401 - Super-pirates on the high seas!

Tasha Starr plays no favorites. She featured the Stellar Six on her show, and today it’s time for Aria Newman. She’ll book anyone who will get people talking - and Aria plans to do just that.

“Can you introduce yourself to our audience, and tell us a little about Safe Harbor?” Tasha asks, all smiles.

The robot girl’s own smile is dazzling. “My name is Aria Newman. My body is robotic, but my heart and soul are as authentically human as anyone. In fact, I recently got married. Together with my husband, we’ve created a place called Safe Harbor. It’s in international waters, under the surface, both for safety and for independence. And now it’s being used as a base for rescue operations, anywhere on the planet.”

Tasha beams back. “Fascinating! Just what does ‘independence’ mean for you?”

Aria is ready. “A few years ago, the Menagerie encountered people living in hopeless conditions in another dimension, the Sepiaverse. Jason Quill spearheaded a worldwide effort to rescue and support people in that world. More recently, the Atlantean refugees have been given those resources. But even so, there’s not enough for everyone.”

“The Sepiaverse, Atlantean-born human beings, victims of natural disasters - everyone in need deserves a place to live and work. Through hyper-tech, aquaculture farming, and more, Safe Harbor aims to shelter people without another place to go.”

Tasha is quick to jump on the most interesting - or controversial - aspect. “Do you expect trouble from either the international community, or Atlantis itself?”

“Certainly.” Aria smiles with confidence. “We’re on the frontiers of international law. But the people who need us the most are those the law isn’t equipped to help right now. What of second or third generation people from Atlantis, whose ancestors were held captive? They have no citizenship to call upon. Few nations even formally recognize Atlantis right now. So we appeal not to the law, but to the common humanity of everyone in the world. Everyone needs a place to call home. Until society catches up with these new developments, we intend to provide one. And we stand ready to protect those people from any aggressor.”

It’s Peter Mancini’s first visit to Safe Harbor since the project began. He’s been working remotely, but now his contributions are done, and he wants to see what has been done with his technology.

The Launch System itself is made up of two major pieces: an outer disc with eight open hangars for vehicles, including launch rails to accelerate them toward the center, and a huge open ring at the center, dubbed the Hula Hoop. The Hula Hoop is built to rotate in multiple dimensions, and can angle itself to face any of the hangars. The entire space wider than multiple football fields. It has to be. The Hula Hoop itself is easily wider than Big Bill’s wingspan at full size, and the rest of the complex must support it.

Leo Snow, looking more like a tattooed thug in mechanic’s coveralls than a high-minded inventor, stands in sharp contrast to the snappily dressed and perfectly coiffed Jason Quill next to him. The trio meet in the heart of the Launch System, and Leo and Jason take turns explaining.

“The system was originally built to recover people from the Sepiaverse,” Jason says. “My nanobots can operate at a quantum level when properly configured, so they can bridge space and dimension. I’ve created personal portals but that’s too limited for our purpose. We needed something that could move a lot of people, safely and quickly.”

“We’re not using nanomachines per se here, but we are using nanotechnology,” Leo says. “The key to travel beyond a traditional spacetime manifold is rotation, so we built the Hula Hoop here. We need a high-density medium to power all that, of course.”

“That’s where plasma comes in,” Peter deduces.

Leo nods vigorously. “Yeah, exactly. Until we’re satisfied that the system can work not only well, but reliably enough for large-scale evacuation, we’re testing it with rescue operations. My graphene tech has great capacity, but distribution is still a problem. So I’m going with whoever and whatever can solve that problem.”

“It’s a general-purpose portal,” Jason explains with a smile. “We’re not sure about time travel - and we don’t really want to try that - but it can cross space and dimensions. There’ll be other uses we discover later. But for now, it’s intended to help people. And you’ve also proven how effective you are at that.”

“Teleportation is the game changer that’ll make Safe Harbor viable,” Leo adds. “We want to stay securely underwater. We want to get a rescue mission to anywhere in the world, but even the fastest rocket could take hours to reach a far-off destination.”

