Author: mathtans

Writer and high school mathematics teacher.

Virga: Act 1C

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A Virga Mystery: BALANCING ACT

ACT 1c: OF WITCHES AND DEMONS

Where were things headed, with me and Melissa? Towards a couple of lovers, partners even, who fought magical spirits by chanting in latin? Or were we always meant to go our separate ways?

“You need time to think too, huh?” Amy said ruefully, obviously reading something in my expression. “That’s fine. Just keep me as an option then, I suppose? Along with the job thing? I’ll do the same, because that trick with the card was pretty cool. I’d be game to see more of that.”

I smiled wanly. “Yeah, hey, maybe we can make it such that you wouldn’t need wigs for your show,” I joked. Amy simply stared. “Alright, that was pretty lame, sorry.”

“No, hey, it’s fine. You have seen the show then,” Amy remarked. “Cool.”

I shrugged. “Yeah, well, maybe I’ve looked up a few people from those days. Once or twice. I don’t know if I ever watched a full episode.”

“It’s fine. It’s something.” Amy smiled. “Hey, you ever look up what became of Kyle, that annoying trumpet player who sat behind us?”

I shook my head. “Nope.”

“Plays tuba now. It amuses me to think of him lugging that thing around in a marching band.”

“Hah. I guess you never know where life will take you.”

“I guess you don’t,” Amy said.

She stared at me for another moment, then glanced upwards once more. For a short time, we both simply looked at the ceiling.

“So, is it safe to leave Melissa with your parents for a prolonged period of time?” Amy said at last. “Your mom in particular didn’t seem that fond of her, both when we spoke at home, and in person up there.”

I quickly looked at my watch. “Heck! Yeah, we’d better get back up there.” I stood. “You going to be okay?”

The young internet celebrity nodded, extending a hand to allow me to help her up. “Oh, sure. I get flustered when things don’t go the way I expect, that’s all. It’s why I script religiously and avoid live shows.

She smiled, I smiled back, and we hurried upstairs.

I was glad to see that nothing had really changed. My parents were still sitting on the couch, and when I peered into the kitchen, Melissa was still there. More specifically, leaning back against the fridge with one leg slightly bent, a glass of water sitting on the counter next to her.

MELISSA VIRGA
Commission from Shirley

She turned to look at me. “Safe yet?” she questioned, by this point looking rather contrite. “I can stay here until they’re all gone, if that’s easier.”

“You should probably at least apologize to Amy before she goes,” I remarked.

Melissa rubbed her nose. “Right. I guess she wasn’t in on it? Damn. And me still trying to get the hang of apologies, seeing as I’m so rarely wrong.”

“Melissa…”

Her hand flew out in a vague gesture. “Oh, yes, yes, I know, whenever I have a ten out of ten for accuracy, I get zero points for style.” Her tone became a little gentler. “I really am sorry, James. This day’s been a little stressful for me, but that’s no excuse to have blurted out to your mother about… us.”

“Yeah, well… let’s defer that conversation until we’re alone,” I suggested.

“Okay.” She reached up with her hands and raked them back through her hair, long locks of it flowing about her shoulders like water over a waterfall. (I swear, I like her for her mind too.) “Apology first then?”

I nodded. Melissa followed me out of the kitchen, bringing the glass of water to my dad. She then looked towards Amy.

“Sorry about earlier,” Melissa said. “Shouldn’t have dragged you into my conflict with the Conways. Let me know if you want a peace offering. I could get you some water too, or even a broccoli scone with chestnuts.”

“Um, no thanks,” Amy responded, shaking her head. “At this point I think I’ll just kind of hang back until it’s time to head out.”

“Which we’ll probably want to do very soon,” my father observed, lifting the water glass.

My mother looked up at me. I could now read her expression as resigned. She took in a long breath. “You use protection, yes?”

“Buh?” Amy said, her eyebrows going up.

“Mom! Not the time to be jumping to conclusions about how far we’ve, uh…”

“All right, all right,” Helen Conway sighed, raising her hands. “Just, James, don’t run off and elope, okay? We do want you to be happy, and if you’re happy with… with Melissa here… well, then we can get on board with that. Given enough time.”

As much as I might have wanted to get on mom’s case about eloping immediately after I’d said not to jump to conclusions, I had to grant that she was making an effort to bridge the gap. As was Melissa, who I could tell was visibly holding her tongue despite having been referred to like some woman I’d found on the street.

I forced out a smile. “I’m not about to elope,” I said, honestly.

“Right then, we’ll see you tomorrow?” my dad concluded, putting his empty glass down on the end table. He can drink fast when he wants to; it’s probably good that it wasn’t anything alcoholic.

“Right,” I concurred, moving towards the door in mild relief. This lasted all of half a second, until I saw Melissa peering much more closely at Amy, who was trying not to look uncomfortable at the other girl’s sudden scrutiny.

“Uh, Melissa…” I cautioned.

My diminutive roommate turned to look at me briefly, before shifting her gaze back to Amy. “You’re having trouble sleeping,” she diagnosed. “Slight bags under the eyes, which is not itself an issue, and yet – are you having recurring dreams?”

“Well, sometimes?” Amy said, caught off guard by the question.

Melissa turned to look at me. “Is Amy some sort of local celebrity?”

“She does reviews on the internet?” I answered, trying to figure out what Melissa had seen.

Melissa walked a quick circle around Amy. “Wow, I’m an idiot for missing this on my first pass,” she concluded. “Your hair is faintly tinted blue. I think your dreams are being hijacked by a demon. Would you consent to sleeping with me?”

“Excuse me??” chorused, well, possibly all of us in the room.

“Ah!” Melissa held up a finger. “That came out wrong. What I mean is, would you consent to letting me watch you while you sleep? Hm, still not great… oh! How about this.” She walked over towards her desk as she spoke. “Take a charm with you, sleep with it instead, and let me read it tomorrow. You’re still coming to James’ graduation, right?”

“I… I’m not sure anymore.”

“You should,” Melissa assured. “You may need our help. His help,” she amended, perhaps realizing that she was (again) not making the best impression.

She pulled open the lower drawer, where I had organized a number of her mystical trinkets, and pulled out a small pendant. “We can offer a reduced rate too, since you’re a friend of the family. Or, hm, possibly we even do this one gratis,” she amended, seeing the incredulous looks that my parents were now giving her. “As a show of good faith.”

Melissa walked back over to Amy, and held the pendant out.

Amy turned to look at me, the expression on her face implying she wanted some guidance as to whether Melissa had just lost it. Or perhaps she was buying into the supernatural aspect, and was concerned that this pendant might not change colour, but rather come alive and throttle her in her sleep?

“It’s fine,” I assured my former schoolmate. Even though I had no idea what that particular pendant was for, I trusted Melissa. “Treat it like another aspect of those things in life we’re not generally aware of.”

Amy nodded slowly, finally taking hold of the pendant. She looked at it closely before slipping it around her neck.

“If you’re quite through with your supernatural theatrics, Melissa, we’ll be on our way,” my mother said, trying and failing to to keep irritation out of her tone. She looked towards me. “See you tomorrow, okay dear?”

“Yeah. For sure,” I agreed.

I ushered our guests to the door, standing there until they were out of sight a few floors down. I then closed the door and leaned back against it, rolling my eyes to the ceiling. “Oh God, could that have gone worse?” I said, mostly to myself.

“Well, sure,” Melissa remarked. “After all, I didn’t actually mention to your parents that we’d been having sex. I kind of wonder about whether your mother was guessing, or trying to catch me off guard.”

This time I did facepalm. “Melissa, Mel, sweetness, please, don’t make me think about sex with you right now. I’m feeling rather emotionally mixed up at the moment.”

“Angry with me?” she asked.

“Yes. No. I’m not sure,” I said, pulling my palm away from my face and looking towards my… roommate? Co-worker? Lover? All of the above. Damnit, why did she have to be so infuriatingly amazing?

