this interwoven tapestry of tragedy

pg-13 | reference to violence



In these moments, she understood Akane a little better.

When Akane had first suggested that Diana could visit other timelines, Diana had assumed she was talking about SHIFTing.

And she never wanted to SHIFT again.

But Akane said that what she did was akin to what the victims of Reverie Syndrome did; she could just control it much better than they could. She called it 'remote viewing', from some government experiments decades ago. It wasn't having a complete consciousness switch, just connecting to your other self and viewing the world through their eyes.

Akane was capable of it, and so was Maria, although Carlos was so scared of Maria getting lost again that he forbid Akane from having her try it. Akane believed Diana possessed the requisite skill as well.

Diana had been wary - and Sigma even more so - but Akane said her own ability to see future events was limited, to timelines where she was alive, and then only with what she could observe. If Diana provided another perspective, it would give them more information. She took things slowly, going to observe events in the past of her own current timeline. That was relatively safe. But she stopped altogether the moment she found out she was pregnant. She couldn't risk anything with her child.

As it was, Diana thought that Luna might be an esper. Sigma thought it was too soon to tell, and he was probably correct. Sigma said it was possible sometimes for receivers to pick up emotions from people who weren't transmitters, and as a new, first-time (sort of) mother, maybe Diana was just imagining that she sensed feelings from her.

But Luna was here now, and happy and healthy, so Diana was physically lying on a bed in the infirmary of Crash Keys headquarters while mentally she sought out other histories.

Her mind saw it as flying. She was soaring through a beautifully clear sky, going in and out of clouds, and she could see her bright blue wings in her peripheral vision. A hawk flew to her right, a constant reminder that Sigma was sitting at her bedside, holding her hand and monitoring her vitals. When she found herself in the other timeline, her wings would disappear as she slid into her body, but the hawk would still be hovering over her.

There were worlds where she never met Marcus, worlds where she never married him, even worlds where she never went to nursing school and became an architect instead. It was a career she had been interested in when she was younger, but never really passionate about. She had an artistic talent and liked the idea of designing homes where people could build families. Ultimately, her desire to help those who were suffering, or in pain, or dying, won out. In this universe, anyway.

There was the world where she and Sigma had been the only survivors of the Decision Game, the world where she took Sigma's life and took her own shortly after, the world where her head was blown clean off her body, the world where her foolishness had left them all gasping for breath on the floor of the shelter, and even a world where her flight crashed on the way to Nevada.

There were the worlds where Radical-6 was released - oddly including, according to Akane, the world where Diana died when her plane suddenly lost power and plummeted into the desert. Diana both didn't want to think about it - she had experienced at least part of the crash during an attempted viewing - and wanted to know how that was possible. Had Delta just abandoned his plans and released it through other means? Had he gone ahead with the Decision Game, with someone in Diana's place? (She suspected Sigma would have risked his life rather than let anyone try to disarm that bomb. He loved her, without question, but he was also noble, heroic.) Or had Delta somehow managed to get a Diana from another timeline brought in, via the transporter?

In the world she was flying to, they all survived the game. Carlos hadn't shot Delta, but the old man had a heart attack before they could ... extract ... any useful information from him. The nine survivors had resolved to work together but not to stay together. Carlos was in Texas with his sister, Akane and Junpei in Japan, Sigma, Diana, and Phi in California, with Mira, Eric, and Sean in New York. Sean inexplicably broke Mira out of prison, and the minute Sigma had heard about that, he called the Sean in this history to insist that he had better not even be thinking about it.

They never formed an alliance with the SOIS. They never learned about children being kidnapped. They never got close to the fanatic.

And ultimately, they failed.

There were other timelines where - as Phi put it - they failed "only slightly". The apocalypse still happened, but they almost stopped it. Akane said she was working on harvesting information from those histories; she wanted to know what happened in the ones where they failed spectacularly, horrifically.

Maria often had difficulty recalling details from her coma visions, but she said she had been forced to relive this particular memory hundreds of times. At least. She remembered being curled up on a couch with Carlos, sitting in their home in Texas, watching reports of the bombs dropping. She remembered that major cities weren't being targeted; although New York and California were attacked, they hadn't gone after New York City or Los Angeles. That meant that Eric and Mira might have been near one of the targets, if Sean hadn't launched a jailbreak.

