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Chapter 4 – Stranger Things Have Happened

Somehow, I found my way back to the building I’d woken up. I hadn’t consciously decided that was where I wanted to go, but I knew I wasn’t ready to go back home. Not looking the way that I did.

“Welcome home,” Zoe said, hardly glancing up as I stormed into the room.

“What the hell happened out there?”

“We did,” she said casually. Then she did look up, and smiled. “You look different.”

“Don’t change the subject,” I said. “Who’s we? You and Gabriel?”

She sniffed the air around me, and her expression darkened.

“You met Gabriel?” she asked, though it wasn’t really a question.

“What is with you two?”

“I’d avoid him,” she warned. “He’s dangerous.”

“What makes you any different?” I demanded.

“Nothing,” she said, shrugging. “We’re far too similar for my own comfort.”

“Then shouldn’t I be avoiding you, too?”

“Probably,” she said.

“Huh.” I was expecting her to defend herself, to tell me that she was different to him. I didn’t really know how to respond to that, so instead, I changed the subject.

“You said I looked different,” I said. “What did you mean?”

“Why not check the mirror?” she asked.

Confused, I went back to the mirror. I had to bite my lip to keep myself from crying out in surprise.

I looked exactly like myself again. Tan skin, curly brown hair, freckles, all of it.

“I look like me again,” I muttered, forgetting that Zoe could almost certainly hear as well as I’d been able to when I was pumped full of adrenaline.

“Stranger things have happened,” she said.

I turned to face her. She met my eye, a relaxed smile spreading across her face, and waited for me to speak.

“I want to go home,” I told her, half prepared for a fight. Instead, she just nodded.

“So go,” she said. “You’ll be fine.”

“What do I tell my family?” I asked.

“Whatever you want,” she said, shrugging.

“You’re not like, swearing me to secrecy or anything?” I asked, not sure why I was surprised.

“Why should I? The only thing I’d ask you to do is not let anyone know where I am. Especially Gabriel.”

I nodded.

“I can do that.”

“Go see your family, then,” she said gently. “You know where to find me if you need me.”

“I will probably have more questions,” I said.

“I will answer as best I can.”

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.

Bonus – Interview With A Hero, Part 1

Exerpt from Veronica's famous interview with Miss Melbourne, 2 years after Impact Day.

V: So what made you decide to do the whole ‘hero’ thing?

MM: That’s an interesting choice of words.

V: You don’t think of yourself as a hero?

MM: I was more referring to the word ‘decide’.

V: You don’t think you had a choice?

MM: It’s strange that you think I did.

V: Well, you could always just walk away, live a normal life, use your powers for personal gain, any number of things.

MM: I don’t think that’s true. I mean, sure, theoretically that would be possible. But honestly, it was never an option.

V: What makes you say that?

MM: Well, look at what I am. Who I am. And look at the state of the city. Think about all of the people who live here. How could I, being what I am, not do something about that?

V: Well, you weren’t the only superhuman in the city, and none of them really stepped up like you did.

MM: No, I suppose they didn’t.

V: And now you’re the only one left.

MM: Apparently.

V: Apparently? You think there are still others out there?

MM: I know there are.

V: Is there a sidekick or hero team up in your future, then?

MM: I don’t think so. I would love that, but… it’s not simple, watching over a city. It’s a lot like raising a child, you know?

V: I don’t think I follow.

MM: Everyone has a different idea of what the right thing to do is, what the best way to go about these things is. Teaming up sounds good in theory, but as soon as you disagree…

V: Is that what happened with you and the Vigilante?

MM: No.

V: Can you tell us what did happen there, then?

MM: I… It’s a long story.

Chapter 2 – Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger

“You’re about to wake up,” an unfamiliar voice told me. “Be very, very careful.”

Her voice was soft, pleasant, almost sensual. She also had a strong, refined British accent.

“Huh?”

“Try to remain still,” she said. “This is going to be a bit of a shock.”

I opened my eyes, and immediately felt like I’d been punched in the brain. It was like looking into the sun from right in front of it.

“Everything is so bright, ugh-”

“Don’t move,” she said urgently, and I felt her hand pressing down on my shoulder. “Please, it’s important.”

