EPSILON DELTA, PART FIVE: Holo Victory
Rose repeated the “hand squeeze of support” with Beam once more before releasing her, rising to her feet at the same time as Alijda. “If the planet already knows we’re here, they know more about us than we do about ourselves,” Rose pointed out. “We need to fix that fast. So, we scan them. Which will also tell us if there’s still an artifact to be retrieved.”
Beam blinked up at her. “Rose, you already know that much about Epsilon’s missions?”
Rose nodded. “Alice explained. Collecting stuff or people which are drifting between the multiverses. She did some solo missions when she started out too.”
“Yuppers. Never send others to do things you haven’t already tried yourself,” Alice remarked. “But in the end, this place REALLY needed maintenance. Plus some artifact stuff is a lot harder to pinpoint without ‘boots on the ground’. Ergo, recruiting.”
“Except, Rose, can’t we check containment here to know if an artifact was retrieved?” Kat insisted. “That would also tell us whether any prior artifacts have gone crazy.”
“We could,” Rose admitted. “But we’d probably have to split up then, plus that won’t help Beam’s memory loss. Fixing Beam is our priority now.”
“Oh?” Alijda said, raising an eyebrow. “Why, so that she can take control of the station back from you?”
Rose frowned at Alijda. “No. So that we’re all on the same page, and not making the same mistakes twice with whatever’s on the planet.”
“I don’t think Rose or I will be allowed to retain control anyway,” Beam murmured, lying back on the floor. “Not after bringing Alice back in.”
Alice winced. “Geeeez, Beam. You’re making me feel like I killed kittens while I was in charge here.” She eyed the others. “I didn’t, for the record.”
Alijda glanced from Rose to Kat and back. Then she stepped to the side, gesturing at the computer. “Well, you are technically in charge, Rose. Scan away.”
Rose blinked. “What? Er, I mean, right.” She exhaled. Why had she insisted on taking this stand?
To help Beam. Yes, that was her cause now, Rose decided. And not merely because the two of them were the youngest, or the only ones into girl love, or the most inexperienced with whatever was going on as compared to the others. It was because Beam had asked for her help, so damn it, she was going to stop acting like a scared teenager, and start doing more to provide that help.
Rose interlaced her fingers and pushed her palms forwards, cracking her knuckles. “Right,” she repeated, staring at the computer. The problem being, Paige was techno-girl, not her. Hell, pretty much everyone in this room was more tech savvy than she was. Too bad the interface wasn’t a piano keyboard.
Rose chewed on her lower lip. She looked back at Beam, then extended an arm down towards the other girl. “Let’s have you do whatever it is you would have done here, as if you were first arriving at the planet,” Rose suggested. “I’m guessing that would include a scan, and it might trigger a memory for you.”
“My memories may have been deleted, versus being rendered inaccessible,” Beam murmured.
Rose shrugged, keeping her arm extended. “Won’t know until we try.”
“I guess.” Slowly, Beam’s smile reappeared. It became hesitant as her gaze drifted back over everyone else in the room, but finally the blonde hologram looked back to Rose, and took her hand. Rose pulled the other girl to her feet.
Beam turned and stared at the computer. Seconds ticked by.
“Whenever you’re ready,” Rose encouraged.
Beam nodded. “Just a moment. Normally I interface directly, but I believe it’s better for you to see what I’m doing in human time. Also, the station is actually in synch with, and orbiting, the planet. Not usually something we do. Adjustments are needed.”
“Truth,” Alice observed.
“Oh. Okay. So just tell me if I’m being a moron then,” Rose said.
Beam turned, still smiling. “Oh, you’re not. You’re very sweet, Rose.”
“You haven’t tasted me, how would you know I’m sweet?” Rose shot back.
She immediately wished she could rewind the last five seconds. Rose spun away, pounding her fist into her forehead. Damn it! Bad Rose! Do not make sexy jokes at the pretty holographic lesbian!
Rose heard Beam giggle, and saw Alice mutter “Adorbs” towards Alijda. Kat seemed to take a sudden interest in the computer hardware. Before Rose could recover by saying ‘tasted my cooking, I meant my cooking!’, Beam was speaking again.
“I’ve now mentally run through everything I would do prior to a scan,” the hologram said. “Having the computer execute another one seems like the best plan now.” Beam reached out, tapping at the computer interface. Images began to appear on one of the monitors.
“First, it’s a magic pure world,” Beam said.
