58.2 - Popcorn (Alycia & Summer)

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"All right. So. Friends-slash-housemates share information about likes and dislikes. I've -- been doing reading on the subject, since -- well, my own personal experience in the matter hasn't been exactly normal." My left eyebrow rises. "Not that the current experience is 'normal,' but it has the trappings of normalcy about it, and that's ..." She pauses a moment, looking for the word. "... nice." She gestures to the TV. A large bowl of popcorn is on the coffee table, in front of Summer, hopefully enough for the two of them. "So, TV Night. Right? I mean, most television is such a wasteland that it makes the cliche that it's a wasteland almost an understatement. But I have found a couple of palatable offerings, and I want to ... um ... share." A flicker of something crosses her face, gone in a flash. (Leslie is somewhat retro in her media subscriptions, still using the local cable. To Alycia's question about it, she said, "Give it another couple of years for the streaming / set-top market to shake out. Cable works, and I get a good discount -- I do some work on their branded race car.") The screen is DVR-frozen on the crudely animated show intro intro. "Okay," Alycia goes on with obvious enthusiasm, "so the goal of this competition show is to forge weapons within a time limit and using the equipment provided, then have those weapons succeed at various tests. On one level, it's kind of stupid -- why hand-forge something when you can actually buy what you need commercially, or even hire someone to manufacture it for you. I mean, you don't see a show where people are constructing electron microscopes for a prize. But, on the other hand, there's something very real and visceral about the challenges, for all the showmanship, and there's none of the soap opera melodrama of some other so-called 'reality' shows." She makes a face. "And, well, um, weapons. So ... any questions before I hit play?" #Cutscene #RP
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Summer's wearing her sweats, and a facial expression that's happy, eager, and still a little baffled. It's the same stilted formalism that Alycia uses when talking about difficult subjects. "Hey, roommate, come watch this show with me" would be what anyone else says. She's different, I'm different, we're all weirdos. So: a show about competitive weapon-making? Alycia likes weapons, clearly enough. Alycia likes competition. When it comes down to it, this is the perfect show to appeal to her. But why does she think I'd-- ah. She's not trying to get me to like this show. She's trying to get me to like something she likes. Well, that's fair. Summer knows that she, herself, is a bespoke creation of craftsmanship. What about swords that made other swords? The thought sends a smile to her lips. And aside from that, this is still chemistry and physics at work. She can imagine a long line of practical scientists, stretching back into antiquity, betting the lives of themselves and their families on their knowledge of how metal behaves. Now that's something worth watching. "No questions. Play on, I'm looking forward to this."
Alycia doesn't quite enthusiastically wiggle or jump up and down in place on the worn but comfortable couch, but she's clearly pleased. The competition begins -- a quartet of folk with various bladesmithing or forging experience, being given materials from a set of garden tools (!) to forge into a short blade of specified dimensions within two hours, overseen with color commentary from a quartet of judges / announcers. Competitive drama ensues, mostly around the variability of experience, the materials chosen (lawnmower blades seem to be popular), design decisions, and random elements that aren't clear. Alycia's enrapt, making observations to Summer less on the craftsmanship (though she seems to be doing everything but take notes, regardless of her previous disdain) than on metallurgy and on the relative merits of the different blade styles the four craftsman are pursuing in terms of what they would be good for in a utility or combat setting. She heaves a sigh at the first commercial break, though rather than fast-forwarding through the commercials, she mutes the them (she is, of course, the one holding the remote) and turns to Summer, popping a kernel of popcorn into her mouth from her hand. "My bet's on the one with the ponytail. He seems to have the most competitive spirit." She pauses, furrowing her brow. "I wonder if the Grail Knights have to forge their own blades, or if they are somehow provided to them. Might provide some insight into their psychology. If we're going to be encountering more of them --" She makes a face. "-- while pursuing Charlotte's thing, that sort of knowledge would be tactically valuable."
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Summer's mostly happy that her friend is happy, although there is some appeal in the show itself. It's fun , watching people do what they love, what they're good at. And they're competing in a time and way where their skill and weapons will decide the outcome of the struggle but without anyone being hurt - how ironic is that? I wonder if Alycia would roll her eyes if I compared her to a sword, being reforged into a plowshare. She probably wouldn't appreciate that. The commercial comment is the same dispassionate detached style Alycia uses. This time, Summer feels on firmer ground. She pops some popcorn into her own mouth, and crunches, savoring the buttery taste. "I 'unno. Let's go ask him soon."
"Him? William?" She nods, thoughtfully. "Well, he seems more approachable than that Lucius character. Walked right in, sat us all down, lectured us, gave us his 'wisdom' and 'insight' after we saved his ass. Autocratic King Arthur wannabe."  She crunches down hard on another kernel. She only takes one at a time. "That is precisely why we need a leader -- because in a vacuum, Older and Wiser and More Annoying Heads come in and tell us what to do. Rrg." She turns and hits play just as the show starts up again. The competitor with the ponytail is eliminated during the first judging because of cracks in his blade. Alycia glowers. The others get a follow up assignment to put handles on their blade using a predefined set of materials, as well as tips on how the judges expect the blades to be further refined. "And Adam," she says a few minutes later as if the discussion hadn't been interrupted. "What the hell was he thinking? No, strike that -- we know what he was thinking. We felt it. But ... damnation. Changing our memories, or giving us false memories of the world the way he wanted it to be. That's scary that he could do it -- and scary that he did, and scary that I --" She frowns, eyes still on the screen as one of the competitors, this one a woman with short blond hair, is trying to fit a pin through the handle material and the hole she drilled through the tang. "C'mon," she mutters. "You have the best blade design. You can make a handle that works." The show cuts to commercial as the woman taps the pin one more fateful time and the handle material cracks. Alycia grunts in frustration, mutes the ads. "He's put everything to right -- this time. But what about next time? What if he does something more subtle? What if we don't remember the change? Or what if he hasn't really changed things back, only made us think he has? I mean, will every time in the future that I discover I've misremembered something -- and it does happen -- will I have to wonder if Adam's dicking about with the universe again?"
