Summer was able to secure an invitation to the party yacht by landing on the deck while it was already at sea. Having a superhero just fly down to your boat is novel. When you’re young, rich, and high, what else is worthwhile but a procession of novel amusements?
Several of the boys seemed interested, but they’ve been drawn back to their existing dates out of some sense of propriety or shame. The lad who’s left didn’t seem to show up with a girl or two. He’s not the tanned muscular sort that most of these fellows are, but he’s got a British accent, a nice smile and he can listen despite clearly having mixed alcohol and something stronger earlier. As a result, Summer is down to her undergarments and is having an innuendo-laden chat with him when her phone rings. She can tell who it is from the ringtone.
“I’m so sorry, I’ve got to take this,” she says with her best winning smile. “It’s my brother.”
Otto isn’t strictly her brother - their relationship is far more complicated - but it explains well enough.
“Am I interrupting anything?” Otto asks saucily.
Summer lets out an exaggerated sigh. “It’s fine. I’m talking to…” She glances over to prompt herself. “Douglas. We’re having such a wonderful time. What’s up?”
She listens to what Otto has to say, and responds noncommittally. She hangs up, and turns to the young man, watching curiously.
“I’m so sorry. I have to go. But thank you so much, I had a good time talking to you.”
“Me too,” Douglas manages, through a haze of desire and drugs.
Summer slips back into her outer garments, and takes off like a rocket from the deck of the yacht.
The Hula Hoop yawns open just long enough for Summer to come through. She finds Otto, still running maintenance checks on the systems.
“What are you doing back here? I told you to enjoy yourself,” he says in surprise.
“Yeah, but…” Summer touches down, and rubs her fingertips together awkwardly. “Look, I have a really weird request. Can you get Big Bill and Mo on comms?”
Otto patches her through, and Summer asks her favor. “Listen, guys, I know it’s weird, things are weird, everything is weird. Can we just hang out tonight? I need three big teddy bears to cuddle with.”
Otto chuckles. Summer can hear Big Bill’s voice over the system. “Sure thing li’l lady. Say, how do you feel about seein’ a movie?”
“Whatcha got?” Summer asks.
“Chaplin,” quips Mo.
“Rebel Without a Cause,” suggests Otto.
“A Gene Autry movie?” Big Bill asks.
They settle on “Casablanca”.
The boys are relaxing on the couch, watching television on the big screen. Summer is stretched out across all three boys’ laps, wrapped in a blanket and looking very comfortable.
Otto periodically peeks over at the other two. But neither of them seem at all uncomfortable with the arrangement. Sure, the relationship is weird. But Summer is Summer. If she needs something, she gets it.
Otto broaches the subject only after the movie ends, as Mo is thumbing through the group’s meager Plex server’s supply of DVD rips.
“Why’d you come back? Weren’t having fun with Douglas or whoever?”
Summer rolls on her back so she can look up at Otto. Her face is cloudy with mixed emotions. “I realized I didn’t really want to be there. I was just lonely. I wanted to be someone - with people - whatever. But it was an escape. And I got to thinking.”
She looks at the others. “What if they were live-streaming the party on that boat? And what if some supervillain had come out to find me, and the boat sank, and everyone needed rescuing? You know? And we’d drag those people out of the water, back to Ibiza, and the EMTs would give them blankets and soup and they’d be on the phone to their parents, and then tomorrow everything would be okay. Because they’d get to go home. They had a scare and they’d get to go home afterward.”
She sighs and looks at the ceiling. “What does it mean to rescue people who don’t get to go home? You know?”
“The refugees,” says Otto quietly. “Or people like them. But I checked. Slim-Fast came with them.”
“It’s too late tonight,” Summer says quietly. “But can we go see them tomorrow? Or just, you know, peek in from a distance or something?”
Otto smiles. “We’ll see what happens.”
Summer nods, and Otto can see another thought come to her, then pause as she considers how brave she wants to be.
“You know, there’s four of us now. We’re all kind of on the same sleep schedule. What happens when there’s an emergency while we’re asleep?”
“Someone else gets it,” Otto says firmly. “One of my rules is that we are not the sole protectors of the world. So do not let it bother you.”
“I guess…” Summer levers herself to her feet, clinging to the blanket she wrapped herself inside. “You guys have been really sweet to me tonight. Thank you. I really needed that.”
