ASIST Annual - The Beach Episode (between 415-416)

This follows 415 - Star-Crossed! and will lead into other stories. It’s canonical, just told in a different format. For example, I’ll be including comic-style footnotes to the reader, letting them know where plot points appeared before.

The media announcement of Jason Quill’s death omitted the actual cover story about being killed by Jenny Byrne. However, the news agencies practically tripped over themselves to suggest he’d been involved in some kind of covert activity, just like the old days, as a reason to re-run old Byron Quill news items and fill air time with political commentary.

Jason faked his own death in 413 - City of Clones – Ed.

The funeral isn’t the busiest affair ever. It’s not that Jason wasn’t loved and respected. Rather, it’s that he’d cultivated fewer but deeper relationships than his father. The people who’d attended the Byron Quill memorial (despite the man not being properly dead) had been many, but none of them had really been close. By contrast, everyone at Jason’s funeral had something significant to say about the man himself.

And on the shores of Lake Hovsgol in northern Mongolia, far away from prying eyes, Jason Quill and his many friends will be celebrating life for the next three days.

At Jason’s request, word of his survival mustn’t get out beyond the core members of the Menagerie and a few key exceptions. Those specific people are on the beach, and for the next three days they’ll be talking shop, resting, and relaxing.

Harry has brought most of his team. He’s still fitfully regaining control over his powers after surgery, and is looking for a place to practice where the stakes are low. He vouches for Stingray and Ninjess, and of course A10. At Jason’s request, Mirage is not informed about his status. There are still too many questions he has, and the digital mirror of Alycia Chin has not been forthcoming with answers.

Charlotte Palmer takes a break from her work only reluctantly. She is still addressing the problem of the Eigendrakes. But after some consideration, she brought Vermillion, Bodark, and Manny (on the grounds that they each keep secrets already) and Maury Jones (after extracting an oath of secrecy, something the journalist gave under duress). She herself has only come here to consult with the technologists of the extended Menagerie. Leah Snow has been snatched up by the creatures, but her cross-dimensional cognate Leo Newman is still around.

Indeed, Leo and Aria and their child Fez are here, courtesy of the RV. The vehicle has become the de facto storage area for drinks, snacks, and other party supplies. People spend time filing into the RV, the only environment where the holographic baby can exist. They take pictures, they coo and dote while Aria cradles her baby and radiates endless pride.

Leo and Aria are living in the Australian wilderness, to help him recover from trauma. This is also why the team isn’t meeting on an island or beach – Ed.

The rest of the Newmen are here because they are the party ride. The Launch System is one of the few high-capacity secure teleportation systems available, and the Newmen are already hiding things from the world, starting with their base.

Alycia is here, of course. Everyone in her team already know about Jason, after all. And there’s something she wants to talk about, as a group, with the Newmen and with the others.

Adam always seems to know what’s going on with the team, even when he’s half a galaxy away. He has brought William Eddison, Jaycee, and (with Jason’s permission) Keri, aka la Cordera. Although his little sister Jordan astrally projected herself into space to join in his adventures, she has no reason to be here.

There’s music, and dancing, and hyper-technology. There is swimming, and storytelling, and the sharing of secrets. There is beer, and a baby, and bragging.

Most of all, there is the comfort of friends sharing the load of leading lives that few on Earth would truly understand.

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Yearning and Learning

There’s music, day and night. Where there’s music, there’s dancing.

This isn’t high school prom. People dance, alone, as couples, or in groups. They aren’t awkwardly self-aware or shy about showing their moves, even when those moves are little more than excitable flailing. It’s a celebration, and a relief.

“You’re looking at her,” Alycia comments.

Jason finds that he is, the “her” being Summer Newman. She’s in a bathing suit, the same as the Newman boys: Otto, Mo, and Bill. They went swimming earlier, and are now drying off by the fire and rocking out to the music.

“Sorry.” Jason turns away, and looks back at Alycia with a lopsided smile.

“But you aren’t staring. It’s not the same as when you look at me,” Alycia remarks after a pause, causing Jason’s expression to turn puzzled. “What are you thinking when you look at her? I thought - well, I knew at one time you had feelings - have feelings - I mean–”

Jason cuts her off by slipping closer, and as Alycia stammers, he kisses her quickly, even impishly.

“I know where I want to be,” he says quietly. “And with whom. I guess you could say… I was remembering who I was. Who you were. The dynamic the three of us had. Not lovers, but - catalysts for each other. And friends. You and her. She and I - a friendship when I most desperately needed it. And you and me.”

Alycia lowers her eyes. “A catalyst, is it? Yes. I suppose she - and I - and you - were that to each other. She gave me hope that I could find forgiveness. You gave me a reason to seek that forgiveness and forge a new life.”

She looks up. “But what did I give you?”

Jason’s blue eyes stare back at her, still close enough to interfere with rational thought. “A reason to live. The hope of not turning out like my father. Now that I’m dead - officially - the die is cast. We’re definitely going to find out if I can survive being away from the place I grew up. The son has finally moved out of the father’s house.”

“It remains to be seen if we can sustain a relationship long-term,” Alycia points out, her doubt surfacing again.

Jason grins. “True. For example, there’s something we fundamentally disagree on. But I’m working on it, and you may come round yet.”

Alycia’s eyes widen, as her mind clicks into overdrive computing and reviewing. “What point is that?” she asks finally, in confusion.

“That whether you feel forgiven or not, you deserve all the joy in the world,” Jason says, and leans in. This time, the kiss becomes much more serious.

One person who isn’t looking at Summer or the others is John Black, aka SNOWMAN. One person who is looking at John is Alex Gemini Shelby, aka Comrade X.

Unbeknownst to any of them, Otto, Mo, and Big Bill are looking at the distant pair.

Finally, Otto makes a cautious but calculated call, and invites Summer over. The girl takes a break from her dancing, and joins the Newman huddle.

