EPSILON DELTA, PART FOURTEEN: TIED AND TRUE
“Wondering about Kat?”
Alijda looked up at the remark by Rose. While waiting for Kat to return from his scouting mission, Alijda had taken to leaning back against a tree, her arms crossed. She fired off a reassuring smile at the redhead. “I’m sure he can take care of himself just fine.”
“Oh, I know,” Rose said, clasping her hands behind her back. She leaned forwards a little. “I said wondering, not worrying.”
Alijda felt her smile becoming more of a smirk. “Ooh. First Alice, now you, huh?” she remarked, more amused than anything else. “Fear not. The two of us are possibly doing dinner, so there’s nothing more for anyone to wonder OR worry about.”
“Possibly doing?” Rose prompted.
Alijda shrugged. “We literally do not live on the same Earth. Makes reunions awkward. The weird thing is how, despite knowing that, I haven’t been able to simply forget about him. So I guess we’ll see what happens.” She gave Rose a pointed look. “Something you may want to consider regarding Beam.”
Rose seemed to pinken, though it was difficult to be sure now that the sun had set. “Nice deflection, but I hadn’t planned on forgetting about Beam.”
“You just hope to forget about the relationship issues she sparked.”
Rose pulled back and looked away.
Alijda quickly moved to grasp the young girl by the shoulder. “Hey, not judging,” she said. “Not by a long shot. Goodness knows I don’t know how to react to anyone who shows an interest in me, romantically or otherwise. It’s only, heads up, Beam is something you’ll need to deal with before this is over. And you might not have a lot of time to decide on a path, depending on how things play out. You know that, yes Rose?”
She sighed. “Yeah. Plus I’ve got to pawn off this Station Commander role onto someone else too.” Rose crinkled her nose. “Do you think, if I gave it back to Beam, that she’d be able to email into my dimension or whatever? Because I could see having her as a pen pal going forwards. If she doesn’t hate my guts after that rant I gave her.”
“Hm! That’s not a bad idea,” Alijda reflected. “Even if Beam’s not in charge, I might be able to hack something together.” She wiggled her eyebrows as she pulled her arm back. “All you’ll need to do find a way to explain to your girlfriend why your new blonde pen pal keeps emailing you images of herself in sexy lingerie. I’ve heard that’s a tradition where Beam’s from.”
Rose’s eyes went wide. The mixed look of fear and confusion on her face gradually morphed into one of chagrin as she saw Alijda’s expression. “Oh. You’re joking. Um, right?”
“Mostly,” Alijda said. “Just remember, Beam’s ways are not your ways, plus she’s a hologram to boot. Don’t be afraid to set ground rules.”
“For sure,” Rose agreed, rubbing her neck.
“If you two ladies are done chit chatting, I can hear Kat coming back,” Firestorm remarked dryly, walking past them.
“Oh golly, we’ll swap makeup tips some other time then,” Alijda deadpanned. Rose let out a quick laugh. Firestorm didn’t seem to notice.
The three of them walked over to meet Kat as he approached through the underbrush.
“So Compton and Co are up to something,” Kat concluded after giving them a quick rundown of what he’d seen at the clearing. “The question is, how do we stop whatever this guy is up to, while also spiriting Beam and Fate out of there safely.”
“You’re sure the Destiny woman was your Fate?” Alijda verified, searching Kat’s expression. His voice had caught when describing her. Would his personal stake in things become an issue?
“I’m sure,” Kat said, clenching his jaw. “We’ve got to save her.”
“Should that be our priority though?” Rose asked.
Kat rounded on her, his body tensing, and the young girl shrank back in surprise. Alijda reached out to touch Kat’s shoulder.
“Please clarify?” she asked gently, looking at Rose.
Rose cleared her throat. “Um. Just, seems like this Compton guy feels he has something to prove. What if removing Fate, his key source of information, drives him into doing a boneheaded thing later on instead of backing down?”
“In which case I’d hope your plans don’t involve you simply waltzing away,” Firestorm grumbled.
