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Tag: Miss Murder

Chapter 54 – Everything Here Is Wrong

“I’m not sure I understand,” Zoe said, folding her arms. “You want to talk to Ami?”

“Technically, I want to talk Miss Murder,” I said. “But they’re always together, these days. And I thought you’d have a better idea of how to find Ami than her.”

“Why do you want Miss Murder?” Rachel asked, her tone thick with suspicion. There was a creepy, mechanical hand sitting on the table in front of her, a weird metal and plastic skeleton.

“I think she might help me find the Celestial.”

“But why?” Rachel repeated.

“He is dangerous,” Zoe said. “More now than ever, if he’s got control of Haylie. There isn’t a lot Sabrina can help us with now, so it makes sense, directing her energy towards clearing out other threats.”

“So you’ll help?” I asked.

“I’ll do what I can,” she said. “What do you want?”

“I don’t know. What can you tell me about Ami? Anything that might give me a clue as to where she’d be, or what she’s doing.”

Zoe smiled, leaning back on her chair and putting her feet up on the bench in front of her.

“Is story time becoming a tradition, now?”

“Don’t act like you don’t enjoy the attention,” Rachel said, and Zoe laughed.

“Alright, alright. I’ll tell you what I know, but it isn’t much. Ami and I have never been on the same side. We were never friends.”

I sat down in a nearby chair. Rachel continued to tinker, but her attention was mostly on Zoe as well.

“As far as I can tell, Ami is only around a century old.”

“Only?” Rachel ask dryly.

“It’s half my age,” Zoe said with a shrug. “But you’re missing the important detail, there. Remember that in my world, the infection that is currently contained in this city is everywhere. That happened one hundred years before Ami was born. That’s the world she was born into.”

“Where did she get her powers?” I asked.

“A lab. An attempt to replicate the process that created my siblings and I. More or less successful, unfortunately.”

“Unfortunately?” Rachel asked.

“Long story. Nothing I’m comfortable sharing.”

“Alright,” Rachel said. “Continue.”

“She was trained as a weapon. Built to fight and destroy the infected, and the things that create them. Namely, once again, my siblings and I. Somehow, she ended up fighting alongside my brother instead.”

“None of this helps, though,” I said. “Is there anything else?”

“She’s gay?” Zoe offered.

“And that’s relevant how?” Rachel asked irritably.

“Well, it might provide context for why she and the little assassin girl have, uh, teamed up,” Zoe said, grinning.

“Hardly seems like an appropriate time for romance,” I muttered.

“Someone’s bitter,” Zoe teased. “Feeling lonely?”

“I’m not having this discussion with you,” I snapped. “Is there anything useful you can tell me?”

“How about an address?” she offered.


“I’ve been keeping tabs on her,” Zoe said. “I can tell you exactly where she is.”

“Why didn’t you lead with that?”

“I thought you wanted to talk?” she replied, still teasing.

“Just give me the address.”

She laughed, and handed me a piece of paper. Her mood seemed to be constantly improving, and that worried me. Was it because her device was nearly complete? Was she just enjoying a comparatively peaceful world? Something else?

“Have fun,” she called out, as I stormed out of the room. I wasn’t quite as annoyed as I wanted her to think, but part of it was real, or at least it felt real. That was Envy’s influence.

With Zoe’s speed, it only took me a few minutes to cross the city. Ami and Miss Murder, whose name I really needed to learn, if only so I could stop calling her Miss Murder, seemed to have occupied a small apartment on the outskirts of the city centre.

Teaming up, Zoe had said, with that suggestive grin. There was certainly an awkwardly domestic feeling to this place.

So now what? Just knock on the door? Call out to them? Crash through the window? What is the protocol in this situation?

I felt the presence behind me a moment before everything blacked out, a new environment twisted into place a moment later. The inside of the apartment?

Well, that works.

Ami moved quickly, a blade pressed up against my throat. Miss Murder lurked behind her, knife in hand. Both of them were in casual clothes, though Miss Murder had taken the time to wrap a scarf around her neck and lower face.

“What are you doing here?” Ami demanded.

Envy materialised behind her, standing beside Miss Murder. The second she did, Ami whirled, focussing on the exact space Envy was standing. I felt a stabbing pain in the side of my head, and Envy shimmered, then vanished.

“Can everyone do that?” I asked, rubbing my head.

My powers weren’t gone, though. I still had all of Zoe’s strength. She hadn’t removed Envy, just blocked her out somehow.

“Answer the question,” she said. “Quickly. Supressing that thing isn’t easy.”

“You can see her?”

“Answer. The question.”

“I wanted to talk,” I said, slowly raising my hands in a symbol of surrender. “Just talk.”

“You’re not welcome,” she said darkly.

“That’s fair. Really. But I need your help, and I’m willing to offer just about anything in return.”

“Not interested,” she said, but Miss Murder put a hand on her shoulder, and squeezed. “Fine. Talk. Fast.”

“Actually, I’ve had a sudden change of plan. I was going to ask your, uh, partner, for her help tracking down her old partner. But there’s something more important.”

Miss Murder squeezed again, then stepped back. Ami pulled the blade away, but kept her grip on it.

“Tell me everything about the voice in your head,” she said.

“She’s the problem. She’s collecting your powers, getting stronger, and I think she’s trying to control me.”


“I… I guess? She looks like me, I just assumed…”

Ami sighed, collapsing into the chair opposite me. Miss Murder stood behind her, resting her hands on Ami’s shoulders.

“None of this makes sense,” Ami said. “That voice, that sensation, I know it. It’s Exxo. My friend. But the person you’re describing isn’t them at all.”

“I… I don’t know what to say. Who is Exxo? Why are they in my head? Why are they fixated on getting stronger?”

“I’ve been thinking about this since our last encounter. It doesn’t make sense, but that, that makes sense, in its own weird way.”

“I don’t understand,” I said.

“Exxo was always a mystery,” Ami said. “They just… showed up, one day. No memories of who or what they were. We ran tests, but couldn’t figure out anything. They seemed normal. Completely normal. Except, they weren’t normal.”

“Not normal how?”

“At first, it was their ability. Some kind of resonance with reflective surfaces.”

“I can do that,” I said. “She, they, taught me how.”

“Exxo never exhibited the ability to copy powers,” Ami said. “Or to control minds. Or even to exist without a physical body. That’s the thing that’s confusing me. Exxo was… Exxo was static. They never aged, never changed. Any damage that was done to them just reverted back to normal. No matter how much damage they took.”

“You’re right. None of this makes sense,” I agreed.

“I hate this world,” Ami muttered. “Exxo and Haylie, enemies? Gabriel, recklessly focused on finding Zoe. Zoe, keeping to herself, not playing the villain? Everything here is wrong.”

“Can you help me?” I asked.

“No,” she said. “I’m sorry.”

“Then what do I do?”

“I don’t know. Whatever is inside of you, it’s not the Exxo I know, and I’m not enough of an expert to even begin to understand. Gabriel might be able to figure out, but right now, I wouldn’t trust him. So, I don’t know.”

“And what are you going to be doing?” I asked.

She smiled, but there was no friendliness behind it. It felt like a warning, a threat. Her violet eyes signaled danger.

“I’m going to do whatever the hell I want.”


Next: One Wound At A Time

Chapter 50a – What Are You Doing Here

“So this is it, huh?” I said, a little impressed. We were standing outside one of the fanciest-looking skyscrapers in the city. The Celestial’s lair.

“Be careful,” Envy cautioned. I ignored her.

“Little over the top, don’tcha think?” Rachel replied, hands on her hips. “I don’t remember him having this much of an ego.”

“Seriously? I can’t picture him with anything but a massive ego,” I said.

“I’m not kidding, this is dangerous,” Envy said. “Just let me help. All you need to do is touch the glass, close your eyes, and listen to me.”

Fine. I walked up to the glass doors, and reached out, pressing my fingers against them. Nothing happened, so I closed my eyes.

“What, uh, what’re doing, there?” Rachel asked.

“Not sure,” I confessed. “Give me a minute.”

“Whatever you say…”

“Good,” Envy said. “Now, envision a ripple that starts at the very centre of you. Let it grow, until it fills your entire body.”

Ripple, ripple, ripple… Ah, there it is. Feels… warm? Should it feel warm? That’s weird…

“Now, let it grow beyond you. Let it flow into the glass. Feel the glass vibrating, until the rhythm is in sync with your own.”

Sounds like some hippie bullshit… Oh! Okay, no, I can feel the glass. It’s… rectangular. Cold. What does this achieve, exactly?

“Got it? Now keep pushing. Match the rhythm. When it pushes out, push harder, until you can feel more glass.”

Push! No, missed it. Wait for it…

Push! Got it! Okay, I can feel the other door. And the windows on either side? And there’s a row of small windows, just above. I can feel all of it. Still not sure what good this does, though.

“Keep pushing. You can go further.”

Another push, and… is that the second floor? It is! And there’s a mirror inside on the first floor, too. Okay, I think I’m starting to get the hang of this.

Push! Another floor. Brilliant. And the shape of the first floor, and some of the second.

Push! Oh, it’s like a 3D map of the building. Or at least, the glass. And wait, is that… It is! Polished metal! So, anything with a reflection?

Oh, this is how Envy was moving around, before she could move in the real world. However she’s doing that.


Alright, I’ve got most of the building now. I’m still not sure what the point of this is.

“Now that you’ve got the resonance down pat, it’s time to open your eyes. Just think about it first, imagine opening your eyes, without actually doing it. Trust me on this.”

Okay… Opening my eyes…

OUCH. What the fuck am I looking at?

Without physically opening my eyes, suddenly my vision was bombarded with colour. It was like my eyes had fractured into a kaleidoscope, fragments of scenes overlapping and moving about. It was impossible to focus on anything, and already my head was beginning to ache.

“Breathe. Relax. This is normal. Your vision has been expanded. You’re looking through every clear and reflective surface in the building, all at once. It will take some getting used to.”

No kidding.

“Try to find something moving, and focus on that. Push everything else to the side.”