It also meant that the Klims were likely close to another one of the ground zeros.

So here she was, flying to find the world in which their utter incompetence doomed mankind.

Maria was describing what she could remember, trying to help Diana find the right place. Fear - blinding, engulfing, paralyzing fear - from her other self almost drove her back. That told her she was going too far forward, so she tried to find the past.

Too far in the other direction and now she was watching her wedding to Marcus. Her vitals must have spiked, because the hawk dove in and dug his talons into her shoulders, pulling her up. With nuptials on her mind, she flitted forward to her second wedding, to Sigma. It was bigger in this history than it had been in Diana's own, but it still felt warm and safe and it was tempting to stay and watch it.

Instead, she sought out anxiety and surprise.

And ... found herself in front of an ATM.

The machine was telling her that her account had insufficient funds. She rubbed her belly - a pregnant belly - and tried her card again, typing in her PIN carefully.

Same response.

She pulled out her phone to call Sigma. Maybe he moved some funds around for some reason, or had an unexpected purchase. She got a recording that the customer she was trying to reach could not be contacted due to heavy call volume and to try again later.

Diana glanced up; the hawk was circling her. In any other situation it might have been frightening. Here, it gave her great comfort.

Her bank was only half a mile away, and she had time before her appointment, so she got in her car.

She was never really knew if it was her consciousness taking control of the body and driving the action or if she was merely a bystander, an observer. It felt as though she was making the decision to go to the vehicle, turn it on, and get on the road, but she had no way to know for sure.

While she was still three blocks away, traffic came to a standstill. Angry drivers got out of their cars and headed in the direction of the bank. Diana couldn't back up and couldn't go forward, so even though she was scared for her child - a boy, she was having a boy - she got out and followed the mob.

The bank in chaos. She didn't dare go in for fear of being shoved or tripped, but she could hear customers yelling about not being able to access their accounts. People wanted to know where their money had gone. Feeling ill, she turned away and headed towards a small grocery store. She wasn't sure why.

The store was empty, the clerk nowhere in sight, although the television behind the counter was on. It was almost eleven in the morning, but instead of a game show or a talk show, there was a news program. A special report. The anchor seemed frazzled, confused.

"Information is still coming in and we will pass it on to you as soon as it becomes available. It ... it appears that at least JP Morgan, Bank of America, and Capital One are reporting that their data systems have become 'unavailable' or are 'temporarily down'. Bank of America is denying they were hacked and insist that - and I'm being told TD Bank and Bank of New York Mellon may be experiencing similar - wait. I've just been informed that at least six people are dead in ... apparently shots were fired in a bank in Austin, Texas. Treasury Secretary Conway is asking all Americans to be patient and please -"

She heard gunshots from the street and hit the floor, careful not to fall on her stomach. She crawled behind the counter and screamed when she saw the clerk, in a pool of blood, multiple bullet wounds in his chest. Only then did she notice all the things she missed - the register tipped on its side, dollar bills on the floor, the shelves in disarray. The sounds of gunfire outside continued and -

Diana!

She couldn't break free, couldn't follow Sigma's voice.

Diana, please, come back to us.

The hawk was gone.

Can you hear me? Are you okay?

Her arm felt cold.

God, Diana, please!

Everything went white.

Please work. Please.

They must have injected the inhibitor. If it worked, her connection would be cut and she should snap back. Except they'd never tried it before and they didn't know if it would result in her consciousness getting trapped in the other history. It was risky. If Sigma injected it, her vitals must have ... must have ... she must be -

Diana! God fucking dammit, don't you leave me!

She opened her eyes. The store was gone. Her husband was holding the injector gun and Maria was standing next to the bed, defibrillator paddles in hand. Diana's hand flew to her chest; her clothing wasn't disturbed, so it didn't appear that they had to shock her. His eyes were wide, his nostrils flaring, his cheeks stained red. Even though she was staring right at him, he didn't look relaxed. For all he knew, she was a Diana from the other timeline. He had demanded they have a code word, just in case.

"Baryons. Baryons, Sigma. I'm back," she rasped. "It's okay."

Not seeming to care about the electrodes and wires, he dropped the gun on the tray and pulled her up into his arms. She was bent at an odd angle, so she tried to swing her legs off the side of the bed. 'Tried' being the operative word. Everything felt weak.

"Sigma, you have her twisted up."

