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Tag: Sadie

Chapter 53 – Impossible Is Her Bread And Butter

Rachel, One Day Before Impact Day

“What are you doing here?” Sadie asked. The holographic version of her projected onto my glasses folded its arms, pouting.

I knew from what she’d told me that Charlie could actually see Sadie, as clearly as any corporeal person. That had confused me for a while, but so far as I could figure without Charlie herself to test on, what she was seeing was a psychic projection. In reality, Sadie was effectively constructed of a collection of quantum-locked molecules combined in some combination unlike any naturally-forming material, in some impossible state of matter. A fifth state.

It was the closest to a confirmation of the existence of a soul I expected to ever see. Though it was difficult to pull any hard data, the soul particles, as I was thinking of them, seemed to radiate pure energy in a way that entirely contradicted what I understood about the rules of the universe. That energy seemed to be responsible for connecting a soul to a body, and without a body…

She should have dissipated long ago, or more likely detonated, releasing all of that energy all at once. Instead, some impossible force was keeping her together. An impossible force called Charlie.

Regardless, it was that output of energy that let me track her position in the first place. I couldn’t measure the soul particles themselves, but I could measure their impact on the air around them. They didn’t create sound in the sense of vibrations in the air, but it was did broadcast something on a wavelength not dissimilar to the technology behind wireless communication.

All that added up to my ability to track and interact with her, albeit through several complicated pieces of tech I’d thrown together. It was a fun challenge.


Oh yeah, she asked me a question, didn’t she?

“I like it here,” I said. “It smells like Charlie. Besides, I figured you could use the company.”

“Shouldn’t you be looking for Charlie?” she asked, with a hint of accusation.

“I told you, I know where she is. I just can’t get to her.”

“Can’t you build some kind of mech suit or something?” she asked.

I laughed. The idea wasn’t actually impossible. Given enough time and infinite resources, I probably could put together some kind of super suit. Unfortunately, I had neither of those things. Still, it was a fun idea for the future. Maybe Charlie and I could be like Captain America and Iron Man. But like, the angsty teen versions.

“I told you my plan,” I said.

“Your plan is stupid,” she told me. “It’s been five months.

Don’t take the bait. She’s hurting, just like you.

“I’m doing the best I can,” I said, through gritted teeth. “I’ve examined every possible approach, okay? I’m keeping an eye on Aidan and Liz, who are doing everything you want me to be doing. And surprise, they’re failing. Because it will never work, because we’re three teenagers who don’t have any powers between us except a superhuman ability to understand how things work. Meanwhile, there’s a superhuman just sitting around running a fucking café who could just walk right in and pluck Charlie out, and she’s doing nothing. You get it? She’s the best hope we have. And I am working on it.”

Sadie sat there in silence, and I couldn’t tell what she was thinking. My tech wasn’t precise enough to pick up micro-expressions or the nuances of body language.

“What if she doesn’t ever change her mind?” Sadie asked.

“There’s got to be a way,” I said. “I’m not just giving up. I’m not leaving her. I just won’t.”

“…What if I talked to her?” Sadie suggested.


“You could use this stuff. Let her see me. Maybe she’d listen to me. Maybe if she knew…”

A smile began to creep across my face.

“Sadie, you have the makings of a genius yourself.”

Wendy frowned as I entered the café, Sadie trailing behind.

“We’re closed,” she said. “And I’m not interested in talking about—” She stopped, and sniffed the air. “What is that?”

“You mean my fancy eyewear?” I asked. “That’s actually—”

“Not that,” Wendy snapped, dropping the visage of pleasantness. “That smell, it’s…”

She approaches rapidly, with that inhuman speed and grace that she usually worked so hard to keep hidden. Astonishingly, she stopped right in front of Sadie.

“Me?” Sadie asked, squeaking in surprise.

“What’s here?” Wendy asked. “Who’s here?”

“Incredible,” I said. “It was your nose that gave her away? That’s gonna have some implications…”

Who is it?” Wendy demanded.

“Sadie,” I said. “Charlie’s sister. That’s why I’m here.”

I handed her a pair of glasses with connected earphones, a matching set to my own.

“You figured out how to communicate with the dead?” Wendy asked.

“Just one,” I replied. “I don’t have a lot of test cases to work with.”

She put the glasses on, and gasped when she looked at Sadie properly.

“Impossible,” she said. “You should be…”

“Welcome to Charlie’s world,” I said. “Impossible is her bread and butter.”

“It’s nice to meet you…” Sadie said.

“How long have you been like this?” Wendy asked.

“Twelve years,” Sadie replied.

“I think Charlie keeps her stable,” I said. “But it’s getting weaker. I think… I think Charlie’s losing hope. And if she does…”

Sadie stared at me, mouth agape. I hadn’t shared any of that with her. I hadn’t wanted to. But if we were going to save Charlie, we needed to convince Wendy. And if we were going to convince Wendy…

“A single soul contains enough energy to level half the state,” Wendy said.

“Five million dead in an instant,” I said.”

“No!” Sadie said. “No, you never told me that!”

“I didn’t want to,” I said. I wanted to save your genuine reaction for Wendy, I didn’t say.

“I need to get away,” she said. “Far away, where I can’t hurt anyone.”

“It’s not just that,” Wendy said. “Soul energy isn’t like, well, energy. Energy is just a property of matter. Specifically, local matter. But soul energy exists outside of the local space. A detonation of that magnitude could rip a hole in the walls of reality itself.”

“Like to the version of Earth that you come from,” I said.

“Yes,” Wendy replied, confirming my suspicions.

“I’ll try to find a way to contain it,” I said. “I’ll find a way to save you, Sadie. Maybe I can shove you inside a different body, or…”

“No,” Wendy said. “That won’t… Just trust me. It won’t work.”

“Then what do we do?”

“I need to think,” Wendy said. “And you need to leave.”

“Don’t take too long,” I said. “There’s a lot at stake here.”


Next Week: Charlie Can’t Know

Interlude #5 – Vignettes

The Child returned to The Citadel, the stronghold of the Guardians that existed outside of any world’s time and space. Her machinations were, at least for now, complete. For now, she needed only be patient.

Time did not flow normally through The Citadel, if there was a ‘normal’ for time. Time within an isolated system is not bound to the time of any other isolated system. They do not interact, do not affect one another. Still, moving through fourth dimensional space was not as easy as moving through third, and moving beyond that was more complicated still. She needed a rest, a chance to organise and prepare.

“What are you up to?” asked a voice, as a figure faded in from the darkness.

The Nameless had the look of a teenage boy, just on the cusp of puberty. His short white hair was swept up as though by some unknown source of gravity, and his footfalls seemed to stop just shy of touching the ground. He stared at The Child with shimmering, golden eyes ringed with black.

“Advancing the plot,” she replied, not making eye contact. He was interrupting, and she didn’t care for it.

“We’re not storytellers,” he said. “That’s not our role.”

“According to who?” she demanded.


“The First is gone, Nameless. Our traditions are empty now.”

“You’re young,” he said, his voice even and patient. “You haven’t even seen a single cycle through to completion.”

“That’s the point,” she said. “I don’t want to see this bullshit repeat itself. I want things to change.”

“Things never change,” he replied softly. “Nobody is above that. Nothing can change that.”

“We’ll see.”

With that, she disappeared, leaving The Citadel once again.

* * *

Rebecca sat beside the throne, staring into a floating sphere of light. Two others joined her, neither of them as close to the throne as she was.

“What the actual fuck is going on out there?” she asked, shaking her head.

“Nothing we need to worry about,” said the tall woman with ashen purple skin and bright silver hair. “Not our domain.”

“It is unusual, though,” said the thin, elegant man with pale skin and penetrating red eyes. “Do you think Lucy knows?”

“Lucy knows everything, Nix,” Rebecca said. “If they were concerned…”

“I am concerned,” said a new voice, as a figure materialised in the throne. “But for now, I’m happy to watch, and see how things play out.”

“What are you waiting for?” asked the tall woman.

“A spark of light,” Lucy said.

* * *

Rachel pored over the data, an empty sheet of the strongest migraine medication she could find lying beside her. Not everything made sense, but her brain wouldn’t stop, wouldn’t rest. She needed to dig deeper, to find the solutions to problems she hadn’t even considered yet. Pointless adrenaline coursed through her body, and her head throbbed and ached.

