SMOKE WITH MIRRORS: PART SEVENTEEN
Alijda fought down the urge to panic. The blackness around her was complete, and when she tried to feel for the door she had come through, it wasn’t there. There was only empty space.
She couldn’t teleport without some visual frame of reference. If someone had planned to capture her, this was definitely the best way to go about it.
She shook out her sore fingers and pressed them against her side, listening.
There was a faint hiss of air.
She got down on her hands and knees so as to not stumble over anything, and slowly moved towards the source of the sound. It turned out to be a vent, against a wall. Probably not large enough for her to crawl into, but at least now she knew this was a room with finite space.
Alijda felt along the wall to get a sense of the scope. It took a while.
The room was rectangular, and maybe the size of a standard living room. She had felt what seemed to be a doorway, but with no doorknob. Troublingly, her eyes still hadn’t adjusted to the darkness, meaning there was no light anywhere.
She considered moving across the room diagonally to gauge whether there was anything in the middle.
“There’s a computer terminal.”
Alijda nearly jumped out of her skin at the breathy female voice that came from over her shoulder. She whipped her arm back, encountered nothing, and it smacked into the wall. She cursed, and cradled it.
“Oh, right. I’m not really here, pyon pyon.”
“Beam,” Alijda muttered through clenched teeth. “If you ever sneak up on me like that again, I’m going to reprogram you to be a Roomba for a day.”
“Ouch. Sucking dirt doesn’t sound as fun as sucking–”
“Just… get me to the terminal. Please.”
“Sure thing,” Beam chirped. “It’s embedded in the wall, you’ll have to stand.”
Alijda used the wall to pull herself back up to her feet. “Thank you.”
“And for the record, I’m not actually here, incorporeal or otherwise. Trixie is broadcasting me through the scattering field surrounding the Clover Base. I’m homed in on your communicator.”
Alijda lifted her communicator up to her face, despite not being able to see it. “Sorry, what?”
“We had two options,” Beam elaborated. “Trixie blasts a cancelling wave into space, to penetrate the scattering field, revealing the Clover Base. Or, the stealth method. I get programmed with the cancelling wave, then Trixie blasts my matrix into space, which lets me spot you and Alice.”
“You’re in space?” Alijda said, feeling more confused than ever.
“My perception was, for a moment,” Beam clarified. “Tied in with the station sensors. But now I’m in the room with your communicator. Terminal is about four paces to your right.”
Alijda began to move along the wall. “And Alice?”
“Next room over. Unconscious, pyon pyon,” Beam said. “Best guess, your double was expecting her to come through, and knocked her out. You were more unexpected.”
“You see all this through staring out of our communicators?”
“No. Once I saw where your communicators were, by looking past the scattering field, Trixie cast a spell. It’s projected me next to you. A variant of the spell Kat and Firestorm used to talk to you on our first mission together, incidentally.”
Alijda decided she didn’t really need to be reminded of Kat right now. “I’m sorry I asked.”
“Oh. Sorry I answered? Anyway. We need you to hack this terminal and drop Clover’s scattering field – codenamed Mirrors – so that we can have a chat with Evil Alijdah. To turn the power on, hit the button on the top right.”
Alijda had been feeling around on the terminal to figure out how to activate it. She moved her fingers to where Beam had indicated. “How can you see in the pitch black?”
“The only reason I can’t see in the dark all the time is my human programming. The magic circumvents – you’ve got it, there.”
“Gyah!” Alijda gasped, throwing her arm up. The terminal had indeed activated, shining a blinding light right into her face.
“Sorry,” Beam apologized. “Didn’t know it would do that.”
Alijda sighed into her arm. “Okay, what now?”
She instinctively turned to look for Beam, spots dancing in front of her eyes. But the hologram was truly a disembodied voice, somehow being transmitted through magic.
“Beats me,” came Beam’s ghostly answer. “You’re the hacker. Again, not really here, pyon pyon. Let me know if there’s anything more we need to do on our end.”
“Right, fine,” Alijda sighed, rubbing her thumb and forefinger across her eyes before looking more closely at the terminal. The illumination offered a better look at its control pad on the wall, and she saw there was a virtual keyboard option on the screen. Good enough.
Accessing the base system turned out to be pretty easy, given the assumption that she was up against herself – or at minimum someone who had similar thought processes.
Unfortunately, Alijda realized pretty quickly though that trying to do anything that related to base security was too heavily safeguarded. It would take hours. She said as much.
“Hmm. Trixie wonders whether you can Borg their system,” Beam supplied. “That is, don’t go for a critical subcommand, but something low priority that will achieve the result we want.”
Alijda frowned. “I mean, maybe they’d have to drop their field for certain emergencies… or for propulsion… or communications?”
She tapped at the keyboard. What she found minutes later surprised her.
“Uh, Beam? Clover Enterprises sent Epsilon the first encrypted communication. The one that brought us all here.”
