Jason and Link and that chat they had [Cutscene] [RP]

[This conversation happens a few days after Issue #3’s conclusion.]

The team is hanging out at Jason’s place downtown at the Quill Foundation. Adam and Harry are deep in a game of Fallout 4 (which Adam insisted on playing with the Enhanced Blood Textures mod, much to Harry’s discomfort and Ghost Girl’s fascination).

Jason has been glancing over at Link. A lot. And his body language has been kind of tense. More than usual. Finally, as the others are hooting and hollering and wincing at a particularly gory battle, Jason gets up and oh-so-casually saunters over to the chair where Link has been sitting back, watching. “Hey, you got a minute? I’ve got something I want to show you.”

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/5473020

Leo’s growing more comfortable with the group. He has his armor off this time, for example. It’s still nearby - as is Pneuma, though she’s reading the latest issue of Fast Company.

“Uh. Sure.” He seems wary, but not hostile. He carries the same uncertainty that’s clouded him for the last few days.

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/5473751

Jason leads him down a hallway, partly glass looking down on a garden courtyard a floor below. The courtyard is immaculately kept. “Dad liked roses,” Jason comments as they enter a section of the place that Leo hasn’t been in before.

It’s never been quite clear where the living quarters in this place stop, and the labs, store rooms, mechanics benches, garages / pads / ports, or even Foundation offices begin. Most people don’t have small teleconference rooms off the kitchen, or laser torches in the kitchen, but Jason doesn’t seem to think there’s anything unusual about it.

They turn into another room, again well lit. with a group of four modern, comfortable-looking chairs in a cluster. Against one wall is some sort of robotic assembly arm unit, and a bunch of objects (tables? crates? small vehicles?) draped in tarps. Jason gestures to a chair. “Um, have a seat.” He – doesn’t, but he kind of half-parks his butt on the back of one of the chairs.

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/5473810

Leo is good at hiding some of his emotions. Anger, frustration, fear, sadness - nobody wants to see those. Those rare moments of joy and peace, on the other hand, shine from his face whenever he feels them. As he passes through the well-appointed facilities, and remembers the junkyard of high-tech scrap he has to work with, jealousy lurks unseen in the shadow of admiration.

When it comes time to sit down, he’s hesitant. Like sitting at the dinner table where grandma’s prized china is set out, he’s afraid of breaking anything or doing the wrong thing. He sits gingerly, fidgeting with his phone as a safety valve. “Lay it on me.”

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/5474102

“Well,” Jason starts off, a curiously neutral expression on his face, “first I wanted to say I think you’ve been doing a great job on the team. Your contrib–”

He breaks off, eyes widening slightly. He breaks eye contract, looking out the window. “Sorry. I just – I was kind of channeling my dad here, in his ‘speak to the help’ voice. That’s, like, really inappropriate. Sorry.” He flicks his face back, almost in alarm. “Though that doesn’t mean I don’t think you’ve been doing a great job. You have! Just – well, it’s not my place – not what I wanted to talk to you about, anyway. Just – skip back to the start of the track. Pretend I we just sat down.”

He sits in the chair. After a moment, he shifts all the way back into it, settling comfortably.

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/5474503

“I punched a guy in the face and hockey-checked a loud girl,” Leo says, flatly. “But, uh, thanks? So go ahead.”

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/5474556

Jason gives a twisted smile. “Well, you took action and didn’t back down so --” He rolls his eyes. “God. I did it again.” He holds up a hand, closing his eyes. There is a moment of silence. He opens his eyes again. “I need your help.”

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/5474677

Leo twists his head around, as if looking to see if anyone else is behind him. He looks back.

What, are you talking to me_?

Don’t you mean my dad again?

You’re the guy with the fancy lab, why can’t you just do it?_

Each racing thought hones his most honest response to a sharper and sharper edge. You’re making fun of me by asking that, and it’s hurtful.

He pushes the thought away.

“We’re a team. Tell me what you need, and I’ll do my best.”

