Tuesday, July 29, 2014


Superheroes do more than just punch bad guys in the face. Bios uses her powers to heal the sick. The Titanium Warrior uses his talents to design safer cars. And Professor Cognis was using his tremendous intellect, mindreading powers, and knowledge of social psychology to engineer peace in the Middle East. His plan solved the Israel-Palestine conflict with the creation of three states. He was confident that he could guarantee everyone security, liberty, and prosperity. While he persuaded the leaders of the region to adopt his plan, Vector was busy persuading the masses.
He was giving a speech in both Hebrew and Arabic. He could feel the pulses and heartbeats of his audience. Some of them were excited. Some were angry. Some were bored. He explained the merits of Cognis’ plan. Explained how this could be one of the great achievements of mankind. Explained how this could result in stability in the region. One person cheered. Vector kept talking.

At least one person in the audience was decidedly unhappy. Here was Vector, coming in, claiming that superheroes had the right to violate any nation’s sovereignty. That only they could solve the region’s problems. The malcontent would have none of that. What could Vector know about the history and suffering of my people, he thought, as he pulled out a gun. He loaded it, aimed it at a stranger, and fired.

Vector’s powers let him sense movement. He could feel the bullet, as it accelerated towards its victim. Too late, he remembered to act. He slowed the bullet, robbing it of half its speed before it even broke the victim’s skin. It was too little, too late. Vector pulled the bullet out of its target, and did his best to regulate blood flow. He dialed for an ambulance on a stranger’s phone. But he knew that this innocent person would die.
Still standing on his podium, he picked up the gunman. Rage literally radiated from him in waves as he held the murderer in the sky. “Do you realize what you’ve done,” the hero demanded. “Do you understand that you’ve killed a human being?”
“His people-“
“His people? You killed him because of something his people did? You didn’t even know him. And now he’s dead. Maybe you don’t understand death. I want you to imagine everyone you know. Imagine never seeing them again. Imagine never eating again. Never smiling again. Imagine what would happen to you children, your wife, you sick mother, without you. That’s what death is like. That is what you did to a complete stranger.”
Vector didn’t sense any regret. Fear, yes. But no regret. He seriously considered tearing the murderer apart. It would be easy. It was what he deserved. But it would only serve to further enflame the situation, and ruin Cognis’ plans for peace.
Instead, Vector put down the killer and flew away.

Vector flew over the Mediterranean. He watched the waves, trying to calm himself. It didn’t help. He used his power, lifting a giant section of water out of the see. He bent it into a sphere, a cube, a torus, a statue of Santa Claus. Nothing helped. He flew into space, taking the water with him. He dropped it from an altitude of a hundred miles, and caught it before it hit the Earth. He didn’t feel any better.
Vector flew around the globe four times. Along the way, he stopped a nascent hurricane, averted a small earthquake, and stopped all gunfire in the city of New York for three minutes. He was helping people. He was beginning to feel better. He flew to Sudan and used his powers to punch fifty-foot holes in the ground. Instant potable water. He stopped a mudslide in Bangladesh, an avalanche in the alps, and a volcanic eruption in Chile. He was saving the world. He felt good.
Then Cognis called.

“It was interesting how you handled that,” the genius said. "Storming away. Not the first method I'd try."
"To diffuse the situation. You realize that this is the sort of thing that could start a tit-for-tat and prevent my plan from ever succeeding. The fate of the Middle East was riding on your ability to handle the situation."
Vector hadn't even thought of that. "And... how did I do?"
"Could have gone better, could have gone worse. I had to do some fast talking, but fast talking is my specialty. Your actions made it very clear that the supers are against the violence, which suggests we are honestly committed to peace. On the other hand, you did emphasize the fact that someone was just killed. As far as I know, there hasn't been any retaliation yet."
So Vector hadn't ruined everything. The hero didn't think he could survive the guilt of accidentally starting a war. "Glad you were able to fix things."
"We're not in the clear yet. Nobody is ever in the clear when it comes to peace in this region. I won't call the program a success until it survives at least a decade." The world's greatest diplomat paused for breath. "I need to bring up another topic. You seem to be unable to control your emotions. This has some benefits. Your emotions will no doubt push you to greater efforts to protect the planet." 
Cognis had committed himself to spend the entirety of his life solving every single problem on the planet. He allowed himself six hours of sleep per day, and one hour for mealtimes. The rest of his life was spent protecting the innocent and disadvantaged. Vector knew he could never be that devoted.
"On the other hand, your emotions blind you, and there is a chance that the pain you feel for others will drive you out of the heroic fight. Do not let that happen. Remember that the world needs you. Only you can stop natural disasters in progress and villains like Mephistopheles."
"At least until you find a way to duplicate my powers."
"Or the powers of..." Cognis' voice trailed off. Vector's keen senses picked up the sound of frantic typing on the other end. "It appears that Mephistopheles is making a move. He recently raided Igor Cransky's house, and now he is gathering his agents for some sort of assault. This is almost definitely an attempt to take control of the Zoo. We cannot allow such an attempt to succeed. Vector, you will need to take down Mephistopheles before he can reach his destination. The other heroes will be able to defend the Zoo from Titan and the rest. If this goes well, we could achieve a lasting victory over all the world's villains."

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Zoo

Igor Cransky was scared. He had been secretary of state to Dr. Carnage, aiding the former dictator. The job came with its risks, but Igor had managed to navigate between the genocidal maniac and his ruthless enemies, accumulating a good deal of wealth and power. All that had come crashing down during the One Day War. Dr. Carnage had been killed, and the rickety power structure Cransky had worked so hard to create collapsed like a house of cards in a hurricane.
Cransky had fled, running to a mountain in Switzerland. No foreign government would bother him here, and the Swiss wouldn't jeopardize their historic neutrality just to apprehend a second-rate war criminal.
So Cransky had made himself unreachable to the forces of good. That only left him vulnerable to the forces of evil. Which were far more terrifying. To the point where Cransky sometimes considered drivıng down to the nearest village and turnimg himself in.
Sometimes, he managed to push all that out of his mind. He enjoyed skiing. He had more wine at his disposal than most small towns. He had some really nice cars.
Igor had just come back from an afternoon drive. He could tell something was wrong. There was no way he had left the front door open. Someone else had entered his house, tracked in snow, and hadn't bothered cleaning it up. Igor fingered the gun he kept on him at all times. He didn't really know how to use it, and knew that it wouldn't stop most of the people out to get him. But at least he had it.
Igor was just about to drive away when a gigantic black arm picked him up. Mephistopheles hoisted him into the air. Igor looked at the villain in fear. "What do you want with me? Please don't hurt me. I'll do whatever you ask."
"Glad to see you don't have a nasty case of indomitable will to deal with." The villain dropped Cransky to the ground, and his arm shrank to normal size. "I want the location of the Zoo."
The Zoo was where Dr. Carnage kept the experimental creations so dangerous even he didn't want to be anywhere near them. That meant they were pretty seriously dangerous. Cransky had made a point of not asking about Carnage's creations, but he knew that they could kill thousands, if not millions of people, if they were ever let loose. Not his problem. Igor was about to say when a thought crossed his mind. "What will you do to me if I tell you?"
"I'll let you got free."
Igor had spent too much time around supervillains to believe that. "Really?"
"Do you swear on everything you hold holy?"
"How much do you think a man named Mephistopheles holds holy? But yes."
Igor still didn't believe him. Would Mephistopheles really live Igor alive to call the authorities? "Tell you what," he said. "You let me go to the city. Let the United Heroes take me into custody. Then I'll tell you."
"Because it's so easy to smuggle secret messages out of United Heroes custody."
"I'm sorry, I just don't trust you."
Mephistopheles let out the creepiest sounding sigh Igor had ever heard. "It would have been better for both of us if you did. Here is my true offer, then. Please believe its sincerity. I will torture you until you give me the location. Once the location is confirmed, I will kill you."
Igor believed him. What should he do? He knew he couldn't withstand torture. He knew it for a fact, because Dr. Carnage had once tortured him just for fun. Should he save himself the trouble and give in now? He was about to. But humans are natural optimists. He still had hope. The United Heroes might have been tracking Mephistopheles. His rescue was probably minutes away. He could last that long.
Tentacles of blackness began extending from Mephistpheles' fingertips. "I am right now creating billions of microscopic tendrils. I will begin by lacerating your body a trillion times. I've done it before. It is very painful, and quite interesting to watch."
Igor couldn't start talking fast enough.

