2012-08-18: Looking For Some Kind Of Confession


Rashmi_icon.jpg Mike_icon.jpg

Summary: Mike calls Rashmi to make apologies for things left undone.

Date: August 18, 2012

Log Title: Looking For Some Kind of Confession

Rating: PG

Barnes Academy - Common Room

Plush carpet in a neutral beige colour goes wall to wall in the Common Room. The furniture is just as plain as couches and chairs in various shades of browns are lined up all around the room. There's a large fish tank on the far side of the wall to give some colour and sense of life in the room. There's a large flat screen television with a collection of movies in front of some of the couches. There are tables off to a side if one wishes to study and there are books and magazines on various end tables and shelves. The florescent lighting reflects off the white walls giving the room an artificially bright feel to it. Glowing in the corner of the room are snack and beverage machines, free of cost to those at Barnes.

It doesn't actually matter what room he's in; Mike's able to connect to the high-band wireless anywhere in Barnes, at least most of the time. He's been instructed to stop hiding in his room, so he's watching the fish in the fish tank, while most of his processing is dedicated to running a materials stress simulation, and checking it against similar results from a machine in NYU. As a result, he's not concealing his robot-nature at all, though he's wearing the standard Barnes uniform over his … not as shiny as it should be chassis.

He did, however, send a polite email to Rashmi earlier asking her to stop by at her convenience, as it was important to occasionally catch up with friends. Yes, it was phrased just that awkwardly.

Mike has been missed, as the nascent lawyer rarely gets the chance to catch up with her old friend; Rashmi's typically overloaded schedule affording few opportunities to seek him out, the email comes as something of a surprise, and a more pressing source of concern. The wording doesn't match Mike's usual emails and Twitter notes from back when, and a red flag is up and waving in the back of her brain as she makes her way into the common room… and joined by a second, the moment she spots Mike's undisguised self, staring at the fish.

"…Mike?" she says quietly, approaching the tank, brows furrowed. "…You okay?"

Eyes light up blue as Rashmi approaches, and processor balancing is done. The analysis does not require more than 30 percent of his resources. That means he can generate realistic voices, and use more proper micro-movements to convey emotional simulation. Not that his emotions are really engaged at the moment.

"Rashmi. It's good to see you. Our classes don't converge any more." He stands and offers a hug or a hand-clasp, carefully calibrated for human normal.
"My therapist has directed me to deal with some issues that I have been ignoring. I never managed to apologize to you for not knowing about what happened in Africa." A head-tilt resembles a polite friendly smile. "I see you're growing your hair again."

"Yeah," Rashmi says, lifting a hand to gather a hank of mid-back-length hair, for a moment. "…Sort of decided to get off the fence about something after Romania. And… don't worry about the Nigeria thing. I don't have nearly so many bad days about it anymore… the training helped." Her smile is genuine, though nowhere near the wattage it would normally be; the redhead seems truly worried about Mike, more so the longer they speak. "…I remember the last time you did this, Mike… Tell me what happened?"

"I will, but first I need to make another apology. I didn't tell you about Helena, my sister who was stillborn. By the time I was stable enough to do so, you were in Nigeria."
He glances at the fish again, since too-intense staring is distubing.
"I knew you had been kidnapped a second time, but wasn't able to find anything at all helpful about where, until it was too late to be of help. I'm not the world's best friend in that regard, it seems." His voice carries genuine(tm) regret. If it didn't sound exactly like the acting classes from their first days at Barnes, it would even seem real.
"You're the first person other than Heather who will know the real details, I'm afraid. And my therapist, but I'm not sure that he's not an LMD. He sometimes seems more robotic than I do."

"Mike," Rashmi says, sighing quietly, "you should know better than that… what you can manage when I'm in trouble *isn't* a measure of how good a friend you are." She falls silent, pursing her lips as she considers the poeces put before her. "…It's bad, isn't it…" A question so rhetorical, it may as well be a Zen koan. An arm encircles Mike's shoulders, and she moves up beside him to watch the fish, taking away any questions of uncomfortableness, and providing closeness that he may not be able to feel, in the traditional sense, but nevertheless is there.

