Story6

Paths Not Taken 6

To look back at “Epsilon 6”, I feel a “Paths Not Taken” post is more appropriate than a “Behind the Scenes” post. This is because the outcome was more heavily influenced by the votes than in some previous Epsilon stories. (Plus most of what happened behind the scenes was simply dealing with the pandemic.)

If you want to avoid spoilers, you’ll need to read the “Smoke With Mirrors” serial first.

One particular spoiler is that the plan was ALWAYS to have an “evil Alijda”. Possibly working with Beam or an evil version of Beam. Let’s look at how that tale unfolded – and how it could have unfolded quite differently.

FIRST HALF

0a. PLOT CHOICE. With “Mystery” being selected (4-1), the “evil” angle wasn’t going to be overt, so I didn’t even have Alijda in the cast to start. (Giving the option of her first appearance to be “evil”.) Had “Romance” been selected we would have had Alijda & Kat (with possibly a secondary romance between Fate & Beam) where “evil Alijda” is jealous, perhaps posing as her double. Had “Fantasy” been selected I would have focussed initially on the world involved (perhaps with a connection to the Magic Wars of Story 5) and less on the known characters.

0b. CHARACTER CHOICE. Unanimously the vote was for a mix/no preference. Para was the favourite major character (by 3-1), so I needed her. Alice was the favourite station administrator (by 4-1), so I needed her. And it was the “Mystery” decision that brought in Trixie. Moreover, to avoid starting in a dream sequence (I wanted a more action-oriented start), Trixie ended up driving the entire first part, to give her some backstory after the Virga serial ending.

“Epsilon 6” image, referenced below

1. WORLD. World “much like ours” (2-1) was where to put Beam. The bunny virus was spur of the moment; it being called ‘Smoke’ was pretty much decided by this point (to match the title) even though there would be no in-story reference for a while. I’d also had an idea of Alice switching minds with Fate, but that would need technology world tech (as a way for them to leave their own house during the pandemic) so I shelved it. The superior magic choice had no real plan.

2. BEAM’S WORST. She caught the virus (2-1). No matter what, Alice was going to the planet, whether as a replacement (as here), a medic (Beam injured) or search party (vanished). This angle had me researching bunnies and viruses a bit more.

3. TRIXIE TALKS. She talked with Beam (2-1). It nixed the idea of bringing in Alijda here, along with something else: Another idea I’d had for ‘Mystery’ was the Epsilon God (Goddess?) who had first recruited Alice. Talking to the computers and looking into the scans would have initiated this angle, but much like with the tech in survey #1, it got no votes at all.

4. VIRAL INVESTIGATING. Only one vote here, for Alijda. Well, it brought her in. It also let me allude to her double (and imply time travel as a red herring), while forcing me to consider Magic World. Once again a rejection of Tech World, which was where I’d thought to pull Clover Enterprises back in more directly.

5. WHO’S HELPING. We got “another former character” (2-1-1) which was always going to be the cameo winner from the Epsilon Summary post (Mason, also by 2-1-1). I’d always been reluctant to bring Mason back, because being a Time Lord, I could NOT post that story to Serial Webfiction (he made it “fanfic”, they accept originals). Hence Alice’s occasional complaints. But a one off seemed like it would be fine. If the “handle it themselves” angle had been the choice, I’d have again hinted at the Epsilon God idea.

6. HEY ALICE! Trixie joins her (2-1-1); I was glad, since it got me fully off the station (Trixie really was more of a main character than the others, so I’d need to call her otherwise). We HAD to get back to the planet here, in fact I had a whole scenario for the people living near Alice. A woman living there had her boyfriend fall victim (thus he became a bunny girl) leaving her to care for him/her. I also decided that the virus origin was blending tech and magic (sort of stayed) and that Clover Enterprises accidentally transmitted it to all the worlds because an evil “Beame” was deliberately infected (wouldn’t happen). And none of that ended up being relevant!

7. DEAD END? Staying together (4-1) led to me researching decontamination procedures (and upping the tech to keep their clothes on). This time I was kind of glad the thing that got no votes (leaving for backup) wasn’t popular, as I wasn’t ready to return to the station yet.

8. COMPANY COMING. They try to get out (2-1-1). Here it was time to revisit the Station (and a different POV), along with Clover Enterprises (since attempts to bring them in through Tech World hadn’t worked). Vortex Limited, incidentally, was named for the Vortex club in “Life is Strange” because I happened to be looking at some of their materials at that time.

This turned out to truly be the halfway point, but it was around here I knew I would need to start collapsing down the threads anyway.

SECOND HALF

9. RESCUE PLANS. First official tie (1-1), so we sent Beam/Para down AND Fate/Alijda worked on the station. The former was straightforward; the Fate/Alijda angle took in the unused ideas of the Epsilon God and the mind swapping with Alice. The one unused route would have involved infecting someone else (which never happened, the pandemic almost became background after this).

10. WHAT TO DO? Unanimous (2-0) for bringing everyone up. Which ended up being the last time anyone was on that world! (Versus the other paths, one of them being Trixie stepping up to knock everyone else out.) It was at this point that I considered linking “evil Alijdah” (with an H) to Clover Enterprises. Related, “Mirrors” of the title would no longer refer to Alijda’s double, but to the “cloaking technology” that had hidden the lab (and Alice/Trixie) from the Station sensors.

11. USE THE INTEL. Unanimous (2-0) for interrogation, and this third consecutive time of only two readers is when I started to just let the story lapse in favour of looking at “Time Untied”. Of note, since Trixie didn’t get to knock people out, she did the questioning, and I also made a note that her gun (from #1) should return. I also used Mikoto to kind of close off Vortex Ltd, with the hope of pulling Alijdah and Clover back in for the final few entries… tracing the message would have done that immediately.

12. HOW TO CLOVER. Unanimous (2-0) again, so waiting a month didn’t increase readership. It did have me do a complete reread and make a number of notes about the plot/characters to this point. Also meant we’re still going the long way (“another way”) to Clover. Rejected were our last kick at Tech World, and alluding to Alijda’s double in “getting info from Jake another way” (he’d ‘recognize’ her).

13. GOING, GOING… Alijda with Alice (2-1) meant Trixie would retroactively have been doing things on the Station, so that she could come through at the climax. It also meant using Para’s math-bunny DNA-style-coding for a pandemic cure; my initial idea had been possibly using a bacteria, or a Beam backup (“evil Beam” was now off the table). But this makes more sense for Clover contacting Epsilon (which had been the plan since the start) since they’d know Epsilon had Para. Incidentally, Alijda solo would have replaced her with the “evil” version.

14. CLOVER PLANS. We got Alijda posing as herself (2-1-1, which registers as 2-2-1 since there was a miscast vote so I voted for the original intent). And FINALLY saw “Evil Alijdah” who was perhaps less a mystery at this point owing to there being little buildup for her… the main mystery now having been where the original message to Epsilon came from. (The pandemic mysteries were kind of concluded.) This is also when I toyed with the idea of Alijdah having been infected (yes), and whether I needed anything more on the Epsilon God angle (no).

15. FACEOFF. Unanimous (3-0) for faking out Alijdah, and a return to more frequent posts. The “capturing” option would have led to a space battle. THIS is actually when I decided that the Alijda/Alijdah split would be related to Mason (from earlier), versus some adjacent world. Which meant Alijdah couldn’t teleport, alluded to during the battle that ended in this vote. I’d considered Alijdah accidentally shooting herself (instead of teleport, she had a limited time travel jump) but nixed it.

16. APPROACH ABILITY. Stealthier approach (2-1-1) was the winner. I finally had to design the Clover Station at this point, but only in part since Alijda was confined. As I said then, this was basically the middle ground option (between a face off and them stealthily stealing Beam’s research). Trixie’s research pays off, and I decided I also wanted Trixie and Alijda to talk about names next time. (Alijda is still tagged on this site as ‘Alison’ and the similar names may be a problem for readers. Is it?)

17. VILLAINOUS CHOICE. The entire “Epsilon” trilogy of Clover Enterprises, a multi-year run, only had one voter in this final poll. For the longest time. (I think it was for not backing down?) Anyway, extended time, we ended up with concessions (2-1). More middle of the road, with different shooting options for Trixie. By this point all the pieces were in place.

18z. HOW HERE? Two people initially voted on the “April Fool” entry, saying they were already a reader or found the post for multiple reasons. It got 8 total views, two on Apr 1st, four on Apr 2nd, and once on the 3rd and 4th. (Most regular posts only get 10-12 views.) Another multiple reason vote came with 3 more views in early May.

