58.2 - Popcorn (Alycia & Summer)

“All right. So. Friends-slash-housemates share information about likes and dislikes. I’ve – been doing reading on the subject, since – well, my own personal experience in the matter hasn’t been exactly normal.” My left eyebrow rises. “Not that the current experience is ‘normal,’ but it has the trappings of normalcy about it, and that’s …” She pauses a moment, looking for the word. “… nice.”

She gestures to the TV. A large bowl of popcorn is on the coffee table, in front of Summer, hopefully enough for the two of them. “So, TV Night. Right? I mean, most television is such a wasteland that it makes the cliche that it’s a wasteland almost an understatement. But I have found a couple of palatable offerings, and I want to … um … share.” A flicker of something crosses her face, gone in a flash.

(Leslie is somewhat retro in her media subscriptions, still using the local cable. To Alycia’s question about it, she said, “Give it another couple of years for the streaming / set-top market to shake out. Cable works, and I get a good discount – I do some work on their branded race car.”)

The screen is DVR-frozen on the crudely animated show intro intro. “Okay,” Alycia goes on with obvious enthusiasm, “so the goal of this competition show is to forge weapons within a time limit and using the equipment provided, then have those weapons succeed at various tests. On one level, it’s kind of stupid – why hand-forge something when you can actually buy what you need commercially, or even hire someone to manufacture it for you. I mean, you don’t see a show where people are constructing electron microscopes for a prize. But, on the other hand, there’s something very real and visceral about the challenges, for all the showmanship, and there’s none of the soap opera melodrama of some other so-called ‘reality’ shows.” She makes a face. “And, well, um, weapons. So … any questions before I hit play?”

#Cutscene #RP

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6931391

Summer’s wearing her sweats, and a facial expression that’s happy, eager, and still a little baffled. It’s the same stilted formalism that Alycia uses when talking about difficult subjects. “Hey, roommate, come watch this show with me” would be what anyone else says. She’s different, I’m different, we’re all weirdos.

So: a show about competitive weapon-making? Alycia likes weapons, clearly enough. Alycia likes competition. When it comes down to it, this is the perfect show to appeal to her. But why does she think I’d-- ah. She’s not trying to get me to like this show. She’s trying to get me to like something she likes.

Well, that’s fair. Summer knows that she, herself, is a bespoke creation of craftsmanship. What about swords that made other swords? The thought sends a smile to her lips. And aside from that, this is still chemistry and physics at work. She can imagine a long line of practical scientists, stretching back into antiquity, betting the lives of themselves and their families on their knowledge of how metal behaves. Now that’s something worth watching.

“No questions. Play on, I’m looking forward to this.”

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6931431

Alycia doesn’t quite enthusiastically wiggle or jump up and down in place on the worn but comfortable couch, but she’s clearly pleased.

The competition begins – a quartet of folk with various bladesmithing or forging experience, being given materials from a set of garden tools (!) to forge into a short blade of specified dimensions within two hours, overseen with color commentary from a quartet of judges / announcers. Competitive drama ensues, mostly around the variability of experience, the materials chosen (lawnmower blades seem to be popular), design decisions, and random elements that aren’t clear.

Alycia’s enrapt, making observations to Summer less on the craftsmanship (though she seems to be doing everything but take notes, regardless of her previous disdain) than on metallurgy and on the relative merits of the different blade styles the four craftsman are pursuing in terms of what they would be good for in a utility or combat setting.

She heaves a sigh at the first commercial break, though rather than fast-forwarding through the commercials, she mutes the them (she is, of course, the one holding the remote) and turns to Summer, popping a kernel of popcorn into her mouth from her hand. “My bet’s on the one with the ponytail. He seems to have the most competitive spirit.” She pauses, furrowing her brow. “I wonder if the Grail Knights have to forge their own blades, or if they are somehow provided to them. Might provide some insight into their psychology. If we’re going to be encountering more of them --” She makes a face. “-- while pursuing Charlotte’s thing, that sort of knowledge would be tactically valuable.”

