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Chapter 18 – I Thought We Were Friends

“I did not think this through,” I said aloud, standing in front of an industrial prototyping machine, which seemed to basically be a fancy 3D printer. I was half expecting Envy to chime in with a helpful idea, but she was uncharacteristically silent.

She wasn’t gone, I could still feel her presence, but she seemed distant. No, it was more than that. I could feel waves of discomfort radiating from her. She was afraid of something.

Realising she wasn’t going to be any help, I focused my attention back to the problem at hand. Somehow, I had to get this giant machine back to Zoe, without breaking it. With her strength, I could probably lift it, but I couldn’t picture myself carrying it all the way across town, especially not without attracting attention.

“You need a truck,” a voice behind me said, startling me.

“What the-” I said, as I turned to see Charlie sitting on top of a pile of storage crates. She was dressed in her usual Vigilante getup, trenchcoat and all, but without the mask. It just reminded me that she’d gone public with her identity.

“Good thing I wasn’t trying to sneak up on you,” she said with an insufferable smirk. Rachel’s pained expression flashed through my mind, and I felt my body tense up.

“What are you doing here?” I asked coldly.

“Investigating,” she said, shrugging.

She dropped down from the top of the crates, landing gently and irritatingly elegantly. Her coat billowed around her.

“Investigating what?” I asked, taking an unconscious step away from her.

“This,” she said. “You. Whatever you’re up to.”

“What I’m up to is none of your business,” I snapped. She looked surprised, and a little hurt.

“There’s no need to be rude. I thought we were friends, Sabrina.”

I felt my legs buckle. I had suspected she knew about me, after her comment before she outed herself, but hearing it confirmed still frightened me.

“Wha-“

“Yes, I know who you are,” she said impatiently. “You haven’t exactly been subtle about it.”

“I…”

She rolled her eyes, striding towards me assertively. I shrank back, feeling more frightened than I would have expected. I was sure she wouldn’t hurt me, didn’t even want to hurt me, but the fear was almost paralytic.

“Relax,” she said, sounding almost annoyed. “I’m not your enemy. We both want the same thing, I think.”

“I don’t want what you want,” I very nearly hissed at her. She recoiled, confused. Then realisation spread across her face.

“You spoke to Rachel,” she said, her voice strangled.

Her expression, her tone, answered the question I was too afraid to ask. Was it true, what Rachel had said? Did Charlie really do that to her?

I knew the answer was yes.

“You’re a monster,” I growled, the transformation ready, but I held it at bay.

Charlie sighed, slumping against another storage crate.

“Well, there’s no denying that,” she said. “I was going to ask if she hates me, but I guess I know the answer already.”

The two of us stared at each other, the tension between us threatening to bubble over into violence. I could feel her fury washing over me like physical heatwaves.

“Tell her…” Charlie hesitated, and I almost believed the pained expression on her face. Almost. “Forget it. Tell Zoe something instead. Tell her I am going to send her back where she came from, but not before she suffers for every single person she’s infected.”

“Tell her yourself,” I snarled, as the transformation ripped through me. I felt my entire body shift and tear, and the world around me slowed down, grew calmer as a storm began to rage inside of me.

“Incredible,” Charlie said, not nearly as intimidated as I wanted. “How do you do that?”

“Looking for more powers to steal?” I accused, every inch of me ready for a fight. It was more than just adrenaline, it was a raw, primal need.

“I’m just looking to protect my city,” she said, more impatient than intimidated. “You know better than anyone what someone like Zoe can do, and to fight her, I needed what Rachel had.”

“And to hell with the consequences, right? Too bad if anyone gets hurt along the way?”

“There won’t be anyone left to get hurt if I don’t stop them, Sabrina!” she shouted, filled with frustration. “They are going to kill this city, and you know it won’t stop there.”

Before I could respond, a third voice filled the room, one I hadn’t heard before.

“Have you considered that we might actually leave willingly, if we had the option?”

A young woman- no, a teenager, barely older than we were, stepped out from behind the same crates Charlie was leaning against. She was dressed in loose-fitting, dark clothing, and moved with a lethal grace that set my nerves on edge all over again. Her short black hair fell about her face in a perfectly styled mess, an almost mischievous smirk playing on her lips. I found myself fixated on her eyes, shimmering violet and filled with presence and power.

