2012-04-19: Social Algorithms


Cale_icon.jpg Echo_icon.jpg Mikhail_icon.jpg Theo_icon.jpg

Summary: Something strange is afoot at the Grind Stone. With a followup scene of fashion advice extorted under threat of violence.

Date: April 19, 2012

Log Title: Social Algorithms

Rating: G

Westchester - Grind Stone

The Grind Stone is a quaint little coffee shop with tables surrounded by various shape chairs and even a few couches with coffee tables. Baristas in yellow aprons are ready to take anyone's order from a latte to a hot chocolate to one of their many specialty drinks.

Westchester is a long way from New York City. With the advice to lay low for a while, a stranger wanders slowly down the streets of Salem Center, hands in the pockets of her black coat. Like a child with a scab to pick, she occasionally reaches inside the jacket to wiggle a finger at the small but generally well-hidden bullet hole just under its right armpit. Tugging down the brim of her fatigue cap, Echo's pace is drawn to a quick halt at a sign in the window of a quaint little coffee shop. 'Free WiFi' it advertises, and so she enters, jangling the little bell over the door.

Cale already happens to actually BE in the cafe, curled up on one of the chairs in the corner with a small laptop and a cup of whatever the sweetest coffee they have is; probably something with honey in it. A backpack and some other junk including a phone that should look rather familiar to Theo lay out on the small table in front of him. He seems quite absorbed in whatever it is he's doing on his computer; though that may just be an effort to ignore everyone else in the hopes that nobody is paying attention to HIM. He is playing with the end of one of his long locks of hair, twirling it around one of his fingers idly as he occasionally taps away at his latest project or video game.

Theo is on his way back from work. The spring has given the technopath excuse to put the top down on the Ferrari he got from Tony. It's also an excuse to open it up on the freeway and get as much speed out of it as he can. It truly is amazing that he hasn't had an accident yet, given his driving habits. The silver piece of engineering zips around the corner a block away, and heads for a red light. It's accelerating though. The light changes to green just before he gets to it, and he continues through, and then pulls into the Grind Stone, coming to an abrupt stop in the parking space. The engine is switched off, and the driver waits as the top curves over the cabin of the car. He bounces out of the car, closing the door. His shaggy hair is rather windblown, a condition which earns the response of his hands being run through it to put it moderately back in place. With a chirp, the car locks, and Theo jingles the bell several seconds after Echo. Something…is strange. His eyes immediately shift toward her, one brow cocked higher than the other. For the moment, Cale goes unnoticed.

"Hi, welcome to the Grind Stone!" chirps the pretty young barista from behind the counter, plastering on a brief but artful forced smile. "What can I get for you today?" The woman in black stares back at the barista for a moment. "Nothing," says Echo, then adds as an afterthought, "Thank you." Without further comment, she pulls back a chair and sits at an empty table, folding her hands in front of her, apparently happy to do nothing but glance around at the other customers in the coffee shop.

Cale's eyes look up from his computer long enough to spot the strange silver 'Ferrari.' He traces a line from Theo's gaze towards Echo, who is indeed rather /odd/ just sitting there doing nothing. Maybe this coffee shop is actually just a magnet for weirdos; probably, if last night's events are any indication at all. Hm…

Theo walks up and places both hands on the counter, his navy blue polo untucked. "Can I get a caramel macchiato? he asks, trying for a moment not to look in Echo's direction until he has paid for the drink. He shoves his wallet back into the khaki cargo shorts shortly thereafter, and looks back at Echo just as she is looking at him. He manages to lock his gaze on her for another moment, a suspicious look on his face as his jazzed attitude seems to drain away into a more normal pace. For Theo, that means sulky. His deeper examination isn't by sight, though. Instead it is by his power, sensing that there is a great deal of electronic activity coming from her. He walks to where Cale stands, waiting for his drink to come out at the hand off counter.

"Umm," responds the barista uncertainly, eyes flicking from Echo to Theo to the truncated Ferrari outside before turning to start preparing the young man's order. "Okay." Given the neighborhood, it's not *actually* the weirdest thing the server's ever seen, or even close. Echo's grey eyes briefly fix on Theo's, unflinching and unblinking. Her chair scoots back just a few inches, scraping on the floor, but she doesn't stand. Echo's hands, however, drop gently into her lap. The electronic activity from her increases sharply, coinciding with a noted drop in the bandwidth of the coffee shop's WiFi signal, down to almost nothing. Someone's hogging it.

