hair, for silver eyes, for naturally pale skin. Was it kind of racist to want that last one? She tried not to think about it. She wanted to look like a goth pixie. It helped her earn money when busking.

She spent most of the day surrounded by all of that noise. She made some of that noise. People going by, hundreds, thousands of them. All of them different, all of them beautiful.

There was something very relaxing about boxing herself in, leaning back in a chair behind a desk, munching on a steady supply of chips. There was always music playing, though it was set so nobody else could hear it. The music was hers, she controlled it, it helped her feel quiet.

Work was good. The pay was poor, the hours sucked, but it suited her. It was perfect for her.

There was a man, sitting in the lobby, not paying attention to her. She hadn’t noticed him come in. He hadn’t spoken to her. He didn’t make a sound at all. Far too well dressed for the kind of establishment he’d wandered into. He seemed occupied reading something. She was content to let him be.

A lot of nothing. Peace, quiet, respite from the world outside.

Then they entered.

Three of them, two adults and one child. Not so well dressed. Looked kind of desperate. Much more appropriate.

She gave them her warmest smile, keeping her curiosity to herself. Despite their clothing, all three of them were staggeringly beautiful. They could easily have been supermodels. There was something about them, the way they moved, that wasn’t quite human. Perhaps they were angels, she joked to herself.

Was it a family? A couple and their child? There wasn’t a strong familial resemblance, but that didn’t mean much. The dynamic seemed off, though.

He approached first. Fair skin, dark hair, deep amber eyes. He smiled awkwardly, a look of pain and regret. Was she reading too much into it? Probably.

“Welcome,” she said, taking her feet off the counter. “Need a room?”

“Please,” he replied.

“How many nights?” she asked, running through the availability. There were a lot of free rooms.

“Just one.”

“How many beds?”

He glanced back over his shoulder. The woman shrugged. Same fair skin, short blonde hair, eyes that couldn’t decide if they were ice-blue or a fierce red. That was a neat trick.

“Just the one,” he said. “We can rotate.”

“You got it,” she said, shrugging. It didn’t particularly matter to her. “Need a name to put the room under. Names for all three of you, actually. And ID.”

The two adults exchanged a glance. Discomfort? Irritation? Fear? It was difficult to tell. She didn’t really mind. She’d expected that to be an issue. It frequently was. It was just that kind of establishment.

“That could be difficult,” he said.

“Let’s start with names,” she said, smiling. She had no intention of denying them a place to stay. They looked like they needed it.

“John,” he said. “John Smith.”

She nodded, hiding her smirk, and typed it in.

“Jane Smith,” the woman said.

She looked down at the child, a slender girl with porcelain skin, lilac hair and kind lavender eyes.

“Alice,” the girl said.  “Ma-”

“Smith,” the man said. “Her name is Alice Smith.” He and the woman both stared, but she didn’t challenge them. Their situation was none of her business.

“Three Smiths. Makes it easy. In fact, it looks like you’ve stayed here before. I can just use the information we have on file. And… you’re good to go. Room twelve, first floor. Here’s your key.”

The three of them smiled, and John collected the key. Roxie smiled as she watched them disappear into the stairwell. The way they moved was odd, even the girl. There was a sort of fluid grace to it, like an animation that was just a little too smooth. The adults were almost predatory in their movements, whilst the girl just seemed… unsettlingly solid, Roxie decided. Like nothing could move her if she didn’t want to be moved.

She didn’t give them a lot of thought once they were out of her sight. Their business was their own, and she’d certainly encountered weirder customers. They were polite, and that was all she really cared about.

The man in the lobby continued to read, ignoring her. Something about him made her feel uncomfortable, like something bad was going to happen. Even still, she didn’t want to say anything. He had an aura of unapproachability that seemed unassailable.

Well, he wasn’t hurting anyone. She decided to leave him be. That worked out better for the both of them.

She looked up as the door chimed, and another person entered. He was tall, broad-shouldered, and moderately attractive at best. His face was set in a determined expression, like a poor attempt at disguising anger, frustration, or both.

He was well dressed, in what appeared to be a reasonably-priced suit, though it was also obvious he was carrying a weapon. He didn’t seem to be trying to hide it at all. It made her feel intensely uncomfortable, but there wasn’t anything she could do about it.

“Good evening,” he said, with forced courtesy that felt entirely unnatural.

“Uh, hey,” she said, then remembered she was supposed to be professional. “Lookin’ for a room?”

“No.”

She frowned. He wasn’t exactly making a good first impression. Something about him felt off, like he was broken somehow.

