“Well, it’s eight o’clock again,” I said.
She nodded. “I heard,” she said. She took another forkful of lasagna and chewed it thoughtfully.
“The clock is accurate,” I said. “I’ve synchronized it perfectly with the national atomic one.” I gestured with my fork. “Of course, I haven’t used anything so gauche as the usual ‘radio signal’ to obtain my information.”
“Of course not,” she said.
“Of course not!” I responded. “Did you know that it is possible to genetically create a life-form that excels in ‘hacking’ computer systems? Perhaps you’ve seen him swooping around the Main Gallery.”
“Is that what that thing is,” she said.
“Yes!” I said. “By both happenstance and genius, I have found that the chromosomes of the common Northern Flying Squirrel (Glaucomys Sabrinus) are particularly receptive to my new viral gene structure. While its wild cousins are outside eating acorns and berries, my improved version spends its day attempting to compromise some of the Earth’s major computing systems!”
“Lichens,” said Holly. “They eat lichens.”
I blinked at her. “Exclusively?” I said.
“No,” said Holly. “But it is a large part of their diet in the wild. You’re always scattering acorns for it, and while it can eat them, that can’t be ideal for it.”
My eyes narrowed. “Are you mocking me?” I said, sternly.
“No,” said Holly. “I’m just saying. You might want to tinker with its diet.”
“It’s true,” I said, stroking my chin. “Beemer has been looking a little less than spunky lately.”
“Well, there you have it,” said Holly. “Get him some lichen or something.”
“Hr,” I said. “Well, anyway, I’ve relied upon Beemer to ‘hack’ into the computer databases of the Atomic Clock Center in Boulder, and thus obtained the data which I have used to set my enormous timepiece.”
“They broadcast it over the Internet, you know.” Holly chewed on another forkful of lasagna. “You don’t have to break into anything, really. You can just go to their website. In fact, how long did it take your little furry critter to do his job for you?”
“Six hours,” I said.
“Mm,” said Holly.
“He insisted it was what was required.”
“You don’t think he’s been taking… personal time, do you?”
“Listen, Doctor Malefic, I don’t know. All I know is that you’ve given a flying squirrel free rein over an Internet-ready computer for six hours to perform a task that would take me about six seconds. Maybe a minute if I had to install Java or something first.”
“I shall have to have a word with little Beemer,” I said, frowning.
“Yeah, probably, if you don’t want him messing around on work time.”
“Your boyfriend. Captain Deuterium. Does he use the Atomic Clock signal to set his watch?”
“You can call me ‘Raven’ if you like,” I said.
“Not if you’re still going to chastise me if I don’t keep a straight face when I say it.”
“Yes, all right, you’re correct, I probably would chastise you for that.”
“So you see my position,” she said. “Anyway, no, I don’t think he even has a watch, Doctor. He said one time that it messed with his aero- and hydro-dynamics.”
“I see. So he relies on bank clocks, and the like?”
“Sure,” said Holly. “Inasmuch as he relies on anything.”
“So he could be late, is what I’m won–”
Holly slammed her fork down on the table. “It’s been two and a half years since you kidnapped me, Doctor. He’s not coming.”
“He still might,” I said. “AND WHEN HE DOES, my dear Miss Merriweather,” I said, “THE MOST FIENDISH TRAP IMAGINABLE AWAITS HIM!!!”
“Mm,” said Holly, taking a sip of water.
“I can see him now!” I said, rubbing my gloved hands together. “Squirming, helpless beneath the radiant energies pulsing from the teaspoon of Dwarf Star Matter my predecessor took from the sun of his home system before it was destroyed, taking his home planet with it!”
“Mm,” said Holly, reaching for her fork again.
“HE WILL THEN RUE THE DAY HE EVER CROSSED ME!” I said.
“Mm,” said Holly.
“It’ll be pretty great, is all I’m saying,” I said.
Holly put her fork down and pushed away from the table. “Okay, that’s it, I’m stuffed.”
“Did you like it?” I asked.
“Could use a little more garlic,” she said.
“Ah,” I said. “I don’t make a habit of keeping a lot of that around. Kind of afraid of the effect it would have on my vampire minions.”
“Mm,” said Holly, getting up from the table.
“Not that I have any vampire minions. Yet. But I definitely have plans for some.”
“I’m gonna go up to bed, Doctor.”
“I grew the zucchini myself,” I said. “Good old fashioned dirt farming. None of that hydroponic stuff. There’s a shortage of good arable soil here on Observatory Mountain, but I found a nice little patch–”
“It was good zucchini, Doctor,” said Holly. She gestured at the grand staircase. “‘Mo go bed.”
