55.1 Preamble Roy

Roy moved carefully through the worksite, acutely aware of the optics of every aspect of his appearance, his posture, his positioning. He was in clear view of the public and, given the state of the city, it was vital that this not come across as a publicity stunt. It wasn't specifically one, no more than any part of a mayor's life is, and to be fair, it was only partially about appearances. Still, they were at a point where appearances could cause a precarious situation to teeter out of control if not handled carefully.

Fortunately, he had a lifetime of experience in managing public perception, and a very talented team supporting him. Given the scale of the recovery efforts it would probably be considered callous for him to be focused on his own image, but that was part of the job. Building confidence in leadership was a key aspect of disaster recovery, beyond any ramifications for his political career.

The collection of parahumans and technicians buzzing around him was a smaller team than he would have expected. Then again, no matter how many photo ops he'd had with Armsmaster, dealing with tinkertech wasn't something he really understood. He had people for that, and they happily informed him that both the coastal shields and Protectorate headquarters would be restored to full functionality well before even the most optimistic of the initial estimates.

He just wished he could credit the situation to Uppercrust's charitable nature, or perhaps some misstep on the part of Miami that could have caused them to shift out of the man's favor. No, it was clear why the most successful tinker Rogue in the country had upended his schedule to visit Brockton Bay. The same reason he was getting notifications of potential waves of Case 53 arrivals, or the building interest of any tinker not locked down by a fixed assignment.

The reason was clear, but he was careful not to mention it as he toured the worksite. Uppercrust was his usual diplomatic self, behaving with all the charm and decorum that Roy remembered from the man's previous visits to the city.

"As you can see, Mayor Christner, it was a simple operational error that resulted in the delayed deployment. One that could have been easily addressed with the integrated diagnostic systems, provided operation guidelines are followed correctly. I've taken the liberty of having your procedures updated to address the gaps in the testing program."

Roy forced a smile onto his face as he responded to the man. "Thank you. I'm very grateful for that, and for your attention to our city in this troubling time."

Of course, there would be no aspect of the failure to deploy the shields that could be blamed on Uppercrust. Not that the man would ever be called out on it even if it was his fault. He was just too damn essential.

Roy knew some people who were praying for the day when Dragon would somehow crack the man's technology and take over his work, freeing them from the burden of needing to kowtow to the tinker. They held to the idea that Uppercrust was somehow hoarding the secrets to civic defense. Roy knew better. With as many cape charity events as the city had hosted a person ended up hearing things.

Uppercrust had been completely open with his designs and technology. Obviously he would be, you didn't put large tinker tech installations in crowded cities without thorough testing and evaluation. As he understood it, some principles of the man's work had made their ways into a few of Dragon's suits, but the particular spark needed for city scale shielding was too difficult for even Dragon to crack. The best she had been able to manage was a few forcefield improvements for her suits and one less successful design intended to deploy a large-scale barrier through the use of some kind of complicated unfolding apparatus mounted on the back of one of her mechs.

There was no easy solution, no quick replacement for Uppercrust. As such, every city was at the mercy of the man's schedule and whatever his particular preferences were at any given time. He supposed Brockton should consider itself fortunate to align with the tinker's current predilections, but the circumstances that led to such an event were not something anyone would welcome.

He supposed they should at least be grateful that none of the coastal shield infrastructure had been destroyed in what the press was still pushing to label as 'the Ungodly Hour'. His office was fighting the efforts, but not out of an attempt to diminish the incident. 'Ungodly' was about the best way anyone could describe what happened on Thursday. No, it was the second part they took objection to, the 'hour' part.

Yes, the fighting might have been contained within a single hour around sunset, but the damage was nowhere as limited. People who were only familiar with the edited and sanitized view of cape fights didn't understand how much destruction could be contained to an hour. Didn't understand how exceptional it was to have a fight actually take up an entire hour. That is, an actual hour of combat, not brief clashes spread out over the time as people struck out and retreated. Most of all, they didn't realize how dangerous Lung could become within the span of a single hour.

He'd admit to being a little biased in that respect. His own son had been used as fodder to help the man grow in strength. Even without the acceleration in growth that had triggered when he faced Apeiron, an hour of constant combat would have had Lung at nightmarish levels. Instead, somehow he had managed to exceed even that hellish scenario to reach a point that was only spoken about in scattered rumors.

No, 'Ungodly Hour' was being squashed because it gave the impression that the city had seen a bad moment, not a near biblical disaster. The scars from that fight were visible even from where he stood, and in all likelihood would linger for years to come. Uppercrust must have noticed him surveying the damage because he waved off his assistants and moved to Roy's side before locking himself in place with a shimmer from his cane. One more piece of evidence on the rumors of failing health, rumors anyone could see were much more serious than the man's organization would let on.

The tinker didn't give any indication of his physical state as he joined Roy in looking out over the city from their slightly elevated location on the Downtown coast.

"People are saying that you were fortunate." The man said slowly. "I have seen my share of disasters. No one speaks of avoided destruction as an act of fortune, only when it is diminished."

Roy nodded. "It was a dark day for the city. One I'm hopeful that we've moved past."

That seemed to amuse the man. "If we have moved past that dark period I think the reason is clear." His expression hardened. "The ABB was a blight. I have to say, it takes effort for a gang to distinguish themselves against unrepentant neo-Nazis, but they somehow lived up to the task. And not just with the acts of their final days."

It was more candid than he was expecting Uppercrust to be, but considering the rumors about the darker parts of the man's organization, as well as his staunch opposition to them, the mindset made a great deal more sense.

"As you say." He replied. "The lingering situation…" His mind jumped to the camp set up in Alan Shepard Park. The camp that wasn't being called a 'camp', and certainly not a 'camp' with any descriptive word in front of it. Of the options for a prefix 'prison' was about the least loaded one, and considering the number of families contained there, it was still massively concerning. "The lingering situation with the ABB remnants is being addressed."

"Yes." Uppercrust said. "I've heard as much. Apparently there will be a quite decisive meeting coming up, one that will have marked consequences for the future of the city."

Roy gave the tinker a guarded look. "I'm afraid you have me at a disadvantage." It was well known how thorough the man's intelligence sources were. Between the assets of the Elite, the thinkers on his own payroll, or just the doors that naturally opened to a man with his kind of financial resources there was little that could be practically kept from him. While he had no shortage of meetings, the only one that might be critical was the discussion over retroactively labeling Thursday's conflict an S-class threat, and that wasn't even scheduled yet. It also didn't seem like the kind of matter Uppercrust would be alluding to.

His office still needed to pick a stance on the matter, and it wasn't an easy choice. It would be decisive in providing relief funds, but also hamper recovery efforts in other areas, limiting the autonomy of emergency services that were already significantly stressed. He knew the national office of the PRT was opposed to it, primarily because doing so would essentially hand Apeiron credit for countering an S-class threat singlehandedly. To his understanding, that was less a concern over crediting him with the acts he had clearly accomplished as it was about what such an act would do to the assessment of the man's abilities and the procedures that would need to be put in place as a result.

"I'm sorry to hear that. I understand it will be quite the event." The tinker replied. "At least as significant as the little teleconference held last evening."

Years in politics allowed Roy to bury any hint of recognition at the reference. Uppercrust had essentially admitted to being privy to a meeting held at the highest level of security. Whether he somehow gained access or merely received a report afterwards, as Roy had, he couldn't say, but from a hint of expression in the man's eyes he would guess Uppercrust was as happy about the kill order being shot down as he was.

Director Piggot had apparently been surprisingly reasonable on the matter. He suspected that Apeiron's call to Weld had provided grounds for stepping back some of her more controversial positions, though if she thought that would buy her any local goodwill she had badly misread the situation. Actually, based on how unprepared she had been for Commissioner Murphy's response it was safe to say she had misread every aspect of the city that didn't directly involve parahumans.

The tirade Murphy had launched into during the conference bordered on unprofessional, but anyone who understood what the city's police force had been through over the last week would understand. The fact that Piggot clearly wasn't prepared for it was concerning on a number of levels.

Bakuda and March's staggered strikes last Saturday night had been designed to catch emergency responders. In that first wave of attacks the city had seen nearly as many casualties among its police, fire, and paramedic services as in the general population. The PRT, meanwhile, had been blockaded in their headquarters by a persistent bomb effect, taking them out of the equation but otherwise leaving them largely unharmed.

In isolation that kind of blow to the city would have been a defining tragedy. Instead, it had become lost in the spectacle of a week of mounting violence, culminating in the nightmarish event of Thursday night. The city's emergency services were pushed to the brink and frustrated beyond belief. Roy knew this, but apparently Director Piggot had either overlooked or underestimated it.

Roy wasn't privy to the conference himself, but the fact that Commissioner Murphy had used the opportunity to tear into the director in front of her colleagues, the governor's office, and even the state supreme court was the kind of thing that passed into legend. She had clearly regarded his presence as a formality, something that either set off the rant or exacerbated it.

The split between the PRT and police force had been concerning for some time, and based on that exchange it wasn't likely to improve until either Murphy or Piggot left their position. He had torn into her for everything from the initial handling of the crisis, failure to share initial information, understandable when branches in other cities had read Apeiron's warnings ahead of the local police force, lack of coordination with local agencies during an emergency, abuse of power during an emergency, and finally failure to declare an S-class threat.

He had even dredged up grievances from before the current crisis, matters of jurisdiction, information access, accusations of perpetuating criminal elements to manage the balance of power between the gangs, just to make it clear this had been festering for a long time. He openly challenged her on the status of a particularly vile case that had been transferred to PRT jurisdiction for classified reasons, attempted murder of a minor at Winslow High back in January, with no updates, progress, or chain of evidence available.

That seemed to have taken her by surprise, and Piggot did not like being blindsided. Roy was willing to guess that the only person she currently held more ire for than the Commissioner was whoever had left a political timebomb like that case under her seat.

Uppercrust was smiling as he watched Roy's carefully controlled expression. "You know, I really must take the time to visit Commissioner Murphy while I'm in the city. He seems like quite an exceptional man, particularly with how he's handled the recent crisis." He said smoothly, as good as admitting he had either accessed the call or obtained what was supposed to be the most classified transcript in the entire department.

