Saturday, February 17, 2024

Starstruck: The Price of Doing Business (Part VII)

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Mirage stared at Honey for a moment. “You understand that I’m not human, right? I’m not going to die. When Lilac comes back into the timestream, I’ll be waiting.”
Honey shook her head, and sighed. “Your friend is not where you think she is.”
Mirage frowned, and darted her gaze back over to Ashlock, who held his hands up defensively. “Hey, I sent her to 2180, I promise.”
“He did,” Honey agreed. “My guy tracked her there, and sent her somewhere else. Don’t worry, she’s safe. All you need to do is hand me the stone, just as you promised.”
“Your prices are too high,” Mirage argued. “I took my business elsewhere. As a customer, I have the right to do that. You do not have a monopoly on time travel.”
“That may be,” Honey replied. “Why don’t you call the time police, and see what they say about it, hmm?” Time police didn’t exist. The closest equivalent was a prison that housed people who exposed the existence of time travelers to the general public. That was the only crime they cared about.”
“I’m going to find her,” Mirage assured Honey. “The only question is whether I kill you to do it, or not.”
“I think you’ll find that my husband and I are more difficult to kill than we look.”
Mirage was more than willing to test that claim, and that was the problem. She was created to be a killer, but she transcended that when a man of good heart taught her how to overcome her own programming. What would he do in this situation? He wouldn’t kill them, she knew that much, and he wouldn’t approve of her doing it either. He would find a way, and not because he was any smarter than his opponent, but because he had friends. He always won, because he always had friends. It was his greatest strength. “You’re never getting this homestone.”
“Then you’re never getting home,” Honey spit right back.
Mirage turned to walk down the concourse in the opposite direction.
“Wheh,” Honey exclaimed. She looked down at the buzzer. “That there pager’s yourn. You go more than ten meters from it, or leave realtime with it, you’re gonna start to feel a lot of pain. Even your kind can feel pain. We may look dumb, but we’re in the business of knowing things. Do not underestimate us. Even if you can take the agony, can your friend? She’ll feel it too from where she is.”
Mirage grabbed the pager. “I’m going down there, though.”
“That’s quite all right,” Honey told her. “You know where to find me when you’re ready to talk again.”
“I’m sorry,” Ashlock said.
“It’s fine, Ashlock. Go home and get sober.” She walked down to the post office.
Obviously, this was unlike any regular post office. This was here to send messages across time and space. Only The Courier had any power here, and he could go anywhere he wanted. He was so powerful, in fact, that while Mirage was in the Gallery dimension, she could detect that he existed, but could gather no information about him. He wasn’t a choosing one, but a salmon, which meant that he answered to the mysterious powers that be, though there was reportedly some leeway with that. “Hi. Dropping off, or picking up?” He spoke in a genuinely polite voice, unlike the Travel Agents.
“Mr. Patton, do you do read receipts?” Mirage asked him.
“Ah, I believe I know where you’re going with this. You’re looking for someone.” Apparently, he was smart too.
“She’s been taken.”
“I see. Well, normally, no, but I will make an exception if I can verify your relationship. Do you have an undoctored photo of yourself with the recipient?”
“I do not. We just met.” She could synthesize one, and he probably wouldn’t be able to tell that it was fake, but she wanted to be honest. She needed him on her side.
“Then, I’m afraid—”
“Wait, yes, I do.” She was being an idiot. All of her conversations were being recorded. She switched her eyes to output mode, and projected a hologram of them eating lunch together at Allen and Richard’s restaurant. Well, Lilac was eating anyway.
“You too look happy,” Ennis noted.
“Please, I have to find her. I don’t know how I’m going to get to her while I’m lugging this thing around, but...” She showed him the pager.
“Oh, I can take care of that.” He took the pager from her briefly, and flipped it over. He mouthed the serial number on it, then handed it back, and stepped through a door. While he was gone, the pager started to blink lights, vibrate, and play a little melody. As he was walking back out, the melody stopped. A few seconds later, the buzzing stopped as well, but the lights kept going. “There. Your waiting period is over. Now you can do whatever you want with it. Give it back, destroy it...”
Mirage crushed it to death with her bare hand. “Why could you do that?”
“That’s my partner, Susan’s technology. We just loan it out to the Travel Agents.”
“You are as kind of a man as I’ve been told. Though, it seems out of character for you to include a pain feature in such a thing.”
