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Tag: Veronica

Bonus – How Do You Do It?


One Year Before Impact Day

Sometimes I wonder if Charlie notices how often I stare at her. If she does, she certainly doesn’t say anything. I don’t think she really knows, though. She doesn’t seem to care that much about school, or what happens there.

I’m not really even sure if she considers me a friend. She’s friendly, but always distant. Elizabeth and Aidan are a lot closer to her, but something about them always feels off to me. Whenever Charlie isn’t around, they seem… different. I can’t quite put my finger on how.

Most people don’t like her, and I entirely understand why. When she’s not withdrawn, she’s irritable, abrasive, even standoffish. She barely engages with those around her, and when she does, it’s always for the minimum possible length of time.

She’s not really pretty, though I think most of that is deliberate. She keeps her hair short and messy, doesn’t wear much makeup, has an ill-fitting uniform, and scowls a lot. I think she wants to seem unapproachable, though I don’t really know why.

She’s got a weird mixture of being both athletic and a little chubby, intelligent but not expressive, empathic without any apparent compassion. None of which would be noticeable if I didn’t spend so much time watching her.

I wish I could explain my bizarre fascination with her. She’s magnetic in a way I don’t understand, and don’t know how to express.

Veronica thinks it’s a crush, and teases me about it constantly. I can’t say I blame her. It sure looks a lot like a crush, even if it isn’t. It isn’t anything. I’m just captivated.

I remember one time I was hanging out with Veronica and her younger sister, Ashley. Veronica decided to give me shit about it, and it was the first Ashley had heard of it.

“So when are you gonna tell Charlie you like her?” Veronica teased, which causes Ashley’s ears to perk up.

“Ohmygod, do you have a crush?” Ashley asked, her mouth forming an O to go with her giant round eyes.

“It’s not a crush,” I muttered, glaring at Veronica. “And I don’t like her. I’m just… curious.”

“Who is it? Who’s Charlie?” Ashley demanded.

“Just a girl we go to school with,” I said.

“What’s so special about her?”

“Nothing,” Veronica said. “She’s just grumpy all the time.”

“Sounds boring,” Ashley said.

“This whole conversation is boring,” I insisted. “Let’s talk about something else.”

“Not a chance,” Veronica said. “I wanna know why you’re always staring at her.”

“I don’t know!”

“You don’t know why you stare at her?” Ashley asked, tilting her head like a dog might. “Isn’t that a little creepy?”

“Oh it’s so creepy,” Veronica said.

“Shut up,” I snapped at her. “Look, I really don’t know, okay? It’s just something I find myself doing.”

“Sure sounds like a crush to me,” Ashley said.

“It’s not a crush,” I repeated, frustrated.

“What else could it possibly be?” Veronica asked.

“It’s like…” I sighed, and stared up at the ceiling, trying to find the right words. “Gravity, I guess?”

“You’re in loooooove,” Veronica teased.

“Yeah, that’s pretty gay,” Ashley agreed.

“Ashley! What have I told you about using that word?” Veronica snapped.

“What? Seth basically counts as a girl,” Ashley said defensively. “So if he likes a girl, that makes him gay.”

“There are so many things wrong with that sentence, I don’t even know where to begin,” Veronica muttered, but I noticed her very distinctly avoiding my eye.

I’m so not ready to have this discussion, I thought anxiously.

“Sue me,” Ashley said. “I’m twelve, I can’t be held accountable for what I say.”

“Oh you’re so very wrong about that,” Veronica growled.

“Fine, fine, I’m sorry,” Ashley said. “Can we go back to talking about Seth’s crush now?”

“It’s not a crush!”

“Explain ‘gravity’ then,” Veronica challenged me.

“I can’t!”

“Try?” Ashleigh asked.

“Ugh, you’re so annoying,” I complained. “But fine, okay. It’s like… It’s like she’s the centre of the universe, and we’re all just orbiting her.”

“Um,” Ashley said.

“Dude,” Veronica said.


“You so have a thing for her,” Veronica said.

“You so do,” Ashley added.

“I don’t know why I bother talking to either of you,” I complained.

The conversation more or less ended there, but that idea stuck with me. Not that I thought that Charlie was the literal centre of the universe, but I couldn’t shake the idea that she was significant, somehow. Maybe not to everyone, but definitely to me.

Maybe it was a karmic thing? Maybe I was drawn to her because one day, in the future, our destiny was intertwined? Maybe we knew each other in a past life?

Whatever it was, I decided that there was only one way to find out. So one day, I decided to approach her. I waited until she was alone, and walked up to her during lunch. She looked up at me with a sort of casual disinterest, then smiled.

“Hey,” she said. “I was wondering when you’d actually come talk to me.”

“You noticed, then.”

“You’re not exactly subtle.”

“Sorry,” I mumbled.

“Don’t be,” she said. “You weren’t creepy about it.”

“It’s not, uh…”

“I know. Don’t worry,” she assured me. “Wanna sit?”


I sat down beside her, and she smiled again. It was bittersweet, and at the same time as I felt my heart flutter, my stomach twisted around.

Why does she make me feel like this?

“I’m glad you decided to talk to me,” she said. “I wasn’t sure if we’d get the chance.”


“Don’t worry about it,” she said, but I couldn’t dismiss the turning of my stomach, or the growing sense of anxiety and dread.

Ask her, a voice shouted at me in my head.

“Are you okay?” I asked, not sure what else I could do.

“No,” she said, more pain in that one word than I’d ever heard in my life. A second later, she smiled, all traces of pain gone. “Sorry. Just one of those days, you know?”

“I have some idea,” I agreed, though I wasn’t entirely sure what I was agreeing to.

“How do you do it?” she asked, and without her needing to clarify, I knew exactly what she meant. “How do you deal with… everything?”

How does she know?

“I don’t know,” I said.

“I wish I was as strong as you,” she said, and I wanted to cry.

With that, the bell rang, and people began shuffling back to classrooms. She gave me a look, a sad, grateful, melancholic smile, and it broke my heart.

“Goodbye,” she said.

Chapter 53 – Not Exactly The Happy Reunion You Were Hoping For

“Sabrina, listen to me. We don’t have a lot of time, and I really, really need you to listen to me.”

“No,” I repeated, trying to scramble away from her. “You just… You fucking killed them, Veronica. They’re dead. You’re a murderer.”

“In my defence, he shot me first,” she said. “Fair is fair.”

“How is that fair? You already told me you can’t die.”

“If you’re willing to take a life, you have to be willing to have yours taken,” she said, shrugging. “He was clearly willing to kill me.”

“You’re not Veronica,” I whispered. “You’re not my friend.”

For the first time, she looked angry. Not just annoyed or irritated, but actually angry. Her face twisted into a scowl, and she lifted me off the ground with superhuman strength.

“Fuck you,” she snapped. “Fuck you. You do not get to judge me. I fucking died for you, alright? I died. I braved a city full of monsters for you, and you let me die. You saw me. You were there, right before she killed me, and I never knew it was you.”

She dropped me, and I hit the ground awkwardly.

“You think just because I’m here, because I’m back, that everything is normal now? I don’t get normal, Sabrina. I won’t get to grow up, or live a normal life. I don’t get to un-see the shit I’ve seen. I don’t get to forget what it’s like to die.”

She was shaking, crying, barely holding it together.

“I am here for one reason, and only one reason. I came back to save you, because you’re my best fucking friend, and I love you, you fucking asshole. So you are going to listen to me, because I am not going to lose you to that psychotic fucknozzle in your head.”

I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t know if I could believe her, even though I really wanted to. Part of me wanted to run away, part of me wanted to yell at her, part of me wanted to hug her and tell her everything was going to be okay.

