Skip to content

Tag: Qiu

Chapter 50b – You Should Have Joined Me When You Had The Chance

“You go on ahead,” I grunted, summoning all of my strength to toss her across the room. She crashed through the fire stairs door. Close enough. “I’ll take care of this clown, then catch up with you!”

She didn’t respond to that. Just took off. That was fine. Wasn’t exactly in the mood for conversation.

Electrified spikes? Not a bad tactic, I had to admit. Might have even worked, if he hadn’t already played his hand by equipping street thugs with a similar design. Should’ve been more creative. I’d already made sure my body could channel excess electricity into a safe outlet.

The poor boy twitching at my feet clearly didn’t have the same advantage. He was already done. Not that it mattered, the temporary boost he got from Zoe’s blood would burn up within minutes. They couldn’t have collected that much, and I doubted they’d waste it all on an untrained brat like him.

Still, it had gotten rid of Sabrina, and that was what I needed. By the time she got all the way up to his office, he’d be long gone. There’d probably be a trap waiting for Sabrina. Not my concern.

I’d already done the math. His only escape from that office was with Miss Murder’s blinking. Her range was limited, and she needed to reorient herself before teleporting again. Given the limited time frame before her needing to be back to ambush Sabrina, she’d only be able to get him a short distance away. There was only one building that made sense.

I left the boy twitching and convulsing on the floor. He might follow later, but he’d already proven he wasn’t a threat. No instinct, no fighting experience. Not a problem.

The second I left the building, I felt a dozen weapons pointed at me. Reinforcements. God, but he was annoying.

“I don’t have time for this,” I muttered.

A dozen thugs, all armed. I had approximately zero time for their shit, but they weren’t exactly going to let me just walk away. Time to weigh up the risks.

My clothing would protect most of my body from bullets. There’d be bruising, but nothing I couldn’t handle. The only place I was vulnerable was my head. Even there, bullets would rip up the skin and muscle, but wouldn’t penetrate bone. Unless they hit my eyes, the damage would only be cosmetic.

I could cover my face with my arm and run, but I didn’t want them on my tail when I confronted him. The damned floor spikes had ruined the propulsion systems in my boots, so that wasn’t an option.

Had to take them out.

Killing them would be so much easier. Physically, at least. Emotionally, I wasn’t comfortable with it. They didn’t deserve to die. But disabling them was a lot more work.

Inventory. I had a flashbang, two foam grenades, my shock baton, a shock gauntlet, a pistol with non-lethal rounds, a small supply of plastic ties, Miss Murder’s knife and an untested venom dart gun. Theoretically, that one would induce a process that mimicked that of Zoe’s blood, but in reverse, making them weak and close to useless, temporarily. Unfortunately, my abilities as a tinker were limited when it came to biochemistry, and I wasn’t entirely certain how accurate my formula was.

“Fuck it.”

One arm in front of my face, I ran into the nearest cluster of thugs. I had very little time to put them all down. No pulling punches.

Stun baton to the throat. One down. Draw the pistol, two headshots. Probable concussions, but they’ll live. Three down. Trip the next up with the baton, kick them in the side of the head. Four down.

Drop the baton, throw a foam grenade. Two more headshots, then the grenade explodes, catching three in the blast. Nine down.

A hail of bullets hits me in the back, staggers me. Drop the pistol, vault over cover. Punch to the sternum, enough force to crack ribs. Ten down. Grab their gun, snap it in half. Twist their arms behind their back, tie their wrists. Eleven down. Shove them into the last remaining thug, gauntlet to the face, deliver a strong charge.

No time to waste.

I ran towards the building I’d marked off beforehand. Motion sensors I’d planted confirmed something was happening there, but that was as much as I’d been able to set up. It was enough.

It was possible he’d set another trap, but paranoid as he was, I didn’t think he was that prepared. Not for this.

I crashed through the entrance, disregarding subtlety entirely. He was no threat to me, and he had nowhere to go. Better to intimidate than to surprise.

