Sunday, January 26, 2014

Insert Dubious Allegiences Here

It was an otherwise normal day in the Library, if any day can be considered normal at the headquarters of the Anti-Cliché and Mary-Sue Elimination Society. The unusual was the norm, and any 'normal' day was taken as a blessing in disguise, with agents waiting for the next problem to occur. But today nothing had gone wrong, and many agents had taken the opportunity to indulge in some recreational activities.

Louise had been out of the hospital wing for over a month, and life for her was beginning to get back to normal. She had been forced to rest for several days under Valerie's care after her ordeal in Warhammer Fantasy, while the senior agents ordered a barrage of checks done of her. They had all come up clean, and thus she was back in her own office.

She smiled to herself as she looked around the room. Her gaze lingered on the expansive family tree that covered the entire wall behind her desk. She was very proud of it and the people located within. Getting to her feet, she walked over to it, and began tracing her finger absent-mindedly along the tree's branches. She knew most of the names by heart, and where they fitted in the scheme of her enormous family. She had been mildly surprised when her research had discovered that there was a very long-distance relationship between herself and the Society's original founder, Harriet, even though they didn't know what the link was yet. They had started referring to each other as 'cousin' anyway.

She sighed. Louise had not seen Harriet in a while, but that was occasionally to be expected. Her mind wandered to her other friends, most of whom were the British agents of the Society. Tash had been spending a lot of time with Adrian recently, but that was to be expected too. The newly-returned Librarian still caused a small amount of nerves in Louise whenever she saw him walking around his Library. She didn't know why; he had helped to rescue her after all.

A small buzz caught her attention, and her communicator rattled along the top of her desk. Before it had the chance to fall off the edge, she snatched it up. Bringing the phone-like gadget to her ear, she asked:


The female voice on the other end was familiar, but she couldn't place them. She had good news; Louise was to be the maid of honour at her wedding. As the words filtered into her brain, she smiled. She finally could place where she knew the voice. It was her friend Charlotte from college. A friend she had not spoken to for many years.

"That's…" Louise stuttered, "… wonderful."

The conversation continued, with discussions about dresses, cake, the obligatory hen party and then who they would invite. By the time Louise ended the phone call, half an hour later, she was completely at ease. Sliding the communicator into the pocket of her jeans, Louise picked up a notebook from her desk, and left her room.

She had been doing a lot of research lately, and it was not uncommon for other agents to find her in an obscure corner of the Library with numerous books piled on the desk before her. And so, with her next research topic clear in her mind, Louise climbed to the top floor of the Library.

She pushed open the door – the sign on it read 'Hypothetical Matters of the Multi-Universe' – but she took no interest of it. The door was closed without much noise, and Louise got to work. Collecting an armful of books from the shelves, she began to take meticulous notes. No other agent found her today, and so it was, several hours later, that Louise carefully put the books back. Her eyes lingered on the cover of one – 'Parallel Worlds: The Science of Alternative Universes and Our Future in the Cosmos' – but only for a few seconds.

With the books carefully returned to their correct places, she began the long walk back to her room.

"Louise!" came a voice from behind her as she turned the corner and headed for her door. The voice was that of the youngest member of the Society – 11-year-old Emily. Louise sighed, turning to greet her. She hoped Emily would not take up too much of her time, she had things to do.

"Emily…" she greeted in a warm voice. She hoped that the pile of notes in her arms would give the young girl the hint to leave her alone.

"Have you seen Alice?" she asked, "I've been meaning to see if I can have a look at those goggles of hers, but she's so protective of them."

Louise shook her head. "Sorry," this was genuine. "I haven't seen her for a while. Have you checked the swimming pool? She mentioned something about trying to practice some diving."

"Okay…" the girl looked appeased, "I'll see if she's there. Thanks…" she disappeared from view, and Louise let out a long sigh.

She let herself into her office, and silently turned the lock behind her. Louise didn't want to be disturbed. Her computer was booted up in a less than a minute. She smiled, wishing she had a computer like this back in Real Life.

Louise unfolded her chair from beside her wardrobe, and perched in front of her monitor. The notes she had taken were neatly piled on the side next to her. She loaded the word processing programme that Phoenixia had installed on all the Library computers; yet again wishing that this programme was available in Real Life.

She leant forward, but before she could begin typing, something jabbed into her leg.

"Damn that communicator," Louise hissed, removing said item from her pocket, and throwing it unceremoniously onto her bed. Now, with nothing to distract her, she began to copy her hastily scrawled notes into a more legible form. She hadn't realised she had written so much until five hours later, she leant against the back of her chair, the 5,000 words of notes neatly typed into the computer.

"Wow…" she murmured to herself, "I really do lose track of time."

Louise simply tapped Ctrl. P. on the keyboard, and then struck the enter key. The 5,000 words of notes, now neatly typed, launched themselves through her small printer. As she waited for the giant document to print, she opened her emails. No one important had sent her an email in a long time – not even a job rejection – so this action was done more out of habit than for any real potential of having a decent email.

Soon she was sat with the notes in her hand. Looking at the monitor, there was now no longer any need for the digital version.

"Would you like to save the file?" the computer prompted her as she attempted to close the window.


It was that simple. Louise stretched. It had been a long day. She gasped as she looked at the small digital display in the corner of her computer monitor.


"Blimey…" she yawned, "time really does fly when you're having fun."

Deciding that it was probably a sensible hour to go to bed, she shut down her computer. Listening to the hum of the fan quieten into nothing, she got to her feet and collapsed her small desk chair. Tash had offered to get her a better chair, but shef liked this one.

She unlocked her door, opening it briefly to have a peer outside. No other agents were in sight. It really must be late. Closing the door again, she changed into her pyjamas, and climbed into bed. The last few days had been really tiring, and it didn't take long for her to fall into a comfortable sleep.


"You look awful…" Alice's voice called down the Library corridor.

Louise looked around at her friend. "Thanks… love you too."

Alice joined her. "You really do… have you been getting enough sleep?"

In answer to that question, Louise yawned.

"You really haven't been getting enough sleep, have you?"

"Only the past couple of days," Louise protested… "I'm sure that my sleep patterns will get back to normal soon enough. It didn't do my recent trip back to Stargate any good."

"What d'ya get?" Alice asked.

The elder agent waved a sinuous device before her friend. It was a zat'ni'katel from the Stargate fandom, an alien weapon that with one shot stunned, and two shots killed any opponent.

"Cool…" Alice exclaimed. "Another to add to your collection!"

The two agents walked together down the corridor towards the kitchen. Neither had had breakfast yet, and Louise sure looked like she could use a cup of tea. As they entered Rhia's kitchen, they found it full of other agents, all thinking along the same lines.

Greetings of "Hi Louise" or "Hey Alice" came from all corners of the room. Louise looked around through her sleep-filled eyes – she noted Claire was sat with young Emily, helping with some form of homework; Cristoph was hovering around Rhia as she bustled around the kitchen making food for everyone.

"Morning all…" came a call from the doorway behind the two friends. It was Dave, their fellow agent and Wargs member.

"Morning!" came the chorus of replies.

"IT'S A DAVE!" Alice squealed and glomped the poor, unsuspecting northerner; he really should have been expecting this, he'd known her long enough.

"Urgh…" Dave let out a gasp of air as Alice's firm grip encircled him.

"Careful Alice…" Claire called from the other side of the table. "The man's not got much meat on him… you might break him."

"No I won't…" Alice squeezed a little tighter.

Dave's voice was a little constrained from lack of air. "Can I have a spatula please?"

"Spatula?" came a new voice from behind the blockage in the doorway. "What do you want a spatula for?"

