Mortic jogged down to the next corner, but prudently stopped before showing any part of himself around it. Clearing his throat, he said, "Jay?"
"That you, Mort?" the Assassin's voice came back. Mortic breathed a sigh of relief.
"Yeah, it is. Can you try not to shoot at me this time?"
"Oh, hush. No one hit you before."
"Not quite, no." Cautiously, he stepped around the corner, and then walked quickly over to join Jay and Jared. Surveying the group of Assassins gathered behind them, he nodded. "Nice. This should be quite a surprise for them."
"I'm sure it'll be very pleasant," Jay murmured. "Are they near?"
"They passed their HQ about two minutes ago," Mortic confirmed. "I checked the barricades, they're all still in place. This is where they'll come through."
"Good," Jared spoke up, his face grim. "Let's make sure it's the last place they ever see."
Mortic exchanged a brief glance with Jay. "That's the plan," he told the other Agent. "I think we outnumber them here, so we should be able to pull it off."
"Unless they get reinforcements from DIS Central," Jay pointed out.
Jared snorted. "You're underestimating yourself. They churned everyone out of there hours ago."
"I hope so," Jay said. "I don't like surprises."
Mortic shook his head slowly, but Jared grinned. "Except on them."
"Exception noted," Jay said dryly. "My point stands."
"Then let's quiet down," Mortic suggested. "If they don't know we're here, we'll have a better chance."
"Right," Jay agreed, and they fell silent to wait.
It didn't take long. The sound of tramping feet not marching, not the DIS reached their ears within minutes, and so, when the first Guards turned the corner and hesitated in shock, they were ready. Jay's arrow struck the foremost DISer in the forehead, throwing him back and knocking down the pair behind him. Then the Assassins behind her moved forward at a jog, miscellaneous melee weapons swinging, and vanished around the corner. Jared accompanied them, leaving Mortic and Jay behind with the few Agents whose ranged weapons were completely unsuitable for close combat. Mortic looked at Jay. "It's going well," he commented, raising his voice to be heard over the fighting going on just out of sight.
"How can you tell?" Jay asked curiously. Mort shrugged.
"No one's come back, have they?"
"They could all be dead," Jay suggested. Her eyes sparkled, seeming to suggest a morbid fascination with the idea.
"They're very loud for corpses," Mort pointed out. Jay's eyes kept sparking, and after a moment, Mortic glanced back towards the corner to see that there was a cloud of silver sparks darting around in the corner. He shook his head ruefully. "Teach me to be poetic," he muttered.
"What's that?" Jay asked. Mort shook his head again.
"Nothing important. I-"
The sound tore through the noises of battle like, well, a loud electrical zapping noise through the sound of a medium-scale melee. Jay frowned. "That's not one of ours."
The sound continued, with rasping electronic voices starting to intrude over the top. Mort looked worriedly at the corner. "Do you think we should move?" he asked.
"Forward or back?"
"I don't-" He stopped talking when Jared, accompanied by maybe half a dozen Assassins, ran back into view. They were somewhat tattered as might be expected from the fight they'd just been in but nothing to account for the sheer terror in their eyes. They dashed right through the waiting group, and for all Jay's efforts to find out what was going on, she couldn't get more than a strangled "Run!" from Jared before he escaped. Nervously, she looked back at Mortic, who was painfully aware that half of their remaining group had fled with Jared.
"Maybe we ought to take his advice," Jay suggested. Mort nodded.
"I think you're right..."
But it was too late. In the now-silent corridor they heard an electronic whine, and then five hulking metal shapes appeared around the corridor. For a moment, Mortic didn't recognise them, but then their domes turned, and in the cold blue light of those mechanical eyestalks he remembered. Grabbing Jay's arm, he turned and ran, incapable of even calling a warning to the rest of the group. That was what saved him, for behind his fleeing back the dread machines came to a stop, and a chorus of metallic voices screeched out one word:
And then there was light.
Blue Photon was insane, but he wasn't stupid. He had heard the screams coming from the other cells, and knew full well what they meant. The DIS had finally decided to get rid of them all. He was going to die at last.
It came as something of a surprise to realise that he didn't want to. To be killed because They could no longer find ways to hurt him was one thing. To be disposed of simply because he was of no further use, that was entirely different. He decided, while a nice young lady three cells down was making sounds that rather implied the Guard was taking his time over killing her, that he wouldn't go down without a fight. Not now.
