415 - Star-Crossed!

The population of Safe Harbor is all refugees from dozens of cultures. Some are Atlanteans, others are humans from Atlantean captivity, and still more are people the Newmen have rescued.

This complicates even basic tasks like timekeeping. What year is it? The Hebrew calendar says it’s 5700-something. The Chinese calendar says 4700-something. The Gregorian calendar says 2020-something. The Atlanteans don’t even have a yearly calendar. Why bother keeping track of days or years when you can’t even see the sun where you live?

Aria solved this problem by creating the Big Board. It’s a giant view-screen hung up in one of the public areas, and it connects to a rugged little laptop nearby. It shows the current date and time in several timekeeping systems. Beneath that, it shows the time remaining to various city events. Anyone can post an event from the laptop, and the countdown to it will begin.

Today, Otto and Summer are counting down to an event called “Mikaela’s Birthday”. There’s 37 minutes left, so they’re loitering about in the public area. Big Bill and Mo are asleep, as a result of the bots divvying up sleep assignments for better rescue coverage. Others are in the public space too, but they leave the robots alone. Summer sometimes feels anxieties about this - being shut out for being a robot is one of her fears. But Minato Umishita, the junior operator of the Launch System, has assured her it’s not like that.

“People look up to you,” she’d explained. “They don’t want to disturb you when you’re doing important things.”

Combating that perception is one of the reason Otto and Summer are here to attend a birthday party. Life is the important thing in Safe Harbor - everyone’s lives, no matter the cost.

Summer’s heart sinks when the rescue alarm goes off.

She points out Mikaela’s parents to Otto, and leads him over.

“Listen, we’re so sorry,” she begins, but both parents hold up their hands. “We understand,” says one with a smile. “You came. That means a lot by itself.”

Both robots hand over the presents they’d made, offer more apologies, then sprint for the operations center.

Minato is on duty. She sees Otto first, and snaps to attention. “Mr. Newman, sir!”

“Otto is fine,” the big guy grunts. “Everyone you work with is gonna be a Newman.”

“Ah. Right.” The girl hangs her head for just a moment.

“What’s the emergency?” Otto prompts.

“Sir! The space station is under attack!”

Otto glances at Summer, then back. “Which one? There’s like 17 space stations.”

“Oh! Yes sir. Uhhh…” Minato checks her notes. “Haven, sir!”

Otto grins. “Ah. The station. Alright. Brief us on the way.”

By the time Otto and Summer are mounted up - Otto into his car form, Summer in the cockpit of her Chariot - plasma pressure is at 110% and stable. The chamber has been evacuated of air, to avoid having it all sucked into space.

“Coordinates locked, sir. On your command,” comes Minato’s voice.

“Launch,” Otto orders. The portal opens, and the robots shoot through.

They emerge in high Earth orbit, miles from the space station - and watches it whip past them, like a shooting star in the blackness.

“Shit!” Otto shouts. “Minato! Do you know how often that thing circles the planet?”

“Ummmm… I’d have to google it, sir.”

“Every 92 minutes! You should have accounted for that in setting the coordinates - it’s a moving target!”

Minato’s voice sounds like she’s close to tears. “I didn’t know, sir, I’m sorry, I didn’t know there was a planet until recently…”

“Go easy on her,” Summer tells Otto in a gentle voice. “Dock on. I’ll use the Apollo system.”

The car robot attaches himself to the Chariot, and Summer orders the launch of her personal Hula Hoop. After an intense half-minute of computation, the new portal opens, the pair jump through it, and the Apollo system goes dark.

They come out at a much more manageable speed differential with the station, which Summer works to correct with the Chariot’s thrusters.

Minato jumps into comms. “Sir, um, Otto, sir, if you’re going around the planet, we’re going to lose comms pretty soon, right? Because it’s round, and we have–”

“I know,” Otto says, keeping his voice deliberately soft this time. “Just do what you can. We’re here. We don’t see any problem.”

And they don’t. The station is a large, complicated shape of metal, ceramics, solar collectors, exposed science experiments, and more. It’s gleaming, unnaturally so to Summer’s eyes because of the lack f atmospheric effects such as refraction. But it’s the only thing in the sky anywhere near them.

Minato gives them a frequency, and they tune in to a conversation already ongoing.

“–will destroy you if you do not comply! I repeat. Haven Station, this is the Fourth Mother. I am en route to your position. Surrender your visitors. I will destroy you if you do not comply!”

Minato jumps in. “Uh, sir, news says that a bunch of politicians and dignitaries and celebrities and stuff are visiting the station today.”

“And the Fourth Mother?” Otto asks.

“Uhhhhh. I’d have to–”

Otto cuts the girl off. “Google it, right. Listen, just hang loose, we got this.”

He switches channels. “Haven Station, this is Otto Newman, part of an independent rescue team. We are at your location and can offer assistance, if you tell us what you need.”

Haven starts talking at the same time as Minato does, and Otto angrily shunts the ops call to Summer while he handles the station.

“Ma’am, there’s a Mr. Arbogast calling in–” Minato explains.

Summer sighs. “I’ll take it.”

Jeff Arbogast is the State Department bureaucrat who announced the exile of the team from America, is nobody’s friend at Safe Haven. His voice is familiar. “Newman rescue team. You need to stand down. Tyran Enterprises is launching the Stellar Six to deal with the situation.”

“Hi, Jeff,” Summer says brightly. “Otto’s on another call. We heard something about a Fourth Mother. Is that the situation?”

“La Cuarta Madre, aka the Fourth Mother, is an Argentinian villain. She’s a neo-Nazi but doesn’t actually admit it,” Arbogast explains. “She’s boosting toward Haven Station now and has been broadcasting threats. She should be there within 10 minutes.”

“We don’t like neo-Nazis,” Summer explains. “We don’t much like Rex Tyran either. But we aren’t here to fight supervillains, just to protect people. If this woman gets here first, we’ll hold her off until they arrive. Then she’s their problem.”

Jeff’s next order sounds portentous, but his voice sounds almost… bored? “Be aware that you are in direct violation of the sovereignty of the United States should you interfere with the situation.”

Summer tries an experiment. “Yes, dad,” she says, in her best pouty-schoolgirl voice.

Arbogast doesn’t bristle. He just disconnects.

She tunes back into Haven’s comms to listen in along with Otto. “–several people who could use evacuation.”

Otto checks back with Minato. “We may need a portal soon. What’s our plasma pressure at?”

“Ummmm, 36% sir. We can do an emergency dump for a few seconds, but–”

Otto curses. “Mo would be all over this if he was awake.”

Summer can sense him hesitating, thinking about whether to order his brother roused from sleep.

In that moment, the Fourth Mother’s voice comes back over the radio. “Haven Station! You are cooperating with the Americans! Your American superhero team is on its way, eh? Ustedes bastardas se arrepentirán de esto!”

Summer is triangulating the radio chatter, and now points Otto at a bright light ascending from the radiant blue-and-white Earth. “There she is!”

Four more pinpoint lights detach and start heading for the station at high velocity. “Rockets,” Otto guesses, and starts jumping through comm frequencies. “Summer, screens out. Minato, let me know when plasma’s at 75%. Haven Station, are you okay if we protect you until the Stellar Six arrive?”

“We’ll take any aid you can offer,”

He curses. “Aria will never forgive me for letting us get this sloppy.”

The Chariot deploys its drones. As the rockets approach, their force screens snap on. Four simultaneous explosions light up the dark of space.

Now that she’s getting closer, Summer and Otto can make out details. The Fourth Mother is piloting some kind of retro-looking UFO. It’'s shaped like a disc with a dome over the top, and is bristling with weapons and gadgets. Summer estimates the size as about a football field in diameter.

Haven’s comm officer is back on the line. “I repeat, we cannot negotiate with you. There are civilian personnel on this station. You are opening fire on civilians.”

