36.3 - Blintzed


A soft chime on the door – not loud enough to annoy during the rush, but loud enough to be heard during slow times. Efficiently designed.

Alycia stops inside the door and takes in the shop. Tables. Sugar / cream / condiments. The bizarre wooden bleachers the Menagerie held their “A.M.A.” on. Magazine / newspaper racks. A closed-captioned monitor with CNN blathering quasi-journalism. Glass coolers with overpriced pastries and some left-over breakfast burritos. Emergency exit – that might be useful.

There are a moderate number of customers. Some after-school students. Late afternoon business meets.

“Number 47, two cheese, one apple, one onion,” the barista calls out at the counter, pushing out a tray with blintzes (blini, blintchiks, crepes, palatschinke – but “palatschinike” would make a terrible shop name, even if “Blintzkrieg” is historically problematic).

A dark-haired girl in a green t-shirt grabs the tray and carries it over to a table of friends, laptops, textbooks, and coffee cups.

The server beams with ostensible pleasure – another order pushed out, another fragment of humanity served and satisfied – and goes back to the pass to check the status on the order for an older man reading his phone while waiting.

A few steps to the counter. When Summer turns, Alycia pushes out the coupon the robot gifted to her back at Jason’s place. “I’ll have a --” A glance at the board. “-- lemon ricotta-cream cheese blintz, at the indicated discount. And one small ‘Cinnelatte,’ and the promised accompanying free small ‘Cinnelatte.’” Alycia raises an eyebrow, and adds in a challenging voice, “Make those soy ‘Cinnelattes.’”


author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6324640

Summer got her position here on the strength of three things. First, her happy demeanor and good native customer-service skills. She’s still quite rough around the edges, to be sure. Saying “thank you” isn’t an automatic reflex yet, but she’s making progress. Second, she’s both strong and graceful enough to lift the espresso machine without damaging it, unplugging it, or spilling anything, and that makes cleaning the front line twice as fast as it used to be. Third was the suggestion that she could attract members of the Menagerie and other teen super-teams to the shop.

A city with the super population of Halcyon doesn’t have a problem finding heroes somewhere. It’s generally considered polite to nod in passing if you see an actual hero, just kind of a “thanks-for-probably-saving-my-life-one-time-most-likely” deal, and then get back to your business. But there’s a certain desire to associate oneself with celebrity, and just, y’know, sitting where Concord sat that one time, is pretty cool. Even if you aren’t going to encounter a member of the JHHL here on a regular basis, knowing they were here is neat.

Summer smiles. She’d never, ever out a member of the Menagerie who came incognito. But it’s nice when one of them does show up. It makes her feel less like a salesperson, more like a social networker, someone who isn’t just name-dropping but is adding value to the store. It’s validating.

It’s also exciting when it’s Alycia - the person Summer thought she’d want to befriend for Jason’s sake. And it’s worrying, thanks to her realization of her selfish motives. She’s not a project, she’s not someone for me to shoot Cupid’s arrow at. She’s a person, like me, like me. Respect her for herself. And the hope that she’ll really be able to do that fills her with excitement again.

“Soy-tanly!” she replies. Running the register is familiar and habitual by now. “Go ahead and have a seat, we’ll bring it out once it’s ready.”

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6324672

Alycia’s smirks. She has to admire the craftsmanship in the responsiveness. She’s certainly Turing-qualified, to an almost scary level. Can the Uncanny Valley exist on a purely cognitive level, based on simply knowing about the variation between real and artifice, rather than a visual perception?

She carefully peels off the appropriate number of bills from the money clip in her pocket, and adds an extra one to the tip jar. Ah, tips. Such a remarkable tool for ensuring economic injustice, justified as a vague meritocracy.

Alycia finds a table back in a corner, one which might provide a modicum of privacy. And one that has easy access to that Emergency Exit.

She draws a series of slow breaths, seeking to be calm. I’m here for a purpose, and not just for myself. And, she reminds herself, it’s best this not escalate to something police/media-worthy. Her status with Parker, thus AEGIS, is beyond thin ice. There are higher stakes here – but this may be something better handled through the long game.

author: *** Dave H.
url: Community Forums: 36.3 - Blintzed | Roll20: Online virtual tabletop

A few minutes pass before Summer approaches. She’s got two cups and one plate, and she’s balancing them like a pro. The presentation is quick and efficient.