“O…kay? What can I do for you, then?”

“I’m looking for some friends of mine,” he said, his eyes scanning the lobby. He didn’t seem to notice the reading man at all.

“A’ight…”

Just tell me what you want so I can stop talking to you, she thought.

“They said they checked in here, but I don’t know their room number,” the man said. She’d never heard a more obvious lie in her life, but she knew better than to outright call him out on it.

“So message ‘em,” she said. “Call ‘em.”

“They’re currently offline.”

Lucky them.

“Then I can’t help ya,” she replied, shrugging. “Sorry.”

“It’s very important,” he insisted, leaning on the counter. His blue eyes were staring intensely at her, and she really, really wanted him to go away.

“So are the rules.”

He sighed, clearly annoyed. She felt a certain sense of pride in that.

“Can you at least tell me if you’ve seen them?” he asked.

“Yeah… No.”

He stared at her, his face twitching in an effort to hide a scowl. After a few seconds, he reached into his coat. She flinched, but he only pulled out a tablet. He pulled up a picture, and turned it around to show her.

It didn’t surprise her at all to see the three people from earlier. It did surprise her to find she felt instinctively protective of them.

“Those sure are some people.”

“Gabriel, Zoe and Alice,” he said, not breaking eye contact. It was very disconcerting.

“Nope.”

“You’re lying,” he accused her, tucking the tablet back into a pocket.

She felt frightened, cringing at the unspoken threat under his words. Even still, her dislike of him was strong enough that she felt like she wanted to get in his way as much as possible.

“Does it matter?”

“I don’t think you understand the gravity of the situation,” he said.

“Well, you just told me you were only looking for some friends, so…”

“They’re very dangerous.”

“I try not to judge,” she said, with a lot more levity than she felt. The sense of danger was intensifying, and there was nowhere she could go.

“If you don’t start taking this seriously…”

Her heart skipped a beat.

“Yes?”

“Those three people, they’re fugitives,” he said. “I’m trying to bring them in, but I need your help.”

“One of them is a kid,” she pointed out. “What’d she do, push someone in a playground?”

“She’s their captive,” he said, but the lie was still obvious. Even if she hadn’t seen them all together, he was just a bad liar.

“She seemed pretty happy to me.”

“So you did see them.”

Shit.

“Still doesn’t matter,” she said. “I can’t tell you anything.”

His face contorted into a snarl. She instinctively backed away.

“You’re endangering countless lives,” he told her. “Is your petty service job really worth that?”

“Yep.”

“Idiot,” he growled.

“Well now I really want to help you,” she said dryly. “What were those names again?”

“Get out of my way. I’ll check myself.”

“Yeah, or not,” she retorted.

Without warning, he vaulted over the counter, shoving her backwards. Her back hit the wall, and the force of it winded her. There wasn’t anything she could do as he took over her computer, checking through the recent bookings.

“Room 12. Thank you,” he said, without a trace of irony.

“You’re breaking the law, you know,” she threatened him.

“I’m saving the world.”

He started to leave, walking towards the stairwell. She found herself overcome with the urge to do something, anything to stop him.

Inspiration struck, and she tapped a button on the screen, opening a communication line with room 12.

“Guys, this is Roxie. You’re about to have company.”

The man’s fist slammed into the screen, shattering it. His expression was pure fury.

“Oh, you stupid kid.”

“Feel free to report me,” she said, with a lot more bravado than she was feeling.

“You spoke to them,” he said, pulling out his pistol. “You’re infected.”

“Say what now?”

“It’s too late for you.”

He’s really going to shoot me…

“Uh…”

He pulled the trigger, and her world went dark.

* * *

The world didn’t stay dark. Rather, her vision returned almost immediately, and everything was exactly the way it was before the gunshot. Nothing had changed.

No, that wasn’t entirely true. There was one new addition: her body, lying on the ground beneath her. The man who’d shot her looked right through her, completely expressionless, completely oblivious to her presence. He holstered the gun, then took off towards the stairwell.

“Uh, what?” she said, to anyone who might have been listening.

“You’re dead,” the reading man said, catching her entirely off-guard. She whirled around to face him. He’d stood up, and was slowly walking towards her.

“Who the Hell are you?” she demanded.

“Felix,” he said. “I’m a Reaper.”

“A what?”

“We collect the souls of the dead,” he explained.

“Which is me.”

Saying it aloud, she felt disturbingly calm. The realisation wasn’t lost on her. She somehow knew, unequivocally, that she was dead. Why didn’t that bother her?

“You catch on fast.”

He smiled gently. It meant nothing to her.