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6931551

Summer’s mostly happy that her friend is happy, although there is some appeal in the show itself. It’s fun, watching people do what they love, what they’re good at. And they’re competing in a time and way where their skill and weapons will decide the outcome of the struggle but without anyone being hurt - how ironic is that?

I wonder if Alycia would roll her eyes if I compared her to a sword, being reforged into a plowshare.

She probably wouldn’t appreciate that.

The commercial comment is the same dispassionate detached style Alycia uses. This time, Summer feels on firmer ground. She pops some popcorn into her own mouth, and crunches, savoring the buttery taste. “I 'unno. Let’s go ask him soon.”

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6931565

“Him? William?” She nods, thoughtfully. “Well, he seems more approachable than that Lucius character. Walked right in, sat us all down, lectured us, gave us his ‘wisdom’ and ‘insight’ after we saved his ass. Autocratic King Arthur wannabe.” She crunches down hard on another kernel. She only takes one at a time. “That is precisely why we need a leader – because in a vacuum, Older and Wiser and More Annoying Heads come in and tell us what to do. Rrg.”

She turns and hits play just as the show starts up again. The competitor with the ponytail is eliminated during the first judging because of cracks in his blade. Alycia glowers. The others get a follow up assignment to put handles on their blade using a predefined set of materials, as well as tips on how the judges expect the blades to be further refined.

“And Adam,” she says a few minutes later as if the discussion hadn’t been interrupted. “What the hell was he thinking? No, strike that – we know what he was thinking. We felt it. But … damnation. Changing our memories, or giving us false memories of the world the way he wanted it to be. That’s scary that he could do it – and scary that he did, and scary that I --” She frowns, eyes still on the screen as one of the competitors, this one a woman with short blond hair, is trying to fit a pin through the handle material and the hole she drilled through the tang. “C’mon,” she mutters. “You have the best blade design. You can make a handle that works.”

The show cuts to commercial as the woman taps the pin one more fateful time and the handle material cracks. Alycia grunts in frustration, mutes the ads. “He’s put everything to right – this time. But what about next time? What if he does something more subtle? What if we don’t remember the change? Or what if he hasn’t really changed things back, only made us think he has? I mean, will every time in the future that I discover I’ve misremembered something – and it does happen – will I have to wonder if Adam’s dicking about with the universe again?”

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6931648

Summer offers a hand, sliding it toward Alycia’s shoulder in a gesture of comfort - and solidarity. But her eyes also study her roommate, and the hand hesitates, ready to pull away at any sign of reluctance.

“Leo screwed up a life. Creating Pneuma the way he did. He resisted owning that at first. He realized what he’d done.” She sighs. This is still not an easy topic for her. “And he changed. He won’t do it again. I think I saw the same thing in Adam’s eyes. I think he gets it. I hope.”

She smiles a little. “I think it’s gonna cost him something. He did something that makes his life better, now he’s undoing it. I’m gonna acknowledge that if I talk to him about it.” And you should too. I can’t say that though - I have to trust her. And, to her credit, she’s grown so fast. I think she will.

She looks back at the screen. “And I mean these folks. They’re making mistakes too. It won’t cost anyone a life on the show. But back in history, it would have, wouldn’t it? Could you be a smith if your swords broke and people who trusted you had died?”

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6931668

“Hell, screw up badly enough and it was your whole village that could get stomped.” She snorts. “On the other hand, for a long time they were dealing with such crap material – bronze, iron, early steel – they were probably used to things breaking.”

She falls quiet, watching an ad for some show about digging on an island for something, then at length says, “If someone gave me the power to … fix everything in my life … my past … even my present … I don’t know that I could trust myself not to use it.” She throws a wan smile at Summer. “If I knew what I’d do, I’d be my father, right?” She looks back to the TV, holding out the remote. “That makes it hard to trust someone else to make those right decisions.”

Alycia clicks on the mute button, just as the show restarts. She has a small smile, as if considering it a triumph.

“I’ve seen a couple of these,” she adds, “where they realized during the first round the blade was too flawed, or where it broke during the forging process, and they had to start all over, learning from their mistakes – but with all that previous time lost. That fits real life, too.” She snorts, softly, presses her lips tightly together. “After this is over, I have something I need to – something I need your advice on.”

