Doors 14-III

Murder, Conspiracy To Commit Murder And, I Don’t Know, Possibly Littering.

I stood, awkwardly fidgeting with my clothes, as Stump and Comet held a hushed conversation, backs turned to me. The experience was taking me back to the time I had to wait outside the principal’s office in grade six after pulling the fire alarm. Not as a prank: I just wanted to see what would happen. I'd had to sit there for an hour, stewing in my own juices.

I could hear snippets of their conversation, but I consciously chose to not listen in, as a gesture of good faith. I mean, they wouldn't actually know that that was why I was doing it, or that I was doing it all, but it was the principle of the thing? I think? Instead, I took the opportunity to have a proper look around.

The hangar was maybe half the size of a football field, and at least five meters tall, with arched and latticed supports. Ventilation ducts dotted the stainless steel walls at regular intervals, which didn't quite seem necessary considering it opened up into the sky. That exit had closed since we'd entered, which I hadn't noticed for obvious reasons. It was two panels that met in the centre, sliding out of the floor and ceiling. A clear panel sat in the middle of the top half, giving a good view of the slightly overcast sky. They couldn't have made it out of glass, it'd be too fragile. Plexiglass? Or that transparent aluminium stuff, maybe?

The group of bikes where we'd landed was slightly off and back from the centre. Against the wall on the left stood a half-dissassembled mech suit, innards exposed, plating removed. A few smaller exoskeletons leaned against the wall next to it, looking old and worn down. Further down that same wall was what looked like a cross between one of those powered diving rigs and a jetpack, sitting next to a few cells of something glowing ominously. There didn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to the way the project were arranged: random tools and parts were scattered about in between the occupied spaces. It was a wonder I hadn't tripped over any of them while dealing with those guns.

At the back of the room was the main entrance, a doorway wide enough for two people to pass shoulder to shoulder. A thin metal wall sat in front of it, blocking it from view, making anyone who wanted to use the door circle around first. Probably a protection against the wind. Wait, no, that doesn't make sense, I realized. If the wind was a factor, all these projects wouldn't be left sitting around in the open. They must have some protection against it, which would also explain the ventilation ducts.

Over on the other side was a smaller doorway, next to some windows with metal shutters covering them. Presumably, this was the workshop of that nutjob Graves. I was pretty sure I'd seen him disappear back into there. The door was closed, a solid block of steel, and orange light was flickering and flaring from underneath it. He must be good at his job, I reasoned, for the Tower to keep him on with a personality like his.

A noise behind me caught my attention, and I turned to find Comet stalking towards me, Stump trailing behind her. She stopped just in front of me, uncomfortably close. I was taller than her by a good few inches, but I sure didn't feel like I was. “Stump has convinced me that you are attempting to be cooperative and helpful.” Now that she was calmer, I could hear a distinct accent to her voice. Something… silky, South American if I had to guess. Chalk it up to nervousness, but I had a sudden flashback to some… risque material I'd viewed that had featured a similar accent. Do not learn to get turned on by angry people, Hannah. Nothing good that way lies. “It is entirely possible that your incident with Fog was truly her fault, but it is equally possible that you instigated it. Your involvement with the Outliers is harder to brush off, but Stump has vouched for you. As such, I am giving you one chance. One. Before you try anything, remember that you are in the Tower, and think again. There is nowhere you can run. There is nowhere you can hide.” Her voice was barely louder than a whisper, and I was caught between trying to lean in to hear her properly and trying to lean back and get her the heck out of my space. “Understood?”

I nodded quickly. “Yes, ma’am,” I replied, my voice a lot higher than I'd have liked.

She stared at me for a second, then gave a tiny nod, and spun on her heel. “Follow.” She stalked towards the main door, and I fell in behind her, suddenly sweating.

Stump locked pace with me, wringing his hands together. “I promise she's normally nicer than this. It's just been rough for her recently.”

“Right,” I said distractedly. Note to self: check if 'scareoused’ is a word. If it is, consider suicide. “With what?”

“Well, that whole business with the Dresden Four and the Outliers.”

“The Dresden Four- oh, them.”

