Vera thrust her hand into solid concrete. Her body shook with the impact. A loose bit of flesh fell to the ground. Vera pulled out the gleaming metal skeleton that was her left, and thrust it forward again. She had tried to spare her right hand. The pulverized flesh still clung to the metallic bone, and Cognis said that proper medical attention could restore it.
Cognis... The one who had made her do this. The one who had sat around while she tore her body to shreds trying to free them both. Why shouldn't he take a turn trying to punch through solid concrete?
She turned to look at him. He looked at her. "Is something the matter?"
"Yes, something's the matter! I lost my hands while you sat there doing nothing."
"I am sorry that you needed to lose the flesh on your hands. I do have some ideas for skin and muscle grafts that could remedy the damage."
"Would they work?"
Vera's eyes narrowed. "Give me one good reason not to kill you right now."
"Murder is wrong."
Vera couldn't think of a retort to that. It's a pretty hard line of reasoning to argue with. "Why don't you give this a try? Why don't you pummel your own hands until they're bleeding lumps of dead flesh?"
"It wouldn't accomplish anything. You are our only hope."
Just like that, all of Vera's anger turned to sadness. She started to cry. "This is all my fault. I shouldn't have come here. Phoenix told me to stay away from Mephistopheles. I should have listened."
Cognis saw what was going on. When an evil maniac from another dimensions holds you captive, and you destroy your hands trying to escape, and you look back on your life, you'll probably come up with a lot of mistakes. He tried to comfort her. "You were taking a risk, trying to stop a villain. Similar to what I do. Similar to what all heroes do."
Vera ignored him. "I never should have left Phoenix. He was a great man. And I left him for no reason."
"You made your decision. I will not comment on whether it was the right one." Phoenix was no great man. Vera was suffering from mild depression. Most likely brought on by the physical and emotional pain of the last few days. It would be best to get this process over with. "You are almost done. We just need you to get through a few more inches of material, and we'll start to see the outside."
Vera hadn't seen the outside in days. The idea of even a glimpse of sunlight was appealing. She stood up, and wiped the tears off her face. She walked over to the wall, and punched it with all of her inhuman strength.
Cognis wasn't surprised. Motivating people, bringing out their best, convincing them to work hard to help themselves and others. That was what he did. That was why the United Heroes existed. That was why he spent so much time talking to the rich and powerful.
But Cognis worked most of all to bring out the good in himself. He forced himself to work countless hours to help others.He had no personal life, no real friends. Just allies in the never-ending battle for the good of humanity.
Here in this cage, it was tempting to get distracted. To spend time getting acquainted with Vera. But he couldn't afford it. He was working out solutions to a dozen of the world's problems. He was thinking of new scientific inventions to improve the state of the environment. Designing new cars, new planes, even new types of clothing. A minutes's thought could save the lives of dozens down the road. What right did he have to spend a minute on idle conversation?
Cognis realized he had just spent several seconds on introspection. He got back to work thinking about the thermohaline cycle in the North Atlantic.
Cognis didn't get very far in his thoughts. He was interrupted by a black-clad figure. "Sorry if I'm interrupting an escape attempt, but I'm going to need your help."
Cognis tried to figure out what was going on. Mephistopheles had addressed Vera. He most likely needed her as bait in some trap for Phoenix. He might want to remove her skeleton and reverse engineer the technology. But that would kill her, wasting a valuable hostage. There was a chance she would be used as a human shield in a confrontation. Most likely, shit was about to go down.
"Here or there," he asked.
Mephistopheles studiously avoided him. He was probably afraid Cognis would pump him for information and then find a way to turn the tables. Which he would.
"I'm guessing there. It's what, ten o'clock here? You wouldn't want to fight him in the middle of a workday." It was a deliberate show of deductive strength. Designed to throw Mephistopheles off balance. "Of course, when you're there, you won't have the element of surprise. Phoenix will sense you coming hours in advanced." Cognis thought. "Unless, of course, you have some sort of distraction for him. Something that could weaken him enough to keep him occupied. Maybe some powerhouse with Demented's Disease?" Cognis had to be careful he wasn't giving Mephistopheles any new ideas. He couldn't read the villain's mind (dark tendrils in the brain interfered with psionics), but he could get a general impression of how the monster's mind worked. "Better hurry," the hero said, "I estimate Phoenix's new form can fully repair itself in under eight hours."
Mephistopheles made a dignified retreat, Vera in tow. Cognis permitted himself a rare smile.