307 - Reinvention

Summer was sure this conversation would not go well. But, like many things that haven’t gone smoothly in her life, she told herself it was necessary.

She waited until Alycia was home, and asked to come in.

“I wanted to let you know that, um, well, a few things,” she began lamely.

“You’re doing your evasive serious voice,” Alycia remarked. “Must be important.”

Summer rubbed the tips of her fingers together nervously. “Yes, well, it is. First, um, I’ve resolved something about myself.”

“Go on.”

“I’m going to live openly as a robot, from now on. That means telling my coworkers. That means, I dunno, embracing the identity openly. I’m not going to make a big deal of it. But around people I know, like at a job, I suppose.”

Alycia listened patiently. “And Radiance? Do you still have a secret identity?”

“Hmm, I thought about that. I think… Well, I think I’m gonna go public with that. The way Leo did. I’ve already cleared this with Aria, because people think we’re twins, and anything I come out as, affects her, sooo…”

Alycia’s next words caught Summer off guard. “You’re moving out.”

“Ye-yes. I wanted to tell you why, though.”

“For my safety and comfort, I assume,” Alycia said.

Summer nodded. “Well, and also, if or when nosy people come round the house because they’ve tracked me down, that they don’t out you and your background. So–”

“So you think you’re protecting me,” Alycia said, finishing the sentence.

“I’m trying. But at the same time, you know…” Summer’s hands kept rubbing themselves together in apprehension. “I get something about this. I want to apologize. Because I know if I do this, you’re gonna feel like, you know, you’re being left behind, abandoned, and I really don’t want you to feel like I’m doing that to you. I want to stay in touch somehow, but not endanger you, because I’ll be public and you don’t really wanna do that–”

Alycia held up a hand. “Summer, you’re babbling.”

“Sorry.”

The other girl ran hands through her dark hair, drawing it back into a ponytail. Deftly she grabbed for a scrunchy and bound it in place. And then she smiled, and Summer let out a sigh of relief.

“I am going to feel abandoned. I can’t help it. But I can master it. You’ve done a lot to rehabilitate my experience with robots. This is important to you. So go do it. Don’t worry about me.”

She stood up, and started pulling brushes and bottles of paint off storage racks, and packing them away in a fishing tackle box. “Did I tell you about the new thing?”

“New thing?”

“Jason and I. We’re…” It was Alycia’s turn to stumble. “We were kind of on the ropes, relationship wise. So we’ve started doing a new thing together. Art. Did you ever read ‘Das Glasperlenspiel’ by Hermann Hesse? ‘The Glass Bead Game’ in English?”

“Err, no,” Summer managed with a weak smile.

“It’s utopian fiction. Not my usual taste. In some sense it’s a parody of biographical works, and honestly utopia often strikes me as parodic by nature. But Hesse’s anti-Fascist views and his ideas about an intellectual society dedicated to building a synthesis of art and science resonate with me. It’s sort of what hypergeniuses do in real life. Jason and I realized that we’ve got too much damage in our past to build a relationship based on that. So… I think you could say we’re exploring creating something new, together. We’re creating a synthesis of photography, painting, music, poetry, sculpture, all kinds of arts. Sort of like multimedia storytelling. We’re creating a little garden for our weary souls, if you’ll forgive a trite poetic metaphor. A place our old lives aren’t welcome to intrude.”

Summer beamed. “That sounds amazing, Alycia.”

“I’m telling you this to let you know I won’t be alone.” Alycia smiled weakly. “But also because you’re my friend, and friends share. And because, well, you’re finding yourself too, and I wanted to let you know you aren’t alone in that.”

Summer wanted to hug her roommate in gratitude. Alycia saw the incoming motion and waved it away. They settled for what had become a compromise between them at times like this - a firm, but brief, hand grip, more than a handshake, just enough physical contact to acknowledge an emotional connection.


Where should she live? Where could she live?

She could live anywhere, honestly.