The big guy lays it down as simply as he can. “Alex over there has a crush on our boy John. He’s as thick as Leo so he’s not clued in. We’re debating pushing things along because that boy needs serious help.”

Summer’s eyes light up like she’s been given a mission from God.

“Do you want me to talk to them? Or him? Or both of them?” she asks, a little too eagerly.

Otto immediately begins second-guessing the wisdom of this move. “How about we just make sure it’d be wise,” he suggests.

“No,” is Mo’s verbal essay on the subject.

“Maybe it’s best if we don’t set 'em up, so to speak.” This from Big Bill. “Maybe, hmm, a bit of a push. But I’m not rightly sure what’s wise here.”

Summer thinks, and finally speaks. “I think we may be making a mistake in comparing him to Leo. Yes, John’s memories are Leo’s up to a point. But he’s diverged, the way Aria and I diverged. Let’s ask ourselves what we know, not about Leo, but about John Black.”

The others look at each other, then back to Summer. Otto grins. “See, this is why I knew you’d be the one to ask. Okay. I was closest to him during his recovery. He’s thinkin’ a lot about family stuff - the Rossum situation, y’know - and his role in that. ‘I am a weapon’, I heard him say. He’s gone big on self-modification. Being in a carbon shell put him on the anvil and he’s reforged himself.”

“Maybe a physical manifestation of a desire for self-reliance? I’m just guessing, but hear me out.” Summer taps her bottom lip with a fingertip. “But it feels like he’s building himself into the thing Leo built us to be - unbreakable family - and he’s just cutting out the relationships part, because he doesn’t like himself - doesn’t feel like he can be accepted, because he’s become what Leo rejected. Hmm. How to crack that armor…”

She glances briefly at the other person in this equation, and asks another question. “What do we know about Alex?”

Otto snorts. “That one’s easy. They’re making bids for connection - watch this show, check out this thing I like - like me because I like this cool thing.”

Summer nods. “Alycia was like that a lot. She’d ask me to watch television shows about sword crafting and stuff. But she was the one initiating the bid for connection. I saw it for what it was and went along with it. And I think that really helped us. But how…”

A thought smacks her in the face and she gasps. “Oh! Of course. We need John to make bids for connection about things he likes. Alex is a big techie, right? They’ll probably glom onto the same things John likes - mecha anime and things like that.”

She turns to Mo and Bill. “Rest assured that this isn’t romantic meddling. Even if nothing like that comes of this, shared hobbies would bring them together in other positive ways. Am I right? Is that okay with the both of you?”

The other robots have to admit that it is.

Summer rubs her hands together and continues to scheme aloud. “Good, good. Perfect. This is going to turn out so well.”

Otto looks at Bill and Mo with trepidation. The three share a thought. What have we gotten ourselves into?

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Which sent me down the rabbit hole rereading that one. Fun times.

The Tech Tree

As the portal operators, the Newmen are on site first, and they greet everyone who comes through.

Alycia’s MIA team doesn’t bring the big jet. They come through a portal aboard their Chimeras from Argentina - far enough from Antarctica to conceal their base’s location. Alycia likes her Menagerie teammates - secretly - but she isn’t likely to share all her secrets with them, especially not now.

Charlotte brings her friends under her own power. The lake doesn’t have anything that would anchor the magically mobile Half & Half storefront, or the coffee and drink situation would be very different.

Harry and friends take the portal. He’s still not ready for a planet-wide sprint, not until he gets back into shape, and his teammates couldn’t follow him that way anyhow.

Adam arrives in an actual spaceship. As these things go, an alien craft is slightly cooler than a portal, and he modestly parks it a distance away from the main campsite.

Alycia grants Summer a five-second hug limit, but Summer is secretly gratified that Alycia squeezes back especially hard.

“I’m glad you’re here,” Summer says. Alycia doesn’t voice a reply, but Summer has learned to see the signs that she’s holding onto intense emotion, and that’s good enough.

Alycia does permit one secret to leak out: she and her team are building a base, and they want to collaborate with the larger group on equipping it.

Summer immediately offers Safe Harbor, and Alycia politely declines. “We have - different needs than you do,” she says carefully. “We would like to perhaps borrow some of your science, and perhaps share some of ours. And we will always be friends and colleagues. But - we just need to isolate ourselves, for our own reasons.”

By evening of the first day, a third of the group is gathered around a whiteboard. Alex is explaining their ideas about what’s needed. Discussions follow on specific items. Everyone wants to share, but not everyone is sure of what’s shareable. Safe Harbor’s Launch System depends on plasma tech from Peter Mancini, and their plans for a fusion power plant are being made by a guy they can’t admit to sheltering. Alycia, on the other hand, is still holding her cards close on the Antarctic base.

At Fuko’s urging, Trace takes the opportunity to demonstrate his quantum acoustic technology. Everyone applauds, clearly impressed, and the young man fights his anxieties off long enough to receive the accolades with grace. Safe Harbor won’t take it - Otto is still following Leo’s lead and focusing on reliable, relatively low-tech materials science - but Alycia expresses tentative interest.

In the end, both of the key technologies needed by both bases are on the table: a fusion power plant, and the Hula Hoop portal system. Otto is firm on respecting the gentleman’s agreement that Aria brokered with Peter, but Jason promises there’s other ways to supply such a system with power that will satisfy even Leo’s exacting demands for safety. Since the portal system was also based on studying Jason’s nanotech, Otto feels like that alternate fuel system is a fair trade.

Leo and Aria make appearances at the discussion - separately, so that Fez is always attended to. It’s Aria who brings up a point that nobody’s talked about yet.

“A lot of what you’re working on here is covered by my college work, on bootstrapping micro-societies. I’ll give you a copy of my notes. But there’s a problem no technology can solve, which is that we’re a social species. Isolation is linked to lower life expectancy. In a sense, people can die of loneliness. Living in a bubble under the sea isn’t the best option, but the Newmen aren’t living there alone. Jason, Alycia, you and your people must have a solution for this too.”

