Tuesday, February 25, 2014

A Work of Art

I've always enjoyed meteorology. It requires advanced physics and powerful mathematical models, and has numerous practical applications ranging from planning a picnic to using chaos theory to plunge the planet into a new Ice Age.
I was flying above the city of Barcelona, taking measures of tropospheric and stratospheric air currents. The mayor of Barcelona wasn't happy to have a mad scientist flying above the city using wings of fusion plasma, hauling around advanced scientific equipment, and sent me a few phone calls saying as much. I pretended not to speak Spanish and hung up.
I had just completed my pressure measurements when a message came through from Noetron. Medium Priority. I opened it up, and it was a news article. At least he wasn't sending me cat pictures.
Apparently, the New Archivist was below me, visiting the art museums of Barcelona. Really, Neurotron commented. Are you really going to quit these meteorological experiments so that you can go chase after someone who's sort of your friend?
Thank God!
I was going through the security footage of every museum in the city before I touched the ground, trying to find her. I approached her, and saw her admiring a Van Gogh. "Hello, stranger."
She looked at the picture for a fraction of a second more, and turned around. "Hello, Phoenix. I didn't see you."
"I know. I'm so discreet." She laughed.
"I was focusing on this painting."
I examined it. It looked like a Rorschach test in yellow and blue. Wikipedia said it was a field. Some kind of metaphor for his love life or something. Booooooring! "It's beautiful."
"Did you know that Van Gogh painted it in 1882 while on a vacation?"
"No, I didn't."
"Or that-"
"Oh my god!" I saw a masterpiece out of the corner of my eye. "It's my masterpiece."
"Your masterpiece?"
"Yeah. I made it a few years ago."
"No, Leonardo Da Vinci made it a few centuries ago."
"That's exactly what I told the art dealer!"
She frowned for a second. "It was made for the Duke of Milan, and the Virgin Mary in this picture is actually the Duke's mistress. The blue paint is-"
The New Archivist rushed to examine the painting. "Oh." A pause. "Wow. The shading, the lines. Almost perfect for Da Vinci. I'm not surprised you fooled them."
"You shouldn't be. I might not appreciate art, but forgery is a science. This was made by a robot, using authentic fifteenth-century paint I created myself. I had to hard-code all of Da Vinci's great works, use a genetic algorithm to create a virtual art expert, and create a second algorithm smart enough to fool the first."
She seemed lost in thought for a moment. "Your forgeries are fantastic. Could you please do me the favor of making some for my collection?"
"Sure, I've been meaning to revisit the field anyways. I could steal you some genuine ones too, if you want."
"No, thanks. I come in peace and all that."

There was something off about her. She seemed distracted. Lost in thought a little too much for someone who already had all the answers in the known universe. Something was up.
"What's up?" Best to be direct.
"Huh? Oh, I'm thinking about how your use of light is nothing like Da Vinci's."
"First of all, it is withing two sigma's of his early work. Second of all, that clearly isn't all you're thinking about. You've been distracted all day."
She looked around. There was nobody else in the room. "Can you keep a secret?"
"I spent three months selling corporate secrets."
She ignored me. "It's the Archives. The combined knowledge of thousands of civilizations. Trillions of individuals. In my head every moment. Like A'aa'aaaaaa'a in the Taurian epic poem, I can't have solitude. Like Hive 2580427/5717/841,  I have voices in my head, filling me with alien ideas. It gets a little distracting at times."
"I might be able to help. I could install some kind of filter into the diadem-"
"No. I am the Archivist. I need to be constantly in touch with my Archives."
"It's who I am. What I am. My reason for being."
"Have you considered that maybe it isn't healthy for your reason for being to a little ruby circlet you wear on your head?"
"You don't understand."
I've never really liked being told that I don't understand. People tend to say it with such finality, as if it meant that understanding was forever beyond my grasp. But before I could respond that I was an incomparable genius who could understand practically everything, she changed the subject.
"By the way, how would you like a tour of my cosmic collection."
A tour of the Archives! Alien sights. Advanced technology! Gross stuff! Exploding stuff! Frozen stuff! How could I refuse?
"Sure, I'd love to."
"I have important meeting for the next week. Would you like to come next Saturday?"
"Some ground rules: the last time you were in the Archives, you stole ancient knowledge, and caused the death of Rava-Iss. I'd prefer to stay alive, so please refrain from looting my collection or dragging me into an epic battle of godlike beings."
"Deal." I paused, thinking about Mephistopheles and his mysterious powers. "Have you been paying attention to this whole Mephistopheles thing?"
"Yes. Some are calling him the world's greatest villain? Jealous."
"A tiny bit. Do you have any idea where his powers could have come from?"
"Are you asking me to search my Archives?"
"Very well." She closed her eyes. Her diadem began to glow red. Out of courtesy, I refrained from doing a spectral analysis, but I did wonder where the glow could be coming from. Thermal? No way. A special effect? Seemed to tacky for the Archivist.
She opened her eyes. "Nothing. I couldn't find any reference to any technology like that. Whatever it is, it's something new in the galaxy. Now, if you'll excuse me, I need some rest, and staring at some of these portraits is as close to sleep as I'm going to get."
I left her, wondering just what if took to be constantly in communion with a vast trove of alien knowledge. And trying to convince myself to follow the New Archivist's ground rules. She was a friend, and I shouldn't go stealing her stuff. Not even her really cool stuff...

Saturday, February 22, 2014

The Powers that Be

"I'm in," said General Electric. "Count me in."
I was stunned. He was signing on to this scheme. 
Wait a second. Of course he was. He wasn't an especially successful villain on his own. He needed Mephistopheles' money and power and intelligence to back him up, and he had lost enough fights to admit he needed help."
Osirion was next to speak. "I will join you group," he said. Everyone present spoke Russian except for Titan and Jack. "But I will not take orders from anyone."
"Of course not," Mephistopheles said. His voice was comparatively soothing, to the point where battle-hardened Navy Seals wouldn't cringe. "I don't plan to give orders. Just suggestions."
Plague opened her mouth. "I'll join under a similar condition. I'll take your advice, since you claim to be such a source of infinite wisdom. I'll take your money, since you claim to have so much of it. But I won't take your orders."
Puzzle Master was the next to have a word. "I think your conduct here has made you villainous disgraces. When Devil dearest's plans fail you'll have egg upon your faces. I simply shall not into join your dark Illuminati, and I feel your coming failure with every bone inside my body."
The rhyming maniac then ran away, and tried to swim to back to Madagascar. Nobody heard from him for several months. Despite that, I still thought Mephistopheles was the crazy one at the table. But it looked like I was in the minority.
It was Titan who spoke next. Something about being a gigantic dinosaur means that when you speak, people listen, and sure enough, Titan grabbed our attention. "Fine. Let the lunatic leave. I'm fine getting money and expertise from this newcomer, and I'm even willing to do him a favor or two if that's what it takes."
Jack joined, followed the rest of the people at the table. That left me.
I thought through the composition. Mephistopheles was in charge, but Jack would try to undermine him, and Plague or even Titan might try to do the same. If I joined, that would be an awful lot of leaders for a paltry few followers.
On the other hand, there was my scientific curiosity. How could I learn about Mephistopheles' powers without getting close to him? Similarly, I needed to learn about Jack Frost's freeze rays, and Plague's incredible biology.
I could think of two ways of doing that. The first was to join this Illuminati Occultus and play along with Mephistopheles' crazed plans until I could take control or figure out how their powers worked. This plan had a drawback: I had to join the Illuminati Occultus. Not only would I have to join the most ridiculously named syndicate in history, I would also have to undergo several risks. I would need to walk a find line between being turned on by my teammates and being foiled by the combined might of every hero on Earth.
The second option was to play it safe, stay away from dangerous people, and maybe do some charity work. Kidding! The second was to stay away from this group, and study other things, without earning the wrath of the heroes. Eventually, years, decades, or centuries from now, I would be in a position to conquer the world and subject everyone on the planet to my will, and put it's every inhabitant under my microscope.
Plan two it was...
"Sorry gentlemen, ladies, and giant talking dinosaurs, but I think I'll have to pass. I wish you the best of luck, and am eager to do business in the future, but I am not prepared to join your group."
Titan called me a half-assed weakling under his breath, but other than that, they took it very well.

