Alison

4.04: Turnabout

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EPSILON DELTA, PART FOUR: Turnabout

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alijda sighed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There was a brief silence.

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

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

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

“False intel?” she said at last.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kat blinked. “My what?”

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

“What makes you think I even have issues?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Were any of the occult girls pretty?”

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

“Hmmm. That escalated quickly.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m sorry I asked,” Alijda sighed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Beam blinked twice. “I cannot.”

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

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

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

“It’s never easy,” Kat remarked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEXT?

What should the group do? OPTIONS:

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

VOTING CLOSES 7am EDT THURSDAY JUNE 29th

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

4.03: State of Confusion

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EPSILON DELTA, PART THREE: State of Confusion

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

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

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

She remained all alone in the room.

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

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

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

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

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

“Unknown.”

“Does she need my help?”

“Unknown.”

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

“Unknown.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So you want me to shut up.”

“That is not what I said.”

“Well, I want me to shut up.”

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

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

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

“I hope that’s a compliment?”

“It is an observation.”

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

“Of course.”

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

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

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

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

Comprehension dawned. “Alice!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Uh, nothing?”

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

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

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

Shoot. Where would the logs be?

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

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

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

“We can. Link established.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The redhead slowly lowered her arm back down.

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

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

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

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

“There’s an ESCAPE pod?” Rose gasped.

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

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

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

“About fifteen minutes,” the computer advised her.

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

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

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

“It was not me,” the computer noted.

“Wooo, well done Rose!”

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

“Wooo–”

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

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

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

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

“Maybe Beam reactivated?” Rose guessed.

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

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

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

Rose shrugged. “Lesbian hologram?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Right. Don’t panic, still my motto.”

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

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

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

Rose swallowed. “It has us.”

NEXT?

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

VOTING CLOSES 7am EDT THURSDAY JUNE 22nd

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

4.02: How Far She’ll Go

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

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

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

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

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

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

None of those thoughts would help the Rose Thorne girl.

ALICE VUNDERLANDE
Commission from Cherry Z

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

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

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

Alice beamed. “Yes, thank you.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That would take some time,” Smith mused.

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

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

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

“Meaning no,” Rose asserted.

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

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

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

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

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

Automated. The failsafe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then the house was empty.

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NEXT?

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

VOTING CLOSES 7am EDT THURSDAY JUNE 15th

Previous INDEX 4 Next

LAST TIME…

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

3.17: Firing Line

Previous INDEX 3 –>Story 4

FULL SCALE INVASION, PART SEVENTEEN: FIRING LINE

“What’s your suggestion?” Michaela asked.

Kat gestured at Bonnie. “As she said, a firewall. Literally. To push back the invasion. Does anyone have magical experience controlling fire?”

Michaela shook her head. “We tend to steer clear of the elemental magic. I might be able to craft an illusion of fire?”

“That won’t convince them,” Kat sighed. “It’s fine, I can do it. I just hope it doesn’t get me fired, pun not entirely unintended.”

“How can you make a real fire which is not only big enough, but created fast enough so that the invaders don’t have time to stop you?” Bonnie challenged.

“Erm. With help,” Kat said. “Like, if Andi can run fast and drop some matches…”

The thunderclap in the air made everyone turn their heads. A second dimensional rip was appearing, roughly 100 yards away from the first one. “Oh, that can’t be good,” Para sighed.

Kat wasn’t sure if the bunny mathematician was referring to the tear itself, or the red dragon that flew through as it opened.

On the bright side, either the dragon was small, or a larger one had been reduced in size by the transition – the winged animal wasn’t much larger than the size of a house. On the down side, the dragon didn’t look happy.

It seemed even less pleased when one of the invaders let out a shriek and fired a projectile weapon at it. The dragon responded by breathing fire, setting a wide band of the grassy field by the train station alight.

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3.16: Perchance to Dream

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FULL SCALE INVASION, PART SIXTEEN: Perchance to Dream

Kat watched as Alijda and Chris – or rather, Axiom – flew through the dimensional rift on what appeared to be a throw rug. He didn’t question it. Partly because he didn’t know the specifics behind the current magic-technology blend, but more because he didn’t have the time to think about it.

Four masked men (women?) had emerged from the rip between Earths, carrying some sort of ray guns.

For a moment, the arrivals seemed disoriented. Possibly an effect of being shrunk down, Kat reasoned, given the difference in scale between TechWorld, and the world they were on now. Either way, that moment gave Tom the time he needed to act. He sat up from the ground and took aim with his walkman.

“Click,” the young man with the bright red hair intoned, pressing the eject button.

Instead of spitting out a cassette, when the walkman popped open, a pulse of energy shot out. It travelled the 50 metres necessary to strike the first of the masked men. In the process of reaching for his head, the guy seemed to freeze in place.

Tom slapped the walkman closed and took aim again. He managed to get off two more paralysis spells before the last of the individuals realized what was happening, ducking behind one of his companions, out of Tom’s line of sight.

“How many shots do you have with that?” Kat asked, on the ground next to him.

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3.15: Rescue Strangers

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FULL SCALE INVASION, PART FIFTEEN: RESCUE STRANGERS

Some people were good at waiting. Alijda really didn’t understand those people. After all, it was during the waiting that the demons would creep in, telling you that you were worthless and alone, making you second guess all of your decisions. In this case, the key decision burning at Alijda was the one that had her accompanying Chris on the mission to retrieve Clyde. Why had she insisted on that?

Alijda burst into tears about 36 hours after telling Kat and Para that she was going, bar none, so that any consequences would all be on her. Alijda’s sobs attracted the attention of Chris herself, who was sitting on the other side of the room. After a good couple of minutes of crying, the brunette drew in a long breath, and strode up to the Magic User.

“I’m sorry,” Alijda sniffled. “This was a bad idea.”

Chris dropped the magazine that she’d been busy ignoring. “What was?”

“Having me here.”

“Oh? Why?”

“Because I’m a damn DOLL!” Alijda said, rage surging up through the sadness. “It takes forever to cross a room, I can’t handle doors, I’m bathing in a sink and drinking from a thimble – what use am I going to be on your rescue mission?? If I were a character in my own fiction stories, I bet a majority of readers wouldn’t even want me to be the one doing this. You better go find Para instead.”

Chris half smiled. “Bit late for that,” she noted. “The tech glasses were fitted for someone of your size. Besides, didn’t you insist to me that you’d be the best person to deal with a technological world?”

“I have an exaggerated sense of my own importance,” Alijda concluded. She pulled the glasses off her face, wiping tears from her cheeks. The spectacles had been fitted with a microchip and imbued with magic, to allow the wearer to take readings of things like the dimensional tear.

“Para can re-fit these. She’s great at that square-cubed stuff. Here.” Alijda tossed the glasses onto the floor, then turned away. “Go find her, I’ll be hiding in a cabinet somewhere until this is all over.”

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