Alice

4.08: The Arm of Fate

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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

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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

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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

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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?

4.05: Holo Victory

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EPSILON DELTA, PART FIVE: Holo Victory

Rose repeated the “hand squeeze of support” with Beam once more before releasing her, rising to her feet at the same time as Alijda. “If the planet already knows we’re here, they know more about us than we do about ourselves,” Rose pointed out. “We need to fix that fast. So, we scan them. Which will also tell us if there’s still an artifact to be retrieved.”

Beam blinked up at her. “Rose, you already know that much about Epsilon’s missions?”

Rose nodded. “Alice explained. Collecting stuff or people which are drifting between the multiverses. She did some solo missions when she started out too.”

“Yuppers. Never send others to do things you haven’t already tried yourself,” Alice remarked. “But in the end, this place REALLY needed maintenance. Plus some artifact stuff is a lot harder to pinpoint without ‘boots on the ground’. Ergo, recruiting.”

“Except, Rose, can’t we check containment here to know if an artifact was retrieved?” Kat insisted. “That would also tell us whether any prior artifacts have gone crazy.”

“We could,” Rose admitted. “But we’d probably have to split up then, plus that won’t help Beam’s memory loss. Fixing Beam is our priority now.”

“Oh?” Alijda said, raising an eyebrow. “Why, so that she can take control of the station back from you?”

Rose frowned at Alijda. “No. So that we’re all on the same page, and not making the same mistakes twice with whatever’s on the planet.”

BEAM (Approx)
A modified Haruki

“I don’t think Rose or I will be allowed to retain control anyway,” Beam murmured, lying back on the floor. “Not after bringing Alice back in.”

Alice winced. “Geeeez, Beam. You’re making me feel like I killed kittens while I was in charge here.” She eyed the others. “I didn’t, for the record.”

Alijda glanced from Rose to Kat and back. Then she stepped to the side, gesturing at the computer. “Well, you are technically in charge, Rose. Scan away.”

Rose blinked. “What? Er, I mean, right.” She exhaled. Why had she insisted on taking this stand?

To help Beam. Yes, that was her cause now, Rose decided. And not merely because the two of them were the youngest, or the only ones into girl love, or the most inexperienced with whatever was going on as compared to the others. It was because Beam had asked for her help, so damn it, she was going to stop acting like a scared teenager, and start doing more to provide that help.

Rose interlaced her fingers and pushed her palms forwards, cracking her knuckles. “Right,” she repeated, staring at the computer. The problem being, Paige was techno-girl, not her. Hell, pretty much everyone in this room was more tech savvy than she was. Too bad the interface wasn’t a piano keyboard.

Rose chewed on her lower lip. She looked back at Beam, then extended an arm down towards the other girl. “Let’s have you do whatever it is you would have done here, as if you were first arriving at the planet,” Rose suggested. “I’m guessing that would include a scan, and it might trigger a memory for you.”

“My memories may have been deleted, versus being rendered inaccessible,” Beam murmured.

Rose shrugged, keeping her arm extended. “Won’t know until we try.”

“I guess.” Slowly, Beam’s smile reappeared. It became hesitant as her gaze drifted back over everyone else in the room, but finally the blonde hologram looked back to Rose, and took her hand. Rose pulled the other girl to her feet.

Beam turned and stared at the computer. Seconds ticked by.

“Whenever you’re ready,” Rose encouraged.

Beam nodded. “Just a moment. Normally I interface directly, but I believe it’s better for you to see what I’m doing in human time. Also, the station is actually in synch with, and orbiting, the planet. Not usually something we do. Adjustments are needed.”

“Truth,” Alice observed.

“Oh. Okay. So just tell me if I’m being a moron then,” Rose said.

Beam turned, still smiling. “Oh, you’re not. You’re very sweet, Rose.”

“You haven’t tasted me, how would you know I’m sweet?” Rose shot back.

She immediately wished she could rewind the last five seconds. Rose spun away, pounding her fist into her forehead. Damn it! Bad Rose! Do not make sexy jokes at the pretty holographic lesbian!

Rose heard Beam giggle, and saw Alice mutter “Adorbs” towards Alijda. Kat seemed to take a sudden interest in the computer hardware. Before Rose could recover by saying ‘tasted my cooking, I meant my cooking!’, Beam was speaking again.

“I’ve now mentally run through everything I would do prior to a scan,” the hologram said. “Having the computer execute another one seems like the best plan now.” Beam reached out, tapping at the computer interface. Images began to appear on one of the monitors.

“First, it’s a magic pure world,” Beam said.

Alice let out a sigh of relief. “That means less stuff in orbit for us to possibly be crashing into,” she explained off Alijda’s look.

“But it means they probably won’t have the technology we need to restart the station’s systems either,” Beam pointed out.

“Sooo computers can’t run on magic, huh?” Rose asked, hoping to lighten the mood.

“Hmmm,” Kat said, rubbing his chin. “Rose raises an interesting point, given how that small world we visited had been trying to find some sort of fusion.” Rose arced her eyebrow back at him.

Alijda clasped her hands behind her head. “That also tells us the artifact Epsilon wanted from that world is technological, yeah? Tech being the sort of thing that would stand out as wrong on a magic world.”

“Correct,” Beam confirmed. “And I’m not reading any such signs now. Either the tech is being magically shielded, or I already brought the artifact back.”

“My money’s on that,” Rose said, pointing. “You brought something back, and that tech is what messed up the station tech.”

“Or maybe the tech messed with Beam’s tech, and her tech transferred it to the station tech?” Alijda mused.

“Oooh, technobabble,” Alison purred.

Alijda rolled her eyes. “Anyway, this would explain why the virus wasn’t in the communication logs.”

“Hold on. Is the entity up here some sort of sentient computer virus then?” Kat wondered.

“Perhaps I should access the transport logs,” Beam decided. She continued to type. “All right. It looks like I whirlpooled down to the planet, and returned less than an hour later. There is no record of any entity accompanying me.” She frowned. “There is also no record of me checking in a new artifact afterwards.”

“So this problem hit pretty fast,” Alice remarked. “Since that’s the first thing you should do upon retrieval.”

“I know that,” Beam said. “Could be my programming was already glitching by then.” She sighed. “I wish I could remember any of this.”

Rose turned from the monitor displaying the planet. “This is the station of creepy oversight, right? Couldn’t we see a video of your return, Beam?”

Beam blinked. “Oh, yes, of course! Let me pull up the last activation time.”

Everyone clustered around the monitor as Beam tapped the necessary keys. “Uh oh, looks like a lot of the feed is unavailable,” she remarked. “Could have been damaged or blocked off, as has been done to me. I do have something from one camera though, here we go…”

Beam paused, her fingers over the ‘Return’ key. “Rose? Your idea, and you’re in charge, you want to do the honours?”

