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55.2 - The Butterfly Effect (Alycia and Summer)

The hardest thing to do is wait. She wants to track Summer down, right then and there. She wants to sit in the basement and compose a chickenshit email back. She wants wants to run off and enlist with AEGIS as an operative somewhere very far from Halcyon. She wants to pretend she never got the email . Various things -- honor, anger, fear, stubbornness, duty -- stop her. She waits, then. Until Summer is back at the house. Back in her room. No sound of other footsteps creaking on the floor above. Or voices filtering through. So 97.3% likely by herself. Alycia realizes if she just keeps taking deep breaths, she's either going to fall asleep or hyperventilate. Neither is going to address what she needs to do. Neither will worrying about what she should wear. And, no, my armor is not an option. She climbs the stairs from the basement. Goes down the short hall. Knocks on Summer's door. Three short raps. And then she waits.
"Just a second, I'm changing." There's the sound of a click, coming from the room - something mechanical locking into place. A few seconds later, the door opens to reveal Summer, still pulling her shirt down. Her face freezes for just a moment, considering that what she did might have actually had some kind of effect and realizing that she has no idea what it might be. Then she smiles. "Hi. Sorry. I'm here, what's up?"
Alycia feels a brief surge of curiosity about what was going on. I'd love to take her apart and understand --  and that thought horrifies her with its mindlessness such that her already not-terribly-coherent thought processes seize up and need a quick reboot. Instead, she just waves around her mobile for a few moments, until she can pick up her planned text. "I got your email. And, uh, yes, of course, I read the four docs." That's about as far as she goes for the moment. Her face is fairly impassive, but her body is tense -- shoulders slightly hunched, but also weight bobbling almost imperceptibly on the balls of her feet.
"Oh." Summer hesitates. Her face is expressive and animated, despite her lack of coherent sentences. "Good." It's not good at all. "I mean. I sent them to you. So. Good." Some semblance of organized thought penetrates her skull, and her mouth gets in gear. "I'm listening to you. I wanted you to know that. I'm sorry for embarrassing you by being a stupid kid. You've been patient with me, and I'm grateful." And in spite of her uncertainty, she is, if her face is to be believed.
Alycia opens her mouth, then closes it again. She cocks her head, opens her mouth again, then closes it. Closes her eyes a moment, too, then opens them. Draws a breath, lets it loose. Her face relaxes, and nods. "My apologies in advance. I am -- not good, dealing with -- conflicting strong emotions." Her voice is a calm, almost somnolent, calmer than it should  be. "I'm a creature of both reason and of focus. 'Simplicity of cause and clarity of passion'. When pulled in different directions, I --" She pauses. "I don't function well, Summer. So I apologize for that. I'm trying to restrain that poor functioning." She draws a breath. "I am sorry for hurting you. I let some personal aesthetic idiosyncrasies and, secondarily, concerns about you, to hurt you. To make you uncertain about yourself. Your --" Her mouth works for a moment, before continuing. "-- your purity of spirit is something -- precious." The word almost pulled out of her lips. "I deeply, deeply regret if --" A flicker of furrowed brow, drawn up lip. "-- I regret what I've done to hurt that. You -- deserve better." Her mouth is open, then closes, thin-lipped.
Summer visibly relaxes. The smile remains, and if anything deepens. "I don't know what I deserve. Can I be happy with what I have, and who I have it with?" she asks, and reaches out a hand. She doesn't quite touch Alycia's arm, mindful of what was just said about strong emotion - maybe even a little contact is too much for her, sometimes - but makes it clear that she can be met halfway. "I probably made a mistake sending that stuff to you so soon, after everything that's happened.. I just.. I wanted you to see me." She curls her lips into a sadder form of her smile. "Thank you for reading it anyway."

