I tap my way on a half-dozen keyboards and virtual terminals, struggling through Official Historical Accounts and Friendly Media and Comfortable Truths. Even with history written (as always) by the victors, it's a gruesome narrative. I was in Halcyon during the Yule attack, living in a small apartment in the Conway. I'd stayed in that night, working on those nanobots Jason had sent me through my PO box, sussing out their control frequency, figuring out what message the gift meant. Suddenly realizing, by all that was holy, they were the message, that they held the information I needed to forge my way over -- Yeah, I beat up some red-capped gnome peering through my window. That had taken the edge off. But I'd been impressed the next day reading how the Menagerie and the other younger teams and heroes of the city had actually broken loose of adult domination, coordinated forces, and taken down the Vyortovian mystical invasion , including the giant Yule Cat (!). Except in this timeline that didn't happen. Link wasn't on the team, and as a (correlated) consequence, the Menagerie didn't coordinate with the younger metas of the city, the Yule Cat ate some of the latter -- -- and Rook security teams had finally intervened, helping to beat back the invasion, saving countless customers lives. Which was enough for Jason Quill, still leader of the Menagerie (with no Link to fob it off to), to reinforce the grudging association they'd had with Rook into a full-blown alliance. Which led (reading between the lines) to a unified industrial exploitation of strange energies around both the cemetery and a nearby apartment block ... Link, now a lone rogue, faced the combined attentions of not just Rook's forces, but Rook's edition of his father ... and his actual father ... and the Menagerie itself. The latter culminating in Jason -- I feel sick watching the event, caught on some phone cams, found footage, in the middle of the city, as Jason grapples with Link, face wide-eyed and desperate, nanobots forcing their way through the Link's armor, forcing themselves into Link , Leo screaming ... (I note the date. In my own timeline, Jason was doing much the same to his father. And mine. Synchronicity, but with a horrible difference.) Things go from bad to worse. The Vyortovians attack not too much later, focusing on Washington, DC, and on Halcyon City. The death toll among metas is horrible, and the Vyortovians seem to get hold of their precious Keynomes, retreating to their own world, not to be seen since. As for Jason ... Aside from a very public alliance between the Quill Foundation and Rook Industries, the former (Jason) providing raw tech and new ideas, the latter (Rosa Rook) providing the sales, re-engineering, and manufacturing ... ... aside from all that, Jason has been ... odd. For a few years after the incident with Leo, he appeared mostly garbed in nanotech body armor. He dropped that after a time, but never let go of being ... overt about use of the nanobots. He'd appear in public, using the bots to lift a glass of water to drink from, or to provide a faster way to descend (or ascend) stairs, or stepping over a crowd to go into a movie opening. It's flashy, unsubtle, and totally unlike the Jason I know. Is there something wrong with him? Is he under some sort of external influence? Is it not actually Jason, but a shapeshifter -- no, maybe a Rossumbot -- taking his role, while Jason is chained to his lab bench, cranking out inventions for freaking Rosa Rook? Or am I just wanting that to be the case, afraid that what I see of Jason here is what Jason really is back in the past? Or will be, in our future? For the record, I note, there's no sign of any version of nyself in the public record. The reports of threats against Jason Quill, of vendetta against "The man whose father slew my father, and so must die!" (I always loved that turn of phrase), stop right about that time, as in myown timeline. Did I figure out a way into the Sepiaverse? Or am I dead in a shallow grave somewhere? Yeah, that's not depressing. On the bright side, even down a few Keynomes, I've found no sign of the sort of low-potential helplessness of the Sepiaverse. Indeed, from a creativity standpoint, this world is a marvel (I take mental notes as I can -- tech specs are not something that get put online, but knowing that something is possible gives me a lot of ideas). The Quill / Rook alliance, whatever its moral character, has created some very cool toys. Think of Apple and Microsoft and Google and Mitsui and Samsung, all in one. Now roll in Walmart. And Facebook. And Blackwater. The cool toys are, in part, to keep people in order. For example, it turns out there is actually public internet out there -- highly monitored by national and quasi-national security agencies, and lacking all