Masks 32.2 - Rebirth [Cutscene]

This is scheduled on Tuesday, as Leo/Adam head off to talk to Vector

Summer is enjoying the job at Blintzkrieg. She knows, selfishly, that some of this is because of her body.

No, it’s not that customers are hitting on her less (or more). Rather, it’s because she doesn’t get physically tired, can hold hot or cold cups without too much discomfort, can stand on her feet for hours. Sheets of graphene in her core soak up the steady flow of electricity from her Casimir fractal, then redistribute it throughout her system via ionized fluid traveling down nigh-indestructible channels of carbon nanotubing. She doesn’t need to take breaks except for her mental health, and she can clean the espresso machine out faster than anyone else behind the counter.

She still has some physical needs, and a few unique problems. Every time someone uses the remote control to change channels on the TV, she feels like sneezing. There’s a power pole outside the store, and the shitty insulation on the transformer makes her itch when she’s too close to it. She can see the flicker of the CRT monitor the manager still uses in the office, and it’s annoying.

None of these things threaten her feelings of humanity. She enjoys the ordinary things she does with her coworkers, like trying out new coffees and teas for the taste. She likes watching blintzes being made, though she isn’t allowed to do it herself yet - proving herself will take time. Every time the old woman with the service dog comes in, she asks if she can pet it, and the woman always assents. The dog sniffs at her, then starts licking her hand, every time. And when she goes home, she’s mentally exhausted, even if she can’t feel fatigue poisons accumulating in her muscles.

She hasn’t been at her new home long either, but the routine is already familiar and comforting. Unlock the door (“remember to wiggle the key a little bit to hit all the tumblers”). Announce that you’re home, so there’s no surprises. If nobody responds, that’s their problem. Go to the bedroom. Lay down on the bed. Undock from the carbon-allotrope shell that Leo made. That moment, when she’s able to float weightlessly, feels like a butterfly escaping its chrysalis.

She doesn’t resent using that shell at all. It’s a wonderful gift, and she feels bad sometimes for not being more grateful. She’s just gotten used to the feeling of freedom the drone shell provides. It feels like the physical symbol of her rebirth from Pneuma to Summer, the way Aria is living her post-Pneuma life by dressing up more fashionably, working more on business matters, being more aggressive in pushing Leo toward a financially secure future. She remembers the Pneuma that was gentle and kind and loving, and both she and Aria are still those things. But they don’t do it the same way. Instead of mirror images, they’ve become parallels, counterparts, but not quite opposites. Venus and Serena Williams. Elizabeth and Jane Bennet. Elsa and Anna.

Do you want to build a SNOWMAN?

It’s time to think about something else.

Summer got herself a cheap laptop, and Leo was kind enough to supply a selection of his technical files. With these, she has been working on projects like reverse engineering the levitation system in the drone. She’s also spent time working to understand the principles of hard-light holography. If she can master that, she might even be able to use the drone as often as she does the more passable (but heavier) carbon shell.

And besides, I know there’s glitches. I would always catch Jason staring at my shoulder. Well, at least he wasn’t staring at my chest.

Quantum electrodynamics is simply the theory of how light and charge interact. Feynman’s QED book is the logical starting point. After that, learning quantum electrodynamics takes you to authors like J. J. Sakurai and concepts like the Lamb shift. Go down this road long enough, and build a machine based on it, and you get the Casimir fractal itself, nestled deep within Summer’s body, that transforms a quirk of the cosmos into a stream of electrons.

The inventors of hard-light holography did something similar. The Breit-Wheeler process, put simply, is Einstein’s equation - E = mc^2 - flipped on its head. When you convert mass to energy, you get things like atomic bombs. But the equation can be rewritten - m = E / c^2. Energy goes in, matter comes out. Shine two high-powered lasers together in the right way, and you get electrons and positrons, with mass and charge and everything, neatly paired like dance partners. Interaction between solid objects is mediated by electromagnetic force. Her projected body is little more than a mirage, literally lighter than a feather, but she can still punch someone in the face and make it hurt.

And Aria’s so proud of how little she weighs. Hah. I have her totally beat.

