Masks 22.4 - Pneuma and Hecate [Cutscene]

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Jason and Numina are off for the Florida Keys. Leo, despite putting on a brave face at the Quill compound, is an emotional wreck. Pneuma can see the undercurrent of rejection that Numina threw in his face, consciously or otherwise. She's long since come to terms with Numina's desire to be herself. Her own recent acceptance of Leo's love shows that she's changed just as radically. The two girls had talked, and talked, and talked, speaking lightly about ordinary topics with significant and secret importance that only the two of them understood. They had said more to each other than anyone else might suspect. This is getting her nowhere. Time to get off your butt, girl. There's a job that only you can do. Charlotte isn't here, or she'd be the logical first choice. But Pneuma is close to the weapon she thinks will let her win the upcoming fight. She leaves the carriage house, and has a brief, direct talk with Mrs. Gale. Tempest looks pained when she understands what Pneuma is asking, but is grateful for the chance at absolution that Pneuma is likewise offering. She picks up the phone. In due course, Hecate arrives at the Gale house. The three will have coffee, and Hecate will have a chance to meet one of the women of the Menagerie. Tempest made it clear that more was in store during the call, but said nothing specific. The first few minutes in the Gale living room are calm enough, though Hecate neglects Pneuma entirely in favor of small talk with Mrs. Gale. Finally the speedster clears her throat, signaling the shift. "Hecate, Pneuma here wishes to ask you a question." The woman turns, regards Pneuma curiously. The girl puts on her best and brightest face, a not-quite-smile, and sets down her cup and saucer. "My teammate, Jason Quill, has had his mind tampered with. He believes it was done by you, and he’s hardly alone in this, even among the League. It's not my place to judge or condemn. But my life is in his hands as a teammate, so I have an interest in his well-being. I ask that you to tell me what you did - or did not do, and why." Pneuma swears in that moment that Hecate is about to crack the coffee cup in her hand. A rapid series of glances, looks, and slight motions ensue between the two HHL members. Pneuma can barely follow - there's as much nuance there as between Numina and herself, and none of it is verbal. This is the critical moment, when she will find out if Tempest has the moral authority to get Hecate to come clean, whether out of shame or pride. There seems to be a lull, and she fills it with what she hopes is a conciliatory peace gesture. "Jason might have been the one to ask, but I thought you would prefer--" She's cut off by a haughty sneer and a dramatically cleared throat. Queen Hecate will now speak. "I would not have spoken to him, dear... but I will explain to you." She smirks. “You’re quite clever… and of course, no one the league especially cares about will ever believe you.” “Hecate --” Tempest begins. “First of all,” Hecate cuts in, shaking her head toward Tempest. “The Veil was not my - our - idea. I thought the thing was base cowardice or some sign of mental damage; toxic masculine flexing. My teammates -” she actually, literally sneers at this, like a silent film actor ensuring the audience gets their point “were so terrified at the idea of losing status in the eyes of the world - at seeing their precious, pathetic manhoods diminished - pointed at - laughed at --” Tempest quietly clears her throat, and Hecate lets that particular rant die. Her thin lips twist in a slightly sour moue. “It’s possible I lost the argument itself by making those points.” She clears her own throat and straightens in the chair. “The League agreed on using the Veil, and since I had to lift the bloody thing, I made sure it couldn’t be brought down by one meddling man-boy and his pet dog.” Her expression hardens. “I knew what might happen if I didn’t.” The rest of the explanation is... non-linear, at best; a glimpse of a story that goes back twenty years. Pneuma has to piece it together later, filled in with information found online. But she learns three things. There is a Doctor Valerie Randal, a distinguished physicist and cosmologist who has known Byron Quill since the 1990s. Valerie Randal is the birth mother of Jason Quill. Valerie Randal and Hecate were in a relationship at the time. Despite her scientific education, Valerie felt mystical leanings (Pneuma finds herself empathizing deeply) and during college was quite interested in the occult, as well as other forms of spiritualism. Even the titles of her books - "Warped Passages", "Transcendent", and "Dark Matter and the Dinosaurs" - betray a fascination in both the physical and the metaphysical. What better girlfriend than one who really can conjure power and cross dimensions? She also wrote the libretto of an opera called "Hypermusic Prologue: A Projective Opera in Seven Planes". Pneuma makes a mental note to check it out. Valerie was professionally and personally close with Byron Quill. Pneuma is not sure why or how - Hecate has no interest in exploring the topic - but Byron decided he wanted a child, and Valerie decided she would assist him. She otherwise had no children and no desire for them, and had no romantic interest in men whatsoever. Perhaps it was the allure of good genes, two smart parents making smarter children, that sort of thing. Whatever the case, she gave birth, handed off the child to Byron to raise, and went on her way. Hecate had supported Valerie, her career, her identity, her decision not to have kids, her other life choices, but Pneuma infers the two didn't always see eye to eye. This decision ("her betrayal!") drove a wedge into an already-rocky relationship, and it ended around the fifth month of carrying Jason. Pneuma realizes that somewhere along the way, the explanation has become an opportunity for Hecate to vent about her past. "She was brilliant! That intellect should have shown her the foolishness of giving into Quill's demand for a child. It reduced her from scientific luminary to breeding machine for that ignorant, irresponsible meddler!" "I bear no particular ill will to his boys, mind you, despite the fact that they clearly inherited their father's patriarchal proclivities and reckless, meddling demeanor; but your teammate could have - would have - circumvented the larger Veil in his quest -” she smirks at this, as though she’d made a joke “to find his father and return him to our world, neither of which I could allow." "Byron Quill - you could not possibly know what I know of that man - has caused endless grief, hurt people, has left millions abandoned and dying; shown no care or responsibility beyond whatever bloodied flag or cause he decided to adopt. He leaves living wreckage in his wake.” Her voice is firm, resolute. “If my enchantments prevented a Byron Quill in this world, I rejoice in it. I did the world a service. Why, we've condemned less guilty people to--" Mrs. Gale throws a sharp glance at Hecate, along with a flick of her eyes in Pneuma's direction. Pneuma can barely register it. Hecate changes topic in the same breath. "The worst part is, she knew this about him! She had to. We needed more gender-critical icons in male-dominated fields, yet she threw it all away for that man --" Mrs. Gale coughs gently. "I think the young lady's question has been answered. Pneuma, do you agree?" Hecate seems to regain her former poise. "Yes, I think I've spent enough time talking about that distasteful matter. Your concern for your teammates is commendable, however misguided they are, personally. Back to the reason I came. Tell me about yourself, my child." Pneuma smiles. And as she briefly narrates her own life history, she watches Hecate undergo rapid, stressful evolution. But every moment the woman launches a new diatribe, Pneuma says something that sends the narrative in another direction. Leo Snow is at once a domineering male creating a sexual toy for himself, an emasculated ex-boyfriend left behind by his own creation, a pathetic White Knight Nice Guy, and a selfish polygamist lusting for his own perverted harem. Pneuma is alternately victim, fraud, ally, Madonna, whore, puppet master, plaything. But it's finally too much. "You... you are not a woman!" Hecate sputters. "I don't have XX chromosomes," Pneuma admits. "But I don't have XY either. I don't have a cycle, and cannot bear children in the usual way, but I do have the power to create new life. Leo has given me his respect, and I have given him my love. I have felt a woman's shame. I have felt a woman's pride. I'm certainly not a man. Then what am I?" "You are a machine. A device. A boy's toy," Hecate declares. "Leo gave me all the parts, all the knowledge, all the freedom to build my own body. I built what you see. It has secrets even Leo does not know. It is mine. It is under my authority. Then who am I? You've spoken of the mysticism of the feminine, the power of the woman. With your abilities, I'm sure you could sense that in me if you wished, to know for yourself whether my soul is that of a woman's." Pneuma continues, feeling more confident. "You are clearly someone who has given great thought to womanhood. I want to hear more, some other time. I cannot promise that I will agree with everything you say, or agree to everything you ask. But I promise I will listen. Will you talk to me again about this?" Hecate slams her coffee cup down with a clink. "Hmpf," she snorts, and rises. With a curt nod to both Tempest and Pneuma, she storms out. Mrs. Gale finishes the rest of her coffee, sip by sip, with a faint smile. At last she puts down the cup and looks at Pneuma, who's still trying to process the exchange. "That was a yes, my dear," Tempest explains. "She's curious now. That was a gutsy thing to ask. Probably a stupid one, unless you enjoy being harangued about that hobby-horse of hers. But if she'd refused you, you would have been the one leaving." Pneuma smiles and nods in understanding. "Thank you for everything." And after a brief goodbye hug with the senior super, she returns to the carriage house, kisses a forlorn Leo on the cheek, and begins composing an email to Jason Quill.
