Trixie

6.02: Viral Video

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SMOKE WITH MIRRORS: PART TWO

“What the hell just happened?”

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

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

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

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

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

“Para. I’m a personified parabola.”

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

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

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

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

Para felt caught off guard. “Seductive?”

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

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

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

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

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

Para felt her cheeks getting red. “Oh.”

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

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

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

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

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

“Told? You’re not in charge?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

***

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

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

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

ALICE VUNDERLANDE
Commission by Cherry Zong

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Mr Smith?” Beam interrupted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WHAT HAPPENS TO BEAM?

OPTIONS:

VOTING CLOSES ON SUNDAY JUNE 7th

Previous INDEX 6 Next

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

6.01: Have an Ice Day

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SMOKE WITH MIRRORS: PART ONE

Her client peered at her. “Trixie… have you never fought a superhero before?”

Trixie Virga – it was not her real name, but rather a name the young witch had decided to adopt professionally, to the point where she now answered to it – turned and shot the man a look.

“Look, BIFF,” she began, trying to keep a level tone. “First, this is your sister pumped full of mystical energy. Not a superhero. Second, she’s committed crimes, so even if she were ‘super’, she’d be more super villain than a super hero, yeah? And third?” Trixie paused. “Well, third, that plan should have worked.”

“Right. I’m starting to regret paying you in advance.”

Trixie let out a sigh of exasperation. “Let me think.”

She crouched closer to the door of the trash room, listening for noises. She couldn’t hear Biff’s sister Eleanor on the other side, meaning their mad dash out of the woman’s hotel room had apparently bought them a bit of time.

Or Eleanor had more than a few points in Stealth and Dexterity.

Setting that thought aside, Trixie figured the first major question was why pinching the mystical artifact from Eleanor hadn’t de-powered the woman. Trixie held the necklace up to her face, squinting at it in the dim light. Was this not the source of the mystic energy after all?

TRIXIE VIRGA
Commission from Sen Yomi

She fished her personal device out of her blouse pocket. She kept it there partly because of her preference for skirts which had no decent pockets, but mostly because when she went for it, people tended to be distracted by her ample chest. Thus less likely to speak, or notice whatever it was that she was actually intent on doing.

“Are you phoning for backup on that?” Biff asked.

Unfortunately, Biff was either oblivious, or gay.

Trixie made a noise that she hoped conveyed her irritation at the remark, and otherwise ignored him. The glowing red crystal in the too-small-to-be-a-smartphone device came to life at her touch. “Rixi, fast scan, okay?”

“All right,” her device intoned back, a parroting of her own voice.

Trixie placed the necklace onto Rixi’s tiny screen. “Mystical?”

“Affirmative,” Rixi acknowledged.

“Granting ice powers?”

“90% chance.”

“Accessible at a distance?”

“0.2% chance.”

Trixie grimaced. “What the hell am I missing?”

“Unknown,” her device supplied.

“How much field work have you actually done solo?” Biff broke in again.

“I’ve done enough,” Trixie muttered. True, she hadn’t been the founder of the private magick agency Biff had approached, and she was better at research and development. But she had been running the place without much outside help for over two years now. She’d seen enough field work in that time.

“It’s just, I mean, wasn’t there that other guy back at the office? Maybe you should call him?”

“Oh, do NOT start with me,” Trixie snapped, turning her best glare back at Biff. Client or not, he was becoming a pain. “First, he’s not a coworker, he’s my boyfriend. Kinda. Not exclusive. Not relevant, never mind. Second, even given that he does help me on cases, he had to go out of town on business yesterday. And third?” Trixie paused. “Well, third, damn it, that plan should have worked.”

“Yet it didn’t,” Biff remarked, though off Trixie’s look, he had backed off a step to press himself against the back wall.

Trixie pocketed both Rixi and the necklace before raking her fingers back through her twin-tails, wracking her brain for the answer.

This was like the classic Star Trek episode “Squire of Gothos”. Captain Kirk had destroyed the mirror that was supposedly the source of Trelane’s power… only to discover it was some kind of amplifier, and the guy still had powers. Was that actually useful information? Was it merely random trivia?

Well, Kirk had needed to be bailed out of his death sentence by superior beings, so that didn’t bode well for her situation.

“You know, my sister could be taking hostages out there,” Biff remarked, seemingly determined to break her concentration.

“That’s more on you than me,” Trixie growled.

“Look, I hired you to handle the situation,” Biff said, raising his hands with his palms out towards her.

“So let. Me. Handle. It,” Trixie spat. She smacked her forehead twice, as if that would help to knock the proper thoughts together.

It worked. Or at least, it made her realize she’d overlooked something.

In the Star Trek episode, Gothos had been artificially constructed. Right? How had this hotel been constructed? Was there anything about this location that might be interfering?

Trixie fumbled for her device again. “Rixi, cross reference GPS of our current location with known magick events, starting with the present and working backwards.”

“Working,” came Trixie’s own voice again, followed seconds later with, “an explosion two months ago in room 1408 created a temporary fissure to another realm. No damage otherwise. Documented by–”

Promising. “Abort explanation, correlate aftereffects with previous artifact and accessibility question,” Trixie said, trying to speak as fast as she could without sounding garbled.

“Working. Revised probability of distanced access, 97%.”

There it was. She simply had to get the necklace off this property to sever the connection. Hopefully. Pity she hadn’t thought to cross-reference earlier, as getting Eleanor out of the area would likely have shut her down as soon as the artifact had been removed from her person.

Though that might have made the necklace harder to grab.

Anyway.

“Okay then,” Trixie concluded, shoving Rixi back into her breast pocket. She yanked the door to the trash room open.

Eleanor stood on the other side, staring back. She was a head taller than Trixie, her hair a snow white thanks to the effects of the necklace, her outfit an ice blue dress. Trixie couldn’t shake the image of a very ticked off Elsa, from the “Frozen” trilogy of movies.

“I was wondering if you’d try to jump down the chute,” Eleanor remarked. “Glad you’re giving up instead.” She held out her hand. “Last chance. Return my necklace.”

Trixie knew she had no chance of being imposing here. Heck, she tended to dress more for seduction… albeit she knew now to give a pass on tight skirts when out in the field. So more running wouldn’t be a problem. If only there was a way past.

