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52.3 - Be Seeing You (Alycia and Leo)

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Edited 1536797511
Alycia's boots crunch across the gravel as she approaches the Gale carriage house. In theory she's on private property. But her business isn't with Harry's family, and the carriage house is separate enough that she can kind of mentally assert that she needn't check in at the main building before visiting Leo. She assumes her visit is visually confirmed by whatever surveillance system AEGIS has on her. Her educated guess (74.2%) is that the carriage house itself is not bugged. She doesn't know if Leo sweeps for that sort of thing, but she'd guess that he, or Aria, or Otto, have some way of dealing with that. Or the Gales may do so, as far as that goes; AEGIS might prefer to not antagonize a couple of HHL supers without very, very good reason. It's not like this is a life-or-death matter, anyway. But it's a bit embarrassing / irritating to talk about  AEGIS when being surveilled by AEGIS. She knocks. "Hello?" she calls out. I'm going to feel stupid if Leo isn't here. #RP #Cutscene
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"Retirement" isn't the right word for what Leo did. Once the carriage house garage doors slide open, revealing the interior, it's clear the work has just begun. Along with a small mountain of Silver Streak's own bric-a-brac, now neatly partitioned in cheap plastic milk-crate type bins, he's pinned numerous notebook pages to the wall, taped up maps, and even bought (and thoroughly filled) four dry-erase whiteboards. A lacrosse stick, and his uniform, rest against the wall in a defiant sulk, reminding him not to retreat completely into his own world. Leo himself opened the door. Aria and Otto are nowhere to be seen. He glances up, and around, and nods in greeting. "I said I'm out, but I got time if this is just a social call or somethin'."
Alycia gives the surroundings an unconscious nod of approval. Not how I'd have arranged things -- but I have idiosyncratic space management processes. She forces herself to not immediately go over to the whiteboards and start reading them (and making any obvious corrections). That counts as a high degree of politeness for her.  Instead, she smirks. "Of course, social call . What I am best known for. Did you catch the exhibition game last night? I think the Justice might have a chance at the pennant this year. Went to a great movie the other night with Jason, Peter Rabbit,  a remarkable satirical take-down of Western children's literature in the modern violent age; Jason wants to take me to Red Sparrow  next weekend, but it might be a bit too on the nose for me. I love what you've done with the place. Is the dry-erase ink color coded or just what came to hand? Do you have a cup of flour and two free-range no-GMO-feed eggs I could borrow?" She flutters her eyelashes at him.
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Leo Snow has never been particularly subtle. His body language, facial expression, and mood are easy to read. The flex of the muscles in his bare arms, wanting to shut the door again, his mouth's brief spasm of irritation and impatience. He visibly smooths it away with an act of will. "Flour and eggs, not right now, but I could." He takes a breath and exhales, then repeats once. "Ibuprofen. C13H18O2. Good for inflammation. The same atoms in respiration. If only they were arranged differently... That I can do. Am doing." He pulls away from the door, heading inside, and makes a casually beckoning gesture. "Somethin's on your mind. You wanna build up to it, that's cool." When he turns around again, his smile is genuine. "I'm listening. Until then, make yourself at home. Not much here, but I got uh, tap water, I guess."
"I've been in parts of the world where an offer of water was the gold standard of hospitality -- and worth more than gold. I'll pass, but thanks." She does look around her in more details, trying to glean (politely) the nature of Leo's research. She feels a flare of intellectual curiosity that she hasn't had the chance to exercise much recently. But -- she has other priorities, at least for the moment. Assuming he doesn't kick her out. "I wouldn't actually call it social, but it's not business -- Menagerie business, that is. It's more like -- personal shit." She shoves her hands in her pockets, perhaps to keep from picking up stuff and fidgeting with it. "While recognizing that there are differences," she begins, choosing her words carefully, "we have some distinct similarities in our backgrounds. Our fathers, most obviously." She pulls the hands out, the need to gesture too great. "Hypergenius super-villains. Something that colored both our childhoods. And, at different points in our lives, AEGIS has intervened. Ostensibly, perhaps even actually, for our own good. But also out of -- caution. Wanting to keep us under observation. You appear to have both --" A pause. "-- gotten used to it, and to have built a rapport with your handler. I --" Alycia stops, makes a face. "Let me try that again. I intentionally came in from the cold, as le Carré charmongly put it, to draw a line between what my father was, what I --" Another careful pause. "-- what I had been, and what I now am. I did not expect a parade or the key to the city. But I worry about having AEGIS hovering over me, expecting me to jump through their hoops for the rest of my life, or waiting for me to turn out to be playing some fiendish Long Game. Even if it's been just a few months, it alrady feels like a lifetime." She offers a wry smile. "Mind you, this made much more sense when I was simulating this conversation in my head at 3 in the morning. I just -- thought -- you might have some ... insight or recommendations or ... something." She shrugs. "Or feel free to pour that glass of water over my head and tell me to snap out of it."
