When it came down to it, Sebastian would rather face his aunt than deal with Lisa Linford. Once again, he felt bad for admitting it—but he just felt so damn awkward around her.
The moment they headed down to thirteenth, the top research division that reported straight to the Boss (the other research levels were all fifty-second and higher), Sebastian mumbled, "Maybe you should go, and I should stay behind."
"Don't you dare back out on me, Sebastian Wakely," Mortem hissed. "I can't talk to her alone!"
"You can't talk to girls alone, you mean."
"I can talk to the Boss by myself."
"Auntie doesn't count as a girl. She's more of a monster."
"I just can't talk to girls like Lisa. It's hard."
"You can't talk to girls period."
The two friends abruptly stopped squabbling when Lisa bounced into view, cheeks a cherry red and eyes shining like stars.
"S-Seb!" She squeaked. "What are you doing on thirteenth? Mary told me you were down here and—I mean—is there anything you need to say? I-I mean, for the division? Oh—hello, Mort."
Mortem nodded but suddenly became silent. Sebastian resisted rolling his eyes. And Mortem claimed he was fine around women. In truth, Sebastian was only uncomfortable around Lisa, and Mortem was uncomfortable around everyone except him.
"Well, the truth is, Lisa, we need your help."
Lisa tilted her head slightly, her initial shyness disappearing. "My help?"
"Yeah. Something came up in the Harry Potter Canonspace. Think you can hear us out?"
Lisa tucked her dirty blonde hair behind one ear and looked around, hesitant. "Well, I don't know, Seb. The superiors may not like it, I have a report on Sue Corps products and the chemicals in them that they want as soon as possible …"
Sebastian glanced at Mortem, who shrugged his lanky shoulders. Sebastian turned back to Lisa. "It involves Sue Corps and certain rare weapons their HP Canonspace rats own. I believe you're familiar with Grammerbads and Plot Holes?"
"… I'll go make us some tea."
Lisa put her cup down. "So, what you're saying is, there may potentially be enough banned weapons in Sue Corps for an army?"
"It's a reasonable guess," Sebastian explained. The science and research divisions were much more different than active Agents. Instead of office cubicles, the entire space was wide open and fully steel, with all sorts of fascinating technological gadgets Sebastian couldn't even begin to name. "I mean, the Corps and the CPA have been duking it out since the first concept of 'Mary Sue' originated in Earthspace. Who knows? Maybe Sue Corps found the secret to building the weapons and are planning to destroy the opposition for good."
Lisa's mouth quirked into a thin line. "But I don't think it's even canonically possible to make an army's worth of banned weapons. A single Grammerbad alone needs an extraordinary amount of Multidust to be even put together."
"Uh, yeah." Sebastian was now lost. Multidust had that effect on people. They all knew the basic information: Multidust were mysterious particles that connected everything together and linked the Multiverse into one. Other than that? It was all one big mystery, and Lisa was just about the only researcher to have understanding of it. She was indispensible to the race in discovering Multidust's potential.
Lisa sighed, immediately realizing Sebastian and Mortem's confusion. "When making Multiverse weapons, certain amounts of Multidust are used to form their power," she explained. "That way, the weapons are linked in to the Multiverse and can receive its multistellular power to function."
Lisa ignored them and kept going. "But Grammerbads and Plot Holes use incredibly large amounts of Multidust, both in making the weapon and using it. Its power is beyond the natural laws of the Multiverse; it can create holes in the Fabric of Canon and mess with the Reality Code itself. If an army of these are created in one spot, the amount of compact Multidust needed is likely to cause the area around them to implode on itself at a thirty kilometre radius. And trust me, our trackers would have picked that up if it did."
Sebastian and Mortem stared at each other. Mortem finally spoke up. "So … you're saying it can't be done?"
"Yes!" Lisa huffed irritably. Sebastian felt sorry for her. She was the smartest person he's ever met, and no one knew enough about her work to even appreciate her skills.
"Also," she added. "Not just anyone can use these weapons. They put an incredible toll on the user. If the user is unable to control the Multidust, the weapon could kill them, or at the very least, take off a limb."
Sebastian thought about it. "But that girl—you saw her, right, Mortem? She used her Plot Hole to escape."
Mortem nodded. "No limbs flying off from what I could see. I don't know about the bloke, but I'm assuming he can control his Grammerbad decently enough. He's not fool enough to carry it around like an imbecile and not be able to use it."
"Wait, a-a girl?" Lisa's cheeks paled, then just as quickly returned to a ruddy red colour. "Um, j-just because someone can control the Multidust doesn't make them that fantastic. I bet you could do it, Seb."
