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Chavenlink, Quorta III
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"Reprogramming Mikey"
Part One

By Lyla Toomney

Lyla sat back in her chair and smiled faintly as her office faded and gave way to a howling, bobbing, jostling crowd in a sea of bouncing heads. Seemingly floating on that sea was a stage, brightly and hotly lit from spotlights all over the arena. The bald-headed singer had just finished a verse and was pausing to let the guitar, bass and percussion take over for a while. He smiled grimly over the sea of faces, spotted Lyla and nodded faint acknowledgment.

"Freeze concert," Lyla said and the mob froze in mid-bounce. The music continued, though without something. The drummer had frozen with the rest of the program. "Hi, guys!" Lyla shouted and the lead guitarist and bass player looked up in surprise.

A grin blossomed over the bass player's face and he waved, "Hey, Lyla! Get up here!"

Lyla chuckled and started toward the stage. The bass player's eyes twinkled and, when Lyla was half-way between where she had started and the stage steps, the crowd resumed its wild hysteria. "Mike!" Lyla shouted indignantly as a trio of teen-aged girls screamed in her ear. He just grinned, vamped his bass and winked at her. The girls screamed again and one fainted as Lyla started pushing her way forward again. She growled in irritation as she hit the wall of security people and she made a face at Mike. In this portion of the holo-reality program, society rules of the late 20th century had to be followed. Hence, she couldn't get on-stage unless one of the band members let her through security. "Come on, Mike," she mouthed at him. "Lemme up!"

Mike grinned devilishly, dropped into the well between the security people and the stage, tapped the shoulder of the man holding Lyla back as the local crowd surged and started screaming louder. "Let her through," he shouted over the noise at the man. "She's cool." He pointed at Lyla and the man grunted in frustration as he let her through and struggled to hold back the rest of the mob. Lyla scrambled into the security well and Mike grinned at her.

"Twit," Lyla snickered at him as he climbed back on-stage and helped her up, much to the jealous protest of the crowd.

"Just following my program," he grinned back. "Hey, people!" he shouted into a microphone and the crowd roared. "Got a friend to introduce to you." He unslung his bass, winked at Lyla and handed it to her. "Lyla here is a student of mine. Let's see how she does..." He stepped back to mixed cheering and booing with a dash of cat-calls added.

Lyla glared mildly at him, then slung the bass around her neck, caught Peter, the lead guitarist's eye and smiled broadly. He grinned back and nodded. It was a familiar routine. He started a mellow line while Mike scrambled for the keyboard and followed suit and the crowd went wild as they recognized the song.

They paused; a flipped switch started a racuous sound; another changed acoustic guitar to electric and Lyla started the bass line for "Leave".


"I love this program," Lyla sighed blissfully. She was sprawled across a chair in the R.E.M. dressing room.

"We know," Mike grinned back from where he was changing. "You should. You programmed it." There was a mild touch of bitterness in his voice and Lyla looked up, worried.

She rearranged herself, smothered a grin as a familiar voice echoed in falsetto from the bathroom. Michael was singing in the shower again. "Mike," she prodded. "Are you mad at me?"

Mike looked at her and sighed. "If I was," he said quietly, "I couldn't do anytning about it. I'm too well-programmed."

"Actually," Lyla replied, equally quietly. "Lack of emotions is a programming flaw." She stood up and walked over to him. "Did I screw up?"

As usual, her concern melted the holo-programmed bass player's bitterness. "No," he sighed and hugged her. "I just..."

"Mikey's getting bored," Michael chuckled as he walked through in a towel. Mike blushed and Lyla got a thoughtful look on her face.

Mike, Michael and Peter were holographic projections in a virtual world Lyla had programmed based on all the research she had done on the late 20th century and the band R.E.M. Information was sketchy at best, due to a serious period of computer upheaval that had wiped out trillions of gigs of memory around 2050. Because of her limited information, Lyla had been forced to make up whole sections of personality and because of that, Mike probably bore very little resemblance, personality-wise, to his ancestor, Mike Mills. Unfortunately, there was no reliable way for Lyla to find out.

