Beam

4.16: Fate’s Wide Wheel

Previous INDEX 4 —-

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 —-

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.

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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.

4.14: Tied and True

Previous INDEX 4 Next

EPSILON DELTA, PART FOURTEEN: TIED AND TRUE

“Wondering about Kat?”

Alijda looked up at the remark by Rose. While waiting for Kat to return from his scouting mission, Alijda had taken to leaning back against a tree, her arms crossed. She fired off a reassuring smile at the redhead. “I’m sure he can take care of himself just fine.”

“Oh, I know,” Rose said, clasping her hands behind her back. She leaned forwards a little. “I said wondering, not worrying.”

Alijda felt her smile becoming more of a smirk. “Ooh. First Alice, now you, huh?” she remarked, more amused than anything else. “Fear not. The two of us are possibly doing dinner, so there’s nothing more for anyone to wonder OR worry about.”

“Possibly doing?” Rose prompted.

Alijda shrugged. “We literally do not live on the same Earth. Makes reunions awkward. The weird thing is how, despite knowing that, I haven’t been able to simply forget about him. So I guess we’ll see what happens.” She gave Rose a pointed look. “Something you may want to consider regarding Beam.”

Rose seemed to pinken, though it was difficult to be sure now that the sun had set. “Nice deflection, but I hadn’t planned on forgetting about Beam.”

“You just hope to forget about the relationship issues she sparked.”

Rose pulled back and looked away.

Alijda quickly moved to grasp the young girl by the shoulder. “Hey, not judging,” she said. “Not by a long shot. Goodness knows I don’t know how to react to anyone who shows an interest in me, romantically or otherwise. It’s only, heads up, Beam is something you’ll need to deal with before this is over. And you might not have a lot of time to decide on a path, depending on how things play out. You know that, yes Rose?”

She sighed. “Yeah. Plus I’ve got to pawn off this Station Commander role onto someone else too.” Rose crinkled her nose. “Do you think, if I gave it back to Beam, that she’d be able to email into my dimension or whatever? Because I could see having her as a pen pal going forwards. If she doesn’t hate my guts after that rant I gave her.”

“Hm! That’s not a bad idea,” Alijda reflected. “Even if Beam’s not in charge, I might be able to hack something together.” She wiggled her eyebrows as she pulled her arm back. “All you’ll need to do find a way to explain to your girlfriend why your new blonde pen pal keeps emailing you images of herself in sexy lingerie. I’ve heard that’s a tradition where Beam’s from.”

Rose’s eyes went wide. The mixed look of fear and confusion on her face gradually morphed into one of chagrin as she saw Alijda’s expression. “Oh. You’re joking. Um, right?”

“Mostly,” Alijda said. “Just remember, Beam’s ways are not your ways, plus she’s a hologram to boot. Don’t be afraid to set ground rules.”

“For sure,” Rose agreed, rubbing her neck.

“If you two ladies are done chit chatting, I can hear Kat coming back,” Firestorm remarked dryly, walking past them.

“Oh golly, we’ll swap makeup tips some other time then,” Alijda deadpanned. Rose let out a quick laugh. Firestorm didn’t seem to notice.

The three of them walked over to meet Kat as he approached through the underbrush.

“So Compton and Co are up to something,” Kat concluded after giving them a quick rundown of what he’d seen at the clearing. “The question is, how do we stop whatever this guy is up to, while also spiriting Beam and Fate out of there safely.”

“You’re sure the Destiny woman was your Fate?” Alijda verified, searching Kat’s expression. His voice had caught when describing her. Would his personal stake in things become an issue?

“I’m sure,” Kat said, clenching his jaw. “We’ve got to save her.”

“Should that be our priority though?” Rose asked.

Kat rounded on her, his body tensing, and the young girl shrank back in surprise. Alijda reached out to touch Kat’s shoulder.

“Please clarify?” she asked gently, looking at Rose.

Rose cleared her throat. “Um. Just, seems like this Compton guy feels he has something to prove. What if removing Fate, his key source of information, drives him into doing a boneheaded thing later on instead of backing down?”

“In which case I’d hope your plans don’t involve you simply waltzing away,” Firestorm grumbled.

“You’re right, Rose,” Alijda agreed. “We do need more information before we act.” She released Kat’s shoulder as she felt his posture relaxing. Though his jaw remained clenched.

“Do you know anything more about Compton’s intentions?” Kat asked, looking at Firestorm.

“No. I’m not the font of knowledge you seem to think I am,” the planetary resident insisted.

“We need to talk to Beam,” Rose put in. “I mean, wasn’t her whole plan to learn more? She doesn’t know we’re out here now, worried. She might have real good ideas, if we can get to her, as she’s seen this guy up close.”

“Another good point,” Alijda yielded. “The question is, how can anyone get to Beam when she’s in that tent, without causing Compton to overreact?”

They exchanged glances. Kat sighed. “I have a thought,” he admitted. “But I don’t like it, because it involves putting someone else in danger.”

“Let’s hear it anyway,” Alijda said.

***

When Alijda teleported into the clearing, she made a point of trying to arrive near the spot that Kat said Compton had been pointing at earlier. That helped her to see the stone circle on the ground, two steps away, with some sort of engraving on it. Possibly a four leaf clover? Interesting.

She didn’t have much time to think about it though, because her presence in the purple cloud of smoke had attracted everyone’s attention in the area. She raised her hands into the air as Compton’s security guy pointed a gun at her.

“Oh, golly!” Alijda said, trying to put a quaver into her voice. “What happened? However did I get here? What’s going on?”

Compton, the shorter man with the beard, had been in the process of doing something with a potion, looming over Destiny, who was on the ground. Or rather, Fate – Alijda supposed she should start thinking of the woman that way. They hadn’t been sure what Compton had been trying to accomplish from the edge of the clearing, but Alijda saw it now. He’d been cutting Fate with a knife, then applying a healing potion, as some sort of torture technique.

Alijda hated the guy immediately. She forced her expression to remain neutral.

Compton pulled Fate back to her feet, pointing at Alijda. “How is this possible?” he demanded of her. “How can people be coming through that thing before I’ve fully opened it?!”

“I still don’t know, and even if I did, I wouldn’t tell you,” Fate said tearfully. She spat at his feet.

Bonus points to Fate. Alijda took a few steps forwards, her arms still up, to help pull everyone’s gaze back to her. “Can you send me back now?” she asked. “I’d hate to be late for my CyberArm class.”

Only Alijda noticed Fate’s eyes widen slightly. She the woman gave a hopeful smile in response.

“Stop where you are,” Compton’s man said, waggling his gun to arrest Alijda’s forward motion.

“Hey, Ned,” Compton called out at the same time. “Bring more rope out here, we’ve got another one.”

In less than a minute, Ned had emerged, and Alijda had had her arms bound behind her. She was then pulled towards the tent. “I can walk,” she said, petulantly.

“You can shut up,” Ned countered. He pushed her inside and she nearly fell on her face.

The tent was big enough to fit four people comfortably, and contained a few rolled up sleeping bags, implying that Compton had planned on camping out for a while. Granted, that could be due to his coming into the area from another town. The open container of potions and what looked like a supply of fireworks was a bit harder to explain away. Compton had a plan, but what was it?

“Oh!” was Beam’s only exclamation as Ned marched in behind Alijda, pushing her over next to the holographic girl.

