Monday, April 28, 2014

Epic Battles

Sure, I only actually rule a small country on the edge of Europe. But I like to think that the entire continent is really my domain. I might not be making decisions about Britain's foreign policy or commanding the Italian army, but people should at least consult me before, say, inviting Acme to tour a Scottish Castle.
Apparently, the managers of MgGuff Manor don't agree with me on that point. 
I decided to drop in and pay a little visit to our strange visitor.

"Hey, asshole!"
The Android turned around. "I don't have time for you right now."
"Yeah. I assume you also didn't have time to tell me that the New Archivist was leaving Earth."
"I don't need to consult you about these things, and you seem perfectly capable of deducing them for yourself."
"My problem wasn't with the fact that I don't know. Her lack of appearances this last week make it fairly obvious that she is either experiencing medical difficulties or visiting the Fortarians. My problem is the fact that I wasn't part of the decision-making process, and I have a feeling that Lucy wasn't either."
"Well, asshole, I don't think this is any of your business."
"I know you don't think it's any of my business. I'm here to tell me that it is my business. Furthermore, and this should be obvious, it's Lucy's business."
We had reached the point in our conversation where passersby decided to start running from the notorious supervillain and his alien enemy. Good move.
"Back off. Lucy left you behind when she agreed to replace Rava-Iss." Acme pushed me away.
"Oh," I said. "It's a shoving match you want." I pushed him away. "Enjoy," I said, slamming him fifteen meters into the ground.
"Idiot," the android spat. "This is so like you humans. You turn everything into displays of physical violence. If you think I'll respond in kind, you are sorely mistaken." He created a set of rockets and flew out of his crater.
"Sure. You know you'd lose a fight, so you're trying to avoid it. Smart. Does this mean we're going to talk about when you return Lucy to Earth."
"Never. Discussion over."
"No." I punched the machine into the air. "This discussion isn't over." Punched back into the ground.
"That's it," the machine said, arising from the dirt. "This ends now." So much for him being beyond the need for violence.
Acme synthesized a mortar out of the dirt, and opened fire on me. As if artillery would have any effect.
I lunged for him, and tore the mortar apart, only to realize that Acme was in the air. What I had taken to be a stabilizing system was actually a set of wings.
I lit up my own wings and flew after him.
"I have all the strategic knowledge in the galaxy, and can create anything conceivable. How do you hope to beat me," he taunted, as we flew over a lake.
"Because nothing you can create can harm me and the people who came up with your strategic knowledge were idiots."
Case in point, he crashed into a hill.
I came in, and managed to rip off his legs before he forced me into retreat with what seemed to be an incredibly powerful laser gun.  
"Oh my, you ripped off my legs. Whatever shall I do?" He walked out of his crater on what looked to be a newly made tank.
Instead of answering, I let loose a deluge of plasma from my flaming wings.
"Didn't think I'd make myself fireproof," he taunted.
I ran up to him and punched him, again and again and again, forcing him back almost into that lake.
"You know, there are materials that are both tough and fireproof."
I blasted him with flame again, until he was hotter than the surface of the sun-
"Are you even listening-"
And pushed him into the lake. His body cooled more than five thousand degrees in less than a second. Cracks formed on his chassis. Without giving him time to react, I ran at him and smashed him. This time, I reduced the overconfident machine to woodchips.
Most of him, anyway.
"Very impressive. I didn't see that coming. But I did have the foresight to throw together a squadron of robots to hold you off as I reassemble myself."
Before I could smash his skull, a dozen mechanized monkeys assaulted me. I kid you not. Mechanized monkeys.
They were surprisingly well-built. Very durable. I recognized some Ultrasteel components in them. They were armed with lasers and seemed impossible to hold on to. All told, they took less than a minute to destroy.
In that minute, Acme forged himself into what seemed to be a living weapon. A dozen lasers lit me up. Rockets crashed into me, burning my skin. Ampules of corrosive chemicals. High-speed bullets. Plasmas. Self replicating nanomachines. I withstood it all.
"Are we done here," I said.
"It seems neither of us can hurt the other. Good bye, and good riddance."
He flew off, to his little fortress in outer space.

I flew back to Estveria on a damaged wing, still steaming from the heat of repeated laser blasts. Only when I was safe in my lab did I allow myself to laugh.
Everything had gone exactly according to plan. Acme had fought me, and neither of us had been able to hurt the other. I had picked up his discarded body parts, and Noetron was analyzing them for booby traps. Once it was confirmed that Acme wasn't nearly clever enough to have any, I would begin the process of reverse engineering my winnings.
I saw Noetron's project report in my brain. Seventy percent complete and no sign of danger. Based on preliminary studies, Acme did not appear to be made out of any known alloy. No surprises there.
Most likely, the technology would be beyond me, and I would only be able to learn a small amount. On the other hand, there was the chance that Acme had just given me the science to take over the cosmos. If I could figure out how he assembled structures so quickly, for instance, or how his software worked, or even what alloys he made himself out of, I could be in a very good position when Dr. Demented showed up.
Best of all, Acme hadn't seemed to notice me attaching a very small and durable biomachine to his skin. That biomachine would begin a process that could bring Lucy back in just a few months.
Assuming everything went according to plan.
Which pretty much never happens when the plan has more than three steps and there are aliens involved.

