Para

6.09: Elevator Pitch

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SMOKE WITH MIRRORS: PART NINE

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

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

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

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

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

Para

PARA
Commission by Michelle Simpson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Hello, Trixie?” Para asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Maybe,” Alice said, sounding unconvinced.

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

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

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

“None taken,” Trixie mumbled.

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

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

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

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

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

“Going down,” Alice sighed.

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

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

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

“Ha ha, good joke,” Trixie grumbled.

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

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

Para frowned. The communication link was breaking up.

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Possible,” Fate yielded.

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

“Might?” Para wondered.

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

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

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

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

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

OPTIONS:

VOTING CLOSES AFTER SUNDAY SEPTEMBER 13th.

Previous INDEX 6 Next

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

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

6.06: Perspective Shift

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SMOKE WITH MIRRORS: PART SIX

“Pyon pyon. Pyon pyon.”

Trixie looked up from her cafeteria tray. She immediately regretted doing so. “Beam,” she groaned. “Now that you’re out of quarantine, could you, like, wear actual clothes? Unless you’re headed to a pool.”

The blonde holographic woman tilted her head to the side, while still leaning in across the table. Giving Trixie a very good view right down into the cleavage of her swimsuit. “No. I feel all tingly when I cover up more than this,” Beam answered. “Which then seems to make the effects of the virus worse later on.”

“Then at least make the effort to not charge up my hormones this way,” Trixie griped, now finding it impossible to look away from Beam’s heaving chest. “I need to focus, so that I can solve this mystery and get the heck out of here.”

Beam glanced down towards her own torso, then stood up straight again along with taking a step back. “Oh yeah. Sorry. Was just with Para, who’s less susceptible to my wiles than you or Fate. It DOES take a conscious effort for me to not be sexy in this state y’know, pyon pyon.”

TRIXIE VIRGA
Commission from Sen Yomi

Trixie sighed, finding it easier to stare at her bowl of melon balls now that Beam was a couple metres away. She brought her spoon to her mouth, munching in order to have a moment to consider a response.

Honestly, even if Beam wasn’t contagious – as far as they could tell – having the bunny girl hopping around the Station felt more distracting than it was helpful.

Sure, Fate needed someone to handle station work. And Alice had recently reported that, over time, Smoke could completely clear from an infected person, and revert people to normal. But the number of cases there were still in the minority, while Beam was still very much infected.

But then, Trixie reflected, maybe she was simply biased. Because she had become enraptured by the holographic girl’s coding, which was written in some programming language that she didn’t have a hope of understanding. It was mysterious, magical code, from which a lovely female personality could emerge, and blossom. Blossom, and thrive.

Blossom, and thrive, and perform skilled sexual acts on the fairer sex.

“Why do you consistently send my mind into the gutter?” Trixie finally asked.

Beam smiled and shrugged. “It’s a gift? Though when you first saw me I was giving off more lusty vibes than usual. Doubt that helped for impressions, pyon pyon.”

Trixie shook her head. “Guess I’m not blameless. After almost a week here on this Station, I’m craving more human contact. So, why are you interrupting my lunch? It better not be to hit on me.”

“It’s because Fate’s going to make contact with someone else shortly,” Beam answered. “And she thinks it might be best for all of us to be there.”

Trixie pushed the cafeteria tray away, focus restored. “Let’s hope it provides a breakthrough. Lead the way, and don’t shake your cotton tail at me.”

“No promises, but I’ll try, pyon pyon,” Beam stated, spinning on her heel as Trixie stood up.

***

Trixie climbing off the ladder in the main control room seemed to prompt Fate to start in on an explanation.

“Okay,” Fate said. “I ran a new character analysis. There was our initial information, which suggested to us that Trixie might have some solutions, plus the data from Alijda and Alice. All conditional on us only consulting someone with whom Epsilon’s previously interacted.”

“Isn’t that kind of a short list?” Para mused. “There haven’t been that many big missions.”

“Small missions count. Like Beam’s first archaeologist assignment,” Fate clarified. “People who have never met us, but they are aware of artifacts and the like.”

“What turned up then?” Trixie asked, coming closer.

Fate turned to the computer. “One name. Time to give this a try.”

The blonde woman reached out and tapped a few keys, then stood back as a phone began to ring.

“We’re not bringing them here, pyon pyon?” Beam murmured, leaning closer to Fate.

“According to his file, he’s got the means to get here if he wants,” Fate answered. “In a British taxicab.”

Trixie turned. “He?” she said, surprised. She’d started to take their all female cast for granted.

The sound of the phone ringing cut out, and an image appeared on the computer monitor. Trixie took in darker skin and what looked like a tan suit, before there was a flash of blinding light. Light that must have come from a swiss army like device that the man was holding. His face came into view as he looked at it, then back at the monitor.

“Oh,” he said. “This is actually a call. I thought for sure there was a malfunction.”

Fate stepped forwards and waved. “Hello! I represent a group of people who are looking for some assistance in terms of a dimensional pandemic. Possibly with a temporal angle.”

“Oh, that’s MASON,” Para said, smiling. She stepped forwards next to Fate, waving. “Hi! How have you been, friendly alien guy?”

Mason’s look of confusion was replaced with a half smile. “Oh, there’s someone I recognize. Para, yes? You still with… the Epsilon Project, was it? Guessing it hasn’t been easy to track me. I’ve been off the grid.”

“I don’t think we were trying to,” Para answered. She looked at Fate. “Were we?”

“No. Alice even put a flag on his file, but we’re in a bit of a bind here. Mason, can I send you all the data we have? For your opinion? You can decide if you want to join us in person after reading it.”

“Oh, HE gets all the data first,” Trixie muttered.

Beam took a step closer to her. “Mason has already been on this Station, and signed a non-disclosure form. Or some equivalent,” she informed her, quietly.

“I’ll take a look,” Mason was answering, as Trixie processed Beam’s words. “Kind of in the middle of something though. Include the best coordinates to phone, in case I can’t visit?”

“Will do,” Fate stated. She stepped forward to tap again at the keyboard.

“Thanks,” Mason said. “I’ll be in touch as soon as — wait, stop, good kitty. No, kitty. No, don’t jump on the–”

The connection cut out.

“Huh.” Trixie ran her fingers back through her twintails. “Well, that was informative. When can we expect him to–”

She was interrupted by a ring, and Fate reached out to tap a button on the console. The image of Mason reappeared, although this time he was wearing a fez and sunglasses.

Trixie stared, her fingers still stuck in her hair. Apparently more time had passed on his end of the phone line than on theirs.

