Story4

4.10: See Deuce

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EPSILON DELTA, PART TEN: SEE DEUCE

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

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

ROSEMARY THORNE
Commission from Lia

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Yeah. I just… yeah.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rose stumbled and nearly face-planted into the dirt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“R-Rose…?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Rose, are you okay?” Beam asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Rose…” Beam began.

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

Beam frowned. “Auntie Angie?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT’S NEXT?

VOTING CLOSES NOON EDT SATURDAY SEPT 16th

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

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

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Behind the Scenes 4

Number four! This site’s first two “Behind the Scenes” talked about how I fit writing the first Epsilon serial into my busy teaching schedule. The third such post, from the third Epsilon serial, talked about a rough patch in April (third busiest teaching month of the year).

I won’t really be talking about writing timelines here, but with this being the start of September, and being at roughly the midway point of Epsilon Story Four (when I would normally do a “Paths Not Taken”, which is now integrated into the posts), I figured it was time for another one. To keep you up to date on things. The TL;DR (Too Long; Didn’t Read) is at the bottom.

First of all, I’ve finally decided to consolidate my writing on a Facebook Page. My “Epsilon” updates, my “Any QBars” math webcomic updates, and any non-fiction writing I’ve been doing, I’ve been posting up there for the past month. I’m pretty sure Facebook’s algorithm sabotages any attempt to see it in a FB timeline, because I don’t pay, but it’s there, at any rate. That said, twitter (@mathtans) tends to be the first place I post.

CHIBI BEAM
Commission from Gen Ishihara

Second, I went a bit crazy at ConBravo 2017 this year with commissions. (After not being sure if I would go.) You should have noticed the new pictures for Beam and Kat, featured in recent “Epsilon” updates. I also got art for two characters for “Time Untied”, Sherlock (seen briefly in the Book 5 Teaser) and Peaches (you haven’t met her). I plan to include those images in my ConBravo recap, which will be flagged on the aforementioned FB/Twitter.

Third, I’ve just launched “Any Qs” (my personified math comic) on Tapas. So if you don’t know what that is, and want to follow that storyline along from the beginning, you can check it out here. (Alternatively, binge on my other blog site.)

Finally… where is this site headed?

A LOOK AT 2018

The last couple “Epsilon” have aimed for 16-18 parts, meaning we have 8 or 9 remaining (it will depend on pacing from voting, etc). Continuing every two weeks is extremely likely, because I’ll be back in the classroom for the first time this year, and teaching a new course on top of that.

This takes us to late(?) December 2017, which works out well. It means I can rerun content in January, the second worst month of the whole year. (Seriously, there is zero turnaround between marking exams and second semester, yet report cards still magically have to be completed.) What will I post in January? Well, I’m going to toss that option back at YOU, my readers. There is a poll below. Note we’re not setting anything in stone yet, it’s just to get a sense of what I should be cleaning up over the next couple months.

I am also not certain whether I’ll shift back to weekly posts or not in 2018. It will depend a lot on my mood in four months’ time, along with how well this site (and my writing) is doing generally. At any rate, here are the options.

OPTION 1: ROSE ORIGIN STORY

Rose seems to have become the lesbian darling of the latest “Epsilon”, which is impressive considering she’s less than a year old creatively. She’s part of a 90,000 word novel I wrote in Nov-Dec last year, “The Girl Who Speaks With Algebra”, which I re-edited in April. It’s a 31 part story that blends a mathematical fantasy land (and math facts) with Rose’s coming to terms with liking girls during her first year at University. It’s written in first person.

On the up side here, more Rose. On the down side, at 31 parts, I’m probably going to split it. I’d run 16 parts (which could mean 32 weeks, into summer), take a break for another “Epsilon” story, then run the last 15 parts. Well, unless a majority of people think that’s a terrible idea generally. I also suspect it means Rose won’t feature in that middle “Epsilon” story, because yes, she’s a-dork-able, but I don’t want there to be too much of a good thing. (I might bring back Chartreuse instead.)

OPTION 2: VIRGA MYSTERIES

MELISSA VIRGA
Commission from Shirley

Back in 2003, I created the character Melissa Virga, an upper year University student who is also a witch and who takes on supernatural cases in her spare time. The story is written from the (first person) perspective of James Conway (no relation to Kat), a first year student who ends up rooming off campus with her. So effectively Watson to her Holmes. I wrote three cases, each of which splits into 4 parts, meaning it would run 12 (or 24) weeks.

On the up side, you get to see some new characters – and in fact, there was a SEQUEL, written in 2012, that we could then tackle at some point further down the road. (The sequel is “Rose Origin” levels in length, as it takes place as James graduates, and he has to decide whether to stay with Melissa’s agency or not.) In case it’s incentive, selecting this also means Rose is more likely to return for the next “Epsilon” (even meet Chartreuse). The down side? Well, supernatural might not be your preference, there’s no math, and the writing is less polished than Rose’s story.

OPTION 3: OLD FUSION FANFIC

This option will take some explaining. One of the first stories I ever wrote involved taking the characters from “Sailor Moon” (specifically its second season), the plot of the anime “Marmalade Boy” (and its relationship polygons) and fusing them together. I wrote 13 parts over the span of four years (1996-2000). Then last month, August 2017, I wrote two more parts to complete the series. Meaning “Marmalade Mercury” would run for 16 parts (there’s a backstory entry too).

