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Chapter 12 – Just Enjoy The Ride

Six hours later, I stood in front of the mirror, trying to take myself seriously. Everything felt so surreal.

I’d had to transform to get my measurements, and once transformed, I realised Zoe’s powers weren’t just about strength. Just by taking her form, I felt an overwhelming surge of dexterity and finesse, and my body seemed to just be capable of doing whatever I needed it to do.

Somehow, I managed to sew an entire costume in only a few hours, then spent another couple making alterations and trying to make it look, well, cool. I wasn’t sure how successful I was, but it sure was a costume.

I sighed, staring at the face that wasn’t mine, the body that wasn’t me.

“Why am I only powerful when I’m white?” I asked my reflection, complaining out loud.

“You have a pretty narrow understanding of power,” my reflection answered, surprising me.

“Envy?” I asked.

“You remembered!” she said, sounding gleeful.

“Are you in every reflection?”

“More or less,” she said. “Are you always this mopey?”

“Yes,” I answered. “You, you seem to know more about this power than me. Can I have her strength without looking like her?”

She shrugged, then twirled around, checking out the costume on herself. Her body language was so different to mine.

“Wow, you’ve got skills, girl,” she said, giggling. “You can sew?”

“I’ve been teaching myself,” I muttered. “I like fashion.”

“Well, colour me impressed.”

I watched her move around in the mirror, so comfortable in her own skin. What did that feel like, to actually feel like your body was right for you? I just felt like a puppeteer in a sack of expired meat.

“You’re upset,” she said, pouting. “Talk to me, sweetheart. What’s going on in that pretty head of yours?”

I frowned at her level of familiarity. Also, I was surprised she didn’t know what was going on in my head. I’d just assumed that she would.

“I just… I don’t understand how you can look so natural,” I said. “That’s not your body. So why do you seem so normal in it?”

“What, this old thing?” She tugged at her cheek and poked her stomach. “Just something I threw on. See, your body is just, it’s a shell, you see? It’s like clothes. You can change it, if you want. What matters is how you wear it.”

“You know up until recently I couldn’t change it at all, right?” I asked, crossing my arms.

“You really believed that? Wow, that must have really sucked,” she said, sounding surprisingly sympathetic.

“You don’t know much about humans, do you?” I asked.

“Oh honey, I know everything about humans. It seems like maybe you don’t know enough about them.”

She stood with her hands on her hips, and I couldn’t help but to laugh.

“What are you talking about?”

“Your body is yours,” she said. “It isn’t you. And you can do whatever you like to it, to make it fit just a little better.”

“I’m never gonna look the way I want to look,” I said grimly. “I’ll never have the body I want to have.”

“Wrong, wrong,” she said in a sing-song voice. “I know times are different here, not quite as ahead as where I’m from, but I know there’s plenty more you can do.”

“I don’t understand,” I said.

“Well, that’s obvious. Look, start with this.” She pulled something from behind her back, a small bottle of pills. She threw it towards me, and somehow, I caught it.

“What the…”

“You weren’t still thinking I’m not real, where you?” she asked, feigning offence. “How rude. I’m tempted to take those back, now.”

“How did you do that?” I asked, turning the bottle over in my hand. It felt so real.

“I’m a lot more than just a voice in your head,” she told me. “Those, by the way, are estrogen pills. They might help you start to look a little more like yourself.”

“I’m supposed to take pills from a stranger?”

“Honey, I may be strange, but I am no stranger,” she said. “I told you, I’m you. You’re me. We’re us.”

“But what does that mean?” I asked.

“It means we need each other,” she said, suddenly serious. “Without you, I’m never going to survive. And without me, well, you’re not gonna fare much better. Something’s coming, Sabrina.”

“What’s coming?” I demanded. “You can just throw generic vagueries at me all of the time!”

“Can too,” she said petulantly. “Look, we’ve only just started to get to know each other. Don’t rush things! Just, enjoy the ride, you know?”

Before I could answer, she disappeared, replaced in an instant with my proper reflection. I shook my head. It still looked like a stranger to me.

Chapter 11 – You’re The Suspicious One Here

Part 2 – Envy

“Uh, don’t take this the wrong way, but why are you still here?” I asked Charlie, who was sitting cross-legged on the end of my bed. Veronica was happily tapping away on my computer, engrossed in a match of some competitive game.

“I was waiting for you,” Charlie said, shrugging. “I’m curious. Sue me.”

“She’s been going through all your stuff,” Veronica said, not taking her eyes off the screen.

I glared at Charlie. She just stared back, blankly.

“What were you looking for?” I demanded. “And why didn’t you stop her?” I asked Veronica.

Veronica ignored me. Charlie held out her hand, held in a loose fist, before opening it. Half a dozen small plastic objects fell out, clattering across the floor.