Cale frowns, poking at his laptop and muttering something unpleasant under his breath as, apparently, whatever he was doing is pretty much stopped by Echo. He looks up, green eyes searching around, to find Theo right next to him. "Stupid internet," he murmurs, sighing and setting his laptop down. Despite the quiet showdown that's going on, he begins digging around in his backpack for something else to do, still not quite /aware./ As it were. Or perhaps trying to ignore it.

Mikhail was on his way to the Salem center mall to replace some clothes he ripped recently, apparently most jeans aren't made for some of the things he gets up to. Catching a familiar scent he follows it and catches sight of Theo's car, figuring he may as well head into the coffee shop and say hey. Entering he also spots the boy from yesterday before he sees Theo, who seems to be in some sort of staring contest with some woman. He catches the scent of blood which isn't him, he frowns looking over at the woman too.

Theo receives his drink, glancing back at Cale. The curious scientific type that he is, he decides that an experiment of sorts is warranted. "Mik," he suddenly says. "Hey, c'mere." His voice is somewhat low, and though he isn't the closest of friends with Mikhail, Echo's presence gives him concern. After all, she is an android, and the best his senses can tell him, that's not one of Tony's creations. He accesses the router, redistributing the bandwidth.

Echo's eyes flick to Cale, then back to Theo and the arrival of Mikhail. The neutral set of her mouth turns down slightly into a frown as the bandwidth allocation shifts away from her control. The traffic pouring into the strange woman in black halts suddenly, going completely quiet. There's a wordless tension about her.

By now, even while pulling his book out of his pack, he can't help but notice the tension in the room; also, when Mikhail shows up and it becomes apparent that the feral teen knows Theo, he begins to take more of a personal interest in things. He looks up towards Mikhail and Theo, looking slightly worried. If another one of those darn portals opens up, or someone starts shooting, he's never coming back to this place again! "Mik? What's goin on?" he asks quietly.

Mikhail notes the tone of Theo's voice and crosses the coffee shop over to where he is whispering "Don't move" to Cale as he passes, he tries to focus in on the woman confused by what his nose is telling him, whatever it is seems Theo might know what. He doesn't mean to ignore Cale in a harsh way but something seems up.

Theo pulls his phone out from his pocket, and shows it to Mikhail. "Look, check this out," he says, as if he were showing a YouTube video or some other meaningless thing. On the screen, a message reads: Can you smell anything on her? She's filled with electronics. No programming language I'm familiar with. He glances back at Cale, and then down to his drink, taking another sip as he tries to remain nonchalant about the issue. One thing he has learned at Xavier's. If something might be dangerous, it probably is.

A brief but technopathically audible message runs through Echo's mind. (Threat 1.A3. Negotiate. De-escalate hostilities.) The woman in black rises from her chair, approaching the counter. "I've changed my mind," she tells the barista and produces two twenty dollar bills from her pants pocket. "Bottled water, please. And anything they might want," she adds, indicating the three teens with a slight twitch of her head. "Help yourselves," she offers to them, smiling. "Yesterday was payday."

Cale goes a bit wide-eyed when the random woman offers to pay for their drinks, but remains quiet thus far. Of course, it's his nature to be quiet around people he doesn't know that well, so that suits him just fine; nor would he be likely to step in unless someone's life was obviously on the line. "I'm… good… thanks…" he does murmur, however, lifting up his honey-laced beverage complete with whipped cream on top as if to say 'I already have one.' Money is not exactly something he is lacking for the most part, anyway.

Mikhail reads what’s on the phone, "Whoa, you can practically smell the blood, not hers though", playing along with the video angle. As Echo walks over he doesn't say anything, just flashes her a grin giving her a good view of his fangs.

