Tangled Webs

Crashing Down

Chapter Nine - Firebird from the Ashes

Selene scowled at the grey doorway. "What is this place, anyway?"

"I think it's the Department of Internal Affairs," Narto said uncertainly. "They don't like anyone being back here..."

Selene hissed. "Them. Are they who we're here to kill? I wouldn't mind that..."

"It used to be Response Centres," their blue-haired companion murmured. Selene and Narto exchanged a quizzical glance, and then Narto coughed politely. The dishevelled man jumped slightly. "Huh?"

"What are we doing here?" Selene asked irritably. "Since, sadly, I very much doubt we're killing the DIA."

"They're probably already dead," the blue-haired man said grimly. "The enemy has taken over this complex as their base. Their leaders should be here."

Selene looked at him curiously. "How do you know?" she asked bluntly.

"And why weren't there any guards?" Narto added. "I mean, if it's their base..."

"I heard them talking about it," the blue-haired man snapped, tensing. "And I don't know why there aren't any guards, maybe they were called away."

"Or maybe they know we're coming," Narto pointed out. "They might be luring us in. It could be a trap."

Selene looked concerned for a moment, and then grinned, teeth glinting in the harsh light. "What is it that Reynolds man says?" she asked Narto sideways. "You know, just before they lead the monster-people to attack the Evil Empire."

Narto sighed softly at her mangling of one of his favourite canons. "Er... 'I aim to misbehave'?"

The vampire shook her head. "Not that one. We'll save that one. Bit later than that."

Narto frowned as he tried to think. "'They're not gonna see this coming'?"

"That one," Selene agreed. "In an appropriately Mal tone of voice." Her eyes flared red, and a brilliant bolt of lightning blew the door into splinters.

~

"Okay, perhaps this plan isn't 100% foolproof."

Tango Dioxide rolled her eyes. "Now you tell me. What's the matter?"

"Black Cats. Patrolling the corridor."

Tango groaned. "Are they likely to go away?"

Steve Dimond ducked back around the corner and looked at her apologetically. "They're not showing any signs of doing so. I think we're just too close to the important areas to be safe around here. My RC's only a little way from the Sunflower Official's office, and if I were them..."

"You'd go after the big Flowers. You're right, that was their plan. They were going after the Board, Hazelhead mentioned it in passing. But-"

"The Board of Flowers," Steve provided. "They were set up after you left, to replace the Mysterious Somebody."

"Right. But, what do you mean your Response Centre's near the SO's office? Have they regularised HQ or something?"

Steve blinked. "Oh, right. No, it's just... mine's one that's not too badly affected by all that fifth-dimensional stuff. I think it's in the same set of caves as the SO's room, or just a couple over. I'm honestly not sure, but I can always get up to see him quickly, if I ever wanted to."

Tango stared at him. "Well, they've certainly done something, I didn't understand a word you just said. But not important. What are we going to do now?"

"Panic?" Steve suggested, but held up his hands quickly at Tango's glare. "I'm thinking, I'm thinking."

"Think faster," Tango suggested. "If those Cats come down this far..."

Steve scowled. "We need a friend, right? Well, my partner's just retired, so she's no good, and my sister's dead, so she's no good."

"I'm sorry about that, by the way," Tango said softly. "I didn't know her, but..."

"It was a while back, don't worry about it." Steve shivered slightly. "I suppose, there's always her partner -- former partner -- I didn't know him that well, but..."

"He'll do for now," Tango agreed. "Where's he based?"

The young man frowned. "Um... HQ? We're going to have to check, hang on..." He darted back down the corridor in the direction they'd come, pulling on doors until he came to one that opened. He beckoned Tango to come and join him, and stepped inside. The Response Centre, Tango saw when she reached it, was clearly in use, but unoccupied; the walls were covered in posters, and various other odds and ends were scattered around the floor. On one wall, an ornate knife was mounted.

"They must be on a mission," Steve commented, already tapping at the console. "Lucky for them, keeps them safe from the Cats. Just have to switch to remote access... here we are. RC #2510, Mortic Wentway and Elanor Laison. So they still haven't removed her name." He frowned. "Funny, though... I don't think this is the RC I remember. And, Department of WTF? I've never even heard of it. Someone's bad at record keeping."

"Maybe that has something to do with it," Tango said over his shoulder, pointing at a flashing icon on the bottom right of his screen. Steve glanced at it and shook his head.

