SMOKE WITH MIRRORS: PART SIX
“Pyon pyon. Pyon pyon.”
Trixie looked up from her cafeteria tray. She immediately regretted doing so. “Beam,” she groaned. “Now that you’re out of quarantine, could you, like, wear actual clothes? Unless you’re headed to a pool.”
The blonde holographic woman tilted her head to the side, while still leaning in across the table. Giving Trixie a very good view right down into the cleavage of her swimsuit. “No. I feel all tingly when I cover up more than this,” Beam answered. “Which then seems to make the effects of the virus worse later on.”
“Then at least make the effort to not charge up my hormones this way,” Trixie griped, now finding it impossible to look away from Beam’s heaving chest. “I need to focus, so that I can solve this mystery and get the heck out of here.”
Beam glanced down towards her own torso, then stood up straight again along with taking a step back. “Oh yeah. Sorry. Was just with Para, who’s less susceptible to my wiles than you or Fate. It DOES take a conscious effort for me to not be sexy in this state y’know, pyon pyon.”
Trixie sighed, finding it easier to stare at her bowl of melon balls now that Beam was a couple metres away. She brought her spoon to her mouth, munching in order to have a moment to consider a response.
Honestly, even if Beam wasn’t contagious – as far as they could tell – having the bunny girl hopping around the Station felt more distracting than it was helpful.
Sure, Fate needed someone to handle station work. And Alice had recently reported that, over time, Smoke could completely clear from an infected person, and revert people to normal. But the number of cases there were still in the minority, while Beam was still very much infected.
But then, Trixie reflected, maybe she was simply biased. Because she had become enraptured by the holographic girl’s coding, which was written in some programming language that she didn’t have a hope of understanding. It was mysterious, magical code, from which a lovely female personality could emerge, and blossom. Blossom, and thrive.
Blossom, and thrive, and perform skilled sexual acts on the fairer sex.
“Why do you consistently send my mind into the gutter?” Trixie finally asked.
Beam smiled and shrugged. “It’s a gift? Though when you first saw me I was giving off more lusty vibes than usual. Doubt that helped for impressions, pyon pyon.”
Trixie shook her head. “Guess I’m not blameless. After almost a week here on this Station, I’m craving more human contact. So, why are you interrupting my lunch? It better not be to hit on me.”
“It’s because Fate’s going to make contact with someone else shortly,” Beam answered. “And she thinks it might be best for all of us to be there.”
Trixie pushed the cafeteria tray away, focus restored. “Let’s hope it provides a breakthrough. Lead the way, and don’t shake your cotton tail at me.”
“No promises, but I’ll try, pyon pyon,” Beam stated, spinning on her heel as Trixie stood up.
Trixie climbing off the ladder in the main control room seemed to prompt Fate to start in on an explanation.
“Okay,” Fate said. “I ran a new character analysis. There was our initial information, which suggested to us that Trixie might have some solutions, plus the data from Alijda and Alice. All conditional on us only consulting someone with whom Epsilon’s previously interacted.”
“Isn’t that kind of a short list?” Para mused. “There haven’t been that many big missions.”
“Small missions count. Like Beam’s first archaeologist assignment,” Fate clarified. “People who have never met us, but they are aware of artifacts and the like.”
“What turned up then?” Trixie asked, coming closer.
Fate turned to the computer. “One name. Time to give this a try.”
The blonde woman reached out and tapped a few keys, then stood back as a phone began to ring.
“We’re not bringing them here, pyon pyon?” Beam murmured, leaning closer to Fate.
“According to his file, he’s got the means to get here if he wants,” Fate answered. “In a British taxicab.”
Trixie turned. “He?” she said, surprised. She’d started to take their all female cast for granted.
The sound of the phone ringing cut out, and an image appeared on the computer monitor. Trixie took in darker skin and what looked like a tan suit, before there was a flash of blinding light. Light that must have come from a swiss army like device that the man was holding. His face came into view as he looked at it, then back at the monitor.
“Oh,” he said. “This is actually a call. I thought for sure there was a malfunction.”
Fate stepped forwards and waved. “Hello! I represent a group of people who are looking for some assistance in terms of a dimensional pandemic. Possibly with a temporal angle.”