“Okay, yes, certainly,” I said. “If Captain Deuterium comes, I’ll be sure to wake you so you can witness my triumph.”
“Sure,” she said. “You do that.”
“I will,” I said.
And with that, she left.
I looked at the pan of lasagna. Still only half-eaten. I had hoped that cooking for two would mean less leftovers at the end of the day. Ah well, I thought, as I began tidying up, snuffing the candles, that sort of thing. The Nocturnals will eat well tonight. It’ll be okay if they’re only mostly ravenous. They’ll probably still maraud ‘cross the mountainside well enough. Not that I’m expecting many invaders for them to feast upon.
Except, of course, Captain Deuterium.
My clock struck 8:15.
He might just be a bit delayed. Maybe he’ll still come tonight.
* * *
I stepped back and admired my handiwork.
“I will,” I said, “resist the temptation to gloat over the perfection of my bonds.”
“Mm hm,” said Holly Merriweather, my wretched and quite helpless captive, or, as I prefer to sometimes call her, my “trump card.” Or, my “ace in the hole.” Or even, sometimes, the “bait for the trap that will finally, at last, snare my heroic nemesis Captain Deuterium once and for all.”
“You will note that the great circular arcs are of yellow Jupiter Steel, a metal so durable that even the radioactive strength of your beloved Captain would be hard-pressed to affect it.”
“Is that what this is?” said Holly, disinterestedly. Her extended imprisonment had broken her will and she no longer reacted with the sort of awe that I might have liked. Certainly, she would have been awed by my Jupiter steel armillary the first few weeks of her incarceration. Probably. A little intrigued, at least, I think.
“In fact, it is!” I said. “And the chains that bind you to the armillary are wrought of a special noble iridium alloy that his gamma-laser eyes can not possibly break, slice or melt.”
“I see,” said Holly.
“There’s also a healthy amount of ‘give’ in them,” I said. “You see, Miss Merriweather… I may be gone for a bit. So, I’ve placed the rest of last night’s left-over lasagna on a table in front of you. If you pull on the special noble iridium alloy chains enough, you should be able get them to move around enough so that you are able to reach the pan of lasagna.”
I smiled my best enigmatic grin. “After all,” I said, my eyes twinkling blackly, “I wouldn’t want you to go hungry.” From my throat rose a sinister chuckle; at the very least, I hoped that it was a sinister one. I had paid good money for those mail-order tapes, and had been practicing in the privacy of my room for well over a week now.
“Sure, Doctor. Thanks.”
“But wait!” I said, thrusting one finger into the air. “You have not yet experienced the true genius of my plan! Miss Merriweather, do you see the pin-shaft of light coming from the tiny lens in the ceiling?”
She looked, at least.
“Do you see it?” I pressed, trying not to sound too eager.
“Yeah. Pin-shaft of light. Got it, Doc.”
“Well,” I said, smugly, “that tiny lens channels a thin finger of the surrounding daylight into the room. When noon comes… and the sun is directly overhead… that ray of sunlight will strike this tiny mirror set into the floor here–” (I gestured) “–and be reflected onto the light-sensing sensor device on the toaster oven upon that counter!” I rubbed my hands together. “Inside the toaster oven,” I said, “are two slices of French bread with garlic butter and asiago cheese. When the sunlight strikes the light-sensing sensor, that toaster oven will become active.”
I paused, for effect, then continued in my best low tone, rubbing my hands together with gusto. “And in a matter of minutes,” I said, “you will have two healthy slices of asiago cheese bread, which should complement the left-over lasagna perfectly.” I essayed another evil chuckle, and then thought to hell with it and brought forth a great and rolling diabolical laugh, which felt rather good; I hadn’t often had the chance to use my diabolical laugh in recent days, which is a shame because I think I have a rather pleasing one. It’s such a good thing that I decided not to feed the leftover lasagna to the Nocturnals.
“Thanks,” said Holly.
“There’s a little napkin there, too,” I said, gathering up my coat to go. “If Beemer comes by, just shoo him away, or he’ll snatch it. I revoked his origami privileges a couple of weeks ago and ever since then he’s been fairly itching to get his hands on things to fold.”
“Mm,” said Holly.
“Right,” I said.
There was an uncomfortable pause.
“So… I’ll be going, then,” I said. “Don’t try to escape or anything.”
“Wouldn’t dream of it,” she said.
“Because it’s futile,” I continued. “Not even Captain Deuterium can break bonds of Jupiter steel. You with your piteous mortal strength would not stand a chance!”
