Back in the good old days . . . er, bad old days, running an evil empire was a lot simpler: it was a lot easier (and cheaper) to find a remote and forbidding location to put a fortress from which to launch one's diabolical schemes, minions were relatively cheap and generally pretty reliable, and one could count on being able to support a moderate-sized campaign of world-threatening efforts from the returns of a reasonable investment portfolio, especially if one timed stock trades to coincide with relevant threats against humankind.
Over the past few decades, the cost of effective villainy has skyrocketed, outpacing the Dow, the Consumer Price Index, and even health insurance. These days it's hard to find a secluded mountaintop or isolated island that hasn't already been covered with condos. All the really formidable-looking abandoned warehouses have been converted into high-priced lofts. And don't even think about finding a "fixer upper" castle for a reasonable price.
So what's an up-and-coming villain to do? For the well-heeled would-be-world-conqueror, there are still some abandoned missile bases available such as those from 20th Century Castles For those seeking more urban accommodations, there are plenty of aging strip malls headed for the chopping block that can be picked up at a reasonable price, and you can add on missile silos later as your fortunes permit.
Whether you're building your secret stronghold in a mountaintop castle or (shudder) a simple townhome, having to live within a budget doesn't mean having to live without style, but it does mean you'll need to exercise that much more imagination, resourcefulness, and creativity when decorating your fortress. Plan your decor with as much care as you'd put into a plan for unleashing deadly biological weapons on an unsuspecting public; begin by formulating a basic theme and style that expresses your own personal style of villainy and always remember these two fundamental principles:
No matter what happens or what you have to work with, make it look like it's that way for a reason.
The one thing any stronghold or fortress needs most is a sense of impenetrability.
If you can afford it, try to start with a basic structure that gives a sense of strength. It doesn't have to be something as elaborate as a castle; the walls of older, heavily-built warehouses and industrial facilities can exude almost as powerful a feeling of sturdiness, as can former prisons, mental institutions, and high schools.
Broken windows and decrepit construction may add to the atmosphere of your evil lab, but with the "atmosphere" there also comes the rest of the stuff that's in that atmosphere--bugs, rain, and, occasionally, neighborhood children.
The "open to the elements" style of evil laboratory went out with Baron von Frankenstein. Fortunately, with a few inexpensive touch-ups--like these stylish plastic wallcoverings from the Mothra Stewart "Lab Wrap" collection--even a poor-condition, hidden-in-a-long-abandoned-warehouse research lab can be updated to a more modern (and sanitary) look.
When it comes to decorating your lab, remember the adage that more is ... more. A busy, even cluttered, work environment gives victims and secret agents alike the impression that your fingers are into many fiendish plots.
Don't worry if some of your lair accessories aren't actually useful or relevant to your evil plots, or even if you don't know what they are. As long as they fit with the overall decor, they'll just add to the sense of complexity and mystery of your operation.
Studies have shown that most secret agents will flee as soon as a few large and imposing items in your fortress begin to emit sparks and smoke; add a convincing "it's about to blow up" warning siren, and over 90% of international counterintelligence agents will run out the nearest exit without ever checking to see whether any of the smoking equipment is part of the evil plot they were attempting to foil. Having a few idle or unnecessary high-tech items that appear prominently in your fortress decor provides an easy and convenient method of ridding your stronghold of secret agents who have overstayed their welcome.
Be sure to shop around and take advantage of sales and quantity discounts. Foreign arms dealers are often eager to get new clients and may offer attractive pricing structures and financing options.
If you're new to the villain trade, adding a few international arms deals to your resume' always looks good and helps build up your credit rating and credibility.
Don't forget to save the packing material. Not only will you need it in case you have to return some defective weapons for a refund, just having the extra armaments packing boxes around looks impressive; no one else will know if they aren't really full.
After you've settled on a basic style, picked out a few major decorating items, and selected the devices critical to your fiendish scheme, an inexpensive way to round out your fortress decor is by hitting a few computer and IT surplus sales.
A few years ago this kind of equipment would have cost tens--if not hundreds--of thousands of dollars, but if it's not state-of-the-art this week, you'll find everyone from going-out-of-business dot-coms to major defense contractors practically giving away their most imposing-looking equipment.
