“I won’t try to convey to you what Shelby Adair was going through during this time. Words would fail to capture it, and the scenes are more of the grisly same,” Abridail told them, even as the small house around them began to fade from existence. “I gave you a mere glimpse of it, and you know how horrible that felt. For Shelby, it was endless, happening at least once a day, if not more. And, terrible as that imagery was for you all, not even Alice can understand what it was like for Shelby to see such things and witness not just death, but the death of a daughter she loved so very much.”
“Why… why did her power start showing her that?” Alice asked, trying to wrap her head around what her mother must have been going through. Even those few seconds were haunting and awful, getting constant doses of it, day after day… it was a question of when, not if, one’s sanity would break.
“To this day, no one I have entered the dreams of knows. Powereds may not have control of their gifts, but physical stimuli is often part of what triggers the abilities. Childbirth does unique things to a brain, releasing ample chemicals in different amounts. Perhaps the new manifestation was a reflection of that. Or… perhaps you were meant to die, Alice Adair. There is no real future, Shelby only sees the most likely of outcomes, but in your case she saw death at every turn. Do you remember when I asked if you believe in fate?”
“Yes.” It had been a year ago, but the interaction was still seared into her mind. She’d turned that conversation over in her head countless times, searching for the slightest of clues. “You told me that you didn’t know if you believed in destiny or not, though if it was real you were pretty sure I didn’t have one.”
“And now you know why,” Abridail said. “If such a creature as fate exists, then it is hard to deny that you were not a long-lived part of its plan.”
“You also told me I wasn’t the only one in our group,” Alice pointed out.
“Whoa, what now?” Nick had been largely silent, staying at a respectful distance as Alice worked through the emotional subject matter, but that minor revelation startled him into speech. “Was someone else supposed to die?”
Though Mary said nothing, she knew Nick’s mind was in that wreckage of a car. Twisted metal, burned tires, utter destruction, and yet one lone baby had miraculously survived even when his parents didn’t. She hoped he’d given up trying to discover whether the wreck was the result of his uncontrolled abilities or not, but deep down she knew Nick wasn’t one to easily let go of anything. In most cases it worked to his advantage, though with this there was a very real chance it could destroy him.
“What happened to Shelby sent waves through the timeline, eventually impacting all of the world,” Abridail said. “The first ones were smaller, yet real enough to cause a difference. I can’t track everything that changed because of her, but some are more easily traced than others. We’ll get there later, though. For now, I just wanted you to know Shelby was dealing with that, with what you just saw, endlessly, for months. And, as you can imagine, it began to take a toll.”
The world reformed, though this time they weren’t in the small house. Instead, it was a bar, soft and cozy with plenty of room between tables. Sitting at a large booth off in the corner were four people, three of which Alice was all too familiar with. Professor Pendleton, Professor Hill, and Charles Adair occupied three seats, with the fourth being taken by Globe. None of them looked as cheery as they had on the wedding day, but her father seemed especially beaten down. Sunken eyes, twitchy fingers, and a noticeable loss of the muscular weight he’d been carrying.
“It’s getting worse,” Charles said, sipping perhaps a bit too freely on the glass before him. “I’ve tried everything. Nannies, cooks, butlers, I’m spending almost all my downtime on the business just to pay for the staff, but no matter how many safeguards I put into place she keeps having the visions. Shelby’s afraid to go in Alice’s room anymore, like she thinks even being around her will make them come true. I don’t… she’s not eating, at least not enough. She’s pulling further and further in every day. The only time she shows any of her old spark is when she’s asking me… begging me…”
“You can’t do it.” Sean Pendleton was far younger than Alice knew him, younger and without the world-weary expression he’d no doubt gained during his tenure in prison. “Everything you’ve been researching, it’s all been theoretical. You’re years away from-”
“Were you under the impression that I didn’t know that?” Charles snapped, whipping his head up from the depths of his glass. For almost the first time since they’d begun peeking back on the memories of the past, Alice recognized her father in this young Hero. That was the Charles she knew: distant, powerful, and unwilling to take anyone’s shit unless there was profit in it.
