Reference: Menagerie #28 - Those Who Would Interview Us The hoverdisc pulls up in front of the coffee shop the whole shindig is happening at. The address says "Blintzkrieg" on the QMaps display, but a banner put across the front says "Mochanagerie." I kind of like the new name better. The other makes me think of Nazis, which makes him think of Vyortovia, which -- Oh, for God's sake, stop it. I shifts the disc laterally across the street to an empty stall, a little up on the curb to deal with the awkward size. A little sign by the stall that says "Reserved for Quilldisc" is a nice touch. I still doesn't want to be there. But I'm here now. And, based on the crowds, I might be the last to arrive -- yeah, there's Concord and, um, Superchica, landing on the sidewalk before Ican cross back over the street, and I can see Otto up by the front window of the place, which has rolled up like a garage door so he can participate (also a nice touch). Charlotte would never be late for a social affair, and Harry -- yeah, there he is inside. So, yup, that's the lot. I stops at the curb. There's still time to back -- "Hey, Jason!" Otto booms out. "Still driving that old set of wheels?" "No wheels, Otto," I give the obligatory response. It's lackluster in tone, though, and I'm not sure I cares. "That's what makes it cool." He laughs, with his horn lightly giving counterpoint. The inside of the coffee shop is moderately crowded. There are a few people clearly gathered as an audience -- including a few Irregulators, but none of the JHHL, of course . But a lot of the patrons (more than usual, perhaps) are studiously looking away so as not to seem so unhip as to be wowed by capes. PowerPony has no such compunction. "Jason! Awesome! You're all sitting over here, on, um, that thing." She refers to something that looks like a tiered set of wooden boxes with cushions and steps and all, tucked to one side of the room. "Grab a seat, I'm going to round up the others." I'm always one to sit in the front row. Better view, better interaction. I climb up to sit in the back. I don't want to be here, don't want to be noticed. Let someone else take the lead. Hell, let Leo do it. He's the hero here, the one all the girls swoon for -- Summer. She's over at the service counter, putting drinks in a tray. She's in one of the shop uniforms. What the --? I quickly turn away. I don't want to have her catch me staring at her. The others gradually assemble. Concord hovers up the steps to sit beside me, in his own little world, holding a blueberry scone but not eating it. He looks like I feel. Except ... he doesn't look normal -- like glimpses I had of him in the battle. The weird starfield, all of that, sure, but the color tones are more monochromatic, less vivid and varied. Sol. Something happened to Sol. I knew that already, from that message. "100% Merge," or whatever it was. But there's something more going on. I'm not thrilled about Concord sitting next to me. I vant to be alone. But maybe we can both mope in the back row, quietly, and avoid all this --. I should have called up about him. Seen how he was doing. Hah. Like I was doing all that great the past few days. But I feel vaguely guilty about it. In front of us, Harry, in his Mercury duds, zips up and plops down. "Hey!" he says, offering a fist. I bump it. Concord doesn't seem to notice. "How's your dad?" I ask. Keeping up the social graces Harry's face falls a bit. "Well, he's still in ICU, so it's still kind of intense." He grits his teeth. "I kind of feel guilty about being here. No -- actually, I kind of feel guilty about being glad to be out of that room for a little bit and be here." I nod. I'm not the font of sympathy, though, and Charlotte drifts up at that point, having been helping the Ponies with setup. She settles on the steps next to Harry, and they start chatting, which is fine by me. Leo -- Link, in full armor and helm -- is at the bottom. In the front. Where he should be, natch. I still have an odd sense of resentment, even if I'm glad to see him taking point. Pneuma -- Aria, but I guess we're in super-hero guise now -- slides up next to him. She was over talking with -- Dammit. Okay, sit tight. You've read some of these AMAs before. You've done interviews. You know this. Someone will ask you about the cartoons, someone will ask you about your dog, someone will ask about -- Jesus, don't ask about Alycia Chin. Especially not now. "Okay, people," Maury (@HeroesAreMagic) says, "let's get settled." She goes through the ground rules -- questions solicited from the public, scrubbed for obvious media or old fogeyness (take that, Mister Mystery). Looking for stuff that was serious but cool, or that someone was really eager to ask, or fun, or blah, blah blah. She's moderating with PowerPony and NoNo. We