Raine followed as Plateau and the young woman who’d introduced herself as “Jess” carried their insensate black-clad comrade up the flight of stairs into the afternoon light that shone through the open door above. At the top, they laid the woman they carried down and leaned against the wall by the stairwell, breathing heavily.
Jess tugged at the edge of the splatter of white ceramic that had hardened around the left thigh of the lightweight body armor she wore and winced. “Guess I’ll leave that there,” she said. It was odd that her rescuers had all chosen such youthful bodies, but they likely had their reasons.
“Legion, report,” whispered Plateau to the air, and the quiet buzz of low-power radio transmissions tickled the back of her skull.
“I can’t touch my clone,” came the response, barely audible from the odd piece of circuitry dangling from Plateau’s ear. Cloning? Surely that technology wasn’t so widespread here. Perhaps it was code phrase of some kind.
“I’ll help. Give me a moment,” Plateau straightened and let out a slow breath.
“Let’s just leave it,” protested Legion.
Plateau continued up the stairs to the second floor.
“Whasshappen?” mumbled the woman in black, and then her eyes snapped open.
“Kismet, you’re awake!” Jess said.
“Samael- he got away? With Adam? Shit. A nightmare? And Dr. Destructo?” Kismet babbled, growing increasingly more worried as she spoke.
Is she watching a cached recording of her time unconscious? Raine wondered, and scanned her with Terahertz-waves. No obvious enhancements. So then how did-
“How do you do that?” asked Jess, echoing Raine’s thoughts.
“I ask the question, you answer it, and then I, you know, un-ask it. Saves a lot of time.” Kismet groaned as she pushed herself to her feet. She wavered for a moment then muttered, “Shit, I think I might have a concussion.”
She must, from how she’s talking.
“That’s not good,” said the smaller girl, a concerned expression on her face. “Lemme take a scan. Dr. Mind had something he wanted to test.” She reached into one of her many pockets and extracted a blocky piece of equipment that she pointed towards Kismet. Raine winced at the bright flash of terahertz-band electromagnetic radiation.
“Where did you get this technology?” Raine asked. “The outside world was supposed to have stagnated when the avatars started appearing.”
“Dr. Mind repurposed it from something he pulled out of the head of a Cherubim I killed. Avatars?”
“I think she means metahumans,” Kismet said. “Which is weird. There have been metahumans everywhere in the world for way longer than Metatron’s been around.”
Raine shook her head. “Not in Japan. Even before Metatron, we knew to quarantine them off. That’s one thing Metatron has done well.”
“Quarantine, why?” Jess said, horrified. A niggling started to grow in Raine’s gut.
“What, like it’s a disease or something?” Kismet said. “Like they sneeze on you and you get superpowers?”
Raine shook her head. Do they really not know? “No, of course not. It’s a mimetic hazard.”
The two girls looked at each other, confused, then back at Raine.
“A what?” kismet said.
“A mimetic hazard. Dangerous information,” Raine said, repeating what she knew of the topic. “When an avatar appears, people who witness it get influenced, corrupted. The media sensationalizes it, spreading it further. The only way to stop the spread is by controlling information-”
“That sounds like propagandastic bullshit,” Kismet said.
“Propagandastic?” Jess asked, corners of her lips quirking up.
“Shut up. Concussion girl can make up whatever words she damn well pleases.”
“The word is propagandistic,” Jess clarified. “Kismet’s right though. That just sounds like a way for Metatron to hide the fact that she’s a Nightmare-class metahuman.”
“And you’re sure that’s not propaganda?” Raine said, but her voice was full of doubt. Metatron? An Avatar? She was a tyrant and a warlord, but was it possible that she might also be the vessel of some eldritch power? It explained many things that had previously been left unexplained.
The sound of footsteps coming down the stairs behind them pulled her back into reality. She turned to see Plateau carrying an unconscious boy, followed by… another copy of the same boy.
Raine’s eyes widened as she came to a realization. “You’re-”
“Metahumans, yeah,” interrupted Kismet. “I see the future, but only a little bit. She’s a genius, he’s unkillable and he does fun stuff with walls.” She pointed to Jess, the new boy, and Plateau each in turn.
A bitter taste appeared in the back of her mouth as her additional adrenal glands started releasing stimulants. How had she been such a fool not to see it? Baseline, unaugmented people killing Cherubim?
“Woah, relax,” Kismet continued, “-and don’t do anything, you know, stupid.”
Raine realized that she had backed herself into a corner, back pressed into the wall next to the door. She eyed the door, gauging if she could get out of the building fast enough.
“We’re not gonna hurt you, we’re not gonna infect you or whatever, but we need you to help us find Adam and stop whatever it is Metatron is planning.”
“I-” Raine hesitated. They hadn’t acted threateningly towards her- and they had rescued her, even if that wasn’t the real reason they were here. “Okay,” she said tentatively. “I think I can help.”
A few minutes later, they were on the road.
“You said they went this way?” Plateau asked, pointing down the road through the van’s windshield. A solitary sedan drove past in the opposite direction, back towards Redlake.
