It's a weird party. I won't try to describe all of it, because there were conversations, and sidebars, and other stuff that I'm not quite ready to -- Understand, I like to feel that I am in control. If not of what is happening to me (because who can really say that?), then in how I react to it. I have been in terrible situations. I have been faced with horrible decisions. I have had to retain my composure, to bite my lip, to stay under control. Tears keep welling up in my eyes. Dammit. A large part of that is the memory merge process itself, and its outcome. As to the latter, I am now back in touch with the emotional memories of the episodes I was able to sync up with Jason. That sounds very clinical. So imagine the raw emotional power of a series of intimate moments -- and not just sex-intimate, but moments of friendship, affection, surprised getting-closeness, shared experiences, talking and gifting and saving and -- all those things, memories of times together spread out over years. I had the black and white silent film versions of those memories. Now I have Technicolor 3-D IMAX with Dolby sound systems the size of a space shuttle tower. It's overwhelming. Sure, there's also at least one early episode, in Cuzco, that I know I didn't remember at all -- Jason patched me there. I wonder how Father blocked that -- and decide I really don't want to know.) And my mind and memories and emotion aren't all back to where they should be -- there are some spots I couldn't help Jason with, and -- I begin to wonder if there were other episodes that Father deadened to keep me under control. (And, yes, it's ironic that both of us wanted me to keep my emotions under control. But they are my emotions, not his. And cauterizing the emotional connection to an event is a piss-poor way to control it.) I feel disoriented by the process itself -- priorities and emotions askew, raw, jumbled. I don't know if it's a side-effect of the device, or some aspect of these emotional memories being restored. It may take me a while to find out. Hopefully things will settle down in my brain before then. The other reason for tears is -- these damned people are just so damned welcoming . I mean, it's not all long-lost-cousin-Alycia. But at worst there's a grudging acceptance. Nobody seems outright opposed to my being here, which is -- well, if I were paranoid, I'd think they were all plotting to get me. There's no reason for them to be so trusting, even on a probationary status. Let alone hugs. And I've gotten more than one. And nobody told me this was a hugging organization (though if people start taking off their clothes, I'm out of here). But, with all seriousness, this is -- -- goddamned hard to take. * * * Even Jason. It takes him about three times as long as it should, but if he's feeling half of what's going off in my head, I can understand it. He finally gets off his ass, and comes over, and hugs me. It feels ... good . I hug him back. That feels good, too. He speaks first. "I had no idea. I --" "I know. Me, neither." "I --" I can't do this. Not right now. I pull away, puts a finger on his lips. "Later. Time enough -- I --" I shake my head. "I'll be -- right back." I don't quite run to the bathroom. But I don't stroll. * * * I'm hyperventilating. I try to bring it under control. It's hard. I've faced dinosaurs. I've stood on the edge of the vacuum of space. I've looked down the barrels of guns pointing at me, and dodged bullets from same. Why is this so terrifying? My hands grip the edge of the sink counter and look at myself in the mirror. I look like I'm about to throw up. That's because I am. I restrain myself. I also have a desire to sing stupid romantic show tunes, which, mercifully for all present, I restrain as well. Okay, I can't do anything about the tears. I've just -- dammit . I've missed. So. Much. Control . I just need to reestablish control. * * * It feels like it takes a hour. It's more like five minutes. My face is finally dry. My eyes are slightly red. My smile is back in place. (I'm in yet another Quill-related shirt this evening -- this one a long-sleeve T with "PoolQ 2015!" on the left breast, with a stylized Q-logo paddling through stylized water. Either they print off a million of these promotional shirts then give them away to local charities or government agencies, or else someone in AEGIS is intentionally tweaking me.) I saunter from the bathroom, looking for all the world like I'm cool, collected, and (most importantly) in control. I have no idea whether I actually look that way. I should. Whether anyone believes it -- Summer, Jason's robot, spots me and from the couch where she's hanging out with her twin and Leo and Adam. Charlotte and Jason are over at a table with a deck of cards, and she's showing him something about them or about some card game. She sees me, says, something to Jason (who, of course, -hadn't noticed my re-entrance), and they both wave