Bootfalls sounded in the dank, narrow corridors. There was no time to lose, but what remained of the team had to stop at a T junction. With so little recon, the original team had had to split at every junction, just to be sure that they'd find him, but it was too risky to split up just the three of them.
She gazed down one corridor, and then the other. Each appeared to be an exact mirror of the other. On a hunch, she fired a single shot down one corridor, hoping that he might have run out of space and had to resort to high-quality mirrors - though, in the dim light, maybe they didn't have to be that good. She tried again down the other.
"That won't do you any good," came a voice over the public announcement system. Such a system was entirely for their benefit, as the villain worked alone, with only the occasional robot to help him.
She engaged her radio. "Did anyone else hear that?"
There came no response.
"It seems that there's too much metalwork down here, though you may have suspected that when you lost contact with the ones on the outside. Of course, you could always double back if you wanted to talk face-to-face."
Fortunately, she'd brought the right man for the job. "Ears?" she asked. He signaled to move right, and off they went.
"I really wish that he'd talked before this. Three is not enough," complained Ears.
"Time matters more than quantity right now."
They almost passed him. He was operating a terminal on a platform just three steps above the floor of the hallway, in what was barely an alcove. Nevertheless, there was a safety railing along the non-stair parts of it.
She took aim with her rifle, and he turned around, propping himself against the railing with a straightened arm, the other arm on the bulb of a raised lever. He looked at her, smiling his wicked smile.
"Weren't you told to try to take me alive, anyway?"
"I might not be able to risk it, now."
"Well, you certainly can't risk shooting in this position. For all that you know, this lever is the final trigger that will launch the missiles."
"Can I risk not shooting you? You could just pull that lever, anyway, and maybe you're not ready."
"Do you want to know why they sent you in?"
"They sent us in to stop you. You're trying to destroy the world."
"In a manner of speaking, I am, but it's far more poetical than that. Wouldn't a nuke have done the job? Destroy me, the island, the silos, just to be safe."
"Maybe they've got some ulterior motive, plan to use your genius to make a new weapon or something. Whatever it is, it can't rank much higher than 'destroy the world' on my list of things to avoid."
"What, do you honestly think that I'm going to just blow it up? They know that, whatever I've got planned, it's extraordinary. They probably want to make sure that I don't have some kind of fail-safe stashed somewhere, maybe destroy just a city if I don't get the whole world. They're probably scouring the big ones, now, since they may have deduced that I was brewing up neurotoxins. Maybe they'll hope to get a cure out of my research. Then again, maybe they just assumed that I'd fire even a partial arsenal if anything entered my airspace, which is why they didn't use a missile, didn't fly a bomb in, and shipped you folks in by boat. Maybe they just know that I'm a complete and utter wildcard."
"So, they sent us in because only someone insane would be better taken by armed men and women than by a giant atomic fireball? Well, we seem to be doing OK so far."
"True, but it's only a folly. So, would you like to hear my big plan?"
Ears piped in, quietly. "Sir, there's something wrong...."
"I know, but I'll listen, anyway. Go on, tell us your big, evil plan."
"It's so simple, really, though the neurochemistry was really hard, so I guess not. I've got enough aerosol to be able to deliver the toxins globally. They'll affect everyone via the air, though, as an added bonus, it will get into the water supply, too. Of course, by 'everyone', I mean all the females. It doesn't actually affect males."
"So, you'll wipe out the human population by targeting the females? That's not exactly original."
"It wouldn't be if I were killing them. Instead, I'm turning them into lesbians."
"What, is this some erotic fantasy of yours?"
"Soldiers never could appreciate true genius. Think about it for a while. No woman will consent to heterosexual sex without some sort of coercion. If humanity sticks to its ethics, then sure, it's a simple case of slow die-off, but how likely is that? If you're lucky, then they'll turn a small segment of the female population into breeding stock, with a simple eugenics program. And that's the good outcome."
She was silent for only a moment as she devised a solution. She aimed downward. "Tell me where the cure is, or I put a bullet in your left knee."
"There are three mistakes running through your head right now. The first is that you've assumed that I've made either an antidote or a vaccine, or at least come up with a formula for them. I haven't. I think that your friend has figured out the second one." He never took his eyes off of her.
"He's not here," said Ears. "It's just a robot, or some kind of animatron."
At that, a shotgun went off, removing at the elbow the arm that held the lever. "Good," said her other subordinate, "He won't bleed out."
"It's such a pity, too," came the voice of their enemy. "I spent so much on these speakers. They cost half as much as the face. I didn't even have the budget for the hand skin - hence the gloves. But you're right, I'm not even on the island."
Ears piped in. "So, is that where we are, then? He's hidden safe somewhere, and we have the base?"
"For someone who hears so well, you sure don't listen. I already told you that it was a folly, but you paid me no heed, perhaps because you thought that I meant your efforts."
It dawned on her too late. "He meant his base! The whole thing's a fake."
The lever on the wall lowered itself, and klaxons sounded throughout the facility. "And the world shall know terror," said the monster through the machine.