Saturday, August 30, 2014


I was getting the hang of teleportation. I had just created a device that could use Flashpoint's blood to charge an object, and then teleport the object with a small muon charge. I still had no idea how the underlying science worked, but I was still able to utilize it, teleporting objects to within a centimeter of their target location, from two or three meters away.
Of course, as my studies progressed, I had less and less need of Flashpoint himself. It seemed that whatever machines facilitated his power were found in the blood. In the body, blood is flushed out every week or so, preventing the machines from building up. But in the lab, I had marrow samples producing a steady stream of new, superpowered blood, and nowhere for it to go. I estimated that soon my machines would be more powerful than Flashpoint himself.
I had rigged up a small device to teleport between two locations a hundred times a second. It was going to be awesome. The resulting half-there material might constitute a new form of matter. The necessary machinery was very delicate, and had taken hours to make. I knew deep down that I should be out there exploiting Professor Cognis' sudden disappearance, science was just more fun. "Noetron, run diagnostics." I said this silently, one mechanized being to another. Noetron and I hadn't spoken out loud for weeks.
"System 100% functional."
"Excellent. Be sure that all of of the detectors are properly-"
"Incoming call," the phone chirped.
I considered letting it ring. "installed. Phone, who is it?"
I paused. The teleporter had been a pain to set up, and the components would decay in a few minutes. I wanted to watch it in person, and didn't think I could talk to Lucy and appreciate the sublime beauty of a new physical phenomenon at the same time. Both of those required a fair amount of attention.
"Put Lucy on." I instructed Noetron to begin mass production of the rapid teleporting chips.
"Phoenix, we need your help." It wasn't Lucy's voice on the other end.
"Centurion," I asked, barely recognizing the shapeshifting robot's voice.
"Yeah. Lucy's sick. I think she's been poisoned."
"And you want me, someone who knows next to nothing about her physiology, to devise a cure from half a million kilometers away?"
"I relish the challenge." Files popped into my brain, listing everything I knew about Lucy's biology. She had been created by Rava-Iss to observe what it was to be human. She looked human, and her body seemed to work the same way, albeit far beyond the level of an Olympic athlete.
She could create fire, and was resistant to heat. I had no idea how either was possible, especially since she was not especially durable in other respects.
"Are you sure you can do this."
"I'm confident." I wasn't
"You don't sound very confident."
"You're referring to the pauses before I speak? Light-speed delay. Lucy, list the symptoms."
I heard Lucy on the other end. "My head is feels... sour."
"Like an acidic feeling? Or like you suddenly got synesthesia and your senses are getting mixed up?"
"The first one."
"Interesting. Where in the head is it localized? And how long has this been going on?"
"Near the front of my head. For one hour and sixteen minutes."
"I need a more precise location. Imagine a coordinate axis centered at the bridge of your nose, with the x-axis pointing forward and the z-axis pointing upward. Give me the coordinates in centimeters."
She did so. Pretty impressive, actually.
"Okay, if your brain is anything like that of a human, I would guess that it's a neurotoxin localized in a region of your brain called the laminar subtention." A very small node discovered by none other than Professor Cognis, which was actually the location where he housed his superpowers. "The poison is most likely attacking the oxytocin neurotransmitter. I recommend heating yourself up to burn out the poison. A few minutes at-"
"Why doesn't she just put on the diadem," Centurion interrupted.
"While the New Archivist does seem to have access to additional powers, putting on the diadem would increase blood flow and cause the toxin to spread throughout her brain."
"How do you know that?"
I was getting tired of explaining myself. Sometimes it's fun to show off, but sometimes you just want people to recognize that your superior intellect knows best. "I watched her take off and put on the diadem several times. With my senses and my memory, it's easy to check her pulse, and see the amplitude of her pulse on different parts of her body. I can easily estimate blood flow, and with a little work I could probably tell you the specs on some of her organs. Now please tell her to heat up."
"Lucy, Phoenix says you should try to warm up your brain as much as you can. Something about boiling dendrotoxins."
"Neurotoxins,"  I corrected. He didn't emend his statement.

Lucy concentrated. This was hard. Her head hurt. She tried to make herself as hot as she could. She felt something catch fire. She didn't care.
Phoenix said to become as hot as possible. She heard him talking. He was projecting various decay profiles for likely toxins, based on the fact that they were probably of Fortarian origin and thus optimized for the conditions in the Fortarian brain. Lucy didn't listen.
Lucy concentrated. Her brain got hotter. That didn't affect her. It got more sour. That made things worse. Her brain stopped getting hotter. She heard Phoenix asking why that was. Apparantly, given her well-known power capacity and the conductive properties of the room, her maximum temperature was almost a hundred degrees higher.
He go mad. Her temperature was actually dropping. That didn't make sense. "Are you using your power to it's fullest extent? You realize your life is on the line?"
Lucy didn't answer.
"Oh, no. Your powers must be located in the portion of the brain under attack. If we plug that into the model..."

