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Working The Bugs Out [IC]

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Date: June 2010, around the same time as Bananaphone and Interceptors: The Sweet Science of Stabpunching, between the first and second halves of Interrupting Cow.

Viktor Archeville had done many great things in his life. If asked what his greatest one was, he would be torn between the establishment of ArcheTech, and joining the Freedom League. The former allowed him to more widely distribute the fruits of his genius, and the genius of others, and the money the multinational chain of research & development laboratories made was used to help local educational programs, helping humanity not just with better technology but also with better minds. He also hoped that ArcheTech could stop from supervillains from ever forming, by giving the often eccentric minds of the hyperintelligent a place where their ideas would flourish and be recognized, and give them less incentive to turn to crime. The latter, though, proved that he had been at least somewhat successful in opposing the forces of evil, and in undoing the great harm his grandfather had done both to the world (with bits of Nazi super-science that were still being uncovered by others, or still used by SHADOW) and to the family name.

But there was another big project Archeville was proud of, one few knew he was involved in. He had formed the Interceptors at around the same time ArcheTech debuted, about nine months ago, from a small group of superheroes (and two reformed supervillains) who he'd anticipated would work well together and could do a great deal of good for Freedom City. He provided them with a place to live and work from, some advanced surveillance technology and an impressive team transport, and an overseer/"mascot" in Vince, his latest experiment in Artificial Intelligence. There was some friction at first, and a few members left, but a strong core remained, and in time more members were added in. He watched them closely for the first few weeks, but eventually his focus was drawn to the mounting demands of running ArcheTech (and an attack on it by Captain Knievel and Malice), becoming a member of the Freedom League, his new relationship with Fulcrum (his first real long-term relationship), helping Avenger and Phantom with their own unexpected (and unique) problem, and the Grue invasion.

Unfortunately, the Interceptors were not something he should have taken his eyes off of. The reputation of both the team as a whole and of several of the members had nosedived, and there was concern that the team would wind up getting themselves or someone else killed. Which was why so many among the superhero community were eager to participate when word got out the team was going to be "tested" by Avenger.

Fortunately, there was someone who would bring these concerns to Archeville. Someone with a very direct line to the Doktor, who was at this moment at his home in Hanover, going through his music collection.





"," he murmured to himself in German, ""

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A familiar swirling blue vortex tore open in the space in front of Doktor Archeville. Familiar, because it was the fruits of his labors redesigning the Freedom League teleportal system. The person who first gave him access to those systems stepped through. Though she carried herself with the air of nobility, without the crimson-&-gold armor of The Scarab, the dimunitive Latina looked that much smaller to his eyes. But the voice that echoed inside his mind carried all the weight of her millenia spent fighting Evil across the globe.

Hello, Viktor. I apologize for arriving unannounced. I hope I haven't interrupted anything too urgent.

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"," he replied, appearing completely nonplussed by her sudden appearance. This was largely due to his ability to think so very quickly, so that any surprise he did feel was swiftly covered up; she did detect a blip of surprise, and these same telepathic faculties allowed her to understand him even though he continued to speak his native German.

Welcome, Elena. Always a pleasure.


... please pay no heed to my crude counterpart.

"," he gestured towards his impressive music collection, spanning iPods, CDs, cassette tapes, LP records, a few wax cylinders, and some items that looked to be crystalline-based and organic technology. ""

Yes, yes, very busy, so GET OUT!

No! She is a colleague, she is a friend, and she is welcome here any time!

He walked towards a plush chair, and indicated one next to it for her, "

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Don't worry, Elena mused to Viktor's inner voices. If I were you, I wouldn't like me either. She calmly sat down in the plush chair Viktor had indicated, crossed her legs, rested her elbows on top of the armwrests, and steepled her fingers together. "I wanted to talk with you about a different side project of yours. The Interceptors. Jack told me about the debacle that was their latest security drill. And I took the liberty of doing a little investigating of my own. I know I don't have much of a leg to stand on of late, considering the results of my most recent team-building efforts. But I have to admit, Viktor. I am not impressed. At all. What I am, however, is concerned."

