After PowerPony hopped into the Uber taxi and headed out – having turned down a lift from either Leo+Otto or Jason’s hovercraft – Jason moved over to where Leo was watching the tail lights diminish down the avenue.
“Hey, Leo, Um – great work out there. You really did a number on Toilet Paper Man and the guy in the suit.” There’s an odd, avuncular tone to his voice.
Leo looks suspicious. This tone’s oddity is mostly from its speaker. He’s heard it before, from an endless procession of adults. “Is this going on my permanent record?” he asks, the first drips of sarcasm leaking out.
“What?” Jason’s eyes widen, then his face clamps down, and he chuckles mirthlessly. “Well, only in a good way. Your actions were tactically sound and effective. Once you got there.” He pauses a moment, then, almost as an afterthought, “Well done.”
Leo rolls his eyes. He remembers this conversation the last time Jason tried to praise him. “Well, uh, you did good too, man, giving us orders.” [* See here for that conversation - Stan Lee]
Jason shrugs, looks away, a bashful, eyebrow-raised (but clearly self-conscious) expression on his face. “Well, if I’m going to be in charge, it’s good to have folk who can follow through on instructions.”
Leo doesn’t say anything for a moment. The gears are clearly turning, but there’s a lot of friction. Finally he rallies. “Wait, wait a minute.” Both hands are up, as though trying to physically push back this suggestion. “Do you… did you take that AEGIS thing seriously? Are we just supposed to listen to you because your name is on some paperwork?”
“Well – well, hell, you guys all insisted that I was the team leader. That wasn’t me, that was all of you!” He pauses, then plunges forward. “I mean, yeah, someone needs to provide tactical control. I’m not suggesting I’m running things strategically, we should all chime in on that. But in the field, in battle – well, someone needs to take point on holding back, assessing the situation, and properly deploying combat assets. I mean, right? That’s Super-Heroing 101.”
Leo squints. “Do you actually understand this stuff, or did you just play a lot of Call of Duty? We needed a leader because Waters was asking us to name one, dude.”
“Of course I understand it! I had it yelled at me eight hours a day in drills and endless hours in the frickin’ field. ‘Deploy there!’ ‘Cover there!’ ‘Lay down fire on that rock, that path, that gap!’ ‘Keep your head down, keep your powder dry, keep your goddamn weapon clean.’ I mean, I don’t care about who Waters want to talk to, but we need someone running the operation in the field or someone’s going to end up dead.” Jason’s face is red, his voice a half-octave higher than usual.
“One of us is already dead,” Leo replies, half amused. There’s a perverse pleasure he gets from needling Jason, though a quieter, deeper voice at the back of his head is warming up a stern reproach for this.
“Yeah, we were almost all dead, with you running off without telling anyone!” Jason shouts. “We went into battle short a man, and Ghost Girl might have died – been kill-- been hurt because of it!” Jason is breathing heavily. “We need to be able to trust each other, not go running off wherever we want when we’re relying on one another!”
Leo shrugs. “Yeah, I did that. I know I was wrong. I don’t care, though. Power Pony needed help.”
“And that’s fine – if you had told us!” I mean, we’re all supposed to be in this together! PowerPony is a fan, and she gave us some great intel during the battle with Troll. If I’d known she was in trouble, I’d have had everyone going off to help her!" He runs his fingers through his hair, not in a glamorous way. “And we’d have been together, and when Ghost Girl’s call for help had come in we could have acted intelligently, and with tactical … wisdom. As it was, if you and Toilet Paper Man hadn’t just popped in, things might have gone a lot worse for Ghost Girl and PowerPony.”
Jason looks upward “‘PowerPony’! What sort of name is that anyway?”
Leo leans in, takes a breath, lets it out with deliberation. “Okay. Why didn’t I listen to you? Why did I resist just following your orders? I’ll tell you, but I want to hear what you think first.”
“You did listen to me! Once everyone was all together, in the middle of the battle, I took tactical control and made the right decisions. We were there for Ghost Girl, Concord – Adam – was potentially at risk, we had two villains on the ropes, and Harry was presumably in play. We needed coordination, and I provided it, and you followed through, and we won.” Jason shakes his head. “I don’t see where the problem is.”
“That’s when I did listen, yes. And before, I didn’t.” Leo rubs the bridge of his nose. “Listen. Shut up a second, and listen.” He rubs his forehead a little more, trying to prime the pump of thought. “You don’t take tactical control. You don’t take leadership. You’re given it. This bullshit you’re doing right here? This is your dad. This is my dad, too, when it comes down to it. Do what I say or you’re wrong. Plus, yeah, you said yourself, you had this given to you eight hours a day. Nobody else on this team did. Keep our weapons clean? Who on this team even has weapons, man?”