“We can’t just bring in refugees or friends,” Alycia concedes. “What we’re doing - well, it isn’t suitable for that. And I agree with your point for other reasons. Social isolation can lead to ideological myopia. Healthy decision-making demands dissent.”

Summer brightens up, and she unleashes the super-weapon she’s been prepping for literal years.

“Then I guess you’ll need to get out, mingle with people, and have fun more often.”

Alycia immediately realizes the trap she’s fallen into, and how there’s no escape. Jason grins. So does the rest of her team.

God dammit.

CARTEX - Carbon Allotropic Robot Transforming Exosuits - was the name of the technology Otto and his brothers had been developing before they moved to Safe Harbor. It’s taken a backseat to their efforts to build a functional micro-society underwater. So Otto is interested in seeing what John Black has done with it. John is less interested in Otto seeing it, but he comes round after a bit of light ribbing.

“Not armed, I see,” Otto comments, after the short demonstration.

John fumes quietly, and Otto senses his upset. “Listen, bud. I seen some of the kit you installed in yourself. I ain’t gonna say shit about it. You got a life to lead now, you lead it your way. I support ya. But I also hear tell of some non-lethal guns that li’l ol’ Nono put together. She tell ya she was Leo’s lab partner in chemistry, in high school?”

“She mentioned it,” John mumbles. “Who’d you hear about the guns from?”

Otto grins. “Summer, actually. Via Nono herself.”

He sees John bristle, and holds up hands. “Easy, soldier, it was from earlier today. Your girl hasn’t been in secret contact with us or anything. Don’t have to worry about leaks.”

With the moment’s tension defused, he goes on, tilting his head slightly in curiosity. “Just think it’s interesting. Alycia Chin’s one of the hardest people on the planet. And y’all are going to such lengths to stay non-lethal.”

John is unsure of how to respond, and he dithers for seconds. But in the face of Otto’s observation, he can’t not respond. “I guess… I guess all of us think life is too important to take. Even now.”

Otto laughs, and claps the other robot on the shoulder. “I’ll make a rescue robot outta you yet! If ya ever get tired of this spy shit and want an honest job, that is. But in the meantime, I wanna ask you about something…”

John looks up in surprise. “What?”

“You did the work to make these things operable by everyone on your team, yeah? Smart controls, panoramic cockpit, all that stuff? Do you think this kinda tech could be used by, y’know, non-hypergeniuses? Ordinary people?”

It’s John’s turn to tilt his head in curious confusion. “Hey, you aren’t taking the Chimeras and–”

Otto shakes his head quickly. “No, no, nothing like that, no. But listen.”

“We got a problem. There’s four of us - me, Big Bill, Mo, and Summer. Summer’s between vehicles at the moment, and our industrial capacity isn’t really up to it right at the moment, but ol’ Otto’s planning ahead. And it’s a big world, and that’s a lot of rescues.”

The big bot rubs his hands together. “What if… what if we took whatcha done with CARTEX, reincorporate it back into what we did with the Chariot, plug some if it into the stuff on the drawing boards… What if we built rescue vehicles anyone could operate, but were as tough and safe and capable as we ourselves?”

Comprehension dawns on John’s face. “You want a Link Suit and a brainless Otto shell - no offense - to link up with,” he says in realization. “There’s still a squishy mortal at the center, but wrapped in layers… But people won’t have a neurochip. How would they operate the systems in real time?”

Otto shrugs. “Problem for the future. Let’s take grapples and jets out of the picture and just talk about land rescue operations. Can it be done?”

John nods his head vigorously. “Sure. Yeah, now that I see where you’re going with this… you’re gonna democratize your operation. Turn it into a franchise. Instead of four rescue operators, you could have a thousand…”

Otto nods. “Yeah. And you can help me do it, buddy. Use what you’ve made to save lives. Take a break from building weapons, and build rescue kit for friends.”

John grins. “Yeah! Alright. But we gotta solve the control problem. I’m thinking, maybe…”

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Love and Rockets

Aside from the giant nerd-fest going on, other groups of heroes are meeting, talking shop, bouncing ideas off each other, and generally hanging out.

“You dying was the best thing that ever happened to this group,” quips Leo, when Jason is around.

Jason grins. “Think so? I’ll have to do it more often. How does it compare to going walkabout?”

Leo shrugs. “Can’t recommend it. Getting good with throwing knives, though.” He pulls out a thin steel blade from a belt holder and tosses it casually, spearing a red Solo cup yards away. “Good for wildlife management.”

“Rusty showed me a trick,” Jason offers. “Here. Raise your arm… okay, fingertips here and here… now, again.”

Again Leo tosses a knife, and again it hits its mark.

“Lighter to hold that way,” he observes. “Easier to control. I get it.”

Leo nods slightly in the direction of several of the girls, Alycia among them. “Unrelated. You and me got things sorted with our love lives. Each of us with our ultimate childhood friend. How do you think the others are doing?”

Jason observes too, and thinks. “Harry and A10 are close. But there’s a vibe going on there I can’t read. Adam’s back from his latest launch, and who knows what green-skinned space babes he met along the way. Charlotte? Ehh. I don’t know anyone’s ever going to court her properly enough to make it past the chaperone of protocol.”

He turns to Leo, and smiles. “What makes you ask that, anyway?”

Leo grins. “Just, y’know, thinking of the future, like I always do. We’re young men, but we’re men now. Just wondering, ten years from now, if we meet like this, who’s gonna have their kids along with them.”

“Kids, huh? You think they’ll turn out like us?”

“Hope to god we don’t fail them that badly,” Leo says with a broad grin. And both men have to laugh at that.

Charlotte has her own contribution to the ongoing technical discussion. She has Resister’s notes on his memory-negating technology. She has advised the gathered community that this will not be copied or incorporated into other work without the crown prince’s express approval. There’s some grumbling, particularly from the MIA team (“God, this would be so useful”), but everyone assents to these restrictions.