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Summer offers a hand, sliding it toward Alycia's shoulder in a gesture of comfort - and solidarity. But her eyes also study her roommate, and the hand hesitates, ready to pull away at any sign of reluctance. "Leo screwed up a life. Creating Pneuma the way he did. He resisted owning that at first. He realized what he'd done." She sighs. This is still not an easy topic for her. "And he changed. He won't do it again. I think I saw the same thing in Adam's eyes. I think he gets it. I hope." She smiles a little. "I think it's gonna cost him something. He did something that makes his life better, now he's undoing it. I'm gonna acknowledge that if I talk to him about it." And you should too. I can't say that though - I have to trust her. And, to her credit, she's grown so fast. I think she will. She looks back at the screen. "And I mean these folks. They're making mistakes too. It won't cost anyone a life on the show. But back in history, it would have, wouldn't it? Could you be a smith if your swords broke and people who trusted you had died?"
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"Hell, screw up badly enough and it was your whole village that could get stomped." She snorts. "On the other hand, for a long time they were dealing with such crap material -- bronze, iron, early steel -- they were probably used  to things breaking." She falls quiet, watching an ad for some show about digging on an island for something, then at length says, "If someone gave me the power to ... fix  everything in my life ... my past ... even my present ... I don't know that I could trust myself not to use it." She throws a wan smile at Summer. "If I knew what I'd do, I'd be my father, right?" She looks back to the TV, holding out the remote. "That makes it hard to trust someone else to make those right decisions." Alycia clicks on the mute button, just as the show restarts. She has a small smile, as if considering it a triumph. "I've seen a couple of these," she adds, "where they realized during the first round the blade was too flawed, or where it broke during the forging process, and they had to start all over, learning from their mistakes -- but with all that previous time lost. That fits real life, too." She snorts, softly, presses her lips tightly together. "After this is over, I have something I need to -- something I need your advice on." She eats another kernel of popcorn. On the screen, one of the judges is hacking on a huge bone of some sort with the woman's knife. He stops midway, and reports that the handle she made -- that she re made -- has fractured as well, disqualifying her from the final round.
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Summer devoted one hand to a comforting contact. She glances down at her free hand for a moment. Someday, this could break too. "You're not your father," she murmurs. "You're wise enough to ask for help. And wise enough to give it too." She's aware of the television, her friend and roommate and teammate beside her, herself, the popcorn in front of her, the enticing smell of it, a memory of the taste, the experience of salivation as she wants to eat more. She remembers what Lucius said, about taking care of her needs. Alycia has a point. Screw him for being right. I do miss having someone, god dammit. I miss things like this.  I want someone I can just pull across the couch and kiss. I want to crawl into someone's lap and curl up and stay warm and comfortable. I'm stupid and needy. Why is she asking for my advice anyway? But she watches the show, and waits, and hopes she's up to the challenge.
The show progresses. Down to the final two competitors, they are then assigned five days at their home forges to recreate an iconic historic blade, a Chinese jian , which will then be tested further. "I always find this part interesting," Alycia says, nibbling on popcorn. "I mean, look at these two guys -- that one has a power hammer in his shop, and a large forge. He has the tools he needs. The other guy does it all with a hammer and anvil, and has a freaking coal-fired forge. There shouldn't be any competition, but they always seem to both accomplish the task." She snorts. "I always vote for the guy with the right tools. Well, I vote for the guy who seems the most professional. Who isn't a dick. But if I gambled I'd expect the one with the tools to win." The show cuts to commercial as the guy with the 'right tools' tests out his blade on the third day of forging and it snaps. Mute. Alycia turns to Summer. She claps a hand on the one Summer's still got on her shoulder with the opposite hand. "I just --" A pause. "I know I've been whinging about the memory thing. But I heard what you said to Adam today. That sort of thing is core to you in a way that even my bizarre life doesn't reach. I want you to know I heard you. And that was part of what made me so angry at him --  makes  me so angry -- even if you're being your typical Summer self in forgiving and supporting him." She offers a crooked smile. "What's the opposite of 'the voice of your conscience'? Not that I'm urging you to not be forgiving and supportive. God knows it's -- been important to me."  
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Summer's smile is slow to appear, but like the lazy dawn it brightens and brightens and brightens. "That's still the conscience, sweetie. The conscience is the voice that tells us what's right and wrong. Sometimes what's right is forgiveness. Maaybe not always." She reaches out and brushes her free hand through her friend's hair, and looks directly at her. "But when someone has hurt me, and I forgave them, I think it's worked out really well so far." "I know you're angry. I hear you, too. I still feel kinda mad." Hurt, betrayed, confused, scared, furious. Mostly just disoriented and lost. "And we feel like we're entitled to those feelings, like we deserve to feel that way. Mercy asks us to give up on that. And any time you have to give up something you think you earned, you resist. So forgiveness isn't always easy."
"It's not one of the virtues I was taught," Alycia says, with a smirk. "Though, to be fair, there were others he practiced, and still others he thought he did." She snorts. "It's an irony, I suppose, that I, so dependent on forgiveness, find it difficult to do. Not from malice, but from fear of being further betrayed. Even with --" She shrugs, slightly, under Summer's hand. "-- a noble example." The show starts back up. The contestants are back from their homes to the studio where their swords are to be tested. Both have met the visual requirements of the challenge; the one with the more primitive equipment, has done a better job with some decorative elements. Alycia calls these out, but seems mixed. "They look pretty, but he should have used his time improving the weapon itself. Plus, I think he used the wrong ideograms -- he says they say free as in 'freedom,' but they mean more like free  as in 'no charge.'" That one draws a major smirk from Alycia. The first test has an Asian man using each sword in a series of thrusts and cuts against hanging pig carcasses, verifying that both can be used to kill others. "I actually got some training in jian use, learning t'ai chi .   Not much, though; other weapons seemed much more practical, no matter what the Grail Knights might think."   