She’s figured out the source of the glitch. There’s a thermal vent, for cooling down the lasers used in the projector. It’s tiny, and if it had been mounted in a wall like it’s supposed to be, there’d be no problem. But nooo, Summer had to have a holographic body, so she pestered Jason into hacking this thing together. As a result, she looks like a defective. So when the vent is active, which is all the time because seriously, these lasers are constantly lasing, there’s a slight air current that messes up the beam. Fixing it is going to require a complete rebuild.

Summer glances around her room. She has a meager collection of cheap IKEA furniture, a bag with spare body parts (that’s not creepy), and a used bed that someone donated out of considerable charity. There’s a rather glaring lack of tools or tech. Summer can’t quite bring herself to crawl back to Jason and beg for lab time - she made what she thought was a graceful and dignified exit, and even so, Jason has been looking at her like a wounded puppy at school ever since. Leo will be no help either. He’s just one step above living out of a car, who happens to be his best friend.

I just need that molecular lathe he has. I could build the tools to build the tools to build the tools…

She follows the thought along a meandering path. The molecular lathe is little more than a 3D printer that can work at the atomic scale. It’s called a lathe for its versatility - the actual operation is quite different. Like the Casimir fractal and other tools Leo uses, it’s a simple workman’s tool. Summer has read about more advanced systems, and even seen a few at Jason’s house. Third-, fourth-, and fifth-order projectors of forces. Cyclic polylasers. Chromodynamic deregulators. Shit, she doesn’t even know what one of those does.

I can’t build my own lathe. But if I had one, I could build another one.

She thinks a bit more. The hard-light holographic system - it can project a two-dimensional outer shell of electron-positron pairs at the intersection of lasers. The positrons don’t immediate blow up the surrounding area. Summer’s still not sure why, but there’s a couple of components in the projector she still doesn’t understand. Could it lay down a scaffold for atoms, with atomic precision? Probably.

I could make the perfect god damn espresso with a molecular lathe.

Somewhere along the way, she realizes something. A gas-dynamic laser doesn’t use anything except a mixture of carbon dioxide and nitrogen - elements found in the atmosphere. It’s the rocket engine of laser tech - a simple, brute-force, get-things-done system. But it has two properties. First, it can lase at energy levels high enough for the Breit-Wheeler process. Second, it can be produced with the same elements that Leo’s carbon tech already uses.

Leo doesn’t need to have just one lathe. He could make a million of them, out of nothing more than dirt, compost, and air.

She hops up, docks with her shell again (she can press a laptop’s keys as a hologram, but she always worries about static discharge), and starts writing an urgent email.

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6237625

Go big or go home. That’s Otto’s motto. The motto of Otto. Sober or blotto. Spoken loud, or voce sotto. Wait, no, that’s sotto voce. Dammit.

Summer asked Jason for some kind of animatronic bear toy. Apparently it’s worth $2 million dollars. Otto’s not even worth that much. As an experiment, Otto asked to borrow it, and operated it remotely. Sure, it could move, show facial expressions, and talk. It also made Otto feel like a vulnerable midget. Everyone around him was giant, and it was honestly scary. He played the fool during the Ponies AMA, joking and laughing about it - except for that one question - but that covered up how terrifying the whole experience really was.

I’ve spent four years experiencing the biggest growth spurt any kid underwent. My brain adapted. I don’t think I can be human-sized again, not without serious effort or therapy. And it’s effort I don’t think I want to put out.

Otto doesn’t feel strange at his current size. It’s everyone else who’s little. Sure, it’s inconvenient, and Otto is profoundly grateful for the sacrifices Leo and Aria have been willing to make to accommodate him. Rather than going with a cheap rental, neither of them thought anything about holding out for something bigger, just so he could have an equal share in the living arrangements. On the other hand, his size means he’s strong and powerful and fast, better than anyone else. When Leo has to fight the real bad guys, he borrows Otto’s strength. When the Dread Queen attacks, or twits like Troll show up, or a floating high-tech girl hurts Concord, it’s Otto’s might that saves the day.

