Monday, October 27, 2014


It was my mistake. All Mephistopheles needed was to get in close proximity to me. And there I was, pinning him to the ground like an idiot.
I saw it coming. I saw as a tentacle erupted from his hands. I saw the small bit of machinery that could completely reprogram my cyborg components.
My mind was so much faster than my body. I dodged, blocked, and destroyed that tentacle a thousand times in my head. But not once in real life.
The tentacle was four centimeters from my eye. A few milliseconds until impact. I readied my defenses. What else could I do? I broadcasted out as many of my thoughts, memories, and desires as I could. Maybe Noetron, or Cognis, or someone, could create a new me, with those few terabytes of information at the core.
I needed to do better. What could I do in the remaining milliseconds? Of course. I could transferred a backup of my mind (or at least the important parts) to a small nodule of my body. Where? I selected the second knuckle on the pinky finger on my right hand. The backup process kept my occupied for most of the remaining time. I disconnected the backup from the rest of my system, so it couldn't be corrupted or detected, but would still follow the rest of my upgrades into Mephistopheles' body. I erased all records of it. Then, I felt pain in my eye.

"It's a beautiful device," Mephistopheles said. "Well, beautiful for me. Painful for you. Your upgrades will start tunneling through you. They'll all join together inside your rib-cage. They'll be compacted, and fused into a sphere one centimeter in radius. I eat the sphere, and get all your powers and knowledge. You have about a minute left to live. A very painful minute."
"Are you trying to torture me, little human?"
"To be honest... I wouldn't mind seeing you in pain."
"Well, you won't get what you want. I can fast forward through the last minute of my life, and not experience a thing."
"Maybe. But if there's even a tiny scrap of me left in you, you won't do that. You'll stay alive, too horridly fascinated by life and death."
He was right. I was bluffing. I checked my status. Internal bleeding had already begun inside me. About forty-two seconds left.
How could I make the most of my remaining time? This wasn't the first time I had been seconds away from death. But it was the first time that those seconds left me with time to kill.
I needed to make peace with myself. I needed to prove to myself that I had accomplished all I could accomplish. But first, I needed one small glimmer of hope.
I ran through my memories of Justin's brain. I assembled a crude facsimile of Justin's mind. "Justin, I have a question for you."
"What is the most effective drink for picking up women?"
"Martini. Why?"
I dismissed the Justinoid. There. I had reanimated the dead. If it could happen to Justin, it could happen to me too. I might not be done.
Was that really what I wanted? To be resurrected as the plaything of a bored god? Yes, I decided. Better than being dead.
Back to the matter at hand. What did I have left to do in my life. My to-do list was down to four million items. Let's start at the top.
1. Save Lucy. I wasn't going to get to do that. Why did I want to do that? Because she was important to me. There was no talking myself out of that. Could she still escape? Probably. She had Noetron and Acme. With luck, she could play the two off of each other, and free herself of this whole mess.
2. Kill Dr. Demented. Maybe this new Crucible would handle that. He seemed better qualified for the job. He had the unlimited power of a god, and he seemed to know how you use it.
Where was I? Item 3. Lost my train of thought. Cyborgs don't lose their trains of thought.
3. Kill Mephistopheles. Noticing a lot of killing on this list. Not healthy. Besides, someone would bump Vafnir off eventually.
4. Replace humanity with a race of cyborgs. This one was important. Human lives were so... thin. How did I ever find meaning with such a haphazard mind, thrown together by evolutionary chance? Only the vast and focused mind of a cyborg could truly appreciate the beauty of things. And others needed to share that. Plus, I wanted someone to talk to besides other aspects of myself.
Fortunately for the human race, some other mortal would eventually find his way out of the muck. Some other cyborg might lead them to enlightenment. They wouldn't be as good as me, and they might take their time showing up, but someone was coming to destroy the human race. And create the cyborg one.
5. Build a device to enable faster-than-light travel. That was going to be a bust. Dr. Demented had already done it, but I really wanted to understand it. Didn't matter, I... lost my train of thought again.
My brain was deteriorating. I had maybe thirty seconds left to live. And in my damaged state, with so much of my mind devoted to keeping the pain at bay, I could barely think faster than a human.
6. Subjugate planet Earth. The Cyborgs would need a leader. And as the first and greatest of their kind, I was the natural choice. I had so many ideas for Cyborg entertainment, Cyborg morality, and Cyborg law. Ideas I would never get to implement. But, hopefully, some future genius nearly as great as me would set the Cyborg people straight.
7. Steal information from the Archives. Much like the knowledge of faster than light travel, that alien lore would forever elude me. I could deal with that. It had eluded everyone else before me.
So what? So what if it had eluded everyone else before me? I was wasn't everyone else before me. Most of the people before me were morons. I shouldn't have to stoop to their level. What was I doing, systematically giving up on everything that mattered to me? I wasn't ready to give up. I wasn't ready to go. I wanted to live. I had things to do.
The pain!
I had theorems to prove, people to liberate, and galaxies to conquer.
The agony!
I had an immortal lifetime's worth of things to do, and deserved an immortal life in in which to do them.
I don't remember what I thought after that, because I was dead.     

