Tangled Webs

Crashing Down

Chapter Three - Going Back

"This is ridiculous."

Agent Hazelhead shrugged. "It's in the rules."

Tango resisted the urge to scream. "What rules? You don't even have a proper prison, you're sticking me in a broom closet!"

Hazelhead's teeth ground together. "There are only a few crimes which warrant imprisonment. Things like letting Daleks or the Borg know of the existence of the Multiverse. Or endangering the PPC at large. Most Agents wouldn't do those things anyway, so we don't need a prison."

"But you're still sticking me in one. Don't I get to appeal or something?"

Hazelhead shrugged. "Depends on whether the Tiger Lily decides to class you as an Agent or not. Agents get an interview by, well, I guess it'd be the Board of Flowers for this case."

Tango blinked. "The Board of...?"

The DIA Agent rolled his eyes. "Old folks," he muttered. Tango bristled, but he went on. "Board of Flowers, nine Department Heads who collectively run the PPC. The Tiger Lily's one, the Sunflower Official I suppose you've heard of him? is another..."

"Oh. Like the mysterious somebody way back." Tango shook her head. "Not relevant. When do I get to see them?"

"I told you, it depends. For now, you stay in your cell and take your few remaining rights seriously."

"But it's ridiculous," Tango insisted, back on-topic. "Everyone I know is bound to be dead by now. And you've as much as said they're not going to be able to do anything regardless."

Hazelhead shrugged. "It doesn't matter; it's in the rules. All prisoners, regardless of accusations against them, are to receive one, bracket 1 close bracket, telephone call or equivalent to a person of their choice, said call not to exceed five minutes in length, semicolon, this right does not repeat not include the right to privacy, to-"

"All right, all right." Tango closed her eyes for a moment. "Right. Blue Photon."

~

Blue had sobbed himself out, and was on his knees before the Monolith, head bowed, when he felt a whisper of motion against the back of his neck. Instincts honed by seven years on the run five of them almost entirely insane kicked in, and he span around, lashing out with his foot. There was nothing there. His spin continued, out of control, bringing him down again in a small crumpled heap. From within the tangle of arms and legs his voice came: "Ow."

There was another whisper of air, sustained now, and a voice seemed to be entwined in it, soft as a thought. "I didn't mean to startle you..."

Blue froze. "... I'm hearing things again."

"Not quite," the voice said, still quiet, but growing stronger. "Except literally."

"I must be," Blue mumbled. "You can't be there. You can't be... you're dead."

"Do you remember your home?" the voice said, seeming to float around him. "Sitting in front of the fire as a small boy, wrapped in your favourite blanket, listening to your mother tell the tale of Tristan and Isolde? Of how, at the last, their love transcended the bonds of death itself?"

"I remember," Blue whispered, raising his head at last and looking at the figure before him, dimly glowing in the dark cavern.

"It's not just a story," Imbolc Telyan told him sadly.

~

"Hey, Nen!"

Nendil nodded in response to Ontic's cheerful wave. "Ontic. Is he in there?"

"Where else would he be?" Ontic retorted, jumping down from her perch on the wagon that had previously carried the Cats' portal generator. "Come on, it's this way."

"What, she thinks you don't know?" Flickerbright muttered. Nendil hushed her and followed the human woman into the Bracket Fungus' tent.

Portal generators required fairly exotic equipment, and the Black Cats had only managed to build two. One of those along with the three they'd originally stolen from the PPC had been destroyed by Mkellin's rogues some time ago, so until a new one could be constructed, the Bracket Fungus kept the last one very much in his sight. Ah, Nendil, he said from his desk, have you completed your checks?

Nendil grimaced. "I've not gotten to Parma and Calma yet, sir," he said apologetically. "Something more urgent came up."

More urgent than our final victory over the PPC? the BF asked curiously. This should be interesting.

"Not exactly," Nendil said. "It's more a danger to that. I have reason to believe someone is stealing portal technology from us."

The Fungus shifted, startled. The rogues?

"Not them. They have PPC-linked Remote Activators, what would they need with ours? No, we're looking for someone we've not seen before... a new factor."

Dangerous. Very dangerous. If whoever it is should take word to the Protectors...

"My thoughts exactly. With that in mind... I think we should push the attack forward."

"What?!" Flicks exclaimed. "We're not ready!"

Nendil looked at her. "You said you were."

