No update next week as taking the week off to handle my work event. Know I've said it a hundred times, but you know if I fail to say it even once, someone will think I've died. I honestly cannot wait for this event to be over and done with.
Cover Art: Kirire
The cover-up of Matchmaker was a lot less convoluted than Blake would have expected of an anomaly which had reached out and touched over 90% of the world's population in one way or another. People noticed the loss of the app, but they were much too happy to ascribe it to something going wrong with the coding during the internet outage.
That, coupled with information "leaked" from the governments of Remnant that the app had used illegal means to break into secure census information and databases had galvanised people to come up with their own ideas.
Conspiracy theories, basically.
But even when the tinfoil hat brigade were coming up with stupid theories about aliens and the wealthy elite and a dark force controlling the world, they were doing ARC Corp's bidding and making the matter of the app's removal from public life a joke. The conspiracy theories were outlandish and stupid, and people laughed at them. There was never any proof, and while some diehard idiots clung to the conspiracies, most people accepted that it was probably just the official government line.
The ironic part was that they probably wouldn't believe that if the governments had come out and told them it, but the fact ARC Corp had leaked the information like a hacking attack or breach of security had people trusting it. After all, governments being stupid and leaking confidential information was somehow more believable than them telling the truth.
It was a dark world they lived in, but even Blake couldn't argue with that. Politicians were low on the list of people she'd trust, even below Adam.
But that wasn't to say matchmaker hadn't affected the world in his own way. People were still dead, relationships were still ruined, and Blake still had a date with Sun to contend with, the issue of Yang, and a big step of her own to put to rest.
Staring down at her scroll, she took one last look at the Vacuan man who was her perfect match. She didn't even know his name, and probably never would. Every time she looked at him, she found more she liked, but that was probably a placebo effect of knowing he'd make her happy.
It was an awful feeling.
Her thumb hovered over the delete button.
It wouldn't be hard to track him down and meet him. Maybe he'd already be in a relationship, though. Would that make her feel better or worse? It might be a relief to know he was out of reach, but it might also make her burn with jealousy – and for a man she'd never even met. Blake shook her head, teeth gritted tight. An anomaly, a dead one at that, shouldn't be causing her so much trouble.
The button flashed as she pushed down and forever wiped the face from her scroll.
It was for the best, even if it hurt.
A massive head with a swirling mouth of human molars and eyes like pits of blue firelight pushed under her armpit, causing her hand to slide back over a slick but not slimy abdomen. Two of Timothy's long, spindly legs pressed over her lap as he hissed.
"Thanks, Timothy." Blake rubbed his head and listened to him contentedly hiss. "Did you sense how sad I was? You really are such a sweet boy."
The sweet little boy was rooming with her for the foreseeable future, thanks to Jaune's little sister being expected any day now for her internship or apprenticeship – whatever they called it. The simple fact was they didn't want to run the risk of Timothy spooking her into aggressive action, because then Blake would have to murder the little bitch and that would make work awkward.
"Have you finished making a web in my bedroom? You didn't get any on my bed, did you?"
Blake massaged between his eyes and reached over to a bag Jaune had given her, spilling out a few dead crickets onto her sofa, which the spider hoovered up. He didn't have a mouth with which to bite down, and it was more like the food was sucked into a blackhole at the base of his mouth. The molars were really just for show, or maybe a method of communication. They made a grinding noise as they rotated, like someone grinding their teeth together loudly.
She spared a thought for Sun or Yang's reaction if they ever came back to hers and found this six-foot spider on a massive web not two feet to the left of where she slept. That'd probably be the end of the date right there, and possibly the end of them if they had arachnophobia and suffered a heart attack.
It wasn't even that she didn't realise how horrifying the anomaly was anymore, or why most people would be afraid of him. The simple fact was that she'd dealt with so many dangerous anomalies and Timothy was just at the bottom of the list, making him an absolute sweetie by comparison.
Given that there were potentially infinite amounts of non-dangerous anomalies out there, she had to wonder why they hadn't run into more. Maybe because they were too low key and didn't draw attention. Even the non-sapient ones like the eight-ball and the Blank Slate only drew attention because of other people abusing them.
It wouldn't surprise her if there were families all across Vale who had "odd family trinkets" which did strange things, which they didn't realise were anomalous. Pictures in which people moved, snow globes which caused a room to cool down, or standing lamps that healed your eyesight over time.
Small anomalous effects that people could go their whole lives without realising, and which would therefore never come to the attention of ARC Corp. There just wasn't the time to find them when their days were taken up by killer blood plagues, world-ending temporal anomalies and now a bizarre team of anomalous paralegals.
