EPSILON DELTA, PART FIFTEEN: ROSE TO THE OCCASION
Rose watched Alijda as the older brunette woman considered their next move. At last, Alijda stood and moved off of the tarp, rubbing the areas where she’d been tied up. “Well, Firestorm is the resident of this planet,” she concluded. “Might as well go with his plan.”
“Really?” Rose said, surprised. It wasn’t that she had anything against the idea of fire bombing Compton’s supply tent. She had simply expected a plan with more finesse to come up.
“Unless someone else has an objection,” Alijda clarified. “Plus I suppose you are technically still in charge of the Station, Rose. Are you good with us doing this?”
“Oh.” Well, her plan had been kind of shot down by Alice. “Uh, yeah, I suppose.”
“Then I’ll spread the word,” Alice chirped over the communicator. “Because we’ve got to get on this fast. Beam turned on her communicator after Alijda left, so I’m now tuned into the happenings of Compton’s tent. FYI, Ned’s on his way to tell the others that Alijda escaped. He also beat up Beam a little.”
“He did WHAT?” Rose shrieked, one hand clenching into a fist.
“He hath attacked your lady love,” Alice clarified. “Give ‘em hell, Rose.”
Rose spun, staring towards the clearing. She couldn’t see it through the underbrush, but knew where it was. In part because Firestorm was sending up balls of fire, and Kat was making them burn up in the air as a distraction, one which was easy to spot in the darkness.
Presumably, the two of them would now start to smash their fire down into the clearing. Destroying Compton’s plans, while sowing enough confusion for Alijda to teleport Fate and Beam to safety. And as they did that, Rose would… watch.
After giving the order, all she could do was watch.
Her hand fell open. “I have no powers. I guess I’ll fold up the tarp here.”
Alijda cleared her throat. “Actually Rose, as much as I don’t want to have to do that blind teleport a second time, it would be good to keep the tarp here. Just in case.”
“Awesome. Means I’m zero help.”
Alijda reached for Rose’s hand, and Rose turned to see the older woman giving her a reassuring smile. “Oh, Rose. You’re the one who got us here. By sniffing out Beam. That helped.”
Rose shrugged. “Except anyone could’ve done it,” she pointed out. “If they’d been the one stamped by the police instead. But it’s cool,” she continued, before Alijda could speak up again. “You’re older and more experienced anyway. Go give ‘em hell on my behalf.”
Rose forced out a smile. Alijda still seemed to hesitate, until Alice’s voice came back over the communicators.
“Beam’s getting clear of the tent,” Alice announced. “Kat and Firestorm are starting their run.”
“Hell incoming,” Alijda assured Rose. She dashed off towards the clearing.
Rose nibbled on her lower lip. She activated her communicator. “Alice, can you let me know when Beam is all safe and sound? I mean, along with everyone else too. Obviously.”
“No problem,” Alice assured her. “If you want, while you’re waiting, you can think about who should take this station back from you. Once the problem’s been dealt with.”
“Oh, right,” Rose groaned. “Can’t it just be Beam again? Or you?”
“The all-knowing dimensional God could object,” Alice reflected. “But then, they might not have a leg to stand on. Given how Beam bringing you in did save the station, and me coordinating here now proves that I would still be an asset.”
“Gods might not even have legs in the first place,” Rose mused.
“They move in mysterious ways,” Alice affirmed. She then continued to hum, “It’s alright, it’s alright, it’s all right. They move in mysterious ways.”
Rose ran her fingers back through her hair. Perhaps almost as important as who she chose for the job would be who she did NOT choose. Because what would Alice or Beam do if they weren’t working on Epsilon? For that matter, was there even anyone else to choose? Alijda had already said she wasn’t interested. What about Kat – or could having him be in charge cause problems for Alijda, putting their relationship into a chain of command.
“Oh, don’t pick a guy to run the place,” Alice added, as if reading her thoughts. “That’d be vetoed. I mean, can you even imagine a male administrator patrolling the multiverse? Ha! Men’s egos can be so fragile. Things would get seriously screwed up.”
Rose chuckled. “What’s that a quote from?”
