Alice began humming ‘Under Pressure’ by Queen, as she waited for Marlin to say which way to go. If he recognized the tune, he didn’t say, and she couldn’t see his expression in the dark. Finally, he remarked only, “Fine, if it’s up to me, how about another left turn in my life.”
“Analogies work,” Alice agreed. She felt along the left hand passage of the T-Intersection, eventually coming to a dead end. Or what seemed at first to be a dead end. Alice was plenty suspicious of the faint light coming from a knothole in the large wood panel blocking the passage. But she wasn’t sure if she should bend down to peer through.
“You think there’s a coded door here too?” Marlin asked from behind her.
“Maaaaybe,” Alice mused. She poked her fingers tentatively into the knothole, found she could jiggle the entire panel, and soon the wooden barrier slid to the side, into the wall. She grinned. “Or maybe not.”
The faint light was now a vertical crack, as there was a visible set of doors in front of them. Though between them and those doors was hanging a number of dark robes. They had apparently found their way into the back of a wardrobe.
Alice reached out to grab one of the robes, and she started putting it on. They knew what she looked like, after all, so a disguise seemed sensible.
“It’s like we’re in that children’s book,” Marlin remarked, moving past her to peer out of the partly open wardrobe door. “That one about the lion.”
“Oh, I hope not,” Alice mused. “As if this is Narnia, I’m in real trouble for being rescued, what with the time discrepancy in that series. Also, this cloth itches, I hope I don’t have to wear it very long.”
“Why wear it at all?” Marlin asked, turning back to her.
Alice shrugged. “When in Rome, do as Romans do. Which, contrary to popular belief, is not roamin’ around.”
Marlin blinked. “Pardon?”
Alice clucked her tongue. “So your Earth had C.S. Lewis but not St. Ambrose? That’s weird.”
She could now see Marlin shaking his head in the dim light. “I think you’re weird. Also, you do realize that being mistaken for one of their cabal could get you in more trouble?”
Alice grinned again. “I won’t make a… habit of it.” She flipped the cowl up onto her head. “Yeaaaaaah?”
Marlin sighed. “I’m going to stop talking to you now.”
“Oh, suit yourself. Or stay in those clothes, as the case may be.” With that remark, Alice edged her way out of the wardrobe, into the room itself.
It seemed to be a meeting room of some sort. There was only one overhead light, but that was enough to see a large table with about a dozen chairs around it, a hat rack and a potted plant against one wall… and no visible signs of other doorways.
Alice was just about to call out to Marlin, saying it was safe, when there was a flash of light behind the plant. She instinctively ducked down, and then edged under the table as she heard voices. Fortunately, the table had been decorated with an opaque cloth.
“All right, no one can hear us in here,” a female voice purred. “So explain it to me from the top.”
“Sure. How high is your top?” came a dry voice in response.
Alice recognized that second, male voice. It was sparkle-man, or rather Shay. The dark skinned man who had knocked her out following her interrogation the previous day. That is, it was either him, or it was someone wearing dark slacks who was very good at mimicking voices.
Alice’s Epsilon Logo
The other pair of legs, by contrast, was sporting heeled boots, and a tail fell between them. The purr of the voice was very possibly feline in nature. In fact, Alice knew that this particular world was involved in genetic splicing – Epsilon had been able to turn up very rudimentary data – but she hadn’t expected to encounter anyone of that nature around the academy.
“The first arrival,” the cat-woman responded.
Shay reached out for a chair, spinning it around and straddling it as he sat. So, Alice reasoned, while the woman might have been his superior, he was at the least seeing this conversation as informal.
“Two women, as far as we can tell,” Shay began. “A blonde, and the brunette that we actually caught. We had this ‘Alice’ lady questioned by Usa Staling, since this is technically her jurisdiction, but that didn’t go anywhere useful.”
Alice couldn’t help but smile to herself.
“Standard so far. And the second incursion?”
“Some guy named Marlin, who is either exactly what he says he is, namely some guy who had bad luck with dimensional roulette, or he is a very clever plant who believes his story to the point where we couldn’t find any other reason for his appearance.”
The tail on the cat-woman swished back and forth. “So that’s why you didn’t transfer Alice right away.”
“And why we put them together in the same cell, yeah. I figure we give it another hour, then retrieve that listening device we hid under Marlin’s collar.
Oh, perfect, Alice thought, wincing. She should have been more careful. Though at least now there was a chance she could get the device and destroy it. Actually, Alice hoped to destroy all records of her ever being here. It would save the headache of Beam and Fate potentially having to send someone to this world again for cleanup.
“Fine. And NOW what’s happening?” the cat-woman asked.
The chair that Shay was sitting on rocked up onto two legs, and then back down. “We caught a student, a guy named Sir Thred, messing with security outside the bunker entrance. And we’re pretty sure he wasn’t acting alone. There’s a record of academy room accesses this evening that didn’t trip any alarms because they used valid morph codes.”
That was new and interesting information. Alice filed it away, wondering if she could use it to her advantage.
It also occurred to her that it made sense that all of this was happening now. The Epsilon Station had most of time and space available to it, so she and Beam had set their arrival to be a point that maximized the chances of blending in. Apparently, that meant right before a number of other events involving this shadow committee. They were simply one more event amid the chaos.
The cat-woman had been tapping a foot on the ground, as if in thought. At last, she decided, “Then it could be coincidence. Do you think we’re in danger of being exposed?”
Shay’s chair rocked again. “I doubt it. There’s a good chance this Thred guy simply had a lead on that trail of breadcrumbs we left on the campus. You know, the one that would allow us to recruit non-gifties for the cause? We can tease that out of him. And unless Marlin’s recording device shows some evidence of collusion, we can ship both arrivals off to you in processing before morning. No one even needs to know you showed up here.”
“Mmmm. Good. I must admit, the sooner we get this off-world nonsense away from where magic spells are possible, the safer I’ll feel,” the cat-woman muttered.
“Hah. Why, worried my power will put you to sleep?” Shay said, the grin on his face evident from his tone of voice.
“I rather wish your report had done that instead. As it is, I’m still on edge. We’re too close to shutting down dimensional travel for good to have things get messed up now.”
“We WILL wait until all teams are back though, right? Before enacting the plan?” Shay verified.
“Yes, yes, yes,” cat-woman muttered. “Your brother will be fine.” Her feet paced back and forth for a moment. “Very well. Bring me some biscuits, I’ll remain here until you get the listening device information.”
Inwardly, Alice groaned as Shay stood up. The woman’s boots quickly took the place of his slacks as she sat down, admittedly the proper way around this time. Facing the table.
“I’ll return shortly,” Shay said. He walked back to the potted plant – and his feet vanished in a flash of light. The cat-woman’s feet soon disappeared too, as Alice heard them hit the table. Only the tail of the woman remained visible, twitching back and forth.
So, Alice mused, how long was she going to be trapped in this room? Also, how much had Marlin heard from the wardrobe, and would he have the sense to effect an escape now, before their absence from the cell was remarked upon?
Alice certainly didn’t have much hope that Marlin would be able to avoid spilling the beans, if he were caught again. She’d be forced to go on the offensive.
So maybe she should do that pre-emptively, and take on the cat-woman? After all, she might be able to get her belongings back that way, and with any luck, Beam had devised a way to break the jamming fields and home in on her communicator. The only trouble was, once she’d used up the element of surprise, she’d probably be at a disadvantage in a fight.
Making a dash for the potted plant was questionable, as she wasn’t sure how to activate the magic which had let Shay in and out, and escaping via the wardrobe would let on about the hidden passages. Assuming they didn’t already know.
Was the best plan simply to stay put, and hope that an emergency somewhere else would cause cat-woman’s attention to wander?
PATHS NOT TAKEN: Encountering Chartreuse and Sue would have led all of them to a rescue of Thred, while the Para and Sue encounter would have revealed more about Sue’s connection to this little underground movement. We got a left turn instead of a right turn, and so more time with Alice’s nemesis Shay, along with a reveal of the behind-the-scenes shuffling. Hope you liked it.
EXTRA ASIDE: Sorry for the extra week of delay. I probably could have mashed something together for last Sunday, I even had a good idea of what I wanted here, but I couldn’t motivate myself. It felt like I’d get the same few votes no matter when I posted. (Thanks to Nebus though, for the shout-out in the MathEd Carnival #121!) This past week it was my wife’s birthday, my daughter turned four months old, and I had parent-teacher interviews, so no chance to write. I looked ahead though, and the extra week? Means I won’t be publishing the week of Christmas. Which is probably for the best. Incidentally, to see another vote-for-plot story that gets dozens of votes, Drew Hayes is doing his Halloween story 2018 again this year. It runs daily, go see.
“Ever feel like people don’t want you to succeed at something?”
Alice processed the words, but by the time it fully registered what her companion had said, she had already murmured back, “Hmmmm?”
“See, I’m thinking maybe the other wizards wanted me to get captured,” the young man clarified for her. “Maybe they gave me a bunch of misinformation about their group, figuring that I would spill it under duress, like I did earlier. So this is all a trap that I’ve sprung! What do you think?”
Alice turned away from where she had been inspecting the wall of their cell. “Is that how your wizard group usually operates?”
The man shrugged. “I… don’t know. This trip was kind of an initiation to the group.”
“Then your rite of passage took a left turn,” Alice concluded, looking back at the wall. The strange bricks seemingly stared back at her, their strange symbols taunting.
Alice knew she had been in the cell for at least a day now. The first time she’d awoken here, she’d been alone. Her jailers had come and knocked her out before taking her to that medical interrogation area, then sparkle-man (aka Pepa, aka Shay) had knocked her out there to – presumably – bring her straight back here.
The second time she’d awoken here, she’d had company. So either someone else had decided to visit this dimension, or more likely, the young wizard in the cell was an attempt to attack her defences. They were giving her someone to confide in.
She hadn’t risen to the bait. Even when they had come to take him away for questioning, seemingly in much the same way she had been the previous day, she had assumed it to be part of the ruse. She hadn’t paid much attention to it.
