Chapter 9:


The WTP Club

The moon was already high in the sky when the WTP group gathered on Monday.

After Va arrived in the freshly decorated room, her eyes started to sparkle. "This all looks so cool! Great work, +50 importance to everyone!", she declared. 

Sousui decided to keep from her, that the value of importance was only defined in relation, and that it, consequently, made no sense to reward everyone with the same importance. 

After Va had greeted everyone and patted Lenin on the "head", she jumped up and down in the room, inspecting every corner in detail with fascination. The iconic dices on her wrist danced up and down.

The others had to admit that it made for a cute picture.

"She is like a child dashing from one present to the next at Christmas", Sousui whispered to Glenn.

Suddenly, Va paused. She had heard something coming from the anteroom, a clacking noise that she knew only from high heels. "Surely the boys in the club wouldn't wear high heels", she thought nervously.

Glenn noticed Va's tension but didn't realize what bothered her at first.

All of a sudden, Va sprinted toward the entrance.

Emily, about to step through the doorway, only saw a pair of furiously twinkling eyes before a knee was brutally rammed into her chest, sending her to the floor. 

"Don't!", Glenn shouted startled, but Va had already thrown herself on Emily.

"Ouch", Sousui commented, squinting his eyes.

Glenn pulled the agitated Va off Emily and tried to calm her down. "This is all a misunderstanding!"

"Is a combat training now?", Sikh wanted to know from Wark, visibly confused.

The latter shook his head and rushed to Emily to help her up.

While Emily emptied water over her head to clean her hair a bit - after all, the group had not cleaned the anteroom - Sikh handed out fruit tea that he had taken with him in a thermos. He wanted to make sure that none of his friends were cold. After all, it was already mid-September, the air cooled considerably at night, and the base, of course, had no heating.

"What?", Va asked angrily after being brought up to speed "You allowed a person to join while I was absent?" She eyed Emily skeptically and with seemingly no sense of guilt that Emily was likely to get a thick bruise on her ribcage because of her.

"We've put Emily through her paces. We can trust her!", Sousui assured "I'm sorry we didn't think about informing you though." 

Va was still not convinced. "Did you at least do the WTP loyalty test with her?", she wanted to know from the group.

"The what?", Glenn asked, once again expecting nothing but pure absurdity for an answer.

Va clutched her head. "I can't believe this. It's a miracle that you guys got along so well without me last week."

Then she called Lenin and while pointing at Emily, she commanded "Lenin, loyalty test!"

Lenin strode toward Emily; his display suddenly showed an image of a middle-aged man, whose facial expression could not have been more serious. Standing in front of the stunned Emily, Lenin positioned himself wide-legged, put his arms on his "hips" and asked "What would you do if you walked into Keiichi? A) Get down on your knees and kiss his feet B) Ask him for new orders C) Niftily draw secrets from him in a conversation."

Emily looked confused at the group.

Glenn wanted to say something about it, but was directly cut off by Va. “Shh, shh, don't help her!"

Glenn rolled his eyes.

"I'll take C", Emily finally said cautiously. The others had warned her that Va often behaved a bit strangely, but this now exceeded her expectations. Va's character seemed to have changed a lot since she had switched classes. 

The image of the man disappeared from the screen and was replaced with Lenin’s usual broad grin. "Correct answer! Congratulations!", he shouted, letting confetti trickle from the top to the bottom of the display.

"Hmm, it seems like we can indeed trust her", Va confirmed as her face increasingly brightened again "I hope you don't mind my kick. Welcome to the WTP Club!" She gave Emily an innocent smile.

"How about an apology?", Glenn asked her in his mind, but then didn't put his thoughts in actual words. He felt a little overwhelmed by the positive vibe that Va spread, and he realized that he had actually missed her crazy character throughout the past week.

"Thank you, don't worry, you are forgiven", Emily replied kindly "You can count on me in your fight against Keiichi!", she then assured in a fighter's pose.

Va tapped some keys on Lenin to add Emily to the database and then spoke "Lenin, importance!" 

