The response center wasn't just clean, it was . . . clean. Sparkling, shining, get-out-the-gas-mask-she's-really-overdone-it-on-the-ammonia CLEAN. Suicide rubbed his tired eyes, taking a moment to peel off the yellow rubber gloves first. If he didn't know better, he'd swear that Thiranduil (currently hiding in terror under the console)'s constant smell of burnt paper was now minty-fresh.
"Anything else, darling?" Ithalond moaned from the floor. His wife Mithiriel was standing on a stepladder, peering at the fluorescent tubes embedded in the ceiling and removing minuscule particles of dust with a sable-hair paintbrush. After a moment she frowned, gave the nearest tube one last searching look, and clambered disappointedly down the stepladder.
"That's all there is," she said, clearly put out. "I think we have everything. Agent Suicide—?" Suicide instinctively jerked to attention, but Mithiriel giggled and waved a hand. "Stop it, I just wanted to ask if you and Ithalond would like some tea."
"Tea. Good," was all Suicide managed to say.
"Mandarin orange all right?"
"I thought so."
Mithiriel disappeared into the bathroom with the kettle, and Suicide relaxed. From the floor, Ithalond emitted another groan. It would have been tragic if not for the pink kerchief holding his hair back; instead, he just resembled a terminally underpaid charwoman whose supervisor had just said "Oh, and could you take care of . . . " On his partner, that look would have meant mayhem, but on Ithalond it was simply resignation.
And, of course, the console chose that time to beep.
It's a really, really, really good thing that you readers out there aren't equipped with PPC Universal Translators. If you had been, your ears would be burning off from the language that Ithalond and Suicide were currently employing. And can you blame them? They'd been cleaning for about twelve hours straight, bossed by a woman whose use of the Elvish Look-o-Death was down to a science, and now when the light at the end of the tunnel appears, it turns out to be an oncoming train.
Nevertheless, duty calls. (Too often. This explains why the most Heroes who answer it are found in societies too medieval to have caller ID.) And when Mithiriel stepped out of the bathroom a moment later with a kettle full of water, neither her husband nor his partner were anywhere to be found.
* * *
The two agents landed hard on a flat, gray surface. They were dressed as typical Mirkwood elves; the summary had said something about Legolas, so they had to be prepared. Suicide rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and picked himself up, giving a hand to his partner, who had not moved but was instead staring around confusedly.
"Hey, rookie!" Suicide said loudly. He nudged the Elf with the toe of his boot. "Up and at 'em!"
"Suicide, tell me something," Ithalond replied in the voice of one who has just been poleaxed. "I do not recall my race ever having worn glasses . . . "
"What are you talking about?"
"Please look around."
The Greek did—and immediately wished that he hadn't. "Did I portal wrong?" he muttered, but he knew that he hadn't. The CAD in his hand was registering that they had landed right at the beginning of "The Chief and Capital," their latest target. "Or maybe it was the fumes from the Liquid Plumber—this can't be right."
Indeed, it shouldn't have been. But it was. Ithalond and Suicide were in a broad, gray stone plaza, surrounded by Old England-style shops, pushcarts, and hordes of happy, smiling Elves who looked as though they were about to burst into song any second. A few had lollipops. And every single Elf was wearing goggles made of green glass.
Suicide was more well-read than he looked. There aren't many other things to do when you're dead. "How the hell did we get into Oz?" he said blankly.
"Read ahead," Ithalond responded in a grim tone, struggling to his feet.
Suicide did so. "'I also protect the city that I live in which is called "Emerald"'—" He stopped again. "You have got to be kidding me. Did this person even see the movie?"
The Greek massaged his forehead. A massive headache was already beginning to build, and he hadn't even gotten drunk yet. Which, he suspected, he would have to do as soon as this particular mission was over.
"All right then, rookie, what have we got?"
Ithalond scanned the words, gulping as he did. "The entire continuum is in flux. Somebody has essentially erased Arda and replaced it with their own approximation, which is mixed with Wizard of Oz and Harry Potter concepts. Pirates of the Caribbean is involved as well. There is also a crossover aspect, centering around an Elf named 'Springfield.' Legolas is the target."
"I think that's a charge list right there." Suicide thumbed the portal generator, setting it to "Home in on Sue." "You know, my old master used to say something about fighting hopeless battles like this . . . "
"What was that?"
"'Don't.'" And the two agents leapt through the portal.
* * *
There was once an Elf named Springfield. Her mother named her after the capital of Illinois.
This time, the agents landed in a vaguely denseish forest. Ithalond sat down on a nondescript stump and glared furiously at the Words, tapping his fingers against his leg with the look of a Rottweiler spotting a particularly juicy mailman. Suicide was crouching behind the thick mess of nondescript bushes, peering through two shadowy stems to watch the 'Sue undulate past. According to the author, "Springfield" had "long brown curly hair and the most beautiful blue eyes anyone has ever seen! She always wore a diamond necklace that her father had given to her from the real world. Her mother's name was Yolanda. Her father traveled a lot to the real world."
