Author: mathtans

Writer and high school mathematics teacher.

Virga: Entry 1a

<PREV MISC INDEX NEXT>

A VIRGA MYSTERY
The Invisible Girl: Entry 1a

I can already tell that living with a witch for a roommate means my university life will never be dull. Especially when Melissa runs a private detective agency in her spare time. Though really, it’s more like being a university student is done in her spare time, the agency coming first… and by that I mean she’s invested a great deal into what she calls “restoring the balance of the supernatural on earth”. I’m still working out exactly what that means.

Anyway, Melissa has allowed me to write about her cases, under condition that I don’t identify specific names and places (since those would make it too easy to track her). Seeing as I’m in first year, working towards a career in journalism, and given that I can publish this on the internet under an anonymous name, I’ve accepted her terms. Therefore, you have no guarantee that my name is James Conway, or that hers is Melissa Virga, but they’ll suffice for the purposes of the chronicle.

Well, all right. That’s not entirely true. Her last name IS Virga, pronounced ‘Weer-gah’. She wanted that much preserved, seeing as she corrects anyone who gets it wrong. “It’s from the latin,” she told me when I first gave the ‘V’ too much emphasis. “Look it up sometime, educate yourself.” (I have – it means ‘twig’ or ‘broom’.)

Of course, there are also some undergraduates at the university who pronounce it ‘Weird-gal’ for, I suppose, obvious reasons, but Melissa takes it all in stride. At least, I think she does. At any given time, it’s hard for me to tell precisely what she’s feeling.

But on with the story at hand!

*-*

MELISSA VIRGA
Commission from Shirley

The first of Melissa’s cases which involved me begins after my return to our apartment on the first day of classes. I found Melissa talking with a large male in her office.

Of course, when I say her office, I mean our sitting room – Melissa had converted it to office use, since it happened to be not only the largest room, but also the one that you walk into when you first come in the front door. And when I say this was a large male, I mean LARGE – the guy was at least six feet tall and built like a truck. Even though he was sitting down and Melissa was standing, they were about the same height. He turned when I walked in.

“Ms. Virga’s busy,” he declared, giving me an angry look. “Come back later.”

“Now, now,” Melissa soothed, coming around to the front of her desk. “Don’t be rude, Dan. It’s just my roommate.”

The petite brunette fired off a quick smile, her physical beauty still managing to shine through for me, despite the plain purple blouse and faded jeans she was wearing. Melissa then leaned back against her desk, which caused a large stack of papers to slide sideways and collapse onto the floor. She didn’t even make a move to stop them.

“Roommate? Since when does a detective agency take borders?” Dan said, turning his irritated gaze away from me as he became distracted by the noise.

“Since business got slow over the summer and I couldn’t afford to pay the bills,” Melissa said matter-of-factly. “Don’t worry, he won’t interfere with the case.”

“That’s not the point,” Dan said. “I don’t want word of this… this problem getting out!”

“He’ll be discrete. You will be, right James?”

“Yeah, uh… I just came home to make myself some dinner,” I replied.

“Dinner?” Melissa said, furrowing her brow. “But it’s only…” She glanced at her wrist, saw she wasn’t wearing a watch, fumbled on her desk amongst the papers for a moment in search of a clock before realizing there wasn’t one, after which she glanced at the wall where there was also no clock before finally concluding, “Well, I’m sure it’s too early for dinner.”

“It’s after six,” I offered.

“Definitely too early then,” Melissa decided.

“Look,” Dan said, rising. “It’s obvious the two of you have some issues to discuss here, so I’ll just…”

“Sit down.”

Her voice was soft, but firm. Dan sat, probably without even thinking about it. Heck, I almost sat down too. For someone who only just tops five feet, Melissa can speak very authoritatively when she chooses.

“Thank you,” she finished. “Now, having established that my roommate will be discrete whether he bothers to listen to us or not, I believe you were in the process of explaining to me about your invisible friend.”

Dan shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “Yes, well… look, you’re sure this information will be kept confidential?”

“Do you want my help or don’t you?”

“All right, all right,” Dan sighed, slumping back in his chair. Rather than going back behind her desk, Melissa boosted herself up to sit on it, onto it in order to listen. Another few paper stacks slid to the floor in the process.

“Her name was – is – Danielle,” Dan explained. “I invented her way back in grade school, to keep me company at recess, since none of the other kids wanted to play with me. Understand that I was a bit of a loner back then. Clumsy, uncoordinated, that sort of thing. So Danielle was, for me, the only person who saw through my faults, to the sort of person I truly was.”

Halfway to the kitchen, I paused, being drawn into this conversation despite myself. It was so strange, hearing someone of my age speaking in the way that Dan was. I almost laughed, but then I saw the serious expression on Melissa’s face. It was as if she would remain unfazed no matter what it was that was said in her presence.

I wondered then for the first time what sort of business my newfound roommate was really running.

“Of course, I grew out of that phase,” Dan continued hurriedly, now ignoring me completely as he focussed on Melissa. “Put Danielle and whole concept of invisible friends behind me, where such juvenile thoughts belong. At least, I thought that’s what I’d done.”

“Yet now Danielle’s back,” Melissa deduced.

“Yes, she seems to be,” Dan admitted. “Towards the end of last year I thought it was just my eyes playing tricks on me. But now, I’m not the only one seeing her.”

Melissa leaned forward a bit. “Interesting. Who else has seen her lately?”

“A couple of other people in the residence,” Dan sighed. “The troubling thing is, I wasn’t even there at the time. I only know because word gets around when you’re supposed to be living in an all male wing.”

“And you’re sure this appearance is not simply some girl who resembled the one from your childhood?”

Dan shook his head. “No, no, it’s her, she’s even told me herself who she’s seen, after the fact. And it’s not some practical joke either. Danielle has this ability to appear in both a solid form and a transparent one, such that your hand can go right through her. That’s why I’m here consulting you. Consulting a supernatural expert. I want you to banish Danielle again! Or do something to get rid of her before things get out of control.”

“I see. Could be tricky, since you haven’t yet described to me what she looks like,” Melissa pointed out.

Dan blinked. “Well, she’s a girl. About my age, and I know that doesn’t make sense, but it’s as if she’s grown up at the same rate as me. Her hair is blonde, shoulder length, she’s shorter than me but taller than you, wears a faded dress… look, can I simply point her out?” Dan said throwing up his hands. “She’s like any other girl, except she shouldn’t exist!”

“I see. And although you helped to create her, you think things will get out of control?”

“Yes. I mean, the few times I’ve seen her myself she’s seemed… different from how I remember,” Dan elaborated, now shifting uncomfortably in his seat. “For one thing, she seems less focussed on me, and more on the world in general. Despite the fact that she’s obviously detached from our reality. It worries me. I think she might hurt someone.”

“Hummmm,” came the reply, as Melissa pondered what had been said. At least, her eyes seemed to unfocus, so presumably she was thinking about it. Then, just before I thought Dan was about to interrupt the growing silence, her eyes suddenly fixated on him again. “Tell me, quickly, what colour nail polish does Danielle wear now?”

“What?”

That comment had come from me, though I quickly clapped a hand over my mouth as I realized I’d spoken aloud. Dan spared me only a brief glance before looking back at the so-called detective sitting on the edge of her desk. “Did you just ask about nail polish?” he wondered.

“I did, yes,” Melissa confirmed, staring at him intently. “Your answer?”

“It’s blue,” Dan said with more than a trace of exasperation in his tone. “How in the world is that important?”

“You never know,” Melissa replied. She hopped down off the desk and walked back around to the chair behind it, though she did not sit. “I’ll need to meet Danielle,” the brunette concluded. “Before she can be disposed of. Could you summon her for me now?”

“Summon? Well, no,” Dan said apologetically. “I don’t really control her that way, not anymore. She comes and goes when she wants. Which is another part of the problem.”

“Ah, I see. Nevertheless, I’ll need to speak with her,” Melissa insisted. “Perhaps you can convince her to come by here sometime?”

“I don’t think that’s likely.”

“Hummmm. Well, leave your address then. I’ll stop by tomorrow and see what I can turn up,” Melissa decided.

“Look, I said I’m in an all male wing!” Dan protested. “You’d be completely out of place, which would hardly help in keeping things confidential. Everyone would wonder why you were there!”

“It’s not as if I’d come looking as I do now,” Melissa said patiently. “You think I have no disguises?”

“But…”

“Look, if you’re real concerned I’ll send James instead,” Melissa said.

“Huh?” I spoke up again. “Since when am I…”

“The point,” Melissa continued, apparently ignoring me, “Is that I cannot do anything until I see this Danielle first hand. Understand?”

Dan grumbled something under his breath. “How about I see what I can do and give you a call,” he suggested at last.

“Fine,” Melissa concluded. “The answering machine is always here even if I’m not. I do look forward to hearing from you again.” She fired off a quick smile again before at last pulling out her chair to sit down. Picking up a pen, her attention became immediately caught by a few of the papers still cluttering her desk.

Dan hesitated briefly before standing, apparently not sure if there was anything else he should say. He glanced in my direction, to which I immediately raised my hands in the traditional ‘don’t look at me, I have no answers’ gesture.

“Okay, I’ll show myself out then?” the tall man finally said. Melissa didn’t even look up. I watched as Dan turned and strode back out the front door. Yet when I turned back towards my roommate, she was looking directly at me. I took a half step back in surprise.

“So, what do you make of him?” Melissa inquired.

“I think he’s crazy,” I said honestly.

She smiled, her green eyes twinkling invitingly. “In that case, what do you make of me?”

I blinked. “Well, I don’t know. Do you actually believe his story?”

“Parts of it,” Melissa admitted. “Some things, like the nail polish, I’ll need to see for myself.”

“Nail polish,” I repeated. “Right.”

Melissa laughed. “You look so tense, James. Relax. I wasn’t seriously going to send you out to Dan’s place, I merely wanted him to stop protesting. Remember what I said when we made these living arrangements – you can determine your own level of involvement in my business affairs. As long as you give me your rent on time and respect the confidentiality of my clients, there’s no problem.”