I tried to follow her advice, but it was like being in a room full of TVs, all showing different programs, and trying to focus on just one. Oh, and they all switch around what show is on what at random intervals.

Wait, right there!

Something moved, and I instinctively followed it. As soon as I did, the rest just fell into place. All of the surrounded images parted, creating space for me to focus on the movement.

Him? What the hell is he doing here?

Inexplicably, the boy from months ago, the one who’d seen me transform, was sitting in an empty office, idly tossing a ball against the wall. I could barely remember his name, but his face was familiar.

It didn’t make a lot of sense. He had nothing to do with… anything. Except that one encounter we’d had. Had the Celestial found out about that? Did he think I cared about this boy? Or was that encounter not a coincidence?

Either way, it didn’t matter. I’d found the Celestial.

He was on the fiftieth floor, with two others. One, I recognised. Miss Murder. The other, I didn’t, but I could guess. A young-looking woman, with long red hair, fair skin, freckles. Unconscious, it seemed.

The Celestial was… not what I expected. He was young, same as Miss Murder. Equally familiar. Another classmate? White, skinny, sitting. No, that was a wheelchair.

I opened my eyes. The rest of the vision faded a little, but it didn’t leave. It felt weird, but somehow manageable.

“Fiftieth floor,” I said. Rachel raised an eyebrow.

“Just like that, huh?”

“Just like that,” I said. “Got a problem with that?”

“Nope. Just insatiably curious, as always.”

“Anyway, he’s probably waiting for us. We shouldn’t be rude.”

“You first,” Rachel said, taking a small step back.

I rolled my eyes, and walked up to the glass doors. They were locked, so I decided to just smash through them. The second I did, an explosion tore through the lobby, sending my flying backwards and singeing the front of my costume.

“Motherfucker,” I growled, picking myself up off the ground. My flesh was already healing, but it stung. Rachel laughed. Worse, my weird mirror-vision was severed, and there was no glass left to try the process again with.

We walked into the ruined lobby together, certain the Celestial knew we were there, even if I couldn’t see him anymore. Well, it hardly mattered. It wasn’t like he could go anywhere.

Glass crunched underfoot as we walked. The elevator light activated, the number counting down from thirty-four. The floor that boy was on. What was his name? Qiu? Qiu.

“Looks like we’ve got company,” Rachel commented. “Got any more omniscient insight for me?”

“It’s just one person. Don’t know much more than that.”

The elevator dinged, and the doors opened. Qiu stepped out, but he looked different to before. A little bigger, a little older. Almost like he could have been his own older brother.

He’d bulked up, with toned muscles that were very much on display thanks to the tight vest which was the only top he was wearing. His hair was a little longer, and he’d learned to apply eyeliner. His thin smile oozed confidence. Inappropriate as it was, part of me was a little distracted admiring him. Or it was, until I noticed the black star tattooed on the back of his hand.


“Ladies,” he said, sizing us both up.

“Nice of you to join us,” Rachel said. “Your boss must have a lot of faith in you, sending you in alone.”

“He’s just a delaying tactic,” I said.

“I see you’re still rocking the white girl look,” he said.

“Not like I have a choice,” I muttered.

“You two know each other?” Rachel asked.

“We met once,” I said. “He saw me… change. He was different, then.”

“It’s Zoe’s blood,” Rachel said. “They must have taken some when they raided our old facility. Now that I think about it, that’s probably what they were after.”

“Why are you here?” I asked him.

“Why do you think? After we met, the Stars approached me, made me an offer. A chance to be like you. Special, you know? Make a difference. All I had to do was sign up. And, well…” He held up his hand, showing off the tattoo. “I couldn’t refuse.”

“You’re an idiot,” Rachel taunted.

“We’ll see,” he retorted.

Envy appeared again, a look of concern bordering on panic spreading across her face.

“Jump,” she said.


Too late, I processed what she meant. All across the floor, inch-high spikes emerged, puncturing the soles of my feet. I heard Rachel swear, and knew they’d got her too.

The following electrical surge shouldn’t have come as a surprise, but it did. Rachel and I were brought to our knees, all but paralysed by the current. Qiu just laughed, walking casually over to us.

“You know, he told me you’d be this arrogant, but I didn’t quite believe it,” he said, carefully extracting a long, thin blade from the back of his boot. “You really did just come barging in the front door, though. But I’m the idiot. Sure.”

I couldn’t even reply. The current had rendered me completely incapacitated. Envy had vanished.

“You’re such a waste of superpowers. Both of you. I’m honestly a little disappointed.”

He stood over me, blade pointed at my throat. In that moment, I was genuinely frightened. I hadn’t really considered myself vulnerable before, but the Celestial clearly knew how to hurt me, how to weaken me. What if he knew how to kill me?

Qiu thrust the blade forward, but it never reached my skin. Rachel’s hand wrapped around it, snapping it in half. A small amount of her blood dripped to the floor, and Qiu took a step back, clearly surprised.

“Don’t compare us, kid,” she grunted through clenched teeth. “You’re just some brat who got handed a step up on a silver platter. You’ve got a long way to go before you’re on our level.”

“Yeah, keep talking,” he snapped, throwing a punch that looked like it would have knocked her flat. Instead, she twisted and grabbed his wrist, using his momentum to slam him face-first into the spiked floor. His entire body convulsed.

“You go on ahead,” she said to me, lifting me up off the spikes. Almost immediately, I felt my body relax. She bent her knees, then hurled me across the room. I crashed through the door to the fire stairs, landing on a concrete floor that was thankfully devoid of spikes. “I’ll take care of this clown, then catch up with you!”

Just leave him, I thought bitterly. Then again, the Celestial could probably disable the electric floor, and we’d just have to deal with him again. Maybe it was better if she put him out of commission first.

I raced up the stairs, leaving her behind. On several levels, I nearly tripped over explosive traps, but Envy was running ahead, pointing them out to me. Without her, it would have taken me twice as long to get to the fiftieth floor, and a whole lot more pain.

By the time I kicked down the door to his office, I was primed and ready to beat the living daylights out of him. After everything I’d just endured to get here, I was going to make him pay. Then I was going to take Haylie, grab whatever it was that Envy needed, and track down Charlie.

Except he was gone. Somehow, almost inconceivably, he was gone, and Haylie with him. The only person left in the office was Miss Murder, apparently waiting for me, a grim look of determination plastered across her face.

“Where is he?” I snarled, knowing she wouldn’t answer.

She drew a knife.

Have it your way, bitch.

Speed was the key. I knew that. I could move faster than she could react. So long as she couldn’t predict my movements…

I dashed across the room, fingers locked into a claw shape, ready to rip her open. She was quicker than I’d anticipated, almost as if she’d know exactly what I was going to do. I felt her pop back into existence behind me, already turning, ready for the trick.

The world warped and twisted around me, and I realised she’d teleported us both. Everything was far away, and cold, and windy…

Fucking bitch!

She disappeared, leaving me along in the air, fifty floors above the street. I was falling, and I had no way of knowing if I’d survive. Even if I did, it was definitely going to hurt.


A black-clad figure collided with me, the momentum carrying us both back into the side of the building. I twisted to resist, but they were surprisingly strong. They hit the building feet-first, kicking off and sending us flying in the other direction, landing crudely on the rooftop of a shorter building across the road.

As soon as we touched down, they ran, leaping off the side of the building and disappearing into the night. I was too surprised to even consider following them.

Who the fuck…

I knew that smell, though. It was familiar, even if it had changed a little. Once sweet, almost floral, now tainted with a vague hint of rot.

“Veronica?” I said aloud, to somebody who was already gone.


Next: You Should Have Joined Me When You Had The Chance

Bonus – I Just Want You To Be Safe

“I think we lost her,” Ami said, placing a steadying hand on Miss Murder’s shoulder. “Are you okay?”

Miss Murder nodded, taking a few moments to steady herself. Rachel hadn’t done any lasting damage, but her body was still trembling from the disruptive current. She grimaced. After what she’d tried to do to Rachel, maybe she deserved it…

“I’m… I’m glad you messaged me,” Ami said. “And I’m sorry I didn’t get there sooner.”

She reached for her phone to type out a reply, only then realising Sabrina still had it. Aggravated, she pulled away from Ami. That would be a difficult problem to sort out. She’d need a new one; even if she could get the old one back, there was no way she could trust it after it’d been in the hands of the tinker. That meant considering the old one compromised, and starting entirely fresh.

It had her entire message history with Ami on it, too…

No pen or paper. Did she know enough sign language at this point? Did Ami?

Thank you,” she signed. Ami smiled.

“Happy to help,” Ami said.

Don’t have my phone,” she signed. “Need a new one. Not sure how I’ll contact you.”

“You’re not as hard to find as you think you are,” Ami said. “But, I’ll tell you what. Forty-eight hours, the place where we first met. We’ll sort something out then. You need to get back to your boss, right?”

Miss Murder nodded. Forty-eight hours. That would be enough time to make her report, get a new phone sorted out, rest and recover from the day’s bullshit, and figure out an excuse to be away from him again. Hell, maybe he’d want her away. He was paranoid enough to believe she might have given something away.

I want to leave him. I just can’t, yet. He…

“I know,” Ami said. “You know what you’re doing. I just wish I could help.”

You are helping.”

They stood in silence for a while, neither of them moving. Occasionally, they caught one another’s eye, and quickly turned away.

I need to get back,” she signed, wishing it wasn’t true. She felt a lot safer with Ami than she did with him.

“Okay,” Ami said, then sighed. “Look, I know you’re not… Ugh. I just want to, without, err… I just want you to be safe. That’s…”

She contemplated signing something back, but didn’t know what to say. Ami was talking, but it wasn’t her words that were important.

Instead of replying, she reached out, a still trembling hand covering most of the distance between them. For a moment, a painfully long moment, Ami didn’t react, and she tried to think of ways she could play it off, pretend that it was nothing.

Ami took her hand, a gentle grip that spoke volumes. They looked at each other, momentarily defenceless.