are at the mercy of the Ponies. "Well, if we're having full transparency," Link says, and then takes off his helmet and puts it on the cushion beside him. Holy Crap. He just unmasked. The reaction from the various onlookers is mostly surprised, a lot of phones rising up, stuff like that. I'm pretty shocked, too. Leo's always kept his face secret, mostly because of his background -- maybe to stay under Rossum's radar, or so that people from his past didn't know their kid / friend / classmate was Link. Gutsy move. I wonder what triggered it. * * * The camera for the AMA starts to roll, once everyone has quieted down. "Everyone's lining up to talk with them," says PowerPony into a mic, "including the Dread Queen herself -- but we called dibs!" That draws some laughter, more jovial that you might expect in a city that was just invaded by the Vyortovians. Twice. The teddy bear that has been sitting on the cushion between Link and Pneuma gets up and starts capering around, trying to do a moonwalk, etc. It takes me a minute to realize that it's Otto -- it's a small robot or animatronic that Leo built (of course), and Otto's projecting himself into it as another way of joining the AMA. How freaking clever of you, Leo. So clever. Such a clever inventor. Such -- I cut myself off. I need to find a minute to talk with Leo after this -- ask him about the zipper merge thing I want him to perform on Alycia and myself. It's already going to be awkward enough with the whole Summer thing between us, even if she's back with him. It's not going to be any easier if I'm being snarky to him about it, or about -- "First question, for Jason: what is it like being the leader of the Menagerie?" What? What's it like being the leader of the Menagerie? I'm not even -- Overwhelming. That's why I quit. I flash back on the Sepiaverse. Arguing with Dad. Going after Alycia. What I did to him and Achilles Chin. I'm the last person to ask that question, on so many levels. Say something. Anything. Bonus points if it's true, but something . "There's -- there's really two answers there. First, it's an honor. I mean, these guys are really great people. Awesome. Just being on the team with them is great. To be asked to lead --" Harry throws a glance at me. "And second, knowing that there are people on the team who can step up is also really cool. Which -- paperwork on the official AEGIS forms aside, I asked Link to take over the team a while back. He's been really solid, too, and if you saw any footage of the battle against the Dread Queen, he was just awesome there." Concord stirs next to me, but the question continues: "So the best thing about being leader is that you don't have to any more?" That draws some chuckles. I take it as a straight line. "Yeah. They're all great, it's been an honor, they all deserve a shot at leading." Except me, of course . "Link, do you wear special underwear under your suit?" "No, ordinary." "Boxers or briefs?" "Briefs." "Sorry, ladies." Well, that was a dumb one. Anyone who's worn combat armor, space suits, anything like that, if it doesn't come with its own undergarb or plumbing hookups, you go with briefs. Keep everything compact and tidy. Even the female astronauts and the like wear panties of some sort. Yeesh. "With that lead-in, Concord -- no, not an underwear question! From user CaughtDingoes: 'You have a fabulous cape' -- um, you don't have a cape, it's a scarf, right? But you don't have it right now. 'How does it feel to be an icon for the LGBTA community.?'" "Um ... am I?" "Yeah, I don't -- is it you're a rainbow guy? ... not so much ... either ... any more." Concord is staring at the Pony asking the question, not even at the camera. His eyes are wide, deer in the headlights. "I don't do this thing to be a hero. I do it because I need to." "Another for Concord, from used-to-run-400m: 'Concord, If you'd never become a superhero, what would you see yourself doing?'" Concord stiffens, makes some sort of sound. Jesus. It's not clear what's triggered the anxiety attack, but he was already a bundle of nerves, and now he's coming unraveled. Even as I reach out an put a hand on his shoulder -- human contact is one of the most powerful anti-anxiety treatments in the world, read the literature -- Charlotte interrupts, drawing attention from Adam and over to herself. "It's a question of why people do what we do." She's sitting on the steps in front of Concord, and she actually lifts herself up slightly to block him from the camera. "We're looking to help people, do the right thing. I know I've gotten a new purpose in life lately, from all this you call 'superhero' life. Not just a connection to my friends, or this neighborhood or city, but to even the afterlife -- other ghosts, their needs --" Harry is suddenly by Adam's side, holding a