"Charge," he whispered to Ithalond. "Curly hair on an Elf. Making Earth be the 'real world.' Using non-Elvish names for Elvish characters. Having characters in regular transit from Middle-earth to—ow!"
Suicide had seen a lot in his lives. Before dying the first time, he had marched against or with many of the greatest warriors in history, and had killed or unceremoniously bumped off several more. In his short time at the PPC, he had several brutal assassinations under his belt, and didn't seem to know the meaning of this strange word, 'sanity.' He was not, therefore, used to having a spiral-bound notebook hit him in the side of the head.
His partner was glaring. And not just glaring, Glaring. Indignation and hunger for revenge had been replaced with pure white-hot rage.
(Suicide fought the urge to pull out a stopwatch. Levelheadedness to insanity in less than two minutes . . . doubtless some kind of record.
"YOU write the charge list," Ithalond hissed. "She is MINE."
"Eeexcessive cap-it-al-i-zatiooooon," Suicide sang, but picked up the notebook anyway. Spartans understood matters of honor. And this Springfield chick was going down, courtesy one pissed-off Noldo.
Meanwhile, the Sue had been gallivanting aimlessly through the forest, humming a little tune. Via the laws of Universal Coincidence, she promptly smacked into Legolas, who introduced himself and told her that he lived "across the across these woods with my friends, Jack Sparrow and some more people?would you like to come eat with us, we are having sweet and sour veal soup and peas." No question mark. In a previous mission, Suicide had charged for crimes against food preparation, and now he did so again. He wasn't even touching the Jack Sparrow thing.
There was an audible grinding noise, an all-too-familiar one. Suicide didn't even look up from his writing. "That plays hell on your teeth, rookie. Here, chew a pencil instead."
A second *crack.*
"This is getting ridiculous."
Ithalond didn't reply. The two broken pencils were in shards around his feet, and his eyes had not yet left the 'Sue. Sighing, Suicide scooped up the remains of the writing implements and turned his eyes back to the Words, and highly undramatic drama unfolding. Thank the gods for small favors—it was short, at least.
Then it turned out that Legolas was twenty-four. Suicide had never heard someone's mind snap before; it took all he had to restrain his slavering partner from bursting out of the bushes and ramming Springfield's head through the nearest random tree.
"Down boy, down!" he hissed, pinning the Elf's arms behind his back. "A few more minutes and you can do what you like. In the meantime, sit down and shut up!"
"We have enough charges to kill—!" Ithalond panted. Suicide, not normally one for extreme action (except when it was justified . . . or unjustified . . . or he was bored . . . hell, forget it) proceeded to calmly sit on his partner's back. And two hundred and ten pounds of Greek warrior, twenty-seven pounds of short spears, and another twenty pounds of cigarettes, jerky, water bottles, CD players, PPC equipment and dirty playing cards were not something even the original character could lightly shrug off.
Suddenly, the ground they were sitting began to rumble and rock ominously, throwing Suicide off of his partner and into a nearby random tree. Ithalond leapt to his feet, murder in his eyes, but the forest floor lurched again and he was pitched headlong into a holly bush. There was a sudden squeal from Suicide's Canon Analysis Device.
"Shit!" he shouted, scrambling up only to be tossed down again by the shaking earth. The trees were beginning to twist and sway, and the sky turned an unhealthy grayish color. The roaring grew louder, nearly drowning out the yelling of the two agents and thankfully keeping them from hearing the pointless conversations continue unabated. Springfield and Legolas kept on chatting aimlessly, apparently unaware that the world around them was rocking like a grandmother with an axe to grind.
"What's happening?" Ithalond managed to howl above the tumult. Suicide, barely managing to move on the pitching terrain, crawled towards his Noldo partner and put his mouth next to the Elf's ear.
"WE'RE BEING DELETED!"
Ithalond's purple eyes widened in shock, and the world gave an answering crash. The forest was shrinking now, dying away into a spiral of color as if it was all going down some great celestial drain. Suicide frantically scrambled for the remote activator, ducking his head low and clutching it frantically as he punched at the buttons. A weak, wavery blue portal shimmered into existence; its edges were flickering as the story died around them. The Greek waved frantically at Ithalond, mouthing "Get through the portal!" but his partner didn't move.
Not towards the portal, anyway. With the kind of flying tackle that would make Jerry Rice curl up and whimper, the Elf covered sixteen yards at a run and slammed the yammering Springfield into the shaking ground. A rock flew past his head and clipped his ear, and Springfield yowled in a most unladylike manner and tried to punch him in the gut, but the wrath of a Noldo slandered is not to be taken lightly. The ground heaved again, throwing the struggling pair off their feet—
—and as "The Chief and Capital" died away, a portal flickered into existence underneath Ithalond's feet, dropping both him and the wriggling Springfield into parts unknown.
