Alycia hears Adam give his polite farewells to Jason and start heading for the exit. She manages to intercept him before he gets there.
“You heading out?” She already knows the answer, but it’s the polite thing to ask. See, I can be polite.
“Yeah. I mean, no school tomorrow, yay, but the folks already have a chore list for me, and they get --” He stops, flushing slightly.
“They get worried if you’re out late?”
“Yeah. Which is kind of silly, but, well, I’ve worried them a lot. Lately.”
“Worry, in small doses, is healthy.”
“It’s the big doses I worry about.” He smiles, looking a couple of years younger. “Heh.”
“You’re a good son, Adam,” Alycia says, with more solemnity than she’d intended. “And you are soooo --” She pauses, then says, “You have parents who really care for you.”
“And a sister who loves you, too.”
“And you’re a pretty kick-ass hero, when you let yourself be.”
“I’m not sure I want to kick asses.”
She shrugs. “Then don’t. Build damns. Cultivate fields. Create impenetrable force fields around villages in war zones. You’ve got amazing powers, and you care. You can protect innocent people better than anyone out there. And you want to. That makes you special.”
“Huh,” he says, looking uncomfortable. “Sometimes using power causes problems.”
“But even when you changed everyone’s minds and memories --” Her voice comes out a bit more harsh that she wants it to, but she’s still pissed about it, even if she’s forgiven him. “-- you didn’t make yourself king of the world, or force people to be your friends. You made yourself less of a target … and tried to make everyone around you happy. That was wrong – but it wasn’t evil. You weren’t in it for the power.”
He squirms a bit, and finally shrugs. “So … what are you going to do, now that you’ve graduated?”
“I’m thinking of going back to school – I have a PhD dissertation on multi-dimensional mathematics, with practical applications, that should get me into any graduate program I want. I can’t exactly let them know who I really am, to back up the science in the paper, but still …”
“That sounds – not quite what I expected.”
She smiles. “That’s what I do best.”
“Gotta head home – promised the folks I’d be home by midnight. So, the Boyfriend is, yeah, still plenty hot in person.”
Alycia shrugs. “He’s – well, yeah.”
“And when it’s just the two of you?” Daph wiggles her pale eyebrows.
Alycia squirms a bit (and the irony of her acting like Adam was a bit ago doesn’t escape her). “He’s … more than plenty hot.”
“I knew it! You and he --?”
“Well, yeah, I guess --”
“About time! Is he any good? I mean, asking for an honest answer, not a trying-to-impress-your-friend answer.”
A dozen different answers flash through Alycia’s mind, before she settles on, “I – yeah, it’s – um, good with him.”
“Yes!” Daph gives her a slightly bone-stressing hug. “Good on you, girl.” She keeps her hands on the other’s upper arms. “I notice, by the way, that I’ve been nattering about stuff I’m doing, the meta-sociology program at UNC I’ve gotten into, all that, but you have been conspicuously silent on your plans.”
Alycia looks at her, with an expression somewhere oddly between deer-in-the-headlights and piercing-examination-to-the-soul. “Yeah. About that. I need to tell you something.”
Alycia stares at her a moment, losing the piercing part of the combination.
“Oh, sweety, that whole thing with the Big P and talking about super-heroics and all that, plus being the girlfriend of Jason Freaking Quill, plus about a dozen other things I will be happy to point out over coffee tomorrow … well, I wasn’t born yesterday.”
“Um … yes, clearly not.”
“And your name isn’t Alice Chan, either.”
Alycia draws in a breath, lets it out. “No.”
“And, yeah, I know what it is. Something more to talk about, then.” She gives Alycia’s shoulders a squeeze, then lets go. “You’ve been a hell of a friend, which tells me you’re a hell of a person, whatever your family. So – what are you really planning on doing, now that you have your precious diploma?”
Alycia looks at her, cocks her head slightly, and smiles. “Running the Menagerie. Want to join?”
Daph’s eyes widen. “Um …?”
“Something to talk about over coffee tomorrow, sweety,” Alycia says with a smirk.
