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Tag: Gabriel

Bonus – It Was The Same One

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doesn’t make it any easier.

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

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

“You’re home early,” she commented.

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

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

“It wasn’t Rachel,” Charlie snapped.

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

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

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

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

“I killed somebody.”

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

“Only when I had to,” Charlie argued.

“Did you have to this time?”

“No,” Charlie confessed. “But…”

“But?”

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

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

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

“You beat her once,” Sadie said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“It’s necessary,” Charlie replied coldly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“With who?” Sadie asked. “What deal?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Even Sabrina?”

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

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

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

“What?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I don’t take orders.”

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

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

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

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

Chapter 33 – I’m Very Easy To Talk To

Another week passed, and I found myself no closer to finding Sabrina. I had two leads, neither of which was at all easy to follow up on.

Miss Melbourne apparently hadn’t been seen in almost two weeks. Admittedly my information network was limited at best, and it wasn’t that long to go under the radar. Still, without anything to go on, it was basically a dead end.

The Stars were my other option. Not that I could work with them, but they clearly had the biggest information network across the city. If I could find a way to tap into that…

Risky, sure, but so was just being in the city. So was holding a conversation with two of the most dangerous people in the city. Danger wasn’t really an issue for me. I just needed to find Sabrina, and if could, find answers.

Obviously, I’d already checked the obvious places. Sabrina’s house, my house, Hunter’s house. All abandoned. Our school, establishments we used to haunt. Not a damn thing.

On a whim, I tried Charlie’s house. I wasn’t sure what I was expecting. The lair of a supervillain, hidden beneath the basement? A garage full of evil schemes pinned to the walls?

It was as abandoned as the rest of the city. There was a brief moment when I thought I’d caught someone hiding in there, a kid with purple hair, but she ran when I saw her, and disappeared before I could catch her, leaving me doubting whether she’d ever been there at all.

I found myself gravitating towards conflict. It wasn’t exactly in short supply, really. Couldn’t go more than a few hours without hearing something in the distance. From what I managed to gather, there were three remaining gangs in the city, including the Stars. There was a military presence, though it was dwindling. The infected were growing in number, and they seemed to be grouping up, almost like packs. The lot of them seemed to be engaged in a perpetual turf war.

Then there were what I’d come to thinking of as the Independants.

Zoe was missing, so far as I could tell. Nobody knew where she was. Same with Miss Melbourne.

Silver was around, but nobody seemed to have any idea what she was up to. She seemed to be collecting electronic components, mostly.

Ami was searching for Haylie, I knew. Haylie was nowhere to be seen, but there was a good chance the Celestial knew more about that.

Charlie seemed to be hunting the infected. I rarely saw her from close up, but I’d witnessed her from a distance a few times, disabling groups at a time, then carrying them off, too fast for me to follow. Not that I wanted to get too close to them anyway, just in case.

Then there was Gabriel, who seemed to just leave a trail of corpses in his week. If anyone had survived an encounter with him, they weren’t talking about it. Was that necessary, in his apparently single-minded quest to recapture Zoe?

Once, I was nearly captured by a bunch of gangsters. Couldn’t tell who they were with, but they caught me watching them from a window, and made a beeline for me. I ran, and they would have caught me if not for the sudden appearance of a pack of infected. Luckily, the infected seemed more interested in tearing apart the people shooting them, not the teenage girl running from them. Still, it was a terrifyingly close call.

Undeterred, I kept pushing and searching. Every day I survived felt like another victory, another step closer, even if that wasn’t quantifiably true. For all I knew, whatever clues or evidence remained could disappear, and I was actually getting further from my goal. I tried not to think about that, as best I could.

My food supplies were running low. Thankfully, the gangs seemed to have their own food supplies, so despite the vaguely apocalyptic feeling the city gave off, none of the supermarkets I’d encountered had been looted.

I slipped into one, listening out for any signs of infected. It had been long enough that some things with shorter shelf lives were expiring, so I made my way right to the long life and non-perishable items were. Not as tasty, but better than dealing with food poisoning.

As I was grabbing cans of food, a voice behind me caused my entire body to seize up.