"With any luck we'll get some nice, simple jobs," she told the spider.
"Yeah," she agreed. "But a girl can hope, right?"
Amber Arc was undeniably cute.
She was a short girl of five feet and two inches, with shoulder-length blonde hair slicked back in what must have been an attempt to make her look older. The fact she wore a tiny black suit, tailor-made for her, gave her the look of a celebrity's son forced to attend a gala event, except she was obviously trying her hardest to make it work.
The sullen little pout she sported ticked Blake off however, and mostly because it tightened whenever she glanced at her older brother or any of the anomalies on display in the Containments Office. That she considered her own flesh and blood to be as distasteful as an anomaly spoke volumes, and wasn't surprising in the slightest.
"Blake, this is my little sister, Amber. Amber, this is Blake Belladonna, my employee and partner here in the Containments Office."
"I thought you weren't allowed employees," muttered the girl.
Even her voice was young, though she was obviously trying to deepen it for age.
"Father made an exception after Blake's stellar performance in the Twilight City. Blake was even able to meet up with our mother and work with her to locate the heart of the city and survive alone there for almost a full day."
That appeared to be the wrong thing to say because Amber looked even more annoyed, stuffing her hands in her pockets and glaring at Blake. Was it the fact she'd had the last meeting with the girl's mother, or just the fact she was accepted by the company? Blake crossed her own arms and stared back at the girl, letting her know she wouldn't be cowed by a pint-sized budget-Saphron.
"So," said Jaune, laughing awkwardly as he sensed the tense atmosphere between them. "Isn't it great that we're all getting along? Haha. Welcome to the Containments Office, Amber. As part of your internship here you'll be working under me and learning the way we do things. We'll have fun!" He reached out to touch her shoulder, but the girl pulled away. Jaune's face flashed with hurt, but he quickly hid it.
Not quick enough for Blake not to notice and scowl at the girl.
"I'm not staying here, am I?" asked Amber.
"Not in the office, no. I've rented you an apartment in the building complex, but you're welcome to handle your own accommodation if it's not to your liking."
"I'll stay elsewhere."
"Great. That's fine." Jaune laughed, desperately trying to regain some control. "Well, I guess we'd better get started today. Father and the Coral Group are investigating Anomalous & Sons, so our job is just to keep an eye on Vale and try to locate any anomalies. Business as usual. Have you been taught how to scout for anomalous cases, Amber?"
The girl rolled her eyes. "Obviously."
"Great. Well, let's get started. You can take the newspapers and look through them. I mostly check online forums and social media to look for strange reports. We do have a few informants and contacts in the city who will let us know if they find anything as well, but sometimes it's a waiting game."
Amber stomped off to the sofa and threw herself down with a huff, grabbing the papers and making a noisy deal of bashing them together. It looked like she was going to be like that with just about everything – making them painfully aware that she didn't want to be here at every opportunity. Blake flagged Jaune off to the side and walked over to speak to him away from the brat.
"She doesn't want to be here, Jaune."
"I know." He sighed and clutched his elbows, smiling weakly. "I guess I'm the uncool older brother, eh?"
Blake sighed. "Don't lie to me, Jaune. Not after all we've been through."
"Right. Sorry." His smile fell. "We both know why she hates me and it's the same as why all my sisters do. I got mom killed, and then I had the temerity to become a monster at the same time. It doesn't help that dad allowed me to join the family business despite that I should have been killed. They don't really see me as Jaune Arc anymore. I'm the monster who killed him and his mother, and then took over his body – and then I was shown favouritism by being handed my own office. Of course she isn't happy to be sent here, but the other offices are still reeling from Mountain Glenn."
"And the Fist Office has your other sister?"
"Lavender, yes. Older them Amber, and remembers mom even more, so it's not like she'd have been any better."
"Will we be getting her in time as well?"
"No. We were never meant to get Amber because… well… ARC Corp doesn't want my methods being passed on, obviously. The whole containment ideal. This is only happening because they don't really have a choice. Burns Office is half dead, and the Secrets Office was closed down after the Schnee raid. Getting them trained up fast will allow for two more offices to open up, and ARC Corp kind of needs that right now."
"What would happen if we were even more desperate?"
"Then we'd start adopting or bringing people into the family by other means. You might be asked to open your own office in an extreme case, but I think Pyrrha or Terra would be asked before you. They might take support staff from other offices and promote them to being directors."
"So, becoming an Arc isn't the only way."
