Author: mathtans

Writer and high school mathematics teacher.

6.04: Balance Beams

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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.”

CHIBI BEAM (pre-bunny)
Commission from Gen Ishihara

“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?”

“Both.”

“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?

OPTIONS:

VOTING CLOSES ON SUNDAY JULY 5th?

Previous INDEX 6 Next

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.)

EXTRA ASIDE:
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.

6.03: Bunny Can’t Buy Happiness

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SMOKE WITH MIRRORS: PART THREE

“I’m in here for at least fourteen days?” Beam sputtered.

Alice clasped her hands behind her back, leaning closer to the large, clear wall that had been erected in place of a doorway. She scrutinized their colleague and friend. “I did say I wanted to teleport someone here, remember? Before you went down? So I created this area. You’ll have everything you need.”

“Sure, but when you said you’d bring me back in quarantine, I didn’t expect THIS, pyon pyon,” Beam protested. Her gaze shifted to Fate, who was staring, wide-eyed. Despite her own obvious irritation, Beam smiled. “And what are you looking at?”

Fate took a half step back, a blush starting to colour her cheeks. “Nothing? Just, maybe the bunny ears suit you?”

Beam’s omnipresent hairband now had two bright blue bunny ears sprouting from it, one of them partially flopped down. And her normal outfit of a dark blouse, blue skirt and dark stockings had been accessorized with a neck choker containing a bright blue bow.

The blonde holographic girl did a quick spin then, lifting her skirt to reveal a blue bunny tail poking out through a hole she had cut in her panties. “Do you like my tail too?” She wiggled.

Fate cleared her throat and turned her attention to the clipboard in her hand, idly spinning a pencil in her fingers as she stared intensely at the paper before her. “Irrelevant. You’re in quarantine.”

Beam spun back. “But I won’t be contagious forever, even assuming I am now.” Then her eyes opened wide. “Oh NO… this is two weeks without any hugs, isn’t it. I don’t know if I can handle that.”

“You have before,” Alice pointed out dryly. “Running this place all alone.”

“Yeah, but I think maybe now I have a stereotypical bunny libido?” Beam said, chewing her lower lip. “I’m thinking about sex more than usual. Come to think, thank goodness the virus didn’t switch my sexual preferences, pyon pyon. Makes me wonder about the guys it infects.”

Fate rubbed her forehead. “Back on topic, please. Beam, do you know how you, a hologram, caught a virus that, as far as we know, only targets humans?”

“I’ve been thinking about that,” Beam admitted. “Remember my programming is meant to emulate human physiology as much as possible? I sweat when I work out, I bleed when I’m cut, and so on. It’s likely that an accidental exposure to the virus triggered these bunny changes, to help me blend in with the locals.”

“But you’re not sure,” Alice pressed. “It could be some new mutation.”

Beam shrugged. “It’s possible. But I even caught a cold once. This isn’t too different. And as I said when I contacted you, I’m willing to ride this infection out so that you get some data, rather than trying to reprogram myself, pyon pyon.”

Fate nibbled on the end of her pencil, then finally brought her gaze back up to scrutinize Beam. “So, the tail. The ears, the bow. It’s become part of your program? You woke up one morning and had them?”

“The same way it happens to someone on that Earth, yeah,” Beam affirmed. “Though for humans, the bunny ears come from the scalp. Also, this bow collar?” She tapped it. “It didn’t appear, it’s an accessory. I just had this… compulsion. To buy it.”

“You felt compelled to accessorize?” Alice said, lifting an eyebrow. “How?”

“It’s like how I’m compelled to say ‘pyon pyon’ sometimes,” Beam explained. “My tongue starts to feel funny, until I do it. Likewise, my neck felt funny until I put the bow on. Even now, part of me feels like I should wear a one piece swimsuit too.”

Alice crossed her arms, looking thoughtful. “I wonder. Could the initial virus have been created by some clothing corporation?”

Fate rolled her eyes. “Any other physical changes for you, Beam? I mean, given that the males who catch this apparently change sex?”

“Like what, a bigger bust?” Beam mused, smirking. She shook her head. “Not that I’ve noticed. Did you want me to strip down and let you take my measurements, pyon pyon? Hmm?”

Fate pressed the heel of her hand to her forehead. “Oy, I should never have let our relationship get unprofessional.”

“For now, let’s just have you type up a more detailed report for us,” Alice interjected. “Okay Beam? It will be important if I’m going down there to replace you.”

Beam’s smile vanished. “What? Alice, no. It’s not safe for you there.”

Alice brought her hands to her hips. “Why? Were there riots in the streets or something?”

“Well, no. At least, not that I saw,” Beam admitted. “It’s just, the virus. Right? It apparently takes at least a day to incubate, so you can have it, and transmit it, and not know it. And I’ve seen what happens to people who catch it, pyon pyon. They’re socially shunned.”

“I’ll wear a mask,” Alice soothed. “Besides, it won’t be for long, just to get any additional data we need.”

Fate looked to Alice and shook her head. “What? No way. Once you’re down there, the only way you’re coming back is through quarantine. We’ve got to have a closed border policy in place.”

Alice opened her mouth as if to protest, then seemed to think better of it. “Valid. I guess I should be glad we’re not talking Andromeda Strain deadly here.”

Beam looked hopeful. “Then Alice would join me in here after? Ooh, so maybe Fate should go down instead?”

“Fate is still in charge,” Alice objected. “As to the rest, we’ll figure it out before I leave. Your job for now is that detailed report. Understood?”

Beam’s expression became a pout. “Pyon pyon,” she mumbled, her bunny ears visibly drooping.

***

The second video finished playing, and Para closed the file. She then turned back to Trixie, to see the redheaded witch had taken two steps back, and was now glaring at her.

Para glanced down at herself, smoothed out a wrinkle in her purple dress, and looked back up. Trixie was still glaring. “What?” Para asked.

