The mail arrived. Not that this was an unusual event. In fact, it happened daily. However, large white envelopes from the PPC did not arrive daily. On the front, large black letters proclaimed that the envelope was for "Daniel Hermanson." Well, that's one thing that's going to change... Dann thought.
A short time later, the envelope was open. Out fell a cover letter, five pages of application forms, and a small device—though not in that order. Dann picked up the cover letter and started to read.
Thank you for your interest in the PPC. Please fill out the enclosed forms and deposit them in box 1126, and then go to room 2847 for an interview. The Remote Activator code for PPC HQ is 112.
Thank you for your interest,
PPC Department of Personnel
Dann picked up the first form. About what I'd expect. Real world name, RW address, E-mail address, phone number, nickname, age... After filling it out, he picked up the next page. It was full of questions concerning his experiences with Middle-earth. Then he came to question thirty-one. Favorite Lord of the Rings character? Um...
A while later...
Got it! Smaug! On the form, he wrote "Smaug" in the "other" blank. And the odds of my finding a Smaug MS? Not likely. But then he remembered the "Magiseer" MS that agents Jay and Acacia had dealt with. OK... maybe one per year.
Another while later...
Last question! After thinking, Dann checked the box by 'Department of Sufficiently Advanced Technology'. That wasn't too hard. Now, to find box 1126. Tucking his mechanical pencil behind his ear, he picked up the small device, and looked at it. It was a cylinder with three numbered rings around it and a button on the end. Looks kinda like a bike lock. After a short period of fiddling, he found the little arrows showing which numbers were selected. He set the rings at 112. Since they already were at 111, it wasn't that hard. Then he pressed the button on the end. A little glowing fuzzy spot appeared in mid-air, lengthened into a line, and then stretched into a rectangle-ish shape. Bracing himself, Dann stepped through.
Dann began to pity some plants he had transplanted into his garden. The feeling of suddenly being yanked out of one place and forcefully inserted into another was not a fate he'd wish on anything again. He stood still and waited for his stomach to settle down. After a few minutes, Dann left the portal room and walked straight into the chaos of HQ. He walked up and down corridors, looking for box 1126.
"New around here, aren't you?" said a voice behind him. After jumping a few feet into the air, he looked around. Behind him walked a centaur. A big, strong, no-nonsense centaur. Without waiting for Dann to answer his question, the centaur continued.
"The name's Zim, but I answer to Big Z, Centaur, Hey You, and in the really bad fics, Zimarianelos."
"I'm Dann. And yes, I'm new here. By the way, where is deposit box 1126? I've been looking for it for at least an hour."
"Dan, you say?" and then Zim continued. "That's one thing about HQ... you can never find anything until you're not paying any attention whatsoever. Then, it pops right up immediately."
"It's Dann. Two 'N's."
"Sorry. You just applying for a job?"
"Yup. I tell them about a Mary-Sue story, and they send me a job application."
"That's the way it's been lately, everybody's been swamped by the work load, except the Department of Personnel... I say, were you looking for box 1126?"
This took Dann by surprise. "Um..."
Zim walked off, saying over his shoulder, "Look, it's right behind you. You stop paying attention, and it jumps out on you."
Turning around, Dann saw it. Deposit box 1126. He took a deep breath. I can do this. I didn't come this far to just chicken out. He slid the papers into the box. Next stop, room 285...7? or was it 2485? And then it hit him. Not that it matters. If I can distract myself, I'll get there.
He walked down the hallways, trying to run through the lyrics to his favorite song backwards. This was made more difficult by the fact that the words were in Latin. That's old, old, Roman style Latin, not the kind of music.... Where was I again? Oh yes. xe oeD si—
Dann had walked straight into a pair of doors. Looking up, he saw that the room number was... 2847! The very room he'd been trying to get to. He opened the door and went in. He didn't get very far, though. In the room was a table, a few chairs, and a large daisy. That's right, the flower. Furthermore, the daisy was wearing a pinstripe business suit and a brown bowler hat.
I was wondering when you'd get here. I've been waiting.
"I'm sorry, but did you say something?"
Yes, I did.
Oh yes. Management decided long ago to replace all the human directors with flowers. We're much more dependable.
So, you're here for a job interview?
Have you ever read the books?
