Author's Notes, Disclaimers, Etc.
1) We don't own Tolkien's characters. We just try to put them back when other people haven't played with them nicely.
When I got back to my station, I found a post-it note stuck to the console. In bright pink ink were scribbled the words "Plz rpt t Prsnnl t mt yr nw ptr." I mentally corrected for the disemvowelment. Ah, new partner for me waiting at Personnel. Okay, that was quick.
I made my way to Personnel, following the flamethrower marks on the walls. I don't know quite what I was hoping for in the new partner; possibly someone who would restrain my own homicidal tendencies; maybe someone who took a calmer view of things than I did. Of course, that would depend on Personnel, who tend to have a rather eccentric attitude toward pairing people up. Then again, with the current staffing difficulties they were having to deal with, I wouldn't have been surprised if they were just throwing people into departments and seeing which ones stuck. There were eighteen continua, to my knowledge, which were all having problems coping with the influx of new fanfiction writers (and particularly bad fanfiction writers). These days all available staff were being pulled out of even marginally stable continua and thrown onto those eighteen, in a desperate effort to prevent total continuum rupture in any of them.
I eventually got there (I wasn't in a rush, so I was paying attention to where I was going) and found that the door to the Personnel section was still a charred mess. Apparently they'd given up on replacing it after the last time someone had come in demanding leave. I stepped through the wreckage and made my way to the desk of the nearest staffer. She twitched and ducked reflexively, then took a closer look at the flash on my arm. This made her cringe instead. The Powers That Be Dangerous To Mess With have their uses, one of which is getting a lot of respect for Despatch from administrative types.
"My name's Meg. Lord of the Rings section. I'm told that I'm getting a partner?"
She scrabbled through the pile of paperwork on her desk. "Oh yes, I've got it here, somewhere. Ah yes, here it is!" She retrieved a note. "You're to go straight through to the director. Your partner is waiting there."
I thanked her politely (I'm inevitably polite to the people in Personnel: they're the ones who manage the pay scales) and wandered through to the director's office. The director of Personnel, the Marquis de Sod, is an intelligent daisy. Compared with the directors of this place, sometimes the staff seem positively sane and normal. Even the ones in the Department of Bad Slash (which is really saying something considering Sean and Luxury).
I knocked politely on the door (Pay scales, remember? They can't sack us at the moment, but boy oh boy can Personnel make it difficult for you if you piss them off. There's one spy who's still trying to get a ruling on the legality of being paid in the Triganic Pu.) then entered. I found a wall to lean against and greeted the Director. "I got a note asking me to 'mt' my new 'ptr' here," I said.
Ah, yes, it replied. He's just getting his equipment together.
Okay, my new partner was apparently a he and fully equipped on arrival. I raised an eyebrow, but refrained from comment.
"How long is that likely to take?" I asked. "Just out of interest, you understand."
About five minutes, it told me.
I sighed. From previous experience I knew that the biggest failing of the Director of Personnel was that it really, really didn't have much of an idea of timespans. Everything shorter than half a day was "five minutes." I settled down on the floor for a long wait. Unfortunately, I hadn't thought to bring my bag with me, which meant that I was without anything to read. I amused myself briefly by counting the ceiling. Then I got bored.
Luckily, this was the one time in about six dozen where the daisy had its times correct. Five minutes later, the door opened beside me and someone walked in. He was tall, blond and already suited up in a pair of black coveralls with the Despatch lightning bolt flash on the upper arm. He was also easy to recognise. After all, I'd worked with him on the helpdesk for the better part of a year.
"Hullo, Will," I greeted him.
Oh, you know each other already? The daisy appeared to perk up. Good, then neither of you have to remain here. Goodbye!
The door closed with the pair of us on the other side of it. Then it vanished.
"You'll get used to it," I commented to Will, who was looking slightly bemused. "None of the directors ever want to deal with the staff for any longer than they absolutely have to. Doors have a bit of a tendency to go walkabout. Did you get all your gear?"
"Yeah. I just don't know where it is now." He looked a bit stunned. I wasn't surprised. Headquarters takes a few days to get accustomed to when you first start. The topology takes even longer to understand. The only one who seems to truly comprehend it is one of the assassins and anyone who's met her thinks she's something of a flake.
Luckily I had a pretty good memory of my own induction. "Follow me," I told him. "I think I can find it."
I led the way to the response centre.
When we got inside, the console was lit up like a Christmas tree and making enough noise to wake the dead. There were also a couple of duffle bags right in the middle of the floor.
"Is that your stuff?" I queried as I went to accept the job that had come in.
Will checked it over and nodded. "It looks like it."
"Good-oh." I had a look at the Words that were showing up on the screen. "Oh. My. Gods." I turned away and grabbed my bag. Will looked at me, slightly worried.
"Have a look at the Words. Large screen on the console. Sick bag is under the console if you need it."
He looked. He blanched.
"Keep reading," I told him. "All the Words are there for a reason."
I grabbed out the handheld and uploaded the Words to it. Then I checked over my gear. I had nearly everything I needed. As I sorted through bits and pieces, I could hear muttered curses coming from the direction of the console. They gradually got louder as Will progressed further and further through the Words.
"Can we kill her?" was his first question on emerging from the horror that was the Words of this particular travesty of fiction.
I shook my head. "Afraid not. Firstly, only assassins are allowed to kill characters; and secondly, she's Sailor Moon-verse (if I'm reading this thing correctly) while we're Lord of the Rings. Cross-genre assassination isn't allowed even in the Department of Mary Sues. That said, we've got a stage three Reality Dysfunction, a crossover between two distinctly unrelated universes and canon characters from one universe being pushed so far out of character that they'll need therapy."
"What does all that mean?"
"It means that we'll see what we can do." I gave my best evil grin and started coding up the disguises. "How d'you feel about being an elf?"
Will grinned back. Okay, two elves coming up.
I checked over the gear that Will had been issued, made a couple of adjustments and pulled my sleeping bag out of the cupboard where it was stowed (one of the few things in the room which actually had an "away" to be put in).
"We're going to have to go into this one early and do a bit of observing. Jurisdiction in crossover cases tends to be decided by means of the length of the charge list. Can you hit that blue button on the console?"
"What does that do?" Will asked, as he hit it.
"It sends a signal to the other two teams that are going to be sent into this one," I explained. "We have to co-ordinate with them, so that we're not bumping into one another and making ourselves overtly visible. Otherwise, we could wind up very dead. Plus it's professional courtesy."
A nod. "A little green light's blinking on the console," he informed me.
"Okay, that's the Untanglers acknowledging," I told him. "Press the button below the light to get any messages they've sent us. They usually tell us all where to meet."
The console -[bip]-ped as the message came through. The coordinates were rather familiar. "Hmmm.. that's interesting. Looks like Crossovers have chosen my glade as the meeting place."
"How is that interesting?"
"Well, it could be interpreted as a sign that we've got rather clear jurisdiction on this one. Mind you, I'm not going to count on it."
I went to the console and tapped in the coordinates, opening a portal through to Middle-earth. "After you." I gestured to Will.
"Ah, no. Ladies first," he replied, looking cautious.
I shrugged and walked through.
The glade in the Eryn Vorn looked much as it always did: green, leafy and sunny. This despite the fact that it was coming on for evening. I'd picked the glade for that particular reason. It looked as though we were the first ones there. Of course; we were acting as hosts.
"Where are we?" Will asked, looking around at the trees.
"The Eryn Vorn. It's about midsummer. From the look of the sky, I'd say it's about four or five in the afternoon."
Will looked across at me and started briefly. I suppose it was a shock. I mean, in real life (or what passes for either reality or life at HQ) I'm five foot two, dark-haired and fat. Disguised as a movieverse elf, I was a good five inches taller, a damn sight thinner and far finer-boned around the face. I'm also blonde, with brown eyes. It's not so much a disguise as a full-contact makeover. Will hadn't changed much at all: his hair had got longer, his ears had become pointed, but there wasn't that much to choose between himself as an elf and himself as a human.
Another portal opened across from us on the other side of the clearing. Two figures clad in the standard coveralls issued by the PPC stepped through, as they did so assuming the disguises of a couple of anime schoolboys. These would be the assassins.
"Hi," I greeted them. "I'm Meg, this is Will. Despatch, Lord of the Rings. Welcome to Middle-earth."
Each of them bowed, Japanese-style. I suppose you get into certain habits when you work in an anime continuum.
"I'm Erica, this is George," said the one on the left. "Mary Sues, Sailor Moon. Pleased to meet you both."
"Why are we talking to two anime characters?" Will asked.
I explained the situation. "They're in the disguises they're going to have to use once they get into the Sailor Moon continuum. If you concentrate, you'll probably be able to see their department flash: upper right arm, potted cactus."
Will squinted at them. "Nope, don't see... oh, hang on, yes I do."
I nodded. "Yup. It's one of the little peculiarities of our disguises. If you concentrate a bit harder again, you should be able to see the actual people underneath."
Will squinted a bit harder. Then he looked away with his eyes watering.
"I tend not to do that with folks who are dealing with anime continua," I continued, "because the combination of real people overlaid by the anime shell is a bit hard on the eyes."
I noticed George squinting at me very hard. "You should talk!" he said, as he turned away with tears in his eyes.
I grinned evilly, which came out a tad strange on an elven face. "I have to be an elf later. Blame him." I pointed at Will.
