At the end of “Epsilon 4”, I did a “Paths Not Taken” for some additional notes. Here at the end of “Epsilon 5”, I’m going to do a “Behind the Scenes” post instead, as there’s more here about statistics and, well, behind the scenes stuff. (As opposed to individual poll results.) In particular, I’ll go through the various anagrams I used for the names, so if you want to figure those out on your own, read “Chanced Erasures” first.
Back in July, when “Surveillance Mission” and “Rescue Mission” tied on the initial plot voting (3 votes each), I considered calling the fifth Epsilon story “Search and Rescue”… only to notice that Part 13 of the previous story had been named “Search and Re-Skew”. Also, Part 30 of Time & Tied had used the S&R title.
So, I decided to look up anagrams. Options for those letters included “Cascade Her Runes”, “Arcane Cues Shred” and what I went with, “Chanced Erasures”.
As I said at the time, Chartreuse was always a given to return, and then Para was voted in (only 3 votes total on that poll, no idea why half of people didn’t read that far down). Alice, as the person to rescue, had actually been flagged for either a physical, mental or magical battle right from the start (which was the poll that would end part three), but I hadn’t intended for her to end up with a role as large as the one she got. How did things evolve?
Part three, bringing in Sam’s friends, was when the anagram stuff really got pulled together. We had Sue Morts (Sue Storm), Sir Thred (redshirt), and Sam Depas (Sam Spade)… whom I’d already called Sam Simmons in part two, but then retroactively changed. I don’t think anyone noticed.
The statue of the guy who started the school was Fenduro (Founder). I also planned for their trek through the school to trace out “ERECTS”, an anagram of “SECRET”, but starting in the Clover Club with the R (with “E” being in the gym, Sue’s intended starting point, that we never saw).
Part four introduced Shay Milds (Slim Shady) though his last name was only spoken aloud in part twelve, as well as Usa Staling (Assaulting), the head of security. Part five was when I mused about a second interrogation, leading to Marlin in part seven. He’s NOT an anagram, nor is the catgirl Mary-Lynn Emrys (from part eight, named in part thirteen). Both are plays on “Merlin”, from Arthurian lore, since the throwaway line about the burial ground/magic wars was becoming plot relevant.
Part six gave Sue “Storm” her invisibility. Part seven is when the “chanced erasure” title finally connected with the idea of erasing memories (in considering Thred being a victim). And that’s also when I had 30 consecutive days on the blog with fewer than 10 page views, meaning the WordPress scale reverts to decimals. Leading in part to a delay of a whole week in posting the next part, because why am I even.
That was actually the second delay – recall part 3 was delayed by a couple days. (In that case, I was playing with “Time Untied”, to submit it for the Ink & Insights competition. It placed 68 out of 146, so in the top 50%.) What this other delay meant was I only posted once for all October 2018.
Parts eight and nine tied up any loose threads that were still out there (or so I think). I don’t recall if I read through the prior parts to do that; I know I did before part six, so I suspect not. I’d made a few notes at that time. I also know I didn’t get a chance to re-read before putting together parts thirteen and fourteen, even though I wanted to. January is the worst month.
November involved work on nine, ten and eleven, even as I did NaNo for “Time Untied” (made it past 25k). By part nine, I wanted the mystery device to use anagrams somehow, what with it being the underlying theme. Part ten included the name “Polsit” for “pistol”, and twelve solidified that I’d need two more parts. The “No Antidote” button in part thirteen was for “Detonation”; an “Oyster D” button (to destroy) was scrapped.
It’s worth mentioning that I’d normally draw a picture at around the halfway mark; in this case, I only did it after the second last part (at the end of 2018). It’s the image above with the star. The delay was partly due to no time in Oct/Nov, and partly because I’d been hoping to start digital drawing – which I also didn’t have time for. Fun fact, after adding the image to the index page, it got automatically added to the tweet pinned at the top of my twitter timeline.
I think the only other thing worth a mention is how some of the current events stuff in the plot (immigration to a dimension, corrupt CEOs) was put in on a whim towards the end. I’d also considered having Alice save the day as an option to end part thirteen, but she’d seemed so popular I worried it’d be an easy win. So I went with Marlin, Sue and Sam instead. As I said in part fourteen, perhaps even that poll was predictable, leading us to the so-called “bad end” of secrecy. I didn’t want any end to be truly “bad” though.
The final character results split Alice and Chartreuse with 1 vote each. Because the last two polls got only two votes total. (Part five also saw only two votes.) Contrast the end of “Epsilon 4” when I was getting 7 votes towards the end, also in a December. Ouch. Was it the story itself? Was it weaker marketing? I don’t know, but let’s delve into that side of things.
I switched the blog to “every two weeks” in July 2017, during “Epsilon 4”. (See the post, “A Solo Cello“) So 2018 was the first full year for that schedule. I had only 32 posts published, as compared to 73 posts in 2017.
I had only 2,429 page views, as compared to 6,998 in 2017… marginally better than 2015, the first full year the blog existed (2,208 page views). Granted, 2017 had a huge spike from a guest post (a couple actually), but few people are sticking around. Or so it seems.
I’m open to suggestions. Part of the trouble is I don’t have time to market, my seven month old daughter (and family) takes priority, then there’s my teaching job (I was part time, now returning to full time), then there’s the writing, then there’s reading (which is months backlogged right now), then finally at the bottom is promoting. Did I mention some nights I only get five hours sleep?
As far as bright spots go, there is that little bump from July 2018, when I got over 500 page views. Someone did read through Time & Tied that month (silently). The final part of T&T (96b) now has 21 views. (Someone read through a bunch in December too.) And while the last parts of “Epsilon 5” only have 6 views, there were three different people commenting for the duration. I also got a shout-out from Joseph Nebus in the math carnival back in October.
I suppose there’s also how my site has now been protected from 6,276 spam comments. Spammers still have their eye on me? Does that make me important? Anyway. Also, as of today I’ve managed to get an additional quarter, loonie and toonie from 2018. Just for the record.
I think that’s everything I had to say. The plan is to continuously run Melissa’s story through 2019 – it started last week, if you missed it. After that I might return to Epsilon… we’ll see where things are at. Progress on “Time Untied” is slow, but gradually coming together. And if you didn’t know, I have been writing monthly columns for the “Time Travel Nexus” as well. Here’s hoping you stick around to see more of what I’ve been putting out there. As always, thanks for reading.
Alice considered doing something to act against Mary-Lynn, as the cat woman stood across the room. Two things made her hesitate. First, there was the fact that acting against Mary-Lynn herself wouldn’t serve to stop the dimensional shutdown device. Second, there was the issue of not being native to this world, and an “Epsilon” member being active in a key moment like this… well, it was how Alice had lost her job once already.
Fortunately, Alice didn’t have to do anything.
As the unconscious guy behind the desk let out a groan, everyone looked in that direction. That’s when Alice felt Sue grasping for the invulnerability badge she had on. She felt Sue, rather than saw her, because Sue had used her invisibility power again.
Alice let Sue take it. Moments later, Sue was standing right next to Mary-Lynn, and kicking the gun out of her hand. The cat woman snarled in response, rounding on Sue with a punch – that bounced off the invulnerability field, causing Mary-Lynn to let out a mewl of pain. Would that end up draining it for good? Well, Alice now noticed that Marlin had a hand on his wand, so could probably help out if necessary.
There was no need. In a clever move, Sue managed to twist Mary-Lynn’s arm back behind her, putting the cat woman into a hold. Fortunately, that only took one hand, leaving her other hand free to grab the tail, right before she said, “Tell us how to fix this.”
“Ow! Ow, ow! I already said there’s nothing you can do. Let go of my tail, that hurts!” Mary-Lynn hissed.
“Shay could probably help,” Usa suggested. “He’s the sort of person to have had an emergency override installed.”
“Except he’s unconscious, like Chartreuse here,” Para remarked, where she was softly stroking Chartreuse’s hair.
“Oh, my gun was set on sensory stun,” Usa said, holding it up. “Shay’s merely frozen, he’s still able to hear everything that’s going on. It’ll wear off in less than five minutes. All we need to do is use that time to somehow convince him that Mary-Lynn here is the real enemy.”
“You think we can?” Sam asked. “Shay wouldn’t listen to reason earlier.”
