406 - The Beast That Blocks Out the Sun!

The restaurant is mostly empty. It’s a good place and time for a private conversation.

“What can I get you girls?” asks the waitress, all smiles.

“Chicken korma,” Alycia says. “Moderately spicy.”

“Chole bhature!” Summer grins. “Maximum spiciness.”

She glances at the waitress for just a moment, thinks about her situation, and clarifies. “If you’re thinking ‘American spiciness’, no. I mean, as spicy as you can possibly make it.”

“Are you sure, honey?” the waitress asks, still smiling, glancing at her American style of attire.

“I’m sure.”

With the waitress gone, Summer gets back to what she was saying. “It’s absolutely okay to come to Safe Harbor. I want you to see Fez. Aria wants you to see Fez too!”

Alycia shakes her head. “I…I appreciate the invitation, as usual. But I’m trying to track down a stolen nuclear submarine. And the thieves, who could be the most dangerous band of mercenaries on the planet.”

Summer smiles slyly. “Sounds like you’re at risk of overwork. You know, every stressful situation calls for an emotional outlet…”

Alycia is ready with a riposte. “You’re not wrong, but I know my limits and will respect them. Besides… I have no intention of becoming a babysitter.”

“I wouldn’t ask you to do that!” Summer insists.

“Your face is easy to read,” Alycia says flatly. “There’s something about this you aren’t telling me.”

“Ehhh… busted.” Summer shrugs and smiles. “Well, it’s not Fez that needs most of the attention. It’s Aria.”

“I am definitely the wrong person for that,” Alycia retorts. “But out of curiosity, and I hope some measure of empathy, what is it that Aria needs?”

Summer sighs, but the smile stays. “She needs reassurance. She’s so worried that she’s going to be a bad mother. She’s trying to take on Leo’s stress too. She’s trying to manage a whole city. She’s fully committed to this Mother Goddess role, but she’s not able to carry the load, as capable as she is. I can see it.”

Alycia slumps ever so slightly. “I’ll think about it. Now. Go ahead and share the baby pictures. I know you want to.”

Summer practically bounces with excitement in her seat. She hands over her phone, already loaded with the gallery. Alycia swipes through picture after picture.

“The child is a holographic projection?” she asks at last. “A human-derived intelligence running in one of your group’s new super-brains?”


Alycia studies the images with attentive eyes. “It all looks…”

She searches for the right word. “Normal.”

Summer’s relief is genuine and evident.

Alycia decides she needs to protect herself from too much more emotional investment, and launches an attack into vulnerable territory. “What doesn’t look normal is your outfit. A crop top and shorts is quite daring, even for you. You’ve got a flirtatious attitude. I saw you wave at those boys on the way in. Perhaps it’s time to help you find a stable, long-term–”

Summer holds up a hand. She’s smiling, but Alycia can sense the steel behind it.

“Aria thought the same thing. She said I was on the prowl. Maybe I am. But I want to tell you about my reinvention. I thought about who I am, who I’m supposed to be, who I want to be, all that stuff. I came to a really important conclusion.”

The waitress returns with their food. After she leaves, Alycia beckons for elaboration, and reaches for utensils.

Summer obliges with her explanation. “You know that saying ‘life is short’? Mine isn’t. Aria’s isn’t. And Leo has been so dedicated to finding a stable family all his life, that now that he’s found one, he doesn’t think of his life as short either. We Newmans tend to be long-term thinkers when it comes to our personal lives.”

She takes hold of her multicolored ponytail and holds it up for inspection. “I’m a spectrum of possibilities, like a rainbow. So I’ve reinvented myself into someone who will live life like it is short, and then live another life. I’m going to embrace change, live in the moment. And I’m going to let things end, learn to say goodbye to things, all that stuff.”

She grins at Alycia. “So maybe I don’t need a long-term boyfriend. Sure, I definitely am better off when I’m with someone. But uh, maybe I’ll casually date? Maybe just have some fun? I’ll find out. Because you know what? Living life for the next millennium feels really disconnected from how the rest of humanity lives. People like stability because they don’t have it. And I want to stay plugged into what it feels like to be human.”

“If I still harbored any doubts about your humanity, that would have finally convinced me to abandon them,” murmurs Alycia with a smile.

The pair are halfway through their meal when Summer gets a call. It’s Otto, and she puts it on speaker for Alycia’s benefit.

“Big monster just crawled outta the water on the southern coast of France, between Nice and Marseille. European heroes are mobilizing to fight it off. We’re along for the ride as a rescue team. You want in?”