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Summer eases back as the show resumes. She doesn't break contact, just changes it to a lazy neck scritch, the kind that always relaxed her when Leo did it, the sort of thing you'd offer a grumpy cat who was too proud to ask for petting but enjoyed it anyway. "A couple kids at school asked Aria and I in the hallway about their Chinese tattoos. She said how should we know? They said we looked Asian, so we should know." The girl shrugs, but slightly so as not to disrupt the scritching. "But if I said I love someone in English, even that's confusing, 'cause it means multiple things, y'know?" Probably why I'm so reserved about being affectionate with friends. Leo and I went through so many different shades of intimacy, dating, being friends, it sorta blends together for me. Maybe that's one reason I'm staying away from finding someone. I'll be too clingy. Even now, I'm working to figure out how much contact Alycia's okay with, and where is too much. The comment about the Grail Knights gets her more animated. "Well, so, reasoning it out. They're a group, they've been around, they fight magical stuff from what Lucius was saying. Their name, those facts, point to the sword being a special tool or something, right? And Armiger is contributing on the Irregulators, as far as I know. So whether a typical sword is useful or not, theirs probably is." Everyone has a usefulness. I know - I think anyway - that you sometimes wonder whether you keep up with us, Alycia. You do. Is that what you're wondering about?
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Yes, this level of contact is what Summer considers "holding back". If Alycia does find her a boy, he better be prepared.
[Yyyeah, Alycia's just about at the point -- well, let me show rather than say. :-) ]
Ack-kk-kkkk. Alycia has been trying to be ... social . Which she realizes for Summer includes casual physical contact which seems to be the case for a lot of people but Alycia just doesn't ugh physical contact threshold reached emotional reactors on overload -- Alycia, you're be ridiculous. It is one of the things she likes about Jason, though. He's not a casual toucher. Growing up in a household of all males, she assumes. Regardless, it's a way they're compatible ... except, of course, when one or the other wants to touch / be touched in that  way. But that's usually very different in origin than what Summer's doing. I hope. I mean, it's come up in conversation and all, but --. Maybe take it more like a friendly dog that insists on jumping up.   Bad example -- Alycia has even less experience with friendly dogs. The dogs she knows best jump only when they are going for a throat, hamstring, or weapon arm. She manages to not quite slide away on the couch. It's me, not her. I don't want to make her think I'm uncomfortable-slash-offended-slash-squicked out by someone scratching the back of my neck, even if it does kind of make my hackles rise. Instead, she sort of slides down a bit, then reaches out and grabs the popcorn bowl, holding it out to Summer. "Popcorn?" And then, "Hey, could you learn Chinese? I mean, could you download it sort of a thing, rather than doing it the old-fashioned human read-study-practice-classroom way? If, uh, that's not too personal a question to ask. I know you're not the stereotype, but I don't know enough, as much as I'd like, about what your capabilities -- talents -- are. Okay, I'm sure you could have phrased that much more awkwardy, but I'm not sure you could have made it much  more awkward. 'I know you're not a robot, but can you do robot-like things?' Yeesh.
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Summer takes the hint, and some popcorn, folding her hands in her lap when she's done feeding herself. "I could learn Chinese the normal way," she says. "I'm not ethnically Chinese, not ethnically anything ha ha, but y'know, it'd be good to learn other languages." She thinks a moment. The sword-making stuff is still on her mind, as well as the television, so why not? "Just about the only thing I could learn, y'know, artificially would be martial arts. Muscle memory. Reflex actions. I'd still have to practice to get used to it, but replacing parts of the peripheral nervous system could be done. And um, you could--"  --remix my mind with memories from someone who already had a skill, but the Heart Factory could do that to anyone-- NOPE. Pivot. Quick! "--do the thing the Bot did, a time-accelerated virtual reality. Leo's been working on that, but it's been frustrating for him." The show calls to her again, and a smile leads the way to the next thought. "Maybe there would be a way to plug skills into me, somehow, if I was more complex. My design is stupidly simple, though. I have, like, 1300 individual components. Leo made sure nobody he loved, like Otto and Pneuma, could be hurt. But he also realized that part of reliability is simplicity. Some robots are the fancy-tools thing. I'm the coal-forged hammer-and-anvil robot."
Alycia smiles, visibly more relaxed. So, of course, she drops into her formalistic method of speaking.  "What a philosopher once called the KISS principle. There are advantage to being -- to having a designed structure. Meat-human physiology is the result of four billion years of compromises and fortuitous breeding, being just good enough and lucky enough to pass genes on with whatever mutations have been picked up before the environment or planned obsolescence kills us." She cocks her head. "You are vulnerable to the environment, and wear, and entropy, but you'll probably outlast all of us. Assuming human civilization doesn't collapse -- or collapse for long -- with upgrades you could potentially live indefinitely."  She clicks pause on the DVR, while another of the judges is whacking one of the swords against a mannequin dressed in Chinese armor and shield. She looks at Summer. "I envy you for the things you might get to see." 
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"Leo's Phoenix means even that won't stop me," Summer says, more to herself than to Alycia or anyone else. The thoughts come to her, and she repeats them aloud, because maybe sharing this is important. "Leo feels what I feel. Or I feel what he did, because he did? The great fear that you'll be abandoned or forgotten. All his tech is built to last, but each of us is built to support and protect the others. Aria and I can rebuild each other. The engagement ring he gave her includes encoded connectomes for the both of them. Every Phoenix has his genetic and connectome data - there's enough there to clone Leo Snow, if you really needed." She looks at the screen, no longer smiling. "How old is that jian, the Chinese sword? I mean, weapons had to evolve too, right? Lord of the Rings has swords and axes and stuff. But people trusted their lives to these weapons. When there's selection pressure with variation, evolution naturally happens. But swords are still with us. Still relevant. I guess... I guess someday, I'll be the equivalent of that."
"I think the jian  is a Bronze Age weapon, originally, though it's still around today. Mostly used for martial arts, unless there's some Chinese version of the Grail Knights." She smirks. "Most modern armies prefer automatic weapons to swords. Though while swords were still a thing, they were as diverse as people -- length, weight, how many hands to use, cutting or slashing or piercing, straight blades and curved blades and reverse-curved blades and wavy blades, use in single combat, use from horseback, use on ships, use in shield-walls ... evolutionary pressure and innovation." She snorts. "Leo's smart. Simplicity and redundancy and caring. I can think of a worse legacy for you and your family. Maybe another reason to do what I can to make sure the world -- that humanity -- keeps existing so you people can."
