SMOKE WITH MIRRORS: PART NINE
How concerned should a bunny be about a bunny-making flu? It was a question which Para had pondered for weeks, ever since being summoned to the Epsilon Station. More so since Trixie had assumed that Para was one of the infected.
Could Para catch the virus? If she caught it, would she grow a second set of bunny ears? If so, would they be partially tied to her mood, as her parabolic ears currently were? Or given that she wasn’t human, would there be no physical effect, only mental problems?
Ever since Beam had been out of quarantine, Para had endeavoured to engage the other woman in conversation about the non-physical aspects of the disease. Just in case.
Para was now spending her time trying not to think about it, instead working to improve the Station’s sensors.
Granted, she didn’t know that much about the technology, but she’d asked Alijda for some help. And while her first human friend was more of a hacker than a sensor specialist, it gave the both of them something to puzzle though while Alijda was quarantined, after her return from the magical world.
The initial reason for Para’s work had been better communications in advance of future teleport retrievals. A larger part of the logic now was the encrypted message the Station had received, the one pointing it towards this pandemic problem in the first place. Perhaps they could locate the source? Or find more such messages out there?
Either way, it was fortunate that she’d put her efforts there. Because this meant that it registered right away when Trixie and Alice disappeared from routine scans for their communicators.
Para double checked. She attempted a triangulation from their last known position, and it looked like they’d been headed towards some sort of park. Somewhere Beam had frequented. An attempt to scan more directly revealed a blind spot in the sensors.
“That can’t be good,” Para muttered aloud.
Para wondered about calling Fate, but the poor woman was finally getting some rest after having sent Trixie down to the planet in the first place. So she opened an internal communication to Alijda instead.
“Hey, do you think we could finish our upgrades fast?” she asked.
Alijda’s head bobbed. It looked like she was sitting up. “Maybe,” she yawned. “Why?”
“I’ve lost track of the team on the planet,” Para explained.
Alijda flinched. “Go to Auxiliary Control and illuminate a panel there. So that I can see what you’re doing.”
“I’m already here,” Para remarked. “I’ll set it up straight away.”
They were collaborating in less than five minutes, Alijda visible on the panel from the waist up as she peered at what Para was doing.
“Okay,” Alijda said. “I think as soon as the amplifier is hooked in, we’ll get a signal boost.”
Para peered at the wires, making sure not to hook a positive to a negative. “You’d think the station could access the best equipment,” she mused aloud. “Or at least be able to replicate it or something.” This amplifier had been assembled from parts in a storage bin.
“There’s probably some law preventing them from grabbing the best dimensional technology,” Alijda remarked. She grinned. “They have to make due with temporarily grabbing the best people. Or, er, beings. Meaning us.”
Para half smiled herself as she completed the hookup. “Even though we’re in the dark. It makes me wonder about the God that Alice referred to in our first mission. Like, why can’t they help out more?”
“Or as Alice would say ‘what does God need with a Dimensional Space Station’,” Alijda remarked. “All I can say is her take was that we still needed to have free will to fix things. Or screw up. Or both, considering how she was fired. They’re good questions though, I’m glad you’re asking them.”
“I’ve been questioning more than usual lately,” Para sighed.
“Okay, that should do it,” Alijda said, as Para moved back. “Flip the switch.”
Para stood back up, dusting off her skirt. “Great. Let’s see if we can learn more about the blind spot.” She reached out to activate the enhancements.
“This area didn’t show up unless you were looking right at it, yeah?” Alijda observed. “Implies there could be more down there.”
“That’s unsettling,” Para said, frowning. “Also, it’s still there… albeit smaller. Oh wait, I’m picking up…” Para twisted a knob.
“Hello? Hello?” came Trixie’s breathless voice.
“Hello, Trixie?” Para asked.
“Oh, thank goodness,” Trixie sighed. “Hurry. We’re trapped in the elevator with valuable information. Can you beam us up? Like, we don’t need Beam but… you know what I mean, yes?”
“Um, let me check,” said Para. She looked towards Alijda, hoping her friend had some way to know.