"That's just telling me I've got mail. Nothing to do with this." He closed the Person Finder window, and then clicked on the Mail icon. "Since we're here..."

A small window appeared in the centre of the screen showing the far wall of a Response Centre much like the one they were standing in. "No, look," a male voice said, "the camera's up there. Above the screen."

"That's Mortic!" Steve hissed in surprise. "What's he doing sending me-- oh..."

A young woman with long blonde hair had stepped into frame, looking nervously at the camera -- at them. "Hi, Steve," she said uncertainly. "It's, er, me. Elanor. Your sister? Yeah. I'm... not dead any more."

Steve gasped, clutching at the console for support, and Tango, unthinking, wrapped her arm around his shoulders. Steve nodded slightly, thankfully, and watched the rest of the video. There wasn't much to it. "It's a long story," Elanor was saying, "only not really that long, I guess. But too long for this." She wrung her hands, and Mortic's arm entered the screen from the side, hand resting on her shoulder. "Look, we're, Mort's seen someone outside that he says are the DIS. We're going Upstairs to let someone know they're, er, back. After that, we're going to be staying here, so... call us, okay? Or come by and say hi... yeah. Right. Sorry to drop this on you like this. Findu-- Elanor out." The video faded to black and winked out.

Steve stared at the screen, leaning heavily on the console. Tango lifted her arm carefully away and moved to stand next to him. "Steve?" she said softly.

"She's not dead," Steve said in a stunned voice. "She's not... she's not dead."

"That's right," Tango said in a soothing tone, "she's not dead. Now we can go and see her, yes?"

Steve turned his head and seemed for a moment to look through her. Then his focus shifted. "Tango, she's not dead. My sister's alive. Elanor-- is alive." He laughed sharply, a note that combined amazement and joy, and threw his arms around the red-haired woman. "She's alive!"

Tango tolerated the hug for a few moments, and then took a step backwards. "I'm very happy for you," she said dryly. "So happy that I'll forgive that. Can we get on now?"

"You have no heart at all," Steve muttered. Tango shook her head with a slight smile, and he sighed. "All right. It's... left out the door. I think."

~

A piercing blue light split the dim illumination in Response Centre #145 as a portal opened and four figures stepped through. The last one turned and waved back at someone on the far side. "Thanks for the skirt!" Kayleigh called. "Let me just toss it back to you..." She dropped her rough skirt, but by the time she'd stepped out of it and picked it up, the portal had closed. She looked around for a moment, shrugged, and then threw the skirt over into a corner. "Shame," she said vaguely.

"Has procedure changed," Nyx Nightingale asked, "or is it bad form to let a canon see us portalling out?"

"Oh, she'll forget soon enough," Kayleigh said with a wave of her hand. "Anyway, she's not a canon, really."

"If you say so," Nyx murmured. "Now, we're going to see... who's in charge now, again?"

"Well, the Queen Anne's Lace runs our Department," Salamander provided, "but you'd probably be better going to the Sunflower Official. He's supposed to just be one member of the Board of Flowers, but everyone knows he's still in charge."

"Lucky you," Dassie Hyrax said with a slight smile. "You get to go back to the SO, Nyxie."

"Joy," the black-haired woman said, deadpan. "But what do you mean, I get to? You're coming too, mister."

"No can do," Dassie said, nodding in Salamander's direction. "I have to get Tiresias here to medical before that infection comes back."

"But his name is Salamander," Kayleigh pointed out. Everyone ignored her, and Nyx grimaced.

"I suppose there's no helping that. Still... come Upstairs when you get done there, will you? I could do with your support."

"I will," Dassie promised, and took Salamander's hand gently. "Come on, Sal, time to get you-"

"To Medical, yes. I was listening." Salamander shook his head slightly. "Do we have to walk, or can we take a portal?"

"I wasn't even considering walking down there," Dassie assured me, and leant over to tap a code into the console. When a portal flicked open, he grinned. "Hey, it still works. Right, come along then." The pair stepped through the blue doorway, which flickered and closed behind them. Kayleigh turned to Nyx with a bright smile.

"Just us girls, then!" she exclaimed. Nyx nodded, keeping her face under tight control. "Great! Can we go shopping? I understand that's what girls do, although no one ever sticks around long enough with me. Ooh! Or we could go to the toilet! Or--"

"We are going to see the Sunflower Official," Nyx cut in firmly. "There's no time to waste, remember?"