me over to get an explanation for the rules of a game I've never heard of, "Euchre." * * * Harry appears next to me with a bowl. "Chips?" I raise an eyebrow. "You do realize how much ecological damage the over-cultivation of hybridized and GMOed American corn causes -- both in terms of impact on this nation's agricultural states, and due to the clear-cutting of irreplaceable forest and jungle in the third world, including the Amazon basin." Harry's face falls slightly. "But ... chips!" He holds out the bowl to me again. I sigh, and take a chip. * * * Like I said, I'm not going to talk about every encounter, every chat, every chip. It was a weird get-together, like nothing I'd ever been in before. I mean, even though it wasn't my father's "thing," I've been to parties. I've been to raucous soldierly affairs after a mission, celebrating life and death and how close the line can be. I've been to high society posh set pieces where the exteriors are cool and the daggers in the back hot. This is different. Low-key. Everyone seems almost exhausted, but relaxed despite it. Sure, it's been a long first day of school, and, oh, yeah, the building almost killed us -- and, of course, there was a cut-and-paste operation on two of our brains. But I get the impression these people would be like this all the time. A team . No, more than that. This feels like -- a family? At least what the cinema always makes family (good ones, at least) out to be. Relaxed. Fun. Comfortable. Caring. With drama, yes, but that's not the core dynamic. I anticipated hostility. Challenge. Reluctance. Snark. I was ready. I had prepped any number of lines to get under their skin. Show I couldn't be pushed around. Show I was in control. And instead, I got chips. And card games. And -- This was what I've been invited into? They think me worthy of joining their family? Are they more deluded? Or me? * * * The following scene is available in video . And, then, of course, everything goes to shit. Jason downs the last of a can of cola, says, "Okay, better get this over with." Charlotte and I exchange looks of mild confusion, but he gives a half-smile. "Nothing to worry about. I hope." He walks into the center of the "conversation pit" -- which actually gets the voices in the room to quiet somewhat. "Speech!" Harry shouts. He's up at the breakfast bar, scooping still more chips into more bowls, out of a bag that looks like it should be holding yard materials at a home improvement store. "Don't encourage him," Leo remarks. "Sorry," Jason says. "I actually do have a speech." He's changed his mind and doesn't want me on the team any more. Of course that's not it, but my mind can't help darting there, while people throw chips at him. He takes a breath, lets it out. "First off, thanks again, all of you, for being here tonight. I didn't really announce these extra parts of the agenda, though some of you knew. But I'm glad you were here for it, and not just to fight the building security systems." That draws the sort of chuckles one might expect. "Second, I have an announcement. I'm -- resigning from active duty in the Menagerie." What? The Hell? I look at the others to see if it's a surprise. Leo and his bots are exchanging knowing glances, so clearly they were in the know. But the others look as gobsmacked as I feel. Jason continues. "The stuff with Dad, especially over in the Sepiaverse -- it made me realize that there's so much more I could be doing. To help the world. To help groups like this. I've got warehouses full of stuff that could change everything, but Dad never had -- never took the time to figure them out. He was always off on the next big adventure, the next bright-and-shiny. I've inherited this big organization that does a lot of good in the world, but it's kind of been cruising along on autopilot. "Dad let himself get too busy. He had too much fun jetting around the world, discovering stuff. He got too invested in fighting Achilles Chin." He glances over at me. "And vice-versa," I mutter, almost as if responding to the cue. But I'm still trying to get my head around his announcement. Things are on a slow burn in my gut, even if there's a lot of truth in what he's saying. "I don't want that to happen to me," Jason says. "I want to put my time and effort where I can do the most good, not just in Halcyon, but everywhere. I'm going to take up my responsibilities with the Quill Foundation. I'm going to start doing some serious looking at the tech and other stuff we have stashed here. I want to set up some sort of organization under the Foundation to help teams like the Menagerie, like the Irregulators, who don't have deep HHL pockets of their own." Harry snorts at that. "I'm not going anywhere. You guys are all my friends. I'm still finishing the year at Gardner. And you guys can always hang here. And if something comes up that you need me for -- giant cats, or space invaders, or whatever -- I'm