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Tag: the celestial

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

Bonus – There Are Plenty Of Dangerous People In The World

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

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

“Veronica’s dead,” he explained.

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

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

“Charlie killed her,” he said.

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

What? Why?

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

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

What were they talking about?

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

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

Does this change anything?

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

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

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

How do we keep her from finding out?

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

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

And if she gets all the way to us you?

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

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

You want me to mangle a dead body?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mercy killing? she typed into her phone.

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

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

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

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

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

Ami read the message, and shrugged.

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

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

Ami frowned.

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

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

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


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

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

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

Ami considered the message for several seconds before saying anything.

“You’re taking the blame for someone.”


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

Thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He’s manageable.

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

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

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

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

You think I’m dangerous?

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

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

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

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

Me too.

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

Because I need to know what he’s doing.

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

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

“You know what his planning?” Ami asked.

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

“Be careful,” Ami said.


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

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

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

Back where she was alone.

Bonus – There’s Something I Need To Tell You

Six Months Before Impact Day

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

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

What if she refused to accept it?

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

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

“What can I get for you?”

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

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

“Won’t be long.”

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

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


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

“I do not,” she replied, flustered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Oh! Well, sure, what’s up?”

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

“I, uh…”

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still no reaction from Veronica.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

“Sabrina,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Not exactly.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Open it, and find out.”

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

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

“Back room,” Wendy replied sharply.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interlude #4

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He leaned forward, turned on his microphone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Clearly not.”

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

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

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

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

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

“No, Charlie. I’m going to kill you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She’s dead?

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

Chance of survival?

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

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

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

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

What if she can teleport?

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

Invisibility? Illusion? A fake?

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

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

You failed before.

His fingers curled into a fist.

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

You never told me.

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

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

It doesn’t work like that.

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

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

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

I don’t want it to be true.

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

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

That doesn’t mean I like it.

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

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

“No. No, that’s not possible.”

Miss Murder shoved her phone in his face.


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

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

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


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

We’re fucked.

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

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

You’re obsessed.

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

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

And if Charlie finds us first?

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

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

Chapter 29 – You, I Could Kill

As soon as I saw the words appear on the screens, I knew I could rule out Charlie. The theatrics weren’t her style. That narrowed it down considerably.

Gabriel? I knew he was looking for Zoe. Was he the type to make a show out of it? Even if he was, he wouldn’t risk timing it when all three of us were here. He wasn’t interested in Sabrina or me. It didn’t make sense.

It had to be someone who wanted the three of us. That made it painfully obvious. The only two people I wanted to see less than Charlie. My chest ached just from the memory.

A series of explosions signalled the breaching of our outer defences. I knew Zoe had the place booby-trapped, had considered adding a few mechanisms of my own. Wouldn’t have made a difference. Within a minute, the building was swarmed with gang thugs, armed like soldiers. The Stars.

Sabrina changed in a heartbeat, her skin paling, her hair lightening, her body elongating and her nails growing. Zoe had tensed up, and I got the impression she was struggling to contain her rage. Her sanctuary had been violated. I could understand.

The gang-soldiers surrounded us, not looking nearly as afraid as they should have. Their faces were concealed, but their body language was confident, almost arrogant, every last one of them. They knew something I didn’t, that was the only explanation.

A wisp of smoke congealed in the centre of the room, quickly taking the form of a young woman. She solidified, a teenage girl dressed entirely in black, her neck and mouth concealed, a vicious looking knife held in her left hand. Her eyes settled on me, fear and anger and hatred all emerging in equal measure.

She vanished in another puff of smoke, appearing in front of me in the same second. Her hand wrapped around my throat, and before I could react, the world around me faded to black, and everything was silent.

The world snapped back into place with an almost physical impact, but it wasn’t the same. My eyes scanned around me, looking for any identifiable feature. It didn’t take long.

We were on the roof. She’d teleported us straight up. Why so close? Was her range that limited? Was that a weakness I could exploit?

To my surprise, she let go of me, taking a couple of steps back. She didn’t want to kill me? What else could it be? Was she just removing me from the fight? No, she’d have taken me further to do that, even if she had to do multiple hops. Besides, I was the least dangerous of the three of us, in that situation. Unprepared and exhausted? I was basically useless.

I knew she didn’t want to talk. Did she want to show me something? Was removing me just a demonstration of her power? I already knew she could blink, and letting me see it up close, experience it, all she was doing was giving me the tools to fight against it. Assuming I survived this fight, at least. Was she showing the other two?