As I studied the powers of my three house-guests, I considered how to deal with Mephistopheles. Ideally, I could harness the power of the Disease and create my own organization of supers. But I still had no idea how to infect someone with the Disease. It's a well known fact that it isn't contagious.
Meanwhile, my studies were producing only meager results. I managed to store Flashpoint's teleportational energy by having him charge up a tennis ball and then suspending it in the air with air jets. I had no idea what made it spontaneously travel across the room.
I tested Concept's physical strength, and tried to determine where it came from. I also tried to identify the workings behind his telepathy. Failure on both fronts.
With Raymond, I was making more progress. Not only did I convince him that, given his powers, he should start going by Ray, I also coaxed him into practicing his power daily.
I was sitting in the dark, alternately pondering the nature of electroweak matter at high energies, how the Disease worked, and how I could engineer Lucy's escape. I was making progress on the first of those. My reverie was interrupted by Noetron. "Sir, Mephistopheles has been sighted flying over the Swiss alps."
"Any possible targets?" Mephistopheles didn't strike me as a consummate skier.
"The most probable is Igor Cransky, one of Dr. Carnage's assistants." Ah, yes. Igor. The surprisingly non-hunchbacked aide to Dr. Carnage.
"Okay. Check any satellites over the region. I want to know if he lands near Igor's home." I thought. What could Mephistopheles want from Igor. Inviting Igor into his Order of Darkness seemed like a long shot. Maybe he wanted some sort of information about one of Dr. Carnage's creations. Plague? Unlikely. Titan? Even less likely. The Zoo? A possibility. Dr. Carnage's efforts to control the Lost Army? Probably not, Cognis had been gathering and presumably destroying the Army's remains for months.
"It seems most likely that Mephistopheles is after the location of the Zoo. In that case, we can expect him to try to raid the location, and take control of Dr. Carnage's monsters. Assuming Cognis is on top of things, Mephistopheles won't be able to do that without a fight. He would presumably survive the fight (he was new, but I doubted he would start a battle he didn't think he could win), but it would leave him weakened, him and his forces injured while he tried to house and control a bunch of genetically engineered weapons.
I began to alternate between planning a strike against Mephistopheles and solving the field equations for electroweak matter.
I got bored, and looked through my to-do list. Any new ideas about that spaceship? Nope. Better designs for Noetron's speech synthesizer? No. Notions on how Vector's powers worked? No way. Ideas to help Genesis feed the larger creatures in his garden. I thought about that for a second. Yes... that could work. It could work very well indeed.
"Noetron, open a channel for communication with Genesis."
"Yes sir."
It took some time. Apparently, Genesis doesn't sit around all day waiting for my calls. Eventually, he picked up. "What do you want?"
"I want to help you. You seem to be having difficulty finding food for your mile-long behemoths."
"I am. Are you offering me unlimited food? I had not suspected generosity was in your nature."
"It's not. But I have several kilograms of enriched Uranium burning a hole in my pocket." I paused. "Metaphorically burning a hole in my pocket."
"And you think I could adapt these creatures to be biological nuclear reactors. That is definitely a possibility. And your price?"
"Something you should be willing to do for free. Screw Mephistopheles over."

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Space Gods Part 3

Carpenter was not pleased with the Emperor. Apparently, in addition to the fusion weapons already under construction, the Fortarian Empire needed antimatter bombs powerful enough to blast starships apart or to scar the faces of planets. Who did he think they were fighting? A war against humans wouldn't require such weapons, and the true enemies of the empire were lightyears away. Meanwhile, these weapons would cost a small fortune to maintain and transport, on top of the large fortune needed to create them in the first place. The Emperor's new military expenditures would require more cuts to civilian infrastructure. The economy was already starved after all that time crossing interstellar space.
Carpenter was working on a report, to be read by the other high-ranking functionaries. The Empire was wasting its resources on a military it didn't need. It should be saving for its next interstellar voyage. The Computer People were always in pursuit, and the Altarians weren't happy with the Empire either. Neither were the Gajars, the FfffFfffffFf, the Aldarians, or the Electric Blues. And the Emperor was wasting everyone's time.
But, really, what could Carpenter do? He wasn't the Emperor. He didn't make the decisions. Well, he usually did, but the Emperor's decisions outweighed his opinions. Even if he convinced his fellow oligarchs, the Emperor wouldn't care. Why couldn't that incompetent freak leave anonymous bureaucrats to run society in peace. Bureaucracy might not be efficient, but bureaucracy run by an idiot is much worse.

The Emperor was playing a game. It was a simple game. Complex games were beyond him. His opponent, a senior official in the Fortarian government, was nervous. On one hand, he wanted to impress his master. On the other hand, the Emperor didn't like losing.
The game, which we'll call 'lines and crosses',  wasn't complex. Maybe a little harder than tic-tac-toe, but certainly easier than checkers. Of course, it was the cultural equivalent of chess or go.
The Emperor made a move. It left him exposed. To be perfectly frank, a human child with no previous lines and boxes experience would catch that mistake. "Excellent move, your majesty. Truly, you are a wonder of the universe."
The Emperor had learned foreign policy playing games like that. This was problematic, because foreign policy is not a board game, you can't learn to play in five minutes, the other players were playing to win, and the penalty for losing was species-wide annihilation. Problematic, indeed.

