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Part 1 – Deus Et Machina

London, 2173 – 312 Years Before Impact Day

Charles Mason stood outside, waiting for someone to let him in. While he waited, he admired the architecture of the place, hands in his pockets, wandering aimlessly. It was definitely the sort of place he could picture himself working, if his application was accepted.

And why shouldn’t they accept him? His work was years ahead of anyone else in the field, promising to change the world forever. Who would reject a man who could single-handedly save the human race?

As his route took him back by the front door, there was a soft chime, and they slid open. He noticed the thickness of the door, deceptively heavy-duty, and approved. Security was important, and he appreciated the combination of aesthetic and function.

A man walked out through the door, slightly older than he was, with a sort of gentle handsomeness and inquisitive brown eyes. Mason smiled automatically at the man he recognised from photos, James Buttersworth, owner of the facility.

“You must be Charles,” James greeted him warmly, offering his hand. Mason took it, feeling a slight tingle as their palms touched.

“I hope I’m not too early,” Mason replied, the reflexive smile still on his face.

“Not at all. I’ve been looking forward to showing you around.”

Good sign. They were taking him seriously, genuinely interested in supporting his research.

James stepped aside, allowing Mason to enter the facility. The two of them walked together, at a casual pace, as James talked about the features of the facility, and the laboratories contained within. The deeper they got, the more excited Mason became. As far as he was concerned, the place was perfect.

Security far above anything he’d seen anywhere else. Access to resources he’d never imagined possible. Complete privacy and secrecy. State of the art technology. It was almost too good to be true.

“This is the empty lab,” James said, once they’d looped all the way around, and arrived near the entrance again. “Does it look big enough?”

“Plenty,” Mason replied, without a moment’s hesitation.

“It’s yours, then,” James said.

“Just like that?”

“Well, there’s paperwork to fill out, of course. But if you want to work here, you’ll find our doors open.”

“Why?” Mason asked. “You haven’t even asked about my work.”

“I’ve been paying close attention to it,” James replied. “It seems the perfect complement to my own. To be honest, I never expected to find anyone interested in the same work as me, let alone with the level of innovation and genius you’ve been applying. It’s not just interesting, it’s exhilarating.”

“That’s… beyond flattering,” Mason said, astonished. Buttersworth was an idol, an inspiration. The opportunity to work in proximity to him had felt like a dream come true. For Buttersworth to take an interest in his work, to praise it so highly…

“To be perfectly frank, I was planning on demanding to see the prototype before making the offer, but… Well, I think it would be a mistake to risk letting you walk way.”

Buttersworth smiled at him, a staggeringly sincere smile that caused a flutter in Mason’s heart.

“I… I would love to show you what I have, of course,” he said. “I would be honoured if you would give me an honest appraisal.”

“And I absolutely will,” Buttersworth said. “Just know that it isn’t a condition of entry. Now, let’s get the logistics sorted, shall we? Let me introduce you to the lifeblood of this facility.”

Mason just nodded, still overwhelmed. Buttersworth tapped his watch, and a few moments later, the elevators opened. A young woman stepped out, fair-skinned with long auburn hair and intense yellow eyes. She walked over to them, and Mason couldn’t help but to notice a weight to her motion that seemed strange, almost… inhuman.

“This is Haylie,” Buttersworth said, introducing her. “She’s the logistical supervisor of the facility, and… I suppose a kind of communal assistant? There’s very little she can’t do.”

“A pleasure to meet you,” she said, extending a hand to Mason. He shook it, surprised by the weight and strength of her grip. She had a pleasant, American accent. “I’ll help you get set up.”

“I’ll leave the two of you to it for now,” Buttersworth said. “But Mason… Uh, Charles, would you like to get dinner tonight? I feel as though we have a lot to talk about.”

“I’d love that,” Mason said. “Thank you, uh…”

“Call me James,” he said, repeating the same sincere smile. The effect wasn’t diminished the second time.

* * *

It took almost no time for Mason’s lab to be set up. Haylie moved astonishingly quickly, having everything ready to go within days. Almost immediately, he fell into his work, overjoyed to have the opportunity to do so. Everything felt perfect, in a way he hadn’t ever expected to feel.

Buttersworth… James, rather, was tremendously helpful. He came in practically daily, poring over Mason’s notes, offering feedback and opinions, and generally making small talk. They ate together once or twice a week, and before long, Mason really started feeling at home.

Haylie proved to be incredible, too. She was always around, and always available. Mason suspected she didn’t actually sleep.

Despite her introduction as an assistant, it was obvious she was brilliant. She knew everything he needed her to, confirming formulas, concepts and past studies faster than he could have looked them up. Why she wasn’t a researcher herself was beyond him.

He discovered why one night, after several months of work. He’d stayed back late, as was common for him. Haylie stayed with him, assisting as she often did. They didn’t talk much, but that seemed preferable for both of them.

All of a sudden, she looked up at him, a concerned look on her face.

“There’s been an intrusion,” she said.

“What? Where?” he demanded, looking around the lab.

“Front entrance. They seem to be headed this way.”

“How many?” he asked. “Is security on their way?”

“Just one,” Haylie said. “I’ve called security, but they won’t be here in time. This intruder is—”

At that moment, the entrance to the lab was blown open in a powerful but controlled explosion. Mason whirled, wishing he carried some form of weapon.

“Get behind me,” Haylie instructed.

“Are you mad?”

“This is part of my responsibilities,” she insisted, stepping in front of him.

A person emerged from the smoke of the explosion. Mason was surprised to see they looked young, with thin limbs and gentle, emerald eyes, dark skin and light hair in an asymmetrical cut.

“Who are you?” he demanded, but the intruder ignored him.

“It’s you,” they said, staring at Haylie. “I can feel it.”

“Security’s been called,” Mason said, irritated and slightly scared.

“Don’t care,” the intruder said. “I’ll be quick.”

“Stand back,” Haylie instructed, and Mason obeyed without thinking. “You’re not from DARPA,” she said, addressing the intruder.

“DARPA? No, of course not,” they said.

“Who are you, then? What do you want with me?”

The intruder shook their head.

“Not me. I’m not the one who wants you.”

“Then who?”

“The other me,” the intruder said. “My reflection. Glory.”

“I don’t understand,” Haylie said.

“Me either,” the intruder said. “But I need to do this.”

With that, they launched themselves at Haylie, moving faster than any human should have been able to move, with a grace that terrified Mason. From somewhere, they pulled out a weapon, a shimmering dagger, and drove it into Haylie’s chest!

Mason screamed, but Haylie didn’t even react. She just stood there, staring down at her chest. Then, carefully, she grabbed the intruder’s wrists, and effortlessly twisted them around, pinning them to the floor. As she turned, Mason saw her chest, dagger sticking out of it, no blood to be seen.

“What…?”

“Security is nearly here,” she said, seemingly unfazed by the wound in her chest. “Mason, I… Can I ask for your help?”

“Of course,” he said, his whole body shaking.

“I need you to lie,” she said.

 

Next Week: Nothing, From Nowhere

Epilogue

Glory waited for a host. As good as it felt to be free of XO, they still needed a body. Here, in this world, they had no power. It wasn’t their world. They needed to be careful. Needed to take things slowly. After all, they’d never left their own world before.

Any host would do. All they needed was a conduit, a puppet they could use to collect enough power to stand on their own. A puppet they could discard once they were strong enough.

It would be a long journey, but they’d always been patient. Well, no, they hadn’t. They struggled with patience. That was why they were here.