“Wait, um, is Chartreuse also aware of what I’m doing?” Para said, pulling her hand back. Usa simply smiled at her.
Alice turned her attention back to the dimensional device. “So, I can’t be sure, but I don’t think we’ve got much more than five minutes anyway.” Another plush cat hit her on the head. “Also, I feel like that rift is getting more aggressive, maybe due to the proximity of this thing.” In her part of the room, the small toys were stacked above her ankles.
“So how do we get Mary-Lynn to confess… wait,” Sue said. “The Hypno drug used for interrogations, is there more of it around here? We saw some in the infirmary.”
Before Usa could answer, Sam was stepping forwards. “I have some, I grabbed a vial, remember?” he said. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his handkerchief. “Would someone like to do the honours?”
Sue flashed her friend a smile. “Usa, you know how to administer that stuff, right?”
“Th-That drug won’t work. Cat genetics make me immune. Go fly a kite,” Mary-Lynn yelped.
“It’s worth a try,” Usa decided. She took the vial from Sam and advanced on Mary-Lynn.
“No, this is illegal on so many levels. If you do that, you’ll never work for the Council again. Let go of my damn taaaail!” Mary-Lynn mewled, struggling against Sue. But either Sue’s grip, or the invulnerability field, or both, kept the cat woman in place.
“If you’re one of the leaders, I don’t think I want to be working for you anyway,” Usa concluded. “Thanks for your help with restraint, Sue Morts.” She administered the drug.
Alice took the opportunity to get closer to Para. “Do you know how good the shielding down here is?” she murmured, crouching. “Because you might be out of here either way.”
After all, the Epsilon station had temporal circuits. If the dimensions were to close off, Fate could, in theory, bounce back to just before that moment and initiate a retrieval. Alice kind of hated to piggyback out that way, but there was only so much they could do to influence things before they became part of the problem. Right?
Para could only shake her head and shrug back though. So Alice resigned herself to standing back up and watching as Usa stepped back from Mary-Lynn, staring her in the eyes. Hopefully there was still more they could learn.
“Your name, for the record,” Usa stated.
“Mary-Lynn Emrys, and for the record, go take a flying leap,” the cat woman snarled.
“Who sent you to this reality?” Usa continued.
“I was born here, nitwit,” Mary-Lynn said. “You know, you’re not going to trip me up this way. You don’t know the right questions. Give up now, let the device finish, the dimensions will close, and we will be safe.”
“Safe from what, from whom?” Usa pressed.
“Anything or anyone out there who’s a threat,” Mary-Lynn answered.
“But especially from the Clover group,” Alice decided to suggest. “What is it they’re calling themselves?”
“Clover Enterprises, duh,” Mary-Lynn said. There was a brief silence. Then, “Aw, hell.”
Alice smiled quietly. At last, after all this, a solid lead.
“Is that something related to this school’s Clover Club?” Sue asked.
“No, idiot, the similar name just makes for a good smoke screen,” Mary-Lynn said. “I’m not saying anything more.”
Usa had glanced over towards Alice; now she turned back to the cat woman. “I think you will say more. Because you’ve had dealings with Clover Enterprises. Right?”
“I have not, not personally.”
“But for some reason, they’re after us,” Usa insisted.
“Sure, in a sense.”
“Can you explain why in five words or less?”
“We owe them money.”
“Why’s that?” Usa challenged.
Mary-Lynn attempted to shrug. “How the hell would I know? Do I look like the top brass?”
“If it’s only a money issue, why not pay off this Clover Enterprises?” Sam spoke up, from where he’d returned to check on Thred’s unconscious body. “Is it too expensive?”
“Not really, it’s more that the CEOs want their pay raises,” Mary-Lynn stated.
Sue leaned in closer to Mary-Lynn’s ear. “Wait. Wait, let me see if I’ve got this straight,” she said. “The Council has had extra-dimensional dealings with Clover Enterprises. Some pretty long-standing dealings, as you’ve had years to use school Clover Clubs as a smokescreen. And now, instead of paying a debt, our Council is funding a dimensional closure device, which will isolate our world and hurt our economy. All this, merely so CEOs can keep their pay raises? And you’re okay with this?”
“I might be getting a cut,” Mary-Lynn said sullenly. “Besides, no worries, there’s this trickle-down effect for the cash, whereby–”
“Oh, shut it,” Usa snapped. “I cannot believe that our organization has become so corrupt.”
“But this doesn’t make sense,” Sam protested. “Why take the drastic step of shutting down all dimensions, rather than just the one where this Clover Enterprises exists?”
“Because we can,” Mary-Lynn snarked.
Sue looked towards Alice. “You mentioned the group in the first place, do you know?”
“Well, there’s a shadowy Clover group that’s been behind at least one other dimensional incursion,” Alice admitted, exchanging a glance with Para. “Meaning I doubt your Council knows which other dimensions do or don’t have ties, hence the decision to go totally dark.”
“Actually, here’s a thought,” Para piped up. “Could this Clover Enterprises have been involved in the magic wars on this very site? Maybe the company even suggested to ‘Fenduro’ that a school be put here, along with that puzzle to solve for access to the base. Could things go that deep?”
Usa frowned, and looked back at Mary-Lynn. “Well, could they?”
“I can’t say ‘no’,” Mary-Lynn said, mouth twitching. “Which actually bothers me, why am I getting creeped out?”
“Attack of conscience?” Sam suggested.
“Hi, so, the dimensions are about to get shut down,” Marlin said, speaking up again. He’d spent the last few minutes alternately looking inside the device, glancing up at the rift, and eyeing the dimensional control item that Sue had clipped to her belt.
It occurred to Alice then that Marlin could probably have rushed Sue and grabbed it by now, if he’d wanted to. It was nice that he wasn’t interrupting the interrogation with magic either. Then again, maybe the issue was Marlin had no clear idea what was going on.
That’s when Shay mumbled something.
Sam moved closer to him. “What was that?”
Usa placed her hands on her hips. “Given what we just learned, along with Shay’s brother being off-world, hopefully it was an override code.”
Sam leaned in closer. “He said… ‘Video Err’.”
“Another anagram,” Marlin muttered. “Not helpful in actually giving us an override.”
Alice snapped her fingers. “Except where it just might be.” She peered at the inside of the device again. “Heck yeah, just need to uncouple the video. Fun failsafe. Seems you can’t shut down what you can’t see. Jolly good.”
The rectangular box showing the pulses went dark. At which point the dimensional rift opened wider, and even more cat plush started pouring out.
“Aaaand pretty sure that’s coincidence,” Alice remarked.
“Okay, so, any way we can still shut THAT dimensional connection down?” Sue asked.
Mary-Lynn rolled her eyes. “You people. A regular dimensional device can patch that, at least temporarily. Release me, and I’ll show you how.”
Sam blinked over at the cat woman. “Huh. While I realize that has to be the truth, why are you offering up the information…?”
“Leniency? Also, I’m starting to question my own place in reality, given how I seriously didn’t think there was a way for you to screw with our plans. But here we are. Will you let go of my tail already?!”
“Fine. Help,” Sue said, finally releasing Mary-Lynn, “And if it’s any consolation, I don’t see any reason that the results of this interrogation should get out.”
“Otherwise the CEOs will see you coming for their blood money?” Para wondered.
“That, and the fact that we’d prefer to deal with this little problem in-house,” Usa remarked. She looked at Sam. “So this better not end up in your newsletter.”
“Don’t look at me,” Sam said, raising his hands. “I’m not sure anyone would believe me. Also, I’d prefer to stick around at least until that device is disassembled. It’ll help me sleep nights.”
“S’fine,” came Shay’s slurred voice from the floor. “Saw rye for every ting. ‘N yer in, Sham.”
Sam blinked down at Shay. “In? You mean, you won’t wipe my memory? That’d be nice, because I actually have some suggestions. Chief among them, writing instruction manuals.”
“You see?” Sue said brightly, looking over at her friend. “This has all turned out for the best.”
“Spike for yersluf,” mumbled Sir Thred, still face down on the floor.
“Great, keen, lovely, can I please get out of here before we all drown in plush cats?” Marlin pleaded. “I’ve been nothing but helpful, seriously.”
Alice flashed him a smile. “In fact, it’s high time Para, Chartreuse and I were clicking our heels together three times. We can bring Marlin along, if that’s okay.”
