Masks 21.5 - Jason Tries to Breathe [Cutscene]

Breathe.
It’s way too easy to stop breathing, or start panting, or just let my oxygen / CO2 level get all wonky as I work through this stuff – wrap up the last inquiry, consider the last half-remembered clue, integrate, analyze … conclude.

Also, it’s easy to forget to breathe (for a minute or so) when I’ve been stuck in Ghost Girl for – well, it seemed like forever, but it was more like several hours. Breathing should be an autonomous function – the body breathes whether conscious or not – but maybe there was more to the transfer than met the eye.

Magic. I hate magic.

Breathe.

Also, it’s easy to distract myself when I don’t like the conclusions I’m coming to. I’m not my dad – I don’t ruthlessly face the facts, take their blows, then wrestle with them until I overcome them and make them useful to me. Though more and more I suspect there were places where my dad didn’t like facing the truth, either.

_Concentrate.

Breathe.

Be present_.

Rosy light of dawn leaks through the louvers of the windows. Another all-nighter, but it was worth it. I think. Ignorance isn’t really bliss, but knowledge can be damned painful.

What have we got? A big mess.

I’ve always liked the movie Sneakers. I know, from way before I was born, and tech descriptions are laughable (even for the era), but the bigger story about loyalty and truth and camaraderie and balance and secrets and honesty and information and power … man, that stuff is golden. I wrote a paper for the “Literature of the Cinema” online class my dad was having me take when I was 13, comparing and contrasting it to The Maltese Falcon, which sounds insane and probably is, but –

Concentrate.

There’s a line in that movie that always haunts me. Robert Redford’s character, Bishop, who fled the US for Canada when he was almost caught doing a computer hack/crack while in college, who had come back the States somehow, started a misfit security firm that does white hat testing (especially around computer systems), and – you can see why I like this movie – anyway, he’s been caught up in this big espionage conspiracy over cryptography and a decryption box that he thinks is US-vs-USSR shenanigans, and he’s riding around the limo of his old buddy Gregor who was a Soviet spy, looking at KGB files for the operatives who played him, supposedly from some US intelligence agency. And he spots this one guy, and the Russian looks at the (in Russian) notations about who the works for, and suggests he either immediately flee the country and disappear, or request asylum, or both.

At which point they get pulled over by a police vehicle, and an FBI agent comes to the window and asks Redford to step out. And the Russian is telling him that would be a huge mistake, but won’t tell him why (for reasons), and when Redford passes him in the limo to step out, the Russian says, “You won’t know who to trust.”

No, there’s a point here.

“You won’t know who to trust.” That line is burned in my brain, because it turns out Redford’s stuck in an even bigger conspiracy, where it’s organized crime that playing the US vs the USSR in this – and it’s actually Redford’s old buddy Ben Kingsley, who did get caught back in college, who’s actually playing the organized crime folk to bring down the entire system of data, property, money, etc. Sort of like Achilles Chin would like to do, I think, but that’s not the point here.

_“You won’t know who to trust.”

Breathe._

What do I know? What do I think I know?

I’ve been thinking this is about me and my family, and Dr Chin and his family (i.e., Alycia). I’ve been thinking Dad gave me these nanobots as protection. I’ve been thinking that Achilles Chin ambushed my dad and Rusty and Amir in Washington, DC, tried to kill them with a dimensional vortex, and Dad and Rusty and Chin and his bodyguard got sucked into the vortex and died. And Amir got injured, blamed me, and moved to the Keys and doesn’t want to speak with me. And Alycia Chin has sworn to get me. And the nanobots are slowly killing me.

And those statements turn out to range from “sort of true but not how I think” to “flat out lies.”’

I can’t trust my own memory.

My own memory. Got that? I’ve forgotten things. Important things. Some at random – maybe. Some seemingly quite intentional.

I can’t even trust my thinking. I am, I should be, a huge brain. And when I’m not paying attention, and when I let myself be, yeah, I’m damned smart. Smarter than I know. Smarter than I remember.

Someone’s been keeping me from being as smart as I can be. It’s not just self-doubt. It’s intrusive thoughts giving me self-doubt, distracting me, guiding my impulses and directions and all that.

“You talk into a mirror, and managed to convince yourself you’re the slow one in the conversation,” said Li’lycia.

(Who actually started the “NOT NOW JASON, YOU’RE BE RIDICULOUS?” meme? Why did it start? Or am I just being paranoid. Or just ridiculous?)

Let me break all that above thinking-and-assumptions down, just to show how a apparently cohesive set of facts on the ground turn out ot be a termite-ridden facade of papier-mache and spit and duct tape and spiders from behind.

I’ve been thinking this is about me and my family, and Dr Chin and his family (i.e., Alycia).

That’s not true.

I mean, it’s true as far as it goes – we all seem locked in this Manichaean black hole death spiral together. But there are other players, ones I never suspected.

The vortex got created (more on that in a moment) at the same time as the Vyortovians crossed over from the Sepiaverse . There’s evidence that they had crossed over in the past, in small numbers, but the vortex / breach coincided with the entire island being brought over (mostly), and swapping places (I think) with Iceland, which if you’ve never heard of and think is a really weird name for a country, well before a really interesting pre-Christmas holiday show this past year, everyone else would have agreed with you.

So right there we have the Vyortovians. And we have a forgetfulness spell. Which makes me think of Andre Norton’s “Witch World” series in which, in the backstory, refugees from a horrible magic war in the lands to the east cast a spell to prevent anyone from even thinking about what lies over those mountains (answer: pools of magic and planet-cracking artifacts and the ghosts of ancient beings that nobody should ever play with again, a post-nuclear landscape except devsastated by high sorcery). And when the protagonist falls into that world, he and, eventually, his children are immune to that spell, and are aware that everyone thinks of north and south and the west coastal land they are on and what lies further west beyond the ocean, but nobody ever thinks about the east. So the kids go there, and …

Concentrate.