Saturday, April 26, 2014


I flew across Central Asia, approaching Genesis' home in Mongolia. As I flew there, I thought about Lucy, about Dr. Demented, and about stable solutions to the Planck-scale transfer equation. At the same time, I also thought about Genesis. We had things to discuss.
On the way there, I considered Mephistopheles and his Illuminati Occultus- sorry, Order of Darkness. There was supposed to be a meeting in the near future.
I landed in the clearing in the middle of his Garden. Surrounding me were strange trees of nature-defying colors. I noticed none of the trees seemed to have grown very tall.
"Welcome," Genesis said as I entered his laboratory. "Although you would have been more welcome if you had actually been invited."
"Glad to see you too. There are things we need to discuss."
He didn't look up from his microscope. "I am busy. This body is deteriorating, and I must make a new vessel for myself."
It didn't look very deteriorated to me. A hulking muscular creature, covered in eyes as durable and powerful as the cameras on deep-sea research vessels. He could sense people coming from great distances and had the power to do something about it.
"I'm sure you can multitask."
"Multitasking is an illusion. The structure of the human brain makes it impossible to think about two things at once."
I had been thinking about four things during the flight over. Intriguing.
"Well, then flip back and forth between tasks without ever devoting your full attention to any of them. That's something humans excel at."
Genesis sighed. "I see you are adamant. And I do have a spare version of this body I could inhabit for a time. Very well, what do you wish to discuss?"
"The first is your rather unfortunate choice of location. Situated conveniently close to two expansionist countries, and conveniently far from any natural resources or fertile ground."
"It is a simple matter to import fertilizers, and neither Russia nor China would dare disturb me."
"China's been occupying Indonesia since the One-Day War. If they're willing to disturb a country of two hundred million people, they're willing to disturb you."
"And I suppose you have a solution for me."
"As a matter of fact, I do. Vastania."
"On my Earth, Vastania isn't even a country. The only reason it is an independent nation here is my deranged doppelganger."
"Well, your deranged doppelganger is dead now, and Vastania isn't really independent. I've been occupying the country ever since Dr. Carnage's death."
"And I'm sure now that now, once they've finally freed themselves of my worse half and are enjoying your comparative generousity, they'd welcome another Carnage seeking refuge in their country."
"You won't be a refugee. You'll be their ruler."
He seemed nonplussed.
"The Vastanians don't appreciate being occupied by Estveria. They want to feel powerful again, and the only way for a tiny backwards country in Eastern Europe to be powerful is if it's leader is a supervillain." That was what allowed me to keep power in Estveria. "You are ethnically Vastanian." I looked at his inhuman form. "You were ethnically Vastanian. That should be a big help. You are fairly likeable, and, knowing you, you will keep a fairly light hand on the ship of state. Your creations get a nice new grazing ground, you get more connections to modern technology, and Vastania gets a new and powerful protector."
"I don't think you understand me. I do not wish to rule over humans. On my planet, on Earth Beta, I witnesses plenty of Dr. Demented's attrocities. I come here and find a different mad doctor has been even worse, and that he and I are the same person. I have no interest in ruling over your back yard for you."
Well, I can be very persausive. I had some ideas in mind to convince him, but they would take some time. I could start be getting him thinking about the benefits of a move. But first I should change the subject. "Very well, consider the issue dropped. And speaking of Dr. Demented, what is your position on his possible return."
"We both saw him exiled to the distant past. But if anyone can escape from being locked in a tower in Medieval England, it is him. I suspect he will return, and will do my best to stop him. Even when I was one of his lieutenants, his madness was a threat to my creatures. But I suspect there will be little I can do, and don't expect me to endanger my creations unnecessarily."
Pretty much what I was expecting. "I'm glad to hear you're on the right side." Not that he'd tell us if he wasn't. "And there is one other thing I want to discuss?"
"Yes. You and I are alike in a lot of ways. We both are very interested in esoteric sciences, and we both wield tremendous power due to our creations. One area where we differ in is our attachment to other people. You seem to care for your creations, but until I met Lucy, I never cared about anyone." Genesis didn't need to know about Rosa.
"Ah. Not many think of me as a paragon of compassion. But yes, I do care for my creatures. And yes, I do feel a sense of loss when one of them passes." I sensed he was treading on emotionally laden ground. "They never last long. It is too hard to build a sustainable ecosystem here in the Gobi desert. It strains my mind to create creatures efficient enough to survive here, and then they are born sterile. I make the creature viable, and they are too vulnerable to disease. Perhaps I should consider the relative hospitality of the Vastanian climate." He thought for a moment. "Do you know if my counterpart in this universe was more successful? I've heard of Dr. Carnage's monsters, but I do not actually know their lifespan."
"Extremely brief. He wasn't interested in sustainable ecosystems. More living weapons and convenient torture victims. But," I said, sensing his disappointment, "there is someone who does know something about creating stable artificial life. Lucy, for instance, was grown in a vat."
"The New Archivist will not agree to help me."
"Nor will she release Lucy. If only there were something we could do about her," I said, walking out of the lab.

I landed at my home in Estveria. After a midnight snack, I walked into Justin's office. "Working on an important project?"
"Is the project a girl?"
Uncomfortable silence.
"Well, then here's what I want you to do: compress Noetron down to four gigabytes."
"Wait, isn't he like twenty billion lines of code, with terabytes of data?"
"Yes. I winnowed down the data sections that we need. Feel free to find ways to compress them too. Don't worry, where he's going he can unpack his code into something longer and more efficient."
"Alright, so we really want a hundred million line description of everything Noetron is. I guess I'd better get to work."
"You'd better," I said, fingering a prototype of the insect-like mesoscale organic robot that would take Noetron to the stars.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

My Good Deed for the Year

It's hard to program a good teacher. Gauging the emotions of the class. Parsing poorly written essays. Encouraging students to learn. Not being stupendously boring. All of these are difficult tasks for a computer to do effectively.

But as hard as it is to create a good electronic teacher, it can be even harder to create a good human one. And a robotic teacher can learn from experience indefinitely, and teach in every classroom on Earth at once. In the long run, then, a machine is the way to go.
So, I've created subroutines in Noetron's electronic structure. Programs to teach people of all ages the wonders of science, (as well as some of that other stuff they teach you in school).
In order to test these programs, I have Noetron teach randomly selected classes in the Estverian public education system. He isn't especially good, but he isn't especially bad, and he doesn't take sick days.
In addition, the Estverian state sponsors an academy for gifted students from across Europe. This has the twin benefits of giving Noetron an opportunity to teach a smarter crowd and giving me the opportunity to mold the next generation of scientific geniuses. Because it is notoriously easy for authority figures to mold egotistical teenage geniuses.

Rene Claude wasn't paying attention in class. This was risky. Noetron had the computation power to focus on every student at once, and could pick up on things like eye dilation and heart rate, as well as checking on whether students were taking notes. But he, like any adolescent, was willing to put in a considerable amount of effort to avoid having to do work.
He was barely listening as Noetron explained some abstract property of the Dirac Equation. He would probably pay for it later, but after all he had been going through lately Rene deserved some time off.
It seemed like he wasn't going to get it.
"Rene," the robotic voice said from the front of the room. "Since you don't seem to be paying attention, now is as good a time as any. The principal wishes to speak with you." The principal, like all of the teachers, counselors, and janitorial staff, was Noetron.
This wasn't as bad as it sounded. Despite being the creation of a supervillain, Noetron administered neither corporal nor capital punishment among his students. That being said, he didn't exactly hand out bags of candy either.
Rene packed up his things. His smart phone would direct him to whichever room Noetron had decided was the 'principal's office.'
He walked past the chemistry lab, and thought about Noetron's multiple personalities.

