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42.2 - Prelude (Aria and Alycia)

Bill, you mentioned Aria buttonholing Alycia before we head off to the Sepiaverse. Now that I have the Alycia's Tale of the issue done, I have a sense of where her head is at. Final prep. Checking weapons and ammo. Checking armor and kit. Things loose where they need to be loose, tight where they need to be tight. A few kata to make sure nothing falls out, nothing restrains my motions. Gimmick up a few surprises from spare parts lying around. Physically, I'm ready to go. Mentally -- my head's not in the game. Dammit, Jason. Except it's not really just him. I'm angry at Leo, of course. I'm even angrier at me , for that botched Leo conversation. I'm angry because I'm unsure of what we're going to meet over in the Sepiaverse -- and how I'll react to ... whomever we encounter. I'm angry because I'm not ready -- which means I'm letting down my team before I even overtly fail. (Team. Why did I think this was anything close to a good idea? Because all my other alternatives were far, far worse.) I realize I'm audibly growling as I yank on a last strap, and I turn on my heels and walk out of Central Control, saying to nobody in particular, "Don't leave the universe without me." My boots clomp down the grimy hallway to that cluttered conference room where Leo grilled his older self. I slam the door closed behind me, and slowly lean forward against the table, resting my weight on my fingertips, closing my eyes, savoring the relative quiet (this place has the world's noisiest air recirculation system), trying to let all of this ... just drain ... away from me. I think about the room, just the glimpses I saw of it when I entered, listen to the echoes of my breath on the walls and furniture. I straighten up, start to move, slowly, eyes still shut, arms extended to either side, building the space around me. Sliding feet forward around trip hazards, creating areas, volumes, that I can push my thoughts into, sort and catalog them, deal with them enough that they won't hurt me, hurt the others, during the mission. It's a technique I've used a thousand times. And right now it's failing me. #Cutscene #RP
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Bill G.
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The sound of footfalls, the rustling of clothing, and the breathing are all optional for a gynoid. Being heard is an olive branch of politeness. Only the noise of the opening and closing door is out of Aria's control. "Alycia. I feel that it's time we had a talk." The voice is familiar - almost the same as Summer's. It's more firm, more confident, with an edge to it that Summer's never had. Their age difference is a matter of hours at most. But right now it's clear who is the older sister.
Alycia pauses, mid-pace, for just a moment as Aria begins talking, but that moment aside, she completes another three steps, hands inscribing ... something  in the air. She ends with a pirouette, turning around the far end of the conference table in her last step, opening her eyes with a smile back toward Aria.  Alycia leans forward on the end of the table, leaning on her fingers, possibly an unconscious echo of her earlier pose. "Aria. You know, if I had to predict someone would follow me in here, it would be the gods decreeing it's you." She cocks her head. "So, what manner of talk is it time for us to have?"
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Bill G.
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"A warning, and a question," the woman answers. She doesn't hesitate. Plenty of thought has gone into what she wants to say. "Both of it related to Hecate." "Right. Warning first. Summer and I pieced together most of Hecate's situation.  I talked to the woman herself on this side. Summer says that in the Sepiaverse,  she and Jason heard that Hecate was in league with your father. Maybe you know more about that than we did. It's not my business to ask." She draws breath, and her eyes and face betray a troubled expression. It's not the stark horror of this timeline's adult Mercury about the Sepiaverse. But it's a similar fear, nonetheless. "I know you're all worried about the future Charlotte, the state of the Sepiaverse as a whole, the ghosts. Maybe you know this already. But beware the witch and her legacy as well. I don't know it'll be a problem. Maybe she's not even alive now. I don't... I don't know anything. But speaking to her once left me with information I wanted, and nightmares to go with it." "So please.. be careful, Alycia. And let the others know."
"Cào nǐ mā," Alycia mutters, shaking her head. "No! You do not get to be the one who comes and gently warns, who looks for a way to make nice, who defuses the situation. Your master and creator refused to rise to the bait. Your sister played the happy charmer, the person everyone loves and is heart-warmed by." She shakes her head again. "Leck mich, Mädchen. I know the Hecate of the Sepiaverse had influence on Father. He --" She stops, jaw clenched, looking down to the side. "My ... worries ... are my own. Do not have any  fear that I will be influenced by anyone over there." Alycia turns back and glares at  Aria. "That was your 'warning,' then. And the question?"
