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Raveled

Me Push, You Pull (IC)

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It was a beautiful day outside, but Jessica Parker didn't notice. The young inventor was elbow deep -- literally -- in a new project. A holographic projection of something fiendishly complex occupied the center of her office. Hoses, struts, beams, and all other sort of structural elements intersected and brushed past each other, and the young inventor walked through it all like a ghost. From time to time she rotated a piece, or touched a different part and switched the material composition with a thought. Numerous infinitesimal changes accrued and she switched and swapped them hundreds of times a second. A normal intellect would have been overwhelmed -- but hers was no normal intellect.

If anyone had been in the room and close enough to listen, they might've heard her singing to herself, quietly, absent-mindedly. "I see a red door and I wanted it painted black..."

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Push, alias Tom Walker, alias Gabriel Quinn looked up at the imposing edifice that was Freedom City's own Lab; from what Jessica had told him all the best and brightest of the city's scientific minds worked and played here, creating new technologies that absolutely boggled the mind. The mechanic was almost like a kid looking at the front of a candy store as he looked at the glass building, imagining all the kinds of new vehicular possibilities were contained therein.

Then he shook his head and facepalmed. Plenty of time to drool over tech when his appointment was done. He pushed in the front door and walked up to the desk, crossing his fingers as he looked at the secretary. His costume (such as it was) did look a bit eclectic at the best of times...

"Uh, name's Push, I have an appointment with a Jessica Parker?"

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The woman on the front desk didn't even raise her eyebrow at Push's appearance. Considering that two of the five founders wore masks to work, perhaps she was inured to the weirdness. Instead she just picked up a phone and dialed Jessica Parker's office.

Jessica in turn froze as her phone line -- well, it didn't ring. She'd turned the ringer off. But she her altered mind could sense the phone trying to ring, trying to alert her to an incoming call. She connected to it mentally and spoke to the air, sending the words down the line. "Parker here, what is it?"

The secretary glanced at Push. "There's a young man here in costume for you, Miss Parker. Calls himself Push."

Back in her office, the young inventor blinked once and accessed her digital day calendar. Yup, there was the appointment to test Push's powers. It was her bad luck that she'd been engrossed in this other project instead of preparing for this. "Okay, send him up to, um. Level Sixteen has some free rooms, we'll go there." She turned back to the holographic projection and, stretching her arms wide then bringing them in close, resized it until it was closer to a basketball. "Other worlds," she said to it. "We'll get you there in time." For now though, she saved her project to the Lab's servers, then again to her own personal RAID array, and made a beeline for the elevator.

Back at the front desk, the secretary hung up the phone and typed on a recessed keypad for a moment. Then she reached under the desk and pulled out a laminated card that hung off a plastic lanyard; on the card was a picture of Push from moments ago as he entered the lobby. The word "GUEST" was printed around the edges in block letters. "Wear this at all times," she told him. "When you get into the elevator, wave it at the sensor and it'll take you to the proper level."

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Push took the pass, absently slinging it around his neck, and adjusted the rather large wrapped object on his back. He'd attracted no small amount of attention riding through the city streets with it, but flying down on Lazarus with that huge hammer openly on his back, right towards the Lab itself probably wouldn't have been the best idea in the world.

After walking down the corridor to the elevator, the pass worked exactly as it was supposed to (although he had to struggle a bit to get the hammer to fit in the elevator itself), and shortly he stepped out onto Level Sixteen. For a moment he seemed a bit lost, looking down the various corridors. Then, on his own initiative, he started looking about for Jessica's lab. And then he actually did get a bit lost.

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For once fate smiled on the kinetic controller; as he was walking in one direction around the Lab's circular floorplan, he met Jessica coming in the other. He almost didn't recognize her, as she was wearing a lab coat and tossing a set of safety goggles into the air. Her face lit up when she caught sight of Push. "Hey, uh, Push! Glad you could come! Just follow me." She walked past the hero and opened half of a pair of double doors for him. The room beyond was absolutely huge, easily fifty feet on a side, and two or three stories tall. Every surface was decorated the same way, too, in simple black squares with white lines delineating the edges.

While Push was examining the room, Jessica walked through and into an adjoining space. She activated a set of speakers and suddenly her voice was coming from everywhere. "Push? This is one of our simulator rooms. We're going to start with some simple weight lifting, but if you need to charge up your batteries we can try stopping some things first."

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Push shook his head, doing some idle stretches, and unslung the wrapped package, dropping it beside him with a resounding thud. Head left, crack, head right, crack, crack the knuckles, let a little charge flow for easy access...

"No need, when I'm out on Lazarus it's pretty easy to leech from nearby cars here and there. So, what kind of weights we talking here?"