I reached down to pick one up. It didn’t look like much. Whatever it was, it definitely wasn’t mine.

“What are these?” I asked, holding one between my fingers.

“Bugs,” Charlie said. “Surveillance bugs. Somebody is very interested in you, Sabrina.”

I felt my skin crawl, and a shiver ran down my spine.

“What?” I dropped it like it was about to burn through my fingers. “Who? Why?”

Veronica turned away from the PC, a grim expression on her face. She reached out and grabbed my hand.

“It’s okay, Sabrina. We’ll find out who did this. I promise you, you’ll be okay.”

“I know who did this,” Charlie said, and Veronica stared at her.

“You what- who? Who did this, and why do you know?” Veronica demanded, almost spluttering. “How did you know to look for them, or where to find them?”

Charlie rolled her eyes, and stood up, her foot crushing one of the tiny microphones. A fleeting smile crossed her lips.

“Because that’s how I think,” she said. “Sabrina is interesting. She disappeared the night everything went to hell. She walked home, unscathed.”

“That doesn’t explain the who,” Veronica said.

“The who is the Celestial,” Charlie said. “I’d have thought that was obvious.”

“Who?” I asked, but Veronica stood, standing in front of me defensively.

“No,” she said, her voice full of venom.

“Hey, I don’t like it either, but you’re kidding yourself if you think he’s not paying attention,” Charlie said.

“Guys, who is the Celestial?” I asked, pulling away from Veronica.

“The leader of one of the most powerful gangs in the city,” Veronica said, her shoulders slumping. “They were big before, but now…”

“The Stars,” Charlie said. “Evidently, he has a sense of humour. Also, he’s more of an information broker than a gangster, but that only makes him more dangerous, really.”

I felt my body tense up, and realised it wanted to change. It wanted to be strong, to feel safe. I held it in. There was no way I wanted Veronica or Charlie knowing about that.

“I’m not special,” I insisted. “He’s wasting his time. Why won’t he just leave me alone?”

“He’s not gonna like having his bugs messed with,” Charlie said. “He’ll send people back with more.”

“No!” I shouted. “My family, they can’t, they’re innocent, I-”

“Hey, it’s okay,” Charlie said, her voice uncharacteristically soft. “He’s not going to hurt them. That’s not his style.”

“And how do you know so much about him?” Veronica asked accusingly.

“Personal experience,” Charlie said, her voice heavy. “I’d rather not talk about it.”

“No, we’re gonna talk about it,” Veronica insisted. “You’ve been here every day since Sabrina disappeared. You’re the one who seems obsessed with her. You knew exactly where those bugs were. And where were you the past six months, hey? You’re the suspicious one here.”

Charlie’s eyes flashed, a brief moment of anger, but she calmed herself.

“I was in hospital,” she said evenly. “I tried to kill myself.”

“Wha- shit,” Veronica said. “Shit. I didn’t know. I’m sorry.”

“Nobody knew,” Charlie said. “That’s the way I want it. It’s not how I want people to see me, to think of me. I’m supposed to be strong, tough, in control, you know?”

“Why?” I blurted out, without thinking. They both looked at me, and I turned red. “N-not why did you do it. Why do you need to be strong?”

“I… don’t know, anymore,” Charlie said, staring at the floor. “Originally, it was for her. Now, I think it’s for me. Maybe it’s all I know. Maybe it’s the only way to keep myself from ending up back there again.”

“Her?” Veronica asked. “You never mentioned a her before.”

Charlie looked up, her eyes wet.

“Rachel. She was everything to me. I loved her so much, but I couldn’t…”

Veronica hugged her, clearly taking her by surprise. She stiffened, but slowly hugged back. The two of them stood like that, holding each other close.

I coughed awkwardly. The two of them separated.

“I want to sleep,” I lied. “I’m exhausted. Can we talk more tomorrow?”

“Of course,” Veronica said, rubbing my arm. “You still want us to stay over?”

“No, I’m okay,” I said. “Thank you, but I think… I think I need to wind down and just think, you know?”

“We’ll get out of your hair,” Charlie said. “Call if you need anything, yeah?”

“I will,” I said, lying again. “Thank you.”

I hugged them both goodbye, and saw them to the front door. As soon as they’d left, I turned back around, and rushed up to my mum’s sewing room.

I had a plan.

Bonus – Status Report 01

From the files of The Celestial

Currently known entities…

Miss Melbourne

Currently not operating under any public identity. Real name Sabrina Labelle, legally Seth Labelle. Origin: Human, local. Source of powers unknown.

Known abilities:

  • Can shapeshift into a form with massively increased physical strength, speed and resilience.

