I'm No Angel

_It's not that I don't appreciate a good deus ex machina_ Stacie says. _I do. Especially one that saves us from a 'meeting' with my CEO._

Meliphyre twitches.

_Yes, I knew what I was saying._ Stacie says. _It seemed appropriate, anyway._

She taps her chin. _Hmm. Anyway, it just seems that a higher level of weirdness's has been taking place around our office buildings than of late. Not that our office buildings don't have a usual level of weirdness._

'It has?' Meliphyre asks.

Laura nods. 'Yep.'

_To the best of my knowledge... I woke up today, finished up my last remaining projects, and then realised I'd done everything I'd planned to do. Which left me with nothing to do, so I decided to introduce a random element into my life by creating an AI with minimal input from myself._

'Using a dog brain.' Laura says.

_Yes. Using a dog brain. As I said, I was bored._

_Then, two people get hauled out of our CEO's super, super secret top project, and get dragged to me for a medical examination. What's interesting, when I analyse the two of them, is that they have a standard antibody profile for the late twentieth and early twenty_first centuries... but, /as I study them/, they're developing immune responses to all curable diseases - /all/, discovered up to the present day.

_This is, medically, astounding. But I'm not going to let the CEO know that. So I ask them where they come from._

'Go on,' Meliphyre says. 'Where'd they come from?'

'2001.' Laura says.

Meliphyre's forehead creases. 'Now /that's/ interesting...'

_As Laura said, she and her fellow traveller had come from 2001, and ended up here, in 3801. Given what they told me, they used no /known/ method of time travel. No /known/ method._ Stacie emphasised. _That wasn't the only interesting thing I noticed, though. The man, Fitz, Laura'd arrived with... _

'He can distort space.' Meliphyre says quietly.

Stacie nods. _And, by extension, distort /time/, too. It's not that usual, but it /does/ manifest sometimes... But his power reading, his ki reading, was off the standard charts. Laura, on the other hand... she seemed perfectly normal. Right up until the point she teleported herself, /and/ my boss, away..._

Meliphyre blinks. 'Wait... someone who can distort time, and someone who can teleport...'

_Mm. You're thinking they combined their talents, and jumped themselves here._

'Well...' Meliphyre admits.

_Perhaps... but Laura's exercise of /her/ talent seems to hurt Fitz. Not in any /physical/ sense... I'd /imagine/ that it hurts his 'other sense', his spatial sense, his sense of the spatial dimensions around him. _

Meliphyre shudders.

_So Fitz and I track them down - straight back to the CEO's project. Which is interesting..._ Stacie trails off. _More than enough to keep me fascinated for a very long time. And /then/... something happens to my boss, happens to Angela. She comes /out/ of the CEO's secret project... and she's manifesting abilities that..._ Stacie shook her head. _And now it's as if there's a crowd in the background - whenever I talk to her, I hear people talking. I can't make out what they're saying, but I know they're there._

'A Vortex Angel.' Meliphyre breathes.

_Yes..._ Stacie says. _A Vortex Angel._

_Deciding that discretion is the better part of valour, and retreating is the better part of discretion_

'We decided to run for it.' Laura says, grinning.

_...Yes. We decided to run for it._ Stacie says, glaring at Laura. _So we hole up in my laboratory_

'Which was when Fitz discovered me trapped in your AI's matrix.' Meliphyre guesses. 'And pulled me out.'

_And /then/..._ Stacie gestures at the corridor they're now in. _we find ourselves here. In a temple. Far, /far/ from our pursuers..._

She raises an eyebrow. _So what /was/ an Eternal doing in my AI's matrix?_

'I got lost.' Meliphyre admits.

_An Eternal... got lost._ Stacie starts smirking. _An Eternal got lost._

'No need to rub it in...' Meliphyre mutters.

_Oh, I'm not. It's just that folklorists and theologians the galaxy over are going to have /aneurysms/ when they hear an Eternal can be lost..._ Stacie's smirk gets bigger.

Meliphyre glares at her. 'That's /all/ I need...'

'So where were you going?' Laura asks.


'If you were lost, you must've been going somewhere.'