“What are you looking for?” Sadie asked, peering over Rachel’s shoulder. She couldn’t follow any of what Rachel was looking at.

A series of makeshift sensors, built largely out of repurposed homeware circuitry and spare phone parts, picked up her voice, her face, and converted them to a digital signal, which popped up on Rachel’s monitor.

“Don’t know yet,” Rachel muttered. “Answers, I guess.”

“What’s that?” she asked, pointing to a sketch Rachel had made on a scrap of paper. Rachel glanced at the monitor, able to figure out what Sadie was pointing at.

It was a sketch of two circles, intersecting slightly. Around them she had drawn five other circles, shaded in, and all seven circles formed a ring. Inside of that ring, she’d drawn a question mark. Outside of it, she’d drawn a bigger circle, encompassing the others.

“Outside,” Rachel said.

“What does that mean?” Sadie asked.

“Not sure yet.”

* * *

Roxie sat high above Melbourne, supported by nothing more than the air beneath her, cloak fluttering in the breeze. She looked down at the city, and wondered.

Felix’s death was as vivid as it ever was, and it still hurt to relive it. Since then, she’d spent every free moment she had trying to figure out what had happened. No answers had come to her.

Charlie seemed normal after that experience. Whatever that creature was, it hadn’t emerged again. It was still in there, though. Of that, Roxie was certain. After all, Charlie didn’t die. Something was breaking the rules, just for her.

She considered going back for Sadie. Especially now, while Charlie was nowhere near. There was no risk involved. Sadie could be taken to where she belonged, kept safe, given the chance to move on. But every time she entertained the thought, she was reminded of Felix, and she couldn’t do it.

There were other Reapers, of course. Any one of them could have done it. None of them did, and she couldn’t figure out why. In fact, they all seemed to steer clear of this city, around this time. Of course, they all came back once Charlie was gone, but within the timeline of this world, that wouldn’t happen for another year or so.

In the meantime, there were so, so many souls to collect, and nobody but her to do it.

She missed Felix.

* * *

“It’s done,” Haylie said. Alice nodded.

“How does it feel?” she asked.


“Sorry about that,” Alice said. “Hopefully it won’t be for long.”

“Do you think it will help?” Haylie asked.

“We won’t know,” Alice said, a little flat. “I mean, if it works, we will. If not…”

“Thank you,” Haylie said.

“Don’t mention it,” Alice replied.

“Your brother still doesn’t know, does he?”

“He’s basically genetically wired to think of me as a kid that needs protecting,” Alice said. “He can’t help it.”

“Still, it’s a shame he doesn’t see what you’re truly capable of.”

“Hey, that’s just my lot in life,” Alice said. “Thanks, Dad.”

“Have you considered finding a way to change your body?” Haylie asked.

“I have about a thousand theories,” Alice said. “And no way to test them.”

“Well, if you ever need assistance…”

“Thanks, Haylie. You’re a good friend.”


Next Week: Until You’re Dead

Chapter 49 – This Is Brilliant, Even For Me

Rachel, Five Months Before Impact Day

I cackled as I shut off the connection to the computer Liz was using. I had considered not letting them know I was watching them, but it had already been a month, and they weren’t making any progress. I was starting to get anxious.

It hadn’t been a fun month. Not being able to talk to Charlie, not knowing if she was okay…

Obviously, I knew she was physically fine. Whatever damage they did to her would just be reversed. She was inviolable, after all. But I couldn’t imagine the emotional toll their torture was taking on her. She was resilient, for sure, but who knew what they could do to her over a whole month.

I was starting to feel a little resentment towards Liz and Aidan. Without them, Wendy would never offer her help to me. But they were dragging their feet, trying to do things the hard way. And Charlie had already spent a month in enemy hands because of it.

I knew I needed to spur them on, but they weren’t making it easy. Liz was easier to manipulate, because she was less intelligent, and less independent. But Aidan already knew that, and any attempt to manipulate her would be competing with him. He was the one calling the shots, after all.

How was I supposed to get to him, though? He was so careful, so calculating. The exact opposite of what I needed him to be. I needed him desperate, reckless, making mistakes. I needed Wendy to be his only hope.

Why are they so annoying?” I asked my empty room.

Talking to myself wasn’t going to get anything done. Instead, I packed up my laptop, and headed back to Charlie’s place. I knew Aidan wouldn’t be returning, and Mark was swept up in a fruitless quest to find his adoptive daughter.

I almost felt bad for him. He was sharp, perceptive, and kind. He knew what Charlie was up to, at least in part, of that I was certain. Now he knew she was missing, and exactly the kind of trouble she might find herself in. It must be keeping him up at night.

I doubted he knew exactly what she was, but he probably knew that there was something different about her. Charlie suspected that was why he adopted her in the first place. I agreed.

In any case, he either wouldn’t be home, or wouldn’t be paying attention. I’d snuck into Charlie’s room a few times before, just to be closer to her, and he hadn’t noticed once.

It wasn’t a long trip. I snuck in the same way she used to sneak out, and settled down on her couch, legs folded beneath me. Pulling out my laptop, I tried running a program I’d been tweaking for a while.

“Here goes nothing,” I said. “Sadie? If you’re here, try talking.”

For a few moments, nothing happened. Then, a waveform on my screen expanded and contracted, and the sound of static burst forth from my speakers.

“Holy shit,” I muttered. “Progress.”

Pulling up the software’s CLI, I started tinkering with the settings. There was an awful lot to try and figure out all at once.

“Keep talking, Sadie. Sing or something. I’ll get this working, I promise.”

The static continued, and the waveform quivered and stretched. I kept tinker, and eventually, I heard a very faint, static-filled voice.

“…wherever you are…”



My heart pounded in my chest. Had I really finally done it?

“Sadie, is that you? It’s you, right?” I asked, not even sure where to look.

“You can hear me?” she replied, her voice shaking. As she talked, I kept changing the settings slightly, trying to get a clearer sound.

“Oh man, this is brilliant, even for me,” I said. “You bet I can hear you.”


“Science!” I said, then cringed. It was a little too loud.

“Where’s Charlie?” she asked. God, she sounds so frightened, so timid.

“She didn’t tell you?” I asked.

“Tell me what?”

I sighed. What are you doing, Charlie?

“It doesn’t matter. She was captured. By Vengeance.”

“Captured? Who are Vengeance?”

“A gang,” I explained. “Probably the biggest, scariest gang.”

Silence for a few seconds.

“I told her,” she said. “You know what she said to me? A little pain never hurt anyone.”

I laughed.

“Of course she did.”

“Why are you laughing? This is serious!” she said, her voice a strained whisper.

“Because that’s who she is,” I said. “It’s why I love her.”

“You’re the reason she’s in this mess,” Sadie said. “If you didn’t keep encouraging her…”

“You know there’s no force in this world that could stop Charlie from doing anything. She was always going to do whatever she wanted,” I said. “Besides, I liked her ambition. What’s wrong with wanting to change the world?”

She left me alone!

The smile dropped from my face.

“She’s all you’ve got, huh?” I asked.

“Fuck you,” she replied.

“No wonder you don’t like me. You literally can’t talk to anyone else, and here I am, taking her away from you.”

“You don’t understand me,” she said.

“Maybe not. But now I have the chance to try. Hell, if you wanted, now anyone could have the chance to try.”

More silence for a while.


“Why what” I asked.

“Why did you do this?” she asked.

“Because I wanted to be able to talk to you,” I said.

“But why?”

“Do I need a reason?”

“I’m nobody,” Sadie said. “I’m not even real. I’m just a ghost.”

Inspiration struck me like lightning.

“Oh, Sadie,” I said. “You’re so much more than that.”

It was hard to keep all of the information pouring into my head. Every new piece sparked new understanding, but the more pieces I collected, the more I realised I didn’t know.


“No, Sadie. Listen. You’re not just a ghost. You’re a conduit.”

“I don’t know what that means,” she said.

“Souls can’t exist outside of bodies. If a body can’t host a soul, you die. You physically shouldn’t exist.”


“It’s not just that,” I said. “You’re syphoning Charlie’s energy. That’s why she can interact with you. And it’s why you’re getting stronger.”

“How did you know about that?” she asked. “Not even Charlie knows about that.”

“Logical leap,” I said, shrugging. “Sadie, you and I both know that Charlie is something more than human. And slowly, you’re absorbing some of that power.”

Information kept surging, and my head started to ache. I closed my eyes, pressing my fists into my temples.

