Meddling Heroes, Chapter 1: The Most Dangerous Man on Earth
Three armed guards stand on the far end of the corridor facing my cell. Dressed in riot gear, they have assault rifles trained on me as I strip. Two more guards stand in front of the locked door, sidearms at the ready. From my count as I pull the shirt of my prison uniform over my head, I’ve got four regulars and one rookie on Mad Scientist Detail today. The new kid hangs in back, the tip of his rifle shaking slightly and his finger on the trigger, ignoring proper gun safety. New blood makes these monotonous mornings a little more exciting, but also increases the odds of me getting shot dead if I happen to unbutton my fly a little too quickly.
I didn’t earn nine PhDs and shrink the state of Delaware to pocket size just so I could get accidentally killed in prison by someone who thinks the naked supergenius wants to take over the world from his cell. I just want some toast and oatmeal this morning.
I fold my gray uniform and neatly place the clothes two feet from the cell door in a space marked with yellow tape. Then I step back the mandatory three paces and sit on the edge of my bed with my hands up and my feet flat on the floor. One of the guards opens the door, and another one scrambles forward to put the clothes in a clear plastic bag. They then place a new prison uniform down and step out of the cell, never taking their eyes off of me. I smile, showing the tips of my teeth as I do so. Mornings used to be a lot more awkward, but I’ve stopped being self-conscious about my nudity. After 1,829 days of this routine, I don’t have much but to accept it.
They do allow me a little dignity, giving me a chance to redress before continuing with the scan. The prison uniform I used yesterday will get examined under a black light and a microscope, lit on fire, and then mixed with concrete before being shipped to a landfill in the Arizona desert. In the early days of my incarceration, I may or may not have made a couple idle threats that gave certain people the impression that a hidden satellite in orbit around the planet can hone in on any trace of my DNA. To my credit, I saved my “You fools” speech until after the court had indicted me. Except for that one lapse in judgment where I threatened death on eight of the nine sitting Supreme Court Justices, I have maintained that I was totally innocent of my crimes all along. I just hope my lawyer can successfully spin my diatribe as a moment of stress-induced insanity rather than a legitimate plan to show those fools and meddling heroes what a true supergenius is capable of.
Once I have my clothes back on, I turn around and place my hands behind my back so one of the guards can handcuff me. The other passes an electric wand across my head and body, ensuring that I haven’t hidden any foreign objects on my person in the last twenty-four hours. I catch a little bit of my reflection in the chrome of the scanner and muse that my already short hair has begun thinning recently. In my prime, I could crash the Earth’s moon into Jupiter, but I could never figure out a long-term cure for male pattern baldness.
“You’re clean again today, Dr. Pythagoras,” says the scan-man as he takes his equipment back out of the cell.
“Just like every day,” I tell him. My voice is scratchier than it used to be, raspy from underuse. “Has the warden still not realized that I already know the specifications of those scanners? If I wanted to hide something, it would be in a way you would never pick up.”
“Of course, of course,” laughs the guard who handcuffed me. “One day, you’ll show us all, right?”
I swallow my pride and just grin as the others guffaw in my direction. I wait until they’ve uncuffed me and left before allowing myself the satisfaction of a response.
“No,” I mutter. “It’s too late for me to show you. You’ll have to learn the hard way now.”
* * *
Even when I’m alone, I really should resist the urge to say such things. Sometimes, though, I just can’t help myself. I never monologued much when I was in action, and now that I’ve spent the last five years in prison, I feel like I have a lot to make up for. A supervillain who talks too much can get some solace in thinking that he beat himself rather than losing outright. All through my last days of freedom, I kept my mouth shut. When Paradigm and Miss Destiny tore through my hidden lair, I didn’t explain to them that even their enhanced strength was useless against my titanium battlesuit. And so instead of looking back and thinking, “If only I had shut up, I could have won,” I have to face the hard truth as to why I’m here: I just got beat. I didn’t count on the time-traveling Captain Tomorrow jumping back two weeks into the past and placing a fatal flaw in my battlesuit. I didn’t count on the red-clad Paradigm cracking the helmet wide open with one strong shot and nearly splitting my billion-dollar brain in the process. I figured talk was cheap, and a good monologue would only distract from my victory. After all, I was the smartest man in the world, and that made me the most dangerous man on Earth. I had plans on top of plans. I figured no one could beat me but myself.
Unfortunately, plans only keep a man going until someone punches him in the face.
