You slide through the automatic doors of the gravitation lab and into the hallway, which branches out in three directions.
Down the hallway to your right, toward the western wing of the facility, lies the [[chronodynamics lab->chrono]]. The scientists there work on the theoretical and practical aspects time travel.
To your left, toward the eastern wing, lies the [[xenogenetics lab->xeno]], in which they experiment with incorporating alien technology into the biological sciences: accelerated cloning, hybrid species, stuff like that.
The hallway directly in front of you leads to the northern wing and the [[robotics lab->robo]]. The engineers there spend their time inventing and building new machines, both large and small.
You're not sure which lab will prove to be the most helpful, but the Action Squad is attacking aggressively and the black hole will grow larger with every molecule of matter that it consumes. It's time to think fast!
Inside the chronodynamics lab, the time machine (everybody around here insists that you call it //the chronopod//) sits, wrapped in a cocoon of wires and cables. It looks like a huge electromagnetic bird's nest. Based on what you have overheard in the cafeteria, the chronopod can only travel //backwards// in time. Fortunately, that's exactly what you need!
You climb inside, drop into the pilot's chair, and swivel around to face the control screen. Another fun fact that you picked up about the chronopod is that it can only travel to time checkpoints that it has stored in memory.
Fortunately, the device must record a new checkpoint automatically every day. The screen shows that two are in memory: one recorded [[one hour ago->jump1hour]], and the other recorded [[twenty-five hours ago->jump1day]]. The screen also displays an menu option to [[search the chronopod's database->blackhole]] for earlier checkpoints.
As you weigh your options, a thought comes to mind: "[[Wait a minute->blackhole]]," you think. "If this thing only goes //back// in time, how will I be able to return to the present?"
The coolant systems in the xenogenetics lab seem to have gone offline, perhaps when the power was cut to stop the death ray. Blue emergency lights illuminate the dense clouds of refrigerated gasses that are hissing from the pipes and ducts.
One of the tanks is leaking quite badly, actually. You trace the path of the tubes along the floor and see that the coolant is running to a cylinder labeled "Locust Hybrid". Locusts are a destructive insect, and a swarm of regular ones can eat an entire crop of food in hours. To take on the Action Squad, perhaps it would be a good idea to [[release the swarm of alien-locust hybrids->locusts]].
On the other side of the lab is the cloning station. Its database stores the genetic information for hundreds of people, including all of the chief scientists at Applied Phlebotinum. You're not important enough to be indexed in the database, but you know who is: the one scientist who knows more than anyone about black holes. To try and stop the black hole, it might be a good idea to [[clone Dr. Zaman->clonedoc]]
Even though you're not in the database, every cell of your body contains a complete replica of your DNA... You wonder whether you could just stick your finger into the machine and [[clone yourself->cloneself]].
The interior of the robotics lab is a huge, empty space. The floor covers an area equivalent to at least four football fields, and the ceiling is more than six stories high. Most of the machines in the room are covered in white sheets, either to to keep them clean, or to keep them a secret.
One machine is clearly no secret, however. Standing in the center of the lab is the InvinciBot XOOO! (The first time you saw the name, you pronounced that last part "zoo". You were immediately corrected: that's "ex-thousand". You know that's actually a number, but you've never mentioned it for fear of being yelled at again.)
The XOOO is a sleek and shiny fighting machine. It stands 30 feet tall and has a humanoid form: two arms, two legs, a head that serves as the command center. Its exterior is smooth, but you bet it has a collection of advanced weaponry concealed in all sorts of hidden compartments.
Robotics engineers scurry around in a panic, and all the chaos means the scaffolding leading up to the robot's command capsule is unguarded. You could easily climb up and [[take control of the XOOO->XOOO]], though part of you wonders why nobody has done that yet.
The only other piece of machinery not covered by a sheet is a device that resembles an enormous squirt gun. The large nozzle is attached to a tank labeled NANOBOTS. You read a story in the company newsletter about work on microscopic robots. Perhaps they'd be helpful in this situation? All you'd have to do is [[open the nozzle->nano]].