He’s too big to use the human-scale tools Leo uses for building and repairing robots. For all his boasting about who needs who, Otto needs Leo as his mechanic. It’s sort of comforting, having Leo crawl around in the superstructure, rewiring the electric motors in the wheel wells, or topping off fluid levels. Humans are social animals, grooming is a social behavior, and car maintenance is Otto’s version of that casual social grooming. It’s like having a puppy or kitten of your own, except one that can talk back.

Well, sometimes I could do with less of the backtalk. But I’m not blameless there.

Otto is the boss’s right hand man, his loyal lackey, his bro, his support. But he also inherited Leo’s memories, his intelligence, his genius, no matter how much he sometimes tries to hide it. There can only be one smartest guy in the room. Maybe that’s why Leo and Jason don’t get along very well.

Still, he can’t help but get caught up in Leo’s technological adventures. He understands the principles, he gets the mechanics, and more than once, he’s been called on to assist in the execution. He’s also interested in stuff Leo doesn’t care about, or hasn’t had time to work on. Aria works on the neurotech, and now Summer is working on more exotic tech like levitation and holography. Otto’s focus is on hitting hard and moving fast - the science of carbon and hydrogen and robotics.

Summer recently gave Aria a demonstration of doing her own maintenance with her drone. The bear was not a body Otto would want to occupy full time. But what if he had something smaller, a sort of mini-repair bot? Something he could remote into, steer around, use to fix himself up? Sure, then Leo would have more free time (probably to spend doting on Aria and talking with Summer). But then he’d miss that companionship, that social time, with Leo. Otto isn’t sure he wants that.

What about in battle? When Otto purged his outer armor to turn himself into a magnetohydrodynamic rocket in the fight against the Dread Queen, the rest of the group had to spend time picking pieces of it off the street. Wouldn’t it be great if he could just go fix himself? Say something severed an arm or whatever. How about a way to re-attach it? Or build a spare arm?

He could build a Li’l Otto. It could sit in the passenger seat while he’s a car. Or the trunk, next to whatever villains the team captures next, and needs to haul to prison.

Maybe… maybe… if she came to visit…

Otto would honestly feel more comfortable fighting the Dread Queen again.

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6237662

Leo and Adam are busy with the strange “time thief”, Vector. Aria is idling. She checks her email from time to time, watching the battery on her phone steadily drain away.

I could plug it into myself, she thinks. I could keep it charged indefinitely. But having a USB port on my skin would be positively creepy.

Some phones have a wireless charging gimmick, but not the cheapo Androids Leo can afford at this stage of his life. Aria has no great feelings either way - the apps she likes exist in both major phone platforms, and oddities like the QPhone and Blackberry fill their own respective niches. Aside from the QPhone, which seems intended to allow teens to text after any kind of apocalypse, most of the phones have pretty similar hardware. Some manufacturers try to push their own standards - remember headphone jacks, kids? - while others seem more interested in the ancillary peripherals, like cameras, than the actual microphone and speakers that make a phone, well, a phone.

Aria stares at her phone, thinking. If she’s the rugged and reliable Android, Summer is the colorful and futuristic iPhone. But their apps - the things they do - are pretty similar. And many phone apps are often just little Web applications, wrapped up in some software and shipped to a device maker’s online store.

Aria has done more with Leo Snow’s neurotech than Leo himself. Sometimes, she’s worried about feelings of jealousy, or bitterness. The last thing she wants to do is alienate him by upstaging him. But every time she’s shown him something new, Leo has responded with feelings of childlike wonder, admiration, and pride. Even the small things, like having her breath form steam, filled him with joy. She intellectually understands his feelings. She herself is a product of his neurotech, and if she can continue the research, that’s the best validation of his ideas he could ever dream of. His creations can go on making further creations, without being eternally dependent on him. Leo wants Aria, and Summer, and Otto, to be independent thinking beings. And every time one of them innovates, she can see him lose a little bit more apprehension at having played God in making them.

There’s plenty of guilt to go around, of course. Aria’s own secret project, the thing she’s working toward, will necessarily end Leo’s career as a superhero, perhaps forever. She only hopes he will understand, and forgive her.