Her extended team includes a Resister from an alternate reality, and a younger Jason Quill, no slouch as an inventor himself. But this must work. She must get this right. And the more people who scrutinize what she’s attempting, the better. Particularly when it must interact with Leah Snow’s time-tunnel system, something only the Leo here can explain.

And while they’re working on building new Resister suits, Charlotte finds Adam staring up at the sky.

“Do you miss it?” she asks, curiously. “Being up there…?”

Adam startles, and turns, and smiles. “Huh? Oh, in space? That’s… that’s a hard question.”

He gives it some thought. “There’s so much potential. And so much wasted. There’s war, because people can’t get along. And there’s people who let it happen, because it’s easier to run away than to stand and fight. It’s a riddle I don’t know how to solve.”

Charlotte can feel Adam’s concern, and smiles at him. “I too am facing a cosmic problem. Worlds are falling under attack by a mysterious enemy. Our inventors are helping me make a tool to understand that enemy better. But… it too is a riddle. Perhaps a different one. So I think I understand your plight.”

Charlotte is gratified when Adam makes the same offer Harry had - and indeed, any other hero who’s heard her story. “Is there anything I can do to help?”

“We have many people, many Menageries really, already on the problem.”

Charlotte takes note of Adam’s worried expression, and decides to try something more positive. “They include someone who claims to be your child from years in the future, relative to us. Is there someone special you’ve been keeping from us, Adam?”

Adam chokes in surprise. “Child? What? Someone…? No! I mean, um…”

Charlotte will not share her private amusement at how red his face is becoming. It wouldn’t be proper. “Well. These are parallel realities, where others made their own decisions. Perhaps…”

For some reason, something has tripped inside Adam’s brain, and he’s gonna be talking about this for awhile. “Like, for awhile the Ponies were hanging off me a few years ago, and I kinda made myself hard to find until I figured that out. And I had a talk with Leo that kinda helped, and a talk with Keri that really helped, and now she’s on the spaceship with me but right now she’s over there grilling stuff for people–”

He points to a knot of folks working on food over a fire. Keri, now known as La Cordera, is smiling and laughing along with the others.

“–and I mean, she seems like she’s happier now, but we’re not, you know, together together, it’s more like I’m her little brother, but I can sense that she’s sometimes wistful, and I guess since that time I’ve kinda grown up. I mean, I am a teenager, hormones are a thing, there are some people I think are pretty hot, and some of them are here–”

He realizes that he’s babbling, and forces himself to stop speaking with an act of will.

Charlotte listens intently, and studies his face, with a subtle smile playing over her lips. “I see. So while you may not be in a relationship as such, perhaps there’s someone who interests you…?”

Adam makes a keening noise that sounds like “eeee”. He glances back up at the sky. “Maybe I should go back to space, huh? I think that might be easier.”

Charlotte makes the last teasing comment she has. This has been good fun, and too much more would be unkind. This last remark will be the final blow.

“Perhaps the one you’re destined to meet is waiting for you somewhere up there.”

The “eeee” becomes more pronounced.

Adam finds himself examining old friends with new eyes. His time around Somber, and his growth in response to the mysterious alien’s “mentoring”, may have cost him a bit of his innocent notions, and he hopes it’s given him some wisdom in trade.

For example, here at the outing, William Eddison isn’t wearing his usual knight’s hoodie, but a tank top. The hoodie did a good job hiding it, but here it’s clear that he’s built like a Hercules. That fact has drawn a few appreciative stares. That, in turn, has caused Jaycee to feel a surge of strong emotion that Adam can detect.

Now, he probes that, while Jaycee and Summer are swapping out barista duties for the party.

How does she feel about William? She’s attracted, she’s interested, she’s frustrated and annoyed and many other things. If emotions were the spectrum of visible light, the link between Jaycee and William would be a shimmering rainbow.

But what about the other direction? Oddly, what he feels from William is what he feels from Keri toward - well, toward himself. A yearning, sublimated into something else, a burning fire placed into a lantern to become a comforting light.

“What’s on your mind?” asks a voice.

Adam snaps out of his contemplation and realizes it’s Keri asking him.

“Uhhhh. Just - uh.”

Keri follows his eyes to where William and Jaycee are talking. “Those two, huh?”

“Yeah.” He turns to the young woman and gambles on a question. “Do you think they like each other? I mean, they have complicated feelings…”

“I think their relationship is their business,” Keri says coolly.


Adam realizes he wants to fight this fight, argue for helping the two realize and understand whatever is going on with them, promote some kind of happy ending - but he also realizes that Keri is talking from experience, and that what she says is fair in its way.

Maybe that’s an important lesson Somber has taught him, Adam thinks. Before acting, first reflect on when it’s wise to interfere in someone else’s business, and how.

Somewhere in the swirl of his attempts at formulating a reply, words come out.

“You’re worth loving, Keri, no matter how you feel.”

Without another word, she walks away. He wants to chase after her, convinced at first that he did something wrong. But as that impulse tries to galvanize itself into action, his sense of what she’s experiencing comes to him as well.

She’s not hurt or angry at what he said. She’s scared of it. Scared of accepting it.

Like William and Jaycee, maybe this is a feeling she has to sort out.

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Cognates and Clones

Word has gotten around about Charlotte’s team and the dire predicament facing not just one world, but many. Other members of the Menagerie have asked about it. Despite her appreciation of the offer, Charlotte politely declines. Despite her refusal, the magnitude of the problem makes people persistent, and finally she must explain herself.

Charlotte decides, as she’s done in the past when things were getting out of her control, to at least get in front of things. To that end, she gathers some of the people who’ve been asking, and trusts that others will show up or hear about it later.

Harry is practicing his powers, and makes sure everyone has drinks. Once he’s done with that, she starts talking.