“Uh huh,” I said slowly. “Look, Melissa… how about you just leave out a warning when you have such strange types visiting. I can always eat out then.”

“If you like,” she said agreeably. “What sort of warning should I… oh, I know. How about I turn the doorknob fuchsia whenever there’s a client over?”

I blinked a few times. “Turn the doorknob… fuchsia?”

“Well, any colour would work, but fuchsia can signify ‘stop’, plus I have this silk scarf I can use for a reference,” Melissa explained, pulling open the top drawer of her desk. She paused to rummage around in it, finally closing it and opening the next drawer down. “Oh!” she then exclaimed in surprise. “I was wondering where that had got to.”

Melissa pulled out a half eaten sandwich, on a plate and everything. She took a quick bite. The contents seemed to be lettuce and tomato, yet that did not explain the dollop of raspberry jam I saw dribble out from between the bread slices. “Hum, still tastes good,” Melissa declared. “Maybe it should be dinner time after all. Anyway, I’m sure that scarf will turn up sometime, so is fuchsia good for you?”

It took a second before I realized she was talking to me again. “Sure,” I replied, starting to wonder whether I was actually on some hidden camera TV show. “Sure, tie the scarf on the doorknob when you’re busy.”

Melissa made a ‘tch tch’ noise, setting aside the sandwich as she stood back up. “James, James, James… I won’t be tying anything, I’ll be changing the appearance of the metal,” she said. “See, it’s harder for someone else to fake that. Other scarves exist out there, but I myself only know of one other person in the area who can convincingly distort reflected light with her magicks.”

At this point I felt at a complete loss for words.

Melissa grabbed something else from her desk drawer and approached me. “See, I really wasn’t kidding when we spoke on the phone, back before you decided to move here,” she continued. “Magick and the supernatural, they exist all around us. The forces are there, and anyone with the proper abilities can tap into them. I don’t mind if you ignore that fact, most people do. However, in my presence you’re going to have to at least acknowledge it.”

She held out her hand, in the palm of which there was a small ball. “What colour is the ball, James?” she inquired easily.

I looked at it. “Green,” I stated.

She closed her hand, then almost immediately re-opened it. “And now?”

I did a quick doubletake. “Euh, yellow?” Her slight of hand was very impressive.

Again her palm closed and opened. The ball now seemed to be plaid. As if sensing my skepticism, she reached out her other hand. It was completely empty.

“Simple illusion,” Melissa explained offhandedly. She tossed the plaid ball aside and it rolled under a nearby bookshelf. “Well, okay, not that last one, but the yellow you could learn to do yourself. Given time, if you tried hard enough. It comes pretty naturally to me is all, owing to my bloodline.”

“Riiiight.” There had to be something tucked in her jeans. “And how do I know you don’t simply have good slight of hand, with some identical yet different coloured balls hidden on your person?” I challenged.

Melissa shrugged. “I could repeat the process in the nude if you like, but I suspect your attention would wander more.”

I suspect I flinched. She didn’t seem to react. I know this because I made a point of not yielding to temptation, and keeping my gaze on her face.

“Suffice to say,” Melissa continued, “I am in tune with the supernatural. A witch, if you prefer. That’s why I can appear to change the colours of objects, that’s why people come to me when they have trouble with their imaginary friends, that’s why I can turn you into a chicken if you skip out on your lease.” She pivoted and walked back to her desk. “Of course, that last is a rather involved spell, so I hope to avoid using it.”

I frowned. “I thought the chicken clause was a joke.”

“The thing is,” Melissa continued, sitting down, looking back at her stacks of paper and retrieving her pen. “One shouldn’t be able to wield these magicks against another with the intent to cause harm. Not without the recipient’s consent anyway, the penalty for such misuse being severe karmic backlash. However, for some reason I can’t fathom, that supernatural balance on earth is falling out of whack. Individuals are abusing their powers and getting away with it. That’s where I come in. I’m attempting to restore the balance.”

“You mean you really could turn me into a chicken?”

“James, were you listening?”

“Yes, I heard every word,” I assured her. “You’re out to restore the balance of the supernatural on earth. Fine, good, I’m sure that’s a noble goal. However, I’m more than a little concerned about whether I accidentally signed my soul away in the last twenty four hours.”

“Relax,” Melissa sighed with a roll of her eyes. “You’re hardly the sort of person I’m after. As I indicated, don’t cross me and we’ll have no problems.” She paused. “Though you know, you could stand to be less naive. I don’t want anybody coming after me through you.”

“Gee, sorry,” I retorted sarcastically.

“It’s okay, we can work on that,” Melissa said obliviously, having already returned to studying her papers. “Simply let me know if anyone seems to ask you too many questions.” She reached out to take another bite of the mystery sandwich.

I was tempted then to simply beat a quick retreat back into the kitchen, but there was one little detail of Melissa’s prior conversation that still nagged at me. I knew it would bug me all night if I didn’t say anything. So I spoke up, having to ask my question twice before I even got Melissa’s attention once more.

“Nail polish what now?” she questioned.

“It’s just I really can’t understand what that had to do with Dan’s imaginary friend problem,” I repeated patiently.

“Oh, that. Simple really, though you almost destroyed the whole thing with your exclamation.” Melissa pulled her hands back out of sight, under her desk. “Tell me,” she continued easily, “what colour nail polish am I wearing?”

I blanked momentarily, then thought back to when she had been demonstrating the trick with the balls. “Clear polish,” I stated.

An eyebrow rose. “Could it be you’re a better observer than I thought?” Melissa mused aloud.

I shrugged. “I have a semi-photographic memory,” I explained to her. “Comes in handy when trying to describe a scene for an article some time after the fact.” (Incidentally, also true as far as writing about Melissa’s cases go.)

“That’s handy,” the brunette reflected. “Hope I’ll remember that. Though as a matter of fact, you’re wrong, I’m not wearing any nail polish today.” She put her hands back on the desk. “Thing is, most guys don’t key into those minor details of your appearance, not right away. Yet Dan was pretty quick with his response. Which means…” She let her voice trail off and stared at me expectantly.

“Which means… he was making it up?” I ventured.

Melissa shook her head. “The people who invent cases for the purposes of making fun of me wouldn’t have been upset at your presence. Try again.”

I couldn’t think of anything. Possibly because I was getting increasingly distracted looking at her. She really is attractive. “I don’t know.”

“I think Dan knows more about his ‘friend’ and her preferences than he was willing to tell me,” Melissa concluded. “Hence the need to speak with Danielle myself.”

“Ah. But, er, won’t it be tricky, chatting with an someone who is imaginary?”

“Eh, I’ve done stranger,” my new roommate said dismissively. Again she bit into her sandwich, and this time I noticed the presence of a banana slice in amongst the lettuce.

“Okay, well, I’ll just be in the kitchen then,” I decided, attempting a smile as I inched further back from her desk.

Melissa didn’t even notice, having already returned to her paper shuffling. Something told me she didn’t spend much time in the kitchen herself. The knowledge that my current bedroom had previously been the dining room added credence to the thought. So it seemed unlikely that we would speak again that evening.

I tried to put it all out of my head.

That worked until late Friday night.

<PREV MISC INDEX NEXT>

ASIDE: Originally written in 2003. Like? Dislike? Thoughts about the characters, or what will happen next? Hope you’ll let me know!

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Virga: University Witch

UNIVERSITY WITCH

Casefiles Introduction

I can still remember the first time I met Melissa Virga. I didn’t know that she was a witch then, of course. Nor did I know of her part time work as a private investigator. I was merely a first year student looking for an off campus residence, and she was an upper year student who had advertised a vacancy.

In retrospect, perhaps I should have looked a little more closely into why her apartment, so close to campus, was still available that last week of August. But I was from out of town, and somewhat naive.

Oh, all right, very naive — I even took the place sight unseen, arranging everything over the phone. I mean, Melissa sounded nice enough, the apartment was depicted well, and the warnings she gave me about her curious habits struck me as being her way of screening male applicants. Thus when I showed up that Labour Day Monday, I had absolutely no idea of what I was really getting myself into.

I walked in through the front door of the building (kept open during the daytime), proceeding up to the top floor. From there, you couldn’t miss Melissa’s apartment. Underneath the ’66’ on her door hangs the picture of an eye staring out from inside a triangle. I’ve since seen it in connection with mystical happenings, but at the time I only gave it a passing glance.

I knocked. From inside I heard a female voice call out “Sorry, we’re closed!”

Not certain what to make of that, but recognizing the voice as being that of the person I’d been talking with over the phone, I called back, “It’s James Conway!”

I heard the sound of rustling paper followed by approaching footsteps. Then the door opened, and there she was, peering at me over her reading glasses.

I suppose I should add here that Melissa is a very beautiful girl. I mean, sure, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but many who saw her would agree with my assessment. Long, wavy brown hair, piercing green eyes and, while a bit on the thin side, her body still has curves in all the right places. Turns out it’s not her appearance that bothers others, it’s her mannerisms. And since I had yet to see those, I was too busy picking my jaw up off the floor to hear the first words that she spoke to me.

After I sheepishly asked her to repeat herself, Melissa smiled quietly, as if used to this sort of initial reaction, and said simply, “Could you please give me this month’s rent right away? I need it to pay the phone bill.”

That was the start of our association.

MELISSA VIRGA
Commission from Shirley

 

CASE 1A NOW POSTED

—– MISC INDEX NEXT>

EXTRA ASIDE: This was originally written in January 2003. If you missed my final roundup post about the latest “Epsilon”, you can find it here. Thanks for reading!

Paths Not Taken 5

Even though I transferred the “choices NOT taken” info to the end of individual posts for Story4, I’ve decided to do a roundup here with some extra commentary of things from my notes that didn’t make it in. It can also be a way of seeing how far we came. And, at the end of the post, my 2017 coins, and some final site stats. There are spoilers herein for “Epsilon Delta”, obviously.

