Even though I transferred the “choices NOT taken” info to the end of individual posts for Story4, I’ve decided to do a roundup here with some extra commentary of things from my notes that didn’t make it in. It can also be a way of seeing how far we came. And, at the end of the post, my 2017 coins, and some final site stats. There are spoilers herein for “Epsilon Delta”, obviously.
0. PLOT CHOICE. The project member in trouble idea would likely have been Alijda, with Alice trying to get some support. The VR/RPG game world plot was the least fleshed out idea, but seems to be a popular genre of late, so I thought I could do something with it. We got problems on Epsilon itself, leading to Beam and Rose.
1. WORLD CHOICE. Alijda’s world would have involved a teleport, Kat’s world would have kept him on the planet, we got Beam’s world. At this stage, my notes of “could be sabotage or some inter-dimensional being gambling on outcomes” also add in “could be some artifact Beam retrieved, or ‘Fate’ from Kat’s world”. Yeah, it was that early, but not in stone.
2. DAMAGED. Software problem would have been Alijda POV (point of view), Hardware would have been Kat’s POV, indirect choice was Rose POV where the problem fixes itself. My notes include “magnetic field”, “need an artifact to defeat Ziggy” and maybe it’s personal or “this isn’t personal, it’s a game”.
3. BEAMING. Had Beam been unfindable, we’d have had two entities (her and Ziggy). Had Beam included Ziggy, Ziggy would have been the entity. We got Beam with memory loss (unanimously, 5 votes) which locked one entity in place (Fate), and led to working out the artifact.
4. PLAN IT. Vault artifacts would have restored some station power, while a planet with advanced tech would have meant a magic artifact. We got the magic world (with the cyberarm artifact), plus the POV VOTE where Rose won, meaning more Beam. My notes started to consider the planet here, wondering about a racial divide. (Yeah, that went nowhere.)
5. CHAPERONE. If Rose had brought Alice, we’d have had Kat/Alijda on the station. If Rose had brought Alijda, we’d have had Kat/Alice on the station. Instead we had Kat/Rose on the planet. Which created backstory for Beam. Also, my notes now included “mage patrol” and “Fate captured? Brought here by abduction or rival organization of Epsilon?”
6. NEXT STEP. Talking to the local would have had them detained (see “mage patrol” above), while consulting with Alijda would have shifted POV to the station. We got the introduction of Firestorm and the diary, along with an explosion in my notes: “Fate is going by ‘Destiny’.” “Rose is remembering Angie, having to quash her feelings then for different reasons. Resents Beam?” and “mention ‘Epsilon’ pin”.
7. JUST WILD BEAT. Alice making contact sans cyberarm would have related to occult research. Making contact with the cyberarm would have involved it being caught, so we kind of followed that thread until Kat made contact (which is what won the vote). My notes started to explore more about Fate now: “Destiny had dreams of being here” and “Fate accidentally cracked open the doorway herself, that’s not an Epsilon thing. Do it to get the cyber arm, or was it a fluke?”
8. DESTINY. Destiny being arrested would have involved townspeople and Firestorm. Her being kidnapped (which won) would have involved police without Firestorm. Her fleeing would have fallen to the 2nd most popular option but reversed whether Firestorm came. The group “Wages for Mages” was scribbled in as a townspeople possibility, which I never mentioned back then.
9. POLICE. If police had been no help, someone from the underground would have come. With Firestorm as the deputy, Fate would have had some tech still with her to justify them staying. We got Rose as the deputy, which meant no tech, and I could use that “Angie” stuff from 6. I also noted for myself that they can’t track Beam while she’s insubstantial.
10. BACKUP. A sneaky POV vote, which is why Alijda gets her first perspective setting next, joining the group on the planet. (Alice joining would have been her POV, and Kat not getting help would have been his POV.) I figured I’d need another Alijda POV part after this too, for balance (after the earlier Alice POVs).
11. TRACKING CODE. Our first tied vote this story (2-2), where Rose picks up both Beam AND Firestorm, resulting in some stalling tactics to make it work. At least Destiny wasn’t chosen, which was intended to be the most dangerous path. My notes started to flesh out a LOT of Compton’s history here (even before he had a name) with “Son finds book after Dad’s death, wants to know more, and Destiny was always talking about people with other world stories. He goes to her, makes demands, is rebuffed.”
12. WHERE ARE THEY NOW. Ran with the 2-2 tie again. No one wanted Firestorm with the enemy, which would have had them meet Beam. Beam being caught meant meeting Firestorm, but it worked to have them working together by then too.
13. FATED. Left the vote open longer, and got 7 votes for the first time since Vote 4. Fate coming through voluntarily would have linked into dreams, her coming through involuntarily would have been backlash from this world, but we got abduction. A bit dark, but that’s fine. Compton finally got named (selected because a ton of Computer Science had been ruining my life).
14. COMPTON PLAN. Scaring him away with Gods wouldn’t have worked, and we’d see Compton’s plan. Closing the portal would have resulted in an evil wizard, meaning a possible team up. We got explosions and Compton’s power up. I was already working on the end game here, with “Work up to where Rose’s duplication power is effective. He boomerangs things back, so many Roses?” and “Somehow the personal history scrambling spell ends up back on Compton?”
15. IN CHARGE. As mentioned last week, Rose deciding on Beam in charge would have meant everyone back to their worlds, Alice in charge would have had Beam and Fate together, but instead we got Fate in charge. With Alice and Beam working for her. The “larger Big Bad” for them was in my head here even before the final part was written.
16. CHARACTER. I’ve done one of these each story. After Story1, it was Alijda unanimously, 4-0. (That vote is now 6-0.) After Story2, it was Chartreuse unanimously, 2-0. (That vote is now 4-2 for Chartreuse, with Alice taking second place.) After Story3, it was Kat 4-1-1 with Alijda and Alice getting votes. (That vote is now 4-2-1.) And here we are after Story4. After one week… Rose and Kat are tied 1-1. Yeah, only 2 votes. I guess it’s the holidays?
First, a look at current year coins! (Why? Well, if you haven’t read “Time & Tied”, their time machine runs on coins of the current year.) At the end of 2015, I had 42 coins, the majority of them quarters and toonies. At the end of 2016, I had 37 coins, the majority of them quarters and dimes. Here, to end 2017, I have 20 coins from 2017, which is a sharp drop. Particularly considering how I got my first coins early (already had six by late April).
I think that’s partly due to it being Canada’s 150th, meaning people may be more inclined to hold onto them? Of note, there’s two different quarter designs, and the penny in the image isn’t 2017, it’s just WEIRD, since we don’t have them in Canada (I found it on the ground).
Now, a look at this website. The lowest viewed update of “Epsilon Delta” (not including the current month) is entry #8 from August, “The Arm of Fate”, which got 17 page views. The lowest viewed days in the past 6 months (when I stopped posting weekly) were ZERO views on August 4 and 8, September 8 and 9, October 26, November 4 and 7 and 18 and 23, December 31 (yeah, today). A total of ten times. Days with OVER FORTY views in the past 6 months were July 22, September 1 and 24, October 30. Oy, let’s get less granular.
The lowest month for 2017 overall, across the 250+ posts, was November, with 227 page views. The highest month was May, with 1,935 page views, this thanks to:
(1) A review by Tartra at WFG on May 6.
(2) A review of the site by Rev Fitz on May 21.
(3) A guest post at Drew Hayes’ site the week of May 21.
Large numbers continued on a weekly basis into the start of June, at which point, well, you can see for yourself below. Most weeks since are below 100 page views, whether I published or not. (Again, I shifted to twice weekly in July.)
Last 30 weeks (7 months) of 2017
What does this tell us? Well, apparently I still have no idea how to market. I did get 7 votes in three consecutive weeks towards the end of “Epsilon Delta” though, which is a new high. (Story3 came close, but it was 7-6-7.) So there’s that.
I’ve realized I’ll need to redesign the site to accommodate serials that aren’t “Time & Tied” or “Epsilon Project”, so that’s my next plan. We’ll then run “Virga Mysteries” every two weeks for a few months, then likely take another crack at Epsilon. I plan to bring Chartreuse back then, she’s overdue. “Time Untied” was my NaNoWriMo, I got 40k words done there, so I’ll keep at it.
As always, I hope you enjoyed reading this look behind the scenes. Thanks for voting/reading/commenting, and feel free to add your voice below about anyway which was unexpected, or anything else that jumps out at you. Happy New Year!
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.”
PATHS NOT TAKEN: If Beam had been put back in charge, Alice and Fate would have returned to Alijda and Kat’s worlds respectively. Possibly with a thread of contact, but we know Beam can be rules oriented. If Alice was put back in charge, she would have maintained communications, while Beam would have accompanied Fate back to Kat’s world, to help Fate deal with her experiences. Instead, as seen, we explore the greater mystery (which was always in the cards) with everyone on board.