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The carriage house is quiet. Pneuma puts down the phone. "Leo," she says quietly. "Where are the Breath Savers?" Leo looks around. "Breath Savers, why would you--" He catches a glimpse of her face, pale and stricken. No further questions are needed. He finds them, sitting on one shelf, and presents one. Pneuma reaches for the green roll, fumbles pulling one out, succeeds a second time, and pops it into her mouth. Leo sits down next to her. "What do you need?" he asks softly. He only repeats the question after a minute of hearing nothing. "I just talked to Hecate," the girl whispers. "I guess it didn't go well." "No, it went fine, I even asked if she'd tell me more about being a woman. She walked out. Mrs. Gale said that meant she was curious. That's some good coffee, by the way." Pneuma crunches down hard on the mint, starts looking around for another one. "Holy shit, she is crazy." Leo fishes out two mints, presents her with one, and pops the other in his own mouth in sync with her. "I'm glad you liked the coffee." It's neutral, and invites further conversation without demanding it. Pneuma finds his hand with her own, and laces her fingers with his, and sits quietly for several minutes. "Give me another one," she finally asks. Leo fishes out two more Breath Savers, one for her, the other for himself. "I challenged Hecate. She's a League member. She was pretty upset." As she talks, Leo sits cross-legged, listening, holding her hand with his own. "She talked about a veil, capital V, something magic I guess. She doesn't like Byron Quill. Like, at all. You two would get along. Well, no, she'd hate you too, you're a guy. I don't think she likes guys. I think - I think -" Leo hears the rising panic in her voice. "You're safe," he tells her. "She's gone, she left. I'm here. Breathe with me." Pneuma shivers. The high that carried her through that conversation is fading fast. "Rossum did - that - to me. Hecate knows - or thinks she knows, but I was convinced - who Jason's mother is, and she's an actual person, pretty sure she's alive right now. Everyone's telling me about mothers lately. So you - you - you -" "Pneuma." Leo's voice is soft, but next to her ear it's loud enough. "I'm with you. If you need some air, to get out, Otto's here, he can take us wherever you want." He breathes, audibly inhaling and exhaling, enough times for her to pick up on it and match his relaxed rhythm with her own. The two stay together in the dark, Leo making casual conversation, Pneuma responding as best she's able. Sometimes she stutters, or loses words, and Leo glides over it without remark. It takes nearly an hour for her to come back to a semblance of normality. "God, I'm a wreck," the girl finally whispers. "What she told me.. I can't handle that right now. Jason's mother.. She told me who…" There's a pause. Leo knows she's half expecting him to ask, and knowing it's none of his business he stays silent. ".. his mom never wanted kids, left him after he was born.. And your birth mom.. Is she like that? I emailed Jason, but I didn't tell him anything, I didn't want him running off to meet some woman who didn't want to see him. I don't want that to happen to you, Leo, God, I'm so scared you'll find her after all that and she'll reject you--" Leo squeezes her tight. Finally she sniffles, rubs her eyes, and smiles as bravely as she can. "I'm sorry to be such a burden." "Yeah, this Breath Savers addiction of yours is really tearing us apart." She hits him softly on the shoulder. "You really like those mints, huh?" Leo asks. Pneuma flushes a bit. "I.. I had quite a few of them, that night when you came back. I had to go find some mistletoe. I was so worried I'd get back and you'd be already here. I wanted it to be perfect--" "It was perfect," Leo murmurs. "So you knew you were going to kiss me and wanted fresh breath. Just how many did that take?" "Oh god, I'm gonna have to tell