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You Gave Up Being Good When You Declared a State of War
"It wasn't even supposed to be a joke, it just...ah. Forget it."

Lunatics. In the asylum. And they're making fun of Asuka for having a--well, does it really count as a bad joke if she didn't realize it sounded like one until after the fact?

Well. Asuka couldn't really blame them. Their classmates were killing each other. It was dumb and it was stupid and it was funny. What do you do about that?

Asuka laughed. "Come to terms? Do you think I can come to terms with this bullshit that easily?"

Asuka looked from Nadia to Jerry, Jerry to Nadia.

"I can barely accept and function in the real world. I'm not interested in accepting and functioning in this one. This is my offer, so that you'll take me with you if you want. I have a gun. If someone goes after any of us, I'll scare them off with my shaky hands and shitty aim. I probably can't actually bring myself to shoot them when it comes down to it, though, so don't count on that."

Oh. Hi Toby. Now Asuka knew how Jerry must've felt when she came in. Important difference: Asuka was Asuka. Toby was...yeah. She could beat you up. Not that you could much tell the difference between them based on a door creak and a couple of syllables. Asuka was just feeling kinda grumpy about that, was all.

So. Toby. Workaholic. Bet you're really glad you were such a try-hard. Not that Asuka was one to talk, but at least she only tried hard when she liked to. She was qualitatively different. How did she know? She didn't. Bad Asuka. Be nice.

"Well met, I guess. Wish I got to know you better before...you know."

Hey, it's worth a shot. Tell me about yourself.

Robber Barons

Well um that's not to say he's treating this like it was no big deal. He was serious. Deadly serious-- okay, that was shitty. And it wasn't like they were gonna kill Kimiko here. Just, um. What's the phrase. Relieve her of her weapon. That's a nice euphemistic way of saying it. And, and, if things go ugly they might end up relieving her of her life too! So the joke actually kind of worked. Huzzah or something.


Yeah. Back to the task at hand. And he was gonna have a little fun with this, because well why not? Of course he was serious. That was his creed. No, seriously, it might not look like it, because there weren't very many things worth taking seriously, but Alan was going to play his part with, like, utmost commitment. And that meant hamming it up. That meant having fun with this. And that sinking feeling that they're being a bit morally ambiguous, that this was just a tad too antiheroic? Aw, hell yes. Bring on the thunder. Bring on the downpour. Give Alan a trenchcoat and a fedora and a five-o'clock shadow, he was born for this.

He stepped out, and everything felt wrong. Too much light, too much ground between them, and everything felt too casual and mundane. Kimiko was small. Alan was--well, he wasn't small, certainly, but for this he felt small. Well. Let's overcome that bit of awkwardness, shall we?

"Yo." Yeah. Way to go on the first impressions.

"Was wondering if you'd show up over here."

Open palms. Bend your knees. Let's keep everyone at ease for now. Kimiko was an unknown quantity, so you're gonna play cautious--

Cautious? Well, um, yeah. You don't know if she's the kind who stabs people at first sight-- Alan was pretty sure he could outrun her if she was-- or if she's killing out of fear or--cautious? Listen, I don't have time to be indulgent right now, I have to be pragmatic, and if you think about it antiheroes are total pragmatists so--what the hell is this shit? Can you walk the walk or not?

"You get one chance to prove you're not a player. Take your best kill weapon out and put it down, or you die. Not bluffing. My draw's faster than yours. And if you ain't playing, you don't need it. If you'll take it out and put it down to the side, then we can talk."

Much better.

You Gave Up Being Good When You Declared a State of War
Asuka froze. She was trying to move, to do or say something, but all that happened was the same phrase, looped over and over in head: Oh, shit, here we go again, and then she went and said it out loud. Stupid.

Because that was a really big fucking pile of meat and muscle yelling at her to knock next time, and she was whispering or maybe it was whimpering sorry because her eyes were starting to sting now and this was oh-so-fucking stupid. You ass. Asuka didn't like to judge people. She didn't give a fuck right now.

Look up. Yes, that's Nadia, and Asuka should've felt reassured because really anybody would've been reassuring to see after some big fucker flipped out and pulled a knife on you, but she didn't. Nadia's eyes weren't exactly inviting and welcoming.

