94.1 Interlude Aisha

Aisha blinked as the last echoes of the song faded away. As discreetly as possible, she dabbed the moisture from the corners of her eyes, doing her best to conceal the motion as the final pure note seemed to sink back into the fabric of the world. The song, a song like that, didn't seem to have a proper end. Instead, it seemed to carry on, fading from hearing but not actually ending.

Definitely not ending. Not that kind of music. It was about as far from an ending as you could possibly get. She sniffed slightly as the feelings the song had stirred up finally began to settle. She at least knew about this kind of thing. What she should be expecting. Those months… over a year, really, in the computer core had given plenty of time for discussion with the rest of the group. Enough for an in depth breakdown of everything they knew about Joe's powers.

Subjecting herself to Survey's lectures on the Silmarillion was an experience she could only describe as masochistic, particularly when the topic diverged into commentary on contemporary Tolkien scholars and academic analysis of the works from a contemporary perspective. Despite the level of detail Survey was willing to assault her audience with, it had given her context for the kinds of things Joe was capable of. Would be capable of.

That had been the point of digging into all those works. She knew it wasn't a one-to-one thing. There were deviations from source material in pretty much every case, and for a lot of them they didn't even have source material to work with, but it was the only way to get a wider context on what was happening. Joe downplayed it, taking the stance that more power was always a good thing, but she could tell how badly that kind of uncertainty hit him.

For Survey, it was worse. Really, there was no way it wouldn't be worse. Survey was all about knowing things. About controlling variables and preparing for every eventuality. Before, back when Aisha didn't have the context or education to know what she was looking at, it had come across as a personality quirk. Now Aisha knew enough about how Survey's program had developed to recognize the origins of some of her behaviors. It was weird, both knowing enough about programming to recognize the fundamental elements influencing A.I. development, and seeing those theories expressed in a person. Not a block of code, but a complete person.

The idea that a syntax error could result in crippling mental issues at a later point in development was enough to scare her off of any serious A.I. work. It was funny, one mistake in the early stages, without the attention or awareness to address it, and you could end up with something barely functional while trying to work out what went wrong and probably blaming them for the situation.

Aisha blinked. With the echoes of the song still in her mind those old thoughts, the ones that were like touching a hot stove, felt easier to deal with. Not pleasant, but like she could at least acknowledge them. A vague connection to something difficult from her past didn't drive her to distract herself. And it wasn't like Joe's relationships with the team were anything like the parenting she had received. Or that Joe had received.

Honestly, calling it parenting was probably a stretch. You had all kinds of examples in movies or TV shows of A.I.s or robots regarding the person who built them as their parent, but none of Joe's A.I.s seemed to specifically regard him that way. Possibly because they didn't have that context before their relationship developed or possibly because Joe was pulling computer knowledge from a dozen universes and actually knew enough about developing artificial intelligences to avoid leaving them desperate for meaning and personal connections. Concerns that she wouldn't be able to handle that relationship nearly as well had kept her from even messing around with neural networks or virtual intelligences.

Not that she needed to worry about any A.I. work, given Joe's level of proficiency, but it was one of the many topics Joe or his copies had been more than happy to teach her about, despite the inherent danger that came from that kind of knowledge. He wasn't worried about handing over borderline S-class technology to her. Probably because of the scope of the gap between their abilities.

Honestly, it wasn't like Aisha was in a unique situation there. Three strong A.I.s were still playing catch-up to Józef, and for the most part had accepted it as a futile endeavor. She took her eyes off the completed ritual and looked over at the Matrix. Outwardly as stoic as ever, but she knew how deceptive that impression could be. The golden robotic head turned towards her and inclined slightly.

"You are experiencing an expected response to displayed abilities. Attempts at concealment are not necessary, though understandable." They said.

She huffed slightly. That was life in the workshop. Sensors everywhere, to say nothing of all the extra senses and psychic powers being thrown around. Hell, she was working on that herself. It was weirdly open, rather than intrusive, but that wasn't enough to change a lifetime of instincts that told her to keep everything as close to the vest as possible.

"Yeah, well, sorry if I'm the only one who gets teary at this kind of stuff." She replied.