"Not me," the fairy said irritably. "Twp. He's having some trouble with Parma."

He'll have to deal with it, the Bracket Fungus declared. Nendil is correct we are in danger of losing everything if we do not move at once. Flickerbright, return to your troops. Nendil, Ontic, go to Twp and Lady Zhevago in five minutes time, our attack on PPC HQ, and our final redemption and victory, begins!

~

"Oh, for crying out-- Palaver. DMS."

After a few useless names, Agent Hazelhead had taken the trouble of bringing a small portable console into Tango's cell, and was now checking the HQ Directory for each Agent she suggested. "Dead, I'm afraid," he said. "Killed by the DIS, it says."

Tango closed her eyes, racking her memory for any other acquaintances. "Isold'evan? His partner..."

"Dead, too."

"Uh, Jay Thorntree."

"Retired."

"I knew a couple of Nurses, Newton and, um, Sims."

"Emily and Constance? Dead and retired, respectively."

"This is stupid."

Hazelhead shrugged. "You'll find one."

Tango's brow furrowed. There'd been one time, during her tenure in DAVD, that her DIS check-up by Agent Ontic had been interrupted by an Assassin who'd claimed to recognise Ontic, to be her... brother? Yes, brother. His name had been... her eyes snapped open. "Steve."

"... 'Steve'? I think I need a little more to go on."

"Oh." Tango shook her head. "Laison, I suppose."

"... nope, not in the system." Tango let out an explosive sigh. "There is a Laison, though," Hazelhead went on. "Name of Elanor. DMS."

"She'll do," Tango said, hoping she would. If it was just a coincidence...

"... nope, she's dead. Sorry." He frowned in turn. "That's new."

"What is?" Tango asked tiredly.

"It's got a listing under 'relatives'. Not often you see those in HQ. Let's see..." Hazelhead's eyebrows shot up. "Steve, you said?"

"Yeah, Steve Laison."

The Agent shook his head. "Not Laison. He's her brother, it claims, but his surname's Dimond, not Laison. Think it's the right guy?"

"He'd better be," Tango said darkly. "He'd better be."

~

They sat side by side on the floor, Blue leaning against the Monolith, Imbolc at least pretending she was. "I never really believed in ghosts," Blue said, shaking his head slowly.

Imbolc laughed slightly. "Neither did I," she admitted. "Then I turned into one. There's irony for you."

"Yes. But I mean... why?"

Imbolc's glowing, semitransparent figure shrugged. "Because I was murdered? Killed by a supposed friend? Or because of unresolved love. That's about all the options the stories give."

Tears filled Blue's eyes. "When they told me you were dead, I felt... I don't know. I think that was when I really snapped, now I look back on it. Did you know it was Ontic who actually told me?"

Imbolc shuddered slightly. "That woman scares me. I didn't... I don't know how you'd put it, I didn't awake until after they'd left. All I can do is hope she died in the war."

"I hope she didn't," Blue muttered savagely. "I hope she's still alive so I can hunt her down and kill her myself."

Imbolc smiled sadly. "What good would that do, my love? It wouldn't bring me back."

"It'd make me feel better, though," Blue muttered darkly. Then he sighed and looked over at her. "I can't... I mean, you're not able to, I don't know, make yourself...?" He made vague squeezing motions with one hand.

"Physical?" Imbolc shook her head slowly. "I'm sorry, Blue. I've tried how I've tried but it's not possible. I have some degree a very low level of, I don't know, psychic powers, but they're not good for much." She looked up at the Monolith. "All I can do is keep that one name clean, really."

"Someone had to," Blue murmured. "But if I could trade that for even five minutes able to touch you, to feel you... to hold you again..."

Involuntarily, Imbolc stretched out a hand towards him before drawing it back. "I know. I wish... how I wish. But we can't. As far as I know."

Blue nodded. "Maybe someone back home would know...?"

"But we can't get there," Imbolc pointed out. "We don't know where it is... and even if we did, I can't leave this room. I've tried."

"Which is strange," Blue said thoughtfully. "I mean, you were... well, it happened elsewhere, so why would you be trapped here?"

Imbolc shrugged. "I've thought about that. I've never... huh?" She floated upwards, looking around curiously.

"What is it?" Blue asked, getting to his feet and trying to follow her gaze.

Imbolc shook her head. "I'm not sure... it's the same 'feeling' I got just before you appeared. How did you get here?"

