Masks 22.1 - Sepiatoned Images of Florida [Cutscene] [RP]

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It's not the Dragonfly for speed, Jason muses, but it's actually a lot more comfortable. And a trip from North Carolina to the Florida Keys should be pretty quick, and he has his license, and the autopilot takes care of most of the heavy lifting anyway. The Quill VTOL Jet has enough applications to the Foundation's business that it's not been stuck in mothballs like the Dragonfly. And Jason's got enough kick to grab it for his own use even with Barbara's cell phoned objections. If the Directors want to bitch about one Quill son visiting another Quill son using company resources, they can send me a memo, and I'll tell them how to print it, fold it and where exactly to file it. He sips some ginger ale from the ridonculous 8 oz. cans, and watches Numina. Another reason not to fly coach on Delta. She's still having fun doing paper doll stuff with her hair and wardrobe.  It's funny that someone so incredibly together, viz a viz life counselling advice, can be such a kid when it comes to playing with her wardrobe. Says the man who always wears basic black,  comes that whisper in his ear. He'd been surprised Numina wanted to come with him, and almost reluctant to get her involved in what could into some nasty family business. But he'd only hesitated a few seconds. She might be just what was needed to keep things from completely blowing up. He lets his eyes rest on her. Little glitch in the reimager up around the right shoulder. Need to adjust that.   And she is  fun to watch, delighted by each change, manipulating her image size so she can do pirouettes in the seat to show off to him. This flight wouldn't be as enjoyable if she wasn't there. And he realizes that it wouldn't be nearly as much fun for her to be trying on all these "outfits" without him to share them with. Leo's words of warning flash for the two thousandth time across his consciousness, and Jason's smile fades. What and how he feels about Numina is one huge question (counterpoised to the question about how he feels about -- individuals not-Numina), and  not what he wants to examine right that second. He glances for the hundredth time at the display about how long the trip will take and the weather at the other end. * * *  The place on the Key was never luxurious, but it was a lot better than a straw hut. A landing strip, with a small single-engine plane tied down and tarped at its end    A large, well-lit lab space adjoining quite comfortable set of living quarters. He'd spent a lot of great summers there, on the beach, in the water, spending time with -- Amir. What the hell is going on? What secrets have you been keeping from me -- from me  -- about all this? No more. ------ [Assuming the SAMs haven't already launched ... what next, Doyce?]    
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The radio squawks on the hailing frequency as you get within visual distance. "Jason?" His voice sounds rough and, compared to your younger memories, uncharacteristically serious. "Good to know I'm not the only one. Welcome home." He is, with a young, not-Brigand corgi, standing (with a cane) by the front patio doors of the house as you roll up in the plane.
"Roger. Down in 5. Over." The words are terse, tense. His shoulders hurt, and the nanobots ripple unconsciously across them. He turns over to Numina, who's watching him closely, sober now, clothes muted in color, more formal. "That's not what I was expecting," he said. "I don't know what I was expecting. But that..."  He shakes his head like a horse bothered by a fly. "Prep for landing."  He comes down low and slow, shifting to VTOL, and maneuvers close to the end of the strip, near the house. The landing is most automatic, smooth, hardly no bump as they set down.  He sees Amir at the door, and almost automatically gives him a wave from the cockpit. "Where's Brigand?" he mutters. Shakes his head again. "Focus," he growls, and forces himself the rough the shutdown processes for the jet.  He finally flashes an unconvincing smile a Numina. "Party time. Come meet the family." Helix eyes widen slightly as those words sound different than he'd intended. "Be yourself," she says. "Let the rest come as it will."  "Right," he says. "Easy-peasy."  They debark. Jason tries to help her down the ladder, before realizing she's still a floating figure that's just (delightedly) making the motions of climbing down. She still flashes a smile of appreciation for the gesture as he stands there awkwardly.  They walk over.  Jason's envisioned this reunion a hundred times before. Sometimes there was embracing and back pounding. Sometimes there was shouting and anger - - that was the version he'd been thinking of the last few days, only with him doing the shouting.  This? This stalemate of fight and flight as he stop a few paces from Amir? This tense uncertainty he'd never imagined. Numina places a hard light hand lightly on his arm, enough of a grounding to get him to speak.  "Amir. You're - - looking well." He cocks his head. "You're 'not the only one' what?" 
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The corgi had been barking throughout your approach (happily, you note, unlike Brigand, who would have been warning strangers off his patch), but stops as you near Amir and sits, dog-smiling and barely out of puppyhood. You'd guess it's around two years old. "Brigand's fine," Amir says, watching your gaze. "Just not as mobile as he once was. This is Buccaneer." Amir's eyes flit to Numina, a hint of confusion ghosting across his expression. "Ah. You're -- looking well." You cock your head. "You're 'not the only one' what?" Amir nods, as if expecting the question, opens his mouth, then closes it, pursing his lips. "Let's be comfortable before we dive into all that." He steps to the side and gestures you through the open patio door. Buck circles the both of you like a herding breed, hopping on his forepaws in excitement, then follows you in. Amir is last, moving carefully. The house is much as you remember, though Dad's lab has a new stool, a lounge chair, and about a half-dozen new high-end video displays. Brigand is in the family room, on the low couch, and - like a family patriarch who would prefer to sit but won't shirk his duty - pushes himself to his feet, hops down, and pads over to you to receive his pats. He burrows his silvery muzzle under your hand and licks your fingers but, after a moment's hesitation and a tilted head, backs away from Numina, growling uncertainly, his eyes fixed on her torso, where Chin's repurposed assassin bot floats within Numina's hard-light shell. "Odd reaction," Amir murmurs, already sitting down. "Please, the host would like to rest his leg." He waits while everyone sits (Brigand back on his couch, watching Numina; Buck on the carpet, watching Amir), raising his eyebrow only slightly when Numina joins you. "When the ... 'Vyortovian Veil' fell away last week, it seemed as though a curtain had been drawn back from my mind," he says, finally answering your question. "A curtain not on a window, but a doorway, leading into an entire wing of a house I'd thought of as my home - revealing rooms with which I'd once been familiar, but had forgotten." "Within those rooms," he says, "I found my family. Father. Rusty. You." He waves a hand, both dismissive and reassuring. "Not that I'd forgotten anyone entirely, but the memories were older. Distant. Nothing new. No drive to connect. To talk. To see you or... anyone." He shrugs, a slight movement. "It took days to notice, and when I did, I could only assume that it was in some way connected to the Vyortovian... situation which, even though I can't explain it in any way, still makes sense for a number of reasons." "I could only assume - hope, actually - that since you had also not contacted me in the last two years, you were under a similar effect, and here you are, before I could decide how to reach out to you myself."
