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Chapter 49 – This Is Brilliant, Even For Me

Rachel, Five Months Before Impact Day

I cackled as I shut off the connection to the computer Liz was using. I had considered not letting them know I was watching them, but it had already been a month, and they weren’t making any progress. I was starting to get anxious.

It hadn’t been a fun month. Not being able to talk to Charlie, not knowing if she was okay…

Obviously, I knew she was physically fine. Whatever damage they did to her would just be reversed. She was inviolable, after all. But I couldn’t imagine the emotional toll their torture was taking on her. She was resilient, for sure, but who knew what they could do to her over a whole month.

I was starting to feel a little resentment towards Liz and Aidan. Without them, Wendy would never offer her help to me. But they were dragging their feet, trying to do things the hard way. And Charlie had already spent a month in enemy hands because of it.

I knew I needed to spur them on, but they weren’t making it easy. Liz was easier to manipulate, because she was less intelligent, and less independent. But Aidan already knew that, and any attempt to manipulate her would be competing with him. He was the one calling the shots, after all.

How was I supposed to get to him, though? He was so careful, so calculating. The exact opposite of what I needed him to be. I needed him desperate, reckless, making mistakes. I needed Wendy to be his only hope.

Why are they so annoying?” I asked my empty room.

Talking to myself wasn’t going to get anything done. Instead, I packed up my laptop, and headed back to Charlie’s place. I knew Aidan wouldn’t be returning, and Mark was swept up in a fruitless quest to find his adoptive daughter.

I almost felt bad for him. He was sharp, perceptive, and kind. He knew what Charlie was up to, at least in part, of that I was certain. Now he knew she was missing, and exactly the kind of trouble she might find herself in. It must be keeping him up at night.

I doubted he knew exactly what she was, but he probably knew that there was something different about her. Charlie suspected that was why he adopted her in the first place. I agreed.

In any case, he either wouldn’t be home, or wouldn’t be paying attention. I’d snuck into Charlie’s room a few times before, just to be closer to her, and he hadn’t noticed once.

It wasn’t a long trip. I snuck in the same way she used to sneak out, and settled down on her couch, legs folded beneath me. Pulling out my laptop, I tried running a program I’d been tweaking for a while.

“Here goes nothing,” I said. “Sadie? If you’re here, try talking.”

For a few moments, nothing happened. Then, a waveform on my screen expanded and contracted, and the sound of static burst forth from my speakers.

“Holy shit,” I muttered. “Progress.”

Pulling up the software’s CLI, I started tinkering with the settings. There was an awful lot to try and figure out all at once.

“Keep talking, Sadie. Sing or something. I’ll get this working, I promise.”

The static continued, and the waveform quivered and stretched. I kept tinker, and eventually, I heard a very faint, static-filled voice.

“…wherever you are…”



My heart pounded in my chest. Had I really finally done it?

“Sadie, is that you? It’s you, right?” I asked, not even sure where to look.

“You can hear me?” she replied, her voice shaking. As she talked, I kept changing the settings slightly, trying to get a clearer sound.

“Oh man, this is brilliant, even for me,” I said. “You bet I can hear you.”


“Science!” I said, then cringed. It was a little too loud.

“Where’s Charlie?” she asked. God, she sounds so frightened, so timid.

“She didn’t tell you?” I asked.

“Tell me what?”

I sighed. What are you doing, Charlie?

“It doesn’t matter. She was captured. By Vengeance.”

“Captured? Who are Vengeance?”

“A gang,” I explained. “Probably the biggest, scariest gang.”

Silence for a few seconds.

“I told her,” she said. “You know what she said to me? A little pain never hurt anyone.”

I laughed.

“Of course she did.”

“Why are you laughing? This is serious!” she said, her voice a strained whisper.

“Because that’s who she is,” I said. “It’s why I love her.”

“You’re the reason she’s in this mess,” Sadie said. “If you didn’t keep encouraging her…”

“You know there’s no force in this world that could stop Charlie from doing anything. She was always going to do whatever she wanted,” I said. “Besides, I liked her ambition. What’s wrong with wanting to change the world?”

She left me alone!

The smile dropped from my face.

“She’s all you’ve got, huh?” I asked.

“Fuck you,” she replied.

“No wonder you don’t like me. You literally can’t talk to anyone else, and here I am, taking her away from you.”

“You don’t understand me,” she said.

“Maybe not. But now I have the chance to try. Hell, if you wanted, now anyone could have the chance to try.”

More silence for a while.


“Why what” I asked.

“Why did you do this?” she asked.

“Because I wanted to be able to talk to you,” I said.

“But why?”

“Do I need a reason?”

“I’m nobody,” Sadie said. “I’m not even real. I’m just a ghost.”

Inspiration struck me like lightning.

“Oh, Sadie,” I said. “You’re so much more than that.”

It was hard to keep all of the information pouring into my head. Every new piece sparked new understanding, but the more pieces I collected, the more I realised I didn’t know.


“No, Sadie. Listen. You’re not just a ghost. You’re a conduit.”

“I don’t know what that means,” she said.

“Souls can’t exist outside of bodies. If a body can’t host a soul, you die. You physically shouldn’t exist.”


“It’s not just that,” I said. “You’re syphoning Charlie’s energy. That’s why she can interact with you. And it’s why you’re getting stronger.”

“How did you know about that?” she asked. “Not even Charlie knows about that.”

“Logical leap,” I said, shrugging. “Sadie, you and I both know that Charlie is something more than human. And slowly, you’re absorbing some of that power.”

Information kept surging, and my head started to ache. I closed my eyes, pressing my fists into my temples.

“Are you okay?” Sadie asked.

“Learning hurts,” I said. “It’ll pass.”

“You’re not normal either, are you?”

“Nope,” I said. “And I think I have Charlie to thank for that, too. Anyway, a mind is a terrible thing to waste, or whatever. Now that I can hear you, let’s find out what else I can do with you. Oh, and Sadie?”


“It’s such a pleasure to meet you.”


Next Week: 

Chapter 48 – I Just Want Him Dead

Liz, Five Months Before Impact Day

I arrived at the meeting place ahead of time, scoping it out for a possible ambush. I made sure I knew where all of the exits were, and anywhere someone might hide or eavesdrop. I checked obvious places for someone to plant surveillance devices, and mentally prepared three different escape routes.

It was a private city car park, the kind that requires keycard access to get in. I wasn’t provided one, but it didn’t stop me finding a small gap I could squeeze through. Presumably, it was a casual sort of initial test. If I couldn’t get to the meeting location, I probably wasn’t very good at my job.

Once I was satisfied I knew the area and could handle any situation that was thrown at me, I found a dark corner to hide in, and waited. It was uncomfortable and very, very boring, but carelessness is an express ticket to an early grave.

Eventually, the contact arrived. It was a middle-aged woman in a grey suit, with a grim expression and impractically long nails. I took in her gait, her frame, the lines of her clothing. She didn’t seem dangerous, or even armed. Still, I watched for a while longer.

She stopped beside a concrete pillar, and looked around. When she didn’t see me, she sighed, and checked her watch. Then she sighed again.

“I’m not late,” I said, stepping out of the shadows. She jumped, then tried to play it cool, smoothing down her suit.

Is this really the person Aidan was talking to?

“You’re the, uh, freelancer?” she asked, a slight quaver in her voice. “You look awfully young.”

“Yep,” I said, smiling at her.

“Right. Um, well. You know the terms?”

“I know what I need to know,” I said. “Except the details I’m here to get from you.”

“Yes. I’m sorry for insisting on meeting in person. It felt wrong to not talk to you face to face.”

“Whatever floats your boat,” I replied.

“Okay. The target is Jason Bradson. I wrote down his address for you.”

“Any special conditions?” I asked.

“I don’t understand,” she said.

“Right now all you’re telling me is that you want him dead,” I said. “That’s easy. Sometimes people want it to look like an accident, or they want to send a particular kind of message.”

“Oh. No, nothing like that,” she said. “I just want him dead.”


“Do you… Do you want to know why?” she asked.

“Not particularly,” I replied.

“Right. Um…”

“Our mutual friend will contact you when it’s done,” I said. “You won’t see me again. Well, so long as you hold up your end of the deal, that is.”

She visibly flinched.


