((Mostly, I needed a place to put this, and outside a bit of cameo, this has nothing to do with CoH, fair warning
“It seems so very sudden and unexpected.”
Fiona nodded mutely as old woman patted her hand in some small token of comfort. She queried the Major telepathically for her name and title. :::Who is she?:::
Major Sir James Aston tried not to show his discomfort, for as disconcerting as he found the experience he knew what Fiona was going through was worse. :::Lady Marcella Montgomery :::
he thought at her.
Fiona smiled slightly. “It was Lady Montgomery, it truly was. Thank you for coming.”
Lady Montgomery gave a gracious smile herself and signaled for her chauffeur to escort her to her waiting car. Under the typical leaden English sky, Fiona was grateful for the social deference that meant she had to endure no more than the occasional hand pat as the guests filed past.
Morgana Elaine Grey, the Duchess of Marlborough, former spy for the British Empire and public facade for elements of SIS lay buried next to her long since passed husband. Marcella Montgomery’s words echoed the sentiments of both Fiona and the Major. There had been no sickness and no foul play, the Duchess had passed away in her sleep during a mid afternoon nap between speaking engagements. There had been no time to undo the identity of Fiona as the Duchess’s granddaughter and the situation had caused a ripple of uncertainty to flow through the agents and projects that called the Duchess’s home headquarters. To move as planned, or stay as the law stood to declare one of their own as heir.:::Is it socially acceptable to go now?:::
The strain was evident to the Major in Fiona’s mental voice and bearing. Audibly he cleared his throat and stepped out in front of her. “Lady Fiona, I think it would be best to get you home, I know this has been a trying day for you.” Fiona gratefully let him usher her out from the gloomy graveyard as the remaining attendees gave her pitying looks.
Once safety escorted into the waiting car, Fiona let out a shuddering breath and the Major made sure to give her plenty of space. “Its our car,” he clarified, meaning the chauffeur was part of SIS and precautions had been taken to prevent spying on the people inside of it. Fiona nodded absently. “What a bloody nightmare...”
“Its not ideal, that’s true, but you are not in a terrible position.” Fiona gave him a level gaze. The Major sighed. “Now I know you don’t like it, but there isn’t much danger in the story coming apart is what I meant. The Duchess, and the former Duke for that matter, have no legitimate heirs to challenge you for her estate, and your professed status as a granddaughter born out of wedlock gives you no claim to the title.”
“You say that, but British honor and all that, I’m going to end up with a courtesy title because whichever convoluted branch of the family does end up with the dukedom will feel I should get something. At this point there is no option of being an unknown and you can’t risk sending me out into the field.” The Major moved to respond but she continued. “Why on earth did you two cook up such a thing anyways? I’ve never asked but I could have been some random girl from London or Birmingham or even Liverpool and none of us would be in this mess.”
“Believe me Radiance, it was not my idea. For reasons of her own The Duchess insisted we use her son Edward as your father. I couldn’t very well say no.”
Fiona pondered this curiously. “Did she ever say why?”
“No,” The Major shook his head. “I inquired from time to time and was told she had her reasons. Sadly it seems she passed on before she could share them. You are one of the best agents I have and I dislike having to pull you from the field as much as you do. We both know there are some assignments you will continue due to your unique abilities, however.” Neither spoke of Section 818, some things were secrets among secrets.
The drive continued in silence as the car wound its way back to the estate of the late Duchess. The sky opened up, producing a dismal winter rain that matched Fiona’s mood just fine. Her attempt at some sort of life had been interrupted by one assignment after another, giving her only timelapse snapshots about the lives of her acquaintances and friends. Organizations gone, relationships changed, people killed in the spaces between her visits. Most were gone now, dead, vanished, retired, left for parts unknown. She was used to being alone, it was somewhat disappointing but just a minor concern. She had been promised leave for several months, and was just familiarizing herself with the new faces and new organizations in the city of Millennium when news arrived of the death of Duchess Grey. And now her entire career and life were being thrown out of balance because of the whims of one old woman.