Leo and Aria have gotten to the street, only to see someone leaning against Otto, gesturing broadly. They can hear his voice, though, chuckling.
They both recognize Alycia at the same time, even as she looks up at them.
“I wanted to catch you two,” she says, “and asked Otto to let me know when you were leaving.”
“Okaaay,” Leo says. He looks at the car, then back at her. “What were you two talking about?”
“Ghost stories,” Alycia replies. Otto snorts. Alycia says, out of the corner of her mouth, “‘And that’s what she said to the bishop.’”
Otto laughs out loud, his headlights flicking on and off, and Alycia chuckles along with him.
“All right,” Leo says. “So you caught us. And --?”
Alycia sets a hand on Otto’s top, then stands upright. “You need help,” she says.
“Do tell,” Aria replies, cooly.
“More properly, you need my help.”
“Doing what?” Leo asks.
“Everything. Anything. You have way too much on your plate. Time-space research. Trying to help Infinity. The thing you have going on with Jason about rescuing the Sepiaverse. All of which are fraught, and need additional eyes-on to make sure they are being done not just right, but safely.” She shrugs. “You’re not on the team any more, but you definitely need teammates.”
He stiffens slightly. “I got this.”
Aria puts a hand on his arm.
“Leo, you don’t ‘got this,’” Alycia says. I don’t think it’s mistrust, not any more, she muses. It’s pride. I understand that. “You’re a hypergenius. You have Jason roped in on part of this, at least, and he’s a hypergenius. That’s two. You need a third.”
“We’d be --”
“I have to ask,” Leo says, interrupting Aria, “why?”
Something flashes across her face, which then drops into an impassive mask. How do I get through to him? He won’t take a bullshit answer. So be honest, and hope he recognizes it. “Because – I can. Because it will help Jason. Because it will help millions of others. Because it will make up for my role in some of it. Because it will make Summer feel better. Because it --” She pauses. “-- because it’s the right thing to do.”
Leo grins. He looks over at Aria. “I told you.”
"I told you."
Alycia gives them a look.
“I’ve been kind of expecting you to approach me about this stuff,” Leo says. “I just wanted to be sure it was for the right reasons. I thought it would be.”
"I thought it would be," Aria says, looking at him skeptically.
Two can play at that game. “Oh, yeah, I had another reason,” Alycia adds, smirking.
Leo frowns slightly. “Which is?”
“Because you need some free time with her so that you can create additional Newmans and do right by them.”
Leo stares at her a moment, as Aria punches him lightly in the the arm, grinning. “See? I told you.”
Harry steps through of the outer glass (armorplast, more accurately) doors of the compound. Looks at them as they slowly close with an over-pressured hiss. He stands there for a long moment longer, past the frosted “Q” logo on the glass, into the lit lobby. There’s a large oil painting visible there of Byron, Jason, Amir, and Rusty.
“You’ll be back,” Alycia says, stepping out of the shadows by the door. Harry whirls (which means a lot more when he does it), eyes open a bit wider, before relaxing a half-moment later.
He grins. “Of course I will.”
“It’s not like Halcyon is ever far away, where you’re concerned.”
“Locals kinda hate it when I break the sound barrier,” he replies. “And even interstates go through populated areas.”
She shrugs. “You’ll be back.”
“But I’m glad you’re going.”
She smirks. “You know what I mean. Breaking away from the family is important. Even with a good family.”
“Maybe especially with a good family.”
A snort. “Maybe for different reasons in that case.”
He nods, then cocks his head. “I’ve glad we’ve had a chance to get to know each other a little better, last couple of months.”
“Well, since I saved your life --”
“-- and I saved yours --”
“-- multiple --”
“-- times --”
He grins, and she smiled back. “Can’t out-talk me,” he says.
She smirks, then her eyes widen as she glances back at the building lobby.
He turns to look, then his hand snags out and blocks out the fingers she’s flicking at his nose.
Alycia laughs. “Good. You’re learning.”
“I’m not sure I signed up for a paranoia tutor.”
“It will probably be more meaningful in your life than Algebra 2.”
“True that. So – what are you going to be up to?”
