"You bet your green ass, I can," was the only answer I could give.
The Phoenix, or at least this recreated version of her, glared at me, and her eyes flickered for a brief tick of the clock. "When asking for someone's help, who has the ability to tear you apart at a molecular level, it is best to be polite. And best not to look edible."
I looked down at the floor, humbled and more than a little scared. This person was teetering on the edge of madness, with Jean, the Phoenix, and who knows how many other voices all screaming in her head at once. I didn't know who I was even talking to, with any of the three main choices being possibilities. She was focused for thhe moment, thanks to Chris' guilt, and her sense for helping us out, but that could change at the drop of a hat. What was once a sane, rational person could become our worst enemy.
With her mind focused for now, I took advantage of the situation.
"Who am I speaking to," I asked. "You're none of the regulars who dress up as Phoenix that I know."
She shook her head, "No, I'm not. This is my first year here. My name is Ashley."
"How appropriate," I retorted.
"Don't be smart. I don't know how long I have. I came here with this stupid costume I bought online, then Chris got hit on, and the next thing I know, my head is on fire."
Chris interrupted, almost forgotten behind us, "Literally."
"Yes, literally. But all the voices I suddenly heard, crying out. Everyone was so afraid, in so much pain, and they were getting louder, and more numerous as the minds doubled up upon themselves. I can hear Barbara inside you, Chris. Or you inside her. It's hard to tell which is which now."
Chris could only nod, knowing what she described from her own experiences, imaginging what it must be like to have everyone's voices in her head, and then some.
"I was, Jean was overwhelmed by the thoughts, drowning in their music, as each symphony collided together, becoming a cacophony. If this had been her true form, she might have gained more control, and been able to act, but it was too much all at once, too suddenly for her to erect shields. Jean took the brunt of it, and I took the rest. The Phoenix couldn't fight past the host body's confusion, and I made my way here, in a daze, trying not to destroy everything just to make it all be quiet."
She took a deep breath, as even the memories of the event was almost too much for her.
"All those voices. Too many, I tried to get away. I came here, but it still wasn't enough. And then you." Her eyes flared again, bright orange, burning bright. "You came and shouted. I could have heard you from the other side of the planet."
"Yeah, I wish I'd thought of it earlier, it would have saved a lot of trouble to try that trick a few hotels ago."
Ashley gave a heavy sigh, and flopped down on the bed, staring at the corner where I'd found her, sitting there with her back to me. "No, it was good that you waited until you did. With all the voices downstairs, and around, I still was only just able to pull your lone voice out of the chorus. It was so distant, but I heard our name, and focused through the refrain, and there was the song, at the heart of it all."
She was starting to lose her focus in it all. While Ashley spoke, I got off the bed and had walked around in front of her, and her eyes were staring off, and yet looking straight at me. She was getting lost in the sea of words invading her head.
"Ashley, you need to focus, on us, on the here and now."
She looked back at me as if she had always been doing so, "I'm here, I'm here because I hear, and I hear with my ears, and with my mind."
I just nodded, humouring her ravings for now. "You said earlier that you could disassemble me at the molecular level. You know how to do that, right?"
"Of course," was all she said, as if I had asked if she could raise her right hand. She had the knowledge of the Phoenix buried in there, a part of her that wasn't her, but she could use it, if needed.
Now came the important question, the one upon which everyone's fate hung, at least every fate of those who'd worn a costume today.
"Can you reconstruct them too? Can you put everyone back the way they were before the magic spell altered things?"
At first, I wasn't sure if she'd heard me, or her mind had gone for another swim within the ocean of voices that were all around her, when she only needed to listen to one voice at that time.
Just as I was about ready to repeat myself, to try again, or at least try and bring her back to the hotel room we were sitting in, she spoke at last.
"No. What you want from me, I cannot do."
And just like that, my plan was crushed. My legs went with it, and I collapsed to the floor, landing on my rear, and my head rebounded against the chest of drawers behind me. I was too dazed by the crushing blow to everything we'd tried to do that day to even notice.
Chris came over from where she had been waiting, to check on me as my own eyes stared off into the distance. I couldn't even muster up the strength to cry, or shout, or just rage against the outcome/
The one redhead turned to the other sitting on the bed, while keeping one hand on my shoulder. My head lolled to the side, trying to rest against the appendage offered by my friend.
