EPSILON DELTA, PART NINE: DESTINATION: DESTINY
Kat suspected that his brain was trying to interpret what he saw as double vision. But what surrounded him was actually overlapped images, and he wished his head would figure that out already. As it was, he was trying to focus on the Epsilon Station by targeting the people there, largely because they tended to be the things speaking and in motion.
Still, when Alijda stepped back, overlapping with Beam, who was rocking back and forth on her heels… the one person passing back and forth through the other person forced him to close his eyes and shake his head to readjust.
When Kat reopened his eyes, all he saw was Destiny’s house again. He snapped his attention over towards Firestorm. “Hey! Turn that back on!”
“I’m surprised the spell lasted as long as it did,” the robed magician grunted. “Never tried communicating in quite that way before.”
Rose coughed. “The place is kind of smoky now, can we go outside?”
Kat took in the scene that now surrounded him. He was standing in the middle of the room, on Firestorm’s fire-resistant tarp. The wood in the circle around him had been burned down to ash. Beam stood to one side, monitoring, unaffected by the fire owing to being insubstantial. Firestorm was at his other side, holding up some magic symbols. Rose was halfway across the room.
“No, listen, I just needed another minute or two!” Kat insisted. “Find something else to burn.”
“That was all the firewood, and we’re not burning Destiny’s stuff,” Firestorm objected. “In fact, I’m starting to think you weren’t talking to someone on the other side of the country at all.”
“Maybe the communicators will work soon?” Beam suggested. “Now that the others know you need to talk?”
“And what was up with your muttering about Alijda building an army?” Rose asked. “Also, can we go outside?”
Kat pinched the bridge of his nose, forcing himself to remain calm. If Destiny really WAS Fate, from his world, she’d apparently already been here for a decade or more. Another few minutes wouldn’t change things. Would they? Well, he’d at least give Alijda and Alice some time, in order to avoid interrupting them while they stabilized the station.
“It wasn’t an army, it was the arm they were catching,” Kat explained. “And before we go outdoors, we need to figure out if Destiny left her home voluntarily. Because if they can’t track her from the Station, we’ll need to track her ourselves.”
“Swell,” Rose said, coughing again.
“Would you like a soothing massage, Rose?” Beam said brightly. “Once I can touch things again? Or can girl friends not do that without it getting sexy?”
“Oy,” was Rose’s only comment, looking sidelong at Beam.
Firestorm cleared his throat, setting aside the pages with the symbols on them. “Kat, you really think Destiny would have left her place looking like THIS if she’d left by choice?” He made a shooing motion in Kat’s direction.
“For misdirection, sure,” Kat retorted. Realizing what Firestorm wanted, he moved off the tarp, to allow the man to start retrieving it.
“Oh, hey, the front door,” Rose remarked, walking towards it.
“Yes, fine, Rose, I get it,” Kat sighed. “If the smoke’s bothering you that much, we’ll catch up with you out front.”
“No,” Rose said, pointing at it. “I mean it was locked. Beam had to muscle her way in. Isn’t that a clue?”
Kat again tried to keep his emotions in check. “Good point, sorry Rose. Firestorm?”
Firestorm nodded. “Yeah, if it was police cracking down on Destiny for spell casting, they would have busted that thing down. So she wasn’t arrested. Or if she was, it wasn’t here.”
Kat nodded. Firestorm had explained to them that magic was highly regulated on this world. That was the whole reason they’d had to perform the communications spell indoors, to avoid detection.
“But if Destiny locked herself in, why isn’t she still here?” Beam wondered.
“*I* locked the door,” Firestorm said, shooting her a look as he swept the last of the ash away. “After your unauthorized access earlier!”
“Oh. That,” Beam said, nibbling on her lower lip.
Rose turned away from the door. “Firestorm, can you maybe explain what happened the first time Beam arrived? We’d like to, uh, hear it from your point of view.”
Firestorm looked towards the ceiling. “You people… but very well.” He continued to speak as he folded up his tarp. “I was supposed to meet with Destiny tonight. As it turned out, I got a lift into town, so I came by early. The place looked like this when I arrived. I’d barely had a chance to start looking around when blue-eyes there,” he jerked his thumb at Beam, “appeared in the doorway, saying she had ‘come for the technology’.”
“I was polite about it, yeah?” Beam asked.
“You acted as if I knew what the hell you were talking about,” Firestorm said, shooting her a look. “We argued, I made a fireball, you did some freaky acrobatic jumping moves, I grabbed the fireplace poker to defend myself, and you used it as some conduit for a lightning attack. Which knocked me out.”
“Again with the lightning? How did I…” Beam’s eyes widened, and she reached up to touch the side of her head. “Oh no. No, no, did you hit my hairband with that poker? Or my earrings?”
