The first time Lem shows anyone his comic book is an accident. Sure, he's not the first scientist to make his own comic book, but he's probably the one with the best understanding of the scientific principles that would allow for superpowers to exist.
With the possibly exception of the creator of Wonder Woman.
Veronica sees the comic book, hand-drawn and colored, and for a second Lem wishes he were in another dimension. Even if the other dimension had a vastly different atmosphere on earth and his lungs took on the shape of Klein bottles.
Of course Phil would probably argue that being transported to another dimension would actually land you at a random location in that dimension's universe, and so there would be only a 1 in 257,100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,0 00,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 chance of landing in the Milky Way, much less on the surface of alterna-earth. But whatever, Phil had ridiculous ideas about alternate realities; he actually thought Greene's work on string theory was plausible. Plausible!
Anyway, Veronica saw it fall out of his briefcase and she raised her eyebrow in that way she had, said, "I don't think I need to tell you that when you're on company time, all your time is the company's!"
Lem really, really wanted to tell her that she reminded him of characters in those dystopian novels he used to read when he was a sullen, rebellious teenager who drew a skull and crossbones on his pocket protector. He briefly recalled then the day he stopped his drawings; he was 14 and his professors started to let him manufacture dangerous chemicals, and the real and fake poison symbols got a little confusing.
But here he was, an adult working for a very (sort of) reputable company, and his boss was asking him about his comic book. So he just said, "Oh, I did this at home. While I was sleeping. On the weekend. A holiday weekend."
She smiled, and it felt cold, like when the dungeonmaster tells you that you were just stabbed to death by a dandelion. But then she walked away and Lem breathed a sigh of annoyance and possibly relief.
The next person who saw the comic book was Linda. This was on purpose; Lem wanted her perspective since she had a successful (sort of) children's book character published.
She smiled and said she would be honored to read his comic book, and joked that soon he would have a successful career comic-book writer, "just like that guy who wrote Watchmen!"
Lem joked, "Except my comic book has 74% less metaphors for ejaculate."
She stared at him and looked like she wanted to be somewhere else.
"Did you not read Watchmen?" he asked.
"I saw a commercial for the movie during Wheel of Fortune," she said.
"Oh. Well, look over my comic book and let me know what you think."
When she returned she said, "I love the drawings! So cute!"
"But what about the story?"
"Oh. Uh, it was great."
"Oh, don't hesistate to tell me what you think. I need honest criticism if I'm going to ever go public with it."
"Come on, Linda. One genre writer to another."
Linda smiled and looked like she was gathering her courage. "Okay. Lem. I think, um, if you gave this out at the annual conference for the National Scientists Club, it would be a big hit."
"There's no National Scientists Club. Do you mean the National Science Foundation or the National Academy of Sciences? Or the American Association of Scientists? Or the American Scientist Society, who just changed their name to the Society To Integrate New Knowledge And Support Science. Because they didn't like what their acronym was before, but I gotta be honest with you, I think the new acronym is only a slight improvement. If any."
"Oh, you obviously meant the Nationaly Academy of Sciences. None of those other morons would even get that the discussion of neutrino theory was meant as satire."
"Right," Linda said, trying to convey some message with her pleasant yet seemingly forced smile.
"Oh, I understand," Lem said after a minute, "You're worried that some of my audience might not get the jokes."
"Yes," she said, sighing in relief.
"Hm. Well, that stings a bit, but it can only help me improve. Thank you for your help, Linda!"
"Any time! Good luck, Lem!"
Lem wondered if that were true. Surely there was an audience out there who would appreciate his erudition, his sense of humor, his in-jokes about polymerase bonding structures.
Ted seemed like a good bet for supportive advice. Ted almost always had good suggestions when they made a printer that made its own ink but also grew tentacles that tried to strangle the tallest person in the room ("Bury it so it can't escape and try not to have nightmares about it," Ted had advised).
Or when they discovered that their product for the 5:00 presentation had ate, digested, and excreted the product for the 9:00 presentation, and that said product excrement landed on the 4:00 presentation product's fragrance distribution system. ("Bury it so it can't escape and try not to have nightmares about it," Ted had suggested again).
Certainly Ted could offer good advice for something so simple and obvious as a comic book.
But when Lem gave it to him, Ted came back looking a little confused. "So..." he said after a long look, "The main characters are Captain Chaos and the Order of Order. Or is the Order of Order a team, like the Order of Superheroes?"
"Yes. But it's a team of one. More orderly that way."
"Of course. And they're enemies."
"Of course not. They're best friends. It requires both of them to work the stochasticity ray," Lem explained, wondering why it was necessary to discuss something so obvious.
"Right. Um... do you think that anyone might think Captain Chaos and the Order of Order are enemies?"
"Why would anyone conclude that?"
"Just, you know, one sounds like a supervillain and the other sounds like, um, the opposite. I guess," Ted said.
Lem frowned. "Captain Chaos is a hero. A certain degree of chaos is necessary to give complex systems the flexibility to adapt. Without Captain Chaos, the Second City of Thermodynamics would sink into the ground."
"And without the Order of Order, the village of Discrete Events would cease to exist."
"So why would anyone think these two noble, brave heroes are villains?"
"Um, well... they spend a lot of time inventing things that..."
"Make bold new strides in science?"
"But then they save the world from the danger," Lem explained.
"From the danger that they themselves create," Ted said.
Lem waited for the point.
Ted continued, "You know what, Lem? I'm just being crazy. This comic book is... fascinating. I hope you get many, many, fans."
Lem grinned. "Thanks, Ted." But as he walked away, he couldn't help thinking that maybe Ted didn't get his comic book either. He was starting to think that maybe he should give up on the whole idea.
Of course, a few days later, that plan didn't seem all that workable any more.
Phil had gone into Lem's carryall (even though there was a note that said 'Phil, don't go into my things!' right on the tag!). But there was some kind of unexpected reaction and Phil would have passed out if he didn't get to a gas mask right away, and in going through Lem's things, he of course found the comic book.
"You know, Phil, if you remembered to keep your gas mask in the same place every night like I do, you wouldn't have had to borrow mine."
"Lem! Am I growing tusks? If I am, tell me. But don't break them off! It'll hurt! I'll need drugs, lots and lots of drugs."
"Phil. No tusks, I promise."
"Oh. Whew. Hey! How could you create your own comic book and not even tell me? NOT COOL!"
"If you must know, I was feeling a bit unsure about the future of my comic book, and the last thing I needed was your nitpicking!"
Phil gasped. Lem rolled his eyes and waited for the outburst.
But Phil said, "How could you think I wouldn't be supportive of such a masterpiece?"
Lem hesitated, then said, "Really?"
Phil practically jumped as he said, "The pathos of the Order of Order, tragically ironic as he tries to build a true random number generator - so obviously a metaphor for his childhood! And the hilarious jokes about friction between cell walls! And the steamy erotica - I cannot believe time-travelling Isaac Newton was so randy!" Phil giggled and waggled an eyebrow suggestively.
Lem grinned. "You really thought that worked?"
"Worked? I was like, how could Lem keep this wonderful, wonderful, beautiful thing from me? It's like someone put your soul in a mass spectrometer and the results came out in a series of appropriately-sized speech bubbles."
Lem tried not to let his eyes water. He was so honored to have a friend - and a reader - like Phil.
Phil added, with a chuckle, "Of course, the part about the neutrinos was such heavyhanded satire. But you and subtlety don't exactly go in the same sentence where neutrinos are concerned."
"Oh you SEE! THIS! THIS is why I don't show you things, Phil. You don't understand me at all!"
AN: Written for a prompt on livejournal, Lem, science-y chaos