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I am the Heir of Achilles Chin. I have been raised to feel nothing but righteous anger, to believe in nothing but the inevitability of dominion, to be the avatar of humanity's salvation, to ... That smile cuts like a knife. I have been brought up to trust nothing. No blandishment or complement. No attempt at manipulation, no appeal to mercy, no dissent from the Great Cause, Father's Mission ... He would tell me to mistrust that sad smile. Those calm, innocuous words.  He would mock me. He would deride my sentimentality, my weakness. He would consider me unworthy. She closes her eyes. She sees his face, the contemptuous laughter. The anger. The pain it promised. The penance it portended. The punishment ... Alycia reaches out, without looking, taking Summer's hand. She squeezes it, tightly (for a human).  Fuck him. dammit. Fuck him to hell. I am me . And what she feels matters more than what he does.
Summer takes the hand, pulling Alycia gently into a hug, with just enough gap to allow a graceful exit at any time. "I'm really a mess right now," she whispers. "I broke up with my first boyfriend - twice. I'm - I'm having to learn everything over. It means a lot that you're sticking with me, and you have all your own stuff going on too..." She suddenly laughs, a strange sound when mixed with that of choked-back tears. "I'm gonna make sure you get free blintzes for life."
"I lead an active life. But not active enough to deal with bottomless blintzes," Alycia says. She returns the hug, stiffly -- or, perhaps, just awkwardly. "I'm a fucking mess, too," she whispers. "If you -- I'm just ... rrg." Silence, a moment. Then, "When I run, it's not because of you, it's because of me." Her voice drops even lower. "Being afraid." A deep breath. "Please, please,  don't let me ruin you."
Summer pulls back, not to gain distance, but so that Alycia can see her. She keeps hold of her hands. She puts on what she hopes is her best impish face, the one that says she's not being serious. "Well, I was gonna fatten you up with sugar until you couldn't stop me, then become Blintz Bitch and take over Halcyon's coffee shops, but ya ruined that one, ya do-gooder!" Her smile returns, full force. "In all other ways, Alycia Chin, you have been a blessing in my life. I promise." "I know that he's in your head. Might always will be. I know that being friends will take time, and work. I know the fear may never go away completely. So I'll keep reminding you of what a kind, amazing person you are, and how much I need that, whenever you need to hear it."
There's the faintest trace of a smile on Alycia's lips. "Likely often, though it causes enough cognitive dissonance sometimes that it makes me want to scream -- or, yes, run away." She closes her surprisingly wet eyes, shakes her head slightly. "Thank you for saying it, though. I won't quibble on the words, but knowing you hold me in high regard ... helps more than you know." A few moments later, she opens her eyes again. "And you -- you epitomize the magical butterfly princess hero, Summer. And yes, there's still a part of me that says that with a bit of snark, but -- it's also true, and a good thing. I might even call you my magical butterfly princess hero, but then either my head would explode or I'd have to shoot myself." Alycia smirks briefly, then sobers. "I was wrong to object to something that brought you such joy, and if you won't get angry about it, I'll have to on your behalf." She arches an eyebrow.
This is probably too much for Summer to easily process. She pulls back a bit, looking confused. "That..." "...I mean that's incredibly nice of you to say, and I'm touched..." This much is true - her eyes are watering up again. "...I'm not sure I know what you're saying, though." She pauses as a thought occurs to her, and reaches for her phone. On the screen is the Tweet sent by Troll, and others like it. "Fail-or Moon". Other criticisms of the useless butterfly princess that just hovered there. No points for guessing how long she's been staring at those. She holds the phone up for inspection. "I thought.. I thought it would hurt more, but it didn't at all. These people are laughing at me, like you said, and... it doesn't matter to me. Their opinion doesn't mean anything to me. Yours did. Does." She's either sincere about this, or an excellent actress.
If Summer is willing to shrug off the cruel comments, Alycia is not. Her face gets red, her brow furrows, and she mutters something too soft and .garbled to even tell what language it's supposed to be. Maybe Turkish. "Yes. This sort of shit." She flexes her fingers as though wishing they could go around -- or through -- someone's neck. "Okay, I don't care what it takes, the team has to stay together long enough to run into Troll one more time. Just. Saying." The words are jovial. The facial expression is not. It's even possibly daunting. She visibly reins in her anger, and her eyes go back up to Summer's. "I'm really sorry I was 'right' about that. And even if it doesn't bug you, it's shit you shouldn't have to put up with, because it was meant  to hurt. Sort of like a broken thumb or two would be." She glowers at the phone. And sighs again. "Anyway. My words hurt. I saw that in the the things you wrote. I'm really sorry. I'd break my own thumbs, but it wouldn't be the same, would it?" She smiles on that one, which almost certainly indicates she's kidding, right?