"Thanks, Lisa," Sebastian said absent-mindedly. He stood up. "I'm sorry, we have to go now. I'll pay you back later, promise." He turned to Mortem. "We need to pay a visit to our recent convict, Mort."
"Indeed," Mortem said, rising from his chair.
"O-oh. Bye, Seb." Lisa looked lost and a little forlorn. Sebastian felt bad for walking away just like that.
"Really, Lisa, thanks. We'll have a cuppa later, alright?" He smiled at her, and she gave a reluctant smile back.
Steffie didn't know how many days had passed by since she was arrested by the CPA. Her cell was a small, padded room with a cushioned bed and a thin, wool blanket. There was a small cubby containing a toilet and sink, which graciously allowed some privacy in the form of a plastic curtain. The room had no windows, but it lit up by itself and sunk into darkness later on. Steffie tried to keep track of the days using the lights, but quickly lost count.
She was dying of loneliness. No one came to visit or speak to her, and there wasn't a single camera watching her—she had swept the entire room at least twice to check.
Steffie thought back to Jess. Where was she? Steffie had the most horrible feeling a while ago that something awful had happened to her best friend, but she didn't know what. She tried calling for security guards or officers, but no one answered. Steffie was left to panic over her own thoughts.
That was why Steffie was surprised enough to scream when a door-shaped section of the wall suddenly peeled away and two very familiar figures in black coats walked in.
"Hello, Steffie Miller," Sebastian said formally. Steffie narrowed her eyes hatefully at the handsome CPA Agent and his creepy clown-masked partner. "How have you been?"
"Are you really going to rub it in my face?" Steffie snapped, bristling. "I've been stuck in this cell for weeks! You don't even give me food here!"
"It's only been two days," the masked scarecrow—Mortem, she believed was his name—said. "And you don't need food for sustenance outside of your Canonspace."
That's true; ever since Steffie left Earth, she hadn't felt hungry or thirsty at all. Still, it was nice to eat anyways out of habit. She crossed her arms stubbornly and said, "I still think you are denying me my rights. Where's my trial? My appeal? Where's my visiting hours and phone call?"
"We don't have phones that connect to Earthspace," Sebastian answered, arms linked behind his back. Steffie couldn't believe she ever thought him handsome, when his face made it clear he felt superior to her. Both he and Mortem stood firmly, chests out and head high, like soldiers. It was creepy. "We just came to ask you a few questions."
Steffie scowled, and sat as straight as her five foot one height would allow. "What if I choose not to answer?"
"Are you really in any position to deny us anything?" Sebastian started to say angrily, but Mortem placed a hand on his shoulder and shook his head. He turned back to Steffie. "You don't have to if you don't want to," he said in that scratchy, baritone voice of his. "But our questions will lead us to the Sue Corps and take them down. As in, the ones who brought you here in the first place. Also … don't you want to know what happened to your friend?"
Steffie froze. The CPA knew about her friend—when she first entered the Headquarters, she was stupid and panicked enough to blab all about her fellow author to the Agents overseeing her first trial, in an effort to save her own skin. They said they'll keep tabs on Jess, but that was the last she heard about them.
"Do you know what happened to Jess?" Steffie asked, half-rising from her bed. Sebastian and Mortem gave each other another look, and Sebastian said slowly, "We aren't sure."
"What do you mean?" Steffie asked.
"Well, with your help we were able to track down your friend Jessica Church," Sebastian said, and Steffie ducked her head in shame of her betrayal. "We were about to close in on her when she disappeared off our radars. We suspected she might have gone to seek refuge in Sue Corps."
Steffie's eyes widened. "So, Jess is with Sue Corps?" She wondered what would happen if she led them to Jess. She would be condemning her BFF into a cell just like her. "So she's safe from the Suecinerator and you guys. Why should I tell you anything?"
Sebastian gave out a humourous laugh. "Do you really think your Suethor friend is safe in the hands of Sue Corps?"
Steffie bristled at the word 'suethor'. "Why shouldn't she be?" Steffie snarled defensively. "They did nothing but help us. Jess and I would be out there having fun and living out our dreams if you jerks hadn't shown up and ruined everything!"
Sebastian's jaw clenched. "They helped you? Yes, I bloody well saw that when they threw you to the dirt to save their own skin!" Steffie flinched like she'd been slapped, and Mortem turned to his partner. "Seb, enough."
"No," Sebastian said, looking furious. "It's because of fanfiction authors like her that the Multiverse is ruining itself. Her stupid dreams could have been the last thing the Canonspace needed to crumble in on itself and disappear for good. And she still has the nerve to defend those fucking parasites?"
