SMOKE WITH MIRRORS: PART THIRTEEN
“Is it just me?” Para asked. “Or is this mission going on longer than it needs to?”
She hesitated then, wondering if she’d interrupted Alijda unnecessarily during her meal. Except her human friend hadn’t even taken a bite in the couple minutes since Para had come in the cafeteria, and she seemed to be staring off into the distance.
Indeed, it took a moment, but Alijda put her fork down next to her noodles and gestured to the seat in the cafeteria across from her.
“It’s not just you,” she answered, meeting Para’s gaze.
Relived that she had ‘read the room’ correctly, Para went to sit across from Alijda. “I mean, it’s not like I had anywhere else to be,” Para added. “But it’s not like we’re doing useful pandemic vector research or sensor upgrades or anything now.”
It had been two weeks since Trixie’s interview with the scientist from Bunny World. Beam had vaguely looked into the idea of giving him asylum on Tech World, but not seriously. There didn’t seem to be a good way to deal with his ethics.
Then Fate and Jake had switched their minds back, and they’d been able to teleport him back down… along with Officer Mikoto.
They’d left Mikoto with the distinct impression that Jake had something to do with the missing persons cases around the park. It was about as far as they’d dared to go in terms of interference with another World’s issues.
It seemed like something Mikoto would follow up on, given her personality.
This meant that, with the pandemic being natural (more or less) up to and including the dimension jumping, it wasn’t their situation to help with… though Alice had continued her viral research nonetheless, while remaining in quarantine. Beam had offered her assistance; she was still afflicted.
And as of yesterday, Alice was out.
So the only thing that was really tying them to the situation any more – aside from Beam’s condition – was the mystery message they’d received about it in the first place. Plus the presence of Clover Enterprises, but that was more an incidental event.
They were making headway on neither item. Yet they were still there.
“We’re not being productive,” Alijda agreed. “But we still might be needed to distribute a cure to the worlds not directly linked to TechWorld any more.”
Para nodded. “Oh, agreed. But you and me aren’t personally needed for that.”
“No,” Alijda yielded. “Though in the mean time, I am enjoying my talks with Trixie.”
Oh, that’s right – Para had sen the two of them together numerous times since Alijda’s own release from quarantine. They were bonding over the curious programming involved in Beam, as well as Trixie’s own magical device Rixi.
“Are you two becoming friends?” Para wondered, tilting her head. Part of her wondered if that meant she was supposed to act jealous.
Alijda let out a snort. “Friends would be pushing it. I feel like my depressive nature bothers her, while it kind of annoys me that she’s doing you-know-what with the very tech we’re investigating.”
Para stared. “Doing I know what… what?”
Alijda blinked. “Trixie and Beam. Uh, you hadn’t noticed?”
Para slowly shook her head. She knew the two women had been spending some time together without Alijda, but figured it was for some magic-tech analysis. “I don’t really pay attention to whatever doesn’t concern me.”
“Huh. Well, for the last week they’ve been… uh…”
Alijda raised one hand with the thumb and index finger connected, and moved as if she’d put her other index finger inside the space created. Then she paused and made the hole image out of both her hands, looked at them, tried to interlock them, and finally shrugged.
“Whatever. They’re sexing it up, Para. I thought everyone knew.”
Para now felt embarrassed for having brought the conversation there. Human relationships were still something of an enigma to her. “Oh.”
“Don’t get me wrong,” Alijda hasted to add. “I know Trixie’s been on edge, Beam’s got bunny sexy issues, and they’re both consenting adults so, y’know, whatever helps them get through station life. But they’re passing it off as research. I figure, at least be honest about your libidos, ladies? I mean, really.”
It occurred to Para then that Alijda hadn’t exactly been honest about her feelings for Kat in their prior missions. But she got the impression that was a slightly different relationship issue… probably best not to bring it up? Yeah.
Instead, Para remarked, “Any headway on getting the virus out of Beam then?”
Alijda shook her head. “Latest attempt was her shifting incorporeal. No dice. So we’re back to monitoring the planets to see what they come up with regarding the pandemic in general.”
