Alice

4.15: Rose to the Occasion

Previous INDEX 4 Next

EPSILON DELTA, PART FIFTEEN: ROSE TO THE OCCASION

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ROSEMARY THORNE
Commission from Lia

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

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

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

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

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

“Awesome. Means I’m zero help.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then things were eerily silent.

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

Rose scrambled to her feet and ran for the clearing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Assuming Kat was still okay after the mystical explosion.

The two of them crept closer to the clearing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“One of you? Rose, what–”

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

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

“Rose, run away!” Kat shouted.

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

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

Compton smirked back. “Or else what?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Four sets of Rose cracked their knuckles.

WHAT’S NEXT?

Who will be taking over the Epsilon Project? OPTIONS:

VOTING CLOSES NOON EST SATURDAY DECEMBER 16th

Previous INDEX 4 Next

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

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

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

Advertisements

4.14: Tied and True

Previous INDEX 4 Next

EPSILON DELTA, PART FOURTEEN: TIED AND TRUE

“Wondering about Kat?”

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

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

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

“Possibly doing?” Rose prompted.

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

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

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

Rose pulled back and looked away.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Let’s hear it anyway,” Alijda said.

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHIBI BEAM
Commission from Gen Ishihara

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

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

Beam glanced towards the tent flap.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“And the cyber arm?” Alijda wondered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You want to come with me then?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OPTIONS:

VOTING CLOSES NOON EST SATURDAY DECEMBER 2nd

Previous INDEX 4 Next

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!

4.13: Search and Re-Skew

Previous INDEX 4 Next

EPSILON DELTA, PART THIRTEEN: SEARCH AND RE-SKEW

They had soon left the vicinity of the village entirely, Rose continuing her enthusiastic jog through the fields, occasionally pausing to sniff the air once more.

“It’s been over fifteen minutes,” Kat mused to Alijda as they kept pace. “What’s the range of this spell I wonder?”

Alijda shrugged. “Maybe Rose isn’t homing in? If she’s tracking Beam, could be we’re simply retracing her route. And as a hologram, Beam could move pretty quickly.”

“I guess,” Kat yielded. He sighed. “If only I’d had Rose wait outside the police station.”

“Hindsight is 20/20,” Alijda retorted.

Kat chuckled. “I seem to recall using that argument on you once.”

“Hmph,” the brunette said. “Bear in mind that you’ve also been fortunate – or possibly unfortunate – enough to have been placed in an advisory role to the people who are actually in charge twice now. Namely me and Rose. There’s a good chance you couldn’t have changed Rose’s mind about something any more than you could have changed mine.”

“I’ve gone rogue before. Hallucinogenic gas,” Kat reminded her.

“Oh, well, you’ve got an answer for everything, don’t you.”

“Not everything.” Kat wondered about filtering his next thought even as he spoke it aloud. “Not you.”

Alijda didn’t say anything for a moment. Then, “I haven’t made that easy. Did I even properly thank you for saving my life last mission?”

Kat hesitated. “In your own way.”

Alijda winced. “Meaning no. I was mostly focussed on Chris, and myself. So thank you. And know that I have been working on being less negative, and some of that is thanks to you as well.”

Kat eyed Alijda, remembering what she’d been saying right before Rose had regained consciousness. “I was getting that vibe. That’s good. But don’t feel you need to do it for me.”

ALIJDA VAN VLIET Commission from Shirochya

They fell silent again, climbing over a fence as Rose continued her tracking. At last, Alijda spoke up again. “Kat, do we have a thing?” she asked, without looking at him directly. “Or, that is, might we have a thing? A together thing? If I don’t sabotage it? Or am I imagining things?”

“Hey, I have already seen your underwear,” Kat remarked, before he could stop himself. He rolled his eyes, pushing off from the ground a little harder than necessary on his next stride. “Sorry. Bad time to joke.”

Alijda didn’t answer.

“We might have a thing,” Kat granted after a few more paces. “Though this Destiny/Fate situation has me more than a little mixed up right now. Also, remember how I’m not the most mature person as far as relationships go. You think you can deal with that?”

“Nobody’s perfect,” Alijda said after a bit. “Am I hearing you’d be willing to give an actual dinner with me a try sometime though? Assuming Epsilon allows it?”

“Dinner works,” Kat agreed. “Do you like Thai food?”

Alijda finally looked over at him, offering up a small smile. “We can negotiate.”

He fired a smile back at her, and the two of them resumed their jog after Rose.

As they were coming up on more of a forested area, the young redhead tripped and went sprawling, letting out another sneeze. She managed to roll and come up on one knee, only to let out a whimper. “Oh noooo, it’s GONE.”

“What’s gone, the scent?” Kat asked, coming up next to her. She turned to look up at him and nodded.

“A sneeze to turn tracking on, a sneeze to turn it off?” Alijda hypothesized as she joined them.

“Oh, that could be,” Rose realized. She stood and turned to look at the closest tree, only a few paces away. “I feel like I was getting close too. Should I tickle my nose to turn it on again? Or would that intoxicating smell convince me to run into some kind of trap?”

“It’s starting to get dark, and we wouldn’t want to lose track of you in there,” Kat added. “Let’s have a quick look around first. See if there’s signs that anyone’s come this way.”

The group started to walk along the tree line, looking for a path or obvious entry point into the underbrush. It wasn’t long before Kat heard some noises. An animal? He held up a hand and flattened himself against a tree trunk, Alijda and Rose following suit nearby.

Something was definitely approaching their position. And as much as it had made sense for them to come down without weapons, that did feel like an oversight now. All they had on hand was Beam’s jeans. Then again… Kat reached into his pocket for his matchbook. He could manage something with fire, in a pinch.

Fortunately, it didn’t turn out to be necessary. Even in the fading light, Kat recognized the human figure as he jogged out into the open a few paces away.

“Firestorm,” Kat called out.

The redhead spun in place and nearly fell over. “Don’t DO that,” he accused, brushing off his robes before shaking what looked like Destiny’s diary in their direction. “You’re as bad as your blonde companion for sneaking up on people.”

“Beam?” Rose said, stepping forward. “Do you mean you’ve seen Beam?”

“Yeah, sure, we teamed up,” Firestorm said, lowering his arm.

“Then where is she?” Rose asked, turning to look at the trees.

“Caught by the enemy,” Firestorm said, shrugging.

Rose’s gaze snapped back to him. “WHAT?”

“Look, that wasn’t MY decision,” Firestorm sighed. “But Beam figured being intentionally caught would provide her with useful information. I was just on my way back to tell you guys what had happened.”

“Why did you even run off in the first place?” Alijda asked.

Firestorm peered. “Who in blazes are you?”

“Time out,” Kat sighed. “I think we need a moment here to get caught up.”

***

After a quick introduction to Alijda, Firestorm answered her question. He explained that he’d seen mention in Destiny’s diary of a “dimensional weak point” with occasional activity “around sunset”. So he’d headed off to check out the area, not wanting to miss the time frame. Unfortunately, he hadn’t managed to find the clearing that she had described.

“What I DID stumble onto,” Firestorm concluded. “Was Compton and two of his friends, with Destiny in tow, all tied up. They seemed to be looking for this dimensional thing too.”

“You haven’t mentioned Compton before,” Kat accused.

Firestorm snorted. “Not much to mention. His father was a big shot a few towns over, because he managed to become a pretty successful businessman. Guy passed away a couple years back, and Compton inherited everything, but he is pretty clueless. Both in business and in interpersonal skills. I sure wouldn’t have figured him to resort to kidnapping.”

