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The Mad Scientist's Guide to World Domination: Original Short Fiction for the Modern Evil Genius

by

The Mad Scientist's Guide to World Domination: Original Short Fiction for the Modern Evil Genius Cover

 

 

Excerpt

 

CATEGORY: Secret Identity Management Variables

RULE 967.2b: Managing Your Love Life Is No Easier for Geniuses

SOURCE: Professor Incognito, Instigator of Martian Rule

VIA: Austin Grossman

Our first journey into the realms of madness looks reasonable enough. How crazy can an itemized list really be? Well, in this story, a simple list of Professor Incognitos apologies reads like the confession of a remarkably evil genius.

Professor Incognito likes to live the lifestyle of any classic supervillain. Hes got secret rooms and hologram projectors, midnight costume changes, and plans for sentient tigers.

Theres just one barrier lying between him and perfect happiness: his fiancée. Is there any way to explain to her that beneath his mild-mannered façade as a physics professor, hes got the skills to take over the galaxy? Is there any way to reconcile a relationship built on lies? And should he wear his costume to their next couples counseling appointment?

Beneath the humor, this tale asks a more chilling question: What role do secrets play in our relationships—and do we really want to know everything about our partners? It doesnt take a genius—evil or otherwise—to fear the consequences of a love built on lies.

 

 

PROFESSOR INCOGNITO APOLOGIZES: AN ITEMIZED LIST

AUSTIN GROSSMAN

 

If youre receiving this message then you have probably made a startling and disturbing discovery regarding the nature of my scientific work.

Please forgive the unsettling nature of my appearance—the holographic projector is my own invention and probably very lifelike apart from the change in scale, which I believe lends a dramatic effect. I understand if it initially gave rise to confusion, panic, or small-arms fire. Needless to say—I have to add this—your puny human weapons are powerless against me.

I am recording this because I just gave you the key to my place, and although weve had the “boundaries talk” several times these things still happen and I wanted to have a chance to explain.

To get this far, you must have found the false wall I put in at the back of the bedroom closet. You must have pushed aside the coats and things, found the catch and pulled it aside to see the access shaft and the rungs leading downward to an unknown space deep beneath this apartment complex.

Did you hesitate before descending? Perhaps you still supposed this might be a city maintenance tunnel—strange, but surely more plausible than what followed. You must have started the elevator manually. (Ive always admired your resourcefulness at moments like this.) And then you would have had to guess the combination to the vault door; tricky, but then of course you would know your own birthday. So maybe then you realized where you were, as the vault door opened and the rush of escaping air ruffled your black hair, and you crept inside, lips parted, flashlight at the ready. And you heard the electrical arcs sizzle and smelt ozone, and the glow of strange inventions cast a purple light onto your face, and you found yourself standing inside my secret laboratory.

Maybe this is for the best, you know? I think you should sit down—not on the glowing crystal!—and we can talk. This may take a while but fortunately the silent countdown youve triggered is quite lengthy.

I completely agree that this is very legitimate breakup material. I know thats what Kris would say—will say—shes said it about a lot less. Plenty of people—say, InterPol or the federal government, or the Crystal Six—would take matters much, much further. Theyve certainly tried.

This isnt the first time Ive faced discovery. Secret identities are fragile things; you set up a dividing line in your life that can collapse in an instant, that can never be reestablished. You yourself have already come close to the secret so many times, come so close to stumbling into the clandestine global conflict that is my nightly pursuit.

(The hero Nebula came close to unmasking me in Utah, before I lost her in the depths of the Great Salt Lake. In Gdansk I matched wits with Detective Erasmus Kropotkin. But always I knew you, Suzanne, were the greatest threat to my domination of the world.)

In any case, Im afraid this knowledge will do you no good. As I am constantly having to inform people.

I said “explain” but I think I really mean “apologize.” And, truthfully, most of my apologies arent very sincere. Typically I make them just before or after an unspeakably evil act. Before hurling a helpless superhero off a tall building, I say things like, “Please forgive my rudeness,” as a kind of facetious witticism, a quip to break the inevitable tension.