Jess peered around her obstruction, as Louise attempted to peel her friend from around Dave's waist. "Unless you want to spank some –"

"Thank you Jess…" Rhia's voice called from across the room. "But you are not using any of my kitchen equipment for your sexual pleasures."

Jess groaned in a playful way before sliding around the other British agents, and helping herself to a freshly cooked pancake from the side. "You know, I'm not always that naughty…" she tucked into the pancake. "I… mm, this isn't half bad, Rhia."

That placated the Society's chef a little. "Well, following Alice's stint in the hospital a couple of months ago, I learned how to make British pancakes."

Louise had managed to extract her housemate from around Dave's waist, and the three of them were now tucking into pancakes. "And bloomin' good they are too, Rhia," Louise waved a forkful in the air, causing many agents to recoil for fear of ending up with a face full of pancake.

Alice caught her friend's hand before any damage could be done. "Maybe you should have a lie down," she suggested.

"Maybe…" Louise yawned. She placed her cutlery on her plate, and slowly got to her feet. She had been feeling decidedly sleepy over the past week or so. Maybe Alice's suggestion held some water after all. "I'll see you all when I've had some sleep…" her voice was almost a groan now, and she staggered from the room, and slowly made her way back to her room.



"Eurgh…" Louise groaned and rolled over. She seized hold of her quilt and launched it across the room.


She sat up, hand landing automatically on the communicator. She had hated the fact that she had forwarded her mobile phone through to her communicator. At the time, it had seemed an easier thing than carrying two devices around.

"What is it?" she demanded. "I was asleep!"

"Oh…" Louise replied to the voice on the other end. "Okay… I see… no problem, I'll get it done."

She stretched her arms above her head and yawned. The clock informed her that it was 10:28am. Not a bad time at all. The room was reasonably tidy, for her. Only a handful of unwashed clothes lay scattered in the corner, compared to the state she knew Alice's room would be in, where one sometimes had issues finding a spare foot-hole.

It didn't take long for the British agent to get dressed. A pair of blue jeans and a dark purple t-shirt was all that was needed for a day in the Library, along with the obligatory shoes and socks. She had run around the Library once with bare feet, and accidently stepped on one of the LPMC. Neither had been seriously hurt, but Jared had been forced to make repairs to the poor unfortunate solider.

With clothes on, Louise looked around her room. She was looking for something, and for the life of her couldn't remember where she had put it.

Desk… under the most recent collection of processed junk, she found what she had been looking for. She tossed the paperwork onto the floor, and slid the Glock from her desk and tucked it into the back of her jeans. She lifted her top over the exposed magazine, picked up a pre-packed bag from under her bed, and headed out of her office.

Outside in the Library, there was no-one to be seen. Louise could hear the sound of agents in the nearby kitchen. She didn't have time for them; she had somewhere she had to be.

She didn't encounter anyone else in her travels. The Library was ominous by its emptiness. Maybe they were all gathered at whatever was occurring in the kitchen. Maybe Rhia and Alice were cooking more pancakes.

She reached her destination; the top of the stairs to the basement. Slowly, she opened the door, and vanished from view. She didn't notice Alice coming around the corner. The agent on duty was Gareth. It was his first basement duty, and from the look of his face, Louise guessed that the Sues had given him hell.

She knocked on the office door, and Gareth looked up.

"Hey Louise… come to keep me company?"

"Nah, your shift's over…"

Gareth's face lit up. "Really?" he asked.

Louise nodded, hand held behind her back, gently caressing the butt of her pistol. "Since it's your first duty down here, they didn't want the Sues to make too much of an impact on you."

"Cheers," the grateful agent got to his feet. "Um… Robert and…" he struggled for a name… "that cat-like one,"

"Tabitha?" Louise interjected.

"Yeah her, they're the only ones not causing grief at the moment."

"Thanks Gaz… I'll go in and see what they're up to."

Gareth collected his book from the side, and left the basement. Louise let her gaze wander over the monitors that showed her the state of the basement proper. The majority of the Sues were dressed in bright yellow t-shirts, and only Roxelana, in the darkest corner of the room, wore a reflective blue one.

After the chaos of Willowe's invasion, the basement protocols had been strengthened and modified. The Sues were now given a uniform that indicated their status within the basement: orange t-shirts were worn by the new arrivals, before their level of risk was assessed; the majority progressed onto yellow t-shirts where the risk level was deemed low to medium; however the high-risk Sues were forced into blue t-shirts that glowed in dim light. There was a fourth colour, green, but none of the Sues presently in the basement had worn it for over a month.

Once she was sure Gareth had left, she collected the keys from the hook by the door, and entered the main room of the basement.


Pancakes were good, Alice had decided, although the quantity she had eaten in Rhia's kitchen had caused the other agents gathered there to stare. It was only after her eighth that she decided that maybe she had had enough for a while.

"I'll be back in a sec…" she murmured to the others, dropping from her stool and exiting the kitchen. Sometimes, even with a stomach packed to bursting with delicious pancakes, one's bodily functions complained so loud that one just had to answer them.

It was on her way back from the bathroom that she spotted Louise disappearing into the basement. Thinking nothing of it, she returned to the kitchen.

"We've run out of chocolate sauce…" bemoaned Claire, staring dejectedly at the well-scraped jar.

"I'm happy with the sugar and lemon!" Emily cheerfully tucked into a freshly cooked pancake.

"Any more for you Alice?" Rhia asked from the stove.

"Nah thanks… I'm full." Alice patted her stomach.

"I'd imagine so…" Michael muttered, "after what you've eaten."

Conversation rose and died as people munched their way through Rhia's pancakes. After about 30 minutes, Rhia announced that the kitchen was closed, and that no more pancakes were being made. She'd run out of eggs, anyway. A small moan crept from Emily's lips, but the others started stacking the plates and cups into the industrial strength dishwashers. Alice downed her final mouthful of liquid, and slid unseen from the kitchen.

She had been thinking about Louise from the moment she had returned to the kitchen, and was now beginning to get worried. The last place she had seen her was entering the basement, so that was where Alice would start looking.

With the festivities in the kitchen over, the Library felt fuller. People were coming and going; a number were seated in the corridors. On her way to the basement, Alice encountered Dave.

"Hiya Dave…" Alice's usual enthusiastic greeting was lost with her concern for Louise.

"Hello Alice…" Dave looked up from a book he was reading.

"Have you talked to Lou recently?" she asked, worry in her voice.

"No, sorry…" Dave looked troubled. "Do you want a hand looking for her?"

"Nah, she's probably just down in the basement or something…" Alice left Dave to his book, and wandered towards the basement steps.

The corridor leading from the bottom of the steps was empty and silent. The office, in which the duty agent usually sat, too stood empty. Where was Louise?

Alice reached the second door. Her hand rested on the handle for a moment, before turning it. The basement was unusually dark.

"Lou?" Alice called. Her voice echoed in the space. She could see the faint glow of the Sues, their t-shirts highlighting their positions. "Lou, are you down here?"

A rustle to her side alerted her to the presence of someone, but before Alice could turn to see who it was, a pair of hands seized her from behind.

"What the –" Alice yelped in surprise. A hand wrapped around her left wrist, but with her spare, Alice swung around, catching the attacker in the face.

"ARGH!" the voice was male. Alice's mind whirred for information about which Stus were in the basement. The only names she could drag up were McLaren and Robert.

The attacker tightened his grip on her wrist, and swung her around. Alice struggled, and her fist connected several more times. As she brought it back from its fifth blow, a second hand caught it.

