Terra, Morningstar and I had determined the only possible source for a mysterious text reading, "Come home." was our former employer/mentor/resident semi-nutcase Dispatch. He was the one who identified threats and would send us out to deal with them. Besides his vast information network here and off-world, he also seemed to have a supernatural ability toward predetermining when and where a threat would occur.
His name hung heavy in the air for a moment. Just as I opened my mouth to speak, there was an electricity building around us. A burst of energy and light flashed before our eyes.
I'd instinctively moved in front of Morningstar - who had already moved toward the door to protect the kids from whatever this could be. Terra raised her arms in an offensive posture, her vines emerging from her back like tentacles, ready to strike. The energy dissipated completely and as our vision cleared up we could finally see. One of them was an adult male, the other a child of maybe 11 or 12.
"Engels, where the hell did you come from?" Terra asked, brushing her hair from her face.
"Great question. Got a weird text while out with Naomi. Next thing we knew we were here in your kitchen. Good to see you though," he said, brushing off the experience with a literal dusting off of his clothes. The kid seemed reasonably unscathed as well. Then I recognized her.
"Is that Naomi? It's been that long, huh?" I said, grabbing Engels' hand and dapping him up. "It has," he replied, "Wasn't sure I was ever gonna see you lot again. But, if we're here, that means something's gone horribly wrong, innit?"
I nodded. "We figure it's Dispatch, but we don't know why. 'Come home' can mean a few things, but the obvious answer is to head back to the last U30 HQ."
Terra nodded, "Yeah, but when has Dispatch ever done anything the obvious way? Especially if it was something cryptic like this? If it was straightforward he'd tell us, right?"
I gestured for them to follow me. Terra told Naomi to go play with the other kids, and we headed down into the basement. I opened a hidden panel and slid my hand over a clear glass access point. The floor slid aside to reveal another stairwell. We descended. "Good old Hitman," Engels said. "Some things never change," Terra smiled.
"You should've seen the blueprints for this house," Morningstar reminisced, "I knew he was the 'prepare for any and everything' type, but man..."
We reached the bottom of the steps, I opened another panel with my hand imprint, and we went inside. The computer systems booted up, and numerous screens began broadcasting data from around the world.
Terra looked around, impressed. "Yep, some things never change."
I connected my phone to the system and uploaded the text message.
"Knowing Dispatch, he probably encoded something into the message. Like you said, Terra, he's never done anything the easy way."
Sure enough, the text message yielded some encrypted information. My message had a partial key. Computer analysis informed me it was 1/3 of a randomly changing passcode.
"One third," Morningstar mused, "So if there's three of you here that got the code, then..."
I gathered Engels and Terra's phones and saw the same thing from their codes as well.
"So if we use all three?" Terra questioned.
I connected all three and the codes stabilized and matched up. The message unlocked and a different series of numbers appeared on each phone.
"But...does that mean it was only the three of us that got the codes?" Engels asked. "That's really pushing the limits of our loyalty, innit?"
"Knowing Dispatch, he probably only needed three of us to respond. He probably sent it out to the core group, if it was important, but only needed 3 of us to link up and respond," I said, checking the data. "Ok, got it. Coordinates. Three sets. Guess it's scavenger hunt time," I said, cracking my neck and handing the phones back to the crew.