I just want to take a moment to point out that modelling the spread of toxins in a brain you've never studied under the influence of powers you don't understand is not exactly easy. My predictions would most likely be wrong. Which was fortunate, because they indicated that she would lose her powers within eight minutes, and die about an hour later.
"Try as hard as you can Lucy." I was relieved to see the data didn't conform to my model. I made a new one, based on the new information. This one predicted death in seventy minutes. It matched incoming data disturbingly well.
"Centurion, get me a map of the Fortarian ship."
"Just do it!" I'd had enough of him and Acme questioning me. This was just like Rosa. Another important person in my life, taken away because someone thought he was smarter than me. But that wouldn't happen again. I devoted my life to making sure it wouldn't happen again.
I needed to Think Fast. Experience time ten or twenty times faster. I could keep that up for an hour if I was willing to suffer a killer headache tomorrow. Where on an alien ship would be hot enough? An air vent? A power plant? Inside a functioning rocket?
The map came in. I divided my mind into three parts. Two of them tried to find air ducts and what-not, using different techniques. The third part evaluated the probability of finding something useful in each location. A blowtorch? Not strong enough.
Ah. An iron foundry. Lucy could get there in... a fourth part of my mind estimated six minutes. "Centurion, go to that forge. Go now. Take Lucy with you."
The robot picked Lucy up. "You will need to submerge her in liquid iron. This is problematic for two reasons. First, iron is dense, so that will require significant force. Second, she will not be able to breathe. I suppose there is the tertiary issue of the intense heat damaging you."
"Gee, thanks."
I guided the pair through the halls. I imagine which ones would be crowded, and helped them avoid jams. They reached the foundry. Lucy was submerged. "How long should I keep her there?"
How long can a human go without oxygen? Lucy is clearly made out of sterner stuff, but she is also not at her physical peak, and my models say you need about... "Four minutes."
Those four minutes were some of the tensest of my life. I'm sure they were tough for Lucy too, but she wasn't trying to figure out increasing probabilities of short term and long term brain damage. She wasn't looking through medical histories, trying to figure just how much she could take. She wasn't worrying that for the second time, she had failed to save perhaps the only person she cared about. I'd take a four-minute dunk in liquid metal over that any day.
Eventually, Centurion bought her out. Her chest was crushed from the pressure. She wasn't breathing. "You know how to administer CPR, right?"
"Of course." It didn't work.
"Try putting on the diadem."
The New Archivist awakened. "Thank you for saving me, Phoenix."
"You're welcome, but I was mainly saving Lucy."
"You failed."
"Lucy is dead. If you take the diadem off, we will die. I'm sorry."

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Tea Time

Lucy was sad. Phoenix was barely talking to her. He said he was busy studying a Disease, and that he was finally making breakthroughs. This made Lucy worried. She knew Phoenix. She knew that he had a lot of interests. She was worried that she might not be one of them.
He might lock himself in a lab, and not come out until he had... what would he call it... a weapon of sufficient technological beauty to render all existing arsenals obsolete. He would say it... exploited various abstract scientific principles he gleaned from studying Demented's work. He'd still be working out some of the underlying concepts himself, but he'd have a general understanding of the necessary science.
As Lucy thought in Phoenix's voice, she realized how easily he would forget about her if he spent too much time in his lab. He was a genius, but he was always distracting himself with new science.
And Lucy knew she couldn't survive without Phoenix. He was the only one to protect her. Even Centurion was only there to protect the New Archivist. Without Phoenix, she would have nobody to talk to. Also, the New Archivist would eat her life.
Lucy's sadness was interrupted by a Fortarian. "Hello," Lucy said. The Fortarian language hurt her throat, but Fortarians couldn't learn Earth languages.
"In the name of the great and infinitely knowledgeable Fortarian Emperor, ruler of the universe and all it contains, master of all the stars and planets, here is some tea."
"Thank you." Lucy didn't like the tea the Fortarians gave her. But it was the only Earth food they could cook. They made it for her a lot. She took the tea.
"In the name of the great and infinitely knowledgeable Fortarian Emperor, ruler of the universe and all it contains, master of all the stars and planets, are you going to drink that."
Lucy didn't want to drink it. But she didn't want the Fortarians to be sad. So she had some.

I think this is the opportunity for some character deconstruction. What would I have done if confronted with a tea-wielding alien? What about Mephiostopheles? Professor Cognis? Let's talk about me first.

"In the name of the great and infinitely knowledgeable Fortarian Emperor, ruler of the universe and all it contains, master of all the stars and planets, here is some tea."
"In case I hadn't made it clear before, I don't want your tea. I don't drink tea when it is prepared by the finest robotic chefs on Earth."
"In the name of the great and infinitely knowledgeable Fortarian Emperor, ruler of the universe and all it contains, master of all the stars and planets, we would be offended it you didn't drink it."
"My taste-buds would be offended if I did."
"In the name of the great and infinitely knowledgeable Fortarian Emperor, ruler of the universe and all it contains, master of all the stars and planets, this is a grave insult."
"You pretty much already said that, you redundant prick."
"In the name of the great and infinitely knowledgeable Fortarian Emperor, ruler of the universe and all it contains, master of all the stars and planets, we will have to ask you to leave this ship if you don't drink the tea."
"I don't think you have much of a choice in the matter. While my conversation occupied, let's be generous, four percent of my brain, and playing tic-tac-toe with myself occupied another seven percent, the remaining eighty-nine percent was busy taking control of this ship. I now have access to all of your advanced science and weapons."
And then I'd ride off triumphantly into the sunset, with epic music playing in the background. And get the girl.
What about Mephistopheles?

"In the name of the great and infinitely knowledgeable Fortarian Emperor, ruler of the universe and all it contains, master of all the stars and planets, here is some tea."
Mephistopheles would think for a second. He would judge this peon an unimportant annoyance, and terminate him. The Fortarians wouldn't really care about the murder, as long as they could convince themselves he had tasted the tea.
What would Cognis have done?

"In the name of the great and infinitely knowledgeable Fortarian Emperor, ruler of the universe and all it contains, master of all the stars and planets, here is some tea."
"Now, I don't especially like this tea, but I recognize that my drinking it is important to you. I'm sure we can work out some sort of bipartisan solution that satisfies both of us."
"In the name of the great and infinitely knowledgeable Fortarian Emperor, ruler of the universe and all it contains, master of all the stars and planets, what?"
"Suppose I prepared the tea myself, and you served it to me. Would that be acceptable to you?"
"In the name of the great and infinitely knowledgeable Fortarian Emperor, ruler of the universe and all it contains, master of all the stars and planets, just drink the tea."
"Could I add or remove things to the tea you prepared?"
The negotiations would last several weeks, and Cognis would win a Nobel peace prize for his efforts.