FIRST HALF

0. PLOT CHOICE. The project member in trouble idea would likely have been Alijda, with Alice trying to get some support. The VR/RPG game world plot was the least fleshed out idea, but seems to be a popular genre of late, so I thought I could do something with it. We got problems on Epsilon itself, leading to Beam and Rose.

1. WORLD CHOICE. Alijda’s world would have involved a teleport, Kat’s world would have kept him on the planet, we got Beam’s world. At this stage, my notes of “could be sabotage or some inter-dimensional being gambling on outcomes” also add in “could be some artifact Beam retrieved, or ‘Fate’ from Kat’s world”. Yeah, it was that early, but not in stone.

2. DAMAGED. Software problem would have been Alijda POV (point of view), Hardware would have been Kat’s POV, indirect choice was Rose POV where the problem fixes itself. My notes include “magnetic field”, “need an artifact to defeat Ziggy” and maybe it’s personal or “this isn’t personal, it’s a game”.

3. BEAMING. Had Beam been unfindable, we’d have had two entities (her and Ziggy). Had Beam included Ziggy, Ziggy would have been the entity. We got Beam with memory loss (unanimously, 5 votes) which locked one entity in place (Fate), and led to working out the artifact.

4. PLAN IT. Vault artifacts would have restored some station power, while a planet with advanced tech would have meant a magic artifact. We got the magic world (with the cyberarm artifact), plus the POV VOTE where Rose won, meaning more Beam. My notes started to consider the planet here, wondering about a racial divide. (Yeah, that went nowhere.)

5. CHAPERONE. If Rose had brought Alice, we’d have had Kat/Alijda on the station. If Rose had brought Alijda, we’d have had Kat/Alice on the station. Instead we had Kat/Rose on the planet. Which created backstory for Beam. Also, my notes now included “mage patrol” and “Fate captured? Brought here by abduction or rival organization of Epsilon?”

6. NEXT STEP. Talking to the local would have had them detained (see “mage patrol” above), while consulting with Alijda would have shifted POV to the station. We got the introduction of Firestorm and the diary, along with an explosion in my notes: “Fate is going by ‘Destiny’.” “Rose is remembering Angie, having to quash her feelings then for different reasons. Resents Beam?” and “mention ‘Epsilon’ pin”.

7. JUST WILD BEAT. Alice making contact sans cyberarm would have related to occult research. Making contact with the cyberarm would have involved it being caught, so we kind of followed that thread until Kat made contact (which is what won the vote). My notes started to explore more about Fate now: “Destiny had dreams of being here” and “Fate accidentally cracked open the doorway herself, that’s not an Epsilon thing. Do it to get the cyber arm, or was it a fluke?”

8. DESTINY. Destiny being arrested would have involved townspeople and Firestorm. Her being kidnapped (which won) would have involved police without Firestorm. Her fleeing would have fallen to the 2nd most popular option but reversed whether Firestorm came. The group “Wages for Mages” was scribbled in as a townspeople possibility, which I never mentioned back then.

9. POLICE. If police had been no help, someone from the underground would have come. With Firestorm as the deputy, Fate would have had some tech still with her to justify them staying. We got Rose as the deputy, which meant no tech, and I could use that “Angie” stuff from 6. I also noted for myself that they can’t track Beam while she’s insubstantial.

SECOND HALF

10. BACKUP. A sneaky POV vote, which is why Alijda gets her first perspective setting next, joining the group on the planet. (Alice joining would have been her POV, and Kat not getting help would have been his POV.) I figured I’d need another Alijda POV part after this too, for balance (after the earlier Alice POVs).

11. TRACKING CODE. Our first tied vote this story (2-2), where Rose picks up both Beam AND Firestorm, resulting in some stalling tactics to make it work. At least Destiny wasn’t chosen, which was intended to be the most dangerous path. My notes started to flesh out a LOT of Compton’s history here (even before he had a name) with “Son finds book after Dad’s death, wants to know more, and Destiny was always talking about people with other world stories. He goes to her, makes demands, is rebuffed.”

12. WHERE ARE THEY NOW. Ran with the 2-2 tie again. No one wanted Firestorm with the enemy, which would have had them meet Beam. Beam being caught meant meeting Firestorm, but it worked to have them working together by then too.

13. FATED. Left the vote open longer, and got 7 votes for the first time since Vote 4. Fate coming through voluntarily would have linked into dreams, her coming through involuntarily would have been backlash from this world, but we got abduction. A bit dark, but that’s fine. Compton finally got named (selected because a ton of Computer Science had been ruining my life).

14. COMPTON PLAN. Scaring him away with Gods wouldn’t have worked, and we’d see Compton’s plan. Closing the portal would have resulted in an evil wizard, meaning a possible team up. We got explosions and Compton’s power up. I was already working on the end game here, with “Work up to where Rose’s duplication power is effective. He boomerangs things back, so many Roses?” and “Somehow the personal history scrambling spell ends up back on Compton?”

15. IN CHARGE. As mentioned last week, Rose deciding on Beam in charge would have meant everyone back to their worlds, Alice in charge would have had Beam and Fate together, but instead we got Fate in charge. With Alice and Beam working for her. The “larger Big Bad” for them was in my head here even before the final part was written.

16. CHARACTER. I’ve done one of these each story. After Story1, it was Alijda unanimously, 4-0. (That vote is now 6-0.) After Story2, it was Chartreuse unanimously, 2-0. (That vote is now 4-2 for Chartreuse, with Alice taking second place.) After Story3, it was Kat 4-1-1 with Alijda and Alice getting votes. (That vote is now 4-2-1.) And here we are after Story4. After one week… Rose and Kat are tied 1-1. Yeah, only 2 votes. I guess it’s the holidays?

STATISTICS

First, a look at current year coins! (Why? Well, if you haven’t read “Time & Tied”, their time machine runs on coins of the current year.) At the end of 2015, I had 42 coins, the majority of them quarters and toonies. At the end of 2016, I had 37 coins, the majority of them quarters and dimes. Here, to end 2017, I have 20 coins from 2017, which is a sharp drop. Particularly considering how I got my first coins early (already had six by late April).

2017 Coins!

I think that’s partly due to it being Canada’s 150th, meaning people may be more inclined to hold onto them? Of note, there’s two different quarter designs, and the penny in the image isn’t 2017, it’s just WEIRD, since we don’t have them in Canada (I found it on the ground).

Now, a look at this website. The lowest viewed update of “Epsilon Delta” (not including the current month) is entry #8 from August, “The Arm of Fate”, which got 17 page views. The lowest viewed days in the past 6 months (when I stopped posting weekly) were ZERO views on August 4 and 8, September 8 and 9, October 26, November 4 and 7 and 18 and 23, December 31 (yeah, today). A total of ten times. Days with OVER FORTY views in the past 6 months were July 22, September 1 and 24, October 30. Oy, let’s get less granular.

The lowest month for 2017 overall, across the 250+ posts, was November, with 227 page views. The highest month was May, with 1,935 page views, this thanks to:
(1) A review by Tartra at WFG on May 6.
(2) A review of the site by Rev Fitz on May 21.
(3) A guest post at Drew Hayes’ site the week of May 21.

Large numbers continued on a weekly basis into the start of June, at which point, well, you can see for yourself below. Most weeks since are below 100 page views, whether I published or not. (Again, I shifted to twice weekly in July.)

Last 30 weeks (7 months) of 2017

What does this tell us? Well, apparently I still have no idea how to market. I did get 7 votes in three consecutive weeks towards the end of “Epsilon Delta” though, which is a new high. (Story3 came close, but it was 7-6-7.) So there’s that.

IN CONCLUSION

I’ve realized I’ll need to redesign the site to accommodate serials that aren’t “Time & Tied” or “Epsilon Project”, so that’s my next plan. We’ll then run “Virga Mysteries” every two weeks for a few months, then likely take another crack at Epsilon. I plan to bring Chartreuse back then, she’s overdue. “Time Untied” was my NaNoWriMo, I got 40k words done there, so I’ll keep at it.

As always, I hope you enjoyed reading this look behind the scenes. Thanks for voting/reading/commenting, and feel free to add your voice below about anyway which was unexpected, or anything else that jumps out at you. Happy New Year!

4.16: Fate’s Wide Wheel

Previous INDEX 4 —-

EPSILON DELTA, PART SIXTEEN: FATE’S WIDE WHEEL

Kat had been fine with doing a controlled firebombing of Compton’s camp, up until the point that he heard Alice on his communicator say, “Everyone. Get out. Get out now, NOW, N–”

Kat’s first instinct wasn’t to run, but rather to flatten himself down on the ground where he stood on the edge of the clearing. He was pretty sure he couldn’t run fast enough, and besides, the purple smoke he could see implied that Alijda had just teleported herself back in to get Beam. He tried to bend the fire of the exploding tent around and away from that location.

The mystic shockwave was a surprise.

Kat wasn’t sure whether things happened in the blink of an eye, or whether he actually lost consciousness. Either way, the next thing he knew, everyone in the clearing was flat on the ground. Except Compton. The short, bearded man was now standing rigidly, quietly, instead of bellowing about getting Destiny back. Then a smile flickered over his face.

Kat didn’t like that.

Firestorm charged in from the other side of the clearing. Kat winced, but decided not to intercede yet. Curiously, as Firestorm hummed and released a fireball towards Compton, the short man simply watched it approach. That is, until it was almost right in front of him, at which point he raised his palm, whistled – and the fireball bounced. Firestorm dove to the side and rolled as it came back towards him, causing Kat to wonder how much the cloaked man could be affected by his own attacks.

Kat took advantage of the distraction, crawling into the clearing, staying low to the ground. Alijda, Beam and the henchman who’s been holding onto Beam were all in the same general area. Hopefully they were merely unconscious, as it beat the alternative.

“Oh, this is brilliant,” Compton said, his smile becoming a smirk. “All I need now is more power. Hmmm, and what’s this aura I sense…”

Kat froze as Compton began to stride towards him – but it was Beam that Compton reached for, grabbing her by the arm and hauling the blonde up to her feet.