“Creatures called Eigendrakes are causing damage throughout the multiverse. We hope to neutralize them - and perhaps undo the damage. I am working with some of our cross-dimensional cognates on this matter. So for that reason, while I’m grateful of the offers, there are quite a few interested parties. I assure everyone here, should any of you become vital to the effort, I will notify you at once.”

She takes a breath, and lets go of tension by an act of will. She doesn’t want to say what comes next, but it best explains her real reason for turning down help.

“We’ve already lost one person. Leah Snow. She was… struck by the Eigendrakes’ lightning, I am told. What I hope this means is that we can find her somewhere, somehow. After all, these beings at their core are driven by preservation. We won’t give up looking. But… I am not interested in losing anyone else at this time.”

The gang is silent at this revelation. Mourning lost comrades - even if they returned later - isn’t foreign to anyone here. Aren’t they at a wake for the supposedly deceased Jason Quill right now? However they feel about risking the danger personally, they also have to accept Charlotte’s feelings about the matter.

She pivots to another subject, hoping to put peoples’ minds more at ease. “Besides, some of you have already helped with the most important next step. The Resister suits. And I’m sure each of you are working on something important.”

She beckons. “Harry. Adam. Why not come tell us your recent business, for example?”

Harry takes a position front and center.

“Well, we’re working on two problems. The Seven Wonders of the villain world. Last-generation villains. I got a few folks from the former JHHL turned Chosen and uh, some unnamed folks, and we’re working up a thing to try and take them down. Oh hey, maybe this will help someone. Rex Tyran’s Stellar Six? They’re clones of other heroes and villains. Maybe mind controlled, maybe conditioned by upbringing or something. Anyone who wants to talk about that, come find me.”

Several people, including Alycia and Daph, perk up at this news.

Adam goes next. He’s not as comfortable in front of an audience as Harry, but he gamely follows Harry’s example. “Hey. Uh, the Universal Concordance aren’t really good guys, but they aren’t really bad guys either. The Blot are still out there, and the HHL that went to space are still fighting them, and uhhh.”

He scratches his chin and looks around. “There’s a big repository of negative energy on Earth. Probably it created the Sepiaverse by accident. The Concordance put it there. There’s someone named Somber trying to tap into it. I’m putting together a plan to handle that. So uhhh, wish me luck.”

Expressions of support and admiration ring out. Although Adam can’t make out the individual words very well, he can feel the unified emotion of it all.

By sharing what he knows, Harry has learned some important things in return.

Daph was in close contact with the Stellar Six at one point. From that meeting, she realized that the spirits of the corporate heroes were crying out for vengeance. Now Harry understands why - they aren’t people who made a choice to do what they’re doing.

Alycia, likewise, knows something about clone programming from her experience in the City of Clones. The laptop they stole from the underground facility contained much information about the Russian ANTIBODY program, including the old RNA transcoding process used prior to the Poppet System.

“Get a blood sample from the Stellar Six,” was her advice. Easier said than done, Harry reflects. But it’s something.

“Much as I’d like to pursue this, I think we have to concentrate on the Seven Wonders,” he admits at last. “I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but it’s not like the Stellar Six are attacking the city or its heroes right now.”

Summer happens by, and perks up. She and Harry take different tacks simultaneously:

“Hey, Summer, you know brain stuff, right? If a clone–”

“Hey, Harry, we got a tip about the Stellar Six, actually–”

The two heroes laugh at the gaffe, and start over. Harry, being faster, goes first.

“So is there anything that like a brain scan could pick up, or maybe some way to like, trace down what’s going on with a clone?”

Summer thinks. “Well, if it’s a biological clone of someone, no more or no less than you could study a human being, right? I don’t know much about any cloning process, but if you got someone into a hospital - or if they had one of Rossum’s neurochips, like Leo does - you could study their brain details in depth. There’s plenty to learn from that.”

Harry nods, and Summer goes ahead with her thing. “So um, not only are the Stellar Six working with Tyran Enterprises, I mean duh, obviously… but they might be approaching villains and getting them to do stuff. The Fourth Mother, from Argentina–”

“Haven Station, yeah.” Everyone has heard by now.

“–Well, there’s uhhh, evidence I guess? That she was prompted to attack the station at a certain time. So maaaybe if you can beat other villains whose timing is sus, you can interrogate them? They might reveal something useful.”

Harry claps his hands. “That’s fantastic. And oh! Congratulations!”

Summer blinks. “For what?”

Harry grins. “For being famous! Now it’s not just me who has to deal with it. It’s such a relief to know that someone else is going to suffer through all the attention from the press and stuff.”

Summer, her face frozen in a mask of fear, slinks away.

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Fame and Friendship

Summer realizes that the question she has could be answered by a specific couple of friends, and invites them over to ask.

When Alycia approaches, Summer smirks. “So. The U.S. state department kicked us out. I’m finally No-Good Newman. Impressed?”

Alycia blinks at her.

“Oh come onnnnn,” Summer whines. “What is it gonna take to impress you?”

“Your goodness and your heart is what impresses me,” Alycia confesses. “But you will learn quickly that being outcast is not so pleasant.”

That point goes unexplored, as Harry approaches.

With Harry and Alycia listening, Summer launches into the question.

“I’m not gonna ask, what should I do. I have to figure that out myself. But… what’s better? What’s more helpful? I guess, another way to put it, would it be better if the Menagerie, or its members, or whatever, were secret and underground? Or whether it was open and aboveboard and popular?”

Harry and Alycia trade glances, doing the human dance of silently negotiating who should talk first. Harry wins - or loses, depending on how you look at it - and starts talking.

“I definitely wish I had a secret identity,” he admits. “My family’s too well known for me to get away with that. But I do wish I could just go to Captain Burger and get something without having people look at me, like they know me. Celebrity’s not great. People read about you and they think they’re your friend. Parasocial relationship, I think it’s called. But it also gives me some authority when I need to get something done. So I dunno. Personally it’d be better to be less known, but as far as being a hero? I dunno. Maybe it would be hard to hold a secret identity, too. You worry about people learning about it, you feel bad about lying to friends. I guess… I dunno. It’s a hard question.”