It didn’t take long for a host to show up. The clumsy girl stepped on the shard of mirror, and just like that, Glory was inside her.

She’s perfect. Better than perfect.

The girl was filled with the desire to be different. She longed for a different face, a different form. She wanted to change. She wanted what others had. Immediately, Glory crafted the face the girl wanted. They knew how to tap into that need, how to guide this girl to gather what they needed.

In seconds, they comfortably filled the body of the girl. They didn’t have the power to control her, not yet. That was okay. They didn’t need that yet.

The girl approached a woman, run through by a metal bar. The woman was beautiful, powerful, and to Glory, familiar. The girl wanted that beauty, that femininity. Glory wanted that power. As the girl stared, Glory reached out, touched the woman. Took what they needed. Not much. Just enough to fill the girl with power. To change her, like she wanted.

It was over a month before Glory had the strength to do anything again. Before then, they just waited, and watched. The girl was unconscious for most of it, which gave Glory the chance to sift through her unconscious mind. Once she finally woke up, Glory prepared.

Finally, they were strong enough to reach out, just a little.

The girl looked into a window. There was just enough of a reflection to project onto.

“Awfully clichéd, isn’t it?” Glory said. No, not Glory. Envy now. Envy was the face they would wear, until Sabrina had served her purpose.

Until Sabrina could be cast aside.

 

And that’s it for Volume 2! Thanks for reading this far. I wasn’t sure if this format would work, setting an entire volume before the events of the first. I’m still not sure, honestly! But it was important to me that the volumes each have a different feel, and focus on very different events. Besides, it’s fun to mess with the idea of linear storytelling. After all, Impact Day isn’t a linear story. Anyway! As always, if you want to support the work I do here, you can jump on over to patreon and give me a dollar or more monthly. It means a lot. Also, you can buy the eBook of this volume, which features not one but two bonus chapters that didn’t get published online. 

Next Week: We’re jumping into another mini-volume, just like Roxie! This one is called Glory, and I think you’re going to love it a lot.

Chapter 60 – Impact Day

Liz, Impact Day

Charlie’s scream pierced my ears, resonated with every surface I could see. It wasn’t a human scream, but then, Charlie clearly wasn’t human. I didn’t know what she was. A demon, maybe? Something unholy.

I held Aidan, his head resting on my lap, groaning in pain. I tried to say something soothing, but the burning sensation around my throat hadn’t passed. No sound came out.

All I could do was watch as Charlie dropped to her knees, the inhuman scream pouring out of her like a fountain of blood, so forceful I could almost see it. The air around her shimmered as her body vibrated, more and more violently.

On the other side of the room, I saw Rachel, barely able to move. I couldn’t bring myself to feel bad, after what she’d done to us. She had a look of horror on her face, mixed in with the pain she was feeling.

Regretting it now?

Charlie’s bones broke, over and over, repairing themselves before breaking again, and she kept screaming. She fell to her hands, blood dripping from every pore. The screaming was intensifying, like it was bouncing off itself, creating a violent echo that threatened to rip the room apart.

I could still see the shape of the demon around her, but it was vague, translucent. Was it weaker? Was it in pain, too? Was it different to her?

I was shaking, too. Not just from the pain, or the shock. Charlie’s screaming was reaching deep into my core, twisting me until I couldn’t feel anything else.

What is happening?

The walls of the house cracked more, bursting apart in to fragments and splinters, flying away from us. The pool of blood around Charlie was bubbling, almost like it was boiling. Her bones continued to break, and the air around her grew more and more distorted.

I felt sick to my stomach. I couldn’t shake the sensation that something was wrong, that something didn’t belong.

As Charlie fell apart, I saw her look up, fixated on a spot right in front of her. I blinked, and there was a girl there, a child with lilac hair.

“What—” Charlie began, but her mouth was full of blood.

“I was beginning to worry you wouldn’t do anything with my email,” the child said. “I went through a lot of trouble to set this up, you know.”

“Who are you?” Charlie managed to choke out.

“Nobody~” the child said, in a sing-song voice.

“What’s… happening…?”

“Oh, this? Let’s call it an allergic reaction,” the girl said. “See, Wendy’s blood came from a different Shaper. They’re not supposed to mix, you know. Your body is rejecting it.”

“You… wanted this…?”

“Just one more step,” she said, shrugging. “We’re a long way from the end, yet. No, what I wanted was…” She glanced up at the sky. It looked as though the air above us was tearing apart, like God Himself had decided to rip open the sky. Through it, I could see a glittering night sky, so very different to our own. “There we go.”

As I watched, a futuristic looking plane emerged through the rift, spinning out of control, flames and smoke billowing from the side. I shuddered as it collided with somewhere far from here, causing a booming explosion.

“Finally,” the girl said.

“What…?”

“You broke the rules, Charlie. You’ve let something into this world that shouldn’t be here. Something very, very dangerous.” She rocked back on her heels, looking pleased with herself. “Well, you’ll forget we talked, but remember this. Get rid of them. Send them home. Stop at nothing. And trust the Destroyer. They only want to protect you.”

The entire world shuddered beneath us. The girl didn’t seem to notice.

“Hmm. I should go make sure Sabrina is where she needs to be.”

The girl was gone. She didn’t disappear, she just stopped being where she was. Charlie’s arms gave out, and she collapsed to the floor.

The screaming stopped.

The rift closed.

Charlie pulled herself up, slowly. The blood around her began to evaporate, and by the time she’d stood up, she looked entirely unharmed, save for the wild look in her eye.

Something about her was different. Actually, plenty about her was different. She was thinner, her skin looked softer. Her eyes were lighter, a blueish green now. Her nails seemed perfectly filed. She stretched out, then glanced around the room. Her eyes passed over me, and fixated on Rachel.

She rushed to Rachel’s side, moving inhumanly fast. As fast as we’d been able to move with Wendy’s blood in us, at least. She picked Rachel up like she weighed nothing.

“Rachel?”

“I’m okay, Charlie,” Rachel said, her voice weak. “I’m more worried about you.”

“I feel fine,” Charlie said, and she sounded it.

“What happened?” Rachel asked.

“A painful transition, I guess,” Charlie said. “Looks like I did some damage, here.”

“Looks like it,” Rachel agreed. “What are we gonna do about them?”

Charlie turned to look at us, and any kindness fell off her face.

“After what they did to you?” she asked. “I’ll kill them.”

I tried to speak up, to protest, but no words came out of my mouth. Aidan pushed away from me, tried to stand, but his legs didn’t move, and he fell over.

“Haven’t you done enough?” he asked, nearly spitting at her. “We sacrificed everything to save you, and you… All you did was use us.”

“I needed Wendy’s power,” Charlie said, as if that justified it. “She wasn’t doing anything to keep this city safe. This world safe. I’ve been fighting, every day. Now I can make a difference.”

“All of this, just to be a superhero?” Aidan asked, incredulous. “Immortality wasn’t enough?”

“You saw how little I was doing,” Charlie said. “And now, nothing can stop me.”

“I can,” he said, then glanced back at me. “We can. And we will.”

I nodded my agreement.

“You? What can you do?” Charlie asked. She sounded like a comic book villain. How ironic.

“You’ll see,” he said.

“I won’t,” Charlie replied.

“Liz, I need you to do something,” Aidan said, a quiet note of urgency in his voice. “Focus on somewhere down the street. Not too far. Hold on to me, and focus.”

Charlie loomed ever closer, not in any kind of rush, and more intimidating for it. I couldn’t see any way out, any way to survive. We didn’t stand a chance against her, not with the power she had now. Even still, I gripped Aidan hard, trusted him, and focused.

