4.13: Search and Re-Skew

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EPSILON DELTA, PART THIRTEEN: SEARCH AND RE-SKEW

They had soon left the vicinity of the village entirely, Rose continuing her enthusiastic jog through the fields, occasionally pausing to sniff the air once more.

“It’s been over fifteen minutes,” Kat mused to Alijda as they kept pace. “What’s the range of this spell I wonder?”

Alijda shrugged. “Maybe Rose isn’t homing in? If she’s tracking Beam, could be we’re simply retracing her route. And as a hologram, Beam could move pretty quickly.”

“I guess,” Kat yielded. He sighed. “If only I’d had Rose wait outside the police station.”

“Hindsight is 20/20,” Alijda retorted.

Kat chuckled. “I seem to recall using that argument on you once.”

“Hmph,” the brunette said. “Bear in mind that you’ve also been fortunate – or possibly unfortunate – enough to have been placed in an advisory role to the people who are actually in charge twice now. Namely me and Rose. There’s a good chance you couldn’t have changed Rose’s mind about something any more than you could have changed mine.”

“I’ve gone rogue before. Hallucinogenic gas,” Kat reminded her.

“Oh, well, you’ve got an answer for everything, don’t you.”

“Not everything.” Kat wondered about filtering his next thought even as he spoke it aloud. “Not you.”

Alijda didn’t say anything for a moment. Then, “I haven’t made that easy. Did I even properly thank you for saving my life last mission?”

Kat hesitated. “In your own way.”

Alijda winced. “Meaning no. I was mostly focussed on Chris, and myself. So thank you. And know that I have been working on being less negative, and some of that is thanks to you as well.”

Kat eyed Alijda, remembering what she’d been saying right before Rose had regained consciousness. “I was getting that vibe. That’s good. But don’t feel you need to do it for me.”

ALIJDA VAN VLIET Commission from Shirochya

They fell silent again, climbing over a fence as Rose continued her tracking. At last, Alijda spoke up again. “Kat, do we have a thing?” she asked, without looking at him directly. “Or, that is, might we have a thing? A together thing? If I don’t sabotage it? Or am I imagining things?”

“Hey, I have already seen your underwear,” Kat remarked, before he could stop himself. He rolled his eyes, pushing off from the ground a little harder than necessary on his next stride. “Sorry. Bad time to joke.”

Alijda didn’t answer.

“We might have a thing,” Kat granted after a few more paces. “Though this Destiny/Fate situation has me more than a little mixed up right now. Also, remember how I’m not the most mature person as far as relationships go. You think you can deal with that?”

“Nobody’s perfect,” Alijda said after a bit. “Am I hearing you’d be willing to give an actual dinner with me a try sometime though? Assuming Epsilon allows it?”

“Dinner works,” Kat agreed. “Do you like Thai food?”

Alijda finally looked over at him, offering up a small smile. “We can negotiate.”

He fired a smile back at her, and the two of them resumed their jog after Rose.

As they were coming up on more of a forested area, the young redhead tripped and went sprawling, letting out another sneeze. She managed to roll and come up on one knee, only to let out a whimper. “Oh noooo, it’s GONE.”

“What’s gone, the scent?” Kat asked, coming up next to her. She turned to look up at him and nodded.

“A sneeze to turn tracking on, a sneeze to turn it off?” Alijda hypothesized as she joined them.

“Oh, that could be,” Rose realized. She stood and turned to look at the closest tree, only a few paces away. “I feel like I was getting close too. Should I tickle my nose to turn it on again? Or would that intoxicating smell convince me to run into some kind of trap?”

“It’s starting to get dark, and we wouldn’t want to lose track of you in there,” Kat added. “Let’s have a quick look around first. See if there’s signs that anyone’s come this way.”

The group started to walk along the tree line, looking for a path or obvious entry point into the underbrush. It wasn’t long before Kat heard some noises. An animal? He held up a hand and flattened himself against a tree trunk, Alijda and Rose following suit nearby.