“Maybe you could even make it such that we were never here?” Para suggested. “I suspect the school records will automatically wipe anyway.”
Usa nodded. “This is plausible. Paperwork can get misfiled, and we’re rather busy right now dealing with this plush cat infestation.” She gestured at where Mary-Lynn was reconfiguring Sue’s gadget. “So if you have your own means of departure…”
“Say no more, say no more, say no more, squire,” Alice burbled, grasping Marlin by the sleeve and pulling him towards what she hoped was the nearest exit. Marlin didn’t resist. Para lifted Chartreuse, who now seemed to be slowly regaining the use of her limbs, and followed after. Once they reached the music room, they were able to contact the Epsilon station almost immediately.
“And you never looked back?” Fate asked, scribbling on her pad.
“Nope, we’d already overstayed our welcome,” Alice reported. She clasped her hands behind her back, wondering if they’d be able to sit down any time soon.
“Also I wasn’t, you know, able to turn my head at that point,” Chartreuse added.
“Right.” Fate made another notation, then looked up. “Well, that takes care of the report then. Good work out there.”
“I’m just soooo glad you’re all back safely,” Beam said, bouncing into the room after having gone to return Marlin to his proper world. “The fact that you got Clover information is a bonus. Ooooh, I want to kiss you all!”
“Down, girl,” Fate said, shaking her head. “Lesbian hijinks later, for now, we should get Chartreuse and Para back home too.”
“Then you’ll be continuing your Clover investigation alone?” Para mused.
Alice nodded. “For now. I mean, on the one hand, the fact that Clover Enterprises never showed up on our radar at all is significant. On the other hand, we still don’t have a specific way of finding them. But that’s for us to mess with, you all have your own dimensions to handle. Don’t worry, we’ll let you know if we need your help again.”
“Don’t forget, there’s still regular dimensional issues to monitor as well,” Fate reminded them.
“Well I’m always willing to, you know, do what I can for friends,” Chartreuse said, smiling. She looked at Para. “Speaking of that, it was nice to meet you. Thanks for, like, all the help.”
Para found herself smiling back. “Thanks for accepting me on your team, and taking that hit for me at the end.”
Chartreuse dropped a quick curtsey. “I do what I can.”
“Group hug with everyone before you go!” Beam squealed, throwing her arms open wide. “Please?”
Alice rolled her eyes, but followed the other women into the embrace. Personally, she hoped that the next stage of their investigation would involve bringing in Alijda, their super hacker. Or at least, she hoped to connect up with her roommate again soon. Might she even get a few days of relatively normal every day life then? Only time would tell.
PATHS NOT TAKEN: If it had been Sam, he would have dimensionally jumped away using Sue’s device, then come back in a position to use the serum on Mary-Lynn. If it had been Marlin, who’d thought Alice’s “Mr. Wizard” remark had been a reference to him, magic would have been used as the restraint. We got Sue, which also included keeping everything quiet – so perhaps that’s a bad end? I should have seen it coming though, since Marlin doesn’t have much personality yet, and no one wanted Sam to figure out the room code a few votes back either. I’m still learning here. Feel free to elaborate about your prior votes.
THE ORACLE PROPHESIED: Usa’s vote from a couple parts back had a secondary consequence about Sam’s Hypno drug. I didn’t want to bring up then, lest readers had forgotten about it. If Usa had helped them find Shay, they’d have used the drug on him, to learn more on using the device (recall they could have found files for what Mary-Lynn had said here). If Usa knew how the device worked, the drug for sure would have been used on Mary-Lynn, similar to what we saw. Since they improvised using the device, I was still improvising on who would get the drug… and it turned out to be the cat woman.
EXTRA ASIDE: As a coins follow-up, in the first couple days of 2019, I got one of the new 2018 $10 bills with Viola Desmond on it, so that was kind of cool. Going forwards, I plan to edit the old Melissa Virga archive – any preference between longer parts every two weeks, or shorter parts weekly? Looking back, would people prefer if I stopped changing the point of view each part? Let me know. There’s a final Behind the Scenes here, looking at anagrams and stats. Thanks for reading!
Para wasn’t sure if she should be impressed by the dimensional shutdown device. As Sue pulled the sheet off, Para took in the lights at the top, the vertical lines within a rectangle within an oval, and the buttons on the pad below, and decided… it didn’t look that complicated. What was there to be impressed about?
“It’s like a handheld Mattel electronic football game,” Alice chirped. “If it was the size of a large Christmas tree.”
“I don’t know what that means,” Usa muttered, as she went to inspect the device. “As far as I knew though, this invention was supposed to allow for mass transport of items between dimensions. Not shut down travel. Can you prove otherwise?”
“We… don’t actually know how it works,” Sam admitted. “I was kind of hoping it would be better labelled. Or that you would have more information.”
Usa shook her head. “Maybe someone’s been playing you. Feeding you misinformation.”
“Maybe someone’s been playing all of us,” Thred suggested. He glanced at Alice.
“Maybe someone got getting tired of playing rugby and invented this,” Alice quipped. “Want a quarter back?”
“Usa, hold on. You mentioned this place had increasingly crazy security,” Sue reminded. “This can’t be a simple case of misinformation. I mean, you must have had some suspicions of Shay and the Council before this, otherwise why give us this chance at all.”
Usa crossed her arms. “Even so, I still have a duty here. I need proof positive.”
“You know, there’s still that rift,” Marlin spoke up. “Could we maybe deal with that first?”
Para got the distinct impression that Marlin was hoping to use ‘dealing with that’ as a chance to escape Usa, but he did have a point. She moved closer to Chartreuse. “I don’t suppose you’re able to get any useful impressions?” Para murmured. In response, Chartreuse nibbled her lower lip.
“How about this. If we activate the shutdown device for a short burst,” Sam suggested, “it could fix the rift as well as prove our point. Just bring one of the dimensional devices along and try to use it. If it doesn’t work, this device isn’t for mass transport.”
“Except what if, once we throw the switch, it never turns off again,” Sue cautioned.
“Okay,” Chartreuse said, stepping forwards. “Gonna, like, try something here now. Give me a moment?”
She took off the jade ring she’d been wearing to help acclimate her powers gradually to their surroundings, and reached out to give it to Para. Para took it, then watched as her mission commander moved to one of the unconscious scientists on the floor. Chartreuse passed a crystal around his head, and finally reached out to touch his forehead.
“Your mind to my mind,” Alice murmured. “Your thoughts to my thoughts.”
Usa took a step forwards. “What is she–”
“Chartreuse is learning about the device,” Para said, holding up her hand to prevent Usa’s advance. She was pretty sure it wasn’t through whatever means Alice had implied, but still.
“Or, you know, she’s flailing blindly in the dark,” Chartreuse admitted. She stood and moved on to another scientist. “I don’t control my impressions, but am kinda hoping one of them is thinking about using that thing, or would, like, have ended up using it in a possible future that I can then, you know, divert.”
“Look. There’s six buttons and a switch,” Marlin protested. “How hard can this be? We do this by trial and error.”
The young wizard reached out for the device, only to have Thred grab his arm. “You want to hit the button labelled ‘CANS’ or the one labelled ‘POTS’?” Thred said. “Because I feel like we need neither of those things in our dimension right now.”
“We’re not in a hurry,” Sam said. “Let’s let Chartreuse try again.”
“I kind of thought that guy running off for reinforcements was an issue,” Marlin groused. But other than shaking free of Thred, he made no further objection.
The third scientist Chartreuse touched made her sit up straighter and stare off into the distance. Then she turned towards Sue and Sam. “Okay, so, the TARTS/POTS button will, like, switch that thing on and off. Meaning we can turn it off, if things go badly. That’s, you know, about the best I can do.”
Sue searched Chartreuse’s expression, then nodded. “All right, so we activate it then,” she relented, looking towards Usa for confirmation. “And see what it does to the dimensions. After all, what have you got to lose?”
“My job?” Usa said dryly. She followed it up with a sigh and another shake of her head. “But, I haven’t been thrilled with what I’ve had to do lately. Hurry up, get me your proof.”
The device was large enough that both Thred and Sam were needed to carry it. Sue was the one who grabbed a couple of the portable dimensional devices from the back, Usa not wanting to let Marlin, Alice, Chartreuse or Para near them. Para could understand that.