"Your autonomous response is unique, but there is a common point of reference to the emotional state that induced it." The Matrix said.

"Song got to you too, huh?" She asked.

"It was an impressive display of creation-based abilities." They said.

Aisha smiled. Dealing with the Matrix had taken some getting used to, even compared to Fleet and Survey. Without the forced downtime scheduled around the compression technology training she didn't know if she would have ever made the effort. Of if they would have made the effort. Funny how basically dumping all of them into a sandbox and telling everyone to amuse themselves had worked so well. Maybe kindergarten teachers were on to something.

"Something you're planning for the next gen of your bots?" She asked. "I mean, seems like a bit of a production for the volumes you'd be looking at."

"No. Higher levels of Elven Enchantment introduce distinct elements that function in a manner contrary to the effective coordination of large scale gestalt computation." They explained.

Aisha was particularly proud of the fact that she knew what the fuck the Matrix was talking about, rather than just dumbly nodding along like she would have in the early days. Actually being able to follow technical discussions was something she still found weird, even after subjective months of it in the computer core.

No, what was weird was the planning. The ideas, the inspiration, and the fact that she could actually decide what she wanted to focus on next. Not as some idle classroom daydream, but as a matter of practicality. If she wanted to learn alien nanotech or advanced medical techniques or computer security the process was as simple as asking Joe and getting things set up in a lesson plan.

The volume of what she could decide to learn was almost as overwhelming as the fact that she could actually learn it. She knew that was mostly Joe's power at work, but it didn't change the fact that the girl who used to dread a math pop quiz was now probably what, six PhDs deep? Probably more, considering the stuff she had been learning.

And that was just limited to 'normal' science. There was also all the supernatural stuff that she had to deal with. Really, everyone had some supernatural stuff they were dealing with. Aura was a universal thing after Tybalt had proven that the sweet kitty act was nothing but a front for the meanest military instructor you could ever imagine. She had been half convinced she was going to die in that shifting nightmare room before she finally managed to draw out that purple light from deep inside her. Then there was alchemy, psionics, the colors from the Prismatic Laboratory, and the promise of upcoming Jedi training.

"Have you made decisions on your own advancement projects? Following the completion of Tetra's objectives there will be availability for additional focus on your own works." The Matrix asked.

Aisha gave them a suspicious look. That was the thing about being in the workshop. You could never be sure if something was coincidence or if she's given some hint to her thoughts that could be picked up by the insane number of detection methods available. Hell, the Matrix that was standing in front of her only existed for her benefit. Really, they were spread through the entire workshop, managing mantic energy conduits and channeling power from the Dyson Sphere. The mantic technology stuff was something she hadn't even begun to look into, at least beyond its obvious capabilities. For all she knew her concerns were shifting the energy trails in the stone beneath her feet and tipping off the swarms of the Matrix's nanobots to what she was worried about.

"Broad stuff is set up. Mostly for tomorrow." She explained. "Finally getting a tour of the room with the nightmare colors and getting the psychic warrior treatment. Nanites at some point after that, so they won't fight any of the modifications."

"You are worried about the advancements you will be attempting?" The Matrix asked, once again, reminding her that inhuman didn't mean unempathetic, even if most of that had probably been cribbed from Survey's early emotional assessment programs.

"Sort of?" She replied. "Like, it's mostly the scale of them. Just getting more powers was already a big deal, but in a couple of days we jumped from maybe getting a personal force field to putting cities in purses or getting a dozen new powers in a morning, providing you watch out for the ghost girl."

"And the elevated capacity is causing you distress?" They asked.

Aisha shifted her weight from one foot to another. "It's mostly the rate of advancement. Hard to adjust properly given how fast things are happening."

"Several projects are planned to take advantage of the expanded emulation of the Spiritron Core tonight. That would seem like an adequate method of inducing adjustment time to your prospective abilities, in addition to the structured training sessions." The Matrix suggested.

"I'm planning on that, but it's not the same." The Matrix tilted their helmet, a move they had copied from Fleet to invite her to elaborate. "It takes time to adjust to a new normal. You need to process what's happening. Not just sit and thinking about it. Getting out into the world helps with that. It gives context to what you're dealing with, how it will affect your life and everything else around you. Keeps you from getting mixed up."

