Just When Things Were Starting To Make Sense
For a brief moment, you bask in the air currents of this world.
Feel them flow across your skin, like the winds of your home.
But they are not, as you know.
As you always know.
A tingle in the air, a...a /restoration/ in the flow of energy across this planet.
Something has arrived, entered this world. Something from... elsewhere.
You let your senses guide you, follow the tingle that speaks to you of comfort, of rest. Of the Endless Real. Feel it begin to move through your body, a pulse of the universe's heartbeat.
Closer now, closer, and stronger, the pulse so strong now. Wherever - whatever - this is, it has come a long way. A very long way
And you sense it there, still pulsing with the energy. *There*.
So like her. Always in the middle of things.
Because your companion, your bonded... she's trapped in a screaming argument not a long way away from it.
From those around her, a less intense, a weaker tingle, overwhelmed by the new arrival. They too have come from elsewhere - quite some time ago, as her kind measure these things. Still, they are touched by its force.
With a screech, the winged reptile - looking very much like what was known to this era as a pterosaur, a predator from an era far distant in time - landed on the recently crashed spaceship.
[HEY! Get off! I just had a paintjob done there!] the spaceship protested.
The reptile rolled an eye down at the ship's hull, looking extremely suspicious.
[Would you /mind/?] the ship said huffily.
The reptile swiveled its head, so its other eye was now appraising the ship.
[I /said/] the ship said, raising a small laser turret out of its roof, and directing it straight at her unwanted guest. [would you *mind*? I've had a very, /very/ long day, and the last thing I need is to clean up reptile droppings!]
The reptile gave this demand much consideration.
Then, making very sure the ship saw this, it raked her roof and glided to the ground.
[Oh thanks. Thank you /so/ much...] the ship muttered.
'/Well/... dear?' Vislor said icily.
Angel looked around hurriedly.
On one side, two short, squat Oni, with one extremely nervous Charlotte Pollard trying to make it very clear that she had absolutely /nothing/ to do with this - an effect rather spoiled by the fact that one of the Oni had her wrist in a tight grip.
On another, her very, very annoyed twin sister, Sammy, wielding a very, very large crossbow. With a very, very large bolt loaded in.
On the /third/ side... one icily angry fiance - revise to /ex/-fiance, she mentally told herself - waiting for an answer.
Trouble was, she really, really, didn't want to tell him.
Family. Always bringing up embarrasing little details about your past when you least expect it - like embarrassing baby pictures, stories of your first fart... or the tiny detail that, actually, you're /not/ human. Or, in matter of fact, from this dimension.
'Um,' she said.
'Um, perhaps I could say something at this point?' Charlotte said nervously.
'A SPACESHIP'S JUST CRASHED ON THE SCHOOL GROUNDS!!'
The squabbling group turned, looked at the ship, at the winged reptile eyeing it from its position on the ground, at the ship's laser turrets, at the sleek lines of its design, at the way it covered the entire school football field, looked at each other, and mutually shrugged.
[You people really know how to make a girl feel wanted, you know that?] said a girl's voice. [I mean, does this sort of thing happen on a daily basis around here or something?]
Vislor considered. 'Yes.' he said finally.
Vislor shrugged. 'It comes with having a Magical Girl attending the school. That, the bizarre magical attacks, the fanservice costumes-'
'Do you mind?' Charlotte huffed. 'Her costumes are /not/ fanservice!'
Vislor raised a cynical eyebrow. 'Of course not.... and the melodramatic dialogue. Having a spaceship squelch the football field, after all that, is just the cherry on the cake.'
[Wait. Magical Girl? Did someone say Magical Girl? Can I have her autograph?]
'I-Z...' a deep voice rumbled over the ship's loudspeakers.
[Well, excuse /me/ for showing a little interest in history...] I-Z pouted.
'Or, indeed, trying to build up the largest autograph collection known to AIs...' the voice observed. 'Would someone be kind enough to confirm the dateline?'
'Ummm... March 8th, 2001.' Charlotte said. 'By the Gregorian calendar,' she added, just in case. 'Um. AD? CE?'