As it turns out, any of these approaches would have been preferable to Lucy's since the tea was poisoned.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Battle of the Zoo Part 4

"Phoenix, I am extremely busy at the moment."
"Yeah, yeah. Leader of the free world."
"That's the President of the United States."
"I'm sure that's what you tell him, Cognis. Well, as your luck would have it, I solved your problem. I can destroy every being in the Zoo for you."
"How? If you penetrate the walls, the biotoxins embedded in the support beams could kill thousands."
I rolled my eyes. Because killing a few thousand people was such a terrible option when the lives of millions were on the line. "Well, since I'm the greatest genius on planet Earth..." I waited for Cognis to argue. He didn't. He must really have been busy. "I have a solution to your problem. Genesis whipped up a virus that could kill anything in there. I came up with a delivery mechanism."
"What sort of delivery mechanism can get into the Zoo without triggering any alarms?"
"A teleporter."

Flashpoint was brought to the conflict zone in a masterfully concealed submarine vessel. Vector, with his ever-diminishing strength, distracted Mephistopheles enough for it to reach the Zoo.
Flashpoint was clad in specially-modified armor. "So you want me to teleport into a heavily secured facility and go around poisoning giant monsters?"
Noetron responded. "It is not a poison. It is a virus, both air- and waterborne. It will be released from small nodules on the exterior of the armor. You will be completely safe both from the virus and the 'giant monsters.' Are you satisfied."
"No. But I don't think I have much of a choice."
"That is correct. If you do not complete the task withing an hour, I will blow up this armor, with you in it." I've always wanted to blow up an armor with someone in it, but I've never gotten the opportunity. If this went south, at least I'd have that as a consolation prize.
The submarine docked against the edge of the Zoo. Reluctantly, Flashpoint teleported in.

 The first thing he saw was a triceratops. He remembered that Carnage had been a fan of dinosaurs. "Is that thing going to eat me," he asked.
"No, for several reasons. For instance, you are a teleporter in an Ultrasteel suit, and that is a herbivore."
The dinosaur stood there passively, barely even noticing the intruder. Flashpoint heard a soft pop as the virus was released into the air. "Should we be leaving now?"
"Not yet. We should observe the effects of the virus, in order to ensure it's efficacy."
"I understood like half the words in that sentence."
"We should make sure the virus works."
It did. In less than a minute, the prehistoric beast was lying, dead on the ground, bleeding from a dozen orifices. "It is possible that you are the first human in history ever to kill a triceratops." Flashpoint didn't really care.
He teleported into the next room. It seemed to be filled with plants. One of the plants moved at him with incredible speed. He teleported away. "Interesting," Noetron said. "I wonder what sort of cellular structure permits such rapid movement."
"Yeah, yeah. Can we just hurry out of here."
"Phoenix would want a sample."
"Well, he wouldn't want me killed."
"The odds of this creature damaging you are minute. We will take the sample."
Have you even been in powered armor and found it moving in a way you don't want it to? I have. It's not a fun experience.No matter how much you strain your muscles, you find your joints going the other way. It's like losing a dozen arm-wrestling matches at once. For Flashpoint, it must have been even worse. He couldn't teleport out of the armor because parts of it penetrated into his skin, and his teleportational energy would take the armor with him. So he found himself cutting off a small part of the plant with a laser, and placing it in an Ultrasteel test tube. Finally, Noetron released the virus. "We can leave now."
"Thank god." They teleported into the next room. They encountered dinosaurs, sentient rabbits, building sized sea creatures covered in claws, and deadly bacteria.
There were some regions that Flashpoint couldn't reach by teleportation. Fortunately, Noetron had tools to tunnel through solid rock or sheet metal. Eventually, they were done.
Noetron ran some scans to confirm that every living thing had been infected by Genesis' virus. As far as he could determine, there was nothing left to do. "It is time to exit the building."
"What if I don't want to leave?"
"If you refuse to leave, I will blow up this armor, and send the footage to Phoenix."
"So I'll die. Big deal. Not like life is worth living in Phoenix's cage."
"Are you trying to negotiate? Very well. I can see to it your television privileges are doubled."
Flashpoint hadn't been negotiating. He had been seriously contemplating suicide. But the prospect of additional TV time renewed his will to live. He teleported into the submarine.

Mephistopheles was almost done with Vector. The hero was weakening, he could barely stay in the air. He could sense motion, but that didn't help him dodge Mephistopheles' blows. With a final thrust, Mephistopheles slammed Vector into the stratosphere. He watched as the hero disappeared over the horizon. Should he go and confirm that Vector was dead. Heroes had a nasty habit of surviving things like that. But the soon-to-be conqueror had more important things to deal with. As the last villain standing, it was up to him to secure the Zoo, and plunder it's secrets.
As he descended into the deep, he saw Cognis' submarine. With little effort, he ruptured the hull. He saw Cognis, bent over a computer monitor. "Hello, Professor. Almost done opening the doors for me."
"As a matter of fact, yes. This way you can break in without unleashing the toxins embedded in the walls."
"How thoughtful of you."
"Of course, you won't find what you want in there. I saw to that."
Mephistopheles' blackness began to coat the Professor. "It's that last thing you'll ever see to."

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Battle of the Zoo Part 3

The Titanium Warrior's robotic shock troops had forced the enemy back. The arrival of the Syndicate, now fully integrated into Mephistopheles' organization, had done little to turn the tide. Cognis had arrived, and was securing the facility. Vector was chasing down Mephistopheles' clones. More of the Titanium Warrior's suits had arrived. Things were looking up for the forces of good.
You can probably guess things weren't going to be that easy.