Ennis was taken aback. “There’s no pain. No, if you go too far from it, it will just follow you, and if you travel too far with it, its activation will send you back to the agency. All I did was reroute it to Susan’s control block. Jesus, is that what they told you, that it would hurt? We may need to reassess our business relationship with them.”
“They really want this homestone.” She showed that to him as well.
“I suppose I understand the appeal, but it’s no excuse for their behavior.”
“So, will you help us reunite, me and Lilac?”
“Well, if what you say is true, that she’s been taken by someone, I’m worried than any message I attempt to send will simply be intercepted. My birds have been killed by those who did not like the messages we delivered.”
“Then can you just...take me to her? I know you have that ability. You deliver large and heavy packages, don’t you?”
“I never take anything organic,” Ennis said apologetically. “That is a rule I refuse to bend, and I will  not explain why.”
Mirage cut into her lower arm, and peeled back the artificial skin that housed her non-organic android parts. The skin was alive, but she only used it to better blend in with regular people. “That’ll be fine.”
“I was wondering how you crushed that pager so easily.”
“Plus, my film projector eyes.”
“I thought that they were just advanced contact lenses.”  He inhaled deeply, and held it in for a long time. “Okay, I guess you are a walking exception, though I imagine you’re from a time when such a body is not surprising. I don’t want a bunch of other robots asking me for rides, so I would kindly ask you to not tell anyone how you got to where I’ll be delivering you.”
“I have no problem with that. I’ll erase it from my own memory, just to be safe.”
He smiled excitedly. “That’s cool.” He squinted as he was framing Mirage’s body with his hands.
She smiled, and crouched down to wrap her arms around her shins. “I can get pretty small, and I’m lighter than the androids you see in movies.”
“I never ask a lady her weight,” he quipped before he went over to the backroom to retrieve the appropriate box. He assembled it, and then she crawled inside. Yeah, there was plenty of room.
“You have enough to find her? It has to be when and where she went just after I last saw her ten or fifteen minutes ago.”
“I got you covered.” Ennis flipped the lids over, and taped them up. “And now I got you covered,” he joked. “But also, you’re about to not be covered. My non-organic rule is not just something I choose not to do. The way I move through time, it just doesn’t work. Your skin will...come off, like a damaged Terminator.”
“That’s fine. It’s inert,” Mirage explained.
“All right. Let me calculate the route, and then we’ll be on our way.”
She felt the box being lifted and carried away, and while it didn’t hurt, she also felt her skin shed off of her as she passed through the time vortex.
Moments later, the movement stopped. “What’s this?” an unfamiliar voice asked.
“Package for Lilac,” Ennis announced.
“I’ll sign for it,” the voice responded.
“No need to sign. Just be careful when you open it,” Ennis warned.
Before the man could start slicing through the tape, Mirage punched through the lid, and took hold of his throat. “Where’s Lilac?”
Eyes bulging, he turned them to point to her right.
“Mirage?” Lilac asked. “Is that you?”
“Losing my skin was the price of doing business,” Mirage explained. “I’ll be able to grow it back eventually.”
“I see. Well, I’m fine,” Lilac said “You can let him go.”
“What are we going to do with him then?” Mirage asked, still not letting go.
Lilac shrugged. “Let him leave. We’re where we need to be. I’ve been waiting for you for the last couple of days.”
Mirage gently set the man back down. “You better do what she says before I decide to override her decision. I don’t ever wanna see you again in my whole life, which should be about...forever.”
As he was running away, he waved his arm in front of him to create a black hole in the ground, which he jumped into, letting the hole close back up above him.
“He must be related to The Overseer.” Mirage emulated a sigh. “What year is it?”
“It’s 2183,” Lilac answered. “He jumped us a few years into the future to hide.”
Mirage nodded, and looked up and to the right to access her memory archives of the timeline. “Its 2183,” she echoed. “I know where to go. There ought to be a ship here that has everything we need, but I’m not entirely sure what it’s been through so far, because my knowledge of this time period may be quite literally outdated. It’s called The Elizabeth Warren, and no one else should need it at the moment. It’s not that fast, but it has stasis technology, and I could retrofit it. How would you like to see your son again?”
Lilac sighed too, but for real. “I think I’ve waited long enough.”
Mirage took her by the hand, and teleported them both to Panama.

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