Trixie pocketed the device she had called ‘Rixi’ and then crossed her arms over her chest. Her posture seemed to convey that the problem was obvious. Except it really wasn’t.

“Trixie, what?” Para reiterated.

Trixie sighed, shook her head, then raised her hand to point. “You’re infected.”

PARA
Commission by Michelle Simpson

Para blinked. Then reached up to the bunny ears on her hairband. “Oh! No, I said these were because I’m a quadratic function.” She smiled in what she hoped was a conciliatory way.

“Uh huh. The last guy I chatted up in a bar said he was allergic to latex,” Trixie shot back, while lowering her arm. “Could be true, sure, but as far as I’m concerned, it’s a red flag to continuing a conversation.”

Para nibbled her lower lip. She’d never been stereotyped on account of that part of her appearance before. “Okay, well… what can I do to convince you? Should I calculate the arc of a thrown object real fast or something?”

“I don’t have anything to throw at you,” Trixie pointed out. Para still couldn’t figure out if the woman was bluffing. “Is this some sort of a test?” Trixie pressed on. “Is that Fate woman watching us now, to see how I react?” She glanced furtively around the room, possibly looking for cameras.

Para slowly shook her head. “Fate went to take a call from Alice. Whereas she brought me to the Station in part for my expertise – more on vectors than on bunny girls, by the way – and in part because I’ve worked on the station before. In case an emergency situation comes up with Beam in quarantine.”

Trixie continued to stare for a long moment before relaxing her stance. “Fine, whatever. I’m staying over here. Further if you cough. Since studies vary in terms of how far away I need to be.”

Para nodded. “Are you at least taking the case? You seem to know a bit about disease transmission.”

Trixie’s expression became hard to read once again. “I know a little about a lot of things,” she said eventually. “And I still have questions.”

“I’ll answer as best as I can?” Para offered. She wondered if she should keep smiling or not.

Trixie mumbled something under her breath. It sounded like ‘bet she won’t answer questions about this place until we talk virus’. Before Para could speak up, Trixie was speaking aloud once again.

“Three obvious problems, Para. First, everyone’s been talking about this thing as a virus. What about this realm-hopping thing being a bacteria? Was that ruled out because bacteria are larger, or what?”

“I don’t know,” Para admitted. “Though I guess something smaller might more easily slip through a dimensional crack.”

“Except a virus can’t exist without a host,” Trixie continued, taking a couple steps sideways to slap at the wall. She then pointed at Para again. “Which is probably a lot LARGER than a bacteria. Can you explain that?”

Para winced. “No? Again, not a biology expert, more in this for the math.”

“Uh huh. Second problem, that holographic lady.” Trixie gestured towards the computers. “I’m thinking she could catch a cold because her programming recognized the virus type, and as such she runs some program to act accordingly. Yet in this case, the virus would be unknown… so how would her software know what program to run? Or did it only change her appearance?”

Para shook her head. Here, at least, she and Fate had discussed the situation a bit. “It’s more than cosmetic. One possibility is that Beam’s program was able to do an analysis of the viral effects at a very high level. Meaning she’s got valuable data we can use somewhere in her subconscious.”

At that, Trixie leaned against the wall with her elbow, resting her hand back against her head. She looked thoughtful. “Really? The technology buff in me kind of wants to talk to this Beam now. Is her fourteen days of quarantine up yet?”

“Not yet, but the talking is easy enough. Oh, there’s also been talk of bringing Alijda back on board to look at Beam’s programming,” Para added. “She’s a woman who was even able to hack into alien technology on my first mission here.”

Trixie stared. “You’re making this sound more and more interesting, and part of me hates you for that. But before I commit, third problem. Did anyone run a check on how you first noticed this virus thing? Alice said something about tripping a scan, but that detail was swept aside.”

Para winced. “We’re back to me not having an answer. Um, good job picking up on that?”

“Thanks, I know,” Trixie said. She glanced around the room. “So when DO we get someone in here who can answer my questions?”

“Now,” came a voice from above.

Trixie’s head tilted up. Para followed Trixie’s gaze, to see Fate was looking down at them from the hatch in the ceiling. The central control room was a couple stories tall, so the only way she could join them would be to shut off the artificial gravity, or–

Fate flipped a switch, and a short ladder swung into view. She hopped onto it as it started to telescope down. Bringing the ponytailed blonde close to the floor, as she was standing on the bottom rung.

Para turned back to Trixie. The techno-witch’s expression had resumed being inscrutable. “How long were you listening in?” Trixie asked, as Fate jumped off the ladder.

“Long enough,” Fate said, brushing off the lapels of her suit jacket, before offering up a smile of her own. “And Para’s right, good job. I can give you access to Ziggy and even Mr Smith, to track down the origin of the initial scan. Or I can look into it, while you talk to Beam about technology and the virus.”

“Sensing a big ‘if’ coming,” Trixie remarked, as Fate paused.

Fate shrugged. “It’s contingent on you agreeing to join our cause and take the case, of course.”

“Which is now a double barrelled statement,” Trixie pointed out.

Fate’s smile faded. “Yup,” was all she said.

Trixie grimaced. She looked back at Para, then the computer banks, then up to the hatch in the ceiling, then Fate again. “Will you guarantee my safety?”

“Wish we could,” Fate answered. “Know that we’ll do our best, and aren’t trying to lie to you. For that matter, maybe you’d prefer to chat to Alijda about not simply programming, but also about how much we suck? That can be arranged too.”

Trixie stared. Finally, she nodded and made her decision.

WITH WHOM WILL TRIXIE TALK NEXT?