Mike records the sensations for when he can appreciate them, and simulates by leaning slightly into her.
"It's very bad. I found out about the Romania connection, began collecting appropriate materials for dealing with vampires, but the rescuers were eager and effective. I kept the materials when I heard about Jill - in case it were necessary."
He makes a noise that isn't really a laugh, but it's there as an indicator that he knows one would be appropriate and he knows that she knows he's not really FEELING what he's simulating. It would be discourteous otherwise.
"I encountered Heather Brown a few months ago, and she asked me to look into the disappearance of Quentin Michaels' parents. I did so. I've become a fairly effective spy for certain kinds of things, after all. It was connected to a particular crime family, one that used black magic and occult practices."

The robot voice stays dispassionate, but an undertone of disgust is added. "I had blessed incense, holy water, and permission to use a crucifix with a reliquary box, holding a small piece of the Host, to confront evil."
He pulls the crucifix from a pocket; it's small and the mesh-cage behind it is empty.
"Heather called me for help. It was the 4th of July, and Quenton had been directed by the crime-boss to come to a particular place to see his parents. I went along as backup, and took the items."

Rashmi blinks sharply as Quenton's name is mentioned, face going ashen as the tale continues to unfold. "Oh, my… …Sorry…" Subsiding, she turns her head to watch Mike, her gaze as penetrating as Mike's isn't.

"We were needed. The old man of the family was a sorceror, and most of his sorcery was of the kind empowered by exactly the kind of demons that holiness and faith will drive away. I was using my inducer and about half my focus to visually cloak, and to cancel the sound of my movements. Heather was moving at her normal speed. The old man captured Quenton in a curse, and was draining away his life - his mother was doing a fairly true-to-form impression of Dracula's Wives, and his sons were a vampire and a werewolf. Heather went after the werewolf… I prayed and threw the incense at the old man. His spells and wards exploded and burned. Apparently, a robot can have sufficient faith to invoke the Holy."
Mike's eyes remain unfocussed, as much as one can tell. His emotional process is not running, but it was at the time, and it leaks back into his account.

"The cloaking was effective, and my deflection kept away a dozen bullets, but eventually the vampire son managed to shoot me in the knee. I couldn't move effectively at speed, so I merged with their limousine, transformed the silver martini shaker into restraints for the mother, and tried not to notice that Quenton had killed the old sorceror by turning him into a fine red film. That, I could deal with."

"…You'd be surprised what Dracula's wives are really like," Rashmi murmurs, then gives herself a shake. Nodding for the robot to continue his story, she rests the side of her head against his metallic hair. Not, perhaps, the most comfortable place, but if nothing else he may remember it when he feels again. Which is enough to make thegesture worth it.

"She didn't have any vestigial charm, of course. She did say something disturbingly wrong about her son. And Quenton's father was still alive, and had not been changed by them, yet. The mother threatened her husband's life to get Quenton's attention, before I bound her. This is out-of-sequence, I'm sorry. Heather made sure that the stakes I threw would hit the vampire thug. She crippled the werewolf with silver."

Mike's eyes dim, changing to emit only the faint blue LED tracker for the ultraviolet laser that he was using that night. "He still loved his son. He still thought his son would hear him. I told him not to get close but I didn't stop him. Quenton was pulverizing the werewolf. He swatted his father away. About 16 tons of force. I managed to catch him in an airbag, but I had SHAPED the bag, it was still filled with my connections. I felt Derren Michaels life fade away, the last moments of pain and confusion. If I had stopped him, he would likely be alive, and Quenton would not have the guilt of parricide."

Eyes return to normal, and Mike straightens. "That's why I haven't been able to turn my emotional process back on. When I do, for even a second, I am caught in the flashback of that sensation. My therapist has been helping me find ways to deal with it, and one way is to expiate all the other guilt, conflict, and general failure in minor things and major. If this doesn't help I will have to erase the memory of that event."

Rashmi falls silent, closing her eyes tightly for a moment. "Mike… No," she whispers, after a moment. "You can't do that to yourself… You *can't.* You… you were dealing with his mother, right? And once you left to try and stop him, she'd be free, right? That's *important.* You had no control over anything else. I…" Her voice chokes off for a moment, and she turns, hugging the robot as tightly as she can. "…It's not your fault. It's *not.*"

"I know." Mike makes that "smile" movement again. "Honestly, I know at all levels that it is ultimately not my fault. But I have the memory of the pain of unexpected death which I cannot process until I know how to do it. When I tried during the debriefing, I locked up for an hour."
He shakes his head. "It was also … I felt that I didn't have the right to prevent the man from going to his son. But I did, and I could have, and he was as much to blame. He was a police officer with years of experience, he knew what could happen, he was there when Quenton first went into a rage."
A shrug. "No shortage of blame and it's for God to judge in any case. My focus has been on trying to cope, but I see that I first need to re-establish my humanity."
Mike returns the hug, not as tightly as he can because, no desire to repeat the experience he was just describing.
"Can we move on to less horrible experiences now? How are your classes coming? Is that less horrible?"

