Hippie the Happy Goth's Homepage (HippieTHG.pnk)

Bright, happy darkness illuminates Hippie’s homepage. Shades of black, pink, and yellow plaster the background, with pictures of goth-coloured cupcakes and flowing dresses covered in metal spikes. The BBS board in here lists several of Hippie’s home-made baking recipes, along with directions on custom food colouring. It isn’t all that popular, but there is some traffic; mostly from users trying to reach the hyperlink pad to the Cafe Castel delivery website.
Torrent fidgeted with her green gloves, running her fingers over the nozzles on their tips. She was happy she’d managed to find some help for HayWyre, despite all the trouble it caused her. The mad horse program, origin unknown, had infected the cafe’s auto-waiter in search of food. Only through dumb luck had she been able to trick it into the teleport beam to Hippie’s PET. Within her realm, Torrent had been able to contain the beast, but her perfect little paradise was not the same.

All night, the infected horse would groan and plead in its stasis, and every morning Torrent would boot up and find tiny tentacles festering on her beach. It wasn’t hard to delete them, manipulating the tide to swallow them was all it took, but every day there were more of the little blighters. It was only a matter of time before they’d catch her unawares.

<<Are they there yet?>> Hippie asked, her voice in Torrent’s ear. <<I can’t look up from this dough.>>

“Of course not.” Torrent paced checking her internal clock. “It’s still half an hour before the meeting time.”

She was happy she’d been able to get help in return for some mercenarial work. What worried her cowardly spirit… was what dangerous mission they would ask her to do in return.

“Wait.” Torrent paused. “Why can’t you look up from the dough?”

<<Because I’m experimenting with 200% baking soda and instant yeast.>> Hippie replied, and Torrent could swear she could hear a horrendous groaning noise over the speaker. <<As soon as I turn my back on it…. WHAM! It’s gonna pounce!>>

Not for the first time, Torrent wondered if Hippie might be some sort of Human Virus.
Despite anxious nerves making the time feel slower, Torrent's waiting was eventually rewarded about five minutes ahead of the organised meeting time, by a bolt of light delivering a pair of figures into her slightly (increasingly) infected homespace. As the beam dispersed, both navi and operator (if Hippie had survived her baking experiments unscathed) would be able to see that the pair were mostly human-looking, though young at first glance.

The pair looked very similar to each other, about four and half foot each; perhaps about twelve years old in human metrics, but with fit, healthy forms and deeply sun-darkened skin that suggested an active life in the sun. Both had haystack blond hair, rough and messy, though the girl – presumably, as they both still wore a certain element of youthful androgyny – had hers tied into a pair of short pigtails, with red fabric ties.

As they stepped out of the landing area and looked around, the pair seemed to mostly compliment each other's glances; when one looked high, the other glanced low; when one looked right, the other was peering left. They were dressed in rugged farm-yard boots, and scuffed-yet-serviceable blue denim overalls that hung a little loose, and showed off an array of freckles across their crests and shoulders, underneath the tan.

The duo both clocked Torrent at more or less the same moment; the one with the pigtails grinned and raised a hand to wave, while the other dashed across to her with an equally enthusiastic smile, reaching to shake her hand with the one he had free; he had initially arrived with what looked like a hay fork in one hand, and now had it slung lazily over his shoulder as he greeted her.

“Hi, Miss! Miss Torrent, right? Nice to meet ya!” Bright blue eyes danced with eagerness as he shook. Behind him, approaching at a more casual walk, the other visitor was grinning just as broadly, if with a greater sense of calm.

“Glad you looked us up, Miss... Helping programs like this is a tricky business, and most folks don't... bother, y'know? I'm CareFilly, pleased to meet ya, and that's my brother.”
“I'm BoltColt!” Up a little closer, Torrent would be able to see that, alongside their fairly normal farm-hand appearance, the twins also bore short manes – a narrow continuance of their messy hair that continued down the back of each of their necks until it disappeared beneath the overalls, as well as short, wispy tails that emerged via some circumspect and unobtrusive tailoring. Unlike her brother, CareFilly didn't seem to be carrying any immediate tools or weaponry, and she did seem to have a slightly more pronounced scattering of freckles across her nose and cheeks, though that was about where differences by which to tell them apart ended. The difference in demeanour would probably be enough anyway.