“You bet!” enthuses Summer. She’s already flagging down the waitress, miming a take-out box, and mouthing “can I get this to go?”

“You’re hours away from France, even super-sonic,” points out Alycia.

“Oh, hey Alycia,” says Otto over the phone. “Gonna come visit us any time soon?”

“I’ve been given the sales pitch,” the girl says flatly.

“Cool. Well, we’ve got more reserves of plasma these days. We’re able to open multiple portals in short order. We can pick you up whenever you’re ready, Summer.”

Summer grabs her to-go box, waves a jaunty goodbye to Alycia, and darts outside. She flies upward, into a portal that snaps into existence just long enough to receive her, and disappears.

Summer is still shoveling chickpeas and deep-fried bread into her face in the cockpit of the Chariot. The mission briefing is being broadcast to the whole team by Aria, who’s set up her own holographic command center so she can take care of Fez and still monitor operations.

“We’re operating under the umbrella of ASIST, who is officially liaising with European Authorities,” Aria explains. “Otto is the team leader as always, nothing there has changed. I’ll report to him, but I’m the voice of ASIST so I may break in from time to time.”

“That said, the situation is this. Some kind of creature has emerged at La Londe-les-Maures. That’s just east of the town of Hyères.”

“The creature is estimated to be between 80 and 100 meters at the shoulder. It’s like a fusion between a theropod and a sabertooth cat. Imagine a T-rex that can run on all fours like a cat, or sit up on its haunches, that’s as big as a 16-floor hotel. You know how hurricanes and other big natural disasters get names assigned? Kaiju do too. They’re calling this one ‘Titalion’ for its resemblance to a big cat.”

Otto takes over. “This is a reminder to all the hot-heads on this team, including myself. We can engage but that is not our goal. There’s sixty thousand people in the area, most of them in Hyères. If any one of them so much as gets a skinned knee during this incident, we will have a conversation after this is done.”

A chorus of voices acknowledge these instructions. But Otto isn’t done.

“Summer, that also means no Apollo system. We cannot risk it.”

“Understood, boss,” says Summer through a mouthful of food. She stuffs the to-go box into a compartment in the Chariot’s cockpit, wipes greasy fingers on her flight uniform, and grabs hold of the controls.

“Plasma pressure at 105%,” Leo reports from Aria’s side, in the holographic control room. “Initiating transport.”

The Hula Hoop springs to life, and the Launch System begins spinning up to send everyone and everything through. Beyond are the skies of France, and the light of superheroes firing energy blasts at a moving shadow.

“Launch!” shouts Otto. And with everyone’s hearts brimming with eagerness - to fight, to protect, to help - they do.

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Summer is the first through the portal.

“Deploying drones,” she reports. Numerous small units detach from her sleek jet, taking up a position in the skies around La Londe-les-Maures. Their role is to scan their surroundings, map out terrain, and - most importantly - look for heat signatures via thermal imaging. People are already being escorted out of the area by the French emergency services. It’s Summer’s job to help find anyone they missed.

Big Bill is next through the gate, followed closely by Otto and Mo.

“I’m integrating our data with the feed from the French authorities,” Aria reports. “The creature is following a particular path. Otto, I assume you want the Sled deployed outside of that track?”

“Yeah, we’ll wait until we have a clear spot,” Otto confirms.

Summer draws the Chariot into a high-wide arc around the battlefield, and surveys the damage that’s already been done.

She can see a clear track from the ocean. The beast’s ponderous paws have smashed cars, left indentations in roads, and splintered trees. It’s walked blithely through power and phone lines, thus cutting off services to whole sections of the nearby town.

“We probably don’t want to put the Sled near the water,” she observes. “If we want to drive it anywhere, it’s back into the ocean.”

“Agreed,” Otto says. “Aria, what do the French need most right now?”

There’s a pause while Aria consults. “Cell towers are down,” she says at last. “Ground-based radios are hampered by the hilly terrain. Big Bill, do you have enough kit on board to act as an airborne radio relay?”

“Sure do, ma’am!” the cowboy plane reports.

“I’ve got heat signatures!” Summer reports excitedly. “Humanoid. Not moving.” The Chariot transmits the relevant data into the network.

“Mo, check 'em out,” Otto orders.


Mo finds two children worriedly crouched over their mother, who’s been struck by a flying fragment of tree. It’s not pinning her down, but it’s nearby, and it’s clear from the scene what happened.

“ASIST translation, French and English,” he mutters into his communication system.

“Online,” says the translator after a moment.

He approaches in his human shell, the vehicle parked a short distance away so as to not alarm them. “Hey,” he says. A comforting French greeting comes out, and the children turn.

