They'd rigged up some lights and lugged down some batteries to power them, but the resulting LED-white shine did little to illuminate the cavernous space. The lair they had found. Large parts of it were half-submerged. One room had contained hundreds of crates of puppets, little white things with green hair. They looked harmless until Julia realized that they each had a nozzle set into their grinning mouths leading to a hidden compartment, thankfully empty. The next room over, they'd barely cracked the door when they got hit by an eyewatering stench. They slammed it shut again and retreated to the relative sanity of the big cavern, eyes itching, retching, wheezing.
Percy, who had taken some chemistry back before school was closed, made them rinse their eyes with bottled water. They voted to call it a night, and having made sure the doors were locked, settled into their sleeping bags, keeping one of the lights on and aimed at the wall for some illumination.
An unknown amount of time later, a crash awoke Julia. She sat upright and immediately had the most peculiar sensation. It was as if the universe insisted that no, it wanted to stay aligned that way, and if she was going to mess things up by moving her head, it wasn't going to cooperate. Julia sat very still and opened her eyes. The light on the far wall pulsed. Her stomach clenched. Experimentally, she tried turning her head to the right, where the noise had come from. The universe rotated the other way. Her head wanted to float upwards. She was uncomfortably reminded of magnetic fields. Flux crossed with brain equals force?
Another crash, a bit further from the right yet. She girded herself and turned further, anticipating the unpleasant sensations. Laura had crawled out of her sleeping bag, to the edge of the raised platform where they'd bedded down, and was lying with her head over the side, retching. Julia considered going over to offer aid or comfort, and realized she was more likely to join Laura in the retching if she moved too much. Instead, she fumbled for the bottle of water next to her bag and made herself drink. Steady slow sips, letting her stomach deal with the water, absorb it, dilute whatever it was.
Eventually, she must have fallen asleep again. Next time she woke, the lights had been all turned on again and her watch told her it was now noon. Laura and Percy were sitting on a nearby chair, pale but alive.
"What was that stuff?", she croaked.
Percy opened his eyes and made an uncoordinated hand gesture. "Mustard gas? Some hallucinogenic? Not sure. Doesn't seem like his style, somehow."
"Guy who made the botman. Poison sounds too subtle for him. Bot likes punching things more."
Laura nodded her assent at this analysis.
"I think this place was built by one of his adversaries. The people he fought. Maybe he built the bot to fight them, too."
"If this is an example of the kind of thing he was up against, I can almost see his point." Percy said.
That earned him a glare from both of the others. The botmaker might have been very clever, but he certainly had never been reasonable.
They spent the rest of the day recuperating and cautiously exploring the bits of the lair they deemed safe. They found costumes and all kinds of gear and weaponry. In the evening, they reconvened in the cavern, sitting around the huge glass table on the central platform.
"So, it's simple. We kill the Botman. If he was built to hunt these adversaries, he's programmed to prioritize them. If we can make him think they're back, he'll go after them, and we can lure him, trap him and kill him."
Julia kept spinning on her chair and considered his idea. It was crazily dangerous, but if they succeeded: No more curfew, no more disappearances, no more being accosted by a seven foot tall killing machine, asked questions where the slightest wrong answer might see you killed or carried off. No more off-limits zones, constant road closures, screams in the night. Hell, she even missed school.
"Let's do it."