The scene before them began to fade once more, but this time it wasn’t nearly as smooth as the previous transitions. All around them, the world seemed to flicker unsteadily, like a television channel losing its signal, and the images became blurry as they began vanishing from sight.
“It might not be Oscar music, but I think that means our time is almost up,” Nick said.
“No!” Alice whirled on him, as though Nick had some sort of influence on the limitations of the Super keeping them suspended in this trance. “It can’t be done; we haven’t really learned anything yet.”
“We learned why your mother was the first one to undergo the procedure. Why she kicked this all into motion. It might not seem it now, but I think once you have a moment of peace you’re going to realize how important that is.” Mary carefully put a hand on Alice’s shoulder for reassurance, even though she had to stretch to do so.
“But we didn’t get any damn clues. Any hints on where she might be,” Alice protested, looking to Abridail, who offered a small shrug in reply.
“I did warn you that there is information I lack, your mother’s whereabouts among it,” he said.
“Yet it seems like there is something you know that’s worthwhile,” Nick replied. “This was a whole lot of preamble if you don’t have shit to say. You don’t strike me as someone to give us the pointless runaround, so how about you skip a few scenes and cut to the good stuff?”
The world flickered again, this time with longer spaces of darkness that engulfed them. When they could see once more, everyone took note of Abridail giving a slow, solemn shake of his head.
“I refuse. Our deal was that I would show this in my own way. I need you, I need Alice, to see things as they occurred. It’s what Shelby would want. I am sorry your time ran out, but you’ll just have to find your way back again if you want the rest of the story.”
“Seeing as you have no leads on Globe or Shelby, we might have trouble selling our group on setting up another one of these sessions,” Nick told him. “Can you give us something to work with? Any tidbit that might help us talk them into putting us down here again?”
Abridail paused, long enough for another flicker, the longest yet, to surge through the world. “I do not know exactly how you were turned from Powereds to Supers, nor could I replicate the procedure in any manner. However, I do know the source of the process, the place where most of the advancements sprang from. We are almost to that part of the tale, so it will be waiting for you should you all return.”
“This would be a lot easier if you could just show up in our dreams,” Alice grumbled.
“It would be, but after you understand where your change came from, you’ll grasp why I’m unable to do so.” Abridail’s voice seemed to be getting thinner, like he was floating away from them, even though he appeared to be standing in exactly the same spot.
“Finding out where the procedure comes from… I think I can make that work,” Nick said. “I was hoping for something juicy, like why the hell Globe was so deeply involved with the Adair and Hill families, but maybe pragmatic is better for the pitch I have to make.”
“Far better,” Abridail told him. “Because what you’re talking about is no mystery at all. Though Charles Adair has spent untold sums of money to bury the truth from the world, not even he had the resources to strip away the memories of his fellow Heroes.”
“What do you mean?” Alice was almost yelling now, driven by necessity rather than anger. Abridail was slipping away like the rest of the dream world; it was all she could do to hear him. But she did want to hear him, if he could shine any light on why her father had been so close with a man who would go on to become a world-famous criminal.
“Last time we met, I told you that two of your uncles were among the people you saw most frequently.” His voice was almost gone, but Alice strained her focus, picking out each word as it fell from those fading lips. “But the other is one you haven’t seen since you were a toddler. And how would you? After all, for most of your life the world thought that Globe, the man once known as Phillip Adair, was dead.”
Alice opened her eyes, blinking through the brightness of the overhead florescent. Coming out of the trances had never been that jarring before, though Rich was probably more delicate about it since his abilities weren’t in a race with the clock. Carefully, she pulled herself up to a sitting position on her cot, noting that a small table with a massive cooler of water had been set up nearby. No one ever seemed to know why Rich’s trances left people with cotton-mouth, but she was grateful for the gesture as she filled up a cup and doused her dry tongue.
Nick and Mary were stirring as well, the only presences in the apartment as far as Alice could tell. The woman was gone, she’d probably ducked out as soon as her power faded. While a quick departure seemed a bit inhospitable, the Subtlety-side of Alice appreciated it. The less time they were with her, the less chance of their operation being compromised. Someone stumbling upon just Alice, Nick, and Mary wasn’t nearly as incriminating, even if it would raise a few questions.
“Nick, did you know about Globe?” Alice surprised even herself by how calm her tone was. Perhaps the sting of secret family members was fading the more often they popped up. Or maybe it was just too much to process right off the bat, and it wouldn’t hit her until later. Idly, she wondered if this made she and Vince cousins.
“No, and I’m a little pissed about it,” Nick told her. “All that time hunting for clues, and not one of those sacks of shit lets me in on the familial relationship. We’re going to be having a long talk next time we’re all at the clubhouse.”
“The more relevant issue here is how are you, Alice?” Mary asked. “What we saw in there… it wasn’t easy for me, I can’t even imagine how tough it was for you.”
“Oh yeah, I’m going to be working through a lot of that shit for a while, especially the bathtub scene. When tonight is done I plan to head back to the dorm, take off my makeup, and have a good old-fashioned mild breakdown.” Alice finished off her water and crumpled the paper cup, setting it down next to the cooler. “But that’s later. For now, we’ve got a party to get back to.”
“I think you’re permitted to skip out of the rest of the evening,” Mary told her.
“And risk someone asking questions or getting suspicious? Remember, my boyf- Nick is the host, and we’re sort of an item. It wouldn’t do for me to flake off halfway through the party.” Alice hopped up from the cot, adjusted her dress and picked up the garish mask she’d be redonning.
Mary was watching Alice move, with concern and something else, something Alice wasn’t sure she’d ever seen in her short friend’s eyes before. “But after everything you just went through…”
“I’m a Subtlety Major. Pushing through, hiding my feelings, that’s what I do.” Alice extended a hand to Nick, who accepted it and intertwined his arm with hers.
“You almost called me your boyfriend a minute ago, didn’t you?”
“Not that you’ll ever be able to prove.” Alice tossed a glance over her shoulder to Mary, who was still seated on the cot, looking uncertain whether to keep protesting or not. “Grab your hat. Parties wait for no one.”