Now, when he’d come back babbling about his “home Earth”, where wizards would send someone through a portal using “dimensional roulette”, she’d been less certain. It was certainly plausible that this was a common holding area, and that therefore they had a common enemy. He’d even said “no” when she’d asked him – presumably still under truth serum – if he was working with their captors.
Then again, Alice hadn’t been born yesterday.
Still, the guy could be a resource that she wasn’t properly tapping. And she felt like she was running out of time to decipher her escape route.
“What’s your name, anyway?” Alice asked, turning again to the wizard and sizing him up. He was pretty nondescript, with short blond hair, wearing some sort of dark robe to hide his physique. Alice might have guessed his age as being early twenties.
He looked back up at her, from where he sat on the only bench in the room. “Marlin. I did introduce myself when you first woke up, yes?”
Alice pressed a finger to her chin. That’s right, she’d simply retorted that his name sounded ‘fishy’. “Okay, Marlin, I’m Alice. Question, have you noticed everything wrong with this cell we’re in yet?”
Marlin looked around. “What, you mean the fact that there’s only one washroom area for the two of us, with no door?”
Alice pursed her lips. “I will grant that situation is also a problem. But I’m hopeful of getting out of here before it’s an issue. Go deeper.”
Marlin looked around again and adjusted his robe. “Well, the bars on the door look sturdy enough, I doubt we’ll be able to chisel out the bricks, we’ve got no windows… seems like a pretty foolproof place to me.”
“You see, but you do not observe,” Alice quoted. Or, he was a plant by the enemy, and not interested in observing. Still, one more try. “We’re in a society that’s technologically advanced enough to have holographic recordings and truth serums, and yet we’ve been left in the dungeons and dragons area,” she explained patiently. “Go deeper.”
Marlin frowned. “Oh. Then you think we’re in their magical prison? One for preventing spell casting? Not that I can do any without my wand…”
“Whereas I’m not magical,” Alice interrupted, flicking some hair back off her shoulder. “And they know that by now. So why not fix us up in a maximum security room with force fields and laser beams, hmmmm?”
Marlin shook his head in confusion. “I’ll bite, why not?”
Alice pointed at him. “Either they can’t do it, or they won’t do it. You observe yet?”
He stared at her. She could almost see the question marks forming around his head. “How exactly does that help us?”
Alice sighed. Still, the guy was her only sounding board, and talking to herself out loud might be helpful. She’d just talk quietly, to keep her voice from carrying, as she hadn’t seen any obvious listening devices during her explorations of the room.
“Options for why they can’t,” Alice began. “Whoever’s holding us, they’re not a sanctioned group, and don’t want a power drain to register on a grid. Or, there’s something about this area that prevents such high tech gizmos from working, perhaps tech even interferes with their magic. Or, there’s something about this day or time of year that makes their regular tech-tech cells unavailable.”
“I see where you’re going now,” Marlin said, standing up from the bench. “Whereas reasons for why they won’t, it might be that some higher-ups have made a decision for them, or they have certain red tape to cut through first, or they’ve fallen in love with us.”
Alice paused in mid-stride at Marlin’s last remark. Definitely not an option she would have considered. Maybe the guy would be useful after all?
She spun on her heel. “Precisely. More to the point, I feel like these symbols” – she pointed at an arrangement of the bricks on the far wall – “are in here with us for a reason. Do you recognize any of them?”
Marlin walked over to have a better look. Slowly he shook his head. “No – though, okay, that one there, it was in the gym of the campus I’d teleported into upon arrival. But I don’t know what it means.”
Alice tilted her head. “Hold the phone. Were you also investigating the Clover Club here?”
Marlin glanced at her. “The what now? Is that some group of leprechauns?”
“Never mind, never mind,” Alice said, waving him off. His story of dimensional roulette remained plausible. She then tilted her head the other way. “Thing is, you can press on those bricks,” she remarked after a second. “But don’t,” she added, as he reached out.
“It takes a while for them to pop back out and reset. We need to find the right code. And with those six symbols, there’s 720 possible permutations, never mind that the code could be shorter, or have repetition included. So, thoughts?”
“Wait, how do you know all this? You’ve been pressing random bricks?”
“Yes, my calendar’s been clear the last day or so,” Alice said dryly. “Focus, please.”
“What if the wrong combination lets poisonous gas in here or something?!”
Alice raked her fingers back through her hair. “There’s easier ways for them to kill us. Moreover, I think maybe the reason why they won’t hold us elsewhere is because we’re being tested here. With that.”
Marlin seemed about to laugh, but he stopped himself, then crossed his arms. “Interesting. But even assuming that is a way out, what would we do from there? We’ll still be in this facility.”
Alice shrugged. “I have devices locked up somewhere, you have a wand, surely there’s some way to escape this dimension. Alternatively, if they do secretly love us, and learning the code makes us their Gods, we’re good.”
“Huh.” Marlin leaned in to look closer at the bricks. “I was semi-conscious as they were bringing me back. It looked like we were going through a music room. Do the bricks let out sounds as you push them?”
“No,” Alice replied. She pursed her lips. “But we can. How’s your karaoke?”
Marlin blinked. “Is that a type of sushi?”
“Yeah, no. Pity I don’t know Iron Maiden’s “The Prisoner”, it’d be topical. Though Adele once said ‘Rolling in the Deep‘ helped her hit notes she didn’t know she could, so I’ll try that.”
“You’ll what now?”
“Sing, while you watch the bricks.”
He said something else, but Alice tuned him out, working to find her vocal centre. She knew she wasn’t the best vocalist, but it had been one of the things she’d tried out to fill time during her days on the Epsilon Station. When she finally started belting the tune out, it was with no reservations, no interest in what Marlin’s opinion as a music critic.
Fortunately, he had apparently been watching the bricks as requested, because as she finished and collapsed on the bench, he remarked, “Maybe I imagined it, but I think the symbols blurred into English letters a couple of times. Possibly letters from other languages too. That was weird.”
Alice leaned back. “What, no applause?”
“I’m trying not to lose track of what I saw,” he said. He then lifted his fingers to point at the bricks in turn. “E – C – R – T – E – S. What does it mean?”
Holding back a sigh at the lack of enthusiasm for her performance, Alice pushed herself back up. “Word jumble. Reset C? Erects? Secrete? No, too many E’s there… oh, duh.”
Alice slammed her palm rapid-fire into the bricks that Marlin had been pointing to. As the last one was pushed into place, there was a clicking sound, and a panel of the back wall swung out.
Marlin jumped back in shock. “Well done. What was that, ‘Set rec’?”
“Secret. As in secret door,” Alice explained. “Hard part’s obviously knowing the mapping of the symbols, particularly with two Es that don’t quite look the same. I gambled that I should move my hand in sort of a star pattern. Because I’m a pop STAR sensation.” She flashed Marlin a grin.
His smile was more hesitant. “So we go into this passage?”
Still no applause for the singing, fine. “You can stay here to be tortured,” Alice sighed. “I’m leaving. Also, if you come, still suspicious of you, for the record.”
“The record? Oh, you’re hoping for a record deal now, after that song?”
Alice lifted her eyebrow. “Better. A sense of humour serves you well when you’re with me.”
She headed into the passage, and after waiting a moment and having Marlin follow her, she reached out to pull the doorway shut.
“Uhm, it’s gonna be pitch dark in here,” he pointed out. The light they’d had in their cell had been filtering in from lamps in the corridor.
“Yup. If you use that as an excuse to grope me, I WILL kick you somewhere painful,” Alice assured him.
“That’s not what I… never mind,” Marlin sighed, as their light source was cut off.
Alice turned and started to walk. The walls of the passage itself weren’t jagged like rock, but neither were they brick. Perhaps the tunnel had been made using some futuristic carving tool, Alice reasoned, as the shape was pretty consistent all the way along. With it being about six feet high, she also didn’t have to worry about banging her head, and she could feel both walls as they went along.
Until she couldn’t.
Alice managed to stop herself before stepping face-first into the wall before her. They had reached some sort of T-shaped intersection. Marlin stumbled into her from behind.
“Don’t kick me,” he blurted.
“Sure, as long as you tell me left or right.”
She couldn’t see him, but imagined him frowning. “What makes you think I know?”
“I’m presuming that you were at least conscious for part of your time down here, and thus have some sense of which way might not lead to the guard house.”
PATHS NOT TAKEN:
Sam figuring it out first try would have put them into the hidden facility, and possibly they’d have treasure from the secret area/room of the school. Sam triggering the alarm would have had him spell the sequential word first rather than the secret one, resulting in a chase and having to hide. So yes, the puzzle that Alice solved was very similar to the one they’d been working on in the school. The fact that we cut to Alice though? Doesn’t mean that the others didn’t make it in, only that Sam himself didn’t figure it out. Though they could still be outside… any thoughts? On that, or on the new character here? Stay tuned, spread the word about the serial, and thanks for reading.
EXTRA ASIDE: I managed to get 30 consecutive days of decimal views on WordPress here (as the stats revert to decimals when you’re under 10 page views). Is that an accomplishment?
Alice Vunderlande knew an interrogation room when she saw one. And this was not an interrogation room. In fact, it looked a lot more like a medical room. Was that good? Alice nibbled on her lower lip – the former head of the Epsilon Station decided that the fact that she seemed to have been strapped into a chair implied that this was bad.
Having somehow realized that Alice had regained consciousness, a woman stepped into her field of view. The curves of the uniform she had on implied she was a woman, at any rate, her face was somewhat obscured by sunglasses and a shawl. Was she local security? She carried with her a clipboard, sitting down at the desk which Alice was facing. “Your name, for the record,” the woman said in a bored tone.
“Alison Vunderlande, but I go by Alice,” came the answer, before Alice really had a chance to think about it. A hint of a frown played about her features – she felt like she’d been compelled to speak there. Had she been drugged? “And what’s your name?” Alice added as a follow-up. So she could still speak freely, nice.
“None of your business,” the woman answered, still looking at her clipboard.
“Okay, I’ll call you Salt, as in Salt-n-Pepa,” Alice chirped in response.
The woman didn’t react, implying that either the singing group hadn’t recorded the ‘business’ song in this reality, or that Salt here wasn’t a fan of their music. Well, Alice was doubly pleased to learn that she could still free associate, that was useful. People often had trouble following her train of thought, so if this was about to be an interrogation… Alice let her mind drift.
