51.6 - Princess of the Magic World

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Summer travels into the magical kingdom inside her soul. Well, it's a virtual reality workspace that Leo added to his bots several months ago, but this is kind of how she imagines it anyway. Like Otto and Aria, Summer's senses such as sight, touch, and smell route through a circuit to her electromechanical brain. With an act of will, she can put an internal computer onto that circuit as well. Its virtual reality software then feeds her brain with experiences just as real as the real world, and respond to her actions and imagination. For Otto, this is how the cockpit of the Phoenix becomes accessible. For Summer, it's a home away from home. She experiences this virtual space as a cozy studio apartment, and an attached lab and workshop. She can store copies of anything she sees there, such as quantum chromodynamics textbooks or movie posters. And she can design the perfect superhero costume. The fact that it's all high-tech doesn't make it any less fantastic. If visualizing a thing and making it real isn't magic, what is? With Leo's gift of his grappling system to Alycia, Summer came to a realization. She's been too dependent on her past. She trained with Leo, fought next to him in practice, even did some actual crime-fighting together before the Menagerie. But she - and he - always had a similarly equipped and trained partner. Now is different. And that's what's messing her up. She has to throw it all away and start from scratch. She might have to learn heroism fresh, but she's doing that now anyway. The centerpiece of her VR workroom is a 1:1 scale model of her own robotic shell, along with callouts for her special equipment. There were previous attempts at creating the perfect shell. A few have been filed away. Most are in the trash. She stares at it for long moments, then yanks everything out. The grappling systems, the thrusters, armor modules, transformation, all of it goes. All of it? She hesitates. The drone docking system? It stays. She might need to move from body to body, and this is a convenient way to do it. And she can always upgrade the drone. What do I need? She starts with the new module type - a dual-use electromagnetic emitter. The principles of the EMdrive and the hard-light hologram aren't that different. Light becomes force, and the new module is a laser on a chip capable of doing just that. She coats the virtual shell with it, then lays on a layer of skin on top. I'll have to make allowances for partial coverage. I might need to carry someone, and I don't want them to be hurt by the impulse. Plus, I want to wear clothes too. Living light - for disguise, weapons, tools, and more. Levitation - for mobility and force. That covers a lot of the package. But those grapples.. Those were versatile. Summer conjures up a new object, floating in space in front of her. She doesn't know how to build it yet, but she knows in principle what it needs. There's a knock on the door. Summer panics, and ejects herself from VR space back into her body. "Yeah?" She hears Leslie's voice, sounding bored or tired. "Yo. New girl moved in?" "Um.. yeah? She's good, thank you." There's a pause. "Two duffel bags. Travels light. If she's in trouble with the cops, I gotta know." Summer nods to herself. Of course, that'd be the logical conclusion. "She's…" There's hesitation - how much am I allowed to say? - "She's on the outs with her dad right now. No police problems and there won't be, I promise." There's a grunt from the other side of the door. "Cool. Goin' to bed. Don't stay up too late." "I won't. Love you, sweetie," Summer calls back with a smile. She can hear a softening in the voice. "Love you too, kiddo. Goodnight." The new object is a kind of mini-drone. It can hover, and fly about. It's got a graphene capacitor and a dual-use emitter system, a tiny onboard computer, and not much else. Its job is to dump as much electricity into the emitter as it can, for as long as it can, and then either burn out or fly back. The onboard computer is programmed with a visualization - a net, a dome, a shield, anything Summer needs to project out of hard light. And the little guy will make it happen. Someone about to be attacked? Throw one of these units at them, and it forms a protective barrier for as long as the charge holds out. Someone falling? Wings, or a harness. It could project holograms that can look like regular objects - a false door, a vending machine, a person. She opens the closet, where a dozen or more hypothetical outfits hang ready for inspection. With this module, I can look like anything. But what? More on the way, including the actual costume! But I'm really a fan of how this tech can be played with and thematically re-purposed. Inspired partially by  this scene , because we don't get many magical girls who build their own stuff. The idea of a VR home is inspired by Steam VR Home , which I've been playing with a lot lately. #Background
Nice injection of the scene with Leslie. Alycia (presumably dossed down in the basement on the couch) actually sleeps through Leslie's return, much to her later chagrin. (Clearly sleepier than she thought, given her leaving the duffels upstairs :-) ) (It occurs to me that if Summer is looking to redo tactics, or get some alternative sparring partner tips, or whatever, she now has access to a resource for that.)