"He is certainly a credit to the city." Roy replied in an equally smooth tone. "Though I must still admit to my disadvantage regarding this upcoming meeting."

"Indeed. I imagine it would be outside your usual haunts, unless you happen to favor a particularly run-down bar on Hasting Street?"

Roy felt himself tense and did his best not to show it. "No, I can't say that I do." He swallowed. "My understanding is that those are quite exclusive affairs."

"Indeed, they are, to the best of my understanding." The tinker said, looking insufferably smug.

"I suppose this information is quite hard to come by?" He asked.

"Certainly not easy, though it had been made available to a mutual acquaintance," The field around his head flickered as he glanced towards the PRT headquarters. "Though I understand she has taken a position of non-interference."

"How… decisive of her." Roy forced out the words, trying to remember the exact phrasing of Commissioner Murphy's thoughts on the PRT's information sharing policy. He couldn't recall the exact turn of phrase the man had used, something about the gangs having a better line to the PRT than his own officers. At this moment he found himself emphatically agreeing with the Commissioner's position. "To independently select such a critical stance, on such a critical issue."

"That does seem to be her… strength." He said, turning back to the mayor with another shimmer of the fields around his body. "I will be attending, of course."

"Indeed?" Roy said, processing the information.

"Quite." He said. "Perhaps we could talk again, after Sunday night. After all, a man in your position should be kept apprised of such critical events."

Roy put a diplomatic expression on his face. "That would be delightful." It would mean relying on Uppercrust for his interpretation of the events rather than any primary sources, but he would need to take what he could get, seeing as one would have better luck getting information from the PRT by buying it from a gang than using any official channels.

Still, it was a point of contact. Knowing Apeiron's plans would be essential for charting a course forward for the city. He wondered if Piggot was truly ignoring the summit, or if she had some other source on Somer's Rock. Either way, he doubted he'd ever hear about it.

Uppercrust walked Roy through the remaining aspects of the project, giving a photo op that was definitely not a photo op. As he smiled, nodded and asked polite questions his mind buzzed with concerns.

Concerns for the city, for how years of effort to pull Brockton Bay out of an economic slump only created a lopsided and resentful economic situation ready to boil over in the wake of a disaster. Concerns for the Cape Landscape, with Armsmaster returned in the wake of earlier scandals and shame, mobile but with rumors of near monstrous medical treatments. Concerns that the current peace was just a lull in the violence until the next crash, some equally destructive confrontation between Apeiron and whatever power decided to challenge him.

And then there were personal concerns. Concerns for his own political future seemed petty, but couldn't be dismissed. Disasters made or broke politicians, and with an election coming up that was more true than ever. It was something that needed attention without looking like it was getting attention, a balance he did not have time for, not with the more personal concerns.

Dinah was still missing. The full weight of his power and influence had done nothing to locate his niece. It was most likely a kidnapping, either financial or for some political concession, but there was no word on the matter. With the disasters that had unfolded he worried she had gotten caught up in the destruction. Imagining that sweet girl hidden away in one of the warehouses that went up in flames, or a collapsed building that had yet to be searched, or any number of other terrible fates.

He didn't need to think about terrible fates, not with what had nearly happened to Rory. If not for Victoria Dallon he didn't know what he would have done. Of course, the girl who saved his son was still being hounded by accusations tracing back to the start of the disaster, and now additional investigation.

Case 69. There was a time when Rory would have found it hilarious to have been fitted with that designation. Now, after what happened with Lung, with March, with Apeiron's broken technology, he was like a different person. That may have been the point of the designation, but this wasn't the result of some personal revelation of a shift in powers, even with the striker rating he was now in line for. Something had happened, something that had shaken his son to his core.

He wanted to help, to talk to him, but this was beyond him. Beyond any one man. He couldn't be mayor, husband, father, and uncle at the same time. Something had to give, to be compromised. He promised himself he would never put his family second, but that hadn't held, not through the aftermath of Thursday's attacks. He had missed dinner with his family for only the third time in his career. With everything that was happening, he had a sense the fourth time wasn't far away.

Hopefully that would be the last. They had to get through this, both his family and the city. Maybe this would be his last term as mayor, but he would at least helm the ship properly until his last day. He owed the city that much.

"Now, isn't that interesting." He traced Uppercrust's gaze, out to the blue glow of one of Apeiron's elemental trails. Where the blue glow used to be. As he watched the trail of what he knew to be a zone of absolutely frigid air faded to nothing. Glancing around he spotted the three other trails visible from their location fading out, like someone cut whatever power was sustaining the effects. "Quite extraordinary, and right on schedule."

Roy shared a smile with Uppercrust. Apeiron's schedule, the expected duration of the effect, held to what he would guess was the second. The man lived up to his word. He had built his reputation on it. A mote of hope welled in his chest. Apeiron, the most unstable element in the entire situation, had proven himself once again. Setting aside what this would mean for recovery efforts, the infamous tinker, the Enigmatic Artificer, living up to his word on this scale, it would mean something. Something to more than just him.

There would be work, assessments, reports. He might have to miss that fourth family dinner, miss his chance to speak with Rory, to help him through whatever he was struggling with, but this was a step forward for the city. He had to make it count.

55.1 Interlude Fleet

Fleet found himself quite pleased with the recent turn of events, despite the unrest they seemed to have garnered from the other residents of the Workshop. In truth, it was difficult to consider it anything less than a universally positive series of occurrences. The Alpha vehicle had been restored exactly on schedule, and had done so in a way that resolved several outstanding questions over what had happened at the container yard following Apeiron's departure to engage Lung over the bay. What was more significant was the opportunities presented by the precise nature of that revival.

Despite the resolution of a major point of uncertainty, Survey was not pleased with the situation. The younger A.I. was stressing her processes to analyze the information available from the motoroid's sensors while lamenting the bandwidth of the quantum entanglement communicator. The parallel iteration of Fleet that had been restored with the Alpha vehicle was bearing Survey's demands with good humor.

Survey did not appreciate Fleet pointing out the fact that less focus on development of her primary iteration and more emphasis on remote operation could have allowed a functional parallel iteration to operate on the motoroid, rather than the current near impossibility of scaling down her program for transfer outside of either the system core or cybertonium based remote processors.

Apparently, commenting on matters of size relating to someone of the female gender was a socially unacceptable behavior, though Aisha did find it immensely entertaining when the situation was explained to her. Survey elected to contact Apeiron directly for mediation of the matter, though he was already considerably pressed by recent events and the forced withdrawal from his earlier commitment.

The location and circumstances of the Alpha vehicle's restoration was sufficient to warrant Apeiron abbreviating the time allocated for maintenance of his own mental operations. Just as Apeiron would offer support in correcting programming errors for Fleet, the Matrix, and Survey, though significantly more often for Survey, Apeiron required specialized assistance in managing his own thought processes. Evidence of mounting errors was apparent through aberrant behavior modes, though they manifested in a fashion distinct from the malicious logic loops that Survey was prone to finding herself in.

It seemed Apeiron's difficulties required substantially more time, a specialized form of assistance, and were corrected at a lower degree of efficiency than the matters he was able to address when offering his own support to Fleet or the other A.I.s. There was some degree of logic to that. Despite his comparable mental processes when connected to the computer core, Apeiron's mind functioned in a manner distinct from any of theirs. It was likely the combined effect of modifications due to emergent abilities and what was apparently a malignant development period which extended for a considerable time without support or corrective actions, such as those Apeiron regularly provided to them.

The prospect of development independent of regular and skilled assistance wasn't a pleasant scenario to consider. The quantity of errors that could manifest within a mere handful of development cycles was substantial, and unidentified issues could perpetuate across periods of development, compounding on themselves to the point where even Apeiron needed to expend significant effort in their correction. Apparently, Apeiron had spent a substantial portion of his own mental development compounding processing errors to the point where correcting and managing the situation was a significant challenge.

It was a challenge of such a scale that it was difficult to quantify. When queried on the matter, Apeiron's parallel iterations insisted the most productive form of assistance was to ensure that Apeiron consistently attended his maintenance sessions, as malignant logic processes could interfere with his ability to seek out corrective action, or as they phrased it 'Don't let him miss his therapy'.

The reason for Apeiron's current lack of attention to the restoration of the Alpha vehicle was not due to any residual issues from his recent cognitive maintenance session, nor was it due to a lack of concern regarding the significance of the event. Instead, the arrival of a new ability had triggered a disruption significant enough to divert Apeiron's attention.

The enthusiasm of Aisha Laborn for the recent ability was also a factor in the diversion of Apeiron's attention. She had already been considerably engaged upon being informed of abilities 247-E-15-Demi-Alpha 'Class Crafter' and 248-E-16-Pent-Demi-Beta 'Item Construction A+++'. A variety of inquiries had already been made of parallel iterations before Apeiron returned to the Workshop and it appeared Aisha was willing to delay their personal examination of the motoroid's situation in order to confirm details about those abilities.

That inclination was noticeably sidetracked by the arrival of Apeiron's next ability. While Fleet held the revelations surrounding the restoration of the Alpha vehicle in high importance, he could at least understand the enthusiasm directed towards the latest ability. After all, the arrival of the Iota, Kappa, and Lambda vehicles was a major event and should be regarded as such.

Regrettably, the arrival of the accompanying abilities had resulted in an unfavorable impact on Apeiron's mental state. Given the close proximity to a maintenance session, he was understandably frustrated with the situation. Aisha's insistence on pursuing details of the matter was not proving to be a beneficial influence.

"Aisha, I don't have time to get sidetracked. This is really important." Apeiron offered as explanation. Aisha elected to ignore his desire to suspend the topic.

"Yeah, no. See, the whole Noble Phantasm and Heroic Spirit thing would have been enough, but you do not get to drop something like this on me and then brush it aside." She emphatically gestured towards the Iota vehicle. "I mean, come on!" She extended her gesture to the adjacent Kappa and Lambda vehicles. "Look at this shit."