* * *
Ankh-Morpork, the Disc . . .
Suicide—not even bothering to change to an acceptable disguise—sprinted through the crowd of people like the maniac he was, whipping his head left and right. In the rush of trying to escape the 'fic, he'd sent Ithalond and Springfield to the first coordinate in the list. Which was, unfortunately, semi-alphabetical. Why couldn't it have been someplace peaceful? he wondered, skidding to a halt in Sator Square and nearly avoiding a collision with some very suspicious sausages. Two people brawling in Ankh-Morpork—I'll never be able to find them!
But kismet can be kind, as well as cruel, and the Laws of Universal Coincidence ę came to the rescue. There was a crash, loud even by Ankh-Morpork standards, and a very disheveled female Elf went rocketing through a fruit stand a few yards away with the force of a respectable cruise missile. Ithalond went diving after her, eyes wild, fingers clenched, and—lest the danger of the situation be underestimated—hair disheveled. Suicide, spotting the warning signs of a complete psychological breakdown when he saw one, snatched a pork pie from Dibbler's tray and hurled it at his erstwhile partner.
Elves are creatures of beauty, light, and grace. They love simplicity and fineness in all things, and are renowned for their skills. Their wisdom has grown such that they are masters of many arts, and the mortal who is an Elf-Friend is said to be blessed indeed.
Imagine, then, the impact that one of C.M.O.T. Dibbler's Famous Meat Pies can make on a man who had never before imagined such a travesty could exist. Ithalond landed hard on the cobblestones, his face a sickly gray and emitting a noise that sounded rather like "Ook." (All orangutans supply your own translations.) The stunned Springfield, who was plastered with smashed bananas and had a kiwi jammed up one nostril, was not lucky enough to pass out quickly. Suicide loomed over her with his notebook.
"'Springfield,'" he intoned in a dire voice, "You are hereby charged as a Mary Sue by the Protectors of the Plot Continuum. You have committed unforgivable crimes against the world of Arda; said crimes being many in number and heinous in nature, there will be no trial."
"But I—" the false Elf began, but Suicide merely gave her a Look.
"It's either me or the Ballistic Wonder over there, and I don't think he's in any mood to make it quick. Shut it."
The Sue, amazingly enough for her kind, proceeded to shut whatever It was that needed shutting, and Suicide continued. "These crimes include, but are not limited to: total ignorance of LotR canon, either book OR movie—definitely one for the record book, that—robbing Legolas Thranduilion of any semblance of character, making Arda cohabitant with the modern world, calling the modern world 'the real world' when you know damn well that all worlds are by definition real, and—shit, he's waking up! Um, pervertingcanoncausingspontaneoustransportationtoOzandotheroffensesthatthere'snotimetonameyouaretobeexecutedonthisdaybyme. 'Byeee!"
* * *
Twenty minutes later, in RC #2771a . . .
"You did what again?" Ithalond moaned. Mithiriel, cooing worriedly, wiped the sweat from her husband's face and offered him another sip of miruvor, which he weakly took.
Suicide, leaning against the wall, crossed his arms. "I gave her an appropriate death. Ever watch The Simpsons?"
"No . . ."
"Well, there's a little thing called the Springfield Tire Fire, and nobody's going to look that deep in it. Portals are a wonderfully convenient thing."
Ithalond nodded, but the movement made him retch again. Groaning, he leaned back in the chair and closed his eyes. "You realize, human, that I will have to kill you for what you did to me."
"Saving your skin?"
"Giving you the pencils that Narnia No-Longerfled slobbered on?—
And for a time in PPC Headquarters, all was as could be expected.
Agent Ithalond eventually recovered from his brush with death, and went on to chair the Elvish branch of the Anti-Dibbler Movement. His testimony as a survivor is both rousing and inspirational, and Mithirel was offered an in-depth interview by Better Holes and Galadhrim for "a close, personal look at this firebrand hero who fights courageously against the evils of the continuum." BHaG was subsequently sued by the author of "Celebrian," who was then found dead in her sleep at the age of nineteen. A Law and Order episode is planned.
Agent Suicide was reprimanded for cruel and unusual punishment and excessive use of force. The SO darkly noted that because of this, Suicide had been shortlisted for "a very unfortunate mission." Suicide continues his everyday PPCing, blissfully unaware of the catastrophe on the horizon. Cue scary music.
Makes-Things, who was given a Sue-horse by Agent Suicide two missions before, is now said to be completely round the twist and was found screaming "IT'S ALIIIIVE!" after repairing a broken toaster. (Suspicions were allayed two days later, when the toaster laid sixteen blue-green eggs.) The Department of Fic. Psych. has refused to treat him, saying that there are some things Man was not meant to meddle in. Makes-Things has since returned to work, and is rumored to be planning a new upgrade to the CAD.
Agent Diocletian was not in this story, which is a good thing, given that she spent the entire time gibbering and attempting to cut down a tree with a wet herring. Treebeard was Not Amused.