The world around us changed.

We were somewhere different.

“Again,” Aidan said, and I realised we’d moved to where I was thinking about. I did it again.

We moved again.

“Keep going, until she can’t find us,” Aidan said. I kept moving us, kept teleporting, until I was certain Charlie couldn’t find us.

I still couldn’t speak, but there was a pad of paper on a desk. We were in someone’s house, their office. I didn’t know who. It didn’t matter. I grabbed the paper, found a pen, wrote on it.

What happened? I wrote.

“Whatever happened back there changed us,” Aidan said. “I don’t know how. But you can teleport, now.”

How did you know? I wrote.

“I saw it,” he said. “I… I think I can see the future? No, possible futures. It’s… hazy. Hurts my head. But I saw you do it.”

You can’t walk, I wrote.

“And you can’t speak,” he said. “Seems like we’re being punished, by whatever that thing was. But Liz, we’re still us. We had something taken, gained something else, but we’re still us. And we need to stop her. You understand that, right?”

How? I wrote.

“We use my network. Between the Stars, and my new powers, I can build an army to stop her. And you, you’re an assassin who can get in anywhere.”

I don’t want to kill, I wrote, then underlined it.

“Liz, you know what Charlie is like. You know what she can do, now. I don’t want more innocent deaths, but we can’t let anything stop us. We can’t stop at anything.”

I understand, I wrote, but I didn’t believe it.

“Wait,” he said, holding a hand to his head. “I see something… There’s a way,” he told me. “A weapon that we can use, from the breach.”

What is it?

“Her name is Haylie,” he said.

 

And that’s it for Volume 2! Thanks for reading this far. I wasn’t sure if this format would work, setting an entire volume before the events of the first. I’m still not sure, honestly! But it was important to me that the volumes each have a different feel, and focus on very different events. Besides, it’s fun to mess with the idea of linear storytelling. After all, Impact Day isn’t a linear story. Anyway! As always, if you want to support the work I do here, you can jump on over to patreon and give me a dollar or more monthly. It means a lot. Also, you’ll soon be able to buy the eBook of this volume, which features not one but two bonus chapters that didn’t get published online. 

Next Week: We’re jumping into another mini-volume, just like Roxie! This one is called Glory, and I think you’re going to love it a lot. (Also, there will be an epilogue later this week!)

Bonus – Inviolable

Charlie, Impact Day

I didn’t know where I was. Nothing around me felt real. It wasn’t darkness, it was just… nothing. Void. Absence.

My bedroom? Similar, but wrong. Not quite what I remembered. Or rather, perfectly what I remembered. Not the reality. A fake.

“Charlie,” a voice whispered. I turned.

It was standing there, dark and hulking, insubstantial but very present. Destructive energy radiated from it, hot and cold and vibrant.

“What the… Where am I?” I asked.

“Inside,” it said. Great. That doesn’t answer anything.

“And you are…?”

“The Destroyer,” it told me.

“That’s some title,” I said, looking around. It was the only real thing here.

The creature seemed amused. It moved closer, without any physical motion. It was simply closer.

“You’re not as intimidated by me as I’d have expected,” it said.

“I get that a lot. I guess I forgot how to be intimidated this past year.”

“Perhaps you don’t understand what I am,” it said.

“I know you’re a part of me,” I said, taking myself by surprise. I did know that, but how?

“No, Charlie,” it said. “You are me. Just another in a long line.”

I tried to wrap my head around that. I couldn’t quite manage it. Rachel would have understood it, but Rachel wasn’t here. Nobody was here, except me.

“You’re the reason I’m immortal,” I said, again without realising I was going to speak.

“You’re not immortal,” it said, trying to correct me. Then, it corrected itself. “Or, you weren’t. What you were was inviolable. You would have died of old age.”

Inviolable. I liked that.

“What changed?” I asked. “Wendy’s blood?”

“It’s what was in that blood,” it told me. “You should never have brought that here.”

By here, I instinctively knew it was referring to the void we both occupied. It meant I should never have brought it inside myself.

I looked down. There was a shard of broken glass on the… well, it wasn’t ground. But it was what I was standing on. And the shard, it wasn’t glass. It was a mirror.

“What am I looking at, here?” I asked, not particularly concerned.

“Heresy,” it said, in a tone that sent a chill down my spine.

“Cool,” I said, though I didn’t feel it.

“Charlie, you’ve ruined everything,” it said, and for the first time, it sounded desperate.

“What, afraid of your own reflection?” I joked.

“You’ve broken the cycle,” it said, in a mixture of anger and pain. “You’ve corrupted us. You’ve brought the impossible into our world. Charlie, you—”

“Don’t care,” I interrupted. And in that moment, in that tiny, insignificant moment, it was true.

“What?”

“Do you know what the world out there is like?” I asked.

“Intimately,” it replied.

“So you know why I need this power,” I said. “It’s the only way to make a difference.”

“You really believe that… I knew there was something about you. I knew I shouldn’t have chosen you. I thought…”

The creature, whatever it was, shuddered, blinking in and out of sight. When I couldn’t see it, I felt unsettled.

“You know what, how about you start answering some of my questions,” I said. “Who are you? What are you?”

It didn’t answer. It just disappeared, leaving me alone, in an empty space, save for a shard of mirror.

I looked down at the mirror.

I didn’t see my own face reflected. I saw another face, an unfamiliar face. A face I couldn’t begin to describe, because it fitted every description, and none. It wasn’t changing, but it wasn’t static, either.

It grinned.

 

Next Week: Impact Day

Chapter 59 – She Deserves This

Liz, Impact Day

Aidan and I arrived back at Wendy’s cafe, but she was nowhere to be seen. There was a piece of paper sitting on a table, with two seats arranged as though people had been sitting in them only recently. Next to the paper was a small case.

Aidan approached the table, opening the case first. He held up a syringe, and shrugged. I walked over, and picked up the note.

Liz, Aidan,

I broke the rules. The price has to be paid.

I’m gone now.

Rachel is clever, but she underestimated me. I should have realised sooner, though.

Still, it’s not too late to stop them, and believe me, you need to stop them.

Go to Rachel’s cabin. Take the syringe. It will nullify the blood of mine in her system.

Go quickly.

-Wendy

We read the note a few times, and Aidan looked at the syringe again.

“She tricked us,” he said, carefully, feeling out the words.

“They both tricked us,” I said. “Right from the beginning. This was a game to them, and we played right into their hands.”

“I loved her,” Aidan said, sounding stunned.

“We both did,” I said.

“We have to stop her,” he said.

I didn’t say anything. I took a moment to be quiet, to let the knowledge sink in. Charlie hadn’t included us because she needed our help. She was building our attachment, so that when she let herself get captured, Rachel could manipulate us into going after her. Because Wendy saw right through Rachel, but Aidan and I, we were genuine.

We weren’t her friends. We weren’t even people to her. We were tools. Tools that she’d used. And why? For power?

“She’s not the person we thought she was,” I said, slowly, deliberately.

“She’s a monster,” Aidan said.

“They both are.”

“Maybe it was all Rachel,” I said, hopeful but not convinced.

“There’s only one way to find out,” he said.

“Let’s go, then.”