Alijda fired off a smile at Beam as Ned got busy tying up her legs. “Hi again. Rose is worried about you,” she remarked.

Beam looked away. “No,” she sighed. “Rose hates–”

“–being drunk,” Alijda finished. “It makes her say silly things she regrets. Gotta get used to us humans being irrational, Beam.”

Beam turned back, a hopeful look on her face. Ned stood up and brushed off his hands. “Do I have to gag you, girlie? Or will you shut up?” he asked.

Alijda glared at him. “Do I have to spell out the fact that we know each other and obviously came from the same place? Or does your boss not care to have that information?”

Ned glared back. He looked from her, to the front of the tent, and back. Then he reached into a nearby pack, pulling out a towel. Stuffing one corner of it into Alijda’s mouth, he then turned and walked back outside.

Alijda gave his back a nasty look. She turned back towards Beam, glancing down at the towel which was protruding from between her lips, which she couldn’t easily spit out. Beam leaned in close, grabbing the material between her own teeth, and she pulled it free. Alijda tried to spit out the aftertaste.

“At least these guys are idiots,” she said.

CHIBI BEAM
Commission from Gen Ishihara

“Which is bad,” Beam insisted. “Very bad, considering what they know and what they’re attempting.”

Alijda caught the undercurrent of fear in Beam’s tone. “Okay. I’m all ears, and ready to teleport away again with the information,” she said.

Beam glanced towards the tent flap.

“Don’t worry, Kat and Firestorm are ready with a distraction to buy us more time if we need,” Alijda insisted. “What have you found out?”

Beam nodded. “Right. Well, you’ll need the backstory. I learned it when they left me and Destiny together while they were setting up camp. She told me it all started with Compton’s father. A man who abducted people from other worlds, recruiting them to work here, for him.”

Alijda flinched. “Wait. So Destiny – who is Fate, by the way – was abducted?”

Beam nodded again. “Compton Sr. had some way of scrambling people’s minds, giving them false histories so they wouldn’t want to go back home. But it didn’t work on Dest– Fate,” Beam corrected herself. “Possibly because she carried her own ward of protection. She even escaped from him. Tried to get local authorities to go after Compton Senior, but her story was too fantastical, and he was too influential. Plus the guy was smart, shutting down his activities when she began pointing fingers.”

“Damn. So he was a successful businessman largely due to illicit abductions from other magical worlds,” Alijda reasoned. “Did he take items as well as people?”

“Probably. So, this left Fate resigned to living out her days here, because it didn’t seem like anyone knew of other Earths at all. Of course, she did try to find people living here who might be like her, creating her club of people with powers not-quite-right for this world. But she never told them her history, fearing they might simply be locals with quirks.”

Alijda frowned. “But then why would Compton’s son now be–” It came to her. “He inherited everything when his dad passed away. He must have found information in his dad’s records, and wants to start this whole portal thing back up. To become a success story. Hoping Fate can fill in any missing pieces towards re-activating it.”

“Bingo. And he got to Fate using that Ned guy,” Beam added. “Managed to get him on her list, then boom, abduction.”

“And the cyber arm?” Alijda wondered.

Beam made a shrugging motion. “Fate found it in the clearing one day. After all, this apparently IS a dimensional weak point. She didn’t want to leave it around for anyone else to find, but hoped that despite removing it, it would phase back into her world at some future time. Hence the symbol she placed on it.”

Alijda nodded, and was about to ask another question, when there were a couple of shouts from outside the tent.

“Damn, we’re almost out of time,” she realized. “Beam, do you know how best to stop Compton?”

Beam shook her head. “All I know is he’s planning a ritual, and we can’t underestimate him. He knows things through whatever his father left behind. The only reason he’s waited to act on the stuff outright is out of a fear that he’ll end up trapped on some other world. Hence his nabbing of Fate. But if he’s cornered, who knows what he’ll do.”

Alijda nodded. “Pity we’ve still got Firestorm with us, or we could just portal everyone here up to the Station and sort it out from there.”

Beam snickered. “It amuses me that you think Epsilon has that much power,” she said. “But even so, Compton’s two friends still think he’s a bit nuts. We don’t want to give his stories more credence. I kind of regret claiming that I appeared from another place as it is, and am kind of hoping we can claim to be part of a joke that Compton himself set up for them.”

“Mmmm.” Alijda glanced towards the front of the tent as the shouting got louder. “Once I’m out of here, can you go holographic?”

“I’d need to be able to touch my earring,” Beam admitted. “Also, physical objects on my person phase with me, so I’d still be tied up. Even assuming my power reserves are enough to do it.”

“You want to come with me then?”

Beam shook her head. “I won’t leave Fate with them. Underneath it all, I’m still a hologram. Even if they cut me, my blood isn’t real, so better me than her.”

Alijda imagined that while Beam’s blood might not be ‘real’, it’d still hurt like hell, given how the blonde girl’s reactions had been programmed to mimic that of humans. But there wasn’t time to argue, plus maybe Beam could phase, once freed.

“I can at least help with your hands,” Alijda reasoned, given her ability to decide whether to take objects with her on a teleport or not. “Show me the ropes. Alice, it’s time to check in with Rose!”

“Roger wilco,” came Alice’s voice. “Apologies to any pilots listening in who are cringing and want to smack me.”[1]

“You kept the comms open,” Beam realized. “Smart. Sorry I couldn’t activate my own communicator once they got me.” She flipped over to present her back to Alijda, her arms bound tightly together behind her.

Alijda edged down towards Beam’s bottom, closing her mouth over the end of the rope and closing her eyes. She visualized the predetermined area in her mind, and that she wanted to be there with with the ropes.

Gods, but she hated teleporting blind. Even with live surveillance cameras, there was always the chance that something would turn up at just the wrong moment, or that there was some nigh invisible wire that would end up perforating her body, or…

“Rose says you’re good, Alijda,” came Alice’s voice.

‘My life’s in their hands,’ Alijda thought. She teleported.

With her eyes closed, she didn’t experience any visual disorientation, but there was a bit of motion sickness as she fell the half metre onto Firestorm’s tarp, the one Kat and his group had used earlier for his communication ritual. They’d set it out earlier for this very reason.

Alijda spat Beam’s ropes out of her mouth after she landed – seriously, she could use some mouthwash after this mission – and drew in a huge lungful of air. She seemed to be alive, if still trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey. Blinking her eyes open confirmed that she had made it to the prearranged failsafe location.

“She’s here,” Rose’s voice said from behind her. “Uh, you want me to untie you, Alijda?”

“Please,” Alijda rasped. “I’m a little too shaken up to teleport out of these at the moment.”

She heard Rose’s feet approaching on the tarp, and then the redhead was looming over her, fiddling with the ropes binding her hands. “Alice passed on most of what she heard to us,” Rose assured. “But the only real plan we have remains Firestorm’s preference for launching fireballs at their tent.”

Alijda chuckled. “Well, that would set off the fireworks they have in there, so it’s sure to mess up whatever their goals are,” she remarked. “But that’s risky.”

“Even given Kat’s ability to control fire?”

“Hmmm, point. Still, our best bet might be subterfuge,” Alijda decided. “They’re not that smart. We could make Compton think he’s awakened some sort of dimensional gods his father had offended. Scare him away for good. I think Fate would play along.”

Then again, as she said it, she realized that might only add credence to his beliefs. The very thing Beam had hoped to avoid.