“Well, well, well. What do we have here?”

I hadn’t heard him approach at all. The supermarket was empty, how had he managed to move so silently?

I turned to face him, a man every bit as beautiful as his velvet voice. Tall, fair skin, dark hair, warm amber eyes. A shirt and slacks, just loose enough to look sensual. An amused smirk playing on his lips.

“You.” I choked out the word. “Gabriel?”

“You know my name? I’m flattered,” he said. I couldn’t help but notice how unnaturally still his body was. “Sadly, I’ve not yet had the pleasure of hearing yours.”

What did he want with me? He’d clearly followed me here, but why? Did I somehow release a pheromone that attracted all of the superhumans in the city to me?

Was I going to die?

“Maybe let’s keep it that way,” I said, feigning a confidence I certainly didn’t feel.

“Your confidence is refreshing, even if it is just a mask,” he said, chilling me. Another mind reader? Or just really perceptive? “Might I ask what you’re doing here, in the middle of what seems to have become a battlefield?”

No chance of escaping, not even a sliver of hope. It was difficult to even breathe.

“Trying to stay alive.”

“And you’ve done a remarkable job of that so far, considering your physical limitations,” he said, too gently.

“How do you know I’m not a superhuman?” I demanded, as if there was the slightest hope of deceiving him.

“The way you move. The way you smell. The way you speak.”

“I could be very good at hiding it,” I offered, and he smiled.

“No.”

Great. So much for that approach. Switch tracks, find another angle.

“Well, then you know I’m no threat to you, at least.”

Please don’t kill me.

“The thought never even occurred to me,” he said, still smiling. The way he looked at me, it was distant, indulgent. What did he see me as, a child? Less than that?

“Then what do you want with me?” I demanded.

“Curiosity, of course,” he said, as if that were obvious. “How have you managed to stay alive this long? What are you even still doing here?”

If I could keep his interest, would that save my life? Would it only delay the inevitable?

“I’m resourceful,” I said simply. “And curious,” I added, almost as an afterthought.

“A girl after my own heart.” Another indulgent smile. “I congratulate you on all you’ve achieved.”

“Thanks, I guess.”

“Tell me, how did you hear my name?”

There was just a trace of urgency to that question, like it was actually important. Could it be?

I’d heard his name from Ami. They were on the same side, more or less. Would that save me?

No, I had to play this cooler than that. He’d see right through something that obvious.

“From what I hear, you haven’t exactly been keeping it a secret,” I pointed out. I didn’t actually know if that was true, but Ami had implied it.

Gabriel nodded in agreement. I didn’t understand him at all.

“No, but there’s another name that seems to have taken preferential position in people’s minds. I’m curious as to why you didn’t use that one.”

Fine, have it your way.

“It’s what Ami told me your name was,” I said.

His expression was unreadable. Not quite a blank slate, but nothing recognisable.

“So, you’ve spoken to Ami? And survived? That alone speaks volumes. What else did she tell you about me?”

I really hoped I wasn’t getting her into trouble. A quiet corner of my brain began to wonder who would win in a fight between the two of them, but I had no way of knowing that. Not important. Focus on Gabriel, Veronica.

“Not a lot. You’re trying to recapture Zoe, she’s looking for your other teammates.”

“And why would she tell you that?” he asked.

Good question.

“I’m very easy to talk to.”

“Evidently.” There was that smile again, but it was tempered this time. Disappointment? Regret? “It’s a shame we had to meet like this. I apologise deeply.”

What?

A mental image flashed through my mind, of him killing me by simply reaching out and breaking my neck. I was a witness, and he didn’t leave witnesses.

“What for?” I asked, barely bothering to hide the lump in my throat.

“Have you not heard?” he asked, sounding genuinely surprised. Well, almost genuine.

“Clearly not.”

“The infection,” he said. “I’m a carrier. You’re almost certainly infected by now.”

What? Fucking what?

The lump in my throat expanded as a piece fell into place. He was the source of the infection? A Typhoid Mary for this plague of zombies?

It would explain why he killed everyone he met, to avoid it spreading. It seemed almost merciful.