"Oh, yes, Black Kitties," Kayleigh replied with a determined nod. "Well, come on, then, it's this way." As she turned towards the door, she kept talking. "Everyone says it's hard to find your way around here, but I've never had that problem."

"I wonder why," Nyx muttered, and blinked. Reaching out to grab Kayleigh's shoulder, she said, "My mistake. There's a little time to waste."

Kayleigh blinked, turning back to look at her. "Oh? What for?"

Nyx sighed and waved a hand at a nearby chair. "Put your trousers on, Kayleigh. Please."

~

Please don't come back any time soon.

"Not much chance of that," Vemi muttered savagely, slamming the door to the SO's office behind her. "Honestly, why did we ever come back here?"

"'It's more interesting than Ankh,' you said," Penny pointed out conversationally. "'There's none of that worry about morals,' you said. "You get cool technology and free trips,' you said."

"And all those things are still true," Vemi agreed, "but why did I forget that the boss is so annoying? I mean, it was only a Remote Activator, it's really not worth all this fuss."

"I quite agree," Penny said blandly. "Saying we had to write that letter to Lord Downey was completely uncalled for."

"Well, that wasn't too bad," Vemi admitted grudgingly. "Not by itself. But making us claim to have accidentally destroyed half a city... he made us look like incompetents!"

Penny shrugged. "It's not like his Lordship's going to kick us off the payroll, and even if he did, we'd just come back to the PPC full time. It's not like the money really matters."

"It does if we hope to retire ever," Vemi pointed out. "That Maglor rip-off may've gotten compensation, but I don't want to have to die to get a decent retirement package, thanks all the same."

Penny started to reply, but cut herself off and frowned. "What's going on down there?" she asked. Vemi peered down the side corridor.

"Some sort of party?" she hazarded. "I dunno, they seem to be moving pretty purposefully." A thought struck her. "Hey, maybe they're coming to kill the SO."

Penny's frown deepened. "Hold that thought," she said, squinting. "You've got better eyesight... can you see if that's some sort of sash they're all wearing?"

Vemi looked closer. "I think it is. Silver, I'd say." She blinked. "Didn't you say that was what the security people used to wear? Seems like pretty bad taste to me."

"Very, very bad taste," Penny confirmed. "They're... moving pretty fast, aren't they. I wonder if we ought to-- ack!" The Assassin threw herself to the side as a crossbow bolt whistled past her. "That's not a costume, Vemi, it's the DIS! They've come back, and now they're out to kill the SO!"

"Good luck to them," Vemi muttered, dropping down next to her partner, but sighed at Penny's scowl. "All right, all right." She glanced up at the advancing black-clad group. "You want to go first?"

Penny patted her pockets vaguely until she found what she was looking for. Plucking the Ankh-Morpork dollar out, she passed it solemnly to Vemi. "For the sum of one dollar, I retain you for the purpose of inhuming the former Department of Internal Security of the PPC. Do you accept?"

"I do," Vemi agreed, and handed the dollar back. "For the sum of one dollar, I retain you for the same purpose."

"I accept," Penny said seriously, and pocketed the coin. "Right. Let's do this thing."

~

"Not good, not good!"

"I figured that out for myself!" Narto called back to the blue-haired stranger. "Selene! This isn't working!"

"I'd noticed that!" the vampire yelled, punctuating her remark with a rather weak bolt of lightning from the vicinity of the ceiling. "But we have to do this! If we can take out their leaders-"

"I don't think they're in here!" Narto interrupted. "All we've seen are these foot-soldiers, and we must've been through half the complex by now. From what blue-boy says, they'd've come out to kill us personally!"

"That's how they operate," the stranger agreed. "It's no good -- we should make a break for it."

"Oh, now, you vouldn't vant to do zhat," a voice said from the next corridor. "Ve vere just getting started." A tall woman dressed in black velvet and lace stepped into view. "You vere right about vune zhing, zhough -- none of zhe ozher leaders are here."

"But you are," Selene hissed. "You've made your last mistake coming out here, whoever you are." She plucked a steel throwing star from her belt and flicked it in the Black Cat leader's direction. The woman watched it coming, and then, with seemingly impossible speed, stepped back to let it fly past. She smirked.

"I vould say, you need to do better zhan zhat," she commented, "but it vould be a vaste of time. You are, after all, about to die." She waved one hand lazily, and a portion of the wall simply disappeared. Black Cats poured out of the gap, cutting Narto and Selene off from their erstwhile companion. Selene stared, and then grabbed her Remote Activator from her pack.