Melissa met my gaze. “You know, you can run off with Amy if you like,” she offered. “The day things escalated between us, we did agree no strings attached. In fact, you leaving with your degree was always one of the possible outcomes I’d considered for the end of the month.”

My mouth opened and closed for a moment as I tried to find the words. “H-How can you just stand there and say that?”

My roommate (because using “lover” in this narrative feels wrong) merely shrugged. “I could say it from the other side of my desk, but I might have to say it a little louder to be heard.”

“You know what I mean. You’re acting so… so… calm and rational!”

It’s hard to describe the look Melissa gave me at that comment. It basically conveyed the fact that I’d just said the most obvious, and by extension, stupidest thing ever. Her words, at least, were an attempt to be comforting.

“James, you’ve known me for four years now. Calm and rational is how I operate. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m going to have to adjust to your absence the same way I adjusted to your presence. But whether you decide to stay or not, life goes on. Supernatural balance must be maintained.”

I threw my arms out to the sides. “Then our whole relationship, it’s meant nothing to you?”

Melissa pursed her lips. “Is that what you’re getting from this? If it is, it’s not what I meant. What I mean is, I care too much for you to keep you here against your will.” She gestured back at her office area. “This is where I belong. It comes first. I’d love to continue to share it – and my bed – with you, but let’s face it, my life is not your life.”

She sounded so sincere. It was tough to stay angry with her. Which kind of made me angry. Though at this point I was just directing my anger at the world. “Well, it’s not like I can just go back to how I was living my life before, not after everything you and your agency have shown me,” I complained.

“You say that merely because you haven’t tried,” Melissa suggested. “Perhaps you should take a vacation away from all this. Spend some time with Amy. Who, admittedly, might be the unwitting victim of a Somnibulus demon, but if we get past that, she seems nice and normal. Maybe normal is something you need.”

“Yeah, well, maybe I’ll just go do that then,” I shot back at Melissa. Was I was trying to make a veiled threat? If so, it was a poor threat, given that I was simultaneously agreeing with her.

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Virga: Act 1B

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A Virga Mystery: BALANCING ACT

ACT 1b: OF WITCHES AND DEMONS

Melissa walked into our apartment with purpose, carrying her witch’s broom. She does indeed ride one at times, but not by flying. She stands on the bristles and rides it like a segway. My roommate regarded our little group briefly before putting it away in the closet.

You should know that the first thing that strikes most people about Melissa is her height. She clocks in at only about five foot one, yet at the same time she manages to have quite a commanding presence when she chooses. Of particular note, her eyes are a piercing green, while her hair is a long, wavy, chestnut brown that nearly reaches her waist.

MELISSA VIRGA
Commission from Shirley

Without getting too detailed, while she’s not exactly someone who could make it as a model (outside of jeans, maybe… she can fill a pair nicely), by the standards of modern society these days, her appearance can turn heads. Many would even classify her as beautiful. She doesn’t try to play that up though, if anything doing the opposite, tending to go without makeup, and wearing slightly oversized shirts.

I stood up, preparing to do introductions. “Hi Melissa! My parents you already know, and this is…”

“Your mother’s replacement for me?” my roommate interrupted, closing the closet door before sizing Amy up more closely.

“Uh, Amy Lamkins,” I finished. “Friend of the family.”

“H-Hi,” Amy said, also rising, much more tentatively. She seemed unsure as to whether to extend a hand to shake or not.

“Old high school friend, in fact,” Melissa deduced. “Here with your parents, so no doubt also coming to your graduation tomorrow, and looking a bit out of place in those conservative clothes, but trying to make a good impression.”

There’s a reason Melissa can make a living as an investigator. She shifted her attention to my mother. “I suppose you could have picked a worse companion for your son. Were they also prom dates four years ago?”

“Melissa!” I yelped. For the record, Amy and I had, in fact, gone to high school prom together. But I didn’t see how that was relevant.

Melissa turned to look at me at my exclamation. “What?” she said, her tone very matter-of-fact. “You didn’t realize? Surely you saw something like this coming, James. Your parents have never really approved of our association.”

“Well…” Sometimes I hate it when Melissa’s right. Still, did we need to discuss this with my parents in the room? “Let’s at least keep things professional,” I said. “Amy’s here only because she has a job prospect.”

I heard my dad sigh.

“Oh, she’s here for more than that,” Melissa said, gesturing with one arm. “That’s why your dad is staring at the floor while Amy is looking sidelong at your mother and starting to blush.”

“Oh… oh, th-this was a bad idea,” Amy said, starting to stammer. “I didn’t mean… that is… okay, I need some air.” She quickly moved to push past Melissa and get to the door, calling back over her shoulder, “I’ll just be out front, it’s fine!”

My mother stood as Amy left, glowering at Melissa. The brunette witch was completely unfazed by this, and despite having to look up to see Helen in the eyes, seemed to have claimed the position of power in the room. It’s a skill that comes in handy with clients.

My mother, however, was not our client.

“Melissa Virga, I don’t know how you were raised, but by my standards that was incredibly rude and insensitive,” Helen snapped.

“I was cutting to the chase,” Melissa shot back. “Insensitive is needlessly playing with someone’s emotions, as you were with Amy’s.”

“Whoa! Wait,” I said, sometimes slow to catch on. Yes, I’d just been blindsided by the romantic angle. “You mean Amy has more than a professional interest here?”

My mother pressed two fingers to a temple. “See, this, this is exactly why you need to make more friends outside of your agency work, James. People in the real world, they’re not like Melissa. Some even have interests that extend beyond their jobs.”

Melissa sniffed. “Please. You speak as if I don’t find your son attractive. I do, and we’ve made out on several occasions.”

My mother’s eyes went wide, and there was a moment of silence. A moment during which I kind of wished invisibility cloaks were a real thing.

Melissa turned to look at me then. “I just gave them too much information, didn’t I,” she said, having the decency to sound a bit troubled for the first time in the conversation.

“I always thought this detective nonsense wasn’t strictly professional,” my father remarked, crossing his arms where he still sat on the couch.

“Okay, my God, time out!” I called out at this point, tapping my hands together desperately in the T-formation.

Exactly where was I supposed to start fixing this mess?

“Firstly, the nature of my relationship with Melissa is nobody’s business but ours. Okay? Secondly, Melissa, we’ve talked about tact? This is one of those times! And thirdly… thirdly, I think I need some air too, so I’m going to go and check on Amy. Can I trust you all not to kill each other for five minutes while I do that??”

My parents and Melissa exchanged glances. Melissa cleared her throat. “Thanks for visiting. Can I get anyone a drink, or just a glass of water?”

It sounded so rehearsed that I nearly facepalmed, though my dad stepped in again with, “A glass of water and a five minute mental break sounds like a solid plan.”

“I’ll be out of the kitchen in five minutes then,” Melissa concluded, heading for the adjacent room. She glanced back over her shoulder at me. “Oh, though speaking of parents, James, remind me that we need to talk along those lines at some point this weekend.”

“Yeeeeah,” I said slowly, watching as my mother sat herself back down on the couch. Her expression was becoming difficult to read.

It didn’t seem like anything was going to immediately explode here though, and truth be told, I was a little worried about the speed of Amy’s departure. So I headed out to look for her.

She had gone down as far as the fourth floor landing, where she was sitting on the stairs. She turned her head as she saw me approach, and smiled a wan, rather sad smile. “I’m sorry,” she apologized. “The idea of me and you seeing each other again… that all went so differently in my head.”

“Yeah, well, Melissa’s a bit of an unpredictable wild card,” I offered. “She’s nice though. Really. Just very… focused.” I sat down next to Amy.

