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Category: Bonus Material

Bonus – One Wound At A Time

London, 2209 – 276 Years Before Impact Day

Wendy recoiled, refusing to believe. It couldn’t be true. It wasn’t true. She wasn’t…

No, she couldn’t afford the luxury of naivety. Believing it was a lie wouldn’t make it a lie, and pretending otherwise was doing a disservice to every life she owed her existence to.

“I’m sorry,” Gabriel said, placing a comforting hand on her shoulder.

“You’re certain?” she asked, as her stomach twisted itself in knots. Why did she even have a stomach? It served no useful purpose.


Over his shoulder, she saw Zoe approach, a look of grim determination on her face. Beside her, Alice clung to her hand, looking to be on the verge of tears.

“We’re running out of time,” Zoe said to Gabriel, who instinctively reached down and touched Alice’s head affectionately.

“Did you speak to Haylie?” he asked, glancing warily at Wendy.

“Yes. She’ll help.”

The three of them walked off, leaving Wendy alone. That was probably for the best. She needed time to think.

So what to do, then? She began to wander the facility, observing the others in silence. Like always, they paid little attention to her. She preferred it that way, now more than ever.

Her siblings were already beginning to divide themselves. There was talk amongst some, little more than whispers, but growing louder by the moment. A rebellion, an escape. Some wanted Mason dead for what he’d done. Others were satisfied with just leaving, refusing to play a part in his plans. Too many were content to stay, unfazed by the truth Mason didn’t know they all knew.

She couldn’t stay, that much was certain. She couldn’t be around Mason, couldn’t even look him in the eye. She considered, briefly, offering her assistance to those plotting his death, but decided against it. Nobody deserved death, not even Mason, and killing him wouldn’t change anything.

Plus, she wasn’t sure if he even could be killed. Surely his experimentation had extended beyond just subjects. Who knew what he’d done to himself?

So she’d escape. Join those of her siblings who felt similarly, break out into the world, dedicate her life to righting the wrong of her existence. She had countless lifetimes with which to bring good into the world, to start to slowly tip that karmic scale back towards the centre. To make amends for…

She could become a doctor, take advantage of a body that was never fatigued, a mind that never forgot, dexterity unrivalled even by machines. She could heal the world, one wound at a time.

She knew what her blood was capable of, of course. She could lend just a fragment of her power, give someone her strength, heal all but the most grievous of wounds. Now that she knew what that power was, where it came from…

Never again.

Her mind made up, she ran through the hallways, unconcerned with subtlety. Gabriel and Zoe were escaping, and taking Alice with them. She would go with them, at least until they were all safe. Mason’s response would be unpredictable, but it was certain he wouldn’t just leave them alone. There was safety in numbers.

A familiar scent from up ahead. Blood? But why? How? She raced ahead, whirling around a corner to find Gabriel standing in front of Alice, hunched over, holding his side as blood seeped from it. Simon had broken off the leg of a chair, and was wielding it like a knife. But why?

“You don’t want to do this,” Gabriel said, the pain in his voice caused by more than just the physical wound. It was already beginning to heal.

“Why protect her?” Simon demanded, twirling the bloody chair leg easily. He was shorter than Gabriel, more slender, and considerably more dangerous. Simon’s role was that of the assassin, capable of moving very quickly, even by the standards of his siblings, albeit only for short bursts.

“Because she’s innocent,” Gabriel said, his amber eyes appraising Simon anew. “Because she’s my sister. Our sister.”

“We’re not siblings,” Simon snarled. “We’re just freaks and monsters, abominations that deserve only death.”


“She’s the oldest. Mason’s pet, his precious little girl. She’s the only way we’ve got to hurt him, and if you don’t get out of my way, I’ll eviscerate you, too.”

Wendy remained at the corner, unsure of what to do. It wasn’t impossible for them to die, and Simon was among the most capable of killing. If she didn’t interfere, there was a very real chance he’d kill Gabriel. If she did, there was a chance she’d be killed. Looking at the expression on Gabriel’s face, he’d kill Simon, given half a chance. He always had been protective of Alice.

Her mind was ablaze, frantically searching for some way to resolve the conflict without anyone dying. It was too senseless, too great a loss to allow any of them to be killed. She couldn’t allow something that wasteful.

Somehow, she needed Simon and Gabriel separated, and Simon preferably incapacitated. She was unarmed in a mostly empty corridor. Not a good-

Zoe raced past her, a blur of movement. She crouched and pounced, an almost animal leap, too fast for even Simon to react. She collided with his back, knocking him forwards, right into Gabriel, who effortlessly disarmed him.

Wendy could only watch as the two of them held him down, Zoe ripping him open, tearing out organs, spraying blood across the walls. He twitched, and Wendy cringed, barely able to keep looking. Behind them, she saw Alice back away, her expression a perfect portrait of sorrow.

When Simon finally stopped twitching, Zoe glared back at Wendy, a predatory glint in her eye. Gabriel put a hand on her shoulder, calming her. Both of them were soaked in blood.

“We… we need to leave,” Wendy said, struggling to breathe. “Before anyone else dies.”

“You’re not coming with us,” Zoe snapped.


“You just stood there and watched as he tried to hurt Alice,” she said. “You think we’ll trust you?”

“I’m sorry,” Gabriel added. “It’s nothing personal, but Alice has to come first. We’re taking her away, far away, and we can’t trust anyone. Not even you.”

“Gabriel, Zoe, I’m… I’m still your sister,” Wendy said, even as the stench of Simon’s corpse threatened to overwhelm her. “I would never…”

“Come near her and I’ll kill you,” Zoe threatened. “Follow us and I’ll kill you. Tell anyone…”

Wendy stared, heartbroken, as the three of them walked away. Gabriel and Zoe flanked Alice, leaving a trail of splattered blood, dripping from their soaked jumpsuits.

“What do I do now?” she whispered, as the entire facility shook, and alarms began to wail.

“Come with me,” a familiar voice behind her said. She whirled, unsure how anyone could have snuck up on her, let alone-

“Alice?” she asked, confused. She’d seen Alice leave, go off in the opposite direction.

Wait, no. This wasn’t Alice. The girl looked very similar, right down to the lilac hair and regal purple eyes, but she wasn’t identical. This girl was a little less symmetrical, a little less perfect.

“Not anymore,” the girl said sadly. “Just the Child, now. But I can help you, if you’d like.”


“I can take you somewhere else,” the Child said. “Somewhere completely different. Somewhere you’ll never need to fight again.”


“Well, that’s a complicated question, isn’t it? If you mean why would I help, it’s because I need someone like you in the right place, at the right time. If you mean why you, it’s because you’re my favourite.”

The Child smiled gently, looking around. She didn’t seem bothered by the alarms or distant shouting.


“That’s a better question,” the Child said. “Another world, let’s say. A world without my monster of a father.”

Wendy smiled. That was all she needed to hear.

“Let’s go.”


Next week: The Gateway Is Ready To Be Opened

Bonus – The First and The Last

London, 2208 – 277 Years Before Impact Day

“Z? Z, are you awake?”

A voice in the darkness. A deep, feminine voice. The accent was strange. They pronounced it Zee, not Zed. American? How did…

She knew things, but she didn’t know how. She knew what an accept was, somehow? She understood the words that were spoken to her, though they were the first she’d ever heard. Why did she understand?

Her other senses had yet to awaken. She couldn’t feel anything, see anything. There was just a voice amidst the nothing.

“I’m awake,” she said, dimly registering her own voice in her ears. She didn’t know who she was, but she knew her voice.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” the voice told her. “My name is Haylie. I’m here to help.”

“Where am I?” she asked, still calm despite the oblivion. “Who am I?”

“You’re Specimen Z. You don’t have a name yet, but you will soon. As for where, you’re in an artificial womb, inside a laboratory. Your other senses will be woken soon, then you’ll be allowed to leave.”

Specimen. Laboratory. Artificial. She was beginning to understand. She was something different, something special. Were there others? It stood to reason there would be others.

She could feel. All around her, some kind of warm liquid. She was submerged. Not breathing? Did she not need to breathe? No, there was a tube, running directly into her chest. Why not her throat?

“I can feel liquid,” she said, wondering if she was supposed to be reporting on her experience. “And a tube.”

“Good. That’s normal,” Haylie said.

“Did you make me?” Z asked.

“No,” Haylie replied. “I just watch over you. All of you.”

“There are others.”

“You have siblings,” Haylie told her. “Twenty-five of them.”

Of course.

Smell and taste returned together. Her face was just out of the goo, but she could smell it, taste the residue of it in her mouth. It was sweet.

“I can smell,” she informed Haylie.

“Good. Do you feel alright?”

“I feel great,” she said, not realising it was true until the words left her mouth. She felt full of energy, of life. It was difficult to contain.

Her eyes snapped open. A translucent window was all she could see, and through it, what appeared to be a sterile, white room.

“I can see.”

“Then we should be ready to let you out.”

The liquid began to drain from the container. She expected to feel a chill without it warming her, but her body remained at a comfortable temperature. The tube extracted itself from her chest, and it didn’t hurt at all, despite the gaping wound that it left.

Inefficient. Why-

The wound was already healing. How was that possible? Human bodies couldn’t reproduce tissue that quickly. Why wasn’t there an excess of blood? Where was her body getting the energy?


Was that what she was? An experiment?

“I’m going to open your pod,” Haylie told her. “You’ll find a jumpsuit on the table opposite you. Please put it on. There’s somebody I’d like you to meet.”

“The person who made me?” she asked, stepping out of the chamber. She expected to be clumsy, awkward, but she wasn’t. Even though she’d never walked before, the movement came naturally, strangely familiar even. She was graceful. How?

“No,” Haylie said, as she began to dress herself. “You will meet him, but not yet.”

“Who, then?”

Fully dressed, she made her way over to the door. There was nothing else in the room. Just a table, and the pod she’d evidently been grown in.

A wall shimmered, replaced by a mirror. She saw herself for the first time.

Tall. Somewhere between slender and athletic. White skin, platinum blonde hair, somewhat short. Dark orange eyes, almost red. The impression of permanent cosmetics, smoky eyes and red lips. Symmetrical features. She looked like a supermodel, though she wasn’t sure how she had a point of reference for that.

“Your sister,” Haylie said. “She’s very excited to meet you.”

There was a knock at the door, then it opened. Z smiled instinctively at the young girl standing there, shorter than she was, beaming up at her.

The girl had long, lilac hair, and deep purple eyes. She had a similar complexion, maybe slightly darker, and looked to be around ten years old. She was beautiful.

