Brockton's Celestial Forge (Worm/Jumpchain) (2022)

6 Commission

The events of my meeting had led to my current situation, walking through the docks flanked by a team of villains. Well, teenage villains. Brian had to be the oldest of them and I would still put him at least a couple of years younger than myself. Actually it could be more than a couple of years depending on how early he developed. Alec and Taylor looked like they were half way through high school with Lisa barely older than them. Of course Lisa was a serious thinker. That shifted maturity significantly and you’d have to be stupid to assume any level of youthful naiveté.

I had entered into this situation with the grim impression that I was facilitating a parahuman arms deal. The Undersiders had a much different approach to things.

“You want to stop for pizza?” Alec gestured to a corner pizza place at the end of the block.

“Isn’t this a business negotiation?” I get what was happening, it was an attempt to build comradery, but I felt I needed at least a token effort to keep things professional.

Brian just shrugged. “Nothing that formal. We can grab some takeout.”

With no serious objection he and Lisa went inside while I milled on the sidewalk with Taylor and Alec. Conveniently the two Undersiders I knew the least about. I had to wonder if Tattletale had set things up that way. Even if it was part of her plans I was still going to take advantage of the chance to get a better idea of who I was dealing with. The street was empty, but I checked thoroughly before I started talking.

“So, if I’m going to be working for you some background would be helpful. I’ve got an idea of what Brian, Lisa, and Rachel can do, but what about you two?”

Taylor seemed embarrassed by the question. Seriously embarrassed, like borderline mortified. For a moment I wondered if I overstepped. “Um, I can control bugs.”

I raised an eyebrow and she pointed at the wall of the pizza place. A housefly landed on it, then followed where she was pointing exactly as she moved her finger. A few more swooped in to a circle around her head in a halo, then flew off in straight lines without so much as a gesture.

It wasn’t what I was expecting, but unless she was throwing around some S-class level reality revision power there wasn’t much that would fit with my passenger’s reaction. Looking at it objectively it was clearly a higher end master power. She had controlled insects she wasn’t looking at, suggesting that she either had some passive awareness of them or was able to ignore the fine details. She’d been able to create a precise formation with no visible effort. She hadn’t had to check on the positions of the flies at any point either.

From the sense I got from my passenger, which was still blaring whenever I dealt with Taylor, whatever aspect of her saved the world this wasn’t it. That is to say, wasn’t it yet. That meant either a serious development of her power or that she could scale it up to a ridiculous degree. Questions of her range, detail of control, and maximum numbers, and what exactly qualified as a bug could fill in the gaps, but I didn’t want to come off too aggressive and spook her. As much as I wanted to get to the bottom of this I needed a good relationship with these people.

Instead I looked over at Alec.

Rather than say anything he looked through the store window where Brian had just picked up a pair of large pizza boxes. He made a gesture and Brian’s leg twitched, with him barely managing to catch himself before he face planted into the pizza he was holding. He glared through the window and stormed out of the shop while Lisa finished paying.

“Ass.” He spat the word over the boxes. Alec seemed inordinately happy that Brian was currently incapable of more physical, probably fist based, expressions of his frustration.

“Hey, Joe was asking about powers. I was just being a good team member and helping to enlighten him.” His mock innocent tone only seemed to irritate Brian further.

“I see Alec has done his traditional demonstration.” Lisa was grinning as she came out of the pizza parlor and even Taylor seemed entertained.

“Interesting.” I considered how that power could have worked. “Was that nerve manipulation, or did you trigger the reaction in his muscles directly?”

“Nerves. I can kind of feel them out, but it’s a crapshoot on how it’s going to work. Still good for throwing people off.”

“Huh.” That was interesting. “Do you get any feedback from them, or is it broadcast only?”

“Is this important?” Brian cut in sharply.

“Maybe? Still not sure what you’re looking for. Any information could help out.” Apparently I had pushed a bit too far on this topic.

“Save it for the meeting. We’re almost there.”

They led me through some empty lots to an abandoned red brick factory with a faded sign labeling it as ‘Redmond Welding’. This one was in much better shape than what I had used to access my lab the other night but still looked like it had been out of business for at least a decade. Without my passenger’s reassurance I would have been seriously concerned about following a group of villains to a remote and abandoned building, but he was totally confident. In fact there was a sense of anticipation from him. Whatever this was he was looking forward to it.

It turned out the factory was somewhat less than abandoned. Brian let the group in through a side door revealing a lower level that was a mess of old and stripped down machinery. The Undersiders headed for a spiral staircase in the corner. I could tell it had been better maintained than the rested hulks of the rest of the factory’s equipment.

The stairs opened into some kind of open plan loft. The main area had a couple of couches facing an extravagant entertainment center. Split off from that was a kitchen area bigger than my entire apartment. On the opposite side was a cluster of rooms with various pieces of artwork differentiating the doors. Throughout the entire place there were little touches of personalization, from the half full bookcases to the random knickknacks, to the very specific arrangement of old pizza boxes and aluminum cans.

I figured they were bringing me to an empty building where we could have a private discussion. At most I expected a safe house or some kind of temporary set up, something disposable or deniable. Instead they had walked me right into their home. They brought me straight to their secret base.

I was shocked at how brazen they were being, and only Taylor seemed even slightly nervous about it. Everyone else settled in with all the casualness of coming home after a long day. Brian dropped the pizza on the coffee table and headed to the kitchen to grab some drinks. Alec basically flopped on the sofa and started fiddling with the various remotes spread around. Lisa perched on the end of one of the couches and cracked open the first of the pizza boxes.