A siren sounds throughout the Launch System, and Otto’s voice comes over the PA. “Gentlemen! Plasma pressure is holding steady at 99%. I think we’re ready for our test run.”

“Okay, Otto,” Leo responds via a walkie-talkie clipped to his belt. “Signal the evacuation. Let’s do it.”

Klaxons blare. Amber emergency lights flare. “Launch System evacuation - Launch System evacuation - Launch System evacuation,” comes the warning voice. Aria had recorded it, along with several other audio clips, in readiness for this day. When Aria speaks, everyone in Safe Harbor listens.

Everyone? Already, the city has inhabitants. Some of Atlantis’ human refugees have found their way here, whether for lack of a place to live on the surface, or a life-long acclimation to living underwater. Otto and his team have employed them as laborers and specialists in constructing the Launch System.

Now, every one of these people has left the enormous chamber. This is important, for two reasons. First, under normal circumstances the Hula Hoop could open portals to other places and spaces with differing air pressures, or even portals underwater, and the sudden pressure difference in the chamber could injure or kill an unprotected human being.

Second, nobody had any idea whether the system would function under “normal circumstances” yet.

“Plasma pressure to 120%,” Otto reports from his own monitoring station, down in the guts of the Launch System. From the safety of the control room high above, Leo, Jason, and Peter can see the Hula Hoop itself begin to spin and orient. The metal disc is rotating in place, sending vibrations through the structure, and at the same time pivots on its base toward one of the eight hangars.

A CARTEX exploration drone rolls out of its hangar. The electrified rail system begins warming up, ready to send it hurtling into the center of the Hula Hoop. The giant ring itself, meanwhile, is spinning faster and faster, shaking as though in anticipation.

“Ignition,” comes Otto’s voice. The Hula Hoop is engulfed in white light, as the mass of plasma contained in the spinning ring transfers the totality of its energy to the portal systems. As the light fades, natural sunlight shines through into the Launch System - sunlight from miles above them, and miles away.

“Launch drone,” Otto announces. The rail system fires the automated vehicle directly at the Hula Hoop, achieving incredible speed in seconds. Through the portal, the observers can see it disappear into the distance.

A minute passes. “Transceiver signal is being picked up by the exterior balloon, and through the Hula Hoop,” Otto reports over the comm system. “The time difference is accounted for by the speed of light. In other words, gentlemen, we did it!”

Two minutes later, as the trio are celebrating and chatting, an emergency call comes through.

A super-tanker, carrying thousands of tons of international cargo, is under attack. It’s not the first, either. A string of incidents, looking for all the world like 21st century piracy, have made the news lately. Worse, plenty of people are assuming the Atlanteans are behind it. There’s no human beings observed during the attacks - just giant sea creatures, or something that looks like them - that capsize the ships and take hold of their cargo.

Otto’s eager, urgent voice comes over the comms. “Plasma pressure is at 45%, boss. We could close down the portal, retarget, it’d only take a couple minutes.”

“Are you sure it’s safe?” Peter asks. “The plasma readings looked good, but the rest of the system…?”

Otto answers this. “I know if we don’t act now, or soon, the world’s gonna turn against the Atlanteans again. This is more than just a rescue mission. We gotta do this for world peace.”

Leo nods. “Agreed. Otto, this is your operation. It’s your call. But I think you’re making the right play.”

The call goes out. “Big Bill! Mo! We’re doing this for real! Strap in!”

The whole Launch System is a work in progress, with cables snaking around the complex, tools and spare parts littering the floor, and unfinished areas or empty sockets waiting for attention. From the control room, the three young men can see the robots exiting their operations center and rushing to their respective hangars, dodging or vaulting over these obstacles.

“Otto - ready!” “Mo - yo.” “Big Bill, rarin’ to go!” The signals of readiness come in one by one. Leo takes over as launch operator, while Jason and Peter observe.

“Plasma pressure rising to 89%,” he reports. “92%…95%…”

The old portal snaps shut. At 100% pressure, Leo stabs his finger down on the activation button. The Hula Hoop blossoms into a brilliant new portal. One by one, a huge Boeing jet and two flying cars are shot at tremendous speed through it, and toward an unknown confrontation.

