203 - Sins of the Son

“SNOWMAN is active.”

The word spread through the Newman social fabric instantly. Summer told Aria, who told Leo and Otto. Otto, in turn, told Big Bill and Mo. Of all the products of Leo’s inventive mind, only the Phoenixes had no part in what came next. What did they care?

Nono Rodriguez was located, accosted, and debriefed. She didn’t say much, but she said enough.


Otto pulls up in front of the old house in Warrenton. Leo looked it up along the way. It used to belong to a cabinet maker named Thomas Reynolds. Now it’s under new ownership.

Ted Waters - no longer “Agent” - steps out of the front door. He’s wearing coveralls, gloves, and goggles. There’s a circular saw in his hand, but he sets it down out of the way and strips off some of the other protective material when he sees who’s arrived.

Leo is out of the car in a flash. Aria and Summer hop out behind him. Even Otto transforms, and kneels down outside the house. The old AEGIS agent looks from face to face, all sporting the same basic expression. Frustration, fear, confusion, but mostly anger.

“I’d invite ya in, but uh…” He glances up at Otto. “I’d have to start renovations all over again.”

“SNOWMAN.” Leo gets directly to the point. “What’s the deal here, Waters?”

The retired agent lets out a long sigh and makes a knowing nod. “Let me get a chair. Just a second.”

He returns with a fold-out chair and a six-pack of Mike’s Hard Lemonade. “Guessing Otto’s driving and can’t partake, but the rest of you are welcome.”

Leo’s eyes are steely. Waters shrugs, unfolds the chair, and sits down with deliberate patience.

“I know what you want to know. So I’ll get to it. Yes, AEGIS reactivated SNOWMAN. They - we - I guess we, since we’re talking about past events here - made the call. He was equipped with an EMP package that would allow us to capture Rossum. He wasn’t aware of that.”

Leo’s voice is taut like wire. “You were the agent in charge.”

Waters draws back a bit, feeling the sting of the implication. But he finally nods, accepting what he must say next. “It wasn’t my idea. But I signed off on it. I remembered what you said, about not building weapons. I don’t think I honored that in the spirit, but I tried in the letter. SNOWMAN wasn’t used to disable Rossum, or hurt him, except maybe emotionally. He was the key that unlocked the lair’s defenses for us, and AEGIS personnel took care of the apprehension.”

Leo’s fists are clenched. He doesn’t speak, so Aria takes over for him, laying a hand on his shoulder to signal her presence. “Why did Nono Rodriguez say she saw him active?”

“When we busted your dad out, you, Leo, were technically in violation of your parole agreement with us. Department 42 decided they’d take the opportunity. Dismantle the prototype, learn more about your tech.”

Waters goes on, not sure how to read the silence or the forbidding faces. “I sent a note to the agent then in charge of monitoring the Menagerie as a whole. Agent 1337. They’d already taken charge of SNOWMAN. They were already learning how to hack our bureaucracy pretty efficiently, and they did something or other to move SNOWMAN out of being an asset within your file, and into being an activated agent. Sort of like how we processed Alycia Chin. ‘Willing former enemy asset’ kind of deal. That kept him out of Department 42’s hands.”

Aria tries to process this aloud. “Like my citizenship filing, in reverse. To keep SNOWMAN intact, they declared him a person. The way you kept me under covers, to keep me from separating from Leo.”

Waters nods. “That’s exactly right.”

“That doesn’t excuse what you did!” Leo shouts.

Waters doesn’t smile, so much as quirk his mouth in a weird way. “No, it doesn’t, Leo.”

The boy is silent in the moment, and Waters pushes onward. “You’re angry. I get why. You don’t have to explain that part. You feel betrayed. Hurt. If you got to yell at me, go ahead, yell at me. I’ll get you some water when your mouth runs dry. Do I deserve it? Sure. Will I try to justify or defend it? I think you and me are past that.”

Otto holds a robotic hand outward, just in time for Leo to angrily punch it. Waters doesn’t show it, but that level of rapport, an understanding two people have for each other’s needs, brings back a career’s worth of feelings.

“Leo. AEGIS was wrong. I was wrong. We asked you to do something wrong - to build SNOWMAN to begin with. That wrong compounded, brought about other wrongs. I say this not to ask for some kinda forgiveness, but maybe just to be an old man giving advice to a young man. Which is this.”

