EPSILON DELTA, PART FOUR: Turnabout
Kat Conway made his decision before arriving at the auxiliary control room. He would let Alijda resume the conversation between them, assuming there was even a conversation for them to have.
She barely addressed him as they reunited. Their group of four then headed back to the large cylindrical arrivals room, looking for Beam. He ended up sidelined with Alijda as Alice and Rose discussed the unconscious blonde holographic woman, and Alijda still said nothing. Then Alice asked the both of them to get a power pack, back in the auxiliary control room.
“I can just do a series of teleports to get there faster by myself,” Alijda pointed out.
“Oh good, so we’ll do the horror movie trope of splitting up after all?” Alice said, smiling and clasping her hands together.
Alijda glared. “Sarcasm isn’t a good look on you.”
Alice shook her head. “No, seriously, I’m curious if something will try to pick us off, and you’re the best equipped of any of us to get away from an attack.”
“Maybe Rose should go with Alijda instead,” Kat suggested.
Rose stood from where she had crouched next to Beam. “If you like?”
Alijda looked from Alice, to Rose, to Kat. She shook her head. “No, that’s silly. Rose, you keep learning more about the station from Alice. Kat, you’re with me.”
Kat nodded, and he allowed himself to be teleported back into the hallway. They walked from there. He continued to wait to see if Alijda would resume a conversation.
It wasn’t until they’d hooked the power pack device into Mr. Smith to recharge that she finally spoke up, and even then, it was without turning to face him. “So. Kat. You were gone less than a day, huh?”
“Yeah,” Kat answered. “Gone just long enough to be disappointed by what I learned.”
There was a brief silence.
“I’ll bite,” Alijda yielded, still looking at the power pack. “What’d you learn?”
He found himself wondering what Alijda would make of it. “I’ve been searching for this girl. Er, woman. Well, childhood friend,” Kat explained. “Named Fate. She’s the one who first got me into the occult, only she disappeared after high school. I’ve been searching for her, off and on, for over fifteen years now. I finally thought I had a lead, a phone number I’d snared right before I was abducted by this station for the first time. In fact, that’s why I was keen on getting sent back to my Earth when we first met.”
Kat paused, wondering if Alijda even cared to hear more. She continued to stare in the other direction. He waited.
“False intel?” she said at last.
“Not exactly,” Kat elaborated. “There was, indeed, a woman named Fate trying to organize an occult group in the town I went to. Once I left this station, I wandered, returning to my hotel room only after 8pm, in order to phone the number. This Fate didn’t know what I meant, seemed to be the wrong age, and had no other useful information. She invited me to her meeting though. I was just heading out to it when I found myself back here in zero gravity instead.”
“Oh.” Alijda finally turned, biting down on her lower lip. “Kat, you must think I’m terrible.”
Kat lifted an eyebrow, trying to connect the dots that had led the brunette woman to make such a statement. “Actually,” he pointed out, “I’ve called you attractive on more than one occasion. Despite your protestations of being ugly on the inside.”
“Except I didn’t know any of that about you,” Alijda said, her gaze slipping to the side. “We had an entire mission together and I didn’t know you’d lost a childhood friend. Even now, you’re hesitant to tell me about her.”
That at least helped to number the dots for him. Kat shrugged. “I don’t put it on my business cards. Anyway, you said it yourself back then, we were going our separate ways once that whole shrinking mission ended. Why talk about ourselves?”
“Because we talked about me. And now that our ways didn’t turn out to be so separate…”
Alijda looked back at him. Then she turned and gave a side-kick into the wall. “This isn’t FAIR,” she hollered. “I’ve had six months of thinking about you, on and off, wondering about what-ifs and might-have-beens. You’ve had six hours, if that! Now you’re back, and I have another chance, and all I can do is act like a stupid tsundere from one of those animated Japanese shows Alice likes.”
Kat smiled, catching the reference. “To be fair, I think you push everyone away, and it’s regardless of any feelings you have towards them.”
Alijda snapped her gaze back over to him. “Did you just mansplain tsunderes to me?!” She gave the wall another swift kick.
Mr. Smith made as noise as if he was clearing his throat. “Alijda, if you could avoid potentially damaging–”
“Oh, shut the front door, Smith!” Alijda shouted.
“The front door is not open, or we’d be exposed to the vacuum of space.”
“Damn it, I meant I don’t need you butting in on top of my angst with Kat on top of my writer’s block issues from before I even got here today!”
“Ah. Very well,” the computer said, falling silent again.