Having written something on her clipboard, Salt looked back up. “Okay, Alice. Who sent you to this reality?”
“No, Who’s on first,” Alice chirped back. Again, it had happened before she’d had a chance to think, but here the ‘truthful’ answer had been on her terms.
The woman seemingly stared for a moment, from behind her sunglasses. “Pardon?”
“Oh, nice. If you’re granting me a pardon, I’m absolved of guilt. Can I leave?” Alice smiled hopefully.
“No,” Salt said, a hint of annoyance creeping into her voice. “Alice, tell me about your mission.”
“Oh, my mission’s impossible,” Alice asserted. “I’m like Tom Cruise, but better looking.”
Salt shifted her gaze to stare at someone behind Alice. “You gave her the treatment, right?” The unseen person out of Alice’s view must have made some sort of gesture in response, because Salt looked back down at her clipboard, and then back up. “I suppose Alice has been trained in resistance techniques. This a battle of wits, is it, Alice?”
Alice had no idea what resistance techniques that Salt was alluding to, and strapped into the chair as she was, she couldn’t turn around to look at Pepa. So she simply smiled back, saying “Wit’s up, Doc,” before she could stop herself.
“Mmmm. At least I understood that reference,” Salt said, setting her clipboard aside on the desk.
“Oooh, Captain America,” Alice murmured. She recognized the quote.
Salt slightly pulled down her sunglasses. “Does your world have an America then?”
Alice nodded. “Both North and South.” She wondered about bringing up Australia or Antarctica.
“Really…” Salt leaned back. “How did your civil war end?”
“Captain America had it out with Iron Man.” The movie had been okay.
“Atomic number twenty-six,” Alice asserted. The second most common metal, at least for most dimensional Earths that she was aware of… she managed to avoid saying that.
“No, stop, who is Iron Man?”
“No, Who’s on first,” Alice said, pleased for the chance to reuse the phrase.
Someone cleared their throat. “You’re losing the thread here,” came a male voice (Pepa?) from somewhere behind her.
“Yes, thank you, I’m aware,” Salt snapped back. She pressed her fingers to her forehead, glanced again at her clipboard, and then resumed staring at Alice. “Are you acting alone?”
“Oh, I can’t be acting, I never saw the script,” Alice protested. She wasn’t that much like Tom Cruise, surely.
Salt grit her teeth. “Alice, is your world trying to steal our technology?”
“It’s in a hell dimension, so I doubt it.” Alice held back a sigh – she hadn’t really been able to tangent away from that part of her past. But Salt probably lacked context.
“Hm, so it was that sort of dimension… how did you get here, Alice?”
Alice made an effort to shrug. “Oh, well, I assume you brought me here.”
“You mean we pulled you into this dimension?”
“No, I meant you brought me in this room.”
“I didn’t mean the room, I meant how did you get to our dimension.”
“Carefully?” Salt hadn’t quite asked a question that time, which was why Alice felt like her non-answer was reasonable. Care had certainly been required.
Salt snickered back. “Not carefully enough.”
“We were a few emotions short of a full care bear stare,” Alice yielded. Great her free association was working again – those animated bears did care fully.
Salt straightened. “Wait, you know emotional magic?”
“Oh, I was never THAT invested in Magic: The Gathering,” Alice said dismissively. It was hard to get into a multi-player card game when you mostly spent time by yourself. Wow, rambling thoughts were easier when she had only a vague idea of what Salt was talking about anyway.
Salt seemed to grit her teeth. “Alice, is your world magic based, or technological?”
“Yes,” Alice hedged, given the ambiguity.
Salt leaned forwards. “It’s both?”
Alice frowned. “No, I think ‘Both’ is a Drake song.” Or maybe Drake was featured on the song? She honestly wasn’t sure.
“That’s a…” Salt pulled off her sunglasses. “Damn it Alice, WHAT is your DEAL?”
“Three green mana, a blue-eyes white dragon, and the jack of spades,” Alice fired back quickly. “Do I win?”
“No.” Salt leaned back again, crossing her arms and staring.
“She seems to have won so far,” came a mutter of the male Alice had dubbed ‘Pepa’ from behind.
“Shut it,” Salt snapped. “Let’s try this. Alice, tell me about your home.”
“It’s between my lungs, above my diaphragm.”
Salt stared. “…the hell?”
“Also an apt description of my home, a hell dimension, we discussed this earlier,” Alice agreed.
“She means home is where the heart is,” Pepa snickered.
“Look, are you going to help, or laugh at me?” Salt shot back at her partner.
“You said you had this,” Pepa remarked. “As long as she’d been treated.”
“Treated?” Alice gasped. “I think I was tricked. Is it October 31st?”
Salt slid her palm down her face, dislodging her sunglasses. “Listen, Alice,” she began anew. “Either you answer my questions, and probably get a simple memory wipe and a zap back to your own dimension, or you go with HIM,” – she gestured back towards the unseen Pepa – “back to the Council, and you are potentially never heard from again. Now, which will it be?”
Alice licked her lips. On the one hand, that was daunting, on the other, she really couldn’t let talk of Epsilon slip out. And who was this Council? Maybe she needed to know more about that. “I thought I was answering your questions,” she managed to say.
“Answer my questions SENSIBLY,” Salt clarified.
“Sensibly,” Alice repeated, swallowing.
Salt nodded. “Now, what was your mission to this school all about?”
“Sensibly.” It was the only answer Salt had seemed to want, right?
Salt seemed like she wanted to punch something. “Oh, you are good.”
“And you haven’t even seen me in the bedroom yet,” Alice said, stifling a giggle. There hadn’t hadn’t been a question there, after all, so she could speak freely. Though she did start to wonder if she was getting delirious.
Salt clenched her fist. “Good grief, Alice, how can you still be such a pain?!”
“Sensibly.” That had been a question.
Salt threw the sunglasses she was holding onto her clipboard and stood back up. “Fine. I give up. You win. Shay, take her away and do whatever you like.”
Pepa – or rather, Shay – stepped slowly into view as Salt stalked off. He was a dark skinned man with a moustache, also wearing shades. His clothing implied that he was a doctor of some sort, but for all Alice knew, that was a disguise to get him in the room.
“So you can handle a mental battle,” Shay remarked. “What about a magical one?”
Alice cleared her throat. “Vunderlande power, make up! Let’s play, pretty cure modulation! Raising Heart, onegai!” she fired off. Nothing happened. She hadn’t really expected any of those to work, but when in travelling in another dimension, you never knew.
“Mmm hmmm,” Shay concluded. He snapped his hands up. A series of sparkles erupted from his palms. The light was intense enough that Alice tried to turn her head, closing her eyes – only to find that she couldn’t open her eyes again. Moments later, she slumped back in the chair, unconscious.
That’s when the holo-recording turned off.
Para didn’t speak at first. She knew she needed a way to ask questions about the video (holo?) content they’d just witnessed, ones which didn’t reveal that she had no idea of the answers. After all, both she and Chartreuse were supposedly familiar with the school. Yet what had all that been about?
Sam spoke first. “Okay,” he mused. “Apparently the incident a couple days ago might have been a bigger deal than I thought. Was that Alice girl caught by Usa? And who was this Council she referred to, why wasn’t Usa at the top of the chain of command here?”
“Usa?” Chartreuse said, canting her head.
Sam turned to her. “Usa Staling, head of security?”
“Ohh, that Usa,” Chartreuse said, bobbing her head.
Apparently that had been the name of Alice’s interrogator. Para was tempted to ask why this school needed such a high level of security, but maybe it was related to the multiverse work of the “gifties”. She opted to take the conversation a different direction.
“I didn’t recognize the last guy, that Shay,” Para stated. Which was a bit of a gamble, but based on what Sam had said…
“Yeah, me neither,” Sam admitted. He shook his head. “Anyway, I’m going to get a copy of this, it could be a massive scoop…” He pulled a device out of his pocket and plugged it into the base of the disc.
“Are you done there then?” Thred asked, taking a step closer and jerking his thumb towards a corner of the room. “Because you might want to take a look at this next.”
The something that had caught the attention of Sam’s friend turned out to be on the far side of one of the security filing cabinets. When Para went to check it out, she saw that someone had engraved things there, much like on the wall of the Clover Club. And again, it was a symbol, the letter “E”, and a room number. Notably, it was hard to see unless you were peering into the corner at just the right angle.
“That’s the room number for…” Para paused, as if trying to recall.
“Yup, the infirmary,” Thred supplied. “Same place where that holo-recording was playing out.”
“Which is interesting,” Sue broke in, having turned from her scan of the video monitors. “Because I can’t seem to pull up anything from said infirmary. There’s interference. Weird, huh?”
“Our next stop is totally the infirmary then,” Chartreuse concluded.
Sue rolled her eyes. “Joy. Granted, we only have about five minutes before someone comes here for a systems check. So whatever our destination? We should get a move on.”
Sam put down the holo-disc as he uncoupled his device, glancing towards the filing cabinets with a sigh. “Agh, I really wanted to have time to go through those… but okay, it sounds like this story continues where the doctors hang out. I’m game if the rest of you are?”
“Lead on, great one,” Thred said, gesturing towards the door with a bit of a bow. Sue simply shrugged, while Chartreuse and Para simply nodded.
As the three students filed out, Para took a moment to exchange a glance with Chartreuse. For the moment, it seemed like their hunt for clues about Alice was aligning with the hunt that Sam and the others were on for conspiracies in the school – yet what were they to do if the two groups found themselves at cross-purposes?
PATHS NOT TAKEN: I’d had the prior Alice poll in mind since the start. On the face of it, a physical battle would have resulted in a tie (maybe she’d be left in a cell), whereas Alice could win a mental battle (maybe get away) and would lose a magical battle (having no magic). With both the last chosen (tie vote), I effectively chose to show mental – but she still lost in the end. There was also some behind the scenes maneuvering for who was involved in taking Alice in those decisions (the Council), but we’ll see more on that later. Please do spread the word about the serial, the votes are close. Thanks for reading.