Rose sat back as she pulled Alijda’s ropes free. “There’s no way the Project could simply shore up this dimensional spot then?” she asked. “Making all of Compton’s efforts totally moot?”

“Oh, we could totally do that,” Alice’s voice offered up through the communicator. “The problem is it’d take time, and the process further weakens the forces, much like how waves pull back from a shoreline before a tsunami. Do we really want to risk that when Compton might know how to drive a wedge in?”

Alijda chewed on her lower lip as she considered the options.

[1] When I looked up the phrase, I learned “roger” means ‘received and understood’ while “wilco” means ‘will comply’, making both words together rather redundant.

OPTIONS:

VOTING CLOSES NOON EST SATURDAY DECEMBER 2nd

Previous INDEX 4 Next

PATHS NOT TAKEN:
If Fate had come through the portal voluntarily, it would have been because she’d been having dreams, with Compton’s dad being a coincidental thing she witnessed upon arriving. If Fate had come through accidentally, it would have been because of backwash (or something) from Compton’s dad taking his magical objects off neighbouring worlds. The abduction route led us towards actual human trafficking, rather than something more benign.

EXTRA ASIDE:
I had another medical appointment a couple days ago. Life’s stabilizing, I think we’re back on a two week schedule here. In other news, I wrote a post for the “Time Travel Nexus” about a “Back to the Future” comic book, and my NaNoWriMo for “Time Untied” has reached 25k (though Carrie’s still only on day three of University). It’s going to be an undertaking; I’ll keep poking away. Thanks for reading here – wow, and 7 votes last time!

4.10: See Deuce

Previous INDEX 4 Next

EPSILON DELTA, PART TEN: SEE DEUCE

“Okay, good idea,” Rose decided, nodding at Firestorm. “See what you get from the diary, there could be something in there about where Destiny’s technology came from.” She glanced to Kat. “We could use the techno tech know, you know?”

Kat seemed to hesitate before nodding. Rose chalked it up to the possible invasion of Destiny’s privacy – but they needed every angle here, right?

ROSEMARY THORNE
Commission from Lia

She was second guessing her decision within five minutes of leaving Firestorm at Destiny’s house. True, he had given them the information they’d need for dealing with the police, including the location of the station, but what if something unexpected happened? Maybe the only planetary resident they knew should have come along. Rather than leaving him to snoop. Then again, maybe they had the Station for backup by now?

Rose tapped her communicator. “Rose to Alice, are you up there?”

Kat reached out to seize Rose by the arm, though he stopped short of actually touching her. Still, Rose flinched at his sudden movement.

The tall man cleared his throat. “What’s wrong, Rose? Anything I can do?”

“I wondered if they’d managed repairs up there yet, I guess,” Rose admitted. “But I probably shouldn’t disturb them, huh? They’ll call us?”

“Probably,” Kat said, smiling wanly at her. “Don’t worry, Rose. I can handle talking to the police.”

“Yeah. I just… yeah.”

“It’s just, you’ve been abducted from your Earth and are feeling a little out of sorts. I get it.”

Rose let out a long breath. “Don’t forget, I’m also in charge somehow. If this goes pear shaped, it’s on me.”

“Oh, Rose. Oh no,” came a soft voice from her other side. Beam reached out and touched Rose through the shoulder, with her incorporeal hand. “It’s on me. Because I’m the one who pulled you into this. I’m so sorry it’s distressing you.”

Rose turned to look at the blonde hologram, and immediately had to look away. That tender, apologetic gaze… Rose wasn’t sure if she was more irritated at the sense of being pitied, or more rattled by how her first instinct had been to give Beam a reassuring hug. Her feelings for the pretty girl were still rather mixed up.

“Let’s all talk about something else,” Rose suggested. “Your previous missions, maybe? Were any of them as screwed up as this?”

Kat spoke first, as they walked down the dirt road. He offered up some highlights of his only previous Epsilon involvement, where he, Alijda and a personified parabola – Rose idly wondered if this “Para” was in any way related to “Sine” – had come together to look into dimensional tears on a scaled-down world. It had apparently led to Alice being fired.

Though the way things were going here, Beam might end up fired too, so that wasn’t entirely comforting.

Then Beam launched into a tale of her first Epsilon involvement. She had been pulled onto the station, where some higher entity had communicated to her through the computer. They had provided her with the station’s mission, requesting equipment repairs at first. After Beam had agreed to and accomplished those, there had been the actual prospect of a retrieval mission.

“It’s like it had been hand picked just for me too,” Beam remarked. “Very tech world, but with a magic amulet. Which had been buried in a lava flow, so the Station couldn’t get a positive lock until it was uncovered by an archaeologist centuries later. So, fine, I devised a clever plan. I appeared shortly after said archaeologist found it, pretending like she’d released me from being confined in said amulet. After rewarding her for my freedom, I left with the artifact, mission accomplished.”

“Rewarding her?” Kat asked. “Like with money?”

“Oh, no, no. With me. She swung my way.” Beam raised a finger to her chin. “Interesting thing is, she tasted spicier than the women of my world.”

Rose stumbled and nearly face-planted into the dirt.

“I mean, sure, every female tastes different,” Beam chirped, without breaking stride. “And it’s connected to diet and all that, but sometimes I wonder if it was that Earth? Or maybe being an archaeologist contributed to her–”

“BEAM!” Rose cut in, wide-eyed. “TMI!”

Beam turned to her. “The Michener Institute what now?”

“Too. Much. Information. Ix-nay on the Issing, ‘kay?!”

Beam glanced from Rose to Kat, whose eyebrows were up, and then back again. “‘k-kay. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to overstep. I really haven’t had occasion to socialize much since leaving my Earth. Except with the Epsilon computer.”

“We know you didn’t mean anything by it, Beam,” Kat soothed. “But don’t forget, Rose was a tad conflicted about you, particularly on that sort of subject.”

“I haven’t forgotten.” Beam nibbled on her lower lip. And it was cute, and Rose had to look away again. She took a moment to take in the village (town?) that was now around them. They had covered a fair bit of ground during story time.

The three of them were still on the dirt road, but there were now other roads crossing it, and wooden or stone structures surrounding them, versus having houses appear only every so often. There were a few people about too, though they were not paying much attention to them. Well, aside from the occasional sideways glance at their outfits – their lack of cloaks might be making them stand out. But the residents themselves seemed more intent on getting to wherever they needed to be.

It was probably close to dinnertime. Or maybe, on a magic world, you simply took things at face value and didn’t ask too many questions.

Rose also noticed that the tavern that Firestorm had told them to be on the lookout for was up ahead. The police station would be down on the cross street, not far away. Making it easier for the cops to get to refreshments whenever the work day ended, the fire mage had griped.

“R-Rose…?”

Suppressing a sigh, Rose looked back at Beam. “Yippers?”

“I’m used to talking about – um, let’s say kissing of girls – with both girlfriends and guy friends. But I gather that’s a bad topic for girls who are friends? Or is it more a case of too soon?”

“Yes. That is, maybe. That is…” Rose paused to press the heel of her palm to her forehead, before sliding her hand down over her face. “Flûûûûûûûte.” As she said it, Rose realized something. The mild french swear word was becoming a way for her to feel closer to Paige. Her girlfriend. A multiverse away.

With effort, Rose swallowed away the lump in her throat.

