She held her fists up close to her face – to protect herself or attack or just cover her eyes so she couldn’t see whatever was about to happen, she didn’t know. Her gaze bounced around the room, looking at nothing. She didn’t want to look at Sigma’s bloody body or Eric’s half-missing head or the poor robot boy or anything.
She knew, somehow, that the old man was responsible for Eric killing everyone else, for his suicide. She could remember a feeling from another history, of her hand moving of its own volition. The old man – Delta – had engineered the death of everyone else and left her alone. Given that she was the only woman, she had a very, very sick feeling about this.
In spite of everything, she let out a humorless laugh. “W-what?”
He reached for her and she jerked away, stumbling over Sean’s body. She fell and her hands landed in Sigma’s blood. Sigma was staring up at the ceiling with glassy eyes.
“No, no, no,” she whimpered, struggling to her feet. She tripped over Eric’s legs as she tried to run out the door, but it shut right before she reached it. She banged on it with bloody fists. “Please, no.”
“Where are you going?”
She screamed as she punched away at the door, the wall, at anything. At some point, the blood on her hands was no longer just Sigma’s but also her own, her fingernails torn off as she clawed desperately looking for an exit.
“You must be hungry. Why don’t we go get some supper?”
“You sick bastard!” She flung herself at him, but he easily took her arm and twisted it, bringing her to her knees. He brought his free hand to her neck, squeezing tightly. Light blossomed in front of her eyes, and then there was just darkness.
As she woke, she was afraid to open her eyes. But she did, hoping that it had all been just a nightmare.
She was in a chair that was oddly familiar. It was huge, and she somehow knew that metal thing that was right above her head was supposed to be a restraint around someone’s neck, and it probably looked like the restraints over her hands. She also somehow knew that the metal brackets over her hands had been adjusted. This whole chair was built for someone bigger, taller, like … like …
Her fingers were bandaged. There was a plate of food on the table, along with a bottle of wine, a large knife, and a small remote with one button on it. Delta was sitting across from her, holding a full wine glass.
“Oh god!” she cried.
“Please don’t misunderstand me. I would like to have this moment with my father, as well, but that will have to wait for another history.”
She closed her eyes again and took a deep breath. Phi was gone. Sigma was dead. She had seen her own beheaded corpse and a dismembered body and this demented man had her restrained in a chair. It was tempting to just give up and let him do whatever it was that he was going to do to her. Let him kill her.
He had to pay for what he had done. Diana had never supported the death penalty but she wanted this man in front of her to die. She had to get out of this chair, incapacitate him, and get him to the police. She didn’t recognize the room she was in, but out of the corner of her eye, she could see multiple computer or television screens, so she presumed it was a surveillance room of some sort. Probably the control room he ran everything from. At least, when he hadn’t been pretending to be Q while Q-Team was active. Sean hadn’t been able to open the X-Door, but she was sure there was another way out. She just had to find it.
“You’re not even going to ask who my father is?”
“I’m not your mother,” she said. “I’ve never had a child.”
“But you want children.”
It was hardly a brilliant deduction. She was of child-bearing age, and she imagined most women her age had considered it, or at least not definitely decided against it. Delta stood and turned away from her. She took the opportunity to wiggle her hands under the restraints. Although they were made of metal, whatever was pressed directly against her hands was like foam, or bedding, but firmer. Still, maybe she could get loose.
“I’ve often wondered if I would be the way I am if you and my father had raised me. Would I have been exposed to so much ugliness so early in my life? Would I have been poisoned by hate and fear? My father, at least, would have been sensitive to my abilities … and that of my sister’s. And in time, you would have been, as well.”
Diana twisted her wrists and pushed her thumbs up against the foam-like material, trying to get enough room to extract her hands.
“At one point, I had over a million followers. My organization is much smaller now. When I was young, the prospect of a million people obeying my every whim was very appealing. As my goals became clearer and my focus became sharper, I realized many of my followers were unnecessary. I weeded out the unsure, the confused, the ones who were desperate just to have a place to belong, the ones who weren’t truly devoted. We grew smaller and stronger.”
She bent out her elbow as much as the chair would allow and pulled her left hand towards her. The material was scraping her skin, and she could see she marks on her hand as it emerged from under the restraint. She kept her arm in place to give the illusion it was still contained and set about freeing her right hand. Delta returned to the table, but only to pick up his wine glass. Again, he turned away from her, holding the glass to his lips and tipping it back.
