SMOKE WITH MIRRORS: PART SIXTEEN
By the time Alice arrived at the fight, there were a half dozen fires burning.
Alice wasn’t clear on why Evil Alijdah was willing to allow for collateral damage. She only knew their Alijda planned to fake-out her double, tricking her into leaving, meaning Alice would need to track Alijdah back to her base.
Alice hoped it was true that Alijdah couldn’t teleport like their Alijda, or all this setup would be for nothing.
“This is what happens when you stir up trouble, Avril,” grumbled a quiet voice behind Alice.
Alice jumped, and looked over her shoulder. It was Harriet, the woman who had made the link for her between Alijdah and Clover Enterprises. A few townspeople were observing the scene by now.
“I… didn’t expect an Alijda to fight herself?” was all Alice could think to say.
“One of ’em is a fake,” Harriet scoffed. “Maybe both of ’em. Mercury better get here soon, that’s all I can say.”
Alice blinked. “Mercury?”
“Pandemic gave her control over water,” Harriet elaborated, gesturing at the nearest fire. “She can get this under control pretty quick.”
Alice had no time to follow up on that, since her communicator chirped. The sign that Alijda was about to enact her plan. Her plan of a blind teleport.
Of course, the chirp had originated with the Epsilon station itself, Alijda being rather preoccupied.
While the improved Epsilon communicators had allowed for Alijda to speak directly with Alice, here they needed the Station to monitor too. Specifically, the place Alijda had chosen as a teleport site. To make sure it was clear of people.
Apparently, it now was.
Alice remained hesitant about this plan, yet they hadn’t really been able to discuss it, what with Alijda being on the run. Now they were committed.
Alijda appeared via a teleport into the middle of the square.
Alijdah ran out of a side passage moments later, drawing another bead with her gun.
“Look, you’re right,” Alijda called out, seemingly in response to something her counterpart had said while out of earshot. “I can’t keep doing this. Why don’t we talk? Your bunny ears, for instance, we can help–”
“SHUT. UP,” Alijdah yelled. “FOREVER.”
She fired off another pulse from her ray gun. Alijda vanished in her usual cloud of purple and black smoke.
Except she didn’t.
As the smoke rapidly dissipated, Alice saw that Alijda was still standing there, clutching at her front. “Hell,” Alijda choked out, stumbling backwards.
Her foot hit the edge of a loosely boarded up old well behind her, she fell back against the planks, they cracked, and she plunged down into the abyss below.
Alice honestly felt her chest tighten, and she instinctively reached up to clutch at her tunic. That had been way too convincing. Had Alijda truly managed to teleport away from the energy ray, and then immediately back, as planned? Or had the plan gone wrong?
Even if that had worked, had Alijda’s blind teleport out of the well been successful?
Evil Alijdah was naturally suspicious, edging towards the well. It’s like she was expecting Alijda to teleport in behind her, and push her inside the hole. In the end, she got down on one knee to move in and peer over the edge.
It must have been too deep to know. Alijdah, at least, seemed satisfied.
“You’ll have nothing to worry about regarding that lady trying to recruit again,” Alijdah announced, standing up and looking over at some of the bystanders. An audacious lie.
Even more people were around by now, along with Alice and Harriet. Some were trying to deal with the largest of the fires, but most had been too nervous to move. What with how the fight had tended to change locations.
Alijdah proceeded to stalk out of the area, with no further comment. No one tried to stop her. Alice supposed that was the sensible thing to do, under the circumstances.
Alice immediately gave chase, ignoring Harriet’s quiet mutter of “Avril, you’re crazy”.
She wasn’t that crazy though. As she followed, Alice tried to keep hidden. Peering around the corners of the houses, as she tracked the fake version of her roommate. Making a mad dash forwards whenever she was able.
Fortunately, it wasn’t long before Alijdah tapped at something on her wrist, and walked into what looked like a tool shed, out behind one of the houses. After a minute of waiting for her to come out with a tool, Alice circled around to see if there was another exit.
There was not. The building was quite small. What was Alijdah doing in there?
The natural answer, to Alice at least, is that it wasn’t a tool shed. Maybe, like the telephone pole on Bunny World, it hid some sort of secret elevator. To an underground base.
Seconds ticked by. Alice finally decided she would have to risk going in.
At least this time, she wouldn’t have Trixie smooshed up against her for any length of time. Even if that had been her own suggestion on the prior mission.
“Ubi fumus, ibi ignis,” Alice muttered to herself as she reached for the doorknob.
“Alice has vanished from our sensors.”
Alijda forced herself to sit back up. “What now?”
Over the communicator, Fate sighed. “I’m sure you heard me.”