No one bothered her as the car pulled into the drive. The Major’s look made it clear to direct the questions to him and leave Radiance alone. Out from under the eyes of others, Fiona made her way deep into the house and to her own flat set aside years ago, softly lit, overfull of books, and warm thanks to the forethought of someone to have lit a fire in the fireplace. She moved to put on the kettle in the kitchenette only to find someone had thoughtfully done so. Gratefully she added the hot water and tea to the waiting teapot before getting out of the black dress and heels and into grey sweatpants and tank top.
She had had quite enough of people for a month let alone a day. She was better, it was true, but the attention and press of a hundred people focusing on her was almost too much to bear. Stopping at a familiar bottle on the sideboard, Fiona poured herself a double shot of scotch and knocked it back, a pleasant warmth filling her as she crawled into the waiting overstuffed armchair, pulling her feet up underneath the blankets and pouring a cup of tea. As always, there were stacks of books at the ready to be picked through and so the letter upon one such stack went unnoticed until several hours later when the tea was gone and Fiona started to think about dinner so put the book she was reading down. It was on nice paper and wax sealed, and it certainly hadn’t been there the day before. With trepidation, she opened it and began to read.Dearest Radiance,
It has been some time since we spoke last. In truth my disappointment in your potential allies has kept me busy devising contingency plans to save what’s needed from your reality from what will inevitably come to pass. Certain choices have a resonance however, a potential to affect things far beyond their apparent scope, and one of them lies before you though I suspect it has not been offered as of yet.
From time to time when in deep thought you find yourself within a strange scene, an unknown beach under a blue sky, with a white deck with chairs and two glasses of scotch, an old piano sits in a room behind large windows . I do not know how you explain it to yourself, daydream, illusion, imagination perhaps, but rest assured it does exist in a manner of speaking, and should you find your way there sometime in the coming days, it would be a beneficial experience.
Fiona read it over twice, and promptly subjected it to all the tests she knew for fingerprints, trace evidence, and teleportation residual impressions. Whoever 11 was, they left no evidence of themself. More than a little disturbed, she found it impossible to not think about the strange scene that 11 described so accurately. It was true, she had thought it was some projection of some sort and not real. There were edges to the scene, in the room with the piano there was a archway but the scene seemed to end at it, simply fading to gray rather than showing another room. The beach seemed to go on forever but she had walked along the coast for a time and found herself having come full circle despite the porch always visible behind her on her left until it was suddenly in front of her. The ice cubes in the glasses of scotch never moved or melted, and a sip didn’t seem to affect the volume of liquid in the glass. It was altogether unsettling and she had made a conscious effort to catch herself before she got too engrossed in thought to end up there.
An explanation of this strange phenomenon was reason enough to tempt her to seek it out, albeit cautiously. The implication of help dealing with a future choice decided it however. Her current situation was ripe for choices with deep ramifications for SIS and herself personally. Looking down at herself, she sighed. It wouldn’t do to face whatever would happen in sweats and on an empty stomach. Shower, dinner, then she would go looking.
Hours later Fiona sat crosslegged on the floor, dressed in the loose black and white pants that resembled the bottom of the jumpsuit she had arrived in and the corset-like top and arm length gloves that made up the closest thing she had to a uniform. Her breathing was steady and even as she began meditation exercises, willing herself to shut out the outside world and let her mind wander into a complex problem. After a time, the feel of the floor changed and she cautiously opened one eye. The beach with its still waters was there, but this time, she wasn’t alone. Standing on the deck was a man. He looked to be in his 50s, a graying ponytail hung down his back and he was dressed much like she had been when she had literally fallen into the world. Instead of a one piece jumpsuit his outfit was a pair of loose pants like her own, and a robe with the same loose black banded white sleeves. He turned as she studied him, defenses at their fullest.
He frowned, and sighed. “What an irritating little quirk that still is...dearest Radiance I may not be able to find you exactly, but I felt the bubble of this scene flex to admit someone, and the only other living person who can access this space knows me by sight. I am sure you are bright enough to have deduced who I must be by now, however.”
Fiona dropped the ability that let people ignore her and walked toward the deck. “11.”