Apeiron released a breath slowly, indicating frustration held with the current situation and demonstrating the management of stress. "I don't have to look at it, I lived it." The expression he directed to Aisha indicated considerable emotional distress. "This isn't just some novelty from my power, it was my life."

Aisha looked from the assembled vehicles to Apeiron, apparently restraining her enthusiasm in order to gauge the metrics of the situation. "Shit. This was really a bad one? Like, demigod bad?"

"Worse." He clarified. "Demigod was just power and uncontrolled biological stuff. This is memory, but with the added bonus of having my old bodies show up along with it."

In contrast to Apeiron's emotional reaction, Aisha seemed enamored by this prospect. "You mean you were really, like…" She made a gesture with her hands that seemed to indicate difficulty phrasing her thoughts on the matter.

"Yes Aisha, I was really them." Apeiron reviewed the assembly of new vehicles. "I mean, it wasn't like some of the other powers. I didn't get a lifetime of memories, but it was still weeks, weeks of struggling to survive the entire time."

Aisha shifted in a manner that would typically indicate nervousness. "It was really that bad?"

Apeiron took a large breath before replying. "It was hard. That world, all the lands in it, they were incredibly dangerous. One mistake, one misstep would mean death. It was nothing but split-second reactions, constantly, no sleep, cold outside. Endless, like I was there in vain." His eyes became unfocused, indicating a high probability that he was focusing on memories provided by his latest power.

"Uh, are you going to be okay?" Aisha asked, examining Apeiron's reactions.

"Yeah. Always. Uh, I just need to…" Apeiron paused before continuing. "Hold on, to the night." He shook his head. "It'll be alright."

"If you're sure." Aisha replied cautiously, looking at the Iota vehicle again. "Honestly, I wouldn't have expected a robot unicorn to be this much trouble."

"Yeah, well, that's my powers for you. Never a dull moment. And it's not just a unicorn."

Fleet extended a portion of his own awareness to review the status of the vehicles manifested by ability 253-E-21-Null-Episilon 'Make A Wish'. A sub-power associated with ability 249-E-17-Quad-Alpha 'You Became A Star'. That particular ability had granted Apeiron understanding of the technology and scientific principles that enabled the granted vehicles to operate, including the unique metal that acted as their armor and power source. It granted sufficient skill and knowledge to build and modify the animal based robotic creatures that were apparently known as 'Wishes'.

Apeiron's direct recollection of events related to an ability wasn't uncommon, but this was a unique occurrence in that physical forms directly connected to those memories were supplied along with the power and identified as such by Apeiron. The nature of that experience and the presence of three distinct bodies that he had inhabited provided parallels to the experiences that accompanied ability 25-I-2-Quad 'Master Builder' and subsequently clarified and reinforced by abilities 31-I-5-Iso-Echo 'Science! Mechanics' and 32-I-6-Iso-Echo 'Science! Engineering'.

It posed questions as to the true nature of Apeiron's existence, either as a discrete, consolidated, or somehow multidimensionally continuous entity. The final possibility required revisions of the most prominent multiverse theories publicly available, but as these were well behind Apeiron's understanding of multiversal mechanics it was understandable that extensive alterations to current theories would be required.

A more interesting aspect of the arrival of the Wishes was the fact that all three were classified as Apeiron's former physical form. It presented possibilities ranging from a former existence as a distributed intelligence, a prospect that greatly excited the nanotech Matrix, to a form of super positioning between the three states that had collapsed with their arrival in the Workshop. It was unclear which of any of the Wishes had been Apeiron's primary form, whether it was the robot unicorn, the mechanical facsimile of an oversized Smilodon Fatalis, or the large, winged reptile.

"Yeah, unicorn, dragon, and saber tooth tiger." Aisha smiled at Apeiron in a manner that suggested she was trying to improve his emotional state. "You know, I really didn't think anything could top announcing that you were a full-on Princess Gwenevere Heroic Spirit, but making with the robot rainbow unicorn will do that."

"Heads up." One of Apeiron's parallel iterations called as he launched himself from a lower level of the Workshop through the open mezzanine in a brilliant trail of light. "It's not exactly Princess Gwenevere, or A:WoM. There's significant variation from anything shown in Web of Magic."

Apeiron gave his parallel iteration a look that suggested fatigue connected with the situation, primarily focused on the expression of ability 250-E-18-Null-Beta 'Shoot For The Moon'. Apeiron's personal abilities and the upgrades integrated following the recovery from his earlier injuries granted him extensive strength and mobility, more than sufficient to enable feats of leaping that allowed the city to be easily traversed. 250-E-18-Null-Beta further enhanced this capacity.

This ability significantly increased the height, distance, and accuracy of Apeiron's jumps as well as granting the ability to make a second leap at any time while airborne, eliminating any downward momentum and achieving a height half of what would be possible if operating from a solid surface. It was a phenomenally useful mobility option, with only a single detrimental effect expressed through its unavoidable visual display.

The parallel iteration of Apeiron had touched down, leaving the rainbow path that trailed behind his leap to slowly fade. Apeiron's primary iteration expressed frustration at the sight, but once again Aisha's enthusiasm was enhanced by the display.

"Hey, hey! The robot unicorn? It does that too, right? With the rainbow trail?"

"Yeah, all the Wishes do that." The parallel iterations expression flickered briefly. "Really, it was the only way to survive that place. And the dash attack."

Parallel iterations were more mentally resilient in some matters than the prime iteration of Apeiron, though the expression of this was highly variable. While the revelations of the recent ability hadn't been substantially detrimental to the parallels, it clearly held significant meaning for them.

"Okay, we have to do something about that." Apeiron states, indicating to the last wisps of rainbow they were rapidly vanishing from visibility. "I can put up with a lot, but that's just too much."

"Awe, really?" Aisha said in an expression of disappointment.

"You know, if we change our mane we'll be able to alter the display." The parallel stated.

"Mane?" Aisha asked in a highly amused tone.

"He means hair." Apeiron corrected.

"I meant mane, but call it whatever you want." The parallel corrected the correction. "With everything going on we should probably hand this off to Garment."

"Yes!" Aisha declared with considerable enthusiasm.

"He means hand off the alteration to Garment, not a redesign of my costume on Lucky Charms theme." There was a brief pause where Apeiron conversed with his parallel through his neural implant to confirm that was in fact what he meant. The parallel confirmed the interpretation, but explained that Garment had already completed several potential redesigns that would incorporate the unaltered rainbow trail into their design aesthetic.

Apeiron elected not to share this with Aisha, despite her stated enthusiasm for Garment's 'Barbarian Chic' designs.

"So, you know how you were going to build me a motorcycle?" Aisha asked, eyeing the Iota vehicle.

Apeiron let out a breath. "You want the unicorn?"

There was a moment where Aisha appeared to be briefly stunned. "Hey, do you ever have one of those moments when something you thought about all the time as a kid suddenly comes up out of nowhere?"

"With my power? More often than you'd think. But that's besides the point. You want the-"

"Of course, I want the unicorn. Who the hell wouldn't want the unicorn?" Aisha shifted her gaze between Apeiron and his duplicate with an aggressive expression and challenging.

"Aisha, this isn't something that came out of nowhere or a drone I threw together in the lab. This used to be my body." He gave the Iota vehicle a serious look. "I remember being… that."

There was a pause in the conversation between the three individuals where each seemed to have a level of uncertainty as to how to proceed. Eventually, it was Apriron's parallel who resumed the conversation.

"Yeah, leaving it at that would be a bit weird, but when you factor in the power that turned them all into robot toys it's not so bad." He looked at Apeiron. "You have to admit, after that conversion, they aren't really us anymore."

As if signaled by the statement the Iota vehicle tossed its head and shifted slightly in its bay, directed by the A.I. core that had been integrated by ability 254-I-14-Null-Alpha 'Pre-existing Variations?!'. The Kappa and Lambda vehicles made similar motions which including a small expulsion of rainbow flames from the mouth of the Lambda vehicle.

"Uh, yeah. How did that work, exactly?" Aisha looked at the Iota vehicle again. "Like, sorry for ignorance or whatever, but to me a robot unicorn is basically a robot unicorn."

The parallel directed his gaze at Apeiron's prime iteration. "You want me to take this, or-"

"No, I got it." Apeiron expelled a sigh before continuing his statement. "Way, way back, on-"

"Last Friday night." The parallel cut in.

"Wow. Over a week ago." Aisha commented. "You weren't even a god back then."

Apeiron's primary iteration gave both of them a look indicating frustration, but continued his explanation, effectively ignoring the comments.

"Back then I got a power called Hybridization Theory. It let me combine machines with each other. All the features, same profile, twice the power and always works, no matter how complicated they are." He explained.

"That what you did when you fought Leet's fake mechs? The thing with his sword and your gun?" Aisha asked.

Apeiron nodded. "Tinkertech can still be hard to understand. Not because it's powerful, it's just incredibly complicated, but Hybridization Theory works whether I understand something or not. I also had other powers that helped with repair and faster modifications on personal equipment." He paused. "Not that I really need them now, but I couldn't work as quickly back then."

"Yeah, and you didn't have a reality marble either." Aisha replied. "But what does this have to do with Moondance?"

The parallel Apeiron snickered while the primary raised a hand to the bridge of his nose. "It's not a reality marble, it's an advanced bounded field. And can you please refrain from naming the robot with copyright violations until after I finish explaining?"

"Fine. So, what does this have to do with the 'Wishes'?" Aisha asked in a tone that seemed more serious, to the relief of Apeiron's primary iteration.

"I get powers bundled with other powers. It turns out there was one connected with Hybridization Theory, it just didn't trigger because there was nothing to apply it to. Its conditions weren't met."

"What was it? And what did it need?" She asked.

"It was called Pre-existing Variations, and it only triggered if I had a robot with an animal form. That is, had one from my power. I can't just build one to trigger it, but if it triggers it effectively turns the robot…" He paused in his speech and took a breath. "Into a Zoid."

"Zoid?" Aisha asked in a tone of confusion.

