Chapter 9 – Tango on the Catwalk (Part I)

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The gentle crinkle of ionizing air emanated from Frog’s skin as Hadaly gently brushed her holographic hand across her hair and back. The lights in Elaine’s room were off, but the suffuse glow from the various monitors, LED status lights, and Hadaly’s projected body provided more than enough light to distinguish the edges of objects and the keys on keyboards. The removal of the spellwork from theARGteam members went well and the use of the equipment probably only cost the university only a few hundred dollars of electricity—that would look rather interesting on the mid-quarter financial report.

“Gah!” Frog yelped as she jumped from a particularly bright flash of static electricity.

“Sorry,” Hadaly said. “I’ve got the discharge magnitude as low as it will go for the projectors to still function properly. You’re covered in the stuff, you know.”

“It’s just electrostatic residuals taking residence in your body’s cells,” Elaine said. “I warned you not to stand so close to the degaussing coil. The astral energy of the spellcode that Vargas, Pilgrim, and Wright set in their brains had a diffusion radius along the field lines from the solenoid. You caught some of the backwash.”

Frog scrunched up her lips into a pout and blew a puff of air at an errant lock of green hair. “But I love the way it feels. We don’t often get to use that sort of heavy equipment.”

“And now for your front,” Hadaly said with a grin too big for her face—an effect only possible due to the projected nature of the ionizing hologram.

“Oh, Zane would kill to see this,” Frog said as she turned around to face Hadaly and raised her arms over her head. The AI’s luminous grin increased intensity by an erg as she brought her hands up and ran them along Frog’s shoulders. Frog’s face hardened in mock sternness. “One word about this and I’ll kick your virtual ass into the Singularity.”

“You could just take a shower, you know,” Elaine said, gesturing to the door. “Running water will disperse the ionizing phenomena. At this time of night, the communal bathroom will be entirely empty.”

“And pass up a chance to tease your brother about a little girl-on-android action?” Frog said. “You’re recording this, aren’t you?”

“Everything I experience is ‘recorded,’” Hadaly said.

“Maybe we can make a music video out of it.”

“Way ahead of you.”

“I get director’s cut privileges!”

“Can I get you two to focus for just a moment?” Elaine asked. She’d connected the Enoch to her workstation and let the device synchronize all the data it collected from her experimental series in the Law Library with what she’d streamed during the hours she’d spent with the otherARGteam members. Upon returning to her dorm room, she’d also logged into all of her usual hunts: favorite IM chat rooms, dark-side-of-the-web forums, and IRC networks.

The night seemed a little bit sluggish for talk; but she’d already managed to set a few of her confidants arguing over the best ways to use mid-stream SQL hijacking on a database to alter grades without making it obvious cheating had happened. The spellcode used by the Brad’s friends and he had been magical in process, but the underlying effect could still be modeled with computer code. Elaine relied on this fact to translate how the spell functioned into terms her hacker friends could parse.

Yow!” Frog exclaimed. “…tell me you didn’t do that on purpose.”

“I didn’t do that on purpose,” the AI said. “Also, I’m done. You may now safely interact with equipment in the room without bricking it or toasting yourself.”

“Thank you, Hadaly,” Elaine said. “Frog, you’ve got free range of the room again now that I’m sure you’re not going to fry anything with random lingering ESD. Although cumbersome, this does give me some ideas on how we can track who in the dean’s cheater list could be using a similar effect to what Wright’s friends had encountered.”

“Sure thing, boss,” Hadaly said.

The silvery-blue outline of her projected self dissolved as the air-ionization effect dissapated when she killed the projectors in the room. Elaine watched her vanish with a certain amount of speculation. The AI had once again gone with a long-haired, almost-animé faced female avatar wearing a long lab coat. She’d gone through a long series of visible characters recently that deviated from her usual look (which seemed to template on a taller version of Elaine) but she’d settled back into her old standby: a projected model that looked like a less uncanny version of her android chassis.

She scrolled through her e-mail for the day.

The smart agent that guarded her inbox had chewed through all of the spam that flowed through, caught and parsed important-seeming e-mails and tagged them appropriately, and siphoned confidential mail into its own secure encrypted storage for her later perusal. Outstanding from today’s civilian messages lay one from the Dean of Engineering’s personal Gmail address asking her for an update on her progress. He’d sent the message to one of her dead-drop addresses so it would be unlikely anyone would intercept it, but he still gave away a lot in the text.

“I really need to talk to the dean about being more sensitive about his private e-mails,” she said to Frog. “He sent me three e-mails today through his personal address but the timestamps suggest that he did it at work.”

Frog lay on her bed, twirling a pillow with her hands and feet, one of the many tablet computers from the room on her stomach.

“You think we should leave him one of your burner crypto-phones that you passed out to Zane’s team?” Frog asked. “It might make sense for your future clients to have a safe way to contact you.”

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