Rose opened her mouth, but before she could say ‘No, do the thing’ she saw Beam’s eager expression. “Oh. Uh. Sure,” was what came out instead.

She reached over. Her hand brushed against Beam’s. Before she knew it, she was staring into Beam’s eyes, and Beam was staring back, and it’s like the hologram was searching her for something. For some deeper connection, maybe…

Alijda cleared her throat behind them. Rose quickly tapped the key and turned back to the monitor, inwardly cursing herself for getting flustered. Again.

The image of the room they were in appeared on the screen, with a big blue whirlpool in the centre of the floor. Moments later, Beam was spit out into zero gravity, floating towards the top of the monitor screen. She appeared to be carrying something.

Alice let out a low whistle. “What is that, like Cyborg’s arm or something?”

Then things began to happen quickly. Rose’s attention was on the floor irising shut over the whirlpool, so it wasn’t until the others gasped that she looked back up. In time to see the arm device jet away from Beam, the holographic girl in the video letting out a rather human shriek.

“What? I missed it, what did that?” Rose asked.

Alijda held up a finger, as if to say ‘wait a moment’. They continued to watch, as the Beam in the video said, “Computer, normal gravity!”

Beam plunged back down towards the now sealed whirlpool, Rose wincing in anticipation of the impact – but Beam managed to land on her feet without injuring her legs. In fact, she bent her knees and pushed off, running in the direction of the computer banks. Right. Holographic legs, Beam likely had no bones to break. So then why give her… Rose pushed that thought aside.

“No, no, no, NO!” came Beam’s voice from off the screen. There was a zapping sound, and then Beam’s body flew back through the slice of the room visible to the camera. Sparks were flying from her hairband. Again she was gone, there was a smacking sound, then a dull thud. Then the picture cut out entirely.

Rose licked her lips as she glanced at the others. Alice looked surprised, Alijda looked wary, Kat looked worried, and Beam was simply wide eyed.

“You gonna be okay, Beam?” Rose asked. Beam cleared her throat. (A human mannerism, programmed in? Did Beam even eat with that throat? Why did she keep thinking about this stuff, Rose wondered.)

“I’ll be fine,” the hologram said. “That even explains a few things. Namely, me regaining consciousness in this room, learning of the station’s problem, and hooking myself into the system to summon you, Algebra. Um, I mean Rose.”

“Beam, can you rewind to when that symbol appeared?” Kat asked. “And pause?”

Beam nodded, turning back away from Rose to reach for the controls.

“That was a magic thing then, right?” Alijda said. “That symbol on the arm?”

“I’d say so,” Alice agreed.

“Sorry,” Rose apologized. “I missed it. A magic symbol on the cyber arm what now?”

“Pretty much just that,” Alijda said. “Somebody booby trapped the tech artifact with magic.”

Rose tilted her head. “But why would someone do that?”

“Good question!” Alice grumbled. “Want another good question? How could anyone down on magic planet even know to magically program that tech to go and mess with other tech like our tech, when tech down there is not technically a thing?”

“Oooh, technobabble,” Alijda murmured, half smiling. Alice stuck out her tongue.

“Maybe someone figured out what Beam was, in the time she was down there?” Rose guessed. “And thought she was part of some advance strike force?”

“I’ve got the symbol up,” Beam remarked.

Rose looked back at the screen. She saw it now, glowing white on the cyber arm Beam was holding. For all she knew, it was a Chinese character. Yet Kat’s worried expression had shifted to alarm. “You know it?” Rose asked him.

“It’s an occult symbol I recognize,” Kat said. “Someone imbued that arm with a… desire, that’s the best way I can put it.”

“A desire to screw around with advanced technology?” Alice said.

Kat shrugged. “No way to know specifics unless we find the caster.”

“I guess we’re going down to the planet then,” Rose decided. “That’s where the caster would be.”

“No way,” Alijda asserted. “We’re going to figure out where on this station that damn cyber arm is now. If it gets to Mr. Smith? We could be done for.”

Rose put her hands on her hips. “Exsqueeze me? What happened to me being in charge? The station self corrected, remember. The arm might have screwed things up by accident. And Beam’s answers are down there, not up here.”

“Sorry Rose, I have to agree with Alijda,” Alice said. “I mean, there’s probably enough power now to make a whirlpool down once, but then you’d be stuck on the planet with no backup for at least an hour of recharge time. Whereas Kat, if we found the arm, could you reverse engineer something occultish to find this caster’s ’desire’?”

“Uh? Well, maybe,” Kat said. Rather unconvincingly, Rose thought.

Beam latched onto Rose’s arm. “I’m with Rose. My answers are down there, with my past. You three can stay up here if you like, but the two of us are going.”

Rose smiled at Beam, glad for the support, while simultaneously worrying that she was somehow giving off all the wrong signals.

Alijda rubbed her forehead. “Oh boy. Look, Rose, Beam, if you’re dead set on going, please bring one of us along? Because I can teleport people out of trouble, Kat seems to know something about that symbol, and Alice is a walking encyclopaedia. Whoever’s left on the station can search for the arm.”

Rose pursed her lips. “I guess that’s fair.” This way, she and Beam could have an experienced chaperone.

NEXT?

Who should Rose and Beam bring with them? OPTIONS:

VOTING CLOSES 7am EDT THURSDAY JULY 6th

CORRECTION: It closes when I get more than 3 votes. I guess everyone’s on vacation. I dunno. Maybe I should take one too. Peace.

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PATHS NOT TAKEN:
If the planet had been bigger on tech, first the artifact would be magic, and second the planet would have launched missiles at them. If the station artifacts got checked, first the RUNNER UP would determine the artifact (or in the case of a tie, the first vote, which was for tech, meaning magic artifact). Second, an artifact in the vault would have helped to restore more functionality to the station. Instead, magic world, which was a real come-from-behind victory. For “Point-Of-View”, Alijda POV could have involved planet negotiations, and Alice POV a greater artifact focus. We got Rose, meaning more Beam. I admit to some curiosity about the Rose-love, feel free to comment.

THE ORACLE PROPHESIED:
New section. This will chronicle events you voted for indirectly. (For instance, the firing of Alice in Story3 occurred after a vote, not to fire her, but to have her break the rules.) Here, the fact that Beam was voted to have a memory loss, followed by a Rose point-of-view? Means we’re getting more of Beam than we would have had with any other combination. To the point of me hunting for a reference picture. I am totally fine with this, but it was unexpected.

4.04: Turnabout

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EPSILON DELTA, PART FOUR: Turnabout

Kat Conway made his decision before arriving at the auxiliary control room. He would let Alijda resume the conversation between them, assuming there was even a conversation for them to have.