“Are you okay?” Sadie asked.

“Learning hurts,” I said. “It’ll pass.”

“You’re not normal either, are you?”

“Nope,” I said. “And I think I have Charlie to thank for that, too. Anyway, a mind is a terrible thing to waste, or whatever. Now that I can hear you, let’s find out what else I can do with you. Oh, and Sadie?”


“It’s such a pleasure to meet you.”


Next Week: 

Chapter 37 – I’m Not Okay

Seven Months Before Impact Day

“Can I talk to you?” Sadie asked, fidgeting nervously.

“Of course you can,” I said, putting my book down.

It was nearly four in the morning, and I couldn’t even remember the last time I’d slept. My body seemed to have given up on it entirely.

“I… wanted to apologise,” Sadie said. “For everything I’ve said.”

“What brought this on?”

“I don’t know,” she confessed. “A bad feeling, I guess. If something happened to you…”

“Nothing’s gonna happen to me,” I said. “You know I’ll be fine.”

“So you keep saying. Just humour me, okay?”

“Alright, I’m listening. I’m sorry.”

“I’m sorry I gave you a hard time about Rachel,” she said. “That was really douchey of me. I think I was just jealous, because you had someone else to, you know.”

She looked so forlorn. I reached out, placing a hand on hers.

“You know you’re always gonna be important to me, don’t you? You’re the only family I have.”

“That’s why I’m so worried about all this vigilante stuff,” she said. “I know I keep saying this, but I can’t get the idea out of my head. What if they take you and lock you up somewhere?”

“Then at least I’ll have you,” I told her. “And besides, whatever they do to me, Rachel will find me.”

“Why can’t you take anything seriously?”

I sighed, closing my eyes and leaning back.

“Because everything about this is ridiculous,” I told her. “I’m living in a goddamned comic book, Sadie. My sister’s a ghost, I’m immortal, our city is more full of gang crime than Gotham. My best friends are an assassin and… I don’t even know what Aidan is. My girlfriend is a genius, and everywhere I look, I see cracks.”


I couldn’t help but to laugh.

“I don’t know what’s going on, Sadie. Everywhere I look, it’s like the world is falling apart. There are cracks everywhere, cracks in impossible places, and I’d swear I was losing my mind if not for everything else that was going on.”

I’d never actually said that out loud before. It felt surprisingly cathartic.

“I don’t understand you,” Sadie said. “You act like all of this is so unbelievable, so extraordinary, but this is the world we live in. You’re the only one who finds it strange.”

She had a point, though I hated to admit it. People were surprised, sure, but nobody seemed to be filled with the same sense of the impossible as me. Nobody else acted like there was something wrong with the world.

“I don’t understand why everyone else just rolls with it,” I said. “It just seems so obviously… Well, whatever.”

“This is what I’m talking about,” Sadie complained. “You can’t take anything seriously.”

“You think I’m not taking this all seriously? Sadie, half a year ago, I tried to kill myself. You think I’ve forgotten that?”

“You think I have?”

“I’m so terrified I’ll end up back in that place, Sadie. I feel like I can’t ever stop, because if I do, I’ll fall apart.”


“I’m not okay, Sadie. I’m not suddenly over every negative thought that’s been poisoning my brain. I just have enough distractions that I can push them away, at least for now.” I laughed darkly. “Besides, it’s a little hard to be suicidal when you can’t die.”

“That’s not funny,” Sadie scolded me.

“Who cares? My whole goddamned life is a joke, and it isn’t worth shit. Don’t you get it?”

“I think you’re actually losing your mind, Charlie. You need help.”

“And who’s gonna help me, Sadie?” I asked, suddenly annoyed. “You think this is the kind of shit a psychiatrist is equipped to handle?”

“Yes!” she cried.

“Well, thanks for your professional opinion,” I snipped. “And thanks for the heart-to-heart. Really.”

“Charlie, I…”

“Let me put things this way,” I said, trying to control my temper. “If I’m right, and there’s something wrong with the world, I’m doing the only thing it’s possible for me to do.”

“And if you’re wrong?”

“Then I’m already doing what I’m supposed to be doing,” I said with a sigh. “And I don’t know which of those options is worse.”


Next Week: You Think I Don’t Know What You’re Up To?

Chapter 33 – Not Broody Enough To Be A Superhero

Seven Months Before Impact Day

“We need something big,” Rachel had said, looking down at the city below. “Something public. We need to undermine the control they feel like they have. Challenge their authority.”

“I don’t like where this is going,” Sadie had objected, though nobody heard but me.

“They need a reason to want to capture me,” I’d agreed. “What did you have in mind?”

She’d only grinned. If only I’d listened to Sadie…

I took a deep breath, now ready to enact Rachel’s absurd plan. Doesn’t get much more public than this…

There were hundreds, maybe thousands of people gathered in Federation Square, including just about every media outlet in the city. Aidan had done a remarkably good job of making sure this would be as public as possible. I knew Mark would be among the journalists gathered, and silently hoped he wouldn’t recognise me.

If everything went according to plan, there was no way he could. The mask Rachel had crafted for me covered my face completely, and the armour more or less disguised my body shape. The glowing red eyes gave me a vaguely demonic look, and the black and grey colour scheme only added to that.

“This is a terrible idea,” Sadie said.

“Shut up,” I replied, my voice filtered through the mask.

The crowd was getting restless. None of them knew why they were here, only that it was important. All they could see was a large black box on a stage.

“No time like the present,” Rachel’s voice buzzed in my ear. She was far away, and safe, but I was still worried.

I stepped out onto the stage, causing a wave of murmuring and confused stares. For a few moments, I just stood there, staring back at them, trying to quieten down my thumping heart.

“This is not performance art,” I said, my voice amplified through dozens of speakers, and filtered to the point of being unrecognisable. “This is not a publicity stunt. This city is poisoned, and today, I’ve officially declared war on the source.”

Confusion, incredulity, scepticism. Nothing I hadn’t anticipated. Still, it was a little unnerving.

I nodded, and the sides of the box fell away, revealing a cage. Inside of it, a high-ranking member of Vengeance, looking thoroughly pissed off and just a little worried. Above me, a screen lit up, scrolling through incriminating photos, documents, messages, all acquired by Aidan.

“These gangs are everywhere. They touch everything, control everything, make our streets unsafe. Their masters hide in the shadows, puppet masters pulling your strings, profiting off your fear, above the law and beyond reproach.”

The bars of the cage lowered into the stage, freeing the man. He froze, unsure of what to do.

“One by one, I’ll dig them up, and air their dirty laundry. I’ll disrupt their operations, destroy their safehouses, and bring their empires to their knees.”

Movement in the audience. Several Vengeance members burst forth, revealing concealed weapons, screams erupting from the civilian masses. A gun was thrown to the captive, and within seconds, a hail of bullets tore through me.

Rachel’s armour was surprisingly effective. In less than a month, she’d constructed something even militaries would have killed to their hands on. It wasn’t enough to make me completely bulletproof, but what damage was done would heal. The illusion would be that the armour was even more effective than it was.

I ran across the stage to the captive, my left hand slamming into his face. An electric current travelled through the gauntlet I wore, delivering a shock strong enough to drop him to the ground, twitching.

The police present acted quickly, shutting down the other gang members. They’d all shot at someone, with illegal firearms, in a public place, in front of cameras. This time, the police had crimes to charge them with and evidence to arrest them. More importantly, my message had been sent. The city knew I was here. The gangs knew I was coming for them.

Of course, the police tried to come for me next. I kicked a hidden switch on the stage, causing thick black smoke to fill the air. A catapult built into the stage launched me into the air, carefully calculated by Rachel. I landed in the Yarra River, sinking fast, where Liz met me, helping me strip off the armour, stuff it into a bag, and with the help of an oxygen tank, stay underwater until we emerged in the harbour.

We pulled ourselves out of the water, and disappeared into a public restroom where changes of clothing were waiting. We dried ourselves off, got changed, and began to make our way back to the apartment where we’d made our base.

Rachel and Aidan met us when we returned, grinning. Rachel hugged me tight, whilst Aiden and Liz just nodded awkwardly at each other.

“How’d we go?” I asked, when Rachel finally let go.

“They’re pissed off,” Aidan said, scrolling through tabs on his laptop. “There’s a lot of confusion, a few heads rolling, and talk of a bounty.”