Except I didn’t want to die. Being infected sounded worse, but a part of my brain was denying it, telling me it wasn’t true. It wanted a chance of survival, at the risk of turning into one of them.

“What?” It was all I was able to manage. The world was spinning, my chest tight, almost too tight to breathe.

“I’m so very sorry,” he said, and that did sound genuine.

“You didn’t touch me,” I said, grasping for any hope.

“It’s airborne.”

I could feel rage building in the back of my head. Was that a reasonable response, or was that the infection, already taking hold?

“What are you doing out here, then?” I shouted. “Why would you come talk to me?”

He was unruffled by my sudden outburst.

“It would be impossible to explain to you, child. Capturing Zoe is the most important thing. If I don’t, your lives would all be forfeit anyway.”

No. No, no, no. Fuck!

“You’ve… you’ve killed me,” I snarled.

Why me? What made him think talking to me would have anything to do with his stupid sister?

“I’m sorry,” was all he said.

“Sorry? Fuck you!

“You have a few days,” he said softly. “I suggest you make the most of them.”

I staggered back, my shoulders bumping against the shelves.

“There’s no cure? No way to stop it?”

“No,” he said, shaking his head. “Believe me, I’ve tried.”

That’s not fair.

“Well, fuck. Fuck you,” I snapped.

He just shook his head, turned on his heel, and began to walk off. He didn’t care at all.

“Again, I’m sorry,” he lied, calling back over his shoulder. “There’s nothing that can be done.”

I screamed at him, threw cans at him, knocked food off shelves onto the floor when he was out of sight. When my throat was hoarse and raw, my chest aching, I dropped to my knees, sobbing.

It wasn’t fair. I still had so much to do. I had to find Sabrina, had to figure out what was going on.

A few days? Not nearly enough.

Didn’t matter.

If I had to find Sabrina in the next three days, I would find a way.

Fuck you, Gabriel.

Interlude 3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I still can’t see her,” XO said.

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

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

“She’s here,” Haylie said.

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

“No mirrors,” they said. “Right.”

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

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

“Ready.”

“Ready.”

“Ready.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A sound, soft, like a distant crack.

A smell, metallic and acidic.

A taste in the air, chemical.

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

And XO knew. The humans had been teleported.

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

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

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

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

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

Impossible.

What about Ami’s lot?

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

Another group appeared, teleporting around Gabriel.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No time,” Gabriel snapped.

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

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

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

Haylie simply sauntered in the front doors.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Let’s go,” she said gently.

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

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

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

“We did it?” they asked, in awe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“They talked,” Ami said, shrugging.

“They..? Oh. Oh.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I can’t believe we did it,” XO said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

No.

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

You cannot enter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Something gone.

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

Part of them, gone forever.

Their team, gone forever.

They fell.

They hit the ground.

They died.

They returned.

The sliver was still gone.

Interlude #2

None of the soldiers ever expected to be fighting a war in the middle of Melbourne. Some of them had grown up here, pretty much all of them had at least visited. It was a city full of people, full of life. Now, it was a city full of violence.

They outnumbered the street thugs on the other side of the river, and they were better equipped. Slowly but surely, they were gaining ground, pushing the gang further back. If they could take this ground and hold it, it would be the first major victory they’d had since arriving.

Most of the street gangs were exactly that, collections of thugs, criminals and anarchists who just wanted to rebel against the system, or take advantage of the chaos to raid and loot. They were poorly armed and had no idea what they were doing. For the most part, they avoided the army.

The Stars were different. Nobody was quite sure where they were getting their weapons from, and they were organised, coordinated and efficient, almost like a paramilitary organisation. They fought strategically, and weren’t afraid of a fight. More often than not, they won.

Burst of gunfire and flashes of light broke up what would have otherwise been a dark and quiet night. While one soldier laid down covering fire, another dashed to a better position, staying low. The plan was working. They were pushing the Stars back.

A woman appeared, stepping out of the shadows, walking purposefully towards the unit’s captain. He noticed her, turned, raised his gun. She seemed undeterred.

“Hold!” he barked, clearly expecting the order to stop her tracks. When it didn’t, he added “Don’t move!” which proved to be just as effective.