The good news for you is how it DOES bug me when things are incomplete (I’ll discuss more T&T below), and this would be an interesting window into some REALLY old writing of mine… along with what happens when you revisit a story 20 years later. On the down side, if you’re expecting action and magical girls, sorry – again, I used the plot of a relationship-heavy anime (in fact, “Marmalade Boy” was relicensed this year). Meaning this is more Rose levels of angst, played out with Ami Mizuno and her friends. (Melissa Virga would have been your magical option.)

OPTION 4: OLD PARODY STORIES

Back in University, I used to write for the campus math newsletter (and even edited a few terms). This included the serial “General l’Hopital” (5 entries in 1997, 6 in 2001) a soap opera parody full of every math pun that exists, the serial “Quantum Loop” (6 entries in 1998, 6 in 1999) a parody of “Quantum Leap” which was somewhat more mathematically educational, and “Sine Field” (4 entries, sporadic) a sendup of “Seinfeld”.

This option is the most flexible. We could run all the “QL” for 12 parts, leave for an “Epsilon” story, then come back for “l’Hopital”… or not come back at all. Or do one of each for 12 parts, to see which one you might want more of. Or we stick “Sine” on the end of 12 parts to make 16 parts. Or not. If this is selected, there would likely be a sub-vote to gauge preference (meaning you’ll have some input, even if your top choice wasn’t picked). On the down side, these stories are shorter, and rather silly.

So there are your options. I’ll simply leave this poll open for a while (so if you REALLY can’t pick, come back in a couple weeks and vote for your other preferred choice). In December, I’ll do some sort of runoff vote (of the top two choices?).

CURRENT WRITING

As far as “Time Untied” goes, I have a file of key characters, and my work from a couple years ago. I actually submitted “The Girl Who Speaks With Algebra” for a critique, which has helped give me a sense of where to take my writing in general. My HOPE is that, by November, I’ll be enough on an even keel with the teaching, and have enough of a buffer in my comic, to start tackling Carrie again in a NaNoWriMo sort of way. But anything can happen in two months.

I am pretty sure “Time Untied” won’t start a blog run until 2019 though. The in-universe timelines for it are… messy, to say the least. Fabulous, but messy.

Also, know that for the last six months, I have been putting “Time & Tied” on the RoyalRoadLegends (RRL) website, daily. It hasn’t changed too much, aside from edits to remove extra exclamation marks, tighten dialogue, and remove instances of ‘mama’ so Carrie doesn’t sound like a Southern Belle.

However, I *did* change the “Woodlands Detour” segment to place it at the end of Book 3, which I think I like better. There were a few changes to make that work. Also, I streamlined Book 4 so that each part didn’t have it’s own title. In case anyone wants to check that out (it has some character polls too). It’s currently on pause after ZERO comments through Book 4. Like, I think people gave up reading entirely.

I’ve put in a timeline for my RRL rankings at the bottom of this post.

And then, of course, there is “Epsilon”. I imagine my habit of banging out a new episode whenever I feel like it from Sun-Fri will need to change, what with the teaching. I do have the new graphic for Story 4 though! It’s usually around the halfway point when enough has happened to crystallize an image in my mind. What do you think?

On the plus side, we see the Epsilon Station for the first time. I had very vague sketches back with Story1 – the reason the main room was called the “Hub” was because the station was circular. I’ve now fleshed it out. There’s a vague “Deep Space Nine” vibe which I noticed after the fact. (Also, Beam’s appearance gives me a Carrie vibe, but wow are they different personalities.) On the not-so-plus side, the ONE guy (Kat) gets centre stage. But I do see him as the link between the lesbians on our left, the ladies to the right, and the problems on the station below.

It’s also occurred to me that I do put a fair bit of thought into the poll options that I create, which might not be obvious to anyone but me. I bring it up here in case anyone might want to try this sort of story themselves. For example: in the previous vote? I mentioned that Rose would be the person who would be deputized by police. Yet I wondered, was it wise to do that, or should I have kept it vague? Because I could just as easily have had it be Kat, or Beam.

I chose to mention Rose, because (as I said earlier) she’s kind of the lesbian darling character, and as such it might sway some people into picking that option, which they wouldn’t have otherwise. By the same token, I needed to match the Rose choice with a consequence (leaving Firestorm behind), so that it wouldn’t be picked out of hand and feel like railroading. A lot of my thinking is trying to create balanced options.

In fact, I probably overthink some of these vote choices. Only the readers can tell me if I’m succeeding in crafting something that makes them pause to think before they click “vote” though.

STATISTICS

It wouldn’t be a “Behind the Scenes” post without some mention of statistics. As you can see from the monthly graphic below, August fell short of scraping to 300 views. Because of the less frequent posts, maybe? Well, the last time we had a month below 300 was November 2016, a couple months after I shifted to twice weekly posts. So I really have no idea. Nothing I do seems to have much permanence.

You can see peaks where I guested on other sites though. July 2016 (technically end of June), December 2016 (somewhat coincidental), and May 2017. May is also when I got a boost from Tartra’s review at WFG. (I think that’s it; I peaked. It’s all downhill now.) There was also April 2017 (the April Fool Swap), and February 2017 (guest post on a time travel site)… these apparently helped preserve status quo more than anything.

As far as the “RoyalRoadLegends” site goes, RRL allows overall rankings (max 5 stars), review+ranking, and full ranked reviews in categories (for character, plot, etc). I began posting on February 23rd with Part 1a. At the end of the month (6 days later), February 28th, I was ranked #8430 with no followers or ratings. From there:

March 2nd: First rating (5 stars) which ranked me #4250.
-March 3rd: First full review (all categories) by someone with “free time on their hands”, which put my average at 4.75 and ranked me #2688.
-March 26th: Over a month in. Third rating, which overall ranked me #2213.
April 1st: Guest post (Apr Fool) at Fantasia, at a time when I had 7 followers. Also applied to “Order of Phantasmal Architects” (went nowhere).