The UFO is close enough for video communication, and the Fourth Mother appears on screens in Summer’s Chariot and Otto’s interior dashboard. The woman herself looks like she’s six and a half feet tall based on the equipment surrounding her. Her blonde hair is plaited and hangs over one shoulder. She’s wearing what Summer can only describe mentally as gothic plate-mail, a cape, and a tabard of light blue and white colors and decorated with a sun in the center - the Argentinian national flag.

“I am opening fire on American Schweinhund!” she shouts. She pounds the control panel in front of her with two hands, making small but visible dents in the equipment.

Who is she trying to be? Summer asks herself in confusion.

“Haven Station, Stellar Six ETA in two minutes twenty seconds,” comes a voice. “We’ll be engaging the Fourth Mother.”

Summer can hear Otto swallow his pride. “Roger from Newman rescue team, Stellar Six. We’re playing defensive and will hand off to you on arrival.”

The UFO looks like it has its own drones. They’re spheres embedded in the hull that now detach and begin orbiting Haven at high speed. Summer deploys the full suite of her own drones, but she can’t compute the intercepts before the Fourth Mother gives her command to strike.

High-energy lasers shoot out from the spheres and carve a big and clearly well-planned cut into Haven. The space station has been severed into two parts, and they begin to drift apart and tumble.

More significantly, the air is rushing out of the station, and it’s carrying people with it. Some are in space suits - but not all of those have their helmets on. Like the station’s pieces, they are flung into space in ones and twos, while the Fourth Mother cackles from the controls of her UFO.

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Summer is grateful that Otto’s keeping his cool, because she’s really freaked out by what just happened. He doesn’t have to say much to keep her on task, and he knows what to say.

“We’re going to save them, Summer.”

We’re going to save them. We have to. That means there’s a way. There is a way.

They need oxygen. They need to get out of space. There’s the UFO - there’s the remnants of Haven, but that’s got too much mass to control - there’s –

Summer knows Otto is on her wavelength when she hears him call over comms. “Minato, plasma status.”

“68%, sir.”

“Emergency dump. All reserves.”


The emergency reserve is enough to make one jump - just one. But this is the sort of emergency that reserve was created for.

Summer’s drones are still out. They can wrap themselves in force fields - enough to contain one or two people safely.

She furiously redeploys the drones. Let the Fourth Mother’s laser drones do their worst to the station - it’s wrecked now.

One drone - one human body, floating into space. She prioritizes the ones she can see aren’t suited up, then the ones with no helmet on, using eyeball tracking in the cockpit.

The drones swarm toward their intended targets.

“How long can we hold a portal for?” she asks Minato.

“Umm… four seconds, ma’am.”

A conic section is the intersection of a cone with a plane. The cone is where people are falling - outward and downward, toward the distant Earth, away from the station, away from each other. The plane is wherever the Launch System’s portal can appear. The drones just have to apply thrust to constrain the cone to the size of the portal, and have everyone reach that point within a four-second window.

No problem.

“You’ll never use math after high school,” she mockingly tells herself as she computes.

She glances up, and sees Otto body-checking a huge mass of metal. The UFO has deployed gigantic metal arms with claw-like pincers at the end, and is was grabbing for the Chariot when Otto intervened.

“Keep going, I got this!” Otto calls.

She smiles in brief but profound appreciation, and goes back to her math. People are falling - people are suffocating - come on, you god damn machine, be a machine -

She shouts a string of numbers into the radio at Minato - coordinates for the Launch System. She counts down in her mind, moment by moment - then - “now!”

The light of the portal opens, brightening everything around it for a few seconds. The drones, wrapping up the numerous occupants of Haven Station in their force fields, fall toward it at ever-increasing speed.

Four… three… two… one…

The portal blinks closed.

She’s afraid to look. But she looks.

Everyone got through.

Summer lets out a pent-up sigh of relief, and refocuses on the reality around here. What’s going on?

“You Nazi piece of shit!” Otto is shouting, as he pounds on the exterior of the UFO.

“I am simply protecting the Global South from American and European ambition!” shouts the Fourth Mother. “It is the duty of the Master Race–”

“Shove it up your ass,” Otto yells, interrupting her.

Despite the big guy’s bravado, the UFO clearly has him outmatched in size, speed, and power.

There’s a weak radio signal that sends a cold chill down Summer’s spine. “Four of us… still in the station…”

“Minato, are the rescuees in the Launch System hangar?” she demands urgently.

“Yes ma’am!”

“Go ask them - whoever’s in charge down there - for an exact headcount.”

Summer maneuvers the Chariot - dodging swings of the pincer arms - toward one of the chunks of Haven. “Which section are you in?” she asks urgently.

“Primary…conduit…” The radio is breaking up. Summer doesn’t know which piece holds the “primary conduit”. And the chunks are flying away from each other rapidly.

She watches the other chunk, the one she didn’t dock at, turn and twist. The way it’s turning matches up with the breaks in the radio. Cursing internally, she swings the Chariot around, and lashes out with its grapples to seize the chunk of space station.

She undocks and drifts into the station. Electricity is out, but she’s able to project light from every surface of her body.

“I see a light!” comes the radio call, much more audible now. In the dim of the stricken station’s interior, she sees four bodies moving in space suits, with four helmet lamps lit.

“Come with me,” she urges, and they do, without hesitation.

Outside, she realizes what must happen next. “Otto - four passengers. The Chariot’s only got two seats.”

Returning to Earth, and blasting off again, will take time the duo don’t have. Otto realizes what he’s being asked to do - leave Summer alone in a supervillain battle against a superior opponent, someone who’ll show no restraint, and take the four astronauts safely to Earth himself.

“We’re going to save them, Otto,” she says quietly.

The pair can see the approaching rocket carrying some or all of the Stellar Six. It’s half a minute away.

Minato’s voice comes through. “Ma’am? Commander Harden says they’re short four. He says–”

Summer’s relief floods through her. “Tell Commander Harden the four are accounted for and they’re on their way.”

Otto slips under another grab of the Fourth Mother’s UFO pincers, and rockets toward her, transforming into vehicle mode as he does. “All aboard!” he calls. He spins in place, opens his doors, and the astronauts use their suit thrusters to meet him.

Summer boards the Chariot again, and transforms it into its humanoid configuration. She stands defiantly between the Fourth Mother and Otto, as he rockets toward Earth. “Back off, blondie.”

“I’ll show you that machine-people are no match for the superior race!” the Fourth Mother shouts. “The fate of the rebellious is death!”

The laser orbs take up a position around the UFO, and start beaming.

Summer has no way to anticipate which drone will fire next, nor in which angle. The lasers seem to emanate from the surface, the way her own EM-equipped skin can project holograms or force fields.

Neat trick. Wish I’d thought of it.

The Chariot’s own emitters are online, and it’s a war of light against light. Coherent beams of photons against quasi-electron meshes, with the winner being determined by who has the bigger power bank. Summer knows with a sinking feeling that it’s going to be the Nazi UFO.

The Stellar Six rocket arrives, and three suited figures emerge.

“Max Armstrong!” announces one over radio.

“Ellie Dee!” calls another.

“Ray Blaze!” the third shouts.

“We are - The Stellar Six!”

The Fourth Mother is not impressed. “Che, escuchame. You corporate ‘heroes’ will fall before the righteousness of my cause.”

There’s more banter, but Summer is less worried about it, now that the cavalry - however distasteful they are - are here.

She’s mostly worried that two enormous chunks of high-tech space station are going to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere soon, and that she has no control over where they’ll land.

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Summer realizes something important. There is one thing here that might have the mass and raw power to deal with Haven Station.

The Fourth Mother’s UFO.

Otto has been firm. “We’re not fighting supervillains. We’re a rescue organization.”

What if you need to fight the supervillain to rescue people?

