54.1 - Delving (Alycia and Summer)

There’s always a certain pressure when a life is at stake.

I’ve pursued this topic for as many hours as I could spare. The academic research is largely commercial, profit-driven, inapplicable to the case before me. The online information is conflicted, foolish in some cases, not worth the effort in others.

There are so many variables – from the environment we’re in, to the conditions before I was called in, to the situation on the ground.

Normal people might panic, perhaps, or just act blindly in a rush and accept a certain mortality rate.

I am not normal. I am a hyper-genius. I am trying to be a hero.

I defy conventional wisdom. I will not accept any losses.

The eyes of those around us will be judging. Failure is not an option.

I have to go on basic principles, trust to what I’ve seen and been told, accept that the information I’ve been given is incomplete, and rely on my prodigious intellect to see this through.

“Summer!” I shout over my shoulder. “Do you have the Miracle-Gro and the water jelly crystals? We can’t let these marigold roots be exposed to air any longer than necessary!”

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6832892

“Comiiiiing!”

The situation comedy version of events would have Summer stumble over something, spilling plant food everywhere, then bonking herself on the head and sticking her tongue out. In reality, she’s nimble and fast, promptly prepared to assist.

“The flowers are really beautiful,” she breathes. “Like little suns. I love them.”

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6832916

“Sprinkle there. And there. Now some of that.” Alycia’s voice is intent, her eyes darting about the bed, confirming the hole that was dug for the first pot is in the right location for an aesthetically appropriate annual display. “Dig it in with the trowel. Aaaaand --”

She massages the root ball from the pot into something looser and more able to dig into the tilled soil beside the carport. Then she places the loosened plant into the hole. It’s an half-centimeter higher than she’d like, and she presses it down with a firm but controlled movement, then sweeps the dirt from around the hole in to fill the gap between the plant and the edge of the hole, the excess molded into a little berm (as www.HomeGardenTipsNC.com recommended).

“Now, quickly – water!”

As Summer pours from the watering can over the plant, Alycia nods. “The gravest danger to planting is air exposure to the roots during the process. The water will eliminate dangerous air left in the soil about it, and ease the plant’s transition into its new locale.” She frowns slightly, then shakes her head. “They are kind of pretty. Actually, they remind me of little incendiary bombs.”

She shoots a wry smile at Summer. “Comme ci, comme ça.”

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6832948

Summer mentally ruminates. “The sun is a sort of bomb too,” she observes at last, with a smile. “It’s just a very slow and helpful one.”

Her eyes follow the work, interested in Alycia’s interest, and interested herself in growing things, and curious how hands that have probably defused (or set) explosives, or picked locks, or other less guessable things will handle this task.

There’s the cemetary in her mind, just for a moment, with its carefully-cut grass and professionally managed sod, suddenly heaving and bursting and changing–

She shakes her head for a moment to dislodge the memory, and smiles again. “We should do this more often.”

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6832968

“It’s … odd.” Alycia stops with her next excavation. She knows precisely how deep and wide to make each hole, based on the little plastic tabs in the flower pots. Assuming they can be trusted (and that one can trust anything measured in inches). “I’ve never done something like this before. Father sometimes had a professional flower arranger on staff, to put bouquets or ikebana displays on the dinner table or in our quarters. But the actual growing of flowers …” She stops talking. “It’s messy. And wasteful of resources. But it’s aesthetically pleasing and …” Again she stops.

Alycia turns and looks at Summer. “This is just … really weird. It makes me feel – have you done this kind of thing before?”

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6832994

Summer shakes her head after a moment. “Not, um, not y’know, flower arranging. But… Oh! Pottery.”

She mimes an action with her hands, a vase taking shape out of clay. “The Delacruzes were visual artists. Everything was light and alive in the house. I remember visiting them, and they’d show me what Leon was working on - that’s what they called Leo, back then. I’d peek around the corner, and watch him. He’d look like–” She frowns, and squints, and her brows beetle together in concentration. “And then they’d ask me if I wanted to make something too. Vases. Tapas trays and cazuelas, for food. Floral designs on everything. And flowers everywhere, all over, because they wanted to be surrounded by beauty while they worked. Nature was their muse.”

She lets out a happy sigh. “It was so lovely. I’d forgotten… I really miss that.”