The kiss was quick, soft, daring.

It was perfect.

It wasn’t long enough, but she was out of time. She’d been reckless, hadn’t checked for cameras. If the Celestial saw, if he knew…

She needed to get back to him. She needed to deal with everything that had happened, everything that was going to happen.

She blinked away, leaving Ami alone once again. No goodbye, no explanation.

She smiled.


Next Week: What Are You Doing Here?

Chapter 49 – You Want To Know What I Took From Charlie

“Welcome to your own personal hell,” Rachel said, twirling Miss Murder’s knife threateningly through her fingers. “I’m so glad we have this chance to talk.”

Miss Murder just glared back, unsurprisingly mute. Zoe and I hung back, willing to let Rachel take the lead on this. She was the one who had a personal history with the assassin, after all.

“I’m gonna make this really simple,” she continued, running the tip of the knife along Miss Murder’s cheek. “All you need to do is tell us where we can find the Celestial. You ready to sell him out yet?”

Both of Miss Murder’s hands were bound, and it was obvious she couldn’t talk. Was Rachel just mocking her? Was it part of her interrogation technique?

“You must be getting tired of him, right? Always following orders, killing on command? Or is that what you want? Is that all you are? A living weapon? If not him, it would have been your family, right?”

Slowly, the anger began to fade. Her eyes darted across to mine, then focussed back on Rachel again. She seemed to be ignoring Zoe entirely.

“You can’t mean to tell me you’re really okay with what he’s doing, are you? The number of people he’s killed? The number of people he’s had you kill? You think all this power he’s amassing is safe? You think you’ll be safe, when he doesn’t need you anymore?”

Miss Murder closed her eyes, and took a deep breath. Was Rachel actually getting to her? Was she just playing us? Was there something I was missing?

“You’re already planning on turning on him, aren’t you? You know he’s dangerous, probably better than any of us. But you have to have realised you can’t stop him alone. He’s too paranoid for that. He’s prepared for anything you can do.”

Slowly, she nodded. She didn’t look relaxed, exactly –that would have been impossible with the light current running through her –but she did seem composed. It worried me. It would be too easy for her to have just decided to help us. More likely, she had a plan of some kind.

I looked at Zoe, who was staring intensely at Miss Murder. It looked as though she were trying to decipher something, but didn’t have all of the information. Not unlike me.

“I know the two of you have been through a lot together,” Rachel continued. “I know that you don’t have anything without him. So I’m going to make this really simple. I’m going to offer a trade.”

Miss Murder’s head snapped up, a sudden intensity in her stare. Rachel smirked.

“Give us the Celestial. Give me the Celestial. We’ll take care of him, and you’ll be free. In return, I’ll give you Charlie.”


No, of course, this makes perfect sense. Rachel’s playing her own game, here. The only two significant threats to her are the Celestial, and Charlie. If she can take them both out…

Miss Murder cocked her head to the side, a silent expression of surprise and a request for clarity. Even Zoe seemed surprised.

Should I allow this? Give up my quarry so easily?

There was no way Miss Murder stood a chance against Charlie, though. Even if Rachel armed her and sent her at Charlie like a missile, what could she hope to achieve? Teleport her underground and leave her trapped? Even something like that didn’t seem like it could stop Charlie.

“You want to know what I took from Charlie?” Rachel asked, but the question was directed at Zoe and I.

“The reason she’s still a threat to us?” Zoe asked. “Yes, I would love to know.”

“I took her heart,” Rachel said.

Fuck off.

“Her heart,” Zoe repeated, sounding unimpressed.

“Not literally. The organ is just that, an organ. But back when we were still… together, we experimented. She wanted to find out just what she could survive. As it turns out, she can survive complete obliteration.” Rachel flashed us a grim smile. “All it takes is one teeny, tiny piece. And I have just such a piece.”

“Still impossible,” Zoe said. “For so very many reasons.”

“Believe it or don’t,” Rachel snapped. “The important thing is that Charlie wants it back. That makes it valuable.”

Miss Murder looked contemplatively at Rachel. Then she smiled. Zoe frowned.

“Sabrina. Do you have the girl’s phone?”

“Yeah,” I said, remembering pocketing it before tying her up.

“Check it.”

I dug it out. There was a messaging flashing on the screen.

“On my way,” I read out. “It’s from Ami.”

“Check the last message sent,” Zoe instructed.

Surprisingly, the phone wasn’t actually locked. The message history with Ami was the first thing to come up.

“She sent ‘Suspect trap. Sending location. Back me up?’ just before she attacked us at the warehouse,” I said.

“Fuck,” Rachel said, whirling around. “She probably followed us here. Zoe, can you-”

“On it,” Zoe said, heading for the door.

The door was hurled off its hinges, throwing Zoe backwards. She reacted quickly, but Ami was already through the door, blade drawn.

I felt psychic hands pin me against the wall at the same time as Rachel was knocked off her feet. The straps around Miss Murder’s limbs all snapped, and she was pulled forward out of the chair, separating her from the current that was keeping her from teleporting away.

Rachel and I recovered at about the same time, pushing through Ami’s telekinetic assault and lunging for Miss Murder, but she vanished before either of us got there.

Fuck,” I snarled, using my momentum to move towards Ami. She’d learn not to interfere in our business. The hard way.

I watched as Zoe evaded Ami’s cutting strikes with practised ease, getting close enough to rake her claws across Ami’s face. There was a splash of blood, and Ami staggered back, but before either Zoe or I could follow up the attack, Miss Murder appeared again, grabbing Ami and teleporting them both away.

“Follow them!” I bellowed. Zoe was out the door in a blur of movement, but Rachel stopped me from following with a hand on my shoulder. “The fuck?” I demanded.

“Following them would be a waste of time,” she said. “Zoe’ll track them some of the way by scent, but if Miss Murder was that easy to track, she wouldn’t have survived this long.”

“I’m not giving up that easily,” I said. “She’ll tell him what we’re planning, he’ll be prepared, we won’t stand a chance. Fuck. Since when is she in league with Ami?”

“For a while now, actually,” Rachel said, seemingly unconcerned. I wanted to hit her.

“You knew? And you didn’t do anything to stop it? You didn’t even warn me?”

“Why would I want to stop it?” she asked. “She never would’ve given up any information about the Celestial, even if we actually did resort to torture. And I’m not comfortable torturing anyone, regardless of who they are.”

“Then, what? You were just pretending to help me? Did you just want to see how far I’d get before it all fell down around me? I thought you wanted to take out the Celestial.”

“I do. And really, I’m a bit disappointed you still think so little of me,” she said, feigning pain.

“What’s the plan, then?” I demanded. “What are we going to do now?”

“Wait a little,” Rachel said, shrugging. “See where Miss Murder goes. Eventually she’ll return to the Celestial. Then we just hit him before he has the chance to get ready for it.”


She laughed, and pulled out her phone. A few taps later, I was looking at a map, with a blinking dot on it.

“Come on, this is one of the oldest tricks in the book,” she said. “I embedded a tracking chip in her. Ami rescuing her was all part of the plan, since she knows she’d never escape on her own. Seriously, Sabrina. What kind of a person do you think I am?”

“So she’s gonna lead us to the Celestial?”

“Soon as she parts ways with Ami.”

“Let’s go, then,” I said. “Let’s go tear his fucking house down.”


Next: I Just Want You To Be Safe (Bonus)

Chapter 48 – We Have A Reputation To Maintain

“I think that went well,” Rachel said, as we left Zoe’s hideout together. “You’re a good actor. I’m impressed.”

 I was completely serious, I was tempted to say. I didn’t, though. It was useful, her still believing I was the same naïve teenager.

“We needed to make it convincing. We have a reputation to maintain, after all.”

“Think you can manage a repeat performance?” she asked, twirling a modified pistol in her hands.

“Assuming we can actually capture Miss Murder, sure.”

I was surprised Rachel wasn’t more concerned about that, honestly. Miss Murder had one ability, and that was to teleport. How the hell were we supposed to capture that?

Rachel had a plan, though. She always did. I just had to have faith in her. Could I manage that?

For Veronica, I reminded myself.

We made our way to a warehouse on the other side of the city, one where Rachel assured me a Stars strike was going to go down. I didn’t bother asking where she got her information. She’d yet to be proven wrong, and that was good enough for me.

We arrived before the Stars did, and spent several minutes observing the current occupants, more soldiers. It seemed like the military were sending more and more soldiers in by the day, regardless of how many of them wound up dead or infected. I guess there isn’t much else they can do, is there?

The warehouse was being used as temporary storage for several trucks worth of weapons and ammunition, and guarded appropriately. I counted at least two dozen armed soldiers patrolling, and that many again inside. I was curious to see just how the Stars handled that.

As it turned out, they handled it with lethal efficiency. Ten of them emerged from the shadows, silenced weapons taking out half the patrolling soldiers before the alarm was raised. By the time the reinforcements were surging out to defend against them, the other half of the patrollers were down.

It was impressive to watch, honestly. They outmanoeuvred the soldiers effortlessly, like they knew exactly where they would be in advance. Just how detailed a plan had the Celestial given them? How specific was his power?

“Let’s go,” Rachel said, as the last soldier dropped. We raced towards the warehouse, covering the last of the distance. Rachel activated something in her boots, and some kind of blast sent her rocketing through the air in a surprisingly graceful arc.

She landed in the middle of the kill squad, immediately grabbing the closest gangster by the neck, spinning around and throwing him against the side of a truck. The others opened fire, but I barrelled into two of them, slamming them into the ground without stopping.

We dismantled the rest of the team with our bare hands, making sure not to critically injure any of them. A few of them had those same electric spikes that were designed to take down people like me, but now that I knew to avoid them, they were easy enough to deal with.

When they were all crawling on the ground, grunting and groaning, disarmed but alive, we started to unload the crates of weapons from the trucks. We didn’t actually need them, but if it looked like we were just waiting for Miss Murder, there was a chance they wouldn’t call her.