She spends precious seconds considering it, before the hard truth has the power to speak itself in her heart.

No. I am going to follow Otto’s lead. I am going to do things the right way. Even if I fail.

Her drones are gone - used to save the lives of the station’s personnel, now littering the Launch System’s deck at Safe Harbor. The Apollo system is dead weight, half a world away.

Her fingers fly across the cockpit controls, and the Chariot wheels in space, then burns at maximum acceleration toward the bits of Haven.

“I don’t know when we’ll lose contact, ma’am,” Minato reports. “I can’t portal anything to you before then. Plasma pressure is seriously low. But um, is there anything I can do?”

“Wish me luck.”

“Good luck, ma’am.”

She can’t keep Haven in orbit, but she can steer it down. Where?

The space station was heading south toward the equator during the incident. Most of the land mass of Earth is in the northern hemisphere. That means most of where it’s going will be water. That’s something.

Water that makes tidal waves.

God dammit.

She positions the Chariot between the two halves of Haven, and fires grapples at both. They connect, but the entire system begins to wobble as the differing vectors of motion suddenly interact. The station has enough momentum that it could conceivably snap the grapples, despite being molecular chains of carbon atoms.

Re-entry feels like riding a bucking bronco at a rodeo where there’s no time limit. Summer has to experiment with her circumstances. She thinks that the Haven halves will strain against the grapples, then rebound. During that time, she needs the Chariot to avoid being crushed between them, then reel in the grapples to shorten the slack.

Sure enough, the cables tighten, the whole Chariot spins dizzyingly, and Summer is thrown about the cockpit despite her safety straps. She scrambles to regain control, to reel in the grapples in time.

The hulls collide. The grapples begin to retract - but can’t. There’s a snag. Summer follows the knots with her eyes, and realizes she doesn’t have time to fix it.

The exterior is heating up. The Chariot is beginning re-entry. Both the hydrogen rockets and the electromagnetic thrusters are at full power. There’s no fixing the problem from here.

Summer ejects the cockpit canopy, exposing herself to the sudden friction of Earth’s atmosphere against the terrific velocity of an orbiting space station. She’s gone to space and returned before, but never at this kind of speed, and it’s all she can do to hold on without being flung away from the Chariot cockpit.

She applies her own thrusters just to steady herself, and takes a few uncertain steps out of the cockpit and toward the bucking hulls. She almost slips twice. There - she’s got hold of one cable. She tugs, and tugs, and frees it. One more - two more.

She realizes too late that the relatively gentle interior of the cockpit is not safe against the rigors of re-entry. Sparks and explosions are already going off as the superheated air around her starts destroying her controls.

Maybe she doesn’t need it. She’s got her HUD, the built-in eye-tracking system. It’s still synced up to the Chariot’s main computer, which is well insulated. Grapple 4 - retract - fire. Grapple 5 - retract - fire.

It’s slow going. The last one, line 7, needs to be triggered three times before it responds.

The Chariot and both halves of Haven are a meteorite plummeting to earth. And Summer is on the outside, holding on, desperately trying to retain her grip, keep herself oriented, and guide the thing on a straight and narrow path.

She rockets over Australia - hi sis, hi Leo, can you see me?.

The atmosphere has shifted from black to red to blue. There’s nothing slowing her down. There’s nothing else she can do.

If there’s any time to jump, it’s now, she thinks. The Chariot is unrecoverable. They’ll have to send Leviathans for it, before anyone else gets ahold of its technology.

She leaps.

She falls.

Built-up momentum and air resistance are pitching her every which way, but as her thrusters come online, she regains a measure of control.

She still comes down like a rock, a mile off the coast of Australia.

Her clothes are absolutely shredded. Fortunately, she’s got a holographic wardrobe, and her emitters are functional, so she can enter town without creating a scandal.

It takes her a little time to find a phone she can use. She’s a stranger with no money and wants to make a long-distance call to a mysterious phone number, after all. But someone finally softens after hearing her story, and she’s on the phone.

The relays click through. The virtual voice software has to transfer a call across the world and under the sea. But Minato picks up.

The girl’s voice is hard to make out. “Summer? Ma’am! Oh good. Otto is on the line. Um, Mr. Arbogast is on the line too. He says Tyran Enterprises wants something. Just a second…”

Summer hears the click and an argument going on. “–drop them off somewhere safe,” Otto is saying. “I don’t care what Tyran wants.”

Otto sounds distant too. He must be calling in from somewhere remote.

“Hi gang,” Summer says, to let people know she can hear them.

She hears Arbogast, and is surprised at what he says. “I have to put Tyran through. But listen. You have to bluff them. Buy time.”

“We have people in need of medical assistance,” Otto says. “Why bluff them?”

“Trust me,” says Arbogast. “Here they come.”

A new voice comes on the call. It’s a woman, sounding professional. “Are we speaking to the team that rescued the people aboard Haven?”

“That’s us,” Otto says.

“I represent Tyran Enterprises. I understand you have teleportation technology. I can provide you coordinates. We have a medical team ready. Please open your portal as soon as possible.”

Summer can sense Otto’s hesitation. Arbogast has dicked the team over, sure. But when asked by that guy to distrust Tyran Enterprises - nobody’s idea of a good guy - what should he do?

“Minato,” he says carefully. “Don’t waste time with anything but just what I ask about. Okay?”


“Did we use our emergency reserves? Is the tank empty?”


Summer can hear Minato’s voice. She’s almost ready to jump into some kind of “but, we accumulated more power” explanation. But Minato heard Otto’s order.

Otto speaks again. “Okay. Well, Tyran, our portal system at present won’t be able to deliver. However – Minato, are the rescuees receiving medical attention?”

“Yes sir.”

“Good. And the astronauts and cosmonauts and such from the station are with them?”

“Yes sir.”

Otto’s decisive tone comes through even in spite of the static on the connection. “Tyran, we’ll be in touch through Mr. Arbogast. Arbogast, please stay on the line.”

There’s a pause. Arbogast’s next words send shivers down Summer’s spine.

“They’re gone. You may have just saved yourselves from having a strike team coming through that portal and taking over your base.”

Summer can hear the chill in Otto’s voice as well. “You got evidence of that?”

“A little bird told me there might be some suspicious things about the timing of the Stellar Six rocket launch, and just what made the Fourth Mother pick today to go on a rampage.”

Otto’s question sounds skeptical. It’s hard to tell over the shitty connection, but Summer imagines she hears doubt in his tone. “That sounds suspiciously like you’re looking out for us, Arbogast.”

“I’m looking out for America. And I’m always on the lookout for who her allies really are.”

There’s a click, and Minato jumps back in. “Um, he hung up. Do you two need a portal home? We have plasma pressure back. Where are you?”

“Honolulu, Hawaii, the northernmost point on the island,” Otto says.

“Geraldton, Australia,” Summer adds. “I’ll wait near the lighthouse on the western spur.”

“Wow! You two really went places. Um, bring back souvenirs!” Minato squeals.

Summer sighs and hangs up. She is so not doing that.

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Once Otto and Summer portal back from their respective destinations, their first order of business is to check on the status of the people from Haven. Otto has brought his four astronauts along through the portal. They exit his vehicle form, and he transitions to his human-scale shell.

Commander Joshua Harden of NASA has taken charge. He recognizes Otto’s brisk walk and no-nonsense demeanor as indicating the person in charge, and approaches the group. The two men shake hands, Harden directs his fellow astronauts to the adjacent room where people are resting, Otto introduces himself and Summer, and the conversation gets down to business.

“Tyran Enterprises offered to take your people on,” Otto explains. “For uh, reasons I don’t really know how to explain right now, we hesitated on doing that. I want you to understand that before we do anything else. Your peoples’ safety is our prime concern, but we got wind that it might be at risk if we just sent you along.”