"Will there be anything else? Or… " Do you want to talk to me, actually and for real? “… is there something you need to talk about? Y’know… with… It seems like you have something on your mind. I can ask for a break. They’re really casual about having servers mingle with customers, it’s great. I’ll go ask, I’ll be right back.”

Summer turns, but the manager is already looking her way. She nods her head briefly toward Alycia and makes a snapping gesture with two hands, like breaking an invisible pencil. The response is a curt nod and three flashes of a hand with five fingers. Break? Fifteen minutes. Turning back to Alycia, she beams and gives two thumbs up.

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6324760

Alycia gives her a slight grin, and gestures to the chair across from her. She takes a quick bite of the blintz – it’s actually better than she’d expected, despite her experience with a dozen country’s versions of the real thing. The soy Cinnelatte is, alas, just as oversweet and cloying as she feared.

“Thanks for the coupon,” she begins, after Summer sits. “It was a hospitable gesture.”

She eyes the robot, the myriad approaches she’s pictured for this encounter flitting through her mind’s eye. Aggressive and accusatory. What have you done to Jason Quill? Ingratiating and infiltrating. I think we’re going to be bestest of friends. Obscure and cryptic. So what’s actually in those jugs of syrup they make the Cinnelattes from?

Instead, she finds herself saying, in a matter-of-fact fashion, “I know you don’t trust me. I’m the dreaded Alycia Chin, notorious daughter of et cetera et cetera. More to the point, I’m a rival for Jason’s affection – if he could focus his attention on one thing long enough to actually have something that warrants the label.” A slight smile to that.

“In return, I don’t trust you. You’re a robot.” Her voice is kept low enough that nobody is going to overhear the note. “Whether operating autonomously or at another’s behest – and both scenarios have their own horrifying implications – you’re a threat to humanity in general --” She wave a hand as if to minimize the meaning of that. “-- and to someone I care for in particular.”

A sip of the Cinnelatte for effect. “So, what are we going to do about that?”

author: *** Dave H.
url: Community Forums: 36.3 - Blintzed | Roll20: Online virtual tabletop

Summer actually chokes back a laugh at the words “rival for Jason’s affection”.

“I um, I don’t know what to say,” she finally ventures. “I don’t think I’m a threat to humanity. Or to Jason. Or to you.”

She gets a little more serious. “I am a robot. But I’m also a girl. And a student. And other stuff. I make coffee. And… honestly, I don’t think you know me well enough to talk like this. Just like I don’t think you’re the ‘dreaded Alycia Chin’ or whatever. I think you’re just… Alycia. People tell stories, but that’s not you, y’know? I want to know about you. And I acknowledge I don’t know anything yet.”

A smile lights up her face. “So… what we’re gonna do about that is get to know each other, if you’re willing.”

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6324809

[God, I love Summer’s verbal judo.]

Alycia deliberately takes another bite of blintz. “The 'also’s don’t count,” she replies, poking in the air with the plastic force for emphasis. “‘I am a robot’ trumps all that, frankly. I have the scars to prove it.”

She flashes a smile, but there’s anger peeking through those eyes. “Oh, clearly quite a bit more sophisticated than those Rossum ten-pins we had to deal with last week – Leo and Jason both have done some masterful work, and whichever one built your heuristics and behaviorial guidances was a genius. Leo’s my guess, given the other model, but I know Jason’s played with AI as well. Or did he just contribute one of my father’s assassin drones as a chassis?”

Alycia shakes her head. “Academic curiosity. Your ability to be everyone’s bestie is remarkable, but the extent that I want to ‘get to know you’ is to understand your strategic goals, and who if anyone is directing you, and then to protect Jason from both. He’s already besotted with you. What’s your next step?”

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6325319

What’s my next step? Poison your blintz, you–

The thought is uncharitable, but this is more venom than Summer was honestly expecting.

