Brockton’s Celestial Forge AU – Europa’s Celestial Forge - Lord Roustabout (Lord_Roustabout) - Parahumans Series (2024)

Chapter Text

Europa’s Celestial Forge 2 Introductions

Frau Gruber drove the cart directly into the open doors of the machine shop without a hint of reluctance or propriety.

“Adam!” She yelled over the sound of the engine. “Adam Clay! You get out here young man! I have words for you about what counts as an ‘unrecoverable wreck of an engine’ in this city.”

With the pull of a lever the engine cut out, leaving the two of us sitting in silence in the middle of a rather well-appointed machine shop. Like so many things in this world, it boasted a combination of archaic and overly advanced technology. Most of the equipment looked straight out of the age of steam. Large works of cast iron and brass, generally bolted and riveted together. But there were pieces of outlier technology sprinkled across the workshop. Electric generators, pressurized cylinders, chemicals, and calibration devices. Things that would have required industrial manufacturing techniques at least a half century ahead of the aesthetic of the rest of the workshop.

But it was all mixed together. Not quite seamlessly, but there was no impression that the more advanced elements were disconnected from the rest of the workshop. This was a place with a core of rustic technology that was either supported or supplemented by advanced developments, rather than being supplanted by them.

The way older and ‘newer’ principles worked together was actually fascinating. Likely it was the result of the work of Sparks and the state of Europe as a whole. The more general technology was robust and easier to maintain without precise components. If you couldn’t rely on trade or supply routes staying open and if the production of certain devices was dependent on a specific Spark, then it was easy to see why society hadn’t universally advanced, despite the higher level of technical understanding that seemed to be on display.

I was dragged out of my musing by Frau Gruber banging her cane on the side of the cart’s engine casing. The sound was thunderous in the enclosed space. In terms of methods of announcing your arrival it seemed overly aggressive, but also completely in line with the total lack of concern that the woman had demonstrated towards most matters.

As the clanging faded away it was replaced by the sound of creaking wood and quickly approaching stomping feet. One of the machine shop's side doors was pushed open revealing a giant of a man whose frame nearly filled the entire doorway. He had a chinstrap beard and wore a toolbelt over a simple blue shirt and brown trousers. As he entered the machine shop he adjusted the heavy work gloves on his hands, which were just as oversized as the rest of his body.

“Adam! There you are. Took you long enough.” Frau Gruber said as she climbed down from the driver’s seat. “I need to have words with you and that wife of yours.”

He raised an eyebrow at Frau Gruber, then looked at the cart with a degree of skepticism. I gave an awkward wave from my place in the passenger seat, suddenly very aware of the amount of grease and soot I had accumulated during my roadside service work.

“I’d like to know why this young man was able to accomplish what you said would be impossible with just a quick bit of engine work.” She said with a huff. “Which I told you was all it needed.”

I was definitely not enjoying being placed in the middle of this discussion, but I had the sense that the mechanic at least picked up on that. He gave me what might have been a sympathetic look before turning back to Frau Gruber and crossing his arms.

“Don’t you take that tone with me young man.” She said as she bustled towards the mechanic’s towering figure, completely undaunted by someone three times her height and probably ten times heavier than her.

“Adam?” A woman’s voice called from outside the workshop. “Was that Frau Gruber’s cart?”

“Indeed it was, young lady.” Frau Gruber called back, raising her cane towards the door. “And I’ve got words for you as well.”

I heard a heavy sigh from the side hall before a smaller figure reluctantly emerged into the machine shop. Smaller, but still solidly built. The woman had red hair tied in a braid and was wearing a long skirt with an embroidered hem with a similarly designed top over her white shirt. She had a locket with a trilobite design, something I’d seen associated with the Heterodyne Boys back at the museum, and was squinting through her glasses at the scene that greeted her.

To be fair, I probably would have reacted the same to seeing someone Frau Gruber’s size admonishing the towering and apparently silent mechanic.

“What’s going on here?” She asked, falling in at her husband’s side.

“What’s going on is that things were clearly not nearly as dire as you tried to make them seem.” The old woman said confidently. “Honestly, Lilith, to think you didn’t even want me driving it out of here.”

“You shouldn’t have.” She insisted, quickly glancing over to the cart and specifically my own rather disheveled state. “It wasn’t safe. Adam made that clear. I don’t know who you roped into this mess or what he told you…”

“This young man was an absolute gentleman. Perfectly willing to help a woman in need, and with the good sense to see things weren’t nearly as unsalvageable as you tried to make them seem.” She said confidently. Attention shifted towards me and I awkwardly cleared my throat.

“Good afternoon.” I said as I climbed down from the cart. My new Efficiency power made the motion exceptionally smooth and easy, and also let me notice a quick look shared between the mechanic and his wife. “Mr. Clay? Mrs. Clay? My name is Józef Ďuriš. Frau Gruber was having some engine trouble so I offered my assistance.”

“Some engine trouble.” Mrs. Clay said, giving me a critical look. My attempt to downplay the situation probably would have held more weight if I hadn’t been throwing off flecks of ash with every movement.

“And you said it would never run again.” Frau Gruber said.

“I said it should never be run again.” She corrected. “Adam was ready to alert the fire service when you decided to barrel out of here.”

“You think I can abandon my deliveries just because of a little mechanical hiccup? I swear, the new generations have no sense of diligence whatsoever.” Frau Gruber said with a huff.

From the look on both of their faces, I was willing to bet this was a somewhat well-worn topic for the three of them.

“And I’ll have you know it was nothing a little work couldn’t address. Why, it was running better than I’ve seen it in years.” She said proudly. Mrs. Clay shared a concerned look with her husband before turning back to the older woman.

“Maybe Adam should take a look.” She said.

“Be my guest.” Frau Gruber said, gesturing with her cane. “Anything to asway your doomsaying and ill portents.”

I fell back as the towering man approached the cart. He made a circuit of the vehicle, his eyes darting across the wheels, axels, and every visible component that I had either modified or worked around. Finally he made his way to the far side and opened the panel for the engine casing. He lifted the panel high enough to hide even his full frame. The smell of grease and smoke bloomed into the workshop, which was muted as he immediately closed the engine casing. In that fraction of a second his face had shifted from idle curiosity to a type of distant horror as he looked across the room with unfocused eyes.

“Adam?” His wife asked. He shook his head and refocused on her, making a series of complex gestures. “It can’t possibly be that bad.” She insisted, making her way to his side. He stepped back and gestured to the engine. Tentatively she reached down and lifted the panel. “What could possibly be- Red fire and Rot!” She exclaimed, slamming the panel back down and backing away.

I was suddenly feeling very uncomfortable with the amount of attention focused on me. I cleared my throat and made a conciliatory gesture. “Um, I had to use some… unconventional methods in my maintenance.” I was just met with flat expressions from both of them. “But I assure you, it’s perfectly safe.”

Well, for a given value of safe, and particularly if you were comparing it to the earlier state of the vehicle. Mr. Clay raised an eyebrow, then lifted the engine panel without breaking eye contact with me. Without looking, he pointed sharply towards the engine in a gesture that seemed to demand an explanation.

Slowly I made my way around the vehicle to see what he was pointing at. “Ah.” I said. “I know that looks bad.” I added. From Mr. Clay’s expression, it was clear it more than looked bad. “But it was necessary to balance forces between the secondary and primary assemblies.” I insisted.

