SMOKE WITH MIRRORS: PART EIGHT
Trixie smirked under her mask. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were trying to get rid of me.”
Alice rolled her eyes. “Fine. We stay together then. You want to decontaminate at the same time, or would that be as awkward as the elevator ride?”
Trixie flinched, and immediately cursed herself for that reaction. For whatever reason, it was taking some effort to keep her hormones in check, after all that time stuck on the Epsilon station. It didn’t help that Alice was attractive, in her own way.
Fortunately, it did help that Alice was pretty practical in terms of staying on task.
“It’s fine,” Trixie said, clenching her jaw. “I’m having a little trouble adjusting to everything, that’s all. But I can take it.”
Alice tilted her head to one side. “Am I everything? People do sometimes have trouble adjusting to me. Can I do something to help you with that?”
Trixie sighed. “Alice. It’s not you. Not directly. Let’s just say I was dealing with Beam on the station, plus I haven’t seen my open relationship boyfriend in a while, so I’m… adjusting. Can we leave it at that?”
“You’re adjusting…” Alice blinked, then her eyes widened. “Oh. Ohhh. Would it help if I slapped you? Or if you slapped me?”
“It’s FINE,” Trixie repeated, pressing the heel of her hand to her head. A thought occurred. “Just tell me that we can decontaminate while still wearing our clothes.”
Alice walked over to read the signage more closely, as Trixie belatedly used her Rixi to take some photographs of the file folders about the virus. In case it was useful or even necessary for later.
“We’re good,” Alice called out after a moment. Trixie turned, to see the other woman giving her a thumbs up. “Shirts, socks, panties, they can all stay on. Hella suspicious, bad for any fanfic writers we have, good for you.”
Trixie came over to give the chamber a look herself. The system seemed automated, and she saw no reason that the same spell that got them down here wouldn’t work again. More to the point, unlike the elevator, which had been smaller than a phone booth, the small window in the door showed the chamber to be the size of a small bathroom at the least.
“Suspicious in what sense?” Trixie asked, deciding not to delve into the other comments.
“I’ve read up on decontamination,” Alice remarked. “Being on a pandemic planet and all. Removal of clothing is pretty standard, implying a level of technology down here that exceeds the technology up there.”
“So the government has been hiding advances from the people,” Trixie hypothesized. “Or there’s some element of magic on the planet that isn’t well known.”
“Mmmm, or something,” Alice mused. She shrugged. “Anyway, we might want to leave anything behind that we don’t want getting wet or damaged. I bring it up, as your pants might qualify. But again, that’s fanfic bait.”
Trixie looked down at her leather pants and sighed. Maybe they had been a bad choice after all. “I’ll live. And Rixi can handle water.”
Alice nodded. “Speaking of, we’ll need your magical device to get us access to the room. I’m no hacker.”
Trixie nodded. “That shouldn’t be a problem.” The techno witch pressed Rixi up to the keypad with one hand, while waving her other hand out in front of her. “Ubi fumus, ibi ignis,” she restated.
There were some clicks, and after a moment, the decontamination door swung open. A combination of magic, and Rixi doing a fast interface.
“Piece of cake,” Trixie remarked. “After you?”
“Thanks?” Alice said, peering inside. “It occurs to me that these things are gas-tight, and it’d be real easy to see us on a monitor and suffocate us. I hope our emergency beacons still work.”
“My Rixi is always available,” Trixie said, waving it in the air. “It can get us out. Besides, a smart director would want to question us before a death sentence, to know how we got past this security in the first place.” She wondered whether to ask why Alice was fixating on horror movies.
Alice nodded. “Okay then.” She walked into the room, with Trixie following. As soon as Trixie closed the door behind them, the lighting – which to this point had seemed automatic, Trixie presuming it had been triggered by their use of the elevator – tinged red.
A spray of what Trixie hoped was water came from the ceiling. She wondered about closing her eyes, to protect them, but she was equally nervous that she would miss something important that might result in them getting trapped. She squinted.
The spray went on for what Trixie judged to be about a minute, and when the water was finished – she now saw a small drain in the floor – there was a heating effect. This helped to dry them, as well as presumably frying anything that might have been airborne. There also came a humming noise, possibly a sonic effect, as Trixie couldn’t think of a reason for the noise to be sustained in that way.