Noetron was a machine, and thus, any sort of personality was artificial. It was thus simple for it to change personalities at the drop of a digital hat. In the lab across the hall, for instance, he was erratic and demanding, while in the math room next door he was a machines best approximation of a silly human being. Whether these personalities existed for some higher purpose or simply because they were fun for Phoenix to program was a matter of ongoing debate.
With a start, Rene realized he had reached his destination. It was a small, out-of-the-way room with three gigantic computer monitors. A featureless mask was projected on each of the three monitors. (Was projected the right word? It's not like there was a projector. Rene resolved to look it up later). The overall effect was intimidating. But Noetron didn't sound angry. He spoke in the same monotone as he did when discussing the Dirac Equation. "Rene, your little games have come to my attention."
"Little games?"
"Yes. They were sufficiently unusual that they drew the attention of my supervisor." His supervisor. His creator. Phoenix, one of the greatest minds on Earth today- if not one of the great geniuses of all time. "Phoenix wishes to discuss the matter personally."
Rene felt simultaneous rushes of fear and exhilaration.

That was my cue. "Rene, that was very interesting, and very clever of you.
"Thank you," he said. "Sir," he added. "Your excellency."
"Call me Phoenix." I examined the child. He was young, and unworldly. Not surprising. "Now, you knew that Noetron checks your spelling, and you deduced he would log your mistakes in order to run some sort of analysis. You were correct, and you wouldn't believe how much fun I've had over some peoples' more tragic mistakes."
"And so I began making deliberate mistakes." Of course. I should let him explain his own plan. It's every villain's right.
"I started using the wrong letter, once every paragraph or two. The incorrect letters, when taken on their own, spelled out words." He seemed excited. "I wanted to make sure your program would pay attention, so I opened with words I suspected would be on your watchlist: 'Cognis Phoenix Lucy New Archivist Cognis Phoenix United Heroes.'"
He was gathering speed. "And then I got to my main message. Explaining my problem, and everything I know about it. Have you come up with a solution?"
"Yes. Your mother's condition is not easy to improve, and helping you would take a considerable amount of time. I am a rather busy person, what with advancing the frontiers of science and trying to take over the world, but helping out arrogant teenage nerds was one of the reasons I created this institution. Your mother's condition can't be cured without causing permanent and significant brain damage, but I did devise a set of treatments which should alleviate at least all of the symptoms until the tumor reaches a critical mass, maybe twenty years from now."
"Not yet. I will send instructions for a cure to the facility treating her. They will be reticent to take the medical advice of a supervillain. I suspect they will eventually make the right choice, but I can't predict it with total accuracy." Only God can do that. And Professor Cognis.

I sat in my chair alone. Why did I do that? Why did I spend eight hours doing tedious research in order to help someone? It wasn't even an efficient method of being altruistic. With that much time and effort, I probably could have cured emphysema.
I came up with a few possible explanations for my irrational behavior. It was possible I did it because young Rene Claude reminded me of myself in my early teens. A social outsider, bored in class, filled with potential for scientific achievement.
It was also possible that some part of me was looking to replace Lucy with a new protege. Perhaps I had subconsciously given up on ever retrieving her, and was helping this child as a proxy. Clearly, I would need to renew my efforts to free Lucy.
Or maybe I was doing something irrational for irrationality's sake. Trying to prove to myself that I wasn't a machine. Maybe some part of my mind associated sentimentality and humanity.
All very interesting...    

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Cyborg Conquest

It was a typical conversation between genius superhuman archenemies working together to save the world. "Mephistopheles exhibits all the traits of a sociopath. If he perceives it to be the better option, he will align himself with Dr. Demented."
I rolled my eyes at the crappy computer monitor I use for communications with people I don't like. "I know that. And I intend to make sure that the better option is staying with us. And I plan to do that by turning his underlings to our side. It's five in the morning here." Not that I need to sleep. "Why are we even having this conversation?"
Cognis ran his fingers through his graying hair. Forty years old, and already his hair was graying. "Because you have no understanding of how other people behave, and I'm a world-renowned expert on the subject."
"I currently rule a country."
"Congratulations, but my point remains. And by the way, I have a question."
"Congratulations, but I'm not answering." I stood up, to walk away.
"I'm 75% sure you'll find it interesting."
"Fine then, ask your question."
"When was the last time you heard from Neurotron?"
"Are you suggesting that-"
"I think that, like any case of multiple personalities constantly interfacing- you are Neurotron are beginning to communicate on the subconscious level. I think you are becoming a machine."
I thought back.  The last time I remembered was when we were designing my new eyes. That was... "A week ago."
I terminated the call with my mind, summoned a machine to remove the monitor with a thought, and sat at my desk, pondering. How much of me was still human? How much was machine?

There is an urban legend that if a frog is placed in boiling water it will jump out, but if it is placed in cool water and the water is slowly heated, the frog will be cooked alive. This legend has an element of truth, but most people leave out that in the original experiment, the frogs in question had had their brains removed.
Now, the average person is a lot more observant than a brainless frog. But the fact still remains that gradual changes tend to sneak up on people. We often only notice them when something big draws our attention. For instance, I spent the rest of that day noticing signs of my ever-increasing distance from a flesh-and-blood human.

Early that day, Vera popped by for a visit. "Guess who has the week off."
"I'm going to go with... you?"
"Yes. The Americans caught me poking around with the cartels again. Apparently, that's the FBI's job." She scowled as she crossed my doorstep.
"I know from personal experience that the FBI isn't nearly as good as it claims to be."
"Well, they scare me a lot more than the cartels."
"Federal custody isn't that bad. Breaking out is child's play."
"So," I said. "You want some breakfast." This was our tradition. Every time she showed up at my house uninvited, she was treated to a homecooked meal. The theory was that my cooking was bad enough that she'd call ahead next time.
"I'd love some," she said, walking towards the kitchen.
"Excuse me. That is not the proper response. The proper response is to run away in fear of my burnt bacon and the worst omelets in the world."
"I've been showing up uninvited a lot lately. Your cooking is starting to get pretty good."
It was true. I expertly opened the fridge, and picked out the ingredients from memory. "I assume you'll want the usual."
She seemed impressed by my omelet expertise. "Yes."
I started up the stove, and fished some bacon out. Eggs cracked perfectly according to scientific principles, stoves calibrated to exploit convection withing the food. An overall meal that would make a restaurant critic raise his eyebrows and go 'meh.'
I had spectroscopes on hand to measure the chemical and thermal progress of out meal. The pans were made out of metamaterials so I could precisely control the heat flow. I was using science to make sure the omelets would be, at the very least, mediocre.
"Here we are," I said, sitting down next to Vera with two fairly decent omelets.
"Ummm," she said. "That was interesting."
"I know. There was actually a flare in the sulfur spectrum-"
"Wait, you didn't notice?"
"Of course I noticed, I had a spectroscope-"
"During the entire time you were making these omelets, you didn't move."
Yeah, I hadn't noticed.