Alice gazed into the eyes of the worst Sue in the basement. Black eyes met blue. It was almost hypnotic but Roxelana blinked, breaking the spell between her and Alice.

"What have you done with Louise?" the agent yelled,

A male voice answered. "We haven't done anything with her."

Alice froze. She knew that voice. "No…" she gasped. Her head whipped around, and there before her stopped Robert, the Stu from Rome. Memories of the Stu's twin, Richard, flashed before her eyes, threatening to make her knees crumble from beneath her. Horror was slowly dawning on Alice as the two man-handled her further into the basement; was Robert, the polite and well-behaved Robert, really just a clone of his twin?

Alice passed the oh-so-familiar basement cells. She stared in horror at their emptiness. Where were the Sues? And where was Louise in all of this?

"Bring her!" a voice called from the other end of the basement.

"No…" Alice gasped. As Robert and Roxelana dragged her closer, Alice recognised the figure of Louise standing at the far end. Around her were gathered the Sues, who until recently had been secure in their cells.

"Put her in there," Louise ordered, gesturing to one of the empty cells right at the back of the basement. Roxelana kicked the back of Alice's knees to get her moving again, for the terrified agent had frozen at the sight of her friend.

"LOU…" Alice cried as Roxelana forced her into a cell, and down onto her knees on the bed.


Roxelana's hand impacted on the side of Alice's face, and the agent's head smacked into the bars of the cell. The lights spun, and Alice's head throbbed.

"Hold her still then…" Robert's voice from behind.

"NO!" Alice screamed, forgetting in her panic that no one in the Library above would hear her. The basement was soundproofed. This was usually a good thing, as it stopped them having to listen to the shouts and yells of the imprisoned Sues, but now that same blessing was Alice's biggest curse.

Robert seized her hands, feeding them between the steel uprights, and looping a length of rope around them. He secured the rope firmly to a lower horizontal bar, to stop his prisoner from standing.

Alice, scared as she was, kept her eyes on Louise. She couldn't fathom what was going on, and why her best friend was acting so strangely. "Lou?" she tried again.

"Gag the bitch, please!" Louise didn't even look at her friend as Roxelana forced a length of adhesive tape across her mouth. She wandered from Alice's view, but the imprisoned agent could still hear her friend's voice.

"I don't doubt that more will come. Robert, Roxelana to the door. The rest of you back here."

The Sues moved as one; all except McLaren, who stood in the middle of the room.

"Why should we obey you?" he demanded.

"Do you want to get out of here? Or would you prefer to rot in the basement?" Louise's voice carried over all the movement. Alice stared at her friend, desperately trying to work herself loose. "If you do not stand with us, McLaren, then you stand against us…" Alice watched a number of the Sues from around Louise get up and approach McLaren.

"I cannot have people disobeying me, McLaren…" Louise watched the Sues surround the dissenter, "… and you are too much of a risk to have roaming the basement." She nodded, and the Sues seized hold of McLaren. They dragged him over to one of the cells in the middle block, and threw him bodily in. Louise strode over, and slammed the door shut. Alice winced at the sound, and doubled her effort to escape.

Alice didn't know how much time had passed, but the Sues and Louise walked in and out of her vision on many occasions. She caught snippets of conversation.

"…no… like this…" a Sue was saying somewhere behind her. Alice desperately turned her head to see the voices.

"… I wonder if they remember me…"

"It'll be good to see my family again."

"Everything is going according to plan, Mirani."

"… I'm going to make that bitch pay for what she did."

One conversation carried across the basement once it started. Louise was in a discussion with Tabitha, who was a young, low-level but very naïve Sue whose power essentially made her a catgirl, complete with ears and a stripy tail. She had been in the basement for a long time, her cluelessness keeping her locked up, but she had never made trouble before. Alice didn't hear Tabitha's whispered replies.

"Look, Tabitha…" Louise was saying, "… do you want to end up like McLaren there? … Good… now get the paper from the office and bring it in here."

The door to the main library opened, and Alice saw Tabitha scurry away out of the corner of her eye, and return moments later with her arms full of paper. In her hands, she clasped a number of pens.

"Leave that here, and get to the back of the basement," Louise ordered, and Tabitha rushed past Alice's cell to cower in the corner.

After a while, the noise in the basement dropped. Louise and a handful of Sues gathered at the back of the basement. Her friend looked at her.

"Not a sound out of you, girl!" she snapped.

The basement door opened slowly, and Alice recognised the skinny figure of Dave enter the room. She did everything she could to alert the new arrival to the danger he was now in. Alice squealed from beneath her gag, but she fell silent as Robert launched himself towards Dave. The breath in Alice's chest caught as she saw the glint on something metallic in Robert's hand, and Dave slowly raise his own.

"Robert…" Dave's voice barely carried across the silent basement, "what's going on?"

"Silence!" Robert's voice was louder than it probably needed to be, and it echoed around the basement.

"Bring him…" Louise called from the back of the room.

"Wait…" came Roxelana's reply, "someone else is coming."

Someone else? Alice's mind went into over-drive. Who could it be? She stared furiously at Louise, praying that this was all a dream.

"Hold him," Roxelana gestured at Dave, and Robert backed away from the door. Dave, his helpless hostage, could do little to resist. He daren't speak, not with Robert's blade held firmly against his throat.

Alice's eyes bugged as the door opened again. The short figure of Jess stuck her head around the door. "Da-aave…" her voice was light and almost care-free.

Dave's concern for his friend was overriding all worry about his own well-being. "JESS!" he called, but Robert's knife gave a small nick on his throat.

Roxelana rushed forwards, looping her arms around the exposed one of Jess', and pulling her into the basement. The door shut with a snap behind her. Jess fought with all her might, but the other Sues, previously hidden within the basement, moved forward, and soon Jess had her face pushed into the wall.

"I would advise you both not to struggle." Louise paced over to the new arrivals. Alice could just make out Jess' reaction as she laid eyes on her friend. It was clear that the same thoughts were running through Jess' mind that had coursed through Alice's upon her capture. Louise was her friend too, after all.

"Bring them both back here." Louise return to the back of the basement, and her willing conspirators dragged the two agents behind her. "Put them there." Louise gestured to a patch of floor within sight of Alice's cell.

Dave and Jess both had their hands bound, and were forced to their knees. The Sues pushed them back to back. Robert stepped forward, a length of rope in his hands. He fed the rope between the two agents' tied wrists, and bound the agents together tightly. Now, try as they might, neither could move any distance.

"GET YOUR HANDS OFF ME YOU FUCKING BASTARD!" Jess screamed. Roxelana slapped her, and retrieved a length of duct tape for Jess' mouth. She forced the tape over the struggling agent, but eventually she managed to silence her. Roxelana turned to Dave with the tape.

"No…" Louise interjected, "that won't work on him. Use the rope."

Robert forced the thick rope into Dave's mouth before the poor agent could protest. Jess continued to struggle, and Dave was almost pulled onto his side by the forceful motion.

Alice watched this all with tears in her eyes. She was scared; she was angry, but above all she was confused. Why was her friend acting like this?

Louise seized a handful of Jess' hair, and pulled hard.

"I would advise you do not struggle, girl…"

Jess screamed from beneath her gag, but Louise kept hold. She forced Jess' head back until it collided with Dave's.

"Do NOT test my patience…" she gave Dave a whack on the head with her free hand. "Either of you."

She released Jess with a shove, and strode away to talk to the Sues again.

Dave and Alice's eyes met across the room. Both could see their own emotions in the other's face. Fear; shock; confusion; terror. Alice shook her head gently, and Dave sighed.