Alycia frowns, but speaks. “I sometimes wish I could blend in more easily with people. The authorities are after me, of course, but… like Harry, I miss having what people so blithely call a ‘normal life’. Right now, I’m convinced that is forever out of my hands. In one sense, that’s incredibly depressing. In another, incredibly liberating. A dream you know you can’t achieve need not be pursued. As to the benefits, then. Living on the fringes of society, off grid, is liberating in another way. I need not hold down some kind of job in a Western capitalist hellhole to feed or shelter myself. I’m beholden to no manager or owner. My responsibilities are my own to manage. I need only obey the dictates of my conscience. Yet…”

She shrugs her shoulders. “It is lonely.”

Harry nods along. “Being well known is lonely in its way too. You can’t trust people’s motives. Maybe they want something from you, even if it’s just to be around a celebrity. So you learn to avoid people. Maybe I do it for different reasons than Alycia, but sometimes the outcome’s the same. I have a circle of people I let in, and I keep everyone else at arm’s length.”

Summer taps her chin thoughtfully. Finally she brightens up.

“You know, both of you have something in common here. Neither of you asked for fame. Or infamy, I guess. It was something that happened to you. It shaped your life. So I think, for someone like me, who doesn’t mind it, for whom it would be an opt-in, it might be better. And I know I’ll never be lonely, not with friends like you.”

Aria has just gone into the RV to take over watching Fez, leaving Leo to come sit next to Jason on the beach.

“Question,” Leo says after awhile. Talking doesn’t come as easily as it did of old, but he’s working on it.

Jason looks up with a smile. “Sure?”

“You were… building rapport with generals. INTERCOM. You were positioning yourself politically. Yeah?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

Leo tilts his head. “What happens now?”

“You mean now that I’m dead?” Jason laughs. “It’s on hold. Maybe I’ll come to life in a few months, or a few years, or never, but I made an impression. I think you’re asking, was I hoping to make some kinda progress in the world by cultivating those relationships?”

Leo nods, and Jason continues, staring at the stars as he does.

“That was definitely on my mind, yes. I thought I could parley my father’s legacy and my own vision into a better, healthier approach to solving world problems. Of course it didn’t work out the way any of us hoped. But on the other hand, we made progress. The Sepiaverse is out there. You and I are still two years into that. We’ve got the pieces. The Launch System, Safe Harbor, all the stuff you folks worked on are prototypes for a world rescuing operation. Your style - safe, basic, easily replicated - is ideal there. The directions I put the Quill Foundation toward will handle the softer aspects, the stuff you’re not well suited to. The rescues from Atlantis are a template for how the rest of the planet can cope with an influx of people in need. But that diplomatic schmoozing with people in power, the thing that always makes you make that face of disgust - haha, you’re making it right now - that’s the part I’m good at.”

Leo’s face scrunches up as he tries to will away the expression he was called out on. “Fine. So now?”

Jason laces his fingers together. “Now… I made a choice, to do something important for someone important. Like you did. Now, I have to trust the things I set in motion will continue in the right direction. Hope that my foresight was adequate. And I’ll learn whether my organization has inherited my heart.”

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How do you have a fair volleyball match between nascent gods, superhuman androids, vampires, speedsters, and flaming skulls?

Alex’s answer is to say “fuck it” and declare themselves referee, then set out three rules:

  1. It’s not fair, but it’s going to be fun
  2. Ref calls are final
  3. I can make up any new rules I want

There’s a complicated ladder that exists only in Alex’s head, and they outline a schedule. To accommodate Vermillion, the game is played after sunset, with plenty of lighting on the court.

The first round is the “Human Hypergenius Head To Head”. It’s Jason, Trace, and Leo on one side, with Alycia, Nono, and Alex themselves on the other.

“I promise to be impartial and fair about my involvement in this match,” Alex promises, and they are.

The rule is that instead of one volleyball in play at a time, there are five.

The match quickly turns into a showdown between Alycia and Jason, with the pair playing with an intensity the others struggle to match. But people love games, and their partners do their very best to uphold the team spirit and win the match. Each side is fielding two or three balls at a time. They bump, set, and spike with acrobatic grace and mathematical precision.

The edge eventually goes to Alycia’s side, as the MIA team has somewhat more experience working together than do Jason and Leo with Trace. But it’s extremely close, and the players are exhausted by the end of the match.

The remaining matches need some technical assistance, so Jaycee and Maury (who have opted out of the matches for their own reasons) serve drinks and tell stories during the break. Alex has consulted with their engineers, and in a very few minutes is ready to announce the remaining lineups.

“Sexy Superhero Showdown, All Girls Edition!” they call out. “On one side - the Three Little Bricks”. That’s A10, Equity, and la Cordera. “On the other - Firebrand, Ninjess, and Ghost Girl”.

Charlotte isn’t sure about the decorum involved in a “Sexy Superhero Showdown”, until Alex is forced to admit it’s just something to sound good and Charlotte need not change out of her rather conservative one-piece. And with that resolved, the match is on.

The rule here is called Red Light Green Light. Green means go, red means stopping play. The trick is that each player is fitted with their own personal red and green light, with Alex vigorously and maliciously messing with the lights on a phone app.

The resulting game is chaotic. There’s never more than two reds on a side, but sometimes a player will be set to bump or set, only to be red-lit. Then someone else must jump in to take over.

Firebrand and Ninjess adapt most readily to the the format. Keri complains almost immediately, and while Charlotte plays along, she looks rather put out by the arbitrariness of it all. But her side wins, so that’s not so bad.

“Robot Revolution Extraordinaire!” shouts Alex, commencing the third matchup. It’s Aria, Summer, and John Black on one team, with Otto, Mo and Bill on the other.

At every moment before the match actually begins, John is glaring daggers at Alex. He mouths, “you’re messing with me,” and Alex just smirks in response. But once the match begins, he’s all professional.