Saturday, October 25, 2014


The battle had raged for hours, and the only way Alex had of hurting the Doctor was to hit him really hard. Fortunately, Doctor Demented wasn't making much progress hurting Alex either.
As Alex reconstituted his entire body for the umpteenth time, he considered his options. Was there anything that could permanently hurt him? It seemed like his heart was completely invulnerable, and he could regenerate the rest even more easily that Dr. Demented.
He saw the Doctor, silhouetted against the planet Neptune. He charged. accelerated himself to relativistic speeds. To the point where specks of dust shattered bones with their impact. And then, he hit Dr. Demented.
His bones didn't break. To say they evaporated wouldn't do the impact justice. Every atom in his body exploded in a shower of relativistic particles. It took about a second (in an inertial reference frame moving with Neptune) for him to reform.
He saw the Doctor had already reached a complete stop. But his old mentor wasn't making any moves. Alex decided to press his advantage. He forged a fleet of ships, hoping to hold the Doctor in place with their fire. Then, he could retreat, and ram his enemy at even greater speed. As he moved away, he saw, in deeply redshifted and Lorentz contracted form, his former mentor withstand a barrage of laser fire.
He decelerated, and prepared for another high-velocity impact. He rushed towards his enemy. Faster and faster. As fast as a proton in a particle accelerator. And then, in the nanosecond before impact, he saw the Doctor disappear.
He teleported away, Alex realized. Used another of the vast array of powers he had invented for himself. And then, Alex realized something else. He only has a few milliseconds before he slammed into a giant planet.
He slowed down as much as he could. It wasn't enough. When he hit the planet, every atom of his body was destroyed yet again. But his heart continued to plunge into the planet, setting off spontaneous fusion reactions as it went. It came to a stop thousands of kilometers beneath the planet's surface. It regrew a body. And the body prepared for battle.

Dr. Demented look at planet. Silly boy, fall into obvious trap.
Dr. Demented fall into more obvious trap. Hit in face by relativistic teenager.
"Not fair comparison," say aloud in vacuum of space. "Caught by surprise due to..." What is phrase? "Mind not focus. Not my fault."
Another part of Doctor take issue. "Entirely your fault. Your fault for having mental disease destroying brain."
"Is getting worse."
"Is way to stop it."
Mind is wandering again. Focus on matter at hand. Child is attacking me. Fight back. Sad. The child does not deserve to be repeatedly subjected to painful deaths. Is sad.
Dr. Demented observe planet. Watch as matter and energy move. Sees Crucible. Calculates trajectory. creates disturbance in energy field.

Alex noticed a strange sensation. Searing heat near his leg. As if he were being pinched, or like there was a constantly detonating nuclear bomb. What was it? He analyzed the sensations. Based on the two days he had spent studying science, the energy in his leg fit the spectrum of Hawking radiation from a micro black hole. It would be consuming a constant stream of matter, and converting it into energy.
Alex knew how to deal with such things. He willed his leg to disappear. The black hole, starved of material, evaporated in a fraction of a second.
Alex felt a surge of gravity waves. The waves vibrated his body to produce... sound. "Very good," the Doctor said. "Progressing in scientific studies."
"Thanks," Alex said, as he fired a laser at a piece of jetsam, causing it to explode and bombard his enemy with small impacts. "That means a lot."
And then, Alex had an idea. He rushed towards the Doctor, at a comparatively small fraction of light speed. The villain teleported away. Alex changed direction. The pursuit lasted for close to an hour (again ignoring relativistic effects). Eventually, the young god was able to grab hold of the villains armor. He jammed his hand in. Or, at least, he tried to. He grew, and engulfed his enemy. He pressed on every side, trying to find a tiny crack in the armor. Maybe in the joints or something.
Alex was sliced in half by a forcefield, the two halves were blown apart by a nuclear explosion, and the Doctor retreated several million miles through a wormhole, closing it when Alex was partway through.
Alex duplicated himself. The duplicates weren't as powerful, and couldn't regenerate, but they would last for a few hours. He created an army of replicates. A thousand demigods swarmed across the solar system. Doctor Demented observed them. They were interesting. When he decided he had watched them enough, he opened a portal to the center of the sun.
A jet of dense plasma shot forth, slicing the army apart. Another slice. The Doctor realized he was being inefficient. He opened a labyrinthine series of portals, and redirected the same beam through the entire army, destroying them all in seconds. All except one. Alex.
"You know," Alex said, speaking across the electromagnetic spectrum, "someone might conclude that neither of us can hurt the other."
"I would not conclude that," the Doctor said, preparing to teleport Alex into the core of a planet.
"Neither would I," Alex said, as he synthesized a small neutron star and threw it toward the Doctor.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