Harden nods in understanding. “Your people had first aid kits, and a couple of those fish-folk said they were doctors. Well they really meant it. Some of the folk who hit vacuum will need professional treatment, but it looks like things are stable for now. There’s some hospitals in the States you can send us to, that I’ll personally vouch for.”

Otto points up at the control booth, high above the Launch System’s deck. “Minato up there will control the targeting for the portal. She can patch you through to make outbound calls.”

The astronaut smiles. “I appreciate that. In the meantime, do you folks want to come meet some of the folks whose lives you all just saved?”

This offer takes Otto aback. “Uh, not to sound ungrateful, sir, but we were just doing our job. And we’re kind of on the outs with the US right now, so associating with us may not be the best move.”

Harden claps Otto on the arm. “Haven’s not about the United States. It’s about bringing a whole world together. Come on.”

The side room is normally used for holding spare parts for machines such as the Chariot and the Sled, and for the boys’ vehicle forms. Right now it’s being used for medical treatment.

A thought comes to Otto as they walk through the big doorway. “Did anyone bring phones - recording devices - anything like that?”

“We don’t allow any electronics aboard Haven,” Harden answers. “Any stray radiation could tamper with either the station’s own systems, or experiments going on. We did screen people coming aboard.”

Otto nods, and turns to Summer. “Listen. You’re better at this meet and greet stuff than I am. And I gotta check on something. Can you fill in for me?”

Summer thinks about it for a moment, then gives a swift nod. “Will do, chief.”

She’s surprised when Harden, having heard more of the details from his four late-comer colleagues, introduces her as the pilot of the ship that saved them. “To the extent that I know what happened, ladies, gentlemen, and others, this young woman saved the life of everyone here - and kept Haven from coming down on land, and hurting still more people.”

He follows Otto out. In his place, a swarm of people surround Summer. The professional spacers are out of their suits, and are still wearing their pressure garments underneath. The others who are up and about are dressed as they came - modest civilian garb, with nothing that would float around or get snagged, along with patches or sashes indicating their national origin.

They reach out to her, making grateful human contact, and her eyes start to tear up in recognition of the gratitude she feels from them. “I’m glad you’re okay, I’m just glad we could help,” she finds herself saying, stumbling over words.

The gratitude becomes verbal, with people expressing their feelings in a dozen languages. And the questions come too: “How did you do it?” “Did we get teleported?” “Who do you work for?”

She takes a step back, to try and address the crowd as a whole.

“Hi. So, um, we’re the Newman rescue organization. Otto, myself, and two other members, Big Bill and Mo, are all robot people. We have thoughts and feelings and lives and stuff, but we’re also built of carbon allotropes and ionic fluids and stuff, not flesh and blood. We don’t work for anybody, which means we can really work for anybody. We don’t have any allegiance or agenda. We just want to use our tech to rescue people, wherever they are, and whatever’s going on.”

“Being robots means we can do stuff like go into space. Being people means we care about other people, like any regular person would. So, you know, why not do what we can?”

A realization lands with her, and takes over her mouth before she can stop it.

“We’re not here to take sides. We’re just here to help. We’re not going to fight peoples’ wars, but we will fight to save lives.”

More questions come in - “You’re robots? But you look so human!” “Which one of you is in charge?” “Where are we anyway?”

She decides to transform before the crowd, and there’s gasps and oohs and ahhs at her armored robot mode. But she turns back, and smiles. “I know what it’s like to not be sure where you are, or what’s going to happen next. You were all just in a pretty serious situation. I promise you that we’ll be sending you back home soon. Commander Harden and Otto are working out some details. So I’m going to stay here until they do that, and try to answer whatever else I can. Okay? Let’s see… I look human because…”

Summer is exhausted. One of the astronauts - a woman named Julia - had finally intervened with the crowd. She’d probably recognized Summer’s feelings from looking at her face, because somehow she just knew.

Summer had time to run back to her quarters for a change of clothes. Now dressed in sweats and a “Megazone 23” t-shirt, she rejoins Otto in the control room.

People are boarding via the Sled for transference. Once through, the Sled will be recalled once everyone is off. Minato is handling the logistics. Harden has rejoined his people.

“What do you think?” Otto asks. He doesn’t turn, but Summer knows the question is for her.

“Kinda iffy,” Summer admits. “I don’t know who to trust. Arbogast sounded like he wanted to help us, but why us and why now?”

“Sounded like he trusts Tyran less. Good idea.”

Otto points at a sticky note affixed to the control room’s extensive set of panels. “He said call him when people are sent through. Seems like the time for it.”

Summer nods. Otto makes the call and puts it on speaker, for everyone in the booth.

“Jeff Arbogast. Who’s this please?”

“Otto Newman. Summer’s with me. Minato too.”

Summer can hear much more nuance in the voice now, when the call quality isn’t so bad. He sounds relieved.

“Got more information for you lot. You’re probably asking, why is that State Department asshole helping us, right?”

“Nailed it,” quips Otto.

“Does the name Alycia Chin ring any bells?” Arbogast asks.

Summer freezes, and Otto looks over at her.

The bureaucrat continues. “Because a very significant data dump was sent to assorted intelligence organizations. State was notified. Turns out, miss Summer Newman’s name is in that dump as well. As a close associate of the known terrorist Alycia Chin. Wanna talk about that?”

Otto glances sternly at Summer. She’s not sure how to read what he’s saying - or not saying. But perhaps nothing is what he’s saying. He wants her to make a choice.

Summer gulps, and speaks up. “Well, yes, I’m good friends with her. She’s not what you think though - she’s trying to do the right thing, and–”

Arbogast’s next words should have put her at ease, but it’s been an emotional rollercoaster today and Summer isn’t coping well.

“Part of the dump is her apparently faithful and self-sacrificing service in the name of cleaning up her father’s criminal empire.”

“Ye-yes. She did that.”

“Even had a residence in Halcyon,” Arbogast notes.

Summer’s sudden relief makes her run her mouth a bit too much. “Yes, we were roommates.”

She’s gratified in a way to hear the bureaucrat start choking over the phone. “You… were roommates… with the terrorist Alycia Chin?”

Summer pokes her fingertips together awkwardly. “She needed a place to stay. And she was always good for rent. And didn’t wake our other roommate up too much–”

She can practically hear Arbogast struggling to put his life back together. “Okay. Alright. I can deal with this. So. My point, I think… young lady, you have led an extraordinarily complicated life, haven’t you.”

That’s not his point and she knows it. But she can’t help but smirk a bit. “Yes, I have. Your point, sir?”

“My point is that while Tyran Enterprises could have very well been after your tech, valuable in itself, it’s also possible they were making a play for Chin, by acquiring you. Whose father’s tech, and forgive me for saying so, puts yours to shame in the larger scheme of things.”

“No, we get that,” Otto drawls.

Arbogast continues, clearly pained by this entire conversation. “This puts me in the awkward position of needing to secure your cooperation, to thwart any future attempts by Tyran or others to get at you, while still being someone you can and probably should distrust. None of us would like it to be this way, but here we are.”

“Tough shit,” Otto grunts.

If Arbogast is upset by the dismissal of his complaints, he doesn’t reveal it. “Fine. Mr. Newman - Otto - I take it you are currently in charge. Or I would be speaking to Mr. Snow.”

Otto makes a correction. “It’s Mr. Leo Newman. He got married.”

This is a level of detail Arbogast doesn’t seem prepared to tackle right now. “I see. Well congratulations to him and his spouse. In the meantime…”

The man lets out a long sigh. “I can’t approve you folks coming back to the States. That’s levels above me, and is going to be further complicated by this Chin situation. So aside from that… what do you folks need right now? What will help you thrive?”

Summer can see the tension of decision on Otto’s face.

“I could be sarcastic, but I am gonna take a chance that you’re being serious about this.”