bowl of rainbow colored chips, gathered from somewhere. Concord looks at him, the takes one. I think about the question myself. Well, actually, I don't have to -- I already have that plan laid out, as soon as I fix my fatal condition. Yeah, let's not talk about that part on the AMA, shall we? The Ponies aren't dummies. They can see Concord is having a time of it. They stick with what works. "Charlotte, if you could go back to your own time, would you do it? Or would you be here, in a strange time and place?" "There's a reason I'm here now," she answers. "The things I'm doing here, what I'm able to accomplish, here and now -- it's all important work." She nods. Iin my previous time, I wouldn't have had the impact I have right now." I think about what I was told about the army of the dead she raised in Federal City. I hope she means more than that. She does seem, though, more confident, more -- forthright in her answers than she was before. Did something else happen I don't know about? "Mercury, before the Menagerie came together, were there any talks with other people our age about starting a team?" Harry's back in his seat. I didn't actually see him move. "Yeah, there were some family expectations about my joining the JHHL." That draws a stir from a few onlookers. "But I'm really glad I ended up where I am, and wouldn't trade it for the world." Nobody ever invited me onto their team. Which was okay, because Dad and the HHL never got along, and I can't imagine hanging with these JHHL jerks. I'm glad Harry ended up on the team, too. He grounds us in some ways. A lot less drama than -- well, right now, almost all of us. Though -- His dad got hurt, badly, in the battle on Vyortovia a few days back. Silver Streak was complicit in the Veil that Hecate put over the world to mask the weirdness of the Vyortovia invasion, and I'm pissed about that -- but I hope he didn't get hurt trying to atone for it. That would be (and I say this with full awareness of the irony of my saying it) a dumb thing to do. I hope he gets better. "Link, Jason Quill has his own action figure." Oh, God, don't remind me. I still end up having to sign those things at conventions. "Have you considered your own toy line?" Nobody's calling out that he's unmasked, but it certainly makes him more approachable, more media-friendly. Does he realize that?. "I think that would be tough for the others. If I had a choice, I'd prefer Link-branded science kits for kids." Otto capers about some more through the teddy bear. "Yeah, being a toy would be rough." "Otto, we haven't caught up to you. Who's faster, you or Mercury?" Harry snorts. Otto the Bear throws him a glance. "Well, yeah, Mercury's faster," he says, morosely. Then, pointing a finger, j'accuse, "Because he cheats at physics! He breaks actual physical laws! He's a cheater!" "Hey!" Mercury protests. "On the other hand, Mercury can't fly, which makes me slightly more awesome. Me? Can fly. Him? Can't fly. Can fly, can't fly, can fly, can't fly." He does a little dance as the teddy bear, while Harry sputters a bit between guffaws. "Everyone, what kind of villains would you rather fight?" Ones that aren't my dad. Harry's first. "Ones who don't cause destruction." Yeah, let's not get too serious. "Ones with glass jaws," I suggest. Charlotte nods. "Where there's a clear delineation between good and bad." I sigh. Yeah. That'd be nice. Link adds, "I would rather not fight anybody. So ... I guess, people we can reach." Jeez. When did he get so good as this publicity talk? NoNo chimes up with a question at that point. "This is exactly as it reads in the chat log. Why is Concord so handsome? He's just the hottest -- rrawr. :-)" Really? Another Concord question? Harry intercedes this time. "He's got the light of a thousand suns in him." Concord is sitting even more stiffly than before. My hand is still on his shoulder, wanting to give him some measure of comfort and support and I give it a small squeeze and I can feel his anger, and I can feel my own emotions flooding into him, and the realization of the honesty of my own feelings are washing the anger out of hm, soothing him .... Yikes. I start (but don't let go). He looks over at me, and I give him a small smile. The other Ponies are scrambling after triggering Concord again -- yeesh, we need to get him back together again before we go out into the field -- and are lobbing softball questions like "How do you feel about standardized testing?" It's probably just as well I'm focused on Adam. My answer wouldn't make me very popular. "Harry, what's your favorite food?" "Chips are good for every situation." "Follow-up -- what's your favorite food after being set on fire? "Marshmallows." "Jason?" "Well, there was that time in Kuala Lumpur -- no, the cartoon episode was put earlier