When Junpei awoke, he couldn’t ignore the feeling of sweat on his back, or the pain in his knee. It felt like something had happened- something big- but he had no idea what. He groaned and rubbed his temple, taking a moment to see if anything would come back to him, but to no avail.
“Now announcing… the current casualties. Presently, there are… none.”
All three of them had looked up at the ceiling when the announcement voice had sounded, and all three of them breathed a sigh of relief when they heard the news. However, the announcement continued, bringing an irritated scowl onto Junpei’s face.
“Please continue enjoying the Decision Game.”
“Ha! ‘Enjoy’, my ass.”
“Hey, everything went well. Let’s just be glad about that.”
Aoi didn’t seem to want to put up with Junpei’s ‘grumpiness’, and was looking to Carlos, who had a pretty big grin on his face.
“Q team and D team must be safe… which means the votes were balanced.”
“You mean, from back at 13:30?”
Aoi nodded in response to Junpei’s question, and all three of them shared a moment of silence.
“So…. What time is it now?”
“Looks like… augh, it’s already 00:03!”
Carlos hung his head in defeat at that, looking fairly upset. Aoi only put a hand to his chin, further in thought.
“So then, we’re in the new year?”
“If the time on the watch is right… then yeah.”
“But, what is time… started going in reverse?” Aoi just gave him a blank stare, and Junpei did his best to shrug it off. “What, don’t think it’s possible? Come on, it was just a joke.”
That only earned him another blank stare, and he sighed in defeat.
“Fine, fine… well then, what are we gonna do now?”
Carlos and Aoi both looked around, clearly as unsure as Junpei was. It was Carlos who spoke, who seemed to be seeing a bit of the comedy in the situation (not that Junpei could see it).
“Feels like this is beginning to become regular situation…”
There was another moment of silence, and Junpei’s eyes settled on the basketball hoop mounted on the shelter wall.
“Hey, we could play hoops.”
“How? There’s no balls, Junpei.”
“We could use Gab?”
Aoi’s glare somehow seemed to become more unimpressed each time Junpei opened his mouth. It wasn’t like Junpei would ever actually consider something like that- he was just trying to lighten the mood, in his own ineffectual way.
“Well then, why don’t we check out that box? We still haven’t figured out what it’s for.”
He finally got a reaction aside from disinterest, and they all moved to examine the box in question. It still had the words ‘FORCE QUIT’ printed on top, with a keypad, but they knew nothing beyond that.
“So…. What do you think it’s supposed to end?”
Aoi looked at Carlos, and shook his head.
“No idea… but whatever it is, we can’t do anything unless we have the password.”
Junpei pinched the bridge of his nose- all of a sudden, his head felt like it was going to split in two. He could practically feel the morphogenetic fields trying to tell him something… but what?
“Junpei? Hey, are you ok?”
“Hey, what the hell-“
“Just, can you please shut up, Aoi? I’m this close to remembering, I just need some quiet.”
Aoi and Carlos both looked at each other but nodded, and all that Junpei could hear was the sound of breathing. Now, it was time to focus.
Junpei, despite his large pool of experience, was not a trained esper. Ever since the nonary game last year, his morphogenetic field access wasn’t something that he could control. For the brief time he’d spoken with those ‘SOIS’ people they’d explained how he was essentially a phone off the hook: because of the way Akane had died in the past, while they were still connected, it was impossible for him to ‘turn off’ his access to the morphic fieldset. They’d offered to help him learn how to control his abilities, so that he’d at least have some degree of ability to manage when things started to become overwhelming, but he’d refused- and he was seriously regretting having refused now. It’d be so much easier if he knew how to just pull that information down freely… but since when had things ever looked good for Junpei?
He withheld a chuckle at the self-deprecating joke, and forced himself to focus once more. If he could just reach those memories-
“Ah, it appears I’ve spoken too long. But, I will impart you with something very important- the key to opening pandora’s box, ‘Vive Hodie’. Remember these words well, they will come in handy someday.”
Junpei didn’t recognize the language. It definitely wasn’t English, and it wasn’t Japanese either. Aoi didn’t look like he was much closer to figuring it out- and as if he could sense the confusion, Zero decided to clarify.
“It’s Latin. It means ‘live for today’.”