“Not quoting, it’s just a truism. Oh, hey, hold on. These power readings are spiking, that shouldn’t be…” The humour vanished from her tone. “Everyone. Get out. Get out now, NOW, N–”
There was a blast of feedback from the communicator, making Rose wince and hold her arm out to the side. At the same time, the Earth shook. Moments later some sort of shockwave was projected out from the vicinity of the clearing, knocking Rose back on her ass.
Then things were eerily silent.
Rose did her best to shake it off, though she felt queasy. When she reopened her eyes, she saw a number of leaves and pine needles all around her on the ground, shaken free by the blast. For a moment, it seemed like there were even more trees surrounding her too – until Rose realized she had double vision again. She closed her eyes, counted to three, and when she looked once more, the problem had resolved itself.
Rose scrambled to her feet and ran for the clearing.
She nearly tripped over the blonde woman in the dark, but managed to sidestep her in time. Going down on one knee, Rose quickly felt for a pulse, only to realize that the woman was breathing.
Also, it wasn’t Beam. So with that hair, and more to the point that plain looking dress, it had to be Destiny. Or rather, Fate, the local potion master and Kat’s childhood friend.
“Hey, are you gonna be okay?” Rose asked, gently tapping at the woman’s cheek.
Fate moaned. “Today I’ve been kidnapped, tortured, and caught in a magical explosion, what do you think?” she grumbled. She cracked an eye open. “Who are you, anyway?”
“Rose Thorne,” the redhead said with an uncertain smile. “With Team Beam, trying to take down Compton and save you.”
“Oh, YOU’RE Rose,” Fate muttered. She tried to push herself up.
Rose wasn’t sure how to take that. She glanced back towards the clearing – it was now close enough to be seen through the trees, in fact some of those trees had been bent away from the area – and decided that, for right now, the stranger in front of her had to take precedence over her team. She helped support Fate into a seated position.
“I am indeed,” Rose agreed. “Can I help you?”
“Gimme a second.” Fate pressed her palm against her head, squinting at Rose through the darkness. “Huh. You don’t look like the most amazing lesbian anyone would ever meet, but then me and Beam didn’t have tons of time to talk while Compton was setting up camp.”
“Ah. Well, y’know, I’m not sure how many other lesbians Beam has really met,” Rose said. She hoped she wasn’t blushing foolishly.
Fate chuckled. “Ah, young love. Those were the days.”
Rose rubbed her neck. “So, um, did you get blown back here by that explosion?” she asked, trying to change the subject.
“No,” Fate admitted, lowering her arm. “It was that teleporting woman. She pulled me away from Compton, we appeared here, she said she’d be right back, then she vanished in a purple cloud. Moments later, boom, and I’m on the ground. What happened, did Compton’s tent blow up or something?”
“I think so? At least, that was part of the plan,” Rose admitted. She tapped at her communicator. “Alice? Alice, what happened?” There was no answer.
Fate coughed. “Okay. So, bright side, Compton can’t use his fireworks and other explosives to force open a dimensional portal. Nor can he use his potions and other magical items to force open a dimensional portal. But, down side, I think those two things interacted in a negative way as they were taken out. Hopefully not in a way that opened a dimensional portal.”
“Dimensional portal bad, I get that,” Rose affirmed.
“Bad in the hands of Compton’s damn family is all,” Fate clarified, taking in a long breath.
Rose nodded. “Right. Well, give me a moment, I’ll go see if I can tell what happened.”
Rose began to push herself back to her feet, only to have Fate reach out and grasp her leg. “Wait, let me come,” she requested. “Sounds like you’re cut off from your friends, and I might be able to help diagnose the situation.”
Rose hesitated. Fate was bound to slow them down, but still, the woman had a point.
She reached her arm out. Fate grasped it, and Rose hauled her up to her feet. Fate smiled. “Thanks, Rose. So, do you have a thing for older women at all?”
Rose flinched. “What? No. That is, damn, I’m sure you’re a nice person and all but I didn’t even know you were–”
“Trying to lighten the mood,” Fate finished, interrupting. “Because you seem tense as all get out. Though I suppose the situation warrants it. Sorry, it was a bad joke, let’s get a move on.”
