EPSILON DELTA, PART SIX: SHE LOVES ME NOT
Kat was the last to arrive out of the transportation whirlpool. He tucked his body and rolled on the field of grass as he landed, looking up in time to see the vortex shut behind them. He first looked over to where Beam was helping Rose up to her feet, then tapped at the watch device on his wrist.
“Alijda?” he asked. “Any problems your end?”
“Aside from having a magical cyber arm stalking us? No, no, we’re good,” came Alijda’s voice.
“How’s it look down there?” Alice asked.
Kat stood up, brushing off his pants as he looked around. They were in a field of grass, by a dirt road, with a cluster of houses not very far away. Logically, that village had to be the origin for the arm, as the three of them had been transported to the planet at the same coordinates Beam had used for her first visit. It seemed to be late afternoon here, based on the location of the sun.
“Civilization’s nearby,” Kat reported. “We’ll go check it out. I figure we’ve got to hit something within twenty minutes, since Beam had less than an hour to come down, get the arm, and return.”
“Might take you thirty minutes,” Beam spoke up. “My top speed is a bit faster than that of a normal human.”
Rose tilted her head. “So do you sweat like us when you run?” She immediately smacked her palm over her mouth, as if she hadn’t meant to speak aloud.
Beam clasped her hands behind her back, wiggling her eyebrows and letting out a giggle. “Ooh, Rose, yes. Every time I get all hot and bothered, my body reacts JUST like yours does. Thank you for asking?”
Once again, some of Rose’s freckles began to wash out as her cheeks darkened.
“I heard just enough of that to not want to hear any more,” Alijda remarked. “Be careful down there, Kat, okay? We don’t have the power to pull you back yet.”
“Understood,” Kat said. “Signing off.”
“Wait, wait, I want to hear more of the cute girls flirting!” Alice’s voice came, right before the connection ended.
Kat shook his head, then looked over at his two companions. They were standing side by side, though Beam was leaning in towards Rose, looking hopeful, while Rose was staring down at the grass. Or rather, sidelong at Beam’s legs. He sighed.
“Alice makes a good point, if accidentally,” he remarked. “Rose? Beam? We really can’t afford to have you two making eyes at each other right now, not if there’s someone or something dangerous lurking down here.”
Rose snapped her gaze up towards him. “What? Oh, Kat, I wouldn’t. I mean, I’m not. I mean, I have a girlfriend, a wonderful girlfriend! I would never cheat on Paige. No way!”
Kat crossed his arms. “And I believe that. But you DO seem to be affected by Beam somehow, whether it’s physical, owing to her greater romantic expertise, or because this situation has turned her into a damsel in distress. I know I’ve fallen for a few pretty girls under that sort of circumstance. And Beam is a curious technological marvel, isn’t she?”
Rose visibly swallowed. “Well, yeah, I want to help Beam. B-But I would never cheat on Paige,” she repeated softly, before looking away, towards the settlement.
Kat looked to the blonde hologram. “Also, Beam, you’re not helping. For now, can you modify your algorithms, or set Rose as unattainable or something? She is, as she points out, taken. Not to mention very possibly your superior officer.”
Beam leaned back away from Rose, her smile disappearing as she focussed on Kat. “Under these circumstances, I cannot help but flirt with Rose.”
Kat lifted his eyebrow. “Why’s that?”
Beam sighed. “Honestly? Rose has become more than a run-of-the-mill cute, funny, intelligent redheaded girl. She has now also saved my life, as it were. Meaning I owe her. And by default, I am programmed to repay debts to girls like her in a very specific way. By cozying up to them, until such a point that I can reward her with–”
“Space?” Rose squeaked, cutting Beam off.
“–kisses,” Beam finished regardless. She eyed Rose. “So many kisses, Rose. Kisses… everywhere.” Yet even as she generalized, her gaze seemed to focus in somewhere more specifically. “All very commitment free. Whenever you’re ready.”
Rose let out what Kat interpreted as giddy laughter. The teenager began to backpedal. “Wow! Okay, so, I’m sorry Beam, that’s not happening. Like, ooh, I’m sure you’re awesome and good at what you do, but not only am I off the market, I’m sure no parts of me taste sweet at all. Besides, mission! Big mission here! We gotta get back on track, right Kat? Time’s a-wasting, we gotta get going here, we gotta–”
As Kat raised his hand, palm out, Rose stopped a few steps away. “Rose, wait. Please. Remember, you wanted me along with you? Not Alijda, who might have tried to ignore this relationship, or Alice, who probably would have encouraged it. I think we need to put it to bed.” He frowned. “Though, bad choice of words.”
“Kat, I wanted you along since you recognized the occult symbol,” Rose mumbled. Though she did stop, executing a series of such rapid fire toe-taps on the ground that the tip of her shoe began to make an indentation.
