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27.4 A chance encounter [Cutscene] [RP]

"Jesus. Vyortovia? Really?" Jason walks down the hall from the kitchen. He needs to nail this whole plan down with Leo and Alycia today before this whole Vyortovian peace mission knocks his schedule out the door, along with his cognitive integrity. If Leo's up to it. If Alycia's out of whatever deep pit she's been dragged off to. Do I have any leverage right now over AEGIS? I can't -- I need to fix this thing. Now. Which is weird, because he's lived with this sense of doom these past few years, but now it feels so close, everything, both success -- or failure -- that the tension is growing beyond what he can bear. He's distracted by these thoughts as he approaches Summer going the other way, with her usual smile and hand raised in greeting. Which is why it's a surprise -- for them both -- as he smoothly pivots, his hand grasping her raised one, the other taking her waist, swinging her around, dipping, lips joining -- Contact. Network signals handshake, nanobots link into AI processing core, cognitive patterns interlock, referent perspectives phase and compile ... It's white. White floor. White ... horizon ... Jason is there. As is Summer. His eyes dart around, wide. "I don't -- what --?" Li'lycia's there, eyes too, the latter rolling. "Herp-derp, Jason. 'Gather thee rosebuds while ye may.' Carpe diem. Carpe Aestatem. " She waggles her eyebrows. "Shit or get off the pot, dude." She finger-guns him, then dissolves into a swirl of black feathers that fade from view. "Guh," Jason manages to articulate. Then he starts, swivels toward his companion. "Summer!" He shakes his head, eyes still wide. "Sorry, I don't -- I didn't mean to -- I would never --"
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Take a look at this: https://coggle.it/diagram/Wmu9yPi84QAB4yNv/t/who-a... And then present whatever this inner world would look like from Jason's new perspective. She can respond to the surprising transition after that, if that works for you. There's more to her mind than just this, but it should cover what Jason might find interesting.
The world turns a fraction sideways, and suddenly thoughts, dreams, images, crash onto Jason -- He's three years old, playing on the beach -- a wave falls upon him, he's down, under the water, the sand shifting, salt in his mouth, choking -- Around him the world is full of images of Numina, of Summer -- her hard light frame, trying different poses, expressions, clothing -- earlier holographs on the computer, impersonal at first but finding ways to express -- flickers of Pneuma -- shadows of Leo -- -- realities, fantasies -- He gets to his feet, only to be thrust underwater again by her voice, a dozen different voices, all of them hers, shouting from every angle. God dammit, I am human! Who are you to tell me I'm not! I want her to be happy so much He's respecting my choices. He's afraid of being alone. He has no idea what to do Not enough like her any more? Summer Skye - true poems flee He knows I'm afraid. He's doing his best. An interest in my body a couple times now. Would he have me if I asked? Just one would be okay. I can't even get the man I already love. And he shatters into a dozen pieces under the pressure, deep under the water, bubbles rising around them, his voice answering ... She liked my joke. She's not bad, she's not! He's my dad, he's not evil, he's not! Pinned you, so how did you end up on -- Shoot if you have to, but I'm not -- Okay, it was cute! At the village! Here? Not so freaking much! She's not breathing! The darkness, I can't -- -- Skin is so warm -- I don't remember, godammit! I don't remember! I am so sorry for everything I forgot. I don't want to be left behind. I don't want to be alone. I'm a bit -- dislodged from reality right now. I've been treated as something not quite real. It's -- not something I want to do to anyone else. This -- thing I've got -- about Alycia Chin. I have dreams about her, you know? How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world. Leo is a very, very, very lucky man. I need to let the others know how compromised I am. You won't know who to trust. Help me, please. Oh my God. She's here. Am I going to have to -- Hello, hero. Jason Quill won't mention how he's not sure if he needs his Dad back, but how he could really use a girlfr-- ... and hers again, but now sounding strangely like his, filtered through his mind ... So come on, take a break, tell me what's on your mind. Jabbering. Jesting. Jettison Justice. Jigsaw ... The divine spirit of a place. A power that pervades the lives of men. I need you to stop brooding in this castle full of ghosts and regret. You'd be so good for him too. I'm really worried about you, Jason. You need to get yourself a Jason Quill. You telling me you didn't see me as real hurt too. I was even a little afraid you might try it. Good isn't what you've done. It's what you're doing about what you've done. We'll forgive you. And we'll hope you forgive us, too, when our time comes. Break the program. My life here is in your hands. We'll look out for each other, all the way. Breakfast and a movie sounds perfect. ... and ... I'm giving you permission to read my mind. And then the pressure, the roar, the pummeling and voices are gone. Jason is on all fours on the white surface, hard and sandy, gasping for breath, and only the taste of salt remains.