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6833045

Alycia nods slowly, throwing a glance at the cheap plastic pots the plants came in, before making the unfamiliar question. “Artistry. Creativity. Working with the forces of nature and organic shapes.” She nods again. “It’s like craftwork, engineering, assembling something from parts, but less precise, less predictable.” She glances at her dirt-smeared hands. “Though also messy. But …” She cocks her head slightly. “Rewarding? Satisfying? Does it depend on how long we keep the plants alive?” A shrug. “I’m glad Leslie asked us to do it.”

She waits for Summer to drop a smidgen of fertilizer pellets into the hole (it’s not exactly the level spoonful the directions on the box require, but she intuits this isn’t an exact science, either), before setting in the next flower. “It’s odd. I keep forgetting have all those memories and associations. I mean, I know when you were, ah, assembled. I know of your Heart Factory provenance, and understand what that means, but I still think of you as someone of the moment. You have noteworthy depths alongside --” A hair of a shrug. “-- naivete, I suppose. Each comes out at different times.”

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6833549

How many people have you killed?

The question isn’t spoken. But it comes to mind again, prompted by the sting of the word “naivete”. Summer wants to throw the question at her like a weapon, show she’s a mature woman, talk about all the hard things she’s been through, and Aria’s been through, and Leo most of all. She wants Alycia to acknowledge that she’s not just a stupid animated Barbie doll. But none of it goes anywhere good in her mind. And the logical part of her acknowledges that Alycia has seen things she can’t even imagine, or doesn’t want to, and has a right to say what she did.

Doesn’t make it feel any better.

There is something we need to talk about, though.

“There was a picture of a girl holding out a flower to the riot police at a protest,” she says. “And if you look at the cracks in the sidewalk, you can sometimes see flowers growing through them.”

“I know the world isn’t a good place. But you know, when things are ugly and hateful, love and beauty are acts of defiance. Things won’t get better on their own. We have to do it. And keep it alive, for as long as we can.”

She turns, to smile directly at the other girl. “You don’t approve of Radiance. I think you held back, because Leo was in the room. But I want you to be honest with me. It doesn’t have to be now, just, y’know, whenever you are comfortable.”

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6833934

Alycia can’t help but give her a small smile. “I’ll make a revolutionary of you yet. I’m a bit more of the direct action type,” she adds, something flicking across her face, “but firm, non-violent protest can serve as a call to conscience that even the power structure cannot safely ignore.” If there’s a goon squad standing by in case the jackboots decide to teach them a lesson. Hmm. That’s a conversation for another day.

She sobers at Summer’s question. Honesty is best. But I don’t want to hurt her to no useful end. She digs another hole, lets summer doctor up the soil at the bottom of it, and pops in another marigold. “I approve of Radiance – of you.” She continues digging, making conversation rather than eye contact. “You have the heroic in your heritage – more importantly, you have it in you: a desire to help others, to the best of your ability, even at cost to yourself. And you have the power to back it up.”

A pause. Another hole, another flower. An ornamental grass in a larger pot, to center in the bed, will be next.I need to tell her, because someone else whom she doesn’t consider a friend will do so, sooner or later, probably someone in the useless press in this city, and that will hurt all the worse if her friends haven’t said anything. But anything I say will offend, and who am I to be a judge of aesthetics, anyway? I mean, here I am, comparing a bed of marigolds to a napalm strike, which is probably not quite the metaphor Plant Channel would approve of.

Maybe that’s the approach, though. Personal aesthetic is not moral law. I can admit a weakness in one without compromising the other.

“I don’t quite – get what you were --” Alycia’s picking her words out with obvious care. “-- going for with – that particular look, however. The outfit. The skin appearance. It’s – I’m – unclear on it.”

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6834004

“Fear is the worst thing in the world.” Summer runs fingers gently over the soil in one of the pots, thinking through what she wants to say.

“When people are afraid, they’ll do anything. They’ll lash out, run away, panic. Hurt others. So when people are afraid, I want them to see me and think, y’know, it’s gonna be okay. Someone is here who looks like she’s not dangerous to me. She’ll take care of things. I’m gonna be okay. I think butterflies and angels and fairies and stuff feel safe. But it’s tough, to project safety without also appearing weak.”

On impulse, she pats the side of one of the pots in what would be an encouraging or reassuring gesture to a child or an animal. “So the skin and face is… I want people to not be afraid of me, either. The artificial. The robotic. I want them to see something that doesn’t look human, do human things like protect and care and rescue. So they know, y’know, that we’re not all bad.”

She smiles again, feeling a little more confident. “Of course, if you think a costume change will help do all those things better, I wanna hear that too, okay?”