I knew I should expect social plays and power moves from her, but I just couldn’t figure out the logic behind this. “You guys live here?”

“Part time. We have other places, but this is home away from home.”

“And you’re ok just marching me in here?”

Brian returned from the kitchen with two armfuls of soda bottles. “Lisa cleared you. That’s good enough for us.”

Right. Their terrifyingly powerful thinker. Having someone like that must be as comforting for them as it was nerve-wracking for everyone else. I looked at Lisa, but she was just as smug as ever. There was a note of dread at what else she had been able to divine from me over the earlier conversation, but my passenger’s easy confidence pretty much drowned it out.

Problems for another time. I took a seat on the couch and grabbed a slice of pizza. This was technically a violation of the diet I had committed to and had horrible macros, but mentioning any of that was more than I wanted to share. After ten days of cost efficient precisely nutritionally balanced meals the slab of cheesy bread loaded with pepperoni and sausage tasted like ambrosia. I did my best not to show how much I was enjoying it, but Lisa’s grin widened slightly.

“So Mr. Tinker, give us your sales pitch.” Lisa was looking smug, but shared some of the expectant look I was getting from the rest of the Undersiders.

“Well, what are you looking for?” I didn’t know exactly what I was comfortable building for them, so hopefully they wouldn’t ask for anything too extreme. “Also what kind of timeframe are we under here?”

Brian considered before speaking. “The job is planned for this Thursday.”

“Thursday.” My voice was flat. “Thursday as in the day after tomorrow?”

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I clenched my jaw, then forced myself to relax it. “And I suppose it’s too much to hope that you’re looking for delivery at eleven at night?”

“Well need everything by that morning.” He glanced at Lisa.

“8 am should do it, later will cut into our schedule.”

“So that’s...” I checked my watch. “just over forty one hours from now. And you want it made in that time?”

Brian cleared his throat. “We were kind of hoping you had some old stuff you’d be willing to part with, or something you could finish in time.”

I thought back to my early projects and the grand total of what I’d been able to build so far. “Yeah, no luck on any old projects.”

“Is this going to be a problem?”

“Well it definitely takes power armor off the table.” I let my frustration bleed through every word.

The Vehicles constellation swung towards me and my power latched onto a mote from it. I grit my teeth and pretended to contemplate things while I examined my new ability. It was called ‘Aerospace Engineering Makes Things Go Fast’. A rather apt descriptor. The ability was actually closer to what traditional tinker powers provided. It gave an intuitive grasp of a whole range of fields like wind-flow, material sciences, atmospheric drag, tensile strengths, rocketry, and a bunch of similar subjects. It also covered the application of those principles to designing air and even space vehicles.

Combining it with my doctorate level mechanical knowledge, enhanced intelligence and the extreme pools of knowledge I had gotten from my last two abilities turned it into something extraordinary. Grease Monkey gave me the principles for manufacturing a host of flight and rocketry designs. There was already potential for refinement and improvement from my other powers, but this took it to a whole other level. The somewhat janky personal flight system I was able to build could now be upgraded to keep up with the best flying capes in the city. I would be able to push vehicles past the supersonic limits to full space planes. The types of rocketry weapons I’d be able to create would be works of art.

Also, while most of the ability was focused on vehicle application the materials science component had far reaching effects. I already had a lot of technical knowledge and experience. It was hard to explain what the new intuitive grasp was adding, but it was like previously I knew what I was supposed to do and now I FELT what I was supposed to do. The only thing was after I followed my intuition I had the technical knowledge to understand it. That let me refine the materials science aspect of my powers to a frankly insane level. Some of the things I could already pull off in that area with Grease Monkey or Smithing were seriously impressive. This took it into a realm beyond.

I glanced up and found I had the attention of the entire group. Taylor had shed some of her nervousness and Alec dropped his veil of indifference to press me on the topic.

“Wait, power armor’s an option?” I swear his eyes were shining.

“Not in forty one hours it isn’t.”

“But in more than forty one hours it’s a possibility?” Even Taylor looked eager for my response, which was probably the most engagement I’d seen from the reserved girl.

“I’d need to fabricate power sources, most of the mechanics, the materials for the plating, any weapons you’d want attached, program the interfaces, and then design a training process to make sure you know how to not tear apart your arms the first time you use the strength assist. So yeah, longer than forty one hours. Substantially longer than forty one hours”

When I finished my borderline rant I had the rapt attention of the entire group. Meaningful glances were being shared between Brian and Lisa and Alec looked like he’d found out Christmas was coming early this year.

“Hey,” He leaned forward in his seat. “If you can make all that stuff then why were you beating Oni Lee with a metal chair leg the other night?”

And that was probably something I’d never live down. I really thought I had avoided the ‘early tinker embarrassing gear’ problem. Taking a steel club with me my first night may have saved my life, but I had the feeling that Alec would never let me forget it. The fact was that no matter how good my technology got I had started my career bashing villains like a cave man.

The rest of the group seemed interested in that as well. I guess if someone was hawking power armor when the most advanced piece of technology they had used predated the spear it created some understandable doubt. I definitely wasn’t going to explain the way my power grew, and frankly even if I had these abilities sooner I would probably have been in the same spot. Instead I offered the most reasonable excuse I could come up with.