“Look, Beam,” Rose began. “You said all girls… taste different?” Damn it, normal girls didn’t talk this way when they got together. Beam simply nodded back. “Well, girls as friends have different tastes in conversation too. Meaning for me, right now? Sexy time talk is a no-no. But maybe the next girl you befriend will be different. That make sense to you?”

Beam nodded again. “It does. I guess I’m just hoping some universal truths will come up. Ones which will always apply for your new subclass. Like how the male subclass is all just kind of ugh.”

“Oh, thanks,” Kat remarked, a hint of amusement to his tone.

“Oh no, I mean, you’re nice enough. It’s only you’re lousy lovers,” Beam clarified.

“Thanks again,” Kat said. He apparently couldn’t resist adding, “you know our anatomy is the basis for how toys are shaped?”

“Pffft, it’s not about anatomy,” Beam scoffed. “It’s about the five senses. For instance, compared to a man, ooooh, the scent of a woman, that’s so…” Beam paused, hands partially clasped, looking sidelong at Rose. “So totally a movie. Yippers, on some Earths ‘Scent of a Woman’ is the name of a movie.”

Rose wasn’t sure whether to laugh or cry at the conflicted expression on Beam’s face. She settled for lifting her finger and pointing. “There’s the tavern. We’re almost to the police station here. Destiny awaits?”

“Right,” Kat agreed. “Let’s get to it.”

***

Rose felt a tingle as she walked through the doorway into the police station. Shaking it off, she held the door for Beam, so that the hologram wouldn’t need to phase through the wall. Kat walked up to the main counter before them.

The station itself looked like a small time police department out of a TV show. A female officer was looking over some sort of newspaper as Kat approached. There were a couple more male individuals in the back, one reading, another looking at papers he’d taken out of what Rose took to be a filing cabinet. A door in back led to where they presumably had a jail cell or two.

“Take a number,” the desk officer said, before Kat could speak.

Kat looked around. “We three are together though,” he said. “And there’s nobody else in here.”

“I’m on break. More people might come,” the officer said, not looking up from her news article.

“Okay, well, crime waits for no one,” Kat said. “So maybe you could take a break from your break?”

She looked up, irritated. “Why, are you about to go commit a crime?”

Kat smiled. “Heeey, only if it’s a crime for me to look this good. Though I will grant that, next to you, I pale in comparison.”

Rose considered gagging. Until the officer folded up her newspaper and smiled. “Well played. I can appreciate an ego that rivals my own. What’s the trouble?”

Kat gave a quick rundown of their situation. They used the angle that Firestorm had recommended, saying they had come in from out of town to find Destiny missing. As the story came out, the interest of the desk officer gradually faded, and neither of the cops in the back paid them any attention. Soon, the woman was reaching back for her newspaper.

“Fill out an initial report form, then come back in a couple days,” she said.

Kat winced. “Isn’t there anything that a charming and intelligent woman such as yourself can do for us in the meantime?”

She eyed him sidelong. “Fishing for special dispensation? Fine, fill out the waiver form.”

Rose had already noticed the various forms in the slots near the door. Grasping the one they needed, she took it over to Kat, placing it on the countertop. He grasped a pen and filled it out as Beam paced back and forth, occasionally looking over their shoulders.

The desk officer scanned over the form after Kat pushed it at her. “Hmph. I guess this is in order,” she sighed. She reached underneath the counter and brought out some sort of stamp.

It happened quickly. Before Rose could react, the cop had seized her by the wrist and brought the stamp down onto the back of her palm. There was a chiming sound. “Hey!” Rose protested, jerking her arm away.

Now she was seeing double. Much like how she had seen two cauldrons after charging into Destiny’s place. It was making her nauseous, so she closed her eyes and fell to her knees, judging that to be more dignified option versus falling on her ass.

“What the hell?” Kat’s voice was saying. “I’m the one who filled out the form, lady! What did you just do to Rose?!”

“This isn’t our first rodeo,” the officer answered. “You know magic potential gets scanned as soon as you walk in here. That girl’s is the strongest, so she leads the search. We’re not going to let you file a complaint as if we didn’t notice that.”

“What?? But Rose doesn’t do ANY magic. And I’m the one who handles fire!”

“Oooh, good for you. Look, either fill out a rescinding form, or get out of here.”

Rose reopened her eyes. She was still seeing double, so it looked like Beam’s concerned gaze included four pretty blue eyes and two sets of kissable lips. Whoa, no, no, bad thoughts! “Bye bye bad thoughts, go away now!” Rose gasped.

“Rose, are you okay?” Beam asked.

Rose hiccuped, then giggled, despite trying to suppress the urge. She smacked her palm over her mouth. “Oh, ah feel shooow gooood,” Rose cooed. “‘Cept mebbe ah’m too shexhy for dish magicks.” Wait, she was saying that aloud?

Rose pulled her hand back, glaring at both her right palms, as if they were to blame for letting those words escape. “No!” she accused. “Bad hand! Ooo, filtersh, filtersh, come back brain filtersh… ah neeeed youuuu… ah neeed yoooouu lik a lite houshe needs a coasht…”[1]

Rose had no idea why the lyric of that hokey country song had suddenly come to mind, and she dissolved back into giggles. It was just too FUNNY, that a song she’d heard maybe ONCE would come back to her now, in the presence of a seductive lesbian hologram while on some alternate magical Earth.

By the time Rose was able to stop laughing, she’d been helped outside, Kat leaning her up against the side of the building. He was saying something, but Rose wasn’t entirely clear on what.

“Youse haff two hedds,” she pointed out to him. Granted, they were sort of focussing themselves into one, but they didn’t seem to want to stay that way.

Kat said something else while waving six fingers in front of her face, as if that would help anything. Rose closed her eyes, turned to the side, and reopened them. Beam was standing there. Oh no.

“Rose…” Beam began.

“Nooo!” Rose yelped, trying to step back, and only succeeding in flattening herself against the wall. She hiccuped again. “Know what? You my anti-Angie. Shtay ‘way, anti-Angie!”

Beam frowned. “Auntie Angie?”

In a flash, Rose realized what the root of her problems was. And she couldn’t stop her stream of consciousness from running out of her head via her mouth. “Angie. I liked her ’n high schewl. An’ she pulled back, an’ so I diden go deeper, an’ so I diden figger me out. But now’n I know, wif me an’ girls, an’ here you are.”

Rose took in a deep breath. “An’ Beam, you go thuther way, instead of no deeps, you want ALL the deeps, Beam, ALL the deeps, an’ I canna take it. I canna, cuz I wanna wif Paige, but ’m lost n’ scared here, ’n you is pretty, ’n you lead me to titillation, and you don’ deliver me from evil, and thine is a kingdom, an’ power n’ glory, uh…”

Rose steered her thoughts back on track. “Yis, so Beam, you an anti-Angie cause jest like wif Angie I wanna but I DON’ wanna, cuz it’ll mess all life up. Which, okay, we deal wif it, maybe? Until you TURN LOVE OFF. Is NO FAIR BEAM, I no turn it off, not wif Angie, or Paige, or you, an’ then you make me all confuzzled about friendships. Why you do this to me, Beam? Why?? DAMN it, I HATE you!” She was almost screaming by then.

Beam flinched back. “Rose, stay calm. Okay? Y-You’re being affected by that police stamp. You d-don’t really mean you hate me, right?”

