Drumknott led Byers and Langly to an office at the very back of the basement. The plaque on the door read, "Dr. Terry Ridcully." Drumknott knocked and opened the door.
"Sir, here are the visitors."
The man at the desk looked up. "Thank you." He stood and gestured to the chairs across the desk. "Terry Ridcully," he said, shaking their hands. "Now, my assistant informs me you have some questions about our utility usage."
He was a short swarthy man with big horse teeth and a particularly bad toupee. His dark eyes were bright and intelligent, but there was something about him that you didn't want to trust in any way, shape, or form.
Byers took point. He was by far the better public relations man. "Yes. There is a large power drain centered on this building, and Howarth uses the most power here." He flipped a notebook open on his knee.
"That's not surprising. We have quite a few experimental computers down here that use up a lot of juice," Ridcully defined.
"Does that explain the small blackouts?" Langly asked.
"Probably. We have a few generators down here, but that can only do so much."
Langly suddenly stood up. "Is there a bathroom down here?"
"Down the hall, two lefts," Ridcully replied. Langly nodded and let himself out. He went down the hall but took a right. He was determined to see what these guys were up to. Something wasn't quite adding up. The feel was all wrong. These guys were secret governmental contractors, but there was something about the set up.
He couldn't get more than a few steps when a klaxon started going off. He scrambled to get into the conveniently-nearby janitors closet and shut the door. A babbling stampede stormed past. He caught a few words, "Reactor... Unstable."
Byers jumped at the klaxon. Ridcully was up out of his chair.
"Excuse me. One of our key generators is freaking out. I need to make sure it's taken care of. Paranoia, you see. Please stay here."
Byers nodded and settled back down. When the sound of Ridcully's footsteps had faded, the door was opened again, this time by Langly.
"Byers!" He walked up and whispered in Byers' ear for fear of bugs and to be certainly heard over the noise. "They've got a fusion reactor!"
"What?!" He wanted to say that was impossible, but then, he saw impossible on a daily basis.
"Yeah. I just snuck my way in."
"You've got the camera on, right?" Byers hissed back.
Langly smiled widely and nodded.
Suddenly, the klaxon fell silent. Ridcully came back in.
"Sorry. That particular generator produces almost all of our power. If it failed, it would not be pretty." Ridcully sat back down like nothing had happened. "Do you have any more questions?"
"No," Byers said. "In fact, we should be going. Thank you for your time."
"Absolutely. I will lead you out. Don't want you getting lost."
There was a touch of menace to his comment that didn't slide past the Gunmen.
Ridcully led them back to the front and waved them off. When the door had closed behind them, Ridcully turned to Drumknott.
"Just great. Remind me to lessen our dependence on the city power plant. I'll have to push the fusion project forward."
Drumknott nodded. She didn't need to write it down with her wonderfully flexible memory.
"This is very worrying," Ridcully muttered.
Meanwhile, Byers asked to borrow Angua's phone to call their ride. In ten minutes, they were sitting in the van downloading the video from Langly's camera. They skipped forward a bit, and they watched as the camera headed down the hall. Turning the corner, he came to a set of glass doors. Behind them, a huge white and silver machine was set down in a large concrete pit, and dozens of scientists and technicians scrambled around it. A control panel faced the doors, and a tablet set into its face clearly read, "Fusion Rate," and it was spiking upward. The camera backed off and went back the way it had come. Frohike paused the video and backed up to a still-frame of the reactor.
"Well," Frohike said. "At least we know what they're doing with all of that hydrogen."
Jimmy looked confused. "I don't understand."
"It's nuclear fusion," Byers explained. He was usually the only one with enough patience to explain things to Jimmy. "You take a light element, like hydrogen and fuse it together to make heaver elements, like helium. The sun works that way. It produces a huge amount of energy for very little input."
"Unfortunately, it requires an ungodly amount of pressure and heat," Langly said. "It's difficult to create that, and it's still really controversial."
