SMOKE WITH MIRRORS: PART TWELVE
Trixie had checked herself out of the Station’s quarantine. After all, she had only gone down to the planet a couple hours ago, and had kept her distance from everyone else since then – even afterwards, within the dark quarantine room.
Granted, in that elevator she’d been pressed up closer to Alice than she had been to her occasional boyfriend the last time they’d been together. And Alice was staying in quarantine.
But Alice had been wearing a mask, and according to Ziggy’s preliminary analysis, Trixie had a negative test.
Besides, they now had to deal with the situation involving the Vortex scientist… in Fate’s body, sealed off in an isolated area of the station. Trixie had volunteered to do the interrogating, off Beam’s suggestion of getting more information from him somehow.
And Trixie stepping up wasn’t merely because of the looks he’d been giving her, after they’d been caught at his lab, down on the planet. She also wanted to know more about how he’d been allowed to work alone in secret in the first place.
She considered what they knew already.
Alice’s plan of pretending to be members of Vortex Limited, ‘checking up on their scientist’, had worked. To a point. That point being the man in question asking them what his name was.
“This whole assignment has been pretty hush hush,” Alice remarked. “We only get codenames. Yours is Nye.”
He stared at her.
Alice waved her hands back and forth. “You’re the science guy! No? Maybe? Not a thing on this Earth? C’mon, work with me here.”
“Who are you really?” he demanded.
Alice lowered her hands as Trixie clasped hers behind her back. “How about this,” she proposed, leaning forwards. “We’ll tell, if you do. Along with why you let us come through your decontamination area, despite suspecting us of something nefarious.”
He seemed to consider her. “My name is Jake Hyde. As for letting you back in, it should be obvious that, now that you’re in my underground residence, it will be harder for you to leave.”
“Was already hard, what with you controlling the elevator,” Alice pointed out.
Jake nodded. “True, but now it’s also easier to judge what you know, as you’re here in front of me. For instance, based on where you two specifically aren’t looking, I divine that you also know of my hidden passage to the lab area.”
Trixie made a face. He was smarter than she’d hoped. “And here I thought you let us in because you wanted to see me all wet,” she remarked, referencing how the decontamination chamber worked.
He chuckled. “Fine. Not going to lie, that’s nice bonus. Particularly given your pants.”
Trixie smiled, shifting her hip out to the side. Smarter, but not gay or celibate, so she had something working for her after all. Maybe the leather pants hadn’t been a poor choice.
“You still haven’t reciprocated,” he pointed out then, frowning.
Trixie nodded, standing straight. “I’m Trixie,” she admitted. “This is Alice. We detected a weird reading outside the park, and then when we arrived, thought you might have useful information about the pandemic.”
He eyed them. “You’re from that Tech World then,” he decided. “There’s no other way you could have figured out access to this place, short of truly working for Vortex.”
“Maybe we’re Tech who also work for Vortex,” Alice suggested, wiggling her eyebrows. “Also, have I mentioned that I’m single?”
‘Alice, don’t help,’ Trixie thought mentally. Aloud, she simply stated, “We’re not about to confirm or deny anything. We did see some suspicious stuff in our brief time here though, so maybe you should take us back to your lab and explain how you have different strains of the virus?”
He again took a moment to think about it, before gesturing to Trixie to lead the way. She went over to trigger the knothole, and soon enough all of them were back in the larger computerized area.
Jake went over to log into the computer system. “If I do this,” he remarked, “perhaps you’ll tell me how you didn’t turn up on sensors coming in. The first time. Invisibility fields?”
“Classified, sorry,” Alice said, clasping her hands behind her back.
Classified information was an idea Trixie could get behind. The fact that Jake asked the question also implied he hadn’t noticed (couldn’t notice?) her wiping of the security footage.
“You’ll have to ask for something else,” Trixie stated. Then with a wink, she remarked, “Like our phone numbers.”
Jake snickered. “Nice try, you two. As if I have time for personal relationships when I’m this close to a breakthrough.”
He called up something on the screen and pointed to it. “Here. I manipulate and look at different strains because some of them are less resistant to attack. The data could lead to a treatment, or a vaccine.”