Alex needed to talk about his being the galaxy's greatest murderer. Dr. Demented didn't seem interested, so that  meant talking to the girl from the moon. Why not meet in person, he thought.
He triangulated her position based on their previous conversations. She was in a Fortarian ship. The mothership. Located near the rim. He flew into Fortarian space. The Fortarians detected his high-speed foray into their territory. They didn't know who he was, but people tend to get antsy when, after running halfway across the galaxy, they find unidentified and powerful aliens approaching their ship at relativistic speeds.
They hailed Alex. "Identify yourself." They ordered.
"Identify yourself or be destroyed."
Alex ignored the requests, not least because he couldn't speak Fortarian. A trio of battleships were launched.
"Identify yourself or we will fire." Lasers were warmed up, railguns were charged, and missiles were armed. "Identify yourself now."
 Alex felt the searing heat of lasers. Alex's only previous combat experience was against a guy wielding a knife. That had been kind of boring. Now, Alex was up against enough military might to destroy human civilization. He caught one of the missiles. It blew up in his hands. A fusion bomb. It actually gave him some mild burns, but they healed in a fraction of a second. Then came the antimatter bombs. The ones the Fortarian Emperor had decided to make. It seemed they were going to be used a lot earlier than anyone thought. Next came a volley of lasers. While Alex was distracted, each of the three ships launched their one antimatter weapon. Alex felt pain- actual physical pain- as parts of his body were annihilated. Even more pain came as powerful explosions tore him apart. His skin evaporated. His bones shattered. His brain boiled. Nothing remained besides the Crucible of Cosmic fire and a few lumps of flesh, floating in space. It took almost ten seconds for Alex to recover.

Carpenter was interrupted from his memo-writing. He saw footage of the battle unfolding outside. He flinched in horror when the antimatter weapons were used. There went more money than Carpenter's family had ever seen since the dawn of time. Along with it went Carpenter's chance of changing the Emperor's mind on this new updated military that was draining imperial coffers.
Then, Carpenter realized in horror, the assailant began to recover. The Empires most powerful weapons had been deployed, and they had stopped this creature for all of ten seconds. What did this monster want? Was he an agent of the Computer People? Was this the downfall of the Empire? At that moment, Carpenter was very, very glad he wasn't in charge of the army.

Alex was pissed. He had just had his entire body boiled off. It had been a painful experience. He looked at the three Fortarian ships. They were motionless. Alex flew towards them. It would be easy to fly through the hulls, puncturing the ships. He located the nuclear reactors powering each one. Destroying them would be child's play. Alex could throw tiny bits of debris at the ships, and watch the projectiles tear through the warships. Or he could release blasts of energy and turn his enemies into so much plasma.
No. That's what Crucible would have done. That's what Alex was trying to atone for. He flew past the Fortarian ships. He landed on top of his destination. He tore through the walls, eager to meet his new friend. Eager to talk to somebody who wasn't a mindreader, an evil genius, or high. To bad he forgot about air pressure.

The New Archivist was sucked out of her quarters and into the blackness of space. If that had happened to Lucy, there might have been a problem. But the New Archivist had access to the full potential of her mortal form. The vacuum of space meant nothing to her. She flew back into her room pausing when she noticed the human-looking figure responsible for the breach.
"Sorry," he said, communicating via radio. "Kind of forgot that space was a vacuum."
He followed her through the breach. He bent the walls back into shape, and welded the breach shut by passing his finger over the tear. Air began to filter into the room. "Sorry about that," he apologized again. "I usually don't make mistakes like that."
"All is forgiven. Who, exactly are you?"
"The guy you talked to. From the moon. Alexander Star."
The New Archivist felt a little embarrassed. Lucy would have known that. She would have recognized his manner of speaking or some such thing. "I am the New Archivist. I-"
At this point, Centurion burst through the door. He lunged at Alex. Alex stood there as the superstrong shapeshifter attacked him.
"Stop," the New Archivist ordered. "He is means us no harm. He is just careless."
It was Centurion's turn to feel embarrassed. "The one time she actually needs me, and I'm out of the room. Then I come in, and attack the wrong guy." He looked almost pensive for a moment. "Sorry," he said, turning to Alex.
"Don't sweat it," the boy said, not at all the worse for wear.
"I think I'll just go," the robot said.
"Bring me some clothes, if you have any. I kind of lost them during the nuclear strike."
The robot left.
Alex turned to the New Archivist. "Sorry. But I can't help but remember that your name was Lucy the last time we talked."
"It's complicated. You see this diadem. It contains a copy of all the information in my Archives- all the information in the universe. Without it, I am Lucy, the girl you spoke to. With it, I am the New Archivist."
"Oh. Well, can I talk to Lucy?"
"I was sort of busy. Going through Fortarian historical records. Did you know it took them eighty thousand years to go from writing to fission?"
"Please. I really need to talk to her."
"Very well." The New Archivist took off her diadem. She felt seas of knowledge retreating. Receding faster and faster. The pain of ninety percent of her brain being torn off. Lucy woke up.
"I am Lucy."
"Great. So, you know how Dr. Demented is kind of my father figure?"
"I do."
"And, you know how he is one of the greatest evils in the universe?"
"I do."
"Well, have you ever heard of a guy named Crucible?"
"He use to be you"
"How did you know that?"
"I saw him once. You move the same, but not the same. Same confidence. He was more," Lucy searched her vast vocabulary for the right word, eventually settling on "aggressive."
"Yeah. I don't do the whole cosmic genocide thing anymore. But I still feel responsible- I mean how different a person am I? I have the same body, the same powers. I only came about because he decided to shake things up while regenerating his brain."
Lucy took some time to compose a speech. "You are a different person. I can tell. You talk different. You are a much better person." He was like Phoenix.
"How can I be so different?"
"I am different from the New Archivist."
"Would you blame her for something I did?"
"I don't think so."
"Don't blame yourself for what Crucible did."
Alex wasn't entirely satisfied. But he didn't think he'd get a better explanation of who he wasn't. Now, he needed to decide who he was. Should he rush out and help people? Become a hero? No. Alex didn't want that. He wasn't really human. If he wasn't Crucible, he was his own person. He didn't owe anyone a thing. Except Dr. Demented. Should he spend his life as a madman's lab assistant? No.
"Good bye Lucy. I need to think on my own right now."
"Bye," Lucy replied. "Don't leave through the wall this time."                  

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Space Gods Part 2

Dr. Demented was beginning to get tired. Alex could sense that as soon as he entered the Doctor's cavernous laboratory. The genius was still in his throne, still wearing his ten-foot tall suit of armor, but he didn't seem quite as vigorous. The robotic limbs had slowed down considerably in their jotting of notes. The scientist himself was hardly moving.
"Hey, I have a question."
"Am busy." So he'd lost his ability to speak English properly.
Alex could wait. He'd swiped a few hundred video games from Earth, as well as a few shelves worth of books. The Doctor had given him a very convenient bag capable of holding all that, which had somehow fit on his back.
He played Mario Party until Dr. Demented had given up on whatever problem he'd been working on. "Hey."
The Doctor had removed his armor. He looked like an old man on steroids. Or maybe a wizard. Or Zeuss. He had a long gray beard, but Alex knew he could bend Ultrasteel with his bare hands. He wore blue robes. He seemed to like thee color blue. Alex remembered him mentioning someone named Nimue, and knew that in mythology Nimue was a water spirit. And the Doctor looked profoundly sad. Not surprising. A few hours ago his mind had been humming with brilliant thought about a hundred different topics. Now, he was struggling to recognize the person standing in front of him.
"Yes. Me. Alex. Are you capable of answering questions right now?"
"Fine. I'll come back later." Alex left Dr. Demented to weep in his laboratory.