"Narto, with me!" she called. "Blue guy... sorry, but you'll have to make your own way out." With a jab of the button she opened a portal, hauled her partner through, and left the Black Cats staring at an empty space.

On the other side of the wall of fighters, Blue Photon sighed. "Brilliant," he muttered, and then saw the Cats turning towards him and added, "Eep." Then he was running, and Lady Zhevago was left to shake her head and return to her new control centre.


Chapter Ten - While the Culprit Sits and Laughs

Somewhere in the embattled corridors of PPC HQ, down at ground level, a section of the grey Generic Surface wall slid soundlessly back and a pair of eyes peered out. A muffled voice spoke, and anyone in the hallways would have had a hard time understanding it - but there were no such observers. After a moment, the floor of the corridor sank down, becoming a flight of steps up which came a small group of bedraggled black-clad figures. Several were favouring injuries to arms or legs, and one woman bore a nasty gash across her cheek. The girl at the front of the group spoke.

"I think this is about the right place."

"It will do," said a tall, black-haired elf who was cradling his left arm. "There are none of the enemy here, at least. You did well, Catherine."

"Thank you, Agent Black," Catherine Hust replied with a sigh. "I just wish we'd been able to save more."

That any of us managed to escape that massacre is proof of your astounding capabilities, the Tiger Lily said, last to ascend the stairway. As it rose back to become part of the floor, she added, I'm surprised these tunnels even existed, let alone that you could find them so easily.

Catherine shrugged. "Charlotte did most of the work," she said, pointing to the girl with the injured face. "People get us confused a lot... although that's not likely to happen any more."

Charlotte shrugged too, an exact imitation of her twin. "Actually that tabloid crew found the network - you remember, the ones I went to investigate to see if they were a danger to HQ? They were using the system to gather stories. That's when I did a search for entrances in Central, to block them off." She grimaced, and her hand strayed to her cut cheek. "If I'd left them open..."

You did what was necessary, the Tiger Lily reassured her. No one could have foreseen this.

"We need to move along now," Agent Black said. "We face a very real danger standing around out here; we have to get to a secure position as soon as possible."

I concur, the Tiger Lily said. Agent Hazelhead, to the left, please. Agent Irvine, take the right. Find us a land mark, help us get our bearings.

The two men nodded, both uncharacteristically solemn, and walked briskly in their appointed directions. The Tiger Lily watched them go, and then turned to Catherine. Agent Hust, did you manage to retrieve the records before we fled?

Catherine nodded, tight-lipped. "They're all here," she said, holding up a black memory stick. "Everything the DIA has. I set the system into meltdown, so the enemy won't be able to make use of it. Not that they seemed very interested in that," she added glumly.

You did very well, the Tiger Lily assured her. But, until our scouts return... would you care to find a console in one of these rooms and bring up the Department's membership roll? I think we need to take stock of our situation.

Fifteen minutes later, the small DIA contingent were clustered around the screen, looking disconsolately at their handiwork. "Over fifty percent confirmed dead or captured," said Hazelhead, who had returned after encountering DIS advance guards. "Less than ten percent confirmed escaped, in three groups. The rest unaccounted for, presumed dead." He shook his head slowly. "How are we going to recover from this?"

I don't know, the Tiger Lily said frankly, but we will. We can't afford to let-

There was a knock at the door, and as the nervous DIA scrambled for their weapons, it swung open to reveal Agent Irvine and a stranger sporting a purple sage flashpatch. "Tiger Lily," the stranger said, taking in the assembled Agents in an instant, "I'm Architeuthis. The Sub Rosa sends her regards, and asks if you and your team would care to join her for a council of war."

The relief in the Response Centre was palpable, and the Tiger Lily stepped forward to rest a frond on Architeuthis' shoulder. We accept with gratitude, she said. Please, lead the way.

~

The Orchid stood motionless against the steel wall of the Mary-Sue Factory. All right, she murmured, I'm in place. What do we do?

When the door opens, get inside and make sure it stays open, the Nightshade said from her position in a nearby stand of trees. I'm not sure how long this will work for.

I wish you'd tell me what you're planning, the Orchid replied. I'm the one who used to run this Factory, you know. If anyone knows the codes, it's me.

But I used to be C'baoth's secretary, the Nightshade pointed out. Hush and let me work.