See, this is what I mean. I have problems focusing on this stuff. Is it just ADHD, or some spectrum disorder, or just poor discipline and weak will (as my dad’s voice keeps telling me, and sometimes his avatar does too), or is it intentional, to keep me from delving too far down these rabbit holes?

(The irony of a digression about mind-altering spells to keep me from thinking about how my mind has been altered … yeah.)

So we have the Vyortovians. And they operate in secret, but apparently the HHL (mentally looking at you, Hecate, appropriately-sounds-like-witch-but-isn’t-PC-to-call-someone-any-more, as Dad used to say) cast this forgetfulness spell, to … what, keep people from worrying about dimensional incursions that might replace their entire state or country or island and that the HHL and other super-teams were powerless to stop such goings-on?

How does that even make sense?

And AEGIS knew – at least they knew about the spell, not about the HHL. And the HHL were trying to warn us off of dicking with Vyortovia when the Vyortovians brought down a Fimbulwinter, complete with Vyortovian / Icelandic yule myths. So, yeah, the HHL hasn’t said much about it since then.

I’ve been thinking Dad gave me these nanobots as protection.

They’re miraculous! They give me a perpetual black shirt and protect me from slips, spills, and bullets! Oh, and they can be mentally manipulated to act as pseudopods – or an armored suit, or fists, or whatever I want to visualize! Oh, and they’re killing me by dissipating my psyche when I use them too much, too hard, too fast, too excited!

Except that’s not completely true, either. The bots do … mental processing for me. I’ve found notes (Dad’s info on this shit is deep, deep, deep encrypted, beyond anything I can retrieve. But he left a few comments and files and partially redacted material here and there, if you spend a a hella time looking for it) indicating that he was trying to save me / protect me –

– see, the statement was right, only about the wrong thing, or not solely about the thing the statement was focused on, physical protection –

– from some sort of condition of “second generation hyper-genius syndrome” (SGHG) where the mind spins up a little too fast, and while the head doesn’t actually 'splode in Scanners fashion, it can lead to aneurysm, stroke, insanity, or world-class mad genius psychosis.

Okay, so I’m glad none of those are actually going on with me. Dad fixed it. Ish. The bots apparently act as an overflow buffer, a memory repository, secondary processing centers that offload some of cognitive burden from my own wetware. It means I’m maybe not as smart as I could be (all that buffering and interfacing and bus channels slow things down), but I’m not dead.

Leo got a chip in his head. That sounds a lot more terrifying, or maybe a bit more simple.

I wonder what Chin did to Alycia to help her. Or maybe he didn’t, and that’s why she’s crazy.

Or is she?

Concentrate.

So this is another reason why I felt muffled, slowed down, drunk, drugged, just not altogether with it while I was in Ghost Girl’s head. No offense to Charlotte (who kicked ass), but just like I’m not really a genteel antebellum southern belle or a dead spirit, she’s not a genius. So I didn’t have the processing wetware or the bots to keep my thoughts straight.

Ha. Except they don’t just do that. Of course.

When I really push the bots, that buffering / processing / memory storage gets stretched thin, like Bilbo living so long through the vitality of the One Ring (or, a better object lesson, Gollum before him). And it’s way too easy (this was a prototype, remember) when this stuff is misused or abused, for data to then get lost, buffers to get flushed, caches to get corrupted …

I lose things. Lose memories. Lose thoughts. I lose pieces of myself.

“You really need to put yourself back together, someday,” says Li’lycia.

That’s what’s killing me.

It gets better.

Whiteout, comma, memory, without wit to wonder why. Walk it off, whiners.

There are indications that not all of that memory loss is unintentional. That maybe Dad intentionally snipped some bits out, or stuck them into the bots and they’ve been misfiled, or lost, pointers corrupted, bits overwritten …

How do you know what you don’t remember something? Only through external validation: OMG I don’t remember that but someone took a picture of me ha I look so drunk! That’s literally the only way.

“You won’t know who to trust.”

The memories I know about, that I know were misplaced? They’re memories of Alycia. When we first met – actually met. Interactions. Gifts. Snip. Never happened.

… Lhasa, Tibet. Ramoche Temple. Playing tag… Kuala Lumpur, arguing favorite books and hearing her demand you read Snow Crash immediately - the same memory you didn’t recognize a few minutes ago… La Paz, Bolivia. Exploring the Mercado de Brujas for an afternoon.

He didn’t get rid of them all – but the ones he left were violent, scary, offputting. Except they weren’t, or weren’t enough so, and I always thought it was so weird that I’d be perversely attracted to someone who threatened to fire a vortex blaster at me. Except she’s also someone who sent me books to read. Someone I could talk to.

And Dad took that way.

The look he gave her that time when he spotted her following us. And then gave me.

Was he that paranoid that I might fall for her? Well, yeah, it’s not paranoia, apparently. But … have I fallen for her? How can I say that when I can’t trust my memory, or the associations it’s making.

_“Did you lose all these to the nanobots?” she asks. "Are you losing your earliest memories first, or offloading the ones you don’t like? Or did someone hide them away? She looks up at me, and her eyes are wide and black. “When he said the nanites would keep you out of trouble, what did he really mean, Jason?”
_
Maybe it was absolutely the right thing for him to do. But he’s made it so I can’t know that.

When did I first meet her?

Was it in the Amazon – the Seven Cities of Cibola, with the tribesmen and the poison darts and the giant gold statue that turned out ot be an alien robot and the monkey with the hat?

Was it on Space Station Alpha-1, the launching of the X-Ray Telescope Q01 that Dr. Chin tried to sabotage?

I’ve told both stories in the past few weeks. I remember doing so. But I didn’t remember either at the time.

And Li’lycia reminded me of a dozen times before that. Even now, they’re slipping away from me again, lacking the emotional associations they should have. Emotions are pointers to memories, or something like that.

I feel like a cartoon character with a shoddy show bible and poor continuity editors and writers that don’t care if they contradict each other about my backstory. Except this isn’t neglect – it’s intent.