Instead, all I did was sit there, and stare up at her mutely.

“I’m sorry,” she said, wiping her face on her still-soaked sleeve. It only served to make her face wetter, which made us both laugh. “Ask me anything. If you need me to prove that I’m your friend, I’ll do it. I need you to trust me.”

“I believe you,” I said, surprising myself.

“Then you’ll listen?”

“I’ll listen.”

She sighed, and sat down beside me. We sat side by side, staring at the river and the darkened city beyond.

“The voice in your head. Does it have a name?”

“She calls herself Envy,” I said.

“How much do you know about her?”

“Not a lot,” I confessed. “She’s… from the other world, I think? She’s the source of my powers. She copies other people’s powers, and I think she has some weird mirror powers?”

Veronica nodded, but didn’t make eye contact.

“How much do you trust her?”

“I… don’t,” I said. “She’s in my head, like actually in my head, and I don’t know how much of what I’m feeling is real, and how much is her.”

“I guess you didn’t need my warning as much as I thought.”


“She’s taking over, Sabrina. Slowly, for now, but the more powers she absorbs, the stronger she gets. Eventually, she’s just going to lock you in a little room inside your own mind, and you’ll never get out again.”

My first reaction was to deny it. Envy had been a friend, a support, a guide. She protected me, helped me, gave me power.

Then I remembered the anger, the hatred, the single-minded determination I’d felt, to do exactly what she’d told me to do. I remembered going after the others, Ami and Gabriel and Zoe, all to grow more powerful, for a revenge quest I would never, never have wanted.

That’s it.

With Envy out of my head, I didn’t feel that hatred. I didn’t want to kill Charlie, or Gabriel, or anyone. I just wanted to help people. I wanted to make my city safe again, but not with violence, not with murder. Zoe’s machine, a portal back home, that was the key. Send the superhumans home. And Charlie, she was working on a cure, an antidote. She already had a preventative. Together, the three of us could…

“How do I stop her?” I asked, suddenly frightened. I didn’t want to lose myself to her. I didn’t want to let her loose on the world.

“I don’t know,” she confessed. “I’d say you need to stop her from getting any more power, but it seems like she’s already got as much as she needs.”

“She’s still looking for Haylie. Apparently she’s the key. I don’t know what that means.”

“Me either. But I think it’s safe to say that you should keep herself, yourself, away from Haylie. Just in case.”

“But how do I do that without arousing her suspicion?” I asked, at the same time as I felt twitch in my hand. I looked down. The skin was beginning to pale. I was turning back. “Shit.

“I think that would be dangerous. Don’t give her a reason to push you, not if we don’t know just how strong her control already is.”

She looked down at my hand, and frowned. Without warning, she jumped to her feet, yanking me with her, holding me up by the collar, my feet dangling over the river.

“Veronica, what-”

“Shut up. Envy’s gonna be back soon, and things are going to be a lot smoother for you if she believes that we didn’t have this discussion. So here’s what I need you to do.” She took a deep breath, and gritted her teeth. “As soon as you get your strength back, fight back. Break some bones, and toss me into the river. Trust me, I’ll be fine. Tell Envy I was an imposter, and that you’re in more of a hurry than ever to find Haylie.”


“No ‘buts’, Sabrina. Envy is dangerous, and I need to know you’re safe from her. This is the only way.”

“I don’t want to say goodbye again,” I whispered, grabbing onto her arm.

“I’ll be watching over you,” she said, her face momentarily betraying affection, before returning to feigned murderous intent. “Oh, and one last thing. Don’t blame Charlie. She didn’t kill me out of malice.”

My body twitched, then convulsed. The familiar sensation of shifting washed over me, but it was uncomfortable, uninvited. It hurt.

The power returned. Strength, senses, violence. The detail of the world around me flowered, and with it came a nearly overwhelming desire to fight, to take.

“Just in time, it looks like,” Envy said, standing behind Veronica. “I don’t want to say ‘I told you so,’ but…”

It was alarmingly easy to break Veronica’s arm. It snapped like a thin, brittle twig. Her face contorted in pain, and she dropped me. My feet found the edge of the embankment, grounded me, and I twisted around, hurling Veronica into the river. She hit the water with a splash, sank, and didn’t surface again.

“Nice to have you back,” I lied.

“I need to know how she did that,” Envy said. “If she can do it again…”

“One time trick. She won’t land another shot. If I see her again, I’ll snap her neck.”

“Not exactly the happy reunion you were hoping for, then?”

Is she taunting me?

“That wasn’t Veronica,” I said.

“I’m sorry,” she said, and it sounded sincere. “So, what now?”

“Now, we draw out the Celestial. And I have a plan.”


“Miss Murder. She’s left him, and nobody knows him better. We find her, she helps us find him. Simple as that.”

“And finding her…?”

“We find Ami,” I said.

“Sounds like a plan.”


Next Week: Everything Here Is Wrong

Chapter 52 – This Isn’t Your Friend

The Stars all but disappeared overnight. The thugs all went into hiding, their bases abandoned. All operations ceased. The territory they held became contested.

We picked up reports of Miss Murder being seen, but she was never with the Stars, only ever with Ami. They seemed to have formed some sort of allegiance, which was just fine with me. I had no business with either of them, so it more or less kept them out of my way.

Unfortunately, it made it difficult to get the Celestial’s attention. Nobody knew where he was or what he was doing. He and Haylie were just… invisible. That was a problem, because I needed to draw them out of hiding.

“This sucks,” I complained, sitting atop the tallest building in the city, my legs dangling over the side.

“What about a more personal attack?” Envy suggested.

“Like what?”

“You said you recognised him, right? Maybe he has family, friends, something you can use to get his attention.”

“I don’t even remember his name,” I said. “I could be wrong about recognising him. And even if I’m not, it doesn’t give me much to go on, you know?”

“Well, how about Rachel? Or Zoe? They’re good at the sleuthing thing, right?”

“Even if we could find something, going after friends or family, it just feels…”

Envy groaned.

“I know, I know, you’re all naïve and innocent. I get it. But Sabrina, honey, you can’t be this weak. You can’t. If you’re ever going to stand a chance against Charlie, you need to be ruthless. It’s the only way.”

She’s right. It’s the only way. Charlie murdered your best friend, and everyone, everyone is afraid of her. You can’t pull any punches.

“Envy, you’re talking about innocent people here. Even she hasn’t resorted to that.”

Except by, you know, killing your best friend. Literally the exact thing we’re talking about.

“Okay. I don’t want to push this,” Envy said. “But we do need to find Haylie. Not just for the sake of being able to fight Charlie. Haylie is just as dangerous on her own.”

And you’re supposed to be protecting this city, remember?

Wait. Fucking wait.

That’s not my fucking voice.

Envy wasn’t just in my head. She was actually influencing my thought patterns.

All of that rage, all of that anger… How much of it was me? How much of it was her, pushing me to do what she wanted from me?

But what if it really was me? The anger felt real. The reasons for feeling angry were all real.

Fucking fuck.




I couldn’t say anything to her. I couldn’t say anything to anyone, because she could see everything, hear everything.


“I need to hit something,” I grumbled.

“I can help with that,” a third voice said, coming from behind me.

I jumped to my feet, braced and ready for a fight. Instead, I nearly fell off the roof in surprise.


So it really was her, the night we tried to fight the Celestial? But how? She was dead, I’d seen her corpse.

She was wearing all black, with a pistol strapped to her thigh and a short blade sheathed on her back. She looked ready to go to war.

“Hey, Sabrina,” she said, with an awkward smile on her face. “Um. Surprise?”

