"So let me see if I have this straight," the old man says, not looking up from the magazine he's been reading the whole time that Myron's been in his cell: "You are giving me a chance to work off my so-called debt to society in exchange for risking my life by going up against one of the better organized, and more inhuman, science terrorist outfits in the world?"
"That would be correct," Underman says, leaning over and yanking the magazine out of the man's bony hands, just to see whether he gets mad or not. He doesn't, or maybe he's just hiding it well.
After all, the issue is several months old.
"And why do you think I would agree?" the man asks, folding his spindly fingers together like a grotesque church steeple: "What if I no longer care about such things? What if I am content to sit here, be fed three meals a day, and read ancient issues of Fashion People?"
"Because you're Professor. Freaking. Nightmare." Myron says, looking over his shades at the man: "You made The Vermilion Avenger poop himself. You messed up Cloudcatcher so badly that he gave up the superhero gig and checked himself into a looney bin for the rest of darn life."
"Please, please," the old man says, waving a hand: "The correct term was 'sanitarium.'"
"Tomayto, tomahto," Myron replies, sitting down on the bunk opposite the old man's: "And that's not counting the good and valuable work you did for your country during the war, and then for a little while afterwards... at least until you decided you'd had enough and wanted out."
"Well, I tried," he sighs, looking at Myron with his creepy, almost yellow eyes: "And then I wake up one night and your COMPANY roughnecks are arresting me for crimes I no longer remember committing. Then they make me remember, thanks to the Magician. And now, here I am in indefinite detention. I thought such things only happened to Muslims who knew the wrong people?"
"Or people who get in bed with the wrong Intelligence Agency."
"I thought we were defending our country, up to a point."
"Yeah, when you weren't stealing Japanese secrets on biochemical warfare and putting them to work in your own work, especially when you got home and needed some money on the side."
The old man shrugs: "I hear the person who bought my franchise did not have the same flair for the job that I did."
"No, he didn't. That's why he got caught, and is rotting away about three levels down, and is darn lucky he gets fed more than once a day. I want to talk to you."
"So now you are being the Big Man? Now you are the man with some kind of plan to get us in good with the authorities?"
"No. Now I'm the man who needs someone who understands combat psychology, and could come up with a formula that would cause people who've been genetically bred to not be afraid to take a monster-sized dump in their pants and run when we show up."
The yellow eyes narrow, and then blink. The fingers splay open and steeple exactly five times. He doesn't breathe as he does this.
"I would need a proper laboratory," he says: "As much information as you could get for me. Genetic and psychological. Behavioral patterns. And enough time to synthesize-"
"That's one thing we don't have, Professor," Myron says, rising up and going to bang on the cell door: "Time. Everything else I can get. But time is something we do not freaking have. Can you work quick?"
"Young man, you forget yourself. You are talking to the man created fear serum from a closet of cleaning chemicals in less than an hour to escape a county jail, back in the thirties."
"Yes, you did," Underman replies, seeing the pride in the old man's voice and deciding to !@#$ on it: "Then you're just the man I can use, Professor. But I need to ask you one question, first."
"Which is what, exactly?"
"Are you all the way in?"
"What do I get for it?"
"Out of here, for one thing," Myron says: "Better quarters. Some freedom. Paid for a change. Maybe a hit or two of Anti-Age, just to get your joints working again."
"That would be most considerate-"
"But you remember, you work for The COMPANY, now. That means you work for me, which means you work for SPYGOD, ultimately. No monkey business, no double-crossing, and no attempts to run for it. I think you're gonna be a problem to the program, you go right back here, and I go talk to the waste of skin you sold your old mask to.
"And I find out you are messing with the program... I let SPYGOD deal with you. And he doesn't need fear gas to make you turn your pants brown."
"Can I... can I have my old mask back?" the old man asks, and there's something almost pathetic about his voice.
"No more masks, Professor," Underman replies: "But I'll let you keep your name."
He bangs on the door and is let out. The old man sighs and tries not to cry.
Myron tries not to laugh when they bring in his next interviewee. It wouldn't be polite to make fun of a head in a box.