“Your problem, your real problem, is that you are trying to be Byron Quill. Stop that shit. Open your eyes, look at who you got with you, and be Jason. That’s what we want you to be. That’s all I want you to be, man. I’ll listen to you, I swear, but not if you’re just gonna do this bullshit of my-way-or-the-highway.”
Jason stares at him a long moment. “Who the fuck wants Jason Quill in charge of anything? I’m some freaking cartoon character, the kid who stumbles into trouble and has his dad – his dads – to pull him out of it.” He shakes his head, a pair of sharp, short jerks. “I know what I’m doing. I’ve been trained for this. You guys said you wanted me in charge – or you didn’t want to be in charge yourselves. Fine! Then follow through! Don’t set me up, then tell me you just wanted a name on a piece of paper! If you wanted to be in charge, you should have said so!”
“You goddamn asshole!” The shout is sudden, as Leo tenses up. “Make up your mind! Be the useless cartoon kid. Be the trained leader. But you don’t get to be both!” He points an accusing finger. “But before you decide, get this through your head! You don’t have any idea how cool you are or how good your life is. Yeah, I know, doomed by your dad’s wacko invention, but y’know what, we all got our problems. This isn’t about that. You got a big house, a couple good assistants, awesome tech. You’ve had an exciting life. And I envy you, you asshole. I wish I had that stuff. And you’ve turned out really well, I bet your dad would say. I bet he’d be proud of you. Why can’t you be proud of yourself?”
“My dad? My dad went off and died on me, and left a goddamned AI to tell me where I’m doing right and where I’m fucking things up!” Jason stops. Clamps his lips together, his eyes shut, looking upward. After a long moment, an hour of subjective time, a few seconds objective, he continues. “I am well aware of the advantages I have had. I am grateful for the opportunities I have been provided. I have lived a life that was well-blessed by whatever non-existent fates dictate such things.”
He opens his eyes. “And for all I bitch about it, I am painfully aware of how much better I’ve had it than others. Than you, Leo. I know that, and it’s like a --” He stops, looks away. “I can’t even complain without feeling guilty. And that doesn’t make any freaking difference.”
Jason sighs, the tension visibly draining from his shoulders. “I know. I messed up. I wasn’t ready. Or you guys weren’t serious. Or --” He shakes his head, the blond hair shifting back and forth. His gaze shifts of the side, away from Leo’s eyes. “I didn’t want to say it. Other folk – didn’t want to say it. I dunno, maybe Waters didn’t want to say it. You should be in charge.”
Leo shakes his head, a scowl on his face. “See, you’re being an asshole again. You want the job, you defend it by saying we picked you, now you want to run away. No, man. You’re gonna be leader at least some of the time. Some of the time, it’s gonna be Charlotte. Sometimes Harry. Sometimes Adam. Yeah, sometimes me. And sometimes you. We need you - yes, you, Jason Quill. Don’t take this wrong, but your father is on my shit list. Puts untested nanotech in his son, takes off, and if that AI is any indication, that guy’s programming skills are useless. Or he’s really like that, which is even worse.”
“So that’s the truth. I will not follow Byron Quill’s lead. I will follow yours. So who you gonna be? You gotta figure out what you want, and stick with it. Sell us on your ideas, and we’ll be with you, all the way.”
Jason stares at him for a long moment. His eyes are dangerously bright. He blinks. “I don’t have any bright ideas, man. I don’t even know how to keep myself alive.” He holds up a hand. “That’s not self-pity, that’s the honest-to-God truth. I know my Dad’s not God. I know he fucked up with me. And I’m not saying that to get out of anything, just that it’s the truth.”
He slumps. “Look, if all you guys want is a beard to glad-hand the media and AEGIS and whoever else comes knocking for a statement, I can be that. I have the training. I’ll – just chime in when I have an idea in the field. And --” He straightens, meets Leo’s eye. “-- that’s not ducking out of what I can contribute. I can’t take any credit for the nice house or nice tech or the ladies who can produce whatever we need. I’m here to support you guys. If I can be of help beyond being the deep pockets and the guy with Peaceful Pies on speed-dial, I’m happy to do it. Just --”
Jason looks at Leo. “Just, you guys make up your mind, too. Why I’m the name on the label, and what you expect from that.”
