2009-11-10: Cognitive Dissonance



Date: November 10, 2009


Gene calls Sydney as promised and gets really angry when she shares her latest obsession…

"Cognitive Dissonance"

The Phone Waves and Oldcastle Pub

It's eight at night… Do you know where your Geek is? Sydney may just find out soon as her cellphone begins to ring. It lists some random number, clearly not one of her contacts, but the area code seems to be within New York City.

Sydney has been on cloud nine all day. Well, ever since the afternoon. She's safely at home now though as her cellphone buzzes against her kitchen countertop. She pads to the counter and furrows her eyebrows at the number. Who is this? And then her eyes light up as she snaps it open, "Ivory?" Got Ivory on the brain.

There is a long pause on the other end of the phone. Roughly ten seconds go by, perhaps prompting another request or Sydney almost putting away the phone. Finally, an unsure tone replies, "No… It's not him. I told you I'd call today. You up for meeting?"

There's a pause on Syd's end of the phone as she listens closely to the voice. "Gene?" Shaking her head a bit and taking a deep breath as if to shake off the Ivorys for the moment, she clears her throat, and manages some composure, "Are you okay?" And another brief pause, "Yes, I'd like to meet if you can… if it's safe…"

Gene's voice is calm and level… As is being carefully restrained. "Don't use my name on the phone unless I give the okay…" Clearly, it isn't exactly safe. "If you still want to meet, let's talk at the place you showed me your first secret."

There's a pause as Sydney tries to remember where exactly that was. They'd originally met in Starbucks, where she told him about her former LARP life. Or the Old Castle Pub where she'd let him see the files on Emily. "Uh… showed being the key word, right?" She bites her bottom lip and then nods as she observes, "Okay, I think I know where you're talking about…"
"Yes. Shown. See you there." That said, Gene hangs up the phone.

When Sydney arrives at the Old Castle, Gene is already there, seated in the corner near the front window. While he is wanted by the FBI, Gene finds that it may be safer near police. After all, he hasn't heard anything about being a wanted man, so they might be trying to keep his imprisonment and escape close to the chest. Which works for Gene. He looks out the window, clearly even more cautious than usual.

It doesn't take Sydney long to get to the pub. She lives close to the pub and while she's intrigued and slightly confused where Gene has been all of this time, her mood does not reflect this. In fact, as Sydney walks to the pub in her jeans, t-shirt, peacoat, and sneakers, people take notice. Not necessarily of her. Sometimes of each other. Sometimes of an unnamed other. Yes, she's emitting an almost mesmerized air of enthrallment, sending it into the spaces around her with no control.

As she arrives, she glances around the pub and spots her friend. Quickly she takes a seat in the booth, but she fights with herself not to be nonsensical. For the moment she succeeds, "Are you okay? I was worried…" Her words are concerned, but the mood she releases isn't.

Thankfully, it would seem that Gene is not really phased by the effect, perhaps due to increased willpower or just feeling things that would not be agreeable with things like love or attraction. Either way, the young man shakes his head. "Not really… As I said before, things got really out of hand really quickly and I'm trying to help sort it out. But before we go on about that… You were asking about someone named Ivory. Did you talk with the Senator recently?" the young man asks, his tone muted and concerned.

There's a concerned nod as Gene begins to speak, but the nodding stops at the mention of Ivory. Sydney's cheeks flush involuntarily, her palms sweat, and butterflies flutter in her stomach, but she tries (and really fails) to maintain that nonsensical exterior. "Um… well…" there's a pause before Sydney beams, "He's incredible. Like honestly. I met him earlier today and he's everything I thought he would be and more. And he's trying so hard to make our nation great," she nods emphatically at this, continuing to grin broadly. "Do you know Ivo - the Senator?" Yes, she's on a first-name basis.

A tightly clenched fist on the table trembles about, knocking around the table a bit before the other hand tightly bares down on it, using a powerful grip to keep the other limb in control. The information doesn't seem to go over too well. He's heard that talk before. He was there months later to hear about the aftermath. "I see… Just met him down the street or something like that?" he says, trying his best to give a smile, only barely able to do so.