I rolled my eyes.

“You can go now,” I said.

She just nodded, and left the way she came. I waited for her to leave completely before exiting the car park the same way I came in.

That was either the least professional contract ever or a very convincing ruse…

But why would she act so skittish and uncertain? I didn’t like any of it. As soon as I was a safe distance away, I called Aidan.

“Yo,” he said.

“I met your contact.”


“Who was she?” I asked. “She hardly seemed reliable… Are you sure she’s gonna deliver?”

“Dude, that was the CEO of the biggest defence contractor in the country,” he said.

“You’re kidding.”

“Unless she sent a decoy, but the end result is the same. She’s got the goods.”

“Alright. I’ll get it done, then.”

“You’re sure?” he asked, a note of caution in his voice.

“Do we need to have this conversation again?”

“No, no, it’s not that,” he said. “I just wanted to make sure everything seemed fine to you.”

“It seemed super weird to me,” I told him. “I’m gonna do some research first.”

“Is that not normal?”

“It’s generally harder to kill someone when you know more about them.”

“What if they’re a huge arsehole?”

“Statistically unlikely,” I told him.

“What? Most people are arseholes,” he said.

“Most people are people,” I said. “Very few deserve to die.”

“Fine, fine. Do your thing. Let me know if you need any help, but don’t make her wait too long.”

“You got it, boss.”

“I’m not—”

I hung up on him.

Time to figure out what’s going on here.

I did a quick map search for the nearest internet café, not wanting any compromising information in my own search history. Luckily, it wasn’t far. I made my way there on foot, signed in with a fake ID, and started researching my target, as well as the client.

Hours passed, and nothing came up. Finding them both was easy. The client was exactly who Aidan said she was, though by all accounts, the target was nobody at all. He was just a schmuck, a low-level manager of a supermarket. It didn’t seem like there was a professional reason to target him, so maybe personal?

Neither of them had kids, neither of them lived anywhere near each other. If they’d ever had a romantic connection, there was no record of it. Their work had never intersected, their families had no ties. There was nothing at all I could find.

I tried looking for any sign that either had changed their name, but their records dated as far back as their childhoods.

“Where’s the connection?” I muttered.

Rachel would be able to figure it out.

“Rachel can fuck right off.”

I kept digging. If there was a connection, a reason, it didn’t seem like I was going to find it publicly available. I left my computer long enough to buy a cup of low-quality coffee, pushed up my glasses, and prepared myself for round two.

Instead, I found a message on the computer. Someone had pulled up a text editor, and written a short message. I looked around, but nobody seemed to have moved. Nobody seemed to be paying attention, either.

“You were taking too long. I got bored. The answer is:

She deliberately picked a target with no connection. She’s testing Aidan because she expects a long term trade relationship.

You just wasted three hours.


“How did she—”

As I watch, the cursor blinks, and another sentence is typed out.

Just keeping an eye on you~”

I turned off the computer, swallowed the last of my coffee in an angry huff, and stormed out of the internet café.

I needed to talk to Aidan.


Next Week:This Is Brilliant, Even For Me

Interlude #1 – My Little House of Cards

One Month Before Impact Day

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

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

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

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

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

Something’s here.

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

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

“Hello, Zoe.”

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

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

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

“How are you here? Why are you here?”

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

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

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

Suspicious. Curious. Surprisingly hurtful.

“You need me? What for?”

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

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

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

“I have everything I want,” Zoe retorted.

“No, you don’t.”

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

“What would you know?” she snarled.

“Everything, Zoe.”

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

“What are you?”

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

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


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

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

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

“Exactly. But you did.”

“That was never-”

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

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

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

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

If only.

“She made her choice.”

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

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

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

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

“He would never-”

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

“A failed experiment.”


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

Is this girl insane?

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

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

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

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

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

“Is that…?”

“Yep. Every single one.”

That’s not fair.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And if they kill me?”

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

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

“Why can’t I tell Mason?”

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

“But he’s your father,” Zoe said.

“Don’t remind me.”


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

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

“He’s my father, too.”

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

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


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

“One more thing,” the girl said.


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

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


Next Week: Maybe Punching Someone Would Help

Chapter 10 – Can I Ask You Something Weird?

One Year Before Impact Day

Later that night, I was lying on Rachel’s bed, replaying that conversation over and over in my head. Something about it had stuck out to me, but I couldn’t figure out what. Rachel seemed to be distracted by something too, since she was just sitting at her desk, poking idly at bits of random electronics.

Most of the contents of Rachel’s room had been salvaged. Her family didn’t have a lot of money, and her mother wasn’t exactly the type to give her anything she wasn’t legally required to, so Rachel had acquired a lot of her possessions and furniture from the side of the road, or as second-hand throwaways from friends, and occasionally supplies ‘borrowed’ from her school. It wasn’t a lot, but she seemed happy enough with what she had.

It wasn’t uncommon for us to hang out and not talk. Often we just enjoyed each other’s company; I would read while she worked, or we’d both do our homework, or just relax in the same space. We couldn’t afford to be too loud anyways, in case her mother overheard, so we usually tried to keep things pretty laid back.

It felt different this time, though. It felt like both of us had things we wanted to say, but neither of us knew how to say it. I didn’t even know what it was that was bothering me, but I knew it was something, and I wanted to talk to Rachel about it. I sighed loudly.

A few minutes later, Rachel turned around, sitting backwards in her chair. She looked like she was struggling with something, but before I could ask what it was, she beat me to it.

“Hey, can I ask you something weird?”

“Wouldn’t be the first time,” I said.

She sat there for a few seconds, her mental debate clearly still raging on. Then she sighed.

“Would it be weird if I told you I loved you?” she asked.

I felt my chest tighten, and my skin turn cold. Of all the things I’d expected to be on her mind, that was about the last thing I’d ever think of. For several seconds, I was literally speechless.

What was I supposed to say to that? What did she even mean by it? Was she being serious?

For that matter, what did I think of it? What did it mean? What did I want it to mean? Did I want her to be serious? Or did I want it to just be a joke that we could laugh about and never mention again?

“Weird?” I asked, my throat suddenly very dry. “Well, I guess that would depend on how you meant it…”

“Yeah, I guess so,” she said. I still had no idea what she meant. Or rather, I had a lot of ideas, but I didn’t know which of them to believe.

“Mostly it would be weird of you to say something so sappy,” I said, trying to lighten the mood a little. It didn’t work.

She sat in silence for a few minutes, staring at the floor. I felt like I’d said something wrong, but I didn’t know what to do to make it better. A thousand different things to say kept running through my head, but nothing seemed right, and it was just giving me a headache.

“Do you think it’s weird for a girl to be attracted to another girl?” she asked, still unable to look at me.

My heart skipped a beat, then slammed into my ribcage and started racing. That cleared up what she meant, at least. It didn’t do a damn thing to help me figure out how I felt about it. How long had she been feeling that way?

“Not really,” I said, struggling to find the right words to say. “I mean, it’s not something we really get to choose, right? Not that it would be worse if it was a choice, but you know.”

She looked up at me, her dark, sullen eyes staring right into mine. I felt my mouth going dry again.

“It wouldn’t make you uncomfortable, or anything?” she asked nervously.

To be honest, I did feel pretty uncomfortable, but it wasn’t because of what she’d said. I was uncomfortable because I’d never really had to think about, well, basically anything that I was thinking about in that moment.

“You’re usually more subtle than this,” I told her, without really thinking. I didn’t meant to sound cold, but I also knew I couldn’t continue the conversation if we were just going to keep pretending it was only hypothetical.

“God, I’m sorry,” she said, burying her face in her arms. “It’s just, after what we talked about, I guess I started thinking about, you know, all of that.”

And there it was. That was what had been bothering me. From the moment Sadie had put the idea in my head, it had just sort of sat there, and I hadn’t been able to shake it.

“Yeah,” I said, feeling a lot more relaxed, but at the same time, way more anxious than I was before. “Me too.”

“Oh,” she said, clearly not sure what else to say. She looked up at me, and I couldn’t help but think that she looked like an abandoned puppy.

“I don’t really know what to think, to be honest,” I told her, struggling to make sense of what was going on in my head. “I mean, I’ve never really been the romantic type, but…”


“But you’re definitely special to me,” I said. “In a way that nobody else is.”