Once again, without breaking eye contact, he reached down and plucked the modified leaf spring with a massive finger. The band of steel began to hum, with the tension through the engine causing the sound to grow and shift tones rather than diminish. The entire engine began to rattle, with components shifting erratically.

I could see what was going to happen long before it reached a critical point and leaned back as the spring ripped itself free and launched out of the engine. The band of metal shot past me, recoiling off the ceiling before landing with a clatter in a pile of disused parts. The mechanic looked at me with an admonishing expression as the portions of the engine the spring had been holding in alignment collapsed into each other.

“Are you over there ruining this lad’s good work?” Frau Gruber demanded.

“I don’t know what you would call this kind of work, but there’s nothing good about this.”

“Oh, posh. You’re just sour because he was able to fix the cart after your husband was ready to write it off.” She shot back.

“It’s not fixed. It’s something else.” She said with a sigh before turning to Mr. Clay. “I’ll go talk to Frau Gruber. See if you can figure things out with Mr. Ďuriš.”

She hurried off towards the irate customer as I felt my power miss a connection to a large mote from the time constellation, one that had been bundled with the mote that brought me here, but one much larger than what my reach could currently secure.

Mrs. Clay spoke quietly with the elderly but excessively vital woman. There was the sense that she was placating a familiar but difficult customer. Eventually she was able to lead the woman out of the shop into the rest of the building, giving Mr. Clay one final encouraging look before she departed. The man nodded before turning back to me.

I cleared my throat under the weight of his gaze. Ever since my last growth spurt, it was unusual for me to run into people significantly taller than I was, but Mr. Clay absolutely towered over me. As I considered what to say there was the sound of creaking metal as another section of the engine shifted out of place.

“Um, I’m sorry about any trouble.” I said. “I was just trying to help.”

He raised an eyebrow and gestured towards the soot that had caked my hair, face, and clothing.

“Um, yeah. I was pretty sure it was about to catch on fire if someone didn’t do something. Or possibly explode” From his expression he could at least believe that statement. “Mainly, I just wanted to make sure it was safe, but Frau Gruber was a bit…”

I let that trail off, but from the looks of things he completely understood. Based on how undaunted she had been in the face of both Mr. Clay and his wife, I was guessing it was a fairly common experience.

“And I know it looks bad.” I said. There was definitely a sense of agreement with that statement. “But I did manage to fix it.”

The man raised an eyebrow, then gestured to the notch on the ceiling where the spring had impacted it.

“Well, it wouldn’t have resonated like that if the engine was running, or the casing was closed.” I said in my defense.

That earned me another raised eyebrow and some gestures that it took me a little while to parse out that he was asking about my knowledge base.

“Oh, I have a bit of a background in engines, and I studied mechanics when I was in university.” I explained.

Which was sort of true, at least if I was trying to explain away my powers as part of some personal history. Black Thumb definitely counted as a background in engines and I had actually studied mechanics in university. Of course, my actual university career didn’t hold a candle to the doctorate level knowledge I had received from the power that brought me here.

And considering that power was actually native to this world, it was seriously helpful in managing to look like I knew what I was doing. I could sort of recognize some of the equipment in the shop and Black Thumb did make me an expert mechanic, but the knowledge of Scientist: Machinery was completely specific to this world. Even if that hadn’t exactly happened, or hadn’t happened here, I could still recall everything involved in the years necessary to secure that doctorate. Context was absent for anything not related to the technical aspects of that education, but it was definitely enough for me to know my way around a locally built engine or the types of machine shops you found in this world.

The mechanic gave me an interested look and began gesturing. Once again, it took me a while to figure out what he was asking.

“Oh, no. Not Transylvania Polygnostic. And not even a full degree.” I admitted. “I’ve only just arrived in the city.” I explained. I could feel the man reevaluating me, specifically some of the damage to my coat and clothing that couldn’t be explained by high intensity roadside maintenance.

Mr. Clay shifted his attention back to the engine. At his insistence, I began explaining the logic behind my work and the reasoning for some of the more extreme modifications that I had put in place. The explanation occasionally drew looks of horror and admonishment, but I was at least able to explain my reasoning well enough to convince him that I hadn’t been completely reckless in my work.

It was actually kind of interesting, getting into a debate about engine maintenance with someone who couldn’t talk. Then again, the man could say a great deal with a slight change in expression and a single gesture. My Efficiency power might have helped me follow along, but it was clear that Mr. Clay had become very adept at conveying complex ideas through minimal gestures.

“…and that was how I tied in the brakes.” I finished, showing off the partially rebuilt interlinks. “And, based on how Frau Gruber drives, I was very grateful I did.”

Mr. Clay signaled complete agreement, apparently also being familiar with the woman’s driving habits. Of course, if you knew what to look for, you could see that in the vehicle itself. For a large cargo transport, it had clearly been pushed to its absolute limit with frightening regularity.

“It seemed like this cart was very important to her. To Frau Gruber.” I said, looking over at Mr. Clay. He nodded a bit sadly. He shifted one of the engine parts and I could see the layers of maintenance and refurbishments the vehicle had received over decades of work. I nodded. “I’m sorry all I could do was a patch job.”

He looked at me critically, then stepped back, gesturing towards the shop. Once again, it took me a moment to put things together.

“Um, yes? I mean, I could probably do a better job with proper tools and… parts?” He didn’t show any objection to the suggestion. “But are you sure?” I asked, looking down at the now partially collapsed engine. “I mean…”

He hadn’t exactly been thrilled about my earlier work, but it seemed he had at least accepted the principles behind my actions. Accepted them enough to be willing to let me make a proper go at fixing the cart.

And I’m sure that had nothing to do with the fact that we both knew Frau Gruber would never accept the idea that her precious heirloom vehicle needed to be scrapped. If this wasn’t dealt with now it was going to be a problem for him and potentially for me.

Of course, all I was really risking was the hot meal she had offered me. It seemed like it would have been a good idea to secure some kind of contract rate before embarking on major engine service, but I didn’t exactly have a lot of leverage in this situation, or really anything better to do with my time.

In fact, I could probably consider this something of an audition. I was trying to get a job in some mechanical field, at least for long enough to keep me on my feet while my powers built up. The Clays had what appeared to be a successful and established shop. Even if they weren’t hiring themselves, they likely knew enough people in the city that they could point me in the right direction.

I would also be doing Frau Gruber a favor, and I had a feeling she knew a lot of people in the city, and probably in a fairly aggressive manner. However this turned out, I’d expect a significant portion of the city would know the story by the time she finished her next round of deliveries.

“Alright.” I said, looking over the work to be done. “Could you help me with that winch?”

Actually, with his build, I would have given him decent odds of being able to lift the engine freehand, but yes, he was happy to help me with the winch. The rest of the work he largely left to me, which did create the impression that I was being evaluated in my work.

I wasn’t sure if he was seriously judging my skills as some kind of practical job interview or recommendation scheme or if it was just the fact that I was a stranger working in his place of business. He wasn’t being overt about it, but I could tell that my every move was being followed.

With nothing better to do, I filled the silence by explaining my methodology for getting the cart functional without resorting to desperate patchwork. Black Thumb was perfectly capable of ensuring that a burning engine kept operating functionally, but for proper maintenance it was better to draw upon my knowledge from Scientist: Machinery. My earlier powers didn’t really come into it, though the design aspects of Bling of War probably helped with some of the modifications that were needed.

Still, it was Efficiency that was definitely carrying the day. I was doing my best to downplay the effect, but it wasn’t easy when literally everything you did was conducted with zero wasted energy. It definitely turned the work into a more manageable project and was probably what allowed me to handle the rebuild on my own.