“Ami,” Charlie said coldly.

“So nice to see you again, Charlotte,” Ami said tauntingly. “How are you feeling today?”

“Strong enough to crush your smug little skull,” Charlie threatened. “What are you doing here?”

“None of your business,” Ami said smoothly. “Now, unless you’re looking for a fight…” She trailed off, but the threat was blatant. Rage consumed Charlie’s face, and her eyes actually seemed to darken, but she turned on her heel, and began to storm off.

“You’re not invincible, Ami,” she cautioned. “I will figure you out eventually.”

“If only you still had the tinker on your side,” Ami called after her. Charlie froze, but said nothing. “You’re a child, Charlie, and you’re playing with fire.”

Charlie left in silence, leaving an awkward silence hanging in the room. Ami turned to me, all of her tension evaporating almost immediately.

“Now then. Sabrina, was it? I think it’s time that you and I got acquainted.”

Chapter 14 – What’s The Worst That Could Happen

“Are you sure it’s okay to be out here?” Veronica asked, looking around nervously. The entire city was eerily quiet, which as I understood it was the new normal, after everything that had happened. The city was generally safe during the day, but not many people seemed like they wanted to take the risk.

“What’s the worst that could happen?” Charlie said, smirking.

“Don’t make me say it,” Veronica said, rolling her eyes. “We’d be here all day.”

“How long has it been like this?” I asked.

“Since day one,” Veronica answered. “Impact Day. Nothing’s been the same.”

“It’s a power struggle,” Charlie said. “It was bound to happen sooner or later. Impact Day, if that’s what we’re calling it, just sped things up a bit.”

“But, all of the factions that are fighting, they all came after the crash,” Veronica said.

“Not all of them,” Charlie said. “The gangs were a problem even before then, they just weren’t as public. The infected are new, and so are most of the superhumans, but not all of them.”

“What? You think we had those, whatever they are, before? How? And why are you the only one to know about them?” Veronica demanded.

Across the road, there was a minor disruption as a news crew began to set up. I guessed they were planning on shooting some kind of report, but I was far more interested in what Charlie had to say.

“Because I pay attention to this kind of thing,” she said. “And I’m not the only one who knew. But who’d have believed it?”

“Who was here before?” I asked. Charlie looked at me, curious.

“The vigilante, for starters. Surely you heard the rumours?”

“About him being immortal?” Veronica asked. “You mean that’s true?”

“According to several accounts,” Charlie said. “Then there was the superhuman shopkeeper, who actually appears to have vanished. Which is interesting all on its own.”

“You can’t actually believe that one, can you?” Veronica asked, incredulous.

“You’d deny it now? With everything else that’s happening? Surely you can keep a slightly more open mind,” Charlie scolded her.

“I saw the sky split open,” Veronica said. “I know the things I’m seeing now came from another world. Where am I supposed to believe a shopkeeper who could lift a car with one hand came from?”

“The same place? One of a myriad of other possible places?”

“You’re way too ready to buy into that crap,” Veronica said snidely. “You think they’ve been here secretly for, what, years? And only just started to act up now?”

“I think-” Charlie began, but was cut off by a scream from across the road. The news crew were backing away rapidly, though the cameras seemed to still be filming.

A second later, the reason for the screaming became apparent. One of the infected had burst out of the building, snarling and sneering in the sunlight. With one brutal swing of their arm, they knocked the reporter clean off his feet, and he slammed into a parked car with a sickening thud.

The expression on the infected’s face was more of panic and confusion than actual malice, and I was reminded of the Vigilante’s insistence that they were human, and could be saved. I think I was starting to understand her point of view.

The infected saw us, locking eyes with me from across the road. I knew instinctively they were going to charge, and the only one who could do anything about it was me.

One of the cameras was trained almost directly on us. If I transformed, or whatever it was that I did, it would almost certainly be caught on film. Not to mention both Veronica and Charlie would know, and I so wasn’t ready for that.

What would happen if that ended up on TV? Everyone would know. My parents would know. Plus, with all of the tension between the military and superhumans, I would probably become a public enemy.

What else could I do, though? If I didn’t change, Veronica and Charlie would almost certainly die. I had a feeling I would survive, but even that would be suspicious.