Another area of the glade opened up a portal. These would be the pair of Untanglers, I was betting. First an elf, then a young anime woman came through the portal. Closer inspection revealed the flying pig insignia of the Department of Implausible Crossovers on their coveralls. Looked like we were all here, then.
We made our introductions. Crossovers had sent in Nia for Sailor Moon, which the two assassins looked pleased with; Shelley for Lord of the Rings. I knew Shelley from past history (she was an ex-member of TPTBDTMW), so this looked like being a good pair to work with.
"Right, let's get down to business," Nia said, pulling out a laptop. "We're all going to have to go in and monitor this one fairly closely, before we can actually charge the Mary Sue involved. However, from a preliminary scan, it appears fairly obvious that the Rings team have jurisdiction in this one."
"Does that mean we get to kill her?" Will asked eagerly. Apparently that brief scan over the Words had been rather traumatic for him.
"No," Shelley said, glaring at both him and me. "You're Despatch, not assassins. You don't kill them, you just put them back where they belong."
"There's just one weenshy problem here, Shelley," I commented. "We're going to have to put Boromir back at the spot just prior to him getting shot through with arrows. I'd be almost willing to bet that he's going to balk."
"You've got a bigger problem than you thought," Shelley countered. "You have to put the whole Fellowship back. You'll also have to convince them that he has to die for plot reasons. I'm sorry, Meg, this isn't going to be an easy one."
"You're positive we can't kill her?" Will asked again.
"Yes, I'm positive you can't kill her, okay?" Shelley shot back. "You're in Despatch. Only assassins are allowed to kill Mary Sues."
"Only assassins? Do they have to be the assassins from the Sailor Moon squad?" Will asked. I could see where he was going. Ooh, nice one!
Shelley could apparently see this too, because a very evil grin spread across her face. Again, elven faces aren't made for evil grins, but when they do grin evilly, they do it very well indeed. Three evil-looking elves, all grinning at one another. The Sailor Moon assassins winced, seeing their job going up in smoke before them.
Nia spoke up. "If you're going to be handing the job over to a couple of assassins from Lord of the Rings, we'll need to know that they'll do the job properly. Who did you have in mind?"
"I was thinking of bringing in Jay and Acacia," I said. "They're the best in Lord of the Rings, and Acacia in particular has very good reason to want this Sue dead."
Shelley and Nia looked at one another. Nia looked a bit doubtful. "Aren't they Untanglers now?" she asked her partner.
Shelley shook her head. "Yes, but I'd say that Meg's got pretty good judgement on this one. Jay and Acacia are probably the best pair to get in. They've got the right balance of professionalism and vindictiveness to do the job properly. They've also got those assassin skills — the best assassins around for a long time."
George spoke up. "Does this mean we don't have to do this job? Because if we don't we'd better get back to HQ. Sailor Moon's a bit more busy than Lord of the Rings at the moment. They really need us on deck or in a story."
Nia thought about it a bit, then nodded. "I'm still not sure about getting in Acacia and Jay, but overall it does look like a job for a Lord of the Rings assassin squad. Just give me the coordinates for the location so that we can go in there and build up the charge sheet. I'll take care of the Sailor Moon charges; the others can deal with the Lord of the Rings side of things."
The two assassins nodded, bowed, passed Nia the coordinates, and then portalled out.
I looked across at Will. "Okay, this is where things start becoming fun. Are you ready?"
"Let's go, then," I said, turning to Nia.
Nia nodded and opened a portal into the world of Sailor Moon.
The four of us came out in front of a well-drawn two storey house, set in pleasant surroundings, with a back garden. I looked down at myself. I'd gone out of costume and was back to my standard coveralls. So were Will and Shelley, with only Nia remaining in her disguise. She looked at us in annoyance. "Didn't any of you think to set a disguise for this continuum?"
"We can do that?" Will asked, looking slightly surprised.
I looked over at Nia. "We can't do that. Our consoles are set up to provide disguises in the Lord of the Rings continuum, no others. You Untanglers may be able to cover multiple continua; we can't."
Nia blushed, anime-style. "Well, it's going to be very awkward, I must say, if you three are going to stand out like this."
Shelley looked around. Then she looked down at herself. "Oh yes. We're not drawn," she commented. "I see your point. We'll just have to hide well."
Nia rolled her eyes and led us up to the house. "Okay, you Despatch types are the ones with the specialty at getting indoors without being noticed. Do your stuff," she told us.
This looked like my cue. I'd been wanting to try this one for a while, anyway. I dug around in my bag, pulled out a couple of bound books, and handed one to Will and another to Shelley. "Hold these and look serious," I told them. "Oh, and grab out your sunglasses."
I brought out the neuralyzer and set it to thirty seconds, then rang the doorbell.
The door was answered by a pink-haired child. (Anime continua are so much fun.)
"Hi," I said to her. "We're from Jehovah's Investigators and we'd like to talk to you about God. What can you tell us about him?"
The child looked nonplussed. I added to her confusion by neuralyzing her, then picked her up, set her to one side and let everyone else through the door. While they ducked in, I told the child that there was nobody at the door.
"Very nicely done," Shelley said, with a certain amount of admiration in her voice, as we all stole up the stairs to the bedrooms.
The bedroom area had all the signs of a fictional location. There were three "named" bedrooms, which showed some signs of having furniture placed in them. The final bedroom was empty, without even a window. We hid our gear there and set up our sleeping bags.
"So, Nia, when have we arrived?" Shelley asked.
"It's the afternoon before the story starts. We have to see the whole thing," Nia said, looking resigned.
Shelley looked thoughtful. "In that case, I might portal back to the Middle-earth movieverse, so that we can get a precise fix on when the abduction happened. After all, if we have to return him, we'd better get the placing right."
"Do you need either of us to come along?" I asked.
Shelley thought about it for a bit, then nodded. "I'll take Will," she said. "He could use the experience, I'm sure."
I don't know whether Will saw the evil grin that the pair of us exchanged. Actually, I'm reasonably certain he didn't.
I must say that, as a newbie to Despatch, portalling is a lot of fun. I'm sure the enjoyment wears off over time, but at the moment, each jump leaves me full of adrenalin. I was ready to do things I'd already been told (twice) that I couldn't. Shelley just looked at me in that really, really annoying way that says to a bloke: You idiot. Unfortunately, I think that she was probably right on the button for that one. Damn.
A quick look around verified that we had portalled to the right universe. There were ruins, trees, steep slopes, and stuff-all grass. However, there was just one small problem: we were on the wrong side of the river.
"Why are we here?" I asked Shelley. "Don't we need to be on the other side? Or are we just making doubly sure to stay right out of the way of battles and stuff?" I suspect I was sounding a bit eager, possibly over-eager. This was confirmed by Shelley's comment.
"Do you ever shut up?" She looked up and down the river bank. Lots of trees were not in sight. At least, not here. "I think you might be right, though. We ARE on the wrong side of the river here. Remember, it turns into a lake down near where we want to be. That's just too far away to be practical." She dug around in her gear sack for a second, and came away with nothing but a vexed expression on her Elvish face.
"This is your fault," she told me.
"Wha...?" This is what I really enjoy: being blamed for something that I have absolutely no idea about. I swear that this is a mental war game. "You should already know what we need to do." This just gets better and better. Hope things improve soon...
It turned out that she was simply after equipment she had forgotten to pack (so of course this was my fault!) and I had what she wanted (every boy's dream!). She was after the remote activator so that we could be in the correct spot at the right time. We also needed correct timings so that we a) wouldn't run into ourselves when we came back; and b) wouldn't screw up the WHEN of when Boromir needed to be put in place to... ahem... die.
That particular bit of gizmo trickery was the result (apparently) of Makes-Things being asked for a type of chronometer that would tell time to the precise microsecond, so that timings would be perfect. We wouldn't need to be that precise, but being out by more than a second at the wrong time could, and probably would, be disastrous. Anyway, the result of the request was the Chronologically Correct Time Device. The CCTD is basically a very, very, very condensed atomic clock, but using caesium rather than uranium. Very, very handy, and it was telling us that we had about one hour to wait till things began to get hairy around this neck of the woods.
Shelley had by now taken the correct co-ordinates of where we were and where we wanted to be. Without too much further ado (other than taking ALL of our equipment: do not leave hi-tech bits of techno-gadgetry lying around this place; Sméagol would find it for sure) we were placed in the right spot on the other side of the river. We had a fifteen-minute walk to what had appeared from the other side of the river to be a good vantage point for the goings on that would occur in forty-five minutes or so.
We sat down and took stock of the area. Not much caught our attention. Fairly plain sort of place; however, the scenery from this vantage point was, well, spectacular. Problem with that, of course, is that your attention drifts. When mine came back, it was because Shelley was making a muffled noise that sounded like "What the?" I looked in the direction she was looking and saw what appeared to be a blue, cloudy, swirling, sort of misty, foglike... cloud. It sat there for five minutes. It then popped out of existence. Most disturbing, until we both realised (in almost the same instant) what it must be.
"That was the —" I said.
"— Mary Sue" she said, and giggled. Cute giggle. Not schoolgirlish at all. Damn it, mind back on job, mind back on job.
We took the timing of when it had appeared, then disappeared, and sat back to watch for the approach of the Fellowship in about thirty minutes.
Waiting is a wonderful thing, particularly when you have an attractive person to wait with. You can have all sorts of wonderful conversations that lead into improbable futures, and then start back at the beginning, with a little bit less time to wait.