The man rolled his eyes. “Girls and their trinkets.”
“They’re my control mechanisms!” Beam snapped. Her hands fumbled over her hairband, touching it and tapping at it. She didn’t pull it out to look at it though. Actually, Kat recalled, hadn’t the hairband popped up from her head, to let them power her up? Perhaps it was a part of her. If they removed it from Beam’s hair, might Beam herself vanish?
“Major systems all functional,” the holographic girl muttered, seemingly to herself. “If I had been damaged, I’d have rebooted after self-repair. The mission would still be in short term memory. Or I might have contacted the Station… but it means I was already partly damaged when I returned with the arm… what if I’m prone to blackouts now?”
“ANYway,” Firestorm said pointedly, ignoring the rambling blonde. “When I came to, alone, I locked myself in here. Took a closer look around, found the diary, and was reading that when you all showed up again.”
Rose had approached Beam by now, reaching out to touch the troubled hologram on the shoulder. Of course, her hand passed right through, but it got Beam’s attention. She turned and fired a grateful smile at the younger girl, pulling her hands away from her hairband off Rose miming the action.
Kat decided to refocus the conversation back on his original question. “Firestorm, during that closer look around, did you see anything that might have explained what happened to Destiny? I mean, you know her better than we do. Does this seem more like the results of a struggle to you, a search, something staged…?”
“She’s a fighter,” Firestorm said, tucking his tarp away in his robes. “But her opponents wouldn’t be able to use spells in here, unless they were on the list. I’m inclined to say a search. But I don’t see her that often, so I don’t know what ‘technology’ she might have had that everyone’s obsessing over.”
Kat rubbed the back of his neck. “Would that have been the target though? I mean, they left before finding it. Didn’t they?”
He looked to Beam, who seemed to have calmed back down. She shrugged. “I didn’t know what I’d find here,” Beam answered. “There could have been more than the arm, if it was removed before I arrived. All I know is, Destiny couldn’t have had too much, or the initial reading would have been bigger.”
“Maybe there’d be information in Destiny’s diary?” Rose suggested.
Kat frowned. “Yeah. I’m hesitant to read that without permission. She kept it hidden, it feels like an invasion of privacy.”
Firestorm grinned. “I didn’t care about that.”
Kat shot the man a glare. “I noticed.”
Firestorm seemed unfazed. “You want to know about what I read, or not?”
Kat waged a brief internal battle between his morals and their mission. “Fine.”
Firestorm’s gaze became smug. “Destiny started it by saying she was ‘resigned to living out her days here’,” he said, picking the book up off the table and holding it aloft. “There’s a bunch of stuff near the start about our customs, and her symbol magic which ‘works more tangibly here’, which is why I wonder if she was originally one of the fae or something.”
Firestorm paused, as if hoping that one of them might confirm or deny his belief. When no one spoke, he continued on. “She mentions deciding to specialize in potions, because it’s the best way to encounter people from all over. And she’s right about that, it’s not a simple trade, people travel to find potion masters. And speaking from personal experience, I know Destiny liked hearing stories or seeing objects related to the unusual, things outside the norm.”
He paused again. “Things like you?” Beam said in the ensuing silence.
Firestorm shot her a look. “I’m not that unusual. Not everyone on her list has unusual beliefs, okay?”
“Yeah, hey, what is the story of this list?” Rose wondered.
He peered closer at her. “Don’t you know? Aren’t all of you ON the list?”
“Actually, Rose isn’t. Yet,” Kat said quickly. “She came with us in order to join. We were reluctant to give her the details, but now that Destiny’s gone, maybe you should tell her…?”
“Oh, sure. Just tell strange people ‘on the list’, who never saw Destiny in person, about that list.” Firestorm looked back and forth between them. “Ah, hell, you might be playing me, but at this point it’s probably in the diary anyway.” He adjusted his robes. “We’re the few mages who can imbue objects with powers. Meaning we’re able to use Destiny’s ‘occult’ symbols, as she calls them.”
“Anyone who can do that ends up on the list then?” Rose asked.
“No, we have to be vetted, directly or indirectly,” Firestorm said. “Destiny didn’t want this going to our head, leading to us trying to take over a city or anything. It was a way to spread the word though, in an urban legend sort of way.”
Kat rubbed his chin. “That symbol on the arm,” he mused. “That desire. It could have been a desire to connect up with others who know the symbols.”
“And your symbol knowledge would be in the Epsilon database,” Beam remarked. “How DID you end up on the Station, Kat?”
“Alice thought it was a glitch,” Kat said. “Because I left right after her, so when she was pulled in… but maybe…” Could his being here be more than random chance? His hands curled into fists. “We have to find Destiny.”