Protecting me? No, there was no way. She had no love for me. Her partner had even less. If they weren’t trying to kill me, it was because they wanted something from me.

Miss Murder, as she was going by, reached into a concealed fold in her black top. I stood my ground, not entirely sure what to expect.

“Hello, Rachel,” a distorted voice said, coming from her general direction. It wasn’t her voice, though. I recognised it, even through the filter. It was him. The Celestial. Leader of the Stars, the most powerful gang in the city, especially now.

The man who was responsible for poisoning me.

“Why are you disguising your voice?” I asked, trying to read Miss Murder’s body language. She kept very deliberately still. “You know I know who you are.”

“But anyone who might be listening in doesn’t,” he replied.

“And what’s to stop me revealing your identity anyway?” I asked, and saw Miss Murder tense. So, her secret identity was important to her? Interesting.

“That would cut this conversation unfortunately short,” the Celestial replied, already sounding impatient. That was good. He was far less dangerous when he didn’t feel in control, and I knew exactly how to press his buttons.

“Not seeing a downside,” I said, wondering if he could see my smirk. He was almost certainly watching through some kind of video feed.

“I believe we can help each other, Rachel,” he said, in a perfect imitation of a supervillain. I wondered if that was how he saw himself. Or the dark saviour of the city? That seemed more his flavour.

“Not interested.”

So, he was trying to recruit me? Why would he ever think I would want to work for him? Or even with him? He’d need something incredible to even entice me.

“I have resources-” he began, but I cut him off.

“Don’t care.” Even as I spoke, I kept processing, the pieces falling together. I realised what it was he had. “Wait. No. That’s not what you mean. You have her.” My heart was pounding. I was livid. That wasn’t fair. “You have Haylie, and you’re stumped. So of course you’d come to me.”

No trace of surprise on Miss Murder’s face, at least, the half of it I could see. She knew what the Celestial was offering. She knew I’d figure it out before he told me.

“You’ll never get another opportunity like this,” he said, still acting like he had control of the situation. He didn’t. He’d played his hand too early, and I was going to make him regret it.

“You’re an idiot. Do you have any idea what I could do, if I had access-” I stopped. Recomposed myself. “Of course you do. And you’re already prepared for it.”

He was shooting himself in the foot. The one thing he had to bargain with, the one thing I actually wanted, he knew he couldn’t actually give me. It was far too dangerous for him. Hell, it might have been dangerous for me.

“Her power is mine, needs to be mine,” he said evenly. “But you would see enough, learn enough to make it worth your while.”

How did he see this going? He needed my help, but anything I was able to help him with, I could weaponise, would use against him. It would be a desperate race to the end, him trying to get enough out of me to be useful before he killed me, or before I managed to turn the tables and use it against him.

I didn’t want to get stuck like that. Not that I wasn’t confident I could win, but I had my own agenda to work towards.

“Or, I could just kill you,” I said casually, but I still saw Miss Murder twitch. How hard was it for her to just stand there, completely still, nothing more than a glorified handset? How much did it gall her to be a puppet for him, after everything?

There was a surprising pause before he replied. When he did, it was with more reservation and humility than I was prepared for.

“As much as I deserve that,” he said, “you’d fail. You know you’d fail.”

Regret? No, just a ploy. Trying to cultivate a sense of trust and honesty, make me easier to manipulate.

He was right, though. I wouldn’t have a chance of killing him, not the way things were now. He was protected by more than just his gang, more than his supernatural sidekick. He had information, power, money, secrets. I had a few half-baked gadgets.

“Maybe now,” I conceded. “But I’ll keep building, keep preparing.”

“I’ll figure her out before then,” he told me, fully confident. He might have been right about that, too. I had no idea how close he was to being able to actually use her.

“I have allies,” I said, knowing I was reaching. Dammit, he had me on the back foot all of a sudden. How had that happened?

“Tenuous at best,” he said, calling my bluff. I growled. “Besides, they’re already dead.”

How long had we been speaking? A couple of minutes? More?

“You’re more arrogant than I thought. Your thugs don’t stand a chance against Zoe or-“

“You know me well enough to know that I had a plan,” he interrupted. “I know what they’re capable of.”