She glanced down, thinking about the past 'day', in the ways she'd experienced it.. "Time spent at the event and with my family hit different from months in the computer."

The Matrix nodded slightly, then looked back to where Joe was overseeing the final portion of the procedure. "Do you believe that applies to Apeiron as well?" They asked.

"Definitely." She said without hesitation. "Not that it's going to matter. You know he's pushing himself."

"Apeiron places a priority on full utilization of the abilities provided by his power." The Matrix agreed. "I believe there is also an aspect of regret related to being unable to fully utilize his abilities. His mood has improved following his obtaining of the capacity for action external to the Workshop without risk of discovery."

"It's good that you're starting that." She'd heard about the healing plans. Using divine crafted shit that wouldn't show up as magic or technology. The implication of what exactly would be driving those things was kind of terrifying, but she doubted the people getting medical treatment would care if it was delivered by an abomination against nature.

"But he still needs time to adjust, but the major revelations keep happening." She continued. "That Star Wars thing was probably worth a solid week to come to terms with everything, but he barely had time to explain it before the ghost girl and god thing showed up."

That was something considerably more noticeable. The divine realm and the 'blessing' that came along with it. Apparently, Joe was the only one who missed out on it. Everyone else got to bask in the feeling of things just being better while they were in the workshop, and apparently for a solid day after they left.

"Apeiron has deemed himself to be functioning within acceptable parameters, though I acknowledge your expertise in this matter." The Matrix replied.

Aisha cringed slightly at the reference, but she had come to accept that she was basically the Celestial Forge's expert on human outlook. In other words, the one who needed to point out things that even Survey could end up missing under the weight of her analysis.

It wasn't like she had some super power or expertise in that kind of thing, but apparently growing up in an environment where you needed to keep one eye open at all times was paying dividends. The same kind of skills that gave her advanced warnings when things with Celia's latest boyfriend were about to turn ugly were being used to monitor the stability and mental state of the most powerful cape on the planet.

She wasn't the only one keeping an eye on Joe. That was practically a group project at this point. Usually to a lighthearted degree, but everyone knew the kind of weight he was dealing with. She'd seen the toll it took on him in the computer, whenever he finished a session with Survey.

"He pushed himself hard over that mystery project." She mused, then looked up at the Matrix. "Which I don't want you to tell me about."

They nodded. "I am still not able to divulge details, but can announce that the situation is adequately contained, and will prove to be more effectively managed going forward." There was a note of pride to that. Which at least meant that Joe wasn't trying to manage the entire mess on his own. Whatever it was.

Probably something Simurgh related. Aisha didn't even like thinking about that. Sure, they should be safe for at least another three months, but if anything would cause the Endbringers to break their pattern it was the kind of stuff coming out of the Workshop.

The idea of Joe getting Simurgh-ed still terrified her. She still remembered the moment he had laid all of that out in front of her, effectively cutting off all the levity she was desperately trying to play up to cover for her intrusion into his Workshop. That was the point where the reality of the situation came crashing down on her.

She knew it couldn't happen. Between the items Joe made for blocking her future sight and the fact that he was literally master immune it should be a non-issue, but fear doesn't go away so easily. It was still something she thought about, despite every assurance to the contrary. When something hit you that hard, it was difficult to completely let it go.

"Though not to the same magnitude, your own advancement rate is comparable." The Matrix continued, returning to the previous topic. "Tybalt has made his training plans available to all members of the group. They are quite aggressive, particularly if you intend to follow all of them in addition to morning activities."

"I guess I can't argue with that." She was the one who begged for the hologram projector to cover for her absence from the apartment. Nothing crazy, but enough to convince her father she was either busy or asleep. Worst case she could remotely log in and have the mother of all video calls if he decided he wanted to have a late night heart to heart. Not normally something she would be concerned about, but things weren't exactly normal at home.

"You do not anticipate adjustment issues when coupled with the additional projects you will be taking on in the morning?" They asked.

"Anticipate them, sure." She quipped. "What I don't have is a way to deal with them." She shook her head. "Guess I'm in the same boat as Józef, just riding steerage rather than the captain's cabin."

