“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