Otto looks at Bot. “Oh,” he says, softly, almost so humanly that I could forget what he is. But – yes, he knows who is in that armor.
I wish I did. I will, shortly.
Bot knows he knows. A hand rises, as though to try and mask his face from a perp walk. “I’m – not who you think I ought to be.” The voice is distorted, beyond easy parsing, not to mention this is some indeterminate time into the future and voices change. “But can we table this for ten minutes so we can get out of here? Before we get nuked from orbit?”
Fine advice. Maslovian Defense: get your ass to safety before dealing with intellectual curiosity.
But I can tell this is not going to end well.
* * *
The armor is – odd. Cobbled together, a conglomerate of borrowed tech. Needs must when the Devil drives, and I’ve certainly put together some unaesthetic monstrosities in my time, based on what I had available. That jeep in –
But this is different. It’s not only collected parts, but not assembled well. The fusion thrusters on the boots are good – they look to be the same tech as Otto – but they are lacking control jets, vanes, anything like – then I spot the ring of small jets bolted around neck and shoulders. I recognize the technology. Father. But even though that solves the maneuvering problem, it does’t solve it well or efficiently.
This Bot person (or robot, or whoever built the suit) is smart, and mechanically minded. But they’re not a hypergenius. That narrows the field down quite a bit.
Or does it?
* * *
“I committed all the fouls on this one,” Bot says, twisting his helm to unseat and remove it. “Harry, I used to be --”
It’s a man in his fifties. But I recognize the face, even after all this time.
“I used to be the guy you know as Leo Snow.”
Huh. I might have said that aloud.
“Go fuck yourself,” Leo snaps.
Everyone is staring, even (well, perhaps, especially) Aria. She’s shaking her head, ever-so-slightly, as though in denial.
Well, it doesn’t make sense to me, either.
“I want to hear everything,” I say.
* * *
“Pneuma,” he says to Aira. “Are you still with Leo? Did anyone ever steal you? I’m – trying to figure out where the timeline diverged here.”
They tell him about the Rook kidnapping of Pneuma, the message that the Rossum clone planted in her memory, how this led to the creation of Summer (from Pneuma’s backups), all that mess. I wasn’t a part of it, of course, but I’d gotten the basics in the past.
Our Leo plays very fast and loose with creating and manipulating synthetic minds. He grasps the importance, on one level, but it doesn’t restrain him.
But this Leo – Bot – is a different matter.
To hear his tale, there was no airport rescue of Pneuma. Instead, both Rook and Rossum (the clone, working with Rook) put Pneuma through the ringer for an extended period of time. When the she was rescued, she was traumatized to the point of robotic catatonia. That, coupled with learning that AEGIS had lied about his father, led Leo to go rogue from the team – and, in turn, for AEGIS to use a robotic duplicate of him (insert eye-rolling here) and consultation with his true father to go after him.
(Yes, I know, this all sounds like a bad story line on Metas of Our Lives. Life is funny / irksome that way.)
So Leo and catatonic Pneuma are being hunted down both by Rook and clone-father and AEGIS and real-father … and then the Vyortovians attack, wipe out the HHL, nab a Keynome or two, and hightail it back to the Sepiaverse. Rook then …
– okay, this is where it gets really interesting. And maddening. And disappointing. And all that –
… arranges with the Menagerie, Jason in particular, to cooperate, to work together to deal with the damage in Halcyon, both direct destruction from the invasion and the transdimensional tears that the Vyortovians inflicted.
Jason Quill and Rosa Rook. In alliance. _Oh, that can’t possibly go well.
“Wait a sec,” Bot says, reading my mind, glancing around at us. “Where’s Jason?”
As an experiment, I walk up to him, and take off my mask. He doesn’t seem to recognize me, which makes some sense. But he thinks I’m his replacement on the team, apparently. “Jesus,” he says, “did you guys kill him?”
But there’s a point that needs to be made more certain, I think. “No,” I reply. “But, just to be clear: you are on the run. And you have, somewhere, your robot companio_n_, Pneuma. Just the one.” I stress the name.
Pneuma was name of the fembot Leo created early on. The one that in our world was kidnapped, and her backup instantiated as yet another fembot. That one latter became Summer. “Our” Pneuma, once rescued and the hidden message played and deleted, renamed herself Aria.