EXTRA ASIDE: Thanks for reading! I’ll likely do a “behind the scenes” separate post later, maybe with some stats, and then in 2018 we’ll head into “Virga Mysteries”. Still every two weeks, as there are edits, and I need to devote some time back to my math comic. There’s a Discord comic chat coming up for it in February and I want it to see new material. I’m also now writing monthly for the Time Travel Nexus. So I’m keeping busy.
Rose watched Alijda as the older brunette woman considered their next move. At last, Alijda stood and moved off of the tarp, rubbing the areas where she’d been tied up. “Well, Firestorm is the resident of this planet,” she concluded. “Might as well go with his plan.”
“Really?” Rose said, surprised. It wasn’t that she had anything against the idea of fire bombing Compton’s supply tent. She had simply expected a plan with more finesse to come up.
“Unless someone else has an objection,” Alijda clarified. “Plus I suppose you are technically still in charge of the Station, Rose. Are you good with us doing this?”
“Oh.” Well, her plan had been kind of shot down by Alice. “Uh, yeah, I suppose.”
“Then I’ll spread the word,” Alice chirped over the communicator. “Because we’ve got to get on this fast. Beam turned on her communicator after Alijda left, so I’m now tuned into the happenings of Compton’s tent. FYI, Ned’s on his way to tell the others that Alijda escaped. He also beat up Beam a little.”
“He did WHAT?” Rose shrieked, one hand clenching into a fist.
“He hath attacked your lady love,” Alice clarified. “Give ‘em hell, Rose.”
Rose spun, staring towards the clearing. She couldn’t see it through the underbrush, but knew where it was. In part because Firestorm was sending up balls of fire, and Kat was making them burn up in the air as a distraction, one which was easy to spot in the darkness.
Presumably, the two of them would now start to smash their fire down into the clearing. Destroying Compton’s plans, while sowing enough confusion for Alijda to teleport Fate and Beam to safety. And as they did that, Rose would… watch.
After giving the order, all she could do was watch.
Her hand fell open. “I have no powers. I guess I’ll fold up the tarp here.”
Alijda cleared her throat. “Actually Rose, as much as I don’t want to have to do that blind teleport a second time, it would be good to keep the tarp here. Just in case.”
“Awesome. Means I’m zero help.”
Alijda reached for Rose’s hand, and Rose turned to see the older woman giving her a reassuring smile. “Oh, Rose. You’re the one who got us here. By sniffing out Beam. That helped.”
Rose shrugged. “Except anyone could’ve done it,” she pointed out. “If they’d been the one stamped by the police instead. But it’s cool,” she continued, before Alijda could speak up again. “You’re older and more experienced anyway. Go give ‘em hell on my behalf.”
Rose forced out a smile. Alijda still seemed to hesitate, until Alice’s voice came back over the communicators.
“Beam’s getting clear of the tent,” Alice announced. “Kat and Firestorm are starting their run.”
“Hell incoming,” Alijda assured Rose. She dashed off towards the clearing.
Rose nibbled on her lower lip. She activated her communicator. “Alice, can you let me know when Beam is all safe and sound? I mean, along with everyone else too. Obviously.”
“No problem,” Alice assured her. “If you want, while you’re waiting, you can think about who should take this station back from you. Once the problem’s been dealt with.”
“Oh, right,” Rose groaned. “Can’t it just be Beam again? Or you?”
“The all-knowing dimensional God could object,” Alice reflected. “But then, they might not have a leg to stand on. Given how Beam bringing you in did save the station, and me coordinating here now proves that I would still be an asset.”
“Gods might not even have legs in the first place,” Rose mused.
“They move in mysterious ways,” Alice affirmed. She then continued to hum, “It’s alright, it’s alright, it’s all right. They move in mysterious ways.”
Rose ran her fingers back through her hair. Perhaps almost as important as who she chose for the job would be who she did NOT choose. Because what would Alice or Beam do if they weren’t working on Epsilon? For that matter, was there even anyone else to choose? Alijda had already said she wasn’t interested. What about Kat – or could having him be in charge cause problems for Alijda, putting their relationship into a chain of command.
“Oh, don’t pick a guy to run the place,” Alice added, as if reading her thoughts. “That’d be vetoed. I mean, can you even imagine a male administrator patrolling the multiverse? Ha! Men’s egos can be so fragile. Things would get seriously screwed up.”
Rose chuckled. “What’s that a quote from?”
“Not quoting, it’s just a truism. Oh, hey, hold on. These power readings are spiking, that shouldn’t be…” The humour vanished from her tone. “Everyone. Get out. Get out now, NOW, N–”
There was a blast of feedback from the communicator, making Rose wince and hold her arm out to the side. At the same time, the Earth shook. Moments later some sort of shockwave was projected out from the vicinity of the clearing, knocking Rose back on her ass.
Then things were eerily silent.
Rose did her best to shake it off, though she felt queasy. When she reopened her eyes, she saw a number of leaves and pine needles all around her on the ground, shaken free by the blast. For a moment, it seemed like there were even more trees surrounding her too – until Rose realized she had double vision again. She closed her eyes, counted to three, and when she looked once more, the problem had resolved itself.
Rose scrambled to her feet and ran for the clearing.
She nearly tripped over the blonde woman in the dark, but managed to sidestep her in time. Going down on one knee, Rose quickly felt for a pulse, only to realize that the woman was breathing.
Also, it wasn’t Beam. So with that hair, and more to the point that plain looking dress, it had to be Destiny. Or rather, Fate, the local potion master and Kat’s childhood friend.
“Hey, are you gonna be okay?” Rose asked, gently tapping at the woman’s cheek.
Fate moaned. “Today I’ve been kidnapped, tortured, and caught in a magical explosion, what do you think?” she grumbled. She cracked an eye open. “Who are you, anyway?”
“Rose Thorne,” the redhead said with an uncertain smile. “With Team Beam, trying to take down Compton and save you.”
“Oh, YOU’RE Rose,” Fate muttered. She tried to push herself up.
Rose wasn’t sure how to take that. She glanced back towards the clearing – it was now close enough to be seen through the trees, in fact some of those trees had been bent away from the area – and decided that, for right now, the stranger in front of her had to take precedence over her team. She helped support Fate into a seated position.
“I am indeed,” Rose agreed. “Can I help you?”
“Gimme a second.” Fate pressed her palm against her head, squinting at Rose through the darkness. “Huh. You don’t look like the most amazing lesbian anyone would ever meet, but then me and Beam didn’t have tons of time to talk while Compton was setting up camp.”
“Ah. Well, y’know, I’m not sure how many other lesbians Beam has really met,” Rose said. She hoped she wasn’t blushing foolishly.
Fate chuckled. “Ah, young love. Those were the days.”
Rose rubbed her neck. “So, um, did you get blown back here by that explosion?” she asked, trying to change the subject.
“No,” Fate admitted, lowering her arm. “It was that teleporting woman. She pulled me away from Compton, we appeared here, she said she’d be right back, then she vanished in a purple cloud. Moments later, boom, and I’m on the ground. What happened, did Compton’s tent blow up or something?”
“I think so? At least, that was part of the plan,” Rose admitted. She tapped at her communicator. “Alice? Alice, what happened?” There was no answer.
Fate coughed. “Okay. So, bright side, Compton can’t use his fireworks and other explosives to force open a dimensional portal. Nor can he use his potions and other magical items to force open a dimensional portal. But, down side, I think those two things interacted in a negative way as they were taken out. Hopefully not in a way that opened a dimensional portal.”
“Dimensional portal bad, I get that,” Rose affirmed.
“Bad in the hands of Compton’s damn family is all,” Fate clarified, taking in a long breath.
Rose nodded. “Right. Well, give me a moment, I’ll go see if I can tell what happened.”
Rose began to push herself back to her feet, only to have Fate reach out and grasp her leg. “Wait, let me come,” she requested. “Sounds like you’re cut off from your friends, and I might be able to help diagnose the situation.”
Rose hesitated. Fate was bound to slow them down, but still, the woman had a point.
She reached her arm out. Fate grasped it, and Rose hauled her up to her feet. Fate smiled. “Thanks, Rose. So, do you have a thing for older women at all?”
Rose flinched. “What? No. That is, damn, I’m sure you’re a nice person and all but I didn’t even know you were–”
“Trying to lighten the mood,” Fate finished, interrupting. “Because you seem tense as all get out. Though I suppose the situation warrants it. Sorry, it was a bad joke, let’s get a move on.”
“Right. I knew that, not really,” Rose said.
Apparently Fate had a weird sense of humour. Meaning she’d get along just fine with the rest of the Epsilon team. Actually… what if Fate were put in charge of Epsilon? Could that be a thing? Or would the trauma Fate had suffered here be a deterrent to being in charge? Rose made a mental note to ask Kat about it in private.
Assuming Kat was still okay after the mystical explosion.
The two of them crept closer to the clearing.
The first thing Rose saw was the bodies. Since the clearing was still magically lit, they were hard to miss. She started to charge in closer, only to have Fate grasp her shoulder, preventing the motion. “That can’t be good,” she muttered.
Rose turned to see what Fate was looking at. That’s when she saw what had to be Compton.
