The exodus of villains had begun. In nearly the reverse order in which they’d arrived, the various members of the team Arachne had put together left the shelter of her fortress to carve out their own niches around the world. Each one carried a package designed by Golem and Arachne that would construct a similar facility to her own, custom designed to reflect their tastes.
The last leg of the plan was simple; create a “safe zone” out of the wreckage of the new world, allow people to move there for food and protection, and rule them with an iron fist. It was by far the simplest part of the plan; given the complete destruction of so much of the planet, and that the sea coasts of every continent were now dangerously unstable, people would be desperate for any semblance of safety.
They would provide it, at the cost of the people’s lives and loyalty.
Several months had passed since the assault began. Golem’s robot army had done a magnificent job in culling the survivors. There were losses as the armies encountered military and heroic resistance, but by and large there was little resistance. Normal people were no match for the robotic forces. People who had prepared for other apocalyptic scenarios, including those that had even prepared for an “unlikely” zombie apocalypse, were no match for the armed machine warriors.
Arachne was already working on lifting the veil of obscurity around her base. A protective shield of energy now radiated out from it, encompassing miles of forest, which remained pristine and lit as if it was a bright sunny day, despite the low hanging clouds roiling in the sky. Medea had done her job superbly, although the hypercane was now little more than a powerful rainstorm that was losing steam over Indonesia. Water and sand had been thrown high into the upper atmosphere, dropping the global temperature significantly. The predicted ozone damage came to pass, making the few patchy days of sun a significant cancer risk.
Of course, the energy field that would be projected by the citadels would block all of this. Inside, the world would be warm, comfortable, and safe. Arachne had included a feature in each “kit” that would allow her to not only watch the formation of the fortresses, but to monitor the others at a whim. She considered it a small payment for the unmitigated power she had given each member of the conspiracy.
Since Ratpack and Indigo Shift had never returned, she and Golem had divided their fortresses between the two of them. Golem was even now preparing to return to Eastern Europe to seize power over his homeland. Both would have the combined power and influence of two fortresses, with exponentially larger domes of protective, enslaving energy.
It was strange for the woman, who had had empathy carved out of her character as a child, but she felt a certain level of camaraderie with the small man in the large metal suit. He was cunning, calculating and completely heartless. between the two of them, there was a certain level of trust, because each respected the other enough to know that any animosity would lead to an untenable conflict that neither would truly win. Not that it mattered, however, because both would soon be on nearly opposite sides of the planet. She bade him goodbye as he boarded his stealth craft, then returned to her throne room to watch the unveiling of the first citadel.
Glass liked things clean, clear and crystalline, which made sense given her ability to become invisible. She had staked her claim in the blustery north of Canada. With the temperatures dropping worldwide, many people would migrate south, but many people would not have that option. They would become her flock.
In the middle of a wide valley, the mountains covered in pine trees and a small river running down the center, she placed the large, two cubic foot package from Arachne and Golem, tailored to her specific tastes. She placed it next to the river, then pushed the button as had been indicated and moved back.
It was silent for a moment, and Glass began to worry that maybe she’d misplaced her trust, and that she would wind up stranded in the Canadian wilderness to die of exposure. That fear disappeared when spidery leg-like appendages sprouted from the sides of the device. They did not lift it to begin walking, however, but buried themselves in the ground. There was a pulsing light that emanated from them, that became almost blinding within seconds.
Glass backed up and shielded her eyes. The glowing spread throughout the device until it was impossible to look at. She could feel the heat radiating from it, and noticed that the frost on the trees nearby was beginning to melt. A whirring sound started to drift from the machine, slowly deepening in pitch until it was a low thrumming. Below-ground, the “legs” were growing and spreading, stealing necessary elements from the ground and converting the more mundane ones into the necessary components to build the structure.
There was a bright flash, and when Glass looked again, the machine had made a three dimensional holographic blueprint of the fortress it was about to build. The wall was thirty feet tall, and appeared to cover a square mile. Inside were buildings that resembled a small medieval town, and in the center was a gigantic towering castle, its spires reaching hundreds of feet into the air, and its footprint taking up fully half of the land inside the wall.