Cool down. Deep breaths. It was a simple question. Problematic, to be sure-- Asuka wasn't really sure what they were doing anymore. She could tell Nadia that she was down for whatever they had in mind. Asuka just wanted a group, so fuck it, whatever is fine. Nadia didn't look like the type who'll be obliging of an answer like that, though.

Well. It was a rather sketchy answer.

"Honestly? I don't really care. I'm here to do hospice. Service with a smile for the dead and dying, unless the smile freaks you out. And don't get your head in the gutter, I don't mean that kind of service. Anyhow, I just figured I'd hop on board cuz I heard you were gonna head to the asylum and run into people there and I thought that maybe like it'd be a meaningful adventure if we did that, y'know? So unless your business is killing, I'd come. You don't have to take me, though."

Asuka hoped that last line guilt-tripped them. Served the bastards right, turning her into a wreck five seconds after she walked in the door. Reject me. I dare you.

Ah, fuck, please don't interpret that as a guilt trip, that would make things so fucking awkward.

Robber Barons
((Alan Banks shambling in from Until All Our Yesterdays Are Lighted Fools))

Wow, Katy. Yes, Katy, I'm fucking calling you that from now on, even though you don't know it yet since I'm only saying it in my head. Well. Anyways. Way to announce to the whole world you're making a fucking protein sandwich bar. Really smooth, really fucking smooth.

Shit. He wanted one now. How the fuck had it come to this? How had he sunk so low, so quickly? Despair and die, Alan, despair and die.

There wasn't much about this that felt good to Alan. Quick, let's go through them: it meant that a) he had his shit together, and b) his shit was doing good. Hell, that was pretty good. Very good, very good. Make Alan feel like the good guy, the baby-faced hero of whatever narrative he was putting together right now? Almost. You could very nearly say that Alan felt a little self-doubt in that moment. In his cause, his mission, his constant, pointed trolling. Did the notion that he was usually just an annoying ass cross his mind? Inconceivable! The horror! Keep reaching, you sod. Maybe someday you'll catch a star.

But what's a hero who can't stand a little moral ambiguity, eh? You think the hero's the one who tries to save everyone, who won't kill the villain to stop a shitfest, who can't get his hands dirty to keep the blood from getting all over the floor and holy fuck it's new carpet? Yeah, no points for guessing that Alan preferred Batman to Superman.

Huh. So Alan's already seeing himself as the Batman. How's that for delusions of grandeur. Grandeur, indeed. Well, you best buckle down, then, cuz things are gonna go melodramatic reeeallly soon. Ok. Listen. No, seriously, listen! Your bad guys are literally the shadow conspiracy and the sadist clowns rolled up all into one package, making kids kill each other because telling people that the human race was trash was apparently a damn fine narrative, and you're telling Alan he's the delusional one for embracing pulp? Yeah, you wish. Melodrama was his duty, and his bread and butter besides. Mad. They call him mad, huh? He broke their suspension of disbelief? Well, guess fucking what he'll do, then.

He'll show them. He'll show them all! Tonight.

Yeah, he'll show them, for sure. Any minute now.

You Gave Up Being Good When You Declared a State of War
((Asuka continued from A World of Sadness))

And to the surprise of everyone and no one, a couple universes had already been obliterated. See, Penelope? You gotta go with the forms of rebellion that don't depend on other people, that you know you can pull off yourself. You gotta be pragmatic. Asuka was totally a pragmatist. I mean, it feels good to know that your plan's pragmatic, even if pragmatism wasn't the main or second or even the third reason for going with it, you know? It wasn't Asuka's favorite virtue, but she wasn't against it or anything.

Yeah, something like that.

Jennifer. Gong. Tina. Gong. Isabel. Gong. The list of the dead and the lost cut through the air like the tolling of a bell, each name a punch to the gut.

Take in a deep and calming breath. Exhale shakily. And now-- smile. Because this is the place dreams come true. This was the rabbit hole, this was Fantasia. Fantasia, fantasy. Let's dance to that. Kick open enough doors and you'll find what you're looking for. Or, well, nudge them open. Didn't have the same flair, but truth be told Asuka didn't have much flair. Simple, right?

She'd almost forgotten and gotten her hopes up, hadn't she. But she was addicted. She was addicted, and now she'd never be satisfied again, now she was stuck trying over and over to get her fix even though she knew it wouldn't be the same. That goes double when the idealized state only ever existed in her head. Asuka was short on life and long on craving. She didn't even have a choice in the matter.