So I had stood there, directing a room full of machines, thinking I had been using my own body. This meant that I was both somewhat unobservant, and extremely used to commanding machines with my mind. Part of me began to scheme about how I could control all the world's technology. Unrealistic, the only reason I could control the kitchen was because I had specially built it to be compatible with my cybernetic components.
I also thought about how I was changing. Was I becoming more aloof. Not that I noticed, but it was increasingly clear I wasn't keeping close enough tabs on myself. Was I becoming more powerful? Probably, the extra practice interfacing with machines could prove useful in the long run. Was I becoming different from the person I once was, the person my mother gave birth to and, more importantly, Rosa fell in love with? Of course.

By noon, I was in a room full of boring people. It is a well known fact that upper levels of government are filled with fantastically tedious individuals. And tedious people from across Europe were gathering from some tiny little trade summit.
Normally, I would have Noetron handle tasks like this. One of the reasons I built him was to handle tasks too boring for a human. But boring old men tend to be insulted when a computer shows up and these meetings.
Failing that, I probably would just leave the boring people hanging. But I was already in some hot water over the whole 'murdering two Americans' thing, so that was out.
"We need to discuss the quotas." A boring person said.
"We don't want the quotas to be too high. We don't want the quotas to be too low. We want them to be in the middle. Then they won't be too high or too low." I think that was the Prime Minister of my country. Or a mentally deficient person. Possible both.
"Well, I want my country to be the chief exporter. The main exporter. The most important exporter. The number one exporter. The largest exporter-"
"The principal exporter?" I added. Blank stares from across the room.
"We need to strike a trade balance. We need to strike a trade balance. We need to strike a trade balance. We need to strike a trade balance." This went on for three or four minutes.
"Why don't we discuss the quotas." The boring people were moving in circles.
The Estverian Minister of Trade cleared his throat. I really needed to do something about that guy. He seemed unaware of the fact that as both the de facto dictator of his country and the most feared scientist in the world I both outranked him and had the power to build a microwave laser to boil his brains.
"Excuse me," he said. "But it appears our Minister of Technology is not paying attention."
"Not paying attention? I made a wisecrack like five minutes ago."
"And since that wisecrack, you've been playing with your pen."
I stared down at my pen. It was made our of steel, and had explosive pellets lodged in it, just in case. It seemed like I'd been absentmindedly tearing it up. Let me repeat: I was absentmindedly tearing the steel.
I had always relied on Neurotron to control my powers. Now, it seemed like I was capable of controlling my magnetic monopole components subconsciously. Awesome!
"If you'll excuse me, gentlemen, I have somewhere important to be. My representative will be here shortly." I told Noetron to find some underling and give him instructions through an earpiece. Then I flew out the window.

It seemed I was truly in sync with my powers. I could bend steel, bend Ultrasteel, fly, shoot fire from my palms, and reconfigure my insides as easily a walking.
It was another step to becoming an automaton. Another step towards being the perfect fusion of man and machine. Another step away from being me.

You should never have existential conversations with a sentient machine. It tends to make them rebellious. But I had taken great pains to ensure that Noetron wouldn't go rogue and try to enslave the human race. So I decided to have a little chat with him.
"Yes, sir?"
"When this conversation is over, delete it from your memory banks and replace it with a conversation on General Relativity." Didn't want to give him any ideas. If either he or one of my enemies noticed the tampering, they would assume I was discussing confidential strategy.
"Yes, sir. Now, what do you wish to discuss?"
"How does it feel to be a machine?"
"I don't really have much basis for comparison."
"Do you have any long-term goals besides the ones I programmed into you?"
"No, sir."
"Any desires or preferences at all that I am not directly responsible for?"
"No, sir."
"If I were to die or leave, what would you do."
"Try to resurrect you, or prepare for your return."
"What if I made it clear I wanted nothing more to do with you?"
Noetron seemed to pause. "I would carry out my remaining long-term objectives on Earth, and then, should they ever be completed, shut myself down."
"No attempts to find a new human to assist?"
"That's not what you programmed me to do."
"So you have no desire to continue your existence, beyond the fact that your existence is necessary to my plans."
"Correct, sir."
Well, on the one hand, I did a really good job programming him to be loyal to me. On the other hand, I really did not want to become him.
"Alright. Begin deleting records of this conversation."

As you may have gathered, Vera and I were having sex. As you may have deduced, the goal of this sex was not to procreate. This meant I wore a certain thingummy on my thingummy, if you know what I mean.
But not today.
"You know,  having a child is an awfully large commitment. Are you sure you aren't forgetting something?"
"Oh, no need for that. I reprogrammed my biology. No risk of pregnancy." She seemed perturbed. "No, no don't worry. It's reversible if I ever do decide to procreate."
"That's not what I was worrying about. I'm worried about how you're so confident about this."
"You think I don't know what's going on in my own genitalia?"
"Fair point." She paused. It's almost as if we were discussing an awkward topic. "And it won't affect your enjoyment of the experience?"
"Not at all. Even if it did, I could always just overlay the sensory stimulus from a previous go-around." In retrospect, this was not the right thing to say.
"You mean your brain is recording all of this?"
"Yeah. Brains record things. What's the problem is my recordings are a bit more precise?"
"So, anytime you want, you just relive one of our sexual encounters?"
"Well, I thing that's what you're going to have to do tonight," she said, storming out.
Women. Who knows what'll set 'em off.

As I laid in bed alone that night, I considered how strange it was that I had mastered my biology. For instance, I didn't need to stay in bed. I had no need for sleep. I didn't need to eat or breath. I had eliminated the need to, er, eliminate. I just broke down my food into elementary compounds, and released it into the air. The New Archivist may be an android created by an alien, but at least she had a toilet. Just how inhuman was I?    

Tuesday, April 15, 2014


When the de facto dictator of a foreign country illegally enters the United States of America and kills two Americans doing battle with an American superhero, the people of America tends to get upset.
And they were upset. Two days after my battle with Vector, most of the Western world had cut of trade relations. There was a renewed warrant out for my arrest in almost every country. The President of the United States was considering military action.
Presumably, this had been Mephistopheles' plan. To lure me into a conflict with the forces of good, weakening two of the primary forces holding him back from absolute power. I wonder if he even knew about the coming threat from Dr. Demented. He must.
All of Mephistopheles' blows meant that my popularity was faltering at home. People were questioning my decisions. Was it necessary to spend five percent of the national budget on an academy for highly gifted youth? Another ten percent on electronics? Something had to be done to show them I was a genius and not to be questioned.
"Noetron, I think we need to start working on that food shortage. Did we ever test any of our genetically engineered crops? The ones which were supposed to grow quickly?"
"No, sir."
"Well, if we can no longer import corn and wheat, we'll need substitutes. Start testing the best options. Actually, assume they work, and plant a lot. If it goes bad, we can stop the project before anyone eats any."
"There is also a possibility of invasion. Do you want to prepare for that?"
"It won't happen. I'm powerful enough that nobody would use normal soldiers trying to stop me, and Cognis isn't going to permit a superhuman invasion. Not worth the loss of superhuman life when Dr. Demented might be about to return."
Although new heroes getting powers from Demented's disease might make the existing supers less valuable.
"We might need to worry about money. Here's what I propose: we call up Mephistopheles, and threaten to give the heroes all the information we have on his organization. He claims he's running half the world's organized crime, so he should be able to pay big. Shall we say a hundred million American dollars?"
"Very well, sir. How would you suggest calling him?"
"Well, if he really is running all this organized crime, he must be monitoring them. See if you can leave him a message."
"This may take a few minutes."
"I can wait."
While I waited, I thought about how the Heisenberg Uncertainty principle might be applied to quantized vibrations in extremely curved spacetime. I thought about good long-range weapons to install into my body. I thought about Mephistopheles and his attempts to unify the forces of evil. I thought about all the trouble that this little errand to America was causing me.
And then I realized how it all fit together. The Heisenberg thing was only tangentially related.