“So what would motivate kidnapping Destiny?” Alijda wondered.

Firestorm rubbed the back of his neck. “Maybe he wanted her for her potions, stumbled into whatever you guys are looking into, and is now hoping that Destiny has dimensional knowledge he can use to make it big? Honestly, I’m not even sure how he pulled off the abduction in the first place. Maybe he was coached?”

“Or there’s something bigger going on here,” Kat cautioned. “What did Compton say to you when you ran into him?”

“Whoa, whoa, I didn’t let myself be seen by that guy,” Firestorm protested. “Just heard his crew stumbling around in the underbrush and hid, to see what I could learn. And what I learned, I’ve already explained. It’s as I was backing away from them, figuring I might need backup, that I ran into that Beam woman again.”

Rose leaned forwards, looking worried. “Oh yes?”

“Yeah, she just seemed to be running right through, uh, everything. That’s a hell of a power, by the way. I made motions to flag her down, lest she freak out Compton and initiate an unfortunate chain of events. She came to her senses long enough to listen to me, and we decided to team up to help free Destiny. Beam apparently wanted to ‘do something right for a change’, whatever that means.”

Rose winced, as Firestorm paused, eyeing the rest of them. “And that’s when Beam proposed getting herself caught. To learn more. And given her ability to pass right through stuff, it didn’t sound like a bad idea.”

“Except it turned out to be a bad idea?” Kat said dryly.

“Eh, maybe? I’ll let you be the judge,” Firestorm decided. “Beam marched out to attract Compton’s attention while I hid and watched. She pretended like she’d come through a portal and wanted their help to know where she was. Compton was intrigued at first, but freaked the heck out once he realized she was some sort of ghost. Screamed at his friends to tie her up.”

“Oh no. And Beam didn’t run away at that?” Rose said, clasping her hands together.

Firestorm shook his head. “She doubled down, saying ‘I can be corporeal if you want’ even as Compton screamed at her to ‘Get on the ground’. She must have turned her magic power off too, because one of Compton’s guys was able to tie her hands behind her back. And after Beam wouldn’t explain to them what part of the forest she’d come from, she was gagged too. That’s when I figured I should hightail it back to Destiny’s place, to get you for backup.”

“So Beam’s been with them for a while and might have useful information by now, we simply can’t get to her,” Kat reasoned.

Rose’s palms separated into fists. “Well, he’s messed with the wrong girl. One sneeze, and I’ll have us back at Beam’s side in no time. As long as Firestorm being here doesn’t mix me up.”

“Um, I’ll try not to?” Firestorm said, scratching his head.

“Hold on,” Alijda said, crossing her arms and leaning against a tree trunk. “No need for us to charge in. This is kind of perfect, actually.”

“Perfect?” Rose gasped. “Alijda, how can you say that?”

As a response, Alijda reached down to tap at her communicator. “Hey, Alice?”

“Hey Abbott![1]” Alice’s voice chirped in response.

Alijda rolled her eyes. “Remember how you were wondering how to abduct a person who is insubstantial?”

“Ooh, doing six impossible things before breakfast down there, are you? I hope one of them was talking to Kat.”

Alijda coughed, as Kat let out a quiet chuckle. “Fo-cus, Gods Alice,” Alijda said. “Beam’s become less holographic. Meaning not only is she caught, but you should be able to pick up her communicator now.”

“Oh? Gimme a second, I’ll check.”

“You figure we can track her,” Rose realized. “Maybe even listen in on what’s happening.”

Alijda nodded. “And more than that, if Beam’s been kidnapped, this becomes an Epsilon mission again. We’re within our rights to interfere.”

Kat rubbed his chin. That seemed like a bit of a reach, given how Beam had created the situation herself. But if it helped them to pursue the goal of getting Destiny back, he wasn’t about to object.

Firestorm threw his hands up into the air. “Okay, seriously, who ARE you people?”

Kat looked over at him. “I don’t think you really want to know the answer,” he remarked. “After all, your imagination can probably dream up something far more interesting than reality, and we’ll be leaving soon enough anyway.”

Firestorm looked Kat up and down. “So you’re some sort of magical special ops unit? Looking into these portals?”

Alice’s voice came back over the comm. “If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire…”[2]

“Alice, do you have a fix on Beam?” Alijda interrupted, palming her face.

“Yup, got that,” Alice confirmed immediately. “At least, I presume it’s Beam, I don’t know what else this signal could be. She’s about a kilometre away, in some sort of clearing within that forest region.”

Firestorm grimaced. “So Compton and his buddies found the clearing.”

“Is that bad?” Rose wondered. “What did Destiny’s diary say about it?”

“Not much,” Firestorm admitted. “Just that she’d used some of her occult tricks to pinpoint it, yet had no idea how to open an actual portal.”

“Could be how Destiny got the cyber arm,” Alijda mused. “If it came through there?”

“Maybe,” Kat said. “Though given her tendency to ask travellers about objects, maybe she traded for it or something.”

“Either way, we need a plan to get Beam and Destiny out of this Compton’s clutches,” Rose broke in. “Alijda, maybe your teleport…?”

“Limited to one person at a time,” Alijda said. “Meaning the first retrieval would tip them off.”

“Not if we arrange a distraction,” Kat remarked.

“Hold on. Once you get your people, what then?” Firestorm protested. “You just leave? What if Compton’s doing something illegal, are you just going to let him get away with it and prosecute him later?”

Kat exchanged a glance with Rose and Alijda. They couldn’t really interfere with that – except what if it was dimensional? “Firestorm’s got a point. Maybe Alijda should try to get more information before springing them. Beam might even be able to do something from the inside, even goad Compton into spilling the beans on his plans, if he hasn’t already.”

Alijda let out a breath. “Careful, Kat. How much of this is our fight?”

“We won’t know until we have more information,” he insisted.

“Information that we might get at this clearing,” Rose supplied. “If it looks like Compton’s setting up weird ritualistic rocks or something, that could tell us everything we need to know.”

“My fellow redhead has good advice,” Firestorm remarked. “One thing at a time. Now, do we have to walk there, or do your supernatural abilities allow for a more instantaneous transportation?”

They walked. Even if power had been fully restored to the Station, Kat knew that providing Firestorm with even more evidence of what they might be capable of could only be problematic in the long run.

As they got close, Kat offered to scout up ahead. He had a certain amount of experience through his military training, and while Alijda could vanish faster with her teleportation, the purple smoke she left behind was a dead giveaway. Even if it was dark by now.

On the one hand, a quick surveillance of the clearing showed that Compton and his men weren’t doing anything obvious that might involve creating a portal or otherwise affecting the dimensions. However, they’d set up a tent, added perimeter lighting using some sort of spell, and one of the guys seemed to be keeping an eye out for anyone watching them, implying suspicious behaviour.

Kat was just about to retreat when he saw her.

Compton – it had to be him based off of Firestorm’s description, a shorter man with a scruffy beard – pulled her out of the tent. Destiny. Her long blonde hair trailed behind her as he muscled her over to a part of the clearing and pointed at the ground. Kat couldn’t properly hear what they were saying, but he was more fixated on Destiny’s features. Her mannerisms, even with her hands tied behind her back. And he couldn’t be certain, not a hundred percent, but on some level, he knew. He knew.

After years of searching, he had finally located Fate Wallace-Wray. His childhood friend.

[1] From “Abbott and Costello”, parodied here.
[2] …the A-Team. (Or this crew, I suppose.)

WHAT’S NEXT?