18a. S6 CHARACTER PREF. Alijda & Beam each get a vote. I gotta say, I’m surprised… I figured Alijda was old news while Beam’s constant flirting with girls was getting tiresome. (Meanwhile Trixie was fresh and Para had won the former Epsilon vote.) Guess I don’t know as much as I think? (Trixie did get a later vote.) Feel free to clear up the mystery with a comment, and this poll is still open.

18b. PLOT? Future interest in Clover & Beam. Those votes make sense based on the first two character choices. Not much more to say. This one’s still open too.

CONCLUSION

So there you have it. The story of “evil Alijdah”, planned from the start, who didn’t turn up until Part 14 (after a mysterious hint in part 5) and was somehow involved with Clover Enterprises. Also “evil Beame” who never was, minor Epsilon God and mind swapping ideas that were in the background, and a pandemic that became mostly background too.

TRIXIE VIRGA
Commission from Sen Yomi

Only you can tell me how well it fits together.

I hope it was enjoyable either way.

I suppose the other item to address is the “Epsilon” image above; I always create one during the second half. I had it roughed out after part 17, but never had time for drawing until the school’s April Break (formerly March Break). It was done over the course of a single day, Tuesday April 13th, so that I could include it with my “Tuesday Serial” entry, rather than the generic “vote” I’d been using previously.

I did get a full page link from their site with it, so that was nice.

Creating it also let me explore transparency, in terms of the hazard triangle background showing through (actually a copy was slapped in the foreground and made see-through). I managed more drawing that week for personified math, things I’d wanted to get to since 2019. Not sure when I’ll post the parodies on my other blog.

This officially concludes “Smoke With Mirrors”. The 2021 Site Options Poll is still up (in that summary post), and at present it’s a tie between Rose’s Origin and Parodies. If you feel strongly, initial votes have expired so you can vote again for your favourite.

Something will run later this month.

So was this story behind the story everything you thought? Were you pleased with the results? Was your choice selected often, or not? Either way, I hope to see you on the site again. As always, thanks for reading.

6.18: Over Clover

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SMOKE WITH MIRRORS: PART EIGHTEEN

“I will start to listen.” Alijdah cleared her throat. “That said, you mentioned negotiation. Not capitulation. Talking is hard when staring down the barrel of a gun.”

“I only remove the gun if you return our people now,” Trixie asserted.

Alijdah frowned, then again looked at something out of their field of view and nodded. She turned back. “I’ll bring them over in a shuttle. I’d prefer to talk to you face to face.”

Beam’s nose twitched before she also nodded. “Acceptable.”

Beam looked to Trixie. Trixie honestly felt a bit disappointed, she’d been wondering whether the chewing gum would have properly exploded out of her delivery containers.

But she understood, and with her own nod and a small sigh, she cancelled her interface between Rixi and the Epsilon station.

***

(Trixie)

TRIXIE VIRGA
Commission from Sen Yomi

Trixie stared at the monitor in the auxiliary control room. It showed only a closed conference room door. She was toying with the idea of magically eavesdropping when Alijda walked in.

This was the “good” Alijda, the one Trixie had been speaking with about programming, not the H-one with the bunny ears currently in discussion with Fate and Beam. And presumably this Alijda wasn’t thinking about eavesdropping. But then why stand silently for over two minutes?

“You going to keep staring at my ass, or what?” Trixie finally asked, looking over her shoulder.

Alijda flinched. “Sorry. I didn’t want to disturb, in case you were doing something mystic. Uh, they making progress in there?”

Trixie gestured at the monitor before fully turning around. “Who knows? It’s early yet. I will say I’m certain your counterpart brought over that busty bunny girl not only as a personal guard, but also as a way to distract Beam. Though I doubt it’ll work.”

Alijda nodded. “You think Fate will keep Beam on track?”

Trixie smirked. “More like I think my promise of one last make-out session with Beam before I leave, contingent on the right outcome, will keep Beam on track.”

Alijda half smiled back. “Ah. You two really hit it off then.”

“Oh, not really,” Trixie said, shaking her head. “Don’t get the wrong idea. I mean, physically, sure. But any romantic feelings on my part are strictly for Beam’s sophisticated program, not for who she is as a person.”

Alijda blinked. “Hm. And are you sure Beam feels the same way about you…?”

Trixie giggled. “What, you think I got Beam hot for my human programming?”

“I just mean maybe she’s become romantically invested.”

“Mmm, as much as I’d like you say how could you NOT fall in love with this package,” Trixie stated, gesturing back at herself. “We really do have a relationship built only on needs and lusts. And I don’t get too attached as a rule, she knows that.”

Trixie eyed Alijda, trying to read between the lines.

“Why? Are YOU worried about how someone you’ve associated with at this Station might feel about you romantically?”

Alijda coughed, and changed the subject, which was enough of an admission as far as Trixie was concerned. “That’s irrelevant,” Alijda said. “I actually came in here to ask you about your name. Your real one.”

Trixie deflected. “If you don’t know, I’m not telling you what it is.”

“It’s not that,” Alijda clarified. “We both know I could probably hack to figure it out. It’s that… well… okay, so while I was stuck on the Clover station, I learned my double’s origin story.”

Trixie became curious despite herself. “Do tell, if you’re willing.”

Alijda pressed the heel of her hand to her head. “Yeah. Okay. Well, long story short, there was a point in my past when I met an alien. Mason, actually, I heard that you saw him during this mission.”

The name clicked. “Oh, the guy who called us out for being a bunch of white girls.”

“Yes. Well, ladies. Well, anyway, this Alijdah-H went with Mason in her history. Whereas I didn’t. That’s when the split occurred. Then the two had a falling out, and she returned to Earth.”

“Huh.” Trixie considered that. “So her quantum Earth is immediately adjacent to yours, or something?”

“That’s what I can’t figure out. See, as I didn’t go with Mason, I went on antidepressants, embezzled money from my corrupt company, fled to the US under the pseudonym Alison van der Land, and got teleportation powers.”

Trixie stared. “Why are you telling me all that?”

“I think largely because I want the opinion of someone with whom I share common traits and yet will likely never see again.”

“I actually meant how does your past connect to the quantum name stuff.”

“Right.” Alijda rubbed her forehead. “From what little quantum theory I’ve read, events are the cause of different Earth dimensions more so than individual actions. And external observation causes many quantum realities to blend back together. But maybe… we two were so different… she couldn’t blend, even as our worlds did.”

Trixie was reminded of her earlier discussion with Para. About whether there could be other versions of themselves running around. It had felt like the answer was no, at least until this Alijda-H issue.

“So, what, you think because you’d changed your name and location there was somehow room for both of you?” Trixie wondered.

Alijda sighed. “Possibly. Both our experiences having been so wildly unique as to prevent us from collapsing into a single dimensional existence once Epsilon observed me. So maybe my alt-self escaped detection, even came under fire for crimes I’d committed. Assuming she was even on my Earth then, and not with Clover Enterprises already.”

Trixie was fascinated by that idea. “I’d be game to investigate that for you.”

Alijda shook her head. “Oh, I could probably get that started myself. I mostly wondered what you thought about the theory.”

Trixie considered. “Seems like Mason might be a better person to ask.”

Alijda shook her head. “I know he doesn’t remember being with me. Whether by choice or by circumstance. It’s not my having a possible double that I’m wondering about here though. It’s more, under these circumstances – should I maybe return to calling myself Alison? It IS the name I go by whenever I’m not on this station, after all.”

Trixie considered again, for close to a minute. “You have as much right to your original name as anyone else,” she concluded. “Besides. Even within a single Earth, individuals are mistaken for each other on the internet a lot. I don’t think anyone here will believe you’re a Clover operative if you keep Alijda.”

“It’s not really about that.”

Trixie shifted her hands to her hips. “Then you’ll have to explain better, I’m not a mind reader.”

Alijda grimaced. “Sorry. Here’s the thing. If my history was different, I COULD have been her, been that Alijda. Right? Instead, I’m me, a changed person in all but appearance. Yet for some reason, I’m clinging to that old name. And the baggage that may go with it.”

“Presumably that’s because you still identify with the name somehow. Do you?”

It was Alijda’s turn to think in silence for a moment. “I guess I did. Before Epsilon. Because I thought I was living a lie on Earth. But after Alice moved in… well, maybe my new life as Alison is just my life. Maybe some of my suicidal thoughts are even from me continuing to wrestle with my past instead of just releasing it.”

“So maybe you have your answer.” Trixie eased her stance. “Know that I’m not saying you should forget where you come from, and remember I’m not a psychologist.”

Alijda nodded. “I get it. Do you find it weird though, people here calling you Trixie instead of whatever?”

Trixie shook her head. “No. It’s more like how someone might equally answer to ‘Beth’ or ‘Elizabeth’. Plus for me, ‘Trixie’ is a reminder of where I came from, and how I’m still in the business that I’m in.”

It had, after all, been ‘James’ who had both given her the pseudoname, and the business, once he and ‘Melissa’ had departed.

