Alice

6.08: Enter and Break

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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.

TRIXIE VIRGA
Commission from Sen Yomi

“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.”

“Acknowledged.”

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.”

“Acknowledged.”

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?

OPTIONS:

VOTING CLOSES ON SUNDAY AUGUST 30th.

Previous INDEX 6 Next

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.

EXTRA ASIDE:
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!

6.07: Double Park

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SMOKE WITH MIRRORS: PART SEVEN

Alice counted down the seconds until the designated arrival time. She was ten seconds over the limit when the shimmering whirlpool finally appeared at the end of the alleyway. Not bad, all things considered.

A redhead with twintails slid out of the portal, landing on her behind. She was wearing the same kind of protective face mask as Alice herself, though her glistening white blouse and dark leather pants were a departure from the pink T-shirt and blue jeans that Alice had selected that morning. As were the woman’s ankle boots.

Alice approached as the wormhole closed back in on itself. She extended her hand.

ALICE VUNDERLANDE
Commission by Cherry Zong

“Hello! Trixie, I presume?”

The woman eyed Alice for a moment before reaching her arm out to accept the help rising to her feet. “Correct. And you’re Alice, I recognize you from the videos.”

“Only the public ones, I trust,” Alice chirped. “I’m more interesting in person.” She gestured at her new companion. “Did you dress up special for me? I thought you preferred skirts.”

Trixie dusted off her pants. “No. This simply seemed more practical for the mission, while still being prone to distract anyone that I’d want to keep off balance.” She looked back up at Alice, her eyes worried and searching. “Please tell me you’re not aroused.”

“Oh no. I’m not Beam,” Alice said, laughing. “Just, those wouldn’t be my first go-to after ditching a skirt.” She hooked her thumbs into the belt loops of her jeans. “Gotta stay comfortable.”

Trixie dragged her fingers back through her twintails. “Oh, tight leather’s comfortable, if you wear it enough. And it’s not like you’d see my ass less if I wore jeans.”

“I suppose,” Alice granted. She gestured down the alley. “So, shall we regroup back at the apartment?”

To Alice’s surprise, Trixie shook her head. “I’d rather start by taking readings from the nearby park,” she said. “The one Beam used to frequent.”

“You think that’s the place we want?” Alice asked. They had no conclusive proof yet about where Beam might have been infected, only that it had likely been a deliberate act.

“I don’t know,” Trixie said. “Hence the taking of readings.” She pulled some sort of small device out of her blouse pocket and waved it in the air.

“I did take a few preliminary scans of all locations where Beam hung out,” Alice remarked. “Including there. Though I guess if that’s some magic detector, you’ll register things I didn’t.”

“It’s Rixi,” Trixie stated. “I downloaded some of the data on this Earth into her, but for the most part, I’m starting from scratch. At worst, this gives me a baseline. At best, we find something’s up.”

Alice nodded. “This way then,” she concluded, turning the opposite way out of the alley from her original plan.

Honestly, Alice was just as happy to start their association by doing some investigating. She had been getting tired of all the dead ends, and after the recent Station news, had been tempted to start looking into infection sites on her own. However, once she’d learned of Fate’s decision to send Trixie down, she’d decided to wait the additional day.

For her part, Trixie seemed to be warily looking at everything and everyone as they walked down the street. It was a bit hard to tell how she felt given the mask over the lower part of her face, but she seemed troubled.

“You won’t see many late-stage infected,” Alice remarked. “The bunny ears are a dead giveaway, so they tend to stay at home. And while there could be people in the early stages of Smoke, as there’s been no way to identify such cases – I mean, beyond a test that takes a couple days to produce results – we just have to keep our distance.”

“It’s not only the virus that has me on edge,” Trixie admitted. “This is a whole new world. Yet it doesn’t look that different from being in some foreign city on my world. It’s weird. Will we turn a corner and see dogs walking upright? I keep expecting some other shoe to drop.”

“We can only hope that this will be the last footwear to fall,” Alice quoted.

Trixie focussed in on Alice. “What?”

Alice smiled back, despite knowing that Trixie wouldn’t be able to see her expression. “What?”

Trixie continued to stare for a moment, then looked back down at her Rixi device. “Okay then. So, is this park we’re going to still closed?”

“All of them in the city are,” Alice confirmed. “Except to walk through. Beam kind of ignored that, it gave her a quiet place to think.”

“Right. I’d ask why she didn’t think the apartment was a quiet enough place for that,” Trixie remarked. “Except I read your report about the lady across the hall.”

“And her boyfriend, and the fact that they’ve both turned bunny?” Alice considered. “Yeah. I mean, don’t get me wrong, they’re nice enough. But they need me to do grocery runs, and the other day, one wanted me to fluff their tail.” She lifted up her palms. “I wash my hands a lot.”

“I don’t blame you.”

“Yup. If I’m gonna be a bunny, it’s gonna be on my terms,” Alice stated, clenching the hands into fists. “Or possibly because I’ve become so popular that my merchandise warrants the Playboy Bunny variation. Ehhh?” She winked.

Trixie blinked back. “Sorry, are you… famous on some world out there…?”

“Nope. Not yet,” Alice sighed, clasping her hands behind her back. “Infamous, maybe. Unless being part of Epsilon itself counts.”

“Um. Well, you are unique,” Trixie said after a moment.

Alice again gave a hidden smile. “Thanks! So I’ve been told.”

Trixie cleared her throat. “So, Beam did her thinking in a park?”

“Yes. She also investigated at city hall, the airport, and on a carrot farm outside town,” Alice reminded. “But it’s true the park is the most suspicious case, since others have done reporting in the other places without any consequence that I’m aware of.”

“Are there more bunny cases among those living closer to the park?” Trixie asked.

Alice shrugged. “I’m good at tech tinkering but I’m no hacker. So I don’t have that data. However, the property for the park changed hands a bunch of times before it became what it is – that’s in the public record – and this whole neighbourhood is a pretty large subdivision. So maybe someone’s been hiding out or running experiments? I dunno.”

“Hmmm,” was all Trixie said. She looked back down at her device.

They didn’t speak again until reaching the park, though Alice did notice how more heads turned to look at Trixie and her outfit than had ever looked her way. Meaning it would probably be up to Alice to do any covert work while the eyes were on her companion. She was okay with this.

It was as Alice started to walk through the park gate that Trixie reached out to grasp her arm. “Hold up,” Trixie murmured. “I think there’s a drone in there.”

Alice reached down to pretend to tie up her running shoe. “You sure? My earlier scans were inconclusive for electronics.”

“I don’t think that was a bird I saw,” Trixie said, dubiously. She tapped at a few buttons on her device. “Maybe it was some kid who… hold on. This world has no magic? Aside from me?”

“None that I know of,” Alice said. It occurred to her belatedly that they should have tested out some of Trixie’s magic. Different Earth dimensions could react differently to individual abilities. Hopefully it wouldn’t be an issue.

Trixie remained silent for a moment, then started to walk down the sidewalk, parallel to the park. Alice finished with her shoe and hurried after. “What’ve you got?”

“I’m reading something. Something like when I access my Hammerspace,” Trixie muttered. “That is, I don’t think someone’s accessing a pocket dimension, but the more often you cast a spell, the more I can register it’s existence, given how it becomes less effective.”

“On your Earth, at least,” Alice pointed out.

“True,” Trixie granted. She came to a stop at a thick telephone pole on their side of the park fence. “But something’s been cast here. A lot. Rixi, can we duplicate?”

“Working,” came a sound from Trixie’s device, as the redhead touched a small red crystal. To Alice, it sounded like an electronic version of Trixie’s own voice.

Alice took the opportunity to look around for signs of another drone, or anything that might indicate that they were being watched. They were in the shadow of a large tree, which helped to conceal their presence, and she didn’t see anything in the branches that might indicate spying.

Too bad she hadn’t thought to bring any of her own scanners to the meet-up with Trixie.

“Analysis complete. Greatest chance of success, fumus ignis,” Rixi intoned.

“Huh,” Trixie mused. “That’s alarmingly relevant.”

“Was fumus a reference to Smoke?” Alice asked. “Something about the virus?”