“You’re right, Rose,” Alijda agreed. “We do need more information before we act.” She released Kat’s shoulder as she felt his posture relaxing. Though his jaw remained clenched.
“Do you know anything more about Compton’s intentions?” Kat asked, looking at Firestorm.
“No. I’m not the font of knowledge you seem to think I am,” the planetary resident insisted.
“We need to talk to Beam,” Rose put in. “I mean, wasn’t her whole plan to learn more? She doesn’t know we’re out here now, worried. She might have real good ideas, if we can get to her, as she’s seen this guy up close.”
“Another good point,” Alijda yielded. “The question is, how can anyone get to Beam when she’s in that tent, without causing Compton to overreact?”
They exchanged glances. Kat sighed. “I have a thought,” he admitted. “But I don’t like it, because it involves putting someone else in danger.”
“Let’s hear it anyway,” Alijda said.
When Alijda teleported into the clearing, she made a point of trying to arrive near the spot that Kat said Compton had been pointing at earlier. That helped her to see the stone circle on the ground, two steps away, with some sort of engraving on it. Possibly a four leaf clover? Interesting.
She didn’t have much time to think about it though, because her presence in the purple cloud of smoke had attracted everyone’s attention in the area. She raised her hands into the air as Compton’s security guy pointed a gun at her.
“Oh, golly!” Alijda said, trying to put a quaver into her voice. “What happened? However did I get here? What’s going on?”
Compton, the shorter man with the beard, had been in the process of doing something with a potion, looming over Destiny, who was on the ground. Or rather, Fate – Alijda supposed she should start thinking of the woman that way. They hadn’t been sure what Compton had been trying to accomplish from the edge of the clearing, but Alijda saw it now. He’d been cutting Fate with a knife, then applying a healing potion, as some sort of torture technique.
Alijda hated the guy immediately. She forced her expression to remain neutral.
Compton pulled Fate back to her feet, pointing at Alijda. “How is this possible?” he demanded of her. “How can people be coming through that thing before I’ve fully opened it?!”
“I still don’t know, and even if I did, I wouldn’t tell you,” Fate said tearfully. She spat at his feet.
Bonus points to Fate. Alijda took a few steps forwards, her arms still up, to help pull everyone’s gaze back to her. “Can you send me back now?” she asked. “I’d hate to be late for my CyberArm class.”
Only Alijda noticed Fate’s eyes widen slightly. She the woman gave a hopeful smile in response.
“Stop where you are,” Compton’s man said, waggling his gun to arrest Alijda’s forward motion.
“Hey, Ned,” Compton called out at the same time. “Bring more rope out here, we’ve got another one.”
In less than a minute, Ned had emerged, and Alijda had had her arms bound behind her. She was then pulled towards the tent. “I can walk,” she said, petulantly.
“You can shut up,” Ned countered. He pushed her inside and she nearly fell on her face.
The tent was big enough to fit four people comfortably, and contained a few rolled up sleeping bags, implying that Compton had planned on camping out for a while. Granted, that could be due to his coming into the area from another town. The open container of potions and what looked like a supply of fireworks was a bit harder to explain away. Compton had a plan, but what was it?
“Oh!” was Beam’s only exclamation as Ned marched in behind Alijda, pushing her over next to the holographic girl.
Alijda fired off a smile at Beam as Ned got busy tying up her legs. “Hi again. Rose is worried about you,” she remarked.
Beam looked away. “No,” she sighed. “Rose hates–”
“–being drunk,” Alijda finished. “It makes her say silly things she regrets. Gotta get used to us humans being irrational, Beam.”
Beam turned back, a hopeful look on her face. Ned stood up and brushed off his hands. “Do I have to gag you, girlie? Or will you shut up?” he asked.
Alijda glared at him. “Do I have to spell out the fact that we know each other and obviously came from the same place? Or does your boss not care to have that information?”
Ned glared back. He looked from her, to the front of the tent, and back. Then he reached into a nearby pack, pulling out a towel. Stuffing one corner of it into Alijda’s mouth, he then turned and walked back outside.
