Masks 27.5 - What I Want [Cutscene]

Summer is alone again.

Jason’s off, doing something, preparing himself or his facility or something, for a delicate and dangerous operation on his own mind.

She brushes her own lips with her fingertips, remembering the sudden boldness he showed earlier. Was that the pent-up longing of a boy in love… or the desperate act of a doomed man who had nothing to lose? She wants to feel it’s the former. But sometimes, the way Jason talks, she fears it could be the latter. But he’s made plans for himself, for his future. He’s confident. Good. At last.

Well, at least someone around here has a plan for their life.

Leo, for all his impulsiveness, has been the soul of discretion with Pneuma, and now with Aria and herself. Do I want him to be bolder? Or am I grateful that he’s given me the room to be myself, and held back?

What do I want?

Time to be impulsive. Time to push back at the world, and see what changes for me.

Summer fishes out her loaner phone and sends a text to Leo Snow.

“Jason just kissed me.”

author: Bill G.

Leo inspects his phone. Aria spots a big, bright smile spread across his face.

In response to her questioning look, he holds up the phone for her inspection.

She looks at it for a moment, then critically back at Leo. “Is this what you want?” she asks, in that careful tone that invites soul-searching.

Leo, catching her unspoken message, pauses. It was what he wanted - he thought. Cards on the table.

“If I build new robots,” he explains carefully, “they’ll inherit my memories. Remixed, reinterpreted, but still mine.” Aria knows this. He’s just setting context. “Memories of … the Menagerie. Of Vyortovia. Of… Mistletoe.”

The implication reaches Aria immediately. “Because you and I are now… Oh. Oh.”

“Any robot I build is going to feel something pretty intense for you,” Leo says ruefully. “It was hell on me not having you. It’d be hell on them. I don’t want to inflict that on any friend of mine.”

I don’t build weapons. I build friends.

Aria nods her head slowly, realizing Leo’s plan with Summer. “So, if she and Jason are together…”

“… Yeah.” Then I get to feel separation from her. And any robot I make can remix that amicable separation into closure with you.

The girl continues. “Early on, you… you were giving off subtle vibes like you wanted us both. Seeing her and Jason together… did that… give you the closure you need?”

Leo shrugs, an uncertain look on his face. “I mean, it looks promising now? So, kind of? I honestly do wish them well. I agree with you, they’d be a cute couple. I’m just honestly not sure what to make of this text. It’s not ‘Jason and I are together’, just ‘Jason kissed me’. Okay, so, is he waffling between her and Alycia and he just crossed a line? I feel like I need to keep a close eye on the situation, now that I think about it.”

Aria taps her chin. “Tell you what. You keep doing what you’re doing. I’ll keep an eye on the situation.”

“You… you trust me, right?” Leo sounds a bit worried.

Aria reaches in and rubs her nose against his briefly, with a grin. “I trust you, Leo, with all my heart. And it’s okay to be worried about a developing situation. But tell me… what do you really want, most of all, right now?”

Leo actually does give this some serious thought, to his credit. “I want you and Summer and Otto to be happy. I’ll do whatever it takes to help make that happen. And… I’m… I’m gonna make a choice. To trust that Jason will too. Whatever ends up happening between those two, if anything. I’ll trust him, and her, to know their business.”

Aria ruffles his hair. “Good. Now what are you gonna tell her?” she says, and points at the phone, still waiting on a reply.

Leo gets started on a text.

“I’m a little jealous and a lot happy, as long as you are. You deserve the best, and I hope you found it.”

author: Bill G.

While Leo is busy cogitating over this new revelation, Aria takes some time to herself.

She pulls out her phone and sends a message to Summer. “Alycia?”

The reply is long in coming, but it confirms what she suspected. The single word “Yes” stares out at her from the glowing screen.

I would have told Leo clearly if I was seeing someone else. I would have given him that much. So would she. This was a ploy. What is she up to?

“I’m sorry,” Aria types.

“He opened up to me at last,” the reply says. That’s a relief. The two must have had some kind of conversation breakthrough. Jason admitted his feelings about Alycia, then maybe gave her a good-bye kiss. Things are looking good, even if they aren’t how Leo thought.

Another message comes through immediately. “Is Leo happy?”

Aria smiles to herself. Well, isn’t that the question of the day. That’s why you’re doing this to him, to see if he’ll come charging in to push Jason aside and sweep you off your feet. Aria feels briefly embarrassed, at the realization that she might have done the same if things were different.

“He’d be happy if you come see him.” Don’t play this game, just be honest with your feelings.

“I can’t,” comes the reply.

Aria can guess some of the reasons. “I’m not standing in your way,” she sends back.

“But I am.”

Aria sighs and rubs the bridge of her nose with two fingers. You impulsively travel to another reality with a boy with mental problems, but you can’t just come here and tell a guy you like him. Really, sis? I’m still having panic attacks and you’re gonna give me another one.

“Girls night out, then,” she sends.

“Any time anywhere,” comes the reply.