Both of them start babbling, and comprehending it is complicated by tears. Mo holds up his hands, crouching down to their level. “Hey. I’m here to help. One at a time.”

The translator renders this into French, and this is enough to get them to calm down. There’s an older girl and a younger boy. The girl explains, and Mo gets the English version. “Mother was struck. We don’t know what to do.”

“We’re gonna get her into the van there,” says Mo softly. “Listen to me. You’ve done everything right. You’re gonna stay with her and keep her safe. Okay?”

The translation comes out, and the girl nods. The boy wipes his face with a sleeve and nods too.

Mo retrieves a Gurney Halleck from the back of his van. The device itself is a very specialized form of Summer’s drones - it can float and project a hard-light surface, thus acting as a gurney, and references the force-shield-using warrior from the “Dune” books. Carefully, he places it under the mother and energizes. The screen spreads out from the device itself, supporting the woman’s weight without shifting her body, just in case of spinal damage, bleeding, broken bones, or other reasons not to manipulate her too much.

“All aboard,” he says to the kids, gesturing at the back of the van. The Gurney Halleck floats inside, and the kids follow and take seats.

The translator provides an English rendition of the girl’s last words before Mo closes the door. “Will she be okay, sir?”

Mo can’t promise that. Instead, he gives them a heads up. “We’re going to be flying. So strap in.”

The team put the Sled down in the safest place they could find - on the eastern side of the hills, east of the town. It’ll act as a mobile hospital.

The problem is, the SMUR ambulances can’t get through to it - one particular stretch of road has been blocked by a landslide caused by Titalion’s passage. Otto is knocking away what he can, grappling and dragging chunks of rock, and otherwise clearing a path, when the call comes in.

“The French and EU teams are organizing their counter-strike,” Aria reports. “They hope this’ll drive Titalion back. Is the path clear?”

“Getting there,” Otto reports. “Thermal scans are looking good. Summer’s been scouting the buildings and found a couple people, but they’re being evacuated now. Let’s call it three minutes.”

“Roger,” Aria says. “The hero in charge, Charles the Hammer, wants in on our comms. Your call.”

Otto thinks about it. “Long as he shuts up when we need to talk, I’m okay. He speak English?”

“We’ll find out,” Aria says. There’s a pause, and an imperious voice makes itself heard. “Monsieur Newman, your rescue effort is appreciated. Please remove yourselves with dispatch from the path to the ocean.”

“Received and will comply,” Otto says. “You heard the man, gang. Unless there’s anyone to evacuate, get clear.”

“Clear,” responds Mo.

Summer chimes in. “Climbing to 10,000 feet. Clear.”

Big Bill is last to report. “I’m evacuating folks off the Sled to a hospital, but I’m clear.”

With their rescue duties momentarily suspended, the team is able to focus on the actual monster. It’s like a four-legged lizard with a cat’s hind haunches, with a lion’s head and a snake’s jaw. They can still see the swarms of superheroes darting about it. So far the beast seems unconcerned with their presence.

But now something new is happening. Several of the heroes are coordinating a build-up of energy. They’re aiming at Titalion’s left ear. At first it’s not clear why. Then Summer realizes. The sense of balance is maintained by mechanisms in the ear. They want to make it dizzy, maybe enough to collapse. If it gets irritated by that, it’ll either follow the irritant - the supers, who then fly to the ocean - or it’ll retreat from it - back to the ocean.

From her vantage point high in the sky, Summer can see the blast. It causes Titalion to wobble. She sees its left feet automatically cross its right, as it staggers. And she can see the land around it shake as the beast falls on its side.

There’s general cheering over the communications system.

Titalion shakes its shaggy head, the way Summer has seen a cat do. Its forelimbs slam into the ground, creating a tremor, as it struggles to rise. And then it inhales. And as it does, Summer notices two alarming things.

The first is that its jaw is unhinging and that there is a distinctive white glow coming from it, as though energy were building up.

The second is that as Titalion inhales, it grows. Its entire body is enlarging, a dozen meters of height with every inhalation.

The mega-beam that emerges from its mouth burns a hole through the clouds. Thank all the gods that it was aimed upward! But it does cause the flying superheroes to scatter in a panic.

Titalion rises. Its head turns, seemingly slowly but only because of its vast size. It’s seeking the flying supers. The arc of the traversal will cross the town.

Summer gets on comms, urgently recalling her drones, punching buttons, operating controls inside the Chariot, preparing. “Leo, Aria, launch Apollo now!”