They all headed back out to the entrance room, which by now had plush kittens littering floor everywhere. Para helped to clear a space on the ground underneath the rift, so that the device could be set down. Everyone stood back, leaving Sam standing next to it.
“Okay,” Sam said, taking a breath. “So we turn it on.” Sam hit the TARTS/POTS button. There was a pause. Another plush kitten fell to the floor. “…and nothing happens.” He crouched down for a closer look.
“Actually, a light came on,” Alice corrected. “I suspect that now, someone will need to dial in a dimension that matches the rift, so we can shut it down.”
“Dial? I thought when this thing was on, it would turn everything else off,” Thred grumbled.
“Then why have the buttons for CANS and NO ANTIDOTE?” Marlin sniped back.
Chartreuse toyed with her crystal. “Is anyone else worried about, like, poking around randomly with that thing?”
As she spoke, another plush kitten fell out of the rift. It bounced off Sam’s head, and knocked against the CANS button. More of the machine lit up, and pulses started to scroll across the rectangular box with the vertical lines.
“Oooh, he’s at the twenty, the ten, touchdown,” Alice murmured.
“Reminds me of a heart monitor,” Para observed. “Perhaps it’s doing a scan?”
“A cans scan… of COURSE!” Usa snapped her fingers. “That’s it. It makes sense now. Those plans I saw, they were encoded this way.”
“Plans?” Sam mused.
“Another part of why I was inclined to believe you,” Usa admitted. “The Council’s plans for this thing, they were written in a way I didn’t understand, and they wouldn’t explain it. But I see now it’s anagrams. Cans for scan. The same way in our school the ‘secret’ door can be read as ‘erects’, if you use the letters as ordered by room.”
“Ahh, anagrams. It’s how ‘Search and Rescue’ can become a phrase like ‘Chanced Erasures’,” Alice quipped. “Makes sense.”
“Fine, it’s a scan. What’s it scanning for?” Thred wondered.
“More to the point, I now know what ‘no antidote’ means,” Marlin said, frowning. “It’s not good.”
“Speaking of not good – security’s been activated for this room,” Sue shouted, pointing over at the nearby vent. “Hear that hissing? It’s knockout gas.”
“Dammit,” Usa muttered. She ran over to the main desk, and the console there. “Fortunately I have the codes to turn that off. Oh, hello Polsit,” she remarked, seeing the unconscious man there. She quickly typed in her codes.
Chartreuse looked over at Sue. “How much time do you think we have before Shay storms in here with more troops?” she wondered.
“Not long,” Sue admitted. “Surely there’s some way to get the proof we need without hitting random buttons. Usa, you said you saw plans?”
“Yes, but I didn’t take pictures.” Usa straightened. “I think we’d better head back to the interrogation room. Unless one of you has more dimensional knowledge than Shay.”
Para cleared her throat. “Ah, hello? It occurs to me that Alice probably has some experience.” After all, Alice’s time spent manning the Epsilon Station, coupled with her eidetic memory, had to count for something.
Everyone turned to look at Alice, who fired off a huge Cheshire-Cat smile. “Possible. I figured I wasn’t high on the trust list, after failing to convince Shay of anything. But hey, if you’re willing to give me a chance…”
“That’s not a good idea,” Thred protested.
“But we don’t have much of a choice at this point,” Sam yielded. “Okay Alice, let us know what you can come up with. Knowing that if you betray our trust, there will be consequences.”
Alice cracked her knuckles. “Of course! Now pop the back off of that thing and give me five minutes.”
Usa pulled a gun out of the main desk. “This only stuns,” she remarked. “But as Sam said, don’t try anything funny.” She trained it on Alice as Sam and Thred managed to unscrew the back, revealing all the electronics.
“Oooh, pretty,” Alice muttered. She both peered and felt around inside for a bit. Para spent the time looking at the reactions of everyone there. Only Usa didn’t seem tense, probably due to her security training. As they waiting, more plushies rained down from the rift near the ceiling.
“Okay,” Alice said at last, dusting off her hands. “So, pretty sure the scanner is, as we speak, locking in dimensional addresses – every ten yards. The ‘no antidote’ button will be the detonation, removing their link to this place. Interestingly, doesn’t matter how many addresses you lock in, so if we had more of a clue, we could seal only the rift while draining the device.”
“As interesting as that is, can you point to the bits that would be proof for Usa?” Sam wondered.
“Wait, back up to that detonation thing,” Marlin said, eyes widening. “Could this device torpedo other dimensions?”
Alice scratched her head, looking to Marlin first. “I doubt it? I’m good, but I’m not Mr. Wizard good. I’d need more time to – duck!”
Para spun to see where Alice was looking. In the entranceway stood Shay, and some woman who seemed to be part cat. They were pointing guns of the same type that Usa was holding. One was aimed at Sam, who was closest to the device, the other was aimed at… her. Para felt her bunny ears quiver.
Even as Para processed that her being a target was likely only because she was the one standing closest to the two arrivals, she was tackled to the floor. Somewhere, someone called out, “Sam!”. With that, there was the sound of three guns going off.
Para rolled to the side to take in the scene. Apparently Thred had jumped in front of Sam, and he now lay sprawled out on the ground. Shay, over by the entrance, was also unconscious, with the cat woman and Usa now pointing their guns at each other in a stand-off. And the one who had tackled Para… had been Chartreuse. She was also unconscious.
Para honestly wasn’t quite sure how to feel about that. Wasn’t it the role of subordinates to protect their leaders, not the other way around? Yet Chartreuse had taken the hit for her. As such, Para resolved to make sure Chartreuse was kept safe. She reached out to brush her fingers against Chartreuse’s hair, only to pause as someone spoke.
“Mary-Lynn Emrys,” Usa said dryly. “So you’re the reason for heightened security here.”
“Usa Staling,” Mary-Lynn said evenly. “Have you become a traitor to the Council?”
“I’ve learned that there’s something shady going on,” Usa fired back. “Let’s lower our weapons and figure things out.”
The cat woman seemed to think about it. “I think not,” she said at last. Then she adjusted her aim, and shot at the dimensional shutdown device. Sparks flew from the ‘on/off’ switch. The stun field had to be electronic in nature. What had Mary-Lynn done?
“Okay,” Alice said, side-stepping towards Sue. “Unless I miss my guess, we can’t shut that down any more, and once the current scanning completes, it’s going to unlink completely from everything that got scanned. I can only assume that’s what you were hoping to do.”
Mary-Lynn smiled. “Yup. Stun me all you like now, there’s nothing you can do to stop the plan from succeeding.”
Well, that couldn’t be good. Para scanned over everyone present for their reactions one more time. She couldn’t be sure, but three people seemed like they were about to try something.
Marlin, surprisingly enough, had his hand twitching towards his wand. A final escape attempt? Or was there something magical he could do to repair the device? More interestingly, if a dimensional traveller were the key person behind foiling the plan, what would that say to someone like Shay?
Sam also seemed tense, as if he was about to make a jump… somewhere. To grab Usa’s gun? For Alice’s invulnerability item? Para wasn’t sure what he hoped to accomplish, but a success might cement his involvement with the group of dimensional investigators. Just as a failure could ruin his chances forever.
Then there was Sue, who seemed a bit translucent – as she had her invisibility power on her side. Could she use that to convince Mary-Lynn to fix things? On the plus side, it would mean that someone who had been involved with Council affairs would be cleaning up their own mess. But then, maybe that would simply perpetuate a system that needed to change.
As Para finally completed her movement to softly touch Chartreuse on the head, she wondered what was going to happen.
PATHS NOT TAKEN: The improvisation decision included that part of where Chartreuse was trying to get an impression that would be of use. Had Usa known how the device worked, they would have been able to negate the charge as Alice implied, making for a different cliffhanger at the end (more of a hostage situation?). And if Usa could have found Shay, it would have meant a return to the hidden Council room, now with some important documents. There was also another aspect decided with that vote, which we won’t see until the last part. And I had no real plans on the device, so thanks to John Golden for the Mattel suggestion.