Alice let out a sigh of relief. “That means less stuff in orbit for us to possibly be crashing into,” she explained off Alijda’s look.
“But it means they probably won’t have the technology we need to restart the station’s systems either,” Beam pointed out.
“Sooo computers can’t run on magic, huh?” Rose asked, hoping to lighten the mood.
“Hmmm,” Kat said, rubbing his chin. “Rose raises an interesting point, given how that small world we visited had been trying to find some sort of fusion.” Rose arced her eyebrow back at him.
Alijda clasped her hands behind her head. “That also tells us the artifact Epsilon wanted from that world is technological, yeah? Tech being the sort of thing that would stand out as wrong on a magic world.”
“Correct,” Beam confirmed. “And I’m not reading any such signs now. Either the tech is being magically shielded, or I already brought the artifact back.”
“My money’s on that,” Rose said, pointing. “You brought something back, and that tech is what messed up the station tech.”
“Or maybe the tech messed with Beam’s tech, and her tech transferred it to the station tech?” Alijda mused.
“Oooh, technobabble,” Alison purred.
Alijda rolled her eyes. “Anyway, this would explain why the virus wasn’t in the communication logs.”
“Hold on. Is the entity up here some sort of sentient computer virus then?” Kat wondered.
“Perhaps I should access the transport logs,” Beam decided. She continued to type. “All right. It looks like I whirlpooled down to the planet, and returned less than an hour later. There is no record of any entity accompanying me.” She frowned. “There is also no record of me checking in a new artifact afterwards.”
“So this problem hit pretty fast,” Alice remarked. “Since that’s the first thing you should do upon retrieval.”
“I know that,” Beam said. “Could be my programming was already glitching by then.” She sighed. “I wish I could remember any of this.”
Rose turned from the monitor displaying the planet. “This is the station of creepy oversight, right? Couldn’t we see a video of your return, Beam?”
Beam blinked. “Oh, yes, of course! Let me pull up the last activation time.”
Everyone clustered around the monitor as Beam tapped the necessary keys. “Uh oh, looks like a lot of the feed is unavailable,” she remarked. “Could have been damaged or blocked off, as has been done to me. I do have something from one camera though, here we go…”
Beam paused, her fingers over the ‘Return’ key. “Rose? Your idea, and you’re in charge, you want to do the honours?”
Rose opened her mouth, but before she could say ‘No, do the thing’ she saw Beam’s eager expression. “Oh. Uh. Sure,” was what came out instead.
She reached over. Her hand brushed against Beam’s. Before she knew it, she was staring into Beam’s eyes, and Beam was staring back, and it’s like the hologram was searching her for something. For some deeper connection, maybe…
Alijda cleared her throat behind them. Rose quickly tapped the key and turned back to the monitor, inwardly cursing herself for getting flustered. Again.
The image of the room they were in appeared on the screen, with a big blue whirlpool in the centre of the floor. Moments later, Beam was spit out into zero gravity, floating towards the top of the monitor screen. She appeared to be carrying something.
Alice let out a low whistle. “What is that, like Cyborg’s arm or something?”
Then things began to happen quickly. Rose’s attention was on the floor irising shut over the whirlpool, so it wasn’t until the others gasped that she looked back up. In time to see the arm device jet away from Beam, the holographic girl in the video letting out a rather human shriek.
“What? I missed it, what did that?” Rose asked.
Alijda held up a finger, as if to say ‘wait a moment’. They continued to watch, as the Beam in the video said, “Computer, normal gravity!”
Beam plunged back down towards the now sealed whirlpool, Rose wincing in anticipation of the impact – but Beam managed to land on her feet without injuring her legs. In fact, she bent her knees and pushed off, running in the direction of the computer banks. Right. Holographic legs, Beam likely had no bones to break. So then why give her… Rose pushed that thought aside.
“No, no, no, NO!” came Beam’s voice from off the screen. There was a zapping sound, and then Beam’s body flew back through the slice of the room visible to the camera. Sparks were flying from her hairband. Again she was gone, there was a smacking sound, then a dull thud. Then the picture cut out entirely.
Rose licked her lips as she glanced at the others. Alice looked surprised, Alijda looked wary, Kat looked worried, and Beam was simply wide eyed.
“You gonna be okay, Beam?” Rose asked. Beam cleared her throat. (A human mannerism, programmed in? Did Beam even eat with that throat? Why did she keep thinking about this stuff, Rose wondered.)