Theo quirks his brow upward, "Got mine, too." Internally, he's trying to figure out if she could somehow detect what he put on the phone, and his heart speeds up a little. Instead of using his powers, he deletes the typing manually. No point in giving himself away if he hasn't already. He activates Proto out in the car, and feeds the threat code into the robot's storage to access later. "Good to see people feeling generous," he offers to Echo. "You don't see that too often in New York." He acts genuinely appreciative, though only to lower his accrued threat level. "Don't you think — " he glances to see Mikhail bearing his fangs, eyes going slightly wide and gives him an elbow in the ribs. "Jeez man, you just like freaking people out? You'll scare her. Don't mind him, he just does that for kicks."

Seeing as no-one else seems to be taking advantage of her good fortune, the barista just shrugs helplessly and hands over a bottle of cold spring water and Echo's change. "Ahh, if you're feeling generous, you could always…" the server begins, quite obviously looking toward the tip jar on the counter. Echo ignores her and it, crumpling the bills and stuffing them in her pocket so that the server's hopeful smile wilts to a surly displeased look behind the android's back. The woman in black stops before Theo and Mikhail, water bottle in one hand and the other still in her pants pocket. Her eyelids lower a fraction, looking bored or unimpressed, or simply weary. "So I've noticed," she responds to Theo without looking away from Mik. "It's not generally a very friendly place."

"Huh? It seems… pretty friendly, to me, most the time," the small teen observes. Well, when there's not crazy stuff going on, anyway! The tension doesn't seem to have gone away, however, so for now he is content to just throw small comments from behind the safety of the other two X-ers. How brave! (They're not that scary, anyways. It's like a puppy!)o. thinks Cale.

Theo takes another sip of his drink. "Right, well, I just stopped in for a drink, and I'm gonna head out. Got homework to do." Lie. Theo has been finished with all of the homework for his classes for weeks now. He's an overachiever like that. He raises the cup in salute. "Good to meet you. Mik, I'll see you later." He gives a nod of assent toward Cale. Though he doesn't know him, he figures it the polite thing to do. "Have a good one." He heads back toward the door, and out into the parking lot to get in that shiny little Ferrari. Why is it that there always seems to be freaks in the Grindstone?

Cale_icon.jpg Echo_icon.jpg

Westchester - Salem Center Mall

On the far end of the Food Court lays the long, wide hallway of the Mall. Oversized skylights let the sunlight pour in during the day, while the florescent bulbs light the Mall at night. This hall has a number of kiosks, selling anything from cheap jewelry to car stickers to on-the-spot portraits, along with them come a number of benches and let's not forget the store fronts calling out to the consumers with their bright lights and attention-drawing displays.

One hour later…

It's a little bit after the small confrontation at the Grindstone, and Cale has moved on - feeling very adventurous (for himself) he has decided to explore the area around the school a little, eventually ending up at the mall - someplace he normally doesn't especially like to be. Today he seems to be okay with it though, pausing outside various stores to look at things after he comes out of the electronics store, having bought some odds and ends that he probably accidentally left at home before moving to Xavier's.

Pumpkin Jack's words recorded and replaying in her head, Echo is trying to heed them. "For God's sake, get yourself some new clothes," she repeats verbatim, softly but still aloud. Like a nervous tic, her fingers explore the bullet hole in her jacket and the shirt underneath. Synthetic polymer flesh has already closed over the entry wound, a paler smudge. The woman stands, stock still, in the middle of the floor outside a store catering to the more teenage counter-culture fashions, eyes flicking over the display of band t-shirts and almost, but not quite, fetish-wear. She glances down the row of stores to the more sedate stylings of the local department store, but makes no move to enter either one.

'Her again?' thinks Cale as he peers down the way at her - he'd been heading in that direction /anyway,/ so he does end up rather close to her as they're in front of the same store. The store sells all types, after all… Most of it would probably be too outrageous for him to wear, but with his long hair he doesn't exactly look like he cares about looking 'normal' per se.

"You," the woman says suddenly, addressing Cale even before her head turns to look at him directly. "We've met. Assist me." Without even waiting for a reply, Echo points first to the teen fashion boutique and then to the department store. "Tell me what I should buy. What would be appropriate." Her current fashion leans heavily toward 'black' and 'military surplus', if that's a look one can affect.

"Me?" Cale squeaks, looking over at the woman. "I. Um. What?" the boy stammers, face turning a deep red. "Appropriate? For what would you wanna do? I mean," he pauses, "Why are you asking me anyway? What would I know about that?" he eyes her clothing for a moment though, thinking.

