51.2 - A Midnight Summer's Dream

Shakespeare is cruel.

Ever since talking to Jason, she’d taken more interest in classical English literature and performance. It was all beautiful. But that was a problem. Plays and theater and poetry all tell you the same lie: true love will triumph. There might be some chaos along the way, but ultimately everyone ends up happy. If you define “happy” as “in a relationship with someone”. And it’s a problem because people are bad at mixing up what’s beautiful with what’s true.

She knows this in science as well. Elegant, appealing hypotheses can turn out to be wrong. In physics, the Standard Model is messy, and known to be incomplete, but it’s still more true than earlier and more aesthetic alternatives. Chemistry is explosive chaos. Maybe that’s why we refer to people as having chemistry with each other.

The dance was better than she had feared it would be. Everyone was happy, everyone had fun. But that was a moment in time, a brief window into the lives of a bunch of troubled teenagers. That happiness is transmuted into a memory by time.

She doesn’t want to go home tonight. She doesn’t need to, either. Alycia has a key, and the address. She finds a tree, and leans back against it, and closes her eyes.

Summer wakes up to the feeling of dewy grass against her cheek. She’s laying on her side, on the ground. She blinks, twice, and pushes herself up to a sitting position. She remembers last night, and remembers waking up during the night, but also remembers what was obviously a dream, or set of dreams. But which was which?

She had some kind of big safe, like what’s in the office at Blintzkrieg - where you store papers and money and stuff. It was on wheels, and she was pushing it through a magical portal at the back of an elevator, taking it to some other location. The elevator was somehow inside a hotel room, and when she got back into the room, a group of people were waiting for her.

One of the housekeepers at the hotel had a father who had lost something, and they all thought it might be in the room. Summer volunteered to help look for it, or buy a replacement, and everyone seemed appropriately grateful. She remembers the feeling of obligations weighing her down, and feeling stressed about it.

She saw seeing lights in the trees of a forest - maybe the base, maybe somewhere else - and got up to follow them. Though they looked like they were flying away, she realized they were actually approaching. When they got close, she saw that they were butterflies made of a soft bluish light. She reached out, and one landed on her fingertip, making her skin glow from the reflected light.

She had found a clearing in the trees and seen a shadowy shape there. She got close, and realized it was a Phoenix. Was it the one Leo had built? No. In her mind, they have names. There’s Father Phoenix, the original. But this was Orphan Phoenix, the one who had awoke to a world with no Newmans and flown about in confusion and growing desperation.

“How did you get here?” she remembers whispering to it. She’d approached the enormous head, which shied away at first, and reached up for it. “How did you get in here?” she repeated, but of course there would be no answer. The beaked head dipped down warily, and she stroked it with a comforting hand. She’d petted it, and eventually curled up with it, as the frightened god-bird had relaxed and returned to sleep.

She was in a hallway. She picked up a handkerchief lying on the carpet. It had writing on it, which she could either not read, or could not now recall. It was a set of instructions, or a recipe, she remembers. She started knocking on doors, but there was no answer. Someone had to know this, or was missing this. Where was everyone?

She was underwater. She had on a mask, to help correct the distortion of vision underwater, and had a snorkel in her mouth, though she wasn’t using it and in fact it couldn’t work because she was diving deep under the surface. Fish darted about her in their schools, and strange and iridescent undersea life swam past her. It was all blue, and beautiful, and magical. She reached down to touch the scaly surface of the sea bed, only to discover that – but she forgets what it really was.

Standing in a bedroom, she found herself surrounded by toys. Dolls, action figures, vehicles, but they were the animate objects - the people - and she was the prop. They were playing with her, she realized, and now she had to be put away in the closet. But they can’t, because they’re tiny and she’s not. The smartest of the toys are having a conference to discuss the problem. Summer wants to help, but she can’t move herself, because she’s a toy. Maybe she can make suggestions, though.

The butterflies are there, a cloud of them. She stares at them out through the glass of an elevator affixed to the outside of a tall office building. It’s nighttime, and the city lights of Halycon are arrayed beneath her, and the elevator is gliding up the side of this tower. The butterflies want her to break through the glass, dive, fall–

Summer doesn’t remember the rest of the dream. But she remembers the night before.

All the couples are together that ought to be.

She’s by herself. But she isn’t alone.

I helped some of them get together. I was part of it.

The Sun can be so bright and warm to everyone because it’s so distant.

This was your choice, you dumb goddamn matchmaking Pollyanna.

The thoughts tumble through her mind. She’s put on a brave front for her friends, but she feels terror and heartache and regret. She wants to just cry and cry, to wash the sorrow out of her body and into the soil, until flowers grow from it. She wants time to transmute sadness into memory.

She doesn’t feel inspired, or reawakened, or anything of the sort. She just feels empty.

She wants to see if the Twilight Glade has butterflies.

She stands up, and starts walking.


author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6716560

The woods loop back on themselves. There’s some magic at work in this place.

Summer undocks from her carbon shell and her hologram flickers into stability. She starts walking, leaving her body behind.

The air is cool, and moist. She can’t feel it clearly - the hard light shell is still a work in progress, primitive compared to Leo’s work at replicating the human condition, but advanced from a strictly technical perspective. But she felt it earlier, and the feeling lingers in her mind.

What am I sad about?