“Thank you,” Arbogast says.

Otto collects his thoughts. “We have raw materials. We have production capacity. We have everything we need - except energy. I looked at our options. We got a big deal about safety around here as I’m sure you’ve surmised. Fusion power would probably take care of us for a good long time, 'cept we lack the expertise and access to build a fusion plant.”

There’s silence on the line, and Summer’s fear begins to creep back into her heart.

“You folks give sanctuary to refugees, right?” Arbogast finally asks.

“That’s one of our functions.”

The man’s voice hums over the phone. “So if, say, we knew about an engineer that needed a place to go, maybe for a couple of years, with the understanding that it would go very badly for you if something happened to him…”

Otto snorts. “You sound like the Godfather.”

“There’s some overlap in our job descriptions,” concedes Arbogast. “Anyway, think it over.”

The call ends, and Otto looks back at Summer with a frown. “I’m starting to think I should get my own RV and move in next to Leo an’ Aria,” he confesses.

Summer pats him on the arm. “You’re doing fine, big guy. Go get some sleep. I’ll hang out until Big Bill and Mo are up.”

“That’s supposed to be my line,” Otto grumbles. “But fine. Wish to god coffee did something for us.”

He walks off, and Summer plops down into a chair. She catches Minato looking at her.

“Ma’am? Aren’t you tired?”

Summer’s smile is wan. “I am. I really, really am. But I’ll be okay. Listen. You take a break too. You did good today.”

Minato brightens up, and snaps off a weird-looking salute. “Thank you! I’ll keep doing my best.”

She too takes off, and Summer is alone again.

1 Like

Travel via Leviathan is slow, boring, and isolating. Unfortunately for Summer, it has to be done. She has to get the wreck of the Chariot back. If she can haul Haven’s remains up from the depths, maybe she can apologize to the governments of the world that sponsored it - America, India, Japan, and other high-tech powers with a space presence.

She’s brought along a laptop, and plugged it into the Leviathan interior’s power hub. She brought a selection of print material as well, just in case she gets tired of looking at screens. By the time the spooky mechanical kraken arrives at its destination, it’s been hours and hours and hours. She has exhausted all of these options and is laying on her back, rhythmically kicking the walls to try and cope with her cabin fever.

The actual scan for Haven’s remnants shouldn’t take long. It’s a big honkin’ space station broken in two, made of metal, with a silhouette that would stick out against any natural geography. And sure enough, there it is.

Summer runs lights across the exterior. There’s scorch marks from re-entry, plus plenty of damage and overgrowth from its time underwater. The interior is probably totally gone, the way the Chariot’s cockpit was damaged by her oversight.

She wonders if the visitors to the station were allowed to bring anything personal with them. If so, it would still be in there, waterlogged and potentially destroyed. She could go rummaging - or she could mind her business, and respect any privacy the station’s inhabitants once had. She opts for the latter.

The Chariot’s grapples have long since disengaged with the loss of system power. The Leviathan has no trouble extracting the aerospace craft from the grave of the Haven station. After a few attempts, she realizes extracting Haven itself would be another matter.

She launches a buoy. When it reaches the surface, it’ll start broadcasting.

This got handled. Finally, I can relax, she tells herself.

Unfortunately, the return trip will take even longer.

The Leviathan docks with Safe Harbor, and Summer operates the cargo winches to haul the wrecked Chariot onto a dry and level surface. Once she’s out and everything’s unhooked, the Leviathan swims away, and she waves goodbye to it.

The next hour is spent inspecting the Chariot for anything salvageable. The hull itself, being basically a very large tapestry of woven buckytubes, can be cleaned off and repurposed. But everything inside that is damaged badly enough to be useless.

Summer sighs, and wipes her brow. She was so excited to have her own cool jet. Now, the prospect of building a second one from scratch just feels like a chore.

She doesn’t find Otto in the control room. Minato isn’t here, but one of the other Blood has taken over for her. “Where’s the big guy?” she asks, and she’s directed to the conference room.

Otto is there, along with a new face. They’re sitting, but Otto rises, as does the stranger, when Summer enters.

“This is Dr. Somsak Panya,” Otto says by way of introduction. The stranger is short, a little stocky, with a perpetual smile on his face and graying hairs at his temples. He thrusts out his hand like a knight ready to joust, and Summer shakes with an equally bright smile.

“Dr. Panya’s going to be staying with us for uh, two years. He’ll be teaching us nuclear fusion, and we’ll be building a plant on site. I’ve already promised him our cooperation, and uh, of course, our discretion about his current whereabouts.”

Summer beams. “Of course. Dr. Panya, pleasure to meet you. Summer Newman.”

“I’ve heard!” the doctor says enthusiastically, and Summer turns to Otto in surprise.

“We were just talking about you, in connection with this,” explains Otto. He holds up a tablet.

Summer can read the news headlines. “Rescue Robot Charms Station Survivors”.

She scans the article, then looks up in confusion. “This is… an article about me? I just talked to those people, like…”

“Two days ago,” Otto says. “Lose time in the Leviathan, huh?”

Summer glances back at the tablet. “They have my high school yearbook photo. They say… what is this? ‘The robot girl demonstrated her capabilities, but more importantly, her compassion, in comforting a room full of frightened dignitaries and celebrities, including…’”

Otto smiles warmly. “Looks like Safe Harbor has a new face for PR, at least while Aria is on vacation.”

Summer holds up a finger. “That is not what I signed on for, Otto. I cannot handle this kind of pressure right now. I just signed up to help you guys out on rescues, not-- not-- be famous, all of a sudden.”

Otto tilts his head. “I hear ya, sunshine. Listen. I’m not trying to lay anything on you, okay? Just saying that when people come calling on us, they’ll probably want to talk to you. So be prepared, yeah?”

Summer frowns, and backs down. “Yeah. Yeah. I get you. Sorry.”

“S’all good.” Otto waves the issue away with a dismissive swipe of one hand. “You sound like you need a break. I’m gonna run Dr. Panya around, let him meet the Mysterious High Council of Seven, show him Mancini’s plasma gear, talk about carbon refactory temperatures, all that fun sexy stuff.”

Summer’s head snaps up. “Peter Mancini. Hey. Otto, should we be worried about that? He licensed the plasma tech to us, and Aria gave him Leo’s carbon construction in return. If the feds are on our neck - if Tyran is after us - shouldn’t we–”

Otto cuts her off with another wave of the hand. “Aria handled that, Summer. Nobody except Peter Mancini knows it’s us. And he’s got a gentleman’s agreement to let us keep using the stuff as long as we let him keep using our stuff.”

His tone grows more serious. “Take a breath. Take a step back. Let go. Go do whatever you gotta do to relax and re-center. Okay?”

“Okay,” Summer murmurs. “Thanks, Otto.”

She smiles at Dr. Panya, who smiles back, and gives Otto a brief hug. Then, she heads out, uncertain of where she should go, but certain she needs to go somewhere.

She needs to get out of Safe Harbor.

She briefly thinks about going back to Ibiza, finding another party boat, maybe a nice looking boy with not too much in his head–

No, she tells herself. That’s snack food for the soul. I do not need empty calories right now.

She settles for London.

The portal opens over the strait of Dover. She flies northwest until she sights land, then keeps flying, eyes peeled for signs. If she follows something called the M2 and/or the A2, she should eventually reach London.

If people are surprised to see a flying girl, they don’t show it. She receives some waves from pedestrians, and a few car horns she assumes are meant in support. She waves back when she can. The rest of the time, she’s busy thinking.

I’m flighty. That’s my problem. That’s always been my problem. I had Leo to keep me grounded, a long long time ago. Then I left him, to be myself. Only I came back to him, because friend or lover or whatever, who I was is someone who needed something like him.

Now I’m just floating aimlessly. I lived up to my goal - I told people I was a robot. They even wrote an article about me. And now I’m running away from it.

