Tangled Webs

Crashing Down

Chapter Thirteen - Promises of Power

Agent Sambar kicked the door. "I don't know," he said into his radio. "There's dust falling from it and, well, knocking. Only louder."

As if someone were trying to break in, the Clover's voice came back. At least that's my surmise.

"I agree," Sambar said. "But who'd be trying to smash their way into HQ via the Department of Finance? Especially when we're already being invaded."

Perhaps reinforcements, the Clover mused, and then fell silent for a moment before coming back with a worried tone. The Department of External Security is not responding to communications, he said. I will contact the Department of Internal Affairs. After another moment, he said, The line is active, but there is no response. Agent Sambar, you would do well to fall back. You are not armed, and I doubt whoever is battering down the doors of HQ has benign intentions.

"Already doing, sir," Sambar said, backing away from the door as cracks started to appear in the concrit. "In fact... I think I'm going to run now, sir. If that's all right."

I was about to recommend it myself, the Clover remarked, and signed off.

~

Nendil tapped a pair of buttons on the unfamiliar DIA console. "Sir," he called, with a strange feeling of what humans called deja-vu, "report from Finance. They're trying to reach the DIA - some sort of disturbance at one of the exterior doors." He pressed another key and nodded. "I have the door. Parma Division is close - should I task Twp to take a look?"

Excellent idea, the Bracket Fungus agreed. See to it. Flickerbright, how goes the invasion?

"We're on schedule," the fairy said, hovering over a console. "Most of the Infrastructure Departments are now at least nominally under our control, Twp'atwt is patrolling and consolidating." She tapped a foot on the keyboard. "Zhevago reports the last DIA holdouts have been dispatched, so she's send most of Calma off with her second, Weaver, to secure Bad Slash. The twenty she's kept back should be enough to hold this base."

And what of the Scouts? the Bracket Fungus inquired. Or your own Tinco Division, for that matter.

"They're off having fun fun fun," Ontic called across the room. She was sitting atop a broken filing cabinet, folding what appeared to be countless paper birds. "I'd be with them, but I have to get to a thousand cranes. Then I get a wish," she concluded with a serious expression.

"... er, I sent Tinco to take that Department of Floaters we've heard about of late," Flickerbright said, watching Ontic nervously. "Kell hasn't reported back yet."

That's unlike him, the BF muttered. He was tasked to bring down the Sunflower, was he not?

"Yes, and he called in to say he was on his way," Flicks confirmed. "Nothing since then."

"The SO's a difficult target," Nendil pointed out. "It may take time. There's no reason to assume the worst."

"Kellie'll be okay," Ontic assured them. "He's a big boy now. Anyway, that girl will take care of him - she's married to him, you know." She frowned. "I wonder if he's married her back yet." A completed crane fell from her fingers. "Six hundred and twenty-one..."

~

"Confirmed," Twp'atwt said into his communicator. "Inputting coordinates into map... got it. We'll investigate." Flicking the comm off, he looked over Parma Division. "We've got someone knocking at the outside doors," he announced. "Nendil says we need to go see who it is, and kill 'em if we don't like the look of 'em. That sound good?" The assorted sentients cheered, and Twp grinned a toothy grin. "Can't all go, though, or the PPC will miss us." He glanced across his Cats. "First and Third groups, with me. Tjan, you have command while I'm gone."

"Aye, sir," Serna Tjan said. "Any particular orders?"

"Just keep up what we've been doing," the one-eyed Pine Marten said, and then frowned. "No, actually, not quite. Special instructions - secret ones. Step aside a minute." He pointed to a nearby Response Centre. Serna sauntered over and kicked the door open, revealing a pair of startled DoSAT Techs. One of them jumped to her feet, but "What-" was all she managed to get out before a thrown knife hit her in the throat. Her partner didn't even get to stand before meeting a similar fate. Serna walked across and retrieved her blades.

"Room's clear, sir," she said, ignoring the diminishing fountains of blood. Twp nodded approvingly and stepped inside, closing the door after him.

"Excellent work, Tjan. And now..." He grabbed her roughly, crushing her mouth against his, and Serna felt his hot tongue shoving at her lips. She responded eagerly, digging her fingers into the fur of his back and feeling a sharp, pleasant pain as Twp's claws extended, stabbing through her red top and into her shoulders. When the two Black Cats parted, the woman licked her lips, tasting blood where the Pine Marten's teeth had gashed her. Watching her, Twp grinned.

