Tires crunched on the gravel of the small parking lot that serviced the mountain’s remaining hiking trails as the van pulled up to the foot of the mountain. The engine sputtered to a halt as Plateau parked and removed the key.
“The map Dr. Mind sent us shows an entrance near here,” Plateau announced to the others.
The group exited the van and followed him down one of the trails branching off from the parking lot. He walked with his phone held in front of him, following its directions to the nearest entrance to the underground compound.
“Here,” Plateau said as they approached a divot in the rocks. A metal hatch recessed into the stone stood open, revealing a ladder that plunged into the darkness below.
“Let me,” Kismet said, putting out a hand to stop Plateau when he stepped towards it. He nodded and allowed her to climb down the ladder.
“Damn, it’s dark,” Kismet called up. “Anybody bring a flashlight?”
“I got one,” Jessica replied, and turned to rifle through her pack. “Here,” she said as she produced a red plastic flashlight. She clicked on and dropped down the shaft.
“Ow!” Kismet said when the flashlight bounced off the top of her head. She caught it before it hit the ground and pointed it up the hole. “Not helping the concussion, you know.”
“Sorry,” Jessica said, her face red with embarrassment.
Kismet shone the the flashlight into the tunnel while the others climbed down to join her.
Plateau looked down at his phone for directions once the group had assembled in the tunnel. “The hangar’s this way,” he said. He looked up from the phone and pointed down the tunnel. The others turned as a group to follow him, except Raine. She stood, staring down the tunnel in the opposite direction.
“No,” she said. “They’re this way.”
Plateau stopped and looked back at her. “What? How do you know?” he asked.
“Heat,” Raine said. “There’s no power down here, but there’s heat coming from that direction. There are people that way.”
“Split up?” Legion asked. “If we-”
“No,” Plateau interrupted. “Listen.” He held up a hand and the group fell silent.
A faint echo reverberated down the hall towards the direction Raine faced, away from the hangar.
“Oh shit, you’re right,” Legion said. With an unspoken agreement, they all broke into a run.
Raine took the lead, following the faint sounds that echoed through the halls. The tunnels twisted and turned past countless labs and storage rooms.
“How big is this place?” Legion asked between breaths as he ran.
“Big,” Plateau replied.
Raine skidded to a halt in front of a set of sliding doors that had a thin sliver of light shining through the small gap between them as the others jogged up behind her. Raine pushed her fingers into the crack between the doors and pulled them apart. A gaunt, pale figure with a thick cable trailing from the base of its spine to a bank of computers nearby stood in front of the doorway, its head encased in a blank metal shell.
“Seraphim! Don’t look at it!” Raine shouted.
The featureless mask that covered the emaciated Seraph’s face split vertically down the center and light spilled out, casting harsh shadows across the room and into the hall. Black splotches appeared in Raine’s vision where the light touched her retinas. She dived towards the nearest shadow, cast by a laboratory table that stood between the Seraphim and the wall. In the doorway, Plateau thrusted his arms upwards to create a wall between the rest of the group and the Seraphim, but nothing happened. In seconds, they were all frozen in place, held still by their own rebelling muscles. Raine crouched behind the counter and blinked the spots out of her eyes, not daring to peek around the edge and risk being frozen by the Seraphim.
“‘Excellent. Everyone’s here,'” Metatron said in a dull monotone. From her voice, Raine could create a general map of the area. Metatron sat on the floor behind the Seraphim between a pair of cylindrical metal shapes she couldn’t identify just from sound, facing into the wall. “‘A pity Mind will be unable to witness this himself, but I suppose his apprentice will have to do.'”
“Dr. Mind? Why him?” Adam asked. His voice came from inside one of the metal columns affixed to the wall, his voice muffled as though speaking through glass.
“‘All will become clear in due time,’” Metatron said, her voice still lacking inflection.
She stood and walked to the second of the three columns, opened a door on it, and climbed inside. Raine listened for the click of the door shutting and risked a glance around the far corner of her hiding place. A third column stood beside the two containing Adam and Metatron, this one lacking the window that the others had. The green-haired woman, Lilith, stood next to the third column.
Lilith narrowed her eyes at the huge red lever on the wall next to her. “You know, this could literally have been a fucking lightswitch,” she muttered, and threw the lever.
The lighting dimmed and a harsh digital buzz filled the room. Adam and Metatron spasmed behind the glass. Raine rolled out from behind the counter, eyes squeezed shut to avoid seeing the Seraphim. Once she was sure she was out of the cone of light shining from the Seraphim’s face, she sprung to her feet and rushed towards Lilith. Lilith dodged to the side and caught Raine’s arm, swinging her away from the columns.
“I can’t let you stop this,” she said.
“I don’t know what Metatron’s planning, but it ends here,” Raine replied.
“I’m sorry, but I really don’t have time to explain,” Lilith said.
<<Security breached. Attempting-
Raine could feel her implants betray her, the synthetic muscle cords that ran through her own resisting her every motion. She screamed through clenched teeth at her powerlessness. It was too late. The third enclosure hissed open and a man stepped out. Though far younger than anyone present had ever seen him, his tall forehead and angular features were unmistakable. He breathed deeply through his nose before he spoke.