As expected, the three brothers of the Garage are well used to working in tandem. On the other hand, they’re playing against two sisters who started life as the same person, and who are simpatico with their third teammate. And in some sense, all six people got their moves from the same brain. The effect is uncanny.

To make things extra fun, and to take advantage of the invulnerable robots playing on both sides, Alex has instituted the Latchcomb Rule. The ball is a bomb and will explode after a random amount of time. If it explodes on your side, you lose the point.

Everyone has different responses to the problem of preserving modesty when you can survive an explosion but your clothes can’t. Summer switches to holograms immediately, once the rule is explained. Aria and John switch into their armored forms. The Garage’s boys, on the other hand, change into specially armored clothing they’ve been testing out for rescue work, and which proves the equal of the bombs. Still, the blasts are surprising and heart-pounding.

Alex denies any ability to control when the bombs go off. “Even if it would be highly comedic,” they add.

In the end, the Newman girls and John win their match. The enthusiasm on his face as he celebrates with Aria and Summer puts a pouty sulk on Alex’s face, though they make sure not to show it.

Once another break comes and goes, complete with drinks and conversation, Alex announces the fourth and final round.

“Sexy Superhero Showdown, Special Supernatural Edition!”

The lineup here is Armiger, Concord, and Mercury vs. Bodark, Vermillion, and Manny the Skull.

Dressed in only tight-fitting swim trunks, with a Herculean build and perfectly sculpted muscles, William Eddison has definitely caught everyone’s eye. Adam, perhaps feeling a bit challenged, makes sure to power up into his more mature Concord persona. Harry, having no transformation option, has to settle for being fast.

On the other side, the lithe vampire and stocky werewolf look ready for anything. Although Manny has no arms, he promises he’ll headbutt the ball.

The rule this time is Golden Snitch. The volleyball itself has been equipped with the same propulsion tech as Summer’s drones, and as such will randomly dart in random directions. The only constraint is that it’ll never go down, only up or to the side.

The teams quickly figure out the strategy. Harry and Manny act as their respective teams’ emergency spotter, going after the ball when it suddenly flies off target. The other two members of the team are responsible for the bump-set-spike cycle of volleyball.

This match is decided more quickly than the others. William destroys everyone in his path. While Bodark can match him in physical strength, the werewolf isn’t as tall and lacks something in jumping ability. For how much the two quibble, Vermillion and Bodark really play as a team when it comes to it, just as much as Menagerie teammates Concord and Mercury. Manny, too, plays surprisingly strongly for a floating skull on fire.

At the end of the matches, people circle up for drinks and relaxation. People who sweat go to towel off. A few volunteers take down the nets and do what they can to clean up the damage.

Ever the journalist, Maury decides to move from group to group and ask for reactions.

Alycia’s MIA team seem entertained. Alycia’s still jonesing for more competition with Jason - she’s positive vibrating from it. Jason, likewise, is in great spirits. Nono seems dazed but enthusiastic. John is a little confused, after playing with two versions of the girl he’s been carrying a torch for, but seems to have enjoyed himself. Alex is still inexplicably pouty, but still immensely proud of themselves for pulling this off. Firebrand is smug and will likely be so for awhile.

The Newmen are taking the event very individually, which is interesting given how in sync they were during their match. Leo is back in the RV watching over Fez, but he’s jovial and unusually talkative for him. Summer is giddy at having had a fun time with her sister. Aria is more subdued, but clearly proud of her victory. Otto is philosophical but approves of his side’s teamwork. Mo is taciturn, giving one-word answers to questions about how he’s doing. Big Bill’s in full aw-shucks mode, and is very congratulatory toward the Newman girls.

Mercury’s team are all over the map. Harry and Trace are taking the whole thing like bros - playing up their good points, showing team unity when asked how individuals performed, and so on. Fuko seems to have taken some inspiration from the unusual rules of the matches, and is plotting something. Of everyone on A10’s side of the volleyball matchup, Andi seems the most pleased with how it went. “I miss hanging out with those ladies,” she comments to Maury. “We should do this - or something - more often.”

Although Charlotte herself is putting on an all-business front, even she seems to have enjoyed herself, and her team is much more willing to admit it. Daph loved it, of course. Bodark and Vermillion have nothing but bad things to say about the other’s performance, but both are smiling. Manny cannot stop praising the whole concept of volleyball and loves that he got to participate in something with other people.

Adam and his friends likewise are excited about the match. To Maury, they seem almost relieved, as each of them is still carrying some kind of weight from wherever they were and whatever they were up to. Jaycee can’t stop talking about William. William, for his part, is almost too modest - “I’m just glad we all got to have fun,” he says. Keri doesn’t say much, but her smile is the most genuine thing Maury has seen from her in a long time.

Everyone Maury talks to agrees on one thing. Despite the troublemaker vibe Alex so commonly gives off, they delivered. The rules might have felt capricious, but they were well balanced for the teams, and overall, it really was fun. Alex spends the rest of the night in exhilarated embarrassment at all the praise, and maybe that’s the best way people could have found to get back at them.


A very Alycia thing to say. Also true.



Of course.

Nice. Allowed competition that is not life-and-death and is against an apex challenger and carries the baggage of that Jason-v-Alycia history would be just what she’s looking for.

Fun times.


It’s been a fun three days, but three days it has been.

Charlotte is the earliest to leave. “Another universe needs us - and we must act, before this one falls into similar peril,” she explains.

Bodark and Vermillion, perhaps surprisingly, perhaps not, seem the most reluctant to leave. It occurs Charlotte to wonder to herself how much human contact the pair have really had in their lives. They were hunted by Velasco and Russian military forces. What must they make of all this? She reminds herself to ask them - once the Eigendrakes situation is dealt with, of course.

Maury is excited. She can’t share any of the pictures she took nor the stories she saw here, but she’s made contacts across the various teams and seems interested in pursuing those.