Even though I was taking the lead on the project, I still took the time to clear everything with Mr. Clay, particularly if I needed to use any of his equipment or some of the parts that were in stock. He seemed almost surprised when I stopped work to check with him or ask if he could spare a particular part. I’m guessing he was used to clients who were even more demanding than Frau Gruber if simply checking with him was enough to throw off the rhythm of the work.

Rather than just launch into the rebuild, I took the time to complete a partial disassembly and diagnostic, which did allow me to identify a few issues I had either missed or worked around with my previous maintenance. From that I was able to put together a plan for the repair, including a breakdown of parts and materials. Mr. Clay had a blackboard I was able to use, which was how I found out that Efficiency had significantly improved my penmanship and drafting skills. Apparently, no wasted motion also applied to things like drawing straight lines.

It was a more restrained approach than I had engaged in earlier, but I wasn’t working on my own anymore. This was the Clays’ place of business and it wouldn’t have been right to just launch into using their resources without a second thought. Once again, that seemed like a foreign concept, which didn’t bode particularly well for the kind of clients I’d be likely to find in this city.

“Well, that seems simple enough.” Frau Gruber said smugly as she looked at the plan I had outlined. I looked from her to the blackboard that was absolutely covered in diagrams and outlines, but it seemed the only part she was really paying attention to was the final estimates for time and materials. “Perfectly sensible. Really Adam, to think you made such a fuss over something so straightforward.”

I could see a flicker of irritation run through Mr. Clay, but he kept a perfectly neutral expression. As someone very familiar with ‘customer service face’ I completely understood his situation.

“And you’re sure you’ll be able to finish today?” Mrs. Clay asked. “Herr Ketter will be bringing in his tractor first thing tomorrow morning. We’ll need the space cleared before then.”

Mr. Clay nodded and indicated his approval of my estimates. His wife looked at the board, glanced between me and her husband.

“If you’re sure. And you’re sure there’s nothing else to worry about?” She asked pointedly. I wasn’t sure what she was implying, but I had the feeling it had more to do with my presence than the ongoing headache that was this particular vehicle.

I did my best to seem earnest and harmless while Mr. Clay signaled his assurance. That seemed to be enough for his wife and she retreated with Frau Gruber to let us work.

Well, let me work. Mr. Clay was still mostly letting me take the lead as he sat back and watched me work. I was very glad that I had cleared the materials and equipment with him first, otherwise the situation would have been interminably awkward.

It was still a little uncomfortable. This had started as an act of goodwill and had turned into what seemed like a cross between an employment evaluation and a trial. It didn’t help that I knew my Efficiency power was running away from me as I worked. I had been doing my best not to move in an excessively smooth and efficient manner, but knew I had been failing more often than not. When it came to more complicated tasks, there were just too many affected elements for me to hope to conceal the effect. I could only hope it didn’t raise too much concern as I worked without a hint of waste in either materials, effort, or pace.

I also had to cover for the arrival of another power, all while under the watchful eye of Mr. Clay. It was probably only noteworthy because I paused work to deal with the information that had been dumped into my head.

It was a new constellation called Crafting. The power was called Bandit Gunsmith. Not specifically a weapon creation power, but one with strong affiliations. To start with, it granted me incredible technical insight, even beyond what I was capable of from Black Thumb and Scientist: Machinery. Or maybe it was better to say it worked to supplement those abilities, giving me insight into technology that was supported by the practical and theoretical skills from my other powers.

But that was the surface level effect. The meat of the ability came from how it allowed me to rebuild or upgrade equipment, particularly personal equipment. The end products would look fairly crude, but I could use fifteen pistols to make a working automatic shotgun, or take pieces of five broken items to build a functional version of the same.

It wasn’t particularly helpful unless you happened to have an ample supply of scrapped materials to work with. If I had been trying to rebuild this cart on my own, I might have been able to address some of the issues with the help of that power, but thankfully the presence of a proper machine shop with a stock of parts and materials meant I didn’t need to resort to my desperate rebuild power to make it work.

For a minor power, it was about what I had come to expect. Not anything on the level of Efficiency, but something that provided a useful ability, even if it wasn’t universally applicable. Repair and rebuild skills sounded similar to what you heard about from Tinkers who were just starting out, so I imagined there would be some crossover with what was known about Sparks.

And with that the concern being directed at me suddenly made a lot more sense. I was working at a speed that probably bordered on unnaturally fast after having repaired a vehicle that was about ready to catch fire and explode. Back on Earth Bet I had been obsessively paranoid about concealing my tinker abilities, middling as they were, but the culture shock of arriving in this world had caused me to lose perspective.

Probably because what I’d been doing hadn’t seemed that unusual. The tinker tech equivalent of this world was everywhere, at least compared to Earth Bet. Back home being identified as a tinker, especially a tinker who was just starting out, was like putting a target on your back. Tinkers were both highly prized and extremely vulnerable, particularly when they were building up. Given that the Sparks of this world seemed to be firmly in the ruling class, I didn’t really consider what it would be like for Sparks outside that system.

My guess was they would be disruptive and dangerous, the same as any rogue tinker, and that people would keep a watchful eye for anyone displaying those kinds of tendencies before they ended up needing to deal with the local equivalents of Lab Rat or String Theory.

I was kind of embarrassed about how long it had taken me to realize what Mr. Clay had been watching for and what his now obvious concerns had been based on. I knew some tinkers could be unstable and dangerous. Boy did I know that. I imagined it was the same for Sparks. I didn’t know how they acted in a general sense, but seeing the accounts of the wider political situation, the kinds of things deployed by and against the Other, and even those jars in the middle of the city, it was safe to say some level of concern was warranted.

And should that concern be warranted, then Frau Gruber would be safely in another part of the building while the potential Spark was isolated in the machine shop with a man who looked like he could crush someone’s skull with a single hand.

Considering the state I had been in when I arrived, I really couldn’t blame them for their concern. I had at least managed to get most of the soot off of my face, though generally speaking I was still a mess. Less of a mess, and certainly a more stable mess than I had appeared, but still a mess.

I turned back to the work after my short break and realized I had lost track of Mr. Clay. For someone his size, he could actually move extremely quietly, which seemed like the setup for a bad joke about his condition, but really the man moved with a lot more grace than you would expect from someone his size. Probably another point of evidence towards him being able to handle things if the good Samaritan mechanic turned out to be dangerous.

I looked towards the door to the rest of the building, but it didn’t seem to have been disturbed and I wasn’t going to intrude any further than the machine shop. My presence here already felt overly forward. I shrugged, then turned back to the partially disassembled automotive cart and nearly walked into the looming form of Mr. Clay who had been standing just out of my line of sight.

My reaction probably wasn’t the most dignified way to respond to a shock like that. No matter what anyone says, any noise I made was definitely a manly bark of surprise and I definitely didn’t fall due to jumping back without looking. Actually, with Efficiency in full effect any sudden movements would have been conducted smoothly and gracefully, even if they might have involved the near dropping of a wrench that turned into an improvised juggling act.

Fortunately, there was nothing but amusem*nt on Mr. Clay’s face. He just smiled and offered me a cup of water. Because I’m sure that was why he had snuck up like that. Just concern that I might be thirsty from all the work and definitely not trying to see how I responded to a sudden shock. It was safe to say that less than a week of boxing training and a single cape fight of combat experience was not enough to hone my reactions to a razor edge. Probably for the best, given point of that stunt had probably been to see if I was a threat. As embarrassing as it sounded, I’m pretty sure I left no doubt as to the state of my martial abilities.