Im going to try and be more sincere this time, partly on the advice of our Doctor Kagan but also out of a sense that if I owe anyone on this terrestrial globe, which I will shortly crush with the burning talons of pure science, an apology, it is you.

So Id like to issue this apology regarding my rudeness, a boilerplate phrase but maybe on this occasion it can stand in for all the small inevitable, innumerable items that must go unsaid in this list: toilet seats left up, dinners missed, gestures of tenderness that went unmade when they were needed most. And, yes, for the mighty and terrible engines that must, even now, be warping through the ether toward your pitiful planet.

In the interest of precision and sincerity Id like to itemize this list as far as possible, which I know is a little too much like one of our counseling sessions. I know youre probably going to break up with me again. But please, bear with me.

*   *   *

I, Professor Incognito, hereby issue apologies regarding the following:

RE: ANY CONFUSION YOU MAY BE EXPERIENCING AT THIS MOMENT

It must be a shock to learn that the person you think of as your hardworking, decent (perhaps a bit dull) fiancé is in reality the terrifying, fascinating, inexplicably attractive figure of Professor Incognito. Youve heard of me, I suppose? A name synonymous with evil and brilliance the world over? I hope so. I made a point of mentioning it enough times.

I think—and I think Doctor Kagan would agree—that this might be really, really good for our relationship. You often spoke of a remoteness about me, a part you simply couldnt reach. Maybe that was the reason you were attracted to me in the first place, that you sensed on some level a mysterious unknowable chamber you couldnt find a way into. On some level you guessed what it might be, that I had hidden away my glittering machines, seething chemical vats, the mutation ray in a place youd never reach.

Of course you did. People have levels, you would say. Engineering levels, generator levels. Hydroponics.

RE: WHAT HAPPENED AT DINNER WITH YOUR PARENTS THE OTHER NIGHT

Your fathers remarks about Martians were both irresponsible and uninformed, but thats no excuse for how I reacted. But, and at the risk of repeating myself: the Martians are an ancient and noble culture who built golden pyramids long before human life appeared in North America.

RE: ANY SLIGHT UNAVOIDABLE DECEPTION

It didnt start out this way. In the beginning everything was much as it appeared to be. I was a young physics researcher with a hopeless crush on a brilliant colleague. It would have been ridiculous, even if I werent five foot four, even if I werent maybe the most awkward individual on the planet. I would never have dared speak to you. That first kiss outside the student center is still as miraculous to me as the sunrise might have been to our primitive ancestors, long before science simultaneously cleared everything up and made it all more confusing.

And its strange because it was on the very day of that kiss that I had the first whisper of the insight that would make my career, crack open reality, and ultimately lead us to this conversation.

I knew, before anything else, two things: one, that it was the greatest scientific discovery in a hundred years, and two, that you could never, ever be told of it.

RE: OUR DATE ON THE EVENING OF JANUARY 25 2007

Yes, I was irritable and distracted at dinner, and I didnt listen properly to your story about Eileen and the papers managing editor, whatever his name was, which I think, in retrospect, was more entertaining than I gave it credit for. Its not an excuse, but that was the day of my first experimental proof of concept. I had discovered there is—laymans terms: a gap in the world—a space between the atoms … if you knew where to look for it. A scientific principle with endless applications for the manipulation of matter and energy.

I could have told you about it, and I didnt. I still dont entirely know why. There were legal reasons, of course; you would have been an accessory under the law. And my secrets were dangerous. Id be protecting you as much as myself. But Ill be honest: as my career progressed those reasons came to matter less and less. I know now that I can protect you in other ways, that the law can be bought, my enemies crushed or intimidated.

You were the most important person in my life, the one who knew me most intimately. Why couldnt I tell you? Maybe I was afraid you would contact the authorities. Or steal my ideas. Or call me insane.

Maybe I knew you wouldnt choose me if you knew everything about me. And maybe being in love means you never get to be a whole person again. The moment we met I became two people: the one I decided could be with you, and the one left over, the person I am by myself. A person who I could never, ever let you meet, and who became the greatest criminal genius the world has ever seen. I used to marvel at that fact that you didnt have a hidden side, that youre the same all the way through. How can a person not have a secret and glorious part of themselves that the world absolutely must not see?