I was hovering over the Baltic. Mephistopheles attacked from the east. I retreated, regrouped, and mounted a new defense. Repeat.
I knew this would continue until I ran out of endurance, Mephistopheles ran out of energy, or both of us ran out of Baltic. The Baltic gave out first.
So the both of us moved on to land. We continued our fight in Denmark, heedless of civilians. Worse than heedless. Mephistopheles had new scruples about picking cars up off the road and throwing them at me. I, in turn, had no scruples about using Danish fire hydrants as weapons of war.
Several thousand liters a second of water (heated to a supercritical fluid by a laser) blasted Mephistopheles through a building.
He rammed me through a bank vault. I caught a very brief view of a very large amount of money.
I electrified him with some power lines. Add electricity to the list of things that don't hurt him.
He grabbed me, blasted several hundred meters into the atmosphere, and threw me down into a construction site.
I looked around. The structure seemed mostly sound. Approximately... four minutes before until collapse. An eternity. About a minute before Mephistopheles would show up. Plenty of time to appropriate some weapons. I flew into the cockpit of a nearby crane. It took about four seconds to gain control of the crane. Twelve seconds to program the crane to track Mephistopheles and hit him with swinging I-beams.
I looked around. What else was there? A bulldozer. I could throw that at Mephistopheles when he showed up, which should be in about nineteen seconds. The driver was even running away, providing me with guilt-free ammunition to launch into a catastrophic mid-air impact.
I saw a jackhammer lying around. I thought about that jackhammer. I thought until I understood every nut, bolt, screw, wire, and tear of an underage worker that had gone into its construction. I thought about how it could be made a hundred times more powerful. Sure, it would fall apart after... fifty seconds of use, but who cares?
I was just finishing up my modifications as I watched the graceful arc of nineteen tons of steel beams smacking Mephistopheles in the face. I saw him approach me again. I grabbed one of his tentacles out of the air. I yanked it, exerting just enough force to drag the villain in without snapping the appendage. And, when he was right in front of me, I drove a modified jackhammer into his skull.
His armor chipped. For a brief second, I saw four square centimeters of his skin. I saw every pore, every sweat gland. And I recognized those four square centimeters of skin. I recognized that little patch of flesh, because I had an identical patch on my face. (And because I had an advanced cyborg brain capable of memorizing every micrometer of his skin and running analysis on it in the heat of battle).
"So, Vafnir. I hadn't thought you'd survived." I thought for a fraction of a second. It wouldn't even be perceptible to a human. "I assume it is Vafnir, not some other duplicate or alternate or future version of myself."
"Oh," my enemy said. "I am Vafnir."
"I assume the charade with the fake identity was part of some ploy to gain my trust."
"It was."
"Which would also have been the reason for your little supervillain play club. How ironic you must have found it that everyone joined except me."
"Ironic wasn't quite the right word."
"This does, of course, raise the question of what you want from me, that you are so intent on taking by cunning or force. I doubt it's revenge."
"You'll find out soon enough," Vafnir said. "Although you-" he was halfway through some pathetic human threat when a wave of radiation slammed into the Earth.

I saw it all. I could feel electrical surges throughout the planet crippling communications across a hemisphere. I could see the faint lines of Cherenkov radiation as ultrarelativistic particles crossed the sky. I traced the wave back to its point of origin. I saw two faint points of light.
"I think your boss just got in a fight," I commented.
Mephistopheles was still struggling to figure our what had happened. The radiation wave had been powerful enough that even humans could feel it, but he couldn't sense it in the same detail I could. And it had only been a second.
What was Dr. Demented fighting? A reconstituted Crucible, obviously. Maybe, maybe, one of his creations gone wrong. But this data, all two seconds of it, definitely looked like the Crucible's radiation signature.
And then, suddenly, everything made sense.

