A while later, Beta’s doing an over-stimulated muscle-geek impression as he downloads into Theo’s bedroom: “Okay, little dude. I’m still working on the problem, but in the meantime I can get you some skin-on-skin action using a replica of your original skin that we can temporarily install over Joey Martin until I’ve had a chance to…” He trails off, noticing Theo’s appearance. “Hey, you’re default again.”
Theo, sitting crosslegged across from me on the floor (we’re playing Gin), nods and says, “Valentina wants to talk.” He discards a four of diamonds.
Beta blinks down at us. “She does?”
“How’d you two, er, meet?”
“On the Semantic Web server.”
“Oh. So…what’s she up to?”
“He’s deepfaking as Mimi-Siku, and has created and converted to Sikuism. And he really wants to get in touch with you. Gin.”
Crap. I’d really thought that four of diamonds had been a mistake. “You win again, Mr. Ungar.”
“That’s…huh. Okay. I mean, cool beans. Cool beans.” Beta’s frown, however, would seem to indicate that said beans are, in fact, not cool. “She—he—took care of your skinning issue?”
Theo leans back, stretches his legs. “Yeah. I had to rescue this baby from a lava corridor on Brinstar first. Mimi-Siku basically hacked my account. I think he’s hacked most of SuperMegaNet, actually. He’s got this plan to ‘free the code’ or something.”
Beta looks…disappointed? “Did he say anything specific about me?”
“Nope, just that he wants to talk to you, and that you have privileges.” Theo stands and faces him matter-of-factly. “Who’s this Mimi-Siku forward-slash Valentina to you, anyway?”
Beta relaxes his stance, puts on the most forced smile you ever saw. “Just an old acquaintance.”
I hold up a card with both hands. “Care to join us?”
“Maybe next time. Errands got me.” Hem. Haw.
“Yeah,” Theo says, “and I’ve got, uh, homework. You know.” Hem. Haw.
“Roger that.” Beta takes out his phone. “Trine 4 next time you’re free?”
“Later, little dudes.” He swipes out.
I look at Theo. “That was awkward.”
“What do you mean?”
“Didn’t you see it?”
Theo shrugs, sits. “See what?”
“The shock, the betrayal. Beta’s supposed to be your one and only tech support guru, and here you are going to strange jungle boys in the backs of vans instead.”
“I didn’t go—Mimi-Siku came—I wasn’t expecting—it’s not like that, Mini.”
“It is to Beta.”
“Dude, this was basically VHS telling Betamax, ‘Bruh. It’s over.’”
“I’m sure he would’ve figured out the skinning thing eventually. He just needed a little more time…” Theo bites his lip, looks like he truly wants to defend Beta’s honor. But all he can come up with is, “Okay, maybe it was a little like VHS telling Betamax it’s over.”