"Something like that…" Sydney murmurs as she studies Gene's body language her own jaw tightening. "The details are actually confidential. Locked down, like a vault," she adds with a forced smile as she chews her nails absently. Thoughts of Ivory are put aside for a moment, and the woman's full attention is on the young man across from her. Glancing about the room mildly uncomfortably, she asks, "Gene… are you okay?"

"No, I'm not, this conversation is over," Gene states as he pushes himself up. To say that he is enraged would be like calling a river wet or a New York Winter cold. While Sydney might not be able to pick up the exact type of rage, it has the hints of emotional pain to it… As well as hints of something darker to it. "For your sake, I just need to stay away from you for awhile. Trust me, it's just better this way."

"Wait. What?" Sydney's eyebrows are knit into a tight v as she also stands. Unfortunately, Sydney's ability only exacerbates such situations. She doesn't just sense what other people feel, she feels it. "What did I do?!" she hisses angrily. She's not yelling. "I hear nothing for a month, and now you're just taking off?" She frowns deeply, "It's official! I - I'm really cursed. Actually cursed. I -" She twitches, gaping at Gene. She's making little sense all things considered.

Why is it that this woman gets mad EVERY time he gets mad? Aren't therapists supposed to make angry people want to calm down? His rage still boiling, Gene just wants to run out the door and leave. Thankfully (or tragically, depending on preference), he is far too concerned for his friends to let a comment like 'I'm cursed' stand on its own. "If I continue this conversation, you will think me a liar, the man you likely want to make out with a liar, or worse, your life might be in danger." Gene leans over the table, his face lowered as he puts most of his weight on the fists rests on the table. "I'm trying to do the right thing. How is that cursing you?" He is calming down a hair, but his tone calms even more… Likely showing a bit more self control as he tries his best to be the noble heroes like his idols Captain American, Superman, and Batman (who may not be noble, but he's the bomb when it comes to self control).

Continuing to frown, Sydney manages to sit herself down at the table burying her face in her hands. Lifting her head from her hands, she just peers up at Gene exasperated. "I used to think I was such a good therapist," she says quietly, "that I could empathize with people no one else could, but …it's recently come to my attention that … I'm not that good a therapist." She bites her bottom lip nervously and lowers her voice further, "I feel what other people feel. They feel what I feel. I don't know how. I don't know why." There's another pause before she adds, "Nothing is real. No friendship. No relationship. Nothing."

The young man's temper is put on the back burner, seeing that there are more important things to contend with than the man the seems to anger him so. "Perhaps… That is your ability, like that woman that you talked to me about. Empathy is one of the most powerful things a therapist has… It is something you wanted to do your job well. If you learn to hone your ability, you should be able to turn it on and off. If you are just finding out about it… It is likely you are still getting used to it." He takes a seat slowly, having a feeling this conversation still has a few points that he needs to address. "So why do you feel that nothing is real?"

"I don't want it," Sydney says bluntly pursing her lips together. "It's a curse. It's not real. Like if I'm happy then the people around me are happy. If I'm angry the people around me are angry… no one should be able to do that. OR I feel what they feel, even if it's not what I actually feel, you know?" She runs a hand through her hair, clamping her eyes shut for a moment as if to clarify her own thoughts. She reopens them and observes, "Our feelings are the one thing we're supposed to be able to trust. We don't always understand what happens to us, but how we feel about it is real. I twist that - I warp it into something it's not supposed to be." Her lips twitch slightly, "And I don't think this is a new thing…" She sighs.

"Trust me, I've learned that feelings are NOT something you trust. There are powers that make people fall in love when them, make you do whatever they want, make you feel differently than usual. Maybe it's because I don't really date like everyone else, but I find feelings aren't as important as virtue. Love is not something you feel, it is something you choose. That's what my mom used to say… But that is a topic for another time," Gene states as he rubs his head slightly. He sips the water he asked for early. For once having a horrid waitress is a good thing, as it means the conversation hasn't been interrupted for awhile.

"As for your gift, when we first started talking, you sure didn't bring it up… If you are just newly aware of it, it is just like getting it. After all, if you don't know what it is, how can you be expected to control it. If you control your own emotions, you'll be able to calm people down. If you can sense people's emotions without falling prey to them, think how great a help you could be to the world."