It wasn't like she could take a week off to get used to the fact that she could suddenly pull off crazy kung fu Aura bullshit, or to adjust to changes in her power, or deal with everything else that was going to be piled on. The stakes for the situation were just too high. Even stuff that you need time to adjust to or properly digest, you just have to deal with and hope it doesn't catch up with you at a bad time.

Which brought back thoughts of her earlier conversation with Brian. She wasn't convinced it was a good idea to throw him at the gym and hope Joe finds out eventually, but it was the best she could manage at the moment. She was pretty sure there was a polite regard about her situation in the workshop. Survey definitely knew, and some of the others had probably put it together.

Some of them, but not Joe. Him being so adamant about the unwritten rules was probably a good thing for everyone's peace of mind, considering the number of thinkers they had analyzing every micro-expression and word choice he made. Good for luring people into a sense of security, but frustrating in other ways.

At least Survey was on top of things, even if she kept them to herself. That was probably one of Aisha's favorite things about her. Anyone could 'keep' a secret, but they didn't really keep the information. They absorbed it and adjusted their behavior based on what they knew. Often enough you could tell who knew something just from the way they changed their approach to someone. There was no way of keeping a secret without letting it color things.

Survey was capable of knowing something while acting like she didn't know. For her, the knowing is the point. Having the information and being ready for when it is needed. No snide comments or hints about whatever she was keeping concealed. No judgment either. Any details about Aisha's family and possible lies of omission were regarded with complete neutrality.

Still, considering how much of the internet she's digested, Aisha doubted there's much in the way of human behavior that was going to get a serious rise out of Survey.

"I hope both you and Apeiron are able to adequately adjust to the changing circumstances." The Matrix offered in a fairly heartfelt tone. They looked past the eagle of the Skyforge with Joe's shadowy robot titan body towering over it and Tetra's glowing form settling into her new shape. It was a fantastic sight, and no doubt the Matrix was observing it carefully, but the gaze of the armor swept across the open plains, hills, and forests granted by the recent expansion.

"Do you plan to continue painting?" They asked.

"Um, maybe inside the computer." She said. "I'm not sure I'll have time for it out here."

"I see." They replied. "I would have liked to see your interpretation of the new landscapes, particularly with the possibility of alterations due to a future Workshop shift."

"Thanks, but my paintings really aren't that special." Just watching the masterful weaving that integrated countless other powers and technical principles was enough to drive that home.

"They are an imperfect but progressing work embodying the abstract nature of your developing aesthetic preferences." They stated.

"What, you like my paintings?" She asked.

There was a pause as the Matrix seemed to be considering things. There was a vague feeling through the ground, possibly her sense of some connection to the wider mass of nanobots as the answer was being formulated. "I believe I enjoyed the progression of your paintings more than any individual piece, but taken individually, yes, I do like your paintings."

"Um, thanks?" She said. There were still ways that the Matrix looked at the world that she was adjusting to, even after their extended vacation in the computer core. "I'll try to make time to do one out here, before everything changes again." She looked towards the distant forests. "There are some places with crazy oversized trees that would be cool to paint."

"The majority of the woodlands provided by the recent expansion meet the Department of Natural Resources definition of old growth forests, with average age of trees in excess of one hundred and twenty to one hundred and fifty years, depending on the variety." They explained, and while also pinging her watch with one of Survey's many, many reports on the new environment. "I do not believe you would have encountered comparable woodlands in the areas around Brockton Bay."

She scoffed. "I don't believe I encountered many 'woodlands' around Brockton Bay." It was mostly city parks and playgrounds. "Hard core city girl here. Obviously, trees aren't supposed to get that big." She joked.

The Matrix inclined their helmet in good humor before turning back to the Skyforge where the glow was finally fading. Red light that broke into a rainbow of colors swirled around Tetra as she stood there in her new, human form. The shadowy giant that was Joe seemed to compress into itself, becoming more visible and less of an intrusion into reality as he shrank back to normal giant robot height, rather than giant robot titan werewolf with animal ears, that were adorable even in that form, height.

