14.1 - Can I give you a hand?

I think I’d rather do the Joey/Alex thing asynchronously, through here. It’ll give me more chance to think about my responses. I realize it makes comments/actions from the Peanut Gallery a bit less easy, and if it needs to be read into the record next game, that’ll be its own special thing, but I think this will still be best. If nothing else, it will encourage folk to frequently visit the forum to follow along the drama, right? Um … right?

(If other people do have in-game stuff they want to say/do, or even color commentary, don’t be shy.)

Continuing from Masks-616 #14 - "Going Ape"

Joe swings on the branch over the shallow, brush-choked ravine, and hits the ground with a subdued thud. Gorillas aren’t brachiators, he knows, but he’s strong and agile enough to do some acrobatics of that sort – when there are trees and branches hefty enough to handle his weight a few moments.

The sun, or what made it to the jungle floor, is behind him, as he bears off east from the location of their recent battle, away from the Excelsior and the people who will eventually go back that way.

An errant breeze – no, prop wash – wafts over his head, and one of Alex’ drones drops into his gaze, little red and blue lights signalling rapidly. It’s carrying something, which it tosses at Joe before he can react.

It bounces off his chest and falls down to the leafy ground in front of him. A bionic arm, also Alex’.

Their voice, tinny but recognizable, speaks out of the drone. “Can I give you a hand?”

Joe growls, a deep rumble, and his brow is more furrowed than usual. "You think this is some kinda joke?" He doesn’t quite yell that last word, but he doesn’t say it softly, either.

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Alex shows up in person a few moments later. One shirt sleeve hangs limply at their side, waving as movement or the wind dictate. The incomplete silhouette isn’t something they’ve shown to anyone before.

“A joke is, what do you call the guy with no arms and no legs at the front door? Matt. Who’s the guy with no arms and no legs in the pool? Bob. Being towed behind a motorboat? Skip. I got a million of these.”

They crouch down, peering carefully at Joey. “After the surgeons were done with me, I wanted to run away too. Still do, sometimes.”


“Yeah, well, I guess when the creepy gorilla surgeons were done with me, I was too stupid to run.” He glowers.

His knuckles crack like small tree branches. “Least you can pass.” He screws his eyes shut. “Sorry. That was being an asshole.” Joe makes a huffing sound. “Better off,” he mutters. He doesn’t say who, or than what.

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Alex doesn’t make a move to get closer. They’re not staring at Joey, just sort of… waiting? How much space is right?

“Joey, there’s someone you like. If I asked why, you’d probably tell me all kinds of good qualities they have. Kind, compassionate, witty, funny, good at Scrabble, whatever. You probably think they’re hot but it’s not something you’d talk casually about. Honest question though. If that person got turned into a pangolin or something tomorrow, but still had all those other good qualities… what would happen to those feelings you have?”

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Joe glowers prodigiously. “DON’T. Talk. About. HER.” His eyes are dark. If Alex isn’t staring at him, he’s certainly locking is gaze on them. “She – I can’t talk about her either. I don’t deserve – she’s not – this isn’t some dumb hypothetical, not something from Dr. Greyfogs’s goddamned ethics class. This is --” His large head gives a quick shake. “I know what I am now. I just don’t know what to do with myself. But I’m not – not a stupid high school kid, not someone who goes to dances, or lives in the dorm, or hangs out with --”

He looks, side to side, to see who’s there. “I don’t – I won’t live in a cage, Alex. I’m already – but if AEGIS knew I was dangerous, how dangerous I am, knew what I might do, what I’ve – they’d – they’d want to take that kind of menace down – right? If you …” He trails off

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“AEGIS knows everything I know about you,” Alex counters. “It’s literally my job to report back to them about you, my dude. About all of you.”

They creep closer, not warily, but… cautiously, uncertain about the reception they’ll get. “So here’s what they know about you. One, you are dangerous. Two, you’re not a menace. Know why? Because we’re more than we appear. I don’t think you’d lose interest in your crush as a pangolin. Yeah, physically you’re an ape. You’re also a stupid high school kid. And you’re funny, and annoying, and a lot more.”