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/5474691

“I know we didn’t get off on the right foot,” Jason says, “So I – right, team. Teamwork.” He shakes himself, draws in a breath, lets it out. “My nanobots are causing me more and more problems. I mean, I told you about it before, but that felt more theoretical. I really – I really felt it when we were at the TV studio. I pushed myself too far, too far out in keeping control of them, and --”

He stops, bites his lower lip. “-- I’m not sure I came all the way back.”

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/5474795

Leo smiles. Now he’s on familiar ground. Buckle up for science.

“Okay. I dunno how your nanotech works, really deep down. But I know how brains work. And if your stuff has to interface with your brain, they have to work a certain way too.”

“Your brain is like… a big orchestra. Lots of instruments all playing a piece, right? Your life and your history is the composer. Circumstances are the conductor. Fast, slow, whatever is going on, pick up the pace, slow down, emphasize tubas, hush trombone, whatever.”

“The piece… is you. Your ego.”

Leo pauses, formulating his thoughts.

“I think Ghost Girl is like… a cover band, right? Playing a pretty close approximation of the original. Like, Ectoplasm doing a homage to Flesh’s greatest hits. I’m guessing she couldn’t scream that loud when she was alive for example, but it’s basically still her, you know? The music is what matters, it’s not about the instruments.”

“So your nanobots - and in a different way, the AI generator I built - are kind of a similar deal. Same music, new band. Bridge your mind into another medium, echo and then separate, like doing a jam session on Skype. Cell division works the same way. There’s a continuity.”

“Neurons that fire together wire together. So the brain rewires itself to keep itself whole, as it grows. But you’ve now got these synthetic, virtual neurons, being provided by the nanobot swarm. It’s an externalized brain, a third hemisphere. So if that goes away, yeah, a part of you goes away. It’s not permanent - for now - but you’d feel like you lost your own shadow or something. Does that square with what you actually felt?”

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/5474963

Jason nods, multiple times, enrapt, almost eager to hear what Leo has to say. He nods, rapidly, at he end, eyes darting around the room, as if seeing what he’s talking about. “Yeah, it’s like, I’m not just me, my body, but also the swarm, reaching out living in more places than one.” He shakes his head, quickly. “It was only a prototype, a test. Dad was going to --” He stops, the animation in his face congealing. “Well, there’s an object lesson there about test processes and the need for operational continuity. Science adventurers aren’t big on quality control protocols. Every Tesla needs a Deming.” Jason shakes his head. “Huh. Lost my shadow, like Peter Pan. Yeah, like that.”

He shakes himself again. “Okay, that’s the big picture. And I really, really want to talk with you about that more. You’ve got an instinctive – well, I’m just the dumb forklift operator here, you’re an architect, an engineer. But priorities --” He stops once more. “Not enough people can understand this shit. I start talking about it, and people are like, herp-derp, you must be big genius man, and I’m going, no, I’m freaking not_._” He shakes his head. “Priorities. My mentality isn’t going to collapse immediately. I think. But what Harry said --”

Jason’s eyes focus back on Leo. “Alycia Chin is the most dangerous person in the world,” he says, his voice low, dreadfully earnest. “To me, to anyone near me, to anyone or anything I value. This place. All of you. Hell, Halcyon City. And Harry says she’s been tracking me by whatever frequency I use to control the swarm. Do you --” He pauses, takes a deep breath. “Do you have any idea how to stop that?”

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/5475583

“Oh, you want her to be unable to track you. Stop giving interviews on live television?” Leo deadpans.

_Okay, serious answer time. But, man, that was the worst.
“I’m not an architect or engineer or whatever. I hit stuff, and I have friends. But my biological dad, uh, Rossum…” Leo bites his tongue. Everyone has family issues on this team, nobody’s asking to hear his personal bullshit. “He explained one time about how super-intellect and super-inventing work. Phosphorus atoms in the brain can sustain quantum states, when formed into Posner molecules. Matthew Fisher published a paper a couple years about it. The Posner molecules fall into a neuron and are eaten, so to speak. But they affect how the neuron fires. So people like my dad, and I guess me, and maybe your dad, have a mutation of sorts. The wave function collapses into a single eigenstate, but it does so in a highly favorable configuration.”

