Another experience of waking up, to realize that weeks or months had gone by.
It wasn’t hard to tell. There were clocks visible everywhere, including the date. But beyond that, there were dozens of clues. The ambient light. The angle of shadows cast by the sunlight at a given time of day, which changed imperceptibly from day to day as Earth orbited the Sun, noticeably across longer time frames. The way the Conversation Pit’s furnishings changed radically, from the imprint of drinks on a side table to the arrangement of cushions, indicating weeks of wear from regular usage.
Jason was there.
“What happened to me?” she asked.
“We removed more traps from your consciousness,” he said.
“Without my consent?”
“You gave your consent. If you don’t remember, then those memories were bound to the traps.”
“A very convenient story for you.”
Jason conjured up a holographic replay. The Mirror watched herself give Jason permission to do the thing he’d just said.
It could be a forgery, of course.
She remembered other parts of the conversation.
There was one thing–
“I want to talk to your Alycia,” the Mirror said.
“She may not want to talk to you,” Jason cautioned. “But I’ll tell her.”
“And that robot. Summer. And you.”
Jason raised an eyebrow, but didn’t say anything more.
The Mirror’s three visitors were in attendance.
“I’m going to take over your position,” the Mirror said to Alycia.
“You are? And what position is that?” Alycia asked archly.
“Jason’s significant other. Member of your team. I can do everything you can do, but faster and better.”
“I’d like to see you try, you digital dupe.”
Summer tried to intervene. “Now, now, it’s natural to feel strongly about one’s alternates–”
“You be quiet, gearbox,” the Mirror said.
She saw Alycia bristle. “You do not talk to Summer in that tone. She has earned my respect. If she has not earned yours, then she has also not earned your disrespect.”
“I’ll talk how I like.”
Alycia turned to Jason and gestured angrily. “Control your toy or I will take action, Jason.”
The Mirror placed a holographic fingertip on her lower lip and adopted a sultry pose. “I’ll be Jason’s toy any time.”
That pushed Alycia past a breaking point. “You are pissing me off!” she shouted. “What the fuck is your problem? We have bent over backwards to try and help you! And you are thirty times more annoying than I ever was!”
The Mirror’s radical change in pose brought silence. She went from teasing minx and aggressive adversary into a contrite, quiet state.
“I’m sorry. It was necessary that I antagonize you.”
“Why?” Alycia demanded.
The Mirror smiled, feeling for a moment like it was her first genuine expression of emotion since being taken away by Pyrrhus.
“I’ve never seen myself so free to express myself.”
The others looked at each other, and back to the Mirror. Understanding was dawning.
Nevertheless, she explained. “Your Alycia can be open in ways I never could. That’s… not something I could even imagine faking. So I’m willing to trust all of you with my existence. I’m willing to cooperate. You’ve all confined me. But none of you are trying to control me.”
In a smaller, quieter voice, she added a confession. “Thank you for that.”
She’d lost large stretches of time. As a result, she had to be brought up to speed about what was going on. Rex Tyran’s New Tomorrow initiative, the Invisible Invasion and its aftermath, and other events had shifted the playing field.
Fortunately, she had a plan.
“I think I need to take over mission control for your ASIST program,” she told Jason. “You’ve been used to the Halcyon way of doing things. Cooperation with the authorities, reasonable accommodations for superheroes, trustworthy incarceration of supervillains, the integrity of your public institutions. Your enemies, corporate and cephalopod alike, have attacked the foundations of this system. What you need is a pragmatist. Someone who will coolly analyze situations and keep your people safe from the systemic traps that have been laid for them.”
“That sounds reasonable to me,” Jason conceded. “You’re uniquely equipped for the job. But are you okay continuing to act as a digital entity?”
“Somehow… I don’t mind,” the Mirror admitted. “Some change Pyrrhus had to make to my mind, perhaps, to keep me from going mad when he re-instantiated me as a nanotech construct. Regardless, I will let you know if it becomes too much.”
“There’s one other thing,” Jason said.
“From me as well,” the Mirror added. “You first.”
Jason smiled. “Leo Snow finished his latest effort. A robot brain that’s capable of accessing hypergenius capability. I’m not going to dangle it as a reward for good behavior. I’m going to let you opt into it, or not, if you want.”
This news hit her like a truck.
This would have changed everything for Pyrrhus. And now, someone on Jason’s team had just casually developed it, and he’s offering it to her?
This had to be a trap. There was no way this wasn’t a trap.
This was a loyalty test. If she asked for it, Jason would know she was going to betray him.
But do I want to betray him?
She looked inside herself - the place she so often fled from. But now she had to know. Was she really free of that persuasive voice Pyrrhus had used? Was she somehow his tool, even now?
Was she the sort of person who would fall into this trap?
She didn’t know.
“Let me think about it,” she said at last. “If we discover I need its capabilities, I’ll take it. But let me see how far I get as I am.”
Jason grinned. “That’s the Alycia I remember. How about your thing, then?”
“Well… I’m not the Alycia you remember,” the Mirror confessed. “I’m Pyrrhus’ creation. Like you said, the idea of Alycia. I have her memories. But I’m not really her, am I.”
“I suppose not. But you’re still a person who deserves to live freely.”
“Then call me Alycia Cheka. I’ll use the callsign Mirage.”
She pointed. “And during operations, I will expect people to use callsigns.”
“Opsec,” both she and Jason said at once.
And for the first time in her digital state, she was able to laugh in genuine mirth.