She watched as Garment peeled her gloves off of Joe's shadowy hands, changing back into her dress as she hurried over to Tetra. Joe separated himself from the Transformer-Shadow-Ring Wraith, causing it to lose certain amounts of ornamentation apparently due to Joe's god cybernetics and dragon legs.

"He's not de-shadowing the Transformer?" She asked the group in general.

"There is no need unless an alternate hybridization is required." Survey explained. "As the Transformer form is planned to be replicated with the next iteration of the duplication potion. It is advantageous to leave the current configuration, as it provides optimal enhancement for future crafting projects."

"Right. Got to look as crazy as possible." Aisha said, looking up at the less towering but still massive structure.

She watched Joe shrink down from his cyborg dragon default body into something passably human, though still with that Joe-look to it. Meaning six kinds of unnatural in terms of movement and appearance, any one of which would be a challenge to put into words.

He cautiously made his way over to where the new Tetra was being doted on by Garment. The girl took one look at him with eyes the same glowing red as her hair, then launched herself into a massive hug. Aisha smiled as she watched Joe flounder for a moment before returning the embrace.

Tetra was still pulsing red, and to a much greater degree than she had before, even when directly feeding. There was also that rainbow glow. Not a normal rainbow, but like you were actively watching the red light that bled off her being split into composite colors.

Outside of that, she looked human. Sure, she was glowing an inhuman shade of red from her hair, eyes, lips, and even fingernails, but otherwise she could pass completely. Hell, even with the glow she looked more human than Survey's stupidly beautiful cape mode. At least Joe had been able to restrain himself from a repeat on that account.

Tetra broke the hug, her hair bounding with a slight curl as she pulled back. Then she flickered through her other shapes. It wasn't actually a flicker, but she needed Survey's assessment to follow the insanely fast reconfiguration of the fibers in Tetra's body. She doubted anyone else would be able to tell the shift was anything but instantaneous.

First there was the 'spindle', a three-foot-tall bundle of red fibers. Clearly a more ordered version of the fibers that composed her previous cocoon. It also looked tense somehow, like the entire thing was wrapped under pressure. It was the least visibly complex form, but Aisha was sure it was as advanced as any of the others.

After that was the Kamui. The 'Godrobe' that had been the point of all of this, fulfilling Tetra's lifelong ambition to become a set of clothes. You know, just to prove that the Matrix wasn't the only one with a mindset that Aisha struggled to understand.

The clothes were nice enough, a pair of black dress pants and a suit jacket, but beyond the fact that they were animated they didn't look particularly impressive. Okay, the way the lapel pins glowed red and blinked was definitely a bit unsettling, but apparently the big show was waiting for when she entered her active state. With Joe. Because parasite. Not that Aisha was judging, but she could admit it took some work to wrap her mind around the idea.

Then she shifted again, this time to her robot form. Clearly Transformers inspired and Aisha could practically feel the pride radiating from Survey. It was a feminine robot about twelve feet tall, so bigger than Joe's base forms but much smaller than the Transformer body that still loomed behind the Skyforge. Still, based on what she knew about Cybertronian technology, Aisha was willing to bet that it had its own transformations.

Finally, she shifted back to human. She smiled up at Joe, then clung to him as he led her towards the observers. Seeing her closer, she looked kind of like a younger version of Survey's human form. Aisha knew that Tetra was part human thanks to the mess that was separating her from Joe. She thought she might have been able to see a family resemblance, but there had been so many changes to Joe over the last few days it was hard to keep track. Maybe to base Joe, but the resemblance to dragon-cyborg-Aphrodite blessed Joe was harder to place.

"Everyone, I'd like you to meet Tetra. Again." Joe said as he approached the group. Garment hovered excitedly behind them, watching everyone's reactions.

"It's nice to meet you." Tetra said. The first time Aisha had heard her voice without needing an electronic medium. It certainly came across more personally than hearing a text to speech linked through infrared coms.

Aisha smiled and stepped forward. "Hi Tetr-oof." The air was knocked out of her before she could finish speaking. Because it seemed Tetra was a hugger.

"You can hear me!" The girl exclaimed.

"Uh, yeah." She said, patting her back. Tetra's body had some weird physics going on. It was too light, but also had serious inertia behind every movement.

