Tangled Webs

Fifth Anniversary Celebration

[BEEEEEEEEEEEP!]

ATTENTION ALL AGENTS. You are, naturally, familiar with that sound. No doubt a few of you have just bludgeoned your consoles with hardbound books, morning stars, and some of your stale Cafeteria food.

There is no need for such foolishness. That is the last noise of its kind that you will hear for the next twenty-four hours.

You see, it is now the fifth-year anniversary of the PPC Message Board. We have decided that all agents in the PPC have laboured long and hard to protect the world of stories, that we appreciate the agents' struggles, and that all PPC Agents deserve a reward... a respite... in short, a day off.

Now, substitute all instances of "agents" in the last sentence with "Flowers".

This is not your day to celebrate, employees. It is ours. From now until 12:00 GMT -5:00 on March 13th, Headquarters is in full lockdown.

This means, above all else, that
no agent may visit the message board unless he or she wishes to be caught and subject to our arbitrary system of punishment.

All agents have five minutes to return to their response centres. Anyone found wandering through the corridors after that will be barricaded in the PPC Lounge until further notice.

You may not portal. No, not even to chase down that psychotic fangirl who followed you back from your last mission. Temporary site-to-site transport, courtesy of the
Star Trek universe, is available to the following places:

Cafeteria
Medical
Bathrooms


However, please be advised that all the cooking staff are only serving fertilizer today, Medical is completely out of Bleeprin and its derivatives, and the janitorial staff is on leave. We advise you to postpone any fits of insanity until a more appropriate time.

You are not on-call today for missions. Any PPCers who are currently on a mission are stranded in that particular universe until lockdown is terminated.

You will hear fire alarms going off at this time. Do not attempt to feed the supposed fire with your flamethrowers—we rigged the sprinkler system so that it would emit Bleepka. (Any rumour that we are responsible for the aforementioned Bleep-product shortage in Medical is pure speculation.)

The corridors belong to us Department Heads and, for some strange reason, to Otik Horak the mail guy, for today. Please enjoy your solitary confinement and have a happy anniversary!

—The Sunflower Official


As the agents stared at their consoles—those of them who weren't running to the doors to try and get them open—one particular team heard another voice come from their Console's speakers. We MEAN this, Agent Hegemony, the Queen Anne's Lace said. The fact that we are frequenting the corridors does NOT give you an excuse to glomp the Sunflower Official. Stay in your response centre. I am keeping an eye on you.

And then there was... nothing. At least, not inside the response centres...

~

Ah. So it has begun.

As the Sunflower Official nodded a silent reply to the Floating Hyacinth's words, the Daisy (not to be confused with the Marquis de Sod) poked its head around the door of the SO's office. I'm... not actually a Department Head, sir, it said. Then it brightened up, leaves rustling hopefully. Unless...?

Ah. The Floating Hyacinth shivered slightly. You are a Flower, though, so I'm sure... well... He turned his head expectantly towards the SO, who ducked backwards slightly.

Oh dear. I forgot you were taking part in this. He paused for a moment, considering his words. Let me put it this way: the next time a Flower goes out of commission, we will submit your name for... consideration. He shook his petals slightly, tilting them up towards the sprinklers. Ahhhh, he murmured. That is first-rate Bleepka.

The Daisy nodded sadly. I perfectly understand... sir, it said. I thought it would be that way. With a sigh it, too, lifted its head and began to soak up the Bleepka—doing its best to forget the brief spell of hope it had just suffered.

Oh good, the Floating Hyacinth murmured, moving out of the office into the corridors. Less complications.

~

Dear colleagues, the Queen Anne's Lace said, gliding gracefully out of a door and looking over the Flowers wandering the corridor beyond, it has been some time since I ventured out from my office, several years at least. With this opportunity having arisen, I rather fancy a stroll around HQ, perhaps to the poolside? She looked around at the assembled Flowers. Who will join me? Bleepka-cocktails and fertiliser cubes on sticks will of course be provided when we get there.

I would be delighted to accompany you, the Floating Hyacinth said, arriving from the SO's office. Shall we make a short visit to the Fountain of Bleepka on the way there?

That would be most enjoyable, the Lace murmured, glancing around at the rest of the Flowers.

Who would I be to refuse your kind offer? the Uncommon Comma asked rhetorically. It has, no doubt, been some time since I have been seen as well. The fertiliser cubes on sticks do not seem appealing to my particular palate but cocktails are always welcome. The Comma looked around quickly and lowered its voice. We had best make sure we are not followed by undesirable guests, however. I have faith in the measures the Sunflower Official has surely taken to prevent agents wandering the halls, but it pays to be cautious. The last thing we need is for them to start arguing about the existence of the pool again.

The Queen Anne's Lace nodded her blossom. We will take the long way around, she declared. Any of the agents who take it upon themselves to follow us will doubtless get lost; being limited to four dimensions does seem to impede them so, poor things. She paused for a moment, and then added, Besides, the long way round is much more scenic.

Indeed it is, the Floating Hyacinth said with a nod. The Uncommon Comma looked between the two.

You're both correct, of course.

The Strangler Fig shuffled up to the edge of the conversation. I hope I am not too tardy? I was unavoidably delayed. It shrugged its extremities. Taking advantage of no agents around to attend the opera, actually, but an excursion to the Fountain of Bleepka sounds quite smashing. Do lead on.

The more the merrier, my dear Fig, the Lace enthused. Then she looked around at a slight telepathic "cough" to find the Daisy standing uneasily behind her.

Might I come as well? the white and yellow Flower asked nervously. While the Bleepka is quite pleasant, staying in the corridors alone isn't very appealing. It paused, tilting its petals slightly and listening. Especially when it seems half the agents in this particular stretch of hallway are trying to leave their rooms.

In that case, discretion may indeed be the better part of valour, the Queen Anne's Lace agreed. I should not like to be the Flower most in evidence should any of the agents succeed in escaping from their response centres. She looked at the Daisy, still standing on the outskirts of the group. Do join us for fertilizer, she insisted. With a grateful nod of thanks, the Daisy slipped into file, and the group slowly began to wander down the corridor.

~

A trio of Flowers was standing around in the Sunflower Official's office when the console against one wall chimed urgently. Exchanging a puzzled look with his colleagues, the Sunflower flicked a switch. A video popped up onto the screen of a hideous creature with a lopsided face: Igor, from the Medical Department.

"Thorry to intrude, marthterth, but we have a thituation," the video said. "A macroviruth thituation, to be prethithe." On the screen, Igor glanced down at what appeared to be a clipboard and, slowly, precisely and lispfully, read out a summary of the situation. "Two Thueth claiming to be themi-fic blipth in the Department of Bad Thlash, Thtar Trek Division portalled in, both clearly ill. The Bashir Hologram was buthy rethtoring Paul Bunyan'th armth, which had been cut off by a Tree-Hugger!Thue, tho we didn't recognithe the ailment until leth than ten minuteth ago, when a macroviruth emerged from each neck. One ethcaped, and when the Bashir Hologram thent me, he wath chathing the other with a flythwatter. The Thueth, Therenity Weathley-Potter and Nórenel Peranor, are cured pending confirmation of their identitieth ath agentth."