Alycia shrugs. “Exploring, I think. Jason and I got to know each other out in the jungle, the dessert --”
“The Antarctic.” He waggles his eyebrows.
“I will hurt you.” She shrugs again. “Anyway, it might be a fun way to get to know each other now.”
He nods sharply, and holds out his hand.
She shakes it. “It’s been good getting to know you, Harry.”
“It’s been – surprising getting to know you, Alycia.”
“Run, Harry, run.”
“Jesus, I wish people would stop saying that.”
She smirks, and watches as he accelerates down the avenue.
As she turns, Charlotte is standing there. Alycia tries not to jump. Instead, she says, “Oooh. Spooky.”
“Never scared you, Alycia, even when I was a ghost.”
“Only by what you might do.”
“Didn’t someone once mention something about great power and great responsibility?”
“Precisely. But this isn’t ‘ripped from the headlines’ fiction. This is the world at stake. More than one world. Your power is terrifying. Nothing I’ve seen the last few months has made it anything less.”
“Sugar, I am as terrified of it as anyone. It’s like I’m constantly walkin’ on eggshells.” She snorts. “But, then, you’d understand about being terrified by what might happen if you lose control.”
Alycia pauses. “Touché.”
“And I’ve been tryin’ to be helpful.”
“And you have been. Though I’ll admit your explanations of why you can’t just wave your hands in a given situation and solve the problem have been more than a bit frustrating.”
“Weren’t you just sayin’ somethin’ about worryin’ I’ll abuse my power?”
Alycia smirks. “Just when I want you to.”
“That’s a tricky path, girl.”
“I know. That’s what makes it a challenge.”
“Speakin’ of challenges, so now that school’s out, what are you up to?”
“AEGIS has asked my assistance in some monitoring activities.”
“Monitoring of …?”
“Extraordinary threats to universal safety.”
Charlotte smiles, and her broach sparkles. “Oh, dear.”
Alycia returns the smile, her lips thin. “I’ll let you know if I run across any.”
“That’d be appreciated, darlin’.” She gives a slight curtsy. “I need to toddle off. There’s a practitioner in Ulan Bator who needs their knuckles rapped.”
“Be sure and try the noodle place in Moscow Town, across the street from the Kaharkhorin Garden. Good stuff.”
“I certainly will. Remind Jason the food will all clean itself up overnight.”
“It surely is.” She winks at Alycia, then winks out.
Summer’s in the elevator lobby upstairs. “Hey, I was looking for you,” she says
“You found me,” Alycia says.
“I’m going to take off.”
Alycia raises an eyebrow.
Summer grins. “Well, it’s not really my party. Next year.”
“We’ll throw a proper bash then.”
“I’m looking forward to it.” She cocks her head. “So have you figured it out?”
“What you’re doing next. School? Superheroing? Long vacation on a sandy beach with you-know-who?”
Alycia snorts. “He burns too easily, and I’ve never been one to court skin cancer that way.”
“Ever the romantic.”
“Besides, beaches are boring. Just sitting there. Bleah.” She shakes her head. “I don’t know. Everyone keeps asking me that, and I have a dozen answers, and I’m still not sure. I am thinking, though, there are a lot of my father’s people still out there.”
Summer brow furrows slightly, but she nods without saying anything.
“Some of them might need – help. Others need stopping. In either case, it sort of feels like my responsibility.”
“I’m sure you’ll do right by them, in either case,” Summer says. “Just …”
“Your father, and Jason’s, got really distracted by their battle with each other. It kept them from doing other things that were important to them – things that might have improved the world in different ways. Don’t get too distracted yourself.”
Alycia nods, smirks. “How could I when I have friends who give me such good advice.”
“Oh, as if you really need me to give you advice.”
“I’m serious. Give yourself some credit. You already know the answers. I just help you – focus a little bit. Work through the question until you see it yourself.”
Alycia shakes her head. “You have no idea. I was broken, Summer. You helped make me human. A real person.”