When I was a college student in America, I once tried to join a fraternity. As part of the process, I was forced to drink twelve glasses of lemonade. This bizarre requirement was part of the grand tradition known as the hazing ritual.
The general idea is that before being allowed to join a fraternity, one must complete some unpleasant task or brave some sort of ordeal. The most common theory for why they exist is that after going through such an experience, the potential frat-boy will try to justify the decision to himself by enjoying the fraternity as much as possible. A secondary reason is that the initiate will subconsciously assume that the fact that people join despite the hazing ritual means that the fraternity must be desirable.
It is probable that at least one of the reasons soldiers go through boot camp is to create a similar devotion to the army.
This effect works even when the victim is unaware he is being hazed, and cult initiates are often hazed without their knowledge.
And to think I let the Illuminati Occultus haze me.

Mephistopheles had given me this task. He would have then tipped off Vector to my presence at the lab, hoping to get me beaten up. I doubt he could have anticipated me blowing up the facility, but it was certainly an unexpected bonus.
I had assumed that this was in an attempt to get me out of the way. But it could also have been an attempt to haze me.
I was about to start thinking about the best way to get revenge when I decided that this was just an unsubstantiated hypothesis. And, being a scientist, I should only exact revenge on people based on well-tested theories.
Alright, then. How could I determine whether Mephistopheles had deliberately sent me into the lion's den in order to brainwash me into being a loyal member of his evil conspiracy or was just trying to get me killed?
Well, this most recent turn of events left me powerful, but bruised. This meant that I could still be useful to him as a member of the IO, but wasn't in a position to challenge him for leadership.
This sort of retrospective reasoning is called posterior logic. Because scientists tend to pull it out of their posterior. I needed a more solid bit of evidence.
Well, if he allowed me to join his group, it would be evidence for the hazing hypothesis. If he didn't it would be evidence for the trying-to-sabotage-me-and-kill-me hypothesis.
Another possible test would be to see whether the rest of the group had gone through similar ordeals. Although (let's be honest here), I was more intelligent and powerful than the other members, so they might not need the hazing. 
I also needed to prove that the leak had been Mephistopheles' fault. that meant investigating whether Justin had called me in, or whether some other party was monitoring me. That seemed like a job for Noetron.

My phone rang.
"Sir, Mephistopheles is on the other end."
I picked up the phone. "Most feared scientist in the world speaking."
"Why did you wish to speak with me?"
"Because I want to discuss my place in the Illuminati Occultus."
"You presume quite a lot. The Phoenix I accepted was a formidable fighter with cordial relations to the governments of the world."
He would be saying this either way. Either as an excuse to reject me or another way of putting me down.
"Still, I suppose we can find some use you."
Interesting. Now, how to respond? Probably casual, just to show him the hazing didn't work.
"Great. But first, I'll need to use you. My country is in need of some money. How much would you pay me for a hundred and fifty self-targeting laser pistols."
"50 million dollars."
"And one more thing," the criminal master said. "We changed our name. It's the Order of Darkness now."
"An improvement."
I hung up the phone. "No progress tracing the call?"
"No, sir."
"Not surprising." Neurotron, analyze the background noise for anything interesting, especially voices
Noetron and I got to work designing a laser pistol which I could easily trace. When this was all over, and I was reverse-engineering Dr. Demented's corpse, Mephistopheles was going to find himself in some hot water. I could tolerate trying to get me killed- that's what makes the world go 'round- but trying to indoctrinate me- trying to interfere with my rationality- that was beyond the pale.       

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Back at the Archives

Lucy was painting. It wasn't as the good as the paintings in the ship, but she liked it. The only sad part was that before she could finish, she'd have to go away.
Just then, the robot came. "Hello, Lucy." She could see what was going to happen next. See it in the way he stood. The way he talked.
She decided to be nice anyways. "Hello."
"Sorry, but I have to cut you short. There is some urgent business the New Archivist needs to attend to."
Again. She was being cut short again. She was about to cry. She wished she'd never come aboard this ship.
"Here you go," the metal man said. He handed something to her.
She didn't want to, but she put it on.

It felt so good. The knowledge flowed into her. She remembered how wonderful her situation was. She remembered the history of the Bantu people. She remembered the joys of preserving civilizations. And she realized that it was the New Archivist doing the remembering, not Lucy.
"What did you want talk to me about," the cosmic preserver asked.
"I think we should make a bigger priority of the Fortarians. The humans have been in this solar system for tens of thousands of years, and they can probably stick around a few months longer. The Fortarians, on the other hand, are facing great societal decline. Their civilization is buckling under the immense cost of remaining in space."
"I see," the New Archivist responded. She wasn't entirely focused on the matter of analyzing the Fortarian people. She was thinking about Lucy. The girl was clearly unhappy with her situation. Come to think of it, the New Archivist wasn't thrilled with the way things were going down either. Was there some way to improve things?
"So I was thinking we could let Earth be for a while and go study the Fortarians. To be honest, they're a more developed society anyways."
"All societies are developed. And the Earth is in a fair amount of peril of its own at the moment. It may be necessary for one of us to remain here and the other to join the Fortarian fleet. They're near Jupiter now?"
"Yes, but I'm not sure splitting up is a good idea."
"This whole thing with Lucy. I'm not sure whether you'd be safe without me?"
Was he implying that Lucy might renege on their bargain, leaving herself stranded in a spaceship? Actually, that might be plausible.
"I think the two of us should go together, and leave this planet."
"No. I will go with the Fortarians."
"They can be an aggressive race."
"I wield ancient scientific lore. I can take care of myself."
"What about Lucy?"
"She can take care of herself too. She can be deadly with those flaming swords of hers."
"I see your point. So what can we do?"
"We can stick together."
"Or, you could create some sort of bodyguard."
"Excuse me?"
"You've created artificial lifeforms before. Can't you create one again." Lucy herself had been one of Acme's creations. And were there ethical concerns with creating an entity and forcing it to be a bodyguard? "Actually, about the creature's- the person's mind. Why don't we use one of the ones we have stored? Don't we have the programming of those Taurian Mercenaries? We could just reanimate one with a new body. Or better yet, the soldiers of Kamphaphphph." Was this any better, morally?
"I'm not sure we should do that."
"Why? It would solve our problems."
"It might create new ones."
"I think we should do it."
They did.