I could feel the beginnings of a panic attack forming. There was no good way out of this situation. Whatever I did, I was completely screwed.

I took a deep breath. If I was going to be revealed either way, at least that meant I could protect my friends without fear. Not that there actually would be an absence of fear, but I could talk myself into it.

I felt the familiar crawling of my skin, the tingle down my spine.

Alright, Sabrina. Time to reveal your secret to the world.

Chapter 13 – You’re Not What These People Need

The rain was heavy, oppressive. It felt like it was going to crush me, pressing down on me, pinning me in place. I closed my eyes, slowed my breathing, and transformed.

All of a sudden, the rain barely registered in my senses. I felt almost nothing, and I could see through it like it wasn’t there at all. The cold retreated, and I felt powerful again.

I also had no idea what I was doing.

At a loss, I started to run. My legs coiled and uncoiled like springs, catapulting me through the streets, with no direction or destination in mind. It felt exhilarating. Before I knew it, I was halfway across the city.

With no idea where I was.

“What the hell am I doing?” I asked myself, forgetting momentarily what happened when I talked to myself out loud.

“Cracking bad guys’ skulls?” Envy answered, though I had no idea where from.

“Where-?”

“It’s rainy, honey,” she said. “Check the puddles.”

I looked down and saw her looking back up at me, rippling and warping as rain drops collided with the gathering pool of water.

“Anything with a reflection, huh?”

“Pretty much,” she said. “Go north.”

“Why north?”

“Because that’s where the thugs are,” she said, and I could almost hear the trailing ‘duh’ at the end of it.

“How do you know?” I asked.

“I can see them from a window,” she replied, shrugging.

“You have got to be kidding me,” I muttered, not sure whether to believe her. Given everything else, I had no reason to suspect she was lying.

“I might be,” she said, smirking. “Can’t hurt to try though, right? Not like you’ve got a better lead.”

I sighed.

“North it is.”

Without anything more specific than that, I started to run again. Within a matter of seconds, my instincts were screaming at me to stop, and without thinking, I leapt up on top of a nearby roof.

Adrenaline surging through me, I walked up to the edge of the roof, peering down. Sure enough, there were a bunch of suspicious-looking people standing around, holding guns and moving boxes.

“Wow, you were right,” I said, assuming Envy was still around somewhere.

“You’ll get used to it,” she said sweetly.

“So, now what? Just… knock them out?”

Movies made it look so easy, but I was pretty sure if I punched someone hard enough to stop them from moving, they wouldn’t just wake up a few hours later and be fine.

“Not talking to yourself is probably a good start,” a familiar, distorted voice said. I turned around to find the Vigilante standing behind me, their arms folded.

“You again?”

“Yeah,” they said. “This is basically what I do. You’re welcome to watch, though.”

“No, wait. I should do this. I have actual-”

“I know what you can do,” they said, cutting me off harshly. “Trust me, you’re not what these people need.”

“But you’re-”

“Trust me, I’ll be fine.”

Before I could protest further, they leapt off the roof, landing right in the middle of the gathered thugs. It took the thugs less than three seconds to open fire on the Vigilante, almost like they were expecting to be attacked.

In those three seconds, the Vigilante had already taken down two of them, disabling one with what looked like a taser and another with a baton strike right to the solar plexus.

The Vigilante threaded a rope out from a sleeve, moving at least as quickly as I could. They practically danced between the thugs, disarming them and binding their wrists and ankles. Within a couple of minutes, they’d disabled the entire lot of them.

I dropped down to the ground, staring at them. They were piling up the boxes the thugs had been moving.

“You, you’re one of them,” I said.

“No more than you,” they replied, not stopping what they were doing.

“How?” I asked.

“It’s a long story,” they said, shrugging. When all of the boxes were stacked up, they pulled a small, metallic orb from inside their coat. It took me a second to realise it was a grenade.

They pulled the pin, and shoved the grenade into the centre mass of the boxes. Neither of us bothered to move away.

I hardly felt the explosion, even from a metre away. The Vigilante seemed just as unfazed, the wild fluttering of their coat the only sign they felt the blast at all.

“We both have somewhere we need to be,” they said.

“Wait-” I called out, but they’d already taken off, disappearing into an alley.

“Don’t bother,” Envy said, talking to me from some shattered glass on the ground. The explosion must have blown out a window. “You’ll never catch her.”