And that was the truth. I trusted her more than anybody else, and there was no-one I wanted to be around more. I had no idea what that meant, but I was certain of it just the same.

“I feel the same way. I just don’t know what it means,” she said, mirroring my own thoughts. In a way, that was encouraging, but it also didn’t seem like it would help either of us figure anything out.


“So you’re not freaked out or anything?” she asked, biting her lip.

“No,” I said, shaking my head. “At least, not because of you. Maybe a little bit because of me.”

“Yeah,” she said.

“For what it’s worth, I do love you too,” I told her. “I just don’t know what that means right now.”

“Me either. But I know that you’re more than just a friend to me.”

The two of us just sort of sat there, looking at each other awkwardly. It wasn’t the conversation either of us had expected to have, but I knew that I felt better for having had it, at least. I hoped that she did too.

“Okay, this is getting entirely too sappy for me. Say something snarky, please,” I begged her.

“We should spar,” she said, leaning back in her chair.

“You want me to beat you up?” I asked, teasing her a little.

“I’m pretty sure I can hold my own.”

“I’m pretty sure that’s just the lie you tell yourself so that your pride will let you keep hanging out with me.”

“I’m willing to find out,” she challenged me.

“Where do you want to do this?” I asked, wondering how we could even make that work. It wasn’t like we could do it anywhere in either of our houses, and we definitely couldn’t do it outdoors anywhere.

“Our old club has basically zero security,” she said confidently. “We could sneak in and out and nobody would ever know.”

“They do still have a lock,” I pointed out.

“And I still have a key,” she said, gloating a little.

“You have a key?”

“I thought it would come in handy,” she said, shrugging. “So I made a copy of one.”

“I take it they don’t know about that.”

“God, no,” she said, smirking.

“Sounds perfect,” I told her.

She slid open her desk drawer, and pulled out a rather full keyring, making me wonder just how many other places she had keys to. Maybe there were other places we could sneak into together. That sounded fun.

The two of us snuck out the back door, though the snoring made it pretty obvious her mother was asleep. Even still, it was a risky move, because it Rachel was caught leaving the house, especially with a friend in tow, she probably would have been executed on the spot.

Once we’d safely reached the street, we walked side by side, not saying anything. I felt a tingle against my hang, and reflexively stretched it out. Her fingers wrapped around mine, and I squeezed gently, both of us looking in the complete opposite direction.


Five Months Before Impact Day

“I’m sorry, why exactly do I need to hear about your burgeoning teenage romance?” he asked, his voice thick with discomfort.

“Just trying to warm your cold, dead heart,” I said.

“Well, don’t. Unless it’s relevant to the story, I don’t need to hear it.”

I sighed. “It’s relevant. The things that happened never would have, well, happened, if she and I had had a different relationship. I don’t really know how else to explain it, but…”

He grimaced, shifting in his seat. I stretched my arms, still cuffed, up over my head. It was about as much mobility as I could manage.

“Fine. But keep the details to yourself.” He’d stopped making eye contact with me. “Also, you keep mentioning cracks. Is there some reason for that, or are you just going crazy?”

“I honestly don’t know,” I told him, trying very hard to ignore the crack running across the wall behind him. “But given the circumstances, I’m willing to bet it’s more than that. And like you said, you never know what details will be important.”

“Okay, okay. I take your point. Keep going. Tell me about your next attempt to pick an ill-advised fight with my men.”


Next Week: Interlude #1 – My Little House of Cards

Chapter 9 – You Don’t Have A Secret Boyfriend, Do You?

One Year Before Impact Day

Sadie spent the next few days sulking, but I hardly even noticed. I felt happier than I had in months, and I didn’t want to let anyone take that away from me.

Liz and Aidan remained somewhat suspicious of me, but neither of them said anything more. That was enough for me, really. They could wonder about what I was up to all they wanted, it didn’t make a difference to me.

For the most part, they went back to being their normal selves, at least around me. We talked about the usual things, complained about school, joked about each other and generally just tried to enjoy ourselves. It was exactly what I needed.

One Friday after school, we decided to stop by a café that we frequented. We stopped by often enough that the proprietor knew us by name, anyway. She smiled at us as we entered, though it was the most pleasantly sarcastic smile I think I’ve ever seen.

“You three again? Don’t you have anywhere better to be?”

Despite her best efforts to look plain, Wendy was a strikingly beautiful woman. She left her short reddish-orange hair wild, and the glasses she wore were clearly fake, but beneath them, she had the features of a supermodel, not to mention the perfect, lightly-freckled skin.

“Is that any way to speak to your best customers?” I asked her, matching her smirk.

“You think you’re my best customers?”

“We are in here a lot…” Liz said, a little nervously.

“We don’t order a lot, though,” Aidan pointed out.

“That’s an understatement,” Wendy said dryly.

“We’re students,” I told her. “Sue us.”

“Don’t tempt me.”

“We’ll just go and sit down then,” I said cheerfully. “I’ll have the same thing I always do.”

“Me too,” Aidan chimed in.

“I guess I will as well,” Liz added. Wendy’s face twitched.

“You expect me to just remember what you like?” she demanded.

“Yep,” I said, enjoying her faux aggravation. I knew that she didn’t actually mind, because I’d seen how she treated customers she didn’t like.

“Lucky for you I have a good memory, or you’d all be getting water,” she muttered.

“Thank you for being such a good host,” Liz said.

“Just go sit down,” Wendy said, laughing.

The three of us took a seat in an empty booth, Liz and Aidan sitting beside each other, opposite me. The moment they sat down, I could tell that something was up.

“So, Charlie,” Liz began, causing me to cringe. “Aidan said you’ve been sneaking out at night. What’s up with that?”

“Oh he did, did he?” I asked, glaring at him. He shrunk down at my withering gaze.

“I may have let it slip,” he mumbled.

“You know Mark is going to kill you if he finds out,” Liz warned, her tone annoyingly authoritative.

“And is he going to find out?” I asked, continuing to glare at Aidan.

I already knew they weren’t going to say anything, and even if they did, there wasn’t actually much of a danger Mark would do anything about it. He wasn’t exactly the hands-on type.

“Hey, I’m not gonna tell him,” Aidan said, holding his hands up. “But he is a journalist, you know. He’ll probably figure it out sooner or later.”

“Well, I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it,” I said nonchalantly.

Wendy brought a tray of drinks for us, placing them in front of us silently. She really had memorised our orders.

“Why have you been sneaking out, anyway?” Liz asked.

“Is it even safe for you to be out at night? In this city?” Aidan chimed in. I was actually grateful for it, because if I could focus on the issue of safety, I wouldn’t have to talk about why I was out in the first place.

“I’m fine, you big baby,” I told him. “I know how to stay safe.”

“You don’t have a secret boyfriend, do you?” Liz asked, and I nearly choked on my tea. Why would she assume that? Most nights, I was sneaking out to see Rachel, not some boy.

“What? No, why would you even-”

“You turned red!” Aidan exclaimed, just a little too loud. “She was right! Charlie, how could you not tell us about this?”

“He’s not some kind of thug, is he?” Liz asked. “Or an older man?”

How had they latched onto the idea of me having a boyfriend? Why did that seem like the most likely explanation?

“There’s no boyfriend,” I insisted. “Guys, come on. You know me better than that.”

“So what are you doing, then?” Aidan asked.

Suddenly, I wished I hadn’t denied the boyfriend suggestion. It actually would have been a halfway decent cover for what I was actually doing, which they would never approve of.


“If you don’t tell us, we’re just going to keep assuming it’s a guy,” Liz threatened.

“And we’ll know if you’re lying,” Aidan added.

I doubted that, but I couldn’t think of a good enough lie anyway. I opted to go for the safe route, and give them just enough truth to avoid telling them anything important.

“I’m just visiting a friend,” I told them.

“At night?” Liz asked, concerned.

“Wait, guy or girl?” Aidan added, and I wanted to punch him.

“Does it matter?” I asked, annoyed.

“Just asking.”

“It’s a girl,” I said. “I met her through my jujitsu classes. I visit her at night because her mum is… well, she’s kind of abusive, and if she sees me, things get nasty.” I kind of wish that was a lie.

“That’s horrible!” Aidan said. “Why wouldn’t you tell us about that?”