I can't be everywhere at once. I'm sorry, but the only way to be omnipresent is to be a god, a hive mind, or a really zealous fourth grade teacher. I am none of those things. Consequently, there are parts of this story I was not present for. I am going to tell them anyway, using knowledge gained after the fact from a variety of sources. Deal with it.

It just so happens that at the approximate time of the Tromelin Island summit, there was another superpowered meeting going on halfway around the world, in inland Mongolia.
Vector flew in, borne aloft by telekinetic wings. The Dark Detective flew in, born aloft by an airplane.
They were in the middle of nowhere. Seriously. The spot had been selected because there was no human habitation for miles around.
"Cognis coming?" Vector asked?
The Dark Detective scowled. "He's busy. Negotiating that ceasefire in Palestine."
Vector was hovering above the ground, his blue and white costume resplendent in the midday sun.
"When did Genesis say to meet him."
"Three minutes ago," the Detective scowled.
They waited in silence. Groups which include the Dark Detective tend to be silent.
"Oh," said Vector. "I sense him. He's about a mile to the north, riding something big. He should be here shortly."
This elicited a scowl from the Dark Detective.
A minute later, Genesis arrived. He was inside what looked to be the offspring of a 747 and a Pteranodon. It opened its door/mouth and Genesis walked out. "Where is the Professor?"
Vector fielded the question: "Professor Cognis is busy at the moment." For his part, the Dark Detective continued to scowl.
"What business is he attending to that is so important?"
"World peace."
"Very well, I suppose to the likes of him such things are important."
"What did you bring us here to talk about," the Detective inquired, doing his best not to scowl.
"The Disease."
"Excuse me?"
"The Disease has returned. One person was infected, in Peru. She died before getting to the hospital. Her name was Esperanza Quaron. Be sure to tell the Professor of these facts."
"We will," Vector said.
"And just how did you find out about this budding Peruvian epidemic?"
Genesis ignored him. "I entrust this matter to your United Heroes. Although I can stem the spread of the Disease through my Garden, I cannot stop it in the outside world. Goodbye, and godspeed." With that, Genesis, the world's leading expert in a dozen scientific disciplines, last survivor of a parallel dimension, the master of a Garden of extraordinary plants and animal, left.
Vector was the first to speak. "I really hope he's wrong."
"I'm pretty sure he isn't." 

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Illuminati Occultus

Mephistopheles, the newly arrived, mysterious villain, whose powers included control of indestructible blackness and what looked like teleportation, had left me a message. It was just an email. Only a few lines long.
I have invited some of the more prominent villains in the world to join a little group. Meet with us at 12:00 GMT today on Tromelin Island. I trust you can make it there without tipping off the authorities, but if you cannot, I can provide transportation.
I didn't need to check my watch, Neurotron always knew what time it was. I had a little over an hour to get to Mephistopheles' evil supervillain shindig. If I even wanted to go. No doubt, Mephistopheles was planning on being the leader of his 'little group.' I certainly didn't want to subjugate myself to him unnecessarily. Should I join and try to usurp him? Was I even interested in being a villain anymore?
"Alright," I said to myself. "This is not a time to have an existential crisis. I am interested in running a 'little group' of powerful villains. It could be an ambush, but I'm confident that unless Mephistopheles has the United Heroes on board, I can make it out of there. So I'll go, and see whether this newby is a pushover and if I can usurp him."

Tromelin was an uninhabited island off the coast of Madagascar. I had no idea why Mephistopheles expected me to know that. Did he assume that I spent several weeks of my life memorizing maps off every part of the planet (I had, but he couldn't possibly know that). It was less than a kilometer on a side. Mephistopheles had been checking his weather reports: the entire southwestern Indian Ocean had cloud cover. I hovered above the island, taking in the scenery, trying to figure out how I could use it to my advantage if a fight broke out. The trees could be used for cover. Or for whacking people. I could use a ranged attack.
I saw a few villains standing around a table, and landed near them. The table was made of black marble, with 'IO' inlaid in white. Or maybe it was 'OI'. Much more interesting than the table, though, were the people seated and standing around it.
There was Mephistopheles. Standing. He was garbed in ornate black armor, with a billowing cloak of darkness. A scan across all frequencies showed that he was emitting no radiation, not even a black-body spectrum.What is with this guy?
To his right, Jack Frost was seated at the table, suited up in his freeze-ray mounted exoskeleton. "Phoenix! How are things?"
"Going well. I loved your most recent work on cryogenic entanglement, and how you applied it to trying to bring about a new ice age."
To Jack's right was a new supervillain, Titan, the gigantic talking dinosaur. Titan was a fifty meter tall sentient T. Rex. One of Dr. Carnage's last creations. I think he was setting up shop as a warlord in Africa, the continent torn to shreds in the One Day War. I remembered reading that he had beaten Resonance in a fair fight. She was one of the mightiest heroes in the world in terms of raw power, and Titan had taken her down and torn through a rival warlord's stronghold in the same day. Of course, he stretched the laws of biology, I stretched the laws of physics. I could take him down pretty easily should the need ever arise.
Continuing around the table was Puzzle Master. As the name might suggest, he was a very confusing person. On one hand, he exhibited intelligence on par or even exceeding that of Professor Cognis and myself. He devised bombs and poisons which suggested vast technical sophistication, and concocted schemes of incredible complexity. On the other hand, he was a lunatic terrorist who spent his time giving the authorities hints of his next targets, usually in rhyming form.
After him was Ison. Ison had started his career as a hero, and then gone rogue, becoming a supervillain. He had then gone un-rogue, becoming a hero again. This was his fifth relapse. His main power was flight, with rockets embedded throughout his body accelerating him to thousands of miles an hour. He was also incredibly durable, so ramming his opponent was a viable tactic. I had seen him take down buildings.
Sitting next to Ison was General Electric. A supervillain who functioned as a living Van de Graaff generator, he could shoot lightning out of his hands. He was wanted for murder, bank robbery and because his name was a trademark violation. He was tough, but I didn't need to worry about him. Due to the nature of my upgrades, I was especially immune to electrical attacks. I was not, however, immune the General's superhuman strength and stamina.
That left Plague, another of Dr. Carnage's creations. She could synthesize viruses and bacteria on the spot, and pass them on through physical contact. Most of them were too unstable to be contagious, but the odd exception made her one of the most dangerous villains in the world. She also boasted enhanced strength and stamina, and she was the head of a small criminal empire.
I looked up in the sky to see a very well-camouflaged helicopter landing near us. I tensed, on the off chance that it was the authorities crashing this whole meeting. It wasn't.
The doors opened, and out walked Osirion. A rogue experiment by the Russian government. Strong. As shit. as concrete reinforced shit. He was probably packing enough of a punch to pose a serious threat to my health. Working together with Ison, Titan, and Mephistopheles, he posed a very serious threat. Then again, it seemed unlikely that someone would unite all the diverse members of the supervillain underworld just so that they could have maybe a forty percent chance of defeating me. I decided not to bolt.
"Greetings," said Mephistopheles said, in a voice that would make an inanimate object cringe. "I think it is time for us to begin."

