“Good morning, Professor.” Doctor Spencer Ecchs smiled broadly as he stepped into the room, looking around. “Happy New Year's.”
“Yes, bloody lovely.” Professor Terror said sourly. The professor was lying in his bed, one leg set in a cast. At his bedside, a heartrate monitor blipped quietly away. It had taken some discussion to convince the hospital staff to let him go home, but he'd pointed out that he could get equal, if not better, care in his home than he ever could in a public institution – years of teaching supervillains their trade had been very kind to his profits. “And why are you so cheerful, anyway? The experiment was a disaster.”
“Not a complete disaster.” Spencer pointed out. “You were only unconscious for most of the day, and we did manage to snag an interdimensional traveller.”
Terror snorted. “Stop buttering me up, boy, I don't need it. The SEA has already confiscated the traveller and the device, and I've been given an injunction against further attempts.” He laid his head back down on his pillow with a sigh. “Five years of effort, all for nothing.”
“The device?” Spencer said cheerily, crossing to sit next to his mentor's bed. “Which device?”
“The dimensional travel device.” Terror snapped. “The one that stupid green creature was using, which device do you think?”
“Oh, right. This device.” Spencer casually pulled out the device in question, a small dented machine with long indentations with which claws and tendrils could poke and prod, and tossed it on the professor's bedside table. “I was just making sure.”
Terror raised his head, and looked at Spencer slowly. “How…” He started. Then he broke off. A slow smile crossed his face. “I see. The device is the property of the creature, which as a sentient dimensional refugee is allowed to keep it. And you… recruited it, I presume?”
“Him. His name's Phil. Interesting fellow. Pain to talk to, though.” Spencer grinned. “That new business we were talking about using as a front, I've recruited him to my Operations department. I know, it's a bit attention-getting, but…”
“But the SEA is already aware of this Phil, so it doesn't matter.” Professor Terror finished with a satisfied nod. “I'm impressed that you won him over so quickly. Especially given that we were responsible for his being stranded here.”
Spencer shrugged. “Apparantly he likes it here.” He answered. “Anyway, he just needed someone to sound impressed instead of intimidating. The SEA's folks spent most of their time yelling at him.”
“Well done, Spencer. That device at your side could be the key to everything.” Terror said.
“Doubt it.” Spencer shook his head slowly. “It's pretty wrecked. Don't get me wrong, Professor. Trying to build an unstable dimensional beacon to attract a stable dimensional modifier was a good plan, but…”
“But it had flaws. Yes, I know. You'll have to do better next time, that's all.” Professor Terror said.
“We.” Spencer said slowly. When Professor Terror raised an eyebrow, he added, “We'll have to do better next time.”
“No, my boy. You.” Professor Terror answered. “I'm retiring.”
“Sir?” Spencer squeaked.
“Spencer, I'm seventy-four years old. I've been in the villainy trade since I was your age, and I just don't bounce back as quickly as I used to. This latest setback is my last – it's time for me to pass my crown on to someone who's going to see his plans through to the end.” Professor Terror coughed as he spoke, leaning back against the bed. “I'm going to enjoy the last few years I have. It's your turn to take up the challenge.”
“Professor, I…” Spencer trailed off. “I don't know what to say. I mean, I'll gladly keep your research going, but…”
“Oh, it's more than just my research, Spencer.” Edwin Terror looked over towards the corner of the room. “It's everything. Files, blackmail, centuries of test data. I've kept quite a bit back from you, my boy. My assistant will explain.”
“Yes, my liege.”
Spencer turned slowly. Behind him, a man of gleaming metal knelt at the floor, surrounded by a pale yellow glow. He had a third eye on his forehead, robotic and staring, and his expression was satisfied. Spencer looked back at his mentor. Then to Psiborg, still kneeling. Then to Edwin. Then back. “No way.” He finally said.
“Absolutely.” Professor Terror answered.
“Rex Mundi.” Spencer said slowly.
“But you and he were active at the same time!” Spencer exploded. “You fought the same enemies, you were… well, sorry sir, but you were never quite in his…” He broke off, jaw dropping.
“In his league?” Edwin finished gently. “No, I was very careful of that. I was even arrested twice. Spent a few years in jail, and the authorities never once made the connection.” He chuckled raspily. “The SEA had me in custody for questioning just yesterday. If they only knew.”
“No one would expect a supervillain to use a cover identity as another supervillain.” Spencer said slowly. “Why would they?”
“Exactly, my boy. My teaching career was a cover. It let me meet all of the new generation of villains, decide which were worth cultivating, which could be controlled, which weren't worthy of my time. I gathered more information than most people could imagine, always working towards the goal my predecessors left for me.” Edwin leaned forwards again, grinning. “And now it's your turn, Spencer. I'm tired. This was my last attempt, and while it didn't fail, it wasn't the success that I had hoped for. It's your turn now, my liege.”
Spencer swallowed heavily. “You want me to become Rex Mundi.”
“Absolutely. You have the drive, Spencer, the burning desire to be someone who matters. You have the intellect, the ability to exist as two people at once and never draw lines between your two selves. You have the ruthlessness, the cunning, everything that you need except a support structure. That is my last gift to you. Use it well.”
“Sir, I…” Spencer looked to Psiborg and back to his mentor. “I will.”
“Good.” Edwin laid back down on the bed. “Dimensional alteration is the key, Spencer. My predecessors and I are certain of it. Narrative law won't allow the world to be controlled by one man – it flies against its nature. To rule, you must control the laws themselves.”
Spencer nodded. “Yes, sir. You won't regret this.”
Psiborg stood slowly. “It has been an honor serving with you, Master Terror.” He turned his attention to Spencer. “Master Mundi, I will leave you to discuss affairs with your predecessor. If you need my services, simply speak my name.”
“Of course, Psiborg.” Spencer straightened, and nodded, then turned back to Edwin. “We have a lot to talk about, Professor.”
“That we do, Spencer.” Edwin nodded. “That we do.”