"It isn't. Honestly, if Terra hadn't up and married Saphron then she'd probably be running her own office by now." He smiled at her, and then nodded to Amber. "Try not to let her get to you. For all that she'll snipe and pick every decision I make apart, that is part of the learning process for her and she's going to be told to lead her own office sooner than she's ready to. I won't ask you to like her, but you can at least pity the person who is going to have to become an ARC Corp Director at the age of fifteen."
"I suppose that is fairly awful. Will she really be just left to sink or swim like that?"
"Her office will be set near another office for a while, close enough for them to help. Probably the Fist Office. Maybe halfway between the Fist Office and us. And she'll have resources and help. Father will probably donate her some trustworthy staff either from the Blades Office or from the BTF Response Teams. She won't be dumped in an abandoned building and told to make it a working office or die trying."
But it would feel like it. Blake wouldn't know where to start either, and she figured she'd be in a foul mood if that kind of responsibility was forced on her. It didn't excuse her actions toward Jaune, but it was at least an understandable excuse.
"I'll give being nice to her my best shot, but don't expect me to put up with any shit."
Jaune smiled. "That's all I can ask. I've made it clear to her that you're not subordinate to her. You've unofficially been promoted to assistant-director, which means you're my second-in-command."
"Jaune, we're the only two people working here. I was that by default the day I joined."
"I know. But it's official now, which means she can't give you orders."
"I'll take it."
"Ahem!" Amber cleared her throat from the waiting room sofa, glaring over a newspaper at the two gossiping adults. "I'm sorry to interrupt, older brother, but didn't you say you would be helping me look for anomalous information online? It doesn't feel like I'm learning anything when the two of you are having a romantic rendezvous in the corner."
She really did.
Welp. I hate her already.
Jaune laughed and apologised, moving back to his computer. That left Blake to take the unhappy position next to Amber on the sofa, and to pick up her own newspaper as she did her best to ignore the simmering, sulking mess beside her.
Maybe she could give the Blank Slate to the brat and let her be erased.
Work came, as it so often did, by someone calling in. Blake still couldn't believe Jaune's front as a "paranormal investigator" ended up netting them so much work, but there was no arguing with results.
Though Amber Arc certainly tried.
"Ghost hunters! Ghost hunters!? We're ARC Corp!" she howled. "We're the oldest and most important business of this age, and we protect the entire world! We are not hacks pretending to hunt ghosts for money!"
"We are today," said Blake, taking far too much pleasure in the girl's misery. "And we've already tracked down several anomalies with this front." She turned to Jaune. "What did they say? Does it sound like a case?"
"Strange noises, furniture being moved around, things not being left where they were the night before." Jaune listed the instances off on his fingers. "There's no guarantee it's an anomaly but no guarantee it isn't either. We don't have anything else to look into. This paralegal anomaly team is good at hiding their tracks."
That didn't please Amber any, but she couldn't do anything more than pout as they filed into Jaune's van and drove to their destination. At least this anomaly, if it was one, hadn't killed anyone yet. They were long past due a peaceful anomaly.
The home they drove to was a modern one, so it was unlikely to be a temporal anomaly like the last. The owner was outside, a single man, a landlord, who met them.
"Right," he spat. "I don't care who you are or what you think you're going to find. As far as I'm concerned, the only reason you're even here is because the local council suggested I call you. Ghost hunters?" He spat on the ground. "Pah! As if I have time for nonsense like that. All I know is that I've lost five tenants to what they say is a haunted house."
As professional as ever, Jaune took the tirade in stride. "You're a landlord, then?"
"Yes. I own several properties. Look after them too, and this haunted house nonsense is getting old. I want this mystery sorted tonight. I have someone lined up to show around tomorrow and I don't need you idiots here."
"How dare—" hissed Amber.
Jaune cut in. "We'll do our best, sir."
The landlord scowled at Amber. "I'm paying for a professional service. Not to babysit."
"My sister is learning the family business and is quite capable, sir."
"Hmph." He didn't believe that. "Do what you want. I expect results though, or you can bet your ass I won't be paying." He stormed off, swearing angrily and heading for an expensive-looking car.
"Delightful fellow," said Jaune, as the landlord drove off.
"How dare he!" hissed Amber. "He insulted us!"
"He doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things. So, there's a potential anomaly here, Amber." Jaune took on a lecturing tone. "Where shall we start? Take this as your first chance to learn."
Blake expected the girl to be caught flat-footed and to look stupid but, to her displeasure, Amber was more capable than that. "We set up a perimeter to keep the anomaly trapped inside, and then move in to investigate. Security and monitoring equipment should be used in instances where we don't know what the anomaly is or what we're looking for."