Zero’s voice forced itself into the forefront of Junpei’s mind, and he immediately typed in the words. Much to his genuine surprise, the box actually opened- revealing more stuff that he wasn’t sure what to do with.
“Junpei, how did you- wait, nevermind.”
It was Aoi, who’d smacked himself upside the head in an ‘isn’t it obvious’ type gesture. If anyone would understand why Junpei remembered, it would be Aoi. Carlos didn’t seem like he really understood at first, but there was a momentary pause, a nod, and an expression Junpei couldn’t really decipher.
“Hey, look at that. There’s something showing up on that monitor…” Junpei had pointed at the screen, but he was still pretty stuck after reading what was on it. “To execute the force quit program, the central control computer must be booted…”
“Central control computer?”
“I don’t think there’s anything like that in this ward…”
Aoi frowned, but something seemed to come to Carlos. He again had that indecipherable expression, there only for a second- and then it was gone again, as if Junpei had completely imagined it.
“Yeah… it’s like that, then…”
“Huh? Carlos, what are you talking about?”
“Can you just, uh, be quiet for a second? I need to think about something…”
Considering Junpei had asked the same of him and Aoi earlier, it was hardly like he had a reason to say no. They ended up going to the central area with the couches, Junpei taking a seat on the coffee table while Carlos and Aoi sat on the couch facing Junpei.
They waited, and waited, and waited, but Carlos never said anything. He seemed completely and utterly wrapped up in his own world, not paying attention to Junpei or Aoi at all. Time passed, Junpei checked his watch- it had already been an hour. It seemed like Aoi was thinking the same thing, as he spoke up first.
“You’ve been sitting like this for ages, Carlos. Just what the hell are you thinking about?”
“You… wanna know?”
For some reason, the way he spoke sent a chill down Junpei’s spine. There was something incredibly unlike Carlos about this, and his tone felt… wrong.
“I was thinking about you, Aoi.”
“You’re, uh… well, to be blunt, you’re just my type. We might never manage to get out of this shelter- so, you know what that means… right?”
Junpei knew that Aoi was more than capable of holding his own, but that wasn’t going to stop his blood from boiling. If Carlos even wanted to think of hurting one solitary hair on Aoi’s head, he’d…
“Just what the hell are you thinking, you asshole?”
“Oh look, a Neanderthal is trying to block my way.”
“What?! Carlos, what the hell is wrong with you?”
Carlos stood, and Junpei stood as well. If it was a fight he wanted, that’s what he’d get- but before Junpei could even react, Carlos had punched him hard in the chest, sending him flying. Fuck, he had a strong arm- that made sense, considering he was a firefighter.
“Carlos- augh! What the fuck, let go of me! You fucking dick!”
“SHUT THE FUCK UP!”
Junpei had already been mad, but he could tolerate Carlos being a massive asshole if it was just him. But the second he’d touched Aoi, the instant he’d started yelling, he’d crossed a line- and Junpei was seeing red.
He got up as quickly as possible and stormed over, Grabbing the collar of Carlos’s shirt and pulling hard. That was enough to get him standing, but Junpei wasn’t done, ramming his elbow into Carlos’s ribs with enough force to send him stumbling backwards. He was getting ready for more, about to attack again, when Carlos ran off.
“What the- don’t think you can fucking run from me, you asshole! Wait up!”
They ended up in control, Carlos stopping with his back to the computer console. He had a disgustingly cocky smirk on his face, which only infuriated Junpei further- oh, he would enjoy wiping that disgusting look off his face.
“What the hell are you doing, Carlos?!”
“Hmm… I suppose, I couldn’t control myself?”
There was nothing that could stop him now, he was positively livid. One punch sent Carlos crashing to the floor, and Junpei wasted no time in pinning him down and continuing his assault. However, even despite the obvious bleeding and potential broken nose, Carlos still seemed to want to be an asshole- almost as if he wanted Junpei to beat him up.
“Is this… all you’ve got? This is… the extent of your feelings for Aoi?”
“WHAT THE HELL WOULD YOU KNOW?!”
“More… than you might think… you know…”
“DAMN YOU! DAMN YOU, YOU FUCKING BASTARD!”