Waters leans forward in his chair, eyes intent. “Sometimes it’s too late to do the right thing. Sometimes, you just gotta try to do the next best thing, or the okay thing, or the least worst thing. You folks have been busy these last several months. If you haven’t experienced that yet, I think you will sooner or later. And when you do it, sometimes there’s no redemption or recovery. Sometimes, it’s just a feeling you’re gonna have to learn to live with.”

Leo remembers disabling Old Jason, using the Heart Factory. He remembers his conversations with Alycia Chin and Summer, and the fallout from that fight.

“I… I know that feeling. I don’t like it,” he says at last.

“Yeah. You never will.” Waters leans back. “It becomes part of you anyway. Like it’s part of me.”

“How do we get in touch with SNOWMAN?” asks Summer.

Waters seems ready for that. “I’ll give you a phone number. I ain’t saying it’s Agent 1337’s, I ain’t saying it’s not, just that it’s someone who can help you.”


Otto revs up and drives out, the Newman clan inside. Waters gets up from his chair, folds it up and leans it against the porch railing, and starts slipping his gloves and goggles back on.

There’s a lot of work to do on the old house. It’s pretty beat up, and isn’t what it used to be. But maybe there’s still something useful it can do, for the people who depend on it.

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There’s a couple of tense phone calls.

A place and a time are arranged. A former golf course turned into a public park. 11 am on a weekend.

There’s an unspoken agreed-upon feeling between Leo and his friends that something’s up. So when they pull up, it’s Leo, Aria, Summer, and the human-scale robot the group has taken to calling “Flannel Otto”. Nobody, but nobody, can think of him as “little”.

The crew pile out of Car Otto and head toward the picnic tables, as directed. It’s thankfully empty, except for one figure in a hoodie, hands thrust into pockets. Leo figures he knows who it is, but also figures if it’s him, he’ll notice - has noticed - the approaching group. So with that, he sits down, and the others join him.

Sure enough, the hooded guy comes over. He doesn’t sit, just stands over Leo, head obscuring the sun. The hoodie comes back. Leo’s breath catches. He knew what to expect, remembers constructing the android, but… what do you say when something comes to life, something that looks just like you, and you have no idea what it wants?

“I’m sorry,” says Leo, almost automatically.

“You’re sorry. You’re fucking sorry?” It’s Leo’s voice, but higher pitched, younger, less assured. “You’re gonna have to do better than that.”

Leo doesn’t look away, even when SNOWMAN’s head moves and the glare of the sun comes through. “I talked to Waters. He’s retired now. He told me what happened. Why it happened. I’ll fill you in on whatever you missed, that you want to hear about.”

“What I missed.” SNOWMAN tosses up his hands in an exaggerated shrug. “I missed three god damn years. During which you guys apparently worked things out beautifully!” He waves a hand at Aria and Summer next. “And I got nothing!”

He wants to tell his story. He needs me to hurt by hearing it. Leo can’t do anything but stay silent. But that seems to irritate SNOWMAN as well.

“Fuckin’ Twins Paradox we got here, huh?”

Leo knows the reference, of course. Relativity predicts noticeable time dilation at near-lightspeed. Launch one twin on a rocket at 0.999c, leave the other twin on Earth. When the twin from space returns, they’ll have aged more slowly than the Earthly twin. Is that how he thinks of us?

He’s honestly not sure what to do here. Say something? Sometimes he’s been able to share wise words with a teammate. And they’ve helped him in return. But to talk to himself? This isn’t like Aria or Summer or Otto. They’re their own people. This is literally me. And what a bastard I was.

He tries anyway. “Listen, you were never-“

SNOWMAN interrupts, shouting. “No, you listen! The last thing I remember, before waking up like this? Is deciding to do this thing for AEGIS. I should have said no! You should have said no! You had a responsibility! And you blew it!”

Leo bristles, clenches his fists, rises from the park bench instinctively. SNOWMAN in turn steps up, face to face with him. The two boys stare defiantly at each other for long moments.

“You aren’t worthy of her,” SNOWMAN hisses.