Meliphyre sighs. She can tell she's not getting out of this one... it wasn't that long ago /she/ was the one with the irritating questions.

'I was going to meet up with my sisters. But-' she glares at Stacie. 'I got lost on the way. Got trapped in your AI's matrix.'

_Hmm..._ Stacie says. This's interesting. That an Eternal can get trapped in an AI matrix... She knows better than to ask Meliphyre just /how/ it trapped her... but she can guess.

'Wait... are you saying Laura and Fitz just got transported here from the 21st century?'

_They fell out of a window._

'Huh?' Meliphyre says. 'I thought you said "they fell out of a window".'

_They did._

'...and ended up in your CEO's project?' Meliphyre says. '/Why/ did they fall out of a window?'

_They were cornered. According to Fitz, it seemed like the only way to go._


Stacie frowns. Interesting. Both took place simultaneously. They arrived here, at around the same time Meliphyre got trapped - well, the same time I started building the AI. An Eternal gets trapped in my AI, round about the same time my boss turns into the Vortex Angel...

_How exactly did you get lost?_

'Interstitial turbulence.'


'There was...' Meliphyre struggles for the right words. 'Turbulence. I hit turbulence in the higher dimensions, and by the time I came out...'

_You'd ended up here._ Stacie says. _I'm not surprised. Given the temporal and spatial distortions around the place, I'd have been surprised if there /wasn't/ any turbulence._

It's Meliphyre's turn to frown. 'How did Laura teleport your boss?'

_Yes. I'd been wondering that myself._

Laura looks up at the two of them. 'Cammy did it.'

'Who's Cammy?'

'She's a friend.' Laura says.

Stacie can guess why Laura's being so reticent. Imaginary friend. If she was told enough times that Cammy was an imaginary friend... why bother telling anyone? They won't believe she's real.

But Stacie does. Something - or someone - teleported Angela... and Laura isn't a psychic teleporter, her scans would have picked that up. They'd have picked up a teleporting device, too.

Any /standard/ teleporting device. But a non-standard method...?

Hmm. Does Fitz know who - or what - this Cammy is?

Stacie's not a telepath, not in the strictest sense of the word - someone who can read others' minds at a distance. She doesn't usually regret that. Now she does.

And, she admits to herself, the reason she didn't go that far was so that /some/ things would still be a surprise to her. Ironic, huh?

She is a mind-speaker - someone who could speak into others' minds at a distance. She'd built clairaudience - the ability to listen at a distance - into the package. But people felt stupid speaking into thin air, so she'd happily acquiesced to using comms.

She'd had her reasons. They seemed like good ones at the time.

They always did, she reflects.


_Hello, Cammy._

Meliphyre's jaw drops open.

Laura's face goes white.

And there /is/ another mind there. Not one in this space, in these four dimensions, but elsewhere... somewhere /else/.

Some/thing/ else.

Not human.


Laura looks /spooked/.

_I can speak to her._ Stacie says.

'S... She, she knows.' Laura whispers. 'She /knows/.'

_Can she talk to us?_ Stacie asks.


_Does she /want/ to talk to us?_

Stacie holds up a hand. Meliphyre stands back.

Laura tips her head. 'Not wants... Not wants.

'Stand back.'

Something blurs.

Something now fills the corridor.

A twisting, bending of the human form. Something built of metal, of slime.


A technodemon.


Meliphyre starts dry-heaving onto the floor.

Stacie can feel the bile rising in her throat.

run, run. run, it's coming, it's after you, it wants you

She wants to /run/, as far as she can.

Away from this. Away from /her/.

Anywhere, it doesn't matter, just /away/, get away, get /away/...

She closes her eyes.

The image is still there, against her eyelids.

