54.1 - Delving (Alycia and Summer)

There's always a certain pressure when a life is at stake. I've pursued this topic for as many hours as I could spare. The academic research is largely commercial, profit-driven, inapplicable to the case before me. The online information is conflicted, foolish in some cases, not worth the effort in others. There are so many variables -- from the environment we're in, to the conditions before I was called in, to the situation on the ground. Normal people might panic, perhaps, or just act blindly in a rush and accept a certain mortality rate. I am not normal. I am a hyper-genius. I am trying to be a hero. I defy conventional wisdom. I will not accept any losses. The eyes of those around us will be judging. Failure is not an option. I have to go on basic principles, trust to what I've seen and been told, accept that the information I've been given is incomplete, and rely on my prodigious intellect to see this through. "Summer!" I shout over my shoulder. "Do you have the Miracle-Gro and the water jelly crystals? We can't let these marigold roots be exposed to air any longer than necessary!"
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"Comiiiiing!" The situation comedy version of events would have Summer stumble over something, spilling plant food everywhere, then bonking herself on the head and sticking her tongue out. In reality, she's nimble and fast, promptly prepared to assist. "The flowers are really beautiful," she breathes. "Like little suns. I love them."
"Sprinkle there. And there. Now some of that." Alycia's voice is intent, her eyes darting about the bed, confirming the hole that was dug for the first pot is in the right location for an aesthetically appropriate annual display. "Dig it in with the trowel. Aaaaand --" She massages the root ball from the pot into something looser and more able to dig into the tilled soil beside the carport. Then she places the loosened plant into the hole. It's an half-centimeter higher than she'd like, and she presses it down with a firm but controlled movement, then sweeps the dirt from around the hole in to fill the gap between the plant and the edge of the hole, the excess molded into a little berm (as www.HomeGardenTipsNC.com  recommended).  "Now, quickly -- water!" As Summer pours from the watering can over the plant, Alycia nods. "The gravest danger to planting is air exposure to the roots during the process. The water will eliminate dangerous air left in the soil about it, and ease the plant's transition into its new locale." She frowns slightly, then shakes her head. "They are kind of pretty. Actually, they remind me of little  incendiary bombs ."  She shoots a wry smile at Summer. "Comme ci, comme ça."
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Summer mentally ruminates. "The sun is a sort of bomb too," she observes at last, with a smile. "It's just a very slow and helpful one." Her eyes follow the work, interested in Alycia's interest, and interested herself in growing things, and curious how hands that have probably defused (or set) explosives, or picked locks, or other less guessable things will handle this task. There's the cemetary in her mind, just for a moment, with its carefully-cut grass and professionally managed sod, suddenly heaving and bursting and changing-- She shakes her head for a moment to dislodge the memory, and smiles again. "We should do this more often."
"It's ... odd." Alycia stops with her next excavation. She knows precisely how deep and wide to make each hole, based on the little plastic tabs in the flower pots. Assuming they can be trusted (and that one can trust anything measured in inches).  "I've never done something like this before. Father sometimes had a professional flower arranger on staff, to put bouquets or ikebana displays on the dinner table or in our quarters. But the actual growing of flowers ..." She stops talking. "It's messy. And wasteful of resources. But it's aesthetically pleasing and ..." Again she stops.  Alycia turns and looks at Summer. "This is just ... really weird. It makes me feel -- have you done this kind of thing before?"
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Summer shakes her head after a moment. "Not, um, not y'know, flower arranging. But... Oh! Pottery." She mimes an action with her hands, a vase taking shape out of clay. "The Delacruzes were visual artists. Everything was light and alive in the house. I remember visiting them, and they'd show me what Leon was working on - that's what they called Leo, back then. I'd peek around the corner, and watch him. He'd look like--" She frowns, and squints, and her brows beetle together in concentration. "And then they'd ask me if I wanted to make something too. Vases. Tapas trays and cazuelas, for food. Floral designs on everything. And flowers everywhere, all over, because they wanted to be surrounded by beauty while they worked. Nature was their muse." She lets out a happy sigh. "It was so lovely. I'd forgotten... I really miss that."
Alycia nods slowly, throwing a glance at the cheap plastic pots the plants came in, before making the unfamiliar question. "Artistry. Creativity. Working with the forces of nature and organic shapes." She nods again. "It's like craftwork, engineering, assembling something from parts, but less precise, less predictable." She glances at her dirt-smeared hands. "Though also messy. But ..." She cocks her head slightly. "Rewarding? Satisfying? Does it depend on how long we keep the plants alive?" A shrug. "I'm glad Leslie asked us to do it." She waits for Summer to drop a smidgen of fertilizer pellets into the hole (it's not exactly the level spoonful the directions on the box require, but she intuits this isn't an exact science, either), before setting in the next flower. "It's odd. I keep forgetting have all those memories and associations. I mean, I know when you were, ah, assembled. I know of your Heart Factory provenance, and understand what that means, but I still think of you as someone of the moment. You have noteworthy depths alongside --" A hair of a shrug. "-- naivete, I suppose. Each comes out at different times."
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How many people have you killed? The question isn't spoken. But it comes to mind again, prompted by the sting of the word "naivete". Summer wants to throw the question at her like a weapon, show she's a mature woman, talk about all the hard things she's been through, and Aria's been through, and Leo most of all. She wants Alycia to acknowledge that she's not just a stupid animated Barbie doll. But none of it goes anywhere good in her mind. And the logical part of her acknowledges that Alycia has seen things she can't even imagine, or doesn't want to, and has a right to say what she did. Doesn't make it feel any better. There is something we need to talk about, though. "There was a picture of a girl holding out a flower to the riot police at a protest," she says. "And if you look at the cracks in the sidewalk, you can sometimes see flowers growing through them." "I know the world isn't a good place. But you know, when things are ugly and hateful, love and beauty are acts of defiance. Things won't get better on their own. We have to do it. And keep it alive, for as long as we can." She turns, to smile directly at the other girl. "You don't approve of Radiance. I think you held back, because Leo was in the room. But I want you to be honest with me. It doesn't have to be now, just, y'know, whenever you are comfortable."
