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"SO, my trigger event and a fellow tinker enter my lair! Tell me Kid Win, is it normal for your people to send in the reason for the worst moment of your life?"

Kid Win blinks in surprise, before glancing at Shadow Stalker. "Um."

"Oh, that's bullshit Hebert. You can't shift the blame onto me-"

"Oh! Sorry, Taylor Hebert." I gesture to myself, speaking to Kid Win and ignoring Sophia for now, "Your bosses already know, of course, but don't spread it around anyway. Sophia here has made my life a living hell with a bunch of her friends for quite a while, so of course, despite by beautiful mustache, she recognized me anyway yesterday."

"Wait- she was your trigger event? How does that work?"

"I really would thank you, Sophia, becoming a Tinker has improved my outlook on life immensely! I realized the world is such a brighter place than I thought it was! There's so much possibility, so many unused opportunities to make the world a better place and I plan on taking as many as I can! Things I didn't see until you shoved me into that locker! I would thank you, but considering the fact, you know, you tormented me for over a year and only pushed me in to hurt me, I considered us even! I only joybuzzed you because you broke my glasses. Nothing more, nothing less."

"I didn't push you." she muttered.

"No? I guess it must have been Emma then. You were standing right behind me when it happened, you must have seen who did it, if it wasn't you."

"Why are you- why are you saying all this in front of him!? Look, let's get out of here, she's never going to join the Wards."

I shake my head, smiling, "Yeah, it's not likely going to happen. Bye!"

Kid Win is flabbergasted for a second, before sighing, "Look, I have no idea what went on between the two of you- it's almost certainly Shadow Stalker's fault though."

"Hey!"

"I know you're a jerk enough to us. But the thing is, Taylor, the Wards is still the best option available to you. Especially since you're being so- active. Showy."

"Flashy!" I add.

"Yeah, look, gangs, they love Tinkers. Having a Tinker in your gang is like an instant upgrade because that means members who don't have powers can use tools that give them an edge against other regular people. Most Tinkers don't last long on their own, especially younger ones. The Wards- Sophia's a jerk, but it'll be safe.And speaking as a Tinker, having a real lab, access to good materials, it makes all the difference. I still remember when I had to make things out of scraps. I'd never go back."

I smile more softly now, he seems genuine, as far as I can tell, "Don't worry about a thing, really. I mean- do you want to come inside? Oh, but not you Sophia."

"Not happening. I'm his backup, I'm here to save him when you decide to go psycho and try to make him into a cyborg or some shit."

"Ugh. Fine. But don't touch anything, I've already counted the spoons."

"I would like to, actually." Kid Win said, bringing the hover board down to land, both he and Sophia stepping off it. "I actually don't get the chance to see other Tinker's labs that often. Armsmaster doesn't like it when people mess with his stuff, and there's no other Tinkers at ENE."

"Well, welcome to Robotnikland." I say, ushering them both in. Sophia is on edge, keeping her eyes on the Badniks out and about, and they're keeping an eye on her right back.

I lead the two of them into my main operating theater, where a half-finished Alpha is suspended in Squealer's rigging. "Behold! E dash One Zero Zero Alpha!" I announce, "A work in progress, but once he's done, he'll be of great use in clearing away the boat wrecks, making scrap, and helping to carry heavy stuff around."

Kid Win's eyes are sparkling as he went near, looking it up and down, "It floats?"

"Yep! The same levitation system as my Egg Mobile." upon hearing its name, the vehicle floats closer.

"And you... only started working on all this stuff in the last three days?"

"Yep!"

He blinks, and actually looks a bit scared. "Dragon doesn't work this fast."

I'm a bit floored by that actually as well, "Really? I mean, she goes out in a new suit each time she goes out at all, right? And my stuff is way less complicated."

"Even so... are you sure you won't join the Wards, all of this stuff- imagine what you could do with real resources! How many people you would help."

"I am helping people!" I protest.

"By building an amusement park?"

"Well, I removed the Merchants from the city this morning."

"What?"

"Yep! Sent Mush running, and-" hmm. Might not be a good idea to tell the Protectorate that I'm using people as batteries. "-I wrecked Squealer's mecha-truck. She and Skidmark surrendered, and I basically looted everything in her lab. That rigging over there, that's hers. Then I told them to leave the city and never come back. And something tells me that they are going to take my advice."

"Thats... Just like that?" Kid Win asks, "Well. Either way, the Empire and the ABB, they're much bigger threats, and they're the ones who are more likely to try and recruit you."