He got Carlos hard in the jaw before he could open his mouth again, splitting his lip on top of the multitude of bruises that were already forming. The beating continued for a good few minutes, until Junpei finally started to lose energy. Carlos was still (somehow) conscious, but he seemed pretty dazed- served him right. Junpei scoffed as he finally got off of Carlos, glaring at him the entire time- it took him a couple seconds before he was able to sit up.
“Phew, you got me there…” Junpei’s fists clenched, and he scowled at Carlos- who raised his hands in surrender, quickly shaking his head. “I-I give, I give. I was a dick, sorry.”
“Say that to Aoi, you piece of shit.”
“Yeah… uh, we should probably go see him, actually.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“He’ll, uh, have something.”
“Use. Your. Words.”
Carlos sighed, and looked side to side- it was clear he could tell Junpei wasn’t going to move an inch until he gave some explanation, so he eventually gave up and lowered his voice.
“I asked Aoi to grab something… look, I know you’ve got no reason to, but I need you to trust me on this. If it works, we might be able to get out.”
He’d put a hand over his mouth as if coughing the entire time he was speaking, and went back to normal once he’d finished. It occurred to Junpei that he was probably trying to hide his mouth- there had to be security cameras in here, which meant that Carlos didn’t want someone to know what he was saying. The only reasonable explanation for who that someone would be was Zero… how much did Carlos know? What was going on? Junpei still couldn’t trust Carlos, but he’d at least tolerate him, for now.
The walk back was awkward and silent, and Aoi’s face widened in shock when he saw the results of their ‘little’ scuffle.
“Carlos.. your face.”
“Eh, it was nothing.”
He was trying to wave off the (surprisingly) worried look on Aoi’s face, but it only earned him another glare from Junpei. He clearly seemed to realize that wasn’t the best choice of words, and quickly backpedalled.
“U-uh, anyways. First off, sorry about that, Aoi.” He sounded genuine, but his voice went straight back to that uncomfortable tone as he continued talking. “Second… Junpei, what do you say to a drink?”
“Y’know, to clean the slate between us. Come on.”
Junpei raised an eyebrow in suspicion as Carlos started walking to the bar- but Aoi was following behind, so he didn’t feel any reason not to join them. He definitely wouldn’t be drinking, not unless he wanted to say something he’d absolutely regret, but he could at least try to figure out what the hell was going on inside of Carlos’s head.
He certainly wasn’t making himself look any less suspicious with his next actions either, though. He picked up a glass, intending to make himself a drink of sorts- but then pretty blatantly fumbled it, sending it crashing to the floor.
“Aw, dammit. I blame you for this, Junpei.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“All those punches of yours left my hands all shaky, I can hardly see straight. Sorry, but could you guys help me clean this up?”
Ok, it was obvious that something was up. Junpei still didn’t know what Carlos was planning, but he was doing a pretty horrid job at pretending to not be planning anything. Aoi nodded to Junpei and moved behind the counter, and Junpei followed. The three of them crouched down, and Aoi passed out a strange card to both Junpei and Carlos.
“Look, I’m really sorry about all that, but we needed a good distraction for Zero, and that was the only think I could think of. We need to slip these under our bracelets before we get injected- if we do that then the needles will break, and we won’t need to worry about forgetting.”
Aoi was nodding along, clearly over what had happened- but hearing that explanation just made Junpei even more pissed off. He spoke in a sharp whisper, glaring at Carlos.
“You didn’t think of just telling me, you dumbass? I could’ve hurt you bad.”
“Looks like you did hurt him bad.”
“I- that’s- you know what I mean, Aoi. Besides, it was you that he pinned onto the couch.”
“Yeah, but he used that moment to whisper in my ear. Besides, I was half a second from kneeing him in the dick, I would’ve done it if you hadn’t pulled him off me.”
Carlos suddenly looked rather grateful to Junpei that his beatings had only been in the face and chest.
“Urgh… just fucking tell me next time, alright? Idiot.”
Carlos scratched the back of his head awkwardly, but nodded.
“Alright, I will. One last thing, though- even though we’re not gonna get knocked out, we’re gonna have to pretend like we did. There’s this robot- they’ll come after us if we break any rules. One almost killed us once, actually… we’ll get put in sleep pods, but when we’re in there, we need to try to remember. See if you can get everything, from the other timelines- I’m not sure, but I think we’re going to need all those memories.”