She remembered Pneuma’s time away from Leo. At that time, she’d had a thoroughly mechanical body, instantly recognizable as a robot. At that time, living openly would have been a necessity, not a choice.

She’d stayed under bridges, and in junkyards. She’d climbed buildings and watched people from the rooftops, concealed among the HVAC units and antenna clusters and other machinery. She’d put on a coat, or cloak, or tarp - anything that would cover her - and crouched in the rain, watching people regard her with the same dehumanizing gaze as any other homeless person.

She’d been as free as she could have ever been. But she’d gone back to Leo.

Not this time.

Walking the city streets, she judged her options. Studio apartments. Abandoned buildings. Alleys.

She settled for using her holograms to create a weatherproof shack at the end of one particularly dark alleyway. Her drones, when they ran low on energy, would swap out for fresh ones. As long as the shack didn’t have to tank an explosion or something, it would last indefinitely.

Inside the shack, she projected her VR workroom into reality. A bed over here, a virtual computer terminal over there, and enough ambient heat from her drones to give the sensation of home.

She threw herself down on the illusionary bed, and slept, and dreamed.

Leo was still in therapy, but Aria had time to see what Summer wanted to show her.

Aria sat attentively through the slideshow presentation of a new shell idea, including power theme, super and civilian looks, estimated power capacity, and more. And her first comment was both disappointing and amusing.

“I see you’re making the boobs bigger.”

“Really?” Summer demanded. “That’s what you got out of all this?”

Aria held up her hands. “First, I’m not complaining. It just means I have to change too.”

“You don’t have to keep looking like me, you know,” Summer said.

Aria smiled. “But I like to. I like having a twin sister. It means a lot that we have this connection.”

She went on, more seriously. “I want to talk about what you haven’t changed. Your face and contours are still the same.”

Summer blinked. “So?”

Aria smiled, gently but with that undercurrent of impatience Summer sometimes noticed at times like this, when the other girl had something she wanted to teach. “It’s the face and form of a girl who’s still 16. Leo’s 19. He’ll be 20 soon. Most people grow into their bodies gradually. As robots, we don’t. And it’ll set people off to see us change too rapidly. So in one sense, you’re saving me a lot of effort if I follow your cues on appearance. It’ll mean facing more discrimination, but it also means not rebuilding our shells every week just to make a couple millimeters’ worth of aging adjustments.”

“Well… Okay?” Summer asked. “So which do you prefer? How would you do it?”

Aria threw up her hands and laughed. “I gave up. For raising a child, we’re using Gen 4 VR at 1:1 time. My child is going to be a hologram for the first X years of their life - number to be determined.”

She grinned. “I have you to thank for that, by the way.”

Summer smiled and blushed at the praise. “Well, I’ve got to be the best aunt I can.”

She gestured back at her own presentation. “So what about this? I can’t be all holographic.”

Aria cupped her chin between thumb and forefinger. “No, you’re right. And I’m stalling, because I don’t have a good answer to the problem I dumped in your lap. How to age gracefully as a robot. You’ve got mecha-medica nanotechnology, but from the sound of it, that just rebuilds you back to how you were. It would be nice if it could keep tweaking you toward how you will be…”

Summer frowned briefly. She didn’t like the thought of going back to Jason right this moment, to ask him to develop more technology for her–

“And looking at your choice of clothing, you’re on the prowl,” Aria remarked.

“What?”

Aria clicked the presentation back a few slides. “Crop top, short shorts, hair decs. You’re showing off a lot more skin than before.”

Summer could have mounted any number of defenses. She didn’t get cold. She could wear what she wanted. All she could do against Aria was shrug and smile. “So?”

“So it comes off like one of those Disney Channel child stars who decided they need to do an adult film to ‘be grown up’. You wanted my advice, so I think I’ve got some.”

Aria ticked items off on her fingers. “First, I’m not your mom, I’m not going to tell you not to dress that way. But if you are, age up your shell so it’s not creepy. Please.”

“Fine. I will. Next?” This really was good advice, and Summer felt ashamed for not thinking about this earlier.