She sets down - it wouldn’t be a good idea to test the air defenses or superheroes of a new city, she reasons, especially without a visa - and starts walking. It’s cold and drizzling, so she projects a sky-facing screen as an umbrella.

Hands in pockets, she stalks into the city.

Alycia kept me anchored. She was so serious. There was nothing romantic there - but I didn’t need there to be. Being her friend was intense enough to keep me focused. But now she’s off doing missions for the former Director, I guess. Or - on the run, because of some kind of data leak? Either way, she isn’t answering her phone any more.

There’s a store labeled “ALDI” nearby, and she wanders into it.

As she wanders the aisles, looking at vegetables and produce and canned goods and such from another country, she realizes she’s run out of excuses to tell herself.

I signed up with Otto’s crew to have fun. I was going to do the rescue stuff seriously, and I did. I put Radiance away just a bit and switched gears, but… it was just kind of a hobby, wasn’t it. Not a commitment, not the way it is for Otto. I wanted to look cool, and feel independent.

In the frozen foods section, Summer hangs her head. She doesn’t cry, but she wants to.

She feels a hand on her arm, and looks up. An older man, dressed like an employee, is looking at her. “Miss, may I be of assistance?”

She makes a show of patting her pockets, and smiles weakly. “You know what, I forgot my wallet. I’m sorry. I’ll come back later.”

The man watches as she walks out, back into the rain of London.

1 Like

To Summer, the biggest landmarks in London are Big Ben and the Millennium Eye. She orients herself toward the white wheel in the distance and keeps moving.

She thinks of it like a Ferris wheel, but as she approaches, it’s clear from the signs that it’s to be called an observation wheel. Okay, fair enough. Sounds a lot less fun to her, but it’s not her country.

She crosses one of the many bridges (“London Bridge is falling down, falling down, falling down, London Bridge is falling down, I’m a rescue robot and I can help with thaaat…”). She’s still angling vaguely northwest, the same direction she’s been going since Dover, because this is not about going somewhere specific, but about wandering until her head clears.

She sees signs for the British Museum. She’s so not interested in that. All she remembers is the idea - gleaned from talks with the ABCs in school - Colin’s clique - god dammit, I do not need this reminder - that the British Museum is a stockpile of stolen artifacts from other cultures, an echo of empire that nobody’s really acknowledging.

Past that are signs to the zoo. Marginally more interesting, she thinks. But she reaches it, and keeps walking, before she can consciously analyze her own feelings. Guess a zoo won’t fix her problem either. But there was also signs for a park. A park would be calming.

She walks, and finds herself staring at a sign advertising “the Washington”. It looks like an old-style pub, quite fitting given the maze of streets she’s found herself walking. This whole neighborhood must have grown up organically, over how many decades - god, how many centuries?

She’s a foot off the ground, about to look around for the park, when three men come out of the Washington. The middle one sees her and raises his arms to flag her down. “Hi! Excuse me, I’m sorry, do you have a moment?”

His accent marks him as British - Summer doesn’t have an ear for the more specific aspects of language in the U.K. She touches down again and walks over. The man tells his mates something. They in turn grin, snap jaunty salutes at him, wave with big grins in Summer’s direction, and head off into the rain.

The man himself is tall, lean, with dark hair and a charming smile. It takes her a moment, but Summer recognizes him and gasps. “I know you! You’re–”

He holds up hands and shakes his head, in a self-effacing gesture that halts her in her tracks. “Call me Tom. I’m an actor. And you’re that rescue robot that saved Haven, aren’t you? Summer… Newman, was it?”

“Yes sir.”

Tom winces in pretend pain. “Please don’t call me sir. It makes me feel incredibly old. Look, I don’t know protocol for superheroes, and I apologize if I’m overstepping by calling you out like this. But you see, you saved a friend of mine aboard the station. I should like to talk to you for a bit, if you’re alright.”

He gestures behind him, toward the Washington.

Summer searches her feelings for a moment, hears no objection from her angst, and smiles. “Sure. I don’t have any money though, so I’ll pass on ordering anything.”

Tom raises his eyebrows. “You eat? Well, if you do have an appetite, let’s call it my treat.”

Summer declines a drink - “I don’t have ID and I don’t like alcohol anyway” - but the smoked bacon cheeseburger off the main menu looks enticing enough for her to request.

Tom starts working on a beer, poured into a distinctively shaped tall glass.

The early and inevitable conversation about “what is a robot” begins, and Summer handles it with a quick and elegant grace compared to her previous attempts to explain herself. She wraps it up like so.

“I don’t know acting, but I can sort of imagine from reading about it. So, you have a character you’re playing, right? That character sort of lives in your head. What’s happening is that your brain actually takes on their traits. You are being someone else for a time. Well, what if you could pour that someone, complete with memories of the life they must have had, into a waiting robot shell? That’s why I call myself human, as well as being a robot.”

To his credit, Tom is doing his best to follow the explanation without always succeeding. But he grasps this part of it very clearly. Summer can see the recognition in his eyes.

“There’s specific techniques for getting into that kind of mindset,” he explains. “Now I’m intensely curious whether those techniques could be applied to this sort of robot creation. I gather this is not something you’d do casually, of course.”

Summer shakes her head quickly. “No, oh god no. It’s terrifying, the idea of being able to just, you know, create someone. Because now you have the responsibility of their whole life. You’ve become a parent.”

“Have you done that?” Tom asks curiously.

Summer blushes. “N-no, no, I haven’t. I’m - I haven’t found - uh, found the right person.”

Only embarrassment and needlessly technical explanation lie down this path, so she whips out her phone to show off the prize of her photo gallery: pictures of the newest Newman.

“That’s Leo, and that’s Aria, and that’s Fez. Aria’s my twin sister,” she adds quickly, before Tom makes the wrong assumption. But he looks at the pictures, and marvels.

“And the young man is… your creator?”

Summer nods, and blushes more.

“It’s amazing what technology can do,” he says at last. “Holograms, robots, all the stuff you’re talking about. Makes me wonder what use an actor will be in the future.”

Summer’s eyes go wide. “Oh, no - no no no. Listen. What you are so good at - you have to be, if you’re successful, and obviously, you know, you are - but what you excel at is emotion. And all this stuff, all the stuff I’m talking about with robots and so on, emotion matters so much. People are so good at seeing through fakery, but they respond so strongly to the real thing. Really, so much of the brain is built around processing stories. We resonate with narratives. Stories, and feelings, and personas. What you do is what made someone like me possible.”

Tom finishes his beer, and grins roguishly. “Well. I’m gratified to hear that. Because that’s what I wanted to talk to you about.”

Summer blinks.

Tom’s chicken Milanese and Summer’s burger arrive, but remain untouched for the moment. He’s too busy explaining.

“I think the headlines don’t do you justice. I wasn’t there, but my friend was. You talked to him, and everyone else, the people you’d just rescued from outer space. I hope you appreciate how frightened they really were. And how in awe of you they became, after you just casually scooped them out of space, accounted for every one of them, and then came back to tell them it would be okay, and stuck around to make sure it would be. From what I am told, they had questions, but mostly they wanted reassurance. You gave it to them.”

“You could have been some sort of, oh, faceless, impersonal figure. Many superheroes are. I’m not sure why. Maybe you know. But I suppose it’s because to them, it’s just a job, or they feel awkward talking to people, or something like that. So I feel that calling you a ‘robot’ set a certain expectations in the minds of readers. You may physically be a robot, but your heart and soul must be the most human things of all.”

Summer hangs her head, and smiles, and reaches for her burger, but doesn’t quite take hold of it. “I… I honestly am feeling sort of disconnected from things right now. I want to do the rescue work, but I feel like I haven’t committed to it the way Otto and the others have.”