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"," he replied as he sat. At first he leaned back a bit, sitting casually.

Waaait a minute...

Oh, what now?

This isn't a friendly housecall, dope, she's here to criticize!

Well? If she is, I am sure they will be constructive criticisms, and perhaps even some advice on how to rectify any problems. Though I cannot imagine what problems there would be with the team severe enough to warrant a-

Silence, fool!

The Doktor quickly sat up straight, then leaned forward a bit to show he was paying close attention. ""

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Elena sighed. "Viktor, I'm not sure you understand the gravity of the situation. They're not acting like superheroes. They're acting like overgrown children pretending to be superheroes." Her hands began to move expressively as she spoke. "Look at their response to Avenger's intrusion. They didn't focus on how to improve security until you diverted the discussion in that direction. Instead, if you'll pardon the clichè, they missed the forest for the trees. Calling you was the equivalent of whining to their parents. They were so busy complaining about how 'it wasn't fair,' that the simple truth of the situation never occurred to them: If it had been Johann Meinhoff instead of Jack Faretti who'd slipped past their defenses that day, they would all be dead." She leaned back. "Have you ever heard of a superhero team who reacted to an impromptu security drill with such a sense of laziness or entitlement? I'm not just talking about the League here. Even Next-Gen would have acted in a more professional manner. I know how harsh this sounds, Viktor, but I despair to think of the day when those clowns are Earth's last line of defense."

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Archeville's face fell at Elena's words, ""

It was just Mona who called, she was concerned. Like any girlfriend woul-


... and... and they would have gotten back to focusing on the security issues, I just sped it along. It is not as if they would have spent all night merely complaining-


... or planning some childish counter-strike against Avenger's home-


Why are you laughing?

Because this is just as much your fault as it is mine!

The Doktor's eyes became unfocused, and when he spoke, it was in a fallen voice. ""

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"You wanted to believe they were better than they actually are. It's an easy trap to fall into. After five-thousand years, it still happens to me all the time."

"The problem is that The Brownstone isn't a superhero headquarters. It's a college dorm at best, and the setting for a reality TV show at worst. You have a group of young people, late teens to mid-twenties, clustered together so they can bring out the worst in each other, and free of supervision for the first time in their lives. Only instead of reading textbooks or embarrasing themselves on camera for money, they've taken on the responsibilities of rescue workers and law enforcement officials. Without any of the discipline those roles usually require. They treat the whole thing like a game, despite the fact that lives hang in the balance of everything we do. They don't understand that: When we falter, people die."

"They've been left to their own devices, and so they have done what anyone at their age and maturity level has ever done under those circumstances: Run amok. They need guidance. They need leadership. Someone to keep them focused and take them to task. Someone who will factor their emotional states into their decision-making, but who doesn't care if they're popular. If that person is you, then you need to delegate some of your other responsibilities to make room for this one. If not, then you need to find someone who can whip them into shape, and they need to start yesterday. Because from what I've seen, I can confidently say that, left on their current course, getting only themselves killed is the best-case scenario for the ending to this story. And that isn't something you want to have signed your name to, or something you want on your conscience."

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Archeville slumped as though he'd been punched in the gut. ""

Did I really misjudge them so badly? Colt,Grim and Jack of all Blades all seemed fairly seasoned; I had followed reports of Grim and Jack for months, that is why I thought they would work.

Yeah, but you barely did any corroboration, to make sure the news clipping and reports you read were getting the whole picture. Partly because you were so busy with setting up ArcheTech at the same time, but mostly because you're a trusting fool!

... and surely those three had all worked on their own for extended periods, so-

Oh, stop trying to defend them! Maybe they can work on their own and do alright, but the problem isn't working solo, it's working with others! They're all too independently-minded to work on a team! I told you that form the start!

Yes, and as I recall, your 'solution' to that was cybernetic mind control implants!

It would've worked! They'd be a perfectly well-operating machine!

That is not the kind of shape they need to be in!