"By this time tomorrow," he promised, "the PPC will have fallen and we will reign supreme." His tongue flicked forward, brushing against Serna's lip again. "Then we can prepare for our takeover... but first a night of celebration amid the ruins of HQ." He stepped back and looked around the Response Centre, kicked one of the bodies. "Who knows," he added, "we may even find something... useful."

Serna laughed, and stepped forward for another savage kiss, much briefer this time. "An excellent plan," she agreed. "But for now, the work goes on. Go and do the Fungus' bidding, Twp... for a little while, at least."

~

Nyx knelt down and picked up her gladius from where the Black Cat had knocked it aside. "I should carry two of these," she muttered as she resheathed it - there had been no time to pick the sword up during the battle, so she'd been forced to rely solely on her dagger. Still, it had served well enough; two of the Cats lay dead, one by her hand, and the others had been injured. Nyx steadfastly avoided looking at the two bodies. The one she'd killed was missing an eye, and had several large gashes through his uniform. The one Kayleigh had gotten... well, Nyx thought it had once been a woman. "That thing is brutal," she said to the Slasher, who was cleaning her mace with a distracted air.

Kayleigh looked up. "What? Oh... well, it is a weapon. And she wasn't exactly offering me tea and scones. I could do with some tea, though."

Nyx shrugged slightly. The weapons she used were designed to cut fairly cleaning, and could be used with precision. The mace, on the other hand, was built to crush bones and shatter skulls... and did its work very well, as the dead Cat could have attested.

Putting her thoughts behind her, the former Assassin straightened up. "We should get moving," she said. "We may have driven the other three off, but they'll have reinforcements nearby. If we don't move out, we could find ourselves facing twice as many next time."

Kayleigh nodded, and Nyx blinked to see that the mace had once again vanished. "Where do you want to go? I think the cafeteria is serving scones this week, and I might have some tea back in my Response Centre, they don't do very good tea. If they've run out we could check the General Store, or Trojie might have some in..."

Nyx stared at her. "What are you talking about?"

Kayleigh blinked. "Tea and scones," she said. "What are you talking about?"

"... Black Cats? Invasion of HQ? Going to see the Sunflower Official?"

Kayleigh slapped a hand to her forehead. "Oh, that! Well, we'd better get going, then, hadn't we? Don't want to be late!"

"No." Nyx sighed. "We don't want to be 'late'. Come on, Kayleigh." Leaving the two bodies on the floor, she started off up the corridor towards her former superior's office. This was going to be a difficult meeting.

~

Lady Zhevago had just settled down in the former DIA control centre when there was a chime from one of the consoles. Nendil leant across and pressed a key. "Group approaching the door," he said in a clipped tone. "Lady Zhevago, are your people set?"

"Zhey vill deal vith any trouble," Zhevago said, "do not be concerned."

"I hope so," Nendil said. "We're counting about twenty contacts. If it's an organised raiding party, or scouts for something bigger..."

"Calma Division vill deal vith zhem," Zhevago repeated. "No enemies vill reach us here, Nendil, rest assured."

After a few tense moments, Flickerbright fluttered across to one of her screens. "Calma reports visual. It's... they're ours. Cats."

Frowning, Nendil glanced across to where the Bracket Fungus waited. "I don't recall anyone being ordered back, sir," he said. "Did you...?"

No, the leader of the Cats said. Flickerbright, ask the guards to confirm identity verbally, not just visually. They could be spies...

Ontic hummed a few bars of an unfamiliar tune, and then laughed, dropping a crane and beginning another. "You knew they'd be coming back," she said to the room at large. "Silly, silly sillies. Do I have to do everything around here?" Not getting up, she leant across to the nearest console and flicked the microphone on. "Calma Division," she said, "escort our visitors to the control room." Dropping the mike, she murmured, "Now where was I? Seven hundred and sixty-nine..."

Nendil looked at the Bracket Fungus nervously. "Sir, should I...?" He gestured at the console.

No. I trust Ontic's instincts. The Plant ruffled his fringed. But... prepare your weapons nonetheless.

The room was suddenly a far more dangerous-looking place, with every one of the humanoid Black Cats - including Ontic - producing a weapon or two. For a minute and a half they waited in tense silence broken only by the soft sound of folding paper. Then the door slid open and two figures in black and grey stumbled in, leaning heavily on each other. The female of the black-haired pair looked around blearily. "Kell," she said fuzzily, "I think we're safe."