"Plothole, I think," Blue said, eyeing the room warily. "So you think someone's coming?"

"I think," Imbolc said uncertainly. "I'm not... oh, no. No no no."

"What?"

She dropped down and looked at him face to face, eyes wide. "Something is coming. Something big. Get out! Now!" Her image exploded into a million tiny lights, which streamed across the room to illuminate a door. As the glow of a vast portal lit the room behind him, Blue started to run.

~

"'lo?"

Tango let out a sigh of relief. The voice, though muddied with sleep, was indeed the same as the one she'd heard more than seven years ago. "Steve Dimond?" she asked anyway.

"'s right," his voice said from the speaker. "Who is it?"

"My name's Tango Dioxide... um..."

"Doesn't ring any bells," Steve said. "You sure you've got the right person?"

"Yes, I... uh." Tango shook her head. This hadn't really been thought through very well. "I knew your sister."

"So?" The man sounded bewildered. "She's been gone a while now, I've met more people who knew her than I ever thought possible."

"No, not, uh, Elanor. Your other sister."

There was a hiss of indrawn breath. "What is this?" Steve said, his voice tense.

"She's still alive," Tango said quickly. "I've seen her. But she and her... people are planning something. Something dangerous."

"... are you one of them?" Steve asked. Tango shook her head, then realised he couldn't see.

"No," she assured him. "I was one of their victims... you might remember, your sister was interviewing me once when you stumbled on us?"

"Ohhh yes," Steve said softly. "I recall. Didn't you... leave?"

"And got myself accused of murder, yes," Tango said grimly. "That's why I'm calling you. The DIA came and arrested me. For some reason I'm allowed one phone call before they lock me away."

"And you picked me because there's no one else left," Steve surmised. "All right... should I assume there's a limit on this call?"

Tango glanced at Hazelhead, who held up two fingers. "We've got a couple of minutes, she said.

"Right. In that case, I think I need to come over there and talk to you. Is that allowed?"

"Provided you understand that everything you say and do will be recorded," Hazelhead said bluntly. "Acceptable?"

"Yes," Steve said. "I just want to talk to her about my sister."

"Then we'll send a couple of Agents round to pick you up," Hazelhead informed him. "I recommend that you be alone when they arrive."

~

Nendil looked up at the Monolith with distaste. "Why they felt the need to put something so ugly in our place I can't even imagine."

"One of the advantages of not having depth perception," Twp'atwt commented beside him, tapping a claw against his eye patch. "Just looks like a featureless black space to me."

"Mm," Nendil agreed. "Don't you have things to be doing?"

"I've got a report from Mkellin," the Pine Marten said defensively. "He says yes, there was someone here just before we arrived, and no, of course he can't tell who. But he also says it looks like they appeared in here by portal, which means probably not a PPCer." He glanced over at Flickerbright, hovering by Nendil's shoulder. "Might even have been her little thief."

"Whoever it is, zhey can be dangerous," Lady Zhevago put in. "I am glad ve moved vhen ve did. Now ve have a chance of vinning regardless of zheir actions."

"And that's what's important," Nendil agreed. "Do you all have your targets?" Twp and Lady Zhevago nodded. Flicks looked around quickly.

"I do," she said, "and so do my Division. Where's Kell?"

"Right here," the scout's singsong voice said from very close by. Everyone looked round, startled, as he stood up. "We're ready and waiting."

"Excellent," Nendil said, nodding sharply. "Four Divisions, ten targets. Remember, you're not expected to get them all, so stress to your people that if one of your strikes goes wrong, that section is to pull back immediately and join Lady Zhevago's group. She has to succeed for this invasion to work at all. Now get to it, people!"

~

Agent Morgan blinked and pressed a hand to her forehead. "Huh?"

"What is it?" Traf Elosia, her partner of four years, asked. "Headache?"

"Not sure... I hope so." Morgan shook her head slightly. "If not, then it's a signal. And she's only supposed to give me a signal if something very bad is happening."

"... well, let's go for headache, then," Traf said with a degree of false cheerfulness. "What bad could be happening? This is PPC HQ."

"I don't know," Morgan said slowly. "I should have checked, I guess, but... no. All right." She shook her head again, as if trying to clear it. "Maybe I should go and check."

[BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP!]

"Or maybe not," Traf said, stabbing at the button on the console. "If it is a problem, it'll be fixed by the time we get back." She scanned the page, and gulped. "If we ever get back."


