Beta'd by BigCC.

"Damn you Sophia!" – Speech

'Why Emma?' – Thought

Ripple 2.5

+++Taylor+++

When Dad told me he was being sent out to a meeting of all of the East Coast Dockworker's Unions in Boston, I was openly happy for him. That the President trusted him enough to represent the Dockworkers of Brockton Bay at the meeting was a really big compliment and I scolded him for not accepting at once.

Having him admit that he didn't want to leave me alone was sweet and all, but I was more than capable of looking after myself. If anything, I should be the one worried about him. After all, without me there would be no one around to keep him from getting within ten feet of a kitchen.

"Hey! I'm not that bad!" he protested when I mentioned that.

I just looked at him blankly. "Dad, you once tried to cook a baked potato by wrapping it in tin foil and putting it in the microwave." I said dryly. That incident had nearly burned down the house, if not for the fire extinguisher mom insisted we keep in the kitchen after a few of Dad's earlier attempts at 'cooking.' "I think that really says all that needs to be said about your cooking skills beyond frying things on the stove."

He really had nothing to say against me in response. While I was in no ways a master chef, I liked to think that helping mom over the years had made me into a fairly decent cook, and having to take over the majority of the cooking after she passed had only helped me improve.

"Anyway, Kurt and Lacey will be calling in and stopping by every so often to make sure you're OK while I'm gone." Dad said, turning a bit red at the reminder of his skill (or lack thereof) at cooking.

"Daaaad, I can look after myself perfectly fine!" I groaned, a bit miffed at being treated like I was still a kid. "Seriously, leave enough money for the groceries and pay the electricity and gas in advance and I'll be fine. There's no need to bother Kurt and Lacey!"

I of course had reasons beside my growing independent streak for protesting this. A week or more with Dad away meant I could perhaps try patrolling during the day or even spend most of a day Tinkering or practicing my powers after I'd gotten the housework out of the way. Both options were quite enticing in their own way.

"Taylor, you're still a teenager." Dad pointed out. "And only fifteen, to boot. If you were sixteen, I might allow that but until then you need some supervision."

"Urgh, fine. But I don't want them coming over morning, noon and night every day that you're gone." I sighed. "Seriously, once every three or four days is more than enough."

"OK." Dad sighed out before offering a compromise. "Once every four days it is, but you have to give them a phone call every morning and night."

"Fair enough." I conceded. It was a very mild condition, and I could easily get around the phone part with a few Tinkertech innovations. "So when is it you're going to have to leave again?"

"Monday, so six days from now." Dad sighed. "Honestly, a bit more warning would've been nice."

"I think they waited until there was little to no time for you to find an excuse to say no, Dad." I guessed. "If you had enough time, you'd have found some reason to avoid it."

"Huh…not sure whether to be irked that they deliberately set out to blindside me, or pleased at the implied compliment." Danny blinked with surprise. "Food for thought. And on the note of food, what's for dinner?"

"Spaghetti Bolognese." I answered. It was a fairly simply dish to prepare, but it was also one of Dad's favorites. Usually because I would use some of the sauce in his packed lunch the next day.

"Looking forward to it. Is there any parmesan cheese?" he asked hopefully.

"Yes, but be careful with it. You know you tend to spill it all over your plate if you get too vigorous with the shaker Dad." I reminded him.

"I'll be careful, Taylor." He said reassuringly.

When he inevitably spilled a quarter of the parmesan over his bolognese, I simply sighed and handed him a tidy wipe.

Two Nights Later

Taylor's Lab, S.S. Nevermore

I hummed slightly as I slotted one final plate into place and smirked as I finished securing it. That was the right leg done.

Stepping back, I examined the separate pieces of the android body that I was building for Amphitrite's soon-to-be sister. The arms and legs were done, but those were the easiest parts. The head and torso would be more difficult. The torso because it would not only hold the main power supply (beside from the secondary backup batteries stored in each limb) and several of the key systems that required more space. The head because of all the main sensory system and more delicate equipment would be stored there behind a heavily armored helmet.

After she put all the pieces together, then the real hard part would start, building the exoframe armor that would allow people to think that Salacia was a Tinker in power armor rather than a V.I. operated robot. I knew that part wouldn't be easy to pull off, the human body was terribly inefficient in design and getting everything I needed to work perfectly while staying true to that design was already proving…irksome.

