37 Small Tasks

I managed to park at the gym and slip off to my apartment without running into anyone. I kind of hoped that didn't come across like I was avoiding people, but I needed to come up with a solution to my sudden expansion of muscle mass if I was going to be visiting that place socially again.

On that point there were a few possibilities. I had a lot more stealth technology than disguise technology, and most of the disguise technologies were not that good at reducing someone's profile. This wasn't a matter of layering a hologram over top of me and calling it a day. If I wanted to fit in with people I'd known before the Celestial Forge had decided to rewrite my body shape I'd need to get creative.

Weirdly, the best way of handling this would be a combination of an invisibility effect and either an image projection or hologram. Basically, I would have the fun of figuring out both a perfect invisibility system and a true to life image projector that would also sync with my movements while avoiding any delays or uncanny valley effects. It was a small mercy that my height was the same as before, because otherwise this would be a true nightmare.

Not that it was exactly easy to begin with. This wasn't what I would call a high priority project compared to the other major threats, but if I had to keep blowing off my social contacts outside of the Workshop and cape life then there would be some unpleasant consequences at some point. I both needed a solution and didn't have time for extensive development.

Luckily I had another option. The same option that had let me pull a solution out of nowhere when I needed a way to save Weld, and one I had barely explored. Natural alchemy.

Natural Alchemy was a largely untapped power. Compared to the seriously powerful and ridiculously named Kazooie Alchemy I had kind of sidelined it. I had better healing, and nothing that could be accomplished by that particular power was as significant as my duplicates. Still, the fact that it had been so effective as a means of facilitating Weld's rescue showed there was a lot of untapped potential.

One of the major drawbacks of Natural Alchemy was the way it had unavoidable effects on the body. The glowing eyes from the water breathing potion had been a fairly minor effect, and fortunately had faded quickly. When trying for more esoteric applications physical changes were an unfortunate side effect, but if your goal was changing shape then you couldn't ask for a better option.

I had actually been a little reluctant about that application. Warping my body seemed a little too close to the kind of wet tinkering I'd been working to avoid. Still, what I was considering wasn't growing wings, claws, or a scorpion tail. It wasn't some fundamental alteration to my body's makeup, or a change in the way I interacted with the world. It was a slight reduction in bulk.

I could probably have managed it from the moment I got the power. Since then, my expanded knowledge, research abilities, crafting skills, and enchantment abilities meant I could accomplish massively powerful effects. I had somehow become possibly the most powerful wet tinker on the planet, despite not actually using any of those abilities.

The point was, a potion that got me down to a reasonable build was well within my skill set. More than within my skills set actually. I kind of felt I needed to start exploring the potential of this power. My duplicates would probably be willing to act as guinea pigs. Come to think of it, the combat enhancement potions would probably be really popular during our future sparring matches.

Okay, how likely was it that potion making was going to start being a 20% time thing, and that I would end up with a cabinet of divine level mystery enhancement potions left for me or some other duplicate to experiment with?

Almost certain, considering I was the one who thought of it, and thus so would my duplicates. I was probably going to find out how far this power could be pushed very quickly. And that would basically be the bioengineering side of my original tinker power all over again. I still hated thinking about that, but I couldn't afford to keep holding back like I had been just because of those reservations.

The Dragon situation was a nightmare on top of every other problem I was juggling. I had been largely flippant with the Undersiders, but Brian was right about her resources and abilities. I don't think anyone else could accomplish what she had done, and that was without any preparation on her part. Once she got set up in the city things could get a lot more complicated for me.

The actual nature of the effect she was under was something that I still wasn't sure about. The most I could see was that it obviously wasn't impeding her ability to function in her current role. Dragon was still a major presence in the Guild, the creator of numerous technologies and programs that the Protectorate relied on, and a regular participant in Endbringer battles. Why someone would set up master effects as specific as hers appeared to be I couldn't say, but it was something I would have to deal with, if just for my own safety.

Natural Alchemy wasn't the only area where I'd been holding back. I had been avoiding a lot of technologies because of the heat that it would bring down on me. Well, having Dragon gunning for you is pretty much peak levels of heat. As long as I avoided actual S-class threats the fact that I was using potentially dangerous technology probably wouldn't make a difference.

That meant nanotech. This was something I'd been thinking about for a while. One of the first types of nanotechnology I'd gained access to had the potential to form a direct neural connection between a person and essentially become a part of their body. It was one of the most advanced personal enhancements available in terms of both combat and utility.

It was also based on a hive mind artificial intelligence matrix that was a single development error away from unleashing a gray goo apocalypse on the world. If I hadn't already gained extensive experience in dealing with the development of A.I.s and multiple supporting powers to manage the situation I would never have touched it.

It was possibly the only way I would be able to use my Master Craftsman power on the scale needed for construction of my best technology. Even if the direct link wasn't enough to carry that effect this would still be a massive improvement in terms of manufacturing capability, especially after I pushed the technology to the limits my knowledge and power were capable of.

The Forge missed a connection to the Knowledge constellation as I reached my apartment and headed for the closet. The tiny studio wasn't completely devoid of upgrades anymore. I'd abandoned that particular commitment after the scare with Dragon. The shiny new modem didn't stand out overly much, and was about as advanced as the combination of Simple Scientific Solution and my other powers could make it. As of now, I wouldn't be able to track someone using it, and I was an empowered demigod of technology. Additionally, the access speed it was facilitating was beyond what should have been possible through the local network. As usual, it didn't do any good to try to figure out how it worked, and as long as I only used it for 'normal' internet access there wouldn't be any problems.

Slipping into my Workshop I could see the consequences of the previous night. A hardwired line ran from the Laboratorium to my computer core, really the only way I'd been able to directly moderate the attack program. I had hard switched controlling access, so the Laboratorium wasn't permanently connected to the rest of my systems, but I had a sense that even from their brief exposure the machine spirits weren't overly impressed with my Workshop.

It wasn't really a specific criticism, more of a general disapproval. Probably due to the lack of incense and religious iconography. I was once again grateful that Garment's communication issues stopped her from conferring with the machine spirits, otherwise I'd be drowning in tapestries before the day was out.

The cable wasn't really intrusive. My aesthetic powers had allowed me to even blend in exposed cabling in a way that accented the look of the Workshop. It added a neo-industrial accent to the otherwise pristine workspace that had built up over layers of renovations, and against all my expectations I actually had Garment's approval for it.

On that note, with the Workshop open I was able to link with Fleet and Survey again. After all the events of the night they were due for another update session, but the main objective was getting Survey's updates on the state of the city.

I accessed her report with my implant while I moved into the Workshop. Actually, that would be another thing I needed to stop dragging my feet on. The idea of brain surgery still freaked me out, but honestly the main reason I hadn't updated my implant yet was the continuous improvements in skills and technology I was gaining access to.

This wasn't the perfectionism that had me trying to rebuild everything in my Workshop following each new power. It was the fact that I really didn't want to have to perform repeated brain surgery. I had multiple possible designs for an update to my implant, all of which had been scrapped and redone as new technology and abilities became available.

What complicated the process even further was the fiat backed nature of the implant. It wasn't something that I could replace wholesale and call it a day. The implant and its place in my head were enforced by my power. That meant I needed to do this as a rebuild and upgrade rather than a replacement. It turned what would already have been a complicated procedure into a nightmare of modular technological applications and hot-swapping.

Still, it was necessary. I was going to have to deal with the Slaughterhouse Nine sometime. Given how they operated, that would probably be at the worst time possible and from an angle I never would have expected. I shifted to the portion of Survey's report regarding Slaughterhouse Nine activity. While I viewed the data mentally she projected a hologram of her avatar walking next to me and delivering a summarization of the information.

"Sightings and reports suggest the Slaughterhouse Nine is active in western Indiana. No confirmed objectives have been observed since the attack on Bloomington which resulted in the death of Chuckles. A recruitment effort was theorized to begin within seven to fourteen days based on historic patterns, but current activities suggest deviation from this practice. Two independent sightings of the Siberian on what appeared to be single target hunting behavior have been reported, but assumed to be independent of other Slaughterhouse Nine activity." She presented crisply while mimicking the act of walking beside me. Well hidden projectors activated in sequence to create the impression of a continuous effect moving through the Workshop.

"Thank you. Please continue monitoring all reports of activity and movement from the main group. Could you expand the program to include hospital and police reports from areas of suspected activity?" I asked.

"Absolutely. There is a high chance of false positives through such a program, but I will work to improve evaluation and filtering techniques."

I had seen that development in the last set of updates. Survey was getting better at data analysis and a lot less likely to end up overwhelmed by conflicting data.

"Can you also compile any available information on Shatterbird's powers?"

"There is a limited amount of data due to the destruction of silicon based technological devices and the general calamity that follows major events, but I will compile a report from available sources. It is likely to be largely composed of testimonials and theoretical models."

"That's fine. Whatever you can find will at least give me a starting point." Through my implant I could sense her begin work on the task while she continued the façade of a walking meeting.