Para nodded. “And any idea yet why you were in the past of Fantasy World? That one with the magic uprising?”
“Oh.” Alijda frowned. “I’d kind of pushed that out of my mind. No, nothing there. Though now that you mention it… huh. What if we travelled back in time to have me close that circuit? Maybe it would reveal how we’ll send that message. Maybe that’s all we need to finally close the books there.”
Para nibbled her lower lip. “Meaning the Epsilon crew don’t find more on Clover.”
Alijda shrugged. “That’s hardly my issue. Aside from, yes, Alice obsessing over it, and how she’ll presumably return to being my roommate.” She shook her head. “Thing is, we’re not superheroes, Para. Our powers notwithstanding. We can’t do it all.”
Para considered that. “True. And it would be nice to get home. I think that’s how I’m feeling about things now.”
Alijda smiled. “Me too.” She picked her fork back up. “Okay, going to actually finish my lunch, and then talk about the Fantasy World angle with Trixie. If I’m going back there, I could use her magic expertise.”
Para stood back up. “I’ll leave you to it then. Thanks for the chat.”
“Thank you,” Alijda noted. “We might actually have a plan for once.”
Para decided to head to the control room next, to see if Fate was there. Beam was there instead.
“Hello fellow bunny,” Beam said, grinning and motioning for Para to come in, before the mathematical woman could retreat.
Para entered timidly. “Hi, Beam. I was just wondering if you administrative types had made progress on… well, anything.”
Beam bounced on her heels, her ears twitching. “Well, you might notice I’m not dressed in a swimsuit any more. And I no longer have the pyon pyon vocal urges to the same extent. It’s either due to time, or to Trixie. Either way, calling that a win.”
Para blinked. “Trixie programmed it out of you?” She recalled what Alijda had said. “Or are you talking about how you two are… uhmm…”
“Doing the horizontal hula?” Beam quipped. “Yeah, the latter. Seems to keep my viral hormones at bay. Though Trixie’s still treating it as research, of course, so probably not a good idea to raise it with her. Okay?”
Para frowned. Then their coupling WAS research? It made Para wonder to what extent she might take things with someone on the station in the name of her own investigations of humanity.
As if sensing the uncertainty, Beam added, “Like, Trixie’s research is both into my code, and also the way I ‘charge up her hormones’. She doesn’t want this to be a weakness with her clients for in any cases she has in the future. Or something like that, I was a little preoccupied as she tried to explain.” Her tongue ran over her upper lip.
“I feel like this is more than I need to know,” Para said. “I was mostly asking about progress in case there was something I could do to help.”
“Oh, sure. Sorry,” Beam apologized, looking sheepish. “Can I blame part of the overshare issue on the virus too? You look like me, but without the horny bunny stories we can swap.”
Para pursed her lips. “Yeeeah. I have my ears for a VERY different reason.” She smiled weakly.
At that, Beam looked thoughtful. “And you know what? That’s an angle we haven’t tried. You and me, neither of us are human, both of us are part bunny… yet you’re normal. Maybe whatever passes for your DNA could be used to tweak my coding. You think?”
Beam nodded. “I gotta raise that with Trixie and Alijda. Thanks, Para.”
“Okay.” Was she being helpful then? Para couldn’t tell any more. She edged back. “I guess there’s nothing you need me for?”
“Nope. Unless you want to check on Fate in the artifacts room. She was looking to see if something else might be helpful to get at the Clover angle. Alice is still freaking over it, to the point of investigating bringing Science Guy back to make a deal. Bad plan, right?”
“Ooh, right,” Para agreed. “And you can’t talk Alice out of it?”
“No luck yet, pyon pyon.” Beam made a face. “Damn it, that slipped out…”
“I’ll go check with Fate then,” Para agreed.
“Thanks,” Beam said, smiling and wiggling her fingers.
Para offered back a partial smile, then headed out of the control room.
She found Fate in the hallway next to the artifacts room door, leaning against the wall. The blonde woman looked up as Para approached and offered a halfhearted smile. “Beam send you?”
“Kinda sorta,” Para admitted. “I was looking for you anyway though. Are you okay?”
