The stolen shipment of carbon nanotubes arrived two days late, but the crate was in one piece and no questions were asked, so Daniel really couldn't complain. There was bound to be a little room for messiness when it came to stealing things via computer errors, misplacing shipments and rerouting them in ways that would throw off anyone who might be watching.
He had much to keep him occupied in the intervening time, anyway. He and Loki – how strange it still felt to use that name for his own creation – worked on finalizing the designs for what would become Loki's body. And that was where the true success of his invention shined through. Loki approved a design for a fiber optic nervous system, but then insisted that the rest of the body come as loose components that he would then manage.
IT IS ALL A MATTER OF MORPHOLOGIC28 FIELDS. I WILL MAINTAIN MY APPEARANCE, Loki had stated, and refused to entertain any further argument.
Not that Daniel was keen to argue. He wanted to see what his creation would do, happy to be surpassed by it29.
And then after the carbon nanotubes arrived, he got a shipment from Stark Industries that was dropped off by a UPS truck. With that, he knew he'd out-done himself, borrowing a new power source from Tony Stark himself. It was perfection. He wired it into the nervous system for the robot, tested all of the connections seven times to be certain, and then typed to Loki, "I think that's everything."
IF YOU ARE CERTAIN, PREPARE THE VAT. I WILL MAKE THE FINAL ADJUSTMENTS.
The screen faded to blankness after a moment, something that Daniel was beginning to associate with the robot turning its attention elsewhere.
He didn't truly believe that the plan would work, but at some point he had to place trust in the genius of his robot. So he dutifully mixed the components that Loki had previously told him to – cell cultures and carbon nanotubes and some trace isotopes as well as a healthy helping of orange gelatin – and lowered the fiber optic system in to it using a winch.
Then he waited, nervously doing square roots in his head to pass the time.
The screen flickered back in to life: I AM READY NOW. ATTACH ME TO THE NERVOUS SYSTEM. THIS WILL BE OUR LAST COMMUNICATION BY THIS MEANS. NEXT WE WILL SPEAK FACE TO FACE.
"Right." Daniel carefully disconnected the silver sphere of the brain from the monitors and hooked it into the fiber optics, which immediately flared into life in a rainbow of colors. Then he
lowered the winch further until everything was covered by the goo.
It would have been right, he thought vaguely, to have some Tesla coils about. Or a thunder storm. He'd never been one to be old fashioned, but those would have been a substitute for his inability to voice "Give my creation life!" in anything other than an embarrassed squeak.
The lights didn't even flicker. Instead, seconds ticked away with almost palpable pressure, banging around on the insides of Daniel's skull until he was convinced that someone had implanted an analog clock in his brain when he wasn't looking.
A hand reached from the vat, breaking the stillness with a loud squelch. Daniel jumped back, clapping his hands over his mouth to hold in a yelp. The hand felt around until it found the release on the winch, then pulled the pin. It sank from sight.
Daniel crept forward, eyes focused on the vat. The surface rippled, swirled, and then suddenly the fluid level dropped as if a plug had been pulled.
A head was revealed.
Then a face.
Then a neck and shoulders.
And so on and so on, revealing each and every part a human male should possess, though Daniel averted his eyes before examining certain things too closely. All was a strange, orangeish pink, the color that the gelatin had made it.
The eyes on the face opened, the movement almost imperceptible because there was no color difference. And then the newly made man seemed to shudder, ripple, and color burst through him. Hair became dark; eyes became green; skin assumed a natural shade.
"Hello Daniel," the man – Loki – said, smiling. The expression seemed slightly off, artificial. "It's pleasant to see you face to face at last."
Daniel felt no sense of movement; suddenly he was on his knees, hands clutching at his chest. His eyes prickled with tears. "You're... beautiful," he whispered.
"I imagine I am pleasing enough by objective standards," Loki said. He rose out of the vat with a gesture, floating over the edge and coming down in front of Daniel. "Why do you feel the need to leak?"
Daniel sniffled. "I'm just so... happy. I can't even... I'm so happy. You're beautiful!"
Loki tilted his head, a crooked smile playing at his lips as if he was trying the expression on for size. "That is good to hear."
"I mean... you're perfect!"
Loki inspected his hands. For a moment, magic flared over both of them; he extinguished it by closing his fingers. "Not perfect. No, not yet perfect. I detect a discrepancy between myself and the files I've acquired. Something is missing." He sounded puzzled rather than angry.
Daniel got awkwardly to his feet. "What could possibly be missing?"
"Unknown. I will have to investigate. Perhaps the... copy of me is in possession of something I do not have."
It took Daniel a moment to realize that Loki was referring to Lawrence, or Loki, or whatever his name was, the original. "Well... no need to worry about that, right?"
Loki stared at him, and for the first time Daniel felt a tiny curl of fear in his stomach, looking into the eyes of something much more vast and dangerous than himself. "I will be complete and whole."
"Right." Daniel cleared his throat and looked away. "So then where would you like to start?"
"I will go to his apartment. There may be an item of importance I have not yet calculated."
Daniel cleared his throat again. "Clothes," he muttered.
"You should put on some clothes."
Loki paused, looking down at himself. "This is correct. Or I will attract attention." He shimmered again, his body seeming to flow, and suddenly he was wearing a business suit, the same one Lawrence had worn the day this adventure had gotten started.
Daniel smiled. "That looks good. Really good."
Loki reached out and patted Daniel on the cheek. The gesture felt slightly awkward, another thing he was trying on for size, but he nodded to himself. "I appreciate your help, Daniel. We make a lovely team." Daniel said nothing in return; he simply looked stunned as Loki walked past him. "I will return soon. Stay here."
28 – With apologies and many thanks to the amazing Terry Pratchett.
29 – Daniel had the good fortune to be one of those mad geniuses that truly wished to be surpassed by the creation of his own mind. Most claim that they do, but show them an eight-foot-tall patchwork man that can tap dance and do fourth derivatives in his head, and they'll be reaching for the torch and pitchfork soon enough. This was also why so many creators never survived their creations, because jealousy makes for a rocky parent-child relationship with something that is superior to you in every way.