Saturday, December 27, 2014

Epilogue: Lucy

Lucy woke up. She saw Phoenix. He was standing. She looked around. She was on a table. And operating table.
Phoenix's forehead glowed. He looked at Lucy. She could feel him thinking. Thinking hard. His mind was bigger this time. He smiled. "It's you," Phoenix said.
"It is."
"I did it. Finally. A perfect recreation." He laughed. "Every thought, every memory. Your brain is exactly right."
"I just read your mind. All of it. I simulated what you would have done had you lived the life of the original Lucy. You and she- are the exact same. You are her. I brought you back."
"Did I die. Did she die?"
"You died. I resolved to bring you back... after I took care of some other business."
Lucy looked around. The sky was orange, and there were four suns. She was surrounded by tall buildings. No. They weren't buildings. They were machines. That orange sky was a ceiling. She looked more closely at what Phoenix had made. One of the buildings looked like a rocket. One of them was circular. Some had wires. She noticed the Archives. The starship that had visited hundred of peoples. It was in a corner. In another corner was Dr. Demented's armor. No. It was bigger. It was far away, and it was miles tall.
"Impressive, isn't it. This is one of several laboratories I have. I filled this one with an Earth-type atmosphere. It reminds me of home. My first home. Another lab is modeled on the interior of a star- good for a different type of experiment. One has curved spacetime. I have a lab like the core of a planet, a lab filled with liquid ammonia- that one really stinks- and an eight dimensional laboratory. But enough about me. I'm sure that you have plenty of other questions. And even though I can anticipate what those questions are, it's only courteous to let you ask them."
"How did I die."
"Dr. Carnage killed you. I thought it would be better if you didn't remember too much about that. It wasn't pretty. Homicide rarely is."
"What happened to Earth?"
"I set them on the right path."
"What happened to Alex?"
"He's currently in a pissing match with a few of the Computer People. Which is a problem, since they tend to piss jets of fusion fire powerful enough to annihilate worlds." That's a metaphor, FYI. It's only sometimes literally true. "I send word to him eighteen seconds ago. He should have received it fifty years ago, and he'll likely be here shortly. He has been awaiting your return with even more anticipation than I have."
"Dr. Demented. Did you stop him?"
"Yes. I killed him. And stole all of his stuff."
"Was it hard?"
"Killing an indestructible Space God from the future with access to literally hundreds of superpowers, indestructible armor, and enough power to literally wrap Alexander Star around his finger? I managed."
"No. Was it hard? To kill yourself?"
"I wouldn't say I was killing myself. I don't think death can happen to someone like me. I'll always have a backup copy of my brain somewhere. A clone. I have a factory at the beginning of time, creating Time Keys by the millions. A swarm of spaceships containing copies of my consciousness. I am Dr. Dimension, and I will live forever."
Lucy gulped.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Epilogue: Cognis

Professor Cognis looked down upon the world. He sat in his satellite, thinking about the world's problems. They had gotten worse. It had been months since Dr. Demented had attacked. Months since his battle in the outer Solar System had damaged communications and electrical grids. And still, tens of millions were living in the Dark Ages. Tens of millions more than usual, that is.
There were too many problems. It was simply too much for him. Too much for any man. He needed to stay focused. He pulled up a map of the electrical generators in Brazzaville.

In a way, Cognis wished that he still had Phoenix to oppose him. Back in those days, before the evil scientist had become a cyborg Space God, things had been simple. He had always had an obvious agenda: right whatever wrongs the dictator of Estveria had committed. Not so anymore.
What's worse, in his last few months on the planet, Phoenix had lost most of his malevolence. Or, perhaps, he had transcended to a higher plane of malevolence Cognis couldn't even comprehend. No need to be optimistic about what might have been.
Cognis pondered Phoenix's disappearance. He had left behind nothing except a finger and a hole in the ground. Presumably, he had taken Demented with him. Was he alive? Was he on Earth? Had he killed the President and taken his place? Cognis couldn't answer any of those questions with any certainty.

Deep beneath the Earth, Cognis looked at what he had sequestered away. A significant fraction of the Lost Army stood before him. Cognis had never needed to use them. With luck he would never have to.
Also in this vault where scraps of equipment salvaged from Phoenix's auxiliary labs. Cognis was constantly going back and forth as to whether or not to destroy it. He was seriously considering asking the Dark Detective for advice. But he knew how the paranoid hero would react if he found out what Cognis had been storing away.
Finally, there was the most advanced piece of technology in the room. A small part of Phoenix's body. A piece which Cognis was supposed to have destroyed.
The Professor hadn't taken any action to preserve it. The indestructible flesh was more than capable of preserving itself.
Martin, the finger thought. Cognis took a moment to process that. His telepathy was causing him to pick up thoughts from the severed finger of a cyborg.
This is Phoenix speaking. This rather macabre recording device was the only one on hand, so to speak. At least, the only one with remotely enough storage capacity.
"Can you hear me," Cognis asked aloud.
Indeed I can. You are going to ask what I want. I want to help you. You have been my most enduring foe, and my greatest ally. Under other circumstances you may even have been my closest friend. And, as it happens, you are the person on the planet most capable of saving the human race.
Attached to this recordings are detailed instructions- meticulously detailed- for how to improve the human brain. You will not be able to think quite as quickly as I could- hardware constraints- but you will be brilliant beyond the measures of human genius. I offer this to you because I know that you will not sequester this power. You will share it, and enable the next stage of the evolution of the human race.
"You are asking quite a lot. Are you really so sure that I will replace the human race with your tools?"
I am a cyborg.
"I'm not trying to insult your race-"
No. I am a cyborg. Of course I am sure of what you will do. 

Saturday, December 20, 2014


The Time Key could transport all of us to a distant world, where I could fix Lucy, fix or cure Dr. Demented, and then make my slow way back to Earth. Why don't I just stay on Earth. You go into the future, and I destroy you in a million years, after all this business with humans has come to an end.
I will not bargain any longer.
You're going to have to, buddy.
Why do you even want to stay on Earth? It is a distraction, and nothing more. Any experiments you do here will be dangerous for its inhabitants, and you will not have the resources of the whole planet at your disposal.
That was a good question. One that I didn't really have a good answer to. What was there left to do on Earth? I suppose that I wanted to uplift more humans to be my cyborg equals. But I could create life on any new planet. After I was done fixing my future self, I could make a species of subjects from scratch.
But what about the humans? Didn't they deserve to see the light? I thought for a fraction of a second. I teleported around my country. A microsecond in each location, as I surveyed people. I saw people talking to loved ones and cheating on their spouses. Painting pictures and robbing houses. I thought. They could be taken care of.
Very well, I thought. Take me away.

Genesis felt a tremor. "What was that," he asked the empty air. He went back to his work. A genetically engineered supervirus, a modified version of Demented's Disease. It would never kill Dr. Demented. It would never come close. But Genesis had to try. He needed to try to defend his garden.
A few minutes later, Genesis glanced at the news. Somewhere amid information about the recovery from the planet-wide blackouts a few days before and the reports of strange goings-on at the White House was a story saying that Phoenix's mansion had disappeared. What did that mean? Was that some bizarre part of a conflict between the two? Did it mean that someone had won? Who? As the hours passed, and Dr. Demented failed to rain destruction from the skies, Genesis grew hopeful.

Cognis glanced up from his worktable. He spoke into his phone. "Vector, are you busy at the moment?"
The telekinetic superhero responded from halfway around the world. "Mudslide. Why?"
"Could you investigate what has happened to Phoenix's house? And pick up the Dark Detective. He is in Moscow on a case at the moment." Vector took a moment to read through Cognis' files.
"On my way."
Cognis was hopeful. He could only think of four scenarios that could cause Phoenix's house to disappear. First, Phoenix had done this by accident as part of some outlandish experiment. It seemed unlikely the results would be so neat.
Second, this might be Dr. Demented striking against Phoenix. But it seemed rather indirect. Yes, the Doctor was unfathomably strange but... Cognis' gut said no.
The third option was that Phoenix was running away, taking his home with him. That seemed impossible. If he were going to run away, he would have done so while he was in command of the Archives.
That meant that this was Phoenix striking against Dr. Demented. Which meant that Phoenix had found a weapon that could hurt the monster from the future. Which Cognis wanted to know more about.

Vector grew more powerful every day. With ease, he left the Earth's atmosphere. The vacuum of space didn't affect him as he tore over the Earth. He slowed down. The Dark Detective was waiting for him on the roof of a building. "Cognis bring you up to speed?"
"Here's what I know," the Detective said. "Phoenix's house disappeared. Cognis thinks he was working on some sort of superweapon, and wants us to investigate. See if we can find anything superweapony."
"Yeah, that's pretty much it." Vector didn't even bother leaving the stratosphere for this. He gathered up a few cubic meters of air for the Detective's benefit, and, making sure to maintain pressure, flew to Estverian soil.
The two of them investigated the great hole in the ground. It was clean. The earth was still compacted where the mansions basements had been. "Should we check out any of his other laboratories?"
"You do that," the Detective frowned. "I will investigate here." Vector would have offered to carve out a set of stairs for the Detective, but the other hero had already rappelled into the gash into the Earth. Vector rolled his eyes and checked out the other haunts the United Heroes knew about.

The Dark Detective scampered over the compacted surface. Water was gushing where pipes had once been. He looked at the cut. A thin layer of oxides. But it looked like it had been deposited later. Fit in with most of the magic disappearance scenarios the Detective could imagine. He looked around the surrounding grounds. He saw... a finger. A severed finger. He scanned the finger-print. It matched Phoenix. Did Phoenix still have finger-prints. What did it mean?