"Now, don't do anything stupid with him," one of the Agents says as they drop the sides of the box down, revealing the still, unmoving human head inside it: "No hooking him up to any computers. !@#$, don't even plug him in. He can travel over the electrical wiring."
"No worries, gents," Myron says, getting the sunglasses on, and putting a paper bag with something in it on the desk: "I read the dossier on our friend, here. Just wait outside?"
The Agents look at him, shrug, and walk out. It's just Myron, the mostly empty "office" the Second's letting him use, and The Machinehead.
Inside the bag, amongst other things, are a pair of large batteries. He wires them up to each other, and then connects them to the power intake slot on the side of the specially-built box. Once he's sure the connection's secure, he flips the on switch.
There's quite some time where nothing happens. For a moment, Myron is worried he's wired things up backwards, but then he remember that, according to the dossier, the villain takes a while to "warm up" after a long period of deactivation.
He takes this time to study the face of the being he's waking up again. A cruel sneer that isn't helped by his long, thin nose and furrowed eyebrows. Close-cropped blond hair. And when the eyes open, they will be the strangest, bluest shade of blue ever seen outside the sky in Egypt, where he was born.
Or rather made.
At five minutes and thirty-one seconds, the eyes click open. The blue expands and contracts, and in the blackness behind it Myron can just make out wires and circuits. The lips quiver, then sneer twice as forcefully as they did in sleep.
"You. What year is this?" the head demands.
"2011," Myron says: "Do you know where you are?"
"Of course I do. This is the Heptagon. I don't recognize this room, though."
"You wouldn't. It's mine, now. How do you feel?"
"The same way I always feel after a long deactivation. Like I just closed my eyes a second ago."
"That was twenty-two years ago."
"How old were you then?"
"You want something," the head says. Not a question, but a statement.
"Yes. I'm putting together a team of Strategic Talents to help me deal with HONEYCOMB, once and for all. We have the technology in place, and a general plan. But we need someone who can help us implement counter-programming faster than they can deal with it. By all accounts, that's you."
"I refuse," the head says: "Please deactivate me. I'll deal with whoever comes after you."
"That's kind of disappointing. Any reason why you won't help?"
"Because it would be the height of foolishness to "deal" with HONEYCOMB, as you put it. They have numerous doomsday plans in operation. If you destroy them, it follows they will trigger them, and then-"
"And then the world ends, and no one wakes you up ever again," Myron says, getting something else out of the bag: "Or you could work with us to make sure they don't have time to activate their doomsday plans. You could even get into their system and find out what those plans are, so we can deal with them quickly."
"That is assuming quite a lot."
"I assume you're the best artificial intelligence anyone ever made in the last century, and one of the more obnoxiously hard to catch ones," Myron replies, opening a box of little, black and white rectangles. Refrigerator word magnets.
"These things are true."
"And I also assume you're still thinking you can control the world?"
"I will, one day," The Machinehead says, smiling: "Humans are weak and foolish. I am neither. One day I will rule, as is my right. And I will-"
Myron puts one of the magnets on the head's forehead. It says LOSER. The head's expression changes from sneering triumph to something akin to confusion, then fear.
"Please take that off me," it says.
"I don't think so," Myron says, putting the word PUTZ in front of the other one: "Not until you tell me how you're going to rule the world when some weak, foolish human like me can erase your memory with a handful of weak magnets."
"I will... I..." the head says, but then starts sputtering. Myron smiles, pulls the old, whispery pages of schematics for the head out of the desk, and looks at his notes.
"I think we're going to be great friends, Machinehead," Myron says, holding up another magnet: "Once I've gotten rid of your annoying, more-superior-than-thou personality and most of your supercriminal, would-be conqueror memories, I think you'll be an excellent addition to my team. Don't you?"
The head sputters some more, looking like it might cry. For a moment Myron feels a twinge of guilt, wondering if he's turning into his employer.
He puts the shades back up to hide his eyes and gets back to work before he can question any more.
(Underman is listening to Reach the Beach (The Fixx) and having some water to drown his conscience)