Alijda gave his back a nasty look. She turned back towards Beam, glancing down at the towel which was protruding from between her lips, which she couldn’t easily spit out. Beam leaned in close, grabbing the material between her own teeth, and she pulled it free. Alijda tried to spit out the aftertaste.
“At least these guys are idiots,” she said.
“Which is bad,” Beam insisted. “Very bad, considering what they know and what they’re attempting.”
Alijda caught the undercurrent of fear in Beam’s tone. “Okay. I’m all ears, and ready to teleport away again with the information,” she said.
Beam glanced towards the tent flap.
“Don’t worry, Kat and Firestorm are ready with a distraction to buy us more time if we need,” Alijda insisted. “What have you found out?”
Beam nodded. “Right. Well, you’ll need the backstory. I learned it when they left me and Destiny together while they were setting up camp. She told me it all started with Compton’s father. A man who abducted people from other worlds, recruiting them to work here, for him.”
Alijda flinched. “Wait. So Destiny – who is Fate, by the way – was abducted?”
Beam nodded again. “Compton Sr. had some way of scrambling people’s minds, giving them false histories so they wouldn’t want to go back home. But it didn’t work on Dest– Fate,” Beam corrected herself. “Possibly because she carried her own ward of protection. She even escaped from him. Tried to get local authorities to go after Compton Senior, but her story was too fantastical, and he was too influential. Plus the guy was smart, shutting down his activities when she began pointing fingers.”
“Damn. So he was a successful businessman largely due to illicit abductions from other magical worlds,” Alijda reasoned. “Did he take items as well as people?”
“Probably. So, this left Fate resigned to living out her days here, because it didn’t seem like anyone knew of other Earths at all. Of course, she did try to find people living here who might be like her, creating her club of people with powers not-quite-right for this world. But she never told them her history, fearing they might simply be locals with quirks.”
Alijda frowned. “But then why would Compton’s son now be–” It came to her. “He inherited everything when his dad passed away. He must have found information in his dad’s records, and wants to start this whole portal thing back up. To become a success story. Hoping Fate can fill in any missing pieces towards re-activating it.”
“Bingo. And he got to Fate using that Ned guy,” Beam added. “Managed to get him on her list, then boom, abduction.”
“And the cyber arm?” Alijda wondered.
Beam made a shrugging motion. “Fate found it in the clearing one day. After all, this apparently IS a dimensional weak point. She didn’t want to leave it around for anyone else to find, but hoped that despite removing it, it would phase back into her world at some future time. Hence the symbol she placed on it.”
Alijda nodded, and was about to ask another question, when there were a couple of shouts from outside the tent.
“Damn, we’re almost out of time,” she realized. “Beam, do you know how best to stop Compton?”
Beam shook her head. “All I know is he’s planning a ritual, and we can’t underestimate him. He knows things through whatever his father left behind. The only reason he’s waited to act on the stuff outright is out of a fear that he’ll end up trapped on some other world. Hence his nabbing of Fate. But if he’s cornered, who knows what he’ll do.”
Alijda nodded. “Pity we’ve still got Firestorm with us, or we could just portal everyone here up to the Station and sort it out from there.”
Beam snickered. “It amuses me that you think Epsilon has that much power,” she said. “But even so, Compton’s two friends still think he’s a bit nuts. We don’t want to give his stories more credence. I kind of regret claiming that I appeared from another place as it is, and am kind of hoping we can claim to be part of a joke that Compton himself set up for them.”
“Mmmm.” Alijda glanced towards the front of the tent as the shouting got louder. “Once I’m out of here, can you go holographic?”
“I’d need to be able to touch my earring,” Beam admitted. “Also, physical objects on my person phase with me, so I’d still be tied up. Even assuming my power reserves are enough to do it.”
“You want to come with me then?”
Beam shook her head. “I won’t leave Fate with them. Underneath it all, I’m still a hologram. Even if they cut me, my blood isn’t real, so better me than her.”
Alijda imagined that while Beam’s blood might not be ‘real’, it’d still hurt like hell, given how the blonde girl’s reactions had been programmed to mimic that of humans. But there wasn’t time to argue, plus maybe Beam could phase, once freed.