“Hard no,” Trixie said, wondering idly if reason could win through the day. “You’ve broken into how many places now by freezing the locks?”

“Lost count,” Eleanor said. “You’ll be the first witch I freeze though.”

Eleanor extended her arm, and Trixie knew the touch was liable to be deadly. Of course, in theory no magick user could ever affect someone who was unwilling, but there were rather a lot of loopholes. Including Trixie’s prior use of a spell in Eleanor’s presence, opening her up to passive acceptance of retaliation.

And as that prior spell had been a low-grade teleport, to get the necklace away, Trixie couldn’t use that spell now. Casting any spell multiple times in a row would always result in diminishing returns.

She had one option in reserve though.

“Velocitas,” Trixie breathed.

The spell to speed up her own frame of reference proved to be enough for the redhead to not only dodge Eleanor’s outstretched hand, but drop to the ground and jump through her adversary’s legs before the other woman could react.

Trixie began to run as fast as she could down the hotel corridor. Only to have her feet slide out from under her, as her boots failed to find traction on the newly icy floor.

“Nice try,” Eleanor remarked, as Trixie slid into a wall, ass first.

This was bad. Now that she was in the corridor though, and right by the elevators, Trixie realized there was a new option in reserve. She righted herself without bothering to completely get up, and fumbled again in her pocket.

“Rixi, materialize delivery gun.”

“All right,” her device intoned. “Accessing.” It took a few seconds… during which Trixie worried that she’d removed the item from her personal magick hammerspace at some point in the last two months. But eventually the familiar small globe of light appeared, hovering over the screen.

Trixie grabbed within the light. With that, the light was dispelled, leaving her holding what had – once upon a time – been a nerf gun.

She dropped Rixi back into her pocket while pulling out the necklace again.

“A gun?” Eleanor said, pausing in her advance. She was only five, maybe six metres away, but seemed to be in no hurry. It was almost like she knew she had the upper hand. “You realize I can freeze the bullets in the air before they reach me.”

“Suspected,” Trixie admitted. She held up the necklace. “Gun’s for this though.”

Eleanor frowned. “What do you hope to accomplish by shooting it? You cannot destroy my necklace, you should have realized that by now.”

“Yeah,” Trixie agreed, cranking the gun power to full. “But I think my gun can pierce that window there, the one looking out on the parking lot?”

Eleanor turned to look where Trixie was gesturing. Even then she didn’t seem to quite catch on what was about to happen. It was only as Trixie dropped the necklace into the chamber where one would normally put bullets that Eleanor’s eyes widened. And as Trixie exhaled, she could see her breath in the now bitterly cold air.

“Protrudo,” Trixie gasped, as she pulled the trigger.

It hadn’t been a sure thing. Hell, Trixie doubted she’d have wanted to know the odds, even had there been time to ask Rixi about them. But with the additional propulsion of the spell, the necklace did indeed pierce the nearby window with a ‘crack’, the arc such that the artifact ended up flying out and well beyond the hotel parking lot.

The newly formed icicle, with its point less than a metre away from Trixie’s chest, remained frozen in place for a few seconds. Then it fell off Eleanor’s index finger. Then Eleanor crumpled to the ground.

Trixie decided it was safe to draw another breath.

Once Eleanor had been unconscious for ten seconds, Trixie let her head fall back against the wall and closed her eyes.

“Um, so, is my sister going to be okay?” came Biff’s voice, after a short time.

Trixie reopened her eyes. Her client seemed to be checking for Eleanor’s pulse.

“Oh, I’m FINE, thank you,” she growled, pushing herself back to her feet. The ice on the floor had melted, and her skirt was wet. But she was still alive. In fact, she suspected the anger she felt was more trying to dispel the sense of fear.

Trixie fumbled back in her pocket for Rixi, and stowed the delivery gun back into her hammerspace.

Biff watched her, looking unimpressed. “Isn’t this all in a day’s work for you, or something?”

“Because as you pointed out, I fight super villains ALL the TIME,” Trixie snarked. She walked closer. “But yes, we’re BOTH fine, and outside of the withdrawal symptoms your sister will experience, she should be herself by morning. And one more thing, if I may?”

Biff seemed to consider whether he wanted to hear it. “Yes?”

“Next time you want to give your sister a gift, don’t buy it from a demon. Capiche?”

Biff flinched. “You think that I’M the one who gave–”

“Stop,” Trixie interrupted. “Don’t even. I’ll assume it was unintentional. But I saw the little inscription on that necklace. Hence me saying hostages would be more on you than me. Suspected it initially too, hence the paying me in advance.”

Biff simply stared now, a frown tugging at the corner of his mouth.

“Oooh, yes, I’m more than just a pretty face. I’m a techno-witch. So, do you have anything else to say? Or can I close this case?”

“I… would prefer not to see you again,” Biff concluded.

“Fine. Eyes on you though,” Trixie said, making the universal motion as she pointed two fingers as her own eyes before turning them to jab at Biff. “Keep your nose clean.”

With that, Trixie marched out of the hotel to go and find the necklace. She made a mental note to ask Rixi to do the occasional web search on Biff’s name for the immediate future too, just in case the guy was truly up to something.

***

That evening found Trixie staring at the note. She’d put off dealing with it in favour of handling the case with Biff and Eleanor, but had no such excuse any more.

Her querying messages had come back by now too, and none of the other techno-witches she had made contact with had any awareness of what it meant.

Trixie gave the words a scan again.

‘We need help with an airborne virus. It’s jumping dimensions. Not deadly yet, but is a mystery. As you can handle both magic and technology, call this number if you accept the case.’

“Surely they mean realms, not dimensions?” Trixie muttered aloud. “And I’m better with computer viruses, not airborne ones, so whaaaaat?”

She shook her head. The note had been shoved underneath her office door last weekend. Scans by Rixi told her nothing. Which in and of itself was kind of fascinating.

Trixie stood up from her desk. “Well, fine. I can at least call to get more information,” she decided.

WHAT’S NEXT?

OPTIONS:

VOTING CLOSES ON SUNDAY MAY 24th

<- To Story 5 INDEX 6 Next

PATHS NOT TAKEN:
Had votes been for more of a fantasy, it would have pre-defined “virus world” as magic, and we likely would have started there. More of a romance would have leaned towards Alijda and Kat working together (and they didn’t get character votes, so perhaps it’s good we didn’t get that plot). With the mystery decision, we hire Trixie. There were a few false starts in writing this, but ultimately I elected for a full Trixie case, to help those who haven’t read my ‘Balancing Act’ story. The rest of Epsilon’s cast will be here momentarily.