Otto comes on the comms. “Summer, no, we talked about–”

“Otto, trust me!” Summer shouts. She doesn’t have time to explain. She may not even have time to set up everything she needs.

“I can’t authorize the weapon in an area full of civilians–”

“OTTO!” screams Summer. “LAUNCH IT!”

The briefest of pauses feels like an eternity. She can feel Otto’s natural mistrust, his calculations on her reliability, his knowledge that he’ll take responsibility for her failure if she screws this up.

Otto bark with authority into the radio: “LEO!”

Summer has already queued up the Apollo system for launch. Leo’s authorization back at base is the last required step. The mini-ring is fired through its larger sibling, into outer space in proximity to the Sun.

Summer hammers on her own controls. The Chariot’s drones are already en route. Now their force fields come to life, operating at maximum charge, ready to confine a powerful source of energy.

She can see Titalion’s head turn in slow motion, trying to target the flying superheroes around it. Along its path is the town of Hyères, and everyone who might still be there, undetected or unrescued.

Titalion’s mouth opens, complete with weirdly distended jaws. It inhales, and grows again. For a moment, Hyères is blanketed in shadow as the creature’s added bulk obscures the sun. The glow of the mega-beam turns into a brief, brilliant discharge of unimaginable power.

The Chariot’s drones are ready, directly in its path. The beam strikes their position, and then… vanishes.

“Tell the EU supers they have 3 minutes at most,” Summer shouts over the radio. “Then Apollo burns up.”

With the neutralization of the beam accomplished, Otto demands an answer. “Summer–”

“I reversed the direction of the portal,” she explains, as fast as she can, her attention focused on monitoring the health of her drones and the Apollo system. “Instead of taking energy from the Sun to a target, we’re taking the target’s energy and sending it to the Sun.”

“Clever,” Otto mutters. “Want to warn us next time during briefing you planned to do that?”

“I didn’t plan to do it,” Summer admits. “It just came to me in the moment.”

“We’ll talk later,” warns Otto, and Summer feels the pit of her stomach fall away.

But Hyères is untouched.

With the time she’s bought them, Summer can see the European heroes regrouping. Again, they focus their blasts on Titalion’s vulnerable eyes, ears, and nose - anything that irritates the senses should get the creature’s attention more than a vain effort to blast through its hide.

She also notices that the creature gradually shrinks after its mega-beam discharges, but not back to its original size. It’s still larger than it was. Its beam attacks are getting bigger and hotter.

She checks the gauges on the drones. She may not even have the 3 minutes she promised.

“Aria, what does the EU team need from us?” she asks.

There’s no answer.

“Aria?” Summer repeats.

There’s still silence on the line.

Titalion is thrashing about, swiping with bus-sized paws at flying superheroes.

Otto, recognizing the significance of silence, echoes the call. “Aria, respond. Safe Harbor, respond.”

“We’re here,” comes Leo’s breathless voice a moment later. “Something - came up.”

Summer is suddenly more worried than she was. But Otto takes over. “Charles the Hammer or anyone on the French-EU team, are you still on comms with us?”

Oui, Monsieur Newman. Your team may retreat. We cannot guarantee your safety.”

“One of us is generating the shield that blocked Titalion’s mega-beam,” Otto replies. “You sure you’re ready to lose that?”

“We will suffice,” the Frenchman says, and cuts the line.

Summer can hear Otto’s frustration in his voice. “Newman team - you heard the man. Pack it up, get clear. We are not going home until we know that beast has been dealt with.”

Otto and Mo, in humanoid configuration, take up station and hover on their rockets over the scene. Summer and Big Bill orbit in their aircraft configurations. The Sled goes airborne and stays hovering well out of range, over the ocean.

They watch as Titalion’s mega-beam carves once through a part of Hyères, near the waterline. A few boats still moored at the harbor evaporate into their constituent elements. The sudden incineration of a handful of houses blows their roofs off via the increase in air pressure.

But the European supers know their business. They’re able to lure Titalion into the water, continually antagonizing the creature with their blasts. And finally the kaiju has had enough. It dips under the surface, and vanishes.

“Safe Harbor, retrieve us,” Otto says darkly. “After that, all hands meeting. We are gonna have a conversation.”

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The team is assembled in Aria’s holographic nursery.

Aria herself is cradling a sleeping Fez in her arms. Leo is with her, holding onto her in turn - but gently. Summer, seeing it, recognizes immediately that Aria had some kind of episode and that Leo is helping her come down from it.

Otto, Mo, and Bill are here in their human shells. Otto’s arms are folded. His face is stern.

