Alison

6.11: Before the Dawn

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SMOKE WITH MIRRORS: PART ELEVEN

“Stop right there.”

Beam froze in place. The police officer had reached for the stick she had on her belt. “I’m stopped,” Beam said, adding, “I wasn’t about to jump on you and smother you with kisses, pyon pyon.”

The police officer walked closer, her hand still on the end of the baton. “That’s good,” she said, voice slightly muffled by her mask. “Why were you approaching my position in the first place?”

Beam took in a deep breath. “Here’s the thing. There’s been suspicious activity in the park. I was hoping you could help me look into it, pyon pyon.”

When a transparent lie was likely of no use, best to tell the truth. To a degree. After all, they merely needed the police officer to go elsewhere, so that Para could set up the final pylon undisturbed.

The officer stopped about four metres away, sizing Beam up. Beam could now read the label on her uniform, identifying her as Officer Mikoto.

“The park is closed,” Mikoto reminded. “What activity do you mean?”

“Drones,” Beam answered. “Possibly magic as well, pyon pyon. I was just walking through, and well, it’s something that I definitely shouldn’t handle by myself.”

Mikoto frowned. “Wait. I think I’ve seen you around here before, haven’t I? A couple weeks back, before you, uh, caught the virus?”

Beam image

CHIBI BEAM (pre-bunny)
Commission from Gen Ishihara

Beam bobbed her head eagerly, clasping her hands. “Yes! My name’s Beam. I was away doing self-quarantine. Now that I’m not contagious, I’m back investigating, pyon pyon. It’s partly why I think there’s something going on here. Can you help me out? Mikoto, I’m so, euh, so worried.”

Beam cleared her throat, glad she had managed to catch herself before saying she was so aroused. Mikoto really was very pretty – even given that Beam’s definition of such had loosened considerably since the virus. The officer had short, dark hair, intense brown eyes, moderate curves and looked good in her uniform.

“Officer Mikoto,” the woman corrected, even as her stance relaxed, her hand moving away from her baton. Apparently recognizing Beam from earlier had added further credibility to the story. And although Beam had protested it less than an hour ago, perhaps wearing the large overcoat while on this mission, to cover her swimsuit, had been a good plan too.

“Okay,” Mikoto granted. “Okay, Beam. Can you show me what you saw safely, without us being detected? Or for that matter, without us being closer than two metres apart? No offence.”

Beam smiled. “None taken. And I think so. Follow after me? We’ll go in the same way I did.”

She walked off, looking back over her shoulder to verify that the officer was following. Behind Mikoto, she then saw Para poking her head out from around the corner and applauding.

Feeling her cheeks going pink, Beam quickly brought her gaze forwards again.

She quickly led Officer Mikoto around and into the park, trying to keep an eye out for drones or other activity… surely there would be something here, right? As whomever it was who had Alice and Trixie, they’d probably want to be doing surveillance for others… particularly if the Epsilon Team had tried some sort of bluff, about calling police. It was why Beam and Para hadn’t planned on going into the area at all.

Beam stopped a short distance away from the bench she’d formerly used as a place to sit and think. She again looked back at Mikoto, and gestured towards it. “It was over there, pyon pyon,” she said, mildly annoyed at not having seen anything specific yet.

Mikoto peered towards the trees and bushes where Beam had gestured. Beam wondered how long it would take Para to set up the last point of their triangle, working all by herself. Likely not that long? She might be done already.

“I’m not seeing anything now,” Officer Mikoto said, starting to peer around suspiciously in all directions. Her hand was back at her baton. “Are you certain it was a drone, Beam? Not some sort of animal?”

Beam nodded her head. “Oh, yes. At least, I’m sure it wasn’t an animal.”

“Hmmm,” came the uncertain reply. “And you said something about magic too? What exactly gave you the idea that it was operating?”

As if in answer, a purple beam of light shot through the area some distance behind them in the park. It was followed by another, and another, on the exact same bearing.

Mikoto’s baton was immediately in her hand, as she crouched. “Holy…”

‘That’s our triangulation!’ Beam realized. Para must have set up the last pylon… but was there a reason they were activating the field now? Was Para in some sort of trouble? She had to get back to the mathematical blonde.

“Yes, so, I think we should leave now,” Beam said, all in a rush. “Get going before something bad happens here that puts us both in–”

Everything went white. And then Beam found herself standing in the small set of rooms that Epsilon had sealed off as quarantine. She knew them all too well after her recent time spent there.

“–danger,” she finished.

Beam barely had enough time to register that standing around her there was Para, Alice, Trixie, some guy in a lab coat, and Officer Mikoto. Then the lights went out, dropping them all into pitch blackness.

She heard a door open, but no light accompanied it.

“Ziggy,” came the voice of Alijda van Vliet. “Lights on? Please?”

“It’s as I told you when you insisted on the activation,” came the calm female voice of the station computer. “Some systems are going to blow out.”

“The LIGHTS? Really?”

“There is a reason we do not do wide area teleportations as a matter of routine,” Ziggy said, with a hint of petulance. “Particularly when a scattering field is involved. Be glad that the lighting circuit is separate from the door locks.”

“Great. Fate’s body is still contained?” Alijda pressed.

“Naturally, as is the seal on your quarantine,” Ziggy answered.

“Lovely,” said an unknown male voice, which could only be the individual Beam had seen in the lab coat. “Though I had better be locked up too, since as I recall this mental effect has a randomized time-out.”

“Okay,” Officer Mikoto put in. “Well, before you time out or whatever, someone had better explain what in the hell is going on.”

Beam’s eyes had already adjusted to the darkness by now; she suspected that the only reason there had been a delay was the elements of her programming that made her seem more human. As such, she could see that Mikoto had taken up a defensive pose, and was edging backwards.

“Careful Mikoto, you’re going to trip over an ottoman, pyon pyon,” she warned. The police officer was heading for the comfy part of the room.

“Officer Mikoto,” the policewoman corrected, though she also froze in place. “And again, barring an explanation, everyone here is under arrest. For, at minimum, abduction.”

“I feel like this would be a good time for me to apologize again,” Alice remarked. “Fate, if I’d known it was you trying to get into my head, I wouldn’t have rejected it. I thought it was him doing something.”

“Yes, well, if I’d known the attempt would jump me to the nearest person on a rejection, I never would have enacted this plan myself,” the strange man said, crossing his arms.

Para cleared her throat. “Maybe I’m partly to blame for this new situation? Alijda just told me to get in the field, that we needed to break through with a teleport before the scattering elements took hold again.”

“Ugh, all I know is that none of this is MY fault,” Trixie asserted. “Though I am in awe of how randomly you people operate. I’ve half a mind to simply transfer the rest of the files Rixi has over to your Ziggy, and then leave your group before something more terrible happens.”

“I hope the other half of your mind wants to talk to me before that,” Alijda remarked. “Very curious about that whole tech-magic blend thing, and we have yet to properly chat.”

“There is that,” Trixie yielded.

“We would also appreciate your input in putting the pieces together, Trixie,” the man in the lab coat added. “You are good at your job.”

Trixie sighed. “And I’m not immune to flattery. But unless I miss my guess, all of us are both in quarantine and under arrest anyway? Soooo…”

“Yes. Arrest. This hasn’t been much by way of an explanation,” Mikoto said, sternly.

“If I might?” Beam said. People turned to look in her direction. Beam hoped that everyone else was starting to see in the darkness, and weren’t merely homing in on her voice.

“Go ahead,” Alice chirped in encouragement.

“On account of my situation, I can leave quarantine, pyon pyon,” Beam said. “Which means I can fix things like putting on the lights. I can even interrogate whomever’s in Fate’s body. Moreover, if I’m forced to stay in here instead, I may find myself hitting on Trixie soon, in part due to her tight leather pants. Pyon pyon.”

“She makes a strong case,” Trixie said dryly. “Anyone against?”

“Possibly,” Mikoto insisted. “I still don’t–”

“Look, we’re sorry you’re here, but you don’t want lights? Really?” Alijda interrupted.

Mikoto sighed. “Fine. But no one here try anything funny.”

Beam hurried for the exit before anyone could change their mind. Ziggy unlocked the acrylic barrier at her touch.

***

It had been an hour. Beam had decided to stall the others in quarantine, leaving them in the dark, once she’d learned that Trixie had resumed transferring the files from her device.

After all, it had not escaped Beam that she was technically in command for however long Fate was out of commission. Not to mention how Fate had been looking into relinquishing control of the station in any event. Bunny infection or not, Beam knew she had to step up here.

Particularly in light of what was turning up in the files.

“Ziggy?” Beam said, leaning in against the console. “Is there any other explanation here aside from them making a dimensional doorway, pyon pyon?”

“None. Vortex Limited made a dimensional doorway,” Ziggy agreed. “With the common sense to restrict it using decontamination chambers. Trixie must have been correct in her assumption, this is how the pandemic spread between Earths.”

Beam drummed her fingers. “Okay. So. Vortex gets a bunch of magic from the mysterious Clover Enterprises after trading their tech. In particular giving them things like the scattering field, which even we cannot punch through, pyon pyon. They use the new magic to, among other things, set up this underground bunker. From there, they punch a hole through to Tech World.”

“All before the pandemic,” Ziggy remarked. “And technically outside our policing, as Earths in the multiverse can do their own dimensional investigating.”

“Except for how Clover Enterprises was involved,” Beam pointed out.

“That’s why I said ‘technically’.” Ziggy’s petulant tone was back.

Beam rolled her eyes. “Anyway, Smoke soon becomes a thing due to the tech-magic-dimensional soup, and very soon after, Tech World catches a novel version. The virus must have made it through more conventional quarantine procedures, which have since been upgraded, pyon pyon.”

“Logical. This also explains how you were able to be infected,” Ziggy remarked. “Both sides were working on a computer simulation of the effects in the aftermath.”

“But that stopped a few weeks ago,” Beam continued, pointing at a date. “When Tech World cut off the link, leaving Bunny World to it’s own viral analyses. We know from our scans that Tech could then use the pandemic as cover to purge information, pyon pyon. Likely details about any dealings with other worlds, including Bunny World, the one Alijda went to, and more.”

“Another logical assumption. A world with teleporters would have had the capability to extend on the dimensional technology too, after all.”

“Loverly.” Beam hooked some hair behind her ear. “Still, two things these files don’t answer.”

“Only two?” Ziggy mused.

Beam ignored the remark. “First, why one Vortex scientist was left working on all this down there in his secret lab, alone, pyon pyon. I mean, why not a whole team?”

