45.3 - A Tale of Two Jasons

All is darkness. Then a spotlight flickers on overhead, bathing him in a pale yellow glow, where he sits on a wooden chair. The floor is concrete, lines and numbers painted on it, faded and worn. Tire marks. Other scrapes and mars to the surface.

He should know this place. He can’t see beyond the circle, but he can tell, just from the sound of the air, that the space about him is huge, cavernous.

He should know this place. It’s been years, but he should. Why can’t I remember?

Footsteps. An even pace. Steady. Soft-soled shoes, occasionally squeaking on the concrete.

He squints. His vision isn’t what it once was. No time for laser surgery – and no inclination, after how Rook handled that annoying journalist in New York. He’d settled for variable gravitic lenses, found them handy, kept them. They looked sharp.

But he doesn’t have them now, and he’s not sure where he lost them. So he squints into the darkness, waiting for the figure to approach.

* * *

Not heavy. Sports shoes of some sort. Lessons Rusty taught him come back slowly. Even gait, no limp. Based on the weight, the steps are a medium pace, neither hurried nor relaxed.

I am Jason Quill. And I will know the meaning of this.

He sits on the chair until the figure steps into the cone of light. Close to his own height, but with a teen’s slender frame. Decent musculature – from training, he knows. Red tennies. Tan cargo pants. Jet-black t-shirt that he recognizes all too well. Soft features he was always afraid looked girlish. Untamed mop of pale blond hair.

It’s him. The flash, the impression he had when they grappled – it’s all true.

It’s himself. Age 17, going on 18. Right as he’d started his collaboration with Rosa Rook, began building a new, better, more protected world.

It’s Jason Quill. And he’s here to kill me.

[to be continued]

#Cutscene

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6550546

The other Jason’s face is wrinkled with anger. “What. The. Hell? What have you done? How could you?”

It’s been a while since he’s had to be defensive – outwardly defensive, at least. Nobody questions him any more. Nobody’s around to question him, to be sure, but any doubts he has remaining are all internal.

Except … this is internal, isn’t it. “This is all in my head,” he says. “Isn’t it?”

Younger Jason looks around, as if the space beyond the spotlight is visible to him. “And pretty damned empty it is. Worn. Beginning to fall apart.” The expression on his face is clearer now. Disgust. “I can’t believe you’re what I turned into. What I could have turned into.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” He gets to his feet, pushing the chair back. “I don’t know what this is all about, what sort of trick dear old Leo is pulling – or who’s pulling his strings? Are you behind this, Rosa?” He looks up toward the light, shouts, “Finally making your move? What do you think this psychodrama’s going to accomplish? How do you think you’ll survive without me. You think that Project Brightstar you’ve been trying to keep secret is going to help? Idiot!”

Young Jason shakes his head. “You have’t got a clue. Not surprising.” He puts his hands on his hips. “Jeez. How could you do it? How could you attack Leo that way? How could you – it’s --” for a moment, the younger Jason almost looks as old as he feels. “It’s terrible to do that to someone. To use the nanobots to --” He shakes his head again, this time seemingly for his own words.

He stares at his younger self. “So that’s your path here? Guilt over what I had to do to Leo? It won’t work, whoever you are. Any regrets I had over that are long-since buried. It was the right thing to do, regrettable thought it was. And I’ve lived those regrets, in atonement, all these years. So don’t bother with that card.”

“Jesus. You sound like Dad.”

That hits home. All these years, and the surge of anger, of abandonment, is still there. And, in a sense, love. “I could do far worse than to be like Byron Quill.”

The younger figure bows his head, rubbing thumb and forefinger across his brow. “You really have no clue. The divergence was only a few weeks ago, but so much changed in that time. Leo was the key – being there, letting him take the team, gave me the chance to explore things, figure out what was going on with me. Helped me figure out how to fix myself. Made me strong enough to resist Rook. Deal with Dad. Help with the --”

“You’re babbling,” he tell the younger Jason. “Look, whoever you are, however you’re manipulating my mind – chemicals, electrical fields, sonics-- it’s not going to work. I’m a hypergenius. There’s nobody more comfortable inside my head than I am. If you’re not careful, you might find yourself trapped in here. And that, I promise, will not end well for you.”

