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."
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."