“Thank you.” I said, accepting the water. It seemed like my heart should be racing, but apparently efficiency applied to sudden shocks as well. Elevated heart rate meant energy being used in excess of what was necessary, so I was still physically calm despite the unquestionable mental shock.

That was the side of things I really wasn’t going to be able to get around. It was pretty clear I wasn’t a tinker, or a Spark, assuming there was a meaningful difference, but I was something else. I might not be the most concerning thing that they were looking out for, but there was no way I had come across as ‘normal’.

Fortunately, ‘normal’ seemed to be a bit of a flexible category in this world. I passed a dozen shades of abnormal on every street corner. By my estimation, there were more shades of subtle weirdness than anyone would be able to count. Someone who had a comprehensive knowledge of machines and who could work with unusual efficiency was unusual, but as long as it stayed at that level it was probably an acceptable level of unusual.

I mean, Frau Gruber drove her delivery cart like a professional street racer, Mr. Clay had a build that would give an NFL linebacker pause, and I’m pretty sure one of Mrs. Clay’s eyes was bigger than the other. For this world, that was all shades of background weirdness that people probably dealt with every day. As long as I didn’t cause problems, they would probably be willing to overlook whatever elements of my powers I couldn’t fully conceal.

Probably. Potentially. Hopefully.

I downed the last of the water in the cup and turned back to the cart. The engine looked like it had suffered an orderly explosion, with parts spread out over tarps and workbenches. The largest components were suspended above the casing, causing the heavy beams anchoring the winches to creak slightly.

“I think we’ve gotten everything taken care of.” I said. Well, that ‘we’ was fairly generous. I’d been taking point on everything, but this was Mr. Clay’s shop, which made this a collective effort by default. “I’ll have to make a few modifications to some of the replacement parts to ensure compatibility, but after that it’s just cleaning and reassembly.”

Mr. Clay nodded in agreement. Honestly, most of the hard work had been handled in planning out the repair. The engine followed an eccentric design pattern and had been heavily modified over the years. At some point those modifications had included the addition of a supercharger for air intake. That part appeared to have failed decades ago and unspoken agreement between me and Mr. Clay had led to its removal rather than refurbishment. I had seen the way Frau Gruber had driven with just a conventionally functional engine. I didn't want to see what she could get up to with boosted intake pressure.

There were smatterings of other modifications and partial fixes that had been added over the years. Identifying them and stripping out the unnecessary modifications significantly simplified the entire project. Once again, the move towards simplicity seemed to surprise Mr. Clay, but if you were on the lookout for a tinker equivalent, I suppose someone diverting away from exotic mechanical principles would be unexpected.

“Adam?” A voice called from outside the workshop. Mr. Clay suddenly looked up, then over to the clock on the wall. “Is that Frau Gruber’s… oh, hello.”

A girl who looked to be in her late teens stepped into the machine shop. She was wearing a kind of green tweed skirt and sweater under an oversized academic coat. She had long blond hair and wore large round glasses that had caught the afternoon sun before she stepped into the shop.

She was clearly familiar with Mr. Clay and the man hurried over to silently greet her. I was left in the middle of an explosion of parts covered in grease and soot, still wearing the badly damaged coat from my attempt at a cape costume. With Mr. Clay unable to explain the situation beyond conveying that there was no cause for concern, it fell to me to do what I could. I noted a failed connection to the Quality constellation from my power, then did my best to address the current situation.

“Um, hello.” I offered a little lamely. “I’m Józef Ďuriš. I happened across Faru Gruber when she was having some engine trouble.” There was an instant look of recognition from the girl and she shared an understanding look with Mr. Clay. “I was able to help her get the cart running again and she, um…”

I looked around, once again wondering at how an act of goodwill had led to an entire day of unpaid mechanical volunteer work. Fortunately, the involvement of Frau Gruber seemed enough for the blond girl to fill in the blanks.

“I’m Agatha Clay. My parents run this shop.” She explained. She had called Mr. Clay ‘Adam’ and there wasn’t much physical resemblance between them, but whatever the story was there, it was her business.

“It’s nice to meet you.” I said under the watchful eyes of her father. Moved to offer her a handshake, then remembered the current state of my hands. Maybe if I fished out my gloves from my coat, but that seemed a little much for a greeting.

Apparently unbothered, she stepped forward and accepted the handshake. “It’s nice to meet you as well. I’m sure any help in dealing with Frau Gruber’s cart was greatly appreciated.” She had a smug smile on her face that turned even more amused at her father’s exhausted expression. She turned back towards him and started peeling off her overly heavy coat. “I thought you said the cart was a lost cause?”

“That’s just the shiftlessness of the younger generation.” Frau Gruber’s voice echoed from the side hall, followed by the sound of the woman’s cane clacking its way towards the workshop. “Yourself excluded, or course. Agatha, it’s lovely to see you as always.” The old woman said as she pushed her way into the shop with Mrs. Clay trailing behind her.

“Good afternoon, Frau Gruber.” She said, smiling at the shorter woman. “I’m glad you found someone to see to your cart.”

“Humph. Well, perhaps I was too hard on your dear father. Not everyone can handle vehicles of such a high caliber.” There was tired huff from Mr. Clay and Frau Gruber rounded on him. “But don’t think I’ve forgiven you for what you said earlier.” He gave her a confused look and raised an eyebrow. “Yes, exactly that. The cheek. I have no idea how your wife puts up with you. She must have the patience of a saint.”

Agatha was clearly much more amused by the interaction than either of her parents, but they both bore Frau Gruber’s antics with good humor.

“Is everything on schedule here?” Mrs. Clay asked. Her husband signaled the affirmative, as I nodded along.

“I have to make a few adjustments to some of the spares in order to incorporate them, but after that it should be a simple matter of assembly.” I explained.

Simple might have been a relative term given the number of parts and the intricacy of the systems used. It was a very good thing that Scientist: Machinery gave me a proper context for this world because otherwise I would have spent more time trying to figure out what I was looking at than I would have on the actual repairs.

There were parts standardized to five different units of measure that had been cobbled together or added during the engine’s life. I’m pretty sure understanding of the principles of internal combustion had advanced significantly over the course of the cart’s assembly, with later theories building on top of older systems without actually replacing anything. And I wasn’t even going to touch on the absolute mess that was the control systems. Faru Gruber appeared to be able to operate it just fine in its current configuration. I’m pretty sure any attempt to simplify the interface would be a very bad idea.

Agatha’s green eyes gleamed as she looked over the assembled components, darting from the workbenches where I had been modifying parts to the cluttered blackboard filled with diagrams. She looked like she wanted to ask a question, but Mrs. Clay cleared her throat.

“Agatha, why don’t you settle in and then you can join me and Frau Gruber for some tea?” She asked.

“Yes, it will be lovely to chat.” The older woman said happily. “I’d love to hear what Tarsus is getting up to these days. Still as handsome as ever, I trust?”

Agatha nearly choked at the question, much to Frau Gruber’s amusem*nt. Even Mrs. Clay seemed entertained by her reaction as they hurried out of the workshop.

I turned and saw Mr. Clay watching me with the kind of expression one would expect from the father of a teenage daughter. I did my level best to appear as innocent as possible and hurried back to work.

Assembling an entire engine is not a small task. However, when you're working with an incredibly comprehensive understanding of mechanics that extended to the theoretical, practical, and intuitive level, operated with mandatory perfect efficiency, and had the assistance of someone I was beginning to suspect was unnaturally strong, it was possible to blaze through the process at record pace.