“Not directly,” Trixie answered. “There’s a few catch-all spells that can be used to, well, in a sense, hack someone else’s system. In this case, we try… ubi fumus, ibi ignis.”

As Trixie spoke, she waved her hand out in front of her body. There was a click, and the telephone pole swung open, revealing a hollow with what looked like an elevator panel inside. “Translated as, where there’s Smoke, there’s fire,” Trixie finished.

“Got it,” Alice remarked, leaning in to look at the panel. “Only one other floor. Going down?”

“If you think we’ll fit,” Trixie said, dubiously. “It’s obviously made for one.”

“I’d rather not split up,” Alice insisted, moving to press herself up against the back wall. Though it was true that the cylindrical space would not fit the both of them very comfortably.

Trixie seemed to agree with the sentiment, moving in to press her body up against that of Alice. Alice suspected that the only thing that kept the shorter woman’s breath from being hot against her neck was the mask. “Pull me as close as you need,” Trixie murmured. “But try not to grope my ass too much.”

“Only a little bit then?” Alice quipped, as she fumbled for the elevator button.

“I’d hate to think I was completely unappealing,” Trixie giggled.

The door slid closed, leaving them in almost total darkness as Alice felt the platform they were standing on descend. Trixie squirmed against her body, seemingly looking for more space that didn’t exist. Eventually, she gave up.

“Alice, do you wear perfume?” Trixie murmured after a moment.

“Not usually,” Alice answered. “Though I notice you do.”

“Um. Yeah,” Trixie admitted. A pause. “Sorry if that bugs you.”

“No, no,” Alice assured. “It’s a way to distract people if they’re not keen on leather pants. I get it.”

Trixie took in a deep breath, which Alice felt more than heard. “Right.” The elevator continued to move very slowly. “Mmmph. So what are you thinking about?”

“Right now I’m thinking about horror movies that take place in elevators. Devil, Elevator, The Lift…”

“Yikes. Okay then,” Trixie said, as Alice let her voice trail off. Then, after another pause, came a mutter that sounded like, “Why am I thinking about my last Tinder hookup.”

Alice wasn’t sure how to respond, but before she even could, the door slid back open. And after Trixie had pulled away from her with a faint sigh, Alice stepped out to see what they were dealing with.

Problematically, it seemed to be a dead end. For all intents and purposes.

“Decontamination chamber,” Alice remarked, taking a couple strides to look at the exit on the other side of the small room. It was sealed shut with a sign and a keypad.

“But also some files,” Trixie remarked.

Alice turned. Sure enough, the room they were didn’t didn’t have much aside from what looked like an emergency generator, a coat rack, and a table… but on the table were a few file folders. Alice glanced over Trixie’s shoulder as the other woman flipped through them.

“I think these are all viral analyses,” Trixie said after a moment. “Of Smoke in different settings. But it’s not clear whether it’s related to causing the pandemic, curing it, or something else.”

“The dates seem to be from after the first case,” Alice noted. “If that’s relevant.”

“It probably is,” Trixie said. She put the files back down. “So, we keep going?”

Alice sighed. “Do we? Someone will surely notice when their decontamination chamber is in use. If not now, then when someone checks the inevitable video footage.”

“They might have already noticed their elevator was active,” Trixie pointed out. “We should get as far as we can before they’re really on to us.”

“Let’s at least call for backup,” Alice decided. She pulled out her Epsilon communicator… only to find that no signal was available when she attempted to use it.

“That’s that then. We could leave the area to call, but I think by the time Beam or Para got down here, we’d have lost the element of surprise,” Trixie insisted.

Alice crossed and uncrossed her arms. “Maybe we should split up then,” she yielded. “You can go up top to check in, as well as be distracting to anyone monitoring the park. I’ll keep trying to sneak in the back way here.”

“What? Why should I be the one to go topside?” Trixie argued.

“Because you have the spell ability to get back down, if necessary,” Alice pointed out. “Along with your claims of being a better visual distraction.”

Trixie’s nose crinkled. “Ah. You’re not wrong.”

Alice nodded. “So, what do you think?”

OPTIONS:

VOTING CLOSES ON SUNDAY AUGUST 16th?

Previous INDEX 6 Next

PATHS NOT TAKEN:
Beam joining Alice would have thrown off their quarry, as previously stated… but at the same time, they would have been seen approaching. Alijda joining Alice would have meant Alice was missing, having gone to investigate during the additional quarantine time; Alijda would likely have joined up with the person across the hall from Alice’s apartment and done some hacking. Of course, we got Trixie joining, meaning some Rixi and tracking with more stealth, as seen.

EXTRA ASIDE:
I actually had all four votes within 6 days. Maybe I was talking about it more? Maybe you’re more eager? Either way, thanks for reading.

6.03: Bunny Can’t Buy Happiness

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SMOKE WITH MIRRORS: PART THREE

“I’m in here for at least fourteen days?” Beam sputtered.

Alice clasped her hands behind her back, leaning closer to the large, clear wall that had been erected in place of a doorway. She scrutinized their colleague and friend. “I did say I wanted to teleport someone here, remember? Before you went down? So I created this area. You’ll have everything you need.”

“Sure, but when you said you’d bring me back in quarantine, I didn’t expect THIS, pyon pyon,” Beam protested. Her gaze shifted to Fate, who was staring, wide-eyed. Despite her own obvious irritation, Beam smiled. “And what are you looking at?”

Fate took a half step back, a blush starting to colour her cheeks. “Nothing? Just, maybe the bunny ears suit you?”

Beam’s omnipresent hairband now had two bright blue bunny ears sprouting from it, one of them partially flopped down. And her normal outfit of a dark blouse, blue skirt and dark stockings had been accessorized with a neck choker containing a bright blue bow.

The blonde holographic girl did a quick spin then, lifting her skirt to reveal a blue bunny tail poking out through a hole she had cut in her panties. “Do you like my tail too?” She wiggled.

Fate cleared her throat and turned her attention to the clipboard in her hand, idly spinning a pencil in her fingers as she stared intensely at the paper before her. “Irrelevant. You’re in quarantine.”

Beam spun back. “But I won’t be contagious forever, even assuming I am now.” Then her eyes opened wide. “Oh NO… this is two weeks without any hugs, isn’t it. I don’t know if I can handle that.”

“You have before,” Alice pointed out dryly. “Running this place all alone.”

“Yeah, but I think maybe now I have a stereotypical bunny libido?” Beam said, chewing her lower lip. “I’m thinking about sex more than usual. Come to think, thank goodness the virus didn’t switch my sexual preferences, pyon pyon. Makes me wonder about the guys it infects.”

Fate rubbed her forehead. “Back on topic, please. Beam, do you know how you, a hologram, caught a virus that, as far as we know, only targets humans?”

“I’ve been thinking about that,” Beam admitted. “Remember my programming is meant to emulate human physiology as much as possible? I sweat when I work out, I bleed when I’m cut, and so on. It’s likely that an accidental exposure to the virus triggered these bunny changes, to help me blend in with the locals.”

“But you’re not sure,” Alice pressed. “It could be some new mutation.”

Beam shrugged. “It’s possible. But I even caught a cold once. This isn’t too different. And as I said when I contacted you, I’m willing to ride this infection out so that you get some data, rather than trying to reprogram myself, pyon pyon.”

Fate nibbled on the end of her pencil, then finally brought her gaze back up to scrutinize Beam. “So, the tail. The ears, the bow. It’s become part of your program? You woke up one morning and had them?”

“The same way it happens to someone on that Earth, yeah,” Beam affirmed. “Though for humans, the bunny ears come from the scalp. Also, this bow collar?” She tapped it. “It didn’t appear, it’s an accessory. I just had this… compulsion. To buy it.”

“You felt compelled to accessorize?” Alice said, lifting an eyebrow. “How?”

“It’s like how I’m compelled to say ‘pyon pyon’ sometimes,” Beam explained. “My tongue starts to feel funny, until I do it. Likewise, my neck felt funny until I put the bow on. Even now, part of me feels like I should wear a one piece swimsuit too.”