“Well,” Rose put in, “if we assume Destiny let people in the front door, or was lured out, it had to be by people she knew. Probably either occult-list people, or rare-potion people.”
Kat nodded. “They subdued her, and then searched the place for… that list?”
“The list wasn’t physical,” Firestorm said. “Or at least, I didn’t think it was.”
Rose looked at Firestorm. “If we check out the storage-and-potions room, do you think you’d notice anything out of place?”
Firestorm hesitated, then shrugged again. “Maybe.” He headed towards the other room, Rose falling into step ahead of him. Kat moved to follow, only to have Beam step in front of him – he almost walked right through her.
“Kat?” the hologram said. “I am on the cusp of a logic error.”
Kat blinked. “Related to damage on your hairband?”
Beam shook her head. “No. This mission. Because it’s over. The station is safe, it sounds like the women have secured the cyber arm, and I know what happened with my memory. There is no reason for us to remain here.”
“No reason?? Beam, DESTINY–”
“Is internal to this world. Not our problem.”
“Not if she’s Fate!”
Yet again Beam shook her head. “No. This Fate may have breached the dimensional barriers herself, without external interference. That’s also not our problem. The Project cleans up rogue anomalies, it does not correct for human error.”
Kat felt a hand closing around his heart. After the years of searching, of wondering, it felt like he was suddenly so close. They couldn’t take that away from him! “The… there might be other technology,” he blurted. “Taken by whoever took Destiny away.”
Beam nodded. “That is the loophole I am holding onto. But you should know that, if further technology is not the case? I will advise Rose that our mission is over.” She glanced down at his communicator. “As such, I’m not certain how eager you should be to hear from the others.”
Kat flinched, one hand automatically covering the wristwatch device. He swallowed, and pulled both hands back to his sides. “Understood. Thank you for the warning, Beam.”
Beam nodded, her more serious expression dissolving back into a smile as she pivoted on one foot to follow after Rose and Firestorm. They met the two of them right outside the storage room, as Firestorm was emerging.
“Healing potions are gone, as are a few of the more powerful ones,” the redheaded man remarked. “But it could be Destiny simply sold out. Her permit’s not there though, her storage permit, that’s weird. Her permit for manufacturing, which she likely would have hidden, might explain the search. Rose may be onto something with her potion people abduction theory.”
“But it could still be technology!” Kat put in quickly, before he could stop himself. He bit down on the edge of his tongue.
Firestorm shrugged. “Hey, all we can do is theorize. I almost hate to say it, but maybe we should go to the police station, open an investigation? They might grant us special dispensation to use search-and-tracking magic, assuming there’s anything here to track.”
“Wow, seriously? They’d just give that kind of power to random civilians?” Rose asked.
“Sure. Because they can always revoke it, and then they’re able to say that the early interference makes solving the case unlikely,” Firestorm grunted. “Holier than thou jerks. Hence my hesitation. Thing is, police won’t investigate directly until Destiny’s been missing for a couple days.”
They couldn’t wait a couple days. Kat knew that much. Either the Epsilon Station would locate Fate – or rogue technology – probably within the next hour or two… or it would all be over. Unless they somehow ingrained themselves more into what was happening on this world, such that they couldn’t simply step away.
“We’re off to the police station then,” Kat decided. Belatedly, he looked at Rose. “Er, if that’s okay with you. You’re still in charge.”
Rose let out a long breath. “Well, is there any real alternative?”
Firestorm shrugged. “I’m cool with staying here and reading more into the diary, maybe I’ll stumble on something more concrete about Destiny’s stranger associates in her more recent entries.”
Rose pursed her lips.
VOTING CLOSES NOON EDT SATURDAY SEPT 2nd
PATHS NOT TAKEN:
Here’s a prime example of me biting off more than I could chew. With “being kidnapped” having won, the plan had been to flesh out mages/magic and then go to the police station. We didn’t quite arrive there, because of other exposition elements that I felt you, the audience, needed to know about. Had “being arrested” won, we would have fleshed out rural life and made inquiries about police, maybe at an inn or something. Had “fled of her own volition” won, I would have looked to the second most popular option to determine their destination (police/inn) but Firestorm’s role there would have flipped… as it is, his role (if any) is still partially up to you.
If you hadn’t noticed, I like grabbing throwaway things (like Beam breaking down the front door) and twisting them to be significant. If it now feels like “kidnapping” was always in the cards, then I’m probably doing my job right. Had “arrest” been chosen, I’d have obviously gone a different direction with that. Is this a skill? I don’t even know. Anyway, thanks for reading. Voting for the time travel story never hurts, August has been the worst month for views in 2017.