EPSILON DELTA, PART THREE: State of Confusion
“Ziggy,” Rose said. “Initiate that recall teleport thing from the last time Alice was in charge of computers here. Authorization code, uhm, Paige-Paige-Paige.”
“Initiating, Rose,” came Ziggy’s resigned voice.
Moments later, the lights went out. Rose closed her eyes, biting down on her lip again. It was fine. Alice would fix things, and they’d all go home. She reopened her eyes as the lights came back on.
She remained all alone in the room.
But it had worked, right? Alice wasn’t in auxiliary control, she was somewhere else in the station? Rose shifted her weight forwards and back, until she couldn’t take it any more. “Alice?”
“Your phone conversation terminated when Ziggy went offline,” the large wall computer codenamed ‘Mr Smith’ advised her.
Rose swallowed. “But is Alice here? Like, not HERE here, obviously, but up here with us?”
“I do not have complete access yet. However, Alice is likely one of the life signs that I am picking up in the arrivals room.”
The sense of relief that Rose felt was quickly washed away as she parsed that. “One of? Oh, flûte! Is Alice being attacked there by whoever wanted to crash this station?!”
“Does she need my help?”
“Are there even weapons I can use in this room?”
“Oh my GOD, why don’t you supercomputers ever KNOW anything??”
To her surprise, Mr. Smith let out a sigh. “Rose, I am sorry, but it’s taking me some time to figure out how to activate all the station’s backup systems. It is much like you trying to work out how to control a third arm.”
“Huh.” Rose frowned. “This project has a habit of growing extra arms for people?”
“No. I was merely trying to find a human analogy.”
“Oh.” Rose ran her fingers back through her hair. “Did you want me to shut up?”
“You are not slowing down my processing abilities to any great extent. I simply do not yet have the answers you require.”
“So you want me to shut up.”
“That is not what I said.”
“Well, I want me to shut up.”
“If so, that would seem to be something under your control.”
“You’d think so, right? Except I’m nervous.” Rose bounced on her heels. “This is why I don’t spend much time on social media, you know? I can’t stop myself from saying dumb spur-of-the-moment stuff.”
“Rose, you seem overly self critical. Would it help to hear that, in your own way, you are becoming as interesting to me as Alice was?”
“I hope that’s a compliment?”
“It is an observation.”
“Right. Well, okay, let me know when you’re able to see all the station or recalculate our impending deaths or something then, I guess?”
Rose tried to figure out if she felt more like curling up into a ball in the corner and crying, or running around the room with her arms in the air screaming. She decided to split the difference, and resumed pacing in a circle with her lower lip quivering.
The appearance of purple and black smoke in the doorway, with a woman seemingly in the middle of it, might have made Rose shriek on any other day. Except by this point, she was adjusting to the absurdity of it all, so fell into an approximation of a fighting stance instead. Thank goodness for her self defence classes.
“You won’t take me alive!” Rose declared.
Curiously, the brunette smiled at her. “Rose?”
Comprehension dawned. “Alice!”
Had to be, right? Rose ran towards the teleporting woman, her arms outstretched. Only then did she wonder if a hugging approach might give the wrong signals for a first meeting. Maybe station commanders here were always about the girl-love? Rose was already in a relationship. She stopped one step away, her arms still spread wide. “Are you a lesbian too?”
A curious sequence of emotions played out on the older woman’s face. Rose fancied that the initial look of comfort became confusion, dismay, then resignation, before finally settling on wariness. “I’m Alijda. Me and Alice, it’s not like that. How is our housing situation even relevant?”
“I dunno.” So this woman was with Alice. But not that way. Rose lowered her arms as she looked her new companion up and down. Decent dress sense for someone who didn’t expect to be on a death trap of a station, though the all black clothing was giving her a funeral vibe. Also, brown hair. “For the record, I prefer blondes and rainbows anyway.”
“Good for you? Rose, you’re not hallucinating me. I am here.”
“Oh, I was pretty sure of that. Like, me hallucinating Beam I could maybe buy, but you’re kind of old to be a fantasy of mine.”
“Oh, ha ha. I can still date, you know. Men in my age range. It’s just, I’m depressive and occasionally suicidal, so it never really works out. Okay?”
That explained the funeral vibe, if not the defensiveness. “Well, okay then. I guess you can go sit in the corner.”
“I can…” Alijda tilted her head. “What?”
Rose tilted her head the other way. “What? Didn’t you just say you came here to die?”
“No, no, I’m here to help save us. But what is this about needing to be a lesbian to gain access to the room?”
Alijda’s hands went to her hips. “So then why ask if…” The woman caught herself, shook her head a couple times, and switched to, “Look, never mind, just let me at the computer interface.”