"Thank the Emperor," Mkellin straightened up as best he could without straining his injured leg. "Sir... Scout Division reporting for duty." He blinked, and glanced at Jasmine Sims. "Also a rest would be quite nice," he added, and collapsed.

~

Twp'atwt peered around the last corner. "Who are these people?" he muttered. Behind him, First Group's sniper shook her head.

"They're kicking up too much dust," she whispered. "That concrit stuff blocks across the entire spectrum - you can't see anything through it." She adjusted her rifle's sight. "I almost think it's deliberate, sir - they're masking themselves while they set up a beachhead."

Twp grimaced. "We can't let that happen," he declared. "Flamers, give me a ten-second burst, see if you can't scorch that stuff out of the air."

"That doesn't sound very nice," a lyrical, high-pitched voice said, and Twp turned to see a trio of identical blonde human women standing behind his team, watching them. One of the three was sucking her thumb. The one who had spoken blinked at him. "I don't think you should do that," she said, and then giggled.

For a vital second, Twp remained frozen. Then, regaining control of himself, he gestured to his cats. "Kill them already!" he snarled, and watched in satisfaction as one of his team drew a blaster and fired it at the newest of the three women, who...

... held up a hand and blocked the shot. Her expression turned serious. "That was not very nice," she said, reaching for a metal rod-shaped device at her belt. "I don't think I like you." She pressed a switch on the rod, and it sprouted a blade of energy a meter and a half in length. Twp's eye widened as the other Mary-Sues drew their own lightsabers, and, abandoning his team, he turned and ran.

~

So you did not kill the Sunflower Official.

"No, sir," Jasmine Sims confirmed, brushing her hair back from her face with her uninjured arm. "I don't know if they were warned or just insanely lucky, but the number of Assassins wandering around up there... Second Squad escaped from one pair only to run right into a second. They started off with eight... three survivors, after only half an hour."

It certainly sounds like they were warned, the Bracket Fungus agreed. Your overall losses...?

"About a third," Jasmine said, glancing over her shoulder at where Mkellin lay wrapped in a blanket, "with another couple not likely to survive the day. We weren't trained for straight-up fighting, sir, not specifically. We're Scouts - a stealth unit."

"You should've let my division take the SO," Flickerbright called across. "Clearly we're the only ones who can actually kill anyone..."

Jasmine glared at her. "I lost friends up there," she snapped. "My Division Head might be dying right now, can't you show a little respect?"

Flicks flitted towards her angrily. "You stupid little girl, who do you think you are, anyway? You're not the only one to have lost people in this war." A few specks of fairy dust fell towards the floor. "I ought to-"

"SHUT UP!" The two women looked round, startled into silence, to see Lady Zhevago rising to her feet. "Vhat good does all zhis bickering do, hmm? Ve ought to be trying to deal vith zhe problem at hand, not squabbling amongst ourselves. Zhe Sunflower is a zhreat to us, yes?" She glared around the room. "Vell?"

He is, the Bracket Fungus supplied. He is still the main power in HQ, and he was the one who defeated us last time.

"Zhat is vhat I zhought," Zhevago said. "Vell, zhen, somevune must go and deal vith him. I vill do it."

Nendil frowned. "You?" he repeated. "You're not a scout..."

"I have some training in stealth," Zhevago said seriously, "but more importantly, I vill not be part of a group... and I vill not be in uniform." Unpinning her silver sash, she folded it and placed it on the desk. "Believe me, I vill not meet any difficulty. Zhe Sunflower Official vill be dead before zhis day is out."

~

Twp leant against the wall, breathing hard. "Mary-Sues," he growled, "I hate stupid Mary-Sues. Why're they attacking now, of all times?" Closing his eye, he calmed his breathing and tried to focus. "Okay. Need to get back to Parma. Need to call in reinforcements. We can deal with this before the PPC find out. We can-"

"Nothing," a voice interrupted, and Twp's eye snapped open. "You'll do nothing."

The Pine Marten stared at the figure in front of him. The man's clothes were a basic PPC uniform with the flashpatch torn away, and his sword looked to be a purloined 'Sue weapon, but his hair made up for all that. It was long, dishevelled, and coloured a deep, vibrant blue. "I know you," Twp hissed, his hand rising to his scarred face. "You did this to me."

"I've a mind to do a lot more," Blue Photon replied, deathly calm. "You ruined my life, weasel, and now I'm going to take yours. You first, and then that Ontic woman."