The short man with the scruffy beard was standing and whistling some distance away from the bodies, with one hand pointed at the ground. His other held Beam up by the ear. The blonde hologram was slumped on the ground, her eyes open, but seemingly blank. Rose’s hands had curled back into fists before she realized it.
Yet charging in was the wrong course of action. Rose shrugged off Fate’s grip, gliding behind the nearest tree, peering around it to get a better look at the situation.
The bodies she’d seen were those of Alijda and one of Compton’s henchmen. She now saw that Kat, Firestorm, and the other henchman were also lying prone on the ground. Before Rose could ask herself if they were okay, Compton turned to look down at something, and Firestorm was moving.
The cloaked man sat up, thrusting his arm forward and letting out a humming noise. A fireball appeared in the air, streaking towards Compton.
It bounced off an invisible wall, flying back in the direction it had come.
“Damn it,” Kat said. Rose watched as Firestorm rolled away, with the fireball striking the ground and quickly burning itself out as Kat stared at it.
“Oh, you thought I had to be watching you to bounce your attacks back?” Compton snarked, ceasing his whistle. “How wrong you are. No, no, this power, awakened in me by that explosion, you have no chance of defeating it. Not with such pathetic attacks. And soon, I’ll have bled out enough energy from this strange one” – he jerked Beam’s head by the ear – “to gain full mental control over this mystic doorway!”
“Well, that’s bad,” Fate muttered near Rose’s ear.
Compton turned to look at some trees. “You hear that, Destiny, wherever you are? You’ll rue the day you crossed me, make no mistake!”
Rose turned to face the older woman. “Can you work some of your symbol magic to stop him?”
“Hmph. If he were unconscious, maybe,” Fate said. “Seems like he’d resist most anything right now. I don’t suppose you have magic abilities that would knock him out?”
Rose shook her head. “I have zip all for magic. Unless you count the tracking spell the cops gave me.”
Fate frowned. “Oh? That’s bizarre. The police would only have given you that ability if you already had major magic potential. And even if it was dormant, that blast wave would have triggered something for you, since it also did for Compton… Rose, did you feel anything after the wave hit?”
“Nauseous,” Rose said. “And I also saw double for a bit, but that happened after I got stamped in the police station too. Oh, and earlier, in your place. I’m probably overexerting myself or something.”
“I don’t think so,” Fate said, her eyes widening. “Were you in the presence of strong magic each time you saw double?”
“Uh, I guess?” Rose realized. The protection spell, the tracking spell, and the explosion did make three for three. “Why is that important?”
“Because it means the magic inside you is resonating with your surroundings,” Fate explained. “I’m pretty sure it’s the same sort of resonance which allows for my occult symbols to work more tangibly on this Earth. In fact, if you’re not careful, the magical backlash could lead to you feeling kind of drunk.”
“Oh, now someone warns me,” Rose muttered.
Fate grasped her by the shoulders. “Rose, this is great. If you’re seeing double, you might actually have the power to double the things you see, be it temporarily, or as an illusion.” She frowned. “If only we could somehow coordinate your ability with my symbols…”
“Ha ha! I can feel it happening,” Compton shouted in delight. “Control over this mystical gateway. Soon, I will be unstoppable!” He began to whistle louder.
Rose snapped her gaze back towards the clearing. It looked like Kat had crawled over to Alijda to check on her. Perhaps hoping that her teleport ability would be able to get to Compton, but she remained unconscious. Firestorm was pushing himself to his feet, but he looked unsteady. And Beam, poor Beam looked catatonic.
With still no word from Alice, it was up to Rose. Rose, and her doubling ability. Which honestly, she should have recognized sooner – after all, she had once been Algebra, capable of multiplying emotions. Was this so different?
Rose turned back to Fate. “Could I also duplicate living matter?”
Fate blinked, lowering her arms. “I don’t know.”
An idea was forming. “Tell me how to activate my magic here.”
“It’s different for everyone. But it is sound based. Humming, whistling, even the sound of a sneeze can trigger something under the correct conditions.”
Sneezing, that would probably just turn her nose on. But vocal notes, as a choir member, Rose knew all about those. She thought back to the scream she’d used when rushing into Fate’s home, the first time she’d experienced her double vision. It would do.
“Okay, Fate. If this works, just tell one of me how to coordinate with your symbols. If it doesn’t, um, avenge me.”
“One of you? Rose, what–”
Rose evaded Fate’s outstretched hand, dodging around the tree trunks to emerge into the clearing, jogging towards Compton.
“Hmmmm, what have we here?” Compton said, again ceasing his whistling as he turned to look at her.
“Rose, run away!” Kat shouted.
Rose stopped and stood her ground about five metres away from Compton. She could now see that the hand he had pointing down was directed at some sort of stone circle, which was engraved with a clover.
“Here’s your only warning,” Rose said, raising her own hand to point, while wishing her arm wasn’t shaking. “Stop what you’re doing, and let your hostage go.”
Compton smirked back. “Or else what?”
Rose drew in a breath, tried to envision multiplication, and screamed at approximately a middle C. As expected, Compton reacted as he had with the fireball, and bounced her spell back. At least, she assumed that’s what had happened, as she felt not only her vision doubling, but everything else about her as well.
She took a step to the left, as she simultaneously took a step to the right.
Both Roses felt a little queasy at that, but she immediately screamed again, to take advantage of Compton’s confusion.
“What trickery is this?” Compton demanded, as Rose became four. Apparently sensing that he had an actual fight on his hands, he released Beam’s ear, throwing her aside as he took a step closer to one of the Roses.
Rose began to circle left, even as she circled right, each version vaguely aware that only the Rose second from the left had any real permanence. Yet her other selves knew they didn’t feel like an illusion, so for as long as they were around, well, perhaps it was time to test out their self defence courses.
“You’re about to find out,” the Roses chorused as one.
A faint giggle came from the ground as Beam’s eyes refocussed. “Ooooh. You. Pissed. Off. My. Girl. Friend.”
Four sets of Rose cracked their knuckles.
Who will be taking over the Epsilon Project? OPTIONS:
PATHS NOT TAKEN: Scaring Compton et al away with “gods” would have been the more problematic choice, given Beam’s reservations and the fact that Compton had nothing to lose. He’d have held fast, opened the portal and tried to bleed off magic, complicating things. Had they tried to close off the dimensions, an evil wizard would have come through the rift first, forcing Compton to team up with them to defeat the guy. As it was, we got Compton gaining powers.
THE ORACLE PROPHESIED: The double vision cauldron of Part 7 was a throwaway item for me to use anywhere, if I wanted. For all I knew then, it was specific to the item, or the location. But when Part 9’s vote picked Rose to be deputized, and the double vision returned in Part 10 (“see deuce”), Rose’s specific brand of magic became all but inevitable. The oracle did not prophesize Rose doubling herself here, but hey, whatever works.
EXTRA ASIDE: I’m pretty sure we’re down to one last instalment, which will be posted over the holidays. Then we’ll go into whatever got selected out of this post, because it doesn’t make much sense to have a runoff vote now (most everything is tied). So, go vote again on your fave? It renews every week. In other news, “Time & Tied”’s rerun has finished on RRL, and there were some character votes there, if you felt like contributing or seeing results in the final post. Thanks as always for reading here; I’m blown away by there being 7 votes for a second time running.
Alijda looked up at the remark by Rose. While waiting for Kat to return from his scouting mission, Alijda had taken to leaning back against a tree, her arms crossed. She fired off a reassuring smile at the redhead. “I’m sure he can take care of himself just fine.”
“Oh, I know,” Rose said, clasping her hands behind her back. She leaned forwards a little. “I said wondering, not worrying.”
Alijda felt her smile becoming more of a smirk. “Ooh. First Alice, now you, huh?” she remarked, more amused than anything else. “Fear not. The two of us are possibly doing dinner, so there’s nothing more for anyone to wonder OR worry about.”
“Possibly doing?” Rose prompted.
Alijda shrugged. “We literally do not live on the same Earth. Makes reunions awkward. The weird thing is how, despite knowing that, I haven’t been able to simply forget about him. So I guess we’ll see what happens.” She gave Rose a pointed look. “Something you may want to consider regarding Beam.”
Rose seemed to pinken, though it was difficult to be sure now that the sun had set. “Nice deflection, but I hadn’t planned on forgetting about Beam.”
“You just hope to forget about the relationship issues she sparked.”
Rose pulled back and looked away.
Alijda quickly moved to grasp the young girl by the shoulder. “Hey, not judging,” she said. “Not by a long shot. Goodness knows I don’t know how to react to anyone who shows an interest in me, romantically or otherwise. It’s only, heads up, Beam is something you’ll need to deal with before this is over. And you might not have a lot of time to decide on a path, depending on how things play out. You know that, yes Rose?”
She sighed. “Yeah. Plus I’ve got to pawn off this Station Commander role onto someone else too.” Rose crinkled her nose. “Do you think, if I gave it back to Beam, that she’d be able to email into my dimension or whatever? Because I could see having her as a pen pal going forwards. If she doesn’t hate my guts after that rant I gave her.”
