SMOKE WITH MIRRORS: PART EIGHTEEN
“I will start to listen.” Alijdah cleared her throat. “That said, you mentioned negotiation. Not capitulation. Talking is hard when staring down the barrel of a gun.”
“I only remove the gun if you return our people now,” Trixie asserted.
Alijdah frowned, then again looked at something out of their field of view and nodded. She turned back. “I’ll bring them over in a shuttle. I’d prefer to talk to you face to face.”
Beam’s nose twitched before she also nodded. “Acceptable.”
Beam looked to Trixie. Trixie honestly felt a bit disappointed, she’d been wondering whether the chewing gum would have properly exploded out of her delivery containers.
But she understood, and with her own nod and a small sigh, she cancelled her interface between Rixi and the Epsilon station.
Trixie stared at the monitor in the auxiliary control room. It showed only a closed conference room door. She was toying with the idea of magically eavesdropping when Alijda walked in.
This was the “good” Alijda, the one Trixie had been speaking with about programming, not the H-one with the bunny ears currently in discussion with Fate and Beam. And presumably this Alijda wasn’t thinking about eavesdropping. But then why stand silently for over two minutes?
“You going to keep staring at my ass, or what?” Trixie finally asked, looking over her shoulder.
Alijda flinched. “Sorry. I didn’t want to disturb, in case you were doing something mystic. Uh, they making progress in there?”
Trixie gestured at the monitor before fully turning around. “Who knows? It’s early yet. I will say I’m certain your counterpart brought over that busty bunny girl not only as a personal guard, but also as a way to distract Beam. Though I doubt it’ll work.”
Alijda nodded. “You think Fate will keep Beam on track?”
Trixie smirked. “More like I think my promise of one last make-out session with Beam before I leave, contingent on the right outcome, will keep Beam on track.”
Alijda half smiled back. “Ah. You two really hit it off then.”
“Oh, not really,” Trixie said, shaking her head. “Don’t get the wrong idea. I mean, physically, sure. But any romantic feelings on my part are strictly for Beam’s sophisticated program, not for who she is as a person.”
Alijda blinked. “Hm. And are you sure Beam feels the same way about you…?”
Trixie giggled. “What, you think I got Beam hot for my human programming?”
“I just mean maybe she’s become romantically invested.”
“Mmm, as much as I’d like you say how could you NOT fall in love with this package,” Trixie stated, gesturing back at herself. “We really do have a relationship built only on needs and lusts. And I don’t get too attached as a rule, she knows that.”
Trixie eyed Alijda, trying to read between the lines.
“Why? Are YOU worried about how someone you’ve associated with at this Station might feel about you romantically?”
Alijda coughed, and changed the subject, which was enough of an admission as far as Trixie was concerned. “That’s irrelevant,” Alijda said. “I actually came in here to ask you about your name. Your real one.”
Trixie deflected. “If you don’t know, I’m not telling you what it is.”
“It’s not that,” Alijda clarified. “We both know I could probably hack to figure it out. It’s that… well… okay, so while I was stuck on the Clover station, I learned my double’s origin story.”
Trixie became curious despite herself. “Do tell, if you’re willing.”
Alijda pressed the heel of her hand to her head. “Yeah. Okay. Well, long story short, there was a point in my past when I met an alien. Mason, actually, I heard that you saw him during this mission.”
The name clicked. “Oh, the guy who called us out for being a bunch of white girls.”
“Yes. Well, ladies. Well, anyway, this Alijdah-H went with Mason in her history. Whereas I didn’t. That’s when the split occurred. Then the two had a falling out, and she returned to Earth.”
“Huh.” Trixie considered that. “So her quantum Earth is immediately adjacent to yours, or something?”
“That’s what I can’t figure out. See, as I didn’t go with Mason, I went on antidepressants, embezzled money from my corrupt company, fled to the US under the pseudonym Alison van der Land, and got teleportation powers.”
Trixie stared. “Why are you telling me all that?”
“I think largely because I want the opinion of someone with whom I share common traits and yet will likely never see again.”
“I actually meant how does your past connect to the quantum name stuff.”
“Right.” Alijda rubbed her forehead. “From what little quantum theory I’ve read, events are the cause of different Earth dimensions more so than individual actions. And external observation causes many quantum realities to blend back together. But maybe… we two were so different… she couldn’t blend, even as our worlds did.”
Trixie was reminded of her earlier discussion with Para. About whether there could be other versions of themselves running around. It had felt like the answer was no, at least until this Alijda-H issue.
“So, what, you think because you’d changed your name and location there was somehow room for both of you?” Trixie wondered.