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Leo listens, for long moments. He stays attentive, silent, and thoughtful, even after Alycia has stopped speaking. In the stillness, his whiteboards and papers speak for him. Chemical formulae. Equations and calculations that start from existing neurology, and push into foreign territory he's spent years researching. A list of books on child rearing, including a couple titles that talk about raising learning-impaired children or those on the autism spectrum. Maps of islands in the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, with a few circled. Hand-written notes that look like Aria's work, making comments on the work, or correcting an equation's terms, with an occasional red heart or frowny face. "Disease," says Leo at last. He holds up a hand - "hear me out." "You got a disease. You, yourself, aren't hurting the world. Right now, I mean, 'cause come on, you've probably done some shit nobody even knows about. But right now. So you got a, uh, infection, a virus, somethin'. Call it Fear Fever. Your past history. Your future potential. Whatever. And it drives you fucking insane, because these suits keep you under observation and run tests and have all these metaphorical wires up your nose and you want to go home , you want them to believe you, you aren't gonna hurt anyone, but they just don't know, y'know? And it's frustrating because can't they just tell you're sincere, can't they see you're not your dad, but the disease isn't you, it's the disease they're holding onto, you're just, like, a hostage that this fear has got hold of, and you want to say sorry, whatever it is you're doing you'll stop, but it's never good enough..." He pauses, reviewing this torrent of words. "That's me, sometimes. Your turn to pour water, if I'm way off base."
Alycia tilts her head. "No -- no, that's a fine metaphor. And I don't disagree that they need to make sure I'm ... clean. I have to earn that. I have to sit patiently through their tests and incubation periods and observations, and submit to blood draws and isolation and --" She stops. "But when does it end?  There's no protocol for telling if I'm a ticking time bomb." She turns away, looks at -- something. Whatever it is, it's not the stack of crates she's facing. "If there was a chance I -- had an omega-level, extinction event disease ... then there would never be an incubation period they could trust. There'd never be a time when they could afford to discharge me with a clean bill of health. The risk would never be acceptable. It would be easier just to brick up the door and leave things at that. Is that what this is leading to?"
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Leo nods with a look of pained understanding. "This is gonna ramble a bit. Some of this came from Aria. Some from Ted Waters. So uh, let me see if I can condense this..." After several seconds worth of further thought, he plunges in. "There's clear ties between morality and disgust. Dead bodies, bugs, and slime are icky. At some level, so is stuff like murder. In our head, we feel a crime happen to us, the feeling of violation triggers disgust, we call the result morality. Evolutionarily, this makes sense. Disgusting things like disease can hurt us, so instincts that push us away from those things helps our survival as a species. This is over-simplifying by a lot, I get that. And Aria could talk for hours about comparisons between Christian ideas about sin and contagion." He rubs his hands together. "Good news, though. There's two other factors. We're also disgusted by mistreatment of other people, so we don't wanna just dispose of them so casually. And some diseases can't be cured, but can be managed. So AEGIS is kinda doing, uh, triage. Waters told me that when the Fed interviews a suspect, they're really only asking two questions: 'are we safe' and 'are you gonna play ball with us'. For people like us, they wanna know, y'know, are we gonna be Typhoid Mary, who refused to obey quarantine and just generally fucked up the lives of everyone around her. Or are we gonna be good patients and keep taking our medicine after we go home." "Whatever Parker might have told you, some risks are always acceptable. There's no such thing as perfect safety." He suddenly grins. "I guess with Waters, I got a doctor with a better bedside manner."
She turns back during this, nodding, following along his synopsis of the odd mixture in her mind of Aria and Waters. Maybe not so odd. Aria has a lot of Leo in him. Leo, in turn, has some distinct elements of Waters. Different syntheses of people, based on input. Which is fascinating -- until she considers her inputs, what she has to synthesize, and instead focuses on Leo.  "So the answer is, sorry, you have an incurable disease, but if you prove to use you're going to take your meds, and check in with us on a weekly basis, we'll let you wander the streets around regular people." She offers a crooked smile. "At least they've found a way for me to be useful, even if those disgust elements are in play ..." She shakes her head. "Parker's not much for bedside manner. Even so  --" She snorts. "Waters seems to be your advocate. I need to figure out how to get Parker on my side. Get her to see me as more than --" She shrugs. "It has to be earned, right? Sin and contagion both need work to scrub away."