Our self-appointed master of ceremonies continued. "As you all know, the past ten years have seen the rise of Professor Cognis and his United Heroes. Where our opposition once stood divided and weak, they now stand together, backed by unlimited funding, and under the leadership of one of the greatest minds in the history of the human race. I think it is time for us villains to take on a similar strategy." He paused to allow the translator in Osirion's ear to convert his speech to Russian.
"Now is an especially opportune time for us to act. In the wake of the One Day War, many of the world's governments are in disarray. The heroes are overstretched and overworked. I know that Titan for one has been using this as an opportunity to push his empire to its greatest extent yet. I have been using this time of unprecedented growth in criminal activity to unite much of the world's organized crime-"
"Excuse me," spat Plague. Let me remind you that when Plague spat, grown men ran to avoid the spittle. "How exactly did you create such a vast criminal empire without my noticing?"
"You'll find I am a very discrete person, Plague. As I was saying, we have all been capitalizing on the recent chaos on our own. But together, we could do far more. Imagine what Titan could accomplish with Phoenix's technology to back him up. Imagine what Plague could do with Puzzle Master deducing your opponents next moves. Imagine what Phoenix could accomplish with all of our abilities to study."
Interesting, he mentioned me twice, as both a giver and a taker. Did that imply something?
"I believe that the people at this table have the potential to take over the planet within a year. Welcome to the Illuminati Occultus."

Puzzle Master was the first to speak. "I'm not so sure we'll play your game. Your army has a childish name. After you prove your worth to us, please come again, we shall discuss." He was speaking for many of us. He was speaking like a leprechaun, but he was speaking for many of us.
Osirion took a moment to figure out what Puzzle Master was saying. "Yeah. Why do you get to be in charge?"
Mephistopheles was ready for this. "Puzzle Master raises an excellent point. And while I don't plan on the Illuminati Occultus to have a single leader, I do think I will be able to organize our schemes.
"Why," Jack demanded. "Because you beat the Titanium Warrior in one fight? I've beaten him in dozens."
"No. Because you all need to join. Alone, even the most powerful of you is nothing. You can't hope to stand against Vector's power, guided by Cognis' intelligence. The only way we villains can succeed is if we work together. And the only way we can work together is through the Illuminati Occultus."

In order to fully appreciate what Mephistopheles was trying to do, a bit of background is required. Heroes frequently work together. Why wouldn't they? Professor Cognis was fighting for a better world. Bios was fighting for a better world. Vector was fighting for a better world. They all had the same goal.
Villains have a much harder time working together. Titan fights for Titan to have absolute power. Plague fights for Plague to have absolute power. Those two goals are incompatible.
I prepared to leave Mephistopheles and his delusions behind.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Self Improvement

It was a new day. A new day which followed a very fun and successful day. After bidding Vera goodbye, I went down into my lab. The really secret one, under the Hall of Justice. I'd had my fun, I'd spent a day playing with telescopes looking at pretty pictures in space, now it was time for some serious self improvement.

There were four ways I wanted to improve myself. The first was that every time my power was used, the monomaterial fibers in my body overheated with Cherenkov radiation and started to release a glow. The glow was deep red (human flesh absorbs the bluer frequencies), and it did look pretty awesome. But it was looking like long-term exposure would give people cancer, and if word got out that I was carcinogenic, people might not want to hang around me. So the first order of business was to work out some sort of containment.
The issue second was that I couldn't actually use my powers. A human brain cannot operate countless billions of indestructible magnetic monopole-infused nanomachines. That was the original reason for creating Neurotron. He scanned my brain to figure out what I wanted my powers to do, and then he did it. In theory this system should have worked flawlessly, but Neurotron and I didn't exactly make great partners. Something to do with him being an asshole.
The third way I wanted to improve myself was that I wanted to be a telepath. I had sensory tendrils which could scan things on a subatomic level. It seemed reasonable that I could scan brains, and figure out what was going on inside of them. After all, Professor Cognis had figured out how to do it. And such a power would be really useful for the whole 'mastering all the knowledge in the universe' thing.
The fourth form of self improvement was that I wanted wings. My current mode of flight involved shooting superheated plasma from my palms, like an extremely powerful rocket. This was good, and could also make for an offensive weapon, but it would probably by awkward to try to fly that way while carrying something. For that, I wanted wings. Preferably ones that were awesome.

I had just finished with the first item on my agenda. I had worked out a simple compound that I could distribute through my bloodstream to absorb the rest of the radiation, and had tested it in my left pinky. After I used that finger to poke through three centimeters of steel (pinkies- even extremely powerful ones- aren't good for much) with no discernible radiation emission, I ordered Noetron to begin synthesizing a batch big enough to absorb the rest of my rosy glow.
Alright Neurotron, time to work on our teamwork.
I still don't see why.
Because we both have very extensive and very different skill sets, and it would benefit us both to work together more.
Fine. I'll humor you. How do you suppose we build our partnership? Trust falls? Team-building exercises? Besides, I don't see why I need you.
Neurotron had a valid point. Humans were constantly building better and smarter machines, and it was only a matter of time before we created a machine better and smarter than us. On the other hand, I doubted that the first machine to make the human race obsolete would be a jackass like Neurotron.
You think that because you control the physical power, and because you are more advanced than every computer on the planet working in parallel, you don't need me?
Pretty much.
Tell me, how would you cool an alkaline-ion laser?
I don't know, but-
Too late, the laser would already have exploded. How can you simulate the propagation of seismic waves through the core of the Earth?
Oh, I know this one. Lattice-Lagrangian.
Wrong. Wouldn't converge. If a thousand Lost Army robots were attacking Estveria, how would we stop them?
You don't even know that.
But I can figure it out. Gimme a second..... Got it!
Alright, fine. But I still don't see how the two of us can practice working together.
Well, in what sorts of situations will teamwork be useful?
I don't-
You would need my strategies during a fight. I would need your calculation abilities when doing science. You would need my understanding of algorithms when plotting trajectories and whatnot. I propose we have a training course.
Flash forward one hour. I was smashing robots with my systems at 1% power. Actually, Neurotron was smashing robots, I was giving him advice which he ignored. Neurotron, I don't think we're getting anywhere with this.