Before her eyes, trillions of newborn nanobots built the castle out of shining crystal. Simpler looking buildings sprang up around her, until she found herself inside the ground floor of a two story inn. She stepped outside to see that in mere minutes, the entire town had almost materialized completely, with the castle coalescing seemingly out of thin air, which it was, on some level.
The nano scale robots were ripping carbon from the carbon dioxide in the air and converting it to diamond to build the structure. Meanwhile others were converting the other elements in the air into elements like copper and platinum, building into the structure metamaterials that would warp the light passing through the crystal towers. Looking at it from the outside, it appeared to have no interior. It looked as if it was carved from a single piece of pure diamond, as if it was some kind of monument or sculpture. However, the inside was palatial, with smoky quartz walls, lush carpets and beautiful tapestries that depicted the apocalyptic destruction of the world.
Glass wandered into her new home, marvelling at its magnificence. The outer walls were clear as glass from the inside, despite the fact that anyone standing just outside the same wall would only see the landscape behind the castle. Robotic servants already bustled through the structure, with a cadre of mechanical men armed with bows rushing out the front door. When Glass questioned one, it indicated they were leaving to hunt her majesty pheasant for her evening meal.
Glass, almost embarrassed with herself, pinched her arm. It hurt, and she smiled. Grand staircases made of rose quartz and amethyst lead to the higher levels, as did an elevator. Glass opted to use the elevator, which she took to the highest level of the highest tower, her new living quarters. The view was breathtaking; the tower was easily six hundred feet tall, and she could already see the protective energy shield coalescing , projected from the top of the spire. It reached out for miles in all directions, providing plenty of warm, habitable living space for her future subjects.
The air temperature was already reaching comfortable levels. The frost inside the shell was all but gone. A slight snow began from the roiling clouds above, but as the flakes entered the energy dome, they melted in the warmer air. Soon, there would be people tilling soil and growing food. Brewing beer and wine, as well she decided. The structure afforded her luxuries that even the pre-destruction world had been beyond her reach.
She settled onto the giant bed at the far end of the room and with a wave of her hand, a twenty foot section of wall became a television screen. Even then, the underground legs were setting up a network of fiber optic cables that would connect her to the other citadels and into the ruined structures of many of the “old world’s” buildings. within seconds, she was watching old cartoon reruns lifted from the destroyed hulk of some distant city.
Arachne blew out a low whistle. Despite being involved in the construction of the citadel building devices, she was still impressed with the outcome. She had acquired Indigo’s device, which she had modified some to her own tastes, and had also added some similar features to her own home, ensuring that when she started the construction. both of her fortresses would dwarf even the awe-inspiring crystal palace Glass’ had just built.
She watched as the others set about building their own structures in other parts of the world. Plague and Pestilence, always together, built a conjoined castle in middle Africa. Plague’s resembled a castle crafted out of viruses, while Pestilence’s similarly seemed to be built out of a series of structures shaped like ticks, spiders, flies and all other manner of vermin. The castle walls for each joined the others, and the lower structures seamlessly blended between the two.
Psimon had wandered into the shattered wasteland of Central America to start his kingdom. Built near the foothills of a mountain range, his castle was a single shining silver tower that was surrounded by various floating, orbiting balls of silver and glass. It looked like the creation of a mad science fiction writer.
Sponge had chosen the south of France. His castle was a collection of buildings that resembled a coral reef, with a large, anemone-like spire in the center. Booster had claimed central China, figuring there would be many more subjects there. His castle mimicked a futuristic urban sprawl. His primary citadel rose a staggering fifteen hundred feet into the sky.
Cyclone’s territory was to be Australia. Following an aesthetic she had long loved, her massive structure was made to resemble a city and castle built like log cabins. While everything had the appearance and texture of hundreds of types of wood, they were in reality shaped carbon, nearly as hard as the diamond in Glass’ castle.