EXTRA ASIDE: A few things! First of all, yes, I’ve been playing with anagrams this whole story as far as names are concerned, Alice kind of lampshading the title itself. (See also, this entry title.) Only two names haven’t involved anagrams, did you catch them? Secondly, when this “Epsilon” ends, I will likely return to the follow-up Melissa Virga story from my archives, unless anyone has another preference (recall the options were in this post). Comments are open. Finally, a Happy New Year to you – here’s the results of the 2018 coins I received over the past 363 days. Namely 3 toonies, 9 loonies, 5 dimes, and 2 each of quarters and nickels, for a total of 21 – no differing designs. You may recall 2017 had 20 coins while 2016 had 37 coins and 2015 had 42 coins. I have no theories, merely the data. Wondering why this is a thing? Consider reading my Time & Tied story. That’s everything, hope you stay tuned for the conclusion of “Chanced Erasures”.
Chartreuse knew that their mission was now over. They had obtained not only information about the Academy, but retrieved Alice herself. Still, calling the Epsilon Station and requesting to be teleported out would be a problem with Sam and his friends there. They didn’t know Chartreuse wasn’t local, and were trying to handle a dimensional rift… which could be interfering with communications anyway.
“I’m not sure Alice should deliver a speech, to Shay or anyone else,” Thred remarked, adjusting the cowl of his borrowed robes. “She’s an invader from another dimension. Mentioned Para by name too.”
“Seriously?” Sue gasped. She turned towards Chartreuse, her eyes narrowing. “Ohhh. This is all making sense now. Alice is with you and Para, huh? That’s why you’re here. To get her.”
Chartreuse rubbed the back of her neck. So much for maintaining their cover. “Is it, like, too late to pretend to be from some rival school?”
Alice sighed. “Okay, let’s not exaggerate. Look at me. Not invading. If I were, I’d have at least brought a change of clothes.”
“Yeah, seriously, I don’t even want to come back to this dimension,” Marlin broke in.
“Well, regardless of their origins, someone needs to motivate Shay into switching sides,” Sam decided. “Because our Council seems to want to mess with travel between the dimensions. So, decide fast about whether that’s Alice or not, I don’t think we’ve much time before that group leave the lab and jail all of us.”
“I swear, I’ve got a plan,” Alice said. “If you trust me. Also, if you let me work with Marlin for a moment, because it looks like he has his wand back.”
“We have no reason to trust you,” Thred protested.
“Even so, we should let her do it,” Sue said. Off the stares she got from everyone else, she shrugged. “Look. If these people are here to do us harm, there were easier ways to go about it. They seem to want to close that rift, and I’m guessing they don’t want the dimensions to be shut down any more than we do.”
“Then you believe Alice, over your Council, as to what’s going on?” Para mused.
Sue paused, then nodded. “Things have felt off tonight. I’m prepared to give the benefit of the doubt. In the worst case, I’ll claim Chartreuse here had brainwashing crystals and I wasn’t in control of myself.”
Chartreuse flinched. “Are crystals like that a, you know, real thing?”
“Who knows,” Sue said. “In fact, quick word with you,” she added, moving a couple of paces away and motioning for Chartreuse to follow.
“Sweet. With Marlin’s help I’ll need less than a minute,” Alice said, as Chartreuse moved off. Thred muttered something under his breath as Sam reached out to console his friend, Para keeping an eye on the situation. Chartreuse turned to Sue.
“Okay, so, sorry for, like, not being totally honest,” Chartreuse began.
Sue waved her off. “As if you could be. In fact, I wanted to personally say I’m sorry for getting all up in your face. I realize now that you had no way of knowing this, not being from here, but Sam’s newsletter is in danger of being shut down.”
Chartreuse stared. “It is? Does he, like, know?”
“Doubt it. I only know because, as I said, my dad’s a janitor. They hear things. I was going to tell Sam after all this.” Sue glanced back towards her friend. “See, I figured, giving him an in to this group would provide a new direction for his life. Or maybe he’d find a way for his publication go out in a blaze of glory. Either way, it was something.”
“That’s nice of you,” Chartreuse said, offering a tentative smile.
Sue turned back to her. “Thanks. I guess in some sense, we’ve all been looking out for our own interests tonight. Time to pull together now, what do you say?”
Chartreuse bobbed her head. “I’m so totally good for that.”
Sue gave her a slight smile, then looked down at Chartreuse’s legs. “Neon red stockings,” she muttered. “I should’ve figured only a dimension hopper could wear such cute accessories and manage to get away with it.”
“You like?” Chartreuse asked, extending her leg.
Sue jerked her gaze back up, eyes widening, possibly unaware she’d spoken loudly enough to be heard. Before she could say anything though, Alice stepped up next to them, fiddling with some device on her shirt.
“Sue, Sam says you can make invisibility,” Alice remarked. “Want to stealth me in there? Or should I just jump in the door and say ‘Heeere’s Johnny’?”
Sue jumped on the change in subject. “I can’t help, my power doesn’t work very well when I’m both extending my personal field, and moving.”
“Want me to, like, act as a distraction first then?” Chartreuse asked. “They might not shoot me on sight, having never, you know, seen me before.”
“Too risky,” Alice mused. “But, okay, derivative idea, let’s have you put on that cloak-” she motioned to Thred “-and take me in. If I look subdued, Shay may want answers first, unconsciousness later.”
“Hold on. Why should we trust that you and your friend won’t grab a dimension device and run off?” Thred countered, having approached with the others.
“Because Para’s staying with you, and Chartreuse can pick up impressions of people, which might come in handy,” Alice countered easily.
“It’s fine, Thred, I can invisibly tag along, if I’m not extending the field,” Sue added. “I’ll make sure they’re keeping up their end of the bargain.”
Thred glanced to Sam, who simply nodded, and with a roll of his eyes up to the ceiling, he began to remove his robe.
“Remember that magic charge will only work once,” Marlin remarked. Alice simply gave him a thumbs up.
Soon after, Chartreuse headed for the lab door, with the Council robe obscuring both her face and build. Still, she felt her heart beating a bit faster. Alice kept her hands behind her back, as if she was being restrained.
“Hey! Look who I, like, found,” Chartreuse announced as she walked in. Inwardly, she winced; she’d hoped to keep her remarks brief enough to not have valley girl speech creep in.
Fortunately, Shay was too interested in Alice to remark on Chartreuse’s dialect. His eyes widened from where he was addressing the small group of scientists. “You? Again?!” he sputtered.
“Here’s the thing though,” Alice said, smiling. “Me and Marlin just want out, while you’ve got a dimensional rift creating cats or something in your reception room. So, how about we work together on a solution? In the end, I’m out of your hair, and people like your brother don’t get stuck off world.”
Shay pointed at her, and began striding across the room. “You are not going home.”
Alice gave up on the pretence of her arms being restrained. “Why not?”
Shay glared. “I’ve read the Council texts, I know how that played out in the past.”
“Enlighten me then,” Alice said, standing her ground. She gestured at one of the scientists. “Not to mention some of your friends here, who are looking confused. What happened in the past?”
“As if you don’t know. People stumbling in here from other dimensions, who either wanted to stay, or return to bring their friends,” Shay said. “Such immigration would be the ruin of our society. Dimensional people coming and stealing our jobs… people on technologically inferior planes have to stay in their own lane. You’re not bringing anyone else over, not on my watch!”
“Oh-kay,” Alice said slowly. Chartreuse saw the brunette woman’s eyebrow twitch. “And you figure shutting down travel helps things… how? Because my being stuck here seems like the last thing you’d want.”
“You’ll have company,” Shay growled. “All our ancestors had wanted to do was erase the memory of dimensional travellers before sending them back, but the big magic war had made mind manipulation illegal. We couldn’t send your type back. We couldn’t keep you either. We’ve had to store your kind, and we’re almost out of space.”
Chartreuse hadn’t expected the truth of the situation to be more chilling than her earlier thought of erasing memories, but there it was. Where were they storing dimensional travellers? Hopefully not the morgue.
“Right,” Alice said. “Three points then. You’re worried about jobs? If you shut down travel, lots of people connected to dimensional research will lose their jobs. Like these scientists here, for instance.”
“Ooh, she’s got a point there,” one of the researchers in the room mumbled to his friend.
“Also,” Alice continued, “if someone’s trying to escape a hell dimension, you really don’t think anyone in your society would be willing to show them some compassion for a change? That strikes me as unnecessarily cruel. Maybe adoption is even happening off the books, ever heard of witness protection, or non disclosure agreements?”
“They do have those agreements,” Chartreuse put in, remembering what Sue had said earlier.