“My right-hand man had a very interesting theory, as I began to learn more about the facts of my existence. I became convinced that I had to launch a massive operation to ensure my birth. To prevent a paradox. He asked me to consider the following scenario.”
Biting her lip so she wouldn’t cry out from the pain, she extracted her right hand from under the rough foam. Both hands were bloody, but they appeared to be superficial wounds, just nasty scrapes. Her legs seemed to present a bigger problem. It felt like the same material was holding her ankles in place, and she wasn’t sure if she’d be able to pull her legs free without banging her knees on the table that was in front of her.
“Imagine that you were born during the Holocaust. You grow up knowing that your parents lived in different countries, hundreds of miles apart, and they likely never would have met if they hadn’t been thrown into the same concentration camp. Now, imagine that you are sent back in time, with this knowledge. You could use your information to stop Hitler, but then you would never be born. What would you do … mother?”
She froze as he faced her. “I would stop him. Any decent person would.”
He smiled as he sat back down in the wooden chair across from her. “Of course you would. But let’s say you chose not to. Let’s say you decide to just sit back and watch, waiting for yourself to be born. You follow Hitler’s life, watching as he progresses from an innocent child to the monster who would terrorize Europe. And let’s say that, in spite of your origins, you are actually unaware of most of the details of Hitler’s life. So when you discover he’s injured at the Battle of the Somme, when you watch the Beer Hall Putsch fail, when you see him be imprisoned, you think to yourself, ‘Oh no. Now he may never become the chancellor of Germany. The Holocaust may never happen. I will not be born.’ You find yourself desperate to avoid a paradox.”
She tried to kick her legs out, tried to see if she could break the restraints, to no avail.
“Let’s say you’re unaware of the fact that all of those things happened, and he still rose to power. You decide to kill Hitler and take his place, ensuring that everything happens just as you remember. But the fact is, you could have done nothing and still been born. This is what he asked me to consider. I knew that my mother and father had been trapped here, in this shelter, for the better part of a year. I knew that they had been forced to play torturous games, forced to SHIFT multiple times, and that this had created important genetic changes in their gametes. And I believed that it was necessary for me to engineer all of this. He told me that perhaps I needed to do nothing. Perhaps there had been some other man, with some other goals, who had created all this for a different purpose. Perhaps there was only an apparent paradox because I discovered the nature of my birth and feared that if I did not interfere, I would cease to exist. And now because I have interfered in the past, I must always interfere again in the future. What do you think?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. What you’re saying doesn’t make any sense.”
Delta smiled and leaned over, pressing the button on the small remote on the table. The restraints popped off her. He picked up the knife and she scrambled to her feet. There was a door in the back corner and she ran to it, smashing her hand against the red button next to it.
“No! No, god, please!”
When she turned around, he was right behind her. He offered her the knife, holding it by the blade.
“As I said before, I have no more use for this history. You do not seem interested in having a conversation with me. You may do what you wish.”
She snatched it out of his hand, watching him grimace as the blade sliced open his skin. Before she knew what she was doing, she was holding it over her head, poised to strike. He didn’t flinch, didn’t move, aside from to take off his glasses. Her hand shook as she remembered Eric and Mira, Junpei and Akane, Phi and Sigma. Their blood was on his hands. If he was left alive, he would just do this to someone else. He was sick, sociopathic. He had to pay for what he had done.
She threw the knife across the room and shoved him aside. She ran to the table, grabbing the bottle of wine, and then she spun around and smashed it down on his head. Wine and glass flew everywhere. Delta crumpled to the floor.
Diana was frozen for a moment, unsure if he was faking. She kneeled down and picked up his hand, holding it over his face. When she let it drop, he made no effort to prevent it from hitting him.
The door opened suddenly and she was startled by who was standing behind it.
“Y-Y-You … you’re dead!”
Sean shook his head. “One of my bodies has been disposed of. I am supposed to show you how to exit this facility. I will carry him.”
The robot ignored her as he picked up Delta’s body like it weighed nothing. She had little choice; she followed him out the door, down the hallway, into an elevator, and finally to the surface. A small car was parked in front of them and Sean opened the trunk and packed Delta inside.