“Whuhhhh?” Beam warbled, the holographic girl seeming as dazed by the blast as any of them. She barely managed to stay upright as Compton began to drag her back towards the location of the stone circle. The location of the dimensional weakness.

Compton then began to whistle continuously, eyeing both Firestorm and Kat, as if to make it clear that he knew they were there, and not to do anything stupid. Beam moaned and tried to push Compton away as he reached his destination, but the man simply gripped her by the ear instead, whistling louder as Beam slumped down to the ground.

Kat remained where he was, trying to analyze the situation. Was Compton somehow draining Beam’s batteries using his magic? To what end? Compton pointed down. To weaken the dimensions? Firestorm tried to attack while their adversary’s attention was diverted – but again, his fireball bounced off an invisible wall.

“Damn it,” Kat said. He helped that attack burn itself out, before it could cause any major damage. He was getting good at that of late, given how they’d been trying to restrict the effects of their fire attacks to the clearing itself.

“Oh, you thought I had to be watching you to bounce your attacks back?” Compton snarked, ceasing his whistle. “How wrong you are. No, no, this power, awakened in me by that explosion, you have no chance of defeating it. Not with such pathetic attacks. And soon, I’ll have bled out enough energy from this strange one” – he jerked Beam’s head by the ear – “to gain full mental control over this mystic doorway! You hear that, Destiny, wherever you are? You’ll rue the day you crossed me, make no mistake!”

Compton resumed whistling.

However, having been reminded of the fact that Fate had been brought to safety reinvigorated Kat. Moreover, he knew Rose and Alice were still out there too, likely working on a plan. They simply needed to regroup. Kat resumed heading for Alijda.

He had managed to ascertain that Alijda was fine, but unlikely to regain consciousness any time soon, when Compton resumed his gloating.

“Ha ha! I can feel it happening,” Compton shouted in delight. “Control over this mystical gateway. Soon, I will be unstoppable!” He began to whistle louder.

That had happened faster than Kat had anticipated. Was another shockwave imminent? Firestorm began pushing himself to his feet; he looked to Kat for guidance.

Kat shook his head. They didn’t have enough information here. Maybe, after talking to Fate, they could reverse whatever Compton was about to do…? They certainly couldn’t manage it if they were left unconscious. Kat motioned at Firestorm to leave the clearing as he grasped for Alijda’s shoulders.

Which is when Rose ran in.

“Rose, run away!” Kat shouted.

Instead, Rose stopped and stood her ground about five metres away from Compton, issuing him a warning. So was this part of a plan? As Rose’s body seemed to double, and then double again, Kat had to assume it was, resisting the urge to gape. Did Rose have magic? Or was it holograms, maybe?

Whatever it was, it got Compton’s attention enough to free Beam, tossing her aside. But then, they had to assume Compton already had enough energy to enact his plans by now. Four sets of Rose cracked their knuckles. Then three of them rushed at him – as the fourth doubled back towards the treeline.

Okay, this HAD to be a plan.

Kat exchanged a glance with Firestorm (who was looking rather dumbfounded), then pushed himself up, running towards Compton himself. It had just occurred to him that they had only tried magical means of bringing him down. Perhaps Rose’s reasoning was that he was still vulnerable to a left hook.

His belief lasted only as long as it took to see one of the Roses try to punch Compton’s shoulder, her fist bouncing off an invisible wall, making her hit herself instead. From behind, another Rose tried to kick Compton’s legs out from under him, only to hit a similar barrier, and end up falling over herself.

The third Rose paused, then stuck out her tongue, stuck her thumbs in her ears and wiggled her fingers in the air. Provoking him? Because maybe Compton couldn’t maintain his defence while using an offensive power?

Kat honestly wasn’t sure what the plan was here any more. He stopped running, hoping someone would clue him in.

Compton seemed equally unsure of how to deal with Rose. He took a step forwards, swinging for the Rose who was taunting. She ducked out of the way, pulling SecondRose back up onto her feet as she moved. The third Rose, shaking out her hand, screamed down at the stone circle on the ground, and abruptly there were two circles there.

“You meddling…” Compton’s growl trailed off as he reached back and pulled some sort of switchblade out of his pocket.

“Oh, we’re doing physical violence here?” SecondRose snarked. “Because you don’t have the magic skills of your father?”

With a yell of rage, Compton slashed at ThirdRose, the teenager only just managing to duck and roll out of the way, audibly muttering, “oh, flûte”.

Kat was now headed for Firestorm. “The diary,” he called out. If this was all connected back to Fate’s abduction, there had to be some information there. “Is there a symbol we can use against him?”

“Uh, no, there was no handling of an invincible guy with a blade section,” Firestorm countered, pulling the book out of his robes and shaking it at him.

“Compton’s not invincible,” one of the Roses called out.

“All he can do here is absorb or reflect,” another Rose agreed.

“Watch him reflect my power,” ThirdRose added. She sang a note, and then there were four Roses running around Compton again.

“I will END you!” Compton said, lunging for a Rose. He managed to slice through part of her shirt, making her yelp.

Kat snatched the diary out of Firestorm’s hands and started running back towards the fight. “Hey, instead of beating up on girls, why not face off with me? I’ve got a book here with ALL of Destiny’s secrets in it. You want it?”

Everybody paused at that.

“Kat, do you know what you’re doing?” a Rose asked.

He looked back at her. “Do you?” he challenged. Because he was pretty sure he’d worked out their plan by now. To keep Compton away from the gateway, and to stall for time. He held Fate’s diary aloft.

“Give me that book,” Compton said.

“Say please,” Kat requested.

“Give it to me NOW,” Compton insisted.

“Wow, I can see why you’re not great at running a business,” Kat observed. “You can’t even follow simple instructions.”

Two of the Roses giggled. Compton looked like he was about to burst a blood vessel somewhere. “You think I don’t know some of my dad’s spells?” the shorter man screamed. “Hand that over, or I will use them. I will END you! All of you!”

“Hey, know what’s at the heart of this?” SecondRose mused. “Father issues. Paige had ‘em too. Find your own path separate from your father, Compton. Be your own person.”

Compton turned to glare at her. He had been letting out the occasional low whistle whenever he hadn’t been speaking. Now he whistled higher, and louder, and he started gesturing towards SecondRose. She placed her hands on her hips.

Compton gestured towards her. SecondRose’s head snapped back, and with a shocked look on her face, she fell to the ground – and vanished. The other Roses in the area staggered for a moment.

Kat almost shouted out ‘What did you do?’, but from the expression on Compton’s face, he seemingly hadn’t expected that result either.

“You think you’re so tough? Try that again!” shouted a Rose.

“Rose, what are you–” Kat cut himself off, as another Rose standing behind Compton raised an index finger and shook her head. Compton repeated his series of whistles and movements, and moments later, another Rose was gone.

Compton turned back to Kat. “Now, give me the book,” he declared. “Or another of your friends gets it.”

“Oh, no, no, please, do that once more first,” a Rose croaked out. “We almost got it that time.”

Compton obliged her. Moments later, the only people standing in the clearing were Compton, Kat, Firestorm, and one last copy of Rose. Or possibly she was the original Rose, and the Rose now returning to the clearing with Fate was the copy. Kat cleared his throat to keep Compton’s focus on him.

“Here’s the thing,” Kat said. “I’ve made a copy of the important pages here. If anything happens to me, a friend of mine will bring them to the police.”

“If you’re pinning your hopes on them, you must be desperate,” Compton observed. “Now stop wasting time and give me that book.”

“This book? Or the REAL book, which I have hidden back in the bushes?”

Compton shook his fist at Kat. “If you persist in these games, you WILL face the same fate as those redheads.“

“Actually,” came a new voice, tired but with a hard edge to it. “I’m the Fate you need to be worried about right now.”

Compton spun. Fate was now ten metres away from him. “Destiny. Have you finally come to your senses? Will you serve me?”

Both Roses moved to flank Fate, as the blonde spat into the ground. Then Fate began to trace something there with a stick she was carrying. “The spell for scrambling minds,” she remarked. “The one known by Compton Senior, the one that allowed him to abduct people. He was always so secretive about it, I was never able to figure out how it worked. Until now.”

Compton smirked. “You hope to try it against me? After I used it to dispel the doubling magic of this redhead? Fool, I can bounce it right back at you. You’ll lose your own mind.”

Fate looked back up at him. “Oh, no. No, because my spell will be stronger than the version you’ve been throwing around.”

Rose raised her hand and wiggled her fingers. “Hi. I’m Algebra. I multiply things.”

Compton’s smile morphed into a glare. “You stupid women. Even now, you do not understand my true power.”

“Still seems to be ‘reflect’ or ‘absorb’ to me,” the other Rose reiterated. “More to the point, for as long as you’re on reflect, we can do this.” She clapped her hand onto Fate’s shoulder, sang a note, and then abruptly there was another copy of both Rose and Fate, sketching on the ground. Then another.

“Meaning as long as you’re on reflect,” the Roses chorused. “We’re powering up.” More versions appeared, starting to form a circle around Compton. “The question becomes, are you man enough to absorb what Fate throws at you without succumbing? Or are you going to remain in the shadow of your father forever?”

Kat could have sworn Compton’s face went purple. And with a dozen Fates arranged in a half circle around the angry man, Rose’s notes ceased to be effective in creating any more copies.

“Now,” Rose whispered.

Fate began to chant the same phrase Compton had used earlier, but while he had punctuated his with whistles, Fate simply made her voice sound melodious. It wasn’t a happy melody, in fact Kat could pick up on an undercurrent of sadness and resentment, but it got the job done faster than Compton’s attempt to do the same.

As they finished, the Fates jabbed their sticks at the symbols on the ground. The area began to glow with a white light, and Compton let out a shriek. Kat was forced to look away from the brightness, and when he did turn back… Compton was still standing there. Looking stunned. And the only Rose and Fate in the area were lying on the ground, unconscious.

Fearing the worst, that their opponent had withstood the attack, Kat closed the distance to Compton, pulled back his free arm, and clocked the short man hard in the jaw. Compton crumpled to the ground without resistance, joining everyone else in the land of unconsciousness.