"Yeah, I've read Lord of the Rings a few times, The Hobbit twice, and I read the Silmarillion once."
And you think that that's a complete Lord of the Rings education? I'm starting to agree with Treebeard. You humans are such hasty creatures.
"Hey, I never said that I considered that complete!"
Of course. Do you have anything back in your home dimension that needs finishing?
"Not really. I haven't registered for the fall semester yet..."
Good. What department?
I don't believe that there is a Department of— here the daisy made little quote marks in the air with two leaves— "what." According to your application, you want to work for the Department of Sufficiently Advanced Technology. Is that still so?
Good. I'll send you to Hornbeam for your final interview. Room 2659. Have a nice day.
Dann left the office and walked down a hallway. Behind him, the daisy sighed with relief. As he walked, he began thinking over the meeting with the daisy. What an odd little flower. I'm glad I'm not working in the Department of Personnel. And then the Narrative Laws of Comedy kicked in.
Once again, Dann had walked into a pair of doors. A tall pair of doors. Sixty feet above his head, a sign proclaimed in six-foot high neon letters that this was room 2659. Opening a normal sized door built into the left door, Dann walked into the largest room he had found in HQ.
The room was easily seventy feet high, with the walls fifty feet apart. Occupying most of the room was a single tree. Near the trunk were a large desk and some chairs. Dann took a seat.
How may I help you? The tree's mental voice was a deep bass rumble, which slowly pronounced each word.
"Well, I'm here for a job interview. The daisy in Personnel sent me to you."
Hm. You met with the Marquis de Sod?
"Briefly. He sent me to you for an interview. And so, here I am."
It sounds like you have had a long day. Get some rest, and then we'll talk more in the morning.
"Thanks, but if it's alright with you, I'd rather finish today."
You are a very hasty little person. But, if you wish... Hornbeam paused for what seemed an eternity. Very well, hasty one. Have you had any experience with computers?
"Yes, actually. I can use the Microsoft Office suite, I took a year of Java classes, and I designed my own website." Dann instantly regretted that last statement. His website was a pathetic little ball of bytes, with low-quality graphics and a bad design.
Your own website, you say? What's the URL?
Dann was committed now, so he gave the address. "www.geocities.com/techno_dann."
You sound reluctant to give me the address. Is there something wrong with the site?
"Well, it's just that the site is tiny and not very well done."
I see. How about technology in general?
"I built and upgraded my own computer, I was the webmaster at my programming club, and I took three years of classes at MIT."
Interesting. What's your experience with fictitious technology?
"I've read the Star Trek Technical Manuals a few times, tried to work out Cochrane's theorem for myself, and designed a warp-capable vessel."
You favor Star Trek?
"Actually, yes I do. They explain their pseudo-science much better than Star Wars or Babylon Five ever did. I like knowing how things work."
So, since you like Star Trek so much, perhaps you can tell me what the Enterprise D's warp specifications are?
"A sustainable cruise velocity of warp 9.2, with the capability to remain at warp 9.6 for twelve hours."
Hm. I see that you have read the book after all. So, now a general question. The starship Enterprise is in trouble. The portside computer core is offline, and the starboard one isn't making any sense. Furthermore, the vessel is being slowly turned to starboard, and nobody has a clue why. What's wrong with the ship?
"Um... the port computer core is down, but that wouldn't cause problems, as the starboard core should be able to compensate." Dann thought for a while, and then gave up.
Simple. One of the core's subspace field generators broke. The resulting distortion in the otherwise symmetrical subspace field caused the data flow to break up, and gave the ship some lateral propulsion. The tree above Dann sagged a bit, as though it was disappointed by Dann's failure. I had hoped that you would be better than this. Hornbeam thought for a while. Considering that he was slow as an Ent, it took some time.
Very well. I'll have you know that the only reason that I'm hiring you is because we're very understaffed at the moment, and you're the best of the applicants so far. You're also the worst of the applicants, and I hope that you'll get to know your technology much better. Go see Tess, in the main office. Hornbeam directed his next comment towards the wall, but it was quite loud enough for Dann to hear.
On the far wall, a door opened, revealing a large fire with a column of black smoke rising from it. The heart of the flames seemed to move, and then dark smoke concealed it from view. A Balrog stepped out of the smoke, and into the room. To be more exact, a four-foot-high mini-Balrog. Hornbeam spoke again.