“The keys are in the ignition. Tell the GPS you want to go home. It will take you to the nearest city.”
“What’s going –?”
A sudden explosion from behind her knocked her down. She turned to see fire erupting from the elevator shaft they had just emerged from. It was from a self-destruct mechanism, she was sure. She just wasn’t sure how she was sure. She turned to ask Sean, only to see his body prone on the ground. She shouted his name as she crawled across the sand. When she turned him over, there were no wounds on his body, no indication of why he was suddenly … deactivated?
It felt wrong to leave a small child behind, even if he was a robot, but he had been Delta’s assistant and ultimately, she couldn’t trust him. The car started easily when she turned the keys and when the GPS came on, she said, “Take me home.”
“Yes, Mother,” came the eerie reply.
In a daze, she followed the directions and drove away, the fire in the rearview mirror becoming smaller and smaller, and eventually disappearing altogether. As the GPS told her she was getting closer and closer to Fallon, Nevada – ending every sentence with ‘mother’ no matter how much she begged it not to – thoughts popped into her mind.
He controlled Eric to kill Sigma and then himself.
He could control a police officer to let him free.
He could control a judge to grant him a mistrial.
He could control a jury to find him not guilty.
He could control YOU to get you to reverse your testimony.
He will never serve a day in jail.
He will never pay for his crimes.
Phi, Sigma, the others, they will never have justice.
Is that what you want?
“You are at your destination … mother.”
She stopped the car in the middle of the road, looking at a brick sign that read ‘Downtown Fallon, Founded 1908’. She got out and went to the back of the car. Delta was still in the trunk, just as she had seen Sean place him before the explosion. For a moment, she thought she saw his mouth twitch, like he was trying to stifle a smile. She picked up his hand and let it fall against his face. Again, he made no effort to stop her.
It was a bit of struggle, but she got him into the passenger’s seat. She sat behind the wheel and buckled her seatbelt out of habit. Taking a deep breath, she unbuckled it and turned off the engine. She opened the glove compartment and located the screwdriver she somehow knew would be there. The airbag socket was on the side of the steering wheel and once she had removed the cover, it was easy to disable it. She repeated the procedure with the socket on the passenger’s side.
As she turned the car back on, listening to the warning beeps telling her she should buckle up, that the airbags were disabled, she stared at the screwdriver in her hand, unable to recall when she had learned how to disable the airbags in a car.
But then her mind cleared.
She stepped on the accelerator, her body rising out of the seat as she put her full weight on it. The car gained speed quickly as it headed towards her destination. There wouldn’t be anyone in City Hall at this time of night.
The brick building came into view, and she laughed as she saw a sign saying it had handicap access. Her hands trembled, wanting to steer away, but she stayed on target.
The last thing she heard before everything went black was Delta saying, “Goodbye, mom.”
Diana sat up suddenly and threw her hands in front of her face.
“Diana?! Are you okay?”
When she lowered her arms to see Sigma standing in front of her, looking worried, she clamored to her feet and embraced him.
“Sigma! Oh, Sigma! You’re alive!”
He stiffened, but then put his arms around her, rubbing her back. She could feel herself shaking.
“What’s going on?” she heard Phi say. Diana was inexplicably relieved to learn that Phi was alive, as well. She stepped away from Sigma and met his puzzled gaze. They were in one of the rooms in the shelter. She couldn't recall which one, but there were machines and metallic figures.
She fought to remember what had upset her. Images flashed in her mind. A wine bottle. Cables. A child. A car. A knife. Bricks. Sigma, bloody and dead. She squeezed her eyes shut at the last one.
“What is it?” Sigma asked.
“I … I don’t know. Must have been a nightmare.”
She spun around, but there was nobody there.
“Are you … sure you’re alright, Diana?” Phi said.
“Yeah,” Diana replied, even though she wasn’t entirely sure she was. But the images were fading fast, and after a minute or two, she couldn’t remember anything. Even the unease and the fear was gone.
She turned to face the three metallic figures. Phi and Sigma stood on either side of her.
“Are these things … robots?”
The word pricked at something in her mind, something important, something that was relevant to this horrible game they were being forced to play.
But whatever it was, it didn’t rise to the surface.