“I would hypothesize that Vortex Limited does not want their dimensional dealings or their part in the pandemic to go public,” Ziggy remarked. “Don’t forget, over time Smoke clears and people return to normal.”

“Except there might be side effects. And don’t enough people know about this, such that it would get out in the end?” Beam wondered. “It’s better press to say you’re working on a fix, pyon pyon. And second, while it makes sense that one of these planets would seek help by sending a dimensional message, I don’t see how we managed to be the ones to receive an encrypted communication from them. If they were the origin. A fluke?”

“I have no answer for you,” Ziggy stated, not pleased by the admission. “Though we could now apply some of the techniques in these files to attempt a better trace.”

Beam pushed away from the console to pace. Given this new intel, what was her next step? Well, probably to restore the lighting to the quarantine room, and get some help from her friends. But even then, what should she be proposing to them?

OPTIONS:

VOTING CLOSES SUNDAY OCTOBER 11th (probably).

Previous INDEX 6 Next

PATHS NOT TAKEN:
Beam would have also succeeded in the path where Alijda physically subdues Fate’s body. With the team still in the lab, they would have had Fate pose as the lead scientist; of course, Alijda would have broken quarantine with possible repercussions. Conversely, Beam would not have succeeded if we got Alice’s mind into Fate. It would also have meant the scientist was in Alice and Fate was still in him… but Trixie would have knocked everyone out. Leaving Alijda (and Alice’s mind) to hack, and possibly Para to get Beam out of jail. Of course, we got the everyone back on board angle, as seen.

EXTRA ASIDE:
Closed the vote on Oct 1st as promised, most writing done on Oct 3rd. At what point do I give up on more readers? At least we avoided another tie. Whoever you are, thanks for reading through to this point. Hope you’re enjoying.

6.10: Mind Games

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SMOKE WITH MIRRORS: PART TEN

Beam felt violated. It was one thing for an individual to not be cautious and catch a virus. It was quite another for that individual to be targeted and infected. Simply because Beam was (presumably) unable to catch the disease otherwise, and someone felt paranoid.

Despite that, Beam was trying to remain impartial. And not stare too much at Para’s curves, even as her libido kept telling her to.

“These pylons should work much like the amplifier Alijda and I installed in the station, right?” Para remarked, breaking Beam out of her thoughts.

Beam looked down at the one she was carrying, as the two of them walked along the sidewalk. “Close enough,” she agreed. “We simply anchor them in a triangle and use the field they generate to punch down through the interference, pyon pyon. Should let us get a lock on our team.”

They had already set one pylon up at a telephone pole, their arrival site, and roughly the location of Trixie’s mayday call. Their scanners implied something existed inside the pole itself – an elevator? – but they had no idea how to gain access. It likely required magic.

Para nodded, her bunny ears bouncing. Beam found herself wondering if her extra ears did the same.

“We could split up and each do one then, right?” Para continued. “That would be faster.”

“But not as safe,” Beam insisted.

Para nodded again. She seemed to want to say something else, but wasn’t sure how to phrase it. Or perhaps wasn’t sure if she even should say something.

Beam sighed. “Speak up, pyon pyon,” she prompted. “If nothing else it keeps my mind occupied more on the mission, and less on how sexy you are.”

Para’s cheeks bloomed a bit pinker. “It’s not exactly about the mission though,” she admitted. “It’s more, when you say safe… I was wondering if you meant, without me, you’d be inclined to wander off and find someone to… um… you know. Get satisfaction.”

“What, on account of every lady on the station turning me down?” Beam quipped.

Para seemed unable to meet her gaze.

Beam sighed. “Don’t worry about me, Para. While I grant that sex is one of my primary tools for solving problems, I am a professional. And as much as I might want to get it on, pyon pyon, for now I care more about rescuing Alice and Trixie. Okay?”

Para nodded. “I didn’t mean to imply–”

“No offence taken,” Beam assured quickly. “I’m not exactly myself.”

“Right. Okay.” Para nibbled her lower lip. “Meaning it’s more me that you’re worried about, should we split up.”

Again Beam shook her head. “I trust you to get the job done too. But one, I know the area already, and two, I worry that there’s a drone out there with a knockout dart. Or worse, pyon pyon. I’m not merely scanning our surroundings here for pretty girls, you know.”

“OH,” Para realized. Beam could only assume Para had thought that their plan to move around the perimeter of the park, rather than through it, was enough to keep them safe. “Sorry. I… I didn’t…”

“Para, stop apologizing,” Beam insisted. “We’re stronger together is all.” She realized her eyes had wandered south again. “All I ask is that you don’t suddenly decide to take me up on any prior offers. I don’t want to have to run a willpower check, pyon pyon.” She smiled.

Alas, Para’s face became even more red. “That’s SO unlikely,” she blurted. Then she flinched. “I mean… it’s like I’ve said before, you’re not undesirable, it’s… uh… I… um…”

Beam could tell Para was trying not to say ‘sorry’. “Ugh, again, no offence taken,” Beam broke in. “Calm down, Para. I get it. You’re not human. Possibly not bi either. My remark was more an attempt to defuse tension, pyon pyon. Along with being a commentary on… how do I put this.”

Beam paused to find the right phrasing. “Listen. I think certain people infected with the Bunny Virus are more prone to want to engage with other infected, rather than the general population.”

Para considered that. “Then you want to, er, be with other bunnies,” she clarified.

Beam nodded. “The pull is stronger. Now, maybe that’s because I, as an individual, would rather not spread the virus, pyon pyon. Even though I’m not contagious. Might be different for others, particularly if they had strong emotional ties, and wanted someone in particular to be converted with them. But if not, well… we stay together.”

Para fell silent, seemingly thinking about that as they continued their walk. “Does that mean if we run into other infected, they might try to jump me?” she said at last.

“Didn’t want to come out with it, but yes, maybe, pyon pyon,” Beam concluded.

“Ah. Thanks for being here then,” Para decided.

They reached the second point of the triangle then and set up Para’s pylon in silence, before continuing to walk around the park to get to the optimal site on the other side. They were walking, rather than running, to avoid drawing attention to themselves.

Beam checked her scanner. Ideally, they’d wanted their points to form the largest possible equilateral triangle. They didn’t know how big the underground complex was.

It was as they turned the final corner, that Beam was forced to shoot out her hand to keep Para back.

“Heck,” Beam muttered. There was a police officer down there. A female one. And while anchoring down their pylon wouldn’t take long, there was no way it wouldn’t be seen as suspicious, particularly since it would seem like infected people were doing it.

“What do we do about her?” Para murmured, peering past to see the issue.

Beam handed her devices over to Para. “I’ll try to lure her away, pyon pyon. When I do, you set up the pyon. Er, pylon.”

Para looked unconvinced. “You think you can?”

Honestly, Beam wasn’t sure. She couldn’t rely on her sexual wiles to manage it, that was the one thing everyone would be guarding against with an infected person. But a transparent lie such as ‘come here, someone’s been mugged’ might not hold up.

Para didn’t have to know any of that though. “I think so,” Beam answered. “Unless you know of some alternative?”

Para winced. “We could hope that Fate and Alijda are having better luck on the Station?”

Beam shook her head. “We’re not going to wait around on their plan, pyon pyon. Er, my plan. My plan that they’re enacting. Whatever.” She took in a deep breath. “Here goes.”

Beam headed towards the officer.

***

“This was a good idea,” Alijda remarked. “Working two angles simultaneously, in case one fails.”

“Except this splits our focus at a critical time,” Fate lamented. “Plus Beam knows the Station’s history a heck of a lot better than me. But she needs to be down there, as she presumably cannot get infected.”

Alijda (as chibi)

Alijda van Vliet (chibi).
Commission from: Shirochya

Alijda noticed Fate continuing to work through the security locks for the Station’s artifacts as she spoke. She could watch the other women via the Pad being carried, but was, of course, still stuck in the quarantine room.

“Don’t beat yourself up over it,” Alijda said. “Besides, this beats sitting up here spinning our thumbs.” She looked back down at the artifact listing on her terminal.

There was a click, and Fate headed into the next room. “I will admit,” Fate said after a moment, “every time I walk in here I half expect that phone to ring, and discover that God is on the other line.”

“Phone?” Alijda asked, without looking up.

“The one on the wall here. I don’t think it’s real,” Fate added. “But it wasn’t listed in artifacts either, so it must be part of the station. Unless the other administrators weren’t that great at records.”

“Ooh, don’t let Alice hear you say something like that,” Alijda remarked. “She can be a real stickler for the rules at times.”

There was a pause, as Fate presumably looked at the physical items while Alijda continued her scrolling through the catalogue. There were only around a dozen artifacts whose home dimension had not been located yet, but there was a fair amount of detail to go with them.

“Alijda?” Fate asked after a moment.

“Mmmm hmmmm,” Alijda answered.

“Did Alice ever talk much about that God? The one who, I guess, set all this up?”

Alijda shook her head, finally taking a moment to look back at the monitor. “Just, female, rescued Alice from a Hell Dimension, never met in person, seemed to give good advice. Depending on your definition of good. Granted, I never pried. It didn’t seem right, given how Alice revered her, yet got fired.”

Fate nodded, looking troubled. “Okay then.”

“Why, do you know something about this God that we don’t?” Alijda asked.

Fate sighed. “No. If anything, I know less. I’ve never received orders, the few items retrieved in my time have been due to scans we made. I’ve been wondering though, whether She is the reason we picked up on this dimensional pandemic in the first place?”

“Huh. You think our mystery message was sent by God?” Alijda tried not to sound incredulous. It seemed even less plausible than their current ‘message from the future’ theory.

“I don’t know,” Fate said, visibly frustrated. “But if it was Her, well…” Her voice trailed off.

“Well?” Alijda prompted, her attention having gone back to her item list.

Another sigh. “Well, if there is a God, doesn’t that imply the existence of a Devil?”

Alijda frowned. “Huh. I’m… not the best person to be talking to about religion. Are you implying the Devil started the pandemic though?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know what to believe about all this,” Fate said. She pressed her palm to her forehead. “I need more sleep.”

“We all do,” Alijda agreed. Her finger hovered over the current item. “Hold on. Something here, maybe. Found on an Earth denoted… PX-75309?”

“I’m listening,” Fate said, sounding more business-like.

Alijda cleared her throat. “It’s a helmet that lets you swap minds. You merely need an item belonging to the other person to make it work. And Alice has stuff up here, yeah?”

“Hmmm. You’re thinking I could briefly take over Alice’s body to learn the layout down there,” Fate deduced. “While she could be up here debriefing you.”