Still, I already had a basic design planned out already, slightly bulkier and with a different aesthetic than my own Triton Armor, designed around Amphitrite's plans for her 'sister's' planned combat role and designated loadout.

I'd designed my personal suit to be highly versatile, allowing me to adapt and react to any particular situation that came up. My primary weapons (the Aqua-Striker and Aqua-Blaster Gauntlets) were immensely adaptive tools that could cover a variety of situations ranging from close-range combat, to mid-range dogfighting, to long-range sniping, while my secondary weapons (my Variable-tech Turrets for starters) were designed to be interchangeable, allowing to switch out my loadout to suit a particular enemy or situation.

Amphitrite had designed Salacia's armor to specialize in short-to-mid-range combat. Everything seemed to be built to make act like a living Tank, drawing in attention and soaking up damage while dishing out heavy damage in return. Thus the armor was designed to far thicker than mine and it had to cover most of her 'body.'

"Dodge of Toy Box is requesting permission to teleport over, Mistress." Amphitrite informed me as I debated where I need to start the torso. The main power supply Magic Bottle system that would feet into the weapons systems were going to be the two most important systems housed in the torso, but I was having trouble figuring where best to place them and then build the torso around the resulting design.

"Five minutes." I said with a sigh before going over and getting into my armor. This whole secret identity thing sucked when people kept coming over. Maybe I should design something like my Plumber suit specifically to work in. It would not only save time in situations like this, but having all the necessary tools and a weapon or two at hand at all times would be useful for when I went arms-deep into my Tinkering.

It'd have to be comfortable to wear as well; uncomfortable clothing was distracting when you were trying to Tinker. One of the reasons I didn't wear my armor while working.

When Dodge showed up, it was to deliver a bunch of stuff that I'd ordered with the some of the funds Toybox had paid me for that engine I'd built. I'd ordered more, as I didn't have enough on hand to build Amphitrite's sister AND start building the internal and external defence systems and weaponry that I'd planned.

"This is…" Dodge looked at the pieces of Salacia's body with a tilt to his head. "Why are there clear channels throughout the limbs?"

"Internal water storage." I informed him, always happy to talk shop with my fellow Tinker. Some aspect of Tinker powers seemed to just love making us gush about our work. Dodge had confirmed that already. "Those clear parts will be covered up once the main body is completed, but this'll allow Salacia to store water inside of her, especially once I install my Magic Bottle tech. The main reservoir's going to be located in the torso, but I've also designed several secondary reserves in the limbs if the primary one is ever damaged or drained."

"What about protecting the motors and circuitry?" the older Tinker probed. "Especially the CPU."

"The main CPU is going in her head, away from most of the water systems, and I'm building in several redundant CPU's into her as well as a distributed memory network." I answered absently. "That means it'll be very difficult to put her offline. As to waterproofing everything, I've set up several charges around the water sections that will instantly evaporate the water inside if any kind of breach happens. Honestly, one would be enough, but I'm planning on redundancy just in case."

"Sensible. Not many Tinkers plan for that sort of thing from the get-go." Dodge nodded approvingly.

I shrugged. Redundancy just seemed a smart option when building something that was designed to be knocked around in combat. "By the way, I wanted to ask…I ran into one of the Wards a few days ago." I admitted. "Vista. She seemed…nice, but it looks like PR is keeping her lightly armoured and unarmed. Is it really so important?"

"Ah, Public Relations; the bane of every Ward and a pain in the rear for government Capes in general." The Toybox Tinker sighed dramatically. "Honestly, in America, PR is a lot more prevalent for some reason, especially since Glen Chambers took over as Head of Public Relations for the Protectorate. It does have a purpose though, so it's fairly important."

"How so?" I blinked.

"Well…Amphitrite, could you pull up the list of the five Flagship teams for the UK." Dodge requested suddenly.

As my VI followed the order, I tilted my head at Dodge enquiringly.

"America has too many confusing and private examples." He supplied. "The UK is a good place to show where PR is needed and why. OK, so…unlike America, which has the National Protectorate and Parahuman Response Team as one monolithic organisation, the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has split its Parahuman agencies by country."