in the series. Anyway, my favorite food after being set on fire is liquid protein shakes, because while the skin regeneration ray is playing on your skin you can't really move it around, so you can just stick a straw in your mouth and --" "TMI, Jason." Well, you asked the damned question. "This is for everyone: if you could switch bodies with one celebrity, even on your own team, who would it --?" In unison we shout out, "Next question!" Even Concord. "Link, something techie. AI is hard! What's your trick?" Link glances over at Aria and Otto (I glance over at Summer, but with more subtlety). "Most AI are creations, inventions: building an expert system, developing the heuristics, fuzzy logic paths, like that. These folk here --" He gesture. "They're as human as I am -- with brains, souls, and hearts. I didn't build up from nothing, I built down -- or maybe sideways." "Built sideways? How did you do that?" "It wasn't easy." "Ah. Trade secret, got it. Harry, you guys have been awesome in all of your group activities. How much training do you need to do to work so well together?" Harry has the good grace to look a little uncomfortable, but his answer is solid. "Every good team needs a lot of practice." Taz and Keri both audibly snort. "And I think we're lucky that we have such good teamwork among us, but, y'know ..." He trails off. "So you practice together a lot?" "We spend a lot of time working together" I flash back to that ghastly morning talk show thing we did. If the team has grown in nothing else, it's in dealing with this kind of stuff. I actually feel kind of proud, even if I had nothing to do with it. "Jason --" I start. "What's up with the QPhone X? Will they ever get the problems ironed out, and are you looking at changing from a round format to ... no, this is a boring question, sorry." "Any questions on the QPhone design, talk to Marketing. I've tried and failed." That draws some chuckles. "Okay, here's a better one. User ChinMusic on our comment channel asks: Jason, if you had a real power, what would it be?" I know I'm supposed to bristle and bluster at that one (the "ooohs" and titters give that away), but it hits me in the gut like the flip question Concord got asked. I mean, I've got a super-power (it's killing me, but them's the breaks), but what have I used them for? How have they made a difference. So, do wish I had something else? Invulnerability? Flight? Mind Reading? Mind Contr-- NO . Then what? Regrets ... "I wish I could travel in time," I say, carefully. "So I could change things and fix problems." "Wow. Even with all the SF stories where that ends really badly, or even the problems we've had here in Halcyon? Isn't that a scary prospect?" "Yeah, it's terrifying. Which shows you importance of the things I'd want to change." I smile, a little sad. "But I'll never build a time machine, so ... we don't need to worry about it." Note to self: destroy those Time Machine doodles. When something goes from intellectual exercise to serious temptation against all sorts of danger, it's time to remove that temptation. "Charlotte, you people have been rocking the 4 guys and 1 girl TV Trope. Any chance of getting another girl on the team?" She looks thoughtful for a moment (does she even know about TV Tropes?), then says, "I think we're all individuals here. Gender doesn't play that big of a role in what we're doing. And we've a lot of young women supporting the team -- such as you Ponies." It's another charming answer, especially for our hosts. And it has the benefit of being true, to the extent that nobody's on the team (or not on the team) because of their gender -- especially if you count Summer and Aria (along with Otto) as members, which maybe we're not doing a very good job of. Hey, were the Newmans going to be going in for their personhood papers some time soon? Summer said so a little back, but I didn't hear a date. If they do, we should get them on the team roster. Equal Opportunity aside, on the other hand, gender does play a role in what we're doing. Or what I'm doing (or not doing, or ruining), and what Leo's doing, too. So there's that. Crap. Does that make this a hostile environment, or do we just worry about nepotism charges if Aria takes a formal role with us? Dad always said workplace romances were a bad idea, which was always Rusty's cue to give him a kiss. "Along the same lines, if one of you had to leave the team, what replacements would you recruit? Any specific powers? Would you look for more diversity, or are you okay with more white guys?" Charlotte speaks up again -- and precisely the right person to do so. "Our team is, first and foremost, a group of friends who support each other, working toward a common goal. There's nothing intentional about who's a member, no agenda or search for a certain