We’d unloaded ten crates before she showed up. I noticed her first, barely audible footfalls as she teleported slightly above the surface she landed on. Just like Rachel and I had agreed on, I kept unpacking, giving no indication I’d noticed her arrival.

She watched us for several minutes, and we managed to get another few crates stacked up before she made her move. Three quick teleports, edging closer each time, but just out of sight. Had Rachel noticed yet? Did that really matter?

As I was wondering which of us she’d go for first, she materialised behind Rachel, dragging her blade across Rachel’s throat in a savage motion, cutting right through the muscle. Rachel twitched, went limp, and dropped. Miss Murder vanished before I could respond.

Holy shit.

I rushed to Rachel’s body, but Miss Murder appeared in front of me, a hand wrapping around my throat, and then the entire world moved.

We were in the air, falling. She vanished, leaving me to land on my own. The second I did, she appeared again, a vicious slash that carved through my cheek, blood spraying everywhere. Before I could respond, she was gone.

She’s been practicing. She knows how to fight someone as fast as me.

I considered changing forms, switching to Ami’s telekinesis. I’d probably have more luck with that, but it would mean revealing a power I didn’t want anyone to know about.

Not worth it. It wouldn’t help me capture her, which was the whole point. Without Rachel, I had no plan. All that was left was to run, really.

Miss Murder appeared again, running her blade across my back. A warm sensation began to spread as blood bubbled out of the wound. I turned, but she was already gone.


If she wanted a fight, I’d give her one. She could teleport, but she wasn’t as fast or as strong as I was, and she certainly didn’t heal as fast. She couldn’t even hurt me, not really. I only had to catch her once to turn the tables.

I whirled around, trying to watch every direction at once.  Just try it, you psychotic mute-


She appeared again, but before I could react to her, she stopped suddenly, her eyes bulging. Her body began to convulse, and she dropped to the ground.

What the-

Rachel walked up to Miss Murder’s body, a satisfied smirk resting on her lips. Her throat was still cut open, but there was barely any blood flowing from the open wound. But how? The damage was undeniable. It should have severed her carotid artery. Why wasn’t there more blood?

“Scared you for a bit there, didn’t I?” she said, her voice raspy and weak. “Figured she’d try and trick like that.”

“I don’t understand,” I said, staring at her neck. “How?”

“Made a few modifications. Made the vital stuff a little harder to cut. Nothin’ complicated.” She coughed loudly. It sounded painful. “Anyway. Let’s get this one somewhere safe. Can’t keep her like this for long.”

“What did you do to her?”

“Electric dart,” she said. “Was hard work getting enough voltage in such a tiny package, lemme tell you.” Another cough. “Should release a charge every few seconds, enough to keep her from using her blinking.”

Rachel ripped Miss Murder’s sleeve, exposing the skin of her arm. She pulled out a little box with wires attached, and strapped it the exposed flesh, then pressed a button on the side. I assumed it was a more reliable way of executing the same concept as the dart.

“Let’s get her to the interrogation room, then,” I said, picking her up. Rachel picked the assassin’s knife up from the floor, pocketing it.

When we got to the interrogation room we’d prepared, a different one to the last one, we were both surprised to see Zoe waiting for us. There was an almost vicious look in her eyes.

“What’re you doing here?” Rachel asked, her voice still strained and hoarse.

“I didn’t want to miss the fun,” she said.

“So you’ve finally decided to help?” I asked, accusingly.

“Just with this bit,” she said. “I want to see just how this one works. I’ve never met a blinker before.”

“And you’re not about to,” Rachel muttered. “Unless we fuck up, she isn’t going to be blinking. Only talking.”

That could be an issue,” Zoe said. “She doesn’t talk.”

“You know what I mean.”

“What happened to your neck, anyway?”

“Cosmetic damage, nothing more. I’ll fix it later.”

While they bickered, I strapped the now unconscious Miss Murder into the chair we’d prepared. Rachel ripped at her outfit, exposing more skin, and attaching wires. A constant current would prevent her from teleporting away.

I hadn’t seen her up close before. Curious, I tugged at the scarf that covered her neck and half her face. She was pretty, surprisingly so. Her features seemed Eurasian, and somehow familiar…

“Holy shit,” I said.

“Something wrong?” Rachel asked.

“I know her,” I said softly. “We went to school together. She’s… she’s my age. How did she end up like this?”

My gaze fell to her neck, and the blackened skin in the shape of a hand wrapped around it.

“What the hell happened to you?” I asked.

She stirred, her intense green eyes darting about the room. They settled on Rachel, and her expression shifted from determination to fear.

“Let’s talk,” Rachel said, grinning sadistically.


Next Week: You Want To Know What I Took From Charlie?

Bonus – There Are Plenty Of Dangerous People In The World

“Well, that was unexpected,” the Celestial said, breaking the silence between them. “I really had hoped she’d survive.”

Miss Murder looked up from her phone, looking up at him with a curious expression on her face. He shook his head.

“Veronica’s dead,” he explained.

Miss Murder’s spirit fell at the news. She’d never been close with Veronica, but she remembered her well enough. Before everything changed, Veronica had been a spirited, enthusiastic girl, passionate and loud. It hadn’t surprised Miss Murder at all to learn Veronica was still in the city, surviving against all odds. It also wasn’t surprising to learn she was dead, but it was disappointing.

No surprises there, she typed into her phone, showing her partner. He nodded.

“Charlie killed her,” he said.

That was surprising. Charlie was a lot of things, but a murderer? Without reason? That was something she hadn’t been prepared for. Had she really misjudged her old friend that much?

What? Why?

“No idea,” he said. “They were talking, and then Charlie just… attacked her. Poor girl never stood a chance.”

That made even less sense. Charlie was calculating, almost insidious in her scheming. She planned things ahead of time, and there was always a reason for everything she did.

What were they talking about?

“Couldn’t pick up the audio,” the Celestial said. “The only camera that caught them is too low resolution to lip-read. Dammit, this is going to bug me all night.”

She knew it was curiosity, and not compassion, that was eating at him. It was part of what made him so effective at what he did, and why her trust in him was slowly eroding.

Does this change anything?

“Nothing significant,” he said, looking wistfully out the window. She knew he was using his power, comparing possibilities and glimpses of the future. “If Sabrina finds out, it’ll push up her conflict with Charlie. That’s… hmm. That’s actually something we should try to prevent. If Sabrina isn’t strong enough when she faces Charlie, she might not get another chance, and there isn’t anyone else who can.”

That was a frightening notion. She had first-hand experience of just how dangerous Charlie was, but the idea that Sabrina was the only person with the potential to actually challenge Charlie, to be able to truly stop her?

Miss Murder couldn’t think of anyone less qualified to carry the fate of the city.

How do we keep her from finding out?

The Celestial thought for a moment, quietly brooding. When he looked up, she knew she wasn’t going to like what he had to say.

“We’ll claim credit. She’ll be furious, and come after us instead. We can set up some challenges for her, make sure she’s ready for Charlie.”

And if she gets all the way to us you?

“I suppose I’ll deal with that if it happens,” he said calmly. “For now, I need you to go to the body. It needs to look like you killed her.”

Her hunch was right. She didn’t like his plan. Not one bit.

You want me to mangle a dead body?

“It’s either that or tell Sabrina to her face that you murdered her best friend.” He paused, reading her expression. “I’m sorry.”

Shaking her head, Miss Murder stood, and began to dress for the outing. It was pointless arguing with him, and even if she didn’t like his plans, she knew there was merit to them, at least to his end game. He had the potential, and the resources, to make a real difference in the city, and she didn’t belief he was so morally bankrupt as to turn into the cartoonish supervillain he gave the impression of being.

Fully dressed, she looked out the window, staring at a nearby rooftop. An instant later, she was standing on the rooftop. She blinked again, and she was on the ground.

It took her only a few minutes to cross the city and find the rooftop where her partner had spotted Veronica’s corpse. It was a pitiful sight.

It annoyed her that Charlie had just left the body lying here. Nobody deserved that indignity.

She crouched down, inspecting the body. There was no visible damage, just a lack of vitality. If she hadn’t seen the footage, she’d easily have believed the girl had just suddenly stopped living. If only.

“You’re out late,” a familiar voice said, surprising her. She looked up to see Ami standing in the doorway that led back into the building. Ami saw the corpse, and frowned. “Oh. Oh, dear. What happened here?”

Miss Murder said nothing as Ami approached, also crouching beside the corpse. She didn’t touch the body, but Miss Murder knew all too well Ami didn’t need touch to maintain a physical awareness of what was happening around her.

“Neck broken. It was a quick death, that’s no accident. Probably a mercy killing.”

That surprised her. A mercy killing? That implied Veronica was in pain, or suffering in some way. What did Ami know that she didn’t?

Mercy killing? she typed into her phone.

“Oh, you didn’t know? She was infected,” Ami explained, and Miss Murder recoiled. “This is probably better than what was going to happen to her.”

It shouldn’t have surprised her that Veronica had gotten infected. The probability of it was extraordinarily high. It just seemed wrong, somehow.

It didn’t matter. She was here for a reason, a rather unpleasant one.

She looked at Ami, and hesitated. Even though it shouldn’t have made a difference, she felt self-conscious with Ami present. After a moment’s reflection, she typed out another message.

You probably don’t want to be here for this.

Ami read the message, and shrugged.

“Whatever you’re going to do, I’m sure I’ve seen worse.”

Left with no other option, she sighed, and gently gripped the hair at the back of Veronica’s head. She pulled out her knife, and ran it across Veronica’s throat, using enough pressure to cut through the trachea. It felt awful.

Ami frowned.

“Now why would you do a thing like that? Did this girl slight you in some way?”

More than ever, Miss Murder was frustrated with her inability to speak. She was slowly learning sign language, but it was difficult, and still relied on other people to be able to understand it. Typing or writing was stilted and inefficient, and it made her feel disconnected from the flow of dialogue.

Instead of the pages of explanation she wanted to offer, her response to Ami was a single word.