Alice nodded. “Bringing me to my final point, why are you so sure everyone on Council’s been storing dimension people on slabs? I bet there’s more mind erasures going on than you’re being told about. I’ve seen the Star Trek: Voyager episode “Workforce”. I know how memory tampering can create cheap manual labour.”
Shay had stopped a couple of paces away from Alice, fuming at her. He now frowned, seemingly pondering the arguments she was making. Without touching him, Chartreuse had no chance of picking up an impression, so all she could do was hope that he’d see the light.
“No,” Shay said at last. “I resist your temptations. How could a dimensional visitor ever understand our situation? Go to sleep.”
He snapped his hands up, and a series of sparkles erupted from his palms. Chartreuse partly turned away from the glare.
“Lyrical reflection,” Alice said simply, pointing back at him.
With that, the sparkles bounced back towards Shay. And then they bounced off of him, and started to careen around the room.
“Look out,” came Sue’s voice from out of nowhere. The next thing Chartreuse knew, she was being pulled down onto the floor.
“He’s getting away,” Alice called out. There was the sound of running footsteps.
It took a moment, but once she got her bearings, Chartreuse was able to piece events together. Shay’s ‘sleep sparkles’ had somehow targeted everyone else around them. Only she and Sue were unaffected, from lying down on the floor. Alice was also unaffected, and had run to the door, through which Shay had presumably escaped.
All the other occupants of the room were unconscious.
“Agh, I’d better not chase him,” Alice muttered. “Marlin only juiced up this personal shield for a duration of a few seconds.” She adjusted the device on her shirt.
“Okay, well, at least you got him out of the room,” Sam remarked, as he walked in. He pointed to the technology at the back. “We can take the dimensional devices now. They’ll have to let us go, because they need them to shut off the rift.”
“There’s also that thing,” Sue remarked. As she stood back up, she flashed Chartreuse a quick smile, which was returned. “Under the sheet there. A took a quick peek while Alice was talking, I think it’s relevant to all this.”
“The device for shutting down dimensional travel?” Para deduced, the rest of the group having filed into the room after Sam.
“Going with a strong maybe,” Sue affirmed. She glanced at the sleeping scientists. “Pity there’s no one we can ask to be sure.”
“We also won’t be able to ask them how any of this stuff works,” Marlin groaned. “Please don’t tell me we’re screwed.”
“What do you think?” said a voice that Chartreuse recognized, but couldn’t immediately place.
Getting back onto her own feet, Chartreuse looked again towards the door. A woman in uniform stood there. Of course, that was Usa Staling, the head of security, who had interrogated Alice in the holo-recording, and then more recently brought Thred into the facility.
“Sensibly,” Alice chirped at the woman.
Thred sighed. “Am I about to be knocked out and interrogated again?”
Usa leaned back against the door frame, crossing her arms. “I’ll give your group this. When Shay Milds increases security even before the dimensional visits from an enigmatic brunette and a stupid old wizard, I have to wonder. When I later see Shay himself actually fleeing across the area away from the lab, I have to wonder even more. Now, your turn, give me a very good reason not to lock down this room.”
Sam stood a little straighter. “We have reason to believe there’s a conspiracy to shut down dimensional travel. Possibly using that device,” he added, pointing towards the sheet that Sue had mentioned. “Also, there’s a rift in the other room, which we can seal, under condition that we go free.”
Usa chewed on her lower lip. “You have my attention. Show me the device.”
PATHS NOT TAKEN: If Shay had helped them, it would’ve been because Usa arrived with suspicions to back up their accounts, and Alice’s reflection plan would’ve only knocked out one or two guys. If Shay had been knocked out, it would have been because his defences were down on Alice’s rebound, and the Cat Woman (who does have a name, but I don’t think it’s come up yet) would have been their main antagonist. As it is, we got Shay escaping, and nobody left to interrogate.
EXTRA ASIDE: I anticipate two more parts. That said, I didn’t anticipate it taking almost two full parts for Alice to boomerang Shay’s attack back at him (the vote for Alice’s idea at the end of part 10), so things can still change. Incidentally, thoughts on what the device looks like?
“And stay there,” Shay said. He slammed the door, leaving Alice sprawled on the floor. She heard the lock engage behind her.
“That could’ve gone better,” the brunette mused. She slowly pushed herself up into a sitting position and looked around at her new accommodations.
It seemed to be some kind of interrogation room. The door behind her was the only way in or out. There was a table with two chairs on either side, a large mirror that probably led to a hidden observation room, and not much else. Also, sitting in one of the chairs was a tall guy with red hair, staring at her.
“Okay, state your name for the record,” she began.
The guy blinked. “Uh, well, like I said to the last guy, I’m Sir Thred. I’m a student here.”
Interesting. This was the guy that Shay and Cat-Woman had mentioned. Also, last guy? Did he think Alice was the next interrogator? Alice used one of the chairs to help pull herself up to her feet. She felt a bit woozy, having been smacked around during her second capture. “And I suppose you know why you’re here?”
“Of course not,” Thred said. “All I did was grab that security guy’s hat. Over-reaction much?”
“We know you weren’t acting alone though,” Alice said, leaning hard into the chair. That was what Shay had implied, right? “You came here with someone else.”
Thred now refused to meet her gaze. “Come on,” he muttered. “Why would anyone else have been at school after hours?”
“Well, either it’s the breakfast club, or because there’s a conspiracy,” Alice stated. She pointed dramatically. “Which you heard about from Beam.”
Thred turned back to face her. “From who now?” He seemed genuinely confused.
“From Fate, I meant,” Alice back-pedalled.
Thred frowned. “Are you saying I was fated to be here?”
Alice’s pointing finger started to waver. “You heard about the conspiracy from Alijda. Or Alison.”
Thred shook his head. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Alice dropped her arm. “Kat then. Or Para. Or- no, wait, got you with that one,” she declared, raising her hand again as he visibly flinched at Para’s name.
“Para’s an educational assistant at school, I’ve merely heard that name,” Thred said defensively.
“Oh, IS she now,” Alice mused, bringing her arm back in to rub her chin. “Good, good, we’re finally getting somewhere. Next question, do you remember how you got into this base?”
“Of course not,” Thred repeated. “You people knocked me out.”
“Pity. Okay, so how do you plan to get out?”
Thred sighed. “I don’t suppose asking politely would do it.”
“Probably not. All right, I’ve heard enough.” She pushed off from the chair, pleased to discover that she could stand on her own. “Okay, Thred, how about we move this table over and up against that mirror.”
Thred stared. “What?”
“I’ve got an idea,” Alice explained. “For getting out. You thought I was with the Conspiracy Council because I’m wearing one of their robes, right?”
“There’s also the fact that you’re, you know, here… wait, are you defecting or something?”
“Nope, robe’s from a wardrobe. I’m trapped, like you, and like Marlin,” Alice stated. “Speaking of which, they’re probably not watching us directly, because they locked us in. Bet they’re checking on Marlin’s status. So, a little help with the table?”
By now, she had moved to grab one end. And while she judged that she could push it into position, Thred’s assistance would make things go so much faster.
Obligingly, he went around to the other side, helping her to lift it. “What are you then, a substitute teacher? Did you solve the puzzle of those symbols in the rooms and end up stuck here? And who’s Marlin?”
“Oh, let’s say I’m more of a secretary,” Alice said. “I did solve a puzzle, but all it’s done is give me this new escape room puzzle to figure out. Er, not counting the puzzle of being stuck in a room under a cat woman. Failed that one. Also, Marlin’s his own story. Okay, up against the mirror?”
Thred helped her tilt the table, and they rested it against the majority of the mirror, cutting off the view from the adjacent room. Alice quickly began to pull off the mystical robe she was wearing.
“Whoa, um, hey, that’s not, uh…”
“If you think this is a strip tease, you’ll be sorely disappointed. Actually, do you know of the webcomic Striptease? Not what you think, but there is some lesbian romance, eventually. If you like that kinda thing.” She kicked the robe towards Thred as it hit the floor. “Put that on.”
“Look, whatever your name is, I’m… trying to draw the connections here. It’s not easy.”
“I’m Alice. Connection is Beam’s a lesbian. Look, don’t think too hard about how my mind works, just dress yourself in the robe, pound on the door saying the prisoners got out, and we’ll knock out whoever comes to check.”
“The prisoners got out?”