Alice was right, it definitely felt more high tech than anything else on this world, or on her own for that matter.
The whole process took almost five minutes, and left Trixie sweating in her outfit, but in the end, the lighting went back to normal. There was a click at the door on the far side. Trixie quickly stepped forwards, pushing it open. Once she was out, she quickly raked her fingers through her still slightly damp twintails and wiped her fingers down on her pants to try and remove any excess moisture.
They were now in a small one room apartment. There was a cot, a table and chair, and a small kitchen area with a fridge and a lot of cardboard boxes.
“Guess we came in through the back door?” Alice mused, taking off her mask. “The good stuff must be through there.” She pointed to the door directly opposite to them. “Now that we’re in, can your device scan for life signs?”
“Not like the movies,” Trixie said, belatedly pulling her own mask down. It made sense that they wouldn’t need those after having gone through that chamber. “Rixi needs a link to internal sensors.”
“Worth a shot,” the other woman sighed. She crept over to the other door, listening at it for a moment. Then she carefully cracked it open wide enough to peer through. Then she fully opened it. “Never mind.”
It looked to be a small bathroom.
Trixie crossed her arms. “No way out. So this is a bunker of some sort.”
Alice shook her head. “All that high tech setup for this small area? And an entrance that felt more like an emergency exit? I don’t buy it.” She looked around the room again.
Trixie wandered over to check in the boxes. It looked like an excessive amount of canned goods. The fridge seemed to be more of a freezer unit, which held more perishable items. Someone could definitely hide out down there for a while. Say, if someone was on the lookout for them.
Alice had started knocking all along on the wall to the right. By Trixie’s reckoning, that direction led back towards the entranceway of the park.
The redhead cleared her throat. “What, you think there’s a–” Alice pushed on a knothole, and an entire piece of panelling popped out. “–secret passage?” Trixie finished, eyebrows going up.
“There are secret passages all around you, if you know where to look,” Alice intoned. She gestured. “You first this time? Distract anyone inside, okay?”
Trixie sighed. She supposed turnabout was fair play… besides, she probably wouldn’t have even found the secret area without Alice’s help.
“I’m trying stealth before I shake my ass,” Trixie noted. As such, she quietly edged in through the opening. The room on the other side was dark, but Trixie got the impression that it was larger. In part because there seemed to be a panel blinking off to one side, some distance away.
She edged along the wall, then over towards the panel. Up close, she realized it was a monitor, and the system seemed to be in standby mode. Trixie held Rixi up.
“Can we interface with this?” she murmured.
“Clarify,” Rixi stated.
“Use the same spell to get access.”
A pause. “Unlikely. There is higher security. I do believe we could circumvent it manually.”
Trixie knew that Rixi’s use of ‘manually’ meant inserting some code into the system, rather than looking for a physical switch. But that would take time.
She looked back towards Alice, who was now silhouetted in the doorway. “Have a look around,” she suggested. “I’ll see if I can break into their computers.”
Alice nodded. “If you can’t get all the way in, see if you can tweak communications to get to the station. Alijda can hack almost anything.”
“So I’ve heard,” Trixie said dryly. Alijda had come aboard Epsilon while she’d been asleep, and had been very quickly whisked off on her own mission. So the two of them had yet to meet. She was curious about the other woman, as a preliminary file she’d been granted access to indicated that Alijda had a teleportation power, mental issues, and a not unattractive presence.
Still, that was a consideration for the future. Trixie was sure she could handle this.
Only when the lights came on, did Trixie bother to look around the area. The room WAS larger, along the lines of a lecture hall, with the computer banks over on her side, and a number of specimens or samples lining shelves on the opposite wall. In between were lab benches. There also seemed to be two visible doorways… not counting the way they got in, which seemed to be a hidden panel door both ways.
One of the new doors had the look of another decontamination chamber. Trixie didn’t know where the other one led, but Alice seemed to be on her way to check it out.
Trixie returned to her coding. Based on Rixi’s initial scans, the program she was writing into her device would grant them access, at least temporarily.
“Any luck?” Alice asked, startling the techno-witch on account of standing almost right behind her. How much time had passed?
“Probably. Give me another five minutes,” Trixie muttered.
“No problem for me, but someone else could come by in that time,” Alice pointed out.