If you're lucky, some of your surplus computer and IT equipment will come with documentation. It probably won't be for the equipment you've bought, but it will be documentation. Read it anyway.
Why? Because more evil plots have been foiled as a direct result of villains foolishly disclosing the details of their plans to their enemies than all other reasons combined. Wading through a few manuals for high-end networking equipment won't stop you from blurting out the details of your plots, but if you can master their style, you'll never have to worry that anyone will understand those details well enough to thwart anything.
In this case, we picked up an ordinary DEC VAX 11/750 minicomputer, a Qualstar 9-track half-inch-tape drive, and a US Robotics analog modem bank. The total out-of-pocket cost was under $100, but you can see how it adds a high-tech flavor and much-needed blinking lights to an otherwise dark corner.
An IBM 3290 multisession flat-plasma display is just odd-looking enough to look higher-tech than it really is, yet obsolete enough to be free for the hauling. Combined with the VAX, the Pertec interface tape drive, the modem bank, and a phone-book-sized Bang & Olufsen remote control, it was possible to decorate a lab without ever having any two pieces of hardware that were compatible with each other.
This might not seem like a laudable goal, but it's a common side-effect of buying surplus computer equipment.
If you are going to include high-tech looking stereo or video equipment in your lair decor, be extra-careful to remove or obscure any logos of product names that could prove embarrassing if noticed during a critical moment of evil. No matter how cool the equipment looks, it's going to look unprofessional if it's labeled "Nintendo," "Sony," "Fisher," or--even worse--"Fisher-Price."
That caveat aside, no matter what it really is, if it looks high-tech, cool, and does not have a translucent fruit-colored case, by all means, sneak it into your decor. After all, if a Grass Valley Group television production switcher was good enough to be the planet-destroying laser control system in the Death Star, there's no reason you can't put some of your own audio and video accessories to bad use--and, when you're relaxing between schemes, you can still use them to change channels on the TV from the comfort of your evil lab.
Surprisingly, a cluttered-looking lair is easier to maintain. The stark, minimalist look in evil labs will only be taken seriously if it's also kept immaculately clean and polished--and who has time to keep their equipment dust-free, especially with the demands of coming up with world-threatening plots? With high-tech equipment in every corner, nobody will notice a few fingerprints or a little dust, and it'll maintain its intimidating quality even when you don't get around to dusting as often as you'd like to
Of course, you still have to provide the ominous, malevolent presense. No amount of decorating finess will make up for a lack of an overwhelming aura of evil. Make sure you stay in practice even in between evil plots by cruelly dispatching rival villains, feeding stray secret agents to sharks, or--if absolutely no more challenging victims are available--ordering in pizza and then refusing to pay the delivery person.
One caveat, however: avoid "Jacob's Ladders" and other electrical discharge devices; not only did they go out around the time that plumbing came in, they can wreak havoc with modern-day electronics.
Leave the spark gaps at the electronic surplus store, or you'll be risking a computer crash right when you're about to take command of a missile guidance system or having your radio jamming system start transmitting the chorus from Britney Spears' "Oops, I did it Again" when you'd meant to be broadcasting your demands to the President.
Often it's a good idea to put the equipment for the real control center in some innocuous room underneath your fortress; an unfinished storeroom can work well for this purpose.
One other helpful hint: hide a boom box outside behind a bush or other suitable spot and leave a tape of a sports car speeding away in it. Often, you just have to duck through a secret panel and then start the boom box outside to get gullible secret agents to run off on a wild goose chase, leaving you the time and privacy to get your work done.
Alternatively, your secret control equipment can simply be integrated into your decor. If you want to hide your supercomputer from prying eyes, don't put it behind locked glass doors or even throw a canvas tarp over it--just put a vase on top and nobody will look twice at it.
... but don't put any computers you actually intend to use next to your Apogee Divas, even if you think their respective lines would complement each other; with more than a hundred pounds of magnets in each speaker, the reliability of your data could be compromised, multiple redundant processors or not
Don't overlook the impression you create with your getaway vehicle either; successful villains don't drive station wagons or VW minibuses. Even if you can't afford to buy a sports car or stretch limo, you can still rent one for important occasions.
With a little thought and creativity, you can turn any structure into a professional-looking secret hideout. Remember, world conquest isn't just about having the right weaponry, it's about having the right attitude.