OPTIONS:

VOTING CLOSES ON SUNDAY JUNE 21th

Previous INDEX 6 Next

PATHS NOT TAKEN:
Had Beam been injured or damaged, Alice would have been dispatched to the planet right away to help out. Meaning they would both be planet-side. Had Beam vanished, Alice would have enacted the ST:TNG episode “First Contact”… so might have been on the station, might have been consulting with someone planet-side to find Beam (I hadn’t worked out details). We got Beam having caught the virus, meaning an inversion: Beam’s back on the station (in quarantine) and Alice is off investigating in her place.

EXTRA ASIDE:
Only 1 vote by the end of last Sunday, so I kept the voting open an extra couple days (busy time of year at school anyway). Thanks to those who boosted the count. I’ve also started posting to Tuesday Serial, we’ll see if that does anything for us.

6.02: Viral Video

Previous INDEX 6 Next

SMOKE WITH MIRRORS: PART TWO

“What the hell just happened?”

Para smiled tentatively at the redheaded woman who had been teleported aboard the Epsilon Station. She had just dropped into a wary crouch. In her defence though, the Station really didn’t have a good way to warn their targets before retrieval.

“I – we – brought you in,” Para explained. “Because you accepted the virus case.”

“The hell I did,” came the woman’s sharp response. She now seemed torn between shouting at Para and looking around the circular control room. “I phoned your number to get more information, only to get a recording saying ‘Thanks for your interest’ or some such. Decided to go to the kitchen to make myself a snack – and now I’m here?”

Para pursed her lips. “Oh.” Apparently there had been a miscommunication. “Well, Trixie – er, should I call you Trixie? Professionally? Or would you prefer–”

“Trixie will do,” the redhead interrupted. She finally settled her gaze fully onto Para as she drew herself up and folded her arms over her chest. “And you would be?”

“Para. I’m a personified parabola.”

An eyebrow went up. “Quadratic equations are blondes with bunny ears?”

Para instinctively reached up to touch the parabolic rabbit ears of her hairband. She had normal ears too, to be sure, but the hairband was almost an extension of herself, the long ears reacting to whether her depression was at a minimum or a maximum. “Yes? Or we can be? I do have a twin-tailed variation.”

That seemed to cause Trixie to reach up and run her fingers quickly back through her own twin-tailed hairstyle. Para idly took note of how Trixie’s red hair was much shorter in comparison to her own, yet it did manage to reach her shoulders, even tied as it was.

“Hmph. Okay, so math can be seductive,” Trixie decided. “Doesn’t explain this abduction.”

Para felt caught off guard. “Seductive?”

A partial smile graced Trixie’s features. She posed with a hand on her hip. “I know math can reel a person in, Para. Practically taught it to myself because high school classes went so slowly. And I know seduction too. Because why have people like you only for your brains? So don’t you try to use my own distraction techniques against me.”

Indeed, with the light dusting of freckles on Trixie’s face, the schoolgirl-style blouse and skirt outfit, and the stance, Para could see how the redhead might be called… well, funny enough the first phrase to come to mind was ‘Sexy Cute’. The same moniker that her first human friend, Alijda, had once used to describe Para herself.

Of course, Trixie was human, whereas Para was a amalgamation of various theoretical concepts, given human form. Still, Para had always suspected that her curves were to make her more appealing to those who didn’t like math… were there humans like Trixie who saw quadratics as appealing already? Is it that she didn’t pick up vibes from them as often?

Still. “Trixie, wouldn’t I look more, um, male? If I was trying to seduce you?”

“Tch. Again, you can’t spirit me away and claim to know my actual name, and then pretend not to know about certain other aspects of my personal life. Honestly, it’s not like you’d be my first choice, Para. But if it’s for a case – or a dreary Friday evening – I’d be game to see what’s under that dress you’re wearing. The math aspect makes me curious.”

Para felt her cheeks getting red. “Oh.”

It occurred to her then that she had never considered any relationship entanglements with humans. But was it possible that others she had encountered might have seen her in a romantic way? Could that be partly why Chartreuse had saved her on their last mission together?

“See? I play the game better. So.” Trixie snapped her fingers in the air. “Abduction, Para. Why?”

Wait, had Trixie been bluffing? Para couldn’t tell. She shook her head. “Sorry. Um, you gave me something to think about there.”

Trixie’s smile became a smirk. “Fantasize about me later.”

“That’s…” Para shook her head, and decided not to bother correcting the woman. “Look, the Epsilon Project didn’t mean to abduct you. Per se. Phoning that number was enough to indicate agreement that you’d take the case. Or that’s what I was told, at any rate. Hence the summons.”

“Told? You’re not in charge?”

“Oh no,” Para said, raising both hands up. “I’m more of a… consultant? Though I suppose I go on missions too. Either way, Fate had something to take care of, so she asked me to fill you in on all the details.”

“Uh huh.” Trixie’s gaze had resumed wandering around the room. “I’d prefer to speak to Fate. Or whomever’s in charge.”

Para nibbled her lower lip. “Could I at least show you the video first? You’ll see her – everyone – on that. It might also answer the questions you had about the mission. And it will mean that I’ve done my job properly.”

“One moment.” Trixie walked over towards the one visible door in the room. She paused, then wrenched it open and looked into the storage closet. Seeing no-one there, she glanced around once more and sighed. “Fine, video. But I reserve the right to be returned home after.”

Para smiled. “Thank you.” She then gestured towards the computer banks on the wall. When Trixie approached, she cued up the file that Fate had left for them.

“For reference, the woman in the T-shirt and jeans you’ll see is Alice,” Para supplied. “The one dressed a bit like you, but with a darker blouse, is Beam. And the one in the business attire – when she arrives – is Fate.”

“Thanks.” Trixie pulled a device out of her blouse pocket. “Rixi, active recording. I assume you have no objection, Para?”

Para shrugged. “No. The others might ask you to erase it later, is all?”

“Well, they can ask,” was Trixie’s final word on the matter as the video started to play.