Chapter Four - They Say Nothing Grows

Agent Kayleigh wandered through the halls of HQ, humming to herself. Paying no attention to her route, she of course managed to pass through just about every significant location in the complex, but she wasn't focussed enough to notice. In truth, though she looked happy, she was very much worried. It had been more than a week now since her partner, Salamander, had disappeared in Middle-earth's Lake Town, and the Flowers still hadn't found him. They'd assigned her a 'temporary partner' as if she'd fall for that! but the other woman had clearly been a spy from the evil sadists over in DAVD. Oh, she'd denied it, but Kayleigh knew all about their ways, even if no one would believe her. She was pretty sure DAVD had kidnapped her partner, but the Flowers hadn't listened to her, hadn't done more than just asking the Big Thorn if he knew anything of course he wouldn't admit it if he did! and so Kayleigh had tried to get the truth out of her temporary partner. Obviously filled with guilt, Aella had fled her questioning, and Kayleigh's subsequent expedition into DAVD-controlled areas of HQ had turned up nothing. So she now thought they were probably holding him still in Lake Town, enacting their heinous activities on the helpless young man. If she didn't have to be in HQ, she would be out there now searching, but of course she couldn't abandon her post.

Such was the Bad Slash Agent's frame of mind as she ambled through a featureless grey corridor near had she but known it the Tomb of the Unknown PPC Agent. She turned the corner and saw the large group of people coming towards her, but they didn't really register. It was only when she drew closer and they didn't make a path for her most people did, it was something about her bikini, she was sure that she actually focussed on them. They filled the corridor, too many to easily count probably something like eighty and while they were wearing black, it wasn't the regular uniform of the PPC. They had no flashpatches, but each one wore a silver sash with the emblem of a black cat, about to pounce, pinned near the shoulder.

Oh, and they all had their weapons drawn. That was probably important.

Kayleigh stopped uncertainly. The fairy flying at the head of the group, hovered in place for a moment, and the party stopped. Each and every set of eyes most of them pairs looked at Kayleigh. Then, "Well?" asked the fairy in a high-pitched voice. "What are you waiting for? No witnesses, the Boss said. Get her!"

"She's in her underclothes," an uncertain voice said from the back of the group. "Are we allowed to do that?"

"It's a bikini!" Kayleigh snapped at them. "Swimwear! Sunbathing! Okay," she added as an aside to herself, "so I usually use it as underwear, but it's not the same thing!"

"Glad we agree," the fairy said dryly. "You see, Agent Michaelis? It's swimwear. You've killed people on beaches before. Now get her before I get you!"

A dozen arrows went flying down the corridor, but they were too late. As soon as the fairy had said the word 'Agent', Kayleigh's eyes had widened in horror. By the time she reached 'beaches', the Slasher had turned and started running, and as the arrows were loosed she was already passing round the corner, heading at full speed for the next intersection. As the sound of footsteps began to thunder behind her, only one thought ran through her mind: a single acronym, repeated over and over.

DAVD! DAVD! DAVD!

~

Penny drummed her fingers on the side of her camp chair. "How much longer is this going to take?"

It will take as long as it takes, the Sunflower Official intoned. Your... anomalous status within the Organisation-

"You mean the fact that we're paid and trained?" Vemi asked waspishly.

Quite. It has led to quite a lot of extra paperwork. Normally I would simply need to contact the Clover and get your money from our very much depleted budget, but in this situation...

"Oh, come on!" Vemi got to her feet and began pacing in front of the SO's desk. "How complicated can it be? So we broke a Remote Activator fine, take it out of our contract."

"Hey, let's not be hasty," Penny put in.

"Your Agents break them all the time!" Vemi continued. "All this fuss is completely-"

Necessary, the SO cut her off. Yes, Agents do tend to go through equipment like caterpillars through leaves, but they are our employees. You two, by your own choice, are not. Thus it becomes complicated.

"Then like I said, take it out of our contract." Vemi shrugged, avoiding her partner's pained look. "I don't like the idea any more than you, Penny, but we did break it."

If only I could, the Sunflower said in a low tone. But you have been 'hired', if I may use the term, from your Lord Downey. The terms of that contract state that he is responsible for any breakages, and that payment must come from your Guild, not you.

"How did you get that one past him?" Vemi asked, startled. "I thought he brought Mr. Slant in to work on the contract for him.