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[Edited to correct autocorrection from writing on my thrice-bedamned phone.] Seeing Brigand again is almost more of an emotional body blow than seeing Amir. Feelings about humans get complicated. Seeing your dog... Jason blinks back wetness in his eyes as he pets him. "Good boy," he says, softly.  ...  "This is Numina. My friend." Jason offers no further explanations at this point.  Numina smiles, as she does. It warms his heart to see it. It doesn't help Brigand's reaction, but dogs can be funny that way.  ...  Jason really wants to believe him. He really, really does. This is his brother, fergoshsakes.  But there have been too many fake outs lately. To much deception to pivot to trust so quickly. And after last time...  Jason sits in a casual pose, but it's still a pose.  "When Dad and Rusty were lost, and you were --" He gestures carefully to Amir's leg. But wasn't he a paraplegic? More lies? "-- injured, I tried to talk with you. You --" He pauses his already slow and careful wording. Numina can see even his breathing is deliberate and controlled." -- blamed me for their deaths. You made it clear you never wanted to talk with me again. You --" He stops again, shrugging painfully." I respected that wish." His voice isn't flat, but holds far less emotion than it should. 
[Bill, no obligation to chime in, but if you feel the creative need for Numina to do/say something, please feel free.] 
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I'll jump in if someone turns and looks at her expectantly or finishes with a direct question for her, but you both seem to have a handle on her and are doing fine. :)
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Amir's eyes are wide - not shocked, or not only shocked -  pulling everything in. "This will sound like the worst kind of denial, but I have no memory of -" He stops and shakes his head. "I was going to say no memory of saying that to you, but the truth is I have no memory of you, at all, following that day. If anyone had asked me more than 5 minutes ago what happened after that day, I would have calmly and probably quite bitterly explained that my brother never came to me or communicated with me through anything other than a Quill Foundation proxy, in the last two years."
"I want to believe that -- believe that you're telling me the truth, more than I can --" He's shifted position, sitting on the edge of the sofa, leaning forward, hands gripping his knees. Numina starts to reach out a hand toward him, then pauses he continues, "There's been so much --" He breaks off into a vague, angry gesture, unwilling to open up further than that, but -- "Tell me what happened that day, Amir. Dad. You. Rusty. Chin. I want to hear it from you. "
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Again, Amir nods; either expecting the question or fully understanding the reasons for it. "The first thing I will need to explain is the presence on this world of a small cadre of ... I suppose you might call them 'interdimensional saboteurs' known as the Hidden Family of the Vyortovian Throne." He stops at your short, sharp bark of laughter. Brigand raises his head, stands, pads to your end of the couch, and settles himself against your leg. "I... can see you've already encountered them. I suppose that makes sense, and I would very much like to know what you've learned, in turn, but for now, I'll tell you only what I knew - what Father and Rusty explained to me at the time." "The Hidden Family were - are - members of a royal caste from the country of Vyortovia - the land once native to another dimension entirely - who determined that the best way to save their world was by folding their reality onto ours. Madness, except for the annoying fact they'd apparently discovered both the theory and eventually the means with which to effect such a thing.  This relatively small group crossed the dimensional barrier between our two worlds several hundred years ago and began the long work they'd determined necessary to ultimately collapse the two realities into one." "Father and Rusty had encountered them in the past but, as I had it explained to me, the clashes were always minor things - their individual goals so inconsequential, their activities never warranted further investigation; just another doomsday cult. It wasn't something they had hidden from us - which I accused them of when they first explained it to me - but something they'd never really thought important enough to mention." "That all changed, as I understand it, only weeks before the events that unfolded in July, two years ago. Father received a message from Achilles Chin and, although obviously suspicious, was unable to ignore it as some kind of trap - there was simply too much corroborative fact presented." "He and Chin met, alone - Rusty was still angry about this at the time they caught me up - and compared notes." "What had prompted Chin to reach out was his almost accidental discovery that the Family had, years before, used an entrance to what Chin called the 'inner earth', in Iceland - the Sn√¶fellsj√∂kull, if you like - where they'd planted what they called a "world seed," and which Father called a Keynome - not a word that made any sense to me at the time, though it makes a bit more, now." "Father and Chin mutually decided on the need for cooperation in light of what it seemed to be the impending destruction of everything they knew, and made plans to ground out the energy of whatever the family was planning using another Keynome." Amir rubs at the bridge of his nose. "You can, I think, imagine my response. They dropped all this in my lap as we were en route to Washington, and I'm still quite certain Rusty was only a few hours ahead of me in receiving the news. They barely spoke on the flight." "I was there when everyone met. I remember wishing you were as well, but Father had been adamant about that - you were not to be involved." He squints, as though trying to bring something far away into focus. "Chin even... asked after you, I think, almost right away. Not to ask where you were, but to verify you weren't anywhere around. Father responded in kind, with regards to Alycia. It was... very odd, given the circumstances." He rubs at his hip, then his left leg. "They had determined they couldn't stop the dimensional collapse - not entirely - so in order to prevent the entire world being lost, they planned to diffuse the energy of the Family's efforts to the point where the collapse became unsupportable. The main problem was they needed a keynome to accomplish this, and they of course didn't have a keynome." Amir's expression is wry. "A problem Rusty solved through the fairly simple expediency of charging into the nearest of the Family's secret sites, killing everyone, and taking the site's keynome over. It worked." "I, meanwhile, had been sent across to the opposite dimension's corresponding location through one of the weakened spots in the dimensional barrier - the result of some superpowered brawl or other - with instructions to plant a sort of 'arc conductor' that would allow them diffuse the dimensional energies even further."  He looks at you. "The place was a nightmare of destruction - a haggard ghost reflection of our own world, even if you ignore the world's larger doom. It's as if the inhabitants there have lost all hope, and have turned on one another - I cannot imagine what might have caused such devastation." "I installed the arc conductor, and had been told to evacuate the area, but I was worried the local scavengers might have followed me and would take the device, so I settled in to guard it. I assumed that if Rusty and Father were on the other side at the same location, I was in no more danger then they were." His smirk lacks any humor. "I was right." He sighs. "The plan, as near as I've been able to determine, mostly worked. Iceland couldn't be saved - the core collapse there was too far along, too long in the build up and, according to Chin - too well guarded to prevent. But despite that, they mostly prevented the catastrophic juxtaposition." His face is haggard and almost gray. "But they couldn't diffuse all the energy, I think. There must have been too much. The point of the grounding arc - where Father and Rusty and Chin... and I, on the other side - were standing, was... exchanged, I suppose, for lack of a better word. The energy backlash was --" He cuts himself off, head down, and the younger dog - Buccaneer - hops up and runs to him, propping himself up with his front paws on Amir's knees. Your brother reaches out and scratches at his ears almost automatically. If there's more (and you can't decide if you hope or dread there may be), it seems Amir is at his limits, sharing it. Numina stands. "Would anyone like anything from the kitchen, while I'm up? Jason? Show me where the glasses are?" Her look is expectant, and her expression is easy to read.