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6834100

“It’s an – interesting juxtaposition, the artificial and the supernatural. Robots and fairy tales.” She recalls a humanoid robot that her father had placed in her quarters when they were visiting Mumbai once. She’d tried to decorate it with some of her clothing to make it look more human. When her father had seen her work, he’d replaced the bot with one of his spider drones. She hadn’t slept during the entire trip, except on the plane on the way to Melbourne.

Alycia shakes her head to clear it. “It’s a delicate combination. Right now, it – I find it jarring and cloying.” She looks over at Summer, one brow raised. “But, then, who am I to talk, right? Lots of people find me jarring.” She sighs. Bite the bullet. “I’m just afraid someone will laugh. And not in the ‘oh, I feel so safe and charmed I can laugh’ way. And I don’t want that to happen. To you.”

And I’m more concerned about you than in how it reflects on me. Which is kind of weird.

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6834680

Summer starts to speak, then hesitates, perhaps because what she’s about to say probably will provoke laughter itself. “I mean, what I just said sounded cool and all, but really… I just wanna be a fairy princess too.”

“Leo’s a hot-headed action genius. Growing up, he had a lot of parents, but not enough role models. And TV and movies, well. The angry hero guy is clever, or cunning, but not brilliant. And the genius is socially awkward, or a supporting character, but not the hero. So when Leo watched the robot shows, he saw someone like him. He saw someone he could be, where y’know, fighting for what’s right and what mattered was good. He really latched onto that.”

“When those memories came to me, I got other stuff he’d seen, and I latched onto other stuff. I was literally made to love, I’m a creature of love. So I watched shows where love and friendship was a thing, because I wanted, y’know… to see someone like me.” She’s growing more and more awkward and careful in her explanation. “So now I can be whatever I wanna be. And I wanna be this.”

Her voice grows strong again, and her head rises. “Someone wants to laugh, let them. My shield and armor, what’ll keep me safe, is remembering the people who didn’t laugh.” She meets Alycia’s eyes, to make it clear that she’s included in that list.

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6834713

Defiance I can respect, considers Alycia, nodding. It’s still a hideous outfit, but – “Fair enough.” A smile. “And at least you’re not wearing your underwear on the outside like some of those Golden Age muscle-man types. So there’s that.”

She nibbles on her lower lip. as she starts to dig for the grass. That ‘made to love’ thing – yeah. But she’s transcended that. It’s her choice. If I can separate myself from what I was ‘made to be,’ then she can, right?

“It’s weird,” Alycia says, pivoting to a different topic. “I’ve never planted plants before. And people have plants in their homes, and offices. I’ve seen it.” She closes her eyes a moment. “I’ve just never --” A small snort. She flashes another smile at Summer, then turns back to digging. “Never thought of having something like that. Father wasn’t big into house plants – more the formal, controlled arrangements. And after he was gone, it wasn’t exactly the sort of thing I was worried about, right?”

She looks back to Summer. “I could have a house plant. Not one of these – there’s actually a class of plants identified for putting in homes. I’ve looked them up.” A frown. “Though the way we keep ending up being dragged off onto adventures, I don’t want a plant that’s going to die for lack of water. That would be depressing.”

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6835391

Positive thoughts.

“I think you’d be good at whatever you put your hand to, Alycia,” Summer asserts.

Summer makes a habit of telling jokes to herself. It keeps her in good spirits, breaks the tension she often feels, exercises her mental faculties, and lets her feel witty. And once in awhile she tries out some of her humor, to survive that exhilarating and terrifying experience she believes every teenager faces - being the center of attention for a few moments.

“Even if it’s tough, or you don’t dig it at first, don’t throw in the trowel.”

What else does she know about flowers? What can she recommend? “So…”

A plant that’ll survive, huh? The time travel stuff did take them awhile, that’s legit… “You could try a cactus…” It’s prickly and self-sufficient, but maybe that’s too on the nose. I’d never dream of saying it out loud.

“…or ask Leslie to water your plant, if she doesn’t see you for awhile. I mean, we’re doing this for her, right?” And learn to trust another person with something that’s precious to you?

“…Maybe something from a part of the world you liked. A reminder, or something to show other people and talk about. A good memory.”

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6835597

“You mean, don’t throw in the – ah!” Alycia stops, raises both eyebrows at Summer. “Right. Got it. Ha.” Susanoo preserve me, tell me she hasn’t decided puns are an acceptable form of humor. I thought her so much better than that.