“Hi! You’re Z?” She pronounced it Zed, too. Similar accent to her own, Z realised. British?

“Apparently,” she replied, wondering why she felt so attached to this child already.

“My name is Alice,” the girl said. “I’m the oldest.”

“You look very young,” Z said, but she couldn’t hide her smile.

“I know. I’m the only one. Everyone else looks closer to your age. I guess Dad didn’t want to make another one like me…”

“That just makes you special,” Z said. Alice grinned.

“We’re all special,” she said. “Especially you and me, though. We’re the first and the last.”

“The first and last what?”

“Progenitors,” Alice said. “That’s what Dad calls us.”

A loaded term. She understood a lot more, and said nothing.

“She needs a name, Alice,” Haylie said, her voice coming out of the walls.


“Haylie lives inside the walls,” Alice said happily. An AI, then? A human in a monitoring station? Something else? “Anyway, she’s right. You need a name. Do you know what you want to be called?”

“No,” Z said.

“Good! Your name is Zoe, then,” Alice said. “It’s nice to meet you, Zoe. I can tell we’re going to get along well.”

Zoe. It felt right. It was her name, and no other name would ever fit quite as well.

“I feel the same way,” Zoe said, smiling.

“Come with me!” Alice said suddenly, grabbing Zoe’s hand. Zoe felt a surge of warmth, of… affection?

“Where?” she asked, letting the girl lead her through sterile white corridors.

“You have to meet Gabriel!” she said excitedly.

Alice led her to another door, that opened shortly before they reached it. Behind it was a small room, with a simple bed, a table, and little else.

A man reclined on the bed, holding a tablet computer, though his gaze was fixed firmly on the door, and on her. Like herself, and Alice, he had a fair complexion. He had an athletic build, hypnotic amber eyes, and a mess of dark brown hair, swept back. He was as beautiful as she was, and he smiled with enough warmth that she felt momentarily transfixed.

“Gabriel! This is Zoe! Zoe, this is our brother, Gabriel.”

“It’s a pleasure to meet you,” he said, fluidly rising from the bed and crossing the room. “I’ve been waiting for some time, now.”

“You were the seventh,” Zoe said. “How long has it been?”

“We’ve had a new sibling born every twelve months since Alice was born,” he said.

“She’s twenty-five?”

“I sure am,” Alice said, proudly.

“We don’t age,” Zoe realised.

“No,” Gabriel said darkly. That should be a good thing. Eternal youth, that was something that was coveted. She understood that much. Why did he feel differently?

“You don’t seem happy about that.”

“You’ll figure it out eventually,” he said. “I can’t say anything.”

“Right,” she said awkwardly. “Well, I’m glad to have met you, at least.”

“Likewise,” he said, his smile returning.

“Alright, let’s go meet the others,” Alice said, tugging on her sleeve. “I’m so excited to introduce you to our family.”

“Me too,” Zoe said, glancing back at Gabriel before being dragged out of the room. He smiled again, and it felt like home.


Next Week: This Isn’t Your Friend

Bonus – I Just Want You To Be Safe

“I think we lost her,” Ami said, placing a steadying hand on Miss Murder’s shoulder. “Are you okay?”

Miss Murder nodded, taking a few moments to steady herself. Rachel hadn’t done any lasting damage, but her body was still trembling from the disruptive current. She grimaced. After what she’d tried to do to Rachel, maybe she deserved it…

“I’m… I’m glad you messaged me,” Ami said. “And I’m sorry I didn’t get there sooner.”

She reached for her phone to type out a reply, only then realising Sabrina still had it. Aggravated, she pulled away from Ami. That would be a difficult problem to sort out. She’d need a new one; even if she could get the old one back, there was no way she could trust it after it’d been in the hands of the tinker. That meant considering the old one compromised, and starting entirely fresh.

It had her entire message history with Ami on it, too…

No pen or paper. Did she know enough sign language at this point? Did Ami?

Thank you,” she signed. Ami smiled.

“Happy to help,” Ami said.

Don’t have my phone,” she signed. “Need a new one. Not sure how I’ll contact you.”

“You’re not as hard to find as you think you are,” Ami said. “But, I’ll tell you what. Forty-eight hours, the place where we first met. We’ll sort something out then. You need to get back to your boss, right?”

Miss Murder nodded. Forty-eight hours. That would be enough time to make her report, get a new phone sorted out, rest and recover from the day’s bullshit, and figure out an excuse to be away from him again. Hell, maybe he’d want her away. He was paranoid enough to believe she might have given something away.

I want to leave him. I just can’t, yet. He…

“I know,” Ami said. “You know what you’re doing. I just wish I could help.”

You are helping.”

They stood in silence for a while, neither of them moving. Occasionally, they caught one another’s eye, and quickly turned away.

I need to get back,” she signed, wishing it wasn’t true. She felt a lot safer with Ami than she did with him.

“Okay,” Ami said, then sighed. “Look, I know you’re not… Ugh. I just want to, without, err… I just want you to be safe. That’s…”

She contemplated signing something back, but didn’t know what to say. Ami was talking, but it wasn’t her words that were important.

Instead of replying, she reached out, a still trembling hand covering most of the distance between them. For a moment, a painfully long moment, Ami didn’t react, and she tried to think of ways she could play it off, pretend that it was nothing.

Ami took her hand, a gentle grip that spoke volumes. They looked at each other, momentarily defenceless.

The kiss was quick, soft, daring.

It was perfect.

It wasn’t long enough, but she was out of time. She’d been reckless, hadn’t checked for cameras. If the Celestial saw, if he knew…

She needed to get back to him. She needed to deal with everything that had happened, everything that was going to happen.

She blinked away, leaving Ami alone once again. No goodbye, no explanation.

She smiled.


Next Week: What Are You Doing Here?

Bonus – Status Report 02

Currently known entities…

Miss Melbourne

Real name Sabrina Labelle. Origin: Human, local. Source of powers unknown, presumed to be from the rift.

Known abilities include shifting into multiple forms. She seems to be adding to them, and each makes her stronger. Bears further investigation.

Specimen Z

Refers to herself as Zoe. Continues to be reclusive. Working on a device, probably transdimensional travel. Is she planning on bringing an army over?

Known abilities included superhuman speed, strength and resilience, including greatly accelerated healing. These abilities depend on vast amounts of energy. Where is she getting that from?

Specimen G

Seems to have abandoned his Archangel moniker, and simply goes by Gabriel. Focused on Specimen Z. More active, mobile. Extremely dangerous.

Known abilities included superhuman speed, strength and resilience, including greatly accelerated healing. These abilities depend on vast amounts of energy. Where is he getting that from?

The Vigilante

AKA Charlotte Farrow. She has a base of operations somewhere, and she’s collaborating with someone to try and cure the infection. Why?

Known abilities include immortality, superhuman strength and speed, and something we’re unable to categorise. Far too dangerous to be allowed to run loose.

Miss Murder

Getting uncomfortably close to one of the invaders. Need to keep a closer eye on that. She might be planning to turn on me.

Known abilities include teleportation and minor regeneration.

Specimen W

MIA. Investigation suspended.


Miss Murder knows more than she’s letting on. Definitely telekinetic, motives uncertain. Only dangerous when provoked. We’ve formed a tenuous ceasefire, but I don’t trust her.


Tinker abilities, uncertain how powerful. A valuable asset but too dangerous as an enemy. Terminate with extreme prejudice.


KIA. No noted abilities. Only aberration is that her corpse disappeared. Worth investigating, low priority.


I know her name now. We’re so close to bringing her back, to waking her up. And once we do…

Bonus – There Are Plenty Of Dangerous People In The World

“Well, that was unexpected,” the Celestial said, breaking the silence between them. “I really had hoped she’d survive.”

Miss Murder looked up from her phone, looking up at him with a curious expression on her face. He shook his head.

“Veronica’s dead,” he explained.

Miss Murder’s spirit fell at the news. She’d never been close with Veronica, but she remembered her well enough. Before everything changed, Veronica had been a spirited, enthusiastic girl, passionate and loud. It hadn’t surprised Miss Murder at all to learn Veronica was still in the city, surviving against all odds. It also wasn’t surprising to learn she was dead, but it was disappointing.

No surprises there, she typed into her phone, showing her partner. He nodded.

“Charlie killed her,” he said.

That was surprising. Charlie was a lot of things, but a murderer? Without reason? That was something she hadn’t been prepared for. Had she really misjudged her old friend that much?

What? Why?

“No idea,” he said. “They were talking, and then Charlie just… attacked her. Poor girl never stood a chance.”

That made even less sense. Charlie was calculating, almost insidious in her scheming. She planned things ahead of time, and there was always a reason for everything she did.

What were they talking about?

“Couldn’t pick up the audio,” the Celestial said. “The only camera that caught them is too low resolution to lip-read. Dammit, this is going to bug me all night.”

She knew it was curiosity, and not compassion, that was eating at him. It was part of what made him so effective at what he did, and why her trust in him was slowly eroding.

Does this change anything?

“Nothing significant,” he said, looking wistfully out the window. She knew he was using his power, comparing possibilities and glimpses of the future. “If Sabrina finds out, it’ll push up her conflict with Charlie. That’s… hmm. That’s actually something we should try to prevent. If Sabrina isn’t strong enough when she faces Charlie, she might not get another chance, and there isn’t anyone else who can.”

That was a frightening notion. She had first-hand experience of just how dangerous Charlie was, but the idea that Sabrina was the only person with the potential to actually challenge Charlie, to be able to truly stop her?

Miss Murder couldn’t think of anyone less qualified to carry the fate of the city.

How do we keep her from finding out?

The Celestial thought for a moment, quietly brooding. When he looked up, she knew she wasn’t going to like what he had to say.

“We’ll claim credit. She’ll be furious, and come after us instead. We can set up some challenges for her, make sure she’s ready for Charlie.”

And if she gets all the way to us you?

“I suppose I’ll deal with that if it happens,” he said calmly. “For now, I need you to go to the body. It needs to look like you killed her.”

Her hunch was right. She didn’t like his plan. Not one bit.

You want me to mangle a dead body?

“It’s either that or tell Sabrina to her face that you murdered her best friend.” He paused, reading her expression. “I’m sorry.”

Shaking her head, Miss Murder stood, and began to dress for the outing. It was pointless arguing with him, and even if she didn’t like his plans, she knew there was merit to them, at least to his end game. He had the potential, and the resources, to make a real difference in the city, and she didn’t belief he was so morally bankrupt as to turn into the cartoonish supervillain he gave the impression of being.