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The scene at sea is chaos.

Most cargo ships fly a flag of convenience. Like almost a quarter of the world’s cargo ships by tonnage, the MSC Karina flies the flag of Panama. Like many such ships, it’s almost fully automated. There’s only a handful of people onboard. They handle mechanical breakdowns in the automation, and perform interactions with port authorities or law enforcement as needed.

Right now, they’re huddled on the bridge. The captain is desperately trying to get the ship moving, but something underwater has grabbed hold of the vessel. The radio operator is repeating the SOS, relaying information as it comes in. If they sink, at least someone else will learn more. The engineer and mechanics are working on the systems, in the hope that whatever has them can be shaken off or dislodged somehow.

This isn’t the first such act of piracy. A small fleet of Portuguese gunboats were sent to accompany the Karina. Now they are either sinking or damaged, by the same unseen underwater force. Their crews are evacuating in lifeboats, but not everyone was able to make it into one. The radio man aboard Karina is relaying these details to anyone who’ll listen.

As Big Bill flies in a lazy arc around the scene, he can see the situation. His cameras in turn relay data back to Safe Harbor’s operations room.

“What happens now?” Jason asks.

“Otto’s the field leader,” Leo explains. “If he needs something, we deploy it from here. But otherwise he runs the show.”

Sure enough, Otto is right behind Big Bill. He transforms from flying car into standing robot, coming down on top of the containers stacked aboard the Karina’s top deck. “We’re gonna get those gunboats first,” he orders. “Mo, grapples. Grab hold of the lifeboats and drag them together. Bill, grapple the boats and get 'em out of the water so stragglers can get topside. Get the ones that sunk the furthest.”

“'K.” “Wilco!” Otto’s rescue teammates respond quickly, and work just as quickly at their assignments.

“Base, how’s plasma pressure? How long we got?” Otto radios back.

In the operations center, Leo checks the readings. “Two minutes twelve seconds before we have to close the portal.”

Otto does math in his head. It doesn’t look good. “Not enough time to do the rescue and get people through.”

He makes an executive decision. “Base, deploy the Sled.”

In answer to Jason and Peter looking questioningly, Leo is about to reply. But a new voice cuts in.

“Put me in, coach. I’m ready to play.”

The three men turn.

The woman standing there is Summer, but she doesn’t look like they’re used to. In place of her old hairstyle, she’s got long rainbow-colored tresses, done back in a ponytail. She’s wearing a crop-top, jean shorts, and knee-high boots, with a flight jacket and sunglasses rounding out the picture.

While Jason gawks and Peter blinks, Leo takes it in stride. “I see a hangar assignment with your name on it. Got a secret you’ve been hoping to spring on us?”

“Yep. Sounds like the boys will be busy,” Summer flashes a sassy smile. “So I’m lending a hand.”

“Okay, get on down there.” Leo gets back on the radio. “Otto, Radiance is incoming with the Sled. I’ll be closing the portal behind her so we can build plasma pressure back up.”


The Hula Hoop can’t be rotated while it’s in operation, but it doesn’t need to be. The entire outer disc can rotate too, and it does so now to bring two hangars into alignment.

The first holds the Sled - the team’s name for an unmanned craft, built like a flat-bottomed barge, holding a variety of rescue tools and supplies such as first-aid kits and inflatable lifeboats. It can float or be towed, set down struts and self-balance during earthquakes or avalanches, and otherwise act as a mobile base in the field.

“Launching Sled,” Leo announces, and the rails propel the vehicle at incredible speed through the yawning portal.

The second hangar swings into alignment with the Hula Hoop. The craft that emerges looks superficially like a Phoenix - a sleek fighter aircraft - with Summer at the controls.

“Launching Chariot,” she calls, and remotely operates the launch system. With a flare of jets, her personal craft follows. Leo hesitates for just a moment, then hits the button to disengage the portal. The Hula Hoop, with an audible thunk, begins to power down. Coolant begins racing through the pipes, preparing the mighty device for another use.