Alice crossed her arms, looking thoughtful. “I wonder. Could the initial virus have been created by some clothing corporation?”

Fate rolled her eyes. “Any other physical changes for you, Beam? I mean, given that the males who catch this apparently change sex?”

“Like what, a bigger bust?” Beam mused, smirking. She shook her head. “Not that I’ve noticed. Did you want me to strip down and let you take my measurements, pyon pyon? Hmm?”

Fate pressed the heel of her hand to her forehead. “Oy, I should never have let our relationship get unprofessional.”

“For now, let’s just have you type up a more detailed report for us,” Alice interjected. “Okay Beam? It will be important if I’m going down there to replace you.”

Beam’s smile vanished. “What? Alice, no. It’s not safe for you there.”

Alice brought her hands to her hips. “Why? Were there riots in the streets or something?”

“Well, no. At least, not that I saw,” Beam admitted. “It’s just, the virus. Right? It apparently takes at least a day to incubate, so you can have it, and transmit it, and not know it. And I’ve seen what happens to people who catch it, pyon pyon. They’re socially shunned.”

“I’ll wear a mask,” Alice soothed. “Besides, it won’t be for long, just to get any additional data we need.”

Fate looked to Alice and shook her head. “What? No way. Once you’re down there, the only way you’re coming back is through quarantine. We’ve got to have a closed border policy in place.”

Alice opened her mouth as if to protest, then seemed to think better of it. “Valid. I guess I should be glad we’re not talking Andromeda Strain deadly here.”

Beam looked hopeful. “Then Alice would join me in here after? Ooh, so maybe Fate should go down instead?”

“Fate is still in charge,” Alice objected. “As to the rest, we’ll figure it out before I leave. Your job for now is that detailed report. Understood?”

Beam’s expression became a pout. “Pyon pyon,” she mumbled, her bunny ears visibly drooping.

***

The second video finished playing, and Para closed the file. She then turned back to Trixie, to see the redheaded witch had taken two steps back, and was now glaring at her.

Para glanced down at herself, smoothed out a wrinkle in her purple dress, and looked back up. Trixie was still glaring. “What?” Para asked.

Trixie pocketed the device she had called ‘Rixi’ and then crossed her arms over her chest. Her posture seemed to convey that the problem was obvious. Except it really wasn’t.

“Trixie, what?” Para reiterated.

Trixie sighed, shook her head, then raised her hand to point. “You’re infected.”

PARA
Commission by Michelle Simpson

Para blinked. Then reached up to the bunny ears on her hairband. “Oh! No, I said these were because I’m a quadratic function.” She smiled in what she hoped was a conciliatory way.

“Uh huh. The last guy I chatted up in a bar said he was allergic to latex,” Trixie shot back, while lowering her arm. “Could be true, sure, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s a red flag to continuing a conversation.”

Para nibbled her lower lip. She’d never been stereotyped on account of that part of her appearance before. “Okay, well… what can I do to convince you? Should I calculate the arc of a thrown object real fast or something?”

“I don’t have anything to throw at you,” Trixie pointed out. Para still couldn’t figure out if the woman was bluffing. “Is this some sort of a test?” Trixie pressed on. “Is that Fate woman watching us now, to see how I react?” She glanced furtively around the room, possibly looking for cameras.

Para slowly shook her head. “Fate went to take a call from Alice. Whereas she brought me to the Station in part for my expertise – more on vectors than on bunny girls, by the way – and in part because I’ve worked on the station before. In case an emergency situation comes up with Beam in quarantine.”

Trixie continued to stare for a long moment before relaxing her stance. “Fine, whatever. I’m staying over here. Further if you cough. Since studies vary in terms of how far away I need to be.”

Para nodded. “Are you at least taking the case? You seem to know a bit about disease transmission.”

Trixie’s expression became hard to read once again. “I know a little about a lot of things,” she said eventually. “And I still have questions.”

“I’ll answer as best as I can?” Para offered. She wondered if she should keep smiling or not.

Trixie mumbled something under her breath. It sounded like ‘bet she won’t answer questions about this place until we talk virus’. Before Para could speak up, Trixie was speaking aloud once again.

“Three obvious problems, Para. First, everyone’s been talking about this thing as a virus. What about this realm-hopping thing being a bacteria? Was that ruled out because bacteria are larger, or what?”

“I don’t know,” Para admitted. “Though I guess something smaller might more easily slip through a dimensional crack.”

“Except a virus can’t exist without a host,” Trixie continued, taking a couple steps sideways to slap at the wall. She then pointed at Para again. “Which is probably a lot LARGER than a bacteria. Can you explain that?”

Para winced. “No? Again, not a biology expert, more in this for the math.”

“Uh huh. Second problem, that holographic lady.” Trixie gestured towards the computers. “I’m thinking she could catch a cold because her programming recognized the virus type, and as such she runs some program to act accordingly. Yet in this case, the virus would be unknown… so how would her software know what program to run? Or did it only change her appearance?”

Para shook her head. Here, at least, she and Fate had discussed the situation a bit. “It’s more than cosmetic. One possibility is that Beam’s program was able to do an analysis of the viral effects at a very high level. Meaning she’s got valuable data we can use somewhere in her subconscious.”

At that, Trixie leaned against the wall with her elbow, resting her hand back against her head. She looked thoughtful. “Really? The technology buff in me kind of wants to talk to this Beam now. Is her fourteen days of quarantine up yet?”

“Not yet, but the talking is easy enough. Oh, there’s also been talk of bringing Alijda back on board to look at Beam’s programming,” Para added. “She’s a woman who was even able to hack into alien technology on my first mission here.”

Trixie stared. “You’re making this sound more and more interesting, and part of me hates you for that. But before I commit, third problem. Did anyone run a check on how you first noticed this virus thing? Alice said something about tripping a scan, but that detail was swept aside.”

Para winced. “We’re back to me not having an answer. Um, good job picking up on that?”

“Thanks, I know,” Trixie said. She glanced around the room. “So when DO we get someone in here who can answer my questions?”

“Now,” came a voice from above.

Trixie’s head tilted up. Para followed Trixie’s gaze, to see Fate was looking down at them from the hatch in the ceiling. The central control room was a couple stories tall, so the only way she could join them would be to shut off the artificial gravity, or–

Fate flipped a switch, and a short ladder swung into view. She hopped onto it as it started to telescope down. Bringing the ponytailed blonde close to the floor, as she was standing on the bottom rung.

Para turned back to Trixie. The techno-witch’s expression had resumed being inscrutable. “How long were you listening in?” Trixie asked, as Fate jumped off the ladder.

“Long enough,” Fate said, brushing off the lapels of her suit jacket, before offering up a smile of her own. “And Para’s right, good job. I can give you access to Ziggy and even Mr Smith, to track down the origin of the initial scan. Or I can look into it, while you talk to Beam about technology and the virus.”

“Sensing a big ‘if’ coming,” Trixie remarked, as Fate paused.

Fate shrugged. “It’s contingent on you agreeing to join our cause and take the case, of course.”

“Which is now a double barrelled statement,” Trixie pointed out.

Fate’s smile faded. “Yup,” was all she said.

Trixie grimaced. She looked back at Para, then the computer banks, then up to the hatch in the ceiling, then Fate again. “Will you guarantee my safety?”

“Wish we could,” Fate answered. “Know that we’ll do our best, and aren’t trying to lie to you. For that matter, maybe you’d prefer to chat to Alijda about not simply programming, but also about how much we suck? That can be arranged too.”

Trixie stared. Finally, she nodded and made her decision.

WITH WHOM WILL TRIXIE TALK NEXT?

OPTIONS:

VOTING CLOSES ON SUNDAY JUNE 21th

Previous INDEX 6 Next

PATHS NOT TAKEN:
Had Beam been injured or damaged, Alice would have been dispatched to the planet right away to help out. Meaning they would both be planet-side. Had Beam vanished, Alice would have enacted the ST:TNG episode “First Contact”… so might have been on the station, might have been consulting with someone planet-side to find Beam (I hadn’t worked out details). We got Beam having caught the virus, meaning an inversion: Beam’s back on the station (in quarantine) and Alice is off investigating in her place.