Lenin enumerated:
"1st Va, +2000 importance.
2nd Glenn, +140 importance
3rd Sousui, +70 importance
4th Wark, +60 importance
5th Sikh, +60 importance
6th Lenin, +50 importance
7th Beat, +40 importance
8th Emily, 0 importance
9th Bane, -599950 importance."

"Huh?" Va looked surprised at the rankings. “Shouldn't you have more importance, Sousui and Wark?"

"Our drug addiction has robbed us our importance", Wark joked.

Glenn and Sousui laughed.

Va, once again immune to any sarcasm, replied "That's dangerous! I hope you guys get yourself together again! When you’re high, you're an easy prey for Keiichi!"

"Don't worry, don’t worry, we are ok", Sousui assured her and then changed the subject "What about Beat by the way, isn't he coming today?"

"Beat doesn't seem to be doing well at all", Wark explained "That thing with Star seems to bother him a lot." 

"Still?", Sousui wondered "He hardly wrote anything about it in our chat anymore."

"He started writing to me privately at some point, since you – as he put it - wouldn't understand him anyway", Wark explained further.

"What an idiot." Glenn sighed.

"At school they say that he stalks Star online; is that true?", Emily asked.

"I guess you could put it that way", Glenn replied.

"Hmm, I'll try talking to him sometime too. Maybe that will help!" Emily seemed optimistic.

"I hope so." Va joined the conversation. She asked for Emily's phone number and then added her to the WTP chat. "There, talk to him, please. This can't go on like this. He is completely neglecting his WTP duties! He even refused to spy on the fake ‘WTP’ Club with me."

"You want to spy on Bane's club?", Sousui inquired.

"In fact, I've already done it. That's also the reason I felt comfortable to come here today." Va took a sip of her tea, ignoring the surprised looks of the others.

"How can you complain that we allowed Emily to join when you’re doing stuff like that without letting us know?”, Glenn said reproachfully. He was uncomfortable that Va had been involved with this madman. The image of Bane's psychopathic look when he had threatened him with the knife came back to Glenn's mind. 

"You guys were so busy setting up the base here, I didn't want to distract you", Va justified herself "But I'll tell you everything now anyway!" She took a deep breath.

"After calming my initial anger over Bane's betrayal, I tried to look at the bright side of it. After all, the fake 'WTP' Club could serve as a diversion for us. So I called Bane and made him believe that I was also fed up with you guys and wanted to work with him instead. He then invited me to the first meeting of his new 'WTP' Club."

Whenever Va pronounced WTP, she pointed quotation marks with her fingers. She still seemed to absolutely dislike the fact that Bane had so brazenly copied their name.

"The only condition was that I had to renounce any claim to leadership and listen to all of Banes orders", Va continued "I agreed and met with him and another person interested in the club last Wednesday. After the meeting, I did some research on this ominous other person, and I have reason to believe that he is working closely with Keiichi."

"And I assume your ‘research’ was as profound as always", Glenn commented sarcastically. 

Va remained unperturbed and pulled out a poster from her bag, which she then spread across the carpet. The group had a deja-vu from the first meeting when Va presented Keiichi to them.

"That's Smoke", Va explained, pointing to the dead serious-looking face that had appeared on the poster.

"I think I've seen him before", Emily noted "But he's not in our grade, is he?"

"He isn't", Va confirmed "He already graduated last year."

"Thiy guy is only one year older than us?”, Wark muttered surprised.

The person on the picture was wearing a suit and tie and had a perfectly coiffed hairdo with a center parting.

"I guess he thinks of himself as very mature and grown up.", Glenn laughed and added "If he's part of Keiichi’s team, he’s definitely messing with the wrong people!”

"What even makes you think he works with Keiichi, Va?", Sousui asked.

"He asked Bane about Beat", Va replied.

The group listened up. Besides them, only Landini knew that Beat was in the WTP Club. Accordingly, Landini must have told Smoke about his encounter. 