“You’re selling yourself short again.” Leo’s out of sarcasm. He’s starting to smile. “The hell is a sitrep anyway? Wait–” He holds up a hand, knowing Jason might actually answer now. “Like, nobody knew what you were talking about. You weren’t talking our language. Your heart’s totally in the right place. That’s why I listen to you, and why I trust you. You just sometimes forget who you’re with, I guess? So there’s something only you can do. Want us to work as a team, use tactics, all that shit? Put together a training program. Teach us what it all means. Teach us why it matters. Then drill and drill and drill until we get it. Think you can do that?”
Jason closes his eyes again, bowing his head. Then a smile creeps across his face. He looks up. “I know what a ‘sitrep’ is, but hell if I know the proper format for one. If I wanted that, I’d be going ROTC or something.” He shakes his head. “I’m a terrible student about that sort of shit. Rusty used to bust my ass about it. I’m actually better at talking to the media that that sort of thing. Or, maybe, that’s what I can train you guys in.” He snorts, shrugging slightly. “I’m happy to run interference with Tammi Whatshername, or Young Capes or the Halcyon Herald or whatever. I hate it, but i’m good at it. Comes from – well, never mind, don’t want to ‘sell myself short.’” He looks at Leo a long moment, opens his mouth as if to say something, then closes it again. After another brief pause, he adds, “Noblesse oblige, maybe. I can be a good figurehead. And, yeah, before you say it, I can kick ass in the field if need be. That is what I can do. Is that enough for you?” His tone is light and jocular; his face is not.
“You sound like you’re being yourself. That’s enough for me. It always will be.” Leo’s now smiling broadly, as genuine as anything he’s ever shown. “But now that you say that, there’s more… That sounds like it could work…” He rubs his hands together. “Hey, existing hero teams, maybe AEGIS, those guys probably have some practice with superhero tactics, right? If you don’t have genius tactics yourself, can you finagle access to their stuff, and train us on that? Even if not, clearly we’re in desperate need of training with the media. That alone will be amazing. Oh! Oh! Hey, we need a training area. Charlotte talked about her banshee scream thing, right? We need to practice. I was gonna take her to my junkyard, help her test out my armor plating. But we could use a proper training facility. I dunno how deep your pockets are, but… Oh! OH! Hey…” Leo’s on a roll. “You got a computer system that can do personality simulation here. Do you have enough data that you could generate a sim of Alycia Chin? Give us a target to practice with, plus let you train yourself against her usual tactics. We can update it as we learn more, like we did when she ran into Harry.” [* See here for a training montage! - Stan the Man]
Jason blinks. “I --” He stops. “That’s … not a bad idea. We have a lot of footage of encounters with her – and her dad – in the Foundation computers. Dad and Rusty were obsessive about it. I’ve certainly reviewed --” He cuts off, looking aside, chewing his lower lip. “Add in Harry’s current report --” Jason nods to himself. “We could do a number of simulations. There’s a hard light generation chamber on sublevel two, Dad used to use for weapons tests, robotics training and other exercises. We could do – enemies, big ones, but even media stuff, Trish Starr. We really need to get Adam up to speed on that kind of thing.”
He turns, paces back and forth. “I mean, it’s not some comic book Hazard Chamber or something, but there are areas we can use for testing that were set up for different purposes. I have the codes to the building – I’m not sure if it’s legit use of Foundation resources, but Dad would probably approve.” Jason looks to Leo. “As if that makes a difference in whether I think it’s a good idea.”
Leo tries hard to summarize what he wants to say, realizing now that Jason’s probably already got it. This is mostly for his own benefit. “Yes. All that is excellent, man. I guess… I just mean… I want you to stop trying to act cool, with sitreps and shit. Just be the cool you already are. That’s all I want. Do that and I’ll stop running off. I’m sorry about that, man, and I know you’re right. I’ll do better. Pneuma is going to give me holy hell for it, though, so save your breath.”
Jason takes a long, quiet look at him, then smile, shifting his gaze aside. “Yeah, man,” he says, his voice softer, a lot softer than just a few minutes before. “I always hated that stuff being barked at me. I didn’t like barking it any better.” He snorts. “Give me a kick in the ass if I backslide, though.” He holds up a hand. “Out of force of habit. Menageries don’t have leaders. But they’ve got members with different strengths. That’s what we need – what I need to remember.” A quirk of a smile twists up one side of his mouth. “Thanks.”[
Link allows anyone to edit, please act responsibly.
author: Bill G.