On to number three on my list of priorities: mind reading. I spoke to my two artificial intelligence allies. "Alright," I said. "First things first, I'm going to need nonhuman samples. Noetron, get me three new shipments of lab rats, ASAP."
"Yes sir."
"Next, I'm going to need human subjects. I don't think Vera would volunteer."
That seems like a reasonable analysis, Romeo.
"And I really don't want to just kidnap somebody off the street. And I don't really want somebody who's going to tell the world about this. Noetron, how many convicted prisoners are there in Estveria?"
"Three, sir."
"Are any of them mentally sound enough to be used as a test subject for a mind-reading experiment?"
"Yes, one. Konstantin Kominofsky."
"Good, send him in."

"Alright, Subject 1-"
"I'm your only subject, goddammit!"
"Alright, Subject 1. Count from one to ten, again."
"One, two, three." The microscopic sensory tendrils I had monitoring his brain captured his activities for each number.
"Slower. Try thinking about each number."
"Four. Five."
I was beginning to get a fix on his patterns for each number. "Eight. Nine. Ten."
"Good. Now the screen is going to show you a random number. Think about that number."
"Alright, it's a five."
"No! You're not supposed to say what it is!" This was going nowhere. "New number."
"It's a-"
"Shut up!"
"Right." Information poured in through the tendrils. Unfortunately, not nearly enough.
He clearly has the attention span of a rabbit. Hats off to your Estverian education system.
He would have been educated before I was born.
Whatever. The best match is for eight, but it could be a two.
"What number was it?"
That was going to be our third guess.
After a few hours, we got to the point where if this one specific Estverian crook thought about the same number for about a minute, Neurotron and I could guess it almost a third of the time. I decided to throw in the towel on that project. At least for the moment.

I was standing on my house's rooftop. "Deploy wings." I didn't have to say it aloud, it just sounded awesome.
Wings deployed, Commander Doofus.
A thin exoskeleton, almost invisible, formed at my shoulder-blades.
"Run diagnostics."
Hundred percent functional, just like they were twelve seconds ago the last time you asked.
"Light 'em up."
My wings burst into flames. Plumes of plasma shot down from them, lifting me into the air. I went from zero to sixty in about a millisecond. Below me, a section of my roof collapsed. Awesome.
As I soared through the sky, my flaming wings billowing behind me, I felt really glad to have chosen the name Phoenix.
Things took a turn for the worse when I got home and found that Mephistopheles had left a little message for me.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Evil Love

Several days after Mephistopheles' sudden appearance and even more sudden disappearance, no new information had surfaced. I was lying on the couch thinking about what dark matter could be (my money is on the MACHO hypothesis, the other theories are for wimps). Noetron interrupted my mathematical slumber. "Vera Rapport has arrived, as you had previously scheduled."
I used to really hate being interrupted halfway through a problem, with my brain going at full speed. But my tastes had evolved, to the point where I only hated it a little bit. The main reason was that, courtesy of my brain's supercomputer implants, I could always pick up right where I left off. I finished the equation I was working on, and got up from the couch. "Let her in." I thought back on some of her previous visits. "And I trust her, so there's no reason to have that plasma cannon pointed at her at all times like the last time she came. I had a lot of fun building it, but it can be a bit of a distraction in times like this."
Neurotron was quick to make a snarky comment. Oh, I get it. You like fingering your plasma cannon, but you're too shy to show it to girls.
One day, I thought as I walked to greet Vera, I'm going to run through your programming to try to figure out how a complex computational algorithm came to be making jokes about my 'plasma cannon.' I was only half kidding. I'd been working on the subject of algorithmic humor for some time, and the fact that it emerged spontaneously was fascinating.
"Vera, how are things? Bring down any interesting evil conspiracies lately?" I can tell you from experience that most evil conspiracies are pretty interesting.
"I've been working on this one drug cartel in Mexico. I hate to state the obvious, but some of those drug dealing gangsters are truly evil."
I breathed a sigh of relief. I had done business with a lot of pretty bad people, but I'd never propped up a drug cartel. And I hear that a lot of breakups come from the fact that the boyfriend secretly backed up a drug cartel before the relationship began only for the woman to find out while investigating said cartel.
"If you need any help with data mining or something, I'm always here." Not true. "You know, because I'm secretly a hermit who sits around his house all day waiting for his girlfriend to ask to do some data mining."
I bet you want her to do some data mining, if you know what I mean. Neurotron again.
Stop being such a huge dick.
Don't you mean huge plasma cannon?
I decided not to dignify that with a response, and refocused my attention on Vera. "So," she said. "You had something you wanted to show me."
"Yes. But first, dinner! Something romantic. I don't mean to brag, but I've been studying the culinary arts a lot over the past few weeks. I think once you understand the science of root beer, the rest of food is trivial." Spoken like a true physicist.

Three ruined meals later, I managed to put together some linguini alfredo. Oh, come on, don't act so surprised. I am one of the greatest geniuses on the planet, and I've been making meals for her by hand for months. Is a 25% success rate so hard to believe?
"You know, you don't have to cook by hand."
"Sure I do. It's our thing. What makes us such a wonderful couple. A tradition."
She looked bemused. "You aren't usually the type of person who prioritized tradition over getting robots to do mundane tasks."
I smiled at the thought of Laundromat 3000 and the Foldatron. Two afternoons well spent. "I'm not. That's what makes this so special."
"Well, I'll have you know that the linguini isn't half bad."
Not half bad. I hadn't felt so proud since... well, since half an hour earlier when I came up with a brilliant idea for a neutron star field equation. And like, ten minutes before that when I finished planning out the stock market robot. And an hour earlier when I came up with an ultrasteel aerosol. I'm a proud guy.
"So, Vera. Guess what I did today." People experienced in the art of romance will tell you to always focus on yourself when having a conversation.
"Hmmmm. You don't look burned and I don't smell any weird chemicals, so I'm guessing a day on the computer?"
I love this girl. "Yes. Go on."
"Well, last dinner you wouldn't shut about astronomy."
"That's a little harsh."
"You were trying to explain something to do with stars being deflected as they pass through a galaxy..."
"Yeah. The most massive, slowest moving stars decelerate the most. Think about that for a second. Doesn't that contradict your every instinct?"
"Case in point. I'm going to say you spent a lot of time today thinking about space." The looked thoughtful for a second. "Do you even own a telescope?"
"I do now." I looked at out linguini. She looked finished and I had a posthuman metabolism that gained its energy by fusing hydrogen along the proton-proton chain in to deuterium and helium, so the meal was pretty much over. "Come with me, I want to show you something."