Well, almost everyone else.

“We win,” Beam chirped, from where she was still crumpled, unmoving, on the ground. “Now what. Are the chances. I could get. My own copy. Of Rose. To bring home. With me?”

Firestorm laughed. Kat’s communicator crackled back to life seconds later.

***

“This was probably not the dinner you envisioned,” Kat admitted.

Alijda smiled at him from across the table. “It’s not the location that matters. It was more about getting to know each other a little better.”

They had spent the last hour or so catching up on things in the Epsilon Station’s small cafeteria. This after having spent a couple of days completing paperwork after the mission, not to mention undergoing some tests to ensure there wouldn’t be any lingering issues after the mystic shockwave.

Firestorm had offered to take charge of dealing with Compton and the police down on the planet, once Fate (aka Destiny) had made it clear that she wasn’t planning to remain. In the end, Firestorm had decided not to ask more questions, deciding the more he knew, the more trouble he’d be in.

Fate had then helped Alice do a sweep of Compton’s business, confiscating anything dimensional from his records, under the rationale that his memory of such things would be sketchy anyway. It would have been like leaving matches in the hands of a toddler.

They hadn’t located records of anyone else who had once been abducted. And after years of living on the planet without finding anyone herself, Fate reasoned that randomly removing people who believed themselves to be natives might cause more harm than good anyway.

“Right,” Kat agreed. He rubbed his forehead. “I don’t see how this can work though. I’m in the military. I can’t simply disappear.”

“I could,” Alijda said. “Except it’s probably against the rules, plus someone needs to take care of Alice. I’m guessing she’s the one who volunteered to dress as a maid and serve us today?”

“Oh yeah,” Kat agreed. “Have you heard of the anime ‘Kaichou wa Maid-sama’?”[1]

Alijda shook her head. “No, and don’t even start. Back to you. Now that your decades long search for Fate is done, what will you do?”

Kat leaned back in his chair. It was a good question. “I guess I’ll stay hooked into occult matters. Still lots of pretty girls out there I can… not date?” A frown tugged at his features.

Alijda chuckled. “You sound like me when I realize I’ve blithely talked about killing myself.”

“Old habits,” Kat said dryly. “Like anything else, I guess we go forwards one step at a time.”

Alijda nodded. “I guess we do.” She seemed about to say something else, when Fate walked into the room.

Fate had cleaned up nicely, and was wearing a casual shirt and slacks, having pulled her long, blonde hair into a side ponytail. Without looking up from the book in her hands, she called out, “Hey, Alice. Bad news. The– oh, sorry, the computer said Alice was in here.” She seemed a bit chagrined once she took in the scene.

“Hmph. Thank you, Ziggy, thank you VERY much for that,” Alice sighed, popping up from behind the cash register with a sigh. She was still dressed in the maid outfit.

Alijda snapped her gaze over towards her roommate. “You were SPYING on us?”

“I was quietly counting the receipts down here after serving your dessert,” Alice said, leaning her elbows onto the counter with a grin. “And for the record, I can take care of myself, thankyouverymuch.”

“Uh, Alice? This station exists outside of space and time, there should be no receipts there,” Kat pointed out.

Alice nodded sagely. “So I gotta make sure none randomly appear. Cuz that’d be weird.”

“Hey, great news,” Beam said, entering the room behind Fate, dragging Rose along with her. “My lesbian friend here no longer has the desire to lick at my neck whenever she sneezes!”

“Ahem. She means that the police smell tracking thing has worn off,” Rose said, her freckles getting a bit washed out by her reddening cheeks. “So I’m probably clear to leave.”

Beam grinned. “Can I joke about tasting, and which of us is sweeter, as a call back to your comment on the day we met?”

“Not in public,” Rose advised, the roll of her eyes implying Beam’s attitude was no longer getting to her quite as much. “Moreover, there’s been no side effects from my using math powers on that planet, and Alice said that the ability shouldn’t carry over to my normal reality. So yay?”

“Hey, that’s great,” Kat said, giving her a thumbs up. “But guys, me and Alijda were kinda in the midst of…”

Alijda laughed. “Oh, Kat, it’s fine. I think we were pretty much done. Besides, with Rose departing, I’m kind of curious as to who will end up being left in charge.”

Kat double-checked Alijda’s expression, noting her sincerity, before looking back to Rose. She was already looking at him. He nodded slightly at her; they’d had a brief conversation that morning about her possible selection.

Rose took in a deep breath. “Right. Well. Since there might be issues from higher goddesses if I pick either Alice or Beam, I decided that…” She turned. “Fate should be in charge. But, I mean, the others can stick around here to keep her company, and to make sure she doesn’t go crazy or something. If they want. This is okay, yes?”

Fate’s pencil slid out of the spine of her book and fell on the floor. “Oh. I… I was wondering how I’d return home after all this time. So I suppose this… as a transition… that is… I’m honoured.”

“Ooh, I have no problems being under a woman like Fate,” Beam said, her eyes twinkling.

“It’s Fate’s Wide Wheel[2],” Alice mused. She eyed everyone in the room, then face palmed. “Quantum Leap song. From Glitter Rock. Get WITH it, people, sheesh.”

Kat chuckled, then looked back at Fate. “Congratulations. I hope this means we can still keep in touch.” Fate nodded back at him, smiling a bit nervously.

“As to the bad news?” Alijda remarked, pushing her chair back from the table.

Fate blinked. “Oh! Yes. Well.” She tossed her book on the table. “It’s as I always suspected. Compton Senior? He didn’t come across his dimensional knowledge by accident. It was somehow fed to him. By someone else.”

Alice’s expression turned serious as she came around the counter. “That’s impossible. No one on that planet could have had the knowledge.”

“I know,” Fate said. “I didn’t say it was from someone on that planet.”

“Something to do with where the arm came from then?” Rose asked.

Fate shook her head. “Unlikely. The arm appeared later. Possibly as a result of Compton Senior’s efforts. His awareness had to precede that. Somehow, there was a space-time breach, and this Station didn’t know about it. As if the abduction thing wasn’t already a clue to it’s fallibility.”

“So we have a mystery on our hands,” Kat said, frowning.

“One that me and Alice will need get to the bottom of,” Beam decided, crossing her arms. “Now that Fate’s going to be handling the daily station duties.”

“Huh. Will you need our help with any of this?” Alijda wondered.

Fate picked her pencil up off the floor. “Time will tell,” she remarked, tossing it onto the table. “Only time will tell.”

[1] Have a “Maid-Sama!” OP.
[2] Here’s a Doctor Who video with Scott Bakula singing.

END OF STORY 4: EPSILON DELTA

 

Preferred POV character from Story4? (* means ‘voted on at the time’) OPTIONS:

VOTING WILL LIKELY REMAIN OPEN (like the end of every full story)

Previous INDEX 4 —-

PATHS NOT TAKEN:
If Beam had been put back in charge, Alice and Fate would have returned to Alijda and Kat’s worlds respectively. Possibly with a thread of contact, but we know Beam can be rules oriented. If Alice was put back in charge, she would have maintained communications, while Beam would have accompanied Fate back to Kat’s world, to help Fate deal with her experiences. Instead, as seen, we explore the greater mystery (which was always in the cards) with everyone on board.

EXTRA ASIDE:
Thanks for reading! I’ll likely do a “behind the scenes” separate post later, maybe with some stats, and then in 2018 we’ll head into “Virga Mysteries”. Still every two weeks, as there are edits, and I need to devote some time back to my math comic. There’s a Discord comic chat coming up for it in February and I want it to see new material. I’m also now writing monthly for the Time Travel Nexus. So I’m keeping busy.

4.15: Rose to the Occasion

Previous INDEX 4 Next

EPSILON DELTA, PART FIFTEEN: ROSE TO THE OCCASION

Rose watched Alijda as the older brunette woman considered their next move. At last, Alijda stood and moved off of the tarp, rubbing the areas where she’d been tied up. “Well, Firestorm is the resident of this planet,” she concluded. “Might as well go with his plan.”

“Really?” Rose said, surprised. It wasn’t that she had anything against the idea of fire bombing Compton’s supply tent. She had simply expected a plan with more finesse to come up.

“Unless someone else has an objection,” Alijda clarified. “Plus I suppose you are technically still in charge of the Station, Rose. Are you good with us doing this?”

“Oh.” Well, her plan had been kind of shot down by Alice. “Uh, yeah, I suppose.”

“Then I’ll spread the word,” Alice chirped over the communicator. “Because we’ve got to get on this fast. Beam turned on her communicator after Alijda left, so I’m now tuned into the happenings of Compton’s tent. FYI, Ned’s on his way to tell the others that Alijda escaped. He also beat up Beam a little.”

“He did WHAT?” Rose shrieked, one hand clenching into a fist.

“He hath attacked your lady love,” Alice clarified. “Give ‘em hell, Rose.”

ROSEMARY THORNE
Commission from Lia

Rose spun, staring towards the clearing. She couldn’t see it through the underbrush, but knew where it was. In part because Firestorm was sending up balls of fire, and Kat was making them burn up in the air as a distraction, one which was easy to spot in the darkness.

Presumably, the two of them would now start to smash their fire down into the clearing. Destroying Compton’s plans, while sowing enough confusion for Alijda to teleport Fate and Beam to safety. And as they did that, Rose would… watch.

After giving the order, all she could do was watch.

Her hand fell open. “I have no powers. I guess I’ll fold up the tarp here.”

Alijda cleared her throat. “Actually Rose, as much as I don’t want to have to do that blind teleport a second time, it would be good to keep the tarp here. Just in case.”

“Awesome. Means I’m zero help.”

Alijda reached for Rose’s hand, and Rose turned to see the older woman giving her a reassuring smile. “Oh, Rose. You’re the one who got us here. By sniffing out Beam. That helped.”

Rose shrugged. “Except anyone could’ve done it,” she pointed out. “If they’d been the one stamped by the police instead. But it’s cool,” she continued, before Alijda could speak up again. “You’re older and more experienced anyway. Go give ‘em hell on my behalf.”