Out at sea, Summer checks her cockpit indicators. “Otto, I’m here,” she reports. “The Sled made it through and is en route to you. Whatcha got for me?”

“Good to have you, sunshine. There’s something underwater that’s messing with the boats,” Otto says. “Get down there and check it out.”

“Wilco,” she replies.

As the ships come into view outside her cockpit, Summer angles the Chariot upward, into a lazy spiral. She comes out of it when the craft is pointed straight down, and dives into the ocean.

Sonar replaces radar, but the water is still shallow enough that visible light works too. Immediately she can see the problem. Satisfied for the moment, she directs the Chariot back out of the water. It jets skyward, and she calls in what she saw. “There’s about a dozen big, uh, kraken type things here. Big 20,000 Leagues vibes. Sonar says they’re too solid to be living things. Armored, maybe?”

“Clear 'em away from the gunboats,” Otto orders. “Karina isn’t sinking, not yet, but it’s probably just a matter of time.”


Summer directs the Chariot into its transformation sequence. Like the Phoenix before it, the craft has multiple modes. This one is humanoid. But unlike the armored fighting form of the Phoenix, it has a distinctively feminine outline - it looks not unlike Summer herself, including a helmeted head whose face bears a striking resemblance.

The transformed Chariot falls naturally into the ocean. Once there, Summer - now interfaced more directly, and able to move as naturally as she’d move her own body - engages underwater thrusters.

She body-checks one of the kraken, and spots its tentacles whipping around to enclose her.

Drones the size of basketballs launch from the Chariot and take up position around her. Like her personal butterflies, they can emit force fields, but their limited power supplies mean they can’t do it for long. Summer’s ARCANE shell included energy weapons provided by Leonardo Taitale, the Leo of a parallel reality. She has now solved two problems - the engineering challenge of powering the drones, and the ethical challenge of incorporating weapons - with a single solution.

The Chariot has energy emitters too. But it directs energy from its prodigious banks of graphene accumulators, strengthening and reinforcing the drones. Thus bolstered, force fields snap into existence around the Chariot, and the kraken’s tentacles are blocked by walls of light.

Secure for the moment, Summer considers her options. She’s at an impasse against a single kraken. But there’s at least a dozen.

Maybe weapons would have been a good idea…

A sudden indicator on her controls gets her attention. “Otto!” she calls urgently. “Rising magnetic flux! This thing has some kind of magnetic field!”

On the surface, Otto is taking care of rescuing the gunboat sailors who were trapped belowdecks when their craft went down. “Acknowledged,” he calls back. “Robots, maybe?”

Several of the free krakens dart to one side of the container ship’s submerged hull. They clamp onto the metal hull magnetically, and begin exerting underwater thrust of their own.

“They’re going to tip it over!” Summer shouts urgently.

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Otto thinks very fast. The gunboats are a loss, but their crews aren’t. The container ship is still salvageable - but its crew comes first.

He catches sight of something. The men on the gunboats awaiting rescue are yelling up at Big Bill. He’s not sure what they’re saying, but after watching their gestures - cutting motions with the hands, fingers pointed down - he gets the gist.

“Bill, cut loose,” he barks over comms. “Stabilize the container ship.”

“But these guys–” the big jet argues.

“They’re in the same business as us,” Otto yells back. “Protecting the container ship. They know the deal.”

The men who’ve made it to the deck of the gunship dive overboard as Bill’s grapples come loose. The vessel falls to the ocean’s surface with a jarring jolt. Privately Otto hopes everyone made it off. That fall would have been a kick in the teeth to anyone. But he hasn’t time to worry about this.

“Mo, status,” he says.

“Dropping folks off on the Sled,” the laconic rescue vehicle reports.

“Good. Hustle back here, get the container ship crew off and safe.”


Otto himself vaults over the railing of the container ship. He comes down feet first on one of the robo-kraken. Unfortunately it does nothing to dislodge the beast - the magnetic lock it’s got on the hull is too strong.

Overhead, Bill positions himself nose-first against the other side of the container ship. Slowly his jets’ intensity rises, as he gauges what it’ll take to counteract the krakens’ efforts without also crushing the ship or tipping it the other way.

