Masks 17.1 - Jason and Numina [Cutscene] [RP]

Jason lowers himself slowly into the easy chair. He feels like an old man. Part of that is, no doubt, falling several hundred feet into a nanobot-cushioned car crash. Part of that is just a crazed day with no sleep the night before, very little food, too much Coke (all of which has caffeine-half-lifed and sugar-crashed out of his system), and a several emotional body blows.

Leo and Ghost Girl have gone hallooing off to the cemetery. He should have joined them, but his energy level is bottoming out. Harry ran out an hour ago after (very obviously) getting some texts from the 'rents. Adam –

Yeah, there are more reasons to feel like an old man.

There’s an open pizza box on the end table with two slices. He grabs the pepperoni over the vegie. It’s cold, of course, and he hates cold pizza, but it’s better than nothing.

He closes his eyes, takes a bite, chews slowly.

“Hello, Jason.”

Jesus H. Nixon on a velocipede, he thinks. I do not need Alycia … any Alycia … tonight. He opens his eyes, start to say something dismissive or commanding or angry – and abruptly stops.

It’s Pnumina. Pnoumena. Pneumina. However the hell it’s spelled. The AI/Hologram/Backup Pneuma. The ghost in Quill Foundation machine (though it must be getting crowded in there). Link’s not-quite-maybe-sorta-kinda girlfriend, or a copy thereof, or something.

“Uh … hi,” he says, half choking on his mouthful of cold pizza.

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/5856925

The hologram smiles, and watches for a moment.

“Nu-mi-na,” she explains, guessing perhaps what he’s thinking, or just introducing herself. “Plural of numen. The divine spirit of a place. A power that pervades the lives of men.” She glances at her own ephemeral body. “It seemed appropriate.”

“You sound like you had a difficult day. I’m not going anywhere, if you need to talk.”

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/5856955

“Yeah, thanks,” Jason says. “Morphemes matter. Numina, like you said. Or Noumena, something that exists independently of the senses, like the spirit or individuality or that kind of thing. That makes sense, too.” He rubs his eyes, then regrets the sting from the pizza. “But with a ‘P,’ like your other half.” He shakes his head. “Sorry. I’ve been up for … 24, 36, 39 hours. However you want to spell your name or derive meaning from it, by all means, it’s yours.”

He takes another bite of pizza. “Jason means ‘healer’ in Greek. Which is kind of not the name that make sense for me.”

Jason takes another look at her. “I know you’re not going anywhere. But I hope your stay here is … comfortable. I guess. If there’s anything you need, comfort-wise, let me know. Dad used to always talk about hospitality, though it was something we usually took advantage of, not gave out. But since you are a guest here, for however long, let me know if there’s something you need. A little more RAM. Your processor pool being fluffed up. A virtual mint on your pillow.” He half-smiles. “I’m not much good as a team leader, but l can try to be a decent host.”

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/5856981

The girl listens, tilting her head, nodding slightly, blinking from time to time, the dozens of little tells that subconsciously identify something as human. The holographic effect makes her look more like an open-air Skype video call than an artificial being.

“You’ve been up for that long, but you don’t sound like you’re ready to sleep. Ground rules, then. You can talk about Alycia Chin no more than three times. And I’ll talk about Leo no more than that. So choose your moments wisely.”

She clasps her hands together and leans into the invitation. “If that’s fair, then tell me about being team leader. Or anything else that’s on your mind.”

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/5857001

“Well, jeez, that’s hardly more than once per instance. I think you have the advantage there.” He closes his eyes, and is quiet long enough that her suggestion that he isn’t ready to sleep almost seems a bad bet.

At last, he says, “This isn’t fair, because I don’t … think of you as ‘real’ in the same way I think of a … well, meat person, as real. Which is stupid and unfair and not nice. And I apologize. But it makes it too easy for me to just dump on you in a way that I wouldn’t do with the others.” He heaves a deep breath, looks at her. “Who aren’t really simply human, either. A ghost. A super-human genius. A mutant who can think a thousand times as fast as me. A kid possessed by a power from the cosmos. We’re all freaks down below.” He makes in inarticulate growling sound. “Can’t tell your players without a program.”