“I dunno,” I just…”

What? Why haven’t I told them about Rachel? There wasn’t anything odd about having another friend, was there?

“Just what?” Liz demanded.

“Well, if she doesn’t want to tell us, she doesn’t have to,” Aidan said, diplomatically. It felt like he was playing good cop to Liz’s bad cop.

“Yes, but if she’s going to worry us by sneaking off in the middle of the night, it would be nice to at least know why,” Liz said, a little petulantly.

“I know,” I said, trying to sound more apologetic than I felt. “I didn’t really think about it that much. I was really only thinking about her.” That part was also true.

“What’s her name? Can we do anything for her?” Aidan asked, always wanting to be able to help. Also always wanting to know everything.

“Her name is Rachel, and no. You’d only make things worse,” I said. I didn’t actually want to give them her name, but I couldn’t think of a good way to avoid answering without sounding suspicious.

“Well, can we do anything to help you?” Lis asked.

“You could trust me,” I said, a little hurt.

“Charlie, we do trust you,” Aidan said. “We’re just worried.”

“What are you, my parents?”

“Friends are allowed to be worried too,” Aidan said.

“Besides, you and Aidan are practically siblings,” Liz pointed out. “That gives him family worrying rights.”

“I don’t think that’s how it works,” Aidan protested, to my surprise. He was even turning a little red.

“What, you don’t think of Charlie as a sister?” Liz asked, sounding a little accusatory.

“Let’s just not talk about this, okay?” Aidan pleaded.

“I agree. In fact, let’s just drop the whole subject,” I added.

“Alright, alright,” Liz conceded. “We just don’t want you to go missing one night.”

I rolled my eyes. Time to turn this around. I was tired of being interrogated.

“Have you noticed how the two of you talk like a unit?” I asked.

“Huh? We do?” Liz asked, confused.

“Like that. You both say ‘we’ a lot.”

“Well, we both feel the same way about this, so…” Aidan said, trailing off and clearly very embarrassed.

“I think it’s weirder to notice it than it is to do it,” Liz said, equally defensive.

“Whatever you say, guys,” I said. At least I’d taken their attention off of me for a little bit.

I glanced over at Wendy, who was serving another customer. She caught me looking, and smiled wearily at me. I was about to smile back when I noticed a crack beside her, which should have been impossible, because she was in the middle of the room. It looked as though the air itself was cracked. Nobody else seemed to notice it.

Recognising my concern, Wendy wandered over. She rested a hand on my shoulder, staring into my eyes through her messy fringe.

“You look like you’ve seen a ghost,” she said. “Everything okay?”

“Probably,” I replied, wondering what in the world was wrong with me. The crack was gone, but the feeling it had given me remained.

“You two taking care of Charlie?” Wendy asked. Liz and Aidan swapped surprised expressions.

“I can’t imagine anyone less needing to be taken care of than Charlie,” Liz said, but she looked at me with a warm, nurturing smile.

Wendy just smiled, filling up my glass of water from her jug. She squeezed my shoulder with surprising strength, and left us alone.

“I didn’t realise you were that close with her, Charlie,” Aidan mused.

“Neither did I,” I confessed. “I like that she’s looking out for me, though. She seems like she’d be good at that.”

“She certainly stares at you a lot,” Liz said. “She tries to hide it, too. Which means it’s not just a coincidence.”

And why would you notice something like that, Liz?

“Alright, don’t make it weird, guys,” I said, feeling embarrassed.

“Just be careful,” Aidan said. “Something about her seems…”

“Off?” Liz offered.

“That’ll do,” he said.

“You guys do realise she gives us a discount, right?” I asked, slightly annoyed.

“Caution retracted,” Aidan said. “She’s good people.”

The three of us laughed, but I couldn’t help looking out of the corner of my eye, trying to catch Wendy looking at me.


Next Week: Can I Ask You Something Weird?

Chapter 8 – A Little Pain Never Hurt Anyone

One Year Before Impact Day

“I can’t believe you’re seriously doing this,” Sadie said, as she watched me getting ready.

“I don’t know what I’m doing yet,” I told her. “I’m just testing the waters, that’s all.”

“What do you think is gonna happen? You’re just going to stumble onto a mugging, beat up some thug, and be given the key to the city? By the way, you look ridiculous.”

“What were you expecting, a cape?” I snapped, wishing she’d just keep her mouth shut for once.

I may have been inspired by comic book heroes, but that didn’t mean I was going to dress like them. I wanted something practical, nondescript, and most importantly, easy to replace. A distinctive look could come later, if I really needed one. I wasn’t exactly going to start that way.

What I had was a sports bra, a black hoodie, and black cargo pants and combat boots I’d picked up from a military surplus store. I’d even picked up a ski mask to hide my face, because despite what TV tells you, a hood is not enough to keep your face hidden, especially when you’re in motion. I’d probably look like a criminal myself, but at least I wouldn’t stick out like a sore thumb, and nobody would be able to identify me by looking at me. Hopefully, they wouldn’t even be able to figure out that I was a girl.

“You look like you’re going to rob the liquor store,” Sadie said.

“Alright, I get it. Now, if you don’t mind, I have better things to do than stand around and be insulted.”

“Okay, I’m sorry,” she said, as I started climbing out through the window. “I’m just worried about you, that’s all.”

“Oh, please. What do you think is going to happen to me?”

I crawled out into the front yard, dusting myself off as I started to skulk away from the house. Sadie followed me out, climbing out the same way. Though I had no idea why, she seemed bound by all the same laws of physics as any other person. She was still held down by gravity and she couldn’t pass through walls or any other physical object. Unlike normal people, though, she couldn’t actually move anything, either. No matter how hard she pushed on a door, she couldn’t open or close it. She couldn’t pick up objects, and if they were placed on her, they would just sort of fall through her. So far as I could tell, it didn’t follow any logic or sense.

“Just because nothing can kill you, doesn’t mean you don’t feel pain,” she said, hurrying to catch up with me.

“A little pain never hurt anyone,” I said.

“That makes no sense,” she retorted. I ignored her.

For a while, I just wandered the streets, just generally trying to move further away from home. I had a vague idea of what I was looking for, but I wasn’t sure if I’d recognise it even when I saw it. I was actually glad Sadie was there, just as an extra set of eyes.

I thought as I walked. There are a lot of reasons people do bad things. A lot of crimes are motivated by desperation and oppression, by disenfranchised people who don’t see any better options available to them. People who are generally good can fall into a bad culture, and that can be a powerful motivator for things they wouldn’t otherwise do.

I wasn’t looking to punish those people. There wasn’t anything I could do for them, at least not directly. Interrupting a crime in progress would only lead to preventing that one specific incident, or maybe only delaying it. At worst, someone would get hurt.

The real problem, the one I really wanted to do something about, was the gangs. They’d been growing in power for years, and the police seemed powerless to stop them. Occasionally they would find and raid a hideout, or arrest some particularly careless thugs, but it wasn’t enough to make any sort of real difference.

According to rumour, more than one of them was funded by some of the city’s more excessively wealthy citizens, which did help explain why they were so untouchable. Even still, despite Sadie’s protestations that real life was not like a comic book, the problems in our city had reached an almost comic book level of proliferation. You could find evidence of the gang presence almost everywhere, and they were growing increasingly brazen in their activities.

As if to prove my point, it took only three blocks to find something that looks an awful lot like a gang activity. Three people were trying to break into a very expensive looking car, and from the way they were circling around it, it looked like they knew what they were doing.

“What do you think?” I asked Sadie, in a hushed voice.

“I think you’re gonna get your butt kicked,” she replied antagonistically.

“I mean, what do they look like to you?”

“They look like people who would kick your butt,” she reiterated.

I sighed. “Do you think they’re just some punks up to no good, or are they in a gang?”

“Oh, they’re definitely in a gang,” Sadie said, clearly expecting it to have the opposite effect. Still, it was good enough for me.

I rolled the ski mask down over my face, pulled the hood up over it, and started to creep up on them. I knew I didn’t have a lot of time, but I also didn’t want to just rush in and, as Sadie had so eloquently put it, get my butt kicked.

The three of them noticed me when I was a couple of metres away, sneaking around the corner of another car. They immediately stopped what they were doing to stare at me.