Because Mike, Michael and Peter were techinically organic programs, potential for individual personality growth was very high. With Mike, it was even higher, since Lyla had put more time and effort into his programming. If he was getting bored with programmed reality, it wasn't any real surprise. He had been designed to get bored, eventually. It was a concept Lyla had considered a few times and had been spending the past two years--since when she started to notice that Mike's personality was growing faster than Michael or Peter's--making contingency plans for.

"Seriously?" she asked Mike. He looked embarrassed and shrugged.

"I guess I'm--"

"Not content," Michael interrupted cheerfully as he toweled himself off and started getting dressed without the benifit of a privacy screen. For whatever bizarre reason, the modesty programming Lyla had attempted to install had refused to take with Michael Stipe's "holo-clone". Not that nudity bothered Lyla much. It wasn't anything she hadn't seen before, but it obviously bothered Mike, whose modesty programming had taken. With a vengence.

"God, Michael!" he hissed, blushing. "There's a lady present."

Michael looked up, buckling his belt. "Where?" he asked teasingly, winking at Lyla. "It's just you and Lyla."

Mike sighed and shook his head while Lyla chuckled. "My point," he muttered. "Obviously lost on you two."

"Always is," Michael snickered back. With a dismissing snort, he pulled a t-shirt on and added, "She programmed us, Mikey. You think she's going to be embarrassed if one of her creations forgets his pants? Anyway, like I was saying, Lyla." He rubbed the towel over his face and shaved head again and his voice was muffled. "Mikey's not content to play life. Peter and me, well, we don't mind as much, but Mikey wants out."

Lyla looked at Mike, who grinned sheepishly. "Really?" she asked gently.

"Pretty close," Mike replied in a small voice. "You've done a great job here, Lyla, but--"

"Sucking up to the creator again, I tell ya," Michael teased.

"Shut up, Michael," Lyla said simply, without letting her eyes stray from Mike's face.

"Creator's pet," the singer muttered at Mike playfully and slipped out.

Alone, Lyla's gaze peirced Mike and she asked softly, "Do you really want out, Mike?"

Mike sighed explosively, "I don't know what I want. All I know is I see you come and go whenever you want. You come in when you feel like it and leave when you want and I'm stuck here when you're gone." He paused, walked across the room and touched the table lightly with a fingertip. "This isn't real, Lyla. No matter how well-programmed, it isn't real. It's not 1994. It's 2576. I'm not the original Mike Mills. I'm a computer program who happens to look like him. My creator hasn't ever been to Old Earth and she never learned to play bass until she had finished my programming and I taught her." He looked back at Lyla and the frustration in his expression made her bite her lip. "I do want out. Michael and Peter may be happy living a lie, but I can't anymore."

"I know," Lyla whispered. "And I think I have an idea." Mike's eyes flickered with a renewed flame of hope and Lyla felt her stomach turn. She just hoped that she was worthy of that hope. "I think I can connect your program chip to a holo-projector. You can come and go from this reality as often as you like and you can see what my reality is like."

"And why you visit ours so often?" Mike smiled, a brighter, more natural expression with some of his usual impishness restored.

Lyla smiled back, "Right. So, you wanna try it?"

"Hell, yes!"


Peter was pacing in the dressing room, looking annoyed. "It isn't fair, Michael," he sighed. Stipe barely glanced at his friend and simply grunted non-comittally. "I mean, we've all been in here the same amount of time. Why does Mike get to go out?"

"Because he's ready for it," Michael replied simply. "I'm not, I know that much. I'm not about to risk my electronic ass trying to see what life is like on the outside when we've got just about everything we could ever want in here. Lyla's been pretty good to us, you've gotta admit."

Peter shrugged and slumped into a chair. "I suppose."

"Do you want out, too?" Michael asked him cynically.

Peter shrugged again. "Maybe." Just then, the room warped strangly and Lyla appeared. "God, I hate it when you do that!" the guitarist yelped.

Lyla chuckled, "Sorry, Peter. It's easier than wading through security, even paused security. Where's Mike?"

Both Michael and Peter pointed at the bathroom door. "I think he's almost done," Michael supplied.

"I hope he's almost done!" Peter shouted at the door. "I may be holographic, but I've still got a bladder."

"Sit on it!" Mike shouted from the other side.