“You… didn’t enjoy that, did you?” Ami asked, her tone unexpectedly tender. It caught Miss Murder off guard. “I’m sorry.”

Perhaps there was a chance Ami could understand more than just what was said. Was that possible? The woman was decades older, and literally came from another world. Miss Murder hadn’t seriously considered the possibility of a deeper emotional connection.

We weren’t close, but she didn’t deserve death.

Ami considered the message for several seconds before saying anything.

“You’re taking the blame for someone.”


“I won’t ask why,” Ami said, and Miss Murder felt her shoulders sag with relief. She was too exhausted to even attempt answering that question.

Thank you.

The silence dragged out between them. Despite her job being done, she wasn’t in a hurry to return, and Ami didn’t seem to be in a rush to go anywhere either. In a weird way, it was almost pleasant.

“Are you recovering okay? After your fight with Rachel?” Ami asked, with genuine concern.

Miss Murder lifted up her shirt, revealing the ugly wound on her stomach, still raw and very painful. The memory of Rachel impaling her with a shard of glass was still very fresh. She’d recovered enough to move around without too much pain, but she was far from being ready for another fight.

“Brutal,” Ami muttered and Miss Murder noticed the way she almost instinctively reached out to touch it, before pulling her hand back. “She doesn’t hold back, does she? I’m rather hoping I never have to fight her, I’m half convinced she would kill me.”

Pulling her shirt down again, Miss Murder withdrew her phone and typed out another message.

The longer she has to create, the more dangerous she becomes.

Her partner seemed to have dismissed Rachel as a potential threat. He’d wanted to work with her, use her to help with Haylie, but she’d known Rachel would reject that offer. Now the Celestial seemed convinced he could just ignore the tinker, or kill her at a later date. Miss Murder was fairly certain Rachel was going to be the one that killed him.

“There are plenty of dangerous people in this world,” Ami said. “I’m honestly more worried about your partner.”

She really would have liked to agree with that. He was dangerous, and far too ambitious for her liking, and his ethics were questionable at best.

He’s manageable.

“I suppose,” Ami said, sounding a little annoyed. Another silence stretched out, and she wanted to say something, but she didn’t know what. She felt like she’d upset Ami, and for some reason, that bothered her.

Ami broke the silence, and when she spoke, it was with less confidence, less surety than was usual for her.

“I meant to say, I’m… I’m worried about you.”

Well that felt like a slap in the face. Miss Murder had made peace with the fact that she was perceived as a villain. It was just part of the price of working with the Celestial, and his Stars. It was the only way for her to achieve what she wanted, and there wasn’t anyone left whose opinion mattered to her. It took her by surprise that she cared about Ami’s perception of her.

You think I’m dangerous?

Ami looked at the message, confused. She didn’t say anything for several long seconds, clearly trying to compose her response. Miss Murder’s heart felt like it was made of lead.

“No,” Ami said eventually. “I meant that I’m… I’m worried for you.”

She… what? Miss Murder shook her head, trying to process that. Worried for her? As in, concerned for her safety?

She began typing out a response, thought better of it, and deleted it. After silent deliberation, she tried again, but changed her mind, and deleted that too. Several attempts later, she finally had a response she was comfortable with.

Me too.

“Why stay with him, then?” Ami asked, not even trying to disguise her disdain.

Because I need to know what he’s doing.

Also because if she ever left him, she knew he’d turn his resources towards destroying her. She knew far too much about what he was planning, what he could do, what he’d already done. There was no chance he’d let her live, and she didn’t quite have faith in her ability to survive his wrath.

She didn’t say that, though. She suspected that if she did, Ami would challenge it, would offer to protect her. She suspected that she’d probably accept that offer. She knew that she’d want to. She knew it woudn’t be enough.

“You know what his planning?” Ami asked.

Yes, she typed out in response, praying that Ami wouldn’t ask her to say it. She knew the Celestial couldn’t tell what she was saying, but she still knew better than to say anything out loud. One way or another, he’d find out.

“Be careful,” Ami said.


The two of them stood there, almost close enough to touch. Part of her wanted to, wanted to know what would happen, wanted to feel that connection.

“I…” Ami began, and Miss Murder’s nerve broke.

She blinked away, and didn’t stop blinking until she was back home, back where she was safe.

Back where she was alone.

Bonus – There’s Something I Need To Tell You

Six Months Before Impact Day

Sabrina sat down opposite Veronica, fidgeting nervously. For her part, Veronica pretended not to notice, something Sabrina was extremely grateful for. She’d been working up the courage to have this conversation for weeks, maybe longer.

There was nobody she trusted more than Veronica. Veronica was her best friend, her moral support, her confidant. Despite that, she was terrified. What if it came out wrong? What if Veronica was disgusted, or worse, what if she just dismissed it?

What if she refused to accept it?

Sabrina shook the doubts out of her head. Veronica was a good person, and nothing would change their friendship. She was even sure, pretty sure, that Veronica had been dropping hints, like she already knew, and wanted to make sure Sabrina could feel comfortable talking about it.

The café owner approached them, an exceedingly attractive woman who seemed to go out of her way to look frazzled and disorganised. She tucked a strand of auburn hair behind her ear as she smiled at the two girls.

“What can I get for you?”

“A mocha for me,” Veronica said, not missing a beat. “Thanks, Wendy.”

“Just a hot chocolate,” Sabrina said shyly, conscious of the way her voice sounded. Wendy just kept smiling, nodding cheerfully.

“Won’t be long.”

Sabrina watched Wendy leave, observing the strange way that Wendy gave the impression of being clumsy whilst maintaining an enviable grace.

“So that’s why you always insist on coming here,” Veronica said, a teasing note in her voice.


“You have a crush on Wendy,” she said, grinning. Sabrina blushed.

“I do not,” she replied, flustered.

“So you don’t think she’s attractive?”

Everyone thinks she’s attractive,” Sabrina said, trying to dodge the question. “She’s like, a real life version of the nerdy girl who gets a makeover and is suddenly the prettiest girl in school, except it was obvious all along how pretty she was because the actress was so pretty anyway and I’m really not helping my case here, am I?”

“Not one bit, but I’m enjoying it immensely,” Veronica said, grinning.

“She’s not my type,” Sabrina insisted. “And probably too old for me. Anyway, it’s super inappropriate to flirt with people whose job it is to be nice to you.”

“Fine, fine, you don’t have a crush on Wendy,” Veronica conceded. “You just think she’s attractive and you get flustered whenever she talks to you.”

“Hot chocolate?” Wendy said, placing it gently on the table in front of Sabrina, who made a tiny squeaking noise and shrank into her chair. Veronica laughed.

Once Wendy had placed down Veronica’s coffee and left again, Sabrina sat up straight, and glared at Veronica as fiercely as she could. Veronica only laughed harder.

Over Veronica’s shoulder, Sabrina caught someone staring. For a moment, she thought they were staring at her, but quickly realised it was Veronica, not her.

They seemed young, a kid of maybe ten or twelve, with deep purple eyes and long, lilac hair. She had soft white skin and a satisfied smile that seemed out of place on her young face.

Veronica followed Sabrina’s gaze, but the girl had already vanished. Confused, she turned back to Sabrina.

“You’re spacing out there, buddy. Something the matter?”

“No, it’s nothing,” Sabrina said, completely forgetting about the girl. “Well, I mean, there is…” She took a deep breath. “There’s something I need to tell you.”

“Oh! Well, sure, what’s up?”

Sabrina looked across the table at her best friend, feeling panic and peace wage war in her stomach. She’d rehearsed her next lines countless times, and she still wasn’t sure what to say.

“I, uh…”

There were so many ways she could begin. I’m a girl. I’m trans. I’m not the person you think I am. Hey, you know how I’ve never been any good at being a boy? For a long time, something in my life has felt wrong…

No matter what she said, it sounded wrong in her head. It was such a big thing, so important, yet so mundane at the same time. After all, nothing was really changing. Her name, her pronouns, maybe one day, the way that she looked. Nothing important, not to the friendship.

Veronica smiled at her, the sort of smile that’s mean to reassure you that everything’s okay. Sabrina smiled back.

“I’ve been doing a lot of thinking,” she said, and once she started, it was easy to keep going. “About who I am, and what I want. What makes me happy. And I realised something. My whole life, people have been expecting me to be someone I’m not. Someone I can never be. And I’ve tried, Veronica. I tried so hard to be that person, for so long.”

Another pause, another deep breath. Veronica didn’t say anything, didn’t stop smiling.

“There’s a lot that doesn’t feel right. The way that I look, it doesn’t match up with the way that I feel. The way people look at me, talk to me, if feels like they think I’m somebody else. The name that they use, it doesn’t feel like mine. It feels like an anchor, or a noose.”

Still no reaction from Veronica.

“You’re the first person I’ve talked to about this. The first person I’ve trusted. I mean, I’ve talked to people online, people with more experience, people who’ve been here before, but not like this. This is different, and I knew I had to tell you first. You’re my best friend, and I need you to know that I’m…”

She choked up, unable to say the last words, the most important words. Veronica hadn’t moved, hadn’t stopped smiling. She had no reason to be afraid, no reason to stop, but…

“It’s okay,” Veronica said. “You’re my best friend too, and I’m here for you, no matter what. I promise.”

“I… I think I’m a girl, Veronica,” Sabrina said, then immediately shook her head emphatically. “No, scratch that. I know I’m a girl.”

Veronica didn’t let the silence drag on. She reached across the table, taking Sabrina’s hand and squeezing it.

“Makes perfect sense to me,” she said warmly. “I do have one question for you, though.”


“What do I call you?” Veronica asked. Sabrina let out a breath she hadn’t realised she’d been holding.

“Sabrina,” she said.

“I’m already changing it in my phone,” Veronica said. “And if you need any backup, telling anybody else, I will happily be there for you. In your own time, of course.”

“I wanna tell Ash,” Sabrina said. “I don’t know how she’ll take it, but she’s like family. And I could really use your help on that one.”

“Aw, you know she loves you,” Veronica reassured her. “But of course, I’ll help you however I can. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised, though. She’s a smart kid.”