but the most rudimentary and minimal connections required by law. If you want to really use online services, the QNet is where it's at (okay, throw 1990s AOL into the mix) -- but only if you have a Qphone, and QID, and QBucks. If that gets taken from you, or "accidentally" deleted, welcome to effective second-class citizenship. Genius stuff. In a way that continuously reminds me of my father. So ... how do we get rid of it? * * * A bit more digging reveals something very interesting. There's little real rebellion here. A few pitiful groups like Bot and his malcontents, but they have little success and even shorter lifespans (I wonder at Bot's survival, and wonder if this timeline's Jason is in part responsible for its continuance. Or even, possibly, the Rossums, though they keep a low profile.) This world an autocracy, a democratic veneer over a technarchy run by Rook and Jason with the support of other tech players who know which side of their bread is buttered. They control the tech, they control the politicians, they control the communication, the innovation, the networks that run industry and the communications that unite the world. I've studied history. I've watched history being made. I know more than is healthy for me to know about regimes and how they stay in control and how they are overthrown. This arrangement shouldn't be working as well as it is. Dissatisfaction and rebellion -- competition and coups -- disasters and setbacks ... all of these should be leading to instability, to a series of event and players that heterodyne into a cascade of disasters that lead to the inevitable death spiral of such a regime. Here? Anything that might go wrong simply doesn't. Or doesn't for long. They're cheating. Are they tapping into the Keynomes? Would Jason be that shortsighted, knowing what that did in the long haul to the Sepiaverse? Or is it the rift between worlds and its strange probability-shifting ability? * That seems more likely. So if we seal the rift, heal the Wound between Worlds ... Well, not only would that free up those natural destabilizing forces to tear this regime apart at the seams, but to the extent that they've built their house of cards assuming they can control probability, it may collapse even faster. Destroying the factory over the rift would provide temporary respite. "But," one might say, "That's a huge building! The size of a stadium!" But there are no huge buildings with effective application of demolition charges. Not for long, anyway. But that would only be temporary, and tip our hand. Only a course for an emergency. Tackling the rift itself seems the key. * * * "Cheese and Rice!" comes over the comms. Charlotte. It takes me a few moments to figure what she's on about -- the ghost hardly needs human food, let alone -- Ah. A euphemism, "minced oath," for "Jesus Christ." Words our antebellum young lady would never say in public. Concord blips out after her. Did I know he could do that? I focus on the screen. Chatter, chatter, chatter, on the comms. I'm trying to think here, people. Chatter, chatter, chatter. Charlotte and Concord are talking about a future version of someone they know at a coffee shop, and discussing the factory / plant / structure in place atop the tear in the universe here, not far from the cemetery. You know, the one I was already discussing blowing or sealing up? Apparently the whole site was extremely unpleasant to our team ghost. I break into the comms. "We're going to have to close that rift. Discuss." Then back to research. Shortly after Charlotte is asking the future person, JC, something about Armiger. "The Yule Cat ate Armiger," I inform the team. "Discuss." Again, to the keyboard. Do I have to do all the research around here? * * * Well, not for much longer, as pretty soon everyone has teleported back from the outside, or returned from trying to rouse poor future-Pneuma. Apparently Aria, the closest thing we have to a young version of Pneuma (what happened to her is one of the cusps of this alternate timeline), is tag-teaming with Leo, who's deigned to rejoin us. Meanwhile Ghost Girl and Concord are back with a black woman about Bot's age, carrying a two-handed sword. Otto and Bot are also hanging out, chatting. The clatter is such that I have set aside the keyboard and join the party. I share what I've found about how the opposition are using the Wound in the World to tweak probability to hold onto power, and that Jason hasn't been super-Jason-like since the whole kerfuffle with Bot. The young woman, JC, informs us that a variety of organizations that stood up to the new regime, or might have, have been methodically wiped out over the decades, apparently at the hands of Sablestar (a former opponent of the Menagerie, somehow related to Concord) and her Void Shadow Collective. Or, as