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"You took me up on it. You're in my mind. I wanted you to, but I was also afraid." It's her voice, but different. The tumult of thought, the filters of fear and caution and painful life lessons learned, make speech an utterly cautious thing next to what goes on inside our heads. She is infinitely more honest now. "This is who I am." The sensation of that impulsive contact returns. "You broke through my boundaries doing that, and I'm disappointed and a bit afraid about that. But you did something, you tried something, you took a chance, and I'm so proud, and happy, and scared, and nervous that you did. It was a mistake, but I'm glad you made it." She smiles, like the sun itself. "You want . There's so much want in you, like a hunger that can't be filled. But now you are doing something about it. I've been waiting for you to start moving forward, no matter what direction you go. But where is that?"
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Jason wants to run. Anywhere. Away. But where can you run on a featureless, horizonless plane? "I -- I'm sorry, I didn't actually --" He stops, tries to grab some control. "I don't know why I did that, it was really  inappropriate, and -- well, it was Li'lycia --" He stops again. "Shit. Okay, counter-apologies. I can't fob that off on Li'lycia. She's me, only a weird part of my pathology (and, jeez, if I were at all interested in a psych degree I would so  write my case up), so if she did this, I  did this. So I apologize for the boundaries thing, because that's really inappropriate (I already said that), but I guess I --" Another pause. "I guess we need to talk. And it's silly and conventional (and massively less terrifying) to talk in realtime, realspace, like normal people -- when we're not, and we can connect this way." He shrugs, the motion causing whispers of his voices from a moment before. "Because this is who I am. And, yeah, I  want . And --" He draws a breath, not because his body needs oxygen here, but because his thoughts and feelings need that preface. "I -- okay, I'm going to say it, I -- l--" "Romantic or libidinous connections outside the bounds of proper social and intellectual and orthodoxical propriety," says Byron Quill, standing beside them, "or, frankly, per parameters that I have attempted to impose, whether or not they are clearly articulated, are to be discouraged or, if possible, quashed." He looks at Jason. "Oh, Jason. I am so disappointed in you. This dalliance with an artificial intelligence is nearly as ridiculous as your persistent infatuation with --" "Really?" Jason shouts. "Fucking r eally? Even this, even here, even now, and this stupid-ass shit --" He progresses into an impressive display of vulgarity, much of it not in English. "-- from Dad haunts me, makes me question myself, makes me wonder if I'm doing, or not doing, something of my own choosing?" He looks at Summer. "Hold that thought." He reaches out to the image of his father, taking him by either shoulder, then pressing inward. The image collapses along the horizontal, ending in an rod of imagery with a compressed Byron Quill form. Jason puts his hand atop the rod, and forces it down, until there is a small sphere of Byronness. Jason looks around, searching perhaps for a trash receptacle. Failing to see one, he hefts the small sphere, and flings it as far away as he can. He smiles crookedly at Summer, then closes his eyes. Nods. "This is a psychic connection I can't lie in, or hide from, or deflect, or pretend isn't happening. Which, I'm afraid, doesn't bring clarity to my own goofed-up brain."  He open his eyes, looks at her, clear-eyed, direct, utterly sincere. "I love you, Summer Skye. You are a warm, kind, wonderful person, and you make me feel better than anyone else in the world. Better than I deserve (and, yeah, I know those are fighting words). I love you. But --" Jason makes a twisted smile. "-- there's always that 'but,' right? I love Alycia Chin, too. In a weird, epic, I-gotta-love-her, I-haven't-seen-her-since-I-was-a-kid kind of way. I don't know what that means. I don't know what that leads to. I don't know what she feels. I don't know how I'll feel once this freakish memory zip-lock merger and acquisition thing happens. But I need to tell you this, too, because it is also the truth, and you deserve to hear it, and I don't and never, ever, want to hurt you, and I know that's not the basis of a healthy relationship either, but as you can see my brain isn't altogether healthy, so you should take that under consideration, too." He takes a ragged breath, because one should after saying such things. "And I could never have told you any of that in real life, so I thank my extended consciousness for the chance to do so." (Li'lycia pops up behind him, only in Summer's line of sight, doffs a hat she didn't have a moment before, then vanishes.) "And I don't know if that's moving forward, or spinning in circles, but that's the truth. And it's not particularly setting me free." He stands there, a crooked expression on his face, the prisoner before the firing squad, defiantly terrified, with emotions that reverberate through the space about them.
