Earth's greatest heroes were playing poker. Vector, Professor Cognis, the Dark Detective, the Titanium Warrior, the Shining Defender, Resonance, Bios, and Superhuman.
Vector was the reason they were there. He had insisted that the heroes take a break from their heroic schedules, and this was the best way to make sure they followed through. He stared at his dwindling pile of chips. "I'll fold." That's what you get for playing poker against the world's greatest detective and the man who invented telepathy.
Vector looked at Professor Cognis. At Martin. The man was only forty, and his hair was already turning gray. He worked too hard. Sure, you can't fault a man for working eighteen hours a day when every hour of work saved a hundred lives, but Professor Cognis worked too hard. He would probably work himself to death by aged sixty (if he wasn’t killed by a supervillain, that is), and then what? The United Heroes would be without a leader. The whole world would be deprived of its most valuable resource for dealing with disasters both man-made and natural.
Meanwhile, Vector would live forever. Gifted by alien technology with unlimited power he didn’t deserve. Didn’t know how to use. Telekinesis was more than the ability to move things around. It could be used as a sixth sense, by mapping out the density of surrounding matter. It could be used to restart a heart or purify water. To create a shield of compressed air to protect others with little warning. To stop tsunamis and hurricanes. Vector was still learning how to do these things. Cognis had thought of them all in under a minute.
He would have trained harder. Refined those skills more quickly. Thought of better solutions to the problems Vector faced. In an ideal world, this terrible power, this terrible responsibility, would lie on Professor Cognis’ shoulders.
The Dark Detective wasn't happy with being forced to take the night off. But as nights off went, playing poker in the United Heroes North American Headquarters was perfectly fine. To nobody's surprise, he was raking it in. Well, raking it in was a relative term. He made this much money every minute as the owner of a large corporation. He was wondering about the Puzzlemaster. He'd given up on Dr. Demented. Leave that to the big brains, Cognis and Phoenix and Genesis would figure that one out. But the Dark Detective could take down the Puzzlemaster.
He may not have nuclear weapons, but the villain was still dangerous. He was probably the Dark Detective's greatest and most frequent foe. His nemesis.
The Dark Detective had a tracking device on the Puzzlemaster's submarine. It wasn't much help. It could only broadcast a weak signal, or Puzzlemaster would notice it. A weak signal could only be detected when the Puzzlemaster was a few miles from a populated area. By that point, it was usually too late.
Furthermore, the Dark Detective couldn't sound the alarm. That would alert the Puzzlemaster to the existence of the tracker. And if planting a tracking device on the bottom of a terrorist mastermind's moving submarine had been difficult the first time (which it had) it would be nearly impossible the second time.
So the Detective waited for the ideal moment to strike and take the Puzzlemaster down for good. And he hastened that moment by training and equipping heroes across the world. That was why he funded the United Heroes. So there would always be a response to any threat in the world.
The Detective forced himself to focus. The Puzzlemaster had lost most of his men. That meant he was vulnerable. He would try to recruit more. That meant he'd be visiting orphanages, slums. The Puzzlemaster would only be visiting countries with slums. That narrowed it down. He wouldn't be able to keep as low a profile, though. You can't recruit if people don't know you're there.
The Puzzlemaster would leave traces. People would disappear. There might be rumors. If he pulled off a minor heist, that would also be useful to know. The Dark Detective began assembling a list of sources that could help him track down his nemesis, and finally lay their rivalry to rest.
Professor Cognis thought this poker game was a waste of time. Early in his career, he'd done a calculation and estimated that one hour of free time a day was the optimal amount to maximize his life productivity. He'd quickly discovered that it is difficult to limit one's self to one hour of free time a day. Zero is much easier.
So the Professor had decided not to treat this as free time. He wasn't playing poker. He was hard at work. He was thinking of a quick and efficient way to transport people and materials to the UH orbiting headquarters. A space elevator? An Ultrasteel cable would probably be strong enough. But it would be difficult to make a cable long enough and thick enough for a space elevator. Ultrasteel needed to be built atom by atom, and even Phoenix never had more than a few tons at a time. Cognis thought. He thought some more. He pretended to play a few hands of poker.
Yes, it was all coming together. He would use the proceeds from that new water purification scheme. He would manufacture the Ultrasteel on Earth. Probably in Nigeria. An American employer creating a large number of jobs, even for a short time, would do wonders for those diplomatic problems. Vector could easily assemble the elevator, maybe use a landfill as a counterweight. It might stretch his powers, but Vectors abilities seemed to be slowly growing. Cognis had his own theories on that.
Presumably, the alien nanomachines that empowered Vector were multiplying. Cognis still didn't know how they worked, but he was doing research on Vector's blood samples. There was a chance, just a chance, that the right combination of chemicals, combined with vacuum energy radiation, gamma radiation, and who knows what else, could induce even more growth in Vector's telekinetic powers. Enough to save the world from Dr. Demented.
Cognis had already committed two hours a day to studying it.