_You wanted to talk?_


_All right._

>I am Cammy. It is... it is the closest transliteration of my name into a pronounceable form. Laura is my... my anchor to this plane, this reality, as I am hers. We are bound, anchored... what hurts her, hurts me. What hurts me hurts her - not intentional, not deliberate, a result of our anchoring, our sharing.<

_What you take in, Laura does. What she does, you do._

>We share our sensations.< Cammy says. >We share what we feel. Laura can use my senses, as I use hers.<

_But not your voice or body._

>No. Our connection... does not reach that level.< Cammy's voice hesitates. >You... were speculating about Laura's teleportation. It... it is a skill my people develop, a reflex. Cutting a hole between two... two spaces, enabling us to cross great distances in seconds. The hole seals up afterwards. Quick and brutal.<

_You have spatial senses._ Stacie says.

She can't see it, can only guess, but Cammy nods. >We arrived in your time... both Laura and I were dormant, unaware, at that point. And then... Laura felt something, something /wrong/ with the space around us. Something reaching /into/ our space.<

'The Vortex Angel.' Meliphyre says.

>In a sense.< Cammy says. >A presence, something alien to my kind and yours. A sentience that was... /other/. I had to see, to know... and, if necessary, banish it.<

'You didn't.' Meliphyre says.

>No.< Cammy agrees. >No, I didn't. I /might/ have been able to...<

Stacie shudders at the implications of that 'might'.

>I think... I think it was...< Cammy hesitates again. >I don't know. A presence in the Endless Real, reaching into this Real. I think... I think it has brought us to the border of the Endless Real _ what my kind know as the Passing Strange.<

Stacie considers this. It seems true enough.

>But Angela made a promise.< Cammy says. >She will keep her word. Things will be all right.<


Cammy's voice is quiet. >She told Laura. And... it /wasn't/ what your CEO was hoping to call.<

Stacie's eyes widen. _WHAT?!_

>He was trying to call something else. But the presence - the Vortex Angel - answered instead.<

_The CEO was trying to invoke something?_ Stacie says, in astonishment. _The CEO wanted to summon something up?_

>There's a saying... Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Its corollary states that any suffienciently advanced magic is indistinguishable from technology. Relative to /any/ given culture, there reaches a point where the two are indistinguishable. Whether he attempted to call something using magic, or was trying to send a signal through the Endless Real... the result was the same.<

'He invoked the Vortex Angel.' Meliphyre says.

_And we ended up here._ Stacie surmises.

>Yes.< Cammy says. >We did.<

There is a blur.

And Laura is back in Cammy's place.

Stacie looks around. _You know what bothers me most about this place?_


_It's a perfectly normal temple. It's perfectly normal._


_Look. This is where the shrine would be in an ordinary temple._

Stacie opens the door.

'By the Matrix...' Meliphyre whispers.

It's a perfectly normal shrine.

But at the opposite end of the shrine, where an idol or eternal flame would stand...

...there is a pedestal.

And hanging above the pedestal is a sphere.

At first glance, it seems pure black.

Look closer, and colours can be seen - colliding, sweeping, swirling together. Eternally shifting.

Look closer still, and you can see /their/ component colours.

Further, and further, and further...

Deeper, deeper, deeper...

Every level providing the colours of the level above. Every level composed of still more colours, the colours of the level below.

On into infinity.

'The Vortex...' Meliphyre whispers. 'This is a temple to the Vortex.'

Stacie realises what she's hearing.

Words on the edge of hearing. A distant crowd talking. If she strains a little more, she could make out the voices...

_/Her/ temple._ she breathes. _This is her temple._

You always were the brighter one.

_Angela?_ Stacie looks around.


'Are you the Vortex Angel?'


The voice sounds ...disconcerted.

I am... this is... worship, this is a place of worship...

Come in, both of you.

Stacie turns around.

Laura stands in the door, not moving.

Please, the voice says. You will be safe. Angela gave you her word.

Laura closes her eyes, and steps inside.

Her eyes open, and she looks around, eyes wide in awe.

This... this is the temple of the Vortex. the voice says. It was... it came to mind, somewhere to come to. The children of the Vortex... It gathers itself.

Safe. Somewhere safe. Somewhere to rest.

Return - return soon enough. Somewhere safe.

Angela's home, no... watching, they'll be watching, as best they can. Quietly, unobtrusively, they'll be watching. An Eternal, too. But you know how to outthink them, Stacie. Somewhere safe, away from Neo-Edo... Freeport, enough chaos there, maybe...

