Once we reach the other end of the line my eyes immediately fall on the strange person attending the phone. Not that there's anything else to look at, as whatever villain is behind this whole thing apparently suffers from a poor sense of feng shui or is stingier than a hive full of bees. There's just a plain door, leading into stage 5-2 no doubt, and a window letting daylight in from the second story of some street I don't recognize. With such awful interior decoration skills at work, the minions must get bored out of their skulls.

Especially if this guy is anything to go by. The cat called us in the Brigade "regular characters", but this guy takes the cake and beats it too, or whatever. He's spinning slowly in his office chair, looking up at the ceiling with a grim expression, occasionally chewing his lip. Maybe the secret mastermind is such a miser that they can't even buy anything to read.

Before I have time to contemplate bribing him with literature club membership, the phone we just came through rings, and Spinny lunges for it like he's expecting a terrorist holding his family hostage to be calling.

That's rather convenient. Let's see what this is... about?

I don't need the cat's magic senses to tell that something is funny about this call – it didn't take any time for us to reach the other end, and once there we found a room exactly like the one we left, only with a different person holding the receiver. A more anxious person, if her expression is anything to go by. I'd say she's expecting urgent news but is afraid of what it might bring, like a stewardess of an empty castle at the front lines. Her anxious face was rounded out by a small ponytail.

Back on the other end of the line, Spinny had nearly thrown the phone into the air in his excitement, and practically yelled into the receiver.

"Yes?!"

"Has anything, y'know, odd happened?" Ponytail responds, sounding just as nervous as Spinny did earlier.

" ...Oh. Nothing, yet. You know I'd call if there was."

"Well, the uh, men all came back reporting success, and I figured I'd, y'know, make sure you were still there. I guess it was a stupid question since you responded, haha..."

"Yes. Goodbye."

A terse end to a rather ominous conversation which told me about as much as the ending to Evangelion. But before putting the receiver back in its slot, Spinny glared at it in obvious frustration.

"They have to come to their senses. They just have to."

Obviously he didn't hold it far enough from his mouth, as Ponytail winced before putting her own receiver down. What the heck are these people talking about? It's making the currently metaphorical hairs on the back of my neck stand up.

Not just the neck for me. I wonder if we should stay here with the nervous woman, or head back to the man spinning in his chair?

I say we stay. It feels like we're climbing up some kind of ladder – the men called the guy, and the guy seems to have some sort of duty to the woman, even if he didn't exactly sound subservient.

That makes sense, but... there's not a whole lot we can do here. Waiting in hope of a phone call never worked for me.

A kettle watched never boils huh?

What?

Right, you're still a cat. Never mind that - we have my ability to float freely at our disposal, so we can just explore, can't we? I'm not sure where we'd go, but it would be a very ghostly thing to do to just float aimlessly, wouldn't it?

It's rather slow though. I don't want to miss a phone call at this point. And this woman seems to be higher up the ladder, as you put it, so if anyone does call her I bet they'd have something important to say.

Like the guy in the spinny chair, who was keeping a swiveling eye out for "anything odd". Such as Haruhi rewriting the world... yeah, maybe it'd be safer to stay near a phone for the time being.

Ponytail, for her part, was playing with a cell phone she'd pulled out, intermittently throwing nervous glances at the phone she'd used earlier. I suppose it makes sense - work phones don't have games on them - but it still looks funny somehow.

Not to mention like a waste of life. Hey lady, both your phones are wireless, so take them outside and enjoy the sun. Nobody should need to sit around just waiting for a phone to ring! Although I wouldn't be surprised if I ended up doing exactly that some day because of Haruhi ordering me about.

...Actually, now that I look more closely the base seems to be wireless too, not even plugged into an electric outlet.

How... suspicious.

What's suspicious about that?

That would make it a battery-powered recharger. Meaning it'd charge a battery with another battery. No one would use such a stupid thing.

So, is it a special phone somehow? The travel time was oddly short...

Shouldn't you know? You're the one zipping through the lines like a cat-shaped electron stream. Or cat-soul-shaped.

I don't know what you see when we're moving through the network, but for me it's just lines and lights that make no sense. The only odd thing I noticed this time was that there were no lines and lights, just us instantly arriving at the other end.

It's like we teleported. Like the hitmen did...

I think I know the next step in our plan. Try and take us to one of their phones again!

Right!


It worked.

I was very pleased with myself at the time - perhaps a little too much so. What had just happened was the first major clue as to what was actually going on, but with how I was mentally patting myself on my incorporeal back, I had practically forgotten about it by the time the 'lights and lines' ceased whooshing past and we emerged at the other end of the line.

What we saw there... was nothing special actually, or at least not new. What we heard, on the other hand, explained so much it blew my mind. A sensation I've gotten rather used to after all this time amidst aliens, espers, and time travelers, but it's still an unpleasant one.


Thanks to Kairaita and Serendiptal for betaing, especially after this monstrous delay!