“Hello again. Good news and bad news,” Mason remarked. He peered at his swiss army knife, then pushed the sunglasses up to the top of his head, knocking off his fez.

“Bad news first, pyon pyon,” Beam chirped.

“Hm? Ah, yes. Can’t triangulate to your location, but it’s not because of chronon particles on your end,” Mason said, ducking out of view. “As there are none. I think the trouble’s my stabilizer.” He reappeared and pulled off the sunglasses. “And the affectations aren’t helping. Oh well.”

“Did you want us to try and lock on from here?” Fate asked.

“Don’t bother,” Mason said, waving her off. He peered again at his swiss army knife, then shook it and looked back at them again. “I can deliver the good news this way. I think I know why your pandemics are happening, if not how.”

Trixie slowly lowered her hands. “Just from reading Fate’s files?”

Mason smiled. “Well, and from looking at your group. A bunch of white females. Who are, aside from the lady rabbits, human too.”

As Fate looked back around at their group, Trixie had to concede the point. Even Alice and Alijda fit the bill in terms of his description. Perhaps that’s why the algorithm had pinpointed a brown skinned male alien for them? Assuming biological sex even worked the same way with his race.

“Uh, we’re sorry for that?” Fate said, looking back at him.

Mason shook his head. “Never apologize for being yourself. Unless you’re supporting institutional racism, then do better than simply apologize. No, it just got me thinking, to a virus you’d all be the same too. Except while Beam looks the same, she is different inside. So why go to the trouble of attacking that code, and not the nearest router?”

“Um, I’m more complicated than a router,” Beam protested.

“Right,” Mason said. “You can move about. Go places you shouldn’t. Whereas a router is stuck in one place. You see it yet?”

“Hey! When I go places it’s CONSENSUAL,” Beam insisted. “I mean, I might come on a little strong with the prettiest women, but before I put my tongue–”

“Beam, stop. He means you were deliberately infected,” Trixie broke in. “That’s it, right? This wasn’t natural. Someone adapted the virus to her.” It was starting to click, and not in a good way.

Mason nodded. “The thought had occurred,” he remarked.

“Except the virus was affecting immobile technology on the adjacent world too,” Para reminded them. “Wasn’t that in the data we provided?”

“Well, looked like something was affecting those devices,” Mason granted. “Possibly a program for purging information that people didn’t want getting out. To stay hidden. Another a good way to stay hidden is to be somewhere that nobody wants to go. Like a world in the midst of a massive pandemic. Which is where I was leading.”

“Oh no,” Trixie said, a chill running down her spine. “You don’t think multiple worlds were infected merely to try and divert attention away from the one place where someone was doing experiments, do you?” Misdirection was a classic way of concealing a truth.

Mason shrugged. “Hey, I have no certainties here, only more hypotheses.”

“Okay. So we’re talking about someone trying to stay concealed,” Fate reasoned. “Someone on Bunny World, since that’s where Beam was.” She paused. “We need a better name for that place.”

“Smoke Machine?” Beam mused.

Fate rolled her eyes. “Anyway, this is progress. We can now plan to track down whomever could reprogram a holographic woman to be infected, or otherwise think she was, to keep her and other people away. Not a common thing on that world.”

“They also gave Beam the capability to spread the regular virus in the process, for plausibility,” Para added. “Since Beam gave us an initially positive test, right?”

“I feel like Alijda could do those things,” Beam mused, crossing her arms. She looked over at Trixie. “You probably could as well, pyon pyon. So you’d both be helpful for finding the real crook.”

“I could too,” Mason remarked, reminding them he was still watching. “Not that I – or any of us – would. That is, any of us in this present moment. I’m not sure how your temporal issue factors into the–” Something sparked behind him, and he looked over his shoulder. “Oh, shoot.”

“More trouble with your cat?” Fate wondered.

“You mean the Flerken?” Mason said. “No, I think this is… uh oh, I gotta go. Thanks for the chat, all the best with your problems.”

He waved his hand, seemed to fall down, and the communication line cut out again.

“I’m sure he’s fine, pyon pyon,” Beam said after a moment.

“So that happened,” Trixie said, rubbing her forehead. “Moving on, remind me whether it was confirmed that Bunny World had the first outbreak?”

“Yes, as best as we could tell,” Fate answered. “With the latency period ranging from one day to fourteen days, it’s hard to be 100% sure.”

“All right. So either it started there, and someone’s taken advantage of it to spread it further and give themselves a hiding place… or it was brought there by this individual deliberately.”

“A-Am I the only one thinking Alice could be in danger?” Para spoke up. “Like, maybe anyone who gets too close to the truth gets infected the way Beam did.”

“Alice was steering clear of where Beam had been,” Fate assured. “Precisely because we didn’t want Alice being infected, and didn’t think Beam had found anything. Though I suppose Alice IS staying in the same apartment.”

“I should go back down,” Beam decided. “Not only to help Alice, but maybe seeing me still poking around despite my infection will throw our enemy off their game, pyon pyon.”

“I don’t know. Maybe I should go,” Trixie said, crossing her arms. “Aside from how I don’t think I can stand being on this Station much longer, you said it yourself. My ability to give you this virus makes me well suited for pinpointing a like-minded individual.”

“Or maybe Alijda should go,” Para offered. “She also has programming power, we know she works well with Alice, and right now she’s on a decoy world.”

“We’d need to route her through quarantine, which would delay things,” Fate said. “Also, Alijda was seen in the past of the planet she’s on… wait, you don’t think she’d go rogue in the future, and be the person we’re after, do you?”

“If so, all the more reason to have Alice watching her,” Para suggested.

“Hello? Was I not brought on board to investigate?” Trixie insisted. “And I have magic, which Alijda doesn’t have.”

“Your field work is hit and miss,” Beam noted. “And if I was on the planet, I wouldn’t be distracting your research up here.”

Fate crossed her arms, brow furrowing. “Great. Another decision to make.”

OPTIONS:

VOTING CLOSES ON SUNDAY AUGUST 2nd?

Previous INDEX 6 Next

PATHS NOT TAKEN:
Recalling Alijda would have had her interact more with Trixie (and possibly call Alice) as they discussed the situation. Handling things themselves would have had Beam look into past Epsilon missions and artifacts for anything helpful (or she possibly would have visited the tech world, fanning out the group rather than consolidating them). The former character (which won) was always going to be the winner of of the poll for “Favourite One Story Character”. At the time of this writing, that was Mason (2 votes, versus 1 for the others) for the cameo. It worked well given the temporal element.