“I don’t like this,” Envy hissed.

“How?” I asked, ignoring her.

“It’s complicated,” she said.

“You died.”

“I did, yeah.”

“But you’re alive now?”

“Not exactly,” she said. “Um. Suspended mortality. I’m dead, just… on pause.”

“She’s lying,” Envy said. “This isn’t your friend, Sabrina.”

Much as I didn’t want to believe it, there was a chance Envy was right. Of all the likely explanations, my best friend coming back from the dead didn’t exactly top that list. A shapeshifter was more probable. Or something controlling her corpse like a puppet. Or an illusion of some kind.

“That’s… a lot to ask me to believe,” I said, painfully aware of the possibly lethal drop behind me. “And even if you are my best friend…”

“It’s suspicious,” she finished for me. “I get that. I wouldn’t believe it myself, if I hadn’t lived through, well…” She laughed. “Poor choice of words. But listen. I need to talk to you. Kind of urgently.”

“So talk. I’m here, I’m listening. I can’t promise I’ll believe you, but…”

“You believing me isn’t the problem,” she said. “Privacy is.”

“Don’t trust her,” Envy insisted.

“Privacy?” I asked.

“From the voice in your head,” she said sweetly. “Don’t worry, I have a system for this.”

She pulled the pistol, aiming it at my head. I could have stopped her, could have closed the distance and disarmed her before she pulled the trigger. I didn’t.

The bullet passed through me painlessly. There was no impact, no damage. Nothing happened.

“What was that?” I asked.

“I have no idea,” she answered, grinning. “Whatever it is, it’s supposed to temporarily displace extradimensional energy. Or something like that, anyway.”

“Veronica, what…”

Envy was silent. No, Envy was gone. And I could feel my body shifting back to normal. And I was very precariously standing on the edge of the tallest fucking building in the city.

“Sabrina, I need you to relax. You’re gonna be okay, but-”

I could feel the wind, biting and very, very powerful. I wobbled, unable to keep my balance, and fell backwards, off the side of the building.

The sensation of falling was so very different without superhuman strength and resilience. The wind assaulted my frail body as I fell, and I couldn’t concentrate on anything. The world spun wildly around me, and I felt sick, and battered, and frightened.

For the second time, I felt Veronica crash into me in mid-air, redirecting my momentum sideways. She wrapped around me, and we fell together.

We hit the surface of the river, an impact that would have killed me if Veronica hadn’t taken the brunt of it. We went under, icy water threatening to crush me, suffocating me.

I felt her dragging me, pulling me back to the surface. Spluttering and gasping for breath, I was carried to the riverbank. Veronica seemed fine. Unharmed. How?

She stood over me as I struggled to recover. I felt completely disoriented, shaking and cold.

I lay that way for several minutes, staring up at the sky. Veronica sat beside me, watching me in silence.

“Hey, who’s down there?”

We both tensed up at the voice. Come on, man? Hasn’t tonight been painful enough already?

“Stay down,” Veronica whispered, then stood up. “We don’t want any trouble!” she called out.

Still too weak to move, I could only watch as a pair of thugs, members of some gang I didn’t know the name of, descended down the riverbank, guns trained on Veronica. She seemed completely unfazed.

“Who’re you?” the one on the left demanded, obviously surprised by the site of two teenage girls, soaked to the bone, lying on the shore of the river. There was no way it wouldn’t be suspicious, the only people left in the city were, well, dangerous.

“Nobody,” Veronica said. “Pretend you never saw us.”

“Not likely,” the guy on the right said. “You’re coming with us.”

“Not going to happen, and I’m not going to say it again. Walk away, or you die.”

She was surprisingly good at bluffing. Actually, on second thought, that seemed very appropriate. She always was persuasive.

Instead of responding, the guy on the left just shot her. Three times, all in the chest. I tried to scream, but my throat was hoarse, and nothing came out.

Veronica staggered back, but didn’t fall. Instead, her hand went to the hilt of the sword on her back, and two seconds later, both the thugs were dead, cut clean through from shoulder to hip.

“Fuckin’ told you, assholes,” she muttered, rubbing her chest.

“Wh-what… what the fuck, Veronica?” I said, my throat aching.

“Huh? Oh. Oh. Um. Look. Death is really not as big a deal as you think it is. Trust me.”

I looked up at her, frightened. She wasn’t the person I remembered. She wasn’t my friend.

She wasn’t Veronica.

“No,” I said.


Next Week: Not Exactly The Happy Reunion You Were Hoping For

Chapter 50a – What Are You Doing Here

“So this is it, huh?” I said, a little impressed. We were standing outside one of the fanciest-looking skyscrapers in the city. The Celestial’s lair.

“Be careful,” Envy cautioned. I ignored her.

“Little over the top, don’tcha think?” Rachel replied, hands on her hips. “I don’t remember him having this much of an ego.”

“Seriously? I can’t picture him with anything but a massive ego,” I said.

“I’m not kidding, this is dangerous,” Envy said. “Just let me help. All you need to do is touch the glass, close your eyes, and listen to me.”

Fine. I walked up to the glass doors, and reached out, pressing my fingers against them. Nothing happened, so I closed my eyes.

“What, uh, what’re doing, there?” Rachel asked.

“Not sure,” I confessed. “Give me a minute.”

“Whatever you say…”

“Good,” Envy said. “Now, envision a ripple that starts at the very centre of you. Let it grow, until it fills your entire body.”

Ripple, ripple, ripple… Ah, there it is. Feels… warm? Should it feel warm? That’s weird…

“Now, let it grow beyond you. Let it flow into the glass. Feel the glass vibrating, until the rhythm is in sync with your own.”

Sounds like some hippie bullshit… Oh! Okay, no, I can feel the glass. It’s… rectangular. Cold. What does this achieve, exactly?

“Got it? Now keep pushing. Match the rhythm. When it pushes out, push harder, until you can feel more glass.”

Push! No, missed it. Wait for it…

Push! Got it! Okay, I can feel the other door. And the windows on either side? And there’s a row of small windows, just above. I can feel all of it. Still not sure what good this does, though.

“Keep pushing. You can go further.”

Another push, and… is that the second floor? It is! And there’s a mirror inside on the first floor, too. Okay, I think I’m starting to get the hang of this.

Push! Another floor. Brilliant. And the shape of the first floor, and some of the second.

Push! Oh, it’s like a 3D map of the building. Or at least, the glass. And wait, is that… It is! Polished metal! So, anything with a reflection?

Oh, this is how Envy was moving around, before she could move in the real world. However she’s doing that.


Alright, I’ve got most of the building now. I’m still not sure what the point of this is.

“Now that you’ve got the resonance down pat, it’s time to open your eyes. Just think about it first, imagine opening your eyes, without actually doing it. Trust me on this.”

Okay… Opening my eyes…

OUCH. What the fuck am I looking at?

Without physically opening my eyes, suddenly my vision was bombarded with colour. It was like my eyes had fractured into a kaleidoscope, fragments of scenes overlapping and moving about. It was impossible to focus on anything, and already my head was beginning to ache.

“Breathe. Relax. This is normal. Your vision has been expanded. You’re looking through every clear and reflective surface in the building, all at once. It will take some getting used to.”

No kidding.

“Try to find something moving, and focus on that. Push everything else to the side.”

I tried to follow her advice, but it was like being in a room full of TVs, all showing different programs, and trying to focus on just one. Oh, and they all switch around what show is on what at random intervals.

Wait, right there!

Something moved, and I instinctively followed it. As soon as I did, the rest just fell into place. All of the surrounded images parted, creating space for me to focus on the movement.

Him? What the hell is he doing here?