“I am more aware than any of you just how far we are from being able to try even the slightest of tests safely. When I told Shelby about this it was all a distant future thing, perhaps ten or more years down the road, a fun project to discuss when we would lay awake at night. I never imagined it would become the lone hope she was clinging to.”
“But it is,” Blake Hill said, his own voice somber. “I talked to her last week, and Charles isn’t wrong. I honestly think the idea that she might be able to convince him is all that’s keeping her going anymore.”
“Then we have to find new things to keep her going,” Sean protested.
“She’s watching her daughter die every day, Sean.” It was the first time Globe had spoken at the table, the first time Alice had ever heard his voice. She was a bit taken aback by how gentle it was. From the reputation, she’d been anticipating something a bit more authoritative and commanding. “Worse, she’s watching herself indirectly cause Alice’s death. I may not be blood, but I love Shelby like family, and I know how strong she is. Still, I think you might be asking too much of her. We’ve seen fellow Heroes broken by lesser sights, and they aren’t enduring them every day. Besides, I don’t think any of you have realized exactly why Shelby is so set on precisely this method.”
“Because if it works, she’ll have control over her visions,” Blake said.
“And if it doesn’t?” Globe asked.
“We’re still too early in research to say for sure,” Charles told him. “Best case of failure, nothing happens and she’s stuck with the same problems. But we’re talking about tinkering with parts of the brain we barely understand. There’s real risk of death, brain damage, hell we might even make the problem worse.”
“Which is why I keep saying you can’t do it,” Sean reiterated.
“And which is exactly why I think Shelby refuses to let go of the idea.” Globe looked the table over carefully, visibly weighing his words as he doled out the hard truth to Shelby’s brothers and husband. “What none of you have considered, have let yourselves consider, is that Shelby is a smart woman. She understands how risky the procedure would be. She’s counting on it. Because if it works, then she’s cured, and seeing as her vision trances are always the cause of Alice’s deaths then the risk is removed. And if it fails badly… then she probably dies. In mind, at least, if not body as well.”
“Why the hell would our sister be counting on that?” Sean demanded, starting to rise from his seat before Blake put a firm, reassuring hand on his shoulder.
“Because she’s always the one who causes Alice’s death.” Charles forced the words out slowly as realization dawned. “So if she cures herself, then she thinks our daughter is safe. And if she dies, if she pulls herself out of Alice’s life, then she can’t be around to cause Alice’s death, now can she?”
“Shelby wouldn’t…” Sean didn’t even bother finishing the half-formed protest. His sister would absolutely be willing to trade her life for that of someone she loved. For her daughter, it wouldn’t even be a second thought. “Then that’s all the more reason not to do it. She’s not in her right state of mind.”
“No, she isn’t,” Blake agreed. “But if we don’t do something, I’m not sure she’ll ever be in a right state of mind again. And she’s wasting away, Sean. This is torture; it’s killing her piece by piece. If we don’t make a choice, it might be made for us.”
The noise of the bar faded as Abridail stepped forward, interrupting the hushed, tense conversation. “It wasn’t this night, but eventually a decision was reached. I trust you all can infer what it was.”
“Why show me this?” Alice asked. “And how? I thought you perused my mom’s memories, she’s not even here. You could have shown us her actual procedure; wouldn’t that have been more helpful?”
“I am a dream-walker, Alice. I have seen the dreams and memories of far more than just your mother. In fact, I may be the lone person in the world who has witnessed these events from all sides. As to why I didn’t jump to the procedure, what your mother went through would be no help to you. Hers was a very different attempt than yours, with almost nothing in common. And I showed you this moment, because I wanted you to understand your father’s situation.” Abridail gestured to the hunched, lesser figure of Charles Adair.
“His burden. His failure. His unfathomable guilt. Because what Charles Adair did after he failed your mother was impossible to forgive. It was not, however, impossible to understand.”