Alijda nodded. “All right. Thanks for the talk.” She glanced towards the monitors again. “I’m off. Let me know if my alt-self does anything problematic.”

“For sure,” Trixie said. Part of her was even counting on it, as she was still wondering about the effectiveness of her retooled pocket dimension armoury. “See you around, Alijda.”

The brunette woman paused at the doorway, and half smiled. “Call me Alison,” she suggested, before departing.

***

“The trouble with Clover Enterprises,” Fate reflected, “isn’t that they were evil, per se. They merely seemed to have a callous disregard for the consequences of their actions.”

Para frowned. “Maybe it’s because I’m not human, but is that… not the same thing…?” she wondered.

“Sometimes. The Clover group were definitely self serving,” Trixie offered up. Honestly, Para had a pretty good point, but Trixie didn’t want Fate to overanalyze it.

The group of them had congregated one last time in the main control room, after the Station Administrators had observed the departure of Alijah’s shuttle back to the Clover station. Fate had brought along a box of assorted muffins to eat.

“I’m a bit surprised by your take, Fate,” Beam admitted, who was apparently fine with continuing the conversation. “Given how you were abducted from your world and nearly brainwashed as a consequence of them giving Compton Senior dimensional knowledge.”

Fate nodded. “I know. Kind of had to make peace with that to survive though. Besides, that’s what ended up bringing me here. And my helping to put the Clover situation to rest is a good note for me to go out on.”

“That’s a good way to think of it,” Trixie agreed. She had heard from Para about Fate’s concerns over not being spoken to by the Epsilon Station’s ‘God’. It was good that Fate had apparently been able to move past that.

“And we’ll be leaving the station in good hands,” Alice said, whacking Beam on the back as she grinned. “At this point, I am SO over Clover.”

“Yeah? I wish I could be as sure,” Alijda/Alison mused. “Considering how my alt-self is apparently high enough ranked with them to be able to sign off on the agreement here. Did anyone else notice that?”

“Well, sure, but I think you can be over them too,” Alice insisted. “Come on, don’t stress over what wasn’t in your history. Yeah?”

“I… yeah.” Alijda/Alison fired off a quick smile back at her roommate.

“Now, speaking of the Clover agreement, what exactly was in there?” Trixie pressed. “I need closure.”

Beam cleared her throat as she recited from memory. “Clover Enterprises are to make restitution anywhere that they have transgressed, as decided by the ethical algorithm we provided, not their own beliefs. Further, they will not initiate any further experiments without broadcasting their intentions and possible side effects to the other party. Communicating with US if needed to mediate. Pyon pyon.”

“In return,” Fate put in, “they get all Beam’s vaccine research, and we don’t get to know the size of their organization or what else they might have been doing out there in secret.”

“Good enough I hope?” Beam purred, sidling up next to Trixie and giving her rear a quick pinch. Thankfully out of view of the others.

Trixie jumped despite herself, merely nodding back as she smoothed her skirt. She honestly hadn’t expected much more. And thanks to Fate’s choice, Clover didn’t know that Trixie had broken through the scattering field technology. So Epsilon was less likely to be caught off guard by their presence in the future too.

“What about these planets though?” Para wondered. “Does Clover start their work here, or are they still going to be recruiting?”

“They’ll be making sure Tech World doesn’t transmit the pandemic any more,” Beam noted. “Though if they were to suddenly vanish, it might raise more issues on the Fantasy World than not. Fortunately, the Alijda battle might make people more hesitant to join them, pyon pyon.”

“And as to the planets themselves, I think they’ll get out of their pandemics, based on the computer projections I ran,” Trixie offered up. “Beam will be cured too, we’ve turned on the flag that purges the bunny changes over time.”

“So we’re good,” Alijda/Alison sighed. “Missions accomplished.”

“Except… wait. Clover is powering up some sort of ray,” Alice said, hurrying to where a light had started flashing. She tapped at the keyboard. “It’s targeting us.”

“What? Open a channel,” Fate said, tossing aside her half eaten muffin.

Alijdah was back on their main screen moments later. “Hi! Just thought I’d note how there’s nothing in the agreement that says we can’t give you a parting shot. So there.” She smirked.

Fate glared back. “Alijdah! We haven’t transmitted the vaccine information yet. You want to jeopardize receiving it?”

“No worries, we can wait on firing until after you send it,” Alijdah said airily. “You DO have to do that, after all. It IS what we agreed to.”

“It’s fine,” Beam declared, moving in next to Fate. “Because the agreement doesn’t specify how we transmit my research to you. Right?” Her eyes sparkled. “Trixie, one last request, if you please.”

Oh, hell yes.

Trixie swung her arm out to the side, enjoying the sense of deja vu. “Rixi? Reinitiate Epsilon interface and materialize delivery gun.”

Again, there was the globe of light, the sphere over the hub, and then the modified gun, both in her hands and large scale, hanging in space.

Alijdah stared at them with a mixture of confusion and suspicion. “You can’t mean–“

“You want the research? It’s all in this capsule,” Trixie declared. She pointed the barrel of the gun at the Clover station, then swung it off to the side. “Protrudo.”

The capsule was propelled out of the gun barrel into space in much the same way the freeze necklace had once been fired through a hotel window. It spun off into the dimensional void as a light dusting of confetti was expelled from the smaller version of the gun in Trixie’s hand. Success!

“Son of a–“

“You should be able to track that – until the capsule gets small again,” Trixie said, cutting Alijdah off for a second time. “Still want to waste time with us?”

The communications channel was shut down.

“Ziggy?” Beam announced to the ceiling. “While they’re distracted, let’s temporally uncouple and leave orbit.”

“Understood,” came the voice of the main computer. “Please disengage your interface, Trixie.”

Trixie did so, pleased that she’d been able to test out at least one of her interface objects.

She was also pleased that Beam had suggested that backup plan in the first place, that they’d come through the entire pandemic situation without any new infections, and that she’d made some new friends.

But mostly, she was pleased that she’d be going home soon.

She raked her fingers back through her twintails once more. Only time would tell if she might ever have cause to return.

OPTIONS:

Polls on character and possible plots for possible future entries…

VOTING REMAINS OPEN

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PATHS NOT TAKEN:
Had Alijdah accepted the conditions, Trixie would have fired off confetti, and the two groups might have worked together in the future (whether Clover would have ultimately screwed that up is unknown). Had Alijdah not backed down, Trixie would have fired off a computer virus to mess with their systems, while allowing Epsilon to track Clover in the future… since the Clover station would get away but without any medications. We ended up middle of the road for the second time, with a kind of agreement to disagree and Trixie firing off Beam’s data.

EXTRA ASIDE:
First, if you missed it, there was an April Fools Part in between the prior part 17 & this part 18, so check that out. With regard to the voting last time, I didn’t want the last choice and apex of our Clover plot to be decided by a single person’s single vote. So I kept things open past the end of March, which was helpful for the April Fool writer anyway. Finally got a third vote April 2nd after the usual pleading, so closed things on the 3rd. Didn’t get much of a chance to write in the following week, but it’s done now. Thank you for sticking with me, whoever’s out there. Another post coming in a few weeks about my status and what will come next on this site.

6.18: Space Battle

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SMOKE WITH MIRRORS: PART EIGHTEEN

“I’ll admit, that was unexpected,” Alijah said. “But I can adjust to the unexpected.”

She focused, muttering curses.

From out of the vastness of space came a giant bowling ball, the same size as Trixie’s enormous nerf gun. It hit the gun, and both exploded into a shower of sparks.

Beam stared. “Wow, pyon pyon…”

“That-” Trixie fumed. “Where did THAT come from?”

Alijah smirked. “What, you think you’re so smart? You think you’re the only one who can figure these things out? Anything you can do, I can do better!”

“Oh yeah? Try THIS out for size!”

Trixie made another globe of light appear over her device. It shot up into the air, forming into a giant laser pointer.

“Oh no, you’re going to POINT me to death? Don’t think so.”

A cargo ship-sized blanket appeared and enveloped the pointer, carrying it away.

“Well, how about… THIS!”

Trixie sent up a rock, which quickly became the size of a moon.

Alijah grinned. A planet-sized golf club appeared and whacked the rock, sending it into the sun.

Beam realized things were quickly descending into chaos, but a part of her loved it. Finding out what was in Trixie’s hammerspace was certainly interesting. Cables, a pack of gum, old gum wrappers, several receipts, Beam’s hairbrush (which Trixie had sworn she didn’t still have), a few magic-looking things, hand sanitizer, leather pants, and a hammer were the highlights.

When Alijah sent out a lawnmower it became obvious that she was using things from her garage. Dusty exercise equipment, old board games, a box marked “Books”, various tools, a VCR player, and a spare tire were all sent out.

