Seven Months Before Impact Day
“So,” Aidan said, acting casual. “Did you catch whatever that thing was in Fed Square today?”
“I was there,” Mark said. “It was quite the spectacle.”
“What even happened?” I asked, wondering how much Mark suspected. There was a good chance he knew about my immortality, possibly had before I ever did. If that was true…
“A lot of unnecessary drama,” Mark said disdainfully. “Some fool just painted a target on their back, and every gun in the city is going to be pointed at it.”
“Isn’t that a good thing for you?” I asked. “This could keep you in work for, well, however long it lasts. And then some. Everyone loves a retrospective thinkpiece.”
“That’s certainly an optimistic perspective,” he said carefully. “Personally, I’m a little more preoccupied with the more direct consequences of the stunt.”
“Some of the most powerful criminal organisations in the city, possibly the world, have just been publicly challenged,” he said. “By someone claiming altruistic intent, no less. An anonymous hero, with no obvious vulnerabilities. Now, how would you respond to that?”
My gut twisted and my heart sank as I processed immediately what he was suggesting. Aidan looked at me, a casual glance that belied the same grim realisation.
“Collateral damage,” I said. “They’re gonna go after civilians.”
“I certainly would,” Mark agreed. “Punish the altruist, reinforce their power, reassure the less confident among their own numbers.”
“That’s a scary thought,” I said weakly.
“It’s a scary world,” he replied wearily.
“I wonder if they think it’s worth it,” Aidan said. “The vigilante, I mean.”
“Oh, almost certainly,” Mark said. “They’d have to convince themselves it’s worth it. That they’re fighting some kind of noble war, and the end justifies the means. They’ll feel guilty about the consequences, but the cost isn’t theirs to pay, not really, so they’ll push through. Eventually, they’ll fall prey to the sunk-cost fallacy, and every casualty will reinforce the need to continue, so the lives already lost won’t be in vain. Both sides will push harder and harder, escalating until one side loses or the city is consumed.”
I felt a chill run down my spine. Mark didn’t make eye contact with me once, but I knew he was speaking to me. Somehow, he knew, and he’d seen right through me.
Was that just paranoia? Would he have said any different if he didn’t suspect me? Probably not. Maybe he had no idea at all.
“Sounds like you’ve got your first article already written,” I said with forced joviality.
“I suppose so,” he said. “And write I must. When words are all you have, all you can do is share them with the world, and hope that they resonate. In a world such as this, what else could I contribute?” With that, he pushed out his chair, and stood. “If you’ll excuse me, I have a lot of work to do.”
Aidan and I exchanged worried glances.
“Do you think he knows?” Aidan asked.
“I can never tell, with him.”
“He was right though, you know.”
“Maybe,” I said. “It doesn’t matter. I can’t do nothing, and I can’t allow their poison to go unchecked.”
“Have you ever considered that maybe they’re not the problem?” Aidan asked. “That it’s the system that’s failing us, and they’re just a symptom?”
“Maybe,” I confessed. “But I don’t know how to fix the system. All I know how to do is fight the disease.”
“Right,” he said solemnly. “Well, I’m going to bed. I’ll talk to you tomorrow, Charlie.”
“Sure,” I said, feeling a little hollow.
Two Months Before Impact Day
“Ahh, yes, your big public entrance,” he said, sneering at me. “If we’d known then that you were just a teenage girl and a few friends…”
“You wouldn’t have taken me seriously, and it would have bitten you in the arse,” I said. “Oh wait, that’s exactly what happened.”
“I don’t think you caused quite the amount of damage you think you did,” he scoffed. “And look at you know. You’re in here, alone, and we’re still going strong.”
“How foolish of me,” I said dryly. “Guess you’re right. You’ve won, I lost, end of story.”
“Do you want another month in concrete?”
“This time, I’m calling your bluff,” I said. “I know you’re running out of time.”
“What makes you think there’s a time limit?” he demanded.
“Because my friends are still out there, and they’re a lot more dangerous than I am,” I told him.
“You’re the only immortal,” he pointed out. “Them, we can kill.”
“And yet you haven’t. And you won’t, because they’re not just a few teenage brats. And I know for a fact they’re still causing you one headache after another.”
“They’re a manageable concern,” he insisted.
“You still don’t get it, do you?” I asked. “Liz and Aidan are tools, very dangerous tools. There’s no secret Aidan can’t uncover, and no back safe from Liz’s knife, and they’re not the ones you need to be worried about.
“You haven’t been listening. Rachel will stop at nothing to get me back, and she’s not just clever. She’s a tinker. Do you understand what that means?”
“Your girlfriend is a nerd,” he said dismissively.
“My girlfriend is supernatural,” I said. “Given enough time, she can build anything, and so far, she’s had four months. What do you think she’s got waiting for you?”
“Bullshit,” he snapped. “You really want me to believe there’s another supernatural human out there, that you just magically found each other, and fell in love?”
“Don’t forget Wendy,” I said.
“Right, your café” owner. We looked into her. Nothing came of it.”
“She scared your men off, huh?”
“I think you’re just full of shit,” he said.
“Well, you’ve got one thing right,” I confessed.
“The idea that the only supernatural people in the world all live in the same city, all know each other, purely by coincidence, is bullshit. So what do you think that means?” I asked.
“That you’re a liar.”
“Dude, I am a literal immortal. I actively defy understanding or explanation. Do you really want to hang your hat on that being the only one that exists? That I’m lying about everything except that?”
“What’s your explanation, then?”
“You’ve only just started to scratch the surface of what I really am,” I told him. “And I promise, you’ll be dead before you’ve figured me out.”
“I thought you were against murder,” he said.
“Oh, I am,” I said. “Ethically. I genuinely believe there isn’t a person alive that deserves death, no matter their choices.”
“Then I’m finding it difficult to understand why I should take your threat seriously,” he said.
“Because you’ve spent four months torturing me,” I said. “Everyone has their breaking point. You found mine when you left me trapped in a block of concrete for a month.”
“Ah, so I am getting through to you,” he said.
“Rachel, I really need you to hurry up,” I muttered.
Next Week: Everything’s Gonna Work Out Just Fine