The Sunflower Official stared, and then tapped at the keys for a few intense seconds. Then he lifted his head in bewilderment. Please ignore this message until 12:00 am tomorrow, he said to the other Flowers present. It appears we are experiencing some temporal instability. According to HQ Standard Time, Igor has not, in fact, sent his message yet. He shrugged his leaves. Even the space-time continuum is vulnerable when Flowers celebrate. Then he looked puzzled for a moment. And by "this message", he added, I mean Igor's. Not mine. He shook his head as if to clear it. No, I have not been soaking up too much Bleepka. The very thought!

Sorry about that, sir, Captain Dandy of the Department of External Security said. My Malignant Plothole Monitoring Team is only partly on-duty; I'm afraid that one slipped by them. The Dandelion lifted a silver device close to his bloom and murmured into it for a few seconds, then nodded. We've got a handle on it now, though. It won't happen again.

The SO tilted his petals slightly, but anything he might've been about to say was cut off by the Thistle. In a thoughtful tone, the purple-topped Flower said, A possible new research topic there, I feel. "Metabolisation of Bleep products by Flowers." If I can get funding, of course… She looked slyly at the SO, who glared back indignantly.

I'll have you know that I'm not besotted! he exclaimed. I am merely enjoying myself in the absence of those pesky agents.

Well, quite, the Thistle agreed readily. And you deserve it. Now, about my research budget...

The SO shook his head. Take it up with the Department of Fiance. His petals quivered for a moment. Finance. I mean Finance. They're sure to appropriate, er, allocate, funding to further your... your... He gave up. Whatever you're doing.

True. But the Clover isn't here, the Thistle replied, glancing around the office. Anyway, we need more money for staff.

The Sunflower tilted his head thoughtfully. Well... we could always rent out the Temple of GreyLadyBast, he suggested. That'd get us some funding. Not that we'd tell them what it used to be, of course.

Why? the Thistle queried. Is it because dreadful things keep happening to anyone who tries to use it?

Shh, the SO said solemnly. We do not speak of it.

~

The tail end of the expedition to the HQ Pool was passing as the small group exited the SO's office. The Thistle and Captain Dandy hurried to catch up with the main group, but the SO paused for a moment. Seeing him a Yellow Rose from the procession giggled. That commanding voice of yours is sooo attractive! she exclaimed, and then, seductively dropping a petal in the Sunflower's direction, added, Stop by Junction 14, I'll have some nice carbon dioxide waiting for you.

The SO's leaves folded in distaste Make yourself scarce. Now, he said, but the Rose didn't hear him over the protesting squeal of another of her kind.

Hey, you got close enough to him last time! the second Yellow Rose said with a pout. It's my turn.

Now, girls, said a third of the breed, there's enough room for three... or thirteen. You remember that wonderful flower vase from last time, don't you? She sighed. So enchanting... and rather daring, too, I must admit! Looking around, she began to offer an indecent proposal to the SO, but stopped short. The Sunflower Official had wisely made himself scarce, ducking around a corner. Hmm. He must not be here right now. Oh, well. She glanced around the corridor, taking in the few stragglers. Anyone else care for some... companionship?

I wouldn't mind, the Daisy said in a slightly glum tone, completely oblivious to the third Rose's innuendo. It gets very boring to have no one to converse with sometimes, and the agents tend to usually ignore me. It paused for a moment, and then shrugged. Which is actually a good thing, come to think.

... I see. Um... The third Yellow Rose looked distinctly nonplussed. Well, I wasn't exactly looking for—it wasn't precisely meant in the way that— She sighed. You know, the SO still hasn't shown up, so why not? Only, and please pay careful attention, the word is now company, not companionship, and it is NOT lewdly italicized. Got it? The Daisy nodded, and the two Flowers began to shuffle along the corridor.

Yes, please, the Sunflower Official muttered, watching as they passed out of "sight". Take them all, and go far, far away. He groaned to himself. My reputation will never be the same after this... I'll just absorb a bit more Bleepka, shall I?

There was a brief commotion, and the Daisy appeared round the corner, distinctly not pursued by any Yellow Roses. Giving the SO a disgusted look, it said, No, you may keep them. I believe I found out exactly what that Rose meant, and obviously, sir, you are much more worthy of it than I am. It stalked off down the corridor, and the SO shook his petals. Bobbing along in the general direction of the walk to the pool, the Floating Hyacinth looked at the Daisy in frank admiration.

You are an evil Flower, it said, raising a potent Bleepka cocktail to the Daisy and then downing it.

~

A walk? What a delightful idea, I will most certainly join you. The Thistle slid into the procession behind the Queen Anne's Lace, Captain Dandy following behind. . Glancing back at her companion, she said conversationally, I have to wander in the direction of the Medical Research Department a little later; this macrovirus thing is causing quite a stir, you know. All the labs have been cordoned off, and my entire staff—all five of them, she added to herself, have been roped in to help. I will offer my services, but that whole area is swarming with agents. She sighed. I only hope no one from my department lets slip about the "somethings in the cellar"!

By that time Captain Dandy was frantically stabbing at his temporal anomaly detector, muttering to himself about how it must be broken, have to get Makes-Things to repair it. Fortunately for him, the Queen Anne's Lace cut in.

Indeed, she said politely, that would be most unfortunate. But, she went on emphatically, today is not a day for worrying about such sordid matters. For today we feast, and quaff celebratory Bleepka!

Too true! the Thistle agreed. I do hope they have those lovely nitrogen-phosphate pretzels.

Nitro-phoska pretzels, slug-bait cheese-sticks, and crystal-water-jelly dip, the Lace assured her. Everything we could want.

Marvellous! the Thistle exclaimed. Lead on, my dear! However, before the group could set out again, the Sub Rosa poked her petals around a corner. Taking in everything in a glance, the Intelligence Head nodded.

So when will this walk begin? she asked. Or indeed, has it already? I'm afraid I have no idea where you started. I realise the irony of this, but it is my day off.

It began some time ago, insofar as there is time in HQ, the Queen Anne's Lace informed her with a shrug. But as we're taking the scenic route, we aren't quite there yet. Feel free to join us. She gestured with one frond. To the pool!

Why, then, to the pool, the Sub Rosa agreed. I can't think of a better way to spend my day. She paused a moment for thought. Actually that isn't true, I can think of a great many. But I'm going with this one.

As the walk continued, the Floating Hyacinth and the Daisy rejoined the group. Then the Kudzu Vine flowed into the corridor ahead of them. Oh dear... am I late? She lifted a tendril and peered at it. Fashionably so, I do hope you'll allow. After all, a lady must take some time to tidy herself before going out. Artistically, she flourished a few panicles of flowers, drawing the attention of Captain Dandy.

May I say, the Dandelion commented, you look lovely.

Why, thank you kindly, Captain, the Kudzu replied, and then turned at a call from the Floating Hyacinth.