EXTRA ASIDE:
Yes, this was supposed to go up last weekend. But full time math teaching from home, while simultaneously parenting my almost 2-year-old daughter? Means I get VERY little free time. Add to that the fact that “midterm” grades had to be sent out May 8th, and May 10th was Mother’s Day, and WOW it’s amazing when I even get sleep any more. So many emails. So we’re a week late. Thanks for your patience.

Virga: Act 6F

Previous INDEX xxx

A Virga Mystery: BALANCING ACT

ACT 6f: OF MELISSA AND JAMES

Post-Epilogue-Thing:

Hi! Trixie here. I’ve now read the whole “Balancing Act” novella that James wrote, as I assume you have too. Thanks for getting this far! This is why I feel you should know the real ending. You can thank me later.

For the record, I do maintain that James was an idiot. Yet to a certain extent, Missy was also an idiot, so in the end, they truly were made for each other. Right?

It’s sorta like that anime about “The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya”. Except Missy only got to be a God towards the end. Well, and James truly loved her, and Missy knew things were supernatural, and okay, bad comparison. Bah, look, I’m no writer. Anyway, here’s the deal.

TRIXIE
Commission from Sen Yomi

I found this manuscript on the computer in James’ room (formerly Missy’s room), finally exploring there after the third day that he didn’t return home. Yes, his computer was password protected, and yes, I’m that good at what I do. Hence how this whole story has been added to the other three cases he published online. You’re welcome.

Now, while I’m not 100% certain, and James could be dead in a ditch somewhere, I’m pretty sure I know what happened to him. It’s why I got him to sign the Agency over, and more to the point, why I said he’d better hold on to that ring.

Because the idiot didn’t seem to clue in to the fact that it would take Missy time to recharge herself from doing an ‘Ultima Ratio’, to the point where she could actually bring him along to join her. Like, a lot of time.

I didn’t tell him, because I didn’t want to raise false hopes. In all honesty, I wasn’t sure she’d be able to get enough power within the three-month window for those space-time fractures on either side of her decision. It sure came down to the wire.

Anyway, he’s gone, and so yeah, good for her. For both of them, that is. I like to think that being able to home in on the ring helped Missy out, along with my having written James’ engrams to Mixi as a test run.

Meaning I did a good thing. I really am that smart, yeah? More mature than I was at the start of all this too. Just saying.

And that’s the real end. You’re welcome.

Oh, unless you care about little me? The buxom witch Trixie, who seemed to be such a puzzle for James to figure out? It’s so tempting to give my real name, instead of this one that James created.

Seriously, had I been a MALE character picking up every Friday night in a bar, I doubt any of you would have given it a second thought. As a lady, am I not allowed to seduce people or something? Damn stereotypes. Or maybe it’s because I was a techie? And they’re not supposed to behave the way I do? Because that’s also bad stereotyping, and shame on you all.

At any rate, I’m doing reasonably well for having lost the only group of people where I felt I was finally fitting in. (Did you even think of that? Did you? Yeah, thanks for asking.) Thing is, I’ve got their Agency here, and I’ve been recreating my Rixi, and okay, I might have met someone at Missy’s ‘farewell celebration’ too, which is leading to a stable relationship.

Could be a guy, could be a girl, could be an elf, you don’t know. It’s not an AI though, is my point. Maturing, as I said. Also, it’s not a relative. Seriously, ew, who went there? Oh, and if I find anyone shipping the three of us main characters at once on any fanfic boards, you’re getting a piece of my mind.

Okay, so that’s the end.

Except now I’ve gone and ruined the poetry of it, huh? And I dunno how to rewrite all this to end it more like how James did last part.

Know what? For all his faults, the guy did craft a pretty good story.

Hmm, fine, let’s consider this. If something magically wonderful happens, you probably have Melissa to thank. If something completely contrary to the supernatural balance happens, you probably have James to thank for distracting her and Mixi at an inopportune time. Heh.

Yeah, I have no idea if ascended beings can make out, but if a mysterious baby appears on my doorstep sometime in the next few years, maybe I’ll have my answer.

Hell, they’d better not do that while I’m single, I don’t think I could handle being a single mother. Shoot, making this about me again.

So really, really, that’s the whole story. Of Melissa and James.

You can stop reading now.

 

For serious.

 

Are you still there?

 

 

Okay, yes, dammit, it’s true that I’m going to miss those idiots. You happy now? Go leave a comment on this blog now or whatever, I’m gone.

 

TRUE END

Previous INDEX Author’s Notes->

Virga: Act 6E

Previous INDEX Next

A Virga Mystery: BALANCING ACT

ACT 6e: OF MELISSA AND JAMES

“Because,” Melissa answered. She bit down on her lower lip before continuing. “Because I wanted to be sure. James, remember when I visited Alicia? It was to use the orb that I’d retrieved for her. The one that allows a person to look into his or her own personal future.”

I felt my heart beating faster in my chest. “Do I want to know what you saw?”

“I saw more than one thing,” Melissa admitted. “Which isn’t something that’s supposed to happen. Even yesterday, I’d held out some hope for the variation. That there would be a way to mentally train myself, so that Mixi would be sufficient.”

Trixie pursed her lips. “And what more did I need to do? Should I just take my wondrous creation back?”

Melissa shook her head. “Don’t misunderstand, I needed all that you’ve done, Trixie. But it has to be more. And when I finally realized what my role was in all of this, I… I wanted to put off saying my goodbyes for as long as possible.”

I felt a knot forming in my stomach. “Mel?” I said, not liking where she was going with that.

“The orb also let me see the key reason for why I was chosen,” she continued in a rush. “Setting aside my fanaticism with supernatural balance, it goes back to my lineage. There is more power in me than I realized, more power than my parents themselves are aware of. Enough for me to do more than observe the Earth. I have the power to see other realms, James. Other possibilities. Things that I’m not sure Mixi can handle yet.”

“I want to be offended by that, but you’re freaking me out,” Trixie remarked.

Melissa sighed, and held Mixi up. “This device is perfect for maintaining the supernatural balance, which is what we designed it to do. But it can’t recognize when exceptions are needed, or adjust for the rules that exist outside of our realm. A human element is required. One that knows how things have changed over the centuries.”