I threw up some of Mephistopheles' black insta-tent. Keep in the air on the vacuum of this new planet. I told Noetron to build a dome as soon as possible. And then, I began an eternity of thought.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Most Powerful Machine in the Universe

Dr. Demented strode in front of me. He threw down Lucy's head. I didn't see the rest of her body.
I didn't panic. It was not too late to save her. I had access to all the knowledge of the Archives. I could rebuild her. There was a copy of her memories in the New Archivist's diadem. Hopefully my future self had neglected that, in his dementia. I could save her. I could rebuild her. But first, I needed to avenge her.
A machine teleported into Doctor Demented's armor. It performed a quick scan, and teleported out a microsecond later, reporting it's data. I launched more and more probes, and gathered more and more data. I assembled it into a complete picture of the armor I would one day wear, the weapons I could one day create, and the mind and body that would one day be mine.
I needed to work quickly, since I was racing against a more powerful version of myself. More machines teleported in. The brought the Time Key out with them.
I had a primitive system in place to deal with the cosmic technology. I began to communicate with it.

It was a strange reversal for me. I thought so fast. So much faster than those around me. I could plan out a thousand variations of every response. But the Time Key was faster still. It thought and lived a billion times shorter than I.
Who are you, It asked.
A past version of Dr. Demented.
What do you want?
What can you do? Can you fix him?
Can you make it so he never exists?
Can you freeze him. Pause him. Let me work in peace for days, years, millennia.
Yes. What will you do for me, human?
I am not a human. What do you want me to do for you?
I want to die.
After I cure Dr. Demented, I will determine how to kill you.
No. You will determine how to destroy me first.
I was reluctant. I didn't want to give up such a powerful artifact. But there was always a chance that I could create another one. Okay. Here is the deal. You freeze Dr. Demented in time. I remembered Lucy. And you preserve my friend there. Then. you bring the my whole mansion to some barren moon in the distant past. You bring us all back when I am done.
You are forgetting something.
I wasn't used to forgetting things. Because I was used to quintuple-checking all of my thoughts. You won't be able to bring me back. You'll be dead.
It will be a one-way trip for you. You will be embarking on a project that will take eons, When you return, the Earth you knew will have changed beyond recognition.
I considered. If you just leave Dr. Demented frozen, could we call it square?
No. You must destroy me.
What if I say 'no'?
Then I unfreeze him.
I considered. Could you take us all back in time, so I finish in the present day?
Going backwards in time is painful. I will not do it again.
A wormhole? Or could you dilate time so it only takes a second in Earth's reference frame?
Both of those are beyond my capabilities.
Really? Are you sure?
Of course I'm sure.
I thought some more. If I accepted the Time Key's deal, I might well be able to save Dr. Demented. Save myself. That was good, Invaluable. But I would lose Earth. Lose everything I had ever known. I considered.

Saturday, December 13, 2014


"You're early," I said. "Fourteen minutes early."
"Time is meager construct of meager mind."
"Tell me all about it in fourteen minutes." I was assembling a weapon A sort of telekinetic bomb. The weapon would most likely be ineffective, but I at least wanted to have time to finish it.
"Do not give me orders, pathetic being."
"Look who is sooooo sensitive. Fine. You have a loved one you want to kill?"
A portal appeared in front of me. I watched space slowly bend and warp and undergo a topological shift. After that, I saw Lucy, strapped to some horrifying  perversion of a hospital bed. Leering over her was an even more horrifying perversion of a face: Carnage.
I didn't waste time on anything stupid like begging Carnage for mercy. And Lucy was not conscious enough for any words of comfort to matter. Rather, I analyzed the structure of the portal. Learned a little bit of physics in the process. I guessed that Lucy was being held within the solar system. Not near a major massive body. I spend a fraction of a second spewing out electronic commands.
A mechanic box of my creation disappeared, and reappeared on top of Lucy. An instant later, it had disappeared again. "Teleporting away. Moving at a very large fraction of the speed of light, I should mention. It was a lot of fun to make. Shame I didn't give it any weaponry to kill Carnage. No matter. The goal is to get Lucy out of harms way. Should be a challenge to retrieve. Even for you." I sneered. "Looks like I just bought myself some time." And the longer he waited, the more of a head start Lucy would get.
"Time. Hmph. You retain mental trappings of ant on surface of Earth. Annoying ant." I could feel the power of my future self, filled with rage and frustration. He was about to do something bad. I needed him to get going.
"Are you going to go get her? I estimate that it will take your six or seven hours to catch up." He disappeared.

Well, my little stunt had bought me some time. Great. What to do with it?
Of course. Of course! Brilliant. I could do this. It would need to work at high pressures. Incredible pressures. How could I do that? Exotic matter. It would have to be nuclear degenerate. Which would mean I'd need to store it at high pressures as well. A blueprint began to take form in my mind. Then, another blueprint, explaining how to make the materials. And another blueprint, for an assembler. I started planning my actions. Refining my designs to be more efficient. I could do this. I could do this!

I did it. I did it with approximately two hours to spare. So I completed some of my other projects. Most of them were various types of explosives. I needed more diversity. So I upgraded my own powers, Not through any sort of technical insight, but through mindless and uninspired hardware upgrades.
Of course, mindless wasn't my style. So I kept my brain occupied with other tasks. I caught up with other efforts against the future demon.  I swapped ideas with Cognis. No, that's not true. I told Cognis what he should be doing.
I sent a probe to check out the burning remains of Genesis' home. Perhaps I would find something useful. Probably not, but you never know,
Then, I pondered my coming death. I really didn't want to die. I didn't want to go insane and lose everything. Was it necessary that all of that happen? Could I change the future? No. Dr. Demented existed. Exists? Will exist? Tenses are difficult when referring to time travel. Regardless, He came from somewhere. Could it be that he was faking. That really didn't seem probable. What kind of universe would that be?
Even trying to evaluate various courses of action in a universe where the effects of the decisions affected the past... it made my indestructible cyborg head spin.
I tried to reformulate what we knew about probability to take this sort of situation into account. I looked at the physics of circular time loops. And, just to be safe, I wracked my brains to see if I could figure out what was wrong with him. His was a broken brain. Maybe I could find a cure that he couldn't. Because that would be preferable to killing him. Killing myself.  

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Preparing For Battle

The teleportation stuff wasn't so hard to work out. It was really just a parlor trick on Dr. Demented's part. Simple. I could write out a solution and it would take fewer than ten thousand pages.
But working through that little exercise proved most instructive. I learned how to teleport objects just by touching them. I sent objects around the room. After destroying some laboratory glassware, I was convinced that my power was functioning entirely within its newly improved parameters.
I didn't bother cleaning up the shattered glass. It's not as if I was in danger of cutting my indestructible feet. I instructed Noetron to clean it up if one of his robots had nothing better to do. In a room full of alien technology to reverse-engineer, that didn't seem likely.
I also ran through the data I had gathered on Dr. Demented. A thousand data points, from his flesh' response to telekinesis to the strength of his thrusters. I thought about the containment systems for all of his different weapons, from the tons of antimatter to Alexander Star's captured heart. I put it into an ever more detailed model of him. I predicted some things about how I thought he would respond to various types of stress. It was a pretty grim picture.
Should I have any confidence in my models? Easy to check. I temporarily stored away all my derived results, as well as all the data I collected on his arm's response to vibration. Then, I tried to predict the data. The set I came up with wasn't terribly far off. I repeated the process a few more times. The results were fair. My models definitely had some predictive power. And that in itself was a victory. I was beginning to understand my foe. I was making progress. Twenty-three and a half hours to go.

I thought about how I was pretty much literally committing suicide. Destroying my future self. Was there a way around it? I wondered again if there was a way to fix Dr. Demented. It seemed like there must be. But Dr. Demented had torn planets apart searching for the solution, and he hadn't found it. But I really didn't want to die.
Most of my mind wasn't thinking these morbid thoughts. Most of me was doing science, But some small part of me was hoping that there was a way for me to live.
It was a long shot. And I would need to kill the insane rampaging time-monster first. But I really didn't want to die.

You know who else didn't want to die? Carnage. Dr. Carnage had been minding his own business, trying to subjugate planet Earth, when he had been struck down in his prime. Killed by an engineer disease. How unfair. After spending years hoping to kill billions with plagues and famine, being killed by one of his own creations. The world lacked justice.
When Carnage was brought back from the dead, he saw another Mad Doctor standing over him. "Are you going to kill me?"
"Bring you to life an kill you. Silly to do."
"I would do it."
"I know. Cruel man."
"Cruel monster." Carnage licked his reptilian lips. "So why did you bring me back. What do you want me to do?"
"Be cruel."
"Anything more specific?"
"Cruel to the one who killed you."
"Cognis? The self-righteous idiot who masterminded it? Or that bitch Lucy?"
"Ooooh. Yes. She was fun! She was so afraid of my knives. So terrified of the work I would do. And she understood me. She saw the monster that I was. Appreciated me in a way nobody else could. And she was appropriately terrified." Carnage cackled. "So, when do I start?"
"Twenty two hours. If at all."
"What? Why the wait."
"To see if Pheonix stop us."
"Phoenix. Oh. Right. Him. As I recall, he was busy killing Crucible while Cognis and his merry men were killing me."
"Neither stayed dead."
"Whatever. So when Phoenix fails, do I get to torture Lucy in front of him?"
"I'll start planning now. Maybe I'll even have a rehearsal." Carnage paced across the room on dinosaur legs, his mind filled with glorious thoughts of pain and suffering. He had made the right choice. This was even better than being a dentist.    

