304 - Entanglement and Collapse

Leo’s therapy ended without incident. Despite that, he stayed withdrawn, refusing to see anyone. Aria cautioned everyone that asked not to take it personally. “He’s got something that’s very important to him. He knows you all care, and he cares too, but he has to do this.”

Weeks turned into months.

One day, a select group of people received invitations to the Twilight Glade, once home to the Menagerie. The time and date had been carefully chosen to make room for everyone’s schedules. And everyone who saw the invitation knew they had to show up.


The wedding of Leo Snow and Aria Newman was a quiet affair, in spite of how many people had shown up.

The bride was dressed elegantly, and carried herself with poise and grace. Her dress was holographic, custom-created by herself and her sister, and flowed and glowed in ways impossible for a material garment. The groom looked only somewhat out of place in a tuxedo and a very recent haircut.

Otto Newman served as best man. Summer filled in as maid of honor. Aria didn’t choose any other bridesmaids, uncertain at first about attendance, but discovered later to her surprise and pleasure that several girls in her social orbit would have been happy to serve.

The question of a religious vs. secular ceremony had finally been settled. Aria felt that the Grove itself lent sufficient sanctity to the proceedings.

Who, then, to officiate? Someone had jokingly suggested Daphne Palin, the only priestess they knew, but Summer had gently pointed out that Daph didn’t seem interested in the office, and maybe it was better to respect that feeling.

They settled for the person they felt could supply the appropriate dignity and gravitas: Charlotte Palmer. And she had accepted.

The pair had written their own vows, and exchanged them when ready.

Leo went first. It was clear he still spoke with difficulty, even after therapy, but Aria’s hand around his, and her encouraging smile, gave him strength. “Aria Newman. I vow to love, and respect, and cherish you. I vow never to give up on the man you know I can be. I vow to nurture the connection we have, however it keeps changing.”

Aria’s was longer, and just as heartfelt. “Leo Snow. I’ve known you my whole life. You’ve been everything to me in that time. I want you to keep being my everything. I want to stay with you as we both grow and change. I want to discover what we become together. I vow to share, to care, to be there, whenever and for whatever you need. I vow to keep you safe, to bring you joy, to share your sorrow, today and tomorrow and tomorrow.”

The phrase “for as long as we both shall live” was absent in both cases. This marriage was a new thing - a mortal man and immortal woman - so who could say what the future would hold?

The remaining Menagerie members applauded at the appropriate moments. The other guests didn’t appreciate as fully what it had taken to get to this point, but the pair looked happy, so why not?

Alycia didn’t handle it well when Summer really started crying, but Jason was on hand to help her regain her poise.

Maury Jones was on hand to take photos and video. There would be no public website for the ceremony, but the footage would be available to attendees.

The Grove took care of the reception’s food supply. With no catering needed, there were just speeches to make, and dancing to do.

All of the Newman clan had something to say. Otto’s was about the time he was “born” - his first meeting with Leo - and how it felt when it was his turn to see Pneuma emerge.

“We ain’t father and mother, son and daughter,” he concluded. “Not brother, not sister either. I dunno if there’s words for what we are, not yet. But between us, no words are needed. And for everyone who isn’t one of us, but who have been with us through trying times, I don’t know that there’s words enough to say how grateful each and every one of us are to you.”

Summer kept her comments short. “I just want to say how thankful I am, to Leo and Aria both, who in their own ways gave me a life and let me lead it. I have been so blessed. And I want to say how blessed I am to be a part of their lives in return. Our time together hasn’t all been cheerful or easy. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. And I look forward to the future, whatever ups and downs it has in store for us.”

Aria, who had switched off her gown for a more practical (and material) outfit underneath, had another announcement near the end. “We’re having a gathering for the Newmen at the Garage after this. It’s very important to us that you all attend. Jason and Alycia, we’d appreciate it if you’d come along too.”

Leo only had one short addition. “Hey, uh, just in case the invitation wasn’t clear, I’m taking Aria’s name. Leo Newman. I gave her a name originally, and she’s giving me one in return. Seems fair.”

There was more dancing, and chatting, and food. The guests departed, in ones and twos. And the Newmen went, however they were able, to see what the newly married couple had in store.

Aria, Summer, Otto, Mo, Bill, and John were the robots at the Garage. Each of them had a package waiting, with their names on them. Leo stood back and watched, along with Alycia and Jason, as they unwrapped them.

“It’s a replacement brain,” Summer said, studying the outer casing.

“You callin’ us dumb, boss?” Otto joked.

“This is PINNACLE,” Leo announced. “New version of the electromechanical brain with a quantum computer carefully wired in. This is your brain on hypergenius.”