Otto’s smile is gentle. “You get some rest, okay? The rest of us will go to sleep soon too.”
At 9am local time, Summer is in the ops center with Otto and Mo. Joining them is Dr. Jean Mana, at Otto’s invitation.
The four of them watch through Slim-Fast’s eyes. The refugees found a cave system, moved some of their vehicles inside, and have set up a new settlement there. The Phoenix followed them in and is now “nesting”. Once again, people are using its assorted super-tech tools to create the necessities of life, under its watchful eye.
“This ‘Phoenix’. This is… a robot, like you?” Dr. Mana asks.
“Not quite like us, but yeah, same physical technology. The mind is very different.” Otto taps his head. “See, we’re mentally remixes of the boss - of Leo Newman nee Snow - but we’re as human as anyone, y’know? Conscious, sentient beings. Hopes, dreams, frustrations, favorite foods, the works. The Phoenix isn’t sentient though. It’s smart, it’s empathic, but it’s not conscious. Even a crow has more self-awareness than it does, just in terms of neocortical wiring and metacognitive transmission.”
Dr. Mana takes all this in, and his smile is curiously melancholy. “It is not a person, but based on, if I understand you, the template of someone who is.”
The linguist looks at the screen. “These people have resisted dehumanization and genocide for so long. And now they are protected by a creature whose dehumanization was intentionally benevolent.”
He seems like he has more to say. Otto and Summer give him the room to do so. Mo, as usual, has little to say anyway.
“Your own exile from the United States caught all of you by surprise, if you’ll forgive me an observation. Because of your own personhood. Your empathy triumphed over whatever patriotism you possessed.”
Otto laughs out loud at that. “Doc, I think you overestimate how much faith any of us have in our particular government, for good and sufficient reasons.”
Dr. Mana chuckles sympathetically, and Summer suspects he too has dealt with a hostile government in his life. But he goes on.
“You took a stand. It is easy to say ‘I am against genocide’. This is not a complex topic at all. You choose human life over a political policy. But how useful is that stance, if you aren’t the one dropping the bombs?”
He watches the screen intently. “I have seen people on social media say ‘it is complicated’. But is it? You might say it’s complicated if you profit from the situation, and want an excuse not to change it. For example, if you’ve made a particular group a scapegoat for your problems. Or if your nation’s policies made enemies in a region of the world, and now you prop up a friendly state as a shield against their reprisals.”
“There is a saying, ‘to ride the tiger’. The tiger is a dangerous creature. After a point, it becomes more dangerous to dismount than to stay on. What do you do? That is the dilemma facing people like Mr. Arbogast. This too is complicated.”
“There is another, more insidious reason to say ‘it is complicated’. You see the genocide and you say, ‘this must stop’. All well and good. Then you ask ‘how do I get to the people who are dropping those bombs? How do I make them see?’ That is the complicated path. But it is only complicated if you see yourself alone on this path. Joining with others - doing your part in the effort - is also simple.”
He gestures at the Phoenix’s schematics on another screen. “Your creature will always play its part, won’t it. This will always be simple for it.”
Otto smiles, and remembers. “Leo always says, ‘connection is strength’. The Phoenix is a part of our effort, yeah. But it’s not alone - and neither are any of us, ever. If those people need more help, we’ll find a way to give it.”
Summer, listening and looking, gasps as she sees something. “Otto - Otto!” she shouts, and points excitedly.
Otto follows the path of her finger to a particular indicator on the schematic screen. His low laugh turns into a long, joyful belly laugh.
“I must ask you to explain,” Dr. Mana says with a confused smile. “Your technology is still strange to me.”
Otto reads off the indication. “Egg status: processing. Last update: 14 hours 32 minutes ago.”
He turns to the Doctor. “When the Phoenix feels like it’s at war - when its destruction is a possibility - it lays an egg. The egg will turn into another Phoenix. Slim-Fast learned from our battle with the bombers. It’ll be a shield, not a sword. And it’ll teach that lesson to the new arrival. In a few days, these people will have two protectors.”
Dr. Mana claps his hands. “That is wonderful. That is something you have done for these people that nobody else could.”
Otto shakes his head. “Doc, it’s something we couldn’t have done without you. If we couldn’t coordinate with Youssef, none of this would have been possible. And, uh, the source of information that tipped us off. Way I see it, we’re all doing our part.”
Dr. Mana smiles in appreciation, and pats Otto on the arm with a warm hand.