I stayed at street level with Troll on the long jog back to GHQSF.  The day was hot, which cut down on the foot traffic a little, and we made good time.  We turned right onto Beach from Larkin and drew up short… the street in front of headquarters was almost completely blocked by cars and vans belonging to the news media, and a crowd of sweating reporters and cameramen were standing on the sidewalk in front of the building.

“Oh, crap,” I said, as they turned almost as one and saw us.  “We’re like meat in the water, and those are the sharks.”

“Good thing we’re superheroes,” replied Troll as the reporters started toward us at a fast walk.  “Stay close, I’ll clear a path.”  He started forward through the chorus of “Mystery Woman” and “Troll” and “What can you tell us” and “Where have you been” and so on.  The reporters gave way before him (they had very little choice, really) and I followed close behind.

“Damn,” said Troll as we made it through the door.  I saw that he was hanging on to the blanket with one meaty fist.  “They almost got it.”

I didn’t have time to laugh, though, as Gina came up to us immediately.  “Mystery Woman, Troll, where have you been?  Your G-comms are offline… are they broken?”

I pulled mine out.  “Yeah.  I don’t know what happened… they just quit.”  She took it from me.

“I’ll need yours as well,” she said to Troll, and he pointed at me.

“I’ve got it,” I said.  “In my backpack.  But I need to unpack somewhere away from these windows.”

“Mystery Woman!” came another voice… Thunder.  “Troll.  We’ve been trying to call you since yesterday.  Where have you been?”

“It’s a long story,” I said, “and I’d like to tell it just once.”

“Upstairs,” he said.  “We’re getting ready for an executive meeting.  The Council will want to hear whatever you have to say… both of you.”

“Fine with me,” I said.  I took the stairs, with Troll right behind me.

In the meeting room I saw Ranajit and Gloria at work, doing something to the electronics hidden behind the large screen at the far end.  The screen swung out like a big door, which seemed like a really good idea actually.  I also noticed that there were just five chairs in the room, all lined up on the side of the table nearest the window.

Thunder came in right behind us, and I asked, “What’s with the chairs?”

“You’ll see,” he said, grinning just a little.  Gina walked in then, and I remembered Troll’s G-comm.  I put my backpack on the table, unzipped it, reached in and took the G-comm from Micron.  He held his hands up in a gesture I read as “don’t say anything” and so I didn’t… I just handed the broken communicator to Gina.  She took them both to Gloria, who left the room; I assumed she was taking them to Jimmie for examination.

“Coffee?” asked Thunder, and I replied in the affirmative.  He brought one for me, and I tossed it back… after nothing but water and protein bars since the day before, it tasted pretty good.  “Wow,” said Thunder.  “Refill?”

“I can get it,” I said, and I went and refilled my cup, and drained it just as quickly.  I topped up Troll’s oversized cup for him while I had the pot in hand.

“I’m here,” said Lightning, arriving with a whoosh.  “Am I late?”

“Not quite,” said Thunder, and they both laughed… some kind of inside joke, I assumed.  They both looked pretty mellow, so I felt pretty good about the upcoming meeting.  “Are we ready?”

“Good to go, Thunder,” replied Ranajit.  “All the lights are green.  Gina can activate the system whenever you are ready.”  With that, he left the room, and Gina closed the door behind him.

“Let’s begin, then,” he said, walking to the chair at the near end of the table.  “Mystery Woman, please sit here on my right.  Troll, beside her, and Lightning has the last seat.  Gina, please activate the privacy screen.”

“Done,” she said, but she didn’t need to… I could feel it in my ears.

“We’re going to need another seat,” I said, and Micron popped out of my backpack and assumed full size.

“Micron?” said Thunder.

“Yes,” he replied.  “You must be Thunder.”  He held his hand out, and Thunder took it and shook his hand.  “And you’re Lightning, his brother, right?”

“Yeah,” replied Lightning, shaking Micron’s hand.  “Nice to meet you, sir.”

“Don’t call me sir, please.  We’re all Guardians here, aren’t we?”

“Here, let me get you a chair,” said Thunder, rolling one out of the large closet beside the screen.  Micron sat between Troll and Lightning, and Thunder finally sat down.  I had noticed he rarely sat anymore… you could hardly blame him.

“Gina, let’s see how this thing works,” said Thunder.  “If the other side is ready, please activate the holoprojector.”  I saw a haze, a distortion like heat in the air above the table, and stretching several feet past either end; then it was like a dark cloud passed through it, and it brightened and cleared.

But now, the other side of the table was occupied by heroes.  More than that, the far side of the room changed… the wall was farther away than it had been, and now it was covered in windows showing a nighttime view of a city… New York City.  I could see the Empire State Building and the World Trade Center.

“Micron!” said a deep, familiar voice.  I focused on the heroes across the table from us… Avenger was sitting directly across from me, and he was who had spoken.  Nightwind was sitting next to him, opposite Troll; on Avenger’s right was Doorman, while sitting on the other side of Nightwind was someone I didn’t know, a man in a two-tone blue uniform decorated in a flame pattern.  Standing behind them was a silver robot, who I knew must be Grace, though I could not have told her from Gina if they were side-by-side.

Nightwind was looking my way with her arms folded, and I could almost smell her suspicion.  What did she think I had done?  Steal the armband?  Was she still on that, after we fought the murkenegra together?  I felt irritation at her beginning to build up inside me.

“Hey,” said Micron.  “Nice to see you again, Avenger, and you too Doorman.  ‘Fraid I don’t know the rest of you.”

“Gina, please confirm Micron’s identity,” said Nightwind.

“Identity confirmed, Nightwind,” she said.  “Voice print and biometrics match.  He is Micron.”

