Sunday, August 2, 2015

Being more than a Simulacrum (Part 11)

They had talked around the table and everything had gone pretty well.  In fact the only rocky spot was when Place had asked why they didn't just shut down Old Tornado and work out the bugs while he was off.  That had elicited horrified looks from Slim and Joss, but the whole thing had quickly been cleared up.

Place had simply underestimated the mechanical horse's AI, not realizing that it was as sentient as a real animal.  Hitting the off switch was like sedating a biological animal and thus presented no moral problems, but the kind of reprogramming necessary to debug Old Tornado at this point would be equivalent to mind control.  Place had quickly apologized.

Always aware of her status as a clone, she wasn't about to claim something or someone was less real because they weren't a product of usual biological reproduction.

Now Place was following Joss to Joss' room.  Place knew she wanted to speak to her cousin, and knew why, but wasn't sure exactly how to ask what she wanted to.  When the door opened and she saw Joss' posters of Ron, Place ended up avoiding the problem by stalling.

"I'll bet that there are a lot more people in the Ron fan club these days," she said.

When Joss replied, "Yeah," it was in a halfhearted, almost rueful, way.

"What's wrong?" Place asked.

Joss sat on her bed.  Place sat beside her.

"Ron was always the more heroic 'cause he was afraid and faced all those things anyway," Joss said.

"I remember you telling Kim that," Place said.  "It hasn't changed, you know.  The mystical monkey--"

"I know that it doesn't work on command," Joss said.  "I know that Ron's still afraid all the time.  The problem isn't that Ron's changed."

"So what is it?"

"When Ron became my hero he had basically no followin'.  I even had ta make the first website about him myself."  Joss paused.  "People thought I was off my rocker.  Everyone thought Ron was a joke.  He was clumsy, he was unpopular, he was a lowly mascot."

Place nodded.

"Now all sorts of people are Ron fans, but they're not fans of the clumsy mascot who was a frightened sidekick that still came through every time.  They're fans of a football star who used magical powers to kill the aliens," Joss.  Looked at the floor for a long time.  Then she half-shouted, "Kill!" with complete disgust.  "Maybe it was necessary, and given what was at stake I don't blame Ron for what he did, but killin' is the least heroic thing he's ever done."

Place nodded.  Then she realized that, since Joss wasn't looking at her, it was meaningless.  "Killing's never a good thing.  The first time Team Possible killed was Eric."

Joss turned to look at Place and asked, "The synthnodrone?" in surprise.

"He wasn't human, but he wasn't like the Bebes either.  He was callous and cruel, when he thought he had won he tried to twist the knife with targeted insults and condescension.  He was a horrible person, but he was a person.  He could think and feel and when he died it was with shock and fear.

"Rufus did the killing.  Kim and Ron looked on with smiles."

"You sound … disgusted," Joss said.

Place hadn't realized it, but Joss was right.  She sighed.  "The first detailed memory from Kim that I experienced came from that same night," she explained.  "Shego was defeated –exhausted– and trying to slink away.  Kim told Shego that she hated her, then she kicked Shego with enough force it should have shattered her ribs.  Off of a roof.  Shego hit the transmission tower with such force it shattered the reinforced concrete structure, that too should have killed Shego.  By that point the tower was coursing with enough electricity to kill a blue whale.  Again Shego should have died.  The fall to the ground should have killed Shego too.  As for the tower collapsing on top of her..."

"Shego should have died a bunch of times over, is your point," Joss said.

"Yeah.  It wasn't a good memory to start with, but worst was what happened next."

"What happened next?"

"When Kim had every reason to think that Shego was dead by her hands, well, her battlesuit encased foot, she smiled."

"That wasn't on any of the fan sites."

Place sighed.  "I don't think I'll ever forgive Kim for that, but the worst thing is that I know that had I been in the same position I'd have done the exact same thing.  I'm just like her, as much as I might want things to be otherwise."

There was a long silence.

Finally Place said, "The reason I brought it all up, though, is that even when they were pushed to extremes, even when they crossed moral lines, Ron was the last member of Team Possible's field crew to use lethal force.  Even if Ron's getting fans for all the wrong reasons, you picked the right person."