Ah, there you are! the Head of the Department of Floaters said. We were just going to take a stroll to the pool. Care to join us?

That sounds lovely, the Vine responded. Then she looked around. But where is the Marquis de Sod? I see a Daisy, but that one doesn't seem nearly stiff or prickly enough to be the Marquis. She rustled her leaves amusedly. Hasn't anyone pried him loose from his desk?

I doubt anyone could, the Hyacinth said with a vegetable snort. He has a certain... fondness for his work. I doubt even a short reprieve such as this could tear him away from it.

Well, that won't do at all! the Kudzu huffed. I've half a mind to go in there and aerate his roots myself, you know. I keep telling him, it's no good to let the ground harden around you until you choke—you've got to move your taproots from time to time! But does he listen? Heavens, no! Silly stuffed bowler hat that he is... She rustled again, and then looked at the Hyacinth apologetically. Ahem. What was that about the pool, dear?

The Thistle paused briefly in its motion, then hurried to catch up with the Queen Anne's Lace. I've just had a message from the Echinacea, it said. She will be along shortly.

How delightful! the Lace enthused. It is some time since I've seen the Echinacea. The Aloe Vera will be joining us poolside after having had one of her agents sedated by the other. She looked around at the featureless grey of HQ and added, I do believe our destination is just around the corner!

The HQ Pool came into the mental view of the procession of Flowers. The Sub Rosa let out what would have been a sigh, had she possessed lungs. That is quite a magnificent sight,she declared, and then mused, I really should get a pool installed in Intelligence... She shook her petals dismissively. No, that's silly, I'm too busy anyway. But for now... magnificent.

~

The party around the pool progressed rapidly. Early on, the Bonsai Mallorn appeared around a corner. I'd like to join you if I may, he said. Some light refreshments sound lovely.

Then relax, the Sub Rosa suggested. Have a bit of fertiliser. Soak your roots in the pool for a bit, why don't you? The little tree moved across to a quiet corner of the pool. Shortly thereafter, the Echinacea arrived.

So sorry I'm late, it said. We have had the most awful kerfuffle over the lockdown. It is all sorted out now, and the Self-Heal is looking after everything for me. It peered around the pool. So, what is happening?

We've all been poolside, awaiting you, the Queen Anne's Lace informed it. She gestured at the array of refreshments. There are Bleepka cocktails and many different fertiliser treats awaiting you.

Sounds like fun, the Echinacea agreed. I haven't had Bleepka in ages. It looked across at the table. A Bloody Mary-Sue would be marvellous.

The next guests to arrive weren't nearly as welcome.

The SO appeared round the corner and swiftly crossed to the Sub Rosa's side. Then the reason for his haste appeared, in the form of two Yellow Roses. When they saw the party, they squealed in delight.

Ooh, pick me! one of them cried. Shoving the other Flowers in front of her out of her way, she stuck her root into a recently-abandoned drink and drained it dry. Mmm, scrumptious cocktail. I think I'll have another. Then, as if she had only just noticed them, she wiggled her stem at the Flowers around her. What does everyone think of my vine bikini?

It makes you look ten years older, the second Rose told her snidely. The first stiffened.

Yeah? Well, you have ants on you! Nearby, the SO tried to plug his non-existent ears.

Can you two please take yourselves elsewhere? he asked. The Sub Rosa looked at him pityingly and lowered her blossom to address the first Yellow Rose.

Oh dear, my dear, she said. I suppose it's hardly your fault you haven't heard, but you do realise vines have been out of fashion for quite some time? I'm sure that doesn't concern you, but my intelligence suggests that certain people think you look... how to put this... rather silly? She paused for a long moment before adding, Although I'm certain it doesn't bother you in the slightest. Now what was that about fertilizer cubes?

The Yellow Rose stared at her in badly-disguised horror. Oh, go graft yourself onto a cactus, she said petulantly, stripping off the vines. There. I look better bare-stalk anyway. She pulled a petal-unfurler out of seemingly nowhere and self-consciously went to work. Since you asked, she said in her best effort at a casual tone, I think there are two kinds of cubes—one with aerating worms, and one without. Of course, she added hastily, I'm accustomed to taking my fertilizer in liquid form ever since I got a roots canal. By all means, enjoy. But stay away from the SO, yeah?

The Sub Rosa raised a petal disdainfully. I can't imagine what you think I'd want with the SO, she said. Then, thoughtfully, she added, Still, I suppose you need something to occupy your mind. Imagine what you could do if it was something important.

The Yellow Rose gasped, turned, and stalked out (no pun intended) in a huff. We'll see what the Multiverse Monitor says about you in the next issue! she called back. Unperturbed, her former companion joined several other Roses already at the pool.

The Queen Anne's Lace looked around at the assemblage. Even those of us that aren't aquatic quite enjoy dipping our roots in the pool now and then, she declared to no-one in particular. Of course, the Floating Hyacinth is in its element. She paused, taking in the view. I think we make quite a dashing and colourful sight, she mused. Perhaps this Polaroid camera I borrowed from my agents will come in handy after all. Smile, or at least, radiate goodwill, everyone.

The Flowers--and in particular the Sub Rosa, the Floating Hyacinth (in the pool) and the Kudzu Vine (at the back) radiated. Don't let me get in the way, will you? It's just that I do tend to take up an awful lot of space, ha ha.

Not at all, the Lace reassured the Vine, you're simply contributing the overall lush, verdant effect. I wouldn't for a moment think of leaving you out, Kudzu dear.

The Echinacea looked over at the Kudzu thoughtfully. Perhaps we should bring some trellises in here. They are just the thing for climbers such as yourself to relax on.

You simply must give me a copy of the picture for my office, the Sub Rosa said after the Lace had hit the shutter button.

I'd like a copy as well please! the Echinacea put in.

Copies for everyone, I promise, the Lace agreed. We so seldom get a chance for a get-together that this is too good an opportunity to miss. If anyone wants a specific picture taken, please come and see me.

The Floating Hyacinth bobbed nearer across the pool. This is wonderful! it declared.

I think I might even venture a dip, the Queen Anne's Lace mused. She put the camera down gently. The water does look lovely and soothing.

Oh, it is, it is, the Hyacinth said.

It most certainly is, the Sub Rosa agreed. Just the thing to ease your roots after years of work.

On the side of the pool, the Echinacea looked thoughtful. I'm a little disappointed by the cocktails, I must admit, it commented to no-one in particular. Would anyone like me to whip up some more interesting ones?

~

It's good to be able to relax, the Bonsai Mallorn declared to the nearby Flowers. No pyromaniac agents running around. Nice and quiet. It paused for a moment. I was passing through the corridors and found some notes being passed under the doors, though. It held up a couple of slips of paper in a branch. The first read:

Dear Flowers,

LET ME OUT OR I'LL BURN YOU!!!

Agent Trip.


The second:

Dear Flowers,

I wouldn't take Trip too seriously. Despite the capslock rage and exclamation points, he is slightly too cowardly to attempt such an act.