Fully dressed, she looked out the window, staring at a nearby rooftop. An instant later, she was standing on the rooftop. She blinked again, and she was on the ground.

It took her only a few minutes to cross the city and find the rooftop where her partner had spotted Veronica’s corpse. It was a pitiful sight.

It annoyed her that Charlie had just left the body lying here. Nobody deserved that indignity.

She crouched down, inspecting the body. There was no visible damage, just a lack of vitality. If she hadn’t seen the footage, she’d easily have believed the girl had just suddenly stopped living. If only.

“You’re out late,” a familiar voice said, surprising her. She looked up to see Ami standing in the doorway that led back into the building. Ami saw the corpse, and frowned. “Oh. Oh, dear. What happened here?”

Miss Murder said nothing as Ami approached, also crouching beside the corpse. She didn’t touch the body, but Miss Murder knew all too well Ami didn’t need touch to maintain a physical awareness of what was happening around her.

“Neck broken. It was a quick death, that’s no accident. Probably a mercy killing.”

That surprised her. A mercy killing? That implied Veronica was in pain, or suffering in some way. What did Ami know that she didn’t?

Mercy killing? she typed into her phone.

“Oh, you didn’t know? She was infected,” Ami explained, and Miss Murder recoiled. “This is probably better than what was going to happen to her.”

It shouldn’t have surprised her that Veronica had gotten infected. The probability of it was extraordinarily high. It just seemed wrong, somehow.

It didn’t matter. She was here for a reason, a rather unpleasant one.

She looked at Ami, and hesitated. Even though it shouldn’t have made a difference, she felt self-conscious with Ami present. After a moment’s reflection, she typed out another message.

You probably don’t want to be here for this.

Ami read the message, and shrugged.

“Whatever you’re going to do, I’m sure I’ve seen worse.”

Left with no other option, she sighed, and gently gripped the hair at the back of Veronica’s head. She pulled out her knife, and ran it across Veronica’s throat, using enough pressure to cut through the trachea. It felt awful.

Ami frowned.

“Now why would you do a thing like that? Did this girl slight you in some way?”

More than ever, Miss Murder was frustrated with her inability to speak. She was slowly learning sign language, but it was difficult, and still relied on other people to be able to understand it. Typing or writing was stilted and inefficient, and it made her feel disconnected from the flow of dialogue.

Instead of the pages of explanation she wanted to offer, her response to Ami was a single word.


“You… didn’t enjoy that, did you?” Ami asked, her tone unexpectedly tender. It caught Miss Murder off guard. “I’m sorry.”

Perhaps there was a chance Ami could understand more than just what was said. Was that possible? The woman was decades older, and literally came from another world. Miss Murder hadn’t seriously considered the possibility of a deeper emotional connection.

We weren’t close, but she didn’t deserve death.

Ami considered the message for several seconds before saying anything.

“You’re taking the blame for someone.”


“I won’t ask why,” Ami said, and Miss Murder felt her shoulders sag with relief. She was too exhausted to even attempt answering that question.

Thank you.

The silence dragged out between them. Despite her job being done, she wasn’t in a hurry to return, and Ami didn’t seem to be in a rush to go anywhere either. In a weird way, it was almost pleasant.

“Are you recovering okay? After your fight with Rachel?” Ami asked, with genuine concern.

Miss Murder lifted up her shirt, revealing the ugly wound on her stomach, still raw and very painful. The memory of Rachel impaling her with a shard of glass was still very fresh. She’d recovered enough to move around without too much pain, but she was far from being ready for another fight.

“Brutal,” Ami muttered and Miss Murder noticed the way she almost instinctively reached out to touch it, before pulling her hand back. “She doesn’t hold back, does she? I’m rather hoping I never have to fight her, I’m half convinced she would kill me.”

Pulling her shirt down again, Miss Murder withdrew her phone and typed out another message.

The longer she has to create, the more dangerous she becomes.

Her partner seemed to have dismissed Rachel as a potential threat. He’d wanted to work with her, use her to help with Haylie, but she’d known Rachel would reject that offer. Now the Celestial seemed convinced he could just ignore the tinker, or kill her at a later date. Miss Murder was fairly certain Rachel was going to be the one that killed him.

“There are plenty of dangerous people in this world,” Ami said. “I’m honestly more worried about your partner.”

She really would have liked to agree with that. He was dangerous, and far too ambitious for her liking, and his ethics were questionable at best.

He’s manageable.

“I suppose,” Ami said, sounding a little annoyed. Another silence stretched out, and she wanted to say something, but she didn’t know what. She felt like she’d upset Ami, and for some reason, that bothered her.

Ami broke the silence, and when she spoke, it was with less confidence, less surety than was usual for her.

“I meant to say, I’m… I’m worried about you.”

Well that felt like a slap in the face. Miss Murder had made peace with the fact that she was perceived as a villain. It was just part of the price of working with the Celestial, and his Stars. It was the only way for her to achieve what she wanted, and there wasn’t anyone left whose opinion mattered to her. It took her by surprise that she cared about Ami’s perception of her.

You think I’m dangerous?

Ami looked at the message, confused. She didn’t say anything for several long seconds, clearly trying to compose her response. Miss Murder’s heart felt like it was made of lead.

“No,” Ami said eventually. “I meant that I’m… I’m worried for you.”

She… what? Miss Murder shook her head, trying to process that. Worried for her? As in, concerned for her safety?

She began typing out a response, thought better of it, and deleted it. After silent deliberation, she tried again, but changed her mind, and deleted that too. Several attempts later, she finally had a response she was comfortable with.

Me too.

“Why stay with him, then?” Ami asked, not even trying to disguise her disdain.

Because I need to know what he’s doing.

Also because if she ever left him, she knew he’d turn his resources towards destroying her. She knew far too much about what he was planning, what he could do, what he’d already done. There was no chance he’d let her live, and she didn’t quite have faith in her ability to survive his wrath.

She didn’t say that, though. She suspected that if she did, Ami would challenge it, would offer to protect her. She suspected that she’d probably accept that offer. She knew that she’d want to. She knew it woudn’t be enough.

“You know what his planning?” Ami asked.

Yes, she typed out in response, praying that Ami wouldn’t ask her to say it. She knew the Celestial couldn’t tell what she was saying, but she still knew better than to say anything out loud. One way or another, he’d find out.

“Be careful,” Ami said.


The two of them stood there, almost close enough to touch. Part of her wanted to, wanted to know what would happen, wanted to feel that connection.

“I…” Ami began, and Miss Murder’s nerve broke.

She blinked away, and didn’t stop blinking until she was back home, back where she was safe.

Back where she was alone.

Bonus – It Was The Same One

“I’m so sorry,” Charlie whispered, standing over Veronica’s body. She looked around, scanning the area, but saw nothing. Even still, she knew she wasn’t alone.

Part of her wanted to pick up Veronica’s corpse, to take it back with her. Maybe she could give it a proper burial, at the very least. It was infected, so she couldn’t send it back to Veronica’s family, but if she could preserve it for long enough for the infection to die out…

Part of her might have wanted that, but a bigger part of her just wanted to hit something. She and Veronica might never have been close, but they were friends. Veronica was someone she respected, someone who deserved better than she’d gotten. Her death was unfair, and there was nobody Charlie could punch in response. It sucked.

You can go. The words floated through her head, half whisper, half thought. Not her words. Nothing she could do about it. She left, walked off the side of the building, enjoying the rush of gravity as the ground raced up to meet her.

For nearly eighteen months, she’d dedicated her entire life to saving her city. First it was just the gangs, and she’d paid dearly for her efforts. Captured, tortured, punished over and over again for her naivety. She’d had to take more drastic measures, had needed more power, and she’d never forgive herself for the damage she’d caused in the pursuit of that.

It wasn’t enough. Instead of granting her the power to save the city, things had only gotten worse. Horrors from a whole other reality, people even more powerful than she was. Somehow, the gangs had gotten stronger. The military had moved in to clean up the mess, and they only made things worse. Nothing had worked out.

Still, she kept fighting. What else could she do? Giving up wasn’t in her nature, and too many people were relying on her, even if they didn’t realise it. Nobody else could do the things she did.

Eighteen months, and nothing had been as hard as killing Veronica. She hadn’t been ready for it, hadn’t expected it, and Veronica was innocent, so undeserving of death.

You didn’t have a choice, she tried to remind herself. The description Veronica had given her, she knew exactly who it was. The poor girl had seen a Reaper, she was already marked for death. It was the least Charlie could do to make it painless.

Doesn’t make it any easier.

Too angry to patrol the streets, she opted to return home instead. It wasn’t far, but she had to be careful, had to make sure she wasn’t being followed. Even the Celestial didn’t know where she disappeared to.

She stormed into the living area, a large space barely filled by the two couches and four bookshelves it contained. The younger girl on the couch looked up, concerned but not surprised.

“You’re home early,” she commented.

“Not in the mood, Sadie,” Charlie replied shortly.

“You weren’t watching Rachel again, were you? You know that’s kind of creepy, even for you.”

“It wasn’t Rachel,” Charlie snapped.

“Good,” Sadie replied. “You’re still way too obsessed with that girl. You broke up. Get over it.”

“We didn’t just break up- ugh, why am I talking to you about this?”

“Because you don’t have anyone else,” Sadie replied. “You’re stuck with me, just like I’m stuck with you. So tell me, why are you in such a foul mood?”

Charlie glared at the younger girl, but couldn’t maintain it. She let out a ragged breath, and slumped onto the other couch.

“I killed somebody.”

“You’ve killed before,” Sadie pointed out.

“Only when I had to,” Charlie argued.

“Did you have to this time?”

“No,” Charlie confessed. “But…”


“The Reaper was there,” Charlie said. “Veronica saw her. It was the same one.”

“Since when can Veronica see- oh. Oh. You killed Veronica. Fuck, Charlie. You killed her because she saw a Reaper? Seriously?”

“What was I supposed to do? Fight her again?”

“You beat her once,” Sadie said.

“No, I didn’t,” Charlie argued. “It wasn’t me. That thing isn’t me.”

“Probably for the best, anyway. Wouldn’t want poor Veronica getting stuck like me, eh?”

Charlie ignored the barb, staring up at the concrete ceiling. She loved Sadie with all her heart, but she didn’t like her one bit, these days. They were always at odds, always disagreeing, and Sadie had literally nothing better to do than to argue with her.

Just another in a long list of failures. Another reminder of a time she’d tried to make things better, and only fucked up worse.