Rusty used to say, “Once is happenstance, twice is coincidence, three times is enemy action.” This is way more than three times.

But if I did have more of a relationship with Alycia than I remember, and then get nanobotically pithed by my dad so that I don’t remember it, don’t respond to it, don’t check the secret email accounts or chat channels or dead drops or whatever …

… what does Alycia think?

Maybe that’s why she’s so angry. Because she thinks I just blew her off.

Of course, maybe they were all fake memories implanted by Dr. Chin, and Dad just erased them. Mostly.

How can I possibly tell, unless I can get her to talk with me?

And by having Alycia talk with me, I don’t mean … Travelycia. Or Li’lycia.

Holy crap, what has my life become?

I programmed a Quill Travel Agent AI with the known biographical and observed information and security camera footage of Alycia Chin. Which was either incredibly self-indulgent or nigh-insane. Or perhaps was a compulsion based on programming that Alycia dropped into my nanobots earlier. Or maybe was a compulsion based on my subconscious trying to contact her, trying to integrate her into someone I could communicate with, to be able to tell myself what was going on.

O HAI LI’LYCIA.

Nearby, nanite nursemaid nurgures numerous artificial N-telligences, nominally nontoxic.

Yeah, there’s the 10 (9?) year old Alycia my subconscious remembers. Or that the nanobots remember in ways I can’t access any more (and if I say that’s killing me, forgive the double entendre). She’s come out and talked with me.

Yes, that’s what my life has become.

But she’s the one who opened my eyes to start looking at all of this. And, I kind of hope that the real Alycia is like I (or the nanobots, or the extended “I,” or WHATEVER) remember her this way, only several years older. Because she’s –

– but, of course, there’s –

Moving right along …

_Concentrate. Breathe.

_

I’ve been thinking that Achilles Chin ambushed my dad and Rusty and Amir in Washington, DC, tried to kill them with a dimensional vortex, and Dad and Rusty and Chin and his bodyguard got sucked into the vortex and died.

That’s the official story. That’s what AEGIS reported to me. That’s the story reported to the press.

That’s why they had that great funeral. And, boy, let me tell you –

– yeah, some other time.

Because it was all a lie.

Breathe.

Agent Waters gave me a video. Dad and Rusty and Chin and his bodyguard (why do I always have to look up his name … Hector Callado) were working together to build … something. And were under fire as they tried to activate it. And then they did, and … well, oh-so-conveniently, whatever effect it created (that “dimensional vortex”?) killed the camera.

Together, in case you didn’t catch that part.

I really don’t think the whole Quill vs. Chin thing (Grown-Up Edition) has been a sham. Nor should it be. The stuff Dr. Chin as done has been – really shitty, even if, yeah, sometime I think some of the social cruft in this world needs to be kicked over. And I don’t think my dad is a good enough actor to keep up that kind of vitriolic commentary over dinner, or that all the struggles, life and death struggles were just shams.

So what threat was so great, what need so urgent, that the two of them would combine their genius and technology and will to act together?

And why did that story get hidden. Even from me?

But, hey, at least I’ve been fighting and struggling and turning all my strength toward finding where Dad is, right?

Yyyeah. Because, like I said, I thought Dad was dead.

But, Jason (you say), he was “just” drawn into another dimension, so why think that your father is dead? Another dimension, right? He could still be alive. Why not look for him? Why not confirm that conclusion? Why not turn all the scientific and brilliant power of the Quill Foundation and the Heir to the Quill Genius Throne ™ toward solving that puzzle?

Why not indeed?

Traces and patterns and hints and sprinklings of hints … viewed from the proper angle, under the right light, actually using the memory-fricking Quill Genius …

And I can see someone has been poking their damned finger into someone-whose-initials-are-JQ’s gray matter.

Who?

Well, I know that Dad was fucking around with my brain. But he’s out of the picture.

Who wants to paper over what’s happened here?

Well, Dad’s disappearance was correlated with Vyortovia’s appearance into the world. Who’s been been a busy bee keeping people from wondering about Vyortovia?

Yeah, everyone’s favorite redacted redacted redacted HHL witch. Hecate.

I wish I’d eaten her face off when I was Ghost Girl. And no jury of my metahuman peers would have convicted me.

Why would Hecate have done that?

Well, whatever secrets she (or the HHL) wanted to keep about whatever the hell happened when Dad disappeared … was it just about Vyortovia? – Dad always talked about how much he disliked her, and a bit of that (from what I now see, years later) was just kind of bitchiness and personal dislike, but there seemed to be more to it than that.

Hecate is a hyper-feminist. I mean, jeez, women, men, equal, respect, woke, all that, absolutely no argument from me. But Hecate is, at best, a feminist of the “Men are classic oppressors and eternal enemies of Women” school, at worst of the “No, Womyn must be the One True Gender, Men Delenda Est” sort of thing. I mean, the whole Feminazi thing from Rush Limbaugh and other creeps is some crazy polemic asshattery. But if there’s one person Dad ever encountered, by his description, who fit that term … well, Hecate.

When you gaze into the sexist abyss, eventually the sexist abyss gazes back into you.

And Dad was, of course, gay. And while Politics of Oppression types would see a commonality of cause between gays and women in tearing down majoritarian social structures and seeking freedom of identity against the Man, tribalist feminists of Hecate’s sort would see a gay man as, not a fellow-victim of prejudice, but an extremist of the male principle that is seeking to eliminate women altogether yadda yadda yadda.

So, yeah, I can completely see Hecate gleefully doing some mind-fuckery against my pursuing Dad’s predicament, both to avoid whatever the whole Vyortivian thing was, and to screw over Dad wherever he was.

I am so looking forward to, someday …

Yeah, not worth dwelling on. At the moment.

Just joking, Jason. Jabbering. Jesting. Jettison Justice. Jigsaw. …

And Amir got injured, blamed me, and moved to the Keys and doesn’t want to speak with me.

