Stef’s eyes went wide as the bullet hit Enid – the other recruit glared, took a couple of stumbling steps, then fell. Her hand started to shake, and her arm soon joined it. Enid was still twitching, so she didn’t dare loosen the white-knuckle grip on the gun. She took a few slow steps toward Enid, trying to keep her mind blank.
‘I’m still alive, you stupid bitch,’ Enid spluttered. ‘Why the fuck-?’
She looked down at her handiwork, it hadn’t been a very good shot – the blood was pumping out, but it appeared to be a shot to the lung, rather than to the heart.
You really do need more practice.
She looks like Seras.
She giggled at the thought, but quickly silenced herself – giggling after shooting someone was the mark of a sociopath, and she wasn’t that crazy.
‘I knew you were lying,’ she replied, her voice detached and alien to her ears. ‘Her name is Mela, not whatever the hell you said. Mela. You could have said you didn’t know, or he hadn’t told you. If you lie, you get caught. It’s karma.’
Enid drooled blood. ‘You didn’t have to shoot me.’
‘Like you were planning on doing any less.’
‘Could have, could, could, could,’ Enid spat blood. ‘Cut you in. Good deal.’
She took a step away, just to stay out of arm’s reach, just in case the other recruit was carrying a knife. ‘I don’t care about any deals, I’m doing something right for once.’
‘Sure I can,’ she said. ‘You’re going to die in a minute anyway, and I can’t require anymore bullets, so I don’t plan on wasting anymore on you. Or drawing any more attention to myself.’
‘Cunt,’ Enid splattered. She watched as the other recruit closed her eyes and stopped trying to heave air into her lungs.
It wasn’t murder.
She lifted the gun and numbly clicked the safety on. She retreated from the body and picked up the gun that she’d been forced to drop. She slid the old window open and looked outside – people were still shouting, but the voices were distant – no one had seen or heard what had happened, and if they did, they apparently didn’t care.
She walked out of the room, into what would be a safe area in a few minutes. Blackout zone, no surveillance. No one to see, no one to know the truth. She looked back into the small room – Enid’s body would be visible once the area came back online.
‘And you people think I’m the monster.’
She shook herself from her funk and saw Astrin. ‘You are a monster,’ she said. ‘I just did what I had to.’
‘She was going to help me.’
And I almost died trying to get your code working! ‘Was she? Are you sure? She had no problem lying to me, so what makes you think she was being truthful?’
‘Have your angels embittered you beyond all emotion? I just want-‘
‘What you want is a lie.’
The monster sank down onto his haunches. ‘The mirror can do anything.’
‘The fairy tale beast was royalty, the X-Men one was a genius, you’re just a nutcase. She’s dead. I’m very sorry, but she’s dead. People die. People just die. If you do get your hands on the mirror what you bring back won’t be the person you lost. You’re just trying to delude yourself because you’re scared.’
The monster simply grunted.
She tried to require, but nothing happened – the blackout was still in effect. ‘So what now?’ she asked as she scanned for an exit. ‘You want to fight me?’ I’d really rather you didn’t, I’d kind of like to walk out here alive. ‘What do you want?’
‘I want the mirror.’
The monster rose to his full height, and she wondered why she hadn’t run from the mansion. Why she hadn’t run from a scary, inhuman monster. Why she hadn’t escaped before she’d been known too much. ‘And I want a fucking pony,’ she snapped, ‘what’s your point?’
Astrin snarled. ‘You dare compare frivolities to the love of my life?’
‘If you really did love her, you wouldn’t have left her behind. You don’t leave behind people you love. You can’t whinge about your mistake now, you can’t make other people pay for it, and you can’t fool yourself into thinking you’re doing the right thing.’
You’re so fscking dead…
‘What would you have me do?’
‘Disappear and never come back. I’m all for the Disney aspect of your life, but you’re a danger. Rule of the majority – individuals suffer for the greater good. You might think you’re special, you might even really be special, but that doesn’t matter.’
‘I’m not going to disappear.’ Astrin’s jaw clicked as he opened his mouth.
What now genius?
Shoot him. Shoot him. SHOOT HIM.
She lifted her shaking hand and fired the rest of the clip into him. He howled in pain, but didn’t fall. He lifted a claw and dug out one of the bullets before looking back up at her. She dropped the empty gun, but couldn’t reach for the spare – her hand simply refused to work. Her heart pounded in her throat, and not one coherent thought fired.
Run. Astrin flung the bullet to the ground, and looked up at her, blood staining his matted fur. Run. There was a monster in front of her, and it was angry. This is what you signed up for.
‘Eat shit and die freaks!’
A grenade landed between them and exploded – it wasn’t the simple, pretty green wave like Enid’s blackout bomb had been, this one exploded with force, throwing them both backward, she slid along the floor and slammed into the wall. She shook her head and looked to the Solstice that had thrown it, then shook her head again. It wasn’t one Solstice, it was three…triplets, each holding a small machine gun.
A girl in a suit ran past her, towards the room with Enid, presumably for safety, and managed to roll out of the path of the soldier’s fire. Astrin growled and pushed himself to his feet and ran at the triplets, then ran at them again, and a third time.
Another girl in a suit ran off into the shadows of the room, trying to get free of the line of fire.