Hegemony

P.S. Sunflowey... <3 <3 <3


I'm a little disturbed, the Mallorn commented.

As am I, the Floating Hyacinth said, drifting towards them. It is just more proof, however, that our employees are insane. It looked smug. Mission accomplished. Then, with perfect comic timing (since the Legal Department is always on duty), it sighed. I'm afraid I must leave you for a while, it said. There is a pressing matter that must be attended to involving one of the agents of my department. I assure you that it will not affect this holiday, and I will be back as soon as I can. The Hyacinth departed swiftly.

Don't worry, you'll be quite safe, Captain Dandy assured the Flowers. I've got the Weeds rotating between internal and external security while the DIA are all locked up; we're keeping a watch to make sure the more, ah, troublesome agents stay where they're put. Of course, it's a rather informal watch... we're not exactly working hard today, either.

Oh, you know they aren't serious, the Uncommon Comma said. The agents make death threats all the time but when have they carried through with them? It paused. I confess to being slightly worried by Agent Hegemony, however.

Why? piped up a nearby Yellow Rose. She has good taste. Incidentally, she went on, we've been wondering for a while... are you male or female, Uncommon Comma?

There was a stunned silence. No one knows, the Sunflower Official said into the gap. And it might be offended that you ask.

It was.

Excuse me? the Uncommon Comma exclaimed. Did you just ask me about my gender? I hardly think it's any business of yours, madam! Hmpf! Agent Hegemony's taste aside, I am suddenly doubting the Sunflower Official's if this is the kind of company he keeps!

I don't, the SO objected. Really! Then, in a mutter, he added, Inpublicatleast.

The Strangler Fig was looking uncomfortable. Although... it said, referring back to the Comma's mention of death threats, there was that dreadful incident with the Evermind years ago. Before my time, really, but shocking nevertheless.

That was entirely different, the Sub Rosa said firmly. The Tiger Lily and Captain Dandy would never let anything of that calibre happen again. She seemed about to say more, but checked herself. Then her petals flared in realisation. —Oh, that's right, the dwarf won't find out, so I can say: neither would the Elm. That sort of systematic corruption of the Security Departments is utterly impossible in this enlightened day and age. She shook her leaves out. Why are we talking about this sort of thing, anyway? It's hardly relaxing for most of us.

For much of the foregoing, Captain Dandy had been looking around the pool with a floral frown on his blossom. Can someone point me towards the Large Auditorium? he asked. My second-in-command said he's organising a race of some sort in there, and it's been a while since I was at liberty in HQ... Receiving no immediate response, he shrugged and made his way toward the door.

The Queen Anne's Lace had wandered over and picked up one of the Mallorn's notes. After Captain Dandy had left, she said, In my experience, the best way to deal with hormonal agents is to force them to witness their LO doing something unpleasant. I believe this means that if the Sunflower Official wants to be rid of Agent Hegemony's attentions, he should participate in some species of embarrassing office party ritual. She fluttered her leaves and looked around. Not that I would demean myself by waiting to witness this with a video camera, of course.

Of course not, the Thistle agreed blandly. It looked thoughtful for a moment. Although those young Yellow Roses seem to be hanging around him rather a lot, don't you feel?

They are rather impressionable, the Lace said. I would put it down to over-zealous hero-worship and say no more. Embarrassing office-party footage notwithstanding. She looked around the pool and lowered her voice. 'Tis a pity the Multiverse Monitor isn't running any more...

I am shocked! the Thistle exclaimed. Did you not read that thing? It was full of slander and lies, although, it admitted, rather amusing. It thought for a moment. Although... given that those young Roses appear to be hanging off our dear leader's fronds, one wonders just how much of it was based on truth after all.

The Queen Anne's Lace gave a small cough. I believe our Beloved Leader is the only one who can tell us the truth, she said, tipping her blossom towards the SO. It may have been, indeed almost certainly was, nothing but scurrilous lies and slander, but it DID give one rather a good idea of what the agents were thinking at any one time.

The Sunflower lifted his blossom, but the Thistle cut him off. Well, if you have to deal with them every day, that can only be a good thing!

Indeed, the Lace agreed, which is why I lament its passing, if only a little. She twisted her flower back towards the SO, who managed to look—and sound—sheepish.

Eheh... it was nothing, he assured them. Those young things are following me around just so they can get promoted to a position higher than assisting with the Department of Out of Character Hobbits. They're attracted to power; what can I say? His leaves moved in a floral shrug. The hideous untruths of the Multiverse Monitor are complete fabrications. Except when it comes to agents misbehaving; then they're right on the nose.

Naturally we believe you completely, the Lace said. The Sub Rosa waved a frond.

Nashurally, she said. No one particularly noticed that her voice was slightly slurred, except possibly herself, which was why she went on quickly. Ah, but is it such a pity it was cancelled? I mean, it could easily have been you in the next issue... She rustled her leaves. Actually, considering the last few editions were about the Sunflower being murdered (where did they pick that up from, does anyone know? I've been unable to find out a thing about it), it's probably a good thing it ended.

I, unlike others, it seems, welcome a free press, the Queen Anne's Lace said, holding her blossoms high, but I don't believe I've ever done anything to attract the interest of that august publication.

True, the Thistle agreed. It is really only certain Flowers who got the attention. Which makes one wonder!

"Doing anything to attract their interest", the Sub Rosa informed them, isn't how it works. My observations suggest that, well, frankly they just pick people at random (that's both real Flower people and Agent people).

You do have a point, the Lace admitted. But, as I've said, it did have its uses as a species of barometer. Or maybe a way for agents to earth their tensions.

Well, the Thistle commented, I'm just glad that they never found out about what we do in the DMSE&R. How much harder would my job be if I was having to shoo uncontrollably insane Assassins out of the lab every five minutes?

Yes, secrecy is often the best option, said the Sub Rosa. The Fern from over in Legal says much the same thing.

He would, the Thistle murmured. Mind like a corkscrew, that plant.

It's a shame he couldn't come down, the Sub Rosa mused. But I dread to think what would happen if Legal took the day off.

~

Captain Dandy was moving with feigned purposefulness through the halls of HQ, and doing his best to look like he knew where he was going, when the Floating Hyacinth came up beside him. A race? it asked, after he explained where he was headed—the race organised by his second-in-command. That sounds interesting. What kind of race? I may take it upon myself to watch, as it has the potential to be very amusing.

He hasn't told me, the Dandelion admitted. Knowing Weed-One though, I suspect some variety of obstacle course. He said it would be open to any Flowers who wished to participate, but it seems like everyone's occupied by that trip to the pool, so it may turn out to be mostly my department. If you happen to know of any more athletic Flowers who'd wish to join in, though...? The only one I knew was the poor Wisteria, so...

Hmmmm... I believe most of us are not very athletic, as we have little to no time to leave our offices, the Hyacinth mused. However, an obstacle course run by the Weeds should be entertaining. I believe I will deviate from my trip back to the pool for a few minutes to bear witness.