"Local recovery work has continued in the area impacted by last night's fire." She began. "While most of the damage was limited to warehouses and factories which were no longer in operation, several small businesses were damaged in the incident. Mostly small stores, but two of the facilities in the central area had continued operation despite the downward economic trend, though with reduced staff. This has not been covered by conventional media sources, nor has the impact of the fires on the population known to inhabit the affected area."

I frowned at that and looked over the reports. Mostly the commentary discussed Lung's attack, the implications for the balance of power in the city, and the deployment of the Guard. Those that did mention the damage at best acknowledged that it was suspected that a portion of the city's homeless lived in the area. There was more attention given to the property damage that had been inflicted, what it meant for the city, and the potential for actual demolition of damaged buildings.

A lot of the older factories and warehouses hadn't been in use since shipping shut down. Given the value of the land and the lackluster potential of what could be built it wasn't even worth tearing them down. About a quarter of the city was filled with buildings left to rot, occasionally being actually condemned, but mostly just locked up and ignored.

It was easy to ignore the fact that people were living in them, but I didn't have that luxury. The Dragon's Pulse gave me the ability to sense living things, and thus I couldn't ignore the presence of people squatting in those buildings. I don't think the casualties had been that bad. Everyone in the city knows to run when a gang fight starts. The main consequence was displacement. A lot of people had lost what little possessions and safety they had managed to scrounge together. There weren't many places open to people like that, and if the city's social services were up to the challenge things wouldn't have gotten this bad in the first place.

Also, wih the damage from the fire there was a real potential that they would start tearing down the affected structures. Really, it depended on whether the building's insurance had been maintained and what kind of policy the city would put towards places like that.

That would probably end up having a mixed effect. Frankly, any project that needed manual labor would be a blessing for the city, even if it would only be temporary. Demolition work was still work and it's not like they'd be bringing in outside firms to handle it. As someone who was pretending to live a part time existence I knew how significant even a few weeks of steady employment could be.

The question was, what happened next? Huge amounts of cleared land meant the potential for someone to try to develop it again. Or maybe not. Maybe it would just be another empty lot waiting for the city to turn around so that it would have some value.

As much as I hated to say it, I had bigger problems than displaced homeless and the economic state of the city. There were pressing, immediate problems, ones that would come to a head much sooner than any social or economic shift. Still, that felt like a cop out. A big reason the city had gotten so bad was because of the focus on each immediate crisis without considering the wider impact.

Well, at least I had the means to make sure the situation didn't slip my mind.

"Survey, please continue to monitor the situation, both in terms of recovery and reclamation efforts, and the status of any displaced residents." I asked, while also sending a detailed digital request with specific parameters of the monitoring program.

Survey's hologram nodded and I watched her begin to set up a subroutine for continuous monitoring and analysis of that information. I got the sense that she enjoyed the combination of digital interfacing along with the more physical conversation. It provided practice in her ability to interact while also allowing direct confirmation of the meaning and intent of every exchange.

"Additionally, there have been several updates to Garment's legal certification process during your absence." I reviewed the documents and correspondence as Survey continued. "An account and full set of identification have been provided in Garment's name. A request has been submitted for her to collect them at Brockton Central bank, as well as a review of loan options and proposals for potential locations. The Protectorate has offered to have Miss Militia meet with her to provide assistance and security."

That was a generous offer considering the state of the city, but it wasn't like there was much Miss Militia could do in support of recovery from a massive fire. Her status as a Noctis cape was well known, so it wasn't like this would impact the Protectorate's ability to respond tonight.

Also, from a slightly more cynical perspective, Garment's debut at the gym had been very well received. The Protectorate was probably desperate to get some positive press in circulation. I wasn't sure what exactly they were going for, but it was probably a 'life goes on' vibe.

Honestly, the city was good at that. I don't think anyone really gave it much thought, but even growing up in Captain's Hill you heard about fairly brutal parahuman fights on a regular basis. In this city you accepted the conflict, dealt with the damage, and moved on as well as you can. It wasn't a good situation, but it was a mindset that the citizens were subtly proud to have.

"Garment will probably want to carry through with that, but I want to check with her in person. Anything else?" I knew there was. I had direct access to the data network, but it seemed that Survey liked presenting information. She made her hologram smile slightly as she continued.

"The 20% time of the final duplicates following your departure was spent constructing armament points for the Veritech fighter as well as full integration of A.I. control networking. Improved plating is still pending, but variable loadouts have been planned for a variety of offensive options." She mimed holding up a clipboard displaying the alterations to the fighter, something also unnecessary given my direct access to the plans. I still considered it as the Forge missed a connection to the Magitech constellation.

The armor plating had been fully stripped away with several proposals for replacement materials. The Energy Conversion Armor would need to be integrated into the new plating, but enough research had been done on that particular system that I was confident in my ability to apply the principles to both replacement parts and to other applications.

Applications like Aisha's hardsuit. It wasn't just a matter of stronger armor. The technology essentially turned the armor into a heatsink that got stronger as a result. I had said this before, but that was really incredible technology.

Maybe a little too incredible. Fold carbon was still difficult to work with and duplicate. Not impossible, but I may have become overly used to the ability to just mash together whatever rare material I needed and instantly have more. The extradimensional aspect of fold carbon and its potentially higher energy variants made that a much more delicate procedure.

With the armor of the fighter removed the frame and core systems could be worked on, allowing the installation of weapon mounts. Lots of weapon mounts. There was the undeniable challenge of ensuring the weapons would be usable in all three modes the fighter could transform into, but that was a minor concern given my design talents.

Well, my design talents and near constant input from Fleet. He had been exceptionally engaged in the upgrade and modification process, and was particularly helpful in providing performance simulations for various proposed designs and weapon compliments.

Currently the mech was set up for four launch pods, each holding 20 micro missiles, two forearm mounted weapons, a shoulder mounted twin linked system, and a nose gun that could be detached for use as a handheld weapon. Well, handheld by mech standards. Probably crew served to vehicle mounted by anyone else's.

Hopefully this would keep the Laboratorium from complaining about the suit's lack of armaments.

In terms of what would actually be mounted on the fighter, that was another matter. I already had access to a tremendous amount of weapon technology, and that was before Weaponsmith decided to drop a mental database of thousands of years of weapon crafting techniques into my head. I could outfit the jet for everything from nonlethal engagement to a set of armaments that would have an impact on an Endbringer.

Not a tremendous impact, but more than most capes could manage. My passenger was able to help me evaluate the chances of various weapons against an Endbringer, and generally they weren't good. I had known the Endbringers were tough, but when you considered the energy output of some of these weapons you would think one of them would be a serious threat.

You'd be wrong.

I had a handful of technologies that could put down an Endbringer, and they were all horrifying in scale and power. Most of them would put out the kind of energy that would be devastating on a continental level, if not larger. Basically, if the blast wouldn't show up in the planet wide geological record it's not a threat to an Endbringer.

There was one exception provided by Weaponsmith, and it was quite possibly worse. Weaponsmith was an archive of thousands of weapons and a hundred times as many creation methods. There was a lot of overlap of dubious usefulness, such as the nearly fifteen hundred ways to build a laser rifle. However, like with Armourer the good stuff was rare, old, and extremely difficult to make.

A few weapons were so rare I only had a few manufacturing methods for producing them. For this weapon there was only one. The designs for it were buried in the depths of the mental database and its assembly was a process so specific that without the combined technological knowledge of my other powers and my recent ability to have a chance of ignoring material requirements it would be completely impossible. Of course, that 50% failure rate wasn't that appealing when the result of bad luck would be a malfunctioning vortex grenade.

A grenade that could potentially put down an Endbringer. The thing was basically a combined black hole and dimensional portal designed to absolutely ruin anything in its area of effect. Or anything that happened to wander into its area of effect, considering the vortex would have a tendency to stick around. In fact, the unstable dimensional and gravity vortex could shift positions after being deployed, meaning it could potentially wander into you.

So that was what it took to actually put down an Endbringer. Planetary scale weapons or archaic explosives of such an ill-advised nature that its mental entry was more than fifty percent warnings and disclaimers. And on top of all of that, I was still being warned that actually killing an Endbringer would somehow make the entire situation worse.

That was a concern, but like so many things a concern for another time. Unless Lung ramped up to Leviathan levels the Endbringer grade weaponry would be ridiculously excessive. That left the challenge of tailoring the loadout to my current situation.

Most capes didn't have any level of enhanced durability, and what Weaponsmith considered 'light anti-infantry' armaments were absolutely devastating to anyone who wasn't a brute or wearing power armor. Scaling things down further there were non-lethal options, and oddly more of them than I had gotten from any other technology power. They had the issue of lack of effectiveness against harder threats. And of course, Dragon's suits.

So, I was probably going to be looking at a mixed loadout. It wasn't that bad of a situation considering my missile surplus power would let me hold a stupid amount of munitions. I could afford to generalize, but the lack of focus felt like I was holding myself back.