Va was pleased that the group seemed to catch on quickly and continued "Even if Landini doesn't know that we know about his complicity, he expressed sympathy for Keiichi to Beat and consequently couldn't join Bane's 'WTP' Club himself. Smoke is probably an ally of the two, whom they are trying to infiltrate into the WTP Club to learn more about WTP's plans. You could say they're trying the same thing we're trying with Sikh."

"But can we rule out the possibility that Landini just randomly told Smoke about the encounter with Beat, Smoke then simply became curious and contacted Bane all by himself?", Sousui pondered.

"Pretty much", Va confirmed "When I did research on Smoke, I found out that his parents have been pretty close friends with Keiichi's parents for years. Keiichi's mother posted some photos on the Internet showing the two families together. This can't be pure coincidence."

As proof she presented the group a picture from a barbecue that included Keiichi and Smoke as children.

The group nodded spellbound. The whole thing developed more and more into an actual crime thriller.

"So what did Bane answer?", Wark asked.

"Surprisingly, not the truth", Va replied "He just said that Beat had gotten too scared and had resigned again." 

Glenn clenched his right hand into a fist. He wished he understood what was going on in Bane's head

“Anyway”, Va concluded “I guess Keiichi thinks he's keeping an eye on WTP's activities through Smoke. I just hope that, consequently, he'll refrain from observing me outside of the club meetings."

"If someone is spying on you, I think they're in more danger than you are", Emily laughed and rubbed her chest, which still ached.

"Take care of yourself anyway!", Glenn said worriedly "And if you notice anything strange, let me know immediately!"

"Thanks", Va replied with a surprised look on her face. The fact that Glenn, who had always commented cynically on everything, suddenly seemed seriously concerned about her surprised her.

"Alright!", Va said and straightened up "I want to look at the rest of the factory now. Who’s going to accompany me?"

The entire group agreed to join the exploration. They grabbed the lanterns hanging on the walls and strode off. Glenn, Wark and Sousui led the group, as they had already inspected the entire factory in the course of their work on their headquarter. 

Sousui, who had also done some Internet research, began to report that the factory had once been used for glass production but had gone bankrupt in the wake of the last Great Depression.

The group was guided into the anteroom and from there into a large hall where several rusty machines were parked. Sousui explained that these had been used to shape glass into the desired forms. Unlike the new headquarter, the hall was dirty and dusty. Wooden beams and broken pieces lay scattered across the floor, with a few old newspapers in between. 

Interested, Va eyed the front pages. Some of the newspapers were more than 20 years old. Reading the headlines felt like traveling through time.

The tour continued through a long corridor. Located at its end was a room that was probably once used for cooling the final products. Before climbing a spiral staircase to the second floor, the group was also shown a room with melting tanks. According to Sousui's explanation, these were meant to process the raw materials into glass.

On the second floor there were further offices. One of them even housed old files documenting everyday operations of the company. 

Va inspected the files critically and then affirmed "This place was run cleanly! They had a competent management!" 

"Thank god”, Sousui replied with a smile, gesturing Va that they wanted to proceed.

The last section of the tour presented the company’s cafeteria and the kitchen, which was even dirtier than the rest of the building. Where once had probably been clean tiles, there was now only a strange formation of lime and mold. The steel countertops were completely rusted and cobwebs adorned every corner.

"Well, that was the tour", Sousui concluded "I hope it was educational for everyone!"

The group clapped. Sousui had done his job as a tour guide brilliantly.

"Do you think we can get to the roof?", Va suddenly asked, pointing her fingers at a ladder she spied through an open window.

"Quite possibly", Sousui reflected "It doesn't look safe though."

Before Sousui had finished talking, however, Glenn had already climbed onto a kitchen shelf and from there on to the window. "That looks promising", he confirmed.

Va followed right behind him and was the first to clamber out the window toward the ladder that was attached to the outside wall. While Va energetically climbed rung by rung, Glenn helped the others reach the ladder. He was the last to make his own way to the roof.