It hardly sounded pleasant, but it was far nicer than being killed by a robot. Aoi and Junpei nodded in agreement and they all stood up- all that was left now, was to wait for the announcement. The screens in the ward turned on right on schedule, and Zero’s voice came over the speakers.
“Now, it is time for you to sleep. When next you wake, know that you will have no memory of these past ninety minutes. Pleasant dreams…”
They all nodded to each other and put the cards in place. The sounds of needles breaking was heard, but they collapsed to the ground anyways, waiting for something to happen with their eyes closed.
It was a few minutes before anything happened, and the sound of footsteps could be heard. There was some shuffling around, and Junpei heard lifting. It was only a short moment longer before he himself had been lifted, held off the ground in an uncomfortable position by surprisingly small hands. His back was aching by the time he was set down, and he heard something close over top of him. Upon opening his eyes, he was in a pod, just as Carlos had said.
Well, he knew how Light must have felt, now.
The pod was at least cushioned at the bottom, and Junpei moved his arms behind his head for a slightly more comfortable position. He was glad that he wasn’t claustrophobic, or this would’ve been horrible- but no more dwelling on his new location. It was time to get focusing on remembering, right?
…that was much easier said than done.
He figured it would be easiest if he tried to get the memories from the timeline he’d remembered earlier first. If he was lucky, he’d just be able to dig a little deeper, and pull down what he needed to know. Time passed, and he continued to focus- but nothing. Of all the times, now was really when the fields wanted to allow him some peace and quiet… of course it was now.
He was trying to think of what usually let him get memories from other timelines, but none of the options were really viable for him right now. Between dissociations, intense stress, and sleep, none were at all practical. He wasn’t going to throw himself into a panic attack just for the sake of a few memories, falling asleep was the exact thing they’d been trying to avoid, and if the stress of the decision game wasn’t enough to trigger his field access on its own, then Junpei didn’t know what was.
“….Just remember already, dammit! Urgh!”
He was getting frustrated now- in a moment of anger he attempted to sit up, forgetting where he was- and he smacked his face off of the top of the pod.
He grabbed his nose and groaned in pain, and was about to mutter more obscenities, when he froze up. The first memory that came back was that of being punched by Aoi, after he’d assumed Junpei meant that only Phi needed to die for them to get out. It was a cascade after that- all the times he’d died, all the rooms, and even the few times he’d managed to get out- all of them slowly came back, and he could only really watch as they played out in his mind.
The memory that made him the most frustrated, however, was the coin toss. Or, rather, the one where Carlos had listened to him. They’d gotten out alive then; no harm, no foul. Everyone was alive, there were none of these horrible memories- they really were lucky.
However, as frustrated as he was… he was still a bit glad that he’d been the one to regain these memories. After all, if he hadn’t, then he never could’ve remembered the timeline where he’d given Aoi the choker. Oh, he was more than a little bit pissed that Aoi had chosen to drug him afterwards (and he’d definitely be bringing that up at a safer time), but he was still just happy to have those memories.
Junpei didn’t know how much time passed after that point, and he made a point not to check his watch (because he knew it would just make time go slower). However, he eventually felt movement, and the sounds of something being opened again- and then standing over him was Carlos, Aoi, Eric, Mira, and someone who looked way too much like the robot that had almost killed him for Junpei to be comfortable.
Actually, considering Mira had actually killed him, he was really uncomfortable with this situation.
Still, it was clear from the looks on Aoi and Carlos’s faces that they’d both remembered as well. Aoi in particular looked as uncomfortable with Mira and the kid with the orb on their head, but Carlos was strangely relaxed.
“You’re Junpei, right? It’s nice to meet you!”
“O-oh, uh, yeah.”
Ok, that wasn’t the introduction he’d been expecting. As if he could sense his confusion, the kid(?) nodded his head, and spoke up.
“My name’s Sean. I’m a robot- but, um, I promise I won’t hurt you.”
It if weren’t for the orb that apparently was his head, Junpei wouldn’t have believed it. His voice sounded just like a real kid’s, and the way he’d started to wring his hands nervously was just like any real person. Scratching the back of his head, Junpei looked around for a moment- before settling on just giving Sean a pat on the head (orb???), and chuckling.