“What? No, Fate thinks it was Vortex Limited on Bunny World who broadcasted a–”
“I’m telling you, it’s right here in these logs,” Alijda insisted. “Clover are the ones who brought Epsilon in.”
“What? But why would they do that?”
Alijda shook her head. “All I’ve got is a notation in the file: ‘Epsilon can handle this’. Meaning in the best case, Clover wanted someone who could fix the whole pandemic mess they helped to initiate. And we’d be the only ones equipped for it. In terms of seeing all the dimensions.”
In fact, they HAD fixed it, if Beam’s vaccine efforts using Para’s bunny-ness as a baseline was any indication. Then again, in the worst case, maybe Alijdah had selfishly wanted Epsilon to come and provide her with a cure for her own bunny condition. ‘This’ was rather vague.
“Maybe Clover have a rogue agent who know about us,” Beam mused.
Or that, Alijda granted. She couldn’t find any other details, except to verify the message had definitely been sent after the Smoke pandemic had started, meaning after Clover had finished their dealings with Vortex.
“Could also be the Clover group is still hanging around to see if we spot them,” Alijda mused. “Testing out this ‘Mirrors’ field. Recruiting in the meantime.”
“Either way, this is good. I can use my proto-vaccine as a bargaining chip when we talk,” Beam said. “Could help to divine their true intentions.”
“Maybe.” Alijda scrolled through a few more communications logs, but found no way for the system to trip the scattering field. She was going to have to try something else.
She typed in a quick program, then went to sift through personnel files.
“Alijda? While the files on people might be useful later, I think we need to stay focussed on the one goal now.”
“Kinda sorta doing that,” Alijda said. There it was. A file on her. Two files, actually… she pulled up the one that didn’t have a small ‘Epsilon’ flag next to it.
The first paragraph was very illuminating as far as her double’s origins. She only got as far as another few sentences, before the terminal glowed red and stopped accepting inputs.
“That can’t be good,” Beam said.
Alijda smiled. “Actually…”
With a click, the small terminal speaker began broadcasting a bizarre anime mashup of Rick Astley.
Alijda folded her arms. “I set the system to broadcast that on ALL internal communications if a data breach was detected,” Alijda remarked. “Pretty sure the only way for them to shut it down is a complete reboot, which should also take the scattering field offline.”
“Huh. Nice. Trixie applauds your use of an Iconian-style virus. Meaning the rebooting; I think it’s another Star Trek reference.”
“While Alice would approve, and she is the reason I know how to access that tune, tell Trixie I like her more for her tech savvy.”
Beam giggled. “Mmmmm, meanwhile I like Trixie more for her–”
“I can guess,” Alijda interrupted. And everything went pitch black again.
“Okay, stuff’s happening our end, going to need to call you back,” Beam said. “Thank you for your help!”
“Any time,” Alijda murmured. As she stood in the dark, she considered once again what she’d read in the file.
Beam stepped out of the circle of sparklers, to look at the main view screen. It took up almost a quarter of the large circular room, across from the main computer banks, but there was never much cause to use it.
“That Clover station looks like us,” she remarked.
“It does,” Fate agreed, frowning.
The Clover Base had shimmered briefly, off what Alijda had done. Fate had quickly sent them a hailing communication, implying that the cat was out of the bag. And so they had dropped their scattering field technology, allowing for both a scan and a visual reference.
It was not a ship. Like them, Clover had a Hub, but instead of being central, it was more towards one side. Then four branches extended up. And instead of them being circular, they were shaped like clovers. The effect was vaguely fractal.
Beam glanced around the room to see how the others were taking it.
Para’s ears were quivering, but otherwise she kept quiet, as she had for a majority of the time during the implementing of Trixie’s plan. Fate looked all business as usual, briefly glancing down at a remote which would allow her to use the computers without turning her back on the view screen.
Trixie was bouncing on her heels, seeming quite excited at the prospect of everything finally coming to a conclusion. Or perhaps she was more excited that this might lead to her using the Epsilon system interface she’d designed.
Trixie really was delectable.
“They’ve targeted us with weapons,” Fate remarked, pulling Beam’s attention back.
“D-Do we have shields up?” Para murmured.
“Naturally,” Fate said. “But our systems are more designed for handling damage due to our surroundings, not active attacks. So I’m not sure how this will go. We don’t have anything worthwhile to arm in response, either.”
“We have me,” Trixie said, a smirk appearing. “That’s good enough.”
“Hail them again, until they answer,” Beam suggested.
Fate nodded in agreement, and tapped at her remote. Long seconds passed. Finally, there was a chirping noise, and Fate tapped another button, allowing the face of Evil Alijdah to appear, filling most of the view screen.
“I’m going to go with my double being more resourceful than I gave her credit for,” Alijdah said dryly. “Rather than you being more perceptive. That said, she’s obviously over here. Along with your Alice. If you want them back unharmed, you’ll need to accede to our demands. Immediately.”