Blue was crouched in the corner of his cell when Twp'atwt finally appeared. The Pine Marten's claws were stained with dark blood, and his eyes seemed to gleam red in the dim lighting of the cells odd, that, seeing as the lights weren't actually red, but Blue wasn't in a state to notice. All he saw was that the Guard had the key to his cell, his cage, and was turning it, opening the door...
The prisoner's lunge took Twp completely by surprise. It had been so long since Blue had shown any interest in the world outside his own head that Twp had been expecting this to be an easy kill. Yes, the prisoner had been an Assassin at one time, but he'd been locked away for nearly a year. And, indeed, Blue's strength was fairly pitiful. If Twp hadn't been caught by surprise, his attacker would have been dead within half a second. But Twp hadn't been expecting an attacker at all, and that made all the difference.
Blue knew all too well that fighting Twp'atwt fairly would be suicide, and his newly-rediscovered love of life wouldn't let that happen. Instead, a pair of images flashed once more through his tangled mind Twp's claws, Twp's gleaming eyes and then a third his own hands, with the gnarled talons that were once his fingernails. As his enemy recovered his balance, extending his claws to make the killing blow, Blue lifted his arms and plunged the nails of his right hand deep into the Pine Marten's eye socket.
Twp'atwt's scream was far above the range audible to humans, but his flailing paws were information enough as he back-pedalled rapidly out of the cell, attempting to flee. Blue moved with him, gouging his nails even deeper until they met on the far side. Then his other hand came up, trying for Twp's uninjured eye. Seeing this, the Pine Marten let out another scream and threw himself backwards. In Blue's hand was left a slimy orb, staring up at him until he threw it away in disgust.
Screaming constantly now, Twp tried to flee, scrambling now on all fours towards the nearest door, the door into the corridors of HQ. He was almost there, Blue loping along after him, when suddenly the door flew off his hinges and a harsh white light shone through.
Nyx Nightingale squinted into the darkness, trying to make out what was going on. Behind her, her strike team imitated the action. "Some sort of struggle?" Alex Orange suggested.
"I think so," Nyx said distractedly. "Is that... hey, Sam, would you say that's a Pine Marten crouching there?"
Sam Apple, who had the best eyesight of the entire team of seven, nodded. "One of that class of rodent, yes. Looks injured, too I can't be sure, but he may even be missing an eye."
Nyx drew in a startled breath. "Twp," she said, too soft to hear. Then, louder, "And behind him?"
"Regular human male," Sam said. "Probably one of the prisoners. I think the light knocked him out."
Nyx raised an eyebrow. "Is that even possible?"
Sam shrugged. "Search me. Shouldn't we be getting in, though?"
Nyx nodded. "All right. Alex, you take the twins and go check that prisoner. Sam, you and the others go down the corridor and see if there are any others left."
"And what will you do?" Alex asked. Nyx closed her eyes momentarily.
"I'm going to have a chat with a one-eyed Pine Marten, Agent Orange. If he'll talk to me."
Twp's one eye was squeezed closed against the light, and his ears were still giving him no information, so it was not until he felt a hand touch his shoulder that he knew he was being spoken to. The pain in his empty socket had partly subsided, so he was able to open the other eye with gritted teeth and look into a familiar face. "You," he hissed.
Nyx Nightingale's lips moved, and Twp would have laughed if he wasn't in so much agony. "Can't... hear you," he told her. "Your precious... SO managed to knock out... my ears." He grinned, showing a mouthful of sharp teeth.
Nyx was talking again, but Twp didn't care. "Can't win," he said, glaring up at her. "Take the prisoners... if you want, but... can't win. We have... advantages. All. And we... can leave." Reaching up with one clawed paw, he dodged Nyx's attempt to block him she was fast, but this time surprise was on his side and pressed his palm against the black cat. Then there was blue light, and green grass, and blissful sleep.
Nyx stared at the spot where Twp had crouched. What he'd said was probably just standard rhetoric, but the fact that he had been able to portal out, just like that to parts unknown, although the state of his face meant he probably wasn't coming back to fight any time soon held deep significance. The Assassins were already in enough trouble against the Guards, not to mention the war machines she'd heard rumours of on the way up. How could they cope if the DISers were able to appear and vanish at will? Shaking her head, she straightened up. "Anything?" she called to the rest of her team.