"Good work. And what did we learn from the landlord?"
"That it's been here a while."
"Exactly." Jaune went to pat her hair, but she pulled away. He recovered and said, "The anomaly has been here for the last five tenants at the very least, but it presumably wasn't here when he bought the place, or he would have known about it. That suggests it either came here after, or it was introduced here by a tenant. That also means we shouldn't need to set a perimeter because whatever this is, it's either limited to the house or it can't move."
Blake let them go on like that, Jaune teaching and Amber learning despite her efforts to insult her older brother at every opportunity. She focused on the equipment instead, pulling out cameras and tripods and moving them toward the front door to stack them there. A few locals were watching, several laughing and pointing at the "ghost hunters" mockingly.
By the time she'd gotten everything to the door, Jaune and Amber had finished with their lesson and approached, and Jaune let Amber be the one to unlock the door and enter. Blake was surprised he'd let his little sister walk into danger like that, but the house was mostly mundane on the inside. A corridor split right and left to different rooms, and there wasn't a second floor this time. It was a bungalow.
"The reports we got indicated moving furniture and items and objects," said Jaune, "So where do you think we should set up the cameras?"
"With wide, panoramic views of the rooms," said Amber.
"Not bad, but not perfect." Jaune smiled her way. "Blake? Any additional thoughts?"
Smirking, and enjoying the chance to show the brat up, she said, "Yes. We should make sure the cameras cover one another, since any objects we add to the house may be prime targets for the anomaly."
Amber blushed and glared at her.
"Very good," said Jaune. "If we just set the cameras up in every room then we might wake up to find they were all turned off before the anomaly started moving things, and then we wouldn't have any evidence at all. Set them up in pairs. Every camera needs to be watching another camera."
"We should also set up objects in specific patterns ourselves to track what has moved and what hasn't," Amber chipped in. "If we set chairs on the floor in a circle, or other things in shapes, then we can easily tell if they've been disturbed."
Jaune nodded. "Good thinking, Amber!"
Something about that ticked Blake off.
"We shouldn't sleep in the house though," said Blake, taking over and smirking at Amber's glower. "The anomaly might not be active if we're all awake and might not be active in the same room we are. But we also don't know what room it might be operating in. We should stay outside and give it free reign."
"Um. Yes. That's a good idea—"
"We should stay close." snapped Amber, refusing to be outdone. "In the van. We can camp there."
"Guys," whispered Jaune. "It's not a competition…"
Blake scowled, embarrassed to have been caught trying to outclass a child, while Amber told Jaune to "shut up", probably just as embarrassed to have been caught trying to impress him. The two women stormed away from him, back to the van, leaving him to rub his face and mutter a prayer for patience.
Despite the plan to keep an eye on the house, there really wasn't much point in all three of them staying in the van overnight. Jaune told her that he'd keep watch with Amber while she went home to "look after her pet". Blake accepted that and kept Timothy company for the night, and showed up in the morning with fresh coffee and muffins for the two of them.
Jaune looked exhausted, and emotionally as much as physically. A night with his little sister who hated him obviously hadn't been easy, and she nudged herself against his arm in a silent show of solidarity. He smiled weakly back, accepting a coffee and a muffin as Amber devoured her own.
"So," said Blake. "Any movement?"
"Not on the cameras," said Jaune.
"This is a waste of our time!" hissed Amber. "I knew posing as ghost hunters wouldn't fix anything."
"Not every job is a success." Jaune hummed and finished his food. The landlord would be back in a few hours, but there was still time to head inside and collect their equipment. "That's something to learn, Amber. Sometimes there are false calls or an anomalous effect is actually just a burglary or something else. Our job is to ascertain what is and isn't anomalous just as much as it is to capture."
"Or that," he allowed, with a frown. "But you're working for the Containments Office for now, and that means you work by our rules. Speaking of, go collect the equipment from inside."
Amber bristled. "Why me!?"
"Because you're the intern and you obviously have energy aplenty if you can spend it whining."
The girl snarled and stomped toward the house.
Blake sniggered. "What happened to not letting her get to you?"
"A whole night putting up with her in a cramped van was too much. Naturally, she had to make the experience hell. I'll be glad when this is all over."
"How long does this internship last anyway?"
"It doesn't have a formal length sadly. It should be less than usual if only because they don't want her picking up our bad habits, and they need the new offices opened sooner than later. Even then, it could be a week or two before—"
A startled cry from the house caught their attention.
"Crap!" Jaune cursed and tossed his coffee to the grass, then sprinted for the doorway. Blake overtook him easily and entered first, aura at the ready.