However, none of that happened with us, for two reasons. Shelley was cold. I was gawking at her, while trying not to. It's a boy thing. Sorry. Thing is that when cold, women, well, I don't need to explain, as I'm sure that what I'm trying to say is clear. Let me just say she is very attractive, and when she's cold — wow! Okay, mind back on job, mind back on job.
Suffice to say, Shelley was quite happy when we could faintly hear the sounds of the Fellowship on the river. What we could also hear were the faint sounds of Uruk-hai. The beauties of physics and sound waves, which I can't explain. Whatever, it was promising to be somewhat hectic very, very soon.
Shelley and I got out the CCTD, a pad of paper and a pen, plus the remote activator so that we could get out of there without getting damaged. It helps that even Aragorn cannot track something that leaves no tracks. I love some of these tools.
The Fellowship had landed by now and were starting to spill out doing their things. Wood was being brought in for a fire. Aragorn had gone uphill to scout the land and Boromir and Frodo wandered off, and I knew that things were just about to get really, really tense.
Just then (Murphy from Legal would probably be more than happy to point out that this was a deliberate action on his part), Aragorn decided to look down the hill, and thought he saw something. The something, of course, was us. Fortunately, Shelley was looking at him at the time.
"It's time to use the remote activator," she advised. She dialled in the coordinates to put us on the other side of the area, away from everyone else. We went, Aragorn turned up, checked, looked puzzled and disappeared off looking for Frodo.
If you ever wish to visit an Uruk-hai to see what it's like, I strongly suggest that you don't. If this lot were anything to go by, it's filthy, smelly and disgusting. Imagine that you feed your dog, and it brings it all back up again. The end result looks very similar to the Uruk-hai. Lovely stuff. The reason I say that is that the troop that turned up (to eventually kill Boromir, in the true course of events) are the foulest creatures I have ever had the misfortune to encounter. (Taking into account, of course, my dog when it's ill.) They swarm. It's very interesting to watch, but they are fairly ineffectual at coordinating large groups around small objects. Like one man, or hobbits. Suffice to say that the fight scene was even more interesting up close than in the book.
Shelley was watching the CCTD carefully, when from my bag came a beeping.
"Bugger, bugger, bugger, bugger, bugger." I looked in briefly, muted the sound, and told Shelley that the continuum was starting to distort. This Mary Sue was really pushing things around to make things happy for her.
Damn, I hate that. Let's just bend the rules of reality, rant, rant, rant. Sorry.
Boromir was well into the fight now. The Horn had been blown, and things were really starting to get intense. Boromir had just taken his first arrow, and the second hit him just as I looked up. Neither was immediately fatal (obviously). However, they were definitely slowing the poor bugger down. There it was, the cloud was starting to materialise. For whatever reason, the people on the ground couldn't see it. Thank all that is holy for that, as I didn't fancy trying to neuralyze everyone on the battleground. The third arrow flies and hits Boromir. Oooh, that's gotta hurt.
The canon was fine everywhere except where Boromir was. In fact, it was only Boromir with that problem. He was outside the two hundred percent range now. This would explain why he's having so much trouble actually dying. The other issue that should have been appearing is that there should have been another version of me hanging around, putting him back. Swearing profusely, I concentrated harder on what was going on.
The fight finished in its predestined way, broken Horn, missing Hobbits, and Aragorn going slightly spare. Boromir was given his funeral rites, placed in the boat (still in the cloud) and sent off down the river. As we did not need to follow what Aragorn and Company were doing, we followed the boat.
It was probably a good four minutes down the river when the snatch happened. The cloud brightened, a small black tear opened, water from that universe fell through, and Boromir was pulled in. Now this is some stuff you don't see every day. Shelley looked at me. I looked at Shelley. We shared with each other semi-identical Elven faces with astonishment on them. I don't know how to explain that. However, considering that the induction I had was with a talking daisy, I probably shouldn't prejudge reactions to my report. Sigh. I was not looking forward to the next couple of hours phrasing my report and entering it into my laptop (which I currently couldn't find).
We finished the reports almost dead-on two hours later. I was feeling a wee bit tired, as was Shelley. All the things we had seen and heard had been recorded, and cross-checked, times accurately put in and all other readings were done.
"Let's pack up and get going," said Shelley. "My head hurts, and I didn't get anywhere near enough sleep for this. Plus I also managed to forget my snacks. Have you got some?"
She complains prettily, too. Oooh DAMN. Mind back on job, mind back on job.
"Yep, I have a couple of spacefood sticks. Choc flavour. Or would you like some chips?" I answered.
She looked bemused, but simply held her hand out and said, "Dealer's choice."
I gave her a spacefood stick and a packet of chips. "Eat up."
"Thank you. I needed something. You call these chips? These are crisps!" She's pretty when she's tired. DAMN IT. Being a boy is a real worry sometimes.
I held out my hand to Shelley, who took it after brushing all the assorted crud off herself that applies itself to you when you sit down. We walked off to where we would portal out. Of course, being tired, we didn't hear the Uruk-hai that were gathered around that general area.
"Bugger," I said.
"Bugger," Shelley said.
"Grunt," the leader of the bunch said. "Get them." At least, that was what it sounded like.
"RUN!" cried Shelley.
I didn't waste my breath on a reply. I simply hauled on her hand, and sprinted.
After about five minutes, we had gained about two hundred fifty metres or so. Enough time for us to pull out the remote activator and put us somewhere away from them, which Shelley promptly did. I'm not as fit as I used to be, and by the looks of it, neither is Shelley.
"Time to go back to the others," I moaned. Lying on the ground seemed like the most comfortable thing to do. Shelley started punching in coordinates. We could hear noises in the scrub nearby that sounded suspiciously like the crew who were chasing us.
I stood back up and started saying a mantra under my breath: "Hurry, hurry, hurry, hurry, hurry, hurry..."
"I am, I am, I am. Done!" Shelley cried.
The portal opened.
The Orcs crashed through the bush nearby, crying out that they had found us.
We leapt through.
The Orcs cried out that we were just there.
The portal closed.
We were safe. For the moment.
"Meg?" I called out. Just then I stepped on something soft.
"Ooof," was the reply (from Meg).
I fell over, landing on Meg. Shelley also fell over, on to me. Ahh, life, you have a funny way of winding a boy up.
My God, what a day! Now we just have to find our sleeping bags.
They'd arrived back. Right on top of me.
"Shelley, did you absolutely have to open the portal right there?" Nia complained.
Shelley looked down at me, where I was lying on the floor. Luckily I'd been lying face down, or I would have wound up having Shelley stepping right in the middle of my stomach. As it was, Will trod on my bum.
"Damn!" There was a thud as he lost his balance and fell over. He landed heavily on me. Ow.
"Nice to see you, too, Will," I commented dryly, once I'd got my breath back.
"I thought you were going to follow them through to the swamp," Nia said to Shelley.
"Oops!" was Shelley's response.
Nia looked across at me. Looked like we'd have to do it, as the pair of them were puffed and exhausted. Apparently things got a little hectic up there on Amon Hen. I put away my crochet and gathered together the necessary bits and pieces I'd need.
"Could I have the remote activator, thanks, Shelley?" I asked. She handed it over. It looked brand new. I made a mental note to hand it back to Will at the end of the mission. One thing I'd heard about Shelley from the HQ grapevine is that she did tend to "borrow" things. Rather permanently. There was a reason why she tended to be paired up mainly with women these days. I strongly suspected that Personnel hadn't coordinated things with anyone else (not that they ever did), otherwise they wouldn't have sent a new (male) recruit on a mission with Shelley.
Nia and I portalled out from the bedroom rather than catch the attention of the Mary Sue by exiting through the house. The park was rather vague in sections. Obviously the author hadn't bothered to define things too firmly, so we wandered through an area of vague greenness toward the well-defined stand of trees that was presumably the location of the swamp. We'd arrived just in time, too. As we neared the swamp, we heard a splash.
"That would be our warrior landing," I commented to Nia. We both broke into a jog, covering the remaining distance to the trees. The area between the trees was spooky, in that rather overstated way that says "this place is being spooky because it's being spooky." Actually, it looked a lot like some of the darker corners of the Eryn Vorn (I'd been exploring between missions a couple of times: I may not get to see the beauty spots of Middle-earth, but I figured I'd settle for knowing that one fairly well). We soon found the spot where Boromir had "splashed down." There he was, surrounded by a sort of blue mist. Strange, I'd not seen that before. I looked across at Nia.
Nia had her Canon Analysis Device out, scanning for abnormalities. "I can't really get anything clear from it," she said eventually. "I mean, yes, he's showing up as being massively out of canon, but then, he's not from this canon in the first place. If I switch to the Rings canon, he shows up as being massively out of canon there, too."
"That would probably be because he's supposed to be dead, as well as being abducted," I surmised. "Hang on a minute." I fished in my bag for the Reality Checker. It probably wouldn't work at all in a fictional universe (it's effectively a Canon Analysis Device which is hardcoded to deal with Earth reality) and it would probably have fits in this one (everyone in Tokyo speaking English is a stage three Reality Dysfunction at least and I don't care who says otherwise; I kept expecting to see Godzilla walk past as the city tried to reclaim its identity). Unfortunately, it wasn't there. Oh yeah, that's right; it was off with Makes-Things, being mended. Drat. I decided to go with my standard backup and fished a coin out of my pocket.
"Call," I told Nia. She looked puzzled, but called "heads." I walked over to where Boromir was lying. Once I was within range of the blue mist, I flipped the coin. It kept going straight up, accelerating as it did so and eventually disappearing with a "spang" noise. I walked back to Nia.