Golem’s when finally built, resembled an old gothic castle, the kind one would expect to see on the cover of an old horror novel, except thanks to the inclusion of Ratpack’s, it was an enormous, sprawling structure. The castle itself, not counting the city that sprang up around it, was several square miles. Entire wings were constructed not out of stone, but of bones mined from the fields of dead located around the continent.
Finally, when all of the others had been completed, Arachne started the construction of her own. It formed two towers, nearly identical in appearance, half a mile apart from one another. They stood a thousand feet tall a piece, and had webbing made of a flexible diamond-like material strung between them. In the center was a giant spider shaped structure, her new home. The energy dome around her land grew, and was the largest of any of them, fully encompassing four hundred square miles of mountains and forest.
The structures were visible for miles, even those that were located in more remote locations, and survivors began to straggle in within the first few weeks. The robots armies that had so devastated the landscape for months converged on the cities to become their standing armies, the structures reprogramming them to enforce the edicts of the standing leader.
Golem stood on the parapets of his magnificent castle, watching as a small group of refugees were herded by robots to a nearby building. He’d never felt so content, or so powerful before. The robots were not rough with anyone, and had been stylistically modified so that they would not be recognized as the same machines that had just recently waged a war of genocide on the human race. This had been done at all of the new cities, with patrols of the “old” robots milling around to keep people fearful and supplicant.
It was quite possibly unnecessary since there was a population of roughly three billion zombies by now. People were terrified and ready to accept any protection they could get, no matter the cost. The alternative was to be hunted down and either eaten by former friends and countrymen, or murdered by roving packs of robot warriors.
He turned and strode into the interior of his palace, where his laboratory was located. He already had a new project in mind, one that would ensure the people saw him as the savior for a long, long time.
He’d named it Colossus and work had already begun on building it.
As weeks passed, desperate, terrified people flooded into the newly constructed “safe zones”. Most people were too scared and hungry to question just how these places came to be, and gladly accepted the draconian laws they were forced to obey for the warmth and safety they provided.
While many people, usually the larger more aggressive ones or those with technological or medical skills, served the new leaders directly, most people simply accepted their new lots as necessary to survival. They took jobs as farmers or soldiers simply to provide for themselves, and for the lucky few who’d survived as units, for their families.
Those trained as soldiers were taught how to shoot and fight with melee weapons, to defend the borders against hordes of undead and robots. Part of the training was indoctrination, brainwashing that instilled mindless loyalty in all but the most resilient people. They were taught the existence of the other kingdoms, and that all were beacons of light in a shattered world, that they were allies in a common struggle to survive.
No one knew that their “kind” new leaders were the ones who manufactured the end of the world. As months dragged on, the cities filled up, and the rule went from benevolent dictatorship to totalitarian regimes, as had been the plan all along. The people were united in common fear; that the outside world was a far more terrible place than the police state that they had entered.
Several of the new kings and queens had passing thoughts regarding the group known as the Murder Zoo. No devices had been constructed for them, partially because none of those now reigning relished the thought of living anywhere near that group of violent psychopaths.
The wandering robots had orders to kill any of the group were they to be found, but for the most part, it was unnecessary. In some cases, the wanton killing they had enjoyed had turned them into animals in mind as well as body. They lived to hunt and murder, so they would not have cared either way about the prospect of leading. They had entered into the agreement for the fun and chaos, not for any real gain.
Several had been killed in the natural disasters that had wracked the planet. Caught up in the hypercane, or smashed into buildings and crushed during the coastal flooding. Still, at least two had died after being devoured by zombies. Susan Donnelly had survived, however, and her mind was intact. Slinking around the coast of Australia, she had become aware of Cyclone’s new territory and had considered approaching her, but was at the moment unsure if she should. She knew her crew had been shock troops and nothing more, but she had hoped for a bit more out of life than simply scavenging the leftovers of a dead society.