"I am!" Peter shouted back. Lyla had to surpress a chuckle that she knew Peter wouldn't appreicate.

"Do you think this will really work?" Michael asked Lyla softly.

Lyla shrugged, trying to look nonchalant. "It's about 70/30 that it will and best-case fail is a partial memory loss." She obviously didn't want to think about the worst-case scenario. "And I've got him backed up in case that happens."

"You want one of us to test it first?" Stipe's tone was seriously concerned, but there was a mildly biting edge to it.

"Not a chance," Lyla replied quickly. "I don't have either of you completely backed up and I'm not about to lose you."

"Too much work lost?" Stipe asked cynically. Peter barely glanced up, then looked back at the bathroom door, squirming. It wasn't the first time Lyla and Michael had come to odds.

Lyla sighed miserablly. "Is everyone mad at me in here? You two are just as much my creations as Mike and I'm not about to put you through more danger than I have to. If you were backed up and still wanted to try it, I'd say go ahead, but I'm don't want to lose you to some fluke power flux. You're too important to me. All of you are." She met Stipe's eyes unflinchingly and then moved her fierce gaze to Peter. They both returned it for a few seconds, then nodded, obviously content with her answer. Just then, the bathroom door opened and Mike came out, followed by a cloud of steam. His long, curly hair was darker and curlier than usual and he grinned at her cheerfully. "Ready?" she asked.

"As I'm gonna be." He shifted nervously and looked at Peter and Michael. "See you guys later."

"Sooner or later," Michael agreed, then stood up and hugged him. "Take care, Mike. Good luck."

"Good luck!" Peter chimed in and hugged Mike. "Don't screw him up too badly, Lye."

"I don't plan to," Lyla smiled, then vanished with another warping of the program.


In her office, with tremblingly nervous hands, Lyla removed Mike's program chip from the holo-reality system...


Before their eyes, Mike's face clenched and he vanished from the program. Michael and Peter sat in the dressing room, hoping that the transfer worked...


Lyla carefully slid the program chip into the holo-projector she had reprogrammed to give Mike computer access and allow him to switch from HR to true reality with a minimum of difficulty. She had to keep reciting the pros of the plan as she installed her friend to keep from panicking. She was holding the life of one of her best friends in her hand...


It was dark.

That was what I noticed at first, anyway.

Michael and Peter just vanished and left me drifting in this deep...dark...well, nothingness, I suppose. It was like one time when the HR system lost main power. That had to be one of the scariest things I've ever felt...before this, of course.

Yeah, I was scared. Who wouldn't be? The darkness...just flowed around me and I couldn't move and I couldn't see and I couldn't do anything. It wasn't an experience I'd repeat.

Then...I felt a little jar. I suppose that was Lyla installing the chip in the projector. It was the beginning of the worst. I thought for sure something had gone wrong and I was going to die, right there. The darkness went away and there was this intense brightness, like being in the heart of the sun and I couldn't get away from it. It was all around me and it went through me. Then, there was pain...serious, physical pain. I would have probably screamed, but I couldn't. Then, it went away too.

I just kinda hung in the darkness for a while. Nothing happened and I started to wonder if I WAS dead. I'm glad it didn't end there, that's for sure. Then, I felt like I did when the power came back on in HR, this intense jolt of electricity that shook me out the darkness and I was standing in Lyla's office...


...the chip glowed softly as the projector scanned its contents. A single small beep sounded and Lyla tried to keep from biting her fingernails. Finally, the projector bleeped once more and powered up. Mike's holographic image appeared in her office in all the details of the holo-reality program.

He staggered, blinking and shaking his head. Then, he stopped, looked carefully around, then down at himself. "It worked," he whispered incredulously, his voice tinny from the cheap projector speakers. Lyla made a mental note to get better speakers.

"Yeah," Lyla grinned, her voice quivering with excitement. "It did...you're here!" They grinned at each other for a few seconds, then Mike jumped towards her in an obvious hug attempt. "Mike, wait!" Her warning came too late. He flashed through her and landed on the floor without a sound. "Sorry," Lyla murmured sheepishly. "You're still a holo-gram. You aren't the same substance as this reality, so physical contact isn't an option."