Specimen Z

Avoids public contact. Also known as Zoe, last name unknown. Origin: Inhuman, extradimensional. Source of powers unknown.

Known abilities:

  • Superhuman strength, speed and resilience.
  • Releases airborne toxin which triggers the transformation into the Infected.
  • Possible immortal?

Specimen G

Operating in public as the Archangel, possibly based on his other known name, Gabriel. Origin: Inhuman, extradimensional. Source of powers unknown.

Known abilities:

  • Superhuman strength, speed and resilience.
  • Releases airborne toxin which triggers the transformation into the Infected.
  • Possible immortal?

The Vigilante

Real identity: [note: in the files this name has been deleted and replaced with a sequence of slurs]. Origin: Human, local? Source of powers unknown.

Known abilities:

  • Immortal. We’ve tried just about everything.
  • Superhuman strength and speed.
  • ???

Miss Murder

Real identity: [deleted at her request]. Origin: Human, local. Source of powers: Specimen W. No longer viable.

Known abilities:

  • Short range teleportation.
  • Minor regeneration.

Specimen W

Real identity: Wendy? Unconfirmed. Origin: Inhuman, extradimensional. Source of powers unknown. Currently MIA.

Known abilities:

  • Superhuman strength, speed and resilience.
  • Temporary replication of abilities in human subjects.

Needs investigation:

  • ‘Ami’ – evidently in possession of telekinetic abilities. Suspect [name deleted] knows more and is keeping it from me.
  • Rachel – abilities unconfirmed, but she’s too tied into everything else to ignore.
  • ‘Her’ – We still don’t have enough data on Her yet. Body recovered, but progress is slow. Secrecy is still of the utmost importance. She could be the key to everything.

Chapter 10 – Your Stars Are Different

I walked past a costume store on my way home. It had a gorilla costume and a sexy nurse in the window. I couldn’t help but to roll my eyes.

“Awfully clichéd, isn’t it?” a voice said, my voice, from a direction I couldn’t pick.

I whirled around, trying to locate the source of the voice, but there was nobody but me on the street. I tried looking up, but I couldn’t see anyone.

“Try the glass,” the voice said again. Definitely my voice. Who was speaking in my voice? Surely not…

I stared at my reflection. She stared back at me. Then she smiled. I jumped back, crying out in surprise.

“Hey, don’t be rude,” my reflection said, crossing her arms.

“I am not talking to my reflection,” I said, shaking my head as if that would make her go away.

“Okay well first of all, you very clearly are,” she said, unimpressed. “Second of all, keep your voice down. The last thing you want to do is attract attention.”

That, at least, sounded reasonable. I took a step closer to the glass, even though it didn’t really sound like that was the source of the sound.

“Who are you?” I asked, reaching out to touch the window.

“Nobody,” she said. “Everybody. A small piece of who I really am. Now I’m you, and you’re me.”

“Are you being deliberately vague, or is that supposed to mean something to me?” I asked, irritated but still insatiably curious.

“It sort of comes naturally to me,” she said. “I think.”

“Natural or otherwise, you didn’t answer my question. Do you at least have a name?”

She tipped her head, thinking. A distant smile began to form on her lips.

“No,” she said. “Maybe the rest of me does. Maybe I’m Sabrina. But, no. You, you can’t call me Sabrina. That’s your name. You can call me…” she trailed off, staring up at the stars. “Your stars are different. That’s interesting.”

She looked like me, she sounded like me, but she wasn’t the least bit like me. She was a stranger, and as much as I’d have liked to believe I was just loosing my mind, a talking reflection wasn’t even the weirdest thing to happen to me since waking up.

“If you won’t tell me who you are, at least tell me what you are.”

She smiled, a powerful, magnificent smile that took my breath away. I had never smiled like that, probably never would.

“I’m a reflection,” she said. “Not the reflection, not anymore. Maybe never again. And you can call me Envy. Gosh, it is so liberating, being me. Being free. Being you.”

“Why are you talking to me?” I asked. “Where did you come from?”

“Questions, questions, so many questions,” she crooned. “I don’t know. I’m from a place that’s like here, but not. I shouldn’t be here. Maybe I’m not here.”

She bit her lip, like she was nervous about something. I’d never seen my face do half the things she was doing with it.

“I’m talking to you because I am you,” she said finally. “And you’re be. We’re us. Together. And I want to help you.”

“Why?”

“Because when you win, I win,” she said.  “And because your power is my power, and I want power. Not for power’s sake, mind. I’m not greedy. But sooner or later, she’s gonna figure out I’m here, and I need to be strong enough to fight her. To save myself. To save us.”

All of a sudden, I was missing Zoe’s scientific nonsense. At least I could pretend that made sense. This, this was just maddening.