“Oh, that’s MASON,” Para said, smiling. She stepped forwards next to Fate, waving. “Hi! How have you been, friendly alien guy?”
Mason’s look of confusion was replaced with a half smile. “Oh, there’s someone I recognize. Para, yes? You still with… the Epsilon Project, was it? Guessing it hasn’t been easy to track me. I’ve been off the grid.”
“I don’t think we were trying to,” Para answered. She looked at Fate. “Were we?”
“No. Alice even put a flag on his file, but we’re in a bit of a bind here. Mason, can I send you all the data we have? For your opinion? You can decide if you want to join us in person after reading it.”
“Oh, HE gets all the data first,” Trixie muttered.
Beam took a step closer to her. “Mason has already been on this Station, and signed a non-disclosure form. Or some equivalent,” she informed her, quietly.
“I’ll take a look,” Mason was answering, as Trixie processed Beam’s words. “Kind of in the middle of something though. Include the best coordinates to phone, in case I can’t visit?”
“Will do,” Fate stated. She stepped forward to tap again at the keyboard.
“Thanks,” Mason said. “I’ll be in touch as soon as — wait, stop, good kitty. No, kitty. No, don’t jump on the–”
The connection cut out.
“Huh.” Trixie ran her fingers back through her twintails. “Well, that was informative. When can we expect him to–”
She was interrupted by a ring, and Fate reached out to tap a button on the console. The image of Mason reappeared, although this time he was wearing a fez and sunglasses.
Trixie stared, her fingers still stuck in her hair. Apparently more time had passed on his end of the phone line than on theirs.
“Hello again. Good news and bad news,” Mason remarked. He peered at his swiss army knife, then pushed the sunglasses up to the top of his head, knocking off his fez.
“Bad news first, pyon pyon,” Beam chirped.
“Hm? Ah, yes. Can’t triangulate to your location, but it’s not because of chronon particles on your end,” Mason said, ducking out of view. “As there are none. I think the trouble’s my stabilizer.” He reappeared and pulled off the sunglasses. “And the affectations aren’t helping. Oh well.”
“Did you want us to try and lock on from here?” Fate asked.
“Don’t bother,” Mason said, waving her off. He peered again at his swiss army knife, then shook it and looked back at them again. “I can deliver the good news this way. I think I know why your pandemics are happening, if not how.”
Trixie slowly lowered her hands. “Just from reading Fate’s files?”
Mason smiled. “Well, and from looking at your group. A bunch of white females. Who are, aside from the lady rabbits, human too.”
As Fate looked back around at their group, Trixie had to concede the point. Even Alice and Alijda fit the bill in terms of his description. Perhaps that’s why the algorithm had pinpointed a brown skinned male alien for them? Assuming biological sex even worked the same way with his race.
“Uh, we’re sorry for that?” Fate said, looking back at him.
Mason shook his head. “Never apologize for being yourself. Unless you’re supporting institutional racism, then do better than simply apologize. No, it just got me thinking, to a virus you’d all be the same too. Except while Beam looks the same, she is different inside. So why go to the trouble of attacking that code, and not the nearest router?”
“Um, I’m more complicated than a router,” Beam protested.
“Right,” Mason said. “You can move about. Go places you shouldn’t. Whereas a router is stuck in one place. You see it yet?”
“Hey! When I go places it’s CONSENSUAL,” Beam insisted. “I mean, I might come on a little strong with the prettiest women, but before I put my tongue–”
“Beam, stop. He means you were deliberately infected,” Trixie broke in. “That’s it, right? This wasn’t natural. Someone adapted the virus to her.” It was starting to click, and not in a good way.
Mason nodded. “The thought had occurred,” he remarked.
“Except the virus was affecting immobile technology on the adjacent world too,” Para reminded them. “Wasn’t that in the data we provided?”
“Well, looked like something was affecting those devices,” Mason granted. “Possibly a program for purging information that people didn’t want getting out. To stay hidden. Another a good way to stay hidden is to be somewhere that nobody wants to go. Like a world in the midst of a massive pandemic. Which is where I was leading.”
“Oh no,” Trixie said, a chill running down her spine. “You don’t think multiple worlds were infected merely to try and divert attention away from the one place where someone was doing experiments, do you?” Misdirection was a classic way of concealing a truth.