“From the top. Summer. I get why you didn’t have time to explain your plan. What I want to know is why you put us in a position where a risky, untested plan was your first go-to. For example, could your drones have taken a hit and blown up, but still have mitigated enough of the blast to be worthwhile?”

“Well, yes, possibly,” Summer concedes. “I’d have to look at the readings to see how strong the mega-beam was–”

“Fine. That’s your first piece of homework,” Otto directs.

“–But then I’d be out of drones,” she protests.

Otto’s question catches her off guard. “Why? Why aren’t you making more? Stocking up? Load 'em onto the Sled for when we deploy - or build another system.”

“I-- Well, I-- I guess I just…” Summer stumbles. She doesn’t have a good answer for this.

“Second piece of homework.”

Otto turns next to Aria and Leo. “What happened here?”

Leo explains. “Things got intense. Fez started bawling. Aria…”

Aria answers for herself in a soft, shamed voice. “I panicked. I lost control. I went to take care of Fez, and left my post.”

Leo speaks up in support. “I went to look after her.”

Otto nods. “I get that. Doesn’t mean we can afford for it to happen again. Your homework is figuring out a solution. Most likely that means someone else takes over ops.”

Aria’s voice grows steely and defiant. “Otto, I’m quite capable of performing the role.”

Summer feels anger flaring inside her, an anger borne of watching Leo and her sister begin their relationship. “Aria, we know you can do it, but don’t you owe it to Fez to focus on them?”

Aria growls. “You stay out of this. I’m taking my responsibilities seriously. This is not a game to me.”

“It’s not a game to me either!” Summer protests loudly. “But listen–”

“No, you listen.” Aria stands, holding her baby protectively against her. “Safe Harbor is my creation. I’m not letting anything bad happen to it. I’m not letting anyone take it away who doesn’t feel the same way. And I don’t know anyone else who has the same dedication.”

“You don’t let Leo be a superhero any more,” Summer retorts vehemently. “That was his life. If he’s gotta be a dad first, why shouldn’t you do the same?”

This question hits Aria hard. Rather than answer, the holographic forms of her and Fez de-rez and depart into the network.

“Summer…” Leo growls.

But Summer stands firm, staring him down. To her surprise, he doesn’t push the issue.

“We’ll talk again when everyone has chilled out,” Otto declares. “For now, meeting adjourned. Mo, reload the Launch System. Big Bill, I want you back out in the Mediterranean. Fly around for a few hours, just in case Titalion comes back. Mo, handle launch ops for him.”

“Wilco,” the two robots report.

Otto turns to Summer. “Homework,” he says. Then he’s gone, leaving her and Leo alone in the nursery.

Leo stares at his hands.

“It’s not fair to you,” Summer says quietly. “We’re all so focused on fathers, because of Rossum. But a child needs every parent they have.”

“It’s not that,” Leo explains. “Safe Harbor is as much her baby as Fez is ours. She’s afraid of losing it, even a bit. It’s her stability. You know how it is.”

“I know,” Summer admits quietly. “And I know Aria. She can be an administrator, leader, builder, operator, and everything else she’s trying to do. I just think, y’know, it’d be better if she was one of them at a time.”

Leo glances around. “She’ll be back soon. I’ll help her calm down. Okay?”

Summer nods, and heads out of the nursery.

She passes handfuls of people in the halls. Some of them are Atlantean refugees, while others are actual Atlanteans. A few are refugees from other parts of the world, staying here temporarily as a result of Newman rescue operations. They all know her, or know enough about the Newmen to recognize her, and greet her accordingly. She smiles, and waves, but the recent mission is bothering her.

She finds Mo in the Launch System, wearing his full-sized vehicular shell in humanoid mode. He’s attending to maintenance tasks - hosing down the deck, refilling coolant from the reserves, and the numerous other things that make the space-time teleportal able to function.

“Got time to talk?” she asks uncertainly.

“Sure,” Mo says. But he doesn’t stop working. As a result, Summer has to jog around the complex to keep up with him, and yell to be heard over the sound of maintenance.

“Do you think I did the right thing?”


She realizes that having to clarify that question makes her feel even more self-conscious. “The… the Apollo system launch, during the mission.”


It takes Summer another moment to realize this was Mo’s answer. Sometimes she wishes he was more talkative. Where did this laconic personality trait come from, in our melange of shared memories?

“Well, good. Maybe um, maybe you can tell me why?”

She can sense the dull impatience from Mo, and regrets asking. He disengages the pressure washer and looks down at her. “Ya thought ya had to launch immediately to save the town. Yeah?”

Summer nods. “That’s right.”