"I'd say that whatever that blue mist is, it's having a rather nasty effect on reality. My guess is that it's Sue-sign, something to hold him together until the Sue comes in and finds him. Speaking of which, where is she?"
Nia turned around and looked back in the direction we'd come from. "She's coming now. We'd better hide."
I nodded, and we found a corner of the undergrowth to huddle in. I pulled out the handheld and checked the Words, while Nia just looked at them in front of her.
"Don't look at his sword," she warned me.
"Why not?" I asked, doing the obvious silly thing and looking at it. Owwww.
"That's why not," Nia answered, needlessly.
Something trying to be two things at once is really, really hard on the eyes to watch. It's worse than looking at someone in anime disguise, worse than seeing me under my elf disguise and definitely worse than trying to figure out those "Magic Eye" pictures. Boromir's sword was trying to be a stick. Why? I have no idea.
"I wish she'd bothered to explain the point where she realises that the stick is a sword," I muttered.
Nia nodded and patted my back to comfort me. I wasn't expecting it, so I twitched (my usual reaction to any unexpected touching, speech or contact from another person; yes, I'm jumpy). Luckily, I didn't go with my other usual response, which is to leap about three feet in the air.
We watched in silence as the Mary Sue ("Rose Petal") and her little friend ("Rini") pulled Boromir out of the swamp. The blue mist vanished as Rose got within touching distance of Boromir, seeming to vanish into her body. She didn't appear to notice, neither did Rini. They somehow managed to get Boromir out of the swamp, then Rose single-handedly half lifted, half dragged him to the only car in sight. Nobody else in the park appeared to notice anything strange. The pair of them manhandled him into the car and drove off.
"Shall we head back?" Nia asked. "We're probably best off going in via the back door while they come in the front."
I nodded. Nia set the coordinates on the remote activator and off we went.
Back at the house, we ran into a small problem. The back door was locked. While I looked at it in horror, Nia reached for a small roll of cloth in her pack. She produced a set of lockpicks and proceeded to rather professionally pick the lock.
"Nice trick," I commented. "Where'd you pick that one up?"
"Intelligence training." She grinned back. "Besides, someone has to be able to retrieve things from Shelley."
Nia and I snuck into the bedroom where Boromir was being kept. I wasn't looking forward to this bit. My mother is a nurse. I grew up reading books on anatomy, physiology and nursing. I've got a fairly good general grasp of conventional medicine. Add to that the fact that I'm interested in herbal medicine in an amateur capacity and you've got a mental medical database which was responsible for a large amount of my cringing on first seeing the Words of this story. I pulled out the handheld from my bag.
"According to this," I commented, looking at the Words before me, "she cleans him up, cleans his wounds over a span of four hours, then leaves him alone for four days. Which quite frankly should kill him dead."
"I thought he was supposed to be dead already?" Nia asked.
I nodded. "Yes, but he's supposed to be dead back in Middle-earth. He should be dead here, too. The body's healing processes just don't work that way."
"Maybe the Sue doesn't know this?"
I snorted. "Very likely. She's apparently an emergency nurse who's never had to clean debris or foreign matter out of a wound before. Odd emergency department she must have worked in. Nope, I'm putting that one down on the charge sheet — completely ignoring medical reality."
Nia nodded. "It looks like we're going to need a three-part charge sheet, same as usual. There's all the combined offences, then the canon-specific ones to deal with. I think the medical one winds up as a combined one — shall I put it down as 'lack of research'?"
I shook my head. "Reality-bending is one that we can charge her with in Despatch. I'd say ignoring the laws of reality. We can hand it all to Legal and let them decide, if needs be. Add in 'altering the spoken language of an entire city', as well. Last time I checked my atlas, the citizens of Tokyo spoke Japanese."
I left Nia typing the charges into her laptop, while I walked over to the bed. Boromir was looking pale and tired, almost switched-off. Not surprising, I suppose: the Sue was having her fun and "cleaning him up." I stifled a few expressions of disbelief and several swearwords. Eventually it just got too much and I walked over to the wall, sat down on the floor and hid my head in my arms. After a few seconds of that, I fished around in my bag, pulled out one of the two books I'd brought with me and started clouting myself over the head with it.
"I *thump* cannot *thump* believe *thump* what *thump* I *thump* am *thump* seeing *thump thump* !"
"Bad?" Nia asked.
I stopped thumping myself long enough to nod, then returned to trying to bash my brains out.
"I can't watch this. I'll be back in the bedroom," I said, giving up on giving myself concussion.
Nia smiled at me and nodded. She reached out, grabbed my hand and squeezed it. "Watch out for the tense shifts on the way," she warned.
I nodded. Ever since our Mary Sue had returned to the building, my stomach had been roiling on the brink of nausea, simply because this particular Sue couldn't keep the past, present and future straight. So we'd start off doing something, only to bump into ourselves two seconds earlier, or find that we'd completed it, except that it hadn't been done. I usually get motion sickness: car-sick, air-sick, sea-sick, you name it. Turns out that I'm susceptible to time-sickness too. I was just glad that I'd thought to add the glacé ginger to the standard collection of "thingies" I carry in my bag. It had originally been a precaution to deal with the "eurghs" from having to induce vomiting in non-standard canon characters (orcs, Uruk-hai, Sméagol), but now I could see a whole heap of other uses.
I was halfway back to the bedroom when the time compression happened. Being hit by four hours in the back of the head is no fun whatsoever. I wound up with a splitting headache, which left me staggering the rest of the way. When I got to the bedroom, I noticed that Shelley had been woken up by the time compression. She looked to be in an absolutely filthy temper, too. I fished around in my pack and brought out the bottle of Nurofen I carried with me these days. I downed a couple, using a couple of swallows of water to wash them down. Shelley took a couple as well, then tried to get back to sleep. Meanwhile, I settled myself on my sleeping bag, took out the handheld, scribbled down some additions to the charge list and did some rapid calculations.
Not long afterwards, Nia came back in, looking cranky. Apparently she'd been in the same room when the time shift had happened, which meant that she'd got all the worst effects. I offered her the Nurofen, but she declined and fished around in her backpack for something stronger. After downing these, she laid herself down and sighed.
"You may have been right to leave when you did, Meg," she said ruefully. "Even I could tell that she didn't have the first notion about cleaning puncture wounds."
I nodded. "From what she was doing earlier, she should have caused massive internal bleeding and just about killed him from shock. The wound to the gut should ensure that he's got peritonitis, which in his present condition should be fatal. Plus she was able to lift him single-handed out of the swamp he landed in, which is just ridiculous."
Nia looked surprised at this. "He didn't look that heavy when he was lying on the bed," she said.
"That's another charge then, I'd say," I commented. Nia looked at me in a disapproving manner. "Look, back on Middle-earth, Boromir is something like six foot tall and bulky with it. He's the broadest of the Fellowship, he's been in armour probably since he was about eight or ten and he's been a full-time warrior since he was approximately fifteen years old. Certainly he's been a full-time warrior for the past twenty years at least. I'd estimate his weight at over one hundred kilos bone dry and stripped to the skin, most of it muscle."
"What's one hundred kilos in pounds?" Nia asked. Drat, I'd forgotten, she was from Kansas, despite the accent she assumed with her disguise.
"About two hundred and twenty pounds. No lightweight. Add to that the chainmail, heavy boots, heavy cloak, sword, shield, horn and the weight of the water soaking his clothes and he should have been at least one hundred and fifty kilos. Three hundred pounds or more. Now, did our Sue look as though she could lift that kind of weight? I didn't see any signs of the type of musculature that could toss around three to four hundred pounds like it didn't matter."
"You have a point," Nia commented thoughtfully. "So there's either altering the nature of the character, or altering the nature of physics."
"Or both," I replied.
Nia nodded. "We'd better get some sleep. There's going to be another time slippage soon and these things are marginally easier to sleep through than to stay awake through."
Nia and Shelley took the next shift of monitoring. Or, at least, they were meant to. I broke into uncontrollable giggles when I heard the rather unmistakable noises of Boromir "coming to his consciousness" from the other bedroom (I'd been listening through the wall; it saved me from having to go in there and see what was being done). This got me some very strange looks from Nia, although I think she'd got where my mind was going to by the time she came rushing back into the room.
"That's disgusting!" she hissed as she hid her face in her sleeping bag.
"Not really," I commented blandly. "Fairly standard biological activity, wouldn't you say, Will?"
Will went bright red and refrained from comment. I grinned.
Nia shot me a furious look from where she was huddled in a corner, trying to block her ears. "Your mind is filthy. You should have been in Slash!" she told me.
"They needed me more in Despatch," I told her. "Plus I tend to break into giggles at the sight of 'throbbing manhoods' and similar. For some reason, saying 'boingy, boingy, boingy' doesn't go down well in Slash. So to speak."
Shelley came in at this point, giggling fit to burst, and had to lie down for a while. Nia still looked disgusted with the lot of us. She stalked out of the room, muttering to herself.
"Oh dear," said Shelley, in between fits of giggles. "I forgot, she's only twelve. I don't think anyone in the Sailor Moon side of things stopped to check for that one."
"She's twelve?" Will asked incredulously. "But she looks about seventeen."
"That's just the disguise," explained Shelley. "In reality, she's twelve. Intellectually advanced, of course, or she wouldn't be working for PPC. But occasionally these little issues pop up" — here I dissolved into giggles again — "and catch her unawares. Meg, stop that, it's not kind!"