It’s easy to say “regret over giving up on Leo”, but that’s not really it, is it? Jason’s with Alycia, and Summer recognizes that she’s happiest with that outcome. There was that one boy, and she tries to remember what he was saying last night. But–

It’s not that she’s alone, not romantically involved. That’s not the problem at all.

The problem is purpose.

Pneuma was literally meant to be Leo’s girlfriend. She had a reason to live, a place in the world, a cause, a goal. Be the best girlfriend you can be. But she’d recognized the denial of self that went with it. Aria had solved that riddle, somehow. Summer hadn’t. Her choice was to cut the Gordian knot, remove herself from the situation. But then what is she for?

She’s working at a coffee shop. That was an impulse, but it was a good one. She’d followed the Ponies online, saw them talk about openings at Blintzkrieg, followed up. It had happened so fast, but now that she was there, it was good.

Is my purpose to serve coffee?

She’d held out while the team had disappeared into the future, acted heroically, used her armor transformation to disguise her features in doing so. That had been useful.

Am I supposed to be a hero now? To replace Link on the Menagerie?

There’s the answer she hears when she attends church: “God, or the gods, create your purpose”.

Is there a God?

Summer, like Pneuma, disagrees with Leo on aspects of belief. Leo, for all his emotional awareness, is basically a materialist and atheist. He looks at Ghost Girl and sees a complicated physical phenomenon giving rise to a human life, and compares it to his robots. He acknowledges individuals like Magus Everard or Armiger, but insists that there’s an explanation for what they do. Summer’s view isn’t too far removed, but she frames it differently. She thinks of the spiritual as the motion or process of all things, and the material as what moves. Consciousness is spiritual in the sense that it’s an outcome of material, but not itself material. In her mind, the spiritual is all around us, all the time. It’s a beautiful thought.

Leo also thinks - knows, really - that consciousness, like life, is extremely easy to create. Aria and Summer have physical shells that can’t do everything a human body can do, but are still orders of magnitude simpler, and more powerful, than biological bodies. Their brains are electromechanical contraptions created by a teenage boy, albeit a genius. Why can’t the universe have consciousness? A planet? A glade? But even if the world is itself a mind, she doesn’t feel any emanation from it that would constitute a purpose.

And that’s the scariest outcome she can think of. Living inside a giant mind that knows you exist and doesn’t care.

She can guess what would happen if she asked the others, or her friends. There’s the life-affirming answer of “you can create your own purpose”.

She believes she can make her own purpose - has proved it, twice. Once after the breakup with Leo, once again after the talk with Leo and Aria. She’s making her own decisions, charting her own course, shaping her own destiny. And those decisions influence who she becomes, and who she becomes influence the choices she makes. The potter and the clay.

She sees someone in the distance, and realizes what she’s looking at. She’s walked far enough to reach her undocked carbon shell.

She approaches from behind, looking critically at it. She studies her own figure, watches how the dress hangs off her, experimentally reaches out to brush her own hair. It feels different as a hologram than when she styles herself in her solid shell. Idly, she starts to give herself a French braid.

I know I can create my own purpose. That’s not the problem. What should I create?

She blinks. There’s a butterfly resting on the left shoulder of the lifeless shell.

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6716805

Summer doesn’t quite remember how she got out of the Twilight Glade. But she’s on her way home.

It’s still early morning. She needs to take a shower, change clothes, put on some makeup, figure out where her nice work shoes got off to, maybe get some breakfast. She hasn’t been eating regular meals in weeks, to save money. She snacks on the leftover stuff at work, but it’s all becoming samey.

She doesn’t have any better clue on purpose. She lives in two worlds - the super, and the mundane. When one becomes too much, the other becomes an escape. But there’s no third alternative, no synthesis of the two where everything is perfect.

She knows she wants to be friends with people, that she feels best when everyone around her is happy. But isn’t that being too nice, too giving? What if she’s giving up what she wants by doing so? Of course, that assumes she knows what she wants… It’s painful to have a need you can’t even articulate.

Stories about love might be lies, but they still make people happy. And sometimes, a story is a lie that becomes the truth. She remembers talking to Jason about himself, telling him he’s a good person and meaning every word, even as she privately feared what he was capable of with her in his house computer. But she learned to trust him, and it does seem like helping him through his angst was part of what made him trustworthy to her. It was as much a story to herself, a tale of reassurance. You’re not afraid. There’s nothing to fear.

She can tell stories about truth, and beauty, and hope. Hell, she’s been telling herself a story for a long time. You’ll be okay on your own. You are your own woman. You can do this. And she has the power and the motive to make those stories real.

Even this one?

Especially this one.

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6716981

[At some point, Alycia and Summer are going to have a long and fascinating (to them) discussion about spirituality, esp. in contrast to the beliefs of Leo and Jason.]

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6717922

You can add that to your rapidly growing pile if you want (Summer gets in -> “where were you?” -> “I had a fairy dream in the magic tree glade” -> “are you high - no, wait, nevermind, you can’t be, so what do you think of all that” -> etc.)

That wouldn’t solve her crisis here (“what is the point of me?”, which I feel is kind of her thing), but that kind of talk would cheer her up.

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6717957

I currently have nine things to write about. I’m happy to add that to ten (or add it to another Summer conversation). Hmmm. Maybe I’ll start something up, even while I get Alycia’s impressions of the Twilight Glade down elsethread.

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6717992