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58.1 - Exposed


Edited 1542077479
Chapters 1. The Store   2. The House   3. The Dream   4. The Early Morning Conversation   "Ta-daaaah!" Daph waves her hands in a melodramatic manner. I raise an eyebrow. "Yeessss?" "Behold the wonder that is -- XXSports!" I look at the rather small entrance to the shop, tucked in a large strip mall with a Trader Joe's, a Marshall's, and a nice Mediterranean restaurant that Jason took me to the other day. I hadn't noticed XXSports between the dry cleaners and the bundt cake shop. "Wait," I say, "Is this a place that sells equipment for those nonsensical commercial fringe games that everyone thinks are so cool and hip but are just another way to rip off a younger generation of viewers who don't watch more conventional sports?" "Uhhhh ..." She shakes her head. "You know, Marion asked me the same question. No, those are the X-Sports. This, my friend, is the best women's sporting goods store in town, bar none." "Okay, I can see the attraction for you, but I don't really do any organized sports." "I thought you said you did some self-defense classes. Martial arts training." Ugh. I had said that, after Daph had made a comment about a way I turned to catch a book that she'd knocked off the carrel. "Oh. Well, that's not all that organized. I'm not in competition." She cocks her head at me. Daph has an uncanny sense of when I'm telling the truth. Or not. "Okay, I'm not going to any tournaments." She laughs. "Right. But you're still one of the most competitive people I know." "Really?" "Oh, girl -- you always have to have the last word, have to convince me and everyone else about your opinion, or convince yourself that we are beyond convincing but you're still right. I'll bet, even if your class or dojo doesn't go to tournaments, you still compete to be the best person there. Amirite?" Uncomfortably so. Even if I have to try three times as hard vs. people with powers. "Mmmaybe." She laughs again. It's a throaty bray that some folk would find offputting, but I find charming in its whole-heartedness. "So there is something here that will tickle your fancy." "I really don't need any sort of costume -- er, uniform. It's not that kind of ... class, and I have everything of that sort I need." "But this place is the one local supplier of the best brand of the one thing that I know you do need, because I need it to, and I assure you, nobody in town has anything nearly as good." "And ... that would be ...?" She leans in close. "Sports bras." The concept of athletic bras is, as you might guess, not unfamiliar to me. Being a globe-trotting daughter of a master science criminal, I've had access to a variety of them, rarely the same brand twice. Sometimes something upscale. Sometimes something I found in some shop in Ulan Bator. Sometimes options that turned out to be inadequate to the task; on a few occasions, something grabbed for me by one of Father's minions based on my measurements, which almost never worked well.   (Father did not turn his genius to the design of the ideal sports bra for me. Which is perhaps just as well, as that would have been a bit disturbing.)  Once I was on my own, my resources were much more limited. Even now, back on my own, I've been relying on adequate models from a sporting goods store near the school. (AEGIS actually provided me something as part of my overall kit, but, like all classic complaints about military clothing from the supply sergeant, it was not quite the right size, in number of ways.) Daph's commentary on the store seems a bit odd when I realize they have only a single brand in stock, albeit in a variety of constructions and strap types and the like. The materials look good, though, and the price within the bounds of my purchasing ability -- (Does the ideal society provide clothing for free? Any sort of clothing, or just the basics? What about specialized clothing like sports bras? I digress.) -- so the key will be whether the actual bras themselves are what I need. (I have copious commentary on any number of peripheral subjects here, from female physiognomy to normal brassiere construction to the Western sexualization-to-the-point-of-ludicrousness of lactation organs to the problematic nature of maneuvering around in a brawl with said organs trying to flap about. I will spare you for the moment, except to note that Daph is correct, and I do need a good sports bra. Several, in fact.) "So lacrosse, that's high impact. What would you say your athleticism level is, Alycia?" "Yeah, high impact. That sounds about right. Okay, I'm a C cup, you're probably -- a B?" I pause. "Yes." This feels vaguely awkward, though evidently only for me. My interactions with other women regarding lingerie have not had any baseline of normalcy -- be it in barracks, military prisons, elite boarding schools, or the most bizarre conversation (which is saying something) I ever had with Summer. Daph's take on all of this in such a prosaic, but focused, fashion is difficult to adjust to initially. Especially when it ends up with us in the dressing room with a half-dozen possible candidates stacked on the chair, myself stripped to the waist line, and Daphne eyeing me with an intensity I would normally expect from Jason or, in a more analogous situation, the denizens of Zhukov Academy, except without a trace of carnality about it. It still doesn't make me any more comfortable.  It's not a matter of body sensitivity -- again, living in a barracks, or in a military school/prison like Zhukov quickly erodes such a thing. It just evokes unpleasant memories, coupled with the sense that Daph knows more about this, for some unknown reason, than I do. "Okay, I'm going to guess the racerback straps, if we have the right size. They should provide the --" She stops, looking to the side as though a thought has occurred to her. After a moment, I prod, "Provide ...?"  She stands upright, eyes meeting mine. "No. This is not right." "Well, yeah, I have to admit I'm a bit uncomfortable, but that's my upbringing, plus the air conditioning in here is a bit high, but --" "I will not allow this." "Look, this was your idea --" She spins about, throws open the curtain between the dressing room and the rest of the shop, and run out. Okay, that's not what I was expecting. Lack of body sensitivity doesn't mean I don't feel like flashing the entire store when Daph abruptly exits the dressing room, leaving the curtain wide open. Fortunately the alcove faces the back of the store laterally, so I can just step over and pull closed the curtain before turning to fumble back into my clothing -- A flash of bright light. A loud crash. Glass shattering. A scream, male. Another, female. The hell ...? I hear footsteps slapping the floor towards me, and I step out of the dressing room. Young man, white, scraggly light brown hair and beard, army surplus jacket, black tee, jeans, pistol in his hand, fear in his face turning to surprise as a topless woman walks in front of him -- He screeches to a halt in the aisle, gawking, fear forgotten (see what I mean about ludicrousness?), until I kick the gun out of his hand, step in and drive an elbow into his throat (not quite hard enough to kill, more than enough to disable), even as I'm taking in the rest of the shop. The store extends back-to-front the depth of the overall. The check-out counter by the entrance is hard to see, with all the display racks in-between, but I can see Daph up there, and another person dressed similarly to the one I just dispatched. He does something and she hits him with what looks like a glowing baseball bat -- and there's another crash of glass.  I'm already moving when Daph shouts, "No!" Followed by, "No, no, no, no!" in a steadily increasing volume and pitch and sense of panic ... and then runs out the front of the shop.  I get up to the front counter to see the clerk lying on the ground, bleeding from a head wound. Except -- there's blood, but no wound I can see. The same is untrue for not one but two more men (ages in their early twenties, similarly scruffy), who are lying, bloody and unconscious, smashed down into the glass display cabinet / counter where the cash register was. They're cut up pretty badly, but I don't see any arterial spurting or anything that looks life threatening for the moment. There are some limb pointed in painful and/or unnatural directions. I turn to run after Daph, pause, start to reach down for the phone, and realize the complications of both a foiled robbery and of my own dishabille. In order then -- I run back to the dressing room, throw on my t-shirt (black, with "My favorite season is the Fall of the Patriarchy" on the front, an anonymous gift I found in my locker at AEGIS last time I checked in), stuff my own bra into my satchel, and go running back to the front of the shop (giving my sparring partner an additional kick to the head where he was still lying, gasping, to ensure his continued cooperation), grabbing his pistol from where I dropped it (using a sports shirt on the rack to avoid fingerprints/DNA), running to the front of the store again, checking on the clerk (no discernable injuries, just blood, heartbeat good, should be coming out of it shortly), pick up two more pistols of various makes and but general low quality, put all three guns into a shopping bag which I set next to the clerk, find the phone, call 911 about a robbery with people injured, hang up the phone before the questions can start, and run out the door after Daph. Who, of course, is nowhere to be seen. Which seems like a good idea at the moment, and then I see her car -- a used silver Corolla -- pulling out of the lot, which means I'm also on my own for transportation. I am not happy about this. And I never did get to try on any of the bras. [to be continued] #Cutscene