“Sounds like mission accomplished,” Rachel said smugly.

“I still say it was needlessly showy,” Aidan said. “We could do this entire thing discreetly, digging up information and passing it to the authorities.”

“They’d figure out ways around it,” I said. “And it wouldn’t teach them anything. They’re used to dodging the law. What they’re not used to is me, and besides, isn’t this more fun?”

“I didn’t realise fun was an important factor,” Liz said coldly.

“Why shouldn’t it be?” I asked. “What, am I not broody enough to be a superhero?”

“Is that how you think of yourself?” she asked, irritated.

“How would you describe me, if not that?”

“An egotistical, self-centred clown,” she said.


“You’re welcome to leave, you know,” Rachel said, right on cue.

“And leave you without a voice of reason?” Liz asked. “No, I think you need me.”

“Well, I think everything is going great,” I said. “But sure, I can take things more seriously. Aidan, let me know when they’ve set a trap for me, so I can get myself captured.”

“Shouldn’t be long,” he said.

“For now, we should get home. Mark’s probably expecting us.”

“Right, right.”

Rachel and I said our goodbyes, and I promised to call her after dinner. She was sticking around in the apartment, tinkering with whatever her latest project was. Liz, not wanting to be left alone with her, opted to return home too.

“Why didn’t you tell me sooner?” Aidan asked, as we sat on the bus together.

“About what?”

“Everything,” he said. “Rachel, how you were feeling, what you did…”

“I don’t know,” I lied. “I guess I never really found the words for any of it, and I was worried…”

“Worried? About what? Did you really think I would judge you? Don’t you trust me?”

“No,” I said. “It wasn’t about you. It wasn’t about trust. I just…” I leaned into him, resting my head on his shoulder. He wrapped an arm around me, idly playing with my hair.

“It’s complicated?” he offered.

“It’s complicated,” I agreed.

“I just don’t want to lose you,” he said. “You know I love you, right?”

“Of course,” I replied. “And I love you too. You’re family, and I promise, nothing will ever change that.”


Next Week: Collateral Damage

Chapter 30 – Irredeemably Stupid

Eight Months Before Impact Day

“Your plan sucks,” Aidan said bluntly, and I had to resist the urge to hit him.

“It was working,” I said. “Reported crimes in the areas I’ve patrolled—”

“Look, I don’t think it’s worth explaining statistical significance to you, so I’m gonna put it this way,” he said. “Crime rates in other areas have gone up. Thugs on the streets are carrying more guns, which puts other people in more danger. You might stop a crime here and there, maybe scare them off one little area temporarily, but you’re not making a scrap of difference.”

“What? Even after I hit one of their safe houses?” I demanded, glancing at Rachel. She just shrugged. Liz rolled her eyes. Wendy was silent.

“Charlie, these gangs are funded by millions, maybe billions of dollars. You put a handful of nobodies in the hospital and trashed a cheap apartment. You really thought they would care?” Aidan asked.

My heart sank. A quick look around the table told me nobody else felt any better about my progress. I could just picture Sadie’s smug grin. I was glad I’d left her at home.

“Alright then,” I said, taking deep breaths. “That’s why you’re here. Give me a better plan.”

“Cut off their funding,” he said. “We need to find out who’s providing them with weapons, who’s organising them, and mostly, who’s benefiting.”

“That sounds like your job,” Rachel told him.

“And I’ll do my best,” he said, exasperated. “But I can’t exactly just jump on a computer and find out. You’re gonna need to do some groundwork for me.”

“Now you’re talking,” I said. “Groundwork I can do.”

“There’s a few other things we’re going to need,” he said. “A car. Nondescript. An isolated, soundproof building. A place near the centre of the city. A few, er, specific chemicals.”

A picture was already starting to form in my head. Everyone else seemed to have something of an idea of what he was suggesting.

“Leave the chemicals to me,” Rachel said. “I already have some ideas.”

“I can take care of the car, and I know of an isolated cabin that would be perfect,” Liz said reluctantly. “What’s with the place in the city, though?”

“I need somewhere to work from, and to direct you from. Also, if someone manages to track down my IP address, the denser area will make it harder to narrow down,” Aidan explained.

Liz made a disgruntled sound, and we all turned to look at her. She was grimacing.

“Problem?” I asked her.

“Charlie, this is ridiculous,” she said. “Think about what you’re trying to do here. What you’re asking everyone here to do. Is this really what you want?”

“What should I want?” I demanded. “A normal life? You want me to just forget that I’m immortal, go back to school, graduate, get a job? Am I even going to get old?”

“I’m just saying that putting yourself in harm’s way is foolish, even for someone who can’t die. What’s wrong with a normal life?”

A wave of anger rushed through me. I slammed my hands on the table, standing up so I could look down on her.

“You want me to live a normal life? Liz, a few months ago, I tried to kill myself. And everyone here has done a great job of pretending I didn’t, but it happened, and I haven’t forgotten. That is my normal life.”

Rachel reached over, and rested a hand on mine. I could feel it calming me. I didn’t want to be calm. I pulled away.

“You can all act like this is insane if you want,” I snarled. “But this is all I fucking have. This, this darkness inside of me is driving me crazy. I have no idea what I am, or why I’m like this. I’m so angry all of the time, and the only time I feel in control of it is when I’m doing this, and when I’m with Rachel.”

“Charlie,” Rachel said, this time grabbing my wrist and not letting go. She didn’t say anything else, but there was love in her eyes.

“I had no idea,” Liz said. “Charlie, if I was sceptical, it was only because—”

“It’s fine, Liz,” I told her. “I don’t want to talk about it. Just, let’s focus on doing something worthwhile, okay?”

“Why this, though?” Liz asked. “Why is fighting street gangs the battle you want to fight?”

My mouth shot open to reply, but I stopped myself. I couldn’t tell her the real reason. I couldn’t tell anybody the real reason, not yet. Even Rachel, if she knew… Well, she might not care, but I wasn’t ready to take the risk.

“Because it was the first thing that popped into my head,” I said. “I read a lot of comic books, okay? It just felt natural.”

The scary thing was, that was partially true. Not in the way that I was implying, but I had my suspicions. Everything seemed too perfectly tailored to me.

“Shit,” Rachel said, as if she understood. Maybe she did.

“Well, it doesn’t matter now,” Aidan said. “This is where we’re at, and we’ve all agreed to do what we can for Charlie.”

“Thank you,” I said.

“So, I don’t want to question your expertise, Aidan,” Rachel began, still holding my wrist. “But I think your plan is a little lacking too.”

“I haven’t even told you what my plan is,” he objected.

“It seems pretty obvious,” Liz said. “Car, cabin, drugs… we’re gonna kidnap and interrogate a gang member.”

“Not exactly,” Aidan said.

“No, street thugs wouldn’t know anything useful,” Rachel agreed. “So how are we going to nab someone higher up?”

“Well, this is where having someone like Charlie comes in handy,” he said. “We’re gonna get them to take her right to them.”

“How?” Rachel asked, sounding ready to reject the idea out of hand.

“We need to package her up in something that would get taken straight to the higher ups,” Aidan said. “Liz?”

Liz pondered the question for a few seconds. “Can’t be anything normal. Guns, drugs, money, wouldn’t rate a mention, even in large amounts.”

“Something rare, then,” Aidan said. “Like…”

“Military prototypes,” Rachel said.

“That might be a little out of our reach,” Liz said sceptically.

“Real ones, yes,” Rachel agreed. “But they only have to believe that’s what they’re looking at, right?”

“You think you can make something convincing?” Aidan asked.

“With the right supplies and enough time,” she said. “Actually… Charlie, can I talk to you after this?”

“Huh?” Of course I was going to talk to her after. What did she think I was going to do, just wander off alone? “Yeah, for sure.”

“Okay, so this is all going to take some time to organise,” Aidan said. “I’m gonna keep digging for information. Rachel, you have a lot to do. Liz, you’ve got a few things, but it seems like they won’t take long, so I think you and Charlie should spend some time training together.”

Liz and I exchanged surprised glances. She looked uncomfortable, but didn’t say anything. I just shrugged.

“Sure, we probably need to get a good feel for what to expect from one another,” I agreed. “Maybe some after school sessions?”

“Fine,” she said. She was being surprisingly short, but I decided not to comment on it.

“Right. Uh, anyone else?”

“I’m good,” Aidan said. “We all have enough to get started, anyway.”

