EPSILON DELTA, PART TWELVE: Non Scents
“The next move… should be yours, Rose,” Kat remarked.
Rose listened as Kat and Alijda caught her up on what had happened since she’d fallen unconscious. At one point, she had to force herself to focus on their words, rather than listen to the inner voice that was screaming at her about how any decision she made here would mess things up again. The way she had messed up with Beam.
When they finished explaining, Rose rubbed her nose, wondering idly if it was going to be perpetually itchy now that she was the vessel for some magical tracking spell.
“O-Okay.” Rose bit on the edge of her tongue, trying to swallow the quaver in her voice. “Okay,” she repeated, closing her eyes momentarily. There was only one right thing to say here. She turned to Kat. “So, we go after Firestorm.”
Kat crouched down in front of where she sat on the bench, to better meet her gaze. “Rose, are you sure?”
Rose let out a quick laugh. “Oh, heck no. I mean, I think the Destiny thing might lead us into a trap, so that’s out. But while my heart says to patch things up with Beam, my head says Firestorm. And in the end, he’s closer to the mission here, right? Get the diary back, figure Destiny out. So, we track him. Beam will find her own way back to the Station. She doesn’t need me.”
Rose held Kat’s gaze levelly until he nodded, and turned to look up at Alijda. “You have Firestorm’s note?”
“Mmm hmmm,” Alijda responded. There was a silence then, to the point where Rose had started turning her own head to see what the older woman was doing. “We’re not going after him though,” Alijda finished.
Kat stood back up. “Alijda…”
“Come on, Kat! We can’t,” Alijda said. She pointed at Rose. “We’re not going to leave this poor girl to wonder for months about how her situation might have turned out better, if only she’d made a different decision in this moment. Because I know what that’s like. Both given my history, and given… I mean, listen, it’s even more terrible when this is filtered through Epsilon, because you can’t simply call up someone you’ve wronged. Not when they’re in another multiverse. So, I’m contacting Alice, to send something of Beam’s down. We’re going after Beam, and that’s all there is to it.”
Rose tried to smile bravely. “Alijda, that’s not necess–”
“Don’t care, doing it anyway.” Alijda spun on her heel and walked a couple paces away, tapping at her communicator.
Rose stared at Alijda’s back, then slumped to look at the ground. So she was screwing it all up regardless. Damn it. She ground her palm in against her freckled nose. It didn’t help with the itching.
A moment later, Kat sat back down next to her, and reached out to pat her shoulder. “Alijda does have a point,” he soothed. “This mission, it’s becoming more about feelings than logic. Given how the logical thing would have been to leave as soon as we’d figured out Beam’s memory loss. Right? But I want to connect with Fate. The same way you want to with Beam. So let’s follow your heart, and let Beam lead us to Destiny.”
“Hah. Me, connect with Beam?” Rose scoffed. “I told the poor girl to go away forever. Because of how I’m attracted to her. Which is my issue, not hers. It’s not even the same attraction as my Paige-love, with Beam it’s this… this… ugh, it’s so confusing! I don’t even know what I’ll say to Beam now. It’s all so…”
Rose slid her palm from her nose up across her eye while turning her head to the side. “Kat, you ever wanted to be someone else?”
Kat reached his hand to the back of his neck, rubbing. “Not really? I mean, the pyrokinesis took some getting used to, but I’ve accepted it as a part of me.”
“I ask because, see, I wanted to be Paige,” Rose clarified. “After I met her. It took a while, but eventually I realized that what I truly wanted was to have Paige as a constant presence in my life. Like, to always be surrounded by Paige’s pleasant demeanour, by that cute French accent, and oh God, by those long, gorgeous legs…” Rose felt her heart rate increasing. She pulled her brain back on track.
“The thing of it is, the more I learn about Beam, the more I want to be her too,” Rose admitted. “Her attitude of, oh yeah, I’m a lesbian, I know what I want, and rawr, girl power all the way – it’s like, that’s sexy! Or at least, it’s a goal of mine. So there’s an attraction there, but… well, is it a surround me with that kind of attitude desire? Because I’m acting like it’s a surround me in a sexy way desire. Which is supposed to be my Paige feelings. Agh! I think I’m defective.”
Kat chuckled softly. “Rose, you’re not defective. If anything, this explains why you resent so much how Beam was able to turn off her sexual feelings towards you. You want to do that with her, so it’s yet another aspect of Beam that you wish you had yourself.”