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Bill G.
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Aria shrugs. "Partially answered, I guess. When I confronted Hecate about Jason, he and I were on the same team and my life was in his hands. That time has come again." Her eyes narrow. "Summer told Leo and I about your talk with her. He got the highlight reel. I got everything. Sounds like you said some pretty cruel things. Fine, she's a big girl, she doesn't need my protection from you. But if you feel that way about her, like she's a machine, you feel that about me. I can only imagine what you feel about Leo. I think the phrase 'cruelty done to you' came up, though." "If you're so convinced that we're not people, and that Leo's our uncaring and malevolent 'master', this team won't survive that tension for very long. So the question is this, and I expect your honest answer. The answer might be 'nothing', but I'll ask anyway." Her gaze is steady. There's no hate, no disgust, no fear. Just... the baffled impatience of an older sister, trying to make sense of the younger sibling's latest rampage. "What ought we do differently that would satisfy you?"
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An odd calm seems to settle about Alycia. She straightens up, the glare easing. There's even a slight smile about the lips, though not of the mocking nature most often seen there. "Thank you." She doesn't elaborate on that, but continues, "I confess, I --" Alycia stops. "No, that is not honest, and you deserve honesty. For me, robots are objects of horror. Of pain. My father -- he built many automatons. Spybots. Assassinbots. Killbots. My first reaction to you and Summer and Otto was based on what such had done to me. But --" She shakes her head, slowly. "I have come to realize that you, too, are victims here. You have been ... crafted. Built. Manufactured to seem as human. To act as though you are  human. To aspire to whatever it is that makes our flesh and blood and mind and soul something unique." She shakes her head. "You are animals, pets, told you are part of the household, but never truly an equal part." Another shake of the head. "I don't know if this was by malevolent intent. Leo is -- complicated. I admit that. He may be a fiend. He may simply be self-deluded. His responsibility for what he wrought, for you and Otto and Summer and whatever other he may have molded -- I am reluctant to give him the benefit of the doubt, but that he seems a good, if deeply troubled, person."
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Bill G.
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"Well that's something. And thank you for dropping the, ahem, charade." Aria turns, looking about the room, taking in the details, but never moves far from the door or neglects to keep Alycia in her field of vision. "I don't think you've quite figured out yet how he made us. He visualized Otto, then Pneuma, as people in his mind. The chip in his head, plus his equipment, was able to generate a synthetic connectome from that. Us. We're not just advanced software, or wind-up dolls. We're all versions of the same person, grown and diverged since being made. Maybe you find that horrifying, or disgusting, or cruel. You weren't there for our creation, and I was. I know whose version of events I believe." She looks directly at the other girl. "I'm happy to talk about the process and implications - if you care. You don't want me to play a role, though. Fine, you'll get me straight up. The one role I refuse to play is victim. I agree with one thing: Leo does have a responsibility for making us. He's taken it very seriously." She lets out a long sigh. That was a lot of talking. Did any of it matter? "You said Leo didn't rise to the 'bait'. That implies bait was what you offered him. If you weren't getting through to him, sincerity works better than bullshit. He'll respond to that. So will I." A thought occurs. This might be harder than I want, because of her upbringing. "How long has it been since you felt free to just speak your mind?" Aria's asking some probing questions. There's probably a Pierce the Mask in here somewhere, let me know if you'd rather just keep going narratively, or see where that roll goes.
[I'm happy to do a PtM. Or, rather, be done by one.] A crooked smile. "A person never truly speaks their mind, even metaphorically. The message is always curated for the listener. Designed and crafted for the desired effect -- to communicate, to educate, to persuade --" She nods as though acknowledging a point. "-- to avoid repercussions." She takes a half-step around the end of the table. "I do understand, conceptually at least, about your origin. As I told your 'sister,' it's one of the most impressive, and horrifying, applications of technology I've witnessed. And given my background, I've seen a few." She shrugs. "That's part of why I've given the two of you, and Otto, something of a break. You're not responsible for your situation, but you're compelled to grapple with it." She opens her mouth to say something more, then stops. After a moment, "Actually, I suppose that's the most authentic part of the human condition that you are stuck with, for which you have my sympathy."