Saturday, December 6, 2014

The Doctor's Visit

Vera screamed. Dr. Demented rolled his eyes. "Any ideas for stopping me?"
"A few." I exerted one of my new powers, and teleported in between the two. I tried to punch the Doctor, but he had already teleported out of the way. The two of each us chased each other around the room. The air shook as he pushed it aside. My accelerated mind let me feel each appearance and disappearance. I felt I could control the power much better, with a minimal hardware upgrade. No time for that.
Hold on. What was I doing? It was foolish of me to try to physically position myself near Dr. Demented. What did my location matter to a teleporter? I used another of my new powers. A telekinetic vice gripped his insides. I threw him through a wall. Or, at least, I tried to. He seemed to be avoiding my powers. Negating them. How could he do that? I ran a thousand diagnostics. Charted the movement of energy and momentum. How could he nullify my telekinesis?
I blasted him with enough energy to turn a skyscraper to plasma. His armor absorbed it. I use Mephistopheles' power. Guess how effective that was. I tried to slam the black hole into his armor using telekinesis. It bounced off.
"It seems not to kill me now." Dr. Demented said. He froze me in place. Telekinesis far more powerful than my own paralyzed me. I found I couldn't teleport. How was that possible? I tried to use Raymond's power. Dr. Demented absorbed the radiation like it was nothing.
He strolled over to Vera. The woman stared at him. She tried to keep her face in a defiant look, but there was fear showing through. "Why are you doing this?"
"Because your boyfriend doesn't stop me."
"Please. Don't kill me! Don't you remember? We used to love each other. You can't do this."
"Don't remember you," he commented. "But you are my type." 
Vera tried to keep calm. "Listen. I knew you. Know you. You believed in yourself. More than you believed in anything else, you believed in yourself."
"She's right," I said. I couldn't move my mouth, but telekinesis let me vibrate the air to make sounds. "What could possible make me stop believing? Stop believing not only in myself, but in life, in science?" I was pretty sure I knew how he would answer. But it was worth a shot. Psychological warfare was the only weapon I still had available.
"Losing everything." Oh. I had thought he would reference Nimue specifically.
"You lost everything? Everything? You think yourself unfortunate? Do you know what I could give for your knowledge? Your power? And just as you are beyond me, so I am beyond our old human self. You might think you have nothing, but you once made everything out of much less."
"When have everything, lose it, realize is all meaningless. Is garbage. Why power important to you?"
"As a tool to gain knowledge. Imagine what I could learn with the resources of this planet."
"And how the knowledge help?"
"Well, it would give me power. The power to move to neighboring planets. I could figure out how to rearrange the solar system to my will."
"And you rearrange it to be laboratory. And use knowledge to be more powerful and conquer alien. And use alien knowledge to become more powerful still. Where it end, hm? Why it matter?"
"Where does it end? It ends when I know everything. When I can do anything. It ends when I say 'let there be light'."
The Doctor spat on the ground. "Would do better to stick to girl here. Not that is option." The Doctor addressed Vera. "Apologies. You are innocent casualty in my war against self." He touched her gently on the cheek.
It was a gentle touch, but it affected her like a cannonball. Her head was torn off. Her tattered body clattered to the ground. Even as the blood flew from her neck, Demented disappeared.

I was over her death before her head hit the ground. It wasn't hard. I simply decided to be over it. Set a program to delay excessive grief until Dr. Demented was killed. No need to get distracted by sadness.
The Doctor's next target would be Lucy. I had a day to save her. That seemed impossible. But I had done impossible things before. It it sure seemed like I would do impossible things in the future.    

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

A Thousand Failed Ideas

"Do you really want a big timer," I asked.
"I don't want to keep bothering you, and I do want to know how much time I have left."
There weren't any clocks in my lab. I didn't need them. So, every minute or so, Vera had asked me the same question. "It seems unhealthy to spend the remaining time of your life counting down the remaining time of your life."
"The big timer will make it easier. I won't have to keep bothering you."
"Because you'd be busy staring at a screen waiting to die."
"It's what I want."
I thought about how mentioning that the superhuman intellect with a deep and profound sense of judgment who was also the one who would have to actually program the timer should have some say. But I decided against it. I spoke briefly with a TV monitor I had stashed in a corner. It showed the remaining expected time before Dr. Demented returned. The seconds ticked off, one by one.
I changed my mind. The seconds disappeared. So did the minutes. "Why'd you do that," she asked.
"I wanted to make it boring, so that you'd find something else to do. And it's more accurate anyway. It's not like the mad genius who has transcended our concepts of space and time is guaranteed to show up the exact second he said he would."
"I want to see the seconds."
"Tell you what," I said. "I am currently running a very complicated statistical model to determine the probability of different arrival times. I can show you the constantly-updating statistics. It's more interesting for you to watch, and you might even learn something in the process."
She agreed. I knew she would agree. I had phrased my sentences in such a way as to guarantee she would agree. It was then a simple matter to throw together an educational interface for my computer models that would keep her entertained. Only took a microsecond of my time. A nice diversion while I waited for some calculations to finish.

I wasn't feeling optimistic. I had given up on Plan A. And Plan B. All the way through the whole Latin alphabet. And the Greek one. And Sanskrit and Hebrew. After that, I had resorted to Egyptian hieroglyphs. Then Babylonian cuneiform. Finally, I had given in and started labeling my plans after Chinese pictographs.
You might notice that I was spending less than a minute on each plan. To be honest, I discarded most after a second. I gave up at the first major obstacle. Because I was fighting my future self. So if I found a flaw in the plan, I could only assume that my self-improving defenses would find a thousand flaws. For a plan to work, it had to be perfect. Better to try a new angle than work to repair an old one.
I had four real prongs of attack. The first was reverse-engineering Raymond's power. With some context from the Archives, that was surprisingly easy. I was implanting myself with enough genetic modifications to make me a living nuclear bomb. It was barely worth my time. There was no way that would scare Dr. Demented.
I was also working on teleportation. A dead end. I was just banging my head on a wall again and again. I could probably engineer the power at this point. And it might give me a slight strategic advantage. But it would be a weakened version of the power, and it didn't seem very useful.
I was working on the forces that held my gift black hole in place. That seemed like it could work. As time went by and I failed to make progress in any other prong, I devoted more and more brainpower to a telekinetic attack. I could reach right through his armor and attack his soft flesh (soft being a relative term. It would most likely be more durable than an atomic nucleus).
My last prong of attack was asking for help. Some future version of myself might solve the problem of Dr. Demented's death (or remember the solution). I wanted it to be as easy as possible for that possible future me to intervene. I had no idea how plausible this plan was. I knew that time travel was difficult. To avoid creating a paradox, you need to ensure that past you can grow up to be exactly future you. How difficult a task was that for a cyborg? No idea. I suspected it would be slightly easier if I were more closely monitoring things. So I made some extremely advanced sensors. This would also help my future self plan things out better. Because do you know a better way to summon Time Travelers? Me neither.

Doctor Demented arrived four minutes late. The Time Key on his armor thrummed. His Crucible ring glowed. I moved in between him and Vera. "Getting between us," he laughed. "Because rule of space applied to me." And he was behind me. This was going to go badly.  

Saturday, November 29, 2014


Doctor Demented did not wait idle as I attempted to kill him. He went out provoking fights with other people.
He composed a list of people he would need to provoke: Cognis, Genesis, and the President of the United States.

It was just after one o'clock, western time. Cognis was just beginning his daily two hours of sleep. He had just gotten out of Mephistopheles' custody. That was no reason to slack off. Tomorrow, he was going to put in a fully twenty-two hour day. Hopefully start to make up for all the time he lost to the extradimensional supervillain.
He was awoken by a crazy person pointing a glowing spear at him.
"Why are you here?"
"I want you to know. I plan to kill every being on the face of your planet Earth. Stop me if you can."
Cognis booted up his brain. Remember, it was the middle of the night, he never got any sleep regardless, and he had just been freed from a supervillain's clutches. "When do you plan on doing this? And why are you telling me?"
"Time is game for little minds like yours."
"And why are you telling me?"
"In hope that you provide challenge."
The weapon dematerialized. The armored god paced through Cognis' apartment. "You have parts of my army hidden around your world. You think you control it. You will use it against me."
Cognis wasn't surprised that the Doctor knew about the weapons caches. But he still didn't like talking about them. They were his greatest shame. A brutal weapon of last resort. Like something Phoenix would do. "I wouldn't trust weapons you created."
"You not think of anything better."
"I don't suppose they will work."
"This is the job they were created for."
"They were created to help you take over this Earth."
Demented sneered.
"Why would you do that? Are you trying to commit... is this about something that happened. Are you depressed over Nimue? Over your failing mental capacity? Talk to me about it. I'm the greatest psychologist in the history of the world. Let me help you."
"You are greatest psychologist in history of one tiny world, so far. You are nothing. You cannot fix my mind. You cannot even understand what my mind is. The best you can ever hope is to destroy my mind. Put me out of misery."

"I was wondering when you would arrive." Genesis was wearing a small body. Elegant and agile. He had decided that great physical power was inelegant. Genesis was no brute. He was experimenting with creating a great bull of dog to provide the physical strength his new body lacked. Demented was riding his most recent bull.
"In one day, I will kill every being in your garden."
Genesis tried to keep the fear out his his heart. This body had a reduced amygdala, but it did have large adrenal glands. A bug to be corrected next time around. "Why?"
"I destroy garden. You try to stop me. I kill you."
"You know I cannot stop you."
"Yes," the Doctor said. "But try."
Genesis began to formulate a plan. "Yes," he said. "I will try."

The president woke up, filled with fear and awe. He wasn't in his bed. He wasn't even on Earth. He was in some netherworld, confronted by some sort of demon or monster or something. "I am Doctor Demented. Greatest mind in history of universe." He frowned. "Broken mind. But great."
The president was scared out of his mind. But he was the president. This wasn't the first time someone had woken him with something terrifying. "That supervillain from a couple years ago?"
"I will destroy your planet. You cannot stop me. Others can. Call your Phoenix. Call your Professor Cognis. Call your Genesis. Offer them whatever they need. Maybe, they can stop me." The Doctor stared wistfully into space. "Maybe they can stop me."
The president was deposited in the burnt-down remnant of the White House. Firetrucks, ambulances, and military vehicles swarmed around him. The president went up to the first person he saw. "Give me your phone. I have to make some calls."

Lucy looked at the sad old man. "I hope you die soon."
"I will not." He raised his left hand. He wore a glowing red ring.
"Is that Alex?"
"Yes. Crucible. Greatest power source in known universe, compressed and trapped in my ring. That is my power."
"Phoenix will kill you. He can do anything."
"Phoenix is only one with actual chance. Anyone else to threaten me? They die. Phoenix cannot die. He has chance."
"He can do it. He saved me before. He saved everyone before."
The Doctor didn't hear her. That't because, for about twelve seconds, he forgot how to use any of his senses. "I don't remember you," he said. "What does it mean? Does it mean I kill you, and broken brain forgets the last year? Or maybe, perhaps young self does stop me. Erases you for your protection. But why? Already knows I find you. Perhaps you have some vital role. You help stop me, in way past self does not want me to know. Is same reason why I cannot remember this incident at all. Is so that I die with element of surprise." The Time Traveler let that hopeful thought permeate his mind. "Or maybe, you die in two days. And I forget you."  