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Summer looks away, awkwardly. Somehow things got really serious again. She rubs her hands together, searching for something to say that isn't painfully sappy or will make Alycia withdraw again. "I um, I think...." There's no other way than just to say it. "I think you and Jason really belong together, Alycia. He's so sweet, and he's got his Foundation and his house and his brains, but he can be kind of impractical sometimes. He really needs someone like you, who thinks things through, who's willing to say what needs saying, y'know? But you need resources that aren't tainted by your dad. And you need, I mean, um, you need someone to love you the way he can. And even if not, y'know, be partners, like Aria would have been for Leo, whether or not they got back together. I remember.. I remember wanting to do what she's doing now, even after.." "I mean, you two don't have to commit to each other, you're both 17, there's time, but... but I think.." She finally turns, and smiles. "I think you can turn the Chin name into something really amazing. I want people to remember you when they hear the name 'Doctor Chin'. You don't have to promise me. But I'd really like that. Y'know, like how swords used to kill people, and now we're making them because it's fun. I think you'd have fun. That's a world I'd like to keep existing in."
Alycia blinks for a moment. Whoa. That suddenly became serious. This isn't the first time Summer's expressed this opinion about Jason and her. I've always resented it a little bit -- too much like I'm being pushed, too much like my own fears and worries and sense of not being ... good enough for Jason. Or for happiness. Or -- whatever. "I can't argue you're wrong," she says, softly. "Jason needs so much from me. And I -- need a lot from him, too." She nods, then frowns. "And that's part of the problem. The frightening part, y'know? How can someone so needy be someone I can trust? How can someone so needy be someone worthy of him? How much of it is just him settling for me because I'm around?" She leans back, waving her hands, increasingly agitated. Her voice starts breaking from the flawless American accent she usually affects, showing her English upbringing and years since around people of dozens of other tongues. "Or me settling for him , because he's the only person who'd -- because he is why I came here, Summer. Why I turned myself in, why I'm here . I mean, yeah, I decided I couldn't do it any more, obey my father, follow him, obey when he ordered me to -- I couldn't follow that way of life. I knew it was wrong. So yay on me! But I could have gone to ground anywhere . I could have turned myself into the DC offices of AEGIS. Or New York City. Or gone to the UK -- no death penalty for terrorism there, right? But I came here . To be near --" She stops, her voice choked. "-- To. Be. Near. Him . How pathetic is that? Especially if I can't -- won't -- seal the deal? Won't commit? I want to, but I'm afraid to. I don't even mean getting married or engaged or my wearing his letterman's jacket. I mean even just saying, doing ..." She trails off into an inarticulate, angry growl. "We have fun together. But -- we don't talk. We're too close, it's all too fraught. So I play the snarky hard-ass. And he's either la-la-la-Jason, head in the clouds, or if he gets his nose rubbed in it that something is serious, then he becomes uber-protective Jason, the Hero of Halcyon.  We -- he's showing me Disney movies. Part of my 'cultural re-education'. We watched Lilo & Stitch  the other night -- and he had no idea why I was so upset. He just liked the music and the animation style and and the goofy Man in Black and -- and I had to explain to him why I was in fucking tears about a story of a creature created by an evil scientist as a weapon, who flees and finds a family of misfits. He just -- didn't get it, and then when he did he wiped the movie off his entertainment center so that it wouldn't upset me any more, and spent the rest of the evening apologizing!" She shakes her head and draws an arm across her eyes. "Хренотень’! This always seems to happen when I talk with you." The tone is dark, then she barks out something that might be a laugh.  "You bring out the something in me. I don't know if it's the best, but it's honest."
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"Honest is best," Summer says in a gentle voice. "Even when it hurts. We learned that again with Adam, didn't we." She turns slightly on the couch, looking directly, still mindful to keep her hands to herself. "It's not pathetic to want someone, or just anyone. It's just human. It's not surprising you'd doubt yourself, doubt him, doubt everything, feel fear, all of that. This is just the process of growing. And I'm going through it too. Like a tree, making new rings. There's the Leo's-girlfriend ring. There's the staying with Jason ring. There's Blintzkrieg ring. There's Alycia's roommate. I don't know what'll be next." "I knew friendship with you would take time, and work. It has been tough. And totally worth it. I think you and Jason will take time, and work, and be tough. And..." There's another sigh, as she gathers strength. ".. I understand, though, at least I think I do. Wanting something and being afraid to take hold of it, wondering if being true to myself requires that I stay away, feeling hurt about how unfair things are.. Thinking maybe it's just me, that I'm alone in what I'm going through. And it's difficult, sometimes, it's really hard.." She pauses, and smiles brightly. "Huh. I'd forgotten that. The Menagerie. Back when we'd researched names, I'd talked about Lilo & Stitch . And that family means nobody gets left behind. And yeah, we might be misfits, but I want us to be your misfits." And she spends a little social currency on a quick, tentative hug.
Alycia stiffens for a moment, then grabs Summer in a tight, fierce hug. Nothing her advanced tech frame and outer shell can't handle, of course, but the pressure sensors note that a normal human would probably be making whooshing and groaning sounds in response. "You are not alone!" she hisses in Summer's left ear. "Never. You are -- you are oh-ohana ." Her voice breaks slightly. "Family. If you will have me, I will have you." Another squeeze, then she holds Summer back out, a hand gripping each shoulder. The smirk is back, even if her eyes are wet. "Though be warned that I identify both as the weaponized experiment and  as the emotionally troubled little girl. Maybe you can be the responsible big sister who tries to do the right, supportive thing, no matter how exasperated she must get."
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Summer beams happily, though she's not too far from tears herself. Every time Alycia opens up a little more, it feels like a crack in the dam. "You're a responsible big sister too, you know," she grins. "We can trade roles when we need, but yes, you will always be part of my family. And I would love to be part of yours." She draws in breath, feeling like it's the right time for a little more honesty. "Jason might get the wrong idea if I said I loved him. Probably some other ideas if I said I loved you. But I do, to both of you, to my other friends too. And he does care about you, and love you, sweetie, I know it for a fact." "The others - well, I dunno about love , but you know? Nobody's ever, ever come to me, or Leo, or Aria, and said something bad about you. We want you on the team. We want you at school. You're like the rest of us emotionally troubled dangerous people. You belong."
