Time was a difficult concept to pin down in dreams, even in the half-formed illusions that Rich Weaver’s power could produce. There was no way to determine exactly how long they’d been in Alice’s subconscious (still a lovely spa with perhaps a few additional pieces of gym equipment pushing the spa aspects to less than half) with nothing happening. It could have been seconds or days from their perspective. The one thing they did know concretely was that Galina had a time limit, which meant every moment spent with no Abridail added to their mounting tension. Alice and Nick both availed themselves to the mental masseuses with shoulder rubs, while Mary just tried to keep her mind calm.
“He’s coming.” She said the words as soon as she felt the presence pushing at the edges of Alice’s mind. Even with that, she was too slow.
“Actually, he’s here.” Abridail stepped out from nowhere, manifesting into being as though he’d slid through a door no one else could see. “Here, and a bit surprised. Last time was debatable, but tonight you certainly seem to be waiting on me. And with a new guest, no less. It’s always a pleasure to see you, Alice, but I hope you’ve remembered that I told you all I could last time we met.”
“To be fair, you said all you would, not all you could.” Nick snapped his fingers and the masseuse rubbing his shoulders immediately stopped and headed back to the spa. “Hi there, Nick Campbell: crook, scoundrel, sneak, thief, and guy with overall poor morality. And tonight, I’ll be playing the role of negotiator on behalf of one Alice Adair.”
“Negotiator?” Abridail hardly looked alarmed at the new development, if anything he seemed quite amused, a small smile tugging at the edge of his lips. “And what, pray tell, are you here negotiating for? I didn’t misspeak earlier; all I know about the coming potential futures has been shared.”
Nick nodded, hopping up from his cushy chair to meet Abridail’s eyes on their own level. “No one is doubting you there, and I want to say upfront that we all genuinely appreciate you tipping us off to the whole ‘potential apocalypse of civilization’ thing. Honestly, we do. But that’s not what tonight is about. I’m here because Alice still has a lot of questions left about the source of those visions. We want to know about Shelby Adair. Where she is, what happened to her, and while we’re at it why don’t you throw in anything you know about Globe as well. Seeing as you owed him a favor, there’s bound to be at least some connection between you two.”
The smirk on Abridail’s lips died slowly as his face returned to its more stoic expression. “There is nothing of worth I could tell you about Globe, and the favor I owed him was a one-time thing. As for Shelby… I will admit that I would like to share what I know, however I cannot do so in good conscience. She doesn’t want Alice chasing her ghost. And some secrets are better left that way, as she sees it. Whether I agree or not, I refuse to betray the confidence of a dear friend who trusts me.”
“But what if we can help her?” Alice protested. “You know what we are. The procedure that cured us, it could work for her too. If you just gave us a location-”
“Then you would go steal her away in the night, only to realize that none of you actually have the means to replicate that procedure?” Abridail asked. “Wherever she is now, Shelby has a better chance of getting helped.”
“You don’t actually know her location, do you?” It was Nick’s turn to smile, one of Abridail’s words adding credence to a suspicion he’d hatched long before the meeting. “I thought that might be the case, but you really have no idea where Shelby Adair actually is.”
“Of course he knows,” Mary said. “He told us himself how often they talk.”
“But… but he can only know as much as she does.” Alice could have smacked herself in the forehead; it should have been so obvious. “If my mom doesn’t know where she is, then neither would Abridail.”
Some of the wind seemed to leave Abridail’s sails as he walked over to a juice bar and knocked his fingers on the counter, a fresh smoothie appearing moments later. “Whether I know or not is strictly irrelevant, since I wouldn’t share it anyway, but the truth is that no, I don’t currently have any idea of your mother’s whereabouts.”
“Though I’ve got a hunch you know someone who might.” Nick joined Abridail at the juice bar, though when he knocked on the counter he was given a gin and tonic. “And now that the actual stakes are finally on the table, we know what we can negotiate for. Tell us what you know about Alice’s mother, and about the favor you did for Globe. Even if you leave out a few specifics here and there it’s perfectly fine, since I’m assuming you had Globe do something involving your body and you’re trying to protect your identity.”
Abridail actually choked on his smoothie a bit, green goop spraying into the air and vanishing before it hit a solid surface. “My body?”
“Oh, right, sorry. I forgot to put our offer into play. How silly of me,” Nick replied. “You see, I realized a while back how odd it was that every time Alice went under, you were there. That is a very specific set of circumstances to line up, her getting whomped by Rich when you’re dream-walking. Odds are incredibly low of it happening once, twice is out of the question. No, the only way that shook out was if one of you was constantly in that state, and I know Alice isn’t the one zoned out for hours a day. Which only left you, Abridail. Or do you prefer your given name? Abraham Idriss Ailes, I believe it was.”
Nick reached into the air and from nowhere produced a small stack of papers, which he tossed onto the counter in front of Abridail. “Once I hit on the idea that you were always dream-walking, it was just a matter of research. Loads upon loads of research, granted, but still paper-sifting all the same. While it took me a long time, eventually I found you at that care facility in Texas.”
“I see.” Abridail gave the papers a glance, photos from Nick’s memory confirming that it was indeed his own form in the hospital bed. “So you’ve come to threaten me.”
“We can go that route, if needed, but I was always taught that people work a lot harder when they're racing toward a prize than away from a threat. And seeing you in that room told me something a lot more important than just your name.” Nick tilted back his glass and polished off the remainder of his cocktail in a single triumphant gulp.
“You’re no Super, Abraham. You’re a Powered, just like Shelby is and we were. Which means I’ve got something to trade that we both know you desperately want.”