Alijda pressed her palm in hard against her forehead. She’d hoped to take a longer rest after all those teleports to avoid her alternate self, but apparently that wasn’t going to happen. “When? Where was she?”
“Moments ago. She was a short distance away in town. Kind of hoping you can check this out.”
“You can’t?” Alijda grumbled.
“We’d focussed our sensors on where you are, to make sure your teleport would be clear,” Fate reminded. “It’s taking a while to recalibrate.”
“Uh huh.” Alijda pushed herself to her feet.
She was in a grassy meadow. It might double as someone’s backyard, since there was a house nearby, but the grass was long enough to obscure her when lying down. The twisted tree next to her been a good marker to visualize, in terms of accomplishing her blind teleport.
She really hated doing those… her stomach still felt queasy.
“I’m on my way,” Alijda said, stumbling as she walked. “Direct me.”
Fate had her standing outside a tool shed in less than five minutes.
“I don’t see anything around,” Alijda said. “No sign of a struggle, no message left behind, no nothing. You think Alice is inside this little shed, shielded from sensors somehow?”
“No. At least, the interior registers for us,” Fate amended. “So it’s not shielded. But I guess it could be a false reading.”
Alijda shook her head. “Opening the door then,” she announced.
The door pulled out, and inside there was only blackness. A pitch black that seemed impossible to achieve, given how there should have been some light spilling in from the doorway itself. Strange.
“Alice? Are you there?” Alijda yelled.
There was no answer.
“I’m going to poke my head in,” Alijda decided. “And report on what I see.”
“Be careful,” Fate cautioned. “Magic has a tendency to produce strange effects at the best of times. That world right now? Could be producing anything.”
“Great.” Alijda held onto the door frame and leaned in. The blackness enveloped her.
Before she could even speak, the door was slamming shut, bruising her fingers.
“Okay,” Fate said after a moment. “We’ve officially gone from bad to worse.”
Para felt her ears twitch as she looked at the blank screen. There should have been a green dot there, denoting Alijda’s position. Technically two, as one should be pinpointing Alice as being there also.
Para had come to the main control room after Fate’s universal page, stating ‘Warning: A situation is developing’. Alice had vanished before Para had even arrived.
Neither Beam, nor Trixie, had made an effort to respond yet. Para hoped that they weren’t asleep, or more awkwardly, keeping each other busy.
“You think Alijdah is on to them?” Para wondered. “Led them into a trap?”
“Either that, or there’s more to this World than what we see on the surface,” Fate said. She glared at the screen. “Thing is, I don’t know of anything, magical or technological, that can spirit people away like that.”
“Aside from us,” Para reminded.
Fate turned to stare at her instead. “Pardon?”
“This Station does teleport retrievals,” Para reminded. “Someone walks through a door on their world, they end up here, in our Control room. Happens all the time to me. Right?”
“Right,” Fate said slowly. “Our door manipulation power.” She turned back to stare at the blank monitor. “Oh. Oh, damn. Hold on.”
Para watched as Fate entered a sequence into the computer, and ran her finger down the screen as some sort of result scrolled across it.
“You did it, Para. Signs of door manipulation. Alice, both Alijdas, all transported using the tool shed as a doorway. But how could they get so far away as to not be picked up again by our Station sensors?”
Para shrugged, having never looked into the door technology herself. It had always seemed more mystical than mathematical.
“Seriously now,” Fate continued, seemingly talking more to herself at this point. “We’re tapped into three Worlds at once. No reading. What other World could they have gone to? Even doors have limits. Deeper scan maybe?”
Fate typed at her keyboard for a minute, frowned, muttered ‘no dice’, then looked at Para.
“Okay Para, new thought,” Fate said. “Alijdah used that door first. Where would SHE have been going? Any more brilliant ideas?”
Para was tempted to shrug again, but instead offered up, “Somewhere we can’t scan. Like when Trixie and Alice vanished, back in Jake Hyde’s underground lab.”
Fate pointed at her. “Nice. Yet you were able to punch through that time, with the sensor enhancements.”
“Because we knew where to look,” Para admitted. “This time, we don’t know. And we don’t have pylons to triangulate, giving us a necessary signal boost.”
“True,” Fate agreed. “But we DO know the origins of that scattering field technology. Maybe Trixie hacks back into Vortex Limited to find–”
Fate stopped speaking, tapped at her chin, then pushed back from the side of the keyboard and crossed her arms.
“Go with me on this,” Fate requested. “Do your good listening thing, and tell me if I’m off base. Okay Para?”
Para nodded, having no idea where Fate was going with this.