Inexplicably, the boy from months ago, the one who’d seen me transform, was sitting in an empty office, idly tossing a ball against the wall. I could barely remember his name, but his face was familiar.

It didn’t make a lot of sense. He had nothing to do with… anything. Except that one encounter we’d had. Had the Celestial found out about that? Did he think I cared about this boy? Or was that encounter not a coincidence?

Either way, it didn’t matter. I’d found the Celestial.

He was on the fiftieth floor, with two others. One, I recognised. Miss Murder. The other, I didn’t, but I could guess. A young-looking woman, with long red hair, fair skin, freckles. Unconscious, it seemed.

The Celestial was… not what I expected. He was young, same as Miss Murder. Equally familiar. Another classmate? White, skinny, sitting. No, that was a wheelchair.

I opened my eyes. The rest of the vision faded a little, but it didn’t leave. It felt weird, but somehow manageable.

“Fiftieth floor,” I said. Rachel raised an eyebrow.

“Just like that, huh?”

“Just like that,” I said. “Got a problem with that?”

“Nope. Just insatiably curious, as always.”

“Anyway, he’s probably waiting for us. We shouldn’t be rude.”

“You first,” Rachel said, taking a small step back.

I rolled my eyes, and walked up to the glass doors. They were locked, so I decided to just smash through them. The second I did, an explosion tore through the lobby, sending my flying backwards and singeing the front of my costume.

“Motherfucker,” I growled, picking myself up off the ground. My flesh was already healing, but it stung. Rachel laughed. Worse, my weird mirror-vision was severed, and there was no glass left to try the process again with.

We walked into the ruined lobby together, certain the Celestial knew we were there, even if I couldn’t see him anymore. Well, it hardly mattered. It wasn’t like he could go anywhere.

Glass crunched underfoot as we walked. The elevator light activated, the number counting down from thirty-four. The floor that boy was on. What was his name? Qiu? Qiu.

“Looks like we’ve got company,” Rachel commented. “Got any more omniscient insight for me?”

“It’s just one person. Don’t know much more than that.”

The elevator dinged, and the doors opened. Qiu stepped out, but he looked different to before. A little bigger, a little older. Almost like he could have been his own older brother.

He’d bulked up, with toned muscles that were very much on display thanks to the tight vest which was the only top he was wearing. His hair was a little longer, and he’d learned to apply eyeliner. His thin smile oozed confidence. Inappropriate as it was, part of me was a little distracted admiring him. Or it was, until I noticed the black star tattooed on the back of his hand.


“Ladies,” he said, sizing us both up.

“Nice of you to join us,” Rachel said. “Your boss must have a lot of faith in you, sending you in alone.”

“He’s just a delaying tactic,” I said.

“I see you’re still rocking the white girl look,” he said.

“Not like I have a choice,” I muttered.

“You two know each other?” Rachel asked.

“We met once,” I said. “He saw me… change. He was different, then.”

“It’s Zoe’s blood,” Rachel said. “They must have taken some when they raided our old facility. Now that I think about it, that’s probably what they were after.”

“Why are you here?” I asked him.

“Why do you think? After we met, the Stars approached me, made me an offer. A chance to be like you. Special, you know? Make a difference. All I had to do was sign up. And, well…” He held up his hand, showing off the tattoo. “I couldn’t refuse.”

“You’re an idiot,” Rachel taunted.

“We’ll see,” he retorted.

Envy appeared again, a look of concern bordering on panic spreading across her face.

“Jump,” she said.


Too late, I processed what she meant. All across the floor, inch-high spikes emerged, puncturing the soles of my feet. I heard Rachel swear, and knew they’d got her too.

The following electrical surge shouldn’t have come as a surprise, but it did. Rachel and I were brought to our knees, all but paralysed by the current. Qiu just laughed, walking casually over to us.

“You know, he told me you’d be this arrogant, but I didn’t quite believe it,” he said, carefully extracting a long, thin blade from the back of his boot. “You really did just come barging in the front door, though. But I’m the idiot. Sure.”

I couldn’t even reply. The current had rendered me completely incapacitated. Envy had vanished.

“You’re such a waste of superpowers. Both of you. I’m honestly a little disappointed.”

He stood over me, blade pointed at my throat. In that moment, I was genuinely frightened. I hadn’t really considered myself vulnerable before, but the Celestial clearly knew how to hurt me, how to weaken me. What if he knew how to kill me?

Qiu thrust the blade forward, but it never reached my skin. Rachel’s hand wrapped around it, snapping it in half. A small amount of her blood dripped to the floor, and Qiu took a step back, clearly surprised.

“Don’t compare us, kid,” she grunted through clenched teeth. “You’re just some brat who got handed a step up on a silver platter. You’ve got a long way to go before you’re on our level.”

“Yeah, keep talking,” he snapped, throwing a punch that looked like it would have knocked her flat. Instead, she twisted and grabbed his wrist, using his momentum to slam him face-first into the spiked floor. His entire body convulsed.

“You go on ahead,” she said to me, lifting me up off the spikes. Almost immediately, I felt my body relax. She bent her knees, then hurled me across the room. I crashed through the door to the fire stairs, landing on a concrete floor that was thankfully devoid of spikes. “I’ll take care of this clown, then catch up with you!”

Just leave him, I thought bitterly. Then again, the Celestial could probably disable the electric floor, and we’d just have to deal with him again. Maybe it was better if she put him out of commission first.

I raced up the stairs, leaving her behind. On several levels, I nearly tripped over explosive traps, but Envy was running ahead, pointing them out to me. Without her, it would have taken me twice as long to get to the fiftieth floor, and a whole lot more pain.

By the time I kicked down the door to his office, I was primed and ready to beat the living daylights out of him. After everything I’d just endured to get here, I was going to make him pay. Then I was going to take Haylie, grab whatever it was that Envy needed, and track down Charlie.

Except he was gone. Somehow, almost inconceivably, he was gone, and Haylie with him. The only person left in the office was Miss Murder, apparently waiting for me, a grim look of determination plastered across her face.

“Where is he?” I snarled, knowing she wouldn’t answer.

She drew a knife.

Have it your way, bitch.

Speed was the key. I knew that. I could move faster than she could react. So long as she couldn’t predict my movements…

I dashed across the room, fingers locked into a claw shape, ready to rip her open. She was quicker than I’d anticipated, almost as if she’d know exactly what I was going to do. I felt her pop back into existence behind me, already turning, ready for the trick.

The world warped and twisted around me, and I realised she’d teleported us both. Everything was far away, and cold, and windy…

Fucking bitch!

She disappeared, leaving me along in the air, fifty floors above the street. I was falling, and I had no way of knowing if I’d survive. Even if I did, it was definitely going to hurt.


A black-clad figure collided with me, the momentum carrying us both back into the side of the building. I twisted to resist, but they were surprisingly strong. They hit the building feet-first, kicking off and sending us flying in the other direction, landing crudely on the rooftop of a shorter building across the road.

As soon as we touched down, they ran, leaping off the side of the building and disappearing into the night. I was too surprised to even consider following them.

Who the fuck…

I knew that smell, though. It was familiar, even if it had changed a little. Once sweet, almost floral, now tainted with a vague hint of rot.

“Veronica?” I said aloud, to somebody who was already gone.


Next: You Should Have Joined Me When You Had The Chance

Chapter 41 – Playing The Saviour

Part 5 – Celestial

Watching Rachel patch herself up, it occurred to me how severely I’d underestimated her. When Miss Murder had appeared and they’d both blinked out of the fight, I was half convinced it was the last time I’d see her alive. She was already exhausted, and she’d used all of her weapons. I’d seen her in a fight, and outside of a very durable skeleton, there wasn’t anything superpowered about her.