Alternatively, you could [[peek under one of the other sheets->blackhole]]. You might find some other marvel of engineering to deploy.
You tap the screen, selecting the option to jump back in time one hour. The chronopod powers up with an ascending electronic whistle, and you happen to glance over at the wall clock.
//That's not right//, you think. //Somebody must have forgotten to "spring forward" for daylight savings time.//
The chronopod lets out a descending whistle. //Oh, right. Time machine.//
As you step out of the machine, you remind yourself that you are also, simultaneously, arriving for work at the other end of the facility. Everything you've ever read about time travel says you should avoid meeting yourself, though nobody never gets into specifics about why it's a bad thing. Still, it's something to keep in mind.
Now what? You consider going to the [[security office->sec1hour]] to warn them about the upcoming attack. If they don't believe you, though, you might spend the next hour being questioned about where you got your information. It might be easier to convince the scientists in [[the vaporization lab->laser]].
You tap the screen, selecting the option to jump back in time one day and one hour. The chronopod emits an ascending electronic whistle, followed immediately by a descending whistle. That was easy.
As you step out of the machine, you remember that today is Sunday. This might not have been the greatest plan. There probably won't be any people at work, and therefore nobody to warn about the Action Squad.
On the plus side, there's no chance you'll run into yourself and cause one of those mind-bending time-travel paradoxes everybody is always talking about. You're out crawling through the Fort Michaels quarry in search of specimens for your rock collection.
It can't hurt to look around, though. There might be somebody in the [[security office->sec1day]]. Or, maybe it's best to go directly to the top of the organization and see if the president of the think-tank is in the [[executive suite->executive]].
The security guard might take some convincing, so there's no time to lose! You rush out of the chronodynamics lab, down the hallway, make a left at the shark tank, and burst into the security office.
"We're under attack!"
The guard looks at you for a moment, and then turns leisurely to a wall of black-and-white security monitors. The images cycle through every inch of the facility, and all are, of course, as calm as can be.
The guard turns back at you. "Under attack?"
"I mean, we're //going to be// under attack. In, like, an hour."
The guard crosses her arms without a word, but the look she gives you becomes the new definition of //skeptical//. Despite this, you blurt out the story of everything that has happened in the last hour (well, everything that //will happen// in the next hour).
When you finish, she nods. "Okay, I can see that. It's actually not the weirdest story I've heard since I started working here. Let's assume you're right. How would you suggest we proceed? Should we go on the defensive and [[raise the force field->shields]], or should we talk to the guys in the vaporization lab, power up the death ray, and prepare to [[attack]]?"
To reach the laser, you'll have to pass the gravitation lab, and you don't want to bump into yourself in the hallway. No time to lose! You rush out of the chronodynamics lab, through the cafeteria, down the hallway past the antimatter generators, and into vaporization lab.
You quickly explain the story of everything that has happened in the last hour (well, everything that //will happen// in the next hour). By the time you've finished, the scientists in the vaporization lab are nodding enthusiastically.
One of them speaks up: "You've been there. Well, you've been //then//. What do you think we should do?"
Two proposals come to mind. On the one hand, you could [[adjust the targeting computer->target]] so that, if the laser fires, at least it won't destroy the gravitation lab. On the other hand, this enormous laser was made for vaporizing superheroes (and other things, too -- it's pretty versatile). Why not [[go on the offensive->attack]]?
The security guard agrees that a defensive posture is best. An aggressive move on your part may provoke the Action Squad to recruit other heroes to join the attack, and the last thing you need is some kind of crossover episode.
The guard opens a panel on the wall opposite the bank of monitors and flips the switch inside. "That ought to do it."
As you walk back to the gravitation lab, an automated voice announces the countdown: "May I please have your attention. The defensive forcefield will be activated in three minutes. Those working outside the building should move within the security perimeter immediately."
You're quite proud of yourself, honestly, and you can't wait to see how the Action Squad reacts when they get here! Ha! You wonder whether the view will be better from the windows in the [[gravitation lab->paradox]] or the [[vaporization lab->delay]].