She barely addressed him as they reunited. Their group of four then headed back to the large cylindrical arrivals room, looking for Beam. He ended up sidelined with Alijda as Alice and Rose discussed the unconscious blonde holographic woman, and Alijda still said nothing. Then Alice asked the both of them to get a power pack, back in the auxiliary control room.

“I can just do a series of teleports to get there faster by myself,” Alijda pointed out.

“Oh good, so we’ll do the horror movie trope of splitting up after all?” Alice said, smiling and clasping her hands together.

Alijda glared. “Sarcasm isn’t a good look on you.”

Alice shook her head. “No, seriously, I’m curious if something will try to pick us off, and you’re the best equipped of any of us to get away from an attack.”

Alijda sighed.

“Maybe Rose should go with Alijda instead,” Kat suggested.

Rose stood from where she had crouched next to Beam. “If you like?”

Alijda looked from Alice, to Rose, to Kat. She shook her head. “No, that’s silly. Rose, you keep learning more about the station from Alice. Kat, you’re with me.”

Kat nodded, and he allowed himself to be teleported back into the hallway. They walked from there. He continued to wait to see if Alijda would resume a conversation.

It wasn’t until they’d hooked the power pack device into Mr. Smith to recharge that she finally spoke up, and even then, it was without turning to face him. “So. Kat. You were gone less than a day, huh?”

Kat Conway
Never commissioned art for him, but he looks a bit like Colin Ferguson.

“Yeah,” Kat answered. “Gone just long enough to be disappointed by what I learned.”

There was a brief silence.

“I’ll bite,” Alijda yielded, still looking at the power pack. “What’d you learn?”

He found himself wondering what Alijda would make of it. “I’ve been searching for this girl. Er, woman. Well, childhood friend,” Kat explained. “Named Fate. She’s the one who first got me into the occult, only she disappeared after high school. I’ve been searching for her, off and on, for over fifteen years now. I finally thought I had a lead, a phone number I’d snared right before I was abducted by this station for the first time. In fact, that’s why I was keen on getting sent back to my Earth when we first met.”

Kat paused, wondering if Alijda even cared to hear more. She continued to stare in the other direction. He waited.

“False intel?” she said at last.

“Not exactly,” Kat elaborated. “There was, indeed, a woman named Fate trying to organize an occult group in the town I went to. Once I left this station, I wandered, returning to my hotel room only after 8pm, in order to phone the number. This Fate didn’t know what I meant, seemed to be the wrong age, and had no other useful information. She invited me to her meeting though. I was just heading out to it when I found myself back here in zero gravity instead.”

“Oh.” Alijda finally turned, biting down on her lower lip. “Kat, you must think I’m terrible.”

Kat lifted an eyebrow, trying to connect the dots that had led the brunette woman to make such a statement. “Actually,” he pointed out, “I’ve called you attractive on more than one occasion. Despite your protestations of being ugly on the inside.”

“Except I didn’t know any of that about you,” Alijda said, her gaze slipping to the side. “We had an entire mission together and I didn’t know you’d lost a childhood friend. Even now, you’re hesitant to tell me about her.”

That at least helped to number the dots for him. Kat shrugged. “I don’t put it on my business cards. Anyway, you said it yourself back then, we were going our separate ways once that whole shrinking mission ended. Why talk about ourselves?”

“Because we talked about me. And now that our ways didn’t turn out to be so separate…”

Alijda looked back at him. Then she turned and gave a side-kick into the wall. “This isn’t FAIR,” she hollered. “I’ve had six months of thinking about you, on and off, wondering about what-ifs and might-have-beens. You’ve had six hours, if that! Now you’re back, and I have another chance, and all I can do is act like a stupid tsundere from one of those animated Japanese shows Alice likes.”

Kat smiled, catching the reference. “To be fair, I think you push everyone away, and it’s regardless of any feelings you have towards them.”

Alijda snapped her gaze back over to him. “Did you just mansplain tsunderes to me?!” She gave the wall another swift kick.

Mr. Smith made as noise as if he was clearing his throat. “Alijda, if you could avoid potentially damaging–”

“Oh, shut the front door, Smith!” Alijda shouted.

“The front door is not open, or we’d be exposed to the vacuum of space.”

“Damn it, I meant I don’t need you butting in on top of my angst with Kat on top of my writer’s block issues from before I even got here today!”

“Ah. Very well,” the computer said, falling silent again.

Kat managed not to laugh at the exchange. “If it makes you feel better, Alijda, I’m sure all of the information about my connection to Fate is in whatever file this station has on me,” Kat said. “I remember how you didn’t read it, feeling that would be unfair. So points in your favour.”

“That doesn’t help.” She drew in a deep breath. “Kat, it’s your turn.”

Kat blinked. “My what?”

“Last time we went on about me. My shrinking, my depression, my hacking, my friggin’ issues. I need to stop with the ego trips. Your turn now. It’s only fair.”

“What makes you think I even have issues?”

Her gaze softened. “Kat, I overheard you, that time you mentioned to Para about your mother dying in childbirth. And Alice has told me about the fire manipulation you can do. Now we’ve got a lost childhood friend in the mix. Granted, I don’t know whether any of that stuff necessarily connects to your hormonal interests towards anyone wearing a skirt, but you have issues. Unless your issue is that you don’t see your issues.”

This time it was Kat who felt like he couldn’t look Alijda in the eye. Part of him wished she’d kept ignoring him. “Okay,” he said, after a minute of scrutinizing one of Mr. Smith’s keyboards. “I suppose I don’t take relationships seriously. And I might have female abandonment issues.”

“Did you join the military so that you’d be able to form bonds with men?”

He laughed, despite himself. “Alijda, I’m not gay. Not by a long shot.”

“Didn’t mean to imply you were. But people with abandonment issues, they sometimes cling to close friendships or bad relationships. In the military, you’d get more of the first and less of the second.”

Kat realized he was now clenching his jaw, and he forced himself to stop. “I went to military college because my dad felt I needed more discipline in my life. Don’t get me wrong, I had a good relationship with him, but he was pretty lax with me. Particularly when it came to my hanging out with occult people all the time.”

“Were any of the occult girls pretty?”

“I really don’t want to talk about my sex life.”

“Hmmm. That escalated quickly.”

“DAMN it, Alijda…” He rounded on her, only to see an expression of genuine concern. There were no hints of a self-satisfied smirk. He looked away again. “We need to focus on the mission here.”

“That’s an excuse. Besides, right now, all of us getting along and making peace with ourselves kind of IS the mission,” she pointed out. “Because whatever’s out there, manipulating the situation? It’s probably been able to access our files. So it’s liable to go after our weak points, to try and fragment us.”

Kat found he had to grant her that. Whatever faults Alijda had, being timid was not among them. “I guess. Though you’re assuming that whatever put this station in danger will be actively targeting us.”