“What the fuck is this?” one of them said, a little too loudly for my taste. “Get out of here, brat. This is our turf.”

Turf? Definitely a gang, then. Good. I could feel better about disrupting their little party.

“Not anymore, it isn’t,” I said, trying to lower my voice and change my inflection. It didn’t matter what it sounded like, as long as it didn’t sound like me.

Things escalated quickly from there. Sneering at me, the one who had spoken pulled out a knife, and charged at me, fast. Sadie screamed, but thankfully they couldn’t hear her.

I reacted almost instinctively. It was obvious from his body language how he was going to swing; a diagonal slash aimed at my torso. Amateur. I was already moving to the side, just far enough that the knife missed me.

His momentum was still carrying him forward, and I needed to use that. I didn’t have the strength to match his. I locked the side of my right arm against his wrist, and my left just behind his elbow, one fluid movement that kept me out of the path of the knife. Inertia took care of the rest; there was a gross crunching sound as his arm broke, and his shoulder popped out.

The other two were already advancing on me, clearly not intimidated. One of them lunged at me, trying to grab me in a chokehold, but she was far too obvious about it. I managed to duck under her arms, twisting on the spot quickly enough to grab the back of her head, using her speed to direct it into the corner of the car. As she slumped to the ground, the third one grabbed my shoulders roughly.

That was a mistake. My fingers clamped down on his hand in just the right places, and with one well-practised turn I twisted his arm around behind him, hard enough to drop him to his knees. Taking advantage of his surprise, I let go of his arm, cupped my hands and bashed them against his ears. The air pressure forced into them would have ruptured his ear drums, stunning him and leaving him entirely too unsteady to do much else.

Without warning, I felt a biting pain in my shoulder. A rough force crashed into me, forcing me forward and into the car. In the reflection of the window, I could see the woman I’d thought I’d knocked out earlier – she’d grabbed the knife, and driven it into my back.

She pulled out the knife before driving it into me again, and I couldn’t keep myself from crying out in pain. She stabbed me again, twisting the knife, and I started to see stars. My back felt like it was on fire, and it was difficult to breathe.

As she pulled the knife out again, I gritted my teeth, and twisted around just far enough that I could slam the side of my hand into her throat. It wasn’t hard enough to cause any permanent damage, but she staggered back, dropping the knife and clutching her throat.

Blood was pouring down my back, and every movement made the wounds stretch, sending deep spikes of pain all through my torso. She and I just stood there, staring at each other and panting. I realised I needed to get away.

An arm wrapped around my neck, and it took me a few seconds to realise it was the guy with the broken arm. I hadn’t expected any of them to be so tenacious.

I bit into his arm, sinking my teeth in far enough to get a firm grip, then jerked my neck sideways, trying to rip out a chunk of flesh. I didn’t manage to cause him any damage, but it was enough to get him to let go, and I staggered away from him.

I had to keep myself from shouting when I saw his face. A crack ran right down the centre of it, but it wasn’t any sort of injury. His skin wasn’t split, and there was no blood. It was just a crack, as impossible as that seemed.

I ran, ignoring the pain and the dizziness. I needed to get away from them before things got any worse. Thankfully, they didn’t try to follow me. I collapsed under a tree about a block away, breathing heavily.

The wounds on my back were already starting to heal. They hurt less, and I couldn’t feel the blood flowing out anymore. Under any other circumstances, I would have taken those as bad signs, but I knew what my body was capable of. After just a few minutes, I felt completely fine again.

“What the Hell was that?” Sadie demanded, popping out from behind the tree. She must have followed me when I ran. That was good. Even though I knew nothing could happen to her, I still worried.

“Beta testing,” I said, wincing as I stood back up.

“Are you kidding me? Can you take this even a little bit seriously?”

“I am being serious,” I told her. “That was important. I learned a lot.”

“Unless you learned not to do that ever again, I don’t think you did,” she muttered.

“For starters, I’m going to need some padding,” I said, ignoring her. “Because ouch. I may heal, but I still feel bruised and sore. I also need to work on my awareness. This ski mask isn’t actually great for seeing around me. And it’s itchy and hot. Also, I need a better way to subdue people, because that was not pleasant.”

“Not pleasant? Charlie, you probably put all three of them in a hospital. You broke a guy’s arm!”

“I think I also dislocated his shoulder, but that’s exactly my point. Fighting like that isn’t exactly helpful, and they aren’t the ones I want to hurt.”

“They aren’t?” Sadie looked confused.

“Of course not,” I said. “People like that are just doing what they have to do. Or what they think they have to do. It’s the really evil ones that rise up, and end up calling the shots. They’re the ones I need to take care of.”

“And how are you going to do that?” she demanded.

“I’m not sure yet,” I admitted. “It’s a work in progress. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and all that.”

“So you’re going to do this again.”

“Yeah, ‘fraid so,” I told her. “But to be honest, I’m thinking it would be better if you actually didn’t come with me, next time. You were screaming like, the whole time, and it was really distracting.”

“You just got stabbed multiple times, and you’re telling me that I was distracting?”

“It is what it is,” I said.

“You seriously need to work on your priorities,” she told me.

“Right now, my priority is a hot shower. Then as much sleep as I can get before school tomorrow. Any problems with that?”

Sadie just shook her head. I felt unreasonable happy, smiling the entire way home.


Next Week: You Don’t Have A Secret Boyfriend, Do You?

Chapter 7 – You May Consider Me Intrigued

One Year Before Impact Day

“I tried to kill myself,” I told her. I watched the words sink in, but the expression on her face wasn’t like Sadie’s. It wasn’t anger, or resentment, or judgement. It was fear.

“What? Jesus, Charlie! Why did you-”

“I don’t know,” I said, cutting her off. “I was feeling really, really low. Like, so deep underwater I couldn’t even see the surface. And the only way out of it that I could think of was, well, suicide.”

Rachel was silent for a few seconds. She didn’t take her eyes off me, and her expression didn’t change.

“Why didn’t you say anything?”

“I didn’t know what to say,” I told her. “I still don’t, clearly, but I felt like I had to say something.”

“You know you can always come to me with stuff like this, right? Even when you don’t know what to say.”

God, she was so hurt. Why did I ever think it was okay to do that to her? What would she have done if I hadn’t survived? I’d thought it was arrogant to think anyone would care, but…

“I wasn’t thinking clearly,” I said. “I’m sorry. I’m really, really sorry.” Unshed tears were beginning to sting my eyes, and I did my best to will them away.

“No, no, don’t apologise,” she said, shaking her head. “Just… Please, talk to me before you try anything like that again, okay?”

I just nodded, my arms trembling slightly, my eyes still watery. I still hadn’t told her everything, though, and I couldn’t stop there. I knew it was a lot to drop on her at once, but I was going to go crazy if I didn’t say something to someone.

“That’s… kind of what I wanted to talk to you about,” I said hesitantly.

“You’re thinking of trying again?” she asked, not accusing, just patient.

“No. Kind of the opposite of that,” I said.

“I don’t follow.”

Another deep breath. She’d believed me when I told her about Sadie. She’d reassured me when I was worried about our friendship. She hadn’t tried to lecture me about suicide. If anyone was going to know what to say, it was her.

“Rachel, I… I jumped off a bridge. Into traffic. I got hit by at least three cars. And now look at me.”

“That was you?” she exclaimed. “But… you seem fine.”

“I am. Completely. Like, not-even-a scratch fine,” I said, my heart pounding in my chest.

“Are you sure that’s actually what happened?” she asked.

“Yes,” I told her. “And I know it doesn’t exactly help me sound sane, but Sadie was there. She remembers it too.”

“Have you talked to anyone else about this?”

“God, no,” I said.

“Okay, so-”

“That’s not all,” I interrupted. Rachel cringed.

“There’s more?”

“You’re not going to like it,” I warned her.

“I haven’t liked any part.”

I hesitated. She hadn’t stopped me, criticised me, or told me I was wrong or lying. There was no reason to believe that would change, but I was still scared. I gave myself a few moments to psyche myself up, then kept going.

“I was curious,” I said.

“Curious,” she repeated, her tone painfully bland.

“So I tried again. In different ways. Nothing worked.”

I could see a variety of emotions at war in her expressions. I recognised the winning emotion: curiosity.