Alex read through the books he had stolen. One of them was called Supers: The Story of Modern Heroes and Villains. Written by a man named Victor Xinsky. Alex read up on this Cognis guy. Apparently, he was the most intelligent hero on Earth, if not the most intelligent human, period. Although this Phoenix guy seemed to be a close second.
(I would like to consider myself a close first, but I'm sure this Xinsky character knows just as much about the situation as I do. After all, he spent several days researching the section on Professor Cognis. I've only been his nemesis for a decade and a half. What would I know about our relative strengths and weaknesses? But back to the story)
Alex read the section on Dr. Demented. Apparently he had conquered Earth in an alternate reality. When the alternate reality began to crumble, the Doctor had invaded this Earth. Earth Alpha's heroes and villains had teamed up to stop him, and defeated him mainly by luck. Sure enough, it seemed that Dr. Demented had done some bad things during his tenure as ruler of the world. Enslaved entire populations, and forced them to leave their homes to work on the construction of giant machines. A million displaced to make room for a particle accelerator, ten million more for a space elevator. The Mad Doctor had placed alternate versions of Phoenix and Dr. Carnage in charge of the world's infrastructure. Vafnir robbed the world blind while Genesis ignored the world in favor of his garden. And now the Doctor was planning to do it again.
Alex turned the page. It was Crucible. His previous self. Alex read in horrified fascination. About how Crucible had been empowered in ancient Sumeria. How he had gone on a galactic rampage of destruction. Cities reduced to pools of fire or piles of ash. Planets with the crust cracked open by asteroids, or Crucibles own fearsome impacts. Crucible had been stopped, and his power nearly broken. He had limped back to Earth, and continued his trail of destruction on a smaller scale. Then, Dr. Carnage restored his power. Crucible had threatened to once again unleash his destruction on the cosmos, only for Phoenix and the Archivist to stop him.
Alex took this in. Dr. Demented was one of the greatest murders in history. The only person with more blood on his hands was... Alex.

"Is this true," Alex demanded, showing the book to Doctor Demented. The time traveler took several minutes to read through it.
"No. Did not die during Timeless War. Not physical embodiment of alternate timestream. Armor not made out of Ultrasteel. Empty space frozen in time, cause it to-"
"You already explained that to me. How your armor contains a billion tons of weapons and a clockwork computer a billion times more powerful than the human brain. Congratulations. But what I was actually curious about was the whole 'are you a mass murderer' issue."
"Is complicated."
"It's really not. It's a yes-no question."
"Yes. But for good cause. Create advanced science. Great technology. Great purpose."
"Nothing could justify what you did. And is it true about me? Am I the worst murderer in the history of the cosmos? Have I destroyed entire species?"
"Dammit!" The first stage of grief is anger. It was the only stage Alex went through. He smashed one of Dr. Demented's machines. It was a device designed to synthesize large structures out of antimatter. He crushed another device. A robotic arm that had written more equations than Einstein.
"Stop," the Doctor ordered.
"Why? Why should I stop? Destruction is all I'm capable of." He ran towards the Doctor. At relativistic speeds.
The Doctor needed time to react. So he sped up time. In the space of a few nanoseconds, he had donned his armor. The Time Key hummed. His billion tons of weaponry were at his command. He froze Alex, slowing down time by a factor of a billion. The manipulation was made more difficult by the presence of the Crucible bringing in chronons from adjacent dimensions, but Dr. Demented was the Master of Time. He opened a portal and moved the frozen demigod to a planetoid in the outer solar system. He then restored the teenager's perception of time. The boy rampaged around. Eventually he calmed down. The Doctor returned him to the laboratory.
Alex locked himself in his room and wept.

The Crucible was sentient to some degree. And it was disconcerted. The Doctor had frozen Alex in time, rendering him defenseless. The Crucible was not used to being defenseless.
The Crucible was a living link to another universe. It was easy to import energy from that universe. Perhaps time could also be imported. A chronon flux could be set up to counteract Dr. Demented's technology.
Alex's rampage had given the Crucible information about his fighting style. The way he moved, how he used his powers. The Crucible made tweaks to Alex's body, strengthening some critical areas, weakening areas deemed less useful. With some adjustments, Alex could be a powerful adversary to Mad Doctor. Because the Crucible knew their relationship couldn't be anything other than adversarial.    

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Number One

Vera booked a flight to Eleuthera. There weren't very many, seeing as Eleuthera's airport consisted of a shack and a stretch of road that nobody used very much. As such, Vera was riding on a supply plane, sandwiched between a crate full of melons and a crate full of magazines.
She was thinking about her relationship with Phoenix. She had started dating him knowing that he was a murderer bent on world domination. Did it really make sense for her to dump him because of some well-intentioned violation of her privacy? Did it make sense to date him at all, given that he was a supervillain? Vera didn't know.
"We'll be landing in five," the pilot said.
Vera didn't have a window, but she knew what Eleuthera looked like. It looked like a tropical paradise suffering an alien invasion. New buildings springing up, designed by someone who couldn't possibly have learned architecture on Earth. Weird spire and domes and the like. Maybe Mephistopheles was an alien? Or a fan of postmodern architecture?
The plane touched the ground.