-April 6th: Having briefly peaked at 12 followers, dropped back to 10. A poll on Part 23b managed 3 votes (one came via Fantasia).
-April 16th: Into T&T Book 2. Still only 3 ratings, rank down to #2275. Only one person commenting semi-regularly. Had never posted much in their forums, soon stopped monitoring altogether.
-April 25th: Two months of daily posts. Rank #2328, no new ratings or favourites for April, average Rating 4.83.
May 1st: Existing rating was revised higher, jumped to #1942.
-May 2nd: Second full review, jumped to #1230.

-May 15th: Fifth rating, jumped to #1155.
May 31st: Into T&T Book 3, halfway (three months) produces A SECOND favourite (first was in March), now 17 followers.
-June 9th: A THIRD and FOURTH favourite, rank having slid to #1208.
-June 14th: Sixth rating, jumped to #1004.
-June 15th: Existing rating revised, jumped to #905. 21 followers.
-June 19th: Third full review, jumped to #611.
-June 20th: Eighth rating + review, plus a message, jumped to #511 at four months in. Average Rating 5. It’s downhill from here.

July 8th: Existing rating revised down, slid to #676.
-July 16th: Into T&T Book 4. Ninth rating, boosted back up to #599.
-July 31st: A FIFTH favourite, now at 25 followers. Five months in, I’d started automating posts by this point. Average Rating 4.94.
Aug 1st: A SIXTH favourite, 26 followers, rank #613.
-Aug 8th: Tenth rating, rank back to #605.
-Aug 24th: Cannot seem to maintain 30 followers, keeps sliding to 29. Average Rating 4.9, rank #624. Most recent poll (July 12) has only 1 vote. Only 1 comment in the last 30+ posts/days, on an early post; nothing about Book 4. The post from Aug 1st has 36 views.

At that point, with twelve days worth of posts remaining, I stopped posting daily. Then I stopped posting altogether, saying if anyone actually cares to see the edited finish, just leave some kind of comment, anything really. The “mathtans paradox” (term from grishnax, for if a consistent writer is never noticed) may be in effect. I can’t market. The T&T story isn’t normal fare for the RRL site though.

So, I’m kinda depressed! But that’s standard fare for me. Though this site has only been going strong for three years, I think you need ten before anyone’s talking about you? To close things off on a SLIGHTLY brighter note, the song parody I did for the cubic formula is up to 900 views (as of Sept 1) on YouTube, after 14 months, which is unprecedented considering my holiday videos can’t even claw their way to 100. So something I did is getting traction.

Thank you for reading to the end! This post got away from me a bit. O.o

TL;DR: Math comic’s on Tapas, T&T isn’t forgotten, vote for 2018 content, and new “Epsilon” in a week. Spread the word.

4.09: Destination: Destiny

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EPSILON DELTA, PART NINE: DESTINATION: DESTINY

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

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

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

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

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

KAT CONWAY
(Commission from Jakface)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Swell,” Rose said, coughing again.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No reason?? Beam, DESTINY–”

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

“Not if she’s Fate!”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rose pursed her lips.

WHAT’S NEXT?

VOTING CLOSES NOON EDT SATURDAY SEPT 2nd

Previous INDEX 4 Next

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

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

4.08: The Arm of Fate

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EPSILON DELTA, PART EIGHT: The Arm of Fate

“Wait, wait, I want to hear more of the cute girls flirting!” Alice pleaded. But it was too late. Even as she spoke, Alijda was tapping the button turning off communications to the planet. Alice made a pouty face at her. “You’re no fun.”

Alijda sighed. “Alice, sweetie, roomie, we’re trapped on a space station with a freaky magical cyber arm. Priorities?”

Alice crossed her arms. “Alijda, doom and gloom, also roomie, one of my priorities is staying sane. Pretty girls who want to kiss? It’s a sanity branch, showing me love can survive in a screwed up multiverse.”

Alijda matched her pose, not backing down. “You DO realize Beam’s attention makes Rose uncomfortable, yes?”

Alice couldn’t help but smile. She liked how Alijda challenged her opinions. It had been like that since their first encounter. Actually, no, what she liked even more about Alijda was how the teleporting woman would challenge, up until the point she realized that Alice wasn’t going to budge, then back off. There were even times when Alice yielded to logic. On occasion.

“Two girls can be good friends and share sexual pleasure stories without being actual make-out girlfriends,” Alice fired back. “Look at us!”

Alijda’s cheeks tinged a shade darker. “That’s different. Rose is half our age, she’s still figuring herself out. Also, I maintain that I really didn’t need to hear that vibrator story.”

Alice’s smile widened. “Ohhh, yes, you did. You were whining so much that afternoon about how you chase all the good guys away, how you were never going to find anyone, and how you’d never know the pleasures of a relationship again. You needed SOMETHING to take your mind off of it.”

“Most women would have suggested a day at a spa!”

“Most women didn’t find themselves alone on a space station for soooo looooong. Did you even try using one that way?”

“Oh, for–” Alijda closed her eyes and pinched the bridge of her nose, and seemed about to turn away, when her posture straightened. “Wait. That’s it.”