OPTIONS:

VOTING CLOSES NOON EST SATURDAY NOVEMBER 18th

Previous INDEX 4 Next

PATHS NOT TAKEN:
Obviously decided to run with the tied vote again. If Firestorm had been working with the enemy, Beam would have noticed and tracked the man, providing exposition to the team here in Firestorm’s place. If Beam had been caught, it would have been the other way around, as it kind of was, but of course I had them team up first. Had there only been a team-up, the plan would have been for Alijda to get herself caught next, as someone who could teleport away. (Incidentally, this also explains why Rose tracking Beam/Firestorm last time would have been spoilers, as the person to provide the information would have been the one she found. Compton’s been in the outline since that vote.)

EXTRA ASIDE:
I’m leaving the vote open for two weeks, as I indicated in this post, which gives me time to deal with report cards as I return to work from medical leave. Plan is to have another part up for the last weekend of the month. Thanks for sticking with me. In other news, I’m doing a sort-of NaNoWriMo on Time Untied. We’ll see how that goes. Consider a TWF vote for Time & Tied? Thanks.

4.11: Trail Mix

Previous INDEX 4 Next

EPSILON DELTA, PART ELEVEN: TRAIL MIX

Alijda stared at the station’s computer output. Despite the clues pointing to Kat’s childhood friend Fate being mixed up in whatever was happening on the planet, there was no sign of any anomaly. Human or otherwise. Meaning this mission was over. Meaning… Alijda clenched her jaw, and turned to her companion. “I’m going down.”

Alice flinched. “To the planet?”

“No, for limbo practice. Yes, to the planet!”

“Alijda. Sorry, but no.” Alice began to dance nervously from one foot to the other. “Army’s been deactivated. These scans show no further technology is present, so Beam’s mission is done. Protocol dictates that we get everyone back up to the station and vamoose.”

“You don’t work for Epsilon any more,” Alijda pointed out. “Why enforce their rules?”

Alice added hand wringing to her dance. “To atone for my sins? To keep Beam from getting in even bigger trouble? To get everybody home in time for lunch? C’mon Alijda. We can’t interfere with planets that are simply doing their own thing. That’s wrong, and we both know it.”

Alijda looked away from Alice’s pleading gaze. She didn’t like that her friend was making sense, because she didn’t want to be talked out of her decision. “You once told me that signing up for this Project meant we’d get help,” she stated. “If we ran into problems. Well, I think Kat needs help.”

“The deal was, you’d be helped within your personal multiverse,” Alice said. “Not out here.”

“How is out here so different? Either way we’re getting external help.”

Alice poked her head back into Alijda’s field of vision. “Look. Even if this Destiny woman Kat mentioned IS Fate from his world, the only reason she wouldn’t show on our scans is if she breached the barriers herself. Thus not our problem. Moreover, she’s obviously started living a life down there. We can’t simply abduct her away from that, there would be repercussions for anyone who knows her.”

“This project abducted me. Twice.”

Alice stamped her foot. “That’s different, and you know it! Stop bending the rules to suit your narrative.”

Alijda spun away from her roommate a second time. “Why? That’s what I do, right? I’m questionable morals woman with enough l33t h4x0r skills to enforce my choices on others.”

Alice sighed. “Alijda, think. We don’t know anything about this Destiny. What if it’s all some sort of trap? To catch the original owners of the cyber arm?”

Alijda ran her fingers back through her hair. “Fine. We call Rose first – she’s technically in charge. If she feels like Kat’s behaving irrationally, we pull them up. Otherwise, I’m going down to help.”

“To help with what, reprogramming the local abacuses?”

Ignoring Alice’s little jab, Alijda paged Rose. They’d restored communications nearly half an hour ago, but Alijda had wanted to be sure there was no chance that they’d missed something on scans before making contact. To avoid being the bearers of bad news.

When Rose didn’t answer, Alijda wondered if that had been a mistake. “I’ll try Kat,” she decided.

Kat answered. He quickly brought them up to speed, in terms of Rose having been rendered drunk and unconscious from a magical police stamp, and Beam running off after having been screamed at by Rose in that state.

“It’s my fault,” Kat concluded. “I told Beam to act like Rose was a male lesbian, then paid little attention to issues arising from that decision. Worse, I prolonged the mission and brought us to the police station, instead of waiting for you to resume contact.”

“You meant well,” Alijda said, rubbing her forehead.

“Did I?” Kat challenged.

“Eh. Better than I probably would have under the same circumstances.”

Alice spoke up at last. “All three of us are kind of bad for breaking rules, aren’t we,” she reflected. “Hold on, I’ll see if I can pick Beam up on sensors.”

“The good news?” Kat offered. “According to the papers I signed, the magical tracking effects will wear off of Rose within a day. Two at most. I’ve pulled her off the main streets, we can lay low until she regains consciousness. And Beam might come back here in the meantime.”

“That doesn’t solve the question of this Destiny woman,” Alijda pointed out.

Kat was silent for a moment. “No,” he admitted. “It doesn’t.”

“I can’t pick up Beam anywhere around you,” Alice remarked. “Could she have been teleported away?”

“Seems unlikely, unless that’s another trick she had up her sleeve,” Kat said. “She did go insubstantial. Maybe that blinds her to your sensors?”

“Or Beam was abducted too,” Alijda said. “Making this an Epsilon mission, meaning I should go down to help with the search.”

Alice cleared her throat. “How can someone abduct a person who is insubstantial?”

Alijda resisted the urge to stamp her foot. “Look. We can’t just stand here and do nothing while they’re in trouble down there, can we?”

“Can’t we? It is hard. Doing that. Isn’t it?”

It was Alice’s tone of quiet sadness that made Alijda flinch more than anything. Because, of course, that’s the reality Alice had been faced with many times – sending people away and doing nothing, or the bare minimum, to help them. A boundary that Alice had ultimately overstepped. One which had gotten her fired.

Even now, there was no malice in Alice’s expression. If anything it was a searching, a pleading, a longing for confirmation of some feeling she had somehow never fully managed to articulate.

“Yeah,” Alijda agreed. “It’s hard. And… and there’s no need to put you through that again, Alice. How about you go down to help Kat out and assess the situation. I mean, it would seem to call for a level headed woman to put things right, and you’d be more objective about it than I would be.”

The two roommates stared at each other.

“Kat?” Alice said after a moment. “One of us will whirlpool down to the previous coordinates we used. Can you give us directions to your present location from there?”

“I can, but do you think having more people here might make things worse?” Kat said.

“Let us worry about that,” Alice stated.

Kat told them how to reach his position, adding that it might be a good idea to pick up Firestorm from the occult house on the way. Alice then closed the channel. The two women continued to stare at each other in silence.

Just as Alijda was about to ask Alice if she’d need anything, the younger woman spoke up.

“You can go down,” Alice said. “If you tell me why you want to go.”

It took a moment for Alijda to formulate her argument. “Think about it, Alice. Why would this Destiny woman magically give a cyber arm some ‘desire’, which included accessing computer records, and pulling Kat onto the Station? Why have the arm cause another crisis as soon as Kat left, then spout ‘Fate’ from a computer program? Between that and the symbols, there must be some connection to him. To his world. This might even be a cry for help, from Fate. We need Destiny, and we need Beam, and me going down can help us get them back as fast as possible.”

A smile tugged at Alice’s features. “No, you silly. Tell me why YOU want to go.”

Alijda frowned. Slowly, her eyes widened as she realized what Alice was getting at. She pursed her lips. “B-Because Kat’s an amazing guy and I screwed it all up with him once so I want to make that up to him?” She hoped she wasn’t blushing or anything so ridiculous.