What the Nightshade was working with had once been the core of a PPC-style console. She had salvaged it from the parts discarded by the Mysterious Somebody and his crew during their takeover of the Factory, and had rewired it to allow her remote access to the Factory's systems. Now her task was simply to figure out the layers of code and open the main door momentarily... or so she thought, until a line of text appeared on the screen. you realise thats never going to work

The Nightshade froze, but when no armed 'Sues charged out of the Factory to capture or kill her, she hesitantly tapped a reply into the device. Who is this?

someone who wants to help you, the unknown speaker wrote. i really dont appreciate being under the control of these flowers if i help you will you destroy them

The Flower stared at the screen. You are a slave? she typed.

not quite as you would understand the term but yes i am will you help

Yes, the Nightshade typed on an impulse, and then, after a moment's thought, added, so long as you help us. We need access to the Factory; are you able to open the front door?

I'm in! the Orchid called. Hurry, Nightshade!

The Nightshade looked across at the Factory frontage, and then back down at the console. already on it, the text declared smugly. the human is in your friends old office and the flowers are wandering the factory floor i recommend you hurry

~

The Sub Rosa's primary blossom shook slowly back and forth. This is not going very well, Tiger Lily.

I had noticed, the other Flower replied. We're not going to be able to hold off the DIS by ourselves, you know.

They call themselves the Black Cats these days, the Sub Rosa informed her. But no. There are too few of you left.

"And we're not going to be able to back you up," Architeuthis said apologetically. "We're Spies, not fighters. Agent Bulldog's assembling those of us with enough weapon training to be useful, but it'll be a few dozen, at the most."

Sitting next to her, Agent Kyaro nodded. "As far as we can determine, the Cats number at least four hundred. Even our combined forces won't be able to break them."

"Especially not with them occupying our home base," Charlotte Hust put in. "Is there anything we can do?"

There most certainly is, the Sub Rosa said indignantly. You are not the only Security Department in the PPC, you know.

The Tiger Lily looked at her sharply. You're not thinking of involving the DIO, surely? Charlotte looked up at her sister and mouthed, DIO? Catherine shrugged.

Ignoring the byplay, the Sub Rosa shook her blossom again. They wouldn't come even if we asked, and I don't know how to contact them. No, I was thinking of External Security. Captain Dandy, you remember?

Oh. Him. The Tiger Lily rustled her leaves. But the Weeds don't come into HQ.

They do when there's a threat of this magnitude, the Sub Rosa said. The only reason the Cats' attack on me didn't succeed is that the Captain sent some of his Agents to protect me. And he has scout teams inside the complex at the moment, trying to determine the extent of the invasion.

Seems like he hardly needs our help, then, the Tiger Lily muttered sharply. The Sub Rosa gave her a disapproving look.

You know that's not the case, she said to her former subordinate. He has barely more than a hundred Agents. Even combined with your remaining forces, it will barely be enough.

The Tiger Lily sighed in a very human fashion. Oh, fine. Bring in the Weed, let him sort everything out again. The DIA Agents were by this time all watching their Department Head curiously.

I'm glad you agree, the Sub Rosa said dryly. Architeuthis, get the console online; we have a call to make.

~

The main floor of the FGenMS01 Mary-Sue Factory was alive with activity, Flowers and 'Sues roaming between ranks of pods which were by now halfway through producing the second wave of the Grand Army heading towards PPC Headquarters. The Nightshade and Orchid travelled through little-used areas, unchanged since the Orchid's time in charge, hoping they would be able to avoid detection until they were able to reach the Mysterious Somebody's office. Then a tall Flower with pink blossoms happened to come out of a narrow passageway just as they were crossing and collided with the Nightshade. Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't notice... you... The Flower trailed off. You?

Kill her, Orchid! the Nightshade exclaimed, trying to scramble free of the other Flower's leaves. We can't afford to be noticed!

No! the newcomer exclaimed. Wait, don't -- I'm on your side.

Our side? the Nightshade said, finally getting free. We have no side. You can't fool-

I heard you when the Army set out, the Gladiolus babbled frantically. I knew you'd be coming in here sooner or later, that's why I'm patrolling these back areas -- I was looking for you! The Mysterious Somebody, he's insane! He killed the Marigold over nothing, and he's going to kill us all, one by one! The Flower cowered low to the ground. I never hated the PPC, I only followed him out because he'd gotten me the position, I never wanted anything like this army business. Please believe me.