Alice also liked when Alijda surprised her. “Really? Should we find you a–”

“NO. Stop, Alice, those images, Gods. I meant, you know this station. You know where to go to evade the sensors, yes?”

Alice shrugged. “I used to simply turn off the ones in my bedroom when I wanted–”

Alijda grasped her shoulders. “Please focus. Fo-cus. If this arm is smart, it’s going to be hiding somewhere. In a place where, even if we get all the sensors working, it’ll still be shielded from detection. Possibly even from force field confinement. Where would that be?”

Alijda’s line of thinking clicked. “There’s a few places that would work.”

That’s when the station vibrated, some red lights lit up on the console, and a warning klaxon sounded.

Alijda glanced around, then back to her. “Does one of those places also let the arm do something like that to us?”

Alice nodded. “I know exactly where it is.”

***

Their first major stop was auxiliary control.

“I should be able to pull something together here that’ll neutralize both the Army’s tech parts and its magical occulty parts at once,” Alice remarked. She dumped all the items they’d picked up en route onto the floor.

Alijda sighed. “Can you not call it ‘the Army’? It’s one cyber arm, not a platoon.”

ALICE VUNDERLANDE Commission from Cherry Z

Alice grabbed the nearby toolkit and sat down to begin sifting through the assemblage of parts. She’d had something in mind ever since discovering that magic and science were blending together on that world of scale, her last Epsilon mission. She’d never thought she’d get the opportunity to build the thing.

“Army needs a name,” Alice countered. “Do you have a better one?”

Alijda’s grumble implied she didn’t. She turned towards Mr. Smith instead. “What’s the situation with these new alarms?”

“Automated,” came the computer’s reply. “Orbit is now decaying due to internal interference. I’m prioritizing the stabilization systems over everything else, save necessities like life support, so communications are down. You have approximately ninety minutes to regain control.”

“Of course. Any clue as to why the Station wants to kill us again?”

“Unknown.”

“Never easy,” Alijda mumbled. She looked back at Alice. “Can I help you build?”

It had been months since the vague blueprints had been a thing in Alice’s mind. But now that she was focussed on it, she found she could pick up where she left off. Much like remembering the next line of dialogue in “Back to the Future”, once given the right prompt. That was simply how her mind worked.

“Sorry Alijda, hardware thing here, not a hacker thing,” Alice said. “Would take longer for me to explain than to simply do it.” She snapped on a pair of goggles and began to solder. “We could talk about Kat though, that’d help.”

Alice wasn’t looking up, but she suspected that Alijda rolled her eyes. “No.”

“Totes serious,” Alice insisted. “I can work better if I’m not consciously thinking about what I’m doing. I’ve had Ziggy or Smith play music to me in the past, but the computers are kinda preoccupied right now. So come on, what did you two talk about when getting the power for Beam?”

“Nothing.”

“Ooh, yuh huh, sure, a ‘nothing’ that’s got you all bitter about relationships again. What, did you hope Rose would pick me to go to the planet? Giving you two more quality time together? You shoulda described me better than ‘walking encyclopaedia’, that’s not really a selling point.”

Alijda let out a breath of exasperation. “I was trying to sum up your skill set as best as I could. I was NOT trying to– look, don’t even start with me, okay?”

“Okee dokee. If you’re sure?”

Her roommate remained silent, but now it was the sort of silence that felt uncomfortable enough to warrant a follow up. Maybe? It took a couple minutes, but at last Alijda continued with, “It’s just… Alice, am I an egomaniac?”

Alice started splicing the necessary wires together. “I didn’t notice any huge, framed pictures of yourself on the walls of your home.”

“I don’t mean like that,” Alijda grumbled. “I mean, in how I make things about me. Because of how I shut other people out. Doing that, all I have is me, so everything becomes about me, and that shuts people out even more. A feedback loop of me, me, me.” She stamped her foot on the ground. “Damn it! I’m an uncaring bitch who should have died years ago.”

Alice spat the paperclip out of her mouth and looked up. “WHOA. Back up. That’s the depression talking. You do care. You jumped through a doorway to be with me, up here, now. You didn’t have to do that.”

Alijda shrugged, looking sullen. “Yeah, well, maybe I’m trying to find new, more exciting ways to die. It’s been all downhill since plummeting into the Thames on my first Epsilon mission.”

“Oh, stop. I’ve never been keen on black humour, and that silly show ‘A thousand ways to die’ is fiction. I hope you’ve never watched it.” Alijda didn’t even react to the random reference. Thrown off by that, Alice looked back down at her work. “Look, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to send you to the dark places.”

“I know. For what it’s worth, I’m sorry too.”

“Remember, deep down, I don’t think you want to die, Alijda. You want to stop hurting. Totes different. We’ve had that argument before, yes?”

“Yeah, yeah. Things are always an argument with us.”

Alice looked back up. “Oh no. No, honey, they’re really not,” she countered, with a sincere smile. She hoped.

This, Alice granted, was something she was lousy at. Appropriate reactions and proportional response. Maybe she should have quoted Monty Python there. Maybe adding ‘honey’ had been stupid. She hoped she didn’t sound glib. Please, her friend had to know by now when she was being serious. Right?

Alijda simply smiled back. There was another protracted pause. Unable to gauge the uncomfortableness of it all this time, Alice kept working, glancing up every so often.

Alijda finally crouched down. “I’m reminded of how you’ve read Kat’s info file.”

“Yuppers. Yours too.”

“And you remember everything you’re exposed to.”

“More or less. Junking a lot of my hell dimension memories helped free up space.”