He threatened to shoot her if she didn’t stop. She said nothing, and kept moving. That was all the warning he was willing to give. Her body language was too purposeful to be an innocent civilian. He opened fire.

She vanished in a burst of smoke, materialising again behind him. He didn’t even have the chance to turn around before her knife cut open his throat, a brutal cut that would have taken more strength than a woman of her stature should have been able to muster. As he collapsed to the ground, unable to breathe, unable to speak, he saw her vanish again.

She killed four more soldiers that way, silent and efficient, completely without mercy. That was enough to turn the tide of the battle, but she didn’t stop. Another soldier died. A voice in the darkness tutted, stealing her attention.

“I know they’re only human, but even I think that’s cruel,” he said, the light of the streetlamps glinting in his amber eyes. She glared as he dropped down from atop the arch of the bridge, landing gracefully and silently as a cat.

He approached her with a lazy, arrogant smile on his face, his hands resting casually in his pockets. She flicked the knife around in her hand a few times, her entire body tense, ready for a fight.

“I must confess, it’s an unusual sight, you getting involved in a minor skirmish like this,” he said, the two of them seemingly oblivious now to the fight that continued around them. “The territory can’t be that important, so what are you really doing here?”

She glowered at him, her eyes scanning the area, looking for a way out. In a one-on-one fight, she knew who had the upper hand.

“It’s obviously meant to send a message,” he continued, unperturbed by her lack of response. “But to who? The military? The other gangs? Are they supposed to think this territory is more important than it really is? Perhaps you’re trying to draw attention away from something else. Or maybe, you just wanted to get some fresh air, slit a few throats. Hmm?”

She took a step back, trying desperately to visualise a safe place. Blinking more than a few metres was risky, but being around him was even riskier.

“I have a theory. Your partner, or boss, or minion, or whatever. The Celestial. They’re not just clever, though that’s clearly what they want everyone to think. No, they have access to information they shouldn’t be able to have. They control half this city with a gang of maybe five dozen. They’re consistently one step ahead of the military, usually more. Now, other than me, I can think of two other people clever enough to be able to get that information without anyone knowing, and my dear sister is clearly working to her own agenda here. Which means somehow, you’ve found Haylie before me.”

Adrenaline flooded her system. He couldn’t suspect that, couldn’t know. If he found them, and he would find them, it was all over. Even together, they didn’t stand a chance against him, not directly.

She watched his eyes scan her, taking in every minute shift in her body language, every micro expression. She’d already given too much away.

It was too late to try and bluff. He’d see through that anyway. The only option she had was to divert his attention. She needed to offer him something more attractive than Haylie.

She contemplated ways to turn that to her advantage. Despite assurances to the contrary, she was completely convinced Charlie needed to be stopped. They couldn’t do it, but maybe Gabriel could.

For the first time in a very long time, a smile appeared on her face. Gabriel frowned, not expecting her sudden change.

She began to vanish, her body beginning to break apart. He moved almost too quickly to be seen, closing the distance between them, his hand gripping her wrist, anchoring her in place. She let fear creep into her eyes, which wasn’t hard. Part of her was terrified of just how fast he was, and how strong, even if it was exactly what she’d planned on happening.

“If you know where she is, and you’re keeping her from me,” he began, his voice a whispered threat, “believe me when I tell you there is no force on this earth that can protect you from me.”

She dropped her knife, using her free hand to reach into a pocket, and pull out a phone. He watched, curiously, as she navigated through photos, until she pulled up one in particular, and showed it to him.

He dropped her arm, staring at the photo. A vicious snarl escaped his lips.

“Impossible,” he said in a low, guttural voice.

Without saying another word, he disappeared into the darkness, moving like an animal. She reached down, picked up her knife, and vanished in a wisp of black smoke.