Rose forced out a smile. Alijda still seemed to hesitate, until Alice’s voice came back over the communicators.

“Beam’s getting clear of the tent,” Alice announced. “Kat and Firestorm are starting their run.”

“Hell incoming,” Alijda assured Rose. She dashed off towards the clearing.

Rose nibbled on her lower lip. She activated her communicator. “Alice, can you let me know when Beam is all safe and sound? I mean, along with everyone else too. Obviously.”

“No problem,” Alice assured her. “If you want, while you’re waiting, you can think about who should take this station back from you. Once the problem’s been dealt with.”

“Oh, right,” Rose groaned. “Can’t it just be Beam again? Or you?”

“The all-knowing dimensional God could object,” Alice reflected. “But then, they might not have a leg to stand on. Given how Beam bringing you in did save the station, and me coordinating here now proves that I would still be an asset.”

“Gods might not even have legs in the first place,” Rose mused.

“They move in mysterious ways,” Alice affirmed. She then continued to hum, “It’s alright, it’s alright, it’s all right. They move in mysterious ways.”

Rose ran her fingers back through her hair. Perhaps almost as important as who she chose for the job would be who she did NOT choose. Because what would Alice or Beam do if they weren’t working on Epsilon? For that matter, was there even anyone else to choose? Alijda had already said she wasn’t interested. What about Kat – or could having him be in charge cause problems for Alijda, putting their relationship into a chain of command.

“Oh, don’t pick a guy to run the place,” Alice added, as if reading her thoughts. “That’d be vetoed. I mean, can you even imagine a male administrator patrolling the multiverse? Ha! Men’s egos can be so fragile. Things would get seriously screwed up.”

Rose chuckled. “What’s that a quote from?”

“Not quoting, it’s just a truism. Oh, hey, hold on. These power readings are spiking, that shouldn’t be…” The humour vanished from her tone. “Everyone. Get out. Get out now, NOW, N–”

There was a blast of feedback from the communicator, making Rose wince and hold her arm out to the side. At the same time, the Earth shook. Moments later some sort of shockwave was projected out from the vicinity of the clearing, knocking Rose back on her ass.

Then things were eerily silent.

Rose did her best to shake it off, though she felt queasy. When she reopened her eyes, she saw a number of leaves and pine needles all around her on the ground, shaken free by the blast. For a moment, it seemed like there were even more trees surrounding her too – until Rose realized she had double vision again. She closed her eyes, counted to three, and when she looked once more, the problem had resolved itself.

Rose scrambled to her feet and ran for the clearing.

She nearly tripped over the blonde woman in the dark, but managed to sidestep her in time. Going down on one knee, Rose quickly felt for a pulse, only to realize that the woman was breathing.

Also, it wasn’t Beam. So with that hair, and more to the point that plain looking dress, it had to be Destiny. Or rather, Fate, the local potion master and Kat’s childhood friend.

“Hey, are you gonna be okay?” Rose asked, gently tapping at the woman’s cheek.

Fate moaned. “Today I’ve been kidnapped, tortured, and caught in a magical explosion, what do you think?” she grumbled. She cracked an eye open. “Who are you, anyway?”

“Rose Thorne,” the redhead said with an uncertain smile. “With Team Beam, trying to take down Compton and save you.”

“Oh, YOU’RE Rose,” Fate muttered. She tried to push herself up.

Rose wasn’t sure how to take that. She glanced back towards the clearing – it was now close enough to be seen through the trees, in fact some of those trees had been bent away from the area – and decided that, for right now, the stranger in front of her had to take precedence over her team. She helped support Fate into a seated position.

“I am indeed,” Rose agreed. “Can I help you?”

“Gimme a second.” Fate pressed her palm against her head, squinting at Rose through the darkness. “Huh. You don’t look like the most amazing lesbian anyone would ever meet, but then me and Beam didn’t have tons of time to talk while Compton was setting up camp.”

“Ah. Well, y’know, I’m not sure how many other lesbians Beam has really met,” Rose said. She hoped she wasn’t blushing foolishly.

Fate chuckled. “Ah, young love. Those were the days.”

Rose rubbed her neck. “So, um, did you get blown back here by that explosion?” she asked, trying to change the subject.

“No,” Fate admitted, lowering her arm. “It was that teleporting woman. She pulled me away from Compton, we appeared here, she said she’d be right back, then she vanished in a purple cloud. Moments later, boom, and I’m on the ground. What happened, did Compton’s tent blow up or something?”

“I think so? At least, that was part of the plan,” Rose admitted. She tapped at her communicator. “Alice? Alice, what happened?” There was no answer.

Fate coughed. “Okay. So, bright side, Compton can’t use his fireworks and other explosives to force open a dimensional portal. Nor can he use his potions and other magical items to force open a dimensional portal. But, down side, I think those two things interacted in a negative way as they were taken out. Hopefully not in a way that opened a dimensional portal.”

“Dimensional portal bad, I get that,” Rose affirmed.

“Bad in the hands of Compton’s damn family is all,” Fate clarified, taking in a long breath.

Rose nodded. “Right. Well, give me a moment, I’ll go see if I can tell what happened.”

Rose began to push herself back to her feet, only to have Fate reach out and grasp her leg. “Wait, let me come,” she requested. “Sounds like you’re cut off from your friends, and I might be able to help diagnose the situation.”

Rose hesitated. Fate was bound to slow them down, but still, the woman had a point.

She reached her arm out. Fate grasped it, and Rose hauled her up to her feet. Fate smiled. “Thanks, Rose. So, do you have a thing for older women at all?”

Rose flinched. “What? No. That is, damn, I’m sure you’re a nice person and all but I didn’t even know you were–”

“Trying to lighten the mood,” Fate finished, interrupting. “Because you seem tense as all get out. Though I suppose the situation warrants it. Sorry, it was a bad joke, let’s get a move on.”

“Right. I knew that, not really,” Rose said.

Apparently Fate had a weird sense of humour. Meaning she’d get along just fine with the rest of the Epsilon team. Actually… what if Fate were put in charge of Epsilon? Could that be a thing? Or would the trauma Fate had suffered here be a deterrent to being in charge? Rose made a mental note to ask Kat about it in private.

Assuming Kat was still okay after the mystical explosion.

The two of them crept closer to the clearing.

The first thing Rose saw was the bodies. Since the clearing was still magically lit, they were hard to miss. She started to charge in closer, only to have Fate grasp her shoulder, preventing the motion. “That can’t be good,” she muttered.

Rose turned to see what Fate was looking at. That’s when she saw what had to be Compton.

The short man with the scruffy beard was standing and whistling some distance away from the bodies, with one hand pointed at the ground. His other held Beam up by the ear. The blonde hologram was slumped on the ground, her eyes open, but seemingly blank. Rose’s hands had curled back into fists before she realized it.

Yet charging in was the wrong course of action. Rose shrugged off Fate’s grip, gliding behind the nearest tree, peering around it to get a better look at the situation.

The bodies she’d seen were those of Alijda and one of Compton’s henchmen. She now saw that Kat, Firestorm, and the other henchman were also lying prone on the ground. Before Rose could ask herself if they were okay, Compton turned to look down at something, and Firestorm was moving.

The cloaked man sat up, thrusting his arm forward and letting out a humming noise. A fireball appeared in the air, streaking towards Compton.

It bounced off an invisible wall, flying back in the direction it had come.

“Damn it,” Kat said. Rose watched as Firestorm rolled away, with the fireball striking the ground and quickly burning itself out as Kat stared at it.

“Oh, you thought I had to be watching you to bounce your attacks back?” Compton snarked, ceasing his whistle. “How wrong you are. No, no, this power, awakened in me by that explosion, you have no chance of defeating it. Not with such pathetic attacks. And soon, I’ll have bled out enough energy from this strange one” – he jerked Beam’s head by the ear – “to gain full mental control over this mystic doorway!”

“Well, that’s bad,” Fate muttered near Rose’s ear.

Compton turned to look at some trees. “You hear that, Destiny, wherever you are? You’ll rue the day you crossed me, make no mistake!”

“That’s worse,” Fate added. Compton resumed whistling.

Rose turned to face the older woman. “Can you work some of your symbol magic to stop him?”

“Hmph. If he were unconscious, maybe,” Fate said. “Seems like he’d resist most anything right now. I don’t suppose you have magic abilities that would knock him out?”

Rose shook her head. “I have zip all for magic. Unless you count the tracking spell the cops gave me.”

Fate frowned. “Oh? That’s bizarre. The police would only have given you that ability if you already had major magic potential. And even if it was dormant, that blast wave would have triggered something for you, since it also did for Compton… Rose, did you feel anything after the wave hit?”

“Nauseous,” Rose said. “And I also saw double for a bit, but that happened after I got stamped in the police station too. Oh, and earlier, in your place. I’m probably overexerting myself or something.”

“I don’t think so,” Fate said, her eyes widening. “Were you in the presence of strong magic each time you saw double?”

“Uh, I guess?” Rose realized. The protection spell, the tracking spell, and the explosion did make three for three. “Why is that important?”

“Because it means the magic inside you is resonating with your surroundings,” Fate explained. “I’m pretty sure it’s the same sort of resonance which allows for my occult symbols to work more tangibly on this Earth. In fact, if you’re not careful, the magical backlash could lead to you feeling kind of drunk.”

“Oh, now someone warns me,” Rose muttered.

Fate grasped her by the shoulders. “Rose, this is great. If you’re seeing double, you might actually have the power to double the things you see, be it temporarily, or as an illusion.” She frowned. “If only we could somehow coordinate your ability with my symbols…”

“Ha ha! I can feel it happening,” Compton shouted in delight. “Control over this mystical gateway. Soon, I will be unstoppable!” He began to whistle louder.

Rose snapped her gaze back towards the clearing. It looked like Kat had crawled over to Alijda to check on her. Perhaps hoping that her teleport ability would be able to get to Compton, but she remained unconscious. Firestorm was pushing himself to his feet, but he looked unsteady. And Beam, poor Beam looked catatonic.

