Everything seems to finally be going well. The AltFuture folk have their greatest problem resolved, specifically, AltFuture!Jason, who won't be making any more trouble. (That conversation continues to bring a quiet smile to my lips.) And we are, at long last, going home. Home?  That's a snort. Have I really had one since I was 9? Hell, of late I've been living in an AEGIS White Cell. Going to school under constant monitoring. Racing on missions hither and thither. What is "home" for me? After months (okay, days) in that bleak dystopia, just going back to my own time, on my own Earth, seems "home" enough.  Parker, of course, has something irksome in mind. She said so as I was leaving. I don't care. I need some bit of settled status quo for a while, even if it involves living at a YWCA and washing out garbage skips behind a soup kitchen. I have plans. Just get me back to where I can start moving on them, and I'll be satisfied. For a few days, at least. So we're on our way. It's enough to make me smile some more, so I do. Which is when everything goes to shit. * * * Sablestar pops into the tunnel of colorful chronometric energies we're hurtling through, tackles Concord (who, like Mercury, is outside of the Phoenix), and drives him through the tunnel walls and into ... where? When? There's hardly a moment to even register that when a titanic form of Doctor Infinity appears, visible through the walls the tunnel. She seizes the tunnel in a massive hand, and gives it a twist ... Yes, Doctor Infinity is still after me (possibly us, rather than just me,  but I'm part of that us, regardless). I suddenly have doubts whether I'll ever see "home" again. That feeling of insecurity is secondary (at best) to finding something to hold onto as the Phoenix swoops and crashes against the walls of the tunnel -- -- no, more than that. The vehicle is, itself, panicking, bucking like a frightened horse, as Leo and Otto struggle to bring it under control, to accelerate away from whatever Infinity is doing.  It's no use. And as we batter against the wall again, I see Leo grimace, hear him mutter something about having already fixed one timeline, and yank the controls to the side, driving the Phoenix through the wall as well, straight at Doctor Inf-- * * * I'm floating. It would be very comfortable if I weren't in pain all over ... My eyes snap open. The chamber is dimly lit. Fiery bits of light flash all around me. I'm trying to figure out why things seem so odd when I realize I'm upside-down. And in the Phoenix. The most recent moments I'm aware of come back to me. Zero-G. We're in space (or given where we were, maybe just "someplace with no gravity"). The air is still good, with that odd oil and ozone and plastic and honey smell I noticed the first time I was in the Phoenix. Above the soft beeping of error codes and alert conditions is a series of creaks and high-pitched groans from the vehicle about me. Or is that the vehicle itself, the Phoenix, keening in pain or anguish?  In any case, the noise is deeply disturbing. Otto, around us, is quiescent, no lights glimmering. Charlotte floats, eyes closed, unconscious or asleep, but frowning -- and corporeal once more (as she bounces lightly off a panel). Link and Aria are limp, afloat like me. It's too dark, too noisy, to tell if they're breathing (and Aria doesn't need to, even if she normally goes through the motions). There's no obvious injury, but -- Situation Report. Threat Analysis. Security first, pulses later. I push to the view port, ignoring the bruises all about my body from our careening about. My eyes skim the control / monitoring panels -- too many red and yellow lights, not enough green -- until I can see clearly -- Space. Stars wheel slowly about us, as does the Earth. Tumbling in orbit, then.  No time to observe and analyze any signs from orbit that might indicate where/when we are. I can at least see the continents look familiar, as do two constellations I can make out through the glory, so that's a good sign. But it's also just a brief side thought as I check off the "imminent danger" box. Because outside, as we tumble, I can see Concord, arched in pain, and Sablestar with her big, glowing sword standing behind him. * * * My mind spins off a dozen processes to evaluate possible courses of action to save Concord. It's only later that I consider how instinctive that reaction was. Phoenix? Offline or damaged. No weapon systems, as Leo saw fit to mention multiple times. Dammit, Leo. Why would you --? Can I cobble together a gadget from the spare parts I acquired in the swamp base, something to revive the vehicle, get it under control? Then use Phoenix to bodily assault Sablestar, or interpose between her and Concord? I'm sure I can wake it back up, but -- Leo's also nattered on at length about how the Phoenix is a trust -based organism / vehicle / creation. It's no so much controlled as it agrees to or trusts the guidance given by a pilot. It's a horrible idea, like trying to run an army as a democracy. That's not to take away from the Phoenix' self-awareness or autonomy, as much as acknowledging there are times when orders have to be given and obeyed without the time that gentle suasion and a dinner date require. The Phoenix doesn't know me from Adam. In fact, it probably knows Adam better. If it (she?) is a reflection of its creator's mind, it probably would have a healthy dis trust for me. Dammit, Leo. That thread hits a stop there, as I shift to consider whether I can take the battle directly to Sablestar. If I can get to her, I can take her. I have to assume that. But are there materials to cobble together -- something to handle the vacuum, the radiation, provide atmosphere, and, yeah, let's add in some needed controllable reaction jets. Can I do it with what I have, with what I see in the cabin around me? Sure. Estimate 48 minutes, cutting safety and quality measures to a probably-lethal level.  And even if I had a space suit or personal atmo force field or inflatable space hamster ball, there's no air lock on this thing. Dammit, Leo . Anything that can go into space sooner or later will go into space, and so needs an airlock. Even if I open the hatch (and can do so without Phoenix' cooperation) and get outside, the escaping air pressure would keep me from closing it again, until it dropped to a level where retaining atmosphere inside was moot. That thread fizzles. Another mental thread is waving for attention. Otto is the (or a) actual pilot interface to the Phoenix. Given our configuration, I'm not clear if even Leo could get the ship to function without Otto being online. So I should wake up Otto.  Okay, that I can do. Of course, I could do it with the equivalent of a hard slap on the face or kick in the ribs. If Otto were just a machine ... He's not. I saw his ghost. I saw his ghost. And it saved me from -- Breathe. Unclench. I will respect his spirit, his personhood. The gadget I whip together in a few moments sets up an oscillating electromagnetic pulse that should function like an alarm clock ringing in his sensory routines. Annoying but not harmful, not even painful. I find a part of the structure that I know is Otto, put the unit in place, and flip the switch.  Lights start to come on as Otto awakens, reboots, whatever the right term is. "Why --?" His voice on the speakers is slow, but it picks back up to normal speed in just a few words. "Wow, that's loud, can you turn that off? Why are we tumbling?" I smile. "In space around Earth. Phoenix is unresponsive. Concord is out there being carved up by Sablestar. No sign of Harry. Everyone else is out. We need to get the Phoenix to --" Otto is, if nothing else, quick on the uptake. "I'll wake the Phoenix. You wake up Leo." I smile again. Leo I can slap. And do. #Recap #Cutscene