Saturday, March 29, 2014

Grave Matters

It the anniversary of my first date with Rosa. On that day, every year, I made a little pilgrimage to her tomb. I'd wanted to visit on the anniversary of her death, but then I would have had to contend with countless weeping family members, including my arch-nemesis. It was eleven-o'clock Pacific Standard Time, and I was three thousand miles away, in Low Earth Orbit. If I'd stayed any longer, I would have been hard pressed to meet my deadline.
As I flew over North America, I pondered my actions. Was this important enough to justify leaving Lucy? I don't know. How did I ever let my life reach the point where I cared about so many people I had to choose between them. High above the Midwest, I made a list of the people alive that I cared about.
Myself. Obviously. A person of unlimited scientific ingenuity and comic wit.
Lucy. My... protege? Ward? Niece? Certainly not daughter. Regardless, someone it was my duty to protect, and someone who made my life better.
Vera. She was funny and smart and attractive. I cared about her, but was it really love? It didn't feel like it did with Rosa, and I didn't have any other examples to compare it to.
There were a few people I was friendly with. Justin King, Jack Frost, the Titanium Warrior. And I had a rapport with Noetron and Neurotron, if they constituted people. Damn right I'm a person, you self-righteous piece of organic fluff.
As I tore over the Rocky Mountain, I considered the list of people I disliked. Quite a lot longer. It included most of the world's heroes, a large share of it's villains, and nearly all of it's radio hosts. Somewhere near the top of that list, sandwiched between Acme and Simon Cowell, was Professor Cognis.

I looked at the grave of the first person I ever really cared about. "Rosa, we have a lot to talk about. I've changed since the last time we spoke. For instance, I'm now indestructible, and I have a supercomputer permeating my posthuman biology, enabling stupendous strength, stamina, and giving me the power of flight. Anything new with you?"
There was no response.
"In other news, I'm seeing someone. You're okay with that, right?"
Still no reaction.
"Okay, good. I realize that your dead, but it does seem strange to have moved on. I'm glad you're not mad about it. Oh, and remember Lucy, from last year? Well, she's been assimilated into this alien called the New Archivist. I'm trying to get her free. Wish me luck."
She didn't.
"Oh, and one other thing. An evil genius named Dr. Demented is likely to come and destroy the planet some time soon to make way for an alternate reality where he is all powerful. I don't suppose you have anything to say about it."
"Actually," a voice called out, "I have quite a lot to say."
It wasn't Rosa. It was her annoying cousin Martin.

I scowled. "What are you doing here?"
"I came here to talk. You're here on this date every year."
"Careless of me. I should make it harder for people like you to track me down. How long were you waiting there, anyways?"
"All day. I've been reading up on the India-Pakistan situation, and working on a fix for the global recession. And a few other things which aren't as interesting. I can work anywhere."
"Alright. So why'd you choose to work in a graveyard inside some sort of invisibility tent all day?"
"We need to discuss the Dr. Demented situation."
"Okay, for starters, how many cases of the Disease have there been."
"Twenty-four, distributed all across the globe. All fatalities."
"And you were tipped off about this by Genesis?"
"Have you considered that Genesis is one of the people on Earth most likely to collaborate with Dr. Demented?"
"He is not."
"He was one of Dr. Demented's inner circle back on Earth Beta."
"Until he quit."
"That's still more contact than anybody else in the world."
"Genesis has a garden full of mostly powerless lifeforms, which he preserves using threats he would hate to carry out. He needs stability."
"Dr. Demented is an unstable person. That doesn't mean he runs an unstable world. I don't know that the people of Earth Beta ever fought each other."
"They did on at least three occasions."
"Well, we have fought significantly more than three wars on this planet."
"So you don't trust Genesis?"
"On balance, I probably do. By the way, why are you so sure you can trust me? I care mainly about science, and I could learn a lot from Dr. Demented."
"True, but he is also one of the few people in the world with the ability to kill you, and he is crazy enough to do it even if you do come over to his side. I don't think you'd trade an eternity of knowledge for whatever he gives you. And there's no way Demented would let the New Archivist live, which I suspect would be the final deal-breaker."
"Well, I assume you've rallied the world's heroes to help out."
"Yes, and I need you to rally the world's villains. Unless Mephistopheles has already done that."
"He has. He's organized a little group called the Illuminati Occultus."
"Can we trust him?"
"Not at all. He's about as honest as a snake getting a piggy-back ride from a senator."
"Do you know anything about him?"
"Nothing that you don't."
"I assume you aren't a member?"
"Nope. Group seemed doomed to fail. Although it's been over a month and they're still going strong."
"Could I persuade you to join? You could do immeasurable good."
"What could you do for me in return?"
"Why do you expect me to do something for you? Don't you see this as your responsibility?"
"I really don't."
"Fine. If you join his group and do you best to turn them against the Doctor, then when this is over I'll send you a schematic of the brain-scan device I was using twelve years ago."
Ironically enough, even as he spoke I was digging around his brain with my sensory tendrils, trying to figure out his telepathic add-ons. It seemed to be masked in some sort of weird ferromagnetic material which interfered with their workings. Clever. Cognis was a clever man. "Deal."

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Origins Part 2

I really did have important business to get to back on Earth. I was about to do something a little bit stupid. Before I tell you what I did, I should first tell you about the events that precipitated my career as an evil genius. Maybe, then, you'll understand why I did what I did.

It was the dusk of a millennium, and the dawn of a new era. Silicon Valley was in the middle of a tech boom, and all the technology of the future was just a few years a way. As long as 'all the technology of the future' was like, a more efficient search algorithm, or a better markup language.
I was living with a woman named Rosa CoƱez. She was a budding artist, who was experimenting with plastic sculptures. I was a budding mad scientist who was experimenting with positronium.
You might be surprised that I wouldn't be dating a scientist. Wouldn't a mind such as my own seek intellectual companionship?
Well, maybe. But whenever I'm around a scientist, I make it my business to find out what they're doing, and explain why they're doing it entirely wrong. Often, they bristle at this constructive criticism.
But art was a subject I knew nothing about. I couldn't be a smart-aleck, wise-ass, or brilliant-jerk. I couldn't be patronizing or annoying, and I could understand her work just well enough to be an appreciative audience.
Likewise, she could understand my work well enough to be impressed without feeling jealous.
Also, she was beautiful, funny, intelligent, charming, and in all other ways wonderful. It was a good time in my life.
Unfortunately, it was doomed to end.