"I don't know anything about fashion," Echo says unabashedly to the long-haired teen. If her current outfit is any indication, she really doesn't. All black with combat boots? She might be on a SWAT team, or a terrorist. "Therefore you know more than I do. Tell me what I'm supposed to wear so I look normal." Her grey eyes rove up and down Cale's outfit, showing neither approval nor disdain. "It should be functional," she adds helpfully. "But inconspicuous. Which of these designs is the most popular?" Echo's head nods at the display of t-shirts, mostly depictions of rap artists or the ridiculously overblown logos of metal bands.

"Well…" Cale trails off, "This one's popular. But, this stuff is all pretty stand-out," he folds his arms across his chest, trying to keep his voice from wavering. This lady is scary! Scary. "But the normal clothes are all over there," he juts his thumb towards the department store. "I mean. Unless…" he trails off. "Just buy some jeans or something."

Echo's steely grey eyes follow Cale's indications of the shirts then to the department store, nodding not in approval but merely that she understands what he's telling her. "Good," she says at last, expression softening to a slight smile, the first show of un-scariness thus far. "Come with me in case I need you again." Despite the smile, it is not a request. She leaves the teen fashion store behind and starts off in the direction of the department store.

"Um, I don't know, I mean, I guess, okay," Cale nods, following after Echo reluctantly. He buries his hands in the pockets of his hoody, still very nervous and embarrassed by this whole thing.

Not twenty feet into the women's section of the department store, Echo pulls a pair of blue jeans from a rack and, without even glancing at the price tag, tosses them casually toward Cale. "Are these good?" she asks even as she's moving on to the next rack, a circular display of short sleeved, floral-print blouses. "And this." It is similarly tossed to the teenager. "And this," precedes a plain, teal-colored fitted t-shirt. "What are spring fashions? Do I need to replace all my clothing quarterly?"

Cale catches them, face burning red again, "I guess they're okay, but how do you know if they fit? Also, those boots won't go with these jeans at all. You're going to need new shoes," he rubs the back of his neck nervously. "N-no. You don't. It's fine. It's just they bring out new stuff every year. As long as your clothes weren't part of some dumb fad to begin with. Jeans don't really go out of style though." He holds them up. "You should try them on," he suggests quietly.

"Try them on?" Echo stops, hand still outstretched to the next rack. "Of course," she says, like it's obvious in hindsight. She pauses to shift something inside her black coat, from one pocket to another, before simply shrugging the jacket off. It hits the ground with a dull, heavy thump. Underneath she has on a powder blue tank-top shirt and a curious arrangement of black nylon straps, one over the top of each should and crossing at her upper back like a figure eight. Just below her left armpit is a brown leather holster, either for a gun or a very peculiarly shaped cellphone. It obviously, and thankfully, empty at the moment. She holds out a hand for the clothes in Cale's arms, undoing the holster's straps and grabbing her tank top at the bottom. Apparently to pull it off. Right here. In the middle of the floor. "I'll try them on now."

"NoNONO! Jeez! It's like you're a little kid or something!" Cale waves his hands, "Don't do that! Being naked in public is /bad./" he hisses, glancing towards the nearby checkout desk where the attendant has a raised eyebrow, but looks rather apathetic about the whole thing. "C'mon. We'll go to the fitting rooms," he points at a big sign on the wall. Huff.

Pausing with her undershirt raised high enough to see the indent of her belly button and the bottom of her rib cage, Echo frowns. "If you insist," she agrees, tugging the shirt back down and picking up her fallen holster and jacket. Without the bulky black coat, her arms show fine muscle tone, like a swimmer or a rock climber, marred by a few thin pale lines here and there. Almost grudgingly, she follows Cale to the fitting rooms. "You're more helpful than most people I've met," she tells him as a kind of off-handed compliment, looking suspiciously at the changing booth like she's not going to do anything until she's told what's expected of her. "What's your name?"

"My name?" Cale folds both arms across his chest defensively, maybe even defiantly, until his eyes wander to that gun holster. Why would she be wearing that if she didn't have it on her somewhere? "It's um, Cale," he relents finally, rubbing one arm with the other nervously. "Look, just go in there, and change, okay?"