I'd actually spent the day hunkered in my basement on the computer. I wasn't doing anything that merited going to any of the really secret labs. But how romantic is it to take a girl to the basement? Neurotron would never let me hear the end of it. So before Vera came I threw together a shed with some nice surround just so that I could take Vera outside. Turns out Neurotron thinks that's pathetic too.
Vera and I walked outside, under the moon (a full moon, I'd timed things well. The weather had been looking uncooperative, but a few jet engines can really blow away the cloud cover). "Did you ever look at the stars when you were a kid," she asked me.
"No." I looked back upon my childhood for a second. "No. I dreamed of visiting them constantly. I studied their properties, and even made some mathematical models." I was a pretty bright kid. "But just look? Never." I thought some more. "It's probably because I didn't get glasses until my twenties, so the night sky was just a big black blanket. What about you?"
"I looked from time to time. It's a beautiful universe out there."
Awesome. So she did have some interest in astronomy. Thank goodness. Or badness, as the case may be.
I took a look at Vera. She was taller than me, and radiated the kind of confidence that would make her attractive no matter how she looked. Which was unnecessary, since she was also gorgeous, with strong features and (for some weird cosmetic reason) green hair. She was intelligent and funny. She was the closest thing I'd had to true love since... before I became a supervillain.
"And here we are." The shed door opened automatically as we approached.
"In answer to your question: yes I do have a telescope. I placed a small package in space a few days ago. It contained about ten square kilometers of photosensitive fabric, folded into cube two meters on a side. Like high-tech space-origami."
"Or high-tech space-laundry."
"The fabric unfolded itself to form the largest area space telescope in history. I wrote an algorithm to sift through the data, and Neurotron ran it for me. I found a lot of interesting things, but the most interesting one was this."
I gestured toward a wall, and it lit up. I had considered going with a three-dimensional holographic display, but those don't get nearly the same color definition as a really good computer monitor. And believe me, I can make a really good computer monitor. "I made a whole slideshow of all the cool stuff I found, building up to the highlight." I showed her images of quasars, binary star systems, and moons of planets in other solar systems.
"In my opinion, though, the coolest image I got was this." A new image flashed on the screen. "This is Enceladus, a moon of Saturn."
"I think it's already been discovered."
"Yeah, in 1787. William Herschell edged me out be a couple centuries." Jackass. "But a few months ago, something changed in the solar system."
"When you blew up that moon of Mars in order to kill Crucible."
"Yes. In fact, half of the Martian crust is still molten. But I digress. One fragment of the moon shot off at relativistic speeds and hit Enceladus. And, as I discovered earlier today, it penetrated three kilometers deep." That last sentence elicited a joke from Neurotron.
"It gets cooler. Or rather, warmer, because the heat was sufficient to instantly form diamonds along the entire shaft. I contacted the International Astronomical Union, and as of this afternoon, that three-hundred meter tube of diamonds is called Vera-127."
Discovering an underground diamond-filled cave on a moon in the outer parts of the solar system proved to be very good for our relationship. I don't think I'll ever need a fancy restaurant again.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Supervillains are Up To No Good

My transatlantic flight took about half an hour. About seven thousand kilometers, and I did it in the time it takes most people to get past airport security. And I wasn't even trying.
Along the way, as I cruised over the waves, I thought about the fight I had just witnessed. An armored superhero, one of the founding members of the United Heroes, the foremost superhero in the American Southeast, had been defeated by some unknown newcomer wielding indestructible tendrils of darkness. The obvious scientific question was HOW ON EARTH DO YOU CREATE INDESTRUCTIBLE TENDRILS OF DARKNESS!?!?!?
Alright, Neurotron. Let's see what spectrographic analysis we can pull out of the video.
Why would I expect anything besides a snide remark? Well, seeing as camera's work using three different colored pixels, it's probably not going to be a host of spectrographic data.
This was the sort of thing Neurotron and I needed to work on. Teamwork. In case you hadn't noticed, there was still some room for improvement. Different cameras register slightly different colors. Also,  cameras in space would see a shifted spectrum due to atmospheric interference. I tried to think of some other way to get the data. And you could just email the Titanium Warrior and put in a nice request.
As far as we could tell, the tendrils really were completely black. They moved with incredible grace, as if they were an extension of Mephistopheles' person, which made robot limbs unlikely (robots are clumsy. Sorry. It's true. Even cyborgs are known to trip when walking down the stairs.)
The tendrils could grow incredibly quickly. Also, given the fact that they could form a giant hand without Mephistopheles losing his balance, this darkness didn't weigh very much. Add the durability condition, and every technology I knew of was ruled out.
As I landed in my home in Estveria, I wondered what technologies there were that I didn't know of.

I had a landing pad on my roof. Fire-proofed, impact-resistance, the whole nine yards. I landed, and walked into my home (the doors opened and closed automatically, Star Wars style. If you become a genius supervillain, you might never need to close a door manually for the rest of your life. One of the big perks.) I didn't keep any of my really important projects in my house. Nor did I keep them in the Estverian Ministry of Technology, like so many people wrongly assume. No, I put it beneath the  Hall of Justice, and relay in instructions with an encrypted fiber optic cable. "Noetron, how's the project coming along?" I had given the the mechanized mind an assignment to complete in my absence.
"Excellently, sir," he replied, sounding for all the world like Jeeves, in the next room. "I estimate that within twelve hours we will have optimized not only root beer and ice cream, but also chocolate, pizza, and potato chips."
"Junk food will never be the same again. And the secondary project."
"It has been deployed in the second Earth-Sun Lagrange point, and is self assembling as we speak."
"Excellent. Now, how's that updated robot army coming along?"
"The renovation of the Estverian military is 32.85 percent complete. I have appropriated several of the Lost Army robots-" the ones that had been tearing up the Southern Hemisphere during the One Day War- "and am storing them in a secure location. I have almost finishing reverse-engineering them, but need your guidance with certain parts of the process."
"It's good that you waited. Opening up unknown technology can be dangerous, especially given the guy who made these things." Although they had been deployed by Dr. Carnage, The Lost Army had been built a few million years ago by the time-traveling villain Dr. Demented. There are only a few people I consider intellectual peers, and Dr. Demented was never one of them. He was a million times smarter than I could ever hope to be. He'd built a time machine, for crying out loud. It had taken the combined forces of every hero and villain in this universe, and the heroes of a parallel universe to stop him and his minions. I definitely wanted to dissect his machines, but be in the same building as them... no thanks.
"The other parts of our military tune up are going as well as expected. We have acquired the parts to build more land-based combat robots, and your design for new ground-to-air missiles proved effective. I am partway through constructing the catalyzed fusion bombs you developed, but as you know, there is not safe way to test such technology. To the best of our knowledge, the United Heroes do not suspect what you are up to."
Militarily at least, Estveria would be able to hold her own. "And what of our attempts to shore up the Estverian economy?"
"Exron has opened up three new plants in three different cities." Exron was a giant international corporation that bankrolled many of the world's villains and criminals. It's CEO, Sabien Pallis, spent all his time living on his private island, being blackmailed by me. "I am almost done constructing a digital model of the economy, which Neurotron can run and optimize. We will then proceed to open up the remaining six plants."
"Great. If things keep going this well, I might even let my people hold elections." I am the nicest evil dictator ever.