Alice clapped her hands. “We now fail the Bechdel test, but as long as you’re AWARE of that issue, I’m okay with being the one staying behind. Let’s get you a communicator.”

Alijda stared. “Are you truly okay staying here? Really?”

It was Alice’s turn to look away, as she tucked some hair back behind her ear. “Old habits die hard. Besides, I need to think of a good way to incorporate initials for Rose and Beam into my pin design. This’ll give me time to do that.” She turned back, and winked off Alijda’s nonplussed look. “You know, the pin I made for Epsilon, based off Steins;Gate? I showed it to you a couple months ago.”

Alijda shook her head. “Oh, Alice. No matter what I might say about how weird you are, never change.”

“Same, honey.” Alice reached out, then seemed to think better of it, turning the movement into a stretch.

Alijda stepped forwards and grasped Alice, pulling her into a quick hug. “Thank you.” She pulled back, holding Alice by the shoulders. “Now yes, let’s get me a communicator.”

***

Firestorm was gone. All Alijda found in the house that Kat had directed her to was a note, left on the table, reading ‘Onto something, can’t wait’. There was no sign of Destiny’s diary.

“Sorry, Kat,” Alijda finished, after explaining. They had met up near the police station, in what passed for a park. The unconscious Rose had been laid out on a bench, Kat leaning over her, to monitor her condition.

Kat shrugged. “No need to apologize, doesn’t sound like you scared him off. We probably shouldn’t have left Firestorm alone. That’s another thing I’ve messed up planetside.”

Alijda put her hands on her hips. “Oooh, don’t you even start.”

Kat frowned. “Start what?”

“I’m a depressive. I know all about the spiral down, pinning extra blame when it’s not really warranted. I mean, if you’d left Beam behind with this Firestorm, her memory might have glitched again, or Firestorm might not have read something important, and so we’d still be in some sort of trouble. So don’t dwell.”

Kat shook his head. “Alijda, you forget, I’ve trained for off-planet missions. The repercussions of messing up in these sorts of situations…”

“Still lie in our future. We can salvage this situation, so for now we focus forwards. Okay?”

Kat chuckled. “Oh, very well. But only if you take your own advice. Particularly with respect to whatever you were doing in your six months away from me, versus my six hours.”

Alijda let out a quick breath. “Fine.” He was pointing out a conversational door there, one related to them, but this hardly felt like the time. “So, now three missing people and no way to track them. Beam’s habits we know, more or less. Tell me about the other two.”

Kat filled in the information about Firestorm easily enough, Alijda pacing back and forth as he spoke. Kat then gave what cursory information they knew about Destiny, before visibly hesitating. A few people had wandered through the area during their conversation, but there was no one there now, so Alijda knew it had to be about her.

She stopped in place, turning to face him. “If you don’t want to tell me about Fate, you don’t have to.”

“It might be relevant. It’s just…”

“It’s not on your business cards, as you said. I get it.”

Kat shook his head. “No, it’s more like, I’ve never really gone in depth with anyone about it before. So I’m not sure how to do it now. But…” He came around the bench and leaned against the side, near Rose’s feet. “Okay. Fate was my first serious relationship. Could even be why I don’t take them seriously now, you never know when the other person’s going to up and disappear.”

“Meaning you took relationships seriously before Fate?”

Kat seemed about to reply, only to rub the back of his neck, sheepishly. “Hah, okay, no,” he admitted after a moment. “But I was a teenager, and with a name like ‘Katherine’, it was all about being as manly as possible. That said, Fate was the first rejection in high school that truly bothered me. She said she was upset that I was wasting my ‘gift’. It was only by looking into her occultish things that made me realize, she’d somehow sensed my ability for fire control. And it was only by proving a genuine interest in learning more that got me into using that ability, which led to us hooking up.”

“So Fate was the first girl you actually cared about,” Alijda realized. “As far as relationships go.”

“Huh. You may be right there,” Kat said. “We went to prom together, but our paths diverged in post secondary. What with my Dad wanting me at military college. For a time, Fate and I corresponded back and forth, but then it suddenly… stopped. Fate’s parents thought she’d gone out west. I wondered as to an occult connection, but there were so few leads. I’ve searched for her, on and off, ever since.”

Alijda chewed briefly on her lower lip. “Guess I’ll just ask this then. Kat, could Fate truly have breached dimensional barriers by herself?”

“It’s possible,” Kat granted. “She was always deeper into occult things than I was, and she never told me what her gift allowed her to do. I just always figured she’d been recruited for something top secret, the way I was with the ‘Doorways’ program.”

“Did Fate have any interest in potions?”

“Like Destiny, you mean? Not really. But she could have grown into it, using that rare skill to maximize her chance of meeting someone like her elsewhere on the planet.”

“And you have no idea where Destiny might have been taken?”

“Not off the top of my head.” Kat shook his head. “It’s funny, now that I think about it, Fate did tend to wear a lot of black. Kind of like how you do. I wonder, could it be I have a different attraction to a certain type of woman?”

“Meaning you think Fate could have black, suicidal thoughts, like me?”

“Whoa! Whoa, no,” Kat protested, jumping back to his feet. “I didn’t mean… it’s only… yeah, I’m not sure why I said that. Sorry.”

The man had been pointing out how he’s attracted to you, dumbass, Alijda realized moments later. And you had to go and turn that into depression. Sabotaging the conversation, and yourself, like always.

“Hah, no, I’m the one who’s sorry,” Alijda said quickly. “I’m just terrible, in how my mind interprets…” She also needed to stop putting herself down. “I mean, not always, but my default it’s, er…” Still talking about herself. “Whereas you, uh…” Oh, just say you like him already. “See, I failed the Bechdel test with Alice.” Damn it!

Kat’s eyebrow arced up, but before he could say anything, Rose let out a gasp. The redheaded teen’s eyes snapped open, and she jerked herself up into a sitting position, breathing fast.

Kat and Alijda moved to sit on either side of her, to prevent her from slumping back down, Alijda reaching out to touch the young girl’s arm.

“Rose? Rose, you okay?” Kat asked.

“Feel all funny,” Rose wheezed. “My tongue, my eyes, my ears, my fingers, my…” She sniffed in a long, deep breath through her nose. Only to wince and reach up to touch it. “My nose. Ack, now all the weird tingles are zeroing in on my poor nose.”

Alijda met Kat’s gaze. “That signed police form, giving Rose tracking powers. Did it mention turning her into some sort of bloodhound?”

Kat considered it. “You mean, allowing her to track someone or something by scent? Yeah, it could be interpreted that way.”

Rose poked at her nose. “That’s non-scents. In fact, my nose is feeling more and more stuffed up. Like it’s waiting for the right thing to smell, or something.” She looked around. “Hold on. When did Beam turn into Alijda?”

“This means we need to give Rose something of Destiny’s to sniff,” Kat decided. “Let’s get back to her place.” He started to rise, then sat back. “Unless, should we track down Firestorm instead, using that note he left? He knows the terrain, has the diary, and might already be onto something.”

“Do either of you have a tissue?” Rose asked.

“Hell, maybe Rose should track Beam,” Alijda suggested. “Using some item of hers from the station. Alice had noticed upgrades to the sensors that she didn’t understand. If Beam could get those working, and if Destiny is Fate, and if that means the Station can pinpoint her, we’d be able to go into the situation much less blind.”

“Beam,” Rose gasped. Her hand slid to her mouth. “I told her… I said she was… oh no. Oh NO, I’m HORRIBLE.”