you this now, aren't I." "Yep." "Fine." The girl squirms. She's at last comfortable enough to nestle into his arms. "Don't laugh." "Guys love a woman who can make them laugh." She hits him again. "Fine. Fiiine. The pancake syrup from earlier was rough on me, so I.. I.. I used some of the Gales' Drano to gargle with. Your stupid stupid hydrophobic digestive tract makes it hard to wash out anything that gets stuck in there. Even Otto said something about it. God. I'm never gonna hear the end of this." Leo smiles. "So, you knew you were gonna kiss me, you smelled like Drano, you freaked, I'm guessing brushed your teeth like a madwoman, and sealed the deal with half a roll of mints." Pneuma nestles back against him. "I thought you wouldn't like me if I didn't smell nice." "Goof. I would like you if you crawled out of the Halcyon sewers after a marathon swim." "You're too nice," Pneuma mutters. She looks around for another mint, and sees the roll is empty, and lightly hits him a third time. "Hey. Hey . Why are you eating those?" Leo shrugs slightly. "It tastes like you did when you kissed me. What's not to like?" To which there can be only one response. "Are you doing okay?" the girl finally asks, after a long and pleasant silence together. "Perfect. Why?" "You were pretty upset about Numina. Then I came in and selfishly dumped my problems on you." "I'm glad you did," Leo smiles. "You helped me break out of that funk. I was being stupid, I know it, and you were good for me, the way you always are. Anyway, listen, I thought of what I'm going to do about the Numina situation." He tells her. Her eyes widen, and she grins. "Oh yes, she will love that." The pair spend a few more minutes in quiet contemplation. Pneuma breaks the silence once more. "I think I am gonna talk to her again. Hecate, I mean. She sounds like she knows stuff, mystic stuff. I want to hear more. To learn more. I just.. I just can't stand how much hate is in her. It makes my skin crawl. That's why I'm glad I get time like this with you. You're my armor against her toxicity. I can't hate men when I know such a good one. Don't ever stop, okay? Promise me. I can't stand to be around her again unless I know you'll support me." "I promise. I'll support you," Leo whispers. "Remember when I asked what if I fell in love with a handsome superhero?" she asks, lazily snuggling close. Leo nods. "Well, I did. Thank you, Leo."
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Doyce T.
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In case it comes up. You know, at some point. Valerie Randal . Also, Bill graciously let me control the Hecate bits in the first post, so consider all that stuff GM-canon.
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And for anyone who read the follow-up between Pneuma and Leo and got cavities,  http://lmgtfy.com/?q=list+of+local+dentists If there's questions about when/if Jason gets an email, Doyce should be able to clarify. The time and exact content are deliberately vague.
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Doyce T.
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Bill G. said: If there's questions about when/if Jason gets an email, Doyce should be able to clarify. The time and exact content are deliberately vague. Yeah I need to figure that out. It'll be soon in Jason's timeline, but vague enough he can (and probably will) easily file it for later.
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Aside from personal-journey motives, I hope this leaves the door open for IF Jason thinks he needs to talk to Hecate for some reason. I got the impression from the visit-Amir thread that he thinks that might come up. In that case, Pneuma might need to act as mediator. It sounds like Hecate would be unlikely to talk to Jason otherwise.
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Doyce T.
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Lots of people want to talk to Hecate .
