A/N: Chap 29 review responses are in my forums. And...good times are over for now.
Her father wouldn't look her in the eye. Mother would, but whenever she did her gaze became distant and unfocused, as if she couldn't tolerate what she saw. They said they loved her and hugged her often. They made her favorite foods for dinner every day, and even bought her a new gaming console and television for her bedroom, despite saying for the past two years they wouldn't.
"We don't want you holed up in your room playing games instead of spending time with your family," her father insisted before, whenever she pointed out how all her friends had their own television, and Liana Peters got a new GameStation and a subscription for unlimited games.
That was before. Before Coil. Before they delivered her back with an addiction to a cocktail of drugs that she'd been completely cured of, but could never forget.
Now, almost three weeks later, she had her own television with satellite in her room, featuring hundreds of channels she no longer had any interest in watching. She had a new GameStation 3 with an expensive monthly subscription to unlimited games she no longer had any interest in playing. And she had a family that no longer insisted that she spend time with them because every time they saw her, it reminded them of their failure and their loss.
Seventy-two point eight-eight five percent chance of divorce before year end. Ninety-two percent before I reach high school.
Tragedy broke marriages. She'd read this online, and she believed it. Tragedy made existing cracks into canyons. Sometimes it made bonds stronger—a lucky few survived tragedy closer than ever. Most marriages, however, broke. They didn't always divorce, but they broke and could never be fully repaired.
Like Dinah herself. She was broken, and she didn't believe she could ever be repaired. Whenever she tried to sleep, the numbers would plow through her dreams and nightmares like bullets, long streams of probabilities for horrors that left her gasping and crying.
For the first few nights, her mother and father put a baby monitor in her room and came rushing in every time she woke. After a week, the battery died and they just forgot to replace it. She woke in the middle of the night, shivering from the pool of sweat that soaked into the sheets of her bed, and stared at the ceiling praying for release.
Eighty eight percent chance Mage could assist.
She spent two nights at PRT headquarters while their thinkers classified her power. (Thinker 2/9 – Precog.) They offered her a place in the Wards not as a hero, but as a PRT-sponsored Thinker. She considered it (Seventy-two point five five eight percent chance identity compromised and abducted again) but told her parents she didn't want to do it just then.
They took her out to her favorite restaurant and ordered her a lasagna and after a large fudge brownie with melting vanilla ice cream drizzled with caramel, as if it were her birthday. They didn't understand why she cried after a few bites and stopped eating. They asked her, almost begged her to eat it, but she couldn't.
The fudge and ice cream felt cold and warm and gooey, but she couldn't taste the sweet hardly at all. Ninety-nine point eight-eight two percent chance hypogeusia caused by trigger event and forced drug abuse is permanent. Mage's potion couldn't fix everything.
She switched schools two weeks later with special tutoring sessions to help her make up for the lost time. "You'll see, honey," father told her. "Once we get back into our routine, everything will be better."
She didn't need her power to know he was lying.
Her power gave her little hope for things to get better. She knew that Mage was her best chance, but her parents and her uncle firmly sided with the PRT's position regarding the villains of Coven. She knew her cousin Rory was a cape in the Protectorate, and knew that influenced her family's position.
Again, she didn't need her power to know they were all wrong.
When she saw Vista in her civilian garb in the school, numbers began to flow through her head so fast and hard it hurt. She ignored the pain when Vista sat down and introduced herself as Missy Biron.
Looking at this girl who was a cape and also her own age, Dinah felt her power kicking out numbers. Eighty-two point six-five-five percent chance Vista defects to Coven before year end.
"Can I ask you something?" Dinah asked. She forced down a few tasteless chips because she knew she had to eat, though the act had become one of drudgery and loss.
"Sure?" Missy sounded eager to help.
"If…I mean…could you get me to Mage?"
It did not surprise Dinah that Missy didn't know where he was, but as the two sat and spoke Dinah could feel the probabilities increasing exponentially that Vista would find out and help her.
Panacea came to her home a few days after that, requested by her uncle to make sure she was okay. Dinah didn't like Panacea that much, but only because the older girl was so terrified of her own power she had wrapped herself in a cocoon of doubt and paranoia that made her very bad company, and gave her a terrible temper.
"You're not eating enough," she said.
Panacea winced. "I…I know. I'm sorry, it's a perception issue, not just the nerves in your tongue. Mage's potion fixed your addiction, but not that. I wish I could do more. Perhaps you should switch to nutrition shakes?"