Probably not the pace of actual tinkers or Sparks. Everything I was doing was firmly in the realm of what was physically possible, if just at a rather optimized level. It was clear Mr. Clay had caught on to the efficiency of my work so there was really no point in more than a token effort to downplay it. He knew, but as long as I didn’t acknowledge that he knew then there was a polite fiction that he hadn’t noticed.

We were able to get through most of the heavy work in good time, leaving things down to the finer points of assembly and modifications. As I shifted onto the more precise aspects of the repair, Mr. Clay started giving me more space to work. He split off to deal with other items in the workshop and even ducked out to the rest of the building a few times.

I’m guessing that having an unexpected major service dropped in his lap had thrown off his schedule a bit. It was probably lucky this hadn’t happened tomorrow when the cart would have needed to share space with a tractor. Mr. Clay had other work to deal with, and apparently, I had made a good enough impression to not need constant supervision.

Of course, it probably helped that I was so immersed in the repair that there wasn’t much chance of me even noticing the rest of the workshop, much less causing trouble in it. The work was still very much mundane engineering, but it was high level and precise mundane engineering carried out with an experienced hand and near supernatural grace.

This was what I had been waiting for. This was the kind of expression of power and skill that made me feel like a real tinker, even if I didn’t technically qualify as one. This wasn’t my amateurish attempts at metal work, or the crude fashioning or a bracer to take advantage of my reinforcement power, or the crafting of some decorative accents in order to dress up a costume for what was probably a premature attempt at a cape debut.

This was real high level technical work. In parahuman terms it was the kind of ability that straddled the line between tinkers and thinkers. The point where extraordinary skill and ability started to approach a level that couldn’t be recreated through mundane means, but weren’t quite able to create the kind of disruptive technology that warranted a tinker power.

It was a mishmash of a categorization for a mishmash of a power, but it was my mishmash of a power. This was my work, my skill and ability put into action. I was finally able to do something meaningful, even if it was only the rebuild of an overly complex and antiquated engine for a vegetable delivery cart. That might have sounded silly, but it was a legitimate challenge and the most significant technical work I had done to date.

Certainly better than the collection of basic metalwork I had been producing in my Workshop. That was another thing, and something that was past due. The key to my workshop was still in my pocket, but I hadn’t had the chance to try it yet. I desperately hoped that it would still work, but even if it did, would it be the same? This was a different world. Would the place my key accessed be different as well, or would it open up to that same entryway where I had stored my mattress, desk, and the bulk of the contents of my tiny apartment?

I hoped it did. In addition to having a place to sleep, there was something comforting about the idea of having my small collection of possessions follow me to this world. The idea that those books and clothes and various holdover items that I had hung on to through shifts to and from and in the aftermath of my time in college would still be with me.

At least, it was nice on a sentimental level. I wouldn’t be pulling out any disruptive tech from those items, not with the kinds of devices that were floating around this world. I mean, it was amusing to imagine my outdated laptop somehow triggering a tech revolution, but from what I could tell you had clockwork in this universe that was able to support more complex cognitive functions than the best computer on the market.

Of course, I’d need to get a better look at the technology out there, particularly anything that didn’t explicitly require a Spark in order to function. Something of a long-term project, and one I’d have plenty of time for, or at least I would once I finished up this work.

The sound of the workshop’s interior door opening drew my attention away from the workbench I was seated at. I turned to see Agatha Clay enter with a cup of tea and a simple sandwich on a small tray.

“Miss Clay?” I asked.

She smiled at me. “Though you might be hungry.” She said.

My stomach was happy to inform me that I hadn’t eaten anything since my earlier time-shifted dinner, and my body also decided to remind me that I was the interdimensional equivalent of jetlagged. By my personal clock I had jumped forward somewhere in the order of eight or nine hours. The shift might be easier to deal with thanks to Efficiency, but I was still looking at the wrong side of six am.

Actually, I was looking at barreling past that point into the land of no sleep and bad decisions.

“Thank you, Miss Clay. That would be very nice.” I said, setting down my tools. I happily accepted the tray and noticed that Agatha was paying a lot more attention to the blackboard and the parts I had been working on than anything related to the food.

“Are you also a mechanic?” I asked as I took a sip of the tea and savored the fresh caffeine.

“Not exactly.” She said, quickly looking back from the chalkboard. “I help out in the shop sometimes, but I work at the University.”

“Ah.” I said, nodding.

That explained the oversized coat she had been wearing. From the way she was eyeing my notes and diagrams it was clear she was more interested in my work than any social visit, but I still felt like I needed to go through the motions. The cliché question would be ‘What is your major?’, but that felt a bit forward as well as overly cheesy.

“What is Transylvania Polygnostic like?” I asked. “It seems like an incredible place.”

Incredible on a lot of levels, starting with that motto. ‘Know Enough to be Afraid’ might be completely on brand for this world, but it was still unsettling in a very fundamental way.

“It’s really incredible.” Agatha said brightly. “Dr. Beetle is a brilliant man and the university has absolutely fantastic facilities.” She looked at my notes again, then back to me. “Are you thinking of applying?”

“No.” I said, then realized I might have come off as a bit too abrupt. “My university days are behind me, and they didn’t end particularly well.”

“Oh.” She glanced to the side. “I’m sorry to hear that.”

I downed the last of my tea and then shrugged. “It’s not a big deal.” I said, completely downplaying the biggest deal of my life. “And it’s better to move on and focus on what’s next in your life.” Which was a lot easier to say when you had a constant pipeline of superpowers rather than a lifetime of shame and failure.

“I see.” She said, “But this work…” She turned back to the blackboard. “It’s so advanced.”

“Well…” I began, doing my best to downplay the doctorate level analysis on the board.

“The breakdown of the flow regulators, and the proposed valve rebuilds, accounting for the mix of spark and compression ignition cylinders…” And hadn’t that been a special treat of insanity in the engine design. Right up there with the… “And the rebuild of the centrifugal distribution array. I mean, it was no wonder Adam was never able to fix this. Just breaking it down like this, if someone told me this was Dr. Glassvitch’s work, I wouldn’t doubt them for a second.”

“Really, it was just a standard analysis of the-” But once again I was cut off as Agatha began to pick up steam.

“And the workmanship on the manifolds, precision with such a basic method, I would never have imagined it could be done. I mean, if you…” She was really picking up interest now, to the point where I was becoming a little unnerved.

“Agatha, I-” And suddenly I felt my power shift and a connection form to a small mote from the Vehicle’s constellation. A power that almost seemed designed to mock me. A power called Mechanic.

Unsurprisingly, it was focused on cars. Well, really on any machine, but particularly those that go fast. I could fix or tune up any motor vehicle as well as completely rebuild them after the most devastating crashes. I could keep anything in top condition with only a few basic tools and on top of everything else, the power came with comprehensive knowledge of electronics, both for restorative work and in case I needed to hotwire a car. Or bypass an alarm system, you know, if the need arose.

If I had gotten this power earlier, I could have completely repaired the cart in the street with nothing but Frau Gruber’s toolkit. The work I had been carefully planning out and conducting with immense precision and care could be breezed through. All the effort and planning I had put into figuring out the labyrinthine nature of this engine was suddenly unnecessary because I had a power that would let me trivially coast through this sort of work.

It was both fantastic and infuriating. I could see the value and all the potential use I could get from this, but at the same time it completely undercut what had felt like a real and significant technical accomplishment, and I didn’t know how to feel about that.