"Glasses, top cabinet left of the fridge, lemonade, thanks," He says it almost absently, eyes still fixed on Amir, and assuming that things can't have changed that much since he was here less than three years ago.He blinks, looks over at her, says, "Thanks," again, alive, with a half smile, then turns back to his brother. "Jesus, Amir." He shakes his head. He can't not  believe the story. It fits too many other puzzle pieces, terribly too many. Keynomes, the Hidden Family, Vyortovia. "We -- we always thought the Vyortovians were somehow ... inadvertently grabbed by whatever Chin had done. In the cover story, that is. That Chin opened the portal as a death trap, that Dad and Rusty and him and his bodyguard whatshisname go sucked through, that you --" Jason stops again, bites his lower lip.  "We've been there. Some of us, the -- team, super team stuff, I'm on. The Menagerie. We -- a couple of us have crossed over to that other side. I haven't, but Harry, Charlotte -- we nicknamed it the Sepiaverse. We know they're from there but -- this was all to stop them, Dad and Rusty and Chin -- and you. I --" He rubs his fingers through his hair as though trying to massage his brain into working. "I'm sorry, Amir. I'm --" Jason gets up, gently dislodges one foot from under Brigand, steps over to where Amir is sitting. It was Dad's old chair. Jason kneels there in front of him, to be on eye level. "I'm really sorry, man. That this happened. That I didn't help you through it. That you thought you'd been abandoned. I mean, I know it's not my fault, but I'm still just really, really sorry." He shakes his head. "Is there anything I can do for you now that I am  here?"
He squints, as though trying to bring something far away into focus. "Chin even... asked after you, I think, almost right away. Not to ask where you were, but to verify you weren't anywhere around. Father responded in kind, with regards to Alycia. It was... very odd, given the circumstances. By the way, this had me laughing way out loud in a parking lot as I waited for my mom to come back out from chatting with someone. Thank you. "Ah. Doctor Quill. So good of you to show up." "I came, Chin. As I said I would." "Good. Very good." He cocks his head. "Your blood son. He is not present?" "No, I made certain of that." Byron raises an eyebrow. "Your daughter?" "Otherwise engaged on an 'urgent mission.'" He smiles.  Byron's eyes narrow, but he gives a sharp nod in return. Oh, that's going to come up in the future ...
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Numina, seeing Jason miss the hint, opts for the next best thing by going for supplies. Jason gets up, gently dislodges one foot from under Brigand, steps over to where Amir is sitting. It was Dad's old chair. Jason kneels there in front of him, to be on eye level. "I'm really sorry, man. That this happened. That I didn't help you through it. That you thought you'd been abandoned. I mean, I know it's not my fault, but I'm still just really, really sorry." He shakes his head. "Is there anything I can do for you now that I am  here?" "Don't worry about me on that account, Jason," Amir says. "The foundation and some of father's friends have helped with my recovery, such as it is." His expression sags into something like... longing? Fear? "You've been to the other side? Or your teammates have? Do you know -- " He closes his eyes, then speaks in a rush. "I survived. Is there any - do we know anything about Father and Rusty?"
[Oblivious Jason is oblivious.] "God, I wish I knew." He shifts to a seat adjacent to Amir's -- Rusty used to sit there, and the leather arms still show the cigarette burns. "Harry -- Mercury -- saw the Dragonfly there. Or the Sepiaverse version of the Dragonfly. Our assumption is that they all got shifted there somehow. We have a beacon in place, telling them where to come and when -- since we have a way across, we should be able to then make contact and bring them home." Jason stops. The whole idea of Dad and Rusty (et very much al.) being "home" hasn't really hit him until he voices those words. It's daunting, and, maybe, not altogether a great thing -- but there's no question in his mind that's what he wants to do. Then he adds, "Alycia is trying the same thing her own way. I've been trying to -- well, get in touch with her. As far as I know, she only knows the public story. If I can let her know what's going on. how we could --" He trails off. Talking about Alycia with Numina in earshot is ... uncomfortable on multiple levels, including even acknowledging that it's uncomfortable. He decides to leave off a more detailed account of his outreach to Chin's daughter. "Anyway, we're working on it. And with the 'Veil' lifted -- we did that, by the way, my team, long story -- there might be other resources we can bring to bear." His face darkens. "But there's more to it. Someone was ... swaying me from going after Dad and Rusty. I think I know who. But she wasn't the one responsible for the Big Lie about what happened in DC. That was AEGIS. But more importantly --"  Jason grabs the arm of Amir's chair. "We need to figure out who did this to you. And to me. Convinced us that we were at odds, that we hated each other." His shirt ripples. "Was it the person who did the whole Vyortovian Veil thing? If so -- well, I have a name. But if not, I do not want to let that son of a bitch off. I owe them -- we owe them. Big time."