Aidan seemed fired up, but I just felt numb. I could barely believe any of it was happening. The one thread, the one thing that had been keeping everything together through my crumbling grip on reality was Charlie, and the hope that I could save her. Now…

We’d fought, but I’d never stopped loving her. I’d never stopped needing her. I would have done anything for her, and I had. I’d gone along with her reckless scheme because I was so caught up in my feelings for her that I…

The two of us ran. It was the fastest way to get there. We didn’t worry about people seeing us. We didn’t worry about anything, except getting there before Charlie and Rachel could finish whatever little plan they’d put together.

It all ended that night. That’s what I genuinely believed.

* * *

I kicked open the door, Aidan close behind me. Charlie’s head whipped around, taken by surprise at our entrance. Good.

“How—” she began, but we didn’t give her a chance to say anything more. We moved, and we moved fast.

Aidan went for Rachel, determined to neutralise the threat before she could retaliate. She was dangerous, but there were two of us.

I went for Charlie, hurling her across the room, away from Rachel. She cried out, but I picked her up, pinning her against the wall.

“Use it!” I yelled at Aidan.

“No!” Charlie screamed.

Rachel didn’t put up a fight as Aidan pinned her down. She seemed languid, almost weak…

It wasn’t until Aidan had stuck the syringe into her that I realised what had happened.

“You took it from her, somehow,” I accused Charlie. She just snarled at me, struggling to get to Rachel.

Rachel began to convulse, twitching and shaking beneath Aidan. Unsure of what to do, he held her still, trying to make sure she didn’t hurt herself. It seemed like the serum was doing a good enough job of that on its own.

It was supposed to counteract the effect of Wendy’s blood. We had no idea what it would do to somebody whose blood no longer contained that, but it didn’t seem to be good. Rachel started screaming in pain. Charlie fought harder. She wasn’t strong, though. She hadn’t taken it yet?

“Fuck,” Aidan said, looking desperately down at Rachel.

“She deserves it,” I said, trying to battle my own guilt. We’d acted rashly, and even if Rachel had played us, she didn’t deserve this. Nobody did.

“Fuck you,” Charlie spat, kicking me in the stomach. I barely felt it.

I noticed her left hand had been clenched the entire time. Was she holding it, somehow?

I pried her hand open, but there was nothing there. An empty hand? Why? I glanced up at her face, and she grinned. It was an awful, cruel expression.

Before I could stop her, she shoved her other hand over her mouth, and I caught a glimpse of a red crystal between her teeth. I tried to grab it from her mouth, but it was already gone.

“Aidan!” I cried, as Charlie’s grin faded, replaced with a look of increasing shock.

Her eyes darkened, turning almost black. Her veins bulged, also darker. That hadn’t happened to either of us. Something different was happening to her. Was it because she took it second-hand? Because she swallowed it?

Because she was different?

Her skin began to blister and break, blood seeping out, covering her. I pulled my hands away from her, and she dropped to the floor.

“What the fuck,” I muttered, as the blood began to peel away from her, floating in little flecks around her, picking up speed, creating the shape of someone, something much bigger.

She moved, and the shape moved with her. It was getting thicker, blocking out the person underneath. Before long, it was all we could see.

The creature, whatever it was, looked around the room, and saw Aidan, still hunched over Rachel, trying to control her seizure. It bellowed, a terrifying sound that turned my legs to jelly.

The creature moved fast, faster than even Aidan or I could. With a single hand, it grabbed Aidan around the waist, and hurled him off of Rachel. He hit the wall and crumpled, collapsing harder than he should have with Wendy’s blood in him.

He didn’t get up.

I tried to run to his aid, but the creature intercepted, grabbing me around the throat, slamming me against the wall. I tried to fight back, but all of the strength had left me. Is that what happened to Aidan?

“WHAT DID YOU DO?” the creature said, in a voice that wasn’t Charlie’s, and wasn’t human. It reached deep into my brain, triggering every fear reaction I had. I couldn’t speak, couldn’t move. All I could do was stare, and tremble.

It dropped me, and I nearly collapsed. Summoning the last of my strength, I crawled over to Aidan, who was barely moving. He groaned as I tried to check his body for injuries.

There was a grotesque hand print on his back, where the creature had held him. It was black, like the flesh had been burned.

The creature staggered back into the centre of the room, the visage of blood thinning out, revealing Charlie beneath, her eyes glazed and distant.

The blood vanished entirely, and Charlie stood there, unsteady on her feet. She looked down at her hands, looked through them, unable to focus.

Then, she tilted her head back, looked up at the ceiling, and began to scream.

 

Next: Inviolable

Chapter 58 – That Was A Horrible Experience

Rachel, Impact Day

Watching Charlie reassemble herself from a tiny piece was simultaneously beautiful and unsettling. It wasn’t like a body growing in high speed motion. It was more like each and every cell was comparing its current location to where it should be, and simply relocating itself in the world to be in the right spot. The visual effect was almost more like pixels appearing, one after another. The whole process took less than half an hour.

I sat over her, waiting for her to regain consciousness, hoping the others wouldn’t discover the ruse before she did. When her face was fully reconstructed, I reached out, and stroked it.

Finally, she opened her eyes. I said nothing as she sat up, holding her head, and looked around. Her gaze settled on me, and she smiled.

“Welcome back,” I said, trying to contain the rush of emotions I felt at her return.

“That was a horrible experience,” she said, but her hand found mine, and latched onto it.

“I wanna hear all about it,” I said. “Every gory detail. If you want to talk about it.”

“Man, I don’t even remember all of it,” she said. “They fucked me up so bad, I was certain the whole plan was gonna fall apart, and I was gonna regrow here early. I think something about the facility kept me there, though. I had to wait until I was outside to blow myself up.”

“We would have figured something out,” I reassured her. “But I’m glad we don’t have to.”

“You have it?”

“I do,” I said, before exhaling slowly. “But I also have some bad news. Well, bad news for me.”

Her face fell. Her hazel eyes scanned me, piercing right through me. It made me feel guilty.

I didn’t want the moment to end. I wanted for us to be happy together, to enjoy being reunited after six months. We couldn’t, though. We had to move quickly.

“What is it?”

“You’re going to have to cut me open to get it,” I said.

What?

“It’s crystalised,” I said. “Which is better than having to filter it out of my blood, but you are going to have to cut me open to get it.”

“Shit,” she said, looking away.

“Hey, it’s okay,” I said, grabbing her arm gently. “I was prepared for worse, and I’ve done the math. It works like a power source, providing the energy for my body to regenerate rapidly, without the need for organic processes. It also recodes the genetic material for enhanced strength and speed, but my body will replace all of that eventually. Still, I’ll be almost as strong as you for a while.”

“So it won’t kill you?” she asked.

“No. There should be enough left in my system to repair the damage of extracting it. It’s gonna hurt like Hell, though.”

Charlie made a face like she’d just swallowed something disgusting. I squeezed her arm.

“Anaesthetic won’t work while it’s in me, not that I have any,” I said. “We’re gonna have to do this the hard way.”

“I hate this,” she said.

“After everything you went through?” I asked. “This is nothing. Unless you’re saying I’m not as tough as you.”

“I think you’re tougher than I’ll ever be,” she said, leaning in. She kissed me gently, and it was very hard not to stretch that out.

Biting my lip, I pulled away, and extracted the scalpel I’d obtained for this very purpose. Charlie took one look at it, and gagged. I handed it to her, and she took it reluctantly, like it might electrocute her.

I pulled my shirt up over my head, and unhooked my bra, before lying down on the bed, face-up. There was already a plastic sheet over it. She stood over me, scalpel in hand.

“You really want to do this?” she asked, her eyes pleading with me to say no.

“Don’t be a wimp,” I joked.