“Lack of time, lack of resources, lack of training. I’ve only had my powers for a week. Barely got a workshop set up. I needed an offensive option that I would be able to use. It’s hard to screw up with a baton.” That at least got a few nods from the others, but Taylor seemed uncertain.

“You went out before you had your equipment ready?” There was an edge of disapproval to her voice.

Hey, I tried. I really tried. How good was your equipment on your first night out?

And why was my passenger laughing at me?

I just tried to brush it off. “I had my defenses taken care of, and was able to get some other stuff ready. I just didn’t have the resources for a full loadout.” She seemed to be somewhat understanding of that.

“The other stuff was that glowy speed boost shit, right? Can we get some of that?” Alec looked at the irritated expressions from Lisa and Brian. “What? That’s what we’re here for, right?”

Right, alchemy formulas. “That stuff is a lot more complicated. I need to set it up myself and unless you have me on site it doesn’t last long enough to be worth it.”

Alec stroked his chin in a contemplative gesture. “You know, we could always revisit that vote.”

“No Alec. We’ve got a deal. We’re going with it.” Brian glanced at me as he spoke.

“Stupid waste.” Alec muttered.

“Um, hey.” I shifted my attention to Taylor and did my best to ignore my passenger’s elation. “Can someone fill me in on the glowy speed thing?”

Lisa was about to speak, then closed her mouth and turned to me with a smug expression. Apparently she liked putting people on the spot more than she liked being a smartass. Well, here goes.

“One of the tinker things I’ve figured out is how to combine formulas, combinations of materials to release energy in certain patterns to trigger particular effects. I can use it to enhance speed, defense, stuff like that.”

That got varied reactions from the Undersiders but Taylor twigged to the implications right away. “Like powers? You can give yourself powers? You’re a tinker who can give yourself powers? You’re a tinker?” She looked to Lisa for conformation. She just shrugged in reply.

“Uh, it’s really more like high energy chemistry than anything parahuman based. There’s a specific mechanism behind the process that my power lets me figure out. Plus some of the materials I need are pretty difficult to find.” And some of them I can get from any grocery store, but I wasn’t about to let that out now.

“You can’t just prep the combinations for us or something?” Alec was keeping cool, but had a hopeful tone to his voice.

“No, there’s a lot more complexity than just mixing the components.” Setting aside the question of whether I was ready to trust this kind of thing to anyone else, much less villains, the mechanics of Evermore Alchemy were within the same fiat backed certainty as my Fashion ability. I knew they would work, but they didn’t fall under any local natural laws. While I could generate the effect I didn’t think anyone else could. Well, except for Call Beads.

“What?” Lisa was suddenly looking interested. What, had I shown some hint of what I was thinking? Actually, she was a high end thinker, but how far did that go? She was clearly extraordinarily observant, but I didn’t know how much of my internal dialogue she was privy to.

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“There is one way that I could prep something another person could use.” That got everyone’s attention. Damn it. I didn’t want to get into this.

Call Beads were serious alchemy. Probably the most serious formula there was. It required dry ice and meteorite fragments and generated small round crystals that could provide a link to the power of other creatures. Normally this would channel the energy of powerful people with a conceptual connection to a particular place. The manifested energy, as much as I didn’t like using the word, was basically magic. By making the beads I could create an item that would allow anyone to access that connection by expending them.

The problem was I wasn’t sure what I could make a link with. The only entities strong enough to create those kinds of effects were the other passengers. While that could work, and would be devastatingly powerful, I had no idea what the repercussions would be. Passengers were terrifying and barely understood the world they were interacting with. Giving them a link to the world without a very good idea on how that would manifest seemed like a terrible idea. Handing off the link to someone who didn’t understand the mechanics of it seemed apocalyptic.

Lisa’s eyebrows had climbed into her hair as she watched me consider the problem, and her reaction was starting to make Brian very uneasy.

“Well?” Alec asked, blind to the mood spreading through the group. “What is it?”

I shook my head. “Not a good idea. It needs some really rare materials, so I haven’t been able to do even initial tests of the concept yet.”

Alec deflated, but Brian cut in. “What can you get us before the deadline?”

I considered my options. I would be really happy if I could have limited my support to defensive and utility items. I could make good armor, even the unpowered armor I made would be excellent. Or I could produce gadgets that would be useful in the field, but either of those options would take longer than I had. Maybe I could upgrade what they already had. “What kind of equipment do you currently use?”

“Alec uses a Taser. Rachel and Lisa don’t typically carry weapons. I try to fight unarmed, but I’ve carried a knife as a holdout.” He looked expectantly at Taylor.

“Uh, I was thinking a baton would be good. And maybe a knife, in case of emergencies?”

I hadn’t asked about weapons specifically, but that seemed to be where we were headed. “If all you’re looking for is dressed up conventional weapons then I should be able to pull something together.”

There was a fair bit of disappointment at that. I guess if you’ve had all kinds of shiny tinker possibilities dangled in front of you then dropping to ‘slightly better than normal’ would be a disappointment. I looked at Taylor and felt her significance from my passenger again. This wasn’t actually the limit of what I could do. My latest power would provide enough insight for me to streamline manufacturing of a host of options. The question was what was I comfortable giving them?

I didn’t want to hand out deadly weapons, but they were capes. On an individual basis they were already more dangerous than a lot of what I could make. How much responsibility did I bear if they hurt someone with something I had made? On the other hand, what if I sent them out underequipped and something happened to Taylor?