"I'm sorry," I said, tears of laughter sliding down my face. "It's just the thought of her seeing that and, oh dear, the look that must have been on her face! D'you think she'll agree to Jay and Acacia doing the assassination now?"
Shelley looked across at me. She was still having problems stopping giggling herself. "I think," she said, between bouts of laughter, "that I can just about guarantee it."
Nia was still looking cranky. She also still looked seventeen.
"You really are twelve?" I asked (for about the tenth time in two hours). She glared at me. Again. I'm getting used to it now. After all, she's a twelve-year-old. Probably smarter than myself but hey, I have eighteen years on her. I chuckled quietly. She glared again. I noticed that she is getting really good at that particular look.
We were alone. I had also been using this line of questioning for three or four days, while we monitored Boromir's health and the gradual decay of the canon and this universe. I was beginning to feel that Nia and I got on quite well, despite the cranky looks. After all, I reasoned to myself, she hasn't hit me yet. The term "hit" is subjective, of course. She had been all over me in other ways. She loves to hug people. She loves to hold an arm or a hand. She also seemed to like hanging onto my leg. That was really weird. I really don't understand women, and this one is no exception. Sigh.
I was looking out the window while Nia monitored the array of devices we had set up on the floor. It was really very interesting watching what happened when a city discovered it was being warped and tried to bring itself back in. We had already experienced several time shifts. Now that is a bizarre experience. I had also noticed that various parts of the house (walls, doors, etc.) seemed to wax and wane in solidity, presumably as the author concentrated or not. However, everything was fine, and had been for about thirty minutes or so, when I noticed a small Japanese bridge walking down the street. There was something for the books.
I pointed it out to Nia.
"Oh no!" she moaned. "This is not good. Please tell me I'm not seeing what I'm seeing. Please." The look on her face was heart-melting, even though it was anime style. The eyes were huge, the mouth was very small.
All I could say was, "Sorry Nia, it's there. A bridge is walking down the street. Do you think it's looking for its park?"
A quick smile from her indicated that she appreciated the small funny, but she grabbed my arm and held on tightly. "I don't like what I'm seeing, Will. If things have got this bad, why aren't the tools showing it? I mean, a goddamn bridge is walking down — whatever the street is down there, and the really scary thing is that no-one is noticing. They just walk around it. Like they expect it to be there or something. While they talk ENGLISH. This is Japan for Pete's sake." She really was having difficulties with this.
I had to do it. "This isn't really Japan anymore, you know."
Again, the glare. Damn she is good at that.
"Well, there are bridges walking around. Does that happen in Japan?" I asked. I think I was beginning to feel a bit caged in. I decided that I would take a quick look at Boromir, because it was about time for him to be waking up again. He should be having no pain, but not being able to breathe and needing air. I still crack up at that line. I told Nia what I was going to do, and she decided to come along too.
"Remember," I said, "the little pink-haired thing will be in there sitting on his stomach. Why it's sitting on his stomach when he had puncture wounds in his guts is beyond me. That he doesn't scream in agony is simply wrong. I think that Meg or Shelley have put that on the charge sheet."
Nia glanced at me (ooo, a new look!). "I put it on the charge sheet, actually," she said, somewhat primly. Almost as if daring me to refute that. Hmm, not my job to get her annoyed rather than cranky. I think she enjoys cranky.
As we came up to the door, noticing exactly how solid it was, I had the nasty feeling that I was about to screw up, so instead of opening the door, I stopped and thought. Rare for me to do that. Ah-hah! I know why. Rose should be about to come along and pop in to see Boromir, and pink-haired creation should already be in there. Damn, this was going to be hard.
"Tell you what," I said.
"What?" said Nia.
"Huh?" I said.
"You started to say something, then stopped," said Nia. Damn, she's right. What was I going to say?
"Oh dear. I think time distortions are happening while we are in them. We have stopped feeling them. That cannot be good." I cursed briefly.
"What time is it now?" I ventured a look through the door into Boromir's room.
The pink-haired thing was there on his stomach, sleeping. Uh-huh. Sure. He could sleep through that. Gods. We snuck in and took up a position as far from where Rose was going to be as possible. Almost on cue, Boromir woke up, and the pink-haired thing razzed him about waking up. Then the screaming bit, and Rose came in looking truly fantastic. Obviously no concerns about her level of confidence.
Nia nudged me, and I tore my eyes off Rose (not an easy task, let me tell you) and looked at Nia. We were pretty much hidden because of the sun shining in. A corner of a light blue room is hidden by that. Slight reality distortion. I'm surprised we weren't part of the wallpaper. She was showing that Boromir's character very nearly didn't exist in canon anymore. Plus this universe was being warped more and more out of shape by the second. Something was going to give way extremely soon. I suspected it wouldn't be very pleasant when it did.
After Boromir had kissed Rose's hand, Rose left the room. We were standing there feeling rather foolish. Then he got up. Of course! He was mortally wounded, then abducted, then he gets up feeling perky. I wish I had his constitution. Only thing was, he didn't have anything on. Nia's disguise didn't hide the blush and she quickly closed her eyes. I chuckled again. Boromir dressed quickly — amazingly so for a badly injured man — and walked out of the room without so much as looking in our direction. Well, of course. A trained and experienced warrior would just ignore checking out his room. Nia was happy when he'd gone for some reason. Not entirely sure why. Poor kid was probably getting far more education than she had bargained for on this trip.
"What we really need is a — oh..." Nia began and petered out. A door had appeared in the wall (fortunately) next to us. I opened it, and we walked into our room. That was handy. It promptly disappeared again as soon as it closed. Things were really getting odd now. Nia was looking similar to how I felt, nervous. Doors shouldn't just appear, it's not... well... it's not normal. Of course, normal was currently a very subjective matter.
The next couple of hours were spent following Boromir about as, true to Mary Sue form, he bumbled about in a totally alien way, more like a small child than an experienced warrior who takes things in at a glance. Much as I may or may not like the character, nobody deserves to be so humiliated. Yep, I'm grumpy now. I suspect that Nia noticed, because she put a calming hand on my arm, and whispered to me "It's going to be fine. Remember you are in Despatch, you are not an assassin. It's all going to work out." I think that's the bit I'm worried about.
The dinner scene (oh Gods how it hurts) was traumatic for myself, Nia, and nearly everybody else in the completely stuffed world we were currently in. I'm sure I noticed some Chinese dragons floating about, except that they had sneakers on clawed feet. That was actually pretty cool. Boromir almost came back within the two hundred percent OOC reading (in fact he did, to one hundred ninety-eight percent OOC); then when forced to apologise rocketed off the chart again. I'm sure we are going to have to give him a quick bit of a rundown on what he has to do. How to tell him he has to die is something I want to leave to someone else.
After dinner is worse still. Nia and I had to leave. I was pretty sure that she was going to throw up. While I'm reasonably certain that as grandfather clocks (that was what we looked like to ourselves in a mirror that appeared for about four seconds) we weren't noticed, one of them throwing up gods-only-knows-what might be slightly disturbing to the onlookers. Got to admit though, it would be mighty funny. Temporarily. I wisely refrained from saying that to Nia. She was looking upset as it was. We went back up to Boromir's assigned room to watch the action there. This is absolutely appalling. I really cannot believe that Boromir is doing this. I'm also having troubles getting my sentences to sound like I am making them. Sometimes it feels like I am in third person mode, sometimes in first. Terribly disturbing, and as far as holiday destinations go, I would be crossing it off the list. With a VERY large marker.
The room was worse than dinner. For some reason, we are now looking like doors. This reality twisting is really screwing with my mind. Nia is looking odd, her anime disguise (to me) keeps flicking in and out. I mentioned this to her, and she said that it had been getting harder to keep it in line. Perhaps the links are starting to fail. Boromir came into the room and wandered around aimlessly, then sat on his bed, and picked up the anger management book. From my perspective, it's in Italian. I'm sure it was supposed to be in English. He was getting into it, about thirty to forty pages in, when Rose turned up. Suddenly, the book is back in English. That's a neat party trick. Wish I could do that sort of stuff.
They went through the whole shirt-off thing, and Nia starts to stare.
"He's got a lot of — hair, doesn't he?" she whispered. The wounds he had were looking like they should have killed him. The bruising was still widespread. He must have lost vast amounts of blood during the battle, and then the dragging to this place.
The whole kissing bit was rather amusing. Nia actually jumped when Rose moaned. I'm not surprised. It sounded rather like she was about to orgasm. (Well, these things happen, I guess.)
I chuckled quietly, secure in the knowledge that I would shortly be watching when this one died. Oh, and Boromir would be dying too. That bit is truly unfortunate, but he has to, because otherwise things in LOTR get all screwy.
I felt it was about time to find Meg and Shelley. We went along the corridor to find our way back to our room and opened the door. We found ourselves back in Boromir's room. Hmm, I thought, that's unusual. So we tried it again. Same thing happened. Oh-oh. Again we tried, again we end up in Boromir's room. So we used the remote activator, and ended up in Rose's room.
Oh Gods, this is going from bad to worse. She's just slipped into bed, and she's giggling. Mind you, it's a nice giggle, as far as giggles go, but I could wish she wasn't giggling because it feels like the whole place is giggling. Sigh.