“It’s a thought,” Alijda agreed. “It’s unclear whether the range works when we’re not on the planet, but nothing can block mental brainwaves, right?”

“It’s worth an attempt,” Fate decided. “Reminds me of a gun enchantment in Chartreuse’s last mission, actually.” A pause. “Nothing in the room looks like a helmet though.”

“This says helmet, but the image is more like a metal fruit bowl,” Alijda clarified. “Also, uh oh, Beam’s notes say that the transfer time is random. Moreover, the person you swap with now has the helmet. If they swap with someone else, you could be stuck in the body you transferred to.”

“Unless I got the helmet back,” Fate reasoned. “Though I guess a lot of damage could be done in the interim.”

“Yeah. I think that’s what happened on PX-75309. Anyway. To activate you simply concentrate on the item you have, and on what the other person looks like.”

“Okay. I’ve got it now,” Fate said, holding up the mind helmet.

“You do,” Alijda confirmed.

Fate turned to exit the room. “I’ll get some clothing of Alice’s and bring it to an isolated area of the Station to activate. Just in case.”

“That’s prudent,” Alijda agreed. “Keep me on video to monitor the situation.”

Fate had everything set up less than ten minutes later. Alijda tried not to laugh as the woman lowered the bowl onto her head; it covered most of her face.

“Okay then. Does this look as silly as it feels?” Fate asked, as she sat down and clutched a pair of Alice’s jeans to her chest.

“Would you believe me if I said no?”

“Not really. And no word from Para or Beam yet?”

Alijda shook her head. “No, though they’re still on sensors. Should we wait?”

“No point. This might not even work.” Fate drew in a deep breath. “So here’s wishing that I could swap minds with Alice.”

“Mmmm. At times, we all wonder what goes on in her head,” Alijda joked.

At first, nothing seemed to happen. But then, Fate sat up straighter. “What is this?” Fate’s voice demanded. She pulled the helmet off of her head and looked around. “Where am I? Where the hell did my underground lab go?!”

“Oh. Oh, that’s great,” Alijda muttered.

OPTIONS:

VOTING CLOSES AFTER SEPTEMBER (Thurs Oct 1st).

Previous INDEX 6 Next

PATHS NOT TAKEN:
No one chose contacting Vortex Ltd, which would have brought us back to an Alice or Trixie POV. We might have obtained more information, but one of them would have been infected, what with mentioning putting them in more danger. Instead we had a tie. Sending down Beam and Para would have resulted in an error, potentially extracting the scientist down there as well. Exploring the station was giving us the mind swapping as seen, except it would have worked… swapping with the scientist seemed like a reasonable compromise for the tie.

THE ORACLE PROPHESIED:
I’m not sure about prophesied, but early drafts had Fate and Alice already having swapped minds (likely if we’d gone the romance angle). It seemed like a useful device to have during a pandemic, when the limitation is your body cannot leave the house. Nixed when we started with Trixie.

EXTRA ASIDE:
I kept the last vote open to see if the tie would be broken, and because it was my first full week of classes under our new pandemic teaching model. So I was busy. Closed it Friday, but before I could start writing in earnest, my daughter got sick, and gave us her cold, and we all needed Covid-19 tests to avoid being at home for 14 days which was not a feasible situation. Hence the part is late. Thanks for waiting, and reading through to this point.

6.09: Elevator Pitch

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SMOKE WITH MIRRORS: PART NINE

How concerned should a bunny be about a bunny-making flu? It was a question which Para had pondered for weeks, ever since being summoned to the Epsilon Station. More so since Trixie had assumed that Para was one of the infected.

Could Para catch the virus? If she caught it, would she grow a second set of bunny ears? If so, would they be partially tied to her mood, as her parabolic ears currently were? Or given that she wasn’t human, would there be no physical effect, only mental problems?

Ever since Beam had been out of quarantine, Para had endeavoured to engage the other woman in conversation about the non-physical aspects of the disease. Just in case.

But that only tended to result in Beam getting seductive. Of course, it now felt questionable in terms of usefulness, as for all they knew, Beam might have been infected with some holographic variation in the first place.

Para was now spending her time trying not to think about it, instead working to improve the Station’s sensors.

Para

PARA
Commission by Michelle Simpson

Granted, she didn’t know that much about the technology, but she’d asked Alijda for some help. And while her first human friend was more of a hacker than a sensor specialist, it gave the both of them something to puzzle though while Alijda was quarantined, after her return from the magical world.

The initial reason for Para’s work had been better communications in advance of future teleport retrievals. A larger part of the logic now was the encrypted message the Station had received, the one pointing it towards this pandemic problem in the first place. Perhaps they could locate the source? Or find more such messages out there?

Either way, it was fortunate that she’d put her efforts there. Because this meant that it registered right away when Trixie and Alice disappeared from routine scans for their communicators.

Para double checked. She attempted a triangulation from their last known position, and it looked like they’d been headed towards some sort of park. Somewhere Beam had frequented. An attempt to scan more directly revealed a blind spot in the sensors.

“That can’t be good,” Para muttered aloud.

Para wondered about calling Fate, but the poor woman was finally getting some rest after having sent Trixie down to the planet in the first place. So she opened an internal communication to Alijda instead.

“Hey, do you think we could finish our upgrades fast?” she asked.

Alijda’s head bobbed. It looked like she was sitting up. “Maybe,” she yawned. “Why?”

“I’ve lost track of the team on the planet,” Para explained.

Alijda flinched. “Go to Auxiliary Control and illuminate a panel there. So that I can see what you’re doing.”

“I’m already here,” Para remarked. “I’ll set it up straight away.”

They were collaborating in less than five minutes, Alijda visible on the panel from the waist up as she peered at what Para was doing.

“Okay,” Alijda said. “I think as soon as the amplifier is hooked in, we’ll get a signal boost.”

Para peered at the wires, making sure not to hook a positive to a negative. “You’d think the station could access the best equipment,” she mused aloud. “Or at least be able to replicate it or something.” This amplifier had been assembled from parts in a storage bin.

“There’s probably some law preventing them from grabbing the best dimensional technology,” Alijda remarked. She grinned. “They have to make due with temporarily grabbing the best people. Or, er, beings. Meaning us.”

Para half smiled herself as she completed the hookup. “Even though we’re in the dark. It makes me wonder about the God that Alice referred to in our first mission. Like, why can’t they help out more?”

“Or as Alice would say ‘what does God need with a Dimensional Space Station’,” Alijda remarked. “All I can say is her take was that we still needed to have free will to fix things. Or screw up. Or both, considering how she was fired. They’re good questions though, I’m glad you’re asking them.”

“I’ve been questioning more than usual lately,” Para sighed.

“Okay, that should do it,” Alijda said, as Para moved back. “Flip the switch.”

Para stood back up, dusting off her skirt. “Great. Let’s see if we can learn more about the blind spot.” She reached out to activate the enhancements.

“This area didn’t show up unless you were looking right at it, yeah?” Alijda observed. “Implies there could be more down there.”

“That’s unsettling,” Para said, frowning. “Also, it’s still there… albeit smaller. Oh wait, I’m picking up…” Para twisted a knob.

“Hello? Hello?” came Trixie’s breathless voice.

“Hello, Trixie?” Para asked.

“Oh, thank goodness,” Trixie sighed. “Hurry. We’re trapped in the elevator with valuable information. Can you beam us up? Like, we don’t need Beam but… you know what I mean, yes?”

“Um, let me check,” said Para. She looked towards Alijda, hoping her friend had some way to know.

Alijda looked at the ceiling. “Hey Ziggy, you clued in?” she asked the main computer.

“More or less,” the computer responded after a moment. “Parts of me go inactive during your work, given that I don’t entirely want to know what surgery it is you’re trying to perform on me.”

“Can we do what Trixie asked?” Para wondered.

A pause. “No, there is a scattering field in place. You will want Trixie to move further away from that location.”

Para cleared her throat. “Trixie, there’s–”

“I heard. What part of us being trapped in an elevator did you not get?” Trixie complained. “And yes, there’s an emergency hatch, but it’s stuck. In much the same way that my elbow is stuck in Alice’s side.”

“At least it’s not poking me in the breast any more,” came Alice’s deadpan voice for the first time. “This is not a large space.”

“Hey, waving my wrist communicator around WORKED, didn’t it?” Trixie shot back.

Para decided not to mention the sensor enhancements. “Ladies, you’re on the edge of a strange blind spot,” she explained. “Maybe instead you can provide us with information to shut it down, or get around it?”

“Information? Well, there’s a whole secret base down here under the park,” Trixie said. “Funded by Clover Enterprises.”

“Indirectly funded,” Alice elaborated. “It’s local, run by Vortex Limited, who have been making their money through magical upgrades to the world’s technological systems. Upgrades obtained through Clover.”

“Right, right,” Trixie agreed. “Though you’re the one who thinks this is all some global Clover Enterprises experiment.”

“Taking advantage of the locals, why wouldn’t it be?” Alice argued. “Besides, we DO know that some aspects of the magic have been less than compatible with indigenous biology. Which led to the current planetwide situation.”

“Oh, damn. The pandemic,” Alijda gasped.

“Right,” Alice confirmed. “The Bunny disease is natural, except not, because it came from components that never should have interacted. Clover is at fault.”

“Kind of makes your Epsilon Project sensible,” Trixie admitted. “Keeping items out of dimensions where they shouldn’t be. You never know what might happen when they mix.”

“But then how is the disease jumping dimensions?” Para asked. “And mutating?”

“That? Not sure,” Trixie said. “This Vortex scientist has been playing with different strains here, in an attempt to find a cure. Could be his corporation also has the ability to jump dimensions? We didn’t find evidence of that – yet – but it would account for the spreading.”

“I wonder if these guys offered a biological sample to Clover Enterprises,” Alice said. “Clover themselves could be the ones spreading it. After all, the first file we saw was for a trade, not a cash payment. Might have been for items to be provided later.”

“I feel like Clover wanted some of this blended magical technology up front though,” Trixie noted. “I mean, from what little I’ve learned through working with your Epsilon group, tech and magic fusions are not that common in the greater multiverse. Even on my Earth, it’s not as simple as it might appear.”

“Maybe,” Alice said, sounding unconvinced.

“The blend was certainly messed up on the tiny world I went to with Para,” Alijda recalled.

“These Vortex people have certainly mastered their fusion to the point of infecting Beam,” Para reminded. “I’m starting to think we DON’T want them getting their hands on Trixie, and all the extra information she has.”