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Leo nods along. "Yeah, it fucking sucks. But, hm, Parker's a tough thing. Waters basically reached out to me first, so my one data point doesn't help you. But I can guess." More brief thought, and the light dawns behind his eyes. "Okay, so.. this is the disease thing again. You're infected with your past self, Daddy's Little Villain, and nobody knows if she's gonna flare up again, be contagious, kill a hundred people on the subway, whatever. And my dad coulda done anything to me while he was homeschooling me." The brief twist and grimace, no more than a micro-expression, is only clear to trained eyes, but it's there. The word means something special and scary to him. "That could come out any time." "So Parker, like.. she's gotta be, like,  professionally afraid of you. She has to work with you, but she knows what you're capable of, so it's like she's handling a dead body or icky stuff, she's got that disgust, so that's gonna manifest as disapproval or aversion or whatever. Look for those symptoms. Make her feel secure. Give her a routine to watch for, set up some rituals, something that eases her into a feeling of comfort." There's a pause, for just a moment, as he weighs one more thought. "This is gonna sound like poison, but make yourself vulnerable to her. Bootstrap her empathy by needing her."
Alycia's silent for a sort bit, nibbling her lower lip. At last she says, "Well, as we both know, Father did  fuck around with my head, explicitly. We've ... fixed that." She nods to him. "But there was other conditioning -- or even just plain training. Hell, even the most normal parent screws with their kids' heads -- thinking, hoping, praying they're doing the right thing." She looks at Leo. "If you and Aria have kids -- however you do that, and that's a whole other conversation -- that's going to be a huge thing you have to face, and I suspect it's going to terrify the fuck out of you. But you can't avoid it, because if you don't do it, you end up with those kids who are unrestrained, narcissistic sociopaths, and the adults they grow up into." She shakes her head. "Not for me, parenting. Nope. I can tell you that." A vigorous snort. She paces from side to side. "I digress. Maybe this is creeping me out because even I don't know what may be lurking in there. Where my judgment is dodgy because that's how I was trained. Or where there are other little psychological or emotional bombs I haven't even become aware of, waiting for the right circumstance, or right trigger words, to pop out like a chainsaw murderer from a birthday cake. How can I tell Parker she can trust me when --" She starts to shrug, then stops. "Oh. Well, yeah, there's being honest about it. Except --" She meets Leo's eyes. "-- if she thinks I am a danger, back I go into the box. And maybe that's the right thing, but I don't want it to be. I don't think it is. But --" A slight shake of the head, that crooked smile back. "That's where I need her help. That's where I can be vulnerable. And it's freaking terrifying, but it has the unique advantage of being the truth. Imagine that."
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"She knows you're a danger already," Leo points out, raising his hands in an emphatic gesture. "She can trust you if you tell her how she can't trust you. Explain methods. Share your history. Show her your inner self. The one that's as scared as she is." "Shit, AEGIS has a robot duplicate of me sitting on a shelf somewhere, that I built. They know exactly what I can do and how I do it. That scared the shit outta me." A brief flicker of warmth flashes across his lips. "It worked out really well, though." "Anyway, yeah, it all comes back and around to disgust, and fear. You neutralize fear through explanation and revelation." He chuckles at some thought, prompted by this comment, and takes a different tack. "Being a dad is gonna be scary. Scared for my kid, scared for a world that'll be scared of my kid.. Right now, fear and disgust are my enemies too, and I can't just punch them in the face. I could use your help sometime, mapping out a program of persuasion and leadership and governance. If this society won't accept my kid, I might need to build another one."
Alycia starts. "Another ... kid? No, duh, another society . Yeesh."  She shakes her head. "I'm out of the Changing Society business, Leo. That's Father's gig. Leading straight to genocides, autocracy, and really, really awful experiments. Critiquing and snarking on society, sure. But ... I'm trying to focus on  changing the stuff around me. Individuals. Fix them -- help  them, teach them to help others, that's how you get societal change, from the bottom up." She shakes her head again. "If there's anything I can do for your kid, from punching people in the face who look at them crosswise, to being that crazy aunt who takes them on a trip to Europe that I can promise will probably not involve doing something about terror cells in Amsterdam, that's likely the best role I can play. Reprogramming the world --" Her face is serious, her voice dropping down in volume. "I'm scared to go down that road, Leo. It's way too easy for me to justify it, and way too easy to not think about who's urging me that direction, explicitly or implicitly." "That said, I'm happy to be a sounding board. Or be another hypergenius perspective on shit." She smirks. "Clearly I don't have all the answers on anything, but I have lots of strong opinions. That's why you asked me once to be a 'wary critic' of you." She cocks an eyebrow. "Speaking of which -- I tend to assume you Newmans kind of discuss everything between yourselves, but -- since the last time you and I had a chat, back in the AltFutureSwamp, I've had long chats with ... well, all your family except the big bird ship, who I'm not sure ... talks? But ... did Otto tell you about  ... what I saw?"