“Hm! That’s not a bad idea,” Alijda reflected. “Even if Beam’s not in charge, I might be able to hack something together.” She wiggled her eyebrows as she pulled her arm back. “All you’ll need to do find a way to explain to your girlfriend why your new blonde pen pal keeps emailing you images of herself in sexy lingerie. I’ve heard that’s a tradition where Beam’s from.”
Rose’s eyes went wide. The mixed look of fear and confusion on her face gradually morphed into one of chagrin as she saw Alijda’s expression. “Oh. You’re joking. Um, right?”
“Mostly,” Alijda said. “Just remember, Beam’s ways are not your ways, plus she’s a hologram to boot. Don’t be afraid to set ground rules.”
“For sure,” Rose agreed, rubbing her neck.
“If you two ladies are done chit chatting, I can hear Kat coming back,” Firestorm remarked dryly, walking past them.
“Oh golly, we’ll swap makeup tips some other time then,” Alijda deadpanned. Rose let out a quick laugh. Firestorm didn’t seem to notice.
The three of them walked over to meet Kat as he approached through the underbrush.
“So Compton and Co are up to something,” Kat concluded after giving them a quick rundown of what he’d seen at the clearing. “The question is, how do we stop whatever this guy is up to, while also spiriting Beam and Fate out of there safely.”
“You’re sure the Destiny woman was your Fate?” Alijda verified, searching Kat’s expression. His voice had caught when describing her. Would his personal stake in things become an issue?
“I’m sure,” Kat said, clenching his jaw. “We’ve got to save her.”
“Should that be our priority though?” Rose asked.
Kat rounded on her, his body tensing, and the young girl shrank back in surprise. Alijda reached out to touch Kat’s shoulder.
“Please clarify?” she asked gently, looking at Rose.
Rose cleared her throat. “Um. Just, seems like this Compton guy feels he has something to prove. What if removing Fate, his key source of information, drives him into doing a boneheaded thing later on instead of backing down?”
“In which case I’d hope your plans don’t involve you simply waltzing away,” Firestorm grumbled.
“You’re right, Rose,” Alijda agreed. “We do need more information before we act.” She released Kat’s shoulder as she felt his posture relaxing. Though his jaw remained clenched.
“Do you know anything more about Compton’s intentions?” Kat asked, looking at Firestorm.
“No. I’m not the font of knowledge you seem to think I am,” the planetary resident insisted.
“We need to talk to Beam,” Rose put in. “I mean, wasn’t her whole plan to learn more? She doesn’t know we’re out here now, worried. She might have real good ideas, if we can get to her, as she’s seen this guy up close.”
“Another good point,” Alijda yielded. “The question is, how can anyone get to Beam when she’s in that tent, without causing Compton to overreact?”
They exchanged glances. Kat sighed. “I have a thought,” he admitted. “But I don’t like it, because it involves putting someone else in danger.”
“Let’s hear it anyway,” Alijda said.
When Alijda teleported into the clearing, she made a point of trying to arrive near the spot that Kat said Compton had been pointing at earlier. That helped her to see the stone circle on the ground, two steps away, with some sort of engraving on it. Possibly a four leaf clover? Interesting.
She didn’t have much time to think about it though, because her presence in the purple cloud of smoke had attracted everyone’s attention in the area. She raised her hands into the air as Compton’s security guy pointed a gun at her.
“Oh, golly!” Alijda said, trying to put a quaver into her voice. “What happened? However did I get here? What’s going on?”
Compton, the shorter man with the beard, had been in the process of doing something with a potion, looming over Destiny, who was on the ground. Or rather, Fate – Alijda supposed she should start thinking of the woman that way. They hadn’t been sure what Compton had been trying to accomplish from the edge of the clearing, but Alijda saw it now. He’d been cutting Fate with a knife, then applying a healing potion, as some sort of torture technique.
Alijda hated the guy immediately. She forced her expression to remain neutral.
Compton pulled Fate back to her feet, pointing at Alijda. “How is this possible?” he demanded of her. “How can people be coming through that thing before I’ve fully opened it?!”
“I still don’t know, and even if I did, I wouldn’t tell you,” Fate said tearfully. She spat at his feet.
Bonus points to Fate. Alijda took a few steps forwards, her arms still up, to help pull everyone’s gaze back to her. “Can you send me back now?” she asked. “I’d hate to be late for my CyberArm class.”
Only Alijda noticed Fate’s eyes widen slightly. She the woman gave a hopeful smile in response.
“Stop where you are,” Compton’s man said, waggling his gun to arrest Alijda’s forward motion.
“Hey, Ned,” Compton called out at the same time. “Bring more rope out here, we’ve got another one.”
In less than a minute, Ned had emerged, and Alijda had had her arms bound behind her. She was then pulled towards the tent. “I can walk,” she said, petulantly.
“You can shut up,” Ned countered. He pushed her inside and she nearly fell on her face.
The tent was big enough to fit four people comfortably, and contained a few rolled up sleeping bags, implying that Compton had planned on camping out for a while. Granted, that could be due to his coming into the area from another town. The open container of potions and what looked like a supply of fireworks was a bit harder to explain away. Compton had a plan, but what was it?
“Oh!” was Beam’s only exclamation as Ned marched in behind Alijda, pushing her over next to the holographic girl.
Alijda fired off a smile at Beam as Ned got busy tying up her legs. “Hi again. Rose is worried about you,” she remarked.
Beam looked away. “No,” she sighed. “Rose hates–”
“–being drunk,” Alijda finished. “It makes her say silly things she regrets. Gotta get used to us humans being irrational, Beam.”
Beam turned back, a hopeful look on her face. Ned stood up and brushed off his hands. “Do I have to gag you, girlie? Or will you shut up?” he asked.
Alijda glared at him. “Do I have to spell out the fact that we know each other and obviously came from the same place? Or does your boss not care to have that information?”
Ned glared back. He looked from her, to the front of the tent, and back. Then he reached into a nearby pack, pulling out a towel. Stuffing one corner of it into Alijda’s mouth, he then turned and walked back outside.
Alijda gave his back a nasty look. She turned back towards Beam, glancing down at the towel which was protruding from between her lips, which she couldn’t easily spit out. Beam leaned in close, grabbing the material between her own teeth, and she pulled it free. Alijda tried to spit out the aftertaste.
“Which is bad,” Beam insisted. “Very bad, considering what they know and what they’re attempting.”
Alijda caught the undercurrent of fear in Beam’s tone. “Okay. I’m all ears, and ready to teleport away again with the information,” she said.
Beam glanced towards the tent flap.
“Don’t worry, Kat and Firestorm are ready with a distraction to buy us more time if we need,” Alijda insisted. “What have you found out?”
Beam nodded. “Right. Well, you’ll need the backstory. I learned it when they left me and Destiny together while they were setting up camp. She told me it all started with Compton’s father. A man who abducted people from other worlds, recruiting them to work here, for him.”
Alijda flinched. “Wait. So Destiny – who is Fate, by the way – was abducted?”
Beam nodded again. “Compton Sr. had some way of scrambling people’s minds, giving them false histories so they wouldn’t want to go back home. But it didn’t work on Dest– Fate,” Beam corrected herself. “Possibly because she carried her own ward of protection. She even escaped from him. Tried to get local authorities to go after Compton Senior, but her story was too fantastical, and he was too influential. Plus the guy was smart, shutting down his activities when she began pointing fingers.”
“Damn. So he was a successful businessman largely due to illicit abductions from other magical worlds,” Alijda reasoned. “Did he take items as well as people?”
“Probably. So, this left Fate resigned to living out her days here, because it didn’t seem like anyone knew of other Earths at all. Of course, she did try to find people living here who might be like her, creating her club of people with powers not-quite-right for this world. But she never told them her history, fearing they might simply be locals with quirks.”
Alijda frowned. “But then why would Compton’s son now be–” It came to her. “He inherited everything when his dad passed away. He must have found information in his dad’s records, and wants to start this whole portal thing back up. To become a success story. Hoping Fate can fill in any missing pieces towards re-activating it.”
“Bingo. And he got to Fate using that Ned guy,” Beam added. “Managed to get him on her list, then boom, abduction.”
“And the cyber arm?” Alijda wondered.
Beam made a shrugging motion. “Fate found it in the clearing one day. After all, this apparently IS a dimensional weak point. She didn’t want to leave it around for anyone else to find, but hoped that despite removing it, it would phase back into her world at some future time. Hence the symbol she placed on it.”
Alijda nodded, and was about to ask another question, when there were a couple of shouts from outside the tent.
“Damn, we’re almost out of time,” she realized. “Beam, do you know how best to stop Compton?”
Beam shook her head. “All I know is he’s planning a ritual, and we can’t underestimate him. He knows things through whatever his father left behind. The only reason he’s waited to act on the stuff outright is out of a fear that he’ll end up trapped on some other world. Hence his nabbing of Fate. But if he’s cornered, who knows what he’ll do.”