Alijda looked at the ceiling. “Hey Ziggy, you clued in?” she asked the main computer.
“More or less,” the computer responded after a moment. “Parts of me go inactive during your work, given that I don’t entirely want to know what surgery it is you’re trying to perform on me.”
“Can we do what Trixie asked?” Para wondered.
A pause. “No, there is a scattering field in place. You will want Trixie to move further away from that location.”
Para cleared her throat. “Trixie, there’s–”
“I heard. What part of us being trapped in an elevator did you not get?” Trixie complained. “And yes, there’s an emergency hatch, but it’s stuck. In much the same way that my elbow is stuck in Alice’s side.”
“At least it’s not poking me in the breast any more,” came Alice’s deadpan voice for the first time. “This is not a large space.”
“Hey, waving my wrist communicator around WORKED, didn’t it?” Trixie shot back.
Para decided not to mention the sensor enhancements. “Ladies, you’re on the edge of a strange blind spot,” she explained. “Maybe instead you can provide us with information to shut it down, or get around it?”
“Information? Well, there’s a whole secret base down here under the park,” Trixie said. “Funded by Clover Enterprises.”
“Indirectly funded,” Alice elaborated. “It’s local, run by Vortex Limited, who have been making their money through magical upgrades to the world’s technological systems. Upgrades obtained through Clover.”
“Right, right,” Trixie agreed. “Though you’re the one who thinks this is all some global Clover Enterprises experiment.”
“Taking advantage of the locals, why wouldn’t it be?” Alice argued. “Besides, we DO know that some aspects of the magic have been less than compatible with indigenous biology. Which led to the current planetwide situation.”
“Oh, damn. The pandemic,” Alijda gasped.
“Right,” Alice confirmed. “The Bunny disease is natural, except not, because it came from components that never should have interacted. Clover is at fault.”
“Kind of makes your Epsilon Project sensible,” Trixie admitted. “Keeping items out of dimensions where they shouldn’t be. You never know what might happen when they mix.”
“But then how is the disease jumping dimensions?” Para asked. “And mutating?”
“That? Not sure,” Trixie said. “This Vortex scientist has been playing with different strains here, in an attempt to find a cure. Could be his corporation also has the ability to jump dimensions? We didn’t find evidence of that – yet – but it would account for the spreading.”
“I wonder if these guys offered a biological sample to Clover Enterprises,” Alice said. “Clover themselves could be the ones spreading it. After all, the first file we saw was for a trade, not a cash payment. Might have been for items to be provided later.”
“I feel like Clover wanted some of this blended magical technology up front though,” Trixie noted. “I mean, from what little I’ve learned through working with your Epsilon group, tech and magic fusions are not that common in the greater multiverse. Even on my Earth, it’s not as simple as it might appear.”
“Maybe,” Alice said, sounding unconvinced.
“The blend was certainly messed up on the tiny world I went to with Para,” Alijda recalled.
“These Vortex people have certainly mastered their fusion to the point of infecting Beam,” Para reminded. “I’m starting to think we DON’T want them getting their hands on Trixie, and all the extra information she has.”
“I’d settle for getting my hands off Trixie right now,” Alice remarked. “No offence.”
“None taken,” Trixie mumbled.
“So far I haven’t heard anything that would get us past the scattering field,” Para pointed out.
“Can I transmit Rixi’s files to you somehow?” Trixie suggested. “You might find something there.”
“That’s an idea,” Para agreed. “Can we link her device with Ziggy, or have it send the information as an attachment?”
“I will attempt to set up a link through this channel,” came Ziggy’s voice.
“Rixi, try to coordinate. Para, there’s a bunch of files, and we haven’t had time to read each… wait, the elevator’s moving again,” Trixie realized.
“Going down,” Alice sighed.
“Oh no, he’s calling us back,” Trixie yelped. “Beam us up, beam us up!”
“We’ll start working on an extraction plan,” Alijda noted. “No worries. Stall if you can.”