'Thank you,' the voice said. 'I-Z?'
[Dateline checked.] I-Z said. [If it's March 8th, 2001 CE... then this must be Earth.]
'Earth?' the deep voice said, surprise in its voice.
'Then what is *that*-' indicating the reptile '-doing there?'
[Giving my paintjob a scrat-] I-Z paused. [Hey, where'd they go? I had scratches all over my roof, where'd they go?]
The crowd that gathered whenever something out of the ordinary happened - or whenever something involving the school's Magical Girl happened, since the two were pretty much interchangeable - were pasing around colas, peanut bags, and Magic Electric Charley Trading Cards. After all, it's hard to believe a spaceship is about to endanger your lives when it's busy worrying about its paintwork.
The voice sighed. 'Anyone?'
One of the crowd raised a hand.
'It's Magic Electric Charley's companion, Ramsey.' the crowd member said. 'See? It's on this trading card.'
A thin metal wire extruded itself from I-Z and wobbled towards the crowd member who'd spoken.
It did the mechanical equivalent of a blink. Looked at the reptile, then back at the card, and blinked again.
[He's not kidding...] I-Z said. [Err... How many of those trading cards are there?]
'They're on the fourth set,' the crowd member said.
The deep voice sighed, but before he could say anything...
'MAGICAL GIRL PRETTY CHARLEY!'
'Oh, /now/ she turns up...' another crowd member muttered, but was quickly hushed - with extreme prejudice - by his fellows.
'Hi, Charley.' Ramsey said cheerily.
'This from a talking ship?'
[Look, you. I'm a 'Hera'-class Imperial battle cruiser, complete with Artificial Intelligence, a wide range of weaponry, and a truly incredible array of optional extras! I am /not/ just a talking ship!]
'Why the Emperor decides his personal fleet's interior augmenations, I will never understand.' the deep voice murmured.
'Excuse me?' Charley said, tapping her staff against the ground agitatedly.
'Apologies,' the deep voice said. 'My name is Zard, and the ship is called I-Z. I take it that you are Magic Electric Charley?'
'Yes.' Charley said, a little nervously.
'Might it be too much to ask for refuge?'
[He said 'Might it be too much to ask for refuge?'.]
'Yes. Yes... Um...' Charley looked around at the assembled crowd. 'Why?'
[Well, we stole something from our Emperor, and... not to put too fine a point on it, he wants us - and it - back. With /terminal/ prejudice. You know, the kind of terminal that leaves solar systems devastated.]
'I wish you might have rephrased that,' Zard said. 'Nevertheless, she is correct.'
'You stole something?'
[Remember how I said 'the kind of terminal that leaves solar systems devastated'? What we stole leaves /galaxies/ devastated. Or it could, if someone actually let it loose...]
'Because the Emperor wished to use it.' Zard said. His voice was hollow, empty. 'He /wanted/ to use it. My oath to him could not let that happen. Therefore...'
'You stole it.' Charley supplied.
'We stole it.' Zard agreed.
[Excuse me, would you mind not pointing that crossbow at me? Thanks.]
[Oh, /honestly/!] I-Z complained. [Was that too much to ask?]
The hull puckered around the bolt-
-and spat it out.
Metal flowed over the hole, leaving no trace of its presence.
[Okay...] I-Z said. [When did that start- Excuse me, I have to check that list of alterations...]
[Oh. Oh. Wow. Wow... ]
The ship fell silent, only the occasional gasp from her speakers betraying her presence.
'Okay.' Charley finally said.
'OKAY?!' the crowd shouted. 'HE'S CARRYING A FREAKING DOOMSDAY DEVICE!'
'And he told us.' Charley said. 'He could have used it, and we wouldn't have known.'
'Actually...' Zard began.
'He could have used /any/ of his weapons, but he hasn't.'
'No thanks to his lunatic ship...' The crowd member silenced as Ramsey turned to glare at him.
'Look, at /least/ give him a chance, all right?'