"Isn't it one country? I mean, it is the UNITED Kingdom…" I wondered.

"The UK is made up of four separate countries, Riptide." Dodge reminded me. "England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland each make up a part of the United Kingdom, but they all hold their own individual national identity. As such, they each have their own Parahuman organisation which is, superficially or realistically, a part of one larger organisation. England has the Redcoats, Wales has the Derwydd, Northern Ireland has the Fianna and Scotland has the Clansmen. The overreaching organisation is known as Union Jack."

"Uh-huh…" I nodded to show I was listening.

"Just as America has the Triumvirate as their best known and strongest Capes, each of those five organizations has their own best team, which is usually referred to as their Flagship team." Dodge explained. "This is where PR comes into play. The teams are going to be in the spotlight a lot as official members of their country's Parahuman team and thus appearances and attitudes are important. Having too many women could be seen as a sign of misandry, while too many men could be seen as a sign of misogyny."

"Makes sense." I agreed, remembering the fact that my mother had formerly been a member of the feminist Cape Lustrum's organisation before they'd gone off the deep end.

"To make it even more complex, each team is stationed in the capital city of their country, which means that Edinburgh, Cardiff, Belfast and London are, technically speaking, the best protected cities in their countries." The older Tinker explained and pointed at the lists scrolling down the screen. "Have a read of those."

Saltire Saints (Scotland)

Leader: Saltire (Male)

Members: Pict (Male), Son of Wallace (Male), Kelpie (Female), Druidess (Female), Caledonian (Male), The Bruce (Male), Skeith (Female).

Children of the Tuath Dé (Northern Ireland)

Leader: Brigid (Female)

Members: Aos Sí (Gender Indeterminate), Finn MacCool (Male), Oisín (Male), Niamh (Female), Macha (Female)

New Branch of the Mabinogi (Wales)

Leader: Gwydion (Male)

Members: Brân Fendigaidd (Male), Branwen (Female), Arawn (Male), Ceridwen (Female), Owain (Male).

The Home Guard (England)

Leader: St. George (Male)

Members: Boudicca (Female), Camelot (Gender Indeterminate), The Grim (Male), Sherlock (Male), Artorius (Male), Gawain (Male).

Commonwealth Protectors (Great Britain)

Leader: Lord Britain (Male)

Members: Lady Britannia (Female), British Bulldog (Male), Cockney Heart (Male), Red Dragon (Gender Indeterminate), Lugh (Male), Roundhead (Male).

It was quite the list to read.

"Huh…wow." I said. "That's a lot of Capes."

"Yup. But this is just as they are now." Dodge sighed. "A few years back, there were no women on the Welsh team because its leader at the time was a misogynist. The team from Northern Ireland had a member exposed as a secret member of a villain group last year and they're still suffering from the fallout of that. The Scottish team's last leader got drunk almost every night until he committed Suicide by Cape three years ago. The English team is being censored for not accepting more women, while the British team is not only being accused of the exact same thing, but they are also accused of excluding Scotland from their team."

"Huh?" My head was starting to spin a bit from the information overload.

"The flagship team of Great Britain is supposed to represent not only the country as a whole, but the countries that make it up as well" Dodge stated. "Lord Britain, Lady Britannia and British Bulldog represent Britain as a whole, while Red Dragon represents Wales, Cockney Heart and Roundhead represents England and Lugh represents Northern Ireland. There has been no Scottish member since Seonaidh died against the Simurgh during her attack on London, and that was back in 2003."

"They haven't found someone to replace her in eight years or so?" I asked skeptically.

"No…rumor has it that Lady Britannia is in a relationship with Cockney Heart and he dislikes Scots, so she puts pressure on people to keep Scots out of the team." Dodge shrugged. "Thing is, they can't just give her the boot. Lady Britannia is a powerful Thinker. She's able to predict the actions of anyone she targets several hours in advance, and she's essentially fortified herself as the darling of the media in England. Removing her would be a media shitstorm, pardon my French."

"It sounds very…political." I said after a moment.

