There is a square room, twenty feet to a side. Its walls are a flat, sterile white; so are the floor and the ceiling. Each of the four walls has a door near the center, and a large mirror just to the right. Almost but not quite in the center is a wooden end table, slightly chipped. On the table is a lamp; it looks relatively ordinary, aside from lacking a power cord. The lamp illuminates the room dimly, but those within could see each other, if they were awake and squinted.
One is a scrawny boy, ten or so. He has brown hair, glasses, and only one arm. Not far from him is a chubby African-American girl just a couple years older, with a long ponytail. She is barefoot, and the soles of her feet are darkened by some shiny liquid. Next is a 20-something blonde woman in a white dress and yellow high heels, who would be lovely if she wasn't half-starved. Past her lies a tall, overweight Asian man, whose bald head is marked with dragon tattoos; near him is a teenaged Asian girl, thin, with lotus tattoos going down one arm; occasionally, she twitches violently. Beyond them is a young Hispanic man in a suit, whose eyes have been covered or replaced with smooth flesh, making it impossible to tell if he is actually asleep. His eyes are about half again as long as they should be, with an extra knuckle added. There is a black-haired woman in her mid-thirties, wearing a yellow t-shirt and jeans. Near her is a short, muscular in her late forties, with short red hair and a scarred face; she is wearing an orange prison jumpsuit and handcuffs. Finally, there is a tall, middle-aged, scrawny man with wavy blonde hair, wearing dress clothes, with missing thumbs and metallic claws in place of his remaining fingernails.
They begin to stir. The first to wake is the young girl. She looks around, mutters in confusion, and then notices her arm. She holds her hands in front of her face, stares for a moment, and cries out in shock. This awakes some of the others, whose own investigations and noises of shock awake the others.
"It sounds like some of you are awake."
The voice comes from within the lamp. It is one that several of the individuals in the room have the misfortune of recognizing—Jack Slash, infamous leader of the Slaughterhouse Nine.
"This is a pre-recorded message, brought to you courtesy of your friendly Slaughterhouse Nine tinkers." A higher-pitched voice is heard in the background. "Yes, it is. Now then, you have probably noticed your current predicament. We had some spare bodies lying around, and I had an interesting idea. Have you ever played Mafia? It's a party game where a couple of the people present pretend to be murderers, pretending to kill the other guests one by one until they figure out who the murderers are.
"King loved the game, but I grew bored of it. It was too easy, too…low-stakes. Today, I have created a variation that I hope we'll all enjoy. At my direction, Siberian has captured eight capes from across Brockton Bay, and Bonesaw has put them in eight spare bodies. The ninth? Why, none other than my good self. If you can find and kill me, the front door to this complex will open and you'll all be free to go. Naturally, if I can kill everyone, or get you to kill everyone I didn't, I get to go.
"But don't think this will be as simple as sitting around and not dying, and waiting for someone to find you. Oh, I'm sure your teammates have noticed your absence by now, and I have no doubt they'll realize you were kidnapped by us sooner or later. The Siberian is not subtle. But how long will it take them to find where you are? A week or more, with nothing but what's in that little room? Not impossible to survive under normal circumstances, but these are not normal. Even if you resorted to cannibalism, you'd dehydrate in a matter of days. You may have noticed that the air is hot and dry—that was Shatterbird's idea, I'm told. She's always been good with details. In any case, you can sit there, dehydrate, and hope the eventual rescue finds more than dry husks…or you can head out of the room, search for water and food, and hope I don't get a chance to kill anyone. Farewell. I think Bonesaw had something she wanted to say?"
"May the odds be ever in your favor!" said a voice a few in the room recognized as the mad young bio-tinker. With that, the lamp clicked once and remained silent.
The blind man spoke first. "Where are we?"
The Asian girl spoke next. "It looks like we're in a white room. It has four doors and mirrors, and a table in the middle. Other than that, your guess is as good as mine."
The blind man smiled. "I suppose so."
"I don't suppose Jack would tell us who he is?" the red-haired woman asked.