“Let’s get to work then,” Liz said. “And Charlie, try not to do anything irredeemably stupid in the meantime.”

Not sure what to say to that, I just smiled diplomatically, and nodded. Seemingly satisfied, Liz and Aidan walked off together, talking about something in hushed voices.  I turned to Rachel.

“Hey,” she said, smiling.

“Hey, yourself,” I said back. “What’s up?”

She fidgeted uncomfortably, then met my eye. “This is going to be too much for me,” she said eventually. “On top of school, and work, I don’t think I can handle it all.”

Did she feel like I was putting too much pressure on her? A spark of panic flickered to life, but I quickly crushed it.

“I don’t want you to push yourself,” I said. “We can figure out a way to make this all work without—”

“No,” she snapped. “That’s not what I want.”

“What do you want, then?”

“You,” she said. “This. Nothing else.”

I frowned, confused. What was she actually saying?

“I don’t follow,” I told her.

“Look, you and I both know I’m not getting anything out of school,” she said. “And this job is fine, but I could make a lot more money, and hate myself a lot less, doing things I’m actually good at.”

“Your mum would kill you,” I pointed out.

“My mum has done everything she can for me,” Rachel said. “That’s not my home, and it never will be.”

I looked into her eyes. She was completely serious, and more determined than I’d seen her before. She didn’t need my approval, but she wanted it. She wanted me to tell her she was right, and it was going to be okay.

“What are you going to do?” I asked instead.

She reached into her bag, pulled out a crumpled piece of paper, and thrust it into my hands. I unfurled it and straightened it out.

It was a real estate listing. A small unit, not really close to anything familiar. A little old, and fairly cheap rent. Cheap, but still out of her price range, and even if I wanted to help, I didn’t have any money at all.

“Well?” she prompted.

“How are you going to afford it?” I asked, wishing I could just give her the enthusiasm she wanted. “Also, you’re only seventeen. Don’t you need to be eighteen-“

“I know,” she said. “Charlie, I know. Don’t look at the rent. Just the place. Tell me what you think of it.”

“It’s… cute,” I said. “But—”

She sighed loudly, and snatched the sheet of paper back from my hands, shoving it back into her bag. When she looked back up at me, she was biting her lip.

“Okay, look. The owner is one of mum’s ex-boyfriends. I already spoke to him, he’s willing to let me stay there for a few months for free, to find my feet.”

“Wow, really?” I hadn’t expected that. “That’s really cool.” I didn’t know what to say to her. I didn’t even know how to feel about it.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

“Nothing,” I told her. “I don’t know. It’s just not what I was expecting,” I admitted.

“Then you’re missing the point,” she said, smirking. I frowned. Did that mean what it sounded like? Because that was not what I was in the mood for.

“Rachel, I’m not—”

She rolled her eyes, and I stopped mid-sentence. Her smirk hadn’t disappeared.

“Charlie, you do remember why we’re working with Wendy and the lovebirds, don’t you?”

Suddenly, I realised what she was getting at. My eyes grew wide, and so did her grin. I shoved her playfully.

“You’re brilliant,” I told her, then kissed her.

“I know,” she said, and kissed me back.


Next Week: Something Feels Off

Chapter 29 – Ignorance Is Bliss

Eight Months Before Impact Day

Rachel and I arrived at Wendy’s café just after closing time, with Sadie in tow. It was the only time I could be sure she would be there, but there wouldn’t be any customers. Just like last time, the door was unlocked. I supposed that made sense; it wasn’t like she needed to be worried about security.

She looked up at us with an expression of exaggerated surprise, but when she realised it was me, all traces of the gentle and awkward persona vanished.

“We’re closed,” she said coldly.

“You know we’re not here to order,” I said. “I do need to talk to you.”

Her eyes darted over to Rachel, and then briefly settled on Sadie. There was no way that was a coincidence. Could she actually see my sister?

Sadie obviously noticed too, but she didn’t seem surprised. That was something I needed to investigate later.

“I already told you, there’s nothing I can do for you,” Wendy said. “I’m sorry.”

“I disagree. But don’t worry, I’m not gonna ask you for answers again, and I’m not going to ask you to fight.”

“Then what do you want?”

“I told you. I want to talk,” I said. “Just talk.”

She sighed, tilting her head towards the back of the café. “Go through that door. I’ll meet you there after I lock up.”

Progress. I had to hide my smirk as I led the others out the back door. Rachel met my eye and gave her secret smile, the one where she bit her lower lip.

Wendy’s back room was not at all what I expected. Beyond the kitchen, pantry and freezer was another room, with glossy white walls, harsh lighting, and the largest assortment of weapons I think I’ve ever seen. A deep crack ran right down the centre of the room, but nobody else seemed to notice it.

A few seconds later, Wendy followed us in, shutting the door behind us. The room was small enough that all of us were standing close enough to touch, even spread out as far as we could get.

“So tell me, what is it that you think I can do for you?” she asked.

“I need a backup plan,” I told her. “In case something goes wrong. I… I hadn’t really considered the risks before. I mean, I know I’ll be fine, but if they find out who I am, my family and friends are in danger. So if something goes wrong, I just want you to pull me out of the fire. That’s in your best interest too, right?”

If she didn’t want me to know what I was, I figured it was a pretty safe bet she didn’t want anyone else knowing either. It was the only way I could think of to motivate her to get involved.

“In order to do that, I’d need to know every time you put yourself in danger,” she replied. “I can’t come after you if they take you anywhere protected.”

“Why not?” Rachel asked.

“I can’t hurt anyone,” she explained. “I definitely can’t kill anyone. That’s an agreement I can’t break, not for any reason.”

“Curious,” Rachel said. “What happens if you break it? You go back to your lab? You’re terminated?”

I knew Rachel was probing for more than just answers. Even if Wendy didn’t say anything, her body language and micro expressions might.

“It’s not about consequences,” Wendy said.

“I’m not asking you to hurt or kill anyone,” I said. “Just, you know, rescue me if I get caught. Or protect my friends and family, at the very least.”

“What exactly do you imagine me doing?” she asked.

“Why a barista?” Rachel asked.


“There’s so much you could do,” Rachel insisted. “Even without using your superhuman abilities. You’re so intelligent, so dextrous. You’re functionally immortal, and you have supermodel good looks. So why a barista, and why here?”

“You ask a lot of questions,” Wendy said.

“And you answer painfully few.”

“It makes me happy,” Wendy said. “I like this life, and I like this city.”

“But you only bought this café ten years ago,” Rachel said. “And you made an entirely new identity to go with it.”

“You’ve done your research.”

“You’re here for Charlie,” Rachel accused her.

“I can’t help you,” she insisted.

“You’re selfish,” Rachel said.

“Yes,” Wendy agreed.

“I’m sorry I threatened you,” I told her. “Last time, I mean.”

“It wasn’t you,” Wendy replied cryptically.

“You really won’t tell us anything?” Rachel asked.

“You already know more than you’re supposed to,” Wendy said. “But then, so do I. Trust me, ignorance is bliss.”

“That’s easy for you to say,” Rachel said.

“No,” Wendy replied, “it isn’t.”

We left after that, neither of us surprised with how things went. It wasn’t until we got back to Rachel’s place that we talked about it.

“Did you get anything useful?” I asked, watching out of the corner of my eye as Sadie perched on the edge of Rachel’s bed, taking in the room.

“A little,” Rachel said, trying unsuccessfully to follow my gaze. “More puzzle pieces, but not enough to see the big picture.”

“Do you think she’ll help?”

Not yet,” Rachel said. “And not us.”

“So I was right.”

“Are you sure you want to go through with this?” Rachel asked.

“It’s too late now, isn’t it?”

“We could find another way,” Rachel said.

“I think this is it,” I said, shaking my head.

“Well, you know I’ve got your back,” she said.

“Yeah, I know.”


Next Week: Irredeemably Stupid

Chapter 25 – I’ve Let You Down

10 Months Before Impact Day

I woke up to my phone buzzing loudly beside me. Sadie was curled up on the far side of the bed, and even though she was still close enough to reach out and touch, it felt like she was on the other side of the world.

Right, phone. I reached over and picked it up. Rachel? What was she doing calling so early in the morning? I answered immediately, a worried smile spreading across my face.

“Hey!” I said, trying to keep the concern out of my voice.

“Hey,” Rachel said back, her own tone surprisingly calm. “You free to talk?”