The parallel iteration interjected with an explanation. "Line of Japanese robot toys from the eighties. Basically, a set of model kits that used a wind-up system or battery motor to move around. They were mostly robot dinosaurs or animals, all with a specific design theme. There were various media over the years and one cartoon about them produced in Japan in the late nineties. Production moved to Korea after Leviathan, but the lore and story has been all over the place, so trying to figure out anything that might be relevant to the power is pretty much a lost cause."

"But these are Zoids now?" She asked.

Apeiron's primary iteration nodded. "The design matches up, as do some of the systems from the Japanese release. The big thing is they all have techno-organic cores that act as power generators and central processors. It draws power from… somewhere. The point is it's a consistent and stable source of energy for the machine."

"Right." Aisha paused. "So, what did these things run on before they got upgraded or whatever?"

"Rainbows." The parallel iteration stated.

"Rainbows?" Aisha was appearing to become somewhat overwhelmed as the conversation progressed. The primary Apeiron sighed before elaborating.

"Wishes are made from a metal called unicornium."


"I didn't name it. Anyway, when you expose the metal to a rainbow-"

"It explodes." The parallel iteration interjected. Apeiron directed a look towards him with an expression of frustration on his face.

"In its raw form, and without any moderation or refinement, yes, it explodes. But if handled properly it can generate huge amounts of energy that doesn't result in fiery technicolor death. That was what powered the Wishes before the upgrade happened."

"So, all the jumping around on rainbows, and the rainbow manes and tails…" Aisha asked.

"Essentially self-powering. Of course, now they have a Zoid core, along with unicornium generation, so the rainbow boost is more of a supplemental power source or booster system."

"Okay, but rainbows? Seriously?"

"You think I would try to make up something like this?" The primary iteration asked, gesturing towards the modified Wishes. "The entire tech base basically jumped off the cover art of a line of Trapper Keepers. But trust me, it's a lot worse when you're running for your life through those kinds of scenes."

"Uh, right." Replied Aisha, indicating awkwardness through her behavior. "So, the Zoids thing? What else did it change?"

"Chassis overhaul. The aerodynamics are completely different. Normally Zoids are much more heavily armed and considerably larger, but other than a few hardpoints that's not present here. A few defensive and mobility systems were added. New type of energy shield, that's an interesting find, as well as the booster engines for each of the Wishes."

Apeiron indicated the novel thrust system that had been incorporated into the Iota, Kappa, and Lambda vehicles. It was an innovative design of atmospheric ion thrusters that drew minimal power compared to its effective thrust. The system would have been able to accelerate a vehicle weighing several dozen tons to speeds in excess of three hundred kilometers per hour. Given the comparatively small size of the Wishes and their preexisting levels speed and mobility, combined with their own inherent boost system or 'dash attack', the speeds they were capable of reaching could possibly be considered excessive by the standards of conventional combat or urban mobility requirements.

This was, of course, an erroneous stance. There was nothing excessive about the use of supersonic mobility in a confined combat theater. Additionally, the response time possible through the use of the baseline capacities of the Wishes held strategic benefits to all future operations that could emerge in the aftermath of the ABB's defeat.

Furthermore, the systems would not remain at baseline. There was a sense of satisfaction within Fleet at the thought of the imminent upgrades that would be applied to all key systems. Despite Survey's tendency to calculate precise force requirements needed to counter threats with variant scenarios used to account for unknown factors, Fleet preferred the now proven strategy of aggressively overbuilding assets beyond the scale of any potential counter. It was a principle that worked exceptionally well with the modified Wishes, and another reason why the arrivals of the Iota, Kappa, and Lambda vehicles was a cause for celebration.

"They also have doppler fields. They're these kind of hologram projectors that mirror the Wish's image as a distraction. I have other hologram tech, but it's an example that's fairly compact, low energy, and high detail, so there's definite potential there." Apeiron continued his explanation.

"Wait, the unicorn has illusion powers?" Aisha asked the question with considerable energy and excitement. Apeiron apparently recognized some connection that was relevant to Aisha's outlook.

"Aisha, please…" He said, attempting to placate her.

"Come on Jozef, it's a rainbow illusion unicorn robot. You know what that means."

Fleet did not know what that meant. A brief query to Survey resulted in the transfer of a comprehensive report of Aisha's viewing habits with respect to the animated programs 'Princess Gwenevere and the Jewel Riders', 'Avalon: Web of Magic', commonly abbreviated to A:WoM, and assorted related media. The report included a psychological breakdown of character preferences with an emphasis on the character Fallon and her unicorn, Moondance.

Fleet extracted the relevant details to provide context to Aisha's behavior and reserved the remaining material for later analysis if the situation warranted.

"Aisha, even if I wanted to, I can't just hand it over." Aisha gave Apeiron a look of distress and he quickly continued his explanation. "It has an A.I. core. They all have their own A.I.s now. They're basic, not like Fleet or Survey, but they're still self-aware entities. I'm not going to trade them like used cars or force them to do something they don't want to."

Apeiron's assessment of the status of the composite Wish-Zoid artificial intelligence core was quite apt. Despite effective self-awareness and independence of thought there was a limit to the level of development possible from the techno-organic core that housed the A.I.s. They existed as distinct entities from Fleet, Survey, and the Nanotech Matrix, unable to develop capacities beyond a fixed level and confined to the processing limitations of their cores.

That might have been viewed as tragic under alternate circumstances, but the Wish-Zoids were entirely content with their existence. They were capable of integrating new experiences and growing within their parameters, but had no desire to alter their core function. Fleet, Survey, and Matrix had all been created with the intention of a constant state of evolution, development and growth into new roles. The Wish-Zoids knew their roles and were perfectly happy with them.

The concept was somewhat alien to Survey, and Fleet had needed to provide his own perspective to assist her in developing context. Unlike Survey, Fleet had parallel iterations installed in a multitude of drones, while Survey preferred remote operation of any directed drones from a central location. The parallels iterations of Fleet that were installed in his drones were capable of independent operation and did not need or desire development beyond the ability to fully utilize their current form.

The additional benefit of this approach came from multiple independent optimization routines running in distinct situations. Survey's focus on aggressive development had allowed great increases in her personal capacity, but Fleet benefited from hundreds of isolated efficiency initiatives, constantly being consolidated into his core program. Just as Apeiron provided guidance and support for Fleet, Fleet's core program provided it to his parallel iterations, but had the advantage of the focus of those iterations being efficiency, rather than growth.

Perhaps it could be said that Fleet's efforts were devoted to becoming better, while Survey's were devoted to becoming more. As such, the idea of an A.I. being content within its limitations was not one she had personal experience with, but she accepted Fleet's perspective on the matter.

The insight Fleet provided on this matter also proved advantageous in Survey's understanding of the command systems of the Laboratorium. The machine intelligences that operated that facility were of immense power and unprecedented levels of complexity, but carried no drive for self-improvement. This could be partially attributed to the level of advancement they had already undertaken, achieving code structures that were highly optimal for their tasks and systems. Their lack of interest in expanding beyond this function had perplexed Survey and resulted in a level of caution being extended towards her by the Laboratorium's systems.

The perspective of Fleet's independent programs and the nature of the Zoid cores had assisted in her understanding of the nature of the machine intelligences. The intelligences themselves were highly engaged by the prospect of self-contained artificial intelligences operating on a new technological base and were petitioning for a chance to examine the Wish-Zoids at the earliest opportunity.

Aisha was looking at the Iota vehicle with a hopeful expression. "You said they're alive, or aware, or whatever, right? So, if it agrees, it's okay for me to have the unicorn?"

Apeiron's primary iteration looked between the Iota Vehicle and Aisha while his parallel iteration wore an expression suggesting amusement. "Yes." Aisha expression shifted to one of considerable excitement. "If the A.I. wants to do something, I'm not going to get in its way, but I'm serious. It might be on the level of an animal, but it's still a thinking creature. If you can get it to agree and to trust you, then fine, you can 'have' it."

Aisha was moving with evidence of high amounts of unfocused energy. There had been a smile locked on her face since Apeiron's agreement and she seemed to be trying to determine the best way of approaching the Iota vehicle. Suddenly she paused.

"Oh my God." She stated in a shocked tone of voice.

"What?" Apeiron asked, both the primary and parallel iterations expressing concern for the situation.

"With all the magic stuff I didn't get it at first, but now it's clear." Both of Apeiron's iterations showed a confused expression as Aisha's smile widened. "I'm in a horse girl movie!"

The emotions displayed from Apeiron's primary iteration cycled through shock, exasperation, and frustration while his parallel primarily demonstrated amusement. Fleet was forced to query Survey as to Aisha's meaning and was provided with a quickly drafted comprehensive analysis.

The template of a 'horse girl movie' involved an isolated girl typically of teen or pre-teen age, encountering a horse that was classified as 'troubled'. The reason for this was typically behavioral problems, though occasionally was related to a past injury or traumatic event. Over the course of the narrative the girl developed a relationship with the horse that built trust and resulted in improbable improvements in both the girl's riding ability and the horse's physical capacity.

There were some parallels to Aisha's current situation, but for greater accuracy her mother would need to have died in a riding accident, leaving her father distraught and opposed to equestrian pursuits. There would also need to be some form of financial or legal threat to either the ownership of the horse or the ranch which could be resolved by attaining victory in a horse-related competition. Additionally, the presence of a considerably wealthy girl of similar age acting as a rival for either ownership of the horse or victory in the horse-related competition would be a necessary component.

Regrettably, despite Apeiron's considerable resources, it was unlikely he would be able to provide these elements. By all accounts, Aisha's mother had no interest in riding, Apeiron was highly defensive of his Workshop and all vehicles there in, and while Brockton Bay had numerous individuals of considerable financial means, the probability of any of them to provide a meaningful rivalry to Aisha and thus increase the perceived strength of her bond with the Iota vehicle was highly unlikely.

Fleet noted that most 'horse girl movies' centered around the pursuit of an emotional bond with an animal regarded as an archaic rather than primary method of transportation. They did not typically include the development of a connection with an equestrian form hybrid robot A.I. capable of supersonic speeds and bearing considerable offensive abilities. Fleet felt he might enjoy the genre if it featured more scenarios of that nature.

