Ultimate Shadow Cabinet #02
Everything was going to happen just as Dharma had foreseen it.
Unless, of course, something changed what he had already seen.
Kahina Eskandari was standing at the edge of the subway platform when the blare of the incoming train filled the tunnel. Her eyes were closed, framed by her short crop of black wavy curls, as if in deep meditation. She knew her part in the mission. Someone had to place himself in a position of visible danger. A lure, so to speak, for their target to focus on while the others converged towards him unnoticed.
The heavy brown coat she wore over her black dress pants and suit gave her an almost militaristic vibe. Taking a step closer to the edge, she played the role of an unattentive business woman too focused on her own cellular phone conversation to notice the incoming train.
Some of those present began to notice Kahina, whom the Shadow Cabinet referred to with the codename Iron Butterfly, was in danger of being struck by the incoming train. The driver himself noticed she was too close to the edge and blared the horn once. Twice. And still she seemed to fail to notice.
The clock above the waiting area became a countdown to an accident. Its red digits showing the number seven. Then six. An eventual count til the red of the numbers would barely compare to the red of blood splattered all over the tracks.
Lee Tien Chao blinked a few times and wondered if anyone was actually going to help the dark-skinned woman who was far too close to the tracks. Feeling his orange jacket flutter against the growing wind that signaled the rapid approach of the train, he brought one hand up to comb back his black messy hair that threatened to slash on his eyes.
He did not notice just beside him, an old woman who shared his thoughts found herself being told to remain quiet by a very muscular woman. The blonde merely brought one finger to her lips to sign the old woman to remain mum, then flexed an arm muscle to pop her costume as an implied threat. Donner knew her threat was a hollow one. But though she did not like intimidating kind old Asian ladies, she knew any interference would disrupt their carefully coordinated plan.
The clock above read 5.
Lee Tien Chao turned to his left side and whispered to the gangly man with deadlocks, “Someone has to help…” but the man simply shrugged and crossed his arms over his orange vest. Lee Tien Chao scowled at the foreigner’s insensitivity and remembered how his mother always reminded him that in this world change only came when someone was willing to start it.
Ramon Rand stood closest to the target and quietly considered what animal forms he could combined to maximize capture of the Asian. From the briefing earlier Ramon Rand, who was codenamed Sideshow, gathered that the man was genetically and biokinetically manipulated to become one of Hong Kong’s secret Super Soldiers. Perhaps they wanted to have someone they could rely on to go head to head with someone like America’s Justice Society. Supposedly, all save this target had died through the years. And Dharma believed that if this man was not eliminated, he would pose a far greater threat.
Though most would have seen the pressing importance of need to far out-weigh personal principles, Ramon Rand was not one of them. He did not want to be part of this mission. But he could not abandon his friends.
He remembered the mythological Sphinx and wondered if it would know the answer to his dilemma.
The clock above read 4.
Blitzen shifted her dark bangs away from her face and caught sight of a security officer bringing his whistle to his lips. The man had seen Iron Butterfly and sought to warn her directly to stand aside. There was no way that Iron Butterfly’s cover as an unsuspecting victim of a soon-to-come accident would stand if the guard was able to warn her. And so, Blitzen moved.
She reached the guard even before the guard could bring the whistle up past his elbow level. She gingerly took the whistle from his fingers and tucked it into the same pocket where he reached for it. Then, after giving the guard a quick kiss on the cheek, she zipped back into her position in front of the target, ready to stand with Isadora Wellington-Smythe, code named Iota for her scientifically induced ability to shrink objects, in his way. Having traveled between the moments of an eyeblink, Blitzen was certain no one had noticed her move.
The clock read 3.
The security officer realized he did not draw his whistle the same moment Lee Tien Chao decided to take action. Shoving forwards, he extended his arm past the two women in front of him and tried to reach for Iron Butterfly. So convince was he that she sought to kill herself that he knew if she succeeded, he would never be able to forgive himself. Blitzen turned to face him, feigning irritation. She tugged on her business suit’s collar in a show of disinterest and turned away.