I'm sadly aware of that fact, Dandy agreed. I suspect my second has forgotten that we who spend our time outside have more reason to be athletic than those inside. It's a pity, really, I'd much prefer to be sedentary like a proper Plant, but... He came to a halt outside an open doorway. Now, I believe this is the Large Auditorium, which means... The two Flowers turned the corner and stared (or the closest a Flower can come to staring). ... Oh, my. Are those trellises?

Yes, I believe those are trellises, the Hyacinth confirmed. Rather ornate trellises, at that. I wonder where they were obtained from. By the way, are you yourself participating? I have an unholy urge to begin a betting pool... It rustled its leaves slightly. I find a betting pool run by a floating Flower to be strangely amusing.

I suspect I shall have to, the Captain said sadly. Although I have no idea how I'm supposed to get under that strange net he's pinned down... the climbing ropes don't look too healthy, either. Let's see, who's he got here? The Dandelion looked around the Auditorium carefully. I suppose he'll be participating himself, he's the Dandelion at the starting line... I see Eleven, he's the Wild Rose examining the trellis, and Sixteen, the female Dandelion with the satchel, I've no idea where she picked that up. And I think the Tumbleweed over there is Thirty-Seven, but I have a hard time telling them apart.

A satchel? the Hyacinth queried. You may want to confiscate that from her before the race begins. It will either slow her down or contain items that she may use to cheat. And, well... we wouldn't want that now, would we? It took another look around the room. I am unfamiliar with these Weeds, though I'll bet you one of those fertilizer-kebabs from the pool that this entire course is impossible and that no one wins. And if someone does win, Bleepka on me.

I know, we don't come inside much, Captain Dandy said. That's why I made certain to introduce them. However, I suspect you're right—"impossible" may just about cover it.

The Floating Hyacinth shrugged. Ah, well. I am sure I shall be entertained by any attempts made to complete it. It rustled its leaves amusedly.

Weed-One apparently spotted his Department Head, and darted over to have a quick word. Captain Dandy nodded in surprise, and the Weeds assumed their positions at the starting line. You're just in time, then, he responded to the Hyacinth's comment. Apparently I don't have to participate—I've been appointed judge. They're just about to start, they're just waiting for... excuse me one moment. He turned to face the race course and raised his voice. All right, Weeds, it's the first one to the end. Flowers high, ladies and gentleplants. On your plots... roots out... go!

Dear Eru! the Hyacinth exclaimed as the Plants burst into motion. And they're at the trellises... no, that cannot be physically possible, even for a Plant. And... what is that Wild Rose doing with that net? And that Tumbleweed... how is that possible? It turned to look at Captain Dandy with a mixture of awe and amusement. Its leaves rustled furiously in Flower-laughter as it asked, Captain, what have you been teaching these Weeds?

The Dandelion gave it a satisfied look. I've trained them well, he declared. You see, if your job for years was to explore the ins and outs of plothole-created tunnels, you learn to be rather agile. Although, he admitted, I'm quite sure I never taught them to do that thing with the spinning tyre...

Indeed, the Hyacinth agreed, deadpan. I am no longer afraid of coming to any harm, if these are our mighty defenders. Then it lost control of itself and spent the next few moments helpless with laughter. In the middle of this, the Thistle, who had wandered in some time previously, replied to Dandy's last words.

I should hope not! it said. Most amusing, though.

By now the Floating Hyacinth had recovered. No, really, it said. I want pictures.

Captain Dandy looked out at the obstacle course and said, a bit vaguely, I think Weed-One would maim anyone who took a picture of him twined 'round the rope like that.

~

Tell you what, the Sub Rosa declared. Her comment was aimed in the direction of the Kudzu, but seemed to be general. Ask the Queen Anne's Lace for some spare copies of that photograph—or get her to take some more—and send them to the Flowers who aren't participating. At the least, it should make them feel guilty.

I've got almost a full roll of film now, the Lace said, holding up her camera. I should really see about having them sent to DoSAT to that nice Techno-Dann to get developed. Without letting him out, of course.

The Sub Rosa gave the floral equivalent of a small, smug smile and held up a sheaf of pictures. I must say, they turned out rather well, she said, displaying the photo taken by the pool. It's a pity you couldn't be in it yourself, of course, but someone has to take the photograph.

The Lace looked mildly surprised, but merely said, Naturally. I'm not altogether in favour of having my picture taken anyway, I must confess. But I am pleased at how they've turned out.

Oh, good grief, the Sunflower Official spoke up. Did you have to include the Yellow Roses?

They were in frame! the Queen Anne's Lace objected. I would have felt so cruel saying "get out of my shot, you disreputable hussies".

Captain Dandy, the Floating Hyacinth and the Thistle re-entered the room, having abandoned the race after it turned into a general debate over who, since no one actually finished the course, could be said to have won. The Hyacinth peered at the photograph. That, it declared, is going in my office. A wonderful photo. I commend you.

I concur, the Thistle said. My dear Sub Rosa, you look astounding!

Cocktails! proclaimed a loud voice, and the Flowers looked up to see the Echinacea approaching. I've whipped up some new cocktails for you all to try. Do tell me what you think! She brandished a tray loaded with glasses purloined from the Cafeteria. We have: various Bleeptinis, Big Bleepy, Mind Eraser, Bleep Shot, Talking Misspelled Monkey, Flaming Balrog, Sonic Screwdriver, Bleep-On-The-Beach, Bleep-On-The-Rocks and Who-Who.

The gathered Plants reached eagerly for the glasses. Quite delicious, I assure you, the Queen Anne's Lace said after draining several. I think I am fondest of the Sonic Screwdriver. So delightfully tart and refreshing.

They're very good, the Sub Rosa agreed. The Flaming Balrog could do with a bit more variation in the flavour, that sharp one—what is that?—rather overwhelms the rest, but I particularly liked the Mind Eraser. I may have to pester you for the recipe later... if I can't find it out for myself, that is. The Flower twisted her petals into a shape which could only be represented as (;)-.

I agree totally, the Echinacea said. I think it may need a little less potash water!

Well, if you need a tester, I'm your girl, the Head of Intelligence proclaimed. She fell silent, shaking her petals idly for a long moment, before finally saying, I do believe I'm a little intoxicated. How fascinating.

~

When Flowers get drunk, they tend to lose track of time. The Floating Hyacinth suddenly found itself on the receiving end of a comment from the Queen Anne's Lace—a comment which related to a conversation held before they had even reached the pool.

Is it possible, the Lace asked, that due to a quirk of L-space, the Temple of GreyLadyBast is in fact on the same site as Mr. Hong's Take Away Fish Bar? Just a thought. She gave an expressive shrug, sending her camera tumbling to the floor. Whoops! Dropped my cmarena. Too mush bleepka?

Fortunately, the Floating Hyacinth was too drunk to care about non sequiturs. Fish! it repeated. They go in watersh. Like mesh! I likesh dem fish! Dey ticklesh...