Alijda nodded. “Pity we’ve still got Firestorm with us, or we could just portal everyone here up to the Station and sort it out from there.”
Beam snickered. “It amuses me that you think Epsilon has that much power,” she said. “But even so, Compton’s two friends still think he’s a bit nuts. We don’t want to give his stories more credence. I kind of regret claiming that I appeared from another place as it is, and am kind of hoping we can claim to be part of a joke that Compton himself set up for them.”
“Mmmm.” Alijda glanced towards the front of the tent as the shouting got louder. “Once I’m out of here, can you go holographic?”
“I’d need to be able to touch my earring,” Beam admitted. “Also, physical objects on my person phase with me, so I’d still be tied up. Even assuming my power reserves are enough to do it.”
“You want to come with me then?”
Beam shook her head. “I won’t leave Fate with them. Underneath it all, I’m still a hologram. Even if they cut me, my blood isn’t real, so better me than her.”
Alijda imagined that while Beam’s blood might not be ‘real’, it’d still hurt like hell, given how the blonde girl’s reactions had been programmed to mimic that of humans. But there wasn’t time to argue, plus maybe Beam could phase, once freed.
“I can at least help with your hands,” Alijda reasoned, given her ability to decide whether to take objects with her on a teleport or not. “Show me the ropes. Alice, it’s time to check in with Rose!”
“Roger wilco,” came Alice’s voice. “Apologies to any pilots listening in who are cringing and want to smack me.”
“You kept the comms open,” Beam realized. “Smart. Sorry I couldn’t activate my own communicator once they got me.” She flipped over to present her back to Alijda, her arms bound tightly together behind her.
Alijda edged down towards Beam’s bottom, closing her mouth over the end of the rope and closing her eyes. She visualized the predetermined area in her mind, and that she wanted to be there with with the ropes.
Gods, but she hated teleporting blind. Even with live surveillance cameras, there was always the chance that something would turn up at just the wrong moment, or that there was some nigh invisible wire that would end up perforating her body, or…
“Rose says you’re good, Alijda,” came Alice’s voice.
‘My life’s in their hands,’ Alijda thought. She teleported.
With her eyes closed, she didn’t experience any visual disorientation, but there was a bit of motion sickness as she fell the half metre onto Firestorm’s tarp, the one Kat and his group had used earlier for his communication ritual. They’d set it out earlier for this very reason.
Alijda spat Beam’s ropes out of her mouth after she landed – seriously, she could use some mouthwash after this mission – and drew in a huge lungful of air. She seemed to be alive, if still trussed up like a Thanksgiving turkey. Blinking her eyes open confirmed that she had made it to the prearranged failsafe location.
“She’s here,” Rose’s voice said from behind her. “Uh, you want me to untie you, Alijda?”
“Please,” Alijda rasped. “I’m a little too shaken up to teleport out of these at the moment.”
She heard Rose’s feet approaching on the tarp, and then the redhead was looming over her, fiddling with the ropes binding her hands. “Alice passed on most of what she heard to us,” Rose assured. “But the only real plan we have remains Firestorm’s preference for launching fireballs at their tent.”
Alijda chuckled. “Well, that would set off the fireworks they have in there, so it’s sure to mess up whatever their goals are,” she remarked. “But that’s risky.”
“Even given Kat’s ability to control fire?”
“Hmmm, point. Still, our best bet might be subterfuge,” Alijda decided. “They’re not that smart. We could make Compton think he’s awakened some sort of dimensional gods his father had offended. Scare him away for good. I think Fate would play along.”
Then again, as she said it, she realized that might only add credence to his beliefs. The very thing Beam had hoped to avoid.
Rose sat back as she pulled Alijda’s ropes free. “There’s no way the Project could simply shore up this dimensional spot then?” she asked. “Making all of Compton’s efforts totally moot?”
“Oh, we could totally do that,” Alice’s voice offered up through the communicator. “The problem is it’d take time, and the process further weakens the forces, much like how waves pull back from a shoreline before a tsunami. Do we really want to risk that when Compton might know how to drive a wedge in?”
Alijda chewed on her lower lip as she considered the options.
 When I looked up the phrase, I learned “roger” means ‘received and understood’ while “wilco” means ‘will comply’, making both words together rather redundant.
PATHS NOT TAKEN: If Fate had come through the portal voluntarily, it would have been because she’d been having dreams, with Compton’s dad being a coincidental thing she witnessed upon arriving. If Fate had come through accidentally, it would have been because of backwash (or something) from Compton’s dad taking his magical objects off neighbouring worlds. The abduction route led us towards actual human trafficking, rather than something more benign.
EXTRA ASIDE: I had another medical appointment a couple days ago. Life’s stabilizing, I think we’re back on a two week schedule here. In other news, I wrote a post for the “Time Travel Nexus” about a “Back to the Future” comic book, and my NaNoWriMo for “Time Untied” has reached 25k (though Carrie’s still only on day three of University). It’s going to be an undertaking; I’ll keep poking away. Thanks for reading here – wow, and 7 votes last time!
They had soon left the vicinity of the village entirely, Rose continuing her enthusiastic jog through the fields, occasionally pausing to sniff the air once more.
“It’s been over fifteen minutes,” Kat mused to Alijda as they kept pace. “What’s the range of this spell I wonder?”
Alijda shrugged. “Maybe Rose isn’t homing in? If she’s tracking Beam, could be we’re simply retracing her route. And as a hologram, Beam could move pretty quickly.”
“I guess,” Kat yielded. He sighed. “If only I’d had Rose wait outside the police station.”
“Hindsight is 20/20,” Alijda retorted.
Kat chuckled. “I seem to recall using that argument on you once.”
“Hmph,” the brunette said. “Bear in mind that you’ve also been fortunate – or possibly unfortunate – enough to have been placed in an advisory role to the people who are actually in charge twice now. Namely me and Rose. There’s a good chance you couldn’t have changed Rose’s mind about something any more than you could have changed mine.”
“I’ve gone rogue before. Hallucinogenic gas,” Kat reminded her.
“Oh, well, you’ve got an answer for everything, don’t you.”
“Not everything.” Kat wondered about filtering his next thought even as he spoke it aloud. “Not you.”
Alijda didn’t say anything for a moment. Then, “I haven’t made that easy. Did I even properly thank you for saving my life last mission?”
Kat hesitated. “In your own way.”
Alijda winced. “Meaning no. I was mostly focussed on Chris, and myself. So thank you. And know that I have been working on being less negative, and some of that is thanks to you as well.”
Kat eyed Alijda, remembering what she’d been saying right before Rose had regained consciousness. “I was getting that vibe. That’s good. But don’t feel you need to do it for me.”
They fell silent again, climbing over a fence as Rose continued her tracking. At last, Alijda spoke up again. “Kat, do we have a thing?” she asked, without looking at him directly. “Or, that is, might we have a thing? A together thing? If I don’t sabotage it? Or am I imagining things?”
“Hey, I have already seen your underwear,” Kat remarked, before he could stop himself. He rolled his eyes, pushing off from the ground a little harder than necessary on his next stride. “Sorry. Bad time to joke.”
Alijda didn’t answer.
“We might have a thing,” Kat granted after a few more paces. “Though this Destiny/Fate situation has me more than a little mixed up right now. Also, remember how I’m not the most mature person as far as relationships go. You think you can deal with that?”
“Nobody’s perfect,” Alijda said after a bit. “Am I hearing you’d be willing to give an actual dinner with me a try sometime though? Assuming Epsilon allows it?”
“Dinner works,” Kat agreed. “Do you like Thai food?”
Alijda finally looked over at him, offering up a small smile. “We can negotiate.”
He fired a smile back at her, and the two of them resumed their jog after Rose.
As they were coming up on more of a forested area, the young redhead tripped and went sprawling, letting out another sneeze. She managed to roll and come up on one knee, only to let out a whimper. “Oh noooo, it’s GONE.”
“What’s gone, the scent?” Kat asked, coming up next to her. She turned to look up at him and nodded.
“A sneeze to turn tracking on, a sneeze to turn it off?” Alijda hypothesized as she joined them.
“Oh, that could be,” Rose realized. She stood and turned to look at the closest tree, only a few paces away. “I feel like I was getting close too. Should I tickle my nose to turn it on again? Or would that intoxicating smell convince me to run into some kind of trap?”
“It’s starting to get dark, and we wouldn’t want to lose track of you in there,” Kat added. “Let’s have a quick look around first. See if there’s signs that anyone’s come this way.”
The group started to walk along the tree line, looking for a path or obvious entry point into the underbrush. It wasn’t long before Kat heard some noises. An animal? He held up a hand and flattened himself against a tree trunk, Alijda and Rose following suit nearby.
Something was definitely approaching their position. And as much as it had made sense for them to come down without weapons, that did feel like an oversight now. All they had on hand was Beam’s jeans. Then again… Kat reached into his pocket for his matchbook. He could manage something with fire, in a pinch.
Fortunately, it didn’t turn out to be necessary. Even in the fading light, Kat recognized the human figure as he jogged out into the open a few paces away.