I had a computer hooked up to the front door which notified me when Rosa got home. It wasn't really worth having, but it was fun to make. "How was the art show," I called out, looking up from my work on a robotic hand.
"I can't complain. A few buyers, but sculpture isn't that big right now."
Was there a way to change that? To precipitate some realignment of the world's artistic tastes? Yes, but there was no way I could pull it off. I went back to work on the hand. Ring finger was stuck again.
"How are things with you," she asked. "Still trying to get robots to give you the finger?"
"Middle finger's working fine. It's the ring finger that's giving me trouble now. But I've almost got my robotic hand writing." By which I meant that I had found a pen, and was trying to get my hand to hold it.
Rosa came down to my basement laboratory. "Have you been here all day?"
"No trips to Vegas?"
"You sure?"
You see, I had a bit of a gambling problem back then. My problem was that I was too good and gambling, and some casino owners were getting angry with me. I had a few million dollars stockpiled away, and Rosa says I wasn't to set foot in Sin City for at least a year.
"I'm sure. Of course, I won't be able to afford that nice cooling system for Mainframe." I was referring to the computer system which would eventually evolve into Combinator, which would be upgraded to create Noetron.
Rosa kissed me on the cheek. "I've never understood how you manage to burn through money like this."
"I'm running a particle accelerator in our basement. The power bills alone are staggering."
"You could always take that job the Estverians are offering you."
"Estveria? I've left that country far behind. Doesn't even have Chinese takeout."
Rosa thought for a moment. "Have I ever introduced you to my cousin Martin?"
"If you did, I was drunk at the time." I never drink.
"I should. He's a huge science fan, just like you." Science fan? Try Scientist. "He's come up with a lot of cool stuff, and runs a company selling advanced technology."
"We've been over this. I'm not selling Mainframe."
"It doesn't have to be that. Martin might be interested in your Ultrasteel project. Or all those transistors you came up with. And what was that superconductoid you made."
"Superconductor, but I see you point. I'd be happy to meet this cousin Martin."

A month later, Rosa, Martin and I were having dinner in some restaurant. I think it was Chinese food.
"So, Martin, did have you heard about Alex's room temperature .... superconductor?"
"Yup," I said to her. To Martin, I added "Cuprate based, not ceramic. Not brittle at all."
"Clever," he said. He didn't look up from his phone. Probably didn't know what I was talking about. "You solve the magnetic flux problem yet?"
Actually, I had just been working on it. "No. Any ideas?"
"Well, here's what I came up with. We write down the breakdown condition..." What followed was forty minutes of two scientists speaking in tongues about every subject under the sun. Through a long and convoluted process, we ended up with Martin saying "Yeah, the device is basically a hand-held functional MRI. If we point it at... Rosa, for instance..."
The machine beeped. Martin frowned for a moment. "Wow," I said. "You made a device that beeps? Neat."
"No, no, it should be working. Hmmm. Rosa, you don't have any outstanding health problems, do you?"
"Not that I know of."
"Hmm, well, Alex, you might want to have a look at this."
Martin's cellphone created a wonderful rendering of Rosa's brain that would bring tears to the eyes of a big-budget special effects artist twenty years in the future. "It looks almost like," I looked at Rosa, "It looks almost like a tumor."
"Should we get her to a hospital?"
"Wait, are you saying I have cancer."
"It doesn't appear malignant."
"Can one of you explain what's going on?"
"Hold on, I read a paper about this sort of thing, let me see it I remember."
"The Japanese research team?"
"No, the Europeans."
"CAN ONE OF YOU EXPLAIN WHAT IS GOING ON?" At this point, everyone in the restaurant was staring.
"Well," Martin said, "you seem to have some sort of growth in you cranium. I think both Alex and I agree we need to get you to a hospital in order to get more information, and then we can work on a cure."
Well, the first half of that actually happened.

Three months later, Rosa was ill. And Martin and I put together didn't have any ideas. Individually, we each had plenty of ideas. But put together, we couldn't agree on anything. "Martin, did you even look at the protein structure I sent you? That drug is going to do less than nothing!"
"No," he said, in a tone he reserved for two-year-olds and fellow scientific geniuses, "it will do significantly more than nothing because there is no way we are going to inject her with those proteins."
"They're prions which only attack cancer cells. I even tested them in five different species of mammal. Success in all cases."
"I wouldn't call a stroke 'success,' would you."
"That was entirely unrelated to the treatment, and you know it."
"Then do another round of tests."
"We don't have time! She's terminally ill."
As you can see, being treated by geniuses can be fine, but being treated by committee is always a recipe for disaster.
She died two months after that conversation.

I had just gotten home from Rosa's funeral. I wasn't even allowed to speak. So I sat there, furious, wondering who to blame. Who was responsible for the death of my love?
Martin deserved his share of the blame, as did I. We should have been able to cure her. I could have cured her, if he hadn't been interfering. But neither of us was truly at fault.
The real guilty party here was ignorance. The real problem was that we should have cured all these diseases centuries ago. The people who truly were at fault were the shaved monkeys who called themselves a sentient species.
It was on that day that I realized that the world needed new management. A leader who would push an advanced scientific agenda. That day, I called the Estverian embassy and told them I was coming home. I also told them that I was willing to accept the position of Minister of Technology, and thanking them for the generous budget they were about to offer me.
And Martin, he also did his best to change the world. He did it under the name Professor Cognis.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Library Brains

I was elated. For about a second. Then I started to get concerned "Lucy? Are you okay?"
"Yes," she replied.
"How many fingers am I holding up?"
"What is the cube root of twenty-four?"
"What are the opening lines of book three of the Odyssey?"
She responded in what Neurotron assured me was flawless Greek.
"What were you doing on November third?"
"I read from the United Heroes Library, and Professor Cognis explained the structure of the Hippocampus."
"What did you do yesterday?"
She thought. She thought for far too long. "I remember a toilet."
Interesting. She didn't seem to have memories of her time as the Archivist. "What is your most recent memory from before this-"
"Excuse me," Acme interjected. "Can we pause with the Q&A so that we can restore her memories and return her Archives?"
"No," I said, clenching the diadem in my hands.
"You have no right to steal her Archives, and deprive her of a part of her person."
"You, of course, are completely justified in forcing these Archives upon her." That was sarcasm.

Lucy was confused. She had gathered that for the last few months she had not been herself. She remembered accepting the Archives from Acme, but very little after that. What had she done as Archivist? She didn't know.
She noticed Acme pulling out a weapon. "Put it away," she said. "Put down your fists," she said to Phoenix.
Neither the alien android nor the mad genius decided to argue.
"I think," she said, "that I need the Archives. The New Archivist is a person. We can't take her away."
"You're a person! Why does the New Archivist get exclusive use of your life?"
"Oh," Acme snorted. "I'm sure you don't want to deprive an Archivist of life."
"Do not fight," Lucy said. There was no trace of command in her voice, yet we both did what she said. Well, temporarily.
"Give me the Archives." I didn't budge. "Do not worry."
"I'm not going to enable you to commit suicide." I considered leaving, and waiting for Lucy to come to her senses. But no, given time Acme could made another diadem and set me back to square one.
"The New Archivist will take off the diadem. We will share."
I looked into her eyes. Could I trust the New Archivist? "Here you go. Don't make me take it back."
"As if you could," Acme said, as he watched Lucy put on the Glowing Tiara of Cosmic Knowledge.