Trixie flinched. “You really ARE going all ‘Star Trek: The Motion Picture’ on us here, huh?”

“I don’t know what that means,” Melissa admitted. “I will say that the burden will be considerably lessened with this device operating. It’s only, necessary adjustments cannot be made by someone bound in this space-time, and the transition out will only happen when the fractures align. Which will be soon.”

I found my voice again. “So you’re leaving,” I said. “And you knew this yesterday.”

MELISSA VIRGA
Commission from Shirley

Melissa took a step forwards. I took a step back, suddenly not sure I knew her anymore. After all, if it had been me, I would have spent more time with her. I would have celebrated the rest of the time we had together, not retreated, not kept silent and worked on things by myself!

Her expression did something of a sad crash. “It’s not that I didn’t think you’d understand,” she murmured. “It’s that I didn’t want to make things different between us.”

“Except you did,” I insisted. “You retreated from me!”

She opened her mouth, then closed it again. “I… damn, you’re not wrong. Oh James, I messed up, and now everything is aligning, so I can’t make it right. God, I wish I’d given us more time!”

When I remained silent, Trixie spoke up again. “Okay, so bye, take care of yourself then,” the redhead chirped. “Maybe tweak the stars in my favour a bit? Seeing as you’re running off with not only my prototype Mixi but the original device I had to base it on?”

Melissa looked over. “I can’t play favourites, you know that,” she said. “Otherwise I’d do something to fix this now.”

Trixie smirked. “Just testing you. You pass. You’re normal, and probably not possessed. Albeit you’re more flawed in terms of relationships than I realized, because James has a point. So how are you going to use the next sixty seconds?”

Melissa winced. “I… don’t know.” The part of the roof where she was standing started to puddle a bit, like it was turning into pudding. She returned to looking at me. “I hope you can forgive me in time,” she whispered.

It was that comment which shocked me back to my senses.

Maybe I would have spent time with her, but Melissa, she wasn’t me. That was the whole point; it was why I enjoyed her company. More to the point, Melissa was normally so blunt and straightforward, and here, she’d been evasive. Because of how much she’d cared.

Perhaps, in the end, I’d sort of sabotaged myself? Encouraging Mel to listen to her emotions over the last several years? Meaning she’d said nothing until she’d been sure, and then even beyond that, had found herself unable to open up. Unable to be blunt with me any more.
But all of that, it didn’t matter. Damn it all, I still loved her.

“Just tell me one thing,” I said, thinking back to the conversation we’d had in her parents’ pantry. “Do you really want this? Do you really want to be the one forced to monitor magick in and around the entire world?”

Melissa’s lips quavered. “I do now,” she admitted. “I thought I wasn’t ready, and maybe I’m not. But to see it all laid out – this is what I’ve been trying to do with the Agency, James. But now I can do it on a cosmic scale! Outside of this framework of reality, I could even affect events before they happen. And I want to make that difference.”

“Then you should do it,” I concluded. “And I’ll support you in that. Because I love you. And in the end, that means there’s nothing that needs forgiving.”

Melissa seemed to blur a bit, and it took a second for me to realize it was because I’d started crying. She smiled at me. “If it helps, James, in a sense, I won’t be gone. I’ll be everywhere.”

I tried to swallow the lump in my throat. “It helps.”

A tear ran down her cheek. “I should have been with you last night. But I was worried that, if I was, I’d have second thoughts. I’m sorry.”

“No regrets,” I insisted. “Though, can we at least hug before you fade out, or whatever?”

I opened my arms tentatively, and Melissa threw herself into the embrace. She buried her face into my shoulder for a moment. “There’s a letter,” she murmured. “For you. In the filing cabinet. Trixie has others for my parents. Whether you read your note or not, know that I do love you. Please know that.”

“I love you too,” I assured her. “Now go and show the whole world why.”

I stepped back. Then I noticed what seemed to be a slight inconsistency in the air behind her. Like a bit of a tear in space. This might be the last time I saw her.

And yet, I was briefly distracted by Trixie moving into my peripheral vision. Staring at me suspiciously. I tried to ignore her.

“Okay,” Melissa said, letting out a long breath. “Here it goes.”

She threw her hands out to the sides and looked up into the sky. “Let the balance be restored, and then become attuned to those on Earth… let my power synchronize with the wills and desires of everyone out there… though let me retain my sense of self as take on the mantle of – Libra Magica. ULTIMA RATIO!”

I knew then what it must have been like for Melissa to observe Melody. I dare say that must have been her basis for this spell. Sparks shot out from her, thousands of them, millions, most firing off into the distance, but some seemingly dropping down through the top of the roof.

Attuning themselves to everyone, and feeding the information back to the Chosen One, even as I saw the rip opening larger behind her. She was going to transition.

That’s when Trixie kicked me REALLY hard in the shins.

“OW!” I said, looking over at her in befuddlement.

“You COLOSSAL IDIOT,” she bellowed back at me, hands closed in a pair of fists. “If that’s a ring in your back pocket, you better damn well GIVE IT TO HER BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE!”

Oh yeah. I’d almost proposed again that morning, but I hadn’t gotten up the nerve before Melissa had left the kitchen. I’d figured it would keep until after this was all over.

Now it really was all over. But Melissa herself had said that she didn’t want things to be different between us, not in these last few days, hours, minutes, seconds. Right?

Unless she’d been waiting for the ring.

Trixie kicked me again, and damn it, it hurt. I rounded on her, only for her to jab her finger almost right up my nose. “I SWEAR to GOD, if you don’t move your ass RIGHT NOW James, I am going to turn you into a CHICKEN.”

I’m not sure what it was. Perhaps Trixie had managed to use that tone that gets people to obey without thinking about it. Maybe there’s something about the Virga lineage. Or perhaps it was the chicken reference, which reminded me of the clause in my initial rental agreement with Melissa. But then, maybe I simply didn’t need as much of a nudge as I thought I did.

Before I realized it, I was stepping forward and saying, “Mel!” As her gaze refocused on me, sparks still flying from her body, I pulled the box out of my pocket, opened it, and unexpected words spilled from my lips. “Take me with you!”