“Meaning you also think those feelings are there.” Rose looked back at the ground, wishing her nose would stop itching. “What bugs me is, while I couldn’t turn my feels off with Angie back in high school, I could at least rationalize them away. So why is it so much harder now? I mean, sure, I’m more hella gay, but I’m also older and wiser. So how can I possibly see Beam as being attractive when I’m already dating someone else?”
“Honestly? How could you not see Beam that way,” Kat said. “She’s a cutey.”
Rose frowned. She turned her head back to check his expression, but he didn’t look like he was pranking her. “So you think I’m a horrible cheating bitch. Great.”
Kat sighed, and shook his head. “No, Rose, you’re not. But you are young, and still figuring out what love means for you personally. Consider that there’s a difference between appreciating feminine beauty, and actually following through on feelings of attraction to someone. It’s a philosophy I kind of adhere to, actually.”
“What, looky’s fine, nookie not so much?” Rose scratched her nose. “Thanks, but I’m not adopting that philosophy. I mean, if Paige was drooling over every redhead we passed in the street, I’d be hurt. Even if she didn’t act on her desires. This is the same thing.”
“You think?” Kat leaned back on the bench. “Okay, Rose. Two comments, prefaced with the remark that I do have a tendency to romance any woman who looks to be in my wheelhouse, while making it clear to them that I’m not looking to settle down. So I might not be the best person to give responsible relationship advice.”
Rose gestured towards him. “Yeah, well, I’m a teenager. I may not be the best person to take responsible relationship advice. So it works out.”
“All right. First thing, more of a question, do you drool over every blonde you see?”
Rose glared. “Don’t be silly. My drooling remark was exaggeration to prove a point. Even one drool is too much.”
“But there are blondes you don’t drool over, yes?”
She had to grant him that point. “Duh.”
“So you don’t have a wandering eye. And remember, we’re in a highly charged situation here. You said it yourself, you’re lost and scared. Adrenaline is high, and when coupled with how pretty Beam is, it’s only natural that you might want to get in one last fling before the big goodbye. It’s the fact that you’re torn up about those feelings, rather than simply acting on them, which speaks volumes. Don’t you think?”
Rose felt forced to give more ground. “I’ll grant this isn’t a normal situation. But I’ve been in tight places before, and my thoughts didn’t trend towards pre-death sex.”
“Bringing me to my second point. Some of this IS Beam. She made blatant advances towards you earlier. That’s hard to shrug off. So tell me, would your girlfriend truly think you were being unfaithful merely because another girl was flirting with you, accidentally or otherwise?”
Rose squirmed. “Maybe?”
“If so, that seems rather controlling. But even setting that aside,” Kat continued before Rose could interject, “what if we flipped this situation around? What if Paige came to you tomorrow, and said that she’d been in a near death experience, and that in the heat of the moment, she’d kissed another girl. Would you forgive her?”
Rose stood up, balling her hands into fists. “How dare you say that. You don’t even know Paige.”
“Look, maybe Paige was receiving mouth-to-mouth. Work with me here, Rose. Hypothetically, could you forgive?” Kat crossed his arms and looked up at her.
Rose squared her jaw. It was a stupid question. Her perfect Paige would never do such a thing! Moreover, CPR was CPR. … Then again, French people did kiss each other on the cheeks when they met. So what if Paige did that with an ex-girlfriend? And what if someone’s head slipped? …
Well, so what? Rose had made a point of saying that she wasn’t the possessive type. Hell, there was also that little voice inside, speculating that it was only a matter of time before Paige realized she could do better… whoa, okay, check that thought. Paige thought that Rose was already the best girlfriend to date. For whatever reason. … Why was that again?
Maybe that was part of the problem here. Rose had no practical experience with girls being attracted to her, outside of Paige. And given how she was still processing Paige’s feelings, throwing Beam into the mix as another suitor… someone Rose hadn’t even been trying to flirt with…
Fine. It was true, she could forgive Paige kissing an ex, depending on the circumstances. Meaning Paige could forgive her for getting flustered about Beam. As long as nothing happened. And nothing would. If only Beam weren’t so aggressively cute in the ways she expressed herself! But Beam couldn’t help that, any more than Rose could help finding it a-dork-able.