“Then tell me, what do you know about Kat’s childhood friend, Fate?”

Alice shrugged. “Aside from her vanishing? Not much. Why, did he tell you about her?”

“Sort of. In passing.”

It felt like there was more to say there, but Alice wasn’t sure how to prompt. More to the point, she was finished building. She banged the last piece into place. “Done. We have an EMP.”

Alijda blinked. “You’ve been making something that generates an electromagnetic pulse?”

“Nope.” Alice shook her head, then flicked her hair off her shoulder with a wink. “This’ll create an Electro-Magical Patch. Press this end against Army, hit the trigger, you’ll render our target inert in both sparks and spells.”

“Meaning it needs to make direct contact.”

“Well, yeah. That’d be where your teleporting comes in. Also, we have the cliche one shot only, so make it count.”

“Right. Okay, let’s get to it then.” Alijda pushed herself back to her feet. “Lead the way.”

Alice nodded, holding out the EMP device. Alijda took it, then reached out to touch Alice on the shoulder as she walked by. “Also, thank you. Really. I mean that.”

“Sure,” Alice said, blinking in surprise. After all, it was just a tech gizmo, nothing to get overly dramatic about.

***

The ventilation systems on the Station weren’t large enough for a person, and there were very few sensors there. But, Alice reasoned, Army could fit in many of the ducts. And while the vents could be closed off to impede it, there was a manual override.

Army had to be near that room, the override room. The terminal there could be configured to manipulate other overrides on the Station, affecting their orbit. Thus, their plan was to shut the ducts, and when Army went to trigger the override and escape, nail it.

Unfortunately, she and Alijda had needed to waste time setting the commands up, because if Army was tracking their location on sensors, being direct could tip their hand, while splitting up might equally allow it to keep them separated. Fortunately though, they were able to route the necessary shutdown to a room near Army, meaning Alijda wouldn’t have to teleport into a live video feed. She was never a fan of doing that.

“I’ve been thinking,” Alijda said slowly as they finally approached their destination.

“Do tell,” Alice encouraged.

“Something Rose said, about the Station stabilizing once it had us. Yet now it’s in trouble again. Maybe that’s because some of us went to the planet? It has to be more than coincidence.”

“Ooh. Working theory. Maybe Army’s got internal memory, and you can hack it to learn if there’s something to that. You ready?”

The two women were now strolling nonchalantly past the override room. Alijda nodded.

Alice took a right at the next doorway, tapping the code she’d set up into the terminal there. Alijda vanished in a teleport cloud of purple smoke, back down the hall.

Alice then quickly ran back after her, to cut off any chance of escape if Army somehow got past Alijda’s teleporting by not using the vent. She saw Alijda run inside the room. Moments later, Alijda let out a shriek.

“What? WHAT?” Alice gasped, half expecting Army to jump out at her as she closed the distance, her stun grenade at the ready. The purple smoke of Alijda’s teleport dissipated enough to allow for visibility.

Alice peered around the corner. Army didn’t launch itself into her face. Instead, she saw Alijda lying on the floor of the room, with Kat standing over her. Kat?! It couldn’t be! Had Army learned to project holograms??

“OW,” Alijda said, rubbing near her bottom. “A little warning next time?”

“Communications are down,” Image-Kat said. “Or I would have.”

Alice caught herself up. “Magical projection from the planet,” she realized. “Using a variation of that spell that the Chris woman did on your last mission. Smart.”

“Thanks,” Kat said, glancing her way. “Listen, you two need to scan for–”

“Where’s Army?” Alice interrupted, looking to Alijda.

Kat flinched, looking over his shoulder. “You’ve got an army…?”

Alijda pointed up at the open grate in the ceiling. “Vent. Kat appeared between us as I was reaching out. Which made me scream and flinch back, so the cyber arm managed to trip the override… I jumped to hit it as it was trying to escape though. So I don’t think it got far?”

Alice looked up. “Leaving us with inert Army stuck in the ventilation. Good times.”

“Also a station falling out of orbit, so let me see if I can’t fix that,” Alijda remarked, pushing herself up off the floor and moving to the nearest computer keyboard. She began typing, as Kat returned his attention to Alice.

“You’ve been busy,” Kat observed.

“Nah, not really,” Alice said, firing off a grin. “Scan for what now?”

Kat shook off his confusion. “People. A person on the planet. Someone who’s not supposed to be down here, the same way that cyber arm wasn’t supposed to be here.”

Alice pursed her lips. “What, you mean you think someone fell through the multiverse cracks along with the arm? That’s not very solo-missiony. Are you sure?”

“We found a diary,” Kat explained. “Supposedly written by a women here who calls herself Destiny. Thing is, I recognize what’s in it. Not just the occult symbols, but some of the shorthand the writer was using.”

Alice peered closer. This scenario was a bit too weird. Was the image of Kat speaking to them under duress? “Blink twice if you’re being held captive.”

“Alice, I’m serious. I think that, somehow, it’s–”

“Oh my God,” Alijda gasped. She turned to them. “The computer. It’s…” She took a step back, pointing at the screen. “There was already a program in active memory to fix our orbit. I gave it a quick scan for viruses, then ran it. Look at what else it’s doing now.”

Alice took a few steps closer and leaned in to get a better look. One single word was typing and retyping itself, filling the screen with a single word, over and over.

Fate. Fate. Fate. Fate. Fate.

WHAT’S NEXT?

What happened to this Destiny woman?