Alycia can't help but give her a small smile. "I'll make a revolutionary of you yet. I'm a bit more of the direct action type," she adds, something flicking across her face, "but firm, non-violent protest can serve as a call to conscience that even the power structure cannot safely ignore." If there's a goon squad standing by in case the jackboots decide to teach them a lesson. Hmm. That's a conversation for another day. She sobers at Summer's question. Honesty is best. But I don't want to hurt her to no useful end. She digs another hole, lets summer doctor up the soil at the bottom of it, and pops in another marigold. "I approve of Radiance -- of you." She continues digging, making conversation rather than eye contact. "You have the heroic in your heritage -- more importantly, you have it in you: a desire to help others, to the best of your ability, even at cost to yourself. And you have the power to back it up." A pause. Another hole, another flower. An ornamental grass in a larger pot, to center in the bed, will be next.  I need to tell her, because someone else whom she doesn't consider a friend will do so, sooner or later, probably someone in the useless press in this city, and that will hurt all the worse if her friends haven't said anything. But anything I say will offend, and who am I to be a judge of aesthetics, anyway? I mean, here I am, comparing a bed of marigolds to a napalm strike, which is probably not quite the metaphor Plant Channel would approve of.  Maybe that's the approach, though. Personal aesthetic is not moral law. I can admit a weakness in one without compromising the other. "I don't quite -- get what you were --" Alycia's picking her words out with obvious care. "-- going for with -- that particular look, however. The outfit. The skin appearance. It's -- I'm  -- unclear on it."
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"Fear is the worst thing in the world." Summer runs fingers gently over the soil in one of the pots, thinking through what she wants to say. "When people are afraid, they'll do anything. They'll lash out, run away, panic. Hurt others. So when people are afraid, I want them to see me and think, y'know, it's gonna be okay. Someone is here who looks like she's not dangerous to me. She'll take care of things. I'm gonna be okay. I think butterflies and angels and fairies and stuff feel safe. But it's tough, to project safety without also appearing weak." On impulse, she pats the side of one of the pots in what would be an encouraging or reassuring gesture to a child or an animal. "So the skin and face is.. I want people to not be afraid of me, either. The artificial. The robotic. I want them to see something that doesn't look human, do human things like protect and care and rescue. So they know, y'know, that we're not all bad." She smiles again, feeling a little more confident. "Of course, if you think a costume change will help do all those things better, I wanna hear that too, okay?"
"It's an -- interesting juxtaposition, the artificial and the supernatural. Robots and fairy tales." She recalls a humanoid robot that her father had placed in her quarters when they were visiting Mumbai once. She'd tried to decorate it with some of her clothing to make it look more human. When her father had seen her work, he'd replaced the bot with one of his spider drones. She hadn't slept during the entire trip, except on the plane on the way to Melbourne. Alycia shakes her head to clear it. "It's a delicate combination. Right now, it -- I find it jarring and cloying." She looks over at Summer, one brow raised. "But, then, who am I to talk, right? Lots of people find me jarring." She sighs. Bite the bullet.  "I'm just afraid someone will laugh. And not in the 'oh, I feel so safe and charmed I can laugh' way. And I don't want that to happen. To you." And I'm more concerned about you than in how it reflects on me. Which is kind of weird.
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Summer starts to speak, then hesitates, perhaps because what she's about to say probably will provoke laughter itself. "I mean, what I just said sounded cool and all, but really.. I just wanna be a fairy princess too." "Leo's a hot-headed action genius. Growing up, he had a lot of parents, but not enough role models. And TV and movies, well. The angry hero guy is clever, or cunning, but not brilliant. And the genius is socially awkward, or a supporting character, but not the hero. So when Leo watched the robot shows, he saw someone like him. He saw someone he could be, where y'know, fighting for what's right and what mattered was good. He really latched onto that." "When those memories came to me, I got other stuff he'd seen, and I latched onto other stuff. I was literally made to love, I'm a creature of love. So I watched shows where love and friendship was a thing, because I wanted, y'know... to see someone like me." She's growing more and more awkward and careful in her explanation. "So now I can be whatever I wanna be. And I wanna be this." Her voice grows strong again, and her head rises. "Someone wants to laugh, let them. My shield and armor, what'll keep me safe, is remembering the people who didn't laugh." She meets Alycia's eyes, to make it clear that she's included in that list.
Defiance I can respect , considers Alycia, nodding. It's still a hideous outfit, but -- "Fair enough." A smile. "And at least you're not wearing your underwear on the outside like some of those Golden Age muscle-man types. So there's that." She nibbles on her lower lip. as she starts to dig for the grass. That 'made to love' thing -- yeah. But she's transcended that. It's her choice. If I can separate myself from what I was 'made to be,' then she can, right? "It's weird," Alycia says, pivoting to a different topic. "I've never planted plants before. And people have plants in their homes, and offices. I've seen it." She closes her eyes a moment. "I've just never --" A small snort. She flashes another smile at Summer, then turns back to digging. "Never thought of having something like that. Father wasn't big into house plants -- more the formal, controlled arrangements. And after he was gone, it wasn't exactly the sort of thing I was worried about, right?" She looks back to Summer. "I could have a house plant. Not one of these -- there's actually a class of plants identified for putting in homes. I've looked them up." A frown. "Though the way we keep ending up being dragged off onto adventures, I don't want a plant that's going to die for lack of water. That would be depressing."
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Positive thoughts. "I think you'd be good at whatever you put your hand to, Alycia," Summer asserts. Summer makes a habit of telling jokes to herself. It keeps her in good spirits, breaks the tension she often feels, exercises her mental faculties, and lets her feel witty. And once in awhile she tries out some of her humor, to survive that exhilarating and terrifying experience she believes every teenager faces - being the center of attention for a few moments. "Even if it's tough, or you don't dig it at first, don't throw in the trowel." What else does she know about flowers? What can she recommend? "So..." A plant that'll survive, huh? The time travel stuff did take them awhile, that's legit...  "You could try a cactus..." It's prickly and self-sufficient, but maybe that's too on the nose. I'd never dream of saying it out loud. "...or ask Leslie to water your plant, if she doesn't see you for awhile. I mean, we're doing this for her, right?" And learn to trust another person with something that's precious to you? "...Maybe something from a part of the world you liked. A reminder, or something to show other people and talk about. A good memory."