“No, no, say it by the door, and louder,” Alice insisted. She grabbed one of the chairs and went over the door herself, managing to continue moving in a straight line. The wooziness was almost gone.
“You think they’ll believe me?”
“Doesn’t matter, at this point they won’t be able to check by looking in the mirror. Also, keep the robe on so that you can pretend to be taking me to some other part of this facility after. But also, actually take me to some other part of this facility after. Ideally the part that contains my stuff.”
“I don’t know where that is,” Thred protested.
“Me neither, but based on what I saw out there, I’ve got a pretty good guess.”
Alice hefted the chair, standing so that a guard would need to lean inside before seeing her. She also hoped that Shay wouldn’t be the one who came back, given his ability to knock out with magic. She was pretty sure the only reason he hadn’t done that already was so that Alice was awake for questioning, once they’d determined whether Marlin had escaped too.
They were lucky. As a man poked his head in to check on the shouting, they were able to knock him out and drag him inside in under five seconds. Alice immediately noticed that he wasn’t wearing one of the robes – maybe they were for elites only? Alice rifled through his pockets for his keys.
“Looking for this?” Thred wondered, pulling out a small device and holding it up. “You need the morphing codes if you want to lock this room back up.”
“Perfect. Plan B then,” Alice sighed. “Or rather, Plan J at this point, I don’t know. Come along.” Alice slapped her hands to the back of her head and had Thred lead her out, with his cowl up. They simply closed the door behind them.
“What’s going on?” said another security guy (or was this one a scientist?), approaching them.
“Ha ha, my escape attempts keep failing,” Alice said, smiling. “They’re moving me again.”
She thought she heard him mutter, “Why is this all happening tonight,” as he moved away.
Alice continued to backtrack in the general direction that Shay had hauled her, reasoning that the mystery room was still near the prisoner area. Thred followed her lead, presumably because he didn’t have any better ideas. Fortunately, the room beyond the obvious entrance to the detention area, was ajar.
“Jackpot,” Alice muttered, as they walked in. It seemed to be some storage area for artifacts. It didn’t take long for her to find her Epsilon communicator. It took even less time for her to discover that it was either broken, or there was interference preventing her from using it.
Behind her, Thred let out a low whistle. “What IS all this stuff?” he muttered, looking in a drawer.
Alice turned her attention back to him, and what had caught his attention. “Huh. Laser screwdriver. The remains of a faster than light drive. Possibly part of a quadcorder. OH, personal shield. Yoink.” She picked it up. “I can put this to better use than Lucius or Rodney McKay.”
Thred stared. “Are you SURE you don’t work for these people?”
“Pretty sure,” Alice assured him. She pocketed her communicator and the shield, then went back to the door. Seconds after poking her head out, she pulled it back inside. “Whoops. Shay’s there now, and it looks like he’s rounding people up. Search party for Marlin, I presume. Means he removed his listening device, good.”
“Alice, seriously. Is Shay a pitcher for the Miami Marlins or something?” Thred said, throwing up his hands.
“No, Shay is the guy who’s bested me twice so far,” Alice explained. “The only positive he’s got in my books is that he didn’t hit me directly. He left that up to Cat-Woman. Who pulled my robe over my head, so I don’t even know how I even got out of that room, for the record. Bet you’re confusing Shay with Shea Stadium.”
“I wasn’t, that’s the Cubs, not the Marlins.”
“Ahh.” Alice shrugged. “I’ve never really tracked baseball though the dimensions.”
Thred flinched again. “Wait, you… you’re… from another dimension? Are you the one who put the campus on high alert??”
“Beats me, I’m just trying to get out of here,” Alice remarked. “This whole mission has been a major fail– oh, duh. Hey, are you part of the Clover Club?” She had been passing up an obvious source of local intelligence. Better late than never.
Thred shook his head. “I don’t have a special power.”
“Do you know if they’re behind shutting down dimensional travel for good?”
“I… kind of doubt that? Half their curriculum is rumoured to be about dimensional observations. Wait, someone’s shutting down travel?” He frowned. “Why am I even telling you all this stuff if you’re an invader?”
“I have a very trusting face,” Alice said, wiggling her eyebrows. “Besides, as I said, I’m more of a secretary.” She turned to peek out the door again. “Okay Thred, everyone’s going into that lab area. So either Marlin’s in there, or it’s a place he won’t be able to hear them plan, or it’s a place that needs protecting. Either way, we can make a dash for the… huh.”
“What now?” Thred said. He’d seemingly resigned himself to Alice’s whims, at least until he thought of his own plan. Which didn’t seem likely any time soon.
“Group of five. I think one’s Marlin. Passed their stealth check, they entered that big area right after the lab door closed. They’re headed that way.”
Thred came over to look for himself. His face brightened. “Sam!” Before Alice could stop him, Thred had hurried out the door and towards the other group.
“Plan K,” Alice muttered. She followed him out.
At least Thred had the sense to keep to the walls, which were more in shadow. He reached the group of five as the guy whom Alice judged to be their leader was saying something about checking the interrogation area.
“Hey Sam, Sue, you both come to rescue me?” Thred said, grinning ear to ear.
“Thred? Is that you?” said Sue. At least, Alice assumed the unknown female was Sue, as she’d met both Chartreuse and Para on their previous missions. “What’s going on?”
“We’re getting out of here,” Alice suggested.
“Except there’s, like, a dimensional rift in the other room that we’re on the hook for,” Chartreuse said. “We, you know, should fix that on the way out.”
“Related, Marlin here says there’s a plan to shut down dimensional travel,” Sam said. “And we need to get him home.”
“Yeah, Alice here said the same thing,” Thred agreed.
Alice sighed. “So, what, someone’ll need to make a motivational speech to Shay and his friends before we go?” she reflected, trying to spot the path of least resistance back to the Epsilon Station.
“Whatever we do, I don’t think it should be hanging around here talking,” Para said, wiggling two fingers in the air. “We need to act.”
Sam rubbed his forehead. “Okay, well, did you have a motivational speech in mind, Alice?”
PATHS NOT TAKEN: Storming in and making threats would have led to a standoff, probably broken by the Cat Woman. Talking to Usa would have revealed she’d already had suspicions, and they would have charged in with her, six on five. We got Alice though, and her plans, which may come to fruition soon.
EXTRA ASIDE: I spent November doing NaNo, more or less. You may be pleased to know that “Time Untied” is now over 75,000 words, and the halfway point (aka end of Book 5 and start of Book 6) for that story is kind of in view. So there will definitely be something with Carrie, at some point… but 2019 will start with more reruns. Any preference for more Virga, versus Rose, versus something else?
Para ducked as the sparkles rained down on everyone in the room – though she did it more because everyone else was ducking, rather than out of genuine concern for her welfare. After all, sparkles wouldn’t hurt, but if ducking was a human reaction, she really wanted to keep fitting in. Besides, Para had to admit, it was also possible that they knew something she didn’t know.
The sparkles seemed to shimmer and disappear, rather than end up on the floor. Para looked around, wondering if anything had changed – something did feel off. She looked back up, at where the gun had exploded. That’s where she saw the crack. It wasn’t a crack in the ceiling though. It was a crack in reality.
“Okay, stay back!” the robed receptionist(?) called out, from where he was now sitting on the floor. He must have stumbled back and fallen down. He began to fumble about in his clothing, evidently looking for something.
“Again, pretty sure we’re on the same side here,” Sam said, clasping his hands behind his back. “Not Council. Not shutting down the dimensions.”
“Speaking of,” Para began, lifting her finger, but Sue cut her off.
“That was Polsit’s gun,” Sue said, striding over the desk. A pair of legs was there; apparently the real receptionist had been knocked out and left back there. “He’s got it enchanted so that if anyone else fires it, he swaps consciousness with them. You’re lucky something nullified the effect, Mister – what is your name anyway?”
“Marlin,” the man on the floor said. He pulled a short stick with a star on the end out of his robe. “And I’m getting out of here, like it or not!”
“First, more information on the, you know, lady you said was caught, maybe?” Chartreuse requested.
“We should definitely compare notes,” Sam agreed. “Maybe Marlin’s seen Sir Thred too.”
“Also,” Para attempted again, “we had better–”
“Put that away,” Sue snapped at Marlin. “If a wand was really a weapon of choice for you, you wouldn’t have tried using the gun. Also, where did you even get that?”