VOTING CLOSES NOON EDT SATURDAY AUGUST 19th

Previous INDEX 4 Next

PATHS NOT TAKEN:
With the cyber arm taking second place, the writing mostly followed that thread. If magic had NOT won the vote (thereby interrupting them), they would have caught (or deceived) the arm, using it to reinitiate contact somehow. The arm still being missing path would have had Alice’s focus be on sensors and/or occult research instead. (A tie, which was possible at one point, would have had them both initiate contact at once.)

THE ORACLE PROPHESIED:
The section for events you indirectly voted on returns. The “Fate” connection (misdirection?) was locked in place with Vote 3, “Beam’s memory is damaged” (focussing attention on the artifact). That’s why Part 4 had to close off Kat’s loose plot thread of “Fate” on his home world, and why I had him recognize the symbols. It’s ALSO why Rose’s decision of who to bring down to end Part 5 was KEY, thus why I felt I couldn’t break that tie, and got so crushed at the low vote total. Anyway. All out in the open now! More or less. 😉

EXTRA ASIDE:
Heyyy, we’re back to zero view days over this three-year-old site’s 247 posts (we’ve had two empty days in the last ten). A weekly vote for T&T still helps to get eyes on us… though really, better than that is sharing a link out to anyone you think might enjoy interactive fiction. No pressure though, I’m happy you’re still here, voting and morphing the story. Ciao for niow.

4.07: Goodness Gracious

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EPSILON DELTA, PART SEVEN: Goodness Gracious

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“A wind spell gone wrong?” Beam suggested.

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

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

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

“What do you see?” Kat prompted.

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

“Are you sure?” Beam wondered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Rose!” Beam gasped.

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

“BEAM!” Rose screamed back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Adrenaline helps me run faster,” Rose breathed.

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

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

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

CHIBI BEAM (scan)
Commission yesterday from Gen Ishihara

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Firestorm shrugged. “Yeah. Recognize it?”

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

There was no answer.

Kat looked to Rose. “Try yours.”

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

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

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

WHAT’S NEXT?

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

VOTING CLOSES NOON EDT SATURDAY AUGUST 5th

Previous INDEX 4 Next

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

4.06: She Loves Me Not

Previous INDEX 4 Next

EPSILON DELTA, PART SIX: SHE LOVES ME NOT

Kat was the last to arrive out of the transportation whirlpool. He tucked his body and rolled on the field of grass as he landed, looking up in time to see the vortex shut behind them. He first looked over to where Beam was helping Rose up to her feet, then tapped at the watch device on his wrist.

“Alijda?” he asked. “Any problems your end?”

“Aside from having a magical cyber arm stalking us? No, no, we’re good,” came Alijda’s voice.

“How’s it look down there?” Alice asked.

Kat stood up, brushing off his pants as he looked around. They were in a field of grass, by a dirt road, with a cluster of houses not very far away. Logically, that village had to be the origin for the arm, as the three of them had been transported to the planet at the same coordinates Beam had used for her first visit. It seemed to be late afternoon here, based on the location of the sun.

“Civilization’s nearby,” Kat reported. “We’ll go check it out. I figure we’ve got to hit something within twenty minutes, since Beam had less than an hour to come down, get the arm, and return.”

“Might take you thirty minutes,” Beam spoke up. “My top speed is a bit faster than that of a normal human.”

Rose tilted her head. “So do you sweat like us when you run?” She immediately smacked her palm over her mouth, as if she hadn’t meant to speak aloud.

Beam clasped her hands behind her back, wiggling her eyebrows and letting out a giggle. “Ooh, Rose, yes. Every time I get all hot and bothered, my body reacts JUST like yours does. Thank you for asking?”

Once again, some of Rose’s freckles began to wash out as her cheeks darkened.

“I heard just enough of that to not want to hear any more,” Alijda remarked. “Be careful down there, Kat, okay? We don’t have the power to pull you back yet.”

“Understood,” Kat said. “Signing off.”

“Wait, wait, I want to hear more of the cute girls flirting!” Alice’s voice came, right before the connection ended.

Kat shook his head, then looked over at his two companions. They were standing side by side, though Beam was leaning in towards Rose, looking hopeful, while Rose was staring down at the grass. Or rather, sidelong at Beam’s legs. He sighed.

“Alice makes a good point, if accidentally,” he remarked. “Rose? Beam? We really can’t afford to have you two making eyes at each other right now, not if there’s someone or something dangerous lurking down here.”

Rose snapped her gaze up towards him. “What? Oh, Kat, I wouldn’t. I mean, I’m not. I mean, I have a girlfriend, a wonderful girlfriend! I would never cheat on Paige. No way!”

Kat crossed his arms. “And I believe that. But you DO seem to be affected by Beam somehow, whether it’s physical, owing to her greater romantic expertise, or because this situation has turned her into a damsel in distress. I know I’ve fallen for a few pretty girls under that sort of circumstance. And Beam is a curious technological marvel, isn’t she?”

Rose visibly swallowed. “Well, yeah, I want to help Beam. B-But I would never cheat on Paige,” she repeated softly, before looking away, towards the settlement.

Kat looked to the blonde hologram. “Also, Beam, you’re not helping. For now, can you modify your algorithms, or set Rose as unattainable or something? She is, as she points out, taken. Not to mention very possibly your superior officer.”

Beam leaned back away from Rose, her smile disappearing as she focussed on Kat. “Under these circumstances, I cannot help but flirt with Rose.”

Kat lifted his eyebrow. “Why’s that?”