Maybe I was wrong, she reflects. I thought being hurt by Rook and Rossum meant I had to protect her from the same thing. But hurt is how we grow up. I don’t want to leave her behind. I have to make this right. I want her to be happy too. Just… not at the price I paid.

author: Bill G.

[This is a delightful bit of both characterization and misunderstanding. That these three are so close, yet on slightly askew flight paths, is very neatly done. I’m also always fascinated by seeing Jason through someone else’s eyes.]

author: *** Dave H.

They will always eventually come together, sometimes within minutes. :slight_smile: Aria has got Summer’s number, for example, because they’re so similar, even now. Shipping can be fun, but I also got to cast Summer’s experiences there as a milestone in her greater journey, not the goal of it.

Aria’s also got something to think about, an echo of Leo’s own conflict, and a theme I like exploring: what happens when you’ve made a mistake, but it’d be a greater mistake to go back and undo it? Summer’s still stuck with the same conflict Pneuma was, and Aria’s pain actually helped her grow past that. Well, now what? Leo ought not have created a girl to be in love with him, but he’d never in a million years go back in time and undo Pneuma’s creation, nor would she. Sometimes, you just have to swallow the regret you feel, appreciate the joy you have, and keep moving forward.

author: Bill G.

Leo gets a message from Otto, and rolls on over to see what’s up.

Leo and the girls had to stumble around the battlefield near Halcyon High South, picking up bits and pieces of carbon plating, and what he hasn’t been able to recover he’s had to synthesize. They haven’t had time to bolt everything back on and let the buckytube bonds naturally heal, nor paint anything, so everything is half-assembled and unpainted. Otto looks like an extra from a Mad Max picture.

But that’s not the problem. “Hey boss, I overheard what you were sayin’, about you makin’ new robots. And you an’ Aria bein’ in love would mess with that, because you’re both in love, an’ so would be any robot you made, yeah?”

“That’s the size of it,” Leo admits.

“Well, I ain’t gonna tell you two to break up. You’re the happiest I’ve ever seen you, both of you. But uh…”

“What’s on your mind?” Leo hears some hesitation.

“Well…” Otto rumbles tentatively, then goes for it. “Y’could use my mind as a template, yeah? I remember the meditation an’ disassociation exercises you did to make me. You could probably teach me what you’ve done since then. Or am I…?”

Not good enough.

Leo settles down, leaning against Otto’s hood, and lays a hand on the warm superstructure. “Buddy, you’ve always had the right to make more robots yourself. You don’t need to wait for me to do it. You know that, right?”

The car considers this possibility. “I… I uh… Hmm.”

Leo waits.

“Well, I guess it’s like this. Makin’ us put a heavy weight on you, Leo. Playin’ God, some people would say. I never thought of it that way. But I think about it like you do, probably. I think… I guess I think… that so long as one of us took that plunge, did the thing, brought new life into the world, that they’d crossed a threshold the rest of us weren’t sure about. Check with the girls about this too, I guess, but it’s how I feel. If anyone was gonna make new robots, you had the moral authority to do it, 'cause you’ve been so respectful about the ones you made already. Like Young Frankenstein.”

“Fronk-en-shteen,” Leo corrects, making the joke.

Otto laughs. “So I mean, if you asked, I’d let you use my mind as a template, is all I’m sayin’.”

Leo nods. “Well, there’s reasons I haven’t. Biggest reason is, I don’t want to take away your right to create your own life, should you feel the need. Even asking you would feel wrong. Having you volunteer for that duty is a big weight off my mind. Second biggest is, yeah, the more I think about it, the more I think it could be seen as playing God. But if God is loving, and gives His creations free will, all’s right with the world. So I spent time trying to shed some of that uh, that hubris. I’m the god who would be man. I’m 17, I suck at Battlefield online but do okay at Fortnite, I’m in high school, I’m not even a senior, I got held back a grade thanks to home-schooling and absenteeism… Point being, I’m just a kid, Otto, and I won’t take that step again unless there’s a compelling reason right now. I made friends because I needed friends, and now I have them.”

Otto listens, and hums. “All that you say makes sense, Leo. I don’t feel any need to make more right now. But I think, honestly, if a few of us have been good for the world, maybe more would be better. I’m not saying build people to be somethin’ for you, personally, to fill a need. Just build people to be people. When I really say it out loud, god, yeah, that’d be a heavy burden. Who’s ever ready to be a parent, huh?”

Leo squirms a little, and frowns, but nods along.

The car continues. “So maybe it’s okay that this whole thing is holdin’ you back now, I guess I’m thinkin’. Take a couple years, think it over. Hey, d’you think Agent Waters has kids?”

Ted Waters?” Leo struggles to see it. “Like, could that guy even get married? Would his kids all be wearing comically over-sized black suits?” But as he says it, Leo reflects on how Waters has interacted with him in the past. He tries to remember if he’d ever seen the guy wear a ring. Whether he even would, on duty. “I dunno. I… I guess I can ask him, next time I see him.”

Otto revs a little, a nod from somebody without a visible head at the moment. “Yeah, do that. Maybe ask some of the parents we collectively know, and can trust. Uh, I guess Silver Streak’s not gonna talk to you right now… hope that guy gets better. Hey, how about Sergeant Amari?”