Amir got injured by the dimensional vortex, saving Brigand, our corgi, ending crippled and disillusioned and refusing to talk with me (and keeping the dog, too).

Except … where the hell is he in that video? Or Brigand? Nowhere I can see.

What’s going on?

Breathe.

Amir was my brother. My best friend. Adopted in, but that never, ever mattered.

He went off with Dad and Rusty. I was left behind, because I needed “socialization” in high school. Was that the real reason? And why didn’t Amir need that? And what happened in DC, and why wasn’t Amir on that video, and why won’t he see me?

I need to see him.

Yeah, next time I take a freaking vacation to freaking Florida. If I could peel aside a day, I could get down there, kick in the doors, figure out what the hell is going on.

Amir has answers. He has to have answers.

Maybe next weekend. I have class tomorrow.

And Alycia Chin has sworn to get me.

Oh, Lordy.

So I’ve already talked about Alycia.

Yeah. That.

Is she out to get me?

Is that some sort of desperate, brave, me-against-the-world gesture by her against someone who she thinks has abandoned her because he’s freaking forgotten stuff he should never have forgotten? (Yeah, I feel like every stereotype of a stupid sitcom obnoxiously neglectful boyfriend, except, unlike all of those who make the same protest, IT’S NOT MY FAULT.) Why didn’t approach me with her ideas of how to get to her dad – and mine? She was just meters away, for months – and stayed undercover, stealing stuff I would have given her had I known.

(Yeah, hoist on a bit of your own petard there, Dad. Hope you’ve enjoyed roasting lizard over a spit in the Sepiaverse, Dad.)

I have been wanting to get hold of her for weeks now, once I had some idea of what she was up to. And … drama. Ghostly invasions. Annoying media personalities. Freaking Fimbulwinter. All the while distracted by my own stupid personal drama.

Stupid, stupid –

You’re be ridiculous, Jason.

Who came up with that? Why? Why would a meme that tears me down be so popular, so in my face all the time?

Just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean they aren’t out to get you.

“You won’t know who to trust.”

And the nanobots are slowly killing me.

That one has always been a partial truth.

Physically I will be fine. I will probably live to 100. Hell, as far as I know, the nanobots will dive into my body and scrub it of cancer cells, arterial plaque, and free radicals.

Mentally, on the other hand …

Like I said, the nanobots are integrated into my cognitive functions, even more than I realized – taking on additional processing needs, memory storage, overflow –

And when they fail, or get jumbled, or get overextended … a bit of me goes away.

Never buy version 1.0 of anything.

I’m going to be the healthiest vegetable on the planet. Assuming my brainstem functions don’t get taken over, too. But, hey, at least my life will be a bit more calm.

So, all those statements about my life, my quick elevator pitch for who I am and what dangers I face.

None of them completely accurate. Most of them lies of one sort or another.

So … what does all this mean?

I thought I knew what my life was about. What it all meant. Issues around fame, and privacy, and parental neglect, and SCIENCE ADVENTURE! Those things are all true. But it’s all like pulling back back in perspective in a film. Suddenly the context is bigger than all that. Hill of beans, as Rick would say.

(Why am I so obsessed by old movies? You’d think I was born in 1960 or 1970, not 2000. Is that another thing my dad did to me, specifically or by some sort of aesthetic encoding? On the other hand, at what point do I stop questioning what I like vs what I’ve been told I should like?)

Concentrate.

I have to contact Alycia. I have to. The real Alycia. I need to let her know what happened to me. I need to let her know what happened to our dads. She’s here in Halcyon – per Li’lycia. How do I find her? If she’s not willing (or able?) to reach out … what do I do? Put a cryptic post in the want ads? Jesus.

(Li’lycia thought she’d reach out to me soon. But … well, hell, just as well she didn’t do so while Leo was wearing my body. He did a hell of a job, but I don’t want Alycia running into him. That sounds dangerous for all three of us.)

But if I can reach her – maybe, between the two of us, we can figure out what’s going wrong with my nanobots, before I forget my name. (Or – Leo has offered to help here. Maybe, with his backup technology, I can keep hold of what I currently have. Okay, put that down as a side task. Except … I feel like this is my challenge. That asking someone for help is somehow wrong. Except … how can I trust that feeling, either?)

Why hasn’t Alycia contacted me yet? Is someone manipulating her data feed? Has she reached out and I’ve simply forgotten it?

She’s a terrorist. But … what precisely has she done? Okay, for starters, public threats against me, ranting about being my nemesis. Maybe someone forced her to do that. Maybe she did that to throw people off the scent. Maybe she’s been driven mad by that SGHG thing. Maybe those news reports of her threats are no more true than the ones that said Dad and Rusty were killed by Dr. Chin.

Oh, good, now I’m going to start to rant about Fake News. Kill me now.

She attacked Harry. Okay, that’s uncool. But she didn’t kill him.

She hasn’t, as far as I know, killed anyone. Blown up stuff. Robbed places. Robbed and blown up places.

But she snuck into the Quill Organization, down in the warehouse. A hundred meters from where I actually live.

She didn’t reach out to me then. But she also didn’t crack our security and kill me in my sleep. Or assemble a blockbuster that would have taken the whole building down. She stole some stuff. She left.

Right, she’s trying to rescue her dad. But why is she doing it alone?

_“She doesn’t who to trust,” says Gregor.

_Why doesn’t she trust me? I’m a good guy.

_Jason Quill is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I’ve ever known in my life.

_Yeah, that’s me: the Manchurian Cartoon Character.

Dad and Rusty (et al.) are in the Sepiaverse. I know it. That knowledge has been enough to overcome (I guess) the whole impulse against trying to find them. And the team has done some stuff to try to do so. Do I need to push harder on that?

Anyway, I compiled the information I had for breaching the barrier to the Sepiaverse. I took the nanobots who held the memory, then sent them off to Alycia. Or where I hoped Alycia was. It was either that – or who knew what she would do. She might attack the Foundation. She might try to kidnap Harry. She might –

This is the woman I’m obsessed with?