Amber was fine.
But the house was not.
Chairs lay overturned and tables had shifted wildly, pushing up against the walls. Paintings hung crooked on the walls and cushions had spilled from sofas, while their own cameras were all flat on the floor.
It was like an earthquake had struck but localised to just the one room.
"I thought you said there was no movement," said Blake.
"T—There wasn't!" cried Amber. "There wasn't on the cameras! Tell her, Jaune!"
"It's true. Amber and I were glued to the screens all night and I guarantee there was no movement whatsoever. We even had them keyed to play a loud alert if any movement happened, so we'd have heard them even while we were outside talking." Jaune clicked his tongue. "Amber, go check the camera feeds quick."
It was a sign of how unnerved she was that she did without any insult.
When she came back, she was gasping. "The cameras are fine! The feeds still show everything as normal, with the cameras even standing up. W—What is on the cameras doesn't match what is happening here at all!"
It was Blake's turn to swear. "Temporal? Again!?"
"I don't think it is," said Jaune. "Not this time. We're free to come and go as we please and the cameras haven't aged in here. It's more like the feed has been disturbed, or the cameras froze." Jaune turned to Amber. "Did the cameras show us by any chance?"
"Ah." Amber blushed.
Jaune sighed. "Go back and check. I'll stand in front of one."
She rushed off again and Jaune stepped in front of a camera on the floor. To test further, Blake walked over to another and picked it up, aiming it at her own face. It didn't take long for Amber to return.
"The cameras showed you both," she said, "But Jaune's was funny. It showed him normal, not on his side." She pointed to the downed camera, which from its position resting on the floor should have shown a portrait and sideways view of Jaune. "It's showing him as if it's still stood up straight on its tripod. They all are. And the scenery behind you both doesn't match this."
Blake caught on. "It's showing the house still in a pristine state?"
"Yes. You're holding a camera and standing next to the table and chairs…"
The table and chairs which were now shoved to the far wall, with the chairs thrown around the room in seemingly random patterns. That was strange. It was like the cameras were seeing two versions of them.
"Could this be a split reality thing?" asked Blake. "Maybe there are two concurrent timelines right now. One where the house is a mess and one where it's normal."
"You need to drop the time and temporal angle but you might be onto it with the other," said Jaune. "But I don't think it's us shifting between the… uh… realities, I guess? It's the cameras that are in both. Assuming you're right."
"ARC Corp Charter 6. Rule 14." said Amber. "Any and all instances of dimensional travel, even when only suspected, must be elevated to a Category B threat and destroyed as soon as humanly possible to prevent potential dimensional collapse."
Jaune sighed. "I know."
"I don't," said Blake. "What's this about?"
"Dimensional anomalies are… mostly hypothetical," explained Jaune. "We don't know if they really do exist or if they're just aftereffects of others, but the basic idea is that if they do exist then they pose a serious threat because bad things could happen. Things like two Jaune Arcs or two Blake Belladonnas, and there's no saying they'd be the same person. Things like us getting lost in another world instead of our own or, in extreme hypothetical examples, an entirely alternate species invading our world."
"No. It's hypothetical like I said, and ARC Corp tends to assume a worst case imaginable perspective on these things. Better safe than sorry and all that. There's no guarantee an alternate version of our world would be any different. While it's possible we could be opposites and violent, it's just as possible alternate versions of ourselves could be the same and entirely peaceful. But it's still a messy thing. In theory. Quantum mathematics usually is. The point is, we don't want to leave any gateways up and running, if they exist at all, because even if another reality is peaceful, there's no guarantee there could be peace between us. One reality might decide to invade the other and subjugate them or we could end up with weird inter-dimensional breeding and who could even know what the children might come out like."
Normal? Half in one reality and half in the other? Dead? Malformed? There was no telling, especially if sperm from one dimension and an egg from another met. Maybe it'd be just fine, but it might not be. It could also be as simple as travellers from one dimension bringing diseases from their world into another. Awkward to say the least.
"This is just our cameras existing in both," said Jaune. "We should be fine. The tenants didn't report anything crazy so I don't think this is capable of moving people across. Still, it's an anomaly, whatever it's doing, and our job is to sort the problem."
"The landlord isn't going to be happy," said Blake.
"No, he isn't."
"Maybe Amber should have some practice in dealing with defusing angry people," she suggested.
Amber glared hotly at her.
"I'll handle it," said Jaune, rolling his eyes. "You two try and clear this place up. Preferably without killing one another."
Next Chapter: 2nd October (Two weeks)
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