“Don’t worry about it, kid. You’re not the scariest one in this room.” Aoi and Carlos both shot a glance towards Mira at that, but Mira seemed oblivious to that. That, or she just didn’t care. Considering how she’d acted while murdering him, it was probably the latter. “But, anyways, how’d you get us out? I heard the announcements, so shouldn’t it be D team active right now?”
“That’s because I didn’t go into the pods! I hacked into the main computer and hid myself from the other robots, and then waited until everyone was asleep to get you guys. I think D team should be in the lounge about now, although I don’t know if they’ll have remembered yet…”
Aoi crossed his arms and shrugged.
“For Phi and Sigma, they’ll remember in no time if they have to. They’ve got plenty of experience with SHIFTing- might have a bit more trouble calling the memories down, but they’ll be there. Worst comes to worst, we just give them a push.”
“But, what about Diana? She’s a SHIFTer too.”
Aoi looked at Carlos, and tilted his head in thought.
“…we’ll just worry about her when we get to that. There’s six of us here, the resonance effect should be more than enough to help her memories, even if she’s untrained.”
Sean nodded at that, and all of them looked around the room. Junpei took the moment to finally get out of the pod, stretch, and start heading for the door.
“Uh, Junpei… what happened to your nose, by the way? I heard swearing…”
Of all the things- how had Aoi overheard that? Carlos looked pretty curious as well.
“…it was an accident, is all. Now let’s get going.”
He turned quickly so nobody could see the hint of an embarrassed blush on his face, and he started out towards the lounge. The others followed him out, and they arrived at a textureless room- proof enough for him that Sigma. Phi, and Diana had all remembered.
“Uh, Carlos? What happened to your face?”
Phi was staring at him with a raised eyebrow, but he only laughed it off.
“Eh, proof of friendship.”
Junpei gave a sarcastic laugh to that, and was brushed off by Sigma.
“Anyway, what are you guys doing here? Shouldn’t you all be asleep by now?”
“We took a page out of your book, and did what you did. We just used the cards to keep the needles in the bracelets from injecting us.”
“So… does that mean you remember everything?”
“I-I do too!”
Sean sounded a bit nervous, to speak up, but Diana gave him a reassuring smile.
“Junpei and I’ve remembered everything too.”
“Yeah… we spent the past few hours just trying to remember everything. From this, and the other timelines too.”
“You remember all that?”
Phi looked a bit surprised when Junpei nodded, but figured that was to be expected. He’d assumed she knew that he was an esper, considering how she’d spoken when they first met- but he didn’t exactly come across as the type of guy with his life together.
“Hold up- Eric and I are different.”
“Yeah… we didn’t gain any memories from the other histories.”
“So, neither of you got injected then?”
“No, we’re the same as Carlos and the others.”
The three D team members looked a bit confused, so Sean started talking.
“I told them. Oh, uh… I guess I should start from the beginning? First, so I could run the program in the force quit box, I accessed the central control computer. Then, I briefly turned off the communications network. That way, I could stop the surveillance cameras from sending any data to Zero- I didn’t want him to catch on to what we were doing.”
“And that’s when Sean let us in on the truth of what’s been going on here.”
Eric was confirming Sean’s story with a nod, and Mira continued to talk after him.
“We went over to the transporter room, and picked up two cards. Before the injection, we each slipped one between the needles and our wrists.”
“Ok, now you two make sense… but what about you, Sean?”
Sigma’s arms were crossed, but Sean looked like he was anticipating the question.
“Well, you probably already know, but I’m a robot. Being injected does nothing to me- what was happening was that my body was being shut down, and my memories were deleted. I didn’t want that to happen, so when I accessed the computer, I hacked my own systems, too. I shut down the forced sleep and delete functions, then I hid out so I could get Mira and Eric out of the pods.”
“Alright… what about C team, then?”
Phi had nodded and turned her head to look back at them, an eyebrow raised each time she noticed the sorry state Carlos was in (as well as Junpei’s still slightly-red nose).
“We couldn’t interrupt the surveillance cameras, so we had to get sneaky instead.”
“Yep. First, Carlos pushed me down and climbed on top of me-“
Well, Junpei was glad Sigma felt the same way he had. He might’ve been a weird person, but he had a good heart.