He takes another breath, closing his eyes again. His face smooths. “If I could prioritize what is on my mind, I wouldn’t need to talk about it. ‘Untidy minds are the devil’s workshop.’ Dad used to say that. Fuck him, but it’s true.” Jason’s eyes snap open. “I lost control tonight. I might have hurt someone. Someone important. I’ve gone from a menace to myself to a menace to others, even folk I care about. I can’t lead if I’m that way. I can’t even – what if I do let go? I’m angry so much of the time, how the hell do I keep from being the next menace the team has to face?”

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/5857017

“If you’re angry, and feel like you lack direction, and you’re worried you’ll hurt someone, there’s one answer I’ve seen work.”

Numina paces casually, slowly, making a circuit around Jason’s chair. “You find someone you look up to. You measure yourself against them. You take their example as your own, and you try to live up to it. You see everything they do as a challenge to do better. But you also care about their opinion, and crave their respect. This way, they become a fence that keeps you in place.”

“In short, you need to get yourself a Jason Quill.”

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/5857034

Bill G. said:

“In short, you need to get yourself a Jason Quill.”

{from the audience couch: “yaaaaaaaaaasssss”}

author: Doyce T.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/5857327

“Great, then I can talk to myself that way, too.” He holds up a hand. “No, I – get what you’re saying. I just – there’s really nobody around I feel that way about. Dad? Rusty? I’m – I’m trying to actually not let them affect my actions. There’s the local hero scene, but – nobody there i really respect. So, what, politicians?” He shakes his head. “I wish. I wish there were someone I could just turn to, ask what to do, foist this whole thing off on.”

Jason looks up at Numina. “Jesus. 'One answer you’ve seen work”? Don’t tell me Leo treats me as some sort of example. I mean, he’s said some nice things, yay team, but he’s kind of – well, after tonight, I’m probably not the best example for anyone, if I ever was."

He looks back to the pizza box, sighs, and takes the last piece there, something covered in vegies and now-coagulated cheese.

author: *** Dave H.
url: Community Forums: Masks 17.1 - Jason and Numina [Cutscene] [RP] | Roll20: Online virtual tabletop

“I’m not just talking about him, Jason. Other people look up to you too. I do, you know.”

Numina takes a step back, spending a moment marshaling words.

“Our heroes don’t have to be fully real. We use the public personae of superheroes and celebrities as icons, even if they’re fallible people in real life. That’s why it hurts so much when they let us down. And they will.”

She looks more directly at Jason. “You will let people down, every so often. It happens. It’s okay. We’ll forgive you. And we’ll hope you forgive us, too, when our time comes.”

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/5857733

Jason looks up sharply at Numina when she says she looks up to him, as if trying to assess her sincerity. Is it weird to be looked up to by an AI? It was different than verbal sparring with the AI in the Quill systems. They acted like people, but there was always a sense that they were following some sort of algorithmic process. Pneuma – and Numina – somehow felt different. More real, if not altogether human. Well, why should they be altogether human?

“It’s not just letting folks down, though – well not just that, but some of that.” A heavy sigh. “It’s also being aware that I could be a menace to people if I l lose my temper. I mean, I sort of tore apart a car without thinking about it, because I was so angry at things, and --” He shakes his head. “Anyway, one more area of concern around my powers, yippee. I just hope nothing – nothing more – happens that needs forgiveness in that way. I hope Adam --” Another short shake of the head.

He looks up at Numina and smiles, tightly. “And thanks for the --” A wave of the hand. “-- forgiveness thing. I – probably need to forgive myself first, and that’s not going to happen soon, but – well, I appreciate it.”

Jason cocks his head. “How are you doing? I mean, this day didn’t quite end the way you were expecting, either. Is there anything --” A vague gesture with both hands. “-- you need?”

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/5857821

“I need to reach you,” Numina says, earnestly. She softens her voice, trying to wring out any hint of accusation for what comes next. “And I need you to stop brooding in this castle full of ghosts and regret.”

She gestures around her. “I think… and you can tell me if I’m wrong… that you’re looking for something from these AIs you made for yourself. Absolution. Love, that you didn’t get from the originals. Maybe something only you know. Maybe something you don’t know or can’t name. I apologize if I’m overstepping, but this situation feels familiar to me.”

The girl straightens up, draws her features into a serious mien.