"Mine is a family of one," Alycia says, her tone, unlike her eyes, dry. She drops her hands. "As far as I'm concerned, but I'm happy to ..." She trails off, unable to find the right words. "And -- yeah, Jason is ... when it comes to females, he has problems differentiating philia  from eros. I find most males do." A memory, presumably, flickers across her face. "And, yes, your saying to him that you love me would open an entirely different line of confusion -- though, again, in all fairness, that seems to be a Y-chromosome-related thing." She cocks her head. "But you are a loving person, beyond any reserves of cynicism I might have, Summer Newman. And ... yeah, I know Jason loves me. I ... love him. I just don't know if it's in the right way, or enough, or ... and --" She holds up her hands. "I know, I know, I know what you're going to say. I just -- my tank's topped off as far as being told I'm a wonderful person. For tonight, anyway." Alycia pauses a moment, then reaches out and puts a hand atop one of Summer's, lightly. "But you, for all your advice and reassurance and encouragement of others, have your own doubts about yourself. Your 'wondering if being true to myself requires that I stay away' -- from Leo and Aria?"
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This line of questioning makes Summer look away, but she continues to smile. She realizes she could ramble, talk probably too long and too much about her own issues, reveal things she's not ready for. She settles for what she hopes is a brisk digest of the situation. "As - as friends, we'll always be close. No question. Those two have a special relationship. I need distance from that, not from them. Otto's got a similar problem. He's using Phoenix wrangling to keep him occupied. And I have Blintzkrieg, and the Menagerie." She hems and haws on how much to say next. "If you like the Greek divisions, I'll own up to agape and philia any time. I think storge is for children, and I don't have any." May never have.  "Eros is, hngg, I dunno. I never got a chance--" She switches directions, and frowns a moment. "There's - how things look, too, I guess. If I keep sitting with Aria at school, she'll sit with Leo, maybe boys won't approach me, 'cause they're not sure what's going on with us, right? I'm kinda doin' that, um, deliberately. I remember talking to you about robot recognition, about my job and school and stuff, saying that was the easier path for me? Am I doing that again, here? Am I wrong to? What do you think?"
Oh, Isis forfend, again people are asking me  for relationship advice? As if I am a model of healthy relationships. She trusts me, though. She's asking  for my ostensible wisdom. Okay, hyper-genius -- earn that title. "I think -- the issue is not what you want, but what you fear. You fear damaging what Leo and Aria have -- and fear more, I suspect, damaging your relationship to them by pressing the matter. I think you do them a disservice, but I'll be honest enough to say that what that relationship is actually like between the three of you -- focusing just on Leo, Aria, and you -- is outside of my own experience, or any meat-person's. It's not truly incestuous, but it has some of the over-intimate fraughtness of that. But it's also not -- and forgive the crudity, but the language doesn't work right here, either -- masturbatory, but there's an identity of individuals there that has elements of that, rightly or wrongly. The shared identity you have makes it far more than just a mere triangle, or a menage a trois,  but --" She abruptly stops.  Amaterasu on a velocipede, could you be any more analytical and clinical, Alycia? This isn't a presentation at a psychiatric conference, fergoshsake. "Okay, ignore everything I just said. This is the core of any answer I can give you: you are a good person -- a good person -- and anything you do, any choice you make, should extend from that premise. Trust that. Believe in that. Whether you try to grow closer again to Aria and Leo, or find an outside relationship -- philia and/or eros -- of your own (and I note that you left out that Otto seems to be taking that course with his friend Mary), do it based on your worth, your worthiness, and it will likely be the correct decision. Whether you pursue love as a robot, or as passing for meat-human (and understanding that's kicking the can down the road), do what stems from your faith and confidence and love for the valuable person you are ." Alycia rolls her eyes. "In a minute I'm about to tell you that our sportsball team can win the regional championship if you just go out and play with all your heart, so forgive me for that. I'm much better at recommending what knife you should bring to a gun fight --" She gestures at the frozen TV screen. "-- than what your love life should look like. But what I said was heart-felt -- you are  worthy of love and relationship beyond being everyone's best pal. If the world was fair, it would just fall in your lap. It being not fair, you have to live up to it yourself."
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If Summer is surprised or bothered by the clinical terms employed in the first half, she doesn't show it at all. But at the mention of "growing closer again" to Aria and Leo, she shakes her head. It's only at the end that she explains herself a little more. "Being myself is the deal with, um, with Leo and Aria. He thought early on that he could love both Pneumas equally. He can. But we're not just Pneuma any more. Aria's changing. So am I. We're not changing in the same way. Even if there's love in Leo's heart for two different girls - maybe, I dunno - I think I deserve better. And I think Aria does too. We ought - we ought to be enough for someone, each of us. Call it pride, but, whatever, I couldn't live being one half of a girl." She squeezes Alycia's hand. It's not intentional, not even something she seems to notice herself doing. "As for anyone else? Ha. If you haven't noticed, I'm kinda clingy, and I'm holding back with you. Can you imagine dating a clingy Terminator? I can't be bargained with, can't be reasoned with, won't feel pity or remorse or fear, will not stop until someone is hugged. Any boy in his right mind would run screaming." "I don't wanna hurt someone when they find out the truth about me - and they would, if we really loved each other, or were being honest, and I'd need that to happen. And I don't wanna be hurt when someone rejects me, for being weird, being a robot, being too aggressive. And yeah, the world isn't fair, we don't get what we deserve, so..." She finishes with a shrug.