"He's waking up," Alex reported. "Looks like he's okay, really some old scars, and he's dreadfully thin, but otherwise..."
"Let me see him," Nyx ordered, and the three Assassins stepped out of her way. She stepped forward, knelt down in front of the tattered prisoner, and then... his eyes widened, in almost perfect unison with hers. "Blue," she tried to say, but he was faster.
"Little Guard," he said with a grin slowly appearing on his face, "you're just in time. I'm afraid your friend was a bit put out when I refused to die. Maybe you will be too!" He lunged forward, both hands reaching for her face, but Nyx had already thrown herself backwards. She lay on her back, winded, trying desperately to get her breath back and get to her feet, but was too late. Blue appeared over her, eyes wide and staring. "Your precious DIS has lost, little Guard!" he shouted. "You can't do anything to me now!" And then, as Nyx braced herself for another attack, hoping she could somehow see his move in time to counter it, Blue Photon looked up, screamed "DIS!", and ran out of the door.
Nyx sat up, a frown on her face. The only people in the room were the rest of her team. Obviously, then, Blue had simply seen black uniforms and assumed that they were the same as all the others in this place Guards. Shaking her head, the Agent tried to stand, but found herself restrained by a pair of hands on her shoulders. She looked up into the grim face of one of the twins she still couldn't tell which.
"Let her up," Alex said in a harsh voice, "but keep hold of her." The twins pulled Nyx to her feet, gripping her arms tight enough to leave bruises, but Nyx was wise enough not to complain. "Nyx Nightingale," Alex Orange said to her, avoiding her gaze, "on my authority as an Agent of the PPC and loyal to the Sunflower Official, I hereby place you under arrest."
"I didn't know Assassins did arrests," Nyx said blandly. "Why are you doing this, Alex?"
"You heard what that prisoner said," Alex snapped. "He called you a Guard. Are you going to say he was sane enough to lie?"
Nyx winced. "No, but-"
"-but the SO trusts you and sent you on this mission personally, I know," Alex agreed with a nod. "That's why I didn't just have the twins kill you here. You're going to be taken to see the boss. If he doesn't know what to do with you, no one will."
Chapter Eighteen - Conclusions
"I doubt anyone is," Jay muttered savagely. "Do you have anything useful to offer?"
"Yeah, actually, I do," Mort snapped. "That we keep running. Jay, those are Daleks you're trying to kill!"
"Do you think I don't know that?"
"Well, seeing as you're planning to attack them, yeah, I think you don't know that!"
Jay turned and scowled at him. "Look, we came out here to stop the DIS, yes? We knew it'd be hard and dangerous, but it's what we're here for. Why should we stop just because they've got new weapons?"
"The Doctor never seems to have trouble with them," Jay said calmly.
"Oh, well, great," Mortic retorted. "If we're relying on dumb luck, nothing can go wrong!"
"We're not," Jay assured him. "I do actually have a plan."
"Oh, marvellous. And what is it, pray tell?"
The lock clicked, and Jay straightened up. "Right. Did you ever see Five Doctors?"
"... once," Mortic said. "Is it relevant? I don't remember there being Daleks in it."
"There was one," Jay said with a grin. "And the First Doctor killed it... with a mirror." She pushed the door open to reveal something Mortic would swear HQ had never possessed a mirror storeroom.
Mort looked into the room, and then back at Jay. "... you're really weird," he said.
They only managed to assemble a small team. The threat of roving war machines had driven most of the DMS most of the PPC into hiding. Mortic glanced over at Jay as they walked in a tight group towards DIS Central. "Are you sure we'll be enough?" he asked.
Jay shrugged, her expression only slightly concerned. "Should be," she said. "Provided we do it right."
Mort sighed. Back to dumb luck, then. Then they arrived at the last corner and Jay waved them to a stop. "We need to be able to move," she whispered, "so it's one mirror each, okay?"
"You've told us this three times already, Jay," Mortic pointed out. "We know what we're doing."
Jay's eyes widened in innocence. "I was just checking," she said. "Right, and please remember, I'm going to be relying on you getting into place quickly. And-"
"Don't forget to let you through," Mortic finished. "We've got it, Jay. Now go."
Jay nodded. "All right. Here goes nothing..." And with that, she jumped around the corner into full view of the DIS contingent waiting a hundred yards away.