I was about to protest that when my brain realised what she’d said.

“How do you know they’re a she?” I asked.

“Because I know who she is,” Envy said, shrugging.

“What? Who?” I demanded.

“Someone incredibly dangerous,” she said. “Someone you need to stay away from.”

“No,” I said, taking a step in the direction of the alley the Vigilante had disappeared down. “No more vague threats. Tell me who she is, or I’m chasing her.”

“Then chase her,” Envy said. “You won’t catch her. I can’t tell you who she is, Sabrina. I’m sorry.”

“You can tell me she’s dangerous, and that I should stay away from her, but not her name?”

“It’s complicated,” Envy said, sounding distressed for the first time since I’d met her. “I can see her, not like you can, but… She’s like me, only more. She belongs here. She has power here. She could destroy me, if she ever figures out who she really is.”

“You sound really scared,” I said. “I’m sorry. I won’t follow her.”

“It’s getting late, anyway. If you don’t get home soon, your parents will know you were out all night.”

“I could not feel less like a superhero right now,” I grumbled.

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.

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 1 – The Scream Heard ‘Round The World

Part 1 – Sabrina

I couldn’t tell Veronica what I was doing on Impact Day, because I was with her. It was a Friday night and we were doing the same thing we always did, hanging out and playing video games. Her younger sister, Ashley, was asleep on the armchair.

Veronica and I both sat cross-legged on the couch, controllers in hand, furiously mashing buttons as we attempted to virtually murder one another through brightly coloured avatars. She was focussing intensely, determined not to lose to me. I was wincing every time one of the characters got impaled by something sharp, and marvelling at their ability to keep fighting.

“If it were me,” I said, blocking a barrage of punches, “I’d give up after the first hit. What do these people even have to be fighting about?”

“Oh, who cares?” Veronica asked. “Honour, love, a desire to rip their shirts off and punch each other?”

There was a bright flash of light as my character unleashed some kind of energy beam, knocking Veronica’s off the screen.

“I do not understand how you’re so good at this,” she complained. “You don’t even like video games. Or fighting!”

“Maybe I’m not good,” I teased. “Maybe you’re just really bad.”

She responded by having her character flip over the top of mine, and kicking her up into the air. I cringed.

“Have you ever been in a fight?” she asked, suddenly serious.

“No,” I told her.

“Huh.”

“What, huh?” I demanded. “You think I would?”

“Well, I mean, I don’t think you’d go looking for a fight,” she said. “Just, you know, I can see people wanting to fight you. Because of the-”

“Oh, right,” I said, deflating. “Yeah, I’ve had some close calls. I think I’m too much of a shut-in to really have much to worry about, though.”

“Ashley got into a fight once,” she said.

“What?”

“Mmm. Wouldn’t tell me what it was about, but apparently some kid said something that pissed her off, and she just, let him have it.”

I looked over at Ashley, still asleep on the couch. I could have sworn I saw her lips curl into a slight smile.

Ashley was only thirteen, and as a general rule, soft spoken and quiet. Excitable around Veronica and I, but the rest of the time, she was more of the quiet nerdy type.

“What could have set her off?” I asked, resting my controller on the floor and stretching out on the couch.

“I don’t know,” Veronica said, shrugging. She dropped her controlled, and pulled my feet onto her lap. “I can guess, though.”

“What, me?” I asked, looking back over at Ashley.

“You know she loves you,” Veronica said. “You might as well be her second bigger sister.”

“I guess that’s kind of sweet,” I said. “Still, I’d really rather she kept out of trouble.”

“You’ll never guess who her new idol is,” Veronica said, rolling her eyes dramatically.

I frowned, not sure what she was talking about. Ashley wasn’t the type to idolise anyone, except…

“Oh, no,” I said.

“Yep. It’s a good thing they don’t sell merch, the house would be full of it.”

“What appeal could a vigilante thug have to a teenage girl?” I asked, and Veronica laughed at the expression on my face.

“Hey, you didn’t grow up on comic books. She did. The vigilante may as well be Batman as far as she’s concerned.”

“Batman? They’re a skinny punk in a ski mask and a hoodie. Not exactly superhero material,” I said. “Besides, they haven’t been seen for like, six months. They’re either dead, or coming back as a supervillain.”