Nudge. Nadia and Jerry, deciding to look into the asylum of horrors. Nadia and Jerry, deciding to go Batman. Or maybe Punisher. Either way: technicolor fantasy. She hoped.

"Hey. Not playing. If you're doing what I think you're doing, can I tag along?"

V6 Reduced Activity Notices
Gonna have reduced activity until next Friday. I have a test, 2 lab reports, a paper, and a coding project next week, pls just let me dieeeee

Until all our yesterdays are lighted fools...
They would've probably been useless anyways. Yeah, that's the line he was going to go with. Whose line was it anyways?

Except he shouldn't be thinking in terms of utility, because that concept was total bullshit for his goals. Goals. Fucking goals. What were Alan's goals again?


It was time for a paradigm shift. Sounds fancy. It means he's shifting his paradigm, is all. But, like, maybe not that much. Means, not ends. You know.

He shivered a little. He was gonna have an actual plan. May God have mercy on his soul. Well, Eris.

You throw a golden apple in their midst and laugh as it fucks everything up, but you gotta remember you're doing this as a force of good. And that means you can't fuck up, even when you're doing a stupidly hammy evil laugh. Especially when you're doing the stupidly hammy evil laugh. It's meaningful chaos. Chaos with a purpose. Maybe that made it impure, but he could live with that.

The answer to Kaitlyn's question was no. He said it out loud.


It was a little no. He liked that. Liked that effect, the way it hung in the air a little.

"Cuz it's about time I get my shit together and stop dicking around with this."

Now to come up with an actual plan. Well. That was the hard part, wasn't it? And it looks like Kaitlyn's headed out now, so uhh let's just keep being a totally useless leader, shall we?

He wasn't really the leader, of course. Way to take the pressure off, buddy.

((Alan Banks continued elsewhere))

A World Of Sadness
And then Penelope was gone.

She'd been misjudged. Or she'd misjudged. Something like that. She could shrug and move on, tell herself or a camera or something that she could live with that, but, really, who was she actually going to kid.

Inventory check. She was doing alright. A little bit of irrational anger somewhere in there, but Asuka pushed it down. Now wasn't the time to run after Penelope and tell her she had it all wrong, all of it, doesn't she get that Asuka gets it, that she wasn't looking to escape or directly attack the terrorists or anything? But it'd be of no use. It wasn't like she was planning on joining Penelope's team or anything. Lack of tangible benefits had never stopped her before, though.

So. Why hadn't she wanted in? Was it her inner artiste coming through and telling her that she had to do her own thing, that she had to be a special snowflake? See, it's not pretentious if she says it ironically. There was the thing where her life had been suddenly turned into a kind of performance art. So she could excuse being a little flamboyant. Was Penelope's plan not beautiful enough for her? Put simply, and rather stupidly, yes.

Asuka grabbed a twig, put one end on her lips, and pretended to take a drag on it. It felt good, like she was actually her daily nicotine fix from it. Cleared her head and all.

People tended to disappoint you in the flesh. Asuka knew this because her meat puppet disappointed her all the time. But if you look at who they really are, when you peel back the skin and flesh and bones until you're left with the grey matter, well, that stuff is beyond your wildest imagination. You have to imagine it, is the problem. Because, well. You know.

Asuka had glimpsed Penelope, or she'd imagined she'd glimpsed her. It didn't really matter. What mattered was that Asuka could never deal with the constant reminder that she sucked at this, that she still felt drained and exhausted and empty after talking to people even when everything worked out the way it did in her dreams. What mattered was that it had been meaningful, and then it had been meaningless, and now she was feeling unsure, a little less steady on her feet. Well, a little more unsure. Unsure was her baseline.

But she still had her plan, if you could call it that, and she still had her goal, if that's what it was, and she was still going to make them happen no matter what, but maybe she was idealizing them, yes? No way in hell was she going to live up to her expectations. She could insert a joke about how that was the story of her life, but it was a little too true to sound like a joke.

Think, Asuka. Think. Clear your head. She took another drag on the faux-cigarette. Fuck, she was already building up an immunity to the thing. She took another drag. Giggled a little.

Stupid idea. She'd lost her train of thought.

Words were still echoing around inside her head, but for Asuka, they'd long since lost their meaning.

((Asuka continued in You Gave Up Being Good When You Declared a State of War))

SOTF Halloween Movie Night
Synecdoche, New York