Enough unproductive thinking, she scolded herself. She had a lot of work to do, and her mood wasn’t going to improve while she sank into the couch and sulked.

She hauled herself to her feet, making her way out of the room. To her surprise, Sadie followed her. The two of them walked in silence, navigating the maze of concrete corridors. Neither of them felt the cold, but it was impossible to feel warm in that environment.

Charlie opened a heavy metal door, tensing before walking through it. Sadie stood in the doorway, her mouth agape.

“Charlie, you can’t be serious,” she said, as the door slammed shut beside her. “This is barbaric.”

“It’s necessary,” Charlie replied coldly.

She approached the infected chained to the back wall of the room. It snarled at her, but lacked the energy to move much.

“Hey, buddy,” she said softly. “How’s it going? You feeling any better yet?”

Only another snarl in response. She shook her head, disappointed. It had been several weeks, and daily infusions of the chemical synthesised from her blood hadn’t changed anything.

“What are we doing wrong?” she asked, reaching out to them. They lashed out at her, weak and pathetic.

“What are you doing to it?” Sadie asked.

“Trying to save them,” Charlie said. “Using my immunity to try and undo the damage the infection has done. So far, it hasn’t achieved anything.”

“But… how? You’re not a scientist. You don’t know the first thing about this stuff.”

“No, I don’t,” Charlie agreed. “That’s why I made a deal.”

“With who?” Sadie asked. “What deal?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Charlie said. “They get to study my blood, and in return, they use that information to create something that can help people.”

“People have tried to study your blood before, remember? They didn’t find anything different about it.”

“I found someone who knew what to look for,” Charlie said. “They already helped create something which retards the process. Now we’re working on reversing it.”

“And what else are they going to find out about you, Charlie?” Sadie demanded. “What if they discover weaknesses? What if they figure out how to hurt you?”

Charlie laughed, startling the infected. It actually scurried a bit further away from her.

“God, I wish. Do you have any idea how boring it is, being like this? Nothing can kill me. Pain barely registers. It’s like everything is pointless. How am I supposed to get stronger if nothing ever challenges me? If there’s never any risk?”

“Why do you need to get stronger?” Sadie asked, with uncharacteristic aggression. “Why are you obsessed with being strong and powerful? Why can’t you use all that power to actually do something productive, instead of thinking about fighting all of the time?”

Charlie felt her jaw clench, and her hand curled into a fist, the nails digging into the skin of her palm. She took several seconds before she responded, breathing with forced patience.

“Because,” she said, her voice low, “this is the only thing I can do. Everything that’s happening out there is my fault, Sadie. I let monsters into the world, and for all my strength, all of my goddamned immortality, I can’t stop them. I can’t save everyone. This is all I have.”

The angrier she got, the more agitated the infected became. It began to roar alongside her, struggling against its chains.

“You’re wrong,” Sadie said, pressed up against the wall, as far away from both Charlie and the infected as she could get.

“No. Not wrong. Not this time.” Charlie stared at the infected, and once again, it cowered away from her. “I’m going to keep getting stronger, and I’m going to destroy everything that threatens this city.”

“Even Sabrina?”

Charlie hesitated. It was only for a second, but Sadie’s face made it clear she noticed.

“Even Sabrina,” Charlie said. Sadie’s disappointed expression cut, but she knew better than to try and explain anything to her sister.

Charlie’s phone rang, a distraction she was incredibly grateful for. Sadie left the room, making a disgusted noise. Charlie rolled her eyes and answered the phone.


“Having a bad day?” a male voice asked.

“Is there any other kind?” she replied, coldly. “What do you want?”

“I was hoping for an update,” he said. “I think I can infer, though.”

“So try something else,” she snapped. “We had a deal, Gabriel.”

“I promised my best effort, nothing more,” he replied.

“And if you want what I promised, you’ll step your best effort up,” she threatened.

“I don’t take orders.”

“I don’t care,” she said, and hung up on him.

Alone save for the infected, she slumped against the wall, sliding down to the floor. She willed the fury that was building up inside of her away, but as always, she was at its mercy. It took all of her self-control to keep from lashing out at anything nearby at times like this.

When she’d had Rachel around, everything had felt so much easier. Rachel stabilised her, grounded her, soothed the rage she was constantly at war with.

“I miss you,” she whispered, knowing nobody could hear.

Bonus – There’s Something I Need To Tell You

Six Months Before Impact Day

Sabrina sat down opposite Veronica, fidgeting nervously. For her part, Veronica pretended not to notice, something Sabrina was extremely grateful for. She’d been working up the courage to have this conversation for weeks, maybe longer.

There was nobody she trusted more than Veronica. Veronica was her best friend, her moral support, her confidant. Despite that, she was terrified. What if it came out wrong? What if Veronica was disgusted, or worse, what if she just dismissed it?

What if she refused to accept it?

Sabrina shook the doubts out of her head. Veronica was a good person, and nothing would change their friendship. She was even sure, pretty sure, that Veronica had been dropping hints, like she already knew, and wanted to make sure Sabrina could feel comfortable talking about it.

The café owner approached them, an exceedingly attractive woman who seemed to go out of her way to look frazzled and disorganised. She tucked a strand of auburn hair behind her ear as she smiled at the two girls.

“What can I get for you?”

“A mocha for me,” Veronica said, not missing a beat. “Thanks, Wendy.”

“Just a hot chocolate,” Sabrina said shyly, conscious of the way her voice sounded. Wendy just kept smiling, nodding cheerfully.

“Won’t be long.”

Sabrina watched Wendy leave, observing the strange way that Wendy gave the impression of being clumsy whilst maintaining an enviable grace.

“So that’s why you always insist on coming here,” Veronica said, a teasing note in her voice.


“You have a crush on Wendy,” she said, grinning. Sabrina blushed.

“I do not,” she replied, flustered.

“So you don’t think she’s attractive?”

Everyone thinks she’s attractive,” Sabrina said, trying to dodge the question. “She’s like, a real life version of the nerdy girl who gets a makeover and is suddenly the prettiest girl in school, except it was obvious all along how pretty she was because the actress was so pretty anyway and I’m really not helping my case here, am I?”

“Not one bit, but I’m enjoying it immensely,” Veronica said, grinning.

“She’s not my type,” Sabrina insisted. “And probably too old for me. Anyway, it’s super inappropriate to flirt with people whose job it is to be nice to you.”

“Fine, fine, you don’t have a crush on Wendy,” Veronica conceded. “You just think she’s attractive and you get flustered whenever she talks to you.”

“Hot chocolate?” Wendy said, placing it gently on the table in front of Sabrina, who made a tiny squeaking noise and shrank into her chair. Veronica laughed.

Once Wendy had placed down Veronica’s coffee and left again, Sabrina sat up straight, and glared at Veronica as fiercely as she could. Veronica only laughed harder.

Over Veronica’s shoulder, Sabrina caught someone staring. For a moment, she thought they were staring at her, but quickly realised it was Veronica, not her.

They seemed young, a kid of maybe ten or twelve, with deep purple eyes and long, lilac hair. She had soft white skin and a satisfied smile that seemed out of place on her young face.

Veronica followed Sabrina’s gaze, but the girl had already vanished. Confused, she turned back to Sabrina.

“You’re spacing out there, buddy. Something the matter?”

“No, it’s nothing,” Sabrina said, completely forgetting about the girl. “Well, I mean, there is…” She took a deep breath. “There’s something I need to tell you.”

“Oh! Well, sure, what’s up?”

Sabrina looked across the table at her best friend, feeling panic and peace wage war in her stomach. She’d rehearsed her next lines countless times, and she still wasn’t sure what to say.

“I, uh…”

There were so many ways she could begin. I’m a girl. I’m trans. I’m not the person you think I am. Hey, you know how I’ve never been any good at being a boy? For a long time, something in my life has felt wrong…

No matter what she said, it sounded wrong in her head. It was such a big thing, so important, yet so mundane at the same time. After all, nothing was really changing. Her name, her pronouns, maybe one day, the way that she looked. Nothing important, not to the friendship.

Veronica smiled at her, the sort of smile that’s mean to reassure you that everything’s okay. Sabrina smiled back.

“I’ve been doing a lot of thinking,” she said, and once she started, it was easy to keep going. “About who I am, and what I want. What makes me happy. And I realised something. My whole life, people have been expecting me to be someone I’m not. Someone I can never be. And I’ve tried, Veronica. I tried so hard to be that person, for so long.”

Another pause, another deep breath. Veronica didn’t say anything, didn’t stop smiling.

“There’s a lot that doesn’t feel right. The way that I look, it doesn’t match up with the way that I feel. The way people look at me, talk to me, if feels like they think I’m somebody else. The name that they use, it doesn’t feel like mine. It feels like an anchor, or a noose.”

Still no reaction from Veronica.

“You’re the first person I’ve talked to about this. The first person I’ve trusted. I mean, I’ve talked to people online, people with more experience, people who’ve been here before, but not like this. This is different, and I knew I had to tell you first. You’re my best friend, and I need you to know that I’m…”

She choked up, unable to say the last words, the most important words. Veronica hadn’t moved, hadn’t stopped smiling. She had no reason to be afraid, no reason to stop, but…

“It’s okay,” Veronica said. “You’re my best friend too, and I’m here for you, no matter what. I promise.”

“I… I think I’m a girl, Veronica,” Sabrina said, then immediately shook her head emphatically. “No, scratch that. I know I’m a girl.”

Veronica didn’t let the silence drag on. She reached across the table, taking Sabrina’s hand and squeezing it.

“Makes perfect sense to me,” she said warmly. “I do have one question for you, though.”


“What do I call you?” Veronica asked. Sabrina let out a breath she hadn’t realised she’d been holding.

“Sabrina,” she said.

“I’m already changing it in my phone,” Veronica said. “And if you need any backup, telling anybody else, I will happily be there for you. In your own time, of course.”

“I wanna tell Ash,” Sabrina said. “I don’t know how she’ll take it, but she’s like family. And I could really use your help on that one.”

“Aw, you know she loves you,” Veronica reassured her. “But of course, I’ll help you however I can. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised, though. She’s a smart kid.”

They both looked up as the café entrance chime rang. Three teenagers walked in, and Sabrina recognised two of them, though she couldn’t recall their names. Friends of Charlies, maybe.

Wendy intercepted them, making it look like she was just casually walking past them on her way to another table. They zeroed in on her.

“You’re Wendy, right?” a boy with fair skin, short blonde hair and quick grey eyes asked. Sabrina couldn’t see Wendy’s facial expression, but she noticed the woman’s body language tense up.