“I’m sure,” Amy affirmed. She leaned back on her palms, arcing her back slightly as she stared upwards. “So, have you ever thought back to those days? When we went to prom together? Or is it just me?”

“Truthfully? I haven’t thought about it,” I admitted, figuring it was best to be honest. (Granted, it could also be that some of Melissa’s attitude has rubbed off on me.) “I mean, for the prom, it was a matter of neither of us had dates, we were both in the band, and we wanted to fit in with the rest of the crowd. At least, that’s how I remember it.”

“Huh. I suppose that’s true,” Amy yielded. “And at the time, I admit I was more focused on simply being there, rather than on who I was with. But you were really nice, James – something I took for granted then, but have been forced to consider more and more now that I’m an minor internet celebrity.” She paused. “There’s a lot of weirdoes out there. Like, a LOT.”

“People who like you more for your internet persona than who you really are?” I guessed.

“That’s part of it,” she said, nodding. “So, I don’t know, maybe I’m looking for a return to the simpler days. Maybe I’m looking for something to help keep me grounded in the reality of the present. Or… maybe I’m looking to start a new chapter in my life, and feel like you could be a part of it.” She straightened her back again and turned to look at me. “Does any of that make sense?”

“Sort of,” I said. I mean, it didn’t make much sense to me personally, but I could empathize with the aspect of past, present and future colliding at a moment in time. “Thing is, I’ve changed. I’m not like I was back in high school.”

Amy grinned. “Could it be you’re less naïve?” she suggested.

I coughed. “That’s part of it,” I said, borrowing her phrase. “I hope. But more than that, I’ve come to realize there’s a lot of things in life that we’re… not generally aware of.”

“Related to that illuminati symbol on your apartment door?”

“Yeah. You know about that sort of thing?”

Amy shook her head. “Nope. Your dad said it was some new interest of yours, that’s all I know.”

I nodded. “Well, here, let me show you.” I fumbled in my pocket for my wallet, pulling out a small square of cardboard. “What colour is this?”

My old school friend shrugged. “Green.”

I nodded, then closed my hand around it. I concentrated, trying to remember the exact process that Melissa had taught to me, probably mumbling under my breath as I did so. I reopened my hand. “Now?”

“It’s yellow!” Amy said in shock. She then smirked and reached out, snatching it from my hand. “Dope, it’s green on one side and yellow on the…” Her voice trailed off as she flipped the card back and forth. “It’s… green on both sides. Wait, what? I thought it was…”

“Simple illusion,” I explained. “Which you disrupted by grabbing it from me. I don’t have Melissa’s control.”

“So you… made it appear yellow?” she said slowly, dubiously.

“Pretty much. Has to do with distorting the reflected light before you can perceive it. I don’t know all the details, science and magick are at odds with each other almost as much as they complement themselves.”

“Magic,” Amy repeated, obviously still unsure.

I took the card back and replaced it in my wallet. “Magick, hard ‘c’,” I corrected. “And you look about the same as I did four years ago. But being with Melissa forces one to come to terms with this sort of thing.”

She stared at me for a long moment. “Is being with Melissa something you’ve come to terms with then?” she asked at last.

I blinked back. “What?”

“Like, is she the one then?” Amy pressed. “Do you and her have magical adventures planned after your graduation? Because I’ll back right off, if that’s the case. I’m starting to realize I got a really distorted view of your life situation from your parents.”

“Ah. Well, uh…”

Again, there it was. What was I doing with my life, both professionally and personally? I mean, there was obviously something between Melissa and I, but what was it? Was it a professional relationship that had taken a few steps too far over the edge? Was it a whirlwind university romance, supplemented by a common interest in helping others, that ultimately couldn’t stand up to the test of time?

Or was there something more to it?

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Behind the Scenes 5

At the end of “Epsilon 4”, I did a “Paths Not Taken” for some additional notes. Here at the end of “Epsilon 5”, I’m going to do a “Behind the Scenes” post instead, as there’s more here about statistics and, well, behind the scenes stuff. (As opposed to individual poll results.) In particular, I’ll go through the various anagrams I used for the names, so if you want to figure those out on your own, read “Chanced Erasures” first.

Back in July, when “Surveillance Mission” and “Rescue Mission” tied on the initial plot voting (3 votes each), I considered calling the fifth Epsilon story “Search and Rescue”… only to notice that Part 13 of the previous story had been named “Search and Re-Skew”. Also, Part 30 of Time & Tied had used the S&R title.

So, I decided to look up anagrams. Options for those letters included “Cascade Her Runes”, “Arcane Cues Shred” and what I went with, “Chanced Erasures”.

As I said at the time, Chartreuse was always a given to return, and then Para was voted in (only 3 votes total on that poll, no idea why half of people didn’t read that far down). Alice, as the person to rescue, had actually been flagged for either a physical, mental or magical battle right from the start (which was the poll that would end part three), but I hadn’t intended for her to end up with a role as large as the one she got. How did things evolve?

FIRST HALF

Part three, bringing in Sam’s friends, was when the anagram stuff really got pulled together. We had Sue Morts (Sue Storm), Sir Thred (redshirt), and Sam Depas (Sam Spade)… whom I’d already called Sam Simmons in part two, but then retroactively changed. I don’t think anyone noticed.

The statue of the guy who started the school was Fenduro (Founder). I also planned for their trek through the school to trace out “ERECTS”, an anagram of “SECRET”, but starting in the Clover Club with the R (with “E” being in the gym, Sue’s intended starting point, that we never saw).

Part four introduced Shay Milds (Slim Shady) though his last name was only spoken aloud in part twelve, as well as Usa Staling (Assaulting), the head of security. Part five was when I mused about a second interrogation, leading to Marlin in part seven. He’s NOT an anagram, nor is the catgirl Mary-Lynn Emrys (from part eight, named in part thirteen). Both are plays on “Merlin”, from Arthurian lore, since the throwaway line about the burial ground/magic wars was becoming plot relevant.

Part six gave Sue “Storm” her invisibility. Part seven is when the “chanced erasure” title finally connected with the idea of erasing memories (in considering Thred being a victim). And that’s also when I had 30 consecutive days on the blog with fewer than 10 page views, meaning the WordPress scale reverts to decimals. Leading in part to a delay of a whole week in posting the next part, because why am I even.

That was actually the second delay – recall part 3 was delayed by a couple days. (In that case, I was playing with “Time Untied”, to submit it for the Ink & Insights competition. It placed 68 out of 146, so in the top 50%.) What this other delay meant was I only posted once for all October 2018.

SECOND HALF

Parts eight and nine tied up any loose threads that were still out there (or so I think). I don’t recall if I read through the prior parts to do that; I know I did before part six, so I suspect not. I’d made a few notes at that time. I also know I didn’t get a chance to re-read before putting together parts thirteen and fourteen, even though I wanted to. January is the worst month.

November involved work on nine, ten and eleven, even as I did NaNo for “Time Untied” (made it past 25k). By part nine, I wanted the mystery device to use anagrams somehow, what with it being the underlying theme. Part ten included the name “Polsit” for “pistol”, and twelve solidified that I’d need two more parts. The “No Antidote” button in part thirteen was for “Detonation”; an “Oyster D” button (to destroy) was scrapped.

It’s worth mentioning that I’d normally draw a picture at around the halfway mark; in this case, I only did it after the second last part (at the end of 2018). It’s the image above with the star. The delay was partly due to no time in Oct/Nov, and partly because I’d been hoping to start digital drawing – which I also didn’t have time for. Fun fact, after adding the image to the index page, it got automatically added to the tweet pinned at the top of my twitter timeline.

I think the only other thing worth a mention is how some of the current events stuff in the plot (immigration to a dimension, corrupt CEOs) was put in on a whim towards the end. I’d also considered having Alice save the day as an option to end part thirteen, but she’d seemed so popular I worried it’d be an easy win. So I went with Marlin, Sue and Sam instead. As I said in part fourteen, perhaps even that poll was predictable, leading us to the so-called “bad end” of secrecy. I didn’t want any end to be truly “bad” though.