With still no word from Alice, it was up to Rose. Rose, and her doubling ability. Which honestly, she should have recognized sooner – after all, she had once been Algebra, capable of multiplying emotions. Was this so different?

Rose turned back to Fate. “Could I also duplicate living matter?”

Fate blinked, lowering her arms. “I don’t know.”

An idea was forming. “Tell me how to activate my magic here.”

“It’s different for everyone. But it is sound based. Humming, whistling, even the sound of a sneeze can trigger something under the correct conditions.”

Sneezing, that would probably just turn her nose on. But vocal notes, as a choir member, Rose knew all about those. She thought back to the scream she’d used when rushing into Fate’s home, the first time she’d experienced her double vision. It would do.

“Okay, Fate. If this works, just tell one of me how to coordinate with your symbols. If it doesn’t, um, avenge me.”

“One of you? Rose, what–”

Rose evaded Fate’s outstretched hand, dodging around the tree trunks to emerge into the clearing, jogging towards Compton.

“Hmmmm, what have we here?” Compton said, again ceasing his whistling as he turned to look at her.

“Rose, run away!” Kat shouted.

Rose stopped and stood her ground about five metres away from Compton. She could now see that the hand he had pointing down was directed at some sort of stone circle, which was engraved with a clover.

“Here’s your only warning,” Rose said, raising her own hand to point, while wishing her arm wasn’t shaking. “Stop what you’re doing, and let your hostage go.”

Compton smirked back. “Or else what?”

Rose drew in a breath, tried to envision multiplication, and screamed at approximately a middle C. As expected, Compton reacted as he had with the fireball, and bounced her spell back. At least, she assumed that’s what had happened, as she felt not only her vision doubling, but everything else about her as well.

She took a step to the left, as she simultaneously took a step to the right.

Both Roses felt a little queasy at that, but she immediately screamed again, to take advantage of Compton’s confusion.

“What trickery is this?” Compton demanded, as Rose became four. Apparently sensing that he had an actual fight on his hands, he released Beam’s ear, throwing her aside as he took a step closer to one of the Roses.

Rose began to circle left, even as she circled right, each version vaguely aware that only the Rose second from the left had any real permanence. Yet her other selves knew they didn’t feel like an illusion, so for as long as they were around, well, perhaps it was time to test out their self defence courses.

“You’re about to find out,” the Roses chorused as one.

A faint giggle came from the ground as Beam’s eyes refocussed. “Ooooh. You. Pissed. Off. My. Girl. Friend.”

Four sets of Rose cracked their knuckles.

WHAT’S NEXT?

Who will be taking over the Epsilon Project? OPTIONS:

VOTING CLOSES NOON EST SATURDAY DECEMBER 16th

Previous INDEX 4 Next

PATHS NOT TAKEN:
Scaring Compton et al away with “gods” would have been the more problematic choice, given Beam’s reservations and the fact that Compton had nothing to lose. He’d have held fast, opened the portal and tried to bleed off magic, complicating things. Had they tried to close off the dimensions, an evil wizard would have come through the rift first, forcing Compton to team up with them to defeat the guy. As it was, we got Compton gaining powers.

THE ORACLE PROPHESIED:
The double vision cauldron of Part 7 was a throwaway item for me to use anywhere, if I wanted. For all I knew then, it was specific to the item, or the location. But when Part 9’s vote picked Rose to be deputized, and the double vision returned in Part 10 (“see deuce”), Rose’s specific brand of magic became all but inevitable. The oracle did not prophesize Rose doubling herself here, but hey, whatever works.

EXTRA ASIDE:
I’m pretty sure we’re down to one last instalment, which will be posted over the holidays. Then we’ll go into whatever got selected out of this post, because it doesn’t make much sense to have a runoff vote now (most everything is tied). So, go vote again on your fave? It renews every week. In other news, “Time & Tied”’s rerun has finished on RRL, and there were some character votes there, if you felt like contributing or seeing results in the final post. Thanks as always for reading here; I’m blown away by there being 7 votes for a second time running.

4.14: Tied and True

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EPSILON DELTA, PART FOURTEEN: TIED AND TRUE

“Wondering about Kat?”

Alijda looked up at the remark by Rose. While waiting for Kat to return from his scouting mission, Alijda had taken to leaning back against a tree, her arms crossed. She fired off a reassuring smile at the redhead. “I’m sure he can take care of himself just fine.”

“Oh, I know,” Rose said, clasping her hands behind her back. She leaned forwards a little. “I said wondering, not worrying.”

Alijda felt her smile becoming more of a smirk. “Ooh. First Alice, now you, huh?” she remarked, more amused than anything else. “Fear not. The two of us are possibly doing dinner, so there’s nothing more for anyone to wonder OR worry about.”

“Possibly doing?” Rose prompted.

Alijda shrugged. “We literally do not live on the same Earth. Makes reunions awkward. The weird thing is how, despite knowing that, I haven’t been able to simply forget about him. So I guess we’ll see what happens.” She gave Rose a pointed look. “Something you may want to consider regarding Beam.”

Rose seemed to pinken, though it was difficult to be sure now that the sun had set. “Nice deflection, but I hadn’t planned on forgetting about Beam.”

“You just hope to forget about the relationship issues she sparked.”

Rose pulled back and looked away.

Alijda quickly moved to grasp the young girl by the shoulder. “Hey, not judging,” she said. “Not by a long shot. Goodness knows I don’t know how to react to anyone who shows an interest in me, romantically or otherwise. It’s only, heads up, Beam is something you’ll need to deal with before this is over. And you might not have a lot of time to decide on a path, depending on how things play out. You know that, yes Rose?”

She sighed. “Yeah. Plus I’ve got to pawn off this Station Commander role onto someone else too.” Rose crinkled her nose. “Do you think, if I gave it back to Beam, that she’d be able to email into my dimension or whatever? Because I could see having her as a pen pal going forwards. If she doesn’t hate my guts after that rant I gave her.”

“Hm! That’s not a bad idea,” Alijda reflected. “Even if Beam’s not in charge, I might be able to hack something together.” She wiggled her eyebrows as she pulled her arm back. “All you’ll need to do find a way to explain to your girlfriend why your new blonde pen pal keeps emailing you images of herself in sexy lingerie. I’ve heard that’s a tradition where Beam’s from.”

Rose’s eyes went wide. The mixed look of fear and confusion on her face gradually morphed into one of chagrin as she saw Alijda’s expression. “Oh. You’re joking. Um, right?”

“Mostly,” Alijda said. “Just remember, Beam’s ways are not your ways, plus she’s a hologram to boot. Don’t be afraid to set ground rules.”

“For sure,” Rose agreed, rubbing her neck.

“If you two ladies are done chit chatting, I can hear Kat coming back,” Firestorm remarked dryly, walking past them.

“Oh golly, we’ll swap makeup tips some other time then,” Alijda deadpanned. Rose let out a quick laugh. Firestorm didn’t seem to notice.

The three of them walked over to meet Kat as he approached through the underbrush.

“So Compton and Co are up to something,” Kat concluded after giving them a quick rundown of what he’d seen at the clearing. “The question is, how do we stop whatever this guy is up to, while also spiriting Beam and Fate out of there safely.”

“You’re sure the Destiny woman was your Fate?” Alijda verified, searching Kat’s expression. His voice had caught when describing her. Would his personal stake in things become an issue?

“I’m sure,” Kat said, clenching his jaw. “We’ve got to save her.”

“Should that be our priority though?” Rose asked.

Kat rounded on her, his body tensing, and the young girl shrank back in surprise. Alijda reached out to touch Kat’s shoulder.

“Please clarify?” she asked gently, looking at Rose.

Rose cleared her throat. “Um. Just, seems like this Compton guy feels he has something to prove. What if removing Fate, his key source of information, drives him into doing a boneheaded thing later on instead of backing down?”

“In which case I’d hope your plans don’t involve you simply waltzing away,” Firestorm grumbled.

“You’re right, Rose,” Alijda agreed. “We do need more information before we act.” She released Kat’s shoulder as she felt his posture relaxing. Though his jaw remained clenched.

“Do you know anything more about Compton’s intentions?” Kat asked, looking at Firestorm.

“No. I’m not the font of knowledge you seem to think I am,” the planetary resident insisted.

“We need to talk to Beam,” Rose put in. “I mean, wasn’t her whole plan to learn more? She doesn’t know we’re out here now, worried. She might have real good ideas, if we can get to her, as she’s seen this guy up close.”

“Another good point,” Alijda yielded. “The question is, how can anyone get to Beam when she’s in that tent, without causing Compton to overreact?”

They exchanged glances. Kat sighed. “I have a thought,” he admitted. “But I don’t like it, because it involves putting someone else in danger.”

“Let’s hear it anyway,” Alijda said.

***

When Alijda teleported into the clearing, she made a point of trying to arrive near the spot that Kat said Compton had been pointing at earlier. That helped her to see the stone circle on the ground, two steps away, with some sort of engraving on it. Possibly a four leaf clover? Interesting.

She didn’t have much time to think about it though, because her presence in the purple cloud of smoke had attracted everyone’s attention in the area. She raised her hands into the air as Compton’s security guy pointed a gun at her.

“Oh, golly!” Alijda said, trying to put a quaver into her voice. “What happened? However did I get here? What’s going on?”

Compton, the shorter man with the beard, had been in the process of doing something with a potion, looming over Destiny, who was on the ground. Or rather, Fate – Alijda supposed she should start thinking of the woman that way. They hadn’t been sure what Compton had been trying to accomplish from the edge of the clearing, but Alijda saw it now. He’d been cutting Fate with a knife, then applying a healing potion, as some sort of torture technique.

Alijda hated the guy immediately. She forced her expression to remain neutral.

Compton pulled Fate back to her feet, pointing at Alijda. “How is this possible?” he demanded of her. “How can people be coming through that thing before I’ve fully opened it?!”