Zoe and I had been left with a couple dozen armed thugs, and for the first time, I’d seen her fight. It was terrifying. She moved like a wild animal, literally tearing the gangsters apart like they were toys. I only saw her get hurt once, a single cut that sprayed a tiny splatter of her blood against a wall. A second later, the gangster was dead, and the wound had already healed.

Rachel had dragged herself back in shortly after, bleeding but mostly intact. When I asked her about Miss Murder, she just grunted and said the assassin was ‘handled’. She staggered into her workshop, and the sounds of grunting and banging followed.

We began cleaning up immediately. There wasn’t a lot of stuff outside of the rooms of salvaged tech we’d really collected, and Rachel and Zoe had been pretty good at disposing of waste. What was left we managed to quickly transfer into a shipping container, which Zoe and I were capable of carrying between us. Perhaps not the most subtle, but in the middle of the night, in a largely abandoned city, we managed. Rachel stayed behind longer, and met up with us later.

All three of us laid low for a while. Zoe and Rachel more or less had everything they needed, at least for a while, so I spent my time trying to get the hang of switching between Zoe’s and Ami’s powers.

Ami’s power was a lot more difficult to get a grasp on than Zoe’s. Whenever I took her form, I gained an incredible situational awareness, as far around me as maybe three metres. It was an overwhelming sensation, like my body had expanded and was pressing up against everything nearby. I tried to visualise it like I’d grown dozens of new arms, extending out in every direction, and I had to manage sensory input from all of them, and learn to control them. It was like that, only much more complicated.

On the other hand, switching between the forms was pretty simple to grasp. In both cases, my body changed physically to someone with a physical resemblance to the person I was copying, but nobody would ever confuse me for them.

I kept Zoe’s as my main form, the sort of secret identity I claimed as the vigilante that protected the city. Considering it changed my race, build and even perceived gender, it was a pretty solid disguise. Ami’s form was more useful for utility than any sort of combat application, and I had a feeling my telekinesis wasn’t as potent as hers. It was possible I just didn’t have the same degree of control, though.

Only Zoe knew I could take more than one form. Rachel knew I could shift between my natural form and Zoe’s, obviously, but I deliberately kept my second transformation from her. I still didn’t entirely trust her. So far as I was aware, nobody else knew I could shapeshift at all, or ‘steal’ powers. There was that one boy who’d seen me shapeshift on the rooftop that one time, but I wasn’t particularly worried about him. Oh, and Charlie had insinuated something, before her declaration on TV…

Without much to do, I found myself wandering the city, enjoying the freedom of moving unhindered. With Zoe’s power it felt amazing, like I could do anything. Running as fast as a car, jumping over buildings, and hardly anyone in the city to hide from.

Then I saw Veronica. I wasn’t at all prepared to find her in the city, and I was immediately petrified for her. She didn’t have any superpowers, and there was a reason everyone was evacuated from the city.

She was slumped against a wall on a rooftop, and I probably would have missed her if I hadn’t smelled her from a block away. That was another weird side to Zoe’s power, her senses were ridiculously heightened, and though I didn’t immediately know that what I smelled was Veronica, I did know it was familiar.

She stirred when she saw me, giving me a curious sort of look, almost like she didn’t quite believe I was there.

“A rooftop is an odd place to take a rest,” I said, hoping my voice was different enough that she wouldn’t know it was me.

“Stay away from me,” she threatened. “I’m contagious.”

I could feel my heart drop down to my feet. Contagious? She’d been infected? Of course, the chances of her avoiding that were next to none. The damn virus, or whatever it was, was airborne, and there were plenty of infected around spreading it.

I did my best to keep my face neutral. She didn’t know we had any connection, and I wanted to keep it that way.

“I’m immune, it’s fine,” I said. “What are you doing up here? The city’s been evacuated.”

She shifted uncomfortably.

“Probably. Doesn’t matter. I can’t leave,” she said.

She couldn’t leave? Oh, she was infected. Of course-

No, that didn’t make sense.

“Because you’re infected? That can only be recent,” I pointed out. It only took a day or so to turn, from what I’d seen. “The evacuation was weeks ago.”

“I’m looking for someone,” she said, surprising me.

“You are? Who?”

“I…” She hesitated, and we locked eyes. She took a breath, and nodded. “My best friend.”

Her best… Me? She was looking for me? Oh, no, of course. I’d basically just disappeared once the evacuation was ordered. I hadn’t explained anything to anyone.

It was my fault she was here. Which meant it was my fault she was infected.

“They’re missing?” I asked, trying not to give away how I was feeling. It wouldn’t make sense to her.

“Yes. She should have been evacuated, but she wasn’t. I need to find her.”

I seriously considered dropping the disguise. I could just reveal myself to her, tell her it was okay, tell her she needed to be safe.

But it was too late. She was infected, and there was no coming back from that. If she knew who I was, what I’d been up to…

She’d blame me. It would be fair, but it would kill me. She’d blame me, she’d hate me, and I didn’t want her to feel like her sacrifice was in vain. She needed what little hope she could hold on to.

“How do you know she’s not dead?” I asked.

“I don’t,” she confessed. “But until I know that she is dead, I’m not giving up on her.”

Present tense. She was still looking, still fighting, even though she was infected. Still as tenacious as ever.

What a waste.

“If she was infected, you’d never know,” I pointed out to her, not entirely sure why.

“Yeah,” she agreed, coldly. “Thanks for the pep talk.”


“Sorry. I just… think you should get somewhere safe,” I said, knowing there was no point, to me saying it or her doing it.

“Too late for that. Infected, remember?”

She let that sit over my head for a while, unable to know just how much it was tearing me up inside.

“Yeah. I’m so sorry.”

“Oh, what do you care?” she snapped. “You don’t even know me.”

I want to hug you so badly right now.

“I don’t need to know you to feel empathy. I wish I could help you.”

“Yeah, well, you can’t,” she said.

“I’m sorry.”

Another pained silence. What else could I say?

“Ah, hey,” she said, her hostility melting away. “I’m sorry. I’m a little crabby right now. Maybe you can understand.”

“Of course.”

“I don’t know how much longer I’m going to live,” she said, sounding a little distant. “But I did want to say. You’re… you’re an inspiration. It seems like you’re the only person trying to make the city safer, and not just working to some secretive personal agenda. So, thank you.”

Don’t do this to me, Veronica. God, you’re gonna make me cry.

“Making the city safe is my agenda. But thank you. I appreciate hearing that.”

Great, what a genuine response. You don’t sound like an asshole at all.

“Well, isn’t this touching,” a third voice said, surprising me. I knew that voice. She’d snuck up on me. How? I hadn’t heard or smelled anything…

“What are you doing here?” I demanded.

“Playing the saviour,” Charlie said, smirking. “I keep telling you, I’m not the villain here.”

“Says the person who threatened to kill someone on national TV,” I retorted. I’d seen what Rachel had looked like, too. Without Zoe, she’d still be a broken husk. Charlie had done that.

“How is Rachel doing, anyway?” Charlie asked, infuriatingly smug.

“You stay away from her,” I warned her. I might not have trusted Rachel, but she certainly didn’t deserve whatever Charlie was gonna do to her.

Charlie sighed, taking a threatening step towards me. My body stepped back before I realised.

“I wish I could,” Charlie said wistfully. “Unfortunately, that’s not an option.”

“I’ll stop you,” I said instinctively. Apparently being protective was in my nature.

“You can try,” she said lazily. “But right now, I need to take care of Veronica, here. Or would you prefer to let the infection take her?”