EXTRA ASIDE:
After a week online, there was only one view and one vote. Again I sighed on Facebook, which brought me to three votes, all tied. I had vague plans for working with all three, but did retweet Tuesday Serial and put out a call on Twitter (twice) for anyone wanting to tiebreak. Happened late on Thursday, so went with the Mason plan. (I’d have thought it was the first person re-voting, possible after 7 days, except it wasn’t for their initial choice.) Thanks for reading, spread the word!

6.05: An Arrested Development

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SMOKE WITH MIRRORS: PART FIVE

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

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

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

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

“Give your report then.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah,” Fate repeated back, warily.

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

“Oh. We made you look too low class?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Alijda van Vliet (chibi).
Commission from: Shirochya

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’m not,” Alijda assured.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Free the people!”

“Defund the police!”

“Work your magic!”

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

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

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

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

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

***

“Everything okay?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OPTIONS:

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

Previous INDEX 6 Next

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

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

6.03: Bunny Can’t Buy Happiness

Previous INDEX 6 Next

SMOKE WITH MIRRORS: PART THREE

“I’m in here for at least fourteen days?” Beam sputtered.

Alice clasped her hands behind her back, leaning closer to the large, clear wall that had been erected in place of a doorway. She scrutinized their colleague and friend. “I did say I wanted to teleport someone here, remember? Before you went down? So I created this area. You’ll have everything you need.”

“Sure, but when you said you’d bring me back in quarantine, I didn’t expect THIS, pyon pyon,” Beam protested. Her gaze shifted to Fate, who was staring, wide-eyed. Despite her own obvious irritation, Beam smiled. “And what are you looking at?”

Fate took a half step back, a blush starting to colour her cheeks. “Nothing? Just, maybe the bunny ears suit you?”

Beam’s omnipresent hairband now had two bright blue bunny ears sprouting from it, one of them partially flopped down. And her normal outfit of a dark blouse, blue skirt and dark stockings had been accessorized with a neck choker containing a bright blue bow.

The blonde holographic girl did a quick spin then, lifting her skirt to reveal a blue bunny tail poking out through a hole she had cut in her panties. “Do you like my tail too?” She wiggled.

Fate cleared her throat and turned her attention to the clipboard in her hand, idly spinning a pencil in her fingers as she stared intensely at the paper before her. “Irrelevant. You’re in quarantine.”

Beam spun back. “But I won’t be contagious forever, even assuming I am now.” Then her eyes opened wide. “Oh NO… this is two weeks without any hugs, isn’t it. I don’t know if I can handle that.”

“You have before,” Alice pointed out dryly. “Running this place all alone.”

“Yeah, but I think maybe now I have a stereotypical bunny libido?” Beam said, chewing her lower lip. “I’m thinking about sex more than usual. Come to think, thank goodness the virus didn’t switch my sexual preferences, pyon pyon. Makes me wonder about the guys it infects.”

Fate rubbed her forehead. “Back on topic, please. Beam, do you know how you, a hologram, caught a virus that, as far as we know, only targets humans?”

“I’ve been thinking about that,” Beam admitted. “Remember my programming is meant to emulate human physiology as much as possible? I sweat when I work out, I bleed when I’m cut, and so on. It’s likely that an accidental exposure to the virus triggered these bunny changes, to help me blend in with the locals.”

“But you’re not sure,” Alice pressed. “It could be some new mutation.”

Beam shrugged. “It’s possible. But I even caught a cold once. This isn’t too different. And as I said when I contacted you, I’m willing to ride this infection out so that you get some data, rather than trying to reprogram myself, pyon pyon.”

Fate nibbled on the end of her pencil, then finally brought her gaze back up to scrutinize Beam. “So, the tail. The ears, the bow. It’s become part of your program? You woke up one morning and had them?”

“The same way it happens to someone on that Earth, yeah,” Beam affirmed. “Though for humans, the bunny ears come from the scalp. Also, this bow collar?” She tapped it. “It didn’t appear, it’s an accessory. I just had this… compulsion. To buy it.”

“You felt compelled to accessorize?” Alice said, lifting an eyebrow. “How?”

“It’s like how I’m compelled to say ‘pyon pyon’ sometimes,” Beam explained. “My tongue starts to feel funny, until I do it. Likewise, my neck felt funny until I put the bow on. Even now, part of me feels like I should wear a one piece swimsuit too.”

Alice crossed her arms, looking thoughtful. “I wonder. Could the initial virus have been created by some clothing corporation?”

Fate rolled her eyes. “Any other physical changes for you, Beam? I mean, given that the males who catch this apparently change sex?”

“Like what, a bigger bust?” Beam mused, smirking. She shook her head. “Not that I’ve noticed. Did you want me to strip down and let you take my measurements, pyon pyon? Hmm?”

Fate pressed the heel of her hand to her forehead. “Oy, I should never have let our relationship get unprofessional.”

“For now, let’s just have you type up a more detailed report for us,” Alice interjected. “Okay Beam? It will be important if I’m going down there to replace you.”

Beam’s smile vanished. “What? Alice, no. It’s not safe for you there.”

Alice brought her hands to her hips. “Why? Were there riots in the streets or something?”

“Well, no. At least, not that I saw,” Beam admitted. “It’s just, the virus. Right? It apparently takes at least a day to incubate, so you can have it, and transmit it, and not know it. And I’ve seen what happens to people who catch it, pyon pyon. They’re socially shunned.”

“I’ll wear a mask,” Alice soothed. “Besides, it won’t be for long, just to get any additional data we need.”

Fate looked to Alice and shook her head. “What? No way. Once you’re down there, the only way you’re coming back is through quarantine. We’ve got to have a closed border policy in place.”

Alice opened her mouth as if to protest, then seemed to think better of it. “Valid. I guess I should be glad we’re not talking Andromeda Strain deadly here.”

Beam looked hopeful. “Then Alice would join me in here after? Ooh, so maybe Fate should go down instead?”

“Fate is still in charge,” Alice objected. “As to the rest, we’ll figure it out before I leave. Your job for now is that detailed report. Understood?”

Beam’s expression became a pout. “Pyon pyon,” she mumbled, her bunny ears visibly drooping.

***

The second video finished playing, and Para closed the file. She then turned back to Trixie, to see the redheaded witch had taken two steps back, and was now glaring at her.

Para glanced down at herself, smoothed out a wrinkle in her purple dress, and looked back up. Trixie was still glaring. “What?” Para asked.

Trixie pocketed the device she had called ‘Rixi’ and then crossed her arms over her chest. Her posture seemed to convey that the problem was obvious. Except it really wasn’t.

“Trixie, what?” Para reiterated.

Trixie sighed, shook her head, then raised her hand to point. “You’re infected.”