“I-it was just an act! I was only pretending to do it!”
Aoi looked a touch amused at how flustered Carlos had gotten, and went back to explaining.
“Carlos used that moment to whisper in my ear- he told me about the transporter room, and about the cards.”
“But, if I just let him go like that, it’d look suspicious. We needed to get Zero’s undivided attention, so I casually invited Junpei to the power room, and… well, you can see the results of our conversation.”
Junpei scowled and gave Carlos another glare, still not entirely over what had happened.
“You should’ve just told me what was up.”
“I, uh… it’s just… you don’t exactly look like the best actor, Junpei.”
Junpei could only give a derisive snort to that- pretty damn ironic for Carlos to be calling him a bad actor, when he’d been stiffer than a board. It was Diana who decided to divert their attention, putting the focus back onto explanations.
“Anyways… after that?”
“We met up with Aoi back in the lounge, and he passed out the cards. Then, once the time limit hit, all we had to do was wait.”
“Um, ok…. Could I get confirmation on one thing, then?” Diana looked around and waited for the group to nod, before continuing. “Everyone knows what happened in the other histories, right?”
Sean, Carlos, Aoi, and Junpei all nodded, but Eric and Mira stayed still.
“Didn’t Eric already say? We’re different. It was Sean who told us everything.”
“Alright… but, why? Why… do we know about these other histories?”
Junpei was going to answer, but before he could do anything, he heard the sound of a shotgun being cocked.
“You… want to know?”
He spun around to find himself staring directly at Q- no, Brother. His assumption from the other history had been entirely right then, considering he could both walk, talk, and hear. Junpei’s fists clenched as he felt anger start to cloud his vision, glaring at him as he walked up.
“Q? Or maybe, it’s actually Zero.”
Carlos looked oddly like he’d been expecting the intrusion, and Zero didn’t seem to care.
“You may call me by my given name, Delta.”
“There’s no need to look so threatening. You were the one who named me, Diana.”
There were two big shocks right at once- first, that Diana was capable of looking that damn angry, and second, that this old fuck right here was claiming Diana- someone who couldn’t be more than ten years older than Junpei- had named him. The most surprising was her reaction though, looking away as if to admit that yes, she had named him.
Well, Junpei was used to some pretty weird shit, but that had to take the cake.
“It doesn’t matter. I shall answer your question. Carlos, Aoi, Junpei… Diana, Phi, and Sigma. All six of you know that you are SHIFTers, correct? Your path to this moment has hardly been a linear one. You have been jumping around spacetime, taking information from other histories as you saw necessary. The drugs stopped you for a while, as did the effects of SHIFTing, but it only lasts for so long- you eventually remembered, by calling down what you’d lost from the morphogenetic field. Sean, you are similar as well; only your memories exist inside of the quantum computer.”
“W-well, what about me and Mira?”
“You are both like me, in that we do not possess the ability to SHIFT.”
“No. I have another power… the power to mind hack.”
For some reason, when he said that, it sent a chill down Junpei’ spine. He seemed like a monologuer though, so he figured he was going to get an answer shortly enough.
“Yes, Carlos. I am able to read other people’s minds. I know the thoughts and ideas that go through their heads. That’s why I know exactly what you’re trying to do right now, Phi.”
The moment he finished speaking, he turned and pointed the gun directly towards her. Junpei hadn’t even noticed, but she’d started sneaking in the direction of the force quit box- but the moment the gun was pointed at her, she stopped and raised her arms.
“Step away from that device.”
It was hardly like she had a choice, so she did as he said. Aoi was watching this with a scowl, glaring at Delta.
“So then, when we blocked the injections- was that pointless?”
“No, not pointless- but I did see through your ruse.”
“Guh- then why did you-“
Junpei was cut off before he could say anything more, Delta’s infuriatingly calm face only serving to anger him further.
“Simple. I wanted all of you to play the final decision game. You see, I find human decisions… fascinating. More specifically, the world branching that occurs as a result. I already mentioned that I am not able to SHIFT, but, after looking into countless minds, I learned one thing: that those people with the ability to SHIFT, exist. Hence, why I know so much about these parallel worlds. I do not need to experience them- I need only read the memories of one from that history.”