"Okay, I'll try that," Dinah said, as much to get Panacea out of her home as to acknowledge it was actually a good idea.
That night, Dinah did not sleep at all. She stared unseeing at her ceiling as numbers burned in her head until her whole head throbbed from it. She glanced at her clock and saw it was after midnight. It was May 15th and…and…ninety-seven point five five percent chance of Endbringer attack before dinner.
Tears hung in her eyes but she didn't get out of bed. She considered going to her parents, but knew that wouldn't change anything. They, like her uncle, lived in Captain's Hill, a low-slung mountain far enough away from the coast that they would most likely be spared the worst of any Endbringer attack, or at least be far enough away to escape unscathed.
The numbers ran in her head. If she left, Coil would recapture her. He was waiting in Boston, consolidating his emergency assets and just waiting to finish what he started with her. If she stayed in her house, she would die. That probability was close to 100%. It wouldn't be the Endbringer, but the angry refugees from the rest of the city who were going to swamp Captain's Hill.
Her best bet was Coven. They saved her once, they could do it again.
She went to school that morning as if nothing was wrong, though she made a point of hugging her parents. "Bye, Mommy. Bye, Dad. I love you."
It made her heart ache to see how her hugs made them so happy, and how fleeting their happiness was. She could hear her father raising his voice and her mother start to cry as the PRT agent assigned to her walked her out the door.
Lunch for the sixth-graders came at eleven in the staggered lunch schedules of their middle school. She forced herself to eat, washing the bland, tasteless chicken nuggets down with water, while looking desperately for Missy. When she found her, even though her power told her it was a high likelihood she would be there, she couldn't help but sigh in relief.
"You look like shit, Dinah," Missy said. Missy had a foul mouth, but Dinah didn't mind. She knew that Missy was her friend—she didn't need power to know that, but had used it anyway to make sure.
"Endbringer attack in two hours or less," Dinah said with a shrug. "Kept me up all night thinking about it."
"Yeah, that would suck," Missy said with a laugh as she sat. Only to blink, lose her smile, and look Dinah in the face. "What?"
"In two hours or less." Dinah met the gaze squarely. "I'm scared. It's going to be really bad. We need to go to Mage. We need to go now."
"Shit." Missy's hands shook as she looked down at her tray of food. "My costume is in the principal's office."
Dinah stood without hesitation. "I'll come with you."
It actually made Dinah feel better when Missy took her hand and the two ran out of the cafeteria. Two of the teachers on duty called for them to return to their seats, but Missy ignored their indignant shouts and ran for Principal Lachey's office. There were a few perks to being a Ward—ignoring teachers in an emergency was one of them.
The two girls reached the front office and ignored the two parents and three students waiting to check in or check out. The old senior secretary knew Missy's secret and waved her on in.
"Thanks, Missus Phillips!" Missy called.
They rushed into Principal Lachey's open office.
"Sorry, emergency!" Missy called.
"Close the door, then, Miss Biron," Principal Lachey said. "Miss Alcott, how are you doing?"
"Fine, thank you," Dinah said by rote. She said nothing more as Missy disappeared into a private bathroom. Just minutes later, she returned in her Vista costume, complete with her visor helmet.
"Do you think it will hurt to tell her?" Vista asked Dinah, while nodding to the principal.
"Zero probability it makes things worse," Dinah said. "Sixty percent chance it saves a hundred or more lives."
"That means it's okay?"
"Cool." Vista looked at the principal, who while not really all that nice at least tried to be fair. "Yeah, you might want to evacuate the school to the nearest Endbringer shelter. You might want to go now."
The principal paled the color of bone and looked as if she might faint.
"Ninety-nine point nine-eight-two-percent chance the attack occurs within eighty minutes. Ninety-nine point seven-nine percent chance of Leviathan." Dinah felt a drop of hot moisture run down her nose and a surge of pain right behind her eyes. She wiped the moisture away to see red smeared on her nose.
"Can you get me to Harry?" she asked Vista.
"Yeah, come on!"
Vista didn't care about the blood. She grabbed Dinah's hand and rushed them out of the startled, terrified principal's office through a dedicated back door that let her bypass the administrative offices and all the other students. They emerged onto the parking lot which looked out over the city. While the sun shone brightly overhead, Dinah could see a tiny dark cloud on the edge of the horizon. From that distance it didn't look like it was moving, but her power told her it was moving far, far too fast.