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Bill G.
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Aria's starting to think of Alycia's subconscious like this: "I did bad things but I'm trying to make good. I hate robots, but I don't hate these robots. I'll rationalize that by casting these robots as the victims of Dr. Frankenstein, but now I've written myself into a corner. Leo isn't the Mad Doctor he'd have to be. He's like me - did bad things - but why isn't he showing contrition for this awful act? Why is he acting like he's already a good guy?" She thinks that might be a source of stress. And with that... What do you want me to do - what do you intend to do - how could I get your character to... reveal your real feelings about Leo? "That's progress," concedes Aria. "Instead of hate or fear of three of us, you've narrowed it to one person. The team leader. Not a good situation to be in. What do you think we should do about that?" "I know what real cruelty is. Leo's father literally did brain surgery on me just to send his son a video message. That man's partner, Rosa Rook, was going to disassemble my body for its tech. In this reality, they went... well, it went worse. That's my standard for measuring monsters." She shivers, tries to compose herself again, regain her momentum. "There's a lot of passive voice here. Things done to us. Conditions inflicted on us. Uncertainty about who Leo is, whether he's as bad as Rossum or Rook. I think you could say better than me how dangerous doubt in a leader can be." The hardness in her own voice is fading away, and a wispy nostalgia finds its way into the void. "You're gonna have to figure out your real feelings about Leo Snow pretty soon, Alycia." A smile finally crosses her face again. "I did."
"Doubt about a leader can be fatal. So can faith in a leader who doesn't deserve it. The trail of bloody bodies in my father's livery demonstrates that, too. What we did to him because of it --" Alycia shakes her head. "Leo is not my father, I know that. I'm not one hundred percent certain he's not playing a tremendous show. But even if he is just as he presents himself, some brave paladin, the man who cares ...  he's something just as dangerous -- because, like my father, he is a true believer, willing to do anything for what he believes is right, anything he truly cares about. His creation of you, his 'family,' is part of that. Even if he admits it was poor judgment, he cares too much to back down."  She makes a face. "And this sort of thing, this mooning after him, that's the kind of thing that --" She shakes her head. "Someone with the role Leo had in your creation, has in your existence -- someone with the power he has -- it's difficult to see any sort of 'feelings' or 'relationship' between you two as anything but unhealthy. Abusive. Incestuous, even, on multiple levels. Even if you were human, it would be wrong. But being made to have an illusion of free will, a desire for it ..." She abruptly pulls back a chair from the table, drops heavily down into it. " Blyad' ...  I finally get the conversation with one of you that I've been looking for, and I'm too --" She waves a hand in an impatient, amorphous gesture. "-- tied in knots over this mission to do it justice. And this mission is going to be a shitstorm, even if it goes well and to plan, and I'm pretty sure that isn't going to happen. Too many variables. Too many unknowns. Jason. Leo. My own --" She drums her fingers on the table for a long moment, then nods. "I'm telling you this because, in all honesty, I think you care about what's going on with me. Or think you care. Or appear to care. And, in all honesty, that's too much of a thing for me to untangle at the moment, because I have to think about this mission and all the reasons I'm not --" Alycia makes a huffing sound. "But you care. Because that's what you 'Newmans' do, ultimately, rightly or wrongly, for good or for evil." A shake of the head. " Zǔzhòu . I don't know why you care. I've not treated you well. I've had good reasons. But I've not treated you well. If you are even half of what you claim to be, you deserve -- rrg. So ..." Alycia draws in a breath, lets it out, looks back up at Aria directly. Her voice is tired. "I give you the benefit of the doubt this far. Unless faced with direct, hostile threat, I'll not take any action against you. Or Otto, or Summer ... or Leo. At least not while we're on this stupid, stupid mission. I hope that resolves your concerns about 'danger' for now." [This post really kicked my ass all day :-), amidst other things I had to do. Also, I lost a big chunk of edits, which didn't help any. I hope this hits the key points of the PtM.]
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Bill G.