"Every time you say sorry from now on, I'm gonna feed you a blintz," warns Summer with a smile. "What you said was out of concern for me. That's what makes it okay." The two have been standing and talking - and almost-crying - for a few minutes, and she already feels wobbly. She gently pulls, to see if Alycia will let her guide the two of them over to the bed and sit down for a bit. "I sent you that stuff because I want to acknowledge my need to grow up a little, and the pain I feel doing it. That pain is unavoidable. But I'm going to adjust to it, and I know having you around will make that part easier too." She thinks this next part over, and grins. "And yes, I do hope we encounter Troll. Maybe, you know, I can change his mind. And if not, well, I get a chance to try out the new costume and see what he thinks of that one. As he's getting pummeled."
Alycia follows her and sits, though a bit stiffly. "My life seems sometimes a series of apologies -- or doing things that require them. Twisted evil aside, sociopathy does have the advantage of a not having to say you're sorry." She raises another eyebrow. "And in thinking of what you just said, maybe I owe you yet another apology for ... I don't know, maybe infantilizing you, not wanting  you to 'grow up a little.' Perhaps my own fear of change." She holds up a hand. "Hypothetically, speaking, of course, in a thoroughly non-blintzing fashion."  She shakes her mobile again. "Also, don't give up 'silly dreams.' None of them can be sillier than, oh, trying to be so much of a hero that people would never care who your father was, or how he tried to shape you. The greatest dreams are, I think, foolish, simply because the world resists great dreams, and to have them is to put yourself up against the world, which is the heart of folly but also a necessity." Alycia pauses, then forges on. "And, also, your love life. Which sucks. And I am not going to apologize, even if I feel irrationally guilty about my part in that." She taps her forehead. "Irrational . You don't need to correct me, I know it's irrational. But -- we do need to find you a worthy boyfriend. Just so I can then complain about Jason without feeling guilty about it."
Summer tries hard to parse this, up until the last bit. She's not sure if Alycia's just apologizing and being supportive, or if she's obliquely telling her to put the old costume back on, or .. what. But she listens attentively, confident that the most important way to honor her friend is to listen to her talk. And it's strange, to hear Alycia talk now about silly dreams in a positive way. She feels like she's experimenting with herself, trying out a new way of thinking, to see how she reacts to herself. I should be supportive of that. The needle jumps off the record when the words "love life" come up. "Wait - what part do you have in my love life? I told Leo I wasn't going to pursue him, and... that was that? Sweetie, I know you told me you'd think of me as a rival for Jason, but, y'know, we both know who he's with. And I hope we both know he's happy with that choice." Is he? Oh Christ I hope he is, they both need each other so much-- "So what is this about a worthy bu-boyfriend then?" The words come out far less confidently than she'd planned.
"Summer, I can read intel reports and interpret data into information. There are  --" She pauses, looks for the right metaphor. "-- there is a Leo-sized hole in your heart. It's one that Jason might have fit into, but that's not currently an option. Especially in your journals around the dance , there's clearly stress and unhappiness and, I believe it was, 'grump' involved." And ... yeah, had I been in your shoes, I'd have been kicking things with them. A lot." She cocks her head. "By the way, this is the place where I shift from introspection to action. Doing things, solving problems, that's my go-to distraction. Punching things is sometimes most effective, but that's just a specialized form of problem-solving. Most of those problems have usually been tech problems, but interpersonal problem-solving could be a new thing, too. Just so you know." Alycia gives her head a sharp nod. "Now, as I understand these things -- largely from the media, to be sure, but in most cases I'm going to deal with that as a counter-example to the truth -- I don't see finding a True Love for you, a Leo or a Jason class relationship, easy or likely, at least in the short term.  But finding you a someone you can go on a  date  with ... that's something we should be able to fix."