“I’d settle for getting my hands off Trixie right now,” Alice remarked. “No offence.”

“None taken,” Trixie mumbled.

“So far I haven’t heard anything that would get us past the scattering field,” Para pointed out.

“Can I transmit Rixi’s files to you somehow?” Trixie suggested. “You might find something there.”

“That’s an idea,” Para agreed. “Can we link her device with Ziggy, or have it send the information as an attachment?”

“I will attempt to set up a link through this channel,” came Ziggy’s voice.

“Rixi, try to coordinate. Para, there’s a bunch of files, and we haven’t had time to read each… wait, the elevator’s moving again,” Trixie realized.

“Going down,” Alice sighed.

“Oh no, he’s calling us back,” Trixie yelped. “Beam us up, beam us up!”

“We’ll start working on an extraction plan,” Alijda noted. “No worries. Stall if you can.”

Alice sighed. “It’s my fault we’ve been caught,” she admitted. “I insisted we stay long enough to get the files. So, know what? Even though I’m not the one in those pants with that perfume, I’ll try to seduce him to get us free. Okay?”

“Ha ha, good joke,” Trixie grumbled.

“I’m totally serious,” Alice insisted. “He’ll be so confused by my doing it that you might have a chance to escape out the front. With all your tech-magic intelligence. No elevator there to slow you down. Right?”

Trixie sighed audibly. “As amusing as … fine with taking point on … clarify our cover story?”

Para frowned. The communication link was breaking up.

“We could … members of the Vortex Limited team following up …” Alice stated, just before the channel went completely dead.

“That’s not good,” Alijda said, redundantly.

“I was able to obtain a few files before we lost the link,” Ziggy commented. “Shall I pull those up for you?”

Para nodded. “Yes please, and I guess we’d better wake up Fate.”

***

Only fifteen minutes had passed since they’d lost the communication link. It didn’t feel like that much time to Para, but she suspected that it felt longer to Trixie and Alice, down on the planet.

Fate had tentatively labelled them as hostages, though for all they knew, the two Epsilon employees were running a convincing con job.

“I see three options,” Fate said, pacing back and forth. “First option is sending Beam and Para planet-side, to evaluate the situation. Possibly set up a signal booster on site to cut through the interference, and we get everyone back that way.”

“Don’t you need Beam to help with the Station?” Para wondered.

The blonde hologram shook her head. “Stuff I’m dealing with is routine enough that Alijda could handle it from her room for now, pyon pyon. Plus I know the planet and would blend right in.”

“Also, Para, I don’t want to send you alone,” Fate noted. “I won’t lie though, it might be dangerous.”

Para felt her bunny ears quivering. “Second option?”

“We contact the Vortex group,” Fate stated. “There’s enough information in the few files Trixie transmitted for us to do that. We could even pretend to be with Clover Enterprises. There’s less risk to us this way, and if we do it right, we can get our people released as well as obtain more information about both groups.”

“But if we mess up, we could end up putting Alice and Trixie in even more danger,” Alijda chimed in from the monitor where she was observing the meeting.

“Possible,” Fate yielded.

“And the third option is my idea,” Beam remarked. Fate gestured at her to continue, and Beam smiled. “Thing is, we do have some artifacts on this station that have not yet been returned, pyon pyon. Between those and the sensor upgrades, we might find a way to punch through all the interference and get our ladies out without interfering with anything else happening down there at all.”

“Might?” Para wondered.

“Yes, well, it’s still half a plan,” Beam admitted. “But it emphasizes our non-interference policy and could mean we get a useful tool for later use.”

“We’ve already interfered,” Alijda pointed out. “And what if your plan turns into a wasted hour?”

“Look, sorry, we don’t really have time for a debate here,” Fate cut back in. “I’m going to choose. This meeting was mostly to see if there was an obvious flaw in any of the plans, and I’m not hearing anything I didn’t already consider. So unless someone had any other ideas or input…?”

Everyone exchanged uncertain glances. It didn’t look like there was anything else to say.

Para turned her attention back to hear Fate’s decision.

OPTIONS:

VOTING CLOSES AFTER SUNDAY SEPTEMBER 13th.

Previous INDEX 6 Next

PATHS NOT TAKEN:
Confronting would have revealed more plot to you, the reader, at the expense of both of them being knocked out. A rescue team would likely be needed. Hiding would have resulted in only one of them being captured (tentatively Alice, since Trixie would have been on the hook in a prior vote, and fair is fair). The other (Trixie) would have had the information out – that we got here – after some delay. Since they tried to get out, I had that they’d be captured but only after reporting, hence the Station POV. In retrospect, I guess there was always going to be a hostage situation of some sort here…

EXTRA ASIDE:
Already over 50 spam messages for September. Really? Contrast just over 10 actual page views. As for voting, three way tie until late Sunday. I guess it’s nice that there’s no one clear path I should be following? (Which would make things too predictable, right?) Though I sometimes wonder if people who don’t get their choice are annoyed. (Is it even the same people week to week? Who knows?) Either way, thank you all for sticking with it.

6.05: An Arrested Development

Previous INDEX 6 Next

SMOKE WITH MIRRORS: PART FIVE

“Hello! I’m under arrest, how’s your day going?”

There was a pause before Alijda got her answer, which gave her time to move the watch communicator from her mouth to her ear. “Better than yours, apparently,” Fate’s voice came at last. “Am I your one phone call?”

“This is our scheduled check-in,” Alijda reminded. “The police confiscated magical items. This communicator is not that.”

Even so, she had turned down the volume, given how there might be some sort of monitoring system in her cell… and she wasn’t alone in here either. Hence why she had to raise the device back up to her ear again to hear Fate.

“Give your report then.”

Alijda pushed herself back to her feet. She had claimed the far corner of the cell for herself, leaving the two cots for the three other individuals. Two of them – who gave the impression that they were sister and brother – had laid down and leaned against one, respectively. They seemed to have fallen asleep over the past two hours.

The final person, an older man, had lain down on the last cot. But while he gave the appearance of being asleep like the others, Alijda was pretty sure it was an act.

“Haven’t found anything about the virus jumping beyond humans,” Alijda reported. “Tried to follow a lead about a forest becoming enchanted, but that seems to have been caused by a human, in the end.”

“Is that what got you arrested after only four days?” Fate wondered.

“Nope,” Alijda said. She dusted off her bottom, more a habit from rising than the floor itself being dirty, then swept her cloak aside to press a foot back against the wall as she continued to speak. “Caught in the crossfire of class warfare. Virus activates latent magical abilities, yeah?”

“Yeah,” Fate repeated back, warily.

“Well, society can’t have the common folk developing magic powers. That’s bad for the ruling class, who more or less had the magic monopoly until this became widespread. So the cops are rounding up people who exhibit powers but seem low class, ‘for our own safety’.” Alijda realized she was raising her fingers to make air quotes, and made herself stop.

“Oh. We made you look too low class?”

Alijda glanced down at the T-shirt and jeans she was sporting underneath the cloak that Epsilon had provided. Then her fingers idly brushed over the face mask she wore, to prevent her from actually being infected. It was top of the line, but had been crafted to resemble a cheap, cloth version. “Apparently.”

“And you haven’t teleported out of your situation because…?”

Alijda hesitated at that. Her teleportation ability had been one of the key reasons for her selection on this mission, after all. The power to get away from people though seemingly magical means, which was really useful for avoiding crowds. And by extension, hopefully the virus itself.

“At first, it was research,” Alijda admitted after a moment. “And now that I’m on the inside, their police stations are set up to suppress magical powers.”

“But your ability came from a biochemical accident,” Fate protested. “It’s not magical.”

“I know,” Alijda said, rolling her eyes. “I was there. Still, I haven’t seen a reason to test these suppression limits yet. More to the point, my peacing out might cause trouble for the others in here with me.”

“Hm. Okay, well, we’ll monitor your emergency band. We can pull you up here into quarantine at any time, though we’d prefer it not leave lots of questions for the locals down there.”

“Understood,” Alijda sighed. “I’ll be in touch.”

She shut off the communicator and strapped it back onto her wrist. Then she looked over at the cot with the old man on it.

Alijda van Vliet (chibi).
Commission from: Shirochya

“Do you want to talk to me yet?” Alijda asked. “Because I doubt I’ll be talking to anyone else this evening, and at this point, you likely believe I’m with the CIA or something. Figure I should debunk that.”

At that the man opened his eyes and sat up; he was also wearing a mask, but Alijda fancied that he was smiling. “I wouldn’t have said CIA. I originally thought you were a plant to learn more about those of us protesting the class system, but not any more. Since I gather you’re not from around here.”

Alijda shrugged. “I’ve been out of touch with city people for a long time.”

“Oh, sure. To the point where you either talk to your wrist device with no one on the other end, or to where you were asked to pass back information about the viral outbreak.”

“I certainly could be insane to the point of talking to myself,” Alijda offered, wiggling her eyebrows to try and compensate for her hidden facial expression.

The man shook his head. “Let me revise. I suspect you were not asked to pass information… you were recruited? Bribed?”

Alijda pursed her lips. The man was apparently a good judge of character. She had been recruited by Epsilon months ago, and she had in a sense been bribed to go on this mission.

By agreeing to go, Alijda had been able to see some of the algorithms for Beam, that autonomous hologram lady. She would later have the opportunity to network with someone named Trixie, a techno-witch, and fusing magic with programs seemed like a fascinating discipline.

Couple all of that with her investigation being of help to Alice, her occasional roommate who was also in the midst of a pandemic, and Alijda had felt like ‘no’ wasn’t an option.

Of course, insanity was still on the table – even with all that, what sane person would agree to investigate a world experiencing a viral pandemic?

“I’m indirectly helping out a friend,” Alijda admitted aloud, choosing to reference the situation with Alice.

“Ah! Someone you met before you started talking with members of our group last week? Or afterwards, as you gained more of a conscience?”

Alijda shook her head. “Nice try. I wasn’t in town last week.”

The man crossed his arms, scrutinizing her. Her casual dismissal there seemed to have caught him off guard. “Then you are a twin.”

“I’m not,” Alijda assured.

“Then you are a liar, or I am mistaken, neither of which bode well for our continuing to converse,” the man decided. He lay back down.

Alijda frowned, pushing away from the wall. This seemed like more than a simple misunderstanding. “Okay, hold up. Someone of my description was asking questions a week ago?”

The man did not answer, choosing instead to continue staring at the ceiling.

