31.2 - Shall This Conversation Pit Endure? (Alycia's Tale) [Recap]

[Chronologically this occurs between this scene and this one.]

I walk back into the room, and they’re all looking at me.

Well, not quite that blatant. But heads turn, especially since Jason is several steps behind me (and rightfully so, I sniff), and I (and probably we) left the room in the first place in a less-than-subtle fashion. I hadn’t intended on making a scene, but I had, and now I had to play in it.

I have to assume they’re taking sides. I don’t particularly care who’s siding with whom (yes, I do), though the safe bet is “the nice guy we already know who owns this nice abode” is trending ahead of “the crazy terrorist ex-girlfriend who is still on several wanted lists”.

It occurs to me I may have lost here before I even got started. I try to ignore the knot in my stomach.

Jason peels off over toward the couch where … okay, unexpectedly, Leo’s giant automobile mecha (imaginatively named “Otto”) is playing racing games on a massive-screen (and so decent scale) TV.

I want to slide out from under the observation. Is there a wall I can just casually lean on and quietly watch --?

“Here!”

Jason’s bestest-friendbot, “Summer,” is standing there, extending a piece of paper to me with an impossibly bright smile. She moves very quietly, now that the antigrav hum has been dealt with.

I take the paper. It’s a coupon to “Blintzkrieg.” Twenty-give percent off blintzes any weekday after 8 a.m.! And Buy one Cinnelatte of any size, get another drink of equal or lesser value for free.

Leave it to the Americans, of course, to use the name of a devsatating assault strategy developed by a militaristic fascist state as a means to sell overly-sweet coffee drinks and Americanized Slavic pancakes. But …

I look back to Summer, who is smiling and waiting for whatever social response its algorithms are expecting. I have to wonder if it’s operating autonomously, under orders from Jason (of course) to welcome me (possibly from Leo – I still don’t fully understand the connection there).

“Thank you,” I say, choosing the most obvious answer.

“I work there,” she replies. Well, American fast food has been experimenting with automated ordering kiosks. A waitstaff robot doesn’t sound like it would be cost efficient, but as an effort to break the minimum wage labor market it would – “You might have seen the place in the video?”

Of course. “Right – it’s where you did that little ‘A-M-A’ – charming decor.” I’m not going to have to do one of those insane broadcast events any time soon, am I? “Good suggestive selling. As soon as I’m at liberty – and figure out which bus line to take --”

“The blintzes are marvelous,” the ghost – Charlotte – says, floating up to the conversation. “I’ll take you there sometime.”

I recall the trip between worlds, powered by the Keynome, executed by Jason’s nanobots, but guided by the Ghost Girl, and shudder slightly. “I’m afraid being dragged through shadows doesn’t help the appetite or the digestion.”

I look back at Summer. Robot or not, this is the first thing I’ve been offered since joining the team (have I joined the team? isn’t there a blood oath or neck tattoo or subcutaneous implant or paperwork or something?) besides sodas and chips. And if she’s actually working there, it’s representative of who she is, making it at least appear like a gracious gift.

I’m still suspicious, but I nod once more, and repeat, “Thank you.”

* * *

“Hey,” says “Otto.” “I got something.”

Everyone stops whatever other conversations they’re having, and turn toward him. I’m not sure I ever previously imagined an anthropmorphic automobile robot looking uncomfortable, but now I can. He mutters something, then clears his throat, and says, “I think we could do with a moment of silence for a fallen teammate.”

What?

I quickly glance around (and slide backward) to watch and learn.

I’ve done a modicum of research on the Menagerie, for a variety of obvious reasons (the two obvious being the connection with Jason and my needing to operate in town). So far as I know, all the members are here.

And they’re all looking grim, or sad. Even the fembots. What don’t I know here? How will that ignorance hurt me?

“Okay, I’m not a moment of silence guy,” Otto says. “Anyone want to say something?”

Harry, the flighty speedster with the chip obsession, is, remarkably, the first to speak up. The ghost chimes in after that with a few words, then Leo, then Jason –

It all has to do with someone named Sol. And it has to do with Adam / “Concord,” the “kid” in the group. And now I can see the difference in his demeanor, versus the other. Solemn. Sad. Scared.

It’s still unclear quite what Sol is/was, but he seems closely associated with Adam in some fashion – and, most importantly, he’s dead, cause unknown but clearly something noble and self-sacrificing.

There’s nothing to gain here in making comment, either snarky or sincere, so I stay silent, but I watch the dynamic between the others and Adam.