EXTRA ASIDE:
Only 1 vote by the end of last Sunday, so I kept the voting open an extra couple days (busy time of year at school anyway). Thanks to those who boosted the count. I’ve also started posting to Tuesday Serial, we’ll see if that does anything for us.

6.02: Viral Video

Previous INDEX 6 Next

SMOKE WITH MIRRORS: PART TWO

“What the hell just happened?”

Para smiled tentatively at the redheaded woman who had been teleported aboard the Epsilon Station. She had just dropped into a wary crouch. In her defence though, the Station really didn’t have a good way to warn their targets before retrieval.

“I – we – brought you in,” Para explained. “Because you accepted the virus case.”

“The hell I did,” came the woman’s sharp response. She now seemed torn between shouting at Para and looking around the circular control room. “I phoned your number to get more information, only to get a recording saying ‘Thanks for your interest’ or some such. Decided to go to the kitchen to make myself a snack – and now I’m here?”

Para pursed her lips. “Oh.” Apparently there had been a miscommunication. “Well, Trixie – er, should I call you Trixie? Professionally? Or would you prefer–”

“Trixie will do,” the redhead interrupted. She finally settled her gaze fully onto Para as she drew herself up and folded her arms over her chest. “And you would be?”

“Para. I’m a personified parabola.”

An eyebrow went up. “Quadratic equations are blondes with bunny ears?”

Para instinctively reached up to touch the parabolic rabbit ears of her hairband. She had normal ears too, to be sure, but the hairband was almost an extension of herself, the long ears reacting to whether her depression was at a minimum or a maximum. “Yes? Or we can be? I do have a twin-tailed variation.”

That seemed to cause Trixie to reach up and run her fingers quickly back through her own twin-tailed hairstyle. Para idly took note of how Trixie’s red hair was much shorter in comparison to her own, yet it did manage to reach her shoulders, even tied as it was.

“Hmph. Okay, so math can be seductive,” Trixie decided. “Doesn’t explain this abduction.”

Para felt caught off guard. “Seductive?”

A partial smile graced Trixie’s features. She posed with a hand on her hip. “I know math can reel a person in, Para. Practically taught it to myself because high school classes went so slowly. And I know seduction too. Because why have people like you only for your brains? So don’t you try to use my own distraction techniques against me.”

Indeed, with the light dusting of freckles on Trixie’s face, the schoolgirl-style blouse and skirt outfit, and the stance, Para could see how the redhead might be called… well, funny enough the first phrase to come to mind was ‘Sexy Cute’. The same moniker that her first human friend, Alijda, had once used to describe Para herself.

Of course, Trixie was human, whereas Para was a amalgamation of various theoretical concepts, given human form. Still, Para had always suspected that her curves were to make her more appealing to those who didn’t like math… were there humans like Trixie who saw quadratics as appealing already? Is it that she didn’t pick up vibes from them as often?

Still. “Trixie, wouldn’t I look more, um, male? If I was trying to seduce you?”

“Tch. Again, you can’t spirit me away and claim to know my actual name, and then pretend not to know about certain other aspects of my personal life. Honestly, it’s not like you’d be my first choice, Para. But if it’s for a case – or a dreary Friday evening – I’d be game to see what’s under that dress you’re wearing. The math aspect makes me curious.”

Para felt her cheeks getting red. “Oh.”

It occurred to her then that she had never considered any relationship entanglements with humans. But was it possible that others she had encountered might have seen her in a romantic way? Could that be partly why Chartreuse had saved her on their last mission together?

“See? I play the game better. So.” Trixie snapped her fingers in the air. “Abduction, Para. Why?”

Wait, had Trixie been bluffing? Para couldn’t tell. She shook her head. “Sorry. Um, you gave me something to think about there.”

Trixie’s smile became a smirk. “Fantasize about me later.”

“That’s…” Para shook her head, and decided not to bother correcting the woman. “Look, the Epsilon Project didn’t mean to abduct you. Per se. Phoning that number was enough to indicate agreement that you’d take the case. Or that’s what I was told, at any rate. Hence the summons.”

“Told? You’re not in charge?”

“Oh no,” Para said, raising both hands up. “I’m more of a… consultant? Though I suppose I go on missions too. Either way, Fate had something to take care of, so she asked me to fill you in on all the details.”

“Uh huh.” Trixie’s gaze had resumed wandering around the room. “I’d prefer to speak to Fate. Or whomever’s in charge.”

Para nibbled her lower lip. “Could I at least show you the video first? You’ll see her – everyone – on that. It might also answer the questions you had about the mission. And it will mean that I’ve done my job properly.”

“One moment.” Trixie walked over towards the one visible door in the room. She paused, then wrenched it open and looked into the storage closet. Seeing no-one there, she glanced around once more and sighed. “Fine, video. But I reserve the right to be returned home after.”

Para smiled. “Thank you.” She then gestured towards the computer banks on the wall. When Trixie approached, she cued up the file that Fate had left for them.

“For reference, the woman in the T-shirt and jeans you’ll see is Alice,” Para supplied. “The one dressed a bit like you, but with a darker blouse, is Beam. And the one in the business attire – when she arrives – is Fate.”

“Thanks.” Trixie pulled a device out of her blouse pocket. “Rixi, active recording. I assume you have no objection, Para?”

Para shrugged. “No. The others might ask you to erase it later, is all?”

“Well, they can ask,” was Trixie’s final word on the matter as the video started to play.

***

“I did hear you the first time,” Alice admitted, following the third time Beam cleared her throat. The brunette woman finally turned away from all of the sheets of paper she had stuck up on the wall of the auxiliary control room. “Something wrong?”

“Well, you?” the holographic woman said tentatively. “Between the recent alcohol intake and, er, this…” Beam said, gesturing at the wall Alice had been scrutinizing, “…Fate and I are worried you’re getting too emotionally invested.”

Alice’s lips tightened. She looked back at her wall of sheets, then Beam, then the wall again. “But they’re OUT there,” she declared, pointing. “We know they are.”

ALICE VUNDERLANDE
Commission by Cherry Zong

Off Beam’s silence, she turned back to the blonde. “The organization that provided one world with the means to abduct people like Fate. Who were getting funds from another world, to the point of that Earth thinking they had to shut down dimensional travel to get away. What else is this ‘Clover Enterprises’ involved in? We have to know.”

Beam clasped her hands behind her back. “With all due respect, we don’t. That’s not Epsilon’s job. We’re meant to clean up dimensional irregularities, artifacts that have become accidentally displaced. That’s all.”

“That’s FATE’S job,” Alice argued. “She’s the one in charge of the Station. We were both fired, remember? And later recruited by Fate to look into this very thing?”

Beam winced. “Technically, I resigned. But listen, after a month of us turning up no new leads? Fate’s been looking into returning control of the station to one of us. Remember, this was never meant to be a permanent position for her,” she added, as Alice seemed about to protest. “She has a world she might want to return to, unlike us.”

Alice frowned. “Are you saying I wouldn’t like to return to living with Alijda?” she accused, crossing her arms.

“You know I’m not,” Beam sighed. “Just, your original world became a hell dimension, while mine was all about free love, making my lesbian self an outcast. So neither are an option. You’re welcome to go back living with your friend, while I take over again here. Kinda the very thing I was trying to bring up.”

Alice again turned from Beam to the wall, and then back to Beam. “But we’re close to something! Right? I mean, look here.” She began to gesture and point at the sheets.

“This world has no clovers. While on this world, four leaf clovers are the norm instead of three leaf ones. The dimensions between them when we do a four dimensional projection contain THIS cluster of worlds where magical leprechauns are either a rumour, or fact, even if they don’t call themselves that. Now, if you draw a rainbow from that set over to these dimensions where the ‘Star Trek’ franchise didn’t have its first prequel known as ‘Enterprise’, you can see that a shadowy influence might have caused–”

“Mr Smith?” Beam interrupted.

“Hello, Beam,” came the male voice of the Station’s auxiliary control computer. Its control panels had been previously opened, the artificial intelligence offering assistance to Alice wherever possible during her analyses. Alice paused in her gesturing and turned at the remark.