In three more weeks I had a working blaster, and we met to see Hannah and Her Sisters at the Regent. I fell asleep on your shoulder, dreaming the genetic code for a race of sentient tigers.

RE: RUDDIGORE

I dont know how we each ended up thinking the other was a light opera fan. And in my defense, the reviews were very positive—I think the word “rollicking” appeared more than once. Believe me, I died a trillion deaths as we sat there together and watched undergraduate theater majors milk a comic Gothic pastiche for cheap laughs.

It was late fall, and when we met outside the theater your cheeks stood out pink against your dark green overcoat. We left our coats on inside, and all I remember of the play was feeling the cheap stiff wool of mine brushing up against your shoulder. Afterward, I walked you back to your dorm and we lamely joked about how bad it had been, and you couldnt see how flushed my face was.

That was the day my prototype force field stuttered into life, and Id laughed and fired a dozen test bullets, then had to blame the gunpowder smell on my roommates cigarettes. You sent me home.

Pausing on your doorstep, I looked up at the stars, clear and bright in the Midwestern sky, and began to formulate the glittering digital architecture that would become Craniac XII. But I foresaw neither its first words, nor its tragic final act.

RE: THE FATE OF YOUR MUCH-VAUNTED CAPTAIN ATOM.

Ah ha ha ha ha ha ha. Well, maybe I wont apologize for that.

(There are frequencies of sound inaudible to the unaugmented senses of homo sapiens. But you knew that, didnt you?)

RE: MY METHODS

Crude, perhaps? Not so wholesome as you would prefer? You dont even know the history of the world I live in and the conflict that formed it. The moment you commit a crime in a costume you see new truths about the world. You probably think Mage-President Nixon never reached the moon.

Consider: Do you remember that weekend, we drove for four hours in a snowstorm to visit your brother and his wife. We went the last two hours without talking, not angry—just in a shared reverie as the world darkened and we felt like the one warm dry place in an infinite plane of blue-white snow and black trees and wet, gritty highway.

You didnt know it, but Iluvatar was following us—one of the Mystic Seven—but she knew I wasnt going to try anything. She lagged behind, further and further back into the dusk and the storm.

We drove on. I thought about how much power an Unspace generator could make; I thought about what kind of treads a cybertank should have to cross this terrain, and if your brother was going to be a jerk to me the entire time, and how many human skulls would go into making a really nice throne, and whether there was enough power in all Unspace to get me through this weekend, and if Craniac XIV could untangle all the messed-up stuff in your family.

RE: ANY INCONVENIENCE I MAYBE CAUSING YOU

Yes, well, you see, I havent mentioned it but you may be staying here quite a while. Dont try to run. Do feel free to explore, though. Given what youve said about my housekeeping in the past, I think youll be pleasantly surprised.

You know I dont like to boast, but Im really pretty proud of this place. I broke ground on the first chamber and a simple ventilation system while you were at your mothers in Baltimore, but since then its actually gotten quite extensive. When the construction robots really got going, it all just spiraled—a generator room, shock chambers, plasma containment, the xenoapiary, the panopticon, the emergency launch tubes. The catacombs below the lower level seem to be naturally occurring, but I never quite got to the bottom of some funny seismic readings. Best not be too curious.

What youre seeing is the real thing I built during the better part of our life together. Wed see a movie or have our study night and around 2 a.m. Id come back here, get into costume, and duck into the secret passageway. Sometimes Id still be spacey and distracted for a while but I eventually Id shake it off and spend three or four hours adjusting the nutrient fluid for a dinosaur embryo, or trying to tune in to the exact broadcast frequency of a dying star, or laying the plans for another sub-basement. Id get the robots going on the next phase then emerge through one of the four exits on Linden Street to see the sun coming up. Id get a coffee then hurry through the quad to introduce freshmen to the basic equations of sound propagation. Then home to sleep, to wake up in the afternoon to see you again.

It was perfect in a lot of ways; Im sad its over.