Young Jason looks back at him, pale blue eyes clearer than he’s seen them on himself for a decade. “You know who I am.”

“I know who you’re pretending to be.”

“No, you know. You can’t hide your thoughts in here. Not from me. You knew who I was when I walked in here.”

“And where is ‘here’?”

He looks around. “Warehouse A3, I think. The place where Dad stashed the most promising tech he wanted to come back to. Is that how you’ve been inventing stuff for Rook? Raiding the warehouses? No wonder it looks empty.”

“Running the world and reinventing it is busy work, boy. This place – no, I don’t need to justify myself, least of all to you.”

“No, you don’t. You know why. You know who I am.”

He sighs. “You’re meant to look like --”

“Ahem.”

“Fine. Somehow, in some fashion, you’re the younger me.”

The younger Jason steps up to him, right in his face. “No. I’m the younger you that was meant to be. And we’re going to fix that.”

[to be continued]

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6551683

He crosses his arms, the motion getting the boy to step back. “So you’re an improved version of me. I’m sure there’s a really exciting story there. But I’m Jason Fucking Quill. I’m the guy in charge of this planet. The guy who’s going to save this world. Anything in my past made me what I am. Anything you want to change there changes me, weakens me. Endangers everyone.”

He raises an eyebrow. “Is that what you really want to do?”

The boy – Jason decides that’s what he’ll call him – rolls his eyes. “Doctor Quill and Doctor Chin, all rolled into one.”

He stiffens.

“Can you even hear the arrogance in what you just said? Can’t you hear Dad’s voice saying that? Or Chin? Jeez.”

“I could – do worse than emulate Dad. He just didn’t go far enough, got too distracted. Exploring. Sparring with Chin. And that guy – he was a lunatic. Him and his --” Jason stops.

The boy smirks. “And his daughter?” He snorts, shakes his head. “Let me tell you a story. How things should have been. How they will be.”

Jason sits back down in the chair, leans back, crosses his legs. He could leave – maybe – but this threat will only come at him again, from another direction. Better to suss out who’s behind this, nip it in the bud.

The boy nods. “Pneuma was kidnapped. That was the start of all this. The divergence point. She --” He pauses. “You realize Rook was behind that.”

Jason makes a face. “I discovered it a few years later. It only confirmed what I already knew about dear Rosa. It was too late to – change what had happened. But I made sure she was neutralized. Neutered. She doesn’t have nearly the power she thinks she does. Eventually --” He shrugs. “Go on. ‘Divergence,’ you said.”

“In the timeline.” Jason stiffens slightly. Is that what this is all about? “In your world, it took time for her to be rescued. Time in which --” The boy gives a micro-shake of his head. “And that’s when Leo left, and things started spiraling out of control.”

Into control,” Jason rejoins. “Leo was weak. Ex-criminal, which I could forgive, because everyone loves a redemption story. But too sentimental, too attached to his toys, his car, his ‘girlfriend.’ He never understood.”

“You’re wrong,” the boy replies. “He was stronger than you knew. He just was broken by what happened to Pneuma. For a while. Until he realized what you were doing, and tried to stop you. Then it wasn’t a matter of being weak, it was a matter of being too late. And not realizing what you’d become.”

“So Leo – or ‘Bot,’ isn’t that what he’s calling himself these days? – he’s the one behind this. Okay, I’ll grant you, that took more guts and brains than I thought he still had of either. But --”

The boy makes a cutting motion with his hands. “No. Not in the way you think. You can’t duck it this easy.”

“Then get on with it.”

“Yes, Dad.”

“Shut. It.”

“Make up your mind.”

God, I was such an asshole teen. “Go on with the story.”

“In my timeline, we found her sooner. Faster. At the airport, in Rook’s custody. The only thing Rossum – Rook’s pet Rossum clone --”

Jason takes a moment to realize that this conversation would sound insane to nobody not in the club. He misses a couple of words.