He simply nodded and waited for her to walk up the stairs to the deck. “You have many questions you would like me to answer.”
She wasn’t sure where she should start. This man knew where she came from, what this place was, maybe more. She started from the top. “Who am I?”
“You asked who, but you mean what. You know who you are, you are Radiance, or Fiona, or whatever number that agency of yours has given you. You want to know what you are.”
She looked at him. “I’m an ECHO. I know quite well what I am, thank you.”
He seemed surprised at this. “Well now. That’s interesting that you are aware of what that is. Very well then, why. That is the crux of it I suppose.”
“I suppose it is.”
11 shrugged. “You were created by accident by someone who tried to do something they were not yet capable of doing correctly. An unintended consequence. And yet, you appear in a place where there was a vacuum and altered the course of a handful of very key people in your reality. Coincidence seems unlikely.”
Fiona frowned. “I don’t believe in fate.”
11 studied her for a moment. “No, I don’t believe you do. All the same, you do make a good case for it.”
This man was beginning to irritate her. “What is this place? Why do I see it? What choice do I have to make and why is talking to you beneficial for it? Who are you anyway?”
“You see it because you share a connection with the one who this space belongs to, it is her own sanctuary out of time and space. The choice is about your future and its not for talking to me that I drew you here, its to talk to her. I am 11, I am the one who is trying to save people and worlds, and to that end I have watched over her, and you, and many others and done what I can to ensure there is a future for all of you. Does that answer you sufficiently?”
Stunned, Fiona said nothing, trying to grasp the implications of his words. This space belonged to Big Sis, a product of her somehow, and 11 intended for Fiona to meet her. A stray thought crossed her mind. “Is there...some sort of reaction, if her and I are in the same spot?”
11 shook his head. “You are derived from her, but you are separate. If you were not, you would never have come into being in the first place. Nothing physically untoward will happen. To my knowledge no one has ever met their own ECHO, or source, in your case, so I make no claims as to your mental states. Her will has been forged and tempered strong and you inherit it however, so I have faith you both can handle it.”
Quite unexpectedly, Fiona felt a tautness, as if from somewhere in front of her someone was pulling on the world around her. She looked to 11 who simply held up a hand as he looked down the rail of the porch. With a suddeness, the still scene became alive. Still waters turned to waves, and over the murmur of the surf Fiona heard the clink of ice cubes as they shifted in one of the glasses. A light cool breeze mollified the heat of the sun she could now feel as a pair of seagulls glided out into the distance overhead. A woman leaned on the railing facing the water, a pair of silver and black heels in her hand, her white dress shirt untucked from her black slacks and bowtie untied. Long red hair fell in unarranged large curls down her back and a sigh escaped her before she spoke. “I’m not in the mood 11, go away.”
“Oh I fully intend to leave you two alone momentarily, I am only here to make introductions.” he responded.
The woman turned and Fiona’s breath caught in her throat. It was one thing to know, but another to see your own face looking back at you. This woman’s eyes were a bright blue, and she wore a pair of glasses, ones that Fiona recognized as ones she had arrived with but didn’t need. For her own part the woman looked even more shocked than Fiona.
11 gestured to the woman, and then to Fiona herself. “Black Radiance, sometimes known as Roxy Acetylene, Radiance, sometimes known as Fiona Victoria Grey. As I said once, not a complete disaster.”
“Wait.. 11!” The woman, Roxy seemed to recall something before yelling but it was too late. 11 had vanished leaving the two of them alone. She turned back to look at Fiona and Fiona felt the brush of her mind as well, confused and cautious. “I suppose,” Fiona began, “that I should explain.”
“Somehow I think I’ll owe you more than that....” Roxy mused. Picking up the two glasses she took them over to the deck chairs and gestured for Fiona to sit. “I think we’ll both need a drink for this and I’m sure he won’t mind.”