Rose stepped aside, gesturing vaguely in the hopes that Alijda knew where that was. “Go for it.”
Alijda marched into the room and vectored towards some sort of terminal. “Great. Rose, I’ll need access to all station communications logs. If I can spot when a computer virus got on board here, we should be able to do a backup restore from a time before the infection.”
Shoot. Where would the logs be?
Fortunately for Rose, Mr. Smith spoke up. “I can make that information available, Alijda. Incidentally, a course correction will be necessary within the next eight minutes.”
“No pressure,” Alijda muttered. She glanced sidelong at Rose. “Can you check in with Alice? She’s probably grabbed one of the Epsilon communicators by now.”
Rose cleared her throat. “Yes, ah, Mr. Smith, can we patch in a link to Alice? Please?”
“We can. Link established.”
“– still can’t believe it’s been six months for you, compared to my few hours. That’s amazing,” came a male voice. A male voice? At this point, Rose figured she’d best keep rolling with it.
“Hello, Alice?” she called out. “Did you bring your boyfriend along?”
“Oh, hi Rose!” came Alice’s bright, cheery voice. “Great, I’d hoped the individual communicators could be patched in until allcomms are restored. No, this is Kat with me. He wouldn’t work as my boyfriend, he’s been asking allllll about Alijda.”
“Whoa, whoa, hey, I was asking about both of you,” Kat’s voice protested. “I mean, not in the bits about Alijda dealing with her depression, but I was sort of including you in the rest of my questions, Alice.”
“He’s probably hoping to score with me now,” Alijda sniped, from where she was typing at a keyboard. “Having had a look at my panties.”
“Alijda, please,” Kat said. “Would you have preferred I didn’t say anything to you?”
“You didn’t have to make fun of me in front of Alice.”
“That wasn’t my intent. In fact, part of me feels like you would be complaining no matter what I said.”
Alijda hit an enter key on her keyboard with what Rose judged to be more force than necessary. “You haven’t changed a bit, Kat.”
“No kidding. For me, it’s been less than a day since I saw you.”
“Right. So you didn’t even miss me. Fine, then.”
“Alijda, for what it’s worth, I did miss you. To the extent that I could. I didn’t miss all this defensiveness though.”
Rose wondered if Alijda’s cheeks were getting redder, or if it was her imagination.
“Too bad that’s all part of the package deal that is me,” Alijda asserted. “And as I’m sure Alice told you, still a depressive. So there.”
“We all have our flaws, Alijda,” Kat fired back. “They help make us what we are. Now come on, it’s not like I told Alice what colour they were.”
“Oh, how NICE for you. Alice already knows I don’t always wear black EVERYwhere.”
“Oh, uhm, I didn’t know that,” Rose offered, raising her index finger into the air.
It had seemed only fair, to remind them of her presence. Except, Rose reflected, maybe she’d mistimed that. Her interjection had simply created an awkward sort of silence. Rose noticed that Alijda’s cheeks were definitely redder now, as the woman resumed typing.
The redhead slowly lowered her arm back down.
“I wonder,” came Alice’s voice over the communications link, “were you two like that all through your last mission too? Because it’s sort of adorable, in a Sam Malone and Diane Chambers kind of way. Of course, let’s hope things work out better for you than it did for them.”
Alijda’s posture seemed to tighten, and she started to turn her head.
“Alice?” Rose broke back in quickly. While this relationship angle was sort of interesting in a soap-opera-esque way, it really wasn’t their priority. “Have you figured out what’s causing us to plummet to our deaths yet?”
“Hmmm? Oh, that, right. Nope,” Alice said, sounding far too chipper for Rose’s tastes. “The most likely places for physical damage look fine so far. We may all have to cram into the station’s escape pod. It’ll be cozy, but we’re already swapping underwear stories, so it should be fine.”
“There’s an ESCAPE pod?” Rose gasped.
“Yuppers,” Alice affirmed. “Thing is, while that saves us, lots of people might die if this station actually crashes into a planet. So let’s keep at it for as long as we can, okay? Alijda, any luck?”
“No,” Alijda said, still typing. “Nothing obvious in the logs yet. If this problem is a computer virus, it’s arrival was well hidden. Or it’s been here since the station was first built.”
“Mr. Smith?” Rose said, looking back to the computer. “How much time do we have?”
“About fifteen minutes,” the computer advised her.
Rose frowned. “Uhhhh, no. Wrong. We were at less than eight minutes a short time ago.”
“Braking thrusters have fired,” Mr. Smith explained. “We are gradually vectoring into orbit. If this continues, we may end up out of danger entirely.”
“Wooo, well done Mr. Smith!” Alice whooped.