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"You mean, don't throw in the -- ah!" Alycia stops, raises both eyebrows at Summer. "Right. Got it. Ha."  Susanoo preserve me, tell me she hasn't decided puns are an acceptable form of humor. I thought her so much better than that. "A plant that's meaningful, or something from some part of the world ..." Are there parts of the world I actually like? It's not like I've been many places where I wasn't being shot at or attacked in some fashion.  A passing thought rises to the surface. The Amazon. That damned monkey with the stupid "hat." And, after it was all over, Jason pulling a flower from a plant where they lay in the underbrush, panting for breath in the stifling heat and humidity, and handing it to her.  She looked it up later. A variety of Cattleya trianae . Pink and lavender, with a core of magenta and gold. It was the most beautiful thing anyone had ever given her.  She'd lost it on the evac flight out of there, but she never forgot it.  "Yeah, that probably wouldn't make. Orchids take a lot of work and care, and they're not cheap, either." Alycia snorts lightly. "Maybe a cactus would make more sense. Self-sufficient and prickly." She smirks. "An obvious fit. Or maybe a cat would --" She cuts off abruptly. "Oh, that reminds me," she says, voice brisk, turning to vigorously digging a deeper hole for the potted grass. "You mentioned Leo's an atheist, a materialist, but Aria's not. I don't think you mentioned what you think, except you didn't get all outraged when I told you that you have a soul. If it isn't an offensive question, do you have any particular metaphysical belief system?"
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Great minds think alike, apparently. :) Summer is used to switching mental tracks, when talking with Leo. She's noticed Nono do this too, and suspected Alycia did it. The smart people in her life seem to be able to run in parallel, and context switch without too much trouble. She can do it, too - for example, right now she's thinking about a new alternate secret identity, something subtle and down to earth, to ease Alycia's obvious discomfort with her butterfly princess-- Of course, this isn't a casual topic. Geez. 'That reminds me', huh? "Um." She gathers her thoughts. "Pneuma wasn't a strict materialist, and Aria and I both inherited that. I mean, despite being products of a science rooted in a materialistic world view. But we're not Platonists or dualists, we both know too much neuroscience. For example, if I tell you I have a soul, I don't mean that there's some immaterial computer producing my thoughts, and feeding them into a receptive but otherwise useless brain, like a hand in a glove. But that seems to be how a lot of people view the idea of a soul." "I think the soul is the product of a person's life and history. Hydrogen and oxygen aren't wet, but water is. So my brain might not have a soul, or my body, but I do." She smiles a little uncertainly at a difficult memory. "Being an immaterial hologram at Jason's house came at a good time. I was just studying Buddhism. I was on my way to Japan, to visit someone there, talk, learn, you know? I'd saved up for awhile, and then--" Then Aria and I were created. "Anyway, I also consider myself a scientist. So, let's say that I don't really have a metaphysical belief system, more like... a metaphysical hypothesis, that I want to try and falsify? And stuff like that experience, and Charlotte, and the Twilight Grove, and that young man with the sword, on the Irregulators, and..." The dead Otto in the future. ".. other things are sort of ways for me to examine these ideas."
Alycia nods slowly as Summer expounds, seemingly focused on loosening the root ball of the ornamental grass just the appropriate amount. Balancing variables like soil type, plant species, watering expectations, and the techniques of the eighteen YouTube videos she went through last night after Leslie made the request (though what counts as a "track emergency" remains unclear) is relatively straightforward, even with the inherent variability of how this particular specimen was grown and cared for.  She doesn't even twitch (visibly) when Summer references her time at Jason's. "So soul as an emergent property of experience and self, a product of growth and being." After Summer scoops in some plant food, she sets the plant down firmly. Its top perfectly aligns with the bed's surface. "That's an understandable hypothesis, given your origin. It begs the question of continued immaterial existence or presence after 'death,' but --" She sits back on the edge of the driveway, still watching the grass, as Summer pours more water from the watering can onto the new planting. "I deal with perspective a lot in my life. Understanding the broader view, spatially. Seeing things all around me, other than the linear view that most people have -- and that serves them reasonably well, to be sure. So I tend to think of these matters in the same way: dimensionally , if you will." Alycia doesn't get up, but she gestures broadly, continuing to look at the grass. "Those things of the spirit, the soul, are simply a different existential axis. It's not dualism; body and spirit, material and immaterial, are not separate  things , just different -- aspects , if you will, bound together as much as space and time are, convenient to reference separately, but incapable of being without one another. Multidimensional, as far as that goes, not simply lines intersecting but volumes or higher order dimensional constructs. Our reality, our selves , are liminal manifestations of that intersection. Bodily existence is brief, but matter is neither created nor destroyed, so in truth it goes on. Spiritual existence may show greater continuity, as a working hypothesis, but even if it consists of reactions that bind and separate, give form and then decay in their own fashion, the constituents of the spiritual axis can be neither created nor destroyed, either." She shoots Summer a crooked grin. "But I believe there's capital-P Purpose behind it all, too. Not to mention something identifiable as morality, and justice." A shrug. "Throw enough meta-reality axes, and you can solve for any problem, even if it looks like a cheat. All metaphysics is ultimately personal, even if that makes you look like a romantic."
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Summer's face makes a wry expression. "I dunno how I feel about creators assigning me a purpose, you know? But... okay. Leo and Aria and I like comparing the mind to music, so let's try .." She glances around, and beams. "The marigolds aren't the soil, but they grow in soil. Any soil, whether it's y'know, 'natural' Earth or carefully arranged in an artificial vessel." She briefly pats her robotic shell. "Maybe someone plants them there, with intent. Maybe the wind just blows seeds everywhere. And maybe when the soil finally has no more nutrients for them, they spread onward and outward. Or, maybe they're harvested. Scooped up, to be replanted elsewhere - reincarnation. Or carefully folded and pressed to be put in a frame. Collected for their usefulness or decorative properties. Or just, y'know, kept alive as long as possible. Whether that flower looks like a sun, or, y'know, is closer to an incendiary bomb, it's important, and beautiful, and worth preserving." Her hands, perhaps unconsciously, indicate herself and then Alycia as she speaks. She grins, self-consciously. "I guess that makes me sound too much a romantic. I agree, there could be a soul that's the tesseract to the cubes of our minds, or a projected shadow into some other realm, or something like that. Or the resonant response to some kinda super-cosmic emanation, that emerges naturally from any compatible neural network. Leo already knows neurology. Now that he's going into space-time and dimensional physics, maybe he'll discover the soul too?"