"There has to be something you can do," Chris implored. "If you can do what the Phoenix can do, if you are the Phoenix, and can do what Martin says you can do, there must be something within your vast power, to fix this. He's never wrong about these things."
Ashley's hands hung limp between her knees, as her arms rest against her legs. She looked down at her golden gloved palms for a long time.
"I don't know. I don't know what reality is which, and who should be where. Some I do, some I don't. Others Jean knows, then there are some none of us know. There are too many voices, all wanting to live, all claiming they are who they say they are. The worst thing is, they're all correct. I can't decide which realities are to be saved, and which shouldn't be, it's all so confusing. No one could know who goes where, who lives and who dies. No one knows all that."
A smile broke upon Chris' face. "You're wrong, someone does know all that stuff. Martin's the greatest repository of useless information." She gave me a poke in the side. "Isn't that right, Martin?"
I sat up, and nodded my head, bobbing it up and down like it was a kid jumping for joy on Christmas day. "I may be a little rusty, but I know my pop culture. I'll be the first to admit I don't know it all, but we can fix most of them, more than you could do alone."
The feeling of something brushing up against my head could be felt again, as Ashley poked into my mind. It was as if a feather was brushing against my cheek, just a light touch, a tickling of my thoughts.
"It's like looking through a library. This could take forever," Ashley said, looking off into the distance again, but I somehow knew she was reading my thoughts in an almost literal sense. "Picking through these, trying to find out which goes where, even at the speed of thought, such work to do."
I sat up, crossing my legs, as I scootched across the carpet and got closer to the Phoenix. "Then don't do it alone."
Ashley looked down at me, as I looked up. One of her hands hung in the air as if she was flipping the pages of a book and had been interrupted. "What do you mean?"
I reached out and took her hand, and the flood of thoughts pushed against my own mind again. I was prepared for it this time, and forced it back. Ashley helped, I could sense the voices being pulled back, as she fought to not broadcast with as much strength as she had before. Being untrained, she couldn't stop it all, just like she couldn't block it all out for herself, and the beings inside her were still out of the way.
Still, even with all that, I winced from the sensation, a fraction of what she was going through, and still she was managing to speak with us, and offer her help.
"You don't have to do this alone. It will take you time to find which of my thoughts will help with each case, but that's the dumb way to do things."
"Remember what I said about being polite," she glowered down at me again, and let her concentration slip, filling my head with screams from downstairs. She claimed it was an accident, but we all knew better.
When the thoughts subsided again, I continued. After I shook my head and refocused, like I had just woken from a groggy sleep and was trying to remember where I was. "Which isn't to say that you're dumb, not at all. Just that there is a better way."
The voices faded away even more, and I tightened my grip on Ashley's hand. "No one knows my thoughts better than I do. Let me be your guide. Let me see everything down there, and I can tell you who is who, and who they shouldn't be."
"You would do the sorting."
She was getting the picture. "I'd do that, and you would do the hard part of restoring everyone to the way they should be."
"It might work," Ashley whispered, considering the idea.
I squeezed her hand, "We'll do it together. And what I don't know, Chris can help with, especially with the anime people. There might be a few we can't fix, but if we save them for last, maybe we can sort out their reality from the fantasy one by one, picking them apart with their help. With everyone else fixed, you should be able to focus better, with fewer voices."
Ashley nodded, then looked down, squeezing my hand back. "I can see it in your thoughts, what you're thinking, what you want to ask next. No, I can't bring the dead back to life."
My grip on her hand slipped a little, shaken by the sudden answering of the unspoken query.
"Some of them, maybe, I might be able to breathe life into. The ones who were frozen, at least. The victims of the zombies, the ones who weren't turned, and just eaten, are gone to us. The broken people, those who have been destroyed, I think they are lost.
I gave a nod. "Just do what you can. The sooner we do this, the less we have to worry about that, right?"
"Except for one. The only person in any real danger if we do this will be you. You are going to give me complete access to your thoughts, you have to, and the powers flowing through us could burn out your mind. I'm on the edge of that myself, but the changes prepared me somewhat for the power I'd be weilding. You're just a human. Can you put your own life on the line, now?"