SMOKE WITH MIRRORS: PART FOUR
“Don’t do that,” Trixie said, frowning.
Beam looked back over her shoulder, ceasing wiggling her hips. Or rather, ceasing shaking her bunny tail at the acrylic doorway separating the two women.
“Is it distracting you?” Beam asked, with a cute little smile.
The blonde holographic woman had changed since Trixie had last seen her in the video. Most visibly, she was now wearing the blue one-piece swimsuit she’d alluded to then, to match the bow around her neck and the bunny ears spouting from her hairband. She still wore dark stockings, but now they disappeared into a pair of blue heels.
“Vaguely,” Trixie admitted. There was no point in lying. “But it’s like I told that Para lady. Don’t use my own distraction techniques against me. It annoys me more than it turns me on.”
“Oh.” Beam stood up fully and turned back around. “Fine. But I doubt I’m contagious, pyon pyon. And my fourteen days are almost up. We could have a LOT of fun together afterwards, before I get back to normal. Hmm?”
“You don’t even know me,” Trixie pointed out. “This is our first meeting. Why allude to wanting to sleep with me?”
Beam winked. “I’ve read your Epsilon file. I know you’re here to help us, meaning you should be rewarded. And I don’t think not knowing someone has necessarily prevented YOU from a night of passion before.” She wiggled her eyebrows, which made her bunny ears twitch too.
Trixie tightened her jaw. Beam wasn’t wrong, and yet. “So you got to read some file on ME, whereas we have to talk in person before I get access to any files about YOU? Oh, that seems fair,” she concluded, allowing her tone to imply that it definitely did not seem fair at all.
At that, Beam sighed. She turned away again, but instead of shaking her tail, went retrieve a nearby chair, which she pulled closer to the doorway before sitting down in it. She crossed both her legs and her arms, regarding Trixie.
Trixie wondered whether Beam was trying to get her to look away first, or perhaps was waiting for Trixie to offer up an apology for the outburst. She did not rise to the bait, waiting for the blonde to take the first action.
“You want me to spell out why we’re meeting here?” Beam said at last. “Or would you prefer to deduce it, what with investigations being something you’re supposedly good at, pyon pyon.”
Trixie swallowed her first response – namely ‘your bunny virus wanted a woman to hit on’ – in favour of giving the question a fair chance.
Whatever file ‘Epsilon’ had, it likely contained some information about Trixie’s habits, her investigative procedures… and Rixi, her magical technological device. Indeed, Trixie suspected that part of why they had showed Beam to her at all – a curious case of a piece of technology who could get sick from a human condition – was in the hopes that it would rope her in.
A plan which had worked.
In the end, off Fate’s final offer, Trixie had found herself incapable of turning down the chance to study Beam, even over the alternatives of looking into this Station’s advanced technology, or chatting with another female programmer who might have similar interests.
Which had to be the answer.
“You want me to see you as more than a program,” Trixie decided. “More than a piece of near incomprehensible software that might be malfunctioning. Which can only be done by talking to you in person, before looking at your ones and zeroes.”
Beam made a little finger gun, which she used to take aim at Trixie. Her smile was back. “Eighty percent of the way there. And?”
“And you wanted to make sure that I don’t have an interest in stealing your software. Given that time in my past when I was interested in a constructing a virtual person for dating purposes.”
Beam pointed her finger gun at the ceiling. “Whoa! That info is not in your file, but I am hella intrigued now, pyon pyon.”
Trixie grimaced. The overshare had been a gamble, to see just what data they DID have on her. But given Beam’s reaction, perhaps she should have thought of something a bit less personal.
“Fine. Then more generally, you also wanted to see me, to judge my capabilities. Possibly my personality.”
Beam lowered her index finger again to make a shooting motion. “Bang on. Wouldn’t you want to meet the ladies who intend to sift through your unmentionables? Alijda, I know, pyon pyon. You, I did not.”
Trixie posed with a hand on her hip. “And what’s your opinion of me now?”
Beam bounced up out of the chair and clasped her own hands behind her back, leaning closer. “I know you are good at what you do. And I now believe you see me not as just a program or a person, but a balance of both, pyon pyon. Granted, the virus may be throwing off my balances… still, I think we could be friends.”
Trixie eyed Beam. “I sense a ‘but’ coming.”
“Mmmm. But I am reserving final judgement until I see whether you’ll keep talking to me, or run off to look at my less human pieces now. Since I am giving you the go-ahead for that.”