Melissa’s hands moved to her mouth as she gasped. “You actually did it. You bought me a…” Her voice sounded like it had a bit of an echo to it. I’m not sure if it trailed off, or if I missed a word.

“Opal. Your birthstone,” I said. Perhaps redundantly, but her body seemed to be growing brighter, and I wasn’t sure she could see. “Mel, this ring means we do these things together.”

“It’s too late,” she protested. “I can’t.”

“Then take the ring at least.”

Her gaze shifted to be one of sheer determination. “No, keep it with you. Remember I love you, and please think of me when –-”

The brightness was so intense now that I found I was forced to blink.

Leaving Trixie and me standing alone on the roof, with Melissa’s unfinished sentence hanging in the air. Gradually, the chain link fence reconstructed itself into iron.

***

Epilogue:

So that’s everything. You’ve now read the story of how I chose Melissa over my childhood friend, only to lose Mel again before the end of the summer.

I think I’ve now been through the traditional five stages, from denial, when Trixie had to practically drag me off the roof three hours later, to acceptance, that being in the form of writing all of this down. Tomorrow will mark exactly three months since she transitioned. There are only a few little gaps that probably need filling in. Well, plus a massive edit job on this whole tale, but let’s deal with that later.

First, the letter Melissa left for me. It said a lot of what she had stated on the roof, maybe because she hadn’t been sure how long she would have to explain things. Several times, it also said ‘I’m sure I’m not explaining this well but I hope you can understand’. It concluded by saying that she will always love me, even always be a part of me – and added in a small postscript, that I should check in with Amy about her lamp.

I did. It had apparently reverted back to being a knife, some time during the three days following Melissa’s ascension. (I’ll use ascension for lack of a better term.) I’m not sure if that was supposed to mean something, but resuming contact with Amy was something of a comfort. Maybe that had been Mel’s intention?

After all, Amy had seen some of what was out there too, giving me someone to talk to aside from Trixie, and it was Amy’s suggestion that I write all this down. She’d apparently looked up those prior three cases online, and thought that I had a good thing going.

The second thing to mention is our parents. In the end, I think mine understood Melissa’s decision to leave, if not the specifics of the magick involved. My mother in particular I think wanted to deride Mel, but they never did so in my presence, and they haven’t tried to set me up with anyone new in the time since.

As to Melissa’s parents, I think her letters to them explained things much as mine did. They’ve even sort of accepted me into the family, despite Melissa’s ultimate rejection of the ring I’d offered to her. There wasn’t a memorial service per se, since Melissa wasn’t dead, but they invited me to a celebration of her life.

Then finally there’s the actual matter of supernatural balance, and the Agency. The latter remains in my name, but at Trixie’s insistence, she’s become a co-owner on paper, with access to the accounts and everything.

I didn’t see the harm. In theory, there will be fewer cases involving people, as things rebalance. But maybe other witches or beings will find it useful, as they adjust to the new (old?) reality out there.

I’m not sure how long I’ll stay. I haven’t quite worked out my future yet. Part of me thinks I should sell the ring I bought for Melissa and move out of the apartment. Part of me cannot bear to part with it yet, particularly not after Melissa’s last words, and Trixie has insisted I keep it as a reminder, at least for a while yet.

I do still have the option of journalism. Maybe there’s a witch faction that runs a newspaper? Or maybe I’ll turn this into a proper novel. Either way, in the end, I guess I’m just glad I got the chance to tell Melissa’s story.

And you know, maybe, just maybe, if you wish really hard for something, and it’s something that can be balanced out in the grand scheme of things… Melissa will hear you, and it will happen.

Just like magick.

END…?

Previous INDEX Next

Virga: Act 6D

Previous INDEX Next

A Virga Mystery: BALANCING ACT

ACT 6d: OF MELISSA AND JAMES

“Fine, fine,” Trixie said, seemingly not picking up on Melissa’s mood. She reached out to grab me by the arm. “Come on, James, you get to be my first guinea pig.”

I hesitated, largely because I wasn’t sure about Trixie’s state of mind. “Uhm, you know my magick experience is really limited, right?”

Trixie’s smirk was back. “It’s fine. You don’t need any inherent magick for Mixi to see what’s going on in your head.”

“Ah. And you don’t want to eat first? Or shower?”

“Nope. But you can picture me in the shower, if you think that’ll help get your neurons firing, James.” She wiggled her eyebrows, and then her hips.

“Trixie…” Melissa said warningly, though it was almost resigned amusement at this point.

I somehow found my gaze back at Trixie’s chest again. I don’t know how she does it. “Trixie, look, you’re not going to be pulling fetishes out of my head, are you?”

Trixie giggled madly. “Not on a test run, but OOH you’re giving me so much ammunition to potentially tease you with. It’s almost criminal, to take advantage of your naivete this way.”

“Yeah, um, so maybe don’t do that?”

Trixie rolled her eyes. “Yes, fine, look, listen. I’m doing an impossible thing that no one’s ever done before. Humour me NOW, before I crash and need to sleep for a day straight.”

I resigned myself to my fate. “Be gentle?”

Trixie laughed once more and dragged me into her room to affix medical patches to my temples. All I really have to say about the process is that it was somewhat long, though not the three hours she’d deemed for the final run. It was also completely painless, and seemed to satisfy Trixie that she’d done what she’d set out to do.

Almost immediately after, the redhead passed out, face down on the floor.

When I finally left Trixie’s room, Melissa was gone. She’d left a sheet of paper on the desk saying she needed some air, and some candles. I toyed with the ring in my pocket for a moment, then went to prepare dinner.

***

That night, I realized that Melissa seemed to be withdrawing from me. Whether it was a conscious decision on her part or not, I didn’t know, but we remained on opposite sides of the bed.

MELISSA VIRGA
Commission from Shirley

The next day, early on, she set up what she needed for her spell in our room. Namely some orbs, candles, and I think the rib of a small animal. She then requested absolute silence for when the technology spell actually took place.

Trixie was still asleep (apparently she hadn’t been kidding about sleeping for a day), while I took the opportunity to go to the main room and look out the window. To see if I could catch the flash when Earth’s entire technology grid was flipped off, then almost immediately back on again.

I’m not going to tell you when this happened. There’s a slim chance that making it public would get Annie in trouble, as I could still say here that her information was a bit off, and Melissa calculated the difference.