“Summer, can your drones dislodge the krakens’ magnetism?” he calls.

“It’s electron synthesis, so…” Summer brightens up immediately. “Yeah! Let’s trade dance partners.”

Otto swims rapidly to where Summer is now fending off four krakens. Grabbing hold of one, he puts its tentacles into a wrestling lock and pulls. The beast comes free.

“Looks like we’re not metal enough for their magnets,” he jokes. “And me a heavy metal fan.”

The Chariot takes advantage of the opening, and swims toward the beleaguered container ship. The drones zip between each kraken and the hull, and engage their force fields at full power. Bolstered by the Chariot’s galvanizing power beams, they set up a screen of counter-magnetic force. The krakens come free of the hull as though pried off by an invisible crowbar.

Up top, the container ship rocks violently as Big Bill’s thrust suddenly becomes the only thing pushing on it. The jet is almost too slow to back off.

Mo, in the middle of getting everyone on deck, grapples himself to the deck to stay steady. But several of the human crew are tossed about, and two are flung overboard. In an instant, more of his grapples lash out, catching hold of the pair.

He feels, rather than sees, them thump against the hull as their falls are arrested by the hooks. Before he dares retract the lines, he points down at the crew. “Check 'em,” he directs.

The crew rush to the side of the ship and look down. Both men are dangling from the cables, but both are okay - no bones broken, both conscious from the look of it. The ship’s captain gives Mo the thumb’s up, and he takes the signal to reel his cables back in - carefully.

Summer can block individual kraken, even several at a time, but Otto will be swarmed by the rest as long as he’s down here. Under the water. With the kraken. Who are good at being underwater–

“Big Bill!” she calls. “I’m sending you the comm code for one of my drones. Target its position with your grapples! We’re going fishing!”

The jet can hover, and lines up its industrial-strength grappling lines at the indicated position. They splash through the surface, streak down into the shallows where Otto is fighting, and grab hold of the nearest, biggest thing in the way - a kraken.

The giant machine emerges with a wave from the ocean, drawn upwards, its tentacles flailing. “What do I do with it?” Big Bill asks awkwardly.

“Get rid of it!” Otto shouts. “Just… throw it somewhere!”


“Crew’s safe,” Mo reports.

“Fine! Get back to the gunboat crews! Get 'em to the Sled, ASAP!”


The Sled continues sailing in a distant orbit around the scene. The people already on board are joined by a fresh batch of gunboat sailors as Mo lands on the deck with a flare of jets. From here, they can see a monstrous mecha-kraken, hauled out of the ocean by the Boeing 747 which came to their aid. The jet takes to the sky, engines incandescent with energy, and it launches the flailing beast into the far distance, like a rock flung from a bolas.

“We got a plan here?” Big Bill asks.

“Be a nuisance. Get 'em pissed enough at us, then fight 'em until they stop moving,” Otto growls.

Back in the control room at Safe Harbor, Jason has gotten bored of remaining idle, and has started analyzing data coming in from the Sled. “It looks like there’s transmissions between the kraken 'bots and some kind of operator,” he reports. “I think I can break in on that frequency.”

“Can we disrupt their controls?” Leo asks.

“Probably not - they seem to be able to operate autonomously from the looks of it. But it’s using WebRTC3 and KMAT audio-video protocol layers. The inventor wants to be able to speak through the krakens, maybe to deliver demands to hostages? Maybe we can use that figure out who’s behind this.”

Leo nods. “Sounds good.”

Jason does some quick hacking via the console, and a nearby view-screen is filled with the visage of a sneering cyborg.

Jason recognizes him immediately. “Doctor Sidorov!”

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The supercilious super-scientist smirks from the screen. “Jason Quill. And I assume other luminaries of the American young hero cadre. You’re making a nuisance of yourselves. Just let me have the cargo and I’ll show forbearance enough to not destroy your robot friends.”

“My friends are gonna wreck your shit,” Leo boasts. He glances at Jason, realizing he’s missing some important data. “Hey, who is this jerkoff?”