“Until we get more information, I figure we might as well assume that.”

Mr. Smith made a throat clearing noise. “Then would now be a good time to mention that your power pack is fully charged? Meaning more information is possible?”

Alijda sighed. “There would never be a good time, Smith. So sure, now works.”

Kat heard Alijda approach him, then felt her hand on his arm. “Kat, let’s leave our talk at, I do want to get to know you better. Okay?” She pulled back. “After all, one thing I’ve realized after six months with Alice is that I need to have more well rounded friends. Ones who aren’t inclined to run through the entire ‘Back to the Future’ movie for me, from memory.”

“Right. Okay,” Kat said, turning back to her. He smiled. “And hey, look on the bright side. At least Alice only quotes, she wouldn’t act that movie out for you at the same time.”

Alijda seemed to deflate a little, her eyes rolling back in her head.

Kat did a double take. “She didn’t. Did she?”

“Never give that woman alcohol,” was all Alijda would say as she turned to retrieve the power pack.

***

Soon, Kat was watching as Alice hooked some cables from the power pack into the hologram’s hairband. Or what had obviously been made to resemble a hairband – it had now been popped about an inch up from her hairline, exposing what looked like a number of ports and lights beneath. And while Kat was pretty technically minded, he didn’t recognize this technology, and had no idea what Alice was doing.

At least Mr. Smith had managed to restore the proper lighting to the room by now, so Kat could watch, in case he needed to do this himself later.

“Uh, so how do you know that setup will work?” Alijda asked Alice, apparently having similar reservations.

“I don’t,” Alice said brightly, dusting off her hands as she seemingly finished up. She looked up from where she was crouched. “But from what Rose has told me, I’m pretty sure all this holo-girl needs is some power. And plugging the pack into her hairband seems the best way to juice her up.”

“Oh no, no no, Alice, don’t put it that way,” Rose moaned. “Not after what you did earlier.”

Alice grinned at the redhead. “C’mon, we had to check her body for other ports. And you were wondering, you know you were.”

Alijda looked back and forth between the two of them. “What ports? Wonder what?”

Kat cleared his throat, having realized what they were getting at. “So this Beam is anatomically correct?”

“Ooh yes, she is fully functional,” Alice purred, waggling her eyebrows. “And if she’s an artificial life form anything like Star Trek’s Data, she’ll be programmed in multiple techniques. Lesbian ones, to boot.”

“ALICE!” Rose said, her face getting red enough to start washing out some of her freckles.

“I’m sorry I asked,” Alijda sighed.

“Oh Rose, don’t be like that,” Alice assured the younger girl. “I’m not saying you should cheat on your girlfriend. But there’s nothing wrong with talking, yeah? Swapping techniques? Knowing that this Beam might have felt first hand whatever she–”

“Alice, maybe you should drop it?” Kat interrupted. “Rose looks very uncomfortable.”

“But…” Alice paused, as she looked from Kat to Rose, and then the ground. “Okay. It’s just, I hate how Rose got pulled into this. I… I want her to get SOMETHING out of it, at least.”

Alijda reached out to touch Alice on the shoulder. “She is getting something out of it, Alice. New friends.”

Alice looked back up and smiled. “D’awwwww, Alijda. See, Kat? She really is a softie underneath it all.”

Kat saw Alijda’s grip tighten on Alice’s shoulder. “You need to stop pushing your luck, friend.”

Alice nodded, without losing her smile. Then Rose was smiling too, looking back and forth between the two other women.

That’s when the new voice came, slightly higher pitched than any of the other females present. “Reinitializing.”

Kat turned his attention to the blonde hologram, as Beam blinked her eyes open. One of her palms reached up to touch the cord that was running up to her hairband interface. “Power source. Confirmed.”

It idly occurred to Kat that he was becoming increasingly outnumbered as far as gender went.

Rose reached out to grasp Beam’s free hand. “Beam? You back? You okay?”

“I am. Unsure.” Beam blinked her eyes several times in rapid succession. “Resynchronizing. Time stamp. Confirmed. Congratulations. Are in order. Restoring. Full power. To communications.” Her hand squeezed back at Rose. “We’re not dead, and the station’s still here. Oh Rose, you were successful!”

“Uh, not exactly,” Rose admitted. “Also kinda brought in the first string team to help.” She gestured over towards Alice and the others.

Beam’s gaze followed the motion, the holographic woman freezing up as she saw Alice. “Oooh. We are so fired.”

“Eh, I was fired too. It didn’t take,” Alice chirped.

Alijda joined the other women in crouching down beside Beam. “Beam, I hate to impose on you right away, but we think there’s an entity on board. Because the station’s problems somehow self corrected. I don’t suppose you can confirm that? Or offer any alternative reasoning?”

Beam blinked twice. “I cannot.”

Alijda glanced up towards Kat before looking back at Beam. “Well, anything more you can tell us about what happened would be helpful.”

Beam opened her mouth, closed it, then opened it again. “My memory is damaged.”

Alijda palmed her face, sliding her hand down and off her chin.

“It’s never easy,” Kat remarked.

“No, you misunderstand,” Beam said, squeezing again at Rose’s palm. “That’s helpful. I run occasional diagnostics. Everything was in order prior to my coming to this planet. Whatever damaged me, it must relate to my mission here.”

“Or it’s due to some artifact you were storing here, on the station,” Alice said, standing and bringing her hands to her hips.

Beam’s gaze tracked over to Alice’s shoes. “That is possible,” she admitted. “Containment could have been breached during the time of my memory loss.”

“So we scan the planet for more information about Beam’s mission,” Rose decided.

Kat cleared his throat. “Ah, except shouldn’t we check on Alice’s artifact containment before potentially alerting said planet to the fact that we’re up here?”

“Kat?” Alijda met his gaze. “We’re in orbit. They might already know.”

NEXT?

What should the group do? OPTIONS:

We were overdue for Kat point-of-view. Now what?

VOTING CLOSES 7am EDT THURSDAY JUNE 29th

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PATHS NOT TAKEN:
If Beam had been voted unfindable, we’d have had the two entity plot, one in Beam and one, well, not. Cue some sort of chase? If part of Beam had been Ziggy, then Ziggy would have been the entity, somehow wanting freedom, or it’s a backup copy, or honestly that plot hadn’t fully gelled yet. Now it doesn’t need to, as memory loss was the unanimous choice. So here we are, and I know more about the “entity”, but telling you would be a spoiler.

4.03: State of Confusion

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EPSILON DELTA, PART THREE: State of Confusion

“Ziggy,” Rose said. “Initiate that recall teleport thing from the last time Alice was in charge of computers here. Authorization code, uhm, Paige-Paige-Paige.”

“Initiating, Rose,” came Ziggy’s resigned voice.