Alice looked back across the basement for Louise. She was deep in conversation with Robert, and they were joined by Roxelana. The three of them appeared to be the leaders in this little hostage taking, although as Alice watched, her gaze met the wandering one of Robert's.

Alice looked away instantly, but in that hint of a glance, she was sure she had seen something slightly more than the cruel and vicious man she had taken him for. She had seen a hint of perplexity in his face as he looked at Louise.

Time passed again. Jess tried to turn around to see Alice, but every time she did, her movement threatened to pull Dave over. At one point, she managed to twist herself around to see Alice out of the corner of her eye, but she had been spotted by a passing Sue. Louise had exploded at them, and there was now a guard stationed by them at all times.

Louise appeared to be waiting for something. At one point, she was standing less than a metre from Jess and Dave, hands on hips. Alice saw Jess gasp beneath her gag, but couldn't tell what had given her friend cause for alarm.

"I told you…" Louise seized the young Reena by her bright yellow t-shirt with one hand, and gestured towards the door with the other, "…to guard the door. We don't know if they will try to attack us." She shoved the poor girl in the direction she was pointing and turned, rolling her eyes at a watching Roxelana.

"Someone's coming…" came a frightened squeal from the doorway not long later. Reena and her cell neighbour Kerrie came tearing towards the back of the basement, as Roxelana and a Stu Alice didn't recognise took up places by the door. Robert started towards the door as well.

"No… You watch them…" Louise gestured towards Dave and Jess. Robert obeyed without question.

Alice watched in horror as the door opened and another of her friends walked into hell. She prayed whoever it was would give the waiting Sues a run for their money, and a good kicking to boot.

"Hello…" It was Claire. "Guys, are you here?"

Run Claire… for God's sake run! Alice's mind whirred.

"Mmmmmm!" Jess risked sound. Before the Stu guarding the hostages could react, Roxelana, hidden in the shadows, made her move. Her hands shot out of the darkness, startling Claire and seizing hold of the small figure that sheltered behind the older agent.

Emily Smith screamed.

Roxelana pulled the young girl backwards…

"EMILY!" Claire yelled… "What the –" her protest was cut short when the Sue placed a concealed blade at the 11-year-old's throat. "No!" Claire gasped. It was echoed at the back of the basement as all three hostages held their breath.

"Then surrender…" Louise called across the room. "Surrender, and the whelp will not be harmed."

Robert scowled. It was evident from his face that the capture of a child was not part of the twisted agreement they had made with Louise.

It was as if Louise's words had cut the tension in the room. The three hostages squealed for all their might, willing someone to come down the stairs right now and end the nightmare they found themselves in.

SLAP! Louise's hand impacted on the side of Alice's face.

"Okay…" Claire whispered, raising her hands in surrender. "Please… let Emily go."

The Stu lingering in the shadows behind Claire stepped forward, forcing the poor agent against the wall and yanking her hands behind her back. A length of rope was then used to bind them. A second piece was passed to Roxelana who proceeded to tie Emily's hands behind her back.

"What…" Claire breathed. "You promised she'd be let go."

Louise walked up to the newest captive. "I made no such promise. She will remain unharmed, as agreed." She turned to Roxelana and the Stu. "Ash, Roxelana – stick them with the other two."

Alice's eyes almost bugged out of their sockets as she watched them bind Emily to Claire. She remembered who Ash was now – the violent Stu that Avak and Lily had caught in The One fandom, wearing yellow simply because he had been very sorry for himself after Avak's beatdown. Alice shook her head sadly as her eyes met Claire's. Alice's eyes drifted to the small form of Emily, huddled behind her. The poor girl, Alice thought. She must be terrified.

Louise, Roxelana and Ash Harth were in quiet discussion in one corner. Robert leaned against the far wall, arms folded. He was not happy that there was now a child involved. Occasionally he caught young Emily's terrified face staring at him. He attempted a half-smile, but this only caused the young girl to drop her gaze suddenly. Robert sighed and returned his attention to the figures of his friend and her new companions as they made their way towards him.

"Now…" Louise planted herself in front of four of the hostages. "You should know that you are pawns. Pawns that will help us get out of this dump." Louise leaned against the outside of Alice's cell, and folded her arms across herself. "You should also know that I am prepared to do anything to ensure that we succeed. I don't want to hurt any of you, but if you force my hand I will. If…" Louise started pacing up and down in front of her friends. "If you do anything that angers me…" she nodded at Roxelana who was now in the cell behind Alice. She looped a rope over the immobile agent's head, and pulled back, fastening the helpless Alice to the bars by her neck.

All hostages let out a squeal. Alice's squeal was loudest. Roxelana seized her hair, and pulled. Louise merely watched.

"It's a shame you're not who I wanted…" Roxelana's voice was cold and bitter, "but I will make sure that I get her eventually."

"ROXELANA!" Louise yelled, causing the room to echo with the volume.

"I'm just playing…" Roxelana gave a wicked grin in the direction of the other hostages, all of whom squirmed.

"Not now… you will have plenty of time for that later." Louise returned her attention to the agents in front of her. "As I was saying… if you do anything that angers me, or displeases me, or pisses me off in any way…" she thrust her hand in the direction of Alice, "…she will suffer for it."

The hostages who could see Alice gazed with sympathy at her. None of them knew what had gotten into Louise. She was Alice's best friend, and would normally never have done anything to hurt her. Alice's eyes met Jess', and the latter could see the fear there. A single tear rolled down Alice's cheek.

"Robert…" Louise called and the Stu looked up from his position against the far wall. He had adopted that position following Emily and Claire's capture, and looked reluctant to leave it. "Go and get that paper that Tabitha brought in." The Stu sighed and obeyed.

"Now…" everyone in the basement could hear Louise, but it was clear that it wasn't for all. Roxelana and Ash huddled in the corner with her. "All we need to do now is to let them…" Louise gestured to the ceiling with her thumb, "in on our little secret."


Rhia had spent nearly two hours cleaning up the mess the others had made in her kitchen. Although, even she was prepared to admit it had been a fun time. It was almost as much fun as when they had all danced the Caramelldansen to Electric Light Orchestra's rendition of 'Roll Over Beethoven'. Now, though, she was bored and looking for one of her friends to cheer her up.

She knocked on Alice's door. Alice was usually a good source of amusement, whether she knew it or not.

"Alice… Are you in there?"

No response came from within. Louise's room was habitually next door ever since the two friends had joined the Society. Rhia moved on, and knocked on the other door. No sound.

"Mmmm…" Rhia was a little concerned. Alice and Louise were usually to be found in each other's rooms when they weren't on a mission, and even then they were normally together. Rhia wandered off, hopefully she would find someone eventually.

She turned one of the many corners in the Library, and found herself outside the basement. Gareth was on duty at the moment. It was his first duty session in the basement. Rhia hoped that the Sues weren't giving him too much of a hard time. Her eyes scanned the area for a friendly face, but there was not a soul to be seen – only the stark white of some paper tacked to the basement door.

Rhia turned to move on, but stopped. "Hold on a second…" she murmured to herself, turning back to the basement door.

On the door, for all the world to see, was a notice. Rhia looked at it. The words took a couple of minutes to sink in.

"I have taken five Society members hostage…" Rhia didn't read any further. She tore the poster from the door, and ran for the nearest member of the command staff.

Running half-blind through the corridors of the Library, Rhia barrelled straight into the one person she had been looking for.

"Adrianwe'vegotabigprobleminthebasement, Ithinkthere'ssomethinggoingon!"

"Whoa…" Adrian held his hands out to support the breathless Rhia. "Slow down, and tell me what's happened."

Rhia didn't say a word, she merely thrust the paper she was clutching into the Librarian's chest.