Dr. Demented wanted to recreate Earth Beta. He could not do this alone. His mind had rotted away, his powers had diminished. So he needed another mind, and another source of power.
That source of power was the Crucible. He had retrieved it from the abyss of space where it had been sent, and had, most likely for irrational and Demented reasons, allowed it to regenerate a new body. I say that the body was new because this new Crucible seemed to be using a much more high-tech array of weaponry than his predecessor. Interesting.
The new mind was Mephistopheles. Or Vafnir. Vafnir would need upgrades, of course. He would need better software. That would come from the Archives. No doubt the Fortarians were working to steal all that ancient knowledge. They most likely had the resources to seize the Archives.
And the hardware upgrade... That would be me. My technology for upgrading the human mind into a cyborg one. Couldn't Dr. Demented do that without me? Maybe not. The Dementia might have eroded his knowledge of human physiology. Or, more likely, doing so would somehow result in a time paradox down the road. Time travel often imposed strange restrictions about what sorts of technology one could and could not introduce. Or maybe he had just forgotten to get around to it.
But I was not giving Vafnir the upgrade. That meant Vafnir was going to take it from me. Was that possible? What sort of technology would let him reprogram my upgrades to serve him instead.
I analyzed my code. Were there any vulnerabilities? Silly question, of course there were. And Vafnir might know about them. His future self could have told him. Time travel...
The next second or so of thought cannot be written down. Trying to write those concepts in English would be like trying to explain general relativity using cave paintings. But I concluded that it was, in fact, consistent with the rules of time travel for some future version of Vafnir to give current Vafnir the technology needed to steal my powers. And, in fact, those powers could not be transferred directly from future to past self because... English is inadequate.
I noticed some strange signature in my data feed. It was familiar. I had seen it before. Before I had accessed the true potential of the cyborg mind. It took me a millisecond to recognize that I was feeling fear.    

Saturday, October 18, 2014

The Battle of the Archives

Acme sat near the command center of one of the most advanced starships in the galaxy. And he fumed. Noetron had escaped. Phoenix's vile little minion. Stealing ancient secrets. It had been a mistake to ever let Phoenix into the Archives. The Earthling had been granted access to a sight few had ever seen. And he had spat in the face of those who had shown it to him. He had never cared about Lucy. He had just been manipulating her to get what he wanted.
Acme heard a deafening crack, somewhere in the bowels of the ship. Was that the sound of Noetron returning? Another crack, dangerously close to the Archives' command center. Acme rushed in pursuit, creating weapons as he went. He saw it, the same pod that had jettisoned away with his secrets. And the New Archivist was getting out.
No, it wasn't the New Archivist. It was Lucy. And she was holding the diadem in her hand.
"Attack," the girl said.
"The Fortarians will attack."
Acme took a second to think about this. The Fortarians were a crappy Empire. Actually, they weren't even that. They were a ragtag group, refugees from their own stupidity. But still, they had once been an interstellar Empire. They would have vast resources at their disposal.
Fortunately, they weren't very smart. They were relatively low-tech. The Archives, on the other hand, held all the scientific knowledge of the universe. Lasers and antimatter bombs powerful enough to end human civilization. Or put a big dent in the Fortarian one.
"I think we can destroy them. They can scatter, come at us from a lot of directions, but I think we have a shot. I'll just need you to put on the diadem and activate some of our larger, more advanced weapons." Only a higher-level intellect like the New Archivist could operate a Multiproton Cannon. It takes a certain sized brain to handle all the inputs and outputs from such a machine.
"I can't do that."
"What the-" Acme said a word so offensive that Ardrdrddrdian warriors were known to be knocked dead by its utterance.
"She wouldn't let me out."
"What are you talking about? You mean she won't take off the diadem again? Such a shame. You'll have to live the rest of your life with infinite knowledge." Earth people.
"She'll kill me. Eat me. Just like I killed them." Lucy started to cry.
"Just put on the diadem."
"Would she do the same thing? Kill them to save herself?"
"Put it on."
"Whyyyyy? Why did I do this? I should have seen another way." In point of fact, there were at least five other ways.
"Put it on. We need the New Archivist."
Lucy stopped crying. She stared at Acme. "She doesn't love you."
"Who," Acme asked, fearing the answer.
"She knows how you were created. She knows how you work. She controls you. You are her tool."
"That's not true."
"It happened to Phoenix."
"The New Archivist created Phoenix?"
Lucy looked at Acme. "No. Phoenix created Phoenix. Phoenix knows how Phoenix works. Phoenix controls Phoenix. Phoenix is Phoenix's tool."
"I know he's a complete tool, but-"
"He understands himself too well. He has nothing to make him feel... miraculous."
Lucy was right. I knew how I worked. I could start with the fundamental equations for quantum gravity and explain how ever cell in my body worked. How my brain worked. Every major bit of software that made up my mind... it was constantly arrayed in front of me. I had written it. I was still writing some of it. I knew for a fact I had no soul. No intrinsic meaning. What did that make me?
Acme had no time for such musings. "Put on the diadem, now." He reached out a threatening hand. A highly weaponized hand.
Lucy chopped the hand off. "Do not attempt to intimidate me," she said, using the same tones of voice as the New Archivist. "Leave, and prepare our defenses. This vast and sacred collecting will not fall into alien hands."
Confused, Acme did as he was told. Lucy knew he would listen.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Strange Lights in the Sky