They don’t look away, but their voice softens. “I need you to see yourself the way we see you. I want you to like yourself the way we like you. What’s it gonna take, big guy?”

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“I’M NOT WHAT YOU LIKE!” Joe shouts, not trying to be quiet any more, if he was even trying earlier. "I’m a freak! A gorilla man! I don’t know if they pushed my brain into another school, or did some sorta mind switch science fiction thing. I’m not alive! Joseph Martin Moore is fucking DEAD. His thoughts are stuck like a CD in some fucking gorilla zombie! I – why did they DO this? I just wanted to be … a hero! Someone who made a difference. Someone who made things good. But I’m just a goddamned animal with delusions of being human. I’ve already seen it – losing control, going all unfuckable Hulk, super angry losing control tearing everything apart DANGEROUS. You know, you’ve seen. You heard what she said. You KNOW what I am."

He almost sounds pleading in that last phrase.

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“Yeah, I know. Then why are we talking like normal people?” Alex asks. They rise from their crouch, walking closer, unafraid and no longer uncertain. Their single arm isn’t clenched into a fist, isn’t doing anything but swinging loosely with their stride.

“Want me to be afraid of you? I don’t give a shit. I’m not gonna play along with your self-pity. But I’ll be your friend. Throw a punch. Run away. Or talk to me. Your choice. Your choice, Joey. Show me who you really are.”

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“I’m a THING!” Joe shouts out. “Some sort of zombie gorilla monster. I’m dead, dead and gone and body probably mulch in some crazy garden. That’s who I really am. Some kinda … kinda anger beast, a monster – who tears things up outside because – because there’s nobody on the inside. I’m not real, Alex. I’m just some kinda pet monkey who makes people sounds – when he’s not demolishing everything around him. You know it. They know it. My Auntie knows it. If my parents --”

Joe towers over him. “You – you gotta get outta here. Before I lose control again. I – I don’t want to hurt anyone, hurt my friends. Just – let me go. Let me get outta, just leave here. I’ll just – it’s better, out here, alone. Part of the wildlife. Away from anyone I might hurt, crazy wild animal. I – I just can’t. Not now I know, the truth.”

He raises his arms, fists clenched – threatening, but not in a strong way. “Just – go. Don’t make me – just take your arm. Run. Have a real life. With – with all of them. Let me just – just not be someone you knew. It was all made up. Just – not real.”

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Alex doesn’t flinch. Maybe they’re ready to dodge out of the way. Maybe they’re willing to take the hit. Or maybe they don’t believe it’s going to happen.

They respond to the shouting in a quiet voice. “I’m not letting you be lonely, Joey. I’m not gonna leave you alone. But I’m not making you do anything either. You gotta be responsible for this.”

“An animal wouldn’t have talked back to me. A zombie would eat my huge brain and put the leftovers in Tupperware for later. You aren’t those things. You’re a dude who thinks you’re in a jam and there’s no fixing it. Well…”

Alex shrugs. The effect is strange with one arm, as the empty sleeve jerks up and down with the motion. “When they take everything from you, you can’t go back. But there’s ways to go forward.”

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“Right now I am going forward --” Joe gestures. “That way. I dunno where. But … by myself. Whoever that is.”

He slumps, almost visibly deflating. “I – you said it. You said it right. They took everything from me. Everything. I mean, did they think they were saving my life? Or they wanted to see some head honcho back on their feet? Maybe I really am some gorilla ex-mayor, only with some confusing memories they used to jump-start me.”

Joe shakes his head. “Did they even know what they were doing? Tahi --” He waves a massive hand back the way they came. “-- she didn’t think they were very smart. But there must have been a reason – a reason they, that they did this, goddammit.” The last word doesn’t even contain a tenth of the passion of his earlier cursing. His eyes are wet.