Yes, well, the Flower said, looking somewhat embarrassed, our Legal Department's Canon Laws Division has more experience even than him, I'm afraid.

"Hrm." Vemi shook her head. "Not important, regardless. Why don't you just send someone to get the money from him?"

We intend to. Just as soon as we decide what to tell him.

"That it's in our contract?" Penny suggested. "I don't see the problem."

Do you not? The SO's petals shook. How are we supposed to inform Mr. Downey that you have broken a device which he cannot hope to understand, and which it is forbidden to inform Canon characters of the existence of? And if we do not tell him what you have broken, how likely is he to believe that you have done so at all? Whatever you may think of me, I have no intention of sending one of my Agents into that situation. You people are dangerous.

"... he's got a point, Vemi," Penny said, looking up at her partner.

"No, he hasn't," Vemi insisted. "Sure, you can't tell him it's a Remote Activator, but why not just pick something else of equivalent cost, a crossbow or something, and tell him we've broken that?"

The Sunflower looked at her levelly. That is the option I've been considering, he said patiently. The Clover is at this moment working out the equivalent prices for me, and when he has done so-

There was a soft chime, and the SO's head tilted downwards towards his desk. "Seems like one of Legal's other Divisions is working hard, too," Penny commented. The Sunflower pressed a frond to the button and watched the screen for a moment.

I... see.

"Well?" asked Vemi. "Is that the list?"

It is indeed. The Flower lifted his head and looked at the two of them. Tell me... under what sort of circumstance might an Assassin need to use a, he glanced down again, a three-storey siege tower with six large crossbows, three catapults, and an "Obliterator"-model Ephebian fire-thrower? He checked again. Painted purple.

~

There are three Departments dedicated to the security of PPC HQ.

One is the Department of External Security, commonly called the Weeds. It is made up almost entirely of Flowers, rarely if ever enters the building, and in all the mission reports filed by Agents down the years, has only been mentioned once. Second is the Department of Internal Operations, hidden away in an undisclosed location, and known only to the Department Heads. Its very existence is unconceived of by most Agents, and no one, besides those associated with it, know the true extent of its powers.

Agent Catherine Hust was not in either of those Departments. She was in the DIA, the only semi-public security Department. However, if she had heard of the other two, she would be fervently wishing she could transfer.

"Please, Agent," she said, "try to calm down."

"Calm? Calm?" the dark-haired woman in the yellow bikini (which, Catherine noted, was polka-dotted, although fortunately it was neither itsy-bitsy nor teenie-weenie) exclaimed. "How can I be calm? They tried to kill me!"

"If only they had," a quiet voice murmured, and Catherine glanced over at her twin sister. Charlotte shrugged, and looked back down at her book, so Catherine turned back to the troublesome Agent.

"I can understand that might be difficult for you-" she began, but the other woman cut her off.

"You bet it's difficult! They already took my partner, and now they come after me! It's a conspiracy, I tell you! They're out to kill us all!"

"You partner is missing, then?" Catherine asked, trying to angle for information. "If you tell us who she is, we might be able to find her."

The Agent looked up quickly. "He's called Sal. Salamander. Bad Slash. They took him while we were on a mission."

Catherine nodded, and looked across at Charlotte. "If you could check the system...?"

Charlotte Hust nodded briskly and rolled her chair forward to the desk. Typing quickly, she brought up a results page and tabbed it across to Catherine's monitor, then nodded. "I'll be over here if you need me again," she said, and picked up her book.

Catherine shook her head slightly although to be honest she was just the same when Charlotte was running things and looked at the screen. "You'd be Agent Kayleigh, then?"

"That's right... have you been spying on me?" Kayleigh tried to lean over the desk to see the screen. Catherine sighed.

"No. We just have access to Personnel's records. It seems your partner vanished in the field several days ago, and no sign of him has been seen, is that correct?" She knew it was correct, of course, and that there likely never would be any sign of him the case file had a large red 'FILE UNDER IGNORE' note on it, indicating that Salamander had been abandoned. Probably not a good idea to tell Kayleigh that.

"That's right," Kayleigh said, still suspicious. "He's missing because they took him."

"And who are 'they'?" Catherine asked, hoping to finally get to the bottom of the actual problem.