aesthetic. If we were looking at expanding the team, we wouldn't necessarily look for diversity of powers, looks, or skills. We'd look at the people who wanted to be with us." Link chimes in. "It's important to be -- not inclusive, but consciously non-exclusive. The labels we attach to people can be as much a problem as a help." Charlotte adds, "Personally, for me, being on this team has been a great opportunity and a wonderful experience in this world." "Okay, then, Charlotte, if you had to listen to Dubstep or Alt Country for the rest of your life, what would it be." "Can I go for neither?" More laughter. "Jason, Microsoft Word or Google Docs?" Not this again. On behalf of the Foundation I say, "I actually prefer the QDocs format." I continue to speak over the groans. "But I recognize my computer has ginormous memory, so I have an advantage. Just go with works for you, and for stuff that can interchange data without proprietary formats." Sorry, Marketing. "You've all heard it here: Jason Quill coming down against DRM." Not what I said, but ... I nod. Sorry, Legal. "Otto, what make and model would you ever want to date?" "I want to wake up in new Bugatti." "Careful, this is a family AMA. Otto, here's another one: why don't you log into the Forza forums any more. Otto's teddy bear stop moving. It looks around. Harry is fast on the gobsmacked uptake. "Hey, Otto, can you pop your trunk? We need more chips." "Yeah, sure. Hang on!" The teddy bear leaps into Pneuma's lap and goes limp. Otto's trunk pops open, and some bags fly out, to be caught and quickly distributed by Mercury. I have no idea what just happened, but I'm even more impressed. "Mercury, while you're at it, do you guys bond more over chips or over pizza?" "Both are staples at the Quill Tower." Damn straight. "Charlotte, you're known to have connections with social media personality PowerPony." Who is reading the question, with a big smile. "Do you feel confident with modern technology, and do you have any advice for the older generation (who are still younger than you!) in dealing with tech?" Charlotte smiles. "My biggest challenge is learning to express myself fully, but properly. I'm slower at texting because I use full sentences. It amuses my friends greatly." PowerPony mutters, sotto voce , "Periods are too aggressive. Punctuation is assault." Charlotte adds, "As to advice, technology makes it so you can be yourself. Look at it as a tool. Are you afraid of a hammer? Why be afraid of a mobile phone then?" While she's talking, Link glances back at me, catching my eye -- then over at ... Taz? She's on her laptop, her eyes wide, tapping furiously. What the --? PowerPony continues. "Everyone, what is the most rewarding thing about being on the team?" Link says, "I've never had friends like this before." Harry nods. "Being able to spend time with friends, as we help people." Charlotte says. "The team has really given me purpose." PowerPony gives her an air hug. The gazes turn to me. I think about the times we've been together -- not the fighting, but before, and after. Just hanging. Talking. I think about Leo. About Aria. About Summer. Each has taken the time to be there for me I think about my life before the team. A mother who was never there. A father who wants to build the perfect Jason Quill, and was happy to edit out the rough spots. Amid all the turmoil and pain and self-loathing, these people have been there for me. And I've tried (and sometimes failed) to be there for them. I suddenly feel amazingly lucky. Which is as confusing to me as it would be to anyone hearing me say it. I settle for: "This team has just so many great people to talk with. These guys are ... really ... my family." I think that's going to be it, then I hear Adam -- Concord -- add, looking up, speaking softly, "Yeah, I really didn't have friends like this before." PowerPony laughs a bit to defuse the sentiment hanging thick in the air. "Not the fame? You guys are adorable." NoNo's eyes are now also in dinner plate mode, tapping on her tablet. She shows the screen to PowerPony, and I can see the chat windows. They look remarkably full, which is kind of surprising at this point of the AMA. PowerPony looks at NoNo, then at us. Her face is still smiling, but it's not jovial. More ... determined to be pleasant. "So we have one more ... breaking news, I guess, but ... not gotcha journalism, but ..." Something's wrong. Ya think, Jason? "So one for the people watching live on the stream. A lot of questions coming in that boil down to this: What do you think about the Act of Congress just passed that made talking to Vyortovia treason?" The bloody hell? The big screen has been flipped to CNN, where everyone's favorite talking head is talking. Fortunately the sound is off, and we can cut to the