Oh god, was she just praising the value of dreams, and telling me she supported me growing up, all so she could set me up? It's not really a fear, just a sudden supposition, but it still sends Summer's train of thought right off the track. "That - that journal was just me being whiny, though, it's fine, I was just being stupid." She turns in her seat, clasping her hands together in uncertain, nervous energy. "Anyway, nobody's asked me out before, and I have a job, and I have to be a superhero too, and if you think about it, my relationship with Leo means any other guy would disappoint me, and dating a robot just raises the risk of exposure, and nobody wants to date a machine, so really, it's just not gonna work." She smiles hopefully. Did you buy that? Please say yes.

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Alycia frowns. "That's not how that reads. Nor is it just being whiny. And those other things sound like excuses. I --" I'm being pushy. I'm doing this wrong. Again. Dammit. Her eyes widen slightly. "I'm not good at boundaries either, Summer. If I'm overstepping, I need you to tell me. I just ... want to help. It's what friends are supposed to do, right?"
Summer freezes. This is important to Alycia. She wants to help. I want her to be more social, or at least as comfortable as possible. That means interacting. But it has to be on her terms - it'd be rotten of me to throw her at the Ponies unprepared. At the same time - god, I trust she'd find a guy if there's guys to be found, but if he hurt me or disappointed me, he might get hurt. Like, physically violently hurt. Eep. And she said something just now - complaining about Jason. Shit. Is there something going on there? I have to know. If this is the only way-- She smiles again. She just had a great idea. "You're doing just fine, Alycia. You're right. I'm probably making excuses. I'll make you a deal. I'll accept your help finding a date - but I get last word on anyone you come up with. But in return, you'll talk with me about Jason - if you want - without feeling guilty. If something's going on, I want to hear about it, even if I can't help. Promise me." Without even waiting for an answer, she leans closer, looking intently. "So. What's going on?"
Alycia blinks at the sudden shift. Leza's balls -- I forgot how slick the Newmans are at rhetoric judo. Suddenly I'm supposed to talk about Jason? Why --? Stop. What's going on here? Don't react. Analyze. Time slows down around her as her brain spins up. She can't move through the room, but it's visual space to work in.  I don't know that I can think faster than Summer, I don't know enough about her processing speed or how it processes (and steps down) to human thoughts, human soul, but I can think faster than she thinks I can, so ... Does she still want Jason? 73.2% yes, but with a wide error range. How do I feel about that?  Percentages fail me. She's being straightforward, interested, willing to help? 89.3% That may be pessimistic. She's doing it for him, to make him happy ? 45.6%. How do I feel about th-- Whatever. Net: I think she's straightforward about that . Which means her evasiveness is around a boyfriend / date / mate.  She's frightened of the prospect? She thinks herself unworthy? She's afraid of whom I might find? She's actually wanting a girlfriend but thinks I would disapprove? She's not interested, despite all signs to the contrary? Too many variables. But I think that's where this is centered.  Do I force the issue? Find a guy who's worthy of her someone whose company she can enjoy? Or do I back off? Am I a friend proactively, or do I let my own uncertainty and doubt about myself get in the way? Alycia smiles. "It's ... going along. We have a lot of history, a lot of it not involving pointing weapons at each other. I ... like him. He likes me. He just wants things to go faster than I feel comfortable about. And, yeah, I'm not sure how to balance school and  heroing and  dating someone who's got a world presence, and give the full attention to each they deserve." And he knows too much about me, and he doesn't seem to mind, and I don't know how I feel about that, and -- "And he's nice, and fun, and everything should be great, even if he keeps humming tunes for Les Miz, even though I have strong ideological and aesthetic objections to that show." And is it me, that I'm just afraid to commit? Or that I don't think I'm worthy of the Great Jason Quill? Or is it that it's hard shifting from a relationship, such as it is, based in brief, high-adrenaline danger, to one that involves what movie to go out to after what restaurant to eat at? Damn. She shifted me back to introspective. "So, yeah, things are going along okay, not that there's anything you can help with because there's nothing that needs help right now." Unless you ask Jason. Quick, shift the rhetorical ground!  "And, yes, of course you have veto over anyone I ferret out as date fodder. This isn't an arranged wedding, for Hera's sake. Just ... maybe something I can do for you."