Rashmi squeezes again, closing her eyes and resting her head on Mike's shoulder. "Just… Before we get into the nice stuff, listen to me, okay? I sort of know how you feel. …Seriously. When I was in Nigeria…" She falls silent for a moment, shaking her head. "One of the first things that happened was, I said I didn't want to be Nero's wife. So he treatd me like he would a soldier. Brought people into the room, in pairs… and made me choose which one would die." Looking up, she meets Mike's LEDs, unflinching. "That was most of my nightmares, for months afterward, Mike. And it's going to be like that for you, kind of. It's horror, and it doesn't go away… you just… have to keep going, until it dulls its edge. You're gonna have bad days… and it'll take awhile, for the good days to gain ground. But… that's how you cope, Mike… It'll get better, but you have to let it be bad, first."

Mike makes a growling noise in his voice. "Even though you knew that he was the one doing the murder, that his attempt to force you into participation was simply a way of torturing you. Did you find yourself trying to kill him instead? I would have."

Mike makes the motion that passes for an inhale-exhale sigh, and returns to normal speech mode. "I have eidetic recall of everything, so it doesn't dull its edge, unfortunately. I need to find a way to transform the experience before I re-experience it. If I could be not-robot for just a few days, that would probably be enough. A miracle I can't really expect. You know, I haven't been able to merge with a vehicle since then. No playing, no downtime. I've been spending all my spare time working on my replacement chassis instead."

"For a second? Yeah," Rashmi whispers. "The meteor hit, and my powers came back, and he's just shot at me… yeah. I tried to kill him… And… I would have, if he hadn't had the Sugar Man work on him… …But then Connor and Lucas and Travis showed up… and I didn't want anything but to go home…" Touching forehead-to-cranial-hull, Rashmi stares at Mike's 'eyes.' "I didn't mean that the memory fades, Mike… just its impact. It's what the mind *does,* tries to pick at it until it scars over, y'know? …I can't *ever* forget, Mike… that I let four people die, before I chose a fifth. It's a memory I'll carry all the way to my grave and past… but… it doesn't *hurt* so much anymore, y'know?" After a moment's silence, she frowns, peeking through a lock of hair at the robotic mutant. "…You shouldn't work all the time. You *need* breaks, too."

"I know. But it wasn't your choice, Rashmi. It wasn't you letting anyone die, it was Nero murdering them, and you had no reason to expect him not to do so… and God forgives us these things. It's only been a bit over a month, I'm not self-injuring."
Yet. Mike runs a quick lookup on 'Sugar Man' since the name is unfamiliar and there wasn't anything provided to the peers of those whe were on that trip. While Mike's emotional processors do carry the majority of his emotions, there are some basic emotional responses, perhaps not as strong, that are always present for any sentient. Mike shudders as he scans the file.
"Sorry. Just read about Sugar Man. Apparently I can feel nausea."

"You're right," Rashmi says quietly. "It wasn't my choice. And it took time to convince myself of that… time to move past a *lot* of things that happened then. That's what I'm talking about; you said you locked up for an hour, right? Well… it's not much different than the flashbacks *I* used to get. Your mind is still *really* human, Mike… that's how it copes."

"You're right, it is, and that's why SHIELD hasn't taken any number of opportunities to blow me up. For which I'm theoretically grateful. I've tried reducing the severity of the flashbacks, by re-enabling for a pre-timed interval. It doesn't change. I've conjectured that I may have experienced physical damage to my systems, but the hardware passes all tests. That means it's the combination of the memory, which is part of my not-robotic self, and the interface with the system. You know I think my therapist was right too. I needed to talk with someone who gets me."

Mike turns on the image inducer, and looks human, so he can smile for real, and there's a moment of mischief. Doesn't require emotions, he'll save the reaction for later. "I may be able to manage this now. But I'll still be working like a maniac on the new chassis design. I'm so very done with being a 10 year old's fantasy. I mean, even the LMDs can enjoy sex, and it makes me jealous."