“So, where's your new friend at? Want us to go have a look at the poor guy and see if we can't figure out what's up?” BoltColt's enthusiasm spread into him glancing about the area again, as though trying to get the layout of the data space and find the sick program.

“Aye, but probably best if ya tell us all about how you came by 'im, and what's happened up 'til now. Gotta get all the facts before we can figure a treatment.” CareFilly paused to stretch, arms above her head then out to the side, and rolled her neck before shrugging in Torrent's direction.
Torrent’s arm jittered as the farm-flavoured vetirinarians shook her hand. CareFilly and BoltColt’s earnest eagerness somewhat assuaged the anxiety in her heart, and she was able to put some trust in the two. “Hello! Thank you for coming all this way to help me out. I don’t know if this is something you have to deal with often…”
She beckoned them to follow her towards the jack-in port at the back of the homepage. “I’ve been keeping the creature in my PET because… well, I wouldn’t know where else to put it. It doesn’t feel like a regular virus to me.”

Torrent stood in front of the portal for some time, but the threshold didn’t respond. “Hippie?” She called out.

<<Huh? Oh, hold on, gotta wash my hands!>>

Torrent flashed the pair a patient smile. “My operator works at Cafe Castel, which specialises in baked goods, and I help out when I can.”

Torrent began to regale the two with her experience in the malfunctioning Auto-Waiter robot, with only a few self-aggrandising adjustments to the story. She explained how she had to take a roundabout path to the control centre, where she came across HayWyre spreading its infection to the system and causing the bug. The resident Progs hadn’t been much help in determining the horse’s origin.

A loud ‘whomph’ thundered from the real world. Torrent checked her video and boggled at the sight of Hippie struggling to contain what looked to be a vast blob of dough that had apparently escaped the oven and was taking over the kitchen. “Hippie!? Are you alright?”

<<No- mmphg- no problem here! Got it all under control!>>
Hippie leaned over the counter behind her, her face filling the feed. Her oven-gloved hands were full of monstrous bread. <<Nevermind, I’ll just use my nose! Boop!>>

The aperture in front of the trio opened up, and the feed cut out. Torrent wondered if there was anything she could do to help, but Hippie had dealt with worse confectionary catastrophes before. She shuddered as she remembered the ‘cornbread incident’.

A brief instance of infra-red travel later, and Torrent was standing on the silky sands of her personal paradise. The small island was surrounded by a cascading wall of electric water, the simulated sky showing through the circle it formed. Beyond a ringlet of palm trees, a three-tiered structure burst from the ground, like three plates jammed onto a spiraling staircase at various heights. The different levels held Torrent’s various trinkets she’d accumulated over the years, and Torrent led CareFilly and ColtBolt to the lower tier.

The bottom tier had been cleared out for its new occupant. Suspended in a thick bubble of liquid electricity, HayWyre dozed fitfully. Even though she’d just cleared the area this morning, already a small cadre of mechanical tentacles had escaped and clung to various surfaces.

Torrent used the power of her PET to scoop up one of the tentacles in a bubble and held it out to the twins. “This here is the problem.”
The twins followed along and waited with varying degrees of patience while Hippie was too busy to handle the connection and Torrent began to explain the history of her situation a little more. Colt seemed to bounce a little in place, like standing still was a hassle for him, though his sister waited with hands on her hips nodding along at various points in Torrent's story.

“What sort of pastries do you make? Do you make 'em fer navis too? Ones with lots of sugar? Oh, and apple!” Colt's eagerness was derailed into the idea of sweet food almost immediately, while Care giggled behind one hand and shook her head.

“It sounds like some folks didn't really have much faith in ya, an' you showed them the right of it anyhow. It's good to hear, but I'm not likin' the sounds of this from what yer sayin'...” She folded her arms, one finger absently plucking at a worn, frayed patch on at the shoulder strap of her overalls. “An' you say, the system was meant to have a protection and cleaning program, but this fella wasn't it, an' you didn't find the one that was meant to be there?” She cast a brief glance across to her brother, who calmed long enough to share a short moment of seriousness with her; he gave a short nod of understanding and small shrug.

