Advertisement Create a free account

59.3 - Jalycia

[This should probably be held up for publishing at the end of the current campaign. But, what the hell, I've written it and don't want to restrain it (or, worse, forget about it). Consider it a very-near-future thing that hasn't happened yet, but will, with luck, soon.] The lift opens up, and Jason ushers me into the family quarters at the Quill Compound. As always, I enter with a weird mix of fascination (so many toys!) , familiarity (I know exactly where the tea cabinet, Ibuprofen, and spare USB cables are kept), and apprehension (Will I? Won't I? Should I? Shouldn't I?) . "Over here. The conversation pit." "Oh, are we conversing tonight?" He grins, that grin that always makes my heart do that weird twingey thing. "If that's what you want. It's your birthday." He waves jazz-hands into the air in celebration. I roll my eyes. He's been using that line on me all evening, since he picked me up and took me to Pinnacle's for dinner. That meal went far more smoothly than at the night of the big dance, but I can't help worrying that it's because we've thrashed through everything. Are we a couple? (Yes, but let's not talk about what that means.) Are we sleeping together? (No, and I don't want to talk about why not.) What happens after I graduate in a few weeks? (Don't talk about it.) What are Jason's long-term plans? (Don't talk about it.) What's going on with the team? (Don't talk about it.) What's going on with us? (Don't talk about it.) It's a wonder we actually kept up any conversation at all. It's a greater wonder that the frustration around it all doesn't cause me to pick a fight -- maybe, in part, because I realize that so much of it is my own fault. The ride to the restaurant, then back here, was full of a lot of silence. Some of it felt comfortable. Some of it ... not so much. I hate this. I'm just not sure what to do about it. Each time I think of a way to break any of those log jams, some sort of mental cattle prod of fear pokes at me and I flinch back. "Can I get you anything?" Jason asks as I walk over to the pit.  "Ice water, slice of lime," I respond. "Jason, who the hell puts a conversation pit in the middle of a penthouse?" "My dad, apparently. The floor below is the lower machine room --" "I know what's below." I had plenty of time at one point to check out the blueprints. And the results. "That's why some poor office worker doesn't have a four foot ceiling in his office. But it's still kind of crazy." "Well, we are talking about my dad," Jason says, bringing back the ice water. He's got a Coke. We sit on opposite sides of the pit, flip down drink holders freeing our hands. Jason tweaked the color scheme and some of the fabric when he was having the place repaired after Vector's bombing, but it's largely the same design, only a bit more contemporary. "I just always considered it natural, until I realized it wasn't." He looks at me for a moment, then adds, "It can convert into a large hot tub, too." "What?!" "I don't know that they ever actually used it, and it might have turned out to be structurally unsound. I figure the water would weigh about 10 tons, completely full. But, yeah, if you remove the cushions, you can pull back the carpeting, do a few other things, and you end up with a jacuzzi for twenty. Maybe thirty." "Now there's a party," I say, with a smirk. Jason blushes. "Like I said, I don't think I ever saw it used. But ... well, if you ever want a romp in a giant hot tub ...." "That would take enough water to provide for a Somali village for a week. I wouldn't dream of using it." He gets a crooked smile. "Yeah. Figured." Great. I'm that predictable. Time to change the subject. "So, you said there was something here you had to show me." "Right. Sit right there and close your eyes." A jolt in my gut. I only arch an eyebrow. "Jason. Really?" "I promise, no funny business. If I betray your trust, you have my permission to hurt me." "As if I need your permission." "I promise to let you." "As if you could stop me." He grins. "Close your eyes." I really don't like this kind of game. Father had a regular training exercise where he would start with "close your eyes." He didn't ask nicely, nor did it ever turn out well. It's Jason. It's a thing people do all the time. Regular people. I close my eyes and try not to tense up.  