“I’m so god damn glad I’ve outgrown thinking that kind of bullshit,” Leo counters.

“You son of a bitch!” SNOWMAN screams, and throws a punch. The fist is caught by Aria, eyes blazing.

Leo shouts. “No! I got this. Otto, oyster.”

In the few seconds SNOWMAN spends looking at Aria with hurt and confusion in his eyes, a fast-moving blur is launched from the nearby supercar and streaks at Leo. It lands just behind him, wrapping him up in seconds. Now armored in his newest Link Suit, he raises his own fists. SNOWMAN breaks away from Aria and comes for him.

The two carbon-armored warriors roll across the grass, kicking, punching, and grappling at each other. SNOWMAN is inherently faster, moving with an android’s superhuman speed. But the quantum quirk of Leo’s brain makes him able to anticipate and counter each shot.

SNOWMAN opens up with some of his concealed weapons. Brief laser blasts, explosive bursts, rocket-propelled grapples. Leo, in his suit, gets banged around, but nothing pierces the nigh-invulnerable atomic armor.

Finally SNOWMAN gestures, and twin blades pop out of his wrists. “I’ve seen your field records! I’ve seen your sins! You let us down! You compromised our principles! It’s time for you to get out of the way! I’ll do better! I am better!”

“You’re not better than me,” grunts Leo between rapid breaths. “You’re just younger.”

Man and android clash again, SNOWMAN trying to bring his blades to bear, Leo using his quantum combat senses to knock them out of their paths. SNOWMAN lunges, and Leo catches his wrists. The two boys stay locked in an unsteady standoff.

“Tell me what you want,” Leo demands. “Not ‘give me Pneuma’ or whatever bullshit. Tell me what you want.”

SNOWMAN’s anger is edging toward fear. “I want….” He doesn’t know. I didn’t know. I know now. I need him to know.

“I just want things to go back to the way they were.”

Leo’s grip stays solid, but he can feel SNOWMAN weakening. The armor’s helmet slides up, to reveal his smiling face.

“You can’t go back to how things were, man. But you can go forward, and make something new. You can. I did.”

SNOWMAN collapses to his knees. “I hate you.”

Leo’s smile doesn’t waver. He understands now. “I hated myself, back then. I got through it, with the help of my friends. My family. You can too. There’s a place for you, if you want.”

Aria and Summer step closer, each resting a hand on SNOWMAN’s shoulders.

The android’s blades retract into their housings, and Leo lets go of his wrists in turn. Both boys stand up, looking each other in the eye.

Their newest standoff is interrupted by Flannel Otto, clapping heavy hands on both of their shoulders, his hands grabbing hold of their necks. “As the eldest brother here, it falls to me to discipline my younger siblings when they squabble. Don’t it.”

Leo blinks. SNOWMAN looks surprised.

Otto goes on. “There’s a couple of very nice ladies that you boys upset, and you’re gonna say you’re sorry, ain’t ya.” He physically pivots them to face Aria and Summer.

“Sorry.” It’s simultaneous for both Leo and SNOWMAN.

The girls, for their part, smile appreciatively. Summer speaks up. “SNOWMAN is kind of a mouthful for a proper name. Do you have a civilian alias you’d prefer?”

The android ponders. “‘Snow’ is pretty new to me anyway.” His eyes fall to his jet-black carbon arms. “John Doe. John… Black? Jonathan Black.”

“Nice to meet you, Jonathan,” smiles Summer.

All isn’t well, and the group can sense it. SNOWMAN - John - moves away from them at first opportunity. “This isn’t over,” he warns Leo, pointing an accusing finger.

“Probably not for any of us,” observes Aria. She glances at Summer, who nods in secret knowing.

The android puts his hoodie back up and leaps away, making enormous speed with his enhanced strength. Leo looks from face to concerned face, and shrugs. “Jeez, I was a real drama llama back then, huh?”

“You still are,” points out Otto, gesturing at the armor. “Now strip that shit off and get in the back seat. I’ll be driving. Summer, you got shotgun. Aria, make sure this hothead cools down by the time we get back home.”

“Yes sir!” Both girls acknowledge their roles, and Leo grudgingly obeys.

He’s not wrong. I have done some pretty bad things. It’s hard to be reminded of them so… viscerally, I guess. To stare your shame in the face.

