Reference: 27.2 - A Star Falls from the Firmament (Jason's Tale) MENAGERIE #28 - THOSE WHO WOULD INTERVIEW US! 26.6 - Jason Quill has had a very, very, VERY long day 1. "Jason." "Alycia." What do you say to someone you haven't seen -- really -- in years. Who you've just been in psychic rapport with? Who has publicly threatened to kill you (but hasn't)? Who you think maybe you love? Whose father you just (together) mentally broke? That's an awkward moment, in any dimenson. "I --" She holds up a hand to silence me, the other rising to pinch the bridge of her nose. "Look, I get it. I -- got it. I understand what he did to you --" She gestures with her chin toward my father, who's collapsed on the ground next to hers. I'd just broken him, too, using the power of the Keynome and the very technology he'd given me to protect -- and, yeah, control -- me. "I get it," she continues. "It's over. The whole vendetta thing. Don't worry." A surge of relief washes through me, tempered only by her tone of voice. "So --" She picks up on it, the last tattered remnants of the psychic link perhaps. "So what now? Hell, I don't know, Jason. Get rip-roaring drunk and end up in another rubber raft? Walk away and never see each other again?" A wan, pained smile plays on her lips. "Neither option appeals at the moment, sorry. I just -- need to process. This --" She gestures to her father. Our fathers. "And this." She touches her head, gestures to mine and back. "Right. Right." She doesn't want to kill me. That's progress, right? Baby steps ... And she's right. There's a lot to process there -- memories (echoes and glimpses of memories, actually, second and third and fourth hand) shared in an instant, not sufficient to repair my own, but enough to make us both aware of gaps, flaws, discrepancies -- and of the lives we've both led in the past few years. Not exactly pleasant reading, and I can feel my own brain desperately throwing up walls to seal some of those memories away, at least for now. "We should -- get them topside," I say. "Find out what Ghost Girl got called up there about." "Right. 'Ghost Girl.'" I can hear the quotation marks. "Your little club of friends. You do have a comm link, you know." "Oh. Yeah." And we both pivot, almost gratefully, from too much raw emotion to matters of fact and logistics, and with both fallen fathers in my nanobot-wielding arms,  we leave the Keynome Chamber and head for the surface. 2. It's some hours later. A full-fledged celebration is going on in Federal City -- some precious canned treats, mostly still good, alongside current era unidentified-protein-on-a-stick, honey-glazed vegetation, and hootch for everyone. I avoid as much of the latter as I can, which is difficult given how many of the partiers want to press it on me, celebrating the victory of the Ghost Girl and the Son of Quill, alongside the Leaders of the City and its Patriotic People. I'm still getting details about what Charlotte did -- or, rather, details are being forced on me like cups of hootch. It sounds like she raised up the ghosts of the city from the graves around what we'd call the Washington Monument and used them, like a latter-day Aragorn, to wipe out the attacking Not-so-Hidden Family hordes -- the ones whose attack Chin was supporting below, at the Keynome. It's all crazy, and that's saying something in my life. I make a note that I have to talk with Charlotte about what it means -- I've only seen her once, briefly, since the battle, before she was swept away by revelers. She seemed to be really enjoying herself. Me? I'm just teetering on collapse. The efforts of the day are all catching up with me, physically. And emotionally. I've managed to duck into an office in the Capitol Building -- something some Senator or Representative once had, I guess. The placard is missing from the door. The antechamber has decaying file boxes in teetering heaps, but it also has a large leather over-stuffed chair. The leather's in bad shape, but it's soft and comfortable and I need to get off my feet for at least a few minutes. "You never were much for parties." "Gah!" I start, reflexes dull but enough to whirl in the chair (and almost fall out of it) at the voice from across the room. A match flickers, and lights an oil lamp -- something old from before the war, back in vogue in a world with dodgy electricity. "Hey -- Alycia." "You can say my name, Jason. I'm not going to bite." I think of Antarctica, and don't say anything. She's leaning back against the table with the lamp on it, backlit. She can see my face. Hers is in silhouette. Just the way she wants it, no doubt.  She says, "Look. What happened below, it's --" Now it's her turn to pause. "Thank you. You saved my life." I shrug. "I lost track of the tally a while back." "Liar. Six to four, my favor. Counting --" she gestures. "-- that." "No way. Five up, tops. More like six-five." "You're not counting that man in Madrid, are you?" "The blaster bolt from the Monkey --" "-- in the Hat. Of course. But Madrid." "I knew he was there." "Of course you did. Just like that canal in Amsterdam." "Hey, swimming in manacles is hard." "Funny, I managed to swim for us both, then." "You have strong legs." She makes a noise, and smiles. I look back at her, face hot. "So. Processed?" "Not in the least. Not for days, or weeks, or months." I nod. "Yeah. Then why --?" "One thing that stands out in my mind, in what I got from you, is that you need me for something." That smirk again. "Well, besides --" She abruptly sobers. "I owe you one. At least. For saving my life. For