as narrated by Grace “Captain Mercury“ Kahananui
Mad scientists get all sorts of media coverage proclaiming how brilliant they are. My question has always been, if they’re so brilliant, why do they put themselves in a position where people are likely to shoot at them? Or fry them with laser vision? Or electrify them, or microwave them or mind control them. The list goes on and on.
The tempting answer is sheer stupidity. Especially for the ones who take to the field repeatedly. Getting hit in the head once could be the result of inexperience. Career mad scientists tend to get hit in the head over and over again though. That leads to the next most obvious suggestion: pure masochism. The thing is, I’ve met a variety of “super genius” inventors, criminal and legitimate, and that explanation doesn’t stand up to observation either. As a rule, inventors aren’t the sort who enjoy being hit in the face.
I was pondering that as I watched the building I was in crumble away under a shockwave generated by a two hundred foot tall giant monster that was roughly six feet outside my lab windows.
“Maybe they just have phenomenally bad luck?” I thought.
I shouldn’t have been in the labs of course. The evacuation order had been given and I knew very well that I was risking my teaching position by violating it. I’m neither stupid, nor masochistic, but the lure of finishing what I was working on was too great to pass up.
In my defense, I was working on a delivery device for the antidote to the mutagen that had transformed the city’s animal population into monsters. That had seemed like it was worth the risk. The squad of National Guardsmen I’d been given had been quite competent enough to keep me safe from the Muta-Morphs too. They had performed that job admirably, they just came up a little short when it came to fighting city destroying monsters. So had the force field that shielded us and the reinforced structure of the building.
The squad that was with me had six members. They were well armed and (more importantly) well armored. Not quite power armor level of course – those suits are expensive to make and difficult to maintain – but enough to ward off minor blows. Such as, for example, falling bits of building debris. That meant I still had a little time to work.
I walked to the far end of my lab, the broken bits of the building hanging suspended in mid-air like they were falling through an impossibly thick fluid. I knew in reality they were moving at the usual 9.8 (ish) meters per second squared that any falling body moves at. I saw them caught in almost-suspended-animation due to the speed I was moving at.
The super speed formula that I have wasn’t one that I’d invented for myself. My grandmother, the original “Mercury Belle” had developed it during World War II. My mother had been the second Mercury Belle. She’d thought I would take up the family tradition, but instead I’d pursued a career in the Air Force. For a time. My service had helped put me through college and gave my mother and I time to reconcile from the tumultuous period that was my teenage years.
I could have stayed in the Air Force, but after ten years in the service I’d heard the siren call of research and had jumped at the chance to finish my doctorate. My mother still teased me that I should call myself “Doctor Mercury” since I would be one of the few super powered folks with the title who’d actually earned the right to carry the moniker.
I hadn’t done that though. In fact I hadn’t taken up a career as a hero at all. I was registered with the FBMA for emergencies but for day to day work I knew I could do a lot more good focusing on the science that I was working on.
“If I were a dumber woman, I would try to smack you silly for breaking my lab.” I told the giant monster. Predictably it didn’t answer. Anyone outside the field of accelerated time that I projected only heard a high pitch squeal when I spoke.
I knew better than to carry through on my threat however. There were a lot of ways I could leverage my accelerated time in a fight. The most powerful one was buying myself time to think and work. Spending a subjective hour punching the monster would result in nothing more than sore fists for me and a nice massage for the monster. Spending an hour creating a device to get rid of the monster was another story. First I had to take care of the initial batch of monsters that were plaguing the city though.
With my tools in hand, I made my way back to the bench where my current invention was waiting for me. It had begun life as an idle thought, like most of my inventions. I’d been thinking about getting my laptop which I’d left upstairs and wished I could just teleport it down to me. Laptop sized portals are expensive to create, even by ultra-tech standards, and prone to instability. The smaller they were, the less reliably they behaved. A laptop passing through a portal like that would be minced into confetti. Or come through ok. Or stay where it was. Predicting the exact effect of an unstable portal was a pipe dream for experimental mathematics to pursue.