Fate sighed and shook her head. “Honestly? Not so much.”
Para nodded. “Anything I can do to help? Because I’ve been wanting to do something for a while now, but I haven’t been sure what.”
Fate crossed her arms. “Right. We’re sort of stringing you along at this point, aren’t we. Sorry. Did you want to leave?”
Para shook her head. “Not necessarily. I know things are unresolved, and I’m happy to help. Just feel like we’re not making much progress lately.”
Fate sighed. “Yeah. I keep looking – hoping – for a breakthrough, and… it’s not happening. But I don’t want to jump us out of time, or call the mission off either, not while there’s loose ends.” She brought her hands to her hips. “Para, am I being stubborn now? Not wanting to end my Epsilon association on this note?”
Para blinked. “You’re retiring?”
Fate gestured. “This was never meant to be a permanent position. I needed some time and something to do, and Rose Thorne thought I’d be a good fit, so… yeah. But much more and I’ll overstay my welcome.” She turned to look at the artifacts room.
Para followed her gaze. “Nothing in there that would be useful here, I take it?”
“Hm? Oh. Not without consequences, no,” Fate said. “Except, I was thinking about the phone in there. And God. And how She’s not talking to me, when she’s communicated with both Alice and Beam in the past.”
Para tried to put two and two together. “Then you want to go out having at least heard from the maker of this station?”
Fate flinched, then rubbed the back of her neck. “Huh. I guess so? Assuming the message that got us into this pandemic situation wasn’t from Her. Thing is, I don’t have Alice’s memory or Beam’s holographic abilities. I’m normal. Why would She talk directly to me?”
“Why wouldn’t she?” Para insisted. “Fate, everyone has their own skills, supernatural or otherwise. Maybe you’re doing such a good job, She hasn’t felt the need.”
Fate chuckled. “It’s nice of you to say that. Though it has crossed my mind to look more into the virus on Fantasy World, where people can have latent magical powers activated… who knows what I might get? Maybe something to see a path through this.”
Para stared. “Um. I don’t think infecting yourself is a good plan. Alijda’s report said their magic came with a dark side.”
“Oh, no worries, I wasn’t giving that SERIOUS thought,” Fate said quickly. “It’s only…” Her voice trailed off, and she looked thoughtful.
After a minute, Para decided to risk interrupting. “Only what?”
Fate refocussed on her. “Clover went after Bunny World because of the scattering field technology. Yes? So what if they could be enticed to go after Fantasy World because of the magic power activation.”
Para stared. “You want to lure them there?”
“Maybe. Yet maybe they already ARE there. We’ve been neglecting that world ever since Alijda left, that’s been a heck of an oversight.”
“In fact Alijda was talking about going back into that world’s past,” Para admitted. “To close out that doppelgänger loop.”
Fate pushed herself away from the wall. “Riiight. We need to do more investigation in the present first though, I’d say. Send Alijda to reconnect with that mystery man from her cell. See what other dimensions might know about the place, if anything.”
Para nodded. “I guess that makes sense.”
“So who should we send down with Alijda?” Fate wondered. “Trixie? They’ve been working together – or does that make it seem like I’m trying to get Beam away from the pretty redhead. Hmm. Alice then? She’s all over the Clover angle. Though we might want her help on the station instead.”
“A-Are you asking me?” Para said, surprised.
“I’ll be asking everybody,” Fate corrected, heading for the control room.
VOTING CLOSES WEDNESDAY DECEMBER 30th (probably).
PATHS NOT TAKEN:
If they’d gotten Jake asylum on Tech World there would have been a condition attached, and we’d have gone to that planet. If they’d gotten the info from Jake another way, it would have involved a bluff and staying on the Station. With getting at Clover another way, we head back to magic/fantasy world… and I’m trying to start tidying up the bits too, let me know if you see other loose ends.
I had a couple votes in November. Decided to keep things open, send out another tweet, went in Tuesday Serial. And nothing, through to when I closed the poll on December 19th. So I feel like only going a week isn’t going to change much; it’ll let me put out another part to start January, which is sure to be insane for teaching remotely, and we’ll go from there. As always, thanks for reading through to this point.