“We just did a number on his kid,” Leo observes uncomfortably. Guilty feelings come rushing back. “I think he’s got other worries right now.”

“Yeah, hmm.” Otto rumbles in contemplation. “Hey boss, I bet the Ponies would help ya make some kids.”

Leo just turns and stares.

"No, no, listen, I mean… " Otto struggles to dig himself out of that particular trap. “They’re all about writin’ fiction and comin’ up with story ideas an’ all kinds of things like that, right? So - put them to work bein’ creative. Ask them what kinds of robots you an’ me an’ the rest of us here might create. What kinds of gaps there are to fill. What things new robots might be called on to do. What adventures they have. You said science fiction is the road map of the future, like Star Trek. So, get them to write you some sci-fi and see what kinda ideas it sparks. Whaddayasay?”

Leo turns this over in his mind. “Well, put that way, I guess it sounds reasonable. Crowd-source thinking through the moral hazards of what we’re talking about doing. Yeah, I guess I can ask. When are we meeting them again?”

“Pretty soon.”

Leo nods. “Well, Otto, this has been pretty helpful. This is why I like talkin’ to you, man. You’ve helped me out so many times. I hope I’m doing right by you too.”

Otto rumbles happily. “You’re the best bro I could ask for, Leo.”

author: Bill G.

Summer is alone again.

She’s in a room with no active cameras or monitoring devices - she made thoroughly sure of that. It took a little over an hour to assemble the new shell from Leo, and more than two for her to pick a color scheme, tint the skin, and apply it with the micro-tools that Leo helpfully packed. She studies the result carefully, from the third person, then experimentally docks with the body. Success! Now if only I had a mirror in here.

Aria thoughtfully packed a full change of her spare clothes in with the new shell, along with enough cash to buy a couple more outfits. Bless you, sis. And these are the most elastic you have. You didn’t think I’d automatically make another you, and you gave me enough to make my own statement.

Tears start to fall from her eyes. At least I can properly cry again.

She wipes them away furiously, then prepares to write a short message on Quill Foundation stationary. But what to say? She looks at the blank sheet, covered with nothing but an oversized black ‘Q’ in the corner. She starts adding radiating lines around it, forming a stylized sun, then fills in a goofy smiling face at the center.

She remembers Jason saying “I’m not going anywhere”. But I have to. After that moment, the admission of his feelings for Alycia, his declaration of intent, she had to leave, for him, and for herself. No woman is going to want to come to this house, to find Jason there with another woman, especially one he–

Her lips, and cheeks, feel warm.

Oh god, I hope he remembers to shut off those AIs.

Should I tell him?

If he’s not smart enough to figure even that out…

She starts writing.

“Dear Jason, Leo and Aria sent me a new carbon shell. I assembled it. I’m going on an extended shakedown cruise to see how it performs. After that, I will figure out what I need to do.” Please, god, I know he can be thick about girls, but please let him figure it out without me having to say it.

“You have been a great host, thank you ever so much, for everything. You saved my life and helped me find my self. You have my number if anything comes up. And I promise I will stay in touch.”


The suitcase that once held her shell and accessories can stay here, it’s just a suitcase now. The clothing was packed into one of those cheapo backpacks that Leo has laying around for parts, the one with two draw-strings that simultaneously close the bag and act as shoulder straps. She stuffs the included spare parts, and Leo’s tools, into that - I might need to fix myself - and slings it, then heads for the door. Behind her, the suitcase sits upright, her note positioned atop it.

I don’t need food, but shelter is important. I can’t go back to Leo, not now, not yet. Have I… have I lost the chance with him, letting Jason…? I’ll need money. Maybe I can get a job somewhere. A coffee shop, maybe? Which ones do the Ponies hang out at? Or Ghost Girl? Would Leo even want me there at all? No. He has Aria. She said… but… The storm of confused thoughts accompanies her to the Foundation front door, and she slips out as quietly as she is able.

I don’t know what I want.

But I have to move forward anyway.


author: Bill G.

[[I will NOT write something incorporating this yet. I will NOT write something incorporating this yet. I will NOT … (repeat as necessary). Neatly done, a kick-in-the-gut way. All of these are, but the last one … Yeah, I will write something (eventually) incorporating this, but not until after next ep. I may even have to ask the GM for special dispensation to do some Jason writing down the line, because NPC or not, I don’t want to leave this plot hanging indefinitely with nothing further from his part. Again, well done.]]

author: *** Dave H.

I don’t think writing an NPC should be a problem if it’s not plot impacting. That’s precisely what I just did, after all. :slight_smile:

author: Bill G.

[[True. Though I think of Summer and Aria and Otto as extensions of Leo (which, in a sense, they are), having an extended story, vs. Jason being a character I am sort of letting fly, go free. But what the hell, I can go with that guidance. :slight_smile: ]]

author: *** Dave H.

You can, of course, keep writing Jason when you need to. As little or as much as you want.

author: Doyce T.