The New Archivist was worried. For her entire existence, she had deluded herself, insisting she was just a continuation of Lucy. Now, with recent memories of Lucy for comparison, that case was harder to make, if not utterly indefensible. Her average sentences were twice as long as Lucy's, and many contained phrases that transcended direct translation into human language. Lucy had referred to the New Archivist in the third person, and the New Archivist was doing the same to Lucy.
"Do you remember the conversation we just had," I asked.
"Interesting. So there's no memory loss going the other way. I suppose that isn't surprising. Presumably, the New Archivist stores much of her long-term memory in the crystal, which Lucy cannot retrieve." I thought about other hypotheses to explain the behavior.
"Are you okay," Acme asked.
"Fit as a fiddle. Fine and dandy. All is well. I think I just needed a moment to clear my head. That will be a benefit to my periodically removing the diadem. Lucy gets to live, Phoenix can be happy, and I won't need to spend the rest of my eternal life having seizures on the bathroom floor."
"Let's talk specifics," I said. "I propose Lucy get twelve waking hours a day."
"That seems rather much-"
"And it would be inconvenient to have it in so many small inconvenient chunks. Maybe four days a week?"
Acme sighed. "What are you, her lawyer."
"No. We both know I'd have been disbarred by now. But I am her advocate."
"Both I and Lucy would be fine with her living two days a week of my choosing."
"Really," I asked.
The New Archivist was the tiniest bit stricken. Phoenix thought she would lie in order to steal time from Lucy. Why didn't he understand that a relationship between the two personalities needn't be adversarial. "Her mind is still fresh in my memory."
"Very well," I said. "I have business to attend to back home. I expect to hear from Lucy at most two days from now."
The New Archivist watched as I left, flaming wings propelling me through Earth's atmosphere.

Acme was overseeing the preservation of three hundred thousand high school yearbooks, sorted by year. It was a fairly simple task, just cover all the pages with a durable, thin, thermally insulating, chemically inert coating. As he worked, he thought back on the history of the Archives.
That history had begun when an advanced race on a distant planet descended into war. The battles raged, first with diseases, then with nuclear weapons, then with chemical weapons. The planet's civilizations were shattered beyond repair, and the bands of survivors perished in fruitless battles. This race did not believe in surrender.
Eventually one survivor- a being named Rava-Iss- realized that he may well be the last member of his species. A former engineer, he made it his mission to preserve all the great artifacts and advanced knowledge littered around him.
Acme was snapped out of his thoughts by a particularly embarrassing looking photograph. "Wow, of the billions of human photographs I've seen, that might be the one that looks the stupidest." He was a little surprised to find that the subject of the photograph went on to become a three-term senator.
Acme thought about how Rava-Iss had traveled his planet, lengthening his life using foraged drugs usually reserved for senior statesmen. Rava-Iss reasoned that nobody on an empty planet would worry about a few missing pharmaceuticals.
After amassing what remained of his species' knowledge, and what survived of its technology, Rava-Iss took to the stars. He vowed to preserve the knowledge and cultures of every civilization in the universe.
As Acme finished up the seventies, he considered how Lucy was born.
Rava-Iss had decreed that in order to truly preserve all that it means to a human, an actual human must be preserved. Acme, of course, had concurred, but suggested that human brains are sloppy, inaccurate, and not compatible with modern operating systems.
Rava-Iss ruled that a substitute human should be created. One with no memories, but the ability to pick up human culture at a vastly accelerated rate. It would, of course, need to be capable of defending itself from those who would attempt to study it, and steal the secret technologies used in its creation. Aleksandr Seaborg, for instance. Perhaps the ability to throw fireballs would be sufficient. It would certainly be an ironic twist on the Ooooooorian creation myth. Acme synthesized the creature from the molecular level up. He called her Pandora.
Acme savored the increasing quality of paper as he thought of Pandora- that is to say Lucy- and her ascension to the title of New Archivist.
She had just suffered at the hands of a dying Dr. Carnage. Acme had just lost the closest thing he had to a father. It was a perfect match, for this Lucy character to take on the Archivist's roll. She had accepted, and it would have been fine if it weren't for certain uppity human criminals who took it upon themselves to negotiate the life decisions of their friends.
"Dear Susan- I Love You." Acme read. The signature was too smudged to read. Acme thought about his own loves. He loved walking in the Archives surrounded by towering collections of everything sentient species have ever created. He loved Jahmirian tragic comedies, especially the fart jokes. He loved Pokemon cartoons. But most of all, he loved the New Archivist.
There. He had admitted it to himself. He, a computer program designed to manipulate complex molecules, was in love the with the person who was in some ways his daughter and in some ways his parent. Oedipus was a dabbler, Elektra a romantic comedy, Sythathicaccccccus had lived though a walk in the park (at least until the ritual immolation in a fusion reactor).
Of course, he had no desire for sex. He was an android, who was never supposed to reproduce, and certainly not through impregnating a thoroughly different type of android. But he did want to care for the New Archivist. To protect her from harm. And, if necessary, protect her from Phoenix and his mad obsession with her past self.
Acme heard the New Archivist's voice in his head. It took him a second to realize it was an actual message, and not a fantasy. " as soon as it is convenient. I would like to speak with you, preferably in a manner even more private than our present mode of communication."

Acme traveled swiftly through the vast edifice. He traveled on elevators and moving railways to the meeting place at the rim of the spinning space station. As he traveled, he anticipated what might be coming. Did the New Archivist reciprocate his feelings? Was this the beginning of a new era in their relationship? Acme allowed himself to fantasize of true immortal love for a brief moment.
He laughed at himself. The New Archivist thought of him only as a rather sophisticated tool. She would never love him. It would never even occur to her. She probably wanted him to perform some task or other. With any luck, it would be an interesting one. He had no interest in clean Perseid Pigeon Pens of their bird-shit.
"Here I am," he announced as he entered the room.
"Acme, we have much to discuss. For instance, how will I study the cultures of both the humans and the Fortarians at once."
Well, it wasn't love, but it wasn't mucking out the stables, either. Acme counted it as a win.      

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

First Contact

"So, you don't like the idea of approximating the field as a cubic lattice?"
I rolled my eyes. People can be so dense. "This problem is a textbook case of spherical coordinates being superior. Rotational symmetry, two bodies."
Justin wasn't convinced. "Sure, but calculating the Laplacians will slow down the whole algorithm."
I was about so say that the reduced number of lattice points would make up for that a hundred times over, when Noetron interrupted. "Sir, the New Archivist wishes to speak with you."
"See you later, sucker," Justin said. "Don't worry, I'll send you the Powerpoint. It'll be almost as good as being there."
"I was speaking to Phoenix," the machine clarified. "I highly doubt she wishes to speak with you, except maybe in an attempt to record some bizarre aspect of human sexuality."
"Believe me. Daddy knows when she wants it."
I left the room. Hopefully, whatever my space-based friend wanted to speak about was more interesting than tearing Justin King to pieces and dissolving his remains in acid.