Kat peered closer at Beam, who was now looking at the ground with a pouty expression. Almost like she was a young twenty something who wasn’t being allowed to borrow the family car. It was sort of adorable – but surely that too, had to be programming.
“Beam?” he said. “I’m sorry if this sounds indelicate, but I’m not sure how else to put this. Were you created to be some sort of high-tech prostitute? Is that part of the problem here?”
Beam’s pouty lower lip started to quiver, as if she was upset. From the corner of his eye, Kat saw Rose smack her hand over her face – while still peering out between her fingers. For a moment, he was worried she’d jump in and say something to deflect before Beam could speak up, but Rose held her tongue.
“I do not know,” Beam answered at last, her expression becoming more neutral as Rose failed to react. The hologram again looked at Kat. “I can tell you this. I have experienced memory loss before. My first memory ever is waking up in an alleyway on my Earth, with no idea as to how I got there. At the time, I knew little more than my name, and my basic programming.”
Her shoulders slumped. “I like to think that my creator, whoever they were, had honourable intentions, and was sadly forced to leave me behind on that day. But it is equally possible that I was discarded there by a creator who became disgusted by my settings, and was unable to reformat me. Which, yes, might make me nothing more than someone’s off-the-market high-tech sexual plaything.”
“Ohhh, Beam, you poor–” Rose froze in the process of reaching back towards the holographic woman, leaving her fingers twitching in the air. Apparently, her desire to help out was still battling with her fear at being seduced by the pretty hologram.
Kat wasn’t entirely surprised by Beam’s answer. Granted, he’d thought that maybe the holographic girl’s reluctance to give Rose space was due to a different sort of boot-up imprinting, but… “Then did a redheaded woman take you in on that day, and treat you nicely as you coped with your memory loss?”
Beam shook her head. “No.” She looked sidelong at Rose. “But your thinking does match my own here, Kat. For while that woman did not have red hair like Rose, I repaid that debt in much the same way I want to here. She was even funny in a similar way to Rose.”
“Ah ha ha, funny looking, you mean,” Rose muttered.
Beam smiled. “Oh, no Rose. Have I mentioned yet how much I love seeing your shirt?”
Rose pounded her toe into the dirt. “Don’t even. I hope they’re still growing. That is, oh, DAMN it, you meant the pun there, huh?”
Beam giggled. “Yes. You can handcuff me whenever you want. To whatever you want. Commitment free, Rose.”
Kat had been vaguely wondering about the meaning of Rose’s T-Shirt, which sported a squiggle leading down to the single word ‘YOU’RE’. With Beam’s remark, it suddenly clicked – the squiggle was music notation for a quarter rest. Rose’s top read: YOU’RE, under a rest.
Rose buried her face in her hands, turning away. “Should I die now? Because under the circumstances, I think dying of embarrassment is the only proper thing for me to do. Solves everything. Give my love to Paige. Not literally.”
“Ohhh, Rose, you poor–” Beam froze in the process of reaching back towards the other girl, leaving her fingers twitching in the air. Kat wondered whether the blonde was mimicking Rose’s earlier actions deliberately, or instinctively. At least she seemed to know enough not to hug Rose just then.
He sighed. “Beam. You have GOT to scale it back, for Rose’s own sake if nothing else. Is there any way you can just… reclassify Rose as less your saviour, and more one of your girl friends?”
Beam turned to look at him, lowering her arm. “I could. That would stretch out the time frame for intimacy.”
“I meant, your friends who are girls,” Kat added quickly. “Not girlfriends as in girls you might one day end up sleeping with.”
Beam canted her head to the side. A puzzled look crossed her face. “I’ve never been clear on that distinction.”
“Girls that you simply get along with,” Kat pressed. “That you don’t sleep with, who aren’t into you sexually. Heterosexual girls, for instance.”
Beam shrugged. “On my Earth, the default is that people feel they are compatible with everyone, regardless of gender,” Beam said. “That’s partly what made my programming so unique, its inherent rejection of the unfairer sex. It’s why I had to remain in hiding, why my existence was looked down upon by most men, even some women. It’s also why I saw my recruitment to this project as a form of escape, rather than as an abduction.”
Kat shook his head. “Wait, no. You’re from some free love society? Where every female on your Earth is open to any gender, no exception?”
Beam tilted her head the other way. “It is the same for the males.”
Kat swallowed. “But then, you’ve… with ALL your female friends? But that’s impossible. What about marriage?”
“Marriage unites one woman with one man, for procreation, but she is still welcome to have as many female partners as she requires for pleasure. As is the man with other males. Cheating doesn’t apply with the same sex.”
Kat let out a low whistle. “Huh, unique. So you really… like, you mean ANY girl you’ve met, you eventually kiss and… damn, really? Seriously?” Kat said, starting to feel flustered himself at Beam’s penetrating, yet increasingly inquisitive look.