I'm back at the house. Public transportation in Halcyon is quite good, but only in comparison to most American cities. Being able to summon my motorcycle autonomously is ... handy. Unsubtle, unless I take precautions, but convenient in a situation like this. I've called Daph a dozen times. The last time her voice mail indicated it was full. I've not gotten any calls back. Texts haven't been any more productive. I don't know her address. There are no Palins listed in the phone book. I could call Parker, or another contact at AEGIS. But that might draw attention that Daph clearly doesn't want. I'm not sure what to do -- or whether I should do anything. It's not a happy feeling. I'm making stir fry. Leslie is asleep in her room, where she always seems to be, when not at school or at work. It seems odd that she's out and about the house less often than Summer or me. Summer, for her part, is on an evening shift at the coffee shop.  Which means it's a perfect night for actually cooking something, so that people won't see what a mess I make of it. Stir fry should be tasty but healthy, if done right. I'm not sure I've hit either goal in the five times I've tried it. Everything is steaming and bubbling and browning perfectly, though, when, over the hiss of the pan and the drone of the stove vent, I hear a pounding on the front door. Well, hell. My mind races quickly -- if I pull the pan off now, it will be underdone. If I leave it on, by the time I go to the door and deal with whatever's going on (even in the most perfunctory manner), it will be overdone, at least. If I ignore the door, there's a 40.9% chance I will regret it (it's a friend, it's law enforcement, it's my -- yes, my brain sometimes doesn't do me any favors). I use the one Inuit curse word I know, set the stir fry pan to the side, turn off the range, and go to the door.  Daph is standing there. Her eyes are red. Her cheeks look hollow. She's gripping herself around each side with her hands, as if trying to keep her body from falling apart. "Hey --" she says, weakly. "Wǒ cào --" I grab her and pull her into the house, looking quickly to see if anyone is following her -- I see her car at the curb -- then close the door. "Daph, are you all right?" "No --?" she says, sniffing. She hugs herself more tightly. "I didn't know where to go." I guide her to the sofa and sit her down. She's actually trembling. "Daph, what happened?" She shakes her head. "Can I have something to drink?" "I have green tea, something jasmine that's very soothing, or Earl Grey. I can --" "Something -- maybe -- alcoholic?" I look at her for a moment. "Coming right up." I don't drink -- for a lot of reasons. Summer doesn't, for very different reasons. Leslie does enjoy beer, however, and there's a good stock of it in the fridge. I've learned it's frowned upon, amongst housemates in an arrangement such as this, to predate on the food and drink of others, but I judge this an exception (I make a mental note to leave an IOU for Leslie). My mind is shying away from Daph's condition. I let it dwell on what variety of beer she would like. It's like trying to figure out what brand of light bulb she prefers -- I have no basis for knowing. In the end, knowing Palin to be Welsh name, I go for a bottle of "English Nut Brown Ale." I find a bottle opener, use it, and bring it back to Daph. She's still sitting there, huddled into the corner of the sofa. I hand her the beer. She takes a sip -- makes a face -- drinks some more. Stops. Drinks still more. "This is supposed to help me feel better, right? That's the way it works in all the movies and TV and stuff." "In small doses it can reduce anxiety and improve mood and self-confidence, along with impairing judgment. After that it starts sedating you, interfering wit motor skills, and impacting memory and comprehension." "I -- can use some ... anxiety reduction." I let her finish the bottle, sitting next to her on the sofa for the long, quiet minutes. I -- am at something of a loss of what to do next. I fall back on "What would Summer do if that were me?" Leaving aside the hugs and little pats of the hand on the leg and bright, brilliant smiles. That's really not me. "What happened?" I finally ask. Again. She grows still for a moment, then looks at me with haunted eyes. "It was ... him." "Him?" She mouths a word. Palamedes .  Well, crap. Daph told me the story over drinks at Blintzkrieg one day. When she was ten, her family took a vacation to the Greek isles. While there she had a weird, spooky encounter with some hitherto unknown Greek god (self-proclaimed) named Palamedes, who said he was appointing her his high priestess, spreading joy and freedom around the world. Daph wanted nothing to do with gods, or religion, or priestesshood, or powers. She just wanted a normal life.  Despite that, she found herself able to sense when "evil" was around, to summon a holy staff to bonk said evil on the head, to cure wounds, and even to drive away the undead. She was also tall, strong, and if someone had to cast a holy warrior priestess from Gardner Academy for some really bad movie, she'd be a shoo-in. Except she isn't interested in acting, either, just lacrosse and football -- soccer , I correct myself for at least the hundredth time. From what she told me, Palamedes continues to occasionally urge her in her dreams to take up his mantle. There have been a couple of incidents where circumstances (coincidence or manipulation is unclear) forced her to do so -- a zombie attack at Walt Disney World while on a family vacation; a car accident where only she could save a woman trapped inside the vehicle. But while Daph is "out" and registered as a metahuman, it is not her thing. At all. It sounds like her patron god has decided to no longer take "No" for an answer. "Tell me." She shakes her head. "Daph, I can't help if you don't talk to me." She shakes her head. I'm shaken myself. I've never seen her like this. Daph is usually one of the most upbeat, positive, confident people I've known. Except for a minor incident where she lied about having great sex with her on-again, off-again (so to speak) boyfriend, she's always been forthright and enthusiastic about her life and the people around her. Even in those cases where she's talked to me about Palamedes, she's been -- well, more annoyed than fearful; grouchy about the intrusion, rather than afraid. Now, though ... "Daph, I can --" I correct myself. I have no idea what I can . "-- I want to help. Talk to me. What happened?"  She stares at the floor. This is like a post-combat situation. Even, in some weird way (but a way I realize I understand), a rape. I've seen PTSD before. Father didn't tolerate weakness among his troops, but the soldiers themselves -- they knew the toll it took on each other. Within bounds, they had their own rough compassion. Walk her through it. "We were in the dressing room at XXSports," I say, calmly, simply. "You were staring at my boobs, in a wholly platonic and bra-evaluative fashion. You suggested that racerback straps would probably be best ..." Daph nods, slowly. "Classic," she says in a small voice. "It's a classic style. Non-adjustable, but it's best anyway to find the right -- the right size up front." A barest flicker of a smile at the pun. Then she turns back to me. "I'm sorry -- I'm really sorry, I shouldn't have -- I didn't know what was going to happen, I didn't -- I didn't --" Reticence gives way to responding to human need. I reach out and hold her against me, and let her cry. "Daph." "What?" Her voice is soft, muffled, her face pressed against me. "Unless you're doing a follow-up close inspection to see what sort of sports bra would best fit me, we need to talk about this." She makes some sort of snorting sound, nods, pulls back. "I -- I'm sorry, I shouldn't have --" "Daph, if you keep apologizing for things not under your control it will drive you mad. Stop it." "I -- I got snot all over your t-shirt." "Modern technology is wonderful. I'll use one of those innovative new devices they call washing machines to, um, I don't know, wash it." "I had to come here," she says, abruptly shifting topic. "I didn't know where else to go." I frown. "Your house?" "What if -- what if it happened there? What if I hurt someone -- someone in my family?" I start to ask What if that happened here ? , but that would be a thoroughly non-useful observation. "Tell me about 'it,' Daph. I need to know." She wipes her face with the back of her hand, looking away. Then she closes her eyes, visualizing. "We were there, talking about the right bra." She nods, as if confirming the memory. (I flash on having this same dialog with Jason, but bursting out in a chuckle seems inappropriate and non-useful as well.) "I -- I felt something." "Mm-hmm." "It was like, like hearing music, but in a movie, when the bad guy is around, or something bad or scary is about to happen? It wasn't music, but it felt like that. Ominous." "Where was the feeling coming from?" "It -- in the store, at the front. I could tell." "No, was it something you felt inside you? Or something that was being --" I searched for what I was trying to say. "-- pushed on you?" She shakes her head. "I don't -- um, inside. I think. I mean, it was about something outside of me, but it wasn't like someone whispering in my ear. That came next." Damn, damn, and damn. I hate it when I hypothesize correctly about something bad. "Okay, you had this threatening, ominous soundtrack feeling. What next?" "I heard this voice. I --" She looks at me.  "The Big P." She gives a sharp nod. "He said, something wrong is about to happen. Someone is about to be hurt. And the music got louder, and he said, don't you want to keep someone from being hurt? And I was, of course, but I can't --" She stops. "Take a deep breath," I tell her. She does. "Another." She does. Maybe I shouldn't be giving orders to someone who's stressed out over having had her mind invaded and taken over. But I don't know how else to operate here, dammit. "So you said no, and ...?" "And then I'm standing at the front of the store, and these guys are all like smashed into the glass, and  Mr. Hopper is there with all this blood, and I knew I had done it." She grabs my arms near the shoulders. She's amazingly fast. " I did it, Alice. I -- I assaulted those people, I hurt them, and he made me and I didn't -- I couldn't --" She collapses onto me again, sobbing, and I hold her and try to figure out what to do next. "Daph." Sniffs and snorts. "Daph." "Yeah?" "We need to talk about this." "Why?" "Because sooner or later we have to go to sleep, or go to school, or go to the bathroom, and your leaking fluids all over my shirt, even if washable, will keep those things from happening." She raises her head. "What?" she asks, looking confused. "There's additional data you need." She shakes her head. "I don't --" "Sit up." She complies. Exposed to air, my chest is actually damp enough to be uncomfortably cool, but complaining about it won't help. "Three things. First, those men you assaulted were robbing the store. They were armed with guns. You dispatched them admirably, but non-fatally." I stay silent about the third whom I had to put down. Unneeded details. "That was a good thing." She nods, but doesn't look at all convinced, for understandable reasons. "Second, the man behind the counter -- the one the robbers attacked." Pistol-whipped, at a bet. "His injuries were healed, Daph. You stopped the bleeding -- as far as I know, you took care of any permanent injury or concussion. His pulse was steady. You may have saved his life." She blinks, then nods again. "B-but, that wasn't me. It was --" "I know." I hesitate, then reach out and take her hands from where they're balled into fists on her thighs. It feels unnatural, but right. "Believe me, I know . It was whatever he did with you, but I want you to know that while he was violating you in that way, you didn't do anything wrong ." "Those men --" "They were bad men, Daph. They hurt that Mr. Hopper. They were going to steal the till. Hell, if they'd found us back in the dressing room they would probably have tried to rape us." Try being the operative word. "What happened to them was non-lethal --" Charitably so. "-- and only what they deserved." "But --" "But that doesn't make what happened to you right. You --" I realize I've had a knot of anger roiling in my gut since I realized what had happened to her. "It's not right. Not at all. I --" What can I do? I can't beat up a "god" -- even assuming he was standing in front of me, which he isn't. I don't have psionics. I don't have magic. What in bloody hell can I do? Right now, I can only be here, present, for her.  It's not enough. But it's all I can do at the moment. "Look, if you want, you can crash here tonight. We'll figure out next steps tomorrow. You can have my bed. I'll sleep up here, on the couch." She shakes her head. "I can't, I don't want to put you out." "I offered, you didn't ask. Big difference." Something Palamedes should understand, but clearly doesn't. And if you get up and start sleep-priestessing, I'll be aware of it. "Unless you want to go home." "No, I --" She looks at me, then shifts her gaze away. "The -- cops were there, too." I raise an eyebrow. "When I came home, after I was driving around a bunch, trying to clear my head, I -- there was a HCPD cruiser parked in front. They know what I did , Alice. They know what I did to those people, and they're going to arrest me, and --" "Again," I say, cutting her off with a firm word and increased volume, "all you 'did' was take down a couple of robbers and help the shopkeeper. They don't put people in jail for that." But it does attract attention, attention she doesn't want.   AEGIS is an option. They might have ways to deal with this, or better connections to help it happen. But it would get Daph involved in their world, which isn't what she wants. Assuming she still has a choice. "So, you'll stay here. Have you eaten?" She shakes her head.  "I have some bad stir fry, if you want. Or we can order pizza." She opens her mouth. Hesitates politely. "Pizza it is." I pause then, a thought occuring. "Can I ask you one more question?" Daph nods slowly, apprehensive. "Why did you come to me? Why not, I don't know, Marion?" Her eyes widen, then she laughs. It actually has some of the spirit I normally associate with her. "Oh my god , can you imagine him? Dealing with a real emotional meltdown? Let alone gods and mind control and -- and --" I give one of her hands a squeeze. She returns a grateful smile. She continues, "Marion's cool. But I kind of feel like you can handle a crisis better. And --" She pauses, the smile become less broad, more shy. "-- and you're my friend." "Damn right," I say. "And to prove it, you get to buy the pizza. Menu for Gino's is on the kitchen cork board, next to the congealing stir fry. I eat any topping that doesn't get served in an umbrella drink." She gives my hand a squeeze back, bounces up, and heads for the kitchen. "I am in the mood for meat!" she proclaims on her way out. I sit there a moment. What the hell do I do now? I know the names of a thousand gods. This is the first time I've ever seen evidence of any of them actually existing, for all I believe in something beyond the material.  Apprehension and anger churn inside. I'll figure something out. I have to. For my friend. [to be continued]
Daph and I talk until the too-lates for a school night, but she needs to calm down, as do I. Our conversation ranges over everything from clothes to school to boys -- how things are going with not-good-in-a-crisis Marion, and how things are going with walking-crisis Jason. We envy each other's perceived lack of drama, realizing that the other can't appreciate both the merits and drawbacks of our respective boyfriends. (Yes, he's a boyfriend. He's the boyfriend. Shut up.) We stay well away from the events of the day, and I divert the topic whenever I see Daph starting to cloud up. It needs talking, and working through. But it needs action, too, and I can't provide any at that point.  Her parents are undoubtedly worried. I talk her into sending a text saying she's staying with a friend, light-hearted tra-la, using whatever safe word the family has to indicate the message isn't under duress (I assume she has a safe word of that sort, at least -- doesn't everyone?), and then shutting off her phone for the night. Daph eventually winds down about 2 a.m., and crashes hard after I guide her to my luxurious accommodations. (I jest -- they are far better than many I have lived in, especially the past few years.) That lets me breathe a sigh of relief, but also ramps up the stress, since now I have only my own thoughts to worry about. I go to sleep that night tense, on my guard. I'm also angry, and fearful. And I manage to find a blanket that's too short to drape over me on the couch, so my feet are exposed ... It's the old nightmare, deep under the waters of Puget Sound. The screams of the base personnel, pleading with us through the intercoms, pounding on the sealed bulkhead doors with hollow, metallic thumps, and behind it all the roar of the waters forcing themselves in through the opened valves, Father's failsafe plan to let us get away.  Father is dragging me with his voice and his hand, as I keep trying to pull away to go back, to somehow reverse a mechanism I know cannot be reversed. In our section of the tunnels, there's still some leakage, and my feet are freezing in icy water up to my ankles. Something brushes across my face, tangible through the tears, and I brush it away. Then something else, a patch of dark color with streaks of light. Now its a constant pressure, beating softly about my face, the susurrus of their sound masking the water, the screams, the pounding, even my father's voice. His hand slips away, and -- I'm standing in a garden, dry, alone. I'm in what I was wearing when I fell asleep -- the smears of Daph's mucus and tears still visible against the black fabric of the tee. For an instant I think I'm in the Twilight Grove, but ... the foliage is different, the flower and shrubbery growing more wild, if still lush and attractive. More importantly, I can hear birdsong, the buzzing of insects. The air around me is thick with butterflies, especially a dark swallowtail with yellow flashing. I feel I should look around, but my eyes are captured by an image in front of me, transparent as if of glass, but fully discernable.  