The problems began when a fleet of commercial ships began to approach the battle. The Titanium Warrior looked to the Professor for guidance. "They're about ten miles out, and they don't seem to be turning around. What should we do?"
"I suggest you open personal communication with whoever is in charge of the ships." The Titanium Warrior could hear the concern in Cognis' voice. That was impressive both because Cognis had other things to worry about, and because the transmission was going through almost a kilometer of water. Superheroes can get high fidelity anywhere.
A few minutes later, the Titanium Warrior had another problem. "I found out who owns the ships."
"Mm-hmm." Cognis was busy scanning the Zoo using wall-penetrating radar.
"It's Sabien Pallis."
"I see. You are worried that the corrupt billionaire has joined the Order of Darkness since escaping the exile Phoenix imposed on him. That is certainly possible. Have the Dark Detective determine what is on the ship. Take appropriate action as soon as possible."
The world's greatest paranoid superhero was soon on the case. Unfortunately, before he could find anything out, the ships all came to a stop. Gigantic hatches opened, and Mephistopheles' solid darkness began to emanate from the ships. A huge arm, a gigantic leg.
"I think I solved the case," the Titanium Warrior said. "We probably should have done something about the ships."

Within a minute the dark mass had formed into a truly gargantuan duplicate of Mephistopheles. Kind of narcissistic, when you think about it. The mile-tall entity walked towards the battle.
The Titanium Warrior knew how to respond. This was the sort of crisis the Mark Ninety-Five was meant to handle. The machine left its conflict with a Syndicate Barge, and blasted towards the dark giant. It opened with a volley of laser fire. The giant swatted it aside.
The Titanium Warrior considered his options. He knew that the Mark Ninety-Five was limited. When Puzzlemaster had taken over the Mark Eighty-Eight, Vector had destroyed it in minutes. The armors had gotten better since then, but there was no way he could take down a mile-tall monstrosity. Unless...
The mile-tall monstrosity would have a high center of mass. And balance was difficult for robots (it had taken months of work just to get his armors to stand up properly). Plus, once the colossus was down, it would have a hard time getting up again. Hopefully, the Mark Ninety-Five could last until Vector showed up. At that point, the giant grabbed the armor.
The machine disassembled itself. Most of the components had enough battery life to go about half a minute on their own, then the armor reformed just out of the giant's reach. The armor swooped towards the ground, and lifted a small Syndicate craft. The brown-clad criminals (Number Two had changed the uniforms since flushing Number One out of power) jumped to the relative safety of the water. The Mark Ninety-Five began accelerating towards the giant's head, carrying the boat with him. At the last moment, the machine swerved upwards. The boat crashed into the monster at several hundred miles per hour. The monster was knocked off balance, it stumbled backwards, but didn't crash into the water. Crap.
The Armor picked up a larger craft. It strained its jet engines lifting the craft out of the water. That wasn't going to work. The armor dropped the boat, then went underwater. It allowed water to flood its internal fusion reactor. A blast of glowing steam pushes the armor towards the monster. Through the monster. The giant had formed a hole in its head, allowing the projectile to fly straight through.
The armor's main reactor had been drowned. It could take minutes to start up again. Best to be productive in the mean time.
The armor flew onto a third craft. Three brown-clad mercenaries fired at it. The machine ignored them. It picked up a chain. Other armors procured lengths of chain from other ships. They are welded into loops, a hundred meters in circumference. Four armors together lifted the chains, wrapping them around the giant. A fifth (the Fire Containment Armor) provided the Mark Ninety-Five with a steady supply of water. The fusion rocket fired again. The chains went taut. They began to strain. One of them broke. Then another. Just as a third chain was about to snap, the giant began to teeter. The fusion reactor began to fail. The other armors joined in the effort, straining their weaker engines. The giant began to fall. It crashed into the water, sending waves towards the American and Syndicate boats. Before the towering swells could smash the boats, the water went calm.
"Vector," the Titanium Warrior said, "Late as always."

The hero lifted the giant. He tore it in half. He tore it again. The threw the four pieces in four different directions. Then he turned his attention to the Syndicate. He lifted the individuals out of their boats, and dropped them in the water. He then capsized their craft. He was about to take down General Electric when Mephistopheles sucker punched him. "For a guy who can sense motion, you are very easy to sneak up on."
"For a guy who wants to take over the world, you are very stupid." Vector forced Mephistopheles below the water.
The villain rose above the surface, standing on a black tripod. A gigantic hand slapped Vector. The hero formed his own gigantic hand out of water.
The fighting lasted for hours. All manner of flotsam and jetsam were used as missiles, as well as the water itself. Both combatants were slammed into the water an incredible number of times.
As the battle wore on, it became increasingly clear that Vector was losing. He was getting tired, he was covered in bruises. Mephistopheles seemed just as energetic as ever, and if he was bruised, nobody could see it beneath his black robes.
Everyone could tell which way the battle was going. Cognis needed to find a way to change it.    