Now, you may be asking just what prompted this fit of defensiveness for my homeland. The answers is: a variety of factors. I wanted to ensure our independence, and given Russia's recent aggression, and an Eastern European state can never be too careful. I was also beginning to realize that with my new biological upgrades, I could live a very long time. I wanted to make sure there was always a country for me to rule if world domination goes south, and who wants to rule over a dump. Besides Commander Trash, the not-so-dreaded landfill-themed supervillain.
Part of it was pride. I plan to rule the world some day, and that job will be easier to get if I can argue that incredible supervillains make better rulers than normal people, even when they are devoting ninety-some percent of their available time to scientific pursuits.
And of course, there was that tiny part of me that wanted to look out for the little guy. Wanted to protect my home and native land out of the goodness of the nuclear powered pneumatic and electrical pump that now constituted my heart. Wanted to be, for lack of a better term, good.
Ugh. Just a few short steps from caring about people a little bit to dressing up as a puppy and giving hugs to orphans on the street. Better watch out.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

In Which there is Fighting

I never got to make my speech. I got there an hour early, and was given a very secure pat-down to make sure I wasn't carrying a gun (never mind that it was public knowledge that I had the strength to lift up the Italian ambassador and throw him in to orbit, and was working on ground-based lasers that could turn his orbiting carcass into a crispy exploding fireball. Apparently the UN officials were immune to all that so long as I didn't have a gun).
I was about to get onto the podium, when Neurotron stopped me. You might want to see this.
He hacked me into a news channel, and I saw a black armored figure robbing a bank, his cloak billowing out behind him. Either a showoff, a threat, or both.

Let me get something straight. There are one-thousand-two-hundred-and-twenty-one supervillains in the world. I'd estimate that, say, one-thousand-two-hundred-and-twelve of them are merely common criminals with delusions of grandeur. This new guy clearly wasn't.
I turned my attention to the video "Leave this place," the new villain said, in a voice that was simultaneously booming and chilling. "Leave now."
Judging that a crowd of unfortunate pedestrians was leaving the place fast enough, he gestured out them. A black tendril shot from his suit and impaled one of them, Terminator 2 style. Who was this guy?
"I am Mephistopheles!" That answered that question.
I noticed something. Mephistopheles has been standing around shouting his name and harassing passersby long enough for a new organization to get on the scene. How long does it take to rob a bank? (Rhetorical question, I know the answer from personal experience).
The there were two obvious conclusions, then. One was that he was a grand-standing idiot. The other was that he wanted someone to try to stop him. As I looked on in fascination (the U.N. people were all watching as well. Can't they focus on the supervillain who's actually in the building) a superhero came to do just that.
It wouldn't be fair to say that the Titanium Warrior was a friend of mine. Sure we'd worked together once or twice (one time Dr. Carnage stole both of our armors), but we weren't exactly exchanging Christmas cards. For one thing, evil people hate Christmas. For another, I'd tried to kill him on multiple occasions (nothing personal, just came up in the line of duty).
Anyways, the Titanium warrior swooped in to stop this Mephistopheles character. "Helpful hint: If you want to rob a bank, try doing it in a city without a superhero." He paused for a second. "Also, just don't do it at all."
Mephistopheles laughed in response. "And you plan to try and stop me?" Man, that guy's voice was creepy. I know murderers who would kill for a voice like that.
Instead of coming up with a witty retort, TW instead elected to shoot Mephistopheles in the gut. As expected the bullet did nothing.
Mephistopheles shot out tendrils of darkness, and threw the Warrior twenty or thirty meters. The armored hero crashed into a truck, which exploded, Hollywood action movie style. That's got to hurt.
When superheroes first engage a new opponent, they have no idea what sort of questions to use. Could you imagine if Vector used the full strength of his telekinesis on some guy, and accidentally killed him. If Resonance went all out with her sonic strikes only to find out her opponent was no more durable than the common man? There's always the question of when to break out the big guns. "Alright, punk. Time to break out the big guns."
In case you were wondering, the Titanium Warrior has some big guns. Take it from someone who has been fired on by the biggest guns Titanium Warrior has. Mephistopheles took a hit from an RPG like a schoolyard bully being smacked by a nerd. Which, in a sense, he was.
He formed his tendrils into a large fist, and grabbed his heroic opponent. The hero pulled out a buzz-saw (I've always been impressed by the sheer number of machines that man carries), and tried to cut through the over sized fist. The saw jammed, and Mephistopheles began to squeeze.
Lasers proved similarly ineffectual. As Mephistopheles crushed the air out of the armored hero's lungs, the Titanium Warrior looked for some way to turn the tide. He saw an abandoned crane and open fire. The crane began to fall, threatening to crush one of the two combatants.
At this point, the cameraman decided he would rather lose his job and live than stick around and die, and he turned and ran.
"Shit." Neurotron, patch me through some sort of security camera, or, better yet, a spy satellite. I'm sure some agency has eyes on this.
Neurotron hacked me into the NSA's array just in time for me to get a birds eye view of the crane crashing to the ground. The Titanium Warrior was unscathed, and Mephistopheles was trapped under a bunch of twisted metal. He began to claw his way out.
There wasn't an audio, but I'm sure he was saying something creepy as he threw a twenty-foot long section of crane at TW.
The hero dodged, and spikes shot from his armor into the ground, as he braced himself to go on the offensive. He opened fire with like seventy machine guns. Seventy-four, Neurotron corrected. Nobody likes a smart-ass.
Mephistopheles didn't seem to be harmed by the torrent of bullets. That being said, he still had to obey the fundamental laws of momentum. He was pushed backwards by the cascade of bullets. TW's supply of ammunition ran out, but he had already created a large distance between himself and his enemy. Judging that the fight was likely to go downhill from here, he made like Sir Robin and bravely ran away.
Mephistopheles struck what was clearly intended to be a dramatic pose, presumably let loose some sort of cackle. And then he disappeared. What!? Did he have some sort of teleportation device? Was he some sort of hologram? Was it just a run-of-the-mill cloaking device?
Neurotron interrupted my speculation, bringing me back to reality. Hey hotshot, wanna give your big speech.
I walked to the podium. Most of the dignitaries were still discussing the arrival of this Mephistopheles onto the world scene. They clearly weren't in the mood for speeches. "Long story short," I said, hacking my way into their sound system, "don't invade Estveria, we aren't planning anything. Good day."
I flew upwards, leaving a Phoenix-shaped hole in the ceiling (actually, it was more circular), and spent the flight home pondering what sort of new menace had been let loose upon the world.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