“Hi,” Beam chirped back, wiggling her fingers in a wave. “Could you show Alice what she looks like lately? That picture I suggested from before?”

“Indeed,” Mr Smith said. An image came up on his main screen.

Alice made a face. “My face on Charlie Kelly, ha ha. Never watched that show, weirdly enough, so I’m not certain what you’re trying to say about me.”

“Oh.” Beam rubbed the back of her neck. “I thought you’d know it. He’s a guy who loses himself in fantasies, as you seem to be doing. Now, don’t get me wrong, your ability to free associate has its merits, just… maybe not here.”

“Then again, maybe Alice IS on to something,” came a new voice. Fate walked into the room then, looking down at a clipboard.

“Ungh. Way to spoil my vibe, girlfriend,” Beam said, hands moving to her hips.

Fate looked up then, seeming momentarily flustered. “Please don’t call me that when we’re on duty, Beam. It’s unprofessional.”

Alice’s eyebrows shot up. “Whoa! I was gonna simply dismiss the remark, given how Beam’s programming still has trouble differentiating girlfriends and girl friends. But now? What DO the two of you get up to when I’m not around?”

Fate’s cheeks got pinker. “Alice, it’s not what you think. I’d had a few drinks and… um, look, let’s just say this job can get stressful, and it’s important to relax.”

Beam smiled, running her tongue over her upper lip. “And women have needs. And I have–”

“OH-kay,” Fate said pointedly, waving her clipboard. “Listen. I came here to say that the scan you recommended? It’s turned up key information. About an airborne virus. Jumping dimensions.”

Alice and Beam immediately stopped looking sidelong at each other, coming to attention.

“A virus can’t do that,” Beam stated. “Not based on everything we know.”

“Not without outside help,” Alice agreed, pounding one fist into her other palm. “Excellent, a clue. Now, what was this scan you ran, Beam?”

Beam blinked. “I didn’t run one. Isn’t Fate referring to something you ran?”

Alice frowned. “I don’t think so? I’ve been running a few things though, so maybe I tripped a scan in the process.”

“Well, someone put it in the system,” Fate stated. “As we wouldn’t normally have picked this up. In particular, the virus causes different reactions on different Earths. But now that we have the data, well, it’s highly suspicious.”

She turned the clipboard around, allowing both Beam and Alice to glance over the printout and her written notes.

“Arranged by most infected,” Alice remarked after a moment. “Could mean one of the three at the top is the virus’ origin… do we have ANY vector data?”

Fate shook her head. “Not yet. Ziggy’s still running an analysis. Could take days.”

“Scope as origin is kind of a dangerous assumption,” Beam cautioned. “Still, I can go down to that world at the top of the list, to learn more. With my holographic matrix engaged, I should be protected.”

“Should be?” Alice objected. “Also, your hairband is still a tether, we know you can get hurt that way even while insubstantial. It’s like the a mobile emitter on Star Trek: Voyager.”

Beam shrugged. “I’ll be careful. Besides, this says all the virus does is turn people into bunny girls. That’s not so bad, it’s even kinda sexy.”

“On the more standard Earth it’s doing that,” Fate pointed out. “Which, I add, is preliminary data, and it has the potential to become bad. Once all the males have become female bunnies.”

“Meanwhile, on that fantasy world, it seems to be activating more latent magical abilities,” Alice mused, peering closer at Fate’s clipboard. “And on the tech world it’s causing teleporter malfunctions. This is WEIRD. Are we even sure it’s the same thing?”

“According to our data, yes,” Fate confirmed. “Only slightly mutated. Giving us insight that those worlds don’t have.”

Alice frowned. “I’d say we should just teleport someone here, but I’m not sure how far I trust the bio filters on this station.”

“Who? No one on those worlds popped up in the recruitment folders, that I know of,” Beam pointed out. “We can’t risk revealing ourselves. It’s fine. I’ll go. What’s the worst that could happen?”

WHAT HAPPENS TO BEAM?

OPTIONS:

VOTING CLOSES ON SUNDAY JUNE 7th

Previous INDEX 6 Next

PATHS NOT TAKEN:
You might think the vote last time would have indicated the situation Beam was going into (catgirls, spells, teleports), but I only determined those after the fact. That vote was more about a possible overall setting, and how well equipped Beam would be, given she’s a more technology-based character. Of course, despite her preparations, bad things will happen to her. As this part was starting to run long, giving a vote earlier than I’d thought.

5.14: A Mew Sing

Previous INDEX 5 Next: TBD

CHANCED ERASURES: PART FOURTEEN

Alice considered doing something to act against Mary-Lynn, as the cat woman stood across the room. Two things made her hesitate. First, there was the fact that acting against Mary-Lynn herself wouldn’t serve to stop the dimensional shutdown device. Second, there was the issue of not being native to this world, and an “Epsilon” member being active in a key moment like this… well, it was how Alice had lost her job once already.

Fortunately, Alice didn’t have to do anything.

As the unconscious guy behind the desk let out a groan, everyone looked in that direction. That’s when Alice felt Sue grasping for the invulnerability badge she had on. She felt Sue, rather than saw her, because Sue had used her invisibility power again.

Alice let Sue take it. Moments later, Sue was standing right next to Mary-Lynn, and kicking the gun out of her hand. The cat woman snarled in response, rounding on Sue with a punch – that bounced off the invulnerability field, causing Mary-Lynn to let out a mewl of pain. Would that end up draining it for good? Well, Alice now noticed that Marlin had a hand on his wand, so could probably help out if necessary.

There was no need. In a clever move, Sue managed to twist Mary-Lynn’s arm back behind her, putting the cat woman into a hold. Fortunately, that only took one hand, leaving her other hand free to grab the tail, right before she said, “Tell us how to fix this.”

“Ow! Ow, ow! I already said there’s nothing you can do. Let go of my tail, that hurts!” Mary-Lynn hissed.

“Shay could probably help,” Usa suggested. “He’s the sort of person to have had an emergency override installed.”

“Except he’s unconscious, like Chartreuse here,” Para remarked, where she was softly stroking Chartreuse’s hair.

“Oh, my gun was set on sensory stun,” Usa said, holding it up. “Shay’s merely frozen, he’s still able to hear everything that’s going on. It’ll wear off in less than five minutes. All we need to do is use that time to somehow convince him that Mary-Lynn here is the real enemy.”

“You think we can?” Sam asked. “Shay wouldn’t listen to reason earlier.”

“Wait, um, is Chartreuse also aware of what I’m doing?” Para said, pulling her hand back. Usa simply smiled at her.

Alice turned her attention back to the dimensional device. “So, I can’t be sure, but I don’t think we’ve got much more than five minutes anyway.” Another plush cat hit her on the head. “Also, I feel like that rift is getting more aggressive, maybe due to the proximity of this thing.” In her part of the room, the small toys were stacked above her ankles.

“So how do we get Mary-Lynn to confess… wait,” Sue said. “The Hypno drug used for interrogations, is there more of it around here? We saw some in the infirmary.”

Before Usa could answer, Sam was stepping forwards. “I have some, I grabbed a vial, remember?” he said. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his handkerchief. “Would someone like to do the honours?”

Sue flashed her friend a smile. “Usa, you know how to administer that stuff, right?”

“Th-That drug won’t work. Cat genetics make me immune. Go fly a kite,” Mary-Lynn yelped.

“It’s worth a try,” Usa decided. She took the vial from Sam and advanced on Mary-Lynn.

“No, this is illegal on so many levels. If you do that, you’ll never work for the Council again. Let go of my damn taaaail!” Mary-Lynn mewled, struggling against Sue. But either Sue’s grip, or the invulnerability field, or both, kept the cat woman in place.

“If you’re one of the leaders, I don’t think I want to be working for you anyway,” Usa concluded. “Thanks for your help with restraint, Sue Morts.” She administered the drug.

Alice took the opportunity to get closer to Para. “Do you know how good the shielding down here is?” she murmured, crouching. “Because you might be out of here either way.”

After all, the Epsilon station had temporal circuits. If the dimensions were to close off, Fate could, in theory, bounce back to just before that moment and initiate a retrieval. Alice kind of hated to piggyback out that way, but there was only so much they could do to influence things before they became part of the problem. Right?