“-- message to Leo. That led a duplicate of Pneuma – Numina – from the backup of the original without the – well, that’s a long side story. The bottom line is, Leo stayed on the team. In fact --” The boy looks directly at him. “-- I let him take over the leadership.”

“You did what?” Jason shakes his head in disbelief. “Why would you do that?”

“Because I was preoccupied with figuring out what Dad did to me. To us.”

Jason huffs. “You mean editing select portions of my memory? Particularly ones around Alycia Chin?” He shakes his head. “I’m not an idiot, boy. I analyzed the damage a decade ago. It’s … irksome. If Dad hadn’t been killed by Chin, I might have had some hard words for him.” He shakes his head. “But he was. It’s water under the bridge. It’s like circumcision: what I can’t remember, I can’t miss. I just need to make a world where that never happens again.”

The boy shakes his head. “You’ve got no idea, old man. You’re selling what he took from us short. He --”

“I said --” Jason says, putting his leg down, leaning forward. “-- what can’t be cured must be endured. Dad’s dead. So’s Alycia, for that matter. What difference does it make to get all weepy about it now?”

The boy gives him a mysterious smile. “You think so?”

“Chin killed Father and Rusty in DC. And Alycia’s gone. All the threats stopped. And, believe me, I know how to look for someone in this world. She’s either dead or in outer space. In either case, she’s not something I have to worry about.”

“So,” the boy goes on, as if the elder hadn’t said anything, “Somewhere along the way we’d discovered there was a parallel dimension to ours. Harry dubbed it the Sepiaverse, from when he crossed over to it.”

Jason cocks his head. “Right. I remember that. I’ve been using that for --” He pauses. “Well, needn’t go into that. But it’s a world associated with the Vyortovians, and the Keynomes they covet, and there are probabilistic / entropic quantum-level discrepancies between this world and that which can be exploited.”

“Wouldn’t that lead to a --” The boy snorts. “Concentrate. Focus. Jeez, you’re still scattered. Anyway, here’s one thing I was able to discover. The Sepiaverse is where Dad and Rusty were. They, and Chin, were working together to keep the Vyortovians from getting one of the Keynomes. They got sucked across to the Sepiaverse when the Vyortovian forces interrupted them.”

Jason blinks. “Wait, what?”

“Yeah. And they got tied up in fighting a war between the remnants of civilization and supporters of the Vyortovians. Who, by the way, hadn’t gotten hold of the Keynomes.”

“Dad – and Chin?”

“And Rusty. And then I crossed over to the Sepiaverse with Numina, the backup Pneuma, and then I joined forces with Alycia Chin, and we did to Dad and to Dr. Chin what you freaking did to Leo.”

“You – what? With --?”

“I reached into their heads and destroyed what made them hyper-geniuses. You know the drill, right? And then we went back, and Leo fired up his crazy Mind Machine, and he fixed my memories using Alycia’s, and fixed the emotional shit that Chin nerfed on her with my emotions.”

“What – are you talking about?”

The boy meets his gaze, eyes clear and complete. “And that’s just the part I remember. Wait until you hear the rest.”

[to be continued]

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6553197

Jason draws himself up, snorts, even if he feels shaky. “A convenient story. ‘Oh, Leo is the savior. Oh, without Byron Quill the world is a paradise. Oh, Alycia and I are bestest buds. Oh, Rook is the big villain. Join our crusade!’ It’s all so desperately convenient, boy. What next? A new world order? Wedding bells with your iconic Alycia? The Singularity? Come!” Jason says, pushing past his uncertainty at the ring of truth to what the younger figure has said. “Tell the rest of your story about the perfect world crafted from your professionally formed saga.”

The boy shakes his head. “Listen to what I’ve said. I’m an image of Jason from that moment, from that backup Leo’s machine made when he patched my brain. Everything else I just know from Leo, but listen to it. You’ve moved on from the Menagerie, in my timeline, doing … stuff. For people. Alycia’s in the Menagerie. Rossum’s been defeated, and Rook has some serious stock value problems. Adam is still with us, dealing with tragedy but still using his powers to protect Earth. Harry is running for his life and showing his heroism. Leo and his creations are making lives for themselves, supporting the group and working for humanity. Charlotte is leading the battle to resolve the Wound between Worlds.”