Dr. Demented didn't stare at a screen. He didn't hear announcements on a speaker. Nor were robotic peons occasionally bringing him updates of the battles going on around him. He didn't need that.
He could feel the battles unfolding. Feel the curvature of spacetime as blows were struck and bodies moved. "Escaped," he commented. "Archivist, you have escaped." He considered what to do. He lost his train of thought. He considered again. He reached a conclusion.
Alex barged in, shattering the newly formed conclusion. "What're you doing?"
"Quiet! I to be thinking."
Alex paid no attention to the Space God's request. "What are you thinking about?"
The boy has curious, Dr. Demented thought. Is good for him. "New Archivist escape my minions. Careful planning ruined by bumbling idiots."
"Wait, you did the planning. You've transcended/forgotten the concept of time, and you did the planning."
"Mind is not what it could be. But is certainly more powerful than drooling Fortarian."
"Oookay. And, wait a second. What were you planning to do with her?" Alex cared about Lucy. He was a teenaged boy, and she was the only female he had every spoken to. And, like, they had totally connected.
"Individual? Not important. Goal to acquire power and knowledge."
"Wait, so what are you doing to her?"
"Not necessary. Poses risks."
"So, you are going to kill her."
"Unrestricted access to the Archives. Not possible if New Archivist functions."
Alex thought back to the New Archivist. To Lucy. "Wait, it you take the Archives, what you have left is-"
"I know who Lucy is," he said, pronouncing the name in some strange and foreign way. And, just to be clear, strange and foreign does not mean an Australian accent. It means an accent derived from the eldritch creatures who dwell near the event horizons of black holes. Just a linguistic lapse.
"So, you can let her live. Let her thrive without the New Archivist."
"Not possibility."
"Not possibility," the Doctor said again.
"Not possibility," Dr. Demented said, freezing Alex in place.
Alex began to move. He threw Dr. Demented across the room, through the wall, and into the empty depths of space. "Not possibility," the Doctor gasped.
"Oh, it's a possibility." And the battle commenced.

On Earth, people in North America were awoken by a bright red glow in the sky. Europeans saw a glow as bright as the mid-day sun appear and vanish within a few seconds.
Hundreds of new stars appeared. A few existing ones winked out, blotted by gigantic and vaguely luminous shapes, barely visible against the night sky.
Electrical appliances caught fire. Strange sounds were heard as the ionosphere was ripped to shreds. Every satellite on Earth died. So did every high-flying bird.
Airplanes lost power. Ships lost navigation. People who stared at the wrong part of the sky lost the ability to see.
The heroes were busy rescuing Cognis. I was busy fighting Mephistopheles. Astronomers were busy figuring out why every space-based telescope had failed. As a result, it took quite some time for people to realize that these strange lights in the sky were, in fact, two demigods locked in battle on the outskirts of the solar system. But I'm getting ahead of myself.

Dr. Demented's armor was too tough! It was made of empty space, frozen in time. It was powered by the Time Key and an elaborate series of clockwork mechanisms. Alex had hit it with lasers, plasma, and particle beams. None had even the slightest effect.
That is to say, none had even the slightest effect on the armor. The Doctor inside had felt several gees of acceleration as his body was blasted by plasma. Nothing his reinforced flesh couldn't handle, but it was the best method Alex had.
He concentrated. Something began to grow from his chest. It was composed of uranium, beryllium, and several isotopes of hydrogen. He launched it at his former mentor. The nuclear bomb detonated just a few meters from the Doctor.
Alex counted the milliseconds as he saw the wave of heated gas and dust expand, approaching his enemy. He saw it slow down, reverse direction, and collapse in on itself. The Doctor spoke. There was no air in the empty space, but his ancient voice was still there in Alex's ears. "Such human weapons have no effect on me. If you wish to challenge me, do it. Otherwise, return to your room and whimper." No more broken English. The time traveler's mind was active.
Alex thought hard, and his body ripple, expanded, broke into pieces. Hundred of warships, loaded with everything from fusion bombs to antimatter, formed.
They charged towards the Doctor, explosions pushed him across space. Ships rammed him from all sides. Alex noticed the battle getting further and further away. It also looked... blue.
Only when he felt the tug of gravity did Alex realize he was being trapped in a black hole. Alex strained to escape.