“Right. I knew that, not really,” Rose said.
Apparently Fate had a weird sense of humour. Meaning she’d get along just fine with the rest of the Epsilon team. Actually… what if Fate were put in charge of Epsilon? Could that be a thing? Or would the trauma Fate had suffered here be a deterrent to being in charge? Rose made a mental note to ask Kat about it in private.
Assuming Kat was still okay after the mystical explosion.
The two of them crept closer to the clearing.
The first thing Rose saw was the bodies. Since the clearing was still magically lit, they were hard to miss. She started to charge in closer, only to have Fate grasp her shoulder, preventing the motion. “That can’t be good,” she muttered.
Rose turned to see what Fate was looking at. That’s when she saw what had to be Compton.
The short man with the scruffy beard was standing and whistling some distance away from the bodies, with one hand pointed at the ground. His other held Beam up by the ear. The blonde hologram was slumped on the ground, her eyes open, but seemingly blank. Rose’s hands had curled back into fists before she realized it.
Yet charging in was the wrong course of action. Rose shrugged off Fate’s grip, gliding behind the nearest tree, peering around it to get a better look at the situation.
The bodies she’d seen were those of Alijda and one of Compton’s henchmen. She now saw that Kat, Firestorm, and the other henchman were also lying prone on the ground. Before Rose could ask herself if they were okay, Compton turned to look down at something, and Firestorm was moving.
The cloaked man sat up, thrusting his arm forward and letting out a humming noise. A fireball appeared in the air, streaking towards Compton.
It bounced off an invisible wall, flying back in the direction it had come.
“Damn it,” Kat said. Rose watched as Firestorm rolled away, with the fireball striking the ground and quickly burning itself out as Kat stared at it.
“Oh, you thought I had to be watching you to bounce your attacks back?” Compton snarked, ceasing his whistle. “How wrong you are. No, no, this power, awakened in me by that explosion, you have no chance of defeating it. Not with such pathetic attacks. And soon, I’ll have bled out enough energy from this strange one” – he jerked Beam’s head by the ear – “to gain full mental control over this mystic doorway!”
“Well, that’s bad,” Fate muttered near Rose’s ear.
Compton turned to look at some trees. “You hear that, Destiny, wherever you are? You’ll rue the day you crossed me, make no mistake!”
“That’s worse,” Fate added. Compton resumed whistling.
Rose turned to face the older woman. “Can you work some of your symbol magic to stop him?”
“Hmph. If he were unconscious, maybe,” Fate said. “Seems like he’d resist most anything right now. I don’t suppose you have magic abilities that would knock him out?”
Rose shook her head. “I have zip all for magic. Unless you count the tracking spell the cops gave me.”
Fate frowned. “Oh? That’s bizarre. The police would only have given you that ability if you already had major magic potential. And even if it was dormant, that blast wave would have triggered something for you, since it also did for Compton… Rose, did you feel anything after the wave hit?”
“Nauseous,” Rose said. “And I also saw double for a bit, but that happened after I got stamped in the police station too. Oh, and earlier, in your place. I’m probably overexerting myself or something.”
“I don’t think so,” Fate said, her eyes widening. “Were you in the presence of strong magic each time you saw double?”
“Uh, I guess?” Rose realized. The protection spell, the tracking spell, and the explosion did make three for three. “Why is that important?”
“Because it means the magic inside you is resonating with your surroundings,” Fate explained. “I’m pretty sure it’s the same sort of resonance which allows for my occult symbols to work more tangibly on this Earth. In fact, if you’re not careful, the magical backlash could lead to you feeling kind of drunk.”
“Oh, now someone warns me,” Rose muttered.
Fate grasped her by the shoulders. “Rose, this is great. If you’re seeing double, you might actually have the power to double the things you see, be it temporarily, or as an illusion.” She frowned. “If only we could somehow coordinate your ability with my symbols…”
“Ha ha! I can feel it happening,” Compton shouted in delight. “Control over this mystical gateway. Soon, I will be unstoppable!” He began to whistle louder.