The airlock opened, letting me in to the Archives. The atmosphere now corresponded to Earth's. Was that a reflection of the New Archivist's homeworld or was it because Earth was the current area of study, and the New Archivist might need to entertain visitors? I was analyzing the air for traces of pollutants when Acme arrived.
"Come this way."
"Where is she?"
"Come this way."
I considered making a scene and demanding to know what was happening, but I decided to comply with the android's demands. I would get my answers in due time.
Acme led me past mummified aliens and vast monuments. He lead me past vast stores of information and great works of alien art. He led me to something that looked like a typical human bathroom. And the New Archivist was kneeling over the toilet, vomiting.
"Is this a bad time?"
"No, no come- aughghghg."
I stepped closer. I think it says something about my development as a person that I refrained from studying the contents of that toilet. Back when she was Lucy, I had promised never to study anything that came out of her digestive track, and here I was, keeping the promise like a boss.
"So, what do you need? I have to admit my attempts at a cure for dizziness were mostly misfires, so I'm not sure how much I can help you with your present predicament."
She stood up. She was still wearing resplendent red robes, and what looked like a ruby diadem on her head. But she didn't look resplendent. She looked like she'd just been vomiting. "No. no. I'm fine. Just a little headache."
"To the best of my very extensive knowledge, little headaches don't involve puking your guts out."
"That's not what I called you for," she said, touches of irritation showing in her voice. "Acme, can you handle that big crate of yearbooks that's coming in."
The New Archivist looked at me. "I called you because of the Fortarians."
"Excuse me?"
Did she just say Fartarians?

"About twenty minutes ago, I received a message from an alien race called the Fortarians. They needed to leave their home star system for complex interstellar political reasons. They will have identified Neptune as an ideal new homeworld."
"How is it that an entire alien species was able to cross the vastness of interstellar space without my noticing? Oh, wait. Did it have to do with those 'complex interstellar political reasons'?"
"Okay, then. And why were you the first person they contacted?"
"The Fortarians are currently on the bad side of another advanced race, and-"
"They want the remains of their society preserved in their Archives?" A thought occurred to me. "Hold on a second. Are they bringing their interstellar fights into my solar system. Not cool, man. I live in my solar system."
"Any fighting, if it happens at all, won't occur for thousands of years."
"I'm still not sure I approve." Although, come to think of it, star-faring aliens would likely have advanced science and mathematics, and they might not be quite as stingy as the Archivist. This could be a learning experience. "So, why did you call me here?"
"I just wanted to give you a heads up."
"I doubt you called me here to play the part of Paul Revere." She winced "Why did you call me here?"
"In order to-"
"Star Wars." Wince. "Harry Potter." Wince. "Dr. Horrible's Sing-along Blog." Extreme wince. "Why did you call me here?"
Acme showed up, carrying more weaponry than an American in a shopping mall. "Step away from her," he said, brandishing what looked to me like a handheld plasma cannon. It occurred to me he'd probably made the weapon in less than thirty seconds.
"Step away yourself. You are the one who put her in this predicament. Lucy used to be perfectly happy before you amalgamated her into your alien hive mind. Got her to the point where she flinches whenever she hears about Pablo Picasso, Michelangelo, or Joss Whedon. I think it's pretty clear she asked me to come because she needs help, but she won't admit it to herself."
"Stop hurting her," the android warned. By this point, he'd produced another pair of blasters, and two more arms with which to hold them.
"What exactly is your plan? To have her live her whole eternal life without ever encountering any cultural references? Clearly, something needs to be done. And by Batman and Hercules and The Flying Dutchman, I won't stop until we find a solution. Now let me help her."
"Ultimatums. Cold War," the New Archivist gasped. "The Arbitrators of Aris. Beethoven. Baharkadma of Bahara. Make it stop. Make it stop!"
"I am going to stop now, since she has given her consent to my plan."
"No she hasn't. You can't just injure her mind and use it as an example of how I'm not taking adequate care of her."
The New Archivist's body burst into flames. I hadn't seen her do that in a while. She began to spasm.
"She's is exhibiting the outward signs of a seizure. I'd prescribe-" I sent Acme a file.
He hesitated. Finally, he produced a pill, and fed it down the New Archivist's throat. She belched up a medium-sized fireball.
"Is she stabilizing?"
"No," the android replied. "If anything, she's getting worse." He was manufacturing a full blown medical clinic, consuming whatever objects were lying around in order to get the raw material.
I needed to think. Her problem was that her Archives were giving her unsolicited information, and the unsolicited context for that information, and so on. Could I modify the communication substrate to include a filter? No, I didn't even know how they worked, let alone how to modify them on the fly.
Without thinking (well, with a fair amount of thinking), I rushed at the New Archivist and tried to rip the diadem of unlimited knowledge off of her head. It was stronger than it looked, and it appeared to be bonded to her skin. I didn't want to risk harming the New Archivist. "Make me a buzz-saw. Utrasteel, if you please." I gave Acme a fierce look, and he complied. I removed the Archives of the Universe from their rightful owner.
She went still for a moment.
"What is happening," she asked.
Acme was furious. He began extruding heavy weaponry. "Phoenix, unhand the Archivist!"
"I'm not the Archivist," she said. "I'm Lucy."
I could have jumped for joy. In fact, I did.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Thinking Ahead

"How did you get in here," I asked.
Vera snorted "You gave me the key."
"You couldn't have used the key without it being logged, and Noetron sending an alert." I thought for a second. "Oh. Clever. Glad you saw the bug in that code before someone else did."
"If someone else saw it, how would you know?"
"A different system would have picked you up in five or ten minutes. Noetron has a fair number of redundancies." In the never-ending battle all programmers face- between
redundancy and efficiency- I have always opted for both. I like to keep things challenging. "So what did you want to talk about?"
Vera opened her mouth, but Justin walked in."Heeeey there, baby. Daddy's home." He turned to me. "Dibs," he said, in a conspiratorial whisper.
"You have about a billion potential mates on the planet. You don't get to call 'dibs' on the woman I've been dating for a year."
"Too bad, I already did."
"I have friends on the Supreme Court who could get your dibs invalidated."
"No way they'd overturn Dibs vs. Ownership." We both laughed. "Anyways," he said, "the starSearch program is compiling right now. In a few hours, we'll have the elemental composition of every star within a thousand lightyears."
"Good work," I said, as Justin left the room.
"Why do you keep him around?"
"Well, he's a bit of a creep, and his physics skills are repugnant, but he just wrote some of the most impressive code I've ever seen, without even being sober."
"Well, you should have the freedom to consort with whatever freaks you want, but I have I to say I don't approve of some of the people you work with."
I decided not to mention that before she walked in I had been working on a new design for Iran's nuclear missile program.
"I understand that he annoys you. He annoys everyone else too. But he's useful to me."
"Speaking of people who are useful to you, I have something to tell you."
"What is it?"
"There have been three cases of Demented's Disease in the last month."
I was tempted to find some water so I could do a spit-take/.