taking care of Father." "For pithing him? Or for avoiding killing him?" "Both. I couldn't have done either. It was -- fitting." "It was horrible. It was --" "It was just . Don't turn this into a guilt-off, Jason. It's your least attractive quality." I'm silent. And very tired. "So. What do you need me for?" "I didn't want to lead with this, Alycia. Really. I didn't come here, or do that stuff, just to get you to --" "Jason, I know . I was in your head, and vice-versa. I don't have all the details. I don't want all the details. But I felt this need, and how you had it -- compartmentalized, your concern, your --" She shrugs uncomfortably. "Just spit it out, Jason." I nod, and tell her -- reiterate, articulate what she already read, already knows, but needs to hear me say aloud -- about my dad, about what he did to me, my memories -- my memories of her, in particular. And I tell her about the "victory merge" thing that Leo told me about, related to Pneuma and Numina, and how I might use it. "Leo -- Rossum, Jr., right?" I bristle. "No, not right. Leo's nothing like his father." "Jason, between us we can be honest on this one thing: there's no complete escape from that kind of legacy. Not for me, not for you. Not for him." "He's not some -- junior edition of his father." "He makes toy robots and makes them dance around --" "You don't understand -- you have no idea what --" "Fine." She holds up a hand. "I didn't come to argue. I came to listen. One-time offer." A slight smile at that. "So you want to -- what, have Ross-- have this Leo Snow do the same thing for --" "I didn't tell you his last name." She gives me an oh come now look. "-- do the same thing for us. Fix your memories of -- us." The word comes out with discernable difficulty. "Fix them with my memories." "And -- fix your memories, too." Her eyes widen, slightly. I tap my head. "I was in there, too. There are gaps. Things you father did. The drugs --" "The method is neither here nor there," she says, moving right along. "But you're not wrong. Not quite as efficient a job as your father's handiwork, but --" She shakes her head. "Won't having the perspective shift be -- disconcerting?" "Leo says the mind sort of adjusts. My seeing your memory of my scratching my head gets ... paraphrased by the brain into my having a memory of scratching my head." "Complete with the sensations, because you've scratched your head before and since." She cocks her head. "What about -- unique sensations?" Something in her voice brings a flush to my cheeks, and some very, very faded memories drift to the surface of my consciousness. "I guess we'll just have to see," I say. There's no banter in my tone. I'm too tired -- in fact, I start to wakefulness realizing she was just saying something. "Wait, what?" "I said -- I'm not saying yes. Yet. But I'm not saying no, either. Even a patch job would be better than living with holes in my head. If you can convince me it's safe -- I'll give it serious consideration." I nod. "Thanks." "Look, we do need to talk more about this, but you're about to fall asleep and I'd probably be gravely offended if you did, so I'm going to leave." Alycia stands upright, starts to take a half-step toward me, then veers for the door. "Get some sleep, Jason. We'll chat in the morning, assuming some new disaster doesn't overtake us." "Story of our lives." "You're not wrong." She pauses at the door. "Good night, hero." I snort softly, but she's gone before I can say anything she can hear. "Good night, Alycia." I consider getting up and finding a place to doss down -- surely someone has a cot for the Son of Quill -- but when I close my eyes to consider it, I fall into the darkness and the point becomes moot. 3. "Dad." "Jason." It's morning. I haven't even found anything to eat, and my neck hurts from the weird way I was scrunched in the chair when I woke up.  At least nobody came in the middle of the night and tried to get me to come back to the celebration. That would have been awkward. Before I eat, or shower (not something people here do all that often, I've come to realize), I have to see how he's doing. I'm still angry. So incredibly angry, and the betrayal, at the short-sightedness, at the waste and arrogance and monomaniacal -- He's my dad. Alycia was right -- I can never completely escape that legacy. Yesterday he'd been semi-conscious when we brought him up from tunnels beneath. There'd been concern amongst the guards and people who had taken him to his quarters, to watch over and care for him. I got the impression they thought I had saved him from Chin -- -- whom they were ready to lynch, before I stopped them. I don't know that I could blame them, given what he'd done, but I hadn't killed him, and I wouldn't let them do it, either. Chin was languishing in a cell somewhere. Hopefully more secure than the one Alycia had been in. The impression that I saved Dad from Chin hadn't been one I created, but I did nothing to to counter it. I was the Son of Quill, after all. That helped with Alycia, too. A few people who spotted her, who knew she had been a prisoner, might have gotten the idea that she was working with me, thus against the enemy. That one I did sort of fast-talk a bit, to her raised eyebrow but willing cooperation and embellishment. I'd last seen Dad being borne away on a stretcher. This morning, way too early, he was in his office, going over stacks of papers, files, blueprints scattered across his desk, his conference table. (I'd wondered why he was headquartered in the Capitol, until I saw what remained of the