I recognize myself, if three years younger. I recognize the military clothing, the tactical rig. I'm being dragged by one wrist by Father, himself garbed in understated, non-military elegance. His face is distorted by a snarl as he's in mid-bellow, urging me forward, while I'm reaching back with my free hand as though wanting to take back that horrible decision -- "She looks unhappy," says a quiet voice behind me. I whirl, to see a man standing there. It's difficult to focus on him -- one moment he resembles Father, the next more like Byron Quill, then other figures I don't recognize, until at least I can see that he's a short, stout fellow, bald-headed with a fringe of longish, curly white hair behind, and long white sidelocks. He's dressed in simple, unadorned robes that shimmer between silver and red. His wide features are wreathed in a smile. I punch him in the face. That's the plan, at least. Or lack of plan, perhaps. I do it by reflex, not allowing him any opportunity to read (or change) my mind. I miss. Or, rather, he's not there. He's a half-meter to the right.  I move into a flurry of strikes, targeting him, targeting the air to either side of him, high, low, kicks, sweeps, strikes, elbows -- I might as well be doing kata for all it connects with anything. I stop. He's still smiling, the bastard. "Alycia Chin. I am Palamedes." "Get. Out. Of. My. Head!" I growl, snipping off each word of the sentence. He arches an eyebrow. "Really? You would rather return to that particular nightmare?" He gestures toward the image of almost-15-year-old me.  "Yes." He arches the other eyebrow.  "If it's the only option for me to choose, then I choose that over an uninvited intrusion." "Ah. But, then, you wished I was standing before you so that you could beat me up." I arch an eyebrow in return. "Well, I chose to grant half the wish. Don't push your luck." "Wait, I never said that aloud to Daph." "She is my high priestess. I am -- aware of matters surrounding her. Threats. Opportunities. Hearts and minds. Goes with the territory." Nothing could make me want to go back to the nightmare again (and again, and again), save the opportunity to rub my refusal to play his (literal) mind games in his face.  But I did wish that I could confront him. And I am here -- "Precisely." Fuck. "If I'm doing this, then we talk . You don't snag thoughts from my head." "This all is your head, Alycia. It's difficult to distinguish the difference." "If I direct a thought with intent to communicate with you, then you can listen to it. If not, leave it alone." He strokes his chin. "That's a more difficult proposition than you suspect, Alycia. Thoughts aren't like data packets with destination or intent. At least not in the context of a dreaming mind." "Are you saying you can't do it? Aren't you a god?" "The advice is I should say 'Yes' to that." He smiles, eyebrows raised, then shakes his head when I don't respond the way he expects. "I didn't say I couldn't do it, I said it was difficult. I agree to adhere to the rule as you stipulated it." "How do I know I can trust you?" "I could cross my heart and say that such a commitment is binding upon all gods -- but, then, you'd have to trust I was telling you the truth about that . So the answer is, you don't. But we're not adversaries here, Alycia. We're fighting for a common cause. Multiple ones, in fact." I cross my arms. "I don't think so." He leans back in the chaise lounge. I'm sitting in another one, just like it, a step down on a broad dais. The ground now is all marble, variations of white and gray. A smattering of broken marble columns, artfully arranged, provide him a backdrop. Around us is the wild garden. Butterflies continue to flit here, though fewer in number. I stand up. He rolls his eyes. "For the gods' sake, Alycia, there's no sin in our being comfortable while we chat." "Ask first." "You are feisty. Ahem. 'Might we retire to a more comfortable setting and take the weight off?'" "Yes." He nods, in acknowledgement.  "Do you understand the difference?" I ask him.  "Of course. Freedom is one of my attributes." "You have a damned funny way to show it." "As I said, Alycia, we're on the same side here. We both -- what are you doing?" That is either really sneaky of him (I wouldn't put it past him), or an indication he is adhering to the rules. I don't answer, but continue to drag my extraordinarily heavy chaise lounge up a step to his level. Its frame is of metal, and it makes an unholy racket being dragged across the marble -- and leaves scratches, to boot. On the other hand, it is my dreamscape, so screw him. The two pieces of furniture now being at a level, I sit down. He claps, slowly, still smiling. "Are you done with the random lèse-majesté -- or blasphemy, I suppose -- or will you continue it through our entire conversation?" "You're the one who set up the furniture, Palamedes. If you're going to play games, I can, too." "Touché." He slaps a hand on one of the cushions he's reclining on. "Now, where were we?" "You were asserting a common cause. I was telling you to go get fucked." He winces. "Alycia, I am trying to be patient, but if you are going to just keep trying to provoke me, sooner or later you are likely to succeed." "Then what happens?" "Then you learn what it means that I'm a god and that you're not." I look at him for a long moment. "Is that a threat?" "If I say 'Yes,' you'll just feel you need to one-up me. If I say 'No,' you won't believe me. If I say, 'Not, that's a promise,' you'll think me cliched. So I'll smile enigmatically." Which he does. I lean back on the lounge, determined to make him take the next move. He continues to smile. I look around, examining the architecture. I've visited ruins sites in Greece, and this doesn't match up with any of that architecture except in a very abstract way. When I look back, he's drinking something from a broad, gold goblet. He smiles at me some more, raises it up in toast, and takes another sip. Fine.  "In what way do we have a common cause?" "Ah, excellent," he says, clapping his hand together. There's no goblet to be seen. "Thought you'd never ask. We both care for good, and we both care for Daphne." I count to ten while considering my answer. I've been going on bluster and adrenaline (dream adrenaline?) and anger so far. That hasn't been working, and has the potential of escalating the situation. I don't accept that I'm powerless, but I've no idea where my power here lies. Save for this: he's talking with me. That means I have some leverage. I simply need to determine what it is. [to be continued]
"You have an odd idea of both," I tell Palamedes. It doesn't occur to me to question his self-identification. He carries with him, about him, through him, and into his surroundings (even within my dream?) a strange sense of the concrete . He affects reality around him. Maybe that's what makes a god -- being more real than the other beings about him. (How does that relate to the Keynomes? Who knows? Maybe I'll ask him, if I get the opportunity.) "Do tell," he says, taking another sip from the goblet. Cheap parlor tricks. Ways to make me feel cowed and less powerful. "Well, you've been haunting her dreams. Stalking her. Terrorizing her. You've been pressing yourself where you're not wanted. You don't take 'No' for an answer. You entered her body, made her do what she didn't consent to doing." That low flame of anger I usually keep banked in myself flares up. "Tell  me how that doesn't make you a rapist." I've not seen a god go pale before. I don't recommend it. Something great and terrible is before me, over me, all around -- great power, great pain but a hairsbreadth away, the burning of flame and the rictus sear of lightning and the sickening impact of hammering force and -- He's standing in front of his divan, fists clenched to his side, but already relaxing -- his expression of raw fury slipping away like shadow under a spotlight. "My -- apologies, Miss Chin." He gives the least movement possible to sketch a bow. "Anger ill-becomes, even in the face of ignorance and taunts. That is not the sort of ... discussion I sought with you, and it shames me to have even ..." He shakes his head. "In way of recompense --" He gestures to the small table with a goblet upon it, now sitting beside my divan. I'm tucked as far against its back as I can, hands clenching deep into its upholstery, heartbeat pounding in my throat, gorge rising with it, barely holding my body fluids in -- I can't even curse. I feel like my brain is literally rebooting from the terror. I don't get scared. I do get scared, but I control myself through it. I do get scared, but this experience took that to a whole other level.  I want to shriek. I want to cry. I want to gibber and hide. I want to knock that goblet to the marble floor, to see it shatter into a million pieces. I want to tear out my eyes. I want to wake up. I want to punch him in the face. I want -- Daph. I am here -- or he is here -- because I want to help her. "F -- f --" I try again. "I -- stand by -- my -- question." My voice sounds like I've been screaming for an hour or two. He nods, sitting carefully down. "Of course you do. And as much as it disgusts me, I will answer it. I owe it to you for my improper behavior." He takes a deep breath, sighs again. "From your limited perspective -- and your own experience-driven blinkers -- I can imagine how you would see it that way. And I suspect my assurances that my motives -- and actions -- are so different from how you frame them, will not assuage your anger. Any more than my --" He shrugs. "-- gaffe here has done so." He raises his eyebrows. He's correct. I'm still angry. Getting angrier by the moment as the terror ebbs, at what he did to me.  