Blueberry Muffin Clipart Kawaii - Cute Blueberry Muffin @clipartmax.com

Fate, realizing that they weren’t likely to stop until they were out of things to throw, went out and came back some time later with a latte and a box of assorted muffins. Para had time to discover that the last number in pi was, in fact, 7. Or possibly 2. One or the other.

Several hours later Trixie and Alijah were getting down to the end of their inventories. Trixie sent out a piece of pocket lint, which Alijah got rid of with a beetle.

They looked at each other blankly for a few minutes, neither quite sure what to do next.

Fate cleared her throat, tossing the empty latte cup into a trash can. “Well, as fascinating as all that was, can we get on with it?”

“Please?” Para whispered, analyzing this new feeling of boredom that she was experiencing.

Trixie shuffled back, muttering. Alijah crossed her arms, glaring at the floor.

“Fine…”

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EXTRA ASIDE:
As you might have gathered, APRIL FOOLS!  This serial post is part of the April Fool’s Serial Swap, an annual event.  This post was written by Sadie, the author of Split Souls (on RoyalRoad), go check out their serial!  I wrote today for Birdy’s serial, Lemongrass: The Chaotic Life of Meadow Song (also on RoyalRoad) and you can see my post at A Kiss from a Rose is like a Thorn in the Eye. And random reminder that my serial Time & Tied can be found on RoyalRoad too.

If you’re interested in more information about the event, and to see all of 2021’s April Fools’ posts, please go to http://theleakingpen.com/?p=113

Added thanks to Alexander Hollins for coordinating and thinking of me as a late join when someone else was unable to write. For Fools nostalgia, you can see the Apr 1st 2018 entry written (in the serial containing Trixie) or the Apr 1st 2016 entry written (which was “Epsilon Project”, this serial).

Regarding the next update, I’m still hoping to get more than two votes for our plot. So I am leaving the previous part poll open into the long weekend, then I’ll have another part out within a week or so. Thanks for reading!

6.17: Field Work

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SMOKE WITH MIRRORS: PART SEVENTEEN

Alijda fought down the urge to panic. The blackness around her was complete, and when she tried to feel for the door she had come through, it wasn’t there. There was only empty space.

She couldn’t teleport without some visual frame of reference. If someone had planned to capture her, this was definitely the best way to go about it.

She shook out her sore fingers and pressed them against her side, listening.

There was a faint hiss of air.

She got down on her hands and knees so as to not stumble over anything, and slowly moved towards the source of the sound. It turned out to be a vent, against a wall. Probably not large enough for her to crawl into, but at least now she knew this was a room with finite space.

Alijda felt along the wall to get a sense of the scope. It took a while.

The room was rectangular, and maybe the size of a standard living room. She had felt what seemed to be a doorway, but with no doorknob. Troublingly, her eyes still hadn’t adjusted to the darkness, meaning there was no light anywhere.

She considered moving across the room diagonally to gauge whether there was anything in the middle.

“There’s a computer terminal.”

Alijda nearly jumped out of her skin at the breathy female voice that came from over her shoulder. She whipped her arm back, encountered nothing, and it smacked into the wall. She cursed, and cradled it.

“Oh, right. I’m not really here, pyon pyon.”

“Beam,” Alijda muttered through clenched teeth. “If you ever sneak up on me like that again, I’m going to reprogram you to be a Roomba for a day.”

“Ouch. Sucking dirt doesn’t sound as fun as sucking–”

“Just… get me to the terminal. Please.”

“Sure thing,” Beam chirped. “It’s embedded in the wall, you’ll have to stand.”

Alijda used the wall to pull herself back up to her feet. “Thank you.”

“And for the record, I’m not actually here, incorporeal or otherwise. Trixie is broadcasting me through the scattering field surrounding the Clover Base. I’m homed in on your communicator.”

Alijda lifted her communicator up to her face, despite not being able to see it. “Sorry, what?”

“We had two options,” Beam elaborated. “Trixie blasts a cancelling wave into space, to penetrate the scattering field, revealing the Clover Base. Or, the stealth method. I get programmed with the cancelling wave, then Trixie blasts my matrix into space, which lets me spot you and Alice.”

“You’re in space?” Alijda said, feeling more confused than ever.

“My perception was, for a moment,” Beam clarified. “Tied in with the station sensors. But now I’m in the room with your communicator. Terminal is about four paces to your right.”

Alijda began to move along the wall. “And Alice?”

“Next room over. Unconscious, pyon pyon,” Beam said. “Best guess, your double was expecting her to come through, and knocked her out. You were more unexpected.”

“You see all this through staring out of our communicators?”

“No. Once I saw where your communicators were, by looking past the scattering field, Trixie cast a spell. It’s projected me next to you. A variant of the spell Kat and Firestorm used to talk to you on our first mission together, incidentally.”

Alijda decided she didn’t really need to be reminded of Kat right now. “I’m sorry I asked.”

“Oh. Sorry I answered? Anyway. We need you to hack this terminal and drop Clover’s scattering field – codenamed Mirrors – so that we can have a chat with Evil Alijdah. To turn the power on, hit the button on the top right.”

Alijda had been feeling around on the terminal to figure out how to activate it. She moved her fingers to where Beam had indicated. “How can you see in the pitch black?”

“The only reason I can’t see in the dark all the time is my human programming. The magic circumvents – you’ve got it, there.”

“Gyah!” Alijda gasped, throwing her arm up. The terminal had indeed activated, shining a blinding light right into her face.

“Sorry,” Beam apologized. “Didn’t know it would do that.”

Alijda sighed into her arm. “Okay, what now?”

She instinctively turned to look for Beam, spots dancing in front of her eyes. But the hologram was truly a disembodied voice, somehow being transmitted through magic.

“Beats me,” came Beam’s ghostly answer. “You’re the hacker. Again, not really here, pyon pyon. Let me know if there’s anything more we need to do on our end.”

“Right, fine,” Alijda sighed, rubbing her thumb and forefinger across her eyes before looking more closely at the terminal. The illumination offered a better look at its control pad on the wall, and she saw there was a virtual keyboard option on the screen. Good enough.

Accessing the base system turned out to be pretty easy, given the assumption that she was up against herself – or at minimum someone who had similar thought processes.

Unfortunately, Alijda realized pretty quickly though that trying to do anything that related to base security was too heavily safeguarded. It would take hours. She said as much.

“Hmm. Trixie wonders whether you can Borg their system,” Beam supplied. “That is, don’t go for a critical subcommand, but something low priority that will achieve the result we want.”

Alijda frowned. “I mean, maybe they’d have to drop their field for certain emergencies… or for propulsion… or communications?”

She tapped at the keyboard. What she found minutes later surprised her.

“Uh, Beam? Clover Enterprises sent Epsilon the first encrypted communication. The one that brought us all here.”

“What? No, Fate thinks it was Vortex Limited on Bunny World who broadcasted a–”

“I’m telling you, it’s right here in these logs,” Alijda insisted. “Clover are the ones who brought Epsilon in.”

“What? But why would they do that?”

Alijda shook her head. “All I’ve got is a notation in the file: ‘Epsilon can handle this’. Meaning in the best case, Clover wanted someone who could fix the whole pandemic mess they helped to initiate. And we’d be the only ones equipped for it. In terms of seeing all the dimensions.”

In fact, they HAD fixed it, if Beam’s vaccine efforts using Para’s bunny-ness as a baseline was any indication. Then again, in the worst case, maybe Alijdah had selfishly wanted Epsilon to come and provide her with a cure for her own bunny condition. ‘This’ was rather vague.

“Maybe Clover have a rogue agent who know about us,” Beam mused.

Or that, Alijda granted. She couldn’t find any other details, except to verify the message had definitely been sent after the Smoke pandemic had started, meaning after Clover had finished their dealings with Vortex.

“Could also be the Clover group is still hanging around to see if we spot them,” Alijda mused. “Testing out this ‘Mirrors’ field. Recruiting in the meantime.”

“Either way, this is good. I can use my proto-vaccine as a bargaining chip when we talk,” Beam said. “Could help to divine their true intentions.”

“Maybe.” Alijda scrolled through a few more communications logs, but found no way for the system to trip the scattering field. She was going to have to try something else.

She typed in a quick program, then went to sift through personnel files.

“Alijda? While the files on people might be useful later, I think we need to stay focussed on the one goal now.”

“Kinda sorta doing that,” Alijda said. There it was. A file on her. Two files, actually… she pulled up the one that didn’t have a small ‘Epsilon’ flag next to it.

The first paragraph was very illuminating as far as her double’s origins. She only got as far as another few sentences, before the terminal glowed red and stopped accepting inputs.

“That can’t be good,” Beam said.