The way she said it, it was almost like she was threatening me. She knew how important Veronica was to me, if she knew who I was. Did she know who I was? I had to assume so.

Wait. What did she mean by ‘take care’ of Veronica? Surely not…

“You have a cure?” I asked, desperately hopeful. “That’s impossible.”

“No, not a cure. Nothing quite that impressive. But…” She tossed a bottle to me. I caught it before I even realised my hand had moved. “Still fairly impressive, if I do say so myself.”

“What is it?” I asked, feeling stupid. I looked at the bottle, but it was just a bottle, unmarked. It sounded like it had pills inside of it.

“Resistance,” Charlie said. “You and I, we’re immune. And we’re not the only ones. There’s just enough of me in these pills to keep the infection at bay. One every eight hours. See if you can’t do something similar.”

You’re okay giving this to me? If I gave it to Zoe, or Rachel, and it really does have your genetic material in it…

“Since when are you a chemist?” I asked. She was still a girl my own age. Unless her super strength came with some kind of super intellect as well…

“Oh, I didn’t do the heavy lifting here,” she said. “I just bled for them. Now take them and go.”

She obviously wasn’t giving me a choice. That was fine. Being around Veronica was difficult enough, and Charlie did not make for good company. Even still, she’d given me some small glimmer of hope. If she really could keep Veronica from succumbing to the infection, I owed her more than I’d ever be able to express.

“Fine,” I said, before jumping off the roof. It was the biggest mistake of my life.

The very next day, Rachel approached me, a haunted look in her eye.

“Veronica’s dead,” she told me.

Chapter 40 – So That’s It, Then

“She’s Death,” Charlie said coldly. “I’m so sorry. I can’t fight her, not again.”


She moved, almost too fast for me to see. A blur of motion, and then…

Nothing changed. Charlie stepped back, her face set in grim stoicism. Except I couldn’t feel anything. No more wind, no more cold. There was no sound.

I looked down at my feet, and saw myself. Dead. Charlie had made it quick, at least. Painless.

“You can go,” the blue-haired girl said. Charlie nodded, almost as if she could hear. She leapt off the roof.

The blue-haired girl approached me, a gentle smile on her face. She reached out towards nothing, and then she was holding a scythe.

“Hello, Veronica.”

“You look ridiculous,” I blurted out. She looked surprised, then laughed.

“The scythe is a bit much, isn’t it?” she said. “I wanted to look the part, but I think it just ends up being silly.”

“You’re really Death?” I asked, feeling like it was the stupidest question in the world.

I’d never really thought much about death. I didn’t believe in any God, or the idea of having a soul. I didn’t believe in an afterlife. I figured, when you’re dead, you’re dead. That’s the end. That’s what makes like so precious.

Apparently, I was wrong.

“Kind of,” she said. “I’m a Reaper. Not the only one. We collect souls, mostly.”

“For what?”

“To take you to Hell,” she said.

So that’s it? Just like that, I’m going to Hell? Some asshole decides I’m important, a psychopathic teenager with superpowers decides I need to die, and that’s that.

“Why?” I asked. “Is it the not believing thing? Did I break any rules? I mean, I wasn’t that bad of a person, was I?”

She smiled indulgently.

“Ah. I get this a lot. Look, it doesn’t work the way you think it does. The quick version is this: there’s no Heaven, Hell isn’t a punishment, everyone goes there.”

“So that’s it, then,” I said, staring at her in disbelief.

“Pretty much,” she replied with a shrug. “Look, it’s not as bad as you think. You just need a little perspective.”

Perspective? I wanted to wrestle that stupid scythe from her and beat her over the head with it. Instead, I took a deep breath.

“Then by all means, enlighten me. Can I still save my best friend?”

“Your best friend doesn’t need you to save her,” she said, dodging the question.

“So, no, then.”

“No,” she conceded. “Your time in this world is over. Time to move on.”

Time to move on? That was the line that was going to take me out of my mortal life, and into whatever comes next?

“And if I’m not ready?”

“I’m sorry,” she said, almost sounding sincere. “This is just how it goes.”

Just how it goes? I’m supposed to accept that?


No, fuck you.

Behind her, a young girl materialised. Deep purple eyes, long lilac hair, the sort of insufferable grin that only ever looks normal on a child’s face. Clothing that could have been from a sci-fi show with a moderate budget.

“Not necessarily,” the girl interjected.

“What?” the Reaper said, turning around. She tensed up immediately when she saw the child. “Oh, no. Not you.”

“Always a pleasure, Roxie,” the child said, unfazed. I decided not to comment on the fact that Roxie was a disappointingly common name for a Reaper.

“Friend of yours?” I asked, my eyes darting between the two of them. Blue hair, purple hair, it was like something out of an anime. Except for the part where I was literally dead.

Wait, no, there was probably an anime about that.

“Something like that,” Roxie muttered. “Meet the very definition of cheating death.”

“You’re being overdramatic,” the girl accused her.

“Can you blame me?” Roxie retorted.

“Somebody please explain what is going on here,” I begged, “because this is starting to get ridiculous.”

The two of them stopped to look at me, then at each other. Roxie rolled her eyes.

She can handle that, I think.”

“That’s probably for the best,” the child agreed.

“So explain, then,” I prompted.

The child smiled, sliding her hands into her pockets. The way she spoke, her body language, none of it seemed particularly childlike. After everything I’d seen, that didn’t surprise me in the slightest. She was probably the oldest of the lot.

“How about I put it this way instead,” she began. “Are you done with your life? Are you ready to leave it all behind? Are you satisfied with the impact you’ve made?”

What is this, a sales pitch?

“Of course not,” I said.

“That’s just the way things go,” Roxie interrupted, repeating herself.

“No, it isn’t,” the child said, calmly but assertively.

“Come on, don’t pretend you care about mortal lives,” Roxie snapped.

“I don’t,” the child agreed readily. “I care about the bigger picture. And I think she does too,” she added, gesturing towards me.

“She can’t even fathom the bigger picture,” Roxie argued.

“She will.”

“I’m still waiting for any of this to make sense,” I said sharply. The two of them could stand and bicker on their own time.

“Look,” the girl said, her expression suddenly very serious. “There’s a lot more going on than this pathetic little turf war.” She gestured around her.

“And there are already plenty of players on the board,” Roxie countered. “You don’t need more, Alice.”

What an appropriate name, I thought idly. Much better than Roxie.

“That’s not my name anymore,” the child said, bristling.

“It was when I came to collect your soul,” Roxie said, almost taunting the girl.

“Except you didn’t collect it.”

There was clearly a lot of tension between the two of them. A collector of souls and someone who apparently wasn’t all the way dead when they were supposed to be? Like it mattered. The only thing I was interested in was my own fate.

“Can we move this along?” I asked.

“Fine,” the girl said sharply. “I want to give you a chance to return to the world, and make a difference. In return, you need to make sure of a few things for me. Can you still do that?”

“Can I still save Sabrina?” I asked. It was the only thing I was capable of caring about. It was what had gotten me into this situation in the first place.

“Yes,” she replied.

“Then I’m in.”

“She’s lying,” Roxie said, and the girl glared at her.

“That’s enough out of you,” she said coldly. “You’re not needed here anymore.”

“No, I want to hear this,” I said. I was desperate, but I wasn’t stupid. If I was being tricked, I wanted to know.

“There’s not a damn thing you can do about your friend, Veronica,” Roxie said. “She’s beyond your influence. She’s beyond their influence.” She gestured towards the child.

“We don’t know that for sure, yet,” the girl replied, but didn’t deny it entirely.

“Explain,” I demanded.