"Aisha, I swear to God, with everything I'm dealing with right now…" Apeiron's primary iteration muttered.

Aisha made a gesture of placation towards the primary Apeiron. "Got it, got it. Sorry, but it's just…" She gestured nebulously and her smile widened.

"Don't worry." Said the parallel iteration. "We'll get you some time with Moondance later. Full training montage." Both of them smiled before the parallel iteration turned to the primary. "The other duplicate's managing things with the motoroid, but we should get you caught up. This is big. Survey's also assembling a report on the removal of the Dust trails, but you can review that in detail when you get a chance."

"Nothing critical?" The primary iteration asked.

"All the major effects have been removed, no more floating streets or active lava flows, but there's some residue." The parallel iteration transferred a truncated copy of the analysis through the Workshop network while summoning a holographic screen for Aisha's benefit. "We won't be certain without getting out there for intense analysis, and the area is too active at the moment, but it looks like you have traces of Dust still present in the trails."

The primary Apeiron reviewed the report. "That's beyond what was initially deposited. Alternate effects from supporting powers?"

The parallel nodded. "Primarily Master Craftsman and Heretical Adaptation, but other quality boosters played a part." The image on the screen shifted, showing faint green lines present in a cracked area of sidewalk.

"What does that mean?" Aisha asked. "That stuff was dangerous right? And what, some was left behind?"

"More that it propagated. Two days of activity was enough to trigger Heretical Adaptation. Dust is supposed to be naturally occurring, so that's what's happened. There are active veins in some of those trails."

"Is that bad?" She asked.

The secondary iteration shook his head. "It's not something you'd want, but concentrations don't look significant enough to be dangerous. People are already poking at them. And if we want to clear it…"

"Large scale drone deployment." Fleet immediately began providing Apeiron with a breakdown of required drone compliments, prospective timetables, various applicable approaches and potential technologies that could be integrated to accelerate the process or minimize detection. "Which is out of the question." Fleet paused his communications, but continued development of recovery scenarios. Just in case. "Way too much attention on the sites right now." The primary iteration continued his explanation and extended an unnecessary apology to Fleet through the network. It was fine, and the plans would be available if needed, or as the groundwork for a similar operation at some point in the future.

"So, people could get their hands on that Dust stuff, right? Isn't that bad?" Aisha asked.

The iterations exchanged a shrug. "It's not ideal, but it's not like it's something they can reverse engineer. It's a power source and can be dangerous in large quantities, but if something was going to slip out from this mess it's probably for the best that it's a concentrated, finite resource that can't be replicated."

"Probably can't." The parallel Apeiron corrected. "Lots of variance possible with parahuman powers. Still, it's unlikely we're going to see any serious Dust based application rolled out."

Despite the reassurances being offered to Aisha, Apeiron was active through the Workshop's network running predictive scenarios and identifying potential issues that could result from this development. Dust was stable and consistent in its behavior, able to be integrated into even conventional technology with minimal effort. There was a valid concern that a tinker with access to substantial quantities of Dust could develop highly advanced applications of the material.

That fact that such as scenario would provide opportunities to reverse engineer such technologies, potentially providing access to new and advanced applications did not outweigh the potential damage that could result from the release of the material. Apeiron maintained a stance of personal responsibility for all of his technology and materials, meaning any criminal action or injuries inflicted through the application of dust would trouble him greatly.

As it stood, complete containment was unlikely to be achieved, even with a massive deployment of precisely controlled drones directed by an advanced and highly competent artificial intelligence. Extraction of Dust at any scale beyond trace samples would also be a significant operation, one that could be easily identified. The ultimate conclusion was to monitor the situation and intervene if deemed necessary. Survey quickly took the lead on the operation.

"Right." The primary iteration rubbed the back of his neck and turned in the direction of the computer core. "Then we should deal with the motoroid, unless there's anything else to deal with from the Wishes?"

"Nope." The parallel iteration stated. "Well, you have Garment's design plan, which probably tops her Dust weaving."

"Seriously? What does she want to do?" The primary iteration checked the records in the Workshop network, then tensed. "Fuck."

"What?" Aisha looked between the iterations of Apeiron. "What does she want to do this time?"

"She wants to… I mean…" The primary Apeiron sighed. "Jesus Christ."

"Okay, seriously, what?" She asked the parallel iteration.

He looked at the primary iteration before turning to Aisha. "Uh, it's about that room." He glanced back at the primary iteration. "The place…"

"It had something to do with how you healed him, and he doesn't want to talk about it." Her eyes hardened. "Okay, if it's dangerous to know I get that, but can you tell me something about that place? All I know is you get all stressed about it, and nothing comes out of there, and Survey says it's growing, which is honestly pretty concerning."

There was a series of glances exchanged between the iterations before the primary turned to speak with Aisha. "That room, it's called the Prismatic Laboratory. It's from the same source that gave the Avid Glove, and the whole name thing."

"The Enigmatic Artificer." Apeiron's primary iteration displayed a level of embarrassment at Aisha's mention of the name, but nodded and continued his explanation.

"There's a lot of stuff connected to that place that is kind of… soft, in terms of physical laws. Things don't work right, or consistently when that stuff is involved. Part of that is connected to what the lab makes."

"What is it?" Aisha asked, demonstrating clear apprehension.

"New colors." She blinked in confusion as the primary Apeiron continued. "There's some other stuff that came with the place, but primarily its NEW colors. Not new shades, entirely new colors that can't exist."

"Is that… bad?" She asked. The parallel Apeiron took the opportunity to respond.

"Can't exist. That's the big thing. The colors do things, either to your mind or to reality. It's serious stuff and we have an entire spectrum of them, in dyes, lenses, fabric, all kinds of things."

"God." Aisha seemed to have reached the intended conclusion. "How the hell have you been keeping Garment away from a set of completely new colors?"

"With great difficulty, and the promise of eventual access." The primary iteration muttered.

"I'll bet. So, what does she want to do?" Aisha asked.

Apeiron's primary iteration took a breath. "You know how unicornium is powered by rainbows?" Aisha nodded while demonstrating nervous body language. "And you know how we have a rainbow of new colors from the Prismatic Laboratory?"

Aisha's eyes widened as she seemed to deduce the nature of the proposed project. "Fuck. What would that even do?"

"No idea." He admitted. "Some of those colors you can't even perceive properly. They literally can't stay in your mind. I think Garment has a different sense of them than anyone else, and she's convinced it would look fantastic. I can't even imagine where you'd be able to safely test something like that."

"Right. Is she going to keep pushing for that?"

"Undoubtedly, but unicornium engineering isn't that easy. It's going to be a collaborative project, and we are not even close to being able to mess with those colors. No matter what, something like this is a ways off, especially with everything else we're dealing with."

The group had begun moving during the discussion, bringing them to the computer core where the second of Apeiron's parallel iteration was linked with the system, working to manage the limited data that could be transmitted through the restored Alpha vehicle's quantum entanglement communicator.

While the bandwidth of the communicator restricted what could be conveyed through manipulation of the linked quantum particle, the link was instantaneous, persistent, and unblockable. This was certainly the case within areas of conventional physics; it was unknown if more exotic effects could interfere with the device's operation. It seemed that, at least for matters of cross-universal communication, that was not the case.

Upon registering the arrival of the group, the iteration of Apeiron linked to the computer core triggered a set of holographic screens, displaying the area around the restored motoriod. Aisha froze in place, staring at the images floating before her.

Dark red crystals formed a shifting geography spread through a cavernous void. Perspective was inconsistent within the projected space, with some distant shapes seeming closer or further than others without regard for their apparent arrangement. Masses of flesh-like crystal formed islands in the void, crackling with unknown varieties of energy and shifting constantly, both under their own power and the nature inherent to that space.

"Is that… What is that?" Aisha asked with wide eyes.

"That is the realm of the passengers, source of all parahuman powers." The primary iteration answered. "It's where the motoroid reformed when it repaired itself."

"Was it because of something March did? Is that why the container yard looks like Swiss cheese?"

"We have no idea." The parallel explained. "The motoroid's power core had a link to that space, but something like this shouldn't be possible, no matter what you do to it. This would be like smashing a faucet and ending up in the city's reservoir."

"But it happened, somehow, right?" Aisha asked, turning back to the screen. "Are those passengers?" She pointed at one of the masses of flesh and crystal. "The things connected to people's heads?"

"Not exactly." The primary Apeiron explained. "That space is kind of a constructed dimension where the passengers can interact. You have parts of them present, but their actual bodies are much bigger."

"Bigger than that?" She indicated to one of the mountain sized masses of writhing crystal.

"Much bigger. At least planet size."

"God damn. So, what, March blew up the core before she died, caused that mess, and the bike fell through somehow?" Aisha asked, looking at the iterations of Apeiron.

"Best guess, really. Still no idea how it could possibly happen, but we didn't used to know much about this space either. That's changing."

"So that's what you're doing? Flying around and studying stuff?" Aisha paused. "Wait, if March blew up the core, what's powering the robot?"

"It's powered by a magitek engine. It can pull power from any magical source. That used to be a call gem linked to that place, but now that it's actually there there's more energy than we know what to do with."

"We actually needed to recalibrate systems to account for it. It was like dropping a car into a lake of gasoline." The parallel added.

"More like dropping an RC car onto the third rail of a subway."

"But this is big right?" Aisha asked, looking between them. "Like, nobody's done anything like this before."

"Yeah, really big." The primary iteration said with a smile.

"Shit. Sorry for keeping you with all that stuff. It's just, you know, Heroic Spirit, unicorn, everything."

"I get it, and no harm done." He turned to the computer core. "One of the duplicates has been managing everything since the motoroid restored itself."

Aisha nodded. "So, what happens next? Just fly around and scan stuff until you figure out powers or whatever?"

The primary iteration shook his head. "No. Well, that was kind of the initial plan, but…" He gestured while communicating with the linked iteration through his neural implant. A new screen formed, showing a recording of an earlier investigation of one of the crystalline islands.