The team in the vaporization lab is totally behind your suggestion to attack. They're generally a pretty mild-mannered bunch, but the possibility of zapping a few superheroes certainly seems to get the ol' mad scientist juices flowing.
Men and women in white lab coats race about pressing buttons and pulling levers. The death ray lifts up from the floor of the lab on a robotic arm. It pivots in a wide arc as the outer wall of the lab splits vertically and opens to reveal the cloudless sky.
When the Action Squad arrives, you are more than ready. They come at you strong, but their confidence disintegrates when the laser turns the guy in the orange cape into a cloud of dust. (Maybe that was Triangle Man? You never could tell them apart.)
Before long, they are in full retreat. They may be back later, but you are the victors for now. Take that, Action Squad!
After you have reset the timeline to avoid any dangerous future paradox, you are called to the [[company president's office->promotion]].
You work with the team to recalibrate the vaporization ray so that it is aimed well away from the gravitation lab. You finish your adjustments and upload the new configuration just in time.
The Action Squad attack unfolds almost identically in this timeline as it did in the original one that started your morning. The laser is triggered, just as before, but thanks to your clever thinking, the accidental misfire does not release the baby black hole -- and that's good news.
Unfortunately, the laser beam sizzles through a //different// lab. Double-unfortunately, it's the revivification lab, the one with the research grants from Eastern Europe about reanimating the dead. (You heard someone say they don't like being called the "zombie lab", but come on. Let's be honest.)
The vaporization ray must have disintegrated a bunch of cages, because it's not long before an army of gray-skinned groaners shamble in asking about "brains".
//''You have initiated the zombie apocalypse.''//
The heart of the security office is a bank of controls and, behind that, a wall of black-and-white screens.
The control console features a daunting number of buttons and levers with labels like "force field generator" and "perimeter defense cannons" (both of those are currently switched off). Sitting on the desk next to all the controls is a cup of coffee, hot and steaming.
Surely one of these devices can be used to change the outcome of what happened (well, what //will// happen tomorrow).
It might be a wise defensive move to [[switch on the force field generator->arrested]]. Or, perhaps a more aggressive approach is called for? In that case you could [[switch on the perimeter cannons->arrested]].
One of the switches indicates that the facility's "drone tracking beacon" is switched on. Perhaps it will be harder to find the facility if you [[switch that off->arrested]]?
Finally, there's a red button labeled simply "Heisenberg". You're uncertain about what it might do... but it //is// a red button, and you could [[press it->arrested]].
Meanwhile, the security monitors cycle through images of every inch of the facility, which is totally unpopulated... except for something that seems to be moving in the [[executive suite->executive]]. Seeing that makes you wonder whether you should get out of here and find an actual person to talk to.
The executive office is empty of furniture, except for a number of AV-drones each projecting a holographic display. The president of the company is here, surrounded by the floating screens.
After a moment, the holograms flicker out. The president's fluid chamber turns on its gyroscopic wheels and rolls toward you.
"Hello, sir," you say.
But then a thought comes to you: How do you address a super-intelligent, telepathic jellyfish? Is "sir" the right word? Does a jellyfish even //have// a gender? Is it rude to ask?
//Please, there's no need to worry so.// The president's words somehow appear in your mind: unspoken and unheard, yet... known. //Just call me Kəlapx^^w^^əlč.//
The president's consciousness telepathically merges with yours, and you see your memories of the last few hours flip by in a rapid slideshow.
The president puts more words into your mind: //Thank you for sharing this with me. Your service to the company will be rewarded. In fact, it is clear that your decision making is well-suited to a particular role...//
//''You have been promoted to Director of Security at Applied Phlebotinum.''//
Dr. Zaman's profile is easy to find in the database: it's last in the alphabetical list.
You tap the screen and the gestation vat begins to fill with a thick human-colored liquid. Lasers zap the goo from all sides, and then a robotic arm fishes out some jiggly, semi-solid bits and transfers them to the maturation accelerator.