“Who…” I began to ask, but changed my mind. “Where am I?”

I was slowly able to make out blurred shapes, but nothing looked familiar. Strangely, there was no panic, only curiosity.

“Somewhere safe. Try to sit up, very slowly.”

I let her guide me into a sitting position, expecting to feel dizzy and disoriented. Instead, I felt that same sensation you get during a plane takeoff.

“I feel weird,” I told her. “Everything feels…”

“Fast and weightless, right?” she said, nailing it exactly.

I turned to look at her, and realised it was the woman from the wreckage, only cleaned up. She was wearing cargo pants and a hoodie, but also the sort of makeup that looked like it belonged in a Hollywood movie. It was an odd look.

“What happened to me?” I asked, my head full of questions. “Am I dead?”

“Not exactly,” she said, which was not the definitive yes-or-no answer I was expecting. “There was an accident. You’re… different.”

“D-different?”

She sighed, taking a step back. Her movements all had a striking sort of easy grace, as if every action were a carefully choreographed dance.

She looked me up and down, her expression suggesting she was considering what to say to me.

“Do you want the real explanation, or the one that will make sense?” she asked, watching me carefully.

“Both?” I asked, confused as to why I was getting the choice. My answer seemed to amuse her.

“Alright. You’ve absorbed some of my genetic material,” she said.

I had a sudden flashback to finding her in the wreckage, lifeless and then suddenly not, effortlessly snapping a metal pipe. She was giving no indication of being a person who had been impaled through the chest.

“What are you?” I asked, hating myself for the movie cliche.

She tilted her head, as if considering how best to answer my question. I desperately wanted her to tell me she was just normal, that all of this was normal, but I also knew I wouldn’t believe it even if she said it.

“Let me put it this way,” she said. “I wasn’t born so much as… designed.”

“I… what?”

She sighed again, leaning against a table behind her.

“Right. Sorry. I’ve only been here a short while, but everything seems different here. Do you understand genetic modification?”

“You mean like cloning?” I asked, but I knew as soon as I said it that it was wrong.

She shook her head, then stopped.

“Err, sort of. It’s like… Imagine you could build a person in the same way that you build a machine. Imagine what you could make that person. That’s me.”

She walked across the room, gentle, elegant steps, catlike.

“Basically, I’m the perfect soldier. Or I was supposed to be. I turned out to be something of a disappointment, but physically, that’s exactly what I am.”

“Okay…”

“I’m stronger, smarter, faster and tougher than any human could ever be. By a significant margin. And now, so are you.”

I met her gaze, still struggling to believe what I was hearing. It was entirely too surreal.

“How?” I asked, grasping for anything.

“I’m still trying to figure that out. I’m pretty sure it was a combination of residual temporal energy and direct exposure to my blood.”

I tried to resist the urge to tell her that half of those weren’t real words, and focussed instead on what I understood.

“Your blood? Because I stepped in it?”

“My blood is special, even more than my body. It’s what makes me capable of, well, being me.”

That couldn’t have less to me. If anything, it was just making me doubt more than ever that any of what I was experiencing was real.

I shook my head.

“Well, this is officially the weirdest dream I’ve ever had.”

“I wish I could tell you it was just a dream,” she said, sighing.

She leant against the wall, running a hand through her hair before folding them across her chest.

“Who are you, anyway?” I asked, realising I hadn’t even gotten her name. She had me feeling surprisingly comfortable, all things considered. She almost felt like an old friend. Which, when I thought about it, was a little concerning.

“Right, sorry,” she said, shaking her head in surprise. “I guess I neglected to introduce myself. You can call me Zoe.”

“It’s… nice to meet you?” I said, awkwardly offering her my hand.

She took it gingerly, her skin soft but her grip firm.

“Do you have a name?”

“Se-” I began, then hesitated. That familiar, comforting feeling wouldn’t go away. I felt like I could be honest with her. “Sabrina.”

She smiled, and squeezed my hand a little tighter.

“Nice to meet you too, Sabrina.”

I dropped her hand, and tried standing again. The world swam a little, but I didn’t feel like I was going to fall over.

“I think I feel better now. Still weird, but… well, it’s more different than bad.”