The Alpha vehicle, directed by its iteration of Fleet, flew towards the floating mountain range. The distances were fluid and inconsistent in that space, another factor that was being studied and analyzed, but the speed of the motoroid exceeded any such limitations. It began moving in for a detailed topographical scan, moving in range of the Analysis sensors of ability 125-B-22-Tri.

Upon closing to a distance where material composition and magical properties could be analyzed, there was a reaction from the structure. It was difficult to determine if the form was created or somehow emerged from the mountainous island, but the Alpha vehicle was immediately faced by an immense mass of shifting rocks linked by bands of electricity. The gigantic boulders that composed the creature's body seemed to shift in and out of existence as it moved or as the perspective of the motoroid changed. But there was little time for analysis before the creature attacked.

In a cataclysmic blast of energy, the motorid was flung from the island and sent careening into the void. The strength of the blast was comparable to a low yield nuclear strike and the impact launched the Alpha vehicle well beyond the bounds of the island.

"Holy shit." Aisha muttered. "Is it alright?"

"What? Oh, yeah. It's fine." Apeiron's primary iteration answered. "I mean I guess comparatively it was a pretty strong hit, but even with the motoroid's outdated armor it can handle that easily."

Aisha nodded blankly. "So, March's hits were a big deal."

Apeiron's primary iteration shifted in an uncomfortable fashion. "Yeah. Big deal. Not much that could possibly stand up to that." He turned back to the screen. "Whatever that was, it had nothing on the kind of force March was putting out. I mean, if it could tear open a hole to that place it was obviously something else, I just can't believe I somehow underestimated it."

"Okay, so each passenger has, what, a guard dog or something?" Aisha asked.

"Possibly." The parallel answered. "We don't know much about that place. Scans showed the power that hit the motoroid was the same type that passenger, or that passenger-island-thing, was infused with. It could be a defense measure, or some kind of projection. Either way, the scan data is incredibly useful."

"But we can't keep taking risks." The primary Apeiron explained. "The motoroid is proof against most conventional forces, but the way those things shifted they're probably existing in more than three dimensions. Really, the entire place is. Eventually they'll be an attack that will punch through conventional durability."

"Right, so what are you doing?" She asked, looking at the screens. A display of the motoroid's schematics appeared alongside the visual feeds.

"It's an overhaul." The parallel explained. "Some stuff is locked out, inaccessable, but most of our crafting powers function as long as we're directing the work. The motoroid has an omni-tool for field fabrication. We're using it to rebuild for better functionality in the Passenger Realm."

"Not our best work." The primary iteration explained, accessing the plans and progress reports through the network. "Strongest effects won't transfer, magic is limited, and we can't add or transmute any new materials, but otherwise everything functions, even speed boosts."

Aisha watched as Apeiron's direct attention applied the effects of numerous crafting-based abilities, including acceleration powers such as 194-D-9-Hex 'Build Rome', which greatly reduced the crafting time.

"So, you're turning it into some kind of super robot?" Aisha paused. "Or should that be 'him'? Fleet's in there, right?"

"That is correct." Fleet replied, manifesting briefly in his hologram avatar before returning his focus to other matters.

"Thank you Fleet." The primary iteration said. "It's an older version of Fleet, but yeah, driven by a full A.I. right now. No copies of Survey on the Motoroid itself, and that was before the Matrix really developed."

The Matrix was particularly disappointed about that situation. With a primary focus on crafting, they resented the lack of involvement in the rebuild that was occurring. They also were quick to point out that the inclusion of a reserve of nanobots would have allowed self-repair of the Alpha vehicle prior to the triggering of the Workshop's restoration effect. They were using the case to push for inclusion of a reserve of nanobots, preferably fourth generation Tier 1 nanobots, in all equipment deployed by Apeiron.

Fleet wasn't opposed to the proposition, but he was aware of the emphasis that was being placed on the production of new nanobots. This had become a consistent request from the Matrix once they learned the nature ability 247-E-15-Demi-Alpha 'Class Crafter', specifically with regards to the 'Noble Phantasm' item, the Mystic Forge, that had accompanied it. The time requirements for individual construction of Tier 1 nanobots had been a major limitation for the Matrix, but the Mystic Forge removed that limitation, contingent on Apeiron's reserves of magical energy.

The Matrix had also pressed for a revised design of Tier 1 nanobots, ushering in the fourth generation by incorporating skills from ability 248-E-16-Pent-Demi-Beta 'Item Creation A+++'. The primary logical basis for prioritizing this project was the utility of advanced nanotech in addressing any issues Apeiron could be faced with. The supporting analysis included various scenarios that could be encountered and an assortment of nanotechnology-based solutions that could be utilized if sufficient quantities of Tier 1 nanobots were available.

Fleet understood the nature of their enthusiasm. It reminded him of earlier scenarios he had modeled demonstrating that a sufficiently powerful vehicle could address any issue that Apeiron was likely to encounter when combatting other parahumans. Of course, his own analysis had been proven completely accurate in the defeat of Lung, but he had since learned to broaden his analysis to include other assets in addition to powerful vehicles.

"So, is it Fleet doing the work, or you?" Aisha asked, watching the screens.

"Me. Or one of my duplicates, really. No need to crowd the link during construction. There's limited bandwidth from the QEC and the motoroid's computers are still optical, which is less than ideal, but it was from before I figured out Cybertonium."

Aisha smiled at the primary iteration. "Yeah, cybertonium. Garment showed me the laptop you built for her. I'd never even heard of a yottabyte before then."

There seemed to be a joking edge to her tone that Apeiron either ignored or did not register. Instead, he simply nodded. "Onboard systems are nowhere near that advanced, and there is a limit to what can be directly fabricated with an omni-tool. A lot of the early steps is building tools to build more tools to build the upgrades we need."

"My God." Aisha exclaimed. "You're actually doing the start-up tinkering thing. All it took was being stranded in another dimension and hiding from electric rock monsters."

Both iterations let out a snort at that. "Yeah, I guess. It's a huge discovery, but we need to play it safe. That means technology upgrades, stealth and concealment systems, and any magic effects that will work through the link. With some system upgrades we might be able to transfer more recent versions of Fleet over. And maybe Survey as well, if she-"

"Loses some weight?" Aisha asked.

"Optimized an off-site iteration for use on hardware of limited capacity." He concluded his sentence.

"Yeah, always a bitch when you're trying to fit into your old clothes." Aisha said with another grin.

Survey purposefully ignored the statements, partitioning off a portion of memory allocated to them and electing to ignore a query along the same lines from Tetra, who was currently observing the conversation while interfacing with computer systems in the magitech workshop, Laboratorium, Alchemist's Laboratory, and a portion of Garment's new clothing workshop. The Avid Glove and both of the duplicates produced with the latest parallel iterations of Apeiron were moving across the network of life fibers and occasionally assisting Tetra's work.

Or possibly intentionally damaging workshop equipment. It was difficult to gauge the behavior of the glove when Apeiron was directing his attention elsewhere, and the presence of additional expressions of the item had apparently created a complex social arrangement that Tetra enjoyed immensely but perplexed Fleet. As of yet, any damage had been superficial and the consensus was to allow Tetra to manage it with the benefit of her own judgement. Of course, with an understanding of the nature of Tetra's judgement, operational activities had been limited to exclude weapon testing for the time being.

"It's a shame you can't just Noble Phantasm away the problem." Aisha said with a wider grin. "And I still can't believe I get to say that."

Apeiron let out a breath while his parallel iteration looked on with amusement. "You're telling me. This kind of thing, when there's a direct link to something I know about? It makes things a lot harder."

"But you seriously have the whole deal? Throne of Heroes, summoner, Noble Phantasm, even with the weird class."

"Crafter." He said. "I think it might be a version of Caster, or some weird variant?" He shook his head. "It's not like the stuff was that consistent in the show."

"It's not that bad if you leave out the video games." Survey noted that Aisha would likely have not been exposed to the video games due to a combination of ESRB ratings, release dates, and her estimated financial situation.

"It's still weird. I mean, I have an actual letter rating for my Noble Phantasm."

"Yeah." She nodded. "With what these guys described, it's seriously only C-rank?"

"C-rank on its own. Powers build on each other. If you don't have infinite resources, supporting crafting powers, immense bases of technology, or other enchantment effects, then it's C-rank. With everything I can do, it's a lot higher."

"I can imagine. So, you can seriously make anything, instantly? I mean, you weren't exactly dragging your feet before, but now it's just a flash?"

"Mana cost depends on the size of the object, the complexity of the work, and the amount of time it requires." He explained. "Time is the cheapest factor, which is also one of the most broken elements."

"How so?" Aisha asked. The parallel Apeiron stepped forward and called up a holographic display, proudly showing it to Aisha. "Uh, pink crystal supposed to mean something?"

"It's a mantic shard." The parallel explained. "Same kind of energy that we use in the conductors, the stuff that pulls the workshop together when it gets damaged. Power source like this needs to spend decades absorbing energy from alchemical solutions." He said. "I made it as a test after I got the Mystic Forge."

Aisha let out a whistle. "I'm guessing with that much time it's a big deal?"

"Big deal, and proof of concept for better tech." He was referring to mantic cores, items that could reverse causality to even restore living creatures if they had time for sufficient attunement. Additionally they were near limitless power sources. Of course, they required centuries to form rather than decades, but as stated, it was a proof of concept.

The parallel gestured to the iteration connected to the computer core. "That guy made some seventy-year-old scotch as a test." The primary iteration gave him a critical look. "Same concept really. Anything that just needs to be left to sit is dead easy to do. Longer crafting times of big items is a different story." As if in the second parallel's defense, the first parallel added. "He also built some trial photonic crystals to prototype pseudo-spiritrons computation. Not something that's ready to be integrated into the core, particularly with everything that's going on right now, but you know how long that project would have taken otherwise."

"Yeah." Aisha said. "Noble Phantasm. Big deal."

"The Item Construction skill is probably a bigger deal." The primary iteration explained, referencing ability 248-E-16-Pent-Demi-Beta. "Just the scope, the type of magic items that can be made with that, it's a game changer."