A few seconds later, Dr. Zaman steps out of the accelerator with all of her physical and intellectual abilities at peak operating capacity. In fact, she is already (somehow) wearing a white lab coat with her name on it.
She looks around the lab, notices the emergency lights, and gets right to business: "What's happened?"
You recount the events of last few minutes, and Dr. Zaman listens with a scowl of concern.
"We don't have much time," she says. "We've been working on [[two prototypes->counter]] for neutralizing a rogue black hole, but neither one of them has been tested."
You stick your hand into the hatch of the cloning machine, and feel a painful stab -- there must be needles inside! When you pull your hand back, your finger is bleeding. Your blood, though, contains exactly the information the machine needs to clone you.
The gestation vat begins to fill with a thick human-colored liquid. Lasers zap the goo from all sides, and then a robotic arm fishes out some jiggly, semi-solid bits and transfers them to the maturation accelerator. Just a few seconds later, your clone steps out of the chamber in a cloud of steam.
Your clone looks at you and then catches a glimpse of its reflection in the glass wall of the gestation vat.
"Wait. Am I a clone? Is this a cloning machine?" it asks.
"Yes," you say. "You're my clone. I cloned myself because we have to--"
"Neat!" your clone calls out as it sticks its hand into the hatch. "Ouch!"
"No, don't--" You try to object, but it's too late. In a few seconds, there are [[three of you->three]] standing there.
The floating ball of nanobots drifts back into the robotics lab.
It doesn't take long for the nanobots to take control of the nanobot-building machines and replicate themselves by the billions. After that, they begin re-engineering the world's mechanical devices to perform without the need of human operators.
Humanity fights for control of the machines, but the nanobots can always squash resistance by threatening to release the black hole. It's all the same to them: they're not really alive, they like to remind us, and planetary annihilation is just one of the options available to their cold, calculating, robotic hive-mind.
In fact, without a human conscience to guide them, humans are quickly demoted from "the most powerful species on the planet" to "natural resource".
An army of machines is created to enslave humanity for harvesting as fuel.
//''All hail the new robot overlords.''//
You climb the stairs of the scaffolding two at a time and drop into the cockpit of the InvinciBot XOOO.
When the pilot's chair senses your weight, all of the display panels flicker on. You're not sure what the controls do, but you quickly realize that's not a problem: sensors in the cockpit synchronize with your brainwaves. Think, and the gigantic fighting machine obeys.
Now what? The XOOO certainly has enough weaponry that you can [[take on the Action Squad->battle]]. Of course a little extra firepower couldn't hurt, and so you might [[pick up that nanobot squirt gun->XOOOnano]].
On the other hand, it might make sense to pause, collect your thoughts, and decide on the best course of action. In that case, you could [[fire the XOOO's rocket shoes->escape]] and escape to a safe distance.
With a simple thought from you, the Invincibot's rocket shoes fire, and you are propelled upwards -- fists stretched skyward -- through the ceiling of the engineering lab. (You also go through fifteen or sixteen upper floors of the building... not that any of it slows you down.)
The rockets are so powerful that you continue for miles and miles, eventually leaving Earth's atmosphere and entering orbit.
Before long, you land on the moon.
You begin to have second thoughts. You had intended to back away and give yourself some room to think, but the moon? That might have been more remote than necessary.
You look up at the Earth just in time to watch the black hole suck up the last fragments of the Eastern Hemisphere into its lightless void. Then, having consumed all significant matter nearby, the black hole seems to stabilize.
You gradually learn to enjoy life on the moon. It's lonely, but it gives you plenty of time to start a new rock collection.
//''You are the last living human.''//
Only one of the facility's many elevators goes all the way to the executive suite. You are surprised that there's no added security: no special key card, no retina scan, no voice-print identifier.
You simply punch the button for floor 38, and the elevator obeys.
Several seconds pass.
A bell dings.
[[The elevator doors open->promotion]].
You kick down the wall of the engineering lab and stride toward the action amid a cloud of plaster dust and sparking electrical cables.