“This city has enough villains,” Veronica said, shaking her head. “Sometimes it does feel like something out of a comic book, y’know?”

“More like a fifties gangster movie,” I said. “At worst, West Side Story.”

“Hey, you know the rules,” she snapped, then grinned.

“No musical theatre in this house,” I repeated monotonously. “You have no culture, you know that?”

My phone buzzed in my pocket, surprising me. I dug it out clumsily, and realised my mum was calling me.

“Hello?”

“Honey? It’s getting late, are you coming home soon?” she asked, her tone more concerned than annoyed.

I pulled the phone away from my ear, and checked the time. It was a good hour later than I’d thought.

“Sorry, I didn’t realise the time,” I said. “I’ll start heading home now.”

“Okay, honey. I’ll see you soon,” she said, and made a kissing sound before hanging up.

“Gotta go?” Veronica asked, pouting.

“I think I pushed my luck a little tonight,” I said apologetically. “She’s still not cool with me staying over at girls’ houses.”

“If only she knew,” Veronica said wistfully.

“I am so not ready for that conversation,” I said, shuddering. “For now, I’m just gonna put up with it.”

I grabbed my blazer and pulled it on. Veronica leapt up from the couch, surprisingly graceful, and wrapped her arms around me.

“You know, whenever you are ready to talk to them, I’ll be there with you,” she said.

“Thank you,” I said, hugging her back.

I hugged her once more at the door, then started my walk home. Thankfully, we didn’t live too far away from each other, and I knew it wouldn’t take me long to get home.

Except I never got home.

It started with a scream. A single, piercing, mind-numbing scream that seemed to be coming from everywhere at once. The ground beneath me trembled and shook, and I lost my footing, landing hard on my butt.

All around me, everything seemed to warp and twist. I watched as cracks began to form, running through the ground, through houses and trees, even through the air itself.

High above me, in the sky, I saw the same thing that everyone else in the city saw that night. A massive tear, and a sparkling diamond sky beyond it.

There was a deep, sharp crack and some kind of silver construct came bursting through the tear, seconds before it sealed itself up again. The construct, looking like some kind of sci-fi spaceship, broke apart violently, pieces flying away in all directions.

A chunk of ship landed with a deafening boom a street away from where I was sitting, and I felt my stomach churn. Without even thinking, I leapt to my feet, running towards the billowing plume of smoke that had already begun to form.

By the time I got there, a crowd had already gathered around it, but nobody seemed game enough to actually step onto the property. I pushed my way to the front, and had to fight against my body’s urge to throw up.

The house had completely caved in, and parts of it were still burning. I couldn’t tell if anyone was inside it when the wreckage hit it, but there was definitely someone in there.

I could barely make them out, a silhouetted figure leaning against a wall, half surrounded by fire. Instinct took over again, and I ran towards them even as the crowd began to shout. I blocked them out.

I vaulted over the fence, stumbling but managing to maintain my balance. The heat and smell of burning wood hit me at the same time, and I covered my mouth with my elbow, squinting to see through the smoke that was making my eyes water.

The closer I got to the prone figure, the more I realised just how dire the situation was. Some piping had broken loose, and was currently jutting right out of their chest. I didn’t realise until it was too late that I was standing in a pool of their blood.

I staggered forward, and got a better look at the person who couldn’t possibly still be alive. It looked like a woman, possibly in her mid twenties, with short platinum-blonde hair. Her expression was eerily serene.

I’m not sure what came over me, but I found myself overwhelmed by the desire to touch her. I crouched beside her, my trembling hand reaching towards her face.

The moment my fingers touched her, I felt a painful shock race through me. My entire body spasmed, and I collapsed beside her, twitching, even as I saw her move.

Her eyes fluttered open, looking about curiously. If she felt any pain from the pipe sticking out of her chest, she sure didn’t show it. Her gaze fixated on me, and a strange sort of smile played across her lips.

She reached in front of her, her delicate fingers wrapping around the pipe, and effortlessly snapped it. I could only watch as she slowly stood up, separating herself from the pipe. She cracked her neck, her spine, her fingers, then stretched out like a cat.

The last thing I remember before I passed out was her crouching beside me, reaching out to touch my face, just as I’d touched hers, the same smile still sitting there.