“Veronica,” the girl began, “Sabrina isn’t… human, anymore. She’s…”

“This should be good,” Roxie muttered. The girl glared at her.

“Right now, she’s fighting a battle, with a power from another reality, and it’s going to consume her. There won’t be anything left of her.”

“No,” I said, my mouth moving before the thought had even formed in my head.

“No?” Roxie repeated, surprised.

“I’ll save her,” I said. “Somehow, I will save her.”

“Well, you can’t do that if you’re dead,” the girl said bluntly.

“Then I accept your offer, whatever conditions come with it.”

“You’ll regret this,” Roxie said.

“That’s fine,” I replied.

“You can leave us now, Roxie,” the girl said, her voice rich with condescension. “Veronica and I have a lot to talk about.”

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.

Chapter 36 – I Can’t Fight Her

“So, what’re you still doing in the city, anyway?” Charlie asked, after making sure I swallowed her pill.

I debated whether it was worth telling her. Could I trust her? Probably not. Would it hurt? It was difficult to tell. I doubted she would care, and I couldn’t see how she’d use the information against me, but I wouldn’t put it past her.

On the other hand, she knew Sabrina. They’d been friends once, too. Kind of, anyway. Maybe she’d be sympathetic. Maybe she’d even help. She certainly had a better chance of helping than anyone else, since she actually knew who Sabrina was.

I decided it was worth the risk. Only barely, but Charlie had just saved my life. Probably. If I couldn’t trust her after that, well, I didn’t like what that said about me as a person.

“I’m looking for Sabrina,” I told her. “She’s… missing. Didn’t get evacuated with everyone else. Can’t help but feel like she’s gotten involved, somehow.”

“You’re sure she’s still alive?”

It was an honest question, not designed to discourage or hurt me. If anything, it felt almost hopeful. Was she looking for Sabrina too? Had she at least thought about her?

“Honestly? No, I’m not sure. But until I know for sure, I can’t give up.”

“I admire that,” Charlie said, smiling. “Seriously. I mean, you’re going about it in completely the wrong way, and look what’s happened to you. Still, you’re brave. Sabrina’s lucky to have your loyalty.”

The wrong way? What did she think was the right way? She was aware I didn’t have super strength or anything like that, right? What else could I possibly have been doing?

I’d spoken to five of the most powerful individuals in the city. I’d survived speaking to five people who could kill me as easily as crossing the street. I’d evaded gangs and gathered data about their movements, made predictions and calculations and assessments, and found my way to the heart of the city. What more could I possibly have done?

But I knew the answer to that. Plenty. I didn’t know what, but I was no closer to finding Sabrina than when I started. I could pat myself on the back all I wanted, but it didn’t change the facts. I had no idea what I was doing.

“I need help,” I mumbled, before I could stop myself.

“Well now, that is an interesting idea,” Charlie said. “Help you find Sabrina? Sure. I can do that. And why not? I’d love to see her safe and sound, and as far away from this city as she can get.”

Just like that? No, there was more to what she was saying. I waited for the other shoe to drop.

“On the other hand, it’s risky. I already have plenty occupying my attention, and if I let myself get distracted, people could get hurt. Is Sabrina really worth that?”

“Yes,” I said, immediately.

“Then let me make you a deal,” she said. “I know exactly where Sabrina is. I can tell you that she’s alive, even. And I do believe you can save her.”

“So what do you want from me?”

“Let me tell you what I think,” she said, not answering my question. “I think you’re important. I don’t know how, or why, but I have a feeling. I mean, you’ve come this far, survived this long, that’s gotta mean something, right? You keep finding yourself in the right place at the right time, or at least, the most dramatic place.”

She began to pace, walking to and fro in front of me.

“Do you believe in destiny, Veronica?”


Of all the things I’d expected her to ask, that certainly wasn’t one of them. Destiny? Her, of all people, asking me about destiny?

I had a horrible image of her, as the Vigilante, leading a vengeful crusade against the world, believing it to be her destiny. That was how dictators and supervillains began, right?

“No,” I said, almost choking on the word. “No, I don’t believe in destiny.”

She smiled, surprising me.

“Me either. Stupid notion, honestly. Depressing, too. My achievements are my own, and so are my failures. Anyway. That’s good. Next question, do you believe in coincidence?”

“Um, yes?”

“Guess you gotta fall on one side or the other,” she agreed, nodding. “Not me, though. I mean, I’m sure some things are coincidence, but not this. Not you.”

I didn’t know what to say, so I just stood there silently, waiting for her to continue.

“So, Veronica. If your being here isn’t because of destiny, and it isn’t because of chance, then what is it? What are we left with?”

I stayed silent.

“Come on, you’re smarter than this,” she said impatiently. “But alright. Fine. Someone’s behind this. All of this. Someone wants you for something.”

“Why?” I asked, without thinking. “Why me?”

“Who knows?” She smiled, but it was a grim, humourless smile. “Veronica. How much do you know about the Celestial?”

“Not much,” I confessed.

“Did you know he’s superhuman?”

“No, but it doesn’t surprise me,” I said.

“He can see the future,” Charlie said. “Or rather, he can see the futures. Possibilities, branches, chances and coincidence. He can see which insignificant elements can become world-changing.”

As a power, that seemed overwhelming, and more than a little terrifying. What could you do against a power like that? It could see everything coming, plan for every attack. No wonder the Stars seemed unbeatable.

But how could you use a power like that? How could a human mind process that much information? How far ahead could he see? To what degree of detail? What did it look like? Could he control it, focus on specific events or people?

“You think he’s using me?” I asked, my mouth suddenly dry. “You think he knows I’m going to be important, somehow?”

Charlie just nodded. I took a step back. The look on her face scared me.

Over her shoulder, I saw someone else appear. It was completely silent. One second there was nothing, the next, she was just there, leaning against the wall.

She looked kind young, maybe the same age as me, with electric blue hair, a long black trench coat, and skin as pale as a full moon. Most eerily, the wind didn’t seem to affect her at all. She was completely static.

You’re not who I was expecting, I thought to myself, without understanding why.

Charlie noticed me staring, and whirled around, guard up. The blue-haired girl didn’t move, didn’t react. Charlie stared at her, right through her, then turned back to me.

“What’re you looking at?” she demanded.

Should I say anything?

“There’s someone there,” I said softly.

“Describe them to me.”

No hesitation, no scepticism. She believes me completely. Why?

“Young woman, blue hair, black coat,” I said. “You can’t see her?”

Charlie’s expression went completely blank. She took a deep breath, not bothering to turn around and try to look again.

“Fuck,” she said, almost too quietly for me to hear. “I didn’t want to do that. I really, really didn’t.”

“Charlie, what’s going on?” I asked, still watching the blue-haired girl, who hadn’t moved at all. Was she smiling at me?

“The Celestial’s predictions get disrupted around people like me,” Charlie said. “And if he thinks you’re important, worth preserving, then…”

The pieces fell into place in my head. If the Celestial wanted me alive, then she wanted me dead. And if she wanted me dead, there was nothing I could do about that. I couldn’t run from her.

“And the girl?” I asked, failing utterly to hide my growing terror.

“She can explain it better than I can,” Charlie said. “I really am sorry. I didn’t think killing you was going to be necessary, but if she’s here, the choice has already been made. Fuck.”

Who is she?” I asked again, panicking. I was looking around for somewhere to run, even knowing it was pointless.

“She’s Death,” Charlie said coldly. “I’m so sorry. I can’t fight her, not again.”


She moved, almost too fast for me to see. A blur of motion, and then…

Chapter 35 – I’m Not The Villain Here

There was something oddly comforting in seeing Miss Melbourne in the flesh. She was awe-inspiring, to be sure, but there was an approachable, almost friendly element to her, too. She was giving me an odd look, like she couldn’t figure out something. Well, a random girl on a roof would raise questions for me.