“I just…”

“Charlie, as painful as this is going to be, as much as it’s going to suck, I’d do it as many times as you needed. You know I would.”

“I do,” she said, with a drawn out sigh.

“So cut me the Hell open,” I said.

* * *

“Welcome back,” she said, when I finally regained consciousness. Judging by the light, it couldn’t have been that much later. I smiled, and rubbed my chest. The pain was gone, the wound was healed, but the memory was very vivid.

“That was a horrible experience,” I said, completing the echo.

I noticed she’d dressed me again. I was still lying on the bed, but the plastic sheet had been removed. I saw it in the corner, crumpled up, stained with blood.

“I can’t believe you got through that whole thing without once asking me to stop,” she said, brushing my hair gently.

“If I’d asked you to stop, you would have,” I said. “Besides, tell me honestly you haven’t endured worse.”

“That didn’t make it any more tolerable.”

“Just please tell me it worked,” I said.

“I don’t know,” she said, and I deflated. “I got it out of you, but I haven’t done anything with it yet.” She held it up, a strange red crystal that could have been congealed blood, or could have been a precious stone.

“Why not?” I asked, stretching out. My body still felt strong, but not as much as before. “I didn’t think you’d waste any time.”

“I don’t know what it’ll do to me,” she said, her eyes lowered. “How it will interact with my… with whatever I am.” She placed her hand on mine, and met my eye. Her gaze was intense, but I didn’t look away. “I didn’t want to risk it until I had a chance to say I love you.”

“Wow, all that time apart really turned you into a sap, huh?” I joked, as my heart pounded in my chest.

“Shut up,” she said, removing her hand.

“Alright, before I completely kill the moment, I got you something,” I told her. She raised an eyebrow.

“Something?”

“A present, you idiot.”

I reached into the set of drawers nearby, and pulled out a small box. I held onto it as she watched me suspiciously.

“Why?” she asked.

“You do realise you had a birthday while you were in there, right?”

Her eyes opened wide as she processed it.

“Oh shit, I did!”

“So, happy birthday,” I said, handing her the box. My heart continued to thud as she took it, and looked back at me.

I watched silently as she undid the ribbon, and slowly opened the box. Time felt so slow, and I could have sworn she was taking her time on purpose.

She pulled it out, turning it over in her hand. It was a ring, white-gold with a pink diamond inlay. I thought it was beautiful, but not half as beautiful as she was.

“Rachel, this is beautiful,” she said, her voice catching. “How did you… Actually, I don’t need an answer to that.”

“You really don’t,” I said, laughing.

“Wow. It’s… I love it. I love you. Thank you,” she said, pulling me into a tight embrace. I felt a warm tear splash against my cheek.

“I love you too, Charlie.”

She pulled back just enough to kiss me, a kiss I so wanted to melt into. We were still racing the clock, and I didn’t want to take even a single chance.

“Now, hurry up,” I chided her. “I need to know if all that pain was worth it.”

“Alright, alright,” she said, but kept looking at the ring. She slipped it onto a finger, the ring finger of her right hand. “Okay. Let’s see what happens, shall we?”

 

Next Week: She Deserves This

Chapter 57 – We Need To Get You Out Of Here

Liz, Impact Day

A splash of cold water roused me from unconsciousness. I was chained to an uncomfortably metal chair. Aidan was beside me, dripping wet and looking slightly confused.

“So, there are more of you?” a well dressed man with a featureless face asked, pacing in front of us.

It took a few moments to get my bearings. We were in a small room with concrete walls, no windows, and a single door. The door was metal, looked heavy.

“Maybe you’ll be easier to break than your friend,” the man said, sneering with unsettling self-satisfaction.

“Where are we?” Aidan asked, looking around.

“Captured,” I said.

“Oh.”

“Enough small talk,” the suited man snapped. I looked up at him.

“Where’s Charlie?” I asked.

“None of your business,” he replied.

“I want to see her,” I insisted. “If you show me Charlie, I’ll answer any questions you want.”

“I think you’ll answer them anyway,” he said.

“Do we have to listen to this?” Aidan asked.

“Think you can find her without their help?” I asked in response.

“Pretty sure,” he said.

“Then no,” we don’t.

“We’ll separate you if we need,” the suited man said.

“Shut up,” I replied.

Breaking the chains was fairly easy. Honestly, I could have wriggled free of them without super-strength, though it would have taken longer and they probably would have noticed. Also, I probably wouldn’t have been able to get out of the room.

Aidan mimicked me, much to the suited man’s distress. He started to back away, pulling out a gun, but I got to him before he could pull the trigger. I twisted his wrist until he dropped it, then wrapped an arm around his neck until the lack of blood flow to his brain caused him to pass out.

Aidan kicked the door open, hitting it with enough force to leave a small dent. I suspected the doors weren’t as strong as they were supposed to look.

“So, where to?” I asked, as an alarm started blaring.

“Follow me,” he said, taking off to the left.

There were plenty of guards between us and the room they were keeping her, but they barely slowed us down. Bullets hurt, but not for long, and we had more than enough strength to overpower them. We didn’t even need to kill them, though a great many of them would wake up with concussions later. Hardly good, but there had to be some price for throwing their lot in with a gang like Vengeance.

The facility was huge, so much deeper than I’d have assumed from the outside. Frustratingly, they’d kept us pretty far from Charlie. I began to worry they’d have a chance to whisk her away somewhere before we could get to her. They wouldn’t fall for the same trick twice.

“Down this way,” Aidan said, ducking off to the side. I took out a thug who was aiming a pistol at my head by hitting him in the chest hard enough to snap several ribs. He dropped to the floor, wheezing and choking.

Aidan kicked a door open, and I rushed to his side, wanting to be there when Charlie saw her rescuers. Instead, the room was empty.

“What?” he asked, sticking his head in further.

“You’re sure you got the right room?” I asked, though I knew he did.

“This is where they were keeping her,” he said.

“Maybe they moved her,” I suggested.

“Well, we need to find her fast,” he replied.

My mind raced as I considered what they could have done with her. Next to me, I could tell Aidan was doing the same, running through the mental map of the facility.

“There are no easy escape routes,” he said. “And they haven’t had a lot of warning.”

“What about the interrogation room?” I asked. “Maybe they’re questioning her about us?”

“Good call,” he said, and the two of us took off again.

Thankfully, that room wasn’t far. Obviously, it was one of many, but this was the one we knew they used for her. As soon as we arrived, it confirmed it.

There were two unconscious guards outside the room, and inside, someone very dead.

“Do you think Charlie did this?” Aidan asked.

“I believe she could, but she wouldn’t kill,” I said.

“It’s been six months,” he pointed out. “Who knows what they did to her.”

I hadn’t even considered that. The amount of time we’d spent finding her, getting to her, finally saving her, she would have endured so much. The Charlie we were rescuing was not the same Charlie we’d lost.

That was a problem for later, though. First, we needed to figure out where she’d gone.

“Where would you go, if you were in her shoes?” Aidan asked.

“She doesn’t know the facility,” I said, thinking aloud. “She’d want to avoid being seen as much as possible, while figuring out where the exit might be.”

“Unless they told her about us,” Aidan said. “Which they probably did.”

“She’s probably avoiding being moved, so we can find her.”

“Close,” came a third voice, a familiar voice, behind us.

We turned. There she was, just the way we’d last seen her, only with longer, shaggier hair, and a slightly wild look in her eye.

“Charlie!” Aidan cried, rushing over to her. He wrapped her in a crushing hug, which she reciprocated.