“I DO. I hate YOU, an’ I hate bein’ in CHARGE, an’ I hate my head’s HURTIN’ now, an’ somehows I gots magicks so I canna even flee to Station no more,” Rose sobbed. “So know wha? YOU, Beam, I wan YOU t’go ‘way frum me.”

Beam reached out, so Rose lifted her arm to point for emphasis. “NO. Go ‘WAY, y’hear? Go ‘WAY Beam, you an’ your cutesy love off switch. Mk? JEST GO FAR ‘WAY FRUM ME F’REVER!”

“Rose, stop, that’s enough,” Kat said sternly, grasping her by the shoulder. She swatted his arm away. Alas, the movement unbalanced her enough that she felt herself sliding down the wall and onto the ground.

The last thing she saw before closing her eyes again was a sideways view of Beam sprinting away as fast as her legs could carry her.

The last thing she heard before falling unconscious was the sound of the Station communicator on her wrist.

[1] “I Need You”, Tim McGraw featuring Faith Hill.

WHAT’S NEXT?

VOTING CLOSES NOON EDT SATURDAY SEPT 16th

Previous INDEX 4 Next

PATHS NOT TAKEN:
If the police had been no help, the group would have been approached by a thief or someone from the underground in order to further the investigation (and runner up would decide if Firestorm came along). If Firestorm had been deputized, well, he would have been able to handle the “drunk” effects a lot better, and Rose-Beam tension would likely have continued (though I hadn’t expected it to burst quite that way here). There was also another plot effect, we’ll see it in an Oracle Prophesied segment later on.

EXTRA ASIDE:
There was a post last week with information and a poll about where to take this site in 2018. Also, voting for the time travel story never hurts… this site just had two consecutive zero view days in a row (plus nine spams).

4.09: Destination: Destiny

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EPSILON DELTA, PART NINE: DESTINATION: DESTINY

Kat suspected that his brain was trying to interpret what he saw as double vision. But what surrounded him was actually overlapped images, and he wished his head would figure that out already. As it was, he was trying to focus on the Epsilon Station by targeting the people there, largely because they tended to be the things speaking and in motion.

Still, when Alijda stepped back, overlapping with Beam, who was rocking back and forth on her heels… the one person passing back and forth through the other person forced him to close his eyes and shake his head to readjust.

When Kat reopened his eyes, all he saw was Destiny’s house again. He snapped his attention over towards Firestorm. “Hey! Turn that back on!”

“I’m surprised the spell lasted as long as it did,” the robed magician grunted. “Never tried communicating in quite that way before.”

Rose coughed. “The place is kind of smoky now, can we go outside?”

KAT CONWAY
(Commission from Jakface)

Kat took in the scene that now surrounded him. He was standing in the middle of the room, on Firestorm’s fire-resistant tarp. The wood in the circle around him had been burned down to ash. Beam stood to one side, monitoring, unaffected by the fire owing to being insubstantial. Firestorm was at his other side, holding up some magic symbols. Rose was halfway across the room.

“No, listen, I just needed another minute or two!” Kat insisted. “Find something else to burn.”

“That was all the firewood, and we’re not burning Destiny’s stuff,” Firestorm objected. “In fact, I’m starting to think you weren’t talking to someone on the other side of the country at all.”

“Maybe the communicators will work soon?” Beam suggested. “Now that the others know you need to talk?”

“And what was up with your muttering about Alijda building an army?” Rose asked. “Also, can we go outside?”

Kat pinched the bridge of his nose, forcing himself to remain calm. If Destiny really WAS Fate, from his world, she’d apparently already been here for a decade or more. Another few minutes wouldn’t change things. Would they? Well, he’d at least give Alijda and Alice some time, in order to avoid interrupting them while they stabilized the station.

“It wasn’t an army, it was the arm they were catching,” Kat explained. “And before we go outdoors, we need to figure out if Destiny left her home voluntarily. Because if they can’t track her from the Station, we’ll need to track her ourselves.”

“Swell,” Rose said, coughing again.

“Would you like a soothing massage, Rose?” Beam said brightly. “Once I can touch things again? Or can girl friends not do that without it getting sexy?”

“Oy,” was Rose’s only comment, looking sidelong at Beam.

Firestorm cleared his throat, setting aside the pages with the symbols on them. “Kat, you really think Destiny would have left her place looking like THIS if she’d left by choice?” He made a shooing motion in Kat’s direction.

“For misdirection, sure,” Kat retorted. Realizing what Firestorm wanted, he moved off the tarp, to allow the man to start retrieving it.

“Oh, hey, the front door,” Rose remarked, walking towards it.

“Yes, fine, Rose, I get it,” Kat sighed. “If the smoke’s bothering you that much, we’ll catch up with you out front.”

“No,” Rose said, pointing at it. “I mean it was locked. Beam had to muscle her way in. Isn’t that a clue?”

Kat again tried to keep his emotions in check. “Good point, sorry Rose. Firestorm?”

Firestorm nodded. “Yeah, if it was police cracking down on Destiny for spell casting, they would have busted that thing down. So she wasn’t arrested. Or if she was, it wasn’t here.”

Kat nodded. Firestorm had explained to them that magic was highly regulated on this world. That was the whole reason they’d had to perform the communications spell indoors, to avoid detection.

“But if Destiny locked herself in, why isn’t she still here?” Beam wondered.

“*I* locked the door,” Firestorm said, shooting her a look as he swept the last of the ash away. “After your unauthorized access earlier!”

“Oh. That,” Beam said, nibbling on her lower lip.

Rose turned away from the door. “Firestorm, can you maybe explain what happened the first time Beam arrived? We’d like to, uh, hear it from your point of view.”

Firestorm looked towards the ceiling. “You people… but very well.” He continued to speak as he folded up his tarp. “I was supposed to meet with Destiny tonight. As it turned out, I got a lift into town, so I came by early. The place looked like this when I arrived. I’d barely had a chance to start looking around when blue-eyes there,” he jerked his thumb at Beam, “appeared in the doorway, saying she had ‘come for the technology’.”

“I was polite about it, yeah?” Beam asked.

“You acted as if I knew what the hell you were talking about,” Firestorm said, shooting her a look. “We argued, I made a fireball, you did some freaky acrobatic jumping moves, I grabbed the fireplace poker to defend myself, and you used it as some conduit for a lightning attack. Which knocked me out.”

“Again with the lightning? How did I…” Beam’s eyes widened, and she reached up to touch the side of her head. “Oh no. No, no, did you hit my hairband with that poker? Or my earrings?”

The man rolled his eyes. “Girls and their trinkets.”

“They’re my control mechanisms!” Beam snapped. Her hands fumbled over her hairband, touching it and tapping at it. She didn’t pull it out to look at it though. Actually, Kat recalled, hadn’t the hairband popped up from her head, to let them power her up? Perhaps it was a part of her. If they removed it from Beam’s hair, might Beam herself vanish?

“Major systems all functional,” the holographic girl muttered, seemingly to herself. “If I had been damaged, I’d have rebooted after self-repair. The mission would still be in short term memory. Or I might have contacted the Station… but it means I was already partly damaged when I returned with the arm… what if I’m prone to blackouts now?”

“ANYway,” Firestorm said pointedly, ignoring the rambling blonde. “When I came to, alone, I locked myself in here. Took a closer look around, found the diary, and was reading that when you all showed up again.”

Rose had approached Beam by now, reaching out to touch the troubled hologram on the shoulder. Of course, her hand passed right through, but it got Beam’s attention. She turned and fired a grateful smile at the younger girl, pulling her hands away from her hairband off Rose miming the action.