While everyone is already feeling morose, Leo decides to talk about Harry’s father, the HHL speedster Silver Streak, who remains in hospital since the fight on Vyortovian ground. Per Harry, Streak seems to be recovering physically, but has not regained consciousness. From the conversation, I glean he was injured under mysterious circumstances going after something underground, on his own, on the actual Vyortovian island.

An odd mystery. But Harry seems relieved to get some sympathy about it from his teammates. That seems to be something that happens a lot here.

But if there’s a disparity between Streak’s physical and mental state, something the doctors don’t understand, perhaps another approach is needed. “I hear that the HHL have a sorceress on staff.”

Otto makes a coughing sound. “You talking about Hecate?”

Leo chimes in, “No,” with some finality.

Well, so much for making helpful suggestions. Granted, the Hecate of the Sepiaverse was an ally of my father’s, but the one here might be useful in this context. But nobody seems thrilled about that prospect, which raises its own questions.

Do they have some files I can read? Journals? Intelligence? Do they even bother keeping after-action reports?

Leo continues, suggesting maybe the team should visit, implying that Jason had once been in a similarly non-responsive state (Jason looks over at me at that point for some reason, and quickly turns away), and that Adam had been able to do something about it.

Harry says he’ll ask his mother, and Leo makes a promise that we won’t set everything on fire – which draws chuckles I don’t quite follow, either.

This is getting annoying very quickly. It’s one thing to have an assignment where I’m expected to go in cold and gather intel and get out. It’s another thing where I’m trying to be a member of a group and am simply not in on the long-standing running jokes, memes, catch phrases, or anecdotes, merry or morose.

Learning the social lubrication here will need to be a high priority. I suspect that, unlike the Zhukov Institute, a shiv and being quick to use it won’t make up for not knowing what’s going on. I need – I want to be a part of the group, not just be able defend myself from it.

Don’t I?

The alarm on my burner phone buzzes. Parker is going to stoop down and grab me in half an hour.

I don’t want to go yet.

* * *

People are chit-chatting and chip-snacking.

Leo is talking animatedly with Jason. Charlotte is talking quietly with Adam. The fembots are going on about something incomprehensible – it’s like they’re skipping two of every three syllables and replacing half of them with robot sign language. For all I know they’re Bluetooth enabled, too, and carrying on chatter that way.

Harry is eating. Again.

“Otto” heads back outside. He doesn’t offer me a ride. I don’t ask for one.

I drift back into the shadows, feeling the room, the interactions – _who’s where, how are they moving, vectors and coordinates, interplay of bodies and voices and personalities – _not seeking to influence yet, just to understand …

Something’s wrong.

Harry is on his feet, looking around. His head flickers left and right, eyes narrowed, like he’s heard a mosquito and is trying to spot it.

One of the robot girls – Leo’s – comes over, says something, and she starts looking around, too.

Okay, from where I stand, I do the same thing. I don’t see anything.

Summer – Jason’s bot – joins the others, head bobbing like a pigeon, trying to focus on something by forcing perspective changes.

Then Harry blurs, fades –

– alarm bells are going off in my head – the geometries and vectors are wrong, and I have no weapons, no guns, no gloves, no knives, just hands and feet against whatever has a speedster alarmed –

– and Harry runs from the room at super-speed, his voice a tinny whine that’s alerts everyone to what’s going on …

… except me, of course, because he’s using one of the team earbuds I spotted earlier and of course I don’t have one because nobody (dammit, Jason) thought to give me one even if I’m supposed to be one of the –

Leo’s running out after Harry, which seems like a useless endeavor, but –

Ghost Girl is going hazy and shouting something – and I realize I am totally and utterly out of my weight class here (further hindered by the lack comms) but everyone’s acting like there’s a hidden bomb in the room and I realize the best thing I can do is (as the Americans say for some reason) get the fuck out of Dodge (does that vehicle line explode frequently? is that why people are always advocating exiting one before something dire happens?) and I resolve to grab the kid on the way to get him out of the blast radius (gotta be a Good Helpful Member of the Team, right?) or maybe _where-the-fuck-is-Jason --?
_
The ghost further blurs and fades, reaching out, and then solidifies and has something in her hand –

Ooh. A pretty piece of technology designed to kill us. I’m right there and “Might I see that for a moment thank you oh my --”

I would normally just grab it from her ectoplasmic hands, but I heard about the sort of powers she wielded back in Federal City and I am not going to get on the bad side of someone like that.