She and I looked at each other, awkwardly. She moved towards me, embracing me in a more gentle, but no less enthusiastic hug.

“I can’t believe you’re here,” she said, beaming. “Not that I lost hope, but…”

“We finally got through to Wendy,” Aidan said. She stared back at him.

“That explains the rescue, but… Where’s Rachel?”

“We can explain later,” he said, grabbing her arm. “Right now, we need to get you out of here.”

“No arguments here,” she said.

The three of us ran. Aidan led the way, and I carried Charlie on my back. It hardly slowed me down at all. The sensation was slightly addictive. It was almost a pity we’d need to give this power back to Wendy after.

The sensation of sunlight on my skin was invigorating, and sorely missed. I could only imagine how good it felt to Charlie.

“Guys… stop…” she said, sounding pained. Not what I’d have expected. I let her down.

She collapsed to the ground, clutching her stomach. Aidan and I exchanged worried glances.

“What’s wrong?” he asked, kneeling beside her.

“Get away!” she said, nearly shouting, through gritted teeth and an increasingly red face.

“Charlie?” I asked, as Aidan backed off.

“They… fuck… I can feel it…” she said, struggling to breathe. “There’s a… hnng… in my stomach, a… fucking… a bomb.”

Aidan and I took a bigger step back.

“No,” he whispered.

“A final fallback plan, in case she escaped?” I asked. He just shrugged. “What do we do?”

“Find… me…” she said, groaning in agony.

We took another step away, as a blindingly bright explosion filled the air between us. Everything about it felt surreal, like it was happening far, far away.

The light, the burning sensation, the shockwave, the deafening sound, all of those sensations completely overwhelmed, and all of them happened all at once, vying for supremacy. We were thrown back, and it was obvious that without Wendy’s blood, we wouldn’t have survived. Even still, it was incredibly painful.

I recovered from the disorientation before Aidan did, rushing towards the smoking crater left on the ground. There was no sign of Charlie at all.

Aidan joined me, looking frantically around as the burned skin on his entire front half began to heal.

“Where is she?” he asked.

“Gone,” I said.

“Bullshit,” he said. “She regenerates, no matter what. That’s what Rachel said.”

“There’s no piece here for her to regenerate from,” I told him.

“We just have to wait,” he said.

And so we waited. We waited until Vengeance thugs began pouring out of the facility, guns aimed at us, and she still hadn’t appeared.

“Maybe they kept a piece of her,” Aidan suggested, as we ran for cover. There were too many of them to take on, and we were still recovering from the explosion.

“We have to go back in, then,” I said.

“The facility would take hours to explore,” he replied. “And now they’re ready for us.”

“So, what, we just leave her here?” I asked. “We don’t get a second chance at this!”

“I didn’t say that, just…”

“I’m going back in,” I said. “I’ll wipe out their whole fucking gang if I have to. I am not abandoning her, not now.”

He looked at me, then back at the advancing thugs.

“Fuck,” he muttered. “She is gonna owe us big time for this.”

 

Next Week: That Was A Horrible Experience

Chapter 56 – Tell Me You Weren’t Expecting This

Charlie, Impact Day

Being dragged to the interrogation room was never fun, but there was an urgency to them that lit a spark of hope in me. Something had changed. Something had unsettled them.

My old friend greeted me, his standard impatient scowl replaced with an almost ecstatic grin. That was less encouraging.

“You look happy,” I said, refusing to be intimidated. “Good day?”

“The very best,” he said, with an air of smugness that made me want to punch him in the throat. More than the usual amount.

“Care to share?”

“Your plan has fallen apart,” he said. “There’s no rescue coming.”

Butterflies in my stomach. He was too confident.

“What did they do, throw in the towel?”

“We have them,” he said. “You’ve lost.”

“Who?” I demanded, not giving up hope. So long as he didn’t say—

“Judging by their physical descriptions, I’m guessing young Aidan and Elizabeth,” he said, and my breath caught in my throat. My heart starting pounding, and I forced myself to rest my hands on the table, betraying nothing. I would give him nothing.

“How do you know you capturing them isn’t part of my plan?” I asked, but it was a weak plan. Didn’t matter.

“They showed their hands just a little too early, I’m afraid,” he said. “You never told me they were like you.”

“What do you mean, like me?”

“You know what I mean,” he snapped. “Immortal.”

“They’re not,” I said.

“Don’t lie to me,” he hissed.

“Dude, I told you everything,” I lied. “You’d know if they were—”

“You fed me nothing but bullshit for six months,” he said. “And now, I don’t need you anymore.”

“Oh,” I said, realising the point of this meeting. “You’re not here to ask questions. You’re just here to gloat.”

“I’m going to drop you in a hole,” he said, almost whispered. There was something intimate about it. “I’m going to drop you down the deepest hole I can find, and then I’m going to fill it with acid, and seal you in. And you can sit in there for the rest of your miserable life, because I never need to speak to you, ever again!”

“Is that all?” I taunted him. “After everything else you’ve tried, I thought you were more creative than that.”

“I don’t need to be creative,” he replied. “I just need you far away from me, and suffering.”

Without warning, an alarm staring blaring throughout the facility. It was a shrieking, echoing sound that hurt my ears. I didn’t mind. It bothered him a whole lot more.

“What the Hell?” he demanded, pulling out his phone.

“It’s about time,” I said, relaxing into my chair. He hesitated, looking back at me.

“What are you talking about?” he snarled.

I wanted to milk it, but I knew time was short. I was going to have to enjoy my victory privately, later on.

“I told you they would come for me,” I said. “I didn’t think it would take them this long, but hey. I’ll take what I can get.”

“Don’t hold your breath,” he growled. “Whatever you’ve got cooked up, we can handle it. You’re not going anywhere.”

I grinned, and the effect it had on him was delicious. He looked like he was on the verge of throwing a tantrum.

“If they made it here, it means they’re capable of dealing with anything you can throw at them,” I said. “I made sure of that.”

He sat back down, staring at me. I could feel the tension emanating from him, every whine of the alarm drilling it further into him.

“What?”

“What do you mean, ‘what’? You really thought you were in control? You thought you’d won by capturing me? Who the fuck do you think I am?” I asked, and he moved backwards.

“Tell me,” he said, the desperation creeping into his voice. “What are they? What’s happening?”

“I’m done talking,” I said. “I tried to help you understand. I really did. And now, you’re fucked. And I could not be happier about that.”

“You’re bluffing,” he said, but he didn’t sound convinced.

“Believe what you want,” I replied. “I don’t have time for this. They are going to tear through your goons like a hot knife through butter, and I really don’t want them to see the next part, so we’re gonna have to cut this short.”

“I’m not going anywhere. And neither are you.”

“No, you’re definitely not,” I said. I folded my hands over one another, and before he could process what I was about to do, I snapped several of the bones in my hand. I barely felt the pain at all.

With the broken bones, it was easy to slip out of the handcuffs. He stood up, fumbling in his suit to pull out a gun, but I didn’t need to rush. I just pushed the bones back into place, letting them re-set.

“Tell me you didn’t see this coming,” I mocked him.

“Don’t even think about it,” he said, pointing the gun at me. I just smiled at him.

“You don’t think that’s actually gonna work, do you?”

“I’ve shot you enough times to know how this goes,” he said, his hand trembling. “You’ll go down long enough for me to subdue you.”

“You’ll have to hit me first.”

I rushed at him, vaulting over the table. He was quicker than I expected, though. I managed to cover the distance, but not before the echoing boom of a gunshot filled the room. The force of the bullet knocked me over backwards, and I collapsed, darkness filling my vision.