“A rooftop is an odd place to take a rest,” she said, her voice surprising me. It sounded like it was being run through a filter, yet somehow completely natural. Like talking with someone else’s voice, maybe?

“Stay away from me,” I cautioned. “I’m contagious.”

I didn’t know if that would be an issue for her, but it didn’t seem fair not to warn her. She was one of the good ones, at least as far as I could tell.

“I’m immune, it’s fine. What are you doing up here? The city’s been evacuated.”

She sounded genuinely concerned, and I was almost overcome by the desire to hug her. Any friendly face in the midst of this chaos.

“Probably,” I said. “Doesn’t matter. I can’t leave.”

She cocked her head, like a dog or a bird might.

“Because you’re infected? That can only be recent. The evacuation was weeks ago.”

“I’m looking for someone,” I said, with far fewer reservations than I’d had telling anyone else. She, at least, I felt like I could trust.

“You are?” she asked, sounding surprised. “Who?”

“I… My best friend.”

“They’re missing?” she asked, still sounding concerned.

“Yes. She should have been evacuated, but she wasn’t. I need to find her.”

A grim expression crossed her face. She looked almost… hurt? Was that it?

“How do you know she’s not dead?” she asked.

“I don’t,” I confessed, shaking my head. “But until I know that she is dead, I’m not giving up on her.”

She didn’t like that. Her expression soured, her body language becoming more defensive.

“If she was infected, you’d never know,” she told me.

You’re not helping, lady.

“Yeah. Thanks for the pep talk.”

A flicker of something, on her face. Regret?

“Sorry. I just… think you should get somewhere safe.”

“Too late for that,” I pointed out. “Infected, remember?” I wouldn’t ever be able to leave.

A horrible thought occurred to me. Even if I did find Sabrina, I couldn’t get close to her, or I’d infect her. If she was stuck somewhere, or if I accidentally got too close…

How far was the infection range, anyway? Gabriel said it was airborne, but it had to have a limited range. The bacteria, or whatever it was, would die outside of the body. Otherwise the whole city would be infected already. I made a mental note to try to figure that out.

“Yeah,” she said, too softly. It roused me from my introspection. “I’m so sorry.”

She sounded so sincere, it was almost upsetting.

“Oh, what do you care?” I snapped, still feeling uncharacteristically aggressive. “You don’t even know me.”

“I don’t need to know you to feel empathy,” she retorted, almost too quickly. “I wish I could help you.”

“Yeah, well, you can’t.”

That expression again. Almost certainly regret. But why?

“I’m sorry,” she said again.

You’re being an ass, Veronica.

Miss Melbourne didn’t look quite as intimidating as she first had. Honestly, she looked almost vulnerable, though I knew physically, she was tougher than she looked.

I had to guess that didn’t extend to her emotional well-being. Whoever she was, getting superpowers couldn’t be an easy process, and she’d suffered the same losses as the rest of us. Being safe from harm didn’t mean those she cared about were safe.

“Ah, hey. I’m sorry,” I said, feeling guilty. “I’m a little crabby right now. Maybe you can understand.”

“Of course,” she said, smiling gratefully, but without mirth.

Just say it, Veronica. You might not get another chance.

“I don’t know how much longer I’m going to live,” I began, and her focus became laser sharp. “But I did want to say. You’re… you’re an inspiration. It seems like you’re the only person trying to make the city safer, and not just working to some secretive personal agenda. So, thank you.”

“Making the city safe is my agenda,” she said, nodding. “But thank you. I appreciate hearing that.”

A perfect comic book hero response. Almost like she was just playing a role.

It struck me that with this meeting here, I’d spoken to five of the most powerful people in the city in the space of two weeks. Silver, Ami, Gabriel, Charlie and now Miss Melbourne.

What the hell makes me so special?

An ordinary human, stuck in the middle of a city that should have killed me a long time ago. How had I managed to not just stay alive, but wind up in these situations, over and over again? Was there something special about me?

No. Definitely not.

“Well, isn’t this touching,” Charlie said. I hadn’t realised she’d returned.

Miss Melbourne whirled around, suddenly tense and ready for a fight. Looked like she was caught by surprise too.

Charlie, for her part, seemed completely unfazed. Was that part of her persona, or was she actually more dangerous than Miss Melbourne? If they did fight, could I help Miss Melbourne in some way?

No, Charlie still had the antidote, or whatever the hell it was. The thing that would give me more time.

“What are you doing here?” Miss Melbourne said, immediately hostile. It seemed like they had some history. That was interesting.

“Playing the saviour,” Charlie said, smirking. “I keep telling you, I’m not the villain here.”

“Says the person who threatened to kill someone on national TV,” Miss Melbourne retorted. Charlie didn’t even blink.

“How is Rachel doing, anyway?”

Miss Melbourne knew Rachel? Was that significant? Too many pieces of the puzzle still missing.

“You stay away from her,” Miss Melbourne said, defiantly.

Charlie sighed, taking a lazy step forward. Miss Melbourne took an unconscious step back. Definitely afraid.

“I wish I could,” Charlie said. “Unfortunately, that’s not an option.”

“I’ll stop you.”

“You can try. But right now, I need to take care of Veronica, here. Or would you prefer to let the infection take her?” Charlie asked, flashing me a smile.

Miss Melbourne faltered, looking over her shoulder at me, then back at Charlie.

“You have a cure? That’s impossible.”

“No, not a cure,” Charlie said, shaking her head. “Nothing quite that impressive. But…” She tossed a bottle to Miss Melbourne, who caught it easily. “Still fairly impressive, if I do say so myself.”

“What is it?” Miss Melbourne asked, turning the bottle over in her hand. I heard the rattle of pills.

“Resistance. You and I, we’re immune. And we’re not the only ones. There’s just enough of me in these pills to keep the infection at bay. One every eight hours. See if you can’t do something similar.”

“Since when are you a chemist?” Miss Melbourne asked, vaguely accusatory.

“Oh, I didn’t do the heavy lifting here,” Charlie said. “I just bled for them. Now take them and go.”

Miss Melbourne hesitated, but only for a second.


She turned, and jumped off the side of the roof.

Charlie walked up to me, another bottle of pills in her hand. She held it out to me, but I didn’t take it. Not just yet.

“I have so many questions,” I said.

“And I’ll answer none of them. Here, take one. I mean, take the whole bottle, but swallow one now.”

I made a face.

“Your blood is in these?”

Charlie rolled her eyes, exasperated. Or maybe it was just performance. Everything she did felt a little bit like that.

“Not literally,” she said. “They’re synthesised from something in my blood. And they are literally your only choice.”

I had so many more questions. Would there be side effects? What if I missed a pill? What if you gave one of the pills to someone fully lost to the infection? Was I still contagious?

What was it that made Charlie different, or Miss Melbourne? Or any of the others? I had to assume none of the Independents were vulnerable to it. The amount of power they had, it just made sense. Plus, if someone that powerful did lose their mind to aggression…

I shuddered to think of it.

In the end, none of those questions mattered. I had one goal, and one goal only. To find Sabrina. These pills, if what Charlie said was true, would give me the time I needed.

There were dozens of other ways I could fail, most of them involving death. Somehow, that didn’t scare me as much as it used to.

I had a chance to save Sabrina. I had to take it.

For the briefest of moments, across the road, on another roof, I thought I saw a flash of purple, but there was nothing there.

“Alright,” I said, taking the bottle. I screwed off the lid, placed a pill on my tongue, and swallowed.