I have to control that anger, as a spike of panic plunges through it at what not doing so might lead to again. Control the anger. Use it.  "No. Not in the least. Maybe --" I swallow, against a dry throat. "Maybe the opposite." He nods, and smiles. "Very human. Of the most admirable type. I've known so many --" He shakes his head. "All right. How to ... translate it for you ..." "Don't ... patronize me ..." "Please, do have a drink." He gestures again. "No, it's not patronizing, as you mean it. Being a god before a mortal -- even a hyper-genius, perhaps especially a hyper-genius -- is all about being very, very careful about how to present, how to keep the power of what we say, what we do, what we reveal, how we act -- how to keep that power from injuring, killing, or worse." "We ... cannot handle ... the truth?" "Ah, I know that movie reference." I stare back at him. "In short, yes. Any more than you could handle my displeasure a few minutes ago. It can be literally face-melting." He raises an eyebrow. I get that allusion, but refuse to be drawn into the game, and keep a deadpan.  He shakes his head. "At any rate, it's difficult to relate without making it sound like I'm treating you disparagingly, as a child or a mental defective or an animal or --" He gestures. "My doing so is out of respect and care, not malice or hauteur." "That makes me feel so ... much better." "Good. Now then -- an explanation you will understand, accept, and even be pleased by will be ... difficult." He eyes me. "Especially since metaphors involving 'training' or 'guidance' or 'heritage' or 'destiny' will be emotionally rejected by you before you even consider them intellectually." I shake my head. I feel like something is rattling inside. "Try me." "I have not forced my will upon her. I could do so, from the perspective of what I am and what she is. But that is anathema to me. I simply ... showed her today what she could do. She's exercised her talents as my high priestess in the past, but has been more and more resistant to doing so willingly. So I --" He looks upward, as if for the words, gesturing vaguely. "-- put her to sleep for an interval. Let what should become actual , and so show herself what she can do." "Beating up a couple of robbers. Waking up to find their blood on her hands." He makes a face. "They will take from it nothing worse than scars -- no worse than what you did to their compeer. Plus some time in one of your correctional institutions, which will likely be of more harm to them." I don't rise to the bait. They aren't my prisons. "You took over her body." "I did no harm by it. The opposite, in fact. Her use of my touch saved the life of the clerk they had pistol-whipped. Her use of the strength I gave her averted other crimes, other assaults, other deaths they may have caused." "You should have known how she would react. She's not cut of that mold." "But she is. I have -- I have known her lineage for time out of mind." Ah. That's an important clue. So let's not overreact it.  I turn to the goblet. My mouth is still dry. It looks like clear water. Do I trust it?  Do I trust Palamedes? No. But, then, I know his power is far beyond me. So poisoning or drugging me seems largely pointless. Unless it's for some ineffable purpose that my mere mortal brain would 'splode upon understanding. I take a drink. It's clear, refreshing, has the barest hint of citrus, and a floral nose. I take two more sips.  "So -- this is a family thing for her?" He shakes his head. "More complex than that. She is descended from a Celtic clan I once knew, and vice-versa. But reincarnation plays a role, too. And other factors in the world -- the alignment of the stars, the movement of certain Keynomes within the planetary crust ... " He pauses, then adds, "Even some actions by you and your merry band of adventurers." Shit. "What did we do this time?" "You averted a certain event that would have necessitated pushing this even harder and faster. You also awoke something that she will eventually need to fight to save ... a lot of people." He wags his head to either side. "Humanity makes the future way too complicated to predict clearly. One of the things I like about you." I ignore that. "Any particular responsibility I carry here?" "Always with you about personal responsibility. What if I told you that last week you said something that will cause someone to take an action three years from now that will eventually lead to humanity spanning the stars in a great empire?" "I'd say I'm not interested in founding an empire if I can help it." He smiles. "And that's a reason I like you." "I don't flatter easily." "Of course you do. Just not through blatant, clearly self-serving complements." I wave it away. "But humanity finding its destiny through the stars is ... cool." He nods. "Of course, that brings its own temptations, its own sins, its own wars and tyrannies and hatred and --" I wave that away, too. "I can't control that. Hell, I can't control what I 'said last week.' But you're dodging the question." "You asked about lineage and heritage." "I'm just trying to figure out why you're harassing Daph, and what I can do to stop it." "Saying you can't isn't going to work." "No." "She's needed." Dammit. "That's her choice." "Her being needed is not her choice. It's a fact." "Her choosing how to respond is." "At some point -- is it?" I take a breath. Let go. "What does freedom mean to you?" He grins. "But also joy." "Conscription is joyful?" "No, but -- I'm a god, not an avatar. 'Greater Good' arguments are always painful, but not out of the question. It's always a matter of perspective." "Which I can't understand, conveniently enough." "Do bear in mind, Miss Chin, that I came to you." "Why?" "To avert your interference. To solicit your assistance." "And why in my dreams?" He leans back, closing his eyes for a long moment. He takes a sip from his goblet. "Our ... reality, if you will, can cause damage to a plane such as yours. Manifesting directly, even in the limited forms we once did, is an unacceptable risk. Thus we talk in dreams, in visions, in the whispers of leaves and the sighs of breezes, in --" "Right." And I'm to assume it's won't not can't . Later for that, though. "And that's part of why you need people like Daph." "Yes. The priesthood manifests our will, without our getting our hands dirty." "That's not an encouraging way to put it." "By which I mean, not ending up with the shattered remains of Earth on our hands." "Ah." I take another sip myself. I notice the level's not going down. Nice trick. But it's all tricks. I shake my head. "I don't buy it. It always seems to come back to 'You'll never understand, we're immensely powerful, but we conveniently can't do this other stuff.'"  "In so many words." "Except they don't mean anything. They don't satisfy . They don't explain . They ask for an act of faith ." He chuckles. "That does seem to be what we're best at these days." "But you haven't been able to convince me of it, who has no stake in the matter aside from vague warnings about the future, and a friendship in the present. How can you convince Daph , whose very future and life are at stake?" He nods, but says nothing. "You have tried to convince her, haven't you?" He stays silent.  "Or ... did you just order her? Then cajole her? Then tempt her? Invade her dreams? Give her orders?" He shrugs.  "Jesus Christ, are you that dim? Do you even understand what she's about? Why she's reluctant to become your living weapon, or however you want to frame it?" "'High Priestess of Joy and Freedom, fighting for those who need defending from Evil and Oppression.'" "Yeah, that's not something you order people to do." He slams a hand down on the divan. I start, but don't try to hide under mine. He holds the hand up apologetically. "Once -- once mortals were more willing to do our will, to accept our rewards and act on our behalf." I roll my eyes. "Once people lived in shit and had an average life expectancy of thirty. Between infant mortality, lack of dentistry and anaesthesia and germ theory, amid famines and plagues and hostile tribes and wild animals and vermin and everything else, people leapt to anything you could give them. You didn't need to actually make your case. You didn't need to understand. You just -- gave orders and an option to escape from where they were." "We only wanted --" "Today," I continue, over him, "people have more choices. I mean, you can certainly find vast swathes folk living in desperate enough circumstances to feel the same way. Global economic injustice and superstition and international power games and Big Agro and the like -- they maintain those areas of misery for much of the world. And even in this ostensibly First World nations, there are people with no choices who will jump at any gang or divine sponsor who offers them power or three hots and a cot. But for someone like Daph? Her options are relatively endless. Your orders aren't freedom from those things for her -- they are servitude . She needs to be convinced, not just shown