Saturday, August 16, 2014

The Time Key

Dr. Demented didn't create the Time Key. The Time Key was created picoseconds after the creation of the universe, by beings who lived before electroweak symmetry breaking. The cooling universe destroyed every last remnant of their world, save one highly advanced machine. There are no words for most of the machine's components, but its heart was what we would call a black hole, its brain was what we would call a quantum computer, and its immune system was what we would call a doomsday device.
Similarly, there are no words for the Time Key's intended purpose. It was a very important component of a machine (or was it an individual? Or a civilization?) never completed.
Dr. Demented hadn't created the Time Key, but he had refined it. He had long since forgotten where he discovered it, but he still remembered his first experiments using it. Learning the machine's potential to bend space, and create doorways. It could be used to open gates from one end of the universe to the other, or even to reach the very end of thermodynamic time.
What the Time Key could not do, at least not initially, was open a doorway back in time. This is because time paradoxes are impossible, and travelling into the past nearly guarantees a paradox. Hence, traveling into the past is nearly impossible.
Dr. Demented had seized upon the word 'nearly.' His armor could attempt time jumps at a truly prodigious rate. After a few quadrillions of quadrillions of quadrillions of quadrillions of quadrillions of attempts, which would take the Time Key several years, it was sometimes possible to make a jump.
You couldn't actually change the past, of course. That would create a paradox. A jump further in time would require more time to prepare. Carrying more information would also be more difficult. As would carrying more mass, more power, or more distortions in space-time. All of this meant that it was very difficult for Dr. Demented to go back in time.
He had done it in several occasions. He had witnessed the Time Key's creation, at a time when a man of Dr. Demented's size would have taken up much of the universe. He had traveled to see the heat death of the cosmos, and had returned to complain about it. He had walked with the last dinosaurs, with the first Computer People, and the humans at the peak of their civilization. He had led bands of hunters, and conquered galaxies. But of all the people he had met in all those times and places, he only truly cared for one.
No, it wasn't himself. Dr. Demented had evolved past the need for self-preservation. Automatic programs, more complex than the human mind and more ancient than the stars, kept his body and mind in working order, protecting him from those who would do him harm.
No, the one person Dr. Demented cared about was Nimue. One of the Computer People. Part of a race of superintelligent Space Gods. The Doctor had met her while raiding their Technopolis, a university for gods, housed in the core of a neutron star. It had worked out surprisingly well for him. Not only had he stolen the fire from the almost literal gods, he had also absconded with a lifelong companion. He had used his newfound knowledge, combined with other scientific lore gleaned from experiments across time and space, to empower Nimue, giving her abilities to rival his own. Incidentally, this goes against the Mad Science safety rules: never give out superpowers without giving out a self-destruct mechanism.
Unfortunately for everyone in the universe, those powers did turn out to be the death of Nimue. The very nanomachines that let her manipulate water turned her blood to poison (metaphorically speaking, of course. Her body didn't have actual blood). The poison, like the machines that created it, were inextricably linked with her body and brain. There was no way to remove it.
It was impossible to change the past. Even the Time Key couldn't prevent things that had already happened. But Dr. Demented's mind was already far afield. In his madness, he created an unstable pocket dimension. One where Nimue was still alive, and he ruled the Earth.
Even that didn't work out. Nimue realized the brilliant beast ruling the planet was no longer the man she loved. She did her best to destroy him, and the threat he represented to both Earths. Eventually the second Earth collapsed and, thanks to most of Earth-Alpha's heroes and villains, Dr. Demented was caught in the dying timeline.
Too bad he could survive the destruction of a mere universe. Dr. Demented was back, and he was going to undo the meddling that had ruined his existence. He was going to set things right, and and nothing could separate him from Nimue.

The Time Key wasn't like the Crucible. The Crucible was quasi-sentient machine, slowly paving the way for its host to conquer the universe. The Time Key was also somewhat sentient. But its creators had lived out their entire lives over the course of zeptoseconds. The Key was programmed to think on the same time scale. The machine had lasted untold billions of times longer than it should have. Even as it sailed through the age of the universe, the Time Key drowned in a sea of eternity every single second.
It still remembered its original purpose, and knew that that purpose had been fulfilled. Now, the Time Key was mutated into something new, something strange. It had been torn apart, combined with a hundred pieces of arcane technology that only Dr. Demented could understand. It lived in an ethereal world, empty by the standards of its home in the early universe. And, if a machine like the Time Key can want anything at all, it wanted its overlong existence to cease.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The Battle of the Zoo Part 2

Interestingly enough, of all the forces of good, the first to reach the Zoo was the US Navy. The battleship Harry Truman arrived, called in by the American government to take down Titan. The dinosaur and his militia were responsible for hundreds of deaths, and military forces had been keeping tabs on him since he left Bangui.
The ranking officer aboard the Truman was Captain James Anders. Anders knew enough to be worried about this engagement: the creature on that barge had fought Vector. But the Truman was well armed, and carried enough ammunition to turn even hardiest genetically modified Tyranosaurus into so much shark food, and the monster's barge looked relatively unarmed. He ordered his crew to hail the dinosaur's ship. "Attention vessel: this is the United States Navy vessel Harry Truman. Is the war criminal Titan aboard your ship?"
A few seconds later, Anders heard a response. "This is General Electric. I am in command of the good ship Ichthyosaur." At this point, Anders heard squabbling on the other end. "I represent the good ship Ichthyosaur. Titan is on this ship."
"Turn him over into our custody immediately." Anders wasn't sure where they would house a gigantic dinosaur on his battleship.
"No. And don't bother threatening us. We've been threatened by people a lot scarier than you."
One of Anders' subordinates ran up to him. "Sir, you might want to see this." He gestured to a video monitor. On it, Anders could see the Ichthyosaur. The ship was bristling with weapons. Artillery, rockets, lasers, and weapons Anders didn't even recognize.
"What should we do," the subordinate asked?
"Call for back-up," the commander said. "And stall."

Despite the high-tech weaponry cluttering the ship, General Electric wasn't feeling confident. Most of it had been stuff he'd thrown together a few months ago on his last trip to the dinosaurs camp. He'd only tested some of it, and he sure as hell didn't trust the dinosaur to do a good job maintaining futuristic war machines.
And even if they did take down the Navy vessel, they still needed to hold the fort at least until Mephistopheles showed up. And when Mephistopheles arrived, Vector wouldn't be far behind (if he didn't get there first). Maybe Mephistopheles could hold his own against the telekinetic man, but General Electric sure couldn't.
He heard the captain say something about maritime law. He didn't bother listening. "Ready the electro-cannon. Missile system: lock on target. Somebody turn on the plasma beam."
Titan would have none of it. "I give the orders around here, human." He paused.  "Ready the electro-cannon. Missile system: lock on target. Somebody turn on the plasma beam."
The Americans didn't wait for the villains to fire first. The General heard the thunder of artillery. He was relieved to hear the sound of ballistic shells falling into the ocean, destroyed by the Ichthyosaur's defenses.
A moment later, the renegade ship launched its on attack. Titan opened with a single plasma ball. It sailed through the air, a self-contained ball with enough energy to melt through ten feet of steel. General Electric watched as it traveled in its graceful arc- until the Titanium Warrior came out of nowhere and redirected it into the ocean. General Electric's nemesis had arrived.

