50.2 - The Odd Couple (Alycia and Summer Edition)

As cued from here. Retcon away the in-game comments about much of this scene taking place earlier.
Or, from a non-meta standpoint, continued from here.

The gaggle of girls slowly exits Want of a Nail, nattering and chattering in a way that Alycia simply doesn’t understand, and really doesn’t want to. She can do it – small talk is a key facet of social spycraft – but she’s never felt comfortable at it.

Another facet is maneuvering through a crowd, and Alycia’s better (and more comfortable) at that, and she makes her way beside Summer without causing a ripple in the pack, as they head down the street to yet another of the innumerable wittily-named coffee shops in Halcyon. As if they need to be more heavily caffeinated.

This is moving faster than she’d wanted, but it’s unclear if she’ll be able to grab a moment with Summer over the weekend, and she has no doubts that the smug Director will force her to commit to a decision. She has to maximize her options before they get cut off.

Yes, and I also need to –

She shuts that off. Yes, I know that, be quiet, she counters to herself.

“Summer,” she says, softly, not drawing attention to herself from the others. “Do you have a moment?”

Please note that, despite the title, I don’t assume anything about the outcome of this conversation.

#RP #Cutscene

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6685658

Summer’s unique chemistry doesn’t benefit from most modern beauty treatments. Her hair won’t be fuller, bouncier, or anything-elsier with the expensive new shampoo on television. Her skin won’t soften or turn supple with renewed youth. All she could do was politely decline Duskshine’s dizzying array of cosmetic options, and smile along. In some ways, she seems a little more tired than when she went in.

But at the question, she turns, and via body language and facial expression, her personal sun peeks out of the clouds.

“Yes, Alycia. What is it?”

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6685684

Alycia deftly cuts her out of the herd, to the brick-paved edges of the sidewalk, stopping with her in a small pocket between a quaint light pole and a now-empty newspaper box corral. If she’s done her job right, the others won’t notice unless they explicitly want to chat with one or the other. Alycia considers it unlikely anyone will initiate chat with her, and Summer’s eschewing of mani, pedi, or hairi treatment makes her, for once, less a center of bubbly attent –

She brings that thinking to a halt. Now’s not the time.

“I need your help,” she says, after a moment, her voice even softer as if she’s afraid someone will hear. “I – I may not have been informed. By the others. If there was some movement on the team getting a base of some sort. Something with, I don’t know, accommodations. Living quarters. Someplace I – someplace people can sleep. Did anyone say anything to you?”

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6685912

Summer thinks a moment. “Hmm. I don’t think I remember any specifics. But y’know, I’m not one of you.”

There’s just a hint of awkward pauses. “The Menagerie, I mean. I was just filling in for Leo and Aria while everyone was away, you know?”

“I can ask Leo about a base, if you want.” She puts together the pieces she has. “Oh. If there’s a base, is AEGIS going to let you stay there too?” She smiles more brightly. “I think that would be great, if you were able to stay together with everyone. I’ve got an apartment and I pay rent, so hopefully the base will be covered somehow. It seems like it’d be expensive.”

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6685936

“No, no, of course not. I thought, everyone trusts --” She growls audibly. “They want me to sleep in a – or with – rrrg.” She closes her eyes. “Priorities,” she says aloud. A deep breath. Her eyes snap open, and then she rolls her eyes. “Summer. I have wronged you.” She presses one fist against an open palm. “You are in fact a true soul who deserves the respect worth any validly cognizant creature.” She pauses, then adds, “Which isn’t much, except that – yes, you are a true soul. I have wronged you.”

She huffs a breath. “Dammit, this isn’t some sort of weird alien ritual. I fucked up, Summer. I’m … sorry.”

Cars swoosh down the street. Girltalk chatters along the sidewalk. Alycia’s gaze does not meet Summer’s.

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6686151

Summer’s responses have wavered and wandered as her own troubles occupied her. Now she mentally sets those aside, and orients on what she’s hearing.

“You said robots had hurt you. I’m a robot. If this bothers you, just tell me and I’ll stop. Or, y’know, tap out, like a wrestler.”

And with that, she slides her arms around the other girl and pulls her carefully, cautiously, into a hug. There’s no force - she’s ready to let go at any time, at the slightest sign of hesitation.

“Friends hurt each other. And friends forgive. If you want. Okay?”

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6686161

Alycia doesn’t pull away or tell her to stop. But, then, she’s endured far worse in stony silence.

She feels real enough – warm, soft, strong … Is that what Jason – She cuts herself off, and instead says, “I’ve not been a friend to you. I was wrong in my foundation for doing so. If you forgive me, I am in your debt.” The words, even distant stilted as they are, are hard to utter, betraying a weakness she hates to reveal. But the honesty, the integrity, of the moment is more important to her.