***

“I did hear you the first time,” Alice admitted, following the third time Beam cleared her throat. The brunette woman finally turned away from all of the sheets of paper she had stuck up on the wall of the auxiliary control room. “Something wrong?”

“Well, you?” the holographic woman said tentatively. “Between the recent alcohol intake and, er, this…” Beam said, gesturing at the wall Alice had been scrutinizing, “…Fate and I are worried you’re getting too emotionally invested.”

Alice’s lips tightened. She looked back at her wall of sheets, then Beam, then the wall again. “But they’re OUT there,” she declared, pointing. “We know they are.”

ALICE VUNDERLANDE
Commission by Cherry Zong

Off Beam’s silence, she turned back to the blonde. “The organization that provided one world with the means to abduct people like Fate. Who were getting funds from another world, to the point of that Earth thinking they had to shut down dimensional travel to get away. What else is this ‘Clover Enterprises’ involved in? We have to know.”

Beam clasped her hands behind her back. “With all due respect, we don’t. That’s not Epsilon’s job. We’re meant to clean up dimensional irregularities, artifacts that have become accidentally displaced. That’s all.”

“That’s FATE’S job,” Alice argued. “She’s the one in charge of the Station. We were both fired, remember? And later recruited by Fate to look into this very thing?”

Beam winced. “Technically, I resigned. But listen, after a month of us turning up no new leads? Fate’s been looking into returning control of the station to one of us. Remember, this was never meant to be a permanent position for her,” she added, as Alice seemed about to protest. “She has a world she might want to return to, unlike us.”

Alice frowned. “Are you saying I wouldn’t like to return to living with Alijda?” she accused, crossing her arms.

“You know I’m not,” Beam sighed. “Just, your original world became a hell dimension, while mine was all about free love, making my lesbian self an outcast. So neither are an option. You’re welcome to go back living with your friend, while I take over again here. Kinda the very thing I was trying to bring up.”

Alice again turned from Beam to the wall, and then back to Beam. “But we’re close to something! Right? I mean, look here.” She began to gesture and point at the sheets.

“This world has no clovers. While on this world, four leaf clovers are the norm instead of three leaf ones. The dimensions between them when we do a four dimensional projection contain THIS cluster of worlds where magical leprechauns are either a rumour, or fact, even if they don’t call themselves that. Now, if you draw a rainbow from that set over to these dimensions where the ‘Star Trek’ franchise didn’t have its first prequel known as ‘Enterprise’, you can see that a shadowy influence might have caused–”

“Mr Smith?” Beam interrupted.

“Hello, Beam,” came the male voice of the Station’s auxiliary control computer. Its control panels had been previously opened, the artificial intelligence offering assistance to Alice wherever possible during her analyses. Alice paused in her gesturing and turned at the remark.

“Hi,” Beam chirped back, wiggling her fingers in a wave. “Could you show Alice what she looks like lately? That picture I suggested from before?”

“Indeed,” Mr Smith said. An image came up on his main screen.

Alice made a face. “My face on Charlie Kelly, ha ha. Never watched that show, weirdly enough, so I’m not certain what you’re trying to say about me.”

“Oh.” Beam rubbed the back of her neck. “I thought you’d know it. He’s a guy who loses himself in fantasies, as you seem to be doing. Now, don’t get me wrong, your ability to free associate has its merits, just… maybe not here.”

“Then again, maybe Alice IS on to something,” came a new voice. Fate walked into the room then, looking down at a clipboard.

“Ungh. Way to spoil my vibe, girlfriend,” Beam said, hands moving to her hips.

Fate looked up then, seeming momentarily flustered. “Please don’t call me that when we’re on duty, Beam. It’s unprofessional.”

Alice’s eyebrows shot up. “Whoa! I was gonna simply dismiss the remark, given how Beam’s programming still has trouble differentiating girlfriends and girl friends. But now? What DO the two of you get up to when I’m not around?”

Fate’s cheeks got pinker. “Alice, it’s not what you think. I’d had a few drinks and… um, look, let’s just say this job can get stressful, and it’s important to relax.”

Beam smiled, running her tongue over her upper lip. “And women have needs. And I have–”

“OH-kay,” Fate said pointedly, waving her clipboard. “Listen. I came here to say that the scan you recommended? It’s turned up key information. About an airborne virus. Jumping dimensions.”

Alice and Beam immediately stopped looking sidelong at each other, coming to attention.

“A virus can’t do that,” Beam stated. “Not based on everything we know.”

“Not without outside help,” Alice agreed, pounding one fist into her other palm. “Excellent, a clue. Now, what was this scan you ran, Beam?”

Beam blinked. “I didn’t run one. Isn’t Fate referring to something you ran?”

Alice frowned. “I don’t think so? I’ve been running a few things though, so maybe I tripped a scan in the process.”

“Well, someone put it in the system,” Fate stated. “As we wouldn’t normally have picked this up. In particular, the virus causes different reactions on different Earths. But now that we have the data, well, it’s highly suspicious.”

She turned the clipboard around, allowing both Beam and Alice to glance over the printout and her written notes.

“Arranged by most infected,” Alice remarked after a moment. “Could mean one of the three at the top is the virus’ origin… do we have ANY vector data?”

Fate shook her head. “Not yet. Ziggy’s still running an analysis. Could take days.”

“Scope as origin is kind of a dangerous assumption,” Beam cautioned. “Still, I can go down to that world at the top of the list, to learn more. With my holographic matrix engaged, I should be protected.”

“Should be?” Alice objected. “Also, your hairband is still a tether, we know you can get hurt that way even while insubstantial. It’s like the a mobile emitter on Star Trek: Voyager.”

Beam shrugged. “I’ll be careful. Besides, this says all the virus does is turn people into bunny girls. That’s not so bad, it’s even kinda sexy.”

“On the more standard Earth it’s doing that,” Fate pointed out. “Which, I add, is preliminary data, and it has the potential to become bad. Once all the males have become female bunnies.”