“I still don’t know, and even if I did, I wouldn’t tell you,” Fate said tearfully. She spat at his feet.

Bonus points to Fate. Alijda took a few steps forwards, her arms still up, to help pull everyone’s gaze back to her. “Can you send me back now?” she asked. “I’d hate to be late for my CyberArm class.”

Only Alijda noticed Fate’s eyes widen slightly. She the woman gave a hopeful smile in response.

“Stop where you are,” Compton’s man said, waggling his gun to arrest Alijda’s forward motion.

“Hey, Ned,” Compton called out at the same time. “Bring more rope out here, we’ve got another one.”

In less than a minute, Ned had emerged, and Alijda had had her arms bound behind her. She was then pulled towards the tent. “I can walk,” she said, petulantly.

“You can shut up,” Ned countered. He pushed her inside and she nearly fell on her face.

The tent was big enough to fit four people comfortably, and contained a few rolled up sleeping bags, implying that Compton had planned on camping out for a while. Granted, that could be due to his coming into the area from another town. The open container of potions and what looked like a supply of fireworks was a bit harder to explain away. Compton had a plan, but what was it?

“Oh!” was Beam’s only exclamation as Ned marched in behind Alijda, pushing her over next to the holographic girl.

Alijda fired off a smile at Beam as Ned got busy tying up her legs. “Hi again. Rose is worried about you,” she remarked.

Beam looked away. “No,” she sighed. “Rose hates–”

“–being drunk,” Alijda finished. “It makes her say silly things she regrets. Gotta get used to us humans being irrational, Beam.”

Beam turned back, a hopeful look on her face. Ned stood up and brushed off his hands. “Do I have to gag you, girlie? Or will you shut up?” he asked.

Alijda glared at him. “Do I have to spell out the fact that we know each other and obviously came from the same place? Or does your boss not care to have that information?”

Ned glared back. He looked from her, to the front of the tent, and back. Then he reached into a nearby pack, pulling out a towel. Stuffing one corner of it into Alijda’s mouth, he then turned and walked back outside.

Alijda gave his back a nasty look. She turned back towards Beam, glancing down at the towel which was protruding from between her lips, which she couldn’t easily spit out. Beam leaned in close, grabbing the material between her own teeth, and she pulled it free. Alijda tried to spit out the aftertaste.

“At least these guys are idiots,” she said.

CHIBI BEAM
Commission from Gen Ishihara

“Which is bad,” Beam insisted. “Very bad, considering what they know and what they’re attempting.”

Alijda caught the undercurrent of fear in Beam’s tone. “Okay. I’m all ears, and ready to teleport away again with the information,” she said.

Beam glanced towards the tent flap.

“Don’t worry, Kat and Firestorm are ready with a distraction to buy us more time if we need,” Alijda insisted. “What have you found out?”

Beam nodded. “Right. Well, you’ll need the backstory. I learned it when they left me and Destiny together while they were setting up camp. She told me it all started with Compton’s father. A man who abducted people from other worlds, recruiting them to work here, for him.”

Alijda flinched. “Wait. So Destiny – who is Fate, by the way – was abducted?”

Beam nodded again. “Compton Sr. had some way of scrambling people’s minds, giving them false histories so they wouldn’t want to go back home. But it didn’t work on Dest– Fate,” Beam corrected herself. “Possibly because she carried her own ward of protection. She even escaped from him. Tried to get local authorities to go after Compton Senior, but her story was too fantastical, and he was too influential. Plus the guy was smart, shutting down his activities when she began pointing fingers.”

“Damn. So he was a successful businessman largely due to illicit abductions from other magical worlds,” Alijda reasoned. “Did he take items as well as people?”

“Probably. So, this left Fate resigned to living out her days here, because it didn’t seem like anyone knew of other Earths at all. Of course, she did try to find people living here who might be like her, creating her club of people with powers not-quite-right for this world. But she never told them her history, fearing they might simply be locals with quirks.”

Alijda frowned. “But then why would Compton’s son now be–” It came to her. “He inherited everything when his dad passed away. He must have found information in his dad’s records, and wants to start this whole portal thing back up. To become a success story. Hoping Fate can fill in any missing pieces towards re-activating it.”

“Bingo. And he got to Fate using that Ned guy,” Beam added. “Managed to get him on her list, then boom, abduction.”

“And the cyber arm?” Alijda wondered.

Beam made a shrugging motion. “Fate found it in the clearing one day. After all, this apparently IS a dimensional weak point. She didn’t want to leave it around for anyone else to find, but hoped that despite removing it, it would phase back into her world at some future time. Hence the symbol she placed on it.”

Alijda nodded, and was about to ask another question, when there were a couple of shouts from outside the tent.

“Damn, we’re almost out of time,” she realized. “Beam, do you know how best to stop Compton?”

Beam shook her head. “All I know is he’s planning a ritual, and we can’t underestimate him. He knows things through whatever his father left behind. The only reason he’s waited to act on the stuff outright is out of a fear that he’ll end up trapped on some other world. Hence his nabbing of Fate. But if he’s cornered, who knows what he’ll do.”

Alijda nodded. “Pity we’ve still got Firestorm with us, or we could just portal everyone here up to the Station and sort it out from there.”

Beam snickered. “It amuses me that you think Epsilon has that much power,” she said. “But even so, Compton’s two friends still think he’s a bit nuts. We don’t want to give his stories more credence. I kind of regret claiming that I appeared from another place as it is, and am kind of hoping we can claim to be part of a joke that Compton himself set up for them.”

“Mmmm.” Alijda glanced towards the front of the tent as the shouting got louder. “Once I’m out of here, can you go holographic?”

“I’d need to be able to touch my earring,” Beam admitted. “Also, physical objects on my person phase with me, so I’d still be tied up. Even assuming my power reserves are enough to do it.”

“You want to come with me then?”

Beam shook her head. “I won’t leave Fate with them. Underneath it all, I’m still a hologram. Even if they cut me, my blood isn’t real, so better me than her.”

Alijda imagined that while Beam’s blood might not be ‘real’, it’d still hurt like hell, given how the blonde girl’s reactions had been programmed to mimic that of humans. But there wasn’t time to argue, plus maybe Beam could phase, once freed.

“I can at least help with your hands,” Alijda reasoned, given her ability to decide whether to take objects with her on a teleport or not. “Show me the ropes. Alice, it’s time to check in with Rose!”

“Roger wilco,” came Alice’s voice. “Apologies to any pilots listening in who are cringing and want to smack me.”[1]

“You kept the comms open,” Beam realized. “Smart. Sorry I couldn’t activate my own communicator once they got me.” She flipped over to present her back to Alijda, her arms bound tightly together behind her.

Alijda edged down towards Beam’s bottom, closing her mouth over the end of the rope and closing her eyes. She visualized the predetermined area in her mind, and that she wanted to be there with with the ropes.

Gods, but she hated teleporting blind. Even with live surveillance cameras, there was always the chance that something would turn up at just the wrong moment, or that there was some nigh invisible wire that would end up perforating her body, or…

“Rose says you’re good, Alijda,” came Alice’s voice.

‘My life’s in their hands,’ Alijda thought. She teleported.

With her eyes closed, she didn’t experience any visual disorientation, but there was a bit of motion sickness as she fell the half metre onto Firestorm’s tarp, the one Kat and his group had used earlier for his communication ritual. They’d set it out earlier for this very reason.

Alijda spat Beam’s ropes out of her mouth after she landed – seriously, she could use some mouthwash after this mission – and drew in a huge lungful of air. She seemed to be alive, if still trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey. Blinking her eyes open confirmed that she had made it to the prearranged failsafe location.

“She’s here,” Rose’s voice said from behind her. “Uh, you want me to untie you, Alijda?”

“Please,” Alijda rasped. “I’m a little too shaken up to teleport out of these at the moment.”

She heard Rose’s feet approaching on the tarp, and then the redhead was looming over her, fiddling with the ropes binding her hands. “Alice passed on most of what she heard to us,” Rose assured. “But the only real plan we have remains Firestorm’s preference for launching fireballs at their tent.”

Alijda chuckled. “Well, that would set off the fireworks they have in there, so it’s sure to mess up whatever their goals are,” she remarked. “But that’s risky.”

“Even given Kat’s ability to control fire?”

“Hmmm, point. Still, our best bet might be subterfuge,” Alijda decided. “They’re not that smart. We could make Compton think he’s awakened some sort of dimensional gods his father had offended. Scare him away for good. I think Fate would play along.”

Then again, as she said it, she realized that might only add credence to his beliefs. The very thing Beam had hoped to avoid.

Rose sat back as she pulled Alijda’s ropes free. “There’s no way the Project could simply shore up this dimensional spot then?” she asked. “Making all of Compton’s efforts totally moot?”

“Oh, we could totally do that,” Alice’s voice offered up through the communicator. “The problem is it’d take time, and the process further weakens the forces, much like how waves pull back from a shoreline before a tsunami. Do we really want to risk that when Compton might know how to drive a wedge in?”

Alijda chewed on her lower lip as she considered the options.

[1] When I looked up the phrase, I learned “roger” means ‘received and understood’ while “wilco” means ‘will comply’, making both words together rather redundant.

OPTIONS:

VOTING CLOSES NOON EST SATURDAY DECEMBER 2nd

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PATHS NOT TAKEN:
If Fate had come through the portal voluntarily, it would have been because she’d been having dreams, with Compton’s dad being a coincidental thing she witnessed upon arriving. If Fate had come through accidentally, it would have been because of backwash (or something) from Compton’s dad taking his magical objects off neighbouring worlds. The abduction route led us towards actual human trafficking, rather than something more benign.

EXTRA ASIDE:
I had another medical appointment a couple days ago. Life’s stabilizing, I think we’re back on a two week schedule here. In other news, I wrote a post for the “Time Travel Nexus” about a “Back to the Future” comic book, and my NaNoWriMo for “Time Untied” has reached 25k (though Carrie’s still only on day three of University). It’s going to be an undertaking; I’ll keep poking away. Thanks for reading here – wow, and 7 votes last time!