Alycia's face matches Summer's wry smile. "Believe me, my experience with 'assigned purpose' and destiny and all that is ... fraught. But ... being part of something bigger, something that, even if not fully understandable, seems to be for the good as I can understand it ... well, either that's following a noble cause, or being a dupe, and I try to be appropriately skeptical about such things these days. Burned once ..." She shakes her head. "I'm not sure I'm ready for Leo to be the Science Prophet of Truth. But I do believe there's purpose -- order -- reason to our existence, beyond simple dances of chemistry and physics, even if you add in their spiritual mechanics equivalents. Perhaps it's an emergent property of the complexity of those dimensional spaces, or perhaps it's yet another intersecting volume of meta-reality. My perspective doesn't reach that far. Even the Mad Scientist has to acknowledge the Mystery lurking in the darkness outside the circle of the fire, no matter how much wood you pile on, and I'm willing to accept such Mystery on principle, even if I rail against it in any particular. "Still, I know I'm more than just this --" She thumps herself around the collarbone with garden-gloved fists. "Even if all I can ever do, no matter what megalomaniacal plans I hatch, is an insignificant triviality below even a quantum level of impact to an intelligent being a few galactic clusters away -- at least along the axis we perceive most clearly. I'll confess that's an emotional conclusion, not a rational one." A snort. "I do sometimes let my emotions drive my thinking. Don't spread that around." The smile indicates she realizes the humor in what she says.
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Summer shakes her head with a gentle smile. "Maybe you don't think you're important to someone far away, right now. But what would you make of it, now, if some future traveler came back, from a thousand years ahead, to meet the real Charade? And they tell you about how human and Newman children sit together around the fire to hear the legends of the Menagerie, and how they fought Doctor Infinity, and how you outsmarted and defeated her?" She rubs her hand against one of the marigold pots. "Imagine all the seeds your actions plant, and all the ways they can spread... So I guess that, while I'm really curious about the spiritual, because of who I am, I'm also okay not knowing, or knowing I'll never know, about some things. 'Cause, if you think about it, part of what's so neat about it is the mystery. Not knowing. Thinking maybe after you die, or after you have enough adventures, you'll know, anticipating that.." Her smile wanes wistfully, and she looks away. "If I'm careful, I'm gonna outlast almost everyone I care about. I could be the person there, telling those kids about you in a thousand years. I might never learn the mysteries of the soul, unless I go track it down myself. That's part of why I'm curious about this stuff."
Alycia peers at her, as if pondering Summer's potential nigh-immortality. "The stories usually paint those with eternal lives as lonely." Or as mad, but let's be optimistic. "I don't think that will happen to you. Unless the pain of that loss changes you, your disposition will mean you care anew about those who follow us. As to the rest ..."She waves a hand. "I've set aside the Changing the World thing, or even the Being Memorialized thing. I've seen what a trap it can be. If it happens, fine, but I'll be satisfied with making a difference now."   She nods to the bed. "Like planting flowers."
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Candide's "we must cultivate our garden" makes this feel like a good coda - unless you had more you wanted.
[I don't, but I reserve the right to reopen the thread if I think of something. :-) Alycia's initial foray regarding religion/spirituality with Summer was to raise the issue of Daph, which she's vaguely worried about, but the conversation forked there without an easy segue back. I'll ponder. Thanks!]
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*** Dave H. said: [I don't, but I reserve the right to reopen the thread if I think of something. :-) Alycia's initial foray regarding religion/spirituality with Summer was to raise the issue of Daph, which she's vaguely worried about, but the conversation forked there without an easy segue back. I'll ponder. Thanks!] "You have the whole butterfly thing going on with your costume.. where did that come from?" (Summer explains) "I have a friend with that kinda theme.. Can we talk about that..?" - and Summer explicitly said she'd like to hear more about Daph, so it's on the table.
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Actually, if it helps, I'm working on a thing where Summer sends a new costume design out to friends. If it makes sense to jump on there with this angle, feel free once it's up
[I'm cool with treating the costume thing separately. But your other thought ...]
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The pair are getting to the end of the flower bed in relative quiet -- or at least the conversation is task-oriented. It's probably ironic that most people, noting the geometric precision (a triangular grid) of the marigold plantings, would attribute it to Summer, the robot, while instead it's Alycia's doing.  As they are putting in the last flower, Alycia pauses, looking at something. Summer follows her gaze, to see a lovely blue/purple butterfly flitting about the marigolds, then land on the previous flower planted. Alycia's eyes narrow, and, after a moment, she waves her hand at it, and it flutters off under Alycia's watchful eye. "So, question," she says, briskly turning back to that last flower. "And this actually has pertinence across a couple of discussion topics, before it seems out of, as you Americans say, left field: you have adopted with your costume and powers a butterfly motif. Was there --" She pauses, selecting words. "-- an inspiration for that?"
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" I had a dream ," Summer explains with a smile. It takes her less than a minute to summarize, and some of what she remembers goes unsaid. But the important bits are there. "So was the Glade talking to me? I don't think so. Or don't know. Or doesn't matter. I got to thinking, though. Where do butterflies come from? They're mysterious, and beautiful, and sort of um, not-quite-there. That's what I wanted Radiance to be. Kind of a magical champion, and I pictured the butterflies calling her to it."
Alycia looks at her with her head cocked. "Um -- you do know that we actually know 'where butterflies come from,' right? Egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, adult? I mean, in the Grove, who the hell knows, but ..." She lets that trail off a minute while they wrap up, and climb to their feet with an ease that stirs jealousy from the middle-aged man working in the garden across the street. Alycia looks over the bed, pulling off her gloves. "Excellent. I've made sure the sprinkler system is set up to irrigate this side now, though the timer on it is inexcusably crude. I might have to do something about that." She starts to say something to Summer, then noticing the butterfly again, flitting between their plantings. Pipevine swallowtail. Usually found in forests, but not unknown in the city. Still ... Alycia always does at least a light review of insects and other species in areas where she's going to be operating for any length of time. Since that incident in Gambia, at least. "I need something cold to drink." She grabs the bucket of garden supplies and heads toward the house. Once inside, and with iced tea (deliberately unsweetened) in hand in the kitchen, Alycia swings back to the topic. "I have a --" She only bobbles over the word a half-second. "-- friend at school. Daph Palin. Soccer captain, tall blonde?" Alycia snorts. "I know, I know, me and 'friends,' go figure. Anyway, she's a meta, too. Kind of. Found a lost tomb in Greece, encountered some mysterious 'god' named Palamedes, who said she was his new high priestess and who gave her magical powers. And, now, apparently, butterflies are her go-to fashion statement, thanks to her patron, whether she likes it or not. Even though she doesn't actually want the job." She takes another sip of tea, lets Summer connect any dots
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Summer rolls her eyes at the biology lesson. Yes, dumb robot is slow right now, mainspring is winding down, please help. I don't know why that bothered me so much. Maybe because she's one of the few people who can keep up with me, no matter what I talk about, and being told I'm stupid by someone like that is a vulnerable point. She reflects on Leo, and Jason, and Nono. Or I just have a thing for tortured teen geniuses. "I neglected to tell you. Palamedes has a new high priestess, and it's the Princess Radiance." She keeps a straight face and a deep and level voice for as long as possible, but it can't last, and a grin bursts forth in its place. "Oh, geez, that's rich with possibilities, isn't it?" Summer rubs her hands together. "Does she know, for sure, what the job is ? If the powers are still with her, maybe this Palamedes is happy with her after all. Or can't remove them - but why not? Or she's not told you the truth. Or her patron didn't tell her the truth. But that's still exciting, y'know, magical and mysterious." She ticks off options on fingertips, mostly for herself. "So, you know she's not a superhero. She doesn't know you are one, if I remember right. So that's twisty. I can't even imagine what your conversations about heroes must be like. Um, some bright spark might look at her mundane fashion, and my costume choice, and decide that Daph is really Radiance." "Maybe butterflies really are messengers of mystery. Yes, I know where they come from biologically, that's not, um, what I was talking about. More like, um, our intuition or our collective unconscious or whatever discredited Jungian thing. We dislike a lot of insects, because they're gross or ugly or harmful, but butterflies are cute and playful and pretty and stuff. We domesticate animals and keep them around the homestead, but not butterflies. So they occupy a uh, kind of a special niche in our consciousness. They're exceptions to our intuitions, and that to us is a signal of mystery and magic." She ticks off the last point. "So maybe the most significant thing here is that you, Alycia Chin, are surrounded by butterfly-themed magic girls who want to be your friend. What does your future hold?" She does her best to impart occult significance to this pronouncement, but waggling her eyebrows the way she does fails completely at this objective.