Something was definitely approaching their position. And as much as it had made sense for them to come down without weapons, that did feel like an oversight now. All they had on hand was Beam’s jeans. Then again… Kat reached into his pocket for his matchbook. He could manage something with fire, in a pinch.

Fortunately, it didn’t turn out to be necessary. Even in the fading light, Kat recognized the human figure as he jogged out into the open a few paces away.

“Firestorm,” Kat called out.

The redhead spun in place and nearly fell over. “Don’t DO that,” he accused, brushing off his robes before shaking what looked like Destiny’s diary in their direction. “You’re as bad as your blonde companion for sneaking up on people.”

“Beam?” Rose said, stepping forward. “Do you mean you’ve seen Beam?”

“Yeah, sure, we teamed up,” Firestorm said, lowering his arm.

“Then where is she?” Rose asked, turning to look at the trees.

“Caught by the enemy,” Firestorm said, shrugging.

Rose’s gaze snapped back to him. “WHAT?”

“Look, that wasn’t MY decision,” Firestorm sighed. “But Beam figured being intentionally caught would provide her with useful information. I was just on my way back to tell you guys what had happened.”

“Why did you even run off in the first place?” Alijda asked.

Firestorm peered. “Who in blazes are you?”

“Time out,” Kat sighed. “I think we need a moment here to get caught up.”

***

After a quick introduction to Alijda, Firestorm answered her question. He explained that he’d seen mention in Destiny’s diary of a “dimensional weak point” with occasional activity “around sunset”. So he’d headed off to check out the area, not wanting to miss the time frame. Unfortunately, he hadn’t managed to find the clearing that she had described.

“What I DID stumble onto,” Firestorm concluded. “Was Compton and two of his friends, with Destiny in tow, all tied up. They seemed to be looking for this dimensional thing too.”

“You haven’t mentioned Compton before,” Kat accused.

Firestorm snorted. “Not much to mention. His father was a big shot a few towns over, because he managed to become a pretty successful businessman. Guy passed away a couple years back, and Compton inherited everything, but he is pretty clueless. Both in business and in interpersonal skills. I sure wouldn’t have figured him to resort to kidnapping.”

“So what would motivate kidnapping Destiny?” Alijda wondered.

Firestorm rubbed the back of his neck. “Maybe he wanted her for her potions, stumbled into whatever you guys are looking into, and is now hoping that Destiny has dimensional knowledge he can use to make it big? Honestly, I’m not even sure how he pulled off the abduction in the first place. Maybe he was coached?”

“Or there’s something bigger going on here,” Kat cautioned. “What did Compton say to you when you ran into him?”

“Whoa, whoa, I didn’t let myself be seen by that guy,” Firestorm protested. “Just heard his crew stumbling around in the underbrush and hid, to see what I could learn. And what I learned, I’ve already explained. It’s as I was backing away from them, figuring I might need backup, that I ran into that Beam woman again.”

Rose leaned forwards, looking worried. “Oh yes?”

“Yeah, she just seemed to be running right through, uh, everything. That’s a hell of a power, by the way. I made motions to flag her down, lest she freak out Compton and initiate an unfortunate chain of events. She came to her senses long enough to listen to me, and we decided to team up to help free Destiny. Beam apparently wanted to ‘do something right for a change’, whatever that means.”

Rose winced, as Firestorm paused, eyeing the rest of them. “And that’s when Beam proposed getting herself caught. To learn more. And given her ability to pass right through stuff, it didn’t sound like a bad idea.”

“Except it turned out to be a bad idea?” Kat said dryly.

“Eh, maybe? I’ll let you be the judge,” Firestorm decided. “Beam marched out to attract Compton’s attention while I hid and watched. She pretended like she’d come through a portal and wanted their help to know where she was. Compton was intrigued at first, but freaked the heck out once he realized she was some sort of ghost. Screamed at his friends to tie her up.”