“Could be, just gotta have a—” It was in this moment that Hippie managed to take care of matters on her end (mostly) and the aperture opened to transport them across to Torrent's private home.

“—have a... look... ahhh, wow...” Bolt's words tried briefly to continue his original train of thought, but tapered off as he looked around the new space and took it in with bright eyes. Alongside him Care gave a low whistle of appreciation at the sight, but otherwise seemed content to stretch her arms and lace her fingers behind her head as she followed Torrent to the lowest tier of her sanctuary.

The pair seemed to key to the sleeping shape that Torrent led them towards, even before she pointed HayWyre out directly. As they got closer, Colt moved ahead a few steps right up to the bubble and placed his hands against the edge of it; a tingling electric effect seemed to react to the contact, shimmering and sparkling around the edges of his fingers, but the bubble didn't seem to be at risk, and the boy didn't seem discomfited – just fascinated as he peer in.

“You're beautiful...” His voice was an excited whisper, just a little breathless. Beside Torrent, his sister was also looking on with bright-eyed interest, but she paused to look in Torrent's direction for a moment quickly.

“Don't worry about Colt; 'e's just checking for stasis locks, making sure the containment is stable an' a few other things. He's good with barriers, containment, counter-measures, that kinda thing. 'E won't break anything.” She shrugged softly and grinned, then looked towards the other issue that Torrent drew her attention to. She reached out to take hold of the cable-like wire tendril that Torrent lifted up to her, then reached into the bubble to grip it and bring it closer to her eyes to examine. It writhed to activity again as soon as it left Torrent's protective bubble and immediately started wriggling and curling around Care's hand; the leading extension of it reached out and started trying to burrow into the shoulder strap of her overalls and she reached up to slap it quickly with her other hand.

“Oi, none of that now...” The tentacle fell limp as she tapped it, then broke down swiftly into loose data, scattering away. The girl frowned, her expression serious and looked back to Torrent. “Right... an' the place you found him was covered in these, right? I'll wager you've been getting' more an' more of 'em here, too, whether he's asleep of not?”

“Filly, Filly! Come look at this!” A call from Bolt, who had moved all the way around HayWyre's bubble now drew her attention and she gave Torrent an acknowledging smile before stepping across to join her brother. If torrent followed with her, she'd hear a soft murmur from the girl as she looked into the bubble properly as well.

“Well, you are a handsome mister, aren't you? Hmm... what've we got?”
“Here; see? Doesn't match. Here too. And here.”
“Don't reckon I've ever seen one this advanced before. Been around a while, this one.”
“It's gonna be tricky to make it safe, but keep him here too.”
“The Fault's got stabilisers, but you know they won't wanna give us one fer this.”
“Come on, Filly, there's got to be other options, right?”
“Aye, there is, but... Hmmm...” As the spoke quickly and quietly back and forth to one another, there was clear care and concern coming from both of them. They seemed to be examining different elements of HayWyre's physical form, but any time one of them pointed something out to the other, there was a slight ripple of green light that passed over both of their eyes, and signs of deeper code being examined. After a moment, CareFilly stood again and turned back to Torrent.

“Well, we think we know what's going on here. This is a lovely fella, from a much older net, and it looks like he's been through a right journey. Listen, Miss Torrent... we can help, and we're goin' to; meanin' you no disrespect, but at this point, our concerns are about HayWyre here, first an' foremost, you understand? Thing is...” She hesitated now and bit her lip, glancing back to the bubble and then to torrent again. “This is a tricky case, an' the best way we can help him, an' make sure he's still himself at the end of it means, well... 'e's going to need someone to look after him properly, when all said and done. Probably for a long time.” She reached up to rub at the back of her neck, looking away at the rest of the paradise surrounding them.

“I know you rescued him, when a lot of other folks wouldn't have stopped to ask, but we ain't going make any assumptions and put that weight on you without askin' first; are you able to be this fella's care-taker, after we get him fixed up an' healthy?” She paused, glancing back towards the program in need and folded her arms. “We're still goin' to take care of 'im, if you can't, an' we'll sort something out, an' find him a home, but... but it'd be much easier if you could, an'... and I hate to bring it up, but, it'd be cheaper too; you can help us out, take care of HayWyre here, and then we don't have to charge you anything just for being a good person.” There was a clear note of loathing in the young girl's words as she spoke, directed at the idea of having to charge people expense for trying to do the right thing. As much as she had said she didn't want to put the responsibility on Torrent, it was clear she was hoping for a positive answer.
“Have him… stay here?”