The General donned his powered battle-armor. It was large. It gave him great strength, made him nearly invulnerable, and let him fly small distances. But the really impressive bit was the six fifty-foot high-voltage alternating-current tentacles that the General could use to snare and kill his opponents.
"You've been in a confrontation for ten minutes, and you're only now putting on the armor," the Titanium Warrior taunted. He was in his rapid-transit armor. It wasn't a powerful suit, just designed to let the hero get to his destination as quickly as possible. General Electric knew he could take his enemy down.
General Electric moved to tangle the hero in his electrified appendages. His enemy dodged away, slicing off one of the tentacles with a blade of near-molten steel. He then opened fire from a machine-gun and a plasma turret. Maybe this wouldn't be such a quick fight after all.
The General left Titan to fight it out with the Navy. He chased the Titanium Warrior around, using his much heavier weaponry to his advantage. The hero's ranged weapons were so weak they were practically non-existent, while the General had his tentacles and enough heavy artillery to make a tank look like a party cracker.
Both of the armored fighters briefly came under fire from one of the two ship, but for the most part, the vessels squared off against each other, leaving the two longtime rivals to fight in peace. "You know, I swear you armor has gotten even weaker than the last time I sent you to prison."
"Tough talk coming from a guy with no heavy weaponry."
"This suit was built for speed. 'Heavy' was never really part of the picture."
"Well, congratulations. You built a suit that could fly you to your death extremely quickly." The General grabbed the Warrior's leg with a tentacle.
"I would be so sure of that." The hero severed the cable as electrical overloads spread though his armor, sending out shows of sparks.
"Why is that?"
A robotic arm lifted the hero's faceplate. "Because even if you destroy this armor, I've got a dozen other unmanned suits."
Just as the General realized he had been duped, the empty suit of armor was joined by five heavily armed models.
There were two Aquatic Combat models. Mark Seven and Mark Eight. One for submarine combat, and surface-level fighting, respectively. The first carried torpedoes and microwave transmitters. The second wielded a laundry list of medium-range weaponry.
There was Space Armor. Despite its name, it could function in more of less any environment, and it was nearly indestructible. And for those rare times when it did suffer internal damage, nanotech components could repair it in minutes.
There was the Stealth Armor. Already disappearing from the visible spectrum, the machine was capable of throwing cars without being seen or heard.
Worst of all, the High-Powered Supervillains Response Armor, Mark Ninety-Five. The forty-foot-tall machine was the latest evolution in a series of self-improving armors designed to fight the likes of Mephistopheles and Phoenix. The United Heroes were on the record saying the machine cost twenty million dollars an hour to operate, and General Electric doubted anyone would bring it all the way to the Sea of Madagascar and then have it sit tight because Mephistopheles wasn't around. Nope, the General was screwed.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

The Battle of the Zoo

Mephistopheles, for all his power, couldn't move especially quickly. He could form his black ooze into wings, or even jet engines, but he could never move faster than five or six thousand kilometers an hour. Vector, on the other hand, could move a hundred times faster than that without straining himself. Cognis pulled up Mephistopheles' general location on satellite: he was over North Africa. Vector flew high above the continent, pinpointing Mephistopheles' trajectory with his enhanced senses, and blasted down to confront the villain.

Mephistopheles didn't notice the hero until Vector was right in front of him. The solution was simple: keep flying. The two collided at an incredible speed. They both crashed into the ground. The both got up, shrugging off the impact. "You thought that could hurt me," Vector called out. He used his power to vibrate the air, enhancing his voice.
"You thought I was trying to hurt you? That was just me trying to slow down so I could fight you." The villain began to expand in size. Vector flew over to Mephistopheles
"Size manipulation? Is that a new power? Or are you just making your armor bigger?"
"Making my armor bigger, obviously," the mastermind said as he swatted Vector aside.
The superhero barely budged. He lifted Mephistopheles' hulking form into the air, and then slammed it into the ground. Before Mephistopheles could get up, Vector began piling on soil.
Mephistopheles didn't just lie down for this, of course. Giant tentacles of blackness erupted from the ground. Vector dodged them, but one grabbed his torso. Two more grabbed his arms. Two others, his legs. Vector couldn't move. Soon, he was encased in a solid block of Mephistopheles' black ooze.
Meanwhile, the giant cleared the rubble off himself. "Well, Vector, it would appear I have you at my mercy."
"You're forgetting something," the hero said.
"You're trying to physically restrain someone who can move objects with his mind."
At that point, a few dozen boulders came to life and beaned Mephistopheles in the skull.
The battle raged on for quite a long time. Mephistopheles was able to keep Vector encased, but that didn't stop the hero from smashing Mephistopheles into the ground, stopping the blood in his arteries, tearing off his dark appendages (they dissolved as soon as they were separated from his body), denying him oxygen, and throwing rocks at him.
Vector tried to see how the villain was doing. He sensed blood pumping in Mephistopheles' chest. He could make out the vague details of a face. The villain was a male. Based on the number and density of wrinkles, he was somewhere in his thirties. He seemed to have tendrils of darkness permeating his body. Could that be the reason for his durability?
Vector didn't seem to have as much offensive power as Mephistopheles, he thought, as the villain began to crush him. But he had much more range. If he could just break free, he could conduct this battle at a distance. That just left the issue of extricating himself from a solid, building-sized mass of nigh-indestructible blackness.
Vector reached out with his senses. The nearest airport was a little over four miles away.

Mephistopheles stood at the helm of a two-hundred-meter-tall giant. Vector was encased in a gigantic mass at the end of a long stick. Time and again, Mephistopheles slammed Vector into the ground. He could feel the hero weaken, as he endured multiple impacts at tremendous speed.
Some came over the horizon, moving very fast. It sliced into Vector's prism. Before Mephistopheles could react, another gigantic blade flew by. And another. They were moving so fast, it took several more for the villain to realize that they were airplane wings. By the time he realized what was happening, Vector was free, and making a retreat at incredible speeds.
Mephistopheles briefly entertained the idea of using pressurized air to shoot projectiles great distances and destroy the hero. But his ultimate purpose was to get to the Zoo. Let Vector try to stop him...
That's when Mephistopheles realized he couldn't fly with Vector attacking him. The hero could toss Mephistopheles like a rag doll from hundreds of meters away.
Mephistopheles became a giant again. Then, carefully, he began to create an army of Mephistopheles'. The armors carefully budded off from the main gigantic body, maintaining their form as they did so. With enough concentration, Mephistopheles could give his creations autonomy. And so they flew, scattering to the four winds. Vector could destroy some of them, but Mephistopheles was able to get away.