Beam sighed. “Honestly? Rose has become more than a run-of-the-mill cute, funny, intelligent redheaded girl. She has now also saved my life, as it were. Meaning I owe her. And by default, I am programmed to repay debts to girls like her in a very specific way. By cozying up to them, until such a point that I can reward her with–”

“Space?” Rose squeaked, cutting Beam off.

“–kisses,” Beam finished regardless. She eyed Rose. “So many kisses, Rose. Kisses… everywhere.” Yet even as she generalized, her gaze seemed to focus in somewhere more specifically. “All very commitment free. Whenever you’re ready.”

Rose let out what Kat interpreted as giddy laughter. The teenager began to backpedal. “Wow! Okay, so, I’m sorry Beam, that’s not happening. Like, ooh, I’m sure you’re awesome and good at what you do, but not only am I off the market, I’m sure no parts of me taste sweet at all. Besides, mission! Big mission here! We gotta get back on track, right Kat? Time’s a-wasting, we gotta get going here, we gotta–”

As Kat raised his hand, palm out, Rose stopped a few steps away. “Rose, wait. Please. Remember, you wanted me along with you? Not Alijda, who might have tried to ignore this relationship, or Alice, who probably would have encouraged it. I think we need to put it to bed.” He frowned. “Though, bad choice of words.”

“Kat, I wanted you along since you recognized the occult symbol,” Rose mumbled. Though she did stop, executing a series of such rapid fire toe-taps on the ground that the tip of her shoe began to make an indentation.

Kat peered closer at Beam, who was now looking at the ground with a pouty expression. Almost like she was a young twenty something who wasn’t being allowed to borrow the family car. It was sort of adorable – but surely that too, had to be programming.

“Beam?” he said. “I’m sorry if this sounds indelicate, but I’m not sure how else to put this. Were you created to be some sort of high-tech prostitute? Is that part of the problem here?”

Beam’s pouty lower lip started to quiver, as if she was upset. From the corner of his eye, Kat saw Rose smack her hand over her face – while still peering out between her fingers. For a moment, he was worried she’d jump in and say something to deflect before Beam could speak up, but Rose held her tongue.

“I do not know,” Beam answered at last, her expression becoming more neutral as Rose failed to react. The hologram again looked at Kat. “I can tell you this. I have experienced memory loss before. My first memory ever is waking up in an alleyway on my Earth, with no idea as to how I got there. At the time, I knew little more than my name, and my basic programming.”

Her shoulders slumped. “I like to think that my creator, whoever they were, had honourable intentions, and was sadly forced to leave me behind on that day. But it is equally possible that I was discarded there by a creator who became disgusted by my settings, and was unable to reformat me. Which, yes, might make me nothing more than someone’s off-the-market high-tech sexual plaything.”

“Ohhh, Beam, you poor–” Rose froze in the process of reaching back towards the holographic woman, leaving her fingers twitching in the air. Apparently, her desire to help out was still battling with her fear at being seduced by the pretty hologram.

Kat wasn’t entirely surprised by Beam’s answer. Granted, he’d thought that maybe the holographic girl’s reluctance to give Rose space was due to a different sort of boot-up imprinting, but… “Then did a redheaded woman take you in on that day, and treat you nicely as you coped with your memory loss?”

Beam shook her head. “No.” She looked sidelong at Rose. “But your thinking does match my own here, Kat. For while that woman did not have red hair like Rose, I repaid that debt in much the same way I want to here. She was even funny in a similar way to Rose.”

“Ah ha ha, funny looking, you mean,” Rose muttered.

Beam smiled. “Oh, no Rose. Have I mentioned yet how much I love seeing your shirt?”

Rose pounded her toe into the dirt. “Don’t even. I hope they’re still growing. That is, oh, DAMN it, you meant the pun there, huh?”

Lia even drew the shirt
Such a good commission

Beam giggled. “Yes. You can handcuff me whenever you want. To whatever you want. Commitment free, Rose.”

Kat had been vaguely wondering about the meaning of Rose’s T-Shirt, which sported a squiggle leading down to the single word ‘YOU’RE’. With Beam’s remark, it suddenly clicked – the squiggle was music notation for a quarter rest. Rose’s top read: YOU’RE, under a rest.

Rose buried her face in her hands, turning away. “Should I die now? Because under the circumstances, I think dying of embarrassment is the only proper thing for me to do. Solves everything. Give my love to Paige. Not literally.”

“Ohhh, Rose, you poor–” Beam froze in the process of reaching back towards the other girl, leaving her fingers twitching in the air. Kat wondered whether the blonde was mimicking Rose’s earlier actions deliberately, or instinctively. At least she seemed to know enough not to hug Rose just then.

He sighed. “Beam. You have GOT to scale it back, for Rose’s own sake if nothing else. Is there any way you can just… reclassify Rose as less your saviour, and more one of your girl friends?”

Beam turned to look at him, lowering her arm. “I could. That would stretch out the time frame for intimacy.”

“I meant, your friends who are girls,” Kat added quickly. “Not girlfriends as in girls you might one day end up sleeping with.”

Beam canted her head to the side. A puzzled look crossed her face. “I’ve never been clear on that distinction.”

“Girls that you simply get along with,” Kat pressed. “That you don’t sleep with, who aren’t into you sexually. Heterosexual girls, for instance.”

Beam shrugged. “On my Earth, the default is that people feel they are compatible with everyone, regardless of gender,” Beam said. “That’s partly what made my programming so unique, its inherent rejection of the unfairer sex. It’s why I had to remain in hiding, why my existence was looked down upon by most men, even some women. It’s also why I saw my recruitment to this project as a form of escape, rather than as an abduction.”