“Ya asked Otto.”

She’s not sure what he means for just a second. “Oh - oh, you mean, instead of doing some kind of override thing, or going to Leo or Aria, I asked Otto, as the field lead?”


Summer smiles. “So because I trusted him, he trusted me?”


Summer sighs. This is less reassuring than she’d hoped.

Mo, perhaps seeing her crestfallen face, gestures. “Check this shit out,” he says with a smile.

He leads the way to one of the labs adjoining the Launch System. Inside the lab is a huge magnetic containment system, superficially similar to a fusion generator.

“Fabricator,” Mo says - ‘explains’ would be overselling what he did.

“Uh.” Summer blinks and peers at it. “Fusion can generate heavy elements from hydrogen, is that what you mean?”

Perhaps realizing his laconic nature is working against him, Mo clears his throat. “Carbon is a nucleus plus electrons. Peter Mancini licensed his plasma tech to us. Plasma’s just free particles. Lase the plasma to push neutrons into place. Use magnetic fields to precisely shape the plasma. Force-deionize the chamber. Plasma transitions into solid matter.”

Summer follows fitfully, until it dawns. “Wait. Are you saying…” She struggles to grasp the implications. “Leo built carbon shells in days, or hours if he was working with help. How fast…?”

“Once it’s working, we can build a Phoenix’s outer shell in seconds,” Mo says.

Summer’s eyes grow large. “Oh. Oh! So – so my drones --”

“In bulk,” Mo finishes, returning to being a man of few words. But what words!

Summer wants to give the rescue robot a big hug, but has to settle for wrapping her arms around his leg - that’s all she can reach. “Brilliant! I’ll be by soon to help you with it, okay?”

“How 'bout helping with maintenance?” Mo asks.

On reflection, that sounds like just the thing to get her mind off recent business.

“Okay!” she grins.

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Otto is on a private video call with a Spanish superheroine, Hellenic. He has just sat through the most humiliating after-action report of his life, and was ready to walk away entirely. Hellenic asked to talk to him, and he was just curious enough to agree.

“Charles is from Marseille,” she explains with a weary smile. “The safety of the region is a very personal thing to him. Our debrief of the situation was very critical to everyone. He did not mean to single you out.”

“I don’t speak French but I got the gist,” Otto says. “‘Ridicule’ translates just fine.”

Hellenic nods. “It is not quite that bad. He did not think your team was awful. He was not impressed with the maturity of your operations.”

“Is that why he wanted on our comms? To evaluate us?” Otto is slowly shifting from embarrassment to curiosity.

Hellenic smiles. “I was not aware he did that. But that seems likely, yes.”

She goes on. “His mood seems to be that you are a new team. Inexperienced.”

“At rescue operations, we are, yeah,” admits Otto.

“You have impressive technology. And as robots, you are well suited for some things we cannot do, even as super-powered people,” Hellenic says. “No technology will give you experience or fraternity. You must earn this yourselves.”

Otto chuckles. “You said it, sister,” he says with conviction.

Hellenic smiles, and disconnects the call.

Summer gets a text message from Leo. “She’s in the nursery,” is all it says.

Summer clutches her phone. Why can’t I just go fight a monster instead? she wonders.

But she goes.

She finds Aria, sitting alone in an empty holographic space, eyes still wet with tears.

“Fez?” Summer asks carefully.

“Asleep. Leo’s with them,” Aria whispers.

Summer isn’t sure what to say. Perhaps Aria has something. Perhaps she just needs company.

Finally Aria does speak. “It’s annoying when you call me ‘mom’.”

“But you’re such a good one,” Summer offers weakly.

Aria looks up at Summer through wet eyes. “Am I?”

Summer has to think for a moment, about what she wants to say, about how it might be taken. She’s not sure. But it feels honest. “In the heat of the moment, you went to your child. Your first thought was your child. What mother wouldn’t do that?”

“I left the team out to dry,” Aria says. “You needed me.”

“We’ll always need you.” Summer squats down in front of her sister and smiles up at her. “You found your path. I finally found mine. So maybe it’s finally time I can offer you some wisdom. If you want.”

Aria shrugs weakly. “I’m listening.”

“You can be a leader,” Summer says. “Leaders evaluate the people around them. Leaders delegate. So… letting someone handle rescue operations here doesn’t mean giving it up. It means taking on a higher level role. But it also means finding the right person for the job. Someone you trust.”

She can see Aria nodding slightly, and presses on. “That means you’ll always be there for Fez. You’ll stay on top of what the rescue team is doing. And running ops won’t distract you from other city stuff. People here need you, y’know.”

