FULL SCALE INVASION, PART FIVE: Info Swap
A voice came from the other side of the door; Alijda recognized it as Larry. “If we let you out, are you going to start teleporting around the base? Or teleporting our clothes away?”
Alijda took a step back, crossing her arms. “No,” she called back. Given the danger that their group might still be shrinking, she figured they needed to cooperate in order to get their communicators back. Besides, playing along now seemed like their best chance of escape.
The door opened, and Larry poked his head in, sweeping his gaze across Alijda, then Kat and Para. He was still in his trench coat, but he no longer had the fedora. “Follow me,” he said, backing up.
Alijda did so, finding herself in an ordinary looking hallway. “So, going to give us our stuff back?”
“No,” Larry said. “But we’ve decided your intentions aren’t malicious.”
“Then you WERE listening,” Para said, wringing her hands.
“We were. More or less.”
“I didn’t see a receiver,” Kat remarked. “So your technology must be at a higher level than what’s implied by the rest of society out there.”
Larry chuckled as he led them next door. “Honestly? A glass held up to a thin wall is surprisingly effective. It’s YOUR technology that I want to know more about.”
The room next door was an office of some sort. A desk, on which there sat a phone, a rolodex, and a typewriter. The space also contained a filing cabinet, some posted maps, and a window on the far wall – with the blinds closed. Alijda was vaguely reminded of the office of a private eye from the old “film noir” genre.
As they entered, one of the other trench coat people from before exited, lifting an empty glass in a “cheers” motion. Larry went around to sit behind the desk, motioning to three wooden chairs. Para took a seat. Kat went over to scrutinize one of the maps on the wall. Alijda leaned in against the desk, eyeing the man who was essentially their warden.
“If you heard us, you know we’ve got a shrinking problem,” she stated. “Given that, withholding our devices isn’t in anyone’s best interests.”
“At this point, all I know is that trusting you outright isn’t in OUR best interests. But we are willing to hear you out – so where are you from?”
“We’re from other worlds,” Para offered. “Ones which are much larger than your own. Well, their worlds are, my world is a bit two dimensional, so I suppose I could be any size relative to–”
“Para!” Alijda interrupted, turning her head. “Let me handle this?”
The parabola clamped her lips shut, looking apologetic. Not for the first time, Alijda considered how Para’s innocence and naiveté were such enviable, and yet simultaneously infuriating qualities.
“We did know as much before listening to you,” Larry offered. “It’s why we didn’t want you talking to Queeny.”
Alijda looked back at him. “Explain.”
He shook his head. “This is my office. You first. Other larger worlds?”
Alijda pushed herself back from the desk. Great. He didn’t seem too flexible there. So how much should she say? Information might be their only bargaining chip.
Rather belatedly, Alijda realized that Kat was a resource she was leaving untapped. Hell, perhaps she should have let him weigh in before their abduction too. She really preferred the predictability of technology over people. She turned his way. “Kat, what do you figure?”
He didn’t turn, still looking at the map. “We’re supposed to warn this world,” Kat noted. “Our mission didn’t specify who to talk to. So, a warning, with as much context as is necessary, would seem like the best way to get us out of here.”
Kat had a point. Alijda took a deep breath, quashing her fears of soon fitting into a size 4 dress in the worst way possible. After all, she hadn’t even noticed the shrinkage until Para had mentioned it. Besides, so what if she died? In the end, the multiverse would probably be the better for it.
“Okay. We explain, then you give us back our tech,” Alijda said.
Larry shook his head. “You explain, then I tell you about Queeny.”
Alijda grimaced. “And about your organization here,” she countered.
Larry considered it. “Fine, as long as you tell me if you’re from an organization too.”
“Okay then.” She wasn’t married to the damn Project anyway. Alijda thought back to what she’d read earlier in that ‘Mission Statement’ document. “What if you could find brand new worlds, right here on Earth?” she began. “Same planet, different dimension. Well, there is a gateway – but it’s not always stable.
“Enter the Epsilon Project, someone’s last, best place for hope. A self-regulating station, tracking right and wrong, located in neutral territory. It targets people and objects that aren’t in the dimensions where they’re supposed to be, then strives to put right what might otherwise be going wrong.”
Alijda gestured at the window blinds. “And your large iron problem out there? That qualifies,” she concluded. “In particular because there will be an invasion, following enough such incursions. Unless you all get your act together and do something.”
“And do what?”
“Beats me, likely depends on what you’re already aware of. For instance, how were you able to target us so soon after our arrival?”
“The dimensional gateway problem has been going on for a while.” It wasn’t Larry who spoke then, but Kat. He tapped at the map on the wall. “If I’m interpreting this correctly, you’ve had two major incursions of scale – but they were hardly the first ones, were they?”
“What?” Para gasped, rising to her feet.
Alijda walked over to have a closer look at where Kat was indicating. She saw now that there were a number of ‘X’s drawn on the map, in various locations all over the city. Two of them were large, but there were over a dozen smaller ones as well.
Alijda spun back to face Larry, who had leaned back in his chair, steepling his fingers. “Your turn,” she said, hands on hips. “Talk.”