Okay, I do sort of grab it, but I ask first, and I try to be gentle anyway so that it doesn’t go off –

– things slow down and the geometry of the object is outlined, wireframed, measured and judged. A tiny clock – something one might pick up at an airport for travel – showing 10:22 on the face and … oh, that’s interesting, the alarm behind is showing for 10:23, and … well, the whole thing is surrounded by tiny, furry beads, which do not look like something I would want exploding in all directions like a fragmentation grenade, particularly in my direction –

(Terrorists hate it when someone gets hold of their explosive devices beforehand. Commenting for a friend.)

– except I can see that the ghost is now pointing in any number of directions and the bots are trying to grab things at those points and not being successful, but I suspect strongly that whatever sort of insubstantiality these things have will turn off prior to the explosion and the shredding barrage of tiny beads of infinite badness.

_Interesting, just like an alarm clock, there’s an alarm off switch, if only anyone could –
_
My stomach flip-flops as Adam does something and his skin is a bizarre infinite depth of stars and nebulae and I recognize those formations, but they’d have to be from that direction about 134.7 light years that way and –

Focus. Concentrate. Breathe.

Whatever Adam-Concord has done, I (we?) can now see the walls are peppered with these things. Seriously not good.

“There’s a button on the back!” I shout to the others. “Hold it down a couple of seconds to keep us from dying in a terrible explosion --”

Though if Concord can wield energies the way the intel reports indicate and as I just felt, then if we can grab these and isolate them in a way that he can put a force bubble around them –

Adam shouts, “Smart people: how big of an explosion? How big of a gravity well do I need?”

Okay, that might work, too, sucking instead of blowing, but that’s going to damage the hell out of the room (and possibly the occupants) if the force is too large –

Vectors, angles, distance, gravitational force reduces by the square of the distance, numbers flickering in the air in front of me …

I shout one of them at Adam which I don’t consciously understand but he nods and I suppose it makes sense because as we all lob alarmclock-tinybead bombs toward the recessed area of bench seating over by the conspicuously consumptive video screen, the flash of multiple explosions is muffled and warped, and the fragments don’t travel more than a few feet, partially absorbed by the mustard-brown upholstery gravitonically ripped from the furniture …

And, all of a sudden, it’s over. Bombs disposed of / detonated harmlessly (significant decorating damage aside), all’s right with the world.

It’s a bit odd, being on the side of defeating the explosions.

“I’m headed out to assist Harry!” Ghost Girl shouts. Concord, blue and star-spangled, grabs her hand, and they vanish.

“Fine!” I shout after them (which they can’t hear because they are no longer physically here, and I have no earbud comms of course). “I’ll stay here with the fembots.”

“Hey,” Jason says casually as he strolls in, holding a bowl in his hands, “I like chips as much as the next guy, but we probably don’t need a supply in the bath–”

He takes one more slow-motion step, taking in the change in population, the devastation in the recessed bench seating, and the gouges in the wall where the objects (placed by party/parties unknown, but presumably part of what the rest are hallooing after) were torn from the wall.

“–room.”

“Missed the fun, hero,” I say, nabbing a chip from the bowl he’s carrying. American snack food manufacturers are diabolical in their use of fat and salt to promote consumption of empty calories, but it’s a fine dramedic gesture, and I can use a few calories after all that. I’m even breathing a bit heavy.

“Shit!” Jason shouts, fingers to one ear (because he has an ear bud), and starts to run for the door to the elevator lobby, pauses, takes a few stops to drop the bowl of chips on the couch, and then continues running for the elevator.

The door closes softly behind him.

“Ladies and Gentlemen,” I say, softly, “The Amazing Jason Quill.”

I hear a soft giggle, and turn. Both of the bots are looking at me. I’m not sure which laughed. Or why.

Okay, time to do something useful. I raise an eyebrow, and say “I’m going to go to that computer console over there and do some completely innocuous Google searches. Any objections?”

Leo’s bot – she’s dressed a bit more fashionably than her model mate, which I’m sure means something – raises an eyebrow. “You’re a member of the team. I’m sure nobody would have any formal grounds to object.”

The other bot – dressed more casually, imitation hair longer, more “rebellious” (oh, Jason), comments, “The browser will default to the Query engine. If you want Google, you’ll have to go to the site, but it tends to switch back when you’re not paying attention.”