“I just got shot, it’s not that hard to wrap my head around.”

His smile broadened.

“I wish all my collections were like you.”

She looked around, wondering why everything looked the same. Even raising her hands in front of her face, they looked the same as they always did. They felt the same as they always did. If not for the body lying on the floor, she might have found it harder to accept.

She didn’t feel dead at all.

If anything, she felt hungry.

“Doesn’t feel like I expected,” she said.

“It never does.”

“So, what happens now?”

“Now, you come with me,” he said, the smile finally faltering.

Roxie frowned, then took a step away from him.

“To…?”

“Hell.”

“Is there an option B?” she asked, without hope.

“No,” he said flatly.

“Well that sucks.”

“It’s not as bad as you think,” he said, in what she assumed was supposed to be a reassuring tone, but wasn’t.

“No eternal punishment and damnation?”

He laughed.

“Not unless that’s what you want.”

“So what am I in for?” she asked, still eying him warily.

“Depends on what you’re expecting,” he said.

She tried not to let his vagueness irritate her. It wasn’t successful.

“Not really expecting much of anything, to be honest.”

“It’s going to be rather dull, then,” he said, with a bemused smile. She prayed he was joking.

“Two decades of life and all I get is a bland nothing of an afterlife?” She shook her head. “Nah. No thanks.”

He put his hand against his hip, the sort of motion that would suggest he was about to draw a sword, except there was nothing hanging at his waist. Even still, he continued the drawing motion, and by the time his hand was in front of his body, there was a sword in his hand.

Roxie stared at it, her eyes wide. It was a thin, elegant weapon, with a simple hilt and a crystal vein running down the blade. And he’d pulled it out of nowhere.

“You don’t have a lot of say in the matter,” he said.

Her eyes darted to the door, and she grinned.

“Well, there is one thing I can say,” she said.

“Please don’t.”

Her grin widened.

“You’ll have to catch me first.”

She vaulted over the counter, narrowly avoiding his blade. He followed, but she was already moving, racing towards the front door. It occurred to her only as she reached the door that a ghost might not be able to open a door, but then again, in that situation she imagined she could probably just pass through it.

The sensors didn’t detect her, and the door stayed close. She slammed into it, rebounding in a surreal, painless way, whirling just in time to avoid another attack from Felix and his sword. He looked moderately distressed.

“Roxie, please…”

She took a step back, and somehow managed to pass through the door. Nothing seemed different, except that she wasn’t actively thinking about the door.

Either way, it got her outside. She turned, and ran.

The streets were mostly empty, though that probably didn’t matter. It was obvious nobody could see her, or the well-dressed man chasing her whilst holding a sword. It would have been a rather ridiculous scene, had anyone actually witnessed it.

She wrapped a hand around a lamppost and used it to quickly change direction, hurtling down a side street. Glancing back over her shoulder to see if Felix had followed, she discovered he no longer seemed to be following her.

No, it’s too easy-

He was standing ahead of her, poised to strike. She pulled herself to a stop right before she entered his range. He lowered the sword, and sighed.

“Please, don’t make this worse on yourself.”

“How is this worse?” she asked, glancing around. She wasn’t even a little out of breath, her and though she couldn’t feel a heartbeat, somehow she still felt full of adrenaline. It was fantastic, and she had an entire world to explore.

“Let me take you to Hell,” he said, avoiding the question. “You’ll be processed, it’ll be peaceful, you’ll get to move on.”

“No,” she said, shaking her head. “I’d rather stay here.”

How long would he keep chasing her? Did he have other souls to collect? Would he call in reinforcements? Were there others like him?

“You’ll decay,” he said, which gave her pause.

“I’m dead.”

“Surely you have ghost stories here.”

She glanced around the side street again. If she doubled back, she could probably stay ahead of him for another few streets.

“Ooh, do I get to be a vengeful spirit? That sounds way better.”

“Roxie…”

She shifted her weight, ready to run. Not yet, though.

“Y’know, I never actually told you my name,” she said.

“I already knew it,” he replied, sounding tired. “Part of the job.”

“And who put you in charge, anyway?”

She was almost far enough away to safely make a break for it. Just a little further…

“Lucifer.”

The name sent an involuntary chill down her spine.

“Okay, now I’m really not coming with you,” she said.

“You really don’t have a choice.”

She started to run, but he was already in front of her. Too late to stop, she all but ran into the tip of his blade.

To her surprise, there was no pain as he thrust forwards, driving the sword through her heart. It didn’t feel like nothing, but it certainly didn’t hurt. If anything, it was like a physical sensation of intense nostalgia, mixed with the feeling of falling a great distance, and longing for something far away.

There was no sense of the world fading out around her. Everything just ended abruptly, gone in an instant. She never even noticed. The moment the sword touched her, her existence ended.

 

Next Week: Dying Was The Easy Part

Impact Day: Epilogue

Ten soldiers stared, unsure of what to say. None of them wanted to raise their weapons, though a tiny voice in each of their heads was screaming at them to do exactly that.

The young woman approached the barricade, seemingly oblivious to the military presence. Her hands clasped an ornate cane behind her back, a wide-brimmed hat casting a shadow over her face. She was all but skipping towards them, the tails of her elegant coat fluttering in the breeze.

“Ma’am?” the closest soldier called out, the grip on his gun tightening slightly. The idea of pointing a rifle at a young woman seemed completely and utterly appalling to him, but they had their orders. Nobody was allowed to enter the city. Nobody was allowed to leave the city.

“Ma’am?” she asked, in a cheery, sing-song voice. She tilted her head back a little, revealing soft, delicate features, golden blonde hair and an ornate patch covering one eye. “I don’t look that old, do I?”

How did she get here? The question sat in the minds of all ten of them. Did she walk this entire way?

“Melbourne is under quarantine,” the soldier who had spoken before told her. “We can’t let you beyond this point.”

She stopped walking, only a few metres from him. A vicious smile appeared on her face, quickly hidden in shadow.

“That sure is a shame,” she said. “It seems like Melbourne is where all the fun is, these days. Who’d have thought?”

“If you need, we can drive you to the nearest town,” another soldier offered.

“That won’t be necessary. I hate to make things difficult for you boys, but I really need to get into that city.”

“We can’t allow that,” the first soldier insisted. “There’s been a biohazard outbreak. It’s not safe.”

“I’d say that’s my risk to take, wouldn’t you?” she asked, taking a single step forward. Several rifles raised, but still none of them aimed directly at her.

“Orders are orders, ma’am. Please, don’t make us use force.”

She rocked back on her heels, hands still clasping the cane behind her back. Her gaze swept over the soldiers standing all around her, and she adopted a slightly more stable stance.

“Force? You’d shoot a cute, innocent girl like me?”

“Restrain her,” the lieutenant ordered, and two soldiers moved in to flank her. She didn’t move until they grabbed her arms.

Without a single movement from her, the soldiers were thrown backwards, slamming against the vehicles that helped make up the barricade. Eight rifles pointed directly at her head.

“Guns are so boring,” she complained. “I hope the city is more interesting than the people guarding it.”

“Ma’am, lie down on the ground, with your arms behind your back,” the lieutenant instructed. She raised her head just far enough for him to see her roll her eye.

When she moved, it was too quickly for any of the soldiers to follow. She crossed the distance between herself and the lieutenant in the blink of an eye, running the cane right through his chest. A second later, the solders caught up, and opened fire.

None of the bullets reached her. They all ricocheted off an invisible field around her, and she barely seemed to notice.

Pulling the cane out of the lieutenant’s chest, she threw it like a javelin, impaling another soldier. It passed right through his skull, splattering blood on the two other soldiers around him.

They all kept shooting, but it was obvious none of the bullets were ever going to reach her. She strode casually back in to the centre of them.

“Bored now,” she muttered, crouching to be lower to the ground. She pressed the palm of her hand against the road, and red and gold lightning sparked out from the point of contact, seeking out the soldiers.

The second it touched them, each of them went completely lifeless, slumping to the ground. Standing, the woman licked her lips, then retrieved her bloody cane. A flick of her wrist was all it took to clean it, and she grinned, continuing her walk towards Melbourne.

“This had better be worth it,” she crooned to herself. “Nothing interesting has happened in this world for so long.”

 

Next Week: Roxie – Dying In Five Easy Steps

ImpactDayArtFinalThanks for reading this far. I hope you’ve enjoyed the story up to this point! Starting next week, we’re taking a five-week break, during which I’ll be publishing a bonus story arc, titled Roxie: Dying In Five Easy Steps. After that, we’ll be starting Volume 2 of Impact Day, titled Dead Girls Don’t Cry, which is a prequel story of a comparable length to Impact Day. It’s a story about Charlie and Rachel, and the events that led to Impact Day.

Anyway, if you’ve enjoyed the story so far, consider supporting me on on Patreon, so I can afford to keep writing it. Additionally, you can buy the complete collection on Gumroad or Kindle. It features a bonus chapter that I’m not releasing online!

See you later this week!

~Snow