Character Visual Reference Guide

In case you were wondering what some of the main characters look like! (Or want to do fan art… hint hint)

Sabrina Labelle

Age: 17

Height: 5’8″ (172cm)

Ethnicity: Mixed (European + Mauritian)

Body type: Chubby

Hair: Medium length, curly, dark brown

Rachel Fierro

Age: 18

Height: 5’4″ (162cm)

Ethnicity: Spanish

Body type: Athletic

Hair: Long, wavy, black

Charlie Farrow

Age: 18

Height: 5’5″ (165cm)

Ethnicity: European

Body type: Athletic + chubby

Hair: Short, straight, brown

Zoe/Specimen ‘Z’

Age: ??? (looks mid-20s)

Height: 6’2″ (187cm)

Ethnicity: European

Body type: Slender

Hair: Short, straight, blonde

Gabriel/Specimen ‘G’

Age: ??? (looks mid-20s)

Height: 6’2″ (187cm)

Ethnicity: European

Body type: Slender

Hair: Short, straight, brown

Ami

Age: ??? (looks maybe 18)

Height: 5’3″ (160cm)

Ethnicity: Asian

Body type: Slender

Hair: Medium-length, straight, black

Bonus – A Conversation In An Alley

From the files of "The Celestial", recorded 27 hours after "Impact Day":

???: Gabriel. You know you can’t be out here.

‘Gabriel’: Trust me, I’d rather not be. But I need to find her.

???: Why, because she’s dangerous? You’re just as much of a danger right now, and you know it.

G: I’m avoiding civilians.

???: It will still spread.

G: Ami, I can’t let her slip away again. We finally had her.

‘Ami’: You need to let it go. We can find your sister after we’ve figured out where Haylie and-

G: No. I will find her. I have to.

A: Alone?

G: If need be.

A: And you’re willing to doom a whole new city to the affliction to do it?

G: What choice do I have?

A: Work with me. Help me find the others. Help me figure out where we are, and how to get home. Then we can find Zoe again.

G: I can’t. I’m sorry.

A: You two really are as bad as each other.

G: You know what she’s capable of, Ami.

A: Yeah, and I know what you’re capable of. What about Alice? Don’t you want to get back to her?

G: Ami, don’t.

A: Fine. Enjoy your rampage. Infect an entire city. I’m going to find Haylie. I hope you and Zoe rot together.

Celestial's notes:

Find Haylie. The others are too dangerous to engage right now. Haylie could change everything.

Chapter 3 – You Smell Like Her

Despite it being the middle of the night, I could see as well as if it were the brightest part of the day. I was still wearing my school uniform, but the small amounts of skin that were exposed were telling me the air was chilly. Somehow, I didn’t feel the cold. I just new that it was cold.

I began to wander, trying to figure out where I was. It was definitely somewhere near the city centre, but just far enough out to not be considered part of the CBD. Everything was eerily quiet, as if the entire suburb had been abandoned.

I walked slowly, enjoying the cool air I was sucking into my lungs. I could feel my body begin to relax, and as it did, the cold began to seep in. I shivered, rubbing my arms and shrugging my shoulders upwards. The world seemed to get darker.

“Some superhuman,” I muttered. “Can’t even handle a little bit of chill.”

Further ahead, I could just make out a light. Whatever it was, it was moving, and kind of wobbling around a little. It almost looked like someone carrying a torch.

Forgetting momentarily how dangerous it was to be out at night alone, I began to walk towards the light. At the same time, the light seemed to change direction, heading towards me.

As it got closer, I realised it was a small group, about seven or eight people. They got closer still, and I could tell they were all wearing army fatigues. Even closer, and I gathered they were all men. Finally, they were close enough for me to tell they were all armed, and staring intently at me.

“Hey, you there!” one of them barked, pointing a silver rifle at me.

“Huh?” I said, taken by surprise. What were they aiming at me for?

The soldiers advanced on me, more than one of them keeping their weapons pointed in my general direction. Before long, they’d surrounded me.

“What are you doing outside after curfew?” one of them demanded, the same one who had spoken before.

“What curfew?” I asked, turning slowly so I could take them all in. There seemed to be genuine tension on their faces. What were they so afraid of?

“Nice try,” the soldier who I was now assuming was the leader scoffed. “What are you doing outside?”

“Going for a walk,” I said, more irritated than concerned. That surprised me. “Seriously, since when do we have a curfew?”