Frowning again, Sydney fails to suppress the sigh that escapes her lips, "I didn't know I had it until… I got in an argument with a yoga instructor, and had a yelling match on top of a roof with some spy-guy." She rubs her temples. "And it's not a gift, it really is a curse. I've never been able to control my emotions. Lived a double life in my youth to compensate for expectations. Managed to convince my grandparents that NYU was a good idea. Almost got married to …" she cuts herself off, winces, and then shudders while goosebumps form on her arms. She clears her throat and shakes her head, "I've worked with a therapist for years to try to control my emotions. I've improved significantly… but I still suck at it."

While Gene is tempted to ask of an almost married Sydney, he knows it would be more helpful to talk about the root of the issue, not the past of it. "Baggage is part of life," Gene states, letting that fact rest for awhile. He drinks a few sips of water before going on, speaking as he sets his cup down.

"Helping people is something you want to do. If that is your dream and you have to work on it for years, then go for it. Better to do what you feel would make you happy then to live your life in regret. Some people take that advice too far and try to become an actress when they can't act, but you seem smart enough to know how to take it. If you have a good heart, are willing to listen… I'm no psych person, but that seems like a solid start to me." Gene gives a shrug at that before he settles into his chair, placing his hands behind his head.

"But it's not normal baggage. Like what part of it was even me? I realize I got hooked into things… like when I wasn't with the people involved I was clear headed and decisive but then… when I was with them, it was different. I gave in when I shouldn't have," Sydney leans forward in her chair and runs an exasperated hand through her air. "And I felt like a coward when I couldn't deal with things they way I wanted. But I tried." She frowns as she takes several deep breaths. But it's no use, no calm comes over her. Not now anyways.

"And yes, I want to help people, but who am I to decide how anyone should feel about anything? I have bawled after clients left my office, how often did I do that to them just because I was having an 'off' day?" She pauses, "Do you know how many students I've made feel guilty for cheating? What if one of them committed suicide?! I have no idea the damage I've done…"

Gene reaches over to take one of Sydney's hand, running his other hand over it. While it is odd to pull a page from his grandmother's playbook, it always made HIM feel better. Even if she pulls it away, Gene still offers his thoughts on the matter.

"You wanted to do the right thing, but you ended up not doing that. It's like a friend of mine that I once knew. You see, he worked on a project for the Air Force. Made a spy plane that didn't need to have a person inside. Not sure if you heard of those. Anyway, he wanted to make machines that made it so people could protect and serve without risking their lives. It was a huge success. Of course, he was proud. Then… They put missiles on them. They fired them into huts where terrorists were. Sometimes, the terrorists would live in homes with innocent families… And they fired on them anyway because the Air Force didn't know if or when they'd ever get a chance to take the shot." Gene is silent, looking to the ice in his cup for a few moments before going on. "The friend was sad by this… But he didn't let him stop doing what he felt needed to be done, building stuff and helping people. Everyone fails, but it's what happens when you make a mistake that decides who you are."

She doesn't pull away. In fact, the contact soothes her, if only for awhile. Sydney sighs, furrowing her eyebrows at the story, considering her own life. "But —at least your friend knew. I don't even know. I don't even know when it started. Like as far back as I can remember I've seen everyone's viewpoints. I empathize with everyone. Not just some people. EVERYONE."

She sighs again. "But can I do the right thing? When I see so much is it possible to do the right thing? What does the even mean? The right thing —doesn't it vary from person to person? Isn't everything grey?" She leans back in her seat now, "Or am I just that confused?" There's another pause. "And who's to say that I'm not being manipulated at any time? It's a pretty easy thing to exploit…"

"If you look for the grey, you will find it. Sure, there are some tough questions, but if a person is bleeding, you mend their wound. If they are being mugged, you defend them. If a child is crying, you cheer them up. I didn't think that was something you could question. If you need to start at the basics you go from there."