"At that level, it is, very much so." Dodge half-laughed, half-groaned. "But this is where PR comes in. Put in a realistic, and somewhat negative, light, PR is basically where a spin-doctor manipulates the information presented to the media to suit the message that they want to present, whether it is to mitigate negative public opinion, inflame the emotions that the story can impart in people or present what information they are presenting in the best possible light. This last one is what Glenn Chambers over in New York does best."

"Really? From what Vista said, he outright forces the Wards into pigeonholes." I said skeptically.

"He takes it to extremes, but there is method and reason to his madness." Dodge admitted begrudgingly. "The Protectorate and PRT have to be careful to tread the line between providing the Wards with training and guidance without outright looking like they're trying to use them as child soldiers; something a lot of people in the media and the so-called 'Youth Guard' are always eager to accuse them of. Glenn ensures that all Wards are dressed to look bright, energetic and as friendly as possible, with none of them armed if it is at all possible. Some exceptions to the rule include Tinkers, very obviously, as well as a few who can only channel their powers offensively through a weapon, such as Flechette over in New York, who needs a weapon of some kind order to use her power. I will admit his injunction of no weapons for any who don't need it is taking things a bit too far, especially in a city like Brockton Bay."

"Meaning you can see why he'd issue the order to an extent?" I prodded. The argument made some sense, particularly about not wanting to be seen as turning children and teens into child soldiers. Politics gave me a headache, but even I can see how badly people would react to even a hint of something like that.

"To a point, yes." The older Tinker answered. "It's all a question of escalation and perception, I'm afraid. If they arm and armor the Wards to the teeth, that sends a message to the villains that they are threats to be taken seriously and they'll respond to them in kind. Looking at the state of the Wards in a city used to be a good way to tell how on edge the Protectorate and PRT branches there were; the more dangerous the Wards look, the more ready to fight the overarching organization is. However, since Chambers took over as Head of PR though, he's completely scaled back ALL weapons and armor to the bare minimum across the board, regardless of circumstances. I mean, you'd expect Vista to have a can of Mace or a Taser or at least a Containment Foam Launcher of some description to protect herself. Instead, she's relegated to a complete support role."

This was making me frown. "Should the Head of PR even have this kind of say over the Wards? It seems to me that he's making decisions that the on-site PRT and Protectorate members should be making."

Dodge pointed at me as if I were an especially bright student. "Now that is a question that a lot of us Rogue and Independent Capes have been wondering since he got promoted. The answer, I am afraid, is that yes, he does possess that kind of say in the matter. As far as the PRT is concerned, the Wards are trainees and thus should not be included in their combat assessments. If he were to try and do this to the regular Protectorate members, he'd be out of a job so fast that he wouldn't touch the ground on the way out. As the Wards are released from the contract they sign as soon as they turn eighteen or twenty-one, depending on which state they sign it in, and are thus freed from about sixty percent of Glenn Chambers' interference, it is seen as a harmless situation for the Wards so long as their superiors keep an eye on them properly."

"Vista was almost hurt by Hookwolf." I said sourly. "She's been so frustrated that she went on a lone patrol at night and almost died because she was badly under armed."

"Sounds tough." Dodge said carefully. "Have you done anything?"

"Basically told her to message me on PHO if she was planning on going out on solo patrol again." I sighed. "I had Amphitrite quickly set up a PHO account for me before shutting down the link. I'll probably have to see about buying something that makes tracking the IP Address and stuff impossible if I want to be constantly connected without everyone with hacking skills trying to break Amphitrite's firewall."

"Oh, we can supply that easily enough." The Toybox Tinker assured me. "As it is though, Amphitrite's fairly good at concealing her presence on the 'net, so the only reason I'd advise getting something more designed to hide her is because Armsmaster works with Dragon fairly often, and she's rumoured to be an expert when it comes to programming and hacking. She has full permission to work in the PRT building and monitor the surrounding traffic, so if anyone can spot Amphitrite, it's her."

"That's just great." I groused. Although I had no problem working with the PRT and Protectorate, or even the Guild that Dragon was a part of, I had no desire or inclination to allow anyone to find my base before I had finished my plans for it. Not even after that, truth be told. Unless a serious emergency came up that is. "How much?"

He quoted a price which, while high for a single piece of equipment barely as large as a computer tower unit, was actually fairly reasonable considering it made it all but impossible for someone to trace Amphitrite on the 'net.