“And lo, I am risen again,” said Dr. Destructo. He reached inside the pod and pulled out a lightweight white robe which he shrugged on. He spoke to Lilith. “I’m quite proud of the you, you know. I’m sure bringing the two together again was no mean feat, though I must say my youngest also did quite well in my absence. I was worried the technology I needed to restore myself would be beyond the efforts of merely half of my ego.”
“Son of a bitch,” Jessica said. “Those weren’t research files, they were a backup of your memories!”
“Ah yes, our guests. Destruct-O-Bots, no, Cherubim, dispose of this trash,” Dr. Destructo said, gesturing to the assembled heroes before turning his back to them to inspect the Seraphim from behind. “I have to confess, I love the new naming system I came up with while I was dead. Remind me to design some Hashmallim to continue the theme.”
Behind him, Lilith pressed a button that released Adam and Metatron from their respective confinement. Adam fell to his knees as the straps released, but Metatron stayed upright inside the pod, eyes dull. A pair of Cherubim approached the heroes from the hall behind, then stopped.
Dr. Destructo continued to speak, seeming not to notice the Cherubim’s inaction. “My army’s on the way, so I may as well begin preparations for after. Eve, you may continue to administer Japan. In fact, you can have the rest of Asia, and Australia too. Adam, perhaps I will give you the Americas. Lilith, you may have Europe. And Africa as well, while I’m at it. That seems fair.”
“Sorry, Dad,” Lilith said. “That’s not gonna happen.”
Dr. Destructo set down his tools and looked up, though not directly at Lilith. “I suppose that’s true. The weather there is less pleasant. I will also give you Oceania. Spice islands and the like.”
“No, Dad. You’re not gonna be in a position to give anyone anything. Now that I’ve got you out of those two’s heads, I’m gonna put you in the ground for good.”
“What a disappointment.” Dr. Destructo moved to look at her, but the Seraphim pivoted, casting its light on Destructo. His eyes went wide and his pupils shrank to tiny pinpricks as he froze in place. His breathing sped up and beads of sweat appeared on his forehead. “You think I didn’t plan for this?” he hissed through clenched teeth. “Rhamael, deal with her.”
While movement was still returning to the others, Raine burst into motion. She flipped one of the metal spars from the floor into her hand and dived towards Lilith. Lilith shifted her focus to Raine, trying to override the signals from Destructo’s own implants, but in the process Dr. Destructo regained control of the Seraphim, and it turned to face the heroes again. The Cherubim that had been menacing the frozen heroes began advancing towards Lilith.
“I suspected you might be able to command the lesser creatures,” Dr. Destructo said as he straightened his back. “But I created you. I know what you are and are not capable of. I am in control.”
Lilith tried to split her focus and stop the Cherubim as well, and they stuttered, their motions briefly becoming jerky and awkward, but Raine found herself able to move for a split second, and her arm jerked the metal spar forward of its own accord. The throw was awkward, though, and the rod only clipped Lilith. It was enough to disrupt her concentration, and the Cherubim converged on her with pounding feet. She cried out as they grabbed her and pinned her to the wall, huge white hands painfully tight around her arms.
Adam’s head snapped up at the sound and he lunged towards Dr. Destructo’s back. Destructo was ready. He reached behind him with impossible speed and caught Adam by the wrists. He slammed Adam down on the lab counter and scowled.
“Now you betray me too?” he said. “I would feel compelled to quote Cesar, but I have no intention of suffering his fate.” He spoke in a calm, level voice.
A powerful smell of ozone filled the room, like the wind after a storm, and Adam’s back arched as a massive surge of electricity poured through his body from Dr. Destructo’s palm into the metal counter beneath him.
“Did you ever wonder why I gave you this particular weakness?” he said. “This is why.” He picked up another of the metal rods that littered the floor and drove it through Adam’s eye and into the counter below.
“No!” screamed Lilith. She struggled against the Cherubim to no avail.
“Now-” he said, straightening up to face the heroes, who stood, horrified but unable to act, then stopped. He looked down to see a red stain blooming on the breast of his white robe. He touched his chest to find the end of one of the same metal rods protruding from his rib cage. “No,” he said, voice still calm. He turned to see Metatron standing behind him, her irises aglow with white light.
“You don’t control me any more,” she said. Her voice cracked with anger as she spoke.
“Evidently not,” he said, his voice made rough by the metal rod through his lung. “I have no more use for you.” Sparks arced from him to nearby metal with sharp snaps as he built up charge and a faint purple glow outlined his body.
In desperation, Lilith put everything she had into disrupting Destructo’s control of Raine. “Help me fight him,” she hissed.
The other woman jerked like a puppet under the pulled by two sets of strings, but with Lilith disrupting Dr. Destructo’s commands, she was able to wrap her hand around a tall glass beaker and hurl it in his direction.
The glass shattered against his back and he turned towards her, distracted for a split second. Just enough time for Metatron to reach up and grab onto the metal shaft that still protruded from his back. All the charge he had built up poured out through the metal rod and into Metatron in one burst of energy. She screamed as the electricity coursed through her, but she still held on, and with the last of her energy, she tore the now red-hot metal out of his back.
Dr. Destructo gasped for breath, struggling to suck air into his punctured lungs, then collapsed to the floor and was still.