Adrian unfolded the seriously creased paper and read it. After a few heart-stopping moments, in which Rhia could swear she could physically hear the sound of her own heart pulsing in her chest, Adrian looked over the paper at her.

"Rhia…" his voice was serious. "Where did you find this?"

"On…" she panted, still trying to catch her breath, "on the basement door."

"How long ago?"

"Just now."

Adrian didn't respond. He turned around, and headed back the way he had come. "PHOENIXIA!"

When Rhia had caught her breath, she followed. She eventually found him, the rest of the command staff and many other agents, in the briefing room.

"We can't acquiesce to these demands…" Michael, incensed that his wife was involved, was standing over the note which had been laid out on the table. "This is ridiculous! There's no way in hell we are releasing any of them… especially after this!"

"Michael…" Tash was standing side-by-side with Adrian at the far end of the room. "Ridiculous or not, these are their demands, and they have five of our own down there."

"Six," Rhia corrected from the doorway. The command staff all looked round at her. "Louise may not be a hostage, but she's one of us."

There was a long pause.

"Does anyone have any idea why she's done this?" Harriet voiced from her position, previously unseen in the corner. "Has she been planning it from the start?"

"Or did we do something to instigate this?" Valerie queried.

"This is not time to think about the whys and the why nots." Adrian stepped towards the desk, taking control of the discussion. "We need to sort this situation out now. Phoenixia!"

Phoenixia whirled to the keyboard, surfing through to access the basement cameras. She frowned at the field of static that was presented to her, so tried the other four in quick succession.

"What's the hold up?" Adrian was becoming impatient.

"Give me a moment –"

Only static came up on the screen of all five cameras in the basement and the adjoining rooms. Phoenixia tried once more, bringing up error messages.

"The cameras are broken."

"All five at once?" Tash couldn't believe that fate was that much of a bitch.

"Let me rewind the feed…"

Past an hour and a half's worth of static, the high-definition picture returned. Phoenixia rewound it to a point that revealed Louise's entrance – the office camera showed her dismissal of Gareth from duty. She then followed the questionable agent from the office into the basement proper; there was talking, lots of talking, more talking… getting the attention of the fifteen-or-so currently incarcerated. Then…

"She unlocked the cells, all of them… whatever she's told them, they liked the sound of it. And – "

She cut off as she saw the reason the cameras were broken; Louise aiming a powerful handgun up at the camera in the corner, the Sues covering their ears – then static. The same fate befell the other four cameras, one by one.

"Louise is armed. She shot out the cameras. The five are in even graver danger than we thought…"

"Right, that does it." Adrian's hands came down on the desk with a thump that made the other agents jump. "There're plenty of security methods built into that basement. That sprinkler system has a sleeping gas supply."

"Doesn't that take some time to work?" Ben queried.

"I think it does… about twenty minutes. And they'd know something was up long before then," Phoenixia explained.

"And that could mean the worse for the captives," Rhia pointed out.

"There's another method though, isn't there? Flooding the basement with nitrogen…" Avak interjected.

"That's dangerous!" Valerie was shocked at the very suggestion. "They could all asphyxiate."

"They wouldn't notice it for a while though…"

"I'm reluctant to use gas – both will affect Emily fastest; by the time the others start suffering, she could be dead. We could also hurt Louise and her asthma," Harriet protested.

"Then it's simple." Adrian stated. "If gassing isn't an option, we electrify the floor, knock 'em all out – then we simply go in and –"

"No, Adrian," interrupted Phoenixia.

"Why not? It'll have this situation sorted in thirty seconds. Quicker than the gas and potentially less problematic."

"Alice is epileptic," she explained.

The information gave Adrian pause, not expecting this kind of obstacle and mildly surprised at the affliction of the agent in question. "Still, it'll do what we need it to do; and it might give Louise and the Sues a second thought if their hostage has a fit!"

Phoenixia shook her head. "Alice's seizures are grand-mal. Tonic-clonic. She could seriously injure herself and the fit would actually put all parties in jeopardy, including us. Plus, she has my assurance that we will never do anything that could threaten her epilepsy."

Adrian nodded, acquiescing to her point. A massive, full-blown seizure would be of no help to anyone.

"They've worked us into a corner; we can't use our own security systems…" Tash despaired.

"We could destroy their morale a bit, if we turn on the sprinklers… no one will die from a bit of lukewarm water," Ben suggested half-heartedly.

"Actually…" Tash perked up, "…that's not half bad." She turned to Phoenixia. "Nixie," Adrian did a double-take at the new nickname for his oldest friend, "can you set off the sprinkler system remotely?"

"Sure…" Phoenixia returned to the computer, and after a few taps of the keyboard, turned back with a half-smug smile on her face. "There… they are now all very wet."

"Wet is all well and good, but they are going to expect some sort of a rescue attempt eventually," Cristoph moved to stand by Rhia as he spoke.

"And we're going to have to make one. Adrian is right. We can't let this go on much longer."

"It would help if we could have an accurate image of where the hostages are. With the cameras broken…" Harriet pointed at the final comment on Louise's demands, "maybe a negotiator is required."

"I'm not negotiating with them!" snapped Adrian.

Tash placed a comforting hand on her partner's shoulder. "This won't be negotiating, love. All we need to do is get a decent look at the current situation down there. Plus it will give the hostages hope that we are actually doing something."

"It will also tell Louise that we aren't ignoring her," Michael murmured, "else she might cut her losses."

"So…" Ben's voice was still the lightest in the room, "who's stupid enough to go down there?"

Everyone looked around as Rhia raised her hand to the ceiling.

"I volunteer."

"NO!" Cristoph protested.

"Cristoph…" Rhia rounded on her lover, "this is my decision. The note clearly states that people like Tash, Adrian and Michael are not permitted. I'm the least offensive here."

"Lord Adrian!" Cristoph was clearly searching for an ally.

Adrian appraised Rhia and her determination. "I agree…"


"But –"

"You will wear a wire, Rhia." Adrian's voice was firm. "It'll be invisible, but we will be able to listen into what is being said, and be there to guide you."

"Thank you."

"Well, I'm coming with you then."

"Actually, that's also not a bad idea. Cristoph can shadow you in the corridor. I would advise you don't go further than the doorway."

"I don't plan to," Rhia reassured him.

"Cristoph," Adrian turned to face him. "I will leave the judgement on when to remove Rhia from potential danger up to you. Should you feel she is in danger of capture, injury or worse; you remove yourselves from the situation. We'll be listening in carefully."

"Yes, Lord Adrian."

"Right…" Phoenixia clapped her hands together, "let's get you both wired up…"


"DAMN THE SOCIETY AND THEIR CURSED SYSTEMS!" McLaren raged from his cell. His hands clenched around the bars, he shook with all his might.

"It's just a drop of water, McLaren." Reena and Kerrie were smug at Louise's treatment of him. They had retrieved a number of mattresses from the cells, and were now sheltering under their make-shift protection.

The others in the basement weren't so lucky. The sprinklers had been on full-blast for over half an hour, and now every inch of the basement floor was soaking wet. With the basement on a very small incline for drainage purposes, the hostages were now seated in approximately an inch of water. The Sues and Louise sloshed around, cursing the water. All the occupants, captors or captives, were now thoroughly miserable.

Alice looked into the faces she could see of her fellow hostages; into the faces of Dave and Claire. Water was pouring down their faces, and, with their hands bound behind them, there was no way to wipe it clear. Claire had her eyes screwed up; Alice wasn't sure whether she was suffering the same pain she was or whether it was just the water in her eyes. The ropes around Alice's wrists had reacted to the deluge, expanding until it was physically painful. With the tape still firmly pressed against her mouth, Alice could do little but wince.