"I'm not sure how reassuring that is," Joss said, "but thanks."

For a while Place looked at the floor, and the walls, and the ceiling.  Finally she decided to try to talk about what she'd wanted to talk to Joss about.

"It also has to do with why I asked to talk to you," Place said.  Then she ran out of words.  Why was this so hard?

"Yeah?" Joss asked.  Gentle, inviting.  Joss was being great about it so why was Place having so much trouble with this.

Finally it came out in a single blurt, "Last time Kim was here you went from a virtual copy of Kim to starting to be yourself in a matter of days."  Place took a needed breath and then spoke in a more normal pace, "I'm a literal copy of Kim and I was hoping for..." Place again ran out of words.

"Insight?" Joss offered.

"Something like that," Place said.

* * *

"So, basically--" Joss said.

"In summation," Place interrupted.  Joss hit her with a pillow.

When Joss said, "Stop that," she almost managed to keep the laughter from her voice but not quite.  "Basically look for things that you do that aren't Kim-like, embrace 'em if they're things you like, and don't worry about the the things you do that are Kim-like."

"Thanks for your great and esoteric wisdom," Place said.

"See, that –right there– that playfulness, totally not Kim-like."

"Thanks," Place said, this time sincerely.  "And, in all seriousness, thanks for what you said before."

* * *

Leela had drifted off again.  Joss was noticing that she had a habit of doing that.

"Leela?"  Joss asked.  No response.  "Leela!"

"Oh, sorry," Leela said.  "I still haven't internalized that name yet.  I'm working on it."

"Do you still think of yourself as 'Kim'?" Joss asked.

"No, my middle name," Leela said.


"Yeah, it was originally supposed to just be a placeholder, that's what it's short for even, but by the time I was actually getting a permanent name I was too attached to drop it entirely.  So I made it my middle name."

"Why not make it your first name?" Joss asked.

"I wanted my parents to have a say in what my first name was," Leela Place, for that was how Joss decided to think of her, said.  "It is traditional for parents to name their daughter after all."  She paused.  "Of course, when I go back to the lair everyone is going to know me as 'Place' so things will get confusing."

"You're still plannin' on going back to the lair?" Joss asked.


"Are you going to help Drakken in his plots?" Joss asked.

"I don't know.  I might just be a house guest.  What about you?  Are you going to save the world?"

"That's actually what I brought you out here to show you," Joss said, continuing to lead Leela Place to a remote corner of the Lazy C.

After a little more walking Joss had led them to her training ground.  Part obstacle course, part ropes course, it was all hand made.  She'd spent what felt like forever measuring, cutting, moving, hammering, tying, and generally assembling the place.  She was very proud of it.

"You did this on your own?" Leela Place asked.

"Yup," Joss said.  She was proud of what she'd done.

"This is incredible; it's an action hero's playground."

"The hope is that it'll be a hero's trainin' ground," Joss said.  "Practice enough here and I'll be ready to actually be a hero in the real world."

Leela Place nodded.  "Smart.  And it's more preparation than Kim ever did."

Joss watched as Leela Place looked around the place in awe.  Joss herself was basking in the approval, but she thought of something they could do.  "Do you want to race?"

"See which comes out on top," Leela Place said, "longer legs," she pointed to herself, "or home field advantage?" she pointed to Joss.  "Absolutely."

Joss indicated a point that was high up, and they both stood together so they'd have an even start.

"Ok, grapples out," Joss said.  Then stopped when she noticed Leela Place's grapple.  Instead of being shaped like a gun, or a hairdryer, it was cylindrical with a bit of a curve on one end.  "I've never seen one like that before," Joss said.

"It's Wade's design.  He originally abandoned it when Kim switched to the wrist Kimmunicator, but he returned to it, finished it, and gave it to me."

"Cool," Joss said.

"You've improved yours," Leela Place said looking at Joss's grappling hook launcher.


"May I give you some advice?"

"Sure," Joss said.  "What?"