“Meanwhile, on that fantasy world, it seems to be activating more latent magical abilities,” Alice mused, peering closer at Fate’s clipboard. “And on the tech world it’s causing teleporter malfunctions. This is WEIRD. Are we even sure it’s the same thing?”

“According to our data, yes,” Fate confirmed. “Only slightly mutated. Giving us insight that those worlds don’t have.”

Alice frowned. “I’d say we should just teleport someone here, but I’m not sure how far I trust the bio filters on this station.”

“Who? No one on those worlds popped up in the recruitment folders, that I know of,” Beam pointed out. “We can’t risk revealing ourselves. It’s fine. I’ll go. What’s the worst that could happen?”

WHAT HAPPENS TO BEAM?

OPTIONS:

VOTING CLOSES ON SUNDAY JUNE 7th

Previous INDEX 6 Next

PATHS NOT TAKEN:
You might think the vote last time would have indicated the situation Beam was going into (catgirls, spells, teleports), but I only determined those after the fact. That vote was more about a possible overall setting, and how well equipped Beam would be, given she’s a more technology-based character. Of course, despite her preparations, bad things will happen to her. As this part was starting to run long, giving a vote earlier than I’d thought.

6.01: Have an Ice Day

<- To Story 5 INDEX 6 Next

SMOKE WITH MIRRORS: PART ONE

Her client peered at her. “Trixie… have you never fought a superhero before?”

Trixie Virga – it was not her real name, but rather a name the young witch had decided to adopt professionally, to the point where she now answered to it – turned and shot the man a look.

“Look, BIFF,” she began, trying to keep a level tone. “First, this is your sister pumped full of mystical energy. Not a superhero. Second, she’s committed crimes, so even if she were ‘super’, she’d be more super villain than a super hero, yeah? And third?” Trixie paused. “Well, third, that plan should have worked.”

“Right. I’m starting to regret paying you in advance.”

Trixie let out a sigh of exasperation. “Let me think.”

She crouched closer to the door of the trash room, listening for noises. She couldn’t hear Biff’s sister Eleanor on the other side, meaning their mad dash out of the woman’s hotel room had apparently bought them a bit of time.

Or Eleanor had more than a few points in Stealth and Dexterity.

Setting that thought aside, Trixie figured the first major question was why pinching the mystical artifact from Eleanor hadn’t de-powered the woman. Trixie held the necklace up to her face, squinting at it in the dim light. Was this not the source of the mystic energy after all?

TRIXIE VIRGA
Commission from Sen Yomi

She fished her personal device out of her blouse pocket. She kept it there partly because of her preference for skirts which had no decent pockets, but mostly because when she went for it, people tended to be distracted by her ample chest. Thus less likely to speak, or notice whatever it was that she was actually intent on doing.

“Are you phoning for backup on that?” Biff asked.

Unfortunately, Biff was either oblivious, or gay.

Trixie made a noise that she hoped conveyed her irritation at the remark, and otherwise ignored him. The glowing red crystal in the too-small-to-be-a-smartphone device came to life at her touch. “Rixi, fast scan, okay?”

“All right,” her device intoned back, a parroting of her own voice.

Trixie placed the necklace onto Rixi’s tiny screen. “Mystical?”

“Affirmative,” Rixi acknowledged.

“Granting ice powers?”

“90% chance.”

“Accessible at a distance?”

“0.2% chance.”

Trixie grimaced. “What the hell am I missing?”

“Unknown,” her device supplied.

“How much field work have you actually done solo?” Biff broke in again.

“I’ve done enough,” Trixie muttered. True, she hadn’t been the founder of the private magick agency Biff had approached, and she was better at research and development. But she had been running the place without much outside help for over two years now. She’d seen enough field work in that time.

“It’s just, I mean, wasn’t there that other guy back at the office? Maybe you should call him?”

“Oh, do NOT start with me,” Trixie snapped, turning her best glare back at Biff. Client or not, he was becoming a pain. “First, he’s not a coworker, he’s my boyfriend. Kinda. Not exclusive. Not relevant, never mind. Second, even given that he does help me on cases, he had to go out of town on business yesterday. And third?” Trixie paused. “Well, third, damn it, that plan should have worked.”

“Yet it didn’t,” Biff remarked, though off Trixie’s look, he had backed off a step to press himself against the back wall.

Trixie pocketed both Rixi and the necklace before raking her fingers back through her twin-tails, wracking her brain for the answer.

This was like the classic Star Trek episode “Squire of Gothos”. Captain Kirk had destroyed the mirror that was supposedly the source of Trelane’s power… only to discover it was some kind of amplifier, and the guy still had powers. Was that actually useful information? Was it merely random trivia?

Well, Kirk had needed to be bailed out of his death sentence by superior beings, so that didn’t bode well for her situation.

“You know, my sister could be taking hostages out there,” Biff remarked, seemingly determined to break her concentration.

“That’s more on you than me,” Trixie growled.

“Look, I hired you to handle the situation,” Biff said, raising his hands with his palms out towards her.

“So let. Me. Handle. It,” Trixie spat. She smacked her forehead twice, as if that would help to knock the proper thoughts together.

It worked. Or at least, it made her realize she’d overlooked something.

In the Star Trek episode, Gothos had been artificially constructed. Right? How had this hotel been constructed? Was there anything about this location that might be interfering?

Trixie fumbled for her device again. “Rixi, cross reference GPS of our current location with known magick events, starting with the present and working backwards.”

“Working,” came Trixie’s own voice again, followed seconds later with, “an explosion two months ago in room 1408 created a temporary fissure to another realm. No damage otherwise. Documented by–”

Promising. “Abort explanation, correlate aftereffects with previous artifact and accessibility question,” Trixie said, trying to speak as fast as she could without sounding garbled.