“Uh huh,” was all Trixie bothered to say in response. No one had come yet, and talk was a distraction that delayed her coding.
Another five minutes passed, or she hoped it was only five minutes. Either way, she was done. She gestured vaguely to Alice before tapping at Rixi’s red crystal. “Execute.”
“Interfacing and executing,” Rixi responded.
Trixie wiped her arm across her brow as she waited.
The standby screen flickered. A login screen briefly appeared… and then a logo appeared in its place, spinning around on its access. It looked to be a four leaf clover.
“You’re in?” Alice breathed.
“For now,” Trixie agreed. “Rixi, record all screens as we browse.”
The screen now resolved into a graphical interface with two words on the background screen.
“Clover Enterprises,” Alice continued. She started to hop from one foot to the other. “Yes! I KNEW it, I knew Clover would be behind something inter-dimensional like this. Now we are so happy, we do the dance of joy… that is, assuming you can copy over their corporate manifesto??”
“I don’t know where I’d even find that,” Trixie complained. “And for all we know, this Clover refers to a company that makes computers.” She opened up what looked like a file directory. She immediately went into the first subdirectory. “Also feeling like the Security folder should be a priority.”
Alice let out a long sigh. “Yes, okay, fine.”
Trixie quickly realized that there had recently been a file backup to archives… but not recently enough. “Rixi, I’m going to erase all signs that me and Alice got in here. Let me know if I miss anything.”
Trixie tapped at the keys, finishing by tuning into a live video feed. It looked to be a view of the park above them. “I think this confirms that someone was monitoring Beam wandering about. Hence the hijacking of her code.”
“Yes, well, some of the jars down here are for knockout drugs,” Alice affirmed. “And there’s items to disrupt systems like hers. And there’s something that might have been able to inject her. We need to know the WHY though… manifesto?”
“Yes, okay, hold on Miss One-Track-Mind,” Trixie grumbled. “It’s not like that’s labelled.”
She was hesitant to delve into the archived files, as it would give current date stamps to their most recent access. She wanted to reprogram as little as possible. But maybe whoever this was had been looking at something more recently?
“Okay, how about this,” Trixie mused. “Opened yesterday, but the file name is dated from even before the pandemic began.”
The document appeared on the screen. She scanned it, even as Alice enthused, “This is an agreement with Clover Enterprises to trade technologies for magical items.”
“Yuh huh,” Trixie agreed. “Now I pull up recent files related to those items.” She began to type in the search command.
Rixi’s crystal pulsed. “You are about to have company.”
A video feed popped up again, this time showing a figure in a hood and cloak who was entering what looked like some sort of storm drain near the park fountain. It didn’t look like a drone camera. Trixie concluded that it was pointed at the other entrance to this place.
“We gotta go,” Trixie sighed.
“No, the files,” Alice protested. “He’ll be five minutes getting through decontamination. We need this information.”
“He’ll SEE us from that room,” Trixie said, pointing at the small window in the door and shaking her head. “I mean, I can get copies into Rixi to look at later, but only at a cost of having to hide down here, hoping we’re not found.”
“Pfft. Once we have the files, we confront this guy,” Alice objected. “Since even if we leave now, we won’t make it to the surface before he’s onto us. That elevator was hella slow.”
Trixie frowned. Alice was right, their chances of getting away weren’t great. But perhaps they could contact Epsilon from the elevator. Wasn’t that better than provoking this guy, either by hiding in his lair, or by throwing their investigation into his face?
What was the least terrible option?
VOTING CLOSES ON SUNDAY AUGUST 30th.
PATHS NOT TAKEN:
Alice and Trixie leaving for backup would have been from the point of view of someone on the Station (like Para). But when they returned to the park, the elevator would have been shut down (or might have shut down with someone inside, as a hostage). The women splitting up would have resulted in Trixie being caught, as she tried to distract, allowing Alice to obtain some information (either on paper or by having the Station help her hack). We got them erasing their footage but still being stuck there at the end of the part, leading into the vote above.
Only one vote for a week, then abruptly three more when I mused on Facebook… I guess that’s where I need to be hyping? The fifth vote was when I left it open for an additional day anyway (possibly the original voter returned). The posting delay today was owing to a busy week, and me wanting to get through ‘Steins;Gate 0’ prior to the week before school. Wheee. I do appreciate that you’re still reading!