Survey had been explaining some of the process of Joe's work, including the multidimensional aspect from his Norse Dwarf power. Aisha wasn't sure if the mass thing was some aspect of that, or just normal mass manipulation from the technology she had built into her. Or abnormal mass manipulation, because as far as she understood, there was nothing about life fibers that really counted as normal.

Tetra eventually broke the hug and moved her way through the rest of the group who proceeded to receive theirs with varying levels of enthusiasm, Tybalt and the Matrix occupying the respective extremes. Meanwhile Garment was frantically gesturing in an attempt to show off Tetra, and everything Tetra represented.

From what she could piece together, Tetra's clothing, the blouse, skirt, and even the shoes, were all part of her. Some shapeshifting was inherent to life fibers, but Garment didn't see her as manifesting clothing as part of her body, she saw Tetra as clothing in of herself.

Not that Garment viewed someone being clothing in a derogatory sense. Just as far as she was concerned, Tetra was still clothing whether she was in actual clothing form, giant robot form, or human form manifesting any number of outfits. Many of which Garment guided her to demonstrate for the group.

So Garment had a model who was both clothes and could manifest any clothes Garment wanted. Or modify those outfits on the fly. It was easy to see where her extra level of excitement was coming from.

She watched as Garment circled around one of Tetra's outfits, then indicated that the scarf was too much. Tetra nodded and discarded it. Literally threw it away from her body, despite it being part of her body. Aisha watched dumbfounded as the scarf hit the ground even as Garment was guiding Tetra through a series of outfit guides for various social situations.

Aisha edged towards the scarf and poked it with her foot. It seemed real, but when she tried again it kind of popped, leaving a few scattered fibers that seemed to fade into the air.

"What the fuck?" She muttered to herself.

"Dynamics of life fibers." Joe explained from next to her. "Mass expansion and growth allows for some crazy stuff." He looked over to Tetra. "She could probably manage full fledged copies of herself."

"What, like your potion?" Aisha asked. "Did she pick that up when you were split?"

"No, it's a life fiber thing. Propagation. They're not independent the way mine are, but Tetra's mind is designed for that kind of scale. The copies won't be too strong, but that's compared to Tetra, and, you know."

"Uh, yeah." Aisha swallowed. "I was watching along with everyone else. Half expected the heavens to open up, the way you were going."

"Don't think I'm quite on the divine intervention level." He said.

"Really?" Aisha asked, stretching as she felt out the benefits of the Workshop's blessing.

"That's different." He said quickly.

"Whatever you say." She replied, turning back to the crowd.

Looking over the group she couldn't help but feel a touch out of place. That valuable human insight that was valued didn't seem that significant compared to the collection of demigods, monsters, spirits, and inhuman machines. She knew they valued her, but that didn't change the fact that everyone was going to be working on another level.

Garment could multitask and had just expanded her range massively. Fleet, Survey, and the Matrix were built to be able to scale infinitely. She didn't think Tetra even had limits, like, as a concept. Even Tybalt could coordinate on a massive scale. It was funny, the idea that she was bound to be left behind, not because of a difference in strength, but because she would be limited to dealing with a single thing at a time. Left to focus on tiny problems when the rest of the team went worldwide. Something she couldn't match.

Well, not beyond one area. Her power. Being defined by that was weird. It was something that felt separate to her, at least more so than any of the rest of the powers wielded by the team, but at least it was strong. She had realized how insane her power actually was once she had the benefit of Joe's analysis of it, and the context for exactly what she was capable of.

Global range was her minimum. Everything indicated it went beyond that. Able to affect other Earths. Potentially every other Earth. She didn't know its limit, or if it had one. A point that helped keep the insanity of Tetra in context. Potentially reaching every world in existence. The scale of passengers was like that. Even with all Joe's new bullshit, he would be hard pressed to properly duplicate the effect of what she had initially thought was a fairly minor ability.

Plus, she had every thinker on the planet shitting themselves in fear whenever she wanted to skip a line or avoid an annoying person on the street. And her striker could take that further, opening up new possibilities beyond just hiding herself or someone else. She needed to practice with it, and that wasn't something she could do in the computer. At least not yet.