He regarded them for another few seconds before sighing, and rising to his feet as well. “Very well. I am part of the DEO.”
“The Department of Extranormal Operations?” Kat hypothesized.
“Department of Extradimensional Objects,” Larry corrected. “Fairy dust. Mystical potions. A device called a ‘Macbook Pro’. All items which have found their way onto our world over the past decade or more. And I do mean world – we have branches in other towns across the globe. That map only shows the local appearances.”
“And these items, they were normal size for you?” Para asked. Larry nodded, prompting the parabola woman to turn to Alijda. “Okay, so, being that small, Alice’s equipment might not have registered them.”
“Peachy,” Alijda said, feeling a headache coming on. “So, this DEO has started tracking the dimensional breaches.”
“Not so much the breaches as what comes through them,” Larry said. “There is a window of a couple hours that allows us to pinpoint anomalous objects before they… ‘acclimate’, for lack of a better word. That’s how we found you.”
“Are you spotting fluctuations in density, perhaps?” Para wondered.
Larry shrugged. “I’m not a technician. Thing is, the breaches were all very hush hush. Until a year ago.” He walked around to the front of the desk. “A giant person appeared. He mentioned someone called ‘Alice’, did some card tricks, mumbled about an invasion, then vanished.”
Alijda’s eyes widened at Alice’s name. Then she rubbed both her hands against her temples. “He’s the someone she sent to this world already. Damn it, Alice…”
Para walked over to place a hand on Alijda’s shoulder. “Alice isn’t trying to cause you problems, you know. It makes sense that she only realized the scale problem after he arrived, which is why she pulled him back. Then had me work on the situation, leading to us…”
“She could have SAID something.”
“You don’t seem to like it when people tell you things.”
“Government oversight things, Para! Not what would ultimately be blindingly obvious. Not mission relevant information. I mean, was Alice embarrassed or something?!”
Kat spoke up again, from where he now leaned against the filing cabinet. “Just a vibe I get, Alijda… but maybe Alice thought you’d use her blunder as ammunition for why the whole project should be shut down?”
“Yeah, well, maybe she’d be right!” Alijda fumed. Para drew her hand back. Which made Alijda realize the extent to which she’d tensed up. She forced herself to close her eyes and count down from five. “Fine. It’s in the past. Larry, you were saying? Not hush hush now?”
“No,” Larry said, after a moment’s pause. “Not hush hush. A week after that incident, a huge top hat fell into the middle of the town, big enough to cover a building. It provided the ruling council with just the excuse they needed to clamp down on the population. Claiming other dimensions were coming after us, that there were spies among us, and that anyone with ‘Extradimensional Objects’ would be considered a traitor.”
“Meaning, if we’d actually gone to city hall?” Kat mused.
“Jail,” Larry confirmed. “Or some sort of detention. Even now, Queeny and the rest don’t know half of the things this department is doing. We were nearly shut down, back then.”
“So YOU say,” Alijda felt compelled to point out. Maybe she was still being paranoid, but she didn’t like how all of this was being filtered through one individual.
“True,” Larry said. “Of course, if we assume that what I say is true, I’m in danger of being called a traitor right now. For simply talking to you. A little gratitude would be nice.”
“Right, yes, thank you,” Kat said, speaking before Alijda could. “I suppose we should also assume the rest of the planet is just as concerned? As you pointed out earlier, this is only one town.”
Larry hesitated. “The few countries we’re in regular contact with feel similarly,” he admitted. “Though they haven’t all enacted laws against anomaly objects. And some countries keep to themselves, and others deny the truth, so I can’t speak for everyone. But we’re a pretty typical snapshot of the world here.”
“Wait. This doesn’t make sense,” Para protested.
Alijda sucked in a breath through her teeth. “Para…”
“No, listen, it sounds like we’re here to warn a world about an invasion – that they already know is coming! How does that make any sense?”
They had to make a filter for the cute bunny woman. They HAD to, somehow. Biting back her first instinct to chide Para yet AGAIN, and her second instinct to knock her own head into Larry’s desk, Alijda managed to simply roll her eyes. “Para makes a good point,” she said to Larry in resignation.
Larry’s response was to shrug. “Maybe your ‘Epsilon Project’ got it wrong. If giving us a warning was the only reason you showed up, we can send you on your way.”
“Yeah?” Kat said, sounding hopeful.
Now Larry was lying. Or at the least, not telling them something. Alijda could see him trying too hard to look relaxed. Damn it. “Hold on,” Alijda said. “We can’t simply leave, not without corroborating any of this.”
“But Alijda!” Para gasped. “Our shrinking problem – we can fix that, back on the station!”
“No, Alijda’s right,” Kat granted. “We should at least get a tour of the DEO first. To be sure.”
“I was more thinking I should go visit this Queeny,” Alijda said, clenching her jaw. “Because if they try to arrest me or anything, I can teleport away.”
Kat shook his head. “Your ability has limits. There’s no need to risk yourself yet.”
“There’s no need to risk any of us,” Para said, wringing her hands. “What use will we be, if all of a sudden we’re three feet tall? Relative to our surroundings, I mean. Why can’t we go back to Alice, at least for now?”
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