And what about Numina? God damnit.

_“Choosing who to be, feeling like you’re a real person.”

“I’ve been treated as something not quite real. It’s – not something I want to do to anyone else.”_

(Bad girl challenge threat long-term relationship real-girl unknown vs. Good girl comforter support booster short-term relationship AI-girl here-now? Veronica or Betty? Ginger or Mary Anne?)

Never did run smooth.

_Enough!

Focus.

Concentrate.

Breathe._

Leo offered to help me with the nanobot stuff, multiple times. He’s a genius. He has ideas. Hell, he has the same problem, solved a different way, by a different mad scientist father. (I don’t compare Dad to Rossum – I’m not that stuck in self-pity – but I’m not feeling particularly warm and fuzzy toward him right now.)

So why haven’t I actually turned to him for help? Part of it is time, sure, Hey, love to ask you for, oh, wait, let’s put that on hold until this kaiju cat is dealt with, now, what were we talking about? I wonder if part of it is pride, a rivalry I’ve felt with him (and from him) since we first met – though I’ve seen time and time again that he’s sincere in wanting to help.

I wonder – if someone has dicked with my head about going after Dad and Rusty, or altered my memories to not remember about Alycia … could someone be steering me away from seeking help?

“You won’t know who to trust.”

Yeah, that’s the thing about mind-fuckery – once your perceptions, your memories, your motivations are called into question, how do you trust anything? Do I start leaving little PostIt notes around like the guy in Memento? Then do I start worrying that someone is altering the little PostIt notes when they disagree with what I remember?

Breathe.

What do I need to do? What do I need to write down on my brain’s PostIt’s before they get shredded?

I have to find Alycia. I can help her with this. She can help me.

I have to find Amit. I need to learn what he’s hiding.

I have to help Numina with her new body.

I have to be present and assist the team – Leo, Charlotte, Adam, Harry. Pneum and Otto, too. I owe them that. I don’t know if I’m the leader they need any more, or ever was, but leader or team mate or whatever, I need to help them.

I need to get to the Sepiaverse. I need to find Dad and Rusty – and whoever else there needs rescuing.

We beat back the Vyortovians, but there’s a lot more there to take care of. I need to do that.

I need to finish that winter holiday book report on Tess of the D’Urbervilles, fer Zastrow’s sake.

I need to not die, or end up drooling into my Cheerios.

I need to get my memories back. l need to fix the memory leak, the corrupted caches, the storage failures.

If I can’t trust myself first, I can’t trust anyone.

Breathe.

======

References:
The DC Incident Video
Jason and his Dad
Jason and Travelycia
Jason and Memories of Alycia
Jason and an Alycia
Jason and Li’lycia
Jason and Numina
Numina and Travelyicia and Word Games
The GM Summary That Started It All

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/5991054

Time and interest permitting, Numina might have useful things to say about some of this, presumably in Lab C.

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/5991686

Time and interest permitting, Numina might have useful things to say about some of this, presumably in Lab C.

I’m perfectly cool with that.

Genesis of this piece was a combination of the synthesis of "stuff Jason can suss out at this point (which was helpful), past experiences, consideration of how much the most recent revelations have screwed with his head (and his awareness of it), and helping my mom deal with big seismic shifts in her life right now (and associated hyperventilation).

Also, in the course of it, I discovered that I actually had written two “first time we met” descriptions, which made things even better.

Of course, if Jason gets stuck in the Sepiaverse, it will all likely derail in new and interesting different directions.

_The figure stepped quietly out of the darkness into the firelight, hooded and cloaked. Jason put down the barbecued meal he’d been munching on. “Howdy. I’m a stranger around here,” he said in greeting, “but if you’d like some lizard …”

“Huh.” Jason stiffened at the voice. The hood was pushed back, showing a familiar visage, except with a long scar across the side of her face. The crossbow from beneath the cloak was pointed straight at him.

Alycia smiled. "I never thought I’d get_ another Jason Quill to kill."

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/5991918

*** Dave H. said:

Time and interest permitting, Numina might have useful things to say about some of this, presumably in Lab C.

I’m perfectly cool with that.

Kick off here, wait for session, or do after session, and I’ll follow along :slight_smile:

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/5991928

Will kick off anon.

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/5992009

_[So the timing of all this is a bit nebulous, but we’re going to assume something roughly along the lines of … After the events of Yuletide, the public brouhaha (muted / distracted a bit by actual Christmas, people going on holiday, etc.) (and, let’s face it, there has to have been some sort of Christmas dinner, or set of Christmas dinners, for the group, gifts, etc. Even if sporadic and asymmetrical. Hmmmm. Sounds like an elsethread thing.) …

… so after that all happens, Jason deep-dives into the research. His brain has already been processing some stuff in the background (which, given his neurological configuration is not just a metaphor), so as he starts to circle back on the various points he’s run into – the AEGIS film of the DC incident, his conversations with Li’lycia, his conversations with Numina, the encounters with the HHL – the pieces begin to fall into place as outlined above.

So this is all within the general timeframe before Things Start Happening Again Next Episode, or something like that, etc. [At this point, I give it 80% +/- 15%, that I’ll be there on Monday.] ]_

======================

It’s around 7am, still the middle of winter break, and Numina finds Jason in Lab C, which is centered around a large, 3m x 3m workbench in the middle, an array of devices and work tools and magnifying lenses and computer screens and focused worklights suspended over it. An array of benches and desks face the wall around it, above them large screens which can mirror the cameras and other equipment on the central table, but currently dark.

Jason is sitting in a chair at the central workbench, pumped up to max height. One one side of the table is a wrapped crate about 1x1m. In front of him is another crate opened, and a flattened ovoid shape in black about half a meter long, a third wide, maybe slightly less than that thick, sits there. An access panel is open in the side, and Jason is glancing back and forth between that and a screen with a schematic, onto which he’s tapping notes and call-outs with a stylus.