Then again, if we don’t confront the hard truths about ourselves, I guess we don’t grow.

I hope he’s grown a little from this too. God, I hope.

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Aria and Otto found some time alone. Their friendship is singular, and sometimes there’s things that only they can talk about. At the moment, they’ve found an empty parking lot in which to talk.

“We couldn’t have rescued him,” Aria says abruptly, resting on Otto’s hood, staring at the night sky.

Otto thinks he understands who ‘him’ is from context. “SNOWMAN,” he says, just in case.

“Yeah. Like when you folks came for me at the airport. This was different. You knew I was missing. And… you weren’t going up against a group like AEGIS.”

“With ya so far,” rumbles Otto.

“So, like, we didn’t even know SNOWMAN was active.”


“So really, we didn’t have any reason to even try going in there. Or asking about it.”


Aria rolls over on the hood and rolls herself up into a tightly hunched ball. “Otto, what if we’d known? We’d have gone in, right?”

“You betcha. Lil’ bro is lil’ bro, no matter what.”

Aria is still agitated. She uncurls herself, sits upright on the hood, clenches her fists, unclenches with conscious effort, takes a breath of night air, exhales.

“You’re overthinkin’ something here, Aria,” Otto rumbles.

“No! I mean, I think I’m thinking about this rationally.” She knows she’s not, but she’s been having a hard time keeping it together ever since meeting SNOWMAN for the first time. “Look. Okay? I was a beneficiary of this. And now, and now, I… I’m feeling like… like it was some kind of deal with the devil. As long as SNOWMAN was just, you know, ‘the android AEGIS has tucked away just in case’, just as long as it wasn’t really, y’know, real, it didn’t bother me.”

“And now it does, 'cause they reactivated him. They did. Not you. Not us.”

“It doesn’t matter!” Aria hops off the hood, paces around Otto at a fast clip. “Leo perfected all the gen 2 modules by working on that robot shell. I wouldn’t look like this if he hadn’t done that. I’m wearing this feeling, literally!”

“Looks great to me.” Otto isn’t sure how to help here, so he tries to lighten the mood.

“Not funny,” growls Aria. But she leans up against Otto, and he knows that it helped at least a little bit. “I just… I just… Otto, I need to know that we did the right thing, what we thought was right, at the time, okay?”

“Hindsight’s 20/20,” the car rumbles. “This was all emotionally uncharted territory for all of us. It’s easy to look with newer eyes at older decisions. And you know what going back in time and trying to fix things looks like.”

He doesn’t have to say Doctor Infinity’s name. They both know what’s at stake there.

“Well what am I supposed to do?” Aria asks softly.

“Do what you do best for a Leo. Be his friend. SNOWMAN, John Black, whoever this new guy is, he’s still feeling out his own life. But he’s a Newman, like us. When he needs somethin’, be there for him.”

“I think he wants me to be his girlfriend again,” Aria comments wryly. “That’s not going to happen. I love the Leo I have, but he had to do an awful lot of growing for me to feel comfortable with that. SNOWMAN has… not.”

“I ain’t sayin’ you need a harem.” Otto snorts. “Just… be his friend. The way you’re mine. The way you’ve always been Leo’s. Okay?”

“I guess that’ll have to do.” Aria looks up, finding familiar stars in the night sky. “Am I always gonna be an emotional wreck, Otto?”

“You’re an emotional world record, Aria.” Otto revs a bit. “You feel strongly and deeply and broadly. Sometimes that means bad feelings too. Comes with bein’ human. Just gotta learn to live with it, like the rest of us.”

Aria smiles, and pats the hood of her friend in gratitude.

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The door opens and Alycia Chin enters, looking bedraggled. Post-mission, Summer guesses.

“Welcome home!” she says brightly. “I can cook something if you’re hungry.”

“Just… need to sleep,” Alycia mumbles.

Summer isn’t sure if this is the right time. But she doesn’t feel like she can put it off.

“Alycia,” she says gently. “Nono Rodriguez let us know that the android AEGIS had was active again. She knew the name SNOWMAN. You look like you’ve been along twenty miles of rough road yourself. I need to know if that’s a coincidence or not.”