"I neglected to tell you. Palamedes has a new high priestess, and it's the Princess Radiance." Alycia's non-expression is a wonder to behold, betraying alarm not through overtness, but by locking completely down -- and then twisting in irritation when Summer breaks into a grin. Oh, good. Now I've got her laughing at me. Well done.  Alycia listens as Summer ticks off "possibilities." At the end she says, "As far as I know, Daph's telling me the truth -- or at least isn't lying anything. I don't have all the data, and there's enough mind-tweaking phenomena in her story that I can't be confident that she knows everything that happened. As she told it, the high priestess role lay in advancing 'freedom and joy' in the world, which sounds laudable in a volunteer gig, not so much when the duty is thrust on you -- as someone who was recently saying she was uncomfortable about creators assigning people a purpose, I'd think you'd appreciate that, rather than ooh and aah about it being exciting and magical." Alycia realizes she's feeling defensive on Daph's behalf against Summer -- dammit, I told this story out of caution and concern, and she's not even seeing the potential for problems here. "Daph knows she's not doing whatever the assignment entails because she's not using her powers, and her dreams are interrupted by wheedling from this 'god' to get with the program. All she wants is a quiet life someplace without becoming some Champion for the Cause, but this Palamedes won't take no for an answer. So, yeah, I'm worried for her. "And then you start doing the butterfly thing, and that's enough of a coincidence -- co-incidence --" Alycia repeats the word, breaking it out to clarify the meaning she intends. "-- to warrant a threat analysis. Human beings are really good, cognitively, at one thing: finding patterns, connections, correlations, causalities. It's a really useful survival technique. We're too good at it, actually -- we have a high false positive rate, finding links and explanations where they don't exist. Superstitions. Conspiracy Theories. Popular Science. Romantic Comedies. So I don't make any assumptions there is a connection, but I'm not going to ignore the possibility, either." She drinks some more iced tea, puts the glass back on the counter a bit harder than perhaps intended. "And, yeah, butterflies are pretty, and their cultural role is in fact kind of fascinating -- and maybe that's part of this thing or not. Who could think of butterflies as threatening? All I know is that, yes, I'm surrounded by -- or at least aware of -- two 'butterfly-themed magic girls,' whom I think of as friends and therefore have concern for. If I assume you  have told me the truth, or that your intuitions about the Grove and butterflies and all of that aren't something lying to you -- then I still can't conclude things one way or the other." She raises an eyebrow, but her expression is anything but amused, or even happy. "So I guess my future holds more watchfulness and looking for stronger patterns."
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Summer grows more serious. She's still smiling, but it's that supportive I'm-going-to-help-you smile, not the occasionally maddening you're-just-being-silly smile or the fan favorite that's-adorable-why-are-you-treating-this-so-serious smile. "What you haven't told me is the story of Daph going to some kind of psychic or wizard or occultist to see about breaking out of this effect. You haven't recruited me to help, or to - well, let's take this at face value for a second - be high priestess in her place, since freedom and joy are my jams too. Nobody's talking about taking the Phoenix to Greece to march into the temple. I haven't really heard anything that says that your friend, or you for her sake, want to make this situation  end ." "Does she? Do you?" "Leo doesn't have some mind control whammy in my head, saying 'love me love me love me', against my will. He's just there, in my memories of childhood, being an amazing guy. What made me uncomfortable was that it wasn't against my will, it was my will too, but I knew I'd been made to be happy with it. There's a story about an alien robot that comes to Earth, and asks for help because he's the front line of an invasion, but he doesn't want Earth to be taken over, but he can't fight back because his masters made him incapable of hating them.... Only he knows he should ." "So, y'know, I'm sympathetic, and maybe you're asking this because Daph can't, for reasons like I just gave. But what do you want me to do about it, other than be paranoid with you? I can do that, but I mean, part of this is you too. You have so much unexpressed love in you, Alycia, you're so scared of letting it show, and I know it must hurt. And I feel like you've been someone's tool for so long that you're unwilling for anyone to be pawn of anything greater, no matter the cause. Maybe you've already thought about this, maybe not, but, y'know, think about it, okay? What do people really want here, and why?" She grins, a little brighter. "If you do ask me to go to Greece and throw down with a god, though, I'm totally in. Just saying."
