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.
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."
"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.