Frustratingly, I knew there had to be truth to that. Attacking Zoe in her base of operations was a stupid, reckless move, and he wouldn’t have done it if he wasn’t absolutely sure he’d be successful. There was a good chance Zoe and Sabrina really were already dead, or captured. What a terrifying notion.

“Well, even if you’re right, I won’t lose any sleep over it,” I said, with more confidence than I felt.

“You’re alone now,” he pushed, and I realised Miss Murder was enjoying this. I glared at her. “Or, do you trust Charlie more than me?” he continued. A chill ran down my spine. “Would you go back to her?”

He wasn’t just taunting me, he was threatening me. Threatening me using Charlie. The conversation was officially over.

“Here’s what I’m going to do,” I told him. “First, I’m going to kill your girlfriend, here. Then I’m going to check on my heavy-hitters. If they’re alive, you’re fucked. If they’re dead, I’m going to disappear, and I’m going to dedicate every waking hour to building the tools I need to destroy you. Then, you’re fucked.”

I smiled at the momentary panic on Miss Murder’s face when I said I was going to kill her. For all her confidence, she was wary of me. Good.

“You’re not a killer, Rachel,” the Celestial responded after a pause, trying and failing to call my bluff.

“Not usually,” I conceded. “But you? You, I could kill. Happily.”


“I’m disappointed, Rachel.”

“Cry me a river,” I snapped, letting adrenaline flood my system.

“I will own this city,” he said. “There’s nothing you can do about that.”

“Fucking watch me,” I snarled.

No hesitation this time. “Miss Murder? Kill her.”

Interlude #1

The Celestial sat in his office, alone, staring out at the city below. His fingers tapped impatiently against the armrest, disguising the persistent tremble he hadn’t been able to shake since Impact Day. More had changed that day than just the city, and nobody knew that better than he.

A whisper of smoke and shadow rushed through the room, coalescing immediately behind him. He saw her reflection in the window, dressed all in black, her neck covered right up to her chin. She rested a hand on his shoulder, giving one gentle, affectionate squeeze.

“Rachel and Zoe have made contact,” he said, his voice heavy with weariness. She only nodded, saying nothing. “That might actually work out for us. We’ll have to keep a close eye on them, though.

“Gabriel and Ami still seem to be at odds, even though they’re working towards the same goals. Thankfully, neither of them have the slightest idea we found her first. We need to keep it that way.”

She nodded again, casting her gaze back momentarily to the door behind his desk. They both knew that what was behind that door could change everything, would change everything, just not yet. They needed more time.

“I’m worried about Sabrina,” he continued. “I think we underestimated her. There’s definitely more to her than we thought. Still, she’s not a threat, not right now. So long as she keeps her skirmishes to the street teams, and occasionally the other superhumans, she won’t make the tiniest hint of a difference in this city.”

She dug her fingers into his shoulder. He sighed, leaning back into his chair and looking up at her. She smiled down at him, but he didn’t smile back.

“Still no sign of Wendy. I don’t think we’ll see her again. And Charlie, well…”

At the mention of Charlie, she hissed, tensing up. He rested a hand on top of hers, rubbing the back of her hand with his thumb.

“She’s impotent,” he said. “Wandering around the city aimlessly, picking fights with insignificant pawns.” He paused to laugh bitterly. “What a waste of power she turned out to be. Just an angry girl raging against the world.”

Far below them, another gunfight had broken out. The army had launched another raid, trying to cross the river. A cruel smile crossed his lips. They had no idea what they were about to run into.

“Not long now,” he said, almost too softly to be heard. “We’re so close now. While they all bicker and fight amongst themselves, we’re on our way to becoming gods.

“Still, I’d rather not play our hand too soon. Would you kindly pop down there and break up that fight?”

She didn’t respond, didn’t need to. She just vanished, leaving a rapidly dissipating cloud of black smoke in her stead.

Bonus – She’ll Change Everything

Intercepted transmission to "The Celestial"

We… we found her. The one you’re looking for. But there’s a problem. She’s not what you were expecting. I don’t know how to describe it.

She’s not dead, exactly. At least, we don’t think she is. But she’s definitely not conscious. And probably not human. Not that any of them are human.

Right now we’re trying to figure out how to recover her. First guy that touched her is a pile of ash. Acceptable loss, but it does pose an interesting challenge.

You were right, though. This one is definitely the cornerstone. She’ll change everything.

And you found her first.

Prepare the labs. We’re bringing her in.

Haylie is coming home.