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.
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.