They both looked up as the café entrance chime rang. Three teenagers walked in, and Sabrina recognised two of them, though she couldn’t recall their names. Friends of Charlies, maybe.

Wendy intercepted them, making it look like she was just casually walking past them on her way to another table. They zeroed in on her.

“You’re Wendy, right?” a boy with fair skin, short blonde hair and quick grey eyes asked. Sabrina couldn’t see Wendy’s facial expression, but she noticed the woman’s body language tense up.

“That’s me,” she said, with flawless charm and warmth.

“We need your help,” the boy said, looking around conspiratorially. Sabrina very quickly stared down at her mug, hoping he wouldn’t notice her attention.

“You need help from a barista?” Wendy asked, cocking her head.

“Not exactly.”

“We’re looking for a different sort of help,” one of the girls added, beautiful and athletic with striking green eyes and soft Eurasian features.

The other girl, a sullen looking Latina girl, had distanced herself from the other two, but watched them carefully.

“Well, I only have the one kind available,” Wendy said patiently.

The boy drew an envelope out of his pocket, handing it to her.

“You might change your mind when you see this,” he said.

“What’s this?” Wendy asked, not taking it from him.

“Open it, and find out.”

“Okay…” She took the envelope, and extracted the letter deftly. If her body language was tense before, she was practically shaking with anger as she read it. “Ah. Oh, that clever little…”

“So?” the closer of the two girls asked.

“Back room,” Wendy replied sharply.

The four of them shuffled off together, and Sabrina and Veronica looked at each other. Veronica shrugged, and Sabrina nodded in a sort of vague agreement.

They paid their bill, and left the café. Veronica linked her arm through Sabrina’s, and the two of them began to walk, with no particular destination in mind.

Ahead of them, a young girl caught Sabrina’s eye. She was sitting atop a streetlamp, swinging her legs idly, her lilac hair fluttering gently in a breeze Sabrina couldn’t feel.

She stopped in her tracks, staring up at the girl. Veronica looked up at the same spot, but the girl was gone.

“What’s up?” Veronica asked. “You see something?”

“Huh? No,” Sabrina said. “Not sure why I stopped, sorry.”

“All good. Probably just your brain remembering something important, then forgetting it again. Happens to me all the time.”

“You’re probably right,” Sabrina said, smiling comfortably.

Interlude #4

All around him, countless worlds spun. Fragments of possibility sat at the edges of his consciousness, taunting him, tempting him.

He forced himself to focus. Sometimes it was easier. Currently, it was difficult. Too many open doors, too many threads. The worlds around him were ephemeral, insubstantial, but they were hard to ignore completely. Reality was much easier to leave behind.

Far too dangerous for that, the way that things were. He couldn’t afford a single slip. Too much at stake. Too much that could go wrong.

He stared at the monitors in front of him. All of them showed the same room, from different angles. An overlay of messages and sensory data scrolled across them. In the centre of the room, she stood. Trapped. Livid.

It had taken months to set up this trap. Bait seeded far in advance, a cascading sequence of events that had too many opportunities to fail.

Except it didn’t fail. He could see every possibility, every eventuality. There were no flaws in his plan, no gaps for her to slip through. One way or another, it was inevitable that she’d find herself here.

He allowed himself a simple smile. Nobody was around to see it.

He leaned forward, turned on his microphone.

“Hello again, Charlie. I was wondering when we’d get the chance to speak.”

On the monitors, Charlie reacted. The fury slipped away, but he could still see it, simmering beneath the surface, beneath her farcical act of confidence.

“And you’re somewhere far away, I’m sure. You think you’re safe?”

“I know I’m safe,” he replied, with complete surety. “Even you can’t reach me here, Charlie.”

She shrugged, pacing back and forth in the room. There were marks on the walls where she’d tried to fight her way out, but the room had been designed with her considerable strength in mind.

“That seems unlikely, but it hardly matters. I’m not interested in you.”

“Oh, come now, we both know that’s not true,” he replied. Just speaking to her, his legs had begun to throb. It was the only sensation they’d felt in months. He did his best to ignore it. “You’re content to leave me alone for now, but sooner or later you’ll come after me again. Perhaps once you’ve cleared the extradimensional raiders from our city?”

It was dangerous, revealing how much of her plan he knew. If she had a way of contacting anyone on the outside…

But then, she didn’t have anyone on the outside, did she? She was alone, which was only fitting. All she did was use people, lie to them and manipulate them for her own ends. He could almost respect that, but she lacked the ambition to do anything worthwhile with her talents. Instead, she was nothing more than a supremely powerful toddler, throwing a tantrum.

“You are running the most dangerous gang in the city,” she pointed out.

“I’m trying to save this city, just like you,” he argued, wishing he didn’t still rise to her bait so readily. “Only instead of a reckless, one-man crusade, I have a plan. Resources. I can make a difference.”

She grew still, and he knew he’d hit a nerve.

“I think you’ve done enough, don’t you?” she said softly. A chill ran down his spine.

“Clearly not.”

She sighed, running her hand through her shaggy mop of hair. For a moment, her body language seemed to indicate defeat.

“We’re never going to see eye to eye again, are we?”

“Doubtful,” he replied, just to watch her shoulders slump. Instead, she bristled.

“So what’s the plan here? You think you can keep me trapped?”

The idea of keeping her trapped had occurred to him. Actually, it was the first idea that had occurred to him, when he’d begun formulating this plan. But he couldn’t see a way to keep her trapped, not permanently. The solution needed to be permanent. It was the only way.

“No, Charlie. I’m going to kill you.”

She laughed. It was a short, broken sound, almost like a weak imitation of a sound a human might make.

“You know better than that,” she said coldly. “I can’t be killed.”

She was wrong. She thought herself indestructible, but he knew better. She wasn’t immortal. She had limits.

“Do you know what happened to me, Charlie?” he asked. “To us? After our last encounter?”

The memory was burned into his mind, an omnipresent reminder, a private hell he couldn’t escape.

“You lost your legs. She lost her voice.”

No remorse. No pity. Just a harsh statement of fact.

“We didn’t lose them,” he corrected her. “We sacrificed them. Traded them. For greater power.”

“You’d better hope you have something more dangerous than teleportation, then,” she said, an implied threat that shook him more than he’d have liked.

“Considerably. I see the future, Charlie. I see probability and outcomes and chance and fate.”

He didn’t tell her it was almost impossible to control, or that it was slowly driving him out of his mind. She didn’t need to know, and it didn’t matter anyway. He was getting better at controlling it, and thinks would change before it was too late. He had Haylie.

“Is that why you call yourself the Celestial, now?” she asked, a condescending smirk appearing on several monitors.

“That, and it seemed fitting, as the leader of the Stars.”

She shook her head, looking around the room yet again. He knew she was trying to find a way out, a weakness she could exploit, but there was nothing. He’d prepared for every possibility, no matter how small.

“You think you know how this goes, but you don’t,” she said threateningly.

“I’ve seen every possible outcome of this scenario,” he said calmly. “No matter what you do, there isn’t a piece of you left.”

She snarled; a primal, animalistic sound that all but reached through the screens and speakers, wrapping around his throat.

“You’d better be damn sure, Celestial.” She practically spat his name. “Because if you’re wrong, and I do survive this, whatever it is you’re going to do, I am going to destroy you. I’m going to tear apart your worthless empire, and then I’m going to kill you.”

“Trust me,” he said, his finger hovering above the keyboard, hand trembling slightly. “I’m sure.”

He hit the button. Panels in the walls of the room opened, revealing a dozen specialised weapons. All of them activated in the same moment.

He didn’t look away. Charlie screamed and shouted, lashed out, broke a couple of the weapons. It wasn’t enough. As her body was torn away, it tried to regenerate, but it wasn’t fast enough.

He watched until there was nothing left of her. No flesh, no blood, not even dust.

He watched even once she was gone, staring at the monitor, waiting for any trace that he’d failed. After half an hour with no changes, he let himself relax.

The door opened, and Miss Murder walked in. She looked at his face, glanced at the monitors.

“It’s done,” he said. She pulled out her phone, already typing out a response.

She’s dead?

“See for yourself,” he said, inviting her to observe the monitors more closely. She stared for several long minutes before typing a response.

Chance of survival?

“None. I saw every possibility. I watched her die.”

You can’t see all the possibilities around her. Or the others.

Her insight bothered him. He hadn’t specifically told her that the others clouded his clairvoyance, especially Charlie. Whatever mysterious force powered his ability to see the future, or possible futures, it seemingly couldn’t keep up with the supernatural.

“I can see enough,” he insisted. “Look, the room is empty. She’s not recovering.”

What if she can teleport?

“She can’t,” he said, trying to refrain from snapping at her. He knew caution and skepticism was the appropriate attitude, especially when it came to Charlie. It still frustrated him. He wanted to feel victorious, and he didn’t. “She got one power, just like us. She stole another one, but she couldn’t steal teleportation.”

Invisibility? Illusion? A fake?

Sometimes, she was more clever than he typically credited her. It was an unfortunate flaw of his, and he knew she resented it.

“All accounted for, along with several dozen other impossible ideas. Why is this so hard for you to believe?”

You failed before.

His fingers curled into a fist.

“You’re talking about Zoe and Sabrina. That wasn’t a failure. All I needed to do was delay them. It worked.”

You never told me.

“You didn’t need to know. Besides, Sabrina has Ami’s powers, remember? What if she read your mind?”

That hadn’t ever been a concern, but it was better than the truth. He couldn’t tell her that he just didn’t trust her, that he expected her to turn on him at any moment. Just because it didn’t happen in any of his visions, didn’t mean it was impossible. She, like the others, had a way of clouding his ability.

It doesn’t work like that.

How could she be so sure? So far as he knew, he was her primary source for information about them all. Did she know more than she was telling him? He made a mental note to keep a closer eye on her.

“Couldn’t take the risk. Anyway, that’s not what this is about. You haven’t lost faith in me, so just say what you want to say.”