“That’s me,” she said, with flawless charm and warmth.

“We need your help,” the boy said, looking around conspiratorially. Sabrina very quickly stared down at her mug, hoping he wouldn’t notice her attention.

“You need help from a barista?” Wendy asked, cocking her head.

“Not exactly.”

“We’re looking for a different sort of help,” one of the girls added, beautiful and athletic with striking green eyes and soft Eurasian features.

The other girl, a sullen looking Latina girl, had distanced herself from the other two, but watched them carefully.

“Well, I only have the one kind available,” Wendy said patiently.

The boy drew an envelope out of his pocket, handing it to her.

“You might change your mind when you see this,” he said.

“What’s this?” Wendy asked, not taking it from him.

“Open it, and find out.”

“Okay…” She took the envelope, and extracted the letter deftly. If her body language was tense before, she was practically shaking with anger as she read it. “Ah. Oh, that clever little…”

“So?” the closer of the two girls asked.

“Back room,” Wendy replied sharply.

The four of them shuffled off together, and Sabrina and Veronica looked at each other. Veronica shrugged, and Sabrina nodded in a sort of vague agreement.

They paid their bill, and left the café. Veronica linked her arm through Sabrina’s, and the two of them began to walk, with no particular destination in mind.

Ahead of them, a young girl caught Sabrina’s eye. She was sitting atop a streetlamp, swinging her legs idly, her lilac hair fluttering gently in a breeze Sabrina couldn’t feel.

She stopped in her tracks, staring up at the girl. Veronica looked up at the same spot, but the girl was gone.

“What’s up?” Veronica asked. “You see something?”

“Huh? No,” Sabrina said. “Not sure why I stopped, sorry.”

“All good. Probably just your brain remembering something important, then forgetting it again. Happens to me all the time.”

“You’re probably right,” Sabrina said, smiling comfortably.

Interlude #4

All around him, countless worlds spun. Fragments of possibility sat at the edges of his consciousness, taunting him, tempting him.

He forced himself to focus. Sometimes it was easier. Currently, it was difficult. Too many open doors, too many threads. The worlds around him were ephemeral, insubstantial, but they were hard to ignore completely. Reality was much easier to leave behind.

Far too dangerous for that, the way that things were. He couldn’t afford a single slip. Too much at stake. Too much that could go wrong.

He stared at the monitors in front of him. All of them showed the same room, from different angles. An overlay of messages and sensory data scrolled across them. In the centre of the room, she stood. Trapped. Livid.

It had taken months to set up this trap. Bait seeded far in advance, a cascading sequence of events that had too many opportunities to fail.

Except it didn’t fail. He could see every possibility, every eventuality. There were no flaws in his plan, no gaps for her to slip through. One way or another, it was inevitable that she’d find herself here.

He allowed himself a simple smile. Nobody was around to see it.

He leaned forward, turned on his microphone.

“Hello again, Charlie. I was wondering when we’d get the chance to speak.”

On the monitors, Charlie reacted. The fury slipped away, but he could still see it, simmering beneath the surface, beneath her farcical act of confidence.

“And you’re somewhere far away, I’m sure. You think you’re safe?”

“I know I’m safe,” he replied, with complete surety. “Even you can’t reach me here, Charlie.”

She shrugged, pacing back and forth in the room. There were marks on the walls where she’d tried to fight her way out, but the room had been designed with her considerable strength in mind.

“That seems unlikely, but it hardly matters. I’m not interested in you.”

“Oh, come now, we both know that’s not true,” he replied. Just speaking to her, his legs had begun to throb. It was the only sensation they’d felt in months. He did his best to ignore it. “You’re content to leave me alone for now, but sooner or later you’ll come after me again. Perhaps once you’ve cleared the extradimensional raiders from our city?”

It was dangerous, revealing how much of her plan he knew. If she had a way of contacting anyone on the outside…

But then, she didn’t have anyone on the outside, did she? She was alone, which was only fitting. All she did was use people, lie to them and manipulate them for her own ends. He could almost respect that, but she lacked the ambition to do anything worthwhile with her talents. Instead, she was nothing more than a supremely powerful toddler, throwing a tantrum.

“You are running the most dangerous gang in the city,” she pointed out.

“I’m trying to save this city, just like you,” he argued, wishing he didn’t still rise to her bait so readily. “Only instead of a reckless, one-man crusade, I have a plan. Resources. I can make a difference.”

She grew still, and he knew he’d hit a nerve.

“I think you’ve done enough, don’t you?” she said softly. A chill ran down his spine.

“Clearly not.”

She sighed, running her hand through her shaggy mop of hair. For a moment, her body language seemed to indicate defeat.

“We’re never going to see eye to eye again, are we?”

“Doubtful,” he replied, just to watch her shoulders slump. Instead, she bristled.

“So what’s the plan here? You think you can keep me trapped?”

The idea of keeping her trapped had occurred to him. Actually, it was the first idea that had occurred to him, when he’d begun formulating this plan. But he couldn’t see a way to keep her trapped, not permanently. The solution needed to be permanent. It was the only way.

“No, Charlie. I’m going to kill you.”

She laughed. It was a short, broken sound, almost like a weak imitation of a sound a human might make.

“You know better than that,” she said coldly. “I can’t be killed.”

She was wrong. She thought herself indestructible, but he knew better. She wasn’t immortal. She had limits.

“Do you know what happened to me, Charlie?” he asked. “To us? After our last encounter?”

The memory was burned into his mind, an omnipresent reminder, a private hell he couldn’t escape.

“You lost your legs. She lost her voice.”

No remorse. No pity. Just a harsh statement of fact.

“We didn’t lose them,” he corrected her. “We sacrificed them. Traded them. For greater power.”

“You’d better hope you have something more dangerous than teleportation, then,” she said, an implied threat that shook him more than he’d have liked.

“Considerably. I see the future, Charlie. I see probability and outcomes and chance and fate.”

He didn’t tell her it was almost impossible to control, or that it was slowly driving him out of his mind. She didn’t need to know, and it didn’t matter anyway. He was getting better at controlling it, and thinks would change before it was too late. He had Haylie.

“Is that why you call yourself the Celestial, now?” she asked, a condescending smirk appearing on several monitors.

“That, and it seemed fitting, as the leader of the Stars.”

She shook her head, looking around the room yet again. He knew she was trying to find a way out, a weakness she could exploit, but there was nothing. He’d prepared for every possibility, no matter how small.

“You think you know how this goes, but you don’t,” she said threateningly.

“I’ve seen every possible outcome of this scenario,” he said calmly. “No matter what you do, there isn’t a piece of you left.”

She snarled; a primal, animalistic sound that all but reached through the screens and speakers, wrapping around his throat.

“You’d better be damn sure, Celestial.” She practically spat his name. “Because if you’re wrong, and I do survive this, whatever it is you’re going to do, I am going to destroy you. I’m going to tear apart your worthless empire, and then I’m going to kill you.”

“Trust me,” he said, his finger hovering above the keyboard, hand trembling slightly. “I’m sure.”

He hit the button. Panels in the walls of the room opened, revealing a dozen specialised weapons. All of them activated in the same moment.

He didn’t look away. Charlie screamed and shouted, lashed out, broke a couple of the weapons. It wasn’t enough. As her body was torn away, it tried to regenerate, but it wasn’t fast enough.

He watched until there was nothing left of her. No flesh, no blood, not even dust.

He watched even once she was gone, staring at the monitor, waiting for any trace that he’d failed. After half an hour with no changes, he let himself relax.

The door opened, and Miss Murder walked in. She looked at his face, glanced at the monitors.

“It’s done,” he said. She pulled out her phone, already typing out a response.

She’s dead?

“See for yourself,” he said, inviting her to observe the monitors more closely. She stared for several long minutes before typing a response.

Chance of survival?

“None. I saw every possibility. I watched her die.”

You can’t see all the possibilities around her. Or the others.

Her insight bothered him. He hadn’t specifically told her that the others clouded his clairvoyance, especially Charlie. Whatever mysterious force powered his ability to see the future, or possible futures, it seemingly couldn’t keep up with the supernatural.

“I can see enough,” he insisted. “Look, the room is empty. She’s not recovering.”

What if she can teleport?

“She can’t,” he said, trying to refrain from snapping at her. He knew caution and skepticism was the appropriate attitude, especially when it came to Charlie. It still frustrated him. He wanted to feel victorious, and he didn’t. “She got one power, just like us. She stole another one, but she couldn’t steal teleportation.”

Invisibility? Illusion? A fake?

Sometimes, she was more clever than he typically credited her. It was an unfortunate flaw of his, and he knew she resented it.

“All accounted for, along with several dozen other impossible ideas. Why is this so hard for you to believe?”

You failed before.

His fingers curled into a fist.

“You’re talking about Zoe and Sabrina. That wasn’t a failure. All I needed to do was delay them. It worked.”

You never told me.

“You didn’t need to know. Besides, Sabrina has Ami’s powers, remember? What if she read your mind?”

That hadn’t ever been a concern, but it was better than the truth. He couldn’t tell her that he just didn’t trust her, that he expected her to turn on him at any moment. Just because it didn’t happen in any of his visions, didn’t mean it was impossible. She, like the others, had a way of clouding his ability.

It doesn’t work like that.

How could she be so sure? So far as he knew, he was her primary source for information about them all. Did she know more than she was telling him? He made a mental note to keep a closer eye on her.

“Couldn’t take the risk. Anyway, that’s not what this is about. You haven’t lost faith in me, so just say what you want to say.”

She hesitated before typing her response to that. He watched the expression she wore with great interest.

I don’t want it to be true.

Neither did he, loathe as he was to admit it. But it was for the best.

“We talked about this. We agreed, it was the only option. Sooner or later, she was going to come after us, and she’s too dangerous to keep trapped. This was the only way.”

That doesn’t mean I like it.

“No. Me either.” He sighed. “It’s going to make things a lot harder in the short term, too. Without her getting in the way, everyone else is going to move that much more freely, but I-” he stopped mid-sentence as new visions burst forth around him. New futures, possibilities and certainties all danced around his head. Something had changed. The future was starting to catch up.

Except, impossibly, Charlie was in them. All of them.

“No. No, that’s not possible.”

Miss Murder shoved her phone in his face.


He shook in his chair, petrified. That wasn’t possible. That wasn’t fair.

“She’s- I can see her. Not now, but in the future. A possible outcome. And another. She’s showing up again. Or she will.”

He was babbling, but it didn’t matter. Most of his mind was focussed on the future. The present didn’t matter. He needed answers, and they wouldn’t be found with his present company.