Dann, this is Gothmorg. I'm assigning him to you until you're moved in. Gothmorg, you're on intern duty.
Somehow, the mini actually managed to look friendly. Then, it walked out the doors and into the bustling halls of HQ. As there wasn't anything else to do, Dann followed.
They walked through the halls for some time, Gothmorg leading, and Dann following in his wake. They walked past doors and offices for the Mary-Sue Department, the Crossover Department, the Department of Redundancy Department, and on and on. Dann started wondering about the famous mini-Balrogs. Could they actually fly? After dodging a blue elf with hair of a shocking shade of orange, he noticed that Gothmorg had been flying all along. That's another question answered.
Looking ahead, Dann saw a hole in the wall, right next to a door. It was a very nice hole, with wood trim and an office visible inside. Above the hole was a sign that said "Department of Sufficiently Advanced Technology." Finally. It was about time. As Dann watched it, the office seemed to move down the hall at the speed he was walking towards it. Then, he realized what was happening, and quickly tried to figure out how fast Gothmorg could fly.
The office behind the window was a model of neatness. The few folders and pages out on the desk did not come close to the computer, which held a prominent place just under the window. Sitting on the chair in the middle of the office was the secretary. She was young, wore glasses over her blue-green eyes, and had her blonde hair neatly worked into a bun at the back of her head. She would be the perfect Nice Little Old Secretary, except she looked to be in her early twenties.
"Hi, I'm Tess, the secretary for the Department of Sufficiently Advanced Technology. How can I help you?"
Before Dann could answer, screams and the sound of running feet echoed down the hall. Noticing the noise, Tess continued. "Would you step inside, please?"
Dann opened the door and stepped in. Outside, a group of fangirls from the Neo Abduction Schemers Treaty of Youth (N.A.S.T.Y.) fans dashed up, exchanging fire with agents in doorways. (Except for one, who was standing in the middle of the hall, deflecting blaster shots with a lightsaber.) Tess pressed a contact plate on her glasses. The lenses went from clear to mirror-finish sunglasses. Flipping down a panel just below her desktop, she reached in and pulled out an Uzi. After thumbing off the safety, she proceeded to drop the fangirls with one long burst. After emptying the magazine into the fangirls, she inserted a new one, put the gun back in its secret compartment, closed the door, and flipped her sunglasses back to regular lenses.
Dann was stunned. Fortunately, Tess broke the silence.
"As I said, how can I help you?"
"Well," Dann said, "I just got hired to work here, and I was told to come see you."
"Ah. Follow me please, Dann."
Dann was surprised. "How did you know my name?"
"I read the paperwork," came Tess's reply.
Tess got up and walked through a different door, with Dann following. Through the door was a huge lab. From the steel floors to the bright florescent lights, this place seemed a temple to all the advanced technology that fiction had to offer. Strewn among the wires and tools covering the worktables were isolinear data chips, a half torn-apart hyperdrive, an ansible, what looked like a fusion engine, and more. There, leaning over a small silver object stood the master of the domain. A small Asian man, wearing glasses.
Tess spoke up. "Makes-Things, this is Dann, the new recruit. Would you be so kind as to get him up to speed with our technology?"
Makes-Things straightened up from his work on the neuralyzer. "Hi, Dann. Could you wait just a moment?" Without waiting for an answer, he bent back over the device and soldered a wire onto one of the circuit boards. Then, he folded the boards back into the case and closed the cover. Dropping the neuralyzer into a pre-labeled cardboard box, Makes-Things turned to Dann.
"A new recruit? Alright!" Then, he continued, this time to Tess. "Was that gunfire I heard a while ago?"
"Yup. Someone let in a bunch of NASTYs. The flowers are probably going to want that particular someone's blood for fertilizer."
Makes-Things sighed. "I take it that the fangirls died in a rather messy way?"
Tess gave him a rather predatory grin. "Thirty-round Uzi burst. To the heads."
Makes-Things snickered. "I don't suppose that it was one of your Uzis delivering said thirty-round burst, was it. Anyway, now that Nenya's neuralyzer repair is done, anything else to do?"
Tess handed over a piece of paper that she had grabbed. "Agents Dafydd and Selene, in the Department of Geographical Aberrations, response center 7219. Their console is loud."