"Well, don't worry about it. Every day I'm practically twice as secure as the day before!" I say triumphantly, "Why, four days ago, I only had a joy buzzer. Now, I have a flying machine, three perimeter defense drones, a high-speed pursuit drone, three of the most powerful generators in the city, and with some elbow grease and a few hours of uninterrupted work, I'll have what amounts to a one-man construction crew!" I say proudly, "After that, the sky isn't even the limit! I'll build my park, save the economy of the city, use my growing robot army to banish the gangs from my city, and then, I'll start expanding! A Robotnikland on every continent! An anti-Endbringer fleet of automated airships! Its all, truly, within reach!" I realize that I have my arms thrown up in the air, and I'm out of breath, and both Wards are looking at me like I've grown a second head, slowly backing away.

"Ah, aheh, um. Well! That's all in the future, anyway."

"Well, Robonik, Taylor, this has been great. I uh, hope you reconsider our offer to join the Wards."

"No thanks. Really, but I do appreciate the sentiment." I say, before gesturing for the door, "If you don't mind, after seeing your hoverboard in action, I've got a renewed enthusiasm for working on Alpha's propulsion system. You can show yourselves out." it goes unsaid that my Badniks will be keeping an eye on them the whole time.

The two of them leave, and I breathe out a silent sigh of relief. That felt good. I mean, I did want to just let everything from before my rebirth just- stay there. No sense thinking of things that are depressing, but Sophia's continued being an ass afterwards, and if I'm being honest with myself, revenge feels pretty good. Especially since its clear she's an asshole to the local Wards too. I mean, her powers aren't even that useful? She can go through walls, turn incorporeal, sure, okay, fine, thats good for information gathering or assassination or something. Too bad that the Wards, and the Protectorate, don't do those things. I guess its just Sophia's bad luck all the gangs beside the losers are racially divided. The Empire and the ABB wouldn't accept her, and the Merchants just plain sucked.

Oh well! She'll get her just deserts, I'm sure. Now to work on my Alpha!




EMPIRE EIGHTY-EIGHT

"Robotnik, that's a polish name, isn't it?" Hookwolf asked, looking at the morning newspaper. One of the major stories was about how a UFO appearing in front of the Mayor, a tall skinny boy with a ridiculous mustache and way too long hair in a pirate coat ranting to him from inside it, only to be scared away by the arrival of the Wards. An obvious Tinker. A new one, not associated with the Wards, not with the Protectorate, one who could build flying craft.

"Its not a common one." Kaiser said.

"That nose-"

"That isn't a real trait of jews, Brad," Kaiser said, "At least not to that extent. Besides, the nose is fake. The mustache too. I think its some kind of pirate theme. Captain Brownbeard or some nonsense. A sky pirate? Tacky anyway. When we induct him, we'll come up with something better. I'm thinking... Luftwaffe. Or Eagle."

"His nose is already a beak." Brad muttered, "The others won't like him much. He doesn't fit the image."

"We'll worry about that later." Kaiser said, "The question right now is finding him. What do we know?"

Krieg stood up a bit, "I've had people putting out feelers, and got back some info from feelers I already had out. This guy robbed one of our front companies, a furniture shop that we used for smuggling. Stole a sofa and a leather chair, took the sofa first, came back for the chair. Going by the picture in the paper, that chair is the one he's sitting on."

"Hm. When was the robbery?"

"Three days ago." Krieg answered, "And he wasn't flying then. He had some big metal box, pulled by a beetle-shaped robot with a tire."

"Not limited to aircraft then. Vehicles in general?" Kaiser asked.

"That's exactly what Brockton Bay needs, a second Squealer." Hookwolf said sarcastically, "Too bad this one doesn't have a rack."

"Wait, three days ago. That's when the forcefield went down around the Rig as well, wasn't it?"

"Yeah." Krieg said, "The robbery happened a few hours later."

"You don't think they're related, do you?" Hookwolf asked.

"I'll have people look into it." Krieg said.

"I think I'll handle the recruitment speech myself." Kaiser said, "If we can get him willingly on our side, all the better, if we have to do some persuading first- well, I'll leave him in a better condition to work than you would, Brad."


AZN BAD BOYS

"The forcefield is down! This is our chance to hit them big, and hit them hard!"

"Silence." Lung ordered, the woman in front of him raised her hand and opened her mouth to shout more, when she was silenced by a growl from him. "If we attack the Rig now, its like saying the only reason we didn't before is because the forcefield was too strong for us. We'd appear weak."

"But this is our best opportunity." she said, more calmly this time, "I already have preparations to blow half the city to hell if we need to. We could destroy the Rig while we were at it- cripple the Protectorate, blast away the Empire, leave the Merchants to scavenge and then take them out with the second wave."

"And call down the Triumvirate on our heads?" Lung asked, smiling, "It might be interesting..."

"The Triumvirate- can you handle them?"

"Don't ask stupid questions."