“A plant that’s meaningful, or something from some part of the world …” _Are there parts of the world I actually like? It’s not like I’ve been many places where I wasn’t being shot at or attacked in some fashion. _

A passing thought rises to the surface. The Amazon. That damned monkey with the stupid “hat.” And, after it was all over, Jason pulling a flower from a plant where they lay in the underbrush, panting for breath in the stifling heat and humidity, and handing it to her.

She looked it up later. A variety of Cattleya trianae. Pink and lavender, with a core of magenta and gold. It was the most beautiful thing anyone had ever given her.

She’d lost it on the evac flight out of there, but she never forgot it.

“Yeah, that probably wouldn’t make. Orchids take a lot of work and care, and they’re not cheap, either.” Alycia snorts lightly. “Maybe a cactus would make more sense. Self-sufficient and prickly.” She smirks. “An obvious fit. Or maybe a cat would --”

She cuts off abruptly. “Oh, that reminds me,” she says, voice brisk, turning to vigorously digging a deeper hole for the potted grass. “You mentioned Leo’s an atheist, a materialist, but Aria’s not. I don’t think you mentioned what you think, except you didn’t get all outraged when I told you that you have a soul. If it isn’t an offensive question, do you have any particular metaphysical belief system?”

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6835852

Great minds think alike, apparently. :slight_smile:

Summer is used to switching mental tracks, when talking with Leo. She’s noticed Nono do this too, and suspected Alycia did it. The smart people in her life seem to be able to run in parallel, and context switch without too much trouble. She can do it, too - for example, right now she’s thinking about a new alternate secret identity, something subtle and down to earth, to ease Alycia’s obvious discomfort with her butterfly princess–

Of course, this isn’t a casual topic. Geez. ‘That reminds me’, huh?

“Um.” She gathers her thoughts. “Pneuma wasn’t a strict materialist, and Aria and I both inherited that. I mean, despite being products of a science rooted in a materialistic world view. But we’re not Platonists or dualists, we both know too much neuroscience. For example, if I tell you I have a soul, I don’t mean that there’s some immaterial computer producing my thoughts, and feeding them into a receptive but otherwise useless brain, like a hand in a glove. But that seems to be how a lot of people view the idea of a soul.”

“I think the soul is the product of a person’s life and history. Hydrogen and oxygen aren’t wet, but water is. So my brain might not have a soul, or my body, but I do.”

She smiles a little uncertainly at a difficult memory. “Being an immaterial hologram at Jason’s house came at a good time. I was just studying Buddhism. I was on my way to Japan, to visit someone there, talk, learn, you know? I’d saved up for awhile, and then–”

Then Aria and I were created.

“Anyway, I also consider myself a scientist. So, let’s say that I don’t really have a metaphysical belief system, more like… a metaphysical hypothesis, that I want to try and falsify? And stuff like that experience, and Charlotte, and the Twilight Grove, and that young man with the sword, on the Irregulators, and…” The dead Otto in the future. “… other things are sort of ways for me to examine these ideas.”

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6835936

Alycia nods slowly as Summer expounds, seemingly focused on loosening the root ball of the ornamental grass just the appropriate amount. Balancing variables like soil type, plant species, watering expectations, and the techniques of the eighteen YouTube videos she went through last night after Leslie made the request (though what counts as a “track emergency” remains unclear) is relatively straightforward, even with the inherent variability of how this particular specimen was grown and cared for. She doesn’t even twitch (visibly) when Summer references her time at Jason’s.

“So soul as an emergent property of experience and self, a product of growth and being.” After Summer scoops in some plant food, she sets the plant down firmly. Its top perfectly aligns with the bed’s surface. “That’s an understandable hypothesis, given your origin. It begs the question of continued immaterial existence or presence after ‘death,’ but --”

She sits back on the edge of the driveway, still watching the grass, as Summer pours more water from the watering can onto the new planting. “I deal with perspective a lot in my life. Understanding the broader view, spatially. Seeing things all around me, other than the linear view that most people have – and that serves them reasonably well, to be sure. So I tend to think of these matters in the same way: dimensionally, if you will.”

Alycia doesn’t get up, but she gestures broadly, continuing to look at the grass. “Those things of the spirit, the soul, are simply a different existential axis. It’s not dualism; body and spirit, material and immaterial, are not separate things, just different – aspects, if you will, bound together as much as space and time are, convenient to reference separately, but incapable of being without one another. Multidimensional, as far as that goes, not simply lines intersecting but volumes or higher order dimensional constructs. Our reality, our selves, are liminal manifestations of that intersection. Bodily existence is brief, but matter is neither created nor destroyed, so in truth it goes on. Spiritual existence may show greater continuity, as a working hypothesis, but even if it consists of reactions that bind and separate, give form and then decay in their own fashion, the constituents of the spiritual axis can be neither created nor destroyed, either.”