Lee Tien Chao glanced to the side and saw the train already in view. It was barely a second away from striking Iron Butterfly whom he thought was some orginal friend of my parents.
His eyes scanned above and saw the digital clock click 2.
“STOP!” he screamed and somewhere within him a long dormant energy propelled itself out from his hands. Like a swirling whirlpool of incandescent energy that danced with the ripples of an invisible pond, the members of the Shadow Cabinet directly in his vicinity were quickly placed in danger. Iota vanished, allowing her powers to affect self and admitting at this point in time her powers were more suited to leave as a legacy than to use in conversation.
Blitzen was out of the danger zone in an eyeblink, and noticed far before their target himself did that the swirls were seemingly more dangerous than a typical life based show.
Ramon Rand prepared to leap out of the way just as Donner ignored the lightshow and grabbed hold of the old woman whom Donner had whispered to remain silent. At this point, however, he screamed.
Ramon Rand noticed how Iron Butterfly did no such attempt to avoid the incoming assault. He shook his head and launched himself into the air, transforming into a great winged beast with a lion’s face upon it and an eighteen foot wingspan. He saw how the threads struck the cement on the ground and tore through them with the least of resistance. He knew that Iron Butterfly’s armored cocoon was not bound to save her!
“Kahina!” Sideshow screamed as he landed just beside Kahina as the threads ripped through her brown coat and pants. Acting instinctively, Kahina permitted her armor to wrap around her very quickly, providing a shield against the attack.
”Don’t!” Sideshow landed beside him and grabbed his hand, “Go limp. I’ll pull you away!”
“This is not in the pl-“
“Just do it, Butterfly!” Rand screamed nearby.
The ribbons and golden lines cut through where Kahina earlier stood and tore through the ground like it was butter against a hot knife. As Kahina was lifted off the ground and pulled away from the attack, Sideshow gave Lee Tien Chao a wary glance.
But the man did not seem to know what was going on.
* * *
Written by Tobie Abad
* * *
Mechanic heard the radio come to life much earlier than expected. He stared in disbelief as the speakers emitted the strained voice of Donner. It was the first time Mechanic ever heard her sounding as panicked.
“Shadowslide! For six!”
Mechanic stared at the radio for a moment, feeling a tad confused. He recalled only five members of the team were sent out. He grabbed hold of the roster a second time and looked if his notes matched his memory.
The old man shook his head and reached for the panel, ready to activate the Shadow Cabinet’s Shadowslide, a teleportation device that only works when the targets to be teleported are in complete darkness, when a hand came upon his own to stop him. Mechanic looked up and stared in shock. It was Dharma.
“Send the four back in,” he told Mechanic, “I want a complete update on the mission. Be wary of Sideshow’s temperament. He is still emotionally distraught over Iron Butterfly’s-”
“Mechanic! Now!” Iron Butterfly’s voice screamed through the radio.
Dharma turned to face the speakers in shock. Mechanic took the opportunity and activated the teleporter. The darkness immediately became alive with voices. Dharma turned to Mechanic with anger in his eyes. But the anger did not compare to the intensity of anger contained in Iron Butterfly’s voice.
“Dharma! We have to talk!”
A steel tentacle-like arm outstretched and grabbed hold of Dharma from the shadows. Before he could do anything, Dharma found himself slamming against the nearby wall and getting pinned against the metal and stone. Iron Butterfly came into view, wrapped in an armor built with the power of her own metahuman abilities. The steel tentacle-like arms were extended from her shoulders like featherless wings of a metal angel of death. The second tentacle menacingly aimed itself before Dharma’s right eye.
“She nearly died, Dharma,” Sideshow snarled, emerging from the shadows in the from of a snarling wolf that had the magnificent wings of an eagle and the sharp spines of a porcupine. “You always could see into the future. And yet you didn’t warn us?”
“Why didn’t you warn us?” Donner angrily asked as she too emerged from the shadows. “Why did your mission specifically require Kahina to stand there?”
Dharma craned his neck to look at the other side of the room. Mechanic was taking a few steps back towards the door leading out. He shook his head and raised both hands as if in surrender.