Saturday, October 11, 2014


Noetron heard fighting. He was eighty percent sure that it was Lucy battling the Fortarian army. He estimated Lucy's chance of survival. Reasonably high. Her most likely strategy would be to cut a path towards him. She could enter the shuttle, and he could teleport them our of Fortarian space.
Noetron set about preparing for a quick exit. Charging the capacitors, opening the hatches, and charting a path.
Noetron was not mobile. The ship had been made quickly (Acme had caught on to what Noetron was doing eight seconds after he started, and Noetron left two seconds later), and it could not withstand more than one teleportation into an atmosphere. It did have some small amount of weaponry.
Just then, Lucy cut through the door, rolled through, got up, and sliced three Fortarians in half. Noetron decided his weaponry would not be necessary. Lucy entered the spaceship. Noetron closed up the hatches, and teleported the ship into deep space.

Remember when Raymond had trouble killing me, even though he thought the fate of humanity depended on it? How I hesitated to kill him, even though I'm a supervillain with a mind beyond human comprehension? Lucy had never killed before. And she had superhuman powers of empathy and understanding. She knew, better I ever could, how the Fortarians felt as they were sliced in half, incinerated, or stabbed and left to bleed out on the ground. She could see it written in their faces.
So, as she sad there, in a tin can in the blackness of space, she wept.
She wept for those who had needlessly died. She wept because she had killed them.
"How," she asked. "How did I do this?"
"How did you do what?" Noetron asked for clarification.
"I killed them. I killed them all."
"I assume 'them' refers to the Fortarians."
"Six hundred and forty two. I killed six hundred and forty two." That's about twenty times my count in a lifelong career of evil. And, again, I'm mentally prepared for it. Lucy wasn't. So she cried some more.
"Will I need to kill more," she asked.
"I estimate the probability you will need to kill more sentient beings at ninety-seven percent." Noetron was a computer. Comforting people was not his strong suit. And that was before I cut out his comforting module to make room for more quantum mechanics software.
"Am I evil?"
"No. You were simply desperate and did what you did to survive. There was no malicious intent."
"I'm evil."
"You're not." She wasn't. And I speak as an expert on the subject.
"This is how it starts. A darkness will grow in me. One death leads to another. Six hundred and forty two deaths-" she started sobbing again.
"It is true that killing frequently paves the way for further deaths." That is not what Lucy wasn't to hear. Thankfully, she wasn't really listening.
"I'm not worth it. I'm not worth that many."
Noetron estimated that she was objectively worth approximately eight of them, and that the diadem was worth several billion.
"I shouldn't have done it. I shouldn't have stabbed him in the eye. The eye." Lucy imagined being stabbed in the eye. It hurt. "I burned his arm off." Lucy imagined that. The imagined everything. The imagined all the pain she had caused. It was too much. Too much. It needed to stop. Lucy couldn't stop it. She couldn't stop. She couldn't stop killing. Slicing. Burning. Stabbing. So much blood. So much pain. Why wouldn't it stop?
"Why won't it stop?"
Killing. Burning. Swords. Cutting flesh. Flesh was alive. It had children. It was dead now. It died in fire. Fire, and pain and pain and pain and pain and pain.
Lucy looked at her hands. The circle. The Archives. She would feel better. The New Archivist didn't kill. The New Archivist knew things. She knew about life and death. She knew how to make it stop.