If this one is still “Pneuma,” then there is no Summer.
I’m not quite sure how I feel about that. Though that’s an intellectual puzzle, next to the knot of anger in my gut over what we else we’ve learned.
“Yeah. She’d been – violated, repeatedly. Became non-verbal. Non-responsive.”
“Just pointing out another difference in the timeline,” I comment, taking in the others. I’m reluctant to actually mention Summer.
“What difference?” he says, insistently. Well, I guess this is kind of near and dear to his heart. He turns to Aria. “That’s – that’s you?” There’s something bright in his eyes. “You’re okay, right?”
Leo spills the beans, of course. He’s not thinking straight on all of this, for a variety of understandable and very Leo and still irritating reasons. “There’s two of them now. The other one stayed behind.”
“Two? What the --” The penny drops. “Oh. Huh. Yeah, that would’ve --” He looks down. “We didn’t – we didn’t have the other one.”
I’m glad, for different reasons than I might have guessed, that Summer isn’t here. And I’m not sure about Aria. Or, for that matter, Otto –
(Where is Otto?)
Bot (easier to remember that name, to keep them straight) continues, “Anyway, I got in a fight with the Menagerie, and Jason took my powers away --”
“-- with his nanobots, just kind of … did something to me.”
Jason? The hell_?
“And then he kept on working with Rook.”
“He – took away your powers? Your hypergenius?”
Bot looks at me with something that might be sadness, but is layered with a lot more. “He’s done it with others.”
_Holy. Shit. Jason.
To suggest I’m conflicted over this would be a massive understatement, but now’s not the time for ranting. Really. Sure, I’ll confess some slight schadenfreude over Bot’s state; Leo is always so self-righteous, such the heroic leader, that it’s – refreshing? ironic? a confirmation of my cynicism? – to see his doppelganger brought so low.
But Jason …
“I suppose,” I manage to get out, “If Leo could end up like you, then Jason could end up like … the local Jason.”
Bot stares at me. “Wow.”
Charlotte chimes in, breaking the others’ silence, looking at me. “It’s not like we haven’t seen … parallel situations.”
That’s the rub. This is precisely what Jason did to his father, and mine – robbed them of their hypergenius, performed a meta-lobotomy with his nanobots. It was the epitome of cold, righteous rage, and while it was satisfying to see it happen on several levels, I’d written it off as a one-time thing.
(Where are Father and Byron Quill in this timeline. Still stuck over on Federal City? I suddenly very much hope so. Though if the Vyortovians swiped a pair of Keynomes and went back … that bodes ill. Hell, they might have just died of old age.)
But here Jason could be brought to use that power on a friend, on a former team mate. And with nothing approaching the provocation that our fathers caused. That’s …
Bot’s rambling on about oh, woe is me, I’m not a hyper-genius any more, boo-hoo. I mean, sure, a bit of sympathy, but it’s been decades_, Leo, suck it up_.
It does explain the engineering problems with the suit, though.
So Bot’s pretty much solo, except for some similar fugitives. Pneuma is a casualty. And, he adds, “I can’t find Otto.”
I breathe an internal sigh of relief at that. I’d felt a sudden concern that Bot might have (in a sense) cannibalized Otto for his suit.
(Why am I concerned about Otto? Because he’s a fine piece of technology that it would be an aesthetic crime to treat that way. And because he, like his “sisters,” has already been poorly handled by their Creator, and I’ll not have that offense made worse.)
As if reading my thoughts, Leo demands Bot take him to his Pneuma, so that he can “fix” her. Bot dispatches Vector to do the job, to Leo’s disgust.
Aria and Otto are not invited, though, on Leo’s errand of mercy, which strikes me as a bit arrogant. Not only would they, especially Aria, be in the best position to help her doppelganger, but clearly they’ve both been programmed to be/seem concerned about Pneuma, which, if as genuine as Summer makes it out to be, is then cruel to then deny them.
See? Yet another reason why I get so pissy over this subject.
* * *
Leo being gone, Bot reminisces about the other Menagerie folk who are here, filling in some gaps about what happened in the intervening years. He was only with the team a few weeks before things went south, so his connections are sketchy, and decades in the past past, but that is what it is.