The man's origins were a mystery. Some suspected he was a tyrant from the far future, or an alien in disguise, or a lie made up by the superhero community to justify their massive spending. What is known is that his mind, although erratic, was capable of truly breathtaking scientific and strategic brilliance. Not the least of his accomplishments was the Time Key, his personal transport to any point in the space-time continuum (my very rudimentary calculations suggest that one out of every trillion trillion trillion trillion attempted time jumps would actually succeed).
When Dr. Demented had found himself stranded on the alternate planet of Earth Beta, he decided it was time to build an army. Being the very epitome of a demented genius (check his name), he went about this by giving superpowers to randomly selected members of the planet's population.
The Disease had ninety-nine percent fatality. Those who survived found themselves blessed with incredible powers, beyond anything even I can fully understand. The most famous powered individual, of course, was Nimue. Her hydrokinesis could brew storms, cause tidal waves, or stop the blood in a human body. There was Pyros, who could cause temperatures of hundred of thousands of degrees, melting steel with a thought. I personally had dealt with Barrage, an absurdly strong and durable young woman. Fortunately, she was perfectly capable of suffocating.
Imagine how much I could learn by studying those affected by the disease. How much more I could learn from studying samples of the disease itself.
I was about to start celebrating when I realized the other implication. This could well mean that Dr. Demented was about to conquer Earth Alpha. And I wasn't sure what we could do to stop him.
"Can you give me some more information."
"I found it out snooping around the United Heroes communications."
"How do they know it was Demented's Disease."
"I don't know, but they do list Genesis as a corroborating source."
"The Genesis who is the only surviving person from Earth Beta, and who currently resides in the middle of nowhere doing experiments in a petri dish?"
"Do you know any other Genesis?"
"I just wanted to check before I flew all the way there. You don't mind if I duck out, do you?"
"Not at all, I have to prepare a press release announcing this to the world."
"Have fun," I said. I jumped out the window, and lifted off. Barely singed the curtains.

I wasn't the only one thinking about Dr. Demented that night. Cognis was also deep in thought. He stared at the complex schematics detailing possible strategies and counter-strategies. "Dammit," he muttered, crossing another possible course of action off of the list. He checked his watch: 12:37 PM. He had been doing this for four hours and twenty-five minutes. "Okay, back to the drawing board. Let's first list out all the major players."
"There's the good guys. The United Heroes. About a hundred individuals. Me and the Dark Detective at the head. Vector, with his telekinesis, as the heavy hitter." He paused. "No way Vector would last in a brawl with Dr. Demented, though." Last time, Dr. Demented had found a way to manipulate time to give himself incredible speed and strength, and a healing factor to boot. There was no telling what the ancient time traveler would use this time, but it would probably be pretty powerful.
"There's Mephistopheles. He seems to be running some organization, the Illuminati Occultus. Known members include Plague, Titan, and Ison, and we've captured Jack Frost and Osirion." Cognis thought for a moment. Could he count on Mephistopheles to help out in a war against Dr. Demented? "His underlings wouldn't follow him if he sided against us, I suspect. Is it worth releasing Jack Frost just to put extra pressure on the Mephistopheles? He might manage to tear the group apart if Mephistopheles doesn't pitch in against Demented." Another pause. "Nooooo, I don't think so. Not worth the body count Jack would likely wrack up. And I don't think I can trust him to follow my directions any more that I trust Mephistopheles. Which is none at all."
"There's Phoenix. My arch-nemesis. An incredible genius, with access to the resources of a nation to develop his technology." The Professor played a dangerous game with me. His entire heroic career revolved around keeping me in check (and a few other lesser villains, like the Cereal Killer). That being said, he had always done his best to keep me alive. My scientific prowess was rivaled only by his, and the world needed the inventions I produced. I may have ended the lives of heroes, but I also ended malaria. "Phoenix is powerful, as strong as Vector even. And he might be able to help me out on some of this planning. Do I trust him enough to approach him? Do I have a choice?"
"There's always Genesis. The only surviving person from Earth Beta, and one of Dr. Demented's former lieutenants. But he'll side with us. He left Demented on bad terms, and the Mad Doctor is capricious, which poses a threat to Genesis' garden. So we can count on Genesis, and whatever supervirus or living weapon he can brew up. I wonder what he could accomplish if I gave him samples of Plague's blood? I still have some left over from her fight in New York last year."
"And there's the New Archivist. Hovering above the Earth in a spaceship full of alien knowledge. Would she be willing to help against Dr. Demented? Her predecessor died fighting Crucible. I could see that pushing either way. She has a strong relationship with Phoenix, he might be able to convince her to take a stand. And she would have access to some terrifyingly powerful technologies." Professor Cognis took a moment to get suitably terrified. "Strangelets, black holes, antimatter. Killer viruses from a hundred different biologies. Maybe even a time machine of her own. Terrifying technologies indeed."

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


At this point, it might be useful for you to get an inkling of where I came from. Of the circumstances that gave rise to my megalomaniacal love of science and technology. You might be curious about the early life of one of humankind's greatest geniuses. Well, you are talking to the right guy.

I was born to Anastasia Seaborg, in the Soviet Union. My father was a wandering drunk. I only saw him once as a child. He was peeing on a car at the time.
My mother was a hard-working woman, who did her best to provide for me and see that I was given a challenging education. She gave up on the challenging education thing when I was three years old.
I never met other children until I started my formal schooling at age six. I attended what was probably the crappiest educational institution the crumbling communist empire had yet established. I still remember finding out how different I was, how far my mind towered above theirs.

Now, it probably wasn't some epiphany brought on by a single event. It was probably a gradual process, one which occurred and reversed itself and occurred again. But I remember it as one event.
There was some minor treat to be dispensed among me and my three friends. And I say friend in the loosest sense of the word. The teacher thought of a number between one and a hundred. Whoever guessed closest to the number could have the candy.
"Thirty-one," said one child, almost immediately.
"Sixty-three," said another.
"Fifty," said one of them, trying to chose a middle ground.
"Sixty-four," I said. That was the number which would give me the greatest possible chance of winning.
"You can't do sixty-four, I did sixty-three."
"And I did sixty-four."
"You can't be that close to me."
"Yes, I can."
The teacher looked on disapprovingly. "Well, my number was twenty-four so you both lose anyways."
I thought about the other players. How their performance wasn't nearly optimal. As I thought about it some more, I came up with more and more examples of how silly the other children were. They couldn't answer any of the questions the teacher asked. When they walked somewhere, they wouldn't take the faster route, or the most scenic. They squabbled over nothing, and didn't care about the world around them.
The adults I saw didn't seem much better. It seemed like most of them could go days at a time without thinking. And so it came about, that at a tender age I began to consider myself the only sentient human in a world of zombies.

Now, there is only so much a child can do. I might be able to see through the fog that filled most mortal minds, and glimpse the deepest truths of reality, but first, I was going to need textbooks. I scrounged around for sources to teach me calculus. I simply went without trigonometric tables, deriving sines and cosines on the fly. Working out Maxwell's equations for myself. Basically, I was infinitely more brilliant than any Western scientist, yet my government let me languish with infinitely fewer advantages.
By the age of thirteen, I had resolved to move to America, where I could enroll in several top-notch universities and hopefully learn at something close to the speed I was capable of. "I'm sorry, mother, but Estveria is an intellectual wasteland. If I go west, I'll finally learn the answers to all of my questions."
"This country has plenty of smart people. Your father was a scientist."
And he was a great success. The way he calculated the trajectory of that urine... "This country has some relatively intelligent people. But Eastern Europe's scientific establishment is decaying. Even if I went to a top-notch facility in Moscow, I couldn't get nearly the amount of stimulus that the Americans would provide."
"Why can't you just stick to your books." Finally, a serious objection.
"First of all, I can learn more effectively from lecturers than from books. Second of all, I can read a three-hundred page text in about an hour, so I would fill this house with books in less than a year." A quick glance around showed I was well underway with this process. "Thirdly, in America I would have access to top-notch laboratory equipment, which is tightly regulated in this country."
"So, you're leaving your mother and everyone you hold dear just so you can read books in the West."
I thought about that for a second. Who was there that I cared for? My mother? I spent time with her, and occasionally talked with her, but I didn't really care about her. My father? I wasn't going to let his inability to reach his potential stop me from reaching mine. My classmates? Why would I ever want to talk with an army of mindless drones? There really wasn't anyone on the entire planet that I cared about. Probably related to my career choice as a megalomanical mad scientist.