Moments later, the lights went out. Rose closed her eyes, biting down on her lip again. It was fine. Alice would fix things, and they’d all go home. She reopened her eyes as the lights came back on.

She remained all alone in the room.

But it had worked, right? Alice wasn’t in auxiliary control, she was somewhere else in the station? Rose shifted her weight forwards and back, until she couldn’t take it any more. “Alice?”

“Your phone conversation terminated when Ziggy went offline,” the large wall computer codenamed ‘Mr Smith’ advised her.

Rose swallowed. “But is Alice here? Like, not HERE here, obviously, but up here with us?”

“I do not have complete access yet. However, Alice is likely one of the life signs that I am picking up in the arrivals room.”

The sense of relief that Rose felt was quickly washed away as she parsed that. “One of? Oh, flûte! Is Alice being attacked there by whoever wanted to crash this station?!”

“Unknown.”

“Does she need my help?”

“Unknown.”

“Are there even weapons I can use in this room?”

“Unknown.”

“Oh my GOD, why don’t you supercomputers ever KNOW anything??”

To her surprise, Mr. Smith let out a sigh. “Rose, I am sorry, but it’s taking me some time to figure out how to activate all the station’s backup systems. It is much like you trying to work out how to control a third arm.”

“Huh.” Rose frowned. “This project has a habit of growing extra arms for people?”

“No. I was merely trying to find a human analogy.”

“Oh.” Rose ran her fingers back through her hair. “Did you want me to shut up?”

“You are not slowing down my processing abilities to any great extent. I simply do not yet have the answers you require.”

“So you want me to shut up.”

“That is not what I said.”

“Well, I want me to shut up.”

“If so, that would seem to be something under your control.”

“You’d think so, right? Except I’m nervous.” Rose bounced on her heels. “This is why I don’t spend much time on social media, you know? I can’t stop myself from saying dumb spur-of-the-moment stuff.”

“Rose, you seem overly self critical. Would it help to hear that, in your own way, you are becoming as interesting to me as Alice was?”

“I hope that’s a compliment?”

“It is an observation.”

“Right. Well, okay, let me know when you’re able to see all the station or recalculate our impending deaths or something then, I guess?”

“Of course.”

Rose tried to figure out if she felt more like curling up into a ball in the corner and crying, or running around the room with her arms in the air screaming. She decided to split the difference, and resumed pacing in a circle with her lower lip quivering.

The appearance of purple and black smoke in the doorway, with a woman seemingly in the middle of it, might have made Rose shriek on any other day. Except by this point, she was adjusting to the absurdity of it all, so fell into an approximation of a fighting stance instead. Thank goodness for her self defence classes.

“You won’t take me alive!” Rose declared.

Curiously, the brunette smiled at her. “Rose?”

Comprehension dawned. “Alice!”

Had to be, right? Rose ran towards the teleporting woman, her arms outstretched. Only then did she wonder if a hugging approach might give the wrong signals for a first meeting. Maybe station commanders here were always about the girl-love? Rose was already in a relationship. She stopped one step away, her arms still spread wide. “Are you a lesbian too?”

A curious sequence of emotions played out on the older woman’s face. Rose fancied that the initial look of comfort became confusion, dismay, then resignation, before finally settling on wariness. “I’m Alijda. Me and Alice, it’s not like that. How is our housing situation even relevant?”

“I dunno.” So this woman was with Alice. But not that way. Rose lowered her arms as she looked her new companion up and down. Decent dress sense for someone who didn’t expect to be on a death trap of a station, though the all black clothing was giving her a funeral vibe. Also, brown hair. “For the record, I prefer blondes and rainbows anyway.”

“Good for you? Rose, you’re not hallucinating me. I am here.”

“Oh, I was pretty sure of that. Like, me hallucinating Beam I could maybe buy, but you’re kind of old to be a fantasy of mine.”

“Oh, ha ha. I can still date, you know. Men in my age range. It’s just, I’m depressive and occasionally suicidal, so it never really works out. Okay?”

That explained the funeral vibe, if not the defensiveness. “Well, okay then. I guess you can go sit in the corner.”

“I can…” Alijda tilted her head. “What?”

Rose tilted her head the other way. “What? Didn’t you just say you came here to die?”

“No, no, I’m here to help save us. But what is this about needing to be a lesbian to gain access to the room?”

“Uh, nothing?”

Alijda’s hands went to her hips. “So then why ask if…” The woman caught herself, shook her head a couple times, and switched to, “Look, never mind, just let me at the computer interface.”

Rose stepped aside, gesturing vaguely in the hopes that Alijda knew where that was. “Go for it.”

Alijda marched into the room and vectored towards some sort of terminal. “Great. Rose, I’ll need access to all station communications logs. If I can spot when a computer virus got on board here, we should be able to do a backup restore from a time before the infection.”

Shoot. Where would the logs be?

Fortunately for Rose, Mr. Smith spoke up. “I can make that information available, Alijda. Incidentally, a course correction will be necessary within the next eight minutes.”

“No pressure,” Alijda muttered. She glanced sidelong at Rose. “Can you check in with Alice? She’s probably grabbed one of the Epsilon communicators by now.”

Rose cleared her throat. “Yes, ah, Mr. Smith, can we patch in a link to Alice? Please?”

“We can. Link established.”

“– still can’t believe it’s been six months for you, compared to my few hours. That’s amazing,” came a male voice. A male voice? At this point, Rose figured she’d best keep rolling with it.

“Hello, Alice?” she called out. “Did you bring your boyfriend along?”

“Oh, hi Rose!” came Alice’s bright, cheery voice. “Great, I’d hoped the individual communicators could be patched in until allcomms are restored. No, this is Kat with me. He wouldn’t work as my boyfriend, he’s been asking allllll about Alijda.”

“Whoa, whoa, hey, I was asking about both of you,” Kat’s voice protested. “I mean, not in the bits about Alijda dealing with her depression, but I was sort of including you in the rest of my questions, Alice.”

“He’s probably hoping to score with me now,” Alijda sniped, from where she was typing at a keyboard. “Having had a look at my panties.”

“Alijda, please,” Kat said. “Would you have preferred I didn’t say anything to you?”

“You didn’t have to make fun of me in front of Alice.”

“That wasn’t my intent. In fact, part of me feels like you would be complaining no matter what I said.”

Alijda hit an enter key on her keyboard with what Rose judged to be more force than necessary. “You haven’t changed a bit, Kat.”

“No kidding. For me, it’s been less than a day since I saw you.”

“Right. So you didn’t even miss me. Fine, then.”

“Alijda, for what it’s worth, I did miss you. To the extent that I could. I didn’t miss all this defensiveness though.”

Rose wondered if Alijda’s cheeks were getting redder, or if it was her imagination.