Kat had been fine with doing a controlled firebombing of Compton’s camp, up until the point that he heard Alice on his communicator say, “Everyone. Get out. Get out now, NOW, N–”
Kat’s first instinct wasn’t to run, but rather to flatten himself down on the ground where he stood on the edge of the clearing. He was pretty sure he couldn’t run fast enough, and besides, the purple smoke he could see implied that Alijda had just teleported herself back in to get Beam. He tried to bend the fire of the exploding tent around and away from that location.
The mystic shockwave was a surprise.
Kat wasn’t sure whether things happened in the blink of an eye, or whether he actually lost consciousness. Either way, the next thing he knew, everyone in the clearing was flat on the ground. Except Compton. The short, bearded man was now standing rigidly, quietly, instead of bellowing about getting Destiny back. Then a smile flickered over his face.
Kat didn’t like that.
Firestorm charged in from the other side of the clearing. Kat winced, but decided not to intercede yet. Curiously, as Firestorm hummed and released a fireball towards Compton, the short man simply watched it approach. That is, until it was almost right in front of him, at which point he raised his palm, whistled – and the fireball bounced. Firestorm dove to the side and rolled as it came back towards him, causing Kat to wonder how much the cloaked man could be affected by his own attacks.
Kat took advantage of the distraction, crawling into the clearing, staying low to the ground. Alijda, Beam and the henchman who’s been holding onto Beam were all in the same general area. Hopefully they were merely unconscious, as it beat the alternative.
“Oh, this is brilliant,” Compton said, his smile becoming a smirk. “All I need now is more power. Hmmm, and what’s this aura I sense…”
Kat froze as Compton began to stride towards him – but it was Beam that Compton reached for, grabbing her by the arm and hauling the blonde up to her feet.
“Whuhhhh?” Beam warbled, the holographic girl seeming as dazed by the blast as any of them. She barely managed to stay upright as Compton began to drag her back towards the location of the stone circle. The location of the dimensional weakness.
Compton then began to whistle continuously, eyeing both Firestorm and Kat, as if to make it clear that he knew they were there, and not to do anything stupid. Beam moaned and tried to push Compton away as he reached his destination, but the man simply gripped her by the ear instead, whistling louder as Beam slumped down to the ground.
Kat remained where he was, trying to analyze the situation. Was Compton somehow draining Beam’s batteries using his magic? To what end? Compton pointed down. To weaken the dimensions? Firestorm tried to attack while their adversary’s attention was diverted – but again, his fireball bounced off an invisible wall.
“Damn it,” Kat said. He helped that attack burn itself out, before it could cause any major damage. He was getting good at that of late, given how they’d been trying to restrict the effects of their fire attacks to the clearing itself.
“Oh, you thought I had to be watching you to bounce your attacks back?” Compton snarked, ceasing his whistle. “How wrong you are. No, no, this power, awakened in me by that explosion, you have no chance of defeating it. Not with such pathetic attacks. And soon, I’ll have bled out enough energy from this strange one” – he jerked Beam’s head by the ear – “to gain full mental control over this mystic doorway! You hear that, Destiny, wherever you are? You’ll rue the day you crossed me, make no mistake!”
Compton resumed whistling.
However, having been reminded of the fact that Fate had been brought to safety reinvigorated Kat. Moreover, he knew Rose and Alice were still out there too, likely working on a plan. They simply needed to regroup. Kat resumed heading for Alijda.
He had managed to ascertain that Alijda was fine, but unlikely to regain consciousness any time soon, when Compton resumed his gloating.
“Ha ha! I can feel it happening,” Compton shouted in delight. “Control over this mystical gateway. Soon, I will be unstoppable!” He began to whistle louder.
That had happened faster than Kat had anticipated. Was another shockwave imminent? Firestorm began pushing himself to his feet; he looked to Kat for guidance.
Kat shook his head. They didn’t have enough information here. Maybe, after talking to Fate, they could reverse whatever Compton was about to do…? They certainly couldn’t manage it if they were left unconscious. Kat motioned at Firestorm to leave the clearing as he grasped for Alijda’s shoulders.
Which is when Rose ran in.
“Rose, run away!” Kat shouted.
Instead, Rose stopped and stood her ground about five metres away from Compton, issuing him a warning. So was this part of a plan? As Rose’s body seemed to double, and then double again, Kat had to assume it was, resisting the urge to gape. Did Rose have magic? Or was it holograms, maybe?
Whatever it was, it got Compton’s attention enough to free Beam, tossing her aside. But then, they had to assume Compton already had enough energy to enact his plans by now. Four sets of Rose cracked their knuckles. Then three of them rushed at him – as the fourth doubled back towards the treeline.
Okay, this HAD to be a plan.
Kat exchanged a glance with Firestorm (who was looking rather dumbfounded), then pushed himself up, running towards Compton himself. It had just occurred to him that they had only tried magical means of bringing him down. Perhaps Rose’s reasoning was that he was still vulnerable to a left hook.
His belief lasted only as long as it took to see one of the Roses try to punch Compton’s shoulder, her fist bouncing off an invisible wall, making her hit herself instead. From behind, another Rose tried to kick Compton’s legs out from under him, only to hit a similar barrier, and end up falling over herself.
The third Rose paused, then stuck out her tongue, stuck her thumbs in her ears and wiggled her fingers in the air. Provoking him? Because maybe Compton couldn’t maintain his defence while using an offensive power?
Kat honestly wasn’t sure what the plan was here any more. He stopped running, hoping someone would clue him in.
Compton seemed equally unsure of how to deal with Rose. He took a step forwards, swinging for the Rose who was taunting. She ducked out of the way, pulling SecondRose back up onto her feet as she moved. The third Rose, shaking out her hand, screamed down at the stone circle on the ground, and abruptly there were two circles there.
“You meddling…” Compton’s growl trailed off as he reached back and pulled some sort of switchblade out of his pocket.
“Oh, we’re doing physical violence here?” SecondRose snarked. “Because you don’t have the magic skills of your father?”
With a yell of rage, Compton slashed at ThirdRose, the teenager only just managing to duck and roll out of the way, audibly muttering, “oh, flûte”.
Kat was now headed for Firestorm. “The diary,” he called out. If this was all connected back to Fate’s abduction, there had to be some information there. “Is there a symbol we can use against him?”
“Uh, no, there was no handling of an invincible guy with a blade section,” Firestorm countered, pulling the book out of his robes and shaking it at him.
“Compton’s not invincible,” one of the Roses called out.
“All he can do here is absorb or reflect,” another Rose agreed.
“Watch him reflect my power,” ThirdRose added. She sang a note, and then there were four Roses running around Compton again.
“I will END you!” Compton said, lunging for a Rose. He managed to slice through part of her shirt, making her yelp.
Kat snatched the diary out of Firestorm’s hands and started running back towards the fight. “Hey, instead of beating up on girls, why not face off with me? I’ve got a book here with ALL of Destiny’s secrets in it. You want it?”
Everybody paused at that.
“Kat, do you know what you’re doing?” a Rose asked.
He looked back at her. “Do you?” he challenged. Because he was pretty sure he’d worked out their plan by now. To keep Compton away from the gateway, and to stall for time. He held Fate’s diary aloft.
“Give me that book,” Compton said.
“Say please,” Kat requested.
“Give it to me NOW,” Compton insisted.
“Wow, I can see why you’re not great at running a business,” Kat observed. “You can’t even follow simple instructions.”
Two of the Roses giggled. Compton looked like he was about to burst a blood vessel somewhere. “You think I don’t know some of my dad’s spells?” the shorter man screamed. “Hand that over, or I will use them. I will END you! All of you!”
“Hey, know what’s at the heart of this?” SecondRose mused. “Father issues. Paige had ‘em too. Find your own path separate from your father, Compton. Be your own person.”
Compton turned to glare at her. He had been letting out the occasional low whistle whenever he hadn’t been speaking. Now he whistled higher, and louder, and he started gesturing towards SecondRose. She placed her hands on her hips.
Compton gestured towards her. SecondRose’s head snapped back, and with a shocked look on her face, she fell to the ground – and vanished. The other Roses in the area staggered for a moment.
Kat almost shouted out ‘What did you do?’, but from the expression on Compton’s face, he seemingly hadn’t expected that result either.
“You think you’re so tough? Try that again!” shouted a Rose.
“Rose, what are you–” Kat cut himself off, as another Rose standing behind Compton raised an index finger and shook her head. Compton repeated his series of whistles and movements, and moments later, another Rose was gone.
Compton turned back to Kat. “Now, give me the book,” he declared. “Or another of your friends gets it.”
“Oh, no, no, please, do that once more first,” a Rose croaked out. “We almost got it that time.”
Compton obliged her. Moments later, the only people standing in the clearing were Compton, Kat, Firestorm, and one last copy of Rose. Or possibly she was the original Rose, and the Rose now returning to the clearing with Fate was the copy. Kat cleared his throat to keep Compton’s focus on him.
“Here’s the thing,” Kat said. “I’ve made a copy of the important pages here. If anything happens to me, a friend of mine will bring them to the police.”
“If you’re pinning your hopes on them, you must be desperate,” Compton observed. “Now stop wasting time and give me that book.”
“This book? Or the REAL book, which I have hidden back in the bushes?”
Compton shook his fist at Kat. “If you persist in these games, you WILL face the same fate as those redheads.“
“Actually,” came a new voice, tired but with a hard edge to it. “I’m the Fate you need to be worried about right now.”
Compton spun. Fate was now ten metres away from him. “Destiny. Have you finally come to your senses? Will you serve me?”
Both Roses moved to flank Fate, as the blonde spat into the ground. Then Fate began to trace something there with a stick she was carrying. “The spell for scrambling minds,” she remarked. “The one known by Compton Senior, the one that allowed him to abduct people. He was always so secretive about it, I was never able to figure out how it worked. Until now.”
Compton smirked. “You hope to try it against me? After I used it to dispel the doubling magic of this redhead? Fool, I can bounce it right back at you. You’ll lose your own mind.”
Fate looked back up at him. “Oh, no. No, because my spell will be stronger than the version you’ve been throwing around.”