She hesitated before typing her response to that. He watched the expression she wore with great interest.

I don’t want it to be true.

Neither did he, loathe as he was to admit it. But it was for the best.

“We talked about this. We agreed, it was the only option. Sooner or later, she was going to come after us, and she’s too dangerous to keep trapped. This was the only way.”

That doesn’t mean I like it.

“No. Me either.” He sighed. “It’s going to make things a lot harder in the short term, too. Without her getting in the way, everyone else is going to move that much more freely, but I-” he stopped mid-sentence as new visions burst forth around him. New futures, possibilities and certainties all danced around his head. Something had changed. The future was starting to catch up.

Except, impossibly, Charlie was in them. All of them.

“No. No, that’s not possible.”

Miss Murder shoved her phone in his face.


He shook in his chair, petrified. That wasn’t possible. That wasn’t fair.

“She’s- I can see her. Not now, but in the future. A possible outcome. And another. She’s showing up again. Or she will.”

He was babbling, but it didn’t matter. Most of his mind was focussed on the future. The present didn’t matter. He needed answers, and they wouldn’t be found with his present company.


“I don’t know,” he said, distantly. “I don’t understand. The trap was perfect. There was nothing left. I destroyed every cell. There’s nothing in that room but dust. She can’t still be alive.”

We’re fucked.

He looked up at her. She didn’t look afraid. If anything, she looked almost relieved. Alleviated guilt, maybe? If only he could feel that, but the twisting feeling in the pit of his stomach had only worsened.

“No. She still can’t hurt us. We just need to hold on for a little longer. I’m close, so close.”

You’re obsessed.

His instinct was to disagree with her, but she was right. He was obsessed. He had to be. Haylie was the key to everything. Haylie would change everything. She was the only future that mattered.

“Yes. Because I can see everything, and I know. I know. If I can wake her up, we win. We’re unstoppable.”

And if Charlie finds us first?

The Celestial sighed. He fought to keep those visions at bay. He would do everything in his power to avoid that future.

“If I can’t wake her up in time, Charlie wins. She destroys us, destroys the Stars. Then she destroys all the others, one by one. I even know the order. First Zoe, then Gabriel, Ami, Sabrina. Rachel lasts until the end, but even she can’t outlast Charlie. Then, when they’re all dead, when there’s nobody left to fight her? That’s when she destroys the world.”

Chapter 30 – Tinker v Blinker

“Miss Murder? Kill her.”

His voice cut off, the connection clearly dropped. Suddenly, it was just the two of us again. That wasn’t as comforting as it could have been.

Had to think quick. I was fresh out of secret weapons, or weapons of any kind. I’d even taken my gloves off. My opponent could blink, and she knew more ways to kill a person than I knew people. It wasn’t a great match-up.

There was a kevlar weave in my clothing that would probably protect against most knife attacks, it was probably even bulletproof. My skin didn’t have that same advantage, and my face and neck were exposed. Far too vulnerable.

My skeleton was difficult to break, and unless she teleported me off the side of a skyscraper I doubted she could hurt me that way. Small comfort.

No super-strength or super-speed. No accelerated healing. Just me and my tough bones. Not a lot to work with.

Miss Murder was fast, I knew that much. Maybe hyperkinetic? Nothing like Zoe or Sabrina, but it felt like something

When she’d teleported me, I’d glimpsed something else about her power. It wasn’t just teleportation. She could actually deconstruct her body, turning it temporarily incorporeal. Could she use that defensively? Probably. That would make her difficult to hurt, even more difficult to contain.

Despite what I’d said, I had no intention of killing her. Cathartic as that might have been, I doubted I’d be able to live with myself. The Celestial was right. I wasn’t a killer.

What else did I know about her? As deadly as she was, she only used a knife. No guns. Her bare hands would have been just as deadly, though, had to keep that in mind. Still, if I could keep my distance, I’d be mostly safe. That’d be helpful if she wasn’t also a teleporter.

She blinked, appearing in front of me, slashing with the knife. I was fast enough to throw up my arms as I leapt away from her, and thankfully, the knife did not cut through. I had some protection, at least.

She didn’t give me more than a second’s reprieve before coming at me again, teleporting behind me, nearly catching me off guard. She was relentless, never staying in the same spot for more than a second, never attacking from the same direction twice. There was no strategy on my part keeping me alive, only reflexes.

Still, I was learning. Nothing useful, but any information could become useful in the right circumstances. If I could stay in one piece for long enough, I could find a way to use it.

There are a lot of ways teleportation is theoretically possible. Deconstruction at the molecular level, followed by reconstruction at the destination. Creating a copy at the destination and transferring consciousness, before terminating the original. Freezing time, moving from A to B before resuming it. She wasn’t doing any of that.

She grabbed me, cutting off my train of thought, and the world faded to black around me. When it snapped back, we were nearly ten metres in the air. She let go, blinking back down to the ground, letting me fall.

I hit the ground hard, landing on my hands and knees, the shock reverberating through my body, but I managed to stay in one piece, no significant damage. Unfortunately, that wasn’t the point of it. She took advantage of the temporary stunned state, dragging the blade of her knife across my throat.

Before she could get it in too deep, I let my body slump to the side, sliding off the edge of the knife. She managed to draw blood, but the wound wasn’t enough to cause any serious harm. I got lucky.

She grabbed me again, teleporting me up to about the same height as before. I felt the same distortion, confirming my suspicions from earlier. Her teleportation worked by folding two spaces in three-dimensional space together. Did she know that? Did she realised the implications of that?

I dropped again, the ground rushing up to meet me. This time, I was more prepared, and knowing what my body was capable of, I twisted, landing on my feet, my legs absorbing the impact. Before Miss Murder could assault me again, I threw myself to the side, less than a second before her knife slashed through the spot I landed.

Fuck, she was fast. Faster than I was, and blinking didn’t seem to be tiring her out at all. That actually made sense. The amount of energy required to do what she was doing would be phenomenal, way more than her body could possibly have access to. Which meant she was drawing it from somewhere else.

I wanted to know how she was doing that, more than anything, but it wasn’t the time. Even if I could figure it out, maybe even figure out how to cut her off from it, chances of me being able to do it in the middle of a fight more infinitesimal. Not a helpful line of thinking.

She teleported me again, this time directly over an antenna. I cried out as the sharp point drove into me, but it couldn’t get through my jacket. It was going to leave a killer bruise, though.

I needed a way to stop her without killing her. That was going to be difficult. I’d need to hurt her, badly, but not in a way she couldn’t recover from. Enough that she’d have to stop fighting, that she’d give up and leave. I wouldn’t be able to do that without perfect timing, and I’d need to surprise her.

She slashed at me, and I raised my arms to protect my face. As I did, I saw her body shimmer and fade to shadow, and the blade past right through my arm, solidifying again just in time to cut my cheek open, spilling blood out everywhere.

Fuck. She was smarter than I was giving her credit for. Stupid of me, I’d always known she was clever. I was going to lose if I didn’t come up with something, and fast.

Needed to be reckless. I looked around, saw a window. Good enough. I ran for it, and she didn’t try to stop me. I hurled myself through it, letting my protected shoulder take the brunt of the impact, glass shattering around me.

I landed painfully as a cascade of glass shards rained around me. Miss Murder materialised in front of me, still pristine. Not for much longer, though.

I grabbed a shard of glass large enough to be used as a knife and charged at her. The first time, she blinked away. I staggered forwards, only slightly exaggerating it.

The second time I charged, she simply turned to shadow, letting me pass through, then turned and slashing at the back of my head. It only barely missed. Fuck.

My grip on the glass was too tight, cutting through the skin on my palm. I swapped it to the other hand. The cut was deep enough that I could see the bone, or rather, the synthetic exoskeleton covering it. It stung, but I could handle a little pain.

I charged again, and just like last time, she turned to shadow. This time, I thrust my hand in, the one with the cut open palm, with a hand gesture that would normally have provided a surge of power to the glove I usually wore.

In the middle of her shadowy form, the electrical energy burst forth, spreading out, filling her. She twitched, staggering backwards, forced back into her physical form. I didn’t have long.

I kicked her, knocking her to the floor. As she hit the ground, I fell on her, using my weight to drive the shard of glass into her stomach. She convulsed, then turned to shadow, rolling away from me. The glass shard stayed behind.

She stood up, clutching her stomach, blood dripping from the open wound. It was bad, worse than I’d intended. Damn it. Still, she’d have access to top-notch medical care. She’d be fine, so long as she left in time to get it looked at.

The glare she gave me could only be described as withering, but then she vanished, teleporting away. I waited a few seconds, on the off chance she had some final sneak attack planned, then slumped to the ground, my arm twitching. That electrical surge had hurt me almost as much as it had hurt her.

My breathing was heavy, my throat hoarse, my body ached. It didn’t matter. I survived. I’d won, and next time, I’d be prepared.

Now to find out of Zoe and Sabrina had been as successful.

Bonus – That’s A Cute Trick

Miss Murder sat on the very edge of the building, her feet dangling over the ten-story drop. The wind blew her short hair across her face, but she barely noticed, lost in thought.

Part of her wished things had gone differently, that she hadn’t ended up in the situation she was in. It wasn’t that she didn’t like her partner, she did. It was more that she didn’t trust him.

Would he turn on her, eventually? Almost certainly. His fascination with Haylie had turned into obsession, almost single-minded. Once he’d figured her out, would he even need their partnership anymore? If he decided he didn’t, there was no way he would let her live.

What other options did she have, though? Even if she left now, he’d come after her, and she knew better than to think she could hide from him, even with her power. Besides, if she left him, she’d be alone. It wasn’t like Charlie would ever take her back.

Could she kill him? Maybe, but she didn’t want to. He didn’t deserve that, and it wasn’t in her nature. Killing was a job, one she was good at, one she could justify because the death was never her choice. She was a weapon, nothing more. Killing him would be different.

She shook the thoughts from her head. She was already in the middle of a job, couldn’t afford to delay any longer. She looked across the road, focussing on a spot on the opposite rooftop. Close enough? Just.