'Are you all right?'

Right, maybe... webs forming, breaking, all over the place. Matrices.

I know where.

The web forming. 2001, 3801, 5601.

Waking, wanting to wake something. Woke... I came awake. Aware? Awake...

I know. I can see.

Angela not dead. Angel not dead.




Decided. Decided now. Could think, could relax.

Chance. Always chance.

Sleeping, sleeping - trying to wake something.

It was /always/ chance.

A future legend. A past story.

'What-' Laura begins.

'Sleeping... it's sleeptalking. Babbling.' Meliphyre turns around in a circle. 'It's still asleep.'


_Whatever this is a temple to._ Stacie says.

Space and time, folded and folded again. Shapes and patterns, I can see them - we can see them.

The Emperor's Sword stolen. The Player arrives. A suitcase that holds the key to the Galaxy.

I can see it.

An Eternal who had her wish granted. A Magical Girl who calls the storm. Future tourists.

Yin and Yang, sisters bound together. Celestial Ministers...

I can see it.

/I can see it!/


And then there is silence.

'What was /that/ about?'

_A... A nightmare, I think._ Stacie whispers. _We walked into someone's nightmare. Something's nightmare. Seeing... seeing something._

'It - she - said something about safety. Returning us somewhere safe...?' Meliphyre says, fear catching at her voice.

Stacie nods. _And then we'd better see about getting Fitz and Laura-_


The trio spin.

Leaning against the door is a tall, thin figure, almost buried in his coat.

'Got to...' He takes a deep breath. 'Got to call...'

He shakes himself. 'I need a rest.'

'We all do.' Meliphyre says fervently.

'Anyone know a good bar?'

Stacie frowns. _Hmm._

Something's not right...

The CEO - her CEO - is trying to contact something, to wake something. He woke the Vortex Angel... what's going to stop him from trying again?

And then there's why the Vortex Angel manifested...

>She gave her word. It's going to be okay.<

What brought Fitz and Laura to their time period? What about Meliphyre? The young Eternal was trying to get to her sisters...

And this temple... She looks around her.

Whatever was here has sunk back into sleep, deep sleep.

Things to deal with across time and space.

But Fitz is right. They need a rest. If they had the time...

Where to go. They have to go back sometime.

_Oh, what the Tarkna. Let's just get a drink._

'Great.' Fitz says. 'Any idea how? I haven't seen an exit 'round this place...'

_Let's get back to my lab._ Stacie says. _If whatever it was was right about getting us back somewhere safe, I want my lab there too..._

'Whatever what /what/ was?'

The journey back to the lab is spent explaining - or, looked at from a certain perspective, confusing - things even further.


Once the others are back in the lab, Stacie sets about examining Angela's unconscious body, still prone on the floor where she collapsed.

'How is she?' Fitz asks over Stacie's shoulder.

'Uh...Mm, no... not today...'

Angela takes a deep breath. Then another.

And she brings herself up into a sitting position.

'Nn... Ah. Ah... Everyone... everyone okay?'

_We're fine, Ang._ Stacie says. _How are you?_

'Better. Still the Vortex Angel, though...' Angela says, a wry smile on her face. 'Still me. Still the Angel. Not much I can do about that...'

_Mm. I guessed._

Stacie frowns.

She's been doing that a lot, she knows. This time, it seems worth it.

Where to go? To start this?

Not Iownu. Not yet. They'll have started redesigning the security systems, be on the watch for them - and she's just too tired to care about that at the moment. And there'll be a watch on Angela's apartment - she'd be astounded if there weren't.

A retreat into the past? She drums her fingers. It would get Fitz and Laura home... but even the systems of /that/ period would be able to track them - or Fitz, at any rate, and themselves by extension. And she doesn't want to get into what's hounding /them/.

She clicks her fingers. She knows /exactly/ where.

A reputable mad scientist /always/ has another base.

There is a feeling of affirmation.

And the world shatters-


_It'll be no problem_ Stacie is saying. _I put it near a population centre... even mad scientists want takeout sometimes. Anyway, it'll be fine._

'So where are we?'