Suddenly the world changed focus. It seemed to Dinah almost like the world itself was a zoom lens, and Vista with a wave of her hand had just increased the magnification in a line to the cable company building, bringing the edge of its roof almost to the tip of the parking lot. She tugged at Dinah's hands, and suddenly when the world reverted to normal they stood on top of a building two miles away from Captain's Hill.
Vista removed a coin that had the queen of England's profile on it and rubbed it.
"There!" she said, pointing into a distance Dinah couldn't follow. The world stretched again and suddenly they were on the top of the six-story Magnate Shipping building. A second later they were on the street half a mile away, running toward a blank stop that made her probabilities fail. It was a good headache, though.
Vista continued to hold Dinah's hand as she pounded on a door. "Harry, let me…oh shit! Dammit, Skitter, that scared me!"
Dinah had to fight back a scream when she saw the bug person appear out of nowhere beside her.
"Vista?" The bug person's voice sounded incredibly creepy, like a thousand crickets orchestrating their chirps in such a way as to emulate human speech, without actually being human speech. "Dinah?"
"Endbringer attack, like in…"
"Seventy minutes," Dinah supplied.
"…Seventy minutes," Vista continued.
The bug person disappeared and a moment later Mage appeared with a pop, but not in costume. Instead, it was Harry Bailey in a pair of blue jeans and a plaid button up. He had dirt on his hands and a little smudge on his cheeks. He looked intently at the girls, but glanced over their heads at the dark cloud growing on the horizon.
"Right. Both of you, take my hand."
He offered and Dinah accepted, letting go of Misty. Touching his hand, the probabilities smoothed and changed. One hundred percent chance he would try to protect her. Once hundred percent chance he would try to protect them all. Sixty-eight percent chance he would succeed.
Her eyes widened as two large, beautifully plastered white buildings appeared, each in the general shape of a warehouse but built with materials no mere warehouse could afford. The front door opened and they rushed into a wide open space lined in large metal shelves rising two floors up and filled with crates and crates of supplies.
Probabilities shattered; her power had no purchase with what she saw. It was impossible, and it was that impossibility that convinced her it was safe.
"You were waiting for this?" Vista asked. "You expected it?"
"Dinah dropped a few hints, remember?" Harry said. "Besides, we're contracting with the three largest employers now to offer shelter. Tattletale's probably already reaching out to them. Come on, we'll get you two in an apartment before it gets too crowded."
Vista helped by bringing the apartments at the end of the warehouse closer.
"Okay, that's cool," Harry declared. He rushed them up the stairs.
Tattletale emerged from her room/office. "Suit up, Mage. Dinah, I'm so glad you could make it. Do you want us to call your parents to let them know you're okay?"
It didn't surprise her that Tattletale knew her parents' number. She nodded; there was zero chance they would try to recover her with less than an hour before an Endbringer attack.
Harry led them down a hallway to the last room on the end. It held a small bathroom with a shower and two sets of bunkbeds. "You'll probably end up sharing, but it's yours for the duration. Vista, would you be willing to help us evacuate civilians?"
"Yes!" Vista said. She then turned and hugged Dinah. "Thanks for getting me. You be safe, okay?"
Dinah nodded. "Okay."
The two disappeared. Rather than stay put, Dinah drifted up the hall to Tattletale's office that just happened to be where the teenaged Thinker lived. She looked over her shoulder at Dinah and waived her over before putting the phone on speaker.
Instantly she heard her father yelling. "…Alexandria herself rip you apart for daring take my little girl again, you cold hearted…"
"Dad, it's Dinah," she said, cutting off.
"Dinah, sweetie, are you okay?"
"Ninety-two percent chance I'd be kidnapped or killed if I stayed with you," she said. "Eighty five percent chance you or mom would die in the process. If we stayed in the house, one hundred percent chance we'd die because of angry refugees. This was my best hope for survival. I asked Vista to bring me; she's here too helping Mage evacuate civilians. Please go. Go up to New York, you'll be safe there. I promise I'm okay."
"Darling, we can't leave you!" Her mother must have picked up.
"I left you," Dinah said, though even to her own ears it sounded cold. "I had to. To save you both. I'm sorry. I have to cut ties. To survive. Best probability for us all to live. Good bye."
She backed away but didn't leave the room as she hugged herself.
"Mr. and Mrs. Alcott, this is Tattletale again. I know the Protectorate is not a fan of Coven, but I can promise you that we'll do everything we can to keep Dinah safe. We didn't go through all the trouble of rescuing her from that corrupt PRT director just to let her get hurt now. You have our number, if we keep phone and services after the attack you can call any time. Otherwise we'll try to get messages to you as possible. I have to go now."