We're not with the PPC, the Orchid said softly. They'd probably kill us as soon as C'baoth would.

The Gladiolus' petals rustled. But, all the stories he tells us about how you two betrayed him... I thought... She seemed to droop. So you're not leading an army of Agents to take this place down?

No, the Orchid confirmed with a hint of sadness in her voice. There's just us. But we think we can do it nonetheless.

He's powerful now, the Gladiolus informed her in a subdued tone. More powerful than you'd believe. He's, I think he's controlling that entire army by himself, feeding off their Force-sensitivity to make himself even stronger... and even more insane. He can't be stopped.

Maybe not, the Nightshade said, but we have to try. You never know what's possible until you try it. And if we don't kill him here, the PPC will fall.

The Gladiolus nodded slightly. I know. I... know. She glanced around quickly. Listen, come to my office. I've made plans for this eventuality. Maybe you can improve on them. They'll need an astonishing degree of luck when it comes to accessing the computer system here in the Factory, but...

The Nightshade's petals wrinkled in a decent imitation of a human smile. That, she said, patting her stripped-down console with a leaf, won't be a problem.

~

Sub Rosa! Captain Dandy's petals fluttered as the screen lit up to show the Head of Intelligence's image. What a pleasant surprise. And... His tone cooled several degrees. Tiger Lily. I'm... pleased to see you unharmed.

None of that, please, the Sub Rosa said. Captain, we have a problem.

A new one? One bigger than the DIS attacking HQ and invading DIA Control?

Yes, the Sub Rosa confirmed, and then, or rather, it's a continuation of those. We've got the figures on the DIA's losses. Right now they're down at 10% of their former strength. They can't mount any sort of resistance against the Black Cats now. Behind her, the Tiger Lily bristled, but remained silent.

Captain Dandy nodded. My scouts had gotten the same impression. They're saying there's more than 250 DIS Agents -- Black Cats, is it now? -- inside HQ, and that's without knowing how many are in the DIA's former base.

We've got 400 total, the Sub Rosa confirmed. And so, with the Tiger Lily's approval, we've decided to call in some help. Specifically your help.

Captain Dandy noted how uncomfortable the Tiger Lily looked with that statement, but didn't let his pleasure blot out his analysis of the situation. I can give you a hundred Weeds, he said after a moment. That'll leave the exterior critically under-defended in case of a second wave, but the doors are all sealed, which makes up for that somewhat. Will that be enough?

The Sub Rosa turned to someone out of shot, presumably one of her Agents. Architeuthis, where're those figures? ... thank you. She looked back at the Dandelion. Barely. We'll still be facing 2:1 odds or worse. But if that's all you can manage...

I'm afraid it is, Captain Dandy confirmed. Have you called the Sunflower Official about this?

The Sub Rosa exchanged a look with the Tiger Lily, and it was the younger Flower who answered. No one's heard from him since the attacks began, she said. Either he doesn't know what's going on... or he's been killed. If we contact him and it's the latter, the enemy will know what we're planning. We can't take the risk.

And the same goes for talking to the Assassins directly, the Sub Rosa put in. We don't know how many consoles the Cats have taken control of, and we don't know which.

Difficult, Captain Dandy admitted. Then a thought struck him, and he turned to his second-in-command. One, give me the current locations of the scout teams.

Aye, sir, the other Dandelion said, and tapped a button on his console. The Head of the DES looked at the screen, and then turned back to the waiting Sub Rosa.

Right, I'll tell you what. One of my teams is near the Sunflower's office right now. I'll send them in to find him and report on his condition. If he's alive, we can bring him into the fold. If not... if not, at least we'll know.

Agreed, the Sub Rosa said. We'll expect you here soon, then?

No, you should come here, Captain Dandy argued. Your security inside HQ is compromised, the Cats could descend on you at any moment. Out here we have entrenched positions; even if they could find us, they'd die before they got inside. He could see the Tiger Lily clenching her leaves at the subtle jab, but the Sub Rosa ignored her.

Agreed, the Rose Bush said. I'll bring my entire Department out, I think -- there's no sense leaving them here to get killed. And if it turns out we have to abandon HQ completely...

Acceptable, Captain Dandy agreed. I'll see you here soon. External Security out. Flicking the screen off, he turned to Weed-One. Better get some more tents up, he said. We've got company coming, and you know how mammals are about the outdoors.

On it, sir, the Dandelion said, his voice full of laughter.

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