Gene ponders what to do. On one hand, Sydney is hanging out with Wynn. Who he wants to kill now. Who may want to kill him back in time. But on the other hand, she needs him (or help in general). Figuring that he can help Sydney without risking getting thrown back in jail or killed, the Geek God sighs. "If you want, I can try and help you with your gifts. I mean, not a professional or anything, but figure that with me and my friends, we could try if it was that big a deal for you."

Blinking, Sydney is beyond confused. "I thought you were mad at me…?" She's fickle, but not forgetful. Nearby another patron, impatiently wraps her fingers on the table, in silent protest that the waitress hasn't been around. Now whether Sydney is feeling the other woman's frustration or the other woman her own is unclear, but their body language matches almost entirely.

Sydney's whole face scrunches into a semi-confused scowl as she retrieves her hand to promptly cross her arms over her chest. Studying Gene, she frowns, "Where were you last month? I don't think I deserved to be scolded earlier." FINALLY after the poor nearby patroon had waited for over ten minutes, the waitress finally makes the rounds to the her table, causing said patron to smile, and immediately alleviating Sydney's frustration. Her arms relax at her sides, her face relaxes, and she appears far less defensive. Her emotions are her own, for now. A moment passes before she murmurs, "I think I need the help…"

"I'm not mad at you. I'm just mad. And because of the situation, I'm in. When it's said and done, I'll let you know and you'll understand. But just know that I WAS in prison for two weeks and it was because I was hunting down that killer. Who is now on the loose. It's a long story," Gene states before the waitress comes around. He just orders some fries, waiting for Sydney to make her order before going on. "As it stands now, the government thinks I'm a terrorist. When this is done and the Government is hunting down Evolved, I'll explain it from the beginning. But for now… I can't and what little I told you, you CAN'T tell anyone. If they capture me and they know what they are looking for, a lot of innocent people could get hurt… Even kids.

"She's on the loose?" Sydney's eyebrows furrow. "She's a sociopath… I am so getting fired…" Still frowning, Sydney raises a hand to her forehead, but forces a weak smile for the waitress before ordering a diet coke. After the waitress leaves she sputters in hushed tones in utter disbelief, "But you're no terrorist. A person doesn't have to be a mind-reader to see that! And kids? Seriously…?" She sighs, "I won't tell anyone. I'm good at keep secrets." Mostly. "It's my job to keep secrets. A lot of people's secrets."

The Geek God sighs as well. Finally, he leans forward, whispering into Sydney's ear. Those close by might think he is whispering sweet nothings, but it is stuff of substance and it is by no means sweet. "The Senator you thought was so awesome? He's running a program to hunt down all Evolved and capture them. Period. Don't know why it started or why they are doing. They just are. The blond was captured, but some people, some of them after me, busted a couple of trains. The killer was on one of those trains. She's laying low in fear now, so I can't find her and I don't have the time to hunt in detail. Not when I have a government agency that needs to be stopped. Somehow."

Cognitive dissonance: the act of processing information contrary what one believes to be true. "Ivory wouldn't…" Would he? "I'm his therapist." Major breech of confidentiality. Good work, Sydney. "I listened to his troubles… he wouldn't… he's not… it's his superiors. I'm sure of it… he told me…" Second breech of confidentiality. Oh dear. Enthrallment is working its magic as always.

There is another one of those looooong pauses that Sydney encountered while they were talking last on the phone. "It is… " Gene rubs his head, trying his best to keep himself calm. After all, the last time he expressed his rage, it did not go over too well. "Either way, you didn't know what was going on… And now you do. So now that you know, you know exactly what to do and what to expect…" Gene pauses, getting ready to say something when suddenly he feels a vibrating at his belt. He pulls out a pager, merely lifting the cover to see the number. "I've got some stuff to handle… But I'll be around. If you need me, I can call you a bit later and we can do this again… That work for you?"

Blinking, Sydney is still in disbelief, but Gene wouldn't lie to her about this, would he? Besides, clearly he believes it's true, so either way at least she needs to get to the bottom of this. "Yeah, that'd be good. I need to figure this whole thing out." Including Ivory. Her emotions had gotten away with her there. She forces a faint smile and then nods once more, "Just don't wait a month, okay?"

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