Beam shook her head. “If YOU truly want the vaccine, YOU’LL accede to OUR demands.”
Fate took a step back, seemingly deferring to Beam’s authority. Which, Beam supposed, made sense, if the plan was still for her to take over commanding the station again. Once the current crisis was passed.
Alijdah glared. “What good is a vaccine to me? I’m already infected, obviously.”
Beam placed her hands on her hips. “What good? Well, supposedly the virus will run its course and you’ll lose the ears… but you could be reinfected by Smoke. Or any of its variations. You don’t know. Or perhaps this way you can travel back in time to inoculate yourself and then just fake having the disease now. Then there’s also the fact that my vaccine COULD cure any lasting aftereffects. We don’t know, as we haven’t been able to go through trials yet. All good reasons to back the hell off.”
Alijdah continued to glare for a moment, only to finally grumble, “Valid points. Fine, we’ll trade access to your medication for your people.”
“No. You returning our people is a gesture of goodwill towards negotiations for the medication,” Beam shot back. Adding, “pyon pyon” as her tongue started to feel twisted up once more.
Alijdah snorted. “No. Hell, maybe all I have to do is wait, and either you or the people on that planet will have a vaccine we can barter for, or otherwise steal. Who needs you?”
“You sent us the message,” Beam insisted. “You brought us here. You thought we were the only ones who could solve this. For that matter, you may have already caught only a variation. I haven’t heard a single pyon pyon from you yet. How much are you going to risk here?”
Alijdah muttered something under her breath. She couldn’t be sure, but Beam thought it was something to the effect of having only needed another hour, and they wouldn’t have had to haggle.
“This offer is going to expire in a minute,” Beam insisted. “Do you accept?”
“Or what?” Alijdah argued. “You may have found us, but I don’t think you have the resources to disable our station. And if you try to board us, or beam your people back, you’re basically asking for trouble. Why should we even listen to you?”
“Because of Trixie,” Beam said, turning to look at the twin-tailed redhead. “It’s time.”
Trixie’s eyes lit up. She plucked her small device from out of her blouse pocket and held it aloft. “Rixi? Epsilon interface. Authorization, alpha-alpha-three-zero-five.”
“All right,” her device intoned, in an imitation of Trixie’s voice. “Interfacing.” The red crystal seemed to glow brighter.
“Oh no,” Alijdah deadpanned. “You’re going to sic your techno-witch girlfriend on me. She’d better not try to board either.”
Trixie swung her arm out to the side, glaring at the view screen. “Rixi? Materialize delivery gun.”
Beam had wondered about Trixie’s need for Para’s expertise in density suits, and shrinking or enlarging things on a temporary basis. Apparently, what Trixie had needed was an interface that could be equally compatible with her personal magick hammerspace.
This had been the reason.
A globe of light appeared, hovering briefly over the screen of Trixie’s device. Almost immediately, it’s radius expanded, and it shot up into the air, under the control of Epsilon’s computer. Soon there was a huge sphere hanging over the central hub of the Epsilon Station itself.
Then the light was dispelled, leaving an enormous version of what had – once upon a time – been a nerf gun.
Trixie mimicked cocking the gun using her free hand, and on a display in the background, Beam saw the huge delivery gun respond to her action.
“Not. Girlfriends,” was all she added, with an impish smile.
Alijah’s eyes widened. She turned to look at something out of their field of view, and then looked back. Again there was muttering, but this time, all Beam could pick up on was curse words.
“So,” Beam continued. “Return our people. Enter into a dialogue about receiving our medication, which will naturally involve you not interfering in other dimensional worlds again. Otherwise? Trixie starts her deliveries.”
Alijah’s face twitched. “Well then,” she began.
MONDAY MARCH 22nd APRIL 2nd.
(can we get more than one vote?)
PATHS NOT TAKEN:
The direct approach would have resulted in a standoff. Alijah would have explained her origins in an attempt to distract the group, as some attempt was made to steal Beam’s pandemic research. The additional analysis route would have attempted a mind swap, during which time a successful attempt would have occurred to steal Beam’s research. We got the situation of breaking into files to see the true origin of the message, leading to this bartering of sorts. The middle ground, I suppose?
THE ORACLE PROPHESIED:
Trixie’s Mirrors project comes to a head with her interfacing Rixi and bringing back the gun from Part One. (That had to come back, right?) Meanwhile it was intended from the beginning for Clover to have sent the message to Epsilon; the talk of time travel and Fate’s suggestion of Vortex being the origins were all misdirection. (After all, Clover was the main lead-in of Part Two, and is central to this “Epsilon Trilogy” of sorts.)
Had a three way tied vote after a week, which was fortunately broken shortly thereafter. Closed the poll early Tuesday, been writing the last couple days. For what it’s worth. I hope you’ve enjoyed… site traffic has definitely not been great in general. Let me know if you think there’s a loose end in the story that I need to tie up, we’re almost done.