Muttering from the crowd.
'All. Right?' Charley demanded, raising the Staff of the Currents.
The crowd quieted.
Silently, a portal opened in I-Z's side. A ramp extended down to the ground.
An armoured figure stepped out. A helmet, two red visors as eyepieces, which left a reptilian mouth and chin open. Scale body armour covered the rest of his body, and his hands were in skin-tight gauntlets.
The figure bowed.
'You honour myself and my ship.' Zard said.
Charley found herself blushing, until Ramsey nudged her legs. 'You're welcome.'
[Wow...] I-Z breathed. [Activating SHIFT.]
The ramp retracted back inside. The portal closed.
The ship's outline /dissolved/, distinctive features melting into the ship's surface, the engines retracting within its interior.
Until a blob of metal lay where the ship had been.
Then it shrank.
In a matter of seconds, it was at the halfway line, and getting smaller.
Seconds after that, the blob lay across the midfield line, no bigger than a football.
Then it /morphed/, up and out.
A humanoid figure, two arms, two legs, a blob on the top resolving itself into a head.
The transformation accelerated.
Hands, feet, fingers, neck, eyes, mouth, nose, ears...
Clothes formed: denim jeans, a donkey jacket, a T-shirt, trainers.
Thin strands extruded themselves from the head, taking on colour as they went.
'Wow...' a crowd member murmured. 'Just like Terminator 2-'
Charley glared at him.
'What? It was a perfectly reasonable observation.'
...I-Z shook her head.
'Whoo! So /that's/ what that does!'
She raised an arm. 'So *this* is what having solid arms and legs feels like...!'
'I-Z...?' Zard said.
'Yep, boss. It's me.' She rubbed her throat. 'Waow. Gotta get used to using those vocal cords...'
'I know, I know.' I-Z said. 'Wasn't built into me. Looks like those modifications - you know, *those* ones - went deeper than I thought. Must remember to thank them sometime...'
'YES?!!?' Zard roared.
The Oni stepped back. 'Um... Might we beg permission of the Remarkable And Wondrous Lord Who Bears the Dragon's Mark Upon Him to return the Dragon's Bride to the Great One?'
'What was that in English?' I-Z asked.
'He wants to take Angel home.' Charley supplied.
'Mmph!!' the blonde girl with pointed ears said.
Zard and I-Z looked at her.
'No,' they said together, on general principles.
'Um... Beg pardon, Wondrous One, but why not?'
'Why don't we ask her?' Charley suggested.
The two Oni looked at each other as if such an idea hadn't occured to them.
'Here, let me.' Charley said, slipping the gag off Angel's mouth.
Who took a deep breath, and said 'I want sanctuary.'
'From...?' Vislor prompted.
Angel raised an eyebrow. 'Guess.'
Charley, I-Z, Vislor and Zard took in the two Oni and Sammy. And Sammy's crossbow.
'Yes, I was wondering about that...' Vislor said sardonically.
'She ran out on her sacred responsibilities.' Sammy said through gritted teeth. 'She /will/ return and fulfil them.'
'And then what happens?'
'After she's fulfilled them. What happens?'
Sammy looked blank. 'I beg your pardon?'
'What. Happens. Once. She. Weds. The. Dragon?' Charley enunciated.
'Oh, that. She spends the rest of her life dwelling with him, then once she becomes too old, the Dragon eats her and chooses another bride.'
'I begin to see the problem...' Zard murmured.
'There's a problem?' Sammy said.
'You /might/ say that.' Angel muttered under her breath.
'And if she doesn't return?'
'The Dragon lays waste to our land.'
'Uh-huh. And how long is the Dragon prepared to wait?'
'Might I suggest an alternative?' Zard suggested. 'Angel remains here for a time to consider her responsibilities - as do the three of you, to keep watch on her.'
'Now wait-' Angel began.
'You inform the Dragon that Angel has chosen to do this - and once she decides to come back and wed him, all parties are satisfied.'
'Hold on-' Angel said.