The lead soldier frowned, as if weighing up whether to take me at face value or not.

“It’s been over a month now,” he said.

“Over a-”

I shook my head, refusing to believe it. Over a month? How long was I out for?

“I’m going to ask one more time, the lead soldier said, his tone severe. “What are you doing out after curfew?”

Weird as the situation was, I realised I didn’t have any reason not to be honest.

“I’m just trying to go home,” I told him.

The soldier sighed, and lowered his weapon. The others did not follow his lead.

“We’re going to need to test you,” he said.

For a second, I wondered if maybe I hadn’t heard him right. Then I wondered what strange dystopian hell I had wondered into.

“Test me? For what?”

“For infection,” he practically barked. “What do you think?”

“What infection?” I demanded. “What the hell is going on here?”

The soldier sighed again, his gun completely forgotten, hanging at his side.

“Look, it’s just a little prick on the finger, and a twenty second wait. If you’re clean, we can escort you home safely.”

Something about the way he said that bothered me.

“Safely?”

Another soldier stepped forward. Another rugged Caucasian man with short dark hair. I could scarcely tell them apart.

“Hold out your finger please, sir.”

That last word felt like a slap in the face. Not to mention, a complete surprise. I’d seen my reflection. I didn’t look the least bit masculine.

“Sir- fine, here,” I said, thrusting my finger towards him.

There was a slight prick as the needle broke the skin, not even painful. I was too busy noticing that my nails had lost that silver sheen I’d noticed just minutes earlier, and my skin looked like it’s usual darker shade.

“Alright, we’ll have the results shortly,” the second soldier said.

“So are you going to tell me what’s going on here?” I asked, practically growling.

“Do you really not know?” the lead soldier asked, shooting an unreadable look at the second soldier.

“Do you think I’m playing clueless for the fun of it?” I shot back, surprising myself with my own gall. That definitely wasn’t like me.

“After the alien impact-” he began, but I cut him off.

“The what?”

“Where have you been?” he asked, incredulous.

“That’s what I’m trying to figure out,” I told him.

The second soldier tensed up, and raised his rifle, pointing it directly at me. The other soldiers followed suit.

“Uh, we have a problem,” he said.

“Infected?” the lead soldier asked, raising his own gun.

“Not exactly,” the second soldier said, holding the little testing device he was holding towards the leader. “Here, take a look.”

“Uh, what’s going on?” I asked, again surprising myself with the amount of attitude I was able to muster, especially with several guns trained on me.

“Fuck,” the lead soldier muttered. “He’s one of them.”

“One of what?” I demanded, but they were already ignoring me.

“Do we engage?” the second soldier asked, and I detected a genuine note of panic in his voice. Was he afraid of me?

“Call for backup,” the lead soldier said. “Now.” Then he turned his focus onto me. “Sir, you’re going to need to come with us.”

Please stop calling me sir,” I said through gritted teeth.

“Don’t make this harder than it needs to be,” he said, his grip tightening on the trigger of his rifle.

“I don’t even know what’s going on,” I said, rolling my eyes. I still wasn’t scared. Why wasn’t I scared? “Where are you taking me?”

“Somewhere safe,” he said, his voice icy.

“Safe from what?” I demanded.

“Safe from you,” he replied, and for a second I honestly thought he was joking. Did he really just say that?

“What?”

“Drop the act,” he said. “We know what you are.”

“Well, I don’t,” I said, a little petulantly.

“This is your last chance,” he said, and I could hear the fear in his voice. “Surrender now, or we’ll be forced to treat you as hostile.”

From the darkness, another voice emerged.

“You really don’t need to listen to them,” it said, as the owner stepped into the light.

He was tall, somewhere between slender and athletic, with intense amber eyes, a perfectly lopsided smirk and short, dark hair. He seemed to be European, but in the relative darkness it was difficult to tell.

A shirt that was somehow simultaneously loose fighting and perfectly tight hung off his shoulders, and his hands rested casually in his trouser pockets. Despite the casual pose, he was emanating danger.