Kat shook his head. “Wait, no. You’re from some free love society? Where every female on your Earth is open to any gender, no exception?”

Beam tilted her head the other way. “It is the same for the males.”

Kat swallowed. “But then, you’ve… with ALL your female friends? But that’s impossible. What about marriage?”

“Marriage unites one woman with one man, for procreation, but she is still welcome to have as many female partners as she requires for pleasure. As is the man with other males. Cheating doesn’t apply with the same sex.”

Kat let out a low whistle. “Huh, unique. So you really… like, you mean ANY girl you’ve met, you eventually kiss and… damn, really? Seriously?” Kat said, starting to feel flustered himself at Beam’s penetrating, yet increasingly inquisitive look.

“If I have become friendship bonded with the girl, it is only natural,” Beam admitted. “Now, I do recognize this custom as different across the multiverse, and I have tried to never initiate until I am sure. But here, we’ve established that Rose is compatible with me. So my program compels me to flirt with her, until she is no longer my lesbian friend, or my debt is repaid.”

Rose had dropped her arms to her sides and was now staring up towards the sky. “Ohh, yup, Lesbian Rose Thorne is now dead of embarrassment,” she sighed. “So, we gonna have an open casket funeral for the poor dear, or just a big ol’ girl love orgy in her honour, ooooh, choices, choices…”

Kat rubbed the back of his neck. “Can’t you make some new classification for Rose?”

“I would need a point of reference. I am still desperately trying to compute your distinction between lesbian girlfriends and friends who are lesbian girls. Because I…” Beam bit down on her lip. “I don’t want to lose Rose’s friendship. That would hurt my heart.”

Rose turned her head, eyes widening. “Ohh, Beam… if only I could lie to you about my preferences? It’s just, I spent so long lying to myself…”

Kat clapped his hands. “Wait, got it. Classify Rose as a male lesbian friend.”

Beam gasped. “Oh! Of course, it’s so simple.”

Rose shifted her wide-eyed gaze to Kat, then let out a moan as she dropped to her knees, placing her hands back over her face. “Y’know what? I can’t even tell if I’m offended or relieved. But know that Lesbian-Boy-Rose is ALSO DEAD. He/she/we are all dead, dead, stone cold dead. Uhh, as long as that’s doesn’t categorize me in a fetish way instead, Beam, cuz if so, I’m only mostly dead. Also, ew.”

Beam let out a soft cooing noise. “Oh, Rose, don’t worry. I could never truly see you as a boy. You’re too curvy, not to mention adorable. But I can overlay my feelings for men onto a new subclass of girl. Making you my first real girl… friend. If that’s acceptable?” Her look was hopeful again, her body faintly quivering with excitement.

Rose looked back upwards through her fingers. “Why do I feel like I’m being put in charge of teaching boundaries to a hot lesbian hologram?” Beam clasped her hands together, silently pleading. Rose pulled her hands down. “Um, okay, acceptable.”

Beam blinked a few times. Then she squealed in delight. “Oh, ROSE, is this how you see me?”

Beam knelt down next to her, grasping Rose in a sideways hug. Only to immediately pull back slightly. “Hugging like this, I can mean it non-sexually, right?” Rose nodded mutely in response, only to be pulled back even tighter into Beam’s bosom. “Oooh, it’s so weird and different, but I feel like I really get your reluctance now!”

“Urk. Yeah, uh, so I guess Rose lives again?” Rose wheezed. “She needs to breathe though. Beam, please let Rose breathe?”

Kat found he could only shake his head in wonder. And as Beam released Rose and then tried to engage the stunned redhead in a discussion of sports and beer, he realized he had probably only served to trade off one problem for another.

***

The first two houses they passed on the road, which were spaced a few city blocks apart, looked unremarkable. They continued on, Beam practically skipping along the dirt road, all smiles, as Rose trailed long looking sheepish. But, Kat suspected, secretly relieved.

Kat extended his arm as they came up to the third house, bringing the two girls up short.

“I see it too,” Rose remarked. “Another occulty symbol, on the wall there.”

“That’s no desire symbol though,” Kat revealed. “It’s used for protection.”

“So is it protecting someone who’s inside the house?” Beam wondered. “Or is it keeping something in there from getting out, like a freaky homicidal robot who’s short one cyber arm?”

Kat could only shrug. “I don’t know. We could call Alijda for an update, see if maybe they have the arm, or can get something from the station’s database about how common these symbols are on this world.”

Rose expelled a breath. “Well, it’s only a one story building, and I’m feeling amazingly brave given all my resurrections of late. We could at least look in the window.”

Beam pointed down the road. “Or, look, someone’s in the street, closer to the heart of this village. They’re coming this way. Could be a local. Or maybe they saw me here last time? We could always talk to them before messing with the spells in the area.”

NEXT?

What should they do about this symbol? OPTIONS: 

VOTING CLOSES NOON EDT SATURDAY JULY 22nd

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PATHS NOT TAKEN:
We were probably following Kat. If Rose had brought Alice, we’d have stayed on the station to look at the Alijda/Kat relationship (possibly in contrast to the Rose/Beam one) as they repaired the internal sensors. If Rose had brought Alijda… I wasn’t quite sure, but we may have stayed on the station, with Alice giving Kat more information about the “Epsilon God”? Anyway, we got Kat, meaning planet, meaning no delay for the Rose/Beam fallout. Which gave Beam a backstory that I hadn’t originally planned out at all. Woo hoo?