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So Doyce has been giving me heads up that something Big Regarding Jason was coming up in this thread that I wasn't in, and was I okay with that. So in case anyone was wondering, I gave permission for my character and a big reveal for him to happen here. :-D Notes: 1. I am very interested in seeing what that email from P looks like. Also kind of fascinated that it was done by email ... (And I'll hold onto Jason's reaction to P doing this for that email.) 2. While we got a big chunk of it here, I am forced to assume that Hecate and Byron have a previous history that this episode simply exacerbated. If nothing else, she uses a particular word three times in various diatribes to describe Byron and (by extension) Jason: "meddling man-boy and his dog," "ignorant, irresponsible meddler," and "reckless, meddling demeanor." So either Doyce had been watching a bunch of Scooby-Doo with his tots, or else there's something going on there. 3. P is far more sympathetic to Hecate (and far more polite) than Jason could be. So, yeah, just as well that he wasn't at that conversation, and whether he'll ever be able to have a follow-up conversation about it with her without giving her a one-sided high-five with the nanobots is an interesting question. 4. It's clear P had more motivation to reach out to Hecate than just the Jason stuff, clearly and fascinatingly. I am very curious to see how this goes, though P trying to get insights into the feminine principle by going to Hecate might be like Data trying to understand the masculine principle by going to a strip club -- the picture is both informative and misleading in its intensity. 5. I had forgotten the Drano comment from Otto, but am glad to see the breath mint obsession explained (it's charmingly prosaic and  a need piece of business for her).  6. I betray my antique nature by confessing that I was really confused by the transition from P going to write Jason an email to P putting down her phone in the next section ("Who was she on the phone with"). Herp-derp. 7. Doyce, your linked-to meme above almost made me pee my pants. Thank you for that. 8.  Amir referenced Valerie over in that thread, a bit more circumspectly. (And now I'm curious about what order these threads occured in, and how much of that was already pre-plotted by the GM.)  It was at that time that I noticed the wiki page for her. That she was Jason's natural mother was one of my suspicions at the time (but not one that Jason would have, so I didn't mention it). There's certainly more tale behind that for Jason to explore, however else everything works out. (But she is a possible resource for some of the Sepiaverse shenanigans, should we need someone with actual training in interdimensional theory). Net-net, I'm okay with this, and okay that it happened elsethread and while Jason was offstage. Also, great writing / RP by Bill, so, yay.
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Doyce T.
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*** Dave H. said: 1. I am very interested in seeing what that email from P looks like. Also kind of fascinated that it was done by email ... (And I'll hold onto Jason's reaction to P doing this for that email.)  The  email is going to be super vague, along the lines of "Jason I've spoken with Hecate, and learned a great deal. We should talk about it face-to-face, when you have time." 
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Breath mints: my experience with relationships is that they are a bunch of in-jokes glued together by mutual affection and attraction. Romantic pablum such as "John! - Marsha!" feels fake to me, but (for example) "What Dreams May Come"'s scenes between Robin Williams and his wife, where you hear about their "double D anniversary" and later learn what it means, feels more authentic to me. If in the future, two people saw Leo and Pneuma both pulling out a breath mint at the same time, they might think nothing of it, but to those two, it's a secret kiss. Life is a series of moments, happy (or sad) accidents, and the memorable ones bind us together. What are the odds that Jason and Alycia should have shared a raft, for example? A dozen things might have led them in separate directions, or kept them apart, or even killed one of them. In such a case, what would Jason's life be like now? How did that one random incident shape him? This was one of their moments. Well, unless it didn't happen. :) Pneuma and Hecate: I think Pneuma knows more about being a girl than she's willing to admit to herself (Leo seems quite happy for example). I think that we are the stories we tell ourselves and each other, and what "being a girl" means comes from a lot of different places. She just hasn't been to all of them yet and that will bother her for a long time. Going to a strip club doesn't teach you how to be a man, but some men do go there, and you can learn something about men by watching them do so. I think once she understood that Hecate was a source of information that Jason would need, she took it on herself to talk to her and try to be that doorway to knowledge, even knowing it would be rough or scary. That's what teammates and friends and heroes do, the same reason Numina is down there with Jason.
Doyce T. said: The  email is going to be super vague, along the lines of "Jason I've spoken with Hecate, and learned a great deal. We should talk about it face-to-face, when you have time."  Jason immediately starts worrying that Hecate has enchanted / suborned / infected Pneuma ... :-D (No, not really, though that thought will, in fact, inevitably cross his mind in concern. His response will actually be a lot more nuanced and multifaceted  than that.)