In the early nineties, David Spader was the hotshot CEO of one of the most advanced tech companies in the world. So it was a little bit of a shock that he received an unscheduled call on the IBM company line. "Who is this," he asked.|
An adult voice responded on the other end. It dripped confidence and poise. "My name is Aleksandr Seaborg. I live in the Republic of Estveria. I have a proposition for you."
"Sorry, who are you?"
"I invented a new type of transistor. Based on gallium-arsenic. It uses nanotubes to control the current with fine precision. That information was free. The technical specifications will cost slightly more."
"You're trying to sell me some crackpot invention."
"I'm on your private line. I'm no crackpot."
"Supposing you do have some brilliant invention, what do you want."
"A million dollars."
"Excuse me?"
"I estimate the technology will earn you about four billion dollars over the next ten years. So after your first successful test, you'll send a million dollars to my home."
Spader chuckled to himself. After the first successful test, there would be no need to give this Seaborg character anything at all.
"Of course, you might be tempted to stiff me, but that would be akin to killing the goose which laid the golden egg."
Spader considered. "Okay. When my technicians create your magic transistor, you'll get your million."
"Excellent. I expect to have it by the end of the month." The smooth voice hung up.
On the other end of the phone, a young Extervian peasant with a cracking voice held his phone for a second. "Mother. We are both moving to America."
\Three months later, I was enrolled in MIT, Harvard, and Princeton, and was working on a new transistor design which would make the one I sold to IBM obsolete. My mother was in a retirement home.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Stranger Visitor

I've never been one for candlelit dinners in romantic restaurants. Which was why Vera and I were having Italian and Chinese takeout, respectively, on my couch.
"Sorry, why do you deserve credit for this meal again?"
"I'm the one who brought Chinese food to Estveria. After my time in the U.S, I began to realize how far ahead much of the world was in so many ways. So, with my power as the de facto ruler of the country, I started a few restaurant chains."
"So, an entire country has access to unlimited Chinese food twenty-four seven because of a taste you picked up in college?"
"They also get free wi-fi and all the latest apps."
"As frequently happens with you, I'm not sure whether to be scared or impressed."
Based on my research, boyfriends should try to ask questions about various aspects of their partner's lives. "How is work going with you?"
"I brought down one of the big drug cartels, and I have leads on the other two."
Wow. All I did today was work some of the kinks out the that general theory of superconductors. "Are you sure you don't need any sort of protection? A lot of these professional killers can be pretty brutal." I would know.
At this point, Vera's phone rang. "Hello, Vera Rapport." Pause. "Yes, I am." Pause. "Yes, he is." She handed the phone to me. "It's for you."
I picked it up. I could have the phone conversation in my head if necessary, but if possible I'd like to avoid foreign signals going directly into my brain. There's always that slight danger. "Phoenix speaking."
"Alex! Wazzzzaap!" Alex was the name I had went by when I was living in America, during college and for a few years after. Only a few people still called me that. And only one of those people would follow it with 'Wazzzzaap!'
"Justin.  What do you want?"
"Came by to drop a visit is all."
"Where are you?"
"In your front yard."
"You got into Estveria, and onto my front yard, without my finding out about it?"
"You betcha."
"Okay, I'm sending a robot to let you in, but you'll need to tell me how you snuck into my country undetected."
"It's a dealio, for real-yo."
I looked at Vera. "That was my college roommate Justin King. He's probably the world's leading expert in computer algorithms, and the world's trailing expert in pickup lines."
"Is he the guy who was imprisoned for two million counts of sexual harassment?"
"Yeah. Three hours after the verdict he was on parole and working for the CIA. Two weeks after that he was off the grid."
"And three weeks after that I was on an island in the South Pacific surrounded by adoring women." He looked at Vera for a second. "And speaking of women, why didn't you tell me what this one's packing?"
"I'm starting to see where the sexual harassment suit came from."
"Actually, that was my work with social networking sites."
"He wrote a program that went through every picture of Facebook, and if the person pictured satisfied a certain condition-"
"Big breasts."
"They would find his phone number on their wall, and it would be reposted every fifteen minutes until they called him."
"Those morons in Silicon valley had to dig through half their site to stop me."
"Sorry," Vera interjected. "Where were you two roommates again? Was it prison or college?"
"Alex was my roomie at Harvard."
"I thought Phoenix went to MIT."
"My college career was ten different aliases at four different institutions getting degrees in five different subjects in three years." I had more college degrees than anyone in the world. "By the way, Justin, why exactly did you come."
"Well, I may have pissed someone off."
"You? Impossible!" Vera wasn't surprised.
"Oh, it wasn't over a woman. See, this guy named Mephistopheles tried to recruit me into-"
"Excuse me," I interrupted. "Vera, it might be better for everyone if you didn't hear what Mephistopheles is up to."
"It might be better for everyone if I did."
Justin licked his lips. "Feisty. I like that." I considered punching him in the face, but decided against it.
"So what exactly was your problem with Mephistopheles?"
"He invited me to join this group of his, called the Illuminati Occultus. Said he had some big project for me."
"And you refused?"
"Have you ever seen a James Bond movie?"
"I've seen all of them."
"Well, have you ever noticed what happens to the guy who makes the superweapon? The guy who helps the main bad guy? He always gets screwed over. There was no way I was going to let Mephistopheles do that to me, so I turned him down."
"Let me get this straight. You pissed off one of the most powerful supervillains on the planet based on intelligence garnered from Sean Connery films, and now you want me to protect you?"
"You make it sound stupider than it actually is. Would you accept an offer to join the Illuminati Occultus?"
He had a point. I needed to consider my options.

I could leave him to the wolves. Mephistopheles might not come after him anyway, and I didn't really want to pick a fight with the new leader of the criminal underworld. At least not at a time of his choosing. Eventually, of course, I would destroy him in my quest to gain absolute power and absolute knowledge.
And how that quest coming along, I asked myself. What projects were in the works to make me master of the world. None. I needed a new master plan. It was possible that Justin's computer skills would be useful in such a plan.
Of course, I couldn't necessarily trust him. In fact, even as I pondered whether to shield him from the might of a supervillain, he was staring at my girlfriend in a most untrustworthy manner.
But, still. He was sort of a friend. And it shouldn't be too difficult to find a way to ensure his loyalty.
"Okay, Justin. You can work for me."
"Work for you?"
"If it becomes publicly known that you are aiding me, it will serve as a demonstration that you are under my protection."
"You could just send the world a post card."
"For me to protect you, you'd probably need to spent most of your time on Estverian soil anyways, if not actually in one of my lairs."
"I could still be freelance."
"Finally, If I'm going to protect you from a supervillain conspirator who can conjure up concussive blasts of darkness, it's the least you can do to help me with my stargazing programs." Until I found a serious evil scheme for him to work on, I could at least have him helping out on one of my more expendable science projects. "And by the way. What you do on you own time is you business, but I don't want any of your sexual garbage on my mainframe."