And so she does, closing the little wooden divider and fixing the latch with a click. "My name is Echo," she says from the other side, the tank top flipping up to rest on top of the door. Clomping footsteps, snaps, and zippers make a brief symphony of dressing efficiency. "I appreciate your help, Cale." After a moment, the door unlatches and she steps out, looking remarkably good and well-adjusted in the jeans and flower-patterned shirt. Her boots are off, revealing the weak link, a pair of socks so dirty they're now an almost uniform shade of khaki, save the ankle high stains of deeper brown with black flecks, muddy water left to simply dry on its own inside her boots. "Is this…" she asks, turning slightly to see herself from behind in the floor length mirror. "Acceptable?"

"Oh my god. Are you serious? What the eff happened to your feet? I don't wanna even see that," Cale shakes his head, "Other than that, it's okay. They seem to fit. I guess you knew what size you are pretty well," he rubs his temple a little. "Now you need shoes. And new socks. Yuck. It's like, I mean. Yuck! How did you even let it get that bad? Ugh. Your feet can get infected, you know?" he frowns. Everything seems wrong about this. "What's your deal, anyway? A woman your age should know better than that."

Echo lifts one stockinged foot to inspect it, then the other, casually brushing away a fragment of a dead, rotted leaf from one ankle. "They're dirty," she says plainly, not appearing to see the problem here. "I've been wearing them for some time." At Cale's final question, her eyes narrow slightly and it takes a few seconds before she answers him. "I'm new here," Echo states bluntly, an understated edge to her tone.

"Of course they're dirty!" Cale observes hopelessly, "Wearing dirty clothes is bad! Your feet will get infected, and then eventually fall off. Do you want that? Do you want to have NO FEET?" he rolls his eyes, "Normal people do not wear dirty clothes! That is not a normal thing to be doing! And it's gross. And they stink! Can't you smell that? Ugh. Here," he wanders off for a moment, "Take them off, and put them in here. The boots, too. We'll go find some shoes later," he says when he comes back with a plastic shopping bag. "And And. AND. And you're buying me something for putting up with this." He folds his arms across his chest, striking a tone much like when he would argue with his sister. "I don't care if you DO have a gun, you can't shoot me in here on camera. And you OBVIOUSLY need my help."

Echo endures the brief lecture on cleanliness passively, thankfully for Cale not getting irritated at it. During his brief absence to find a shopping bag, she lifts one of her boots and inhales through her nose, shaking her head a little. No, of course she can't smell that. Dutifully dropping them in the bag and prying off her horrid socks to do the same, Echo wiggles her toes a little. "Payment for services rendered," she agrees, nodding at the teen's demand for compensation. For a moment, her eyes wander upwards to the smoked glass domes behind which security cameras lurk. Echo looks pensive about it, but finally her gaze drops back to Cale. "Pick out something you want. I'll pay for it when we're done." Reaching into her old, dirty black pants, she transfers a rubber band wrapped cylinder of bills. Quite thick, and if the outer twenty dollar bill is any indication of the rest, probably almost a thousand dollars in total.

Cale's eyes bug out at the huge wad of cash, and by then he is sure that he's made a pretty huge mistake. This person is DEFINITELY some sort of criminal, or alien, or criminal alien and they are DEFINITELY insane. "Oh, um, okay," he blinks as his request is acquiesced to without so much as a small argument. Blowing a few strands of hair out of his eyes with a huff, he looks around the store, unsure of what to actually DO. He wanders around, looking over various things; it does not seem to matter to him that they are in the women's section. He looks at some items of clothing, but seems to chicken out. Eventually, he happens upon a selection of hats and seems to settle on a brightly colored knit beanie with cat-ears and an embroidered cat-face. Yes. THIS. He furtively tries it on, tugging at it this way and that in the mirror. "Okay. We're good." He takes it back off again, wandering back over to Echo after a few minutes of this.