"Your original one, or at least the one that you had when Kim saw it, was distinctive and... uh, Jossy, because you didn't hide how you'd made it.  I seem to remember a fishing reel being visible on the outside." Joss nodded.  "If I were you, which I'm obviously not, I'd stick to that aesthetic.  You turned ordinary things into an extraordinary device, and it was all you.  You should be proud."

Joss had never really put much thought into how hers looked.  As she looked at the one she currently held, she realized that she had added some casing that did obscure the MacGyvered nature.

She'd think about what Leela Place had said.

For now though, "Ready; set; go!"

* * *

Both Possibles were flurries of motion as they picked routes to their destination.  Place incorporated pointless flips into her style as an aesthetic flourish.  In the end she wasn't sure if it was doing that that had made her lose to Joss, or Joss was simply that good.

Either way, she was sure that, if Joss really wanted it, Joss was ready to be a hero in a few years.  Maybe less.

She was still thinking of that when they returned to the house for lunch.  There were important things about how she'd get to the coast, and she was surprised that one of the mechanical horses could make the journey in roughly the same time frame as a car, not to mention grateful for the offer of using one of of them, but she she was still thinking about Joss as future hero.

Once she was settled into the guest room Place made a call on the old Kimmunicator, now renamed as simply "the communicator".  Wade had insisted she take it, she had insisted that it get a new name.

"Leela?" Wade asked.

"Yup, it's me," Place said.  "Calling to update you and ask a question."

"What's the sitch?" Wade asked.

"Two things.  The first is that I should make it Seattle on time for the flight.  The second is I was wondering if it would be possible to make it a trip for two."

"Someone's coming with you?" Wade asked.

"I don't know," Place said.  "I don't want to make the offer unless I know the ride is available."

"Oh, ok," Wade said.  "I don't see any reason why it would be a problem, but I'll check.  I've got some other things to do, so I'll call you back in an hour."

"Thanks, Wade," Place said.  "You rock."

"Late-- actually, would you have any idea why Drakken recently had Shego steal tapioca?"

Place shrugged, "I have no idea.  I would have told them to go lemon meringue."

"Not pudding," Wade said.  "Dry tapioca.  Three point eight tons of it."

Place shrugged again, "Sorry, can't help you."

"Thanks anyway," Wade said.  "Talk to you later."

"Later," Place said, and the line disconnected.

* * *

Slim spent the afternoon watching his daughter and his new niece.  They rode the cybertronic horses.  They played a game of tag.  Then they broke out the water guns.

The biggest difference, it seemed to him, between Kim and this new girl was that Kim tended to act with a maturity beyond her years, while Leela seemed to revel in childish fun.  She was every bit as smart as Kim, and in their first conversation she's showed advanced understanding of the various disciplines underpinning the ethics of artificial intelligence, but for all that knowledge, and wisdom too, she seemed to be embracing childhood.

Maybe it was because she'd been created as a fully grown adult, and she simply wanted a chance to experience childhood --first hand rather than through someone else's memories-- maybe it was some side effect of the cloning process.  Maybe it was just that some random thing had caused her to value different things than Kim.

Whatever it was, Slim was glad to see his daughter get a chance to play.  Joss had high ambitions, and Slim supported her in pursuing them, but he sometimes worried that her focus on what she would someday be was making her miss what she was now.  She was still a child, and Slim didn't think the time for Joss to put away childish things had come just yet.

* * *

"Hey Leela," Wade said over the communicator.  "It won't be a problem if you have an extra passenger."

"That's great," Place said.

"Also Felix and Zita were wondering if you're available for Everlot this weekend."

"I guess I should be, and I need to field test on that immersion circlet--"

"Hey, Leela," Jim and Tim said at the same time.

"Jim, Tim," Place greeted them.

"I should never have added your satellite to my network," Wade said.

"We just want to talk to our sister," Tim said.

"What do you want?" Leela asked.

"We heard a rumor--" Jim said.

"--which is to say that we intercepted transmissions while we were doing surveillance--" Tim said.

"--that you're playing Everlot now," Jim said.

"Without us," The two said together.

Place almost laughed.  "If you want to, and if Felix, Zita, and Wade --whose network you're hacking-- don't mind, I'll see you in the game this weekend."