In the meantime, there’s plenty to do. Leo has made progress through two generations of his robot tech: basic transforming robots like Otto, and then human-passing androids and gynoids like Aria. The third generation is about minds, not bodies. In short, can you create a brain that lacks consciousness and sentience, but does possess some intelligence? Leo compares it to movie animals - horses like Trigger, dogs like Lassie.

Aria is the natural to do the work. If she can succeed, Leo can move forward with robot creation. Right now, he’s still hung up about creating robots that might have feelings for Aria. She knows he has a point, but privately she feels he’s obsessing about it a little too much.

Sometimes I wonder which of us was programmed to love the other. It’s sweet how much he feels about me, but it’s got such a grip on him. He was good about it when we were friends, after the break-up, but I saw how much it hurt him.

Still. That realization - that he never questioned his own love - is part of what made her change her own mind. And she wouldn’t give up what came next, not for anything.

Can you build an animal mind to love? Can it feel? Can it think? Science says yes. The 2012 Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness says, among other things: “Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Nonhuman animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.” Freed of some of the brain structures devoted to more intellectual pursuits, in fact, an animal mind with human-scale complexity should feel more strongly, have better instincts, be more capable within its scope, than any person.

Taken to its logical extreme, a third-generation robot brain would be a frightening thing, a demon of appetites and desires, channeling instinct and cunning into achieving them. But animals can also feel empathy, and an animal brain constructed from a human template, with human-like deep structures, can feel just as fully and strongly - or more so. Such a creature could be both predator and protector, a fearsome monster to its enemies, a caring and loving companion to its friends.

Aria is reasonably sure of her mathematics. She could program Leo’s Heart Factory with the necessary procedures to remix a human mind into an animal, an intelligent but non-sentient creature. Leo has done the work of planning a series of robot shells, though he hasn’t built any of them yet. Right now, they’d be little more than toys or tools. They could combine with the Link Suit, Aria herself, or Otto. But do they really fill a need?

More importantly, do they detract from our humanity?

If the public associates Leo’s robot tech with beasts, creatures you can put to work, creatures whose deaths might be less of a moral or ethical challenge for their non-sentience, what does that do to the non-biological humans he’s produced? Love is the issue that holds Leo back from creating more robots for the world. For Aria, the issue is dignity.

No matter how smart I am, no matter how much of the science of it I understand, I don’t know how to work around the rules of the human heart.

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6237715

The timing on this is vague, but follows the conversation with Vector.

The bots have been busy. Leo has been getting emails all night. Sometimes it’s distracting, sometimes it’s instructive, but sometimes, a miracle happens. Tonight looks like it’ll be all three.

At first, Leo’s not sure what to make of the individual threads. Summer is talking about the molecular lathe. Makes sense - that’s what Vector is asking about. Did she realize he’d be after that too? No, she’s going on about lasers and holography and quantum mechanics. Otto is continuing the conversation from earlier, talking about the teddy bear, and some kind of … repair bot? Oh, he’s starting to come round on a human-scale body for that girl who likes him, and he’s just too stubborn to admit it. The email from Aria is straightforward, at least. She’s been writing code for the Heart Factory. Is it still intact after the theft? As far as Leo knows, yes.

But holy crap, don’t these people know what’s at stake here? What’s going on? No, because you haven’t told them, asshole.

He starts writing an email. It’s terse, written to evoke a shared experience among the four of them, something they’ve all thought or talked about in the past. “Future is self-relevant, no Shiny Happy People, corp acquisition of neurotech. Major figure is ‘The Bot’, echos stuff I’ve said, e.g. Von Neumann Ego fallback, Plan X. Has no neurotech + mfg base but familiar with mine, bombing tonight was calling card to get me to supply w/ items.”

Otto’s immediate reply is a little more succinct. “Well fuck that guy.”

This goes on for a bit longer, with Summer and Aria being more receptive (provided that the grant of tech would be for a good cause), Otto fiercely resistant, and Leo soured on the whole idea due to Vector’s bomb-first, ask-favors-later approach.

Leo finally summarizes. “The problem is that there’s no way to secure that tech grant, or ensure it’s being used for good. I can’t just send another self into that future and be the gatekeeper. I’d have no support, I’d lose my mind out of loneliness. And I know the rest of you would be in similar shape.”