Alycia restrains herself from reacting during Summer's speech. The whole thing has gotten hotter, faster, than she's expected, let alone intended.  The last line, though prompts a bark of laughter. "Of course you are," she replies. "I mean, we've been fighting toe-to-toe with Giant Cemetery Faces and Doctor Infinity, what's some obscure god. Also, Greece is lovely, if you can get past a few thousand years of various empires trashing the place." She shakes her head, with a fading smile. "You raise some good points. I haven't talked with Daph about her trying to get rid of this thing -- I was bringing it up more as ..." She shrugs. "Something I was concerned about for her -- maybe to ask our advice about, or about that secret identity thing. Also something that intersected that religion topic we talked about, assuming this 'god' designation is at all meaningful. Something that struck me as coincidental between you and her, which had my instincts signaling yellow alert." Alycia shrugs. "So part of it, I guess, was passing on the paranoia -- or, more properly, sharing intel. I'm still not comfortable with that Grove, anyway. That might also be coloring my thinking here." She goes back and refills her glass from the pitcher in the fridge. They'll need to make more tea soon. "I can talk with her about what she wants to do about it. I mean, I think she's just hoping that this Palamedes will give up and move along -- taking the power stuff along or not." She pauses a moment. "I don't know that I agree with her on that. I mean, she can do some amazing stuff, from what she says. Not using those abilities feels ... wrong. I understand not wanting to be forced into it, that she has plans for her life. but ..." She shakes her head again. And I don't feel comfortable telling Daph that, either. Like that makes me complicit with the coersion. Ugh. Alycia lets her mind skip past the other bits Summer raised. She just adds, with a crooked smile, "Though maybe it's paranoia at that if I start glaring at every butterfly that comes by."
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"It's good to be concerned about your friends," agrees Summer. "I'm glad you said something. And I will help, whether it's challenging a god, or just hanging out sometime. Just let me know what you think is appropriate." She leans back against the countertop, and lets out a sigh. "But I think ultimately, it's what Daph wants that matters more than you or I. We can worry about her, or support her, or fight for her, but let's find out what she really needs before we do any of those things, okay?" The next words come slowly and fitfully. "I.. I think it's also okay for someone to take their friends' feelings into account, when they make life choices for themselves." "So, um, I'm gonna change costumes. So that you'll feel better." She speaks more quickly, jumping in before the wrong idea can take hold. "I'm not saying, like, you can't handle Radiance, or that you couldn't swallow your discomfort. I'm saying, um, that as your friend, I think you shouldn't have to. So, I'll, uh, I'll do something else."
I am aesthetically ecstatic and personally mortified. Alycia feels a deep pang of guilt for somehow ... taking something from Summer. It was the right and honest thing to do. I just wish ... "If you  think it's the right thing to do, then do it. I mean, you wear it --" Even if we have to look at it. "-- and it should reflect you, right? And your basic idea -- feeling safe to people, projecting comfort, strength, being magical ... that's all good. That's great in fact -- it's you. I just ..." She chews her lower lip a moment. "Just know it as the costume, not the idea, and not you, that I didn't get. And, as -- your friend --" I kind of wish I hadn't said anything. "-- it's your thing. Um, I'd rather be discomforted than feel like I somehow made you feel bad about something important to you.
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Summer sighs, and thinks a moment. Alycia was distressed by Radiance, and is distressed at her giving Radiance up. Is there no good answer? No, there is one. Embrace the variability of your identity. "Look at it like a metaphysical science experiment, like I was saying," she says. "If it's coincidence, and not um, shared influence, that draws both Daph and I to the butterfly motif, then I should be able to change it. And if I let you talk me out of it, then maybe you were being influenced too, right? But if I actually go through with changing it, we both know that it's really my choice." "And it's not like I'll delete Radiance. If we both agree that it's okay, I'll keep using it. Just maybe not all the time, to give you a break. And y'know, I can show it to Daph, if you think it wouldn't bother her, because she might have some insight into the butterfly question too." The girl smiles again, in what she hopes is her best reassuring and welcoming way. "Anyway. If I had to choose between my costume and my friend's comfort, I'll choose my friends every time. That reflects who I am. Or want to be. You're important to me. Okay? I promise it's okay." It's either this, or duct-tape her to a chair for five seasons of Pretty Cure. I could probably rebuild her shattered psyche after a few weeks...  Summer knows she'd never actually do anything like this, but the idea of Alycia as Wednesday Addams at summer camp is sort of amusing. A wonderful thought bubbles into her mind. "Oh. Oh! I want to show you my VR workshop . I can project it into space , so you can interact with objects in there too. Um, probably in the bedroom is safest. Do you wanna see it? You can help me tune the new look, but I've already got some ideas." She's actually kind of excited now. A bit of meta: the comparison to Janet van Dyne has been made, but one of the classic magical girls, Sakura, is also well known for going through numerous costume changes (thanks to her obsessed fashion designer friend Tomoyo). Ultimately Summer (and I) would be happier for Alycia to feel comfortable voicing her opinions, so I consider this a win. On top of that, though, the trend that feels like it's emerging for her is persuasion and misdirection and illusion - like a good-aligned Loki, rather than a hard-hitting Thor the way Leo works. So having a variety of looks serves her story too.
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If Alycia has more, she should go for it. But so far I feel like we got through three things well (spiritual beliefs, the costume, Daph), and even tied the three of them together. I also hope Summer's message got through, that she's taking Alycia's concerns seriously, but also wants to make sure Alycia's presumed biases aren't affecting that. I feel there's a line between Summer being empathetic and compromising, and being pitying and patronizing. If I cross that line, it's unintentional and I'd like to hear about it as the person writing for her.
Alycia frowns slightly. "Hmm. If you select a different symbol, does that demonstrate you're not under some common influence? That's actually an interesting hypothesis." Then she grins. "Or maybe that's just what they want us to think!" She sucks on an ice cube for a moment, then sighs. "We don't know enough. We don't even know that there is  something to know. It's a correlation, but not enough to be actionable, except for data gathering tests like that. I don't need to act, in order to be on guard for it." A smile. "In military intel terms, call it 'unusual vehicle movements.' Can't even be sure it's troops yet. Just something to let the resident paranoid sweat." She shrugs, then adds, "If every possible threat were true, we'd be dead. False positives, like I said." She starts to say something further -- then pauses, and closes her mouth with a small head shake. "I'll talk more with Daph, to find out what she wants. And let you know if there's anything --" She shrugs again.  This was a mistake. She's so concerned about my welfare and happiness, it's tough to chart any other influences -- if any -- or to get her take it seriously -- if she even should. I guess that's the thing about friendship -- knowing the limitations of others. And your own. Alycia claps her hands together. "I'm about ready to do something that isn't under the hot sun." She thinks of Egypt, many years ago. Weird times. "I don't know I can be much help in fashion design, but clearly I can hint about stuff I don't like, if that would be a help."