Jason fills in willingly. “Dr. Aleksei Sidorov. Former lieutenant of Achilles Chin. We had a run-in in Moscow last year.”

Leo nods, and turns back to the screen. “You’re stealing cargo from ships and hoping the world concludes it’s the Atlanteans. So that’s your play?”

“Ingenious, isn’t it!” Sidorov gloats. “The paranoid fools in world governments fell for it, as they say, hook, line, and sinker. And while you may tell the world about me, there will be many who don’t want to believe it.”

“You’re threatening a delicate diplomatic situation for personal gain,” Jason scowls. “You have to be stopped.”

Sidorov cackles. “Ah, but at what cost?”

The krakens are slippery opponents, for their sheer size and power. Big Bill has enough raw power to do serious damage to them, if he can grab hold of one - but the others keep swarming him, forcing him onto the defensive.

Mo and Otto can tackle krakens one on one. But there’s still a dozen of the mecha-pirates, and three of the Garage’s boys. There’s even enough krakens for one to attach itself to the hull again, and reach tentacles upward to try and grab hold of the shipping containers on deck.

“Hey, Otto,” Summer calls over the radio. “Think it’s time?”

“Hmmm…” Otto turns this over in his mind, all the while throwing furious punches at the kraken accosting him. “We’re in the safest place for an untested system. Mo, recovery status?”


Otto takes this in, even as a tendril has wrapped itself around his throat. Not that it matters - he doesn’t need to breathe - but the human fear of asphyxiation is still with him, and he fights back with desperate fury. “Yeah. Do it.”

Summer calls back to the base. “Leo, do we have plasma pressure?”

Leo takes a moment from exchanging barbs with Sidorov to check. “Yeah, 105%. We can pick up the Sled any time you’re ready.”

“Nope, we’re not doing that,” she reports. “We’re deploying Apollo.”

On cue, an indicator lights up on the panel. It’s Leo’s to press.

He heard Otto’s assent. And he trusts Summer. He hammers the button.

The Hula Hoop lights up again. The Launch System rotates around, as the big ring spins up to teleport something somewhere. The hangar labeled “Apollo” comes into alignment. And as the portal erupts into existence, the system launches Apollo to its destination.

“Where’s that thing going?” Leo asks.

“The Sun,” Summer answers.

The Chariot launches itself out of the water, and deploys all its drones. Their force screens snap on at maximum power.

“The Hula Hoop is plasma powered. The sun is plasma. Apollo is a smaller backup Hula Hoop, self-powered,” the girl explains, as her own systems are powering up in readiness.

Out in space, almost within the corona of the Solar System’s star, a disk emerges from a portal. In the Base, there’s an unbearable flare of light, just for a moment, before that side of the portal snaps shut.

“Apollo beams solar energy back to my drones. The emitters in the drones send it to me. For about three minutes, I’ve got the strength of the sun.”

“And after three minutes?” Leo asks worriedly.

“The Apollo module burns up and we build another one?” Summer says, hopefully.

Meanwhile, the drones are soaking up the unfettered might of a star, and transmitting it back along the lines of force to the Chariot. Summer sees the readings spiking.

I’d better put some of this to use, before I burn up too.

“Big Bill! Toss em!”

“Will do, miss Summer!” the cowboy jet robot responds.

One by one, as the krakens swarm him, Bill hurls one out of the water with a jet-assisted leap. While it might take him time to tear one apart, Summer does not have that luxury.

The Chariot glows a yellow-orange as the energy transfer beams decollimate to avoid burning out. Summer burns at maximum thrust toward the kraken as it arcs through the air. Shields are at 600% output - velocity is off the charts.

There’s a succession of booms as the Chariot breaks the sound barrier. A solar-powered missile, it tears bodily through the first kraken. Scraps and bits of the broken mecha-pirate fall to the ocean surface.

“Again!” Summer shouts.

“Not so fast!” Sidorov yells in return.

Before Big Bill can grab another of the units, the whole pack swims away from him. The ones Otto and Mo are tangling with also disengage.

