CHANCED ERASURES: PART THIRTEEN
Para wasn’t sure if she should be impressed by the dimensional shutdown device. As Sue pulled the sheet off, Para took in the lights at the top, the vertical lines within a rectangle within an oval, and the buttons on the pad below, and decided… it didn’t look that complicated. What was there to be impressed about?
“It’s like a handheld Mattel electronic football game,” Alice chirped. “If it was the size of a large Christmas tree.”
“I don’t know what that means,” Usa muttered, as she went to inspect the device. “As far as I knew though, this invention was supposed to allow for mass transport of items between dimensions. Not shut down travel. Can you prove otherwise?”
“We… don’t actually know how it works,” Sam admitted. “I was kind of hoping it would be better labelled. Or that you would have more information.”
Usa shook her head. “Maybe someone’s been playing you. Feeding you misinformation.”
“Maybe someone’s been playing all of us,” Thred suggested. He glanced at Alice.
“Maybe someone got getting tired of playing rugby and invented this,” Alice quipped. “Want a quarter back?”
“Usa, hold on. You mentioned this place had increasingly crazy security,” Sue reminded. “This can’t be a simple case of misinformation. I mean, you must have had some suspicions of Shay and the Council before this, otherwise why give us this chance at all.”
Usa crossed her arms. “Even so, I still have a duty here. I need proof positive.”
“You know, there’s still that rift,” Marlin spoke up. “Could we maybe deal with that first?”
Para got the distinct impression that Marlin was hoping to use ‘dealing with that’ as a chance to escape Usa, but he did have a point. She moved closer to Chartreuse. “I don’t suppose you’re able to get any useful impressions?” Para murmured. In response, Chartreuse nibbled her lower lip.
“How about this. If we activate the shutdown device for a short burst,” Sam suggested, “it could fix the rift as well as prove our point. Just bring one of the dimensional devices along and try to use it. If it doesn’t work, this device isn’t for mass transport.”
“Except what if, once we throw the switch, it never turns off again,” Sue cautioned.
“Okay,” Chartreuse said, stepping forwards. “Gonna, like, try something here now. Give me a moment?”
She took off the jade ring she’d been wearing to help acclimate her powers gradually to their surroundings, and reached out to give it to Para. Para took it, then watched as her mission commander moved to one of the unconscious scientists on the floor. Chartreuse passed a crystal around his head, and finally reached out to touch his forehead.
“Your mind to my mind,” Alice murmured. “Your thoughts to my thoughts.”
Usa took a step forwards. “What is she–”
“Chartreuse is learning about the device,” Para said, holding up her hand to prevent Usa’s advance. She was pretty sure it wasn’t through whatever means Alice had implied, but still.
“Or, you know, she’s flailing blindly in the dark,” Chartreuse admitted. She stood and moved on to another scientist. “I don’t control my impressions, but am kinda hoping one of them is thinking about using that thing, or would, like, have ended up using it in a possible future that I can then, you know, divert.”
“Look. There’s six buttons and a switch,” Marlin protested. “How hard can this be? We do this by trial and error.”
The young wizard reached out for the device, only to have Thred grab his arm. “You want to hit the button labelled ‘CANS’ or the one labelled ‘POTS’?” Thred said. “Because I feel like we need neither of those things in our dimension right now.”
“We’re not in a hurry,” Sam said. “Let’s let Chartreuse try again.”
“I kind of thought that guy running off for reinforcements was an issue,” Marlin groused. But other than shaking free of Thred, he made no further objection.
The third scientist Chartreuse touched made her sit up straighter and stare off into the distance. Then she turned towards Sue and Sam. “Okay, so, the TARTS/POTS button will, like, switch that thing on and off. Meaning we can turn it off, if things go badly. That’s, you know, about the best I can do.”
Sue searched Chartreuse’s expression, then nodded. “All right, so we activate it then,” she relented, looking towards Usa for confirmation. “And see what it does to the dimensions. After all, what have you got to lose?”
“My job?” Usa said dryly. She followed it up with a sigh and another shake of her head. “But, I haven’t been thrilled with what I’ve had to do lately. Hurry up, get me your proof.”
The device was large enough that both Thred and Sam were needed to carry it. Sue was the one who grabbed a couple of the portable dimensional devices from the back, Usa not wanting to let Marlin, Alice, Chartreuse or Para near them. Para could understand that.
They all headed back out to the entrance room, which by now had plush kittens littering floor everywhere. Para helped to clear a space on the ground underneath the rift, so that the device could be set down. Everyone stood back, leaving Sam standing next to it.