“This all started thanks to an encrypted communication we received. It led to a scan we did on this dimensional sector. Turning up the airborne virus.” She paused.
“Correct,” Para said.
“Thing is, the scan message didn’t tell us to look for a virus. Just that we needed to scan here. And Smoke, pandemic-wise, turned out to be natural. Almost. Meaning the only real reason we’re here is due to that communication.”
She paused again, and this time Para simply nodded and shrugged.
“Okay. So what if the first message wasn’t about Smoke at all? What if it was meant to help us locate something else?”
Para considered that. “You mean Clover Enterprises?” She was reminded of Mason’s comment about how the best place to stay hidden would be somewhere like a pandemic world. Somewhere nobody wants to go.
“Maybe,” Fate said. “But it may also be that Clover was drawn here by the same communication. In fact, hmm… what if the message was meant for THEM? And we simply intercepted a subspace copy?”
Para raised her eyebrows. “That could explain how they got here first, indirectly setting off the pandemic.”
“Okay,” Fate said, smiling. “We’re onto something. Bunny World flags the dimensions. Clover Enterprises responds. They get an artifact, or… you know what? Maybe this is about the scattering field technology. Honestly, it’s so unique that it could be at the heart of all this.”
“It IS something that would allow Clover to hide from this Station,” Para mused. “They’d like that. I think the Vortex documents referred to that particular tech as Mirrors?”
Fate nodded. “All right. So, Vortex Bunnies broadcast that there’s something here worth investigating. Clover comes for Mirrors. We pick up the same message later, after the pandemic, and assume it’s about the virus, Smoke.”
“Because after Clover’s techno-magic soup, Smoke became the bigger dimensional issue.”
“Right,” Fate said. “Yet we know Clover didn’t leave after that. Because Evil Alijdah was on the planet moments ago, trying to recruit.”
“All of this implying that Clover Enterprises have their own station here,” Para decided. “Or at least some ship, set up to receive encrypted messages in the same way as us.”
“And for all we know, their vessel could be off our port,” Fate concluded. “If they’re using Mirrors, we have no way of knowing. Short of setting up signal boosting pylons.”
“Exactly,” Para realized.
“Almost,” came a voice from above.
Para looked up, to see Trixie at the hatch in the ceiling. The redheaded techno-witch smiled, then reached out to flick the nearby switch. She began to ride the telescoping ladder down to the floor, in much the same way Fate had done it at their first meeting.
“Do elaborate,” Fate said, hands going to her hips.
Trixie ran her free hand back through one of her twintails, then the other. “Simply that my earlier analysis of that scattering field may pay off now. If what you’re saying is true, we CAN find them.”
Even as Fate seemed about to say something else, Trixie’s smile shifted to a more serious expression.
“The question becomes, do you want them to know that we see them?” Trixie continued. “Because that’s what will happen. And while it may make this Clover group hesitate in their future use of the tech, it may also get them upset.”
“Is there another option?” Para asked.
Trixie hopped off the ladder. “I could be more stealthy about finding them. There’s less of a guarantee of success, unless we assume that Alice or Alijda are already on this ship, and can do more on their end.”
“Trixie, we don’t know their status,” Fate objected.
Para looked back and forth between the other two. “Nothing says we have to act now,” she offered up. “We could do more research first. Fate could try to mind swap with Alice again. Something like that.”
Fate shook her head. “At this point, I don’t think Alijda-h is going to hang around any longer than she has to. We may already be too late.”
Trixie nodded. “Sums up my analysis. Glad it’s not my call,” she added.
VOTING CLOSES MONDAY MARCH 8th.
PATHS NOT TAKEN:
The capturing of Evil Alijdah would not have worked, leading to a bigger battle – while also providing more backstory of Alijda-h relative to the version we know. The bargaining with Alijdah would have worked, but owing to a misunderstanding (or other influence) would still have led to a larger conflict. The fake-out was actually middle ground… as you see, it sort of worked? We’ve had revelations of a different nature, but have now split the party. And Alijdah may have prisoners.
THE ORACLE PROPHESIED:
Trixie was always going to have to come through at some point – she started this whole serial saga. So when the vote sent Alijda down to the planet with Alice instead of her, Trixie’s Mirrors project was retroactively born (in part 14) as her contribution. (Incidentally, the ‘Mirrors’ codename was not pre-planned, but I’d say it meshes nicely with the title now.)
I actually forgot to close the poll until yesterday. Oops. Writing was mostly done, good thing it was unanimous, hard for that to change. Enjoying the twists at all? Or perhaps they were too predictable. We’re probably looking to wrap this up in the next few instalments, wouldn’t you say? In any event, thank you for your continued interest. Hope you continue to vote.