Louise was pacing. She had been doing so for a while, but the squelch of her denim trousers was slowing. Alice worked furiously to remove her tape gag. The water had softened the adhesive, and she had managed to get the tape removed enough to breathe through her mouth again. So far, no one had noticed.

On one of Louise's passes by her, Alice froze in her mad effort, and looked up at Dave. His head was bowed, as if in prayer. Alice knew of Dave's conviction, so wasn't entirely sure whether he was indeed praying to his God, or had merely given up fighting.

Alice glanced around the basement. She didn't want to get caught removing her gag. Standing against the wall to her right, Robert looked seriously fed up. Gone was the arrogance that he had displayed upon her capture. Now he was wet and clearly not wanting much more involvement in whatever it was Louise was planning. As if sensing someone watching him, he looked up. His eyes met Alice's, and she saw sadness. In that one instant, Alice could see the difference between Robert and his more vicious brother Richard.

She dropped her gaze and furiously worked on her gag. Robert continued to watch her with interest. He knew what she was doing, but no longer had any fight in him. If he was honest with himself, he wanted someone from upstairs to come down and stop these events; although he would never admit it out loud. He'd end up like McLaren or worse, and then there would be no-one to protect the hostages.

"Robert…" Louise's voice called across the basement. Alice saw the poor Stu jump in fright. "Get over here!"

Robert sighed and followed the order. Dave looked up from his awkward position on the damp floor. Alice saw a brief flash of green in his eyes, but he blinked and it was gone. Alice poked her tongue under the edge of her tape. Her friend's eyes bugged, Jess liking the idea and beginning to work on her own, but Claire, who was also watching, gave a small squeak.

On the other side of the room, Louise's head whipped around. She stormed around the cells to stand towering over Claire and Emily.

"Did I hear a noise from you, bitch?" she demanded of Claire, who furiously shook her head. "No… you'd better hope not, else she will suffer for it." Louise spun around and glared at Alice, who appeared to shrink.

Louise began pacing again, right in front of the four hostages. Emily watched her with fear in her eyes. Dave caught Emily's eyes and tried to reassure the youngster, although without words this was a little challenging. While Louise was pacing, Alice frantically forced the tape from the mouth. Bit by bit it came away, until as Louise passed her one more time, she was able to murmur…


Louise stopped her pacing. Her back was to Alice, but the other agents could see that she was fuming. Slowly, she turned to glare at her hostage.

"Lou… Lou, what are you doing?" Alice's voice may have only been a whisper, but it carried across the entire basement. All eyes were now fixed on the scene. Louise moved around the edge of the cell until she was level with the door.

Fear was driving Alice recklessly onwards. "Please… you've got to be in there somewhere. I know you wouldn't have done this. Please, tell me what's going on."

Louise stalked into the cell, and stood towering over her best friend.


Louise reached behind her, and pulled her Glock pistol from under her top. Lowering it before her, she took aim at Alice's forehead. All five hostages, as well as some of the Sues and Stus, gasped in horror.


Louise cocked the gun. Alice was now visibly shaking with terror. Tears rolled down her face.

"Lou… please… it's me, Alice…"

Suddenly a gasp from an unexpected source filled the basement. Louise didn't move, but the majority of the others looked towards the door to where Rhia now stood; her hands cupped around her mouth in shock. Finally, Louise turned towards the new arrival.

"Ah…" Louise pressed the gun hard into Alice's head, but uncocked the weapon and soon it was back in her trousers. "Gag her properly this time…" she ordered Roxelana, who was slowly advancing on Rhia. Roxelana grumbled, but turned around and headed for Alice.

As Louise exited the cell, she turned to Robert. "And you, do the same to those four," she snapped.

Robert stood by the hostages for a moment, watching Louise move slowly up the basement towards Rhia. It was evident in his face that he was not at all happy about the turn of events. He walked in front of Jess, and crouched down; a length of rope was in his hand. Jess pulled back as far as she could. This wasn't far, for she was still bound to Dave. Robert reached up, and tried to gently remove the tape gag. Jess' struggling was not helping, and eventually he lost patience and ripped the tape off, as one would remove a plaster. Within a few seconds, Jess had the length of rope shoved in her mouth and tied off behind her head. She mumbled loudly, but Robert took no notice of it.

Robert moved around to Claire, who recoiled into Emily. Her eyes met Robert's, and she turned away instantly. The Stu's hand reached under her chin, and gently lifted it, but his hands were not harsh. She turned back to face him.

Robert sighed. "Look… I don't know what Mirani is doing either. I wasn't expecting this." He looked down the basement to where Louise was approaching Rhia. "And for what it's worth, I'm sorry." He reached up and slowly and gently removed Claire's gag.

"Why?" Claire whispered.

"I no longer know." He looked at the rope in his hand. "I have to gag you, but if you stay quiet, I won't have to gag the little one," he gestured towards Emily.

Claire sighed, and nodded. Robert was gentler with her than he had been with Jess. He tied the rope tight, but he was true to his word, and left Emily untouched.

"I'm sorry…" he murmured again.

At the other end of the basement, Louise finally reached Rhia, who stood hovering in the doorway. The corridor behind her was dark. Cristoph lingered in the doorway of the office, just out of sight.

"Ah… so they sent the weakling after all." Louise appraised Rhia.

"Don't react," Adrian hissed in Rhia's earpiece from the Library above. "Don't let her goad you. Just be civil."

"Louise…" Rhia acknowledged. Her eyes were forever drawn to Roxelana, hovering like an impatient wasp at the edge of the conversation.

"Have a problem with the water system, do we?" Louise demanded, gesturing to the still torrential downpour that was falling from the basement ceiling.

Rhia paused as if thinking of a response. "You did it," she answered, "when you shot out the cameras. It's caused a short-circuit in the electrical system that has triggered the sprinklers."

"LIAR!" Louise bellowed. "I shot out the cameras long before the sprinklers started. One of you idiots up there must have done this."

"Stay calm Rhia…"

"I can see if I can get them to turn it off. What are your demands?"

"We want out!" came McLaren's yell from the back of the basement.

"And none of you bastards tracking us!" Ash echoed.

"They're right," Louise focused on Rhia. "We want to leave this hell of a basement and do not want your stupid Society keeping tabs on us."

"Um…" Rhia paused, listening to Adrian's advice in her ear. "Okay… why don't you release Emily as an act of good faith while I discuss it with –"


"But she's just a child!" Rhia protested.

"Rhia… no don't…"

Louise glared at Rhia, and Ash vanished from her side, moving back down the basement.

Rhia watched him go down, her eyes lingering on where the hostages sat, staring at her. "What about the hostages?" she asked.

"Oh, they will be let go as soon as we are clear of this hell-hole."

Rhia swallowed as a thought rushed through her mind, and threatened to overwhelm her. "Dead or alive?"

"That's down to you, isn't it?" Louise sneered.

Rhia paused again. Adrian's instructions were coming thick and fast now, and she had to focus to take it all in before relaying it.

"Why don't you speak for yourself once in a while, girl, rather than parroting what the Librarian is hissing in your ear?" Louise snapped at Rhia, causing the poor agent to jump.

"Because he knows what to say better than I do!" Rhia realised she had said too much as Louise turned to Ash, who was now lingering in Alice's cell. The poor helpless agent tied to the bars could do little but watch Louise nod, and Ash's hand smack her across the cheek. Her glasses slid from her face, and skidded to a halt at the edge of the cell. Ash's fist came back for a second strike. Alice shrunk away from the blow, which when it landed echoed around the basement with a loud…


Rhia winced loudly.