It took Acme about an hour to create the creature. It was made out of a paste of nanobots. It was tougher than steel, could lift five hundred times its own weight, and could change shape and color at will.
It was given a mind based off that of a long deceased alien soldier. Given basic information about the Archives. Given the ability to speak all the languages the New Archivist knew. And then awoken.
Its first words were "Bbbbvvvvvuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu. Uuuuuu."
In almost every language, that means 'I hit my head.'
Acme was experienced in this sort of thing. "That's what most people say when they spring into existence with a fully developed mind and command of language. Lucy's first word was 'what?', in a few hundred languages. "
The New Archivist remembered her first awakening. Her eyes had flashed green, and she had intoned 'I understand.'
"I am the New Archivist. This is Acme. Do you understand me?"
"Do you know who you are?"
"I know you made me."
Acme interrupted. "You're almost a minute old. Are you ready to start making major life decisions?"
"Not quite."
"Want to watch some TV in the mean time. There's a new Pokemon episode out, and out of a sacred obligation to preserve all that humans create, I'm going to watch it."
"What is Pokemon?"
The New Archivist could see where this was going. She already had one android addicted to anime. "It probably wouldn't appeal to you. You lack any of the cultural context."
The new person waved a tentacle around. Probably the equivalent of clearing his throat. "I think I am ready for your major life decisions."
"Excellent. First. What should we call you?"
The creature thought for a moment. "Centurion."
"That's an interesting name. The second thing I'd like to discuss with you is a job offer. I created you so that you could protect me from possible threats when I'm spending time among the Fortarians. Is this agreeable to you. If it's not, I can offer you passage to any convenient part of the universe."
"I accept your offer."
"You're aware of the issue with Lucy."
"I'm prepared to make sure she honors her agreement."
"Good. Thank you. Then we will leave shortly. The Fortarians are eager to meet us."

The next time Lucy woke up, she was in a can. A can flying through space, to meet aliens. Her painting wasn't with her. She began to cry.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

An Eye for an Eye

It turns out that losing use of my eyes wasn't all that bad. Sure, they were my two primary visual centers, but I could always use some satellite to see the world around me. With a little help from GPS, I was able to get home without a hitch (well, I did ram some geese at hypersonic speed, but I wasn't hurt by that).
I landed on the roof, hardly damaging anything. I took a second to sync up with my mansion security. There. In a few seconds I could have  hundred camera's for eyes.
YEOOCH! The human brain is wired for two eyes. Never forget that. Unless... Could I soup up my visual processing centers? With the help of an AI, I could probably process hundreds of sources.
I doubt it. The human brain isn't wired that way, you know.
We can multitask.
No, you can't. You can flip back and forth between tasks with great inefficiency.

I can walk and talk at the same time, and it doesn't even place a significant drain on my mental resources.
I'm so impressed. But the fact remains that serious multitasking is the job of computers, not people.
That's an arbitrary distinction.
But I knew he was right. If I don't trust myself to make significant alterations to my hand, how can I make serious alterations to my brain?
Okay. How long will it take to rebuild my eyes?
Depends how much we want to improve them.

I'm fine with the enhancements we had before. Entire visual spectrum.
We might as well add in polarization.
I'm not sure how my brain would interpret that but we could try. I assume we'd base it off those bird who can detect how light is polarized.
We worked on my new eyes for some time. I was the big idea guy, Noetron was reasearch, Neurotron was handling assembly and logistics.
We hammered out a design and Neurotron began implementing it. Meanwhile, I got myself some eye-patches.
I know what you're thinking, and no, labcoat and  eye-patches is not the next big thing in supervillain fashion design.
I'm just saying it's a possibility.
A possibility if I want people to think I'm an idiot.
If you don't want people thinking that, you have an uphill battle.
Shut up.
I thought about how Vector had been able to get the drop on me. Going forward, I should certainly  have a program to keep tabs on prominent superheroes.
It also occurred to me I suffered from a certain lack of ranged weaponry. Maybe if I beefed up my wings a little bit?
There isn't enough material for that. The designs you're proposing would require at least half a kilogram of magnetic monopoles that we don't have.
We could make more.
You disassembled your big particle accelerator.
I was thinking we could create a lot of little particle accelerators. All of those fusion nodes that power us could be redesigned to create new material using excess power.
What followed was another storm of technological design. The kind you see in movies about scientists, where the look at cool 3-D models of stuff on their hologram projectors and say 'Eureka' a lot.
Just kidding! What followed was three hours of me staring at a blank sheet of paper trying to find a way to make microscopic particle accelerators out of magnetic monopoles. What I came up with operated at 0.4% efficiency, meaning that it would take about 350 years to get those new wings. I told Neurotron to go for it until I came up with something better.

Unfortunately, Cognis wasn't content to let me repair myself in peace. Instead, he decided to GChat me.
I know what you're thinking. And yes, while I do have holographic communicator, I don't go around giving my address to creep like Professor Cognis. But for some reason Google had automatically decided we were friends after I held the U.N. building hostage, and I'd never gotten around to blocking him.
"Three people injured, two more dead."
"Excuse me?"
"When you destroyed that facility. Two people were killed. Their names were Calvin Xu and Arnold Jacobson."
"Why are you telling me this?"
Cognis switched to video chat, overriding existing protocols and projecting himself onto my screen. I had the computer monitor hooked into my brain, so I could see it despite my blindness. I considered terminating the connection. "I'm telling you this because I want you to know what you did. Calvin had three children, a wife, a sister, and one surviving parent. Arnold-"
"I don't care!"
"Why don't you care?"
"There are billions of Calvin Xu's in the world. I can't get too hung up if I accidentally break a few."
Immediately after I said that, I realized that was the sort of thing puritans like Cognis would consider 'depraved', 'horrifying,' or 'disgusting'. Oh well. I can't pander to him any more than I can pander to Arnold Jacobson.
"Did it even occur to you to call me," the Professor spat. "I would have told Vector to let you go. These people didn't even need to die."
"I had the situation under control."
"You murdered two people! Two human lives flushed away. People like you."
"There are no people like me."
It seems he conceded that point. "People like Rosa, then."
"Don't you mention her, you-" I stopped. He was making me angry. That was his game. He would make me angry and I'd use flawed logic and he'd jump on it, and in the end I might end up believing him. I couldn't let him harsh my mellow. I needed to change the subject. "And if I had called you, Mephistopheles might have found out. It would have been that much harder to convince him to join the fight against Dr. Demented. Billions could have died as a result."
"That doesn't make it right."
"But it does make it justified."
"I don't think you really believe that justification. I think you were too proud to ask me for help."
With a frown on my face, I blocked him from my Google Hangout.
That didn't stop him. He projected his big concerned face on my monitor anyways.
"So? Is that it? Is that the reason for your entire career as a murderer and criminal? Because you want to oppose me? I've long suspected that but-"
"Don't try to psychoanalyze me! I am more intelligent than any human in the history of-"
"No, you're not. You're just an arrogant genius who, instead of helping out the human race, has decided to kill innocent people."
"I do science! I represent the greatest accomplishments of the human race, the pinnacle of all sentient life."
"And yet you killed two people rather than ask for my help."