“That was lots of ‘ifs’, Alijda,” Kat said, looking troubled. “And what if we track down Beam only for her to tell us it’s time to leave the planet, by the book?”

Alijda shook her head. “If Rose finds Beam, it shows she cares. And I doubt Beam would shut down a friend in need after that.”

“Wait, what is going on?” Rose looked back and forth between the two of them. “What’s the next move here?”

WHAT’S NEXT?

VOTING CLOSES NOON EDT SATURDAY SEPT 30th

Previous INDEX 4 Next

PATHS NOT TAKEN:
My main thought behind the vote had been secret picking of point-of-view. (Alijda, Alice, Kat.) Second guessed it later (we hadn’t had Alijda POV yet, and it’s getting to be late in the story). If I had time to do it over I’d likely have an Alice/Kat split, but hopefully it worked okay. Alijda also pulled the narrative focus onto the Alijda-Kat relationship (as Steve S surmised), whereas with Alice, I’d likely have focussed more on Alice-Rose leadership talk. The tracking without extra help was vague, but may have meant Kat talking to Rose about the complexities of relationships (including Alijda and Fate).

THE ORACLE PROPHESIED:
Subtle decision from the Part 9 vote: When Firestorm was left behind, it meant no tech would register on the Epsilon scans, as revealed in this part. (After all, Rose being deputized has kept them tied to the planet.) Had Firestorm been the one deputized, there WOULD have been signs of a tech component, as a reason to stick around and not turn everything over to Firestorm. Thanks for reading and voting!

4.08: The Arm of Fate

Previous INDEX 4 Next

EPSILON DELTA, PART EIGHT: The Arm of Fate

“Wait, wait, I want to hear more of the cute girls flirting!” Alice pleaded. But it was too late. Even as she spoke, Alijda was tapping the button turning off communications to the planet. Alice made a pouty face at her. “You’re no fun.”

Alijda sighed. “Alice, sweetie, roomie, we’re trapped on a space station with a freaky magical cyber arm. Priorities?”

Alice crossed her arms. “Alijda, doom and gloom, also roomie, one of my priorities is staying sane. Pretty girls who want to kiss? It’s a sanity branch, showing me love can survive in a screwed up multiverse.”

Alijda matched her pose, not backing down. “You DO realize Beam’s attention makes Rose uncomfortable, yes?”

Alice couldn’t help but smile. She liked how Alijda challenged her opinions. It had been like that since their first encounter. Actually, no, what she liked even more about Alijda was how the teleporting woman would challenge, up until the point she realized that Alice wasn’t going to budge, then back off. There were even times when Alice yielded to logic. On occasion.

“Two girls can be good friends and share sexual pleasure stories without being actual make-out girlfriends,” Alice fired back. “Look at us!”

Alijda’s cheeks tinged a shade darker. “That’s different. Rose is half our age, she’s still figuring herself out. Also, I maintain that I really didn’t need to hear that vibrator story.”

Alice’s smile widened. “Ohhh, yes, you did. You were whining so much that afternoon about how you chase all the good guys away, how you were never going to find anyone, and how you’d never know the pleasures of a relationship again. You needed SOMETHING to take your mind off of it.”

“Most women would have suggested a day at a spa!”

“Most women didn’t find themselves alone on a space station for soooo looooong. Did you even try using one that way?”

“Oh, for–” Alijda closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose, and seemed about to turn away, when her posture straightened. “Wait. That’s it.”

Alice also liked when Alijda surprised her. “Really? Should we find you a–”

“NO. Stop, Alice, those images, Gods. I meant, you know this station. You know where to go to evade the sensors, yes?”

Alice shrugged. “I used to simply turn off the ones in my bedroom when I wanted–”

Alijda grasped her shoulders. “Please focus. Fo-cus. If this arm is smart, it’s going to be hiding somewhere. In a place where, even if we get all the sensors working, it’ll still be shielded from detection. Possibly even from force field confinement. Where would that be?”

Alijda’s line of thinking clicked. “There’s a few places that would work.”

That’s when the station vibrated, some red lights lit up on the console, and a warning klaxon sounded.

Alijda glanced around, then back to her. “Does one of those places also let the arm do something like that to us?”

Alice nodded. “I know exactly where it is.”

***

Their first major stop was auxiliary control.

“I should be able to pull something together here that’ll neutralize both the Army’s tech parts and its magical occulty parts at once,” Alice remarked. She dumped all the items they’d picked up en route onto the floor.

Alijda sighed. “Can you not call it ‘the Army’? It’s one cyber arm, not a platoon.”

ALICE VUNDERLANDE Commission from Cherry Z

Alice grabbed the nearby toolkit and sat down to begin sifting through the assemblage of parts. She’d had something in mind ever since discovering that magic and science were blending together on that world of scale, her last Epsilon mission. She’d never thought she’d get the opportunity to build the thing.

“Army needs a name,” Alice countered. “Do you have a better one?”

Alijda’s grumble implied she didn’t. She turned towards Mr. Smith instead. “What’s the situation with these new alarms?”

“Automated,” came the computer’s reply. “Orbit is now decaying due to internal interference. I’m prioritizing the stabilization systems over everything else, save necessities like life support, so communications are down. You have approximately ninety minutes to regain control.”

“Of course. Any clue as to why the Station wants to kill us again?”

“Unknown.”

“Never easy,” Alijda mumbled. She looked back at Alice. “Can I help you build?”

It had been months since the vague blueprints had been a thing in Alice’s mind. But now that she was focussed on it, she found she could pick up where she left off. Much like remembering the next line of dialogue in “Back to the Future”, once given the right prompt. That was simply how her mind worked.

“Sorry Alijda, hardware thing here, not a hacker thing,” Alice said. “Would take longer for me to explain than to simply do it.” She snapped on a pair of goggles and began to solder. “We could talk about Kat though, that’d help.”

Alice wasn’t looking up, but she suspected that Alijda rolled her eyes. “No.”

“Totes serious,” Alice insisted. “I can work better if I’m not consciously thinking about what I’m doing. I’ve had Ziggy or Smith play music to me in the past, but the computers are kinda preoccupied right now. So come on, what did you two talk about when getting the power for Beam?”

“Nothing.”

“Ooh, yuh huh, sure, a ‘nothing’ that’s got you all bitter about relationships again. What, did you hope Rose would pick me to go to the planet? Giving you two more quality time together? You shoulda described me better than ‘walking encyclopaedia’, that’s not really a selling point.”

Alijda let out a breath of exasperation. “I was trying to sum up your skill set as best as I could. I was NOT trying to– look, don’t even start with me, okay?”

“Okee dokee. If you’re sure?”

Her roommate remained silent, but now it was the sort of silence that felt uncomfortable enough to warrant a follow up. Maybe? It took a couple minutes, but at last Alijda continued with, “It’s just… Alice, am I an egomaniac?”

Alice started splicing the necessary wires together. “I didn’t notice any huge, framed pictures of yourself on the walls of your home.”

“I don’t mean like that,” Alijda grumbled. “I mean, in how I make things about me. Because of how I shut other people out. Doing that, all I have is me, so everything becomes about me, and that shuts people out even more. A feedback loop of me, me, me.” She stamped her foot on the ground. “Damn it! I’m an uncaring bitch who should have died years ago.”

Alice spat the paperclip out of her mouth and looked up. “WHOA. Back up. That’s the depression talking. You do care. You jumped through a doorway to be with me, up here, now. You didn’t have to do that.”