“Oh no. And Beam didn’t run away at that?” Rose said, clasping her hands together.

Firestorm shook his head. “She doubled down, saying ‘I can be corporeal if you want’ even as Compton screamed at her to ‘Get on the ground’. She must have turned her magic power off too, because one of Compton’s guys was able to tie her hands behind her back. And after Beam wouldn’t explain to them what part of the forest she’d come from, she was gagged too. That’s when I figured I should hightail it back to Destiny’s place, to get you for backup.”

“So Beam’s been with them for a while and might have useful information by now, we simply can’t get to her,” Kat reasoned.

Rose’s palms separated into fists. “Well, he’s messed with the wrong girl. One sneeze, and I’ll have us back at Beam’s side in no time. As long as Firestorm being here doesn’t mix me up.”

“Um, I’ll try not to?” Firestorm said, scratching his head.

“Hold on,” Alijda said, crossing her arms and leaning against a tree trunk. “No need for us to charge in. This is kind of perfect, actually.”

“Perfect?” Rose gasped. “Alijda, how can you say that?”

As a response, Alijda reached down to tap at her communicator. “Hey, Alice?”

“Hey Abbott![1]” Alice’s voice chirped in response.

Alijda rolled her eyes. “Remember how you were wondering how to abduct a person who is insubstantial?”

“Ooh, doing six impossible things before breakfast down there, are you? I hope one of them was talking to Kat.”

Alijda coughed, as Kat let out a quiet chuckle. “Fo-cus, Gods Alice,” Alijda said. “Beam’s become less holographic. Meaning not only is she caught, but you should be able to pick up her communicator now.”

“Oh? Gimme a second, I’ll check.”

“You figure we can track her,” Rose realized. “Maybe even listen in on what’s happening.”

Alijda nodded. “And more than that, if Beam’s been kidnapped, this becomes an Epsilon mission again. We’re within our rights to interfere.”

Kat rubbed his chin. That seemed like a bit of a reach, given how Beam had created the situation herself. But if it helped them to pursue the goal of getting Destiny back, he wasn’t about to object.

Firestorm threw his hands up into the air. “Okay, seriously, who ARE you people?”

Kat looked over at him. “I don’t think you really want to know the answer,” he remarked. “After all, your imagination can probably dream up something far more interesting than reality, and we’ll be leaving soon enough anyway.”

Firestorm looked Kat up and down. “So you’re some sort of magical special ops unit? Looking into these portals?”

Alice’s voice came back over the comm. “If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire…”[2]

“Alice, do you have a fix on Beam?” Alijda interrupted, palming her face.

“Yup, got that,” Alice confirmed immediately. “At least, I presume it’s Beam, I don’t know what else this signal could be. She’s about a kilometre away, in some sort of clearing within that forest region.”

Firestorm grimaced. “So Compton and his buddies found the clearing.”

“Is that bad?” Rose wondered. “What did Destiny’s diary say about it?”

“Not much,” Firestorm admitted. “Just that she’d used some of her occult tricks to pinpoint it, yet had no idea how to open an actual portal.”

“Could be how Destiny got the cyber arm,” Alijda mused. “If it came through there?”

“Maybe,” Kat said. “Though given her tendency to ask travellers about objects, maybe she traded for it or something.”

“Either way, we need a plan to get Beam and Destiny out of this Compton’s clutches,” Rose broke in. “Alijda, maybe your teleport…?”

“Limited to one person at a time,” Alijda said. “Meaning the first retrieval would tip them off.”

“Not if we arrange a distraction,” Kat remarked.

“Hold on. Once you get your people, what then?” Firestorm protested. “You just leave? What if Compton’s doing something illegal, are you just going to let him get away with it and prosecute him later?”