I mean, okay, I’ve been changing everyone’s names, so I suppose I could change the time of the event and give you that in the narrative. But it seems rather pointless.

I will tell you that the magick involved ensured that nothing would need to power cycle back up, so maybe it was that moment when your radio cut out, or when your computer seemed to freeze up, or when that light in the hall seemed to flicker as you were preparing for bed.

Two seconds, maybe less. I fancy I saw it, but only because I knew exactly when to look for it.

There were no complications.

By that I mean there was nothing reported in the news related to this. There were complications as far as Melissa was concerned. The most immediate consequence being her emerging from the room looking rather pale.

I quickly got her a glass of water and asked if there was anything I could do to help her out. She shook her head. “It was an eye opening experience, that’s all.”

I paused, then led Melissa out into the hallway, away from any surveillance. I then crouched a bit to look her in the eyes, and made sure she was looking at me before speaking again.

“Mel, this is me you’re talking to. I can tell something has upset you. What’s wrong?”

Her lips grew tight. “It’s that there are cracks,” she said after a moment. “In the fabric of space-time. Which is why other realities knew about me, they caught a hint of the spell I just performed. I also got a sense of…” She shook her head. “I can’t describe it.”

“You mean Merlin?”

Melissa shook her head. “James, please don’t press me on this.”

I nodded. “Okay then. You’re sure there’s nothing more I can do?”

Melissa stared past me for a moment, then refocussed. “I need to see Alicia. I’m suddenly scared that there’s not enough time left to do what I need to do. I swear I’ll tell you if there’s anything you can do to help me with it though, okay?”

She smiled at me then, and leaned in to kiss me. For a moment she sank into it, and into my arms, and seemed to me like things were normal enough.

But when she drew back I saw there was still something lurking behind her gaze. With a quick apology, she was immediately running down the stairs, off to Alicia Wing’s store. I think she would have done so regardless of whether the store was actually open at the moment.

To this day, I’m still not sure what Melissa had really caught sight of during her spell.

There’s a well-known quote by Friedrich Nietzsche that comes to my mind: “Battle not with monsters, lest ye become a monster, and if you gaze into the abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.”

I hoped Melissa would be all right. Again, I found myself fiddling with the ring inside my pocket.

***

Two days later, meaning one day short of the big day, I was sure that Trixie knew something too. I called her on it while Melissa was out.

“Don’t keep being an idiot, James,” she retorted. “Your girlfriend wouldn’t tell me anything that she wouldn’t also tell you.”

Something in her tone had me reading between the lines. “Might she have told you something BEFORE telling me though?”

The redhead flinched at that, even looking a bit guilty. “No?”

“Trixie, tell me what you know,” I said, becoming a bit scared. I’m not sure why that had been my first reflex. Can men have intuition too?

“Nothing!” Trixie insisted, only to amend, “I’m sure it’s nothing. Just, I have some messages to give to Melissa’s parents after tomorrow.”

“After her Decision Day.”

“Right.”

“Related to the fact that she’s refused to respond to their messages? The ones insisting that the spell worked, and that she can stop worrying about everything?”

I really hadn’t been sure what to make of those. Had Merlin been re-energized? Had he not been, but false flags had been thrown up to make the casters think the spell had worked? Did Melissa need to do something to help him out? Or were Melissa’s parents simply outright lying to her, so that she wouldn’t do anything rash?

Trixie had no answers. “I dunno,” she said, shrugging. “Melissa sealed the content into envelopes.”

I stared at Trixie. She wouldn’t meet my gaze. That was definitely new. “Then do you think the spell her parents were doing worked?”

Trixie sighed. “Damn it, James, I don’t–” She cut herself off. “Look. All I know is Melissa thinks her task is actually greater than ever. She even asked me to try and cut down on the three hour window for her virtual self. Don’t ask me to explain why. I’m tech-girl, she’s the supernatural balance expert.”

“And there’s no problem with Mixi and the neural net?”

Trixie’s expression morphed into something that said to me ‘There bloody well better not be after all the effort I put in’. Her lips merely said, “Nothing I’m aware of.”

I dropped the subject.

In retrospect, I must have been preoccupied. I didn’t pick up on the fact that not once did Trixie call her cousin ‘Missy’ on that day.

Melissa didn’t come to bed that night.

When I saw her the next morning in the kitchen, it didn’t seem like she’d actually slept. On the one hand, this wasn’t unusual, since she never did have a good sense for time of day. On the other hand, shortly after I entered, she headed out of the apartment again. So she had to be avoiding me.

I can’t be certain, but I think that was the night when Melissa wrote the message for me.

***

Melissa was back by noon, in order to undergo the process of putting her engrams onto Trixie’s neural net. It only occurred to me then that I wasn’t entirely sure how the decision-making process was going to occur.

Somehow I’d visualized Melissa casting a spell, with an image of Merlin appearing and asking for her final answer… and that wasn’t it. Of course, I’m not sure Melissa herself had known until three days prior, as I suspect she would have said something to me otherwise. As it was, she merely said we’d be headed to the roof of the building in a little while.

The roof door was normally kept locked. Obviously not a problem in our case.

Melissa walked out first, holding Mixi. I followed after her, and Trixie hung back behind us. My girlfriend walked all the way to the edge of the building and looked out, through the protective chain link fence that someone had erected. She then turned and let out a long breath.

“Okay James, you deserve this explanation from me in person,” she began. “The choice I’m faced with here is the chaos that would come from magick becoming common, and being wielded against those without consent, versus the strict regimen of magick casting backlash and a severing of ties with other realms.”

I nodded. “I sort of assume you’re looking at the strict regimen though,” I said. “Given how you’ve got Mixi there to implement it.”

She licked her lips. “Yes and no. Thing is, while the latter system might have worked 1500 years ago, I’ve been forced to conclude that it needs updating. All systems must change to adapt to the changing times, I know that now. And Merlin, if we still refer to the originator of the system that way, was aware of this possibility. In fact, the more recent shifting in the supernatural balance hasn’t been due to corruption, or lack of energy. It’s come from two other things.”

“Powerful things, I presume,” Trixie said from behind me. “Given how that chain link fence seems to be morphing into cheddar cheese or something before our eyes.”

Melissa glanced back over her shoulder only briefly. “That’s blowback from what’s about to happen. In retrospect, the proximity of me and other Chosen might have been a catalyst for a couple of the more curious incidents. Like Amy’s lamp. As to the two things being powerful, I suppose that depends on your point of view.”