With the simplest thoughts from you, the InvinciBot XOOO easily subdues the Action Squad. A laser blast here, a rocket grenade there... Soon, they all back down: the big green guy, the lady in the cape, the one with the hammer (you never bothered to learn their names).
Your triumph over the superheroes is short-lived, however.
The ever-expanding black hole has already devoured all of the gravitation lab and most of the western wing of the building. Sadly, the XOOO is not as invincible as its name would suggest, especially when compared to the laws of gravitational physics.
//''You have been consumed by the inky void.''//
The expanding black hole is an unstoppable force of nature, growing with every molecule of matter it consumes.
Unfortunately, the time you spend not-making a quick decision works against you. During that overlong pause, the black hole grows so large that it obliterates the Applied Phlebotinum facility and everything in it.
//''You have been devoured by the inky void.''//
You stride through the doors, laughing, and cross the gravitation lab to the windows. "Hey everybody!" you shout, waving for them to come closer. "Just wait until you see this!"
There's nothing outside yet, but the Action Squad will be here soon enough.
You turn away from the windows and discover that everyone is staring at you.
Slowly, they all turn their heads toward your work station. You -- the other you, the you from before, the you that you're not supposed to have anything to do with -- makes eye contact with you.
You see yourself, staring at you from across the room. You're sitting on your stool, exactly where you were earlier this morning, looking across the room at yourself standing by the windows, staring at you sitting and staring by the stool standing on the windows watching you sit and stare stand stare sit at yourself.
At that moment, the universe turns inside out.
//''You have caused a paradox in the space-time continuum.''//
You stride through the doors, laughing, and cross the vaporization lab to the windows. "Hey everybody!" you shout, waving for them to come closer. "Just wait until you see this!"
The group crowds at the windows as the Action Squad arrives, bumping into the translucent hexagonal tiles of the forcefield.
They try various techniques to make their way in. The one in the cape tries to blast it with some kind of laser beams from his eyes. (Maybe that's Particle Man? You never could tell them apart.) The green one tries to punch it, the one with the hammer tries to hammer it. Nothing. Take that, Action Squad!
Eventually, they quit trying to break in and just stand there talking with each other. You can't hear them, of course, but they do a lot of pointing and gesturing at the forcefield. Eventually, the one with the pointy ears makes a call on his cellphone.
It seems that the Action Squad has a lot of superfriends that they can call when they're in a jam. All of those people (and some aliens too, from the looks of it) show up over the next couple of hours.
//''You have only delayed the inevitable.''//
The valves connecting the coolant tanks to the alien-locust hybrids are already leaking, so it is an easy task to disconnect them completely. Coolant spills from the nozzle as it clatters to the floor, coughing up a new cloud of chilly vapor.
Within a few seconds, you can hear wings fluttering against the inside of the containment cylinder. The buzz grows louder and louder as the creatures warm to room temperature.
When the cylinder cracks open, shattered by the increasingly frantic force inside, a swarm of shiny green insects spills out on to the floor -- thousands of them, their legs kicking, their antennae wiggling. The living carpet crawls across the floor and up the walls. There are so many that they trigger the sensors on the automatic door and flow out into the hallway.
The swarm takes flight and rises off of the ground in a swirling mass. They begin to emit a pulsing green light, probably a product of their alien genes.
Troublingly, they steer directly toward the [[black hole->locustlose]].
You twist the nozzle and a stream of shiny metal liquid begins to spray across the floor. When the liquid rises up off the floor and arranges itself into the form of a perfect cube, you realize that it's not a liquid at all. It's a swarm of super-miniaturized robots.
The nanobot cube hovers there, rotating slowly, its mirror-like faces catching the bright fluorescent lights of the lab.
Suddenly, the cube flies toward the door.
You run to catch up, and exit the robotics lab right behind the cube. You quickly skid to a stop, however, when you see how large the black hole has grown. It has consumed all of the gravitation lab and most of the western wing of the building as well. The Action Squad is nowhere to be seen.