“We want answers, Dharma,” Blitzen hissed into Dharma’s ear and was gone before he could even shift his eyes to look her way.
“So talk,” Iron Butterfly made clear their demand and stabbed the tentacle into Dharma’s other shoulder. Dharma groaned in pain and clenched his teeth tightly in an attempt to stifle the pain. Iron Butterfly grabbed hold of his chin and forced him to look at her, eye to eye. “You wanted me dead. Why?”
Dharma remained silent.
“WHY!” Iron Butterfly snarled and twisted the tentacles just enough to cause even more pain to sear through Dharma’s body. She tore the tentacles out of the wall without releasing Dharma from her hold then lifted him up with the full weight of his body on the wounds she gave him. Iota stepped into view, carrying the limp body of the Asian man the team was to terminate in Hong Kong.
“Because there will come a time,” Dharma finally spoke, unable to ignore the pain any more, “When you will lead the Shadow Cabinet to destruction. You are a stong leader, Iron Butterfly. And a powerful metahuman among those in the team. But your political views and personal agendas will one day cause the Cabinet to self destruct. This mission had a 55% probability of leading to your death, a probability that could have been completely avoided if I opted to remove you from it. But I had to allow the chance to be tested. I had to see if your team has finally learned to work efficiently enough to change the very probabilities I perceive with my own metahuman ability to peer into the future. If not, then the team would remain still wholly dependent on you. And the future of the Iron Butterfly destroying the Shadow Cabinet would have been absolutely assured.” Dharma closed his eyes, ready to receive any killing blow.
“A test,” Sideshow hissed, “The mission was a test?”
“No,” Dharma admitted, “But it served as one as well.”
From the doorway where Mechanic had taken to leave, Plus slid into the room. Raising both hands to show her submission to the group, she called out with a firm yet non-aggressive voice, “Iron Butterfly.. please… let my brother go.”
“Kahina,” Donner called out, “Let him go.”
“Boss,” Sideshow spoke up, “Maybe we should…”
“Quiet,” Iron Butterfly leaned closer to Dharma and brought him so close their lips were nearly kissing. Everyone else fell silent in the room. Even Blitzen, who was fast enough to avert any killing blow if she so desired to do so, knew it was best not to interfere that moment.
“Dharma,” Iron Butterfly whispered to the man who nearly got her killed, “Lee Tien Chao killed himself upon realizing the full extent of the powers within him that were beyond his control. Sideshow saved me when his animal instincts for danger warned me in time that my own powers would not be enough to stop the target’s assault. The mission is successful. Lee Tien Chao is dead.”
She allowed the tentacles to withdraw, dropping Dharma to the ground. Blood immediately sprayed from his wounds, like red fountains suddenly switched on in the evening darkness. Plus reached out with her telekinetic ability and applied pressure on the wounds, stopping the spray of blood.
“I will not forget this,” Iron Butterfly told Dharma and allowed her armor to unravel. The armor impossibly shrunk into an iron chain necklace which was wrapped around Kahina’s neck. “But dare to test us again… dare to trust your vision more than us again and I promise you… you’re vision of me destroying YOUR Shadow Cabinet will come to pass. For it will be the day I will create my own Shadow Cabinet.”
* * *
Dharma was smiling. The team had left hours ago. Mechanic himself ran after them, apologizing for having trusted Dharma more than them. Plus herself flew after Iron Butterfly and apologized on her brother’s behalf.
But Dharma remained content.
His curse to see the future was truly a curse. It was, after all, beyond his control and desire to see what he saw. But to be aware now that the Shadow Cabinet he had created had the power to go against the dictates of destiny and fate gave him a hope he did not dare admit.
For something has been haunting Dharma the past few nights. Something has been plaguing the leader of the Shadow Cabinet in a manner which he had never experienced before. For Dharma has learned that there is a specific date and year which has become a date and year to torture him and worry him for the few months and years that remain until it happens.
And that is a date for Dharma which beyond, shows no future or destiny left to occur.
End of Issue #02
Ultimate DC Universe
Andre Mischa Cleofe
Cathy delos Santos