The final character results split Alice and Chartreuse with 1 vote each. Because the last two polls got only two votes total. (Part five also saw only two votes.) Contrast the end of “Epsilon 4” when I was getting 7 votes towards the end, also in a December. Ouch. Was it the story itself? Was it weaker marketing? I don’t know, but let’s delve into that side of things.

STATISTICS

I switched the blog to “every two weeks” in July 2017, during “Epsilon 4”. (See the post, “A Solo Cello“) So 2018 was the first full year for that schedule. I had only 32 posts published, as compared to 73 posts in 2017.

I had only 2,429 page views, as compared to 6,998 in 2017… marginally better than 2015, the first full year the blog existed (2,208 page views). Granted, 2017 had a huge spike from a guest post (a couple actually), but few people are sticking around. Or so it seems.

I’m open to suggestions. Part of the trouble is I don’t have time to market, my seven month old daughter (and family) takes priority, then there’s my teaching job (I was part time, now returning to full time), then there’s the writing, then there’s reading (which is months backlogged right now), then finally at the bottom is promoting. Did I mention some nights I only get five hours sleep?

As far as bright spots go, there is that little bump from July 2018, when I got over 500 page views. Someone did read through Time & Tied that month (silently). The final part of T&T (96b) now has 21 views. (Someone read through a bunch in December too.) And while the last parts of “Epsilon 5” only have 6 views, there were three different people commenting for the duration. I also got a shout-out from Joseph Nebus in the math carnival back in October.

I suppose there’s also how my site has now been protected from 6,276 spam comments. Spammers still have their eye on me? Does that make me important? Anyway. Also, as of today I’ve managed to get an additional quarter, loonie and toonie from 2018. Just for the record.

I think that’s everything I had to say. The plan is to continuously run Melissa’s story through 2019 – it started last week, if you missed it. After that I might return to Epsilon… we’ll see where things are at. Progress on “Time Untied” is slow, but gradually coming together. And if you didn’t know, I have been writing monthly columns for the “Time Travel Nexus” as well. Here’s hoping you stick around to see more of what I’ve been putting out there. As always, thanks for reading.

December 2018

 

Virga: Act 1A

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A Virga Mystery: BALANCING ACT

ACT 1a: OF WITCHES AND DEMONS

It was as I stared down at my childhood friend, Amy, as she slept, that I realized she wasn’t the one for me. My gaze went from her, to the knife in my hand, to the window, even as my thoughts went from what I was about to do here, to what Melissa was doing some blocks away.

Namely breaking into an apartment on our behalf.

MELISSA VIRGA
Commission from Shirley

In retrospect, I think that’s when it finally dawned on me that Melissa Virga was, in fact, the woman I wanted in my life. Honestly, I’m not sure how I’d missed it before. Alas, I had no idea that Melissa would then be taken away from me before the end of the summer.

But you probably need more context, don’t you? Even if, by chance, you are someone who has read the previous three cases with Melissa that I chronicled, I bet you are more than a bit confused.

I’ll back up.

My name, for the purposes of this story, will be James Conway. Some of you may recall that it’s not my real name, merely the name I chose when I first started writing about Melissa’s cases. Again, that’s also a name I picked for her, though her last name of ‘Virga’ is genuine. Don’t mispronounce it, it comes from the latin. Now, since we started there, I figure we might as well keep using these names, right?

At the time of those early cases, as a university freshman, I was using them to try and ensure anonymity. Now, well, maybe the last name is all you’d need to find “Melissa”. Even ignoring her recent status in the magic community, technology has advanced in leaps and bounds, just the four years I spent working on my degree. For all I know, someone’s created a wiki page about her on the dark web.

Heck, it’s hard to believe that we’re now at the point where shutting down the entire world’s electronic infrastructure required the use of witches and wizards spanning the entire globe. Not merely to accomplish it, of course, but also to make it seem like a natural… but there I go, rushing ahead again.

How about we begin somewhere normal, namely with my university graduation.

I had spent my entire time at university living with Melissa Virga, in apartment 66 of some off-campus housing that I took sight unseen. (If you haven’t read the prior case material, know that I was kind of a naïve guy from out of town, who didn’t question why it might still be available in late August.) Melissa ran a supernatural detective agency out of the apartment.

Ultimately, I helped her do this.

Melissa continued her case work even after obtaining a philosophy degree from the university herself. In fact, I probably helped Melissa with her career work unrelated to the supernatural too, since she was a bit of a technophobe… and assuming people will just “find you”? It might serve a student acting as a private detective who doubles as a witch, but it is less helpful when you’re hoping to be paid as a creative consultant.

So really, the question became, when I graduated, would I still stick around and continue to help out said self-proclaimed witch, Melissa “Weird Gal” Virga? Or would I set off and try to make something of my english degree, with a focus on journalism?

It may come as no surprise that my parents were leaning more towards the latter. They had met Melissa, you see. Met her after my first couple of semesters away, during that first summer, when I elected to stick around and help with cases from May through August. I’d managed to prevent all but the briefest encounters prior to that point.

Upon her first official meeting with my parents, she aimed for a good first impression by offering them a casserole of blue cheese and hot peppers. My dad immediately wondered if I’d gotten Melissa pregnant and given her strange cravings. (For the record, no, she came by those naturally.)

Melissa proceeded to talk down to them, and… well, look, as they say, “show, don’t tell”. I’ll jump in with my graduation tale now, lest you get bored from too much exposition. You’ll see Melissa in action shortly. Simply picture her with less blunted edges for earlier encounters.

Though if you want – or need – a teaser for how Melissa can be, do feel free to look up my prior trilogy of cases for extra context. I’m sure they’re floating around on the internet somewhere. Then, when you’re ready, read on.

***

Picture it. It’s the end of April, and my parents come into town again to watch me walk across the stage. Except they’re in town a day in advance, with a surprise. When I answer the door on Friday evening, there’s Jim Conway, my dad, Helen Conway, my mom… and Amy “Lampana” Lamkins.

You may have heard of Amy, she reviews lamps and other such illuminating devices on the internet. Or more likely you haven’t heard of her, because I’m still somewhat altering the names of people in this story (including those of my parents), along with other minor details. But suffice to say, Amy has a rather niche market of internet fans, and I knew her before she became famous(?), having gone to high school with her.

I’d better describe her here too, for those who need a visual. Asian descent, short dark hair (though she varies that up during her reviews by wearing wigs), maybe five foot five (so just a couple inches shorter than me), brown eyes, and a somewhat reserved personality (at least in person). On this occasion, conservatively dressed in a blouse and skirt. Not exactly the sort of person I expected to be hanging out with my parents, who probably don’t even subscribe to UTube, so colour me a bit nonplussed as I invited them all in.

By the way, no, I won’t be describing myself (or my parents) in detail. Picture me however you like, I’m not going to do that cliche “checking myself out in the mirror” thing.

My mother sighed as she entered. “Love what you haven’t done with the place,” she said with a resigned tone.

I’m not sure what she was expecting. We’ve got a large open area which doubles as Melissa’s office and our sitting room, off of which there is a kitchen, bathroom, and mine and Melissa’s bedrooms. (My room used to be the dining room.) We don’t have dead monkey paws sitting around, or obvious mystical symbols inscribed on the walls.

I mean, I suppose there’s the eye in the triangle on the main door, so people with an interest in the supernatural can find us. But trust me, the interior was hardly as bad as it had been before I developed a filing system for Melissa.

I gestured towards the couch for my parents, our only comfortable chair for Amy, and went to grab one of the standard folding seats in front of Melissa’s desk for me. “Well, it’s great to have you all here,” I said. “Can I get anyone a drink, or just a glass of water?”