What Happens in Vegas

Las Vegas. A place where dreams come true, people go broke, and an alien chronicler and her world-famous supervillain friend can fly down from space without even being the biggest spectacle on the block. "Okay, I can only assume you aren't here to gamble."
"I am a cultural observer. I came to this city to witness the highs and lows of human emotion."
"By highs, do you mean..."
"I'm going to a casino. The other 'highs' are best observed elsewhere."
The two of us entered the Palace of Decadence, one of the more honestly named outfits on the block. It had a lush red carpet, and the aromas of tobacco and alcohol were heavy in the air. I saw the slot machines, the blackjack table, and the roulette wheels. Such memories they evoked.
"So, Phoenix. What have you been up to?"
"Making a better soft drink. Actually, making the best soft drink. Mathematically optimized root beer." I licked my lips at the thought of the drink, and the intricate algorithms I had written to create it. "What have you been up to?"
"Museums. Palaces. Ordering a few billion books from Amazon."
"I wonder if they offer expedited shipping to your spaceship."
"They don't, but I have a shuttle for things like that."
A bouncer approached us, and it occurred to me that the New Archivist looked like she was seventeen or eighteen. Not old enough to set foot in a casino. Of course, chronologically, she was barely more than a year old, while her Archives fed her millions of years of memories. "Wanna show me some ID," the bouncer asked.
I stood up, and gave him my most intimidating supervillain stare, on that said 'I have killed before and I am willing to kill again.' The bouncer returned with a look that said 'I'm a Las Vegas bouncer, I'm not going to be intimated by some scary looks.'
Fortunately, the New Archivist was better prepared for this sort of thing than I was. The diadem on brow glowed bright red, and shot forth holographic images of a dozen forms of identification. "I am the New Archivist. If this proof is not sufficient for you, I can contact my spaceship to arrange for more."
The bouncer walked away, muttering something about crazy tourists.

The New Archivist and I looked around just in time to see a slot machine pay out. A guy who barely looked old enough to gamble screamed with joy. "Yes! I win! In your face, mom, telling me not to gamble! You know how much I won? Fifteen dollars just today!  This is the best thing that ever happened to me! Yes! YES! I am the greatest. The great-" he the let loose a twenty-one gun salute of coughing and gagging.
The New Archivist looked at me. "Smoking?"
"Probably," I said. "I'm not an expert at diagnosing these things, but I'd estimate he started three years ago, and is currently up to a pack a day." A quick look at his credit card information proved he bought at least fifty percent more than that, and it wasn't all tobacco. Neurotron was quick to offer criticism: Buying marijuana with a credit card. Smart.
You don't have to tell me how to conduct illicit dealings.
Rather than get into an argument with the quarrelsome AI, I made conversation with the alien anthropologist sitting next to me. "So, did you enjoy your visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art? I don't mean to brag, but some of my finest forgeries reside there."
Suddenly, the New Archivist turned to stare at me. "You used to live here? In Vegas?" A bit of a non sequitur. Must have been information flowing through the glowing diadem of infinite alien knowledge and bottomless MySpace posts that she had on here forehead.
"If by 'here' you mean this particular casino, then no. If by 'here' you mean Las Vegas, then yes." It was a long time ago, before my career as a villain, before I ruled Estveria, before I'd invented indestructible armors and sentient computers. "I had been a professional card counter for two years."
"What happened?"
I didn't like this direction of conversation. "Let me think, what could happen to a professional Vegas card counter? The casino's all got together and got me a big teddy bear full of candy and asked me to stop. I was so happy that I agreed, and went off to chase unicorns." In case you're wondering, I was being sarcastic when I said that.
Being a master observer of the human condition, my companion picked up on my subtle message to drop the subject.
We spent a few hours catching up, and she described some of the places she remembered going (she'd never actually been more than a few hundred miles from Earth, but her predecessor had left her memories of all of his myriad travels).
I talked about my plans to graft on monopole wings to use as plasma thrusters (they would have the side benefit of being energy efficient and looking freaking awesome).
She was interesting and nice. But she sure didn't seem like Lucy.
"Well, I'd hate to go, but I have to give a speech to the U.N about Estveria's new foreign policy, and since the last time I was there I took everyone present hostage, I need to arrive early for a security check-up."
I walked outside and flew cross-country. I had a killer speech (metaphorically, not literally), and I didn't want to be late.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Reunions. In Space.

I really should have called ahead. I'm stranded in orbit outside a spaceship wearing nothing but a lab coat, and it is freezing. And there's no oxygen, and the full unfiltered power of the sun is bad for my complexion.
I broadcast my position using FM radio, across a variety of frequencies (I can only hope this constitutes the space-age equivalent of ringing a doorbell).
As I waited, I took a moment to admire the scenery. One nice thing about space is you can't beat the view. I looked down on the continent of Europe, and saw the sun rise across  he Mediterranean. I looked at the stars. For millennia, they had served as inspiration for humankind. "One day," I promised myself, "one day I will have the means to visit those stars, and to conquer and study all that I see."
Finally, I turned to the big giant spaceship that was right in front of my nose. The Archives. It is shaped like a space station in a good science fiction movie: a large disk spun for centrifugal gravity, ith a long antenna socking out the bottom. "One person build that," I thought to myself. "He created that and filled it with knowledge from across the universe, and I made the weapon that killed him." I feel a rush of pride and guilt at the same time.

After a couple of minutes (133.2 seconds. I have a digital clock in my head), I hear a reply (I also have a radio in my head. Science is cool). The signal moves to infrared, and I realize it's a crappy video (even godlike aliens from across the galaxy still have the same fundamental rules of bandwidth). I see Lucy's face. No, I see the New Archivist's face. No, I see Lucy's face. I decide to focus less on semantics and more on what she's actually saying.
"Phoenix! Great to see you. I would love to talk with you, but I have an urgent meeting on Earth, and I'm afraid I cannot reschedule. That being said, if you could come along, I would most appreciate it."
What? The was prioritizing her cosmic mandate to study the culture, history, and science of the planet Earth over me?
"Great! To what hotspot of human achievement are we going? The Louvre?"
The New Archivist walked out of an airlock and rocketed towards me. In contrast to my lab coat, she was wearing some sort of silky material. Clothing is important when your skin can withstand asteroid impacts and solar temperatures. Because even though I can withstand nuclear blasts, my lab coat can't. So if I were unfortunate enough to be the victim of a nuclear strike, I would find myself standing in the middle of a city-sized crater buck-ass nude. For the sake of my own modesty, I planned to ask The New Archivist to hook me up with some indestructible underwear before the next nuclear holocaust.
"Phoenix!" She gave me a hug. I've never been much of a hugger (few supervillains are), but I hugged back. She cleared her throat (hard to do in the soul-sucking vacuum) "No, not the Louvre. Guess again."
"Alright, I'm always up for a challenge." I communed with the supercomputer in my brain.