"Rhia… Rhia, what's happened?"

Alice strained against her tethers as she screamed wordlessly at the pain that was now coursing through her body. Blood flooded from her broken nose, staining the front of her blue top a deep red slowly turning black with the volume of blood. Dave and Claire, with a clear view of Alice, could do little but gaze in despair at their friend.

"Say something Rhia…"

"It's…it's going…to take us some time to sort everything out," Rhia's voice came out in a hurry after her initial stammer.

"Best hurry up then, girl!" Louise snapped.

Rhia turned, and rushed from the doorway.

"Shouldn't you be following her, ninja?" Louise called down the corridor to the hidden Cristoph, who peered around the corner of the office and followed Rhia up the stairs.


In the Library above, a small group were gathering outside the steps to the basement. Adrian and Tash were deep in conversation.

"Adrian, regardless of what she has done, Louise is a friend; she's one of us," Tash had her hands on Adrian's arms.

"I know that Tash, but I will not risk the others on that account."

Tash knew he was right, but could barely bring herself to admit it.

The basement door opened; Rhia and Cristoph emerged from the darkness. The former looked pale and gaunt, as if she had witnessed a great horror.

"Rhia!" Tash gasped as she rushed forwards and wrapped her arms around the chef. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine…" she sighed as she looped the earpiece from its position in her left ear. Her right arm unconsciously sought the hand of her lover, and Cristoph willingly obliged. He held Rhia in a firm, comforting embrace.

"Tell us what you saw," Adrian appeared from behind Tash.

Cristoph led Rhia to a nearby chair.

"Louise is definitely armed," she explained.

"How can you be sure?"

"I saw her holding the gun to Alice's head…" she buried her face into Cristoph's stomach.

"Oh my God!" Kyle gasped.

"We didn't hear a shot," Harriet queried.

Rhia emerged from Cristoph's black robes. "No, she didn't shoot her, but it was close."

All the people gathered there sighed in unison. There was a genuine fear that Louise might actually shoot one of the hostages now, and no-one, not even cynical Aster, wanted more blood in the Library. Gareth sank into a chair in the corner, only now realising how close he had come to being caught up in this mess himself.

"Why is she doing this?" Valerie murmured. It had been the question that had been bothering the majority of the agents in the Library ever since news had broken that it was Louise that had taken the hostages in the basement.

"And why Alice?" Rhia questioned. "I thought those two were inseparable."

"They normally are," Tash explained. "I don't understand."

"Never mind that now," Adrian led the ever-increasing group back into the briefing room. "Rhia, show us where they all are on the blueprints."

Rhia scooped up several different coloured pens. She highlighted the location of the four paired hostages and of Alice in her cell.

"In this cell," she indicated the cell in the far back left of the basement, "they have locked McLaren."

"McLaren?" Harriet exclaimed. "Why would they lock up one of their own?"

"Maybe he pissed them off, like he pisses us off," Ben suggested.

The agents gathered in the briefing room all let out a small chuckle at the fate that had befallen the Stu, but it wasn't long before all eyes were once again on the basement blueprints. There were times laughter was needed, to prevent tears.

"How many Sues are out of their cells?" Valerie asked.

"All of them."

"Any of them armed?" Michael queried.

"Not that I've seen."

"We can't take that for granted," Adrian explained. "We assume all concerned are dangerous until proven otherwise."

Harriet's eyes had been drawn to the small circle labelled 'Alice' in the solo cell.

"Why's Alice on her own?"

Rhia went silent, her eyes meeting Cristoph's. "They're using her as a punching bag," Rhia explained in a whisper.

"What?" Tash exclaimed.

Rhia nodded. "Whenever I did something that displeased Louise, she would have one of the others hit Alice."

"We heard you wince," Valerie said, "was that one of those times?"

"Yes… Louise ordered Ash to hit her, and he broke her nose."

"I'm gonna fucking kill 'im…" Avak muttered angrily from the back of the room.

Adrian studied the basement layout in front of him, tracing his finger around the various points that Rhia had indicated.

"Okay…" Adrian placed his hands on the table, with the plans of the basement still laid on it. He picked up a pen as he spoke. "Here's what we are going to do…"


The basement occupants were now thoroughly cheesed off. A number of the minor Sues and Stus had found themselves a bed to sit on in a cell, and were quietly conversing. Robert leaned against the wall. His position beside Emily and Claire had not changed since Rhia had departed. Occasionally, Ash or Roxelana would make a threatening move towards the young Emily. Robert would step in to block their approach, casting a protective shadow across the hostage. Whenever he did this, Claire would look up at him, curiosity in her expression.

Alice witnessed Robert's protective behaviour through her pain-filled eyes. She was not sure why he was acting in this way, but with her focus as distracted as it was, her mind was not as crisp as it usually was.

Roxelana and Ash alternated between lingering in the cell behind Alice, and guarding the door to the main Library. Whenever they passed Robert, both agents would stare at each other. Robert did not look like he was going to back down in his defence of Emily.

Louise was the only person in constant motion. She paced up and down the basement, occasionally performing entire laps of the room in her frustration. Her eyes kept darting towards the basement door, as though she was expecting someone to come hurtling through it. As she walked, her feet splashed in the surface water.

Rhia had been gone a while when the sprinklers finally turned off. Everyone, captives and captors alike, let out a sigh of relief. The unending torrent of water was like standing in a persistent cold shower with no way to turn the flow off.

"You two…" Louise snapped at Roxelana and Ash as she leaned against one of the barred walls. She blinked furiously, wiping her wet hands across her eyes to dispel the tiredness. "Get over by the door!"

Roxelana withdrew from her latest staring match with Robert, and stalked to join Ash at the front of the basement.

The basement door opened not long after, and Rhia poked her head around the edge. "Hello?" Her voice held a hint of bravery that it hadn't had earlier.

"Ah, you're back at last. I was beginning to think you didn't care for your friends." Louise sneered.

Roxelana was standing in the cell behind Alice, but she started towards Rhia at the sight of her. Catching sight of the Sue, Rhia let out a small squeak of fear.

"No, you stay there!" Louise ordered.

Roxelana snarled briefly at her, but stalked back behind Alice. Ash, however, started moving down the far side of the basement towards the door.

But Rhia threw the door wide, and a gust of wind whistled through the room.

Before the majority of the Sues could react, they were falling like bowling pins.

The source of the wind was swiftly revealed to be four agents, followed by several more.

Ben crashed into Ash at the corner of the room close to the door, but the Stu had reflexes quick enough to go for Ben's throat; Avak grabbed Ash's hair and wrenched back hard, the Stu struggling for all he was worth. He was not going to give up easily, but the two agents soon had him flat on his face on the floor and his hands behind his back.

Michael headed straight for the hostages, and spotting Robert, thrust the unsuspecting Stu against the wall. Robert put his hands in the air the moment he realised the game was up.

Tash came to a halt in the cell behind Alice. Her eyes fixed on Roxelana.

"STOP!" Adrian's voice echoed around the basement. He had launched himself at the source of the problem, and the most dangerous of all the captors. He wrapped his arm around Louise's neck.

Roxelana was the only person with it enough to react. She whipped a knife from her pocket, and seized hold of Alice's hair. The blade pressed against the hostage's throat. Tash wasted no time in yanking Roxelana backwards. Alice winced as the knife scratched across the exposed skin on her neck.

Michael pushed Robert even harder against the wall, grinding his face against the brickwork. The four hostages in the corner stared on with a few muffled noises, Michael's anger near-tangible to them. Claire in particular would not take her eyes off her husband.