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In the observation/control room (really more of a cubby; she made a note to broach the subject of rooms inside dimensional pockets with Mara again) Jessica settled back in her padded chair and examined the controls in front of her. She ran through the system, both manually and with her abnormal mind. She accessed the speakers directly and 'spoke' to Push while she typed on a recessed keyboard.

"We're going to start with some light, lifting, just a half ton. Don't want to strain you as yet, just need to get some baseline readings on your powers." Even as she spoke, a black cube rose from the ground a few feet away from Push. The young woman's voice faded but the speakers didn't switch off. After a minute he could hear a familiar voice... singing? "I see a line of cars and they're all painted black."

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Push stretched, looking at the cube intently. To Jessica's eyes, it looked as if the cube simply began to lift up off the ground in a slightly wobbling manner, listing to one side before righting itself and bobbing in midair. To her instruments...

Kinetic energy works even down to the subatomic level; under a principle that everything, literally even the most immobile object, is moving at some level. Jessica's instruments, calibrated for these tests, could pick up that energy even at the lowest level; they tracked what seemed like a small bit of energy from Push's body (lit up on her screens like a corona), which hit the energy of the cube and grew, shifting from other places. Chains of energy wrapped around the block, some making a "cushion" on the bottom, lifting it up as if someone was exerting the same force to push it from the ground.

"Never really tested how heavy I can go, but I've held up buildings before. Got anything bigger?"

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Jessica was engrossed in the data coming in and didn't reply for a long minutes. Then she came back on the speakers, overwhelming the music. "Okay then, Push! We'll increase the weight of the device to, hm, one and a half tons? Does that sound better?" The tiles above and below slid away and odd circular devices protruded into the room. Energy quickly built up in them to a humming crescendo, and the hero could see a pale purple haze connecting the two apertures. His floating block suddenly grew heavier and he had to put more energy into it. "Building local gravity to three times normal. Let me know if you're feeling, um, heavier than normal, Push. We think we have the energy spill controlled, but we can always improve on it!"

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If the weight was troublesome, he didn't show it. In fact, he made a few tweaks with his fingers, and the block did a little flying show in midair. To Ironclad's instruments, it seemed as if he was merely switching where the energy's main "emphasis" was, the object pushing itself through the air and doing all those neat tricks.

"Leech field's actually pretty useful with increased gravity; Wyrd tried to stick me to the ground with this 'Ultra-Weight' one time, jammed a lot of the energy from the downward motion into myself. At least, I think that was what I did...lot of my stuff's pretty instinctual, y'know?"

By this point, he was pretending to juggle the block from hand to hand, smiling under the scarf.

"What's the heaviest this sucker can go?"

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Jessica's eyes were fixed on the screen, absorbing the data as fast as it came in -- technically before it came in with her connection to the sensors, but some habits (like using screens and keyboards) were hard to break. This was simply fascinating stuff, and the parts of brain that weren't devoted to locking the experience into her memory were running wild with how to use it. Crash barriers, breaks, elevators, even 'slow rays' for use against rioters and criminals. "Material strength caps out at roughly six tons," she answered him absently. "It's amazing. All this extra energy and almost no change in temperature!"

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Push cocked his head to the side, the block lowering to the ground as he leaned on it. He knew the principle she was talking about, he and Mike had hashed over it a few times and had come up with an (admittedly flimsy) answer.

"Yeah, I thought of that when Mi...my first time testing came around. Slowing or speeding up on the molecular level with extra kinetic energy, making something really cold or really hot. I think it's because I'm only manipulating surface energy, not digging right down into that level; I've never really had to try pulling off stuff like that before. Well, unless you count sticking crooks in kinetic stasis, but there I'm just leeching the energy they're using to move forward, not the kinetic energy on their skin molecules or anything. That, and focusing on energy that small makes my head hurt. Literally."

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Jessica's voice continued to come from everywhere as she manipulated the controls and absorbed the data. "Interesting. We should try an experiment with something near absolute zero, see if a lack of molecular motion will affect your powers. But first..." The gravity machines powered down and withdrew, and several more cubes, equally spaced around the hero, appeared out of the floor. "Let's work on multiple target and precision first, okay?"

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Push shook his head, lifting up one block and putting it down, then picking up another and putting it on top of the other, and so on.

"Can't do more than one object, I've tried that before. Trick is dividing my attention between two energy streams, and last time I tried that I got some serious backlash."

He placed the last block on top of the small tower, placing his hands on his hips and nodding in a tiny bit of approval.