Alijda shrugged, looking sullen. “Yeah, well, maybe I’m trying to find new, more exciting ways to die. It’s been all downhill since plummeting into the Thames on my first Epsilon mission.”

“Oh, stop. I’ve never been keen on black humour, and that silly show ‘A thousand ways to die’ is fiction. I hope you’ve never watched it.” Alijda didn’t even react to the random reference. Thrown off by that, Alice looked back down at her work. “Look, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to send you to the dark places.”

“I know. For what it’s worth, I’m sorry too.”

“Remember, deep down, I don’t think you want to die, Alijda. You want to stop hurting. Totes different. We’ve had that argument before, yes?”

“Yeah, yeah. Things are always an argument with us.”

Alice looked back up. “Oh no. No, honey, they’re really not,” she countered, with a sincere smile. She hoped.

This, Alice granted, was something she was lousy at. Appropriate reactions and proportional response. Maybe she should have quoted Monty Python there. Maybe adding ‘honey’ had been stupid. She hoped she didn’t sound glib. Please, her friend had to know by now when she was being serious. Right?

Alijda simply smiled back. There was another protracted pause. Unable to gauge the uncomfortableness of it all this time, Alice kept working, glancing up every so often.

Alijda finally crouched down. “I’m reminded of how you’ve read Kat’s info file.”

“Yuppers. Yours too.”

“And you remember everything you’re exposed to.”

“More or less. Junking a lot of my hell dimension memories helped free up space.”

“Then tell me, what do you know about Kat’s childhood friend, Fate?”

Alice shrugged. “Aside from her vanishing? Not much. Why, did he tell you about her?”

“Sort of. In passing.”

It felt like there was more to say there, but Alice wasn’t sure how to prompt. More to the point, she was finished building. She banged the last piece into place. “Done. We have an EMP.”

Alijda blinked. “You’ve been making something that generates an electromagnetic pulse?”

“Nope.” Alice shook her head, then flicked her hair off her shoulder with a wink. “This’ll create an Electro-Magical Patch. Press this end against Army, hit the trigger, you’ll render our target inert in both sparks and spells.”

“Meaning it needs to make direct contact.”

“Well, yeah. That’d be where your teleporting comes in. Also, we have the cliche one shot only, so make it count.”

“Right. Okay, let’s get to it then.” Alijda pushed herself back to her feet. “Lead the way.”

Alice nodded, holding out the EMP device. Alijda took it, then reached out to touch Alice on the shoulder as she walked by. “Also, thank you. Really. I mean that.”

“Sure,” Alice said, blinking in surprise. After all, it was just a tech gizmo, nothing to get overly dramatic about.

***

The ventilation systems on the Station weren’t large enough for a person, and there were very few sensors there. But, Alice reasoned, Army could fit in many of the ducts. And while the vents could be closed off to impede it, there was a manual override.

Army had to be near that room, the override room. The terminal there could be configured to manipulate other overrides on the Station, affecting their orbit. Thus, their plan was to shut the ducts, and when Army went to trigger the override and escape, nail it.

Unfortunately, she and Alijda had needed to waste time setting the commands up, because if Army was tracking their location on sensors, being direct could tip their hand, while splitting up might equally allow it to keep them separated. Fortunately though, they were able to route the necessary shutdown to a room near Army, meaning Alijda wouldn’t have to teleport into a live video feed. She was never a fan of doing that.

“I’ve been thinking,” Alijda said slowly as they finally approached their destination.

“Do tell,” Alice encouraged.

“Something Rose said, about the Station stabilizing once it had us. Yet now it’s in trouble again. Maybe that’s because some of us went to the planet? It has to be more than coincidence.”

“Ooh. Working theory. Maybe Army’s got internal memory, and you can hack it to learn if there’s something to that. You ready?”

The two women were now strolling nonchalantly past the override room. Alijda nodded.

Alice took a right at the next doorway, tapping the code she’d set up into the terminal there. Alijda vanished in a teleport cloud of purple smoke, back down the hall.

Alice then quickly ran back after her, to cut off any chance of escape if Army somehow got past Alijda’s teleporting by not using the vent. She saw Alijda run inside the room. Moments later, Alijda let out a shriek.

“What? WHAT?” Alice gasped, half expecting Army to jump out at her as she closed the distance, her stun grenade at the ready. The purple smoke of Alijda’s teleport dissipated enough to allow for visibility.

Alice peered around the corner. Army didn’t launch itself into her face. Instead, she saw Alijda lying on the floor of the room, with Kat standing over her. Kat?! It couldn’t be! Had Army learned to project holograms??

“OW,” Alijda said, rubbing near her bottom. “A little warning next time?”

“Communications are down,” Image-Kat said. “Or I would have.”

Alice caught herself up. “Magical projection from the planet,” she realized. “Using a variation of that spell that the Chris woman did on your last mission. Smart.”

“Thanks,” Kat said, glancing her way. “Listen, you two need to scan for–”

“Where’s Army?” Alice interrupted, looking to Alijda.

Kat flinched, looking over his shoulder. “You’ve got an army…?”

Alijda pointed up at the open grate in the ceiling. “Vent. Kat appeared between us as I was reaching out. Which made me scream and flinch back, so the cyber arm managed to trip the override… I jumped to hit it as it was trying to escape though. So I don’t think it got far?”

Alice looked up. “Leaving us with inert Army stuck in the ventilation. Good times.”

“Also a station falling out of orbit, so let me see if I can’t fix that,” Alijda remarked, pushing herself up off the floor and moving to the nearest computer keyboard. She began typing, as Kat returned his attention to Alice.

“You’ve been busy,” Kat observed.

“Nah, not really,” Alice said, firing off a grin. “Scan for what now?”

Kat shook off his confusion. “People. A person on the planet. Someone who’s not supposed to be down here, the same way that cyber arm wasn’t supposed to be here.”

Alice pursed her lips. “What, you mean you think someone fell through the multiverse cracks along with the arm? That’s not very solo-missiony. Are you sure?”

“We found a diary,” Kat explained. “Supposedly written by a women here who calls herself Destiny. Thing is, I recognize what’s in it. Not just the occult symbols, but some of the shorthand the writer was using.”

Alice peered closer. This scenario was a bit too weird. Was the image of Kat speaking to them under duress? “Blink twice if you’re being held captive.”

“Alice, I’m serious. I think that, somehow, it’s–”

“Oh my God,” Alijda gasped. She turned to them. “The computer. It’s…” She took a step back, pointing at the screen. “There was already a program in active memory to fix our orbit. I gave it a quick scan for viruses, then ran it. Look at what else it’s doing now.”

Alice took a few steps closer and leaned in to get a better look. One single word was typing and retyping itself, filling the screen with a single word, over and over.

Fate. Fate. Fate. Fate. Fate.

WHAT’S NEXT?

What happened to this Destiny woman?

VOTING CLOSES NOON EDT SATURDAY AUGUST 19th

Previous INDEX 4 Next

PATHS NOT TAKEN:
With the cyber arm taking second place, the writing mostly followed that thread. If magic had NOT won the vote (thereby interrupting them), they would have caught (or deceived) the arm, using it to reinitiate contact somehow. The arm still being missing path would have had Alice’s focus be on sensors and/or occult research instead. (A tie, which was possible at one point, would have had them both initiate contact at once.)