The Doktor straightened up and met Elena's gaze. ""

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"Can they be salvaged?" Elena held her arms out and shrugged. "I hope so?" She leaned in. "Your insight is correct - Most of them are very independent personalities. I would bet money that half the people on the team secretly assume that they are the leader, and that it hasn't occurred to them to question that assumption."

"The real question is not whether or not they can be salvaged. People change, children grow up, and only time and effort will tell. The important question is whether or not you should try, and the answer is 'Yes, absolutely.' Once you've borne a child, it is up to you to raise that child, regardless of how bad an idea it turned out to be in hindsight to bear it in the first place. Parents could give their children up for adoption, but you don't have that option. The Interceptors are too old for the Claremont Academy. Which is unfortunate, because Duncan Summers is exactly what they need. And in their current state, they would be laughed out of the Freedom League. There's nowhere to pass the buck to, Viktor."

"They are skilled, and they are powerful. Powerful enough to do some damage, powerful enough that just cutting them loose would be irresponsible. They can do the job. But like I said, what they need is leadership, and discipline."

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Archeville's mouth tightened as Elena spoke.

Can I do this? I have never been that good with people, or comfortable telling others what to do-

But I am.

You do like ordering people around, yes, but you are not "good" with people, you use them for your own ends!

True... but making sure any mistakes these clowns make aren't traced back to me is in my own best interest.

And I suppose you would whip them into some sort of paramilitary strikeforce?

Well, they could certainly use some military-style discipline.

"" he finally said, "

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"My honest, professional opinion? No one is ever ready to be a parent or mentor when they are first thrust into the role. I think that you are not only one of the most intelligent people I have ever met, but also one of the most honorable. I think that you should take a more active role in the leadership of the Interceptors. I think you are fully capable of giving them the leadership they so desperately need. I do not think that it will be an easy situation for anyone involved, and I know that you will make mistakes along the way. But I also know that this exercise will push you in ways that you need to grow. It won't just make them better heroes."

Elena stood up out of her chair, walked over just past Viktor's, and rested a hand on his shoulder. "You know that you can call upon me for aid and advice anytime. But I know that you can do this, Viktor. You know what it means to be a hero, and to act like a professional. Now you just have to pass that knowledge on to a new generation. If hyenas can teach their cubs how to hunt in the plains, then Viktor Archeville can teach these kids how to be superheroes."

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"" Archeville replied after a moment's pause.

I'll say. No 'you can only judge that for yourself' claptrap?

Or more warnings about you. Though, she did say she knew I would make mistakes, so-

Ha-ha. You know you need me, I'm what drives you, and at the end of the day it'll be my hand on the whips, not yours.

You may be the one to forget the whips, but I will make sure it is my hand on them, to make sure you do not get too carried away in lashing them.

Forged? Whips are braided, you fool.

... that is not remotely important. Point is, if the Interceptors are to work -- and not be either a laughing stock or run out of town or arrested for public endangerment, none of which I know you would want, not for them but for fear of tarnishing our name -- there will need to be some radical changes, to them and us. We will need to divert more attention to them, and delegate some of the duties at ArcheTech.


You know I am right.

... fine.

"" he continued, smirking just a bit as he patted the hand on his shoulder. He turned a bit so he could see her face, "" He paused, then shook his head, ""

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"Yes, Duncan would be a good place to start for this sort of advice. I don't think there's another person living on Earth today who has as much direct experience relevant to your situation as he. Tell him I sent you. And Viktor, try to remember: They need to trust you, but they don't have to like you. They're your employees, and your students, but they are not your friends. Which is why a romantic relationship will complicate, and probably undermine, this entire effort. You can be her boss or her boyfriend, and excel in either area, but if you try to do both, you will fail at both."

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Ha! I told you the whole "relationship" thing was ridiculous from the very beginning!

And I have told you, repeatedly, that I need this! I cannot continue on with my only intimate contact being one-night stands!

Why not? It's done me fine this long.

That is because you are an amoral monster!