“Second. You’re gonna hate this. Break ties, take eight months off or something. Travel the world, like you always say you’re going to. Come back all grown up. People who don’t see you every day will let the big changes in appearance slide.”

Summer groused inwardly. Another good suggestion, and sure enough, she hated it. “Fine. But what about being a superhero?”

“Lots of places in the world could use a hero like Radiance,” Aria countered.

“Gnnnngggggggnnnn…”

“Don’t like it, don’t ask me,” Aria sniffed.

“Fine. I’ll think about it. Anything else, mom?”

Aria let that one slide. “Third, whatever you do long-term, have something presentable to wear in a couple months.”

“What’s happening in a couple months?”

Aria’s sudden grin was infectious. “The wedding.”


The closure of Blintzkrieg changed all of Summer’s plans.

Despite her earlier resolve, she didn’t tell them about herself. She listened to Chaima explain her reasoning for closing the shop. She understood it.

She went back to the shack (“shack? hack? A hacking shack?”) and flopped onto her fake bed and reviewed the particulars of her fake life.

She threw what she knew was a temper tantrum. She was glad Alycia wasn’t around, that there’d be no acerbic comments to deflect, no pointed criticisms that she’d have to take. But - but - but - she was trying. Honest to god, she was trying to do something for robots as a whole, and–

A few days later, after word of the closure got to Charlotte, she’d contacted Summer with a proposal.

Half & Half, huh?

It was as good a place as any to hole up for eight months.

Being the senior coffee person was a weird feeling, at first. As she thought through what Charlotte’s project would need, she came to realize how much she really did - and did not - know about the business of running a café.

She knew the particulars of making coffee, preparing food, and cleaning up. She understood all the materials that went into the process. She found she had very little idea how to procure them, and started learning about food-service providers like Sysco, Farmer Brothers, and even PepsiCo.

Charlotte wasn’t interested in going to Jason for funding. Somehow or another, she’d come up with an independent source of income, which Summer didn’t ask about and wasn’t informed about. So the process of getting set up was a combination of buying specialty appliances, looking for contracts for consumables, and sometimes fabricating things like tables and chairs via molecular lathe.

She welcomed the two visitors, Bodark and Vermillion. She introduced herself to them as a robot, in time, as she’d intended to with her coworkers at Blintzkrieg.

“I’m a robot, though I look human. I’m as sentient and intelligent and feeling as anyone else,” she’d said, trying out the rehearsed speech.

“Did you deal vit ze Devil for zis?” the stockier man - Bodark - had asked.

“Err, no?” she’d replied in confusion.

“Zen you are safe,” he’d said, as though that explained anything at all.


She’d tried a polished version of the pitch on the Mirror Alycia, that Jason had somehow picked up on his recent worldwide travels.

"I’m fully sentient, as capable of general human intellectual and emotional activities as any human. More so, in some cases.”

It hadn’t helped, much. Talking about Alycia herself felt like it had accomplished more. But the Mirror had said something at the end. “You speak as though you know what I’m going through.”

Summer had smiled. “I went through it too,” she’d said.

The truth was that she was still going through it. Aria was still ahead of her in maturity. Even Charlotte had struck out on her own, going further than Summer had thought to do by establishing her own actual café.

It was somehow unfair.

She had brains, talent, and drive. She had limitless potential.

I can be anything.

The thought bothered her when it came out of nowhere.

Yes, but you must settle on being something.


The wedding was everything Summer had hoped for.

Not for herself. She wasn’t well and truly over Leo, but at this point she was his good and loyal friend, and she loved her sister, and she loved nothing more than seeing the two of them happy together.

Somehow, though, that feeling of being left behind crept into her mood. When she started crying, not all of the tears were happy.

True to form, Alycia Chin - standing next to her - picked up on the vibe. Summer glanced over to see Alycia’s fists clenching.

Summer didn’t want to talk, but she glanced meaningfully down at the fists, and up at Alycia to gauge her friend’s reaction.