Leo thinks a few more seconds, turning his head this way and that. “Uh, basically there’s like 1 way to get something right and 50 ways to get it wrong, yeah? Super-intelligence uses quantum mechanics to make us get that 1 way every time. Or most of the time.”

“So as long as I have a solid grounding in the science I’m dealing with, I’ll just kinda arrive at the right answer the first time. Edison said the light bulb wasn’t 1000 failures, it was a success with a 1000 steps. People like me just get to jump to that 1000th step early.”

OOC: Leo doesn’t put the pieces together here, but there’s an opportunity for a Moment of Truth or similar power-up for Jason. If his nanobots are small enough to participate in these quantum interactions, uploading his mind more fully into them might dramatically boost his intelligence and aptitudes. If he needs to out-think, rather than out-fight, Alycia, he might need to take this step.

Already animated, Leo actually stands up and starts pacing, like a wild animal in a cage. Passion shines through his expression.

“Alright, tracking. First, most obviously, heat. Most machines give off a heat signature, starting at some kinda core, like the engine, and radiating through the hull, right? Your cloud doesn’t. It’s all pinpoint heat sources. It’ll be a solid sheet of red, not that sort of cool-outside-hot-inside look. That’s going to be really obvious on a thermograph for anyone who knows what they’re looking for. Anyone with a high-flying aircraft, or a blimp or drone, or even a satellite network with good enough cameras, can pick it out if they know where to start looking. Plus - plus! - heat dissipation is a big problem for nanotech anyway. Check arXiv for some papers about that.”

“My old man, yeah, he’s got more theories, of course. So ice manipulation powers, right? Ice isn’t a force, it’s a relative absence of heat. Where does that heat go? He speculated that ice manipulators were really controlling extra spatial dimensions. If a molecule has more room to vibrate, or has more stuff to vibrate into, it’ll cool down. I think that sounds crazy, but clearly there’s some way of doing it. Solve that problem, and not only can you cool your nanobots so they don’t show up like a flare on IR, but you could probably get a serious power boost from them besides. Know any ice-using heroes who are friendly to the Foundation? Or better, how about an ice-using villain we can bust, then bargain with? Lab time in exchange for a reduced sentence, and in the mean time they’re off the street.”

OOC: this is a potential setup for encountering one or more NPCs, and taking proactive steps to deal with villains. It can also serve one of my goals for Link, which is to help with villain rehabilitation.

“Alright, with that out of the way… once someone knows where you are, those brain interactions? That stuff is super distinctive. Zheng Joyce Wang published papers about predicting human behavior using quantum equations. You can just sample local radio waves, do some traffic analysis, look for anything that fits those models, and there you are.”

Leo stops pacing, and scowls. “Man, I dunno how you beat that. I mean, I guess you could turn the nanobots into a mesh, shorten the broadcast distance, let them talk to each other instead of just broadcasting… shit, you’d have to re-engineer them to do that, and I’d need a lot of study to figure out why that is. But that’s still short-range stuff, so honestly if you can beat the thermograph, she’ll only be able to find you if she’s already in the neighborhood. Or if she scatters receivers everywhere, I guess…”

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/5475687

Jason goes from watching him avidly as he talks, bobbing his head repeatedly, to less certainty, to, at the end, a scowl. He launches out of his chair, stalks past Leo over to the window, which overlooks that same garden courtyard. He makes some inarticulate sound, clenches his fists, as the blackness of his shirt – the nanobots themselves – swirl slightly for a few moments, like a disturbed beehive, before settling back down.

None of this has seemed normal behavior to Leo, at least not based on how Jason usually seems. Not that they’ve been hanging together for any great length of time, but Jason usually seems to have it pretty together, except for freaking out a bit when Harry mentioned running into Alycia Chin. This Jason – mercurial, scattered – either there’s some new factor, or it’s a layer deeper than Jason normally lets folk see.

