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?"
"And, you know how he is one of the greatest evils in the universe?"
"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."