White House.) The silence goes on longer than either of us are comfortable with. "Dad --" "Don't." The word is bitten off, and there's a flash of fury on his face that I've not seen in years. It's gone so fast, I almost doubt having seen it. "Don't apologize. You made a decision. You made a judgment call. Regardless of what I think of it, of how I --" He pauses. "How I feel about it, own it. It's yours . Don't tarnish it with an apology. Don't make it suddenly unworthwhile because you have regrets. Don't make me feel like even you think it was a mistake. Make what you took from me, what you did to me, worth it." I nod my head, a sharp, quick motion. Dammit, I was going apologize. Even as angry as I am, I was going to -- "How are you --?" The polite conversation noise cuts off as I realize what I'm saying. "-- feeling? Like I have a sinus infection, or a head cold, with everything around me muffled and blurry and hollow-sounding and distant, and the simplest things suddenly become painful and difficult to manage." He raises an eyebrow. "I'm afraid no Nyquil will do in this case, even if this world still has any." I nod again. This is not the conversation I wanted, the one I needed . I try something less personal. "Look, Dad, I was thinking. I have to go back to our universe but -- well, maybe we could set up some communication system." "Communications?" "Between the Prime Universe and the Sepiaverse -- exchange information, tech specs, things that will help you here. Look, with the dimensional resonance established and recorded through my nanobots, there are probably locations where we could find the correct sub-etheric quantum frequencies to allow information to pass through, maybe even actual matter, without further disruption of the substrate. Correctly correlated with the etheric membrane between worlds, we could modulate any --" "Son," Dad says, holding up a hand. When did he get so old? "I'm not that smart any more, remember?" He gestures around him. "I'm going to need to figure out all this stuff again. Maybe better, though. Less about me, more about them. Collaborate. They're not stupid here." A thin smile. "Well, not relatively. Not any more." "Dad --" "Jason, go home. Figure out your communication devices. Send us one. Maybe we'll have something to talk about." "Yeah, okay." I go back to the entrance to the office. I can't believe I'm saying it, but, "If there's anything I can do to help." "Just -- go. Be well. Don't look back." I'm not sure if he's talking right that moment or in the future, but I leave. But not before I hear what sounds like many stacks of paper being swept onto the floor. 4. Two more weird things happen before we go home. The street tables set in the street for the feast last night -- a motley combination of worn and dinged office conference tables, rickety and jury-rigged folding tables, sawhorses with planks, and more contemporary (and crude) wooden affairs -- they're still in place, though most of the crockery and scraps have already been cleaned up. There aren't a lot of people outside yet -- sure, it's early, but this is almost certainly a dawn-to-dusk society now. Still, after the big party, maybe people are getting a bit of deserved rest. I spot a teenage woman, working at the remaining clean-up. "Uh, excuse me." She turns, and almost drops the pile of plates she's carrying. "Son of -- sir!" I'm really not feeling like the adulation right that moment. "Call me Jason, please. What's your name?" "Mariya," she says. "How may I serve, Jason?" She's fluttering her eyelashes. Flirting? "Where can I get some breakfast?" "Oh! It would be a pleasure to serve you breakfast, Jason." She smiles broadly. "Any service would --" She pauses, looks around. "What?" "Oh, just -- making sure you aren't -- being followed. Or stalked. Never mind -- breakfast. It would be a pleasure. I'll -- be right back." She run to a nearby building, maybe twenty yards away. I think I saw them bringing food from there last night. I shake my head. If Dad's building that much servility in the population that I, as his son, get treated this way -- not that Chin was right, but he wasn't necessarily completely wrong, either. Will what I did help? I can only hope so. I hear voices, shouting. Maryiya comes to the door, carrying a large bowl. A man in a dirty apron follows her. "You're not listening to me," he says, "Jaime at the Big House said that son of a bitch --" He stops, looking at me. Mariya looks at me, too, then him, then shakes her head. "Don't be silly, he's the Son of Quill!" She brings over the bowl, smiling. The man is looking daggers at me, though I have no idea why, but he turns around and goes back inside as Mariya brings a bowl of what looks like home-made shredded wheat in milk. "I hope this will do, sire -- Jason. If not --" "No, that's fine, Mariya. Thanks." She curtseys. "If there's anything else --" She against glances around, like demons are about to jump her in the middle of the street. "-- anything you need." "No, thanks. I appreciate it." She bobs another curtsey, goes running back to the building. I look at the door there as she closes it. Her behavior was -- yeah, I'm really not in the mood for that. But the guy inside there, he seemed to have the opposite. What did I do to piss in his Cheerios? Piss in Cheerios might be a contender vs. shredded something with dried something fruit and goats milk. Maybe. Regardless, I manage to get a few mouthsful down before the second weird thing happens. Sol voice rings through my head, and I know it's time to head home.