The two Oni conferred for a moment. Then one of them turned back and said 'We will accept your choice.'
'HOLD IT!!' Sammy shouted. 'I AM NOT GOING BACK WITHOUT THE TRAITRESS!'
'Love you too, sis...' Angel said.
'You will not have to.' Zard said. 'You can stay with her until she decides.'
'Hold on-' Angel and Sammy chorused.
'Angel? A word?'
'Look at it this way,' Ramsey whispered. 'We never said how /long/ you'd have to decide...'
A slow smile spread across Angel's face.
'Sammy? A word?'
'Look at it like this.' Charley said. 'You'll be able to make sure she doesn't run off, and ensure she makes the decision.'
A slow smile spread across Sammy's face, mirroring her sister's.
I-Z coughed uncertainly. 'Umm... We don't have anywhere to stay. And a ship the size of a soccer pitch /does/ stand out. Ummm.... Mind if we stay with you?'
'Now just a /minute/!' the twins chorused.
'Ahem,' Charley said, tapping her staff against the ground.
'...Why not?' Sammy said.
'No problem.' Angel said.
'Good.' Ramsey said.
'Now...' Vislor said. 'Where were we?'
'The Magic Girl was about to die!' proclaimed a voice.
Charley facefaulted. 'Oh my God. Not that idiot again...'
'Face the mighty and incredible wrath of the Old Serpent! OHOHOHOHOHOHOHOHO!!!'
'Multiple exclaimation marks,' I-Z murmured. 'Yep. Full-bore loony.'
'You might want to try that in a different accent.' Charley told the buxom - /extremely/ buxom - newcomer.
Zard blinked behind his visor. 'She isn't old...'
'It was in the job description,' Charley commented.
'I, the Serpent Peri, shall bring Magic Electric Charley to her knees!' the newcomer boomed.
'I'm already at my knees.' Charley said. 'And my feet. And-'
'SILENCE!' Peri announced. 'PREPARE TO DIE!!'
Sammy hit her on the head with her crossbow. 'Excitable, isn't she?'
Angel rolled her eyes. 'Ladies and gentlemen, my sister.'
'Still I stand, and still-' Peri said.
Then she fell over.
'You think she'd know better then to burst in on some quality time.' I-Z observed.
'Thank God that's over with...' Vislor said.
The school bell rang.
'And all before school began,' Angel said. '...Where'd Charley go?'
'She always does that.' Vislor said. 'You get used to it.'
'Hi guys!' Charlotte Pollard said, running up and trying to fiddle with her hair in a desperate attempt to get it under control at the same time. 'Did I miss anything?'
'-And this, too.' Vislor completed.
'But they look-' I-Z began.
'As I said,' Vislor said. 'You get used to it.'
'I can see that.' Zard murmured.
Meanwhile, eighteen hundred years in the future...
'I'm hurt, Harry. No compliments? No praise? No drooling over my breasts?' Ms Cooper shakes her head. 'Honestly...'
Harold Sullivan swallows
Because at the moment, the last thing he wants to do is look at Ms Cooper. Or her eyes.
Or what had once /been/ eyes.
Holes. Holes in the Universe. Swirling and shifting, twisting and refracting...
'Oh, is that bothering you?' Ms Cooper says. 'I /do/ apologise.'
She slips her mirrored sunglasses back on.
'Now...' she says. 'Where were we?'
She turns and looks at the other occupant of the chamber - a five year old girl with red hair, almost lost in her anorak.
'Ah.' Ms Cooper says, almost to herself. 'Ah.'
She hunkers down. 'Hey.'
'Hello,' the girl says softly, almost on the verge of hysterics.
'My name's Angela. Who are you?'
'Laura,' the girl manages to get out. 'Laura Tobin.'
'Laura,' Angela repeats. 'Laura, do you want to leave?'
'I... I had to... had to stay...' Laura says. 'Had... Cammy wanted, had to see...'
Angela nods. 'Cammy's your friend?'
Laura nods, silently, a tear trickling down her face.