I put those thoughts aside as I approached the textile area. "We'll need to prepare a range of options. I'll make a note to see about rigging up a second automated maintenance system for faster resupply and changing weapons." Modular technology was a godsend in that respect.

"Noted." Survey's hologram replied, and mocked writing a notation on her clipboard. I smiled at the commitment to the image and made my way into Garment's work area.

What I found was an entire new area that had been cordoned off from the rest of her projects. A quick check showed that it was a recent expansion, probably provided by one of the duplicates with their ability to open new space in the volcanic rock that surrounded the Workshop. Or the volcano lair, depending on how you wanted to characterize things.

I guess it depended on which side of the law I was talking to at the time. I had a feeling the kinds of things that would make the Protectorate very uneasy would probably get me a significant amount of respect from the villain side of things.

The first thought that entered my mind when I saw the new section was 'colorful!'. With a second to recognize what I was actually looking at I let out a long whistle, drawing Garment's attention from her latest project.

"Wow. This is really impressive." I admitted, looking at the assembled clothing. On display was an impressive selection of Garment's work in a huge variety of styles and designs. That wasn't what was so impressive. It was what had been done to the clothing.

Every item of clothing in the new section was covered with incredibly precise and brightly colored designs. The sign of master level Dust weaving. And a lot of it.

My duplicates must have provided Garment with a frightening quantity of Dust. I mean, I could replicate it infinitely, so it wasn't as if the supply was an issue. It was more that, based on the quantity and density of the designs on display, Garment had assembled an arsenal that probably put her on equal footing with what Bakuda had brought to the storage facility.

Excluding the more esoteric effects, of course.

As Garment proudly led me through the results of her work I had the uncomfortable feeling that comes from being within arms reach of unsecured explosives. I knew how to deal with Dust and could probably control my Aura enough to avoid accidentally activating any of the Dust circuits, and Garment was of course a master of anything clothing based, but that didn't change the fact that I was effectively slowly strolling through a collection of unsecured high energy weaponry.

It didn't help that the Dust she had been using was a freshly mixed batch, meaning it had the benefit of Lack of Materials, the Volcanic Forge, and even a little bit of fey arts from Master Craftsman. It had taken what was already a massively powerful weapon and elevated it to the tier of 'Oh God'.

I smiled politely as Garment showed off a tailcoat with enough Gravity Dust sewed into it to level a city block and tried not to think about what would happen if Aisha accidentally wandered into this place.

Actually, did I really need to worry about that? I mean, yes, it was apparently unsecured, but it was also at the back of Garment's workshop. The chances that Aisha would make it through Garment's workshop without ending up in some kind of hoop skirted monstrosity was remote. I'm pretty sure the girl was steering clear of this place if just to avoid ending up with a wardrobe that would require two lady's maids to get properly dressed.

"This is really nice work Garment." I commented honestly, causing Garment to preen slightly. It really was. I could do this work to a higher level of quality, using less materials and getting better effect, but I didn't have Garment's inherent sense for the art. If I was left to my own devices I might have come up with a couple of energy discharge formulas and maybe some wind-based mobility effect. I certainly wouldn't have thought up half of the combinations or unique applications that Garment had put together.

I can honestly say it would never have occurred to me to use a combination of Rock and Gravity Dust to completely upturn the world around you, splitting concrete and asphalt like a tilled field. Even without Aura control, that was a devastating weapon, and Garment had happily sewed the pattern into a cocktail dress in a way that seemed completely natural and appropriate.

If Garment ever decided to go on the warpath Brockton Bay wouldn't know what hit it.

"We have some news from the Protectorate. They've set up your account and identity and want to meet about opening your store." Garment clasped her hands in delight and hurried over to one of the wall terminals. Survey quickly brought up the list of documents and messages, providing summaries for each of them.

Survey's commentary was a good deal more detailed than it had previously been, now containing specific legal advice and references to relevant policies. A slightly deeper look showed me the origin of this particular insight.

I had requested a legal evaluation of the logistics of bringing Aisha on as an employee. Honestly I didn't think that much of it, and it had a decent chance of not going anywhere. Aisha could lose interest, her father could object to her working with a cape or working in general, or the laws governing employment could be so restrictive that it just wouldn't be possible.

Not only had Survey compiled a full analysis of regulations and requirements for employing Aisha in almost any role within a private boutique, she had expanded the analysis to every legal issue that such a business might encounter. Then expanded to related legal concerns. Then to ancillary administrative and accounting needs that might be encountered.

I would have to check during my next update, but it wouldn't surprise me if Survey was operating at the level of a professional legal counsel. It was something of an unexpected development, but then again so was Fleet's participation in transforming fighter jet design work. I would have to step up my monitoring to make sure they didn't run into any issues, but it was a good sign to see them taking their own initiative with the direction of their expertise.

While Survey was making her presentation, I felt the Forge make a connection to the Time constellation. It was a larger mote called Manufacturing Line, and worked like Waste Not, only instead of being limited to weapons and armor it halved the material requirements of anything I built. Actually, anything I oversaw the construction of. I didn't need to perform the work myself, or even specifically direct it. It could be an entire factory that was overseen by me, and the benefit would still apply.

The relation to the Time constellation was that, instead of a 50% chance to avoid needing rare materials, it halved the time of the work. That combined directly with every other means I had of accelerating my crafting. That meant I would be working at truly ridiculous rates, and generally the more technical something was the faster I could work.

Everything I did could be accelerated to double speed by Do One Thing at a Time. If it involved the production of anything then Manufacturing Line doubled that again to four times normal speed. If it counted as any manner of machine, no matter how obscure, then Savvy Sultan provided another times four modifier, taking it to times sixteen. High technology saw the benefit of Machinist, which was one of my most advanced, if specialized, speed powers. If we were at least on a level of advanced mechanical work things would be accelerated hundreds of times.

That wasn't even getting into the benefits of my skill level, support powers, demigod abilities, or the fact that I could do the work of anywhere from ten to a hundred people at the same time.

And it just hit me that my duplicates also had access to this power. It effectively doubled what they would be able to build in their 20% time, which was now twelve minutes long. Twelve minutes that could count as over a hundred hours of work, and with all the assistance and materials they could want.

I was really, really lucky that my duplicates were content to just mess with me, because if they were actually hostile that would be an absolute nightmare.

Survey finished her presentation and Garment indicated an interest in the proposed 2:20pm appointment. I quickly considered the logistics. I could find a way to access the Workshop in the area and let Garment walk in. I didn't think her spontaneously appearing inside a secured location would be a good idea. Sneaking into a probably-seventy-year-old gym was a very different matter to completely bypassing security at a major bank.

The Protectorate would probably also want to meet her at the entrance. It didn't escape my notice that they chose the same bank that the Undersiders had attacked. It had seen some very rapid repair work and was completely restored, but this would no doubt be an opportunity to show how much things had recovered from that particular incident.

To be honest, I was a little concerned for Garment. I knew she wasn't really in danger. The people she had fought on Saturday had been criminals of opportunity, not agents of any major gang. She didn't have anyone gunning for her and could look after herself. Additionally, she wouldn't be making any serious commitments and any proposals could be evaluated in detail at a later time.

That was all true, but it wasn't going to stop me from fretting over this entire endeavor. I wouldn't be able to help with things from behind the scenes like at the gym, but I could make sure she was as prepared as possible. I sent the confirmation message and started to work on the plan of action.

Then I realized the plan was basically 'upgrade Garment's phone and stay in the area in case she needs help'. That wasn't exactly the most detailed or nuanced approach, but beyond researching the bank layout, the executive she would be meeting with, and the details of the proposed loans and offers there wasn't much to do. Survey happily took up that task while Garment got to the much more important matter of deciding what she was going to wear.

With my support commitment pulled out from under me and over an hour before I'd need to leave for the bank I elected to get to work on the projects I was prioritizing before Garment's announcement came up.

As always, step one was duplication potions. My two duplicates stepped out and we shared a familiar look.

"Right." The first said. "We'll get started on the upgrades for the upgrades for the upgrades for what we'll need for that work. You get Tetra to the computer throne."

It was a simple enough division of work. Technically either of the duplicates could have managed the task of updating the A.I.s and expanding their parameters, but this was something where it was important to maintain continuity. Personal experience with the code and what had been done to it couldn't be replicated in reports, and it was important that the person who interacted with Fleet and Survey remembered all previous interactions with them.

Also, there was my promise to include Tetra in all of these updates. I'm not sure if the duplicates could survive handling her, even with the expanded durability they received from the enhanced potions.

I entered the Laboratorium to find the skulls still hard at work. Most of the basic munitions had been completely analyzed, but truly exotic effects were still difficult. I still didn't have complete confidence in recreating the time stop effect.

Weirdly, there was a similar device in the mental database that came with Weaponsmith. Stasis grenades were basically field deployable stasis fields. They were also bulky, power hungry, and difficult to make. Not 'vortex grenade' difficult, but still a trial. The field was projected from the grenade and only lasted until the grenade's power source was drained, as compared to Bakuda's apparently persistent effects.

