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.