Perhaps... but what about all the good we have done for the world? The 'greater good' thing you are always on about? We've done it because we've not been distracted by emotions or personal relationships, because I wouldn't let us get entangled, just the periodic slaking of certain... hungers. Since spending time with Mona -- and the League, which is a separate but related issue -- we've had less time in the laboratory, less time to work on the company, less time to do all the things we could and should do!

But we cannot work in an emotional void, without some companionship -- everything we do must be tempered with compassion, so it is for the greater good and not just your curious satisfaction.

And what good is trying to do everything if it all winds up being less than the best we can do?

Wait, so now you are agreeing with Elena?

Well, the Mind-Witch does have a point.

... I do not believe this!

Archeville let out an exasperated sigh as he drummed his fingers on the arm of the chair. ""

His fingers stopped. ""

"" his fits slammed down on the arms of the chair, he pushed himself up and began pacing nervously, ""

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"Oh, Viktor." Elena patted and rubbed Archeville's upper arm affectionately. "I have to admit, it's always refreshing to speak with someone whose mind works fast enough that they know what they're thinking before I do. Or what they're feeling, as the case may be."

Having been alerted to Elena's presence, Archeville's robot gorilla butler arrived with fresh coffee. "Thank you," she said as she stroked his metallic "fur," took a cup off his tray, and started sipping it down.

"Viktor, I would tell you that there is an easy, simple answer to this conundrum of yours, an answer which results in no one getting hurt. But I respect you too much to lie to you. But you can at least take some small comfort in the fact that five-thousand years of accumulated life experience still remains insufficient to prevent me from making stupid decisions based on love. So really, what chance do you have?" She laughed, and took another sip of her coffee.

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"" Archeville said, smirking and shaking his head.

Bah! I shall find a way to have my cake and eat it, too!

Other way around.


The phrase is "eat my cake and have it, too." Once you have a cake, you can eat it, no problem. Having a cake after eating it is the tricki-


Besides, you barely like Mona, and have been prodding me -- were just now prodding me -- to dump her. Why the change?

To prove Scarab wrong!

... of course...

"" he looked up and looked her in the eye, ""

He glanced at the robot gorilla butler, which was looking at him with its Uncanny Valley eyes (a recent addition, and one that would probably be changed back). "Butleraffe, holen Sie mir ein Eisbock."

The robogorilla gave a curt nod, then trundled off.

"" the Doktor began as he slowly paced, ""


Zip it.


Well, that was a mixed metaphor.

Bah. 'English'

... we are not speaking English.

I said 'Bah'!

"<... but the interceptors would not be team for that we cannot co-lead it and i appoint her as a figurehead leader direct through in some scheme... can no too much chance something exploding metaphorically literally.>"

The robutlerilla returned, with an Eisbock beer in a tall, wide-mouthed glass. He took a gulp; the robot trundled off to attend to other tasks.

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[bg=#BF0000]"I cannot answer these questions for you, Viktor, as useless as that makes me sound."[/bg] Elena finished her coffee and gently placed the mug down on the endtable. [bg=#BF0000]"What little advice I have to offer is this: Should you maintain the team in its current configuration, then the team and its missions must come first in your mind, and your relationship with Mona must take secondary priority. You must not only accept that paradigm, but you must embrace it. If you are not capable of compartmentalizing your feelings, then she needs to leave the team."

"I can also assure you that, once anyone has served on a team for any significant length of time, they will develop preferences. The welfare of some teammates will always take precedence before that of others in your mind. It is hardly uncommon for such bonds to blossom into love, which only exacerbates the matter."

"And yes, as someone who reminds us all so much of a certain dearly departed friend of mine, people will look to her for inspiration and defer to her decisions. So it is in everyone's best interest that you make sure that those decisions are good ones, and that she lives up to the spiritual legacy she has stumbled into."[/bg]

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"" Archeville replied, taking another gulp of his beer, ""

Aww, poor lil' swashbuckler's all alone, while the cowboy rides off into the sunset with his... his... Jewish Faerie Ninja Street Urchin.

... what?

You have a more concise term for her?

Yes: Lynn Epstein.



The Doktor's face fell, then swiftly brightened as the light bulb went off.