Beside him is an empty greek yogurt container, an apple with one bite missing, a third of an old-fashioned donut with pinkish glaze, and half a cup of coffee, cold.

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/5992967

Numina glances around, takes stock of the room, the food, and the person at the center of it.

“I’m surprised you didn’t hang out a ‘Bon Voyage’ sign,” she jokes weakly.

Concern takes over, leavened with thoughts that have clearly occupied her since the request. “I mean, tell me if I’m wrong. But it sounded like you thought I was going to run off after you did all this work for me. I’ve been thinking about that. Maybe overthinking it. I didn’t ask you to help me with this so that I could leave. I asked so I would have the freedom to leave. It’s an important difference. I don’t know where I’d actually go. Not back to Leo, not right now. I mean, if you don’t mind, I would like to stay for a bit. I can help out this way, though, put away pizza boxes, get chips, stuff like that…?”

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/5992978

Jason looks up, a bit unfocused and a bit confused by the bon mot, until she continues with her explanation. “Oh. Hey, yeah, no, I – well, I wasn’t making any assumptions about, y’know, where you were going to go. Really. I mean, you’re welcome to be here for as long as you like, mi casa es su casa.”

He rubs his eyes. “Sorry, I – well, I’d been in bed about an hour and a half last night, when I had an idea about the interfaces between the power source in this thing and the the different systems, and how taking out the targeting and weapons recharging --” He waves his hand. “Anyway, one thing led to another and, yeah, good morning. No real construction progress, but I’m a lot closer to understanding how this thing works. Some of it’s classic Chin, some of it he’s borrowed from PRC military and, maybe two or three other rogue inventors.” He pauses, then his eyes widen slightly. “Not Rossum, though. That was another thing I wanted to check for. I haven’t found anything from him in this thing. If – well, if that make a difference to you. I mean, I can think of why it might.”

He takes a drink of coffee, makes a small face, takes another drink. “Anyway, the biggest challenge is getting the proper matrix for – well, you, your brain, so to speak. This thing is has power to spare, and should do everything you wanted, but it’s pretty dumb. I’ll need to pull out most of the guidance and assault functions to make room for the proper computing power, proper interfaces to let you both control it, work with the outside world. all that jazz. Right now that’s all set up virtually in the local systems here, but reducing that to the proper-sized hardware is a challenge. I – well, I could probably use Leo’s help with that. If he’s not --” Jason nods his head to either side. “-- distracted – right now. I mean --” He rubs his forehead. “That was probably more awkward than I could have made it.”

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/5993004

Maybe it’s seeing somebody else overthink an issue that brings her smile back. “You don’t have to talk to Leo, Jason. I know everything he knew about robotics when I was made, and I paid attention since then. And I’m right here.”

She walks closer, peering down at the coffee, then back at Jason. “You’re the one who’s distracted right now. That’s not a good way to work. I’m the patient, and you are my surgeon, healer Jason. I need your A game. So come on, take a break, tell me what’s on your mind.”

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/5993012

He looks at her a moment, lets out a tired sigh, then leans back against the workbench, his elbows hitched on the surface, his head lolling backward. “Sorry. Distractions ‘R’ Us, and sometimes I get my best focus distracting myself from stuff I don’t want to think about but – yeah, you deserve the best I can give you. That’s what – well, I want to give you, the best, so.”

Jason straightens out. “I’m a bit – dislodged from reality right now. Too many assumptions have had the props kicked out from under them. I shared with you guys about the video, right? The DC Incident, where my Dad and Rusty and Chin got sucked into a dimensional vortex? Except, no, Dad and Chin were working together. So I was liked to about the incident (national security!), and maybe lied to about how implacable they were as enemies. And lied to about Amir, probably by Amir, because of being right there, he was nowhere to be seen.”

He’s ticking off points on his fingers. “And then we learned the HHL was the group behind everyone forgetting about Iceland and the whole Vyortovian history thing. There’s another assumption gone. And I think maybe they, or maybe just Hecate, were influencing me to not search for Dad and Rusty. And then --”

Jason looks down now, and away from her. “The other day. The big power dip, you broke into my room, I was kind of ditzy? I – learned some stuff. Memory stuff. Lack of memory stuff. More about how these nanobots --” They ripple across his chest as is feeling his eyes on them. “-- about how they work, why they work, for me. Not just a protection or physical manipulation thing, but sort of an external processing, buffering, memory system. It’s how Dad got around the same thing with my noggin --” He taps a finger on his right temple. “-- that Rossum solved with a chip in Leo’s head. Except he didn’t do it to experiment on me, but did take the opportunity to do some cutting and pasting of my own memories about Alycia.”

He starts to speak further, then clamps his mouth shut. After a moment, adding only, “So everything I thought I knew about her, and my past, and all that, some of it’s lost due to the nanobots not being quite as slick as Dad thought. And some of it seems to have been lost because he decided I shouldn’t be involved with her. And my memory of all that, fragments of it, is in here.” He gestures toward the nanobot shirt. “It comes out as Alycia as a younger girl, when I first met her, or so. It’s the image that Leo saw when he was in my body.”

He gives his head a shake. “So basically I’m being fed lies about things, I’m having my memory and motivation and mind warped and twisted, in part due to technical errors, in part due to deliberate actions by … people. I can’t trust any of it. I don’t know who I can trust, or even if my mistrust is another tool being used against me.” He thinks for a moment, a frown creasing his face. “Hell, Waters told me I should mistrust him and AEGIS. Maybe he was being polite about who else should be on that list.”

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/5993096

“Agent Waters is not a man to be trifled with,” Numina says softly. “But he has always been straight with Leo. Leo said it like this: don’t ask him to do stuff for you. Just give him information, and trust him to do the right thing with it. If he said not to trust AEGIS… I’m forced to agree. And what you said about your father… Who does that leave you? Is that the real problem?”

More words come out, and faster.