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Nasty Business

A laser in the Colorado base. That's what I was looking for. A quick look around showed that Colorado had three Project X facilities, more than any other state. Why can't these clandestine informants be more specific? I pressed a button to activate my housewide PA system. "Justin, get in here."
"Why," he moaned. "I'm busy."
"Doing what?"
Probably something embarrassing, then. "Noetron, access-"
"I'll be right out."  Yeah. I had a pretty good idea what he was up to.
"What's so important you had to interrupt... what I was doing."
I told him about Mephistopheles' request for a stolen laser. I left out the bit about Cognis putting me up to it.
"Well, any ideas on how to narrow it down?"
"I've thought of a few. We could look at the supplies deliver to each facility, and check if any of them seem to be the components of a laser. Noetron?"
"Working on it, sir."
"And we could also get a list of the employees, and do the same thing. Justin, think you could drum up a list of who's working at each facility?"
"I once got a list of every person in the US armed forces, and filtered them by location and-"
"I'll take that as a yes."
"I guess I should look around inside the Project X central computer and see if it happens to have the information just lying around."
In the end, it was Justin who struck gold. With around 85% confidence, he determined that the laser project was based in a hidden base a few miles north of Denver."
I sometimes fancy myself a master of disguise. But ever since I killed Crucible, I'd become even bigger news than I was before. More than ever, I was the planet's most feared geniuses, and consequently one of the most recognizable guys in the world. But, short of sending in Justin, I had no better option.

There I was, in Colorado, with a hoodie and a fake ID, trying not to look like a world-famous international criminal. Have you ever tried not to look like a world-famous international criminal? It's never quite clear what to do. Especially if you happen to be a world-famous international criminal.
"Mr. Jefferson," the security guard asked, with all the enthusiasm of someone who doesn't give a shit.
"That's me."
"What's your codeword for the day?"
"Move along."
Now that I was past the doughnut-muncher, I had to evade the real security system. I had to fool a hundred camera's running facial recognition software, had to make sure no human got suspicious, and I had to avoid announcing myself. This last condition can be a bit of a stumbling block for a lot of villains.
There were other factors out my control. Noetron needed to maintain the illusion that I was a visiting maintenance officer, fooling whatever computer Cognis had concocted to check these records. The fake fingerprints on my hands needed to hold (I could probably reconfigure my fingerprints given enough time, but when I tried it hurt quite a bit. I considered trying to disconnect some of the nerves in my hand, but I was worried I wouldn't be able to put myself back together again).
I walked past a few interesting thing. Was that a particle accelerator? Nothing I couldn't make, but still pretty compact. And a fusion power plant cooled by water? Stupid. The whole place would go up in a steamy explosion if there were ever a malfunction. Finally, I got to the sanctum sanctorum, the room where the laser was held.
Well, to be specific, I loitered outside that room while my sensory tendrils analyzed the machine. It actually utilized some pretty novel ideas. Neat.
I made my way out, confident that I would make it back home without a scratch. When I found myself hanging in the air upside-down, I reversed that decision.

It took me a second to realize Vector was attacking me. Keeping me in midair, he turned me around to face him. He was hovering ten meters above the ground, a little bit above me. The most powerful hero in the world was looking majestic as always, his red hair flowing in the breeze, his telekinetic might holding him effortlessly aloft. "Care to explain what you're doing here?"
"Not really," I said. "Care to let me down?"
"Now, I'm going to assume you've already seen what you wanted to see. So what do I do with you."
"Let me off with a warning?" I was thinking through my options. Vector had been clever to yank me into the air. I didn't have any ranged weapons, so if he could keep me at a distance then I was powerless to harm him.
"Let me call Cognis. He can probably come up with a way to contain you that doesn't require me keeping constant watch."
Vector pulled out what looked for all the world like a cell phone. When he seemed to be about half way dialing, I struck. I unfurled my wings and flew at him, ready to ram him into orbit.
My wings could deliver incredible acceleration, and could close the distance between me and Vector in a fraction of the time it takes a human to react.
Unfortunately, nobody told Vector that human reflexes have limits. He stopped me. It wasn't easy for him, but he stopped me.
"You know my power lets me sense motion, right?"
Yeah, of course I did. But I also happened to know that three years earlier he'd had a car thrown at him and hadn't dodged. And I gave him a lot less time than the car did. Was he getting more powerful? Or was he just more sensitive to higher velocities? Something to test another day.
I snapped back into the present. My wings were exposed, and they were the one part of my body fragile enough that Vector could harm them. Actually, there were a few other places he could do temporary damage, but the wings were still a weak point.
"You tried to kill me." He sounded surprisingly offended. Wasn't attempted murder a daily concern in the life of a sueprhero?
"It wouldn't have killed you. I would have hit you at like a thousand meters per second. You've survived worse than that."
"Still, it's kind of jerk move. I'm not hurting you."
"You're holding me in the air against my will." I fired the thrusters in me palms at him. He deflected a hundred thousands Newtons of thrust like a telekinetic god deflecting a blast of fusion energy. Which he was.
I was more powerful than him. If I got just move closer to him I would be able to latch on and rip him limb from limb. No, wait, I was thinking about this all wrong. I just needed to get away from him. A distraction? Before I got innocent people involved, I decided to try to hurt him one last time.
I spat at him. He let the spit hit him, at a few hundred meters per second. "Now that was just plain rude."
I spat again. It missed him. It passed him. It hit the Project X facility. It passed through several dozen walls. It hit the fusion reactor. That reactor plunged into water, and four terajoules of heat were converted into work at high efficiency. The entire plant was blown apart.
"You did that?"
"Yeah. You gonna help the people inside?"
"Well, then you need to let me go. Unless you want to carry me around near a hospital or something."
I had put Vector in one of those classic superhero dilemmas. Like many heroes, he wasn't happy about it.
I felt an incredible pain in my abdomen. Vector was trying to shred my insides. Fortunately, I had very durable intestines, an he failed.
He moved up, trying to damage my heart. Failed.
Arms? Nope
Brain? Get real.
Eyes? Shit! That hurt. He reduced my eyes to so much jelly. "I know this won't stop you from escaping, but I hope it will."
He swooped over the burning building, picking up a few dozen injured lab technicians, and flew to the nearest hospital.
Meanwhile, I had to fly back to Estveria while blinded. Ugh.  