Torrent pondered the ramifications of what CareFilly was suggesting. Though she wanted to make sure HayWyre was cured, allowing it to stay was another matter entirely.

She looked around her island home. It was her bastion against a world of monsters. Outside, viruses and worse prowled in endless packs, ceaselessly hunting for Navi destruction. In here, she could be whatever she wanted; a powerful fighter, a great hero. But…

She had to admit, it was a… lonely existence.

Torrent bit her lip and looked at HayWyre. Thoughts of what could go wrong bullied her brain; the loss of her home, of everything she owned, of her safety… But looking at the state of HayWyre’s infection… her strongest and most convincing thought was that if she had been infected, she’d hope someone could be there to take care of her.

Torrent nodded, a smidge of reluctance shaking her head like a bouncy ball. “Alright. Alright, I’ll… let him live here. Y’know, until he’s better and can decide for himself.” As soon as she said the words, a slight soothing sensation washed through her. It felt… good.
There was a moment of apprehensive nerve in the air while CareFilly looked up at Torrent with a softly pleading expression, but it relaxed into a soft sigh of relief and a nod of her head as the other navi answered. After a moment she nodded again more seriously and drew a breath before ginning at torrent as she looked up again.

“Alright, okay, that's good. Thank you, really. I know it's a bit of an ask, an' not really one ya signed in for an' all, but, it means a lot, you know? Okay... Let's see what we can do...” She shook out her shoulders and rubbed her gloved hands together before turning back to face the sleeping program alongside her brother.

For a minute or two, the pair seemed to move carefully around the bubble, examining and conferring in hushed phrases. It wasn't long, however, before Colt dashed back to Torrent; he seemed to want to run everywhere, even if it was only two steps.

“Heya again! We're gonna have to let him out of the stasis you've got 'im in, to get to work proper. Have you got somewhere he can run about, and not wreck any of your other things?” He glanced about for a second or two, uncertain, then turned back, grinning afresh. “Don't worry about him being dangerous or nothin', Filly an' me can handle ourselves an' make sure he doesn't hurt anyone. Fella just needs a bit of space to open himself up, you know, and then we can get at the instability.” It was a moment or two before Care stretched and folded her hands behind her hear as she turned back to Torrent as well.

“An' there's the other problem, too. This is where we'd need your help, if you're willin', Miss Torrent. We need a few materials an' other bits an' pieces to make this work safely for everyone. Bit expensive to get from a supplier, an' a bit dangerous to get ourselves... but if one of us stays here with HayWyre, starts doing the clean up and treatment, an' keeps him calm.... and, um...” she glanced around for a moment. “Keeps the little creepers from spreadin' while we do, o'course...” she shrugged. “One of us does that, and the other goes for the parts we need – an' it'd be a real help if you could go with... help with some of the danger an' such, or maybe help convince a navi or two of the need, if it comes to it. That way, it all gets sorted, an' no-one outta pocket.” She glanced across to her brother and tilted her head.

“You wanna do the run, or...?” Beside her, Bolt shrugged back, then looked to Torrent.
“Your call, Miss! We're askin' you to help out, so least we can let you pick yer travel partner!”
“It's no real difference to us, Miss Torrent, we're sorta like a paired program, really. Different skills, but we can sorta borrow from one another, when we're apart.” Care added onto her brother's offer with a little more explanation, but they both waited to see how Torrent was feeling about all of this... both whether she was willing to go on a short adventure with one of the twins, and which one... but also whether she was ready to let her newest charge wake up and be cared of by the other twin while she was out.
Torrent bit her lip at the twins’ request. HayWire had made a mess of things in her PET the last time he’d been out. But, she supposed there’d be no way for him to get the attention he needed without being let out of stasis.

“I’ll let him out. Just, ah, don’t let him get upstairs. There’s plenty of beach to run around on down here.” Torrent glanced at the memorabilia on the second platform and shuddered to imagine it covered in virus.