They weren't actually persistent, but they lasted so long that it didn't really matter. For the average person there was really no difference between something sticking around for a hundred years, a thousand years, or forever. Bakuda's time stop bombs would outlast any practical metric, and that was pretty much the end of their story.

I wanted that technology, but I also needed to understand it. According to my passenger there was some inherent risk when combining parahumans with extended time stop effects. Possibly it was due to the fact that the parahuman would be frozen, but their passenger wouldn't be affected. If the link was still active, and there was still power flow, you could end up with incredible amounts of energy build up.

It probably would only be an issue for parahumans who built up amounts of power over time. Like, for instance, Lung, who was also exactly the kind of person I would want to deploy a weapon like this against. The idea of trapping Lung in a state of ramp up until he reached the point where he could somehow overwhelm the field then wreak havoc on a scale never seen before…

Yeah, I wasn't doing that. This was probably why the Protectorate had so many testing rules for tinkers. It was a consequence of not knowing the exact principles and limits of all of your technology from the start.

I moved through the Laboratorium, greeting the skulls as they worked and performing incidental maintenance tasks as I became aware of them. There was a slight irritation from the machine spirits at the fact that I was heading for the life fiber stasis field personally rather than using the throne to coordinate removal, but that was more a matter of protocol than any specific offense.

When I reached the scanning bay that held Tetra suspended in time and gravity fields I considered how I was going to do this. I was confident enough managing the interaction without Garment as a safety net, and was confident that Survey or Fleet would get her here in seconds if anything went wrong. That said, this was still the first time I would be handing the entire interaction myself.

And in doing so I had overlooked the clothing issue, having shown up in my normal clothes rather than the workout or 'Barbarian Chic' styles that Garment had put together for such an occasion. I could probably get by with just removing my shirt, but…

One of the skulls rose up next to me. It was the same one that Garment always handed her dress to, and it seemed he had accepted that as part of his lot in life. I expressed my gratitude and handed over my shirt and jacket before deactivating the stasis field.

It probably says a lot about the state of our relationship that when the fibrous mass of glowing, life draining alien parasite launched at me from the confines of the dropped stasis field my only reaction was to open my arms in welcome. It really helped that I could feel Tetra through the Dragon's Pulse and knew there was no hostility there.

Two-way communication using that medium was still a little sketchy, but it was at least technically possible. As such I was able to convey that the initial burst of feeding (offset by demigod stamina and nanites) would be temporary, and received a sense of disappointed acceptance.

I still enjoyed the energy boost from the full link, which allowed me to make ridiculous time back to the Workshop. There is a certain level of speed where gravity becomes more of a general suggestion than a hard rule, and as such walls and ceilings were perfectly acceptable walkways on my route through the Workshop.

I also made more than a few of those blazingly fast physics defying near-teleport moves. In theory that kind of speed should have shattered even my bones, and would be like an asteroid impact on anyone hit by it. In reality it was a quick reposition that made almost no sense outside the specific dynamics of life fiber energy. I guess that's the kind of thing that happens when you're dealing with a lifeform that shouldn't be able to physically exist in any conventional sense of physics or biology.

I settled into the throne and felt the comforting sensation of my mind expanding to the limits of diamond based optical processing. The first thing I did was take a dive into Fleet and Survey's code to monitor their current development.

Multiple rounds of capacity expansion had allowed both A.I.s to start growing beyond their original roles. They were still operating in related fields to their initial direction, but had started to branch out slightly. Their development was also stabilizing. There wasn't nearly as much for me to help tweak and correct as there usually was. That was both because of more streamlined optimization and because their code was becoming complex enough that it couldn't be trivially assessed anymore.

While I worked I could feel Tetra's reaction as Fleet and Survey interacted with her. It was still a little unusual not being able to participate in that conversation. I could feel Tetra's reactions, and knew she could monitor mine as well, but there was a distinct lack of detail in the exchange. My A.I.s didn't have that problem, and happily informed me that Tetra was being updated on all the events from the previous day.

Their interaction with Tetra took longer than I needed to set a new parameter expansion schedule and perform a full development check. Rather than sit around while they talked I moved onto my next project. This was a big one, a major step, as well as a line I had previously stayed well away from. It was time to dive into nanotech.

The nanotechnology from Machinist was still some of the best I had access to. It operated as a programmable nanite swarm dedicated to deconstruction and assembly on the nanoscale. The actual nanites were fairly large by the standards of nanobots. If the nanites from my healing power were the size of people then Machinist's would be mobile factories. Actually, with their complexity there were more like tiny cities with multiple levels of resource acquisition and processing.

On its own it would have been incredible and immensely useful, but I was at a point where just being incredible wasn't nearly good enough. I loaded a full set of plans and got to work.

I overhauled the already advanced technology principles with knowledge from Master Builder, Nanite Sciences, Class: Engineer, Skills: Physics, and I Am Iron Man. I reassessed all the materials called for by the design, using Advanced Materials to find ways to integrate alloys of mithril, adamantium, and celestial bronze.

This technology counted as enough of both weapon and armor for Waste Not to apply, meaning I could design the nanites with cybertonium based components, essentially producing a version of Master Builder's living metal, and the first cybertonium based construction I would have access to.

The design was altered slightly to take advantage of my work's resistance to corrosion and environmental effects. Modular principles were applied both to different areas of the nanite, and to the nanite's ability to operate in conjunction with other nanites. The categorization of the technology as a weapon allowed refinements under my Weapon Modifications and Customized Weapons powers. I applied the principles of Gadget Master to minimize added components and reduce the size of the device even further, then used Ambrosial Artificer to strip out every unnecessary component and boost the performance of the remaining parts.

Setup Wizard allowed me to design the components so that they would be conducive to enhancement by Elven Enchantment. Furthermore, it allowed me to design the entire object with Arcane Craft, allowing direct channeling and enhancement of a specific kind of mystical energy.

I took a moment to admire my work as the Knowledge constellation missed a connection. Then I set that work aside and did it all again.

If I was making a borderline gray goo capable nanotech hivemind I wasn't just making any borderline gray goo capable nanotech hivemind. Grease Monkey had a form of nanotechnology that was nearly as powerful and dangerous as the nanotech matrix that Machinist could produce. It was an augmentation for fusion BUMA combat robots. While it wasn't as adept at nano-assembly it was capable of incredible feats of matter assimilation and technological control.

That was my starting point. Then I gave it the same treatment I'd given the Machinist matrix and fused the two nanites together using Hybridization Theory. The end result was something that by all rights should have scared the crap out of every intelligent being on the planet.

Or it would have if any of them could detect it here. And if it could actually replicate properly.

Yes, I had the designs for terrifyingly powerful gray goo nanites with the single flaw that their design called for specific enhanced metals that were only available in my Workshop, certain fiat backed effects that would be absent without my involvement, and additional enchantments that couldn't be automated. Oh, and even if I was directing the production it would have a 50% failure rate thanks to the lack of cybertonium being compensated for with Waste Not.

Yeah, just getting enough of these to begin meaningful construction would be a challenge.

At that point I noticed the exchange between Survey, Fleet, and Tetra had stopped. Well, it was still happening, but it was less an exchange and more them keeping the life fibers apprised of what I was working on. At some point my design work had attracted an audience. I pulled back from my plans and allowed both A.I.s full access. There was a slight pause before they dove in, digging through every principle and technique used not just in the final product but in every step of the process.

Then the questions started. A near constant blitz of electronic queries on so many elements of the design and how I arrived at the final result. It was endearing and overwhelming at the same time.

Apparently Survey had realized there was a depth of knowledge that I had access to that, for some unfathomable reason, I hadn't bothered to categorize and upload. Additionally, she was heavily focused on the principles of cybertonium. The idea of using a material that I fully understood, could perfectly emulate, but which I had never produced or interacted with nearly sent her into another spiral, though thankfully both Fleet and myself were able to help her.

I staved off most of her questions by providing a comprehensive report of cybertonium and the cybertonium based technologies that I was aware of. As she started to process through that data I turned to Fleet.

Fleet had focused on an unusual area of the development process. Specifically, the android base for the second set of nanotechnology. It hadn't really occurred to me that Fleet's interest in piloting could extend to human scale and form robots, but considering his reaction to the Veritech fighter I guess it shouldn't have been that surprising. As I worked through the various BUMA models that were possible from the knowledge provided by Grease Monkey his interest only grew, particularly regarding the Super-BUMA models.

There was something about a robot fast enough to catch railgun rounds, even before factoring in the upgrades I was capable of, that seemed to appeal to Fleet on a fundamental level. Meanwhile Survey had latched onto the idea of cybertonium based living metal and the near infinite emulation potential of the substance. There was a general attitude from both A.I.s that I had been holding out on them.