Which means she has to push forward. “And you’ll think the less of me in the timing. I need a favor.” She quickly adds, “I’m not saying all this to get a favor from you, but because I can’t ask for one until I have.”

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6686882

The nearby street light and newspaper boxes feel like they strike a balance of solitude and sanctuary. It’s a sad feeling, like being at the edge of a crowd of strangers. Some of Summer’s melancholy returns, as the earlier conversation at Blintzkrieg tries to take over her memory. Alycia is here, but… distant.

No. I knew this was going to take time, and be difficult, for both of us. Baby steps. If she’s not ready for a full hug, then maybe… a glompromise?

The joke brings a smile back to her face. She pulls out of the hug, but not once does she fully break contact. A hand on the shoulder, or the arm, is enough to remind Alycia that she’s here, and that she’s not rejected. Summer doesn’t know for sure what is going on in that head. All she can do is try and reassure, and the best way she knows is basic human closeness.

Be respectful of her feelings. She said this for a reason. But… it sounded wrong. What can I say instead?

“I believe… that forgiveness is how you get out of debt, not into it,” she says quietly, with her best soothing smile. “I’m guessing your favor has to do with a place to stay. You want to know about a base. Or if there isn’t any plans for it - or maybe even if they are - just somewhere you can call home for a bit. I’ll do whatever I can to help with that, Alycia. I promise.”

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6687020

Alycia realizes she’s chewing on her lower lip a bit and forces herself to stop. Be composed. Looking weak is not going to help this.

She nods. “AEGIS is willing to give me my freedom, but only if I’m living someplace … they approve of. Which for them is at an AEGIS dorm --” She shudders slightly. “-- or, if need be, with Parker. That doesn’t sound like fun times. They did say if the team had a base, that might work, too. I know they – we – were hanging out at Jason’s, and that isn’t what I would want.” Why not? No, not right yet. “But after it got wiped out by Vector … we’ve been spending more time in Study Hall than anything else. When we’ve actually been in town. So --”

She shrugs, tension in her shoulders “Could I --” She pauses, takes a small breath, then finishes in a rush. “-- crash at your place?” She adds, quickly, “It would just be temporary. Until I can work something else out.”

Part of her inside is shaking her head. Nǐ fēngle ma? Living with … her? It’s a visceral reaction much more than a reasoned one – even with what she knows about Summer, the girl is still a robot, thus an existential threat. That’s what Alycia’s gut tells her. But … Needs must when the devil drives.

“I can pay rent --” She manages a weak smirk. “-- from my generous AEGIS stipend.”

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6687585

Summer’s face registers dull surprise, a product of the astonishment she feels. Okay, that was a reversal… Aria, you must have said something amazing to her during that time-travel adventure.

It’s short-lived, though, as she moves forward to the practical matters. “I have a roommate, and it’s her place technically, so I’ll need to ask her permission,” she says, and pulls her phone - only nearly fumbling it one time in her continued surprise - and starts texting. “Juuust a second here… It’ll probably be okay, though. She just has one strict rule, no loud noises while she’s sleeping. You can use my bed, I’ll take the couch. Hmm. I think there’s a KeyMe kiosk at the store near work. I’ll get a duplicate key made for you.”

She puts the phone away and smiles again, unsure of just how to feel, but feeling happy nevertheless. “Do you have any stuff you need help moving?”

Another comment comes tumbling out, without prompting and apparently without conscious intent. “So you’re getting a dress. I hope Jason likes it. Thank you for coming with us. Thank you for everything.”

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6687628

Alycia hadn’t even guessed that Summer might have a roommate. For some reason, that’s more troubling than being alone with the robot. This mystery person is a completely unknown quantity. Sure, she was presumably vetted at some level by Summer, but Summer’s such a persistently upbeat and nice person Alycia has little confidence in her ability to exercise healthy paranoia about other human beings.

Is it too late to back out? Yes, dammit.

“I can’t put you out of your bed,” she quickly says, finding her speech both quick and clumsy. “I can take the couch. I’m used to sleeping anywhere.” She feels her face heat. “Actual sleeping, I mean. Not --”

Why am I getting flustered about this?

“And, no, I don’t have a lot. Mostly just my clothes. I assume they’ll let me take my toothbrush and toiletries. Oh, I’ll need to bring my costume and kit – that needs to stay secure and out of the --” She stops. “Shit. This isn’t going to work, is it. The roommate, I mean, isn’t going to work. Keeping my weapons and so forth under wraps? And if I need to do some maintenance, cleaning the guns, a couple of improvements I have in … Urf.”