Tom leans in and studies her face for a few moments. “And you’re having trouble sorting out your emotions about the matter? Because you’re not as committed as you feel you ought to be?”

Summer smiles wanly. “I guess. Let me have a bit of burger and I’ll try to put it into words.”

She works on the burger, and finds it delicious. Tom works on his chicken, and seems like he’s equally appreciative.

At length Summer is ready. “I’ve always had a problem of commitment. To things, I mean, not people. I’m - I’m kind of a sucker for love and romance, I’d never - but anyway. I need people to anchor me to something, or I drift off. I’m terrible at a buffet, because I want a plate of everything.”

She looks over at Tom, finds him watching her, and blushes slightly. The attention is distracting. But she pushes on regardless. “What you said, about your friend. That really helped. I really needed to hear that today. Because that brings me back. I care about people. I want to help people. I want to rescue people. But right now… honestly, I’m so disconnected from people. We live in - in a secret base. We’ve been kicked out of America by the State Department. I don’t know how to hold onto that feeling. But I know I have to try.”

“And what I said, about acting, and what you said, about how your friend saw me versus how I saw the experience, that makes me think maybe I can anchor myself. I just have to put myself in the place of the people I’m rescuing, don’t I.”

She puts the burger down. “God, I feel so selfish. I feel like I’m expecting praise or admiration or something for just doing–”

Tom cuts in, gently. “No. You’re looking for a human connection. The same way the people you rescue are looking for one from you. That’s one of the most natural things in the world.”

Summer chokes on a laugh. “It is, isn’t it. And I tell people that, all the time. Now it’s my turn, huh?”

“I don’t know anyone who doesn’t need the same comfort they give everyone around them,” Tom says with a kindly smile.

The burger was great. Tom didn’t finish his chicken, but Summer realizes with belated guilt that he probably ate with his mates earlier, and was just ordering more food to be polite with her.

Outside, she turns back and looks at the Washington’s sign. “I should come here again. This was so nice.”

“Book your reservation early,” Tom advises.

Summer blinks, and gasps. “Oh - oh god, I’m sorry if I–”

Tom raises his hands, and smiles disarmingly. “It was my treat, and my pleasure to meet you.”

Summer’s smile is warm. “I feel the same way. You really helped me out.”

She pulls up the Newman rescue hotline in her phone’s contacts, and shows it to him. He in turn takes a picture. “I’d feel very awkward and forward saying ‘here is my number’, but in all seriousness, I imagine someone in your position might occasionally need help from our organization, or know someone who does. Your friend did. So just in case, alright? But please don’t share it widely.”

Tom nods with a grateful smile. “I will. Thank you, Summer.”

Summer beams brightly. “Thank you, Tom. I think I should get going. There’s no emergency right now, but… there’s a whole world to see. I’m going to go see a bit of it before I go home.”

Tom waves, as Summer levitates, then launches, and spirals upward into the skies over London.

The Millau Viaduct in southern France was opened twenty years ago to address road congestion on the driving route between Paris and nearby Spain. It is regarded as an engineering marvel among bridge builders, and has won several awards.

Now it is under attack by the Fourth Mother, accompanied by a squad of diesel-powered, smoke-spewing war robots. The Argentinian crypt-fascist has decided to attack this particular bridge for unclear reasons. The people driving on the bridge don’t really care about why she’s doing it - they’re too busy screaming, as the bridge wobbles and buckles.

The Launch System portal disgorges Otto, Mo, and Bill in quick succession. The Sled follows - with Summer aboard.

She’s at a newly constructed station, built to operate her drones. These launch off the deck of the Sled and take up orbit around the bridge. High-resolution LIDAR scanners probe the bridge for big cracks - places the drones have to go, now, lest the whole thing come down. Building a new Chariot will take time. But Summer isn’t going to wait until she can be a rescue team member her way. She’s going to help now, however she can, whatever that means.

Mo and Otto play zone defense against the villain and her squad of metal men. They won’t have to wait long. Hellenic and other members of the European superhero community are on the way.

Big Bill hovers over the bridge itself, and loads cars into his cargo bay one by one. Sometimes he’ll lower his grapples, and Summer’s drones help connect them safely to a truck or other sturdy commercial vehicle too big to fit into the limited room he’s got.

As each car comes aboard, or each truck is hooked up, Summer glances left to a particular monitor that shows the occupants. And she speaks into a microphone that carries her voice to them.

“Hi there. We’re the Newman rescue team. We’re going to escort you to safety right now. The ride might be a little rough. Please put your vehicle in park and engage the emergency brake. If you have children, please make sure they are safely strapped in. I promise you’ll be checked by professionals when you’re put down somewhere safe. If you have any questions or problems, please roll down your window and get my attention, and I’ll try to tackle them.”

Dr. Mana provides French and Spanish translation as needed. Summer is fitfully learning Spanish, but doesn’t trust herself with it just yet, and she’s just flat out afraid of French. But it’s not the words that seem to help the frightened civilians relax. It’s the voice. They hear the concern in her tone, and they know someone’s looking out for them.

She sort of wishes she was out there slugging it out with Fourth Mother, and with anyone else who’d deliberately hurt people like this. But she’s trying. Every day, in every way, she’s going to make herself a little bit better.

Not knowing that the planet spins, and that a space station orbits around it, almost cost the team a rescue mission and many other people their lives. Rather than make Minato feel bad about it, Summer wants to make sure something like that never happens again.

Otto was kind enough to escort MInato to space, and let her take in the view. The Atlantean girl had no idea of the planet she lived on, and now she very emphatically does.

Summer is taking it upon herself to handle other aspects of the Atlantean girl’s education. She herself is dressed conservatively, and Minato wears a hijab and makeup to disguise her non-human heritage. Together, they explore Occitania, the southeastern region of France. Geographically, it’s not too far from where the team encountered the giant monster, Titalion. Now it almost feels like home.

Summer has to tease out what Minato doesn’t know, and that fact is also something Minato does not and cannot know. So Summer is doing her best to feed the girl as much new experience as she can, in hopes of finding the gaps.

Minato is not uneducated, of course. Courtesy of life in Atlantis, there are things she knows about water and fluid dynamics that surprise and inform the Newmans, themselves scientists of distinction already. She has an encyclopedic knowledge of undersea life. But things like rivers still amaze her, and the sight of the Mediterranean off the coast of Perpignan enthralls her.

Over coffee and crepes, Minato asks Summer a difficult question.

“Ma’am, I mean, Summer, you’ve been really good to me. This has been amazing. But, erm, sometimes it seems, well, like you’re down, but you’re hiding it. What can we do to help you feel better?”

Summer sighs. “Am I that obvious about it? Or are you just really perceptive?”

She finishes the bit of crepe she was working on, and thinks about it, and smiles. “At one point I would have said, ‘haha I am doing okay’, even if I wasn’t. I’d have dodged the question because of a lot of complicated me issues. Now? Hmm… Now, I’d say it’s this. You’re doing this, and it’s helping me.”

Minato blinks. “Ma’am?”

Summer suddenly puts her head in her hands and laughs. “Oh god, Minato, please don’t ever call me ma’am again. It makes me feel incredibly old.”

She looks up with a bright smile. “This is what I need. I need to be with people, and help people, and experience things with people. You’ve given me a chance to do that, outside of a rescue operation. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for that.”

She pokes her crepe fork at the girl. “Your turn. Why are you doing this? The operations work, I mean. Mission control.”

Minato doesn’t have to think about this one. “Ma-- Summer. Sorry. When you dressed me up, you told me about the hijab. How Muslims in this - uh, country, right? Countries? Right. They’re a minority and there’s people who don’t like them. But you dressed me up because people here like people like me even less. The whole world is suspicious of Atlantis. But you Newmen took us in, those of us that needed help. You’re helping when nobody else would. Why wouldn’t I want to repay that?”