“It’s nice to be back,” he said.  “I’d like to ask everyone to keep my return secret until I can catch up with my family… as far as I’m concerned, I just left, but to everyone else I’ve been gone for two decades.”  He sounded pleasant, almost jaunty, but I could hear an edge in his voice.

“Of course, old friend,” said Avenger.  “Let me introduce you to the others.  This is Nightwind, granddaughter of the original, and beside her is Darkflame, our newest Council member.  We planned this meeting to discuss our response to the attack on San Francisco, but it appears we’ve got a new agenda now.  Anyone care to tell us what’s going on?”

“I will,” I said.  “Unless you guys want to?”  Troll and Micron both shook their heads, so I continued, “I never had a chance to tell you all that I remembered my missing time from before.  I think Thunder may have an idea, though.”

“I think so.  It involves the Wanderer, doesn’t it?”

“Yes,” I said, and I told them the whole story of how Bob sent me off to recover the Circlet of Blood.

When I was done, Nightwind said, “So, you went off to another dimension on a mission from the Wanderer, and while you were there you fought these murkenegras.  That explains how you knew about them… but it doesn’t explain where you’ve been for the last day.”

“Bob… the Wanderer, you know… told me that Belgor Dragos kept Nemvex away from Earth.  He also let it slip that Dragos was still alive, just trapped.  I used this sword,” and I drew it and laid it on the table, “to open the way back to his dimension.  I asked Troll to help me, because I thought he might be able to break the crystal and free Dragos.”

“Wait a minute,” said Doorman, “are you saying you let him loose?  The alien wizard who killed Micron…”

“Um, guys, not dead,” said Micron.  “He turned me to stone just as I shrank down.  Avenger and Quantumax apparently just missed me on the floor.”

“Okay, so he didn’t kill you, but he did send monsters to Montana.  He attacked us, and you just went and let him go?”

Doorman’s words made me angry, but I kept my head.  “Bob explained to me that Belgor Dragos has rules he always follows.  If he makes an agreement with someone, he always keeps it, until the day that person dies.  I thought he’d owe us if we freed him, and we could renew the agreement he had with Bob’s old master.”

“He did, too,” said Troll.  “I freed him, and I made him agree to renew the treaty.  As long as I’m alive, he won’t bother us.”

“But he’ll still block the road for Nemvex,” I said.  “It was the best plan I could think of.”

Nightwind said, “What I want everyone to consider is not whether it was a good plan or not.  What the Council must consider is that Mystery Woman made this plan without consulting us.  She pressed Troll into service, used a stolen magic sword, traversed two extradimensional realms, and undid the work of senior Guardians, and all that entirely on her own.”  She looked at Troll.  “I don’t hold you directly responsible for this, Troll, but I will say that I believe you need to reconsider who you take orders from.”

“Now wait a minute,” said Troll, leaning forward, but Avenger raised his hand, and after a moment Troll settled back.

“Nightwind makes a good point,” said Doorman.  “You’ve been a hero for what, a year?  You have two senior Guardians right there with you, and Nightwind was in town yesterday… you could have discussed your plan with any of them.”

“I move that we expel Mystery Woman from the Guardians, effective immediately,” said Nightwind.

“I second the motion,” said Doorman.

Avenger looked somehow sad.  “I’m required to put this to a vote of the Council,” he said.  “I need a show of hands from the Council members… all in favor of expulsion, raise your hands.”

Nightwind and Doorman put their hands up immediately, and Darkflame followed, more slowly.  I looked around… I didn’t think Lightning would raise his hand, but I was less sure about Thunder, and I had no idea about Avenger.  The moment was very tense…

“What the heck do you all think you are doing?” said a deep male voice from somewhere on the New York side of the room.  We all looked, the New York Guardians swiveling around in their chairs.

Standing in the back of the room was Bob.

“She cleaned up the mess that you made,” he continued, looking at Avenger.  “Oh, I don’t blame you… you were doin’ the best you could with what you knew, and I wasn’t there to help.  I was up to my snazzy lapels, tryin’ to clean up all the other messes that popped up when my master passed on.  Took me weeks to get back and close up that hole, and I gotta say, I do appreciate you Guardians keepin’ watch over it until I did.  But as I say, what y’all did was a mistake.”

“How?” said Nightwind, standing.  “How did you get in here?”

“Peace, Nightwind,” said Avenger.  “Sit.  The Wanderer goes where he wants and does what he needs to.”

“Thank you very much,” said Bob.  “Couldn’t have said it better myself.  Now as I say, you all made a mistake.  The problem was, I couldn’t clean it up… I inherited a lot of things when the old man moved on, a lot of agreements that it’d be better for all of us if I didn’t go screwing with.  I couldn’t go free Dragos, or even tell someone else to do it.  So I did the only thing I could.”

“You used me,” I said.

“I’m sorry, sweetie,” he said, walking around the table to stand beside me.

Walking around the table… it took me a moment, but Nightwind was quicker on the uptake.  “How did you do that?” she asked, almost yelling at him.  He had walked through the projection screen, teleporting instantly from New York to San Francisco.

“Nightwind, sit,” said Avenger.  “Sit down and enjoy the show.”  Grudgingly she did as he told her.

“You did all that to entice me to do the job,” I said.  “Told me those things so I’d know how to make him reinstate the treaty… told me how to get in to your shop so I could get the sword.  You could have hidden it.”

“If I hid it, Mystery Woman, you’d never find it.”  He smiled.  “You done good, girl.  But we need to talk, after all this is over.”  He turned then, facing the New York team.  “Unless you all still want to kick her out of your club or something?”

“I withdraw my vote,” said Darkflame, and Nightwind gave him a withering look.

“I think we’re done here,” said Avenger.  “Is the threat of Nemvex over, then?”

“For a while,” said Bob.  He held out his hand, and I took it and we walked out of the room together.