"Can we even trust what Jack Slash said?" the one-armed boy asked.
"Do we have a choice?" asked the black-haired woman.
"Yes," the blind man said.
"I'm thirsty," the thumbless man said. "We should find water."
"No one should leave the room," the African-American girl said.
"Not alone," the red-haired woman said. "And if we're going out, I'd like to know who everyone is. I'm Assault, I don't suppose Battery's here?"
"She is," the black-haired woman said.
"I don't know if I should be relieved or…" Assault sighed. "Who are you? …Right, you can't see who I'm pointing to."
"Me? I'm Dauntl—wait, fuck."
"You're not going anywhere alone," the one-armed boy mumbled.
"Well, fuck you too," not-Dauntless mumbled back.
"I'm—Madison Clements," the Asian girl said, "I'm not even a cape, I don't know why I'm here."
"As for me," the Asian man said, "I'm Photon Mom. And before you ask, I can't use my powers, so I can't blast us out of here."
"I—" the blonde woman started. "I'm Parian."
"Vista," the African-American girl said.
"I'm Sophia Hess," the one-armed boy said. "I don't know why I'm here, either."
"And I'm Armsmaster," the thumbless man said. "I think I might be able to get us out of here. What one tinker can make, another tinker can break."
"Interesting," the lamp said in Jack's voice. "I would have expected more villains, didn't you?"
"There is no way Jack could have known how long introductions would take," not-Dauntless said.
"You're not wrong," the lamp said. "Maybe Bonesaw put together a simple voice-recognition box in the lamp. Maybe I had Siberian grab the precog one of your warlords sequestered. Maybe—"
"Maybe Jack isn't here at all," not-Dauntless said.
"What?" Sophia said. "Are you saying Jack locked seven heroes and two civilians into a cave and just hoped they'd kill each other?"
Not-Dauntless shook his head. "It probably isn't Jack Slash, Bonesaw, or Shatterbird, they're too important to risk that we kill by chance. I doubt Bonesaw could operate on Siberian, Crawler, or Mannequin. Which leaves…"
"Cherish, Burnscar, and Hatchet Face," Armsmaster said. "I think?"
"Didn't Hatchet Face die?" Assault asked.
"Did he? So we probably have Cherish or Burnscar, then. Or no one."
"Unless I was telling the truth," the lamp said.
Madison rolled her eyes. "Why should we trust the guy who had us kidnapped and is trying to get us to kill each other?"
Silence filled the room.
"We should find water," Armsmaster said.
"We should stick together," Lady Photon added. "We need to keep an eye on each other. Any one of us could be Jack Slash, or whoever he put in here…"
"I see a problem," not-Dauntless said. "More precisely, I don't see, and that's the problem."
"I can help," Madison said.
"You don't trust her, either?" Vista said.
"I don't trust anyone," not-Dauntless replied. "Except myself, but no one else trusts me, so I'd say—"
"Why are you so sure no one trusts you?" Battery asked.
"…Because I tried to say I was Dauntless? That looks pretty suspicious to me—figuratively speaking, I mean."
Assault sighed. "Let's not fight until we actually have some idea who we need to fight. We don't want to make Jack's job any easier than it has to be."
"Thank you, Assault." Not-Dauntless stood up. "Madison?"
"I'm right here," she said.
"Great. Now, what does the door look like?"
"There are four," Madison said. "They're all white, with mirrors next to them."
"Any reason not to just go in, say, the left one?"
"There's one in every wall. There's not a left one."
"Of course not." Not-Dauntless sighed. "Any reason not to go through…that one?"
"That's a wall," Sophia said.
Not-Dauntless rolled his entire head, due to not being able to roll his eyes. "Then how about someone else lead? It would still be the blind leading the blind, just less literally."
"Clever," Vista muttered. She pointed to the door nearest to her. "Let's go that way."
No one had any other suggestions, but no one wanted to open the door. Then Assault sighed, and pushed it open. It swung open on silent hinges.