Expanding Fronts (That don't involve Silicone or Soy)

(Scene: COTS Headquarters)

*Magni sat at his desk, and was attempting to fight back the pile of paperwork that was several decimeters tall and never seemed to get any smaller, no matter how much time he spent at it. For two years he'd been interim commander of the Circle of Shadows, and it was starting to seem less and less likely that Dark Nexus would be back anytime soon. Now that he thought about it, he actually was starting to make a bit of progress on the backlog of paperwork. Magni sighed as he picked up the next report and started to read it. After reading it, he reached over and pressed a button on the desk.*

Magni: ▀etaMantis, could you please come to my office?

*Magni waited a few moments, and finally his door opened and an insectoid head peered around it.*

▀etaMantis: You called Magni, sir?

*Magni beckoned the hybrid to have a seat across from him, then passed him the report. ▀etaMantis read the report he'd been handed then passed it back across the desk.*

▀etaMantis: Is there something wrong with it? I did my best with it.

Magni: Well, it seems pretty serious.

▀etaMantis: Well, I think it is.

Magni: Then why didn't you give it to me personally?

▀etaMantis: I figured it would be best to go through the proper channels.

Magni: It took 9 months to get to me! At least mark it priority one next time! Any other reports in here that should have my immediate attention?

▀etaMantis: Not from me.

Magni: Now about these Shadowlands... You suggest that we set up operations near and around it to keep an eye on it?

▀etaMantis: Yes I do. I advise a number of cells near the border to the Shadowlands to keep an eye on it.

Magni: Well, there are rumours that the Russian government is beginning to develop games, so it's probably a good idea.

▀etaMantis: Thank you sir!

Magni: Now pack your bags, you're going to Russia.

▀etaMantis: D'oh!

Magni: And tell Jade she's going with you.

▀etaMantis: D'oh!

(CWAL Headquarters, several weeks later)

*Adrien was sitting at a table shifting through various images, shaking his head all the while. Robo-Gerbil noticed this as he walked by, and leapt up onto the table.*

Robo-Gerbil: What is troubling you?

Adrien: It's these surveillance images of the Shadowlands. Things don't look good.

*Robo-Gerbil looked at the pictures, and immediately noticed they were penciled sketches by El Cazador.*

Robo-Gerbil: Images are not authentic.

Adrien: Well, I had to guess what the conditions were like since we're stationed back in Irvine again. Nobody has opened a fast food restaurant close enough to the border yet.

Robo-Gerbil: Incorrect. Records indicate a newly opened doughnut franchise near the Shadowlands.

Adrien: Hot damn! The CE/UF is back in business!

*Robo-Gerbil jumped down off the table and walked away, all the while wondering about the wisdom of telling the elf that.*

(Russia)

*▀etaMantis and Jade sat at a small table sipping their coffees to stay warm. They'd been in Russia for several weeks on a whirlwind tour of the new COTS bases. ▀etaMantis was always amazed at just how fast these things could pop up.*

Jade: Almost opening time. We'd better get into the back.

▀etaMantis: Agreed, wouldn't want me to scare off any customers.

*The pair got up from their seats and headed for a door that said employees only.*

Jade: With a place like this? I think it would take more than that.

▀etaMantis: Have you completed placing the Hematite?

*Hematite was a gemstone known as the Spirit Stone to gemstone magic users. It allowed for spirit walking, astral communication, and even possession in combination with another stone. It could also be used to channel and focus the power of one's spirit. The hope was that the hematite placed throughout the COTS bases would allow them to act as a barrier to hold back the Shadowlands, or at least slow their advance.*

Jade: In the front, yes. This will give me time to complete it in the back. Should be done by closing time.

▀etaManits: Excellent.

*As they went through the door to the back room, an COTS operative wearing a restaurant uniform put an "Open" sign in the window.*

(Several hours later)

*It is a long-standing rule of the universe, any upstanding Canadian citizen would tell you. "If you build it they will come." This surprised Dei'Nar'Ys, Robo-Gerbil and Adrien as they walked into the Tim Horton's. They weren't expecting a restaurant so close to the Shadowlands to be packed with people saying "I'll have a double double, eh!" It was a toss up over which was stranger - the fact that it was packed or the fact that they all seemed to be Canadian. The three CWALers walked up to the counter and waited for one of the employees to ask if they could be helped.*

Robo-Gerbil: We wish to enquire about renting space from your establishment.

Cashier: Umm... let me ask my manager.

*The cashier walked to the employees only door and went through. She went to the break room and punched in a sequence on the microwave, followed by the decaf button on the coffee machine. A panel in the wall slid away to reveal an elevator. She entered the elevator and went down. She stepped out of the elevator into a significantly larger area buzzing with activity.*

Cashier: Umm... there's an elf, a cat lady and a cybernetic rodent out front asking to rent space.

▀etaMantis: Must be the CE/UF. Tell them we've got a storage room in the back they can use. This will let us keep a closer eye on them as well.

Cashier: Aren't you worried that one of them will stumble on this?

▀etaMantis: No self respecting CWALer would ever order a decaf.

*The cashier couldn't argue with that, and she returned to the counter in the front of the store.*

Cashier: My manager says there is an empty storage room you can use at the back.

Robo-Gerbil: Excellent. *pause* Could we please get 3 chocolate glazed doughnuts as well?

(Fade to black)

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Dark Nexus
"Sanity is calming, but madness is more interesting."