“I’m using up one of my Leos. When he was younger, Leo was a bully. It doesn’t make me proud to say that, but you need to hear it. You’ve lost parents. So did he, even if they aren’t dead. They took him, from home to home to home. He grieved, not like you, but similarly I think. But he couldn’t cope. So he lashed out. He let his anger get the best of him. What you’re afraid of doing now. It was the rage of a storm, fierce lightning and distant thunder and sheets of rain, all bottled up in the shape of a boy, and when it got loose, people got hurt.”

“The storm came because he bottled it up. He didn’t share. When we came into the picture - Otto and I - we helped him open up. Sometimes we made him. I can’t do that to you. But I can ask you. Please. Don’t close off. Don’t deflect. Show me the real Jason, no matter how badly you sometimes think of him.”

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/5858189

Jason looks at her, then shudders slightly. “I – well, I was honestly asking about how you were doing --” His eyes drift to the side. “and, yeah, probably honestly deflecting, too. Sorry.” He shakes his head. “Sorry about the sorry.” A sigh. He looks back to her. “Yeah, it’s – easier, maybe. Sort of. To talk to the AIs here. Maddening, because they’re not real, and I can still tell. But easier. Safer. I always know where they’ll be. They can’t be too busy, or in the middle of something, or --” Another vague gesture. “-- sad or disappointed or angry or anything. Anything real, at least. When Not-Dad – the Dad AI here – when he gets angry or snarky or whatever, it only bugs me because it reminds me of the real one, not because I’m afraid he’ll --” He shrugs. “-- whatever. But I can talk with them, which is … something.”

“So maybe that’s it. Just someone to talk with. On my own terms. I don’t have to explain stuff – they understand it or can look up the records and respond mostly appropriately.” He snorts. “God, that sounds really pathetic when I say it out loud.”

Jason looks at her. “Leo’s really lucky, he’s got you, and Otto. And you. Both of you. Youse.” He shakes his head. “I mean, I know the story there is more complicated than that. And there’s that people getting hurt thing you mentioned. But you’ve helped him – I can see that, even when he’s all gritting-teeth and smoldering vows of vengeance. And I --”

“Rrg,” he growls to himself. “I just want Adam to forgive me. I mean, the last thing he needed --” He holds up a hand, stopping himself. “Hey, I want some more pizza. You want – er, want to watch me, um, eat some pizza? And talk some more? In the kitchen?”

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/5858555

Numina nods, with that warm smile she can somehow manage as a projection.

“The three of us - now four, I guess - can talk to each other because we share so much experience, and know each other so well. We might not always like what we hear, but we’ll never ever misunderstand each other. So it doesn’t sound pathetic at all. It sounds comforting.”

“So yes, let’s get some pizza and talk. You can tell me about Adam, if you want, or about anything else you like.”

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/5858575

Jason walks over to the kitchen, his stride not bouncy but less trudging than it was a few minutes before.

There are more pizza boxes there – Harry always grabs more than even he can consume – and Jason nabs another slice of pepperoni and mushroom. He takes a bite, leaning against the counter. He chews it thoughtfully, then sets down the piece before continuing. “I drove Adam home. He’s having problems with the Concordance talking in his head and not saying very nice things there. So we were parked in front of his house, trying to finish up the conversation, and I was trying to cheer him up, make him feel part of the team, but not say anything that would make the Concordance try to destroy the planet or something …”

“… when this cop taps on the window, and turns out it’s his dad, and he sends Adam inside, then he starts reaming me a new one about – how disappointing I was --” The bitterness is thick in his voice. “-- as team leader, how Adam was working so hard but I wasn’t on-side as fast or as long and not supporting him, and that damned press conference, and Harry was a better leader, and I just wasn’t --”

Jason closes his eyes and breathes deeply, fingers white on the counter edges. His nanobot shirt ripples slightly, like tree leaves in a breeze.

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/5858639

Numina follows, and listens, and doesn’t speak for a few moments. But as Jason breathes, she reaches out, and Jason feels the warmth of a hand, just for a moment, on his shoulder. Perhaps she found a way to interface with his nanobots, to let them simulate the feeling of contact. Perhaps the nanobots themselves are smart enough to respond to the hologram. Perhaps it’s just his imagination.

Or perhaps some things just don’t need an explanation.

“Adam’s father is worried about his son, isn’t he. And you’re worried about Adam too.”