“You did all this… because you were curious?”
There was an anger in Carlos’s voice that Junpei hadn’t heard since the decontamination room, after he’d pushed the button. Junpei wasn’t blaming him- he was just as furious, if not more.
“When a person does something significant, it’s hard to boil the reason down into just one word. Their motives are often very complex- it is the same now. To fulfil several objectives, it was necessary to trap all of you in here.”
Junpei’s eye narrowed, and his fists clenched further. This old bastard- did he feel nothing?
“So… why did you do it?”
“You want to know?” There was something sickening to the way that he spoke, and to the faintest hint of a smirk that had made its way onto his face. “It is so that you would give birth to Phi and myself, Diana.”
“No way… what do you mean?”
Junpei had wondered slightly at Delta’s earlier comment, but it looked like Eric was a touch slow on the uptake. Delta showed no discernable emotion when he responded, but there was a hint of disdain in his voice as he spoke.
“Phi and I… are the children of Diana and Sigma.”
“Wait- Phi too?”
Ok, that had been a surprise. Junpei hadn’t been able to stop the surprised exclamation, but all of D team was only able to look down at the ground.
“November sixteenth, 2029. In another history, Diana gave birth to twins inside of this shelter. Then, she used the transporter, and sent us back through time- to April of 1904. Phi was recorded to have been used in an experiment- she was transported once more, forwards to 2008.”
“An old couple who were researchers took me in…”
Phi didn’t look like she wanted to share that much, but the looks the group were giving her seemed to have pressured her into speaking. She almost seemed like there was something more to it, another thing she wanted to say, but she didn’t.
“Regardless, the events in this shelter were necessary in order to ensure the creation of Phi and myself. If I hadn’t trapped all of you in here, then Phi and I would never have been born. All of these histories were simply… a necessary evil.”
That was what finally got Junpei to snap.
“A necessary evil? You bastard- all that death was just necessary to you?”
“Yes, it was.”
“How the fuck can you honestly think so little of human lives?! All of us died- you died- six billion fucking people died, and you say that was necessary?”
“Are you saying you would have rathered that Phi and myself were never born? That is the alternative.”
“Don’t go twisting my words you fucking asshole, you know that’s not what I-“
“FUCK YOU, YOU GODDAMN OLD MAN!”
Before anyone could say anything more, Phi had started running, jumped, and slammed her foot directly into Delta’s face. He flew backwards and slammed against the wall with a grunt of pain, and the gun flew from his hands, skidding across the floor over to Eric’s feet. Phi was still visibly seething with rage, glaring at Delta with pure fury.
“You think I wanted this? You’re acting all high and mighty, but you- you made Diana choose between killing me or Sigma! You made me into the first patient of radical-6! You killed us over and over, and now you’re acting like this was for our own good? You’re full of shit!”
It was impossible to read Delta’s face, but Sigma and Diana were both visibly surprised by Phi’s sudden outburst. It was Eric who was next to speak, having picked up the gun and pointed it at Delta.
“It’s over. Give it up.”
“You may be right…”
“Diana, take this and put it in the box! Your blue bird too!”
Phi had thrown her brooch, and Diana did as Phi said with a quick nod. However, they should’ve expected things not to go their way- when did things ever go as expected? A voice that Junpei had learned to hate came over the speakers as the emergency lighting of the shelter activated, telling them the mistake they’d made.
“Verified. Key items… were set. Executing… force quit program. Ten minutes… until explosion.”
“What the hell is this..?”
Junpei wasn’t sure who was saying what, because everyone had started speaking over each other at the same time. It was surprising how loud a group of nine people could be, in all honesty. The talking was broken up by laughter- Delta, grinning like a maniac from his position on the ground.
“Hey! Answer me! What’s with that announcement?!”
The look of disdain he gave Eric was visible even without having to see his eyes, and the cruel grin never left his face.
“Must I really explain? This shelter will soon explode. You’ve worked so had, only to turn on the shelter’s self-destruct mechanism.”
“Sean, access the central control computer and-“
“It’s no use, Mira. Once the force quit program has been activated, there’s no way to stop it.”
“Th-then… w-what can we do?”
“Don’t worry, Sean. I can tell you one- no, two good things. First, I suggest checking behind the bar counter.”