She also had found herself wondering what she could do with a call bead. Joe was being understandably cautious, but she could only imagine the possibilities she might unlock if she got a chance to try one out. She knew the kind of power they could put out. It was the kind of thing that was both exciting and terrifying when she considered what she might be able to do.

She turned back to Joe. "So, that Titan's Blood thing?" She inclined her head towards Tetra who was teleporting between the other members of the team at a speed that resembled a strobe light. "She's connected to everything she touches?"

It put the hug in a new context. Not that she would have shied away from it, but there were implications beyond a simple greeting.

"She's connected to everything she connects with." He explained. "It's a conceptual thing. Different connections mean different things, but she's not going to lose track of someone once she's noticed them. Detection with any sense is a connection." Aisha nodded. "Stronger connection means she can do more, but yeah, teleporting is basically the least of it."

"Does that work backwards?" Aisha asked. "Like, can she find Oni Lee? Or just drain him remotely?"

"No." He said, and there was a seriousness to his words. "It doesn't work backwards. Tetra, she's a Teigu as well as a Kamui. It means she has a spiritual energy link and more powers than she would, but there was an aspect to Teigu creation that kind of… ends. She's not the Tetra she was before, even if she is."

Aisha looked up at him. "Well, you've certainly got the cryptic description thing down. Sounds like you're all set to open up that mysterious store and start handing out semi-cursed objects with thinly veiled warnings about their nature."

"Ha." He said. "Okay, no metaphysics. She doesn't have links going backwards. No temporal violations present through that kind of crafting. Not the kind of thing I'd want to push anyway."

"Yeah, sounds like it could go bad." She replied. "So, about the outfit. It has, like, a powered up mode right?"

"It does!" Tetra exclaimed. The girl had vanished from a discussion with Survey to suddenly appear hanging off Joe's shoulder. "I look normal when I'm not activated so Joe can wear me without having to fully connect." She shifted to her clothing form, then back to human, then alternated a few more times.

Aisha gave Joe a leading look. "So, are you going to try it out?"

He coughed and glanced away. "The scale of power with that combination is kind of extreme. It's not the kind of thing you'd throw around carelessly."

"We've got a playground the size of Texas." Aisha countered. "Seems like the kind of thing designed to carelessly throw around power."

"This is…" He gestured ambiguously. "The scale is bigger than what we have here. Even if we keep things contained, there's going to be a lot of damage."

"That will not be a problem." The Matrix said as their golden robot form approached. "Mantic circuits are in place and capable of reversing any structural damage. As I would not be participating in this exercise, I would be able to assist in correcting damage in real time." They sounded significantly more excited by the prospect of racing their repairs against the potential destruction that could be unleashed than any aspect of the exercise itself.

"A calibration exercise would be beneficial in terms of providing benchmarks, particularly with the unpredictable adaptive aspect intrinsic to life fibers." Survey offered. Aisha saw Fleet nod, followed by the duplicates moving down to flank Tybalt.

"It's been a while since we had a decent spar." One of them said. "Figure we can try out the new powers gained since the last one against you and Tetra."

"Would be a shame not to take a test drive." Fleet added, somehow managing to avoid making the statement sound obscene in any way.

Joe looked across the crowd that had amassed, then turned to Aisha. "I suppose you want in on this too?"

"Nooooo…." She said, drawing out the word. "I'm good hanging back with Garment." She indicated to where Garment had her sketchbook out and primed. "Don't have any super attacks I'm looking to try out, and I doubt I'm going to be able to keep up with whatever happens out there."

"That might change after the Prismatic Laboratory." Joe said.

Aisha blinked. Then she looked at the assembly of power and blinked again. She badly wanted to ask some profanity laden question about what the fuck was waiting for her in there, but this wasn't the time.

"So, you ready?" Aisha asked.

"I am. Tetra?" He asked, turning to the girl.

"Always." She said excitedly.

Aisha watched, but Tetra didn't transform. Instead, Joe extended his hand. Tetra excitedly grabbed it, clasping it at the wrist. Aisha could see tiny red lines extending from Tetra's hand to Joe's wrist as her grip shifted slightly. Life fibers linked directly into his flesh. And then it burned red.