Trixie considered the proposal. And as tempting as it was to simply look at the data, Beam was as much a client as she was a curiosity.
“I’ll bite,” Trixie yielded. “We’ll keep talking. Do you know much about your own software then? About what it is I’m going to see?”
Beam shrugged. “Only about as much as you might know about your own body, pyon pyon? Fun fact, you’ve got more bacterial cells in you than you do human cells.”
“Okay. And would you normally be able to reprogram yourself?”
At that, Beam finally frowned. “Hmph. Would you be able to reprogram your gut bacteria?”
Trixie shook her head, twintails flipping back and forth. “False equivalence. That’s hardly the same thing.”
“I suppose not.” Beam started to pace back and forth. “But based on similar logic, no. I’m pretty sure I’d mess something up if I tried. I wasn’t given high tech programming knowledge, Trixie. If anything, I know more about humans. And women, pyon pyon. And how to please them.” Her smile returned, and again she winked.
“Uh huh.” Trixie refused to be baited, no matter how cute Beam appeared. “Don’t make yourself out to be some kind of programmable call girl, Beam. It’s undignified.”
At that, Beam paused in her pacing. “I’m hardly programmable,” she said, indignantly. “I have my own kinks. And I come from a world of free love, Trixie, so one of my fundamental understandings is that there’s nothing wrong with ladies enjoying sex. I got the impression from your file that you of all women would understand that?” She fluffed her chest.
Again, not wrong. Trixie worried she was starting to blush. She forced her gaze back to Beam’s smile. “Yes, well, time and a place, Beam. How about this virus situation, do you at least know how to triage yourself?”
Beam accepted the deflection and resumed pacing. “Sure. I mean, I know how to keep my hairband charged, pyon pyon. I have self-repair diagnostics, which are vaguely analogous to your leukocytes, or white blood cells. And if I’m really in trouble, I know to seek help, meaning I can identify such cases.”
“But aren’t you in trouble right now?”
“Am I? I’ve got weird cosmetic changes, a desire to wear odd clothes and say ‘pyon pyon’, a hankering for carrots, and a majorly charged libido, but my life isn’t in danger.”
Trixie considered that. “So you think that’s why no self-repair is cutting in.”
Beam shrugged. “Or maybe it needs the virus to wane more before being fully effective? Again, I’m not some interface for Goodle, or whatever your world’s popular search engine is. I can’t simply ‘look up’ a correct answer.”
“Right, right.” Trixie tugged on her own earlobe as she thought. “Well, what DO you know about viruses?”
Beam chuckled. “Human or technological?”
“More than I did a week ago,” Beam said. She stopped pacing in favour of sitting back in her chair. “It gets boring in here.”
“So what have you been learning?” Trixie pressed. She sat down herself on the floor of the hallway, cross-legged, hoping it would encourage Beam to stay seated and stop wiggling her bunny tail. “Or is it more, you’re becoming aware of subconscious things you knew on some level already?”
“Been talking to the other ladies, pyon pyon?” Beam started swinging her legs back and forth. “I mean, I’m sure my programming knows more than I consciously do, but I’m not convinced it can interpret a virus the way they think.”
“So you don’t think my examining your bits would help.”
“Oh, you can examine my bits,” Beam giggled. She leaned back and swung both legs wide open. And Trixie now regretted sitting on the floor, given what it put at eye level.
“Bits and bytes, for any viral code,” Trixie snapped, louder than she’d intended.
To her credit, Beam shut her legs shut again almost immediately. “Sorry, new libido took over. Trixie, my bits and bytes and petabytes might help. That’s why I’m letting them be examined, pyon pyon. But as I said, not convinced.”
“Why?” Trixie pressed, tugging at the collar of her blouse.
Honestly, she didn’t know whether it was the virus, Beam’s mannerisms, or something about the hologram’s very nature, but the blonde bunny really was seeming more and more attractive, the longer that they spoke.
Trixie decided to focus on a random point on the wall behind Beam.
“Because,” Beam answered. “A virus is designed to alter the way a human – or computer – operates, by attaching itself to a legitimate cell – or program – and using that other identity to spread it’s nefarious code. Via vectors or macros or whatever.”
“That I know,” Trixie said. “So you think the very act of your program attempting to analyze a virus would cause said program to become infected? Except that doesn’t make sense, because a normal computer wouldn’t be infected by a flu.”