The Marquis de Sod was walking briskly through the pool room, steadfastly ignoring the party. What do they think they are doing? he wondered aloud. I don't pay them nothing to party and drink Bleepka with nothing for nothing. Don't they know that they have jobs to do? He shook his blossom dismissively, already thinking about what he would do back in his office. Now to find that report on the agent withdrawal from the banned substances...

Spoilsport, the Sub Rosa called, making a "face" that could best be rendered as (;P)---. And am I just tipsy, or did that string of nothings make no sense?

It made a little bit of sense, the Queen Anne's Lace said, but that grumpy old angiosperm refusing to come and party makes NO sense.

You're not tipsy... I'M tipsy! the SO declared, reeling around. It feels kinda good, though. He shook a leaf. I mean, um, hem, it is a temporary lapse in judgment, nothing more.

Right, right. Temprerary the Sub Rosa agreed. I think... I think it's a good thing the agents are all locked away. Can you imagine what they'd think if they saw two of the Board of Flowers acting like this?

That reminds me. Just how soundproof are the RC doors? the SO asked.

Oh, they're not at all, the Marquis said maliciously. And just so you know, there are surveillance cameras here. I have a record of everything that is transpiring here.

Actually, up to 100 decibels, the Thistle supplied quietly. Although some are good up to 120dB. It sighed. Oh, dear. I fear some of our colleges are a little drunk.

We're drunk? the SO protested. You misspelled colleags! He stopped, frowning deeply and florally. Wait. So did I.

It is not a word I often use, the Thistle said haughtily. "Subordinates" or "staff" are my normal descriptors. I don't see too many of my fellow Flowers usually.

The Marquis de Sod rustled his petals amusedly. Those videos? he said. They are going into a pocket dimension as soon as this party is over. He fluttered a leaf. Blackmail material is hard to come by—right, Queen Anne's Lace?

The Lace was snapping photos busily. If we had an HQ official Christmas card, I might just have some submissions to make for the front image.

The SO shuddered. Someone bribe Otik to make sure he doesn't talk, he said. Then the Sub Rosa stumbled against him.

Wha'? she mumbled. Are we christmassy?

Trying to keep his balance, the Sunflower got his sepals in a tangle. Nooo. Nope. We're just a little merry! He straightened up suddenly, hit by a burst of inspiration. Now, my frien', come on outside with me. The sunset will be beautiful. Or is it sunrise? Can't remember anymore...

Ousside? the Sub Rosa repeated (or tried to). Where's ousside? 've not seen it in... oh... soverylong.

The SO strode off towards the centre of the room, then realised that would place him in the middle of the pool and instead headed for a diving board. Meanwhile, the Echinacea came up to the Sub Rosa. Try this one, she suggested. A French Bleeptini—I found some raspberry flavoured Bleepka. I also added a dash of magnesium to the mix, I think it makes it pleasantly fizzy, how about you? As the Sub Rosa took the drink—spilling most of it—the Echinacea looked around. Anyone fancy Bleepka Jelly Shots?

I think... the Sub Rosa managed. I think... ... I think I need to go back to my ossif. 'm veryvery... veryvery... veryvery drink. Drunk. Dronk drenk drank. Drwnk drynk. One of those things. Yesh. She shook her leaves and petals, trying to regain control of herself. I will... I think... yes. I'll be going now. Shame, I woulda liked to see ousside, but... With her blossom sagging slightly, the Rose departed for quieter environs.

~

The Sunflower Official climbed up onto the pool's diving board a little unsteadily and cleared his mental throat. For those of you who have finished with the pool, I offer an alternative, he said. As I am a Sunflower, I feel it has been far too long since I've seen daylight. The REAL daylight. We shall never discuss it in front of the agents, but is anyone tempted to venture out of doors with me? The Flower shivered. Mmm. Just the thought has me photosynthesising.

The Echinacea giggled. What fun! I'll come! She flicked a loose petal away from her blossom. Oh, that rhymed! I think I'm a little tipsy!

Me, too, the SO confided loudly. Let's take advantage of it! Dancing, anyone? He descended from the diving board. I've never tried a foxtrot before. Or any other kind of dancing, actually. But for some startling reason, it seems like a very good idea at this time.

How about a quick tango? the Echinacea suggested, and started to sing. At your command / Before you here I stand, / My heart is in my hand... / Yeech! / It's here that I must be.

Or a salsa! the Floating Hyacinth piped up. Let us spice up this evening even more!

The SO salsa'd away merrily—at least until he collided with the Marquis de Sod. Fortunately, the Marquis didn't seem to notice. He was too caught up in his own thoughts. Outside... he mused. Outside is where we send those wretched agents to their DOOM. He cackled evilly, but swiftly got control of himself. A nice stable fic might be nice for a sojourn. I may have to take you up on that offer. As long as I can take my work with me...

Well, I spend most of my time there, Captain Dandy put in, but since my Weeds have finished their race and continued on to arguing about who won, I'm actually getting a little claustrophobic in here anyway. Now, let's think... He folded his petals in slightly in contemplation. I know of a door not too far from here, 6-Ter-1, that can take us onto a grassy plateau at high altitude... will that do?

Excellent! the SO enthused. He moved away from the poolside—straight into a wall. ... Dandy, would you mind showing us the door? Literally, I mean. Or figuratively. Or something.

Not at all, Captain Dandy said. He waited for a long moment, and then let out a mental cough. Will the plateau do, sir, or should I find somewhere else?

Sure! the SO declared. I've always loved Plato! Lead the way! Following Dandy's directions, he wobbled out towards the door.

CONGA!! the Echinacea screamed. Grabbing one of the Sunflower's trailing fronds, she began to sing. Dada-da-da-da-da-DA, Dada-da-da-da-da-DA, Da-da da-da-DA, Da-da da-da-DA. Kicking her fronds randomly, she conga'd out through the door.

We-are-free-of-A-GENTS! the SO sang, joining in. They're-all-trapped-in-R-Cs!

Photosynthesis! the Queen Anne's Lace exclaimed. I don't believe I've photosynthesised for nearly a decade! Lead the way! She joined the growing conga line, snapping photos all the time. The Uncommon Comma hopped along behind her, unable to hold on.

Outside? it said. I must confess it's been so long since I've breathed fresh air— It hiccuped, and looked startled. Oh my! Perhaps I shouldn't have gone swimming in the Fountain of Bleepka...

You mean... real sunlight? the Floating Hyacinth said to itself. Lead the way! It watched the growing conga line curiously for a moment before making its mind up: Ooh, fun! it declared, floating along at the back.

Watching the proceedings, Captain Dandy quirked a petal. Interesting, he murmured, and followed the line through the door. In the open air, he seemed to relax somewhat. ... That feels much better. Maybe being outdoors will be good for... everyone. The Thistle came up alongside him.

Do you think they're still arguing about who won? it asked, nodding its flower in the general direction of the Large Auditorium. Perhaps you should give them all a drink.

By now they could be arguing about anything, Dandy said with a shrug. That's part of the reason I came outside—it's not worth the risk of getting caught up in one of their debates.