The red light pulsed, like a heartbeat, which it may have been, given the way the red spread across Tetra's body. Not just her hair, but her clothes and even skin took on the glowing shade. And then she exploded.

Well, not exploded. Her body split apart into a mesh of fibers, spreading like a multi layered net that surrounded Joe. Inside the mesh of glowing fibers it was too bright to see clearly, but she could make out the shape of Joe's body as Tetra swirled around it. Then the fibers coalesced, forming an amorphous mass who's only identifiable features were its burning eyes and massive maw, the interior of which was crisscrossed with gleaming fibers. Then the thing bit down, swallowing Joe whole.

The mass pulled into itself, cords tightening in a way that caused the creature… that caused what was probably Tetra, or her body, to bulge out as the cords cut deeper, eventually outlining the shape of Joe's body under the mess. There was a visible struggle, then something snapped into place. The creature flesh was replaced with a mesh of fibers that quickly formed into… Into what Aisha assumed was Tetra's Kamui form.

It was a really tight outfit. She had known about that from the basic principles they were working with, along with the fact that they needed to limit the amount of contact between them for mental stability through the neural link of something like that. She hadn't quite expected the impact of everything put together.

The outfit was mostly black with red highlights. In terms of coverage… Joe's arms were at least fully concealed. The fabric extended from his gloves, up his arms, over his shoulder and finished in a high collar. Tetra glowing and very animated eyes sat on the lapels. It was just that the lapels didn't sit on anything.

Joe's entire chest was exposed. Black fabric extended down his back with portions crossing over to connect to his pants at the hips. His really tight pants that sat about as low as possible without being indecent. They also had three angular cutouts on the outside of his thighs, exposing even more skin, though the design looked more like vents than anything else. The outfit concluded with a pair of chunky heeled motorcycle boots on his feet.

The red highlights of the outfit were glowing brightly in the aftermath of the transformation. She could see the same effect on his hair, which had gotten spikier and sported multiple red strands rather than the single lock he'd had since Friday morning. The entire outfit looked like someone had decided to apply the logic of female video game armor to biker gear, but somehow it worked. Trust the combined design powers of Joe and Garment to allow someone to stand half naked in a tight red and black costume and somehow looked badass instead of ridiculous.

She would have admired it more, but the pressure coming off of him was palpable. The red glow was shifting rapidly through a multitude of colors in a way that made the previous effects she had seem look sedate. Just looking at the flashing lights made it hard to focus, like she was trying to see something that wasn't entirely contained within what her eyes could make out. Joe clenched his fists and there was a snapping sound, followed by the pressure immediately dying off.

Garment was admiring her work, as well as gesturing to Aisha, trying to express something. No, trying to get Aisha to express something that she couldn't do herself. It took her a moment to figure it out, but she smiled and brought two fingers to her mouth, letting out a wolf whistle.

Joe turned to glare at her, then saw Garment's reaction and turned away shaking his head. Of course, that didn't do much good. He wasn't much more modest from the back, and didn't exactly have a bad angle.

Aisha grinned to herself, remembering the 'Barbarian Chic' designs she'd seen during her first visit to the workshop. Garment had evidently taken the Kamui's restrictions as an excuse to revisit old inspiration and was immensely enjoying the result.

"Are you done?" He asked.

"Me? Sure." Aisha replied. "Garment seems to be just getting started." The sound of her pencil scribbling on her sketchpad briefly drew Joe's attention before he apparently decided it would be better to ignore things.

"Is everybody ready?" He asked, looking over his assembled sparring partners and receiving a series of nods. "Alright. Let's get this test run started." Red light bled into a rainbow as Joe launched himself off the mountain at unbelievable speeds, with his two duplicates, Tybalt, Fleet, and Survey launching themselves after him.

(Author's note: I had to end the chapter earlier than intended due to time constraints. My apologies for the half chapter and the fact that it will take one more chapter to close out Joe's portion of the day. For those interested, points were earned during the chapter, with a single failed roll on the Toolkits constellation. The chapter finished with 600 points banked, making the first roll next chapter for 800 points. As such, it's probably for the best that we're revisiting Joe's perspective for the upcoming roll)