“Working. Revised probability of distanced access, 97%.”

There it was. She simply had to get the necklace off this property to sever the connection. Hopefully. Pity she hadn’t thought to cross-reference earlier, as getting Eleanor out of the area would likely have shut her down as soon as the artifact had been removed from her person.

Though that might have made the necklace harder to grab.

Anyway.

“Okay then,” Trixie concluded, shoving Rixi back into her breast pocket. She yanked the door to the trash room open.

Eleanor stood on the other side, staring back. She was a head taller than Trixie, her hair a snow white thanks to the effects of the necklace, her outfit an ice blue dress. Trixie couldn’t shake the image of a very ticked off Elsa, from the “Frozen” trilogy of movies.

“I was wondering if you’d try to jump down the chute,” Eleanor remarked. “Glad you’re giving up instead.” She held out her hand. “Last chance. Return my necklace.”

Trixie knew she had no chance of being imposing here. Heck, she tended to dress more for seduction… albeit she knew now to give a pass on tight skirts when out in the field. So more running wouldn’t be a problem. If only there was a way past.

“Hard no,” Trixie said, wondering idly if reason could win through the day. “You’ve broken into how many places now by freezing the locks?”

“Lost count,” Eleanor said. “You’ll be the first witch I freeze though.”

Eleanor extended her arm, and Trixie knew the touch was liable to be deadly. Of course, in theory no magick user could ever affect someone who was unwilling, but there were rather a lot of loopholes. Including Trixie’s prior use of a spell in Eleanor’s presence, opening her up to passive acceptance of retaliation.

And as that prior spell had been a low-grade teleport, to get the necklace away, Trixie couldn’t use that spell now. Casting any spell multiple times in a row would always result in diminishing returns.

She had one option in reserve though.

“Velocitas,” Trixie breathed.

The spell to speed up her own frame of reference proved to be enough for the redhead to not only dodge Eleanor’s outstretched hand, but drop to the ground and jump through her adversary’s legs before the other woman could react.

Trixie began to run as fast as she could down the hotel corridor. Only to have her feet slide out from under her, as her boots failed to find traction on the newly icy floor.

“Nice try,” Eleanor remarked, as Trixie slid into a wall, ass first.

This was bad. Now that she was in the corridor though, and right by the elevators, Trixie realized there was a new option in reserve. She righted herself without bothering to completely get up, and fumbled again in her pocket.

“Rixi, materialize delivery gun.”

“All right,” her device intoned. “Accessing.” It took a few seconds… during which Trixie worried that she’d removed the item from her personal magick hammerspace at some point in the last two months. But eventually the familiar small globe of light appeared, hovering over the screen.

Trixie grabbed within the light. With that, the light was dispelled, leaving her holding what had – once upon a time – been a nerf gun.

She dropped Rixi back into her pocket while pulling out the necklace again.

“A gun?” Eleanor said, pausing in her advance. She was only five, maybe six metres away, but seemed to be in no hurry. It was almost like she knew she had the upper hand. “You realize I can freeze the bullets in the air before they reach me.”

“Suspected,” Trixie admitted. She held up the necklace. “Gun’s for this though.”

Eleanor frowned. “What do you hope to accomplish by shooting it? You cannot destroy my necklace, you should have realized that by now.”

“Yeah,” Trixie agreed, cranking the gun power to full. “But I think my gun can pierce that window there, the one looking out on the parking lot?”

Eleanor turned to look where Trixie was gesturing. Even then she didn’t seem to quite catch on what was about to happen. It was only as Trixie dropped the necklace into the chamber where one would normally put bullets that Eleanor’s eyes widened. And as Trixie exhaled, she could see her breath in the now bitterly cold air.

“Protrudo,” Trixie gasped, as she pulled the trigger.

It hadn’t been a sure thing. Hell, Trixie doubted she’d have wanted to know the odds, even had there been time to ask Rixi about them. But with the additional propulsion of the spell, the necklace did indeed pierce the nearby window with a ‘crack’, the arc such that the artifact ended up flying out and well beyond the hotel parking lot.

The newly formed icicle, with its point less than a metre away from Trixie’s chest, remained frozen in place for a few seconds. Then it fell off Eleanor’s index finger. Then Eleanor crumpled to the ground.

Trixie decided it was safe to draw another breath.

Once Eleanor had been unconscious for ten seconds, Trixie let her head fall back against the wall and closed her eyes.

“Um, so, is my sister going to be okay?” came Biff’s voice, after a short time.

Trixie reopened her eyes. Her client seemed to be checking for Eleanor’s pulse.

“Oh, I’m FINE, thank you,” she growled, pushing herself back to her feet. The ice on the floor had melted, and her skirt was wet. But she was still alive. In fact, she suspected the anger she felt was more trying to dispel the sense of fear.

Trixie fumbled back in her pocket for Rixi, and stowed the delivery gun back into her hammerspace.

Biff watched her, looking unimpressed. “Isn’t this all in a day’s work for you, or something?”

“Because as you pointed out, I fight super villains ALL the TIME,” Trixie snarked. She walked closer. “But yes, we’re BOTH fine, and outside of the withdrawal symptoms your sister will experience, she should be herself by morning. And one more thing, if I may?”

Biff seemed to consider whether he wanted to hear it. “Yes?”

“Next time you want to give your sister a gift, don’t buy it from a demon. Capiche?”

Biff flinched. “You think that I’M the one who gave–”

“Stop,” Trixie interrupted. “Don’t even. I’ll assume it was unintentional. But I saw the little inscription on that necklace. Hence me saying hostages would be more on you than me. Suspected it initially too, hence the paying me in advance.”

Biff simply stared now, a frown tugging at the corner of his mouth.

“Oooh, yes, I’m more than just a pretty face. I’m a techno-witch. So, do you have anything else to say? Or can I close this case?”