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/5858686

There’s a shiver at the touch that isn’t the nanobots, but Jason draws in, and lets out, one more breath. “Yeah. Of course. I mean, even I wouldn’t recommend life-and-death struggles with evil for a 12-year-old kid. Even one with his power. And I’m one of the few people out there who’ve done just that.” A small shake of the head.

Jason slips away from her touch to pace around the kitchen island, gesturing as he talks. "So he was shouting – no, not shouting, just saying stuff. And all I could think of was how I’d fucked up all day, and all this stuff with Dad, and what he would say in this circumstance, and all the Alycia – all that stuff, the press conference, the airport, all that – and I just lost it. I started shouting and yelling – and the next thing I knew, I’m standing fifteen feet tall, the car’s been torn up, the nanobots are like an angry beehive, and Adam’s dad looks like he can’t decide whether pulling his gun would be the best decision in the world of the worst –

“And then this flash of light, and I’m falling from the sky a thousand feet over the Matheson Expressway and 64th, and --”

He puts up his hand, stops talking for a second, then says to the ceiling, “Not-Dad, shut up, take a note to Barbara, to deliver when she gets on email, police will probably have one of the Quill Priuses – the remains of one – in impound, and will probably want to know more about why it fell out of the sky. I’ll give her the details later. Not-Dad off.”

He looks at Numina, a slight smile on his lips. "Sorry. If I tried to remember to do that until later I’d forget, and Barbara hates getting surprised by the police.

“Anyway, long story short, I survived, nobody got killed but Adam – and it was Adam, I recognized that light signature – but Adam’s well and truly pissed at me because I was threatening his dad and being – something – not leaderly. Ugh.”

Jason grabs another piece of pizza – this one sausage – and chews down on it.

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/5858777

The clipped memo dictation elicits a brief giggle from Numina.

She listens to the rest, and watches the pizza disappear, satisfied for now with Jason’s current level of openness.

“I like eating. Love it in fact. I just don’t have to. So eating is like… a special occasion for me. Like going to the movies, or going out with friends. I’m also a terrible cook, because I season everything for how it’ll taste but not how it’ll digest, because nothing ever bothers me. So that looks great to me, but I can’t imagine what it’ll do to you later.”

She watches a few more bites go by. “Are you sure Adam is angry? Or are you sure it was Adam that’s angry, I could also say. It sounds like he has another presence he needs to manage.”

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/5858816

Jason starts slightly at her first comment. “How do you --? Oh. Right. I’ve gotten so that I think of you as a holograph. You’ve got a whole memory of having your, um, body. That’s – jeez – well, you’re taking it calmly. More calm than I would be. But … I don’t want you to think I’m deflecting again.” He looks at the pizza, back at Numina. “But now I’m trying to think of how I could offer you some pizza. Can you … replay a sensory memory? Of eating? Would that work? I’m kind of feeling guilty about eating while you can’t.” Another upheld hand. “Sorry, still letting myself get distracted. I’ve just had being a good host drummed into me. A lot.”

He takes another piece of sausage pizza.

“I hadn’t thought about that – that it might be the Concordance talking through Adam, or even just talking to Adam about how he should react.” He frowns. “I don’t know that it makes that much difference. Given what he saw, it would be a natural reaction even without that ‘presence’ he needs to ‘manage.’ God, we are all so messed up. Except maybe Harry. Maybe Charlotte, aside from being dead. I mean, that means we have something in common, I guess, but I worry about whether we’re going to do more damage than we stop.”

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/5858873

“I’m having fun watching you eat. Mirror neurons.” The girl taps the side of her head with an impish smile. “Seeing someone else do something makes you experience it too. All of the cheese-flavored memories, none of the fat. But I appreciate the offer.”

“It’s natural to worry. And you worry so much about your friends, Jason. It means you care, and that’s good. But you know you can overdo it too, don’t you.”

Her smile falters, and her eyes pinch up a little. “I’m actually not taking things all that well. I’ve lived without a material body before, briefly. It’s mostly that…” For someone who encouraged free and open discussion, she hesitates for a long time. “The incarnate Pneuma rejected me. I rejected myself. So now who am I? That’s what I have to struggle with, unless she changes her mind. The way she’s depicted her experience, I’m not fully sure whether not I’d want to merge too. And that’s difficult. And not just on us.” She doesn’t name names, but doesn’t have to.