I hear a drawer open and close, a crinkle of paper, footsteps on the carpet coming over to me. I know precisely where he is, how I need to move to defend myself if --  "Keep them closed. Hold out your hands." I don't move for a moment. "Lycia?" "Father --" I start, then stop. I swallow. "He used to --" "Oh, shit, Lycia, it's okay, open your eyes, it's not --" "No." "Wait, what?" "I can do this. I can have fun and be surprised just like a normal person." "Alycia, you don't have to --" I thrust out my hands "Put the damned gift in the damned hands already!" He whuffs out a breath, then I feel a weight descend carefully on them. I gingerly grasp the object, then feel out its shape. A box, duh, wrapped in smooth wrapping paper, pre-made ribbon taped to the top, an envelope taped beside it. "You, uh, can open your eyes now," Jason says, quietly. I do so, but I raise them to his face, rather than looking at the gift. "Sorry. That was -- me not handling that well." "I didn't --" I snort. "Jason, you might as well work from the assumption that anything you say to me, do with me, etc., is liable to cause some awful memory to come back. I can't promise otherwise. But -- I don't want you to feel like you're walking in a minefield." Even if you are. "I just -- I'll keep -- trying to, y'know, be like normal people." "You are normal people." "I'm not, and we both know it. You're not normal, either, but at least you kept most of your sense of humor." I smile crookedly at him. "Now, should I open my gift?" He grins, and even looks like he means most of it. "I sure hope so. But you have to do the envelope, first." "But of course. Otherwise how would I know who gave it to me?" "Exactly." The box is about 50cm wide, maybe thirty long, and fifteen thick. Maybe a kilo and a half in weight, not evenly distributed. It's sheathed in silvery-blue paper with, miraculously, no "Q" insignia. Jason must have gone out and bought his own wrapping paper, rather than rely on the stuff they use for guest visitor souvenir tchotchkes.  "Can I shake it?" He gets a hugely alarmed look on his face, then laughs. "Should be okay." I shake it. If the interior object moves at all, I can't prove it. No rattling or rustling or squealing or ticking. My memory tells me I should know what it is, or maybe something like it, but I cut that off. I will enjoy the surprise.  I never enjoy surprises. But this is one meant to please me. I'll give it my best. The card is in an envelope taped to the top of the gift. I open it up. On the ruddy cover is a "cute" dinosaur, a stegosaurus with infantile features designed to make humans go "Awww." Other dinosaurs are silhouetted in the background. Huge falling stars are plummeting from the heavens, but the central character seems oblivious to them, instead saying (presumably) the inscription beneath: "TODAY IS GOING TO BE A GOOD DAY." I look up at Jason, eyebrow raised.  "It's, um, funny? You know, kind of ironic?" I maintain the look. "Because it's like the Nemesis Asteroid event, about to start the K-T Extinction --" "I know the reference, Jason." I snort. "It's morbid, and darkly cynical, and would probably make small children cry." He makes a small nod. "I love it. I wish I had a t-shirt of it. Maybe I'll tape it to my bathroom mirror." I smile. Jason looks relieved, but there's still tension in his posture. "You have to read the inside." "Will the inside make small children cry, too?" "I hope not." I open it up. The pre-printed inscription says, "HOPE YOUR SPECIAL DAY IS A BLAST!" There's writing, too, in Jason's hand: I don't know what tomorrow will bring. But I'm glad I'm with you today. Happy 18th. Love, Jason. Well, fuck. I didn't want it to make me cry. I blink rapidly, clear my throat, look back up at him. "Thanks, hero," I say, softly. Then I raise the other eyebrow. "You know you can sit down, too, rather than stand there like an idiot." He grins. "Maybe I want a head start in case I have to run." "You can run, but you'll just die tired." I bite my lower lip, read it again, close my eyes, compose myself. "Thanks. For the card. And the, um, sloppy sentimentality." I pause. "I -- love you. Too." The words never come easily, even if they're true. Maybe because I second-guess them every time I say them. His grin gets bigger. "Wow. And that's before you actually open your gift." "It's not contingent on getting a gift." "I know. But --" He wags his head side to side. "Just -- I want you to open it." He isn't quite bouncing up and down with the eager anticipation of a kid about to open a gift for himself ... but it's not far from it. "I was thinking of finishing my water first." "Lycia." "And rereading this very soppy card. I mean, from a hyper-genius? Really?" "Lycia!" "And the Alvarez Hypothesis regarding the K-T layer has run into a lot of difficulty lately, so it's almost certainly not --" "Lycia, open the damned box." I set the box down, shoot him with finger guns, and grin. He barks a laugh, and covers it up for some reason.  