“Mr. Ďuriš?” Agatha asked, pulling back to the moment. “Mr. Ďuriš, are you alright?”

I blinked and shook my head, turning back to Agatha. “Um, yes. Sorry about that. I can lose focus at times.” It wasn’t a wonderful explanation, but it was better than getting into an explanation about my powers. I had never had one arrive mid-sentence before, but it was probably something I would need to get used to.

“Oh.” Agatha said a bit gravely. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to intrude.”

I shook my head. “It’s fine. It’s not harmful, just a little distracting. And embarrassing.” As excited as I was by the infinite prospect of my power, it was clear it came with some drawbacks. Minor drawbacks compared to the scope of what I stood to gain, but that didn’t diminish the effect of having half a lifetime of skills dropped into your head mid conversation.

If anything Agatha looked even more uncomfortable in the wake of my attempted dismissal of the issue. “Um, was that… I mean, was it related to why you left your university?” She asked.

I considered brushing her off or playing it down, but the truth was much closer to what she was suggesting than not.

“Indirectly.” I admitted. Honestly it was more of the result of my dismissal, rather than a cause, but based on how she was reacting I was guessing there was more going on here and trying to make light of the situation wouldn’t go over well. “It was related, but not the direct cause.”

She nodded slightly, then looked back at the board. “I get headaches.” She said quietly. “Attacks, when I try to concentrate. I can’t even get close to something like this. It’s like I run into a wall.” She let out a breath. “Everyone at the university tolerates it, but I can tell what they think.” She said morosely.

I nodded. Everyone was dealing with something. “I’m sorry.”

She let out a small huff. “I’ve tried everything, but I just can’t… Even Dr. Beetle couldn’t help, and I feel awful for even asking him. Bothering him with something like that.”

Now that was hitting close to home. I don’t know what I did to end up in a heart to heart like this, but I had the feeling it was something that had been building up for a while with no proper way to vent.

I had no doubt that Agatha was smart. She had instantly grasped very advanced concepts and demonstrated an incredible breadth of knowledge. She was also struggling with something that kept her from fully making use of that gift. It was tragic, but it was the type of tragedy that was regrettably common.

“With those kinds of things, sometimes all you can do is try to work around them as well as you can.” She turned to me and I shrugged. “At least that’s my experience.”

Some problems were too big to deal with, at least all at once. You could bash your head against them, but that wouldn’t get you anywhere. It sucked to have to find ways to cope with things that weren’t even seen as problems by most people, but it was better than getting stuck where you were.

That was therapy thinking. Things I’d discussed and worked through with Dr. Campbell, who I would never see again, as long as I was in this world. That was more concerning than I thought it would be. I didn’t know what the state of mental health care was in this world, but given the overarching aesthetic seemed to be ‘Mad Scientist’ I was willing to bet it ranged somewhere from bad to terrible.

Agatha gave me a tired smile. “Better advice than what I usually hear.” She said quietly.

I shrugged. “Normally I’d recommend people take advice from people who made better life decisions than me. College dropouts aren’t usually sought out for their wisdom.”

“College dropouts can’t usually accomplish something like this.” Agatha said, looking from the board to the remaining parts and the mostly repaired cart engine. “How did Frau Gruber manage to rope you into this?” She asked.

“Like I said. She was having engine trouble. I was able to help her out with a patch job and she insisted on offering me a hot meal and a chance to clean up.” I explained. The second point wasn’t quite as essential now that I’d been able to wipe off most of the soot, but there was still grease and smoke infused into my costume that would be hell to get out.

“You seriously took on all this for a hot meal?” Agatha asked with a kind of endearing amusem*nt.

I smiled. “Really, I took this on to prevent a high-pressure oil fire from breaking out in the middle of a crowded street. The meal was just a bonus.”

“And that’s enough?” Agatha asked.

I was about to answer when my stomach decided to communicate for me with a rather aggressive growl. I flushed and quickly grabbed the nearly forgotten sandwich, taking a large bite. The meat was some variety I didn’t recognize, but the bread was excellent. The wonders of historic baking practices where every loaf was the kind of thing you’d only see from the kind of artisan bakeries that parked themselves within walking distance of the Boardwalk and charged ten times as much for bread that went completely stale within twelve hours.

Or maybe I was just very hungry and everything was tasting good because of that.

“Enough for now.” I said jovially and Agatha nodded back.

“So, if not the university, what are you planning to do in Beetleburg?” She asked.

“Probably more of this kind of thing.” I said, gesturing to the nearly completed engine. “And to be honest, this wasn’t complete charity.”

“Oh?” She asked.

I nodded. “I was hoping that Mr. Clay might be able to put in a good word for me with anyone looking for qualified help.” I explained. “And if not him, maybe Frau Gruber. She seems… well connected.”

“That would be a polite way of putting it.” Agatha said a little stiffly. I smiled in good humor as I finished off the rest of my sandwich.

“Either way, I should be finished up soon.” I replied. Much sooner now that I had basically gotten the perfect power for this kind of thing, right at the end of the process.

“Then I shouldn’t keep you.” She gathered up the cup and plate on the tray, but paused before the blackboard. “Um, would you mind if I made a copy of this? For reference?”

“Help yourself. It’s your shop. I’m just grateful to be able to use it.” I said, gesturing towards the board. Really, it was pretty much the equivalent of random scribbles, notes, and plans, only laid out with perfect efficiency and no waste. It had turned what would have been a jumbled mess of ideas into something that looked like it fell out of one of Leonardo da Vinci’s notebooks.

Agatha gave me a final smile before hurrying back into the rest of the building. I was about ninety percent sure her parents didn’t know she had snuck in here and I had the feeling I had probably just dodged a bullet.

Putting aside thought of overprotective parents with potential inhuman levels of strength, I got back to work. As expected, with the help of my Mechanic power it was trivial. It was less than trivial. Mechanic could have gotten this cart back to perfect condition if it had been run over by a train. At my current level, the final assembly and tune-up was about as complicated as filling in the last three pieces of a jigsaw puzzle.

Of course, just when I was finishing up the work my power decided to present me with another ability. It was from the Time constellation, the same one that had provided me with Scientist: Machinery, but was instead somehow related to my Mechanic power.

It was also vastly more powerful, both in terms of cost and in terms of what it was capable of. The power was called Most Holy Order of the Socket Wrench and it cost as much as Efficiency had, completely consuming all the reach I had accumulated. The power was effectively everything from Mechanic turned up to eleven. Well, actually more like eleven hundred.

All my previous technical abilities at least operated within the bounds of conventional design and technology. I could implement them perfectly thanks to Efficiency, but the science was firmly grounded. With my latest power, that was most certainly not the case anymore.

It made me a master mechanic in every sense of the word. I could improve any vehicle to beyond impossible levels. It was trivial to modify a van into something that could outperform a supercar. Finding a way to attach functional NOS injectors to a bicycle was just as simple, despite being impossible on every level. And those were only the entry level examples of what I could accomplish.

I might not be a tinker or a Spark, but when it came to vehicle engineering, I was suddenly able to twist the laws of nature into knots in order to get whatever desired effect I was going for. And on top of that, the work was massively accelerated. I was a one man chop shop in a quite literal sense, able to do the work of an entire fully staffed automotive facility all on my own. Strip downs and rebuilds could be completed blazingly fast while modifications or even sabotage could be handled in moments with only a bit of time and scrap wire.