chase from the chyron and crawl. Bottom line: an act of the US Congress, just passed, pronouncing Vyortovia is an enemy state (duh), and that negotiations with it by any US citizens except at the behest of the State Dept. will be considered treasonous. Which sounds not all that zany, until you remember that the Vyortovians have announced that we, the Menagerie, are the only group they will negotiate with. And, yeah, that's the group full of US Citizens. Maybe-probably including Charlotte. Well, it's an AMA ... how does everyone answer that? Charlotte: "It's just the response of adults who feel they are having their power taken away." Ouch. But ... Yeah, that's true, but there's this huge upsurge of "They can't do this" feeling. That this is some inexplicable "You're not the boss of me now" outrage. Is it? I mean, I don't want to be pushed around by Congress. I don't want to feel like I'm being targeted. But ... "It was an unreasonable request by Vyortovia," I say, carefully. There are words here, and words that are going to be deeply scrutinized. Rusty and Dad's voices are both babbling in my head, giving advice, most of it cautionary, and I am not the person to listen to either of them at the moment, obviously, but ... "It was something they should not have suggested. It was putting us in an improper position, it was something they knew couldn't expect. So it was an aggression on their part. A way of putting pressure on the US, on the world, setting up unreasonable --" I shake my head. It's a setup. We're being held, diplomatically, hostage. "We'll help the UN or the US government, if asked -- but nobody appointed us as representatives for anyone else." That answer doesn't seem to sit well with the audience, but they really don't see the stakes here, just the dissing going on in their face. Harry's used to this high stakes PR stuff. "We need to work together to ensure everyone in the world is safe." True, defendable, safe. Link finally speaks. "I wasn't contacted by anyone from State or Congress. But given a choice between peace and war, I choose peace." So good, so far. Then, "They presumably know how to contact us." "They the US? Or they the Vyortovians?" "We'll take anyone's calls." Argh. And, then, "Vyortovia, at least, has expressed its desire for peace." And, again, argh. Vyortovia wasn't trying to build peace. They were trying to build this conflict. "We'll be happy to negotiate, but only if you sacrifice a puppy." "Nice peace negotiations you've got here -- be a shame if something happen to them." Concord looks in either direction, then says, "I'm tasked by a higher power not to get involved in human politics." "And, on that note," PowerPony says, "A zillion thanks to Blintzkrieg for hosting us, thanks to everyone submitted questions, thanks and thanks to the Menagerie. A big shout-out to all of you listening and watching and recording and blogging. Friendship is magic!" She pauses, watching her compeers clicking mice nad tapping tablets, then said, "That's a wrap, people! Boo-yah!" * * * Leo grabs at his phone, and is scrolling through text messages. Maury wheels over to us. "Hey, thanks guys. That was -- crazy." She looks at Concord. "Are you guys okay? Crazy. Concord, are you -- okay?" Adam nods. Charlotte flows over, gives PowerPony a big hug. I sit there, watching as the crowd in the coffee shop surges and flows and chatters and slaps hands and looks concerned and does all those weird things that crowds do. And Summer is there. I smile ("... and smile, and be a villain," Hamlet , Act 1, scene 5), and give her a little wave. "Jason!" She trots over to me oh god oh god oh god and she's not clipping the way she was son of a bitch -- "Jason, look! Leo figured out a way to use your stuff and his stuff together to make a new body." "Wow! That's very -- wow." Twist the knife a bit more. Jesus, Jason, that's unfair. So's the pain. She's rattling on about coffee, and training, and being a barrista -- She left me for this? No, she left for real, authentic, valid, all-my-fault reasons. But she's so perky, and happy, and bubbly, so ... Jesus, self-actualized, like she has a purpose, something she's proud of, and how the fuck can I be unhappy about that? She doesn't seem to hate me. Is that a good thing, or a bad thing. Is is a sign my sins are less than I thought, or a sign that she just doesn't freaking care? If she's happy -- I want to be happy. I want her to be happy. * * * The afternoon wears on. Nobody seems to be leaving. Nobody seems eager to leave, as if something special is going to break if we do. It was special . We were here together in a way that we haven't been in public. Again, I think about that damned Tasha Starr interview. We were noobs then. This time? We were pros. Not just because we had the slick