"No shit," Mike grunted and climbed to his feet. "So there is a good use for the holo-reality."

Lyla chuckled and nodded. "Yeah, there is."


It's a pretty twisted relationship, you've gotta admit that. I mean, she programmed me. You'd think she'd be more like my mother. And I'm not exactly...normal. I mean, I'm a holographic clone of a rock star who's been dead for over 500 years, come on! Not even a clone. Lyla added so much to my programming because of the 2050 computer failures that, well, I guess I'm closer to...

If I could have had a son by Mike Mills--hah, as if--Mike probably would have been him. I'm...almost as much a part of Mike's programming as the information I could scrape together about the original Mike Mills. There's so much of me in Mike's programming, it's amazing we get along at all. [chuckles] But, in spite of it all....Mike isn't my son and I'm glad of it. He's the closest thing I've got to a real friend here on Quorta III and life just wouldn't be the same without him.


The door to Lyla's office cracked open and Mike's head snapped up in surprise. Lyla wasn't due back at the compound for nearly two more hours. Curious, he faded his projection down without returning to HR...

Slowly, a young Rramackrof pilot crept into the office and glanced around before crouching by the bookshelf. Mike's database, connected directly to the PeaceKeeper Base computer mainframe, identified the intruder as Tonny Rinnika, Lyla's second-in-command. Further personnel details labeled Tonny as an avid reader and Mike was sure Lyla wouldn't mind terribly if her second banana borrowed a few books, but... A vague smile slipped across his face and Mike crouched in wait...


Tonny picked the books he wanted, then reached for the door. To his puzzlement, it seemed to have locked behind him. As the befuddled corporal fought with the door, he got a strange, paranoid feeling and turned slowly around...

"BLAH!" Someone shouted and a blond human in a rumpled pair of blue jeans and a T-shirt waved his arms wildly at the startled corporal.

Tonny bellowed in terror and responded with an instinctive, mental attack that should have blasted his 'attacker' across the room...but it didn't do a thing. The human was laughing, hugging his stomach and trying hard to stay on his feet. "Who are you?" Tonny demanded, trying to keep from looking like any more of an idiot than he had to.

"Only you," the human gasped between fits of laughter, "Would tried to mentally attack a holo-projection."

Tonny's face flushed brilliantly and he glared. "You haven't answered my question. Who are you?"

"The boogey-man, nice to meet you." The holographic human stood up again and smiled, his eyes still laughing at Tonny. "No, I'm Mike, Lyla's computer."

"When did she have you installed?" Tonny wondered, puzzled.

Mike shrugged comfortablly. "I've been around for almost three years. I've only been mobile for about a day and a half." He paused, then chuckled. "And I've been dead for over 500 years."

Tonny frowned, studying the cheerful, handsome hologram. "Mike...as in Mike--"

"Mills? As is R.E.M., Old Earth, circa 1994? Yeah, that's me," Mike grinned. "I'm sure Lyla's mentioned me--or, at least, my ancestor. There's so little solid information on the original Mike Mills circa 1994 that Lyla had her work cut out programming my personality."

Tonny blinked dully for a few seconds. "You said you've been around for three years?"

"Yeah, in HR...or purgatory, depending on your view." Mike chuckled and leaned against the desk.

"HR...my god, Lyla programmed a full HR system?" Tonny's shock was evident as Mike nodded slowly. "Can I see?"

Suddenly on his guard, Mike stiffened a little "You'd better ask Lyla first. I don't know if I'm authorized to let anyone else into our HR system."

"Our?" Tonny asked eagerly.

Mike cursed under his breath in frustration at the slip. He was starting to feel hemmed in and more than a little uncomfortable with Tonny's pushiness. When his initial silence didn't dampen Tonny's intense gaze, he gathered himself and replied, "I think you'd better leave." The door unlocked and swung open. "Now."

Defiance flashed in Tonny's face as he replied, "Or what?"

Mike floundered, confused and frustrated as he wished desperately for a chance to take a good swing at Tonny's smug expression. Then, he felt a prickle of an idea...a nasty idea. His eyes glinted and he tapped his idea. A flash of brilliant light from Lyla's desk lamp stabbed at Tonny just as her sound system thundered the violent feedback opening for "Circus Envy" from the 1994 "Monster" albumn. The sound and light were sufficient to scare Tonny and sent the corporal skittering out of the office.