Daph has a quiet smile. She got to reconnect with old faces, say hi to people she knew in high school, that sort of thing. Charlotte can respect her feelings. Even in the midst of superheroes and supernatural creatures, Daphne Palin is always down to earth.

Manny the Skull, the old pirate’s ghost Charlotte discovered buried in the crypt in Halcyon, loves adventure as always. He claims to have journeyed far by sea in life, and now he’s continuing to see new sights and go new places. He has been a good companion and friend, in spite of his rougher edges. He deserves more journeys like this.

Alycia, perhaps at her limit for social interaction, calls for her team to depart. There’s some last-minute exchanges of information, as some of the tech introduced to the group will need further setup and installation, but everyone seems as ready to pack up as she does.

Nono had heartfelt exchanges with Summer and Charlotte, perhaps her closest friends from the older Menagerie days. Her newfound confidence surprises both women, but also pleases both of them immensely.

John Black seems more comfortable around his Newman associates. He’s still not talking to Leo very much, but Alycia can tell that some of the old tension is wearing off. Alycia knows from experience that such adjustments take time, and knows that he knows too.

Jason seems his usual self - outwardly confident, inwardly terrified. He’s looking at the new life ahead of him, the first choice that truly moves him out of his father’s shadow. He rides his terror like a river, Alycia thinks. And he’s ready to set sail.

Alex has big plans for the underground base in the Antarctic. They’re ready to move forward with those plans, and John will be instrumental in making them happen. At the same time, Alycia wonders if the isolation will hit Alex the worst. As much as they play up their cool hacker exterior, they need human connection almost as bad as Alycia does - although she will never admit that.

Emma has had fun with people, and continues her pose of being a villain. Alycia doesn’t buy it - not entirely. She thinks it comes down to a definitional difference. For Emma, “villain” means “person who does what they want in spite of society’s scorn”, while Alycia thinks of that more as just “rebel”. But whatever, being a rebel on word definitions is rebellious too.

Harry’s team wants to get back to Halcyon. There’s still more work to do, and two super-teams to fight - the “good guys” and the bad guys. But he feels more prepared.

Trace seems to have found greater confidence after demoing some of his stuff to a larger crowd of tech-heads. Like Jason, he’s struggled to be his own man in the face of a famous or infamous father. Now it seems like his hard work and endurance are paying off. He’s smiling more than Harry has seen him do in the past.

Along with Trace, Fuko is happy to be among people she knows she can trust. Everyone here suffered somehow during the Atlantean invasion - especially Leo, whose scars are still with him even now. Harry saw her say a quick, uncertain goodbye to the man, and saw his genuine smile and casual wave in return.

Andi had a blast cooking for people. She’s still excited to have seen Keri and other familiar faces. She knows what she can do, and she’s slowly learning what she doesn’t know. It’s good for her, Harry thinks, to be around people she knows and trusts right now.

Adam and his crew pile back in their spaceship. “I needed time to think,” he explains to his friends, “and I think this was it.”

William and Jaycee board together. Adam makes a note to talk to them at some point about what he feels radiating from them. He’s still not sure about doing stuff like that. But meeting Somber opened a door that can never be closed - the knowledge that you can’t trust people all the time, and the telepathic power to indulge in that distrust.

Keri seems to have relaxed more. Good. Adam can feel her complicated emotions about returning to Earth, about seeing other people, but everyone Keri saw was excited to see her. The person she needs atonement from, Adam thinks, isn’t any of these folks. It’s herself.

The Newmen have to be the last to leave, as the people operating the portal that got almost everyone here.

“I think I’ve figured something important out, about Fez,” Leo tells Otto, before he takes off. But he doesn’t say what. He and Aria pilot the RV through the portal first, after saying their goodbyes for the moment.

Otto, Mo, Bill, and Summer stay behind to clean up the campsite. “Take only pictures, leave only footprints,” Otto says more than once, but even the many footprints in the sand here must be cleaned up. The party didn’t attract any visitors - it was carefully chosen to be out of sight to people living in the region, and Alex did their part to screen the site from spy satellites. Still, Otto wants it all cleaned.

Of all of them, Otto can tell that Big Bill most wishes the party could have continued. He’s the most social of the brothers, and he misses out on things like this. He’s also too polite to push people into events back at Safe Harbor, putting him in a tough place. Otto sighs, and tells himself he’ll make an effort to find ways for the guy to stay engaged.

Mo has a little smile on his face, but will admit nothing whatsoever about enjoying the partying. Otto leaves it at that.

Summer still seems a little maudlin, but Otto can tell that’ll pass soon.

“Hey, what about encoding the Chariot into a Phoenix egg?” he asks, as the pair are busy raking sand on the beach.

“It’ll take weeks for that to grow,” Summer says absentmindedly. “I guess I can do that, if we don’t think we’ll have fusion power soon. Or maybe as a backup… I dunno, honestly. I guess I think of the eggs as something the Phoenixes should have to themselves, even though that’s not really true, is it?”

“We gotta be creative in how we acquire our resources,” Otto counsels. “We gotta think laterally, outside the box, you know.”

Summer smiles. “I know. But you know, it’s comforting to hold onto familiar things, even familiar ways of thinking - even if they aren’t helpful. But I’m trying.”

“And little breaks help like this, by putting us back in touch with the familiar.”

Summer sighs, but she’s still smiling. “It did help, didn’t it. Seeing everyone - knowing everyone’s okay, more or less - that was a big boost. Jason’s going on a big new adventure. And now I’m going on one too, aren’t I.”

Otto claps her on the shoulder with a reassuring hand. “You are. You ain’t alone, never and no how. Just remember that and you’ll be fine.”

The beach looks good. The team took pictures before setting up, and those are a pretty good match to how things are again.

The Newmen finally call it good, and take their leave. Play time was good, but play time is over. Time to get back to work.

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The adventure continues! Next up, Charlotte saves the universe in “The Buccaneers of the Beyond”

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