Time was mutable Fiona knew but it was still disorienting when she finally opened her eyes in her flat. They had talked for hours, surely, her and Roxy, but it had only been ten minutes according to the clock. Time moved differently in her world and Roxy’s, neither knew if they would see each other again even if they visited the space between and so they talked of everything. Fiona understood so much more now, about herself, about what she could do, and about the people she had known, specifically a doctor with a weakness for redheads and a mage with wanderlust. She still had no memories, but she didn’t want them anymore, they rightfully were Roxy’s and Roxy’s alone, but she understood why she was how she was and it would help.
Get up, look forward, move on one day at a time and believe you can do anything you want to. That had been Roxy’s advice for Fiona. Advice earnestly given for as much apprehension Fiona had felt about what Big Sis would think of her after 11’s blunt explanation, Roxy had turned out to be completely accepting of her as a person and not an accident or a thing. Perhaps one created in a strange and unintended way, but all the same a person with a life to live. And so, life she would live Fiona had decided. It would change, that was true, but she would change with it. After all, if Roxy could do it, so could she. All the same, it had been the most mentally exhausting ten minutes of her life and change would have to wait until the morning.
Morning however was a long way off when Fiona was awakened by the mental knock of Straylight.
::: Radiance, sorry to wake you :::
Concern from Straylight instantly clicked Fiona’s alertness up several notches. Where she had been accused of being indifferent and cold because of her detachment, Straylight had been born without basic emotions like pain, fear, or joy and being raised by PSI hadn’t taught her anything like compassion or concern. For her to mention it even in parrot implied someone high enough in Section 818 to intimidate Straylight had told her to say it. The only possibilities that came to mind were titles, for she had never met faces or heard names that went with them. ::: Is there a mission? :::::: No. You are to prepare for remote teleportation in 2 minutes, 14 seconds at the request of The Director. End of message. :::
Fiona sat bolt upright in bed, eyes wide. Shock kept her there for a few moments before she scrambled out of it, mind racing. The only thing she knew about The Director were rumors and here-say, but one of them was you did not ever find The Director, The Director fetched you if it was needed and of the few known cases of someone being summoned, they were not seen again. Of course, Fiona knew that meetings could be going on left and right and no one speaking about it, but there was still a grain of fear sparked by it all as she dressed quickly and retrieved her guns. Nervously, she checked and rechecked everything about her in the last 30 seconds before the appointed time and wondered what was about to occur.
The teleport was unlike any she had felt before, there was no contact of a mind or feeling of movement or flash of light. It was much like being in a car passing by a station in the Underground, her surroundings seemed to blur and shift off to the right while she remained as she was, new surroundings coming into focus. A plush green carpet was underfoot in a wood panelled drawing room accented with copper hardware. A large bay window framed by deep amber colored drapes was to her left behind a desk, though it gave no hint as to her location as all she could see was darkness.
Without company in the room, Fiona was strongly tempted to explore it but protocol dictated that she remain where she was until addressed. Presently, a door opened off to her right, admitting a sandy haired man perhaps in his 40s dressed in a brown suit. “Ah Radiance! Good of you to come...” he trailed off as he walked across the room towards the desk and frowned. “Here now, what’s with the window?”
To her surprise, he rapped on it with his knuckles causing it to ripple. A disembodied voice muttered an apology and suddenly the darkness was replaced with a scene of rolling hills. The man nodded satisfactorily and took a seat behind the desk. “Yorkshire, lovely choice. At ease then, come and sit down.”
Fiona stared at the man and nodded belatedly, scanning the room for cameras and the mental scape for effects. To all her senses however the room felt just as it looked. “Sir, of course.”
“Ah, yes, you can skip the ‘sir’ing, makes me right nervous, that. Are you comfortable?” he inquired. Fiona shifted in her chair, and nodded. “Good, good, this multilevel overlay is designed to be comforting and inviting to all the senses...” Absently he messed with some things on the desk. She couldn’t help but notice the unease in his mental state. “You see...” he began haltingly. “We have a bit of a problem.”
Fiona’s expression remained impassive but a small wave of apprehension passed through her mind. “The Duchess, and that arrangement, were not my idea, or the Major’s-” The man waved her off. “Oh, no, no, not about that nonsense! If it was only that!” he chuckled. “No...no things have gone rather gone pear shaped around here and you are our best option. Though, I suppose one could make the other irrelevant...”