Mortic ran through a fast count of five, and then shouted, "Now!" The group spilled out across the opening, mirrors held vertically in front of them, looking for all the world like a Roman legion with very very polished tower shields. Jay darted between the last two as they came together, the Assassins turned their heads away, ducking behind the mirrors, and then the corridor was filled with "EX-TER-MIN-ATE" and electric-sounding zaps, and then screams and explosions, and then Nendil's familiar voice yelling "Noldolantλ is go, repeat, go!" And then silence, filled only with some slightly disturbing bubbling sounds.
Mortic looked over his shoulder at Jay, who shrugged. "I already risked my life once. It's your turn."
"Right, sure," he said gloomily, and stuck his head cautiously up over the top of the mirror. There wasn't a single living soul left in the corridor. Several Daleks were sitting there, their tops burnt-out craters, and on the floor around them an array of apparently-unharmed Guards lay in distorted poses, victims of the reflected Dalek weaponry. But there were far less than there should have been, and Mortic couldn't help recalling their encounter with Nendil and Jay back when the war was just beginning.
Neither, apparently, could Jay, who had come forward and joined him. Looking over the field of battle, she sighed. "Ah, fiddlesticks. Where've they gone now?"
Nyx's team former team made good progress, only encountering one small group of Guards and no war machines with them early on in their trip. They arrived at the Sunflower Official's office within half an hour, and Alex opened the door without knocking, revealing a scene of barely-controlled chaos.
"- have to be somewhere!" an Assassin Nyx didn't recognise was shouting, hands gripping the edge of the SO's desk as the Flower tried to lean away from her.
Agent Thorntree, we have no reports of DIS activity in any part of HQ.
"What, so you think they just left? Be reasonable, sir!"
I have ventured no opinion-
"Or done anything to find out-"
-but if you are so concerned, should you not be out patrolling the corridors yourself?
"He's got a point, Jay," Mortic Wentway said, stepping away from where he'd been standing unobtrusively against the wall. "He has to be here to deal with anything that might come up hello, Alex but there's nothing stopping us searching."
You might wish to keep an eye out for Agent Calinson while you do, the Sunflower Official put in. His partner has been sending me increasingly urgent messages.
"He's not back?" Mortic asked, startled. "I thought he'd run straight home."
He did not, the SO stated. Now, please...
"I'm not finished with you," Jay warned, straightening up and glowering down at her boss.
"But it can wait," Mortic said, taking her arm. "Come on, we'll find them if they're still here."
Be sure to search thoroughly, the SO said as Mortic dragged Jay out of the door. Then he sighed. Agent Nightingale, Agent Orange, Agents Hust, welcome back. Please shut the door. The Hust twins escorted Nyx in, and Alex closed the door behind them. Thank you. Now, report.
"I regret to inform you, sir, that your agent may have been subverted," Alex said. "One of the prisoners identified Nightingale here as a Guard, which-"
"It was Blue," Nyx said tiredly. "I went back into Central to talk to him after the MS left, and he must have recognised me from that."
Blue Photon? Is he still alive, then?
"He is," Alex said, "and was outside his cell, for some reason."
"I think he was fighting Twp'atwt," Nyx filled in. "They were both in the lobby, and he'd managed to take one of Twp's eyes out. Oh, and Twp said your noise thing deafened him."
Really? Excellent. I had hoped for an effect along those lines. Now, I assume you are holding Twp'atwt prisoner? That will be useful, the rest of the DIS seem to have all portalled somewhere.
"So did he," Nyx answered gloomily. "And Blue ran off. I think he's completely insane."
"Certainly acted insane," Alex put in. "Sir? What should I do with her?"
Oh, let her go, the Sunflower said irritably, waving a frond. She isn't a Guard, she was merely undercover as one for a time. I congratulate you on your vigilance, however. Now... Agent Orange, I think you and Agents Hust should attempt to track down Blue Photon. He could be a danger to both himself and others if he is allowed to remain loose.
"HQ's a big place," Alex said uncertainly. "He could have gone-"
Perhaps you misunderstood me. That was, in fact, an order. If you happen to encounter any members of the DIS, you should inform me immediately. Now please get out of my office.
They went, Alex throwing a quick glare at Nyx as the door shut behind them. Nyx stared after them for a moment, and then looked back at the SO. "Sir...?"