“Sure, what’s up?”

“Well, I have good news and bad news,” she said cryptically. “Which do you want first?”

“I want them both at the same time,” I said, sticking my tongue out, knowing that even though she couldn’t see it, she would know I was doing it.

“Of course you do,” she said, and I could almost hear the eye roll  I knew she was giving me in return. “Okay, so the bad news is, Mum wants me to go see a counsellor, on account of me being so mentally ill.” Her voice was dripping with sarcasm at the end of that sentence.

“Wow, she really doesn’t want you to be gay, huh?”

“Not if she has anything to say about it, no,” Rachel said irritably.

“And do you have a say in the matter? Can you just, like, not go?”

“Actually, I don’t have to go see the counsellor if I don’t want,” Rachel said, surprising me.

“That doesn’t sound like your mum. What’s the catch?” I asked, smelling a trap.

“No trap. Actually, it’s really more like a… Well, it’s basically a bribe.”

“I’m listening…”

Rachel sighed audibly, and I wished I could reach through the phone and hold her hand. Sometimes even good news can feel like bad news when it’s not the news you were hoping to hear.

“If I do go see the counsellor, she’ll lift some of my restrictions,” she said carefully.

“How much?” I asked, just as cautiously.

“I can stay out after school until eight, and I can invite friends over. Well, friends that aren’t you,” she added reluctantly. I wasn’t surprised, but it still annoyed me.

“It’s still an improvement,” I said, trying to be positive for her. “Why on earth would she offer you that?”

“I don’t know. I want to think maybe she’s starting to reconsider things,” she said wistfully.

The two of us were silent for a while, and I just listened to the sound of her breathing. It was nice, almost relaxing. It made me feel like she was in the room with me.

“So do you want to take her up on her offer?” I asked, breaking the comfortable silence.

“I kind of don’t see a bad side,” she said after a brief pause. “I mean, seeing someone who’s trying to talk me out of being gay doesn’t exactly sound fun, but it’s not like it’s gonna work, right?”

I had to laugh at that. Something about the way she said it was just so … her.

“History would suggest not,” I said, grinning. “Also, common sense.”

“So what do you think?” she asked.

I didn’t even need to think about it. I just wanted to offer her the same support she had unquestioningly given me.

“I think if I can see you more often, I’d be thrilled. And I trust you to know what’s going on in your head.”

There was another pause, and I thought maybe I’d said the wrong thing. What did she want me to say?

“So, about that…”

My breath hitched. She sounded reluctant, nervous. My mouth went dry as possibilities starting whirling through my head.

“Which part?” I asked breathlessly.

“The seeing you more often part.”

Breathe, Charlie. Just breathe.


“I was thinking of trying to get a job,” she said. I found myself blinking at nothing for a few seconds, not entirely sure what to say. That wasn’t what I was expecting at all.

“Oh,” was all I managed to say.

“I know it won’t leave us much time to spend together…” she said apologetically., and I could picture her biting her lip as she said it. I forced myself to calm down.

“Rachel, half the stuff in your room is built out of scraps. Which is cool as hell, but if you want to have some money for a change, I’m hardly gonna hold that against you.”

She was quiet for a bit again. Then, in a quiet voice, she started to talk again.

“Well, I can’t deny that being able to buy stuff for myself would be nice, but I was thinking of putting most of it towards funding, you know, your stuff.”

God, she was a sweetheart. There was no way I was going to let her waste her hard earned money on me, though. Not when she’d lived the way she had for her entire life.

“What? No, you should absolutely do it for yourself!” I insisted.

Instead of a reply, I just heard Rachel grunt. She sounded annoyed. I was confused. Was she expecting me to say thank you? I probably should have.

“What?” I asked.

“Do you not want my help?” she asked shortly, and I could tell she was pissed off. I cringed.

“Of course I do, I just—”

“Do you think I’m helping just because I care about you?” she asked, cutting me off. I didn’t know what to say.


“Charlie, I actually believe in what you’re trying to do. I really think you can make a difference, and I want to be a part of that,” she said, forcing herself to speak slowly and patiently. I felt like an idiot.

“I’m gonna be honest, I hadn’t even considered that,” I admitted, looking sheepishly at the wall.

“Well thanks a lot.”

“You’re right, I’m sorry,” I said, annoyed at myself for not being able to say more.

“That’s it?”

“That’s all I’ve got,” I said, shrugging to nobody. No, that wasn’t good enough. I took a deep breath, and tried again. “Rachel, I wouldn’t be able to do this without you, and if I haven’t made you feel like you’re essential, then I’ve let you down. I’m sorry.”

She was silent again. When she spoke again, her tone was a lot lighter, and there was a hint of amusement behind it.

“Can’t you at least be a little defensive?”

“You get less mad at me this way,” I said jokingly, as my heart rate slowly returned to normal.

“That is so manipulative,” she growled cutely.

“So where are you gonna work?” I asked, changing the subject.

“Don’t change the subject,” she said immediately.

“Will it have a cute uniform?”

“Stop it,” she growled again.

“Can I come make puppy dog eyes at you while you work?”

“You’re the worst,” she said, but I could hear the laughter she was trying to surpress. I giggled.

“Can you go out on weekends?” I asked, more seriously.

“No, I have chores,” she said.

“Want to go on a date on Monday, then?” I asked, in my most seductive voice. It was terrible, and I heard her laugh on the other end of the phone.

“…Yes,” she said, trying to sound as reluctant as she could. I stuck my tongue out at her again.

“Wow, that was easy,” I teased.

“Shut up.”

“I love you, Rachel,” I crooned.

“I love you too, idiot,” she said, and hung up. I spent the rest of the morning with a huge grin on my face.


Next Week: Sounds Like Something Out Of A Comic Book

Chapter 24 – I’ll Try Not To Give You A Reason To Scream

10 Months Before Impact Day

Unsurprisingly, Sadie was waiting up for me when I get home. She looked up with reserved enthusiasm when I walked in, using the front door and not bothering with the window, but as soon as she saw my face, her expression turned sour.

“You okay?” she asked, compassion in her eyes.

“Not even a little,” I said, collapsing into my bed.

Sadie climbed onto the bed beside me, sitting with her knees hugged to her chest. She placed a hand on my arm.

“Hey, what’s wrong?”

“It’s about Rachel,” I said, my tone suggesting she probably wouldn’t want to pry any further than that.

“You can tell me,” she said. I craned my neck up to look at her. She smiled back gently.

Sometimes I had to remind myself that Sadie was a genuinely caring and compassionate person. It was difficult when she disagreed with me on so many things, but I did know that she was a good person, and when I wasn’t mad at her, I was proud to have her as a sister.

“We kind of came out to her mum,” I said, my head collapsing back into the bed so I could stare up at the ceiling. Sadie knew enough about Rachel’s home situation to know what that would have entailed.

“The abusive alcoholic? How did that go?” she asked, worried.

“About as well as you’d expect.”

“I’m so sorry,” she said, sounding like she really meant it.

“I don’t know what’s gonna happen now,” I said. I felt completely powerless. I was scared Rachel was going to be taken away from me.

“You’ll make it work somehow,” Sadie said confidently.


“Charlie, I know you,” she said seriously. “You’re the most loyal person I’ve ever seen. You’re resourceful and tenacious. And Rachel is as tough as they come, and she obviously cares a lot about you. If anyone could make this situation work, it’s you two.”

That was a surprise. I hadn’t expected her to be so supportive, not with the way she’d been acting. It was really nice.

“That’s surprisingly optimistic of you,” I said.

“I know I haven’t been your biggest supporter lately,” she said. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay. Life’s been crazy lately, and there’s been a lot to adjust to.”

I reached up with my hand, and felt Sadie clasp it, grabbing onto me like I was an anchor. As always, her, skin felt completely normal. If I hadn’t known better, it really would have been so easy to just assume she was just a normal girl.

“And as usual, I am powerless to do anything about it,” she said with a sigh. “I guess fighting you was the only thing I felt like I could do.”

“You wanna do something else?” I asked, an idea suddenly occurring to me. I sat up, enjoying the confused expression on her face.

“Like what?”

“I really need to punch something,” I told her.

“You can’t punch me,” she said, shrinking back.

“No, I mean I’m heading out. I could use an extra pair of eyes, and you might feel better when you see how much safer Rachel has made it all.”

“I was meaning to ask where all that stuff came from…” she muttered, eying the closet where I kept it all.