I begin carefully peeling opening the wrapping paper. The box underneath is old, a light-colored cardboard with metal reinforcements around the corners. A barcode sticker is slapped on one end with printing underneath it; I recognize a location code and container ID for the Quill Warehouse complex, having worked there for six months last year -- though obviously I don't know what's in this box without calling up the information on a secured inventory terminal. Which would be kind of rude to do right this moment.  On the top lid, on one corner, is a small, old inscription in pencil, slightly smudged: "Sumatra, 5/9/00." The handwriting is not Jason's. "That's May 9th, not September 5th." "Yes, I'm aware of American idiosyncrasies in short-form dates." "Your birthday. Birth date, that is." "Yes." "Eighteen --" "I get it, Jason." My look at him still has a smile. He's obviously given all of this a lot of thought, and I don't want to ruin his fun, even if it's my birthday. I set the box on my lap, and carefully pull off the top. An old piece of foam fills the top of the box. I gently lift it off. My eyes widen. No. Way. I look up at Jason. If he were grinning any more broadly, his head would split open. "Is this really --?" "A-1 authentic." He blushes again, lightly. "I might have had to test it myself, just to be sure." I look back down into the box. A vortex blaster. It's a large weapon, a pistol with a wide bore barrel, almost like a Very pistol. That barrel contains the mercury-ytterbium coil that -- Vortex blasters first appeared in the early 1960s, and new ones continued to show up through the end of the 1970s. Nobody knows who manufactured them, why they started, or why they stopped. They are all engraved with "GENERAL ATOMICS" on the side, an organization that does not exist, along with some patent numbers that do not relate to any known patents in any country on Earth. Due to their power and lethal nature, vortex blasters were immediately outlawed in most countries and by several international arms treaties, and were subject to rigorous campaigns of roundup and destruction. That only increased the value of those few that remained in circulation, of course.  Father had collected them for several years, both for their efficacy and in an attempt to analyze and reproduce them. After several explosions, including one of truly cataclysmic proportion, he shifted his efforts to discovering their origin, but he was never able succeed there, either. The pistol lies in a custom foam insert on the bottom of the box. The bluish sheen of the titanium shell has lost its polished; it even looks a bit tarnished and scarred. But the retro lines, the swoop of the side ventilation ducts, the crosshatched metal of the grip ...  "It's beautiful." Jason's smile is pretty nice, too. "I'm glad you --" My hand swoops in, lifts the gun out in one smooth motion, and the barrel is pointing at Jason's head. His eyes are wide, his hands slowly rising in surrender. But the grin is still there. "And that's why I gave it to you. Old times." "I did hold a vortex blaster on you a few times." "Four times.  La Paz. The Amazon. Ayers Rock." He pauses. "Antarctica." I frown. "That was not a vortex blaster in La Paz." "It most certainly was." "I was holding it. Trust me." "It was being pointed at me. Trust me." I frown more. "Are you sure? I thought it was a neural lash." "That was Cuzco." My eyes flicker to the side, trying to visualize it. "That was Cuzco? With the museum robbery --?" A tendril of nanobots yanks the gun out of my hand, even as his hands stay in a surrender pose.  "Hey!" The tendril hands the gun back to me, butt first. "Careful. It's loaded." "It has a charge?" He gives me a look. "I knew that. The fluid indicator on the side." I'd also noted the safety was on and I had left my index finger outside the trigger guard. Still ... I take the blaster back, pull out the charge module, press the discharge button to dissipate the remaining energies from the chamber, then recheck the gauge. "This is -- wow." He actually says, "Hee hee." "Where did you -- no, silly question." "Turns out Dad actually had a half-dozen of them in storage. This one he picked up --" "In Sumatra." "Well, yeah. Not from your dad, though," he adds, hastily. "Some science villain named the Sky Tyrant." "Never heard of him." "It was his first and last appearance. Something about sabotaged lift devices and the power of gravity." Jason shrugs. "I wasn't there." "You were, what, two months old?" "Yeah. No paternity leave for my dad, I guess." He falls silent. "Anyway, I thought --" He shrugs. "It just reminded me of ... times past." He bites his lip. "Actually, that's kind of creepy. I'm sorry." "Shut up. It's beautiful." I look at him. "Um, can I actually keep it? Isn't that illegal?" "Oh no!" Jason cries out, slapping his hands to either cheek, his mouth in a great "O," his eyebrows raised. "Whatever shall we do?" "Goofball. 