Alijda sighed. “Possibly. Both our experiences having been so wildly unique as to prevent us from collapsing into a single dimensional existence once Epsilon observed me. So maybe my alt-self escaped detection, even came under fire for crimes I’d committed. Assuming she was even on my Earth then, and not with Clover Enterprises already.”
Trixie was fascinated by that idea. “I’d be game to investigate that for you.”
Alijda shook her head. “Oh, I could probably get that started myself. I mostly wondered what you thought about the theory.”
Trixie considered. “Seems like Mason might be a better person to ask.”
Alijda shook her head. “I know he doesn’t remember being with me. Whether by choice or by circumstance. It’s not my having a possible double that I’m wondering about here though. It’s more, under these circumstances – should I maybe return to calling myself Alison? It IS the name I go by whenever I’m not on this station, after all.”
Trixie considered again, for close to a minute. “You have as much right to your original name as anyone else,” she concluded. “Besides. Even within a single Earth, individuals are mistaken for each other on the internet a lot. I don’t think anyone here will believe you’re a Clover operative if you keep Alijda.”
“It’s not really about that.”
Trixie shifted her hands to her hips. “Then you’ll have to explain better, I’m not a mind reader.”
Alijda grimaced. “Sorry. Here’s the thing. If my history was different, I COULD have been her, been that Alijda. Right? Instead, I’m me, a changed person in all but appearance. Yet for some reason, I’m clinging to that old name. And the baggage that may go with it.”
“Presumably that’s because you still identify with the name somehow. Do you?”
It was Alijda’s turn to think in silence for a moment. “I guess I did. Before Epsilon. Because I thought I was living a lie on Earth. But after Alice moved in… well, maybe my new life as Alison is just my life. Maybe some of my suicidal thoughts are even from me continuing to wrestle with my past instead of just releasing it.”
“So maybe you have your answer.” Trixie eased her stance. “Know that I’m not saying you should forget where you come from, and remember I’m not a psychologist.”
Alijda nodded. “I get it. Do you find it weird though, people here calling you Trixie instead of whatever?”
Trixie shook her head. “No. It’s more like how someone might equally answer to ‘Beth’ or ‘Elizabeth’. Plus for me, ‘Trixie’ is a reminder of where I came from, and how I’m still in the business that I’m in.”
It had, after all, been ‘James’ who had both given her the pseudoname, and the business, once he and ‘Melissa’ had departed.
Alijda nodded. “All right. Thanks for the talk.” She glanced towards the monitors again. “I’m off. Let me know if my alt-self does anything problematic.”
“For sure,” Trixie said. Part of her was even counting on it, as she was still wondering about the effectiveness of her retooled pocket dimension armoury. “See you around, Alijda.”
The brunette woman paused at the doorway, and half smiled. “Call me Alison,” she suggested, before departing.
“The trouble with Clover Enterprises,” Fate reflected, “isn’t that they were evil, per se. They merely seemed to have a callous disregard for the consequences of their actions.”
Para frowned. “Maybe it’s because I’m not human, but is that… not the same thing…?” she wondered.
“Sometimes. The Clover group were definitely self serving,” Trixie offered up. Honestly, Para had a pretty good point, but Trixie didn’t want Fate to overanalyze it.
The group of them had congregated one last time in the main control room, after the Station Administrators had observed the departure of Alijah’s shuttle back to the Clover station. Fate had brought along a box of assorted muffins to eat.
“I’m a bit surprised by your take, Fate,” Beam admitted, who was apparently fine with continuing the conversation. “Given how you were abducted from your world and nearly brainwashed as a consequence of them giving Compton Senior dimensional knowledge.”
Fate nodded. “I know. Kind of had to make peace with that to survive though. Besides, that’s what ended up bringing me here. And my helping to put the Clover situation to rest is a good note for me to go out on.”
“That’s a good way to think of it,” Trixie agreed. She had heard from Para about Fate’s concerns over not being spoken to by the Epsilon Station’s ‘God’. It was good that Fate had apparently been able to move past that.
“And we’ll be leaving the station in good hands,” Alice said, whacking Beam on the back as she grinned. “At this point, I am SO over Clover.”
“Yeah? I wish I could be as sure,” Alijda/Alison mused. “Considering how my alt-self is apparently high enough ranked with them to be able to sign off on the agreement here. Did anyone else notice that?”
“Well, sure, but I think you can be over them too,” Alice insisted. “Come on, don’t stress over what wasn’t in your history. Yeah?”
“I… yeah.” Alijda/Alison fired off a quick smile back at her roommate.
“Now, speaking of the Clover agreement, what exactly was in there?” Trixie pressed. “I need closure.”
Beam cleared her throat as she recited from memory. “Clover Enterprises are to make restitution anywhere that they have transgressed, as decided by the ethical algorithm we provided, not their own beliefs. Further, they will not initiate any further experiments without broadcasting their intentions and possible side effects to the other party. Communicating with US if needed to mediate. Pyon pyon.”