“This is hurting you,” Alycia had silently mouthed back at her, tilting her head at the heart of the ceremony still underway.

Summer realized Alycia’s misapprehension - that she still carried a torch for Leo. She quickly rubbed her eyes free of tears, and shook her head. “It’s okay,” she mouthed.

On the other side of Alycia, Jason caught wind of his companion’s distress. He murmured something into Alycia’s ear, and carefully drew her away.

Whatever he said worked. Summer watched the two of them quietly talking, alternating that with watching the ceremony proper.

She took the opportunity to explain herself at the reception.

“Hon, it wasn’t hurting me. Well. Not like you… well, what did you think it was?”

“You’re jealous of Aria,” Alycia had muttered.

“No. Well. Like you said, yes, I feel it. But I can master it. I promise. It’s just one of those little lingering things people feel, you know? Like, it was a part of me for so long.”

“I don’t like it,” Alycia groused.

Summer had smiled in gratitude for her friend. “Well there’s nothing for it–”

“–Except finding you someone,” Alycia continued.

Summer froze up. Oh god, not this.

“Well, what–”

“Don’t you dare deflect by talking about Jason and I,” Alycia said.

Damn. She really does know me.

“I’m ummm, at a crossroads of life, hon. Living openly as a robot. Or moving toward it. Once I get my new shell, maybe we can talk about that.”

“Fine.” Alycia had conceded that much, and that was that.

Leo’s revelation of the PINNACLE system was a wonder. His collapse was a shock.

Once he was pronounced healthy, Summer turned her attention to the actual device. Like the others, she participated in the consciousness transfer.

It was strange, sitting in an undecorated room, looking at an exact copy of yourself. The setup was meant to ease the transition, but even so it was alien to Summer’s usual experience.

There I am.

That’s me.

Neurons in one brain were replicated to neurons in the other, mediated by the Heart Factory. It was like brain surgery. You could be operated on while fully conscious. In this case, the operation was a brain transplant. Or a reverse transplant? Summer wasn’t sure what you’d call this.

The machine pinged. She blinked, and examined herself. She didn’t feel any different…

But Aria warned everyone to take it easy. So she did.


A few days later, as she was walking outside of Half & Half to get some air, the whole world became unaccountably bright. She felt disoriented for a moment. When she came to, she realized she’d walked off the curb and into a city street.

She’d been hit by a car. The driver was staring down at her. “Are you okay, miss?” he’d asked worriedly.

Summer gave him a groggy, grinning thumbs up. “All good.”

“Are you uh, one of them superhero types, by any chance? You don’t seem hurt in the slightest, but my bumper’s dented.”

“S’fine,” she announced drunkenly. “I’m a robot! Nothing can hurt me. See?” She demonstrated by reaching from the ground for the front axle of the car, still inches from her face, and lifted it inches off the ground for a moment.

“Oh. Well I’m sure glad of that,” the driver said with relief. “Say, any chance you could just call this one a mulligan, sorta laugh it off? I’m already late–”

“Oh sure,” she giggled. “I’m all good.”

She’d hopped up from the ground, wobbled unsteadily, waved off an offered hand, and headed back to Half & Half as best she could.


The adjustment period was indeed rough, as Aria had foretold.

But once it was over, Summer remembered. This is what it felt like! This was the rush!

She had it.

And with it, she was ready to get to work.

Inside her little shack, she began designing the successor to the ARCANE shell she was wearing.

I am going to be someone. I am going to make a choice. I will turn my potential into power.

PINNACLE was Leo’s final gift to his beloved robots. It was the freedom to build a future without ever depending on him.

She was finally ready to do just that.

Summer is getting to work! But what could she be building for herself? We’ll find out when the main series commences.

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While I’m a bit apprehensive about Summer living in an side alley shack (regardless of it meeting all of her immediate needs) I’m looking forward to see what she does with this shake up with her life. I know Summer’s getting a big overhaul with Phase Three, so I’m interested to see what shape that takes after this.

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