Saturday, October 12, 2019

Source Variant: Hat Tricks (Part IV)

After Vearden!Two healed fully from his injuries, he opened a door to grab a snack from the kitchen, and found himself two hundred years in the future. Saga!Three and Zektene followed a few hours later when they were searching for him throughout the Maramon lab. Ramses was left in the past, and whatever had happened to him in the last couple centuries, he was no longer in the facility. There was no evidence that he died here alone, so perhaps he decided to leave.
“What are we doing back here?” Saga!Three asks.
“I don’t know,” Vearden!Two admits. “I can sometimes walk through a door on purpose, but I wouldn’t have in this case. The powers that be created that one. We have to figure out why, I guess.”
“It surely has something to do with the Gondilak,” Zektene assumes. “We need to find out what they’ve been up to all this time; how they’ve developed.”
“We won’t be able to get very close,” Saga!Three warns them. “Seeing a clearly intelligent species that doesn’t look anything like them could seriously disrupt their culture, especially at this early stage in their development.”
“Maybe we could dress up like them?” Vearden!Two suggests.
“You mean, like makeup?”
“Yeah,” Vearden!Two says. “Have you seen what some makeup artists can do? They’re amazing.”
“Yeah, you’re right,” Saga!Three agrees. “So let’s open a door, and find one of them. We’ll have to make sure they have the right equipment. We’ll tell them it’s for the Gondilak, and since they know what Gondilak are, they’ll know exactly which colors to use.”
“Okay, well, you don’t have to be snarky about it.”
“Sorry, it’s just...it would be a good idea if we had all the resources we needed, but we’re pretty limited here.”
“I can help with that.” A woman they don’t recognize suddenly appears before them, right where they had heard her voice.
“Hello,” Vearden!Two greets her. “You can make us invisible?”
“I can,” the woman confirms. “Sometimes you’ll want to be invisible, and sometimes you’ll want to look like a, uhh...”
“Gondilak,” Zektene assists.
“Gondilak,” she echoes. “I can give you the ability to do either one.”
“Great,” Saga!Three says. “I assume you know who we are, but we don’t know who you are.”
“Actually, I don’t know her.” The woman indicates Zektene.
“Hi, I’m Zektene. I’m from another universe.”
“Oh, cool. I’m Alyssa McIver. I work primarily with Mateo and Leona Matic, but many centuries in the past.”
“How many centuries?”
“You wanna know what year it is,” Alyssa guesses.
“By the human calendar,” Vearden!Two says. “Yes.”
“Which humans?”
“On Earth,” Saga!Three specifies.
“I’m kidding. I knew what you meant. It’s three-six-four-one by the calendar you’re familiar with.” Hm, that’s interesting. They must start a new calendar sometime in the future. Alyssa looks around. “I have four hats.”
“Oh, fun.” Saga!Three says, not sure what that has to do with anything, but wanting to be understanding. “Do you like hats?” That might have been a little condescending.
“That wasn’t a non sequitur,” Alyssa claims. “The hats will give you my ability to create illusions.”
“Oh, okay.” Saga!Three takes a beat. “Oh, you probably mean Ramses. Yeah, he’s not here. We don’t know what happened to him.”
Alyssa removes a notepad from her back pocket. It was the same brand that Vearden!Two remembers Mateo always using to keep track of the people he encountered on his travels. She flips back and forth through it, looking for the right page. “Vearden!Two. Saga!Three. Ramses Abdulrashid. One other unnamed individual, that’s probably you.” She points at Zektene with both hands, still attached to her notepad.
“I hope he’s okay,” Saga!Three says, concerned.
“Is he salmon?” Alyssa questions.
“He’s human. I think.”
“Then the powers that be have no control over his movements.” Alyssa scratches his name out of her notes.”
“Well, they have no control over me,” Zektene points out, “but I’m here.”
“Lucky you.” She removes a hat from her bag, and hands it to her. “You look like a cowgirl.”
Zektene takes the hat and shrugs.
Alyssa takes out one of those brown helmet things ancient Europeans used to wear when they went off to explore Africa. She hands that to Saga!Three, and then gives Vearden!Two a mask.
“A baklava?” he asks with a funny face.
Alyssa shakes her head. “No.”
“These are gonna turn us into Gondilak?” Zektene asks.
“Yes, they operate on psychic energy, so when you need to change forms, just think about it. You could theoretically look like whatever you wanted, as long as you have a good enough idea of what it looks like, and it already exists somewhere, at some time. You couldn’t, for instance, make yourself look like a taco that poops ice cream, because that’s completely made up. My power is still time-based, like all others. All you’re doing is taking someone from another point in spacetime, and making it look like they’re standing in the same point you are.”
They nod. It makes perfect sense. It’s weird, there’s no denying, but it does make sense. They’ve all seen enough special abilities to accept the logic behind any new one they learn about. “No ice cream-crapping tacos. Got it.” Vearden!Two nods again.
“This is all you got?” Saga!Three asks her. She isn’t a very vain person, but this looks ridiculous, and will probably look worse when it’s on her.
“Sorry,” Alyssa replies. “I gave all the normal hats to...um, never mind.”
“Well, what’s the fourth one?” Vearden!Two asks. “The one you were gonna give to Ramses.”
Alyssa removes a fourth piece of headgear from her bag. They stare at it a moment.
“Oh, hell no.”
“Cool. Then we’re good. I gotta go now.”