Alijda smiled. “Actually…”

With a click, the small terminal speaker began broadcasting a bizarre anime mashup of Rick Astley.

Alijda folded her arms. “I set the system to broadcast that on ALL internal communications if a data breach was detected,” Alijda remarked. “Pretty sure the only way for them to shut it down is a complete reboot, which should also take the scattering field offline.”

“Huh. Nice. Trixie applauds your use of an Iconian-style virus. Meaning the rebooting; I think it’s another Star Trek reference.”

“While Alice would approve, and she is the reason I know how to access that tune, tell Trixie I like her more for her tech savvy.”

Beam giggled. “Mmmmm, meanwhile I like Trixie more for her–”

“I can guess,” Alijda interrupted. And everything went pitch black again.

“Okay, stuff’s happening our end, going to need to call you back,” Beam said. “Thank you for your help!”

“Any time,” Alijda murmured. As she stood in the dark, she considered once again what she’d read in the file.

***

Beam

CHIBI BEAM (pre-bunny)
Commission from Gen Ishihara

Beam stepped out of the circle of sparklers, to look at the main view screen. It took up almost a quarter of the large circular room, across from the main computer banks, but there was never much cause to use it.

“That Clover station looks like us,” she remarked.

“It does,” Fate agreed, frowning.

The Clover Base had shimmered briefly, off what Alijda had done. Fate had quickly sent them a hailing communication, implying that the cat was out of the bag. And so they had dropped their scattering field technology, allowing for both a scan and a visual reference.

It was not a ship. Like them, Clover had a Hub, but instead of being central, it was more towards one side. Then four branches extended up. And instead of them being circular, they were shaped like clovers. The effect was vaguely fractal.

Beam glanced around the room to see how the others were taking it.

Para’s ears were quivering, but otherwise she kept quiet, as she had for a majority of the time during the implementing of Trixie’s plan. Fate looked all business as usual, briefly glancing down at a remote which would allow her to use the computers without turning her back on the view screen.

Trixie was bouncing on her heels, seeming quite excited at the prospect of everything finally coming to a conclusion. Or perhaps she was more excited that this might lead to her using the Epsilon system interface she’d designed.

Trixie really was delectable.

“They’ve targeted us with weapons,” Fate remarked, pulling Beam’s attention back.

“D-Do we have shields up?” Para murmured.

“Naturally,” Fate said. “But our systems are more designed for handling damage due to our surroundings, not active attacks. So I’m not sure how this will go. We don’t have anything worthwhile to arm in response, either.”

“We have me,” Trixie said, a smirk appearing. “That’s good enough.”

“Hail them again, until they answer,” Beam suggested.

Fate nodded in agreement, and tapped at her remote. Long seconds passed. Finally, there was a chirping noise, and Fate tapped another button, allowing the face of Evil Alijdah to appear, filling most of the view screen.

“I’m going to go with my double being more resourceful than I gave her credit for,” Alijdah said dryly. “Rather than you being more perceptive. That said, she’s obviously over here. Along with your Alice. If you want them back unharmed, you’ll need to accede to our demands. Immediately.”

Beam shook her head. “If YOU truly want the vaccine, YOU’LL accede to OUR demands.”

Fate took a step back, seemingly deferring to Beam’s authority. Which, Beam supposed, made sense, if the plan was still for her to take over commanding the station again. Once the current crisis was passed.

Alijdah glared. “What good is a vaccine to me? I’m already infected, obviously.”

Beam placed her hands on her hips. “What good? Well, supposedly the virus will run its course and you’ll lose the ears… but you could be reinfected by Smoke. Or any of its variations. You don’t know. Or perhaps this way you can travel back in time to inoculate yourself and then just fake having the disease now. Then there’s also the fact that my vaccine COULD cure any lasting aftereffects. We don’t know, as we haven’t been able to go through trials yet. All good reasons to back the hell off.”

Alijdah continued to glare for a moment, only to finally grumble, “Valid points. Fine, we’ll trade access to your medication for your people.”

“No. You returning our people is a gesture of goodwill towards negotiations for the medication,” Beam shot back. Adding, “pyon pyon” as her tongue started to feel twisted up once more.

Alijdah snorted. “No. Hell, maybe all I have to do is wait, and either you or the people on that planet will have a vaccine we can barter for, or otherwise steal. Who needs you?”

“You sent us the message,” Beam insisted. “You brought us here. You thought we were the only ones who could solve this. For that matter, you may have already caught only a variation. I haven’t heard a single pyon pyon from you yet. How much are you going to risk here?”

Alijdah muttered something under her breath. She couldn’t be sure, but Beam thought it was something to the effect of having only needed another hour, and they wouldn’t have had to haggle.

“This offer is going to expire in a minute,” Beam insisted. “Do you accept?”

“Or what?” Alijdah argued. “You may have found us, but I don’t think you have the resources to disable our station. And if you try to board us, or beam your people back, you’re basically asking for trouble. Why should we even listen to you?”

“Because of Trixie,” Beam said, turning to look at the twin-tailed redhead. “It’s time.”

Trixie’s eyes lit up. She plucked her small device from out of her blouse pocket and held it aloft. “Rixi? Epsilon interface. Authorization, alpha-alpha-three-zero-five.”

“All right,” her device intoned, in an imitation of Trixie’s voice. “Interfacing.” The red crystal seemed to glow brighter.

“Oh no,” Alijdah deadpanned. “You’re going to sic your techno-witch girlfriend on me. She’d better not try to board either.”

Trixie swung her arm out to the side, glaring at the view screen. “Rixi? Materialize delivery gun.”

Beam had wondered about Trixie’s need for Para’s expertise in density suits, and shrinking or enlarging things on a temporary basis. Apparently, what Trixie had needed was an interface that could be equally compatible with her personal magick hammerspace.

This had been the reason.

A globe of light appeared, hovering briefly over the screen of Trixie’s device. Almost immediately, it’s radius expanded, and it shot up into the air, under the control of Epsilon’s computer. Soon there was a huge sphere hanging over the central hub of the Epsilon Station itself.

Then the light was dispelled, leaving an enormous version of what had – once upon a time – been a nerf gun.

Trixie mimicked cocking the gun using her free hand, and on a display in the background, Beam saw the huge delivery gun respond to her action.

“Not. Girlfriends,” was all she added, with an impish smile.

Alijah’s eyes widened. She turned to look at something out of their field of view, and then looked back. Again there was muttering, but this time, all Beam could pick up on was curse words.

“So,” Beam continued. “Return our people. Enter into a dialogue about receiving our medication, which will naturally involve you not interfering in other dimensional worlds again. Otherwise? Trixie starts her deliveries.”

Alijah’s face twitched. “Well then,” she began.

OPTIONS:

VOTING CLOSES MONDAY MARCH 22nd APRIL 2nd.

(can we get more than one vote?)

Previous INDEX 6 Next

PATHS NOT TAKEN:
The direct approach would have resulted in a standoff. Alijah would have explained her origins in an attempt to distract the group, as some attempt was made to steal Beam’s pandemic research. The additional analysis route would have attempted a mind swap, during which time a successful attempt would have occurred to steal Beam’s research. We got the situation of breaking into files to see the true origin of the message, leading to this bartering of sorts. The middle ground, I suppose?

THE ORACLE PROPHESIED:
Trixie’s Mirrors project comes to a head with her interfacing Rixi and bringing back the gun from Part One. (That had to come back, right?) Meanwhile it was intended from the beginning for Clover to have sent the message to Epsilon; the talk of time travel and Fate’s suggestion of Vortex being the origins were all misdirection. (After all, Clover was the main lead-in of Part Two, and is central to this “Epsilon Trilogy” of sorts.)

EXTRA ASIDE:
Had a three way tied vote after a week, which was fortunately broken shortly thereafter. Closed the poll early Tuesday, been writing the last couple days. For what it’s worth. I hope you’ve enjoyed… site traffic has definitely not been great in general. Let me know if you think there’s a loose end in the story that I need to tie up, we’re almost done.

6.16: Door Stop

Previous INDEX 6 Next

SMOKE WITH MIRRORS: PART SIXTEEN

By the time Alice arrived at the fight, there were a half dozen fires burning.

Alice wasn’t clear on why Evil Alijdah was willing to allow for collateral damage. She only knew their Alijda planned to fake-out her double, tricking her into leaving, meaning Alice would need to track Alijdah back to her base.

Alice hoped it was true that Alijdah couldn’t teleport like their Alijda, or all this setup would be for nothing.

“This is what happens when you stir up trouble, Avril,” grumbled a quiet voice behind Alice.

Alice jumped, and looked over her shoulder. It was Harriet, the woman who had made the link for her between Alijdah and Clover Enterprises. A few townspeople were observing the scene by now.

“I… didn’t expect an Alijda to fight herself?” was all Alice could think to say.