there. You need someone coordinating comms and all that, I can help. But day-to-day -- I'm out." He smiles at everyone. I get and walk out of the room. * * * I'm standing by the elevator when Jason catches up to me. "Hey! Alycia! What --?" I turn on him, pointing a finger. "What. The. Fuck. Jason?" He slams on the brakes. "What? I don't --" "I come in from the freaking cold, I sit in a goddamned AEGIS white-cell for, what, a week? I do this memory edit thing, terrified of what I'm going to even be when it's all over --" "And I --" " I joined this goddamn team, Jason! For you! To be near you! And before you've even unplugged that damn machine, you're leaving?!" I am not letting any tears out. That's a non-trivial fight on a whole other level. "Alycia, I'm not going anywhere, I told you, I told --" "What did you tell me? You didn't even think to tell me about this before you sprang it on me and everyone else!" "It doesn't make any difference. I'm still going to be --" "What? Hanging out in the board room? Dutifully attending classes? Having someone stock up the fridge with high-fructose sodas for whenever we come back from the fight? You really think that's going to be the same, Jason?" He finally shuts up. "It -- won't. Of course it won't. But that doesn't mean -- we can't --" "Can't what?" "Can't ... be together?" I take a deep breath, let it out. "You're right. But being together requires trust. And that means talking about things. Why did you wait until this moment to let people know about this?" He leans against the wall. "I just -- I've been thinking about this for awhile now." "Did you talk with anyone about it?" Jason looks down. Silent. "Oh, Jason. Really? Her? Your little fembot? Really?" "Hey! Summer is not -- how can you say that?" "C'mon, Jason. You've surrounded yourself with fake people so much, you're beginning to lose track who's who. You think I didn't see that hologram Alycia before? And cute little girly robots? I mean, answer me this -- did Leo and you build that one, and then he built one for himself? Or did he build one for himself, and you asked for one, too? Is this a team deal? Can I get one? I mean, she's not quite my type, but --" "Shut up! You can't talk about Summer that way. She's --" I hold up my hand. "You told her . Not me . Why?" "Time." I raise an eyebrow. "And -- I didn't want to get it all confused up with my memory and nanobot stuff." "Were you concerned Leo wouldn't go along if you weren't still full-time on the team?" "No -- no, he wouldn't do that. I just -- it felt like the right order. Get that stuff out of the way, then --" "Was it about me?" The elevator lobby is quiet, except for the distant hum of air conditioning. Good soundproofing in this place. Jason's checking out his shoes. "Not like that." "Were you afraid I wouldn't do it if I weren't a member of the team? Or were you afraid if you weren't an active member, the others wouldn't let me be on the team?" "I don't know!" Jason shouts. "Okay? I don't know . I did my -- this was all a million moving pieces, and I didn't know how to set it up right to make it work, and there was Dad, and there was you, and there was the damned Vyortovian thing, and AEGIS, and -- I couldn't --" He takes a step toward me, hands out the side. "But I wanted you on the team. I wanted to get this stuff --" He raps his head. "-- fixed -- for both of us! And --" He sags back to the wall. "I have to quit. Or pull way back." He quickly adds, "From the team, not you!" He shakes his head. "When we were over there, what you said, what I realized, about my dad, and your dad -- I knew I had to get out of this game. That it's too easy to become a game. And that's not what I want to do with my life." I nod. I don't smile. "Very noble. Very appropriate. An awareness of your weakness, a high moral purpose -- very laudable. Just what I would expect of the Jason Quill I know -- and remember." He meets my eye, and even manages a smile. "But not one I can trust.,' I add. "At least not right now. I don't know if I feel used --" I hold up a hand again as he opens his mouth. "-- but whether I was or not, I can't risk it. Not right now. Not after --" After Father tried to kill me when I was there to save and serve him. "Alycia --" I shake my head. "If -- if -- you're serious about still being around, still being interested in whatever the hell we had -- have -- well, you can try to make this right." He bites his lower lip, and nods. Kudos for not arguing it. "So -- what now? You heading -- out of here?" I had been. Go downstairs. Ask the security guard to call Agent Parker. Bow out. Run -- But -- "No." He looks surprised. "I'm a member of the team , Jason. They welcomed me, whatever their reason. My place is back in there." He nods and smiles a bit more. That smile, dammit. "Can I walk back in with you?" I raise an eyebrow, and return his smile with one of my own styling. "No. But you can come after me."