Summer listens intently, nodding from time to time, but not too much. At "there's nothing that needs help", she relaxes visibly, and smiles again. "Okay. That's good. And... I know you two sort of, I guess were maybe rivals or something, from the sound of it. Not really enemies, I think.. supposed to be enemies, if your dads had their ways. Sorry, getting off that. But, you're also dating. Just... don't answer this question, just hold it in your mind, and come back to me sometime if you feel you need to talk more about it. But is Jason also your friend?" She lets out a sigh. There's been some crying, some hugging, some fluttering hearts and fear, and she should feel exhausted, but somehow it feels like things are better than ever. Except for this dating business. What got it into her head that finding a boy was how she should help me? "Okay, so... this dating thing is something you can do for me, and I'm grateful that this is how you want to help. I just...the things I said earlier, they're kinda , y'know, true too." She shrugs and wobbles her head uncertainly, making the statement halfway into a question. "Like you say, maybe sometimes something can go too fast. And for real, I am worried about being outed. Like if a guy grabs my..." Geez, there's a huge can of worms cracking open here, stuff I'd feel mortified talking with her about, but how do I get her to understand? She finishes lamely. ".. my attention, I mean, that's great, but anyway, bad things could still happen despite best intentions. You know?"
Alycia nods, her face serious, her mind continuing to race. Wait, did she just - is she not physically compatible? That's her worry here? Why would Leo -- no, wait, do I know how this body was built? I know it has something  at its core that Jason put together, but the current exterior, was that ... Aria, maybe? I haven't kept track, which is either very polite or very rude, but an appalling lack of intel. But I'd be shocked to discover that she wasn't set up to provide at least reasonable primary and secondary sex characteristics. I mean, I assume Aria is, unless that relationship is even odder than it seems -- Or maybe it's just a texture thing -- a date groping at her, maybe even holding her hand, realizing she's not a flesh-human. Okay, that's not an improvement on 'meat-person'. Need to come up with a better term for that which doesn't sound like a euphemism, either. Focus. Summer. Is it just about being outed and having her secret identity spilled, or outed and being rejected, or simply having limitations in how she can perform? And am I pushing this way too hard and making her uncomfortable, because that is, of course, my super-power. Dammit. She puts a smile on her face to reassure. "No, I know. And I know your secret identity is important to you -- both regarding your being a super-hero and your being ... non-organic." Something flickers in her expression. "I understand about wanting to hide things, right? And that makes things more difficult, but it also doesn't mean you have to cut yourself off from that part of being a person, or even that you should." But, if I'm honest with myself, if I didn't have the obvious connection with Jason to be dating him, would I be going out and finding another boyfriend? Would I be truthful with him about everything? Hell, there's stuff even Jason doesn't know -- and I don't know that he ever will, no matter what happens. Is that why I'm drawn to him, though, because he's safe about at least some of my secrets, so I don't have to make those decisions? Is that the foundation of a lasting relationship? She asks if he's my friend -- the question is, is he actually anything more than that? Am I trying to making him more, just because it's easier?  Tài gāisǐ de fùzá. Focus on Summer. Above all else, I don't want to be a hypocrite to her, even if I am to myself sometimes. (Wait, can I actually be a hypocrite to myself? Without a dissociative identity disorder? Tag that for later.) "How's this -- I won't make this an active campaign, but a passive one. If I spot a reasonable target, I'll identify him for you and we can discuss both him and where you are. Is that a bit less ... worrisome?"
Summer thinks that over for a few moments, and finally nods. "I... I didn't think there could be anyone but Leo, until Jason... " She waves that thought away. "Well, the point is, there's a very small pool of people who I thought would be comfortable with me. And hoping I could care for anyone else, that it'd work out, was another of those silly dreams. Dreams need a heavy dose of real work and effort to make happen, but I won't give up on this one either, like you asked. And I'm glad that I have you along with me for this one." She smiles in relief. "Thank you, Alycia. And I want to be that kind of supportive friend for you two as well."