She sat in a billabong just a few miles outside of Cyclone’s country, pondering her options.
Arachne stared at the land below her spider-shaped home with a growing sense of excitement. Already, survivors were swearing fealty to her and her new currently nameless nation. A variety of people, former soldiers, mercenaries, and bullies mostly, had signed up and been trained as soldiers, and were scouring the countryside for more citizens.
They would approach survivors with an offer of protection if they came to the city and swore allegiance. People who accepted were helpfully escorted back to the city, the soldiers even helping move their belongings for them. If they declined, they were bid good luck and a good day. And without fail, the decliners were visited that night by robot warriors or a pack of zombies that reconfirmed how dangerous it was to live outside the city limits.
The mutilated remains of every last group that had said “no” served as a warning to accept the offer. After the first few months, the population had grown past ten thousand, with a standing guard of five hundred soldiers. Among them were a few that had developing superpowers, people that would have been either villains or heroes in the former world. Arachne had long since discarded such labels and simply cared if they were loyal or not.
The people of her city looked at her with awe, as they should, she thought. Her height and remarkable appearance, along with her other-worldly home gave her the appearance of some new world goddess, a view she happily encouraged.
Vicissitude had gladly assumed the mantle of crown prince and set out to make their army exceptional. Those that opted for the elite crew were molded and crafted by the twisted man. Their muscles were grown and strengthened, turning them into bodybuilders to a one. He also grafted thin yet strong metal mesh unders the skin, significantly reducing their vulnerability to being shot and stabbed.
He also was able to use a specialized breed of horse he had created over the course of many years. Bred bigger, stronger and smarter than other breeds, and based on Belgian horses. They were implanted with nanobots that allowed them to be controlled with a high degree of accuracy, and not feel pain. They were stronger and faster than other breeds, with much higher endurance, and to make them more awe-inspiring, they had black hair and a horn growing from their forehead. And they were trained and programmed to use the horn as a weapon.
Fifty of the most elite soldiers were equipped with metal armor that resembled modernized black knight armor, assault rifles (similar to the large caliber weapons used by the robotic invasion warriors) and swords. They were impressive to watch in formation, and terrifying to watch in combat.
In the years to come, they would be feared by all who saw them approach.
Everyone was having great success, using their armies of robots and recruits to lead and subjugate all who lived within their borders, and to crush those who tried to live outside of them. All that is, except for Norman Parker. His coral reef kingdom suffered several early setbacks, including him being recognized by a group of former Italian criminals who he’d dealt with in the past and had cheated.
In the chaos that followed the apocalypse they had used their organizational and leadership skills to help swaths of people survive, turning over a new leaf and becoming saviors rather than murderers. They were not pleased to find him in charge of the sanctuary. The Mediterranean area had also been low on the robots that wound up making the bulk of the armies, most having been destroyed in fighting or moving to the east to answer Golem’s call.
This left him in a weakened position from which he was overthrown from around the same time the others were reaching their height of power. He kept several robots close and fled the city the night before a coup would have ousted and killed him. Where the others were experiencing the upper limits of their dreams, his collapsed around him. With no one to leech powers from, he had to rely on others to protect him, so he left in the night without any resistance.
The new government, lead by reformed mobsters, was democratically elected and for the people. many brilliant men and women who had called central and southern Europe their home set to work cutting the city free from the web that connected the others. The villains did not care enough to see if the city had been taken or if it had just fallen. The robots that remained were either destroyed or reprogrammed for the greater good.
Sponge considered asking Golem or one of the others for help, but thought better of it. He would likely wind up a slave or killed; his power existed to take not to give. The idea of stealing memories for a living did not appeal to him, it was an excruciating occupation he had hoped the change in power would have done away with. Now he was alone. He had only a few robots to protect him, which was more than many had. He hoped he could find a place where he could eke out an existence, maybe even act as a petty landlord. His future at that time looked bleak, while for the first time since the world had ended, and city full of hope emerged near the broken shores of the Mediterranean sea.