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Leo nods slowly. "Yeah, I got the gist." He reaches for his phone, thumbs through the emails, and presents one for inspection. It's a dense email thread, packed with nonsensical words, cultural references and memes, verbed nouns, and other hallmarks of cryptophasia or "secret speech". It's like the chat transcript of a stream of consciousness, and in fact it might be just that. The Newmans and Leo all share a rich pool of memories. "Otto's got a ghost, or spirit, or soul, or whatever. I mean, I knew he had one, the way I'd define it, consciousness and attendant traits that paint a cognitive trajectory-- Sorry, but uh, thinking about thinking is kind of what I do." "I don't really believe in this stuff. There's too many problems with it. If a spirit is where we do our thinking, why does brain damage affect us? How does an immaterial object interact with material neurons? Stuff like that. But I'm willing to entertain ideas like souls as shadows cast on some kind of extradimensional manifold or hidden sector--" He chokes back the next thing he was going to say, and shrugs. "Fuck. I'm also not comfortable talking about my friend dying, am I? Yeah. He told me."
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He won't say any more about it, so I'll fill in just in case: "that's a scary subject for me" is all Leo needs to hear to not bring up the topic of social engineering again.
Alycia nods. "Okay. I just -- well, it's anecdata, but I wanted to be sure you had it. To my mind, at least, it's important, and if it plays any role in the whole -- you and Aria, and, um, offspring thing, well --" She sort of trails off. "And, yeah, sorry, I didn't intend to cause you distress over the Otto of that timeline." A slight smile. "He saved me. Or protected me. From the spirit of my father, for what that's worth." She snorts. "What an insane world we live in, that I can say things like that." She straightens up. "Well -- thanks. I appreciate the bent ear and suggestions. You have a valuable perspective. And that you can appear to be as together as you do --" She holds up a hand. "-- and, yes, I really do know that there's a difference between seeming together and actually being all together, believe me. But that you can come across that way, and can be the leader you have been -- maybe that's something I can take forward, some day. "Even if you're off the team, if you need anything I can help with, you or Aria, let me know. My skill set has unusual limitations, but I'm a fast learner."
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Leo smiles wistfully. "Saving kids from awful dads is what Otto does. That's enough for me to believe any other claim you want to make." He regains his usual self-possession. "I'll let you know. And I'll make the same offer to you, Alycia. You've come a long way. I thought you were tough before. You're giving up being tough, and in trade you're becoming strong. I hope that makes as much sense to you as it does to me. Strength still comes from working together - I'm convinced of that. If I can help, even if it's just listening and spouting my bullshit, I'm there." "I think you'll be able to solve your AEGIS problem. Parker will come around, if you're sincere, if she feels your conviction and sees your heart. I dunno if Waters is done with those guys after babysitting me for so long, but I'm gonna ask him to be godfather to my kid. Secular godfather, I guess. Is there a word for that? Anyway. If I wasn't helpful enough, give Waters a call some time. Or anyone else you know. We're all here for you, if you let us be. It's not always bad when you have people keeping an eye on you."
"You keep telling me that," she says. Snorts slightly. "Well, you, and Aria, and Otto, and Summer do. Keep it up, I might have to start believing it." She steps back over to the door, giving a last look, almost wistful in its own way, at the walls festooned with notes and plans. Then she finger-guns Leo. "Thanks." He can hear her steps on the gravel driveway for a while.
[Alycia's quite aware that Leo let her off the hook regarding assisting or consulting on his future plans. And she's already regretting it, both as a sorely tempting challenge and a concern that she's abrogated her commitment to be a "wary critic" who keeps Leo from going over the top. Unfortunately for her, her fear of the former is outweighing her concern for the latter. Not where I expected that to go, until I got there.] [Good stuff -- thanks!]
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If she's regretting not contributing to his project immediately, I hope she realizes something important about herself: people who are tempted to do something, but are stopped by their moral safeguards and responsibilities, are called "heroes". I'm looking forward to what happens with Alycia and Parker after this. It's Leo's usual advice, "cooperate and be honest about yourself", but it felt solidly supported by his other points, and I hope the disease metaphor was both on point and helpful.
Yeah, well, it's as much an emotional reaction as considered one, and she has some problems with the term "hero" for herself. So we'll see. Good metaphors, good advice. I'd write the Parker scene right now, except (a) I've got another one in the hopper and (b) I probably need to run it with Doyce. :-) Again, fine stuff. Thanks.
As a side note, my original thinking on this thread was having it be both a farewell to Leo from Alycia, but also a discussion about surveillance by AEGIS, thus a double entendre in the post title. The latter never happened, but it does still work as the former.
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I feel like Leo rolled any comments about observation into the bigger disease metaphor, where a patient would naturally be monitored closely, and how to endure it follows from accepting the necessity of it from the perspective of AEGIS. Like a lot of Leo Alycia conversations, it got away from your intent but still seemed productive, so I'm glad it worked out.
Yup!