The younger Jason spreads his hands. “I know that judging between timelines is a mook’s game. But I look at where our world is going, and where your world has gone – with you isolated, your friends in the Menagerie dead or in hiding or corrupted, with your mind unhealed and the chance you had for happiness unfulfilled – where all that tells me that this timeline is worse than mine.”

Jason gets up again. He feels, suddenly, weak. Old. Creaking with pain. He shrugs it off. “You don’t understand. Whatever happened – whatever you say happened – in your world, it’s not meaningful here. The observer collapses the realities. Each timeline is as it is. Moral judgment is just political commentary. Motivation is paramount, but unknowable. Even --”

He stops a moment, face shifting through a dozen emotions, then goes on. “Even if Dad and Rusty – and, hell, Dr. Chin, or even Alycia – are over in the Sepiaverse, the march of history has pushed past them. This stuff you’re talking about, even if I believed it, is meaningless. That’s not how things happened here. Making value judgments, taking action, based on might-have-beens, is irrational.”

Jason opens his arms. “I am who I am. I do not regret my decisions, given what the situation on the ground was. And I will not change my course based on how events occurred elsewhen. I mean, in some other timeline, there’s a Man in the High Tower universe where I live. Does that mean I should become a Nazi? There’s a world where I snapped under the pressure. Should I start killing people with hypertech because I did so in some other timeline? There’s a timeline where I developed AI that took over the world and exterminated humanity. Should I start crafting artificial intelligences to make that a reality?”

“Only if you have no moral compass, man,” the boy says. “We’re all faced with moral edge cases. But you sound someone too busy defending what he’s done to see what – well, what he’s done.”

“I have no regrets.”

The boy looks at him. “Jesus. I’m 17 years old, and even I can tell that’s a lie.”

[to be continued]

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6553506

Jason walks around the chair in the pool of light, stands behind it and leans on its back. “So, what, then? Do we draw knives and have at it, may the best memory win?” He looks down at his torso. The nanobots are there – a full bodysuit, as he reconfigured them in '14, after that assassination attempt. But they don’t stir to his will. “Or do you simply tear me apart with your 'bots, take over my body, replace me? Is that, ultimately what this is all about?”

The boy shakes his head, his face sad. “I’m here to fix you. That’s what we do, we Quills. We fix stuff.”

“I fixed the world.”

“No, you broke it, and super-glued the pieces back together into a different shape. You didn’t fix it, you made it worse.”

You weren’t here, dammit!” Jason slams one hand on the back of the chair, then rounds it and takes a step toward his younger self. “Listen to my story for a change. The Vyortovian invasion caused massive damage – governmental, economic, societal – that reverberated world-wide. It was all falling apart. With the Keynomes gone, it was even worse. There were riots, wars were ramping up around the world, food supply chains disrupted – we were going to lose it all. Rook – Rook had a plan, use hypertech to fix things, fix the economy, take care of that first level of Maslow’s hierarchy for everyone. Food, housing, medical care, the works. Everyone! Everywhere! And we did it! It hasn’t been easy, and the job isn’t complete, and there will still be a lot of work to do after, to take it to the next level, but we did it, dammit.”

“And Rosa Rooks runs the world.”

We run the world. She makes a lot of day-to-day decisions, along with some others but I’m the one actually in charge, and she knows it.”

“And things like freedom, democracy, all that?”

"Fun while they lasted. Lifeboat rules – survival comes first. If that means people don’t get to make decisions, or just have the illusion of doing so while Q/R actually runs the show, so be it. We’re alive. Hell, the global standard of living is the best it’s been in human history. Dissent, civil liberties, they can’t get in the way of that. And I’m a hell of a lot better qualified to make the decisions that keep the wheels on than Joe Sixpack in Bumfuck, Nebraska.

“Must be nice.”