It wasnt easy. There were more last-minute costume changes than I can tell you. Wed have coffee and Id be shaking off the effect of a stun-ray, or waiting for news of my unmasking. The heroes knew for a fact I lived in this area. Captain Atom even snooped around our department at school, asking after anyone who kept strange hours, had strange ideas and perhaps a lack of interest in social activities. It would have been obvious if only they had been looking for a real person—they were looking for a stereotype. My precautions were effective but I think you were the real reason they never picked up on who I was.

I liked being your boyfriend. There were the times when it was absolutely the most blissful moment a person could have to leave the lab and know Id be having a dinner with you. When we walked in the street holding hands, Id want to check to see if people were watching just so theyd know how lucky I was.

And then, of course, there were the times when I felt like I was trapped inside a collapsing star which is in my own brain and threatened my ability to even think original thoughts, when it felt like Id made the most awful mistake in the world.

I know there must be a way to have a relationship that truly works, and I have faith that, with your understanding—and the aid of my Martian allies—we can find it. (More on that presently.)

RE: WHAT OUR COUPLES THERAPIST CONSIDERS AN INADEQUATE EFFORT AT COMMUNICATION

I understand why you left, that first time. You knew there was something missing, and I knew it too. I just couldnt tell you.

There have been a hundred moments when I was on the brink of telling you. I tried to say the words out loud. I knew you were a physics major and all, but I didnt think youd be into it—power and wrongdoing—it was too strange. And I admit, a part of me worries that if I told you about it, the secret part of me would disappear.

And its too complicated now. If Id just told you at the very start, maybe you could have understood, but now? After the diggings and archenemies and sea planes … If I started now Id have to explain how I came to speak Mandarin and what happened to my original eyes. Its gone a little far.

I have my problems with Doctor Kagan, as I know you do too, but we agreed to keep seeing him and we will, although that may prove more awkward in the days to come.

RE: THE BREAKUP, MY REACTION TO SAME, AND THE ENSUING STATEWIDE “CARNIVAL OF CRIME” (SO-CALLED)

I think it was harder on me than it was on you. I tried to channel the feeling into my work. I went out and met new people and tried new things. I no longer had to sleep or take breaks except on missions and to make my teaching schedule, which Im proud of having kept up. Its harder than you think for a being of pure scientific evil to hold regular office hours. You remember the day I asked you to take me back? You can thank Detective Kropotkin for that humbling moment. The night before, I had snapped the lock of his office door and was busy dusting his things with my nanotech powder. It happened that Kropotkin was waiting for me. Hed come in to work late, unable to sleep. He stood in the doorway looking especially seedy, a checked wool coat pulled on over his pajamas, but the revolver steady in his grip. Its so obvious Kropotkin is an asshole, even his allies feel sorry for him. He honestly thinks living alone and playing drunk chess on the Internet makes him a tragic hero.

Seeing him there, with his sad little grin, I realized something worse: He thinks he understands me. He actually thinks were melancholy companions and rivals in a long dance of good and evil, law and chaos. And seeing him, I felt that I was, indeed, looking into a kind of mirror, but only in that I was turning into a pathetic cliché. I realized that the person I am with you, is also part of the person I am.

The next day I showed up at your work and told you Id changed, and for once I was telling the truth. I know you dont want to be serious again too soon, but there are a few things I think you should know.

RE: THE KRIS THING

Do you remember the time when we were forty minutes late to dinner with Kris and—who was it? Bryan?—and you didnt speak to me the whole ride over except to remind me that the 3A is a toll road and you didnt have any change? God, did I hate you then, and Im sure you hated me, although I bet not as creatively.

And of course we got to the restaurant and the moment we got there, you were all smiles and I joined in as much as I could, thinking, god, relationships are a grotesque charade. No one had a bad time even though the conversation was warped by Bryans inability to leave even marginally ambiguous statements unclarified, and we were there maybe three hours. By the time we left we werent fighting any more; not for any reason, we just werent.

I was hoping it would work the same way once I subjugate your planets military.