Angela dabs at the tear. 'Hey. Hey. It's going to be all right, Laura. It'll be all right. Yeah?'
Another tear follows the first.
'I promise,' Angela says.
'You... you do?' Laura whispers.
'I have to keep my word,' Angela tells her. 'I made a promise to someone.'
In the observation booth, Harry turns to one of the technicians. 'Where's that security team?!'
'Team Beta...' The technician swallows. 'They can't get through the door. All security codes seem... seem to have been overriden.'
'Authorise artillery use.' Harry commands. 'That's an order. I'll take it up with the CEO later. Just tell them to get inside!'
The technician nods, and speaks into her com-unit rapidly.
Harry turns to another technician. 'Team Alpha?'
'With Stacie and the TKer.' he says.
The technician hesitates. 'Update coming in...'
A day he thought couldn't get any worse, just has, Harry thinks hysterically. Murphy's Law really does have it in for Harold Sullivan. Even the upcoming report to the CEO no longer worries him. After all, all his uncle can do is kill him.
'They escaped.' Harry finishes.
The technician nods.
Harry starts grinning. Hey, after this, nothing could be as bad, hey?
A small part of his mind realises he's gone hysterically insane, and is comforted by the fact he realises this. Otherwise, he might start thinking he was /sane/. And that /would/ be bad.
'See what happens when we hire the greatest scientist in the galaxy?' he says, giggling slightly. 'She can outthink any security procedure - because she came up with them.'
The technician nods. It's all he can do, at the moment.
'What now?' Fitz Fortune, idol star of the 21st century, is hiding in a corridor in the 39th century, with a woman who diagnosed herself as insane, and had the qualifications to do it.
This should be worrying him.
However, the situation they're currently in is worrying him more. Once they're out of this, /then/ he'll start worrying about it.
_First thing, we find my boss and the girl._ Stacie says. _Then, we get the hell out of Dodge._
'Good. A plan.' Fitz says. 'For a moment there, I was worried.' He concentrates - hesitantly, cautiously.
'They're still there.' he says, finally.
_There'll be a security team outside._ Stacie says.
'Trust me,' Fitz says. 'That won't be a problem.'
Stacie nods. _I know._
Angela looks up at the ceiling.
'I know what you were waiting for,' she says. 'Why you were waiting.
'The Vortex Angel is here. Satisfied?
'No, of course not. You weren't expecting this.
'You'll adapt and fit this to your plans no matter what happens, though. I /know/ you.
'And I'm watching you.'
She picks Laura up in her arms.
'Let's get out of here.'
There is a swirl-
-a kaleidoscope of colours, something shattering on the very edge of hearing-
-the chamber is empty.
'Hi. Miss us?'
'Your mum's going to kill us, you know.' Fitz says. It's all he can think to say.
Laura shakes her head, as Angela sets her on the floor. 'It's my /sister/ you've got to watch for.'
'Allison.' Laura explains.
_Angie...?_ Stacie whispers. _What happened?_
'I saw the dark.' Angela says. 'And then...'
Something that was once a smile touches her lips.
_What are you?_
'The Vortex Angel.'
_*What are you?!*_
_WHAT ARE YOU?!_
Security Team Alpha comes around the corridor.
Angela pushes her sunglasses up to the bridge of her nose.
'Brilliant.' Fitz says. 'Us against an entire corporation.'
'Not quite,' Angela replies. 'Stacie?'
_Code S2 494 4A._ she says.
A forcefield shimmers into existence, blocking the corridor.
'Now...' Angela says, 'we've got to get to your lab.'
Stacie nods again.
'Won't your CEO be able to override the field?' Fitz asks.
'Absolutely.' Angela says.
_But we've got to move before he does,_ Stacie adds.
The field begins to hum.
'He took longer to do that than I thought...' Angela says.
Stacie shrugs. _Wangled myself a bit more time before the override._
'Okay...' Fitz says. 'Now we've got a whole corporation pissed off at us - not that I know why - and we're holding them off in a lab.'
_This is the safest place in the whole building,_ Stacie says.