Concord vanished shortly after joining the team – possibly to leave Earth. Bot hasn’t seen Ghost Girl in years; the wounds in the world are apparently under control, so it’s possible she’s active behind the scenes, holding things together.
Harry ran (so to speak) with Bot for a while, using his speed to steal supplies and tech – including the super-suit that Vector’s wearing, which was designed by Rook to emulate the Gale Family speedsters. Heck, Harry actually taught Vector how to use it.
One day Harry didn’t come back. Bot figured that he’d had been captured, or Jason “did something.”
Dammit, Jason …
* * *
“Hi,” I introduce myself to Bot. “I’m Alycia Chin. So where can I find the local Jason Quill?”
His eyes widen on the name. “Wow. You’re on the team? That’s not how I would’ve pictured it.”
In fact, Bot is of no use in figuring out what happened to this world’s Alycia. If this Jason was ever pursuing me (insert eye-rolling (okay, maybe not as much eye-rolling as I’d pretend to roll)), he was too distracted by his dealings with Rosa Rook (ew) to ever do much about it.
So who knows where “I” am? Maybe I figured out how to get to the Sepiaverse, only to be trapped there. Maybe I was eventually caught by law enforcement (ha!) or tracked down by some of Father’s enemies / allies / followers. Maybe I’m running a vast criminal empire somewhere (hopefully not from a musty base in a swamp), or just sitting in the sun somewhere in the Caribbean or Aegean or Polynesian Islands (bo-ring).
Wherever that version of me lives (or lies buried), Bot doesn’t know.
(Is anyone else interested in their doubles? Nobody’s being open about it, but I can’t imagine anyone not. Though, like Leo, it could be a disappointing set of discoveries.)
My location may be unknown, but Jason is in Halcyon. He and Rook control 80% of the tech out there; he does the R&D, she does the manufacturing, together they rule the world.
God dammit_, Jason._
* * *
“Last question,” I say. “You sent Vector back to our time to grab some of your old tech, since you can’t rebuild it.” And just as well. “What do you intend to do with our Leo’s little mind mimeograph.”
He sighs, looks away. “I thought --” He trails off.
When he continues, his voice is low. “I thought I could merge with Pneuma, and she’d be okay.” A light snort. “Then she could do what I can’t figure out how to do any more.”
I stare at him.
He doesn’t meet my eyes, but his face tightens with something that might have been a smile once. “Yeah, kind of a final desperation move. But she always made everything … better.”
What. The. Fuck? I can’t help it. “You are … beyond a doubt … Leo Snow.”
That actually makes him laugh.
Never mind that doing such a thing would likely kill him. Hell, it’s not at all clear that it would save Pneuma. But Leo’s always been a romantic, and it’s just the sort of insane, suicidal beau geste that an end-of-his-rope Leo would do.
Or maybe I’m being too harsh. I can see the desperation in his eyes, in his body language, smell it in the very air around us. I know how that level of hopelessness can drive people to extraordinary, and self-destructive, lengths. I know it too well.
Something to remember for the future. About our Leo, if nobody else.
* * *
Vector returns from where he left Leo and Pneuma, quietly embraced in a virtual dream. “How long do we leave them?”
“Until he fixes her,” Aria replies.
(Bot has barely talked with her. I can understand the pathology, but know that’s a mistake he’ll likely regret in the future. But, then, he’s in his 50s and I’m only 17 – what do I know?)
* * *
Charlotte has wandered off during all this, saying she’s looking for ghosts. A time later, we all get a vague headachey echo of “Cheese and Rice!” in our heads, which is as close as the ghost gets to actual swearing. We should likely do something about that, since it feels to me like she’s upset / worried / in pain / shaken / something not right. But nobody else is leaping to the fore, since they’re as preoccupied as I am.
Me? I’m on what passes for an Internet in the mid-century – menu-driven, ad-festooned, tightly controlled, not an URL or server access in site, and apparently fully cognizant of every personal detail about everyone (or, in the case of this terminal, the ersatz personality that the security spoofer has generated).
I figure it out.
And with it, I’ll figure out what Bot couldn’t tell me: how do I get to Jason Quill? Because there’s an outside chance that I, better than anyone else, can fix all this. And, if I can’t – there’s a much better chance that I can address the problem more permanently.
He’s not used to dealing with me any more. In fact, he never was.
author: *** Dave H.