“What are we talking about here? Without graphic details, please.”

“Um… Cutting, pills, asphyxiation, ten story drop. And I didn’t just survive. I’m completely unharmed.”

“That’s impossible,” she said. “How is that possible?”

“I wish I knew.”

She fell silent again, processing the new information. I’d told her everything, and I couldn’t take it back. All I could do was hope it wasn’t too much for her.

“That is kind of incredible,” she said at last.

“Incredible?” I asked, not expecting that at all.

“Well, yeah! I mean, how many unkillable people do you know?”

She actually seemed excited, and intrigued. She wasn’t afraid, and she didn’t tell me to pretend it wasn’t happening. Already, I felt so much better than I had.

“Depends on your definition, I guess,” I said. “Also, I don’t think unkillable is a real word.”

“I guess it kind of runs in the family, doesn’t it?” she said. “Except, like, complete opposites.”

I hadn’t even thought about it like that, but in a way, she was totally right. Sadie wasn’t exactly living, but she was still around, experiencing the world, and so far as I could tell, completely unable to be harmed. In a kind of twisted way, we were the same, but also completely opposite.

“What if I’m some kind of horrible science experiment?” I asked.

“Even if the experiment is horrible, it doesn’t mean that you are,” she reassured me. “Plus, there are all sorts of possibilities.”

“Like what?”

“Oh please, like you haven’t considered the comic book angle. You’re a bigger nerd than I am.”

I wouldn’t ever admit it, but my heart was singing a little to hear her say that.

“I do kinda like the idea,” I admitted, a little embarrassed to be called out on it.

“Right?” she said, excited. “And then we have a whole plethora of options to consider. Toxic waste accident, alien from another planet, mutant gene, ancient magic, the list is endless.”

“Magic? Really?” It was the last thing I’d ever expect her to think of.

“Hey, you will never meet a bigger sceptic than me, but if you’re telling me you have impossible healing powers. I am going to consider every possibility open,” she said, somehow managing to make believing in magic sound almost rational.

“You’ll make an excellent scientist someday,” I told her.

“Piss off, I’m an excellent scientist right now,” she shot back, smirking. “So, have you decided on a design for your costume?”

Costume? Wasn’t she jumping the gun a bit there? Taking the idea a little too far? Not that I didn’t see the appeal, but I also wanted to be taken seriously, and that didn’t exactly seem like the way to do it. I did love that her mind went to the same place as mine, though.

“I’m not a superhero,” I said.

“Of course you’re not. You haven’t got a costume. Or a name.”

“You’re ridiculous,” I told her.

“But you’re smiling again,” she said happily.

“Thanks,” I said, with just a hint of sarcasm.

“Thank you for talking to me,” she said seriously. “It means a lot that you trust me.”

“It means a lot that you believe me. And that you’re not freaked out by it.”

“I’m not gonna lie, I am a little freaked out that you tried to kill yourself, mostly because I had no idea you were feeling that way. But I really do think the whole not dying thing is pretty cool. You may consider me intrigued.”

I was relieved I could count on her to be honest about how she was feeling, too. And realistically, it would have bothered me a lot more if the thought of me killing myself didn’t affect her at all. I felt better having come clean to her, and there weren’t a lot of people I felt that way about.

“If I let you poke and prod me, will you promise not to stay mad?” I asked. Rachel just raised her eyebrows, and I realised the room for misinterpretation there, especially given our earlier conversation. I felt myself turning a little red. “Um. I probably need to get home.”

“Yeah, you know Aidan’s gonna be waiting up for you,” she said, stretching her arms out and leaning back a little. “So what are you gonna tell him? Are you going to talk to him about the whole immortality thing?”

“Ugh, he’s like an overprotective big brother and a nosy little sister all in one. I don’t think I’m ready to tell anyone else, though. At least not until I know more. Once was scary enough.”

“Well, you already told me about it, so if you need someone to talk to, you know where to find me,” she said gently.

“Yeah. Thanks,” I said. “Now, do I need to sneak out the back door again, or…?”

“At this time of night? Mum’s gonna be either too drunk to remember, too drunk to notice in the first place, or completely passed out. I think you’ll be fine.”

“So I can use the front door? Wow, how special.”

“Hey, it’s good practice for you, in case you ever need to sneak out of a boyfriend’s house.”

I frowned. For some reason, something about that comment annoyed me.

“Um, yeah. I guess,” I said, opening and closing her door as quietly as I could. As predicted, her mother was passed out on the couch. A deep crack ran through the floor beneath her. I carefully tiptoed to the front door, and slipped out.


Five Months Before Impact Day

“Your other best friend was a mechanical genius?” he asked.

“It’s like she was born with an engineering degree or something,” I said, trying not to sound overly proud.

“So, just keeping score here, you had a ghost, an assassin, a mechanical genius, and… Aidan,” he said, sounding almost as if he didn’t believe it, but wasn’t ready to give up on the idea just yet.

I grinned. “You’re just dying to know what was special about him, aren’t you?”

“Among other things.”

“Don’t you have other things you need to be doing?” I asked. “Not that I don’t enjoy our little chats, but I wouldn’t want you neglecting your evil empire.”

“Well, as you can imagine, without you causing trouble everything is actually going a lot better. So I can afford to take a little time off.”

“How nice for you,” I said.


Next Week: A Little Pain Never Hurt Anyone

Chapter 6 – Does Our Friendship Ever Seem Weird To You?

One Year Before Impact Day

Getting to Rachel’s house was not particularly difficult. It was well within walking distance, provided you didn’t mind walking for about half an hour or so. The problem was getting in once you got there.

Rachel lived with her mother, who more or less actively hated Rachel. She also got abusive when she was drunk, which was most of the time. Rachel had been taking care of herself from a very young age, and had learned the hard way how to survive in an abusive household.

Her mother didn’t technically disallow guests, but if she knew I was there, she’d make Rachel suffer for it later. I had to sneak in if I wanted to avoid trouble for her. Luckily, I had a lot of practice.

I met Rachel through jujitsu classes, and we more or less ignored each other for the first year. One day, one of the guys made a racist comment about her, and she told him to go fuck himself. He and several friends then proceeded to physically threaten her and I, in the infinite wisdom of youth, jumped into fight alongside her. There was nothing noble about it, I was just in the mood to fight.

The instructors broke it up before it got too serious, and to avoid further fights, paired the two of us together, since we’d effectively made enemies of the rest of the club. We begrudgingly accepted, because we didn’t really have a choice, but it wasn’t until we actually sparred that we felt any sort of connection.

Working with Rachel, practicing moves and sparring, I felt an almost tangible physical attraction, something I’d never felt before. It was like speaking another language, one only the two of us could understand. An elaborate dance, a silent conversation, an intimate connection.

After that, we became fast friends. We discovered that we had a lot more in common than we’d thought, and I found myself telling her things I wouldn’t tell anyone else, not even Sadie. We spent a lot of time together, but always in secret, because of the situation with her mother. Sadie had never liked her, but I didn’t care. Rachel was my friend, probably my best friend, and she made me feel more at ease than anyone else. Which is why it was her I went to see when I needed to feel understood.

I climbed over the fence of their next-door neighbour, sneaking up to the back door, which Rachel left unlocked. It was the only entrance that made it possible to get to her room without going past the living room, which was where her mother almost certainly was. I knocked gently on her door, and slipped inside, closing it behind me.

She looked up at me, sitting cross-legged on the floor, bits of wire and plastic strewn about her, and smile, her perpetually sullen eyes lighting up.

Rachel’s father had been Latino, and though her mother was as white as it was possible to be, Rachel took after her father almost entirely. It was difficult to believe she and her mother were even related.

“What’cha got there?” I asked, keeping my voice low, just in case.

“Hopefully, a police scanner,” she said, her hands still delicately assembling tiny pieces.

“What, like the thing they use in movies to listen to what the police radio is saying?”

“That’s the one,” she said cheerfully.

“You can just make those?”

I can,” she said. “Not sure about other people. And I don’t know if it’ll work or not.”

“And what if it does?” I asked, genuinely curious.

“No idea! I’ll probably feel pleased with myself, then take it apart and try to build something else, I guess.”

“Yeah, that sounds like something you’d do,” I said affectionately.