“These are the things you saw during that fraction of a second when we didn’t have technology, isn’t it,” I divined.

Melissa nodded. “Correct. The first thing is the fact that there are now several billion more people on Earth than there once were. It makes tracking the flow of magick more difficult. The second thing, even more problematic, is how the original system doesn’t understand how to adjust for all our scientific advancements. It seemed immensely relieved for that one second when it didn’t have to.”

“So the Internet really is a problem.”

Melissa ran her fingers back through her hair. “Not a problem. An additional variable. That’s what I really didn’t understand until a couple of days ago. How much the system needs to be updated.”

I exchanged a glance with Trixie.

“Fine, I’ll ask her for you,” Trixie said, reading something in my expression. She stepped up next to me. “Melissa, if you’ve known for a couple days, why only tell us all the details now?”

Previous INDEX Next

Virga: Act 6C

Previous INDEX Next

A Virga Mystery: BALANCING ACT

ACT 6c: OF MELISSA AND JAMES

Annie Potts looked about the same as I remembered her – a whole foot taller than Melissa, with dark hair to her shoulders, on this day wearing a casual dress in green. Her apartment wasn’t huge, but seemed to be the right size for her, her cat Tabby, and a wide variety of plants that extended onto her balcony.

Gardening struck me as being a new hobby for her, and I said as much.

Annie grinned. “Yup!” she asserted. “That’s my new thing, been growing my own herbs, along with plants and flowers. Selling some of them too, as the couple years since graduating haven’t been good for finding stable work. Particularly since I prefer non-technological jobs. But I get the occasional contract here and there to make ends meet.”

“You’ve kept up with spells too,” Melissa said with a measure of surprise. “I wondered if you might have given that up, to try and keep from being discovered again.”

Annie put her hands on her hips. “Okay, spill. How did you know I was casting?”

Melissa shrugged. “No deduction, per se. Not even a scent. Just a vibe. From you, from Tabby, even from the plants.”

“Ah.” Annie adopted a more neutral pose. “Well, and I did avoid it while I was still in school,” she replied, “But once I was done, and then unemployed for six months with no interest in pursing personal relationships, I needed some other ways to fill my time. Plus I was hopeful of there being a good job interview spell or something. Instead, I latched on to communications.”

“Communications?” I wondered. “Are there magick phones or something?”

Annie chuckled. “Not that I know of. But that brings me to why I wanted you to drop by. I need your opinion on something.”

After pulling down the shade on her window, she ushered us over to her kitchen table, where she had laid out what looked like some homemade variant on the ouija board.

Melissa was immediately walking around it, crouching down to see it at eye level, and standing on her tiptoes to get an overall sense of it.

“You’ve been trying to contact other realms,” she concluded at last. “Surprisingly professional setup. Did you search the web for this?”

“No, I still avoid the web for magick,” Annie admitted. “It’s my grandma who gave me some advice. We’ve connected more since my graduation, and my growing interest in spells. She told me that I had to be very careful not to create an open connection, and that I had to have a sense of where I was going to be transmitting. I’ve been pretty careful.”

Melissa tilted her head to the side, as if she was trying to divine exactly to whom Annie had been speaking. “So you’ve been talking to…?”

“An elf.”

Melissa nodded. “Right, makes sense. This flow is connected to that weak point at the North Pole.”

As to me, I was startled. “Hold on. There’s actual elves at the North Pole?”

“No, no,” Melissa said, gesturing vaguely as she continued to admire the setup. “Though that was a logical place for their realm to gain access, as a number of regular humans already have the belief of elves existing up there, even though the elves they picture are very different from the real thing.”

“So they don’t have pointed hats and help Santa,” I reasoned. “Are they more like Tolkein elves then? Because I only ever saw the movies.”

“They are long lived, and can be beautiful, but are mostly my height, with no dark vision,” Melissa said idly. She turned her attention back to Annie. “Who is it you’re talking to then? While most elves aren’t evil per se, a number can be particularly mischievous.”

Annie smirked. “Iantneth has a similar opinion of humans. I really only speak with her about fashion, relationships, daily life stuff – though she’s been instructing me a little on how to grow better herbs.”

“Aha, that explains the magic I sensed from the plants,” Melissa concluded.

“So, be straight with me. This seems safe and all?” Annie said, hesitantly. “I mean, I’ve spoken to my grandma about it, and sent pictures, but it never hurts to have a second opinion from someone in the know who’s actually here.”

Melissa looked once more under the table, then stood up and shrugged. “I don’t see any problems with this. Have you noticed anything strange?”

Annie breathed a sigh of relief. “Well, I noticed a pine tree had morphed into an oak tree last week, only a block away. I figured it was unrelated, but…” She gestured vaguely.

Melissa pursed her lips, then nodded. “I have been aware of a few incidents like that of late. Don’t worry, it’s not you. We’re approaching a sort of supernatural turning point.”

I was reminded then of Melissa’s knife turning into Amy’s lamp three months ago. “Could talking to other realms be upsetting supernatural balance even more though?” I wondered. “Not exclusive to Annie, I mean.”

Melissa shook her head. “No, the balancing issues are related to the weak points that these devices exploit. It’s those areas which can allow entities though, and these visitors cause much more of a problem than what’s more akin to a radio transmission.”

I nodded. “Meaning, going after communication tools is a bit like shaming someone for not using a reusable bag, when the plastics industry is really at the core of things.”

“I guess?” Melissa mused. “Except it’s more like you’re reusing a plastic bag in the first place. Things won’t get worse than they are already.”

“A-Am I doing a bad thing then?” Annie asked. “Because I’m getting confused.”

Melissa waved Annie off. “No, no, you’re fine. This setup isn’t even electronic at all, is it?”

Annie shook her head. “Nope.”

“Okay. So do you use electronics at all?” Melissa pressed. “To the point where your grandmother might have told you when NOT to use them next week?”

Annie now looked very confused, which led to me jumping in with an explanation of the problem we were facing. I left out the Chosen One aspect, playing up the secret spell part, and wrapped it up by remarking, “Ideally we’d want you to find out the time without making it clear that that’s what you’re asking.”