The robots turned to him as one. “You did it,” Otto breathed.

“He did it!” Aria grinned gleefully, and tapped the side of her own head.

Otto’s eyes widened. “You got it? You got it!” He laughed aloud, and looked at Mo and Bill. They shrugged at each other, and smiled back at him.

“There’s another package here,” John said, pointing.

Leo turned his attention to Jason and Alycia. “For your houseguest, Jason.”

Jason nodded at Alycia in silent agreement about something, and turned back to Leo. “We’re still analyzing her for cognitive traps and psychological explosives. We have actually found a few. I don’t know if it would be safe to give this to her at this time. But we’ll have that conversation, I promise. The three of us.”

“Okay.” Leo focused next on John Black. “You got something you want to say.”

It wasn’t a question. John squared his shoulders and took a breath. “I got turned into a weapon against dad. That hurt you. But I didn’t choose what I was, just like Pneuma didn’t. You and me are both coming to terms with my existence. I get that. And we’re gonna be different people. We both know why. I need you to be cool with me.”

His gaze dropped to the package with his name on it, then returned to his originator. “I think you wouldn’t have offered me this if you weren’t, would you. But I wanna be sure we’re cool. That there’s no price tag attached to this.”

Aria could see Leo bristle, and laid a hand gently on his shoulder. She knew it wasn’t anything John had said. It was the trauma, still lingering, like it probably would for a long time. The urge to retreat into fighting when faced with a difficult situation.

But Leo mastered it, and nodded. “We’re cool. We’ll talk things out when you’re ready. But it’s yours. No questions asked.”

He smiled, and turned to everyone that was gathered here. “We got the Heart Factory warmed up. The PINNACLE system is strictly opt-in - if you don’t want it, you don’t have to take it, absolutely no hard feelings.”

He swallowed a lump in his throat that came from the feelings his next words summoned up. “All of you deserve to live your lives how you want. With or without this. With or without me.”

And with that, he passed out, and fell to the floor.

“Leo–!”


“Tension,” was his therapist’s diagnosis, once she was called. “A release of considerable tension, built up over time.”

The importance of PINNACLE, the key to letting Leo’s creations continue his mission beyond his lifetime, was explained, and Doctor Kariuki nodded in understanding. “Yes, that would do it…”

“Is this going to happen again?” Aria asked worriedly.

“Not if he’s allowed to rest and recuperate. If he allows himself to, I should say.”

Aria laid a hand on the doctor’s arm and asked the question that haunted her the most about the near future. “He and I… well, we’ve both endured some traumatic experiences. We both have episodes, and uh, I guess you could say, well, glitches from time to time, you know? So what I need to know is…”

She bit her lip. “Does this disqualify us from being good parents? Can we really raise a child if we’re both such a mess?”

Faraja Kariuki smiled uncertainly. “That’s not my specialty. But if you want to talk to a pediatrician, and refer them to me, I’ll share my case notes with consent.”


The transfers into the new brains were effected.

“I don’t feel any different,” Big Bill remarked.

“Yeah,” Mo added.

“You won’t, not at first. It’ll sneak up on you,” Aria counseled them. “All of you should take the next few days off. It’s going to hit like a hammer. Like getting vaccinated.”

“Leo’s good at inventing and fighting. Do we inherit the same specialization?” Summer asked.

“Inventing, probably. That’s too baked into our shared connectomes,” Leo explained. “The rest? Dunno. You’re individuals. You’ll have individual abilities.”

“Probably a good time for the oath,” Otto prompted, looking from face to face.

They all understood what that meant. And as one, man and machine recited the vow they’d taken, first about the Heart Factory and now about this new technology. “Before the omnipotent witness, I swear to use this power only for good.”

Leo knew first hand what the oath meant. Pain, torture, torment, even death if necessary. But he had just entrusted the power of creation to people he knew would uphold it with their lives.

Aria found Leo laying in bed, reading a book. To her mild surprise, it wasn’t a technical journal or a sci-fi novel, or anything he’d usually mine for ideas on where to go next with his science. It was a historical drama, about Reformation figure Thomas Cromwell. More surprising, he wasn’t aggressively consuming it, but taking his time. He was… relaxing.

She laid a hand on his shoulder, and leaned down. “I’m very proud of you.”

Leo switched the book from two hands to one, and used his now-free hand to rest on hers gently. “I promised.”

Aria frowned slightly, and took the hand in hers, pulling him up to a sitting position. “Come on. This is going to mess with your peace, and I’m sorry, but I have to talk about this.”

Surprised but willing, Leo followed her lead to the next room.


The laptop was frozen on a video ad. Aria restarted the ad from the beginning. Together, they watched it through to the end.