He slowly unclenches his hands. “Sorry,” he says, still looking out the window. “That was – it just reminded me – Dad used to explain the same way. With plenty of footnotes, in case I wasn’t following. Posner this, Fisher that, and arXiv papers, and Zheng Wang – Joyce actually visited here a couple of years ago. Rusty made his world-famous beef stroganoff.” Jason shakes his head, like a horse flicking away a fly, then turns back to Leo. He looks more calm. “Okay. I got about 30% of that, because I’m the dumb one. Let me walk through it.”

He counts off one, laying his left index finger on that of the right hand. “Heat signature. It didn’t sound like Alycia was tracking the nanobots by heat signature, not from what Harry remembers about what she said, but she could have been lying, or Harry might be misquoting. If so --” He shrugs. "I can start off looking at some of Dad’s research. If it was a flaw, he probably already had a plan to fix it. He was – good about that sort of thing. If not, I’ll just go through the Settings menu, see if there’s anything there. Most of it was locked down, grayed out, 'cause Dad didn’t want me dicking with it. Hell, I didn’t want to go dicking with it. But I know some of his passwords, so I might be able to get to the sysadmin access.

“If not – well, I’m not wowed about letting some ice villain get access to the nanobots. Or even a hero. I mean, something like this --” the bots swirl around him again like a black sandstorm, coronaed in the sunlight coming through the window --" you could do a lot of damage with." The nanobots move back in place. “Hell, two-thirds of Dad’s stuff is off limits, even to the Foundation, so that it couldn’t be weaponized. Chin did that a couple of times, and it drove Dad bonkers. There are vaults here even I can’t get into. But we can file that for later.”

“Two --” the next finger “-- changing how the bots talk to each other, and to me, that sounded kind of cool. I can do the same follow-up, researching, config settings. It sounds like the kind of --” Jason stops, lets his gaze drop to one side. “There’s probably a whole road map of upgrades and improvements and tests and safety measures, stashed away somewhere. Or maybe it was just all in his head. I mean, ‘I’ll do a check-up when we get back, should be interesting,’ does that sound like he knew what to expect?”

Jason blinks, looks back to Leo. “Sorry. Wool-gathering. Look, this has all been helpful, I really appreciate it. Honestly. It’s – not something I can just chat with folk about. Just --” He shrugs. “It’s got me a little on edge.”

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/5476438

[I want to say, GM-wise, I really appreciate the breadcrumbs you both drop for story/plotlines.]

[Functionally speaking, the big ‘signature’ at the moment Alycia found Mercury might have been heat (they were working hard to contain Iconoclast’s final blast), but working at that long range… if there was any kind of distinctive ‘control signal’, it would have had to have been STRONG at that point, to maintain contact with Jason.]

[SO: call that a clue as to what she was working off of.]

[None of this is stuff you NEED to incorporate into the current conversation, but it is stuff you could deduce now or later, through some basic elimination.]

author: Doyce T.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/5476655

OOC: Dude, we could make whole loaves out of the breadcrumbs being dropped. GM aside, both characters are going to have moments, a few hours or days later, where they blink and say, “Wait, what did he say there?”

Yup, it was already in the back of my head that Alycia was helped in detecting things because Jason was pushing so hard to keep the signal between himself and the swarm that Mercury was carrying many miles away at high speed.

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/5476745

Doyce T. said:

[I want to say, GM-wise, I really appreciate the breadcrumbs you both drop for story/plotlines.]

OOC: Hold my beer

Leo listens, watches, and against his will, empathizes. Your old man put something in your head that you don’t fully understand, but it’s keeping you alive. You don’t know if you can trust him, and you can’t just go ask him.

“Yeah.” It’s only one word, but it’s packed to the top with history and feeling.

He thinks, and thinks some more. “I guess there’s other explanations. Robots at that scale are really dumb - not like a stupid idea dumb, but like, they can only do a few basic things. If they were sending out any kind of additional tracking signal, something you could get at long range, that’s not something you just have accidentally happen. It’d have to be intentional–”

The conclusion to that thought hits him like a fist, and the impact opens a galaxy of possibilities to him. Jason’s interview to that magazine; the hints and insinuations about him and Alycia; what Jason himself said about Achilles Chin; the scientific scruple of the senior Quill. And Leo sees it all through the lens of his own experience with his inventor father.