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Summer definitely spots a trend in the costumes she likes. Simple, compact but not form-fitting, bright colors. And princess-y. Recent anxieties resurface, and she hops out of VR for a bit to take a walk and do some thinking. She's trapped in a paradox. She wants to represent robots in a positive light, but she's almost never doing that. She presents as a human being 99% of the time - she "passes". I want to be me, but I'm afraid to be me. But it's not as simple as that. She's a robot, but she's a robot whose body image is biologically human. Removing her sculpted face, her hair, her skin, all the things that hide the mechanism and mechanics underneath, would be to remove something that is her too. The human appearance isn't a disguise, it's an identity. But it's one that necessarily gives the wrong impression - "I'm biological". My body is a walking lie. She wonders how long it would take to explain to someone how this is connected to costuming, and tries sorting out the logical chain. It goes something like this: imagine that she presented herself as Princess Radiance from the Magic World. Of course there is no objectively real Magic World (that she's aware of). There might well be magical realities, ones accessible to individuals like Charlotte Palmer, but not the one claimed by Princess Radiance. It's a fiction, and whether it's a metaphor to her, it'd be seen as a truth claim by ordinary people. They'd ask questions, or make assumptions, or challenge her to feats of magic she couldn't back up with her technological abilities. Is it a lie to present herself as "Princess Radiance from the Magic World"? It's certainly an uncomfortable untruth. But it's the aesthetic she personally likes. Leo loves his high-tech and his gadgets, the way she likes her bright colors and wings and stuff. But it happens that his high-tech stuff looks like what it is, and her magic princess stuff does not. I wish I could just tell everyone who and what I am, and they'd accept me. It gets worse. What if there were superheroes out there who didn't know what they were, or were wrong about it? Summer considers herself smart and well-educated and quick-witted, and she's been wrong about herself in lots of ways. She knows there are gaps in her own understanding. What of other kids out there? What about a mutant, someone who had a traumatic experience, and earnestly thought they were an angel? What about someone with devilish powers, who looked the part? Would they be judged as evil, and would they accept that identity if enough people pushed it on them? What if there was a real Princess Radiance from a real Magic World, who lost her memory and thought she was a run-of-the-mill superhero? It's not easy being yourself. At the same time, she's not presenting as Summer Skye Newman when she's in costume either. "Radiance" is just another lie, built on a foundation of little lies. Some of those lies feel acceptable. Others feel distasteful but necessary. No matter how white a lie is, though, they collectively add up to a great weight in her heart. But Radiance could be a robot, to save Summer the pain of admitting to it. With all that on the table, it's time to think about the costume. Your costume is a choice you make. It's sartorial self-expression. It's a chance to atone for the lies and confusion you've caused people - or a chance to tell a new story, when you put on a mask that's not you. Summer knows why Leo finally unmasked. He felt the same way she does - that people deserve to know who you are. And yet, it's so easy for him to do that. She's honestly a little annoyed at him for that. Who can I say I am, using my costume as a voice? More on the way. This post is why I think the Janus is the right playbook for her - tension between masked and unmasked identities is her main deal.
This post is why I think the Janus is the right playbook for her - tension between masked and unmasked identities is her main deal. Ooh, but with the added fillip that both her masked and unmasked identities are expressions of the truth. Radiance is not just Summer in disguise, but Summer being the robot (outwardly) she sees herself as. Summer is not a convenience for Radiance to spend some downtime, but the actual person. Much more complicated than the normal secret identity thing, complete with (secret) identity politics, which is awesome.
