SMOKE WITH MIRRORS: PART FIVE
“Hello! I’m under arrest, how’s your day going?”
There was a pause before Alijda got her answer, which gave her time to move the watch communicator from her mouth to her ear. “Better than yours, apparently,” Fate’s voice came at last. “Am I your one phone call?”
“This is our scheduled check-in,” Alijda reminded. “The police confiscated magical items. This communicator is not that.”
Even so, she had turned down the volume, given how there might be some sort of monitoring system in her cell… and she wasn’t alone in here either. Hence why she had to raise the device back up to her ear again to hear Fate.
“Give your report then.”
Alijda pushed herself back to her feet. She had claimed the far corner of the cell for herself, leaving the two cots for the three other individuals. Two of them – who gave the impression that they were sister and brother – had laid down and leaned against one, respectively. They seemed to have fallen asleep over the past two hours.
The final person, an older man, had lain down on the last cot. But while he gave the appearance of being asleep like the others, Alijda was pretty sure it was an act.
“Haven’t found anything about the virus jumping beyond humans,” Alijda reported. “Tried to follow a lead about a forest becoming enchanted, but that seems to have been caused by a human, in the end.”
“Is that what got you arrested after only four days?” Fate wondered.
“Nope,” Alijda said. She dusted off her bottom, more a habit from rising than the floor itself being dirty, then swept her cloak aside to press a foot back against the wall as she continued to speak. “Caught in the crossfire of class warfare. Virus activates latent magical abilities, yeah?”
“Yeah,” Fate repeated back, warily.
“Well, society can’t have the common folk developing magic powers. That’s bad for the ruling class, who more or less had the magic monopoly until this became widespread. So the cops are rounding up people who exhibit powers but seem low class, ‘for our own safety’.” Alijda realized she was raising her fingers to make air quotes, and made herself stop.
“Oh. We made you look too low class?”
Alijda glanced down at the T-shirt and jeans she was sporting underneath the cloak that Epsilon had provided. Then her fingers idly brushed over the face mask she wore, to prevent her from actually being infected. It was top of the line, but had been crafted to resemble a cheap, cloth version. “Apparently.”
“And you haven’t teleported out of your situation because…?”
Alijda hesitated at that. Her teleportation ability had been one of the key reasons for her selection on this mission, after all. The power to get away from people though seemingly magical means, which was really useful for avoiding crowds. And by extension, hopefully the virus itself.
“At first, it was research,” Alijda admitted after a moment. “And now that I’m on the inside, their police stations are set up to suppress magical powers.”
“But your ability came from a biochemical accident,” Fate protested. “It’s not magical.”
“I know,” Alijda said, rolling her eyes. “I was there. Still, I haven’t seen a reason to test these suppression limits yet. More to the point, my peacing out might cause trouble for the others in here with me.”
“Hm. Okay, well, we’ll monitor your emergency band. We can pull you up here into quarantine at any time, though we’d prefer it not leave lots of questions for the locals down there.”
“Understood,” Alijda sighed. “I’ll be in touch.”
She shut off the communicator and strapped it back onto her wrist. Then she looked over at the cot with the old man on it.
“Do you want to talk to me yet?” Alijda asked. “Because I doubt I’ll be talking to anyone else this evening, and at this point, you likely believe I’m with the CIA or something. Figure I should debunk that.”
At that the man opened his eyes and sat up; he was also wearing a mask, but Alijda fancied that he was smiling. “I wouldn’t have said CIA. I originally thought you were a plant to learn more about those of us protesting the class system, but not any more. Since I gather you’re not from around here.”
Alijda shrugged. “I’ve been out of touch with city people for a long time.”
“Oh, sure. To the point where you either talk to your wrist device with no one on the other end, or to where you were asked to pass back information about the viral outbreak.”
“I certainly could be insane to the point of talking to myself,” Alijda offered, wiggling her eyebrows to try and compensate for her hidden facial expression.