“Better you don’t know,” I told her.

“Okay, I’ll come with you,” she said, and I grinned happily. “But you can’t get mad at me for screaming again.”

“I’ll try not to give you a reason to scream, then.”

It felt good to have somebody by my side, even if nobody else knew she was there. She wouldn’t be much help in a fight, either, but just knowing I wasn’t alone made a big difference.

I climbed out the window, not wanting to be seen in my ‘combat gear’ as I liked to think of it, and helped her climb out after me. She stretched out dramatically, making a point of how rarely she was able to leave the house. I ignored her, and started walking.

For once, I actually had a pretty good idea of where I wanted to go. I’d done some research, trawling through old news articles and dozens of forums, and managed to figure out the address of a gang safe house. Once I had the address, I’d done more investigating, just to make sure, and I was completely confident about it.

It was an exciting prospect for me. Stopping petty crimes in progress wasn’t going to make a scrap of difference, not even if I dressed like a bat or left a calling card. They were never going to stop doing what they did because they were scared of one person out there trying to stop them.

Hitting back at them, though, that could really make them think. If they didn’t feel safe in their own territory, maybe they would start to think twice about the line of work they were in. Without the promise of protection, I had to assume the gang life lost a fair amount of appeal.

It was only a theory, but it was a lot more than I’d been working with, and even at worst, it couldn’t make things worse. At least, I hope it wouldn’t make things worse.

Sadie trotted along beside me, enjoying the opportunity to see areas she wasn’t used to being in. It was kind of like taking a puppy for a walk. I smiled at the thought.

It took as us the better part of an hour to reach the address, an apartment complex in a slightly more rundown neighbourhood. It wasn’t anything fancy, and I was able to just walk in and go straight up the stairs.

Realising that we had reached our destination, and the fun part of the night was over, Sadie’s demeanour changed drastically. She kept her lips clamped shut and her shoulders were raised and tense, but to her credit, she didn’t do anything to get in my way.

I stopped in front of the door, taking a second to listen. There were definitely people in there, and I had triple-checked the address. That was all I needed. And this time, I had the element of surprise. I wasn’t going to waste it again.

Slowly, carefully, I checked the door handle. Thankfully, it wasn’t even locked. They were almost making it too easy for me. Not that I was complaining. I grinned at Sadie, who just looked back at me with a confused expression on her face. I pulled a pair of swimming goggles over my eyes.

I opened the door the tiniest amount, listening for any reaction. When nothing changed, I unclipped one of the tear gas grenades, pulled out the pin, and rolled it into the room. I shut the door as quietly as I could, trying to get as much time before they noticed as possible.

It didn’t take long. Within seconds I heard shouts of ‘What the fuck?’ and the pounding of feet against the floor. Show time.

As soon as I heard the door handle begin to turn, I slammed my body into the door, taking whoever was on the other side completely by surprise. They staggered back, and I surveyed the room, keeping my mouth shut. The gas would be somewhat filtered by the ski mask, but I didn’t want to take any chances.

There were eight of them, all coughing and trying to cover their faces. I kicked the door shut again behind me, just as Sadie scrambled inside. No more time to waste.

The guy who was trying to get the door open charged at me, tears streaming down his face. The poor guy never stood a chance. He ran straight into the tip of my baton and buckled over, collapsing to the ground as his lungs struggled to inhale as much air as they could. Unfortunately for him, the air was full of tear gas.

Someone was trying to get the window open. I pulled out my pistol, already loaded with rubber bullets, and fired at her. The shot hit her in the side of the ribcage, and she was thrown off her feet, crying out as she hit the ground.

Another guy threw himself at me half-blindly, and it was almost too easy to move out of the way, my foot lashing out at the side of his leg, sending him crashing to the ground. I let him lift his head up just a little, then planted my foot on the back of it and slammed it into the floor. It seemed less barbaric than just kicking him in the head, and less likely to cause permanent damage.

Another person made a run for the door, and I slammed the baton into their throat, their own momentum delivering most of the force. They fell over backwards, the back of their head smashing into the ground.

With half of them already down for the count, and the other half struggling to cope with the gas filling the room, there was no challenge in taking care of the rest of them. When I was done, all eight were unconscious, and though more than one of them would need medical attention, it still felt like a victory to me.

I rounded up every weapon I could find in the place, stuffing them into a garbage bag. I also found wads of cash, and I took those as well, though I planned on actually using the cash. The weapons I was just going to dispose of, so nobody could use them.

A knock at the door surprised me, and I whipped around, holding the pistol aimed right at the entryway. If it was more of them, I was prepared. But what if it wasn’t?

When I didn’t respond, there was another knock, followed by somebody shouting “This is the police, open up!” and more knocking.

“Shit!” I hissed, panicking. What was I supposed to do about police? Getting into a fight with them wouldn’t do me any favours, but there was no way they were going to let me just walk away.

“What are we going to do?” Sadie whimpered. My mind was racing.

“What floor are we on?” I asked her. I already knew, but I needed her to confirm it for me, because I didn’t trust myself.

“Four…” she said hesitantly.

“Alright, good. Sorry in advance, sis. You’re not gonna like this.”

Before she could object, I dropped the garbage bag full of weapons, turned, and sprinted towards the window. I threw it up just as the police burst through the door and vaulted out, trying to at least angle it so I was falling feet first.

A wave of vertigo washed over me, but it was gone as soon as it came, and I hit the ground before I even realised it was there. The shock burst upwards through my legs, but somehow I managed not to break anything. At least, I didn’t think I’d broken anything.

The second I was able to move again, I was running. Looking back over my shoulder, I saw Sadie in the window. She hesitated, then jumped out after me, landing gracefully on her feet. Well, it wasn’t like she could even get hurt.

I slowed down just enough to let her catch up with me, and the two of us ran together even though we knew the cops weren’t chasing us. There was no way they would have been able to get down in time, and with a scene like the one I left for them, they probably figured there were bigger priorities anyway.

When we finally made it home, I stripped off all my combat gear and tossed in the back of my closet, making a mental note to figure out a stealthy way to clean it, or at least let it air out, because it was rank. I grabbed a t-shirt and clean underwear, and treated myself to a long, hot shower.

When I made it back to my room, Sadie was glaring at me, her arms folded across her chest. What had I done to set her off this time?

“What the hell was that?” she demanded, bristling.

“It was the only way out I could think of on short notice,” I said, shrugging.

“Not that, though that was incredibly stupid,” she said. “I’m talking about what you did to those people!”

“I did what I had to do,” I told her.

“Nothing about that was necessary. Charlie, you really scared me in there. It was like you were a different person.”

What was that supposed to mean? A different person? No, she just didn’t want to accept that I was strong enough to do what it took to make a difference.

“I never expected you to understand,” I said coldly. “I just wanted your support.”

“No, Charlie, this isn’t about what you did. I’ve never been in a fight, so I don’t know what it’s like. But Charlie, you were enjoying it. You probably hospitalised half those people, and you enjoyed it. Tell me that’s not messed up.”

“What do you mean, ‘enjoyed it’?” I asked. I didn’t recall enjoying myself. I was just doing what I had to do. “How could you even tell?”

“Because I’m always watching you. I don’t need to see your face to know what your expression is, and I don’t need to be a mind reader to know what you’re feeling,” she said.

“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” I said defiantly.

“Well, I’m coming with you next time, too,” she said, just as stubborn as I was. “Clearly you need a voice of reason.”

I didn’t say anything about that. I just stepped past her, getting into bed and turning the light off.


Next Week: I’ve Let You Down

Chapter 18 – This City Isn’t Yours Anymore

Ten Months Before Impact Day

That night, I pulled out the bag I’d acquired from the storage unit, and locked my door. I was worried it would come across as suspicious, since I didn’t do it often, but I also couldn’t risk anyone walking in on me.

I hadn’t yet had a chance to properly go through the spoils, and I was eager to start thinking about how I could make use of most of the unknown objects I’d thrown into the bag.

Sadie sat on the edge of my bed, watching with a sort of morbid curiosity. She refused to say anything about it, or anything at all, but she obviously didn’t want to just ignore what I was doing, either. Well, that was fine with me.

I unzipped the bag, excited to see what treasures would be revealed. I was not disappointed.

Tear gas grenades, handcuffs, bulletproof vest, batons, pepper spray… all standard crowd control gear. Sadie had no reaction to any of it, until I pulled out what was very obviously a handgun. Then, she actually hissed.