a less crappy way to live." He takes a long, heavy breath, lets it out. "And your suggestion, Miss Chin, in your infinite wisdom?" "Just ... talk. Better yet, listen . Listen to what she wants, what she dreams of, her goals, her aspirations. Hers. Decide first if what you ask is more valuable than that. Then tell her about it. Explain your thoughts. Leave the choice to her ." He looks at me stone-faced. "And if she chooses otherwise?" "Then stay true to your goddamned principles. Find someone else. Think outside the box. Tweak those factors. Find some other sucker to recruit. Otherwise, you're just building an army of slaves. And at the risk of seeing your Scary Face again, I don't think that's what you want." He nods, slowly. "It's not ideal. So much time has been lost. But ... it might be done." He raises an eyebrow, looking at me over the brim of his cup. "Perhaps you would make a better priestess yourself, Miss Chin." I smirk. "I think you want someone a bit more respectful." "You'd be surprised. I've known -- some independent spirits. Some of them among your ancestors." His eyes lock on mine. "On your mother's side." My mother. Goddamnit. I decline to rise to bait, cursing him as I do. "Not interested." A thought occurs. "Besides, I've seem behind the veil," I say, an uncontrollable shudder rattling my body. "Anything I did would be colored by that. I'd be serving as much out of fear as agreement with whatever your ideological bent is." He chuckles. "Point taken. Another reason to regret my lapse of control." He nods. "Very well, I'll talk with Daph as you suggest. And you'll support me in this?" I raise an eyebrow. "Don't mistake me, Palamedes. I support you approaching Daph that way. I don't in the least support Daph agreeing to what you have to offer." "You'd ... oppose me?" "It's her choice, but I'll try to convince her against it." He looks hurt. "But ... why?" "Because for all your vague talk of future threats and your self-proclaimed love of 'freedom and joy,' I just see another tyrant looking for a way to suck followers into his service. Recruiting is better than conscription, but I can agree with that principle while arguing against someone signing up with the friendly, smiling recruiting sergeant." He frowns at me. It's a serious frown. A penny drops. "That's -- what this was all about? That was the reason for your invading my dreams? You wanted to recruit me? As an ally? To persuade my friend?" "You have built up an influence with her. She trusts you." "You want me to betray that trust." He looks offended. "Of course not. I expect you to agree with me. To acknowledge not just a call to license and free agency, but to duty . To honor . To obligations to those beyond individual self-interest and fear." I close my eyes a moment, then open them. "Duty is imposed from within, not from without. Honor from others may or may not be congruent with it, but honor is external. A sense of duty must be what one has. Forcing it ... is the opposite of honor." He stands. "I would not have you as an enemy, Miss Chin." "Too late." I stand, too. I'm taller than him, or I was, but it doesn't look that way now. "I resent the way you pushed her around. How it took talking to me to convince you that engaging in persuasive conversation was the moral course. How you've been nothing but alternatingly bullying and dismissive during this entire dream. How you invaded my dreams in the first place, and that just to recruit me to your cause." Palamedes takes a breath. "You have something to lose in this, too." "What? You just told me you can't directly interact with earthly affairs. Are you going to start giving me bad dreams, too? Because that's something I can do something about." "I can do more than that." Fear ripples through me. "You could destroy me, I guess." I know . "Are you that kind of asshole, then? Because I think you said you weren't." "I speak only of telling the truth." "You said that's what would destroy me." "In this case, I mean a bit more metaphorically, though no less painfully. You are not the only one I can talk with." I frown at him. "Daphinas -- Daph, as she now called. I can talk with her." "That was kind of my suggestion." "I can tell her of your deception." My body tingles cold. "Meaning?" He steps toward me. "Alycia Chin, not Alice Chan. Daughter of notorious, bloodthirsty science terrorist Dr. Achilles Chin. Hiding from just retribution for your own many crimes." His eyes lock on mine. "So much blood on your hands. The crime lord. The accountant. So many others, directly by your actions, in the briny depths -- or others, more indirectly." His nostrils flare. "How do you think Daph will care for any of that? How closely do you think she will listen to your advice after that -- let alone want you as a 'friend.'" I'm silent. "I do not wish this, Alycia, truly," he says. "I told you, I don't want to be enemies. I care for Daph, even as you do. I care for your good, as well. I long for the good for all, the best for all, each and every individual, as much as you believe you long for them. If you cannot be an advocate for my cause -- for the good of humanity -- then, I beg you, back down. Stay silent. Allow what will happen to happen." "You," I say softly, " are an asshole." He gives me a sad smile. "Shit runs downhill, humans say. I'm sorry if that truth pains you, Alycia. But I am doing this for your own good. And Daph's. And, most importantly, the world's." "I --" "Enough." He's taller than me, now. Towering above the marble dais. "You are freed from your dream. Take comfort in your rest, and I know you will awaken refreshed -- and so act wisely." I bow my head. And I sleep. [to be continued]
"Gah!" I sit bolt-upright in bed, which is awkward because I'm actually on the sofa. There's a large comforter draped over me which wasn't there the night before. I suspect Summer.  "Oh!" says Daph. She about midway across the room, heading toward the front door. It's still dark out.  "Sorry, Alice, sorry! I really didn't want to wake you." "Where are you going?" She rolls her eyes. "Back home. This is silly. I just -- I shouldn't have dragged you into all this, I really apologize. I -- look, whatever happened yesterday, it's -- I'm sure there's -- "Daph." I close my eyes, rub both temples. For a refreshing sleep, I sure woke up with a hell of a headache. "I talked with him." Her eyes widen. "Him? Wh-who --?" "The Big P." Her eyes widen further. "Dammit, Daph, don't get the vapors. I need you focused on this." She takes a short, deep breath. Then another. I'm about to warn her about hyperventilation, when she takes a slow one next and sits in the wingback, at right angles to the couch. She nods sharply. Her body is tense, even sitting. "What -- did he have to say?" "Too much, and too much of it bullshit." I glance around the room, half-expecting to see his little face tut-tutting sadly at me. "Look, three things: first, I convinced him, I think, to talk with you. Just talk , not arm-twist or guilt or command or anything like that. Let him make his case for what he has in mind for you --" "I don't want it." "I don't think you will, but I think I convinced him that has to be your choice, not his. So that's good." She nods her head a couple of times in quick succession. "Okay, that's -- wait, how did you talk with him?" "In my dreams." That sounds incredibly stupid, even as I say it, but she nods and accepts it without question. Presumably he's pulled the same stunt on her. "Okay, second: he's going to be very convincing. He has a song and dance about saving the world, portents and prophecies, and it will sound like, well, maybe it's not ideal, but maybe you should do it anyway. If you're not careful, he'll change your mind." "How can he do that?" "Because you're a good person, and you want to do good things for others, and protect them, and see that they're well -- like your coaching activities. You want to give back, even if it's a bit of a pain, or requires some sacrifices of time and opportunity. Right?" "Well, someone has to do it." "That's what I mean. And he'll use that sentiment directly against you." "He'll trick me?" "He'll get you to trick yourself. I don't think he'll lie -- directly. And --" I hesitate. "And, he might be right." She frowns. "What do you mean?" "Look, Big P is a manipulative asshole, but -- you do have power through him. And you can do good things with that power to help people. Like today. And I don't know that he's lying about portentous prophecies." "You think I should --" "I think you need to listen to him with your ears open, your bullshit meter fully charged, and make a moral decision, not a convenient one in either direction." She shakes her head. "Alice, you're confusing me more than he does. Do you think I should do what he says, or not?" I roll my eyes. "Look, Daph, whatever choice you make, all I want is for you to make it for the right reasons. Make it fully informed. Don't do it out of fear of what you'll have to give up, or fear of what might happen to others. Make it for a positive reason." "What's that positive reason?" "That's -- kind of up to you. But it should probably start with 'What I really want is to ...' and go from there. Duty, honor, comfort, life-long dreams, helping others -- whatever it is, or whatever combo, you should do it. Let it guide you." She's silent a long moment. "When do I have to decide?" I shrug. "I figure he'll probably visit you tonight, at the earliest." I purse my lips. I really don't want to do this next part. Really truly. But ... I have no choice, none worth making. "What I really want is to" ... be Daph's friend in this . And that means ... "There's a third thing," I say. "Something else he's going to tell you." Her brow furrows. "I'm not going to like this, am I?" I shake my head.  