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Summer hasn't really tried this before, despite her confidence. But it should work. Butterflies - or should she start thinking of them as "remotes"? - deploy to eight corners of the cuboid formed by her bedroom. She delves into her VR personal room first, quickly cleaning up the mess, hiding what she hopes is all of her incriminating or embarrassing images, reading material, and so on. Once done, the secret workshop springs to life. Summer has four basic costumes worked out already. And she's ready to listen to Alycia's comments, for better or for worse. "I mean, I'm more interested in a message than in fashion. Contrary to some of the more uh, mature costumes I've seen, my message is not 'I have boobs'. And I still have time to define myself to the public, by doing some good. Unless we as a team just keep fighting twisted reflections of our own damaged psyches, over and over.." She finishes with a grimace. "I'm trying to process what to do with the Daph thing. And with you. I want you to be comfortable with me. Need you to be, really, we're on the same team. We have to work smoothly together." She shrugs helplessly. "I can just sit quietly, be a friend, nod and listen and try to understand, honor what you both are dealing with, but it feels like here, in this case, there's something I ought to be doing . I can't just, y'know, add it to an ever-growing pile of paranoia the way you seem able to do."
Alycia provides feedback  on the proposals. She actually focuses primarily on message and publicity. She seems to know something about media principles and branding, probably from study of propaganda. "Hey, I cycle things off the pile of paranoia," Alycia protests, as she leans against the wall by the closet. She pauses. "Well, I mean, I reorganize the pile periodically so that the bigger items remain more immediately accessible, and the shrunken ones can be more safely buried, but are fully indexed as to location and can be reached if necessary. I mean, that's okay, right?" She pauses for a least a beat before cracking a crooked smile. "For what it's worth, in this life I lead, I'm sure that sooner or later one of them will catch up to me. At least I hope it's something I'm already worried about that gets me, not something brand new and unexpected. That would be ... deeply disappointing." "And that said," she adds, holding up a hand, "don't be paranoid yourself about my being 'comfortable' with you. You've already overcome the Killer Robot Conspiracy from Hell category. Stuff like costumes, or my judgment regarding threat profiles -- that's icing on the cake. I guess." She cocks her head. "I'm very --" Her voice hands up for a moment, though not with any change in facial expression. "I'm new at this 'friend' thing. Which I guess is what we are. But to the extent I understand it, it can't include unanimity on everything. We can be team mates without being friends, if that makes it easier. But I'd --" A nibble at her lower lip. "-- I'd rather not." 
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The idea of a new costume hurts, and thrills. But this admission brings a warm smile to Summer's face. She acknowledges it with a nod - no more is needed, lest she sound like she's teasing or patronizing. But there is something safe she can say. "Friends disagree. Friends argue." She pauses, remembering what she said that say. "Friends hurt each other. Friends forgive. Friendship isn't flawless perfection. It's .." What is the best word? "Equilibrium. A point of stability that two people can find again, no matter how bad things get. An emotional home to come back to. And differences drive discovery. If we don't agree, we'll figure out who's right, and not just assume." "I won't tell you you're wrong to be paranoid. When one of those things you worry about catches up to you, it won't find you alone. I promise." She clenches a fist for a moment, and grins. "I think that's the kind of friend Daph could use too. I think it's the kind of friend you're already good at being."
Alycia feels a surge of what she interprets as ... Anger? Fear? How can I be 'good' at being a friend when I've never been one. And if I'm 'good' at it, that's just a higher mountaintop from which to fall when I completely blow it, when I fall shot, when they find out -- She veers her thoughts away and they land on,  And what does Summer even know about being --  She stamps down on that thought as just plain unworthy. That just leaves her with just rampant nebulous worry, but that, at least, she knows how to handle.  "If being friends means having each other's back, that I can commit to, and I'd expect no less from you. If it means judging what sort of feathered extrusions you have on your back --" A tight smile. "Well, I'll judge, but I'm not a professional by any means, unless you're going for a paramilitary look." She snorts. "And I don't think that would fit any of your desired motifs."
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"Every friendship I've had is different. I do different things with Leo than I'd do with Otto, or Aria, Jason, Nono, Angelica, Ryan, .. and you. I'd never, ever show my friends at Blintzkrieg my costumes, but I can trust you with them. I know Otto would love whatever I did, so, y'know, I almost can't trust him with it." Summer grins at that. "So judge away, and keep telling me your honest opinion. I need it. And when you're at my back, if you occasionally find butterfly wings there, I hope you'll forgive me." She lets ought a sigh, but it's not frustration or weariness, just ... a lot happened . She can even hear the phrase in Leo's voice. "I said I was a creature of love. I like being who I am. I choose to be this for the people around me. So when you watch my back, remember that Daph might not want her god's chosen mission for her life, but I do. My creator had a plan for me, we came to a compromise, and I'm happy with it. He doesn't send me dreams, but I do still dream of him anyway." She's getting a little maudlin, and brightens up with an act of will. "So I guess I'm saying, y'know, worry, but kinda... worry casually, okay?"
Alycia smirks. "My life has not been one of nuance, Summer. I was raised to take things seriously, or not at all. I've rejected much of my father's teaching, but that underlying view of the world is difficult to shake. For me worrying casually is -- well, a matter of explicitly assigning threat levels, not organically taking a casual view of things. Ha! I'm not sure what 'casual' even means. But -- I'll try to figure it out." Another thing to remember -- she's still ... is besotted the right word? Certainly dedicated to Leo. Even as Father reaches out across time and space to affect me. At least her memories are pleasant ones, and her dreams ones she enjoys.  Bèn dàn, that's not something to mull on now. Maybe I should invite her to help with my costume. Ah, no. I'd end up either festooned in kittens or skulls. Let's keep the focus on something else. What do girls talk about in the movies when not chatting about clothes? Boyfriends. Ugh. Yeah, talking with Summer about Jason is ...as awkward as talking with Jason, but with less kissing, because kissing Jason is  niú bī , and kissing Summer would be so much not in so  many ways. And she's got nobody else right now, which has got to be tatte masalna for her, given everyone else seeming to have someone they're hooked up with -- seeming, at least.  So does a friend find a boyfriend for Summer? Huh. I presume boyfriend, given her Leophilia. Though if she's impressed with his engrams, she -- yeah, not only does that get complicated, but I am -- despite everyone coming to me for romantic advice -- the last  person to be trying to fix people up. Matchmaker, heal thyself, as the Greeks would have put it. What then? What service can I perform for Summer after having been so ... disruptive about her costume? Oh. Well, there's a brilliant thought. Ask her. "Summer, I --" A pause. "I feel like I've kind of made this more complicated than I intended, with the costume thing. Even if I just, ah, 'worry casually' about it, I feel like I should make it up to you somehow. Is there, um, anything I can --" She hesitates. "My go-skills are a bit limited, and your needs aren't --" She stops again before she says normal  or human.  "-- something I quite know -- um, is there anything I can, ah, build for you? Tech-wise? Or I could offer to beat up someone, but I suspect that's not your cuppa."