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Alex carefully retrieves their arm. Grasping it in their still-attached hand, they use it to ruffle the matted fur atop Joe’s head.

“Why don’t we go to Africa and ask them?” they ask, still in that calm and quiet voice. “But no, not by yourself. Together. All of us.”

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Joe starts at the contact, and pulls away slightly. Facial expressions on his gorilla face are always a bit tough to read, though he’s trained himself to force expressions that make sense to normal people trying to do so. Right now, his face is somewhere between embarrassment and fear. “Don’t – I mean, sorry, that’s rude. I just --” He shakes his big head slowly. “-- don’t feel like grooming behavior right now.”

He glances at Alex. “That was a joke,” he grumbles,

Then he shakes his head again. “I can’t go back there. To – all of them. I mean, knowing what they know about me … I don’t think I could handle Roddy saying some stupid joke about me. But I couldn’t handle him not doing it because he was, like, pitying me. Or even worse, not worth the effort. And --”

He looks at Alex. “I haven’t talked about this before – was kind of a secret – but … I kinda got a thing – had a thing – for … Mette.”

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The hand pulls away, and Alex starts awkwardly angling and positioning the prosthetic for re-attachment. It doesn’t seem to be going well, but to be fair, it’s a Costa Rican jungle rather than the Satellite o’ Love.

“I’m not your therapist, but I’ll listen if you got something to say. I’m not gonna laugh. I’m not gonna make jokes. I’m also not gonna pity you. I’m gonna be your friend. So talk.”

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Joe half-grunts, half-snorts. “Thought the super-spy was the last person we were s’posed to trust. But – you shouldn’t’ve followed me, but you did, so …” He shrugs, then shakes his head. "Not looking for a therapist. I already got one, and she just says ‘hmmm’ and ‘mm hmmm’ a lot.

"But – well, Mette … she’s smart, and she’s pretty – I mean, she’s a pretty person, not just, like, physically pretty, though she’s really physically pretty. But I’ve never, um, said anything to her, right, 'cause I look like a giant gorilla, and until I knew how to fix this or something, I mean, kinda awkward. I mean, who knows how she might react, right?

"But it was one thing when I didn’t know what happened, when I was maybe transmogrified into something that looks like a giant gorilla. I mean, Dr Quill, he’s always talking about DNA inversion and bionantic whosiwhatsis stuff that gives me my healing and like that. So I was always kinda thinking I was really me in here. But If Tahi is describing it right – and why wouldn’t she – I’m not even like a brain in a gorilla-shaped jar kinda thing. I’m just a copy of what I was, a Joey Moore thumb drive copied onto the dead brain of a talking gorilla. But not … me. I’m an animal. A really weird intelligent talking animal, that thought it was a person, right? But not …a person. A human person.

“So, me knowing that, her knowing that, how can I ever be near her any more? I mean, what that means, her and me being together – that’d be kinda … gross, y’know. Unnatural, as my auntie said. Definitely illegal. I wouldn’t do that to her, and I – I mean if she ever learned I felt that way, I couldn’t stand her being … disgusted at me, not just at what I really am, but at my even … wanting her. Or, worse, seeing pity in her eyes, y’know, ever thinking – man, that’d wreck me.”

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“Okay, no offense, but I think you’re being kind of dumb about this.” Alex tests their newly attached arm, then holds up a finger as they make their points.

“First, Tahi wasn’t there. She got this second hand. Plus, I don’t think she knows what DNA is. Second, she’s not the person who did the procedure. It sounds like the gorillas are. I’m pretty sure they’ve got a better idea than either you or Tahi about what happened, both biologically and philosophically.”

Alex shrugs. “Spies know a lot about the quality of intel sources. Tahi’s third-rate at best. Something else spies know a lot about is loneliness. We’re on the job, for the rest of our lives, with no time off. This, plus my devastatingly average looks, take me out of the running for this nonsense no matter how much I can ‘pass’ as they say. I mean I’m fine with that, but it still kinda pisses me off that you’re willing to give up.”