The man shook his head. “Let me revise. I suspect you were not asked to pass information… you were recruited? Bribed?”
Alijda pursed her lips. The man was apparently a good judge of character. She had been recruited by Epsilon months ago, and she had in a sense been bribed to go on this mission.
By agreeing to go, Alijda had been able to see some of the algorithms for Beam, that autonomous hologram lady. She would later have the opportunity to network with someone named Trixie, a techno-witch, and fusing magic with programs seemed like a fascinating discipline.
Couple all of that with her investigation being of help to Alice, her occasional roommate who was also in the midst of a pandemic, and Alijda had felt like ‘no’ wasn’t an option.
Of course, insanity was still on the table – even with all that, what sane person would agree to investigate a world experiencing a viral pandemic?
“I’m indirectly helping out a friend,” Alijda admitted aloud, choosing to reference the situation with Alice.
“Ah! Someone you met before you started talking with members of our group last week? Or afterwards, as you gained more of a conscience?”
Alijda shook her head. “Nice try. I wasn’t in town last week.”
The man crossed his arms, scrutinizing her. Her casual dismissal there seemed to have caught him off guard. “Then you are a twin.”
“I’m not,” Alijda assured.
“Then you are a liar, or I am mistaken, neither of which bode well for our continuing to converse,” the man decided. He lay back down.
Alijda frowned, pushing away from the wall. This seemed like more than a simple misunderstanding. “Okay, hold up. Someone of my description was asking questions a week ago?”
The man did not answer, choosing instead to continue staring at the ceiling.
Alijda resisted the urge to sigh in exasperation. The trouble was, “Epsilon” had a limited time travel capability. She had seen it in action on the “Full Scale Invasion” mission, where a message had been sent back in time. Then she had been personally impacted by the problem of having experienced months, against Kat’s few hours, at her second encounter with the man.
Was something going to happen that necessitated continuing her investigation in the past? Or was time going to somehow fracture in the future?
“How about this third option then,” Alijda stated. “That wasn’t me, but may have been my spiritual form. It escapes me when I sleep. So I’d kind of like to know what went on.”
The man did turn back to her at that. He sized her up again. “There is more to you than meets the eye,” he said after a moment. “But this was not second hand information. I saw you personally, speaking with a friend of mine. Granted, with a different shirt and mask, but you were not spectral.”
“Impersonator then. I’m just that important.”
He slowly nodded. “That might also explain my young friend’s new ability.”
A lengthy pause followed, where he seemed to be hoping that Alijda would let something slip about the conversation she hadn’t yet had. “I hope my double was able to help him with it?” she said at last.
“Mmm. Like so many of the new abilities, the magic came with a dark side,” the man elaborated. “He can now see flashes of another person’s future. And yet, he was not able to perceive anything with you in the same way.”
Alijda tried not to let her frustration show. “Well, that wasn’t even me, so all this means is that my doppelgänger was not in control of her future, or something.”
Inwardly, she now wondered whether an upcoming temporal glitch was even “Epsilon” related. And she rather hoped that she had enough anti-depressant medications secreted away in the sole of her shoe to handle a few extra days, were things about to go sideways, throwing her into the past.
“Or perhaps your future is so bizarre that it could not be perceived,” the man said. “At any rate, perhaps it is to our benefit that I explain. You were asking him about–”
Without warning, the wall behind Alijda vaporized into nothing, and they could hear many people outside screaming.
“Free the people!”
“Defund the police!”
“Work your magic!”
The older man was immediately on his feet. “Jailbreak time. Another day, perhaps,” he stated to Alijda, before running out of the opening and towards the nearby crowd.
“Wait, what the… damn it,” she cursed, unable to take it all in at once. The brother and sister couple had been roused and were also rising to their feet. Moreover, it sounded like the police were running down the hall, but the chanting was very disruptive.