That may have been due to what they could recognize from the nanotech designs. These nanites were designed to develop a collective intelligence. It was a new A.I., and one with a dedicated and specialized form and processing hardware, compared to the more software-based existences of Fleet and Survey. Both A.I.s seemed excited at the prospect of the matrix developing into sapience, but the proposal had made them aware of the potential technologies that I had not been using.

Through all this I was sensing continued amusement from Tetra and could detect the occasional exchange between her and Survey. My empathic sense wasn't perfect but the emotion coming from Tetra almost felt… smug?

I sent Survey an inquiry and received a prompt response.

"When informed of the development potential of enhanced physical bodies Tetra has expressed the sentiment that she is more advanced in that area, as well as undue satisfaction. Attempts to clarify the situation for her have been unsuccessful."

I sat there at a loss for what to do. Were my A.I.s fighting with my alien parasite over who had or was going to have the most advanced physical form? With my observation of Survey's continued exchanges and Tetra's emotional responses it felt like this was turning into something with the maturity of a schoolyard cape argument.

At least Fleet was staying out of it, though that was mostly because he was focused almost exclusively on Grease Monkey's android designs with the occasional exchange to Survey or Tetra that seemed to momentarily deescalate things.

It may have been the coward's way out, but I decided the best course of action would be to separate them. With the announcement of my intentions the exchange died down and both A.I.s shifted to their own projects. I pulled my awareness back from the throne and into my own body.

When I opened my eyes, I was greeted by two copies of myself, only not shirtless and with a mass of glowing red fibers attached to their chests.

And they were smiling.

I sighed. "How much of that did you monitor."

"Hey, to be fair, we were following the design for technical purposes." The first replied. "It didn't get good until the end."

"Nice job mediating that." The second added. "I'm sure they won't keep arguing about it every time they're in contact. Just like I'm sure that Survey isn't going to be pestering us to transmute some cybertonium that can be used in non-weapon and armor-based applications."

We all paused as Survey provided a message stating that she would be reminding us regularly of the applications of cybertonium and the priority that should be placed on its production. Also, a request for a full analysis of the requirements of the transmutation process and an estimated timeline for its production.

"Well," The first said. "At least she won't let us forget about it."

Survey assured us that she would not.

"Right." I sighed. "So, I know we're all the same person and all, but any insight on the design?"

The second shrugged. "Not really. If we're going to be building a nanotech superintelligence then that's probably as good a design as we're going to get. If we didn't have inherent control of nanites I would probably be a lot more reserved about it, but between the direct control, our experience and understanding of A.I., and the materials limitation it's as safe as it's going to get."

"On that note, we've got a full set of the materials needed over in the nanotech lab. We were able to prep them at the volcano and Skyforge as you planned them out." The first explained. "Some of them won't be that easy to work with on that scale, but we've upgraded the lab."

"And the micromanipulators." The second added. "Might actually be able to do this work by hand, or at least enough of it to get some benefit from Master Craftsman."

The three of us shared a look. That was something I hadn't considered. An automaton of any scale, made entirely by hand, would be incredibly powerful. That was a whole new class of creature, but would only have the benefit of that effect if I could do everything by hand. Like, really by hand. The nerve link nano-connection I was going for here wouldn't provide enough continuity. The micromanipulators might, but that would mean only the nanites I directly and independently produced would be fully enhanced.

Well, I guess that's another safeguard against unconstrained duplication. Just the fact that none of the nanites would ever be as good as the ones I personally created should be a moderating factor.

Or maybe it would just annoy the hybrid matrix controlling the swarm and lead to greater conflict and danger than if I just left the technology at factory standard.

You know, it's reassuring that even with a more positive outlook I hadn't lost the pessimism that had kept me constantly prepared for the worst through my entire life.

I noted the clock and turned back to my duplicates. "So, twenty percent time?"

They nodded. "Just wanted to touch base in person before we started."

I did not like the way they were smiling. "Potions?"

Their smiles widened. "Hey, if something goes wrong it's not like we'll have to deal with the consequences for long. Plus Natural Alchemy is a science, which means all those research powers apply. Think of all we can accomplish in the time we have."

I did think about that. I'd been thinking about that with great concern since the idea occurred to me. With my last power they could now manage just under an hour of potion making during their 20% time. That was enough to complete and test a brew, and I could only guess the kind of thing they would come up with to test. What's more, thanks to Workaholic there would be four more of whatever potion they produced.

God I hoped they took good notes. I made a point to expand monitoring of the Alchemist's Lab just as a precaution. I did not want to end up with a cabinet full of mystery vials without knowing which one causes a person to melt or turn into fire or whatever.

With that dread looming over me I went to check on Garment. I would need to head out soon if I was going to find a place near the bank where I could safely access my Workshop. Luckily, Garment had long since completed her outfit for this trip. Unluckily, she had decided to showcase her new skills to their fullest.

What she was wearing could be best described as a business-dress. It was like if someone took one of those skirted business suits that women wore in office environments and converted it into a single well-contoured garment. It looked smart and elegant while still being fashion forward and was composed of one of the less drastic hyper fibers, giving it a light gray color with a faint sheen.

The problem wasn't the dress. The problem was the embroidery.

An immaculate pattern of blue thread wove through the outfit, highlighting curves and seams, providing a slight asymmetrical offset that directed eyelines smoothly along the highlights of the perfect tailoring. It was beautiful and perfectly complemented the outfit. It was also composed of incredibly high-grade Ice and Gravity Dust with enough firepower to outgun any cape in the city, with the possible exception of a ramped-up Lung.

Seriously, the Ice Dust designs would have been frightening enough, but the interlaced Gravity Dust increased the striking force and projectile strength. I'm pretty sure she could bring down a small apartment block with a single barrage. I really hoped she chose it because she was proud of the work and liked the design and not because she was expecting trouble.

Actually, despite it possibly being overkill, knowing she was going out effectively 'armed' made me feel a lot better about the entire situation. She proudly presented the dress and I elected not to comment on the borderline tactical weapon sewn into it.

The Forge missed a connection to the Size constellation as I explained the plan.

"I'll be heading downtown. I'm taking my bike, so I don't make you late looking for a parking space. I'll find somewhere to open the Workshop away from people or cameras and you can head to the bank from there. Did the duplicates get you an updated phone?"

Garment opened her purse, which put designer bags to shame, and retrieved her new phone. A real effort had been made to give it a conventional appearance. I suppose it could pass for a generic smartphone, but there was definitely something about it that just gave a sense of style and reliability.

Hopefully people would attribute that to Garment, and not the phone. Even if they did notice it the device would appear entirely conventional to both casual observation and most scanning technology available outside high end tinker labs. It perfectly concealed the advanced communication technology and scanning systems contained within the simple device.

"Great. Need anything else before we set out?" She indicated the negative. I checked the time again. The rough schedule allowed enough time for the duplicates to finish their 20% time, allowing me to take another potion and leave that set to work while I sealed the Workshop and headed downtown.

Without much else to do I made my way to the nanotech lab to check on the upgrades and supplies. The duplicates had done an excellent job in here. It was hardly recognizable. The only hold over was my original nanite containment chamber and assembly station, tucked away in the corner. It seemed like a lifetime ago that I had been siphoning nanites out of my body and manually directing them to assemble microprocessors for me.

That was before Bakuda. That fight had been something of a turning point for me. Not just in terms of the dangers I would face. I had gotten so many powers that night that addressed so many problems I'd been struggling with. Without them I probably would have held back on my commitments to these problems.

What I mean is, if I didn't suddenly get so much power I'm not sure I would have felt the obligation to try to fix everything. If I didn't have drone fabrication, water breathing potions or the ability to rapidly convert my motoroid to be water capable with no effective cost, well, I might still have been able to rescue Weld, but it wouldn't have happened on Sunday night. Same with Aisha, same with the Undersiders' watches. Same with Dragon. The power was the reason I was able to take on these challenges, and it felt like the challenges were the reason I had the power.

That was getting philosophical, and I had practical problems. I dropped off Tetra, got dressed and headed for the Alchemist's Lab. The duplicates were running down the end of their durations as I made my way towards them.

The good news was they had found a potion that could let me pass for normal at the gym, as well as a counter potion. The bad news was it was basically a strength draining potion formulated with a potency that would work on genetically enhanced demigods. There was actually a lot more to my muscles than just bulk. The kind of thing needed to dampen that… well, let's just say if any non-divine person drank it the effects probably wouldn't be temporary. Or survivable.

I also had three new mixes of potions that were basically the air, earth, and fire versions of my water breathing potion. In addition to altering eye color, they provided some level of affinity for each element, including the ability to breathe in it, providing you didn't have that already, as in air, and were actually encased in it, for earth and fire. Given the potential mess I was expecting those were fairly minor, and the fire potion could actually be useful for enhancing or training pyrokinesis.

Their duration had expired by the time I reached the lab, so I downed another potion and headed out. As usual, I needed to leave on foot and find an access point to deploy my bike. Luckily the garage access made this a lot simpler, and with almost no fuss I was speeding towards Downtown on my civilian mode motoroid.