"Seb, cool your head," Mortem ordered. Sebastian broke off his rant, fuming. For once, Steffie wondered if maybe Mortem was the leader of the two, and not Seb. "You have to trust us," Mortem said, turning back to Steffie. "Your friend Jess is not safe with Sue Corps. They may be friendly to your kind, but their loyalty is always towards themselves and their profession. If selling Jess out saves them another decade or so of peace, they'd do it without hesitation. Did they show you any of their friendliness when you met them at the Three Broomsticks?"
Steffie shook her head, feeling numb. "I-I … but you'll just arrest her too. You'll stick her in a cell, or put her in the Suecinerator."
Mortem made a movement with his head that may have been him shooting an exasperated look at Sebastian. "I've told you already, we don't put Suethors in the Suecinerator. That's specifically for Academy-created, factory-produced, flesh-and-blood Mary Sues. You and Jess will be jailed for a period of time before being rehabilitated and then sent back home, hopefully as a reformed writer and citizen of Earthspace." He paused, then added, "We aren't the bad guys, Steffie. We promise Jess will come to no harm with us."
Steffie bit her lip, hesitating. Being put in jail kind of sucked, but she couldn't shake off the strange feeling of foreboding she felt about Jess. Maybe Jess would be safer in the CPA with her than with the Sue Corps workers after all. Don't hate me for this, Jess, she thought desperately.
"All right," Steffie finally said. "I'll tell you everything I know. But I don't think I'll be able to tell you where the shop is."
"Why not?" Sebastian demanded. Steffie fought back a frustrated sigh and pulled out a small mirror necklace from her pocket. "See this? This is the portal we used to get to the shop."
Sebastian and Mortem moved closer to look at it properly. "How did you sneak this past our sensors?" Sebastian asked, sounding almost amazed. Steffie shrugged. "It broke when you shot me," she said, explaining the long, jagged crack that cut through the mirror surface. "I guess once it broke, the magic stopped or whatever."
"Try starting from the very beginning," Mortem said quietly. "Tell us the whole story."
Steffie paused to gather her jumbled-up thoughts. "Well … Jess and I were planning to write out our stories. We had spent the whole day talking about it and our characters, and just when I got home and started to write it out, I got an email explaining Sue Corps and what they do. What I could do. They invited me to purchase an original character online or become one myself. I thought it was a joke until this necklace spat out of my flash drive."
The two Agents looked like they had heard this story before, but they patiently listened to her talk. Feeling more confident, Steffie carried on. "So once Jess and I realized we were both contacted and the whole thing was real, we followed their instructions and used the bracelet to teleport us to—"
"Inter-Multiverse Dimensional Travelling," Sebastian interrupted. Steffie stared at him. "It's IMDT, not teleporting. Teleporting doesn't exist when crossing Canonspaces."
"Like I was saying," Steffie went on, glowering at the Agent. "We were sent literally to Sue Corps' front door. We became our characters, we paid for the products, and we used our necklaces to enter the Harry Potter world. Then you guys showed up." She tried not to sound too annoyed when she said the last part.
"You didn't receive any address of some kind?" Mortem pressed. "Any way to go back to the shop?"
Steffie shook her head. "No way. We were just supposed to look at ourselves in that mirror and think of the words Sue Corporations. All I know is that the shop isn't technically in the world. It's floating around in space somewhere."
Sebastian and Mortem sent astonished stares to each other. "In space?" Sebastian exclaimed. "Please explain," Mortem added.
"It's just … floating out there," Steffie said, trying to find the right words. "We appeared on the porch. There wasn't any ground or anything, just the shop. I could see galaxies and stars and solar systems and everything in the distance." Now that she remembered it, Steffie wished she had enjoyed the view a bit more. She had been so excited to become Henrietta Rosanne Ty-Lynch, she didn't spare anything more than an amazed glance before entering the shop.
Sebastian and Mortem muttered darkly to each other. Steffie caught words like "No way!" and "I'm not dragging a Suethor kid with us!" and a couple "You know it's the right thing to do, Seb" thrown in here and there.
The two Agents turned back to the girl. "We've decided to take you along with us," Sebastian said, sounding very unhappy about it. "You're the only lead we have right now to take those rats down."
Steffie's heart leapfrogged into her throat. "I'm—you're letting me go?"
"Not quite," Sebastian said. "Consider it as being on parole." He looked at the masked Agent next to him. "I'll have a talk with Boss, see if she'll grant us permission to go back to the Canonspace. Take the necklace back to Lisa, see if she can do anything with it." He tossed the mirror necklace at Mortem, who caught it one-handed and said, "Yeah, because having me send it to Lisa is such a coincidence."
"Oh, shut up. I'll pull rank and family title to get my request to come through with Boss. Just give me a day or two. Take the Suethor with you."
Mortem nodded but sighed heavily once his friend had left the cell. "Come on, Steffie Miller," he said. "We have work to do."