“Yup,” said Holly, tugging gamely on one of her iridium alloy chains, making a sad little ‘chink chink’ sound.
“And don’t think that I will allow myself to be delayed long enough to miss my eight o’clock… appointment… with your beloved Captain,” I said, determinedly refusing to be discouraged by her rather blasé demeanor. “I would not miss overseeing his final demise for all the Helium-3 on Luna.”
“He’s not coming, Doctor.”
“That,” I said, turning to go, “remains to be seen, Miss Merriweather.”
“Sure, Doc,” said Holly. “Whatever you say.”
“Of course it’s whatever I say!” I cried. “I am your cap-tor! Do you recall this?”
“How,” she said, glancing up at the Jupiter steel armillary, “could I ever forget?” She then lapsed into a pensive state.
I stood there for a moment.
“All right,” I said, “what is it?”
“Hm?” said Holly.
“What’s troubling you?”
“Oh,” she said. Then she thought for a bit. “Well,” she continued, at last, “I mean, I understand your reasons for always chaining me to things every time this happens.”
“But…?” I said.
“Well, you’re always gone for, you know, ten hours at a time every time you do this, and it’s… kind of uncomfortable, being continually bound to and inside various and sundry things all the time. You know?”
“Uncomfortable?” I said, taking off my coat and casting it to the ground in a dramatic way. “Uncomfortable? My dear, this is an imprisonment situation! This is not a little vacation for you! In no way should you confuse this in your mind with a several-year all-expense-paid trip to some exotic resort that suspiciously resembles my fastness here at the top of Observatory Mountain!”
“You asked what was troubling me.”
I frowned. “So I did,” I said, picking up my coat from where I had thrown it. There was quite a bit of dust all over it now. Gamely, I attempted to brush the worst of it off.
“Does it really take you so long just to pick up your mail?”
I squeezed my eyes shut. “Yes,” I said, “it in fact does.”
“I find it hard to believe that there’s not a post office closer than five hours’ drive away. You can cross entire states in five hours. Sometimes many entire states.”
“Well, yes,” I said, dithering a bit. “If you have an automobile.”
Awkward moment, this.
Holly stared at me. “You don’t have a car?”
“You have a secret mountain fastness, a large assortment of huge, unbreakable things for binding people to, a genetics lab with the capacity to uplift common animals to a state where they know more about computers than you do, and a mind-bendingly complex deathtrap containing, at its heart, a chunk of matter drawn from beyond the boundaries of our galaxy, and you don’t own a car?”
“I had trouble keeping up with the payments,” I sighed, leaning casually against the Jupiter steel armillary and gesturing vaguely. “It’s not as though I have a terribly regular source of income. You know how it goes with Evil Geniusry.”
“No,” said Holly.
I looked at her. “Pardon?”
“No, I don’t,” she said.
“Oh.” I blinked. “No, you probably wouldn’t, would you.” I shoved myself upright–it wasn’t good to get too casual, they’ve got a regular column in Megalomania Today! devoted entirely to horror stories about evil geniuses who made the mistake of getting too casual–and started in on a good evil back-and-forth pace. “Well, Miss Merriweather, it’s just… you’re only as rich as your last diabolical plan makes you, do you see? And this last scheme of mine is… taking me a bit longer than I had originally budgeted for.”
“Hm,” Holly said. “You couldn’t, just, say, hold the nations and peoples of the world kind of for ransom for a little while, just to raise a little operating capital?”
I shook my head firmly. “No,” I said. “My machines and projects are exclusively dedicated to the task of annihilating your boyfriend, the world-beloved Captain Deuterium. My entire lair is a finely-tuned Captain Deuterium-eliminating machine, drawn tight and honed to a razor’s edge, and I will tolerate no slack, no fault, no imperfection that the Captain might exploit to his benefit.”
“You have a pet flying squirrel.”
“My technical adviser,” I sniffed. “His skills with my ‘computers’ are unmatched and unmatchable, and his dedication is unswerving.”
“You taught him origami,” Holly pressed.
I squeezed my eyes shut. “A mistake, in retrospect.”
“I’m just saying,” said Holly, “if you’ve got all these spare man-hours, you might–”
“It is dangerous to spread oneself too thin, Miss Merriweather,” I intoned, perhaps a bit louder than I had intended on intoning. “Mentally speaking. Especially when one is hovering around the narrow edge of unhingedness already. Am I making myself clear?”
“I guess so,” said Holly, uncertainly.