She eats another kernel of popcorn. On the screen, one of the judges is hacking on a huge bone of some sort with the woman’s knife. He stops midway, and reports that the handle she made – that she _re_made – has fractured as well, disqualifying her from the final round.

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6931698

Summer devoted one hand to a comforting contact. She glances down at her free hand for a moment. Someday, this could break too.

“You’re not your father,” she murmurs. “You’re wise enough to ask for help. And wise enough to give it too.”

She’s aware of the television, her friend and roommate and teammate beside her, herself, the popcorn in front of her, the enticing smell of it, a memory of the taste, the experience of salivation as she wants to eat more.

She remembers what Lucius said, about taking care of her needs.

Alycia has a point. Screw him for being right.

_I do miss having someone, god dammit. I miss things like this. _I want someone I can just pull across the couch and kiss. I want to crawl into someone’s lap and curl up and stay warm and comfortable.

I’m stupid and needy. Why is she asking for my advice anyway?

But she watches the show, and waits, and hopes she’s up to the challenge.

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6931742

The show progresses. Down to the final two competitors, they are then assigned five days at their home forges to recreate an iconic historic blade, a Chinese jian, which will then be tested further. “I always find this part interesting,” Alycia says, nibbling on popcorn. “I mean, look at these two guys – that one has a power hammer in his shop, and a large forge. He has the tools he needs. The other guy does it all with a hammer and anvil, and has a freaking coal-fired forge. There shouldn’t be any competition, but they always seem to both accomplish the task.”

She snorts. “I always vote for the guy with the right tools. Well, I vote for the guy who seems the most professional. Who isn’t a dick. But if I gambled I’d expect the one with the tools to win.”

The show cuts to commercial as the guy with the ‘right tools’ tests out his blade on the third day of forging and it snaps.

Mute. Alycia turns to Summer. She claps a hand on the one Summer’s still got on her shoulder with the opposite hand. “I just --” A pause. “I know I’ve been whinging about the memory thing. But I heard what you said to Adam today. That sort of thing is core to you in a way that even my bizarre life doesn’t reach. I want you to know I heard you. And that was part of what made me so angry at him – makes me so angry – even if you’re being your typical Summer self in forgiving and supporting him.”

She offers a crooked smile. “What’s the opposite of ‘the voice of your conscience’? Not that I’m urging you to not be forgiving and supportive. God knows it’s – been important to me.”

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6931787

Summer’s smile is slow to appear, but like the lazy dawn it brightens and brightens and brightens.

“That’s still the conscience, sweetie. The conscience is the voice that tells us what’s right and wrong. Sometimes what’s right is forgiveness. Maaybe not always.”

She reaches out and brushes her free hand through her friend’s hair, and looks directly at her. “But when someone has hurt me, and I forgave them, I think it’s worked out really well so far.”

“I know you’re angry. I hear you, too. I still feel kinda mad.” Hurt, betrayed, confused, scared, furious. Mostly just disoriented and lost. “And we feel like we’re entitled to those feelings, like we deserve to feel that way. Mercy asks us to give up on that. And any time you have to give up something you think you earned, you resist. So forgiveness isn’t always easy.”

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6931804

“It’s not one of the virtues I was taught,” Alycia says, with a smirk. “Though, to be fair, there were others he practiced, and still others he thought he did.” She snorts. “It’s an irony, I suppose, that I, so dependent on forgiveness, find it difficult to do. Not from malice, but from fear of being further betrayed. Even with --” She shrugs, slightly, under Summer’s hand. “-- a noble example.”

The show starts back up. The contestants are back from their homes to the studio where their swords are to be tested. Both have met the visual requirements of the challenge; the one with the more primitive equipment, has done a better job with some decorative elements. Alycia calls these out, but seems mixed. “They look pretty, but he should have used his time improving the weapon itself. Plus, I think he used the wrong ideograms – he says they say free as in ‘freedom,’ but they mean more like free as in ‘no charge.’” That one draws a major smirk from Alycia.