In the downtime, the odd woman has selected a few more items, though amazingly nothing that is terribly mismatched. Two more pairs of jeans in slightly different cuts and shades of blue, another shirt, a jacket, and a zippered hooded sweatshirt with the word 'GOSPEL' and a pair of cartoonish feathered wings and a halo silk-screened on the back for some reason. A plastic package of plain white crew socks is tucked under her arm. The remainder of her soiled clothes are in the bag. Echo eyes the feline beanie skeptically for a moment but merely says, "If that's what you want, give it to me. I need shoes, and then you can go." Eyes averted for a moment, she manages to say "Thank you," though it's a bit like pulling teeth.

Cale hands the hat over, motioning towards the shoes, "Maybe," he murmurs, "You're welcome. I, erm. I think." He smiles faintly at that. As the two make it over to the shoes, he offers, "Tennis shoes are probably the best. Everyone wears those. Those combat boots stood out like a sore thumb. Oh and socks. You'll need socks," he adds, snatching some that look about the right size off of the end of a shelf and tossing them at Echo.

Echo casually rips open the package of socks and slips on a pair before sitting and attempting to pull one of the tennis shoes on. She is… unsuccessful. Growing visibly frustrated, she pulls on the shoe harder before finally giving up and fishing around inside it, discarding a wad of tissue paper. "I'm assuming that wasn't supposed to be there," she comments lightly. Plain black Adidas sneakers with three white stripes on the sides prove non-descript but functional as she tests them out briefly, tapping toe and heel on the floor to check their fit. "They don't offer much in the way of protection, but they seem sturdy enough." Drawing on the jacket, black and made of some thin synthetic leather, she straightens its collar. "How do I look?" All things considered… normal.

"Well they are /tennis shoes./ They're just for running around in and stuff, not combat," Cale pauses, appraising the shoes. "They look okay. I kind of wish I had a pair like that, actually." He compares them to his sandals, "More protection than these, anyways," he laughs, wiggling his bare toes. "Just remember to change your socks."

"Open-toed shoes don't seem very effective, no," Echo agrees, but doesn't go out of her way to offer to *buy* Cale a pair or anything. Carrying the bundle of clothes (plus one kitty hat) to the counter, she eyes the teen for a moment while it's all being tallied up. "You are one of only eight genuinely helpful people I've met so far." After its price tag is scanned, the android holds out the cat-eared beanie to him, a smile on her face that actually reaches all the way up to her eyes. Never mind the fact that she basically abducted him for her own purposes, she still looks genuinely pleased.

Cale takes the hat, perching it upon his head. "Eight?" he boy asks, tugging the hat down happily over his ears. He blushes slightly. "I don't know. You are not too bad. But you are pretty scary! I think if you just asked nicely, and smiled and stuff, you wouldn't have to threaten people." Eventually he sighs, taking the hat off and sticking it in the bag with his recently purchased electronic odds and ends, mostly cables. It is clear he likes it a lot, but that he's embarrassed about being seen wearing it. "Though I'm pretty shy, so, I probably would have just ran off if you did that…"

Pulling tags from the items she's already wearing, Echo's final bill is totaled up. For such a brief trip, it's still rather high. "Being feared is occasionally useful." Echo carefully counts out bills, much to the saleslady's surprise, paying almost four hundred dollars in cash. Surreptitiously, the clerk marks each bill with a small detector pen and looks vaguely disappointed that they're all apparently real. "Intimidation can be used to avoid unnecessary conflicts. If the other side's too afraid to engage you, you win by default." Her mouth twists wryly, like she's loathe to admit it, but adds, "But you have a point."

"But. But wouldn't you rather have /friends?/ Life isn't just some sort of conflict that you have to win. In fact there's no winning at life. Everyone dies, in the end," Cale scratches his head, seeming confused by her viewpoint. Which would make perfect sense IF he knew that she was actually some sort of killer robot. But he doesn't know that.

Dirty clothes in one bag and clean, new clothes in another, Echo pauses to regard Cale for a moment. "Yes," says the android candidly. "I *would* prefer it that way." Her face slackens, something about its neutrality seeming melancholy if only because she was smiling just a moment ago. "But you don't always get what you want." She lifts the bag of purchases slightly in the teen's direction, as a kind of wave. "Thank you for your help. You can go now."

"Fiine~" Cale murmurs, giving Echo a wave. "I'll see you around, then. But don't hold me up next time! Then maybe we could just, you know, talk or something," he laughs, heading off in the direction of the exit, and home.

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