Alice peered at him. “Why do this in secret though?”
He shrugged. “Vortex isn’t fond of my methods. Actually, the main problem I’m running into is a lack of subjects. Mice only get me so far.” He eyed them again. His gaze seeming to linger on Trixie. “You two might want to be more forthcoming. Since right now, you’re new possibilities.”
Trixie felt her heart rate increase. He didn’t seem like he was joking. “It’s true we have advanced technology,” she admitted. “But it’s coded to us, thus of no use to you.” Which was true enough; Rixi wasn’t about to respond to anyone else.
“Who even knows you’re here?” Jake continued. “If I were to detain you for a few hours, or days, would anyone even come looking?” He smirked.
“Oh, we have people who’d be looking for us,” Alice assured him. “Also, given your attitude, I withdraw the Nye codename. Bad Jake. Learn ethics.”
“Anyway, do you really think we’d tell you if we wouldn’t be missed?” Trixie challenged.
He laughed. Then seemed to hesitate. Then his eyes went wide.
“Oh no, Alice, if you’re over there, then who am I?” Jake gasped.
Meaning prior to the mind swap, Jake had confirmed that Vortex had been turning something of a blind eye to him. No doubt if his work had proved successful, the company would have taken some credit, while if his work had failed – medically or ethically – they could have claimed to have no part in it.
But had he really had ‘carte blanche’ to do whatever he wanted?
At the least, Trixie now knew he wasn’t responsible for Smoke itself. Beam had found in the files that the pandemic’s origin had been due to the tech-magic-dimensional soup, which came about thanks to the interference of Clover Enterprises.
Resulting in computer simulations, to the point of being able to run one on Beam’s holographic matrix, hence why she’d ended up in quarantine. The worlds being affected by this virus definitely had some technological advantages.
Yet there were still unanswered questions.
Trixie unlocked the door to the storage area. “I’m coming in, I wouldn’t try anything,” she said, before entering.
Fate’s body was sitting over near the corner of the room, examining Alice’s jeans and looking decidedly unimpressed. “Oh, it’s you,” Jake said. With Fate’s voice. That was going to get weird. “I should have guessed.”
Trixie leaned back against the wall, crossing her arms. “We need some answers.”
The clothing was tossed aside as Jake/Fate stood up. “Perhaps it’s my turn to say I’ll tell if you do. What the hell’s happened to me?”
Trixie considered him. She pointed and unpointed her toe. “Let’s just say the people Alice and I work for were concerned for our safety,” she said at last. “Resulting in your abduction. One of them, incidentally, is Beam.”
Jake/Fate looked surprised, then nodded. “Again, I should have guessed. But know what? If you Tech World types are trying to intimidate me with that knowledge, it’s backfiring. I was able to infect that computerized woman without much difficulty. Meaning I might get out of here without much trouble too.”
Trixie stared. “In the body of a woman.”
Jake/Fate looked down at himself. He cupped his chest. “I won’t deny it’s a mite distracting. But I could do illegal things out there now and not have it traced back to me. Plus I feel like there’s worse places you could have put me, if you’d wanted.” He looked back up and smiled. “So why didn’t you?”
Trixie glowered. She was simultaneously glad that he wasn’t in her body, and confused as to whether she should attempt any of her distraction techniques now. I mean, did she really want Jake admiring her legs while he was effectively possessing Fate? Particularly if it wasn’t giving her the upper hand?
Trixie settled for, “I suppose this is where I point out YOU haven’t reciprocated any information yet.”
Jake/Fate snorted. “You haven’t told me what you wanted to know.”
“Fine. Then first, how was Vortex able to send out a dimensional message?”
His eyebrow went up. “Best guess? By uncoupling the heisenberg compensator.”
Trixie sighed. “Be serious.”
“Hey, if you’re going to ask me nonsense questions I can’t answer, I’m going to fish to see if your background is truly scientific in any way.”
Okay then. Beam HAD said it was possible that Jake didn’t know anything about the message. Trixie shifted gears.
“Hmph. Second then, has there been any indication in your – admittedly thorough – viral analysis to suggest that Smoke was deliberately engineered?”