Vera's first step would be to interview some of the few remaining locals. She had walked halfway to the village when she was accosted by several men in yellow jumpsuits.
She recognized them. The Syndicate, a criminal organization frequently in conflict with the Dark Detective. One of the men, presumably the leader, pulled out a submachine gun. "State your business here."
"I'm an anthropologist, here to study the natives of the island."
"Then why do you look familiar?
Damn! This whole 'being famous' thing was really getting in the way of her work. "I was featured in Anthropology Monthly."
"No, that's not it."
"And Time Magazine."
"Oh, I know you! Vera Rapport! That journalist-spy person." He pointed his gun at her. "You're going to have to come with me."
Vera considered her options. Phoenix' meddling had made her bullet-proof, but could she really take out five men armed with semiautomatic weapons? Probably not. That meant she needed to go with the Syndicate agents.
They led her onto a bright yellow truck, and drove her into a bright yellow building. Yellow was clearly the Syndicate's favorite color. Vera was brought into a non-yellow room and tied to a non-yellow chair.
At this point, the leader of the Syndicate revealed himself. "Hello, Vera," he said, as he swaggered into the room. "My name is Number One, and I'll be interrogating you."
One of his assistants attached electrodes to Vera's arms. Wait, hadn't Phoenix filled Vera with metal wires? Would that make the shocks better or worse? Vera wished she'd paid more attention to Phoenix's science lectures.
"Now, for my first question. Why are you here."
The shocks might actually kill her. Vera didn't want that. Should she answer? She decided not to. She wasn't going to give in at the first sign of torture. She kept her mouth shut.
Number One sent a jolt of electricity through Vera's body. It hurt, but it wasn't as bad as she expected. "I'll ask you again. Why are you here?"
Vera said nothing. Another zap. She needed something to distract her from the pain. Maybe humor? She was being tortured by a guy named Number One in a bright yellow jumpsuit. Pee jokes seemed like a promising road to take.
"I'll ask one more time. Why are you here?"
No answer. Another shock. What else did Number One have in common with a pot full of pee? Neither one was qualified to lead a criminal organization. Neither one was a skilled interrogator. They both kind of smelled.
"This is the last time I'm going to ask. Why are you here?"
No answer. Zap.
Number One launched into a monologue. "Do you want to know how I came to be head of the Syndicate? I wasn't always the powerful crime lord you see today. I actually started my career cleaning urinals."
Urinals. Ha!
"But I was always ready for an opportunity. I joined the ranks of the Syndicate at the bottom." He zapped her just as she was about to make a 'bottom' joke.
"Tell me why you're here!"
Fine. "I'm here to gain information."
"About what?"
Vera didn't reply.
As he set the voltage source up a notch, Number One continued his life story. "As I was saying, I began my career as a lowly peon." Pee-on. Ha. She barely cared that he was zapping her.
"I was often filled with frustration during the early days of my career. But I learned to hold it in." He shocker her. It hurt. But she was busy thinking about his 'hold it in' line.
"My path to power wasn't a smooth one. Adversity can strike even when you mind your p's and q's" Pees and q's. "But when life gives me lemons, I squeeze the lemons to make lemonade." She almost laughed out loud as he shocked her.
"Do not keep me waiting. I am a whiz at torture." Was he doing this on purpose? Who would use 'whiz' in that context?
"You think I'm holding back because of my guards. That I won't unleash me inner dragon with them around. Fine." He addressed his men. "Five minutes break. Go drink a beer or something." When you drink beer you have to pee.
They were alone. Vera flexed to see if she could break her restraints. "My anger is golden river flowing throw my bowels." He must be doing it on purpose. Nobody would use a metaphor like that in normal conversation. She grinned at the awkwardly worded statement.
"Why are you laughing? I'm starting to get pissed off."
Vera broke her restraints. With Phoenix's robotic implants, it was easy to beat up Number One. "What do you want," he asked, fear starting to show.
"I'm asking the questions now. Where is Mephistopheles?"
"I won't answer that. I can hold my water."
She twisted his arm. She didn't want to hurt him, but he had just been torturing her. "I can call my men. They'll stream in." He had a point. She knocked him out. Just as she left, she noticed that the criminal mastermind had wet his pants.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Space Gods

Alexander Star was getting a little bored. He hadn't left the lab in over a week. He'd nagged the Doctor into creating a home entertainment system, and watched through the first twenty-five Star Wars movies, before getting bored with twenty-second century special effects.
He decided to ask the Doctor for another portal to Earth. All kinds of fun stuff happened there.
Dr. Demented was having a good day. A very good day. A day where he could produce more scientific work in an hour than all the scientists of Earth would produce in a week.
He was wearing his armor. His armor wasn't made of Ultrasteel, or carbon nanotubes. It wasn't made out of magnetic monopoles, neutronium, or QCD matter. Dr. Demented simple took a few cubic meters of empty space and froze it in time. It couldn't be penetrated by any form of matter or energy. It was entirely indestructible. Alex knew this because Dr. Demented had spent several hours bragging about it.
How did the Doctor control his armor? Electricity couldn't travel through it. Neither could optics, or magnetic fields. Demented had grinned when he explained this part. The armor was made out of clockwork. Made from countless billions of gears and shafts. It contained a clockwork computer system, and thousands of clockwork weapons. Alex appreciated the irony of a clockwork machine frozen in time.
Alex approached the master of time. He was sitting in a chair. Maybe more of a throne. A dozen machines were connected to his armor, electrical and quantum computers interfacing with the clockwork one. Robotic arms were jotting notes on chalkboards, whiteboards, bits of papyrus, holographic projections, and clay tablets.
The Doctor had no trouble speaking perfect English. He could have spoken any of a thousand languages. "Why do you disturb me? Can't you see I am in thought." The sounds didn't just come from the scientist himself. Numerous machines spoke in unison. It was downright spooky.
"Yeah, I just want to go to Earth again. There's stuff to do there."
"You know, it isn't easy to create these portals."
"Pretty please?"
The space in front of Alex began to ripple.

Alexander Star could do anything. Fly around the world? Sure. In thirty seconds? Easy. He could crush coal into diamonds, provide energy for the entire planet, or wipe out life on Earth. Or, he could hang out at a shady club in San Francisco. Guess what the all-powerful space god with the body of a teenager decided to do.
"Yo," he said, to nobody in particular, "hit me up with some X." Someone tittered at the guy who thought people still said 'yo.' Someone else passed him a bag. He stuffed it in his mouth. The bag, and the thirty tablets inside. A normal human would have been killed by half of that. Alex felt a high for a few seconds before the drugs were flushed out of his system. All side effects and all traces of addiction were cleansed from his system. "Jesus. I just can't keep a high."
"Another bag," he said. Nobody gave him a bag. Instead, someone drew a knife.
"I've been watching you," knifeboy said. "You take more than the rest of us put together. You never bring any. You can't keep a high? That's your problem."
"I'm trying to solve that problem by getting some more. Now back off."
"Want to make me?" The knife wielder pressed it against Alex's neck. Nobody made a move to stop him. "Give me one good reason not to press it in."
"If you stab me, it'll hurt a lot-" knifey stabbed before Alex could say 'for you.'
The blade slid off Alex's skin. "That was a mistake." He didn't want to kill anyone. But he'd never experienced physical violence before. He was curious. He grabbed the knife, and crushed it. He punched the former knife-wielder. He was careful not to injure his opponent too much. He wanted the fight to continue.
The former knife guy started punching Alex. Interesting. Alex lifted his assailant and threw him across the room.
"Oooaaaughghg! You broke something." Nobody called an ambulance. That tends to happen when injuries happen amid a large group of people. Everyone just assumes someone else is doing it. Of course, many people there had a bit of a vested interest in the police not showing up.
So there were no police. No authorities at all to stop Alexander Star from doing whatever he wanted. Well, not quite. "Stop that," someone said as Alex walked towards his broken adversary.
Alex walked up to the good Samaritan. He seemed a lot older than most of the other clubbers. He was also dressed differently. "And who do you think you are," Alex demanded.
"Professor Cognis."