Kat decided to refocus the conversation back on his original question. “Firestorm, during that closer look around, did you see anything that might have explained what happened to Destiny? I mean, you know her better than we do. Does this seem more like the results of a struggle to you, a search, something staged…?”

“She’s a fighter,” Firestorm said, tucking his tarp away in his robes. “But her opponents wouldn’t be able to use spells in here, unless they were on the list. I’m inclined to say a search. But I don’t see her that often, so I don’t know what ‘technology’ she might have had that everyone’s obsessing over.”

Kat rubbed the back of his neck. “Would that have been the target though? I mean, they left before finding it. Didn’t they?”

He looked to Beam, who seemed to have calmed back down. She shrugged. “I didn’t know what I’d find here,” Beam answered. “There could have been more than the arm, if it was removed before I arrived. All I know is, Destiny couldn’t have had too much, or the initial reading would have been bigger.”

“Maybe there’d be information in Destiny’s diary?” Rose suggested.

Kat frowned. “Yeah. I’m hesitant to read that without permission. She kept it hidden, it feels like an invasion of privacy.”

Firestorm grinned. “I didn’t care about that.”

Kat shot the man a glare. “I noticed.”

Firestorm seemed unfazed. “You want to know about what I read, or not?”

Kat waged a brief internal battle between his morals and their mission. “Fine.”

Firestorm’s gaze became smug. “Destiny started it by saying she was ‘resigned to living out her days here’,” he said, picking the book up off the table and holding it aloft. “There’s a bunch of stuff near the start about our customs, and her symbol magic which ‘works more tangibly here’, which is why I wonder if she was originally one of the fae or something.”

Firestorm paused, as if hoping that one of them might confirm or deny his belief. When no one spoke, he continued on. “She mentions deciding to specialize in potions, because it’s the best way to encounter people from all over. And she’s right about that, it’s not a simple trade, people travel to find potion masters. And speaking from personal experience, I know Destiny liked hearing stories or seeing objects related to the unusual, things outside the norm.”

He paused again. “Things like you?” Beam said in the ensuing silence.

Firestorm shot her a look. “I’m not that unusual. Not everyone on her list has unusual beliefs, okay?”

“Yeah, hey, what is the story of this list?” Rose wondered.

He peered closer at her. “Don’t you know? Aren’t all of you ON the list?”

“Actually, Rose isn’t. Yet,” Kat said quickly. “She came with us in order to join. We were reluctant to give her the details, but now that Destiny’s gone, maybe you should tell her…?”

“Oh, sure. Just tell strange people ‘on the list’, who never saw Destiny in person, about that list.” Firestorm looked back and forth between them. “Ah, hell, you might be playing me, but at this point it’s probably in the diary anyway.” He adjusted his robes. “We’re the few mages who can imbue objects with powers. Meaning we’re able to use Destiny’s ‘occult’ symbols, as she calls them.”

“Anyone who can do that ends up on the list then?” Rose asked.

“No, we have to be vetted, directly or indirectly,” Firestorm said. “Destiny didn’t want this going to our head, leading to us trying to take over a city or anything. It was a way to spread the word though, in an urban legend sort of way.”

Kat rubbed his chin. “That symbol on the arm,” he mused. “That desire. It could have been a desire to connect up with others who know the symbols.”

“And your symbol knowledge would be in the Epsilon database,” Beam remarked. “How DID you end up on the Station, Kat?”

“Alice thought it was a glitch,” Kat said. “Because I left right after her, so when she was pulled in… but maybe…” Could his being here be more than random chance? His hands curled into fists. “We have to find Destiny.”

“Well,” Rose put in, “if we assume Destiny let people in the front door, or was lured out, it had to be by people she knew. Probably either occult-list people, or rare-potion people.”

Kat nodded. “They subdued her, and then searched the place for… that list?”

“The list wasn’t physical,” Firestorm said. “Or at least, I didn’t think it was.”

Rose looked at Firestorm. “If we check out the storage-and-potions room, do you think you’d notice anything out of place?”

Firestorm hesitated, then shrugged again. “Maybe.” He headed towards the other room, Rose falling into step ahead of him. Kat moved to follow, only to have Beam step in front of him – he almost walked right through her.

“Kat?” the hologram said. “I am on the cusp of a logic error.”

Kat blinked. “Related to damage on your hairband?”

Beam shook her head. “No. This mission. Because it’s over. The station is safe, it sounds like the women have secured the cyber arm, and I know what happened with my memory. There is no reason for us to remain here.”

“No reason?? Beam, DESTINY–”

“Is internal to this world. Not our problem.”

“Not if she’s Fate!”

Yet again Beam shook her head. “No. This Fate may have breached the dimensional barriers herself, without external interference. That’s also not our problem. The Project cleans up rogue anomalies, it does not correct for human error.”

Kat felt a hand closing around his heart. After the years of searching, of wondering, it felt like he was suddenly so close. They couldn’t take that away from him! “The… there might be other technology,” he blurted. “Taken by whoever took Destiny away.”

Beam nodded. “That is the loophole I am holding onto. But you should know that, if further technology is not the case? I will advise Rose that our mission is over.” She glanced down at his communicator. “As such, I’m not certain how eager you should be to hear from the others.”

Kat flinched, one hand automatically covering the wristwatch device. He swallowed, and pulled both hands back to his sides. “Understood. Thank you for the warning, Beam.”

Beam nodded, her more serious expression dissolving back into a smile as she pivoted on one foot to follow after Rose and Firestorm. They met the two of them right outside the storage room, as Firestorm was emerging.

“Healing potions are gone, as are a few of the more powerful ones,” the redheaded man remarked. “But it could be Destiny simply sold out. Her permit’s not there though, her storage permit, that’s weird. Her permit for manufacturing, which she likely would have hidden, might explain the search. Rose may be onto something with her potion people abduction theory.”

“But it could still be technology!” Kat put in quickly, before he could stop himself. He bit down on the edge of his tongue.

Firestorm shrugged. “Hey, all we can do is theorize. I almost hate to say it, but maybe we should go to the police station, open an investigation? They might grant us special dispensation to use search-and-tracking magic, assuming there’s anything here to track.”

“Wow, seriously? They’d just give that kind of power to random civilians?” Rose asked.

“Sure. Because they can always revoke it, and then they’re able to say that the early interference makes solving the case unlikely,” Firestorm grunted. “Holier than thou jerks. Hence my hesitation. Thing is, police won’t investigate directly until Destiny’s been missing for a couple days.”

They couldn’t wait a couple days. Kat knew that much. Either the Epsilon Station would locate Fate – or rogue technology – probably within the next hour or two… or it would all be over. Unless they somehow ingrained themselves more into what was happening on this world, such that they couldn’t simply step away.

“We’re off to the police station then,” Kat decided. Belatedly, he looked at Rose. “Er, if that’s okay with you. You’re still in charge.”

Rose let out a long breath. “Well, is there any real alternative?”

Firestorm shrugged. “I’m cool with staying here and reading more into the diary, maybe I’ll stumble on something more concrete about Destiny’s stranger associates in her more recent entries.”

Rose pursed her lips.

WHAT’S NEXT?