Alijda resisted the urge to sigh in exasperation. The trouble was, “Epsilon” had a limited time travel capability. She had seen it in action on the “Full Scale Invasion” mission, where a message had been sent back in time. Then she had been personally impacted by the problem of having experienced months, against Kat’s few hours, at her second encounter with the man.

Was something going to happen that necessitated continuing her investigation in the past? Or was time going to somehow fracture in the future?

“How about this third option then,” Alijda stated. “That wasn’t me, but may have been my spiritual form. It escapes me when I sleep. So I’d kind of like to know what went on.”

The man did turn back to her at that. He sized her up again. “There is more to you than meets the eye,” he said after a moment. “But this was not second hand information. I saw you personally, speaking with a friend of mine. Granted, with a different shirt and mask, but you were not spectral.”

“Impersonator then. I’m just that important.”

He slowly nodded. “That might also explain my young friend’s new ability.”

A lengthy pause followed, where he seemed to be hoping that Alijda would let something slip about the conversation she hadn’t yet had. “I hope my double was able to help him with it?” she said at last.

“Mmm. Like so many of the new abilities, the magic came with a dark side,” the man elaborated. “He can now see flashes of another person’s future. And yet, he was not able to perceive anything with you in the same way.”

Alijda tried not to let her frustration show. “Well, that wasn’t even me, so all this means is that my doppelgänger was not in control of her future, or something.”

Inwardly, she now wondered whether an upcoming temporal glitch was even “Epsilon” related. And she rather hoped that she had enough anti-depressant medications secreted away in the sole of her shoe to handle a few extra days, were things about to go sideways, throwing her into the past.

“Or perhaps your future is so bizarre that it could not be perceived,” the man said. “At any rate, perhaps it is to our benefit that I explain. You were asking him about–”

Without warning, the wall behind Alijda vaporized into nothing, and they could hear many people outside screaming.

“Free the people!”

“Defund the police!”

“Work your magic!”

The older man was immediately on his feet. “Jailbreak time. Another day, perhaps,” he stated to Alijda, before running out of the opening and towards the nearby crowd.

“Wait, what the… damn it,” she cursed, unable to take it all in at once. The brother and sister couple had been roused and were also rising to their feet. Moreover, it sounded like the police were running down the hall, but the chanting was very disruptive.

Alijda quickly jogged after the mystery man, but spotting him became impossible as a cloudy gas covered the area, making her eyes water.

“Well, if this virus was brought in from an exterior dimension, it’s sure as heck causing colossal issues for this planet,” she muttered.

With one hand rubbing her eyes and the other thrust out in front of her to push people aside, Alijda was able to get through the crowd, to a point where she felt like she could do a couple of quick teleports to escape.

***

“Everything okay?”

Para had decided to speak up after seeing Fate stare at the computer monitor for at least two minutes without moving. Even after Para’s interruption, the ponytailed woman still didn’t move right away.

At last, a palm was slammed down on a console in frustration, before Fate turned away from the auxiliary control computers to face her. “No. Can I help you?”

Para felt her bunny ears twitch. “That was going to be my question to you.”

“Right.” Fate pressed a hand to her forehead, leaning back against the computer banks. “Right,” she repeated. “Thing is, I don’t know. Nothing makes sense, and I hate that.”

Para clasped her hands behind her back. “I’m a good listener?”

“You are,” Fate agreed. She ran her hand down her face. “Fine. Let’s recap. We’ve got Smoke, a virus that crosses dimensions and seems to affect both humans and technology, but not nature.”

“Have you confirmed technology, outside of Beam herself?”

“Mostly,” Fate answered. “From our recent readings off tech world, they’re having computer glitches. It’s partly why we wanted additional data from fantasy world, to cover the nature angle. But with that, Alijda’s giving us some new temporal connection.”

“The report about someone seeing her before she arrived, I read that.”

“Did you?” Fate frowned. “Remind me to double check your clearance. Though, this kind of clears up one mystery. Trixie was right to have us investigate our own investigation. Alice never tripped a scan. The scan was triggered through an encrypted communication we received. Possibly one we’ll send to ourselves, in the past.”

“Meaning we’re trying to help ourselves out somehow.”

“Except NO,” Fate said, the exasperation returning to her voice, “as we’re now synched alongside three worlds, which makes implementing actual time travel near impossible. So when are we going to send it? Meanwhile, we have no active artifact mission, and yet I’ve brought three of you civilians on board to assist in research. Feels like a flagrant violation of the rules.”

Para considered that. “This ‘Smoke’ may not be a physical artifact, but it IS something out of place dimensionally,” she pointed out. “Doesn’t that justify my being here, to help with vector analysis?”

“Yeah, loophole,” Fate grumbled. “Along with Trixie to tackle the mystery, and Alijda as her tech backup.” She shook her head. “At this point, maybe I should bring in even more people, to get their opinions… but if they don’t see whatever we’re missing, I’ll have had no justification for it.”

“Isn’t providing backup to Alijda and Alice on their pandemic worlds justification enough?”

At that, Fate hesitated. “Maybe?” she yielded. “Except we may want to recall Alijda anyway, since her investigation is dead-ending and everything we have is pointing back at Bunny World instead.”

Para shrugged. “If you think having Alijda here would help, I see no reason to–”

“But then, Beam’s coming out of quarantine. Maybe we should give her a new mission, to try and keep handling this ‘in house’ as much as possible,” Fate concluded. She put her hands on her hips. “If it was your call, what would you do?”

OPTIONS:

VOTING CLOSES ON MONDAY JULY 20th THURS JULY 23rd?

Previous INDEX 6 Next

PATHS NOT TAKEN:
Had Para gone to Tech world, we would have seen some link to ‘Clover Enterprises’, which Alice was talking about in Part 2. Had we waited for more from Alice, we would have expanded the situation on the main planet (possibly even time skipped) while introducing a research character or two. Any tie would have involved multiple scenarios. As it is, we got Alijda with another mystery, but it’s one I’ve been considering how to inject for a while.

EXTRA ASIDE:
Left the vote open for over twelve days; could have closed it after three. Thanks to the one person who was able to vote! With the late close, I thought I’d write through the weekend, but found it’s easier during the week (with Daycare open). Hence this part being late. Hopefully someone notices and has time to keep reading. Have a good one!

4.16: Fate’s Wide Wheel

Previous INDEX 4 To Story 5

EPSILON DELTA, PART SIXTEEN: FATE’S WIDE WHEEL

Kat had been fine with doing a controlled firebombing of Compton’s camp, up until the point that he heard Alice on his communicator say, “Everyone. Get out. Get out now, NOW, N–”

Kat’s first instinct wasn’t to run, but rather to flatten himself down on the ground where he stood on the edge of the clearing. He was pretty sure he couldn’t run fast enough, and besides, the purple smoke he could see implied that Alijda had just teleported herself back in to get Beam. He tried to bend the fire of the exploding tent around and away from that location.

The mystic shockwave was a surprise.

Kat wasn’t sure whether things happened in the blink of an eye, or whether he actually lost consciousness. Either way, the next thing he knew, everyone in the clearing was flat on the ground. Except Compton. The short, bearded man was now standing rigidly, quietly, instead of bellowing about getting Destiny back. Then a smile flickered over his face.

Kat didn’t like that.

Firestorm charged in from the other side of the clearing. Kat winced, but decided not to intercede yet. Curiously, as Firestorm hummed and released a fireball towards Compton, the short man simply watched it approach. That is, until it was almost right in front of him, at which point he raised his palm, whistled – and the fireball bounced. Firestorm dove to the side and rolled as it came back towards him, causing Kat to wonder how much the cloaked man could be affected by his own attacks.

Kat took advantage of the distraction, crawling into the clearing, staying low to the ground. Alijda, Beam and the henchman who’s been holding onto Beam were all in the same general area. Hopefully they were merely unconscious, as it beat the alternative.

“Oh, this is brilliant,” Compton said, his smile becoming a smirk. “All I need now is more power. Hmmm, and what’s this aura I sense…”

Kat froze as Compton began to stride towards him – but it was Beam that Compton reached for, grabbing her by the arm and hauling the blonde up to her feet.

“Whuhhhh?” Beam warbled, the holographic girl seeming as dazed by the blast as any of them. She barely managed to stay upright as Compton began to drag her back towards the location of the stone circle. The location of the dimensional weakness.

Compton then began to whistle continuously, eyeing both Firestorm and Kat, as if to make it clear that he knew they were there, and not to do anything stupid. Beam moaned and tried to push Compton away as he reached his destination, but the man simply gripped her by the ear instead, whistling louder as Beam slumped down to the ground.

Kat remained where he was, trying to analyze the situation. Was Compton somehow draining Beam’s batteries using his magic? To what end? Compton pointed down. To weaken the dimensions? Firestorm tried to attack while their adversary’s attention was diverted – but again, his fireball bounced off an invisible wall.

“Damn it,” Kat said. He helped that attack burn itself out, before it could cause any major damage. He was getting good at that of late, given how they’d been trying to restrict the effects of their fire attacks to the clearing itself.

“Oh, you thought I had to be watching you to bounce your attacks back?” Compton snarked, ceasing his whistle. “How wrong you are. No, no, this power, awakened in me by that explosion, you have no chance of defeating it. Not with such pathetic attacks. And soon, I’ll have bled out enough energy from this strange one” – he jerked Beam’s head by the ear – “to gain full mental control over this mystic doorway! You hear that, Destiny, wherever you are? You’ll rue the day you crossed me, make no mistake!”

Compton resumed whistling.

However, having been reminded of the fact that Fate had been brought to safety reinvigorated Kat. Moreover, he knew Rose and Alice were still out there too, likely working on a plan. They simply needed to regroup. Kat resumed heading for Alijda.

He had managed to ascertain that Alijda was fine, but unlikely to regain consciousness any time soon, when Compton resumed his gloating.

“Ha ha! I can feel it happening,” Compton shouted in delight. “Control over this mystical gateway. Soon, I will be unstoppable!” He began to whistle louder.

That had happened faster than Kat had anticipated. Was another shockwave imminent? Firestorm began pushing himself to his feet; he looked to Kat for guidance.

Kat shook his head. They didn’t have enough information here. Maybe, after talking to Fate, they could reverse whatever Compton was about to do…? They certainly couldn’t manage it if they were left unconscious. Kat motioned at Firestorm to leave the clearing as he grasped for Alijda’s shoulders.

Which is when Rose ran in.

“Rose, run away!” Kat shouted.

Instead, Rose stopped and stood her ground about five metres away from Compton, issuing him a warning. So was this part of a plan? As Rose’s body seemed to double, and then double again, Kat had to assume it was, resisting the urge to gape. Did Rose have magic? Or was it holograms, maybe?