Twp laughed sharply, pulling his rapier from its sheath. "You? You look like you've been living in a forest for the past seven years, Blue. Me, I've been training." He lunged for the young man, but had to jump backwards as Blue sidestepped and jabbed at his arm. Twp hissed in pain as the tip of the 'Sue sword dragged across his hand.

Looking at the red blood running down the end of the sword, Blue grinned ferally. "Don't underestimate the forest," he said, watching his opponent intently. "I learned a lot there... weasel." Unexpectedly he lunged forward, but Twp swung his blade up and blocked. The sword flew out of Blue's hand, and Twp grinned.

"Didn't expect that, did-- YAEEE!" Blindly, Twp scrabbled at his face, feeling to his horror the knife hilt protruding from what had been his one good eye. Whimpering with pain, he squeaked, "You... my..." His rapier dropped from his fingers.

"Did you really think I'd only have one weapon?" Blue asked in the darkness. "Beginner's mistake, weasel. It's not one you'll get a chance to make again." Then... there was pain.


Chapter Fourteen - The Strongest Will Emerge To Wear The Crown

Tango drummed her fingers on the console. "Have you all forgotten there's a war on?" she demanded.

Steve pursed his lips. "I haven't," he said pointedly. "I just don't know what we can do."

"Nothing," Mortic said, turning in his chair to face the red-haired woman. "We can't do anything, Miss Dioxide. Ellie and I tried before - we had to turn back. It's dangerous out there."

"I spent seven years in danger," Tango said, straightening up. "Why did I keep watching them? So I could come back here and sit and wait while they destroy all we ever stood for?"

"What would you suggest?" Mortic snapped, but Elanor touched his arm and he settled down.

"What would you suggest?" the blonde asked gently, but Tango still shook her head.

"I don't know. You're right, there are a lot of them out there. What could we four achieve?" She sighed. "I don't know. I just... I can't stand just waiting."

There were a few moments of silence, and then Steve said, "I can think of something we can do. Something worthwhile." He looked around the small room. "It won't affect the course of the war, but... Ontic's out there. Elanor, our sister is alive. She's being used by these people, but... we can bring her home. We can save her."

"That's madness," Mortic replied instantly. "She's always been a willing member of the DIS -- of the Black Cats. Why would she want saving?"

"Because she's sick," Tango said quietly, "very sick. She's, well, messed up in the head."

Steve nodded. "She snapped on her first mission with Mort, here," he told her, "and never recovered. They tried to fix her when it happened, but they couldn't." He frowned. "There was another, a DIS Agent, he got brain damaged back during the Reorganisation. I seem to remember they were working on a technique to cure him, but he fled with the rest of them... I don't know. It might be able to help her." He glanced at Elanor. "We have to try, El."

Elanor nodded carefully. "I agree," she said softly. "There's a lot of confusion in a battle like this. I think we could almost pull Ontic out of the Cats' base, wherever it is, and not be noticed."

"Almost certainly the DIA's headquarters," Tango provided. "They'd definitely pick somewhere that's already set up for their purposes."

"This is madness," Mortic said to no one in particular. Elanor turned to look at him.

"Madness?" she asked calmly. "What would you do to save someone you loved?"

Mortic flinched. "That's not fair, Ellie. You were never--" He stopped uncertainly.

"I was a 'Sue, Mort," the blonde told him. "Yes, I was an enemy. But you still brought me back. Can we do any less for Ontic?"

Rubbing his eyes, Mortic sighed. "All right," he said, "all right. We'll do it. We'll go rescue the Black Cats' favourite psychopath. Yippee."

Elanor beamed at the other two. "Isn't he sweet?"

~

Dassie Hyrax drummed his fingers on the corridor wall. "I really thought it would work," he murmured.

His companion turned towards him, and where his eyes should be was a clean white bandage. "It's not your fault," Salamander said. "I suppose the Black Cats have started shutting down the portal generators."

"To keep the Agents in HQ," Dassie agreed, "but I didn't think they'd have reached Bad Slash yet. Unless there's a central computer..."

"If there is, it'd be in the DIA's complex," Salamander pointed out. "Should we head up there and," he winced slightly, "see?"

Dassie considered it for a moment, but shook his head. "Not with you like this. No, we'll go up to the Sunflower Official's office like we said." He glanced at the useless Remote Activator in his hand. "Only we'll walk, I guess."

"Better get started, then," Salamander replied with false cheer. "At least I don't have to worry about focussing on the route. Let's go this way." And he walked off down the corridor. Dassie stared after him, and then hurried along behind.