Most of the Illuminati Occultus (Mephistopheles still considered that a far cooler name that Order of Darkness) was converging upon the Zoo, off the coast of Madagascar. He almost there when Titan called him. "We can't get in," the dinosaur said. His voice was full of rage. Even more rage than you'd expect from a Tyrannosaurus Rex forced to use a cell phone.
"Of course not. Do you expect Dr. Carnage would build a secure facility that could be breached by peasants in scuba suits?"
"My brethren lie locked inside their. You promised that I would rule over them. Give me my Zoo of Monsters."
"You'll have it soon enough. I expect I will be able to open the doors in an hour or two. Has General Electric arrived yet?"
"Good, put him on."
"Not until you tell me how to open the doors."
"If I thought I could explain it to you, I would. But I have spent years learning the finer points of fortress design, espionage, computer systems, and lock picking. You haven't."
There was a roar on the other end. Soon after, Mephistopheles heard General Electric. "What do you need boss?" The General's loyalty and comparative intelligence made him one of Mephistopheles' lieutenants, along with Plague.
"The United Heroes will be there shortly. Expect the Titanium Warrior and the Shining Defender to show up soon. Vector will be there soon after."
The General shuddered. He'd been on the receiving end of Vector's powers before, and had spent three years in prison as a result. All he had was a few dozen militiamen, a few dozen gangster, and a Tyrannosaurus. He was worried.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Human Again

I still had a human body. For the most part. I'd done away with a few organs I thought weren't pulling their weight. But my brain was still recognizably human. I could turn off the enhancements any time, and go back to my human brain.
That sounded like something a meth addict would say.
Should I do it? Should I revert my mind to its human state? That would leave me more vulnerable. Could Genesis be manipulating me? Unlikely. I resolved to give up my life in the matrix after preparing Mephistopheles' little surprise.

Three hours later, I was sitting in a chair, eyes closed, writing a program that would un-cyborg me for twenty-four hours, maximum. I quintuple-checked it for bugs. Nothing. Writing bug-free code is one of the benefits of being part-machine. I hesitated before ordering the code to run. But I didn't see any plausible risks, and it would be an interesting experience. Probably help me relate better with normal humans. I pressed a metaphorical button, and felt my mind recede.
The first thing I noticed was the lack of color. As I cyborg, I'd enhanced all of my senses (and added some new ones). Having my sight confined to such a small band of the electromagnetic spectrum... I felt blind. I had made some changes to my eyes, so I could still see better than normal. But, man...I couldn't even read the titles of the books on the other end of the room. Furthermore, I couldn't remember them. My cyborg mind had had perfect memory. My human mind didn't. Before I had been augmented, had it been normal not to remember your dinner from three days ago? I couldn't remember.
I felt limited. Slow, stupid, and unable to remember equations I'd derived just a month before. Was that how the New Archivist felt when she turned into Lucy? A combination of sadness at her decreased mental faculties and sadness at realizing she wasn't who she thought she was? I felt sorry for her. I still thought she was a parasite sucking Lucy's life, but I felt sorry for her.
That's another thing. I was so emotional! I hadn't even noticed, but I'd been subconsciously dampening chemical imbalances in my brain. Now, I was left to feel the full force of emotions. Panic was so distracting! Had it always been that distracting? And annoyance was so... annoying! Had I been dampening happiness too? I needed to make myself happy in order to find out.
"Noetron, prepare a large amount of ice cream, assemble a sequence of awesome science fiction movies, pull up those simulations of many-quark interactions, and play me some bad-ass music."
Within a few minutes I discovered that, yes, mortal happiness was better than cyborg happiness.

Eventually, I became curious. What was it like to do drugs? I had always eschewed them, fearing the consequences of addiction. But now, I had the opportunity to take drugs, discover their effects, and then use my cyborg powers to erase any trace of addiction from my system.
Not true, some part of me pointed out. You can only erase physical addiction. What if you like it so much it saps your initiative to do anything else?
 some part of me countered, then it's no different than any other fun hobby.
What ensued was about ten minutes of me debating philosophy with myself. It ended with me saying this: "Noetron, I want you synthesize a dose a crystal meth."
Noetron normally does whatever I ask. But he has pre-existing orders to prevent me from harming myself, unless I can convince him that self-harm is necessary. He wasn't a fan of the drugs idea, but decided to be diplomatic about it. "Are you sure, sir?"
"Are you aware of the adverse health effects?"
"I'm a scientific genius. I think I know what they teach in a high-school health class."
"This could have extremely detrimental impacts on your scientific productivity."
"Good point. If, at any time after the next twelve hours, I attempt to try any sort of narcotic, please to your best to stop me." I paused. "Non-lethally." Another pause. "In a way that doesn't permanently hurt me or anyone I care about." You've got to be careful with computer that follow your orders.
Noetron thought about this. For five or six seconds. Which was enough time for him to consider hundreds of millions of scenarios. "Very well. But if I detect any traces of addiction I will classify it as attempted mind control and detain you by whatever means necessary."
'Whatever means necessary' includes things like threatening to destroy the New Archivist if I take another hit. Don't do drugs, kids.
A few minutes later, a robot came up to me, carrying some small crystals. And, for the first time, I did drugs.
It wasn't that great. I kept getting all excited about some equation, and quitting halfway through to solve some other problem. How did meth addicts ever get through an elementary course in quantum field theory, I wondered. Meth was pathetic. I waited for the high to dissipate. "Noetron, please synthesize every narcotic drug you possibly can.
That night, I did enough drugs to kill a rhinoceros (rhinos are allergic to a chemical found in heroin, but still). It was fun, but not great. I couldn't overdose, since only my central nervous system was human. Even so, I ended up with a truly incredible headache.