Alycia looks skeptical. "You underestimate yourself, I think. I can't see you as being 'half of a girl,' and I doubt either of them would. I could also -- rrrg, talk at length, albeit academically, about the social and cultural aspects of polyamory, as a rebellion against societal strictures and impositions, as a trap to enable abuse, and as an interesting problem in multi-body physics and orbital instability ... but I won't. Besides, even with the divergence in your experience and personality, there are enough fundamental similarities between the three of you to throw any existing research out the window." She flashes a smile over a fleeting moment, before continuing, "Your situation and options outside of Leo and Aria are more complicated, I know." She nibbles her lower lip. " Believe me, I know. If not Jason in my case, who would want the daughter of a terrorist and ... lunatic killer as a girlfriend. Who could I open up to about my past outside of this weird little world of ours. Hell, I can't even --" She shakes her head, clears her throat. "So I hear you, and -- have no good answers. Keep secrets, even if possible, and the relationship has a crack in it that will someday cause it to break. Wear a sign around your neck saying you're something weird, and you scare off any possibilities, except, I guess, people with weird pathologies." An arched brow. "You probably don't  want to be involved with someone whose primary motive in being with you is thinking that robot chicks in anime are  hawt. " Alycia abruptly grabs a handful of popcorn and stuffs it in her mouth with vigor. Around it, she says, "I know people run into the same problem with less outre secrets than ours. 'I was an child abuse victim.' 'I was a rape victim.' 'My dad did time in prison for armed robbery.' 'I have AIDS.' 'I was an involuntary commit in a mental hospital.' 'I had a radical mastectomy.' Things they don't want to talk about, things they are afraid will scare off people, turn off people. And even by saying those things, those examples, I'm denigrating you , because what you have isn't  a problem or a disease or a -- a shameful past. What you have is a difference but -- a really cool one." She gives a small chuckle. "I saw an article in The Daily Star  a couple of years back -- I was desperate for something to read -- with Torchiere. And he said everyone figured that young, handsome super-hero equals chick magnet. But he said that some women were turned off by that -- they didn't want to be involved with a super-hero, too dangerous, or too much secrecy. Or they were afraid of fire, or even afraid that he might burst into flames in the middle of the night, having a nightmare, and burn them up. But he found someone who could love him for who he was, behind the mask."  She gives Summer a light pat on the knee. "I can't point you at who's out there for you, but I know there's someone who wants and needs and will respond to the good person you are , even the clingy parts." She leans in, and whispers, "And if you find them, let me know, and I'll kidnap them and bring them in and tie them to a chair for you to interrogate." She smiles with a fiendish look in her eyes for a moment, then laughs. "Just kidding. On the kidnap part."
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"What I have in common with those people is that we all have conditions." Summer's voice is soft, thoughtful. "Sometimes conditions lead to problems. Being shamed for something that happened to you is a problem. But I don't feel denigrated at all for being added to that group. And sometimes those things can be blessings too." She looks up again, in better spirits by the look of it. "Leo suffered at his father's hands. You suffered worse at yours. It's led to problems for you both, but it's also a source of strength. You're both good team leaders for having gone through what you did. You understand the uses, and misuses, of power." A sly smile creeps onto her face. "And please, whatever your opinion of polyamory, don't go tying up boys who want to date me. That's my job." There's just enough of a pause to capture Alycia's reaction, then an impish grin breaks out.
Alycia rolls her eyes. "Oh, yes, the BDSM scene sounds like it's totally  you." She smirks. "Unless it was with fur-lined cuffs. Pink  fur-lined cuffs. And feathers. And maybe butterfly masks. And two dozen different safe words. And cookies after." A snort.  Then she sighs. "Look, can we finish the show? I still have something I need to tell you about that you just reminded me of, and -- I need to -- reset my emotions for a couple of minutes, otherwise who knows where they might squirt out." She makes a face. "That was an awful metaphor."
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Summer folds her hands dutifully in her lap, and returns her attention to the show. But she doesn't stop smiling, not once.
The DVR has timed out by now, but Alycia manages to get the program running again. The swords-beating-on-bones test is completed, with the both blades but particularly the one from the better-equipped shop showing some chipping and curling on their edges.  Alycia frowns. The final test is an attack by one of the judges on a set of "grass men" made of bamboo, to see what sharpness they still retain. When all is said and done, the sword forged in the coal fire wins the competition, netting that metalsmith a sizeable check and handshakes from the judges. Alycia clicks off the TV with the remote, and with a look of disgust. "And after all of that, nobody gets to keep the blades they made. The show is filmed in New York state, which prohibits by law -- doubtless to help forestall revolution -- any instructional videos on weapons manufacture. Thus the weapons are classified by the production as props which, apparently, one can  show how to craft, but must be turned in to the production company upon completion." She sets down the remote. "Kept hidden, and safe." She takes a piece of popcorn, chews on it slowly, turning to look at the blank video screen as she goes on. "I have a matter that I have been giving a great deal of thought. I believe I know where my responsibility, my duty, lie, but I -- don't fully trust my judgment here, in about a dozen different directions. I would welcome your counsel."
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Summer isn't invested in the fate of the weapons, and isn't sure she agrees with the motives Alycia attributes to the show or the state. But saying so doesn't help, and silence gives the other girl part of the emotional reset she wants. When it comes to being asked for advice, though, she smiles. "I'll do my best to help you. What is it?"
Alycia is silent for a long moment. Then she turns to Summer. "Three of my father's organization members recently found me. They have been trying to track me down to help me continue my father's mission. I -- have not turned them in, though I know there are general warrants for arrest of anyone in Father's former organization. Instead, I've found them jobs and a place to stay, to -- keep them out of trouble." Beyond the hesitations where she's seeking the right words, Alycia's tone is dispassionate, as if giving a report. 
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This isn't wholly outside Summer's experience. Leo kept spare parts from Rossum's old robots in his scrapyard home, before - before I was born.  But at every moment, he treated them like unexploded bombs: something to study and understand, but never ever to regard as "safe". And to the last, he was right not to do so, wasn't he. She shivers for a moment, in remembrance. In the absence of emotional guidance - and her feelings are tapping out on this one - logic takes charge. She doesn't look at any particular thing, or at Alycia, just out into space. "You know what such people would be like better than anyone. You'd have sympathy for their situation, because you are kind. You'd want them to stay safe, and be comfortable. So they don't want to 'turn', the way you did, or you'd have gone to AEGIS for asylum on their behalf, like you got. It follows that they're still at least somewhat supportive of Dr. Chin's agenda. It then follows that they'd not be supportive of your new agenda. But they went where you told them to go. It follows that they don't know, or that they want you to think they don't know." Her head finally comes up, and turns so eyes meet eyes. "Do you think they suspect? And what will they do when they find out? Not if, when."