Marlin, who had managed to stand back up, was now pointing his wand around at everyone in turn. He paused with it levelled in Sue’s direction. “It’s mine,” he retorted. “The other end of my escape passage opened into a room that contained a lot of stuff, including what had been taken from me. And my wand might be recharged, so don’t come any closer!”
Sue, who had taken a step forwards, now paused. She looked towards Sam. “Maybe you should handle this,” she suggested. “As a way of proving you can be one of the group.”
Sam cleared his throat. “At this point I’m not sure I’ll accept any offer I get, but yeah, I really do think Marlin should tell us everything. After that, he’s free to leave.”
Marlin frowned. “You expect me to take your word on that? What guarantee do I have?”
Chartreuse smiled. “How about the fact that we’re totally here to rescue someone ourselves? I mean, you saw you’re not the only prisoner here, yeah? Besides, do we look like a crack team of Council guys?”
He seemed to consider that. “Alright.”
That’s when the small plush kitten fell from the crack near the ceiling, startling everyone.
“It’s like I was trying to say,” Para said in the ensuing silence. “There’s a dimensional rift opening. Where the gun exploded.”
“Huh. That could be a problem,” Sue said. A mite redundantly, in Para’s opinion.
“That wasn’t me,” Marlin said. Para couldn’t tell if he was amused or concerned, but his tone implied he thought maybe it was his fault after all.
“How often does this sort of thing happen around here?” Sam asked.
“It doesn’t,” Sue said. “We’d better contact someone.”
“Thinking we should, you know, hear Marlin out first?” Chartreuse insisted. “Because otherwise we might, like, all get thrown in jail while they sort things out.”
“That’s… unlikely,” said Sue. Her tone that implied she wasn’t so sure.
A second plush kitten fell, landing next to the first. The first one had been black, this one was grey. Para clicked her metronome on.
“Fine, if it gets me out of here faster, I’ll explain,” Marlin said, eyeing the crack.
He quickly summarized his situation – how he’d been an initiate for a group of wizards, which led to participating in a form of “dimensional roulette”, which had dropped him into the school gym here. He’d been spirited away, questioned, left in a cell with a strange girl calling herself ‘Alice’, and the both of them had eventually escaped into a set of passages.
“I feel like I understand your situation very well,” Sam said dryly. Only then did it occur to Para that Sam being a possible candidate for the Dimensional Council here was an imperfect parallel to what Marlin had gone through to be an initiate.
“So, like, what happened to Alice?” Chartreuse said, nonchalantly.
“She put on a robe and went out into the mystery room on the other side of the wardrobe,” Marlin explained. “She must have hidden when a couple people arrived, as they didn’t mention Alice during their talk of shutting off dimensional travel. But when one of them left, I heard her make a break for it, and she got caught by the woman still in there.”
“What mystery room?” Sue demanded.
“The mysterious one,” Marlin shot back. “Do I look like I have a map? Anyway, I reversed course, come out of a shelving unit, found my stuff in the room I was in, and used a simple teleporting spell to get myself across that big open section on the other side. Which got me as far as the front desk here.”
Sam nodded and lifted his hand, as if to show someone’s height. “Did you see a guy, about this tall…” He went on to describe Sir Thred.
“I don’t know, I was fleeing for my– wait, yes. You know how the big section has those rooms off to the side?”
“They don’t know anything,” Sue sighed. “Fine, quick version of the layout, this reception area, leading to the big section, which has a lab, a couple classrooms, and an archive area on the left, then an interrogation room, prison section, and artifact area on the right.”
“Whatever,” Marlin grumbled. “Point is, as I was scouting the big area before teleporting, I saw Alice being taken into, I guess the interrogation room. Assuming I was in the artifact area. As she went in, I saw your guy was inside already.”
Which was helpful, Para mused. If Alice and Thred were in the same place, the group’s interests were still aligning. She glanced at her metronome as a fifth plush cat fell, joining the previous four. This one was rainbow coloured.
“Was Thred being interrogated?” Sam questioned.
Marlin simply shrugged. “Beats me. Look, my part is done now, so I can go, right?”
“Hmm. If you’re fine with leaving the only place that can access to your dimension, sure, leave,” Sam agreed.
Marlin’s nod became a narrowing of his eyes. “What?”
“Stands to reason that this place, which can open a rift to plush cats, can also open one to your home,” Sam observed. “In fact, if we find the devices that manipulate rifts inside the lab here, maybe we could use one to send you back at the same time as we seal this thing up. Assuming you’ve been behaving yourself.”
Marlin’s look became a full-on glare. “Is this blackmail?”
“This is me trying to use the tools I have available to get the best outcome,” Sam objected. “Including your wand. That said, whether you stay or go, it’s your choice.”
Marlin fumed, but he didn’t speak up again, nor did he attempt to go to the door.
“So, we, like, need a plan then,” Chartreuse decided. “How do we get to the interrogation room without being seen, to save Thred and stuff?”
“Hello? THAT thing is our priority,” Sue reminded, pointing at the rift near the ceiling. “We need to talk to someone back there, not sneak about like thieves. Usa’s a pretty understanding lady. If we look for her first, I don’t think she’d throw us in jail. Rather, she’d congratulate us for making her aware of the rift problem.”
“Would she?” Sam mused. “See, I think the best case is we fix the rift, while worst case, we get ahold of this place’s rift devices, and use them as a bargaining chip. To insist that Thred be set free. I mean, they can’t shut off this rift so long as we have their devices, right?”
“You want to blackmail the Council?” Sue boggled.
“Oh good, he’s an equal opportunity blackmailer,” Marlin remarked.
“Hey, like it or not, we’re tied to this dimensional rip,” Sam said. “As scapegoats, if nothing else. In that case, we need to be proactive, not reactive.”
“Except you’ve forgotten about their, you know, dimensional travel shutdown thing,” Chartreuse reminded them. “Couldn’t they activate whatever they’ve, like, got for that to turn off the rift?”
“I still can’t believe anyone would prevent further travel,” Sue insisted.
Sam shrugged. “If they have a device for doing that, presumably it’s in the lab with everything else.”
“If it helps,” Para offered, as another plushie tumbled to the floor, “I estimate that this room will be completely full in less than two hours.” She turned off her metronome. “I can’t be more mathematically precise as the arrivals are random, but there is at least one every couple minutes.”
“We’re on the clock then,” Sam said, cracking his knuckles. “Let’s get to the lab. At that point, we can decide if this is something we can handle ourselves, if it’s better that we talk to somebody, or whether we need to resort to threats.”
The route to the lab turned out to be clear. Nobody was out in the large main area.
“There were only three guys there last time,” Marlin admitted. “And they might have been science people.”
“Guess security is largely in the main school,” Sue mused.
“Keep to the shadows anyway,” Sam muttered. The main lighting came from overhead; the walls were somewhat darker. They carefully made their way around in single file. Once they got to the door of the lab though, they each looked through the small window, and then kept going. Since Para was bringing up the rear, she was the last to know about the problem.
There were five people inside the room, near the door, including the Shay guy from Alice’s holo-interrogation. They weren’t going to be able to sneak in. They could, however, potentially get to the dimensional devices – Para was assuming that’s what was stacked at the back – before anyone could stop them. It would be five on five, and only Shay looked to be armed.
Para was sure that was foremost in Sam’s mind as he muttered to the rest of them, “Okay, hold up one finger for storming in and taking over, two fingers for checking the interrogation area in the hopes of talking to Usa.”
PATHS NOT TAKEN: Sparkles causing mind swapping would have switched Marlin with Polsit (as Sue alluded to), but also Chartreuse with Sue and Sam with Para. To reverse the effect, they’d need to go to the lab. Sparkles bringing the ferns to life would have revealed one as a sorcerer who’d had a spell bounce back on him. Fern-Sorcerer would know information about the Council, and have directed them to the lab, perhaps to regain his body. (The other fern would likely just make snide remarks or say “Oh no, not again”.)
THE ORACLE PROPHESIED: The vote to end Part Eight, where “Alice gets caught”, involved her running for the plant/exit, and failing to get there (explained in this part by Marlin). Had Marlin been caught, Alice would have used yarn from her robe to distract the cat woman and escape, while Marlin would have been captured trying to get his wand. Had both of them been caught, it would be as Alice stayed put – but Marlin would have charged the cat woman, resulting in both of them being found.