answers, the sound bites and media moments. But because we had each other's backs. That's ... amazing. * * * "We need to talk about the Congress stuff and ... stuff," I say. Leo shakes his head. "Not right now. We need to let the channels work." I wouldn't think Leo Snow would be someone who would trust in the system. Or maybe, being so deeply in the system, he's got no choice but hope that. People think I'm part of the system. But Dad was always kind of an outlier. He never bought into the whole establishment hero + AEGIS + government thing. My own issues with my dad ("You know I'm not that smart any more," Jesus) notwithstanding, I've got his same attitude. I don't trust them. How can Leo? The news coming in over the afternoon, into the evening, is not good. US actions are not going well overseas. Granted that the US is particularly cheesed at Vyortovia, and with good reason, the rest of the world has a stake in this -- interdimensional kidnapping, hypertech invasion ... hell, Iceland is affiliated with the EU. None of them are particularly thrilled with the US choking off any channels for negotiation. I.e., us. Yeeesh. Where is this going? I have no idea. I'm a great genius for engineering, science stuff, all that. Politics? Not so freaking much. * * * The gathering continues. Nobody wants to be the first to leave. Do we hang long? Do we head out as a group? How does this whole thing wrap up? I mean, that sound so trivial to someone not there. Go, stay, come, go ... But someone actually there , someone actually in the space, in the feeling of what's going on ... it's infinitely important. Adam is hovering. He's talking quietly with Keri. He's chilling. I'm glad. Charlotte is chit-chatting with the Ponies. She's the perfect hostess, the perfect guest, making everyone feel comfortable. Which is kind of weird for the gal that terrifies people. The Ghost Girl. But ... it works. Harry's hovering around me. I get the impression he's looking for any sort of reason not to go back to the hospital. He shows me his phone, a text from A-10. "Also are you going to jail now?" "Hope not," I say. * * * Adam and I talk. He's hurting, a lot. But talking with him help me, in a weird way. Not just in a "Hey, you just mentally crippled your dad, but at least you didn't destroy your alien monitor or swallow a fundamental chunk of reality" kind of way. But in a "Hey, you're hurting, me too, maybe it will hurt less if we hang together" way. Which is kind of what the Menagerie is all about. * * * Leo's chatting with Aria and Summer. Dammit . But ... "Leo --" He pivots, physically and conversationally and cognitively. He's there. Jesus. He is the leader of the Menagerie. "You're a better man that I am, Gunga Din." I ask him. "Yeah, hey, you know that theoretical thing you told us about merging memories back when it was your girlfriend AI and a backup version of her? I want turn it into a selective memory fixing thing about two meat people, one you don't really like, one you think is a potential mortal enemy. Hokay?" Not in those words. But it's basically that, and that's outrageous. A crazy, intrusive, presumptive, insane thing to ask anyone. Let alone the guy who -- And he stands up. He fucking stands up. And -- "But AEGIS has Alycia. I'm not sure --" "I'll handle that." "No. We we can't let them know. I mean, how are they going to react to the whole idea of me and Alycia -- with the minds -- merging -- memories -- they're never going to --" He holds up a hand. "Jason. They know what I can do.: And he tells a story. I know that Summer, and Aria, and Otto -- that they are all, ultimately, Leo. And, no, that's not the biggest attack of narcissism ever, because they are all very separate people, and I know they've caused each other more than their share of -- Anyway, he's done this. But he did this only after he -- I mean, it's mindblowing and horrific. And I don't say that lightly. He built them a version of himself . An android of himself . Not a new person / persona / body / individual. But a Leo. Another Leo. And they have it, somewhere, in storage. In case Leo ever goes bad. Jesus. (I say that a lot. There's a story there, for a guy who doesn't believe in Jesus. Hold that thought.) "They know what I can do," he says. "I have connections. I'll handle it." What do you say to someone who puts himself out there for you? Espeocally if you've been hating his guts for stuff that you know isn't him, but you? "Thanks, man." * * * It's been an insane couple of days. Palm Key. The Sepiaverse. Dad. Summer. And this thing. But it's Saturday night. Monday's the first day of school after Winter Break. And when you come down to it, we're just a bunch of teenagers, hanging out, not wanting it all to end. And, in a way, it never does. Even when everything else changes.