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If anything, her smile brightens, and the world that can't get any lighter does so anyway. "I'm so grateful that you shared your feelings with me. About me, about her, about yourself. And some of it I've always known." Echoes of Jason talking about Alycia, mentioning Alycia in that certain tone, the holographic AIs he surrounded himself with, the nuances of his face when he sat in recollection, the moments he didn't think Summer could see him and yet she did -- " She is your adventure, Jason. Even if you came back to me, told me it didn't work out, told me you'd changed your mind after talking to her, you have to go find out for sure . That hunger is so strong in you, and you'd be wrong to deny it." She spreads her arms, and behind her are moments, Pneuma and Leo, distant voices, numb silence, happy tears, laughter, whispers, from her own memory. "This honesty and openness and understanding in this place, that's what Leo and Aria and I have, all the time . It's because we are so close. I want you to have this kind of closeness too ." "You might be the only two people in the world who can really understand each other. I wasn't really sure until I saw the both of you together. I want you to go find out for yourself, if it means what you hope it does." "Be brave. Don't give up. Remember that there are some mistakes you have to make. There is some hurt that will happen. I will be what I've always been - your friend, someone you can talk to about anything. But I'm struggling with my own feelings, my own self. I do like you, for how little time we've spent together. If you came back to me and asked to be more, I can't promise I'd return your feelings. But I promise I'd give you a chance, if you wanted one."
He nods, soberly. "Life is nothing but chances -- you've given me plenty already, you really have -- but I'm glad there's room for one more." He snorts. "I -- almost wish you were more upset about it. But that's ego again. I'm really glad you're not, because, um, like I said. I don't want you hurt, especially by me." Jason looks around. "This is weird, but neat. You and Aria and Leo have something neat, if you can do this all the time. I hope I haven't --" He shrugs. "-- messed it up, which, okay, saying out loud really sounds like I have a huge ego and it's all about me and I need to get over it." He grins. "Which we already knew." He huffs a deep breath. "Speaking of 'getting over it' -- I have a surprise." He pulls out the air a small box, wrapped in silvery paper and a yellow bow. "I haven't told any of the others yet, but as long as it's true confessions time, you of all people should be the first to hear --" The box explodes with a burst of confetti. Images flicker about them -- org charts, Jason at a desk, Jason talking to students in front of a whiteboard, Jason in a business suit, Jason working under a hoverdisc, Jason in a conference room with teens in unfamiliar costumes, Jason with a neatly trimmed beard ... "I'm retiring from the super-hero biz. My dad was really screwed up, but he was right that I need a bit more -- normality in my life, to see what that's like. More books and board meetings, less poison darts and villains lairs in the middle of volcanoes. And because he was screwed up, I got to see what happens when someone gets too devoted, too addicted, to the adventure game, too much into being the hero, seeing each fight as the end, not the means.  Forgetting why we do this stuff.  "The Quill Foundation -- it's capable of some awesome things. The tech we've got, just gathering dust in the warehouses, could change the world. But someone needs to go through, figure it out, make those kind of discoveries, put together those business plans, lead that organization. And groups like the Menagerie, or the Irregulars, or whatever new capes are going to show up next month without some deep-pockets org backing them -- they all need help, too, technological, logistic. That's something the Foundation could help with -- that I could help with -- too. A bit like what I've tried to do with the team, when I wasn't distracted by Keynomes and demons and my own drama." He smiles. "That's where I think my real calling is. Not the cartoon character dodging blaster bolts, but someone using the gifts he's gotten for all humanity, and maybe for the heroes my age who are going to out there protecting it. Growing up a bit. Focusing on how I can make a positive difference. Be that candle in the window for you guys." He shrugs, too casually. "That's my plan, anyway, assuming I survive this mind zipper thing." Jason looks at her expectantly, clearly wanting her reaction, maybe half-dreading it.