RE: THE SUBTLE, NEFARIOUS MEANS BY WHICH I LURED YOU HERE

You didnt really think I gave myself away by accident, did you? Am I that sloppy? You saw the laser burn on my jacket lapel a few days ago. You caught a millimeter of costume poking out from beneath a shirt-cuff at the fund-raiser. (I know you did.) All carefully calculated to pique your interest, I assure you. And then I left the secret door open just a tiny crack, just enough for light to leak out.

I knew youd find me eventually, darling.

Titanium steel bolts are sliding into place to secure the vault door behind you. Dont be alarmed, and please dont break anything. Ive been decent so far, and Ive taken your abilities into account.

I suppose now its time to talk about what happened three weeks ago.

You were away at one of your conferences, and I took the occasion to do a little more digging. Plunderbot and I were making a tertiary excavation on the south side, nothing serious, just laying in more server space and another heat sink, you know? Then we uncovered a power line that isnt found on the city maps. We dug around it, followed it a few hundred feet until we struck a wall of reinforced concrete. We looked at each other, wordlessly, then I cut into it, making a cylindrical opening, and stepped through into a cool, air-conditioned, well-lit corridor.

It was an underground complex.

I explored further, ready for anything except what I found. Thats right, Suzanne, or should I say … Nebula? I should have known it was you under that cheap disguise. The way you smell when I lean close to you, like no unenhanced human could.

RE: ANY MOMENTARY DISCOMFORT YOU MAY HAVE SUFFERED

The rearrangement of molecules is never a pleasant experience. The disorientation will fade presently. Please be patient until your powers return, at which point if you choose, you can totally start smashing things. But I just needed to feel that I was heard (as Doctor Kagan would have it) on a few final points.

RE: THE FIGHT WE HAD THE OTHER DAY

Im sorry we both got angry. I shouldnt even have been robbing that stupid museum. It was a bad day. Im glad we got to talk, even if it was just a “curse you” and “youll never get away with this” thing.

RE: THE MARTIANS

Okay, elephant-in-the-room time. I, for one, choose to welcome our new Martian friends and overlords, and this is a personal choice I hope youll be able to respect. Believe me, I know how unpopular this particular stance is going to make me, but I dont think its right to bring politics into our life together. “Overlords” is a loaded word these days, and I know thats hard to get past. But you know what else is hard to get past? A glowing, golden, invulnerable Martian force field. Political views are, in my view, of secondary importance, once you see an ant grown to a hundred times its normal size.

I know youve noticed a change in me since the breakup. Ive been trying new foods, learning a new language, working out. Ive got a tracker in the muscle of one arm, and some really cool glowing rocks at home that you wont like at all. Surprising how things can change, just all of a sudden.

I have new friends now, youll be happy to know. Lots of them. Theyre an old civilization; they watched us evolve from domed palaces on their homeworld while writing sonnets and sitting under musical crystalline trees. We have long conversations about real stuff: love, philosophy, lasers. I might have let you in on it before but Ive been a little busy. They can look just like us, you know. They can look like anything they want to.

Maybe this isnt working for you right now, and I can deal with that. Im not sure I have room in my life for another friend at the moment. In time, yes, I think you will regret your insolence. Possibly on the asteroid I have picked out, where youll be mining sodium. No rush, well clear this up under the benevolent world government were planning. That is, once were done ending world hunger and, oh, I dont know, curing cancer? Youll be in the minority soon enough.

I worked hard on making this Martian thing happen, way before it was considered cool, and now that Ive gone on record I know what the question is: Do I expect special treatment? I think it would be natural for them to call upon people who understood them from the first, for positions like, I dont know, administrative director of planet Earth. Honestly, its not for me to say. But if you think theyre not listening right now, youre kidding yourself.

Heres what Im saying: Maybe this movie isnt about me at all. But it should be. The brave one who knew it was all a lie about the Martians, who was the first to stand up and say, hey, call me crazy but I think we can make this work. And maybe this is a lost cause, but right now it doesnt look like it to me, so well just see who wins this one, fair fight and no regrets. Dont judge; you dont know whats going on in those saucers. It could be pretty great.

RE: WHAT IS ABOUT TO HAPPEN

Well, I suppose this part is the most predictable, isnt it? Its a political transition; I think thats the most sensible term. And theres a place for you. I got specific with them on this. Their ideas on gender roles arent what you call progressive, but thats exactly what a policy of engagement drives. A two-way street, right? Cultural exchange.