“I’m fine,” my mother assured me. “Amy?”

“Uh, I’m good,” she said. “Thanks though.”

My dad just shook his head and sat quietly, folding his arms and regarding the situation as it unfolded. He doesn’t generally say a lot, but he usually doesn’t have to in order to get his points across. In this case, I got the impression that whatever was going on was my mom’s idea.

Anyway, I simply sat down in the chair I’d pulled over, wondering what to say next. Fortunately, Amy spoke up, vocalizing exactly what was on my mind, namely, “I suppose you’re wondering why I’m here, James.”

“Little bit,” I admitted.

She smiled quietly. “Well, I don’t know if you’ve kept up, but I run a little review site online. We’re planning on expanding, and starting a newsletter. So, someone with your skills would be useful, not only for stuff like proofreading, but also doing research and the like. Of course,” she added quickly, “it wouldn’t really pay much, so if you have other prospects, I understand. But they always say it’s important to keep gaining experience and contacts when you’re looking for other work.”

“Oh! Well, yeah, and I’ve nothing really on the radar at this point,” I admitted. “So sure, email me the details, and I’ll think it over.” I’m sure my brow furrowed a little. “You didn’t have to come out here and make me this offer in person though.”

Amy shrugged. “I was back in our hometown, I ended up chatting with your parents when they came to visit my parents, and I didn’t have anything else going on this weekend. So I thought, what the heck.”

“Being here is also a chance for Amy to talk to the editor of one of your university publications,” my dad put in. “Apparently they’d met in an online forum, and he has some items she could use. So it wasn’t just about seeing you again.”

“But dear, do notice how that means Amy has connections,” my mother added. “Maybe she can help give you some direction for the job market. You can’t spend the rest of your life working here on those supernatural oddities, right?”

Ah, so there it was. The fact that Amy was sitting a little uncomfortably also implied to me that her interest in my writing was genuine, and as such she wasn’t in on my parents trying to leverage me away from Melissa’s supernatural agency. I wondered if Amy even knew about the supernatural. It seemed unlikely, as my parents themselves only had a vague idea of the work Melissa and I did.

At the same time though, I had been asking myself exactly where my life was going to go after my degree. And I had been putting off thinking about it. Meaning I was simultaneously annoyed by my parents’ meddling, and yet appreciative that they were looking out for me at a time when I wasn’t really doing it for myself.

So, how to respond?

“I’m weighing my options,” was my answer. “Let me see what Amy’s looking for first. Either way, I’d rather not decide anything until after I have the all important graduation paper in my hand tomorrow.”

“Of course,” my dad said, before either of the others could speak. “So how exactly will the ceremony go then, and more importantly, how long is it and how comfortable are the chairs we’ll have to sit in?”

Talk then moved to the mechanics of graduation and other trivialities, and the whole encounter wouldn’t necessarily have been worth remembering, if it weren’t for the fact that Melissa came home about twenty minutes later.

Earlier Cases INDEX Next

ASIDE: I’ve decided to keep every-other-week updating, which means that this serial is liable to continue for the rest of 2019. A reminder that the 3 earlier cases aren’t necessary to follow this much longer story. Hope you enjoy, share the links and all.

5.14: A Mew Sing

Previous INDEX 5 Next: TBD

CHANCED ERASURES: PART FOURTEEN

Alice considered doing something to act against Mary-Lynn, as the cat woman stood across the room. Two things made her hesitate. First, there was the fact that acting against Mary-Lynn herself wouldn’t serve to stop the dimensional shutdown device. Second, there was the issue of not being native to this world, and an “Epsilon” member being active in a key moment like this… well, it was how Alice had lost her job once already.

Fortunately, Alice didn’t have to do anything.

As the unconscious guy behind the desk let out a groan, everyone looked in that direction. That’s when Alice felt Sue grasping for the invulnerability badge she had on. She felt Sue, rather than saw her, because Sue had used her invisibility power again.

Alice let Sue take it. Moments later, Sue was standing right next to Mary-Lynn, and kicking the gun out of her hand. The cat woman snarled in response, rounding on Sue with a punch – that bounced off the invulnerability field, causing Mary-Lynn to let out a mewl of pain. Would that end up draining it for good? Well, Alice now noticed that Marlin had a hand on his wand, so could probably help out if necessary.

There was no need. In a clever move, Sue managed to twist Mary-Lynn’s arm back behind her, putting the cat woman into a hold. Fortunately, that only took one hand, leaving her other hand free to grab the tail, right before she said, “Tell us how to fix this.”

“Ow! Ow, ow! I already said there’s nothing you can do. Let go of my tail, that hurts!” Mary-Lynn hissed.

“Shay could probably help,” Usa suggested. “He’s the sort of person to have had an emergency override installed.”

“Except he’s unconscious, like Chartreuse here,” Para remarked, where she was softly stroking Chartreuse’s hair.

“Oh, my gun was set on sensory stun,” Usa said, holding it up. “Shay’s merely frozen, he’s still able to hear everything that’s going on. It’ll wear off in less than five minutes. All we need to do is use that time to somehow convince him that Mary-Lynn here is the real enemy.”

“You think we can?” Sam asked. “Shay wouldn’t listen to reason earlier.”

“Wait, um, is Chartreuse also aware of what I’m doing?” Para said, pulling her hand back. Usa simply smiled at her.

Alice turned her attention back to the dimensional device. “So, I can’t be sure, but I don’t think we’ve got much more than five minutes anyway.” Another plush cat hit her on the head. “Also, I feel like that rift is getting more aggressive, maybe due to the proximity of this thing.” In her part of the room, the small toys were stacked above her ankles.

“So how do we get Mary-Lynn to confess… wait,” Sue said. “The Hypno drug used for interrogations, is there more of it around here? We saw some in the infirmary.”

Before Usa could answer, Sam was stepping forwards. “I have some, I grabbed a vial, remember?” he said. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his handkerchief. “Would someone like to do the honours?”

Sue flashed her friend a smile. “Usa, you know how to administer that stuff, right?”

“Th-That drug won’t work. Cat genetics make me immune. Go fly a kite,” Mary-Lynn yelped.

“It’s worth a try,” Usa decided. She took the vial from Sam and advanced on Mary-Lynn.

“No, this is illegal on so many levels. If you do that, you’ll never work for the Council again. Let go of my damn taaaail!” Mary-Lynn mewled, struggling against Sue. But either Sue’s grip, or the invulnerability field, or both, kept the cat woman in place.

“If you’re one of the leaders, I don’t think I want to be working for you anyway,” Usa concluded. “Thanks for your help with restraint, Sue Morts.” She administered the drug.

Alice took the opportunity to get closer to Para. “Do you know how good the shielding down here is?” she murmured, crouching. “Because you might be out of here either way.”

After all, the Epsilon station had temporal circuits. If the dimensions were to close off, Fate could, in theory, bounce back to just before that moment and initiate a retrieval. Alice kind of hated to piggyback out that way, but there was only so much they could do to influence things before they became part of the problem. Right?

Para could only shake her head and shrug back though. So Alice resigned herself to standing back up and watching as Usa stepped back from Mary-Lynn, staring her in the eyes. Hopefully there was still more they could learn.

“Your name, for the record,” Usa stated.

“Mary-Lynn Emrys, and for the record, go take a flying leap,” the cat woman snarled.

“Who sent you to this reality?” Usa continued.

“I was born here, nitwit,” Mary-Lynn said. “You know, you’re not going to trip me up this way. You don’t know the right questions. Give up now, let the device finish, the dimensions will close, and we will be safe.”

“Safe from what, from whom?” Usa pressed.

“Anything or anyone out there who’s a threat,” Mary-Lynn answered.

“But especially from the Clover group,” Alice decided to suggest. “What is it they’re calling themselves?”