“Too bad that’s all part of the package deal that is me,” Alijda asserted. “And as I’m sure Alice told you, still a depressive. So there.”

“We all have our flaws, Alijda,” Kat fired back. “They help make us what we are. Now come on, it’s not like I told Alice what colour they were.”

“Oh, how NICE for you. Alice already knows I don’t always wear black EVERYwhere.”

“Oh, uhm, I didn’t know that,” Rose offered, raising her index finger into the air.

It had seemed only fair, to remind them of her presence. Except, Rose reflected, maybe she’d mistimed that. Her interjection had simply created an awkward sort of silence. Rose noticed that Alijda’s cheeks were definitely redder now, as the woman resumed typing.

The redhead slowly lowered her arm back down.

“I wonder,” came Alice’s voice over the communications link, “were you two like that all through your last mission too? Because it’s sort of adorable, in a Sam Malone and Diane Chambers kind of way. Of course, let’s hope things work out better for you than it did for them.”

Alijda’s posture seemed to tighten, and she started to turn her head.

“Alice?” Rose broke back in quickly. While this relationship angle was sort of interesting in a soap-opera-esque way, it really wasn’t their priority. “Have you figured out what’s causing us to plummet to our deaths yet?”

“Hmmm? Oh, that, right. Nope,” Alice said, sounding far too chipper for Rose’s tastes. “The most likely places for physical damage look fine so far. We may all have to cram into the station’s escape pod. It’ll be cozy, but we’re already swapping underwear stories, so it should be fine.”

“There’s an ESCAPE pod?” Rose gasped.

“Yuppers,” Alice affirmed. “Thing is, while that saves us, lots of people might die if this station actually crashes into a planet. So let’s keep at it for as long as we can, okay? Alijda, any luck?”

“No,” Alijda said, still typing. “Nothing obvious in the logs yet. If this problem is a computer virus, it’s arrival was well hidden. Or it’s been here since the station was first built.”

“Mr. Smith?” Rose said, looking back to the computer. “How much time do we have?”

“About fifteen minutes,” the computer advised her.

Rose frowned. “Uhhhh, no. Wrong. We were at less than eight minutes a short time ago.”

“Braking thrusters have fired,” Mr. Smith explained. “We are gradually vectoring into orbit. If this continues, we may end up out of danger entirely.”

“Wooo, well done Mr. Smith!” Alice whooped.

“It was not me,” the computer noted.

“Wooo, well done Rose!”

“I’ve just been standing here,” Rose admitted. “Must be something Alijda did.”

“Wooo–”

“It wasn’t me either me,” the brunette interrupted, turning away from the computer.

“And while I’d love to say I did something,” Kat remarked, “I’ll have to make the confusion unanimous.”

“Wooo boy, that’s weird,” Alice concluded. “Mr. Smith, anyone else on the station?”

“Not according to main sensors,” came Mr. Smith’s response. “Someone could be hiding. In fact, without Ziggy, we’ve only made staying hidden easier for them.”

“Maybe Beam reactivated?” Rose guessed.

“A what now?” Alijda asked, approaching her. “Some laser beam?”

“No, no, the automatic hologram who was in charge before me,” Rose explained. “I guess she was a light beam, oh, hey, that’s a very clever pun…”

“A hologram in charge? I never heard about this,” Alice protested. “Are we talking hologram Rimmer style? Or more Doc from Voyager style?”

Rose shrugged. “Lesbian hologram?”

“Hmmm, a Hatsune Miku style hologram then,” Alice decided. “I mean, there’s nothing official, but I’ve wondered about those vocaloids in their off hours.”

Alijda rolled her eyes. “Focus, please, Alice.”

“Oooh, you’re one to talk, Miss Miracle Romance.”

“Hey, I can type and snipe at the same–”

“Mr. Smith?” Rose cut back in. “Anything on this Beam?”

“No. Your hologram woman never activated me,” the computer apologized. “Only Ziggy would have that information.”

Alijda turned back to Rose. “Where did you last see this Beam?”

Rose shrugged. “In that big cylinder room, where I guess people arrive. She was plugged into the computer. See, Beam was trying to save the station as much as the rest of us, until she lost power. So maybe a backup kicked in, then she figured something out?”

“I can double back and look for her,” Kat offered.

“Great idea, Kat,” Alice said brightly. “Splitting up is definitely what we should do if we’re re-enacting a horror movie on a space station.”

Alijda palmed her face. “Look. Alice, Kat, come here first, both of you. We’ll all go together. You can meet Rose that way, so that she knows what we all look like.”

“Roger, Alijda. On our way,” Kat said. It was followed by a chirp, as the connection was cut.

Rose offered the older woman a smile. “Thanks. Were you once in charge of this place too?”

“Oh, heck no,” Alijda said, pushing some hair off her forehead. “This place sucks. The couple times I’ve been here, I’ve been angling to shut it down. Their whole oversight thing is real creepy.”

Rose sighed in relief. “That’s what I thought too! Glad it’s not just a me thing.” She paused before asking, “What brought you back here then?”

Alijda’s gaze slipped away. “Yeah. Uh, Alice? I guess? She’s a bit helpless. Or sometimes she is. I felt I couldn’t let her do this alone, that’s all.” She looked back. “I didn’t know Kat would be here. And me and Alice, it’s a friend thing, not a romance thing. Seriously.”

Rose laughed despite herself at Alijda’s expression. “That’s fine. In fact, it’s nice of you.” Rose smiled hopefully. “You know, Alijda, you’ve got a real great ‘take charge’ attitude. If I get the chance to, um, hand off all this authorization stuff to someone, maybe you could be the one…”

“No,” Alijda asserted. Her tone was firm, while her expression was apologetic. “Sorry Rose, I’m not running this station. Once this problem is fixed, if the project’s even still running at that point, you can give control back to Alice and her God.”

Rose winced. “I’m not sure I can authorize Alice. The main computer didn’t even want me to call her.”

“Oh. Well, we’ll figure something out,” Alijda decided. “Don’t worry.”

“Right. Don’t panic, still my motto.”

“For now, back to the original problem,” Alijda said, crossing her arms. “Rose, maybe you can help me to think things through. Why would this station be put in danger, only to be somehow saved hours later? Could it be that we’re dealing with two separate warring entities on board, and shutting down Ziggy somehow turned the tide?”

Rose thought about it. “Maybe. Or it could be one single entity, which now has what it wants,” she suggested.

Alijda blinked. “How? What does the station have now, that it didn’t earlier?”

Rose swallowed. “It has us.”

NEXT?