They draw close again, establishing eye contact. “Human, gorilla, whatever, I don’t care. Answer me something really important. A hero would fight. A hero wouldn’t give up. And deep in your heart, you don’t want to give up. Do you.”


Joey’s eyes widen as Alex talks. He looks like he’s going to interrupt during those final sentences, but Alex carries on, and Joey’s mouth closes, purses a few times, then, finally, he says, “No. I don’t wanna give up. I wanna know the truth. Know why. And, yeah, I wanna fight.” His clenched fists crack again. “Make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else. And find out --”

He stops, gnaws on his lower lip, cocks his head slightly, nostrils flaring. “Y’think --” His voice is softer, though still deep and gravelly. “Y’think maybe she could be wrong? Tahi? What she said about --?” He gestures down at himself.

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Alex throws up their hands. “Of course she could be wrong! She could also be right. But my dude, none of us knew you before. All we know is there’s a guy named Joey who is big and hairy and loves poetry and wants to impress Arizella and has a short temper. And we all like hanging out with that guy! Why are you shitting on him all of a sudden? With this fuckin’ zombie gorilla CD bullshit.”

“Plus! A CD isn’t even big enough to hold a human brain! The brain’s got a capacity of like 2.5 petabytes. Jesus.”

Their rant isn’t finished. “And like, what do you think is gonna happen if you’re a hero and you fail to save a bus full of nuns or something? The lights aren’t going to come on and Sergeant SURGE isn’t gonna come out and bust your balls for failing the test. It’s gonna be that a bus full of nuns is gone now and you’re gonna feel horrible. And you’re gonna face this exact choice again. Give up and run away, or keep going.”

Alex lets out a long sigh. “The time to give up isn’t when you feel shitty about your life. That’s gonna happen so so much. And the time to give up on Mette is when she says no - if she does. Not before. Until then, like, you’re literally surrounded by people who are fish outta water. Two members of your team are not even in their home era any more. Everything they know and love is gone. Me, my old life is a complete write-off. This shit is what I am now. So, y’know, we do kinda understand.”

They shrug again. “I don’t even know what I’m saying any more. I’m just rambling. I guess uh, I’m saying that, we all need each other, and you’re worth me jogging through this goddamn jungle and arguing with. Okay? Don’t give up on yourself, man. Come on.”

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"Well, you shouldn’t’ve jogged through this jungle after me. But – " Joey looks down, looks back up, gives them a surprisingly light punch in the arm. “-- thanks. You give shitty pep talks, but … you’re not wrong.” He looks around. “Yeah, we better head back, before someone comes jogging out here to find both of us.”

[At which point the Undead Eldritch Moose leaps out and bites his head off.]



So, thanks, Bill, for that. I was able to kind of triangulate one what I was looking for with Joey in this episode – not just the Transformed body horror thing thing write larger, but trying to tie it to those Bull passions. It’s not just “I hate what I am” but “Nobody [esp. my Love] will ever love me back”. Alex did some decent tough love there, and asked the key question …

The final “deep in your heart” bit is the important one there for Joey, because if it had been “And, deep in your heart, you want to be a hero, don’t you?” then Joey would have had an excuse to continue begging off in his unworthiness, but my making him fill in that blank, it gave him a way out.

For now. I’m sure there will be more bouts of that kind of thing.

So, three thoughts:

  1. So does that call for a “Comfort & Support” roll? I mean, as far as I’m concerned, it worked.
  2. I definitely think that counts as “Share a Vulnerability,” in which case I Hold 2 (like Team) to help Alex in the future, and they get Influence over him, which they already have, so they get to shift labels.
  3. Oh, Joey the Bull has a new “Love” in his self-avowed friend, and clearly very lonely comrade, Alex. That’s another Influence they have to play around with his labels on. But Joey gets +1 ongoing to any action that impresses them. (Not that he doesn’t feel any less passionately toward Mette, but he’s going to play it a bit more at a distance, for reasons noted above.)