A deep sigh. She leans back in the chair. "Okay, hit me." It was nice while it lasted.  I try to speak as simply and straightforwardly as I can. I can't face her, though. I look at the coffee table, at the TV remote. "My real name is Alycia Chin. I am the daughter of Dr. Achilles Chin, the terrorist. I've been --" My voice breaks, of all things, which sort of breaks my concentration ."I've done bad things, Daph. I have to be honest with you -- but I'm ... trying to be better. Not be my father. Be ... a good person." I shake my head. "But the Big P is going to tell you all that, all the gory details, to discredit what I've said to you." My eyes slip up to hers. "Because I've lied about who I am, and because of who I am in the first place." Her hands are clenched on the arms of the chair, but there's no screaming, no hysterics, no fleeing from the room. There's fear in her face, her body language, her breathing -- but less than I'd expected. And ... ... there's no surprise, either? "You knew?" "I ... had a pretty good idea," she says. I raise a brow. "Well, when we first met , I told you about the mysterious daughter of Dr. Chin who was supposedly this star-crossed love interest for Jason Quill, and I couldn't believe you hadn't heard about it. Aaaand, I had some time to think about your reaction, and how you came out of nowhere, and didn't know the most amazing stuff -- and, honestly, your name, really? -- and you had one of the Suits at school, from AEGIS, and you talked about your daddy being such a dick -- and then you were dating Jason , and it ... well, it all made sense. Or sense enough. I -- though it a maybe?" Tā mā de , given all that I'm shocked the entire student body didn't figure it out. Hell, maybe they have. "But -- you didn't ask." "Oh, God, no!" she says, throwing up her hands in mock surrender/distress. "That'd be -- well, rude . Or dangerous. Or maybe both. Or, like, really awful if I was wrong. I mean, 'Hey, are you the daughter of a murderous fiend who wants to take over and/or destroy the world?' Really? That's really not a cool question to ask. Especially at Gardner." My lips are pressed together. I shake my head slightly. "Why, then?" "Why -- oh, why was I friends with you?" I nod, sharply.  "'Cause you're fun, girl. And funny. And you seemed to need a friend. And whether you were just a stranger in our strange land, or an escaped criminal on the lam, or I guess maybe on parole ... I just thought you maybe needed a friend. And --" She pauses. "Well, if you were a terrorist, too, maybe you wouldn't hurt your friends, or maybe I could talk you down from it. But most of all --" She stops, and I realize I've stopped breathing, because I have no idea what's happening next. At last, I say, "And most of all ...?" "You're ... not evil." My brow furrows. "What?" "Look, I know it's crazy, but this thing I have from -- Big P -- this High Priestess package ... well, part of it is sensing something wrong, people who are bad, or who are planning bad things. I mean, that's how the whole thing at XXSports started off, right -- my knowing that those guys were there, doing something ... evil." I stare at her. "And ... I'm not ... 'evil.'" "Well, I mean, no more than most people. A bit sooty around the edges, maybe, but -- I think you're a good person, Alice -- Alycia." "Use Alice. Maybe someone in school is still fooled." "Oh, I don't think anyone else has guessed it. The only other person you spend as much time as with me is with that Leo groupie, one of the twins -- Summer. She might have guessed." I nod. "Yes, I'll be careful around her." "So, anyway, when I realized that, I figured, hey, Alice is fun to be with, and she's hella smart, and she puts up with my other friends and can out-revolutionary even Marion. So ... score!" I blink. "Wait. You're telling me that you know I'm not evil, that you can be friends with me and trust me ... because of one of the gifts Palamedes gave you?" "Um ... yeah?" I bark out a loud peal of laughter, followed by several more. Hoist on your own petard, god of "joy and freedom!" Daph laughs with me, because that's the kind of person she is. Which is fine, until I hear a door open in the hallway, and Leslie stomps out, wearing a long black nightshirt with a skull and crossbones formed out of a gear and cross wrenches. She points at the clock on the mantle, and glares at me. "Three thirty. Ack emma . I don't care if you're Achilles Chin's daughter or the big man himself in drag: Shut . The Fuck . Up out here." She throws a glancing glare at Daph, then stomps back to her room. The door does not close gently. Daph cringes in an exaggerated manner. "Sorree!" she says to me, softly. I roll my eyes. "Yeah. I'd say that's a vote that we're both evil." She snorts, then leans closer, pitching her volume down. "Look, I -- I appreciate your telling me who you are. I mean, I can't imagine, but I've done a few papers that touch on some of -- well, the political side about your daddy, but that got into the crime stuff, too, and -- I can't imagine what it was like for you. But your coming out to me about it, doing it so you could warn me about the Big P. And being blackmailed by Big P because you were standing up to me, I mean, Jesus, girl, you stood up to a god? For me?" I frown. "When you put it that way, it sounds sort of heroic." "That's not half of it." She reaches out, grabs my hands, gives them a squeeze. "I owe you one, Alice. I owe you a couple. And now I got some thinking to do, about Big P's offer -- um, are we calling him that because he's aware when people say his name?" "Maybe," I shrug. "Or maybe it just makes him sound silly, which tickles my funny bone." She gives me a big grin, probably the best smile I've seen from her since this afternoon. "Okay, I gotta go. I think I don't have to worry about that stuff, at least tonight. And I think I can handle Big P if he comes knocking." "I have another friend you should talk with. The 'Leo Groupie,' Summer. She's ... got a thing for butterflies, too. Maybe something you two might have in common. And she's a lot better than me at talking through shit like this. You can trust her with your secret." "She always seemed a little -- off. Not in a bad way, just --" She shrugs. I shake my head. "I think you'd get along.  I'll introduce you." She snorts. "She's not another daughter of a super-villain, is she?" I hold up my hands. "You'll just have to ask her."  Daph gets up, and I do likewise, walking her to the door (quietly). "Oh, and I still owe you something more in sports bra shopping, before we were so rudely interrupted." She cocks her head. "You're not actually doing a martial arts class, are you?" "Yyyeah, I think I've confessed enough for tonight." I take her hands again. "You sleep well, Daph. And drive safely." "I've got a god watching out for me," she cracks. "And," she adds, "at least one angel." She gives me a quick hug and thump on the back, and then she's gone. I step back over to the sofa, and fold up the comforter. I scribble a quick note of apology to Leslie and leave it on her coffee cup in the kitchen. Take a final glance around, then look upwards (if only because that's how humans have taken to addressing gods). "See? I'm not evil. And I don't want to be your enemy, either," I say, softly. Then I add, "But do not fuck with my friends." Then I go down to the basement, and drop easily back to sleep. Or that's the plan. My phone buzzes as I descend the steps. Your house guest's issues are resolved? I clearly have angels watching over me, too. Not quite. The security video of your encounter at the sporting good store this p.m. was impressive. Even Amazonian. Oh, wonderful. I'm sure that particular film clip will be stashed on any number of AEGIS computers for the rest of time. Though, to be honest, they have footage of me in my cell showering and taking a crap, too. I trust the video will not circulating with the HCPD. Unreliable system. Lost the last three days of recordings. Overseas manufacture, never trust the stuff. Yes, those damned foreigners. La. Video actually did fail to capture the person as the shop who did all the heavy lifting, strangely enough. It looked like the film was fogged, except it's not a film-based system. The clerk, who was unconscious, did remember a good customer there with a friend. Police went to said customer's house to see if she'd seen anything, but she was staying with friends, her parents unaware of whom. Kids these days. Is there anything in this that AEGIS should be aware of? Just gods and portents and high priestesses and doom. Same as it ever was. No. Is there anything I should be aware of? I wish I could trust Parker. I'd love for someone else to be able to help watching over Daph. But ... No. Very well. You should be asleep. You have a midterm in US History tomorrow. 'White people ruin everything.' See, I studied. Droll. Good night. Then I drop easily back to sleep -- a sleep of, if not the virtuous, then of the not-evil. And if I dream, I don't remember it. -fin-
Bill G.