"Take the money out of the usual account." I sighed.

"Thank you for your continued patronage, I'll have Networker get started on setting one up right away." Dodge replied cheerfully. "It'll be delivered in two days' time."

I really had to hand it to Toybox; when it came to selling their wares, they were very smooth.

"About this android body of yours…how are you planning to have her get about?" Dodge asked curiously. "Same flight system?"

"Nope. I was thinking about either having rocket boots built into the exoframe or pulling a Kid Win and using some sort of flying surfboard or something." I answered absently as I mentally shuffled around the containers in what was rapidly becoming Amphitrite's Computer Room rather than my main lab.

"In which case, I can be of assistance there; such things are my specialty, after all. And I always enjoy a bit of collaborative work with a fellow Tinker." The red-costumed Tinker cracked his knuckles. "What were your designs looking like?"

Four Days Later

Seeing Dad off with a cheery wave that morning, I rushed around the house getting everything cleaned up and squared away. I was way ahead in my coursework for getting my GED and the house was clean enough that it took me less than half an hour to get it going 'ping' and shiny.

Why do that? Because Kurt and Lacey, my godparents, were almost certainly going to come over tonight to check in on me. I loved them to bits, but seriously, I was more put-together than Dad was most days for crying out loud! I just know he'll be going to a different fast food restaurant every day while he was in Boston. Just in case, I'll plan a low-meat, high-veggie diet for the week after he gets home.

The knock on my door came at about four o'clock and I let the two of them into the house. Kurt and Lacey were around the same age as my Dad was, and had been friends with him since Middle School. They were his best friends now that he had started giving Alan Barnes the cold-shoulder.

"You're looking good, Taylor." Lacey said, looking me up and down critically.

"I've taken up jogging." I said with a shrug and a smile. "You two look well."

"Lacey's put me on a diet." Kurt stage-whispered to me, making his wife whack him lightly on the shoulder.

"One that you needed." She mock-huffed at her husband. "Honestly, the fact that you can keep Danny eating at least semi-healthy is a miracle, Taylor."

"I dice the veggies small and stuff them inside the meat or into a sauce." I winked at her. "Just like feeding a fussy kid. Don't spill the secret to Dad."

That made the two of them laugh. We sat down and chatted about this, that and the other for a while before I served up dinner, a nice sausage casserole. They rather weakly tried to get me to go stay at their house while Dad was away, but they didn't push very hard, signaling to me that it was pretty much a pro forma request that they had zero expectations of me agreeing to.

"OK, wow. That was good." Kurt groaned in pleasure as he finished his plate. "Taylor, you really take after Annette when it comes to cooking. Right, Lacey?"

"Oh yes." The woman agreed. "I'm actually pretty bad at casseroles, keep overcooking and burning them. Annette was a whizz in the kitchen, and it looks like she taught you well."

This made me blush and look away shyly. "I dunno…I have a lot of practice before I get as good as mom was."

"But you are a good way there." Lacey wasn't about to let me be modest, it seems.

"Well, I do have plenty of practice, considering what a disaster Dad is with everything but making toast or a fry-up." I said with a grin.

"He is reasonably good at putting together a bowl of cereal too." Kurt added mock-seriously.

After that, we talked for a while more before my godparents left, reminding me to call them at nine sharp every morning and night. Jeez, they were so overprotective.

…well, considering what I'd been through in the last couple of years, it wasn't much of a surprise that Dad and the people I knew well were being extra-careful with me.

Once I was certain that Kurt and Lacey were gone, I headed down to the basement and opened the laptop I had built the previous day. As with most of my tech, it was powered by my own special recipe of environmentally friendly biofuel. I'd left it running while I was entertaining upstairs so it could work through the scanning programs Amphitrite had downloaded to it, linked to the several small scanning devices I'd attached to the cellar walls. The scan should give me a decent idea of the layout of the sewer and drainage systems that surrounded my house, along with the various water pipes, waste lines, and other miscellaneous buried infrastructure that homes relied on for day to day operations.