Rose flexed her fingers back out, then ground the palm of her hand in against her nose, hard, trying to stop the damn itchy feeling. “Kat, when do relationships get easier?”
He chuckled again. “They don’t. They only get different.”
“Figures.” Rose sat back down. “Okay. I see forgiveness as a thing. Here’s hoping Beam can forgive me. Thanks.”
“You’re welcome. Any time.”
Rose angled her head. “So, speaking of flipping situations around, how about you? Assuming we do find this Destiny, and she’s Fate, will you be hooking up with her again, relationship-wise? Alternatively, will you cultivate whatever’s happening between you and Alijda? Or will you just keep hitting on random cops for all time?”
Kat flinched back, his eyebrows going up. “Uhm?”
Rose felt like it was her turn to cross her arms. “C’mon Kat. That decision HAS to have occurred to you. I saw how Alijda was looking at you earlier.”
“Euh, I think Alijda feels badly over how she acted on our last mission together,” Kat explained. “So she wants to make it up to me here. That’s it.”
“That’s it, suuuuuure.” Rose quirked her eyebrow, to emphasize that things weren’t as clear cut as he was trying to make them.
Kat looked away. “Look. Alijda and I, we haven’t known each other that long.”
“No? It’s been something like six months on her end, hasn’t it?”
Kat grimaced. “Well, yes, but I haven’t… that is, we were hardly communicating back and forth during that time.”
“Okay. So you don’t think you could date Alijda.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“What about this Fate then, your communication with her has been even worse lately.”
“That’s different!” Kat said sharply.
Realizing she’d jabbed a nerve, Rose quickly lifted her hands up, palms out. “Whoa, sorry. Just, you did tell me this mission was all about feelings, right? So you might wanna do some advance thinking on that front yourself. Because if you’re all about Fate, or at least more about Fate than Alijda, then she should know sooner rather than later. Yeah?”
Kat looked at her sidelong, tight lipped. Then slowly, he nodded. “Point taken. Thanks, Rose.”
Rose offered up a partial smile. Before she could properly reply though, there was a large puff of purple and black smoke, and Alijda appeared before them. She held a pair of jeans out towards Rose. “Here you go. These are Beam’s.”
“Alijda! Did you just teleport up to the Station to get them?” Kat demanded, even as Rose accepted the clothing. “That was hardly safe!”
The brunette woman shook her head. “No, no, not depressively suicidal at the moment. I merely had to go to a convenient doorway outside the park so Alice could pass them off to me, after which it was faster to teleport back to you.” Alijda smiled wryly at Rose. “For the record, Alice wanted to root through Beam’s lingerie drawer. I talked her out of that, since we’ve already had enough comments about underwear choice today.”
It reminded Rose of the first conversation she’d overheard between Alijda and Kat, only a few hours ago. As Rose watched Alijda’s gaze flicker towards Kat, Kat cleared his throat, turning to look at Rose instead.
It was true, relationships really didn’t get easier with age.
“Okay,” Kat said. “So, let’s get to the tracking. Rose?”
“Uh. Yeah.” Rose stared at the jeans in her hands. So she was supposed to just… sniff them? Yeah, hey, that wasn’t weird at all. She slowly brought them up towards her face and, trying not to feel self conscious, gave a quick inhale.
Nothing happened. Her nose still felt itchy.
“Longer, maybe?” Alijda suggested.
Rose lifted the pants again, wafting her free hand towards her face, inhaling, trying to pick up a whiff of… whatever this spell was looking for. Beam pheromones? Did holograms have pheromones? Ones they could leave on jeans? Beam HAD said she could get hot and bothered, with a body that reacted in the same ways as a human. But right now, Rose couldn’t even smell denim, let alone Beam sweat.
“Beam isn’t from this world,” Kat remarked. “So maybe it won’t work.”
Screw it, Rose decided. She smacked the jeans right in against her face and gave a long, deep sniff. Not once, but twice. Let it not be said that she hadn’t been trying.
It did nothing but make her want to sneeze.
“Maybe Beam hadn’t worn those much,” Alijda confessed. “I could ask Alice for something else.”
“No. Know what? Just give me Firestorm’s letter,” Rose decided. She smiled, and for once, found that she didn’t have to force it. “I mean, the important thing is that we tried. Right? I feel better for having done that, so… so yeah. Back on mission. We’ll figure out the Beam stuff later, this is a sign that it’s time for us – for me – to move on.”