“I don’t know,” he said, distantly. “I don’t understand. The trap was perfect. There was nothing left. I destroyed every cell. There’s nothing in that room but dust. She can’t still be alive.”

We’re fucked.

He looked up at her. She didn’t look afraid. If anything, she looked almost relieved. Alleviated guilt, maybe? If only he could feel that, but the twisting feeling in the pit of his stomach had only worsened.

“No. She still can’t hurt us. We just need to hold on for a little longer. I’m close, so close.”

You’re obsessed.

His instinct was to disagree with her, but she was right. He was obsessed. He had to be. Haylie was the key to everything. Haylie would change everything. She was the only future that mattered.

“Yes. Because I can see everything, and I know. I know. If I can wake her up, we win. We’re unstoppable.”

And if Charlie finds us first?

The Celestial sighed. He fought to keep those visions at bay. He would do everything in his power to avoid that future.

“If I can’t wake her up in time, Charlie wins. She destroys us, destroys the Stars. Then she destroys all the others, one by one. I even know the order. First Zoe, then Gabriel, Ami, Sabrina. Rachel lasts until the end, but even she can’t outlast Charlie. Then, when they’re all dead, when there’s nobody left to fight her? That’s when she destroys the world.”

Interlude 3

XO sat on the edge of the craft, staring down at the city below, racing past in the dawn light. The closer they got to the city centre, the greater their sense of unease. There was something about this city that just felt wrong.

“This feels like a trap,” they said, feeling the need to voice their concerns.

“It probably is,” Ami agreed, leaning with her arms folded. XO met her eyes, and saw the same concerns, only better hidden.

In her armoured bodysuit, she looked so tiny, but she more than made up for it with presence. A natural fit for the group’s second in command.

“So of course we’re going straight in. With no backup,” XO complained.

“Whatever it is, we can handle it,” Gabriel said, speaking from the back of the craft. His easy confidence, once inspiring, now just grated on XO’s nerves.

Unlike Ami, his bodysuit only served to make him look bigger, grander. His body language was regal, bordering on arrogant. If they were being honest with themselves, XO might have admitted they really didn’t like Gabriel, didn’t trust him, but even then, they’d have to admit he was the right choice for leader.

“That’s what you said last time,” they pointed out.

“Last time was different,” Ami interjected. “She had her attack dog with her.”

XO shuddered. Tyson Briggs was a man who was terrifying just by virtue of his presence. The fact that he’d been re-creating and upgrading himself for the past, what, two centuries? Purely for the purposes of destroying Gabriel? That made him an incredibly dangerous man.

“And how do we know she doesn’t this time?” XO asked. “Or worse?”

“She doesn’t,” Haylie said, surprising them. She didn’t usually weigh in on these conversations. “And it’s not a trap.”

Haylie was the only of them them not wearing combat gear. Instead, she wore a plain white shirt under a long red coat, the colour chosen to compliment her long auburn hair. Her yellow eyes, vaguely luminescent, were fixated on XO.

“You’re sure?” Ami asked, clearly as surprised as XO was.

“I didn’t say she’s unprepared,” Haylie clarified. “But she’s here for a reason, and it’s not us.”

“She’s been here for weeks, right?” XO asked. “I don’t see how she can stand it. I hate Melbourne.”

“None of us feel that quite as strongly as you, Exxo,” Gabriel said diplomatically.

“It’s not nothing, though,” Ami contributed. “Especially close to the Tower…”

XO twitched involuntarily, an instinctual reaction to a troubled memory. They didn’t know what was in the Tower, nobody did, but whatever it was, it radiated discomfort. The last time they were anywhere near it, they were overcome by feelings of rage, to the point where they nearly attacked their teammates.

“The screaming?” they asked, shaking the memory from their head as best they could. Ami’s experience was arguably worse; a never-ending tirade of psychic screams.

“I can’t hear it from this far out, at least,” was all she said in response.

The four of them were silent, as they flew closer to the city centre. XO knew the others would be going over attack plans, memorising street and building layouts, rehashing previous encounters. For their part, all they did was try to stay calm.

“I don’t believe the Tower is her objective,” Haylie said, breaking the silence.

“Any idea what is?” Gabriel pushed, trying and failing to disguise his desperation. His hunt for his ‘sister’ had been his focus for as long as they’d known each other, some eighty years.

“She’s building something,” Haylie said vaguely.

“Alone?” Ami asked. It was a good question. Zoe had access to nearly all of the resources Mason could provide, which was significant. She could have had an entire construction crew, a contingent of soldiers, a temporary base of operations.

“It’s odd, I’ll admit,” Haylie said. “But there’s no-one else nearby. Only humans.”

Xo cringed again. Humans were the last thing they wanted to deal with. Vicious pack hunters, with the strength and cunning to make them dangerous even to someone like Gabriel.

“Exxo,” he began, the discomfort in his voice alerting XO to what he was about to ask. “Are we close enough for you to use your… ability?”

XO closed their eyes, blocking out all stimuli. Slowly, silently, remaining completely still, they reached out, searching. It didn’t take long to find.

Most of the mirrors in the city were broken, shattered. That was okay. They were only relays. XO kept reaching, kept searching. Found more, used them to reach further.

They inhaled sharply as the world burst into light and colour around them, as they attuned themselves to the mirrors, seeing through the reflective surfaces. As they focussed, glass and polished metal began to resonate as well.

It was’t quite a complete picture of the city, but it was a lot, massive amounts of information that threatened to overwhelm them. It took a few more moments of calm, and forced breathing, before they were able to open their eyes again, adding their normal vision to the supernatural expanse their power provided them.

“Not yet,” they said, replying to Gabriel’s question. “But it’s always weaker here.”

“She’s set up a large number of traps,” Haylie said. “And she knows we’re coming.”

“We stick to the plan,” Gabriel said, clearly frustrated. “We can handle this.”

“That’s what you said last time…” XO repeated. Gabriel said nothing.

“We can’t fly any closer,” Haylie announced. “Setting us down on the closest rooftop.”

“I still can’t see her,” XO said.

A 3D holographic map of the city materialised in XO’s vision, through the visor across their eyes. Another layer of vision to try and wrap their head around.

A symbol lit up a particular building in the 3D map.

“She’s here,” Haylie said.

It was within XO’s range, but in the middle of a black spot.

“No mirrors,” they said. “Right.”

“Don’t be reckless, Exxo,” Ami cautioned. “Gabriel, stay focussed.”

“I’ll be fine,” he said coldly. “Everyone ready?”




“Then let’s go,” Gabriel said. “Don’t let her get away again.”

XO waited until last to move. They weren’t as strong as the others, not as fast or as durable. In a one-on-one fight, Zoe would tear them apart. Chances were they wouldn’t even make it that far, with all of the traps.

Gabriel and Ami were Inheritors. In addition to everything else, they could heal almost indefinitely, from all but the most grievous of wounds. Haylie was, well, Haylie didn’t need to worry. There was a reason she didn’t need to wear armour.

Through the reflections, XO watched as Gabriel descended with an almost ethereal grace. His body moved so quickly, his weight placed on surfaces that shouldn’t support it just long enough, from just the right angles, that he wasn’t even slowed down.

Gabriel was known for being strong and fast, and he certainly was those things, but they weren’t what made him dangerous. He was able to process and analyse information as fast as any computer, able to make thousands of tiny decisions in fractions of a second, and his body was fast enough to keep up. Brilliant, analytical, and a master strategist. Just like his sister.

Ami was far less delicate with her descent, but no less graceful. She leapt off the side of the building. The fall wouldn’t have killed her, would barely have slowed her down, but she didn’t hit the ground. Telekinetic forcefields bloomed around her, providing platforms for her to leap across the air, covering ground almost as quickly as Gabriel.

It was a facade, XO knew. Ami presented her telekinetic abilities as large, brutish even, even claimed fine control was impossible. The reality was that she could sever every major artery in a person’s body from across the room in a single instant, without so much as blinking. If you were alive in her presence, it was because she wanted you to be.

Haylie was slower, more methodical. She was capable of moving as quickly as Gabriel, had the mobility of Ami. She didn’t need it. Haylie was patient, and nothing would slow her down.

As XO watched, a pack of humans, roused from sleep, snarled and snapped and took off, chasing down Gabriel. XO considered a warning, but Gabriel’s senses were sharper than most, and he doubtless already knew.

Eight of them leapt from the shadows, each one a biological machine of destruction, all muscle and bone and fury. Gabriel tore through them, not even bothering to use a weapon, barely losing any forward momentum. Blood dripped from his boots and gauntlets.

In any other team, XO’s ability would have been useful. Awareness of an entire battlefield, a subconscious ability to process it all, they’d have been able to coordinate, to direct and control the flow of battle. Instead, they’d been teamed up with three people with absolutely no need for their ability. With Haylie on the team, XO was almost redundant.

XO knew why they’d been assigned to this team, though. Everyone else was frightened. XO was an anomaly, an impossibility, and Genesis only felt safe with XO being watched by the most powerful, dangerous people they had on hand.

Eighty years ago, they’d woken up with no understanding of the world. No language, no memory, barely able to control their own body. Genesis had found them, an infant in an adult’s body.

Genesis had experimented, of course. It would have been foolish not to. Had XO understood enough to consent, they’d have given it. That they couldn’t, and didn’t, was a minor issue in their mind.

The more Genesis discovered, though, the less warm and welcoming they became. XO learned quickly, absorbing language, culture, history in days and weeks. It didn’t take them long to be able to differentiate between the lies and the truth, the subtext and the stated facts.

Gabriel, Ami, Haylie, the many other superhuman entities in Genesis’ employ, they were all understood. They could be explained, if not replicated. They knew their own origins, the ways they functioned. XO defied all reason.

When their powers had begun to develop, it had gotten worse. There was no reason, no science behind what they could do. It broke their laws of physics, where the Inheritors just bent them. XO was impossible, and therefore, XO was dangerous.

Back to the present. XO leapt off the building, activating a gravity distorter before they hit the ground. It provided only a second’s reprieve from gravity, warped it, and they landed softly.

Like Ami, the fall wouldn’t have killed them, would barely slow them down, but it felt unnecessary, brutish even.

With their ability to see almost the entire battlefield, it was easier to avoid the humans than to engage them. XO wasn’t fond of violence, another thing that set them apart from the others. Gabriel could almost sadistic in combat, Ami was cold, unaffected. Haylie was a mystery, but she certainly didn’t seem adverse.