“One of ’em is a fake,” Harriet scoffed. “Maybe both of ’em. Mercury better get here soon, that’s all I can say.”

Alice blinked. “Mercury?”

“Pandemic gave her control over water,” Harriet elaborated, gesturing at the nearest fire. “She can get this under control pretty quick.”

Alice had no time to follow up on that, since her communicator chirped. The sign that Alijda was about to enact her plan. Her plan of a blind teleport.

Of course, the chirp had originated with the Epsilon station itself, Alijda being rather preoccupied.

While the improved Epsilon communicators had allowed for Alijda to speak directly with Alice, here they needed the Station to monitor too. Specifically, the place Alijda had chosen as a teleport site. To make sure it was clear of people.

Apparently, it now was.

Alice remained hesitant about this plan, yet they hadn’t really been able to discuss it, what with Alijda being on the run. Now they were committed.

Alijda appeared via a teleport into the middle of the square.

Alijdah ran out of a side passage moments later, drawing another bead with her gun.

“Look, you’re right,” Alijda called out, seemingly in response to something her counterpart had said while out of earshot. “I can’t keep doing this. Why don’t we talk? Your bunny ears, for instance, we can help–”

“SHUT. UP,” Alijdah yelled. “FOREVER.”

She fired off another pulse from her ray gun. Alijda vanished in her usual cloud of purple and black smoke.

Except she didn’t.

As the smoke rapidly dissipated, Alice saw that Alijda was still standing there, clutching at her front. “Hell,” Alijda choked out, stumbling backwards.

Her foot hit the edge of a loosely boarded up old well behind her, she fell back against the planks, they cracked, and she plunged down into the abyss below.

Alice honestly felt her chest tighten, and she instinctively reached up to clutch at her tunic. That had been way too convincing. Had Alijda truly managed to teleport away from the energy ray, and then immediately back, as planned? Or had the plan gone wrong?

Even if that had worked, had Alijda’s blind teleport out of the well been successful?

Evil Alijdah was naturally suspicious, edging towards the well. It’s like she was expecting Alijda to teleport in behind her, and push her inside the hole. In the end, she got down on one knee to move in and peer over the edge.

It must have been too deep to know. Alijdah, at least, seemed satisfied.

“You’ll have nothing to worry about regarding that lady trying to recruit again,” Alijdah announced, standing up and looking over at some of the bystanders. An audacious lie.

Even more people were around by now, along with Alice and Harriet. Some were trying to deal with the largest of the fires, but most had been too nervous to move. What with how the fight had tended to change locations.

Alijdah proceeded to stalk out of the area, with no further comment. No one tried to stop her. Alice supposed that was the sensible thing to do, under the circumstances.

Alice immediately gave chase, ignoring Harriet’s quiet mutter of “Avril, you’re crazy”.

She wasn’t that crazy though. As she followed, Alice tried to keep hidden. Peering around the corners of the houses, as she tracked the fake version of her roommate. Making a mad dash forwards whenever she was able.

Fortunately, it wasn’t long before Alijdah tapped at something on her wrist, and walked into what looked like a tool shed, out behind one of the houses. After a minute of waiting for her to come out with a tool, Alice circled around to see if there was another exit.

There was not. The building was quite small. What was Alijdah doing in there?

The natural answer, to Alice at least, is that it wasn’t a tool shed. Maybe, like the telephone pole on Bunny World, it hid some sort of secret elevator. To an underground base.

Seconds ticked by. Alice finally decided she would have to risk going in.

At least this time, she wouldn’t have Trixie smooshed up against her for any length of time. Even if that had been her own suggestion on the prior mission.

“Ubi fumus, ibi ignis,” Alice muttered to herself as she reached for the doorknob.

***

“Alice has vanished from our sensors.”

Alijda forced herself to sit back up. “What now?”

Over the communicator, Fate sighed. “I’m sure you heard me.”

(Chibi Alijda)

Alijda van Vliet (chibi).
Commission from: Shirochya

Alijda pressed her palm in hard against her forehead. She’d hoped to take a longer rest after all those teleports to avoid her alternate self, but apparently that wasn’t going to happen. “When? Where was she?”

“Moments ago. She was a short distance away in town. Kind of hoping you can check this out.”

“You can’t?” Alijda grumbled.

“We’d focussed our sensors on where you are, to make sure your teleport would be clear,” Fate reminded. “It’s taking a while to recalibrate.”

“Uh huh.” Alijda pushed herself to her feet.

She was in a grassy meadow. It might double as someone’s backyard, since there was a house nearby, but the grass was long enough to obscure her when lying down. The twisted tree next to her been a good marker to visualize, in terms of accomplishing her blind teleport.

She really hated doing those… her stomach still felt queasy.

“I’m on my way,” Alijda said, stumbling as she walked. “Direct me.”

Fate had her standing outside a tool shed in less than five minutes.

“I don’t see anything around,” Alijda said. “No sign of a struggle, no message left behind, no nothing. You think Alice is inside this little shed, shielded from sensors somehow?”

“No. At least, the interior registers for us,” Fate amended. “So it’s not shielded. But I guess it could be a false reading.”

Alijda shook her head. “Opening the door then,” she announced.

The door pulled out, and inside there was only blackness. A pitch black that seemed impossible to achieve, given how there should have been some light spilling in from the doorway itself. Strange.

“Alice? Are you there?” Alijda yelled.

There was no answer.

“I’m going to poke my head in,” Alijda decided. “And report on what I see.”

“Be careful,” Fate cautioned. “Magic has a tendency to produce strange effects at the best of times. That world right now? Could be producing anything.”

“Great.” Alijda held onto the door frame and leaned in. The blackness enveloped her.

Before she could even speak, the door was slamming shut, bruising her fingers.

***

“Okay,” Fate said after a moment. “We’ve officially gone from bad to worse.”

Para felt her ears twitch as she looked at the blank screen. There should have been a green dot there, denoting Alijda’s position. Technically two, as one should be pinpointing Alice as being there also.

Para had come to the main control room after Fate’s universal page, stating ‘Warning: A situation is developing’. Alice had vanished before Para had even arrived.

Neither Beam, nor Trixie, had made an effort to respond yet. Para hoped that they weren’t asleep, or more awkwardly, keeping each other busy.

“You think Alijdah is on to them?” Para wondered. “Led them into a trap?”

“Either that, or there’s more to this World than what we see on the surface,” Fate said. She glared at the screen. “Thing is, I don’t know of anything, magical or technological, that can spirit people away like that.”

“Aside from us,” Para reminded.

Fate turned to stare at her instead. “Pardon?”

“This Station does teleport retrievals,” Para reminded. “Someone walks through a door on their world, they end up here, in our Control room. Happens all the time to me. Right?”

“Right,” Fate said slowly. “Our door manipulation power.” She turned back to stare at the blank monitor. “Oh. Oh, damn. Hold on.”

Para watched as Fate entered a sequence into the computer, and ran her finger down the screen as some sort of result scrolled across it.

“You did it, Para. Signs of door manipulation. Alice, both Alijdas, all transported using the tool shed as a doorway. But how could they get so far away as to not be picked up again by our Station sensors?”

Para shrugged, having never looked into the door technology herself. It had always seemed more mystical than mathematical.

“Seriously now,” Fate continued, seemingly talking more to herself at this point. “We’re tapped into three Worlds at once. No reading. What other World could they have gone to? Even doors have limits. Deeper scan maybe?”

Fate typed at her keyboard for a minute, frowned, muttered ‘no dice’, then looked at Para.

“Okay Para, new thought,” Fate said. “Alijdah used that door first. Where would SHE have been going? Any more brilliant ideas?”

Para was tempted to shrug again, but instead offered up, “Somewhere we can’t scan. Like when Trixie and Alice vanished, back in Jake Hyde’s underground lab.”

Fate pointed at her. “Nice. Yet you were able to punch through that time, with the sensor enhancements.”

“Because we knew where to look,” Para admitted. “This time, we don’t know. And we don’t have pylons to triangulate, giving us a necessary signal boost.”

“True,” Fate agreed. “But we DO know the origins of that scattering field technology. Maybe Trixie hacks back into Vortex Limited to find–”

Fate stopped speaking, tapped at her chin, then pushed back from the side of the keyboard and crossed her arms.

“Go with me on this,” Fate requested. “Do your good listening thing, and tell me if I’m off base. Okay Para?”

Para nodded, having no idea where Fate was going with this.

“This all started thanks to an encrypted communication we received. It led to a scan we did on this dimensional sector. Turning up the airborne virus.” She paused.

“Correct,” Para said.

“Thing is, the scan message didn’t tell us to look for a virus. Just that we needed to scan here. And Smoke, pandemic-wise, turned out to be natural. Almost. Meaning the only real reason we’re here is due to that communication.”