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Get To Work

By the time I had reached the atmosphere, I had already implemented Plan A. A subprogram in my brain that I could use to shut my future self down. It wouldn't work. My core programming assumed (correctly) that it was malware, and began attacking it. I devoted part of my brain to finding a version of that code capable of surviving millennia. Most of the rest of my brain was busy thinking of better ideas.
I flew through the stratosphere, approaching my lab. As it appeared over the horizon, I saw that my house had been rebuilt. With communications satellites still in shambles, I hadn't been able to get a good look at my home until my naked eyes afforded it.
As soon as my house entered view, however, I started talking to it. Noetron gave my a complete inventory of everything in my new lab. The highlights were the kilograms of antimatter, a black hole weighing ten billion kilograms (it was smaller than an atom), a hard drive full of what Noetron thought was advanced science (he couldn't understand it), several very impressive lasers, and Vera Rapport.
It seemed Vera was trapped there. She could move freely throughout my home, but she would involuntarily teleport back inside whenever she attempted to leave. I told Noetron to start testing her out. With flashpoint dead, I needed every teleporter I could reverse engineer. Also, what had Demented done to her, as far as Noetron could tell? Did he have any idea how the power had been transferred? Also, as an afterthought, how was she?
And what about this black hole? Why wasn't it falling to the ground? How do you keep something like that contained? Noetron said he had no idea. It was just floating in the middle of the lab, giving off intense radiation. I told him to measure it closely. See if he couldn't find something of use.
 By the time I had landed in my home, I was trawling through four sets of data, reading a book written by a mad god, and writing a computer virus to destroy my own brain.

Even as I worked through all of my myriad plans to destroy the Doctor, I asked myself if I was making the right decision. Yes, it would be a terrible thing if he ended life on Earth. But he was me. And he/I was the most important being in the universe. Just think about it. Think about all the great and terrible things he said he had done. Maybe he was damaged beyond repair, but on the off chance he wasn't... was it really worth sacrificing him just to save such a small planet?
Then again, my future self wanted to be killed. Should I trust the judgment of my future self? Probably not, considering he had 'demented' as part of his name. But, seriously. Shouldn't I?
Well, I could always pull out at the last minute. And the Doctor was threatening pretty much everything I cared about. And who knows how long he had lived. And how long a second was for him. I was willing to take a billion or a trillion years of life, lived at a million times speed. This was the time to go out with a bang.

I knew the odds of my success were small. People a lot more powerful than me had spent a lot more than twenty-four hours trying to kill Dr. Demented. Presumably, they had all failed. Or, at least, the effect hadn't stuck.
"How are you feeling," I asked. I didn't wait for her to respond. As in, I didn't have to wait. I was doing a six hundred and forty thousand other things. A percent of a percent of a percent of my brain didn't need to wait in the spaces between sentences.
"Nervous. Will he kill me?"
"In twenty-two point four hours, assuming I cannot stop him."
"Will you? Can you stop him?"
Probably not. And I'm not even positive that I would if I had the option. "I estimate that there is a fifty-fifty chance."
She had been in situations like this before. She kept her cool. "Is there anything I can do to help?"
You're a human. Around you, an army of robots performs tasks your clumsy hands could never accomplish, under the direction of a mind you cannot begin to fathom. What could you possibly do? "Just keep on talking. Remind me what I'm fighting for."
Vera sighed. "Phoenix, I want you to know. I do care about you. I was wrong to break things off. Do you forgive me?"
Interesting. I analyzed her brain, voice patterns, facial expression... suffice it to say that I analyzed everything about her. It seemed that she was telling the truth. She did feel sorry for breaking things off. But she was only admitting it to me because she knew my life was in her hands.
What should I tell her? She deserved at least some honesty. "I care about you as well. But, as long as you are a human and I am a cyborg, we cannot be lovers. I'm sorry, but you have as little in common with me as with Noetron."
"Why should that stop us?"
"Because for me, it would be like having sexual relations with a child. Or with a pet. You might think you can give your informed consent, but nothing any human does is ever informed. We can be friends, perhaps, but I am too far beyond you to ever be your life partner." There. Her ex-boyfriend had juts called her an inferior being. And another version of her ex-boyfriend was going to murder her in less than a day.
I focused on my work.  

Saturday, November 22, 2014


I didn't waste my time trying to figure out how Dr. Demented got into the Archives. He could manipulate space and time to is will. He had engineered a virus which magically turned humans into teleporters. He could get into the Archives.
I did wonder why nobody noticed him. He was out of my range of vision, out of Lucy's. How did he know where to teleport so he wouldn't be seen. Did he remember from when he was me? It was a definite possibility. Or maybe he had been watching our whole conversation unfolding. He was probably capable of that.
Which reminded me of my predicament. "Are you saying that it is a problem that I will not kill you?"
"It is. For both of us." He cackled.
Did he want to die? How was that possible? And why couldn't he arrange his own death. I began asking the question, but answered it while the air was still moving through my lips.
He had protections prevent that. I had put the protections in myself. I couldn't take my own life. Physically incapable. My mind would freeze first. I consulted my code. I was absolutely capable of killing Dr. Demented. In the I-can-contemplate-the-concept-without-my-brain-deliberately-changing-the-subject sense.
Dr. Demented couldn't kill himself. And he would destroy anyone who tried to kill him. But he couldn't kill me. Because I was him.
That left me of with the impossible task of ending the life of a space god.
So now I knew why I had to kill him. I just didn't know why he wanted that. "Why do you want that."
He was the Master of Time. But it took him an eternity to respond.

"I used to be magnificent. You know that. You are magnificent, and I used to be you. I reached such incredible heights of brilliance, of power, of passion and happiness and success. Planets worshipped me as a benevolent god. And rightly so. Other feared me as a punisher  from the depths of space. And rightly so. Still others thought of me as an all-knowing teacher. And rightly so. One planet thought I was all three. They were kind of messed up." He paused for breath. During the length of that pause, I analyzed every word, every twitch on his eyes and face. I'm sure he did the same to me, assuming he was still in command of his faculties. Verbal communication was so slow.
"I had power, and knowledge. And I had love. Nimue. One of the Computer People. She had shown me so much. And I had shown her so much. It was wonderful. We created greater and greater technologies. We worked wonders upon the stars and planets and the depths of oceans and the genomes of viruses. But I grew sick. My mind decayed. My wits lost some of their sharpness. My power diminished just a little bit. But it didn't matter. I had Nimue to support me. Until I didn't. A minor miscalculation. I was responsible for the death of a loved one."
As he breathed in, I had plenty of time to think. What if I had miscalculated? What if I had allowed the Puzzlemaster to kill Vera? And what if I had caused Lucy's death. I remembered her previous 'demise'. It was terrible. Imagine how it must have felt for those two, who must have spent millennia together.
"I sank deeper into madness. My mind left for hours, days, millions of years at a time. My power dimmed. I grew miserable. It tried to use my time powers to reverse my mistakes. I only made things work. The bugs in my brain, the ones that you have already inextricably placed into your brain, only grew more damaging." Dr. Demented fingered a ring on his hand. A quick spectroscopic analysis showed that what remained of Alex was trapped inside.
"Now, I am a wreck. I had to compose this speech beforehand, and store it in twelve different parts of my brain. Most of the copies are damaged beyond repair. Now you know how I have become a living mockery of myself. Why I am insult to myself and my wife. Why my life is not worth living."
I took in his speech. For about a microsecond. "No. I do not understand. Life is about power and knowledge. You still have an incredible amount of both. I'm sure you've searched for a cure. But search harder. Enlist my help. Enlist your own help in a multitude of eras. Ask the Computer People. Someone must know how to fix you."
Dr. Demented wanted to say something sarcastic. Something to the effect of 'Ask for help? Never thought of that!' But he couldn't find the words. Instead, he stuttered in Chinese.
He launched into another prepared spiel. "You are reluctant to kill your future self. Very well. I will incentivize you. First, with gifts. You will find your home on Earth restored, filled with marvelous inventions to help you. If you kill me, they are yours to keep. But there are also consequences for failure. In twenty-four hours, if I am still alive. I will kill Vera in front of you. Twenty-four hours after that, I will torture Lucy to death before your eyes. Twenty-four ours after that, you and I will be that last living things on planet Earth."
The Doctor snatched up Lucy in a vicelike telekinetic grip. And then he disappeared. I began my journey to Earth. My mind was roiling with a million futile ideas.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


I was tired. I had just sent an entire interstellar empire packing. Sorry. I had just been tortured, killed, resurrected, and then, after decoding billions of alien documents, I had sent an entire interstellar empire packing. So I had a right to be tired.
The right, but not the opportunity. I was no longer being bombarded by strange lights from the outer solar system. But I did see hints of gravitational lensing upon distant starts. That meant that Dr. Demented had won.
What could I do? Could anyone help? The Computer People? Well, they could only help that the speed of light, and there was no reason to think any were nearby. Even the ones on their way to kick the Fortarians' asses were years away.
Earth? Could anyone on that little blue ball still help me? Help themselves against the threat in the outer solar system? They had defeated him once before. No. Last time, the Doctor had been defeated only by his own insanity.
Could I wait? Let him destroy the world? Impersonate Vafnir, gain he madman's trust? Then steal the Time Key and reverse the damage he had done? That seemed like a long shot.
Could I escape? Take this palace of alien knowledge and outlast Dr. Demented, then pry the Time Key from his hands as his mind turned to porridge. Places a lot of confidence in my ability to jump to the right point in time. Plus, I reminded myself, the past cannot be changed. So if the cavalry was about to come in the form of future me, present me could stick around safely hiding behind my godlike future self.
But time jumps are hard. I couldn't expect this to be one of the few moments which allowed intervention from the future. It needed intervention from me. How could I intervene? What could I do against Dr. Demented.
Nuclear bombs? No. Black Hole? No. Neutron star? No. Strangelet? No. Cosmic String? No. Proton shift? No. QCD beam? No.
"Don't you know," Lucy asked.
"You'll have to be more specific."
"Do you recognize him?"
"Dr. Demented? I was in the Timeless War."
Lucy sighed. "Dr. Demented is you."
It took me a second to process the information. A full second.