Alice sighed. “It’s my fault we’ve been caught,” she admitted. “I insisted we stay long enough to get the files. So, know what? Even though I’m not the one in those pants with that perfume, I’ll try to seduce him to get us free. Okay?”
“Ha ha, good joke,” Trixie grumbled.
“I’m totally serious,” Alice insisted. “He’ll be so confused by my doing it that you might have a chance to escape out the front. With all your tech-magic intelligence. No elevator there to slow you down. Right?”
Trixie sighed audibly. “As amusing as … fine with taking point on … clarify our cover story?”
Para frowned. The communication link was breaking up.
“We could … members of the Vortex Limited team following up …” Alice stated, just before the channel went completely dead.
“That’s not good,” Alijda said, redundantly.
“I was able to obtain a few files before we lost the link,” Ziggy commented. “Shall I pull those up for you?”
Para nodded. “Yes please, and I guess we’d better wake up Fate.”
Only fifteen minutes had passed since they’d lost the communication link. It didn’t feel like that much time to Para, but she suspected that it felt longer to Trixie and Alice, down on the planet.
Fate had tentatively labelled them as hostages, though for all they knew, the two Epsilon employees were running a convincing con job.
“I see three options,” Fate said, pacing back and forth. “First option is sending Beam and Para planet-side, to evaluate the situation. Possibly set up a signal booster on site to cut through the interference, and we get everyone back that way.”
“Don’t you need Beam to help with the Station?” Para wondered.
The blonde hologram shook her head. “Stuff I’m dealing with is routine enough that Alijda could handle it from her room for now, pyon pyon. Plus I know the planet and would blend right in.”
“Also, Para, I don’t want to send you alone,” Fate noted. “I won’t lie though, it might be dangerous.”
Para felt her bunny ears quivering. “Second option?”
“We contact the Vortex group,” Fate stated. “There’s enough information in the few files Trixie transmitted for us to do that. We could even pretend to be with Clover Enterprises. There’s less risk to us this way, and if we do it right, we can get our people released as well as obtain more information about both groups.”
“But if we mess up, we could end up putting Alice and Trixie in even more danger,” Alijda chimed in from the monitor where she was observing the meeting.
“Possible,” Fate yielded.
“And the third option is my idea,” Beam remarked. Fate gestured at her to continue, and Beam smiled. “Thing is, we do have some artifacts on this station that have not yet been returned, pyon pyon. Between those and the sensor upgrades, we might find a way to punch through all the interference and get our ladies out without interfering with anything else happening down there at all.”
“Might?” Para wondered.
“Yes, well, it’s still half a plan,” Beam admitted. “But it emphasizes our non-interference policy and could mean we get a useful tool for later use.”
“We’ve already interfered,” Alijda pointed out. “And what if your plan turns into a wasted hour?”
“Look, sorry, we don’t really have time for a debate here,” Fate cut back in. “I’m going to choose. This meeting was mostly to see if there was an obvious flaw in any of the plans, and I’m not hearing anything I didn’t already consider. So unless someone had any other ideas or input…?”
Everyone exchanged uncertain glances. It didn’t look like there was anything else to say.
Para turned her attention back to hear Fate’s decision.
VOTING CLOSES AFTER SUNDAY SEPTEMBER 13th.
PATHS NOT TAKEN:
Confronting would have revealed more plot to you, the reader, at the expense of both of them being knocked out. A rescue team would likely be needed. Hiding would have resulted in only one of them being captured (tentatively Alice, since Trixie would have been on the hook in a prior vote, and fair is fair). The other (Trixie) would have had the information out – that we got here – after some delay. Since they tried to get out, I had that they’d be captured but only after reporting, hence the Station POV. In retrospect, I guess there was always going to be a hostage situation of some sort here…
Already over 50 spam messages for September. Really? Contrast just over 10 actual page views. As for voting, three way tie until late Sunday. I guess it’s nice that there’s no one clear path I should be following? (Which would make things too predictable, right?) Though I sometimes wonder if people who don’t get their choice are annoyed. (Is it even the same people week to week? Who knows?) Either way, thank you all for sticking with it.