I considered time, resources, and what I could conceivably make in the next less-that-two days. There was a possibility, and I was just barely comfortable with it. Just.

“Actually...” the entire group turned to me. “if you can get me the materials and equipment I need right away I can probably get a set of monomolecular knives ready in time.”

Lisa’s eyebrows rose but Alec was the first to speak. “Monmo-what cular?”

“Super sharp blades. Like insanely sharp. They’re great if you want to cut through a tank. Significantly less so if you are in any way accident prone.” Grease Monkey gave me multiple methods of creating weapons like this in a huge variety of designs. Normally that would require highly specialized facilities and materials, but I was pretty sure that with the right application of metallurgy I would be able to pull off a basic example within the deadline.

Buried under all my concern there was also a selfish edge to this. If they could get me the equipment I’d need for this it would address huge gaps in my own manufacturing needs. It would open the door to a huge number of projects I had kicked down the road, suspended indefinitely, or just not considered in the first place.

“Fuck, sign me up for that.”

“I really can’t state enough how dangerous these things could be. If you screw around with them you could very easily lose a limb. Using them against someone without a high brute rating or regeneration is full on deadly force attempted murder. I’m not going to even consider this without assurances that you understand what you’re dealing with.

“It’s a sword that cuts through anything. Of course we’ll be careful.”

“Knife, not sword. Unless you have five years of fencing experience I give you a sword and best case scenario we’ll be sewing your leg back on before the end of the day. Worst case we’ll be mopping arterial spray off the celling and sending flowers to your next of kin.”

“Fine, got it. Knife that can cut through anything. Very dangerous. Be very careful. Still want it.”

I looked around and the rest of them nodded their heads. Even Taylor seemed engaged by the idea.

“We’ll go with the knives. Lisa can work out the budget and materials.”

“What are we looking at for durability and maintenance?”

I considered Lisa’s question. There was regular wear on even perfectly made monomolecular weaponry. I had enough additional skill that I would be able to improve the lifespan, but that wasn’t likely with this rush job. I’d have to cheat with amorphous metal and magnetic sharpening, probably particulate hardening for the edge. It wouldn’t hold a candle to the top tier mono-edge weapons I’d be able to make with a proper facility.

But on the other hand those weapons were intended to cut through hyper alloys of hardsuits, combat robots, and mechs. Unless they were going up against tinkers with seriously reinforced materials or very high tier brutes these knives should last exceptionally well.

“That will depend on how heavily they’re used. They should be able to cut through most conventional materials without a problem, but I can’t guarantee their performance against higher level parahuman durability or the work of other tinkers.” A thought occurred. There were factors in this world that this kind of weapon had never been designed to deal with. “Oh, force fields. They’ll be a crap shoot. Too many possible mechanisms to be able to predict how they’ll interact. It might be able to stress some to failure, but others will stop it dead or even cause feedback or damage the weapon.”

“We can take that into account. Anything else?”

“Well, I’ll be making them as strong as I can, but they’re still just knives. If you try to cut through something too thick or dense there’s a chance they could get stuck or break. Like, don’t try to cut down a tree or quarry stone with them. The edge will naturally degrade with use, but it will still be orders of magnitude sharper than a normal knife.”

“Right. And maintenance?”

Well, if I’m making these in my workshop...“If it does break or wear out it will take a couple of days to repair”

Lisa seemed happy with that. “We can talk about that later. How are you for supplies and equipment?”

I ran through what I’d need in my head and a new constellation spun past in the Celestial Forge without my power linking to it. “I’ll need to rig an arc furnace for the metallurgy, that’ll take some creative assembly, plus magnetic suspension, temperature control, a whole host of alloys I’ll need to customize. Most of it should be easy to find, but there are some that I don’t know how to track down in time.”

“I can help you with that. Can you manage if I have everything ready tomorrow morning?”

I grinned. “I guess if sleep is optional.”

“We do appreciate the rush.”

There was the sound of a door opening on the lower level and someone began climbing the stairs with bunch of smaller someones behind them. I turned to Lisa. “Your other team member?”

Lisa was looking uncomfortable and Taylor was straight up agitated. I could tell why when Rachel Lindt crested the stairs and glared at me. Three dogs fell into position around her.

“What the hell is he doing here? We agreed, no more new people.”

Lisa rose to her feet and made a placating gesture. “He’s not on the team. He’s that tinker. He’ll be working for us, making gear for the next job.”

“And you brought him here? What the hell?” She was betrayed, angry and territorial. Everyone was on edge and the dogs were growling and ready to pounce. The situation should by every metric have been terrifying. That is, unless your passenger was euphoric over seeing the last member of the Undersiders and fawning over the dogs with the kind of emotions normally reserved for cute puppies. They were clearly snarling dogs and not cute puppies, but that was the emotion I was getting. I still had my shin guard under my jeans, reinforcing my entire body with the durability of hard plastic and padding with the protection doubled thanks to my clothes. As such I wasn’t overly concerned and I could entertain my passenger’s perspective.

Unfortunately my lack of a response must have been taken as a challenge. With a whistle the dogs surged forward. The German Shepard latched onto my leg and dragged me off the couch while what looked like a Rottweiler went for my throat. I managed to bring my chin down causing it to bite at my face instead. A one eyed terrier latched onto one wrist and started to grind its teeth together.