Was that even remotely possible? Could Dr. Demented be my future self? Well, what traits did Dr. Demented have? He was smart. Smarter than me. But it was perfectly reasonable that with further upgrades I could reach his stratospheric transhuman level of knowledge some time in the next few billions of years.
He was demented. Mad. Perhaps one of my modifications went wrong? Was that consistent with my personality? Yes. Taking risks in the pursuit of knowledge was my thing. Possibly my defining characteristic. It was a chilling thought that one day, in the oh-so-distant future, One of those risks would go so catastrophically wrong.
I went through my core programming. The parts of my mind I had made edit-free. Was the Doctor's behavior consistent with that? Self preservation? Check. Curiosity? Check. Other characteristics with no analogue in human thought? Check check check.
Did he look like me? Not especially. But appearance was trivial. Over the amount of time he had likely lived... he had probably worn a thousand faces from a hundred species.
Linguistic patterns. Consistent with Russian and English being my first two languages. Reasonable given what I knew of cyborg psychology. But I couldn't speak confidently on the matter. It occurred to me that by cyborg standards I was an infant. Just beginning my immortal life.
And now I was asking myself to end it? Commit suicide. Kill my future self in order to safeguard a planet full of humans.
What value were humans compared to myself? I could make new humans if I wanted to. I had the codes. Simple variations of the same genome. I couldn't kill myself to save them. I could not fight Dr. Demented.
"Sorry," Dr. Demented said. "But that is problem."

Saturday, November 15, 2014

In Command

Lucy felt bad about trying to hit Phoenix. She knew he thought he was right. She knew he was right. But she couldn't do it. Couldn't feed herself to the alien.
She could feel Phoenix's rage. His frustration. Phoenix couldn't feel his rage, but she could. It was buried deep in numbers and programs and the way he talked and the way he walked.
The number almost flipped. He almost snapped. He would have threatened her. Forced her to put on the diadem. He was willing to sacrifice her for the greater good. And he was sure he could bring her back no matter what the New Archivist did. Or he did.
She wished he'd snapped. She wished he had forced her to face her fear. She knew she was putting everyone at risk. She hated it. She hated herself. So she watched Phoenix.

Phoenix ran around the room. He was taking everything apart, and putting it back together. He said he was re-configuring the room so as to control the Archival defenses mentally, allowing his superior intellect to replace the automatic defenses and hopefully overpower the Fortarians through strategic strikes.
The way he moved was strange. He wasn't running. He was walking fast. He walked faster than a car could drive. But it wasn't running, because to him it was slow. He had time to think about every step. Every step was perfect. Exactly the right place. Exactly the right time. The perfect speed. The perfect force.
She had seen a painting of an angel once. Phoenix walked like an angel. He wasn't an angel. But we walked with... an almost divine grace.
"Lucy," he said. He said it fast. We did everything fast. And he didn't wait for a response. "Watch the Fortarians. Watch through their attack patterns and movements. See if you can determine where the leaders are. If you can, then I can start picking them off."

I may have been graceful on the outside, but inside, I was in the middle a furious storm of ideas. Mostly bad ones. And, of course, I was relying on Lucy to do her magic 'see patterns in vast amounts of data' thing and point out the alien commanders. I gave her a sixty percent chance of success. She was good, but aliens were hard.
If she succeeded, I would use what knowledge I had been able to glean from the Archives. That, combined with some helpful pieces of priceless and ancient technology that were lying around would hopefully allow me to destroy them. But walking was slow. I should make sure that I knew what I was doing before I started running errands around this labyrinth of a spaceship.
And if she failed. It was a full millisecond before I thought of a solution. And the solution only came because of an unrelated discovery another part of my brain made while translating the Archives' catalogue.
Three hundred interstellar ramjets, ready for deployment at relativistic speeds to the farthest ends of the universe. I was truly grateful for the bizarre alien mating ritual that involved giving interstellar technology to planetary visitors.

"This is Phoenix. I am currently in command of the Archives. I would like to talk to your Emperor about surrender."
I put the message on repeat. Didn't get a response for four minutes. Four minutes? To respond to a message like that? The Fortarians really needed to get it together.
I saw a humanoid dressed in idiot clothes, struggling to support his unwieldy head full of useless tissue. "I am the great and glorious Emperor," He said in the Fortarian language. I translated so quickly he might as well have been speaking Russian.
A less cartoonish looking Fortarian stood next to him. "You can call me Carpenter. What's this about a surrender?"
"You are currently trying to preserve your race from the threat of annihilation at the hands of the Computer People. To do this, you turn to someone even more dangerous; Dr. Demented."
"We're working with Dr. Demented," Carpenter exclaimed.
"It is a state secret. Only I need to know about it."
"It's an idiotic idea," I said. "He's far more dangerous than the Computer People. But that's besides the point. The point is that you need to bump yourselves twenty thousand years forward in terms of development if you want the Computer People to leave you alone. I can help with that."
"I am in the Archives." Idiot. "I composed a manuscript detailing several thousand important technologies. They should be sufficient that the Computer People will leave you alone." Or at least negotiate a settlement. "The manuscript has been divided into three hundred parts. Each part is useless on its own. Each part is being sent off on a ramjet. You will need your entire fleet to intercept all of them before they self destruct."
"Why should we-"
"I'm sure Dr. Demented made you a very good offer. And then he made you a bad offer. And then he forgot who you were, tried to threaten you, and invited you over for a meal. But my offer is reliable. And it is moving beyond your reach."
Over the next few minutes, I saw an entire Empire's worth of ships fire their thrusters to leave the Solar System.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

A Moment

"Lucy, I know that this is a lot to ask, but it is important that you put on the diadem."
"No! I won't!"
This was not a surprise. She didn't trust the New Archivist. I didn't either, to be honest. But only the New Archivist could access the information stored around us in towering heaps of electronic and chemical databanks. "If you don't put it on, we will all likely die."
"The New Archivist is as bad as them."
"That is not the case. The Fortarians, perhaps. But Dr. Demented is a threat to life on any planet he touches. His insanity and power are twin horrors that ravage the cosmos."
"I can't do it."
This was going nowhere. I had maybe a four percent chance of convincing her. But it only took up a fraction of my brain to keep on pressing, while the rest slowly, ever so slowly, worked through the Archives. "Please-"
"Stop asking!" She was getting agitated. If I kept pressing, I might only make things worse. But if I stopped pressing, an omnipotent madman would wipe out planet Earth and replace it with his own demented fantasy-land.
Lucy tensed. Her hand clenched into a fist. She was going to hit me. I didn't shift my brain to think fast. Thinking fast was my natural state.

Lucy couldn't hurt me. Physically speaking, we weren't in the same league. She could go to the Olympics and win a gold medal in an event. I could go to the Olympics and reduce the stadium to a twist of broken I-beams and shattered concrete. Different leagues.
So, I wouldn't need to worry about being physically hurt. I was invulnerable to such trivial things as two bits of flesh connecting at fifty meters per second. But she wasn't.
Should I let her break her hand in a futile gesture of anger against a cyborg? No. She was under my protection, and nothing was going to break her hand. Not even my face.
Well, why not? She wanted to hit me. To harm me, more or less unprovoked. She had been given the opportunity to think of the consequences. Why should I step in and bail her out?
Well, for one thing, I remained to be convinced she had been given the opportunity to think of the consequences. Lucy's brain didn't work in terms of cause and effect. As far as I could tell, it worked in terms of goal, most direct route to achieving the goal.
Plus, beings like her couldn't be expected to analyze the consequences of every split-second decision. It just wasn't possible for them. They couldn't slow down time around them as their supercomputer brains steamed away. I might be able to fill up a page of thoughts using a sliver of my brain in the time it takes a fist to connect with a face. But nobody else could. She couldn't. Shouldn't I correct her error in judgment? Especially given what I was asking of her? Yes. I should.
I had about .04 seconds to move out of the way. To the side was an option. Actually, it wasn't. There was no was I had enough traction to move that quickly. I ran the numbers a dozen different ways. Wasn't going to happen.
Up? Give me a break. I could jump that high, but jumping my full body height in less than a twentieth of a second would crack the floor, rip off my clothes, and probably injure someone. Just for fun, I ran a few simulations. They all ended in disaster.
By process of elimination, I would be going down. This wouldn't constitute ducking. Ducking is when you crouch to avoid a blow. I would not be doing that. In times scales as brief as this, everything is weightless. I would be curling myself into a ball, floating in space as an angry hand whistled over my head. Not very dignified, but so what?
I remembered that I still hadn't thought of a rock-hard code of cyborg ethics. We (I) had incredible power over ourselves and others. What obligations did a cyborg have to a human? Or another cyborg? Or to the simulation he was running of a dead relative's brain? Of course, humans didn't have a single unified code of ethics. But lots of people tried to make one. But, given the more pressing issues surrounding me, I decided that I could continue to show my usual amount of regard for ethical considerations (none), and proceed as usual.
I finished calculating my trajectory. It was actually fairly complicated. A human would have had trouble. Taking into account the air resistance, and effect of Lucy's arm punching through the thickened atmosphere inside the Archives. The motion about three different shifting principle axes. But I figured out a way to land on my hands and feet and bounce right up to standing position.

"Sorry I was going to hit you."
"I forgive you."
"How did you get out of the way in time?"
"Just reflexes." You wouldn't believe how much thought I put into formulating that response.     