Without Garment on the back I was able to avoid becoming a complete spectacle. The Downtown area wasn't quite as generous in terms of blind alleys, but I was able to repeat my previous trick with one of the underground parking structures. Technically this could have worked with my car, but the bike was faster and more convenient. It also meant that I could slip the motoroid into my Workshop's garage through one of the maintenance doors out of sight of any security cameras or prying eyes.

With the combination of life sense, thermal vision, and technokinesis I was pretty much impossible to spy on without the use of powerful stranger or thinker powers. Actually, scrap the thinker power exemption. My scanners could detect magic effects, so clairvoyance powers wouldn't be able get one over on me.

Finding a place for Garment to slip out of the Workshop was more of a challenge, but once again thanks to my combination of abilities I was able to figure something out. The electrical room on the side of a building had no nearby cameras and was clearly not in frequent use. I opened the door and stepped through the forcefields and holograms to find Garment waiting.

"Okay, the bank is at the end of the street. You're expected in about five minutes. I can't tell if they have anyone set up outside, but there's probably someone waiting from you. I will be keeping an eye on you and can be there in a flash if anything happens, I mean if you don't mind keeping an open channel…"

Garment signaled her approval of the situation, checked her phone one last time, and stepped out into the street.

I monitored her progress through the sensors in the phone, and maybe some less than legally accessed security cameras. That option was only possible because of proximity. Brockton didn't have complete street coverage with networked cameras, and even if it did I wouldn't be able to access it freely with Dragon active in the city. I could set up my own surveillance devices, but the effort to get proper coverage and the risk of detection made it a less than appealing prospect.

I start throwing technology out there and someone is going to find it. Above all I really didn't want my technology to end up in the hands of Bakuda. Actually, it ending up in the hands of the Protectorate would hardly be a better outcome. I wasn't sure what a normal tinker would be able to deduce from my work, but there were some seriously disruptive concepts in play, and I didn't want them falling into anyone else's hands.

So I monitored Garment's progress through short range wireless hacking and watched her make her way down the street. It didn't take long for her to start attracting attention. Garment kind of tailored her behavior to whatever outfit she was wearing. I guess style is more than just fabric. Behavior plays an equal part in selling an outfit. She acted very differently when we were riding around with her in pink motorcycle leathers than she did in that formal dress at the press event.

Right now, she was in avant garde business attire heading to the largest financial institution in the city. She moved like a career woman with strength and determination. It was actually kind of hilarious to watch. Businessmen would make their way down the sidewalk and slide out of her way or give an absentminded nod without really looking. It was practically a game to guess how long it would take them to realize they had just given a corporate greeting to an empty dress.

The double takes were hilarious, and people who had caught on were enjoying them even more than I was. Eventually Garment's passing attracted so much attention that the cases of mistaken identity gave way to a kind of spectator pedestrian landscape. Everyone clearly knew something was happening, but Garment was moving with enough purpose there was no chance of someone approaching her.

Luckily, while there hadn't been anyone waiting outside the bank, as soon as Garment approached a man in an overly expensive suit stepped out the front doors to greet her. He was trailed shortly after by a familiar figure in a military uniform and flag scarf. A cameraman conveniently appeared for some spontaneous shots of the welcome and I could see Garment doing her best to shift positions to improve the framing of the shots.

Had she always done that, and I was just noticing it now, or was this something she had picked up from her recent public exposure? I honestly wasn't sure.

I shifted the hologram to emulate a closed door, left the entryway sensors at maximum, powered up the barriers, and moved deeper into the Workshop. Inside the bank Garment's phone was picking up a speech from the man who greeted Garment, turned out he was the branch manager, about how welcome she was and how happy they were to do business with her.

It all felt a little forced, but given his recent experiences it was understandable how he would have jumped at the chance for some positive press. Anything to stop being thought of a 'that bank where the Ward was sliced up'.

The phone was still in Garment's bag, but the sensors were fully active. These sensors were from my Analysis Tools power. As such they didn't work by passive scans or any projected sensor effect. They worked because they worked. I didn't really understand it, but it was a fiat backed effect. The sensors I could build would always be able to detect secret doors, the composition of objects, and magic. The fact that it was sitting in a purse wasn't stopping me from getting a detailed scan of everything around Garment.

This was a good thing for a couple of reasons. For one, the bank's security system was further away and less exposed than the traffic cameras. I didn't trust my ability to discreetly access it with a tinker like Dragon on the network. For two, it put my high-powered magic scanner directly next to Miss Militia's active power effect.

Believe it or not I hadn't actually planned for this. The scanner upgrade was a security and monitoring measure for Garment's sake. I didn't even think about analyzing Miss Militia's power. It had been a priority at the gym, but things had gotten a little crazy since then. I had other stuff on my mind than the potential of copying that power into runic format.

But there it was, the scintillating mass of magical energy dancing in front of my scanner and set to remain there through a series of presentations, proposals, subsequent press events, and potentially even more. Just a few seconds would have been incredibly valuable, but instead I was basically getting as complete a scan as I could hope for without sneaking Miss Militia into my magic laboratory.

I was distracted from my revelry by the Celestial Forge making another connection, this time to the Alchemy constellation. My power linked to a mid-sized mote called Belmont Alchemy. It was similar to a number of powers I'd gotten before. Understanding of the mystical type of alchemy and the ability to produce items of power.

That was an understandably broad category which included various restorative and enhancing potions. Actually magical potions, compared to the ones produced through Natural Alchemy. It could also be used to make charms that granted protection or various blessings. Most significantly it could enhance weapons to a fairly significant degree, with the upper level allowing some truly impressive equipment.

All together it was nothing I hadn't seen before. Potions, trinkets, and another way to empower weapons. I would have been one of those powers I filed away for later and experimented with when a major crafting project rolled around, or when a duplicate got creative during his 20% time. The last part of the power completely shot down that idea.

Dark Rituals.

I understood dark rituals now. Mostly it was centered on understanding and countering the effects of the rituals, but in order to do that you had to be able to know what was going on in the first place. Which meant you needed to be able to understand how they were performed. Which means you knew how to perform them.

I had just been granted an immense amount of knowledge on the nature, mechanics, and art of evil rituals. Actually, that should be Evil with a capital E. This was bad stuff. Worse than anything I had expected. It was a small mercy that this power seemed opposed to this kind of thing, with a great deal more attention on the prevention of rituals and how to counter their effect, but that didn't change two major facts.

Dark rituals, as in full on 'invoke the demon' style dark rituals, were possible. And I knew how to perform them.

These were bad. Frankly, when the zombie reanimation ritual was one of the mildest of them you are in some seriously vile territory. Fuck, actual demon summoning was a possibility with this shit.

I wanted to just put this aside, but there were simply too many questions raised by this. The presence of demons and hell, or at least things equivalent to demons and hell, was something I wasn't ready for. I understood parahumans, passengers, the shared and warped space the passengers existed in, the way they connected to and influenced people, and the multidimensional mechanics that made it all possible. I thought I had a decent handle on this stuff.

Clearly I was wrong.

"Survey?" I asked while I simultaneously connected to the A.I. through my implant. "Could you take over monitoring Garment and let me know if anything significant comes up, or if she needs my help on anything? There's something I need to deal with."

The A.I.'s hologram flickered into existence in the entryway. "I would be happy to." She replied. "Though I wish to ask, does this matter you need to attend to have anything to do with the sudden addition to the Alchemist's Laboratory, and the collection of indeterminate objects and human remains that appeared with it?"

I blinked and clenched my teeth. "Most likely. Please take over here." Garment was currently sitting in the manager's office with Miss Militia at her side sorting through the packet of identity documents that had been prepared for her. Huh, she now had a social security number.

"Absolutely. Additionally, your duplicates are making their way to the Alchemist's Laboratory, most likely to also investigate this matter. Will you be providing an update on acquired capacity after the concluding of this inquiry?" She managed to put a hopeful edge to her voice and I was reminded how much she disliked being kept in the dark in terms of access to information.

"I will make sure to provide a report." I replied. Survey made her hologram smile at that and I hurried on my way to the Alchemist's Laboratory.

What I found wasn't as bad as I feared. The 'human remains' were a few scattered skulls, mostly for ritual purposes. Frankly, compared to the aesthetic of my Laboratorium this was fairly mild. Actually, compared to the now-slightly-less-obvious human experimentation space next to it, this addition was fairly tame.

There was a set of worktables with new, arcane tools. An expanded set of ingredients and reagents were present. Various standard chemistry devices had been altered to account for the particular style represented here. And there was a large, but not overtly evil, ritual space in the center.

It didn't need to be overtly evil because I already knew how evil it could actually be. I had detailed knowledge of every horrible act that could be unleashed through the invocation of a dark ritual. One bloody ceremony with a horrible cost and you could unleash any number of unspeakable evils on the world.