Two of these were seriously big dogs, the kind where when they bark you can feel the sound in your guts. They were heavier than they looked too, and the weight of the one on my chest bordered on crushing. On top of that their claws were sharp and they seemed trained on how to use them against their targets. It would have been one of the most physically terrifying moments of my life.

It wasn’t. The pain was nonexistent thanks to my durability boost. Claws slid off my skin without leaving a mark and even the full force of the bites failed to do any damage. At worst I felt a slight dimpling in my skin, the equivalent of a pinch. The terror wasn’t there thanks to my passenger’s overwhelming amusement at the situation. He even found the barking and snarling entertaining.

Recently I had become more than a little frustrated with how my passenger’s regard for these villains was playing out. This wasn’t one of those cases. Probably the reason I leaned on my passenger so much was the level of emotional support he was able to provide. Right now his good humor was stopping me from panicking in a situation that would otherwise have been traumatizing even if it wasn’t actually dangerous. In fact, without the fear, pain, or threat this was just a pile of loud slobbery dogs.

The room had exploded into action with clouds of darkness, the buzz of insects, and a shouting match between Lisa and Rachel. One by one they dropped away as the capes present became aware of lack of concern. My free hand had found the Rottweiler’s stomach and was scratching it even as the dog continued to try to eat my face. “Who’s a good dog? Who’s a good snarly dog?” Whether he was a good dog or not I couldn’t say, but my passenger seemed to think so and this was one case where that was proving to be an asset. Eventually the silence of the room and his own lack of progress caused the Rottweiler’s and the other two dogs to break off and look to Rachel in confusion. I climbed to my feet and extended a hand to her.

“Hey, I’m Joe. Nice to meet you.” She took half a step back and looked at the hand like it might try bite her. Slowly she extended an arm towards one of the dogs, then stopped as Lisa’s expression turned dark.

“Whatever.” She spat the word at me. “Let me know when he’s gone.” She stormed off to one of the rooms with her dogs trailing after and slammed the door behind her.

Alec looked over me and whistled. “Dude, are you sure that thing’s not for sale, because I would pay big bucks for whatever got you through that.”

“Sorry, it’s really specific.” Lisa’s eyes dropped to where the leg of my jeans was covering the shin guard, then back up. She blinked and rubbed her forehead.

I became aware of just how much dog slobber I had accumulated in that brief encounter. Attempts to clean it off just served to move it around. Lisa helpfully handed me a bunch of paper towels.

Brian spoke up. “I’m sorry about that. She’s not good with new people.” Taylor flinched and everyone pretended not to notice. “Maybe we should cut this short? You good to work out the details with Lisa?”

“Sure, of course. I’ll pull together a list of what I need.”

The rest of the Undersiders made a valiant attempt to pretend nothing had happened while I went through a list of equipment and materials with Lisa. She seemed somehow off, but I didn’t know what to make of that. Of course when dealing with a high end thinker who knew if the signals you got were accurate.

As it worked out, providing everything came through I should be able to finish construction by the deadline, though it would violate my policies about sleep, food and exercise. Lisa was arranging delivery of all the materials and equipment I needed for tomorrow morning. The rush cost would be insane, but it also meant I got more and higher end equipment than I would could have scavenged for. I was meeting her at their base and picking up a preloaded van. She didn’t press me on the location of my workshop, which was good because I didn’t want to have to explain that particular detail at the moment.

Before I left Alec showed me the scepter/Taser he used in his cape identity. He wanted to see if I could do anything with it. Initially as a personal request, but Lisa rolled it into the rest of the deal. I had the sense she was happy to shift as much cost onto their boss as possible. Given I wouldn’t be able to start on the rest without the supplies Lisa was tracking down I was willing to at least make an attempt. As it stood the thing was so poorly made I would probably have thrown in the work for free just to avoid being associated with craftsmanship like that. Seriously, parts of it were hot glued together. Apparently Alec was something of an artist, but that meant he was more used to working with craft supplies than metal and electronics.

Once the logistics were down I said my goodbyes and made my way back to my apartment. In the course of a single afternoon I had gone from an aspiring hero to supplying villains with space age weaponry. I had also gone from occasionally worrying about the way my passenger was steering me to having major concerns on almost every level of our relationship.

The thing was, it was easy to like the Undersiders. Just an afternoon with them and the reinforcement of my passenger’s reactions was enough for me to form a connection. They were just a bunch of kids that got hit by powers and wound up in the villain game. I knew how messed up your life had to be to trigger, and how badly triggers could mess up your life. That was evident with Rachel. God, that was a messed up meeting. Did she think I was challenging her? She acted like someone was attacking her territory. I could be sympathetic, but trying what she did on anyone but me would have been a nightmare. It didn’t help that every time I thought about her my passenger was basically going ‘doggy!’ inside my head.

Then there was Taylor. That was a confusing situation. I was getting the sense she wasn’t totally on board with the rest of the group, but that might just be her joining up recently. I was still trying to figure out how to deal with the significance my passenger placed on her. Keeping her as safe as possible was the obvious option, but she was in the highest risk line of work in the world. The idea that I could keep her protected was a pipe dream.

And then there was the boss. The person I was actually getting paid by. He was bad news on every level. I didn’t know what kind of job he had lined up for them, but it couldn’t be good. Best case scenario it was only tangentially related to what his plans were. I knew I would have to confront him at some point, but the question was when and how.