“Firestorm,” Kat called out.
The redhead spun in place and nearly fell over. “Don’t DO that,” he accused, brushing off his robes before shaking what looked like Destiny’s diary in their direction. “You’re as bad as your blonde companion for sneaking up on people.”
“Beam?” Rose said, stepping forward. “Do you mean you’ve seen Beam?”
“Yeah, sure, we teamed up,” Firestorm said, lowering his arm.
“Then where is she?” Rose asked, turning to look at the trees.
“Caught by the enemy,” Firestorm said, shrugging.
Rose’s gaze snapped back to him. “WHAT?”
“Look, that wasn’t MY decision,” Firestorm sighed. “But Beam figured being intentionally caught would provide her with useful information. I was just on my way back to tell you guys what had happened.”
“Why did you even run off in the first place?” Alijda asked.
Firestorm peered. “Who in blazes are you?”
“Time out,” Kat sighed. “I think we need a moment here to get caught up.”
After a quick introduction to Alijda, Firestorm answered her question. He explained that he’d seen mention in Destiny’s diary of a “dimensional weak point” with occasional activity “around sunset”. So he’d headed off to check out the area, not wanting to miss the time frame. Unfortunately, he hadn’t managed to find the clearing that she had described.
“What I DID stumble onto,” Firestorm concluded. “Was Compton and two of his friends, with Destiny in tow, all tied up. They seemed to be looking for this dimensional thing too.”
“You haven’t mentioned Compton before,” Kat accused.
Firestorm snorted. “Not much to mention. His father was a big shot a few towns over, because he managed to become a pretty successful businessman. Guy passed away a couple years back, and Compton inherited everything, but he is pretty clueless. Both in business and in interpersonal skills. I sure wouldn’t have figured him to resort to kidnapping.”
“So what would motivate kidnapping Destiny?” Alijda wondered.
Firestorm rubbed the back of his neck. “Maybe he wanted her for her potions, stumbled into whatever you guys are looking into, and is now hoping that Destiny has dimensional knowledge he can use to make it big? Honestly, I’m not even sure how he pulled off the abduction in the first place. Maybe he was coached?”
“Or there’s something bigger going on here,” Kat cautioned. “What did Compton say to you when you ran into him?”
“Whoa, whoa, I didn’t let myself be seen by that guy,” Firestorm protested. “Just heard his crew stumbling around in the underbrush and hid, to see what I could learn. And what I learned, I’ve already explained. It’s as I was backing away from them, figuring I might need backup, that I ran into that Beam woman again.”
Rose leaned forwards, looking worried. “Oh yes?”
“Yeah, she just seemed to be running right through, uh, everything. That’s a hell of a power, by the way. I made motions to flag her down, lest she freak out Compton and initiate an unfortunate chain of events. She came to her senses long enough to listen to me, and we decided to team up to help free Destiny. Beam apparently wanted to ‘do something right for a change’, whatever that means.”
Rose winced, as Firestorm paused, eyeing the rest of them. “And that’s when Beam proposed getting herself caught. To learn more. And given her ability to pass right through stuff, it didn’t sound like a bad idea.”
“Except it turned out to be a bad idea?” Kat said dryly.
“Eh, maybe? I’ll let you be the judge,” Firestorm decided. “Beam marched out to attract Compton’s attention while I hid and watched. She pretended like she’d come through a portal and wanted their help to know where she was. Compton was intrigued at first, but freaked the heck out once he realized she was some sort of ghost. Screamed at his friends to tie her up.”
“Oh no. And Beam didn’t run away at that?” Rose said, clasping her hands together.
Firestorm shook his head. “She doubled down, saying ‘I can be corporeal if you want’ even as Compton screamed at her to ‘Get on the ground’. She must have turned her magic power off too, because one of Compton’s guys was able to tie her hands behind her back. And after Beam wouldn’t explain to them what part of the forest she’d come from, she was gagged too. That’s when I figured I should hightail it back to Destiny’s place, to get you for backup.”
“So Beam’s been with them for a while and might have useful information by now, we simply can’t get to her,” Kat reasoned.
Rose’s palms separated into fists. “Well, he’s messed with the wrong girl. One sneeze, and I’ll have us back at Beam’s side in no time. As long as Firestorm being here doesn’t mix me up.”
“Um, I’ll try not to?” Firestorm said, scratching his head.
“Hold on,” Alijda said, crossing her arms and leaning against a tree trunk. “No need for us to charge in. This is kind of perfect, actually.”
“Perfect?” Rose gasped. “Alijda, how can you say that?”
As a response, Alijda reached down to tap at her communicator. “Hey, Alice?”
“Hey Abbott!” Alice’s voice chirped in response.
Alijda rolled her eyes. “Remember how you were wondering how to abduct a person who is insubstantial?”
“Ooh, doing six impossible things before breakfast down there, are you? I hope one of them was talking to Kat.”
Alijda coughed, as Kat let out a quiet chuckle. “Fo-cus, Gods Alice,” Alijda said. “Beam’s become less holographic. Meaning not only is she caught, but you should be able to pick up her communicator now.”
“Oh? Gimme a second, I’ll check.”
“You figure we can track her,” Rose realized. “Maybe even listen in on what’s happening.”
Alijda nodded. “And more than that, if Beam’s been kidnapped, this becomes an Epsilon mission again. We’re within our rights to interfere.”
Kat rubbed his chin. That seemed like a bit of a reach, given how Beam had created the situation herself. But if it helped them to pursue the goal of getting Destiny back, he wasn’t about to object.
Firestorm threw his hands up into the air. “Okay, seriously, who ARE you people?”
Kat looked over at him. “I don’t think you really want to know the answer,” he remarked. “After all, your imagination can probably dream up something far more interesting than reality, and we’ll be leaving soon enough anyway.”
Firestorm looked Kat up and down. “So you’re some sort of magical special ops unit? Looking into these portals?”
Alice’s voice came back over the comm. “If you have a problem, if no one else can help, and if you can find them, maybe you can hire…”
“Alice, do you have a fix on Beam?” Alijda interrupted, palming her face.
“Yup, got that,” Alice confirmed immediately. “At least, I presume it’s Beam, I don’t know what else this signal could be. She’s about a kilometre away, in some sort of clearing within that forest region.”
Firestorm grimaced. “So Compton and his buddies found the clearing.”
“Is that bad?” Rose wondered. “What did Destiny’s diary say about it?”
“Not much,” Firestorm admitted. “Just that she’d used some of her occult tricks to pinpoint it, yet had no idea how to open an actual portal.”
“Could be how Destiny got the cyber arm,” Alijda mused. “If it came through there?”
“Maybe,” Kat said. “Though given her tendency to ask travellers about objects, maybe she traded for it or something.”
“Either way, we need a plan to get Beam and Destiny out of this Compton’s clutches,” Rose broke in. “Alijda, maybe your teleport…?”
“Limited to one person at a time,” Alijda said. “Meaning the first retrieval would tip them off.”
“Not if we arrange a distraction,” Kat remarked.
“Hold on. Once you get your people, what then?” Firestorm protested. “You just leave? What if Compton’s doing something illegal, are you just going to let him get away with it and prosecute him later?”
Kat exchanged a glance with Rose and Alijda. They couldn’t really interfere with that – except what if it was dimensional? “Firestorm’s got a point. Maybe Alijda should try to get more information before springing them. Beam might even be able to do something from the inside, even goad Compton into spilling the beans on his plans, if he hasn’t already.”
Alijda let out a breath. “Careful, Kat. How much of this is our fight?”
“We won’t know until we have more information,” he insisted.
“Information that we might get at this clearing,” Rose supplied. “If it looks like Compton’s setting up weird ritualistic rocks or something, that could tell us everything we need to know.”
“My fellow redhead has good advice,” Firestorm remarked. “One thing at a time. Now, do we have to walk there, or do your supernatural abilities allow for a more instantaneous transportation?”
They walked. Even if power had been fully restored to the Station, Kat knew that providing Firestorm with even more evidence of what they might be capable of could only be problematic in the long run.
As they got close, Kat offered to scout up ahead. He had a certain amount of experience through his military training, and while Alijda could vanish faster with her teleportation, the purple smoke she left behind was a dead giveaway. Even if it was dark by now.
On the one hand, a quick surveillance of the clearing showed that Compton and his men weren’t doing anything obvious that might involve creating a portal or otherwise affecting the dimensions. However, they’d set up a tent, added perimeter lighting using some sort of spell, and one of the guys seemed to be keeping an eye out for anyone watching them, implying suspicious behaviour.
Kat was just about to retreat when he saw her.
Compton – it had to be him based off of Firestorm’s description, a shorter man with a scruffy beard – pulled her out of the tent. Destiny. Her long blonde hair trailed behind her as he muscled her over to a part of the clearing and pointed at the ground. Kat couldn’t properly hear what they were saying, but he was more fixated on Destiny’s features. Her mannerisms, even with her hands tied behind her back. And he couldn’t be certain, not a hundred percent, but on some level, he knew. He knew.