Alycia mumbles something about “opsec” and flops down on the sofa. “Get me some of that low-carb protein shake. Chocolate, please.”

Summer retrieves a bottle from the fridge and passes it over. After Alycia’s had a good first swig, she looks her roommate and friend in the eye. “I was dispatched on a mission, by AEGIS. About something I’ll tell you when I’m ready - but not yet. One uh, biological agent came along. And SNOWMAN. He’s Leo Snow, around I guessed age fifteen?”


“He’s kind of a pisser.”

Summer smiles wryly. “Leo has always been sort of moody.”

Alycia looks unimpressed. “He can be moody on his own time. A pain to work with, but he kept up acceptably well.”

Summer nods, trying not to vibrate too much with unasked questions. Even in her tired state, Alycia picks up on it to Summer’s chagrin. “You lot, you Newmans, you… didn’t realize he’d been activated as an agent, did you. You thought he was on the shelf. Now you’re… coping with it, aren’t you. He said you wouldn’t handle it well.”

Summer laughs, and realizes how uneasy and unnatural it sounds. "Ah hah, well, yes, that’s one way to put it. Um, I should sit down… " She parks herself on the same sofa and takes a deep breath before going on.

“The power of life is, I think, one of the biggest temptations people can face. Imagine being able to make someone - or an army of someones - who love you, who are devoted to you, who’d do anything you said…”

“I get it, move on.” Despite Alycia’s gruff dismissal, something about her eyes tells Summer she does get it, at some level. Her father’s Great Mission, to remake the world in perfect obedience? How far would it have gone? But she does move on.

“So anyway, what’s our responsibility if we make a potential life, and just… y’know, abandon it? That was the central crime in Frankenstein, you know, the doctor making his creature and then just walking away from it when he couldn’t handle the responsibility, so I think, I guess, we’ve all been thinking about it, especially Aria, because y’know, her human appearance now came directly from that work, and even some of my modules are based on things Leo perfected making that android, so, to be honest, we’re just walking, talking reminders of that sin…”

She knows she’s babbling, and can’t stop. Alycia helpfully reboots her with a solid thump to the head.

Summer rubs her head meekly, and Alycia fills in. “You know, I kept trying to find a way past Leo’s defenses. He was so accepting of what he’d done to make your sister and you. I wanted him to really grasp the magnitude of the moral forces he was grappling with, so he wouldn’t fall to the same darkness Jason and I have seen in our own fathers.” She takes a long drink of the protein shake, caps it again, tosses it across the room and against the fridge in such a way that it bounces right into the recycling bin under the divider. “I guess… I’m glad something got through to him.”

Summer nods in understanding. “I think it hit each of us differently, knowing what happened. Aria and I carry kind of this weird guilt, like we I dunno, inherited the vital organs of some innocent person who got wrongly murdered? That sounds really gory, does that even make sense as an analogy to you?”

Alycia mentally turns it over. “I think so. But… am I wrong in saying that I’m … uh, er, I’m glad that you’re both alive anyway?”

Summer smiles warmly. “I’m glad you feel that way, 'Lycia.”

Alycia nods. “Right. And I’m glad you brought this up. Because it looks like I’m going to have to work for that teenage pest again in the future, and I need you to tell me how to push every last one of his buttons. Literal and metaphorical.”

“You look tired, 'Lycia. How about getting some sleep first?”

Alycia shakes her head. “Sleep later. You tell me, right now, how to keep that annoying android under control.”

Summer knows it’s going to be a long night.

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That is the Newman clan handling SNOWMAN, at least for the moment! Future developments may occur.

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Not sure that’s any less of a mouthful, but it’s a bit more humanizing. Which was Summer’s intent from Syllable 1.

The middle installment with the fight feels like it could be a bit longer. I understand where Jonathan’s anger is coming from, but it needs to develop more organically. There were a couple of moments in there, too, that was sort of, “Huh, maybe AEGIS is smart keeping him restrained.” If he can flip out like that, even with some provocation …

I also get where both Aria and Summer are coming from, but it also feels a bit out of left field. More telling than showing, esp. since both are volunteering the information of how they feel in their conversations. It just feels a little quick and rushed and pat, as a consideration for next rewrite. :slight_smile: