WARNING: The following story contains spoilers for Zero Time Dilemma
Synopsis: Phi finds herself in a rather awkward position when Diana asks her for a favour – babysitting.
The harsh ringing of Phi’s phone stirred her from sleep. Instantly awake, she switched her bedside lamp on, put on her glasses and grabbed the phone, assuming it was an emergency call from work. Who else would be calling her at 5 o’clock in the morning?
Not that she minded, though. The only reason she was taking the day off was because Akane had found her asleep on her desk and insisted that Phi was overworked and needed a break. Phi was never good with just “relaxing.” But now it looked like something had come up, and they needed her help.
She glanced at her phone and was surprised to see Diana’s name on the screen. Phi hesitated. The two hadn’t exactly spoken to each other a lot since what happened in Nevada. Sigma had accused her of avoiding Diana. Phi preferred to think she had simply been too busy.
She briefly considered ignoring the call but thought better of it. Diana had always respected Phi’s space, so if she was calling her this early in the morning it was probably an emergency. She clicked to accept the call.
“Hello?” said Phi, pretending, for some reason, that she didn’t know who was calling.
“Oh, Phi!” Diana’s voice did not sound like that of someone awake at 5am though, considering she was a nurse, she was probably used to early mornings. “I’m really sorry for waking you!”
“It’s no problem,” said Phi with genuine sincerity. A small smile slowly crept on her face. “What’s up?”
“Well, uh, I’m afraid I need your help with something. Normally I wouldn’t bother you but it just happened so quickly and you were the first person I thought of and –”
“Diana, slow down. You’re panicking.”
“Just tell me what you need.” There was a slight pause, as if Diana was hesitant to actually tell her. “Diana, whatever it is, I’m sure I can help.”
“… I need you to babysit for me.”
Phi nearly dropped her phone. It was her turn to be silent, something Diana immediately picked up on.
“The hospital only called me a few minutes ago,” she continued hurriedly, “There’s some emergency and they’re understaffed at the moment, so they need as many of us as possible. I know it’s rather awkward to ask considering the… circumstances.”
Phi had to hold back a laugh. Awkward didn’t even begin to describe it. She attempted to mask her anxiety with humour.
“Are you sure that’s a good idea? Being in the same room as her could cause a time paradox or something.”
“Phi, please, I wouldn’t ask if there was someone else,” pleaded Diana.
“What about Sigma?” Hell, literally anybody else would make more sense, Phi thought.
“He stayed at work overnight and I can’t get hold of him. Phi, I am begging you.”
Phi bit her lip. She really didn’t want to do it, but Diana’s desperation was getting to her. She couldn’t stand the thought of her being upset.
With a heavy sigh, she responded, “I’ll be there as soon as I can.”
By the time Phi got to Diana’s apartment, the morning sun was already peeking over the rooftops. Diana herself was standing in the doorway, wringing her hands. Her anxiousness instantly faded once she saw Phi. She cried her name with joy as she pulled her into a hug. While it was brief, Phi reciprocated, allowing herself to take in that warm and loving scent Diana always had. In that moment, it was like all of her worries had melted away.
“I really appreciate this,” said Diana as she pulled away.
“It’s nothing, really. You don’t need to keep thanking me.” Phi held her forearm nervously. “So, what exactly do you need me to do?”
“Hopefully not much. They’re both still sound asleep,” Diana led her in, welcoming Phi into the cosy-looking apartment. It was simple; nothing grandiose about it but Phi instantly felt at home there, despite only having visited once for the housewarming party.
“I’ll only be gone for a few hours,” Diana continued as she grabbed her handbag. “With any luck, Sigma will have got my messages and be home soon as well.” She gestured to the walk-in kitchen area. “If they do wake up, I’ve left instructions on the fridge door. Oh, and there’s plenty of food for you if you ever get hungry. Toiletries are in the bathroom, it’s the cupboard on the right.”
“Wow, look at you, Super-Mom,” said Phi with a cheeky grin. Diana blushed.
“Thanks, again, Phi.” She began to make her way out of the apartment but stopped in the doorway. “If there’s ever an emergency, don’t hesitate to call me or Sigma.”
“Relax, I’m sure I’ll be fine.”
“You’ve got our emergency contacts as well, right?”
“And if you want, I think Sigma left some takeaway menus on the kitchen side.”
“Did you have breakfast before you got here? I think I’ve still got some muffins as well…”
“Oh my God!” Phi rolled her eyes with faux annoyance, “I’ll be fine, Mom!”
There was an awkward pause. Diana obviously noticed too, her mouth slightly ajar. For a second, she seemed to smile, but then she was out the door before Phi could really tell.
“I’ll see you later!” was all she said, shutting the door behind her, leaving Phi alone with her own awkwardness. She walked over to the plain white kitchen counter and rested her head against it in embarrassment. It wasn’t like Phi didn’t see Diana as her mother, but the two could hardly have a normal mother-daughter relationship as they were.
The irony was almost hilarious. Before, Phi had always wondered who her parents were. Now she had them both, but she couldn’t bring herself to truly “be” with them. These were the kinds of thoughts Phi managed to keep locked away because she dedicated so much time to her work. Already she was beginning to regret agreeing to this, but she could hardly leave now.
After finally prying herself from the counter, she wandered into the nursery, where two cribs sat at opposite ends of the room. Makeshift baby mobiles were suspended over both of them. The wallpaper was an almost obnoxious bright yellow, covered with drawings of cute and cuddly rabbits. Phi allowed herself a quiet chuckle as she approached the crib on her left and peered into it.
And there she was – the other her. Little baby Phi, sleeping soundly. A tuft of red hair already rested on her tiny head. The surreal nature of the situation was not lost on Phi. She had joked earlier about causing a paradox but that wouldn’t actually happen, would it?
Before Phi could stop herself, her hand, guided by curiosity, carefully lowered and softly stroked baby Phi’s cheek. Nothing happened. No explosion, no bizarre phenomenon; the baby stirred slightly, but remained within the confines of sleep. Everything was completely normal.
Phi had to choke back a laugh. Tension she didn’t realise she had been carrying vanished, and she allowed herself to lean on the side of the crib, fondly staring down at her baby counterpart.
“You’re so lucky,” she whispered, relieved that this other her would never have to go through the things she’d had to. No SHIFTing, no death games, no apocalypses. Just a completely normal life filled with family outings, school drama and embarrassing parents.
Phi began to wonder if the baby would grow up to be completely different. She’d probably still be really smart; Sigma will make sure of that. Maybe she’d keep her natural hair colour this time. Or maybe she’d dye it for different reasons. Maybe go through a rebellious phase in her teens, start sneaking out at night to do normal teenager things, not like Phi knew what ‘normal teenager things’ were. This tiny child could be a proper troublemaker at school if she was anything like as sassy as Phi herself.
Maybe spending time with her baby self wasn’t so bad? She could be cool Aunt Phi, the one who seemed to always understand exactly what her niece was feeling. The one who could be called for advice she couldn’t ask from her parents; the one she might look up to and want to be like when she was older. Was it egotistical to think that? Phi decided not to think about it too much, for once.
Her train of thought was abruptly derailed, though, when she began to hear a noise coming from the other crib. It was faint, but Phi could make out a slight murmuring. The tension suddenly came back, her shoulders stiffening and her heartbeat quickening. The rational part of her brain commanded her to move to the crib and check on the other baby, but her legs remained rooted to the spot.
Why couldn’t she move? What was there to worry about? Phi knew the reason why, but didn’t want to think about it. Eventually, she was able to force herself towards the crib. Despite only being a few feet away, it seemed to take an eternity to cross the room. Every step she took made her heart beat even faster. A chill swarmed her body and she desperately tried to stop herself from shaking.
She reached the crib and slowly peered down, breathing as if she had just run a marathon. There, squirming slightly, was Delta. Tiny, harmless Delta. His little cheeks were flushed and he was letting out small whimpers, as if he were having a bad dream.
Phi’s concerns changed. Was this normal for Delta? Was this even normal for babies? Baby Phi was still sleeping soundlessly, oblivious to her twin brother’s discomfort.
“Hey,” Phi whispered, attempting to sound as comforting as possible as she reached into the crib, intending to pick Delta up to comfort him. “What’s wrong with you?”
Her hands were only inches away when Delta’s eyes shot open. Purple irises bored into her, and she felt her heart stop.
“Life is simply unfair, don’t you think?”
Suddenly, Phi found herself back in the incinerator. The faint sound of Sigma’s screams barely penetrating the thick, metal walls. The roar of the fire. The flames licking her body. The smell of burning hair and flesh, the intense, blinding heat.
When her eyes fluttered open again, she was no longer trapped within her steel coffin, but Diana was knelt in front of her, tears streaming down her face and landing on Sigma’s bloodied, lifeless body.
“GET AWAY!” Diana was now screaming at Phi, her eyes filled with nothing but fear and hatred. “Stay away from me, you murderer!”
A sharp, stabbing pain lanced up Phi’s leg. She winced and looked down to see Mira lying at her feet, having plunged a syringe into her calf, an evil grin plastered on her face.
“Well? Do you… like it?” Mira spoke as if she was about to laugh, “My present… to… you…” Her body went limp as the last bit of life in her faded, leaving Phi filled with fear and dread. She could feel the virus coursing through her veins. The virus that could kill 6 billion.
She heard a buzzing sound above her and looked up. A giant, black cloud hung in the sky – except it wasn’t a cloud. It was a swarm of flies, attracted by the mountains of rotting corpses that surrounded her. Phi swung around, wanting nothing more than for the horrific visions to end, and there he stood.
An elderly, pale-faced man wearing round, blood-red glasses. As Phi stared in abject horror and shock, the man removed his glasses to reveal a pair of purple eyes. Delta. Brother. Zero. His initial blank expression slowly shifted into a twisted grin.
“Life is simply unfair, don’t you think?” he repeated.
In that moment, Phi’s fear was replaced with unyielding rage. Any sense of rationality had long since gone and she was left with raw, savage hate. A hate that made her want to wrap her hands around the man’s neck and choke the life out of him; to make him suffer for everything he put her, Sigma, Diana and everyone else through.
It was the sound of a baby’s cries that pulled Phi out of it. When she came to, Delta was bawling. It took a moment for her to realise she was gripping the side of the crib with enough force to turn her knuckles white. Panic flooded her once more as Delta continued to scream as hard as his tiny lungs could allow him. Somehow, baby Phi remained peacefully asleep.
“Oh my God,” muttered Phi. Had she done this? Had her expression been so hateful? Toward something that wasn’t even old enough to comprehend anything outside of food and sleep? She immediately scooped the screaming child, bouncing him lightly in her arms, completely unsure as to whether it would help or not.
“Shush, it’s okay, it’s okay,” she said, albeit with some uncertainty. Delta only continued to cry. Phi remembered the instructions Diana had left her and quickly returned to the kitchen. On the fridge were several sheets of paper, attached by cat-shaped magnets. Phi hurriedly scanned them, looking for anything that might calm Delta down. It didn’t take her long to find it.
From Diana and Sigma’s bedroom, she retrieved a tiny music box – a bluebird in a cage – and returned to the nursery. Laying Delta back in his crib, she wound it tight, and placed it next to the infant’s head. As the soft melody began to play, Delta’s cries slowly abated. Phi let out a sigh of relief as he calmed down and returned to the gentle bliss of sleep.
Phi watched over him for a while longer, watching his chest rise and fall with each quiet breath. When the music came to a stop, Phi wound it back up and played it once more. Whether it was for her sake or the baby’s, she didn’t know, but she did know that a guilty feeling was gripping her stomach. At the same time, though, she was kind of glad. Seeing him weep like that had helped her come to a realisation, something she wished had come a long time ago.
“Where are the babies? … There they are!” Both baby Phi and Delta chuckled as Phi pulled her hands away from her face. “Oh, wait, they’re gone again… There they are!” The babies giggled again, their high-chairs shaking ever so slightly from their excitement. Phi was a little bit shocked at how easily entertained they could be. She felt like a bit of an idiot, but she was determined to keep them happy.
“Having fun there?”
Phi jumped, quickly turning to see Sigma and Diana standing there, clearly trying not to laugh. She hadn’t even heard them come in. Had she really been so distracted? She turned her head away so they wouldn’t see her face flush with embarrassment.
“Everything okay?” she asked, desperate to shift the conversation in any other direction.
“Yes, thank you,” replied Diana. She approached her babies and greeted them with quick kisses on the forehead. “The situation at work got sorted sooner than I expected and Sigma picked me up. I hope these two weren’t too much trouble.”
“Oh no, they were fine,” Phi assured her. “I’ve fed them already and changed their diapers. The instructions really helped, though I don’t think I did the best job at it.”
“I’m sure they’ll be fine,” said Diana, her focus still on the cooing babies. Phi decided to leave them to it and made her way to the kitchen area, where Sigma was helping himself to a soda.
“You sure you’re OK?” asked Sigma, looking rather concerned. “Last I checked…”
“I know, I know,” interrupted Phi, “But Diana was desperate and I wanted to help. Besides, I’m glad I did.”
Sigma raised a quizzical eyebrow as she explained. “I realised that… he’s not Zero.” She shot a quick glance over at Delta. Sigma opened his mouth as if to speak but chose to let Phi carry on. “They may be the same person but… they’re also not. This time around could be different. It should be different. It’s a different world for him. He has you two, after all.”
She and Sigma shared a soft grin. “And if you two ever need help again, maybe you could… give me a call. I-if I’m available of course.” She blushed again and looked away. “I’d like to be here and take care of him… of them more often since, well, we’re all family, right?”
For a brief moment, she saw Sigma’s smile broaden, but his expression quickly changed to a suspicious glare.
“Who are you and what have you done with the real Phi? She’s never this nice.”
“Oh, shove it, old man!”
“Now, Phi,” chimed in Diana, who still hadn’t turned around, “Don’t be rude to your father.”
Unable to contain himself, Sigma burst out laughing. Phi turned redder than could be humanly possible, though even she couldn’t stop herself eventually joining in. And for the first time in a really long while, everything felt normal.
- This is the first fan-fiction I’ve written in over five years. I used to write a lot during my teenage years (mostly Sonic the Hedgehog and Super Smash Bros. related) before growing out of it.
- This fan-fic serves as an epilogue to Zero Time Dilemma. The reason I wrote it in the first place is because Phi, Diana and Sigma were the only characters not to get any sort of epilogue in the game itself, which really bugged me since I really wanted to know what happened to them afterwards following the big reveal about them all being related.
- Since the game gave me very little info regarding Phi, Diana and Sigma’s whereabouts after ZTD, most of this story’s context comes from my own assumptions/head-canon. In case you’re interested, I like to believe that Phi and Sigma joined Crash Keys as well to help find the terrorist Zero mentioned, whereas Diana returned to the hospital she worked at originally. Diana and Sigma would also move in together and eventually have children, though they’re not married yet.
- Another potential title for the story was Phi’s Babysitting Paradox. I went with Phi’s Dilemma since it’s a bit more succinct, accurate and a neat reference to Zero Time Dilemma.
- There was going to be a scene showing Phi falling asleep at work and Akane making her take a day off but I figured it wasn’t necessary and could easily be summed up in a sentence.
- I considered explaining what happened to Zero at the end of ZTD but decided to keep it ambiguous, both out of respect for the game and since it wouldn’t necessarily change the story either.
- The rabbit wallpaper in the nursery was Sigma’s doing and a slight reference to Zero III/Lagomorph from Virtue’s Last Reward. The cat magnets belong to Sigma as well.
- Finally, a massive thank you to my friend Josh for his feedback and editing.