Of course! Vince!

What are you babbling on about now?

Vince could be the leader of the team!

... what?

"" He set his beer down and approached Elena; she noticed a pair of thin robotic tentacles extend from a concealed port in the wall and place a coaster under the beverage. ""

A Cheshire grin began to spread across the Doktor's face as he stroked his chin.

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[bg=#BF0000]"Three is always the worst number for any group. One member always finds himself becoming the odd man out."

"VINCE...the idea has potential. You would need to include a substantial empathy subroutine in his programming, focusing on the needs and idiosyncrisies of biological organisms in general and humans in particular. Some aspects of the human condition will simply never occur to an artificial intelligence until they are brought to their attention by another. Many of those factors are things you take for granted, things it has never occurred to you to question or examine. Even a mind as brilliant as yours or mine is still wrapped in meat, and we have little or no frame of reference for an existence without that meat. But if anyone can write a program that fills as many of those holes as possible, it is Archeville."

"Given the group of personalities you're dealing with here, do you think they'll be inclined to accept leadership from VINCE? If they see him only as a tool, a servant at best, they may bristle at the notion of taking orders from him."[/bg]

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"" he replied, still beaming as his mind raced on, ""

They'll accept what I tell them to accept!

Because we will present it in a way they would want to accept it, synergizing with the existin-

No, because MIND CONTROL!

... she can still hear you, you know.


"" The Doktor retrieved his beer and took a few swallows. ""

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[bg=#BF0000]"Yes, the mental arts are a delicate discipline. Especially when you have so much raw power at your command, if you wield it like a sledgehammer instead of a scalpel, it is all too easy to destroy that which you only sought to manipulate. Which is why Duncan calls me in on the rare occasion that he receives a student with my particular set of...'gifts' is not the right word, since mine came only with great effort, but for my students, the term is as appropriate as any."

Yes. It is too easy to destroy that which you sought only to control if you are not careful. That is a truth you would do well to remember. For your own sake as much as for others.

"I suspect some of what made VINCE so 'likable' was his status as a fellow member of the rank and file, and that his popularity will decrease commensurate with his 'promotion.' But if you can trust him, then so can they, and they need only to trust him, not to like him. In any event, it sounds as though you have quite a busy evening ahead of you, and with a modicum of effort, I am sure I can find a hundred different worthy causes to occupy my time. So I will take my leave."[/bg] Elena gave Viktor a hug. "Good luck."

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Archeville warmly embraced his friend and comrade, ""

Oh, why don't you just kiss her already?

What? Out relationship is not like that! Besides, Mona-

Isn't here, and what she doesn't know-

Will hurt you, because she can still hear you!

... never let me have any fun...

"" "I met a girl, about a year ago, who shared many of your abilities. And earlier this month she outed herself. Alexandra Albright. Has Summers called on you to assist her?>"


... oh poop!

See! You agree with me, they're a problem!

No, not that! The other thing!

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[bg=#BF0000]Although I would be lying if I said that such a thing had never occurred to me, becoming romantically involved with a patient is the worst betrayal of trust any counselor can perpetrate. So I'm afraid at this point, our relationship must remain platonic.[/bg]

"" "I met a girl, about a year ago, who shared many of your abilities. And earlier this month she outed herself. Alexandra Albright. Has Summers called on you to assist her?>"

[bg=#BF0000]"Duncan did indeed call upon me, quite some time ago. I have mentored Alexandra for the better part of a year now, and she is the finest student I've ever had, both in terms of technical ability and ethical fortitude. When she graduates from Claremont, I intend to sponsor her as a candidate for the Freedom League."[/bg]

Elena reached into her blouse, pulling out a golden pendant shaped like a scarab beetle. She pressed down upon one of the wings, and a portal opened up behind her.

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Who said anything about 'romance'? I just want some-

Zip it!

" he said as she stepped through the portal, ""

I still say we should have made those things shaped like ankhs, and more golden colored.

You and your crazy 'theme' tech.

Hey! People appreciate such stylistic touches!

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