What occurred to me though was that there are plenty of potential uses for even an unreliable portal system. For example the control of forest fires. Normally a plane can only dump as much water as it can carry. Water doesn’t particularly care if it’s chopped to bits though, so using a continuous series of micro-portals to replenish a plane’s tanks could allow it to drop as much water as you needed it to!
The basic concept was practical but the actual execution proved problematic. Hence the need for research to understand what was occurring. I didn’t have all of the bugs worked out or a full understanding of the effects yet but in terms of a delivery system for the antidote, the twelve micro-portal enabled drones that I’d created were the best hope that Brassport had.
I brought each of the drones into my time field and activated them. Once they were powered up I took the (subjective) hour required to put them through their diagnostic routines and get their systems prepped. That took effort. The “Mercury” super speed formula is activated and maintained via a mantra that we recite continuously. The human mind is good at a lot of things but singing the same song for hours on end is not one of them.
It helped of course that the instant I stopped activating the formula I would slow down to regular time and be crushed in the building along with the brave men and women who were protecting me.
The moment each of the drones were active I carried them away from the building and set them to fly to the central command headquarters the FBMA had setup. They froze in time as I moved away from them, but I’d be able to collect them again once everyone was out of the building. Assuming I could get everyone out of the building that was.
Rescuing the first National Guardsman wasn’t that bad. I shared my accelerated time with her and we walked out of the crumbling lab and down the partially shattered stairs to the exit. We had to carefully picking our way over the debris but we had plenty of time to manage it. The second, third and fourth were much the same. By the time I was on the fifth though I knew I was starting to run out of steam. Ironically that meant I needed to go slower. The only hope for our escape lay in keeping the accelerated time field I was working with pegged at the highest level I could manage. I couldn’t afford any mistakes and so I picked my path into the building with slow deliberation as I went back for the sixth, and final, Guardsman.
He was the trickiest of them all since the building was still shifting downwards. The floor underneath him had crumbled just enough that I knew he’d start to fall when I speed up time for him. Since he weighed around 260 lbs or so, I was pretty sure I wasn’t going to be able to catch him before he fell out of the bubble of accelerated time I was projecting.
That meant I needed to rebuild the floor under him, while continuing to sing the increasingly meaningless mantra in my head. I grumbled, shook my head and got to work.
Despite the difficulty, care and caution saw me and then saw us both to safety outside the building, but I could barely see straight by the time we got there.
The fun, however, was far from over.
“We are too close to the hostile creature still Captain.” Sergeant Taylor informed me after I brought the squad and my drones into the accelerated time field.
“I am aware of that Sergeant. I’ll keep this effect on us for as long as I can.” I told him. It was harder to recite the mantra while talking and I blessed my mother for the training she’d drilled into me that let me do it.
“Sir, the creature seems to be looking in this direction.” Private Howard reported.
I looked up at beast and noticed that we weren’t alone with it. From within the lab I hadn’t been able to see it but the heroes Thundercrash and Aegis were frozen in time between us and the monster. The creature wasn’t so much looking at us as recoiling from a powerful blow that Thundercrash had landed on its face. Aegis meanwhile was projecting a shield that had sheltered the lower floor of the building. It hadn’t been enough to save the structure but it had bought me the single second that I’d been stretching out into hours with my Mercury formula.
In the distance Lux and Moonbow were both firing on the beast while a number of other heroes sought to catch up with the melee.
“I believe it’s distracted Private. Now let’s get out of here.” I said.
The squad fell in around me and, like the professionals they were, remained silent to keep from distracting me. It was agonizing to move at a walking pace but, with the field as big as I needed to make it to cover everyone, I couldn’t afford to move any faster.
It took another hour of subjective time to reach a spot about a mile distant from the battle. I began stuttering the formula towards the end and finally, without warning, let it collapse. In terms of real time barely two seconds had passed since the lab we were in was struck but we’d made it to safety with the drones intact. In the distance I saw the building vanish in a great cloud of smoke and dust.