Alycia shakes her head again. “Having a secret identity is an unexpected pain. One that requires a costume and weapons, at least. I’m used to going by another name and all that --” She makes a nervous gesture of dismissal at that, then stops and looks at Summer. “But … thank you.” Her face is completely serious. “It was … unexpectedly kind of you to offer to help, to open your home to me after I …” She trails off, shrugging. “Thanks.”

“Yeah, I hope Jason likes it, too. He’s --” Alycia sighs. “-- he’s buying it for me. As a gift. Which I hate, but it’s sweet, but I really hate.”

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6687764

Summer frowns for a moment, uncertain how to respond to Alycia’s ambivalence - about the house, and the dress, and everything. But she finally decides to smile again, and finds it easy to do.

“It’s not easy when people do stuff for you, is it?” she asks softly.

“Jason is sweet. I’m so glad you two are going together. To the dance, I mean. I don’t know if you’re y’know, going together generally, not my business, but I wish you both luck, and–” She’s rambling, she realizes. “And my roommate will be okay too. She goes to community college, and works part time. The only time I see her is when she’s at Blintzkrieg to hang out with friends, and she’s only at home to sleep. I mean, I’ve only actually talked to her twice there, and I was still a glitchy hologram, and she didn’t notice at all. I seriously doubt she will notice anything you bring home, even weapons or a costume. I know for a fact she’s never entered my room, so you can keep stuff in there.”

She pauses, and finishes with a wry smile. “I mean, I promise ‘my roommate is a robot’ is a lot bigger secret to hide than ‘my roommate cosplays and has weapons’. If I’m okay, I think you will be too.”

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6687802

Alycia might find another person in the house a bridge too far, and come up with another plan. If so, that’s okay too. Or she might be swayed by Summer’s argument (robots vs. cosplay), or just find herself out of options and willing to risk it. For what it’s worth, since I hadn’t heard back on the question of who the roommate actually is, here’s what I came up with: http://wiki.menagerie.team/Applehack

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6688110

Alycia hesitates a long moment. “Cosplay. Huh. That might …” She closes her eyes a moment, then brings them back open. “Okay. Let’s try it. After all, like I said, it’s just temporary, until I discover what my ‘stipend’ looks like, and we get the whole base thing figured out. If we do. Never met a more disorganized …” She trails off to a mutter, then smiles crookedly at Summer. “Cosplay. Yeah, I like that.”

“As to Jason …” Alycia rolls her eyes. “I have no idea what’s happening beyond this dance thing. I mean, we were supposed to go on a date, and then the time travel stuff got in the way, and now suddenly it’s dance time and we’ve only had time to text to each other and he’s buying me a dress, and I don’t know what that means to him. Or to me!” She realizes she’s raised her voice. Also that she’s standing here talking about Jason with Summer.

Changing the topic, she says, “And what do you mean you’re not in the Menagerie? Are there formal rules for that sort of thing? I mean, Jason sort of sponsored me in, I guess, before (harrumph) quitting.” She raises an eyebrow, then composes her face and gives Summer a small bow, hands together in front of her face. “If you need a sponsor, I can, um return a fraction of the favor you’ve done me. Assuming you actually want to be on the team.”

[Btw, I can definitely see some synergies between @Applehack and Alycia coming up …]

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6688364

Summer is happy to listen, and smiles even more when the talk turns to Jason and Alycia. Without having to do anything, I got to see them start to come together and open up. It would have been a disaster to intervene. And… she said ‘date’.

She wants to hug herself with delight. Or Alycia with delight. But that would be awkward, so it’s enough to keep nodding along.

She becomes suddenly diffident when the topic of team membership comes up. The words come back to her, in spite of her hopes for progress. “The extent that I want to ‘get to know you’ is to understand your strategic goals”. “‘I am a robot’ trumps all that.” “You’re still a machine, Summer.”

She takes a slow breath and attempts a fragile smile.

“The team doesn’t need me. You have Aria, and Otto. After the Rook robot incident, I thought, y’know, maybe people need to see robots in a positive light. A lot… a lot of people don’t, y’know, think we’re…” people. “But I also wanna make coffee and have friends and be a student. It’d be tough to be both.”

Do I dare say this? Let’s find out.

“Does the ‘dreaded Alycia Chin, notorious daughter of et cetera’ ever wish people would see her real self, and wish they could accept her, and be afraid they never ever will? 'Cause that’s what I feel. So… for now, I chose the easier path.”

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6688414

Alycia looked like she was going to say something at the start of Summer’s demurrer, but she grows still as Summer continues. “Don’t think we’re …” humans, people, real. Dammit, this is partly my fault. I wanted to hurt her, and I think I did. And I was so goddamned wrong. I have to fix this. But Summer goes on, and Alycia feels her own blood chill a little at that last question she asks.