“Clover Enterprises, duh,” Mary-Lynn said. There was a brief silence. Then, “Aw, hell.”

Alice smiled quietly. At last, after all this, a solid lead.

“Is that something related to this school’s Clover Club?” Sue asked.

“No, idiot, the similar name just makes for a good smoke screen,” Mary-Lynn said. “I’m not saying anything more.”

Usa had glanced over towards Alice; now she turned back to the cat woman. “I think you will say more. Because you’ve had dealings with Clover Enterprises. Right?”

“I have not, not personally.”

“But for some reason, they’re after us,” Usa insisted.

“Sure, in a sense.”

“Can you explain why in five words or less?”

“We owe them money.”

“Why’s that?” Usa challenged.

Mary-Lynn attempted to shrug. “How the hell would I know? Do I look like the top brass?”

“If it’s only a money issue, why not pay off this Clover Enterprises?” Sam spoke up, from where he’d returned to check on Thred’s unconscious body. “Is it too expensive?”

“Not really, it’s more that the CEOs want their pay raises,” Mary-Lynn stated.

Sue leaned in closer to Mary-Lynn’s ear. “Wait. Wait, let me see if I’ve got this straight,” she said. “The Council has had extra-dimensional dealings with Clover Enterprises. Some pretty long-standing dealings, as you’ve had years to use school Clover Clubs as a smokescreen. And now, instead of paying a debt, our Council is funding a dimensional closure device, which will isolate our world and hurt our economy. All this, merely so CEOs can keep their pay raises? And you’re okay with this?”

“I might be getting a cut,” Mary-Lynn said sullenly. “Besides, no worries, there’s this trickle-down effect for the cash, whereby–”

“Oh, shut it,” Usa snapped. “I cannot believe that our organization has become so corrupt.”

“But this doesn’t make sense,” Sam protested. “Why take the drastic step of shutting down all dimensions, rather than just the one where this Clover Enterprises exists?”

“Because we can,” Mary-Lynn snarked.

Sue looked towards Alice. “You mentioned the group in the first place, do you know?”

“Well, there’s a shadowy Clover group that’s been behind at least one other dimensional incursion,” Alice admitted, exchanging a glance with Para. “Meaning I doubt your Council knows which other dimensions do or don’t have ties, hence the decision to go totally dark.”

“Actually, here’s a thought,” Para piped up. “Could this Clover Enterprises have been involved in the magic wars on this very site? Maybe the company even suggested to ‘Fenduro’ that a school be put here, along with that puzzle to solve for access to the base. Could things go that deep?”

Usa frowned, and looked back at Mary-Lynn. “Well, could they?”

“I can’t say ‘no’,” Mary-Lynn said, mouth twitching. “Which actually bothers me, why am I getting creeped out?”

“Attack of conscience?” Sam suggested.

“Hi, so, the dimensions are about to get shut down,” Marlin said, speaking up again. He’d spent the last few minutes alternately looking inside the device, glancing up at the rift, and eyeing the dimensional control item that Sue had clipped to her belt.

It occurred to Alice then that Marlin could probably have rushed Sue and grabbed it by now, if he’d wanted to. It was nice that he wasn’t interrupting the interrogation with magic either. Then again, maybe the issue was Marlin had no clear idea what was going on.

That’s when Shay mumbled something.

Sam moved closer to him. “What was that?”

Usa placed her hands on her hips. “Given what we just learned, along with Shay’s brother being off-world, hopefully it was an override code.”

Sam leaned in closer. “He said… ‘Video Err’.”

“Another anagram,” Marlin muttered. “Not helpful in actually giving us an override.”

Alice snapped her fingers. “Except where it just might be.” She peered at the inside of the device again. “Heck yeah, just need to uncouple the video. Fun failsafe. Seems you can’t shut down what you can’t see. Jolly good.”

The rectangular box showing the pulses went dark. At which point the dimensional rift opened wider, and even more cat plush started pouring out.

“Aaaand pretty sure that’s coincidence,” Alice remarked.

“Okay, so, any way we can still shut THAT dimensional connection down?” Sue asked.

Mary-Lynn rolled her eyes. “You people. A regular dimensional device can patch that, at least temporarily. Release me, and I’ll show you how.”

Sam blinked over at the cat woman. “Huh. While I realize that has to be the truth, why are you offering up the information…?”

“Leniency? Also, I’m starting to question my own place in reality, given how I seriously didn’t think there was a way for you to screw with our plans. But here we are. Will you let go of my tail already?!”

“Fine. Help,” Sue said, finally releasing Mary-Lynn, “And if it’s any consolation, I don’t see any reason that the results of this interrogation should get out.”

“Otherwise the CEOs will see you coming for their blood money?” Para wondered.

“That, and the fact that we’d prefer to deal with this little problem in-house,” Usa remarked. She looked at Sam. “So this better not end up in your newsletter.”

“Don’t look at me,” Sam said, raising his hands. “I’m not sure anyone would believe me. Also, I’d prefer to stick around at least until that device is disassembled. It’ll help me sleep nights.”

“S’fine,” came Shay’s slurred voice from the floor. “Saw rye for every ting. ‘N yer in, Sham.”

Sam blinked down at Shay. “In? You mean, you won’t wipe my memory? That’d be nice, because I actually have some suggestions. Chief among them, writing instruction manuals.”

“You see?” Sue said brightly, looking over at her friend. “This has all turned out for the best.”

“Spike for yersluf,” mumbled Sir Thred, still face down on the floor.

“Great, keen, lovely, can I please get out of here before we all drown in plush cats?” Marlin pleaded. “I’ve been nothing but helpful, seriously.”

Alice flashed him a smile. “In fact, it’s high time Para, Chartreuse and I were clicking our heels together three times. We can bring Marlin along, if that’s okay.”

“Maybe you could even make it such that we were never here?” Para suggested. “I suspect the school records will automatically wipe anyway.”

Usa nodded. “This is plausible. Paperwork can get misfiled, and we’re rather busy right now dealing with this plush cat infestation.” She gestured at where Mary-Lynn was reconfiguring Sue’s gadget. “So if you have your own means of departure…”

“Say no more, say no more, say no more, squire,” Alice burbled, grasping Marlin by the sleeve and pulling him towards what she hoped was the nearest exit. Marlin didn’t resist. Para lifted Chartreuse, who now seemed to be slowly regaining the use of her limbs, and followed after. Once they reached the music room, they were able to contact the Epsilon station almost immediately.

***

“And you never looked back?” Fate asked, scribbling on her pad.

“Nope, we’d already overstayed our welcome,” Alice reported. She clasped her hands behind her back, wondering if they’d be able to sit down any time soon.

“Also I wasn’t, you know, able to turn my head at that point,” Chartreuse added.

“Right.” Fate made another notation, then looked up. “Well, that takes care of the report then. Good work out there.”

“I’m just soooo glad you’re all back safely,” Beam said, bouncing into the room after having gone to return Marlin to his proper world. “The fact that you got Clover information is a bonus. Ooooh, I want to kiss you all!”

“Down, girl,” Fate said, shaking her head. “Lesbian hijinks later, for now, we should get Chartreuse and Para back home too.”

“Then you’ll be continuing your Clover investigation alone?” Para mused.

Alice nodded. “For now. I mean, on the one hand, the fact that Clover Enterprises never showed up on our radar at all is significant. On the other hand, we still don’t have a specific way of finding them. But that’s for us to mess with, you all have your own dimensions to handle. Don’t worry, we’ll let you know if we need your help again.”

“Don’t forget, there’s still regular dimensional issues to monitor as well,” Fate reminded them.

“Well I’m always willing to, you know, do what I can for friends,” Chartreuse said, smiling. She looked at Para. “Speaking of that, it was nice to meet you. Thanks for, like, all the help.”

Para found herself smiling back. “Thanks for accepting me on your team, and taking that hit for me at the end.”