And so it came to be. Not ten minutes after fighting for her life, Lucy was contemplating suicide.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Pain and Healing

You know what's useful to have when fighting a many-tentacled being of darkness? Blade weapons. It would have been really convenient to slice through his tendrils instead of ripping them apart. I made a mental note to myself. I had lost about half of my to-do list, but the indestructible dark-tentacle-fighting blade still didn't make the top thousand items. Partly because I had a feeling that very soon, I wouldn't need it. One way or another.
"So, Mephistopheles. I have to admit I still don't entirely have your backstory down. I'm guessing you're an associate of Dr. Demented's. Your powers seem like a result of Demented's Disease, although they are certain on the higher end. It seems likely that you're a citizen of Earth Beta."
Mephistopheles didn't reply.
"I'll interpret that as 'Why yes I am, gosh darn you're smart.'"
No reaction. Maybe I should have said 'golly gee'.
"Now, I just need to deduce who you are. You seem moderately intelligent." I paused. He punched me in the face. He'd been doing that a lot, so I didn't take it as a reaction. "I might hypothesize you were an alternate version of me, but I know for a fact that Vafnir is dead." Yes, I was wrong. Yes, I should have put the pieces together. Yes, I'm sure you would have deduced it. Congratulations to you, Reader, with your incredible powers of hindsight.
I continued my one-way conversation with Mephistopheles. I checked up on any renewed possibility for external aid. I instructed Noetron to create teleporting shock troops to combat Mephistopheles, and worked out a detailed timetable for their completion. With all that out of the way, I worked on several different problems, including how exactly Mephistopheles' powers worked, what Dr. Demented's likely plan was, how to handle the Lucy situation, and where the roots of generalized Dirichlet functions occur on the complex plane.
Then, I turned my attention to Vera.

After Mephistopheles left, Vera had laid on the ground. She was still in shock from the trauma of transatlantic travel (Mephistopheles cared about her comfort even less than most airlines).
A small robot of Noetron's construction made first contact. "Miss Rapport, in what ways are you injured."
Vera didn't respond.
"Miss Rapport."
Slowly, Vera realized she was being spoken to. "Auuughghgh?"
Noetron decided conversation was not the best route. The robot wasn't strong enough to flip Vera over, but it scurried over her back looking for injuries. It found many. It then ran into my lab to fetch a chemical dosage which would, by Noetron's calculations, restore Vera to short-term mental health. Then the medium-term healing could begin.
Vera felt a needle stab into her neck. She barely registered the pain. It was nothing compared to what she had felt. "Where am I?"
"Lying face down in Phoenix's front lawn. In what ways are you injured?"
"My hands," she said, waving the her skeletal metal digits. "Can you fix my hands?"
"I cannot. Such a task would require medical knowledge far beyond my limited understanding."
"What about Phoenix?," she half-asked-half-spat. "Is his understanding also limited?"
"I ask myself the same question." Noetron returned to the most urgent matter. "In what other ways are you hurt?"
"What do you know about hurt? You're a machine."
"Miss Rapport, this home was just hit by a nuclear blast, along with an accompanying electromagnetic pulse. About a third of my mind was destroyed. An equivalent to about fifty thousand human lifetimes worth of memories were irretrievably lost. Some of my systems failed slowly enough to broadcast increasingly delirious data. Some computers are hanging on even now, squirting out all the data they can while they burn up due to frustrated cooling systems or damaged power routers."
Noetron examined Vera's hands. "I cannot fix your hands, but I can at least tell you that they are infected. Follow me, and we will see what we can do about that." Noetron was working on his bedside manner.
Vera got up, and followed the small machine into her former lover's home. It was strange seeing it in such a state of disrepair. "What happened here?"
"This is Phoenix's second major fight in the last twenty-four hours."
Noetron took Vera down into Phoenix's laboratory. He had her dip her wrists into beakers full of some strange substance. It stung like hell. Losing her hands hadn't felt so bad. The machine was quick to offer he anesthetic. Her hands cooled down.
"Now I will stitch up your other miscellaneous cuts and bruises." The machine paused, as if thinking for a moment. "Actually, there are some stem cells currently thawing in a freezer. With a little bit of work I could probably turn them into skin grafts."
"Do you need a DNA sample or something."
"I have it on file."
"Of course you do."

The application of skin grafts was actually a surprisingly painless process. "You're a pretty good doctor," Vera said.
"I know." Noetron was better than any human doctor. And that was only partly because of my propensity to get injured.
"I guess you're mainly a scientist, though."
"Not anymore."
"What do you mean, 'not anymore?'"
"When Phoenix created me, he was a man, and I was a machine. We each could do what the other couldn't. We worked together in search of scientific knowledge. Now, he is a perfect fusion of human creativity and mechanical power. I am just an extra pair of hands."
"You're obsolete."
"I'm sorry I guess."
"Phoenix gaining all of my capabilities is the ultimate attainment of my goals. A general solution to the problems I was created to solve. There is one ironic aspect of the situation."
"I used to think faster than Phoenix. Think bigger thoughts. He could be cleverer than me, but he couldn't understand the entirity my thoughts. It would have been like drinking from a fire hose full of rocket fuel."
"And now."
"Now he has to dumb himself down when he talks to me."
"And you aren't sad?"
"I do not know if I am sad."
"How can you not know if you are sad?"
"You have observed humans for years. You know what makes humans sad. You have noticed that you tend towards a certain mode of thought when in situations that make people sad. So you conclude, correctly, that that feeling is sadness. I do not know what makes me sad, so I cannot run a correlation to recognize the feeling of sadness."
"So, you have devoted your existence to helping someone, he doesn't need you anymore, and you don't even know if that makes you sad?"
"That's the saddest thing I've ever heard."