Whatever it was, it got Compton’s attention enough to free Beam, tossing her aside. But then, they had to assume Compton already had enough energy to enact his plans by now. Four sets of Rose cracked their knuckles. Then three of them rushed at him – as the fourth doubled back towards the treeline.

Okay, this HAD to be a plan.

Kat exchanged a glance with Firestorm (who was looking rather dumbfounded), then pushed himself up, running towards Compton himself. It had just occurred to him that they had only tried magical means of bringing him down. Perhaps Rose’s reasoning was that he was still vulnerable to a left hook.

His belief lasted only as long as it took to see one of the Roses try to punch Compton’s shoulder, her fist bouncing off an invisible wall, making her hit herself instead. From behind, another Rose tried to kick Compton’s legs out from under him, only to hit a similar barrier, and end up falling over herself.

The third Rose paused, then stuck out her tongue, stuck her thumbs in her ears and wiggled her fingers in the air. Provoking him? Because maybe Compton couldn’t maintain his defence while using an offensive power?

Kat honestly wasn’t sure what the plan was here any more. He stopped running, hoping someone would clue him in.

Compton seemed equally unsure of how to deal with Rose. He took a step forwards, swinging for the Rose who was taunting. She ducked out of the way, pulling SecondRose back up onto her feet as she moved. The third Rose, shaking out her hand, screamed down at the stone circle on the ground, and abruptly there were two circles there.

“You meddling…” Compton’s growl trailed off as he reached back and pulled some sort of switchblade out of his pocket.

“Oh, we’re doing physical violence here?” SecondRose snarked. “Because you don’t have the magic skills of your father?”

With a yell of rage, Compton slashed at ThirdRose, the teenager only just managing to duck and roll out of the way, audibly muttering, “oh, flûte”.

Kat was now headed for Firestorm. “The diary,” he called out. If this was all connected back to Fate’s abduction, there had to be some information there. “Is there a symbol we can use against him?”

“Uh, no, there was no handling of an invincible guy with a blade section,” Firestorm countered, pulling the book out of his robes and shaking it at him.

“Compton’s not invincible,” one of the Roses called out.

“All he can do here is absorb or reflect,” another Rose agreed.

“Watch him reflect my power,” ThirdRose added. She sang a note, and then there were four Roses running around Compton again.

“I will END you!” Compton said, lunging for a Rose. He managed to slice through part of her shirt, making her yelp.

Kat snatched the diary out of Firestorm’s hands and started running back towards the fight. “Hey, instead of beating up on girls, why not face off with me? I’ve got a book here with ALL of Destiny’s secrets in it. You want it?”

Everybody paused at that.

“Kat, do you know what you’re doing?” a Rose asked.

He looked back at her. “Do you?” he challenged. Because he was pretty sure he’d worked out their plan by now. To keep Compton away from the gateway, and to stall for time. He held Fate’s diary aloft.

“Give me that book,” Compton said.

“Say please,” Kat requested.

“Give it to me NOW,” Compton insisted.

“Wow, I can see why you’re not great at running a business,” Kat observed. “You can’t even follow simple instructions.”

Two of the Roses giggled. Compton looked like he was about to burst a blood vessel somewhere. “You think I don’t know some of my dad’s spells?” the shorter man screamed. “Hand that over, or I will use them. I will END you! All of you!”

“Hey, know what’s at the heart of this?” SecondRose mused. “Father issues. Paige had ‘em too. Find your own path separate from your father, Compton. Be your own person.”

Compton turned to glare at her. He had been letting out the occasional low whistle whenever he hadn’t been speaking. Now he whistled higher, and louder, and he started gesturing towards SecondRose. She placed her hands on her hips.

Compton gestured towards her. SecondRose’s head snapped back, and with a shocked look on her face, she fell to the ground – and vanished. The other Roses in the area staggered for a moment.

Kat almost shouted out ‘What did you do?’, but from the expression on Compton’s face, he seemingly hadn’t expected that result either.

“You think you’re so tough? Try that again!” shouted a Rose.

“Rose, what are you–” Kat cut himself off, as another Rose standing behind Compton raised an index finger and shook her head. Compton repeated his series of whistles and movements, and moments later, another Rose was gone.

Compton turned back to Kat. “Now, give me the book,” he declared. “Or another of your friends gets it.”

“Oh, no, no, please, do that once more first,” a Rose croaked out. “We almost got it that time.”

Compton obliged her. Moments later, the only people standing in the clearing were Compton, Kat, Firestorm, and one last copy of Rose. Or possibly she was the original Rose, and the Rose now returning to the clearing with Fate was the copy. Kat cleared his throat to keep Compton’s focus on him.

“Here’s the thing,” Kat said. “I’ve made a copy of the important pages here. If anything happens to me, a friend of mine will bring them to the police.”

“If you’re pinning your hopes on them, you must be desperate,” Compton observed. “Now stop wasting time and give me that book.”

“This book? Or the REAL book, which I have hidden back in the bushes?”

Compton shook his fist at Kat. “If you persist in these games, you WILL face the same fate as those redheads.“

“Actually,” came a new voice, tired but with a hard edge to it. “I’m the Fate you need to be worried about right now.”

Compton spun. Fate was now ten metres away from him. “Destiny. Have you finally come to your senses? Will you serve me?”

Both Roses moved to flank Fate, as the blonde spat into the ground. Then Fate began to trace something there with a stick she was carrying. “The spell for scrambling minds,” she remarked. “The one known by Compton Senior, the one that allowed him to abduct people. He was always so secretive about it, I was never able to figure out how it worked. Until now.”

Compton smirked. “You hope to try it against me? After I used it to dispel the doubling magic of this redhead? Fool, I can bounce it right back at you. You’ll lose your own mind.”

Fate looked back up at him. “Oh, no. No, because my spell will be stronger than the version you’ve been throwing around.”

Rose raised her hand and wiggled her fingers. “Hi. I’m Algebra. I multiply things.”

Compton’s smile morphed into a glare. “You stupid women. Even now, you do not understand my true power.”

“Still seems to be ‘reflect’ or ‘absorb’ to me,” the other Rose reiterated. “More to the point, for as long as you’re on reflect, we can do this.” She clapped her hand onto Fate’s shoulder, sang a note, and then abruptly there was another copy of both Rose and Fate, sketching on the ground. Then another.

“Meaning as long as you’re on reflect,” the Roses chorused. “We’re powering up.” More versions appeared, starting to form a circle around Compton. “The question becomes, are you man enough to absorb what Fate throws at you without succumbing? Or are you going to remain in the shadow of your father forever?”

Kat could have sworn Compton’s face went purple. And with a dozen Fates arranged in a half circle around the angry man, Rose’s notes ceased to be effective in creating any more copies.

“Now,” Rose whispered.

Fate began to chant the same phrase Compton had used earlier, but while he had punctuated his with whistles, Fate simply made her voice sound melodious. It wasn’t a happy melody, in fact Kat could pick up on an undercurrent of sadness and resentment, but it got the job done faster than Compton’s attempt to do the same.

As they finished, the Fates jabbed their sticks at the symbols on the ground. The area began to glow with a white light, and Compton let out a shriek. Kat was forced to look away from the brightness, and when he did turn back… Compton was still standing there. Looking stunned. And the only Rose and Fate in the area were lying on the ground, unconscious.

Fearing the worst, that their opponent had withstood the attack, Kat closed the distance to Compton, pulled back his free arm, and clocked the short man hard in the jaw. Compton crumpled to the ground without resistance, joining everyone else in the land of unconsciousness.

Well, almost everyone else.

“We win,” Beam chirped, from where she was still crumpled, unmoving, on the ground. “Now what. Are the chances. I could get. My own copy. Of Rose. To bring home. With me?”

Firestorm laughed. Kat’s communicator crackled back to life seconds later.

***

“This was probably not the dinner you envisioned,” Kat admitted.

Alijda smiled at him from across the table. “It’s not the location that matters. It was more about getting to know each other a little better.”

They had spent the last hour or so catching up on things in the Epsilon Station’s small cafeteria. This after having spent a couple of days completing paperwork after the mission, not to mention undergoing some tests to ensure there wouldn’t be any lingering issues after the mystic shockwave.

Firestorm had offered to take charge of dealing with Compton and the police down on the planet, once Fate (aka Destiny) had made it clear that she wasn’t planning to remain. In the end, Firestorm had decided not to ask more questions, deciding the more he knew, the more trouble he’d be in.

Fate had then helped Alice do a sweep of Compton’s business, confiscating anything dimensional from his records, under the rationale that his memory of such things would be sketchy anyway. It would have been like leaving matches in the hands of a toddler.

They hadn’t located records of anyone else who had once been abducted. And after years of living on the planet without finding anyone herself, Fate reasoned that randomly removing people who believed themselves to be natives might cause more harm than good anyway.

“Right,” Kat agreed. He rubbed his forehead. “I don’t see how this can work though. I’m in the military. I can’t simply disappear.”

“I could,” Alijda said. “Except it’s probably against the rules, plus someone needs to take care of Alice. I’m guessing she’s the one who volunteered to dress as a maid and serve us today?”

“Oh yeah,” Kat agreed. “Have you heard of the anime ‘Kaichou wa Maid-sama’?”[1]

Alijda shook her head. “No, and don’t even start. Back to you. Now that your decades long search for Fate is done, what will you do?”

Kat leaned back in his chair. It was a good question. “I guess I’ll stay hooked into occult matters. Still lots of pretty girls out there I can… not date?” A frown tugged at his features.

Alijda chuckled. “You sound like me when I realize I’ve blithely talked about killing myself.”

“Old habits,” Kat said dryly. “Like anything else, I guess we go forwards one step at a time.”

Alijda nodded. “I guess we do.” She seemed about to say something else, when Fate walked into the room.

Fate had cleaned up nicely, and was wearing a casual shirt and slacks, having pulled her long, blonde hair into a side ponytail. Without looking up from the book in her hands, she called out, “Hey, Alice. Bad news. The– oh, sorry, the computer said Alice was in here.” She seemed a bit chagrined once she took in the scene.

“Hmph. Thank you, Ziggy, thank you VERY much for that,” Alice sighed, popping up from behind the cash register with a sigh. She was still dressed in the maid outfit.

Alijda snapped her gaze over towards her roommate. “You were SPYING on us?”

“I was quietly counting the receipts down here after serving your dessert,” Alice said, leaning her elbows onto the counter with a grin. “And for the record, I can take care of myself, thankyouverymuch.”