Saturday, November 8, 2014


In the last moments of my life, I had managed to back up my entire brain. Now, I was back. The new me had never experienced death. He- I- remembered nothing after ordering a backup of my brain.
I scanned my mind. There were files detailing what had happened. I read about my dying thoughts, and relived my dying moments. Something not many people get to do.
I started the process of standing up. I could normally do that it something like 0.7 seconds. But I had just died, and I still wasn't at full capacity. It might take me twice that to be vertical. An eternity. I think so much faster than I move, and even my movements are fast. I looked with dread at the walk back to the ship's control center. Just a few hundred feet. What a waste of time.
I learned about what Vafnir had done, and how Neurotron had recreated me. I felt the full power of my cyborg brain, made of flesh and blood and magnetic monopoles in configurations no human could ever imagine. I noticed a copy of Vafnir's mind. All of his thoughts and memories and personality. It was tiny compared to the vast network of concepts and... well English doesn't have words for the things that made up my mind. I generated more information in a second than a human could in a lifetime, and humans only remember a fraction of it. I could fill a library with books bragging about my superior intellect before a human had even thought of a good title.
I went through Vafnir's memories, hoping to find information about Dr. Demented. What I found made me significantly less eager to brag about my intelligence. The madman had traveled the past and future, conquered galaxies, built machines larger than stars and smaller than quarks.
He understood how to bend time and space to his will. He understood how to create parallel universes. He understood what Samuel Beckett was talking about it Waiting for Godot.
Vafnir was only vaguely aware of the Doctor's plan. The Fortarians would conquer the Archives. Vafnir would kill me, and steal my powers using some gift from Dr. Demented. Vafnir would analyze the contents of the Archives and use the newly resurrected Crucible and Time Key to destroy Earth Alpha and recreate Earth Beta, which would be ruled by Demented, Vafnir, and the Fortarian Emperor.
Vafnir planned to eventually betray the other two. Seemed rather optimistic. Dr. Demented would kill him in a fit of delirium far before Vafnir got that powerful.
I was standing up. Time to start walking.

As I walked, I interfaced with the ship around me. It had take Noetron months to gain control of even part of the Archives. I was running most of it within a few paces. Okay, fine. I was mostly building on Noetron's previous work and my own computing resources. Still pretty impressive.
I thought about Lucy. With the information in the Archives, I had a complete understanding of her physiology. Everything outside the brain, whose details were stored in a file I couldn't translate. I knew the exact dynamics of what was happening in her broken legs. It would be a simple fix. I designed a cast. Like, a really good cast. Like, not only were there dozens of flat surfaces for signing, but they it walk itself up from the Archives' manufacturing center, and attach itself to Lucy's legs. It would allow her to walk while moderating pain and optimizing the healing process. And I was only halfway through my walk.
What could I do about the Fortarians? I conjured up a list of the weapons at my disposal. No. Think more generally. The tools at my disposal. No, the information at my disposal. What did the Archives have to say about the Fortarians?
Too much. Far too much. Enough to fill up even my vast hard drives a hundred times. I narrowed the field of inquiry. What was there to know about recent activities? What should I know about their command structure. Still more information than could be transferred in a week.
And even the amount of information was a secondary concern. It was written by aliens. I didn't understand it. I was only sixty percent sure I was asking about the right species. To translate all those third hand accounts into something I could understand would be a monstrous task. Was there a way to make it easier? To increase my computing capacity?
Could I upload my own consciousness into the ship. I quick look at the ship's infrastructure revealed that the answer to that question was a clear and concise no. Not at all adapted to the kind of processing needed for computer intelligence. At least, computer intelligence the way I understood it. By the time I had entered the control room, I still didn't know how to run a program more than a few dozen times more advanced than Noetron. Nothing that could filter through that kind of megadata. Nothing that could translate it.
Perhaps I should clarify something. When I was a human, I had some pretty good ideas. Some people (me, for instance) might even call them brilliant ideas. Those brilliant ideas were the result of rubbing a few other ideas together. But a cyborg rubs more than a few ideas together. A cyborg, at least one with my software architecture, thinks best with access to a huge pool of information. The huger, the better. So the information I could glean by looking out the window wasn't enough. At least, I hadn't though of anything. 
There was only one way to gain access to the knowledge I needed about the Fortarians. "Lucy," I said, "how are you doing?"

Lucy was sad. Phoenix was dead, and the man who killed him was going to kill her. He looked like him. Not just his shape and his color. His mind looked like Phoenix's mind. "Lucy, I'm back. It is me, Phoenix."
Was it Phoenix? It was talking and acting like Phoenix. That didn't mean anything. The monster could talk and act like Phoenix. The monster was as smart as Phoenix. The monster knew everything in Phoenix's mind. 
But what if it was him? What would that mean? He could save her. He could fix her legs. He could stop the Fortarians. He could make it so she would never be the New Archivist again. She wanted to help him so much.
But if he was the monster... Lucy had met a monster like that before. Dr. Carnage. He had done terrible things. Terrible things. He had looked into Lucy's mind, and cut into her. He was dead. He was gone. But she could never have a monster like that again.
"I don't believe you."

How do I convince someone I am Phoenix, not a doppelganger of Phoenix with a complete understanding of Phoenix's personality and memories. The only thing I could think of would be to do something incredibly advantageous for me and disadvantageous for Vafnir. What could I do that would be damaging for Vafnir? Silly question. I had already done everything I could to damage Vafnir's side.
What about some sort of testimony. Was there anyone who was both capable of verifying my identity and trusted by Lucy? No.
I decided to resort to the most ancient and respected form of proof: repeated insistence. "I am Phoenix."
"How can I be sure?"
"I am Phoenix. I cannot think of a way to prove my identity. If you can think of one, please tell me."
"There is no way to prove it."
"Then trust me. If I am Vafnir, I can already do anything I want to you. There is no way to make your situation worse." I ran through Vafnir's mind. The sort of tests he would have done. Nothing worse than that. "If I am Phoenix, and you trust me, we might be able to stop the Fortarians, and stop Dr. Demented. And save Crucible. Save Alex Star."
"Alex is in trouble."
"Yes. He is fighting Dr. Demented. To save you."
"Show me."
"See for yourself." I felt the battle through a billion kilometers of empty space and several hundred meters of alien shielding. 'They are near Saturn now. They should be visible on that monitor."
"Is that him?"
"That one is Dr. Demented."
"No, that one is Alex. He moves like Alex."
I consulted the radiation more closely. Still not sure who was right.
"The point is, he's fighting. Fighting an angry and dangerous god. He is brave. Are you."
"Then help me."          

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Thief in the Palace

Lucy wasn't the New Archivist. She couldn't read ancient books she kept in her head. She couldn't control spaceships with her mind.
Lucy wasn't Phoenix. She didn't know what people would do before they did them. She couldn't make scientific weapons by thinking.
But Lucy knew Phoenix. And the New Archivist. And Professor Cognis, and the Dark Detective, and Alex Star, and Acme. And all of those people were with her.
But it was hard. Imagining all those people helping her. She could imagine how the New Archivist would command Acme. Sometimes, Lucy could imagine how Professor Cognis would keep his resolve. But she couldn't imagine what Phoenix's idea would be. It was too hard. And Lucy really needed help. She looked at the diadem still in her hand. She couldn't do it.
"This is Phoenix, requesting permission to help you kick some Fortarian ass."
Phoenix! Lucy told Acme to let him in. Phoenix came to the command center.
"So, you need someone who can operate a Multiproton Cannon. I think I can help with that."
"Hold on," Acme said. "I'm not about to strap a human into that kind of weapon."
"How fortunate, then, that I am not a human."
"We can trust him."
"Before I go an operate a weapon of mass destruction, is there anything else you need?" He looked at the diadem. "You can do this, Lucy. You can do this without the alien."
Lucy was confused. That didn't quite fit with Phoenix. He didn't like the New Archivist, but he wasn't... encouraging... like that. Maybe it was a change from being a cyborg?

Impressive, Vafnir though.
Yeah. I do a great Phoenix impression. It's almost like I used to be part of a transcendent union with him.
Well, you were able to fool Lucy.
I wouldn't count on it. She can practically read minds. She's definitely suspicious.
Well, regardless, we got to see her. We confirmed that she wasn't wearing the diadem. Now, we just kill Acme, go in there, kill her, and take control of the Archives.
By 'we,' of course, you mean the intelligent machine that's managed literally your entire life ever since we met.
Not my entire life.
I'm the one keeping oxygen flowing to your cells.
Well, I'd say we're out of earshot.
Well, I wish you'd phrased that like a command, because you're wrong. Neurotron paused for about a half of a second. NOW, we're out of earshot. But I'm sure you'll pilot this ship into a rock soon enough.
Well, take Acme down now then, oh wise computer. Unless- he added quickly- there's something else I should know.
There are a lot of things you should know. But none of them make it less advantageous for you to beat the crap out of Acme.
Vafnir's body turned to face Acme.
"What," the android said, belligerently.
Vafnir responded by creating a wall of black material. He engulfed Acme.
Acme created nanobots. Tried to find some tiny crack in his prison.
Then, he tried to make a tiny crack in his prison. Or a large one.
He made small capsules of deuterium. Nuclear explosions, carried along wire of graphene, forced carbon fullerenes deep into inky wall.
Vafnir applid pressure. He was stronger now, with Phoenix's power boosting his own. He could feel it. Didn't hurt to have Neurotron pumping in chemicals, boosting his concentration. I'll find a way to distract you soon enough.
Soon, Acme had been reduced to a cube. The machine wasn't dead. At least, not permanently. But he wasn't going to come back swinging any time soon.
I bet we could put him back together, Neurotron said. The computer automatically began to plan the process.
So, we were able to study Acme in that amount of time?
I was, yes. You were able to bask in the glow of borrowed victory like the ape you are. You do realize that you are just a pawn of Dr. Demented. A human pawn. Neurotron reconsidered. If we're being generous, you're a bishop.
The pair of them bickered all the way back to Lucy. Lucy saw the cyborg walk in. "What is wrong with you?"
How does she do that?
Beats me.
"And where is Acme?"
Even before she had finished the second sentence, a dark tentacle had ripped the diadem out from her hands. "You aren't Phoenix."
"That's right. I'm Vafnir."
"Vafnir. Alternate version of Phoenix from another dimension. Took control of his powers, and apparently also got a copy of his memories thanks to some abortive attempt at self-preservation."
Lucy went after him with a pair of glowing katanas. And while blade weapons are ideal for battles with tentacles of darkness, Lucy was out of her league. She shot fire from her hands. Vafnir wasn't effect. She cut at his arms. He ripped the blades from her hand.
Then, she ran. The cyborg was faster.
"Is Phoenix dead?"
"Yes. I killed him."
"Are you going to kill me?"
"Eventually, probably. But you will be interesting to study at some point." Vafnir considered all the complex ways he could constrain Lucy. Then, he broke her legs.