“Shit, another one,” the lead soldier said, training his weapon on the newcomer, whose eyes were focussed firmly on mine. I could feel my cheeks turning a little red.

“Wh-who are you?” I asked, thankful to have lost the attention of the soldiers, at least a little. The fact that I had traded it for the attention of an incredibly attractive man didn’t hurt either.

“Gabriel,” he said, all but ignoring the soldiers. He sniffed the air, somehow managing to pull it off without seeming like a complete weirdo. “And you, I believe, are acquainted with my sister. You smell like her.”

“Sister?” I asked, then realised what he was talking about. “Zoe?”

Like her, he had a strong British accent, elegant and almost theatrical. Somehow, I found that to be a little unnerving.

“That’s the one,” he said. “I’ve been looking for her.”

The weight of that revelation hit me immediately. If he was her brother, that meant he was like her. A genetic experiment. A supersoldier.

A weapon.

“Both of you, surrender now,” the lead soldier said, clearly on the verge of panic. I realised he must have known what Gabriel was, at least partially. “We have backup on the way.”

“That’s nice,” he said, barely even glancing at the soldier before focussing back on me. “Anyway, I don’t believe I caught your name.”

“S-Sabrina,” I said, unable to keep myself from blushing.

“A lovely name. Now, Sabrina, I don’t suppose I could convince you to tell me where my sister is?”

I opened my mouth to respond, but before any words could come out, I was cut off.

“Open fire,” the lead soldier said.

“Oh, for-” Gabriel began, but the sound of gunfire drowned him out immediately..

I felt dozens, maybe hundreds of bullets tear through me. At the exact same moment, I felt a surge of energy race down my spine, down my arms and legs, all the way to my fingers and toes. The world seemed to slow down, to grow brighter, more clear.

I threw my hands up in a vain attempt to protect myself from the hail of bullets, and noticed that my skin had grown paler again, and my nails were silver. I felt the bullets slice through me, but it wasn’t pain I felt so much as irritation.

“Ow!” I said, more from habit than any actual sensation of pain.

“Gentlemen, I really don’t want to kill you,” Gabriel said, and without so much as raising his voice, I knew they all heard him. “Please, stop.”

A rush of anger flared in the back of my mind.

“Kill them? They’re just doing their jobs,” I snapped, not even knowing if it was true.

“Do you have a better way to stop them from shooting at us?” he asked, flinching against the rain of bullets as though it was little more than actual water.

“As a matter of fact, I do,” I said, as an idea burst forth.

Acting entirely on instinct, I rushed at the lead soldier. His movements were so slow, it was like he wasn’t reacting at all. I grabbed the gun and effortlessly tore it from his hands. The flimsy plastic and metal were easy to crumple, and I tossed it aside, my feet already carrying me to the next soldier.

Within seconds, the soldiers were all disarmed, and backing away, looking more than a little terrified. Adrenaline surged through my body.

“I suppose you could do it that way,” Gabriel said dismissively, the lopsided smirk returning to his face.

“You were really going to just… kill them?” I asked, shocked.

“I was considering it,” he said, shrugging.

“Why, because you can?”

“The simplest solutions are often the best,” he said.

I literally snarled at him.

“Killing people is not a solution.”

He blinked, a look of surprise crossing his face momentarily.

“You’re right. I suppose I’m too used to my own world. Thank you.”

He smiled graciously, and I found myself caught off guard. Already, I was doubting that I’d even had a reason to be angry at him.

“Where are you from, anyway?” I asked, my curiosity getting the better of me.

“I haven’t quite worked that out yet,” he said, sounding a little disappointed.

“You haven’t worked out where you’re from?” I asked, surprised.

“I haven’t worked out where, or what, home is in relation to here,” he said.

We both turned at the exact same moment, as we heard the lead soldier whisper, “Backup’s here.”

“And that’s my cue,” Gabriel said, bowing with an exaggerated flourish. “Take care, Sabrina.”

He took off just as a fresh batch of soldiers, more than two dozen of them, poured out of a pair of trucks, opening fire. With Gabriel gone in a matter of seconds, all of that gunfire was directed at me.

“Argh, leave me alone!” I shouted, taking off in another direction.