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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’?”
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,” 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.”
END OF STORY 4: EPSILON DELTA
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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.
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.