Junpei nodded to Aoi and Carlos, and the three of them went to look while everyone else was still focused on Delta. When they looked, he could’ve sworn he felt his heart stop- there was Gab, dead. He’d clearly been shot, which meant Delta had killed him… Junpei was about half a second from running over to him, and breaking his damn chest, but they needed him to keep talking. Dammit, he was not going to just get away with that. Junpei forced his voice to stay level, but it was seeping hatred with every word.
“What’s the other thing.”
“I have the ability to mind hack.”
“We already know that, you fucking bastard.”
“Well, I’ve not told you everything about it. You see, aside from reading the thoughts of others, I have another ability. It only lasts a moment, but…”
The sound of a gunshot tore through the facility, and everyone turned to stare at Eric. His face was drawn and pale, and he was shaking.
“I-It- It wasn’t me! M-my finger just- it just moved on its own!”
“Understand now? This is my power… so let’s begin… your final decision game. You have two choices: One, stay here and wait to die. Or… the other is… is……”
His breath stopped, and he didn’t say another word.
“Hey, you fucking asshole! You don’t get to die on us- keep talking! Keep fucking talking!”
Junpei knew it was pointless to yell at a dead body, but he was anyways. Diana was crying, and Sean sounded like he was on the verge of a panic attack- but what else was there? Unless…
“We can SHIFT. All of us.”
It was Sigma who spoke up first, but by the looks of it, Aoi and Phi had been thinking the same thing as well. Diana and Carlos looked a bit reserved, but Eric and Mira were quite put out by the idea.
“Hey, wait! Eric and I can’t do that stuff, and you’re not leaving us here to die.”
“Funny, coming from you…”
“What was that, Aoi?”
“Nothing. Anyways, you don’t need to worry- there’s enough of us here that the resonance effect would easily carry you over to the new timeline as well.”
“But then we’ve got the problem of which history. None of the similar ones work- one of the teams will always be dead after the vote.”
Everyone’s faces shaded over as Phi brought up the obvious- of course it wouldn’t work, that would just be too good to be true.
“Wait… what if- what if we picked the timeline where I got the coin toss right? There, we all got out, so we’d all be alive…”
“Wait, Carlos- we couldn’t!”
“What are you saying, Diana?”
“Well, if we switch bodies with them, then wouldn’t that be the same as killing them all? We can’t just leave them to die…”
“So you’d rather let us take the bullet? If those people are us, then why do they have any more right to those bodies then we do?”
The conversation only continued to break down from there, everyone taking sides and continuing to argue. Junpei was torn down the middle- he didn’t want to die, but could he really justify killing another version of him? This wasn’t even the ‘lucky’ Junpei, the one from the far more distant timeline- this was him, with maybe a day or two’s difference. This was an impossible choice, really…
Wait… it was a choice.
“Everyone, listen to me! They’re going to be fine, so we have to SHIFT.”
“Junpei, what are you saying?”
“Just think about it, Aoi- the fact that there’s a choice at all means that we’ve already picked both options. There’s a version where we jump and they die, and a version where we stay and they live- both of those histories already exist. They’ve existed since the moment the countdown started, so we have to SHIFT.”
“That’s some pretty abstract thinking there, Junpei…”
“Like you’re one to talk, after least year- just trust me on this one. Please.”
Aoi sighed, and nodded. It took a bit longer, but he could tell they’d convinced everyone. They would SHIFT.
In the back of his mind, he could hear echoes of the opposite- a Junpei who’d convinced everyone they needed to stay, because they’d already jumped once. Mira was furious, but couldn’t convince the rest of them. They would stay.
The voice of the announcer began to count down, and they all gathered together to wait for the ending. They needed to wait for one, and then they could jump-
They’d realized that waiting for the end wasn’t that bad, if they at least weren’t alone. Junpei’s fingers laced with Aoi’s as they stood side by side. At least at the end, they’d be able to stay with each other.
“Three… two… one…”
Everyone nodded, and their minds were catapulted across the morphogenetic field, into a new day.
“Three… two… one…”
Everyone nodded, and there were weak smiles as the explosion happened- before their minds were pulled into the cold, familiar darkness of death.
For a second, Junpei wasn’t sure which one he was, and for that brief second, it didn’t really matter.