That didn't have the effect Cognis thought it would. Instead of being intimidated, the teenager looked confused. "Who?"
Cognis started looking through the young man's mind. "The superhero." He gestured towards the door. "Come, walk with me."
"Why should I come with you?"
"We have things to discuss which I'd rather not talk about in the present company."
Alex looked around. He counted no fewer than three people throwing up. "Fine."
They left the building. "So," Cognis said, "you're the one who flew around the world in twenty-nine point four seconds."
"How did you find me?"
"You traveled around the equator at relativistic speeds. If you were trying to hide, you did a bad job."
"You knew I was in San Francisco. Maybe you could track me to the club. Then how did you find me? Facial recognition?"
"Telepathy. Your mind is only vaguely human. Kind of stood out."
"So you're reading my mind right now?"
"Yes. I apologize for the invasion of your privacy."
Alex considered killing this man. This person who had broken into his thoughts. "Before you kill me, I need to talk to you about Dr. Demented."
"What do you know about him?"
"Relatively little. I know he is an extremely powerful genius whose Time Key gives him control over time, space, and gravity. I know he conquered an alternate version of the Earth, which resulted in the deaths of over a billion people. I know that he is about to return, and may well do the same thing."
"None of my-"
"It is your business." Cognis snapped. "When billions of people die, it's everyone's business. Someone with your powers, your abilities, you can't stand by." Cognis looked through Alex's brain for an example to drive home the point. It seemed Alex had not yet suffered any personal tragedies. "I see you don't yet have much experience with death." The previous Crucible had had a lot of experience with death, being personally responsible for more loss of life than any other sentient being in this section of the galaxy. "But you do have a perfect memory. So next time someone you care about is in a bad situation, remember this conversation. Remember that Dr. Demented will likely do that to a million times more people than you have seen in your life. And remember to do something about it."

Alex pondered the conversation as he flew through near-earth space. Dr. Demented was the only person he had ever really known in his life. He was reluctant to take up arms against his... friend? Savior? Father? Who could he talk to about this? Who did he know? It occurred to him that after Dr. Demented, this Professor Cognis person might be the most important person in his life, just on the basis of a five minute conversation. Who else had he talked with.
There was that person who'd talked to him when he was on the moon. They'd exchanged more than a dozen words. That person meant almost as much to him as knifeboy.
Having nobody better to talk to, Alex flew to the moon. He ran around, smashed boulders, waiting for whoever-it-was to take notice. Eventually he (she?) did.
"Hello. My name is Lucy."
"My name is Alex. Who are you?"
"I'm Lucy."
Alex rolled his eyes. "No, like who are you? Like why can I hear you when I'm on the moon, and why can you hear me?"
"We're on the phone."
Alex realized that he had unconsciously been communicating in radio waves, not sound. In retrospect, he probably should have picked up on that earlier. Alex felt a little embarrassed. "Do you know who Dr. Demented is?"
"He's a very bad man."
In the airless vacuum of the moon, Alex sighed. "Well, he's kind of my mentor. What should I do?"
"I don't know. What is he doing right now?"
"I don't know."
"You should find out."

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Think Fast

Noetron was doing preliminary scans on Raymond and Concept. Meanwhile, I was having fun testing every aspect of Flashpoint's powers.
It seemed he couldn't control what was teleported with him. Whatever was touching him made the jump. Whatever didn't touch him was left behind.
His abilities gave rise to numerous questions. What happened if he was touching an object connected to another object only by a fine string? Why didn't the ground teleport with him? What about air? What if he was touching something that was touching something else? Could he teleport half of someone, allowing him to chop that person in half? Could he teleport faster than light?
I did a lot of experiments that day. I came up with a few hypotheses. The first was that the whole issue of what Flashpoint could and couldn't move was psychological. He could move things if he thought he was touching them, and two objects counted as the same if he thought they were the same. That one was fairly easy to disprove.
My next hypothesis was that his power couldn't break strong molecular and intermolecular forces. That was wrong too. When he tried to teleport two objects tied together by a thin string, he teleported the object he was touching, the string, and the part of the second object immediately in contact with the string. In this manner, he could chip Ultrasteel. When he first did it, I looked at the Ultrasteel chip for a long time. I then embarked on a long series of tests to determine how the size, shape, and material makeup of the string affected things.
The results gave rise to my third hypothesis. That Flashpoint's power flowed like electricity. He was already saturated with his power. His power flowed into anything he touched. It would travel along any connection, but a thin string would conduct his power at an extremely slow pace. It would diffuse throughout the large object, and only the string and its immediate surroundings would carry a significant amount of his 'teleportational energy.'
This hypothesis let me make accurate quantitative predictions about the sizes and shapes of the Ultrasteel chips. But I had no idea what this 'teleportational energy' was, or how I could make it myself, and I didn't even manage to think of a cooler name for it. I decided to take a break.

I spent my break watching the Matrix. It's a reasonably good movie, if you can ignore the numerous scientific inaccuracies. It seemed appropriate. It's about organic brains trapped in a computerized reality. I, on the other hand, was a computerized brain trapped in a world of flesh and blood. The movie got me thinking about a lot of things. For instance, could I alter my perception of time?
I searched around the multitude of organic compounds and subatomic nanomachines that constituted my brain. What part controlled the perception of time? Eventually, I found it.
I hit fast forward. It was strange. I still thought at the same speed, but it seemed so fast. I spent an hour debugging Noetron and didn't get bored. Interesting.
I set reality to slow motion. The opposite effect ensued. I grew impatient with everything. I paced, that is to say, ran, around the room. My mind seemed sluggish. But I didn't actually manage to think much faster in real time. Was there a way to change that? To hit pause on reality and do a years' worth of thinking in a few seconds?
Yes, there was. After a few hours of hacking my brain, I got to the point where I could do an hours' thought in a second, at the price of a splitting headache that I couldn't seem to get rid of. I decided to classify that as a victory, and get some sleep. A lot of sleep.