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"You haven't hurt me, even by telling me you're going to find someone else, because it's what we both want for you, Jason." Summer's voice grows softer, a caring reassurance. "And so is this." "I want to tell you a story." She settles in, takes a breath ("you think that's air you're breathing now?" flickers past, a brief and amused association), and begins. "There was a girl. She was very badly hurt, in many ways. She couldn't even walk on her own." The darkness she faced inside Rossum's creation, trapped, paralyzed, flung into an oubliette of sensory deprivation, waking up only to be attacked by Leo, the pain, the hurt, the betrayal -- and then to be lifted out of that state, brought back in some form. The feeling of relief cries out, in wounded exultation, through her mind. "And she worked with a kindly healer to rebuild a dangerous invention. Together they turned a weapon of war into a tool for life, and she was healed with it." Jason tinkering with the combat drone, a fearful Numina, flickering and buzzing as a hologram. Will this work? I need to get out of here. I'm trapped - I'm suffocating - I'm afraid - I need freedom - help me - oh god, save me -- "The story reaches into both past and future. Once upon a time, this girl had many parents. Two of them were women who loved each other very much. Those women couldn't be together, because their own families disapproved. It's not the reason you might think. But when hate breaks up a happy couple, it doesn't matter why." A succession of faces, and feelings. Leo's foster parents. Smiling mouths, loving eyes, sliding into focus and then being snatched away by the malevolent birth father lurking deep in Summer's inherited memories. Two in particular remain behind, a Korean and Japanese couple, standing together. "Part of her new body is a holographic projection system. It can move around, touch things, make sounds. There's a few minor glitches, but if you are okay with those, it can present a real live human being. So she, and our healer, find a new use for that technology." "The girl and her sister go separately to Seoul and Tokyo. They take two copies of these hard-light projectors. They knock on two doors, and two women answer. The parents don't remember the sisters, but they remember the boy who created them. They explain the relationship, reveal who they are." Summer's imagination. Herself and Aria, standing at the thresholds of these imagined homes, received by Leo's two mothers. The crying, the hugging, as they hear the girls' stories and reconnect with someone long lost to them. Summer's hope for a reunion with someone she loved beyond measure. "Two sisters set up two holographic projectors in two living rooms. They're tied together, you see. In Seoul, the projector becomes the woman in Tokyo. In Tokyo, the projector is the woman in Seoul." "Two women, who love each other very much, who haven't seen each other in in a long time, and they get to hug each other, and talk, and dance, and they remember each other so clearly, and it's been so long, and even though it's just projected light, they get to be together again, for just a few moments..." She stops talking, and covers her face in her hands. When her hands come away from her eyes, they're bright with tears. Her voice is rich and warm and eager as she concludes the tale. "You've already given me so many beautiful gifts and such wonderful experiences. Some were awful, too - but those were of my own making, when we traveled to the other world. I needed to have those bad times, too. And you let me. Even when you didn't want to. I'm still grateful for all of it. And for you." "I know some part of you wants me to be hurt, wants me to protest, because you want to feel loved, and needed." She reaches out a hand, a sure and steadying touch on his arm, a human connection despite the technology that made this experience possible. "I do need you. All of us do, each in our own way. But this is what I've hoped for you, for your life, ever since I asked you to help rebuild me." "Nothing is forever. If you came back to the team as a member, Leo would accept you immediately. And you know you can come to me, if things don't work out, and see where that path takes us both. But you've found a way to heal yourself, and your father's legacy, and I'm so proud of you for taking it up."
His own eyes are wet with not-tears in the not-place, but the distinction seems (and is) unimportant. He reaches out and hugs her to him, and she feels warm and human, and in that moment and place there's nothing but that friendship, that affection, whatever has been, whatever will be. "You make it sound like I've already --" His voice is rough. "-- done some good. That means a lot. And -- I'm not going anywhere, not really. You need to talk, to share, a tune-up or whatever -- I will always be there for you, however things turn out." They stand there together for a timeless time, and for now that's enough.
[And that's a wrap. Thanks, Bill -- that was awesome.]
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#SummerComic
(Damned dust in here...)