Para could only shake her head and shrug back though. So Alice resigned herself to standing back up and watching as Usa stepped back from Mary-Lynn, staring her in the eyes. Hopefully there was still more they could learn.

“Your name, for the record,” Usa stated.

“Mary-Lynn Emrys, and for the record, go take a flying leap,” the cat woman snarled.

“Who sent you to this reality?” Usa continued.

“I was born here, nitwit,” Mary-Lynn said. “You know, you’re not going to trip me up this way. You don’t know the right questions. Give up now, let the device finish, the dimensions will close, and we will be safe.”

“Safe from what, from whom?” Usa pressed.

“Anything or anyone out there who’s a threat,” Mary-Lynn answered.

“But especially from the Clover group,” Alice decided to suggest. “What is it they’re calling themselves?”

“Clover Enterprises, duh,” Mary-Lynn said. There was a brief silence. Then, “Aw, hell.”

Alice smiled quietly. At last, after all this, a solid lead.

“Is that something related to this school’s Clover Club?” Sue asked.

“No, idiot, the similar name just makes for a good smoke screen,” Mary-Lynn said. “I’m not saying anything more.”

Usa had glanced over towards Alice; now she turned back to the cat woman. “I think you will say more. Because you’ve had dealings with Clover Enterprises. Right?”

“I have not, not personally.”

“But for some reason, they’re after us,” Usa insisted.

“Sure, in a sense.”

“Can you explain why in five words or less?”

“We owe them money.”

“Why’s that?” Usa challenged.

Mary-Lynn attempted to shrug. “How the hell would I know? Do I look like the top brass?”

“If it’s only a money issue, why not pay off this Clover Enterprises?” Sam spoke up, from where he’d returned to check on Thred’s unconscious body. “Is it too expensive?”

“Not really, it’s more that the CEOs want their pay raises,” Mary-Lynn stated.

Sue leaned in closer to Mary-Lynn’s ear. “Wait. Wait, let me see if I’ve got this straight,” she said. “The Council has had extra-dimensional dealings with Clover Enterprises. Some pretty long-standing dealings, as you’ve had years to use school Clover Clubs as a smokescreen. And now, instead of paying a debt, our Council is funding a dimensional closure device, which will isolate our world and hurt our economy. All this, merely so CEOs can keep their pay raises? And you’re okay with this?”

“I might be getting a cut,” Mary-Lynn said sullenly. “Besides, no worries, there’s this trickle-down effect for the cash, whereby–”

“Oh, shut it,” Usa snapped. “I cannot believe that our organization has become so corrupt.”

“But this doesn’t make sense,” Sam protested. “Why take the drastic step of shutting down all dimensions, rather than just the one where this Clover Enterprises exists?”

“Because we can,” Mary-Lynn snarked.

Sue looked towards Alice. “You mentioned the group in the first place, do you know?”

“Well, there’s a shadowy Clover group that’s been behind at least one other dimensional incursion,” Alice admitted, exchanging a glance with Para. “Meaning I doubt your Council knows which other dimensions do or don’t have ties, hence the decision to go totally dark.”

“Actually, here’s a thought,” Para piped up. “Could this Clover Enterprises have been involved in the magic wars on this very site? Maybe the company even suggested to ‘Fenduro’ that a school be put here, along with that puzzle to solve for access to the base. Could things go that deep?”

Usa frowned, and looked back at Mary-Lynn. “Well, could they?”

“I can’t say ‘no’,” Mary-Lynn said, mouth twitching. “Which actually bothers me, why am I getting creeped out?”

“Attack of conscience?” Sam suggested.

“Hi, so, the dimensions are about to get shut down,” Marlin said, speaking up again. He’d spent the last few minutes alternately looking inside the device, glancing up at the rift, and eyeing the dimensional control item that Sue had clipped to her belt.

It occurred to Alice then that Marlin could probably have rushed Sue and grabbed it by now, if he’d wanted to. It was nice that he wasn’t interrupting the interrogation with magic either. Then again, maybe the issue was Marlin had no clear idea what was going on.

That’s when Shay mumbled something.

Sam moved closer to him. “What was that?”

Usa placed her hands on her hips. “Given what we just learned, along with Shay’s brother being off-world, hopefully it was an override code.”

Sam leaned in closer. “He said… ‘Video Err’.”

“Another anagram,” Marlin muttered. “Not helpful in actually giving us an override.”

Alice snapped her fingers. “Except where it just might be.” She peered at the inside of the device again. “Heck yeah, just need to uncouple the video. Fun failsafe. Seems you can’t shut down what you can’t see. Jolly good.”

The rectangular box showing the pulses went dark. At which point the dimensional rift opened wider, and even more cat plush started pouring out.

“Aaaand pretty sure that’s coincidence,” Alice remarked.

“Okay, so, any way we can still shut THAT dimensional connection down?” Sue asked.

Mary-Lynn rolled her eyes. “You people. A regular dimensional device can patch that, at least temporarily. Release me, and I’ll show you how.”

Sam blinked over at the cat woman. “Huh. While I realize that has to be the truth, why are you offering up the information…?”

“Leniency? Also, I’m starting to question my own place in reality, given how I seriously didn’t think there was a way for you to screw with our plans. But here we are. Will you let go of my tail already?!”

“Fine. Help,” Sue said, finally releasing Mary-Lynn, “And if it’s any consolation, I don’t see any reason that the results of this interrogation should get out.”

“Otherwise the CEOs will see you coming for their blood money?” Para wondered.

“That, and the fact that we’d prefer to deal with this little problem in-house,” Usa remarked. She looked at Sam. “So this better not end up in your newsletter.”

“Don’t look at me,” Sam said, raising his hands. “I’m not sure anyone would believe me. Also, I’d prefer to stick around at least until that device is disassembled. It’ll help me sleep nights.”

“S’fine,” came Shay’s slurred voice from the floor. “Saw rye for every ting. ‘N yer in, Sham.”

Sam blinked down at Shay. “In? You mean, you won’t wipe my memory? That’d be nice, because I actually have some suggestions. Chief among them, writing instruction manuals.”

“You see?” Sue said brightly, looking over at her friend. “This has all turned out for the best.”

“Spike for yersluf,” mumbled Sir Thred, still face down on the floor.

“Great, keen, lovely, can I please get out of here before we all drown in plush cats?” Marlin pleaded. “I’ve been nothing but helpful, seriously.”

Alice flashed him a smile. “In fact, it’s high time Para, Chartreuse and I were clicking our heels together three times. We can bring Marlin along, if that’s okay.”

“Maybe you could even make it such that we were never here?” Para suggested. “I suspect the school records will automatically wipe anyway.”

Usa nodded. “This is plausible. Paperwork can get misfiled, and we’re rather busy right now dealing with this plush cat infestation.” She gestured at where Mary-Lynn was reconfiguring Sue’s gadget. “So if you have your own means of departure…”

“Say no more, say no more, say no more, squire,” Alice burbled, grasping Marlin by the sleeve and pulling him towards what she hoped was the nearest exit. Marlin didn’t resist. Para lifted Chartreuse, who now seemed to be slowly regaining the use of her limbs, and followed after. Once they reached the music room, they were able to contact the Epsilon station almost immediately.

***

“And you never looked back?” Fate asked, scribbling on her pad.

“Nope, we’d already overstayed our welcome,” Alice reported. She clasped her hands behind her back, wondering if they’d be able to sit down any time soon.

“Also I wasn’t, you know, able to turn my head at that point,” Chartreuse added.

“Right.” Fate made another notation, then looked up. “Well, that takes care of the report then. Good work out there.”

“I’m just soooo glad you’re all back safely,” Beam said, bouncing into the room after having gone to return Marlin to his proper world. “The fact that you got Clover information is a bonus. Ooooh, I want to kiss you all!”

“Down, girl,” Fate said, shaking her head. “Lesbian hijinks later, for now, we should get Chartreuse and Para back home too.”

“Then you’ll be continuing your Clover investigation alone?” Para mused.