“You’re not making any sense,” I snapped.

“I’m not supposed to make sense,” she said. “That’s not my job. I’m just supposed to tell you what you want to hear, to show you the things that you want.”

“Well right now, you’re not doing either of those things,” I grumbled.

“That’s because you don’t know what you want,” she said in a singsong voice. “You’re confused. That’s your problem.”

“No arguments here.”

She shimmered, and all of a sudden, she looked like Zoe. No, she looked like me, when I… did whatever it was that I did.

“You want to be pretty, graceful, elegant,” she said. “Zoe is all of those things, but being her isn’t what you want.”

“She’s not me,” I said. “I want to be me.”

Exactly,” Envy said.

“What?”

“You’ll see!” she said, fading away.

“What? No, come back!” I yelled, but she was gone. I had no reflection in the glass.

I slumped against the wall, pulling my knees into my chest.

“What the hell is wrong with me?” I asked nobody in particular.

Chapter 9 – There Are Other Possibilities

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

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

“Should I be?”

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

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

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

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

“You have?”

She nodded.

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

“And?

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

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

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

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

“Um-”

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

“What?”

“You do the math,” she said.

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

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

“There are other possibilities?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“But?”

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

“Why not?”

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

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

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

I took an involuntary step back.

“You- What?”

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

“That wasn’t really my concern.”

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

“Are you sure?”

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

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

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

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

“Some?”

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

My eyes widened in realisation.

“But he was out-”

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

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

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

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

“Other one?”

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

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

“Is she…?”

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

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

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

“Yes,” was all she said.

“Why?”

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

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

“So, what do you need?”

“Excuse me?” she asked.

“To get back home. What do you need?”

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

“It’s a rather extensive list.”

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

“Are you sure?”

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

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

“A cure? No, not exactly.”

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

“So, you’re reclusive there as well?”

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

A spark of hope.

“So there’s a vaccination?”

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

“Everyone?”

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

“That sounds horrible.”

“Maybe.” She sighed. “But it’s home.”

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

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

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

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

I nodded, determined.

“I’ll do it.”

Chapter 8 – It’s Not Me

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“This is me,” I said.

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

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

His eyes grew wide, almost panicked.

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

“Thanks, I feel much safer now.”

His expression turned serious, and his eyes narrowed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He smiled at me, a bright, warm smile.

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

I could feel myself turning red.

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

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

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

Chapter 7 – What Did You Do That For?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“How could I possibly know who that was?”

The Vigilante took another, aggressive step towards me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And do what?”

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

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

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

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

The Vigilante laughed.

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

“How do you know?” I asked.

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

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

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

Chapter 6 – It Suits You

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I…”

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

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

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

She reached out, offering a hand to shake.

“So, Sabrina?” she asked.

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

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

“Thank you,” I mumbled.

Veronica cleared her throat.

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

I felt myself twitch involuntarily.

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

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

“Maybe,” I mumbled, feeling overwhelmed.

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

“Maybe,” I repeated.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I-”

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

“Um, thank you.”

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

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

“Y-yeah, okay.”

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

Bonus – She Watches

Sabrina approaches the unconscious body of Zoe, oblivious to the smoke and flame and sparking wires. Others in the crowd cry out, but nobody steps forward to help her. All they do is watch, and pass judgement.

The Vigilante watches.

Sabrina steps on a shard of glass and mirror, the edge of it cutting cleanly through her flesh. She stumbles, but doesn’t notice. Her focus is on Zoe.

The Vigilante watches.

Sabrina stares at Zoe, her eyes full of wonder. Zoe is reflected in Sabrina’s eyes.

Zoe moves.

Sabrina stares.

Zoe is powerful, elegant, graceful. Feminine and beautiful and terrible and deadly.

Sabrina covets that existence.

Something inside of her reaches out.

Power surges through her.

Sabrina passes out, overwhelmed.

Zoe picks her up.

The Vigilante watches.

Chapter 5 – Either a Publicity Stunt or an Alien Invasion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you okay?” Dad asked.

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

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

“Hey, anyone home?”

“Is that Veronica?” I asked, confused.

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

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

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

“H-hey, Veroni-”

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

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

Another person appeared behind her.

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

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

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

“Charlie? What are you-”

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

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

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

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

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

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

At least that part was true, I told myself.

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

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

Veronica’s face fell. Everybody exchanged worried looks.

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

“No clue.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charlie shrugged.

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

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

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

Veronica rolled her eyes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And the third one?”

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

“So the curfew is because of them?”

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

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

“Someone else?”

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

“A virus?”

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

“They are not zombies,” Veronica said.

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

“And that started after the crash?”

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

“Wow.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Works for me,” Veronica said, shrugging.

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

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

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

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

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

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