One by one, they form a line, head to tail. Magnetic interlocks connect them. What was once a swarm of separate units has become -

“Behold the Magnetic Millipede!” shouts Sidorov.

The combined unit rises - towers, really - over the container ship. Even over Big Bill.

“Wouldn’t that be a decipede, because it has like ten legs instead of a thousand?” Otto asks.

“Stop mocking my accomplishments with pedantry!” Sidorov screams. “Millipede, destroy that rescue vehicle!”

The mega-mecha turns toward the Sled, smashing through a few of the remaining gunboats like they were so much kindling. Already it’s sailing out of range, but it can’t outpace the colossal collection of kraken.

“No, no, no, no, no,” Otto growls.

Summer tries a repeat of her attack - but the sea monster’s powerful magnetic fields send her veering off course, and the creature takes no damage. Though her shell is made of carbon, the fields protecting it are basically electromagnetic. Without them, she’d suffer severe damage on impact.

Mo speaks up. “Yo. Magnets have poles, yeah?”

Otto takes up the thought. “Yeah! The head and tail of the beast should both be magnetized, north and south… How about it, Big Bill? Can you wrestle 'em together? If he does, Summer, think you can make a dent?”

“Sure will!” comes the big jet’s answer.

“I’ll try!” adds Summer.

Otto and Mo launch themselves on rockets, intercepting the Millipede. Although its strong magnetism keeps them from landing a punch, force goes both ways - as long as they keep their rockets going, they can resist the Millipede’s progress.

This is enough time for Big Bill to wade through the ocean, grab hold of the thing’s aft segments, and drag it under the water.

“Rope that bronco!” shouts Otto, jetting down to assist.

“Yeehaw!” Bill echoes.

“Yay,” Mo deadpans.

Summer, meanwhile is checking her gauges. 38 seconds left… “Guys, surface that thing. I have one more clever idea.”

The combined might of Otto, Mo, and Bill pushes the magnetic ouroboros to the surface of the water. The Chariot’s emitters become flooded with solar energy. Trapped as they are, the individual kraken can’t evade the attack. And the magnetic field will only serve to attract the plasma…

Radiance, in the last moments of her power-up, swings a blinding blade of energy lengthwise around the Magnetic Millipede. Sliced open to their cores, the units explode.

Out in space, the Apollo unit gives way to the fiery fury of the sun. The refractory materials held out as long as Summer had calculated, but nothing can draw on such power and survive long. The portal snaps shut, and the Chariot dives into the water to radiate away the remainder of its accumulated heat before the whole unit overloads - or melts.

“You haven’t seen the last of Sidorov!” shouts the defeated scientist. Then the connection dies, with the last kraken’s explosion.

Summer ejects from the Chariot, just in case. She and Otto fly back to the Sled, while Big Bill takes off to scout around and make sure no further surprises are in store.

Mo is already on the Sled, and reports.

Karina needs to dock for seaworthiness inspection, according to the Captain here.”

Otto nods, and turns his attention to the container ship’s captain and crew. “This thing was originally entrusted to you, gentlemen. How’d we do, taking care of things for you?”

The Captain looks at the others, and back at the big car-robot. He grins. “We lost no cargo. Only hours of time. Our employers will be happy we survived. And we get risk bonuses. You have done well.”

Otto salutes, and grins at his companions. “Happy to be of service, Captain.”

The crew, including the rescued gunboat personnel, are loaded back aboard the Karina. The Chariot is pulled out of the ocean and hauled onto the Sled in its place.

Back at base, Leo operates the portal system to bring the crew home. The return trip leaves the Launch System briefly flooded, before pumps manage to drain the water out of the chamber. Summer and the boys work to catch a few flopping fish that somehow made the journey with them, and throw them back through the portal.

As things shut down, Peter Mancini gets Leo’s attention.

“This Apollo system… if I understand this, the unit was able to survive the heat of the Sun for several minutes?”

“Looks that way. Why?”

Peter smiles. “We’ve already talked about the use of plasma technology here at Safe Harbor. I’d like to license that tech to you, in trade for whatever materials you used to build that module.”