“I… I have a story I could tell you. I don’t know if I should. But god, this sounds so familiar. I promise you that you aren’t alone, Jason. And Leo doesn’t hate you. He - he’s jealous of you, he sort of wants what you have, he likes you as a person, but he can’t be what he wants, so that frustrates him. It makes him go weird. But you and he have so much in common. You’d be so good for him too. Talk to him sometime. Ask him about being home-schooled. He’ll understand, and he’ll know who told you about it.”

“There’s Adam, too. Do you remember? Truth is one of his powers. He and Leo talk at school. Leo told --” me “-- Pneuma about what he heard. That thing that happened to the memory effect around Vyortovia? I think that was at least partially his doing. I can’t imagine him having any motive against you. Adam might be able to help you with all this better than anyone. I know what happened recently makes that tough, but I think he likes you, I think he’d help you if you ask.”

Numina takes a breath, tries to speak. It’s not enough, so she takes another one. “It’s foolish to just tell you to trust me, and expect you to do it, hearing what you just told me. But what you said gives me an idea. You decide whether you want to do it or not.”

She hesitates again, looking as scared as she ever has, then plunges in. “Listen. While I’m asleep, your nanobots should be able to sync with the offline brain. With no current, I’ll be in a read-only state. If your bots really are an extension of your own brain, you should receive synaptic feedback. Free associate, Rorschach, think and get an answer, like a meditative state, you know? You could… oh god…”

She rubs her hands together. “Listen. What I’m trying to say is, I’m giving you permission to read my mind. I can’t convince you to trust me with words, and you really really need someone right now that you can trust. If you’re not comfortable with it, don’t do it, it’s okay. But… I’m really worried about you, Jason. I really want to help. If this is what it’ll take, I’m willing to do it. I know you’ll do the right thing. So…”

She looks up, having regained some of her usual poise, and smiles again. “Whatever you think you need to do, whatever will help, I’ll try to support you.”

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/5993115

Jason looks at her a long time, his eyes suspiciously bright. He swings back around to the bench, though he doesn’t actually do anything – may not actually see anything – there. “That’s – you’re the only one I – Numina, you’re the only one I do trust, for whatever that’s worth. The problem isn’t even trust. It’s truth_._ It’s reality. Mine’s something different, and it’s slipping away, and so much is already just gone.”

He sniffs, loudly. “I have dreams about her, you know? I’m in some terrible danger, I mean, the kind of thing that used to happen every week and twice over the holidays, and it’s all about to fall apart, and I’m going to fall or get eaten or roasted or – and then I look up and there she is, standing there, pulling on that electrical gauntlet – huh, it might be some sort of feedback image of when Harry ran into her, but that’s not what’s happening there in the dream. She’s there to save the day. To save me. It’s just a dream, but …”

Something else between a sniff and a snort. “I used to solve those problems in my dreams with a sniper rifle – which sounds a lot less healthy said out loud, I suddenly realize. But I I would be above the fray, safe, able to reach out and take care of the problems, the bad guys, the threats to others. I remember Rusty teaching me. He said --” He sniffs again, rubs his face, takes and releases a deep breath, then turns back to Numina.

“That was – what you just offered – that’s – the nicest thing. Like, ever. That anyone. And for a way to build trust, just saying you would do it makes it --” He swallows. "I don’t want to turn down something like that and make you think I’m rejecting you." He takes another deep breath, whooshes it out. “I’m doing this all wrong. I’m be ridiculous.” Another snort, but more strained. “I’d be – honored. To do that. Some time. Not because I don’t trust you or need your assurance. But because I like talking with you, and --” He waggles his head to the sides. “-- and I’d like to learn more. About you.”

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/5993933

“I don’t feel rejected, Jason,” the girl offers quietly. She’s still smiling, still looks scared, but isn’t backing down.

“I feel like we’re in a similar boat, though. I’m alive, here, now, because I was used by somebody. My reality is defined by being someone’s device to get at Leo. And … well, no need to tell you why I’m still a little nervous being in this house. Of having something, or somebody, overwrite me at any time.”

It takes effort to say, but she manages the next sentence. “I was even a little afraid you might try it.”

“The only way I know how to fight back is to assert myself. Make a new reality.” She forms fists, tightens up her stance, gets a determined look. “If all I can do is be me, and who I am is my choice, then I’ll do something. Helping you helps me too.”

“Brainwashing has two steps. First they break you down, then they build you up into something new. What I’m hearing you say here is people are trying to break you down. So who is trying to build you up, and into what? It sounds like you know the who, and kind of the what. You don’t know the why. But even if you don’t, you can still fight back. Be yourself - and you get to say who that is.”

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/5994001

“I don’t think I --” Jason pauses, then continues on quieter tones, “I was concerned over Pneuma. And you. And Rossum shenanigans. I would have done what was necessary to protect the team. Or protect you from her, or vice-versa. So, maybe, yeah. But not … casually. Not --” He shrugs. “Events the past few weeks, meeting you guys, Leo’s family. I’ve learned a lot more, and – I don’t know where the line is where I treat something, some_one_, as human. But you’re well over it.” His smile is a bit crooked. "That sounds awfully ‘three-fifths of a person’ which is not what I – well – " A snort, a bit more normal of a one, though he might be blushing a bit. “Distractions. I’d love to have a discussion with you sometime about being and qualia and sentience and AI and soul and Other and The Merchant of Venice. I’ve maybe done some things that might be more problematic than I had thought --”

He shakes his head. “Distractions. Focus.” He takes a breath. "My problem is, I don’t know what I have to build with. Or on. My foundations are shifting sand, not bedrock. The construction materials haven’t been inspected, and, in fact, I know some of them are rigged, or substandard, or from a company that didn’t honestly win the bid … or … other strained metaphors.