Unlike with Mechanic, it was probably a good thing that I hadn’t received this power at an earlier point. I was fairly certain I wouldn’t have been able to cover for its effects, particularly back when Mr. Clay was watching me like a hawk. Just looking at the cart with the benefit of my new ability, I could see hundreds of ways to turn it into some unbelievable beast of speed and durability. And then I remembered what Frau Gruber had been able to do with its current capabilities and reassessed the wisdom of handing her anything more powerful.

Despite the lack of aftermarket rocket boosters, Frau Gruber was thrilled with the condition of the cart, heaping praise on everyone involved while simultaneously insisting that she had been right about it all along. Given the fact that it had taken an expert in the field with near supernatural abilities to manage to fix it, I was inclined to agree with Mr. Clay’s assessment.

“…and we’ll settle up everything tomorrow. I’ll send one of the grandchildren over to see to it.” She explained to Mrs. Clay.

The woman let out a snort in amusem*nt. “The full rebuild won’t be cheap, but you’ll probably come out ahead compared to bringing it in every two weeks.” Mrs. Clay explained with a smile on her face.

“I don’t know how you’ll manage without my company.” Frau Gruber said from her position on the driver’s seat. “Maybe we can all go for a drive instead.” All three of the Clays immediately paled at the suggestion. Given my place on the bench next to her, I completely understood their reluctance.

“What about Józef?” Agatha asked. Mrs. Clay raised an eyebrow at that and I was suddenly feeling self-conscious. “He did handle most of the work.” Agatha continued.

“We’ve listed him as an assistant on the invoice.” Mrs. Clay explained. “It’s the best we can do until you register with the Mechanic’s Guild, but Adam will see what he can do.” Mr. Clay nodded his head. His expression had become a little sterner after Agatha had spoken, but it hadn’t edged back into overprotective father quite yet.

“Don’t worry about the young man. I’ll keep him safe for you until you’ve got the paperwork sorted out.” Frau Gruber explained, clearly eager to head out. I nodded and quickly turned back to the Clays.

“Thank you, Mrs. Clay, Mr. Clay. And Miss Clay as well. It was nice meeting you all.” I said as Frau Gruber started up the gently purring motor and put the cart in gear. “I’m very grateful for all of your assistance. Until the next time I see you, thank you for your help.”

For some reason my goodbyes seemed to amuse the three of them more than anything else. Agatha raised a hand to wave me off as Frau Gruber opened the throttle and sent the cart rocketing out of the workshop.

And then immediately clamped down on the break, causing the cart to skid to a stop in front of a building directly across the street. A sign over the door read ‘Turnips R Us!’ and there was a brightly painted placard in the shape of a beet hanging in front of the building.

I looked back at the cargo and noted that the produce crates were mostly filled with root vegetables. The cart’s arrival drew attention from inside the business and I was quickly noticing a resemblance between Frau Gruber and the staff. There was a particularly strong resemblance with the older balding man in a large apron who pushed his way to the front of the crowd. He moved with an air of authority that completely vanished the second he spotted Frau Gruber.

“Mama?” He asked. “No.” He gasped as he looked at the cart. “Please don’t tell me you got that death trap working again.” There was real fear in the man’s voice while Frau Gruber just sat in the driver’s seat looking like the cat that ate the canary.

I turned and looked back across the street to where the Clays were still looking at me with that amused expression. I did feel a little bit foolish about trying to give a sincere goodbye when I was apparently relocating directly across the street.

As promised, Frau Gruber provided me a chance to properly clean up and a warm meal, except rather than a bowl of pity stew it was a seat at the family dinner table where she ruled over her rather expansive clan like a royal court, generally in complete defiance to her son Petru’s concerns.

“Mama, that cart is older than grandpa. There’s no way it’s safe for you to ride. Not after one day of work.” He protested while I did my best to stay out of or at least adjacent to the family conflict.

“Oh please, Adam Clay gave his personal approval to the quality of the work. Until he says otherwise, I won’t entertain any naysaying.”

“Until he says… Mama, you can’t be serious.” Petru pleaded. He looked around to the rest of the family for support, but found his prospects wanting.

“I’m completely serious. The old girl’s running better than any time I can remember. Why, with that level of pep back in the engine we can start offering express pickled beetroot delivery again.” She declared proudly.

Her son’s face just paled and there was the sense that a lot of the other family members were deliberately staying silent rather than just not talking.

“Mama, you can’t.” Her son tried desperately.

“I assure you, I am perfectly capable. I still know this city like the back of my hand and with the cart in top form we can get express deliveries to anywhere in the six districts in twenty minutes or less.” She said smugly.

“No Mama, you literally can’t.” He said, “They’re an ordinance against it.”

“Oh, that. Nothing but an overreaction, and I’m sure completely unrelated.”

“It mentions you by name. Dr. Beetle signed it personally. They send us reminder edicts every six months with the Tyrant’s seal.”

Frau Gruber huffed, but inclined her head. “Fine.” There was a look of hope from her son. “We’ll get everything prepared for the delivery service, and then see if they still want to hold to that silly regulation.” Her smile took on a character that wasn’t entirely appropriate. “Tarsus was always quite fond of my beets. And other plump offerings.”

I didn’t know what that was an allusion to and quite frankly I didn’t want to know. Still, I took it better than Petru Gruber who looked like he had just experienced a system crash. It at least ensured things were quiet for the rest of the meal, after which I received the added benefit of temporary housing.

Thanks to Frau Gruber’s tyrannical control over her family business no one dared question her statement that I was now their contract mechanic, guild status pending under Mechanics Guild bylaw 3.45.G, sections 17. I doubt anyone knew what that bylaw and section was, and that possibly included Frau Gruber herself. Still, no one was questioning it, and it did allow me to stay in a small apartment attached to one of the reserve garages that was no longer in use, with Frau Gruber being very clear that it would remain unused for as long as I needed it, or until I found a place of my own.

So my gesture of goodwill had paid unexpected dividends. I had a simple workspace that was still large enough for heavy mechanical work. The apartment was really just a space with a cot and a small water closet, but it was a lot less confining when I had the run of the garage. And, most importantly, I had privacy. The garage only opened to the back alley behind the business and didn’t have any access to the rest of the building, meaning I didn’t have to worry about being disturbed. Meaning I could actually open my workshop.

My hand felt unsteady as I raised the key to the door of an empty tool cabinet. It wasn’t actually shaking, but that was the result of my Efficiency power rather than a lack of nerves. I took a breath and pushed forward. The key slid in, clicked, and then opened into the half-light of my Workshop entryway.

Everything was there. My mattress, my books, my desk, even my battered old laptop. The hastily made door jamb sat just inside the entryway, ready to provide a low-tech method of securing the Workshop. Inside my metal shop I still had all of the machines and replenishing supplies I’d had before. Everything was there.

More than everything. A weight in my pocket suddenly made itself known and I removed the grenade I had taken from Oni Lee. I had been walking around the entire city with an unknown tinker tech explosive in my pocket. That was a level of danger I had completely blanked to in the face of everything I had been dealing with.

At the very least I could be sure the bomb didn’t have a geolocation trigger and wasn’t dependent on a signal to keep it from detonating. With the legitimately impossible power that was Most Holy Order of the Socket Wrench I was in a better place to understand tinker tech, but a bomb like this was well outside of my specialization. I could analyze its electronics and strip it down, but there were likely principles in play that I had no way of properly understanding.

