I didn't see Mephistopheles coming. More than half of my brain had been fried during my battle with Raymond. The difference was barely perceptible to a human (I was so far beyond them that an extra factor of two didn't make much of a difference), but it did mean that I had dropped many auxiliary functions, when the parts of the brain responsible for doing them (and remembering to do them) had been destroyed. Those tasks included keeping up with Serbian election polls, reworking all of Russian Wikipedia, running through the Hubble Space telescope's data to find evidence of hydrocarbons falling into black holes, writing an awesome theme song for everything I saw, and making sure nobody nobody was flying towards my country. Guess which one of those proved to be a major problem.
I first saw him through a mansion security camera. Most of the cameras had been destroyed by my battle with Raymond, but I still caught a glimpse of him. It was a simple matter to enhance the image. I saw him carrying Vera. She didn't look well. He had flown her across an ocean, through the upper atmosphere, with only minimal shielding. That is not good for a person.
And I saw her hands. He flesh shorn off. How did that happen? Some sort of torture? Unlikely. Most likely the result of repeated blunt trauma. She was trying to punch her way out of a cell. Was that her own idea? No. Cognis. He figured it would either result in her being freed or killed. Either way, she couldn't be used as a hostage. Well, my dear arch-nemesis, I don't need you to kill my former girlfriends to save me the emotional trouble of watching them die. Because I am perfectly capable of saving them myself.
It seemed that he had paralyzed her endoskeleton. That was pretty impressive. There was a chance that he had managed to completely subvert the endoskeleton's programming. Or that he had made her swallow explosives. Or any one of a dozen ways of killing her that I couldn't possibly remove.
So what could I do? If I got closer, I could scan to see what sort of measures Mephistopheles had taken. And then what? Well, most likely any booby traps would be remote controlled. Most likely with a range of less than a hundred meters. Could she be teleported out of range faster than Mephistopheles could react? I was still working out the details when Mephistopheles touched down. He punched down the door.
"You know," I said, "I have doorbells so resilient they survived a nuclear blast. You should try it." I scanned Vera. Her endoskeleton did not appear to have a kill switch. I detected a small explosive placed in one of her molars and... nothing else. Could it be removed? The only way I could think to do that was gunshot. Was that feasible? Of course not. Oh, maybe I could have a small machine teleport in. Much better than some race against time scenario. I gave Noetron instructions.
"Phoenix, I have come to accept your unconditional surrender."
"Sorry, my enhanced cyborg ears must have made a mistake. Or maybe a bit was flipped in my skull. It sounded like you thought I was going to surrender to you." Supervillain banter. A well-loved way to waste time while you assess the other guy's defenses. Good thing I could multitask far better than my merely human opponent.
Mephistopheles remembered he was dealing with a fellow genius. One whose cyborg intellect was, at least for the moment, far beyond his. So he hit me. A gigantic black tentacle flung me into the air. On the way down I considered my options. Was I willing to sacrifice Vera for an upper hand in this fight? Yes. But was I willing to put myself at a momentary disadvantage (it would take another three minutes to save her) in order to preserve her life? Three minutes was a long time in a life-or-death battle with a supervillain.
I decided to make a tactical retreat. I opened my wings and blasted away. I was faster than him. But I needed to keep him near my laboratory so the microbots could save Vera. Or- better idea- I could move the fight to a different location and then come back. The travel couldn't be good for Vera, but so what? I had just been crippled by an extremely localized nuclear war. She could take some uncomfortable flight.
The best place to fight Mephistopheles was over water. His tentacle material only barely floated, so he would either need to extend tendrils all the way to the bottom or create a truly impressive volume. I moved slowly enough for him to follow me, and positioned myself above the Baltic. I ran diagnostics. How prepared was I for a fight?
Not at all. My magnetic monopole muscles were barely functioning. Ditto with the onboard lasers. But the fibers in my flesh were largely intact, so I was still resistant to some pretty intense harm. Even if I just stood there, it would take Mephistopheles close to two hours to beat me to death (based on what I knew about the strength of his hits and his likely strategy). This was going to take some time.
This meant two things. First, Vera stood a good chance of surviving this. Second, I should try and call for help.
Help would either mean the heroes or Genesis. I attempted to contact both while I waited for Mephistopheles.
Both were pretty implacable 'no's. The heroes were all worked up over the opportunity to rescue Cognis, and Genesis didn't want to risk the sanctity of his garden. I considered turning my offers into threats, but that sort of thing can get dangerous, and the last thing I needed was a two-front war.
What other defenses did I have? Noetron and I had prepared some weapons. But many of them had been destroyed in my battle with Ray. Most of the rest wouldn't have been any good against someone like Mephistopheles regardless.
I saw the black monster approaching. He had created an inky boat, and was propelling it towards me. Slow, but clever. No doubt he was filling the boat with those duplicates he could create. I thought of a few tactics to deal with that sort of thing.
I checked with robots at the mansion. He had left Vera there, paralyzed. Saving her would be cake, unless there was something I was missing. Which meant there probably was.
Mephistopheles was getting close. I pulled something out of my pocket- a nickel given to me as change during my last trip to the States, and threw it as hard as I could. It went through three of Mephistopheles' clones. If only the real one was that easy.