- Age: 33
- Species: Human with alien DNA
- Weapons: Her purse (a portal), a Glock, adrenaline “harpoons", an unreasonable number of animals
- Special Attack: Always goes with the crazy, which always works
- Is the beloved favorite of a variety of incredibly powerful universal beings
- Has a penchant for convincing enemies to switch sides
- Able to keep the bad guys monologuing long enough for backup to arrive
- Always willing to give an enemy a second chance to do the right thing
- Age: Early 20s
- Species: Human
- Weapons: Pistol, sharp tongue, honestly, growing migraine, airborne zombie virus
- Special Attack: Truth-telling
- Has outsmarted countless zombies & political enemies
- Has a huge digital audience
- Knows her way around a firearm
- A chronic case of retinal Kellis-Amberlee
- No real powers to speak of
By Seanan McGuire
The darkness into which I had dropped not five seconds before rang like a struck bell, rippling into another infinite, featureless plain.
“Well?” I demanded, looking up at the so-called “sky.” It was like standing in the middle of one of Buffy’s simulations, the ones where things had always looked ever-so-slightly off. “Did I win or did I lose? If this is some sort of loser’s bracket, I think you should consider the fact that Shaun is going to notice my absence any time now, and when he does, the English language will not contain the proper words to describe his reaction.”
Shaun is many things. Particularly stable does not make the list, especially where my health and safety are concerned. To be fair, he has good reason for the way he is, including the hyper-protective streak, and I can’t really blame him for wanting to shoot anything even vaguely dangerous that gets within a mile of me. To be even more fair, I’m not sure I get to call myself particularly stable either, given everything that’s gone down. I looked around again, the absence of my customary backup starting to sink in. If Mata Zyndu had been allowed to keep his terrifyingly smart horse, I should have been allowed to keep my terrifyingly smart jerk.
I snorted to myself. “Allowed.” Like this was somehow something voluntary, and not something that had just decided to happen.
A soft ringing noise suffused the landscape, making everything seem to shiver for a moment. I turned, recognizing a cue when I heard one, and saw a blonde woman in an Aerosmith T-shirt appear some distance away. She looked annoyed. I could appreciate the sentiment. She was also accompanied by the better part of a petting zoo, with something that looked like a cross between a peacock, a heron, and a nightmare I had once when I was a kid standing next to her.
The shirt bothered me. I wasn’t sure why. Something about it—
Now, declared that increasingly familiar voice out of the ether, you fight.
“Here we go again,” said the woman, and started toward me.
Suddenly, everything snapped into terrifying focus. Aerosmith. That’s a band. That’s a real band, from the real world, where real shit happens and real human biology exists. Only my version of the real world doesn’t have giant, terrifying peacock monsters that behave like obedient pets. So this woman, whoever she was, came from a different reality, one where, I don’t know, humans domesticated terrorbirds instead of cats. This was bad. This was very, very bad.
“Stop!” I threw my hands out in front of me, palms toward her, like I was trying to ward her off—which, to be fair, I was. “Stop right there.”
“Okay, bossy.” The woman stopped where she was, raising an eyebrow and looking at me dubiously. She had the sort of poised-not-poised stance and grooming that I’ve seen on a hundred Irwins, from Becks to Ash North. That was convenient: it helped me guess how she might respond. It was also inconvenient: it increased the chances of my guessing wrong. “Look, since we’re both here, I’m pretty sure we both won our first rounds at this little hootenanny. Let’s get on with it. I want to find the people in charge and give them a piece of my mind. I’m Kitty, better known as Katherine Katt-Martini, First Lady of the United States of America, Queen Regent of Earth for the Annocusal Royal Family of Alpha Four. You are?”
“Georgia Mason. I’m a reporter.” She didn’t stand or sound like a politician. The Irwin vibe was getting stronger. “Alpha Four—okay, I’m not trying to be rude or anything, but are you human?”
The woman scowled like I’d hit some sort of sore spot, and started to take a step forward. “So it’s time to fight the anti-alien activist? Goodie. I needed to get some aggression out after going with the expedient route.”
I took a hasty step backward. “I’m infected!”
My shout rang across the featureless landscape. Kitty stopped.
“I said, I’m infected.” I lowered my sunglasses for a split second, giving her a glance at the dead black color of my eyes. Pain lanced through me. I shoved the sunglasses quickly back into place. “I’m guessing you come from another Earth, since in my world, Peter Ryman is President, and the First Lady is a friend of mine. And they’ve both long since been exposed to the disease I’m carrying.”
She looked at me dubiously. “That seems awfully convenient, given that we’re supposed to be getting all Mortal Kombat up in here and suddenly you’re the untouchable girl.”
“You have a mom purse,” I blurted.
“You have a mom purse.” I indicated her bag. “Everyone I’ve ever met who carried a purse like that has been a mother. Are you a mother?”
“Yes,” she said, eyes hardening.
“Kellis-Amberlee was genetically engineered by two separate humanitarian scientists. A cure for cancer. A cure for the common cold. A cure for death, if you can call an unstoppable zombie apocalypse a ‘cure.’” I looked at her grimly. “It’s airborne. We’ve all been infected for more than twenty years. We don’t even think about it anymore. But when it first got out, some people amplified immediately. So are you human? If you’re not, if you’re a robot or an alien or whatever, you might be safe, but if you’re human, you want to stay the hell away from me.”
Kitty scowled. “I don’t know if I believe you.”
That stung. “I don’t lie. That’s sort of my thing. I’m a journalist, I’m intimately familiar with the workings of Kellis-Amberlee, and I don’t lie. Every cell in my body is a biological weapon. There’s no wind, so you should be fine where you are, but I wouldn’t come any closer. And your bird, there,” I indicated the monster peacock, “is immune, because this shit doesn’t infect birds, but if any of my blood gets on it, that could be the end. Hello, apocalypse, goodbye whatever you were building in your own time.”
Kitty stared. Kitty started to reach into her purse. Kitty stopped.
“We had an alien bioweapon used on our world,” she said. “A lot of good people died.”
“A lot of good people will die if you bring this one home as a souvenir. We’ve had decades. We still don’t have a cure.” Mom purse. She had a mom purse, and I was telling her the truth. This had to work. “So if you’re human, come at me, and if you’re not, walk away.”
“Why should I be the one walking away? You’re the time bomb, if you’re telling the truth. Why shouldn’t it be you?”
“Because like I said, I always tell the truth, and right now, I really want to find the people who put this little shit-show together and tell them some basic truths, possibly with bullets.” I forced a grim smile, despite the pounding in my head. “We have an impasse. Fight me, send your bird at me, risk your world. Or yield.”
“The bird’s not all I have.”
“I believe you.”
She scowled. “My go-to here would involve taunting you.”
“Go ahead, if it makes you feel better. I’ll still be over here, radiating contagion like a space heater. Which is more important? Winning, or your entire world?”
Kitty looked at me for a moment longer. Then she shook her head. “The world. Always the world. It’s just that usually, they’re one and the same.”
“Not this time,” I said.
Battle ended, declared the voice from nowhere.
The blonde and her monster bird disappeared, taking the featureless plain with them, I dropped into the dark, once again yelling all the way down. The biggest question I had seemed fated to go unanswered until I landed:
Who the hell had won?