“I can at least help with your hands,” Alijda reasoned, given her ability to decide whether to take objects with her on a teleport or not. “Show me the ropes. Alice, it’s time to check in with Rose!”
“Roger wilco,” came Alice’s voice. “Apologies to any pilots listening in who are cringing and want to smack me.”
“You kept the comms open,” Beam realized. “Smart. Sorry I couldn’t activate my own communicator once they got me.” She flipped over to present her back to Alijda, her arms bound tightly together behind her.
Alijda edged down towards Beam’s bottom, closing her mouth over the end of the rope and closing her eyes. She visualized the predetermined area in her mind, and that she wanted to be there with with the ropes.
Gods, but she hated teleporting blind. Even with live surveillance cameras, there was always the chance that something would turn up at just the wrong moment, or that there was some nigh invisible wire that would end up perforating her body, or…
“Rose says you’re good, Alijda,” came Alice’s voice.
‘My life’s in their hands,’ Alijda thought. She teleported.
With her eyes closed, she didn’t experience any visual disorientation, but there was a bit of motion sickness as she fell the half metre onto Firestorm’s tarp, the one Kat and his group had used earlier for his communication ritual. They’d set it out earlier for this very reason.
Alijda spat Beam’s ropes out of her mouth after she landed – seriously, she could use some mouthwash after this mission – and drew in a huge lungful of air. She seemed to be alive, if still trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey. Blinking her eyes open confirmed that she had made it to the prearranged failsafe location.
“She’s here,” Rose’s voice said from behind her. “Uh, you want me to untie you, Alijda?”
“Please,” Alijda rasped. “I’m a little too shaken up to teleport out of these at the moment.”
She heard Rose’s feet approaching on the tarp, and then the redhead was looming over her, fiddling with the ropes binding her hands. “Alice passed on most of what she heard to us,” Rose assured. “But the only real plan we have remains Firestorm’s preference for launching fireballs at their tent.”
Alijda chuckled. “Well, that would set off the fireworks they have in there, so it’s sure to mess up whatever their goals are,” she remarked. “But that’s risky.”
“Even given Kat’s ability to control fire?”
“Hmmm, point. Still, our best bet might be subterfuge,” Alijda decided. “They’re not that smart. We could make Compton think he’s awakened some sort of dimensional gods his father had offended. Scare him away for good. I think Fate would play along.”
Then again, as she said it, she realized that might only add credence to his beliefs. The very thing Beam had hoped to avoid.
Rose sat back as she pulled Alijda’s ropes free. “There’s no way the Project could simply shore up this dimensional spot then?” she asked. “Making all of Compton’s efforts totally moot?”
“Oh, we could totally do that,” Alice’s voice offered up through the communicator. “The problem is it’d take time, and the process further weakens the forces, much like how waves pull back from a shoreline before a tsunami. Do we really want to risk that when Compton might know how to drive a wedge in?”
Alijda chewed on her lower lip as she considered the options.
 When I looked up the phrase, I learned “roger” means ‘received and understood’ while “wilco” means ‘will comply’, making both words together rather redundant.
VOTING CLOSES NOON EST SATURDAY DECEMBER 2nd
PATHS NOT TAKEN:
If Fate had come through the portal voluntarily, it would have been because she’d been having dreams, with Compton’s dad being a coincidental thing she witnessed upon arriving. If Fate had come through accidentally, it would have been because of backwash (or something) from Compton’s dad taking his magical objects off neighbouring worlds. The abduction route led us towards actual human trafficking, rather than something more benign.
I had another medical appointment a couple days ago. Life’s stabilizing, I think we’re back on a two week schedule here. In other news, I wrote a post for the “Time Travel Nexus” about a “Back to the Future” comic book, and my NaNoWriMo for “Time Untied” has reached 25k (though Carrie’s still only on day three of University). It’s going to be an undertaking; I’ll keep poking away. Thanks for reading here – wow, and 7 votes last time!