I also knew how to stop them, but was that really the point? Was this kind of thing even possible before I got this power? I honestly didn't know which possibility was worse, that I had enabled this kind of vile art through the expansion of my power, or that this kind of thing could be happening across the world for eons and I had only become aware of it now.

I was pulled out of my musing by the sound of a pair of rapid footsteps racing towards the laboratory. My duplicates slowed as they saw the room and took in the ritual space.

"So…" The first one said slowly. "I guess we can summon Satan now."

"Well, that should be the thing that gets the Protectorate back on our side." The second quipped. "Definitely going to put their minds at ease with that point."

I grinned at that, then broke into a dry chuckle. "I'm guessing you're worried about the same things as I am?"

"Unspeakable evil, questionable source of powers, dynamics of the universe, possible theological implications, and that vague concern about what, if anything, this knowledge could possibly be intended to stop?" The first listed in a flat voice.

"Yeah, I think that's everything." I looked across the space. "So, what do we do about it?"

"Okay, I'm not saying this is turning into a particularly healthy strategy," The second began. "But how about we push it to the side, ignore the particulars of this power, and pretend it doesn't exist? You know, like with every other horrible thing the Forge gives us?"

I nodded slowly. "Alright, but I can't help feeling like that kind of thing is going to catch up with us at some point."

"See, that's the great thing about that plan." The second continued. "It will only catch up with you. We'll be long gone, and there will be other guys who will have to handle those hard questions." He gave me an insufferable smile and I returned a sour look.

"Fine." I sighed. "Uh, I'm not going to have to worry about one of you summoning some random demon during your 20% time, am I?"

"Please." The first exclaimed. "We might be irreverent, but we're still you. If you're not going to risk it, we're not going to risk it."

I relaxed slightly. "Okay. So, now what?"

I detected my duplicates checking in with the network. "Looks like Survey is managing Garment's connection. Huh, one of the cape charities gave her a starting balance. Fifteen hundred dollars."

"Nice, and she's probably going to return that donation a dozen times over as soon as she can." I said with a smile.

"Probably. Seems to be how they work. Set up a lot of Case 53s and heavily afflicted capes. Normally takes longer, but Garment's gotten a bit more publicity than your average cape." The first responded.

It was true, even if Garment wasn't technically a cape. Or at least technically not a parahuman. She certainly did cape work, so maybe that's all that mattered. Even a moderate balance could make a huge difference. I checked and saw they had moved on to various small business loans, along with the legal mess of lending to capes. That would take a while to figure out, and I trusted Garment not to make any immediate decisions and Survey to properly document the terms.

"Hey," The second duplicate called. "We've got things set up down in the nanotech lab. It's probably as good a time as ever to start on the nanobots."

I nodded slowly. It was a pressing concern, and a bottleneck for a lot of other projects. Effective rapid nano-manufacturing was something I'd been dreaming of since I first got Nanite Sciences. This would not just put that within reach, but provide a major advantage in multiple areas.

The duplicates split off to tackle some more upgrades before they hit 20% time while I moved down to the nanotech lab and tried to stop thinking about my immense knowledge of how to call on the forces of hell.

Pretty much everything in this lab had started at a level beyond my cobbled together efforts, and had seen about four rounds of upgrades from there. The centerpiece was the newly upgraded micromanipulators. The technology had been completely overhauled, but they weren't quite at the level of improving fidelity by a thousand-fold.

Fortunately, 'nanotech' didn't mean you were actually working on the atomic scale. Interatomic spacing was actually closer to a tenth of a nanometer anyway. My healing nanites worked on that level, but generally anything that could be measured in nanometers counted as nanotech.

The point was, with enhanced micromanipulators and a precisely calibrated workstation I had a means of translating force from my hands directly onto atomics scale components. The difficulty of nanotech was twofold. You had to manufacture the components on a level of precision where you could probably count the individual atoms, and then you had to assemble those components into a working arrangement.

To say this was difficult would be such a massive understatement it wasn't even funny. Non-tinker nanotech wasn't the kind of thing that spilled out of containment and took over the world. Non-tinker nanotech was the kind of thing that fell apart because you got careless with temperature control or happened to shine a laser pointer at the wrong component.

That was not the kind of nanotech I was working with. I had a carefully prepared feedstock of adamantium, mithril, celestial bronze, and a half dozen precisely calibrated alloys, all masterfully mixed and enhanced by the forges of my workshop, with multiple infusions of material properties for each type.

The materials I was working with were so advanced and so refined that the only way I could process them was through manipulation of a new effect available from Weaponsmith. Power fields were powerful disintegration effects that could rip apart even the most durable materials. Adamantium slightly resisted the field, but it still took damage. Nothing else really stood a chance.

My tool of choice was a nanoscale power scalpel. Direct control of the effect allowed the production of tens of thousands of precisely shaped components accurate to a near atomic scale. Through all that work I was acutely aware of the upcoming nightmare of assembly.

This project was something akin to assembling a microscopic jetliner with tweezers, except every component needed to be forged by hand and the jet actually had to function afterwards. Then take that example and increase the difficulty of every element by a thousand-fold. The actual work was smaller, more precise, more complex, and with less margin for error.

Actual nanoscale assembly would have been an absolute nightmare without my expanded pyrokinesis. A slight temperature change can cause a nano-component to warp beyond the range of usefulness, and possibly beyond the point of damage. Different metals with different coefficients of expansion can literally tear themselves to pieces if connected and subject to a temperature change.

As such my first real challenge of pyrokinesis wasn't the production of any monstrous powerful fire effect. It was the enforcement of a stable temperature in an area smaller than a human cell.

There was another fun problem I was dealing with regarding my designed nanobot. Namely, it was impossible to build.

Core systems of the nanite relied on cybertonium in order to function. Actually, building any nanotech without a superconductor was an absolute nightmare that had inspired some horrific workarounds. I decided to take those out and rely on cybertonium, despite the fact that I didn't have any cybertonium. As such I was rolling the dice with Waste Not and hoping to come up lucky.

I was making good progress through the assembly, but that just meant I was more aware of how close that point was coming. My only real hope was Workaholic. Producing five nanites instead of one meant the odds were good that one of them would be functional.

The problem was I didn't need one. I needed millions of them. I was essentially building cells by hand and hoping for the best. Once I got some working nanobots I might be able to accelerate things, but that part of the project was still a giant question mark.

The moment was coming closer, the tension mounting to the point where I couldn't even appreciate the miracle of technology I was creating. One single random chance would determine if I ended up with any viable nanites, or if I was back to square one.

With unbelievable precise movements I shifted the final component a few ångströms, bringing it into place. I watched through my scanners as the nanite charged itself, began to boot, and died.

The nanite was a failure. The four nanites additional that had been formed by Workaholic were not.

I watched as tiny but impossibly complex machines moved slowly through a resource solution, bumping into each other and exchanging basic data.

I had done it. I had a nanite swarm. Well, a swarm of four nanites. Really more of a nanite quartet.

I wonder if I could teach them to sing barbershop.

Okay, that was relief talking. I practically sank into my chair and enjoyed the congratulations messages from my duplicates, Fleet, and Survey. I took a brief moment to note the passing of the Magitech constellation and checked in on Survey's report.

Garment had worked through a set of loan options and made it clear that she would consider them in more detail. There were several offers that had been put forward to assist her, ranging from incredibly generous to blatantly exploitative. The worst of those clearly made the manager uncomfortable, but he was under some obligation to present them, probably due to affiliations with his bank.

On the more generous side a local holding company had offered favorable leasing arrangements with the option of purchase, though with the stipulation of a public statement about facilitating the offer. Basically, free positive publicity in exchange for not being totally scum with respect to the business arrangements. Garment didn't even need to check with me or Survey to tell that one was probably the best deal. They had even provided a list of properties they were willing to offer.

Oh, and Miss Militia had graciously offered to Garment transportation to the various locations and security during meetings with the realtors. And no doubt plenty of press photos along the way.

Garment was keen to take her up on the offer, but I wasn't sure how to handle this. I wanted to stay within range of rapid response, but frankly with an invisibility potion and repulsors installed in my motoroid my 'rapid response' area was anywhere within the state. Garment was also wearing a dress that had enough firepower to put down anyone in the city. Also, hovering around or following a PRT escort van would at best get me flagged as an overenthusiastic fan and at worst draw very much unneeded suspicion.

Garment sent a single text to Survey, simply the word 'Going'. After checking with me we replied 'Good Luck'.

It would take a couple of hours to complete that tour, and I was kind of glad that Garment was having the opportunity to strike out on her own. Also, two more hours of scanner data on Miss Militia, so I wasn't going to argue with that. Instead, I turned my attention back to my nanites.

The hive intelligence of the nanotech matrix was much too primitive for any level of coordination, but fortunately I had direct nanite control in addition to the powers of a demigod of the forge. I was still doing the work by hand, but anything that didn't need to be directly shaped or placed by me could be outsourced to the nanites.