PARA
Commission by Michelle Simpson

Para blinked. Then reached up to the bunny ears on her hairband. “Oh! No, I said these were because I’m a quadratic function.” She smiled in what she hoped was a conciliatory way.

“Uh huh. The last guy I chatted up in a bar said he was allergic to latex,” Trixie shot back, while lowering her arm. “Could be true, sure, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s a red flag to continuing a conversation.”

Para nibbled her lower lip. She’d never been stereotyped on account of that part of her appearance before. “Okay, well… what can I do to convince you? Should I calculate the arc of a thrown object real fast or something?”

“I don’t have anything to throw at you,” Trixie pointed out. Para still couldn’t figure out if the woman was bluffing. “Is this some sort of a test?” Trixie pressed on. “Is that Fate woman watching us now, to see how I react?” She glanced furtively around the room, possibly looking for cameras.

Para slowly shook her head. “Fate went to take a call from Alice. Whereas she brought me to the Station in part for my expertise – more on vectors than on bunny girls, by the way – and in part because I’ve worked on the station before. In case an emergency situation comes up with Beam in quarantine.”

Trixie continued to stare for a long moment before relaxing her stance. “Fine, whatever. I’m staying over here. Further if you cough. Since studies vary in terms of how far away I need to be.”

Para nodded. “Are you at least taking the case? You seem to know a bit about disease transmission.”

Trixie’s expression became hard to read once again. “I know a little about a lot of things,” she said eventually. “And I still have questions.”

“I’ll answer as best as I can?” Para offered. She wondered if she should keep smiling or not.

Trixie mumbled something under her breath. It sounded like ‘bet she won’t answer questions about this place until we talk virus’. Before Para could speak up, Trixie was speaking aloud once again.

“Three obvious problems, Para. First, everyone’s been talking about this thing as a virus. What about this realm-hopping thing being a bacteria? Was that ruled out because bacteria are larger, or what?”

“I don’t know,” Para admitted. “Though I guess something smaller might more easily slip through a dimensional crack.”

“Except a virus can’t exist without a host,” Trixie continued, taking a couple steps sideways to slap at the wall. She then pointed at Para again. “Which is probably a lot LARGER than a bacteria. Can you explain that?”

Para winced. “No? Again, not a biology expert, more in this for the math.”

“Uh huh. Second problem, that holographic lady.” Trixie gestured towards the computers. “I’m thinking she could catch a cold because her programming recognized the virus type, and as such she runs some program to act accordingly. Yet in this case, the virus would be unknown… so how would her software know what program to run? Or did it only change her appearance?”

Para shook her head. Here, at least, she and Fate had discussed the situation a bit. “It’s more than cosmetic. One possibility is that Beam’s program was able to do an analysis of the viral effects at a very high level. Meaning she’s got valuable data we can use somewhere in her subconscious.”

At that, Trixie leaned against the wall with her elbow, resting her hand back against her head. She looked thoughtful. “Really? The technology buff in me kind of wants to talk to this Beam now. Is her fourteen days of quarantine up yet?”

“Not yet, but the talking is easy enough. Oh, there’s also been talk of bringing Alijda back on board to look at Beam’s programming,” Para added. “She’s a woman who was even able to hack into alien technology on my first mission here.”

Trixie stared. “You’re making this sound more and more interesting, and part of me hates you for that. But before I commit, third problem. Did anyone run a check on how you first noticed this virus thing? Alice said something about tripping a scan, but that detail was swept aside.”

Para winced. “We’re back to me not having an answer. Um, good job picking up on that?”

“Thanks, I know,” Trixie said. She glanced around the room. “So when DO we get someone in here who can answer my questions?”

“Now,” came a voice from above.

Trixie’s head tilted up. Para followed Trixie’s gaze, to see Fate was looking down at them from the hatch in the ceiling. The central control room was a couple stories tall, so the only way she could join them would be to shut off the artificial gravity, or–

Fate flipped a switch, and a short ladder swung into view. She hopped onto it as it started to telescope down. Bringing the ponytailed blonde close to the floor, as she was standing on the bottom rung.

Para turned back to Trixie. The techno-witch’s expression had resumed being inscrutable. “How long were you listening in?” Trixie asked, as Fate jumped off the ladder.

“Long enough,” Fate said, brushing off the lapels of her suit jacket, before offering up a smile of her own. “And Para’s right, good job. I can give you access to Ziggy and even Mr Smith, to track down the origin of the initial scan. Or I can look into it, while you talk to Beam about technology and the virus.”

“Sensing a big ‘if’ coming,” Trixie remarked, as Fate paused.

Fate shrugged. “It’s contingent on you agreeing to join our cause and take the case, of course.”

“Which is now a double barrelled statement,” Trixie pointed out.

Fate’s smile faded. “Yup,” was all she said.

Trixie grimaced. She looked back at Para, then the computer banks, then up to the hatch in the ceiling, then Fate again. “Will you guarantee my safety?”

“Wish we could,” Fate answered. “Know that we’ll do our best, and aren’t trying to lie to you. For that matter, maybe you’d prefer to chat to Alijda about not simply programming, but also about how much we suck? That can be arranged too.”

Trixie stared. Finally, she nodded and made her decision.

WITH WHOM WILL TRIXIE TALK NEXT?

OPTIONS:

VOTING CLOSES ON SUNDAY JUNE 21th

Previous INDEX 6 Next

PATHS NOT TAKEN:
Had Beam been injured or damaged, Alice would have been dispatched to the planet right away to help out. Meaning they would both be planet-side. Had Beam vanished, Alice would have enacted the ST:TNG episode “First Contact”… so might have been on the station, might have been consulting with someone planet-side to find Beam (I hadn’t worked out details). We got Beam having caught the virus, meaning an inversion: Beam’s back on the station (in quarantine) and Alice is off investigating in her place.

EXTRA ASIDE:
Only 1 vote by the end of last Sunday, so I kept the voting open an extra couple days (busy time of year at school anyway). Thanks to those who boosted the count. I’ve also started posting to Tuesday Serial, we’ll see if that does anything for us.

6.02: Viral Video

Previous INDEX 6 Next

SMOKE WITH MIRRORS: PART TWO

“What the hell just happened?”

Para smiled tentatively at the redheaded woman who had been teleported aboard the Epsilon Station. She had just dropped into a wary crouch. In her defence though, the Station really didn’t have a good way to warn their targets before retrieval.

“I – we – brought you in,” Para explained. “Because you accepted the virus case.”

“The hell I did,” came the woman’s sharp response. She now seemed torn between shouting at Para and looking around the circular control room. “I phoned your number to get more information, only to get a recording saying ‘Thanks for your interest’ or some such. Decided to go to the kitchen to make myself a snack – and now I’m here?”