"Hika bika boo," Jim said.

"Hoosha!" Tim said.

They disappeared from the screen allowing Wade's image to fill it again.

"I'm guessing that your life has been more stressful since they started going on missions," Place said.

"No," Wade said, "not more stressful.  More annoying sometimes, though."

The rest of the conversation was logistics.

* * *

During dinner, at a point when conversation lagged, Place said, "I've been thinking, and if Joss really is planning on saving the world I know a high school that could be a real help to her."

"High School?" Uncle Slim asked.

"Yeah," Place said, "so it's something for the future; no one has to make any decisions now."  Place bit some more corn off the cob she was holding.  When she'd chewed and swallowed she added, "The only reason I bring it up is because I'm going to be dropping by there for personal reasons and I was thinking that, if Joss might be interested in the school in the future, she could come with me now, take a look, and maybe that would help her make an informed decision when the time actually did come."

"What kinda high school would help someone save the world?" Slim asked.

"It's not designed for world savers," Place said, "but saving the world is easier if you're athletic, savvy, and have training in some form of martial art."

"You still haven't said what it is," Joss said.

"It's kind of a secret so I can't give too much detail but the best experts in Tai Shing Pek Kwar teach there and they've got a pretty varied martial arts curriculum."

Slim looked completely lost.

Joss told him, "Tai Shing Pek Kwar is Monkey Kung Fu, the style Ron knows."

Place nodded, "It's because of Ron that I know of the school."

"Can I go?" Joss asked Uncle Slim. "It sounds spankin'."

Uncle Slim thought it over for a moment before giving his permission.

* * *

Breakfast had been eaten, they'd said goodbye to Uncle Slim.  All that was left was to go.  Place had had her meager belongings in a backpack already, Joss apparently kept a go bag that she thought was an adequate substitute for packing.  Things had gone rather quickly.

Now Joss led out two of the mechanical horses and then handed Place something.

Place took a look, and was a bit confused.  "Pilot's goggles?"

Joss nodded, "If you're plannin' on keepin' your eyes open at the speeds we'll be goin'."

Place nodded and put them on.

Joss mounted her horse and Place followed suit.

"You don't, by any chance, have an MP3 player, do you?" Place asked.

At first Joss just laughed, then she explained, "Balios and Xanthos here have their own built in sound systems.  If you want music--"

"Just not Paul Simon," Place said, "I think it'll be at least a month before I can listen to him again."

"How about Credence Clearwater Revival?" Joss said, pushing buttons between the ears of her horse, Balios.  Music started to come from both horses.

Place was not disappointed.  She smiled as she started bobbing her head in time with the open.

"Race ya to Idaho," Joss said.

"You're on," Place countered.

They started going at about the same time the words cut in.

There's a place up ahead and I'm goin' 

Mechanical hooves beat against the dirt road.

just as fast as my feet can fly

Joss pulled ahead slightly but Place was sure she could make it back by shaving a corner sometime soon.

Come away, come away if you're goin',

Now that the horse was up to speed Place was grateful for the goggles, the wind against her face was fine, but if it were in her eyes they'd water immediately and she'd soon be sightless.

leave the sinkin' ship behind.

Once you adjusted to the horse's gait, this wasn't that different from riding Ron's scooter when it'd had rockets strapped to it.  The scenery flew by and the important thing was to avoid hitting anything.

Come on the risin' wind,

They'd hardly started and Place was sure she had the hang of this, she'd catch up to Joss, maybe even beat her to Idaho.

we're goin' up around the bend.

I will never again try to transliterate Joss' accent.  She says "in" instead of a terminal "iŋ" (the way most* English based accents pronounce "ing") and beyond that it seems like her speech is what the show creators considered "Normal peppered with cowboy lingo" even if they couldn't be bothered to take note of what the "cowboy lingo" they used actually, you know, meant.

* It blew my mind the first, and so far only, time I heard someone speaking in a accent that actually pronounced the "g" in "sing" not a nasalized "g" or a muted "g" or something like that.  Full on, no qualification "g".  I think it was someone from Liverpool, but the memory is hazy.