[Stray aside proposition: Quill and Chin didn't make sure Jason and Alycia weren't present for fear of their furthering their relationship, or even to keep them safely out of the matter. They were, individually and jointly, "Plan B". As, it turns out, they are turning into.]
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*** Dave H. said: [Stray aside proposition: Quill and Chin didn't make sure Jason and Alycia weren't present for fear of their furthering their relationship, or even to keep them safely out of the matter. They were, individually and jointly, "Plan B". As, it turns out, they are turning into.]
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*** Dave H. said: Jason grabs the arm of Amir's chair. "We need to figure out who did this to you. And to me. Convinced us that we were at odds, that we hated each other." His shirt ripples. "Was it the person who did the whole Vyortovian Veil thing? If so -- well, I have a name. But if not, I do not want to let that son of a bitch off. I owe them -- we owe them. Big time." "It seems impossible for it not to be related to the Veil falling," Amir says. "Ever since it happened, there was always some reason not to talk with you, some distraction demanding my attention away from working to find Father and Rusty, or some overwhelming resentment and confusion at my memory of your behavior toward me. Could it be anything but the same effect that prevented anyone from remembering what really happened, or related to it? Tied to it somehow? Why else would that... compulsion suddenly fade away at the same time as the veil?" He smirks, and it is a real thing, if a bit wan "for that matter, what did you do to bring the Veil down?"
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[If there's anything move-related you want to access here - provoke, pierce the mask, assess the situation - just let me know. I don't need it, to be clear, but I want to make sure we have the option.]
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I do have one thing for near the end of the conversation, prior to any departure, so leave me some room for that. :)
Jason has been going slightly paler than normal as Amir talks about distractions and confusions that pull one away from subjects of interest. He smirks, and it is a real thing, if a bit wan "for that matter, what did you do to bring the Veil down?" Jason manages a wan smile of his own, along with a roll of the eyes. "I'm not clear on all the details, but it was, I guess, kind of a Truth Bomb. Which is just as goofy as it sounds. But it unraveled all sorts of metaphysical deceptions, including the one emanating from Halcyon that had everyone in the world thinking that Vyortovia had always been around, and Iceland was a goofy name for a fantasy country." His face sobers. "But -- I've learned some other deceptions. Dad -- messed with my memory, too. Took out chunks of it. For my own good, I'm sure he thought, but --" He sighs. "Stuff about Alycia. That whole thing you described, weird exchange between Dad and Chin? I think he was afraid that I was ... attracted to her. And, maybe, vice-versa. And it sounds like maybe Chin felt the same way, which is --" He shudders, then snorts. "He tried to manipulate my memory so that I wouldn't. Hell, I need to rescue him just so I can give him a kick in the ass about it."
[I've got a Pierce the Mask coming online, but holding fire until another exchange.]
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It's Amir's turn to give a short, startled chuckle. "Attracted to Alycia?" He shakes his head, bemused. "I'd always assumed they wanted to make sure the two of you wouldn't ruin their plan by trying to kill each other again." Numina returns with drinks and, unbelievably, a plate of crackers and cheese. Her focus is mostly on the tray - either entranced by being able to manipulate the physical world again, or not entirely trusting it. "Alycia and Jason rarely try to kill each other these days, unless ulcers count." Again, Amir chuckles, genuinely amused. Then his eyes track between the two of you, and see only smaller, polite smiles. "Wait." His eyes narrow as he tries to understand. "She's alive ?"
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Jason's watching Numina. For the twentieth time he has to remind himself, She's not some brand-new person who has access to Pneuma's memories. She is Pneuma, or was, and just knows that she was suddenly in a virtual body, with some hours gap in her experience, and people were calling her a backup and she had to choose a new name, and Leo .... That's got to be -- man, I would be pretty messed up if I were in that boat. But she seems to handle it all with such ... aplomb. Then she makes a bon mot about Alycia, which causes his face to grow hot. He tries to keep his smile polite, even as he's simultaneously aghast with embarrassment and uncomfortable about Numina talking to him about Alycia because you're headed down a dangerous road, man, with the guard rails missing on boths sides. And what must Amir think, even if he's not immersed in the melodrama that's Jason's life right now? Alycia used to point guns at him as much as me. I think. Who knows whether I have any basis for counting that sort of thing, after what Dad did with my memory. Something niggles at him. The effects of the Veil also kind of resemble the memory manipulation Dad did. Occam's Razor be damned, though. He knew who had done what kind of memory edits and motivational mind-fuckery on him. He just had to wait for the right moment to confront the both of them, and wasn't it ironic that both Hecate and Dad would stoop to -- "Wait. She's alive?" For a half-moment, Jason thinks Amir is talking about Numina, which strikes him as being uncharacteristically impolite. Then -- "Alycia? Well, yeah. She's threatened to kill me a couple of times, in public. Harry -- Mercury -- ran into her, too, and it turns out she was actually at, I mean, I've seen her on recent security tapes." No point going into that  fiasco right this moment.  "Why, you thought she wasn't?"
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*** Dave H. said: Something niggles at him. The effects of the Veil also kind of resemble the memory manipulation Dad did. Occam's Razor be damned, though. He knew who had done what kind of memory edits and motivational mind-fuckery on him. In his mind's eye, or... possibly in the room, against the far wall, Li'lalycia scribbles furiously on a blackboard... ... then she turns and does a combination wink/finger gun at him. [second post coming]
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"I assumed you'd killed her by now," Amir exclaims, as if it were obvious, then: "Or... that Chin's people had some kind of civil war." His hands toy absently with the head of his cane. "I've spent all my spare time in the last two years trying to understand what happened - reconstructing it after the fact when most of it was covered up - and I've never heard or seen any hint she was still around." He is still processing that information as Numina sets down the tray and returns to her chair. He nods his thanks, absently, as you offer him a glass, then shakes his distraction away and focuses on you again. "Who do you suspect did this to you - to us? I'd think they might be the priority, right now, before they act again."