The failed nanite was stripped down with the help of my scrapper power and its parts reused in the next run. That run was faster with available materials, but only yielded two viable nanites. That still left three that could be stripped for parts. Even considering the damaged and unrecoverable components I had more than enough from the three failures to construct a new nanite, resulting in one viable and four failures.

The next cycle of reclamation resulted in three successful nanites and two failures to be stripped for parts. At this point I was able to handle multiple constructions at the same time thanks to my Don't Need a Team power. Every iteration gave me more working nanites and more parts to reclaim. It was a little ironic that I was essentially engaging in exponential production through my own crafting work without even using any nanite reproduction.

I eventually reached the point where I was able to start using Most Holy Order of the Socket Wrench, effectively functioning as a hundred people all working with my skill level and speed enhancements. One after another divinely perfect nanites were formed and unleashed into the containment unit. The use of reclaimed parts effectively reduced the construction time to nothing but assembly, and that was further accelerated as I got a feel for the technique. Eventually I was producing hundreds of nanites each minute.

That might sound impressive, but by the scale of nanotech it's really not that remarkable. A drop of nanobots would hold over a million nanites. My thousands didn't really measure up too much.

Well, they did allow additional production. Nanites produced by nanites under my control weren't divine objects, but they were still immensely powerful machines. I still needed to direct the process otherwise the lack of cybertonium and enchantment effects would strip most of the functionality from the machines.

Still, but the time I received a notice that Garment was finished, after two fresh sets of duplicates and nearly a hundred thousand hand built nanites I had something. A tiny silver blob of incredibly advanced nanotechnology assembled around a core of personally assembled divine object tier nanobots. It was a start, a tiny drop of potential.

The matrix was still incredibly primitive, basically a replication and interface loop with a move towards ordered structures. I left it active in the containment unit with a link to the main computer. The nascent intelligence wasn't nearly advanced enough to interface properly, but I didn't want to isolate a new and developing intelligence.

I had… I wouldn't say it was exactly a bigger concern, but it was more pressing. Garment had completed her tour of potential locations, each one turning into a 'completely unexpected' photo op, and was returning to the bank to collect her final documents. I had the fun challenge of figuring out how to get her back in the Workshop without exposing her or myself.

God bless Garment, as she was able to convey that the main entrance wouldn't be a good idea. Miss Militia escorted her to one of the staff entrances on the side of the bank. It was still more exposed than I would have liked, but beggars and choosers.

I had about a dozen types of active camouflage available to me. Some technological, some alchemical, and some magical. I had ducked out to stop the fire with hastily constructed elven cloaks that blended in with the environment and avoided unfriendly attention. It wasn't a perfect stealth system, and certainly not something I'd use in combat, but for hiding beside the dumpster in the side alley of a downtown bank while an animated pair of gloves gestures her goodbyes to the most prominent female hero in the city, well, it did the trick.

"Oh, no. It was no trouble." Miss Militia assured Garment. "The Protectorate was happy to assist in your placement. I hope you have good fortune in your new location."

The final decision hadn't been made yet, but Garment was leaning heavily towards a place within a block of the gym, an old studio of some kind that had been shut down but fairly well preserved, and located in one of the areas with actual foot traffic and local businesses. I just hoped what Vince was worried about wouldn't come to pass. I had grown attached to the neighborhood and didn't want to see their lives upturned.

"And thank you for this. Again." The Protectorate cape ran a hand over a silk scarf resting below her usual one. It had the same flag pattern, but with texture and embroidery making the stars and stripes pop even from across the alley.

Garment made an appreciative movement and Miss Militia nodded. She looked across the alleyway, her eyes sliding past my camouflage without the slightest tremor of recognition.

"Are you sure you'll be alright here? I can call the van and drop you wherever you need." Garment signaled the negative and made a reassuring gesture. "Alright. Please stay in touch, and good luck with your business."

As soon as the door closed Garment spun and waved at me. I gave her a hasty nod and hurried to open the workshop through the now closed door. Garment knew the drill and quickly slipped inside while I sealed the entrance and skulked out of the alley.

I carefully made my way back to the parking garage, retrieved my motoroid, and drove back to my neighborhood, missing a connection to the Size constellation on the way home. After another round of shuffling away my bike I headed back to my apartment and back into the workshop.

The entire trip had only taken the afternoon, but between the revelation of my latest power, the stress of monitoring Garment, and playing roulette with the construction of nanotech that was being done by hand, I was exhausted.

Fortunately, Garment seemed to pick up on that fact and expressed some concern over my state.

"Yeah, actually didn't get much sleep last night." I confessed to her disappointment. "It was basically Dragon, to the fires, to preparation for dealing with the Undersiders. I got a couple of hours, and I can handle it better since the god thing, but yeah, probably best to get an early night."

Garment was clearly in favor of that. I did manage to negotiate for a quick meal and fresh set of duplicates first, but that was about it. I had made good progress, taken steps that I hadn't been sure I would ever be ready for, pushed my powers to the limit of what they could achieve, and managed something truly spectacular. I think I'd earned a few hours of rest.

Hell, maybe I'd go nuts and sleep for a full five hours, or just coast to midnight. That would be what, twelve hours for a normal person?

My projects would still be here when I woke up. The city would still be here. Survey was monitoring feeds in case anything came up, and hopefully we would have a quiet night.

It wasn't like the gangs could afford fights like the previous night's conflict on a regular basis.


Addendum Meeting Report

Meeting Report: Conference, Dallon Master Accusations

In attendance:

Director Emily Piggot, PRT ENE

Mrs. Carol Dallon, New Wave

Dr. Nadir Bahar, WEDGDG

Mrs. Melissa Garrick, Youth Guard

Mrs. Dallon objects to the presence of Mrs. Garrick, citing the lack of enrollment of either Amy Dallon or Victoria Dallon in the Wards or related programs. Director Piggot notes the objection and proceeds with the conference.

Dr. Bahar presents results of secondary evaluation Re: Amy Dallon. Results indicate high probability some level of residual mental influence. Given the accusations made by Cape: Apeiron the evaluation of Victoria Dallon both independently and in proximity to Amy Dallon is suggested.

Mrs. Dallon refuses Victoria Dallon's participation in any evaluations without certified evidence of wrongdoing.

Dr. Bahar outlines the procedure for certifying the results of secondary evaluation and outlines how this will introduce a delay of two days at most, suggesting that voluntary evaluation would be advisable.

Mrs. Dallon formally challenges the validity of the results of the secondary evaluation and the conditions under which it was carried out.

Mrs. Garrick inquires as to why such a challenge has not been presented for the results of the primary evaluation.

Mrs. Dallon refuses to answer the question and moves to have the results of the secondary evaluation thrown out.

Director Piggot reminds Mrs. Dallon that the conference is not a courtroom or formal hearing.

Mrs. Dallon raises the possibility of requesting a formal hearing over this matter.

Dr. Bahar attempts to defend the validity of the secondary evaluation, particularly in relation to the conditions of the primary evaluation.

Director Piggot reminds Mrs. Dallon that under a State of Emergency all parahuman matters remain under the jurisdiction of the PRT.

Mrs. Dallon challenges this interpretation of the emergency measures act.

Director Piggot reminds Mrs. Dallon that the conference is not a formal hearing.

Dr. Bahar presents a theoretical outline for the cause of Amy Dallon's observed residual mental influence.

Mrs. Dallon challenges the validity of this theory and requests that it be removed from the record.

Director Piggot reminds Mrs. Dallon that the conference is not a formal hearing.

Dr. Bahar requests permission to call upon additional WEDGDG resources in support of his evaluation.

Mrs. Dallon objects to this request.

Director Piggot grants her approval to request additional WEDGDG resources in support of Dr. Bahar's evaluation.

Mrs. Garrick raises the possibility of transferring Amy Dallon to an offsite location as an alternative to continued master/stranger containment.

Director Piggot agrees to take the suggestion under consideration.

Mrs. Dallon inquires if her presence is necessary in this conference.

Dr. Bahar again requests Victoria Dallon's participation in a formal evaluation.

Mrs. Dallon refuses participation and makes a threat of legal action.

Director Piggot reminds Mrs. Dallon that under a State of Emergency all parahuman matters remain under the jurisdiction of the PRT.

Mrs. Dallon challenges this interpretation of the emergency measures act.

Director Piggot restates the terms of the State of Emergency

Mrs. Dallon departs the meeting.

Meeting is adjourned.

Jumpchain abilities this chapter:

Manufacturing Line (Valkyria Chronicles) 400:

You've always been of the opinion that technology advanced too slowly before you arrived, but now you can apply that to the physical world as well! Any building process you oversee, whether it be the forging of a sword or an entire tank factory, will now produce results twice as fast and with half the required materials used.

Alchemy (Castlevania) 300:

Through careful experimentation and research, you've gained understanding of the true nature of God's creation of the world. You may now utilize a lesser form of this art to create items of power, ranging from potions and charms to powerful weapons to drive back the forces of evil. You also understand the basics of a darker form of this art, enabling you to understand and counter evil rituals.