'We' shall certainly keep this under wraps, someplace safe, and not inform certain law enforcement agencies that 'we' have it. These things carry an automatic ten-year bonus in a US federal penitentiary when used in commission of a crime." I snort. "Though -- you're not wrong that it's kind of creepy that the thing we're celebrating and enjoying is a weapon of destruction that I used to point at you in the past. Later model than this, though. This is, what -- a '67?" "Yup. The flaring at the gamma suppressor. Dead giveaway." "They also modified the grip in '68, gave it some indexing." I smirk. "Easier for a twelve-year-old girl to hold." He plops down on the cushion next to me. "Good times, but ... yeah." I look at the pistol. Rub my sleeve against the finish. It looks like a worn, but strong, old friend. Is it wrong I actually kind of find it sexy? Yes, it is. "What the hell are we doing, Jason?" "Um, celebrating your birthday?" "Wǒ kào, Jason, I'm not talking about your gift -- which, really, is awesome -- but us. I mean, our closest memories are ... my pointing guns at you. Except for the parts where other people were pointing guns at both of us." "When you put it that way ..." he says, slowly. "What other way is there to put it? Our lives have been just this weird set of conflicts and violence and abnormality and --" "And smiles." Jason says. "And saving my life. And saving yours. And playing tag. And that scarf I bought you in the Mercado de Brujas. And --" I raise an eyebrow. "-- Antarctica?" He smiles, slightly. "Not for nothing." "I think we need more than terrified we're-going-to-die sex under the Antarctic ice cap to build a relationship on." "I can think of worse things." "You're a guy." He shrugs, but doesn't look repentant. "I mean it, Jason. What do we --?" "Sunset at Kauai." Brilliant red above a sea of blue. Jason smiling at me. "That little cafe in Ayagoz." Jason almost dislocating his arm, bolt cutters snipping our shackles. Intensely hot coffee that saved our lives. "Kuala Lumpur." "You cannot count yourself as a civilized human if you've not read Snow Crash ." "All right! All right!" "My twelfth birthday." I ring the doorbell to the hotel room, knowing he is alone for at least the next two minutes, knowing the security cameras are disabled for another thirty seconds. He opens the door, and I hand him the book I wrapped with my own hands with wrapping paper I stole from the hotel lobby store.  Even as his eyes widen, I am halfway down the corridor and gone. "My thirteenth." I lower myself down, touching softly to the floor. I can hear him breathing, alongside his brother, there in the night-shrouded hotel room (a hemisphere or two away from the previous year). I set the envelope with the graphic novels atop his duffel bag. I want to see his face, but if they catch me I know they will kill me. So I slip out just as silently, back up through the ventilation duct. "The Sepiaverse." I see him, standing there, looking at me. "Hello, hero," I say, hearing the roar of a gun behind me, knowing I'm safe. His eyes are wide, are fearful, are hard, are full of loss, are full of determination. My own mirror them ... I shake my head. "Unnatural boundaries. Montagues and Capulets. Loneliness and rebellion. Madness." I shudder. "Jason, that's not a life . That's ... reaction. Desperation." "The dance. Movie night. Jogging after school last week." "I --" "We're not normal, Lycia." He gently puts a hand to my cheek. "But that doesn't mean we're wrong." I stare at him. After a moment, I say, "' Little, and broken, but still good. '" "Yeah, something like that. I just -- when all this started, when the Menagerie was first coming together, I was obsessed with normalcy. Ruing that I'd never known it. Resenting that. Hating it. And hating me, too, because of it. I just wanted some friends. I wanted to be not hunted down by you. I'd forgotten -- been made to forget so much. I was unhappy." I nod.  