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?"
"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."
I hung up the phone. "No progress tracing the call?"
"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.