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Strange Visitor

There are some problems associated with launching into the sky on a pair of flaming wings. The most important of these is that you send a blast of incredibly hot air over everything around you.
To help minimize the damage, I'd constructed a a self-repairing launchpad for my roof. It could fold itself down to the size of a chimney and unfold itself in less than a minute. Just a little project of mine.
I was about to launch into the air, when the New Archivist dropped a call. "Phoenix. Great to see you. I'm sending down a shuttle to pick you up. It should be there in a minute."
I spend the next fifty-four seconds tracking the shuttle using a dozen classified radar frequencies, before it landed on my yard. Didn't even mess up the grass.
Neurotron played the theme from Close Encounters as one of the most gorgeously high-tech looking doors I have ever seen in my entire life opened in fascinating slow motion.
I think you pay a little too much attention to doors. One sentient computer's opinion.
Behind the titanium-crystal door, I saw two figures. One was the familiar form of the New Archivist, dressed up in some kind of red robes (I'm sure it was inspired by some sort of complicated alien tradition).
Standing next to her was Acme the Android.

Acme was Rava-Iss' personal assistant. An anthropomorphic creature called the Automated Constructor and Molecular Engineer. It took me about a second to think of the acronym.
Our relation had been relatively cordial until the One Day War. Things had gone south when I abandoned the Archivist to a fiery death in an imploding strangelet moon in order to save myself.
Acme had taken this personally, as if my letting his creator die in order to preserve myself was a reason for him to hate me.
"I am a murderer, but you were going to stand by and let my civilization be annihilated."
"Rava-Iss gave his life defending that civilization."
"And what did you do? Other than kidnap a defenseless girl and brainwash her?"
"I'm right here," The New Archivist piped up.
"And I'm glad to see you," I said. Nice save, Neurotron commented. "Which reminds me. I made you something." I pulled a three-hundred-terabyte flashdrive out of my lab coat. "The entire story of the One Day War. Footage from a million cell phones, analysis by a hundred programs, and brilliant narration by yours truly."
"Great, thanks," she said with all the enthusiasm someone musters when thanking a dentist during a root canal.
"Is something wrong?"
"No, nothing's wrong."
So she was stonewalling me. Fortunately, I am a master of deduction. The most plausible explanation was that she was already struggling to cope with her vast banks of data, and my high-tech flashdrive would only exacerbate the issue. It was also possible I was picking up a signal when none was there.
"So, Phoenix," Acme snarled, "what have you been up to lately?"
I'm sure he was expecting some description of dark deeds, but I was really enthusiastic about my latest line of scientific inquiry. "I've been working on a more efficient way to make Ultrasteel. You see, an aerosol of ferric ascorbate can-"
"Oooh. Ow. Sorry." Acme and I stared at the New Archivist, "Headache. Sorry. I'm fine"
"You really need to do something about this."
"I'm fine."
The New Archivist spent the next thousand kilometers claiming everything was okay, until we reached her Archives. At that point, there were more interesting things to talk about.

We passed through the airlock into the vast and ancient spaceship my friend curated. "In case I haven't made this clear before, I really don't like this idea."
"Don't worry Acme, you made it perfectly clear," the New Archivist said.
"Of all the people in all the universe, he is the one most capable of stealing the secrets of the Archives, and the one with the most desire to do so. He really shouldn't be here."
"He is my friend."
"At least don't show him the science stuff. He should be content with the alien culture."
I considered jumping into the argument, but decided against it.
"We can trust him, he is my closest friend."
"You can't let your past life interfere with being a good Archivist."
Oh snap! He went there. The New Archivist bristled. "Go. Go away. Go feed the Silarian Srolac of something."

The contents of the Archives are grouped by civilization, not be subject. The New Archivist started me off with the Cloud People, some methane-based life living in a gas giant about three hundred light-years from Earth. They had started out their civilization in the carcasses of vast slain creatures (the New Archivist called them windwhales). The civilization had flourished, creating great works of art from the entrails of the vast corpses they inhabited (aliens can be gross). Unfortunately, by the time the Archivist had arrived, the windwhale population had been devastated, and the Cloud People's society was on the brink of chaos.
"And Rava-Iss didn't help them? He didn't teach them about species conservation, or give them cloning technology, or genetically engineer a better windwhale?"
"I think you already know the answer."
It dawned on me that in a very real sense, the vast edifice surrounding me was nothing more than the mausoleum of the galaxy. Fortunately, I have a very high tolerance for tragedy, so it didn't bother me that much.
Next, she showed me artifacts retrieved from the core of a star. "I'm sorry. How do you have a transparent pane of glass holding about a metric ton of gas at twenty million degrees and a million atmospheres?"
"Trade secret."
Gentleman that I am, I refused to conduct any sort of study on that glass. No spectral analysis. No use of my sensory tendrils. No crystallography. No trying to chip off a bit to study later. And it was only partly because the New Archivist was standing right there.
She showed me some scrolls printed on graphene. "It's a naturally occurring substance there. All the great works of Altarian literature were first printed on graphene. This is a testament to... to... It's hard to describe. It's an emotion. Sort of a combination between the feeling really having to go to the bathroom and the feeling of unrequited love." Those are two emotions humans don't usually associate with each other.
"Is the odd combination of emotions a result of some sort of exotic biology?"
I took a second to imagine a species which associated the denial of romance with being unable to relieve oneself.
Next, a bunch of giant blocks of ice. "These are from a small moon in the Perseus arm of the galaxy. The moon had sentient ice mountains which communicated by sending mounds of ices toward each other on glacial flows. The mountains were all dead by the time the Archivist arrived, but he saved as many of their texts as he could. These two deal with science, and this one is a religious work."
"I see." Alien science. And I didn't even make an effort to hijack it. Personal growth. "How is information recorded in the ice? Trace chemicals?"
"It's aggguuuuchhhhhhh."
"Come again?" What was that? Some strange alien concept with no translation in any Earthly language?
"Ugggggh. Sorry. I have to gouuuuuggggg."
"Well, don't let me stop you from gouuuuuggggging."
I was left along in the Archives for three minutes and twenty-four seconds. In that time I came up with twelve ways to scan the blocks of ice, leave the Archives, and escape before anybody noticed I was gone. Instead, I let Acme come and give me the boot. I sometimes wonder if I made the right choice.