* * *
They emptied out the entire cell block around me after my first month here. Somebody saw my skinny 5’5” frame and figured they could get a reputation boost from taking out the man who single-handedly broke up the League of Liberty. The big man seemed to forget that I had spent the better part of a decade fighting superheroes. Even if you rely on your brain, you need some martial arts training – certainly enough to break a thug’s kneecaps when he tries to shiv you from behind. Since then they’ve left me alone, surrounded by laser-guided surveillance equipment and state-of-the art weaponry that will turn me into lead-filled hamburger should I ever step outside my cell without permission. In their fear of me, I think they’ve lost sight of the fact that, outside of one act of self-defense, I have been a model prisoner. Then again, the prison staff doesn’t need to realize that. Only the judge does.
After a breakfast of stale toast and lumpy oatmeal, I’m left alone and dreaming for four hours. At noon, the same small battalion that watched me dress this morning arrives to give me something special.
“You know the drill,” says the leader while the others train guns on me. The rookie from this morning isn’t among them. “It’s time to take a walk.”
I nod and lie face down on the floor, hands behind me so I can get handcuffed again. Once my wrists are secure, the guard picks me off the ground and starts directing me out of the cell. I hear the electric crackle of a stun gun behind me, ready to shut down my nervous system at the slightest provocation.
“Just so you know, I could have escaped anytime I wanted.”
The guard behind me laughs as he gives me a shove forward. “Whatever you say, Doc.”
The sound of their laughter makes my blood boil in a way that all the other indignities never could. I grit my teeth as we move, my mind thinking of all the ways I could show them the truth. With a nickel and some copper wire I could override their paltry little security system and turn the entire prison into a fortress that obeys me as a master. Even now, the man with the stun gun thinks he’s got the advantage, but I could stop in my tracks, lunge backwards, and knock him down while I grab his keys. Before anyone else could react, I’d be free of my cuffs and using the toy soldier as a meat shield against them. Not the most elegant plan, but I’d give myself 50/50 odds of winning such a fight. I can be the nicest man in the world, as long as you don’t laugh at me.
But no…I take a deep breath and let the guards push me through the copper and urine stench of this prison like I’m some lost calf. I’m beyond the need for petty revenge now. I got beat, and I’m not about to be a sore loser. Besides, today is my day in court.
For a long while, I hear only the sound of footsteps from my own soft-soled slippers and the combat boots worn by my escort. After they continue leading me through the corridors, however, I hear something precious: the sound of other people. Some other prisoners, ones with more rights and privileges, ones that didn’t build a functioning space station at the age of eighteen, are gathered in a common room, talking and laughing as a television behind a mesh cage plays the news. It’s a reminder that there is a world outside of my cell. Very soon, that will be my world again.
When we get in view of the common room, I take a chance and stop to glance at the news report playing on TV. The anchormen in the safe haven of their newsroom speak with a brown-haired woman standing on the streets. It takes me a moment to place the woman’s face – she’s gained wrinkles and a few gray hairs since I last saw her. Then I smile as I remember. Good old Betsy Bryant, that intrepid reporter who was always on my trail. I guess the world hasn’t changed that much after all – we’re all a little older, but planet Earth is still familiar to me.
“Police have released only a few details of the investigation, but they have revealed that the victim was none other than the time-traveling vigilante known as Captain Tomorrow.”
Very nice wording my dear…“they have revealed.” It sounds better on television than, “I twisted their arms and browbeat them into leaking some information.”
“Additionally, there was one other apparent victim whose presence remains completely unexplained. The body of the notorious Dr. Roosevelt Pythagoras was found at the scene. How this is possible, considering that Dr. Pythagoras is still being held in federal custody, has most of the scientific community baffled.”
That name…my name. The first time I’ve heard anyone say my full name in almost half a decade, and it comes from that nosy reporter. How splendid.
In the common room, the half-dozen prisoners turn their head in unison to stare at me and my armed contingent, just on the other side of the mesh screen that acts as a window for the room. I can see the puzzlement and the fear on their faces, and I can’t say I don’t love it. They want to know the same thing everyone else is wondering: how can I be dead in an alley and standing alone in prison all at the same time? More importantly, has any one of them done something during my incarceration that would now have me plotting my revenge?
It’s the look of fear that thrills me the most – the sheer wonder of an untrained human brain trying to explain the impossible. It’s a reminder of the vision so many people lack and yet the world needs. Captain Tomorrow is dead, and so am I. But I’m also here in prison. And I predicted all of this years ago.
Most of all, it’s the sound of my name spoken on television that I relish. Roosevelt Pythagoras…the man who doesn’t need a secret identity. If I hadn’t had my revelation during my stay in prison, I’d be laughing now. A long, loud, maniacal laugh, the kind that only the truly brilliant can appreciate.
“Get moving,” says the guard behind me, shoving me forward and putting me back on my path to freedom.
I let the indignity slide. I am Roosevelt Pythagoras, and today is my day in court.