Rose raised her hand and wiggled her fingers. “Hi. I’m Algebra. I multiply things.”
Compton’s smile morphed into a glare. “You stupid women. Even now, you do not understand my true power.”
“Still seems to be ‘reflect’ or ‘absorb’ to me,” the other Rose reiterated. “More to the point, for as long as you’re on reflect, we can do this.” She clapped her hand onto Fate’s shoulder, sang a note, and then abruptly there was another copy of both Rose and Fate, sketching on the ground. Then another.
“Meaning as long as you’re on reflect,” the Roses chorused. “We’re powering up.” More versions appeared, starting to form a circle around Compton. “The question becomes, are you man enough to absorb what Fate throws at you without succumbing? Or are you going to remain in the shadow of your father forever?”
Kat could have sworn Compton’s face went purple. And with a dozen Fates arranged in a half circle around the angry man, Rose’s notes ceased to be effective in creating any more copies.
“Now,” Rose whispered.
Fate began to chant the same phrase Compton had used earlier, but while he had punctuated his with whistles, Fate simply made her voice sound melodious. It wasn’t a happy melody, in fact Kat could pick up on an undercurrent of sadness and resentment, but it got the job done faster than Compton’s attempt to do the same.
As they finished, the Fates jabbed their sticks at the symbols on the ground. The area began to glow with a white light, and Compton let out a shriek. Kat was forced to look away from the brightness, and when he did turn back… Compton was still standing there. Looking stunned. And the only Rose and Fate in the area were lying on the ground, unconscious.
Fearing the worst, that their opponent had withstood the attack, Kat closed the distance to Compton, pulled back his free arm, and clocked the short man hard in the jaw. Compton crumpled to the ground without resistance, joining everyone else in the land of unconsciousness.
Well, almost everyone else.
“We win,” Beam chirped, from where she was still crumpled, unmoving, on the ground. “Now what. Are the chances. I could get. My own copy. Of Rose. To bring home. With me?”
Firestorm laughed. Kat’s communicator crackled back to life seconds later.
“This was probably not the dinner you envisioned,” Kat admitted.
Alijda smiled at him from across the table. “It’s not the location that matters. It was more about getting to know each other a little better.”
They had spent the last hour or so catching up on things in the Epsilon Station’s small cafeteria. This after having spent a couple of days completing paperwork after the mission, not to mention undergoing some tests to ensure there wouldn’t be any lingering issues after the mystic shockwave.
Firestorm had offered to take charge of dealing with Compton and the police down on the planet, once Fate (aka Destiny) had made it clear that she wasn’t planning to remain. In the end, Firestorm had decided not to ask more questions, deciding the more he knew, the more trouble he’d be in.
Fate had then helped Alice do a sweep of Compton’s business, confiscating anything dimensional from his records, under the rationale that his memory of such things would be sketchy anyway. It would have been like leaving matches in the hands of a toddler.
They hadn’t located records of anyone else who had once been abducted. And after years of living on the planet without finding anyone herself, Fate reasoned that randomly removing people who believed themselves to be natives might cause more harm than good anyway.
“Right,” Kat agreed. He rubbed his forehead. “I don’t see how this can work though. I’m in the military. I can’t simply disappear.”
“I could,” Alijda said. “Except it’s probably against the rules, plus someone needs to take care of Alice. I’m guessing she’s the one who volunteered to dress as a maid and serve us today?”
“Oh yeah,” Kat agreed. “Have you heard of the anime ‘Kaichou wa Maid-sama’?”
Alijda shook her head. “No, and don’t even start. Back to you. Now that your decades long search for Fate is done, what will you do?”
Kat leaned back in his chair. It was a good question. “I guess I’ll stay hooked into occult matters. Still lots of pretty girls out there I can… not date?” A frown tugged at his features.
Alijda chuckled. “You sound like me when I realize I’ve blithely talked about killing myself.”
“Old habits,” Kat said dryly. “Like anything else, I guess we go forwards one step at a time.”
Alijda nodded. “I guess we do.” She seemed about to say something else, when Fate walked into the room.
Fate had cleaned up nicely, and was wearing a casual shirt and slacks, having pulled her long, blonde hair into a side ponytail. Without looking up from the book in her hands, she called out, “Hey, Alice. Bad news. The– oh, sorry, the computer said Alice was in here.” She seemed a bit chagrined once she took in the scene.
“Hmph. Thank you, Ziggy, thank you VERY much for that,” Alice sighed, popping up from behind the cash register with a sigh. She was still dressed in the maid outfit.
Alijda snapped her gaze over towards her roommate. “You were SPYING on us?”
“I was quietly counting the receipts down here after serving your dessert,” Alice said, leaning her elbows onto the counter with a grin. “And for the record, I can take care of myself, thankyouverymuch.”
“Uh, Alice? This station exists outside of space and time, there should be no receipts there,” Kat pointed out.
Alice nodded sagely. “So I gotta make sure none randomly appear. Cuz that’d be weird.”
“Hey, great news,” Beam said, entering the room behind Fate, dragging Rose along with her. “My lesbian friend here no longer has the desire to lick at my neck whenever she sneezes!”
“Ahem. She means that the police smell tracking thing has worn off,” Rose said, her freckles getting a bit washed out by her reddening cheeks. “So I’m probably clear to leave.”
Beam grinned. “Can I joke about tasting, and which of us is sweeter, as a call back to your comment on the day we met?”
“Not in public,” Rose advised, the roll of her eyes implying Beam’s attitude was no longer getting to her quite as much. “Moreover, there’s been no side effects from my using math powers on that planet, and Alice said that the ability shouldn’t carry over to my normal reality. So yay?”
“Hey, that’s great,” Kat said, giving her a thumbs up. “But guys, me and Alijda were kinda in the midst of…”
Alijda laughed. “Oh, Kat, it’s fine. I think we were pretty much done. Besides, with Rose departing, I’m kind of curious as to who will end up being left in charge.”
Kat double-checked Alijda’s expression, noting her sincerity, before looking back to Rose. She was already looking at him. He nodded slightly at her; they’d had a brief conversation that morning about her possible selection.
Rose took in a deep breath. “Right. Well. Since there might be issues from higher goddesses if I pick either Alice or Beam, I decided that…” She turned. “Fate should be in charge. But, I mean, the others can stick around here to keep her company, and to make sure she doesn’t go crazy or something. If they want. This is okay, yes?”
Fate’s pencil slid out of the spine of her book and fell on the floor. “Oh. I… I was wondering how I’d return home after all this time. So I suppose this… as a transition… that is… I’m honoured.”
“Ooh, I have no problems being under a woman like Fate,” Beam said, her eyes twinkling.
“It’s Fate’s Wide Wheel,” Alice mused. She eyed everyone in the room, then face palmed. “Quantum Leap song. From Glitter Rock. Get WITH it, people, sheesh.”
Kat chuckled, then looked back at Fate. “Congratulations. I hope this means we can still keep in touch.” Fate nodded back at him, smiling a bit nervously.
“As to the bad news?” Alijda remarked, pushing her chair back from the table.
Fate blinked. “Oh! Yes. Well.” She tossed her book on the table. “It’s as I always suspected. Compton Senior? He didn’t come across his dimensional knowledge by accident. It was somehow fed to him. By someone else.”
Alice’s expression turned serious as she came around the counter. “That’s impossible. No one on that planet could have had the knowledge.”
“I know,” Fate said. “I didn’t say it was from someone on that planet.”
“Something to do with where the arm came from then?” Rose asked.
Fate shook her head. “Unlikely. The arm appeared later. Possibly as a result of Compton Senior’s efforts. His awareness had to precede that. Somehow, there was a space-time breach, and this Station didn’t know about it. As if the abduction thing wasn’t already a clue to it’s fallibility.”
“So we have a mystery on our hands,” Kat said, frowning.
“One that me and Alice will need get to the bottom of,” Beam decided, crossing her arms. “Now that Fate’s going to be handling the daily station duties.”
“Huh. Will you need our help with any of this?” Alijda wondered.
Fate picked her pencil up off the floor. “Time will tell,” she remarked, tossing it onto the table. “Only time will tell.”
PATHS NOT TAKEN: If Beam had been put back in charge, Alice and Fate would have returned to Alijda and Kat’s worlds respectively. Possibly with a thread of contact, but we know Beam can be rules oriented. If Alice was put back in charge, she would have maintained communications, while Beam would have accompanied Fate back to Kat’s world, to help Fate deal with her experiences. Instead, as seen, we explore the greater mystery (which was always in the cards) with everyone on board.
EXTRA ASIDE: Thanks for reading! I’ll likely do a “behind the scenes” separate post later, maybe with some stats, and then in 2018 we’ll head into “Virga Mysteries”. Still every two weeks, as there are edits, and I need to devote some time back to my math comic. There’s a Discord comic chat coming up for it in February and I want it to see new material. I’m also now writing monthly for the Time Travel Nexus. So I’m keeping busy.
Rose watched Alijda as the older brunette woman considered their next move. At last, Alijda stood and moved off of the tarp, rubbing the areas where she’d been tied up. “Well, Firestorm is the resident of this planet,” she concluded. “Might as well go with his plan.”
“Really?” Rose said, surprised. It wasn’t that she had anything against the idea of fire bombing Compton’s supply tent. She had simply expected a plan with more finesse to come up.
“Unless someone else has an objection,” Alijda clarified. “Plus I suppose you are technically still in charge of the Station, Rose. Are you good with us doing this?”
“Oh.” Well, her plan had been kind of shot down by Alice. “Uh, yeah, I suppose.”
“Then I’ll spread the word,” Alice chirped over the communicator. “Because we’ve got to get on this fast. Beam turned on her communicator after Alijda left, so I’m now tuned into the happenings of Compton’s tent. FYI, Ned’s on his way to tell the others that Alijda escaped. He also beat up Beam a little.”
“He did WHAT?” Rose shrieked, one hand clenching into a fist.
“He hath attacked your lady love,” Alice clarified. “Give ‘em hell, Rose.”
Rose spun, staring towards the clearing. She couldn’t see it through the underbrush, but knew where it was. In part because Firestorm was sending up balls of fire, and Kat was making them burn up in the air as a distraction, one which was easy to spot in the darkness.
