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."