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Aria takes all of this in quietly, calmly, patiently. It's not a resolution, but sometimes you can only move so far so fast. She's okay with it. "It resolves my concerns. For now. Maybe I can help resolve a couple of yours." "Leo will do anything for what he believes is right. But he's able to change his mind about what that is. My creation wasn't irresponsible. Creating me to love him was. He didn't know that then. He does now, because we learned it together. He's grown since then, and he's still growing. He's not there yet. But he knows it. Think he's wrong? Tell him why. But be sure you can back it up." Aria rubs her palms together, thinking briefly about her next words. "You could view caring as a Bayesian equation. X betrayals over Y times trust was offered equals Z chance of new pain. A game, like the Iterated Prisoner's Dilemma. Why care, then?" Her voice softens, sounding less like the stern older sister, more like.. something else. "We don't care because you're nice to us. We care because you hurt, and that's enough." "Leo cares too. He likes playing paladin. He wants to be the good guy. He fucks up too. But he can feel the sunlight on his face, and he'll keep walking toward it, out of his own darkness. You two aren't as different as you fear you are." She turns, half-opening the door, and glances back with a warm, open smile. "Take your time. Stay on mission. We'll talk again, when you're ready." She is offering comfort & support, if Alycia wants it.
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[Yyyyyyeah, She'll take that. Which take as a huge concession.] "We don't care because you're nice to us. We care because you hurt, and that's enough." The world does not work like this. The world does not care if you hurt. The world despises the weak. The world will kill you when it can. The world will exploit your weakness. You must be strong, daughter. You must be worthy. You must be the victor. Only then will right prevail. Fuck you, Father. Someone says they care about me? I'll fucking go with that. * * *  Leo blah-blah-blah. She loves him. She trusts him. Of fricking course she does. I care. I care. I want the best for each member of humanity. I won't fall into the trap of Father (of Jason) of denigrating the individual for some greater cause. I will not . * * * "He likes playing paladin. He wants to be the good guy. He fucks up too. But he can feel the sunlight on his face, and he'll keep walking toward it, out of his own darkness." Fuck you, Leo. " I'm Walking on Sunshine ." It's faux pop music , let alone moral justification. * * * But she (they?) care. They're horrible, self-justifying, humanity-threatening people. But she says they care . And I believe them. Goddammit, Alycia. * * * "Take your time. Stay on mission." I need to focus. I need to put aside the incidental. The unnecessary. The distracting. Father's advice is suspect. But a broken antique clock is correct twice a day.  * * * "We'll talk again, when you're ready." The true warrior faces the battle before him, not the battle on the morrow. The true general weighs the phantoms of the future against the blades of the present. My uncertainty exists. But it cannot stand in the way of what is needful.  I am weak. If I draw on the comfort of my enemy, if I rely on the strength of my foe, I am weak. But strength is not a zero-sum game. If faith and encouragement will make me more effective, I will not reject them. The mission is what is important. Those who stand before the mission will fall. Those who press forward the mission will survive, at the least, to another day.
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Bill G.
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Comfort and Support: mark potential, clear a condition, or shift labels. No team for the pool today, but this is progress. :)
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[I think we are less Insecure . That still leaves Angry and Guilty . The former she'll deal with "Blowing off steam" by some swiping a couple minor, loose pieces of tech from the clutter of the conference room -- small modules, things that can easily fit in her outfit pockets. Even if they're the this-decade equivalent of unpaired dongles, there should be some interesting stuff there to reverse engineer, someday.   That leaves Guilty,  and I'm okay sticking with (just) that for the nonce. Good stuff. The bits toward the end were, on re-reading positively grim, but Alycia's got some baggage, to say the least. And now Aria doesn't have to watch her own and Leo's back, even a dimension away, for a bit of time, so that's good, too.]
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Bill G.
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*** Dave H. said: Good stuff. The bits toward the end were, on re-reading positively grim, but Alycia's got some baggage, to say the least. And now Aria doesn't have to watch her own and Leo's back, even a dimension away, for a bit of time, so that's good, too.] Aria doesn't feel physically or emotionally threatened by Alycia. She does want to make sure Alycia works smoothly with the team, and was telling the truth about that. And yeah, she is still somewhat protective of her sister, despite saying "Summer doesn't need it". So while some parts may have been grim, I feel like it ended on a very positive note. Alycia doesn't need to go all Care Bear on the Newmans for Aria to be happy. She just needs to be comfortable with how things are.