Did the senior Quill build this tool to help Jason … reconcile with Alycia? Might they allow mutual control by design? Did Quill steal something from the senior Chin? Rossum stole plenty of stuff from other gadgeteers, like the Casimir Fractal that helps power the Link Suit, Pneuma, and Otto.

_I can’t say a word of this to him. He’ll lose it for sure.
“Uh, maybe it’s like a tracking device for your dad to find you, in case you get lost or something,” he finishes lamely.

OOC: so basically, I wanted to leave three options: one where you can block Alycia from tracking you (thermographic shielding), one where you can’t (signal analysis of brain patterns via radio, which seems to be what you guys are leaning toward), and one where blocking it wasn’t an option by design (the nanobots have a deliberate backdoor or shared control). Only Dave knows what he wants to do with Jason here, though. :slight_smile:

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/5477059

GM-me says that option 2 would probably be blockable as well if Jason managed to switch things over to a mesh network as Link suggested. There are some dangerous knock-on effects of that, but he’s playing the Doomed so that’s okay. :slight_smile:

author: Doyce T.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/5477167

Bill G. said:

OOC: Hold my beer

OOC: so basically, I wanted to leave three options: one where you can block Alycia from tracking you (thermographic shielding), one where you can’t (signal analysis of brain patterns via radio, which seems to be what you guys are leaning toward), and one where blocking it wasn’t an option by design (the nanobots have a deliberate backdoor or shared control). Only Dave knows what he wants to do with Jason here, though. :slight_smile:

OOC: Leaning toward 2, just because that’s what I’d been thinking, but 3 turns out to have been worth a refill on that beer. _Whoever_ is responsible. Heck, that opens up a ton of other options around a lot of other things. Let’s keep that in the back pocket.

Jason frowns. “That’d be – hmm. I guess, maybe. If he were being paranoid. Although, hey, the bots were meant to be a ‘smart armor’ in case I was in danger, so some sort of tracking signal. But he’d want it to be triggered, not something continuously broadcasting. Unless --” He gnaws his lower lip again. “I’m using them in a way they were never designed for, away from my body. Maybe by pushing communication outward, it’s using the tracking signal function in order to communicate with them. And when it was signalling so far away --”

He nods. It might occur to Leo that if Jason is the “dumb one,” he still picks up things pretty quickly.

Jason looks at Leo. “That’s helpful, really. You’ve – yeah, thank. I just --” He takes another deep breath. “Even if we figure out how to keep Alycia tracking me, the other problem. The bigger one. That whole ‘losing my shadow’ thing. It seems to get worse the more I use the bots, the interface, on more than just simple things. But I can’t stop using them, if I can help people, y’know? And that just means that, sooner or later, I’ll lose so much of me, there won’t be anything left.”

He smiles, but it’s kind of a crooked one. “You’re the resident genius here. Do you think you can help me? Or should I just make sure my will’s up to date and plan on leaving a People Magazine-worthy corpse?”

OOC: And, yes, that probably qualifies as an invocation of my Doomed “Team Move”.

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/5477773

You’re absolutely right and thanks for calling it out.

author: Doyce T.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/5477830

This puts a scowl on Leo’s face.

“Plan on leaving a corpse? Fuck you, man. That’s not an option.”

He clenches his fists, feels the pressure and unclenches deliberately, clenches again unconsciously. “The world needs us. It needs you. Our bodies are star-stuff and our minds are music. Life is incredible. Yeah, things can suck. Yeah, we have big problems. But we were put on this Earth to fix those problems, because the payoff is so worth it. And you, in particular, got born on third base. You don’t get to walk off the field without trying to bring it home. You got a responsibility.”

The outburst seems to calm him down, and he actually starts to smile again. “I built my armor and robots out of carbon. The atom is strong because its bonds are strong. I don’t need some bullshit super-space-alloy. People work the same way. Cut through the bullshit, keep things simple, just do what needs to be done. So yeah. Whatever help you need, I’ll give you. As long as you don’t give up on yourself.”

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/5477871