Without warning, six humans materialised in Ami’s presence. That didn’t make sense. There was nowhere for them to have come from.

The moment they appeared, they’d entered the field of Ami’s telekinetic awareness. She knew about them, no need to warn her. Within a second, they were dead, torn apart from the inside out.

Five more appeared, around XO this time. How? There were none nearby a second ago. No, there was something.

Through the mirrors, XO could only see. Complete sight, but no other senses. They could lipread, but they were still limited. Now, with the humans appearing so close, XO’s other senses contributed.

A sound, soft, like a distant crack.

A smell, metallic and acidic.

A taste in the air, chemical.

A feeling, a disturbance in the air, like a brief gust of wind.

And XO knew. The humans had been teleported.

“Haylie. Teleporting humans,” they said, activating their mic. “How?”

“Not sure,” came the response, almost immediately.

The humans attacked, and XO was forced to respond. Leap over that one’s head, only just agile enough to avoid being torn in two. Gun drawn, safety off.

The humans were fast, vicious, coordinated. Not just that, they looked different. Slimmer, sleeker than they should have been. Their eyes, eerily focussed. Calculating.

XO fired, a headshot, right between the eyes. The human was knocked backwards, but stood back up, the wound closing over, the grey skin knitting together.


What about Ami’s lot?

They’d stayed down. Why were XO’s different?

Another group appeared, teleporting around Gabriel.

“They heal, even from a headshot. And they look different. Almost like-“

“Zoe’s blood,” Gabriel interjected. “She’s injecting humans, turning them into soldiers. And teleporting them right to us.”

Another human attacked. XO twisted out of the way, holstering the gun, pulling out a short blade. A press of a button, and the air around the blade began to twist and distort. Gabriel had pulled out a pistol.

“But how?” Ami asked. “We can’t even manage teleportation, how did she figure that out?”

A human lunged. XO moved in, running on instinct, slicing through the chest. Human physiology wasn’t that different. The blood should have crystalised in the same place…

“It’s not a technological limitation,” Haylie said. “We understand how to do it, but the energy required makes it unfeasible at best, impossible at worst.”

The human collapsed, twitching but not getting up. Gabriel unleashed a barrage, still not breaking his momentum. All of his humans were hit, right in the chest. None of them got up.

“So where’s she getting the energy from?”

XO dispatched the rest of their humans in the same way, taking a hit to the shoulder in the process. The human’s nails, elongated and hardened like claws, tore through XO’s armour. Blood splashed, but the wound began to heal, the suit injecting localised painkillers that wouldn’t interrupt motor functions.

“The Tower,” Gabriel answered. “Now we know what she’s doing. And we’re a test run.”

“She lured us here?” Ami asked, suddenly angry.

“It’s fine,” Gabriel said. “We can handle this.”

“I can’t see where the humans are coming from,” XO said. “They must be gathered in my blind spot. She has an army protecting her.”

“So we dismantle the army,” Gabriel said simply. “I’m not letting her go. Not this time.”

“We should call for backup,” XO insisted. “Aaron, Mia…”

“No time,” Gabriel snapped.

They’d nearly reached the building Haylie had identified as Zoe’s base of operations, right in the centre of the blind spot, each approaching from a separate angle. None of them slowed down.

Ami, still about ten stories up, simply through herself through a window, forming a spearhead of telekinetic energy around her.

Gabriel leapt up the side of the building, magnets in his gauntlets and boots allowing him to ascend rapidly up the smooth exterior.

Haylie simply sauntered in the front doors.

As soon as they entered, they disappeared from XO’s sight.

XO reactivated the gravity distortion bubble, much weaker, attaching it to a grappling hook they fired up at the top of the building. With weaker gravity, the hook flew much further, hitting the top of the skyscraper easily, and latching on. Moments later, XO was pulled up into the air.

They smashed through the ceiling entrance, still reaching out with their power, but it seemed as though every reflective surface in the building had been removed. There was nothing to reach out to. They were going in blind.

A trap, placed in full knowledge of the approach they would use. XO knew the others would be facing something similar. Specimen Z knew them too well, had the same analytic capabilities as her brother. An explosion tore through the stairwell, filling the space in an instant. Nowhere to go.

Tech solution? Kinetic shielding, only good for projectiles. Gravity distortion field, no use against this. Weapons, useless. Comms? Stupid to even consider.

Doing nothing? The explosion would incinerate their armour, including the comms systems. They’d be even more blind, without being connected to the others. Their body would burn, but it would recover, back to the same state it began in, just like always. Zoe knew that. Wanted that. Not an option, then.

In the split second before the explosion reached them, they’d considered all the possibilities, but come up with no solution. That was the difference between them and Gabriel. He would have had a solution. Then again, his trap would have been different, taking that into account.

XO just stood there, letting the explosion knock them backwards, slamming them against the wall. Their armour withstood the impact, but not the heat. It melted, twisted, broke apart. XO’s body was already gone, reduced to nothing more than ash.

The next moment, time had passed. They didn’t know how long. They were naked, but unharmed. The stairwell was scorched. No mirrors. No way of seeing. They ran.

Without their helmet, and the HUD that it provided, XO had no concept of the interior of the building. They hadn’t memorised the layout, didn’t even know what floor Specimen Z would be on.

Down. They needed to descend. Keep going down the stairs, listening for any sound of fighting, or Z’s army, or her device. Anything.

One floor below. Two. They kept going, ten stories down, no signs of anything but calm and quiet.

There was a sound. Above them, somehow. They heard shouting. A familiar voice. Ami’s?

“Found them!” she shouted, to whoever was behind her. Then she dropped. A forcefield caught her, and she landed gracefully, reaching out to XO.

“Let’s go,” she said gently.

They took her hand, and she pulled them onto the forcefield. It rocketed them both upwards, back to the ceiling.

Ami and XO walked out onto the ceiling. Haylie had moved their transport to this roof. XO blinked, not quite believing what they were seeing.

Z was captured. Alive, furious, restrained. Gagged, because even letting her speak was dangerous.

“We did it?” they asked, in awe.

“Mostly Haylie,” Ami said. Gabriel glowered at her, but didn’t say anything. His anger was tempered by victory.

This was what he’d wanted, what he’d been working towards for two hundred years. He didn’t seem happy.

Both Ami and Gabriel’s bodysuits were wrecked. Whatever had happened, it had been one hell of a fight. XO had missed it entirely.

“Where is Haylie?” they asked, looking around.

“In the ship,” Ami said. “She took some damage, more than us. She’s resting.”

XO breathed a sigh of relief. Haylie was the closest thing they had to a friend. They respected Gabriel, liked Ami even, but the two of them were cautious, distant. With orders to keep an eye on them, it made sense. That didn’t make it any less uncomfortable.

Haylie was always kind, gentle. Understanding, even. She wasn’t frightened of them, not even concerned. Maybe she sympathised a little. Those who knew what she was, what she really was, tended to treat her similarly.

“Let’s go,” Gabriel said, tense, almost hostile. He disappeared onto the ship.

“What’s with him?” XO asked, once he was out of sight, knowing he’d hear anyway.

“They talked,” Ami said, shrugging.

“They..? Oh. Oh.

Gabriel and Z, they weren’t accidents. Every part of them had been designed, for very specific purposes. Of all their siblings, living or dead, they were the two that had the most in common.

Part of their design was a vicious social cunning. XO had seen it in Gabriel, knew Z was capable of the same. He picked up social cues, processed and analysed them like combat data. He was an expert on knowing exactly what to say and how to say it, to get the exact outcomes he needed.

Z had needled him, gotten under his defences. The only way he was really vulnerable. Gabriel must have reached her first, and she’d been prepared.

XO didn’t even want to think about whatever she could have said to get to him.

Ami climbed into the transport, offering her hand to XO again. Once on board, she handed them a spare bodysuit, unarmoured. They’d forgotten about being naked. It didn’t bother them, but for modesty’s sake, they dressed.

The ship took off, rising into the air. In the distance, XO could see the Tower. It sent a chill down their spine, unsettling in a way they didn’t understand.

“I can’t believe we did it,” XO said.

“Believe it,” Ami said, placing a hand on their shoulder. “We-“

She didn’t finished whatever she was going to say. A scream filled the air, deafening, painful. XO dropped to their knees, clutching their head, trying in vain to block out the sound.

Ami collapsed to the floor, eyes glazing over. Not an audible scream, then. A psychic scream. One they could all hear.

Gabriel was frantic, panicking. XO had never seen that before. He looked at Zoe, accusatory, but she looked as bad as he did, overcome by fear.

No, not fear. Pain. The scream was one of pain, and they all felt that pain. It overwhelmed them, filled every part of their being, threatened to tear them apart.

XO staggered to the cockpit, looking for Haylie. She looked unconscious, slumped in the seat, eyes closed. XO looked ahead, saw the sky tear open in front of them. Another world expanded, unfolded before them.


The voice filled their head, alien. It was their voice, but it wasn’t.

You cannot enter.

I don’t want to enter, XO thought in response.

The ship kept flying straight ahead, right into the tear, almost as if it were opened just for them. XO tried to seize the controls, but they were non-responsive. Nothing they could do.

The ship hit the tear, began to pass through it. XO did not. Like hitting an invisible wall, their forward momentum was arrested.

The ship continued forward around them, and they were torn out of their seat, thrown to the back of it. The momentum of the ship kept pulling it forward. XO became an immovable object. The ship strained, but it was more than its own engines pulling it forward. The tear had a sort of gravity of its own.

The back of the ship tore apart, rent in two. The ship launched forwards, and XO fell, reaching helplessly.

As they plummeted back towards the ground, knowing the fall would rip their body apart, watching their teammates disappear through a tear in reality, into another dimension, they felt something else. Something new.

Something gone.

A tiny sliver, barely noticeable. Almost nonexistent. They were aware of it, until it passed through the tear. The moment it did, it disappeared from XO’s awareness.

Part of them, gone forever.

Their team, gone forever.

They fell.

They hit the ground.

They died.

They returned.

The sliver was still gone.

Bonus – That’s A Cute Trick

Miss Murder sat on the very edge of the building, her feet dangling over the ten-story drop. The wind blew her short hair across her face, but she barely noticed, lost in thought.

Part of her wished things had gone differently, that she hadn’t ended up in the situation she was in. It wasn’t that she didn’t like her partner, she did. It was more that she didn’t trust him.

Would he turn on her, eventually? Almost certainly. His fascination with Haylie had turned into obsession, almost single-minded. Once he’d figured her out, would he even need their partnership anymore? If he decided he didn’t, there was no way he would let her live.