“I… would prefer not to see you again,” Biff concluded.

“Fine. Eyes on you though,” Trixie said, making the universal motion as she pointed two fingers as her own eyes before turning them to jab at Biff. “Keep your nose clean.”

With that, Trixie marched out of the hotel to go and find the necklace. She made a mental note to ask Rixi to do the occasional web search on Biff’s name for the immediate future too, just in case the guy was truly up to something.

***

That evening found Trixie staring at the note. She’d put off dealing with it in favour of handling the case with Biff and Eleanor, but had no such excuse any more.

Her querying messages had come back by now too, and none of the other techno-witches she had made contact with had any awareness of what it meant.

Trixie gave the words a scan again.

‘We need help with an airborne virus. It’s jumping dimensions. Not deadly yet, but is a mystery. As you can handle both magic and technology, call this number if you accept the case.’

“Surely they mean realms, not dimensions?” Trixie muttered aloud. “And I’m better with computer viruses, not airborne ones, so whaaaaat?”

She shook her head. The note had been shoved underneath her office door last weekend. Scans by Rixi told her nothing. Which in and of itself was kind of fascinating.

Trixie stood up from her desk. “Well, fine. I can at least call to get more information,” she decided.

WHAT’S NEXT?

OPTIONS:

VOTING CLOSES ON SUNDAY MAY 24th

<- To Story 5 INDEX 6 Next

PATHS NOT TAKEN:
Had votes been for more of a fantasy, it would have pre-defined “virus world” as magic, and we likely would have started there. More of a romance would have leaned towards Alijda and Kat working together (and they didn’t get character votes, so perhaps it’s good we didn’t get that plot). With the mystery decision, we hire Trixie. There were a few false starts in writing this, but ultimately I elected for a full Trixie case, to help those who haven’t read my ‘Balancing Act’ story. The rest of Epsilon’s cast will be here momentarily.

EXTRA ASIDE:
Yes, this was supposed to go up last weekend. But full time math teaching from home, while simultaneously parenting my almost 2-year-old daughter? Means I get VERY little free time. Add to that the fact that “midterm” grades had to be sent out May 8th, and May 10th was Mother’s Day, and WOW it’s amazing when I even get sleep any more. So many emails. So we’re a week late. Thanks for your patience.

Smoke with Mirrors INDEX

ɛ PROJECT

WB (Writing Bufferless) presents…

STORY 6: SMOKE WITH MIRRORS

Every Epsilon story can stand alone. That said, in Story 5, the crew were trying to locate a company that was having seemingly illicit dealings across the dimensions. Now, according to prior voting, we proceed…

Story 6 of ???

STORY #6:

A mystery illness is jumping dimensions. Who are you going to call? Possibly a techno-witch. Find out more by reading below.

CAST:

TRIXIE VIRGA … A twenty-something techno-witch (from Virga Mysteries)

PARA BOLA … A personified quadratic function (from Personified Math)

(more to come)

 

EPISODE INDEX:

1. Have an Ice Day (May 17)

2. Viral Video (May 31)

3. Bunny Can’t Buy Happiness (June 14)

4. Balance Beams (June 28)

5. ??? (coming July 12)

Virga: Behind the Scenes

There’s actually a lot that went on behind the scenes of “Virga Mysteries”, featuring university witch Melissa Virga. Not so much in breadth, but in depth, as far as the writing goes.

So to fully wrap up the Virga Mysteries saga, I thought I’d do one more post about how it all came together. Note: There are spoilers for some plot points. Enjoy!

EARLY CASES

The story started in 2003, when I was getting my teaching degree. I wrote the introduction paragraphs (James arriving at the apartment) in January (later revised in June). At the time, I was actually doing a lot of moving myself, because my degree was from a University out of Kingston (where I stayed in two places, neither of them residence) but my practicum was in Ottawa.

MELISSA VIRGA
Commission from Shirley

I had the first story done by May, so after graduation. I’d basically had the idea of an imaginary friend come to life, and wanted an eccentric female detective to deal with it. Sherlock Holmes was likely an influence.

The characters were revisited a year later, in June 2004, when I was in the midst of some confusion surrounding my relationships. That’s why the second story has a romantic undercurrent in it, along with the technological aspect. (The initial note for the story simply states “computer site, evil script”.)

I feel like the writing helped me work through some things. I subsequently changed elements after the first draft, and then modified things even more before putting that second case online here.

I must have been treating the story more seriously then too – I actually had some text files of latin phrases for use in 2004. And a vague third story idea, “Love of a Star”… that never materialized. Instead, the third (and last) case came about in 2008, after a four year gap.

It was my grandmother’s death that prompted me to mess around with what actually became that third story, “Borderline”. I don’t remember if it was a conscious or unconscious decision to bring back Melissa, so that I could work through some personal issues.

I was quite close to my grandmother, and incidentally was pleased she was able to meet my soon-to-be wife before she passed on.

Since this time the afterlife issues were of impact only to me (unlike the second case with relationships) there was less overall editing. In fact, the story was unfinished (lacking concluding paragraphs) until 2010 (when I did the extra edits to that second story). That’s when I decided it would be a trilogy and called it there.

I hadn’t really had any plans to put it online, but I hadn’t had any plans to not do it either. Which could be said of much of my writing.

BALANCING ACT

The characters returned for a JulNoWriMo in 2012. I’d been aware of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) since the mid 2000s, but school is very busy that month, with report cards on top of everything else. So I never participated.

July, by comparison? Relatively quiet. So when I saw the JulNo tag somewhere in June, I decided to try for 50k. But what to write? Well, why not a new Melissa story, incorporating as many weird supernatural things as I could? Including callbacks to the original cases.

Since this was going to be novel-length, I decided it had to be at a pivotal time for the characters, hence James’ graduation years later. I did my own personal tracking (they have websites for this now), reaching 10k on July 6th, 20k on July 17th, 30k on July 21st, and 40k on July 25th.