"She never bothered you, then?" Jason asks, suddenly feeling a vague relief. Even as he'd asked why Amir thought she was dead, his big brain had been working out a dozen nightmare scenarios like she was all  in his imagination, or she was the Sepiaverse Alycia (Sepialycia?), or ... "That's probably good. But -- well, she always kind of seemed to have a mad-on with me more than with you. I don't know why." He glances over at the "chalkboard" that Li'lycia's been scribbling on. I'm beginning to really hate that finger gun thing.   Or maybe -- "Maybe someone thought I was a bigger threat? I was being --" He slightly gags on the word, glances at Numina, then continues. "-- manipulated. To not come after you. To not try and rescue Dad and Rusty -- heck, to not even think they were alive and might need rescue. Maybe someone's been manipulating her the same way. Bumping up the fear in her, or the anger, or something. Keeping her from reaching out to me, like I was kept from reaching out to you, and vice-versa." He ticks off on his fingers. "Three different avenues of mental manipulation: the Vyortovian Veil, making everyone believe that Vyortovia exists, Iceland is a myth nobody's ever heard of, and Oceania has always been at war with Eastasia." He looks at Amir. The surge of joy at deciding his brother was as much of victim as he was (which sounds awfully weird, but better than "... still hated him" or "... was part of the conspiracy") has crested, a bit of paranoia creeping back in. All of Amir's questions have made sense, but there have been an awful lot of them. On the other hand, in this situation, wouldn't anyone be asking questions? Wasn't he asking questions in his own head, right that moment?  Okay, cards on the table then. If Jason's guessed wrong, he'll just have to bull his way through. "So that 'veil' was erected by Hecate of the HHL -- you remember, the witchy one who kept calling Dad an Androhegemonist? The HHL decided that the public couldn't handle the idea that there was some sort of interdimensional incursion and that entire nation, if not the world, might be merged or swapped or something . So she did whatever the hell she does and edited, for the most part, people's sense of reality, even if the public records didn't quite back that up. "Second avenue --" Another tick. He's taking them in a different order, just to spite her. "I think Hecate targeted us -- you and me -- more specifically." He's watching Amir carefully. Jason was never as good in a brawl as Rusty wanted, but he'd always drawn top marks in contingency analysis. His mind is already branching through new scenarios from "Amir is totally on the up-and-up and is asking just what anyone would ask and I'm really  sorry I didn't eat Hecate's face off when I was in GG's body" to "Amir is a puppet of Hecate who's hiding in the next room watching us and trying to determine what we know and how would I best attack us if I were her, and man, I really wish I'd eaten off her face ..." "She's the one responsible for keeping us apart -- 'cause were a lot stronger team together than apart. She's the one that's kept me from going after Dad -- heck, from not even going to the Sepiaverse when I know how to do it." Not to mention another way he thought of on the flight down that he's not sure would actually work, but the Palm Key place does have the micro-fusion power generation capability, because solar cells don't let you run a cyclotron on your island estate. "That spell got kicked in the teeth when we broke the first one, all from the same person, all from the same effort, and that part designed, most of all, to strand Dad (and Rusty, for that matter) over in the Sepiaverse." A shrug. "I don't know where she is right now. I know there are a lot of folk who would really like to talk with her, and not in a friendly manner, and I'm not sure her HHL buddies are going to stop that from happening. They were of a real mixed mind on the first veil; the second was an abuse of power, to say that fucking least. And, yeah, she's a priority, but rescuing Dad and  dealing with the Vyortovians have to come first. Especially after what you just told me about their plans." Jason sits back, trying to maintain an outward calm, trying to keep his senses open, continuing to focus on Amir, his tells, his reaction to this, to figure out what's actually going on with him.  [Which I think probably means a Pierce the Mask attempt, he only thinks of belatedly, herp-derp.]
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Before I type replies: And... Numina is here, so if Bill's willing, she can spend a team to get you to 10.
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Approved. But since she is sort of distracting Jason passively, I want Dave to tell us how she helped. :)
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 actually, depending on what options Dave picks from the list I know exactly how she's going to help
I think I'm going to keep it simple and take the first three. I'm not looking to take influence over him. Numina's advice on trust is helping Jason control his paranoia at least a bit, so that assists with his judging this a bit more rationally. She also engages with Amir through the food and drink service, allowing Jason observation points where Amir is (or isn't) distracted.  (Alternately, she just smiles and says, "Jason is concerned about speaking too frankly, given the experience you've both had with being deceived. Is everything here as it seems, Amir?"  Sometimes Numina is disarmingly direct.)  Or if someone has an even better idea... 
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[I'm going to answer this in three parts, so you can reply to his stuff one bit at a time. If your reply tied that bit of the conversation up, I'll post the next one, and so on.] "And, yeah, she's a priority, but rescuing Dad and dealing with the Vyortovians have to come first. Especially after what you just told me about their plans." [What do you want me to do?] "Even with only the information you have, I'd actually say Hecate might be the priority, as odd as that might sound." His eyes go to the end of the room, where inset bookshelves surround a rarely-used fireplace. "I might have some additional information, but I'm not sure I'm the best to explain it, or that I have the right to do so." He uses his cane to push himself upright, and walks - steady, if not regular steps, with help - to the shelves, where he pulls down a book. He looks at the cover, nods, and starts to return to his chair, then reaches across and hands it to you at your end of the couch. "Ms. Randal is part of the physics faculty at Harvard, I believe," he says, gesturing at the book, " and I believe she can give you a great deal of insight into Hecate's motivations, among other things." He rubs at his mouth, eyes on the somewhat dated, circa-early-2000s book cover. "Harvard's probably only three or four hour's flight time from here, and as a bonus, you can see she's uniquely qualified in a number of fields relevant to your interests." He motions back toward the rest of the house. "She's in a group picture with Father, I think, back in the lab. The one where they're all holding martinis and look twelve years old."
Well, that's message-fraught. If I could only figure it out. Except... ... He's being very circumspect. Are we under observation?  ... Is this Mandel... Hecate? Someone who actually knows her? Or some other piece of the mystery? [Dave has meta thoughts, but none that would occur to Jason as yet.] ... Picture. I try to think of the photo he's referring to. [Do I? Is there such a photo? Or does that seem more of the message?] Twelve years old. Metaphor, or message? "Thanks," Jason takes the book. Looks at the back to see if there's a photo of the author there. "I'll add that to my itinerary. Right away." He glances at Numina, then back to Amir. "I'll get the book back to you soon as I can. I might skim it on the flight." 