Makes-Things thought for a moment. "This would be a good chance to give Dann some experience with the console—" A Bip! cut him off in mid-sentence, coming from one of the worktables. After scooting aside various Small Chrome-Plated Pieces of Technology™, he grabbed a commbadge and spoke into it, saying, "Makes-Things here."
The voice that came out of the badge was definitely Hornbeam's, and he sounded angry. "Makes-Things, might I have a few words with you in my office right now?"
Makes-Things tapped the commbadge, and then spoke quickly. "Dann, over there on the workbench is a standard console repair kit. The PADD inside has plans and schematics, and there are various wires, tools, speakers, and circuit boards. You should be able to cut down on the volume with something in there." Without further ado, Makes-Things ran out of the lab, and into the halls.
Dann grabbed the repair kit, and headed out the door (once again guarded by Tess), and towards the Department of Geographical Aberrations. As he left the door, he saw little piles of glitter where the NASTY fangirls had been killed. Dann was still trying to figure out just how that worked when he arrived at response center 7219. He knocked twice, and then went in.
After saying hello to Agents Dafydd and Selene, and tossing a piece of bacon to their mini, he advanced on the console. Plugging the PADD into the console, he switched to test mode, and activated the alert siren.
After jumping a good foot into the air, and receiving a dirty look from Agent Selene, Dann pulled off the side access panel, and crawled into the console. He looked at the circuits around him, and compared them to those shown on the PADD. After some time, he figured out where he was, and where he needed to be.
Some crawling later...
Dann had finally found the main speaker wire and speaker. The speaker was a monster, easily twice the nine-inch speaker shown on the diagrams. After detaching the wire, he grabbed a large flat-head screwdriver, and began to remove the speaker. A while later, once Dann had managed to get all four screws out, he pulled the monster speaker out. After rummaging about in the kit, he found what he had been looking for: a four-inch mini-speaker. Screwing it into one of the attachment holes, he grabbed the speaker wire and hooked it up. He pressed the test button.
It was less than a third as loud. Dann wriggled back out of the console, unplugged the PADD, and closed the access panel. Turning his dust-covered front to the two agents, Dann said, "Well, hope that works for you." After scratching Thanduril on the head, he walked out of the door and back to the Lab.
When Dann got back to the lab, Makes-Things was waiting for him.
"We've got a problem. Those fangirls didn't come in through a PPC portal." He sighed and continued. "We've been found."
Dann took this in. "I assume that that's bad?"
Makes-Things nodded. "Very bad. Until I can work up some way to stop them, they'll be able to rush into HQ whenever they want. I've already got some ideas, but I need some more data. I need you to go into a fic to get me that data."
Dann would have asked for more information, but a flickering light and a low humming interrupted. Dann and Makes-Things looked. A neon pink portal was opening into the lab. With the ease of long practice, Makes-Things dived under a table, with Dann not far behind.
Fangirls (who looked a lot like Sues) poured out of the portal. Waving katanas and scimitars, they ran into the lab and towards the door. The door swung open ahead of them, revealing Tess.
"What are you doing here?" she hissed.
The fangirls stopped for a moment, and then advanced. Tess raised her Uzis.
Two seconds and sixty shots later...
The lab was quiet, except for the hum of the computers, the humming portal, and the fading echoes of automatic gunfire. Tess snapped on the safeties, and then put the guns on a table. Grabbing a plastic bag with some gray powder inside, a small block of magnesium, and a length of fuse, Tess advanced on the portal.
On the far side, she wrapped one end of the fuse around the magnesium, dropped the block into the bag, zipped it shut, and placed the improvised thermite bomb on top of the portal generator. She lit the fuse and stepped back through the portal.
The fire reached the powder and the block. A simple gunpowder fuse is nowhere near hot enough to start a thermite reaction. However, it is quite enough to light magnesium. Unlike a fuse, magnesium burns at temperatures high enough to light thermite.
The powdered aluminum and iron oxide reacted, becoming aluminum oxide and iron. Tremendous amounts of heat were released, and the entire reaction melted into the machinery, led by molten steel that was far over five thousand degrees.
Behind Tess, the portal distorted and then winked out of existence.
"It's over. You can get back to work."
Dann and Makes-Things crawled out from under their respective tables. Makes-Things looked at Tess. "Thanks."