There were a couple of 0 word days in there (when I NaNo now, I try to avoid this, always having at least something new in the document) including on July 29th. But on the 30th I powered through with almost 4k words to get 50,085. (It wasn’t even the highest day, I had two previously where I exceeded 4k.)

I then wrote the conclusion on July 31st (including Trixie’s “Post Epilogue Thing”) to get 51,382 words in total. This was spread over two files: Events up to the end of Amy’s part, and from Melissa’s parents onwards.

For the record, my writing style tends to be having a particular goal in mind (in this case, Melissa’s ascension) with smaller arcs created along the way. I find I can’t write the goal first, because I’m not sure what the mood or reactions of the characters will be at that time… it will depend on whatever comes before.

So that’s why there was that big time skip after the bit with Melissa’s parents. I realized I was approaching 50k, and so decided I’d fast forwards and wrap up the faction stuff rather than draw things out even longer with cases (which I probably could have done).

I feel like it still made narrative sense, but maybe that’s me?

Once done, I figured the story would need edits… but maybe not too many, since James wouldn’t get to edit this story to match with the plot, right? And Trixie self-described herself as no good at it. 😉

VIRGA ONLINE

I started running the cases here in January of 2018, having previously considered running them once I got through Time & Tied. (Something needed to fill the void.) That’s why I pulled all the files into their own directory in May 2017, and why I had art of Melissa (see above) commissioned at Anime North 2017 later that month.

The initial cases were easy enough to separate into four parts/acts each, as I’d written all cases to be roughly the same length. I mostly did final edits as I went along, usually in the days right before posting.

“Balancing Act”, which began its run on this blog in late January of 2019, required rather more effort.

TRIXIE
Commission from Sen Yomi

I initially split the story into Four Acts (as I had the previous cases). I did edits on Act 1 as posting began. By March 2019, I realized that the second act was going to be 8 parts, more than the initial 6 parts of Act 1.

It had made sense to put the split in when Amy fell asleep, separating by event, rather than by length. But I wasn’t sure I liked that, and suspected similar issues would come up with the remaining two acts.

It was after March Break (with my wife and daughter still in France) that I revised “Balancing Act” to Six Acts. But they still weren’t equal size, the third act was only two parts (splintered off of Act Two) and the fourth was four parts.

Tweaking occurred, putting the last (now sixth) part of Act Two into Act Three as well, giving part lengths of 6-5-3-4-??. By the end of March, I’d even decided to go with 6-5-5-???, splitting Act 3 in the middle of the dinner with Melissa’s parents. Perhaps a bit awkward, but I think it worked?

By early April I had edited things as far as June. I don’t upload right away in such cases, to give me time for a final pass, but that seemed to create a lot of inertia. Act Five took a lot longer to mess around with, editing-wise. I blame parenting, and so forth.

It wasn’t until near the end of JULY that I got Act Five done. Seriously, I look at my edited files and there’s a jump from “Mar 21” (Act 4c) to “Jul 22” (Act 4d, possibly just a renumbering).

In the interim, I got an art of Trixie in May at Anime North 2019, just so that it wouldn’t be Melissa all the time as the image for the posts.

FINAL EDITS

In terms of actual posting, we were at 3C by July 28th, marking what might have been the “end” of an act, given the initial four-act plan. (You might notice a bit of a “finishing” vibe there.) Except it wasn’t, because of how I’d extended Act Three to five parts.

Around this same time, I was completing the equivalent of an entirely new part (to fill in the time skip gap a little better). That’s when I realized the parts could be 6-5-5-5-?? and most of the acts would become five parts.

This new work in late July, by the way, also let me flesh out Trixie’s backstory a little more. A process I’d started earlier, as in the initial writing, she had been interested in bothering Melissa by trying to hook up with James.

I nixed that early on. (Hello past me, we really don’t need two women with a thing for the narrator.) It morphed into more of her annoying Melissa in other ways, and not taking relationships seriously.

So the discussion between Trixie and James (in 4D) after their dinner (and just before the time skip) was all new – originally just a two paragraph summary.

I frankly like Trixie much better this way. The original writing had her drop her interest in James after the illusion spell making her look like Melissa went nowhere (the bit with Zamboni). This now morphed into her questioning her desire for a perfect relationship (as a counterpoint to Zamboni).

I’m still not sure if it works, but it definitely works better than what was there before.

At any rate, to keep the 5-part structure, I decided to put the Wrap-Up of the Zombies in the start of Act Six (as 6a)… and it just so worked out that Trixie’s addendum in Act Six worked well as it’s own part, extending what would otherwise have been another five part pattern.

Meaning an overall structure of six acts, the parts being 6-5-5,5-5-6. Almost like I planned it from the start, or something.

I do like how it kind of foreshadows Trixie’s extra “Post Epilogue”, if you remember that Act One seemed to have that extra part to it.

The entire editing process was done on Tuesday, July 30th. There were some minor updates in October 2019 as I uploaded to the blog, and again in mid to late February 2020. I had toyed with the idea of splitting “Balancing Act” into two (a bit like I did with Time & Tied’s four books), but September 2019 promised to be busy, so I nixed that.

This post was written the week of April 20th, after spending the previous week on the Epsilon Summaries, and there you have it.

Did the process go at all like you thought it did? Do you have any thoughts about the characters, either the three mains (including Trixie) or the individuals? What about bringing back information from the other case files, bad plan? I’d be interested in your thoughts, as always.

If you liked the story, perhaps vote for it at TopWebFiction, so more people see it? (By clicking on that link?) It took a while to clear their queue, and then I never remembered to suggest that link until now. My marketing fu is weak.

Next week, we’ll see how Story 6 of “Epsilon” goes. You still have about a day to vote, if you want input on the genre and characters. Thanks for reading!