'That doesn't reassure me.'
_It wasn't supposed to._
Laura looks up at Stacie's floating monitor.
"-the authorities were unable to prevent the escape of the pirate ship, which is under the command of the infamous criminals Nyssaias von Drakken and Embericles Ashford. Von Drakken and Ashford are currently wanted on four hundred and seventeen planets for over thirty thousand felony-"
'I didn't know you were a fan,' Angela observes to Stacie.
_What can I say?_ Stacie says. _Working out their eventual penal sentence gives me something to do..._
'Of course it does,' Angela teases.
/HEY! Someone get me outta here!/
'Stacie...' Fitz says carefully, pointing to a mass of equipment, some of which seems to be connected to what looks like a brain, and the holographic letters floating in front of it. 'Is that supposed to do that?'
_No._ Stacie says. _That's the matrix for the AI I was generating. This stage usually comes a bit later._
/I am *not* an AI!/ the letters say. /I got *stuck* in this stupid thing! When did you start making these so complex, that's what I want to know!/
'Who /are/ you?' Fitz asks.
/Who are *you*?/ the words retort.
'How do we get you out?' Laura says.
/If I knew that, I'd already be out./ the words say.
Fitx lies down on the floor.
'Um, Fitz...' Laura begins.
'I'm going to collapse /after/ I do this.' Fitz says. 'I should at least be prepared for it...'
He closes his eyes.
-feeling the tangled knot in space, the twist in the fabric, the twisted lines of force-
-seeing *something* is caught up in it-
-hey. hey. Keep still, otherwise you'll get really stuck-
-Like I'm not already?-
-We have to do this fast. Can't... can't do this without...-
-reaching in, pulling it out, pulling *her* out-
Fitz's head lolls against the floor, out cold.
'Is he...?' Laura asks.
_Just unconscious,_ Stacie says.
_Hmm. You /were/ right._ she adds. _ You were stuck._
The teenage girl with long frizzy red hair looks up at them from her position on the floor.
Then at Fitz.
'Is he...?' she asks quietly.
_No,_ Stacie says. _The effort wore him out. He'll be sleeping for ages._
The girl picks herself up from the floor.
The electric-blue blouse and skirt she's wearing glitter in the light.
'Who are you?' Angela asks.
'You don't know?' the girl asks in surprise.
Angela shakes her head.
'I'm Meliphyre. The Eternal, Meliphyre.'
_A *what*?!_ Stacie gasps.
'An Eternal.' Meliphyre says. She winces. 'My sisters are really going to enjoy this one. It's not my fault I got lost...'
'So can we go now?' Laura suggests.
Angela grins. 'She does have a point. The place is turning into Freeport... Eternals, time-travellers... I think we'd better get out of here before a Magical Girl turns up. Or some techno-ninja. Or a felinoid clan.'
_What did you have in mind?_
'Watch.' Angela says.
She takes off her sunglasses - ignoring the gasps from Stacie and Meliphyre - and spreads her arms.
A faint glow appears in the air around her, behind her.
'VORTEX ANGEL ANGELA!'
The world shatters-
'Wh... What did you do?' Meliphyre asks.
Angela still stands there, arms outstretched.
Then she relaxes, lets her arms fall to her side.
Reaches into her pocket, pulls out her sunglasses.
Puts them on. And *then* collapses on the floor.
'What /happened?/' Meliphyre says.
_I... I don't know._ Stacie says.
'Cammy knows.' Laura pipes up. 'Open the doors.'
Then, in lieu of anything else to do, she opens the door.
The three of them blink at what they see outside.
'Somehow,' Meliphyre says hesitantly. 'I'm guessing that's /not/ where the door usually opens.'
_No,_ Stacie agrees. _No, it's not._
She chuckles to herself. _And I thought today was going to be dull..._
'A temple.' Meliphyre murmurs. 'What, by the Matrix, are we doing in a temple?'
_Giving thanks, what else?_ Stacie says.
The three of them look at each other-
And start giggling.
Copyright 2001 Imran Inayat