She paused again, and this time Para simply nodded and shrugged.

“Okay. So what if the first message wasn’t about Smoke at all? What if it was meant to help us locate something else?”

Para considered that. “You mean Clover Enterprises?” She was reminded of Mason’s comment about how the best place to stay hidden would be somewhere like a pandemic world. Somewhere nobody wants to go.

“Maybe,” Fate said. “But it may also be that Clover was drawn here by the same communication. In fact, hmm… what if the message was meant for THEM? And we simply intercepted a subspace copy?”

Para raised her eyebrows. “That could explain how they got here first, indirectly setting off the pandemic.”

“Okay,” Fate said, smiling. “We’re onto something. Bunny World flags the dimensions. Clover Enterprises responds. They get an artifact, or… you know what? Maybe this is about the scattering field technology. Honestly, it’s so unique that it could be at the heart of all this.”

“It IS something that would allow Clover to hide from this Station,” Para mused. “They’d like that. I think the Vortex documents referred to that particular tech as Mirrors?”

Fate nodded. “All right. So, Vortex Bunnies broadcast that there’s something here worth investigating. Clover comes for Mirrors. We pick up the same message later, after the pandemic, and assume it’s about the virus, Smoke.”

“Because after Clover’s techno-magic soup, Smoke became the bigger dimensional issue.”

“Right,” Fate said. “Yet we know Clover didn’t leave after that. Because Evil Alijdah was on the planet moments ago, trying to recruit.”

“All of this implying that Clover Enterprises have their own station here,” Para decided. “Or at least some ship, set up to receive encrypted messages in the same way as us.”

“And for all we know, their vessel could be off our port,” Fate concluded. “If they’re using Mirrors, we have no way of knowing. Short of setting up signal boosting pylons.”

“Exactly,” Para realized.

“Almost,” came a voice from above.

Para looked up, to see Trixie at the hatch in the ceiling. The redheaded techno-witch smiled, then reached out to flick the nearby switch. She began to ride the telescoping ladder down to the floor, in much the same way Fate had done it at their first meeting.

“Do elaborate,” Fate said, hands going to her hips.

Trixie ran her free hand back through one of her twintails, then the other. “Simply that my earlier analysis of that scattering field may pay off now. If what you’re saying is true, we CAN find them.”

Even as Fate seemed about to say something else, Trixie’s smile shifted to a more serious expression.

“The question becomes, do you want them to know that we see them?” Trixie continued. “Because that’s what will happen. And while it may make this Clover group hesitate in their future use of the tech, it may also get them upset.”

“Is there another option?” Para asked.

Trixie hopped off the ladder. “I could be more stealthy about finding them. There’s less of a guarantee of success, unless we assume that Alice or Alijda are already on this ship, and can do more on their end.”

“Trixie, we don’t know their status,” Fate objected.

Para looked back and forth between the other two. “Nothing says we have to act now,” she offered up. “We could do more research first. Fate could try to mind swap with Alice again. Something like that.”

Fate shook her head. “At this point, I don’t think Alijda-h is going to hang around any longer than she has to. We may already be too late.”

Trixie nodded. “Sums up my analysis. Glad it’s not my call,” she added.

OPTIONS:

VOTING CLOSES MONDAY MARCH 8th.

Previous INDEX 6 Next

PATHS NOT TAKEN:
The capturing of Evil Alijdah would not have worked, leading to a bigger battle – while also providing more backstory of Alijda-h relative to the version we know. The bargaining with Alijdah would have worked, but owing to a misunderstanding (or other influence) would still have led to a larger conflict. The fake-out was actually middle ground… as you see, it sort of worked? We’ve had revelations of a different nature, but have now split the party. And Alijdah may have prisoners.

THE ORACLE PROPHESIED:
Trixie was always going to have to come through at some point – she started this whole serial saga. So when the vote sent Alijda down to the planet with Alice instead of her, Trixie’s Mirrors project was retroactively born (in part 14) as her contribution. (Incidentally, the ‘Mirrors’ codename was not pre-planned, but I’d say it meshes nicely with the title now.)

EXTRA ASIDE:
I actually forgot to close the poll until yesterday. Oops. Writing was mostly done, good thing it was unanimous, hard for that to change. Enjoying the twists at all? Or perhaps they were too predictable. We’re probably looking to wrap this up in the next few instalments, wouldn’t you say? In any event, thank you for your continued interest. Hope you continue to vote.

6.15: Self Doubts

Previous INDEX 6 Next

SMOKE WITH MIRRORS: PART FIFTEEN

“Trixie?”

The redheaded techno-witch heard her name, but took a moment to finish her installation of the transmitter underneath the control panel. Then, after she’d finished twisting the small wires together, she took a moment to inspect her handiwork. It was good enough.

“Trixie, the other women are looking for you.”

trixie

TRIXIE VIRGA
Commission from Sen Yomi

A sigh escaped. Trixie began to shove herself back from her position, flat on her back with most of her body stuck far underneath the console. “What do they want, Para?” she asked.

“Fate wants to be able to synthesize some clothes for Alijda,” came Para’s voice. “And Beam is feeling horny.”

Trixie nearly bashed her forehead against the edge of the apparatus as she extracted herself. She caught herself just in time, shoved herself the extra distance necessary, and THEN lifted her head, staring up at the mathematical bunny girl.

Para stood there, hands clasped behind her back, looking as innocent as you please. The blonde’s head tilted as Trixie stared. “Problem?”

Trixie sighed again. She’d needed to work with Para, on account of the mathematical woman knowing about making things shrink or grow temporarily. Apparently Para had even managed to devise density suits for another mission.

And on the face of it, there was nothing wrong about working with Para. As long as it’s work that was involved. Since Para couldn’t consistently pick up on social norms.

“Could we maybe use a euphemism for that word next time?” Trixie requested.

Para frowned. “For horny? I was just repeating what Beam said.”

“I know,” Trixie assured. “But find a thesaurus. Squirrelly. Overexcited. Concupiscent, perhaps, that sounds well educated.”

Para stared, then simply nodded. “Okay.”

“It’s less distracting,” Trixie clarified. “Particularly when I’ll need only five minutes here to get Fate what she wants, before in all probability losing at least an hour of time to…” A shiver ran up her back at the mere thought of some of the things the bunny-infected Beam was able to do. “…pleasurable stuff.”

Para half smiled at that. “Okay, I think I get it now.”

Trixie stood, raking her fingers back through her twintails before reaching down to dust off her pants. “You think. You’re not sure.”

There was a moment of hesitation. “I’m more mathematical than sexual. Part of me is still trying to figure out Beam’s appeal.”

Trixie hid a smile. “Maybe you’ll find out out the hard way. If I mistake you for her in the dark some day, on account of the long, blonde hair and bunny ears.”

“Uh… i-is that likely?” Para said, sounding genuinely concerned.

Trixie shook her head. “Nope!” She reached out to pat the math woman on her arm.

“Listen. It’s not just the look, Para. It’s the attitude, and the things that Beam can do…” Trixie shook her head. “You have to experience them to understand. The way I did. It’s more than mere holographic programming. It’s somehow magical.”

This despite how the fling with Beam had started as more of an effort in self-discovery. Was sex a viable way to release tension after being stuck on this station for a couple weeks? Was the hologram’s appeal more physical, more technological, or perhaps some pull of Trixie’s techno-magic interest asserting itself?

Worse, was there a blind spot in Trixie’s own personality that Beam could reveal, to prevent future exploitation?

Their relationship had deteriorated rather rapidly into ‘yes-there-YES-oh-Gods-how-did-you-know-oh-OH’ but Trixie still hazarded that a later examination of this affair once she was back on her home world would prove illuminating. She was pretty sure she wasn’t simply fooling herself.

Pretty sure.

Plus she’d thought their recreational activities had helped Beam regain more control over herself too, furthering the goal of getting home at all. It was presumably the hologram’s hyper speed, necessary for seeking a cure to the pandemic, which had resulted in new side effects.

Trixie rather hoped Beam’s plans for her didn’t involve hyper speed too.

“I’ll take your word for it,” Para said, pulling Trixie out of her thoughts. “And sorry for being distracting.”

Trixie coughed, realizing she was now staring into space with her hands clasped together. She hoped she wasn’t blushing. Yes, time to get the rest of the Station back online.

“It’s fine,” Trixie said, gesturing vaguely as she turned and typed in her access code on the nearby keyboard. “What’s Alijda need new clothes for anyway?”

“Apparently there’s some double of her, or maybe a future version, down on the Fantasy planet,” Para explained. “So Alijda is going to pose as this Alijdah to get information about Clover Enterprises.”

Trixie frowned. That was distracting in a different way. “Here’s something I’ve wondered,” she said as she typed. “This Station exists out in a dimensional multiverse, right?”