Tess grinned. "What would you do without me?"
Without waiting for an answer, she grabbed her Uzis and walked back into her office. Makes-Things turned back to Dann.
"As I was about to say, head down to the armory and get some canon weapons. You're going to be going into a Lord of the Rings fic. Then, come back here and I'll get the sensor equipment."
"How do I get downstairs?"
Makes-Things grinned. "The same way you get anywhere else, except you've got to find some stairs as well."
Dann walked out the door and into the halls.
Some time later...
Dann walked down yet another hall, and then realized what he had been doing wrong. He was still looking for stairs. He stopped and looked around, trying to get distracted. Then, he saw it. Right below a neon sign that said "Al's Wait and Eat," there were several large windows looking into a restaurant. Inside, there was a blue-skinned elf with bright orange hair, hurrying towards a table while balancing a heavily loaded tray.
Suddenly, the wall that Dann had been leaning on gave way! He grabbed at the edges of the hole, and realized that he had been leaning on a door. He turned around and saw the sign on the door. Stairs. He walked through, and went down.
The stairs wound around and down, finally coming out into a large room. Stairways, bridges, and doors were built into the walls, floor, and ceiling at impossible angles. A stairway dropped out of the wall, and went to a door built in the floor. Far above Dann, a door built into the ceiling was labeled "Cafeteria." Another door sat in the middle of the far wall, with a stairway leading down to the left wall. The door was labeled "Armory." Dann looked around. It looked like he had wandered into an Escher drawing.
"At least I know where I need to be... The question is how to get there." Then, he took the prize for stating the obvious. "It looks like Escher designed this place."
He walked across the room, up a flight of stairs, and opened the door at the top. Behind and below him, another door opened. He whipped around and looked. A door coming out of the floor was being held open by... himself? He looked closer. Sure enough, the figure looked a lot like him, but was turned and looking over its shoulder.
"Aha! I know what this place is doing!"
He turned back to the door and looked. There, standing on a top step, was himself, now peering through a door built into the floor. He stepped through the door and let it close behind him. He walked over to the armory door that was now going down into the floor. He opened it and stepped through.
After taking stock of his various bruises and bashes, Dann looked around. He was lying on the floor, with some chairs to his left and a counter to his right. Rubbing the back of his head, he sat up.
"—never seen anything like that before!" A female voice was talking, evidently a bit shocked. "He just flew through the door lying down!"
"I'm sure there's a rational explanation for this." A deep, strong voice spoke. "He's awake, let's ask him."
Dann spoke up. "Zim?"
The bass voice spoke again. "That's me. Welcome to the armory."
Dann explained how he had gotten there.
Zim looked at him. "Damn!"
Dann, still a bit dazed, looked back. "Yes?"
"Never mind." Zim shook his head, and then turned back to the other agent. "Here's your new staff, WyldeHorse. The tips are hard carbon steel, and the rest is titanium. Ultra hard, practically unbendable, and lighter than a regular one. It should serve quite well."
"Thanks." WyldeHorse turned and walked out the door.
Zim turned his attention to Dann. "Now, what can I do for you?"
"I need weaponry. Lord of the Rings."
"Right. This way, please."
Zim led the way back into the armory itself. It might have been a large room, but it was crammed with weapon racks. The racks each had a sign on top. There was a Star Wars rack, a few Matrix racks, a Star Trek rack, and so on. As they walked, Zim began to talk.
"We have weapons for every major fandom, and bunches of generic weapons that can fit into smaller canons. We've got hand to hand weapons, ranged weapons, bombs, missiles, and even a few large weapons. We can equip an agent to go into almost any fandom, disguised as almost anything. Want to be a Matrix rebel? We have the stuff. Want to be a Jedi? Same deal. You said you were going into Lord of the Rings? What were you thinking of going as?"
Dann needed no time to think. "Elf. The Sue hops from Mirkwood to Rivendell to Lothlorien without mentioning anything in-between."
They arrived at the first Lord of the Rings rack. Zim gestured grandly down the aisle and said, "Pick a weapon, any weapon."
Dann walked down the row, hefting a sword here and pulling a bow there. Finally, he made his decision.
"I'd like this bow and this sword."
Zim grinned. "Excellent taste. The bow was used by one of the Galadhrim, and the sword was made in Gondolin. The weapons that were used by the elves in the Last Alliance were based on that sword."