The Marquis de Sod had followed the conga line outside and was watching it with distaste. What is this thing that you are doing? It seems unnatural. As he did his best to keep away from the line, he brushed up against a (non-sentient) tree. At the feel of the leaves against his stem, he shuddered. Get those filthy things off me! he exclaimed. Moving carefully to the middle of the plateau, he planted himself in place. 'Scuse me while I write this report, he muttered.

Do you mind if I wait with you? Captain Dandy asked. I don't feel I can really join in with this... someone has to be responsible. And I need to pull my team back together for work tomorrow. He looked around and gave a vegetable sigh. In fact... I'm sure most of them will be able to find the door when they need to go back, and I'll send some of the Weeds round to check if anyone's gotten lost tomorrow. But for now I think I'll be going. I ought to check the perimeter, make sure nothing's gotten in. It was enjoyable, though. My thanks to everyone. Well, most of everyone. With that, he ducked through the door and headed for the other side of HQ. On the way back in he passed the Clover, who was gasping for air, all his stomata wide open.

Sorry... he gasped, ... I'm... he wheezed, ... late. Got caught up... —he was interrupted by a bout of coughing— ... doing some expenditure reports. But I couldn't miss the party. He paused for a moment to catch his breath, and looked around at the Flowers. So... when do I begin partaking in the consumption of beverages, which, may I note, you would not have been able to buy without my approval? A glass was swiftly passed to him.

The Echinacea left the dissolving conga line and stood in front of the Marquis de Sod. Lighten up, she suggested. Have a Sonic Screwdriver cocktail! I have it on the best authority that they are delicious!

The Marquis took the proffered glass, dipped a root in it, and sipped dubiously. What is this supposed to do...? he asked. Then a shudder seemed to run through him, from the base of his stem right to the tips of his petals. Oh, he murmured, and straightened up. PARTY!!!!!!!!!!!

The Kudzu Vine had been very relaxed at the pool, and had only just caught up with the group in time to see the Marquis' transformation. Had she possessed the requisite body part, her jaw would have dropped. I declare, if I hadn't seen it for myself, I would never have believed it. My dear Marquis, I am shocked. Shocked, I say, to find you drinking, of all Flowers—and ashamed that I was not the one to get to you first. Echinacea, you have my deepest admiration for this. She didn't even bother to hide her amusement.

Not at all, the Echinacea said demurely. Have a glass of Bleep-On-The-Beach! Perhaps fortunately, the Marquis didn't notice any of this—he was too busy passing out from his single sip of faux-alcohol.

You will all pay for this, he moaned in his sleep, but only the Kudzu paid any attention.

Of course we will, dear, she said, gathering him up in her tendrils. In a cheerful whisper, she added, Just remember, any one of us can blackmail you into next week if we so choose. But for now, I think it's best to get you out of this sun before you wilt. Moving surprisingly swiftly—surprising to those who aren't familiar with kudzu vines in general, at least—she carried him off to his office.

The party continued, albeit at a somewhat slower pace than it had in the pool. The Kudzu rejoined the group, and eventually the Echinacea said, I think I have had a little too much to drink. I may go back to my office for a quick nap!

Enjoy your nap, the Kudzu said in farewell, visibly draining a Bleep-on-the-Beach. She may or may not have had several other glasses hidden in her foliage. Lightweights, all of you, she declared. Although, I must confess, out in the sun I'm beginning to feel it in my sap. This is nice, isn't it? She stretched out, lengthening her tendrils and covering about twice as much ground in a ridiculously short time. Ahhh.

There was movement from the door to HQ, and a Daisy appeared. It wasn't the Marquis, though, but the other Daisy, who had been involved in the party at the beginning but had never left the pool. Hiccuping and swaying in a non-existent wind, it wandered outside, visibly very drunk. Ishsoo nish outshide, it declared to the world at large. Nish liek thosh agensh s'few yearsh baack... Slowly, almost gracefully, it tipped over. Pretty soil...

Here, let me pull you up! the Queen Anne's Lace offered. When her offer was accepted, she realised her balance wasn't nearly as good as she thought. No! Whups. Fellover.

Your so nish, the Daisy mumbled. Lotsh more thanthe Sunflower... It hiccuped.

Sho are you! the Lace declared, cuddling the other Flower enthusiastically. The Daisy was drunkenly surprised, but cuddled back.

Your a very pretty Flower, it said. Much nisher than thosh Roshes...

Sho kind... the Lace slurred. Whaasss your name?

The Daisy looked around. Too many other Flowersh, it stated. You gotta offish?

Yup! the Queen Anne's Lace said. Thish way! She rose to her roots and started to move. She stopped, wavered, and then turned and moved in the other direction. Or thish way? Lesh go.

Oh yesh! the Daisy said, and followed her indoors. Two of the last celebrants outside, the Floating Hyacinth and the Uncommon Comma, exchanged a look.

Want videos, the Hyacinth declared, giggling. The Uncommon Comma gave a distinct impression of having shaken its non-existent head despairingly.

Definitely a good thing that the MM isn't around any more, it said.

~

The Sunflower Official looked at the clock, nodded, and switched on the microphone. Lockdown has ended, he announced. You may now receive Igor's message. Flowers, you may still— He stumbled over his words, trying to concentrate through a Bleepka-induced haze— still celebrate, but keep in mind that agents will be swarming the corridors shortly. That is, if the lockdown isn't continued for some OTHER reason...

Lockdown ish *hic* overrated *hic* anywaysh *hic*, the Floating Hyacinth muttered to itself, still outside. I do *hic* believesh *hic* that I'm *hic* inebriated. It'sh kinda a *hic* funneh feelin' *hic*.

On every Flower's personal console, the same video the SO had seen a day early popped up: Igor, speaking with his characteristic lisp.

"Thorry to intrude, marthterth, but we have a thituation," the video said. "A macroviruth thituation, to be prethithe." On the screen, Igor glanced down at what appeared to be a clipboard and, slowly, precisely and lispfully, read out a summary of the situation. "Two Thueth claiming to be themi-fic blipth in the Department of Bad Thlash, Thtar Trek Division portalled in, both clearly ill. The Bashir Hologram wath buthy rethtoring Paul Bunyan'th armth, which had been cut off by a Tree-Hugger!Thue, tho we didn't recognithe the ailment until leth than ten minuteth ago, when a macroviruth emerged from each neck. One ethcaped, and when the Bashir Hologram thent me, he wath chathing the other with a flythwatter. The Thueth, Therenity Weathley-Potter and Nórenel Peranor, are cured pending confirmation of their identitieth ath agentth."

In front of its screen, the Uncommon Comma paused for translation. ... There are Mary-Sues loose in HQ? it suggested.

"Worthe, marthtur!" Igor exclaimed. This version of the video wasn't a time-displaced recording: it was live. "MACROVIRUTHETH! The Thueth are dead; the Bashir Hologram thayth he'th theen to that. They were with the League of Mary-Thue Factorieth. But they accomplished their objective: infecting Aytch-Q with a macroviruth. According to the Bashir Hologram, Agent Dennith of the Department of Floaterth killed the macroviruth thtill in Medical. But there ith one thtill on the loothe, which hath probably infected more hapleth agentth."