What’s the deal with Beam? (Also connects a bit to that entity talk.) OPTIONS:

VOTING CLOSES 7am EDT THURSDAY JUNE 22nd

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PATHS NOT TAKEN:
Software problem would have been Alijda’s point of view. She’d have restored an earlier Ziggy, and they’d have had to track down the origin of the virus. Hardware problem would have been Kat’s point of view. He’d have helped Alice, and they’d have then turned their attention to the planet. We got Rose’s point of view (by a wide margin), with the problem solved by unknown means, and on we go. (Alice’s above links this time are all musical, by the way.)

4.02: How Far She’ll Go

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EPSILON DELTA, PART TWO: How Far She’ll Go

Alijda’s home universe included Time Lords. For whatever reason, as Alice dashed back to the house that the two women now shared, that was the thought at the forefront of her mind.

It’s not that Alice thought the fact would be of any particular use. Rather, it simply meant that this universe, which she was presently in, had no “Doctor Who” episodes. Since the mythology of one universe tended to only be reality somewhere else, even if it was still debatable as to whether myths formed from other realities, or vice versa.

As a result, Alice was behind on watching that series, and so returning to the “Epsilon Station” aka “The Hub” might give her a chance at catching up. “Behind” itself being a misleading term. Given how the Station had access to all of space and time, one could theoretically watch episodes that hadn’t yet been produced in a specified “present”.

But given actor fluctuations across realities, Alice had tacitly settled on a stream of continuity not far off from her own universe. From before her Earth had been pulled into that hell dimension, at any rate.

Of course, Alice hadn’t even known about real Time Lords being an issue until that “cease and desist” letter from the BBC, which had come after running her first major populated mission. Oh well, at least Alijda’s universe did include the TV show “Wynonna Earp”.

None of those thoughts would help the Rose Thorne girl.

ALICE VUNDERLANDE
Commission from Cherry Z

Alice sighed, wondering if her tendency to have a unique thought process would one day manage to target itself into whatever configuration it was that supposedly “normal” people had on a daily, good, there was the house, home again, home again, jiggity jig.

Alice burst through the front door. “Honey, I’m home!” she called out, leaning against the wall to catch her breath.

The large living room area was visible from the front door. It took a moment, but an arm came into view on the top of the leather couch, followed by Alijda’s head. The brunette thirty-something stared at Alice in silence for a moment. “Laugh track quieted down in your head yet?” she said at last.

Alice beamed. “Yes, thank you.”

“Great. I notice you did not, however, buy bread,” Alijda noted, her gaze falling to Alice’s empty hands.

Alice closed the front door. “Because I got a call from the Epsilon Project. They need me. Us.”

Alijda’s gaze returned to Alice’s face. “So you’re being pranked?”

“Pranked? Alijda, who on your Earth would even know about it?!”

The brunette’s eyebrow went up. “Anyone you’ve talked to in the six months you’ve been here? You can’t seem to stop yourself. Hell, even though I’m not actually sitting in on your job interviews, I have my suspicions there too. I’m pretty sure the reason you can’t get stable work is because, when people ask you to clarify your prior work experience, you go on about monitoring alternate realities for anomalous events.”

Alice pushed out her lower lip. “It’s not like I can talk about being the secretary for an Angel from back on my own world. That’s even crazier. And I have no references here. Haters gonna hate.”

“I hacked out a false trail on our internet for you,” Alijda reminded her. “You can claim you were the secretary for a movie studio. Not to mention employed by the same guy I used when I was under my fake ‘Alison’ alias.”

“I know. I can lead with pride, I can make us strong, I’ll be satisfied if I play along. But the voice inside sings a different song. What is wrong with me?

Alijda’s stare became an eye roll. “Oy, I should have smacked you when we first met. You’re still dealing with our lunch.” She dropped back out of sight to lay on the couch.

Alice’s smile returned. “I love you too, friend.”

Alijda let out a grunt. Alice walked into the room, now noticing that her housemate was staring at a laptop computer on the coffee table. Probably back to writing another of her stories.

Her writing really wasn’t that bad. In a sense, the stories were more than a way of Alijda coping with her own depression, they could be seen as a way of helping others who had similar problems. Alijda had a certain dry wit about her.

If only she wouldn’t push people away so much. Or wear black dresses all the time. One of these days, Alice swore she would get the woman into a pair of blue jeans.

“What?” Alijda asked, without looking up again.

“Alijda, please, I’m serious. The Epsilon Station made me an offer I can’t refuse. It’ll crash into a planet without help.”

The brunette met her gaze again. “Alice, you’re a dear, but face reality. The whole project got shut down when we left. Okay? It’s done. And even if we assume it wasn’t, and this isn’t some stupid joke, their whole oversight thing? That was creepy as all hell. So if the new idiot in charge wants it all to crash and burn, fine, I’m in favour.”

“Rose didn’t want it, Alijda. She sounded scared. And young. Even younger than I was, when I started.”

Alijda reached out to smack her laptop shut, muttering something indistinguishable under her breath. “What the hell is wrong with your random God, recruiting the inexperienced?”

“Mistakes were made,” Alice intoned. “Truth be told, I messed up a bunch even before recruiting you for that first in-person mission. Please, Alijda.” She leaned in against the side of the couch. “This girl’s frightened. She’s inadequately prepared. You want me to say ‘I need you’? I *need* you.”

Alijda sighed. “How is it that I now know when you’re quoting something, even if I have no idea where it’s from? Fine. When is this Epsilon thing supposedly happening?”

Alice felt her phone vibrate in the back pocket of her jeans. “Now?”

Alijda rolled off the couch. “Damn multiverse whatevers are never simple. Let me grab my meds.”

Alice answered her phone as Alijda headed for the bathroom. “Hello!” the former Epsilon caretaker announced. “Know that your call is very important to us.”

“When this is all over, you’ll have to tell me what your actual voicemail is,” came Rose’s voice. “For now, please, I’m in the spare control room, how do I get at this Mr. Smith??”

“Am I on some kind of speaker phone?” Alice asked.

“Beats me, but your voice is coming from all around.”

Alice nodded. She took in a deep breath, and called out, “Mr Smith! I need you.”

She heard the musical fanfare start to play in the background. The difference in ‘need’ quoting between Captain Picard and Sarah Jane Smith, it was all in the inflection. Come to think, Sarah Jane was probably the reason she’d had Time Lords on the brain.

“Greetings, Alice,” came a deep male voice. “You seem to have become a redheaded teenager since I was last active.”

“Hi, Mr Smith!” Alice chirped. “That’s Rose in the room. We need to get me back up there to fix things. Trouble is, Ziggy may be infected with something. Can you tell if that’s the case without interfacing?”

“That would take some time,” Smith mused.

“I’m going to die in less than 30 minutes!” Rose shrieked. “Also, a talking computer coming out of the wall what now?”

“Rose, your motto is don’t panic,” Alice reminded. “Mr Smith, can we get you to reroute a teleport, done by Alijda? To get us up there?”