“Good,” I said. There was a faintly uncomfortable pause. After a moment, I wandered over to check the toaster oven; just as well I did, as I had forgotten to flip the switch over to “broil” like I had intended, and wouldn’t that have been a mess, come time.
“Maybe you could sell off some of your equipment?” said Holly, after a moment. “I mean, I know what you said about your entire lair being totally dedicated to getting rid of Captain Deuterium with nothing left over, but, um, for instance.” She made that sad little clinking noise with her iridium bonds again. “This thing you’ve got me strapped to today is totally new. You must have chained me to about a hundred different things by now, and you keep getting new ones.”
I glanced at the floor. “I thought, er, you might appreciate the variety.”
“Oh, sure, yes,” said Holly. “It really makes a difference. I mean, if I have to be securely fastened to something, which is not my ideal, but just saying, if I have to, I’d rather it be something different from day to day. So that I’m not always hanging at the same angle and chafing at the same places, see?”
“Yes,” I said. “That was kind of my thought.”
“So I do appreciate it, Doc. But I do kind of wonder what you do with them after you’re done chaining me to them.”
“Oh, I keep them,” I said. “You never know when they might come in handy.”
“See, there,” said Holly. “There. You’ve just got them all sitting in your basement or something. Couldn’t you just sell off a–”
“No!” I said. “No, look here, Miss Merriweather, even if there were a thriving secondhand market for these things, which there is not, you’re talking about my evil villain equipment! I need my evil villain equipment! I outrightly REFUSE to find myself in a position where I’m facing down a heroic nemesis and attempting to threaten them with nothing more than a high-powered rifle and a six-foot shark tank!”
I raised my chin. “A clever stratagem, by the by,” I continued. “You thought that by encouraging me to concentrate on other tasks and to systematically dismantle my lair you could distract my attention long enough from the issue of Captain Deuterium that he might swoop in, rescue you, and foil all my brilliant plans in one go.” I fixed her with a triumphant point. “I HAVE SEEN THROUGH YOUR RUSE, YOUNG MISS MERRIWEATHER!”
“It wasn’t a ruse,” she said. “It’s just sad to see somebody in your state. I just thought, I don’t know, maybe you could get out and terrorize something or someone and it might make you feel better.”
There was another uncomfortable silence. I realized I was still holding my triumphant point, after a while, and I lowered it. It was all rather awkward.
“I’m, er, fine, Miss Merriweather,” I said. After a moment, I added, “You needn’t worry about me.”
I began becoming acutely aware that this wasn’t the sort of conversation people in her situation and people in my situation were supposed to be having, that this whole Captain Deuterium issue was slipping slowly but inexorably out of my control, and I experienced from it a brief frisson of anger. I was on the verge of sneering at Holly and switching off the toaster oven to re-assert some measure of stern mastery over her. “Reconsider your impudent remarks!” I would say, or something like it, and then add, “Now you get no cheese bread!” But… well, the cheese bread was already fixed, after all, and I wasn’t going to take the time now to prepare it and eat it myself, not with my mail waiting patiently to be picked up. And it’d be a shame to waste it. I could always throw it to the Nocturnals, or Beemer, but the former wouldn’t appreciate it and the latter probably didn’t need the cholesterol, especially since I was apparently supposed to be feeding him lichens or something.
Seconds were ticking away. The weakness of my last line became more and more glaring with each passing moment. Something had to be done, and quickly. I raised my accusing pointy-finger again, and sneered. “Save your worries,” I said, “for Captain Deuterium.” And with that, I wheeled about, sweeping my coat around me in a dramatic gesture, which would have been quite pretty had I not accidentally knocked over one of Mother’s old candlesticks in the doing of it, rather ruining the effect.
“Ooh,” said Holly, pursing her lips concernedly and craning her neck in an attempt to see out of the Jupiter steel armillary. “Did you break something?”
I stood there, fuming.
I breathed once, closed my eyes, and shook myself out. “It’s fine,” I said, carefully replacing the upset candlestick on the sideboard. “Everything’s fine. Nothing’s the matter.”
“Well, okay,” said Holly.
“As I said, Miss Merriweather, you need not be concerned about me… or any of my individual items of ornamental brassware.” I turned to go, crossing my way over to the door. “Now then. I am off to check my mail, but come Hell or high water, you will see me again by eight o’clock.”
I paused at the door. “Because,” I said, “at eight o’clock… I have an appointment with your beloved Captain Deuterium.”
I turned and smiled back at her, quite wickedly.
“And I wouldn’t dream of missing it.”
I spun back around–my coat twirling properly this time–and left my diabolical lair, en route to my errands.
Tonight, I thought to myself. Tonight.