“If I have become friendship bonded with the girl, it is only natural,” Beam admitted. “Now, I do recognize this custom as different across the multiverse, and I have tried to never initiate until I am sure. But here, we’ve established that Rose is compatible with me. So my program compels me to flirt with her, until she is no longer my lesbian friend, or my debt is repaid.”
Rose had dropped her arms to her sides and was now staring up towards the sky. “Ohh, yup, Lesbian Rose Thorne is now dead of embarrassment,” she sighed. “So, we gonna have an open casket funeral for the poor dear, or just a big ol’ girl love orgy in her honour, ooooh, choices, choices…”
Kat rubbed the back of his neck. “Can’t you make some new classification for Rose?”
“I would need a point of reference. I am still desperately trying to compute your distinction between lesbian girlfriends and friends who are lesbian girls. Because I…” Beam bit down on her lip. “I don’t want to lose Rose’s friendship. That would hurt my heart.”
Rose turned her head, eyes widening. “Ohh, Beam… if only I could lie to you about my preferences? It’s just, I spent so long lying to myself…”
Kat clapped his hands. “Wait, got it. Classify Rose as a male lesbian friend.”
Beam gasped. “Oh! Of course, it’s so simple.”
Rose shifted her wide-eyed gaze to Kat, then let out a moan as she dropped to her knees, placing her hands back over her face. “Y’know what? I can’t even tell if I’m offended or relieved. But know that Lesbian-Boy-Rose is ALSO DEAD. He/she/we are all dead, dead, stone cold dead. Uhh, as long as that’s doesn’t categorize me in a fetish way instead, Beam, cuz if so, I’m only mostly dead. Also, ew.”
Beam let out a soft cooing noise. “Oh, Rose, don’t worry. I could never truly see you as a boy. You’re too curvy, not to mention adorable. But I can overlay my feelings for men onto a new subclass of girl. Making you my first real girl… friend. If that’s acceptable?” Her look was hopeful again, her body faintly quivering with excitement.
Rose looked back upwards through her fingers. “Why do I feel like I’m being put in charge of teaching boundaries to a hot lesbian hologram?” Beam clasped her hands together, silently pleading. Rose pulled her hands down. “Um, okay, acceptable.”
Beam blinked a few times. Then she squealed in delight. “Oh, ROSE, is this how you see me?”
Beam knelt down next to her, grasping Rose in a sideways hug. Only to immediately pull back slightly. “Hugging like this, I can mean it non-sexually, right?” Rose nodded mutely in response, only to be pulled back even tighter into Beam’s bosom. “Oooh, it’s so weird and different, but I feel like I really get your reluctance now!”
“Urk. Yeah, uh, so I guess Rose lives again?” Rose wheezed. “She needs to breathe though. Beam, please let Rose breathe?”
Kat found he could only shake his head in wonder. And as Beam released Rose and then tried to engage the stunned redhead in a discussion of sports and beer, he realized he had probably only served to trade off one problem for another.
The first two houses they passed on the road, which were spaced a few city blocks apart, looked unremarkable. They continued on, Beam practically skipping along the dirt road, all smiles, as Rose trailed long looking sheepish. But, Kat suspected, secretly relieved.
Kat extended his arm as they came up to the third house, bringing the two girls up short.
“I see it too,” Rose remarked. “Another occulty symbol, on the wall there.”
“That’s no desire symbol though,” Kat revealed. “It’s used for protection.”
“So is it protecting someone who’s inside the house?” Beam wondered. “Or is it keeping something in there from getting out, like a freaky homicidal robot who’s short one cyber arm?”
Kat could only shrug. “I don’t know. We could call Alijda for an update, see if maybe they have the arm, or can get something from the station’s database about how common these symbols are on this world.”
Rose expelled a breath. “Well, it’s only a one story building, and I’m feeling amazingly brave given all my resurrections of late. We could at least look in the window.”
Beam pointed down the road. “Or, look, someone’s in the street, closer to the heart of this village. They’re coming this way. Could be a local. Or maybe they saw me here last time? We could always talk to them before messing with the spells in the area.”
What should they do about this symbol? OPTIONS:
VOTING CLOSES NOON EDT SATURDAY JULY 22nd
PATHS NOT TAKEN:
We were probably following Kat. If Rose had brought Alice, we’d have stayed on the station to look at the Alijda/Kat relationship (possibly in contrast to the Rose/Beam one) as they repaired the internal sensors. If Rose had brought Alijda… I wasn’t quite sure, but we may have stayed on the station, with Alice giving Kat more information about the “Epsilon God”? Anyway, we got Kat, meaning planet, meaning no delay for the Rose/Beam fallout. Which gave Beam a backstory that I hadn’t originally planned out at all. Woo hoo?