The nanobot cube begins to break apart, and each fragment transforms into a thin string. Within seconds, hundreds of slender metallic threads have woven a net around the black hole. You're not sure what kind of physics is at play, but they have recreated a much larger version of the containment scaffolding that was vaporized a few minutes ago.
You have saved the Earth from being pulverized in the gravitational vortex!
That's when you notice a [[spherical cluster of nanobots->swarm]] hovering nearby, separate from the containment scaffolding.
"Um, the second one?" you say.
"Schwarzschild, eh?" Dr. Zaman nods. "In that case, the best way to neutralize the black hole is by filling it in with the //black pile//."
You've never heard of a black pile before, but the concept seems logical enough: the opposite of a hole is a pile. That's something you might have learned in sixth grade.
The doctor approaches a touchscreen panel in the hallway, swipes her security card (which, apparently, was cloned along with her lab coat), and punches in an 12-digit code. The security panel emits three buzzes in response.
"Hmm." says Dr. Zaman. "I must have changed my security password //after// recording myself in the DNA library."
[[At that moment, the black hole eats a section of the hallway.->bhwin]]
"Um, the first one?" you say.
"Reissner–Nordström, eh?" Dr. Zaman nods. "In that case, the best way to neutralize the black hole is by releasing the //blue hole//."
You've never heard of a blue hole before. Dr. Zaman appears to have anticipated that, because she keeps talking as she walks briskly out the door of the xenogenetics lab. You have to hustle to keep pace with her.
"When a blue hole and a black hole mix, the result is a black-and-blue hole which, by its very definition, is bruised. Once it is wounded, it should begin to collapse immediately."
She approaches a touchscreen panel in the hallway, swipes her security card (which, apparently, was cloned along with her lab coat), and punches in an 12-digit code.
[[At that moment, the black hole eats a section of the hallway.->bhlose]]
Dr. Zaman continues: "I can't say for sure which neutralization method will be most effective. That will depend on precisely how the black hole is growing. You saw the black hole when it was released?"
"Did you notice any of the readouts on its angular momentum before the rupture? What about electric charge? The electrometer would have displayed the charge in Planck units. What did it say? What was the total surface area of the event horizon? Was it still roughly spherical?"
Yikes. Black hole physics was one of the first courses you took in graduate school, but that was years ago. Plus, your sky-high stress level isn't helping your memory. What's a Planck unit again?
When you say nothing, the doctor presses: "Would you say it was developing according to the [[Reissner–Nordström->bluehole]] metric, or was it more in the [[Schwarzschild->blackpile]] model?"
You have an idea: "Your clone brain is identical to your original brain. Imagine that you had to change your password //right now//. What code would you choose?"
"I'd probably pick..." Zaman trails off as she begins tapping numbers on the touchscreen. When she hits confirm, a voice calls immediately from the speakers in the ceiling: //Attention! Powering down black pile containment field in 3... 2... 1.//
You're not sure where the black pile was being held, but it takes only a few moments for the physics to happen. The black hole was just at the end of the hallway, and so you have a front row seat as the lightless event horizon brightens and goes back to looking like regular, everyday space-time.
Dr. Zaman pats you on the shoulder. "Crisis averted, thanks to you."
Your actions today have saved the planet, and perhaps the whole solar system. Sure, there's an enormous spherical hole in the middle of the building, but that's nothing that can't be fixed with millions and millions of research dollars from questionable donors with villainous intentions.
//''You have saved the day.''//
Dr. Zaman taps CONFIRM on the touch screen, and a voice calls immediately from the speakers in the ceiling: //Attention! Powering down blue hole containment field in 3... 2... 1.//
The black hole creeps closer, pulling the hallway into its gravitational vortex.
Dr. Zaman turns away from the control panel. "I'm not sure why what didn't... Wait!" She takes her first good look at the approaching black hole. "That's not a Reissner–Nordström bla--
//''You have been devoured by inky void.''//
The swarm flies directly into the black hole. Perhaps the alien part of their genes makes them attracted by the smell of empty space. Anyhow, every single alien-locust is consumed by the gravitational vortex, never to be seen again.