What other options did she have, though? Even if she left now, he’d come after her, and she knew better than to think she could hide from him, even with her power. Besides, if she left him, she’d be alone. It wasn’t like Charlie would ever take her back.

Could she kill him? Maybe, but she didn’t want to. He didn’t deserve that, and it wasn’t in her nature. Killing was a job, one she was good at, one she could justify because the death was never her choice. She was a weapon, nothing more. Killing him would be different.

She shook the thoughts from her head. She was already in the middle of a job, couldn’t afford to delay any longer. She looked across the road, focussing on a spot on the opposite rooftop. Close enough? Just.

As she looked, the space between here and there shrank, until they seemed to be the same. Then they snapped apart again, except she was in the other place, leaving only her shadow behind, and even that followed her before long.

As far as the Celestial knew, her power was limited to ‘blinking’, short range teleportation. She wanted to keep it that way, just in case.

Blink. Another rooftop. Then another. Then down to the ground, across the street, moving faster than she could run, and it used no energy at all.

It didn’t take her long to find them, not with how quickly she could cover ground. Five members, none she recognised. All dead. Nothing more than an inconvenience to her.

She walked among the bodies, getting just close enough to check their causes of death. One was covered in lacerations, dead by blood loss. Another had been decapitated, that was easy. Blunt trauma, no visible weapon. If her suspicions were correct, there wouldn’t have been one. Another, internal bleeding. The last was tricky, but she was familiar enough with the symptoms of a heart attack to recognise it as a cause of death.

Her fingers wrapped around the grip of her knife, her nerves on edge. It wasn’t like she was any more durable than those corpses had been.

A sound, barely audible, but she was trained to noticed that sort of thing. A footstep behind her. She whirled, saw the culprit, hesitated.

She’d seen footage of Ami, one of the superhumans who’d arrived in the crash on Impact Day. Read reports, many of which included physical descriptions. None of them quite captured what she was looking at.

Ami was short, probably the same height as her, and unsettlingly pretty. A slender frame, the body of a teenage girl. Vibrant eyes, an unnatural shade of violet. Other than the colour of eyes, her features were Asian, and she could easily have been a model. There was a curious smirk on her lips.

Focus on her eyes, Miss Murder reminded herself. Watch for sudden movements. She’s a threat, and you have a job to do. It would be a shame to kill someone so pretty, but she’d do it if she had to.

She noticed the katana strapped to Ami’s back. Ami’s eyes flicked to the corpses, then back to Miss Murder. Her smirk didn’t falter, but Miss Murder felt movement behind her. A telekinetic attack? Couldn’t take the risk.

She blinked forward, drawing her knife in the same movement. Rematerialising right in front of Ami, she slashed the blade across the girl’s throat, knowing the blade was sharp enough to cut through.

Ami staggered back, but not nearly enough blood spurted from the wound. It was already beginning to heal. Miss Murder swore to herself.

Almost too fast to see, Ami had drawn the katana, slashing at Miss Murder in the same motion. It was reflex alone that saved her, blinking away just before the blade passed through her. Ami grinned.

Psychic hands grabbed Miss Murder, pulling her off the ground, into the air. Instinctively, she tried to blink away. She focussed on a spot, felt the distance between here and there disappear, felt them snap back apart again, but when they did, she was still in the same place. She hadn’t moved.

Telekinesis could interrupt her blinking? No, that wasn’t fair. Not to mention it didn’t make sense.

Well, fair or unfair, sense or nonsense, she needed to get away. Taking a deep breath, she managed to calm herself, focussing on the same energy that let her teleport. It was like a crystal, right at her core, and as her thoughts settled on it, it burst, the energy contained within washing over her body.

She dropped to the ground, her body incorporeal, nothing but shadow and smoke. She ran, holding it for as long as she could, barely a couple of seconds, before the effect vanished, and she was returned to normal. The moment she did, a psychic hand grabbed her, pulling her back to where she began.

“That’s a cute trick,” Ami said, with a softness Miss Murder was not expecting, not prepared for. She sounded sweet, almost friendly.

For her part, Miss Murder said nothing. She was trapped, and both of them knew it. All she could do was glare at her captor, and wonder how she was going to die.

Instead, Ami smiled again, sheathing her katana. She leaned against an invisible wall, a casual display her of power, a reminder of who was in control of the situation.

“Alright, I’m sufficiently intrigued,” she said. “Let’s talk.”

One again, Miss Murder said nothing. Ami looked almost disappointed.

“Or not. Tell you what, I’ll give you two options. Either I let you go, just this once, and you learn nothing. Or, we talk, we both learn something, and maybe things don’t go this way next time.” She gestured to the dead gangsters.

Miss Murder hesitated. Ami was a mystery, a valuable one. The Celestial would want any information she could gather. She herself was curious. Talking was the better option.

It was also considerably more difficult, unless Ami was happy to monologue at her, and somehow that didn’t seem likely. Reluctantly, she tugged at the scarf that covered her mouth and neck, pulling it all the way off.

Ami’s reaction was exactly what Miss Murder expected. Surprise, horror, disgust, curiosity, confusion. It was always the same.

A handprint was seared into Miss Murder’s neck, a black mark against her tanned skin, ugly and painful. It wasn’t a scar, or a burn mark, not exactly.

“Ah,” Ami said, recovering quicker than most did. “That’s… Okay. Think. Think very simple concepts. How did that happen? I might be able to help.”

Stupidly, Miss Murder let a flash of hope through her defences. Her mind filled with painful memories.

Charlie’s hand around my throat. That look in her eyes, it isn’t human. My neck is burning, aching, it feels wrong, it feels wrong. Behind Charlie, Rachel grapples with him, her body barely able to move, but Charlie already got to him. His spine is broken, and it’s not healing. Why isn’t it healing?

I should be strong enough, should be able to break free from Charlie’s grip. Wendy’s blood still courses through me, I can feel it, but it’s getting weaker. Charlie’s doing something, taking it out of me, must have taken it out of him.

What is she? None of this makes sense, she’s not like us, not like us at all. She’s not human, can’t be human.

She tricked us, lied to us, used us all. Even Rachel, but Rachel should have known better. Rachel helped her trick us, should have known Charlie was playing her as well.

Charlie drops me, I fall to the ground, my neck is burning, I can’t breathe, can barely move. Everything’s getting dark, she crouches, whispers something in my ear, but I can’t hear it, can’t hear anything, can’t see anything.

Am I dying?

Ami staggered back, the same way she had when Miss Murder had tried to cut her throat. A look of fear and confusion passed over her face, quickly replaced by concern.

“I… What? She- No. Okay, no. I can’t help with that.” She took a few moments, breathing deeply, before reaching into a pocket. “How about this instead?”

She offered a pen and notebook to Miss Murder, who hesitated for only a moment before taking it. She needed to ask the question.

You can read minds?

Ami took the paper, then shook her head.

“No. Well, kind of. Not words, which is what people usually think. Not enough to be useful.”

Miss Murder nodded, not understanding at all. It didn’t matter. She wrote out another message, in careful, cursive script.

Is this your territory?

It was important to know. If she’d claimed it, it would be worth advising the Celestial to avoid it, at least until he was more prepared.

“No,” Ami said, reading the note. “I’m moving around. They just picked a fight.” She gestured to the dead again. “Bad idea. Now, you’ve asked two questions, so I get two.” She hesitated, thinking. “Are you with them? Who do you work for?”

Miss Murder was already writing the answer.

Yes. Celestial.

Ami frowned, looking back at the corpses.

“A local gang? With a superhuman like you? That sounds unlikely. Where did you get your powers?”

Miss Murder had to think about that. There were so many possible answers to that question, but only one that was really honest.

Don’t know. What do you want?

It was far too open of a question, but it kept the focus on Ami, not herself. And maybe it would teach her something useful.

“To go home,” Ami said, shrugging. “I miss my brother, my life. Can’t figure it out on my own, though. I’m not scientific, not clever like that. Never was. Gabriel could figure it out, but he’s focussed on Zoe. She might be able to figure it out, if she can avoid him. Haylie could do it, but she’s… missing.”

A pang of guilt washed over her, one she tried desperately to dismiss. Could Ami read that? Would she figure it out?

“Anyway, my question. What do you want?”

It took her by surprise, even though she felt like she should have expected it. She didn’t know how to answer it.

Ami watched as she began to write, before the answer was properly formulated in her head.

My old life. My voice. Freedom. Nothing I can have. How can we avoid conflict?

“Tell your thugs not to engage. Send yourself if you want to communicate. Don’t think I want to talk to anyone else.” Ami paused just long enough to come up with her own question. “What were they doing here?”

The corpses again. It occurred to her that she didn’t even know their names.

Scouting. Why only me?

Ami smiled as she read the question. It was a nice smile, honest and relaxed.

“Not sure. I’ve just got a good feeling about you. Is that going to be a problem?”

She had to think before answering that. Problem? Almost certainly. The Celestial wouldn’t take it well, but that was his problem. Did it bother her? Not at all. If anything, she liked the idea. Kept her valuable, and if it gave her more opportunities to learn more about Ami, so much the better.

No problem. How would I find you?

“Smartphone,” Ami said, procuring one from another pocket. How many of those did she have? “City haven’t shut off coverage yet. They might not. If they do, we’ll figure something else out. Oh, and don’t try to track me.”

Miss Murder wrote her number down, and passed it to Ami, who entered it into her phone. Ami gave a number back.

If any Stars give you trouble, let me know, she wrote, deliberately keeping to paper and not sending a digital message. After a pause, she added, You can kill them first.

That got another smile out of Ami, a curious one.

“Not quite so invested, are you?” she asked. “Why stick with them?”

It’s complicated.

“Isn’t it always,” Ami said with a dramatic sigh. “Well, let me offer you something. If you see her, the one who did that to you-” she gestured at Miss Murder’s neck “let me know. I want to see what she can do.”

Miss Murder wasn’t quite prepared for the reaction she had to that. The thought of Ami confronting Charlie, engaging her, terrified her. She hurriedly scrawled a response.

You can’t kill her.

Ami shrugged dismissively. “Okay. I won’t.”

She shook her head, wishing she could actually speak. So much was lost in text.

No, you can’t kill her. She made an effort to underline can’t. It was important.

“Curiouser and curiouser, as Alice used to say,” Ami said, whistling. “I have one more question for you.” Another smirk preceded the question. “What’s your name?”

For reasons she didn’t quite understand, Miss Murder pressed the tip of the pen against the paper, and wrote her name.

Her real name.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m Ami.”