A word about that supercomputer. Years ago, I build myself a cybernetic assistant, named Noetron. More intelligent than the average human, but much less touchy about subjugating his every moment to the study of pure science. He ran my lab, my house, my robotic armor, and my armies of automaton minions. That being said, he wasn't the most secure artificial intelligence (any supergenius off the street could hack into him in just a few years), so I didn't exactly want him running my beating heart or interfacing in my brain. So I incorporated some new ideas and downloaded a simplified version of him onto the magnetic monopole superstructure permeating my body (my body computer was far more powerful than the one's Noetron runs on, but just downloading that much code would take weeks.)
Noetron had the personality of a butler. Neurotron, on the other hand, had the personality of an asshole. Who are you calling asshole?
You. Now, we're going to go through all the New Archivist's recent activities to try to figure out her next destination. There's no way I'm letting her stump me.
Okay, she seems to be on a weird places streak. I'd give her less than a ten percent chance of going to any sort of artistic or scientific center.
Alright, I think. Spatial reasoning time. Where is she headed?
Neurotron thinks for a fraction of a second, and her possible trajectories fan across my field of vision (have I mentioned that science is cool?). The most prominent line ends near New York. "Wall Street?" I call out.
"Is that your final answer?"
"To bad, it's wrong."
I can do this. Contact Noetron on the ground. Tell him to look into this 'appointment.'  And she's trying to get a good sample of human culture. Let's make a checklist. What do humans care about. Google phrases. Look into speculation online.
Two minutes and three guesses later, I guess Las Vegas, Nevada. And to think I left my wallet at home.

By Way of Introduction

I don't know how you came to be reading this. After all, it's not like I'm about to publish this sort of thing online on a blog for all to see. The most likely explanation that I can think of is that you are some sort of tremendously knowledgeable and vastly powerful alien from the far future.
This being the case, you probably do not know much about this story's setting. It takes place on a planet known as "Earth". Earth is dominated by a species called humans, and their activities have a large effect on the planet's ecology and even geography. Humans tend to be sentient, with the exception of certain classes of humans like infants, the victims of horrible injuries and diseases, and congresspeople.
Humans divide themselves into nations, large groups of humans working together for the common good and the betterment of all, watched over by a benevolent organization called a government.
You didn't buy that last part? Good. Glad to see that tremendously knowledgeable and vastly powerful aliens from the far future aren't dupes.
Many nations function more or less as described, with the exception that the people at the top are narcissistic, stupid, evil, naive, or have bad hair. Other nations don't function at all.

The other important human institutions you should know about are science: the systematic study of nature using experimentation and rationality; supervillains: humans with exceptional abilities such as vast intelligence or fire-breathing who use these abilities for their own selfish gain, and superheroes, comparably empowered individuals who dress up like morons and try to stop them.

My name is Phoenix, and I fall into many of these classes. I am one of the greatest scientists on the planet (and if any other planet thinks it can do any better, I'd love to explain in great detail how in twenty to twenty-five years I'll have invented a strangelet weapon capable of reducing said planet to a ten-meter-wide superdense quark-gluon plasma). I am also a supervillain. Early in my career I conquered my home country, the small Eastern European nation of Estveria. I have held the U.N. building hostage, sold technology to the Iranian nuclear weapons program. And I killed the Iron Hero with an orbiting death ray.

Lately, though, things haven't been so black-and-white. More black-and-gray, as I find myself doing increasingly non-malevolent things for my fellow man. It all started a year ago, when I received a lethal dose of radiation as I was minding my own business, trying to murder the world's most powerful superhero.
Being the embodiment of human ingenuity that I am, I realized that the only way to reverse the damage to my cells was to fill my body with a kilogram of magnetic monopole nanobots. This would have the extremely beneficial side-effects of giving me unlimited durability, incredible strength, the power of flight (I installed thrusters in my hands), enable me to scan objects on a subatomic level from a distance using nearly intangible magnetic monopole tendrils, and let me install a supercomputer in my brain (and I'm not talking about the run-of-the-mill supercomputers you see lying around at any old top-secret government research facility or alien doomsday device. I'm talking about the kind of computer which can simulate Earth's weather or map a genome in nanoseconds or actually understand the US tax code).
Unfortunately, building a sentient computer out of previously undiscovered fundamental particles in an effort to cleanse one's body of radioactive atoms and gain the powers of strength, invulnerability and flight is not as easy as it sounds. I had to blackmail billionaires, capture criminals, break into superheroes' houses, and do other extremely difficult things.

Along the way, I discovered a girl named Lucy who had no memory of past events or her own identity but spoke every language known to man (or woman). We bonded, and I suspect she played some role in tempting me to a path of light.
I also started dating Vera Rapport, an American journalist. Although "journalist" doesn't even begin to cover it. Imagine if Edward Snowden were ten times smarter, and an attractive green-haired female. Now imagine that instead of being trapped in an airport in Moscow, he were awesome. You have Vera.

Things reached a climax a few months back during the One Day War. My villainous rival, Dr. Carnage, repaired the Crucible of Cosmic Fire, a power source of continent burning, orbit-destabilizing, action movie-inspiring magnitude. The Crucible's owner (conveniently named Crucible) returned the favor by animating an army of gigantic robots hidden away at the South Pole.
Completely contrary to my personality, I decided to help out. Consistently with my personality, I decided to help out by stealing ancient scientific lore from a galaxy-traveling cosmic librarian known as the Archivist (Just to be clear, I stole lore that maybe three people on Earth could conceivably understand, which was encoded in an alien language, which I needed to master in a few hours in order to save the planet from total annihilation. I still deserve a fair amount of credit here).
Long story short, I build a telekinetic weapon, incorporate it into my own post-human biology, lose a fight to Crucible, force the Archivist to help me, the whole trio goes to the moons of Mars, which I destroy using a superweapon (again courtesy of the Archivists' lore and my genius).
The Archivist and Crucible die, and Lucy, who had just gotten over an extremely traumatizing ordeal with Dr. Carnage, takes the Archivist's place.

In retrospect, I didn't handle this in the best way possible. Instead of warmly greeting the New Archivist, and asking if maybe I could take a peek at her libraries (not a euphemism), I angrily assert that she is a pale reflection of who she once was.
And as I flew through low Earth orbit to her spaceship, in an attempt to make up, this story began...