Doors 14-V

Every Solution To Every Problem Is Simple.

The situation room turned out to be a small, darkly lit space, barely bigger than my bedroom at home. A large, flat screen occupied the far wall, and a rectangular metal table took up most of the center. The lights set into the ceiling were a dim yellow, casting the figures that occupied the room into relief. It was the Guardians, which I'd obviously been expecting. Comet stood at the head of the table opposite the screen, Stump on her right, Instance on her left. He gave me a small nod and a smile when he saw me. On my side of the table were Chain and Thrust, both craning their necks around to look at me with varying levels of interest. And then there was Fog. She'd changed her mask out for one with a distinctly more dour look, lips pursed and eyebrows creased. Brown eyes glared at me through the eyeholes, and tension radiated down her body.

What I'd not anticipated, though, was the lack of anyone else. It was just the Guardians: no Valiant, no solo heroes and, most unexpectedly, no personnel.

“Is this it?” I asked. Well, I opened my mouth to ask it. Before I could get a word out, though, there was a crackling snap, and a jagged spear of ice came hurtling towards me. Passing through my chest, it shot out through the doorway, dragging a trail of smoke and frost behind it.

I gaped open-mouthed at Fog, sitting on the other side of the table. “Are you pooping kidding me?!” I exclaimed, my voice high and shrill. “Again?!”

“Third time's the charm,” she replied, trying to sound calm and failing. The yellow lighting made the fog hovering around her hand seem sickly and corrupted.

“What did I ever do to you?!” I nearly shouted at her. “How can you possibly have this much of an irrational hatred of me?!”

“Fog.” Comet's voice was colder than ice, sharp as a whip. The other hero paused, face hidden behind her mask, then slowly lowered her arm. Her body language was strained and tense. “Wisp, I apologize. Fog's impulse control is an issue we are working on.”

“That's a pretty alarming trait for a hero to lack,” I muttered. Thrust snorted, and Fog just glared even harder.

Comet gestured towards the other end of the table, and I moved down to stand near the corner. “So,” I said, “like I was saying, is this it? I was expecting… the people in charge. Or at least some kind of middle management.”

Instead of answering the question, Comet used one hand to gesture at the room around us. “This room should not exist. From the inside, it appears like most other situation rooms in the Tower. It has all the facilities. It has the same decor.”


“Just roll with it,” Thrust said quietly.

“But it doesn't exist on any of the same paths as the other situation rooms. It exists on no directories. Even the network systems that we can access from in here, have no record of said access. This room is a closed system.”

“Okay…?” I said, confused. “That's pretty cool, actually it's really cool, but that doesn't actually answer the question.”

“It will become relevant in a moment, I promise. Would you play your video on the screen, please?”

I sucked in air through my teeth. “If it's all the same to you, I'd rather not connect my phone to a network that… ohh, that's what the speech was for.” I pulled out my phone, connected it to the projector, and played the video.

When the man with the white tie appeared on the screen, there was a sharp intake of breath, from what sounded like multiple people. So he was a known figure to them, like Stump had thought. Which meant…

My brain raced, collecting information and connecting the dots. Ah, so that's why she did it.

The video ended, and almost instantly the murmuring began. It stopped just as quickly, though, when Comet raise their hand. She has good control over her team, I noted. I wasn't sure why, but my brain flashed back to Skew and the Outliers, and their vitriolic, casual dynamic.

“In case it wasnt obvious,” she said,” the reason that only the Guardians are here, is because they are the only people that I trust completely. Using this room is because some of the people I do not trust may have access to any of the others.”

“Why?” I asked, tentatively. “Who is he?”

“He,” replied Comet grimly, “is a highly-valued employee of the Department of Miscellany.”

Is that a big deal? She's saying it like it's a big deal.

“Yes, it's a goshdarned big deal, you dummy! It means that the freaking U.S. Government is masterminding this shizz!”

“Oh,” I said out loud. “Oh.”

Comet nodded. “We recognize him because he has liased with us before. Which means…”

“Which means,” I finished for her, “you don't know if your people are connected to this.”

She nodded. The other Guardians were staying silent; clearly, they were used to their leader speaking for them. I could just tell, though, that Stump was dying to say something. “If this whole situation is somehow being organized by members of the Tower as well as the DoM, we need to be completely circumspect about this.”

“Um, leaving aside your use of the words 'us’ and 'this’, is it possible that he's not working in an official capacity? Just because he works for the DoM doesn't mean he represents them in everything he does.”

“I doubt he's doing it as a hobby,” Thrust interjected. He was trying to sound casual and jokey, and mostly failing. He'd be the clown, I figured.

Comet turned her head towards him, and he winced. Apparently, the 'Comet does the talking’ rule was enforced. “It's possible, but as Thrust said,” and there was a bit of a barb in the words, “unlikely. Besides, this form of playing the game is not… completely foreign to the DoM.”

“Am I allowed to ask?”

“You are not.”

“...okay then. What about that datapad he mentioned? What's the story with that?”

For the first time, Comet actually looked uncertain. Stump jumped in, clearly relieved to have something to say. “Remember how earlier I joked about things being classified? I'm not joking now.”

No glare this time from Comet. I noticed it, and I think Thrust did too, because his face soured a little before he got it under control. “Does that even matter?” I asked. “You said 'we’, so presumably this is leading up to an offer. If that's going to happen, then there needs to be a little quid pro quo. I just willingly walked into your giant fortress and put myself in a room with six heroes, all of whom could lock me away, and one of whom actually wants to kill me, in order to bring you guys important information. The least you can do is return the favor.”

Instance chuckled, glancing over at, oddly enough, Stump. “She's got a point,” he said in that bland voice of his. Stump sighed, seeming tired, but I noticed his grip on the table tightened.

“We do not know much about it either,” Comet said after a moment or two. Clearly, she wasn't happy about sharing information. Boo hoo. “It was stolen in conjunction with the money that we believe the Cabal took. All directives from those in charge have placed a high priority on retrieving it, higher than the money.”

“So it wasn't stolen from you guys?”

“See, that's the thing,” Thrust interjected quickly. “Nobody knows where it was stolen from. And yet they expect us to go racing after it and bring it back here, even though we'd be stealing stolen property.”

I rubbed my chin, digesting the information. Or pretending to, at least. Truth be told, I had no idea what was going on. I just wanted to find Green Cloak and bring her to justice. And probably that DoM guy too, considering I had them in my grasp and he stole them away again.

“So what are you planning?” I asked, in lieu of actual inspiration.

“In the short term, we need to track down the Dresden Four. And yes, like you predicted, the possible corruption in our ranks may make it difficult. We, I, would like you to help.”

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