Kat managed not to laugh at the exchange. “If it makes you feel better, Alijda, I’m sure all of the information about my connection to Fate is in whatever file this station has on me,” Kat said. “I remember how you didn’t read it, feeling that would be unfair. So points in your favour.”
“That doesn’t help.” She drew in a deep breath. “Kat, it’s your turn.”
Kat blinked. “My what?”
“Last time we went on about me. My shrinking, my depression, my hacking, my friggin’ issues. I need to stop with the ego trips. Your turn now. It’s only fair.”
“What makes you think I even have issues?”
Her gaze softened. “Kat, I overheard you, that time you mentioned to Para about your mother dying in childbirth. And Alice has told me about the fire manipulation you can do. Now we’ve got a lost childhood friend in the mix. Granted, I don’t know whether any of that stuff necessarily connects to your hormonal interests towards anyone wearing a skirt, but you have issues. Unless your issue is that you don’t see your issues.”
This time it was Kat who felt like he couldn’t look Alijda in the eye. Part of him wished she’d kept ignoring him. “Okay,” he said, after a minute of scrutinizing one of Mr. Smith’s keyboards. “I suppose I don’t take relationships seriously. And I might have female abandonment issues.”
“Did you join the military so that you’d be able to form bonds with men?”
He laughed, despite himself. “Alijda, I’m not gay. Not by a long shot.”
“Didn’t mean to imply you were. But people with abandonment issues, they sometimes cling to close friendships or bad relationships. In the military, you’d get more of the first and less of the second.”
Kat realized he was now clenching his jaw, and he forced himself to stop. “I went to military college because my dad felt I needed more discipline in my life. Don’t get me wrong, I had a good relationship with him, but he was pretty lax with me. Particularly when it came to my hanging out with occult people all the time.”
“Were any of the occult girls pretty?”
“I really don’t want to talk about my sex life.”
“Hmmm. That escalated quickly.”
“DAMN it, Alijda…” He rounded on her, only to see an expression of genuine concern. There were no hints of a self-satisfied smirk. He looked away again. “We need to focus on the mission here.”
“That’s an excuse. Besides, right now, all of us getting along and making peace with ourselves kind of IS the mission,” she pointed out. “Because whatever’s out there, manipulating the situation? It’s probably been able to access our files. So it’s liable to go after our weak points, to try and fragment us.”
Kat found he had to grant her that. Whatever faults Alijda had, being timid was not among them. “I guess. Though you’re assuming that whatever put this station in danger will be actively targeting us.”
“Until we get more information, I figure we might as well assume that.”
Mr. Smith made a throat clearing noise. “Then would now be a good time to mention that your power pack is fully charged? Meaning more information is possible?”
Alijda sighed. “There would never be a good time, Smith. So sure, now works.”
Kat heard Alijda approach him, then felt her hand on his arm. “Kat, let’s leave our talk at, I do want to get to know you better. Okay?” She pulled back. “After all, one thing I’ve realized after six months with Alice is that I need to have more well rounded friends. Ones who aren’t inclined to run through the entire ‘Back to the Future’ movie for me, from memory.”
“Right. Okay,” Kat said, turning back to her. He smiled. “And hey, look on the bright side. At least Alice only quotes, she wouldn’t act that movie out for you at the same time.”
Alijda seemed to deflate a little, her eyes rolling back in her head.
Kat did a double take. “She didn’t. Did she?”
“Never give that woman alcohol,” was all Alijda would say as she turned to retrieve the power pack.
Soon, Kat was watching as Alice hooked some cables from the power pack into the hologram’s hairband. Or what had obviously been made to resemble a hairband – it had now been popped about an inch up from her hairline, exposing what looked like a number of ports and lights beneath. And while Kat was pretty technically minded, he didn’t recognize this technology, and had no idea what Alice was doing.
At least Mr. Smith had managed to restore the proper lighting to the room by now, so Kat could watch, in case he needed to do this himself later.
“Uh, so how do you know that setup will work?” Alijda asked Alice, apparently having similar reservations.
“I don’t,” Alice said brightly, dusting off her hands as she seemingly finished up. She looked up from where she was crouched. “But from what Rose has told me, I’m pretty sure all this holo-girl needs is some power. And plugging the pack into her hairband seems the best way to juice her up.”
“Oh no, no no, Alice, don’t put it that way,” Rose moaned. “Not after what you did earlier.”
Alice grinned at the redhead. “C’mon, we had to check her body for other ports. And you were wondering, you know you were.”