Where the hell are all of these recruits coming from?
One of the triplets turned toward her and pulled the trigger, she didn’t even have time to swear as the stream of bullets raced toward her. There was no sound, no warning. She closed her eyes and hoped that playing a harp wasn’t a requirement of the afterlife. If there was an afterlife. If people who had already died got an afterlife.
You’re still thinking.
She opened her eyes, she was safe and she didn’t want to question it. She pushed herself to her feet and ran into the small room, slamming the door behind her. It wouldn’t hold a monster, or a Solstice for even a minute, but with her out of sight, it might make them concentrate on each other, and hopefully one or the other would die.
The other recruit jumped out in front of her, gun drawn, and she felt her mind break.
She was staring at herself.
The other Stef wore a similar expression to the one she imagined she was sporting. Their eyes drifted to the respective dirt and holes in their shirts from Astrin’s impact. The other Stef opened her mouth and said something, but she heard no sound. She tapped her ears and shook her head.
She rounded her twin, seeing herself from a completely objective angle for once. It was strange. It was maddening. It was…insane. She reached out toward her, but her hand went right through. The other Stef waved at her, then tapped her wrist. ‘Watch? Time? Time! Time bomb, so what, we’re copies?’
Her twin indicated that she couldn’t hear her. ‘Di-men-sion.’ her twin mouth, and she nodded.
‘A localised split in the dimension, that would be within spec, I guess…’ Get the fuck out of here. Theories or not, at least two people out there want to hurt you.
She went to the door, and pulled it open a little. Two of the Astrins were battling two of the Solstice. The monster didn’t seem to have worked it out, as most of their attacks were missing. She looked down and found her twin poking her head through her chest, her twin looked around and then pulled back. She stabbed three fingers toward the door twice, then pointed to each of them in turn. ‘She ran off. I don’t know why. I guess one second makes all the difference.’
Her twin said something, but she didn’t catch it, then sighed and went to the window. She beckoned her with the shake of a head. ‘Only escape,’ she appeared to say.
‘I don’t care, I’m not jumping.’
Her twin pointed to the door, then lifted her gun and mimed blowing her brains out.
She shook her head and looked at the window. She lifted her gun and bashed it against the frame, the old wood gave easily. Her twin did the same thing – she assumed to knock the out frame in her dimension.
Stop thinking about it, you’ll only hurt me more.
Both of her looked down to the ground below – it was going to be painful and possibly limb-breaking experience. She pointed to the dumpster and her twin nodded. Her twin climbed up onto the frame and took a deep breath.
The door flew open and their triplet was flung to the floor in front of them. Her shirt was red, no hint that it had ever been white, she clutched one limp arm and torn across her chest, taking in shallow breaths. The triplet’s Astrin stood over her.
She threw herself in front of her triplet’s Astrin – not that it would do any good, but she couldn’t stand by and watch herself die.
‘Kill the fucking Solstice! He’s the one with the gun! Stop hurting her!’ She waved her arms around, like she would to distract a violent dog from a child. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw her twin jump off the window sill and silently urge their triplet on.
The duplicate Astrin swiped at her and silently raged when that did nothing to hurt her. He ran through her and attacked the stricken triplet. Her twin turned and threw up, and she was barely able to contain the contents of her stomach.
‘Jesus Christ,’ she whispered as her triplet stopped struggling.
She turned and looked at the window, snapping her fingers under her twin’s nose. Her twin wiped her mouth on her sleeve and climbed back up onto the sill. ‘Nothing ventured,’ her twin said silently.
‘Nothing gained,’ she replied. She watched her jump from the window – it was an amazing freefall, but she missed the dumpster. Her twin hit the ground and rolled hard, screaming silently in pain. She grabbed at something in her pocket, and crawled toward the other side of the alley, she put on her headset and grinned. She gave a pained thumbs-up and was shifted to safety.
‘Ok, so there’s the barrier…’
She turned as a large shape blocked the light, the duplicate Astrin stood in the doorway, silently swore at her and left the room.
The contents of her stomach joined that of her twin as she looked at the triplet’s remains. What there was of them.
Well, now we know what our insides look like.
Oh god, shut up.
It’s not you, deal with it, or it will be.
She crouched and reached toward her triplet, her hand passed through the triplet‘s dirty sneaker. ‘One second’s difference, one thought, one-‘
Get out of here. Now.
Unlike her twin, she didn’t plan on freefalling and breaking a limb. She wanted to see the mirror fall, she wanted to see something to the finish, just once. She climbed up onto window, then turned, and let one leg drop off.
Stop thinking about it, or fight your way out, those are your only two choices.
I hate you, you know that, right? She let the other leg drop, keeping a firm hold of the sill. So stupid, so stupid, so stupid…
Shut up and let go.
She released and fell, she hit the dumpster and shot out a hand to stop herself from tumbling off. She slowly slid to the ground, her ankles still stinging from the impact.
The ground beckoned her, so she sat for a minute. Sitting was good. Sitting was very good. Sitting, and concentrating on how cold the ground was meant she didn’t have to think about seeing her own dead body. A death, it seemed, that she’d missed by one second.
Gunshots shattered the quiet of the alley, and she looked up to see if it was friend or foe.
It was her angel, and she ran to him.