“I guess…” Aria sighs, and takes a seat beside her sister, and leans a holographic head onto Summer’s shoulder. “Look at us. I’m taking advice from you. I’m the hologram. I feel like we’ve swapped places.”

Summer gently ruffles her sister’s hair. “There will always be things only you can be, Aria. There are things only you can do. If you get someone else to play telephone tag with the French, you’re free to go be and do those things. You could do it. But what is something that nobody else can?”

“Only I can take care of Fez,” Aria says in quiet, reflective tones. “And Leo too. He still needs help.”

Summer nods. “And you can help me too.”

Aria looks up, surprised. “Help you? With what?”

Summer clasps her hands together, uncertain about what she’s going to say. “I realized why I’m not building more drones for the Chariot. Or building lots more tech. It’s because, uh, I felt like taking resources away from building the city was bad. I didn’t want to tax some kinda supply of energy or raw materials that you’d need. I felt bad for what I did take.”

She looks back to Aria. “Was I wrong? Should I keep holding back?”

Aria shifts, sighs, and then finally smiles brightly. “I guess that’s something else I’ve been hoarding like the dragon I am. I won’t say just go wild. We do have limits. But there’s a spreadsheet I use that keeps track of our resource usage. I’ll share it with you, so you can do your own planning. How about that?”

Summer beams. “That sounds perfect.” She leans in to hug her sister tightly. “That’s what I’m talking about. Only you would think ahead to be prepared like that.”

“A spreadsheet is too organized for you? That worries me,” deadpans Aria, but her smile returns almost instantly.

Maintenance is almost wrapped up when the call comes in from Big Bill. “Titalion spotted making landfall on the island of Corsica.”

Lingering self-doubt makes everyone hesitate. They weren’t invited back by the European team. Will they look bad if they butt in again?

They rescued numerous people. It’s not rational at all. It’s a strictly emotional reaction. But emotions are powerful.

Otto’s voice comes over the comms. “You heard the man, team. Positions!”

Mo, in the fabricator lab, puts his tools down and heads toward the Launch System.

Summer, writing emails to friends from her laptop, folds it up and reaches for her flight jacket.

Leo and Aria, looking at Fez as the child sleeps, turn their attention to each other and nod.

Otto’s confident command has turned the tide. People are counting on them to do their best. Nothing else matters.

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The Hula Hoop is spinning up for launch. Target, Corsica.

Aria is back on comms. “Charles the Hammer, this is the Newman rescue team. We stand ready to assist.”

She waits. Everyone waits.

The Frenchman’s distinctive voice responds, in his accented English. “Newman team. How can you help?”

Aria takes a breath. “You’re in charge of the situation,” she says with a fragile confidence. “But you’ve seen what we’re capable of. And we may be able to improvise solutions to the unexpected. We’ll plug into your command & control to take orders, if you give us the go-ahead.”

There’s another delay, and the Spanish hero Hellenic comes on the line. “Newman team, I’ll be your liaison. Please deploy to Corsica.”

The Hula Hoop has hardly opened when Summer and her Chariot burn through the portal.

It’s night in this part of the world. Summer can see the shadow of Titalion blocking out lights from the island.

“Launching drones,” she relays. Again, the Chariot deploys its drone complement. The drones scatter, and their light emitters come online. Titalion is suddenly lit up as bright as day.

“I’ve been trackin’ IR signatures on the ground,” Big Bill reports. “Beaches are mostly clear. Mo, Otto, I’m sendin’ you coordinates for holdouts.”

“Roger, we’ll evacuate 'em,” Otto answers.

Hellenic comes on the line. “Newman team, can your jet evacuate citizens from the island if we clear a runway?”

Big Bill laughs. “Ma’am, I’m VTOL. I can evacuate folks if ya clear me a parking space.”

“Understood. I will send you coordinates,” Hellenic says, the smile in her voice unmistakable.

Leo joins the call. “Hellenic, any idea on this monster’s motives, instincts, anything? If it keeps making landfall, y’all are gonna have to sleep sooner or later.”

“We… don’t know,” the woman admits. “We didn’t think it would return this fast.”

Aria’s voice is full of renewed confidence as she joins the call. “Leo, your neurochip. Can we scale one up, big enough to scan this creature’s brain? Maybe I can analyze its connectome.”

“I’ll get to work on it. But it’ll take time to build,” Leo says.

Summer remembers the thing she saw back in the lab. “Mo!” she shouts. “Your fabricator. Can you get it working in time?”

“Maybe,” the rescue robot says.