Well, the answer was obviously later and with more powers from the Celestial Forge. I didn’t think I could become invincible through these powers, but I did know I would be able to eclipse every other tinker on the planet. I just had to stay alive until then. If that meant playing along until I could stand on my own that was just a price I’d have to pay.

The prospect that I could potentially end up burning all my bridges on the heroic side was sobering. Not so much with the Protectorate, but there were specific members of the hero community that both I and my passenger admired enough that the idea of losing the chance to work with them was troubling.

Mostly Dragon. I don’t think there’s a tinker alive who wouldn’t want to work with her, and the idea that I would have to give up that chance was devastating.

I decided to stop dwelling on the complete upheaval of my life and expectations and just take things one at a time. On the way back I abused my ill-gotten gains and stopped at a non-budget grocery store where I grabbed all the high protein foods I previously couldn’t afford. You know, the ones that don’t taste like wet cardboard. Well provisioned I headed back to my apartment and dumped everything in my workshop.

Until I got the equipment and materials from the Undersiders tomorrow I was limited in what I could do. I needed some time for planning out the details of my projects. Given the fact that I wouldn’t have a minute of spare time once the equipment arrived I took the opportunity to go to the gym. My workouts were rote enough that I was able to think about my project while I went through the motions. It also helped me work out some of my frustrations at the current situation.

That is until a lithe figure slipped into my field of view as I was working the heavy bag. Aisha was in the same outfit as last time and gave me a look that had no business coming from someone her age. I smelled a rat. There had been no sign of her for the first week when I was at this place on a daily basis and now she shows up right after I start a workout? No way that’s a coincidence.

I scanned the room to see if I could figure out who tipped her off. A couple of the guys gave me sympathetic glances or just averted their eyes, though the expression I got from Doug suggested everything that transpired today would be reported to Mr. Laborn at the very least. I had no doubt Doug would happily step in to protect Aisha from anyone who took her teasing too seriously.

Speaking of which, Aisha had decided to stretch before her workout, though what she was doing was more a demonstration of flexibility than a proper warmup stretch. I stayed rigidly focused on my own workout, but she kept moving around the gym so she was always positioned in the corner of my eye. My responses to attempt to keep my back to her just resulted in more creative placements. I stayed adamantly focused on my work as I would be damned if I even gave the impression that I was perving on a middle schooler.

That proved to be more conviction than some of the guys in attendance were capable of. Particularly when Aisha started on the jump rope and Doug had to go and have a few words with two of the younger members who went a bit slack jawed. Aisha had a malicious gleam in her eyes as she continued her workout while the two of them were chewed out. I almost hoped she had found new targets, but she was right back as soon as Doug finished.

I really thought I would make it without having to deal with her. I had decided to power through partially because I needed the workout for stress relief but mostly because I knew running off would just encourage her. I made it as far as the end of my sets and was heading towards the locker room. That’s when I found Aisha planted squarely in my path. And there was no way past without at least some basic interaction.

“Oh, hey.” She acted like this was the first time she noticed my presence. “You’re Jozef, right?”

I had been ready for any number of jokes, teases, or inappropriate comments. I had not expected that. Nobody here used my full name. I hadn’t gone by my full name since I was in college. As it stood my family were the only people who still called me that. As far as the gym was concerned I’m pretty sure it only showed up on my application paperwork. The way she pronounced it made it clear she had seen the spelling. My eyes darted towards the main office and Aisha smirked slightly.

“Yeah, Aisha? Nice seeing you again.” It wasn’t, but I needed to get past this conversation and out of the gym. Once again I was at odds with my passenger. He was amused by her antics while I still found the whole situation terrible.

“Likewise.” She batted her eyelids in a move that was so blatant and unsubtle that it had to be for the benefit of the people watching. And I had no doubt that I was being watched like a hawk. “You were pretty on point today. Care to give me some tips?”

All I wanted to do was disengage from this situation. As I tried to figure out the best way of shutting her down I felt the Celestial Forge again. My power managed to link to a mote from a new constellation. The ‘Magic’ constellation. Magic. There was an entire constellation full of magic tinker powers.

This was not a distraction I needed right now.

Splitting my focus between Aisha and my power I did my best to deflect her. “I think your father would be a better option for that. I’m just starting out, wouldn’t want to point you wrong.”

This particular ability was called ‘Enchanting’. It let me make actual magic weapons by marking them with runes. The only runes I currently knew would give the weapon various elemental properties, but I could conceivably reverse engineer any other magic or supernatural weapon and be able to recreate the effects.

Aisha was taking my distraction as something else entirely. I really hoped she wasn’t seeing this as interest. Even in the best case she probably figured she was getting to me, which would only draw out this mess even further. She took a step forward. “Oh, I don’t know. I think you could teach me all kinds of things.”

The revelation of how I could alter reality by drawing squiggles was burning in my brain and I did not have time for this. I took a breath and focused on the girl in front of me.

I ignored her outfit, her behavior, her height, and every other aspect and focused on her face. Suddenly I could see it. I could clearly see just how young she was. With everything else filtered out she came across as the child she actually was.

Aisha’s demeanor suddenly changed and she looked uncertain of what to do next. I took the opportunity to capitalize on it.

“Sorry Aisha, I have to go. Why don’t you talk to Doug? He should be able to look after you.”

I stepped around her and into the locker room. I had a blitz of a shower and was out of there within five minutes. Aisha was actually sitting next to Doug and looked at me with a complicated expression. Doug’s gave me a look that was serious but not murderous, so at least he hadn’t gotten the wrong idea from the situation.