Mason shrugged. “Hey, I have no certainties here, only more hypotheses.”
“Okay. So we’re talking about someone trying to stay concealed,” Fate reasoned. “Someone on Bunny World, since that’s where Beam was.” She paused. “We need a better name for that place.”
“Smoke Machine?” Beam mused.
Fate rolled her eyes. “Anyway, this is progress. We can now plan to track down whomever could reprogram a holographic woman to be infected, or otherwise think she was, to keep her and other people away. Not a common thing on that world.”
“They also gave Beam the capability to spread the regular virus in the process, for plausibility,” Para added. “Since Beam gave us an initially positive test, right?”
“I feel like Alijda could do those things,” Beam mused, crossing her arms. She looked over at Trixie. “You probably could as well, pyon pyon. So you’d both be helpful for finding the real crook.”
“I could too,” Mason remarked, reminding them he was still watching. “Not that I – or any of us – would. That is, any of us in this present moment. I’m not sure how your temporal issue factors into the–” Something sparked behind him, and he looked over his shoulder. “Oh, shoot.”
“More trouble with your cat?” Fate wondered.
“You mean the Flerken?” Mason said. “No, I think this is… uh oh, I gotta go. Thanks for the chat, all the best with your problems.”
He waved his hand, seemed to fall down, and the communication line cut out again.
“I’m sure he’s fine, pyon pyon,” Beam said after a moment.
“So that happened,” Trixie said, rubbing her forehead. “Moving on, remind me whether it was confirmed that Bunny World had the first outbreak?”
“Yes, as best as we could tell,” Fate answered. “With the latency period ranging from one day to fourteen days, it’s hard to be 100% sure.”
“All right. So either it started there, and someone’s taken advantage of it to spread it further and give themselves a hiding place… or it was brought there by this individual deliberately.”
“A-Am I the only one thinking Alice could be in danger?” Para spoke up. “Like, maybe anyone who gets too close to the truth gets infected the way Beam did.”
“Alice was steering clear of where Beam had been,” Fate assured. “Precisely because we didn’t want Alice being infected, and didn’t think Beam had found anything. Though I suppose Alice IS staying in the same apartment.”
“I should go back down,” Beam decided. “Not only to help Alice, but maybe seeing me still poking around despite my infection will throw our enemy off their game, pyon pyon.”
“I don’t know. Maybe I should go,” Trixie said, crossing her arms. “Aside from how I don’t think I can stand being on this Station much longer, you said it yourself. My ability to give you this virus makes me well suited for pinpointing a like-minded individual.”
“Or maybe Alijda should go,” Para offered. “She also has programming power, we know she works well with Alice, and right now she’s on a decoy world.”
“We’d need to route her through quarantine, which would delay things,” Fate said. “Also, Alijda was seen in the past of the planet she’s on… wait, you don’t think she’d go rogue in the future, and be the person we’re after, do you?”
“If so, all the more reason to have Alice watching her,” Para suggested.
“Hello? Was I not brought on board to investigate?” Trixie insisted. “And I have magic, which Alijda doesn’t have.”
“Your field work is hit and miss,” Beam noted. “And if I was on the planet, I wouldn’t be distracting your research up here.”
Fate crossed her arms, brow furrowing. “Great. Another decision to make.”
VOTING CLOSES ON SUNDAY AUGUST 2nd?
PATHS NOT TAKEN:
Recalling Alijda would have had her interact more with Trixie (and possibly call Alice) as they discussed the situation. Handling things themselves would have had Beam look into past Epsilon missions and artifacts for anything helpful (or she possibly would have visited the tech world, fanning out the group rather than consolidating them). The former character (which won) was always going to be the winner of of the poll for “Favourite One Story Character”. At the time of this writing, that was Mason (2 votes, versus 1 for the others) for the cameo. It worked well given the temporal element.
After a week online, there was only one view and one vote. Again I sighed on Facebook, which brought me to three votes, all tied. I had vague plans for working with all three, but did retweet Tuesday Serial and put out a call on Twitter (twice) for anyone wanting to tiebreak. Happened late on Thursday, so went with the Mason plan. (I’d have thought it was the first person re-voting, possible after 7 days, except it wasn’t for their initial choice.) Thanks for reading, spread the word!