She shakes her head. "I don't know." A bite on the lower lip. "They are still dedicated to the Great Mission. I don't have personnel files on them, so I'm having to learn of their background, what makes them tick, why  they are followers of my father. Sociopaths or mercs or idealists or victims of the status quo. Or combinations thereof. That's what most of them are. Were. And/or offspring, in my case." She leans back. The very act of saying something has relieved something of the tension. "I feel -- responsible for them, in some fashion. They're looking to me for leadership." She snorts. "I've given them an undercover assignment. I'm hoping I can establish them as moles -- or thinking of themselves as moles. Covert agents being kept deep undercover, waiting for an order to strike. That could buy me a decade or more of safety. Maybe. Time for them to come to their senses." A sigh. "I can't just let them get thrown in a federal penitentiary or Camp Delta or an AEGIS black site for the rest of their lives. If my father deluded them into what they did in support of his efforts ..." Alycia stops. Her face twitches a few times. "If they don't deserve a second chance, an opportunity to learn and be better, then I don't."
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Summer tries a brief hand on Alycia's shoulder, but hopefully not for too long. "You do deserve it. So they do too." She draws back, clears her throat, and puts on her best Agent Parker voice. "Well, AEGIS Asset Alycia Chin, case file 12742. There's three ways forward. First, you come off betraying AEGIS by not telling us about your own assets. Second, you come off betraying your own assets if you tell us about them, and we don't trust you enough to bring them in, and do it ourselves. Or, you sell us on your ability to handle them, but keep us looped in." She goes back to normal, and smiles, though it's tinged with concern. "I think you already know that I'll suggest cooperation and truthfulness, in general. My insight into people like Rossum and Chin is that they don't like people , they like automata, just that Chin preferred turning people into automata through homeschooling. The good news is that it's potentially reversible. The bad news is that it's fragile. Otto worked really hard bringing Leo back, and he wasn't in the program for a lifetime. I imagine Jason had a hand in your reversal, and I think we can both acknowledge that's still a work in progress." She shrugs. "I mean... I think the most important thing is to keep people safe. And they're people too. So I think your Plan A is involve AEGIS, but convince them you're in control. But you must have a Plan B, hard as it might be. Even if they go to a black site or something, y'know, we got to visit Leo's dad. I don't know if there's hope for him, but if there's any at all, I'm going to try. If we can see him, I hope you can see them, and do your part too, even if it comes to that. So don't give up hope, okay?"
Alycia jerks at the Parker voice, but then puts on a wan smile. Her face becomes more grim as Summer goes on. At the end she shakes her head. "I can't trust AEGIS, because I can't fully trust -- well, trust that I do  have them under control. I think I do, and I don't think that, independently, they're going to go out and start killing people or something -- they wouldn't make a move like that without checking with me -- but that's my personal judgment, and even Parker would be a hard sell for something that flimsy." She gets up, starts pacing. "AEGIS is like Father. They take -- they have to take -- the long view, the Greater Good, even if individuals get hurt along the way. But those three people are my responsibility, both as an inheritance from what my father did to them and because they came to me  for help." She gestures broadly "I can neutralize them, ground them out, I think, by refocusing their energies. Embed them in the community, with a purpose that requires them to keep their heads down. Let the community itself deprogram them. Let them see that the people living next door, the people running the grocery shop at the corner, the people all around them, are individuals, not numbers to be shuffled around as collateral damage to the damned Great Mission." Her voice rises. "What they should be doing is fighting for all those individuals, rather than for some abstract utopia. That was Father's greatest sin, dammit. If I can get them to see that -- that puts paid to Father's insanity, Summer. He loses . We win ." 
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Summer thinks back. Her memories of what Alycia has talked about, what little she's actually said about Dr. Chin, what Jason has said, and what she herself remembers about Rossum, all sort of blend together. She prays she's right. "'Only I have the wisdom to do this, and only I can bear the responsibility. Only I have the vision to steer things properly, the others are wrong.' Alycia, I know you asked my opinion, and I'm grateful, but right now that's what I'm hearing. And it sounds uncomfortably familiar to the fathers we know, doesn't it." She shifts uncomfortably. "I'm not saying you're being your father. I'm saying, please be cautious of it. But at the same time, if you could make them safe for people around them, I think that would be wonderful. I just.. I've learned not to trust that any single person can do something like that alone."
Alycia has a poleaxed look to her, staring back at Summer, in mid-pace in the living room. "I -- no, I'm not -- I --" She stops, closes her jaw with a snap. Turns her head, holding up one index finger. After a moment, she mutters, "Hyper-genius, cogitate thyself." Then, after another long moment, a succinct, "Sali kutti ... rrrg ..." She sags slightly, then smirks, "But I'm being a hubristic messiah for a good  cause, so that makes it all better, right?"  She plops back down on the sofa, loose-limbed. "Well, fuck." She's still for a moment, then, "Thank you. I'm ... glad I asked. I need to think this through. My initial reaction is still that I was right, but -- I need to consider it some more. Maybe test it." She shakes her head slightly, then throws another thin grin at her. "See? Nani. The smart older sister who asks her younger sister if she's making good decisions."
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Summer has been tense, ever since she opened her mouth. Would Alycia listen? Am I saying the right thing? Am I going too far? Am I the one who's wrong here? And even if I was right, would she reject me for her own reasons? She exhales in relief at this reaction, and smiles. "Re-think, test, question. That's what a scientist would do. That's good. And.. being willing to concede you could be wrong is something every person should be prepared to do. I could be wrong. I'd like to be wrong - I want to think you could do it. But... Yeah." She rubs her hands together, still apprehensive. "Whatever you decide, after you think about it, I'll support you - if I can. If you'll let me. I mean, maybe one of them will react badly to something, and you need someone around who can't be shot or slugged."