In retrospect, you're not sure what a swarm of locusts was going to accomplish against an army of superheroes anyhow.
Luckily, you don't have to regret your decision for very long.
//''You have been devoured by the inky void.''//
You scoop up the nanobot gun, kick down the wall of the engineering lab, and stride toward the action amid a cloud of plaster dust and sparking electrical cables.
With the simplest thoughts from you, the Invincibot XOOO easily subdues the Action Squad. A laser blast here, a rocket grenade there... they all back down: the big green guy, the lady in the cape, the one with the hammer (you never bothered to learn their names).
Once the superheroes have been subdued, you twist the nozzle on the nanobot gun and the swarm of super-miniaturized robots emerges in a long string. Within seconds, it has woven a complex net around the black hole. You're not sure what kind of physics is at play, but they have recreated a much larger version of the containment scaffolding that was vaporized a few minutes ago.
You have saved the facility from the Action Squad, and saved the Earth from being pulverized! Your coworkers (the ones who have survived, anyhow) crowd around the robot's feet, cheering.
You're just about to [[power down the robot->praise]] and enjoy the praises of a grateful planet when you sense an [[incoming signal from the nanobots->power]] over your brainwave interface. (That might be nothing, though.)
You power down the robot and descend from the command capsule. With cheers of joy and congratulations, the crowd lifts you up and carries you around. Even the defeated superheroes of the Action Squad are grateful not to have been devoured by the black hole.
You are invited to Washington, D.C. and praised for your meritorious contributions to the security of the United States and the world. Your actions are deemed so valorous that everybody is willing to overlook the fact that you were employed by a supervillainy think-tank at the time... which is rather nice of them.
//''You have been awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom.''//
The transmission is a simple question: //What are your orders?//
The nanobots must have gone on autopilot when they sensed the danger of the black hole, but now they are awaiting instructions. From the command capsule, your brainwaves can control the nanobot hive-mind.
If you control the nanobots, then //you control the black hole//.
This immense power, you realize, could be used for [[good->benevolent]] or [[evil->corrupt]].
You assume control of the think-tank and reject its supervillain-oriented mission. Instead, you donate the black hole (now safely contained) to the global scientific community.
Teams of researchers from around the world visit to study the black hole, which turns out to be a limitless source of clean and efficient energy. Not only that, the transition to using black hole energy is a breeze! Engineers are pleasantly surprised to discover that it's easy to distribute black hole energy using existing power grids.
Given the new abundance of cheap, green energy, the entire fossil fuel industry is dismantled within a decade.
//''You have succeeded in halting climate change.''//
The one who controls the black hole controls the world! The solar system! The galaxy!
Who would //dare// to try and stand against the unstoppable power you could unleash with a mere thought? Let them //try// to disobey you! //FOOLS!// Do they not realize the power that you wield?!
The wicked laugh that escapes your lips is much more evil than you had intended. You thought that the "Mwa-ha-ha-ha!" thing was just something people did in movies. It's interesting to discover how that particular laugh comes quite naturally to someone stepping into the role of galactic tyrant. Who knew?
//''You have attained absolute power over humanity.''//
A computerized voice, vaguely feminine and vaguely British, calls urgently over the facility's loudspeakers:
//Intruder alert. Intruder alert.//
The security guard bursts through the door, gun drawn. "Hands where I can see them!" she barks at you. "Back away from the controls!" The hot coffee should have told you that a security guard was nearby. Oops!
You are detained and questioned by both Applied Phlebotinum security personnel and the local police, and you tell everyone the truth. Unfortunately, nobody believes a word of what you say.
They call the person you claim to be (the version of you who, in this timeline, is out rock-collecting) and that conversation leads the authorities to believe that you are an imposter and identity thief. The security cameras don't show how you snuck in, they admit, but that must just be because you're very clever.
In a nutshell, the police decide that you're up to no good. The handcuffs are painful, but at least somebody thinks you're clever.
//''You have been arrested for breaking and entering.''//
The second clone looks around. "Wait," it says. "Am I a clone?"