Presumably, the two of them would now start to smash their fire down into the clearing. Destroying Compton’s plans, while sowing enough confusion for Alijda to teleport Fate and Beam to safety. And as they did that, Rose would… watch.
After giving the order, all she could do was watch.
Her hand fell open. “I have no powers. I guess I’ll fold up the tarp here.”
Alijda cleared her throat. “Actually Rose, as much as I don’t want to have to do that blind teleport a second time, it would be good to keep the tarp here. Just in case.”
“Awesome. Means I’m zero help.”
Alijda reached for Rose’s hand, and Rose turned to see the older woman giving her a reassuring smile. “Oh, Rose. You’re the one who got us here. By sniffing out Beam. That helped.”
Rose shrugged. “Except anyone could’ve done it,” she pointed out. “If they’d been the one stamped by the police instead. But it’s cool,” she continued, before Alijda could speak up again. “You’re older and more experienced anyway. Go give ‘em hell on my behalf.”
Rose forced out a smile. Alijda still seemed to hesitate, until Alice’s voice came back over the communicators.
“Beam’s getting clear of the tent,” Alice announced. “Kat and Firestorm are starting their run.”
“Hell incoming,” Alijda assured Rose. She dashed off towards the clearing.
Rose nibbled on her lower lip. She activated her communicator. “Alice, can you let me know when Beam is all safe and sound? I mean, along with everyone else too. Obviously.”
“No problem,” Alice assured her. “If you want, while you’re waiting, you can think about who should take this station back from you. Once the problem’s been dealt with.”
“Oh, right,” Rose groaned. “Can’t it just be Beam again? Or you?”
“The all-knowing dimensional God could object,” Alice reflected. “But then, they might not have a leg to stand on. Given how Beam bringing you in did save the station, and me coordinating here now proves that I would still be an asset.”
“Gods might not even have legs in the first place,” Rose mused.
“They move in mysterious ways,” Alice affirmed. She then continued to hum, “It’s alright, it’s alright, it’s all right. They move in mysterious ways.”
Rose ran her fingers back through her hair. Perhaps almost as important as who she chose for the job would be who she did NOT choose. Because what would Alice or Beam do if they weren’t working on Epsilon? For that matter, was there even anyone else to choose? Alijda had already said she wasn’t interested. What about Kat – or could having him be in charge cause problems for Alijda, putting their relationship into a chain of command.
“Oh, don’t pick a guy to run the place,” Alice added, as if reading her thoughts. “That’d be vetoed. I mean, can you even imagine a male administrator patrolling the multiverse? Ha! Men’s egos can be so fragile. Things would get seriously screwed up.”
Rose chuckled. “What’s that a quote from?”
“Not quoting, it’s just a truism. Oh, hey, hold on. These power readings are spiking, that shouldn’t be…” The humour vanished from her tone. “Everyone. Get out. Get out now, NOW, N–”
There was a blast of feedback from the communicator, making Rose wince and hold her arm out to the side. At the same time, the Earth shook. Moments later some sort of shockwave was projected out from the vicinity of the clearing, knocking Rose back on her ass.
Then things were eerily silent.
Rose did her best to shake it off, though she felt queasy. When she reopened her eyes, she saw a number of leaves and pine needles all around her on the ground, shaken free by the blast. For a moment, it seemed like there were even more trees surrounding her too – until Rose realized she had double vision again. She closed her eyes, counted to three, and when she looked once more, the problem had resolved itself.
Rose scrambled to her feet and ran for the clearing.
She nearly tripped over the blonde woman in the dark, but managed to sidestep her in time. Going down on one knee, Rose quickly felt for a pulse, only to realize that the woman was breathing.
Also, it wasn’t Beam. So with that hair, and more to the point that plain looking dress, it had to be Destiny. Or rather, Fate, the local potion master and Kat’s childhood friend.
“Hey, are you gonna be okay?” Rose asked, gently tapping at the woman’s cheek.
Fate moaned. “Today I’ve been kidnapped, tortured, and caught in a magical explosion, what do you think?” she grumbled. She cracked an eye open. “Who are you, anyway?”
“Rose Thorne,” the redhead said with an uncertain smile. “With Team Beam, trying to take down Compton and save you.”
“Oh, YOU’RE Rose,” Fate muttered. She tried to push herself up.
Rose wasn’t sure how to take that. She glanced back towards the clearing – it was now close enough to be seen through the trees, in fact some of those trees had been bent away from the area – and decided that, for right now, the stranger in front of her had to take precedence over her team. She helped support Fate into a seated position.
“I am indeed,” Rose agreed. “Can I help you?”
“Gimme a second.” Fate pressed her palm against her head, squinting at Rose through the darkness. “Huh. You don’t look like the most amazing lesbian anyone would ever meet, but then me and Beam didn’t have tons of time to talk while Compton was setting up camp.”
“Ah. Well, y’know, I’m not sure how many other lesbians Beam has really met,” Rose said. She hoped she wasn’t blushing foolishly.
Fate chuckled. “Ah, young love. Those were the days.”
Rose rubbed her neck. “So, um, did you get blown back here by that explosion?” she asked, trying to change the subject.
“No,” Fate admitted, lowering her arm. “It was that teleporting woman. She pulled me away from Compton, we appeared here, she said she’d be right back, then she vanished in a purple cloud. Moments later, boom, and I’m on the ground. What happened, did Compton’s tent blow up or something?”
“I think so? At least, that was part of the plan,” Rose admitted. She tapped at her communicator. “Alice? Alice, what happened?” There was no answer.
Fate coughed. “Okay. So, bright side, Compton can’t use his fireworks and other explosives to force open a dimensional portal. Nor can he use his potions and other magical items to force open a dimensional portal. But, down side, I think those two things interacted in a negative way as they were taken out. Hopefully not in a way that opened a dimensional portal.”
“Dimensional portal bad, I get that,” Rose affirmed.
“Bad in the hands of Compton’s damn family is all,” Fate clarified, taking in a long breath.
Rose nodded. “Right. Well, give me a moment, I’ll go see if I can tell what happened.”
Rose began to push herself back to her feet, only to have Fate reach out and grasp her leg. “Wait, let me come,” she requested. “Sounds like you’re cut off from your friends, and I might be able to help diagnose the situation.”
Rose hesitated. Fate was bound to slow them down, but still, the woman had a point.
She reached her arm out. Fate grasped it, and Rose hauled her up to her feet. Fate smiled. “Thanks, Rose. So, do you have a thing for older women at all?”
Rose flinched. “What? No. That is, damn, I’m sure you’re a nice person and all but I didn’t even know you were–”
“Trying to lighten the mood,” Fate finished, interrupting. “Because you seem tense as all get out. Though I suppose the situation warrants it. Sorry, it was a bad joke, let’s get a move on.”
“Right. I knew that, not really,” Rose said.
Apparently Fate had a weird sense of humour. Meaning she’d get along just fine with the rest of the Epsilon team. Actually… what if Fate were put in charge of Epsilon? Could that be a thing? Or would the trauma Fate had suffered here be a deterrent to being in charge? Rose made a mental note to ask Kat about it in private.
Assuming Kat was still okay after the mystical explosion.
The two of them crept closer to the clearing.
The first thing Rose saw was the bodies. Since the clearing was still magically lit, they were hard to miss. She started to charge in closer, only to have Fate grasp her shoulder, preventing the motion. “That can’t be good,” she muttered.
Rose turned to see what Fate was looking at. That’s when she saw what had to be Compton.
The short man with the scruffy beard was standing and whistling some distance away from the bodies, with one hand pointed at the ground. His other held Beam up by the ear. The blonde hologram was slumped on the ground, her eyes open, but seemingly blank. Rose’s hands had curled back into fists before she realized it.
Yet charging in was the wrong course of action. Rose shrugged off Fate’s grip, gliding behind the nearest tree, peering around it to get a better look at the situation.
The bodies she’d seen were those of Alijda and one of Compton’s henchmen. She now saw that Kat, Firestorm, and the other henchman were also lying prone on the ground. Before Rose could ask herself if they were okay, Compton turned to look down at something, and Firestorm was moving.
The cloaked man sat up, thrusting his arm forward and letting out a humming noise. A fireball appeared in the air, streaking towards Compton.
It bounced off an invisible wall, flying back in the direction it had come.
“Damn it,” Kat said. Rose watched as Firestorm rolled away, with the fireball striking the ground and quickly burning itself out as Kat stared at it.
“Oh, you thought I had to be watching you to bounce your attacks back?” Compton snarked, ceasing his whistle. “How wrong you are. No, no, this power, awakened in me by that explosion, you have no chance of defeating it. Not with such pathetic attacks. And soon, I’ll have bled out enough energy from this strange one” – he jerked Beam’s head by the ear – “to gain full mental control over this mystic doorway!”
“Well, that’s bad,” Fate muttered near Rose’s ear.
Compton turned to look at some trees. “You hear that, Destiny, wherever you are? You’ll rue the day you crossed me, make no mistake!”
Rose turned to face the older woman. “Can you work some of your symbol magic to stop him?”
“Hmph. If he were unconscious, maybe,” Fate said. “Seems like he’d resist most anything right now. I don’t suppose you have magic abilities that would knock him out?”
Rose shook her head. “I have zip all for magic. Unless you count the tracking spell the cops gave me.”
Fate frowned. “Oh? That’s bizarre. The police would only have given you that ability if you already had major magic potential. And even if it was dormant, that blast wave would have triggered something for you, since it also did for Compton… Rose, did you feel anything after the wave hit?”
“Nauseous,” Rose said. “And I also saw double for a bit, but that happened after I got stamped in the police station too. Oh, and earlier, in your place. I’m probably overexerting myself or something.”
“I don’t think so,” Fate said, her eyes widening. “Were you in the presence of strong magic each time you saw double?”
“Uh, I guess?” Rose realized. The protection spell, the tracking spell, and the explosion did make three for three. “Why is that important?”
“Because it means the magic inside you is resonating with your surroundings,” Fate explained. “I’m pretty sure it’s the same sort of resonance which allows for my occult symbols to work more tangibly on this Earth. In fact, if you’re not careful, the magical backlash could lead to you feeling kind of drunk.”
“Oh, now someone warns me,” Rose muttered.
Fate grasped her by the shoulders. “Rose, this is great. If you’re seeing double, you might actually have the power to double the things you see, be it temporarily, or as an illusion.” She frowned. “If only we could somehow coordinate your ability with my symbols…”
“Ha ha! I can feel it happening,” Compton shouted in delight. “Control over this mystical gateway. Soon, I will be unstoppable!” He began to whistle louder.
Rose snapped her gaze back towards the clearing. It looked like Kat had crawled over to Alijda to check on her. Perhaps hoping that her teleport ability would be able to get to Compton, but she remained unconscious. Firestorm was pushing himself to his feet, but he looked unsteady. And Beam, poor Beam looked catatonic.
With still no word from Alice, it was up to Rose. Rose, and her doubling ability. Which honestly, she should have recognized sooner – after all, she had once been Algebra, capable of multiplying emotions. Was this so different?
Rose turned back to Fate. “Could I also duplicate living matter?”
Fate blinked, lowering her arms. “I don’t know.”
An idea was forming. “Tell me how to activate my magic here.”
“It’s different for everyone. But it is sound based. Humming, whistling, even the sound of a sneeze can trigger something under the correct conditions.”
Sneezing, that would probably just turn her nose on. But vocal notes, as a choir member, Rose knew all about those. She thought back to the scream she’d used when rushing into Fate’s home, the first time she’d experienced her double vision. It would do.
“Okay, Fate. If this works, just tell one of me how to coordinate with your symbols. If it doesn’t, um, avenge me.”
“One of you? Rose, what–”
Rose evaded Fate’s outstretched hand, dodging around the tree trunks to emerge into the clearing, jogging towards Compton.
“Hmmmm, what have we here?” Compton said, again ceasing his whistling as he turned to look at her.
“Rose, run away!” Kat shouted.
Rose stopped and stood her ground about five metres away from Compton. She could now see that the hand he had pointing down was directed at some sort of stone circle, which was engraved with a clover.
“Here’s your only warning,” Rose said, raising her own hand to point, while wishing her arm wasn’t shaking. “Stop what you’re doing, and let your hostage go.”
Compton smirked back. “Or else what?”
Rose drew in a breath, tried to envision multiplication, and screamed at approximately a middle C. As expected, Compton reacted as he had with the fireball, and bounced her spell back. At least, she assumed that’s what had happened, as she felt not only her vision doubling, but everything else about her as well.
She took a step to the left, as she simultaneously took a step to the right.
Both Roses felt a little queasy at that, but she immediately screamed again, to take advantage of Compton’s confusion.
“What trickery is this?” Compton demanded, as Rose became four. Apparently sensing that he had an actual fight on his hands, he released Beam’s ear, throwing her aside as he took a step closer to one of the Roses.
Rose began to circle left, even as she circled right, each version vaguely aware that only the Rose second from the left had any real permanence. Yet her other selves knew they didn’t feel like an illusion, so for as long as they were around, well, perhaps it was time to test out their self defence courses.
“You’re about to find out,” the Roses chorused as one.
A faint giggle came from the ground as Beam’s eyes refocussed. “Ooooh. You. Pissed. Off. My. Girl. Friend.”
Four sets of Rose cracked their knuckles.
Who will be taking over the Epsilon Project? OPTIONS:
PATHS NOT TAKEN: Scaring Compton et al away with “gods” would have been the more problematic choice, given Beam’s reservations and the fact that Compton had nothing to lose. He’d have held fast, opened the portal and tried to bleed off magic, complicating things. Had they tried to close off the dimensions, an evil wizard would have come through the rift first, forcing Compton to team up with them to defeat the guy. As it was, we got Compton gaining powers.
THE ORACLE PROPHESIED: The double vision cauldron of Part 7 was a throwaway item for me to use anywhere, if I wanted. For all I knew then, it was specific to the item, or the location. But when Part 9’s vote picked Rose to be deputized, and the double vision returned in Part 10 (“see deuce”), Rose’s specific brand of magic became all but inevitable. The oracle did not prophesize Rose doubling herself here, but hey, whatever works.
EXTRA ASIDE: I’m pretty sure we’re down to one last instalment, which will be posted over the holidays. Then we’ll go into whatever got selected out of this post, because it doesn’t make much sense to have a runoff vote now (most everything is tied). So, go vote again on your fave? It renews every week. In other news, “Time & Tied”’s rerun has finished on RRL, and there were some character votes there, if you felt like contributing or seeing results in the final post. Thanks as always for reading here; I’m blown away by there being 7 votes for a second time running.
Alijda looked up at the remark by Rose. While waiting for Kat to return from his scouting mission, Alijda had taken to leaning back against a tree, her arms crossed. She fired off a reassuring smile at the redhead. “I’m sure he can take care of himself just fine.”
“Oh, I know,” Rose said, clasping her hands behind her back. She leaned forwards a little. “I said wondering, not worrying.”
Alijda felt her smile becoming more of a smirk. “Ooh. First Alice, now you, huh?” she remarked, more amused than anything else. “Fear not. The two of us are possibly doing dinner, so there’s nothing more for anyone to wonder OR worry about.”
“Possibly doing?” Rose prompted.
Alijda shrugged. “We literally do not live on the same Earth. Makes reunions awkward. The weird thing is how, despite knowing that, I haven’t been able to simply forget about him. So I guess we’ll see what happens.” She gave Rose a pointed look. “Something you may want to consider regarding Beam.”
Rose seemed to pinken, though it was difficult to be sure now that the sun had set. “Nice deflection, but I hadn’t planned on forgetting about Beam.”
“You just hope to forget about the relationship issues she sparked.”
Rose pulled back and looked away.
Alijda quickly moved to grasp the young girl by the shoulder. “Hey, not judging,” she said. “Not by a long shot. Goodness knows I don’t know how to react to anyone who shows an interest in me, romantically or otherwise. It’s only, heads up, Beam is something you’ll need to deal with before this is over. And you might not have a lot of time to decide on a path, depending on how things play out. You know that, yes Rose?”
She sighed. “Yeah. Plus I’ve got to pawn off this Station Commander role onto someone else too.” Rose crinkled her nose. “Do you think, if I gave it back to Beam, that she’d be able to email into my dimension or whatever? Because I could see having her as a pen pal going forwards. If she doesn’t hate my guts after that rant I gave her.”
“Hm! That’s not a bad idea,” Alijda reflected. “Even if Beam’s not in charge, I might be able to hack something together.” She wiggled her eyebrows as she pulled her arm back. “All you’ll need to do find a way to explain to your girlfriend why your new blonde pen pal keeps emailing you images of herself in sexy lingerie. I’ve heard that’s a tradition where Beam’s from.”
Rose’s eyes went wide. The mixed look of fear and confusion on her face gradually morphed into one of chagrin as she saw Alijda’s expression. “Oh. You’re joking. Um, right?”
“Mostly,” Alijda said. “Just remember, Beam’s ways are not your ways, plus she’s a hologram to boot. Don’t be afraid to set ground rules.”
“For sure,” Rose agreed, rubbing her neck.
“If you two ladies are done chit chatting, I can hear Kat coming back,” Firestorm remarked dryly, walking past them.
“Oh golly, we’ll swap makeup tips some other time then,” Alijda deadpanned. Rose let out a quick laugh. Firestorm didn’t seem to notice.
The three of them walked over to meet Kat as he approached through the underbrush.
“So Compton and Co are up to something,” Kat concluded after giving them a quick rundown of what he’d seen at the clearing. “The question is, how do we stop whatever this guy is up to, while also spiriting Beam and Fate out of there safely.”
“You’re sure the Destiny woman was your Fate?” Alijda verified, searching Kat’s expression. His voice had caught when describing her. Would his personal stake in things become an issue?
“I’m sure,” Kat said, clenching his jaw. “We’ve got to save her.”
“Should that be our priority though?” Rose asked.
Kat rounded on her, his body tensing, and the young girl shrank back in surprise. Alijda reached out to touch Kat’s shoulder.
“Please clarify?” she asked gently, looking at Rose.
Rose cleared her throat. “Um. Just, seems like this Compton guy feels he has something to prove. What if removing Fate, his key source of information, drives him into doing a boneheaded thing later on instead of backing down?”
“In which case I’d hope your plans don’t involve you simply waltzing away,” Firestorm grumbled.
“You’re right, Rose,” Alijda agreed. “We do need more information before we act.” She released Kat’s shoulder as she felt his posture relaxing. Though his jaw remained clenched.
“Do you know anything more about Compton’s intentions?” Kat asked, looking at Firestorm.
“No. I’m not the font of knowledge you seem to think I am,” the planetary resident insisted.
“We need to talk to Beam,” Rose put in. “I mean, wasn’t her whole plan to learn more? She doesn’t know we’re out here now, worried. She might have real good ideas, if we can get to her, as she’s seen this guy up close.”
“Another good point,” Alijda yielded. “The question is, how can anyone get to Beam when she’s in that tent, without causing Compton to overreact?”
They exchanged glances. Kat sighed. “I have a thought,” he admitted. “But I don’t like it, because it involves putting someone else in danger.”
“Let’s hear it anyway,” Alijda said.
When Alijda teleported into the clearing, she made a point of trying to arrive near the spot that Kat said Compton had been pointing at earlier. That helped her to see the stone circle on the ground, two steps away, with some sort of engraving on it. Possibly a four leaf clover? Interesting.
She didn’t have much time to think about it though, because her presence in the purple cloud of smoke had attracted everyone’s attention in the area. She raised her hands into the air as Compton’s security guy pointed a gun at her.
“Oh, golly!” Alijda said, trying to put a quaver into her voice. “What happened? However did I get here? What’s going on?”
Compton, the shorter man with the beard, had been in the process of doing something with a potion, looming over Destiny, who was on the ground. Or rather, Fate – Alijda supposed she should start thinking of the woman that way. They hadn’t been sure what Compton had been trying to accomplish from the edge of the clearing, but Alijda saw it now. He’d been cutting Fate with a knife, then applying a healing potion, as some sort of torture technique.
Alijda hated the guy immediately. She forced her expression to remain neutral.
Compton pulled Fate back to her feet, pointing at Alijda. “How is this possible?” he demanded of her. “How can people be coming through that thing before I’ve fully opened it?!”
“I still don’t know, and even if I did, I wouldn’t tell you,” Fate said tearfully. She spat at his feet.
Bonus points to Fate. Alijda took a few steps forwards, her arms still up, to help pull everyone’s gaze back to her. “Can you send me back now?” she asked. “I’d hate to be late for my CyberArm class.”
Only Alijda noticed Fate’s eyes widen slightly. She the woman gave a hopeful smile in response.
“Stop where you are,” Compton’s man said, waggling his gun to arrest Alijda’s forward motion.
“Hey, Ned,” Compton called out at the same time. “Bring more rope out here, we’ve got another one.”
In less than a minute, Ned had emerged, and Alijda had had her arms bound behind her. She was then pulled towards the tent. “I can walk,” she said, petulantly.
“You can shut up,” Ned countered. He pushed her inside and she nearly fell on her face.
The tent was big enough to fit four people comfortably, and contained a few rolled up sleeping bags, implying that Compton had planned on camping out for a while. Granted, that could be due to his coming into the area from another town. The open container of potions and what looked like a supply of fireworks was a bit harder to explain away. Compton had a plan, but what was it?
“Oh!” was Beam’s only exclamation as Ned marched in behind Alijda, pushing her over next to the holographic girl.
Alijda fired off a smile at Beam as Ned got busy tying up her legs. “Hi again. Rose is worried about you,” she remarked.
Beam looked away. “No,” she sighed. “Rose hates–”
“–being drunk,” Alijda finished. “It makes her say silly things she regrets. Gotta get used to us humans being irrational, Beam.”
Beam turned back, a hopeful look on her face. Ned stood up and brushed off his hands. “Do I have to gag you, girlie? Or will you shut up?” he asked.
Alijda glared at him. “Do I have to spell out the fact that we know each other and obviously came from the same place? Or does your boss not care to have that information?”
Ned glared back. He looked from her, to the front of the tent, and back. Then he reached into a nearby pack, pulling out a towel. Stuffing one corner of it into Alijda’s mouth, he then turned and walked back outside.
Alijda gave his back a nasty look. She turned back towards Beam, glancing down at the towel which was protruding from between her lips, which she couldn’t easily spit out. Beam leaned in close, grabbing the material between her own teeth, and she pulled it free. Alijda tried to spit out the aftertaste.
“Which is bad,” Beam insisted. “Very bad, considering what they know and what they’re attempting.”
Alijda caught the undercurrent of fear in Beam’s tone. “Okay. I’m all ears, and ready to teleport away again with the information,” she said.
Beam glanced towards the tent flap.
“Don’t worry, Kat and Firestorm are ready with a distraction to buy us more time if we need,” Alijda insisted. “What have you found out?”
Beam nodded. “Right. Well, you’ll need the backstory. I learned it when they left me and Destiny together while they were setting up camp. She told me it all started with Compton’s father. A man who abducted people from other worlds, recruiting them to work here, for him.”
Alijda flinched. “Wait. So Destiny – who is Fate, by the way – was abducted?”
Beam nodded again. “Compton Sr. had some way of scrambling people’s minds, giving them false histories so they wouldn’t want to go back home. But it didn’t work on Dest– Fate,” Beam corrected herself. “Possibly because she carried her own ward of protection. She even escaped from him. Tried to get local authorities to go after Compton Senior, but her story was too fantastical, and he was too influential. Plus the guy was smart, shutting down his activities when she began pointing fingers.”
“Damn. So he was a successful businessman largely due to illicit abductions from other magical worlds,” Alijda reasoned. “Did he take items as well as people?”
“Probably. So, this left Fate resigned to living out her days here, because it didn’t seem like anyone knew of other Earths at all. Of course, she did try to find people living here who might be like her, creating her club of people with powers not-quite-right for this world. But she never told them her history, fearing they might simply be locals with quirks.”
Alijda frowned. “But then why would Compton’s son now be–” It came to her. “He inherited everything when his dad passed away. He must have found information in his dad’s records, and wants to start this whole portal thing back up. To become a success story. Hoping Fate can fill in any missing pieces towards re-activating it.”
“Bingo. And he got to Fate using that Ned guy,” Beam added. “Managed to get him on her list, then boom, abduction.”
“And the cyber arm?” Alijda wondered.
Beam made a shrugging motion. “Fate found it in the clearing one day. After all, this apparently IS a dimensional weak point. She didn’t want to leave it around for anyone else to find, but hoped that despite removing it, it would phase back into her world at some future time. Hence the symbol she placed on it.”
Alijda nodded, and was about to ask another question, when there were a couple of shouts from outside the tent.
“Damn, we’re almost out of time,” she realized. “Beam, do you know how best to stop Compton?”
Beam shook her head. “All I know is he’s planning a ritual, and we can’t underestimate him. He knows things through whatever his father left behind. The only reason he’s waited to act on the stuff outright is out of a fear that he’ll end up trapped on some other world. Hence his nabbing of Fate. But if he’s cornered, who knows what he’ll do.”
Alijda nodded. “Pity we’ve still got Firestorm with us, or we could just portal everyone here up to the Station and sort it out from there.”
Beam snickered. “It amuses me that you think Epsilon has that much power,” she said. “But even so, Compton’s two friends still think he’s a bit nuts. We don’t want to give his stories more credence. I kind of regret claiming that I appeared from another place as it is, and am kind of hoping we can claim to be part of a joke that Compton himself set up for them.”
“Mmmm.” Alijda glanced towards the front of the tent as the shouting got louder. “Once I’m out of here, can you go holographic?”
“I’d need to be able to touch my earring,” Beam admitted. “Also, physical objects on my person phase with me, so I’d still be tied up. Even assuming my power reserves are enough to do it.”
“You want to come with me then?”
Beam shook her head. “I won’t leave Fate with them. Underneath it all, I’m still a hologram. Even if they cut me, my blood isn’t real, so better me than her.”
Alijda imagined that while Beam’s blood might not be ‘real’, it’d still hurt like hell, given how the blonde girl’s reactions had been programmed to mimic that of humans. But there wasn’t time to argue, plus maybe Beam could phase, once freed.
“I can at least help with your hands,” Alijda reasoned, given her ability to decide whether to take objects with her on a teleport or not. “Show me the ropes. Alice, it’s time to check in with Rose!”
“Roger wilco,” came Alice’s voice. “Apologies to any pilots listening in who are cringing and want to smack me.”
“You kept the comms open,” Beam realized. “Smart. Sorry I couldn’t activate my own communicator once they got me.” She flipped over to present her back to Alijda, her arms bound tightly together behind her.
Alijda edged down towards Beam’s bottom, closing her mouth over the end of the rope and closing her eyes. She visualized the predetermined area in her mind, and that she wanted to be there with with the ropes.
Gods, but she hated teleporting blind. Even with live surveillance cameras, there was always the chance that something would turn up at just the wrong moment, or that there was some nigh invisible wire that would end up perforating her body, or…
“Rose says you’re good, Alijda,” came Alice’s voice.
‘My life’s in their hands,’ Alijda thought. She teleported.
With her eyes closed, she didn’t experience any visual disorientation, but there was a bit of motion sickness as she fell the half metre onto Firestorm’s tarp, the one Kat and his group had used earlier for his communication ritual. They’d set it out earlier for this very reason.
Alijda spat Beam’s ropes out of her mouth after she landed – seriously, she could use some mouthwash after this mission – and drew in a huge lungful of air. She seemed to be alive, if still trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey. Blinking her eyes open confirmed that she had made it to the prearranged failsafe location.
“She’s here,” Rose’s voice said from behind her. “Uh, you want me to untie you, Alijda?”
“Please,” Alijda rasped. “I’m a little too shaken up to teleport out of these at the moment.”
She heard Rose’s feet approaching on the tarp, and then the redhead was looming over her, fiddling with the ropes binding her hands. “Alice passed on most of what she heard to us,” Rose assured. “But the only real plan we have remains Firestorm’s preference for launching fireballs at their tent.”
Alijda chuckled. “Well, that would set off the fireworks they have in there, so it’s sure to mess up whatever their goals are,” she remarked. “But that’s risky.”
“Even given Kat’s ability to control fire?”
“Hmmm, point. Still, our best bet might be subterfuge,” Alijda decided. “They’re not that smart. We could make Compton think he’s awakened some sort of dimensional gods his father had offended. Scare him away for good. I think Fate would play along.”
Then again, as she said it, she realized that might only add credence to his beliefs. The very thing Beam had hoped to avoid.
Rose sat back as she pulled Alijda’s ropes free. “There’s no way the Project could simply shore up this dimensional spot then?” she asked. “Making all of Compton’s efforts totally moot?”
“Oh, we could totally do that,” Alice’s voice offered up through the communicator. “The problem is it’d take time, and the process further weakens the forces, much like how waves pull back from a shoreline before a tsunami. Do we really want to risk that when Compton might know how to drive a wedge in?”
Alijda chewed on her lower lip as she considered the options.
 When I looked up the phrase, I learned “roger” means ‘received and understood’ while “wilco” means ‘will comply’, making both words together rather redundant.
PATHS NOT TAKEN: If Fate had come through the portal voluntarily, it would have been because she’d been having dreams, with Compton’s dad being a coincidental thing she witnessed upon arriving. If Fate had come through accidentally, it would have been because of backwash (or something) from Compton’s dad taking his magical objects off neighbouring worlds. The abduction route led us towards actual human trafficking, rather than something more benign.
EXTRA ASIDE: I had another medical appointment a couple days ago. Life’s stabilizing, I think we’re back on a two week schedule here. In other news, I wrote a post for the “Time Travel Nexus” about a “Back to the Future” comic book, and my NaNoWriMo for “Time Untied” has reached 25k (though Carrie’s still only on day three of University). It’s going to be an undertaking; I’ll keep poking away. Thanks for reading here – wow, and 7 votes last time!