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*** Dave H. said: ... Picture. I try to think of the photo he's referring to. [Do I? Is there such a photo? Or does that seem more of the message?] Twelve years old. Metaphor, or message? You can easily see the picture in your mind's eye. Lots of egg-heads, looking smug and tipsy. Some kind of academic gathering. These are physicists, so not MANY women, and you can probably recall the one in question. "Thanks," Jason takes the book. Looks at the back to see if there's a photo of the author there. "I'll add that to my itinerary. Right away." He glances at Numina, then back to Amir. "I'll get the book back to you soon as I can. I might skim it on the flight."  "No worries on the book return," Amir says. "It's Father's, not mine." He motions with his chin toward the other end of the room. "Shelved out here, with all the other books written by peers of his, so they could see he bought their books when they dropped in to visit, I'd imagine." The picture on inner flyleaf is a more recent picture - a woman in her early fifties, rather than mid-thirties.
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[What do you intend to do?] "She's the one responsible for keeping us apart -- 'cause were a lot stronger team together than apart." He settles back into his chair, as if the trip across the room took a toll. "I don't imagine I'll ever do much in the way of globetrotting, again, even with my brother at my side," he smiles faintly. "But now, with the veil down and these... compulsions gone, I can broaden my research, try to figure out what the Family is up to now. I hope I can be of some help in that regard, feeding my action-adventuring sibling information he can use."
Jason smiles. "I'd -- like that. Being fed usable information by my brother is always nice." He meets Amir's eyes, gives a short nod. "But --" He gestures at his brother's legs. "Your legs. They're not as dire as I was told.  But I can see they still -- well, is there anything I can help with there? Anything I can --" It sounds lame even before he says it. "-- build?"
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Amir makes a dismissive gesture - the expression of someone who's been fighting an illness long enough to find it boring - tiresome. "I've already been built and rebuilt a number of times - I believe I've exceeded my tolerance for surgical tables, at least for the moment. Any frequency higher than every forty-five days would probably put me in open revolt."  Seeing your worried expression, he offers an olive branch. "I ... promise the next time I go in for one of the consults I'm putting off, you can come along and badger the doctors on my behalf." "So..." he folds his hands on top the cane. "Hecate. How bad is the situation there, already?" [What are you really planning? (Numina helps)] "She's the one that's kept me from going after Dad -- heck, from not even going to the Sepiaverse when I know how to do it." "That spell got kicked in the teeth when we broke the first one, all from the same person, all from the same effort, and the part designed, most of all, to strand Dad (and Rusty, for that matter) over in the Sepiaverse." "I don't know where she is right now. I know there are a lot of folk who would really like to talk with her, and not in a friendly manner, and I'm not sure her HHL buddies are going to stop that from happening." It's Numina's turn to smile, though it's more of a smirk, as she listens to you rattle off a list of problems and potential adversaries. "Too many secrets, Marty," she murmurs. Amir raises an eyebrow, and you think it might be at least in part because she spoke up in the middle of your conversation with him. But the very mild surprise shifts subtly to bemusement. He glances toward her, then back, giving you a bit of a teasing smirk as well. "I'm afraid your assistant may be malfunctioning a bit, Jason," he says, laying just the slightest bit of emphasis on your name, to point out Numina's error.
Wheels within wheels. Amir's been clearly acting squirrely, trying to convey messages, the emphasis on the book, the prioritization of Hecate, feeding him information. Are they under observation? Another thought/scenario unwinds in Jason's head. Amir was in the Sepiaverse when Dad, et al., got blown across -- and was so clearly blown back. Into the hands of the Vyortovians who were trying to stop Dad? But Amir was happy to go over Dad and Chin's plans and the background to the whole Vyortovian mess, and would that make sense if the Vs are the ones monitoring things here? But if they are, might they be interested in Hecate? Maybe too interested. (Alternately, hell, who's to say she's not one of them, or working for them?) Too many secrets. He'd always liked Sneakers better than Amir, but they'd watched it enough times, his brother knew that line. He's either subtly acknowledging that, or emphasizing it as -- a distraction? Jason sighs internally.  Amir, Li'lycia, and Numina are doing a lot better with the cryptic comments than he is. Hell, they were probably both rolling their eyes at each other when he wasn't looking at them. So maybe he needs to just shut up. Regardless of who's listening, he's probably already babbled too much. He's been working at cross-purposes, trying to be both candid with his brother and test him by feeding him information to get a reaction, but the third purpose -- operational security -- have have suffered for it. Amir always had been better about talking his way past the guards than he was. Okay, shift the tone. And hope that he can acknowledge both their messages. If they are messages.  "Yeah," he says, looking at Numina and hoping she doesn't take all this wrong. "Yeah this prototype has been kind of glitchy. Spec contract for a three-letter government agency using some parts Dad designed for some West Coast toy company. Quality issues sneaked by.  I'll have to examine her closely back home." Jason blushes slightly at his own final comment.
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He'd always liked Sneakers better than Amir, but they'd watched it enough times, his brother knew that line. He's either subtly acknowledging that, or emphasizing it as -- a distraction?
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Okay, shift the tone. And hope that he can acknowledge both their messages. If they are messages.  "Yeah," he says, looking at Numina and hoping she doesn't take all this wrong. "Yeah this prototype has been kind of glitchy. Spec contract for a three-letter government agency using some parts Dad designed for some West Coast toy company. Quality issues sneaked by.  I'll have to examine her closely back home." Amir nods. "I confess I haven't stayed remotely abreast the business side of things. I had no idea you were involved in production contracts, but I'm glad you are. You always had a knack for invention." He starts to stand. "Next time, I insist on a longer visit, but for now... you and I both know we have some urgent things to see to."