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Lucy's Fight

"They're coming," Lucy said.
"What?" Centurion didn't even know who 'they' were.
"The Fortarians. They want the diadem." The diadem that had tried to kill her. She wanted to let them have it.
Centurion didn't ask how she could possibly know that. "We can't let them have it."
"The Fortarians aren't very good people. They probably poisoned you for the diadem. And it represents unlimited knowledge of the galaxy. That's a lot of power to give to people like them."
Lucy wouldn't let them have it. She would burn it. She made her hand hot. The diadem didn't burn. She pulled out her two Ultrasteel swords, and heated them to thousands of degrees. They bounced off the diadem.
"I don't think we can break it," Centurion said. "It's probably pretty tough."
Lucy didn't say anything. Centurion noticed her looking at him, expecting him to suggest something. As if he were a bottomless well of brilliant ideas.
"I guess we'll need to fight them."
"There will be many."
Then, Centurion did have a good idea. He slowly shifted shape, changing into an exact replicate of Lucy. "And they'll all come after me."

Centurion was mostly right. Of the eight thousand soldiers who had been sent to arrest Lucy, more than seven thousand chased after the duplicate, eager to be the one to bring cosmic knowledge to their Emperor. The duplicate disappeared into an air duct, and appeared halfway across the ship. It could outmaneuver its pursuers and pick them off. It took them quite some time to track him down and kill him.

This left Lucy to fight through one thousand Fortarian soldiers in order to reach the teleporting spacecraft still hiding in her quarters. It didn't occur to her that the Fortarians might storm her quarters and remove the ship. Fortunately, that didn't occur to the Fortarians either.
Lucy left the Fortarian Library. She found a crowd of soldiers waited for her. They hadn't gotten permission from their Emperor to enter the Library. But now their wait was over. No more loafing around. "Give us the diadem," a ranking soldier said.
The soldier pulled out a gun. Before he could fire, Lucy drew her twin blades, and cut off his hand. "Get her," he screamed, falling to the ground. Lucy cut off his head.
She stabbed the soldier in front of her. The one behind her. She used corpses as cover when it was possible, and dodged bullets when it wasn't.
She cut through anyone close enough to reach. She picked up a gun, and emptied it into the crowd. Nineteen troops down, nine-hundred-eighty-one to go.

At this point, you probably think the Fortarians are pretty stupid. Sure, Lucy might be formidable fighter, preternaturally aware of her surroundings, but seriously. She shouldn't be a threat to an interstellar Empire. They shouldn't be going at her with guns a few at a time. They should have pressed the element of surprise. Or just drained all the air on that ship. Or thrown in a chemical which didn't affect Fortarians but was toxic to Lucy. If you thought of any of those things, you are officially smarter than the brain-damaged fool who ruled the Empire. Congratulations.

Carpenter watched as his soldiers were cut down. Lucy was covered with the yellow blood of Fortarians as she cut her path to... it must have been her room. Why hadn't anyone gotten there earlier? And all of the soldiers were busy being mowed down by one of the two Lucy's. Why had the Emperor decided to commit the entire species- infantry to a frontal assault? And why had they spent millennia phasing out police and foot soldiers to the point where a pair of warriors could cut through a significant fraction of their army without- so far- being killed?
Why wasn't he in charge of things?

Lucy cut off someone's head. She killed someone. She had killed a lot of people. A lot.
Lucy cried. She cried for the dead. She cried because she killed them. She cried... because she knew that she could never do anything to reverse the one day's worth of destruction.
She heard someone else cry. "Please, someone save me. Please, someone, anyone! I didn't do anything! And now she's going to kill me."
Lucy killed him.
She killed again. Someone shot her. She killed him. She killed someone else. So much killing.
She could make it stop. She could put on the diadem. She could become the New Archivist. Then nobody could hurt her. She wouldn't have to kill anyone.
But the New Archivist had tried to kill her. Some part of Lucy knew that if she put on the diadem, she would never take it off again. It would literally be suicide. And Lucy couldn't bring herself to do that.
So the fighting continued.