Kat exchanged a glance with Rose and Alijda. They couldn’t really interfere with that – except what if it was dimensional? “Firestorm’s got a point. Maybe Alijda should try to get more information before springing them. Beam might even be able to do something from the inside, even goad Compton into spilling the beans on his plans, if he hasn’t already.”

Alijda let out a breath. “Careful, Kat. How much of this is our fight?”

“We won’t know until we have more information,” he insisted.

“Information that we might get at this clearing,” Rose supplied. “If it looks like Compton’s setting up weird ritualistic rocks or something, that could tell us everything we need to know.”

“My fellow redhead has good advice,” Firestorm remarked. “One thing at a time. Now, do we have to walk there, or do your supernatural abilities allow for a more instantaneous transportation?”

They walked. Even if power had been fully restored to the Station, Kat knew that providing Firestorm with even more evidence of what they might be capable of could only be problematic in the long run.

As they got close, Kat offered to scout up ahead. He had a certain amount of experience through his military training, and while Alijda could vanish faster with her teleportation, the purple smoke she left behind was a dead giveaway. Even if it was dark by now.

On the one hand, a quick surveillance of the clearing showed that Compton and his men weren’t doing anything obvious that might involve creating a portal or otherwise affecting the dimensions. However, they’d set up a tent, added perimeter lighting using some sort of spell, and one of the guys seemed to be keeping an eye out for anyone watching them, implying suspicious behaviour.

Kat was just about to retreat when he saw her.

Compton – it had to be him based off of Firestorm’s description, a shorter man with a scruffy beard – pulled her out of the tent. Destiny. Her long blonde hair trailed behind her as he muscled her over to a part of the clearing and pointed at the ground. Kat couldn’t properly hear what they were saying, but he was more fixated on Destiny’s features. Her mannerisms, even with her hands tied behind her back. And he couldn’t be certain, not a hundred percent, but on some level, he knew. He knew.

After years of searching, he had finally located Fate Wallace-Wray. His childhood friend.

[1] From “Abbott and Costello”, parodied here.
[2] …the A-Team. (Or this crew, I suppose.)

WHAT’S NEXT?

OPTIONS:

VOTING CLOSES NOON EST SATURDAY NOVEMBER 18th

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PATHS NOT TAKEN:
Obviously decided to run with the tied vote again. If Firestorm had been working with the enemy, Beam would have noticed and tracked the man, providing exposition to the team here in Firestorm’s place. If Beam had been caught, it would have been the other way around, as it kind of was, but of course I had them team up first. Had there only been a team-up, the plan would have been for Alijda to get herself caught next, as someone who could teleport away. (Incidentally, this also explains why Rose tracking Beam/Firestorm last time would have been spoilers, as the person to provide the information would have been the one she found. Compton’s been in the outline since that vote.)

EXTRA ASIDE:
I’m leaving the vote open for two weeks, as I indicated in this post, which gives me time to deal with report cards as I return to work from medical leave. Plan is to have another part up for the last weekend of the month. Thanks for sticking with me. In other news, I’m doing a sort-of NaNoWriMo on Time Untied. We’ll see how that goes. Consider a TWF vote for Time & Tied? Thanks.

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4 comments

  1. Finally caught up on this, and have voted. I’ve had it on my to-read list since Time and Tied finished up, but wasn’t going to start a new serial until I was caught up on all the other serials I currently read, so it took me a while to get to it. But now that I’m caught up, I should probably be able to stick with it.

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    1. Thanks so much for letting me know! (I was wondering about the larger volume of hits at the end of October.) Glad to see you’re back, and interested in the vote. I know about the trouble of staying caught up in reading… I’m behind elsewhere plus became a bit of a recluse after this post, to deal with school stuff. Now that that’s sorted, looking forward to having you around going forwards.

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    1. Thanks for letting me know! Glad to see you spotted the update so quickly. (I’m gradually gearing back into things now that I think school’s been mostly sorted.) As to who ends up where in the end, I have a couple thoughts in mind — it might end up being one of those things I put up to a vote. Time will tell.

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