The hologram allowed himself a self-satisfied grin, turned off the light, turned down the volume on the system and restarted the albumn, electronically removing the bass line from "What's the Frequency, Kenneth?" He closed his eyes and slipped seamlessly into the song...


Later that day, Lyla came flying into her office, a look of desperation her face. "Mike!" she shouted and the holo appeared instinctively out of his dozing invisibility. "Meet me in P74a, will you?" Before he could protest, Lyla sat down and plugged into the holo-reality system. More than a little startled, he followed her into Program 74a, a Boston suite of hotel rooms the group used when they were on "tour". Lyla was standing in the common room of the suite, waiting for him.

"What--" Mike started, but never got his question out. Lyla practically jumped him with an enormous, half-hysterical hug that nearly took him off his feet.

"My god, what a hell of a day," she moaned into his shoulder. Mike tried not to chuckle as he hugged her back. "You really don't wanna know, Mikey..."

He hugged her tightly, then let her go. "That bad? I've never seen you so eager to get into HR."

"You've seen me coming in on worse days than this," Lyla sighed and collapsed into a chair. Mike grinned, paused, then sat directly on top of her. "Mike!!" she gasped, unable to keep from laughing. "You twit, this chair's taken!!" ((OOC to C and K: It's a rare girl who will argue when sat on by Mike Mills. *sheepish grin*))

Mike looked around jokingly. "Really?" He shifted and made himself more comfortable. "I don't see anyone." Lyla laughed and squirmed, trying to dislodge her friend. "Ooo!" he snickered. "A vibrating chair!"

"I'll give you vibrating," Lyla snorted and managed to bring her knee up between his legs hard enough to make him yelp. Mike leapt out of the chair like a cat with it's tail under a rocking chair and hobbled around the room, moaning pitifully while Lyla laughed.

"Sadist," he croaked.

"Always," Lyla chuckled. "Oh, come on, Mikey! I didn't get you that hard." He gave her a vicious look, then counterattacked, pouncing and knocking the chair completely over. "Mike!!" she cried in surprise and a fit of un-sergeantly giggles. He pinned her to the floor and started mercilessly tickling her. "Stop!!"

"Say uncle!" he laughed, tickling her under the arms and along her sides until she was red with laughter. "Aunt! Second cousin!!"

"Never!" she shouted back, hardly able to breathe. "I'll...never...surrender!!" Mike paused, a goofy look on his face, then started to laugh uncontrollablly. They both lay there, laughing so hard that tears rolled down their faces until they were both so out of breath and sore they had to stop. "W-what were we laughing about?" Lyla gasped breathlessly, brushing tears out of her eyes.

Mike panted for breath, still snickering. "I have no idea. It's more fun that way." He started to push himself into a sitting position, then stopped and made a face. "Lyla, we killed the room." ((OOC to C and K: think Ferris Bueller's Day Off "You killed the car."))

He watched Lyla as she sat up next to him and looked around. "Good grief," she mumbled. "We did." the room was in a choas of over-turned chairs, scattered blankets, rumpled throw rugs and tangled curtains. She tried to stand up and blinked as she fell back beside Mike. One of the blankets had tangled them tightly together.

Quite suddenly, Lyla was aware of just how close they were and her face flushed when Mike whispered, "Kinda cozy." He leaned forward...

...the program rippled sharply and Mike found himself sitting alone in the ransacked hotel room.


Lyla moaned to herself, cussing a quiet blue streak as she sat doubled over in her office chair. "No...this can't be happening...not again..."

She was acutely aware of the soft buzz that meant Mike's holoprojector was warming up. For a brief moment, she considered running, but she squashed that in favor of simply touching a button. She winced at the startled cry from the tinny speakers as Mike's projector powered down again, against his will. He'd be forced to stay in HR until Lyla manually restored his command strings and powered up the projector.

Lyla sighed and shook her head, "I'm sorry, Mike...I just can't let this happen again. Not again..."


To Part Two


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