“Done, he said, his confidence returning. He crouched over me as my vision faded, grabbing the loose handcuff. I could feel his breath on my chin.

I opened my eyes.

He twitched, surprised. He tried to raise his gun.

He was too slow.

I grabbed the edge of the handcuff, driving it into his face, right through his eye. He screamed, fell backwards as I drove it in deeper, into his skull, through the gap. Into his brain.

His body convulsed. I took his gun, firing several shots directly into his head. I took one more shot, shattering the handcuffs.

“I told you,” I said, breathing heavily. “I fucking told you I was going to kill you.”

He couldn’t hear me, but I didn’t care. I felt…

Numb.

The alarms were still blaring. I needed to move, needed to get somewhere different. The armoury.

I pulled myself to my feet, trying to shake the adrenaline. Don’t focus on what just happened. Don’t think about murder.

I patted his body down, finding the keys to the room. Idiot. He was scared of being locked in with me, so much so that he risked bringing a key into my room. Either that or he was so confident I couldn’t get to him that he didn’t consider it a risk. Either way, he was stupid.

I unlocked the door, and the two guards were ready for me. They must have heard the gunshots. I doubted it was me they were expecting, but they were definitely prepared for trouble.

It felt so good to move about freely again. My body was stiff and achey, but no less mobile. I disarmed the two guards and knocked them out before either of them could fire a single shot.

Still got it.

The alarm was a constant reminder. Time was running short. More guards would be bearing down on me at any moment.

I ran.

 

Next Week: We Need To Get You Out Of Here

Chapter 55 – For Charlie

Liz, Impact Day

“This feels incredible,” Aidan said, flexing his fingers in front of his face. I just watched the rise and fall of his chest, wondering if he was feeling the same thing as me.

If I didn’t know better, I’d have described it as anxiety. My body surged with restless energy, discontent with simply standing still. It wanted to be in motion, to act, to live.

“What is this?” I asked. Wendy pushed her glasses up her nose, and smiled enigmatically.

“You don’t want to know,” she replied.

“Do you always feel like this?” Rachel asked.

“Yes,” Wendy said.

“No wonder you ran away,” Rachel said. Aidan and I swapped looks, but neither of us really followed.

“Don’t waste this,” Wendy said, ignoring Rachel. “I shouldn’t have done this, shouldn’t have given you… Just save Charlie. For all our sakes.”

“That’s the plan,” Aidan said, stretching his legs out. “Man, I could just run for days.”

“You could,” Rachel said. “Longer, even. Without eating or sleeping or resting.”

It seemed almost too good to be true, and I couldn’t help but wonder about Rachel’s cryptic hinting, or Wendy’s deliberate avoidance of the topic. What cost had we payed for this power? Where did it come from?

Wendy wouldn’t tell us. Rachel might, but she was just as likely to lie. Asking her would be as useless as asking the internet.

In the end, it didn’t matter. The power was a means to an end, and the end was saving Charlie. And I knew I would pay any price for that, even selling my own soul. If we had the chance, maybe we’d find answers afterwards, but that wasn’t what was important.

“Alright. Are we all clear on the plan?” Aidan asked.

“We’ve been over it a dozen times,” Rachel complained. “We let ourselves get shot, but make it convincing. Make them think we’re immortal just like Charlie, so they take us to where she is.”

“And then we show them that we’re so much more,” I added.

“The more you use it, the quicker you’ll run out,” Wendy pointed out. “You should be strong enough to get out of any situation they put you in, but don’t push your luck. Be smart.”

“That’s why they’ve got me,” Rachel joked. Aidan scowled at her.

“Let’s just go,” I said.

We had the location of a Vengeance hideout, a perfect target for getting attention. We were all dressed in outfits that matched Charlie’s Vigilante wear, to really sell the connection. All we needed to do was convince them we were worth taking in.

I’d underestimated just how difficult that would be. My body was so overflowing with energy, it was a challenge just to move like I used to. With a minimum of effort, I found myself launched across the room. A simple movement of my hands carried more force than I’d ever been able to muster before. It felt like the rest of the world was happening in slow motion, and I had to struggle to match that speed.

How did Wendy manage it, when she felt like this all the time? She seemed so normal, her movements so gentle. She had a dancer’s grace, but it always seemed natural.

If we’d let loose, we could have run to the hideout in less time than it would have taken to drive. Instead, we used that time to walk, and get used to controlling our movements, making them convincingly ordinary.

“Do you think there are any others out there?” Aidan asked, as we walked. “Like, superhumans.”

“I’d never really considered it,” I replied. “But it stands to reason. One was an anomaly, but two…”

“Two starts to look like a pattern,” Aidan agreed.

“Takes more than two to create a pattern,” Rachel said. “And nothing about Charlie or Wendy’s specific circumstances suggest there would be more of either of them. Not in this world, anyway.”

“I dunno, Liz and I seem… Well, you wouldn’t suspect us from what you see on the surface, you know? Or you, for that matter.”

“Anything special about us is an extension of Charlie,” Rachel said. “We’re special because she wanted us to be special.”

“What are you saying?” I asked, pondering the implications.

“I’m saying too much revolves around Charlie to call any of it a coincidence,” Rachel said. “You can figure the rest out from there.”

“You can do that later,” Aidan said. “We’re here.”

The three of us were standing in front of a large, two-story house on the edges of a fairly well-to-do suburb. There was nothing about it aesthetically to suggest it was a gang hideout.

“You sure this is the right place?” I asked.

“Yes,” Aidan said. “Now that we’ve got the obligatory uncertainty out of the way, do we all know what we’re doing?”

I frowned, but Rachel grinned. She formed a fist, taking a step towards the house.

“We get this party started,” she said.

“And we don’t kill anyone,” Aidan said.

“Yeah, yeah.”

The three of us approached the front door, Rachel in front. She banged on the door, and a few moments later, it opened.

“What?” a surly man in a surplus army jacket asked, before taking in our outfits. “Oh, shit-“

“Surprise,” Rachel said, before breezing past him, twisting his arm and slamming him into the floor.

“Vigilante!” the guy shouted, before Rachel’s boot connected with his throat, choking him up.

All of a sudden, the house was full of the sounds of clamouring, dozens of footsteps pounding through doors and down stairs. Aidan and I braced ourselves, but Rachel just stood there, as if looking forward to the assault.

The first of the Vengeance thugs poured into the front hallway, and the three of us spring into action. We moved as a unit, taking them out like Charlie would have, with reckless abandon, agility and a better understanding of the weaknesses of the human body than any of our opponents. Within minutes, we’d bound nearly twenty of them, leaving just enough of a window for one of them to call for backup.

“That was almost too easy,” Aidan said. “Maybe Charlie’s job isn’t so hard after all.”

“Charlie doesn’t have Wendy’s blood making everything slow and everyone weak,” Rachel pointed out.

“The hard part is still ahead of us,” I reminded them.

Several cars pulled up in front of the house, and I felt my stomach churn. Gangsters poured out of them, brandishing automatic weapons they shouldn’t have had access to. Any sense of subtlety they’d been adhering to was well and truly out the window now.

“This is gonna hurt, isn’t it?” Aidan asked.

“Speaking from experience, yes,” I said.

“Wendy’s blood only accelerates healing and provides the energy to do it without demanding the tonnes of food that much healing would usually require,” Rachel said. “The pain will be exactly the same, only fast-forwarded. If anything, it’ll hurt more.”

“How comforting,” I muttered.