“Yes. I can track the exhaust trail from their transport,” Raine said. ”
“It looks like they were going towards Mt. Gyre.” Plateau said. He peered into the distance to spot the mountain.
“Mt. Gyre? Isn’t that where Dr. Destructo’s compound was?” Jessica asked from the back. She shifted in her seat, uncomfortable beneath the weight of the fusion reactor in the backpack on her lap.
“It is,” Plateau confirmed with a nod. “Adam was created by Dr. Destructo- maybe they’re after some piece of DestrucTech, and they need him to get in.”
“I’d bet they already got in,” Kismet said from where she sat in the passenger seat of the van. They probably just stashed their plane there. I wouldn’t be surprised if Destructo had a hangar, and nobody’s likely to look there. Probably still trapped.”
“That explains the invisible helicopter!” Jessica realized. “They must have stolen it from Destructo’s lab, with whatever else Metatron used to make the Cherubim.”
“I got a glimpse of one of Metatron’s data caches, and there was a mention of something recovered from America,” Raine said. “It is possible that she repurposed technology taken from this Dr. Destructo.”
“Oh yeah, and you said something about someone named Eve earlier?” Plateau asked Raine without looking away from the road.
“The project that created the Cherubim was called ‘Lamia,’ and the one that created the Archangels was called ‘Khava.'” Raine said.
“Khava?” Kismet asked. She twisted around to look at the others in the back of the van.
“The hebrew name for Eve,” Raine explained.
“I’ve heard that before…” Kismet said, and tapped a finger on the arm of the seat as she tried to recall where. “Oh yeah, Adam mentioned her at some point. One of Destructo’s other experiments. Lilith, Adam, and Eve, the first three humans.”
“That’s quite the God complex,” Legion observed.
“Dude was a textbook megalomaniac,” Kismet said. “Anyway, I’d assumed she’d died or something, from the look on his face, but maybe Metatron got her.”
“That is likely,” said Raine. “I’d never made the connection between Project Khava and what I found in that data cache until now, but it makes sense.”
“Shit, Metatron with Dr. Destructo’s tech. That’s a scary thought,” Legion said.
“You’re just now catching up with the rest of us?” Kismet said in a dry voice.
“Hey, I’m still dealing with the fact that there are two of me now,” Legion said. “But an army of cyborgs armed with Disast-O-Beams? Spooky.”
“Woah, what’s that?” Kismet said, then turned to look out the front of the van again. “Look.” She pointed to a column of smoke rising from a field just off the road.
“Shit, I didn’t even notice that,” Plateau said, using a hand to screen the sun from his eyes.
“You would have,” she assured him.
The tires crunched on hard-packed earth as Plateau pulled the van to the side of the road.
“I’m going to check this out. It might be them,” he said.
“This is a much higher concentration of their fuel particles in the air here,” Raine said.
“Kismet, come with me. Legion, DD, stay here and watch the clone.” Plateau stopped the engine and pushed the driver-side door open.
“Aw maaan,” Legion griped, but Plateau was already out the door.
Kismet hopped out of the van behind Plateau and followed him down the slight incline to the edge of the field. The chaff left behind from the harvest crunched underfoot as they walked, sinking ankle-deep in discarded cornstalks. The pillar smell of smoke was strong in the air. A white propeller blade stood embedded in the ground a good distance away from the wreckage.
“Looks like their chopper went down,” Kismet said. The subvocalizer picked up her hushed tone and transmitted her voice to the others.
“Fuck yeah! Adam must have got ’em!” Legion replied.
“It doesn’t look like he’s here,” Plateau said as they drew closer. The cabin of the helicopter was largely intact, thanks to the gratuitous over-engineering of the cockpit, but the blades were shredded. Deep gouges had been torn into the ground before the blades splintered from the force. Some parts of the helicopter flickered in and out of visibility still as whatever powered it died.
“So he took brought down the helicopter and tried to run,” Kismet said, inspecting the wreckage. There was a sputter of flame as part of the cockpit fell open and oxygen poured in.
“But if he’d gotten away, he would have contacted us,” Plateau agreed.
“But now they’re on foot. We could catch up,” Kismet said. “Come on,”
She turned and raced back to the van, with Plateau jogging behind her.
“I can’t track them anymore,” Raine said.
“Doesn’t matter.” Plateau said. “They’re going to Mt. Gyre.”
“How do you know?” Jessica asked.
“The helicopter had the DestrucTech symbol on it,” Plateau said as he started the van. “Dr. Mind,” he said, pushing the button to transmit his voice back to the console.
“Yes?” Came Dr. Mind’s voice over the team’s earpieces. “Helping coordinate evacuation. Be quick.”
“We ran into one of Metatron’s agents working with Lilith. They got Adam and they’re taking him to Mt. Gyre. What can we expect?”
“Sending you the map we made. The null-field was removed, so you don’t have to worry about that, but be careful. Check corners before walking through them, doorknobs are electrified. Beyond that, we disabled most of the security systems.”
Plateau looked back at the others over his shoulder. “Let’s go get him.”