Sheet Author
If Alycia's superpower (indomitable will) hadn't worked out, or if she'd chosen to involve Summer, I had some ideas for how a robot magical girl would actually confront a Greek god. But this is a good resolution and a fun read - it clearly points along a path, without having to spell it out. And it was really neat to see these two interact, and they now feel more like friends than just 'classmates with shared interests'.
Alycia's superpower (indomitable will) Heh. "It's not a bug, it's a feature." No wonder her dad had to drug her to try and keep her in hand. The bastard. I've left the door open as to (a) Summer/Daph interactions (should any come up organically, or if you have some sort of inspiration -- and, please, all my vested cards on are on the table, and you can do with the sitch as you might find intriguing) (b) Which way Daph will jump. She might completely reject Palamedes' mission in favor of her own destiny, thus leaving the world to face whatever he was hinting at. She might go all in and, because she thinks it the right thing to do. She might try to do it both ways, pursuing her private life while doing those missions/quests that she agrees are critical. And, hell, something else might come up  (c) Palamedes, even if he's ostensibly a good guy, might not care for how Alycia has acted here. Which I don't expect to see happen, but, hey, plot hooks are always a good thing. If we ever circle back around to the Menagerieverse, I'll be curious to see what happened to Daph. Et al. And, yeah -- it's neat seeing Alycia actually being a friend. Drawing on lessons that Summer taught her, to be sure. But, still, good stuff.
UNNECESSARY (BUT OBLIGATORY) BACKSTORY: In my sophomore year of college, I managed to land a slot in a homebrew D&D game that went on for the next three years, DMed by my friend Dave Sutherland (whom Doyce, at least, has met). I played a half-elven bard named Grinthorn. Margie -- whom I first met at that game -- played Daphinas, a human cleric of the Chaotic Good god in that world, Palamedes. (Mary Oswell, who Doyce and Mike might know from Game Days over at our house, played a MU in that campaign as well.) We were all different flavors of CG, and Palamedes was our Charlie, sending us on various quests and, at the end of each academic year, rewarding us accordingly; the Big P could be an autocratic dick (RHIP), but he was overall nicer than my iteration of him here. (My first novel was a "further adventures of" that group. It's a hot fanfic mess, literarily, but a ton of inside fun. Grinthorn and Daphinas end up getting hitched by the end of that book, imagine that, but not before Grinthorn's shaken off both vampirism and  lycanthropy. Like I said, fanfic.) Daphne Palin (and, honestly, I grabbed the last name from a book author on the shelf, not from a former VP candidate) was initially meant as just a convenient character recycle for a cutscene, resembling Daphinas physically and, by conceit, someone who'd been unwillingly stuck with clerical powers (turn undead, heal light wounds, detect evil, some sort of smiting power). That led in turn to her becoming a non-party NPC associate of Alycia's (because all the cool kids had one), and, finally, a way for Alycia to show her development as a human and friend, and foe of any oppression over the human mind. I like Daph, and hope I've not used her poorly. If, for some reason, this campaign were going on long enough to cycle through to yet a third character, it occurs to me that she'd make an interesting variation of the Doomed playbook -- with death of personality/independence being the "doom" cost of using her divinely appointed powers.
Bill G.
Sheet Author
Any organic interactions seem unlikely at this late stage :)  And with that pedigree, I'm even warier than I was before. But here's the outline, and if you positively say this looks interesting, I'll work it up. Summer introduces herself to Daph, in both guises; with permission, and with help from Alycia and Leo, she works up a plan that depends on Palamedes visiting her in a dream. This seems probable, if this god is anything like the rest of the pompous jerkoffs in the pantheon. Summer will take cues from Pneuma's visit to Hecate and represent herself as a respectful junior peer. And why not? Her "birth" is doubly a miracle (Pneuma's creation by Leo, her own unexplained emergence), she as much emerged fully formed from the brow of her maker as Athena, and, the lightning of Zeus flows in her veins in place of blood. She can very credibly lay claim to being an immortal - but man-made. On a technical note, she's got a Heart Gauge like the rest of Leo's bots, so she can use it, plus some custom wiring, to maintain a baseline of neural activity and block anomalous spikes. The god will be hard pressed to make her feel terror or coerce her. Alycia may be called on to learn her neurotech, and confront her own fear of the Heart Factory's potential - but, if Summer says "it's for Daph", perhaps she'll go along with it? Summer's not here to save Daph from Palamedes. She's here to save Palamedes from humanity as a whole, to help him stay relevant, if that's what he wants. Rather than the ruler of mankind, she wants to argue that the gods can be mentors, teachers, and partners. The species has power, but lacks wisdom. Will he accept this new role? And we'll find out. None of this says what Daph will choose, it only gives P-dawg (...) another angle to take. So it's what Summer always does, which is give people a chance to change, leveraging both emotion and technology to do it, and hopefully in a way that complements her friend's effort, rather than replacing or nullifying it.
That all sounds awesome -- and very different from how Alycia (or Jason) would handle it (which is only natural, but another reflection of "This Isn't Whack Bad Guys With Swords: The RPG"). And don't worry about the pedigree; I threw it out there as Fun Facts, not as Sacred Text. Palamedes arguably isn't a bad guy (or a bad guy). He's definitely a few ticks friendlier than, say, Apollo, and he doesn't seem to be into it for the worship and egoboo and sexy archaeologists. He's just not quite clear why people aren't jumping at the chance to be one of his picked crew. (For another thing, he also looks a lot more like Dungeon Master than Michael Forrest. At least as far as how he was presenting to Alycia.) Has Big P been operating continuously since times gone by, when given a choice between gathering and spreading shit on a farm, vs being clothed in gleaming armor and wielding a +2 Holy Mace, was a no-brainer? If so, he might have seen this gradual change in humanity's form and adapted to it. But if he has a gap in his activities, what is it, and why, and how did it end? Godly shenanigans? Inconvenient cave-in? Irked Doctor Infinity (or Magus Everard? That doesn't necessary need to be explored, but it's an open question. (Consider everything an open question, for that matter.) Anyway, Summer is (of course) far more insightful and compassionate in coming up with a win-win solution than Alycia is (and probably won't lead with trying to punch him). Whether she will be any more (or less) successful is another question. But it gives both of them another interesting spiritual experience to bat around the table next time they're waiting for the pizza because Alycia's EZ Taco Casserole turns out to be none of those things. (Another thought; unless Summer does something to turn down her hearing systems at night, if Alycia and Daph were making enough noise to wake up Leslie, Summer almost certainly overheard what was being said, too, which would narratively provide some shortcuts.) (Also, "Wait, you heard me say that thing about being a Leo groupie? Eek, sorreee.")