He puts his hands down on my leg. "Since you've come back, it's been -- better. Since I got my memories back --" "Since I got my emotions around those memories." Jason nods. "It's not normal. Nothing about us will be normal. But ... maybe that's not what we should be chasing after. I just know --" He touches my cheek again, this time with just his fingertips. "I know I love you, and want you, and you make me more complete and better and smarter and -- I dunno, more awake . A better me." I put a hand on the hand against my face. "You --" My eyes are wet, and I don't care. "You helped me be human. Back then. You were my lodestar, even when I didn't know it. Even when I couldn't feel it. You --" I close my eyes. I can't look at him. I don't dare. "You're the most important person in my life, and that scares the hell out of me." He leans in, putting his arms around me. "I don't want to scare you." "You don't. I scare me." "Let me help." I smile, even though nothing is funny or ironic in what he says. He wants to help me. I -- want to help him. He loves me. I love him. Our memories, our times together -- they're different. They're not what other people have. But maybe they're more of a foundation than most people get. Maybe I don't have to be scared. Maybe --  "Jason --" "Yeah?" he says, out of the darkness beyond my closed eyes. I whisper something in his ear. He swallows. "Are you sure?" "Yeah." Dumping a authentic, vintage General Atomics vortex blaster on the floor is a stupid thing to do. It's not something a normal person would do. I don't care. I embrace the not-normal. #Cutscene #Jalycia NOTES: After some of the darker cutscenes lately, I wanted one a bit more upbeat (even if it insisted on being serious in some places), starting with the idea of Jason giving Alycia a vortex blaster for her 18th birthday (the date for which fits both one of my go-to fiction dates and the impending end of the school year, which I think has to somehow be tied into the end of the campaign for the nonce). This one ended up requiring a lot more research than I'd anticipated, given the amount of stuff I've thrown into Jason and Alycia's backstories (which, like all good comic books, seem to have compressed about decades of encounters into a 4-5 year timeframe, tops). A few reference links: https://app.roll20.net/forum/post/6084438/26-dot-4-the-horrified-satisfaction-of-the-aggrieved-dead-jasons-tale-recap-cutscene   https://app.roll20.net/forum/post/6716478/51-dot-1-dance-the-night-away-alycias-tale   http://wiki.menagerie.team/Alycia_Chin#Early_Encounters_with_Jason_Quill https://www.teeturtle.com/products/good-day?variant=32616380297  
1542046873
If Alycia comes home and there's humming (and assuming it's Alycia and not the vortex blaster), Summer will be there with a hug and a smile, ready to listen and congratulate as needed. That would go probably as you'd expect. :)
If ... No, she'd definitely come home (baby steps, baby steps). And, yes, there would likely be humming. Though she will make a conscious effort not to, um, wax quite as enthusiastic as Daph. And she'll also probably try to be overly-concerned about how Summer's taking it, which Summer will likely defuse/deny any worries about. And so it goes. Most noteworthy comment. "All things considered -- yeah, an actual bed in a climate-controlled building has a lot to recommend it over terror and parkas in sub-zero conditions in a rubber dinghy. Though ... that had its own once-in-a-lifetime charm."
1542050838
*** Dave H. said: And she'll also probably try to be overly-concerned about how Summer's taking it, which Summer will likely defuse/deny any worries about. And so it goes. You're probably best at deciding how that followup goes (since Alycia-Summer conversations famously go off the rails), but I think an essential element has to be Summer convincing Alycia, that "Summer is Ms. Steal Ya Boy" comes from Alycia's own doubts, and helping her confront those doubts. But if you think it'd be more interesting to see where that went, let me know and I'll jump in. Most noteworthy comment. "All things considered -- yeah, an actual bed in a climate-controlled building has a  lot  to recommend it over terror and parkas in sub-zero conditions in a rubber dinghy. Though ... that had its own once-in-a-lifetime charm." Summer:
I think Alycia's well over that. She thinks Summer and Jason could still be an item, but she knows Summer's not pursuing that, out of respect for Alycia and Jason (and Jalycia). It's more ... consideration, a return of that respect. Alycia also knows Summer had feelings for Jason, for all she was willing to dive out of the way when she returned. It probably occurs to Alycia (likely a paragraph or two too late) that talking about how wonderful everything is with Jason might be ... uncomfortable (even without any sex talk, love-the-gif), and even kind of rude, even if Summer is appropriately oohing and aahing and even if she's sincerely happy about Alycia and Jason finally making a big step forward in their relationship.
1542053372
Fair enough then. :)
1542053527

Edited 1543000515
.... I might actually take a shot at doing a version of this conversation, but only in reaction gifs and other images. EDIT: I did .
Please!