“You’ll get used to it,” she said. “I guarantee nothing is wrong with you, though.”

Her confidence surprised me.

“How do you know?”

She smiled gently, but it was a smile I was painfully familiar with. It was the smile of somebody who knew something bad about me.

“Because there’s really not a lot that can be wrong with you at this point,” she said enigmatically.

“What?”

“It might be easier to just show you,” she said. “Stand still.”

She reached down and pulled a knife out of her boot. Something flashed through the back of my mind, but before I could do anything, she’d plunged the knife right into my chest.

Surprisingly, it didn’t actually hurt all that much. Then again, maybe that was normal. I’d never been stabbed before.

“Wow, what the fuck?” I demanded, staggering back. My hand instinctively went to grab it and pull it out, but common sense saved me just in time. You don’t just pull out a knife, that’s how you bleed to death.

“Give it a second,” was all she said.

“What the hell did you do that for?” I hissed, still waiting for it to really start hurting. She just smiled solemnly at me.

“Sabrina, I just stabbed you in the chest with an inch wide piece of metal, and you said ‘ow’.”

“It hurt,” I snarled, even if the pain wasn’t much more than a dull throbbing.

“That’s my point,” she said calmly. “Kind of.”

“Your point is that it hurt?”

“My point is that it only hurt. Try taking it out,” she suggested.

I stared at her, incredulous. She’d just stabbed me in the chest, and she was acting like it was the most normal thing in the world.

“That seems like a really terrible idea,” I said, taking another step back away from her.

“Fine, fine,” she said, sounding exasperated.

She reached out, grabbed the handle of the knife, and pulled it out. I felt it slide out of my chest with minimal resistance, and my hands immediately pressed against the open wound.

I cried out more from surprise than pain, my eyes frantically scanning the room for something I could use to stop the bleeding. Zoe just stood there, looking almost amused.

“Let me know when you’ve bled to death,” she said dryly.

“Shit,” I said, breathing heavily. “I need to, where’s my phone, I…”

I trailed off as I realised there wasn’t nearly as much blood flowing out of the wound as there should have been. In fact, there was barely any at all.

“What?” I muttered, patting my chest.

There was nothing there. No wound, only the tiniest amount of blood.

What?

“Again,” Zoe said, “you’ll get used to it.”

“Human bodies do not heal this quickly,” I said, not quite meaning the level of accusation in my tone.

“I never said I was human,” she said with a shrug.

“I need a mirror,” I said. “I need to see-”

“I’m not sure that’s a good idea,” she said, looking a little concerned. “This is already a lot for you to take on board. Maybe you should-”

I shoved past her, looking for anything reflective. It didn’t take long; there was a mirror in the next room.

I stopped dead when I saw my reflection. At first, I didn’t even realise it was me, but I’ve spent long enough agonising over my mannerisms and expressions that I knew it couldn’t be anyone else.

“What the fuck…”

Zoe appeared in the reflection behind me, placing a reassuring hand on my shoulder. I pulled away violently. Seeing the two of us together…

“Like I said, you absorbed some of my genetic material,” she said. “Some of the changes are… external.”

My hair, once brown and curly, was now blonde and straight. My freckles and lightly tanned skin had been replaced with smooth, pale whiteness. My eyes had gone from dark green to bright blue.

As my eyes travelled down my reflection, I realised those weren’t the only changes. I had boobs, I had hips, my nails were a strange silvery colour.

A thought raced through my my mind, and without thinking, my hands slipped between my legs. That, surprisingly, was not different.

“I don’t understand,” I said, and I realised then that I even sounded different. My voice was higher, but also huskier.

“I’m sorry,” was all she said.

I couldn’t stop staring at my reflection. It should have made me happy; after all, I’d never looked more feminine, or, if I was being honest, more attractive.

It wasn’t me, though. I didn’t look like myself, and no matter how much I’d ever hated how I looked, I never wanted to look like anyone else.

“I need some air,” I said, trying in vain to slow my panicked breathing.

She just nodded, and gestured with her head towards the door. A little unsteady on my feet, I took a step towards it, and then it was right in front of me. I twitched involuntarily.

“Right. Faster. Stronger. Probably harder and better too,” I muttered to myself. “Fantastic.”