chapter one: Willa

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"Two possibilities exist: either we are alone in the Universe or we are not. Both are equally terrifying." ― Arthur C. Clarke

"Notorious jewel thief Thereto Smith was found dead last night just outside of Mercury's city limits. His death matches the M.O. of several murders by the man they are calling the Mercury Assassin..."

I rushed out of the kitchen and planted myself on the couch, leaning toward the TV with rapt attention, my mug of coffee clutched carefully in both hands. 

"... There are no leads as of yet. The killer is still at large," the blonde newscaster said, staring out through the screen seriously. Her green eyes were wide with feigned gravity. She straightened a stack of papers sitting before her at the news desk. Then she quickly switched gears, her painted lips turning up into a wide smile that displayed her too-white teeth, "In other news: this kitten is riding a skateboard for charity!"

The screen cut to a grainy clip of a fluffy white kitten scooting along on a skateboard.

I sat my mug down on the coffee table, steam still rising from the dark liquid inside. Rolling my eyes, I picked up the remote and turned off the TV. I didn't care which charity its owner was shamelessly exploiting it for. I knew it was a little ridiculous, but I still got a little pissed that the Mercury Assassin was constantly referred to as a man.

They didn't know anything about the killer, but they were automatically assuming that a woman couldn't pull off that kind of thing. It was insulting. Also, the name was basic and unimaginative: Mercury Assassin. It sounded like the name of a bad 90s punk group.

It wasn't like I wanted real recognition. Real recognition would mean cops on my doorstep, doctors cutting into my brain. But maybe a little subtle acknowledgement that women can be just as deadly as men would be nice. It gave me dangerous ideas about allowing a few witnesses to catch a glimpse of a dark, very feminine silhouette leaving the next victim, which wasn't an option.

Dart would kill me-maybe literally. No, I thought: definitely literally.

I sighed, and I reached for my coffee again. I inhaled the rich steam rising from the mug, and I took a long, slow sip. Coffee was definitely my favorite drink on Earth. I took another sip, leaning back into the couch cushions. It was rare that I had time for myself. The silence was nice. The space was nice.

I had my whole apartment to myself, and Dart hadn't popped in once this morning. Not yet, anyway. I wished he never would.

I sat my mug down again and caught a glimpse at the inside of my left wrist, a sharp reminder of why I had to let Dart pop in anytime he damn well pleased. A grid of tiny, red needle holes marred my inner wrist. I pulled my long sleeved shirt down over the wounds to hide them, cringing. Then I laughed to myself bitterly. I could kill a man with a single thought, unfazed, but needles would always make me squeamish. I don't know when or where I'd developed the phobia; I had just always had it. But I knew it came from before Dart, before his treatments. I just couldn't remember.

I had a name, and I clung to it: Wilhelmina Never. Sometimes Willa. Someone had called me Willa, anyway, I think. It was all I had, besides a basic understanding of the world, the English language, and a bit of an attitude problem. Other than that I couldn't remember much of anything past the fire and exploding earth, the ringing in my ears after-

Just then a knock on the door startled me. I jumped to my feet immediately, and three tiny metal balls came zooming through the air from my bedroom to hover before me. I focused on the tiny pellets, my weapons of choice. The size of small marbles, they were weightless to my mind. I controlled them as if they were an extension of my body, a muscle I could flex.

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