Alijda looked back and forth between the two of them. “What ports? Wonder what?”
Kat cleared his throat, having realized what they were getting at. “So this Beam is anatomically correct?”
“Ooh yes, she is fully functional,” Alice purred, waggling her eyebrows. “And if she’s an artificial life form anything like Star Trek’s Data, she’ll be programmed in multiple techniques. Lesbian ones, to boot.”
“ALICE!” Rose said, her face getting red enough to start washing out some of her freckles.
“I’m sorry I asked,” Alijda sighed.
“Oh Rose, don’t be like that,” Alice assured the younger girl. “I’m not saying you should cheat on your girlfriend. But there’s nothing wrong with talking, yeah? Swapping techniques? Knowing that this Beam might have felt first hand whatever she–”
“Alice, maybe you should drop it?” Kat interrupted. “Rose looks very uncomfortable.”
“But…” Alice paused, as she looked from Kat to Rose, and then the ground. “Okay. It’s just, I hate how Rose got pulled into this. I… I want her to get SOMETHING out of it, at least.”
Alijda reached out to touch Alice on the shoulder. “She is getting something out of it, Alice. New friends.”
Alice looked back up and smiled. “D’awwwww, Alijda. See, Kat? She really is a softie underneath it all.”
Kat saw Alijda’s grip tighten on Alice’s shoulder. “You need to stop pushing your luck, friend.”
Alice nodded, without losing her smile. Then Rose was smiling too, looking back and forth between the two other women.
That’s when the new voice came, slightly higher pitched than any of the other females present. “Reinitializing.”
Kat turned his attention to the blonde hologram, as Beam blinked her eyes open. One of her palms reached up to touch the cord that was running up to her hairband interface. “Power source. Confirmed.”
It idly occurred to Kat that he was becoming increasingly outnumbered as far as gender went.
Rose reached out to grasp Beam’s free hand. “Beam? You back? You okay?”
“I am. Unsure.” Beam blinked her eyes several times in rapid succession. “Resynchronizing. Time stamp. Confirmed. Congratulations. Are in order. Restoring. Full power. To communications.” Her hand squeezed back at Rose. “We’re not dead, and the station’s still here. Oh Rose, you were successful!”
“Uh, not exactly,” Rose admitted. “Also kinda brought in the first string team to help.” She gestured over towards Alice and the others.
Beam’s gaze followed the motion, the holographic woman freezing up as she saw Alice. “Oooh. We are so fired.”
“Eh, I was fired too. It didn’t take,” Alice chirped.
Alijda joined the other women in crouching down beside Beam. “Beam, I hate to impose on you right away, but we think there’s an entity on board. Because the station’s problems somehow self corrected. I don’t suppose you can confirm that? Or offer any alternative reasoning?”
Beam blinked twice. “I cannot.”
Alijda glanced up towards Kat before looking back at Beam. “Well, anything more you can tell us about what happened would be helpful.”
Beam opened her mouth, closed it, then opened it again. “My memory is damaged.”
Alijda palmed her face, sliding her hand down and off her chin.
“It’s never easy,” Kat remarked.
“No, you misunderstand,” Beam said, squeezing again at Rose’s palm. “That’s helpful. I run occasional diagnostics. Everything was in order prior to my coming to this planet. Whatever damaged me, it must relate to my mission here.”
“Or it’s due to some artifact you were storing here, on the station,” Alice said, standing and bringing her hands to her hips.
Beam’s gaze tracked over to Alice’s shoes. “That is possible,” she admitted. “Containment could have been breached during the time of my memory loss.”
“So we scan the planet for more information about Beam’s mission,” Rose decided.
Kat cleared his throat. “Ah, except shouldn’t we check on Alice’s artifact containment before potentially alerting said planet to the fact that we’re up here?”
“Kat?” Alijda met his gaze. “We’re in orbit. They might already know.”
What should the group do? OPTIONS:
We were overdue for Kat point-of-view. Now what?
VOTING CLOSES 7am EDT THURSDAY JUNE 29th
PATHS NOT TAKEN:
If Beam had been voted unfindable, we’d have had the two entity plot, one in Beam and one, well, not. Cue some sort of chase? If part of Beam had been Ziggy, then Ziggy would have been the entity, somehow wanting freedom, or it’s a backup copy, or honestly that plot hadn’t fully gelled yet. Now it doesn’t need to, as memory loss was the unanimous choice. So here we are, and I know more about the “entity”, but telling you would be a spoiler.