The sword being discussed was a beautiful weapon. The subtly curved blade was sharpened on one side and was just over two feet long. It could have been described as a small katana, except for the handle. The handle was also two feet long, made to be held near the blade and near the base. Dann tested the edge with his thumb. It was sharp. Very sharp.
Zim walked around to the other side of the rack. "Now, let's discuss arrows..."
A while later, Dann was walking out the door, carrying bow, arrows, sword, and two small throwing knives. Instead of coming into the Escher room, the door opened onto the base of a staircase. Dann shrugged and started up.
Meanwhile, at the author's whim...
A pink portal opened into one of the halls. Fangirls poured out. With their huge eyes, fancy weapons, and long, brightly colored hair, they could only be one thing: anime fangirls.
The agents turned and attacked, agent WyldeHorse in the lead. Bows twanged, swords clashed, and guns roared in the melee.
In PPC HQ, the only way to get anywhere is to not be thinking about it. An agent can end up somewhere that he never knew existed because he was thinking about somewhere he knew. Dann was thinking about getting back to the Lab. Therefore, the Lab was the one place he could never get to.
Dann turned a corner. There, illuminated by the florescent lights and the pink glow of a portal, was a war. Agents were fighting with more fangirls. There, an agent killed a witch. Over there, another agent sliced through a fangirl's sword with her lightsaber. There, a huge robot was shoving its way into HQ. The massive robot had a glass cockpit on the front, revealing another fangirl piloting the thing. Grabbing a huge axe, the robot started swinging, trying to hit the agents.
Dann grabbed his bow. He wasn't as good a shot as an elf, but he was still good. He aimed at a fangirl and fired. Then, he aimed at another one, and fired. And then another, and another, and another one after that. An agent that he recognized as WyldeHorse came up beside him.
"We can't fight them all like this. See what you can do to drop that mecha."
Dann was planning to work his way to the front of the battle, but the front came to him. In what seemed like seconds, he was using his sword. Suddenly, he was lying on his back, with a sky-blue furred fox sitting on his chest. The little thing's eyes began to glow an ugly shade of blue when...
A fiery whip snapped out and hit the Cute Animal Companion, knocking it off of Dann. He looked, just in time to see Gothmorg grab his sword and attack. Dann climbed to his feet and was looking for his sword when one of the fangirls pointed her hand down the hall, and said something in Suvian. A blast of water thoroughly soaked all the agents. Beside him, WyldeHorse was shrinking. Her skin was also turning red, and hard and scaly too. Dann would have loved to look closer, but a fangirl with cat ears and tail and a long sword was moving to attack.
"Step back!" a voice at his side spoke up.
Dann looked. There stood a dragon. A small, bright red dragon. Dann stepped back. The dragon let loose a blast of fire that filled the hall. While the hall was cooling off, Dann looked at the dragon.
"WyldeHorse? Is that you?"
The dragon looked back at him. "Who else would it be? I've got a Jusenkyo curse. Splash me with cold water, and I turn into this. Now, about that mecha..."
The giant robot was advancing. It dropped its huge axe and a machine gun appeared out of nowhere. Dann dashed forward and ducked under the gun. Grabbing a handhold on the underside of the arm, he swung up. The robot swung its other arm at Dann. Dann jumped, and landed on the other arm. It wasn't much of a landing, more of a crash and then a brief scramble for another handhold. The robot pointed its gun at one of the agents, and...
In hitting its own arm, the robot had dented the firing mechanism on its gun. Not very much, but enough to jam the weapon. Dann hopped down off the arm, and onto the robot's shoulder. Pulling out one of his knives, he swung down by the cockpit. There, right in front of his face, was a lever labeled "RESCUE." He grabbed and pulled.
The glass canopy blew off, leaving the pilot unprotected. Before Dann could move, an arrow hit the fangirl. She fell out of the cockpit, dead. Dann clambered down.
After a nice, long cleanup session...
Dann walked back into the Lab. He was sore all over, and wished for nothing more than a long hot soak, and then a good night's sleep.
Makes-Things extracted himself from a large device being built against a wall. "Took you a while. The equipment you need is over there." He waved at a pile of wires, boxes, and other electronic components.
"The equipment's buried under all that?"
"No. That is the equipment."