The Flower slumped tiredly. It has been a long day, he acknowledged. However, for you I have good news. With one tendril he pressed a button on his desk, and an image of a room in Medical appeared on the wall, showing a young man sitting up in bed, and a pair of furry lizards on racks above his head. Nyx gasped in recognition. "Dassie!"
Nurse Sims informed me of his awakening a quarter of an hour ago, the Sunflower confirmed. Apparently he asked for you. You may go to him. But Nyx?
Try not to get yourself arrested again, please.
There was only one person in HQ at that moment who was in a position to think 'grey walls make a change', and Blue Photon was far too preoccupied to do so. Nonetheless, they did, compared to the darkness of the prison he had lived in for so long.
He had thought, when he began his headlong flight from the DIS, that he had no destination in mind, and consciously that was still true. Unconsciously, he found that his feet seemed to be heading in a certain direction, his eyes scanning the doorways for something, he didn't know what. And, since he didn't know what, he found it.
Response Centre #1830 wasn't anything special. There were RCs with strange consoles, trans-dimensional windows, extra shelf space, and even stranger things, but 1830 wasn't one of them. There were thousands like it, possibly millions (or possibly one, with each individual RC being an aspect of the One, if Agent Philip Laurence Ato, Department of Author Correspondence, was to be believed), and each of them had just one purpose: to keep its Agents happy, for a given value of happy, between missions.
In the case of #1830, it was about to fail at that task, for reasons that had nothing to do with its present occupants, but everything to do with its former owners, Agents Tango Dioxide and Blue Photon.
When Blue burst in, the two girls sitting on their beanbags looked up, one irritated, the other curious. Both expressions turned to abject terror when they saw the state of the intruder, and the curious one stuttered, "Wh... what do you want?"
Blue didn't, couldn't, answer. He simply staggered across to the shelves, searching for something that wasn't there. Seeing the two Agents' packs on the floor, he lunged, scrabbling through while the girls clearly not Assassins, or he'd be dead by now clung to each other in terror.
With a triumphant cry, the ex-Agent held up what he'd been looking for the Remote Activator for the console in RC #1830. Ignoring the previously irritated girl who exclaimed, "Hey, that's ours!" he scrambled the settings with one hand, pressed the large button, and dove through the portal, which closed behind him with a very final snap.
The two girls looked at each other. "We're moving out," the irritated one said. "Like, yesterday."
No, of course you shouldn't shut down the console! We don't want to leave him running around at random in the Multiverse, so we have to leave him a way back! The SO cut the connection to Hornbeam in DoSAT before the Tree could formulate a response, and then looked up at the door. All right, he said, I suppose you heard that?
You were broadcasting awfully, the Sub Rosa said, pushing the door open and entering with two other Flowers. Troubles with the cleanup?
Blue Photon, the Sunflower explained. He returned to his old Response Centre and portalled out to parts unknown.
Surely we can locate him, the Wisteria said. Tell the Agents to be on the lookout...
Or more than that, the other Flower, a Tiger Lily, said. I'm sure the DIS have a lot of equipment that they're no longer using. We could easily track him down.
And terrify him even more? No, thank you. Now, what did you want, exactly?
We wanted to talk about power, the Sub Rosa said. And we're not here on our own, except literally the Marquis de Sod, Hornbeam, the Lichen... we have a lot of support among the Department Heads.
All right, you've made your point, the SO said. What do you want?
Not to live under a dictatorship, the Rose said bluntly. The Mysterious Somebody was bad, and he had the Deputies to keep him in check. Now you've abolished those, what's to stop you becoming even worse than him?
My naturally meek nature? No, you're perfectly justified in that fear, even if it's not going to happen. Do you have an alternative idea?
We have several, the Tiger Lily said. The SO's petals tilted towards her.
Look, who exactly are you?
She works in Intelligence, the Sub Rosa said. She's been very helpful in our deliberations on what can be done about the leadership situation, about the vacancy the DIS have left...
Really, the SO said flatly. And what do you aim to get out of this?
Stability, the Tiger Lily stated bluntly. I aim to become a Department Head someday, and I can't do that if I'm too busy watching my back.
Precocious little thing, aren't you? the Sunflower murmured. Well, never mind. If your ideas are as useful as your superior seems to think, you may be justified in that. At least a little.
I'm certain they will be, the Tiger Lily said eagerly. The SO's petals quivered.
Quite. Now, then, Sub Rosa... shall we discuss this in more detail?