“Actually, you in no way have the ability to offer that trade,” Abridail pointed out after a moment’s consideration. “The whole reason you all are here is that you’re desperate for leads about the procedure. How exactly do you plan to use something you don’t even have as a bargaining chip?”
“Good question, with a simple answer.” Nick tossed the empty glass onto the counter, where it spun twice before refilling itself. “See, thanks to you showing us Shelby’s visions of the future, we know that eventually the procedure gets out. That’s pretty much the crux of the whole ‘looming potential war’ thing you cautioned these two about. Sooner or later, that procedure becomes available to the rest of the world. The question here is whether or not you’ve got anyone personally invested in making sure some comatose Powered is among the first to receive it. My guess says that Abraham the person doesn’t have those kinds of connections. But me, I’ve got a shitload of money for bribes and an HCP staff that will all lobby to get you at the top of the list. And one thing you should know about me, Abridail, I never renege on a deal.”
The argument gave Abridail pause as he considered Nick’s points. “Technically, we don’t know the procedure will get out. Shelby can only see the most likely futures; a curveball is still a possibility.”
“That a fact?” Nick said. “Well as an experienced gambler, I know the value in playing the odds. If you want to bet on the longshot, I guess that’s ultimately your call.”
“Abridail… why are you fighting us so hard on this?” Alice walked over to join them at the juice bar, seemingly on impulse though she’d in fact been biding her time for just this moment. Nick was hitting the logical buttons well, however, she could ply the dream walker with emotional appeal. Combined, she hoped that both tactics would succeed where individual ones would have failed. “I know my mom wanted to keep some things secret from me, but to her I’m probably still a baby or a child. She doesn’t know the woman I became, that I’m strong enough to survive the HCP. While I get the desire to keep a promise, is there really anything you can say that’s worse than a lifetime of not knowing what happened to my mother?”
“There very well might be.” Abridail’s voice was lower as he turned from Nick to Alice, taking in the young woman’s pleading gaze. “You two make an appealing case, and I won’t deny that I’m genuinely tempted by the offer. But Alice, your mother wasn’t wrong to want to protect you from this. I’ve seen the truth in your past, and the waves it sent across the potential futures. If I show you everything there will be no going back. There will be people you can never look at the same, and that includes the woman you see in the mirror.”
“She was just a baby when this happened,” Mary pointed out, chipping in from several feet away. “What could Alice have possibly done?”
“Technically nothing, and yet in a way, everything,” Abridail said. “You have no idea how much the presence of Alice Adair impacted this world, but she had no control over it. That’s why your mother wanted to shield you, Alice. She never wanted you to blame yourself for any of it. Or to know certain truths about your family.”
“And that’s my limit for vague pseudotalk.” Nick clapped his hands together once, refocusing everyone’s attention in his direction. “Abridail, I respect that you’re upholding a promise, however it was a promise made on false grounds. Shelby no doubt thinks Alice needs protecting, but Shelby is a mother who was separated from her child. She hasn’t gotten to see the woman that Alice became, and let me assure you it is one that very much does not need anyone’s protection.”
“You’re wrong there,” Abridail replied. “Not about Alice needing protecting, but about Shelby seeing who she became. Though Shelby has incredibly precious little control over what she sees, every bit of it is dedicated to watching Alice, or at least the future versions of her.” He paused, glancing back at Alice, perhaps a bit more guilt behind those eyes than before. “Your mother is always watching over you, in whatever way she can manage.”
“Abridail, was she the first of us?” Alice swept her arms out, gesturing to Nick and Mary. “That’s what this whole expedition is technically founded on, learning more about the process, maybe getting a few clues we can follow. We were also hoping for information on Globe, but since that seems off the table I just want to know about my mom. Was she the first Powered to try and be turned Super?”
This time there was no quick reply, Abridail sat down slowly on one of the stools in front of the juice bar, his hands turning the green smoothie back and forth.
“The answer is yes,” Abridail said at last. “But a very complicated yes. If I told you the facts of what happened, I think you would leave with undo hatred toward the one that tried to change her. If I accept this deal of yours, then I do it on my own terms. I show you the events that I deem are necessary, in the order that I determine to be most relevant. You need to see for yourself, to feel what they felt, to truly understand how it all came to this.”
“That’s well and good as far as sentiment goes, but we’re on something of a clock,” Nick said. “Had to use a knock-off this time, which means we’ve only got so long before the power fades.”
“Then I’ll show you what I can and you’ll come back for the rest.” Abridail finished his smoothie and dropped the glass over the edge of the bar, where it vanished before hitting the floor. “You’re asking me to betray my friend, someone I care deeply about. At the very least I have the right to do that on my own terms.”
To Alice’s surprise, Nick looked over to her rather than responding. “Alice, as a practiced bargainer I think this is as far as we’re going to push him. It’s up to you whether the deal is good enough. Given how vague he’s being we might end up with more questions than answers if time runs out.”
He had a point, but they’d also managed to make a little headway with Abridail. She wasn’t inclined to give that up, and the Subtlety Major inside her knew just how precious even the slightest bits of intel could be. Still, if he was baiting them into some time wasting mental goose chase it could end up being more trouble than help. She needed to get a sense of where he was going with this.
“What are you going to show us first?” Alice asked.
“Where it all… well, actually that’s not true, that part was a lot longer ago. I’m going to show you where your part of the story began, to kick things off. Specifically, I’m going to show you why you lost your mother,” Abridail said.
“Isn’t the ‘how’ a bit more important?” Mary pointed out.
“Not in this case,” Abridail replied. “So much of your lives, so much of what is waiting for our world, all stems from what happened to Shelby Adair. If I’m telling the tale, then I want you to know the why before all of it. I want you to understand why she, and others, did what they did.”
It was still vague, and could be a mislead, but Abridail was offering to show Alice her mother. That wasn’t something she had it in her to pass up, even if it turned out to be a waste of time. Slowly, she began to nod.
“You’ve got a deal, Abridail. We get our answers on your terms. Now let me see my mom.”