Beam clucked her tongue. “A witch, forgetting that magic exists, pyon pyon? Not to mention how we know this thing jumps dimensions. Think again.”
Trixie’s brow furrowed. She still didn’t have a good baseline for what dimensions were. “Then, an adaptive virus? One that has some magical power to mutate depending on its environment?”
“Mutation was my first thought after being planet-side,” Beam agreed. “But in the reading I’ve done since, I think it’s more a matter of recombination.”
Trixie shook her head. “We’re beyond my expertise.”
“Recombination occurs when co-infecting viruses exchange genetic information, pyon pyon. That’s how we get a novel virus. A bit like having a viral baby, except there’s no sexual reproduction involved, alas.”
Trixie grimaced, looking sidelong at Beam. “So, what, you think this virus – does it have a name I can use?”
“The locals on the world where I went called it Smoke.”
“You think this Smoke was able to combine with some virus that already existed in your programming?”
“Not quite,” Beam clarified. “I now think Smoke was able to exchange information with something that wasn’t a virus – though magical means, possibly – allowing the creation of a new novel virus version of itself inside me, pyon pyon.”
Trixie considered that. “I don’t see how that’s more likely than a mutation.”
“Well, every virus mutates, with RNA viruses like the flu being more prone to it over DNA viruses like smallpox. But they usually mutate into a weaker version, whereas getting at me, or behaving in a non-bunny-girl way on a different world, implies a power-up.”
Trixie shook her head. “But if this virus can recombine at will, then why wouldn’t it spread itself into plants too? Or animals? Or other living things?”
“Good question. I assume it’s been given magical limits,” Beam asserted. “Thankfully.” She slumped. “Or, y’know, I’m totally wrong and looking like a bunny was truly my programming doing an over-analysis, pyon pyon. I dunno. Gawd, I need a carrot.” Her legs fell open again.
Trixie only noticed that last in her peripheral vision, and she scrambled to stand up after doing so. Could pheromones be transmitted through plexiglass? Either way, she was definitely getting too distracted. “Okay, Beam. I’m going to go have a look at your code now. Just one more question?”
“Yup?” Beam said, not bothering to correct her posture this time.
“Do we know if this virus has jumped outside humans on any other world from your briefing? On the tech world with teleporter technology, for instance?”
“No idea, pyon pyon. But Alice is still investigating in my place on Bunny World, she might have turned up something.”
“Right. Okay, thanks,” Trixie said, giving a little wave to Beam as she turned to walk down the hall.
“Byeeeeee, enjoy staring at all my naughty bits,” Beam called out.
Once Trixie had turned the nearest corner, she paused, and took a couple of deep breaths.
“Get a grip, Trix,” she muttered to herself. “It’s opposites that attract, not whatever the hell that was.”
She raked her fingers back through her twintails and considered what additional information she had.
First, while the Epsilon people were very shady, they did seem to be playing it straight as far as their situation went. Or they were incredibly good actresses.
Second, there was no way they were going to get all of their answers to the virus mystery by staying on the Station. Even if Beam’s programming turned up something, they would still need more data regarding the potential for those viral recombinations. As well as possible natural immunities.
Perhaps, Trixie mused, she should even suggest that they gather data from the other viral worlds? They didn’t have a defined point of origin yet. And sending Para might prompt an illuminating response, if they recognized her state as one possible mutation.
Finally, irritatingly, Trixie knew that was going to have to be careful not to get swept up in the novelty of everything going on around her. After all, these people knew her better than she knew them.
Even with everything being on the level, she would still need to be cautious.
HOW SHOULD EPSILON INVESTIGATE?
VOTING CLOSES ON SUNDAY JULY 5th?
PATHS NOT TAKEN:
Had Trixie talked with the computers, we would have looked more into the Station history (possibly what the project more routinely scans for). Had Trixie talked with Alijda, we would have explicitly brought our teleporter into the fold with both virus and Epsilon talk. With Beam being the choice, we focussed mostly on the virus, moving forward there. (Even as Beam got more forward too, I swear she’s worse than Peaches.)
There were no views on the previous part in the 10 days after it was posted. Possibly a new record of some sort? There was one vote though, which I suppose answers the question of whether subscribers voting counts for views. Once report cards were in last week, I posted to my personal facebook looking for more votes, which is how we got to where we are now (and why this post is a few hours late). Thanks for sticking with it out there. Let me know if you have a particular viral preference.