“I like building stuff,” she said, a little defensively. Her mother was not a fan of the mess. “I like learning how it all works, then proving it to myself by actually making it work.”

“I know. I think it’s cool,” I told her.

I watched her work in silence, her hands moving deftly as she positioned tiny pieces of electronics, then delicately soldered them in place. She was so focussed, so absorbed, and it was entrancing just watching her work.

After a while, she looked up at me again, and frowned.

“You okay?” she asked. “You seem a little… I dunno. Something on your mind?”

I grimaced, not intending to be that obvious about it. Still, I should have known she’d be able to tell. She always could.

“Where do you want to start?” I asked, rolling my eyes.

“How about we start with why you’re still standing all the way over there in the doorway?” she asked, and I immediately felt self-conscious about it.

“Oh, yeah. Didn’t even realise.”


I sighed, stepping away from the door and perching myself on the end of her bed. “Look, Rachel…”

“Oh, this sounds bad,” she said, putting down her radio. She pivoted, staring right into my eyes. I felt scrutinised, but at the same time, it was a safe feeling. Like, I wouldn’t be able to hide anything, but I wouldn’t be judged for anything either.

“No, it’s not anything bad, it’s just…” I trailed off, not quite sure how to say it. “Does our friendship ever seem weird to you?”

“I don’t even know what that means,” she answered, looking a little affronted.

“I don’t know. We spend a lot of time together, and talk about a lot of stuff, and do a lot of it in secret. I just wanted to make sure you don’t, y’know, mind any of that.”

Until I opened my mouth to actually say it, I hadn’t realised just how much Sadie’s words had affected me. Damn her.

“Why would I mind?” Rachel asked. “I’m an active participant too, aren’t I?”

“So you don’t think that we’re, like, too close, or anything?” God, I sounded like such an awkward nerd. What are you even saying, Charlie?

“What does too close even mean?”

I let myself fall backwards, staring up at her ceiling. Part of me almost wanted her to say yes, to say she did think we were too close, just so I didn’t feel stupid for worrying about it. A bigger part of me was terrified that she would say yes, because I wasn’t sure what I’d do if she did.

“I don’t know. It’s just something somebody told me, and I guess I got worried,” I confessed.

“Are you gonna tell me who said that?” she asked, her tone vaguely threatening.

“Are you going to punch them if I do?”

“It’s a definite possibility,” she conceded.

“It was Sadie,” I admitted. At least she couldn’t punch Sadie.

Rachel was the only person I’d told about Sadie. It was one of the scariest moments of my life, because I had no way of knowing how she’d react. I had no way of proving that Sadie was there, that I wasn’t just hallucinating. Of course, there was always the omnipresent fear that I actually was hallucinating, but despite my paranoia, she had believed me completely. She never once made me doubt myself, or asked me to prove anything.

“Well that’s not fair; I can’t punch her. Is she here now? Sadie, you’re probably just jealous.”

“She’s not here,” I told her.

“Right,” Rachel said, looking slightly embarrassed. “Well, tell her I think she’s being overdramatic.”

“So you’re really not worried?”

“I’m really not worried that we’re too close,” she assured me.

Well, that was one concern I could mostly put to rest. Unfortunately, it was also the easiest one to talk about, and I had a lot more I needed to get off my chest. Still, I felt confident that if anyone would listen and not freak out, it would be her.

“Okay, good. But there’s something else I need to talk to you about.”


I took a deep breath, steeling myself against the next part. Then I sat up, knowing I couldn’t do it without looking her in the eye.

“I tried to kill myself,” I told her.


Next Week: You May Consider Me Intrigued

Chapter 5 – You Could Make A Difference Too

One Year Before Impact Day

I held my wrist over the sink, hand clenched into a fist, the tip of the knife resting against my soft flesh. I took a few deep breathes, trying to tell myself it wouldn’t hurt, even though I knew it would.

“Remember, down the street, not across the road,” I muttered to myself. Who’d have ever thought that little phrase would come in handy?

“What are you doing?” Sadie asked, standing right behind me. I cringed.

“Testing a theory,” I told her, meeting her accusing gaze in the mirror.

“You promised me you wouldn’t do this.”

“I promised you I wouldn’t try to kill myself,” I corrected her. “And I’m not.”

“What do you call this?” she demanded, staring pointedly at the knife in my hand.

“Like I said, testing a theory. Or a hypothesis, or whatever.”

I could tell Sadie wanted so badly to grab the knife out of my hands, but of course she couldn’t. She couldn’t do anything, no matter how hard she tried. I hated making her feel that way.

Sighing, I put the knife down. Sadie visibly relaxed, if only a little.

“I don’t think the distinction is really what’s important here,” she said.

“Look, I already know this isn’t going to kill me,” I told her. “I just need to prove it.”

“How do you know?” she demanded, almost frantically.

“Because nothing else worked, either,” I said. Her expression turned from hurt to horrified.

“What else have you tried?”

For a few seconds, I just stood there, debating whether or not I should actually tell her, after trying so hard to keep it all from her. There was no way she was going to take it well, but would good would lying have done?

“I’ve taken four lethal overdoses of medication, held my breath underwater for twenty minutes, jumped off a ten story building and drunk pretty much every chemical under the sink,” I confessed, and immediately wished I’d lied to her. She looked like her entire world was collapsing around her.

“How?” she asked, her voice trembling. “I never saw-”

“You do sleep sometimes, you know,” I told her.

“I don’t understand. Why?”

“Because of what I can do.”

“Do?” she asked, confused.

“Sadie, don’t you get it? I can’t die. Think of the possibilities!”

I already knew she wouldn’t understand. I doubted anybody would, but for the first time, I felt like I’d found something that gave me a reason to keep trying.

“Like ending up in a lab for the rest of your life? Which, for all you know, could be forever?”

“Only if someone finds out,” I said. “And they won’t.”

“How do you know?”

“I’m going to have a secret identity,” I told her.


I took a deep breath, knowing what her next reaction was going to be. Still, she was going to find out sooner or later.

“Sadie, this makes me the closest thing this world has to a superhero.”

“So, you’re going to dress up and fight crime?”

“Wouldn’t you?” I asked, already knowing the answer.


“Look, Sadie. I grew up reading comic books. I grew up wishing that I could be more like Barbara, or Kara, or Diana. Reading those stories, it made me wish there really were people fighting to make the world a better place.”

“But those stories aren’t real,” she said. “I read them too, remember? They aren’t even realistic. You can’t just act them out and expect to get the same results.”

I shook my head, wishing I could make her understand.

“No, that’s not what I’m saying.”

“Then what do you mean?” she asked. I knew she was trying to understand, even though she wouldn’t.

“Those stories may not be real, but I am,” I told her. “And I can make the difference in this world that those stories made for me. I can be someone that people are inspired be. Something to hope for.”

She shook her head, looking at me like I was the craziest, stupidest person she’d ever met. Maybe she was right. I didn’t care.

“Please tell me you’re not serious,” she pleaded.

“Why not?” I asked. “What else am I gonna do with this power?”

“You mean apart from live a long and healthy life?” she said. “Donate your blood anonymously. Let scientists figure out a way to use it to help people.”

“Or make an army of immortal super soldiers,” I said cynically.

“Charlie, real life is not a comic book,” she said, exasperated.

“No, it’s not. It’s uglier, and more chaotic. We live in a world where a person like me would throw herself off a bridge because it was a genuinely more appealing option than being a part of it any longer.”

“You really believe you can make a difference,” she said, her tone almost accepting.

“I don’t know what I can do,” I confessed. “But I know that I can try.”

Sadie just looked at me, sad and tired but less distraught than she had been.

“You are such a nerd,” she said.

“You could help me, you know,” I suggested, speaking without thinking.

“How? I can’t do anything. I can’t even lift a sheet of paper.”

“Not, but you can see, and hear,” I pointed out. “And nobody can see or hear you.”

“So you want me to spy for you?”

“I’m just saying, you could help. You could make a difference too.”

For a while, Sadie was silent, her expression pensive. I just looked at the two of us in the mirror, marvelling at how different we were.

Even when she was alive, Sadie had been my polar opposite in just about every way. Where I was antisocial and rude, she was shy but very good natured. Where I was athletic and a little short, Sadie was thin and frail, in an elegant sort of way. She had long, straight brown hair, whilst mine was always short and messy. I was aggressive, and she was compassionate to a fault.