“Okay,” Sam said, taking a breath. “So we turn it on.” Sam hit the TARTS/POTS button. There was a pause. Another plush kitten fell to the floor. “…and nothing happens.” He crouched down for a closer look.
“Actually, a light came on,” Alice corrected. “I suspect that now, someone will need to dial in a dimension that matches the rift, so we can shut it down.”
“Dial? I thought when this thing was on, it would turn everything else off,” Thred grumbled.
“Then why have the buttons for CANS and NO ANTIDOTE?” Marlin sniped back.
Chartreuse toyed with her crystal. “Is anyone else worried about, like, poking around randomly with that thing?”
As she spoke, another plush kitten fell out of the rift. It bounced off Sam’s head, and knocked against the CANS button. More of the machine lit up, and pulses started to scroll across the rectangular box with the vertical lines.
“Oooh, he’s at the twenty, the ten, touchdown,” Alice murmured.
“Reminds me of a heart monitor,” Para observed. “Perhaps it’s doing a scan?”
“A cans scan… of COURSE!” Usa snapped her fingers. “That’s it. It makes sense now. Those plans I saw, they were encoded this way.”
“Plans?” Sam mused.
“Another part of why I was inclined to believe you,” Usa admitted. “The Council’s plans for this thing, they were written in a way I didn’t understand, and they wouldn’t explain it. But I see now it’s anagrams. Cans for scan. The same way in our school the ‘secret’ door can be read as ‘erects’, if you use the letters as ordered by room.”
“Ahh, anagrams. It’s how ‘Search and Rescue’ can become a phrase like ‘Chanced Erasures’,” Alice quipped. “Makes sense.”
“Fine, it’s a scan. What’s it scanning for?” Thred wondered.
“More to the point, I now know what ‘no antidote’ means,” Marlin said, frowning. “It’s not good.”
“Speaking of not good – security’s been activated for this room,” Sue shouted, pointing over at the nearby vent. “Hear that hissing? It’s knockout gas.”
“Dammit,” Usa muttered. She ran over to the main desk, and the console there. “Fortunately I have the codes to turn that off. Oh, hello Polsit,” she remarked, seeing the unconscious man there. She quickly typed in her codes.
Chartreuse looked over at Sue. “How much time do you think we have before Shay storms in here with more troops?” she wondered.
“Not long,” Sue admitted. “Surely there’s some way to get the proof we need without hitting random buttons. Usa, you said you saw plans?”
“Yes, but I didn’t take pictures.” Usa straightened. “I think we’d better head back to the interrogation room. Unless one of you has more dimensional knowledge than Shay.”
Para cleared her throat. “Ah, hello? It occurs to me that Alice probably has some experience.” After all, Alice’s time spent manning the Epsilon Station, coupled with her eidetic memory, had to count for something.
Everyone turned to look at Alice, who fired off a huge Cheshire-Cat smile. “Possible. I figured I wasn’t high on the trust list, after failing to convince Shay of anything. But hey, if you’re willing to give me a chance…”
“That’s not a good idea,” Thred protested.
“But we don’t have much of a choice at this point,” Sam yielded. “Okay Alice, let us know what you can come up with. Knowing that if you betray our trust, there will be consequences.”
Alice cracked her knuckles. “Of course! Now pop the back off of that thing and give me five minutes.”
Usa pulled a gun out of the main desk. “This only stuns,” she remarked. “But as Sam said, don’t try anything funny.” She trained it on Alice as Sam and Thred managed to unscrew the back, revealing all the electronics.
“Oooh, pretty,” Alice muttered. She both peered and felt around inside for a bit. Para spent the time looking at the reactions of everyone there. Only Usa didn’t seem tense, probably due to her security training. As they waiting, more plushies rained down from the rift near the ceiling.
“Okay,” Alice said at last, dusting off her hands. “So, pretty sure the scanner is, as we speak, locking in dimensional addresses – every ten yards. The ‘no antidote’ button will be the detonation, removing their link to this place. Interestingly, doesn’t matter how many addresses you lock in, so if we had more of a clue, we could seal only the rift while draining the device.”
“As interesting as that is, can you point to the bits that would be proof for Usa?” Sam wondered.
“Wait, back up to that detonation thing,” Marlin said, eyes widening. “Could this device torpedo other dimensions?”
Alice scratched her head, looking to Marlin first. “I doubt it? I’m good, but I’m not Mr. Wizard good. I’d need more time to – duck!”