The first test has an Asian man using each sword in a series of thrusts and cuts against hanging pig carcasses, verifying that both can be used to kill others. “I actually got some training in jian use, learning t’ai chi.Not much, though; other weapons seemed much more practical, no matter what the Grail Knights might think.”

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6931902

Summer eases back as the show resumes. She doesn’t break contact, just changes it to a lazy neck scritch, the kind that always relaxed her when Leo did it, the sort of thing you’d offer a grumpy cat who was too proud to ask for petting but enjoyed it anyway.

“A couple kids at school asked Aria and I in the hallway about their Chinese tattoos. She said how should we know? They said we looked Asian, so we should know.” The girl shrugs, but slightly so as not to disrupt the scritching. “But if I said I love someone in English, even that’s confusing, 'cause it means multiple things, y’know?”

Probably why I’m so reserved about being affectionate with friends. Leo and I went through so many different shades of intimacy, dating, being friends, it sorta blends together for me. Maybe that’s one reason I’m staying away from finding someone. I’ll be too clingy. Even now, I’m working to figure out how much contact Alycia’s okay with, and where is too much.

The comment about the Grail Knights gets her more animated. “Well, so, reasoning it out. They’re a group, they’ve been around, they fight magical stuff from what Lucius was saying. Their name, those facts, point to the sword being a special tool or something, right? And Armiger is contributing on the Irregulators, as far as I know. So whether a typical sword is useful or not, theirs probably is.”

Everyone has a usefulness. I know - I think anyway - that you sometimes wonder whether you keep up with us, Alycia. You do. Is that what you’re wondering about?

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6931933

Yes, this level of contact is what Summer considers “holding back”. If Alycia does find her a boy, he better be prepared.

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6931953

[Yyyeah, Alycia’s just about at the point – well, let me show rather than say. :slight_smile: ]

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6931992

Ack-kk-kkkk. Alycia has been trying to be … social. Which she realizes for Summer includes casual physical contact which seems to be the case for a lot of people but Alycia just doesn’t ugh physical contact threshold reached emotional reactors on overload

Alycia, you’re be ridiculous.

It is one of the things she likes about Jason, though. He’s not a casual toucher. Growing up in a household of all males, she assumes. Regardless, it’s a way they’re compatible … except, of course, when one or the other wants to touch / be touched in that way. But that’s usually very different in origin than what Summer’s doing.

I hope. I mean, it’s come up in conversation and all, but --.

Maybe take it more like a friendly dog that insists on jumping up.

Bad example – Alycia has even less experience with friendly dogs. The dogs she knows best jump only when they are going for a throat, hamstring, or weapon arm.

She manages to not quite slide away on the couch. It’s me, not her. I don’t want to make her think I’m uncomfortable-slash-offended-slash-squicked out by someone scratching the back of my neck, even if it does kind of make my hackles rise.

Instead, she sort of slides down a bit, then reaches out and grabs the popcorn bowl, holding it out to Summer. “Popcorn?” And then, "Hey, could you learn Chinese? I mean, could you download it sort of a thing, rather than doing it the old-fashioned human read-study-practice-classroom way? If, uh, that’s not too personal a question to ask. I know you’re not the stereotype, but I don’t know enough, as much as I’d like, about what your capabilities – talents – are. Okay, I’m sure you could have phrased that much more awkwardy, but I’m not sure you could have made it much_ more awkward. ‘I know you’re not a robot, but can you do robot-like things?’ Yeesh._

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6932086

Summer takes the hint, and some popcorn, folding her hands in her lap when she’s done feeding herself.

“I could learn Chinese the normal way,” she says. “I’m not ethnically Chinese, not ethnically anything ha ha, but y’know, it’d be good to learn other languages.” She thinks a moment. The sword-making stuff is still on her mind, as well as the television, so why not?

“Just about the only thing I could learn, y’know, artificially would be martial arts. Muscle memory. Reflex actions. I’d still have to practice to get used to it, but replacing parts of the peripheral nervous system could be done. And um, you could–” –remix my mind with memories from someone who already had a skill, but the Heart Factory could do that to anyone-- NOPE. Pivot. Quick!