Fiona eyed him suspiciously. “How do you mean?”
“Well I suppose we’d better get to the heart of it then. I’m Dr. Sayers, head engineer for ARO, Alternate Reality Operations, Justine said you’d be the best. Truth is, there is no ‘The Director’. Not really anyways, its just a title used to keep agents on their toes. None of you ever listen to any of us research types. We all sort of take turns playing him or her.”
Fiona regarded him with a sinking feeling. “Alternate Reality Operations?”
“Ultra top secret, hush hush, based on your coming from somewhere else you know, we’ve been working with the best minds we have for years on it, finding and cataloguing, hoping to travel to one. Not like other dimensions here but other timelines, its all terribly exciting. It started with a basic psi mesh, heavy on the clairvoyant index-”
He was starting to get technical and while she found it interesting Fiona had the sense that finding out what exactly had gone wrong sooner rather than later would be good. She moved to cut him off. “And the problem?”
“Oh, well....” Dr. Sayers fidgeted. “You see, we, ARO, achieved an STS, er, a Stable Transfer Shift, a few weeks ago. It opened to a fantastic city floating in the sky, preliminary observation showed it was promising. We prepared a team and sent them through, but-”
She sighed. “You lost them.”
He drummed on the desk with a hand. “In a manner of speaking.” Fiona simply waited. “It...the TS matrix only got one return signal and it was corrupt. The mesh of the signals caused match errors in the Nodes, which in turn made the matrix unstable and it collapsed with no shift occurring. We brought the matrix back up but there hasn’t been a signal in a week now.”
“And you want me to find and rescue this team somehow?” She was highly skeptical.
Fiona blinked, not expecting that answer. “What?”
“Its not a question of us rescuing them, they have to initiate a signal and we will be here to receive it if it comes. They were agents like you ready to put their lives on the line, and if they have sacrificed them, it needs to not be in vain. No, we are not proposing rescue....we need someone to continue our work, someone to travel to other places.” He looked very somber and his thoughts had turned dark.
“Look Radiance, I’ll be frank with you. Our world is coming apart at the seams. You’re out there, you know, Justine said you’d been to Millennium a few times even. You survived a cross reality transfer once, right? If anyone stands a chance of holding the matrix return signature in their mind and getting back here once they leave its you. We need to find someplace to go, before its too late, and that means sending someone through to investigate the possibilities. Its not legal, its quite possibly unethical regarding other realities, and above all else it can’t become public knowledge, but its the right choice. That’s why its 818 after all.”
He looked Fiona in the eye and she could tell he was serious. 11’s comments about saving people before the inevitable happened crossed her mind. “And who decides who goes and who stays?”
Dr. Sayers shook his head. “Assuming we could even convince anyone to leave the hope is we could find someplace welcoming to as many as want of the non criminal sort. Its all conjecture and theory at this point though.”
A few minutes passed in silence as Fiona mulled over the implications. “Is this an order?”
“No.” Dr. Sayers put his elbows on the desk and laced his fingers together to rest his chin on them. “We can ask this of you, but we know you have been trying to live something like a normal life. With The Duchess dead and whatnot you have the opportunity to walk away from all of this for good and no one would blame you. Major Aston doesn’t know about this project or offer and likely never will unless we succeed, you could go back and be retired into to public relations or some government desk job and we could find someone else. Its your decision.”
“And if I accept?”
“Well, you will officially be listed as MIA, whereabouts unknown, and with all luck spend most your time in other realities?” Dr. Sayers half shrugged. He dug into a pocket and produced a flat disc of silvery metal which he set on the desk. “Here, we’ll put you back home, you sleep on it, imprint your response on this and send it back by tomorrow night.” Fiona nodded, taking it in hand.
At dawn, she was awake again, standing amidst the stacks of books in her living room and holding the silver disk now psychically imprinted, a raised mobius strip bisected, the symbol of Section 818 visible. There was only one decision to make now. Which books did one take to read in alternate realities?