He was waiting for me, still in his chair, a pained expression on his face. Haylie was nowhere to be seen. It was annoying that he’d already found time to stash her, but I could beat the information out of him if I had to. I wouldn’t torture his thugs, but him? He deserved it.

“It’s good to see you again, Rachel.”

“You’re awfully chipper for someone who’s about to get flayed alive,” I snapped. “Where’s Haylie?”

“Right behind you,” he said, smirking.

I whirled around, and clichéd as it was, she really was standing right behind me. How long had he been waiting to pull that trick?

More importantly, she was awake. That changed everything.

She was beautiful, with long, wavy red hair, fair skin, and a smattering of freckles. Her eyes were yellow, almost luminescent, and just slightly vacant. She was taller than me, but not by much. Dark jeans, combat boots, a white shirt, all kind of worn and dirty.

Just one look at her set my mind ablaze. Concepts, ideas, schematics and blueprints formed in my head, distracting, disrupting. Stop.

“You’re awake,” I said, nearly stumbling over my words.

“I’m alive,” she corrected, though I didn’t understand the distinction. Surprisingly, her accent sounded American. Gabriel and Zoe had British accents, Ami’s was… surprisingly neutral. I could never pick it.

I didn’t know anything about her. I didn’t know what she wanted, or who she was. I knew she was dangerous, but not if she was a threat.

“I’m honoured to meet you,” I said carefully.

“Are you,” she replied, no question in her tone.

“A lot of people have been looking for you, you know.”

“I don’t. And I don’t particularly care.”

There was no life in her. She seemed half-baked, distant, unfocussed. It was disappointing, but it also seemed wrong. Like she wasn’t supposed to be like this. Not that I had any idea what she was supposed to be like…

“What do you care about?”

“I haven’t worked that out yet,” she said. “I might have a better idea after killing you.”

“Why do you want to kill me?” I asked, feeling a pang of genuine fear. She was an unknown, a potential enemy I knew nothing about. The small fragments of data I did have suggested I probably didn’t stand a chance.

“Because he wants you dead.”

I glanced back over my shoulder. The satisfied, smug look on his face made it really difficult to resist the urge to punch him.

I had to resist, though. Haylie seemed to have latched onto him, and I needed to know why if there was any chance of detaching her from him. Until then, if she was protecting him, he was far less vulnerable than I thought.

“You should have joined me when you had the chance, Rachel,” he said.

“Fuck off.”

Haylie reacted to that. Her fists clenched, and her body weight shifted. Crap. Did I upset her-

She hit me before I had a chance to brace myself. The impact sent me flying across the room, right over the Celestial’s head. I slammed against the wall, and she was already right there in front of me, her expression still completely blank.

Her next hit threw me sideways, the shock resonating through my entire body. If not for my reinforced skeleton, I’d have been borderline liquefied by that. She hit harder than Zoe or Sabrina could. And she was every bit as fast. That was intimidating.

I was ready for the next blow. I managed to block it, absorbing the force of it and counterattacking with Miss Murder’s knife. The blade didn’t even pierce her skin. Her fingers wrapped around my throat, and she tossed me across the room again.

“Stop playing with her, Haylie,” the Celestial ordered. “Just kill her.”

“Your wish is my command,” she replied.

She began walking towards me, her expression completely neutral. Her right arm stretched out, and the air beyond her hand began to shimmer and warp, forming the shape of a blade, barely visible.

Panic flooded my system. My tinker brain was already analysing what I was seeing, and though I didn’t fully understand it, I knew that blade was dangerous.

She swung at me, and I hurled myself sideways, out of the way. I wasn’t fast enough. The blade sliced right through my left arm, completely severing it at the elbow. Even my reinforced skeleton didn’t offer any resistance.

I screamed, and scrambled backwards, holding the stump of my elbow. She attacked again, but something knocked her out of the air, throwing her backwards. She recovered quickly, but her assailant was already dashing towards me.