Oh, and the uniform. Ive laid out some stuff for you to wear, and probably youll think its going too far, but, you know, if youre into it, its traditional where they come from. I know its a little skimpy, but well be altering the weather on this planet soon. I do have two-sided tape someplace. And the headpiece is adjustable. Totally one hundred percent optional.

RE: EVERYTHING, THE FATE OF THE ENTIRE WORLD, AND WHATEVER

I wont feel bad about the conquest of the Earth; not the destruction of the Capitol Building, or the White House; not tripods stalking the wheat fields; not the sodium mines or the humiliation of your primitive military forces, nor riding in triumph in my robot steed along lower Broadway to Times Square where I will personally accept the surrender of all seven leaders of the UN Security Council. Im just sorry we wasted so much time that could have been ours, together.

I know we dont talk much about the future but I have some proposals to make. Weve talked to Doctor Kagan about models for an adult relationship but it seems to me weve been a little unimaginative.

Heres what Im saying: It would be terrible if someone were to find any of the equipment in my laboratory. Maybe they could comprehend what it was in time to stop me. It would be perfectly understandable if that person were to appropriate my inventions to use against me. Such a person would earn my undying enmity! In fact, I would be forced to consider that person my nemesis. Wed still fight on a regular basis. (I have a working mirror maze, if that makes a difference to you.)

The choice, Nebula—Suzanne—is entirely yours: everlasting enemies on a post-Barsoomian Earth, or co-regents of the North American province of the Greater Martian Solar Empire? I dont want you to feel obligated, but yeah, Im putting myself out there.

I could really commit to this, you know? Long-term. Its not what you pictured, but be honest: Wouldnt you have been disappointed with anything else? Shouldnt there to be something more to a person than what you see walking around every day—an alternate self, a secret identity or two, or twenty. Weve all had the dream where you find another room in your house you never knew about—if you found it, what would be in there? I thought hard about what that might be, and Ive done my best to give it to you—something really cool, something scary and brilliant and mysterious all at the same time. Every single day.

 

Austin Grossmans first novel, Soon I Will Be Invincible, was nominated for the John Sargent Sr. First Novel Prize, and his writing has appeared in Granta, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times. He is a video game design consultant and a doctoral candidate in English Literature at the University of California at Berkeley, and he has written and designed for a number of critically acclaimed video games, including Ultima Underworld II, System Shock, Trespasser, and Deus Ex. His second novel, You, came out from Mulholland Books in 2012, and his short fiction has also appeared in the anthology Under the Moons of Mars: New Adventures on Barsoom.

 

Copyright © 2013 by John Joseph Adams

Product Details

ISBN:
9780765326454
Subtitle:
Original Short Fiction for the Modern Evil Genius
Author:
Adams, John Joseph
Publisher:
Tor Books
Subject:
Science Fiction and Fantasy-Fantasy
Subject:
Science / General
Subject:
Fantasy - General
Subject:
Fantasy - Short Stories
Subject:
Fantasy/Collections & Anthologies
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
20130231
Binding:
TRADE PAPER
Language:
English
Pages:
368
Dimensions:
9.25 x 6.125 in

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Product details 368 pages Tor Books - English 9780765326454 Reviews:
"Publishers Weekly Review" by , "Veteran anthology editor Adams (Epic) succeeds again with these frequently lighthearted tales of villains and mad scientists trying to take over the world and get the better of the more appreciated good guys. Heather Lindsley's 'The Angel of Death Has a Business Plan' introduces readers to a vocational psychologist/career counselor whose therapeutic niche is honing villains' monologues, ensuring they're neither too long nor ineffectual in the moment when they announce their sinister plots. Diana Gabaldon fans will devour the Outlander novella 'The Space Between,' generously allowed the most space in this fast-paced book of evil vs. good. As noted in the foreword by Chris Claremont, 'the best heroes are defined very much by their villainous adversaries,' and Adams's entertaining story introductions set the stage for villains to find their own definitions and identities." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
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