A wash of replies follows. “Just let me think about things, and catch up,” he finally replies, in self-defense. He thumbs back to the earlier emails, clearing his mind of all frustration and annoyance. Well, almost all. Well, some.

God damn smart people.

Summer’s actually got quite a neat idea - a simpler molecular lathe, not the titanium-and-ytterbium deal with a gold core that Leo has sometimes agonized about selling off. One lathe can produce another one, of course, but the price of rare earths and precious metals is a hindrance. Leo’s not sure how he feels about pirating Jason’s tech for this, especially given the dicey legal status of the thing, but as a science experiment it’s fascinating. Aria’s project is similarly important. So is Otto’s, for more personal but no less important reasons. Both of them are taking robot tech in new and novel directions, so even if something should happen to Leo, the work will go on.

Sounds like something did. I’m not sure which outcome I’m more afraid of: that I’m the Bot, or that I’m not.

That uncertainty, that need to protect his grand dream, is at the heart of the problem. The tech needs a guardian. Leo can’t be it, not without being miserable in a dark future - and is that level of despair going to kill the dream in time? He knows he’s lost faith before.

My friends have always been there to bring me back. Hell, even if I die, they could bring me back from backups in the Heart Factory.

Coming back. Protecting the dream. Leo realizes that he has a lot of views of a problem. And he almost loses his grip on his phone as he realizes they’re the same problem, with the same solution.

Tech that by its nature cannot be misused.

He has everything he needs, courtesy of his friends. A savage but empathic mind that cannot be bargained with, or reasoned with, or bribed. It can be fooled, but not manipulated. It will never sell out, never regret, never succumb to self-doubt. It will defend those in pain, strike at those who cause it. It will have a powerful robot body - Leo has built plenty of those. But smaller, simpler bodies can build larger ones. A laser lathe, for assembling complex structures or new robots. A seed - yes, that’s how to think of it. No - an egg. Plant it in the ground, bury it in the woods or something, let Maxwell Daemons soak up the requisite carbon. A factory begins producing new modules, a bootstrap robot assembles them. Early modules build a larger bootstrap robot. When the robot is big enough, the factory systems build another egg…

This. Could. Work.

It’s going to take time - there’s no way this would be ready in time for whatever rendezvous Vector was counting on. But those guys have time travel, right? Maybe there’s a way to arrange a second meeting, and just have a brief encounter with the Bot for now…

I need something, some identity for this. The SKY-1 design is already pretty good. But this isn’t just a big flying jet plane/bird thing any more. This is a statement. This is a truth about my work. This is the continued, guaranteed rebirth of the dream, no matter how much people try to keep it down. This is a Phoenix.

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6240733

She doesn’t resent using that shell at all. It’s a wonderful gift, and she feels bad sometimes for not being more grateful. She’s just gotten used to the feeling of freedom the drone shell provides.

Jason fist-pumps. “In your face, Leo!”

Alycia raises an eyebrow. “That’s a Chin invention, Jason.”

It feels like the physical symbol of her rebirth from Pneuma to Summer, the way Aria is living her post-Pneuma life by dressing up more fashionably, working more on business matters, being more aggressive in pushing Leo toward a financially secure future. She remembers the Pneuma that was gentle and kind and loving, and both she and Aria are still those things. But they don’t do it the same way. Instead of mirror images, they’ve become parallels, counterparts, but not quite opposites.

So (from Summer’s perspective), neither of them is Pneuma? I.e., neither is the “real” / original version, but are forked off from it? That’s fascinating.

Do you want to build a SNOWMAN?

Brilliant setup for that.

And besides, I know there’s glitches. I would always catch Jason staring at my shoulder. Well, at least he wasn’t staring at my chest.

Jason blushes because he really wanted to but knew that would be skeevy on a variety of good and bad levels.

Summer can’t quite bring herself to crawl back to Jason and beg for lab time - she made what she thought was a graceful and dignified exit, and even so, Jason has been looking at her like a wounded puppy at school ever since.

And Jason would feel horribly guilty if he knew that his response was keeping Summer from doing something she needed to do.