“If Rose creates an interface by patching in the necessary circuits, yes.”

“Meaning no,” Rose asserted.

Alice chewed on her lower lip. Interfacing might simply infect Mr. Smith anyway. She needed more data! “I suppose it’s too much to hope for that the planet you’re crashing into is the one I’m on now?”

Ziggy’s voice broke in. “It is not your world, Alice. I know that much.”

“Right.” Alice smacked her fist into her forehead. There had to be a way. She turned her attention towards sifting through the limited data she already had.

Fact 1: Ziggy still had the ability to retrieve, given how Rose was somehow there, but the main computer lacked the power. Mr. Smith had the power, but lacked the ability. Their systems ran independently, for obvious reasons.

Fact 2: Rose lacked the understanding to interface the machines, assuming it was even safe to do so. She also wouldn’t be able to program them. Meaning whatever they came up with here, it was going to have to be something automated.

Automated. The failsafe.

“Ziggy,” Alice said, spinning around. “Hypothetical. If you were to be completely shut down, would Mr. Smith take over operations? Now that he’s active?”

“Affirmative. But he would not have my scope. Access to teleportation systems would be–”

“He would automatically attempt to complete a teleport if it was in progress and putting lives at risk.”

A pause. “The teleport might abort instead,” Ziggy suggested.

“Not with Rose in danger too. Okay, Ziggy. Initiate a recall teleport based on my prior departure, relative to the months I’ve spent on this Earth with Alijda, using this cell phone signal as a beacon. When you go dead, Mr Smith will pull us in the rest of the way.”

“I have never attempted that before,” Mr. Smith pointed out.

“Agreed,” Ziggy said. “I can find no guarantee this will work. I cannot authorize it.”

“We’re out of options! Do it!” Alice asserted, falling back on a quote by Picard from the TNG episode “Heart of Glory”.

“Alice, I bet I can authorize this,” came Rose’s voice again. “Except… are you sure? As scared as I am, I don’t want to order something here that might hurt you.”

Alice decided she liked this Rose girl. “It’s okay, I installed failsafes.” Mostly. “I’m sure they’re still in place.” There was no way to know. “It’ll be fine.” This was risky as all heck. What WAS wrong with her?

“Alice?” Alijda said, narrowing her eyes as she reentered the room. “Alice, what’s with that expression? Who are you talking to and what are you telling them?”

Alice flapped her free hand up and down to try and shush Alijda.

“Ziggy,” came Rose’s voice. “Initiate that recall teleport thing from the last time Alice was in charge of computers here. Authorization code, uhm, Paige-Paige-Paige.”

“Initiating, Rose,” came Ziggy’s resigned voice.

Alice ceased her arm flapping, looking to Alijda. “Change of plan. I’m headed up. I’ll bring you later.” She turned and sprinted for the nearest doorway.

“Alice! Alice, damn it, don’t you dare do reckless and foolhardy things on your own!”

As Alice began to pass through into the next room, she felt the disorientation of a teleport taking place – and Alijda’s hand seizing her wrist from behind. A dangerous and potentially suicidal act. So not exactly out of character for Alijda. Being unable to shake her off, both women ended up falling through the doorway together.

And then the house was empty.

***

Alice felt herself spinning through a dark void. She slammed into a wall, and a rush of air was expelled from her lungs.

“Well, here’s another fine mess you’ve gotten me into,” came Alijda’s voice from somewhere else in the darkness. Above her, maybe? They’d become separated upon arrival.

Alice managed a giggle as she worked to stabilize herself in the zero gravity. “Actually, that’s a misquote. Laurel and Hardy use the phrase here’s another NICE mess in dialogue. The name of one of their films was ‘Another Fine Mess’.”

“Oh, well, I beg your pardon,” Alijda mumbled.

“Uh, did something go wrong?” came another voice. A male one.

A dim red lighting finally switched on, giving partial illumination to the large cylindrical room. Alice turned her head, spotting Alijda floating a short distance away… as well as Katherine “Kat” Conway, the military man who had been part of their last mission together.

“Kat?” Alijda sputtered. “What the hell are you doing here?”

He scratched his head. “Beats me. I thought I got back to my hotel just fine, but now I’m back here a half hour later.”

“It’s the recall feature,” Alice realized. “Because Kat left AFTER us, remember, Alijda? He wanted to make sure all of us ladies got off the station okay.”

“So you mean him leaving after we did pulled him back in before us this time?”

“Right. Could be a glitch, could be the recall order to Ziggy wasn’t specific enough to exclude him. Technically, he was the last person to leave when I was in command.”

“So chivalry isn’t dead, it simply gets you killed,” Alijda remarked.

“A ten out of ten for style, but minus several million for good thinking – on my part,” Alice sighed. “Though it occurs to me now that Kat’s chivalry is possibly the only reason Ziggy even had my phone number, since I told her to call me once Kat himself had left. So there’s that!”

Kat cleared his throat. “I feel out of the loop here, ladies. Granted, that’s somewhat par for the course when I’m with you, but still.”

“Oh, the Epsilon Station’s gonna crash into a planet real soon,” Alice offered. “I’ll head to auxiliary control now to find Rose, and see if there’s something I can do about that. I kinda hope there is.”

“No,” Alijda corrected. “I’LL head to auxiliary control. I’m the hacker, Alice,” she continued, before her housemate could protest. “I can whip almost any system back into shape. You’re the one who knows this station backwards and forwards, so you need to check to see if any physical connections are out of place. Kat? You stick close to Alice.”

“Uh, yes, ma’am,” Kat said, lifting his eyebrow. “Though if I might make a request?”

“What?” Alijda asked, looking down at him.

“Stop giving your orders from directly above me? I mean, I am resisting the urge to continually stare right up your skirt, but you don’t seem to be aware I even can.”

Alijda’s eyes grew wider as her hands moved to grasp at the material of her dress, trying to bunch it back between her legs in the zero gravity of the room.

“I keep telling her, jeans,” Alice couldn’t resist saying.

“Shut it!” Alijda snapped, her face a bright red – though that was largely due to the lighting in the room. “I’ll be with that Rose girl.” Moments later, she vanished in a puff of purple and black smoke, as she teleported herself up to the doorway in the ceiling.

NEXT?

What is the nature of the mystery damage? (This will also impact a new point of view, if you think about it.) OPTIONS:

VOTING CLOSES 7am EDT THURSDAY JUNE 15th

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LAST TIME…

If it had been Alijda’s world, they’d have teleported up instead of using the recall, so Ziggy would still be active. If it had been Kat’s world, he would have been kept planetside for now, perhaps contacting Rose from there. We got what we got. (Do people prefer prior vote result info here, rather than compiled in a later post? Does anyone even care?)