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Moral Values

Professor Cognis looked away from the San Francisco skyline and turned to the hero next to him. "We have to tell people."
"No," the Dark Detective replied, "We don't."
"If we want the public to trust us as heroes, we can't keep information secret from them." This was a big thing with him. The Professor had never had a secret identity, and tried to keep the United Heroes as transparent as possible. Naturally, this provided hindrances, but they were burdens he was willing to bear.
"If we tell people about this, there could be a panic. People could die. And that wouldn't even be the worse part. Imagine what would happen if Phoenix got his hands on a sample of the disease. Or maybe this new Mephistophes is an even greater genius than him. Who knows what those guys could come up with?"
"It doesn't matter. We need the world's governments on board if we want to contain the Disease. And if this means what we think it does..."
"It doesn't."
"You don't know that."
"Dr. Demented was trapped in the past, during the one day war. He got to live out his life with that girl of his, and they've both been dead for a millennium."
"Dr. Demented is the greatest mind in the history of the human race. He could easily have survived, and people need to be prepared."
"If he really is coming back, what's to say we can prepare?"
"We can. We beat him last time, and it is certainly possible to beat him again."
The Dark Detective was about to respond when a holographic image of the Titanium Warrior appeared. "Hey. Sorry to interrupt, but Osirion and Jack Frost are robbing a bank in Portland. One of you should probably go and handle it."
The Dark Detective watched as Professor Cognis got up. "This discussion isn't over."

Professor Cognis didn't exactly have an airplane. It was more of a souped rocket-propelled helicopter. I'd give you the technical specs, but I can't because I don't have them because that machine is complicated.
As he rode across the American West Coast, the Professor read up on the situation in Seattle. The two villains had captured some gold bullion, and were making a stand at the beach. There had been three confirmed police casualties so far.
Professor Cognis took a moment to consider those three deaths. Three people who would be forever beyond his reach, who he could never save.
(This is a very Cognis-y reaction. That everything is his responsibility and every small tragedy is his personal failure. If it were me, I would probably take a moment to consider the idea of a time machine or resurrection technology. Death is nothing compared to science.)
Cognis found that the Superhuman was there. A German physiologist who used all sort of weird biochemical effects to boost his strength, speed, and agility. Must have been present for a research conference in his civilian identity.
The stealth mode on Cognis' ride wasn't the best. You can only be so inconspicuous in a rocket-propelled helicopter. Nonetheless. Cognis activated his stealth mode, and to the drunk and distracted observer, his vessel disappeared from the sky.
The villains were  facing off against a perimeter of policemen. He approached the two of them from behind. Superhuman always carried a radio, and Cognis opened communications. "Superhuman, do you read me?"
"Loud and clear."
"I have an idea to help the police officers. Try to-" Cognis was interrupted by the fact that he was plummeting from the sky. Despite all the rush around him, Jack Frost had noticed the hero, and frozen the rockets with well-aimed blasts from his freeze ray.

Cognis treaded water, and tried to come up with a plan. His transport was wrecked, and most of the machinery on it was destroyed. He made a mental note to design a more durable craft next time.
Meanwhile, he had a communicator, a frozen engine, and a sinking death-trap made from Ultrasteel and superconductor wire. The bare bones of a plan began to form.
"Superhuman," he whispered into the communicator. "I have a plan, and I need you to listen."
"I'm a little busy-"
"Dodging blasts from Jack Frost, I know. I am ninety-eight point five seven percent confident you can do that and talk at the same time." Professor Cognis is widely regarded as a know-it-all. Where'd he get all those sig-figs?
"Alright, I can do this, what do you need."
"Three of those police cars have critically injured officers in them. If Jack Frost freezes them quickly enough, they might survive long enough for emergency services to revive them. I have some ideas for ways to unfreeze them quickly and safely."
"And what are you going to be doing during this time."
"Setting up a trap for Osirion. Good luck."
And with that, Cognis dove down to retrieve what he needed from his sunken contraption.

Jack Frost was pissed. He'd shot down Cognis' plane (or was it a helicopter?) ten minutes ago, and the coward was still putzing around under water. Meanwhile, Superhuman was dodging every blast Jack could throw it him. The scientist in Jack was impressed, but the hardened villain was just pissed.
"Have you got him yet," Jack muttered into his comm.
"No," Osirion replied. "I've been chasing him all over down here."
"Well, he'll have to surface soon anyways."
"Why don't we just take our money and leave."
Jack couldn't answer this question truthfully. He couldn't say that the only reason he'd volunteered for this mission was the chance to kill a hero. That it was just a step in his plan to displace Mephistopheles as leader of the Illuminati Occultus. That the only way for any of this to happen was for this mission to be a huge success, and for Jack's leadership to result in the death of Superhuman or Cognis or both. And that consequently he was prepared to sit there and freeze police officers for however long it took before Osirion surfaced with Superhuman's mangled body. He couldn't say any of that. "Timing," he said. "It has to do with timing."
His statement had perfect timing, because that was when Professor Cognis showed up.
"Don't shoot," the hero said. "I have something I want to say."
Jack Frost kept his finger on the trigger. "What," he asked. The hero was about a hundred feet away.
"I need to tell you something." He stepped forward.
"It's about Mephistopheles." Another step
Mephistopheles! If it was information Jack could use... Hold on, Jack told himself. This is Professor Cognis. The mind reader. He's just stalling and saying whatever it takes to keep you engaged. But he can't read minds from that range. But he might be able to deduce things anyways.
"What about Mephistopheles."
Another step "He's not who you think he is." Two steps.
"I have no idea who he is."
"Well, I have a fairly good idea: he's Vafnir."
"Vafnir? The alternate-universe version of Phoenix?"
"Yes, Dr. Demented's right-hand man."
"He was killed in the Timeless War."
"He survived."
"Why should I care?"
"He was Dr. Demented's right-hand man. Imagine the damage he could do. Especially with the new power he has."
"What do you want me to do." Jack Frost realized that Cognis was only thirty feet away. If he gets any closer...
"I have a hypothesis about the structure of his tendrils. Have you considered that they may be coherent and structured excitations of a low-temperature statistical mechanical vacuum?"
"Are you saying what I think you're saying?"
"I thought I was being perfectly clear."
"Are you implying that my freeze ray would dissolve his tendrils."
"I calculated it out, and I'm pretty sure it could dissipate the energy he uses to make them."
Jack tried to think through the calculations. Maaaybeee.... Nooooo... Hmmmmm.... He realized Cognis was standing ten feet away. "Get back."
"No." A step.
"I'll shoot."
"Do it." A step.
Jack shot Cognis squarely in the chest.

A superconductor occurs when electrons bond together into pairs due to phonon interaction. These pairs, being bosons, will all settle into a coherent state. They are extremely mobile, and allow the electrons to move across the solid unimpeded. This causes the material to have zero electrical resistance. It also causes the material to become an excellent conductor of heat.
This meant that when the freeze ray hit Professor Cognis' chest, and tried to lower the temperature of the superconducting wire in his shirt, a wave of heat was sucked along the wire.
The wire went into the ocean, and the water along it froze. This froze several fish, and twenty of so cubic meters of water. It also froze Cognis' sunken vessel, where Superhuman had lured Osirion.
Cognis tried to ignore the ice-cold sensation in his chest as he tackled Jack Frost. He knocked the villain into the surf, ripped off his helmet, and injected a sedative.

"Wow," said Superhuman. "Just wow."
"I wouldn't say that. Six police officers died today."
"You just trapped two major villains. It was a good day."
"I'll need to do better next time."
"You seemed pretty impressive to me."
"To be honest, I'm surprised Frost bought my line about Mephistopheles. It was a total shot in the dark."
"Wasn't he there during the Timeless War?"
"Yes. He was just ready to believe anything about his rival. Reasonable based on his personality."
They talked on some more. But enough about them. It's time to get back to me.