Summer sits up a bit. “Tell me about that. As an Atlantean Blood, you have a home, don’t you?”

Minato waggles her hand, imitating a gesture she’s seen Otto do. “Senior Commander Saito instigated a coup against the Emperor. The Emperor commanded that everyone under Saito was to be exiled. But there were people like me, who didn’t want to go along with his plans, and we couldn’t go back to Atlantis. Soooo, we came along with the humans who’d lived in the Attics of Atlantean cities. To the surface. And to Safe Harbor. We’re refugees, like those people in Syria.”

Summer pauses, and lowers her head. “I’m sorry if we gave you grief about the Haven station thing. You didn’t deserve that. We were just… I think worried is one thing, but I think we Newmen were also used to working with each other. We know what each other knows. But that’s bad, if we’re only interested in working with people we already know. That’s a bubble that isolates us. And building connections with other people is a way to break out of that bubble.”

Minato’s smile betrays the intensity of the feelings she’s feeling. “You have to be able to rely on me. I get that. That’s why I’m so grateful you’re taking time to teach me these things, and take me to these wonderful places. You took my hope of contributing, and you’re doing what you can to make it a reality, instead of shutting me out because I’m not good enough.”

Summer grins suddenly. “You know, I just went through my own little struggle. And it wasn’t the first time. Minato, none of us are good enough. All of us are trying. But all of us have our own strengths. That’s why we help each other, however we can. I’m gonna keep helping you, however I can. But I hope you will keep helping me too, in your own way.”

The two girls smile at each other, and eagerly finish their crepes in the warmth of the French sun.

When Summer isn’t out teaching Minato and learning in return, she’s attending classes at Safe Harbor with Otto and the others.

Dr. Mana is teaching languages.

“The most spoken languages in the world, in order, are English, Mandarin, Hindi, Spanish, and French. We will master these at a conversational level, then focus on the specific technical vocabularies you may be called upon to use during rescue work…”

Dr. Somsak Panya, the Thai nuclear physicist, is teaching the team about the specifics of nuclear fusion, and how to build a reactor.

“The deuterium-deuterium reaction is much less efficient than deuterium-tritium, but the first reaction’s byproduct is itself tritium. That may then be fed into a more efficient primary reactor. Since we are situated on the sea floor, we have a unique opportunity. The first step is to build a pressurized heavy-water plant, as India is doing. This normally requires uranium, but a deuterium-hydrogen exchange process, mediated by ammonia or hydrogen sulfide gas, may prove more accessible…”

And Summer, realizing a need, announces that she will be teaching the basics of cafe operation. Safe Harbor is a secure place to exist, but it still lacks much in the way of being a home in which to live. People need the small, ordinary things. She can give people one of those things.

“We don’t really have competition down here, so we don’t have to worry about price wars or marketing, but that’s secondary to what a cafe is really about. The word cafe is derived from the French word for coffee. Coffee has a rich history, because of the qualities it has when we drink it. It’s warming, and it gives us something to do when we’re talking to somebody and a conversational silence comes up…”

Safe Harbor has experienced its first crisis in public safety. A group of three people have been getting into fights, and haven’t found ways to work out a peace. The Newmen have offered to mediate, but it hasn’t gone anywhere. Finally, the council of seven that Aria appointed steps in, and declare that the trio aren’t welcome in Safe Harbor any more.

“You can go anywhere else you want, but you cannot stay here,” the council’s ruling had said.

To avoid simply dumping the problem in someone else’s lap arbitrarily, the group were asked to pick a place to be sent to. It would be their choice, and whether their new hosts accepted them would up to them. They had chosen the Canadian-American border. To forestall still more problems with the law, Otto had notified Arbogast ahead of time.

Summer and the others are at the portal. They watch as it opens. They observe as the Sled conveys the trio through.

“Wish we coulda cracked this nut, before it blew up like this,” Otto, standing beside her in his human-scale shell, confesses in a quiet voice.

“I know what you mean,” Summer murmurs. “All our talk of connection and togetherness. I guess… some problems can’t be solved.”

“The good news and the bad news is, ‘this too shall pass’.”

Summer hangs her head. “Not everyone has our privilege. We don’t have to eat or worry about sickness or rain or cold. We could live anywhere. They can’t.”

Otto smirks. “I doubt those three can live anywhere long.”

He sees Summer’s unhappy face and realize his joke didn’t land as he’d hoped. “We gave 'em the thing they needed. The chance to find somewhere else to be, if this place didn’t suit ‘em. Well, it didn’t. We’re not hunting them down, or making them conform, or throwing them in prison. We’re just gonna stick to our deal, and keep on truckin’.”

“It was our turn to play Arbogast,” Summer realizes. “I wonder how he’d grade our efforts.”

Otto’s voice is firm. “Not gonna ask him. Not now anyway. We gotta learn our lessons and make our own mistakes. But until I can distinguish between him trying to manipulate us, and him offering us genuine advice, forget it.”

Summer shrugs. “I guess you’re right. But… we also can’t just assume we’re doing the right thing all the time, can we.”

Otto shakes his head. “Nah, you’re right, I get it. Outside advice, outside scrutiny, keeps anyone honest. I’ll talk to the council about it. I’m sure they’ve thought about it. And it’s not my job to tell 'em theirs. I’ll ask because I’m curious, that’s all.”

The event attracted a small crowd of onlookers. Otto and Summer were mostly on hand to keep the peace. Now that the spectacle is over with, they turn their energies to maintenance of the Launch System, in hope of keeping their respective thoughts at bay.

To Summer’s great surprise, Arbogast’s next call isn’t to protest some new outrage the robots have perpetrated by, you know, rescuing people in need. It’s to ask Summer how the press can reach her.

The robot girl listens to the request. And at the end of it, she makes her pronouncement.

“Uh, what?”

“You’ve become popular,” Arbogast explains. “People now want to learn more about you. Unfortunately for my career, perhaps, I’m now the Safe Harbor guy at State. So pressure was brought to bear on me, as usual, and here we are.”

“What?” Summer repeats in confusion.

“The press - wants to know - how to find you,” Arbogast enunciates in clearly growing impatience.

Summer looks at Otto helplessly. But he shrugs and grins at her.

She looks at Minato, who holds her hands before her, palms upturned, in a gesture of helplessness.

“Uhhh well I’d give them my old Halcyon City address, sir, but you know.” Summer knows she’s leaning on Arbogast a little heavily, but she’s not feeling super charitable toward him. Still…

She adopts a more polite tone of voice. “I’m sorry. That was uncalled for. So, we have a hotline. It’s meant for friends and family, so to speak. It goes right to the command center here. Ummm, uh… I guess we could set up another one. It might take a couple days… I’ll give you the number once it’s ready?”

“Fine. Thanks.” Arbogast hangs up without even a goodbye.

Summer turns to the others. “I said I didn’t want to be doing Aria’s job. But… it’s gonna help us, isn’t it.”

Otto nods. “Probably it will. Having a public profile can mean donations, which we could desperately use, but just general goodwill gives us leverage over guys like Arbogast, it’ll definitely help the citizens here, and it can unlock doors we need to do rescue work more effectively in conjunction with other people.”

The girl lets out a sigh, and her shoulders slump down. “Long time ago - oh god, the ancient epoch of age 17 - I thought about being a model or a journalist or something. Well, here I am. I’m in front of people now.”

She finds something inside herself, and straightens up, and looks at Otto and Minato with a reborn smile. “You know what? I’m gonna do it. The council will make decisions about Safe Harbor, but I can bring people to their attention and vice versa. And I’ll represent us the best - the most honestly - that I can.”

Otto grins. "Li’l girl, you always were a bright and shining sun, and now it’s time for you to be a star.”

Safe Harbor has its ups and downs, but it’s fast turning into an underwater version of what Haven Station was all about - a place to come together. What do we think?

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