That girl was trouble in more than one sense of the word. I hated the situation, but like everyone else in the gym I had kind of wound up in a place where I couldn’t do anything about it except try to keep it from getting worse.

Still, I had other problems at the moment. As I made dinner I contemplated my new ability. This was an incredible revelation. Alchemy had been close to an array of parahuman powers, but still had enough of a grounding in science that it seemed reasonable for a tinker power. This was pure magic. Literal magic. It was only related to tinkering in that it needed an item as a medium. It was closer to Dauntless’s power than Armsmasters.

An image of Dauntless’s Arclance sprang into my head. I realized that I could recreate that. The effect would be easy to figure out if I could get ahold of the item, otherwise it would be a long process of experimentation and checking secondary sources and recordings, but I would get there eventually. Could that work for other cape weapons?

This was a rabbit hole. A fascinating rabbit hole that could change the way I functioned as a cape, but still a rabbit hole. Right now I needed to focus on what I could accomplish without adding research projects.

The elemental properties I could grant actually covered a pretty broad category. Basically, I had to describe both the effect and the element in runes. The mechanics were complicated in the extreme, but the strength of the effect scaled with the detail of the runecraft, the method of etching, and the nature of the weapon. I’d never get as much power from a dagger as I would from a broadsword.

The induced effect could be anything from energy discharge to altering the properties of the weapon to some degree. Wind for faster movement, stone for heavier strikes, that kind of stuff. It was even possible to generate quantities of an element, like have a sword trail a spray of water or shards of earth. More advanced applications could even trigger significant effects directly from the weapons, like earth tremors or blasts of fire.

All that would require more research than I had time for, particularly with my schedule. I would have to stick to basic elemental effects for now. I got my baton and an engraving kit from my workshop. I started work on the most basic of basic effects, standard energy discharge. The lightning rune was carved into the shaft of the baton just above the handle. I would have already been able to manage this, but my Smithing power greatly increased the efficiency and detail I was able to manage.

While I worked my power failed to connect to another mote from the magic constellation. It spun off and my reach continued to build.

When completed the rune activated and arcs of electricity danced across the surface of the weapon. This was an interesting possibility. For there to be visible discharge we would have to be dealing with intense amounts of power. Just how much I wasn’t sure, but I bet I could it figure out.

I was soon sitting in my Laboratorium command throne watching my modified baton float in a gravity field as sensor tendrils rotated around it. The technology in this room had become a lot less imposing since I got my Grease Monkey power. It was still ages beyond what I was capable of, but I was at least familiar with the concepts at work. If I had a surgical team to help me I could probably even install bio-connection jacks that would allow full integration into the throne’s systems.

The knowledge that I was capable of cybernetics and biomechanics was something I would be playing close to the chest. Neither of those fields had a particularly good reputation among capes. I didn’t need the attention that would bring, either from the Protectorate or the rogue tinkers who worked in those fields.

Analyzing the baton in this lab was a difficult process. I had expected some issues with the magical nature of the device. I hadn’t expected multiple warnings about witchcraft and having to constantly override lockdown procedures for containment of potential daemonic artifacts. I was amazed this place even had those kinds of procedures. After I repeatedly convinced the lab that I did not want the baton frozen in a stasis field until the plasma reconstituter could reduce it to base atoms it was able to provide me with an estimate of the device’s power output.

This wasn’t even close to the best I would be able to do with my runecraft and it was still putting out astoundingly high voltages. The power output wasn’t that impressive, mostly because it built a charge on the surface for a single high intensity discharge. I had half hoped I would be able to use this as a power source for other technologies, but it was appeared to be too unstable to consistently channel. If I wanted to direct the power to another purpose then I would need a better handle on the interaction between this kind of effect and conventional technology. As it stood it was easily a brute level Taser and would probably be lethally dangerous to normal humans.

While I was set up in the Laboratorium I started work on my projects for the Undersiders. My lab computers were actually nearly as good for design work as they were for analysis and sped the process up immensely. I had to cut down a lot of the details and additions I would have liked to include in order to keep things on schedule and in budget, but in the end I had a decent plan for the monomolecular knives, Alec’s Taser, and even a baton for Taylor.

The baton was dead easy. With Smithing and my mechanical knowledge I was able to pull together a beautifully made collapsing and expanding baton with an included wrist sheath and a rather clever deployment mechanism if I do say so myself. Still, when your power can cover space age melee weapons and legendary swords a set of collapsing metal tubes isn’t that challenging.

I decided to try to get Regent’s Taser stick out of the way before I got caught up in the high tech work of the knives. I was able to fabricate new versions of his plastic components and build something that didn’t look like it was a Halloween prop. My workshop had plenty of enamel paint in stock, so that was easy enough to deal with. After my Laboratorium scanners broke down the function of his Taser I stripped out every electrical component. As an experiment I tried replacing it with calibrated lightning runes on the inside of the trigger button. Depressing it completed the runic symbol and activated the electrical discharge.

I’d done it. I’d recreated the Taser output without a need for an external power source. Great for Alec, better for the potential of my other projects. If I was going to be working for villains I might as well take it as a chance to refine my technology.