“I’m handling the business end of things,” comes Aria’s voice. The woman herself walks into the control room, all smiles, and Leo briefly hugs her before nodding in agreement. The three of them retreat to another room to talk about the details.

Summer is next into the control room. She smiles and waves at Jason. “Hey! What did you think?”

“You all did great out there,” Jason enthuses. “That was quite a display. And very fitting with your ‘Radiance’ theme.”

“Thank you! I have a lot of work to do, though. The systems worked, but now they’re damaged or destroyed, and I’ve got to rebuild…” Summer scowls.

Jason shakes his head and smiles. “Hey now. You did great. Be proud of that.”

“Thank you.”

The pair share a brief, friendly hug, and Jason gets on his way.

Back at the Quill Compound, Jason makes a phone call.

After a moment, he hears the call connect, and the voice. “Jenny Byrne here - hello there, Mr. Quill! Finally calling me up for a date, m’dear?”

“I need to know about Sidorov,” Jason says, matter-of-factly. “He’s been engaging in piracy at sea, and it’s probably for the best if we track down where he’s at and put him away. So I need your help.”

“Such assistance is best rendered in person. I’ll put on something daring and be right over. And I expect you to be appreciative.”

The call clicks off. Jason turns and sees both Alycia Chin and the Mirror, standing in identical poses, arms crossed, looking darkly at him and drumming their fingers on their forearms.

They reviewed their performance in the field. They participated remotely in the inquest with MSC’s lawyers and technical team, and even submitted video data of their rescue operation. Although Safe Harbor’s legal situation is still ambiguous, nobody on the call objected to the rescue. And with Sidorov’s mecha destroyed, there shouldn’t be any piracy for awhile. And now everyone gets to enjoy some peace and quiet. Until…

Otto and the boys are working on repairing the Launch System for the next job when Summer bursts in. “Emergency,” she says breathlessly. “It’s time.”

Everyone drops everything, and runs at top speed.

They make their way to another part of the city, dubbed the Nursery. The entire area is one huge holo-emitter farm, set up so that hard-light projections can recreate any environment that can be programmed into its computers. Right now, it’s projecting a featureless white room.

Aria smiles as the others enter, and waves. Summer and Otto can see her physical shell, plugged into the Nursery’s systems off in one corner - this Aria is a hologram. Leo is here too, fretting and pacing.

“The connectome has been building for months now,” Aria explains. “Not a fusion of Leo and myself. More like a mashup, taking something good from each - and more critically, taking sensory input from us as well, using our experiences to seed new mental elements.”

“We’ve run every test and the connectome is viable and healthy.” Aria wrings her hands. “I kept thinking, maybe I should try something else, but at the same time, there’s so much unknown here anyway. So… we decided that it’s time.”

The system processes. Somewhere, data about a human brain pattern is downloaded into a prototype synthetic brain. Somewhere, a holographic model of a human infant connects to that brain’s nervous system.

A baby materializes in Aria’s arms. It starts to cry, and Aria begins cooing and mothering it immediately.

Leo steps up, and wraps a proud arm around his holographic wife’s shoulder. “Ladies and gentlemen, I present… Fez Newman.”

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Probably the least dramatic birth ever. The Newmans have a new member of the family, and Sidorov’s plans have been foiled. Safe Harbor’s rescue mission seems like it’s going to work out!

Letters to the editor:

You named the kid Fez?

Leo: it’s short, distinctive, pronounceable, and temporary. Anyone who hears that name knows they’re dealing with someone unique. Or at least who has weird parents, which I’ll own up to.

Aria: like Fez’s gender, their name is unknown and ultimately up to them. We both expect they’ll want to change it, and we’re absolutely open to having them change it - maybe repeatedly.


For reference, the top looks something like this:

Hopefully the personnel transfer systems are more OSHA-compliant than some of those T’bird launch sequences. Yikes.

Btw, including that video gave me a great sound-track over the rest of the activation sequence (as intended). Plus IR blurs neatly into a rescue mission vs. pirates!

(I loved T’birds as a kid, and very much enjoyed the newest incarnation, even though I think they never finished showing the third series here in the US.)

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Of course not.


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