I turned it over in my hand. It was heavier than I’d expected, but surprisingly easy to hold. Maybe not something I had any intention of using, but I felt like if I ever needed to, it would have been possible.

“Do I even want to ask where you got that from?” Sadie asked, hugging her knees to her chest.

“Stole it from a dirty cop, if you must know.”


Ignoring her sour expression, I stripped down to my underwear, sliding on my arm and shin padding, then pulled on a new pair of black pants and tied up my boots. I put on a plain black shirt, then struggled with the bulletproof vest until it was comfortably sitting on top.

The grenades came with a handy belt holster, and the baton clipped to that, handily enough. The handcuffs fit neatly into the baggy pockets of my pants.

I managed to fit black hoodie over the top of it all, covering up anything suspicious-looking. I wrapped up the look with black leather gloves, tucked the ski mask into another pocket, and climbed out the window.

Sadie made a coughing noise, and I looked back at her, but she didn’t say anything. She just stared at me with her big, brown eyes, judging me silently. I ignored her as best I could and crept away from the house.

Next step was figuring out where to go. I couldn’t just keep picking random directions from my house, or someone would be able to figure out my general location, and if someone recognised me…

I went back in the same direction as my first encounter, keeping out of the light as much as I could. I didn’t know what I’d fine, but I was hoping something would come up. It wasn’t like there was a shortage of gang crime in the city. I wondered briefly if Rachel had managed to get her police scanner working.

Inspiration struck, and I realised I did know somewhere I could go. In one of the shadier areas of the next suburb over, there was a bar that had something of a reputation for being a meeting place for one of the smaller gangs. Police had tried raiding the place a few times, but somehow the place was always mysteriously empty when they did.

I jogged most of the way there, then slowed to a walk a couple of blocks away to make sure I didn’t arrive completely worn out. It took me about forty minutes, even weighed down with the extra gear, which wasn’t too bad.

I crept up on the bar from an unlit side of the building, ears perked and listening for any indication that I’d been spotted, pulling the ski mask over my head.

Even from outside, the bar was incredibly noisy, despite the solid concrete walls. From the sound of it, there was some kind of sports game happening, and a lot of drunk people were yelling enthusiastically about it. Given the time of night, it must have been an international game.

There was a window above me, and I jumped up to grab the ledge, pulling myself up just enough that I could see inside, hoping nobody would be staring out the window with a game on the TV. Thankfully, everyone was facing the other direction, and as dark as it was outside, they might not have seen me anyway, unless they were looking for me.

For the most part, the patrons seemed like completely average people. They didn’t have that shadowy aggression that accompanied the gangs of the city, and I was starting to have my doubts about the place. Maybe there really wasn’t anything going on…

My arms were starting to get sore, but I hung on just a little longer, determined to give it my best effort. Just a little later, my patience was rewarded.

A couple of very suspicious-looking men in dark suits emerged from a back room and made their way to the front of the bar, whilst everybody else very deliberately avoided looking at them. For a brief moment I considered following them, but instead decided to take a gamble that there were more of them in the room they’d just left.

I dropped back down to the ground, and followed the wall around to the section of building. There was a wooden door that seemed like it would open right into the room, and another window, just as high up as the first one.

Worth a try. I jumped up to look through the window. As predicted, there was another half-dozen people inside, sitting around a table, talking in hushed voices. I only needed one look to know they were exactly the sort of people I was looking for.

What’s your excuse, police?

One of them glanced up, catching sight of me in the window. There was a look of confusion which quickly spread to the others as they followed the first guy’s gaze, and I swore. Six angry men stood in unison, and began to move towards the door.

No element of surprise for me, then. That was okay, I was in the mood for a good fight. Of course, even the most proficient martial artist knows six against one is bad odds, but hey, what was the worst that could happen? It wasn’t like they could kill me.

The door slammed open, and a large handgun emerged first, already twisting towards me. I throw myself into it, knocking it to the side and taking the person holding it by surprise. They must have expected me to run. I felt the pistol drop behind me, and I surged forward, hooking my leg behind their ankle as I slammed into them with all my body weight. They toppled over backwards, and I kept moving over them, scanning the room.

Five men were still moving towards the door, and every single one of them was holding a gun. Great plan, Charlie. I couldn’t afford to keep still for even a single second. Thankfully, with them all standing so close together, it would be harder for them to get off a good shot.

Unfortunately, against six armed men, I didn’t have a lot of room to play nice. I was going to have to take them down hard; all they needed was once chance to end the fight, and I knew they weren’t going to take it easy on me if they got it. Immortal or not, a shot in the head would put me out for a while.

I kicked backwards, my heel catching the guy I’d knocked over in the face. I could tell from the impact I didn’t have to worry about him getting up any time soon. The sensation of kicking a face hard enough to knock someone out was far from pleasant, but I didn’t have the luxury of being timid, not with five guns in my face.

Still moving forwards, I brought my knee up into the groin of the man directly in front of me. He bucked immediately, and I elbowed the side of his head, slamming his skull into the wall. He dropped like a sack of bricks, but I was already moving past him, unhooking the baton from my belt.

I drove the tip of it right into the next man’s sternum; the impact to his solar plexus was enough to drive the wind out of him. It distracted him long enough for me to shift my grip and slam the side of it into his throat with enough force to send him staggering back, choking and struggling for breath.

Three down. Not fast enough. The back of a pistol collided with the side of my head, stunning me. It was followed up by a brutal punch to the gut, but thankfully the bulletproof vest absorbed the worst of that impact. I grabbed a can of pepper spray as he raised a gun to my face, and sprayed him right in the eyes. He grunted loudly and dropped his gun, stumbling backwards and rubbing his eyes. Good enough.

I managed to duck under another punch, thankful the close quarters meant being hit was more likely than being shot. Baton still in hand, I jabbed a man in a pressure point on the back of his leg, and he dropped to his knee almost immediately. My next blow caught him in the back of the head, right in the soft part at the base of his skull, and he collapsed forward, limp.

With five of the six thugs effectively dispatched, the last guy had a clear shot, and before I could do anything, he took it. The shot was deafening in the small space, and it hit me right in the chest. Two others followed. The force of them knocked me off my feet.

I couldn’t remember ever feeling an impact that powerful before; it felt like it sucked the entire life out of me. I could barely see, my lungs felt completely empty, and my entire torso ached. I had no sense of balance or orientation, and panic washed over me.

The guy got cocky, standing over me with a sneering grin on his face, gun pointed down, right at my face. I didn’t know exactly what would happen if he pulled the trigger, and I didn’t want to find out. Summoning the last of my reserves, I kicked him in the ankle, distracting him long enough for me to grab the gun and wrestle it out of his hands. I tossed it aside, then grabbed his arm, using it to pull myself up. He reacted quickly, punching me in the face, and I staggered back almost before I’d managed to regain my balance.

He lunged towards me, the anger visible on his face, and my body was almost too sore to move. He grabbed my shoulders, forcing me backwards, but instinct kicked in and I twisted sideways, allowing his momentum to carry him past me.

I kicked him in the back of the leg as I shoved his back, and he fell face-first. Before he could get up, I kicked him in the head, then dropped on him, pressing my knee into his back. I pulled out a pair of handcuffs and used them to bind his wrists behind his back.

The guy I’d pepper sprayed was starting to recover, and I grabbed the baton again, slamming it into his throat. He staggered back, and I hit him again, on the side of the head.

Fucking Hell.

The whole skirmish had barely taken a minute, but it felt like an age. I stepped back, suddenly exhausted.

At that point I realised I had absolutely no idea what to do next. Tie them all up and leave them for the cops? There was nothing the police could charge them with. I couldn’t just leave them out cold though, could I?

This is about sending a message, remember?

“Tell your bosses, this city isn’t yours anymore,” I said, trying to sound intimidating. I wanted to follow it up with something badarse, but couldn’t think of anything.

Weary, I trudged back out the door, before any of them recovered enough to start round two. My body was sore all over, but it was still an improvement on the last two times, and I wanted to keep it that way.

I thought about going home, but it wasn’t where I really wanted to be. What I wanted was to talk to Rachel, to tell her what had happened. I wanted her to be excited for me, in a way I knew nobody else would be. I wanted to share my victory with her. Any why not? There was nothing stopping me.


Next Week: It Was My Fault