It took five or six more goes with the remote activator before we were able to portal ourselves into our room. It was still empty. I wondered how Meg and Shelley were doing. Things were pretty much all set for destruction here. I was worried, Nia was worried, and she pretty much crawled into my arms for comfort. Not that I minded of course. No matter how old she really is, as a seventeen-year-old, she fit nicely into my arms. Except for the flickering of her disguise, it was comfortable. I closed my eyes as I hugged her, and hoped that I was going to make it to the end of my first mission without going stark raving mad.
Shelley and I looked at one another grimly. We were "on deck" and our job at this point was to go into Middle-earth and monitor the events at "Rivendale." Wherever that was. Given that Elrond and company were there, I was going on the presumption that she meant Rivendell.
"Is it okay if I say that I really, really, really don't want to do this bit?" I asked Shelley.
"It's okay. I don't want to do it either," she replied, sighing. "However, needs must. In this particular case, we're going to need to write up a very comprehensive charge list."
"Granted. This does not mean that I have to like it."
Shelley nodded. I checked through my bag, just to make sure I'd remembered everything for the monitoring detail. Yup, all there. I added the neuralyzer to a pocket on my coveralls. Chances aren't something I enjoy taking, and given that we were heading into what was effectively hostile territory, I didn't want to risk being skewered either by one of the more dangerous canon characters (effectively all of them, by this point) or a stray arrow from an elven scout.
We arrived just behind the Fellowship, as they entered some kind of hall. It looked vaguely elven-ish, but it was a bugger of a job trying to figure out any parts of it.
"There's such a thing as relying too much on the reader's imagination," I muttered, looking around for an alcove to hide in.
"Quite," agreed Shelley.
We wound up just standing at the edges of the crowd. Neither of us self-defined as "ladies," so we were fortunately exempt from the swooning which was supposed to affect all the women. Mind you, it was hard not to giggle at the men who were trying to "clap their backs." Trying to maintain a straight face in the face of watching men (now, when did they arrive in Rivendell?) and elves trying to perform anatomical impossibilities was probably one of the more difficult things I've done; reading the Words which constituted this travesty of fiction was another. While I was standing there, trying very very hard not to double up with laughter, or even crack a smile, I felt Shelley elbow me.
"Have you got a Canon Analysis Device with you?" she asked. "I forgot mine."
I looked across at her, raising my eyebrows. "Why don't you have another look, hmm?" I suggested.
Shelley grinned at me, then pulled hers out of her bag. "You're no fun, you know!"
I grinned back. "I know. I've been working on it."
She waved the device in the direction of the canon characters. It squealled loudly and Shelley moved quickly to mute it. She watched the device intently for a moment or two, then nudged me with her elbow again.
"Meg, could you get out your Canon Analysis Device and check them out for me? I want to see whether my CAD needs to go in for recalibration."
I fished in my bag and pulled out my own device, muting it before I turned it anywhere near the characters. If Shelley's CAD needed to go in for recalibration, that was a serious problem. It would basically knock the Technical Support department out of spare time for about a month. Recalibrating one of these required finding out precisely which canon was out of whack, then reinputting it. That means reloading the actual ROM chips, which hold the digitized record of the canon in question. Now, given that Makes-Things has a very straightforward opinion of the technical prowess of most of the staff at HQ (that is, he's pretty damn certain that they have none), he makes things very heavily reinforced and bolted together rather firmly. Consequently, although the actual chip replacement takes about twenty seconds, it takes about three days of serious effort to get inside the case of the bloody thing. The only person who's been able to manage it in less is Sean, from Slash. Given that he'd managed to destroy the device in question by doing so, it's generally agreed that this didn't count as a successful attempt.
Anyway, I pointed my Canon Analysis Device at one of the characters (Gimli; he's not usually fiddled with, so if he's out of whack, things are seriously screwed with canon) and stopped wondering why Shelley was worried about hers. The display was alternating between either:
[Gimli son of Glóin; Canon: Lord of the Rings; 200% OOC TOTAL CHARACTER RUPTURE!!! TOTAL CHARACTER RUPTURE!!]
[Character Unknown; Canon Unknown; -100% OOC totally and utterly in character]
Shelley looked over my shoulder as we compared results.
"Okay, that's odd," I said.
Shelley nodded. "It looks as though this Sue has managed to warp things so thoroughly that the CADs can't decide whether these are characters from Lord of the Rings, or completely new characters altogether." She shook her head. "That would explain the flickering, I suppose."
"Now that you mention it, yes, it would," I concurred. I'd been noticing the flicker, although apparently not as badly as Shelley had been. It was just a sort of background flicker, as the whole universe seemed to shudder between being either a hideously warped vision of Rivendell, or the "Rivendale" that had been created by this particular Mary Sue's interference. It wasn't fast enough to be unnoticeable, but it also wasn't really slow enough to be extremely annoying or cause me headaches.
"Do we need to stick around and watch Denethor come in?" I asked.
Shelley winced a little. "I suppose we should. If only because we need to get the full range of information in that charge sheet."
"D'you think we should ask to see her Resurrectors Anonymous badge? I mean, that's two characters who should be dead that she's brought back." I frowned at the Words. The disruption was so bad that I could see them hanging in the air before me. "Three, if we count Gandalf the Grey surviving rather than becoming Gandalf the White."
"You're kidding!" Shelley exclaimed. "That's a major plot point! How can she miss that?"
"Very easily," I said. "She's writing movieverse and The Two Towers hasn't come out yet. She probably hasn't even seen the trailer. Now she's trying to write movieverse stuff which is set after the main events of a movie which isn't coming out until December 2002. I'm not surprised she's making mistakes. What I am surprised about is that she hasn't bothered to go to the next most logical reference material: the books."
"Too much work for Her Sueness, I suppose," Shelley commented.
Aragon ("Ooh, mini-Balrog starring in the story," Shelley said. I just looked at her. "What? Like it's going to be unrealistic for this particular universe?" she asked, rhetorically) started speaking. I winced. Even in the book, Aragorn didn't speak like that. Yes, he had the occasional speech which made me want to strangle his speechwriter (probably himself. Most heroes tend to speak rather clogged prose; tragic flaw, I suppose), but even at his most horribly portentous, he wouldn't use language like "sorry for the lost of." Or at least, I sincerely hoped not.
Shelley noticed me wincing. She raised an eyebrow, got a glare and refrained from further comment.
I watched as Galadriel came in. Hmmm... either they've shrunk Aragorn (and all the other male characters) or stretched Galadriel. I mentioned this to Shelley, who looked at me curiously.
"She's using the movieverse versions of the characters," I explained, "which means that there's ample resources to check their heights. Viggo Mortenson, the actor who plays Aragorn, is five-foot-eleven. Cate Blanchett, who plays Galadriel, is five-foot-eight. So either he's shrunk, which isn't likely: he's still the same height as Gandalf and Legolas; or she's been stretched."
"You forgot one possibility, Meg. The author could be too lazy to bother looking such things up."
"Or that. Actually, given the complete lack of research which is shining through this story so far, I wouldn't want to put money on either of the others."
Elrond dismissed the main body of the crowd, telling them to "return to their normal duties." I was watching him closely after he said that and I spotted the expression of puzzlement which flitted across his face. Apparently Jay was right about the bearers of the Three being relatively immune to the effects of Sues. Hang on a mo! That would explain the flickering, too. We had all three of the bearers of the elven rings in the same fic, in the same room, being twisted about by the same Mary Sue. No wonder things were going cockeyed. Vilya, Narya and Nenya were fighting back, even if their bearers couldn't.
Shelley and I followed the Fellowship into Elrond's study (a room which I doubt had existed in Rivendell before and which probably wouldn't exist five minutes after everyone left it) and listened to Galadriel telling the various members of the Fellowship the painfully contrived backstory of this particular fic. I winced openly when the Sun was named as a planet, and Shelley was gradually becoming more and more exasperated with the various liberties being taken with both continua as well. Galadriel's eyes were pained also — I think she could hear what she was saying. She looked as though she didn't like it one little bit.
This isn't to say that we didn't get some giggles out of the situation. In particular, I enjoyed the image of "the balance of the earth being upset" if Boromir were to die: I got a sudden picture of Balancing Monks from the Discworld running around, carefully placing various weights in odd spots, to balance out the missing two hundred kilograms. The moment where the Fellowship appeared to be deep in their own thoughts got Shelley giggling.
"You do realise that they've probably ignored most of the utter tripe she's been spouting, don't you?"
I grinned. "Probably the best thing for them. Otherwise we'd be breaking out sick bags all around."
Galadriel eventually left the room, followed by Celeborn. The Fellowship remained in there for a few minutes, then exited, free of the influence of the Mary Sue. Shelley and I made our own hasty exit also. We didn't really fancy being caught in there when the room ceased to exist.
"So, where to now?" I asked Shelley. "We've got a few days while the Fellowship have their collective minds made up for them, then they jaunt off to the Sailor Moon world. Or at least, they jaunt off to the vision of the Sailor Moon world that our Sue is in. What shall we do in the meantime?"
Shelley was about to reply, when she was interrupted by (of all the unlikely things) a mobile phone ring tone from her bag. Would you believe the bloody thing played "May it Be"? Aargh. Yet another reason to dislike mobile phones, in my opinion. Come to think of it, where the heck was she getting a signal from? I looked across at Shelley, who was scrambling through her bag, trying to find the phone.
"Inter-continuum communications device," she explained briefly, as she pulled it out of her bag and answered it. "Shelley speaking, who is it?"