Chartreuse dropped a quick curtsey. “I do what I can.”

“Group hug with everyone before you go!” Beam squealed, throwing her arms open wide. “Please?”

Alice rolled her eyes, but followed the other women into the embrace. Personally, she hoped that the next stage of their investigation would involve bringing in Alijda, their super hacker. Or at least, she hoped to connect up with her roommate again soon. Might she even get a few days of relatively normal every day life then? Only time would tell.

END OF STORY 5: CHANCED ERASURES

 

Preferred POV character from Story5? OPTIONS:

VOTING WILL LIKELY REMAIN OPEN AGAIN

Previous INDEX 5 Next: TBD

PATHS NOT TAKEN:
If it had been Sam, he would have dimensionally jumped away using Sue’s device, then come back in a position to use the serum on Mary-Lynn. If it had been Marlin, who’d thought Alice’s “Mr. Wizard” remark had been a reference to him, magic would have been used as the restraint. We got Sue, which also included keeping everything quiet – so perhaps that’s a bad end? I should have seen it coming though, since Marlin doesn’t have much personality yet, and no one wanted Sam to figure out the room code a few votes back either. I’m still learning here. Feel free to elaborate about your prior votes.

THE ORACLE PROPHESIED:
Usa’s vote from a couple parts back had a secondary consequence about Sam’s Hypno drug. I didn’t want to bring up then, lest readers had forgotten about it. If Usa had helped them find Shay, they’d have used the drug on him, to learn more on using the device (recall they could have found files for what Mary-Lynn had said here). If Usa knew how the device worked, the drug for sure would have been used on Mary-Lynn, similar to what we saw. Since they improvised using the device, I was still improvising on who would get the drug… and it turned out to be the cat woman.

EXTRA ASIDE:
As a coins follow-up, in the first couple days of 2019, I got one of the new 2018 $10 bills with Viola Desmond on it, so that was kind of cool. Going forwards, I plan to edit the old Melissa Virga archive – any preference between longer parts every two weeks, or shorter parts weekly? Looking back, would people prefer if I stopped changing the point of view each part? Let me know. There’s a final Behind the Scenes here, looking at anagrams and stats. Thanks for reading!

5.13: A Sam Rang

Previous INDEX 5 Next

CHANCED ERASURES: PART THIRTEEN

Para wasn’t sure if she should be impressed by the dimensional shutdown device. As Sue pulled the sheet off, Para took in the lights at the top, the vertical lines within a rectangle within an oval, and the buttons on the pad below, and decided… it didn’t look that complicated. What was there to be impressed about?

“It’s like a handheld Mattel electronic football game,” Alice chirped. “If it was the size of a large Christmas tree.”

“I don’t know what that means,” Usa muttered, as she went to inspect the device. “As far as I knew though, this invention was supposed to allow for mass transport of items between dimensions. Not shut down travel. Can you prove otherwise?”

“We… don’t actually know how it works,” Sam admitted. “I was kind of hoping it would be better labelled. Or that you would have more information.”

Usa shook her head. “Maybe someone’s been playing you. Feeding you misinformation.”

“Maybe someone’s been playing all of us,” Thred suggested. He glanced at Alice.

“Maybe someone got getting tired of playing rugby and invented this,” Alice quipped. “Want a quarter back?”

“Usa, hold on. You mentioned this place had increasingly crazy security,” Sue reminded. “This can’t be a simple case of misinformation. I mean, you must have had some suspicions of Shay and the Council before this, otherwise why give us this chance at all.”

Usa crossed her arms. “Even so, I still have a duty here. I need proof positive.”

“You know, there’s still that rift,” Marlin spoke up. “Could we maybe deal with that first?”

PARA
Commission by Michelle Simpson

Para got the distinct impression that Marlin was hoping to use ‘dealing with that’ as a chance to escape Usa, but he did have a point. She moved closer to Chartreuse. “I don’t suppose you’re able to get any useful impressions?” Para murmured. In response, Chartreuse nibbled her lower lip.

“How about this. If we activate the shutdown device for a short burst,” Sam suggested, “it could fix the rift as well as prove our point. Just bring one of the dimensional devices along and try to use it. If it doesn’t work, this device isn’t for mass transport.”

“Except what if, once we throw the switch, it never turns off again,” Sue cautioned.

“Okay,” Chartreuse said, stepping forwards. “Gonna, like, try something here now. Give me a moment?”

She took off the jade ring she’d been wearing to help acclimate her powers gradually to their surroundings, and reached out to give it to Para. Para took it, then watched as her mission commander moved to one of the unconscious scientists on the floor. Chartreuse passed a crystal around his head, and finally reached out to touch his forehead.

“Your mind to my mind,” Alice murmured. “Your thoughts to my thoughts.”

Usa took a step forwards. “What is she–”

“Chartreuse is learning about the device,” Para said, holding up her hand to prevent Usa’s advance. She was pretty sure it wasn’t through whatever means Alice had implied, but still.

“Or, you know, she’s flailing blindly in the dark,” Chartreuse admitted. She stood and moved on to another scientist. “I don’t control my impressions, but am kinda hoping one of them is thinking about using that thing, or would, like, have ended up using it in a possible future that I can then, you know, divert.”

“Look. There’s six buttons and a switch,” Marlin protested. “How hard can this be? We do this by trial and error.”

The young wizard reached out for the device, only to have Thred grab his arm. “You want to hit the button labelled ‘CANS’ or the one labelled ‘POTS’?” Thred said. “Because I feel like we need neither of those things in our dimension right now.”

“We’re not in a hurry,” Sam said. “Let’s let Chartreuse try again.”

“I kind of thought that guy running off for reinforcements was an issue,” Marlin groused. But other than shaking free of Thred, he made no further objection.

The third scientist Chartreuse touched made her sit up straighter and stare off into the distance. Then she turned towards Sue and Sam. “Okay, so, the TARTS/POTS button will, like, switch that thing on and off. Meaning we can turn it off, if things go badly. That’s, you know, about the best I can do.”

Sue searched Chartreuse’s expression, then nodded. “All right, so we activate it then,” she relented, looking towards Usa for confirmation. “And see what it does to the dimensions. After all, what have you got to lose?”

“My job?” Usa said dryly. She followed it up with a sigh and another shake of her head. “But, I haven’t been thrilled with what I’ve had to do lately. Hurry up, get me your proof.”

The device was large enough that both Thred and Sam were needed to carry it. Sue was the one who grabbed a couple of the portable dimensional devices from the back, Usa not wanting to let Marlin, Alice, Chartreuse or Para near them. Para could understand that.

They all headed back out to the entrance room, which by now had plush kittens littering floor everywhere. Para helped to clear a space on the ground underneath the rift, so that the device could be set down. Everyone stood back, leaving Sam standing next to it.

“Okay,” Sam said, taking a breath. “So we turn it on.” Sam hit the TARTS/POTS button. There was a pause. Another plush kitten fell to the floor. “…and nothing happens.” He crouched down for a closer look.

“Actually, a light came on,” Alice corrected. “I suspect that now, someone will need to dial in a dimension that matches the rift, so we can shut it down.”

“Dial? I thought when this thing was on, it would turn everything else off,” Thred grumbled.

“Then why have the buttons for CANS and NO ANTIDOTE?” Marlin sniped back.

Chartreuse toyed with her crystal. “Is anyone else worried about, like, poking around randomly with that thing?”

As she spoke, another plush kitten fell out of the rift. It bounced off Sam’s head, and knocked against the CANS button. More of the machine lit up, and pulses started to scroll across the rectangular box with the vertical lines.

“Oooh, he’s at the twenty, the ten, touchdown,” Alice murmured.

“Reminds me of a heart monitor,” Para observed. “Perhaps it’s doing a scan?”