And we weren’t done yet.
The trip to the primary command center for the disaster response forces went by in a flash, mostly because I was barely conscious of it after passing out in the first vehicle the Guardsmen were able to “requisition”. By the time we arrived at the command center though I’d woken back up. The Mercury formula drains you quickly but when its not being used it replenishes you just as fast.
That was particularly good because the command center was in chaos when we arrived.
“This is bad. Containing the War Beast is taking our entire response force and we’re only managing to slow it down. We have nothing left to contain the Muta-morphs.” Colonel Briggs said to the aides who were coordinating the city’s disaster response teams.
“I can help with that!” a voice I recognized said. Doctor Simone, one of my former teachers, pushed her way forward through the throng. “I’ve got the antidote for the mutagen. It’s being mass synthesized right now. All we need is a delivery system and we can coat the city in it.”
“Is it safe?” Briggs asked.
“For humans? Yes. For the Muta-morphs? Unless they’ve been treated with a stabilizing agent, they’ll revert to their previous physical forms in under a minute from first exposure.” Doctor Simone said.
“Then all we need is a way to get it out there.” Briggs said.
It’s rare that life provides me with an opening like that.
“We’ve got you covered for that too!” I said and pushed my own path through the masses. “I’ve got a dozen drones capable of deploying a near limitless amount of liquid material from the air. Show me where the tanks are and I can begin dispersing the antidote in minutes.”
“You two just made me the happiest Colonel in the Army.” Briggs said, a giant smile on her face.
“That happiness may be short lived.” said yet another new comer. This one was an elderly man who looked quite a bit the worse for the wear.
“What do you mean Doctor Nightshade?” Briggs asked.
“We’ve apprehended Doctor Wyrd.” the old man replied.
“Excellent news.” Briggs said.
“In part yes. However we have also determined what his plan was. The attack on the city was a proving ground for the psychic entities who control the Muta-morphs. He was selecting for the best and the strongest to group into his special forces.” Doctor Nightshade replied.
“You’ve stopped him, so what does that mean for us?” Briggs asked.
“It means that we’ve probably already destroyed the one method Wyrd knew of for subduing the War Beast that’s attacking us.” Helios said as he stepped forward as well.
“The one method he knew of, but not the only method that could be tried.” a snake/human hybrid said as he slithered forward to join us as well. I should have been surprised by that. Theoretically the Muta-morphs were attacking us after all and here was one casually strolling into the most secure area in the city. After growing up the daughter of a superhero, serving the tours of duty that I did and then living in Brassport for as many years as I had, it took way more than a talking snake man to raise one of my eyebrows.
“Guan, why are you glowing?” a smaller, female, snake hybrid asked. I noticed that she was correct. There was a soft golden glow around him. Still not eyebrow worthy.
“I’ve made a bit of a breakthrough.” he said.
“Were you able to fix the shield generators? We didn’t know what happened when we lost contact with you.” Doctor Nightshade said.
“The shield generators are in perfect order. No attack which the War Beast has been observed to use so far will affect them.” Guan said.
“How did you manage that? We had dozens of calibrations to do.” Doctor Nightshade asked.
“We helped him”, a voice said. It emanated from the light around Guan.
“Who are you?” Briggs asked.
“We are the gestalt Psi-Lord who shares Guan’s mind at present. You may call us Alpha, for we are a new beginning.” the glow said.
“You’re possessed by the enemy that is in control of the Muta-morphs?” Doctor Nightshade asked, recoiling backwards.
“Not possessed. We will leave as soon as a receptacle can be build to sustain us. Till then we offer our gifts to Guan and to you to make right what our brethren have set wrong.” the glow said.
“We have more to offer than that though.” Guan said. “We have a plan, and unlike Doctor Wyrd’s there’s at least a chance this one will work.”