Alice nodded. “For now. I mean, on the one hand, the fact that Clover Enterprises never showed up on our radar at all is significant. On the other hand, we still don’t have a specific way of finding them. But that’s for us to mess with, you all have your own dimensions to handle. Don’t worry, we’ll let you know if we need your help again.”

“Don’t forget, there’s still regular dimensional issues to monitor as well,” Fate reminded them.

“Well I’m always willing to, you know, do what I can for friends,” Chartreuse said, smiling. She looked at Para. “Speaking of that, it was nice to meet you. Thanks for, like, all the help.”

Para found herself smiling back. “Thanks for accepting me on your team, and taking that hit for me at the end.”

Chartreuse dropped a quick curtsey. “I do what I can.”

“Group hug with everyone before you go!” Beam squealed, throwing her arms open wide. “Please?”

Alice rolled her eyes, but followed the other women into the embrace. Personally, she hoped that the next stage of their investigation would involve bringing in Alijda, their super hacker. Or at least, she hoped to connect up with her roommate again soon. Might she even get a few days of relatively normal every day life then? Only time would tell.

END OF STORY 5: CHANCED ERASURES

 

Preferred POV character from Story5? OPTIONS:

VOTING WILL LIKELY REMAIN OPEN AGAIN

Previous INDEX 5 Next: TBD

PATHS NOT TAKEN:
If it had been Sam, he would have dimensionally jumped away using Sue’s device, then come back in a position to use the serum on Mary-Lynn. If it had been Marlin, who’d thought Alice’s “Mr. Wizard” remark had been a reference to him, magic would have been used as the restraint. We got Sue, which also included keeping everything quiet – so perhaps that’s a bad end? I should have seen it coming though, since Marlin doesn’t have much personality yet, and no one wanted Sam to figure out the room code a few votes back either. I’m still learning here. Feel free to elaborate about your prior votes.

THE ORACLE PROPHESIED:
Usa’s vote from a couple parts back had a secondary consequence about Sam’s Hypno drug. I didn’t want to bring up then, lest readers had forgotten about it. If Usa had helped them find Shay, they’d have used the drug on him, to learn more on using the device (recall they could have found files for what Mary-Lynn had said here). If Usa knew how the device worked, the drug for sure would have been used on Mary-Lynn, similar to what we saw. Since they improvised using the device, I was still improvising on who would get the drug… and it turned out to be the cat woman.

EXTRA ASIDE:
As a coins follow-up, in the first couple days of 2019, I got one of the new 2018 $10 bills with Viola Desmond on it, so that was kind of cool. Going forwards, I plan to edit the old Melissa Virga archive – any preference between longer parts every two weeks, or shorter parts weekly? Looking back, would people prefer if I stopped changing the point of view each part? Let me know. There’s a final Behind the Scenes here, looking at anagrams and stats. Thanks for reading!

5.13: A Sam Rang

Previous INDEX 5 Next

CHANCED ERASURES: PART THIRTEEN

Para wasn’t sure if she should be impressed by the dimensional shutdown device. As Sue pulled the sheet off, Para took in the lights at the top, the vertical lines within a rectangle within an oval, and the buttons on the pad below, and decided… it didn’t look that complicated. What was there to be impressed about?

“It’s like a handheld Mattel electronic football game,” Alice chirped. “If it was the size of a large Christmas tree.”

“I don’t know what that means,” Usa muttered, as she went to inspect the device. “As far as I knew though, this invention was supposed to allow for mass transport of items between dimensions. Not shut down travel. Can you prove otherwise?”

“We… don’t actually know how it works,” Sam admitted. “I was kind of hoping it would be better labelled. Or that you would have more information.”

Usa shook her head. “Maybe someone’s been playing you. Feeding you misinformation.”

“Maybe someone’s been playing all of us,” Thred suggested. He glanced at Alice.

“Maybe someone got getting tired of playing rugby and invented this,” Alice quipped. “Want a quarter back?”

“Usa, hold on. You mentioned this place had increasingly crazy security,” Sue reminded. “This can’t be a simple case of misinformation. I mean, you must have had some suspicions of Shay and the Council before this, otherwise why give us this chance at all.”

Usa crossed her arms. “Even so, I still have a duty here. I need proof positive.”

“You know, there’s still that rift,” Marlin spoke up. “Could we maybe deal with that first?”

PARA
Commission by Michelle Simpson

Para got the distinct impression that Marlin was hoping to use ‘dealing with that’ as a chance to escape Usa, but he did have a point. She moved closer to Chartreuse. “I don’t suppose you’re able to get any useful impressions?” Para murmured. In response, Chartreuse nibbled her lower lip.

“How about this. If we activate the shutdown device for a short burst,” Sam suggested, “it could fix the rift as well as prove our point. Just bring one of the dimensional devices along and try to use it. If it doesn’t work, this device isn’t for mass transport.”

“Except what if, once we throw the switch, it never turns off again,” Sue cautioned.

“Okay,” Chartreuse said, stepping forwards. “Gonna, like, try something here now. Give me a moment?”

She took off the jade ring she’d been wearing to help acclimate her powers gradually to their surroundings, and reached out to give it to Para. Para took it, then watched as her mission commander moved to one of the unconscious scientists on the floor. Chartreuse passed a crystal around his head, and finally reached out to touch his forehead.

“Your mind to my mind,” Alice murmured. “Your thoughts to my thoughts.”

Usa took a step forwards. “What is she–”

“Chartreuse is learning about the device,” Para said, holding up her hand to prevent Usa’s advance. She was pretty sure it wasn’t through whatever means Alice had implied, but still.

“Or, you know, she’s flailing blindly in the dark,” Chartreuse admitted. She stood and moved on to another scientist. “I don’t control my impressions, but am kinda hoping one of them is thinking about using that thing, or would, like, have ended up using it in a possible future that I can then, you know, divert.”

“Look. There’s six buttons and a switch,” Marlin protested. “How hard can this be? We do this by trial and error.”

The young wizard reached out for the device, only to have Thred grab his arm. “You want to hit the button labelled ‘CANS’ or the one labelled ‘POTS’?” Thred said. “Because I feel like we need neither of those things in our dimension right now.”

“We’re not in a hurry,” Sam said. “Let’s let Chartreuse try again.”

“I kind of thought that guy running off for reinforcements was an issue,” Marlin groused. But other than shaking free of Thred, he made no further objection.

The third scientist Chartreuse touched made her sit up straighter and stare off into the distance. Then she turned towards Sue and Sam. “Okay, so, the TARTS/POTS button will, like, switch that thing on and off. Meaning we can turn it off, if things go badly. That’s, you know, about the best I can do.”

Sue searched Chartreuse’s expression, then nodded. “All right, so we activate it then,” she relented, looking towards Usa for confirmation. “And see what it does to the dimensions. After all, what have you got to lose?”

“My job?” Usa said dryly. She followed it up with a sigh and another shake of her head. “But, I haven’t been thrilled with what I’ve had to do lately. Hurry up, get me your proof.”

The device was large enough that both Thred and Sam were needed to carry it. Sue was the one who grabbed a couple of the portable dimensional devices from the back, Usa not wanting to let Marlin, Alice, Chartreuse or Para near them. Para could understand that.

They all headed back out to the entrance room, which by now had plush kittens littering floor everywhere. Para helped to clear a space on the ground underneath the rift, so that the device could be set down. Everyone stood back, leaving Sam standing next to it.

“Okay,” Sam said, taking a breath. “So we turn it on.” Sam hit the TARTS/POTS button. There was a pause. Another plush kitten fell to the floor. “…and nothing happens.” He crouched down for a closer look.

“Actually, a light came on,” Alice corrected. “I suspect that now, someone will need to dial in a dimension that matches the rift, so we can shut it down.”

“Dial? I thought when this thing was on, it would turn everything else off,” Thred grumbled.

“Then why have the buttons for CANS and NO ANTIDOTE?” Marlin sniped back.

Chartreuse toyed with her crystal. “Is anyone else worried about, like, poking around randomly with that thing?”

As she spoke, another plush kitten fell out of the rift. It bounced off Sam’s head, and knocked against the CANS button. More of the machine lit up, and pulses started to scroll across the rectangular box with the vertical lines.