----------------

There can only be one smartest guy in the room. Maybe that’s why Leo and Jason don’t get along very well.

Which is interesting, because I can’t think of a time offhand when they actually bumped heads over who was smarter. :slight_smile:

----------------

Aria stares at her phone, thinking. If she’s the rugged and reliable Android, Summer is the colorful and futuristic iPhone.

See, I think of Aria as the iPhone – the ground-breaker, classy, business-like, controlled, professional – and Summer as the Android – wide variety, expansive ecosystem, different forms and formats, more approachable. :slight_smile:

(Much of the rest of Aria’s tale frightens the bejeebers out of me with a vague dread of Something Wrong Is About To Happen.)

----------------

(And, for that matter, so does Leo’s tale.)

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6240991

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6241020

Hahahahahaaaawesome.

author: Doyce T.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6241746

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6242062

Phoenix is Leo’s version of the Lions of Voltron: an independent entity with the last word in who gets to use its power. The Lions are weapons of war, but the Phoenix is intended as a guardian. It is mobile and powerful, but unarmed. If you need access to the tech it contains, or a favor from it, you can try to befriend it, but it will be ferociously perceptive. You could conceivably destroy it, but the requisite violence would destroy all the goodies inside of it. And it can create its own eggs, and plant those in far-off places, ensuring there’s always another Phoenix if it falls.

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6242240

(It’s also the Kirby-craft I just took as an advance)

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6242251

Yay, Kirby-craft!

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6242377

*** Dave H. said:

So (from Summer’s perspective), neither of them is Pneuma? I.e., neither is the “real” / original version, but are forked off from it? That’s fascinating.

I feel that both girls kind of left it alone as a primary identity, by mutual agreement. Anything else risks one of them feeling like the “primary” and the other being the “backup”. Leo was also careful about this, for the same reason. They’re going to revisit it at some point, which is generation five of Leo’s robot tech.

And Jason would feel horribly guilty if he knew that his response was keeping Summer from doing something she needed to do.

Leo’s theoretically got the kit to do what she needs, but for Phoenix, Leo himself probably will approach Jason.

Personally, she’ll continue to be friendly with Jason as usual - there’s no “I need your lab but I don’t want to beg” resentment or uncertainty coming off her. Any signs to the contrary are probably all in Jason’s head (unsurprisingly), but I also like that he’s shown signs of breaking free of that inward-turning attitude and started to really look at what people around him are doing and feeling. Having the two of them talk about his reaction is still on the table, if and when you want. But she’s also going to continue reaching out to Alycia, if that’s where you prefer to focus. :slight_smile:

See, I think of Aria as the iPhone – the ground-breaker, classy, business-like, controlled, professional – and Summer as the Android – wide variety, expansive ecosystem, different forms and formats, more approachable. :slight_smile:

Your current carrier appears to be AlyciaT&T. Or is that Alycia TNT?

Jason blushes because he really wanted to but knew that would be skeevy on a variety of good and bad levels.

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6242396

Heh.

Anything else risks one of them feeling like the “primary” and the other being the “backup”.

No, that makes perfect sense. I just hadn’t picked up that distinction previously. I will (further) watch my name etiquette.

Any signs to the contrary are probably all in Jason’s head (unsurprisingly)

Jason’s head is still pretty crowded.

I also like that he’s shown signs of breaking free of that inward-turning attitude and started to really look at what people around him are doing and feeling. Having the two of them talk about his reaction is still on the table, if and when you want.

I’m game, within the bounds of GM oversight. :slight_smile:

But she’s also going to continue reaching out to Alycia, if that’s where you prefer to focus. :

Well, that’s certainly where I should be focusing more on, moving forward (to continue working out the voice, if nothing else).

author: *** Dave H.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6242530

The girls should be okay with being called “Pneuma” from other people. It’s not a deadname or an identity they want to abandon entirely. A better analogy is that the name shifted in significance from a given name (“Alice”) to a surname (“Chan”). They’re the only two members of the Pneuma Family, the Newmans being only slightly larger. :slight_smile:

author: Bill G.
url: https://app.roll20.net/forum/permalink/6242564