Jason's blood runs cold as he reads Li'lycia's writing. Or he's never seen the movie. Is she channeling his paranoia now? Or deflating his deep-seated desire to reunify with his lost brother. You won't know who to trust. Amir's words don't help his uncertainty and fear. Camouflage against those who listen? Or genuine ignorance given in such a confidant way that they seem  like that. I cannot kill my brother. Kill my brother. "We do. Jeez, this is -- unbelievable." Jason steps forward. Part of him wants to strike out, but he simply doesn't know.  Regroup. Withdraw. Consider. There's time, but not in this place. GET OUT. Think later. He embraces Amir, resisting the impulse to armor up. He steps back with a smile. "I'm so glad I came here. It's good to have my brother back -- and have some direction." He turns to Numina. "We've got places to be," he says, and shoots her with a finger gun. Hopefully that will mean something from the stories he's told her. Did he mention the finger gun? Great time to have to wonder that. Fight or flight. But he's unsure whether or how to fight -- and Numina's a possible collateral target. But flight -- literal as well as figurative -- has to be controlled, restrained, serene, appropriate. "Stay in touch, man. I'll be back." He waves the book. "Thanks for this." Further niceties, politeness, bonhomme, as he flees in slow motion to the jet. He forces himself to take the walk-around he was trained a hundred times to do, pays special attention to the diagnostics on systems start-up, considers how a bomb might have been slipped aboard ... How paranoid am I? Is it worth doing something crazy with the nanobots to search for something? At the cost of killing myself a little bit, to try to avoid being killed a lot? Or, if this really is as dire as it maybe is, is their purpose just to get me away as a useful ally-slash-tool, whoever "they" are? Or "he" is? That makes the most sense -- but can I trust my judgment on that? Breathe. He looks over at Numina, strapped in such that major clipping is occuring in her visual image. I need to trust myself.   And that means reining this reaction in. Don't literally kill myself. At least, not yet. "If something happens, I'll protect you," he tells her quietly, imagining a sudden fireball, trusting to the nanobots to protect him if at all possible, but telling them with everything he can think of to make sure that any protection they extend includes her. Whatever that costs. "Of course you will," she says, and it isn't a snarky comment but an expression of confident trust in him. Which -- means a lot, he realizes. He gives a wave to Amir -- sincere looking enough that if this is all on the up and up, no offense can be taken. And if it's not, that no warning flags are raised. "Palm Key," he says into the radio, doubling into the external speakers, "we are clear and heading out. Thanks for the hospitality, bro." Then he eases back the throttle, and takes the VTOL up. ----------------------- [If I've stepped on intended or more interesting plot toes, feel free to interrupt the above as necessary.] [If this was the end of the intended cutscene, I do have some post-discussion I'd like to have with Numina, dialog or monolog. Some of that depends on (and vice-versa) where Jason's next destination actually is..]
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"Jason," Numina asks as the plane lifts, "did you have a knack for invention when you were younger?" 
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He throws her a quick glance. He's continuing to monitor the systems, waiting for something sabotaged to fail catastrophically. The contingent thoughts that he may be under some emotion-influencing attack that may be spiking his adrenaline production, or that, alternately, he's just losing it, fail to reassure. Go now. Think later. "Not particularly. I mean, you pick up some stuff up having a genius science adventurer dad and being thrown into life-or-death sitches that force you to build a crossbow out of a magnet, duct tape, and a slotted spoon. But I didn't really get into tinkering with stuff until ... I dunno, a few years back?" He's a bit quiet -- partly distraction, partly memory -- as he flips a switch off, then back on again. The light's still green. "It gave me something to kill time after Dad and Rusty -- all that."   "Except excuses about why I needed another ice cream for dessert. I was good at inventing those. Amir was better." He wants to talk about what just happened -- but not yet. Go now, chat later.  
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*** Dave H. said: "Not particularly." She nods, willing to wait, but not concealing a small thoughtful frown. She sensed something was off. "Just so you know," she says, "I've got more than enough in common with Leo to happily solve a problem with punching." She tosses her - you notice - now short, shaggy, pixie-cut hair. "If it comes up."
"I --" Swelp me, Jason Quill, if you her she's too fragile a flower to risk getting into a fight I'll beat you up myself. He's unsure if that's his own inner dialog, or Li'lycia or if there's that much of a difference at this point, but ... "-- think that's good to know. Though we should probably do some practice sparring with you to get a sense of your strengths and weaknesses before getting into a melee. That pod is pretty well armored, but I'm not sure about the emitters, either how well the hard light constructs will deal with combat-level impact, or how the emitters themselves will, given how we installed them. That might take some work, anchoring the -- anyway, also --" Say something! "-- I was worried about bombs, or something done to the plane before we left. Which don't lend themselves to punching. And --" Say something! "-- I like the hair. It's -- different. It's you."
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She grins. "It is, isn't it? I'll keep it short for now, I think." She sits back in her chair. "You know, I think I can keep from clipping so much if we just strengthen the push-back on the emitters to prevent object overlap with my paperdoll. It'll use more juice than only having them go solid when I want to intentionally interact with something, but I think it'll be a net gain in usability." She squints. "Actually, if we do that, and set the pod to default to a hover height of about a hundred fifty centimeters, I could 'carry' it, and walk for real. As a bonus, I could still fly by overriding the default." She tilts her head. "You think the current power plant can handle all that? I don't really want to be on a charging cable more than my phone."
A technology discussion is always a welcome distraction. At least for a moment. "So carry the pod like a hardcase "backpack"? Though you can decorate it as you like -- yeah, that makes some sense. I'm not worried about the juice it will pull -- Chin designed that thing for long-term infiltration, on a least a trickle of charge all the time for the sensors. And if prolonged drain has a problem in some scenario, I can always carry you -- um, find some way to deal with that. Maybe even put some real straps on it, or a handle like a suitcase. A bit heavier than that, but the nanobots can handle it. Hmmm." He looks down at the console. "Okay, we're out of airspace around the Key, past any reasonable SAM targeting, and low enough that we're just over the horizon for purposes of beam weapons. What the hell just happened back there?" He takes a deep breath. If a bomb was possible, a bug was possible. But he can't just not talk. There are some decisions to make. "There was something deeply squirrelly going on with Amir. At first he seemed just like he should be, and his story fit all the details it should. But then he started asking questions more insistently than felt quite right, and there was all that stuff with this book --" He waves the volume. "-- and meeting this Valerie Randal, and then ... he didn't get your  Sneakers  reference. He's heard that line a dozen dozen times, we'd even say it to each other, imitating Ben Kingsley's weird East Coast accent." He shakes his head. "I thought he was being coy, a nudge and a wink. Then Li'lycia started suggesting that Amir was more of a Cosmo than  ... I dunno, Liz. Not the lost sheep of the team, but the guy who always remembered, always plotted, so get out fast." He runs his fingers through his hair again. "I don't know know how many layers of paranoia I'm laying down myself vs digging through. But the number one question is: do we go to Harvard and visit Ms Randal, as Amir was so insistent we should do? I'm inclined yes, because it's the only clear direction to take, even if it's a trap."