“It was not me,” the computer noted.
“Wooo, well done Rose!”
“I’ve just been standing here,” Rose admitted. “Must be something Alijda did.”
“It wasn’t me either me,” the brunette interrupted, turning away from the computer.
“And while I’d love to say I did something,” Kat remarked, “I’ll have to make the confusion unanimous.”
“Wooo boy, that’s weird,” Alice concluded. “Mr. Smith, anyone else on the station?”
“Not according to main sensors,” came Mr. Smith’s response. “Someone could be hiding. In fact, without Ziggy, we’ve only made staying hidden easier for them.”
“Maybe Beam reactivated?” Rose guessed.
“A what now?” Alijda asked, approaching her. “Some laser beam?”
“No, no, the automatic hologram who was in charge before me,” Rose explained. “I guess she was a light beam, oh, hey, that’s a very clever pun…”
Rose shrugged. “Lesbian hologram?”
“Hmmm, a Hatsune Miku style hologram then,” Alice decided. “I mean, there’s nothing official, but I’ve wondered about those vocaloids in their off hours.”
Alijda rolled her eyes. “Focus, please, Alice.”
“Oooh, you’re one to talk, Miss Miracle Romance.”
“Hey, I can type and snipe at the same–”
“Mr. Smith?” Rose cut back in. “Anything on this Beam?”
“No. Your hologram woman never activated me,” the computer apologized. “Only Ziggy would have that information.”
Alijda turned back to Rose. “Where did you last see this Beam?”
Rose shrugged. “In that big cylinder room, where I guess people arrive. She was plugged into the computer. See, Beam was trying to save the station as much as the rest of us, until she lost power. So maybe a backup kicked in, then she figured something out?”
“I can double back and look for her,” Kat offered.
“Great idea, Kat,” Alice said brightly. “Splitting up is definitely what we should do if we’re re-enacting a horror movie on a space station.”
Alijda palmed her face. “Look. Alice, Kat, come here first, both of you. We’ll all go together. You can meet Rose that way, so that she knows what we all look like.”
“Roger, Alijda. On our way,” Kat said. It was followed by a chirp, as the connection was cut.
Rose offered the older woman a smile. “Thanks. Were you once in charge of this place too?”
“Oh, heck no,” Alijda said, pushing some hair off her forehead. “This place sucks. The couple times I’ve been here, I’ve been angling to shut it down. Their whole oversight thing is real creepy.”
Rose sighed in relief. “That’s what I thought too! Glad it’s not just a me thing.” She paused before asking, “What brought you back here then?”
Alijda’s gaze slipped away. “Yeah. Uh, Alice? I guess? She’s a bit helpless. Or sometimes she is. I felt I couldn’t let her do this alone, that’s all.” She looked back. “I didn’t know Kat would be here. And me and Alice, it’s a friend thing, not a romance thing. Seriously.”
Rose laughed despite herself at Alijda’s expression. “That’s fine. In fact, it’s nice of you.” Rose smiled hopefully. “You know, Alijda, you’ve got a real great ‘take charge’ attitude. If I get the chance to, um, hand off all this authorization stuff to someone, maybe you could be the one…”
“No,” Alijda asserted. Her tone was firm, while her expression was apologetic. “Sorry Rose, I’m not running this station. Once this problem is fixed, if the project’s even still running at that point, you can give control back to Alice and her God.”
Rose winced. “I’m not sure I can authorize Alice. The main computer didn’t even want me to call her.”
“Oh. Well, we’ll figure something out,” Alijda decided. “Don’t worry.”
“Right. Don’t panic, still my motto.”
“For now, back to the original problem,” Alijda said, crossing her arms. “Rose, maybe you can help me to think things through. Why would this station be put in danger, only to be somehow saved hours later? Could it be that we’re dealing with two separate warring entities on board, and shutting down Ziggy somehow turned the tide?”
Rose thought about it. “Maybe. Or it could be one single entity, which now has what it wants,” she suggested.
Alijda blinked. “How? What does the station have now, that it didn’t earlier?”
Rose swallowed. “It has us.”
What’s the deal with Beam? (Also connects a bit to that entity talk.) OPTIONS:
VOTING CLOSES 7am EDT THURSDAY JUNE 22nd
PATHS NOT TAKEN:
Software problem would have been Alijda’s point of view. She’d have restored an earlier Ziggy, and they’d have had to track down the origin of the virus. Hardware problem would have been Kat’s point of view. He’d have helped Alice, and they’d have then turned their attention to the planet. We got Rose’s point of view (by a wide margin), with the problem solved by unknown means, and on we go. (Alice’s above links this time are all musical, by the way.)