The base's door opens on a beach.

Stacie facefaults. _I don't believe it. I just do /not/ believe it.._

'What?' Laura says, trying to see through the others' legs.

Stacie gestures. _They've only gone and built a damn /tourist trap/ next to my base!_

'A /tourist trap/?' Meliphyre echoes.

Angela looks over her sunglasses. 'You knew it had to happen sometime, Stace.'

_Damn cheapskate lawyer..._ Stacie mutters.

Angela stares over her glasses. 'Oh no.'

'Oh no? What oh no?'


_...Those are State Troopers._ Stacie says. _And /those/, unless I've lost track of things altogether, are Alliance Navy uniforms._

'Stacie, remind me. Who in the Galaxy is important, or infamous, enough to merit both the State Army of a planet /and/ the Alliance Navy?'

_A member of the Imperial Family._ Stacie says.

'A member of the /what/?!' Fitz squeaks.

Stacie continues to study the hotel. _Hmm. None of the Emperor's bodyguard - not him, himself, then._

'Still on the Homeworld.' Angela says.

_Or the Crown Princess..._ Stacie considers. _Probably one of the younger ones, then._

'Stacie... remember the penalty for trespassing on a member of the Imperial Family's holidays?'

Stacie winces. _Ooh yeah._

'This isn't good.' Meliphyre observes.

'Got it in one, Eternal One.' Angela says.


'Stacie-sama?' Fitz repeats. 'She calls her /Stacie-sama/?'

'Well, she /does/ have a large number of soldiers behind her...' Meliphyre has her fingers crossed behind her back.

'With big lasers.' Fitz observes.

'And very, very unhappy expressions on their faces...' Angela is keeping her arms where they can see them. 'I think we can let her get away with it...'

_C-Can't breathe..._

'Oops. Sorry.'

The young girl steps back. 'Where've you been?!'

_ I went to work in the private sector._ Stacie says. _Excuse me. This is my boss, Angela Cooper, and my associates, Melanie Phyre and Fitz Fortune. And this is Laura Phyre - she's Melanie's younger sister. Child care policy, you understand._

_Oh. Forgive me._

Stacie bows.

The others follow her lead.

The young girl looks distinctly uncomfortable. 'Stacie...'

_It /is/ Imperial protocol._ Stacie says.

'I'm not even the /heir/!' the girl bursts out.

_But you /are/ an Imperial Princess._ Stacie says, still not looking up.

'Oh no...' the girl says.

There is the sound that comes from a platoon of troops switching off the safety catches on their lasers - a sound unique in the Universe.

'On your word, Lady Katarina.' the officer says.

Katarina closes her eyes. '/No/, Captain. You are /not/ doing an Imperial salute.'


'Captain, do you want me to use my important voice?'

'No, milady.' The Captain backs down, distinctly unhappy.

'Sorry...' Katarina looks embarrassed. 'They've been trying to do the whole ceremonial bit every time I go out, it's getting /really/ irritating, and Dad insisted I keep them around... Oh. Oh, the punishment for trespassing.' She thinks about this. 'Oh yes. Spending the whole holiday with me. Better come on, then.'

Fitz can't quite believe his ears. 'Sorry?'

'One of Great-Grandad's saner laws.' Katarina explains, as they set off. 'He /loathed/ the Imperial holiday, so whenever a trespasser turned up, he'd have them brought to him so he could gripe about everything - the weather, the food, the air, the inhabitants, the accommodation... By the time the holiday was over, they'd happily throw themselves out of the airlock rather than listen to another word...'

_That, and getting our faces plastered across the Galaxy..._ Stacie says.

Fitz facefaults. 'Oh, /brilliant/...'

With that ringing endorsement in their ears, the troops hustle them away.




With thanks to BKWillis, who inspired some of the background elements.

Angela Cooper - Anji. Cammy and Laura - Compassion. Fitz Fortune - Fitz Princess Katarina - Katarina Meliphyre - Mel Bush. Stacie - Stacy Townsend.


Copyright 2001 Imran Inayat