“–do the thing the Bot did, a time-accelerated virtual reality. Leo’s been working on that, but it’s been frustrating for him.”

The show calls to her again, and a smile leads the way to the next thought.

“Maybe there would be a way to plug skills into me, somehow, if I was more complex. My design is stupidly simple, though. I have, like, 1300 individual components. Leo made sure nobody he loved, like Otto and Pneuma, could be hurt. But he also realized that part of reliability is simplicity. Some robots are the fancy-tools thing. I’m the coal-forged hammer-and-anvil robot.”

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6932134

Alycia smiles, visibly more relaxed. So, of course, she drops into her formalistic method of speaking. “What a philosopher once called the KISS principle. There are advantage to being – to having a designed structure. Meat-human physiology is the result of four billion years of compromises and fortuitous breeding, being just good enough and lucky enough to pass genes on with whatever mutations have been picked up before the environment or planned obsolescence kills us.” She cocks her head. “You are vulnerable to the environment, and wear, and entropy, but you’ll probably outlast all of us. Assuming human civilization doesn’t collapse – or collapse for long – with upgrades you could potentially live indefinitely.”

She clicks pause on the DVR, while another of the judges is whacking one of the swords against a mannequin dressed in Chinese armor and shield. She looks at Summer. “I envy you for the things you might get to see.”

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6932168

“Leo’s Phoenix means even that won’t stop me,” Summer says, more to herself than to Alycia or anyone else.

The thoughts come to her, and she repeats them aloud, because maybe sharing this is important.

“Leo feels what I feel. Or I feel what he did, because he did? The great fear that you’ll be abandoned or forgotten. All his tech is built to last, but each of us is built to support and protect the others. Aria and I can rebuild each other. The engagement ring he gave her includes encoded connectomes for the both of them. Every Phoenix has his genetic and connectome data - there’s enough there to clone Leo Snow, if you really needed.”

She looks at the screen, no longer smiling. “How old is that jian, the Chinese sword? I mean, weapons had to evolve too, right? Lord of the Rings has swords and axes and stuff. But people trusted their lives to these weapons. When there’s selection pressure with variation, evolution naturally happens. But swords are still with us. Still relevant. I guess… I guess someday, I’ll be the equivalent of that.”

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6932183

“I think the jian is a Bronze Age weapon, originally, though it’s still around today. Mostly used for martial arts, unless there’s some Chinese version of the Grail Knights.” She smirks. “Most modern armies prefer automatic weapons to swords. Though while swords were still a thing, they were as diverse as people – length, weight, how many hands to use, cutting or slashing or piercing, straight blades and curved blades and reverse-curved blades and wavy blades, use in single combat, use from horseback, use on ships, use in shield-walls … evolutionary pressure and innovation.”

She snorts. “Leo’s smart. Simplicity and redundancy and caring. I can think of a worse legacy for you and your family. Maybe another reason to do what I can to make sure the world – that humanity – keeps existing so you people can.”

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6932271

Summer looks away, awkwardly. Somehow things got really serious again. She rubs her hands together, searching for something to say that isn’t painfully sappy or will make Alycia withdraw again.

“I um, I think…”

There’s no other way than just to say it.

“I think you and Jason really belong together, Alycia. He’s so sweet, and he’s got his Foundation and his house and his brains, but he can be kind of impractical sometimes. He really needs someone like you, who thinks things through, who’s willing to say what needs saying, y’know? But you need resources that aren’t tainted by your dad. And you need, I mean, um, you need someone to love you the way he can. And even if not, y’know, be partners, like Aria would have been for Leo, whether or not they got back together. I remember… I remember wanting to do what she’s doing now, even after…”

“I mean, you two don’t have to commit to each other, you’re both 17, there’s time, but… but I think…”

She finally turns, and smiles. “I think you can turn the Chin name into something really amazing. I want people to remember you when they hear the name ‘Doctor Chin’. You don’t have to promise me. But I’d really like that. Y’know, like how swords used to kill people, and now we’re making them because it’s fun. I think you’d have fun. That’s a world I’d like to keep existing in.”

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6932291