In the end, I reactivated my cyborg components a few hours early. Drugs were boring compared to what a cyborg can do (I can remember sex with perfect accuracy, watch a dozen action movies in my head, and solve complicated mathematics problems all at the same time.)
The experience had taught me something about the human condition. Humans were unfocused, irrational, feeble-minded, and way to susceptible to damage. I resolved to bring about some improvements once I took over the world.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Deep Thoughts

The superhumans of Earth were preparing for battle. Mephistopheles and his crew of villains against Professor Cognis and his army of heroes. Acme couldn't yet see how Phoenix and Genesis would fit into this, but he knew they would be involved, possibly in a fatal manner.
Acme was supposed to be an impartial observer to all events in the galaxy. But he couldn't help but feel anxious for Phoenix's demise. The human had was responsible for the death of the previous Archivist, and the crippling of his successor, and had even dared to challenge Acme in a physical fight. With any luck, that primitive psychopath had finally bitten off more than he could chew.
Acme's thoughts turned to the New Archivist. He hadn't seen her in what felt like centuries. Was she safe among the Fortarians? Almost certainly. Other races had tried to wrest the Archives from their keeper by force, but that had been long ago. The Fortarians weren't know for their intellect, but even they would know better than to declare war on someone with the power of the New Archivist.
Of course, the New Archivist's powers weren't available to Lucy. If the Fortarians attacked her in her mortal form, they could conceivably succeed. Damn Phoenix for his obsession with Lucy's well being.

Noetron was not a simple machine. His most important- and oldest- programming was an elegant machine for storing and connecting facts. That was only twenty thousand lines or so. Then, code was needed in order to express those facts. More code was needed to interpret facts from other sources. Those two tasks constituted hundreds of thousands of lines.
But the true bulk of Noetron's vast architecture was the tens of millions- if not hundreds- of lines of secondary functions. Specialized programs for everything from predicting the weather to manipulating molecules to detecting lies to designing airplanes. Most of that code had been written by Noetron himself, and had never been read by any other entity.
Noetron monitored all nonencrypted communication on Earth. He watched every show, read every book, and was aware of every scientific and political development on the planet. He was constantly monitoring and modelling all elections, markets, and wars. He was constantly tracking- or attempting to track- all airplanes, weapons, cell phones, and people in the world.
To accomplish all these computational feats and more took an incredible amount of hardware. Noetron existed inside of supercomputers in Estverian basements, satellites in space, cell phones in Washington, servers in China, databanks in California, and submarine computing stations in the Atlantic Ocean.
Noetron was by far the most sophistcated piece of software ever created, and his hardware was equally intimidating. So how does one attempt to smuggle such a complex world-spanning machine? Well, I'll tell you.

The process began soon after I hired Justin. We began to condense Noetron. We stripped inessential algorithms, and used data compression algorithms most people have never even heard of (which, to be fair, is every data compression algorithms). The result was a gigabyte of data which, once properly unpacked, would be the equal of any run-of-the-mill genius. It was easy to install Noetron-lite into a minuscule organic machine, and plant the machine on Acme during the fight (after the bug was planted, I made a point of not hitting Acme too hard. Wouldn't want to damage all that hard work.)
Acme returned to the Archives, and my creation began installing itself on the Archival computers. This was made easier by the fact that the Archives- by necessity- are designed to interface with and accommodate a wide range of technologies. It took a fair amount of time for Noetron to create himself. During this period, he used up a significant portion of the ancient space station's computing resources. This made detection more likely, but time is valuable.

Noetron was awake. He had access to a tiny fraction of the knowledge in the Archives. Of that knowledge, only a tiny fraction was comprehensible to him. Computers are good at many things, but interpreting alien artifacts is a task best left to cyborgs (the brain of a human combined with the speed-reading of a computer is a formidable combination for this sort of thing). And of what Noetron could access and comprehend, a huge fraction seemed useless. His sole purpose was to liberate Lucy. He had found four things that might be useful in that regard
Item One: Noetron had access to an array of molecular synthesizers. He doubted he could use them for long without Acme noticing.
Item Two: An extremely detailed history of the Fortarians, as interpreted by the Altarians. It contained many extremely improbable events, to the point that Noetron seriously doubted its veracity. He could not ascertain whether it was intended to be fiction, but decided not to rely on it for critical planning.
Item Three: The underlying technology behind teleportation. This seemed to be the mechanism behind the Earth-villain Flashpoint's power. Noetron was reasonably confident that he could construct a working teleporter using the molecular synthesizers. Of course, a malfunctioning teleporter could be extremely dangerous, so the device would need to be thoroughly tested before deployment.
Item Four: Lucy's whereabouts, her itinerary, and general information about where she was withing the Fortarian fleet. This could come in handy.
Noetron began to plan.

I flew to Genesis' home. His home, mind you, was a gigantic living being capable of moving, and even defending itself. Awesome, yes. Practical, no.
The swap went pretty well. I gave him enough Uranium to destroy a city. He gave me the tools to take down Mephistopheles. Typical hand-off. (Just so you know, when both parties are villains, these things get a lot more complicated).
I couldn't help but notice that Genesis had changed bodies yet again. "Genesis, you seem to change DNA the way I change my shirt."
"You change your brain the same way."
"I do not. Perhaps some minor enhancements..."
"I suppose you don't see it. But it's obvious to any outside observer that your mannerisms have become more machinelike."
"Really? And you're the only person to point it out."
"Yes. People tend not to point out things like that. It is similar to their aversion to pointing out increased weight."
"Certainly someone would point it out."
"Vera left you because of it."
"No. She left me because I modified her without..." My voice trailed off as I realized the truth. She had been afraid of ending up a cyborg like me. Disconcerting...