The thing about running all over the place to get to and from my base at the Boat Graveyard was that eventually, someone was going to notice me doing that. In order to avoid that happening, I was setting up to build a secret entrance into Brockton's sewers and drainage system. With the pipes and things all over the place though, I had to be careful about how I went about it. The last thing I needed was to bring the Brockton Bay plumbers into this mess if I screwed up.

Thus the scanning.

The map was about 90% complete and included an outline of the best path to dig in order to get to the sewers from my basement. It was a bit winding, but that was necessary to avoid the pipes and stuff. The scanners were high-quality and Amphitrite had programmed in a building simulator to let me try out various materials and tunnel types in simulation.

I had gotten a flash of inspiration when I'd thought about this project and had developed something similar but different than my Replacium. It was a programmable nano-gel that could be injected into a surface, so long as it was natural, and basically turn the designated area into a substance as solid as granite and nowhere near as fragile or easy to chip. It was this that I had decided to use once I dug out the tunnel.

Speaking of, I had built a little robot that Amphitrite would remote control in order to dig the tunnel using a special kind of acid that was specifically designed to eat only things like concrete, dirt and rock, so no risk of accidently melting a pipe or some buried wires. I have no idea why it doesn't react with anything else, but I'd tried it on grass, metal, plastic and a bit of fish I'd bought at the supermarket. Absolutely nonreactive to the lot of them.

Tinkering is such wonderful Bullshit!

Picking up a communications headset, I put it on and tapped the button on the right headphone which turned it on and deployed the microphone, which I had designed with a built in voice-scrambler.

"Amphitrite, this is Riptide. Are you seeing the digging schematic that your program's recommending?" I asked.

"Yes, I do. Unfortunately, it really is the best path." My VA replied. "I've run simulations, including data taken from the last time roadworks were done in that area, and the lengthy roundabout route is necessary to both minimize chance of discover and prevent damaging the underground infrastructure."

"Great." I sighed. "Are you ready to boot up and take control of the Mole?"

Not an original name for a digging robot, but I only needed to use it this once.

"Affirmative, Riptide." Amphitrite responded. "I am ready to assume control at your command."

I turned to eye the robot that would do the digging. The Mole didn't look remotely like a mole, a robot or even a digging robot. If anything, it looked like one of those probe droids you saw in that Star Wars film from just a couple of years before Scion showed up, albeit only four feet tall. It had four manipulators on the bottom, and four on top of the head, giving it eight limbs in total, all of which could extend and retract as needed. Four of the manipulators were designed to spray the acid, two would apply the nano-gel that would reinforce the tunnel after it was dug, and two held an alkali solution that neutralized the acid compound I'd made and would be used to stop the tunnel from becoming too big.

Sneaking it here had not been easy. I'd ended up having to separate it into three parts and take them in over the last few days. I'd thought about having Amphitrite fly it over, but I didn't want to risk unnecessary exposure. The gangs were all very aware that a new Tinker was out and about in Brockton Bay, and any sign of unusual Tinkertech was going to ring alarm bells.

I could have attached my 'cloaking device' to it, but honestly, all of the free space in the Mole was taken up by the CPU, camera, remote control system, acid storage and servomotors. There was no room for anything else on it.

If I ever made a second generation robot, this would definitely be something I'd correct.

Carefully moving the robot, which was floating using repulsors, over to roughly where it had to start digging, I nodded to myself. "OK Amphitrite, start digging."

"Compliance." She responded. "Assuming direct control."

A red light on the side of the Mole flashed on and it adjusted itself slightly before the lower arms started to spray the acid in a circular area that was about the radius of a manhole cover. It was clear acid, and produced no fumes harmful to humans when it reacted with the ground.

…I have to say it again, Tinker powers are well and truly bullshit.

While Amphitrite was busy with the tunnel, something which I could leave in her virtual hands, I slipped into inconspicuous clothing and headed out to head over to the sewer/drainage exit in the Boat Graveyard. By happy coincidence, it led straight to the area near my house and I had stashed a bunch of materials there to make the fake walls for hiding the secret entrance/exit to my house, as well as hard-light generators and a mini-power source.

There was no reason to worry about someone stealing them either, as I'd stashed them in a small tunnel offshoot of the main sewers and placed a cloaking device, an actual cloaking device this time, on top to hide the materials from sight.