Para pursed her lips. “Oh.” Apparently there had been a miscommunication. “Well, Trixie – er, should I call you Trixie? Professionally? Or would you prefer–”

“Trixie will do,” the redhead interrupted. She finally settled her gaze fully onto Para as she drew herself up and folded her arms over her chest. “And you would be?”

“Para. I’m a personified parabola.”

An eyebrow went up. “Quadratic equations are blondes with bunny ears?”

Para instinctively reached up to touch the parabolic rabbit ears of her hairband. She had normal ears too, to be sure, but the hairband was almost an extension of herself, the long ears reacting to whether her depression was at a minimum or a maximum. “Yes? Or we can be? I do have a twin-tailed variation.”

That seemed to cause Trixie to reach up and run her fingers quickly back through her own twin-tailed hairstyle. Para idly took note of how Trixie’s red hair was much shorter in comparison to her own, yet it did manage to reach her shoulders, even tied as it was.

“Hmph. Okay, so math can be seductive,” Trixie decided. “Doesn’t explain this abduction.”

Para felt caught off guard. “Seductive?”

A partial smile graced Trixie’s features. She posed with a hand on her hip. “I know math can reel a person in, Para. Practically taught it to myself because high school classes went so slowly. And I know seduction too. Because why have people like you only for your brains? So don’t you try to use my own distraction techniques against me.”

Indeed, with the light dusting of freckles on Trixie’s face, the schoolgirl-style blouse and skirt outfit, and the stance, Para could see how the redhead might be called… well, funny enough the first phrase to come to mind was ‘Sexy Cute’. The same moniker that her first human friend, Alijda, had once used to describe Para herself.

Of course, Trixie was human, whereas Para was a amalgamation of various theoretical concepts, given human form. Still, Para had always suspected that her curves were to make her more appealing to those who didn’t like math… were there humans like Trixie who saw quadratics as appealing already? Is it that she didn’t pick up vibes from them as often?

Still. “Trixie, wouldn’t I look more, um, male? If I was trying to seduce you?”

“Tch. Again, you can’t spirit me away and claim to know my actual name, and then pretend not to know about certain other aspects of my personal life. Honestly, it’s not like you’d be my first choice, Para. But if it’s for a case – or a dreary Friday evening – I’d be game to see what’s under that dress you’re wearing. The math aspect makes me curious.”

Para felt her cheeks getting red. “Oh.”

It occurred to her then that she had never considered any relationship entanglements with humans. But was it possible that others she had encountered might have seen her in a romantic way? Could that be partly why Chartreuse had saved her on their last mission together?

“See? I play the game better. So.” Trixie snapped her fingers in the air. “Abduction, Para. Why?”

Wait, had Trixie been bluffing? Para couldn’t tell. She shook her head. “Sorry. Um, you gave me something to think about there.”

Trixie’s smile became a smirk. “Fantasize about me later.”

“That’s…” Para shook her head, and decided not to bother correcting the woman. “Look, the Epsilon Project didn’t mean to abduct you. Per se. Phoning that number was enough to indicate agreement that you’d take the case. Or that’s what I was told, at any rate. Hence the summons.”

“Told? You’re not in charge?”

“Oh no,” Para said, raising both hands up. “I’m more of a… consultant? Though I suppose I go on missions too. Either way, Fate had something to take care of, so she asked me to fill you in on all the details.”

“Uh huh.” Trixie’s gaze had resumed wandering around the room. “I’d prefer to speak to Fate. Or whomever’s in charge.”

Para nibbled her lower lip. “Could I at least show you the video first? You’ll see her – everyone – on that. It might also answer the questions you had about the mission. And it will mean that I’ve done my job properly.”

“One moment.” Trixie walked over towards the one visible door in the room. She paused, then wrenched it open and looked into the storage closet. Seeing no-one there, she glanced around once more and sighed. “Fine, video. But I reserve the right to be returned home after.”

Para smiled. “Thank you.” She then gestured towards the computer banks on the wall. When Trixie approached, she cued up the file that Fate had left for them.

“For reference, the woman in the T-shirt and jeans you’ll see is Alice,” Para supplied. “The one dressed a bit like you, but with a darker blouse, is Beam. And the one in the business attire – when she arrives – is Fate.”

“Thanks.” Trixie pulled a device out of her blouse pocket. “Rixi, active recording. I assume you have no objection, Para?”

Para shrugged. “No. The others might ask you to erase it later, is all?”

“Well, they can ask,” was Trixie’s final word on the matter as the video started to play.

***

“I did hear you the first time,” Alice admitted, following the third time Beam cleared her throat. The brunette woman finally turned away from all of the sheets of paper she had stuck up on the wall of the auxiliary control room. “Something wrong?”

“Well, you?” the holographic woman said tentatively. “Between the recent alcohol intake and, er, this…” Beam said, gesturing at the wall Alice had been scrutinizing, “…Fate and I are worried you’re getting too emotionally invested.”

Alice’s lips tightened. She looked back at her wall of sheets, then Beam, then the wall again. “But they’re OUT there,” she declared, pointing. “We know they are.”

ALICE VUNDERLANDE
Commission by Cherry Zong

Off Beam’s silence, she turned back to the blonde. “The organization that provided one world with the means to abduct people like Fate. Who were getting funds from another world, to the point of that Earth thinking they had to shut down dimensional travel to get away. What else is this ‘Clover Enterprises’ involved in? We have to know.”

Beam clasped her hands behind her back. “With all due respect, we don’t. That’s not Epsilon’s job. We’re meant to clean up dimensional irregularities, artifacts that have become accidentally displaced. That’s all.”

“That’s FATE’S job,” Alice argued. “She’s the one in charge of the Station. We were both fired, remember? And later recruited by Fate to look into this very thing?”

Beam winced. “Technically, I resigned. But listen, after a month of us turning up no new leads? Fate’s been looking into returning control of the station to one of us. Remember, this was never meant to be a permanent position for her,” she added, as Alice seemed about to protest. “She has a world she might want to return to, unlike us.”

Alice frowned. “Are you saying I wouldn’t like to return to living with Alijda?” she accused, crossing her arms.

“You know I’m not,” Beam sighed. “Just, your original world became a hell dimension, while mine was all about free love, making my lesbian self an outcast. So neither are an option. You’re welcome to go back living with your friend, while I take over again here. Kinda the very thing I was trying to bring up.”

Alice again turned from Beam to the wall, and then back to Beam. “But we’re close to something! Right? I mean, look here.” She began to gesture and point at the sheets.