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"Oh-kay, then. Why don't we try a little -- mm?" Jessica glanced at her control panel, where a single light was blinking insistently. She pressed it and the door to the testing chamber opened. In stalked a construction-yellow exoskeleton that had to be at least ten feet tall. It walked forward with ponderous steps and the hero almost missed the petite blonde with a pair of fancy goggles strapped into the middle of it. "Okay, April here will take your hammer, Push! April, you've got the whole list of tests, right?"

The suit's operator disengaged from one of the hand controls and saluted -- well, the ceiling, actually. "Yes, Miss Parker! Full photography and then materials testing!"

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Push looked at the huge yellow exoskeleton, then gave a great deal of thanks that his scarf was covering a wide, mischevious grin. With a flourish, he unwrapped the cloth and motioned at the hammer, before giving it a solid boot upwards with his foot and catching it in a hand as if it was light as a feather.

"Well, far be it from me to get in the way of science!"

With a quick jerk of the arm, the huge hammer did a flip in midair; the hero catching it by the handle near the head of the weapon. The rest of the hammer's handle was actually rather small compared to the power armor's claws, which amused Push immensely, and he waited for the assistant to take it.

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The exo-skeleton's claw reached out and grasped the haft of the hammer. The gripper rotated and the machine stepped away from Push, pulling the weapon from the hero's grip. As soon as the kinetcist's fingers slipped off it, though, the hammer slammed into the floor, making the walls tremble with the impact. Behind her goggles, Alice's eyebrows went up, but she put her thumbs on the control surfaces and hauled, toggling for more power.

Secure in the control booth, Jessica mentally monitored the lifter's systems, frowning as it crept closer and closer to the red-line, eventually touching it and even jittering past. The young genius let Alice heave for a minute, then broke in over the intercom. "Okay, that's enough. Just get a gurney and we'll wheel it over." Alice disengaged the clamps with a dejected air and piloted the exo-suit back into the hall.

Meanwhile, Jessica was setting up the next test. "So you're pretty good with solids," she said to Push, the cubes retracting into the floor one after another. "How are you with fluids?" Panels on the ceiling parted and a white plastic tube protruded into the room, wide enough for Push to crawl up it comfortably.

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Push hefted the hammer again, twirling it between two fingers before placing it on the brought gurney. The cart groaned under the weight, but held, and soon it was wheeled out; the kineticist eyeing it for a moment as it disappeared out the door.

"Y'know, I am going to want that back eventually."

He stepped over and looked at the tube, tilting his head as he pondered her answer.

"Liquids are annoying sometimes, it flows and pushes in dozens of different directions at once, so you gotta be real careful where you apply energy, y'know? Plus, submerged everything slows down...honestly, I used to live in a landlocked city, so it's not something I've done a lot of experimentation on."

Push looked at the different walls, thumbing at the tube.

"So...what? Do I climb up it, or what?"

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Jessica smirked, reaching out mentally and quirking the specifics of the experiment just a touch. "Nope, just stand right there for a minute." The semi-transparent plastic of the tube darkened as something filled it up from within. "And here, we, go!"

The scientist slapped a button and the tube's butterfly door opened, and in a moment half a ton of white, fine-grained sand poured out into the experimental area. It only took Jessica another moment to realize that the kineticist was standing directly underneath the stream! Her mind reacted faster than her body, activating the emergency shut-off valve and halting the flow of sand. "Oh god. Push!? Are you okay?"

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A brief rumble inside, and the sand roiled and boiled...and Push's head popped out the top like a cork, his shoulders and body still buried. He shot a very, very flat look at the speaker in the wall, and the mound just exploded; clumps of sand flying every which way as the room's floor was covered in the stuff, and Push stood in the centre looking a mite ruffled. He shook his arms and legs, sand falling off of him, and even tilted his head for a moment as a thin stream came out of one ear.

"Alrighty, I think I've got sand in places I didn't even know I had...yeah, just fine, had bigger weights than that dropped on my head. Of both the giant robot and eldrich abomination varieties, too."

He pulled his hat off and shook his hair out, sand falling to the ground from there as well. The kineticist even took a few seconds to invert his pockets, dumping small piles of sand out from those too.

"So, what's the test?"

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Jessica relaxed in the office chair and started assessing how things had gone. They'd need a clean-up crew in here, certainly... "That was the test," she said over the loudspeaker. "You did fine with solid objects, but I wanted to test your abilities on an amorphous mass, and I figured that a quantity of sand would do better than, say, a ton or so of Silly Putty. Besides, we've got a lot of sand to get rid of." The door to the control room opened and Jessica walked out, looking around at the sand drifts in the test chamber. "I think we can move on to recording and testing the hammer now, though."

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