“Oooh, he’s at the twenty, the ten, touchdown,” Alice murmured.

“Reminds me of a heart monitor,” Para observed. “Perhaps it’s doing a scan?”

“A cans scan… of COURSE!” Usa snapped her fingers. “That’s it. It makes sense now. Those plans I saw, they were encoded this way.”

“Plans?” Sam mused.

“Another part of why I was inclined to believe you,” Usa admitted. “The Council’s plans for this thing, they were written in a way I didn’t understand, and they wouldn’t explain it. But I see now it’s anagrams. Cans for scan. The same way in our school the ‘secret’ door can be read as ‘erects’, if you use the letters as ordered by room.”

“Ahh, anagrams. It’s how ‘Search and Rescue’ can become a phrase like ‘Chanced Erasures’,” Alice quipped. “Makes sense.”

“Fine, it’s a scan. What’s it scanning for?” Thred wondered.

“More to the point, I now know what ‘no antidote’ means,” Marlin said, frowning. “It’s not good.”

“Speaking of not good – security’s been activated for this room,” Sue shouted, pointing over at the nearby vent. “Hear that hissing? It’s knockout gas.”

“Dammit,” Usa muttered. She ran over to the main desk, and the console there. “Fortunately I have the codes to turn that off. Oh, hello Polsit,” she remarked, seeing the unconscious man there. She quickly typed in her codes.

Chartreuse looked over at Sue. “How much time do you think we have before Shay storms in here with more troops?” she wondered.

“Not long,” Sue admitted. “Surely there’s some way to get the proof we need without hitting random buttons. Usa, you said you saw plans?”

“Yes, but I didn’t take pictures.” Usa straightened. “I think we’d better head back to the interrogation room. Unless one of you has more dimensional knowledge than Shay.”

Para cleared her throat. “Ah, hello? It occurs to me that Alice probably has some experience.” After all, Alice’s time spent manning the Epsilon Station, coupled with her eidetic memory, had to count for something.

Everyone turned to look at Alice, who fired off a huge Cheshire-Cat smile. “Possible. I figured I wasn’t high on the trust list, after failing to convince Shay of anything. But hey, if you’re willing to give me a chance…”

“That’s not a good idea,” Thred protested.

“But we don’t have much of a choice at this point,” Sam yielded. “Okay Alice, let us know what you can come up with. Knowing that if you betray our trust, there will be consequences.”

Alice cracked her knuckles. “Of course! Now pop the back off of that thing and give me five minutes.”

Usa pulled a gun out of the main desk. “This only stuns,” she remarked. “But as Sam said, don’t try anything funny.” She trained it on Alice as Sam and Thred managed to unscrew the back, revealing all the electronics.

“Oooh, pretty,” Alice muttered. She both peered and felt around inside for a bit. Para spent the time looking at the reactions of everyone there. Only Usa didn’t seem tense, probably due to her security training. As they waiting, more plushies rained down from the rift near the ceiling.

“Okay,” Alice said at last, dusting off her hands. “So, pretty sure the scanner is, as we speak, locking in dimensional addresses – every ten yards. The ‘no antidote’ button will be the detonation, removing their link to this place. Interestingly, doesn’t matter how many addresses you lock in, so if we had more of a clue, we could seal only the rift while draining the device.”

“As interesting as that is, can you point to the bits that would be proof for Usa?” Sam wondered.

“Wait, back up to that detonation thing,” Marlin said, eyes widening. “Could this device torpedo other dimensions?”

Alice scratched her head, looking to Marlin first. “I doubt it? I’m good, but I’m not Mr. Wizard good. I’d need more time to – duck!”

Para spun to see where Alice was looking. In the entranceway stood Shay, and some woman who seemed to be part cat. They were pointing guns of the same type that Usa was holding. One was aimed at Sam, who was closest to the device, the other was aimed at… her. Para felt her bunny ears quiver.

Even as Para processed that her being a target was likely only because she was the one standing closest to the two arrivals, she was tackled to the floor. Somewhere, someone called out, “Sam!”. With that, there was the sound of three guns going off.

Para rolled to the side to take in the scene. Apparently Thred had jumped in front of Sam, and he now lay sprawled out on the ground. Shay, over by the entrance, was also unconscious, with the cat woman and Usa now pointing their guns at each other in a stand-off. And the one who had tackled Para… had been Chartreuse. She was also unconscious.

Para honestly wasn’t quite sure how to feel about that. Wasn’t it the role of subordinates to protect their leaders, not the other way around? Yet Chartreuse had taken the hit for her. As such, Para resolved to make sure Chartreuse was kept safe. She reached out to brush her fingers against Chartreuse’s hair, only to pause as someone spoke.

“Mary-Lynn Emrys,” Usa said dryly. “So you’re the reason for heightened security here.”

“Usa Staling,” Mary-Lynn said evenly. “Have you become a traitor to the Council?”

“I’ve learned that there’s something shady going on,” Usa fired back. “Let’s lower our weapons and figure things out.”

The cat woman seemed to think about it. “I think not,” she said at last. Then she adjusted her aim, and shot at the dimensional shutdown device. Sparks flew from the ‘on/off’ switch. The stun field had to be electronic in nature. What had Mary-Lynn done?

“Okay,” Alice said, side-stepping towards Sue. “Unless I miss my guess, we can’t shut that down any more, and once the current scanning completes, it’s going to unlink completely from everything that got scanned. I can only assume that’s what you were hoping to do.”

Mary-Lynn smiled. “Yup. Stun me all you like now, there’s nothing you can do to stop the plan from succeeding.”

Well, that couldn’t be good. Para scanned over everyone present for their reactions one more time. She couldn’t be sure, but three people seemed like they were about to try something.

Marlin, surprisingly enough, had his hand twitching towards his wand. A final escape attempt? Or was there something magical he could do to repair the device? More interestingly, if a dimensional traveller were the key person behind foiling the plan, what would that say to someone like Shay?

Sam also seemed tense, as if he was about to make a jump… somewhere. To grab Usa’s gun? For Alice’s invulnerability item? Para wasn’t sure what he hoped to accomplish, but a success might cement his involvement with the group of dimensional investigators. Just as a failure could ruin his chances forever.

Then there was Sue, who seemed a bit translucent – as she had her invisibility power on her side. Could she use that to convince Mary-Lynn to fix things? On the plus side, it would mean that someone who had been involved with Council affairs would be cleaning up their own mess. But then, maybe that would simply perpetuate a system that needed to change.

As Para finally completed her movement to softly touch Chartreuse on the head, she wondered what was going to happen.

WHAT’S NEXT?

OPTIONS:

VOTING CLOSES 7am EST MONDAY JAN 7th

Previous INDEX 5 Next

PATHS NOT TAKEN:
The improvisation decision included that part of where Chartreuse was trying to get an impression that would be of use. Had Usa known how the device worked, they would have been able to negate the charge as Alice implied, making for a different cliffhanger at the end (more of a hostage situation?). And if Usa could have found Shay, it would have meant a return to the hidden Council room, now with some important documents. There was also another aspect decided with that vote, which we won’t see until the last part. And I had no real plans on the device, so thanks to John Golden for the Mattel suggestion.

EXTRA ASIDE:
A few things! First of all, yes, I’ve been playing with anagrams this whole story as far as names are concerned, Alice kind of lampshading the title itself. (See also, this entry title.) Only two names haven’t involved anagrams, did you catch them? Secondly, when this “Epsilon” ends, I will likely return to the follow-up Melissa Virga story from my archives, unless anyone has another preference (recall the options were in this post). Comments are open.
Finally, a Happy New Year to you – here’s the results of the 2018 coins I received over the past 363 days. Namely 3 toonies, 9 loonies, 5 dimes, and 2 each of quarters and nickels, for a total of 21 – no differing designs. You may recall 2017 had 20 coins while 2016 had 37 coins and 2015 had 42 coins. I have no theories, merely the data. Wondering why this is a thing? Consider reading my Time & Tied story. That’s everything, hope you stay tuned for the conclusion of “Chanced Erasures”.