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 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?
VOTING CLOSES ON SUNDAY JUNE 21th
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.
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.