As promised, Zoe’s early treatments were close to unbearable. The chemicals tore through my body, consuming the toxins that were destroying me from the inside out. It felt like being hollowed out, and filled with venom and ice.
We spent hours on the treatments every day, as much as my body was able to withstand. I tried to push myself further, tried to suffer through more, but Zoe kept telling me, it wasn’t about pain. Any more and I would literally start falling apart at the seams.
Whenever I wasn’t in the middle of treatments, I was in a sort of vacant haze, unable to engage with the world around me. I was dimly aware of Sabrina coming and going, bringing back more and more components for Zoe’s machine. Zoe ignored me whenever she wasn’t actively treating me, locking herself away to work on it.
It took weeks before I was able to function between treatments again. As soon as I could, I started poring over Zoe’s schematics, and rifling through the components Sabrina had retrieved. A picture was starting to form in my head. It wasn’t enough, not yet, but I was on the right path.
I needed to understand what it was Zoe was building, and how it worked. It was crucial. If I couldn’t manage that, well…
As I began to regain mental acuity, Zoe filled me in on the next stage of the recovery process. Once the toxic agents had been completely removed from my system, she’d be able to use a diluted version of her own blood, to repair the damage. She’d also proposed a few modifications, and I’d taken to that suggestion with an almost manic glee, when I realised the possibilities.
I was looking through the components we had available, and putting together the plans for the first round of upgrades, when she stepped into the room, completely silent.
I’d realised two things about her, in the time I’d spent with her. We’d dramatically underestimated her.
First, she wasn’t just strong, or fast. That was such an oversimplification of what she could do. When she moved, she moved like a wild animal, with a predatory grace that sent a chill down my spine. It became apparent just how dangerous she’d be in a fight very early on, and I was very glad we were working together.
Second, she was brilliant. Her understanding of mechanical engineering might have outstripped my own, and mine was supernatural. She was a scientific genius, familiar with concepts that would have sent the most respected minds of the generation reeling. She could run calculations in her head as fast as any computer.
I was so very, very glad we were working together.
“You lied to Sabrina,” she said, though there was no accusation in her tone. Only statement of fact. Even still, I panicked.
“Eh?” I replied, as nonchalantly as I could manage. She couldn’t suspect me, not yet. I hadn’t done anything to earn it.
“About your condition,” she said, with a glint in her eye that told me to tread very carefully.
“I’m not faking this,” I said, knowing better than to outright lie. She was basically a human lie detector. Well, maybe not human.
“That’s not what I’m talking about.”
I looked up at her, barely able to stand. If she genuinely thought I was trying to deceive her, she’d have torn my head off already. Probably literally.
“Oh. You mean Wendy,” I said, knowing full well she didn’t. I knew exactly what she was talking about, but if I didn’t play this exactly right… “I really can’t tell you where she-“
“Rachel. You need to be honest with me. I can tell when you’re lying.” That glint in her eye again, replaced almost immediately with a reassuring smile. “Don’t worry, I won’t say anything to Sabrina.”
Right, because it was Sabrina I was worried about. A clumsy teenage fool with no ability to control her abilities.
“I haven’t lied,” I insisted, lying.
“I know Wendy,” Zoe said. “I know how she works. There’s something missing from your story.”
I had to force myself to maintain normal breathing. We both knew where this was going, but I had to play things just right.
“I assure you, there isn’t,” I said evenly.
Zoe smiled indulgently. “With your physiology, her blood should have lasted decades. More, if you were careful.”
Keep her focused on that lie, so she misses the real one.
“I told you, Charlie tore it out of me.”
My chest ached just thinking about it. I could still picture her standing above me, my blood dripping from the blade…
“There would have been enough left in your system to heal you completely,” she said, undeterred. She was right, of course. “Here’s the thing. Her body also produced a counter-toxin, designed to strip any traces of her blood from someone’s system. Now, if someone had injected you with that after Charlie had ripped it out…”
My body twitched involuntarily. Those wounds were still fresh.
“It can’t have been Wendy, though,” Zoe said, barely talking to me. “She’d have known. And Charlie wouldn’t have had a reason to. Which means someone else was working with Wendy.”
I had to keep myself from laughing. She was so close, and yet still so far.
Charlie had tricked Wendy, tricked me, tricked them. All of us, in order to claim that power for herself.
I shook my head. There was no point giving those names to Zoe. No, worse than that. If she knew, if she could track them down, it could ruin everything.
“You won’t tell me?” she asked, annoyed. “After they left you in this condition?”
“It’s complicated,” I said.
I saw the anger flash through her eyes, but it passed almost instantaneously, and I knew I’d managed to keep her off the right path.
“Okay,” she said. “I can understand you not trusting me.”
“It’s not just that,” I said.
“In any case, it’s not important. I think we’re ready to start you on stage two. How do you feel about that?”
I glanced again at the plans I’d been weakly scribbling down in a notebook, looked back at her, and grinned.