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Summer's "superhero planning pad" is getting dog-eared. The numerous items she's written, crossed out, rewritten, and furiously erased have left permanent indentations in the lower sheets. Every so often, paper flakes drift out from between the pages, marking a sheet that was torn out hastily and discarded. But it's getting near the end, and she's grateful for the loyal service it's showed her. The latest effort looks something like this: A scared child needs rescuing, and she must trust me immediately Must have a face - must emote - masks are dehumanizing Must not be my face Artificial but not mechanical Biblical angels always open with "don't be afraid" Technomagic Symbol - Nono's? EEK Long hair - but not messy - French braid Sunrise! - yellow gold - black - contrasts She looks over the list, and gets an idea. Back in VR, she starts a new costume. Crystalline skin , snow-white hair, a bright golden tunic with short arms, sheer black leggings, a gem-studded belt as an accent - and later on, those gems will really be the new remote units. She adds butterfly wings, then thinks for a moment, and adds three styles: paired angelic wings, a set of four wings in a butterfly configuration , and a six-winged configuration . It's all cosmetic for now, but she has some ideas about projecting wings as shields, and it doesn't hurt to get your aesthetic started early. On a whim, she tinkers with the layout until the wings can fold together and form a more traditional superhero's cape. She adds a set of golden bangle bracelets. They can start cosmetic, but can slide out into some kind of control panel or display, or even a weapon. Hmm... the feet need an accent too. She throws on a pair of swashbuckler-style boots. She has Nono's "Radiance" cutie mark - for a pony. She holds it in her virtual hand for long moments, then puts it away. She should talk to Nono first. She knows what she wants to do with it, though. So this will be version 1 of the new costume, and version 2 will debut the symbol. Oh! A thought occurs to her. It's daring, and she feels a little ashamed at being so proud of it. But Aria's not wearing it, so I can borrow it. When Pneuma first created her body and look, she opted for a middle ground of attractiveness - somewhere between "ordinary" and "distracting". But that was the final face she chose, not the only one. Are any of the other 3D models still laying around? They are. Does she have that one, the one that she had to drag Leo away from staring at? She does. She applies it to the face. Perfect - it's just enough like her real face to feel sort of familiar, but clearly different enough  The ensemble is a work in progress, and she'll probably be torn to pieces by the superhero media. A couple of girls are supposed to be good at costuming, though - Duskshine and that Gardner student, Keri, that's been hanging with Adam. She'll have to talk to them. Before that, though, she needs help. Leo can help build her new module, and a new shell to go with it. She wants to keep this one as a backup, if that's okay. And if Leo's busy, maybe she can manufacture itself, with a molecular lathe and some help. She remembers the dream - or was it? - where she met the Orphan Phoenix. Was it really at the Glade? Might it return, if so? It's got a lathe built in. She takes a snapshot of the final outfit, to send to Aria. And Leo and Otto. She debates sending one to Jason, and thinks better of it. He's been helpful, but there's Alycia, who doesn't need another girl texting her boyfriend right now. There's still so much to do. But Summer feels a surge of joy. She's doing this all on her own, and she's a few steps closer to resolving the paradox of herself. The door is open for her to revise it later, but this feels like a good mix of Mike's ideas, her practical needs as a super, and her preferred aesthetic. What do you think, sirs?
I'd need to see the final result visually to judge. I'm not sure about the swashbuckler boots -- I'm a huge fan of them as a costume piece, but not necessarily this costume -- but, again, I need to see the mix. That said, I love the notes she's written.
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Mike
Pro
Act two was really my favorite part of the first Iron Man movie (I'm an engineer, surprising that I would enjoy watching someone engineering something I'd love to have.  In other surprising news, I also loved  the Martian .  Weird, isn't it?), so I appreciate having that vibe to this section of the story.  As an added bonus, this is basically design document with commentary. Brain is churning with the imagery involved.  Will return to this later day.
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Summer scribbles out a few more notes. Maybe there's other ways out of the paradox. Technology doesn't have to be the enemy. What can science and high-tech do for her that's in the spirit of the character she plays? And what can her tech do to help others, rather than just plow through obstacles? Jordan is hurt or scared. Take cheek swab for DNA, software projects a face & body of adult Jordan, change appearance to match that & be a Big Sister to her so she feels safe Leo & Otto never beat Troll, only contained/exorcised him. If he projects through wifi, not just powered by it, can I trap him in VR & talk to him? Talk to Adam about Facet & her tech, may be something useful there Talk to Charlotte about Twilight Glade, is there anything special we can do for it or that it needs? Can internal respiration function as a plant - take in CO2, emit O2 - to act as emergency air supply? Pheromones & calming sounds, like nature noises , can help people relax? I need something to help me relax god dammit
I need something to help me relax god dammit I am so seeing Alycia and Summer at a bar, sipping milk shakes.
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*** Dave H. said: I need something to help me relax god dammit I am so seeing Alycia and Summer at a bar, sipping milk shakes. It's not milkshakes, but https://app.roll20.net/forum/post/6478149/comics-by-request/?pageforid=6559898#post-6559898
Ah. Yes, if that helps alleviate the tension ...