“Right,” Para agreed.

“Where anything we dream about might actually be happening. Personified Math, Time Lords, Magical Girls, Demon Plagues, the whole nine yards. It might all exist.”

“So it seems,” Para affirmed when Trixie paused.

Trixie took the time to look up at Para. “Then are there other versions of us running around? Like is there another me out there, Mirror Universe style, who comes from a more aggressive human society or something?”

On the one hand, Trixie rather liked the idea that if she were to die – or for that matter, ascend like her cousin – there might be some other version of her still out there. Living a full life. On the other hand, if alt-Trixie was a wallflower or a dominatrix, she wasn’t sure she wanted the association.

Para’s nose crinkled as she considered the question. Trixie resumed her typing.

“I don’t think so,” Para said, after at least a minute of thought. “From what I understand, the Station registers dimensional access points using a tethered World which is dominant. The millions of individual decisions made in the framework of said world don’t manifest in an accessible way.”

“Yet there are separate Worlds out there with related events and objects. I’ve seen resonance scans, which can be used for pinpointing them,” Trixie insisted.

Trixie wasn’t entirely sure she was supposed to have seen that data, but she’d needed a break from her work last week and the files had not been well encrypted.

“That’s possible,” Para yielded. “But there’s still the Observer Effect to contend with.”

“Ah!” Valid point. “You mean as soon as we measure something out here, like the Smoke pandemic, any other waveform versions of it collapse,” Trixie clarified. That made some sense, at least.

“It seems logical,” Para stated.

Trixie paused in her typing. “Implying that any other versions of us who once existed are simply already a part of who we are now, or are at the least not capable of manifesting along with us inter-dimensionally.”

It was an answer that was something of a non-answer, in that it implied other Trixies COULD exist, but were incapable of being perceived by anyone once Trixie herself had shown up.

“Right. Though, I mean, there’s another version of me who exists with parabolic twintails, so what do I know,” Para said, ruefully.

Trixie again glanced at the blonde. “Oh? A ‘version’ isn’t really you though, is she? Different history and all?”

“True,” Para said. She tapped her chin. “Why these sudden questions, Trixie? Do you think Alijda could be going up against a quantum version of herself?”

“What I think about that,” Trixie said, as she entered the last command sequence, “Is merely an idle curiosity. What concerns me more is what else might be out there.”

As Trixie hit Enter and stepped back from the keyboard, she took a moment to watch the data scroll across the monitor. Her new system was coming online, along with the regular Station systems she’d temporarily shut down. She’d want to run a test, but could do it later.

“Go tell Fate she has access to the systems she needs,” Trixie concluded. “I’m off to see Beam.”

“Okay. Enjoy being concupiscent,” Para said brightly.

Trixie managed to avoid stumbling as she strode out of the room.

***

Alijda had to hand it to her counterpart. Her Clover Enterprises version was cagey.

Despite spending a couple of hours now in her disguise, there was no new information to be had. Even talking with those individuals who had previously communicated with her/Alijdah didn’t reveal anything, because her doppelgänger hadn’t said much to them in the first place.

To maximize their efforts, as it had taken some time for Alijda to obtain a change of clothing and begin her investigation, Alice had also wandered through the village under her Avril persona. To see if she could learn more about being recruited.

Neither of them were making progress. One person had even pointed Alice/Avril at Alijda/Alijdah, which felt like backwards progress.

“At what point do we switch and go with the vaccine trial plan?” Alijda asked, speaking into her communicator.

She heard the frustration in Alice’s response. “An hour ago? Sorry Alijda, I guess this was the wrong call.”

Alijda shook her head, nearly dislodging the large hat she wore, for what felt like the sixtieth time. “No worries. As it is, I’ve been acting visibly shady. So maybe the possible recruits will be turned off, and not end up as new Clover victims.”

“But getting at the Clover organization was the ultimate goal here! We cannot allow–” Alice began, only to cut herself off. She sighed. “I should stop obsessing there, huh?”

“At some point, yes. For now, I’ll keep at this, as I haven’t run into that Jonas recruit yet, and he might know…” She stopped.

And whatever Alice might have responded, Alijda missed it, as her attention had been taken by the woman who had walked around the nearby house. That brunette was immediately staring at her, arms folded.

It was nonsensical, but Alijda briefly wondered if she’d been born a twin.

“I’ll have to get back to you,” Alijda said, lowering the communicator.

“Let me guess,” Evil Alijdah said. “You’re wondering if I might be some future version of yourself. If so, you’d be immune from harm, lest I become the cause of my own past discomfort. Yes?”

Alijda didn’t answer.

The corners of her counterpart’s mouth turned up. “Allow me to correct your thinking.”

It was largely instinct that caused Alijda to teleport away as her counterpart brought out the weapon. It looked to be some sort of ray gun.

As Alijda reappeared behind her double, she saw that Evil Alijdah had fired anyway, a laser passing through the purple cloud of her teleport smoke to strike the nearby building.

A small fire began to burn.

Evil Alijdah was then quick to pick up on Alijda’s new position. “It seems like we can’t talk about this?” Alijda managed to say, before teleporting away again.

She appeared on the roof. Her counterpart’s gun started another fire.

This wasn’t what Alijda had pictured when she’d worried about everything going sideways. And even as she wondered why Evil Alijdah was damaging the village, she realized that her counterpart could later pin the blame back on HER as having been the one with the gun.

Maybe even use this event as a reason to leave with her recruits.

“I can do this all day,” Evil Alijdah shouted, not having immediately spotted the teleport this time. She then fired into a nearby tree, perhaps owing to a rustling of the branches.

Okay, that gun had to go.

Taking in a deep breath, Alijda teleported right next to her counterpart, reaching out to grab her arm. They struggled, Alijda attempting to get the other woman to drop her weapon, with Evil Alijdah trying to draw a bead on her.

In the process of shoving back and forth, Alijda felt her hat fall to the ground… and vaguely wondered why that hadn’t happened yet for her counterpart. In fact, why the large hat at all?

Along that line of thinking, perhaps she was fighting a robot double, or a hologram. Perhaps with a power source contained inside the hat, much like how Beam’s hairband was a control point for her. Maybe it was even a weak point?

Alijda decided to risk it. Giving up on the gun, which threw her counterpart off balance, she grasped the hat and yanked it away.

Two bunny ears unfurled from beneath it, twitching as Evil Alijdah let out a string of curses.

It looked like somehow, she’d been infected with the pandemic from Bunny World.

‘This changes things,’ Alijda thought, even as she quickly teleported back to her rooftop. But Evil Alijdah saw her this time, necessitating another teleport to behind the house.

A new plan was forming. Perhaps they could try to bargain with Evil Alijdah, using their vaccine? They could cure her, in exchange for leaving this World (maybe even the multiverse) alone.

Then again, the bunny effects WOULD disappear in time (supposedly), and her counterpart didn’t seem to be in a bargaining mood. Success there depended on how annoying the virus had become.

Alternatively, they could try to capture Evil Alijdah. Her double hadn’t teleported herself in pursuit. Perhaps because she couldn’t? The circumstances which had led to Alijda’s power were bizarre enough to be impossible to duplicate.

So Alice could come in from behind, and zap the woman somehow… but perhaps Evil Alijdah had other forms of backup. How big was Clover Enterprises?

A fake-out seemed like the only other option, somehow appearing to die – maybe by have a building collapse on her? – after which Alice could pursue Evil Alijdah when she left. Hopefully returning to wherever she’d come from.

Which was all well and good, assuming Evil Alijdah wasn’t inclined to search for a body.

Whatever the decision, Alijda had to make it fast.

OPTIONS:

VOTING CLOSES MONDAY FEBRUARY 22nd.

Previous INDEX 6 Next

PATHS NOT TAKEN:
The tied vote was artificial (see Aside below) so we got violence escalating between the two Alijdas. Had Alice posed as Avril, she would have been a little over eager, possibly falling into a trap (and a reveal we’ll still get later)… I still gave a nod to that, of sorts. Had they attempted to recruit for the vaccine, there would have been a reveal that they were playing into Clover’s hands (given Alijdah’s condition), but with the chance of a reversal.

EXTRA ASIDE:
As usual, we had the one initial vote when the last post went up. Towards the end of January I made another social media call, and got a couple more… including a message that someone had meant to vote for Alijda and had voted for Alice. I can’t take back votes, but CAN vote myself (though I never do) so I voted for Alijda. Meaning the vote SHOULD be 2-1-1 but is instead 2-2-1, hence paying some lip service to Alice/Avril. Closed the vote Feb 5th but was still tied up in report cards, so only started writing Feb 13th. I do have more time to write for the moment, so we’re returning to posts every two weeks until mid-April. Thank you for getting this far!