The pair walked at a decent pace, and Dassie had finally begun to hope that they might be nearing their destination when there was a sound of footsteps and four Agents walked briskly round the corner ahead of them. Two, a blonde woman and a man with short black hair, managed to stop in time, but the brown-haired man stumbled over Salamander's foot, while the other woman, a redhead, collided head-on with Dassie, sending them both crashing to the floor.

"Ow," Dassie muttered. "Ow, ow, ow." Levering himself into a sitting position, he looked across at the woman who had hit him. "You all right?" he asked.

"I think my dignity is broken," the redhead said in a muffled voice, and then sat up herself and looked at him. "Sorry about... do I know you?"

Dassie frowned. "I don't know," he said. "I've not been around for the last few years."

"Well, I... wait." The woman's eyes widened. "You!"

"... me?"

"You're one of them!" the woman screeched. "Steve, El, Mort -- he's one of them! Black Cat! Black Cat!"

"No!" Dassie exclaimed, and finally realised who she was. "Agent Dioxide, no, I-"

But there was no more time to protest. Still crying out for assistance, Tango Dioxide launched herself at him.

~

The Large Auditorium was filled with cries of anger and pain, flashes of high-energy light, and blood. Most of the blood was still contained in the appropriate bodies, but that would not last for long.

"Come on!" Agent India cried, turning to face the members of DAVD who were even now fanning out across the top rows of chairs. "All those with ranged weapons, fire at will; the rest of you, with me!" He charged down the long staircase, past the thousand seats that gave the room its name, and onto the floor, heading for the beleaguered Slashers in the middle.

In the melee surrounding the small group of PPC Agents, Serna Tjan looked up with a grin. "More targets!" she called to Parma Division. Impaling a Slasher with her sword, she turned to face the newcomers. "Time to die!" she called cheerfully. "Flamers -- take-"

Her order was drowned out by a sudden volley of fire from a new direction. It cut into the merging groups indiscriminately, felling Black Cats and PPC Agents alike. Serna felt a sharp pain in her right arm, and looked down to see a neat hole through the muscle, burned just below the end of her sleeve. Her eyes narrowed. "Kill them!" she screamed to the rest of her Division. "Kill them all!"

India watched in despair as the last few defenders were murdered by the new entrants. He assumed they were reinforcements for the DIS, but a single look dispelled that idea. They were Mary-Sues, wielding lightsabers, with an elderly man in a white robe at their head. The DAVDers fell back against the chairs, watching the DIS withdraw to the opposite side. For a moment, India caught the eye of the woman in the red top who seemed to be leading the DIS forces, now holding her left arm as if against an injury. She grimaced at him, then turned away, facing the new, more serious threat. India nodded. "Forget the DIS!" he called to his forces. "Attack the new-- uck!"

Vicious blue lightning flashed from the fingers of the old man leading the 'Sues, tracing jagged lines across the air before grounding themselves on the Agent who had caught Serna's eye. She watched him writhe in what had to be incredible agony before finally falling still, and shuddered. That could have been me, she thought. Grabbing a knife with her right hand, she flicked it across the space between her and the man in white.

Faster than sight, one of the corpses that littered the floor rose into the knife's path, blocking it. When it fell again, Serna saw the man's eyes were locked onto her. Amid all the confusion and death he stood calmly, lifted his hand, and clenched his fist. Serna's throat closed, cutting off all her air as if the distant hand were wrapped directly around it. Choking, she clutched at her neck, trying to loosen the invisible noose, but...

With a twist of his wrist, C'baoth snapped the neck of the woman - barely more than a girl! - who had dared to attack him. Spreading his fingers, he sent a storm of Force Lightning into the rabble she had led, joining it with the weapon-fire his followers were returning to their senders. Some of the Mary-Sues broke off as the enemy regrouped and charged, and the air was filled with the smell of cauterised flesh as lightsabers flashed through it. "See!" the Dark Jedi called out. "See how even together they cannot stand against us!" The 'Sues regrouped, forming a great wedge behind him, and together the Factory's army forced its way across the auditorium and on into the heart of PPC HQ.

~

There was a flare of blue light, and Dassie's view of Tango's angry face was blocked by a pair of black-clad legs. Then there was the sound of impact, and at least two people tumbled on top of him, one of them still trying to slash him with her fingernails. Desperately he pushed at the pair, sending them rolling away across the floor, and scrambled to his feet. A man with orange hair stood holding a Remote Activator and watching him curiously. "Selene's likely to kill your girlfriend," he said conversationally.