She charged energy into her finger and poked the bubble. It popped soundlessly, the liquid flowing out of its spherical shape at an abnormally slow speed, gently depositing the horse onto the bottom floor. The horse stirred; it wouldn’t be long before he was galavanting about again.

Torrent turned to the twins. “Alright, um, I couldn’t say who’d be better to come along.” Thinking on it, she had the sense that CareFilly was the more thoughtful of the two, and if she had to put money on it, she trusted her more to not get all of her stuff broken. Plus she didn’t really want to leave a guy alone in what was basically her room.

Torrent nodded at CareFilly. “I’ll leave you in charge here, then. Take care of things while we’re gone.” She smiled at her twin. “BoltColt, why don’t you show me the way? I’m afraid I’ve no idea where to start with this.”
The pair nodded in turn at Torrent's decisions and as HayWyre began to stir and wake Care moved over to him and crouched down, reaching one gloved hand out to rest on his flank. Most of her attention was focused on the rousing program, but she glanced back and up with a brief grin.

“Don't you worry, Miss Torrent, I can keep him down here where it's clear, and keep the creepers from spreadin'. I can make a start on isolating the instability and protecting the sectors he's going to need, while you're gone, and our friend here'll get to do a few laps on the beach.” Her tail flicked and swatted at a couple of seeking tendrils that had already poked up through the sand and were attempting to burrow into the fabric of her overalls and her gaze flicked across to her brother.

“Try the valley at 27.28.641.55, should be fastest an' safest at this end of the year. MerryWeather may be able to help out, if she's still hangin' about there, but be nice to her this time, if you do see her, okay? I ain't sure she's quite forgiven you fer breaking her tea set last time.” Beside Torrent, Bolt nodded in return, and shrugged.

“That's what I was thinkin'.... but it weren't my fault, you know that!”
“Aye, but she doesn't much care 'bout the specifics, an' you want her help... so be nice.”
“I will, I will...” The brief moment of deflated enthusiasm only lasted for the time it took BoltColt to scuff at the sand with one foot, before he immediately brightened up again and looked to Torrent.

“Faster we go, faster we can get you an' him sorted. Ready to head out, Miss? Place we're going might be a bit dangerous at times. We'll try to avoid any fights, if we can, but it might happen. Best make sure yer ready an' have anything ya need before we go. ” As much as Colt and Filly had the forms of near children, it was clear they both knew their business, and Colt bore an unworried nonchalance, for his own part, as he warned her of the dangers. Once Torrent herself was ready to depart, her chosen guide met her at the exit portal, ready to lead her to their next destination.

((Transfer to a distant rainforest valley => To See A Prog About A Horse))
Torrent exhaled in relief. Finally after weeks of pulling virus tendrils out of her hair-pipes she was going to get this problem sorted. “Thank you, both of you. I don’t know what I’d do if I had to live with this for much longer…”

She looked up into the sky. “Hippie? Are you okay? We’re ready to go, now.”

There was no reply, so she activated the alarm on her PET; a sure-fire way to get Hippie’s attention.

A window into the real world flashed open before her. <<Torry! Sorry! I totally spaced! How did it- um… What’s the verdict?>>

“CareFilly’s going to stay in the PET and look after the horse. I’m going with BoltColt to… uh…” Torrent trailed off. She pointed over Hippie’s shoulder. “Wh-what’s that?”

<<Hmm?>> Hippie looked behind her into the kitchen. A man-sized glob of dough was busy kneading bread on the countertop. <<Ah, this is Brot! He’s some kind of abomination, but he’s taking to baking really well. I’ve been giving him lessons!>>

Torrent stared at the dough-man as it ponderously rolled the bread. Two empty sockets in the hump where a head might be turned slowly to meet her gaze. She shivered. “Whatever you baked that with, I think you shouldn’t use it anymore.”

<<I agree!>> Hippie nodded sagely. She held up a bottle with a stylised W on it. <<Creating new life is not something I have the time nor brain space for.>> She pocketed the bottle in her apron then punched the air. <<Let’s go find a cure!>>

“Right.” Torrent decided she was going to ignore all that. She waved at CareFilly then followed BoltColt, jogging lightly to keep up with the sprightly horse boy.