“I think you need help,” she said, at long last. “I also think you need to talk to somebody about the way you’re feeling, instead of coming up with insane plans to avoid facing the fact that you’re struggling.”

Her words hit me harder than a slap in the face would have. I knew she wouldn’t understand, but for her to go that far…

I left the room in silence, heading back to my room. Sadie followed, looking a little regretful. I aggressively pulled on a pair of sneakers, then reached up to open my window.

“Where are you going?” Sadie asked. For a moment, I considered just ignoring her, but if I didn’t answer her, she would have just followed me.

“To talk to Rachel,” I said bluntly. I knew if anyone would understand me, it would be her, and I needed to feel like somebody understood me, or at least supported me.

“It’s close to midnight,” Sadie pointed out.

“She’ll still be up.”

“So call her.”

“I don’t want to call her,” I told her. “I want to see her.”

“Video chat, then.”

It felt like Sadie was going out of her way to irritate me. I just wanted to yell at her to leave me alone, but even just talking to her was risky enough. I was always worried somebody would overhear me.

“That’s not what I mean,” I snapped. “What are you so worried about, anyway?”

“I just… I think the two of you are a little too close, sometimes,” Sadie said. “It’s not healthy.”

I felt my stomach churn. That was so unfair, and so unlike Sadie, I didn’t even know what to say. I knew Sadie had her issues with Rachel, but that…

“What the Hell is that supposed to mean?” I demanded.

“Nothing,” she said. “I just don’t think she’s good for you. And I don’t understand why you trust her more than Aidan or Liz.”

“Not that it’s any of your business, but I like spending time with her. She’s easy to talk to, and she actually understands me. She doesn’t try to lecture me, or smother me.”

“Fine, whatever,” Sadie said, backing away. “It’s not like I can stop you, anyway.”


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

Chapter 4 – You’re Not A Very Good Liar

One Year Before Impact Day

When I woke up again the next morning, there was someone else in my bed with me. I didn’t even need to roll over to figure out who it was, and I knew I could blame Aidan for letting her in without waking me up. I could probably also blame him for her presence in the first place, since he’d almost certainly messaged her about what had happened.

“What are you doing in my bed?” I asked, not really needing an answer.

“Stealing your body heat,” she said, smiling gently.

I’d met Liz on my first day of high school, and grew to like her almost immediately. She gave off the impression of being antisocial almost to an extreme, though it wasn’t antagonistic. She just didn’t seem interested in anything that the people around her were doing. I felt like we were kindred spirits. She must have seen something similar in me, because I became the first and last friend she ever made. With the exception of Aidan, I suppose, but that was more a matter of convenience than anything else, since he was always around me.

In the years that followed, Liz’s detached coolness actually drew more people to her, though she never really seemed to notice. She was one of the school’s top sports stars, a high academic achiever and incredibly attractive by just about everyone’s standards. Her Eurasian features could have led to a future as a model, and she had the most captivating bright green eyes, silky black hair and the sort of athletic build that might have been intimidating, if not for her heart-melting smile. She literally had a fan club, and she couldn’t have cared less.

Probably about half the people in our school would have killed to wake up with her in their bed. In my case, it was nice, but I also knew it was going to come with a drawn out conversation about the night before, and that was something I definitely did not want to deal with.

Meanwhile, Aidan was reclined on my couch, lazily reading a book. Sadie was sitting behind him, reading over his shoulder. That was more or less the only way she could read, since she couldn’t pick up the books herself.

“So, do I need to ask what you’re doing here?” I asked.

“What, I can’t cuddle up with a friend in bed on a Saturday morning?” Liz complained, dodging the question.

“Alright, well, I’m gonna go for a run,” I said, hoping to escape before she had a chance to start interrogating me.

“That’s a good idea! I’ll come with you,” she said, effortlessly dashing those hopes.

“I’ll be here,” Aidan added, not looking up from his book.

“You can get out while I change, though,” I told him. He blushed, then recovered by rolling his eyes and closing the book, much to Sadie’s disappointment.

“What, you’re actually going?” he complained.

“Well, yeah. I could do with some exercise, anyway.”

“And some fresh air?” he asked snidely, parroting my excuse from the night before. I glared at him, and he sprung up from the couch. “Fine, I’m getting out. I’ll go amuse myself somewhere else.”

Sadie followed him out, presumably hoping he would continue his book. Liz and I got changed, her borrowing my spare athletic gear. We left together, jogging towards the park I’d lied about being at the night before.

I tried to set a pace that would be too hard for Liz to maintain and still be able to talk, but she was probably in better shape than I was. We picked up the pace a little more, running in silence for a while, but she started talking before I could get too comfortable.

“So what happened last night?” she asked, all pretences of subtlety dropped.

I sighed. “What did Aidan tell you?”

“That you were evasive,” she said. “So I’m asking you directly.”

“It’s really not a big deal,” I insisted, jumping over a crack that Liz didn’t even seem to notice.

“Maybe not to you.”

“No, seriously. I was restless, so I decided to go for a walk. It was dark, and I fell down a hill. I got a bit dirty, but that’s all.”

It wasn’t that I wanted to lie to her. I just didn’t want to upset her, and if she knew the real reason I was out, she would have freaked out. Plus, if I told her the truth about what I was doing, I would also need to explain why I was fine, and there was no way I was going to tell anybody about that. Not yet.

“You’re not a very good liar, Charlie.”

“Liz, look at me,” I said. “I’m running. You saw me before; I’m unharmed. Shouldn’t that be enough to tell you that everything is fine?”

“Just because your body is fine, doesn’t mean you are,” she said. “I’m worried about why you were out in the first place.”

We came to a stop in one of the more isolated areas of the park. Neither of us were out of breath, but it was obvious she wanted to focus on talking, not running. There was no easy way out of it.

For a brief moment, I did consider telling her, but I couldn’t bring myself to do it. Not yet.

“I just needed some space,” I lied. “It’s been eleven years, and sometimes I still don’t feel like I belong in that house. Sometimes, I just feel like I need to get out.”

“Charlie, you know they both love you, right? You’re as much a part of their family as they are, and you know they’d say the same.”

Liz wrapped her arms around me, hugging me gently. I hugged her back, trying not to feel guilty for manipulating her. It was for her own good, I told myself. I didn’t need to burden anyone else with my problems.

“I’m hungry,” I said, after enough time had passed to safely change the subject.

“Me too,” she said. “Let’s go back and bully Aidan into making us breakfast.”

“Just bat your eyelashes at him,” I told him. “He’ll grumble, but I guarantee he’ll do it.”

“Is that what you do?” she asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Nah, bullying him is more fun,” I said. “And I’m not really the eyelash-batting type.”

“And you think I am?”

“You’re pretty enough to be,” I said. She blushed a little, and turned away.

“Let’s just go back,” she said, and started to jog back the way we came. I smiled, and took off after her.

Bullet dodged, I congratulated myself.

It didn’t feel like a victory, though. It just made me feel more lonely.


Six Months Before Impact Day

“I’m not sure I understand the relevance,” he complained.

“You mean you’re not interested in heart-warming stories about my friends?” I asked sarcastically, fidgeting in my bonds. They weren’t exactly comfortable.

“I warned you about wasting my time.”

“Fine, spoil the surprise,” I said, sighing. “Are you familiar with the Effe family?”

“They’re assassins,” he said. “Contract killers. Some of the best in the country.”

Of course he knew them. I’d expected as much.

“At least,” I confirmed. “Liz was one of them. Well, in training. She was only seventeen, after all.”

He raised an eyebrow at that. “One of your best friends was part of the most respected family of killers in the country. That seems awfully convenient.”

“Like I said, you don’t know the half of it.”

“Well, that’s why you’re telling me your story,” he said. “Now, is it safe to assume that this Aidan will also be important at some point?”

“You could say that,” I said, shrugging.


“I’m getting there,” I snapped. “Trust me, it’s all important.”

“It had better be,” he said. “You can tell me more next time. Right now, I need to make some calls. Your friend, Liz… you referred to her in the past tense. Is she still alive?”

“I don’t know,” I said darkly.


Next Week: You Could Make A Difference Too