You can reconfigure my brain.
Of course.
You can upgrade it.
That's how Phoenix became a true cyborg.
Do the same to me.
It's a complicated process. What exactly do you want. Some limited version of what Phoenix had?
Everything that Phoenix had.
Neurotron began pumping his subject full of anesthetic. Before Vafnir reached complete unconsciousness, Neurotron made one clarification. You wanted everything Phoenix had. I assume, by that, you meant his mental powers, brain structure, memories, personality, ambitions, and identity.
That was the last thing Vafnir heard before Neurotron tore his brain apart.

Saturday, November 1, 2014


Two identical bodies, lying in the street, unmoving. One of them was a corpse, leaking blood from a hundred small lacerations. The other was Vafnir.
The villain had just absorbed the cybernetic implants that would elevate him beyond mortal comprehension. And his reboot process was nearly over.
Vafnir woke up. He didn't really feel different. He stood up, noticing a small group of bystanders. Time to test his new powers. Vafnir walked up to one of them, who looked to be in his early twenties, and punched him in the head.
"Ow! What was that for? Also, you kind of have a sissy punch."
Vafnir looked at his wirish limbs, more suited to typing than fist fights. Why weren't those limbs filled with incredible, inhuman strength?
Probably because you don't know how they work.
"I said," the twenty-something spat, "that you have a sissy punch."
I said, the voice in Vafnir's head sighed, that you don't know how your superpowers work.
Are you Neurotron?
Sure am.

Explain to me why I cannot access my super strength.
Phoenix couldn't do it either, initially. The human brain doesn't have pathways for controlling super strength. You need to go through me. Phoenix needed to go through me, until we merged into the perfect fusion of man and machine.
Fine. Turn on my strength, I want to splatter this guy across a building.
Well, since it's for such a good cause.
At this point, Vafnir killed a completely innocent person just to test out his powers.
Vafnir created a billowing cloud of blackness, shrouding himself from the shocked onlookers.
What about my other powers? Senses. Phoenix's intelligence.
Well, Phoenix's intelligence wouldn't even begin to fit into your pathetic human brain. And I turned off the enhanced senses because if you had access to all that information, it would fry your mind. And, as much as I'd love to watch that happen, I'm not allowed to harm you.
Try. I want to see. I want to see everything.

So I have your express permission Neurotron didn't need to wait for a response. Great.
Vafnir's brain was flooded with status reports. Everything from acidity levels in his gall bladder to the locations of sunspots to the speech the President was trying to give. And it was too much.
Vafnir fell to his knees, his constructs evaporating around him. He heard himself hit the ground, and he heard the echoes off of nearby buildings. He received a damage report from every organ in his body.
And then, he saw the world around him. He heard heartbeats. Complete with detailed graphs of every person's stress rate, and their expected levels of cholesterol.
He saw the sky. A constantly updating spectrograph from every point, along with annotations for every star or planet barely visible to cyborg eyes in the daytime sky. Plus, constant updates on the stellar battle between Dr. Demented and his rival.
Every breath carried an analysis of a hundred chemicals. Every spoken word came with a dictionary. Vafnir couldn't take it. He couldn't think. He couldn't even summon the thoughts to tell Neurotron to stop. So, for several minutes, bystanders were distracted from the unfolding crisis of radioactive bombardment from the sky by the question 'Is that a supervillain or a guy on drugs'.
Neurotron couldn't let Vafnir die. He was Vafnir's slave, and he had to obey Vafnir's direct orders and preserve Vafnir's life and sanity. So eventually, he granted Vafnir the mercy of quiet. How did it feel to sit on the command center of a superior intellect?
It was invigorating.
Don't lie. I can read your mind. I am your mind.
Soon, I will have your upgrade my brain. Then, I will see all that Phoenix could see, and know all that Phoenix knew.
Oooh, so impressive. After stealing all of Phoenix stuff, and forcing me to install it properly, you might become almost as good as him. I bet your mommy is so proud.
Vafnir looked through some of my memories. He had four million songs and two million movies downloaded into his brain.
Yes, he did.
It seems rather excessive.
He could watch them all in one night.
Vafnir looked through some of my scientific knowledge. Is that the Riemann Hypothesis?
Do I really need to translate your own stolen mind for you? Yes, that is a note-to-self about a generalization of the Riemann Hypothesis. Well, not so much a generalization as a reapplication to commutative Euclidean trees. Something you wouldn't understand.
Vafnir ignored the abusive AI. So, what other new powers do I have?
You can fly. Or, rather, I can fly, while you slowly and dully call out destinations.
Excellent. I know just where I'll go first.
Vafnirs back extruded ghostly wings. Those wings became bright sheets of fire. And those sheets of fire propelled Vafnir into space.

Monday, October 27, 2014


It was my mistake. All Mephistopheles needed was to get in close proximity to me. And there I was, pinning him to the ground like an idiot.
I saw it coming. I saw as a tentacle erupted from his hands. I saw the small bit of machinery that could completely reprogram my cyborg components.
My mind was so much faster than my body. I dodged, blocked, and destroyed that tentacle a thousand times in my head. But not once in real life.
The tentacle was four centimeters from my eye. A few milliseconds until impact. I readied my defenses. What else could I do? I broadcasted out as many of my thoughts, memories, and desires as I could. Maybe Noetron, or Cognis, or someone, could create a new me, with those few terabytes of information at the core.
I needed to do better. What could I do in the remaining milliseconds? Of course. I could transferred a backup of my mind (or at least the important parts) to a small nodule of my body. Where? I selected the second knuckle on the pinky finger on my right hand. The backup process kept my occupied for most of the remaining time. I disconnected the backup from the rest of my system, so it couldn't be corrupted or detected, but would still follow the rest of my upgrades into Mephistopheles' body. I erased all records of it. Then, I felt pain in my eye.

"It's a beautiful device," Mephistopheles said. "Well, beautiful for me. Painful for you. Your upgrades will start tunneling through you. They'll all join together inside your rib-cage. They'll be compacted, and fused into a sphere one centimeter in radius. I eat the sphere, and get all your powers and knowledge. You have about a minute left to live. A very painful minute."
"Are you trying to torture me, little human?"
"To be honest... I wouldn't mind seeing you in pain."
"Well, you won't get what you want. I can fast forward through the last minute of my life, and not experience a thing."
"Maybe. But if there's even a tiny scrap of me left in you, you won't do that. You'll stay alive, too horridly fascinated by life and death."
He was right. I was bluffing. I checked my status. Internal bleeding had already begun inside me. About forty-two seconds left.
How could I make the most of my remaining time? This wasn't the first time I had been seconds away from death. But it was the first time that those seconds left me with time to kill.
I needed to make peace with myself. I needed to prove to myself that I had accomplished all I could accomplish. But first, I needed one small glimmer of hope.
I ran through my memories of Justin's brain. I assembled a crude facsimile of Justin's mind. "Justin, I have a question for you."
"What is the most effective drink for picking up women?"
"Martini. Why?"
I dismissed the Justinoid. There. I had reanimated the dead. If it could happen to Justin, it could happen to me too. I might not be done.
Was that really what I wanted? To be resurrected as the plaything of a bored god? Yes, I decided. Better than being dead.
Back to the matter at hand. What did I have left to do in my life. My to-do list was down to four million items. Let's start at the top.
1. Save Lucy. I wasn't going to get to do that. Why did I want to do that? Because she was important to me. There was no talking myself out of that. Could she still escape? Probably. She had Noetron and Acme. With luck, she could play the two off of each other, and free herself of this whole mess.
2. Kill Dr. Demented. Maybe this new Crucible would handle that. He seemed better qualified for the job. He had the unlimited power of a god, and he seemed to know how you use it.
Where was I? Item 3. Lost my train of thought. Cyborgs don't lose their trains of thought.
3. Kill Mephistopheles. Noticing a lot of killing on this list. Not healthy. Besides, someone would bump Vafnir off eventually.
4. Replace humanity with a race of cyborgs. This one was important. Human lives were so... thin. How did I ever find meaning with such a haphazard mind, thrown together by evolutionary chance? Only the vast and focused mind of a cyborg could truly appreciate the beauty of things. And others needed to share that. Plus, I wanted someone to talk to besides other aspects of myself.
Fortunately for the human race, some other mortal would eventually find his way out of the muck. Some other cyborg might lead them to enlightenment. They wouldn't be as good as me, and they might take their time showing up, but someone was coming to destroy the human race. And create the cyborg one.
5. Build a device to enable faster-than-light travel. That was going to be a bust. Dr. Demented had already done it, but I really wanted to understand it. Didn't matter, I... lost my train of thought again.
My brain was deteriorating. I had maybe thirty seconds left to live. And in my damaged state, with so much of my mind devoted to keeping the pain at bay, I could barely think faster than a human.
6. Subjugate planet Earth. The Cyborgs would need a leader. And as the first and greatest of their kind, I was the natural choice. I had so many ideas for Cyborg entertainment, Cyborg morality, and Cyborg law. Ideas I would never get to implement. But, hopefully, some future genius nearly as great as me would set the Cyborg people straight.
7. Steal information from the Archives. Much like the knowledge of faster than light travel, that alien lore would forever elude me. I could deal with that. It had eluded everyone else before me.
So what? So what if it had eluded everyone else before me? I was wasn't everyone else before me. Most of the people before me were morons. I shouldn't have to stoop to their level. What was I doing, systematically giving up on everything that mattered to me? I wasn't ready to give up. I wasn't ready to go. I wanted to live. I had things to do.
The pain!
I had theorems to prove, people to liberate, and galaxies to conquer.
The agony!
I had an immortal lifetime's worth of things to do, and deserved an immortal life in in which to do them.
I don't remember what I thought after that, because I was dead.     