“This world has no clovers. While on this world, four leaf clovers are the norm instead of three leaf ones. The dimensions between them when we do a four dimensional projection contain THIS cluster of worlds where magical leprechauns are either a rumour, or fact, even if they don’t call themselves that. Now, if you draw a rainbow from that set over to these dimensions where the ‘Star Trek’ franchise didn’t have its first prequel known as ‘Enterprise’, you can see that a shadowy influence might have caused–”

“Mr Smith?” Beam interrupted.

“Hello, Beam,” came the male voice of the Station’s auxiliary control computer. Its control panels had been previously opened, the artificial intelligence offering assistance to Alice wherever possible during her analyses. Alice paused in her gesturing and turned at the remark.

“Hi,” Beam chirped back, wiggling her fingers in a wave. “Could you show Alice what she looks like lately? That picture I suggested from before?”

“Indeed,” Mr Smith said. An image came up on his main screen.

Alice made a face. “My face on Charlie Kelly, ha ha. Never watched that show, weirdly enough, so I’m not certain what you’re trying to say about me.”

“Oh.” Beam rubbed the back of her neck. “I thought you’d know it. He’s a guy who loses himself in fantasies, as you seem to be doing. Now, don’t get me wrong, your ability to free associate has its merits, just… maybe not here.”

“Then again, maybe Alice IS on to something,” came a new voice. Fate walked into the room then, looking down at a clipboard.

“Ungh. Way to spoil my vibe, girlfriend,” Beam said, hands moving to her hips.

Fate looked up then, seeming momentarily flustered. “Please don’t call me that when we’re on duty, Beam. It’s unprofessional.”

Alice’s eyebrows shot up. “Whoa! I was gonna simply dismiss the remark, given how Beam’s programming still has trouble differentiating girlfriends and girl friends. But now? What DO the two of you get up to when I’m not around?”

Fate’s cheeks got pinker. “Alice, it’s not what you think. I’d had a few drinks and… um, look, let’s just say this job can get stressful, and it’s important to relax.”

Beam smiled, running her tongue over her upper lip. “And women have needs. And I have–”

“OH-kay,” Fate said pointedly, waving her clipboard. “Listen. I came here to say that the scan you recommended? It’s turned up key information. About an airborne virus. Jumping dimensions.”

Alice and Beam immediately stopped looking sidelong at each other, coming to attention.

“A virus can’t do that,” Beam stated. “Not based on everything we know.”

“Not without outside help,” Alice agreed, pounding one fist into her other palm. “Excellent, a clue. Now, what was this scan you ran, Beam?”

Beam blinked. “I didn’t run one. Isn’t Fate referring to something you ran?”

Alice frowned. “I don’t think so? I’ve been running a few things though, so maybe I tripped a scan in the process.”

“Well, someone put it in the system,” Fate stated. “As we wouldn’t normally have picked this up. In particular, the virus causes different reactions on different Earths. But now that we have the data, well, it’s highly suspicious.”

She turned the clipboard around, allowing both Beam and Alice to glance over the printout and her written notes.

“Arranged by most infected,” Alice remarked after a moment. “Could mean one of the three at the top is the virus’ origin… do we have ANY vector data?”

Fate shook her head. “Not yet. Ziggy’s still running an analysis. Could take days.”

“Scope as origin is kind of a dangerous assumption,” Beam cautioned. “Still, I can go down to that world at the top of the list, to learn more. With my holographic matrix engaged, I should be protected.”

“Should be?” Alice objected. “Also, your hairband is still a tether, we know you can get hurt that way even while insubstantial. It’s like the a mobile emitter on Star Trek: Voyager.”

Beam shrugged. “I’ll be careful. Besides, this says all the virus does is turn people into bunny girls. That’s not so bad, it’s even kinda sexy.”

“On the more standard Earth it’s doing that,” Fate pointed out. “Which, I add, is preliminary data, and it has the potential to become bad. Once all the males have become female bunnies.”

“Meanwhile, on that fantasy world, it seems to be activating more latent magical abilities,” Alice mused, peering closer at Fate’s clipboard. “And on the tech world it’s causing teleporter malfunctions. This is WEIRD. Are we even sure it’s the same thing?”

“According to our data, yes,” Fate confirmed. “Only slightly mutated. Giving us insight that those worlds don’t have.”

Alice frowned. “I’d say we should just teleport someone here, but I’m not sure how far I trust the bio filters on this station.”

“Who? No one on those worlds popped up in the recruitment folders, that I know of,” Beam pointed out. “We can’t risk revealing ourselves. It’s fine. I’ll go. What’s the worst that could happen?”

WHAT HAPPENS TO BEAM?

OPTIONS:

VOTING CLOSES ON SUNDAY JUNE 7th

Previous INDEX 6 Next

PATHS NOT TAKEN:
You might think the vote last time would have indicated the situation Beam was going into (catgirls, spells, teleports), but I only determined those after the fact. That vote was more about a possible overall setting, and how well equipped Beam would be, given she’s a more technology-based character. Of course, despite her preparations, bad things will happen to her. As this part was starting to run long, giving a vote earlier than I’d thought.

5.14: A Mew Sing

Previous INDEX 5 Next: TBD

CHANCED ERASURES: PART FOURTEEN

Alice considered doing something to act against Mary-Lynn, as the cat woman stood across the room. Two things made her hesitate. First, there was the fact that acting against Mary-Lynn herself wouldn’t serve to stop the dimensional shutdown device. Second, there was the issue of not being native to this world, and an “Epsilon” member being active in a key moment like this… well, it was how Alice had lost her job once already.

Fortunately, Alice didn’t have to do anything.

As the unconscious guy behind the desk let out a groan, everyone looked in that direction. That’s when Alice felt Sue grasping for the invulnerability badge she had on. She felt Sue, rather than saw her, because Sue had used her invisibility power again.

Alice let Sue take it. Moments later, Sue was standing right next to Mary-Lynn, and kicking the gun out of her hand. The cat woman snarled in response, rounding on Sue with a punch – that bounced off the invulnerability field, causing Mary-Lynn to let out a mewl of pain. Would that end up draining it for good? Well, Alice now noticed that Marlin had a hand on his wand, so could probably help out if necessary.

There was no need. In a clever move, Sue managed to twist Mary-Lynn’s arm back behind her, putting the cat woman into a hold. Fortunately, that only took one hand, leaving her other hand free to grab the tail, right before she said, “Tell us how to fix this.”

“Ow! Ow, ow! I already said there’s nothing you can do. Let go of my tail, that hurts!” Mary-Lynn hissed.