After that I started on the components I could make without advanced materials or equipment. While I was restricted to my machine shop and the basic materials stocked there my new skills more than made up for it. The work I could do was limited to sheaths, casings, some prep work and some detailing. My style ability actually turned out to be immensely helpful. With barely any effort I was able to customize the design of all aspects of the work to the look of each of the Undersiders. Well, except Taylor. I hadn’t seen her in costume yet, so I had no idea what her particular aesthetic should be. It wasn’t an option to hand her a basic utility knife while everyone else got personalized equipment.

I could check the next morning, but I drew up a few examples in the meantime. By the end of the evening I had most of the design components complete. It at least freed me to focus on entirely technical aspects for the next day. That’s where the real blitz of work would start. I ran through the schedule I’d need to follow. Equipment installation and customization, materials testing, fabrication, proving the concept, and then producing all five knives all within a twenty four hour block. Oh God, I had committed to a mad dead line here.

I had elected to get some sleep when another constellation swung close in the Celestial Forge. This one was called ‘Size’ and the first power was based around miniaturization of technology. Very miniature. The ability was called ‘Nanite Sciences’ and provided an in-depth understanding of nanite technology. With my current equipment there wasn’t much I could do with it, but some of the principles would be helpful in other endeavors.

Nanites were insanely powerful and versatile, providing I could get the resources needed to start producing them. That comparatively small mote had huge potential, but also potential to go horribly wrong. Not quite gray goo levels of wrong, but still substantial. Like, world altering. I would probably get targeted by the Protectorate if the full potential was known. I’d have to keep that low key until I could make sure I could use that knowledge safely and covertly.

That was a big concern with this kind of technology considering the potential it had to get away from me. The power generation and manufacturing aspects of nanite science were phenomenal, but it was the biomedical uses that really set it apart. Things like instant healing, infinite food generation, and all manner of physical enhancements were on the table.

The thing was this could easily escape beyond the scope of the initial parameters. What was supposed to be a healing booster could end up variegating an organism exponentially. Creating exponentially variegated organisms. This could be worse than the case 53s. The possibilities at that point were, well, exponential. Massive physical mutations, integrated technology, shifts to different phases of matter, even complex microbe symbiosis were all possibilities. As a rule any technology that would cause comparisons to Nilbog should be handled very carefully.

That was a sobering thought. Nilbog. God, there was someone I hadn’t thought about since I learned how my trigger was originally supposed to play out. If I hadn’t been hijacked by the Celestial Forge...

You know what, that’s not worth worrying about. Put it aside and focus on the non-monster applications of your new power. No reason to think about any of that, ever.

Yes, there were advantages here. This information would make blade fabrication substantially easier. I knew how to form amorphous metal into a monomolecular edge, but Nanite Sciences gave me an understanding of atomic level technology like nothing I’d ever imagined before. This would shave a substantial amount of time and effort from the project. My schedule just went from borderline impossible to merely nightmarish. Now I just needed to get some sleep before my 24 hour blitz to make sure a team of criminals had deadly weapons ready for their mystery felony.

You know, I would say fuck my life but I’m pretty sure that’s redundant at this point.

Jumpchain abilities this chapter:

Aerospace Engineering Makes Things Go Fast (Kerbal Space Program) 100:
You have an intuitive grasp on the mechanics of wind-flow, material sciences, atmospheric drag, tensile strengths, rocketry, so on and so forth, and how it applies to the art of designing vehicles that traverse the sky and space.

Magic: Enchanting (Samurai Jack) 200:
You can grant magical properties to weapons by marking them with ancient runes. Right now you only know how to give weapons elemental properties but you can learn more enchantments by studying other enchanted and magical weapons.

Nanite Sciences (Generator Rex) 100:
You possess in depth knowledge of nanite technologies. With sufficient equipment and resources you could produce and control nanite machines, possibly even recreate the nanite event or maybe figure out how to reverse its effects. But that would take a long time of additional study of nanites out in the world, still you might be one of the few who could attempt this endeavor.
You possess no knowledge of the meta-nanites, and understanding how they work is beyond your grasp


How powerful is the celestial forge? ›

"The Celestial Forge is the greatest combination of crafting powers in Jumpchain, meaning it is the greatest combination of crafting abilities in all of fiction. In Brockton Bay a forgotten side character's trigger event ends with him linked to the Celestial Forge rather than his intended shard.

How do you use the celestial forge? ›

The original rules codified by Brockton's Celestial Forge are : every 2000 words, add 100 to your CP pool, then roll the dices for the category, then roll the dices for the power, then try to buy the power using your CP pool (if you don't have enough CP, then the roll fail, but you still keep the 100 CP for next time).

What are jump chains? ›

Jumpchain is a single-player "Choose Your Own Adventure" (CYOA) type game. Exactly how you play it will depend on what you enjoy and get out of it. Like a normal CYOA, you will be presented with a wide range of options in a format called a Jump (link).

What is celestial menagerie? ›

A circus based in Escadar on the Isle of Erran, the Celestial Menagerie is known for astounding feats of extremely dangerous acts, a sideshow of freaks, and a ringmaster who demands the best of her performers.

Is Jumpchain a CYOA? ›

Jumpchain is a freeform Choose-Your-Own-Adventure style game. There is no moderator, it's diceless, and there are few rules (and no rules that can't be broken).

How many jumps are in a Jumpchain? ›

At time of writing there are more than 600 Jumps, and more being created over time.

What is Jumpchain novel? ›

Jumpchain is a tool used to build stories, using a jumpchain document, generally for any number of fiction series, you get 1000 points to buy perks, items and companies.

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