“Uh, Alice? This station exists outside of space and time, there should be no receipts there,” Kat pointed out.

Alice nodded sagely. “So I gotta make sure none randomly appear. Cuz that’d be weird.”

“Hey, great news,” Beam said, entering the room behind Fate, dragging Rose along with her. “My lesbian friend here no longer has the desire to lick at my neck whenever she sneezes!”

“Ahem. She means that the police smell tracking thing has worn off,” Rose said, her freckles getting a bit washed out by her reddening cheeks. “So I’m probably clear to leave.”

Beam grinned. “Can I joke about tasting, and which of us is sweeter, as a call back to your comment on the day we met?”

“Not in public,” Rose advised, the roll of her eyes implying Beam’s attitude was no longer getting to her quite as much. “Moreover, there’s been no side effects from my using math powers on that planet, and Alice said that the ability shouldn’t carry over to my normal reality. So yay?”

“Hey, that’s great,” Kat said, giving her a thumbs up. “But guys, me and Alijda were kinda in the midst of…”

Alijda laughed. “Oh, Kat, it’s fine. I think we were pretty much done. Besides, with Rose departing, I’m kind of curious as to who will end up being left in charge.”

Kat double-checked Alijda’s expression, noting her sincerity, before looking back to Rose. She was already looking at him. He nodded slightly at her; they’d had a brief conversation that morning about her possible selection.

Rose took in a deep breath. “Right. Well. Since there might be issues from higher goddesses if I pick either Alice or Beam, I decided that…” She turned. “Fate should be in charge. But, I mean, the others can stick around here to keep her company, and to make sure she doesn’t go crazy or something. If they want. This is okay, yes?”

Fate’s pencil slid out of the spine of her book and fell on the floor. “Oh. I… I was wondering how I’d return home after all this time. So I suppose this… as a transition… that is… I’m honoured.”

“Ooh, I have no problems being under a woman like Fate,” Beam said, her eyes twinkling.

“It’s Fate’s Wide Wheel[2],” Alice mused. She eyed everyone in the room, then face palmed. “Quantum Leap song. From Glitter Rock. Get WITH it, people, sheesh.”

Kat chuckled, then looked back at Fate. “Congratulations. I hope this means we can still keep in touch.” Fate nodded back at him, smiling a bit nervously.

“As to the bad news?” Alijda remarked, pushing her chair back from the table.

Fate blinked. “Oh! Yes. Well.” She tossed her book on the table. “It’s as I always suspected. Compton Senior? He didn’t come across his dimensional knowledge by accident. It was somehow fed to him. By someone else.”

Alice’s expression turned serious as she came around the counter. “That’s impossible. No one on that planet could have had the knowledge.”

“I know,” Fate said. “I didn’t say it was from someone on that planet.”

“Something to do with where the arm came from then?” Rose asked.

Fate shook her head. “Unlikely. The arm appeared later. Possibly as a result of Compton Senior’s efforts. His awareness had to precede that. Somehow, there was a space-time breach, and this Station didn’t know about it. As if the abduction thing wasn’t already a clue to it’s fallibility.”

“So we have a mystery on our hands,” Kat said, frowning.

“One that me and Alice will need get to the bottom of,” Beam decided, crossing her arms. “Now that Fate’s going to be handling the daily station duties.”

“Huh. Will you need our help with any of this?” Alijda wondered.

Fate picked her pencil up off the floor. “Time will tell,” she remarked, tossing it onto the table. “Only time will tell.”

[1] Have a “Maid-Sama!” OP.
[2] Here’s a Doctor Who video with Scott Bakula singing.

END OF STORY 4: EPSILON DELTA

 

Preferred POV character from Story4? (* means ‘voted on at the time’) OPTIONS:

VOTING WILL LIKELY REMAIN OPEN (like the end of every full story)

Previous INDEX 4 To Story 5

PATHS NOT TAKEN:
If Beam had been put back in charge, Alice and Fate would have returned to Alijda and Kat’s worlds respectively. Possibly with a thread of contact, but we know Beam can be rules oriented. If Alice was put back in charge, she would have maintained communications, while Beam would have accompanied Fate back to Kat’s world, to help Fate deal with her experiences. Instead, as seen, we explore the greater mystery (which was always in the cards) with everyone on board.

EXTRA ASIDE:
Thanks for reading! I’ll likely do a “behind the scenes” separate post later, maybe with some stats, and then in 2018 we’ll head into “Virga Mysteries”. Still every two weeks, as there are edits, and I need to devote some time back to my math comic. There’s a Discord comic chat coming up for it in February and I want it to see new material. I’m also now writing monthly for the Time Travel Nexus. So I’m keeping busy.

4.15: Rose to the Occasion

Previous INDEX 4 Next

EPSILON DELTA, PART FIFTEEN: ROSE TO THE OCCASION

Rose watched Alijda as the older brunette woman considered their next move. At last, Alijda stood and moved off of the tarp, rubbing the areas where she’d been tied up. “Well, Firestorm is the resident of this planet,” she concluded. “Might as well go with his plan.”

“Really?” Rose said, surprised. It wasn’t that she had anything against the idea of fire bombing Compton’s supply tent. She had simply expected a plan with more finesse to come up.

“Unless someone else has an objection,” Alijda clarified. “Plus I suppose you are technically still in charge of the Station, Rose. Are you good with us doing this?”

“Oh.” Well, her plan had been kind of shot down by Alice. “Uh, yeah, I suppose.”

“Then I’ll spread the word,” Alice chirped over the communicator. “Because we’ve got to get on this fast. Beam turned on her communicator after Alijda left, so I’m now tuned into the happenings of Compton’s tent. FYI, Ned’s on his way to tell the others that Alijda escaped. He also beat up Beam a little.”

“He did WHAT?” Rose shrieked, one hand clenching into a fist.

“He hath attacked your lady love,” Alice clarified. “Give ‘em hell, Rose.”

ROSEMARY THORNE
Commission from Lia

Rose spun, staring towards the clearing. She couldn’t see it through the underbrush, but knew where it was. In part because Firestorm was sending up balls of fire, and Kat was making them burn up in the air as a distraction, one which was easy to spot in the darkness.

Presumably, the two of them would now start to smash their fire down into the clearing. Destroying Compton’s plans, while sowing enough confusion for Alijda to teleport Fate and Beam to safety. And as they did that, Rose would… watch.

After giving the order, all she could do was watch.

Her hand fell open. “I have no powers. I guess I’ll fold up the tarp here.”

Alijda cleared her throat. “Actually Rose, as much as I don’t want to have to do that blind teleport a second time, it would be good to keep the tarp here. Just in case.”

“Awesome. Means I’m zero help.”

Alijda reached for Rose’s hand, and Rose turned to see the older woman giving her a reassuring smile. “Oh, Rose. You’re the one who got us here. By sniffing out Beam. That helped.”

Rose shrugged. “Except anyone could’ve done it,” she pointed out. “If they’d been the one stamped by the police instead. But it’s cool,” she continued, before Alijda could speak up again. “You’re older and more experienced anyway. Go give ‘em hell on my behalf.”

Rose forced out a smile. Alijda still seemed to hesitate, until Alice’s voice came back over the communicators.

“Beam’s getting clear of the tent,” Alice announced. “Kat and Firestorm are starting their run.”

“Hell incoming,” Alijda assured Rose. She dashed off towards the clearing.

Rose nibbled on her lower lip. She activated her communicator. “Alice, can you let me know when Beam is all safe and sound? I mean, along with everyone else too. Obviously.”

“No problem,” Alice assured her. “If you want, while you’re waiting, you can think about who should take this station back from you. Once the problem’s been dealt with.”

“Oh, right,” Rose groaned. “Can’t it just be Beam again? Or you?”

“The all-knowing dimensional God could object,” Alice reflected. “But then, they might not have a leg to stand on. Given how Beam bringing you in did save the station, and me coordinating here now proves that I would still be an asset.”

“Gods might not even have legs in the first place,” Rose mused.

“They move in mysterious ways,” Alice affirmed. She then continued to hum, “It’s alright, it’s alright, it’s all right. They move in mysterious ways.”

Rose ran her fingers back through her hair. Perhaps almost as important as who she chose for the job would be who she did NOT choose. Because what would Alice or Beam do if they weren’t working on Epsilon? For that matter, was there even anyone else to choose? Alijda had already said she wasn’t interested. What about Kat – or could having him be in charge cause problems for Alijda, putting their relationship into a chain of command.

“Oh, don’t pick a guy to run the place,” Alice added, as if reading her thoughts. “That’d be vetoed. I mean, can you even imagine a male administrator patrolling the multiverse? Ha! Men’s egos can be so fragile. Things would get seriously screwed up.”

Rose chuckled. “What’s that a quote from?”

“Not quoting, it’s just a truism. Oh, hey, hold on. These power readings are spiking, that shouldn’t be…” The humour vanished from her tone. “Everyone. Get out. Get out now, NOW, N–”

There was a blast of feedback from the communicator, making Rose wince and hold her arm out to the side. At the same time, the Earth shook. Moments later some sort of shockwave was projected out from the vicinity of the clearing, knocking Rose back on her ass.

Then things were eerily silent.

Rose did her best to shake it off, though she felt queasy. When she reopened her eyes, she saw a number of leaves and pine needles all around her on the ground, shaken free by the blast. For a moment, it seemed like there were even more trees surrounding her too – until Rose realized she had double vision again. She closed her eyes, counted to three, and when she looked once more, the problem had resolved itself.

Rose scrambled to her feet and ran for the clearing.

She nearly tripped over the blonde woman in the dark, but managed to sidestep her in time. Going down on one knee, Rose quickly felt for a pulse, only to realize that the woman was breathing.

Also, it wasn’t Beam. So with that hair, and more to the point that plain looking dress, it had to be Destiny. Or rather, Fate, the local potion master and Kat’s childhood friend.

“Hey, are you gonna be okay?” Rose asked, gently tapping at the woman’s cheek.

Fate moaned. “Today I’ve been kidnapped, tortured, and caught in a magical explosion, what do you think?” she grumbled. She cracked an eye open. “Who are you, anyway?”

“Rose Thorne,” the redhead said with an uncertain smile. “With Team Beam, trying to take down Compton and save you.”

“Oh, YOU’RE Rose,” Fate muttered. She tried to push herself up.

Rose wasn’t sure how to take that. She glanced back towards the clearing – it was now close enough to be seen through the trees, in fact some of those trees had been bent away from the area – and decided that, for right now, the stranger in front of her had to take precedence over her team. She helped support Fate into a seated position.