“I’m sorry about your scars, but I don’t remember fighting you, so I can’t have left them,” she points out. “My next step, my strategic goals, my whatever? I just want to go to school, and graduate, and help make the world a better place. Leo is my creator, and Jason did help me rebuild that combat drone into something with peaceful applications. And I’m grateful to both boys. But they don’t direct me. I direct myself.”

She leans in a little more, over the table. “We both share one ‘strategic goal’. We’d both like Jason Quill to be happy. But I didn’t do anything to him. I offered friendship at a time he badly needed it. Have you… have you not realized that he’d latch onto anyone who was nice to him, because he’s just really lonely all the time?”

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6325434

Alycia leans forward as well. “I understand it more than you might think,” she says, her voice lowered. “It’s an impulse I understand far too well – and have learned to resist.” Her smile is the least bit crooked. “Perhaps he and I have chosen opposite and equally unhealthy extremes.” She leans back. “But that’s one reason why I want to protect him, even if our relationship is … complicated. Perhaps too complicated to ever get healthy.”

She eases back again. “He’ll latch onto anyone who’s nice to him, etc., etc. Yes. Which means he can be exploited.” Her grin is without humor. “I won’t have that. I can’t make him happy. But there I things I can do to keep him safe. I owe him that much, at the very least.”

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6325841

“Then you need to explain this to me,” says Summer. Want to play this game? Fine. We’ll play.

“Jason can’t be controlling me because that destroys your whole thing about endangering or exploiting him. He’d be doing that to himself. In which case, y’know, go stage an intervention, please. Plus, real talk, I don’t think this–” she gestures at herself “-- is the girl Jason would really like to have, um, exploiting him. I think you know who he’d prefer. I mean, eww, but yeah.”

“If you think Leo wants to hurt Jason and would be this subtle about it, you don’t know Leo Snow. Sorry.”

“So really, it’s either some Mysterious X controlling me, or I make my own decisions. Aria and I are sisters, both forks from the same original mind, Pneuma. Which Leo built. There’s no X in the picture.”

“So… that leaves me with free will. Will you start by granting me that?”

author: Bill G.
url: Community Forums: 36.3 - Blintzed | Roll20: Online virtual tabletop

“There’s a ton of premises there I’ll only accept for sake of argument,” Alycia replies, sipping one of the coffee-like drinks. "You’re correct that I don’t know Leo Snow well enough; this kind of thing doesn’t match the character of the person I do know, but my vantage point has been limited there.

“More importantly, you’re a robot. Making assertions about your present programming based on what you were originally booted up from is sophistry. I might grant that you don’t know about what someone’s coded you to do until the right moment, any more than those Rookbots we fought would have been ‘aware’ of the Rossum reactivation codes. Hell, wetware people can be reprogrammed that way, with difficulty; your probably having a bloody USB port and instruction manual just makes it easier.”

“But let’s set aside Mysterious X. You’re still a machine, Summer. A creation of humanity which, even though we’re limited ourselves, leaves you more so. You’re an artifice, a program, a set of defined responses with just enough random number generators to give the semblance of reality. You’re a marvelously crafted device, a Faberge Egg of workmanship – but that doesn’t give you free will.”

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6326078

“Take a sip every time I’ve described a person, as you define it,” Summer suggests. Then she starts counting off, giving time between scenarios to allow for consideration, and if appropriate, drinking.

“A human girl is born to loving parents and lives her life. Same girl, but born with birth defects, so she has a prosthetic limb. Same girl, but instead she has an artificial organ, like a pacemaker or kidney. Same girl, but most of her body is replaced with machinery.”

“That girl, but her brain is transplanted into a robot body.”

“That girl, but an exact imprint of her brain structure was transferred to an artificial brain to live on.”

“A synthetic brain structure, imprinted into an artificial brain, but remixed from an existing human brain, that acts and thinks like that girl.”

She watches expectantly.

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6326102

Alycia sips, but only after consideration each time. She slows down as the scenarios progress.

“That girl, but her brain is transplanted into a robot body.”

A hesitation, then a slight nod and a sip. “This stuff is going to rot my teeth before we get to the end,” she mutters.

“That girl, but an exact imprint of her brain structure was transferred to an artificial brain to live on.”