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[Distracting conversation] "I meant 'carry it inside my paperdoll,' actually. Let it rest on the inside of the shell and let my legs do something useful." [Real conversation] "I thought something was wrong when he didn't get that reference." [and] "Well, it's not the only clear direction to take, is it? You could go after Charlotte in the Sepiaverse [assume, here, that Leo communicated to the team about Charlotte's note], which would also hopefully bring you in contact with your Father which, no offense, seemed like something your brother was steering you away from, at least a little bit." She shrugs. "Or you can try to find Alycia. Somehow, she was obviously never affected by whatever aversion effect kept you and Amir from trying to reach your family." She squints, one eye closing entirely, almost as if she's aiming with the other. "Honestly - and please don't take this and add it to guilt-you-feel-for-something-you-didn't-do-even-though-the-option-was-forcibly-taken-out-of-your-hands-two-years-ago, because then I'll feel guilty, and that's ex haust ing - what I've always heard described as her 'obsessively pursuing any clue about her father' seems more like 'what any child would try to do in that situation.'" She gestures with both hands, almost a shrug. "That's not to say the book's author might not be a useful lead, too. Even if Amir was lying, it was probably mostly truthful." Her expression sobers. "That's the most effective way to lie, as demonstrated by Leo's father any number of times." She shakes the thought away. "So. Many options. Which of them are both important, and something only you can do?"
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Leo did immediately relay that information.
"Charlotte. Crap. Forgot about her." He presses the palms of his hands against his eyes. "She's been there too long without word. Rrg. Team mate. Priority." He snorts. "It occured to me, the other day, we've been focusing on the portal in the graveyard -- hold on a sec: Memo: transcribe and pass on to the team information that Amir told me about keynomes and Vyortovians -- it occured to me that I did that whole Create A Portal to Anywhere thing the other day -- sorry about that, again -- and maybe I could use that to get directly to Dad. Or at least to the Sepiaverse. The generators on the Key would have maybe worked for that. But if I'm actually thinking with my brain instead of with -- whatever, I could do that at home, in Halcyon, without causing so many problems. Maybe. I haven't spent much time experimenting with this stuff obviously." Breathe. Focus. "Alycia --"  He stop. Breathes again. "I'm not sure she wasn't affected. Maybe something that just kept her away from me.  I dunno. That would explain why she's been so close and still hasn't tried to reach out. Or maybe she saw me not doing anything, and -- no I am not  saying this to feel guilty, just observing, because, yes, someone fucked with my head and --" Not sure feeling that surge of murderous rage each time instead of a flood of guilt is any more productive, but ... "-- and that might have made her think I was ... not someone who would help. Someone who didn't actually want to find Dad and Rusty." Okay, the rage isn't any more comforting, or productive, or conducive to clear thought, but it sure feels better than nothing. "Anyway, I've tried to find her. Multiple times. I know she's in the city. I've been advised --" He taps his temple, shoots a finger gun at Numina. "-- that she should  be reaching out to me. Hell, for all I know, though, she's already in the Sepiaverse. She has all the information for it. I have to ... let that happen when it happens for the moment." He looks at Numina, gives a small, almost sad, smile. "You know, I really enjoyed just working in the lab with you the past few days on your new body. It was fun. It was gob-smacking difficult, but a technology-puzzle-difficult, a creativity-difficult, not grand-moral-decision-difficult or big-strategy-difficult or life-and-death-difficult. Fun. And good company. I wonder sometimes --" He whooshes some air. "Hahvahd will have to wait, too. Gives me a chance to read the book first, at least. Try to figure out why Amir was sending me toward her. Let's go figure out what's happening with our favorite friendly ghost." He sets course for Halcyon. [Jason's intent on the flight is to:  a. Let Leo and the others know he's checking into Charlotte, check back with them soon with an update. b. Write up his notes on what Amir said about the Quill/Chin plans, as well as warning info about something squirelly about Amir, in case his brother reaches out to them, and transmits that back to the others, too (email, or texted link to a QDoc at the Foundation) c. Memo to self to chat with Barbara about Amir. d. Read the book. e. Probably get distracted from at least some of the above by chatting with Numina. f. Head to the cemetery. He toys with the idea of landing the VTOL there directly, but it's probably not that  urgent of a crisis, and while there's plenty of trampled ground from the Vees' incursion the other evening, adding to it would probably not be cool.] [So, presumably, that gets Jason stuck in the Sepiaverse for next issue. I'm not sure if it makes sense to have Numina come/get stuck with -- happy to have her along, if that adds some zaniness or GM voice for the jaunt over there, but Jason can also wave her back from getting too close to the crypt with the understandable concern that there are weirdities with tech in that zone that might cause her problems, and he is  happy to put his foot down about that as needed for plot. (How all that affects his nanobots is another question.)]
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Leo reported that his suit returned to normal when leaving the portal area. The bots' brains aren't dependent on electrical charge to retain state, just to operate, so Numina should be able to pass through the zone. She'd probably black out, then come to on the other side. Whether she chooses to risk it (and the rest) is up to her. Doyce, the other doc is done and polished, let me know if/when you are ready for that to hit.
Good to know, thanks, Bill. Also, g. Pet the dog. Given it's VTOL, I'm assuming the jet lands at the Quill Block. He'll take an extra minute to get Brigand set up in a garden with some water and [still fresh in vacuum pack!] kibble in bowls before running off in the hoverdisc to the cemetery. (Yay, Jason! More obligations!)