The second line of thinking suggests instead trying to save your girlfriend without giving a terrorist access to nuclear materials.
It was a simple matter to pull up a blueprint of the restaurant. I'd received two phone calls from Vera, so could I pinpoint her location... yes. I could. Because I'm a genius. And because her phone has GPS.
Could I get video? No. But it was reasonable to assume some sort of armed guard. The Puzzlemaster had an incredible knack for getting large numbers of highly devoted henchmen. Some people suspected some sort of brainwashing technique was involved. I was of the opinion that you don't need coercion to convince people to join up with an evil genius.
So... how could I save Vera. Could I use lasers to take out all of the Puzzlemaster's minions? No. Some sort of knockout gas? Doubtful. Could I grab the terrorist mastermind and threaten to kill him if he didn't release his hostages? That probably wouldn't work.
I must have come up with a hundred bad ideas in give minutes.
It was time to leave. I could always backpedal later, but for now I at least needed to give the appearance of complying.
Assume the actual business of stealing uranium took half an hour. That meant I should probably steal it from a place no more than twenty minutes' flight away. It was my strong preference to steal from North Korea. NATO was very tetchy about that sort of thing. And Russia was my neighbor, so I'd prefer not to piss them off. Could I make it to North Korea in time? Yes. I lifted off.
Did the authorities know what I was after? It wouldn't take too long to guess. I should be ready for fighter jets on the way there and they were a guarantee on the way back. As if a fighter jet could hurt me. (I did a quick check, Vector was stopping a tidal wave in the Indian Ocean. I wouldn't need to worry about him.)
I thought about my old armor. It had a stealth mode, undetectable to radar, infrared and visible frequencies. I hadn't used it much lately. Compared to my improved body built on quantum-field-theoretic principles, it was fragile, slow, and weak. Was there a way to make my body invisible? It might be possible to cover my body in the same optical nanomachines that I- no, what about my mouth, and fingernails, and hair. I wasn't ready to shed that much humanity. But it did give me an interesting idea.
I flew on towards Russia. I listened in on radio chatter. The world didn't seem to be worried about me. I crossed into their airspace.
Have you ever been held captive by a riddle-obsessed nuclear terrorist? Once you get over the initial terror, it's actually kind of boring.
The Puzzlemaster was standing on the roof, so you couldn't even listen to him. Of course, that also meant that he wasn't murdering people, so it was probably a good deal overall.
Nobody was allowed to talk, unless it was to answer a riddle. No electronics, of course. Half an hour ago, someone had started a game of solitaire. The Puzzlemaster had killed him before he could finish.
Vera waited for a while, hoping there was a way to stop the madman without giving him a nuclear weapon. She was still considering things when the Puzzlemaster made his return. He walked up to an especially nervous looking man. The villain picked up a menu, and wrote down a riddle.
"The planet that is red, the planet that's nearby,
The planet named for water, the planet on it's side,
First impression are important, but not always quite right,
So tell me, fine sir, what your answer is tonight?"
The man seemed to gain some composure now that he had a task laid out for him. He thought out loud. "Mars. Venus, no, Earth. Neptune? And the last one?" The Puzzlemaster handed him a smartphone. "Uranus!" The man considered for a long time. "Oh! The first letters together spell menu! Menu!"
"Correct," the Puzzlemaster said, seeming genuinely pleased.
"Correct," the Puzzlemaster said, seeming genuinely pleased.
He turned to another woman. A malicious grin came across his face.
"What can travel faster than light?
Turn night into day and day into night?
Can stave off death, and taxes too?
You don't get another clue."
"I have no idea," the woman wept. "Please don't kill me." He stabbed her with her own umbrella.
"Nothing," he spat.He neared another person, a teenager. He seemed about to pose a question when something distracted him. He left the room. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief.
It was a quiet night at a North Korean missile silo. Captain Park Joo-sok was trying to stave off sleep until the end of his watch, and Private Ho Pong-ju was getting dressed for the new day of nothing happening. They were one of several contingents guarding the site, making sure no outsider could ever threaten the glory of the republic. Park checked the radar. A storm was coming in. There was something else. It was small and seemed to be moving very fast. Was someone coming in for a surprise inspection? That must be it.
"Wake up, Private. Someone is coming."
The Private was well awake and was halfway through breakfast. "Yes, sir."
Park looked out the window, hoping to catch a glimpse of the inspector's plane. He saw it. Why did it have bright lights? Did the inspector want to be spotted?
The plane got closer and closer. Brighter and brighter. "What's with the inspector's plane," the captain wondered.
"That's not a plane," the private said. "I think it's Phoenix."
The missiles were actually under ground. I decided to solve that problem by hitting the ground at several thousand meters per second. Two meter thick steel hatch? Child's play. Machine guns? Please.
There were three nuclear devices, standing right in front of me, ripe for the taking. I walked up to one, and ripped out any component that looked like it could possibly arm the device. It took a surprisingly long time. I didn't want the machine exploding as I flew it over Europe. Not only would that make me one of the most hated people in the world, it would probably also make me dead.
I spent a minute enlarging my hole to the point where some could reasonably get a short-range nuclear missile through. By that point, a terrified Korean soldier had shown up.
"By- by order of-"
"Listen... Private Ho. I just pulverized a hundred cubic meters of steel. I beat Vector in a fight-" not strictly true- "and I could kill you in much less than a second. Please don't make any trouble."
"I have to try."
"You should probably run."
"Why? Are you going to kill me?"
"No," I said, as I destroyed the other two missiles. "But I have a feeling you country will not be happy when they find out what has happened here. You will probably not live very long once your people get here."
"Why are you doing this?"
"Because of this really great girl I met." I shot off into the atmosphere, carrying a ten-ton ballistic missile.
John Howard was a thug. He preferred the term Junior Henchman, but he was a thug. Right now, it was his job to watch over Vera Rapport. The Puzzlemaster seemed to think she was important for some reason. Who was she dating again? Phoenix. Professor Cognis? Titan the Talking Tyrannosaurus? He couldn't remember.
He looked at her. Word had recently come through to tie the hostages up. She was trying to cut through half-inch steel ropes. Like that was going to happen.
John looked around. Nobody seemed to be making any trouble. This was the easiest job ever. Howard was so glad he hadn't gone to medical school.
He turned his attention back to Vera. He did a double-take. In the ten seconds he had been turned away, the steel cords had been cut and Vera had completely disappeared.