“Shay could probably help,” Usa suggested. “He’s the sort of person to have had an emergency override installed.”

“Except he’s unconscious, like Chartreuse here,” Para remarked, where she was softly stroking Chartreuse’s hair.

“Oh, my gun was set on sensory stun,” Usa said, holding it up. “Shay’s merely frozen, he’s still able to hear everything that’s going on. It’ll wear off in less than five minutes. All we need to do is use that time to somehow convince him that Mary-Lynn here is the real enemy.”

“You think we can?” Sam asked. “Shay wouldn’t listen to reason earlier.”

“Wait, um, is Chartreuse also aware of what I’m doing?” Para said, pulling her hand back. Usa simply smiled at her.

Alice turned her attention back to the dimensional device. “So, I can’t be sure, but I don’t think we’ve got much more than five minutes anyway.” Another plush cat hit her on the head. “Also, I feel like that rift is getting more aggressive, maybe due to the proximity of this thing.” In her part of the room, the small toys were stacked above her ankles.

“So how do we get Mary-Lynn to confess… wait,” Sue said. “The Hypno drug used for interrogations, is there more of it around here? We saw some in the infirmary.”

Before Usa could answer, Sam was stepping forwards. “I have some, I grabbed a vial, remember?” he said. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his handkerchief. “Would someone like to do the honours?”

Sue flashed her friend a smile. “Usa, you know how to administer that stuff, right?”

“Th-That drug won’t work. Cat genetics make me immune. Go fly a kite,” Mary-Lynn yelped.

“It’s worth a try,” Usa decided. She took the vial from Sam and advanced on Mary-Lynn.

“No, this is illegal on so many levels. If you do that, you’ll never work for the Council again. Let go of my damn taaaail!” Mary-Lynn mewled, struggling against Sue. But either Sue’s grip, or the invulnerability field, or both, kept the cat woman in place.

“If you’re one of the leaders, I don’t think I want to be working for you anyway,” Usa concluded. “Thanks for your help with restraint, Sue Morts.” She administered the drug.

Alice took the opportunity to get closer to Para. “Do you know how good the shielding down here is?” she murmured, crouching. “Because you might be out of here either way.”

After all, the Epsilon station had temporal circuits. If the dimensions were to close off, Fate could, in theory, bounce back to just before that moment and initiate a retrieval. Alice kind of hated to piggyback out that way, but there was only so much they could do to influence things before they became part of the problem. Right?

Para could only shake her head and shrug back though. So Alice resigned herself to standing back up and watching as Usa stepped back from Mary-Lynn, staring her in the eyes. Hopefully there was still more they could learn.

“Your name, for the record,” Usa stated.

“Mary-Lynn Emrys, and for the record, go take a flying leap,” the cat woman snarled.

“Who sent you to this reality?” Usa continued.

“I was born here, nitwit,” Mary-Lynn said. “You know, you’re not going to trip me up this way. You don’t know the right questions. Give up now, let the device finish, the dimensions will close, and we will be safe.”

“Safe from what, from whom?” Usa pressed.

“Anything or anyone out there who’s a threat,” Mary-Lynn answered.

“But especially from the Clover group,” Alice decided to suggest. “What is it they’re calling themselves?”

“Clover Enterprises, duh,” Mary-Lynn said. There was a brief silence. Then, “Aw, hell.”

Alice smiled quietly. At last, after all this, a solid lead.

“Is that something related to this school’s Clover Club?” Sue asked.

“No, idiot, the similar name just makes for a good smoke screen,” Mary-Lynn said. “I’m not saying anything more.”

Usa had glanced over towards Alice; now she turned back to the cat woman. “I think you will say more. Because you’ve had dealings with Clover Enterprises. Right?”

“I have not, not personally.”

“But for some reason, they’re after us,” Usa insisted.

“Sure, in a sense.”

“Can you explain why in five words or less?”

“We owe them money.”

“Why’s that?” Usa challenged.

Mary-Lynn attempted to shrug. “How the hell would I know? Do I look like the top brass?”

“If it’s only a money issue, why not pay off this Clover Enterprises?” Sam spoke up, from where he’d returned to check on Thred’s unconscious body. “Is it too expensive?”

“Not really, it’s more that the CEOs want their pay raises,” Mary-Lynn stated.

Sue leaned in closer to Mary-Lynn’s ear. “Wait. Wait, let me see if I’ve got this straight,” she said. “The Council has had extra-dimensional dealings with Clover Enterprises. Some pretty long-standing dealings, as you’ve had years to use school Clover Clubs as a smokescreen. And now, instead of paying a debt, our Council is funding a dimensional closure device, which will isolate our world and hurt our economy. All this, merely so CEOs can keep their pay raises? And you’re okay with this?”

“I might be getting a cut,” Mary-Lynn said sullenly. “Besides, no worries, there’s this trickle-down effect for the cash, whereby–”

“Oh, shut it,” Usa snapped. “I cannot believe that our organization has become so corrupt.”

“But this doesn’t make sense,” Sam protested. “Why take the drastic step of shutting down all dimensions, rather than just the one where this Clover Enterprises exists?”

“Because we can,” Mary-Lynn snarked.

Sue looked towards Alice. “You mentioned the group in the first place, do you know?”

“Well, there’s a shadowy Clover group that’s been behind at least one other dimensional incursion,” Alice admitted, exchanging a glance with Para. “Meaning I doubt your Council knows which other dimensions do or don’t have ties, hence the decision to go totally dark.”

“Actually, here’s a thought,” Para piped up. “Could this Clover Enterprises have been involved in the magic wars on this very site? Maybe the company even suggested to ‘Fenduro’ that a school be put here, along with that puzzle to solve for access to the base. Could things go that deep?”

Usa frowned, and looked back at Mary-Lynn. “Well, could they?”

“I can’t say ‘no’,” Mary-Lynn said, mouth twitching. “Which actually bothers me, why am I getting creeped out?”

“Attack of conscience?” Sam suggested.

“Hi, so, the dimensions are about to get shut down,” Marlin said, speaking up again. He’d spent the last few minutes alternately looking inside the device, glancing up at the rift, and eyeing the dimensional control item that Sue had clipped to her belt.

It occurred to Alice then that Marlin could probably have rushed Sue and grabbed it by now, if he’d wanted to. It was nice that he wasn’t interrupting the interrogation with magic either. Then again, maybe the issue was Marlin had no clear idea what was going on.

That’s when Shay mumbled something.

Sam moved closer to him. “What was that?”

Usa placed her hands on her hips. “Given what we just learned, along with Shay’s brother being off-world, hopefully it was an override code.”