Alijda quickly jogged after the mystery man, but spotting him became impossible as a cloudy gas covered the area, making her eyes water.
“Well, if this virus was brought in from an exterior dimension, it’s sure as heck causing colossal issues for this planet,” she muttered.
With one hand rubbing her eyes and the other thrust out in front of her to push people aside, Alijda was able to get through the crowd, to a point where she felt like she could do a couple of quick teleports to escape.
Para had decided to speak up after seeing Fate stare at the computer monitor for at least two minutes without moving. Even after Para’s interruption, the ponytailed woman still didn’t move right away.
At last, a palm was slammed down on a console in frustration, before Fate turned away from the auxiliary control computers to face her. “No. Can I help you?”
Para felt her bunny ears twitch. “That was going to be my question to you.”
“Right.” Fate pressed a hand to her forehead, leaning back against the computer banks. “Right,” she repeated. “Thing is, I don’t know. Nothing makes sense, and I hate that.”
Para clasped her hands behind her back. “I’m a good listener?”
“You are,” Fate agreed. She ran her hand down her face. “Fine. Let’s recap. We’ve got Smoke, a virus that crosses dimensions and seems to affect both humans and technology, but not nature.”
“Have you confirmed technology, outside of Beam herself?”
“Mostly,” Fate answered. “From our recent readings off tech world, they’re having computer glitches. It’s partly why we wanted additional data from fantasy world, to cover the nature angle. But with that, Alijda’s giving us some new temporal connection.”
“The report about someone seeing her before she arrived, I read that.”
“Did you?” Fate frowned. “Remind me to double check your clearance. Though, this kind of clears up one mystery. Trixie was right to have us investigate our own investigation. Alice never tripped a scan. The scan was triggered through an encrypted communication we received. Possibly one we’ll send to ourselves, in the past.”
“Meaning we’re trying to help ourselves out somehow.”
“Except NO,” Fate said, the exasperation returning to her voice, “as we’re now synched alongside three worlds, which makes implementing actual time travel near impossible. So when are we going to send it? Meanwhile, we have no active artifact mission, and yet I’ve brought three of you civilians on board to assist in research. Feels like a flagrant violation of the rules.”
Para considered that. “This ‘Smoke’ may not be a physical artifact, but it IS something out of place dimensionally,” she pointed out. “Doesn’t that justify my being here, to help with vector analysis?”
“Yeah, loophole,” Fate grumbled. “Along with Trixie to tackle the mystery, and Alijda as her tech backup.” She shook her head. “At this point, maybe I should bring in even more people, to get their opinions… but if they don’t see whatever we’re missing, I’ll have had no justification for it.”
“Isn’t providing backup to Alijda and Alice on their pandemic worlds justification enough?”
At that, Fate hesitated. “Maybe?” she yielded. “Except we may want to recall Alijda anyway, since her investigation is dead-ending and everything we have is pointing back at Bunny World instead.”
Para shrugged. “If you think having Alijda here would help, I see no reason to–”
“But then, Beam’s coming out of quarantine. Maybe we should give her a new mission, to try and keep handling this ‘in house’ as much as possible,” Fate concluded. She put her hands on her hips. “If it was your call, what would you do?”
VOTING CLOSES ON
MONDAY JULY 20th THURS JULY 23rd?
PATHS NOT TAKEN:
Had Para gone to Tech world, we would have seen some link to ‘Clover Enterprises’, which Alice was talking about in Part 2. Had we waited for more from Alice, we would have expanded the situation on the main planet (possibly even time skipped) while introducing a research character or two. Any tie would have involved multiple scenarios. As it is, we got Alijda with another mystery, but it’s one I’ve been considering how to inject for a while.
Left the vote open for over twelve days; could have closed it after three. Thanks to the one person who was able to vote! With the late close, I thought I’d write through the weekend, but found it’s easier during the week (with Daycare open). Hence this part being late. Hopefully someone notices and has time to keep reading. Have a good one!