Alycia frowns, starts to sip, then puts the cup down and says, “Put a pin in that one for further clarification. Proceed.”

"A synthetic brain structure, imprinted into an artificial brain, but remixed from an existing human brain, that acts and thinks like that girl.

Alycia starts to say something, then stops. Her eyes widen slightly. “Wait, so you’re telling me – Leo recorded human engrams, mapped them into a computer brain, gave it self-awareness, and made it think of itself as human? That is simultaneously the most impressive and horrifying thing I’ve ever heard of. I don’t think even Rossum --” Another penny drops. “Wait. Shit. The memory device that Leo hooked me and Jason to – that was the same as how he did the ‘imprint’ and ‘remix’ --?”

She shudders, then shakes her head, as if trying to dislodge a fly. “For what it’s worth, Summer,” she says in a slightly subdued voice, “you have my profound sympathies for the cruelty done you.”

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6326367

“Not a ‘computer brain’,” corrects Summer. “Whatever you mean by that. I mean a brain. A collection of neurons. Like you have. Not biological. But otherwise the same. You and I are both who we are today because of Leo’s Heart Factory. We merely modified you. He synthesized me. But beyond that…”

She shrugs a little. “It’s just an N-dimensional matrix transform on a connectome. Free will, feelings, all that stuff, arises from that structure.” She reaches out, instinct telling her to hold the other girl’s hand, prudence and wounded dignity cautioning against it, and turns the gesture into clasping both her own hands together.

“I think the real cruelty was done to you. This hate, and fear, and paranoia you have to live with. I mean, you probably justify it somehow, like ‘oh the world is a dangerous place and I have to be dangerous’ or whatever. I think you need us to be different. Well, I reject that. And I reject that you can’t make Jason happy. And I think you want to drag me down to where you see yourself. I’d rather pull you up to where I am. If this is about Jason, don’t make it about me.”

“Just… just tell Jason you love him, if you do. You don’t have to do anything else. You don’t have to date him, if you don’t want. Just… just please, tell him your feelings, honestly. Then see where that takes you.”

She glances at the clock, and sighs. “I gotta go. If you have any final bitchiness you think I’ve earned, get it over with, please, so I can go back to work.”

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6326457

Which of Summer’s comments hit most deeply is hard to say, given the impassive mask Alycia assumed at the start, but after looking at her silently for a moment, she gets up abruptly, her face turning to a frown. “I think you’re wrong. About a number of things. Several. But not right – well, I won’t keep you from your job. I’ll --”

She pauses, as though trying to find a good exit line to seal a rhetorical victory, but finding neither. She settles for, “Thank you for the coupon. It was – the blintz was tasty.”

Alycia walks with deliberate haste to the front door. She glares at the chime when it goes Bing! then departs.

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6326526

I’m quite curious what Alycia will make of this later on. But one thing’s true: Summer will find her at school at some point, and without a word, offer her another coupon.

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6326545

I also THINK that she came to all her points authentically - relying on what she knows, can guess, or got from this conversation. If you think she drew a conclusion she couldn’t have, let me know.

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6326556

[Because of course she will. Because Summer.
_Jesus, that was hard to write. Because it was completely legit from A’s perspective, but even I wanted to grab her and shake her by the shoulders and say, "You’re being mean!"
I will likely (ha!) do some processing on this aloud later on. Summer whipsawed her around pretty well the last passage or two, and there’s a lot there for Alycia to unpack, esp. her own emotional reaction to it.]

author: *** Dave H.
url: Community Forums: 36.3 - Blintzed | Roll20: Online virtual tabletop

If you can play a character you still would violently disagree with, that’s good work :slight_smile:

Great first steps - no instant resolution, but a foundation for interaction.

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6326593

I feel like there’s at least one line in there that’s a Take a Terrible Blow (what was done to us is the same thing that was done to you, and also the ‘just tell Jason what you feel’ when she isn’t okay will feeling ANYTHING) - you’ll have to let me know if that tracks, Dave.

But I also think there was possibly a good shot at comfort and support, though ‘did you open up to them in response’ is probably in doubt. :slight_smile:

HARD TO READ, but not because it wasn’t extremely well done, guys. Nice scene.

author: Doyce T.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6326604