The armed men were making their way up the lawn, guns pointed at the house. If any of the neighbours noticed, they didn’t give any indications. Well, they’d notice soon enough.

“Charlie would do this for us,” Aidan said, reaching for my hand. I took it, and squeezed.

“Charlie does do this for us. Every time.”

“So let’s repay the favour,” Aidan agreed.

We both looked at Rachel, who only rolled her eyes.

“You two can make this as sappy as you want. I’ll save mine for Charlie.”

“Suit yourself,” I said.

“You ready?” Aidan asked me.

“As I’ll ever be,” I told him.

“For Charlie, then,” he said.

“For Charlie,” I agreed.

The two of us opened the front door, stepping out in front of the house. Almost instantly, the gangsters all opened fire, filling the yard with blinding flashes, deafening booms and enough bullets to shred every muscle and tendon in our bodies.

They’re not taking any chances, huh? I thought, as Aidan and I crumbled to the ground, searing pain threatening to overtake everything else.

Just before passing out, I noticed one last detail.

Rachel hadn’t joined us.

 

Next Week: Tell Me You Weren’t Expecting This

Chapter 54 – Charlie Can’t Know

Liz, Impact Day

It felt strange, being in the café with nobody else around. There was something strangely transgressive about it, like being behind the stage of a play. Wendy seemed different, too. In a sense, she seemed relaxed, as she shed the veneer of innocence and banality. In another, there was a different kind of tension filling her, like she was dreading a coming storm.

She sighed, resting her hands on the table. They seemed too delicate for her, somehow.

“I’ve done everything I can,” she said, her voice hollow, defeated. There was no soft, cute charm to it now. “I tried. I really, really tried.”

“Bullshit,” Rachel said, her voice full of venom. “You could walk right in there and pull her out. You could share your power with us, and we could do it. What have you done instead?”

“I’ve played by the rules,” Wendy snapped. “The one rule, really. The one rule that lets an immortal, superhuman abomination like myself live in a world like this one.”

“And how long have you lived in this world?” Aidan asked.

“Two hundred years,” she said, hanging her head.

“Six months,” Rachel said. “For six months, you’ve let her sit in there, being tortured and pulled apart and god knows what else, so you can continue with your two hundred year existence, as… what, a barista?”

“It’s not that simple,” Wendy said. “My life isn’t… It’s not just my own. It’s not something I can recklessly throw away. And I’m not just a barista. I’ve lived so many lives, trying to save as many people as I can, while still playing by the rules. With the time I have left, I could save so many more.”

“I think I understand,” I said. “It’s hard to turn down the chance to do good in the moment, so you can do more good later.”

“Sounds like a lazy justification to me,” Rachel growled.

“You’re not exactly neutral,” Aidan said.

“Let me make this as clear as possible,” Wendy said. “I owe my existence to more sacrifices than I’d care to count. To throw that away would be more than irresponsible. It would be selfish. What you’ve asked of me, without knowing, is so far beyond what I could ever do for you, I very nearly cast you out and ran so far away you’d never find me again.”

“Well, this is off to a good start,” Aidan said.

“Believe it or not, I actually like Charlie,” Wendy said. “Even before I realised what she was. And when I did…”

“You know what she is?” I asked, leaning forward.

“You wouldn’t like the answer,” she told me.

“I can handle it,” I insisted.

“You really don’t want to know,” Rachel chimed in.

“You know too?” Aidan asked.

“I have a pretty good guess,” she said, shrugging.

“I’m not telling you,” Wendy said. “And that’s that.”

Aidan and I both looked at Rachel.

“Hell no,” she said.

“Then why bring it up?” I complained.

“Because it’s important,” Wendy said. “It’s the reason I changed my mind.”

“You changed your mind?” I asked.

Wendy sighed, slumping in her chair. It seemed unnatural to see her without perfect posture, to look so utterly defeated.

“You’re missing the important part,” she said.

“You won’t tell us the important part,” Aidan countered.

“You know enough,” Wendy said.

“We know it’s enough for you to change your mind,” I said, thinking out loud. “Whatever Charlie is, that’s somehow tied into your desire to do the greatest good you can.”

“It’s important you understand that,” Wendy told us. “I want you to understand what I’m giving up, so you understand why I’m giving it up. Because I only get to do this once, and you’re the ones who will make it count.”

“Does Charlie know?” I asked.

“No,” Rachel said. “And it would be better to keep it that way.”

“Why?” Aidan asked.

“Let me put it this way,” she said. “If I put a button in front of you, and told you not to press it, what would you do?”

“I wouldn’t press it,” he said, though he didn’t sound sure.

“And how would that make you feel?”

He pondered that for a moment.

“Curious. Stressed, if I’m being honest. Tempted, too.”

“You would always be thinking about that button,” Rachel said. “And that’s why Charlie can’t know.”

“I don’t follow,” Aidan confessed.

“Me either,” I added.

“Good,” Rachel said. “For you, and for the sake of Charlie not finding out.”

“I have to agree with Rachel on this one,” Wendy said.

“Fine, Charlie doesn’t know,” Aidan said. “What happens now, then?”

Wendy held a hand up, delicate and graceful. She flexed her middle finger, and from under the nail, a small needle extended out.

“What the fuck,” Aidan said.

“Wow, that’s even weirder in person,” Rachel said.

Wendy gave Rachel a concerned look, but didn’t address it.

“Here’s how this goes. I inject you with the smallest amount of this that I can. It won’t last long, but while it does, you’ll be as strong and as fast as I am, and your body will recover from almost any wound as fast as Charlie might.”

“What if we got shot in the head?” Rachel asked.

“Huh?” Aidan gave her a confused look.

“A healing brain is a problem,” Rachel explained. “Thoughts and memories aren’t physical, they’re electrical patterns and signals. You can’t regrow those.”

“There’s a psychic web,” Wendy said. “Think of it like an impervious mental backup.”

“Impressive,” Aidan said.

“You have no idea,” Rachel told him.

“Alright, so it’s as simple as that?” I asked. “You inject us, we have superpowers, and we go rescue Charlie?”

“Pretty much,” Wendy said.

“And what about you?”

“In all probability, I’ll be gone by the time you get back,” she said. “If not… Well, I won’t have long, at any rate.”

There was a sad, hollow sort of smile on her face. Rachel and Aidan seemed oblivious to it, but I couldn’t look away. I wanted to know so much more about her, and I was only just realising I would never get that chance.

“You’re doing the right thing,” Rachel said.

“Maybe. But I’m not doing it for you,” Wendy replied. “Remember what I said, Rachel. Remember what’s at stake.”

“I know,” Rachel said. “Better than you give me credit for.”

Wendy just shook her head.

“So…” Aidan said.

Wendy stood, moving to his side so quickly I almost missed the movement. He jumped.

“Are you ready for this?” she asked. “The process is not pleasant.”

“How unpleasant are we talk-“

Wendy slid the needle into a vein on his arm, and his entire body just froze up, as if in shock. She pulled the needle out, and he started to convulse, as every muscle in his body contracted and expanded against his will. After a few seconds, he started screaming.

When he finally calmed down, he just lay there, breathing heavily.

“That did not look fun,” Rachel said. She held her arm out to Wendy. “Me next.”

She went through the exact same process, but didn’t scream like Aidan did. She grunted through gritted teeth, but she didn’t scream.

“Last one,” Wendy said. “Will you do this, seeing the results?”

I looked at the other two, sweating and panting, slouched in chairs, barely able to move.

I extended my arm.

“Anything for Charlie,” I said.

 

Next Week: For Charlie