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Summer mulls this one over. The thought that finally reaches her brings a big smile to her face. "You haven't made things complicated, Alycia, you made them simpler. Now everyone's happy with what I'll be wearing." "But if you want.... Leo gave me a list of things he'd talked to you about doing. Um, some kind of vulnerability or weakness scenario for cross-team exercises? Did he mention that...? Okay, good. We fought some specific people and he was concerned about them. Iconoclast, who might still be in the hospital, but we should do what we can for her." "Troll. I was there as Pneuma the first time the team fought him, but I think he was there a second time, at the school battle. Leo wasn't satisfied with just making him go away. I'm not either. PowerPony said he was wifi powered. So can we build some kinda, I dunno, tracking or signal analysis or containment device? I'm not even sure what he is , but if it's a projection, we can locate him, and if it's really him, we can I dunno, imprison him in VR maybe? I'm already set up for that part. Anyway, just something like that?" She gets a conspiratorial grin, and rubs her hands together. "And you can venture with me into the chaotic battlefield of Instagram. Let's take pictures of the marigold planting and share it, but share it as you. Your friends will want to see it."
"Now everyone's happy with what I'll be wearing." Alycia smiles encouragingly. Except the ones who aren't happy with your changing costumes all the time. There's no satisfying everyone, nor should you. But I'm not going to debate that right now. Better she's happy for the moment.  As to the other items. "Huh. Yeah, that was, I dunno, a couple months ago, then things got -- I got all pissy over some stuff. I'll have to dig i back up. Hrm. Half the team has changed, as far as that goes. And that assumes anyone's actually interested in 'team exercises' and the like." She makes a face. "We need to figure out what sort of a 'team' we are, Summer. The dust-up at the cemetery demonstrated that. We're all doing stuff as individuals, not as a squad, and if we end up against something or some group actively attacking us -- like one of the folk you mentioned -- we're going to be in a lot of trouble. I mean, Charlotte was missing for days and nobody but Pietwerp noticed. This whole thing with Adam -- and we've got this whole creepy mystical Grove now as a team meeting place, but we haven't actually had a meeting there in the weeks since the dance -- and Harry who owns the place is on the verge of joining the HHL or something else, which leaves us back at Square One -- or asking Jason if we can hang out over there." She frowns, and her voice drops. "Or just not meeting at all."
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Summer feels.... What's a good word for this? Bemused. I always wondered about that. There's amused - A-mused. And there's bemused - B-mused. Was that deliberate? Whatever. Alycia just doesn't dial anything down, does she. I wish I knew how to help her relax a little more. Maybe the problem is that she's being the younger, more passive one here. If the two were sisters (and Summer stifles a giggle at the thought of reactions to this from Aria and Jason), Alycia would be the stern older sister, setting rules and boundaries, and reining in the careless younger one. Maybe she needs to consciously switch roles. "We're still a team," she says firmly. "I might have joined as Radiance only recently, but I've been with the Menagerie since the beginning. We all have individual problems. Some of those we have to face on our own. Others, we think we do, but we're wrong to try. But when things get bad, it happens like you saw it happen. An alert goes out, and we all come running for the ones in trouble." She straightens up, hands to her sides. "So if it concerns you that we're not meeting, we can have a meeting. It should be at a home. But Adam, you, and I can't do that. Charlotte's home is um, a cemetery. The Gale estate is the logical place, and lets us talk to Harry with his family around, so we can get all sides heard - including his personal opinion. Let's ask the Gales if it's okay, let's reach out to the team and find a good time." She pauses, and smiles gently. "After Instagram. We could both use a break from talking about such serious things, don't you think?"
"I'm not sure," Alycia says, frowning, "why it needs to be at a home, given that we have the Grove --" She catches herself. "But ... that's probably a discussion for 'after Instagram.'" She raises an eyebrow. "I'm not sure anyone's all that interested in marigolds, but the social media thing is an interesting panoply of purpose and incident, wielded by both oligarchic forces overt and covert and actual mass movements and individual actors. In the wrong hands, it's a tool for subtle tyranny, but used properly, it could --" Summer manages to get her out the door heading toward the marigolds before she instead goes down that  rabbit hole. And, in actuality, Alycia turns out to have a pretty good eye for angle and perspective in photography (perhaps not that great a surprise after all), but declines, firmly, taking any selfies.
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" You're interested in marigolds," Summer points out gently. "Whether your friends are or not, they're interested in your interest. It shows a side of you they don't get to see." She might disagree with my thinking about a meeting. And I could be wrong about it, too. So let's find out... "I think a home is better than the Grove because the Grove is all 'super'. A home is mundane. It's a place for us to be not only Charade and Radiance, but Alycia and Summer. Concord can be Adam. Mercury can be Harry. If we talk about super stuff and it gets too tense, or difficult, having that other side of us gives our minds a place to go, sort of. An emotional safety valve, a place for us to step back into." "Sometimes, having some distance helps us see ourselves more clearly. I think that's how Leo and I did so well. I could always criticize him without attacking him, because I had distance from his mind, yet knew it so thoroughly. I could think things about him he couldn't think about himself." She folds her hands together in thoughtfulness. "I think we need that space. But I also think that once we have it, we should meet at the Grove, as a team, and own that feeling of being together. Does that make sense?"
"Lots of sides of me they don't get to see," Alycia mutters, but acquiesces. She publishes under the handle @AliceSecunda, and includes notes on proper spacing of the plants in question "regardless of what the commercial tags say (they just want added sales)." As to the meeting, "Psychologically, you may be right. And I don't need reasons not to visit the Grove. I'm just not sure the Gales are the best alternative -- it's hardly a place for the 'mundane," and it adds potentially to the pressure on Harry. Plus -- well, Leo and Otto and Aria are still over at the carriage house, right? Which creates, perhaps, other stresses?" She raises an eyebrow to Summer, then sighs. "Unfortunately, I don't have any other suggestions, especially if we want any level of security around this."
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Summer nods along. "What you say is true. There will be pressure on Harry. I suggest that if he's going to stay with the Menagerie, that's a pressure he'll have to overcome. Where better than in a place where he can be not only a young hero, but a young man and beloved son, and backed up by his friends and allies?" Summer sounds only slightly less confident on the guests. "I'm sure Leo and Aria can find other things to do elsewhere, and Otto can take them there. And he's got plenty of things to keep him busy. But alternately, if you ever saw Leo as the previous leader of the team, maybe you want him around, sort of a pass the torch moment? Think it over."