As she looked, the space between here and there shrank, until they seemed to be the same. Then they snapped apart again, except she was in the other place, leaving only her shadow behind, and even that followed her before long.

As far as the Celestial knew, her power was limited to ‘blinking’, short range teleportation. She wanted to keep it that way, just in case.

Blink. Another rooftop. Then another. Then down to the ground, across the street, moving faster than she could run, and it used no energy at all.

It didn’t take her long to find them, not with how quickly she could cover ground. Five members, none she recognised. All dead. Nothing more than an inconvenience to her.

She walked among the bodies, getting just close enough to check their causes of death. One was covered in lacerations, dead by blood loss. Another had been decapitated, that was easy. Blunt trauma, no visible weapon. If her suspicions were correct, there wouldn’t have been one. Another, internal bleeding. The last was tricky, but she was familiar enough with the symptoms of a heart attack to recognise it as a cause of death.

Her fingers wrapped around the grip of her knife, her nerves on edge. It wasn’t like she was any more durable than those corpses had been.

A sound, barely audible, but she was trained to noticed that sort of thing. A footstep behind her. She whirled, saw the culprit, hesitated.

She’d seen footage of Ami, one of the superhumans who’d arrived in the crash on Impact Day. Read reports, many of which included physical descriptions. None of them quite captured what she was looking at.

Ami was short, probably the same height as her, and unsettlingly pretty. A slender frame, the body of a teenage girl. Vibrant eyes, an unnatural shade of violet. Other than the colour of eyes, her features were Asian, and she could easily have been a model. There was a curious smirk on her lips.

Focus on her eyes, Miss Murder reminded herself. Watch for sudden movements. She’s a threat, and you have a job to do. It would be a shame to kill someone so pretty, but she’d do it if she had to.

She noticed the katana strapped to Ami’s back. Ami’s eyes flicked to the corpses, then back to Miss Murder. Her smirk didn’t falter, but Miss Murder felt movement behind her. A telekinetic attack? Couldn’t take the risk.

She blinked forward, drawing her knife in the same movement. Rematerialising right in front of Ami, she slashed the blade across the girl’s throat, knowing the blade was sharp enough to cut through.

Ami staggered back, but not nearly enough blood spurted from the wound. It was already beginning to heal. Miss Murder swore to herself.

Almost too fast to see, Ami had drawn the katana, slashing at Miss Murder in the same motion. It was reflex alone that saved her, blinking away just before the blade passed through her. Ami grinned.

Psychic hands grabbed Miss Murder, pulling her off the ground, into the air. Instinctively, she tried to blink away. She focussed on a spot, felt the distance between here and there disappear, felt them snap back apart again, but when they did, she was still in the same place. She hadn’t moved.

Telekinesis could interrupt her blinking? No, that wasn’t fair. Not to mention it didn’t make sense.

Well, fair or unfair, sense or nonsense, she needed to get away. Taking a deep breath, she managed to calm herself, focussing on the same energy that let her teleport. It was like a crystal, right at her core, and as her thoughts settled on it, it burst, the energy contained within washing over her body.

She dropped to the ground, her body incorporeal, nothing but shadow and smoke. She ran, holding it for as long as she could, barely a couple of seconds, before the effect vanished, and she was returned to normal. The moment she did, a psychic hand grabbed her, pulling her back to where she began.

“That’s a cute trick,” Ami said, with a softness Miss Murder was not expecting, not prepared for. She sounded sweet, almost friendly.

For her part, Miss Murder said nothing. She was trapped, and both of them knew it. All she could do was glare at her captor, and wonder how she was going to die.

Instead, Ami smiled again, sheathing her katana. She leaned against an invisible wall, a casual display her of power, a reminder of who was in control of the situation.

“Alright, I’m sufficiently intrigued,” she said. “Let’s talk.”

One again, Miss Murder said nothing. Ami looked almost disappointed.

“Or not. Tell you what, I’ll give you two options. Either I let you go, just this once, and you learn nothing. Or, we talk, we both learn something, and maybe things don’t go this way next time.” She gestured to the dead gangsters.

Miss Murder hesitated. Ami was a mystery, a valuable one. The Celestial would want any information she could gather. She herself was curious. Talking was the better option.

It was also considerably more difficult, unless Ami was happy to monologue at her, and somehow that didn’t seem likely. Reluctantly, she tugged at the scarf that covered her mouth and neck, pulling it all the way off.

Ami’s reaction was exactly what Miss Murder expected. Surprise, horror, disgust, curiosity, confusion. It was always the same.

A handprint was seared into Miss Murder’s neck, a black mark against her tanned skin, ugly and painful. It wasn’t a scar, or a burn mark, not exactly.

“Ah,” Ami said, recovering quicker than most did. “That’s… Okay. Think. Think very simple concepts. How did that happen? I might be able to help.”

Stupidly, Miss Murder let a flash of hope through her defences. Her mind filled with painful memories.

Charlie’s hand around my throat. That look in her eyes, it isn’t human. My neck is burning, aching, it feels wrong, it feels wrong. Behind Charlie, Rachel grapples with him, her body barely able to move, but Charlie already got to him. His spine is broken, and it’s not healing. Why isn’t it healing?

I should be strong enough, should be able to break free from Charlie’s grip. Wendy’s blood still courses through me, I can feel it, but it’s getting weaker. Charlie’s doing something, taking it out of me, must have taken it out of him.

What is she? None of this makes sense, she’s not like us, not like us at all. She’s not human, can’t be human.

She tricked us, lied to us, used us all. Even Rachel, but Rachel should have known better. Rachel helped her trick us, should have known Charlie was playing her as well.

Charlie drops me, I fall to the ground, my neck is burning, I can’t breathe, can barely move. Everything’s getting dark, she crouches, whispers something in my ear, but I can’t hear it, can’t hear anything, can’t see anything.

Am I dying?

Ami staggered back, the same way she had when Miss Murder had tried to cut her throat. A look of fear and confusion passed over her face, quickly replaced by concern.

“I… What? She- No. Okay, no. I can’t help with that.” She took a few moments, breathing deeply, before reaching into a pocket. “How about this instead?”

She offered a pen and notebook to Miss Murder, who hesitated for only a moment before taking it. She needed to ask the question.

You can read minds?

Ami took the paper, then shook her head.

“No. Well, kind of. Not words, which is what people usually think. Not enough to be useful.”

Miss Murder nodded, not understanding at all. It didn’t matter. She wrote out another message, in careful, cursive script.

Is this your territory?

It was important to know. If she’d claimed it, it would be worth advising the Celestial to avoid it, at least until he was more prepared.

“No,” Ami said, reading the note. “I’m moving around. They just picked a fight.” She gestured to the dead again. “Bad idea. Now, you’ve asked two questions, so I get two.” She hesitated, thinking. “Are you with them? Who do you work for?”

Miss Murder was already writing the answer.

Yes. Celestial.

Ami frowned, looking back at the corpses.

“A local gang? With a superhuman like you? That sounds unlikely. Where did you get your powers?”

Miss Murder had to think about that. There were so many possible answers to that question, but only one that was really honest.

Don’t know. What do you want?

It was far too open of a question, but it kept the focus on Ami, not herself. And maybe it would teach her something useful.

“To go home,” Ami said, shrugging. “I miss my brother, my life. Can’t figure it out on my own, though. I’m not scientific, not clever like that. Never was. Gabriel could figure it out, but he’s focussed on Zoe. She might be able to figure it out, if she can avoid him. Haylie could do it, but she’s… missing.”

A pang of guilt washed over her, one she tried desperately to dismiss. Could Ami read that? Would she figure it out?

“Anyway, my question. What do you want?”

It took her by surprise, even though she felt like she should have expected it. She didn’t know how to answer it.

Ami watched as she began to write, before the answer was properly formulated in her head.

My old life. My voice. Freedom. Nothing I can have. How can we avoid conflict?

“Tell your thugs not to engage. Send yourself if you want to communicate. Don’t think I want to talk to anyone else.” Ami paused just long enough to come up with her own question. “What were they doing here?”

The corpses again. It occurred to her that she didn’t even know their names.

Scouting. Why only me?

Ami smiled as she read the question. It was a nice smile, honest and relaxed.

“Not sure. I’ve just got a good feeling about you. Is that going to be a problem?”

She had to think before answering that. Problem? Almost certainly. The Celestial wouldn’t take it well, but that was his problem. Did it bother her? Not at all. If anything, she liked the idea. Kept her valuable, and if it gave her more opportunities to learn more about Ami, so much the better.

No problem. How would I find you?

“Smartphone,” Ami said, procuring one from another pocket. How many of those did she have? “City haven’t shut off coverage yet. They might not. If they do, we’ll figure something else out. Oh, and don’t try to track me.”

Miss Murder wrote her number down, and passed it to Ami, who entered it into her phone. Ami gave a number back.

If any Stars give you trouble, let me know, she wrote, deliberately keeping to paper and not sending a digital message. After a pause, she added, You can kill them first.

That got another smile out of Ami, a curious one.

“Not quite so invested, are you?” she asked. “Why stick with them?”

It’s complicated.

“Isn’t it always,” Ami said with a dramatic sigh. “Well, let me offer you something. If you see her, the one who did that to you-” she gestured at Miss Murder’s neck “let me know. I want to see what she can do.”

Miss Murder wasn’t quite prepared for the reaction she had to that. The thought of Ami confronting Charlie, engaging her, terrified her. She hurriedly scrawled a response.

You can’t kill her.

Ami shrugged dismissively. “Okay. I won’t.”

She shook her head, wishing she could actually speak. So much was lost in text.

No, you can’t kill her. She made an effort to underline can’t. It was important.

“Curiouser and curiouser, as Alice used to say,” Ami said, whistling. “I have one more question for you.” Another smirk preceded the question. “What’s your name?”

For reasons she didn’t quite understand, Miss Murder pressed the tip of the pen against the paper, and wrote her name.

Her real name.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you. I’m Ami.”