VOTING CLOSES NOON EDT SATURDAY SEPT 2nd

Previous INDEX 4 Next

PATHS NOT TAKEN:
Here’s a prime example of me biting off more than I could chew. With “being kidnapped” having won, the plan had been to flesh out mages/magic and then go to the police station. We didn’t quite arrive there, because of other exposition elements that I felt you, the audience, needed to know about. Had “being arrested” won, we would have fleshed out rural life and made inquiries about police, maybe at an inn or something. Had “fled of her own volition” won, I would have looked to the second most popular option to determine their destination (police/inn) but Firestorm’s role there would have flipped… as it is, his role (if any) is still partially up to you.

EXTRA ASIDE:
If you hadn’t noticed, I like grabbing throwaway things (like Beam breaking down the front door) and twisting them to be significant. If it now feels like “kidnapping” was always in the cards, then I’m probably doing my job right. Had “arrest” been chosen, I’d have obviously gone a different direction with that. Is this a skill? I don’t even know. Anyway, thanks for reading. Voting for the time travel story never hurts, August has been the worst month for views in 2017.

4.07: Goodness Gracious

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EPSILON DELTA, PART SEVEN: Goodness Gracious

Rose stared at Kat. He, in turn, stared back at her.

“It’s your call, Rose,” he said after a moment. “You wanted to come down to the planet.”

“What?” Rose flinched. “Oh. Oh, yeah. Uh, I guess I just… I figured… yeah.”

I figured, you’re the one fixing my relationships here, Rose thought to herself. Hell, I’m the youngest one on this team, what idiot would even put me in charge in the first place? Only a crazy person. A crazy blonde hologram person.

With that thought, her gaze slipped to the side, to Beam’s eager expression. No doubt eager for more than Rose’s opinion on how this mission should go. As there was also the question of how to properly make small talk with another girl that you really wanted to mack on, but were now trying to see as only a friend instead.

Gods, how was it that this hologram could be blonde, like Paige, and experienced, like Paige, and yet somehow be even more innocent than Rose herself? It made Beam way too adorable. And not necessarily in a sexy way, so Rose found herself wondering why she was now feeling some disappointment over Beam no longer seeing her as a potential sexual partner. Especially since, being undesirable, that’s what Rose had ASKED for, right?!

“Oh, flûte it,” Rose grumbled, pushing those thoughts away and shifting her attention over towards the house. Kat was right, she had to maintain her focus down here. The sooner the mission was done, the sooner the Beam stuff would become a non-issue. “Let’s go investigate.”

Rose pivoted, heading towards the structure, Kat falling into step right behind her, and Beam trailing after them. It had to be about the house. It had a symbol, like the arm. Plus she’d suggested investigating there, so if she didn’t stick with that choice, she might look indecisive.

Rose had to go up on her tiptoes in order to properly see in the window, in part because the glass itself was dirty. And not merely dirty on the outside, as the wiping of her palm on the surface revealed. Still, she could see the outline of the objects in the large room. A table and chairs, maybe a kitchen area with pots and pans, nothing out of the ordinary. Except for how the items had been tipped over and strewn about, as if there had been a search, or a struggle.

“Could be a tornado ran through the place,” Rose remarked.

“A wind spell gone wrong?” Beam suggested.

“Dunno,” Rose mused. “Wouldn’t a protection symbol be trying to prevent rampant spells?”

“We’re still lacking the necessary context for those occult symbols,” Kat reminded them. “It may protect against detection of a person inside, not the structure itself.”

Right. So maybe she should have called Alijda after all. Rose pursed her lips, but as she turned away, she caught something out of the corner of her eye. She peered back inside. “Ooh, wait, someone’s there. At least, I think it’s a someone. Not a something.”

“What do you see?” Kat prompted.

“A filthy window. Maybe one of you can boost– aww, fiddle mix.” Rose ducked back down out of sight. “I think the whatever saw me.”

“Are you sure?” Beam wondered.

“The head of the thing was looking to the window, then it dashed back out of view,” Rose admitted. She looked to Kat. “Is there a military procedure we should enact now to keep it from getting away?”

“Well, I’d suggest you and Beam burst into the front, making a lot of noise, while I circle around to the back. I’ll grab the whatever if it tries to run, and if it doesn’t, I’ll sneak up behind it.”

Rose nodded. “I like it. Good plan. Beam, let’s act on this good plan.”

“But what if the something is a robot with still one functional cyber arm?” Beam asked. “Isn’t that possible?”

Rose winced. “Okay, yeah. Not the best time to point out that we should have come down armed. That is, armed with weapons, not with actual arms.”

“Seeing weapons might antagonize this thing even more,” Kat remarked, as he moved off to circle around the house. “Also, it’s a magic world, not a tech world, so a robot’s unlikely.”

“Let’s hope it knows that,” Rose muttered.

“Rose, don’t worry, I can kung fu,” Beam assured. “It’s only, a part of me thinks that you should be the strong one protecting me. Not the other way around.”

“Then screw that part of your program, I’m good with being protected,” Rose said, smiling half-heartedly. “Though, I have been taking self defence courses too, yeah? And those can teach a girl more than just how tasty floor mats can be. So I’m not totally defenceless these days. Don’t count me out yet.”

Beam extended her arms for a hug, then seemed to think better of it. “Right. Let’s do this, girl friend.”

The awkwardness of that phrase nearly made Rose cringe, but Beam was already turning away, so Rose simply hurried with her over to the front door. She saw Beam gently try to turn the handle, but the door seemed to be locked. Beam looked back, shrugging up one shoulder.

Rose nodded. “On three,” she whispered, holding up three fingers. That’s how they did it in movies, right? She curled her fingers, one by one. As the last finger came down, Beam threw her weight in against the door. It popped open.

“Noooiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiise!” Beam shrieked as she charged into the residence.

On the one hand, it was a silly thing to yell, but on the other hand, Rose hadn’t thought of what noise to make herself. “Eeeeeeeeeeee!” she was screaming before she could think about it. Though being an alto and not a soprano, she felt it lacked the proper effect.

Her gaze swept across the room as she entered next to Beam, stamping her feet for what she hoped was added intimidation. The place looked much like it had through the window, just less indistinct. No one was there. Curiously, the cauldron on the floor vibrated unexpectedly as she screamed towards it, giving her double vision.

Perhaps due to that, the sound of a humming noise failed to draw her attention right away, and she only saw the danger coming from out of the corner of her eye.

“Rose!” Beam gasped.

Rose felt herself get shoved to the side. She stumbled, falling forwards onto the ground, quickly spinning over to look back. To confirm what she had feared. There had been a sensation of increased heat. Now there was a great big ball of fire where Beam was standing. Burning her up.

“BEAM!” Rose screamed back.

“Ha ha, I got you first this time,” came a new voice, a male voice.

Rose snapped her gaze over to the source. A doorway towards the back of the structure. There was a red haired man standing in it, wearing what looked like a monk outfit, with his hands on his hips.

“What have you dooooone?!” Rose cried out, pushing herself off the ground and charging towards him.

Caught off guard, the man lifted his arms again, Rose belatedly processing he might well be about to throw a second fireball into her face. But this could be their only shot at taking him out. She closed her eyes, turned her face to the side, and bent her body lower, but didn’t cease her charge.

It was a bit of a surprise when she connected solidly with the man’s midsection without feeling a blast of heat, and then both of them were driven backwards and down to the ground. Rose used him a mat to cushion her landing. She quickly moved to try and pin the guy’s arms down on the ground, hoping he needed them to channel magic. He didn’t resist.