After years of searching, he had finally located Fate Wallace-Wray. His childhood friend.
 From “Abbott and Costello”, parodied here.
 …the A-Team. (Or this crew, I suppose.)
PATHS NOT TAKEN: Obviously decided to run with the tied vote again. If Firestorm had been working with the enemy, Beam would have noticed and tracked the man, providing exposition to the team here in Firestorm’s place. If Beam had been caught, it would have been the other way around, as it kind of was, but of course I had them team up first. Had there only been a team-up, the plan would have been for Alijda to get herself caught next, as someone who could teleport away. (Incidentally, this also explains why Rose tracking Beam/Firestorm last time would have been spoilers, as the person to provide the information would have been the one she found. Compton’s been in the outline since that vote.)
EXTRA ASIDE: I’m leaving the vote open for two weeks, as I indicated in this post, which gives me time to deal with report cards as I return to work from medical leave. Plan is to have another part up for the last weekend of the month. Thanks for sticking with me. In other news, I’m doing a sort-of NaNoWriMo on Time Untied. We’ll see how that goes. Consider a TWF vote for Time & Tied? Thanks.
“The next move… should be yours, Rose,” Kat remarked.
Rose listened as Kat and Alijda caught her up on what had happened since she’d fallen unconscious. At one point, she had to force herself to focus on their words, rather than listen to the inner voice that was screaming at her about how any decision she made here would mess things up again. The way she had messed up with Beam.
When they finished explaining, Rose rubbed her nose, wondering idly if it was going to be perpetually itchy now that she was the vessel for some magical tracking spell.
“O-Okay.” Rose bit on the edge of her tongue, trying to swallow the quaver in her voice. “Okay,” she repeated, closing her eyes momentarily. There was only one right thing to say here. She turned to Kat. “So, we go after Firestorm.”
Kat crouched down in front of where she sat on the bench, to better meet her gaze. “Rose, are you sure?”
Rose let out a quick laugh. “Oh, heck no. I mean, I think the Destiny thing might lead us into a trap, so that’s out. But while my heart says to patch things up with Beam, my head says Firestorm. And in the end, he’s closer to the mission here, right? Get the diary back, figure Destiny out. So, we track him. Beam will find her own way back to the Station. She doesn’t need me.”
Rose held Kat’s gaze levelly until he nodded, and turned to look up at Alijda. “You have Firestorm’s note?”
“Mmm hmmm,” Alijda responded. There was a silence then, to the point where Rose had started turning her own head to see what the older woman was doing. “We’re not going after him though,” Alijda finished.
Kat stood back up. “Alijda…”
“Come on, Kat! We can’t,” Alijda said. She pointed at Rose. “We’re not going to leave this poor girl to wonder for months about how her situation might have turned out better, if only she’d made a different decision in this moment. Because I know what that’s like. Both given my history, and given… I mean, listen, it’s even more terrible when this is filtered through Epsilon, because you can’t simply call up someone you’ve wronged. Not when they’re in another multiverse. So, I’m contacting Alice, to send something of Beam’s down. We’re going after Beam, and that’s all there is to it.”
Rose tried to smile bravely. “Alijda, that’s not necess–”
“Don’t care, doing it anyway.” Alijda spun on her heel and walked a couple paces away, tapping at her communicator.
Rose stared at Alijda’s back, then slumped to look at the ground. So she was screwing it all up regardless. Damn it. She ground her palm in against her freckled nose. It didn’t help with the itching.
A moment later, Kat sat back down next to her, and reached out to pat her shoulder. “Alijda does have a point,” he soothed. “This mission, it’s becoming more about feelings than logic. Given how the logical thing would have been to leave as soon as we’d figured out Beam’s memory loss. Right? But I want to connect with Fate. The same way you want to with Beam. So let’s follow your heart, and let Beam lead us to Destiny.”
“Hah. Me, connect with Beam?” Rose scoffed. “I told the poor girl to go away forever. Because of how I’m attracted to her. Which is my issue, not hers. It’s not even the same attraction as my Paige-love, with Beam it’s this… this… ugh, it’s so confusing! I don’t even know what I’ll say to Beam now. It’s all so…”
Rose slid her palm from her nose up across her eye while turning her head to the side. “Kat, you ever wanted to be someone else?”
Kat reached his hand to the back of his neck, rubbing. “Not really? I mean, the pyrokinesis took some getting used to, but I’ve accepted it as a part of me.”
“I ask because, see, I wanted to be Paige,” Rose clarified. “After I met her. It took a while, but eventually I realized that what I truly wanted was to have Paige as a constant presence in my life. Like, to always be surrounded by Paige’s pleasant demeanour, by that cute French accent, and oh God, by those long, gorgeous legs…” Rose felt her heart rate increasing. She pulled her brain back on track.
“The thing of it is, the more I learn about Beam, the more I want to be her too,” Rose admitted. “Her attitude of, oh yeah, I’m a lesbian, I know what I want, and rawr, girl power all the way – it’s like, that’s sexy! Or at least, it’s a goal of mine. So there’s an attraction there, but… well, is it a surround me with that kind of attitude desire? Because I’m acting like it’s a surround me in a sexy way desire. Which is supposed to be my Paige feelings. Agh! I think I’m defective.”
Kat chuckled softly. “Rose, you’re not defective. If anything, this explains why you resent so much how Beam was able to turn off her sexual feelings towards you. You want to do that with her, so it’s yet another aspect of Beam that you wish you had yourself.”
“Meaning you also think those feelings are there.” Rose looked back at the ground, wishing her nose would stop itching. “What bugs me is, while I couldn’t turn my feels off with Angie back in high school, I could at least rationalize them away. So why is it so much harder now? I mean, sure, I’m more hella gay, but I’m also older and wiser. So how can I possibly see Beam as being attractive when I’m already dating someone else?”
“Honestly? How could you not see Beam that way,” Kat said. “She’s a cutey.”
Rose frowned. She turned her head back to check his expression, but he didn’t look like he was pranking her. “So you think I’m a horrible cheating bitch. Great.”
Kat sighed, and shook his head. “No, Rose, you’re not. But you are young, and still figuring out what love means for you personally. Consider that there’s a difference between appreciating feminine beauty, and actually following through on feelings of attraction to someone. It’s a philosophy I kind of adhere to, actually.”
“What, looky’s fine, nookie not so much?” Rose scratched her nose. “Thanks, but I’m not adopting that philosophy. I mean, if Paige was drooling over every redhead we passed in the street, I’d be hurt. Even if she didn’t act on her desires. This is the same thing.”
“You think?” Kat leaned back on the bench. “Okay, Rose. Two comments, prefaced with the remark that I do have a tendency to romance any woman who looks to be in my wheelhouse, while making it clear to them that I’m not looking to settle down. So I might not be the best person to give responsible relationship advice.”
Rose gestured towards him. “Yeah, well, I’m a teenager. I may not be the best person to take responsible relationship advice. So it works out.”
“All right. First thing, more of a question, do you drool over every blonde you see?”
Rose glared. “Don’t be silly. My drooling remark was exaggeration to prove a point. Even one drool is too much.”
“But there are blondes you don’t drool over, yes?”
She had to grant him that point. “Duh.”
“So you don’t have a wandering eye. And remember, we’re in a highly charged situation here. You said it yourself, you’re lost and scared. Adrenaline is high, and when coupled with how pretty Beam is, it’s only natural that you might want to get in one last fling before the big goodbye. It’s the fact that you’re torn up about those feelings, rather than simply acting on them, which speaks volumes. Don’t you think?”
Rose felt forced to give more ground. “I’ll grant this isn’t a normal situation. But I’ve been in tight places before, and my thoughts didn’t trend towards pre-death sex.”
“Bringing me to my second point. Some of this IS Beam. She made blatant advances towards you earlier. That’s hard to shrug off. So tell me, would your girlfriend truly think you were being unfaithful merely because another girl was flirting with you, accidentally or otherwise?”
Rose squirmed. “Maybe?”
“If so, that seems rather controlling. But even setting that aside,” Kat continued before Rose could interject, “what if we flipped this situation around? What if Paige came to you tomorrow, and said that she’d been in a near death experience, and that in the heat of the moment, she’d kissed another girl. Would you forgive her?”
Rose stood up, balling her hands into fists. “How dare you say that. You don’t even know Paige.”
“Look, maybe Paige was receiving mouth-to-mouth. Work with me here, Rose. Hypothetically, could you forgive?” Kat crossed his arms and looked up at her.
Rose squared her jaw. It was a stupid question. Her perfect Paige would never do such a thing! Moreover, CPR was CPR. … Then again, French people did kiss each other on the cheeks when they met. So what if Paige did that with an ex-girlfriend? And what if someone’s head slipped? …
Well, so what? Rose had made a point of saying that she wasn’t the possessive type. Hell, there was also that little voice inside, speculating that it was only a matter of time before Paige realized she could do better… whoa, okay, check that thought. Paige thought that Rose was already the best girlfriend to date. For whatever reason. … Why was that again?