"I don't think you know how to be any other kind. And thank you for --" She pauses to frame it in a non-apologetic fashion. "-- for trusting me enough to open up to me." She gestures at her mobile. "I don't think you know how ... special that is to me. And --" If I start going on in an encouraging way about love springing up in unexpected and challenging places, I deserve to be slugged. So I won't. But if she found two cases, there's nothing to say there aren't more -- or that different eyes might not help her spot them. So shut up and change the subject and see if we can end this conversation without running. Again. "So if I've helped with that, maybe we can brainstorm some more costume ideas. I'm sure there's something a bit whimsical and magic we can include in any design. Maybe squirrels instead of butterflies -- no, wait, that's been done. Sea horses? Hummingbirds? Dragons? Unicorns? Ponies? I mean, it doesn't have to be all about that, just, maybe a partial insignia, or some element of the design ..."
I really like the idea of sneaking away, and letting them keep talking about this stuff. With occasional recurring themes, and Summer's taste crossed with Alycia's erudition. "Oh, that animal is good." "Its Persian name means Devotion..." "Oh, perfect!" "And it's a fertility symbol throughout Asia." "..." So jump back in as time passes if you have more, but I thought this was excellent.
A note on passing:&nbsp; <a href="" rel="nofollow"></a> Summer can pass visual and tactile inspection for long periods. She can interact closely with friends and not excite suspicion. She could probably kiss someone and not alert them. Any level of intimacy past that requires lots of trust from her anyway, and won't appear on screen, so she should be okay for a boyfriend!
Yeah, I definitely saw this as a fade-to-black moment. Alycia's ignorance / suspicion / confusion as to Summer's "fully functional" capabilities were sort of intentional and I hope appropriately oblique. What was more important to me was Summer's clear discomfort with the whole subject. which adds to both Alycia's clinical considerations and her emotional squirminess on the subject. I've no idea if this will lead to anything for Summer. Alycia's criteria for her will probably be even higher than she would have. But who knows what might happen? That said. Alycia leaves this encounter feeling&nbsp; much &nbsp;better than she entered it. Hopefully Summer, too. And I like the idea of some magic-whimsical that Alycia has some role in creating.
*** Dave H. said: Alycia's ignorance / suspicion / confusion as to Summer's "fully functional" capabilities were sort of intentional and I hope appropriately oblique. What was more important to me was Summer's clear discomfort with the whole subject. which adds to both Alycia's clinical considerations and her emotional squirminess on the subject. That said. Alycia leaves this encounter feeling&nbsp; much &nbsp;better than she entered it. Hopefully Summer, too. And I like the idea of some magic-whimsical that Alycia has some role in creating. It was oblique and vague and a neat echo of Alycia's earlier "I gotta disassemble her sometime" thought. :)&nbsp; I dropped the note in because Alycia would know (from what contact she's had) how easily Summer can already pass, and in case anyone was curious. Summer's doing quite a bit better. She got her friend to open up a little more, the metaphysical science experiment is still on, Alycia's cooperating with the costume work, she knows that Jalycia is going well enough - all victories as far as she's concerned.
Yeah, I tried to address the "Alycia has had awkward hugs and emotional hand-holds with Summer, so she should know if she passes" with her questioning over whether her knowledge of what Summer is has influenced her evaluation of to what extent she can pass as a meat-person. (I leave it solely up to the Player the extent to which Summer is, in Data's turn of phrase, "fully functional." Any of the variants on that question are interesting and plot-provoking in their own right, including Summer's ability to actually address the problem to the extent she feels it needs addressing.) Actually, this thread gave me a breakthrough for the Alycia's Tale of Issue 55, with which I was seriously struggling. So, with luck, it might actually get written before Monday. :-) Another thing that kind of came to mind in this as it got toward the end: for all that Alycia is a fiercely independent and iconoclastic thinker, she is very sensitive and compliant toward properly framed emotional appeals and influences and manipulations and arguments. Whether that is a heritage of her upbringing and conditioning by Achilles Chin, or a reflection of her Player, I leave as an exercise for the student.