When I awoke, I decided to work with Raymond. I met with him in an underground bunker. "Raymond, how much have you pushed the limits of your power?"
His answer was more or less what I expected. "Not at all. My power is dangerous."
"Indeed it is. But the only other person here is an indestructible posthuman cyborg, so I don't think anybody is going to get hurt." I thought back to my first encounter with Raymond, and how powerful his radiation had been. "At least, not hurt permanently."
"Okay. What do you want me to do."
"Well, right now, someone standing ten feet away from you would get a lethal dose of radiation in an hour. That's an improvement from when we first met, but let's see if you can't rein it in a little more." We were pushing the limits of his power. Might as well push the lower limit first.
He concentrated. He made faces like he really needed to pee. He hopped around like he'd stubbed his toe at relativistic speeds. He stood absolutely still.
"Well," I said, "for the first few seconds, your radiation went down by five percent. Afterwards, it almost doubled, but I'd still call it progress." This was the first time I'd seen him exert an conscious control over his powers at all.
After quite a lot of effort on his part, and quite a lot encouraging statements on my part, he got down to just a few watts of radiation. "Well, many people would be perfectly comfortable approaching you without a HazMat suit. Should we try to probe the upper limits of your power now?"
"I don't think that's such a good idea."
"Are you worried about the bunker collapsing? That seems highly unlikely."
"No, it's just... bad things tend to happen when I glow."
"That's because you glow at inopportune times. If you learn to master it, you can start causing good things to happen."
"Like what? Frying chicken with radiation?"
"That's not what I had in mind, but it seems theoretically possible. I was thinking more like unlimited free energy for mankind, or world peace, or cooking burgers with radiation."
"Are you sure nobody will get hurt?"
"Other than me? Pretty sure."
Raymond raised his hands. He closed his eyes. Time seemed to stand still for a moment. He put his hands down. "I can't do it," he said. "Maybe I can do it later. But not now."
Very well. His powers were one of the most dangerous things on the planet. I wasn't going to push him into territory where he wasn't comfortable. I was perfectly willing to be patient so long as I had other projects to keep me entertained.             

Saturday, July 5, 2014


Raymond Harkness was in a cabin in the Nevada desert. Nobody was quite brave enough to come near the cabin. He was capable of putting out more radiation than a nuclear power plant, and, technically, he hadn't done anything wrong.
The interior of the cabin was hot. Secondary radiation had heated it to a hundred and fifty degrees Fahrenheit. Raymond didn't care. He was mourning for his wife and children. If he were to die, cooked by his own powers, then so be it.

Cognis estimated that prolonged exposure to Raymond was dangerous to a distance of up to twenty meters. Which is why there was a ring of tanks, soldiers, artillery, and bureaucrats was positioned twenty-one meters from the cabin. They didn't even notice me dropping in. Probably because it was the middle of the night, and they were bored of paying attention.
I opened the door. To be more precise, I kicked it down. "Raymond."
He was curled up on the floor. "Who are you?"
"My name is Phoenix."
"The supervillain?"
No, the circus performer. "Yes, the supervillain."
"What do you want?"
"I want to study your powers."
He stood up. "You call this a power? It's a curse! It killed my family. I wish it would kill me."
"If you keep doing what you're doing, it will." I reached into my pocket. "Here, have a granola bar. I assume you haven't eaten in days." I looked him over. He had taken off his shirt to help bear the heat. He was past the age where that was a pretty sight to look at. "And put some clothes on."
"Because I'm going to fly you to my lab in Estveria, and I don't want you to be half-naked while I do it."
"I'm not going with you."
"Yes, you are."
He began to glow. "I'm not."
"If you come, I might be able to develop a cure-" He lunged at me.
"I'm not going!" A storm of beta rays washed over the room. My molecules were torn to shreds. I lost consciousness. A few seconds later, I came to, my brain restored. I could regrow a brain, intact with all it's memories, in a few seconds. A part of me gave up the argument that I was still essentially human.
"That really hurt." Hadn't felt physical pain in a while.
"You think you know pain. My wife died of cancer."
"Actually, I've been there. Some I loved very much died of cancer as well. I know how you felt. Powerless to save her. You were crushed. You still are. But your wife is dead. Your son is barely breathing and your daughter is not far behind. I've seen the CAT scans. Even I can't save them. Your family is gone."
"Shut up!" He burned me again. I avoided passing out, but barely.
"You can try to hurt me. But I'm not the one you hate. I'm not what took your family. What took your family, what took my Rosa, was ignorance. We didn't have the tools to save our loved ones. But we can learn. Together, we can learn the secret of your powers."
"You're evil. You've killed innocent people."
"Of the people I've killed, only three were innocent bystanders. I regret those deaths. But think of what I stand for. I'm not the best possible person to rule the world." That would be my archenemy. "But I would end poverty and war and guarantee every child an education." I would probably also cure a bunch of diseases and disable all comments on Youtube.
"I don't trust you."
"Fair enough. But with powers like yours, you could probably melt through Ultrasteel. I couldn't keep your prisoner." Even as I spoke the words, a dozen ideas popped into my head for how to trap him. But for the first half of the sentence I thought I was telling the truth. "You don't value your life, so there's nothing I can do to threaten you. If you don't like what I'm doing, you can just leave."
He looked thoughtful for a moment. He pulled a bit of paper out of his pocket. I assumed it had once contained a picture of his family. It had been reduced to a piece of char falling apart in his hands. "I'll go."
"Excellent. Our ride should be here shortly."
"Our ride?"
"My wings glow brightly and shoot jets of plasma in order to propel me. In order to get here, I flew into the stratosphere and then fell, controlling my velocity with a sequence of parachutes. Unfortunately, that same strategy won't work for going upwards." Try as I might, I've never been able to fall away from the ground. "Instead, we're going to get help from someone who's a little more subtle than a glowing trail of superheated gas." But not a lot more subtle.
Flashpoint teleported in. Entering with a bang as always. "Excellent. You're here. Raymond is ready for our trip."
He grabbed our hands, and, in four jumps, teleported us into an airplane. As instructed, he didn't say anything.
The flight home was uneventful. Once I got to my lab, I buckled in and got to work.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Proof of Concept

Concept was on the run. Again. Hopping from casino to casino, trying his luck as a card sharp in a dozen cities, had gotten his name on a lot of black lists. His career had only lasted a week, and already it looked like it was ending. The police. The heroes. The mob. Everyone was after him.
He came across a motel. The Happy Day Inn. From the parking lot, he reached into the motel with his mind. Almost empty. It was run by an old couple. Neither of them watched the news. They wouldn't recognize him. He was safe.
He got a room for the night. Twenty bucks. As he picked up his key, he stole the location of the combination safe off the man, and the number off his wife. Probably wouldn't use it though. Not much money, and it would kind of make him an asshole.
He went into his room, took a shower, and went to bed. He was awoken by the sound of a phone ringing. Could it be for him? Nobody was supposed to know he was here. But he doubted many people were prank calling one star motels in the middle of the night. He decided to pick up. "Hello?"
It was a woman's voice on the other end. "Concept, you are in danger." They knew who he was. Either they were very resourceful prank callers, or this was legit.
"Who are you?"
"My name is Plague."
"As in, the supervillain?"
"Yes. I represent an organization called the Order of Darkness."
"I thought it was the Illuminati Occultus."
"We changed it."
"What do you want?"
"We want you to join."
"What if I'm not interested?"
"Then you're in a lot of trouble."
"Are you threatening me?" He wasn't sure what he'd do if the answer was yes, but it seemed like the appropriate thing to say.
"On the contrary. We're offering to protect you."
"From whom?"
"About ten minutes ago, Phoenix kidnapped Flashpoint. Mephistopheles says you're going to be next. He will most likely keep you imprisoned in his lab for a long series of tests, eventually culminating in your dissection."
"And how does he know that. Last time I checked, I was the mind reader."
"Mephistopheles is one of maybe four people on Earth who are intelligent enough to keep track of what Phoenix is doing." It's really only three, and Cognis can only do it when he's not busy with other things. "You'd do well to trust him."
"I'm sorry. I'm not going to trust the evil supervillain who dresses in black and talks in a spooky voice. Good night." Concept wondered what to do. If Phoenix was really after him, that could be a problem.
He checked his watch. It was two in the morning. Should he run? The Order of Darkness had found him fairly easily.
Concept worked out a plan. He would get to a public place. Phoenix wouldn't attack him with lots of people around. Would he?