“Of … course.” I flip the deactivated bomb/grenade/mine I took from Charlotte in my hand, and head over to the computer. I can feel their gazes on my back. This should be the point where I slip a thumb drive into a convenient USB socket and download everything, but I don’t have a thumb drive, I don’t see one sitting around, and I don’t really want to do that anyway (well, not yet), especially with those very lifelike mechanical eyes observing me.

Instead, I pull up US Patent Office info. Which indicates that the patent number on the clock (which is also clearly stamped as being manufactured by Rook Industries) is far beyond the current US Patent sequence.

Which indicates either it’s a fake item, ginned up to make Rook look bad for some reason, or it’s from the future for some very different reason. Occam’s Razor doesn’t necessarily cut one way or the other in this instant.

“So it’s a fake,” says Aria.

“Or from the future,” says Summer.

“Amazing, Holmes,” I mutter, then swing around in the swivel chair. Both look at me with their identical-yet-different expressions. If they killed me and dismembered/disposed of the body, right now, people would simply assume I ran off. It’s not a comforting thought, on multiple levels.

On the other hand, they’ve shown no sign of doing something like that. Nor have I. So –

I turn toward Summer, and hand her the bomb. “If you could keep this safe,” I say, adding, “They have a rather stringent bed check where I doss down.”

“Certainly,” she says, then smiles. “And when you’re free, come on by Blintzkrieg.”

I nod slowly. “Lovely, wouldn’t miss it. Cinnelattes for the win.” I shoot her with a finger gun.

_Is she in possession of information I’m going to be released soon? Or is she subtly suggesting that if I break out of custody, she’s willing to provide me protection?

Or is she just offering to sell me coffee and blintzes, like a perky-cute AI billboard?_

I guess time will tell.

* * *

At the demonic prompting of my phone alarm, I head downstairs, the fembot twins following along. They make a few utterly cryptic half-comments to each other in the elevator (though I feel like I could just maybe figure it out with enough time), as “The Girl from Ipanema” plays softly from the speaker, yet again, like some sort of bad joke.

The plaza outside the doors to the Quill compound is full of black SUVs from AEGIS and blue-and-whites from the HCPD and black-and-whites from the HCSD. I’d feel a flush of pride over all the attention, except it seems most of them are here to deal with the odd lizard-like creature that the other Menagerie are clustered around – the mad bomber, no doubt – and deep in conversation about. Nobody calls me over to join in.

The only vehicle interested in me is a single black Cadillac Escalade, with Agent Parker and a couple of AEGIS mooks, patiently waiting for my arrival.

“Sorry, Mom,” I tell Parker. “We started a movie and I lost track of time.”

“Let’s be on our way,” she replies, cool and crisp, as one mook opens the back door for me.

“See you at school tomorrow!” Summer calls out to me. She’s the only one who does.

I actually wave back to her as I climb in.

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6203157

“Hey,” Jason says casually as he strolls in, holding a bowl in his hands, “I like chips as much as the next guy, but we probably don’t need a supply in the bath–”

He takes one more slow-motion step, taking in the change in population, the devastation in the recessed bench seating, and the gouges in the wall where the objects (placed by party/parties unknown, but presumably part of what the rest are hallooing after) were torn from the wall.

“–room.”

author: Doyce T.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6203527

Yeah, pretty much. :slight_smile:

(Jason might be glad if the team moves its HQ …)

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6203785

By the by, one of the fun things about doing these “X’s Tales” recaps is that it lets me spot those “Hey, early in the party Otto is there on the couch and kicks off the Sol tribute, but later when the Mad Bomber is running outside, suddenly Otto is down there ready to pounce on him, so when did he leave?” moments and try to patch them. :slight_smile:

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6203794

As I heard it, Otto was hanging socially with us through a screen, rather than being physically present. So he would have been outside already in that case. In general, I approve of continuity patches, though. :slight_smile:

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6203838

https://youtu.be/s77-5agB7zI?t=21m52s

Once everybody’s back in the room, Otto had, he kind of, like, he’s sort of sitting at the couch, in, on the big screen. It’s kind of nice because the screen’s big enough that if he sits, he’s actually kind of to scale, like one-to-one, like he’s almost the right size. And so it’s more like he’s in another room through a window.

So on review, yeah, you are correct, Bill (and that all makes much more sense). I mis-heard it / stopped listening after “he’s sort of sitting at the couch” (though I remembered the rest, it just didn’t change the initial image I had).

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6204035

Yeah I have an Otto size couch out in the parking garage that Otto uses with the FaceTime equipment

author: Doyce T.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6204043