THE ORACLE PROPHESIED:
The section for events you indirectly voted on returns. The “Fate” connection (misdirection?) was locked in place with Vote 3, “Beam’s memory is damaged” (focussing attention on the artifact). That’s why Part 4 had to close off Kat’s loose plot thread of “Fate” on his home world, and why I had him recognize the symbols. It’s ALSO why Rose’s decision of who to bring down to end Part 5 was KEY, thus why I felt I couldn’t break that tie, and got so crushed at the low vote total. Anyway. All out in the open now! More or less. 😉

EXTRA ASIDE:
Heyyy, we’re back to zero view days over this three-year-old site’s 247 posts (we’ve had two empty days in the last ten). A weekly vote for T&T still helps to get eyes on us… though really, better than that is sharing a link out to anyone you think might enjoy interactive fiction. No pressure though, I’m happy you’re still here, voting and morphing the story. Ciao for niow.

4.06: She Loves Me Not

Previous INDEX 4 Next

EPSILON DELTA, PART SIX: SHE LOVES ME NOT

Kat was the last to arrive out of the transportation whirlpool. He tucked his body and rolled on the field of grass as he landed, looking up in time to see the vortex shut behind them. He first looked over to where Beam was helping Rose up to her feet, then tapped at the watch device on his wrist.

“Alijda?” he asked. “Any problems your end?”

“Aside from having a magical cyber arm stalking us? No, no, we’re good,” came Alijda’s voice.

“How’s it look down there?” Alice asked.

Kat stood up, brushing off his pants as he looked around. They were in a field of grass, by a dirt road, with a cluster of houses not very far away. Logically, that village had to be the origin for the arm, as the three of them had been transported to the planet at the same coordinates Beam had used for her first visit. It seemed to be late afternoon here, based on the location of the sun.

“Civilization’s nearby,” Kat reported. “We’ll go check it out. I figure we’ve got to hit something within twenty minutes, since Beam had less than an hour to come down, get the arm, and return.”

“Might take you thirty minutes,” Beam spoke up. “My top speed is a bit faster than that of a normal human.”

Rose tilted her head. “So do you sweat like us when you run?” She immediately smacked her palm over her mouth, as if she hadn’t meant to speak aloud.

Beam clasped her hands behind her back, wiggling her eyebrows and letting out a giggle. “Ooh, Rose, yes. Every time I get all hot and bothered, my body reacts JUST like yours does. Thank you for asking?”

Once again, some of Rose’s freckles began to wash out as her cheeks darkened.

“I heard just enough of that to not want to hear any more,” Alijda remarked. “Be careful down there, Kat, okay? We don’t have the power to pull you back yet.”

“Understood,” Kat said. “Signing off.”

“Wait, wait, I want to hear more of the cute girls flirting!” Alice’s voice came, right before the connection ended.

Kat shook his head, then looked over at his two companions. They were standing side by side, though Beam was leaning in towards Rose, looking hopeful, while Rose was staring down at the grass. Or rather, sidelong at Beam’s legs. He sighed.

“Alice makes a good point, if accidentally,” he remarked. “Rose? Beam? We really can’t afford to have you two making eyes at each other right now, not if there’s someone or something dangerous lurking down here.”

Rose snapped her gaze up towards him. “What? Oh, Kat, I wouldn’t. I mean, I’m not. I mean, I have a girlfriend, a wonderful girlfriend! I would never cheat on Paige. No way!”

Kat crossed his arms. “And I believe that. But you DO seem to be affected by Beam somehow, whether it’s physical, owing to her greater romantic expertise, or because this situation has turned her into a damsel in distress. I know I’ve fallen for a few pretty girls under that sort of circumstance. And Beam is a curious technological marvel, isn’t she?”

Rose visibly swallowed. “Well, yeah, I want to help Beam. B-But I would never cheat on Paige,” she repeated softly, before looking away, towards the settlement.

Kat looked to the blonde hologram. “Also, Beam, you’re not helping. For now, can you modify your algorithms, or set Rose as unattainable or something? She is, as she points out, taken. Not to mention very possibly your superior officer.”

Beam leaned back away from Rose, her smile disappearing as she focussed on Kat. “Under these circumstances, I cannot help but flirt with Rose.”

Kat lifted his eyebrow. “Why’s that?”

Beam sighed. “Honestly? Rose has become more than a run-of-the-mill cute, funny, intelligent redheaded girl. She has now also saved my life, as it were. Meaning I owe her. And by default, I am programmed to repay debts to girls like her in a very specific way. By cozying up to them, until such a point that I can reward her with–”

“Space?” Rose squeaked, cutting Beam off.

“–kisses,” Beam finished regardless. She eyed Rose. “So many kisses, Rose. Kisses… everywhere.” Yet even as she generalized, her gaze seemed to focus in somewhere more specifically. “All very commitment free. Whenever you’re ready.”

Rose let out what Kat interpreted as giddy laughter. The teenager began to backpedal. “Wow! Okay, so, I’m sorry Beam, that’s not happening. Like, ooh, I’m sure you’re awesome and good at what you do, but not only am I off the market, I’m sure no parts of me taste sweet at all. Besides, mission! Big mission here! We gotta get back on track, right Kat? Time’s a-wasting, we gotta get going here, we gotta–”

As Kat raised his hand, palm out, Rose stopped a few steps away. “Rose, wait. Please. Remember, you wanted me along with you? Not Alijda, who might have tried to ignore this relationship, or Alice, who probably would have encouraged it. I think we need to put it to bed.” He frowned. “Though, bad choice of words.”

“Kat, I wanted you along since you recognized the occult symbol,” Rose mumbled. Though she did stop, executing a series of such rapid fire toe-taps on the ground that the tip of her shoe began to make an indentation.

Kat peered closer at Beam, who was now looking at the ground with a pouty expression. Almost like she was a young twenty something who wasn’t being allowed to borrow the family car. It was sort of adorable – but surely that too, had to be programming.

“Beam?” he said. “I’m sorry if this sounds indelicate, but I’m not sure how else to put this. Were you created to be some sort of high-tech prostitute? Is that part of the problem here?”

Beam’s pouty lower lip started to quiver, as if she was upset. From the corner of his eye, Kat saw Rose smack her hand over her face – while still peering out between her fingers. For a moment, he was worried she’d jump in and say something to deflect before Beam could speak up, but Rose held her tongue.

“I do not know,” Beam answered at last, her expression becoming more neutral as Rose failed to react. The hologram again looked at Kat. “I can tell you this. I have experienced memory loss before. My first memory ever is waking up in an alleyway on my Earth, with no idea as to how I got there. At the time, I knew little more than my name, and my basic programming.”

Her shoulders slumped. “I like to think that my creator, whoever they were, had honourable intentions, and was sadly forced to leave me behind on that day. But it is equally possible that I was discarded there by a creator who became disgusted by my settings, and was unable to reformat me. Which, yes, might make me nothing more than someone’s off-the-market high-tech sexual plaything.”

“Ohhh, Beam, you poor–” Rose froze in the process of reaching back towards the holographic woman, leaving her fingers twitching in the air. Apparently, her desire to help out was still battling with her fear at being seduced by the pretty hologram.

Kat wasn’t entirely surprised by Beam’s answer. Granted, he’d thought that maybe the holographic girl’s reluctance to give Rose space was due to a different sort of boot-up imprinting, but… “Then did a redheaded woman take you in on that day, and treat you nicely as you coped with your memory loss?”

Beam shook her head. “No.” She looked sidelong at Rose. “But your thinking does match my own here, Kat. For while that woman did not have red hair like Rose, I repaid that debt in much the same way I want to here. She was even funny in a similar way to Rose.”

“Ah ha ha, funny looking, you mean,” Rose muttered.