Rashmi blinks sharply, coughing. "….Uh-hhhhhuh. Well, thanks for that truckload of information I, um… didn't really need…" Managing a quiet chuckle, she shakes her head. "But I think you're going about it the wrong way, Mike… People don't *have* intervals where they shut their emotions off. So… you're really only coping with it in tiny bursts, y'know? Anyway, um, to change both topics at once, classes are good. Work's good. And I'm glad to hear that you're redesigning… I think. …Yeah. I'm pretty sure that part of your mind needs you to grow up physically too… right?"

Mike grins. "Score. A TMI moment, first one in over a year. I'm so proud. And yes, growing up, that's precisely it. I don't want to be Peter Pan Bot, thanks. I'm 17, I look like I did at 15, and by my age my Papa was five inches taller than I am. Anway, I think you're wrong about people not having intervals where they shut their emotions off. It's considered a psychosis if it happens too much, but it's also considered the normal response to overwhelming trauma. I just do it consciously because I have to. I don't have the same squishy brain bits you do, and my successive approximations are better than they used to be, but still not perfect. This is the first time since before the trip to helltown that I've had a prolonged anemotive lapse."
He tilts his head in the habitual quizzing expression. "How are you and Robin and Connor and the monster mutant felines getting along?"

"That actually makes sense," Rashmi muses, nodding slowly. "I'll have to give it a think. ….Um. Robyn's good, art school's doing him a lot of good and I don't think he's ever had to work so hard on improving his art before… Connor, um… well… he's Connor. I'm getting the idea that Barnes is about to take him in, whether or not his dad likes it, because apparently they were pitching at him pretty hard during the Romania mess. The cats? …Well they're still crazy. Dex is getting *huge.* Like seriously, you should see him; I'm pretty sure he's like a mix of Russian Blue and Siberian Tiger, as big as he is. And he still hates everyone but me, too. Zero… I think I want to smack the boys, they've been teaching him some *really* weird shapes. Like, anime and Lovecraft stuff."

"I'd love to see them." Mike raises an eyebrow, as his human-seeming has them. "You do know I've never actually been to your place nor met your beasties in person. It's all been third-hand and phone-pictures. Also Connor's Dad has good reasons for not wanting his non-neurotypical son to become a SHIELD agent. Though I couldn't possibly know what they are, because that file is very well hidden and in secure off-site storage that I can't find."

Mike considers Lovecraft stuff, and modifies the image inducer display. He now has face tentacles, ala Zoidberg, but skin-tones not lobster red. They wriggle when he talks. "How do you know what Zero's normal shape really is, anyway?"

"Y'know those kinds of questions that you're probably better off reminding yourself never to ask?" Rashmi says with a soft chuckle. "Well… What Zero really looks like, probably one of those. And hey… anytime you want to come over, Mike, just let us know. Seriously, it's *always* nice having friends over, y'know?"

"Yeah, I suppose it is. I should do so more often. And visit more too." Mike relents on the zoidface and reverts to his imitation movie star. "I think I need to try sleeping, deliberately sleeping not just running diagnostics and performing memory coherence. If I can shut my processors down to minimal, I can use my actual SELF to work through that sensation. I'll let you know if it works. Or doesn't. But before that, is there anything else you wanted to do? Talk about? Blow up Kozlowski's lab?

"Not.. that I can really think of," Rashmi says, lifting a shoulder. "Just… it's nice to see you again. *Whatever* the reason for catching up… Sorta missed you, Mike. And *you* missed your shot at threatening my new boyfriend… We've been going out for almost a year, now, so it's too late."

"What, the guy with enough arms but the wrong color skin? I didn't miss my shot. I let him know that if he dodged your force-ball I would hit him with a medicine ball. I don't think he knew what I was talking about though." Mike gives a brief hug, then stands. "I'm going to try this 'sleep' thing now. If you hear an explosion, it didn't work."

"I'm sure I'll hear all about it if explosions happen," Rashmi shoots back, grinning. "It'll be the first time I've ever been debriefed on something *in here*, which I guess would be novel. 'What did you say? What did you do? Are you or are you not telling him in eyeblink code to explode his room?'" Rising to her feet herself, she brushes off her skirt, giving Mike a real, beaming smile. "Good luck, though… And hey. You can always talk to me, if you need to, okay?"

"Likewise, big sis. Make them take you back by the glass tunnel, it's more fun."
Mike waves, and heads back toward his room. The fish continue swimming; they didn't really care who was watching them.

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