“How did you DO that?” he man demanded, glaring.

“Adrenaline helps me run faster,” Rose breathed.

His eyes rolled. “No, no, how did you manipulate the fire? I heard nothing.”

“It’s actually me,” came Kat’s voice. Rose looked up to see him standing next to them. She had propelled the monk-man into the room at the back of the house, where Kat was holding his arm out and grimacing as he looked back through the doorway. Following his gaze, Rose saw that the fireball which had encompassed Beam had moved to the middle of the room, and was burning itself out.

“Beam,” Rose gasped. “Kat, she was hit, go see if you can still save–”

CHIBI BEAM (scan)
Commission yesterday from Gen Ishihara

“Hi hi!” Beam said, stepping into the doorway and wiggling her fingers in a wave. Incredibly, she looked completely undamaged. Rose felt her jaw drop.

“It’s fine,” Beam explained, smiling at Rose after glaring at the man on the ground. “I turned myself insubstantial right after I pushed you.”

She reached out, swiping her arm right through the wall next to the doorway. Unable to drop her jaw any lower, Rose tilted her head to the side instead.

“You can do that, huh, Beam?” Kat grunted. He closed his hand into a fist, and the fireball in the other room disappeared.

“Hologram, remember?” Beam said, as if that explained everything. Only to add, “The transition is a serious power drain though, and I did it without thinking. Switching back will be the same issue, so I think I’d better stay this way until we know whether or not you need me to interact with anything.”

The only reason Rose managed to pull her attention away from Beam’s still quite solid-looking and unblemished form was that the man beneath her tried to move.

She renewed the pressure on his upper arms while looking back down. “Just stop. Ooh, you are SO lucky you didn’t hurt her, or we’d have you on trial for murder!”

“Hurt HER?” the man grumbled. “You’re the ones breaking in. And your blonde friend already knocked me out once today. Who are you people anyway? You shouldn’t be able to cast in here. The building is protected against that, unless you’re on the list.”

Kat crouched down, resting his palms on his knees. “Well, here’s the thing. You want to know about us, and we want to know about a cyber arm. Any chance we could all simply have a nice chat over some tea?”

The man shot Kat an incredulous look, but upon seeing the irritated expressions Rose and Beam were sporting, he gave a resigned sigh. “Why not. It wouldn’t be the weirdest thing that’s happened today.”

***

The man’s name was Firestorm, or at least that’s the name he gave them during a round of introductions. Firestorm assured them that no one else was in the house, but Kat asked Rose and Beam to take a quick look around to be sure. The place turned out to have four rooms in total.

The main room in the front seemed to be the kitchen, slash meeting room, slash whatever else room… it was all a bit of a jumble, what with the furniture and pots and pans strewn about everywhere. The smaller room in the back was the structure’s bedroom, or at least it had a comfortable mattress there, plus a dresser.

Then there were two smaller rooms off to the side, one a storage room for a mop and numerous potions, and that what seemed to be a washroom, implying some form of indoor plumbing. Beam used her insubstantial form to push her head through the doors before Rose opened them, to check for traps or other occult symbols.

“It’s no good if the room is totally dark,” Beam remarked as she did so. “But enough light’s filtering in through the cracks.”

“Except, uh, how does that even work?” Rose asked. “To see the world around us, light needs to hit our eyes, so if your eyes are no longer in phase with the world…”

“My eyes are also light now,” Beam said, turning back with a smile. “I don’t sink into the ground very much either. Don’t think too hard, Rose. I know I don’t.”

When they got back to the main area, Kat was finishing setting up the chairs from where they had fallen, as Firestorm peered in the cupboards. “Destiny’s out of tea,” he remarked. “Do you want macaroons?”

“Let’s just compare notes,” Kat suggested. “How long have you known Destiny?”

Rose frowned. She almost spoke up to ask about the name ‘Destiny’, but then realized what Kat was doing, and bit her tongue. It stood to reason that if Destiny was the true owner of the place, Firestorm might think she’d authorized them to be here. Admitting they didn’t know this Destiny woman could mess that up.

Firestorm turned, adjusting his robes before leaning back against the counter. “Several years now. And she’s never mentioned you.” He focussed in on Beam again. “Why did you knock me out?”

“I was after a cyber arm?” Beam answered.

Firestorm sighed. “Is that the technology you were talking about before? When I said I didn’t know what you meant, and told you to leave, you instead knocked me out with some lightning attack.”

“I did?” Beam rubbed the back of her neck. “I guess I didn’t want you in my way as I searched.” She glanced around the room. “Wait, I didn’t mess this place up, did I?”

“No worse than it was already, when I got here this morning,” Firestorm said. “I’m worried that something’s happened to Destiny. At first I thought you were involved in taking her away, but if you were, why would you come back? Twice? Particularly after finding whatever you’d been looking for.”

“So that cyber arm WAS being kept in here then,” Beam said, her eyes lighting up. She moved to lean in against the table, but of course passed right through it, and ended up sprawled on the floor. “Derp.”

Firestorm rolled his eyes. “Could be? When I came to, I discovered someone, presumably you, had pried up part of the floor. There was a secret storage place down there that I hadn’t known about. Thanks for leaving behind the diary, by the way, it gave me something to read after I regained consciousness. And it helped me realize that I didn’t know Destiny as well as I’d thought. Which brings me back to, who are you, and how long have YOU known Destiny?”

The question was addressed to Kat, but instead of answering it, he shifted his attention to Rose. She wasn’t sure if he was deferring to her being “in charge” for the more pointed question, or if he was trying to give her some sort of signal that he wanted her to be a distraction, but Firestorm was now looking at her instead.

Rose squared her shoulders. “We’ve never met Destiny in person,” she said, figuring truth was the way to go, even if only a partial truth. “But we know things.”

“Is that the diary?” Kat asked, pointing to the book on a corner of the table as Beam pushed herself to her feet. She ended up standing in the middle of it.

Firestorm shrugged. “Yeah. Recognize it?”

Kat walked over to have a look, Beam moving out of the way. He flipped the book open, and frowned at whatever he saw there. Then he picked the book up, scanning the passage closer. A haunted look came into his eyes, and he grabbed for his communicator watch. “Alijda? Alijda, are you there? Alijda, come in!”

There was no answer.

Kat looked to Rose. “Try yours.”

Rose looked down at her wrist, and attempted to open a communications frequency. “Hello? Alijda? Alice?” Again, there was no answer.

“Mine won’t work unless I switch back,” Beam remarked. “It’s phased with me.”

“Well, we need them to do a scan,” Kat said. “An in-depth scan, NOW.” He jerked his gaze over towards Firestorm. “You! Do you know any communications spells?!”

WHAT’S NEXT?

We’re going back to the Station, probably for an Alice POV since she’s been used already, but if anyone would prefer Alijda, feel free to comment. The vote is for how communications get restored. OPTIONS:

VOTING CLOSES NOON EDT SATURDAY AUGUST 5th

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PATHS NOT TAKEN:
Talking to the local, they would have been arrested or detained for suspicious behaviour. Consulting with Alijda would have revealed Communications are indeed out, and so shifted the action to the Station POV earlier. We got what we got, including a house occupant who I hadn’t had in mind initially, but I realized it would streamline things a bit in terms of them finding stuff out, over simply reading the diary. Plus it gave Beam a reason to phase (which was always a planned thing for her character).