He seemed about to laugh, then thought better of it. “What, like this was intentional? No, this is very much Vortex Limited not understanding how magic and technology can play nicely together. Fusion go boom.” He tilted his head. “Why, were you hoping we could sell you a patent?”
Trixie felt a little ill. “No. What’s wrong in your mind that you would think that? I wonder how many have suffered already, thanks to your experiments down in your bunker.”
The main reason for the question had been to confirm what was in the Vortex files, and judge his own scientific understanding. And ethics, apparently.
His eyes rolled. “Suffered? Really, Trixie?”
“For all I know, you’ve been killing people,” Trixie pointed out.
Jake/Fate looked genuinely offended at that. “Hey now. I may have experimented on a few homeless individuals, but not with anything lethal. Unless your warped mind sees bunny girls as being some lethal condition.”
This was unbelievable. “So you don’t even deny experiments. First, do no harm? That ring any bell?”
Jake/Fate gestured. “That’s medicine, not science. We’re in a pandemic, we need answers.”
Apparently Vortex Limited didn’t have an ethics board. Maybe that was answer enough as to why he had never been cut off.
With that, she wanted to say ‘we’re done here’, but there was one other thing they needed to figure out on that front. She bit down on her tongue. “Okay, last thing. Do you have a way to contact Clover Enterprises?”
Jake/Fate nodded slowly. “Oho. Now we’re getting to the heart of things. You want them, do you? You know, maybe I should get your phone number first. You did offer it earlier?”
“I regret that,” Trixie said. “And this isn’t critical information. So maybe I leave instead.”
It really wasn’t critical. According to Beam, if the pandemic was natural, along with the link between Tech World and the other planets, their work was effectively done. Once they’d made sure that the outbreak wouldn’t spread further, and tracked down the source of the original dimensional message, at least.
Of course, nailing Clover Enterprises might prevent this sort of thing in the future. So it would be a nice bonus.
Jake/Fate considered. “Know what?” he said at last. “If I tell you, I want asylum on your world.”
“You what?” Trixie sputtered. The audacity of this guy.
“I want asylum on your world, the one with all the technology,” he insisted. “It’s obviously better than ours, with the possible exception of our scattering field. The fact that you cut ties with us implies you’re handling your pandemic better, and there’s really nothing left for me on my planet anyway.”
“I doubt asylum’s in the cards,” Trixie assured.
“Then I doubt Clovers are in your cards,” Jake/Fate concluded. Fate’s body sat back down and smirked at her.
Trixie sighed. She supposed that the option could be floated to actual representatives from the technological world, the one whose pandemic had affected people’s ability to use teleports. Both worlds had already been in contact already.
Would that violate Epsilon’s interference directives? She didn’t know enough about them. It might be a breach of ethics though. Given this guy’s attitude. But then, maybe Tech World had a way of rehabilitating him.
Of course, if all they wanted was the Clover information, there might be another way to get it, deceptively or otherwise. He was smart, but Trixie judged she was smarter.
Either way, she’d have to consult with Beam. She left the room before he could start eyeing her any further.
VOTING CLOSES SUNDAY NOVEMBER 29th (probably).
PATHS NOT TAKEN:
Had they tried to trace the dimensional message, they would have discovered someone to work with, in distributing a pandemic cure. Had they enlisted Officer Mikoto’s help, police records would have revealed a missing link between Bunny World and Magic World that they could pursue. We got the interrogation angle, which included fleshing out the scientist character (he’s got a name now) and the asylum request.
I had vague plans of writing on Thanksgiving Monday (Oct 12) to get the part out on Oct 18. Still only had one vote then. Decided to leave the poll open, got distracted by a week of teaching. Closed it on Friday the 16th with 2 votes… and that weekend decided to continue “Time Untied” edits instead. (There is now a character page for that serial.) The minute engagement here was getting me down. Then I got a viewer spike in late October, and I decided I didn’t want to leave things much longer than a month. So, we’re back. Next part in December, school and NaNo’s taking time. As always, thanks for reading through to this point. Hope you’re enjoying?