“I’ll be fine,” the hologram said. “That even explains a few things. Namely, me regaining consciousness in this room, learning of the station’s problem, and hooking myself into the system to summon you, Algebra. Um, I mean Rose.”
“Beam, can you rewind to when that symbol appeared?” Kat asked. “And pause?”
Beam nodded, turning back away from Rose to reach for the controls.
“That was a magic thing then, right?” Alijda said. “That symbol on the arm?”
“I’d say so,” Alice agreed.
“Sorry,” Rose apologized. “I missed it. A magic symbol on the cyber arm what now?”
“Pretty much just that,” Alijda said. “Somebody booby trapped the tech artifact with magic.”
Rose tilted her head. “But why would someone do that?”
“Good question!” Alice grumbled. “Want another good question? How could anyone down on magic planet even know to magically program that tech to go and mess with other tech like our tech, when tech down there is not technically a thing?”
“Oooh, technobabble,” Alijda murmured, half smiling. Alice stuck out her tongue.
“Maybe someone figured out what Beam was, in the time she was down there?” Rose guessed. “And thought she was part of some advance strike force?”
“I’ve got the symbol up,” Beam remarked.
Rose looked back at the screen. She saw it now, glowing white on the cyber arm Beam was holding. For all she knew, it was a Chinese character. Yet Kat’s worried expression had shifted to alarm. “You know it?” Rose asked him.
“It’s an occult symbol I recognize,” Kat said. “Someone imbued that arm with a… desire, that’s the best way I can put it.”
“A desire to screw around with advanced technology?” Alice said.
Kat shrugged. “No way to know specifics unless we find the caster.”
“I guess we’re going down to the planet then,” Rose decided. “That’s where the caster would be.”
“No way,” Alijda asserted. “We’re going to figure out where on this station that damn cyber arm is now. If it gets to Mr. Smith? We could be done for.”
Rose put her hands on her hips. “Exsqueeze me? What happened to me being in charge? The station self corrected, remember. The arm might have screwed things up by accident. And Beam’s answers are down there, not up here.”
“Sorry Rose, I have to agree with Alijda,” Alice said. “I mean, there’s probably enough power now to make a whirlpool down once, but then you’d be stuck on the planet with no backup for at least an hour of recharge time. Whereas Kat, if we found the arm, could you reverse engineer something occultish to find this caster’s ’desire’?”
“Uh? Well, maybe,” Kat said. Rather unconvincingly, Rose thought.
Beam latched onto Rose’s arm. “I’m with Rose. My answers are down there, with my past. You three can stay up here if you like, but the two of us are going.”
Rose smiled at Beam, glad for the support, while simultaneously worrying that she was somehow giving off all the wrong signals.
Alijda rubbed her forehead. “Oh boy. Look, Rose, Beam, if you’re dead set on going, please bring one of us along? Because I can teleport people out of trouble, Kat seems to know something about that symbol, and Alice is a walking encyclopaedia. Whoever’s left on the station can search for the arm.”
Rose pursed her lips. “I guess that’s fair.” This way, she and Beam could have an experienced chaperone.
Who should Rose and Beam bring with them? OPTIONS:
VOTING CLOSES 7am EDT THURSDAY JULY 6th
CORRECTION: It closes when I get more than 3 votes. I guess everyone’s on vacation. I dunno. Maybe I should take one too. Peace.
PATHS NOT TAKEN:
If the planet had been bigger on tech, first the artifact would be magic, and second the planet would have launched missiles at them. If the station artifacts got checked, first the RUNNER UP would determine the artifact (or in the case of a tie, the first vote, which was for tech, meaning magic artifact). Second, an artifact in the vault would have helped to restore more functionality to the station. Instead, magic world, which was a real come-from-behind victory. For “Point-Of-View”, Alijda POV could have involved planet negotiations, and Alice POV a greater artifact focus. We got Rose, meaning more Beam. I admit to some curiosity about the Rose-love, feel free to comment.
THE ORACLE PROPHESIED:
New section. This will chronicle events you voted for indirectly. (For instance, the firing of Alice in Story3 occurred after a vote, not to fire her, but to have her break the rules.) Here, the fact that Beam was voted to have a memory loss, followed by a Rose point-of-view? Means we’re getting more of Beam than we would have had with any other combination. To the point of me hunting for a reference picture. I am totally fine with this, but it was unexpected.