Bill: Breath mints: my experience with relationships is that they are a bunch of in-jokes glued together by mutual affection and attraction. Romantic pablum such as "John! - Marsha!" feels fake to me, but (for example) "What Dreams May Come"'s scenes between Robin Williams and his wife, where you hear about their "double D anniversary" and later learn what it means, feels more authentic to me. If in the future, two people saw Leo and Pneuma both pulling out a breath mint at the same time, they might think nothing of it, but to those two, it's a secret kiss. Absolutely. The secret language of small circles -- couples, families, a group of friends. Heck, gaming friends who shared the same campaign. I've seen tons of those in my own life. It's been funny the ones that actually made the transition from my growing-up family to my adult family. ("The monkey with the hat!" That was one of those shorthands between Jason and Alycia that I raised in one "encounter" that conjures a shared moment, memory, experience, emotion.)
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Here's a buffet of options for why Hecate might be interested in talking further with Pneuma. Take your pick, from the selfish to the honest. "I cannot bear children in the usual way, but I do have the power to create new life". Well, if she can do that, what do we need men for? This sounds interesting, tell me more. Pneuma came to Hecate, pretty respectfully under the circumstances. Hecate thinks Pneuma could be made sympathetic to her cause. "To know for yourself whether my soul is that of a woman's". Pneuma is straight-up guessing here, but maybe this is a thing. Maybe Hecate already did it during the conversation, and is shocked, surprised, or curious about the result. Or maybe it hasn't occurred to her to try because her assumptions got in the way, and this will spur her to do so. What will she find? "It has secrets even Leo does not know." This is factually true, and puts the lie to Hecate's early assumption that Pneuma was built as a toy and hence couldn't have authority over herself. She can be stubborn and radical and still have a spark of honesty. If she's disgusted with the HHL's toxic-masculine flexing, she might assume the Menagerie will be the same and start looking for evidence of it, either to condemn us (if she finds it), to use us as as an instrument to shame the League (if not), or for some other purpose. That might fuel future League beef with us, but hey. She can also see Pneuma/Numina as a tool for leverage against Jason Quill - especially if she finds out the situation with Numina - and by extension his father, if he returns safely. Just how much truth is there to what she said about Byron, and could she prove any of it? She might just be tired - of the HHL's posing, of having to participate in the lie of the Veil, of other stuff - and finally have someone she can talk to about the old days, about Valerie, about whatever was good in her life. It doesn't need to come up in the foreground again, unless some conversation is important enough to detail or even play out, but there you are.
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There was some awesome stuff in that dialog between them, which you touch on in the list above, Bill. Thanks She can also see Pneuma/Numina as a tool for leverage against Jason Quill - especially if she finds out the situation with Numina - and by extension his father, if he returns safely. Just how much truth is there to what she said about Byron, and could she prove any of it Interesting. When reading through the first time, I read most of the vitriol as basically just "We hates the Byron, we hates himforever!" hyperbole. There was one bit -- Byron Quill - you could not possibly know what I know of that man - has caused endless grief, hurt people, has left millions abandoned and dying; shown no care or responsibility beyond whatever bloodied flag or cause he decided to adopt. He leaves living wreckage in his wake. -- that had me wondering, but, honestly, it could be chalked up to "Byron decided to research a hyperspace expedition to Pluto rather than turn his attention to the victims of the tsunami in Indonesia" sort of thing -- something to argue about over the dinner table, but hardly worth exile the Sepiaverse. If there are some further, concrete accusations toward the man that would matter more to Jason or the public than Hecate's agenda ... well, that's a bit different.
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Doyce T.
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^+1
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*** Dave H. said: If there are some further, concrete accusations toward the man that would matter more to Jason or the public than Hecate's agenda ... well, that's a bit different. Actually hearing details on those kinds of accusations is why I left that bullet point in, yeah.