My favorite part here, easily, is panel 2, where Joel weighs the reasons for caution I mentioned on the last page against his natural curiosity and compassion, and decides to reach out before Shanna slips away. It’s one of those decision points that really could go in either direction. Such moments often end up revealing who a character is or steering who they become.

And at this point, Shanna has been on her own for so long that anyone reaching out is welcome.

I’m more reluctant about the last panel’s reference to Giorgio Tsoukalos, AKA the host of Ancient Aliens, but I follow Flo’s argument for including it. Joel is the kind of big nerd who even peppers his serious conversations with such references… even when they make his credibility a little iffy. Doing so makes the heavy stuff easier for him to handle.

Had we had a little more time to explore Shanna’s pre-Joel thinking, I might’ve had her roll out the hypothesis that this was a military-funded simulation that ended up revealing government secrets, i.e., the exact location of key assets. But even then, murder’s often less effective than an NDA with strict enough penalties, and the complete disappearance of the Five and Ferris means that Shanna keeps coming back to the theory that they’ve been murdered.