She hung up and then immediately dialed another number, still on the speaker. "PRT ENE, how can I direct your call?"
"This is Tattletale with Coven. Endbringer alert. I need Piggot or Armsmaster on the line right now."
Dinah was surprised at how calm the voice sounded. "Please hold."
Less than a second later a harsh-sounding woman answered. Dinah recognized her as Director Piggot. "This is Piggot."
"Director, Tattletale. Dinah Alcott has sought shelter in our base. An Endbringer attack is eminent. Dinah?"
"Nine-nine percent chance Leviathan. Nine-nine percent chance he reaches us within sixty minutes." She wiped more blood from her nose.
"We were aware of the possibility," Piggot said. Over the phone it sounded like she was choking on her words. "Thank you for the notice. Can we expect Coven to help?"
"As long as the Truce is in effect, yes. Our first priority is a contractual responsibility to our clients, after which we will assist." Tattletale disconnected before turning to face Dinah. She tilted her head, and within Dinah's mind the numbers flowed into a realization that Tattletale understood. The older woman slowly reached out a hand, which Dinah took, and pulled her into a gentle, comforting hug that brought tears to Dinah's eyes.
"He'll protect you," Tattletale whispered. "We'll protect you. As far as we're concerned, you're a member of Coven now."
Dinah nodded. "You're going to fight?"
"Once we get the refugees inside, yeah," she said. "As much as I can. I'm a Thinker, I can at least help coordinate. Mage will fight. Skitter and Genesis will both fight. Canary will be here, though. You've met her."
Dinah nodded. The sweet, beautiful woman with the feathers in her bright yellow hair. "You're scared."
"Hell yes," Tattletale said. "That's the terrible thing about my power. I know the odds of dying as well as your power could tell me. I know it for a fact. But I'm going to go anyway. This place, though, it'll protect you."
At the far end of the massive warehouse, a wide set of hanger doors opened to reveal a huge crowd of terrified people, many of them clutching children or bags as they rushed in. Harry's voice boomed out over them.
"Make your way to the stairs at the far left of the structure, to the lower level and just find a space below. Make your way to the back and keep in mind we have a lot of people coming!"
Lots and lots and lots of people. "Where are they all from?" Dinah asked.
"Magnate Shipping, Seaboard Railroad and the Dockworker's Association," Tattletale said. "At least, in the first group. The second will be parents who had to get their kids from school, then any stragglers, though this close to the coast…"
Outside, rain began falling in such powerful torrents that made the windows look more like submarine ports. People ran even faster inside, almost tripping over each other in their desperation to escape the approaching disaster.
Dinah lost track of Harry, only to see him appear with a handful of kids. He disappeared again, and a second later appeared once again with more kids. He was saving the kids of the people rushing in from their local schools, wherever those schools might be. "Does he have a distance limit to his teleportation?" she asked.
"About a continent," Tattletale said. "He could probably cross the Pacific, but his method isn't stable. He can hurt himself physically, and others, if he's not careful."
He appeared suddenly in Lisa's room. Somehow, sometime, he'd changed into his magic costume with his facemask, which resisted the rain.
"I saw the Protectorate signal at PRT headquarters," he said. "Truce is in effect. Skitter is coming but Jess decided to stay and help with the refugees. Are you sure you don't want to stay here with Dinah?"
Tattletale shook her head, though Dinah knew there was a hundred percent chance that Tattletale very much wanted to stay in the shelter. She wouldn't though. That was also a 100% certainty.
Mage knelt down by Dinah and gave her a hug. "If it gets too bad, or if you see any cracks in the walls, go downstairs, okay? The protection is designed to contract rather than collapse. It gets stronger as it gets smaller. The center of the room down stairs will be the strongest point in the building, probably in the whole city."
Dinah nodded and then hugged him, though she didn't speak. He hugged her back, like she knew he would, and it felt just as reassuring as she'd hoped.
He stood and with Tattletale by his side turned and left the room. Dinah drifted out onto the balcony and watched as Canary and several men and women in frumpy business suits guided and directed the refugees into the warehouse. Minutes passed with the inexorable march of inevitability. Outside they heard a loud boom that shook the ground under them, but not the building itself. Then they all heard a distant sound that Dinah couldn't identify at first.
It grew louder and louder, like the Doppler effect of an on-coming motor bike, until it shifted from a rumble to a deep, animalistic roar.
"Be safe," Dinah whispered. She let the probabilities fall away as she opted for a simple, heartfelt prayer.