A/N: Welcome back, those of you who waited all year for an update! If you haven't heard yet, it's been a rough year for me, for almost none of the reasons everyone else has been having a rough year. I spent a fair bit of it commiserating the lack of updates to my own stories, and I'm sure a few of you did too. The good news is that I'm finally managing to get medication and diagnoses for my many issues, and the ADHD meds in particular have done wonders for my writing. I can't guarantee anything in perpetuity, but for at least the next few months most of my fics will be updating on a weekly rotation. I hope everyone's doing well out there, and I hope you enjoy the chapter!

Ascent 2.4

Waking up early in a house full of people is an act that requires some polite discretion.

Air mattresses, unfortunately, are quite possibly the least discreet sleeping material crafted by modern man.

"Did you have to make such a damn racket getting up?" Richard asked groggily as he interrupted my breakfast prep.

"How's your stomach?" I asked, ignoring his complaint. "I can check my kit-"

Richard grunted, squeezing past me to reach for the fridge. He pulled out the milk, made to drink straight from the jug, reconsidered, and got a glass. Halfway through the pour, he mumbled something.


"...Could use some help later," he grunted, tossing the jug back in the fridge and squeezing by without another word. I let it go, glad to have made some minor progress; that might have genuinely been the most positive interaction we'd had, ignoring the ones where either of us had some motive.

I was several dozen handmade french toast sticks richer when Zach dragged himself out of bed. Passing each of them plates and mugs of coffee, I plopped down in the beanbag chair by the TV and turned on the news.

"…and the puppies were eventually rescued by the fire department. If you're interested in adopting…"

I stuck a toast stick in my mouth cigar-style and started flipping for a better news channel. Channel 12 had me covered.

"...saw major, widespread villain activity last night, targeting and destroying a series of homes and businesses amidst the current bombing campaign. In a statement, the PRT had this to say." The screen flipped to a spokesperson.

"While this activity is out of character and deserves attention, our efforts remain fully committed to ending the ongoing threat to public safety posed by Bakuda and the Azn Bad Boys. People are dying every day that she remains free, and we would like to assure the public that she will face the full penalty of law for this terrorism."

The feed returned to the desk, where the newscaster had a serious expression. "I think I speak for everyone when I say that I hope they resolve this soon."

"Hey Grant, let's chat." Zach called from the kitchen table.

I muted the TV and grabbed my plate, joining them. "Sup?"

"Talking schedules," Richard said, sipping his coffee. "That, and your stream intro."

"Oh yeah," I commented. "I was kind of wondering when that would happen." That was a complete lie; I hadn't even considered it in the last week, other than as a vague 'that will happen someday' thing. Best foot forward though, no point telling them that.

"Well, we've talked to the other teams of the assault," Zach said. "They won't cede the teammate splitting thing for us entirely, but they're willing to group up two of us tomorrow night, and they don't count unpowered minions. We figure that's about as good a chance as any to formally introduce you to our viewers."

"Okay, no complaints here. Anything I need to know about the setup?"

"Not really," Richard said. "You'll be mic'd up, but we're thinking we up the delay for both strategic and editing reasons. As long as you're not a complete fuckup we can make it work."

My hands shot to my heart, faking a gunshot wound. They smiled a bit, and we went back to our food.

Plotting Offscreen...

I clenched my hands, cracking the joints and limbering it up. Today's project was big, in the grand scheme of things, and I could not afford to fuck up.

In front of me on the microcircuitry workbench, pinned down like a rat on a dissection pan, was the Lazarus Patch. Looking like an unassuming, sandwich-thick medical sensor compress with a small display, it was in truth a mass-reproducible way to stabilize people from life-ending trauma in much the same way my own powers could. If I didn't finish any other project before I died or went insane, as long as someone had a detailed analysis of this item, countless lives might be saved. I had one shot at a complete teardown and analysis, after which I would be screwed, left with only scans and scraps to piece together.

"Well, nothing for it, I guess," I said, psyching myself up as I started peeling away the outer layers of the compress.

Extended Check: +2 to checks for advanced tools and prep. Difficulty 9, threshold 3.

Tech/Medical check(Int): Rolled 6+2+2 vs. difficulty 9 Pass 1/3.

The first stages of the disassembly went about as well as could be expected. There were a few close calls when I had to stop and use the nanotech tools for precision, but I made it past the user controls and computer suite without losing any connectors, according to the devices' self-diagnostics. Beneath the control layer, a fiendishly dense layer of soft containers, medical pumps, and a few other devices I couldn't identify were held in by a flexible cage. It was clear I would have to flip it over and disconnect the business end before continuing.

Tech/Medical Check(Int): Rolled 6+2+2 vs. difficulty 9. Pass 2/3.

The bottom layer was smooth, silver-plated material, appearing completely flawless from this side. Scans had shown that the silver layer was in fact punched full of microscopic holes, each ready to punch needles into the capillaries to get medicine and data flowing as fast as possible while the exact diagnosis was being formulated and the nanites were being programmed. Unfortunately for me, this meant that it was impossibly complex nanotech. Even with the table's suite of tools, it was almost inevitable to fuck up at this point. Still, I managed to peel back the microinjector pad with only minor damages, nothing that would affect the reverse engineering process.