Dassie gasped for breath. "Not my anything," he said quickly. "She's trying to kill me. And-"

An incandescent bolt struck the wall beside his head. "Don't move a muscle," a strained voice said. "I may not be as impulsive as Tango, but if you so much as breathe too hard, the next one goes through your head."

Dassie swallowed hard, looking nervously at the brown-haired man holding the blaster. "The man who was with me is innocent," he said carefully. "He's Agent Salamander of the Department of Bad Slash, and he's had a very hard time of late." He looked back at the orange-haired Agent. "You need to take care of him, you and Selene," he said. "And... forgive me."

The Agent blinked. "What for?" he asked. Dassie took a deep breath, watched the blaster rise in warning.

"This," he said, and lunged forward. The man with orange hair went flying into the other Agent, and the blaster shot scorched the ceiling. Before any of the others could respond Dassie was running, running for his life. He knew now that his only hope was to get to someone who knew him. He had to find the SO's office, and fast.

~

There was a mental sigh following Penny's knock. Enter, the SO said. The Assassin pushed open the door and stepped in, her partner close behind with a disgruntled expression, Morgan and Traf immediately after. Once they were inside, Vemi leant against the wall while the other three stood in front of the Sunflower's desk.

"We've got trouble, sir," Traf began. "Morgan got a... um. Morgan, what...?"

"A message," the fair-haired woman supplied. "You know the sort I mean, sir."

Indeed. If anything, the Flower's tone was even drier than usual. Something fascinating, I have no doubt.

"A security breach," Morgan told him. "It meant someone was inside HQ who shouldn't be."

Somewhat like your initial arrival, then, the SO commented. I fail to see why this should interest me.

"We were coming up to tell you," Traf said, "when we bumped into these two. They knew what the security breach was about."

How nice for them.

"Oh, pay attention, will you?" Vemi snapped, straightening up. "They're trying to tell you something important."

The SO's bloom turned slowly to face her. Then they should speak faster, he said levelly.Were it that important, they would--

"It's the DIS," Penny interrupted, glancing at the two DMS Agents. "They were coming up here to kill you. Vemi and I fought them off. Is that serious enough for you?"

... the DIS. I see. The Flower's petals quivered slightly. Agent Penny, I realise your job is rather stressful, but even you should realise that the DIS were driven out of Headquarters some seven years past.

"I told you he wouldn't believe us," Vemi snorted. "Tell me now that I was wasting time."

"All right, all right," Penny agreed irritably. "Well done, you win. Show him."

Vemi strode forward to the SO's desk and pulled something from her sleeve. Shaking the silver sash out, she laid it in front of him. The black cat badge was clearly displayed. "The DIS are back," she said to the Flower. "Either believe us, or let us get out of here and deal with them ourselves."

The Head of the DMS was staring at the sash. This... is very worrying, he said at last. We had supposed... but we underestimated the Bracket Fungus. He was a dangerous opponent.

"I'd say is," Morgan put in. "Sir... I know these people. They were deadly back when they were still pretending to follow the rules. Who knows what they're capable of now?"

Vemi sniffed. "I honestly don't know why you're all so worried," she said. "They weren't exactly good fighters, were they, Pen?"

"Not when they were busy running away, no," Penny half agreed. "I'd imagine it'll be different when they're expecting us - or when there's ten times as many of them."

Indeed, the SO said. The DIS are a grave threat, Agents, and if they truly have returned, the PPC is in more danger than it has been for a long time.

"What, more than the 'Sue invasion back in '03?" Vemi asked. "I mean, that was pretty bad, think of what happened to poor Makes-Things."

Far worse, the Sunflower confirmed. The DIS nearly destroyed us once before. I do not wish to give them a second chance.

"What can we do, sir?" Traf asked. "Will it be like last time? Will you organise us to fight them?"

I rather think I have no choice, the Flower sighed. Open war in HQ... this will not go down well with Building Maintenance. He looked at the four Assassins. And who will lead our forces? You four? You aren't leaders. Vemi looked affronted, but Penny nudged her and she remained silent. I wish... but no. Our best in the last fight have long since left.

On the far side of the room the office door opened silently. The Sunflower Official raised his blossom as the Agents looked round to see who the intruder was, Vemi's knife already in her hand. The figure in the doorway gave a nervous, manic grin. "I have brought someone to see you, please and thank you," she said, and stepped to one side.

The SO's petals curled compulsively. You, he said in an uncertain tone.

Nyx Nightingale swallowed the lump in her throat and nodded. "Me."

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