Para spun to see where Alice was looking. In the entranceway stood Shay, and some woman who seemed to be part cat. They were pointing guns of the same type that Usa was holding. One was aimed at Sam, who was closest to the device, the other was aimed at… her. Para felt her bunny ears quiver.
Even as Para processed that her being a target was likely only because she was the one standing closest to the two arrivals, she was tackled to the floor. Somewhere, someone called out, “Sam!”. With that, there was the sound of three guns going off.
Para rolled to the side to take in the scene. Apparently Thred had jumped in front of Sam, and he now lay sprawled out on the ground. Shay, over by the entrance, was also unconscious, with the cat woman and Usa now pointing their guns at each other in a stand-off. And the one who had tackled Para… had been Chartreuse. She was also unconscious.
Para honestly wasn’t quite sure how to feel about that. Wasn’t it the role of subordinates to protect their leaders, not the other way around? Yet Chartreuse had taken the hit for her. As such, Para resolved to make sure Chartreuse was kept safe. She reached out to brush her fingers against Chartreuse’s hair, only to pause as someone spoke.
“Mary-Lynn Emrys,” Usa said dryly. “So you’re the reason for heightened security here.”
“Usa Staling,” Mary-Lynn said evenly. “Have you become a traitor to the Council?”
“I’ve learned that there’s something shady going on,” Usa fired back. “Let’s lower our weapons and figure things out.”
The cat woman seemed to think about it. “I think not,” she said at last. Then she adjusted her aim, and shot at the dimensional shutdown device. Sparks flew from the ‘on/off’ switch. The stun field had to be electronic in nature. What had Mary-Lynn done?
“Okay,” Alice said, side-stepping towards Sue. “Unless I miss my guess, we can’t shut that down any more, and once the current scanning completes, it’s going to unlink completely from everything that got scanned. I can only assume that’s what you were hoping to do.”
Mary-Lynn smiled. “Yup. Stun me all you like now, there’s nothing you can do to stop the plan from succeeding.”
Well, that couldn’t be good. Para scanned over everyone present for their reactions one more time. She couldn’t be sure, but three people seemed like they were about to try something.
Marlin, surprisingly enough, had his hand twitching towards his wand. A final escape attempt? Or was there something magical he could do to repair the device? More interestingly, if a dimensional traveller were the key person behind foiling the plan, what would that say to someone like Shay?
Sam also seemed tense, as if he was about to make a jump… somewhere. To grab Usa’s gun? For Alice’s invulnerability item? Para wasn’t sure what he hoped to accomplish, but a success might cement his involvement with the group of dimensional investigators. Just as a failure could ruin his chances forever.
Then there was Sue, who seemed a bit translucent – as she had her invisibility power on her side. Could she use that to convince Mary-Lynn to fix things? On the plus side, it would mean that someone who had been involved with Council affairs would be cleaning up their own mess. But then, maybe that would simply perpetuate a system that needed to change.
As Para finally completed her movement to softly touch Chartreuse on the head, she wondered what was going to happen.
VOTING CLOSES 7am EST MONDAY JAN 7th
PATHS NOT TAKEN:
The improvisation decision included that part of where Chartreuse was trying to get an impression that would be of use. Had Usa known how the device worked, they would have been able to negate the charge as Alice implied, making for a different cliffhanger at the end (more of a hostage situation?). And if Usa could have found Shay, it would have meant a return to the hidden Council room, now with some important documents. There was also another aspect decided with that vote, which we won’t see until the last part. And I had no real plans on the device, so thanks to John Golden for the Mattel suggestion.
A few things! First of all, yes, I’ve been playing with anagrams this whole story as far as names are concerned, Alice kind of lampshading the title itself. (See also, this entry title.) Only two names haven’t involved anagrams, did you catch them? Secondly, when this “Epsilon” ends, I will likely return to the follow-up Melissa Virga story from my archives, unless anyone has another preference (recall the options were in this post). Comments are open.
Finally, a Happy New Year to you – here’s the results of the 2018 coins I received over the past 363 days. Namely 3 toonies, 9 loonies, 5 dimes, and 2 each of quarters and nickels, for a total of 21 – no differing designs. You may recall 2017 had 20 coins while 2016 had 37 coins and 2015 had 42 coins. I have no theories, merely the data. Wondering why this is a thing? Consider reading my Time & Tied story. That’s everything, hope you stay tuned for the conclusion of “Chanced Erasures”.