“I am indeed,” Rose agreed. “Can I help you?”

“Gimme a second.” Fate pressed her palm against her head, squinting at Rose through the darkness. “Huh. You don’t look like the most amazing lesbian anyone would ever meet, but then me and Beam didn’t have tons of time to talk while Compton was setting up camp.”

“Ah. Well, y’know, I’m not sure how many other lesbians Beam has really met,” Rose said. She hoped she wasn’t blushing foolishly.

Fate chuckled. “Ah, young love. Those were the days.”

Rose rubbed her neck. “So, um, did you get blown back here by that explosion?” she asked, trying to change the subject.

“No,” Fate admitted, lowering her arm. “It was that teleporting woman. She pulled me away from Compton, we appeared here, she said she’d be right back, then she vanished in a purple cloud. Moments later, boom, and I’m on the ground. What happened, did Compton’s tent blow up or something?”

“I think so? At least, that was part of the plan,” Rose admitted. She tapped at her communicator. “Alice? Alice, what happened?” There was no answer.

Fate coughed. “Okay. So, bright side, Compton can’t use his fireworks and other explosives to force open a dimensional portal. Nor can he use his potions and other magical items to force open a dimensional portal. But, down side, I think those two things interacted in a negative way as they were taken out. Hopefully not in a way that opened a dimensional portal.”

“Dimensional portal bad, I get that,” Rose affirmed.

“Bad in the hands of Compton’s damn family is all,” Fate clarified, taking in a long breath.

Rose nodded. “Right. Well, give me a moment, I’ll go see if I can tell what happened.”

Rose began to push herself back to her feet, only to have Fate reach out and grasp her leg. “Wait, let me come,” she requested. “Sounds like you’re cut off from your friends, and I might be able to help diagnose the situation.”

Rose hesitated. Fate was bound to slow them down, but still, the woman had a point.

She reached her arm out. Fate grasped it, and Rose hauled her up to her feet. Fate smiled. “Thanks, Rose. So, do you have a thing for older women at all?”

Rose flinched. “What? No. That is, damn, I’m sure you’re a nice person and all but I didn’t even know you were–”

“Trying to lighten the mood,” Fate finished, interrupting. “Because you seem tense as all get out. Though I suppose the situation warrants it. Sorry, it was a bad joke, let’s get a move on.”

“Right. I knew that, not really,” Rose said.

Apparently Fate had a weird sense of humour. Meaning she’d get along just fine with the rest of the Epsilon team. Actually… what if Fate were put in charge of Epsilon? Could that be a thing? Or would the trauma Fate had suffered here be a deterrent to being in charge? Rose made a mental note to ask Kat about it in private.

Assuming Kat was still okay after the mystical explosion.

The two of them crept closer to the clearing.

The first thing Rose saw was the bodies. Since the clearing was still magically lit, they were hard to miss. She started to charge in closer, only to have Fate grasp her shoulder, preventing the motion. “That can’t be good,” she muttered.

Rose turned to see what Fate was looking at. That’s when she saw what had to be Compton.

The short man with the scruffy beard was standing and whistling some distance away from the bodies, with one hand pointed at the ground. His other held Beam up by the ear. The blonde hologram was slumped on the ground, her eyes open, but seemingly blank. Rose’s hands had curled back into fists before she realized it.

Yet charging in was the wrong course of action. Rose shrugged off Fate’s grip, gliding behind the nearest tree, peering around it to get a better look at the situation.

The bodies she’d seen were those of Alijda and one of Compton’s henchmen. She now saw that Kat, Firestorm, and the other henchman were also lying prone on the ground. Before Rose could ask herself if they were okay, Compton turned to look down at something, and Firestorm was moving.

The cloaked man sat up, thrusting his arm forward and letting out a humming noise. A fireball appeared in the air, streaking towards Compton.

It bounced off an invisible wall, flying back in the direction it had come.

“Damn it,” Kat said. Rose watched as Firestorm rolled away, with the fireball striking the ground and quickly burning itself out as Kat stared at it.

“Oh, you thought I had to be watching you to bounce your attacks back?” Compton snarked, ceasing his whistle. “How wrong you are. No, no, this power, awakened in me by that explosion, you have no chance of defeating it. Not with such pathetic attacks. And soon, I’ll have bled out enough energy from this strange one” – he jerked Beam’s head by the ear – “to gain full mental control over this mystic doorway!”

“Well, that’s bad,” Fate muttered near Rose’s ear.

Compton turned to look at some trees. “You hear that, Destiny, wherever you are? You’ll rue the day you crossed me, make no mistake!”

“That’s worse,” Fate added. Compton resumed whistling.

Rose turned to face the older woman. “Can you work some of your symbol magic to stop him?”

“Hmph. If he were unconscious, maybe,” Fate said. “Seems like he’d resist most anything right now. I don’t suppose you have magic abilities that would knock him out?”

Rose shook her head. “I have zip all for magic. Unless you count the tracking spell the cops gave me.”

Fate frowned. “Oh? That’s bizarre. The police would only have given you that ability if you already had major magic potential. And even if it was dormant, that blast wave would have triggered something for you, since it also did for Compton… Rose, did you feel anything after the wave hit?”

“Nauseous,” Rose said. “And I also saw double for a bit, but that happened after I got stamped in the police station too. Oh, and earlier, in your place. I’m probably overexerting myself or something.”

“I don’t think so,” Fate said, her eyes widening. “Were you in the presence of strong magic each time you saw double?”

“Uh, I guess?” Rose realized. The protection spell, the tracking spell, and the explosion did make three for three. “Why is that important?”

“Because it means the magic inside you is resonating with your surroundings,” Fate explained. “I’m pretty sure it’s the same sort of resonance which allows for my occult symbols to work more tangibly on this Earth. In fact, if you’re not careful, the magical backlash could lead to you feeling kind of drunk.”

“Oh, now someone warns me,” Rose muttered.

Fate grasped her by the shoulders. “Rose, this is great. If you’re seeing double, you might actually have the power to double the things you see, be it temporarily, or as an illusion.” She frowned. “If only we could somehow coordinate your ability with my symbols…”

“Ha ha! I can feel it happening,” Compton shouted in delight. “Control over this mystical gateway. Soon, I will be unstoppable!” He began to whistle louder.

Rose snapped her gaze back towards the clearing. It looked like Kat had crawled over to Alijda to check on her. Perhaps hoping that her teleport ability would be able to get to Compton, but she remained unconscious. Firestorm was pushing himself to his feet, but he looked unsteady. And Beam, poor Beam looked catatonic.

With still no word from Alice, it was up to Rose. Rose, and her doubling ability. Which honestly, she should have recognized sooner – after all, she had once been Algebra, capable of multiplying emotions. Was this so different?

Rose turned back to Fate. “Could I also duplicate living matter?”

Fate blinked, lowering her arms. “I don’t know.”

An idea was forming. “Tell me how to activate my magic here.”

“It’s different for everyone. But it is sound based. Humming, whistling, even the sound of a sneeze can trigger something under the correct conditions.”

Sneezing, that would probably just turn her nose on. But vocal notes, as a choir member, Rose knew all about those. She thought back to the scream she’d used when rushing into Fate’s home, the first time she’d experienced her double vision. It would do.

“Okay, Fate. If this works, just tell one of me how to coordinate with your symbols. If it doesn’t, um, avenge me.”

“One of you? Rose, what–”

Rose evaded Fate’s outstretched hand, dodging around the tree trunks to emerge into the clearing, jogging towards Compton.

“Hmmmm, what have we here?” Compton said, again ceasing his whistling as he turned to look at her.

“Rose, run away!” Kat shouted.

Rose stopped and stood her ground about five metres away from Compton. She could now see that the hand he had pointing down was directed at some sort of stone circle, which was engraved with a clover.

“Here’s your only warning,” Rose said, raising her own hand to point, while wishing her arm wasn’t shaking. “Stop what you’re doing, and let your hostage go.”

Compton smirked back. “Or else what?”

Rose drew in a breath, tried to envision multiplication, and screamed at approximately a middle C. As expected, Compton reacted as he had with the fireball, and bounced her spell back. At least, she assumed that’s what had happened, as she felt not only her vision doubling, but everything else about her as well.

She took a step to the left, as she simultaneously took a step to the right.

Both Roses felt a little queasy at that, but she immediately screamed again, to take advantage of Compton’s confusion.

“What trickery is this?” Compton demanded, as Rose became four. Apparently sensing that he had an actual fight on his hands, he released Beam’s ear, throwing her aside as he took a step closer to one of the Roses.

Rose began to circle left, even as she circled right, each version vaguely aware that only the Rose second from the left had any real permanence. Yet her other selves knew they didn’t feel like an illusion, so for as long as they were around, well, perhaps it was time to test out their self defence courses.

“You’re about to find out,” the Roses chorused as one.

A faint giggle came from the ground as Beam’s eyes refocussed. “Ooooh. You. Pissed. Off. My. Girl. Friend.”

Four sets of Rose cracked their knuckles.

WHAT’S NEXT?

Who will be taking over the Epsilon Project? OPTIONS:

VOTING CLOSES NOON EST SATURDAY DECEMBER 16th

Previous INDEX 4 Next

PATHS NOT TAKEN:
Scaring Compton et al away with “gods” would have been the more problematic choice, given Beam’s reservations and the fact that Compton had nothing to lose. He’d have held fast, opened the portal and tried to bleed off magic, complicating things. Had they tried to close off the dimensions, an evil wizard would have come through the rift first, forcing Compton to team up with them to defeat the guy. As it was, we got Compton gaining powers.

THE ORACLE PROPHESIED:
The double vision cauldron of Part 7 was a throwaway item for me to use anywhere, if I wanted. For all I knew then, it was specific to the item, or the location. But when Part 9’s vote picked Rose to be deputized, and the double vision returned in Part 10 (“see deuce”), Rose’s specific brand of magic became all but inevitable. The oracle did not prophesize Rose doubling herself here, but hey, whatever works.

EXTRA ASIDE:
I’m pretty sure we’re down to one last instalment, which will be posted over the holidays. Then we’ll go into whatever got selected out of this post, because it doesn’t make much sense to have a runoff vote now (most everything is tied). So, go vote again on your fave? It renews every week. In other news, “Time & Tied”’s rerun has finished on RRL, and there were some character votes there, if you felt like contributing or seeing results in the final post. Thanks as always for reading here; I’m blown away by there being 7 votes for a second time running.