Beam smiled. “Oh, no Rose. Have I mentioned yet how much I love seeing your shirt?”

Rose pounded her toe into the dirt. “Don’t even. I hope they’re still growing. That is, oh, DAMN it, you meant the pun there, huh?”

Lia even drew the shirt
Such a good commission

Beam giggled. “Yes. You can handcuff me whenever you want. To whatever you want. Commitment free, Rose.”

Kat had been vaguely wondering about the meaning of Rose’s T-Shirt, which sported a squiggle leading down to the single word ‘YOU’RE’. With Beam’s remark, it suddenly clicked – the squiggle was music notation for a quarter rest. Rose’s top read: YOU’RE, under a rest.

Rose buried her face in her hands, turning away. “Should I die now? Because under the circumstances, I think dying of embarrassment is the only proper thing for me to do. Solves everything. Give my love to Paige. Not literally.”

“Ohhh, Rose, you poor–” Beam froze in the process of reaching back towards the other girl, leaving her fingers twitching in the air. Kat wondered whether the blonde was mimicking Rose’s earlier actions deliberately, or instinctively. At least she seemed to know enough not to hug Rose just then.

He sighed. “Beam. You have GOT to scale it back, for Rose’s own sake if nothing else. Is there any way you can just… reclassify Rose as less your saviour, and more one of your girl friends?”

Beam turned to look at him, lowering her arm. “I could. That would stretch out the time frame for intimacy.”

“I meant, your friends who are girls,” Kat added quickly. “Not girlfriends as in girls you might one day end up sleeping with.”

Beam canted her head to the side. A puzzled look crossed her face. “I’ve never been clear on that distinction.”

“Girls that you simply get along with,” Kat pressed. “That you don’t sleep with, who aren’t into you sexually. Heterosexual girls, for instance.”

Beam shrugged. “On my Earth, the default is that people feel they are compatible with everyone, regardless of gender,” Beam said. “That’s partly what made my programming so unique, its inherent rejection of the unfairer sex. It’s why I had to remain in hiding, why my existence was looked down upon by most men, even some women. It’s also why I saw my recruitment to this project as a form of escape, rather than as an abduction.”

Kat shook his head. “Wait, no. You’re from some free love society? Where every female on your Earth is open to any gender, no exception?”

Beam tilted her head the other way. “It is the same for the males.”

Kat swallowed. “But then, you’ve… with ALL your female friends? But that’s impossible. What about marriage?”

“Marriage unites one woman with one man, for procreation, but she is still welcome to have as many female partners as she requires for pleasure. As is the man with other males. Cheating doesn’t apply with the same sex.”

Kat let out a low whistle. “Huh, unique. So you really… like, you mean ANY girl you’ve met, you eventually kiss and… damn, really? Seriously?” Kat said, starting to feel flustered himself at Beam’s penetrating, yet increasingly inquisitive look.

“If I have become friendship bonded with the girl, it is only natural,” Beam admitted. “Now, I do recognize this custom as different across the multiverse, and I have tried to never initiate until I am sure. But here, we’ve established that Rose is compatible with me. So my program compels me to flirt with her, until she is no longer my lesbian friend, or my debt is repaid.”

Rose had dropped her arms to her sides and was now staring up towards the sky. “Ohh, yup, Lesbian Rose Thorne is now dead of embarrassment,” she sighed. “So, we gonna have an open casket funeral for the poor dear, or just a big ol’ girl love orgy in her honour, ooooh, choices, choices…”

Kat rubbed the back of his neck. “Can’t you make some new classification for Rose?”

“I would need a point of reference. I am still desperately trying to compute your distinction between lesbian girlfriends and friends who are lesbian girls. Because I…” Beam bit down on her lip. “I don’t want to lose Rose’s friendship. That would hurt my heart.”

Rose turned her head, eyes widening. “Ohh, Beam… if only I could lie to you about my preferences? It’s just, I spent so long lying to myself…”

Kat clapped his hands. “Wait, got it. Classify Rose as a male lesbian friend.”

Beam gasped. “Oh! Of course, it’s so simple.”

Rose shifted her wide-eyed gaze to Kat, then let out a moan as she dropped to her knees, placing her hands back over her face. “Y’know what? I can’t even tell if I’m offended or relieved. But know that Lesbian-Boy-Rose is ALSO DEAD. He/she/we are all dead, dead, stone cold dead. Uhh, as long as that’s doesn’t categorize me in a fetish way instead, Beam, cuz if so, I’m only mostly dead. Also, ew.”

Beam let out a soft cooing noise. “Oh, Rose, don’t worry. I could never truly see you as a boy. You’re too curvy, not to mention adorable. But I can overlay my feelings for men onto a new subclass of girl. Making you my first real girl… friend. If that’s acceptable?” Her look was hopeful again, her body faintly quivering with excitement.

Rose looked back upwards through her fingers. “Why do I feel like I’m being put in charge of teaching boundaries to a hot lesbian hologram?” Beam clasped her hands together, silently pleading. Rose pulled her hands down. “Um, okay, acceptable.”

Beam blinked a few times. Then she squealed in delight. “Oh, ROSE, is this how you see me?”

Beam knelt down next to her, grasping Rose in a sideways hug. Only to immediately pull back slightly. “Hugging like this, I can mean it non-sexually, right?” Rose nodded mutely in response, only to be pulled back even tighter into Beam’s bosom. “Oooh, it’s so weird and different, but I feel like I really get your reluctance now!”

“Urk. Yeah, uh, so I guess Rose lives again?” Rose wheezed. “She needs to breathe though. Beam, please let Rose breathe?”

Kat found he could only shake his head in wonder. And as Beam released Rose and then tried to engage the stunned redhead in a discussion of sports and beer, he realized he had probably only served to trade off one problem for another.

***

The first two houses they passed on the road, which were spaced a few city blocks apart, looked unremarkable. They continued on, Beam practically skipping along the dirt road, all smiles, as Rose trailed long looking sheepish. But, Kat suspected, secretly relieved.

Kat extended his arm as they came up to the third house, bringing the two girls up short.

“I see it too,” Rose remarked. “Another occulty symbol, on the wall there.”

“That’s no desire symbol though,” Kat revealed. “It’s used for protection.”

“So is it protecting someone who’s inside the house?” Beam wondered. “Or is it keeping something in there from getting out, like a freaky homicidal robot who’s short one cyber arm?”

Kat could only shrug. “I don’t know. We could call Alijda for an update, see if maybe they have the arm, or can get something from the station’s database about how common these symbols are on this world.”

Rose expelled a breath. “Well, it’s only a one story building, and I’m feeling amazingly brave given all my resurrections of late. We could at least look in the window.”

Beam pointed down the road. “Or, look, someone’s in the street, closer to the heart of this village. They’re coming this way. Could be a local. Or maybe they saw me here last time? We could always talk to them before messing with the spells in the area.”

NEXT?

What should they do about this symbol? OPTIONS: 

VOTING CLOSES NOON EDT SATURDAY JULY 22nd

Previous INDEX 4 Next

PATHS NOT TAKEN:
We were probably following Kat. If Rose had brought Alice, we’d have stayed on the station to look at the Alijda/Kat relationship (possibly in contrast to the Rose/Beam one) as they repaired the internal sensors. If Rose had brought Alijda… I wasn’t quite sure, but we may have stayed on the station, with Alice giving Kat more information about the “Epsilon God”? Anyway, we got Kat, meaning planet, meaning no delay for the Rose/Beam fallout. Which gave Beam a backstory that I hadn’t originally planned out at all. Woo hoo?