Kayleigh looked around suspiciously, and then leaned forward. "It's the DAVD," she whispered urgently. "They took off their patches and wore those sashes to disguise themselves, but I know it was them. They'll kill us all if we don't watch out. All of us."

Catherine stiffened, and didn't even need to look round to know that Charlotte had sat up and was now paying complete attention. "Sashes?" the other Hust twin asked in an almost casual voice.

"Yes, silver sashes," Kayleigh said, glancing over at her in annoyance. "With that funny cat badge on. Not a very good disguise at all."

"No, certainly not," Catherine said, trying to control her breathing. Charlotte was typing rapidly at the computer again. "Where was it you encountered them?"

"Oh, around somewhere," Kayleigh said vaguely, and then glared at her. "You're not listening to me!"

Catherine wasn't listening to her. She had looked down at the new screen her sister had tabbed over to her Kayleigh's personnel file, with the recruitment date highlighted. The woman had only been with the PPC for just under three years. She doesn't know, Catherine thought despairingly. There went the last possibility that this was a hoax.

"You have to listen to me!" Kayleigh insisted. "They'll kill us all!"

"I sincerely hope they don't," Charlotte put in, covering for her frozen sister. "I'm supposed to get paid soon."

Kayleigh scowled across at her. "You'll regret not listening to me," she snapped. "When they kill you in your bed, you'll regret it! You'll remember then! You'll wish you'd listened!" And she stormed out of DIA reception, leaving two rather shaken secretaries in her wake.

~

There was a loud knocking on the door of Response Centre 4952. Inside, Steve Dimond was wide awake, and waiting. He didn't immediately get up, however, but took a moment to check that everything he needed was securely held in his jacket, invisible. Then he stood up from the chair by the console, crossed the room, and opened the door. He blinked. "Yes?" he said to the brown-haired young man at the door.

The other coughed. "Uh, Agent Steve Dimond?" he said.

"No, that's my name," Steve replied. "Who are you?"

"Agent Hazelhead." The young man straightened up. "Department of Internal Affairs. If you're Steve Dimond, you're to come with me."

"... 'we'll send a couple of Agents round', you said," Steve pointed out. "That was you I talked to on the phone, wasn't it?"

"Yes, to both," Hazelhead agreed. "But there's a lot of reports of strange occurrences coming in right now, so I was all we could spare. You should consider yourself lucky we bothered to get you at all."

"Lucky indeed," Steve murmured. "This woman, Dioxide? Am I allowed to ask what she's in your custody for?"

"In the immediate sense, threatening the fabric of HQ, or if she is to be believed in her pathetic denials, at the least spreading alarm and discord." Hazelhead sniffed. "She's also accused of a pair of murders which caused her to flee the PPC in the first case, which hardly helps."

"Yes, I remember the murders." Steve shook his head slightly. "I hope I don't end up regretting this... still." Drawing himself up, he nodded to the DIA Agent. "I suppose you'd better take me to her."

"Of course." Hazelhead stepped backwards into the corridor and turned to his right. "If you'll follow me."

~

The door of Response Centre 145 although the number had been covered with a sheet of paper bearing the legend 'Echo Beach (far away in time)' slammed back against the console just inside, and Agent Kayleigh came through the doorway in a rage. "I'll show them!" she ranted, just as she had all the way back from the DIA's front office. "I'll leave, I'll go out into the Worlds and leave them to have their heads chopped off and fed to them!" As she pulled her clothes on, she continued ranting about the stupidity of Agents in general and the Hust twins particularly, but as she finished buttoning up her shirt she stopped suddenly.

"I know!" she exclaimed, striding over to the console. "I'll go back to Middle-earth and find Sal!" She beamed as she rapidly typed instructions into the console. "They never wanted to find him, they never really tried I bet they're in league with DAVD!" She bared her teeth in fury at an imagined DIA Agent. "Yeah! So I'll find Sal by my own self, and bring him back, and then it'll all be okay again."

With a final stab at the large red button, Kayleigh opened a portal. Then she looked around, suddenly unnervingly calm. "I'll need my bag, of course," she said, "and the Remote Activator. I should probably take some food, too, it might take a while." Then she looked down. "Oh, and shoes." Slipping the latter onto her bare feet, she gathered up the rest of the necessary equipment and, taking a deep breath, stepped through the doorway of blue light.

She left the door to her Response Centre open, and her trousers hanging on the back of a chair. Still, she can't be expected to remember everything.

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