Alijda and Kat exchanged a glance, and Alijda seemed about to say something, only to think better of it. “Okay, Rose.” She pulled out Firestorm’s letter. “I, uh, hope this doesn’t smell more like me now, or the tracking will be pretty quick,” she realized.
“I’ll try to tune into male smell more than female smell,” Rose quipped. “Despite my obvious preference for the latter.” Never mind that she had no idea what that even meant.
Rose took the letter. She first sniffed the middle of the page, then around the outer edge. Much like the jeans, she couldn’t pick up anything. For the second time, she stifled a sneeze.
“Maybe Rose needs to be where the note was found for this to work?” Kat suggested, lifting his hands into the air. “The police form I signed really wasn’t clear.”
“Firestorm would likely return to Destiny’s house too,” Alijda remarked. “So we might as well go back there. In the meantime, I’ll contact the Station. They should have more power restored, and maybe Alice can spot something on surveillance for how this tracking is supposed to work?”
The three of them started heading back out of the main area of town. Based on how much lower the sun was in the sky now, Rose judged that it was probably dinnertime. At any rate, even fewer people were around them now. No one approached. And Alice simply said she’d get back to them, following Alijda’s request.
It happened as Rose was grinding her palm in against her nose for at least the twelfth time. She felt a tickle, and before she could stop herself, she sneezed. In an instant, the itching sensation was gone, replaced with the very faint smell of… of something wondrous.
“Bless you,” Kat said.
Rose moaned. That scent, it was so good. Where was it coming from? She sniffed in a breath, turning in a slow circle. Yes, that way.
Alijda’s hand landed on her shoulder before she could take a step. “What is it, Rose? Nose suddenly behaving?”
“Oh yeah,” Rose huffed. She started to walk, sniffing the air as she went. Ohh, more of that smell, yes please.
Alijda’s grip tightened slightly, slowing Rose’s pace without forcing her to stop. “Are you picking up Firestorm? Or Beam?”
“I dunno. It’s…” How did one even describe it? “It’s the scent of fresh cut flowers. Of homemade baking. Of the air after the rain has fallen. Of… oh, of all that and more, Alijda! It’s just so good, please, we gotta get to the source.”
Alijda glanced at Kat, then nodded. “Okay then. Just make sure we can keep pace.”
Rose nodded back and resumed her tracking, no longer caring about the scenery around her, totally focussed on her goal. On the scent.
As she began to jog, she heard Kat remark, “Neither Beam nor Firestorm smelled like cooking. So we may not know who we’re tracking until we get there, huh?”
“Guess not,” Alijda’s voice agreed with him. “It does make me wonder though, would we be smelling the same thing in Rose’s place? Or would I be picking up aftershave or alcohol or something?”
Rose didn’t know. All she knew was, she wanted more of what she smelled now. Granted, she kind of hoped the source was Beam, not Firestorm, given how much she wanted to sniff at the target for a while after arriving, which felt wrong with a guy. Actually, no, it felt wrong no matter who it was. No wonder this spell was regulated by police. She hoped she’d be able to control herself.
Ohhh yeah. The aroma was stronger in this direction, Rose was sure of it.
(Heads up, Beam and Firestorm will be found in close proximity. WHAT’S NEXT?)
VOTING CLOSES NOON EDT SATURDAY OCTOBER 14th
PATHS NOT TAKEN:
I kept the vote open to Sunday morning, then decided, heck with it, I can run with a tied vote this time. It’s been a while since we had a good one. So Rose’s intended conversation “en route” (which would have included Alijda) ended up being solo with Kat instead, as she awaited nasal input. Tracking Destiny? That would have been the shortest path to the end, with the most danger (keeping Firestorm and Beam in reserve, if these characters got badly ensnared). Saying anything about the tied choices now would involve spoilers. So, who do YOU think Rose is tracking?
The first 1,000 words of my story about Rose (“The Girl Who Speaks with Algebra”) actually placed in the Top 10 of the “Ink & Insights” writing contest for 2017, out of over 150 entries. There’s a page here looking at the other winners. My link simply directs back to this site, but it’s prompted me to update my story catalogue. And as long as we’re talking about eyes on this site, consider a TWF vote for Time & Tied? Thanks.