I couldn't hear what was going on at the other end, but I was able to gather a lot of it from context.
"Nia! Nia, I can't understand you. Nia, you have to stop crying. I can't understand you when you're crying. Please, Nia, stop crying and tell me what's wrong." Shelley looked at me, rather desperately, then covered the speaker of the phone with her hand. "I think something's gone really wrong, Meg, but I can't get any sense out of Nia. Could you try?" I held out my hand for the phone. Shelley handed it to me.
"Nia, it's Meg," I said. From the other end of the phone, I could hear Nia sobbing and I thought I could hear Will's voice in the background, sounding concerned. "Nia, can you give the phone to Will, please?"
A sobbed assent (I think) and then I was speaking to Will.
"Will, it's Meg. What's going on there?"
"A better question might be what isn't, I think. We're trapped in the bedroom we were using. We can't get out, not even using the remote activator, and Nia's really scared."
"That doesn't sound good." Automatically, I was slipping into helpdesk troubleshooting mode. "What happened leading up to that?"
Will explained about the looping, the reality disruptions and the strange happenings through the dinner and subsequently. It sounded like the pair of them were right in the middle of a stage eight Reality Dysfunction, something which scares even the more experienced folks in Despatch. I no longer wondered why Nia was crying; instead, I started shunting ideas together in my head, trying to think of ways and means of getting the pair of them out of there. Preferably intact. Preferably sane.
"Can you hang in there for a second? I'm just going to talk with Shelley."
"Yes, but be quick. This room seems to be shrinking."
"Shit! Start getting everyone's gear together. Get Nia to set the remote activator for these coordinates." I gave Will the coordinates for my glade in the Eryn Vorn. With any luck, they should be able to reach that safely, because it was well and truly outside either of the fractured continua. In addition, that glade had the power of HQ's computing backup keeping it up and coherently imagined. The only way that place was falling out is if HQ itself got knocked out. "I'll get Shelley to call you back in a minute or so. I'm going through to Eryn Vorn, and I'll meet the pair of you there."
I cut off the call and quickly explained the situation to Shelley. "The two of them need to get out of there. I think that particular reality is breaking down. I've given them the coordinates for the Eryn Vorn glade. I'll go there and try and punch a portal through to them as well. Can you grab the Fellowship by yourself?"
"Yes, I think so," she replied, bringing her own remote activator out of her bag. "Meg, be careful. Nia hasn't been caught in a reality slip before, and she really doesn't know what's going on."
"Neither has Will. He started about five minutes before we accepted the job. I'd just brought him in from Personnel."
"You're kidding!" Shelley exclaimed. "They sent an absolute newbie on a job like this? That's ridiculous!"
"I know. I plan on having words with the Hydrangea about it," I said grimly. I'd been setting the coordinates on my remote activator as I spoke. "Give them a bell as soon as I'm gone, okay? Good luck!"
I opened a portal, and got the hell out of there.
Back in the glade at the Eryn Vorn, I stopped. I could see us all stepping through the portal into the Mary Sue-verse. Whoops. In my hurry to get there, I'd forgotten my usual trick of putting a five minute delay between entrances and exits. I resisted the temptation to run over and warn myself; self-induced deja-vu is something that Upstairs gets very grumpy about very quickly. Instead, I ducked behind a tree, and hid. Once we'd all exited safely, I set the coordinates for the bedroom we'd been in, praying all the meantime to any of the Valar who happened to be listening. I could cope with a fair amount of divine intervention at this point.
Meg hung up on the phone. Nia was crying. The room was shrinking. At least I had a plan of action. I packed all the gear (boy packing, not girl packing — it was all chucked in. I figured that no-one would mind) and put it all in the centre of the room. I then unpacked the remote activator and gave it to Nia.
"Here, punch in the co-ordinates that I give you. Oh, and if you are a praying person, pray like mad." Nia, still crying, took the remote activator and looked at it blankly. Oh gods no, she cannot be losing it. She's the one with ALL the experience, I thought to myself. Great. I took the remote activator back, plugged in the co-ordinates, and hit go. Precisely nothing happened.
I don't think I can curse just at the moment. I am going to have to lie to Nia, or she will not be getting out of this.
"Damn," I said. Damn, I thought. I wasn't going to curse. Too late.
"Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat?" cried Nia. She was really getting the hard end of the stick here. How come we got the reality problems?
"No matter — I missed a co-ordinate character," I lied.
"Oh, get it right please," she moaned. She was hanging on to my leg now. This was going to make things really difficult. The room was also getting extremely uncomfortable. Space-wise, that is.
I tried entering the co-ordinates again. They looked right. I hit the "Go" button. At the same time, I thought, "This has to work, or the Sue is going to win." I have a feeling that may have tipped the balance, because right in front of me a beam of something shot out of my device and turned into a portal. Light, beautiful light, and there was Meg standing there looking a bit stunned.
Either the Valar had been listening, or I'd had twice my daily allowance of sheer, dumb luck issued today. My portal in must have linked with Nia's portal out, creating a stable portal back to the bedroom. The minute the portal was created, Nia came charging through, cannoning into me and hugging me tightly, crying all the while. The poor kid was shaking like a leaf and Will didn't look that much better. Will threw through the bags, then jumped through the portal just as the walls of the room came closing in and the bedroom winked out of existence. The portal winked out at the same time.
"Okay, that was close," Will commented.
I nodded. I was hugging Nia back, reassuring her and trying to soothe her down. She was sobbing hysterically and her disguise had completely fallen away. Underneath the anime figure was a normal-looking kid, with carroty-ginger red hair, not that much shorter than I was.
"Will, can you chase through my bag and find the tissue box in there? There's also a red sponge bag that's got some bottles in it. Can you bring that out for me too?" I indicated the bag with a jerk of my head. Will nodded and started searching. The tissue box was found first and I handed it to Nia so that she could blow her nose, rather than sniffing all the time. She accepted gratefully.
"That was so scarey. What was happening?" Nia asked, in between blows.
"You were both caught in a stage eight Reality Dysfunction. Reality was breaking down around you," I told the pair of them. "To give you an idea of perspective, I got caught in a stage six on my second training mission and that scared the hells out of me. I don't ever want to be caught in anything higher than about a stage five again. What you went through is something that only the most experienced Despatch agents are supposed to go through. That they put two inexperienced agents into that situation is inexcusable."
Will looked over at me. Now, I'd seen the look in his eyes before. Generally I see it in the eyes of the Fellowship, when I explain (yet again) what had happened to them. The one that says "I wish to find who is responsible for this, and maim, torture, then kill them. Slowly." Last time I'd seen Will in that kind of mood had been... well, come to think of it, it had been about five minutes after he'd started reading the Words of this story. Should be fun dealing with that Hydrangea with Will in this kind of mood. Actually, scratch that. It should be fun to watch.
Nia was looking rather savage, too. I wouldn't want to be the Director of Crossovers when this one hit the fan. I have a suspicion that we'd be able to hear it even in Despatch.
Anyway, with Nia safely calmed down, it was time to start thinking about things. Shelley would be arriving with the Fellowship any time soon and I wanted to get this one over and finished with. I looked over at Will and Nia.
"I'm going to have to go in and get Boromir and the Sue. Now, I'm not going to expect either of you to come with me. You've both been through enough already."
"I'm coming," Will said, almost immediately. Nia just started shaking again, until I reassured her that I meant what I'd said about not expecting her to come along.
"Nia, I've scribbled some notes on the handheld. If I upload those to your notepad, do you think you can write up the charge sheet? See if you can contact Shelley, as well." Nia nodded, looking relieved at having something useful to do that was within her grasp.
I turned back to Will. "I'll explain what we're going to be doing. The aim is to get in there, find Boromir, find the Sue and put both of them through the portal. Boromir first: the Sue is the key to the whole reality that they're in. The minute she's removed, the whole thing will implode. From what you were saying, I'd say that the reality there is at least up to a stage nine by now: things are starting to disappear, and the actual canon reality of the Sailor Moon universe is trying to reassert itself. We have to get Boromir out of there: if he dies in a reality collapse, he disappears from every continuum. He will never have been. The Sue is definitely second priority."
"One other thing," I continued. "Did you make out your will before you started this mission?"
Will looked at me, startled. "It's that dangerous?" he asked.
"Yes, it's that dangerous," I told him. "This is why Despatch doesn't like reality slips over about stage five. Once you're past that point, you're starting to get into fatal territory. Remind me to show you the Despatch corner of the courtyard, if we come out of this one."
"You're serious, aren't you?"
"Too bloody right I'm serious," I confirmed. "I meant what I said earlier, too. If you don't want to risk it, I don't blame you. I still have to go in there: someone's got to get Boromir out of there."
"Yes, I have made a will. Considering what I have been through so far, I'm pretty sure that I'll be scared spitless. Saying that though, I'm in. Let's get him and the Sue out."
Meg and I made some preliminary checks of gear, chucking what we probably wouldn't have time to use and stuff that was just too bulky, leaving essentially what we could fit into pockets on our overalls. We both had a remote activator, neuralyzer, and a couple of bottles of knock-out drops. I also had a whistle that had made it into my bag somehow. I remember it being in there when I was with the Marquis in admin. I had a nasty feeling that I was under-prepared, but carrying anything else was just going to slow us down too much.