Annie pressed her index finger to the side of her mouth. “Funny you say that. Iantneth said there would be some sort of disturbance in our realm coming up, so I can use that as a basis. I was planning on driving around town next week on another job hunt too… so yeah, I can probably get Grandma Lindy to spill something.”

“I’d need the exact second,” Melissa reminded.

Annie nodded. “After your help back in University, I’ll see what I can do. And if it doesn’t pan out, I’ll try to let you know sooner rather than later.”

“We appreciate that,” I said, reaching out to shake her hand. “And hey, let us know what herbs it is you’re selling, in case we need a supply of anything.”

Annie grinned. After a few more quick pleasantries, and Melissa declining the offer of home brewed tea, we headed on our way. I sensed she was turning a new thought around in her mind, and called her on it shortly thereafter.

MELISSA VIRGA
Commission from Shirley

“Well,” Melissa admitted. “It occurs to me that with the balance fully back in place, and the other realms cut off, potentially beneficial conversations like the one between Annie and Iantneth would be lost as well.”

“Ah. Throwing the baby out with the bath water?”

“Not quite so crude, and we do need a way of preventing the bad from getting worse. But it makes me wonder about loopholes… would Trixie’s AI be able to handle those, even with my engrams?”

“It might depend on whether it was something you’d thought of before they got mapped,” I reasoned. “Do you think many would come up?”

“I don’t know. I’m realizing more and more that there’s a lot I don’t know.”

“Maybe some of the literature from the rational faction could help,” I quipped.

Melissa made a face. “I tuned out a lot of the faction stuff. This sort of decision calls for an opinion that hasn’t been biased one way or the other, after all.” She paused. “I guess it’s harder to ignore the occasional benefit when you see it in person, that’s the only problem. Makes me wonder if there’s a lot of others like Annie out there, who need to see that there’s a good side to being a witch.”

I wasn’t sure what to say to that, so I simply let the matter drop.

We heard back from Annie within 48 hours; she was able to give Melissa the precise timing that she needed. It would be early in the morning, three days before Decision Day. That is, the day her final decision would need to be rendered… assuming the reinforcement spell failed, which Melissa was certain would happen.

Melissa started to prepare for her own spell. Me, I got a ring, and decided to propose to Melissa one day before all of that went down.

***

Unfortunately, while I had the ring, and some phrasing in my mind, what I didn’t have was control over the other circumstances surrounding me.

It happened about five minutes before I felt I’d have the nerve to drop down on one knee, as Melissa sat looking over some papers at the main desk. Guess I should have been braver. As it was, the delay meant Trixie’s door burst open first. She bounced out, and practically off the walls, she was bursting with such enthusiasm.

“It’s DONE,” Trixie shrieked. “I DID it. I am like a TECH GODDESS, ha ha ha!”

“The artificial Melissa?” I said, startled. “I didn’t think you’d be ready for another day or two.”

Trixie grinned at me. “I haven’t slept in a while. That helped.” She bounded back into her room, then emerged, holding up what might have once been an iPhone. “The new Rixi is ready! I shall call her Mixi. Missy, I’ll need you for a couple hours now, to deal with the memory engram side of things.”

I fidgeted with the ring still in my pocket. “Um, Trixie, you don’t want to sleep first?” I suggested.

Trixie’s hair was rumpled, to the point that she had a single twintail, versus a ponytail. One of her knee high stockings had fallen nearly to her ankle and she’d made no attempt to correct it, and as to the rest of her clothing, I could see stains from either sweat or drool, which was completely out of character for her. She had definitely been pushing herself.

“Nope!” Trixie chirped. “I am SO ready to put this to the test. To cement my brilliance in the history books. Today’s the day, James! So, Missy? Let’s get to it.”

Melissa hadn’t even looked up yet. “It will have to wait until after tomorrow’s spell.”

The redhead’s gaze took on a slightly murderous tinge off Melissa’s casual response. “Are. You. FUC–”

“It’s not that we don’t appreciate EVERYTHING you’ve done, Trixie,” I cut in swiftly. “And the fact that you have things ready in advance of your own timelines is amazing, particularly in light of some of the challenges that you’ve been telling us about along the way. It’s just, I think Melissa needs some time herself now in order to get more in tune with the spell she needs to cast herself.”

Of course, there was also the matter of my proposal, though given Melissa’s reaction to Trixie, I was fast thinking I might want to hold off on my revelation as well.

“It’s not a matter of tuning,” Melissa said idly. She looked up for the first time then, and sucked in her lower lip briefly as she diagnosed Trixie’s expression. “Of course, what you’ve done is AMAZINGLY AWESOME, and worthy of praise.” Her gaze shifted from Trixie to me. “People still say ‘awesome’, yes?”

“Ugh, forget it,” Trixie said in exasperation, flopping down onto the couch and throwing her shoulders back. “It’s enough that I’ve done it, that James appreciates it, and that you’re not lashing out at me for being smug. Adding extra flattery on top would be weird, particularly when it sounds like it might be sincere. That’s not the Missy I know and love.”

Melissa half smiled. “I may still get you a cake. Or some cheesecake. The thing is, the new memories I’ll be gaining in the next day or two may be critical for decision making on the part of your device. I don’t want there to be any chance of corruption between my mindset now, and what my mindset might be like on the day I have to decide.”

Trixie crinkled her nose cutely. “No biggie, I can wipe the engrams if necessary. It’s a feature, for testing purposes. Though I grant that would be easier to do with a completely different person.”

“Meaning you could test it on yourself for now?” Melissa checked.

The redhead crossed her arms. “Playing to my vanity? Mmm, I’ll allow it. But honestly, as a test run, it’d be better for me to have a measure of separation from the data.” She turned to me, and grinned almost wickedly. “So I’ll co-opt James. Then purge and overwrite with yours later, Missy. Speaking of, what kind of waiting period are we talking about here?”

Melissa ran her fingers back through her hair. “How much time do you need, from starting to pull in my memories, to complete implementation? Bare minimum.”

Trixie looked back. “For serious? Bare minimum? Three hours. But that would cut it awful close, and it would be better to allow for the case of needing a reset.”

“I’ll try to give you more time,” Melissa concluded. “Though it seems like, the closer we get to the event, the more I’m starting to doubt myself, wondering if I’ve missed an alternative along the way. Please bear with me?”

She smiled, a bit sadly it seemed to me.

I decided that today was definitely not the day to propose.

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