... It's probably a good thing we're under lockdown, the Comma said. A sidebar opened up on the console, and the names of several Flowers appeared. The HQ-wide voice chat was online.

I believe it is a macrovirus, the Floating Hyacinth announced, and some semi-fic blips? I find myself confused by this one's speech patterns.

Come on, extend the party! the Clover implored, his link sounding a bit crackly. I haven't had a chance to drink heavily yet! There was the sound of him downing four Bleekpa mixers. Oooh, boy, that'sh gonna go shtraight to my pollen... I have an idea! he interrupted himself. Why don't we extend the lockdown by telling the agents that there's Daleks roaming the halls? Or Sues? Or Sith? Or something, anything! Or, we could just keep their doors locked and not let them out. Not like they'd know any different.

Now, now, you know that wouldn't work, the Uncommon Comma chided. If we told them Sues were roaming the halls they would come out to fight them! Your other suggestion has some merit, though... And it has the upside of keeping them out of the way of that virus thing, yes? There. We have a responsible, official reason as well as an excuse to keep partying.

Shthank you. I'm not head of Finanshesh jusht for my good looksh, ya know. I'm clever, ash well. Out on the grass, the Clover straightened up. Shi can alsho busht a cool move on the danshflooor. Watsch! he called to the other Plants still outdoors, as he began to dance like it was 1999.

Do as you please, the SO's voice said over the external speakers. But remember the quarantine.

Oh. Right. Courshe. The Clover shook his leaves. Can they getout the doorsh? Becaush I'm shtaying out here, if that'sh fine with anyone. Gonna party like it'sh 1999...

Whatsh, you mean it'sh not? the Floating Hyacinth protested with a hiccup.

It can be if you want it to beeeee... the Clover suggested, downing another mixer. I feel like... like... a millyun bucksh. Heheheh.

Let'sh danshe! the Hyacinth cried.

Don't mindifIdo, the Clover agreed, and danshed—danced. Unfortunately, the Hyacinth just sighed.

This macrovirus crisis has, I'm afraid, chased away any effects of being drunk, it said. A pity. I shall now bid thee farewell as I purloin some fertilizer-kebabs and fertilizer in general and barricade myself in my office. A shame this lovely party had to come to its end. I will make sure to keep in touch with you, Clover. You are a wonderful dance partner.

Sthank you, the Clover said, a slightly mournful tinge to his tone. I'm in Finanshesh, so I'm not really of any ushe in thish macrovirush dealie. Oh wellsh. I guesh I shall head down to my offish and barricade it alsho, then shleep off the booshe. As the two Flowers and their last companions headed indoors, he added, You're not sho shabby a danshe partner yourshelf. Maybe when thish macrovirush shthing ish over, we can get togesher and do shome more drunken danshing. Until then.

~

On the monitor screen, Igor fired a Dracon Beam—purloined from the Animorphs 'verse—at an oncoming macrovirus. "Individual bugth are eathy to kill," he explained to the Flowers, "you shoot them, and they ecthplode. But they multiply ecthponentially. In a few dayth, every nook and cranny of Aytch-Q will be thwarming with them. Maketh-Thingth hath a lot of TARDITHeth and a big Duplicator in thtorage. Thinthe the agentth currently in the field need thomewhere to crash after a mission, they could uthe them."

That would seem to be a logical stop-gap, the Queen Anne's Lace agreed. Thank Heavens we have some sensible employees. Even if they do have less-than-helpful speech patterns. Surely Medical can do something about that, in the interests of productivity and not getting everyone's uniforms covered in saliva?

They can turn it off, the Uncommon Comma complained, I know they can. I've heard them do so. Well, read them.

Of course they can, the Thistle confirmed. But it is Tradition. I believe there have been several scholarly works on the subject of Igors and Tradition. I must read up on them.

And we Flowers? the Floating Hyacinth asked. Do these macroviruses affect us? Where do we go?

"Better thafe than thorry, marthterth," Igor said. "Their rethponthe or lack thereof to Flowerth ith unknown. Thomeone should thet up a thtockade, guarded by forthe fieldth. The Bashir Hologram and I are the only unafflicted Medical thtaff, and Medical ith thwarming with bugth. The bugth grow in proportion to the hotht body they emerged from, and Paul Bunyan ith among the infected. I need to double-check the math, but I think the bugth from hith neck will come clothe to filling the narrower corridorth. Oh, my thellphone'th ringing." The Flowers watched him pull out a silver device and speak into it. "Hello? What did you thay, thur?" There was a long pause. "No, thur, I am not the Hornbeam." Igor lowered the phone. "That wath Maketh-Thingth, marthterth. The retht of DoTHAT ith out delivering TARDITHeth to the agentth in the field."

Ai, the Hyacinth muttered. Will we be safe in our offices?

"You need forthe fieldth to repel the bugth, marthterth," Igor told it. "Preferably powered with an independent power thourthe inthide the protected area; a Thecurity Dandelion thayth Dead Author Electrithity Generation ith being uthed ath a hotht body contholidating ground." Behind him, a macrovirus reared up suddenly. He turned at the last moment, let out a screech, and Dracon Beam'd it as it leapt.

I hate to be "punny", the Hyacinth muttered, but bugger. It's off to my office, then. I am glad I have an emergency generator in there. Would you mind setting up some force fields for me, Igor?

"Yeth, thur."

~

What the blazes?

Somewhere in the halls of PPC HQ, just outside the Department of Mary-Sue Experiments and Research, the Kudzu Vine was staring at her portable console.

Macroviruses? Quarantine? What in the name of little green apples (no offence) is going on here? I leave my department for once in the Germinator knows how long and come back to find that hell on wheels has broken loose! Humph.

Tell me about it! the Echinacea called, leaning out of the door. I've got a pounding hangover. Fortunately, the Thistle has been organising things in my absence. I've drafted all the scientists I have to try to find a cure quickly. I've got a couple of them working on whether it can infect plants. She shook her petals nervously.

I certainly hope not, the Kudzu said fervently. Please borrow my people if you need them. Some of them are quite competent in medicine and other things. As for the hangover, just you stick with me, dear. I know a few family secrets that'll have you feeling yourself in no time at all. Dr. Freedenberg will be fine without me a little longer.

~

Several hours later, a Security Dandelion stood in front of its commander, head bowed, helmet held in front of its stem. Makes-Things is dead, it reported Skewered through the heart by a giant macrovirus. Someone shot the bug, but whoever did so is nowhere to be found. However, there is a trail of macroviral slime lading out the door, indicating that he/she/it/other was infected and carried off later.

Blast it, Nineteen, Captain Dandy said wearily, looking up from his console, You were supposed to protect him. Couldn't you have...? He stopped and sighed. Oh, what's the use? But consider yourself reassigned to New Caledonia Perimeter Guard for the duration.

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