Zoe picked me up with one arm, and carried me out of the room. She moved quickly, bouncing between buildings, staying away from street level. Haylie didn’t follow.

We didn’t slow down until we reached her base, our home. She dropped me gently onto a bed, took one look at my arm, and swore.

I glanced down. The wound had cauterised, which was probably good for me, but it was a horrific sight.

“Thank you,” I said, looking up at her.

“Any time,” she replied.

“Where’s Sabrina?” I asked.

“Here,” Sabrina said, entering the room. She looked a little shell-shocked, but her expression turned soft when she saw my arm. “What happened?”

“Haylie’s awake,” I said.

“We’re in a lot of trouble,” Zoe said.

 

Next Week: She Was The First Voice I Ever Heard

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.

Push!

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.

Traitor.

“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.

“What?”

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.

Fuck!

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

Chapter 8 – It’s Not Me

I sat on the roof, cross-legged, with the guy I’d run into and knocked over. He was leaning against the side of a higher building that backed onto the one we were sitting on.

I hadn’t really looked at him before, he was more of a roughly human-shaped blob. Now that things were calmer, I could actually get a good look at him.

Surprisingly, he was actually kind of cute, though I couldn’t help but feel like there was something weird about thinking that. Inappropriate, maybe. After all, I had just saved his life. Twice.

My body twitched, and I felt it begin to revert back to its normal state. Mr Whatshisface just stared, mouth open. He actually even blinked a few times.

“So it was you,” he said, when his mouth finally started working again. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting him to say.

“I’m sorry?” I asked, wincing as I heard my own voice in my ears. At least the super version of me sounded like a girl.

“The person I ran into,” he said. “You looked… different.”

My mouth felt dry. How the hell was I supposed to explain this to him? ‘Hi, I recently became able to shapeshift into a white woman with superpowers, oh and also I’m actually a woman myself, even if I look like a guy to you’?

“I do that, sometimes,” I said, feeling about as awkward as I ever had in my life.

“So is this your normal body, then?” he asked, clearly thinking very hard about what he said. “Or is this a disguise?”

I sighed. I couldn’t come up with a clever enough lie to bother telling him anything other than the truth.

“This is me,” I said.

“Cool,” he said, nodding. “Uh, I’m Qiu. Thanks for saving me.”

“Oh, yeah. Don’t mention it,” I said. “I’d tell you my name, but honestly I’m still trying to figure out what to do now that you’ve seen my real face.”

His eyes grew wide, almost panicked.

“Hey, your secret is safe with me,” he said, and even mimed zipping his lips shut. I couldn’t help but laugh.

“Thanks, I feel much safer now.”

His expression turned serious, and his eyes narrowed.

“Hey, I need to ask something,” he said, a little shyly. “You don’t need to answer me, but…” He shook his head, struggling to find the words. “How much control do you have over your transformation?”

I sighed, figuring the question would come out sooner or later. Better to just get it out of the way.

“None,” I told him. “It’s complicated, but the short answer is that I don’t really have any say in what I look like.”

“So you didn’t choose to turn white, then,” he said bluntly. I started at him, surprised. That was not the point I’d expected him to fixate on.

“No, I definitely did not choose to turn white,” I said. “And if I could change that, I would. I mean, it makes for a good disguise, but… it’s not me.”

“I’m guessing you only have your powers when you transform?” he asked, sounding almost sympathetic.

“Seems that way. I don’t know, I haven’t been this way for very long. I’m not even sure what I’m doing, honestly.”

He smiled at me, a bright, warm smile.

“Maybe not, but you saved my life,” he said. “You’re already a hero in my eyes.”

I could feel myself turning red.

“I, uh, I guess I should get you home, hey?” I asked, cringing inwardly. It sounded like the end of a date.

“I’d, uh, I’d say I’ll get myself home, but I don’t even know how to get down from this roof,” he said, sounding just as awkward as I felt. It actually made me feel a little better.

“I guess I can give you a lift,” I said. “Where to?”