Before we went through the portal, I had a quick word with Nia. I wanted her holding the portal open and monitoring from the Eryn Vorn end. She agreed to do this, provided that she didn't have to look through it. I took out Will's remote activator (must remember to give it back to him) and entered the coordinates, double checking for accuracy. I wanted everything right first time with this one: we weren't going to get a second chance. I also gave Nia the most serious instructions of the lot: Will was going to come out through the portal with Boromir first. If I hadn't followed in one minute exactly, she was to shut the portal.
Meg dialed up the portal, and we jumped through. Love that adrenalin feeling still, even though it looked like there was an apartment block growing out of the house. Meg had assured me that this sort of stuff would happen as the real Tokyo tried to remove the wrong stuff. Even the strongest Sue will get overwhelmed by a city. Silly bloody thing to do anyway. Whatever, we were in, and made our last minute advice.
"You call out the second you get him to the portal, and then get out. Reason: It's not likely to be too stable, and we can't stand around here talking for much longer." Meg was looking a bit unnerved at the way the buildings were creeping into the house, without the benefit of smashing up the rooms as they went.
"Right, well, we had better move fast then. I have my whistle and I think you will hear that better than me yelling. I'll blow it three times, but if you hear it, we are out." As I said it, I thought that there could be something wrong with the sentence, but we can deal with that when it occurs. I was feeling a bit unnerved as the door to the room Nia and I were trapped in was gone altogether. Meg followed my look and remarked on it.
"Yeah, it's gone, and it's gone permanently. Remember that. Let's go."
"Good luck," I said.
"Same to you," she said.
I immediately went off in search of our elusive Mary Sue. The house was morphing in and out, walls and windows coming and going. I started to get seriously worried (something I'm pretty damn good at). I was worried about having taken Will into this, even though I'd given him the easier of the two tasks before us. I was well aware just how dangerous a stage nine Reality Dysfunction really is. He didn't have a clue. I just hoped that he'd be able to persuade Boromir to follow him. Damn, but I wish I could have brought Shelley in, instead. She's at least been through a stage seven.
Luckily, I'd got some good training from the people who mentored me. When faced with a distortion to reality, the trick is to really, really, really focus in on what you want to be there. The only problem with this is that the harder you focus, the worse it gets elsewhere. I was looking for Rose, which meant that I was looking for the epicentre of the various reality disruptions. It also meant that the efforts of Tokyo to fight back would be focussed on the exact spot I was heading for. Oh wonderful.
I looked around me. I didn't have the CAD, but then again, it would be useless now anyway. No reality checker, but then, that wouldn't be worth crud either. Time to fall back on good old low-tech means. I took another coin out of my pocket. Gondorrim copper pieces, worth absolutely nothing here, and safe enough to use to test things. The first one I flipped turned into a bluebird and flew away. I followed it (cute animals are attracted to Mary Sues; something to do with the aura). It died when it flew into a concrete wall that had just materialised in front of it. Time to take out another coin. Flip. This one exploded. Sometimes they do that. It's a bit shocking when it happens and this time was no exception. However, it did get a response.
A female voice, from the other side of the wall. Time to focus in. I concentrated hard on the wall in front of me, thinking hard about the exact shape, size and colour of the door I wanted to see. It was hard to create it, mainly because there was active resistance to the process from the wall itself, as well as from the Mary Sue on the other side. I did it, though, and opened the door to find Rose.
She looked startled to see me, which isn't surprising. Luckily, I outweighed her by about a factor of two (she was about fifty kilos, I'd guess; I'm about one hundred). I grabbed her wrist and tugged her through the doorway. Just in time — the doorway disappeared as she cleared the threshold. Well, I had her. Now all I had to do was get her to the portal. Oh, and remember where the portal was.
My task was to find Boromir, convince him to trust me, and lead him out through the portal. Easy enough task by the sound of it. When you take into account the happenings around here, it could be a damn sight harder. I followed the hallway down to where Boromir's door was, and found that not only was it still there, it was more stable than anything else in the building. I carefully opened the door and walked in. I made no attempt to hide. I was hoping that the reality disruption was going to affect who he thought I was.
Boromir looked over at me. Recognition flared in his eyes as he pushed himself to a sitting position.
"Faramir?" he asked.
Panic. He thinks I'm FARAMIR? Okay. This should be hairy. I wish I had time to read through the appropriate bits in the book. At least I know that he thinks I'm not going to hurt him.
I tried to remember how I spoke to my own brothers, then discarded that idea as I realized it was full of twentieth-century slang. I went for the simple approach. "Boromir!"
You have to give this man credit. Despite having been ripped out of his own reality to this one, his true nature struggles to come back through.
"Faramir! What are you doing here?" he asked. I noticed that he was trying to make light of his wounds. Damn, I didn't have time for this.
"Boromir, I need of some help. Can you walk?" I hoped that he wouldn't start asking questions that Faramir would know, but I wouldn't.
Thank you to all the Gods who were listening. He gets up and dons his clothes, armor, stick\sword, boots and cloak, finding these where the ever vigilant (ha!) Rose had put them. Fortunately, despite the disruptions outside, things are not too bad in here. The window is flickering, and the chair at his table appears to think it's a gecko and is climbing the wall, but I guess that these are things you have to deal with in bad reality situations.
As he walks with me to the door, he asks, "What's happened?"
"I'm in some trouble, and I knew that you would be able to help me." I noticed as I was saying this that the corridor was flicking between what appeared to be a subway station in Tokyo, and the corridor of the house. This is very disturbing. Behind us, his bed disappears. Okay. That's bad.
Fortunately, Boromir is walking beside me. I am so glad he loves his brother. "What have you done to get yourself in trouble?" he asks. I knew that this was going to be hard. Now I have to lie to a man who we have to lead to his death? There is something so wrong with this. I want to override departmental policy and kill this bitch myself.
I sighed deeply, but didn't stop walking. The portal was getting closer.
"Boromir, how much do you know of the Elves? Of their practices, what they do, what they look after?" I asked. Ooo.. where did that come from? I'm impressed with myself. Closer, closer and Boromir was still with me. I dug out the whistle.
"Brother," said Boromir, "you of all people should know just how little involvement I have had with Elves. What have you done? A run-in with the Elves? That would be a foolish thing to do. Do you need to fight?" Perhaps this would be easier than it could have been. Then again, the other side of the portal is still just that... the other side.
"Please, Boromir. You know I wouldn't go looking for trouble. It would appear that the fellowship you were in angered some party in Rivendell. They came looking for Father, but they found me instead. They want me to stop you, and the fellowship. I can see that there is nothing but trouble in their hearts." How I wish I could dig out the book and have a quick scan about how he reacted to the Fellowship when they turned up with him. Dammit, how do I use the whistle? Damn. I looked at Boromir.
He beat me to it. He was looking at the portal, and not looking particularly happy. I hoped this was because he thought I was being harassed by Elves.
"I take it we have to go through there?" he asked.
"Yes, Boromir. You first, or me?" I held out my arm, indicating he go first. He looked at me, I got the feeling that he was searching me (though that is supposed to be Faramir's talent, not his).
"Thank you, Faramir. I will go first." He smiled as he said this. He stepped through.
I had to hurry now. I blew my whistle three times, as loud and as hard as I could. The fabric of this place was falling apart. As I blew the whistle, the corridor kinked, then straightened out again. The corner of the apartment block was closer in, and I could see into a window. Spartan Japanese room with some art... damn, I'm not supposed to be sightseeing. I took a deep breath, and stepped through the portal, just as Nia started to count down.
Boromir was looking around somewhat warily. Who could blame him? I walked over to him. He looked back, and did a classic double take, and then looked angry.
"You are NOT Faramir. Who are you?"
I cannot believe that his character is fighting back. We are going to have to do a lot of work on him to get him back to "normal," but his essential "Boromir-ness" is still in there. Thanks to all that is holy, it is still there. But why does it have to come through now?
Damn, I'm back in Elf disguise.
"Boromir, please trust me. This is all for the good of Middle-earth. I had to take disguise, and if Elves are following an Elf, what better disguise? I asked Gandalf for help with this."
"That idiot," muttered Boromir, but walked over to a nearby tree, shaking his head.
The Sue was squirming in my grasp.
"Let go of me!" she yelled.
I lost my temper (actually, that's not true. I'd lost my temper ages back. What I lost was my slim margin of control over my temper) and slapped her hard across the face.
"Shut up!" I told her fiercely. "Shut up so I can bloody listen, because I promise you, if I have to die here, I'm taking you down first. Your life depends on you shutting up, do you understand me?"
Apparently she did. She shut up.
As soon as she did so, I heard the whistle. Will was going through the portal. I had one minute to make it through all the concrete and so forth in the way before the portal closed and I found myself caught in a stage ten Reality Dysfunction. I wouldn't survive one of those. Nobody ever had. I'd wind up another star on the plaque of the fallen in the Despatch section of the courtyard, my name forever forgotten. I wondered how many of those Despatchers had died with a smile on their faces, killing off the Sues who had trapped them. However many it was, if it happened to me, I was going to add another to their number, that I swore.
"Fall over again and you're staying here. I don't need you, I don't have to rescue you and I won't bloody save you if it means I die too, so get your bloody act together!"
She looked at me in startlement, got one look at the glare on my face, then turned to the wall and started thinking at it. I started thinking of the door as well.
"You bloody fuckwitted idiot!" I swore at the Sue. "You weren't supposed to imagine the bloody thing locked."
So what happens next? Well, watch for part two of this story.
[Editor's note: Alas, it seems part two was never completed. This is all I found on Meg's website via Wayback Machine.]