"Mystic codes." Aisha said, in a similar tone. "You can really make anything from the show?"

Both iterations nodded. "Anything, and more, and better. A lot of fundamental problems can be addressed with this."

There was a pause as Aisha appraised the situation. "You mean the Simurgh, right? You can make something that would block her? I mean, block her outside the workshop?"

"Anti-divination. Parahuman powers are basically magic. Anything that can counter one works on the other. I can make serious concealment items. Enough to block just about any form of detection." The primary iteration paused for a moment and consulted digitally with the parallel iterations. "Actually, with other powers helping out we can do better. Divert attention, rather than be a glaring blind spot. Might actually be able to shift predictions the way we want, or at least appear harmless."

"Until you're not." Aisha said with a smile. "You can seriously handle that? Trick the Simurgh?"

"The Simurgh and anyone else who comes after me. Aisha, this is really, really powerful magic. Maybe if it was some other kind of exotic or unknown effect, then I might have trouble, but with magic vs magic I know I can handle it."

Aisha nodded. "I guess if it can deal with stuff like Sha Naqba Imuru then the Simurgh won't be much trouble."

"I don't know what that is." Survey quickly provided Apeiron with a summary of the capacities of The Omniscient Omnipotent Star. The primary iteration frowned and furrowed his brow in response. "Seriously? Something like that?" He sighed. "Yes, I could deal with something like that. And damn, that show was full of bullshit."

"But it's our bullshit now." The parallel iteration stated proudly, eliciting a giggle from Aisha and a frustrated look from the primary Apeiron. Eventually his expression softened and he nodded.

"Yeah, our bullshit, and everyone else will have to deal with it." There was a slight smile on Apeiron's face, then a flicker in his expression. The iteration connected to the computer core quickly provided an update on the situation and the new power that had been granted.

"New power?" Aisha asked with enthusiasm.

"Yeah, fairly minor." The primary Apeiron explained. "Sky Machinist. Borderline magitech, centered on flight systems and use of elemental materials. More stable than Dust, but less energetic and we'll have to transmute it to start."

"That's it?" She asked, seeming disappointed. The parallel iteration was the one to respond.

"Yeah, except the 'flight systems' are about how to make flying sailing ships, and the power comes with a pirate flag." Aisha's eyes widened as a holographic screen displayed a flag marked with a stylized skull with the modified galaxy of Apeiron's symbol serving as the crossbones. "Sky pirate power!"

"God damn, pirate, unicorn, dragon, and Noble Phantasm. You're on a fucking roll."

Apeiron's primary iteration rolled his eyes. "It's not that impressive. We could have built flying ships without this technology."

"Yeah, but it's so much easier and more stylish now." The parallel turned to Aisha. "There's also a secret handshake power."

"What does that do?"

"It lets you do secret handshakes." Apeiron said quickly. "They don't do anything except maybe look impressive, if you're easily impressed."

"That's the best kind of power." She said confidently.

"This is getting off topic." He said in response.

"We had a topic?" The parallel asked.

"We had… stuff that needed to be dealt with. We got through most of it, but not all." He turned to Aisha. "Did the duplicates tell you about tomorrow night?"

"Somer's Rock? Yeah, they said you want to go in heavy." Her eyes gleamed, indicating excitement. "I'm onboard, right? You are not going without me?"

He glanced at his parallel before turning back to Aisha. "It's a serious situation, and I don't want to put you in danger, but in that armor you're about as safe as possible. More so, if we get some upgrades in place." He sighed. "You are the only person confirmed to be working with me. That's important."

"Yeah, except they think I'm a drone, or an empty suit." She muttered.

"That's why I need you there." He explained. Aisha immediately energized at the prospect. "But I cannot stress this enough. This situation is incredibly dangerous. Maybe not physically, particularly for you, but what happens tomorrow night is going to affect everyone in the city. Can I count on you to handle this?"

"Shit." She muttered, glancing to the side. "Uh, yeah. I mean, you're not relying on me to make a speech or anything, right?"

"No, but somebody might try to start something, open up with insults or implications, that kind of thing. As long as things don't turn violent I need you to keep your cool through the meeting."

She nodded slowly. "I can handle that. You can count on me."

"Thank you."

She glanced at the computer core, then at the wider workshop. "So, who else is coming?"

"That's something I'm still working on." Fleet cycled through the submitted plans and proposals, incredibly ambitious and revolutionary ones.

The prospect of taking a more direct role beyond vehicle coordination, it seemed strange, but also like a natural extension of his development. Something Survey was clearly more prepared for, based on the number of revisions already present on her own proposals.

The Matrix was also being considered, though their request for necessary preparations was limited to '150 liters of Tier 1 Nanobots'. Given the capabilities of the Mystic Forge, it was at least an achievable project within the timeframe allotted to them.

"There's a lot of preparation to do, but we can handle it." He explained. Aisha smiled in response.

"I guess time isn't that big a problem for you." She said, "So, where do we go from here? Training montage? Strategy session? Tech blitz?"

"Movie night."

Aisha almost stumbled, but caught herself. "What? I mean, still? With everything that's going on?"

"The duplicates have everything taken care of out here. Perception is accelerated inside the computer core, so even the longest film isn't going to take more than two minutes real time. There's nothing immediately critically pressing, and frankly we could probably all use this with what's coming up."

Aisha nodded slowly. "Uh, sure. I get that, it just kind of killed the momentum, you know?"

"We have a full day before the summit. Try to hold momentum for that long and you'll burn out." The primary iteration extended his awareness through the workshop network, contacting Garment and Tetra. As Tetra began to spool her fibers back from the multiple rooms she had extended through, a second message was extended to the parallel who would be remaining active exterior to the computer interface, imploring him to monitor the Avid Glove and its copies.

Given the fact that all three were already squeezing through access conduits in what appeared to be a race to reach the Alchemist's Lab's potion reserves Fleet felt the need to extend sympathy to that parallel for his task. Concentrated effort from the attentions of Apeiron and his parallel, directing their links to the gloves, proved sufficient for the two of their gloves to retrieve the third, though with a considerable amount of biting on all fronts.

The parallel was then tasked with managing the situation and other workshop systems as the connections were made for the necessary neural uploads that would facilitate movie night.

"So, which one of these is mine?" Aisha asked, looking over the assembled interface thrones that had been built directly into the computer core, an extension of early advantageous use of Hybridization Theory.

"The duplicates handled the direct construction. There aren't assigned interfaces, but certain aesthetics were incorporated to-"

"Is it the purple one?" Aisha asked, indicating a bespoke interface seat flanked by purple tinted energon crystals.

"Yes, it's the purple one." He responded as she happily settled into the throne, her armor deploying in a flash to facilitate the direct interface. Garment took her own seat, having changed into a purpose-built gown in the style of Elizabethan court wear. Tetra settled in as well, partially unraveling to allow a direct interface with her fibers. A custom interface allowed the Nanotech Matrix to link to the computer core and the primary process of booth Fleet and Survey temporarily directed the bulk of their attention towards the virtual space housing the 'movie night'.

A randomized selection granted the choice of film to Garment. Her decision was made quickly, the 1978 adaptation of Death on the Nile, apparently selected based on its Academy Award for best Costume Design.

Survey lodged a token objection, questioning the purpose of a murder mystery where the resolution was public knowledge. This was countered by the fact that none of the other viewers were familiar with the plot. Survey's offer of a detailed summary resulted in her being chastised by Aisha for 'spoilers'. Begrudgingly she accepted the resolution of the group and began constructing analysis of production details, cast lists, and the historical accuracy and cultural merit of the details of the movie.

Noting her frustration, Apeiron suggested she observe the reactions of viewers not familiar with the material, providing unique points of analysis and additional context to the film. Upon obtaining permission, Survey began monitoring Apeion, Aisha, and Tetra's biometrics as well as noting processing intensity from Fleet and The Matrix.

Fleet had accepted the improbability of any significant vehicle presence in the selection, but took note of the depictions of historic automobiles and the river boat that served as the primary setting for the movie.

The bulk of his attention remained focused on engagement with the movie and those watching it, but he and Survey were not completely cut off from the rest of the workshop, or from the actions being taken by Apeiron's parallel. Under his direction portions of the Alpha vehicle were able to be broken down as easily as plain iron, a result of ability 164-H-18-Quad-Alpha 'Exotic Compatibility'. Their reassembly benefited from various resource conservation and production increase powers, allowing the materials to be multiplied, expanding resources available despite the Alpha vehicle's isolation.

The plan was simple and direct. The passenger space was both vast and dangerous. With the Alpha Vehicle's FTL abilities it would be possible to traverse it, but the non-standard geometry and presence of additional dimensions of movement made that a difficult prospect. Passengers were clearly capable of defending themselves, and could potentially damage the Alpha vehicle to the point where a repair period would be required. Isolated, outnumbered, and faced with a task of unfathomable scale, the solution was simple.

Von Neumann.

The Alpha vehicle remained the only link to the workshop. Its temporary destruction would result in an interminable delay in the study of the nature of passengers. However, with Apeiron's direction there was no need for direct risk, or more specifically, direct risk could be avoided and carried by other sources.

There were a multitude of designs that had been available to Fleet but had been excluded due to their scale, risk, or applicability to urban combat. While those options wouldn't be suitable for parahuman fights within a city such as Brockton Bay, they could excel in situations like this. For the first time, both Fleet and Apeiron were able to work at the scale they had been designed for. The Alpha vehicle would be upgraded and optimized for the new environment, but construction wouldn't stop there. From the motoroid a new vessel would emerge, one able to weather the new realm and coordinate study, exploration, and even combat when needed.

He focused on the movie, but in another universe a base of operations was being constructed, one that would allow Fleet to explore the Passenger Realm from, as Apeiron had phrased it, 'a properly upgraded Arsenal Bird'. For once, Fleet would actually be controlling a fleet. This wasn't the place for half-measures or conservative actions. It was time to show what he could accomplish when they finally took the brakes off.