“Wait,” Vearden!Two stops Alyssa before she can blip away, or whatever it is she’s going to do. “How are Mateo and Leona?”
Alyssa smiles. “Does it matter? The next time you see them could be long before, or long after, the last time I saw them.”
“It does matter,” Vearden!Two argues.
“They’re fine,” Alyssa answers. “That was eleven hundred years ago, though. Who knows where they are now?”
“Thank you for your help,” Saga!Three says to her graciously. “Hopefully you’re not a bad guy pretending to be good.”
Alyssa transforms herself to look like a legit bad guy named The Cleanser. But she keeps her original voice, which suggests this was now the illusion. “Yeah, hopefully.” With that, she disappears.
“Are you still here?” Zektene asks the aether.
“There’s no way to know,” Saga!Three reminds her, which Zektene fully understands.
Vearden!Two is fidgeting with his mask, looking for circuitry, or other signs of it being more that a piece of cloth cut a certain way.
“You meant balaclava,” Zektene explains to him as she places the cowgirl hat on her own head.
“Yeah, that’s the word.” He slips it onto his face and adjusts for comfort.
Following suit, Saga!Three puts on her helmet. “Anyone know exactly what this thing is called?”
“Nope.”
“Anybody know what the hell they’re doing?” Zektene asks. She spins the hat around her head, presumably to see if she can activate it somehow.
“We’re just meant to think about being invisible,” Saga!Three says.
“Wait, are we sure we want that?” Vearden!Two questions. “Maybe we want to blend in with them by looking like them.”
“Do you speak Gondilak?”
“Actually, a little,” Vearden!Two replies proudly. “I can say...Dandavo Dali Dali.”
Zektene chuckles. “We all learned that one.”
“Besides,” Saga!Three says, “that’s Maramon. We don’t know that these people speak the same language as their progenitors.”
“Oh!” Vearden!Two remembers. “Ked rihl. That means pipe dream. Or maybe more like yeah, right. Or maybe that was the Orothsew language. Oh yeah, it was.”
“Okay, so—” Saga!Three tries to get back to the task at hand.
“Treda!” Vearden!Two exclaims.
“What?”
“That means human,” Vearden!Two adds. “It’s what the Gondilak called me.”
“That’s the last word we want to say to them,” Saga!Three complains.
“And it’s only one word,” Zektene adds. “We wouldn’t be able to hold a conversation. Maybe we can learn their language in time, but we should be invisible to do it.”
“Exactly,” Saga!Three agrees. “So everyone, just think about not being seen.”
“No, that’s not it,” Zektene disagrees. “Alyssa said we’re not really turning invisible. We’re just making it look like something is in our place. What we have to do is show the Gondilak what the area were standing in would look like if we weren’t in it.”
“Is that different than what she said?” Vearden!Two asks.
“It is,” Saga!Three says. “She’s right. We should look around behind us, take in our surroundings, and then command our hats to present that to others.”
“Okay.”
Vearden!Two shakes out his arms and legs to prepare. Zektene starts to breathe in and out methodically. Saga!Three closes her eyes, and tries to lower her heart rate. When she opens them again, the other two are gone. “Hello?”
“I’m still here,” Vearden!Two says. “Where did you guys go?”
“I’m standing where I was,” Zektene answers.
“We can’t even see each other?” He asks, frustrated.
“She said we have a psychic link with our respective hat,” Saga!Three begins, “but we’re not mind-controlling other people. We can’t see each other, because there’s nothing to see.” She tries to wave her hands in front of her face. “I can’t even see myself.”
Vearden!Two looks down at where his own body should be. “Ah, crap.”
“Not used to people not being able to gaze upon your magnificence, are you?” Zektene teases.
He decides to lean into the joke. “I don’t like to deprive people.” He’s largely considered to be the most attractive time traveler in the underworld, and he can’t help but know this. Other people don’t really let him forget it.
They spend the next hour practicing their use of the magic hats. They transform themselves into various forms. They start simple, conjuring the images people they know, like Ramses and Alyssa herself. Then they get a little more creative by looking like fire hydrants, and two moose chillin next to each other under a tree. They even discover that they don’t have to be inside the illusions themselves. They can create one on the other side of the room, and still appear as normal people in funny hats.
It’s not until they’re confident in their abilities, and are about to go out and field test the technology, that they realize they don’t know why they’re doing this. When they go and observe the Gondilak, what are they looking for? Are they expected to take notes about their behavior and habitat, like a conservationist would? Will they be going into people’s homes, and watching them in their private moments? What is the point of all this? Their question may have to wait, however. As soon as Saga!Three opens the exit door, they see a mirror image of their own lab staring back at them.
“Is this someone’s illusion?”
“No,” the other two answer in unison.
“I think we’re going to the future. Again.”
She’s right. The door sends them another two hundred years in the future. After they close the door again, and then try to walk back through it, there’s another mirror image. Except now they see themselves on the other side, like a real mirror. Vearden!Two walks through, and simultaneously reappears going the opposite direction. They’re stuck here, but why?

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