Summer speaks up. “Hellenic. Our team has a way to answer that question. If your supers can buy us time with Titalion, we can execute it. But it might put anyone still on Corsica at risk.”

“I will ask Charles,” Hellenic promises.

Meanwhile, Summer defers to Otto. “Mo can go back to work on that, and I can pick up his slack. How about it, boss?”

Otto wastes no time answering. “Yeah, better than playing whack-a-mole. Mo, portal back. Summer, you’re on ground rescue ops. Escort people to Big Bill’s landing zone.”


Summer banks the Chariot into a hard left turn and descends. It’s much easier to pick up people on the thermograph at night, and sure enough, she spots fleeing civilians almost immediately.

Her drones come at her command. The PA system amplifies her voice. “This is a rescue team. You will be taken to a safe place for evacuation. Please remain calm.” The ASIST software echoes the warning in French and Italian.

Drones project hard-light holographic seats, and carefully take people aboard. Once each rescue is loaded in, the drone darts for Big Bill’s landing spot.

She panics when she turns the Chariot, and looks in Titalion’s direction. Somehow, there’s human-scale thermal signatures beneath it. She zooms in with the telescopic lens. Sure enough - there’s people down there!

“Hellenic, warning - civilians on the ground near Titalion. I’ve got 'em!” she calls.

“Understood. We will delay our attack until they are clear.”

The Chariot itself is too big to effectively pick up people at high speed, but Summer isn’t. She sends it arcing into a high climb and ejects herself. Coming in like a dive bomb, she lands on the sand of the beach, sees the three people she spotted from afar, and sprints in their direction.

“Rescue!” she shouts, hoping the meaning becomes clear. The trio, though panicked already, seem to understand.

How did they get down here? Did we miss them, or were they hoping for a good photo? She wonders, but has no time for answers.

She grabs two of them, one in each arm, and kneels so the third can climb on her back. With everyone loaded on, she boosts off the sand and into the air, seconds before Titalion’s massive leg sweeps through their position.

Only when everyone is clear does Summer allow herself a bit of selfish gloating. She recognized the danger, not the professional European supers. She knows it’s an uncharitable thought, at the wrong time for such things, but she’s human enough to let it have its moment.

She drops the trio off at the pickup site, just in time for Big Bill to descend from the sky. Knots of people file into the back of the floating jet, escorted by Big Bill’s human shell. “It’s just until the crisis is resolved,” he’s saying. “Please give your name or scan your ID on the terminal in back. We’ll make sure any friends and family are accounted for.”

Satisfied, Summer summons the Chariot and flies up to dock with it.

The EU supers are wise to Titalion’s tactics now. They lure him into taking shots with his mega-beam at the sky, and have Summer flying in a tight orbit to check for stragglers before inflicting a dizzy spell.

At last they hear back from Hellenic. “Newman team. We will not be deploying your plan to analyze Titalion right now. The safety of Corsica comes first. But continue to develop it. We will want to use it the next time the creature appears. That may be days or hours away.”

“Understood,” says Otto. “We’ll be on scene until civilians are all accounted for.”

“Thank you, Monsieur Newman. Thank you all of you.” This is Charles the Hammer, and his grudging respect puts smiles on the team’s faces.

Everyone stumbles back into the Launch System, dead tired. But they’ve got reason to stay awake for just a little bit. Mo and Leo have updates.

Mo’s is bad - the Fabricator wouldn’t have been ready anyway, and still isn’t ready. But he thinks it’s gonna happen by the next landfall.

Leo’s is good - the EU’s Navies have tasked some of their anti-Atlantean submarines and sonar buoys to tracking Titalion’s movements underwater. Everyone will have some warning of when it surfaces. And if the kaiju-scale neurochip is ready by then, they can figure out what motivates the creature - and how to keep it away from populated areas.

Summer finds Aria asleep next to Fez’s crib. She orders up a cot for herself from the nursery’s computer system, and checks on the baby.

They were sleeping, but wake up when Summer’s presence registers. Before Fez can start crying, Summer rezzes up some formula and starts the feeding process.

How strange, she thinks. A holographic infant, feeding on holographic milk, administered by a robot.

But she’s a robot that just spent time with friends and family, laughing, crying, yearning, striving, saving, failing, learning.

Maybe it just means the spark of humanity is alive in all of them, and nothing will ever quench it.

“We all take care of each other,” she whispers to Fez, as they drift back to sleep in her arms. “We all learn from each other. Even from you, kiddo.”

Titalion will be back, but the heroes have a way of understanding him and hopefully pacifying him without anyone getting hurt. And isn’t that the hope of any rescue team?