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Nine Lives, Nine Timelines, Nine Endings

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[Begin Timeline Fragment 001.]

I’m sorry.  We did all we could.

She didn’t have to try to recall how many times she’s had to say those words to families.  Friends.  Once, just a stranger who found the poor man in the street and brought him to the ER.  Thirty-seven.  It had been thirty-six until last week, when a mother of four had bled out.  They tried everything.  They did everything correctly.  They still failed.  That was how life was sometimes.  Unfair.

As her son had reminded her, so many times, in so many timelines.

There’s no consolation in the knowledge that he had likely SHIFTed just before.  That just meant another Carlos had been drawn into this world against his will and suffered death on the infirmary table.  Maybe it wasn’t the Carlos she knew, the one who had suffered through a Decision Game with her in another timeline, worked alongside her in this one.  The one who shot an elderly version of her son in the middle of the desert.  But even if it wasn’t that one, a Carlos from somewhere was dead.

I’m sorry.

I’m sorry.  We did all we could.

Darlan had been busy with Celeste – who had slipped away three hours ago with no family to notify – so Sigma had wielded the paddles, shouting for Junpei to step back with the Ambu bag.  Akane had breathed a sigh of relief as the heart monitor started beeping normally again, but Diana had known it wasn’t over.  She had kept working on him and Sigma had to go through three more rounds with the defibrillator. 

Sinus rhythm only came back twice.

There hadn’t been any dramatic live, damn you, live yelling like on inaccurate tv shows.  No pounding on the chest.  No frantic running around.  Sigma had just told everyone to clear, placed the paddles on Carlos’s body – sloppy positioning but it didn’t matter at that point – and pressed the buttons again.  And again.  And again.

Akane and Aoi had been silent.

Junpei had stood at the head of the bed, squeezing the Ambu bag so tightly Diana found fingernail indentations in it after.

I’m sorry.

It had been a quiet death, punctuated only by muffled noises from the next room, where Darlan had been trying in vain to save the other victim of the attack.

She had thought she would have to put her hand on Sigma’s arm.  Tell him to stop.  Thought he would argue, yell, keep shocking the body – just a body, then – but after the sixth time on that third round, he had looked up at her and she knew.  He knew.

He had placed the paddles back on the cart and stepped over, beside her, as she pronounced.  They had both anticipated what was coming; her from years of experience, him from his own agonizing loss on the Moon.

Silence.  Long, painful silence.  And then all hell had broken loose.

If she were a betting woman, she would have taken odds on Junpei resorting to destruction and violence.  But was Akane who had started throwing anything in reach – pulse oximeter, scissors, gauze, bags of saline solution.  Aoi had started shouting at Junpei.  How the fuck did they find us, they must have followed you, what the fuck happened, how could this happen.  While Junpei had just stood there as if in shock.

I’m sorry.

The screaming and sound of things breaking had triggered anxiety in her, so even though it was a foolish idea, Diana had tried to calm Akane and got an elbow to her nose in response.  Blood had trickled onto her shirt and then she had to calm her husband.  It had just been an accident.  There had been a blur as Alice came in from the surgical ward to restrain Akane.  Aoi had kept yelling at an immobile Junpei.  Phi … she hadn’t known where Phi was.  Just that she was okay, unhurt, alive, safe.

We did all we could.

She sat in her car, building up the courage to go knock on Maria’s door.  Sigma had offered to come with her, but Maria had always been uneasy around him, even though he had been part of the team that pulled her out of her Reverie Syndrome.

Or maybe that was why.  Maria had said she caught glimpses of memories from the minds of people who helped her.  She knew about Diana’s first marriage, about the time he had broken her arm.  Maybe there had been something in Sigma’s mind…

I’m sorry.

We did all we could.

Had they? 

They had seen Carlos put a bullet in their son’s head.  Even if they knew why, even if they had suffered through the Decision Game like everyone else, they saw him kill their child.  Sigma and Phi had held her back as she tried to rush to Delta, his body twitching on the ground.

Then months later, Carlos was shot and his life was in their hands. Maybe the paddles weren’t placed just right.  Maybe the countershock wasn’t strong enough; she hadn’t looked at the panel to see the settings.  Maybe she hadn’t injected –

She squeezed her eyes shut and shook her head.  No.  They did all they could.  They had.

But maybe in her haste she grabbed glucose instead of –

No.

We did all we could.

I’m sorry.

What if Maria saw a piece of this future?  What if Sigma hadn’t pressed down with enough pressure to stop the bleeding?  What if she had injected him with something that hindered his recovery?  Had they subconsciously killed Maria’s brother to punish him for killing their son?

No.

They did all they could.

Sigma was at home, with Phi, because hearing this news would be bad enough.  There was no need to make it worse or more uncomfortable for Maria.

As if it could really get any worse than this.

Her face ached.  Her nose wasn’t broken, and that felt wrong, somehow.

The others were moving anything they could out of their old headquarters, so they could destroy the building and relocate to somewhere safe.

If anything was safe in this world anymore.

Diana’s hand shook as she knocked on the door.  Shook worse when Maria answered.  

“I’m sorry,” she said. 

Thirty-eight.

“We did all we could.”

She hoped they had.

 

[End Timeline Fragment. SHIFT to 002.]