He nodded. We were passing through the doorway, leading into a long metal hallway with glowing white lights embedded in the walls. Oddly enough, it was sloped upwards. I had thought we were pretty close to the top already. “Yeah. Someone in Ops just started calling them that, and it stuck. I think it was after they figured out that there were four of them; the Dresden Three doesn't have quite the same ring to it.”

“Wait, you knew there were four of them?”

“It's a very recent development. Bits and pieces in the trail they left behind that didn't match to any of their power sets. We didn't know exactly what she could do, though. Still don't,” he acknowledged.

“Hmm.” Yep, we were definitely moving upwards. Suddenly, Comet hooked a right, into a doorway I could swear wasn't there a moment ago. We followed her, and found ourselves standing at the bottom of a stairwell.

“Okay,” I said as we started on the steps, “I'll bite. Why are we going upwards?”

There was a beat of silence. Then both of the heroes began laughing simultaneously. “What?” I asked, a little indignant. “What's so funny?”

“Everyone does it.” Stump explained, still chuckling a little. Something about the laughter was really setting off a tingle of familiarity in my brain, but I couldn't pinpoint it. “Everyone, in the exact same way. I did it too.”

“Okay,” I said, mollified. “But why are we going up?”

“We're not,” Comet replied without looking back. Her tone was softer now. “Direction, orientation, spacial dynamics, none of them work quite right in here. This route is taking us down to a situation room on the 32nd floor.”

“Wow.” I took a second to comprehend that. “That’s… fascinating! Is there a consistent pattern to it? Does it ever change? Are there rules it sticks to or is it random? Do people get lost and die?” I winced, realizing how that sounded. “Okay, that was kind of morbid. But it does happen, right? If the geography, for lack of a better word, is random, then it'd had to have happened at least once. Unless… is there a map? Ooh, a constantly changing 3D map! There totally is, isn't there?”

For some reason, Comet shot a glance over her shoulder at Stump, who shrugged half-heartedly. “Yes, yes, yes, no, yes and yes,” she rattled off, amused. "And no, there is not a map. Not exactly. But we can generally make do.” She reached a landing, and turned left through another doorway, then stopped. She sighed. “Until we don't.”

I came up behind her, and peered over her shoulder through the doorway. The room was dark, a large corridor lit only by the glowing fields set into the walls at regular intervals. They cast a soft, eerie blue light that reminded me of a swimming pool.

“What is this?” I asked softly. It didn't seem right to speak at normal volume somehow.

“This,” Comet replied tersely, “is the detainment centre. Or part of it. And it should not be accessible from that door.” She drummed her fingers against her leg for a second. “Unfortunately, we're going to have to go through it, unless the entire Tower has shuffled again, which hasn't happened in years.”

“Uh, boss?” Stump interjected nervously. “What about-?”

She waved him down and began walking. “She’ll find out sooner or later.” I looked to Stump. His blank face was inscrutable, but his body language was hesitant. Well, never let it be said that Hannah Kingsford shied away from knowledge. I entered the corridor.

Most of the cells we passed were empty. Dark steel squares, with a bed on the left and a toilet/shower combo on the right. There were small windows that looked out onto the city, just below the tops of the skyscrapers. We got about halfway down before we saw the first occupied cell.

She was sitting in the back corner of the room, on the floor. Lank hair fell over her eyes, dark with a streak of white. She was almost rail-thin, and dressed in generic white cotton slacks. A whirring cloud of white buzzed around her hands, and she seemed to be staring into it with all her focus.

As we passed, her head snapped up. The two heroes kept walking, looking straight ahead, but I was already watching her, and she locked her eyes onto mine. Dark brown and narrow, they burned with hate and more than a little madness. Somehow, I managed to drag my gaze away and move on. I could still feel her stare boring into my skull until she was out of sight.

The second occupied cell was right at the end. I actually heard it before I saw it. A loud voice was belting out a tune, badly enough that I could only barely recognize it. I think I'd heard it on an Arabic radio station at Sabah’s house once. Stump’s pace increased subtly as we drew close, like he was nervous, and as the cell's occupant came into view I understood why.

Sitting on the bed in the cell, still wearing his brown jumpsuit, was Black Armor.

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