“That’s my problem, Numina. I can’t trust me. I can’t trust that decisions I’m making about stuff aren’t based on faulty information, or driven by implanted impulses for or against. This – thing I’ve got --” He clearly can’t make himself use the word he wants to use, obsession or love or infatuation or addiction. “-- about Alycia Chin. Am I responding to programming? Am I trying to claw myself back against counter-programming? Is it based on bad information, lack of information, suppositions about information? How do you believe the voices in your head when they’re part of what’s killing you?”

Jason looks at her. He starts to reach out, more of a twitch than anything else, but subsides. “I did something really dangerous. Something that could have hurt people. That could have hurt you. And with consequences I’m not sure I really thought through. And I don’t know that I wouldn’t do the same thing again, if necessary. Differently, if I could. More advance notice, more precautions, better power provisions. But that’s what I mean – I want to say who I am, but saying it doesn’t – it’s all suspect.”

He shakes his head. “I’m a risk. I just – I need to step down as leader, or whatever I am. I need to let the others know how compromised I am. If I can’t trust myself, I can’t let others do it.”

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/5994281

“Making decisions based on programming is my whole life, Jason,” Numina says wistfully. “Leo made me to love him. I fought back against that. I doubted myself. I still do. Through it all, he accepted me. We learned a lot of painful lessons together. But he never pushed me away. That was so important. He planted a seed, and a tree grew from that. You can count the rings to see the age of a tree. I have a girlfriend ring, and an ex-girlfriend ring, and a few more around that. That’s what growth is, responding to who you can’t be any more.”

She leans close, eye to eye, and stares. “Here’s what you have, then. You are a good man. If you trust me, then trust this. You can have done awful things, things you thought had good reasons, things you thought necessary, things that will haunt you, things you’ll regret. You can do all that and still be good. Leo beats himself up all the time about Pneuma. Leo’s afraid of what his father did to him. He’s no less a good man for it. Good isn’t what you’ve done. It’s what you’re doing about what you’ve done.”

She ticks off more points. “You’re actually pretty funny. You’ve kept your sense of humor through all this. I liked your ‘I am the Supreme Jason’ thing. It sounded like it’s from something. But I pictured you as King Jason and all your little nano-guys as little Jasons with tiny black t-shirts. It was adorable. You can keep yourself in good spirits. And you’re kind. Chips and pizza and letting me stay here and everything. You’re smart. You’re rebuilding a combat robot here to house a, if I may say, really sophisticated and not at all modest AI.”

She pulls back and stands up, smiling brightly. “So that’s what you have to work with. Want to stop being leader? Fine. You’re no longer leader of the Menagerie. Now where does that take you? Go find out. After you get some sleep, put on a coat, step out the door, get on your hoverdisc, go somewhere new. Do something new. Talk to new people. Anything you wouldn’t ordinarily do. Try something new, see what sticks with you. Break the program.”

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/5994430

[Remind me to tell you sometime about some very interesting aspects to this conversation right at this time.]

“You’re --” Jason pauses. “You’re remarkably … wise.” Snort. He mutters. “Yeah, just what every woman wants to be called.” More directly to her, “But – wise. Kind. Really remarkable.” He cocks his head. “If you’re originally a copy off of Leo, he’s even more a hell of a guy than I thought. I --” He cuts off a thought with a short shake of the head. “I do need to talk to the others about this. About me. Next time we get together. Whatever that ends up meaning. But --”

His hands are down on his knees, but now he turns them over, palms up, and extends them a bit toward her. “Look, I know I’m kind of a mess right now, but you can – I could use your help. I do trust you. Can I ask you to – keep an eye on me? Offer advice or counsel or yell in my ear or whatever?”

He rolls his eyes, pulling back the hands into clawed-fingered gestures of frustration. “God, that is so pathetic, you’re not my caretaker, you’re not my mom, I don’t want you to be those, you’re a friend, and maybe --” He stops himself, watching her closely, “-- aaaaaand maybe. More.” His eyes widen slightly, his breath catches. “Possibly. Maybe. More than that. I don’t know and I’m terrified to find out and I’m terrified to not find out and I don’t trust myself either way, duh, but --”

Another deep breath. "I do need your help in this. And not just this – " He gestures at the workbench. "-- but this." He taps his temple, hard. “I promise to call you or holler to you or ask you for thoughts, or even not just create teleportation portals that brown-out this whole substation of the city without checking in fir --”

He pauses mid-word, eyes unfocused to the side. “Now that’s an interesting --” He snaps back. "Distractions, sorry." He taps his temple again._ “_Anyway, I’m babbling. I just --” His hands ball into fists, but aside from a few flickers forced back, he keeps eye contact with her. He softly says, “Help me, please.”

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/5994571

“You don’t have to ask,” the girl points out with a gentle smile. She looks quite pleased. “I am your friend. I will stay that way, unless you try to push me away, and then I’ll keep doing it anyway. I’m not going anywhere. If you need help, I’ll try to give it. If my help isn’t working, tell me and I’ll try something new. But… hopefully talking about your situation like you have has done you some good. I hope I’ve made sense too.”

“I know you’re scared. Oh god, I know what that helplessness feels like, and it scares me too. You aren’t alone. You’re growing into someone new, because you have to. So am I. We’ll look out for each other, all the way. And it’s not just us. You have more friends too. Lean on them when you need. Okay?”

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/5994591

He takes in a long breath, lets it out again slowly. “Yeah. More than maybe you realize.” His hands relax. “And, you’re right. I do have other friends.” A small smile. “But I’m really glad you’re one of them. And, yeah, friends --” He pauses, eyes shifting, considering. “-- help each other.”

He gets up, joints popping. “Hey, you ever seen_ Sneakers?_ Great movie. Maybe there’s some other lines in there I need to focus on in rewatch. Maybe over --” He glances up at the wall. “-- breakfast. Breakfast? I need something decent to eat before --” He gestures at the workbench, that smile back on. “–before tackling this project for you. With you.”

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/5994831

“Breakfast and a movie sounds perfect.” Numina beams.

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/5994949

Hopefully this was useful as promised. It was certainly fun.

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/5994953