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.    

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