Summer doesn’t need to blush, but she’s keyed a similar chromatic action to certain emotional states, and it triggers now. “Well,” she say, glancing down a moment, then back up with a grin, “you’ve kind of helped me the same way, so I guess we’re even.”
Alycia darts forward with a quick hug. I’ve been doing that hugging thing more lately. It’s weird. “Have a good fly home. Let’s talk tomorrow – you’ve given me an idea I want your help ‘focusing’ on.”
She gets a broader grin in return. “I won’t wait up. See you tomorrow.”
Alycia saw photos of what the Quill living quarters – kitchen, dining, living rooms, conversation pit, etc. – looked like after Vector’s explosives went off. This isn’t quite as apocalyptic, but it’s … an impressive mess.
“Charlotte says the food will ‘clean itself up’ overnight,” she says to Jason.
“I hope that includes stains. Or at least I hope that’s salsa on those cushions, not blood.”
Alycia looks over. “Salsa, probably. Blood stains artificial leather differently.”
Jason shakes his head. “I’ll take your word for it.”
“The proteins in the blood tend to penetrate --”
“I said,” he interrupts, “I’ll take your word for it.”
“I’m surprised Byrne didn’t teach you the basics of that sort.”
“It’s a pass-fail course in some cases.”
“I could teach you.”
He arches a blond eyebrow. “I understand the labs are murder.”
She barks out a laugh. “Nice one.”
“I try. Speaking of which,” he says, plopping back into an easy chair that seems to have escaped the bulk of the mess. He motions her to one next to it. “I’m sure everyone asked you The Question.”
Alycia rolls her eyes, sitting down. “It’s weird. It’s not like people haven’t been talking about it all semester.”
“Well, that’s true for ‘normal’ students.” He frames the word with air quotes. “Everyone’s waiting to hear from their college, or has heard from their college, or more than one college, and then they still get tired of people asking about their major.” He shrugs. “I keep thinking I should have had cards made up that I could just hand to folk. Someone could make a lot of money with a service like that.”
“I find a withering glare serves the same purpose.”
“Yeah, you can make that work.” He shrugs again. “Anyway, that’s mostly for normal folk. But the people on the team, we’ve all been a lot of exceptions, and with so many opportunities, options, and that, and even just being busy, a lot of us on the super side of the fence haven’t made plans.”
“Is this leading up to asking me if I’ve made up my mind?”
She considers a withering glare, but tries to reserve those she gives to Jason for important moments. I don’t want him to build up an immunity. “I – don’t know. I kinda want to do it all.”
“It’s good to have dreams.”
“No, I mean it. I want to keep the Menagerie going. I want to do some exploration. AEGIS actually has some interesting stuff they want me to do, and they’re asking, not ordering. There’s your project with Leo that needs someone with a healthy sense of paranoia watching it. There are cells and rebuilt portions of my father’s empire out there that need handling, one way or the other.” She pauses, then adds, “And I thought maybe we could hang out sometimes.”
He grins. “That’d be nice. So decided against more school?”
A shake of the head. “Someday, maybe. But I’m never going to be an academic, or a serious researcher. I can speed-cram anything I need to in the meantime. And I don’t have time for a hobby, like you.”
“Really? An Oxford University online degree program in Shakespeare and Elizabethan Literature? Versus your various tech and research and philanthropy projects, not to mention running a major corporation? I call that a hobby.”
“I like Shakespeare!”
“I rest my case.” She waves her hand, close her eyes. “Maybe I’ll do the university thing someday, but for now I think my plate is more than overflowing.”
“So put some of it back. Drop something.”
She opens her eyes, gives him a wicked grin. “Careful. I might have force-ranked that list I gave you.”
“Saving the best for last, no doubt.”
“Push it, and you might find out.”
“No, but I’m serious. You can’t do it all, Lycia.”
She shrugs. “You sound like what I was telling Leo.”
“So you’re smart enough to realize it. Back to The Question, then: what are you going to do? What’s your plan?”
She looks him straight in the eye. “I’m going to stay over tonight, and see what tomorrow brings. Any objections?”
He pauses for a half-moment, before giving her a warm smile. “I think that sounds like an excellent plan.”