Alycia smirks. "As if I would let them shoot or slug me." She chuckles, then says, "Thanks. I -- grew up very, ah, self-contained. Talking with you -- I can actually talk. That --" She shrugs. "It means a lot."
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"I need friends too," admits Summer with a wry smile. "Smart, kind, caring friends. It means a lot to me too. You mean a lot." It sounds like Alycia has a lot of work and/or thought ahead of her - we covered a lot of ground, but this feels like it propels her forward. Summer got a little more open about her relationship woes and other concerns, and the ohana callback is, I think, my most favorite in the entire game.
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[Great scene -- densely packed, but I knew it would be going in because I wanted to get some outstanding items on the table while the chance was there. And we did, in fact, hit all but one specific item (and that one I'm fine leaving where it is). There was also an item (the future of the name "Doctor Chin") that Summer raised that Alycia was going to comment on, but there was too much else going on in the scene, so put a tack in that. Notes The Forged in Fire  TV show is one of our household favorites. I got a kick about working it in as a framing device (and, sometimes,metaphor). I enjoyed that Alycia picked the wrong contestant at each challenge. The Jian ,  for anyone who does  have an interest. Where I took the bad-Chinese-engraving from, though, as Summer connected, the article's about bad-Chinese-tattoos. Alycia's t-shirt .  [UPDATE: I stand corrected -- she was wearing that shirt here .] I actually started the Jason and Alycia start watching Disney movies thread intentionally to circle back to Lilo & Stitch, since, in rewatching the movie I was bashed in the face by when Jumba essentially tells Stitch that he was created to be a weapon and that's all he can ever be, and I knew  I had to get Alycia's reaction to it. It turned out to be a lot easier (writing-wise) for her to talk about it with Summer than to actually have the scene with her and Jason. That Pneuma had previously raised the ohana  stuff a (loooooong) while back makes it even sweeter. (As was Jason's summary of the movie: "Science Adventure, right? Explosions, secret missions, aliens, creepy government agents, creepy alien government agents, misunderstood monsters .... And surfing. And crazy music." Dammit, Jason ..). Also, "This is my family. I found it, all on my own. It's little, and broken, but still good. Yeah. Still good."  I really liked that Summer had a different take on the Alycia's Lost Lambs, Alycia's tactics, and Alycia's attitude toward the situation. I teed that up a little bit without knowing the results, and Summer more than came through. I have more to write on them, obviously. I'm really  glad Alycia got to do a bit to (I hope) help Summer, rather than just being the needy like she so often is. Also, a hug.  ]
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Summer doesn't talk about it, because she doesn't want Alycia to feel like a "project". But every time Alycia confides in her, trusts her, tries to help her, or otherwise treats her like a person, it's validating her own feeling of both personhood and independence. So every such conversation is helpful in some way. "Get on the A/S/L ship with Leo and your sister" probably won't pan out. :)  But other things she said were helpful in their own way too. At least Alycia didn't drag her off for bra shopping . But I'm a fan of Daph too, so I'm looking forward to seeing that resume. It'll be super heartwarming if Alycia goes back to Jason and says "let's watch it again", which I'd love to tackle via comics if you liked it but lacked time for it. :)
Alycia would resent being a "project" (having been one for her father). But what you say makes perfect sense. Hopefully it's of help that Alycia seems all-in on her personhood. Heck, though it may feel uncomfortable to Summer, Alycia basically said that she talks more about her feelings (certain a set of them) than she does with Jason -- perhaps because their relationship started in such a twisted fashion, got further bonsaied, and is only now starting to grow. (While I said above I see Jason and Alycia eventually figuring it out, it remains a relationship that could easily fracture; one significant thing going for it is that their being able to engage in other, "normal" relationships is also a bit sketchy, something Alycia alludes to, if in an overly self-critical fashion (of course).) Alycia's support for the Leo-Aria-Summer thing is both a judgment that it would make Summer happy and the fact it appears to be an simple proposition (vs finding a different SO for Summer, which has challenges Summer acknowledges, parallel to Alycia's own).  I did love Summer calling out (internally, at least) Alycia's tendency to drop into Didactic Mode at certain times in conversations (esp. when it serves as a defense against intimate conversations). It was something I was semi-conscious of, but it's always interesting to see the observation from others. I did enjoy Daph's enthusiasm over sports bras; she is a woman of deep passions. More is indeed coming with that thread. Alycia does reference Summer in the bra shopping episode, related to "the most bizarre conversation (which is saying something) I ever had with Summer" -- probably something involving, if nothing else, Summer's lack of need for a bra, given her physical nature, but possibly extending into a discussion about sexy underwear that we probably do not need to cutscene. (Alycia's discomfort is not so much any cultural taboo about the subject of personal underthings as much as discomfort over how to have any intimate discussions.)   In my head, I can't see Alycia going back to Jason with an enthusiastic "let's watch it again." It would likely be a -- heartened by what she's shared here with Summer -- a more serious I'm going to try to explain to you why this is so upsetting for me, but this time in a calm and even sharing fashion, and not with the ranting and raving and appalling amount of tears and the broken popcorn bowl (particularly impressive given the advanced weapons-grade carbon ceramic it was made of)  sort of conversation. There is a finite chance that it will happen, or, more likely, show up as part of another Alycia/Jason dialog. But if you have something shorthand, or even humorous, that you want to do, I'd be (as always) happy to see it.
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It would be awkward for both Summer and I to involve her in any sort of lingerie shopping or discussion so yeah, things are better off where they are on that score. :) I'm interested in that thread to see Daph in action, how she works (apparently she's got some healing jazz going on too? that's neat), and how she interacts with the power. I'm also hoping that we'll see Alycia reacting to that kind of supernatural power. Leo was pretty set in his ways on the subject of magic, Summer's far more welcoming, but where does Alycia sit on that continuum? She seems distrustful of any power she can't control or at least predict. The tone you attached to "let's watch it again" was what I had in mind, yeah - where Alycia can take things more calmly, and really try to convince Jason to understand, as well as grasping what's good about it that he sees. Y'know, sharing and communication, like a healthy relationship. :)
Healthy relationship? Whaaaaaat ...?