“In return,” Fate put in, “they get all Beam’s vaccine research, and we don’t get to know the size of their organization or what else they might have been doing out there in secret.”
“Good enough I hope?” Beam purred, sidling up next to Trixie and giving her rear a quick pinch. Thankfully out of view of the others.
Trixie jumped despite herself, merely nodding back as she smoothed her skirt. She honestly hadn’t expected much more. And thanks to Fate’s choice, Clover didn’t know that Trixie had broken through the scattering field technology. So Epsilon was less likely to be caught off guard by their presence in the future too.
“What about these planets though?” Para wondered. “Does Clover start their work here, or are they still going to be recruiting?”
“They’ll be making sure Tech World doesn’t transmit the pandemic any more,” Beam noted. “Though if they were to suddenly vanish, it might raise more issues on the Fantasy World than not. Fortunately, the Alijda battle might make people more hesitant to join them, pyon pyon.”
“And as to the planets themselves, I think they’ll get out of their pandemics, based on the computer projections I ran,” Trixie offered up. “Beam will be cured too, we’ve turned on the flag that purges the bunny changes over time.”
“So we’re good,” Alijda/Alison sighed. “Missions accomplished.”
“Except… wait. Clover is powering up some sort of ray,” Alice said, hurrying to where a light had started flashing. She tapped at the keyboard. “It’s targeting us.”
“What? Open a channel,” Fate said, tossing aside her half eaten muffin.
Alijdah was back on their main screen moments later. “Hi! Just thought I’d note how there’s nothing in the agreement that says we can’t give you a parting shot. So there.” She smirked.
Fate glared back. “Alijdah! We haven’t transmitted the vaccine information yet. You want to jeopardize receiving it?”
“No worries, we can wait on firing until after you send it,” Alijdah said airily. “You DO have to do that, after all. It IS what we agreed to.”
“It’s fine,” Beam declared, moving in next to Fate. “Because the agreement doesn’t specify how we transmit my research to you. Right?” Her eyes sparkled. “Trixie, one last request, if you please.”
Oh, hell yes.
Trixie swung her arm out to the side, enjoying the sense of deja vu. “Rixi? Reinitiate Epsilon interface and materialize delivery gun.”
Again, there was the globe of light, the sphere over the hub, and then the modified gun, both in her hands and large scale, hanging in space.
Alijdah stared at them with a mixture of confusion and suspicion. “You can’t mean–“
“You want the research? It’s all in this capsule,” Trixie declared. She pointed the barrel of the gun at the Clover station, then swung it off to the side. “Protrudo.”
The capsule was propelled out of the gun barrel into space in much the same way the freeze necklace had once been fired through a hotel window. It spun off into the dimensional void as a light dusting of confetti was expelled from the smaller version of the gun in Trixie’s hand. Success!
“Son of a–“
“You should be able to track that – until the capsule gets small again,” Trixie said, cutting Alijdah off for a second time. “Still want to waste time with us?”
The communications channel was shut down.
“Ziggy?” Beam announced to the ceiling. “While they’re distracted, let’s temporally uncouple and leave orbit.”
“Understood,” came the voice of the main computer. “Please disengage your interface, Trixie.”
Trixie did so, pleased that she’d been able to test out at least one of her interface objects.
She was also pleased that Beam had suggested that backup plan in the first place, that they’d come through the entire pandemic situation without any new infections, and that she’d made some new friends.
But mostly, she was pleased that she’d be going home soon.
She raked her fingers back through her twintails once more. Only time would tell if she might ever have cause to return.
Polls on character and possible plots for possible future entries…
VOTING REMAINS OPEN
PATHS NOT TAKEN:
Had Alijdah accepted the conditions, Trixie would have fired off confetti, and the two groups might have worked together in the future (whether Clover would have ultimately screwed that up is unknown). Had Alijdah not backed down, Trixie would have fired off a computer virus to mess with their systems, while allowing Epsilon to track Clover in the future… since the Clover station would get away but without any medications. We ended up middle of the road for the second time, with a kind of agreement to disagree and Trixie firing off Beam’s data.
First, if you missed it, there was an April Fools Part in between the prior part 17 & this part 18, so check that out. With regard to the voting last time, I didn’t want the last choice and apex of our Clover plot to be decided by a single person’s single vote. So I kept things open past the end of March, which was helpful for the April Fool writer anyway. Finally got a third vote April 2nd after the usual pleading, so closed things on the 3rd. Didn’t get much of a chance to write in the following week, but it’s done now. Thank you for sticking with me, whoever’s out there. Another post coming in a few weeks about my status and what will come next on this site.