Sam leaned in closer. “He said… ‘Video Err’.”

“Another anagram,” Marlin muttered. “Not helpful in actually giving us an override.”

Alice snapped her fingers. “Except where it just might be.” She peered at the inside of the device again. “Heck yeah, just need to uncouple the video. Fun failsafe. Seems you can’t shut down what you can’t see. Jolly good.”

The rectangular box showing the pulses went dark. At which point the dimensional rift opened wider, and even more cat plush started pouring out.

“Aaaand pretty sure that’s coincidence,” Alice remarked.

“Okay, so, any way we can still shut THAT dimensional connection down?” Sue asked.

Mary-Lynn rolled her eyes. “You people. A regular dimensional device can patch that, at least temporarily. Release me, and I’ll show you how.”

Sam blinked over at the cat woman. “Huh. While I realize that has to be the truth, why are you offering up the information…?”

“Leniency? Also, I’m starting to question my own place in reality, given how I seriously didn’t think there was a way for you to screw with our plans. But here we are. Will you let go of my tail already?!”

“Fine. Help,” Sue said, finally releasing Mary-Lynn, “And if it’s any consolation, I don’t see any reason that the results of this interrogation should get out.”

“Otherwise the CEOs will see you coming for their blood money?” Para wondered.

“That, and the fact that we’d prefer to deal with this little problem in-house,” Usa remarked. She looked at Sam. “So this better not end up in your newsletter.”

“Don’t look at me,” Sam said, raising his hands. “I’m not sure anyone would believe me. Also, I’d prefer to stick around at least until that device is disassembled. It’ll help me sleep nights.”

“S’fine,” came Shay’s slurred voice from the floor. “Saw rye for every ting. ‘N yer in, Sham.”

Sam blinked down at Shay. “In? You mean, you won’t wipe my memory? That’d be nice, because I actually have some suggestions. Chief among them, writing instruction manuals.”

“You see?” Sue said brightly, looking over at her friend. “This has all turned out for the best.”

“Spike for yersluf,” mumbled Sir Thred, still face down on the floor.

“Great, keen, lovely, can I please get out of here before we all drown in plush cats?” Marlin pleaded. “I’ve been nothing but helpful, seriously.”

Alice flashed him a smile. “In fact, it’s high time Para, Chartreuse and I were clicking our heels together three times. We can bring Marlin along, if that’s okay.”

“Maybe you could even make it such that we were never here?” Para suggested. “I suspect the school records will automatically wipe anyway.”

Usa nodded. “This is plausible. Paperwork can get misfiled, and we’re rather busy right now dealing with this plush cat infestation.” She gestured at where Mary-Lynn was reconfiguring Sue’s gadget. “So if you have your own means of departure…”

“Say no more, say no more, say no more, squire,” Alice burbled, grasping Marlin by the sleeve and pulling him towards what she hoped was the nearest exit. Marlin didn’t resist. Para lifted Chartreuse, who now seemed to be slowly regaining the use of her limbs, and followed after. Once they reached the music room, they were able to contact the Epsilon station almost immediately.

***

“And you never looked back?” Fate asked, scribbling on her pad.

“Nope, we’d already overstayed our welcome,” Alice reported. She clasped her hands behind her back, wondering if they’d be able to sit down any time soon.

“Also I wasn’t, you know, able to turn my head at that point,” Chartreuse added.

“Right.” Fate made another notation, then looked up. “Well, that takes care of the report then. Good work out there.”

“I’m just soooo glad you’re all back safely,” Beam said, bouncing into the room after having gone to return Marlin to his proper world. “The fact that you got Clover information is a bonus. Ooooh, I want to kiss you all!”

“Down, girl,” Fate said, shaking her head. “Lesbian hijinks later, for now, we should get Chartreuse and Para back home too.”

“Then you’ll be continuing your Clover investigation alone?” Para mused.

Alice nodded. “For now. I mean, on the one hand, the fact that Clover Enterprises never showed up on our radar at all is significant. On the other hand, we still don’t have a specific way of finding them. But that’s for us to mess with, you all have your own dimensions to handle. Don’t worry, we’ll let you know if we need your help again.”

“Don’t forget, there’s still regular dimensional issues to monitor as well,” Fate reminded them.

“Well I’m always willing to, you know, do what I can for friends,” Chartreuse said, smiling. She looked at Para. “Speaking of that, it was nice to meet you. Thanks for, like, all the help.”

Para found herself smiling back. “Thanks for accepting me on your team, and taking that hit for me at the end.”

Chartreuse dropped a quick curtsey. “I do what I can.”

“Group hug with everyone before you go!” Beam squealed, throwing her arms open wide. “Please?”

Alice rolled her eyes, but followed the other women into the embrace. Personally, she hoped that the next stage of their investigation would involve bringing in Alijda, their super hacker. Or at least, she hoped to connect up with her roommate again soon. Might she even get a few days of relatively normal every day life then? Only time would tell.

END OF STORY 5: CHANCED ERASURES

 

Preferred POV character from Story5? OPTIONS:

VOTING WILL LIKELY REMAIN OPEN AGAIN

Previous INDEX 5 Next: TBD

PATHS NOT TAKEN:
If it had been Sam, he would have dimensionally jumped away using Sue’s device, then come back in a position to use the serum on Mary-Lynn. If it had been Marlin, who’d thought Alice’s “Mr. Wizard” remark had been a reference to him, magic would have been used as the restraint. We got Sue, which also included keeping everything quiet – so perhaps that’s a bad end? I should have seen it coming though, since Marlin doesn’t have much personality yet, and no one wanted Sam to figure out the room code a few votes back either. I’m still learning here. Feel free to elaborate about your prior votes.

THE ORACLE PROPHESIED:
Usa’s vote from a couple parts back had a secondary consequence about Sam’s Hypno drug. I didn’t want to bring up then, lest readers had forgotten about it. If Usa had helped them find Shay, they’d have used the drug on him, to learn more on using the device (recall they could have found files for what Mary-Lynn had said here). If Usa knew how the device worked, the drug for sure would have been used on Mary-Lynn, similar to what we saw. Since they improvised using the device, I was still improvising on who would get the drug… and it turned out to be the cat woman.

EXTRA ASIDE:
As a coins follow-up, in the first couple days of 2019, I got one of the new 2018 $10 bills with Viola Desmond on it, so that was kind of cool. Going forwards, I plan to edit the old Melissa Virga archive – any preference between longer parts every two weeks, or shorter parts weekly? Looking back, would people prefer if I stopped changing the point of view each part? Let me know. There’s a final Behind the Scenes here, looking at anagrams and stats. Thanks for reading!