Concept decided to get to the nearest crowded place. Not an orthodox move for someone on the run from the authorities, but he thought it was his best option. He just needed directions. He felt around the motel. Both the managers were asleep. Crap. Reading their minds gets harder when they go to sleep. Concept concentrated. The nearest city was Bozeman. He spent a few minutes looking around the man's mind, trying to get directions. There it was. Concept checked with the woman. Bozeman had several stores that were open twenty-four hours a day.
The drive was fairly easy. Concept didn't want to be tracked, so he kept his headlines off. If there was anyone else on the road, Concept's powers would pick them up. He reached Bozeman in half an hour.

It was early in the morning. Concept had nothing to do. He decided to try his hand at identity theft. He'd need somewhere to keep the information. His phone? No, not secure enough. He went into Walmart and bought a diary. "For my daughter," he explained when the checkout clerk gave him an odd look. As if that clerk had any right to complain. He cross-dressed sometimes in his bedroom.
Concept started writing down people's names. Birthdays. Social Security Numbers. Email addresses. Passwords. Whether they were cheating their spouses. How much money they made. Was there anything that could be used for blackmail?
By noon, Concept knew more about the population of Bozeman then a dozen census takers could ever hope to learn. He didn't feel any sign of Phoenix. Concept didn't have any experience with genius supervillain minds, but he suspected they'd stand out from a distance.
Just in case, he looked around for weapons he could use. The city of Bozeman owned more guns than some third world militaries, and the enterprising mindreader could steal quite a few of them. Which is how Concept came to be lounging around in a parking lot with a car filled with artillery, scanning the city for signs of Phoenix's hostile brain.
At that point, a ten foot tall four-armed robot fell from the sky wielding two machine guns and two laser pistols.

"I'll admit I didn't see the robot thing coming."
I had a speech synthesizer built into the robot. "My nemesis is a mind reader. But for the record, you couldn't have stopped me regardless. That machine gun is a butter knife to me. Predicting my every move would only allow you to see the inevitability of your defeat. But, out of curiosity, how did you you know I was coming at all?"
"The Order of Darkness told me. What are you going to do to me?"
"I'm going to try to learn how your powers work."
"Will I survive?"
"Most likely."
That was not the answer Concept wanted to hear. He turned on the car, and made a break for it. My robot had little trouble stopping him.
"This is a busy parking lot, and there's a crowd gathering. Were you just going to drive through them?" The machine turned to face the onlookers. "You really should leave. In about ten minutes, the police are going to show up and detain everyone here for questioning." There were a lot of people taking videos on their cell phones. A quick EMP took care of that.
The bystanders started leaving. So did Concept. The robot chased after him. Concept couldn't out run the machine. He was trapped. Beaten. Doomed to be tortured by Phoenix's experiments for the rest of his life. Then, suddenly, he began glowing. Lines of blue light traced over his body, emanating from his head. He felt different. Stronger. Did he have another superpower? Was it strength?
He picked up a car, and threw it at the robot. Yeah, he had super strength.

This was disconcerting. I had sent in two robots to deal with Concept. He was tearing the first apart. The robot was spindly, and didn't contain an ounce of Ultrasteel. It has been designed to get there and back quickly with minimal weaponry. In comparison, Concept seemed to have the power to punch through brick walls and withstand high-caliber machine-gun fire. My plan of tranquilizing him and flying him over wouldn't work if no needle could pierce his skin.
Flying there myself would be risky. Too many forays onto American soil in a short time, especially after my theft of weapons-grade uranium, might draw unwanted attention. I doubted I could send another robot. American's might be fine with drones operating on their soil, but I didn't have the parts on hand and building a powerful and versatile robot takes time. What was there that I could do?

Concept had just torn through a fighting robot. He was physically powerful. He had the ability to read people's thoughts. He was feeling pretty good about his prospects.
"I am the king," he shouted, standing on top of a Porsche. "The king!" What should he do next? Test his strength fighting against some hero? Rob a bank? Or maybe, maybe just sleep. He stumbled off the roof of the car. Why was he so tired? Was it something Phoenix had done? Maybe these new physical powers took to much energy. Could he shut them off? He concentrated, and the blue lines receded. It was as if a weight had been lifted off his shoulders. Could he bring them back? The lines returned, and receded again.
Concept peered into a civilian's mind. There was a Bank of America just a few blocks away. As he made his way there, he scanned the minds of the people he passed for information about Phoenix. How strong a robot could he build. He noticed on passerby didn't seem to have a mind. Concept had detected signs of thoughts in sleeping people, unborn babies, and people who watch reality television. But on this person, he picked up nothing.
"Hello, concept," the mindless man said.
"Are you a robot?
"Yes, I was built by Mephistopheles."
"Earlier today you declined his help. But now you realize that even if you destroy Phoenix's next robot, and the one after that, he can just come and get you himself."
"Well, then, what can I do?"
:My creator has a plane waiting for us, in the woods."
The pair of them walked out of the city. Nobody tried to stop them. "What should I call you," Concept asked.
Concept didn't get the reference.
"Arnold Schwarzenegger's character in Terminator. A robot sent to protect you from another robot."
They kept walking. T-800 stopped. "Why did we stop?"
"I need to examine you for bugs."
T-800 walked around Concept several times, occasionally prodding him.
"Can't you do that remotely. Use your scanners or something." Almost as soon as he finished the sentence, Concept began to feel faint. He had just enough time to see the syringe T-800 had used before collapsing on the ground.

When Concept awoke, he was in a featureless steel room. He powered up, and tried to smash his way out. He couldn't. One of the walls began moving. It slid away to reveal that Concept was barred in a cage. Outside, Phoenix was modifying T-800.
"It had some performance issues," I explained. "Skin wasn't as durable as I expected. Probably going to need a new coat."
"So that was your second robot. It was all a trick."
"Not all of it. I really expected the first robot to be enough. And I didn't fake the call from the Order of Darkness." I looked at Concept. "I'll start studying you soon. In the mean time, don't bother trying to escape. I calculated the minimum wall thickness needed to contain you, and doubled it. Noetron should have some furniture for you shortly, and probably some food. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have another prisoner to study. I planted some explosives in his stomach, which I can set off anywhere in the world. Hopefully, that will keep him under control." I got up to leave.
"One thing before you go." He looked at me. "My power lets me see human minds. I can't see animals, and I can't see machines. And I can't see you."
Even if he could read my mind, I doubt he could have said something more disturbing than that. I was a computer.