Saturday, October 25, 2014


The battle had raged for hours, and the only way Alex had of hurting the Doctor was to hit him really hard. Fortunately, Doctor Demented wasn't making much progress hurting Alex either.
As Alex reconstituted his entire body for the umpteenth time, he considered his options. Was there anything that could permanently hurt him? It seemed like his heart was completely invulnerable, and he could regenerate the rest even more easily that Dr. Demented.
He saw the Doctor, silhouetted against the planet Neptune. He charged. accelerated himself to relativistic speeds. To the point where specks of dust shattered bones with their impact. And then, he hit Dr. Demented.
His bones didn't break. To say they evaporated wouldn't do the impact justice. Every atom in his body exploded in a shower of relativistic particles. It took about a second (in an inertial reference frame moving with Neptune) for him to reform.
He saw the Doctor had already reached a complete stop. But his old mentor wasn't making any moves. Alex decided to press his advantage. He forged a fleet of ships, hoping to hold the Doctor in place with their fire. Then, he could retreat, and ram his enemy at even greater speed. As he moved away, he saw, in deeply redshifted and Lorentz contracted form, his former mentor withstand a barrage of laser fire.
He decelerated, and prepared for another high-velocity impact. He rushed towards his enemy. Faster and faster. As fast as a proton in a particle accelerator. And then, in the nanosecond before impact, he saw the Doctor disappear.
He teleported away, Alex realized. Used another of the vast array of powers he had invented for himself. And then, Alex realized something else. He only has a few milliseconds before he slammed into a giant planet.
He slowed down as much as he could. It wasn't enough. When he hit the planet, every atom of his body was destroyed yet again. But his heart continued to plunge into the planet, setting off spontaneous fusion reactions as it went. It came to a stop thousands of kilometers beneath the planet's surface. It regrew a body. And the body prepared for battle.

Dr. Demented look at planet. Silly boy, fall into obvious trap.
Dr. Demented fall into more obvious trap. Hit in face by relativistic teenager.
"Not fair comparison," say aloud in vacuum of space. "Caught by surprise due to..." What is phrase? "Mind not focus. Not my fault."
Another part of Doctor take issue. "Entirely your fault. Your fault for having mental disease destroying brain."
"Is getting worse."
"Is way to stop it."
Mind is wandering again. Focus on matter at hand. Child is attacking me. Fight back. Sad. The child does not deserve to be repeatedly subjected to painful deaths. Is sad.
Dr. Demented observe planet. Watch as matter and energy move. Sees Crucible. Calculates trajectory. creates disturbance in energy field.

Alex noticed a strange sensation. Searing heat near his leg. As if he were being pinched, or like there was a constantly detonating nuclear bomb. What was it? He analyzed the sensations. Based on the two days he had spent studying science, the energy in his leg fit the spectrum of Hawking radiation from a micro black hole. It would be consuming a constant stream of matter, and converting it into energy.
Alex knew how to deal with such things. He willed his leg to disappear. The black hole, starved of material, evaporated in a fraction of a second.
Alex felt a surge of gravity waves. The waves vibrated his body to produce... sound. "Very good," the Doctor said. "Progressing in scientific studies."
"Thanks," Alex said, as he fired a laser at a piece of jetsam, causing it to explode and bombard his enemy with small impacts. "That means a lot."
And then, Alex had an idea. He rushed towards the Doctor, at a comparatively small fraction of light speed. The villain teleported away. Alex changed direction. The pursuit lasted for close to an hour (again ignoring relativistic effects). Eventually, the young god was able to grab hold of the villains armor. He jammed his hand in. Or, at least, he tried to. He grew, and engulfed his enemy. He pressed on every side, trying to find a tiny crack in the armor. Maybe in the joints or something.
Alex was sliced in half by a forcefield, the two halves were blown apart by a nuclear explosion, and the Doctor retreated several million miles through a wormhole, closing it when Alex was partway through.
Alex duplicated himself. The duplicates weren't as powerful, and couldn't regenerate, but they would last for a few hours. He created an army of replicates. A thousand demigods swarmed across the solar system. Doctor Demented observed them. They were interesting. When he decided he had watched them enough, he opened a portal to the center of the sun.
A jet of dense plasma shot forth, slicing the army apart. Another slice. The Doctor realized he was being inefficient. He opened a labyrinthine series of portals, and redirected the same beam through the entire army, destroying them all in seconds. All except one. Alex.
"You know," Alex said, speaking across the electromagnetic spectrum, "someone might conclude that neither of us can hurt the other."
"I would not conclude that," the Doctor said, preparing to teleport Alex into the core of a planet.
"Neither would I," Alex said, as he synthesized a small neutron star and threw it toward the Doctor.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


I was hovering over the Baltic. Mephistopheles attacked from the east. I retreated, regrouped, and mounted a new defense. Repeat.
I knew this would continue until I ran out of endurance, Mephistopheles ran out of energy, or both of us ran out of Baltic. The Baltic gave out first.
So the both of us moved on to land. We continued our fight in Denmark, heedless of civilians. Worse than heedless. Mephistopheles had new scruples about picking cars up off the road and throwing them at me. I, in turn, had no scruples about using Danish fire hydrants as weapons of war.
Several thousand liters a second of water (heated to a supercritical fluid by a laser) blasted Mephistopheles through a building.
He rammed me through a bank vault. I caught a very brief view of a very large amount of money.
I electrified him with some power lines. Add electricity to the list of things that don't hurt him.
He grabbed me, blasted several hundred meters into the atmosphere, and threw me down into a construction site.
I looked around. The structure seemed mostly sound. Approximately... four minutes before until collapse. An eternity. About a minute before Mephistopheles would show up. Plenty of time to appropriate some weapons. I flew into the cockpit of a nearby crane. It took about four seconds to gain control of the crane. Twelve seconds to program the crane to track Mephistopheles and hit him with swinging I-beams.
I looked around. What else was there? A bulldozer. I could throw that at Mephistopheles when he showed up, which should be in about nineteen seconds. The driver was even running away, providing me with guilt-free ammunition to launch into a catastrophic mid-air impact.
I saw a jackhammer lying around. I thought about that jackhammer. I thought until I understood every nut, bolt, screw, wire, and tear of an underage worker that had gone into its construction. I thought about how it could be made a hundred times more powerful. Sure, it would fall apart after... fifty seconds of use, but who cares?
I was just finishing up my modifications as I watched the graceful arc of nineteen tons of steel beams smacking Mephistopheles in the face. I saw him approach me again. I grabbed one of his tentacles out of the air. I yanked it, exerting just enough force to drag the villain in without snapping the appendage. And, when he was right in front of me, I drove a modified jackhammer into his skull.
His armor chipped. For a brief second, I saw four square centimeters of his skin. I saw every pore, every sweat gland. And I recognized those four square centimeters of skin. I recognized that little patch of flesh, because I had an identical patch on my face. (And because I had an advanced cyborg brain capable of memorizing every micrometer of his skin and running analysis on it in the heat of battle).
"So, Vafnir. I hadn't thought you'd survived." I thought for a fraction of a second. It wouldn't even be perceptible to a human. "I assume it is Vafnir, not some other duplicate or alternate or future version of myself."
"Oh," my enemy said. "I am Vafnir."
"I assume the charade with the fake identity was part of some ploy to gain my trust."
"It was."
"Which would also have been the reason for your little supervillain play club. How ironic you must have found it that everyone joined except me."
"Ironic wasn't quite the right word."
"This does, of course, raise the question of what you want from me, that you are so intent on taking by cunning or force. I doubt it's revenge."
"You'll find out soon enough," Vafnir said. "Although you-" he was halfway through some pathetic human threat when a wave of radiation slammed into the Earth.

I saw it all. I could feel electrical surges throughout the planet crippling communications across a hemisphere. I could see the faint lines of Cherenkov radiation as ultrarelativistic particles crossed the sky. I traced the wave back to its point of origin. I saw two faint points of light.
"I think your boss just got in a fight," I commented.
Mephistopheles was still struggling to figure our what had happened. The radiation wave had been powerful enough that even humans could feel it, but he couldn't sense it in the same detail I could. And it had only been a second.
What was Dr. Demented fighting? A reconstituted Crucible, obviously. Maybe, maybe, one of his creations gone wrong. But this data, all two seconds of it, definitely looked like the Crucible's radiation signature.
And then, suddenly, everything made sense.

Dr. Demented wanted to recreate Earth Beta. He could not do this alone. His mind had rotted away, his powers had diminished. So he needed another mind, and another source of power.
That source of power was the Crucible. He had retrieved it from the abyss of space where it had been sent, and had, most likely for irrational and Demented reasons, allowed it to regenerate a new body. I say that the body was new because this new Crucible seemed to be using a much more high-tech array of weaponry than his predecessor. Interesting.
The new mind was Mephistopheles. Or Vafnir. Vafnir would need upgrades, of course. He would need better software. That would come from the Archives. No doubt the Fortarians were working to steal all that ancient knowledge. They most likely had the resources to seize the Archives.
And the hardware upgrade... That would be me. My technology for upgrading the human mind into a cyborg one. Couldn't Dr. Demented do that without me? Maybe not. The Dementia might have eroded his knowledge of human physiology. Or, more likely, doing so would somehow result in a time paradox down the road. Time travel often imposed strange restrictions about what sorts of technology one could and could not introduce. Or maybe he had just forgotten to get around to it.
But I was not giving Vafnir the upgrade. That meant Vafnir was going to take it from me. Was that possible? What sort of technology would let him reprogram my upgrades to serve him instead.
I analyzed my code. Were there any vulnerabilities? Silly question, of course there were. And Vafnir might know about them. His future self could have told him. Time travel...
The next second or so of thought cannot be written down. Trying to write those concepts in English would be like trying to explain general relativity using cave paintings. But I concluded that it was, in fact, consistent with the rules of time travel for some future version of Vafnir to give current Vafnir the technology needed to steal my powers. And, in fact, those powers could not be transferred directly from future to past self because... English is inadequate.
I noticed some strange signature in my data feed. It was familiar. I had seen it before. Before I had accessed the true potential of the cyborg mind. It took me a millisecond to recognize that I was feeling fear.