“Don’t use that tone of voice with me. It’s hell. There’s always a new problem, always a new decision to make, always some – moral compromise. The world isn’t a four-color adventure. You’ve seen enough of that to know. It’s a million shades of gray, and telling the differences between them in every case … isn’t … simple.”

“And so instead it becomes easier and easier to seek the pragmatic. The expedient. Get the decision out of the way, regardless of the result. Eyes on the goal, the ends justify the means even if the means inevitably shape the ends. Make the tough decisions.” The boy’s voice is soft. “Like Leo.”

“Leo? That was years ago. There’s been so much bigger, so much … worse since then. But someone had to make those decisions. They had to be made. And Rosa Rook, and the others – they weren’t going to do it. Or do it any better. Or do it right. It had to be me.”

“And that’s made you the loneliest man in the world.”

Jason freezes a beat, then shrugs. “I’ve found … people to talk to.”

A smile. “AIs aren’t people, man. You won’t get anything out of those conversations you haven’t already put in. That’s not a conversation.”

“The nanobots --”

“That’s just another way of talking to yourself. You know that. I know that.” The boy shakes his head. “Jeez. Maybe I understand you more than you think. I’ve been planning on quitting the team, get into more important things in life. I looked at Dad and saw how the whole science-adventure thing distracted him, how he let his war with Dr. Chin affect his ability to change the world. I thought I needed to get more into real life. Now I wonder if that’s going to turn out to be a mistake, if it means I isolate myself from my friends.” He looks back at Jason. “Turn into you.”

“Would that really be so bad?”

“I’m not claiming I’m perfect. But even I can see this, all this you’ve done, is wrong.”

Jason slumps back into the chair. “And I can see you’re an optimistic idiot who thinks he can do one big thing and save the world. Which kind of defines ‘seventeen years old,’ I guess. Even for me.” He rubs his temples with one hand, echoing the younger version’s gesture of a few minutes before. “So back to the question: what now? Do I fade into the darkness and you take over? Throw me into a cell and take my place – or let Leo do it? You think you can run all this, fix all this, boy?”

The boy shakes his head, a small, wry smile on his lips. “No way. You broke it, you bought it. All I’m going to do is fix things.”

“You keep saying that. How are you going to fix it? What are you going to fix?”

The boy taps his forehead. “I have the patches for what Dad did, fixes for the slap-dash coding errors he allowed in before he went and got himself sucked to the Sepiaverse. I can correct that code and the damage it did – the damage it’s still doing. And I’ve got the diff files for my memories, the ones Dad erased. You should have those recollections back – they’re important. And I have my own memories, since the Divergence. I told you my story, but you should experience it. Understand it.”

“And then?”

“And then I’m done. You go on, a bit less broken, a lot fewer holes in your mind, and with my memories, the things I experienced, the decisions I made, including the mistakes. And you carry on from there. For the better, I hope.”

“So that makes me a new man? A better man? You think it will really be that simple?”

“This isn’t Dickens. I’m not the Ghost of Jason Past, not really, any more than this is the real Warehouse A3. This conversation, it’s simply code packets trying to find the right interface, the right permissions, through your nanobot / cognitive structure. Your consciousness is just picturing it all this way.” He glances around. “Which is, honestly, a little creepy, but it could have been a lot worse, I guess. But, yeah, that simple. Whether it makes you new and better, I dunno. That’s for you to decide.”

Jason shudders. “I don’t want your memories. I don’t want to know those things. It never happened here – or it happened and was forgotten. Why would I want that?”

The boy smiles again, with a bit of sadness this time. “We’re scientists, man. There’s no such thing as too much data. You can’t draw accurate conclusions if you decide what results to look at and what to refuse to see. Maybe you won’t change. But if you do, or if you don’t, you’ll be doing it with a more complete data set. One that might help you with some of those hard decisions.”

Jason lowers his face into his hands, the weight of decades suddenly resting on him, the ghosts of the dead and buried whispering in his ears. “I’m not – evil. I just did what I thought I had to.”

He feels a hand on his shoulder. “I know. That’s what we all do.”