Before you can say anything, the first clone speaks. "Yep! This thing right here is a cloning machine. I'm a clone, too! That one over there is the original."
"This is a cloning machine?" the second clone asks without ever looking at you. "Neat!"
The second clone sticks its hand into the hatch. "[[Ouch->toomany]]!"
Clones continue to arrive, since each new one has the great idea to stick its hand into that stupid hatch. By the time there are twelve or so of you, it is impossible to make your (original) voice heard.
It is also impossible to escape the ever-expanding black hole.
//''You -- all of you -- have been devoured by the inky void.''//
All of your friends and family just //knew// it would be a bad idea for you to take the job as research assistant at Applied Phlebotinum.
Any other scientific think-tank would have been fine, they argued, but working for the facility that provided doomsday devices to 90% of the world's supervillains? Everyone in your social circle thought it was too dangerous.
To be fair, Applied Phlebotinum is the only place on Earth (literally) with an active research program in black hole synthesis and containment. What else were you going to do with an advanced degree in gravitational physics? Work at Starbucks?
Last Monday, on your first day of work in the gravitation lab, you noticed that the "days since last accident" sign was only in the single digits. The baby black holes were unstable, and when one collapsed it usually took a chunk of the lab (and sometimes a scientist or two) with it.
The good news is that a new nanobot scaffolding seems to be containing the latest prototype black hole. Maybe your friends were right, though. This place does seem [[awfully dangerous->rumble]].
All those fears of a dangerous workplace are soon confirmed, unfortunately, when you hear a tremendous (text-style: "rumble")[explosion] on the other side of the wall between you and the vaporization lab.
Suddenly, a crackling pink light blasts through the wall from that direction.
The steady laser beam of concentrated energy cuts a path diagonally down the wall, slicing through wires which rain down showers of sparks. You duck. The laser passes over your head. You can feel the intense heat as it goes by.
It must be the death ray prototype. This can't be good.
When you look through the crumbling wall into the vaporization lab, you see what must have triggered the laser in the first place: Applied Phlebotinum is [[under attack->actionsquad]]!
Meanwhile, the death ray continues to [[carve a path through the gravitation lab->vortex]].
The Action Squad, a charmingly dysfunctional team of superheroes, has blown a hole in the wall of the vaporization lab. Several of them have flown in, though it's hard to tell how (one is wearing some kind of jetpack, one seems just to be able to fly). Other heroes are climbing in through the gap in the wall.
Scientists flee the lab in a panic while a few Applied Phlebotinum security guards try, pretty unsuccessfully, to fend off the incoming do-gooders.
(if: (history:) contains "vortex")[As far as you can tell, the scientists aren't focused on fixing any of these big problems. They're mostly running in circles and yelling. It looks like the problem-solving is up to you.
A good first step, you decide, is to [[exit the gravitation lab->hallway]] and get away from the expanding black hole.](else:)[Meanwhile, the death ray continues to [[carve a path through your lab->vortex]].]
The death ray sizzles its way across the lab, transforming everything it touches into a cloud of steam: computers, desks, scientists. One of those scientists was Dr. Zaman, director of the gravitation lab, which is a shame. She seemed nice.
Just moments before someone shuts down its power supply, the laser vaporizes the nanobot array surrounding the prototype black hole. Free of its containment mechanism, the black hole immediately begins to draw nearby objects into its gravitational vortex.
(if: (history:) contains "actionsquad")[As far as you can tell, the (remaining) scientists aren't focused on fixing any of these big problems. They're mostly running in circles and yelling. It looks like the problem-solving is up to you.
A good first step, you decide, is to [[exit the gravitation lab->hallway]] and get away from the expanding black hole.](else:)[Meanwhile, [[the attack continues->actionsquad]] next door in the vaporization lab.]
An interactive story
by Jason Ermer
(font: "Georgia;font-size:60%")[Cover image by <a href="https://www.flickr.com/photos/oalsaker/5553938542/" target="_blank">Øystein Alasker</a>]
[[Return to the title screen.->title]]