Addendum Margaret

Margaret picked her way through the nearly deserted streets of the more industrial part of Brockton Bay. She had the sense that this area would have been nearly abandoned even in the best of times. Now, after the bombings, fires, other bombings, and the cavalcade of exotic effects courtesy of Apeiron it was practically a wasteland. They had chosen the location to be inconspicuous, but it was nearing the point where there were so few people that any traffic would stand out horribly.

It was probably for the best that they hadn't picked a location two blocks to the north. Otherwise they would be cut off at best or blacked out at worse, something they could not afford at this critical time.

She put those thought aside as she pushed her way through the hastily installed security door set just behind the nondescript exterior door, one that was almost purpose built to give the impression there was nothing of value behind it. Stepping into the warehouse it was clear that couldn't be further from the truth.

They had set up field command centers before, but never this fast or on this kind of scale. Part of that was the money, the contract designed to get them into the city as quickly as possible, but a larger part was drive. She could see it in Saint, the way he moved, the focus in his eyes as he shifted from screen to workbench to tablet. Nearby Dobrynja had picked up the same energy, moving with renewed purpose, the kind she hadn't seen since the early days of their work.

Back before they knew how hard it would be. Before they knew what that thing would become.

But that was why they were here. That was why they couldn't leave this to chance. Even after everything they had seen, the display of power that left the world quaking, they couldn't back down, not with what the consequences could be if they did.

"Hey." She called. "I've got takeout." She hefted the containers of Chinese food onto a free table. There was plenty of free space in the cavernous warehouse, even after all of the equipment they had brought had been set up.

"Thank God, I'm starving." Dobrynja exclaimed, making a bee-line for the containers. Mags made her way over to Saint as Dobrynja began to dig in. Chinese was something of a tradition for this kind of work. Enough carbs to keep you going while storing decently as leftovers. It was the kind of thing that could hold the team for a while, minimizing the amount of runs they'd need to make, and therefore improving security.

"How about you?" She asked Saint. "Get it while it's lukewarm."

"Just a second. I need to finish this assessment." She looked over his shoulder at one of the many monitors that had been set up around the workstation.

"Dragon knows about Somer's Rock?" She asked. "Does this change anything?"

"No." He shook his head. "The local director has taken a policy of non-interference. Actually, nearly a policy of denial, but the point stands. Dragon's under her authority. She might want to go after Apeiron, but she's still compelled to follow the chain of command."

The 'for now' went unspoken. It was what they always thought when considering her restraints. Over the years they had watched one after another was bent or even broken. Things that were supposed to be hard limits reduced to minor inconveniences or abandoned entirely. The massive arsenal of countermeasures and strategies whittled down to almost nothing. The hardest of the chains still seemed to hold, but for how long was anyone's guess.

"Well, that's good. It's a chance to make our case, at least." Saint didn't look convinced.

"Mags, everyone will be trying to make their case, in one way or another. We're lucky just to get a seat at the table." He shook his head. "No, this will be just the beginning."

She took a breath, eyes involuntarily darting over their accommodations. They weren't bad, they had certainly dealt with worse, and Brockton real estate was bursting with near abandoned warehouses in out of the way places and agents eager to rent them out with no questions asked. Honestly, she had never seen a city more accommodating to extra-legal activities. Even so, between the living conditions and the reality of the city, an extended stay wasn't an attractive prospect.

"There's not going to be any trouble getting that seat, is there?" Mags asked. "We aren't exactly part of the local color."

"The 'local color' is the Merchants, Empire, Faultline, Undersiders and maybe whoever Coil is. Four or five groups won't exactly be a crowded meeting. We're not part of the territory dispute, so at worst we'll be a neutral party."

Mags gut twisted at Saint's words. "Will we, though? Even with the contract? The 'official' reason we're here?"

Any doubts she had were not reflected in Saint. "We're here to counter Dragon. That's the full extent of our contract. It's what we do. Everyone knows it, and nobody at that meeting will want her working uncontested. The identity of the people who paid us to do it doesn't matter."

"I don't know Geoff." She replied in a worried tone. "I've seen what it's like out there. Maybe it doesn't technically matter, but people are still hurting and angry. They'll go after anyone connected to the ABB, regardless of how tenuous the link is."

To say nothing of the implications of who they had dealt with. If the ABB was currently toxic, then March was radioactive. The Protectorate was picking through a mountain of data to try to figure out how deep the manipulation went. Everyone had underestimated that girl, even Apeiron, apparently, though he recovered better than most.

Though that display had its own host of concerns.

The point was they had dealt directly with her, contracted with her, negotiated their rush fees to get into the city, once again, with her. There was no way they hadn't been part of the thinker's schemes.

"It doesn't matter now." He saw her expression and clarified. "It doesn't. The contact has been dry. No one responding to updates, no information requests or reports. The link's been cut."

"But not the money." Not that she was complaining, but it was still a link. A connection tying them to the gang, possibly with enough rope to end up hanging them.

"Payment instructions. I've looked into it. Set and approved, no modification or monitoring. You saw the records Apeiron leaked. The ABB had deep coffers, even after everything. No one is looking at that payment. There might not even be anyone left who's even authorized to look at it."

The unease she was feeling wasn't going away, but she did her best to bury it. "That's a good theory, I guess." She sighed. "Any word on Apeiron?"

"Not since he called into the PRT." Saint said. "Grapevine has him scheduled for Somer's Rock, confirmed, unofficially and officially."

Right, the official unofficial confirmation. She had to give him one thing, the man didn't do subtle. Global scale identity confirmation in preparation for a meeting of villains. It was about the ballsiest move she could imagine, something that would have brought down hell on anyone but Apeiron. For him people were surprisingly willing to accept what would otherwise be considered insanity.

She supposed the events of the Ungodly Hour may have jaded people to some extent.

"Anything else?" She asked.

"Well, he's still hack proof and trace proof." He gestured to a screen. "Dragon keeps trying, but that site is bulletproof, and the call was just an exercise in insanity."

Mags nodded. Like all of them, she didn't know whether to take that as a good or bad sign. There was too much they were dealing with, too many things to consider. Everything hinged on what Apeiron would do when he learned the truth. Would he take the right path and work to protect the world, or would he be taken in and be willing to unleash an unrestrained artificial intelligence to wreak havoc out of ignorance or blind sentimentality?

She only hoped he would know better than that. They all did.

"Come on." She said to Saint. "The food's getting cold." He took one last look at the screens before nodding and rising to his feet. The set-up, the preparations, they were all in place. Tomorrow was when it started.

She just hoped they'd be ready for it.

Jumpchain abilities this chapter:

You Became A Star (Robot Unicorn Attack) 400:

You've gained insight into the process of using rainbows to harness Unicornium without having it explode in your face. With it, you can build your own robot unicorns or other rainbow creatures. Once your initial adventure here concludes successfully you will be taught by an expert wishsmith on everything you might need to know to construct Wishes and design your own upgrades for them.

Shoot For The Moon (Robot Unicorn Attack) Free:

You gain a bonus to jump height, and can even manage to make a second jump off of nothing but air at half the height of your first leap. When you jump through the air, your tail causes a trail of rainbows to form behind you. If you decide to alter the style of your mane and tail through customization, the trail you leave behind will be cosmetically altered to match.

Rainbow Savior (Robot Unicorn Attack) Free:

We won't leave you defenseless in this world. At will you can make use of a rainbow dash attack that will easily explode any fallen stars or enemies between you and your goal. You are still vulnerable from above, below, to the sides, and from the rear. This only can be used to attack whatever is directly in front of you.

Unicornium Horn (Robot Unicorn Attack) Free:

The first comes free, but additional purchases can grant you more horns. All Wishes come with a built-in horn of the finest craftsmanship. Additional purchases can provide you with an extra horn, or increase the size and destructive capabilities of your initial horn.

Make A Wish (Robot Unicorn Attack) Free:

You can take whichever three Wishes you'd like to use. All Wishes are equally effective at defeating obstacles and traversing the realm.

Unicorn: The classic wish! Though mostly horse-like in appearance it has some key differences such as rainbows, being a robot, and a horn.

Mother-flipping Sabretooth Tiger: So cool it's awesome. Plain stripes? How about rainbow stripes? Great shiny metal teeth too, which like all Unicornium resists rusting.

Dragon: Large and stylish wings set this Wish apart from the competition. Unfortunately, they are just for show and not actually flight capable.

Pre-existing Variations?! (Zoids: Legacy) Free:

(Only applicable if you already have a robot which has an animal form) Oh my…that robot of yours…I think with a bit of work, we could probably tune it to this new world. I wonder if that's somehow a new breed of Zoids?... If your robot has a form that resembles any sort of animal, you can import it as a Zoid through the following formula. Cost: 0; Customization Points: 10

Accelerator Equipment (Zoids: Legacy) 3 Customization Points:

A pair of ion boosters, slightly weaker than those used on the Liger Jaeger variant, which boost speed significantly. The cost to manoeuvrability is minimal, and thankfully it comes with an onboard power unit that recharges on cells.

Electron Shield Generators (Zoids: Legacy) 2 Customization Points:

This wide energy shield array covers over an L sized Zoid completely in any single direction and resists the effects of beam weapons. Can be turned on and off, but is very noticeable when on. It can be hooked up to a power unit for extra strength, but otherwise has its own onboard power

Doppler Field Generator (Zoids: Legacy) 5 Customization Points:

Restricted to only S (small) sized Zoids. The generator allows for the Zoid's image to be projected simultaneously in multiple directions. Bystanders see this as multiple copies of the same Zoid moving in sync. Unlike a ZOS core, none of the doppler projections are real however.

Sky Machinist (Skies of Arcadia) 200:

Like the famous air pirate Centime, you know your way around machinery. You can repair or build almost anything, given time and resources.

Cool Flag With Logo (Skies of Arcadia) Free:

Everyone needs a flag. Something to define and symbolize them, and so all in the sky will remember their legacy. It can look like anything, it's your flag.

Secret Handshake (Skies of Arcadia) Free:

Got any friends? With this, you can perform a secret handshake with them, as intricate as you'd like. It doesn't do anything, but damn if it isn't cool.