And then the light starts to dim, the darkness of the room beyond getting closer. Jason, without even looking, realizes it isn’t shadow after all, but nanobots, all around him, slowly moving in with that rustling whisper they have.

He’s here to kill me. That was his thought when he first saw the boy. Now he knows that’s not true. He should still be terrified, but, he realizes, for maybe the first time in a long while, he’s actually curious about what happens next.

The boy’s voice comes one last time. “Let’s find out together.”

-fin-

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6554353

That was awesome.

It’s not this specific dynamic, but this scene is what I was reminded of, and the idea of building a perfect world and how you can do it.

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6554374

Thanks. I guess I still had more to say about Jason than I realized. :slight_smile:

And as pissed off as even I was by what Jason had become, as I got into his head I realized there was a ton of that “Everyone’s a hero in their own story” to him. That doesn’t excuse the evil he’s done, it just explains it beyond saying “he’s evil.” So I tried to add that to the mixture. AltFuture!Jason is well aware of his sins, for all that he endlessly justifies them in long speeches to his AIs. He’s trapped by them, too, because he can’t figure out how he could have done anything differently. He’s justified himself into a corner.

I never saw the new Tron movie, alas. I probably should. But the end of this tale reminded me (after the fact) of the classic Twilight Zone ep, “Nothing in the Dark,” starring a remarkably young Robert Redford as Mr. Death. Who, after the old woman who’s been hiding from him for years finally dies, exposits about the process, “You see. No shock. No engulfment. No tearing asunder. What you feared would come like an explosion is like a whisper. What you thought was the end is the beginning.” While the take-down in the outer world was pretty violent and brutal (and lovely Moment-of-Truthy), this interior take-down is much more gentle, because it wasn’t about being destructive. Anything but.

That there were alternatives then means there are alternatives now. The memories, in some ways, are almost superfluous to that realization for Jason, except that they back up that idea. That opens up the future for him. I don’t know what happens to this Jason next. Even if he’s reformed, he has a hell of a task ahead of him. And the first part of that will be, maybe, the biggest: finding friends to do it with.

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6554477

I guess I still had more to say about Jason than I realized. :slight_smile:

Jason is a complex, Byronic Hero type character, there’ll always be lots to say about him. I’m glad you took the chance to do so.

While the take-down in the outer world was pretty violent and brutal (and lovely Moment-of-Truthy), this interior take-down is much more gentle, because it wasn’t about being destructive. Anything but.

This type of outcome is Leo’s stock in trade, and I’m glad that his strongest moments have not been about taking someone down himself, but about giving them a new chance to think things over for themselves. We didn’t get any of the Dread Queen’s interior monologue, but I’m glad we got some here.

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6554610

It was a bit weird getting into AltFuture!Jason’s head, esp. since our interactions with him had been pretty limited. It was a matter of trying to bring in some of fixing-things Jason with Byron’s arrogance (and a bit of Chin’s as well). Playing that against a younger Jason with the same drives, but uncrushed by the years of increasing moral compromise, but with the whole pithing people thing still fresh in his head (and his ambivalence over what he did there).

I have a vision now of when Jason wakes up to find Alycia – our Alycia – sitting by his bed (or conference table), looking at him, and in what order the flood of terror, old romantic impulses, fresh romantic impulses, other new/recovered memories, and a dozen other perspectives (including, “she’s still underage, and I am so not any more”) will cascade through his head and out his mouth.

We didn’t get any of the Dread Queen’s interior monologue, but I’m glad we got some here.

The DQ works better as a mystery. We always were going to have some sort of conversation with AltFuture!Jason; he used to be one of us.

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6555411

The first words he needs to hear are “hello hero”.

I much prefer the idea of Alycia as a focal point for Old Jason’s hope for the future, than for any other particular impulses, yeah… I like to think that her recent experiences being accepted might give her some insight or ideas into how to handle a redemption story for him, as well as her years of experience with Young Jason.

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6555500

Oh, God, yes, that is the perfect opening line.

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6555546

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6562401

Can a PC alum have a moment of truth? :slight_smile:

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6562580