“Choosing who to be, feeling like you’re a real person… it’s something I’m still working on anyway. This incident just felt like a big step backward. You telling me you didn’t see me as real hurt too. But, I’m more grateful you were honest with me, and you recognized that and apologized. Thank you for that. I don’t know if all this is ‘messed up’ enough for me to be part of your group, but it’s all I can offer right now.”

She finishes the explanation by mustering up a faint smile, but not a false one.

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/5858918

“I’m having fun watching you eat. Mirror neurons.” The girl taps the side of her head with an impish smile. "Seeing someone else do something makes you experience it too. All of the cheese-flavored memories, none of the fat. But I appreciate the offer.

“Man, if Leo could patent that, he’d make a fortune. ‘Here, let me much on this celery while I think about cheetos.’ It would be like printing money.” He cocks a blond eyebrow. “Y’know, Leo’s got a lot of ideas. Maybe we could both make some money out of that.” He stops. “I mean, wow, that sounded pretty Gordon Gekko. What I mean is, I’ve got ties to an organization that deals with turning hypertechnology into commercially viable products. Maybe we could do something so Leo doesn’t have to crash on people’s couches.”

He munches on his pizza. “Maybe when things settle down.” He rolls his eyes.

"It’s natural to worry. And you worry so much about your friends, Jason. It means you care, and that’s good. But you know you can overdo it too, don’t you.

Jason shrugs, uncomfortably. “Yyyeah. I know. I – I’m kind of winging this? I mean, when we --” He pauses, then continues, voice a bit lower. “When my family, when we were together, we all watched each other’s back, but Dad was there, setting policy. Rusty was there, shooting people. I just had to make sure Brigand was on the Dragonfly before we fled the collapsing alien island spaceship thing, or be Amir’s ‘buddy’ so that we didn’t leave him behind, or leave me behind. Being in charge, taking the responsibility --”

He tears off a piece of pizza with particular vehemence.

“It’s tough to triangulate. Am I worrying too much? Am I worrying enough? Am I driving myself nuts worrying about others? Should I worry more about me? Adam’s dad --” Another pause. “He didn’t quite say that I wasn’t worrying enough about Adam. Or the team. Maybe I shouldn’t pay attention to him – what does he know? But he’s a cop, and Adam’s dad, and maybe he does know.” He looks over at Numina. “And if I make a mistake, people could die. My people – my friends. It’s not something I want to ‘err’ about, y’know?”

Her smile falters, and her eyes pinch up a little. “I’m actually not taking things all that well. I’ve lived without a material body before, briefly. It’s mostly that…” For someone who encouraged free and open discussion, she hesitates for a long time. “The incarnate Pneuma rejected me. I rejected myself. So now who am I? That’s what I have to struggle with, unless she changes her mind. The way she’s depicted her experience, I’m not fully sure whether not I’d want to merge too. And that’s difficult. And not just on us.” She doesn’t name names, but doesn’t have to.

“Choosing who to be, feeling like you’re a real person… it’s something I’m still working on anyway. This incident just felt like a big step backward. You telling me you didn’t see me as real hurt too. But, I’m more grateful you were honest with me, and you recognized that and apologized. Thank you for that. I don’t know if all this is ‘messed up’ enough for me to be part of your group, but it’s all I can offer right now.”

She finishes the explanation by mustering up a faint smile, but not a false one.

Jason looks stricken. “Jesus. That’s – not what I – well, yeah, it’s what I meant, but not what I meant. And … I said it was stupid to think that way. And it was. I --” He snorts. “People worry all this stuff I’ve been doing with AIs is going to mean I get mixed up and think unreal things are real. I think it’s the other way around, if my having this broad of a continuum means I mistake things that real as less real than they are --” He pauses, looks up, Did I say that right?, and nods. “-- then that’s an even bigger problem.”

He walks over toward her, stopping a few feet away. "You’re real, Numina. You’re as real as I am, in how it counts. You’re not … human, because your perceptions, your experience, are so different. But, I mean, we’ve got a ghost, and someone with space alien voices in his head, and someone who can run down for pizza and be back before I can get the red peppers out, and a cartoon character leader, and all that. ‘Human’ isn’t a job requirement. You’re … real. Please poke me with something if I make that mistake again. I mean it.

His jaw works for a moment. “I’ve been treated as something not quite real. It’s – not something I want to do to anyone else.”

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/5859478