With a small click from the remote I was carrying with me, the pallet shimmered into view and I had to smirk at it. Compared to my armor, it was fairly simple to build and even easier to operate. Pulling a balaclava out of my pocket, I slipped it on and took the driver's seat. Well, it was honestly the operator's seat, but six and two threes, please.

Having it hover along through the sewers and drainage tunnels was the easy part, but something that had worried me was the possibility that one or more of the gangs, especially the Merchants thanks to Squealer, had some kind of surveillance down here. Contrary to most films and police dramas though, the sewers don't seem to be the usual way that gangs deliver drugs and illegal weapons to their destinations; nowadays I'd guess they smuggle them in cars and trucks under perfectly legal shipments. Damn gangs.

Anyway, just in case the gangs had any kind of surveillance down here, I'd thrown together a little device that spread its web along the course that I'd planned (thanks to Amphitrite infiltrating the Brockton Bay Sewer Management Department's mainframe and copying their schematics) and spoofing any cameras, listening devices, seismographs, motion sensors or really any kind of monitoring equipment that could possibly be there. To them, I may as well have been invisible and it was even completely untraceable.

Damn, I'd be a scary good criminal with this kind of tech. Good thing I'm a good guy.

By the time I'd reached the part of the sewers under my house, Amphitrite and the Mole had finished digging the tunnel and was three-quarters of the way through reinforcing the tunnel with the nano-gel. As planned, she'd carved a part of the sewer wall out, leaving a solid support beam at a structurally necessary area, which prevented the tunnel from collapsing, and it had been the first part to receive a nano-gel injection, so now it was several times as strong as the rest of the sewer tunnel.

"Amphitrite, how're things going? All smoothly?" I asked as I slid the pallet to a halt.

"Everything is moving according to schedule, Riptide." She answered. Even although I had encrypted this channel, Dragon and her skills as a Tinkerer and programmer were very good reasons to stay away from gender-restricted names, such as Amphitrite's usual 'Mistress' epithet for me. You can't be too careful, after all. "I estimate time to completion to be seven minutes. The nano-gel should have fully dispersed and settled by this point, so you are safe to commence work on the gate."

Amphitrite was such a good assistant. She was worth every solar panel that I had sold Toybox.

As I had possessed enough foresight to predesignate the exact dimensions of the large gap in the wall beforehand, the 'materials' that I had on the pallet were basically a prefabricated collapsible roller shutter-type gate, which was several times as sturdy as a solid gate thanks to the metal it was made from and a small forcefield generator that activated whenever the gate was fully closed. I secured it with a home-made Tinkertech sealant that was only a temporary measure until I could whip up another batch of nano-gel to improve the strength of the floors and ceiling.

There were even openings for me to insert the emitters for the hard-light field projectors, which made the gate look exactly like the wall that it had replaced.

"Well, that's that, I think." I put my hands on my hips and smirked once I had finished dismantling the pallet and turned it into a small power station against one wall. The energy cell I had built was robust, energy efficient and I would only need to refill its fuel reserves once every three months or so if it didn't see heavy use. That time would increase as I developed improvements to the formula…which I found a bit odd, truth be told.

Usually, when it came to chemicals and Tinkers, the chemicals were a one and done kind of deal. They could make a serum that improved a human's speed, strength and toughness similar to a Brute 3 or so, but if it came with side effects like a berserk state, there wasn't much that could be done about it. They could make different formulae that did similar things, but they couldn't improve the same formula beyond what it was.

I could.

Putting it to the back of my mind, I checked the power connections one final time, then gathered up the last of the supplies, a torch and several staples that would attach to the wall and act as a ladder, and headed up the tunnel towards my house.

"Note to self, build some lighting down here." I muttered as I walked, the torch lighting my way. "This tunnel is way too dark."

"Note taken, Riptide." Amphitrite said from the Mole's external speaker. "The tunnel is now fully complete and safe. Waiting further orders."

"Once I put this ladder in, I think that'll do it for tonight, Amphitrite." I said with a sigh. "I haven't had a full night of sleep in weeks, which…oddly hasn't affected me all that much. Still, I had better actually have some sleep. Tomorrow though…tomorrow we'll be finishing Salacia's body and creating her fully."