“New Tomorrow City?” Leo asked at last.

“This is a R-Rook spinoff,” she explained. “Jason and Alycia have been looking into it. This is them t-taking over everything. Somehow, in all the confusion during the invasion, they got ownership of so much of the city.”

Leo was still taking in what he’d seen, and nodded in understanding. Hearing the quaver in her voice led his hand to seek hers, and hold on gently.

“I can’t deal with this,” Aria said. She plopped down into the desk chair in front of the laptop, and Leo knelt down to match her height. “I can’t live and work in a city where this is happening. So I’ve started designing a new one.”

Aria had been researching urban planning when she’d come across a page with the video. She had other windows open, in which Leo saw the skeleton of a city emerging from her mind.

“This is what you submitted to NU,” he realized. “Underwater city, international waters, mobile in emergencies. Super-Leviathans connected together.”

“That proposal had some serious flaws,” Aria admitted. She tapped her head gently. “Your gift helped me spot those. This won’t be perfect. But it’s a foundation, something we can build from.”

“This is a pretty big space.” Leo looked at the outline. “You’ve got room for thousands of people. You expecting to throw a lot of parties?”

Aria smiled gently. “You don’t know, do you, silly.”

Leo turned in surprise. “Know what?”

“Word got around, among Atlantis’ human captives, among the Blood, even some of those True Atlanteans. The way you, an outsider, came to Atlantis, impressed the Emperor, rescued the human hostages, fought for their freedom. Your sacrifices. Your fight with Saito. You’ve become something of a legend. So naturally, when I asked some of the Atlantean refugees about underwater living - I expect they’d know, better than anyone - and your name came up, thousands of them expressed an interest in helping. They want to live there.”

“Th-thousands?” Leo asked in shocked surprise. “But how are we going to–”

“Shhh.” Aria laid a soothing hand on his shoulder. “This isn’t your problem to solve.”

Leo acceded with only a bit of grumpiness. “Okay. I’m gonna trust the logistics will be handled. And the security angles. And–” He caught a disapproving glance from his new bride, and smiled sheepishly. “I’ll trust you.”

Aria smiled, satisfied. “Good. You should. Because I’m doing what you say to do in times of need. I’m connecting with people. We’re going to be self-sufficient down there. But we are not going to be isolated. We’re going to be an alternative to this Rex Tyran and his ‘New Tomorrow’. We’re going to be better.”

“Have a name for this place yet?” Leo asked.

Aria beamed. “For an underwater shelter? There’s only one good name. Safe Harbor.”

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“That sphere is an Atlantean terror weapon,” the captain of the USS Gerald Ford announced over the intercom. “You are to do your utmost to destroy it.”

The task force surrounding the jet-black sphere, motionless in the water, had no problem targeting it with their weapons. Everything, from overflying aircraft to submarine torpedoes, was to be directed at one spot, and everything hit its mark.

The sphere sank. But it took far longer than anyone aboard the flagship had anticipated.

Standing next to the captain was General Houston. He reached for the phone, called a number, and got a response.

“Mr. Quill. Your friend’s latest prototype took eight minutes and thirty two seconds of sustained fire. I think you’ve got a winner.”

Jason’s voice came over the call. “General, according my friend, what we’ve got is only the beginning.”


The live fire exercise served three of the Navy’s goals. First, to get rid of some ordnance that was approaching the end of its life. Second, to help a personal friend of one of the big brass. Third, to see just where it stood against hypertech that might be used by Atlanteans - or others - in the near future.

To the Navy, it had been a success. Crews had performed within expected parameters. Operations went smoothly. They’d sunk their objective. Most significantly, they were getting something else out of this. Being on good terms with whoever could build an underwater city meant a potential base of operations for future Naval activities against aggressive Atlanteans.

To Aria, it was a success of another sort. She’d worked the web of connections she’d built up, both by herself and through Leo and the Menagerie. And with that, she’d made the breakthrough she always wanted. The technology her husband had developed, and of which she was made, was finally coming into its own as a tool for keeping people safe at a large scale. It was serving its purpose.

Whoever lived behind the walls she was building would feel safe. Whoever took shelter in the city she was making would see its strength. Loving someone meant protecting them. She would not stop until that protection was as perfect as it could possibly be.

To be sure, there were plenty of people who’d want this project to fail. Safe Harbor might face opposition from the whole world one of these days. What it represented - peaceful cooperation between hypergeniuses, rescue workers, humans, Atlanteans, and everyone else involved in the project - was a threat to the agendas, and the emotions, of many powerful people.

But looking at who had her back, Aria Newman felt comfortable that the world was a fight she was ready for.

And that’s how Safe Harbor got its start, and what’s happening with the Newmen.

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