Rose snapped her gaze back towards the clearing. It looked like Kat had crawled over to Alijda to check on her. Perhaps hoping that her teleport ability would be able to get to Compton, but she remained unconscious. Firestorm was pushing himself to his feet, but he looked unsteady. And Beam, poor Beam looked catatonic.
With still no word from Alice, it was up to Rose. Rose, and her doubling ability. Which honestly, she should have recognized sooner – after all, she had once been Algebra, capable of multiplying emotions. Was this so different?
Rose turned back to Fate. “Could I also duplicate living matter?”
Fate blinked, lowering her arms. “I don’t know.”
An idea was forming. “Tell me how to activate my magic here.”
“It’s different for everyone. But it is sound based. Humming, whistling, even the sound of a sneeze can trigger something under the correct conditions.”
Sneezing, that would probably just turn her nose on. But vocal notes, as a choir member, Rose knew all about those. She thought back to the scream she’d used when rushing into Fate’s home, the first time she’d experienced her double vision. It would do.
“Okay, Fate. If this works, just tell one of me how to coordinate with your symbols. If it doesn’t, um, avenge me.”
“One of you? Rose, what–”
Rose evaded Fate’s outstretched hand, dodging around the tree trunks to emerge into the clearing, jogging towards Compton.
“Hmmmm, what have we here?” Compton said, again ceasing his whistling as he turned to look at her.
“Rose, run away!” Kat shouted.
Rose stopped and stood her ground about five metres away from Compton. She could now see that the hand he had pointing down was directed at some sort of stone circle, which was engraved with a clover.
“Here’s your only warning,” Rose said, raising her own hand to point, while wishing her arm wasn’t shaking. “Stop what you’re doing, and let your hostage go.”
Compton smirked back. “Or else what?”
Rose drew in a breath, tried to envision multiplication, and screamed at approximately a middle C. As expected, Compton reacted as he had with the fireball, and bounced her spell back. At least, she assumed that’s what had happened, as she felt not only her vision doubling, but everything else about her as well.
She took a step to the left, as she simultaneously took a step to the right.
Both Roses felt a little queasy at that, but she immediately screamed again, to take advantage of Compton’s confusion.
“What trickery is this?” Compton demanded, as Rose became four. Apparently sensing that he had an actual fight on his hands, he released Beam’s ear, throwing her aside as he took a step closer to one of the Roses.
Rose began to circle left, even as she circled right, each version vaguely aware that only the Rose second from the left had any real permanence. Yet her other selves knew they didn’t feel like an illusion, so for as long as they were around, well, perhaps it was time to test out their self defence courses.
“You’re about to find out,” the Roses chorused as one.
A faint giggle came from the ground as Beam’s eyes refocussed. “Ooooh. You. Pissed. Off. My. Girl. Friend.”
Four sets of Rose cracked their knuckles.
Who will be taking over the Epsilon Project? OPTIONS:
VOTING CLOSES NOON EST SATURDAY DECEMBER 16th
PATHS NOT TAKEN:
Scaring Compton et al away with “gods” would have been the more problematic choice, given Beam’s reservations and the fact that Compton had nothing to lose. He’d have held fast, opened the portal and tried to bleed off magic, complicating things. Had they tried to close off the dimensions, an evil wizard would have come through the rift first, forcing Compton to team up with them to defeat the guy. As it was, we got Compton gaining powers.
THE ORACLE PROPHESIED:
The double vision cauldron of Part 7 was a throwaway item for me to use anywhere, if I wanted. For all I knew then, it was specific to the item, or the location. But when Part 9’s vote picked Rose to be deputized, and the double vision returned in Part 10 (“see deuce”), Rose’s specific brand of magic became all but inevitable. The oracle did not prophesize Rose doubling herself here, but hey, whatever works.
I’m pretty sure we’re down to one last instalment, which will be posted over the holidays. Then we’ll go into whatever got selected out of this post, because it doesn’t make much sense to have a runoff vote now (most everything is tied). So, go vote again on your fave? It renews every week. In other news, “Time & Tied”’s rerun has finished on RRL, and there were some character votes there, if you felt like contributing or seeing results in the final post. Thanks as always for reading here; I’m blown away by there being 7 votes for a second time running.