She shoots Summer a crooked grin. “But I believe there’s capital-P Purpose behind it all, too. Not to mention something identifiable as morality, and justice.” A shrug. “Throw enough meta-reality axes, and you can solve for any problem, even if it looks like a cheat. All metaphysics is ultimately personal, even if that makes you look like a romantic.”

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6836607

Summer’s face makes a wry expression. “I dunno how I feel about creators assigning me a purpose, you know? But… okay. Leo and Aria and I like comparing the mind to music, so let’s try …” She glances around, and beams.

“The marigolds aren’t the soil, but they grow in soil. Any soil, whether it’s y’know, ‘natural’ Earth or carefully arranged in an artificial vessel.” She briefly pats her robotic shell.

“Maybe someone plants them there, with intent. Maybe the wind just blows seeds everywhere. And maybe when the soil finally has no more nutrients for them, they spread onward and outward. Or, maybe they’re harvested. Scooped up, to be replanted elsewhere - reincarnation. Or carefully folded and pressed to be put in a frame. Collected for their usefulness or decorative properties. Or just, y’know, kept alive as long as possible. Whether that flower looks like a sun, or, y’know, is closer to an incendiary bomb, it’s important, and beautiful, and worth preserving.” Her hands, perhaps unconsciously, indicate herself and then Alycia as she speaks.

She grins, self-consciously. “I guess that makes me sound too much a romantic. I agree, there could be a soul that’s the tesseract to the cubes of our minds, or a projected shadow into some other realm, or something like that. Or the resonant response to some kinda super-cosmic emanation, that emerges naturally from any compatible neural network. Leo already knows neurology. Now that he’s going into space-time and dimensional physics, maybe he’ll discover the soul too?”

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6837086

Alycia’s face matches Summer’s wry smile. “Believe me, my experience with ‘assigned purpose’ and destiny and all that is … fraught. But … being part of something bigger, something that, even if not fully understandable, seems to be for the good as I can understand it … well, either that’s following a noble cause, or being a dupe, and I try to be appropriately skeptical about such things these days. Burned once …” She shakes her head.

"I’m not sure I’m ready for Leo to be the Science Prophet of Truth. But I do believe there’s purpose – order – reason to our existence, beyond simple dances of chemistry and physics, even if you add in their spiritual mechanics equivalents. Perhaps it’s an emergent property of the complexity of those dimensional spaces, or perhaps it’s yet another intersecting volume of meta-reality. My perspective doesn’t reach that far. Even the Mad Scientist has to acknowledge the Mystery lurking in the darkness outside the circle of the fire, no matter how much wood you pile on, and I’m willing to accept such Mystery on principle, even if I rail against it in any particular.

“Still, I know I’m more than just this --” She thumps herself around the collarbone with garden-gloved fists. “Even if all I can ever do, no matter what megalomaniacal plans I hatch, is an insignificant triviality below even a quantum level of impact to an intelligent being a few galactic clusters away – at least along the axis we perceive most clearly. I’ll confess that’s an emotional conclusion, not a rational one.” A snort. “I do sometimes let my emotions drive my thinking. Don’t spread that around.” The smile indicates she realizes the humor in what she says.

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6837558

Summer shakes her head with a gentle smile.

“Maybe you don’t think you’re important to someone far away, right now. But what would you make of it, now, if some future traveler came back, from a thousand years ahead, to meet the real Charade? And they tell you about how human and Newman children sit together around the fire to hear the legends of the Menagerie, and how they fought Doctor Infinity, and how you outsmarted and defeated her?”

She rubs her hand against one of the marigold pots. “Imagine all the seeds your actions plant, and all the ways they can spread… So I guess that, while I’m really curious about the spiritual, because of who I am, I’m also okay not knowing, or knowing I’ll never know, about some things. 'Cause, if you think about it, part of what’s so neat about it is the mystery. Not knowing. Thinking maybe after you die, or after you have enough adventures, you’ll know, anticipating that…”

Her smile wanes wistfully, and she looks away. “If I’m careful, I’m gonna outlast almost everyone I care about. I could be the person there, telling those kids about you in a thousand years. I might never learn the mysteries of the soul, unless I go track it down myself. That’s part of why I’m curious about this stuff.”

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6837611