"Not to mention no one knows if you can actually create a self-sustained fusion reaction without being in the heart of a star," Frohike added.
"Well, I think we have our answer," Jimmy said.
"Probably," Byers agreed. He looked at Langly. "That klaxon was probably the reaction becoming unstable."
The hacker nodded. "Yeah."
"So," Frohike said, changing the subject. "Did you see if they're hiding a quantum computer down there?"
"No," Langly said. "But Ridcully said something about how they had several experimental computers. Wouldn't surprise me if they had multiple ones."
"Ridcully," Byers said. "That reminds me. Can you search for the names Ridcully, Lipwig, and Drumknott? I think I heard those names somewhere before."
Frohike typed the names into their custom less-than-nonintrusive search engine, and all three popped up on a list of Discworld characters. Scrolling through it brought up Hix as well.
"So they all have fake names?" Jimmy asked, confused.
"Yeah," Langly said. "So who are they really?"
Byers shrugged. "I think we have to find out."
The IM window popped up. Qwerty wanted to talk. Langly clicked on it.
"Westen wants to talk to you, at his place." Qwerty gave him the address.
"When?" Langly asked.
"In an hour."
Langly looked up. "Guys, Westen wants to talk in an hour at his place." He showed them the address.
"That's across town," Frohike said. "We need to get going."
An hour later, Jesse stood at the window and watched as the ancient VW van pulled onto the concrete pad.
"Here they are."
Michael nodded and answered the door when they knocked.
"Come in," he said with that smile of his. Byers looked at him, and that, for some reason, sent shivers up Michael's spine. Those eyes were open, expressive, and empathic, and he was sure they could see right into his soul.
"You said you wanted to talk," Frohike growled. "What's this about?"
"Oh, come on!" Sam said amiably. "At least sit down!" He gestured to the couch with his bottle of beer. He was probably half-drunk. Fi stood with her arms crossed against the wall, and Jesse looked on from the kitchen.
The Gunmen sat down on the couch. "Well?" Byers asked.
"Qwerty said you publish a paper," Fi said. "Tell us about that."
"Why do you need to know?" Langly demanded.
Michael sighed. "We want to know why Qwerty called you, of all investigators."
Langly jumped up, fire in his eyes. "He called us because we'll blow the whistle on this mess!"
Frohike grabbed Langly and dragged him back down. The kid would probably reveal the little they had found if he got angry enough.
"What mess?" Jesse asked curiously. The Gunmen looked at him. They hadn't met him or Fi yet.
"Oh," Sam said. "This is Jesse and Fiona, friends of ours," he introduced.
"What mess?" Jesse repeated. The Gunmen glanced at each other. Frohike nodded once, while Langly shook his head. Byers looked at Langly and nodded slowly.
"We think there's a lot more to the guys who have the Feynman than we originally thought," Langly said sulkily.
Sam laughed. "I could have told you that!"
"He means there's more than we thought," Byers said. "We've been doing this for a long time. We can usually judge something's size by just looking at it. This is larger than we thought at first glance." He didn't add that they usually misjudged that something. They certainly didn't have perfect sight in that regard.
"Then how big is it?" Fi asked.
The Gunmen looked at her. "We don't know," Byers admitted. He hesitated then decided to give them a little more. "We've been looking into something called Howarth Corp."
Jesse started. "Are you sure?"
"Yeah," Jimmy said. "Why?"
"Because I think I've heard of them." Everyone else was looking at him. "I did some looking into Management and Vaughn a while back, and both are connected to them."
"Vaughn?" Frohike asked.
"A friend," Michael said in the tone of voice that said that he and Vaughn were more like enemies who had found some sort of common ground.
"Okay," Sam said. "Cards on the table time."
The Gunmen nodded. It would be nice if they could all have all of the information.
So, Team Michael explained their own investigation into the shadow group Management, or at least, as much as they would, and Team Gunmen explained what they had found the past day or so, or at least, as much as they would.
And the whole picture became clearer in some ways, but a lot more complicated in others.