"No one lays a hand on my wife!" Michael seized the defenceless Stu's arms and yanked them hard behind his back. A pair of handcuffs clicked closed around Robert's wrists, but there was no need. He wasn't fighting back. "I'm going to make your miserable life hell."

"YOU!" Louise yelled from her position within Adrian's restraint. "HOW DARE YOU?" Her shout was directed at Robert, and his meek surrender. "YOU HAD ORDERS!"

Adrian was still holding Louise, but the dubious agent was now struggling with all her might.


"Calm down, Louise…" Adrian's voice was calm and yet authoritative. She did not calm down. With one arm wrapped around her struggling form, Adrian reached into his pocket and retrieved a syringe filled with a clear liquid. Louise caught sight of the needle as he brought his hand up.


Kyle, who had appeared with several other agents at the basement door, seized hold of Louise's arm and held it still as Adrian plunged the needle into a vein.

Louise screamed. In the confined space of the basement, her voice was more shrill, more piercing than usual as it reverberated off the surrounding walls.

Adrian withdrew the needle, and held Louise with both arms until the drug took effect. Louise thrashed about. She kicked backwards, her foot impacting several times on Adrian's shin. The Librarian gritted his teeth, and kept his hold.

"Calm down, Louise…" he murmured again.

The drug was generally a slow acting one, but with her violent struggles, Louise was forcing the sedative through her system at an increased rate. After less than 3 minutes, Louise began to sag.

She collapsed into Adrian's arms.

"Finally…" Ben sighed, standing over the now-unconscious form of Ash.

"Get the hostages upstairs for Valerie to take a look at, and get the Sues into the cells. I don't care which ones. We'll sort them out once this is over," said Tash, kicking the restrained Roxelana into another cell and locking the door.

Michael seized hold of Robert, who was still face-first in the wall, and launched him bodily into the nearest cell. Robert landed awkwardly, crashing to the floor, but Michael didn't care. He merely slammed the door behind him.

Tabitha had burst into noisy tears and was being gently escorted into a cell by Gareth. Reena and Kerrie, once they realised what was going on, had cowered in a corner before they remembered their mattress fort was inside a cell. Kerrie leapt forwards and pulled the barred door shut, just in time for Gareth to move down and lock their door.

"And Louise?" Rhia asked, gazing at the limp form of the British agent in Adrian's arms.

"I'll take her upstairs. Let's hope we can get this resolved quickly."


The five hostages had been brought to the hospital wing immediately after they had been rescued from their ordeal. The ropes binding them had swollen so much and had been so tight they had to be cut off with extreme care before any of them could even move. All of them were soaked through to the bone and shivering from the cold, with sore wrists and mouths and still extremely shaken.

People had been sent scurrying to fetch them all warm and dry clothes, and as they tried to towel themselves down Valerie checked them all over. Of them all, only Alice had been bad enough to be admitted: her nose kept pouring blood every once in a while, she was very dizzy and she had found it difficult to walk after so long tied into one cramped position. She sat propped up in a bed under layers of warm blankets, wearing hospital-issue white pyjamas and a towel wrapped round her damp hair, with a bag of ice and a box of tissues. She kept swinging between saying she was sleepy and asking urgently for Louise.

The five would not yet be released from the wing, admitted or not, because the Society knew very well what to do in a hostage situation and until they had all been debriefed separately, they had been told to make themselves comfortable. The only other person in the hospital wing was Valerie, working on something busily but still keeping an ear out.

So Dave had claimed a chair for his own, his short hair drying easily and wrapping up warm in an oversized Fair Isle jumper. Jess was perched on the bed next to Alice's, her university hoodie pulled on over her long-forgotten winter pyjamas. Completing the triangle was Claire, seated in an armchair wrapped in a thick blanket with Emily snuggled in another on her lap.

"It's nice to be warm again…" the youngster mumbled, half-asleep. Claire smiled, her arms around her. The other two nodded silently. Thinking of something coherent to say was difficult.

There was the sound of conversation outside the hospital wing; a woman's voice, and a man's. Then the door was opened; the double doors had been half-locked so that only one could be used, and Michael was standing guard outside. The woman then nodded to him, and entered the wing.

"Hati…" said Claire.

"Hello my little chickens, how are you all?" Harriet said, a kindly expression on her face.

"Been better…" mumbled Jess, turning to the side and lying down on the bed.

Dave smiled weakly. "A little dazed, otherwise I'm okay."

Alice only released a soft moan from beneath her blankets. "Lou…"

Claire said nothing, but her smile dropped. Emily looked up at who was practically her adoptive mother.

"Has anything happened yet?" she asked, her voice quiet and high.

"No news to give, I'm afraid," said Harriet. "Not yet. Someone will be along in a while for you lot – but I'm taking Ems now. C'mon sweet pea – how does a nice warm Lush-filled bubble bath and a big mug of hot chocolate sound?"

Emily smiled widely and slipped out of Claire's embrace, allowing the elder to pat her head before she shuffled to Harriet's side.

Alice's head lolled in her pillows. "What… about Louise… can't… leave…"

Harriet paused mid-stride and looked behind her momentarily, but continued towards the door. "Don't worry, honey," was all she said in reply. She and Michael exchanged troubled glances, and then the door swung shut behind them.

Claire sighed and sunk back into the softness of her armchair. Jess had rolled over to glance at Alice.

"Are you all right, Claire? You seem very… well, um…" Dave trailed off, unable to find the right word.

Claire shook her head, drawing the warm woolly blanket up to her neck. "I feel as if I want to burst into tears… I'm not looking forwards to the debrief…"

"Same…" said Jess, now on her back, whose usual bravado and outgoingness seemed to have drowned under the restraint and deluge of the basement.

"At least it's over," said Dave.

"It's not yet," said Jess. "What on Earth's come over Louise?"

"Was that even her?" said Claire, hoping she was right.

"Would be nice to know some reasons, have an explanation…" murmured Dave.

"Lou…" moaned Alice from her bed. "Where's Lou…?"

"Got a point," said Jess. "I wonder what they did with her?"

"I thought they locked her up?" said Claire.

Jess and Dave both gasped. "With the Sues?"

"No, no I don't think so… somewhere else."

The pair deflated a little, flopping backwards into their respective soft seats, just glad to be out of the nightmare.

Then Alice, who had dozed for all of three minutes, woke up silently, and mumbling something about Louise, dropped her bag of ice and pulled back her blankets to slide out of bed. Alarmed, Valerie rushed over.

"Alice? Alice, what are you doing?" She gently reached out to stop her.

"I've…got to get to Louise…"


Alice shook her head. "Need…"

"You need… what? Can I get you anything?"

"Where's Louise…?"

Valerie paused; the other three looked uneasy. Why was Alice adamant about getting to Louise?

Alice then twitched violently, and a little more blood dribbled from her nose, dripping onto her white top. "Oh…"

The healer took the opportunity to help the confused woman back onto the bed, loosely tying back her long hair and dabbing the blood off her face. "Here's your bag of ice, now hold it against your face. It'll make you feel better," she said softly and slowly, as if speaking to a child.


"Will be fine, I promise you," Valerie stroked Alice's forehead. She seemed mollified by this, quietening down. "Now why don't you sleep?"

Valerie took the opportunity to lift the bed rails. Her anxiety for Alice, her well-being and any post-kidnap effects was high; the others would be coming to debrief the adult hostages soon, and she would inform them of what she saw in Alice and her concerns.

But for now… all were safe and out of danger without any serious injury, which for the Society was a bonus.

"I just hope there's more to this than how it looks…" said Dave softly. "For all our sakes."

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