“A cans scan… of COURSE!” Usa snapped her fingers. “That’s it. It makes sense now. Those plans I saw, they were encoded this way.”

“Plans?” Sam mused.

“Another part of why I was inclined to believe you,” Usa admitted. “The Council’s plans for this thing, they were written in a way I didn’t understand, and they wouldn’t explain it. But I see now it’s anagrams. Cans for scan. The same way in our school the ‘secret’ door can be read as ‘erects’, if you use the letters as ordered by room.”

“Ahh, anagrams. It’s how ‘Search and Rescue’ can become a phrase like ‘Chanced Erasures’,” Alice quipped. “Makes sense.”

“Fine, it’s a scan. What’s it scanning for?” Thred wondered.

“More to the point, I now know what ‘no antidote’ means,” Marlin said, frowning. “It’s not good.”

“Speaking of not good – security’s been activated for this room,” Sue shouted, pointing over at the nearby vent. “Hear that hissing? It’s knockout gas.”

“Dammit,” Usa muttered. She ran over to the main desk, and the console there. “Fortunately I have the codes to turn that off. Oh, hello Polsit,” she remarked, seeing the unconscious man there. She quickly typed in her codes.

Chartreuse looked over at Sue. “How much time do you think we have before Shay storms in here with more troops?” she wondered.

“Not long,” Sue admitted. “Surely there’s some way to get the proof we need without hitting random buttons. Usa, you said you saw plans?”

“Yes, but I didn’t take pictures.” Usa straightened. “I think we’d better head back to the interrogation room. Unless one of you has more dimensional knowledge than Shay.”

Para cleared her throat. “Ah, hello? It occurs to me that Alice probably has some experience.” After all, Alice’s time spent manning the Epsilon Station, coupled with her eidetic memory, had to count for something.

Everyone turned to look at Alice, who fired off a huge Cheshire-Cat smile. “Possible. I figured I wasn’t high on the trust list, after failing to convince Shay of anything. But hey, if you’re willing to give me a chance…”

“That’s not a good idea,” Thred protested.

“But we don’t have much of a choice at this point,” Sam yielded. “Okay Alice, let us know what you can come up with. Knowing that if you betray our trust, there will be consequences.”

Alice cracked her knuckles. “Of course! Now pop the back off of that thing and give me five minutes.”

Usa pulled a gun out of the main desk. “This only stuns,” she remarked. “But as Sam said, don’t try anything funny.” She trained it on Alice as Sam and Thred managed to unscrew the back, revealing all the electronics.

“Oooh, pretty,” Alice muttered. She both peered and felt around inside for a bit. Para spent the time looking at the reactions of everyone there. Only Usa didn’t seem tense, probably due to her security training. As they waiting, more plushies rained down from the rift near the ceiling.

“Okay,” Alice said at last, dusting off her hands. “So, pretty sure the scanner is, as we speak, locking in dimensional addresses – every ten yards. The ‘no antidote’ button will be the detonation, removing their link to this place. Interestingly, doesn’t matter how many addresses you lock in, so if we had more of a clue, we could seal only the rift while draining the device.”

“As interesting as that is, can you point to the bits that would be proof for Usa?” Sam wondered.

“Wait, back up to that detonation thing,” Marlin said, eyes widening. “Could this device torpedo other dimensions?”

Alice scratched her head, looking to Marlin first. “I doubt it? I’m good, but I’m not Mr. Wizard good. I’d need more time to – duck!”

Para spun to see where Alice was looking. In the entranceway stood Shay, and some woman who seemed to be part cat. They were pointing guns of the same type that Usa was holding. One was aimed at Sam, who was closest to the device, the other was aimed at… her. Para felt her bunny ears quiver.

Even as Para processed that her being a target was likely only because she was the one standing closest to the two arrivals, she was tackled to the floor. Somewhere, someone called out, “Sam!”. With that, there was the sound of three guns going off.

Para rolled to the side to take in the scene. Apparently Thred had jumped in front of Sam, and he now lay sprawled out on the ground. Shay, over by the entrance, was also unconscious, with the cat woman and Usa now pointing their guns at each other in a stand-off. And the one who had tackled Para… had been Chartreuse. She was also unconscious.

Para honestly wasn’t quite sure how to feel about that. Wasn’t it the role of subordinates to protect their leaders, not the other way around? Yet Chartreuse had taken the hit for her. As such, Para resolved to make sure Chartreuse was kept safe. She reached out to brush her fingers against Chartreuse’s hair, only to pause as someone spoke.

“Mary-Lynn Emrys,” Usa said dryly. “So you’re the reason for heightened security here.”

“Usa Staling,” Mary-Lynn said evenly. “Have you become a traitor to the Council?”

“I’ve learned that there’s something shady going on,” Usa fired back. “Let’s lower our weapons and figure things out.”

The cat woman seemed to think about it. “I think not,” she said at last. Then she adjusted her aim, and shot at the dimensional shutdown device. Sparks flew from the ‘on/off’ switch. The stun field had to be electronic in nature. What had Mary-Lynn done?

“Okay,” Alice said, side-stepping towards Sue. “Unless I miss my guess, we can’t shut that down any more, and once the current scanning completes, it’s going to unlink completely from everything that got scanned. I can only assume that’s what you were hoping to do.”

Mary-Lynn smiled. “Yup. Stun me all you like now, there’s nothing you can do to stop the plan from succeeding.”

Well, that couldn’t be good. Para scanned over everyone present for their reactions one more time. She couldn’t be sure, but three people seemed like they were about to try something.

Marlin, surprisingly enough, had his hand twitching towards his wand. A final escape attempt? Or was there something magical he could do to repair the device? More interestingly, if a dimensional traveller were the key person behind foiling the plan, what would that say to someone like Shay?

Sam also seemed tense, as if he was about to make a jump… somewhere. To grab Usa’s gun? For Alice’s invulnerability item? Para wasn’t sure what he hoped to accomplish, but a success might cement his involvement with the group of dimensional investigators. Just as a failure could ruin his chances forever.

Then there was Sue, who seemed a bit translucent – as she had her invisibility power on her side. Could she use that to convince Mary-Lynn to fix things? On the plus side, it would mean that someone who had been involved with Council affairs would be cleaning up their own mess. But then, maybe that would simply perpetuate a system that needed to change.

As Para finally completed her movement to softly touch Chartreuse on the head, she wondered what was going to happen.

WHAT’S NEXT?

OPTIONS:

VOTING CLOSES 7am EST MONDAY JAN 7th

Previous INDEX 5 Next

PATHS NOT TAKEN:
The improvisation decision included that part of where Chartreuse was trying to get an impression that would be of use. Had Usa known how the device worked, they would have been able to negate the charge as Alice implied, making for a different cliffhanger at the end (more of a hostage situation?). And if Usa could have found Shay, it would have meant a return to the hidden Council room, now with some important documents. There was also another aspect decided with that vote, which we won’t see until the last part. And I had no real plans on the device, so thanks to John Golden for the Mattel suggestion.

EXTRA ASIDE:
A few things! First of all, yes, I’ve been playing with anagrams this whole story as far as names are concerned, Alice kind of lampshading the title itself. (See also, this entry title.) Only two names haven’t involved anagrams, did you catch them? Secondly, when this “Epsilon” ends, I will likely return to the follow-up Melissa Virga story from my archives, unless anyone has another preference (recall the options were in this post). Comments are open.
Finally, a Happy New Year to you – here’s the results of the 2018 coins I received over the past 363 days. Namely 3 toonies, 9 loonies, 5 dimes, and 2 each of quarters and nickels, for a total of 21 – no differing designs. You may recall 2017 had 20 coins while 2016 had 37 coins and 2015 had 42 coins. I have no theories, merely the data. Wondering why this is a thing? Consider reading my Time & Tied story. That’s everything, hope you stay tuned for the conclusion of “Chanced Erasures”.