Maybe that was part of the problem here. Rose had no practical experience with girls being attracted to her, outside of Paige. And given how she was still processing Paige’s feelings, throwing Beam into the mix as another suitor… someone Rose hadn’t even been trying to flirt with…
Fine. It was true, she could forgive Paige kissing an ex, depending on the circumstances. Meaning Paige could forgive her for getting flustered about Beam. As long as nothing happened. And nothing would. If only Beam weren’t so aggressively cute in the ways she expressed herself! But Beam couldn’t help that, any more than Rose could help finding it a-dork-able.
Rose flexed her fingers back out, then ground the palm of her hand in against her nose, hard, trying to stop the damn itchy feeling. “Kat, when do relationships get easier?”
He chuckled again. “They don’t. They only get different.”
“Figures.” Rose sat back down. “Okay. I see forgiveness as a thing. Here’s hoping Beam can forgive me. Thanks.”
“You’re welcome. Any time.”
Rose angled her head. “So, speaking of flipping situations around, how about you? Assuming we do find this Destiny, and she’s Fate, will you be hooking up with her again, relationship-wise? Alternatively, will you cultivate whatever’s happening between you and Alijda? Or will you just keep hitting on random cops for all time?”
Kat flinched back, his eyebrows going up. “Uhm?”
Rose felt like it was her turn to cross her arms. “C’mon Kat. That decision HAS to have occurred to you. I saw how Alijda was looking at you earlier.”
“Euh, I think Alijda feels badly over how she acted on our last mission together,” Kat explained. “So she wants to make it up to me here. That’s it.”
“That’s it, suuuuuure.” Rose quirked her eyebrow, to emphasize that things weren’t as clear cut as he was trying to make them.
Kat looked away. “Look. Alijda and I, we haven’t known each other that long.”
“No? It’s been something like six months on her end, hasn’t it?”
Kat grimaced. “Well, yes, but I haven’t… that is, we were hardly communicating back and forth during that time.”
“Okay. So you don’t think you could date Alijda.”
“I didn’t say that.”
“What about this Fate then, your communication with her has been even worse lately.”
“That’s different!” Kat said sharply.
Realizing she’d jabbed a nerve, Rose quickly lifted her hands up, palms out. “Whoa, sorry. Just, you did tell me this mission was all about feelings, right? So you might wanna do some advance thinking on that front yourself. Because if you’re all about Fate, or at least more about Fate than Alijda, then she should know sooner rather than later. Yeah?”
Kat looked at her sidelong, tight lipped. Then slowly, he nodded. “Point taken. Thanks, Rose.”
Rose offered up a partial smile. Before she could properly reply though, there was a large puff of purple and black smoke, and Alijda appeared before them. She held a pair of jeans out towards Rose. “Here you go. These are Beam’s.”
“Alijda! Did you just teleport up to the Station to get them?” Kat demanded, even as Rose accepted the clothing. “That was hardly safe!”
The brunette woman shook her head. “No, no, not depressively suicidal at the moment. I merely had to go to a convenient doorway outside the park so Alice could pass them off to me, after which it was faster to teleport back to you.” Alijda smiled wryly at Rose. “For the record, Alice wanted to root through Beam’s lingerie drawer. I talked her out of that, since we’ve already had enough comments about underwear choice today.”
It reminded Rose of the first conversation she’d overheard between Alijda and Kat, only a few hours ago. As Rose watched Alijda’s gaze flicker towards Kat, Kat cleared his throat, turning to look at Rose instead.
It was true, relationships really didn’t get easier with age.
“Okay,” Kat said. “So, let’s get to the tracking. Rose?”
“Uh. Yeah.” Rose stared at the jeans in her hands. So she was supposed to just… sniff them? Yeah, hey, that wasn’t weird at all. She slowly brought them up towards her face and, trying not to feel self conscious, gave a quick inhale.
Nothing happened. Her nose still felt itchy.
“Longer, maybe?” Alijda suggested.
Rose lifted the pants again, wafting her free hand towards her face, inhaling, trying to pick up a whiff of… whatever this spell was looking for. Beam pheromones? Did holograms have pheromones? Ones they could leave on jeans? Beam HAD said she could get hot and bothered, with a body that reacted in the same ways as a human. But right now, Rose couldn’t even smell denim, let alone Beam sweat.
“Beam isn’t from this world,” Kat remarked. “So maybe it won’t work.”
Screw it, Rose decided. She smacked the jeans right in against her face and gave a long, deep sniff. Not once, but twice. Let it not be said that she hadn’t been trying.
It did nothing but make her want to sneeze.
“Maybe Beam hadn’t worn those much,” Alijda confessed. “I could ask Alice for something else.”
“No. Know what? Just give me Firestorm’s letter,” Rose decided. She smiled, and for once, found that she didn’t have to force it. “I mean, the important thing is that we tried. Right? I feel better for having done that, so… so yeah. Back on mission. We’ll figure out the Beam stuff later, this is a sign that it’s time for us – for me – to move on.”
Alijda and Kat exchanged a glance, and Alijda seemed about to say something, only to think better of it. “Okay, Rose.” She pulled out Firestorm’s letter. “I, uh, hope this doesn’t smell more like me now, or the tracking will be pretty quick,” she realized.
“I’ll try to tune into male smell more than female smell,” Rose quipped. “Despite my obvious preference for the latter.” Never mind that she had no idea what that even meant.
Rose took the letter. She first sniffed the middle of the page, then around the outer edge. Much like the jeans, she couldn’t pick up anything. For the second time, she stifled a sneeze.
“Maybe Rose needs to be where the note was found for this to work?” Kat suggested, lifting his hands into the air. “The police form I signed really wasn’t clear.”
“Firestorm would likely return to Destiny’s house too,” Alijda remarked. “So we might as well go back there. In the meantime, I’ll contact the Station. They should have more power restored, and maybe Alice can spot something on surveillance for how this tracking is supposed to work?”
The three of them started heading back out of the main area of town. Based on how much lower the sun was in the sky now, Rose judged that it was probably dinnertime. At any rate, even fewer people were around them now. No one approached. And Alice simply said she’d get back to them, following Alijda’s request.
It happened as Rose was grinding her palm in against her nose for at least the twelfth time. She felt a tickle, and before she could stop herself, she sneezed. In an instant, the itching sensation was gone, replaced with the very faint smell of… of something wondrous.
“Bless you,” Kat said.
Rose moaned. That scent, it was so good. Where was it coming from? She sniffed in a breath, turning in a slow circle. Yes, that way.
Alijda’s hand landed on her shoulder before she could take a step. “What is it, Rose? Nose suddenly behaving?”
“Oh yeah,” Rose huffed. She started to walk, sniffing the air as she went. Ohh, more of that smell, yes please.
Alijda’s grip tightened slightly, slowing Rose’s pace without forcing her to stop. “Are you picking up Firestorm? Or Beam?”
“I dunno. It’s…” How did one even describe it? “It’s the scent of fresh cut flowers. Of homemade baking. Of the air after the rain has fallen. Of… oh, of all that and more, Alijda! It’s just so good, please, we gotta get to the source.”
Alijda glanced at Kat, then nodded. “Okay then. Just make sure we can keep pace.”
Rose nodded back and resumed her tracking, no longer caring about the scenery around her, totally focussed on her goal. On the scent.
As she began to jog, she heard Kat remark, “Neither Beam nor Firestorm smelled like cooking. So we may not know who we’re tracking until we get there, huh?”
“Guess not,” Alijda’s voice agreed with him. “It does make me wonder though, would we be smelling the same thing in Rose’s place? Or would I be picking up aftershave or alcohol or something?”
Rose didn’t know. All she knew was, she wanted more of what she smelled now. Granted, she kind of hoped the source was Beam, not Firestorm, given how much she wanted to sniff at the target for a while after arriving, which felt wrong with a guy. Actually, no, it felt wrong no matter who it was. No wonder this spell was regulated by police. She hoped she’d be able to control herself.
Ohhh yeah. The aroma was stronger in this direction, Rose was sure of it.
(Heads up, Beam and Firestorm will be found in close proximity. WHAT’S NEXT?)
PATHS NOT TAKEN: I kept the vote open to Sunday morning, then decided, heck with it, I can run with a tied vote this time. It’s been a while since we had a good one. So Rose’s intended conversation “en route” (which would have included Alijda) ended up being solo with Kat instead, as she awaited nasal input. Tracking Destiny? That would have been the shortest path to the end, with the most danger (keeping Firestorm and Beam in reserve, if these characters got badly ensnared). Saying anything about the tied choices now would involve spoilers. So, who do YOU think Rose is tracking?
EXTRA ASIDE: The first 1,000 words of my story about Rose (“The Girl Who Speaks with Algebra”) actually placed in the Top 10 of the “Ink & Insights” writing contest for 2017, out of over 150 entries. There’s a page here looking at the other winners. My link simply directs back to this site, but it’s prompted me to update my story catalogue. And as long as we’re talking about eyes on this site, consider a TWF vote for Time & Tied? Thanks.