JC poetically puts it, the "Starfield Bastards." Charlotte notes that there is low ghost activity, especially around the rift, and that whatever they are doing with it is, in some metaphysical sense, "draining the life out of the world." We get into a more serious discussion of tactics, how to seal the rift, etc. This dissolves into a number of side discussions, as folk start planning and prepping, which further dissolves into people doing stuff on their own. Shouldn't Leo be coordinating this? Harry takes off somewhere in here. One assumes to find a fast food store that sells chips. Which should be interesting, given the changes in currency since we've been gone. I notice Leo and Otto maneuver Bot out of the room. At loose ends until Vector reports back on the C4 situation -- "I think I saw some boxes marked with that down in the basement" -- I follow them. I'm sure that explosives have evolved since our time, but I'm also pretty sure that buying them will send up all sorts of red flags for the authorities, and we don't have time to try and establish contacts with the sort of people who could supply us, no questions asked. Well, in fact, we have all the time in the world, from one perspective. Time travel in theory means we can return back home whenever we want. On the other hand, this hasn't been the most conventional of time travel expeditions, but even if our transit is the same risk whenever we do it or whenever we aim toward, the truth is the longer we stay here , the graver the danger of being caught or the Probability Engine (however that works) being turned on us. Of course, if it's just humming along with the instruction "The Probability of Enemies of Rosa Rook Succeeding = 0" or something like that, then we're already screwed. We won't be able to seal the Wound, unless we destroy the building / factory / plant above it, first. We don't know enough, still. This is a problem. So while Vector is off on his hunt, I wander over to the closed door of the room where Leo and Otto guided Bot, lean against the wall such that I can hear the goings-on inside, and wait. Part of me wants to know more about what's going on -- Leo has been far too secretive. Part of me wants a better feel for how those poor robots of his are being mistreated, and what he considers therapeutic care for the one here, Pneuma. Part of me wants to confront the man over all he's done -- both versions of him. The horror of his creations -- both in themselves and in what can be done to them. Pneuma is a cautionary tale. He needs to have is nose rubbed in it.. I think of Summer and what someone could do to her. What she would be like, broken? What someone like Rossum could do to her -- Would it be a kindness just to put this Pneuma down, end her endlessly repeated loop of suffering? Better she had never been created in the first place. Those are some of my cheerful thoughts as I lean outside that door -- what I plan to talk with Leo about when he's done chit-chatting with his older self. Of course, none of it turns out as expected . * * * I sit at the computer, almost trembling with rage. And fear. He played me, by all that's holy. Was it just dumb luck, some sort of bizarre natural charisma? Or was it by intent, pivoting on my anger and choosing responses that would play on my apprehensions, get me to open up, make me vulnerable to him ... Hell, he even admitted that creating Pneuma was a mistake, an action that was "me at my worst". It should feel like a victory ... but he still ... Rrrg. I trust him less than ever. Perhaps because I trust myself less as well. Father ruled me through force, and fear, and ego, and -- yes, and by inspiration toward a common vision (or so I thought) of human freedom. Leo inspires, too. But his other weapons are far more insidious, because they brook no rebellion. Expressions of compassion. Kindness. Humility. None of them take away from what he's done, but they make it difficult to attack him for it. "Oh, he's such a fine person, humble and imperfect and trying to do his best. Maybe creating a mockery of life, something that thinks it is alive, that suffers like it was alive, but never can be, isn't so bad after all, if he did it." It is. I just don't know what to do about it. So I put it aside, and try to figure out what to do about Jason Quill instead. I'm smarter than him. Handling him, if I put my mind to it, should at least be easy., Leo's warnings notwithstanding. And a distraction from more immediate, worldly concerns. Damn. Things were a lot simpler when I was at Zhukov Academy. #Cutscene #Recap ------ * There are some event sequencing errors and knowledge issues in the story as played over what Alycia knows about the Wound in the World and what it does. Rather than correct them, I leave them in place for the fans to argue about.