He released her at Maria's gentle admonition. He lay her body - which she still didn't seem to have full control of - back on the bed, brushing her hair out of her face and pressing a soft kiss to her temple. She could feel that she was sweating. Maria carefully began removing the leadwires. It was a little claustrophobic, with Sigma hovering over her on one side, Maria invading her space on the other.

"Did you see it?" Maria said softly. "The mushroom cloud?"

She shook her head, winced as electrode pads were peeled off her skin. "I don't think I was in the right history. I saw ... banks."

"They bombed banks?" Sigma asked.

"No. Or, maybe." She struggled to remember what she had seen. Whether it was the fear or the inhibitor, it was difficult to recall details. "I think someone ... their systems ... banks said they didn't have access to their systems. I couldn't get money out of my account and I knew there should have been money in it. I saw a ... like a bank run from those old movies. I think ... hacked. Someone said something about being hacked. It wasn't just my bank. A ... someone on the television was saying there were ... I think at least three or four."

He looked dismayed; it didn't sound anything like the future Delta and Akane and Maria had warned them about. Maria, however, had her head tilted to the side, muttering something under her breath. Diana reached for her when Maria's body suddenly went limp. She still didn't have her strength, so the younger woman collapsed on the floor.

Sigma was there in a flash, hauling her up in his arms and resting her on another bed in the infirmary. Diana sat up and instantly regretted it as her head swam. He gestured for her to remain where she was.

"She's breathing, Diana. Her pulse is weak, but steady. She just fainted."

She closed her eyes to try to quell the vertigo. After several moments, Maria stirred and Sigma took her hand.

"Are you okay?"

"I remembered." Maria sat up but Sigma gently pushed her back.

"Hey, both of you, now, stay put."

"Not the world you were in," she continued, although she stopped resisting and curled up on the bed. "There was another one I remember and I was trying to buy a ticket home to Texas but my card wasn't working. I had my first deposition coming up and I was nervous so I just decided to deal with it later. Someone ... bombed our banks, then?"

Sigma frowned and leaned against the bed Diana was in, his arms crossed over his chest. "That doesn't make sense, Maria. Bombing a physical building - even multiple physical buildings - isn't going to cause major problems with our banks. If you want to do that, drop a spike and unleash a virus."

"Maybe they really wanted us to suffer?" Maria screwed up her face in that way that reminded Diana that she was sort of the opposite of Sigma; Maria's twenty-three-year-old body housed the mind of a twelve-year-old who had been in limbo for a decade, stuck in a constant stream of nightmares. She looked like a child, a very haunted child.

Sigma must have felt the same way. He looked uncomfortable as he appeared to be pondering what to say.

"Well ... if someone starts a nuclear war, money would become obsolete pretty quickly. If you destroy our monetary system, physically bombing us seems like overkill."

She wrapped her arms around herself as an unhappy thought struck her. "Sigma, what if we're not thinking about this the right way? We - we've been looking for stolen uranium or people sneaking into military bases. Maybe ... maybe they don't need to get their hands on the weapons. They just need to goad a country into using them."

"N-No," he said, forcefully. "Mutually assured destruction; no country that has nuclear capability is going to use it against us, knowing that we possess nuclear weapons as well."

"The Nash equilibrium is that neither side attacks," Phi says. "Or disarms, for that matter."

Sigma taps his mouth with his finger, in a way that reminds her of Akane. "You're assuming the players are rational."

"You're talking about this like it's a game!" Diana cries out. "How can you -?"

"Diana?"

Sigma shook her gently, and for a moment, she squeezed her eyes shut. She knew - just knew - that she had gotten a glimpse of a possible future, an unpleasant one that could be waiting for her if they made the wrong choice.

"Rational players," she murmured. "What happens if the players aren't rational?"

Maria was staring down at her hands, picking green polish off her nails. "Are you talking about Darby?"

"There's no way he gets elected," he asserted. "He's an idiot. He's insane!"

"He's polling at thirty-two percent," Maria pointed out.

Diana tightened her grip on her own arms. Their current President wasn't terribly popular, but surely Sigma was right. Quentin Darby was a pompous jerk who didn't understand anything about government. Even his own wife didn't seem to like him very much.

But he had also famously declared in a television interview that he 'definitely' considered nukes to be an option in war.

Nobody spoke for a very long time.

(fin.)