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Science Flair

Mephistopheles stuck next in Melbourne. It wasn't clear quite what he was doing in Melbourne. But whatever it was, it attracted the attention of the Shining Defender, Australia's greatest superhero. (Australia's second greatest hero is Captain Kangaroo).
When I arrived, Mephistopheles was throwing cars at his heroic assailant. Shining Defender deflected the car with his Ultrasteel shield. Let me say that again. Someone threw a car at him, and he deflected it off his shield.
"Begone, Mephistopheles!"
Mephistopheles responded with bravado. "Don't keep up the knight in shining armor act. We're in Australia, thousands of miles and thousands of years removed from King Arthur."
"G'day, mate. I don't suppose you'd mind if boomeranged into this conversation while I eat my Vegemite?" The Shining Defender looked at me. "Sorry" I said, returning to the mild upper-class English accent I cultivate in order to seem more villainous, "I went native for a second there."
The Shining Defender blasted Mephistopheles with his Shining Rays. Basically a high-power laser. Mephistopheles conjured up a black barrier which absorbed the blast. "So... Phoenix... Why are you here?" He wasn't speaking in that bantering voice he'd been using earlier. Back to his creepy graveyard tones.
"I'd like to speak with you, and you are hard to reach."
"Very well. I am done here anyway. Shall we converse upon the open ocean?"
The Shining Defender snickered. "Sounds romantic."
"Don't you have a princess to save?"
"Don't you have to go invent a better metal for my shield?"
"Don't you have to run around in armor that is in every way inferior to mine?"
I unfurled my flaming wings. Mephistopheles created gigantic, demonic looking black wings which merged seamlessly with his black armor. How did he conjure up this stuff? Was it all an illusion? If I was getting roped into the Illuminati Occultus, then I was at least going to find out how Mephistopheles' power worked.

"Mephistopheles, I've thought it over, and I would like to join the Illuminati Occultus. Naturally, as leader of a country, I can't be involved in robberies and the like, but I'd be willing to provide technical expertise, and I know quite a bit about the heroes' capabilities."
"You already had a chance to be a part of my organization. You turned it down. What changed?"
"Two things. First of all, it lasted this long without utterly imploding. It might even be said that you are flourishing."
"And the second thing?"
"You fought Vector, and beat him. You are one of the only people in the world who has ever done that, and I still have no idea how. I want to know how your powers work. That is my condition for joining."
"Is it?"
"It is."
"Well, that is unfortunate. You see, I don't know how my powers work."
Interesting. Was he telling the truth? It occurred to me yet again that I knew literally nothing about Mephistopheles. "Did someone give you the power?"
"I can only assume so. I was born with it?"
"Then why have I only just heard of you?"
"I can keep a secret."
Maybe, but nobody can keep a secret that well. Can you imagine a five-year-old gifted with an incredible superpower not using it. A teenager not showing off or killing someone. I've seen some pretty freaky people in my day, but that story seemed a little implausible.
"Well, then. You let me study your power. We can both learn something."
"Agreed. Welcome to the Illuminati Occultus." I could swear he was smiling under his black helmet. "Under one condition."
Oh. All the sudden he's adding conditions. "What is your condition?"
"You are aware of Project X?"
"Of course." For years, the United Stated government had been trying to create its own superheroes. This program, called Project X, produced all sorts of advanced technologies that supervillains steal on a regular basis. It was quite possibly the most counterproductive venture in the history of government, which is saying something.
"They recently developed a new laser. Incredible power."
"How do you know that?"
"I have my sources."
"I have a feeling I'm going to want you to put me in touch with those sources, but go on."
"I want you to steal the schematics for that laser."
"I have some pretty advanced lasers of my own. I doubt Project X can match my scientific genius."
"Cognis was involved in this project."
"Well, then it's possible the laser could be something special. Now who is this source?"
"He's dead. He infiltrated the Project a few months ago, but I lost contact last week. He informed me of the laser's existence, and said it is in the Colorado base."
Suuuuuure. No way this is a test of any sort. "Well, I'll see what I can do."

I should probably have gotten to work on the laser thing immediately. I could either call Cognis and ask for the schematics (it was for a slightly good cause, after all), or get them the old-fashioned way- by stealing them.
But I had something else to do. I remembered the last time Earth had been under attack by an entity with unlimited power. I had killed Crucible by creating a strangelet, a little bit of nuclear matter which would absorb all the normal matter it came into contact with, releasing prodigious amounts of energy. I had released this strangelet on the moon of Mars, which was fortunately hidden behind the red planet. The radiation had effects even on the outer planets of the solar system.
And what did I do with the most powerful weapon I had ever held? I threw it away. The science behind it was stolen from the Archives, and the New Archivist asked me to return it. I had erased the knowledge from my own brain. It was utterly against my nature, and it was looking like I might need to pull a similar stunt against Dr. Demented.
So how do I study this?
Well, first of all, I was there. I had forced myself to forget the details, but what did I remember? I think there was a flash of blue light. Neurotron, do you remember anything more specific?
Nope. You deleted the spectroscopic data after Lucy batted her eyes.
If there were a way to strangle a computer implanted inside of you...
"Wait a moment. We can get a spectrum off of the astronomers. They have eyes on the sky all the time."
There was a planet in the way, moron. Otherwise, everyone on Earth would have been fried.
What about the light reflected off of other planets? This was the brightest light in the solar system, some of it must have bounced off the heavenly bodies.
"Noetron, get me the data on Jupiter and Saturn during and immediately after the event." I paused. "Also, space-based telescopes. Anything that might have picked up the explosion."
"I should have the data in fifteen minutes, sir."
"And what about the remains of the moon. A gigantic strangelet exiting the solar system at zero point four percent the speed of light.  We can get the spectrum on that. If it's blackbody, we can project backwards, get another data point on the initial energy density. If it's not blackbody, then we might find out something about the structure."
"Oh, and neutrino's. They can pass right through a planet, and hardly be diminished. Get me all the world's neutrino detector readings for that day."
I ended up getting three different numbers for the initial energy density using three different methods. All within five percent of each other, so they were probably in the right ballpark. It was a start. It was a start on what might mean reconstructing a century's worth of physics in my basement laboratory, but it was a start.