I enjoyed using the vortex blaster as the McGuffin in this particular story. Alas, it was only after it was posted that I ran across this wiki entry for it by Doyce, many moons ago, as part of the "Lexicon of the Lost 500 Years" lexicon game we were both in, otherwise the description for it might have been very different: "You talking monkeys and your ''guns''."   -- [[Kaldath]] ----- Now, my opinion means as much as wedding vows in the [[Year of the Burning Dogs]], but this is my rant and if you don't like the fact that I'm about to stand forth about the finest weapon to be found anywhere (in my less than humble opinion) go surf the Jovian Moons. That said, here is my screed: no one ever has (or probably, ever will) produce a better weapon than the Vortex Blaster. Period. Full stop. ''First things first:'' not everything Vortex put out was the godsend that their Blaster was. Their tactical rifles left a bit to be desired (such as accuracy, reliability, and affordability in a not-so-classic jab-jab-hook combination). I never trusted [[Kalbans]] from any manufacturer, since the performance characteristics of the rounds themselves are too bloody unstable to bother building a cartridge around. Essentially, I’m not talking about the company at all (even though Vortex is/was the [[Earth]]’s oldest ''extant'' weapons manufacturer and had more of their collective business together than nearly anyone else out there. The mud-thumps at [[Manning|ManningCorporation]] could've learned approximately Infinity+1 things from one day at a Vortex plant). But no, I’m talking about the Blaster; the finest handgun ever made for the following three reasons: ''''First: Reliability:'''' You can have all the pretty gold trim, plating frills, destroy-your-soul-if-you-can-hit-the-damn-thing stopping power and sleek "performance enhancing" accoutrements like [[Zograscope]] optics or [[Aetheric|AethericDomain]] compensators, but if the weapon won't touch off and create a gaping hole right where you tell it to every time to squeeze the trigger, it’s not a tool, old son; it's a prop. I've heard the Manning praised as the starting and stopping point of [[tesseract firearms technology|TesseractOfficers]]. This argument leaves me confused as to whether I should chuckle or fire directly in the face of the fool who make it. The Manning is about as dependable as a [[Department of Cancellations]] policy statement.  My blaster, on the other hand, has never coughed, blanched or hiccuped with whatever I've tried to do with it. I simply can't say a thing against them; you can drop a Vortex Blaster in a riverbed, drag it through the mud, pick it up, shake it off reasonably well and shoot a man deader than [[Ben Faulk]]. And no, that's not a confession. ''''Second: Ergonomics:'''' The Vortex Blaster simply feels and looks good. I don’t know if it’s the black bakelite, the platinum inlays or the way the grip feels like your beloved is holding your hand, but honestly it’s probably the simple fact that no matter how right it feels when you’re holding it, it feels nearly ''perfect'' when you fire it. Now, it's common knowledge that [[Ada|AdaWillamette]] regularly out-shoots me and my blaster with any kind of ‘modern’ slug-thrower. However, let it also be known that Ada out-shoots me with my ''own'' pistol as well. She's simply a better ''shot'' than I am. I think I could use any weapon I want and give Ada a atl-atl with the handle on backwards and she'd beat me.  The point, however, is that nearly anyone could pick up a Vortex Blaster and growl out shots that would ''bowdlerize'' anything from [[Wooden Mechas]] to fully-armored [[Zulus]].  Here's the thing: if you shoot me with a typical modern handgun (in the foot, most likely, due to the regretable action of physics on the slug) and I shoot you nearly anywhere with a blaster, I'll limp; you'll die. The experts call it shot placement, children. ''''Third: Universality:'''' Well, that ''was'' one of the benefits. The Vortex Blaster, in various incarnations and models, was the [[Chancels Legion]]’s designated sidearm from the mid-1980*s clear through to the Rollback, which made parts practically ubiquitous in any weapons shop on any world or station. One could go just about anywhere in aetheric space (assuming one were the sort who traveled interstellarly with a military-grade sidearm) and find parts for one’s blaster if need be. You couldn’t say that about Mannings, and Creator forfend we ever say the same about Kalbans. Then again, going back to reliability, it should be noted that after firing my own weapon ahh... let’s be discreet and say "many many" times, it's only ever ''needed'' one repair. The trigger return spring broke.   ''''Excerpt -- ''From My Cold Dead Hands, an Essay'', by James Dunsmuir'''' (apocryphal, disputed)