I shifted my focus from analysis to containment, something that was relatively easy to accomplish with a mastery of mechanical principles, a regenerating source of basic materials, and the ability to work at the speed of an entire chop shop by yourself. The bomb quickly received a dedicated vault in the corner of the metal shop that would hopefully contain the effect of any detonation, at least if I didn’t get an ability to help me understand tinker tech explosives before something went wrong.

The massive mote that my power failed to connect to from the Time constellation wouldn’t be any help considering it was one of the largest powers possible and I currently only had a minimal amount of reach built up. Still, more would come. Today had been evidence enough of that.

Honestly, the opening day hadn’t gone as badly as I had feared. Mainly because I had a roof over my head and privacy for my work, rather than being wanted by the authorities or seen as some kind of freak to be captured or killed.

Instead I was relatively secure and more importantly, free to act. That was the big thing. I had slipped slightly in demonstrating my capabilities, but the baseline for the world was so skewed that most of them had blended in or apparently been explained away. None of what I had done would trigger some nightmare scenario because the architect of those nightmares was back on Earth Bet.

Without the Simurgh people could still respond to my actions, but they would respond like people, not like precognitive murder chickens waiting to ruin everything for everyone. It was incredibly freeing to know that I could actually do things without the entire fate of the world being thrown into chaos. Not that there weren’t dangers, but they were dangers I could face on equal footing. Or at least footing that was becoming more equal with every power I secured.

I moved back to my entryway and sat down at my desk. Back on Earth Bet I hadn’t even wanted to risk planning for the future out of fear of what might happen if the Simurgh picked up on a stray intention. Here there were no such concerns. I could fully consider everything I had available and look into how I could develop it and what I could do to make a difference, both on the local scale and eventually in a broader capacity. It might raise some concerns, but those were concerns I could deal with. When you didn’t have doomed fate hanging over your every thought, it was a lot easier to take decisive action.

So, cut off from home and trapped in a world of insane tinkers running on brutal medieval methods of governance and punishment. Isolated with minimal resources and only the support of the acquaintances I had made in the space of a single day. Faced with impossible technology, complex politics, and disturbing shadows of my original trigger in the remnants of the Other.

And despite all of that, it still felt like a step up. God help me, I was actually looking forward to this.

Addendum Judy

Judy sighed as she got ready for bed. Punch was checking on Agatha, but from the looks of things they had avoided any of the hundred disasters that seemed to be bearing down on them over the course of the day. Frau Gruber was a good customer and a fixture of the community, though she was always at least moderately trying to deal with. After she had insisted on taking her cart out, Judy had been convinced she would be hearing about some catastrophic failure leading to an emergency of some kind.

Instead the woman had dropped another potential disaster into their laps. Judy sighed and adjusted her nightdress as Punch entered their bedroom.

“No problems with Agatha?” She asked. Her husband smiled at her and signaled his amusem*nt.

“It’s not silly.” She said with a sigh. They both knew Agatha had snuck out to the workshop. Her interest was almost certainly the work being conducted, but there would always be concerns. “I know we can’t isolate her from everyone, but something like this showing up…” She bit her lip. “You are certain that he’s not a Spark?” She asked.

Punch signaled his confidence in the matter. She was fairly certain herself. That engine had been in a nightmare state, but it had been an oddly conventional nightmare state. The boy was also much too calm and reserved to be Spark. Punch had set the boy loose on the rebuild of Frau Gruber’s cart and, while he had been enthusiastic in his work, the end product had been remarkably conventional. Far too conventional to be a Spark’s creation.

He was talented and skilled, but only within conventional limits. He was also very diligent and helpful, which suggested something else. Something which only raised more concerns.

“So, a minion.” She said. Punch nodded and made an excessively smooth gesture with his hand. Though not quite as smooth as what they had seen that afternoon. “Yes, I saw it too. He wasn’t even trying to conceal it.”

Which might have been a good sign. Whoever Józef Ďuriš was, he carried himself with an excessive efficiency of action, something that extended to everything he did. Even breathing, if she was right about what she thought she had seen. The fact that he didn’t even seem to recognize the behavior as unusual indicated that for him, it likely wasn’t.

It meant he wasn’t trying to hide, but it also meant that wherever he had come from, that kind of thing had been expected of him. Or it had been inflicted on him. Either through conditioning or engineering, somehow a perfect efficiency of movement had been imprinted onto the boy. Both she and Punch knew enough about the works of Sparks to understand how significant that was.

“By the Masters.” She said as she sank down to sit on the edge of the bed. “A rogue minion.” She looked up at her husband. “It’s the last thing we need.”

Punch placed a comforting hand on her shoulder and she felt some of the tension leave her body as she drew strength from his presence. At the very least the boy wasn’t overly concerned about being followed. He didn’t seem the type to take foolish risks, so it was likely there was either no one after him, or no one to come after him. The second was far more likely, given that he had clearly traveled through the wastes. The damage to his clothing said enough.

It was a bit depressing that the best scenario they could hope for was that the boy’s home was currently a smoking crater with no other survivors.

He was clearly capable, though at least it appeared he was not dangerous. Punch seemed to have followed her train of thought, as he often did, and gestured his opinion on the matter.

“Yes, no combat training or experience whatsoever.” She said with a small smile. A small mercy, but not an unwelcome one. Considering the way the boy moved, he would have been a nightmare to fight, but at every provocation he had reacted with nothing but defensive shock. No hint of aggression or even familiarity with combat.

A capable minion, but not a particularly dangerous one. That was likely down to whoever had been the boy’s former master. His mention of a university did nothing to narrow things down, though he did seem to have an academic bent. Unfortunately, they didn’t have time to puzzle out the boy’s past. It would be best to ignore it, and that might have been possible if Frau Gruber hadn’t parked that particular problem right next door to them.

She raised a hand to her forehead as a thousand disaster scenarios played out in her mind. Hordes of minions who moved like Smoke Knights chasing after a boy who happened to be staying across the street from the last Heterodyne heir. Interest being drawn from other Sparks or powers, all directed towards someone who didn’t even know to play down their natural abilities. Or even some potential problem brought by the boy himself. He was earnest enough, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t carrying some dangerous secret of his own.

She felt Punch’s hand rubbing her back, working out the building tension as quickly as it was accumulating. She let out a breath and shook her head. “It’s just another challenge. We can handle this. We’ll have to handle this. Clearly, he hasn’t noticed anything yet. As long as we can get him away without being too obvious about it, the situation should blow over without incident.”

She looked up as Punch made a series of complex gestures. She nodded along with his suggestions.

“That should work. Some of the Mechanic’s Guild can be prickly about new members from out of town, but even they should see the value in taking him on.”

Providing Mr. Ďuriš was being honest about his intentions. Every instinct she had suggested as much, but that didn’t change the inherent uncertainty that came from dealing with the product of a Spark’s work.

Punch gestured towards the hall door, and then made a quizzical movement with his hands.

“Nothing serious.” Judy said with a slight smile. “He was a polite young man, and I don’t think we have anything to worry about on Agatha’s part.”

Even with him staying next door, it was unlikely the two of them would see each other in more than passing. Any steps to discourage interactions at this stage would just create more problems. It would be easier to try to find the boy a posting in a shop across the city, or maybe a place of his own? Either way, things should be dealt with in a few days, providing no other problems arise to compound things.

Józef Ďuriš WAS going to be a problem. They could just hope that when the time came, he would at least be a problem for someone else.

Brockton’s Celestial Forge AU – Europa’s Celestial Forge - Lord Roustabout (Lord_Roustabout) - Parahumans Series (2024)


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