After that, the next step was disarming the automatic injection systems on this side of the patch, which I approached as carefully as I had the Bakuda bomb, tenderly disconnecting circuitry one cable at a time.

Tech/Medical Check(Int): Rolled 4+2+2 vs. difficulty 9. Fail 1/3.

Of course, it's never a good sign when your project starts leaking blood.

"Shit," I mumbled, mind racing, "shitshitshit." I hadn't set off the whole compress, but it was almost that bad. I needed samples of the blood, both before and after rehydration, to understand how they had kept it so compact. I quickly flipped over the compress, reached for and grabbed a syringe, and jabbed it in the proper container. It was too late. The needle came out stained brownish-red, but empty. I quickly dropped it in a ready biohazard bag and into a cooler at my feet, then did the same with a hastily-gathered vial of blood. It was only then that I allowed myself to get up, grab a soda, and step outside. Zach was there, having a smoke.

I hadn't had a cigarette since high school, but I almost asked for one anyway; instead, I popped some gum in my mouth, and took a vindictive chew.

"You look pissed," Zach said on the inhale.

"Just a mistake," I admitted. "Needed to step away before I clean up the blood."

"You're hurt?" More curiosity than worry in his voice, as he slowly exhaled.

I breathed deep myself, taking in cool April air and the familiar smell of cheap tobacco. "I'm fine. Taking apart something that… well, let's just say I'm not quite sure how I made it in the first place, and now I might be ruining it in the process of figuring it out."

"Ah, I get you. I thought that didn't happen for you, though? Thinker, not Tinker?"

I shrugged, not sure how to lie better. I could say my first memories of the Bay were waking up next to a Bakuda bomb, but that just felt unnecessary, and would gain undeserved pity. Instead, I let the silence hang. Zach took another drag.

"Dammit," I eventually said, building up to a rant. "I need to be making progress, you know? This is the most I've done in years, but it's not enough, and it won't be enough tomorrow. The world is fucked, and I have a thousand half-formed ideas on how it could be less fucked if I could just work a little more, you know?"

Zach shrugged, face shifting in thought. After a minute, he said, "You gotta lay off the hero attitude, man."

I let out a breath I didn't know I was holding, a chuckle escaping with it. "You might be right."

"No, seriously though, he said, smile dropping a little. "You aren't gonna change the world tomorrow. You might never, if you're lucky. We're just small timers, and to be honest I like it that way. Relax, take your time, and send anything earth-shattering to Dragon or the Patent Office in an anonymous email. That's how tinkering goes, powers or not."

"Yeah," I agreed, already putting the failure out of mind. I quirked an eyebrow as I turned to go back inside. "Dragon or the Patent Office?" He waved me off with a grin, taking another deep drag as the door shut behind me.

I cleaned up the workstation and got back to work, the weight of my actions taking its sweet time to settle back on my shoulders.

Tech/Medical Check: Rolled 11+2+2 vs. difficulty 9. Pass 3/3.

Crafting Components...

"Lie still, I've got to run some scans."

Tech/Medical(Int) Check: Rolled 7+2 vs. difficulty 6. Pass.

Richard was out of the hospital, sure, but he wasn't in any shape to be fighting. Unfortunately, the terms of the truce had us splitting up each night, and having Uber sit the fight out wasn't an option. I frowned as Zach's scanner fed me information.

"You tore a few of your stitches last night, by the looks of it. How much pain are you in, on a scale of one to ten?"

"Maybe a seven, when the pain meds wear off? Four right now." He made to sit up, and I put a hand on his chest to stop him midway.

"I'm not showing any internal bleeding or swelling, but I will need to keep checking it every day until I can get it healed up. Until then, try not to push yourself too hard." I took my hand away before he could bite it off.

He sat up. "Yeah, yeah, I know." He paused for a second, considering something. "How's your leg? I got you pretty deep."

Aww, he cared. I showed him my unblemished thigh. "It closed overnight, was clear in a day or two. Slightly accelerated healing, just one of my many dastardly secret powers!" I joked weakly, handing him a bottle from my medkit. "Try this instead of your pain medication, 1 pill with food each evening. Not as effective, but it encourages cellular regeneration and is a mild antiviral."

He grunted assent, and started digging through the shop fridge, probably for food to take it with. I closed up my medkit and went to check on the chemical workstation, where several projects were stewing.

The power cell project was coming along well, from what I could see through the carbon-rich solution. Delicate feathers of crystalline graphite were growing from the seed pillars: a few more hours, and I might have enough samples to start testing techniques to change the atomic structure to something with a little more capacitance. I had results on the chemical makeup of most of the drugs in the Lazarus patch and medkit, and while many were fiendishly complex macromolecules, a few might be easily synthesized in a couple days if I could get the materials. The computer was only just starting to get useful data from the nanites, but things were looking good on that front, and I'd even gotten useful samples of what had proved to be dehydrated, purely artificial red blood cells.

It wasn't as much progress as I hoped for. I didn't have the secrets of the universe ready to hand out if I died tomorrow night, and I had no idea how I was going to handle the Nine in two months. But for the ten-day anniversary of my unexpected arrival? It was enough.