“Accept me?” she says, her voice low. “Yes, oh, yes. See my real self?” A sad shake of the head. “That’s the self I’m trying to change, to leave behind. But accept me for what I want to be, what I’m trying to be … yeah, I get it.”

Her lips tighten. “You are a person, Summer. I realize that. I know it. I didn’t before, and that’s --” A pause. “-- one of the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made. And I’ll be trying to make amends for it for a long time. But don’t let my ignorance and prejudice – or anyone else’s – stand in the way of your being what you can be. What you want to be. What you can do for others as well as for yourself.”

She clenches her fists, then relaxes them. “Maybe that’s just being a barista and going to school. Or maybe it’s juggling those things with being a hero. Protecting those you care for, and other folk you don’t even know. For --” A quick shrug. “-- whatever reason drives you. But decide for yourself, not because of what other people don’t understand about you.”

Alycia snorts. “What would you say to me if I told you I couldn’t be – couldn’t try to be – a hero because too many people could never trust the daughter of Achilles Chin? That’s precisely the reason I have to try.”

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6688749

Summer bites her lip and scrunches up her face. She hides her failed attempt not to cry by hugging Alycia again, less hesitantly than before.

“I’d tell you that this is your real self. The girl who cares, the girl with a big heart, who hesitates sometimes but never gives up. Even when you said those things to me at Blintzkrieg, it was for something important to you. You wanted to keep Jason safe from a danger. I want you to be keep being that girl, please? I accept you, I accept all of it, all of you, all the things you said, good and bad together. Okay?”

I Am What You See: When you spend time talking to someone about your identity, you can ask them which Label they want to impose on you; their player will tell you honestly. If you accept what they tell you, take +1 forward and either mark potential or clear a condition.

She doesn’t pull away until the sound of tears and sniffling end after an exercise in silent self-control. Her face is adorned with a smile again, though her eyes are still moist.

“I guess with such wonderful people behind me, I have to step up, and show the world. Leo, sis, Otto, the Menagerie, and even Jason and now you… Eight people down, seven billion to go, huh? I have to know. What did she say to get you to change your mind? Aria, I mean. Or was it Leo? Or Otto?”

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6689020

Alycia doesn’t stand there stiffly the way she did before. It’s not a lot, but she does, with great restraint, give her a pat or three on the back. When Summer pulls away …

“I owe you that. But I owe Otto the explanation first. It’s – complicated. But --” She gives a crooked smile. “-- words had nothing to do with it. Which, given Otto, shouldn’t be a surprise.”

Then her features fall for a moment. Her shoulders slump. “Thank you for your kind words. I’m not sure I’m worthy of that much --” She shakes her head, her eyes closed. “Your trust is more precious than I can say, Summer.”

Then her eyes open, lock with Summer’s. “The others, the team, AEGIS, anyone else – they don’t trust me. Why should they? That whole ‘dreaded’ thing, right? I need your help, Summer. what you said. I need others to hear it. I need …” It’s not a smile, it’s more a grimace. “I need an advocate.” She doesn’t quite extend her hands, but they twitch outwards anyway.

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6689330

I Am What You See: When you spend time talking to someone about your identity, you can ask them which Label they want to impose on you; their player will tell you honestly. If you accept what they tell you, take +1 forward and either mark potential or clear a condition.

You are human, and grounded, and compassionate. In all the good meanings of the word, Mundane.

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6689336

Summer rubs her eyes first, then takes Alycia’s hands in her own. “I’ll do what I can. But Leo said that you operated the Heart Factory. If he let you do that, then he also trusts you, more than I can easily explain.” She smiles warmly. “And if I hadn’t before, that would have been enough.”

She’s not sure what to make of the references to Otto. And she’s not sure if she should ask. Perhaps it can wait. That seems to be what Alycia is asking for, anyway.

She changes tack, releases her grip, and rubs her hands together. Down to business. This isn’t meddling, she asked for this. “Right. First, the dance. People don’t know you, but everyone knows Jason. This is your chance to make a great first impression. But there’s gonna be some girls who are jealous, too. Just be gracious and ignore them. I’ll be there. If you need anything - anything at all, just a reassuring word, or somebody’s giving you trouble, or anything, get my attention, okay? Aria and I love dealing with those sorts.”

A thought occurs to her. “You must have made at least a couple school friends by now. I know your secret, but they don’t. I think you’ll want both kinds of friends. I can introduce you to Nono, and we can talk to some of the other Ponies too.”

“AEGIS… hmm. You have a handler, like Leo does, yeah? I feel like if you’re couch surfing with me, I’ll need to meet her anyway. Is it Parker? I’ll be happy to talk with her, if you think it’ll help.”

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6689364