Tangled Webs

Crashing Down

Chapter Nineteen - The Oak Has Hit The Ground

Agent Architeuthis rapped her knuckles against the door which (probably) led into the Cafeteria. "It's sealed, ma'am," she said over her shoulder. "I don't hear anything, so if there's Cats in there, they're awfully quiet." The possibility of surviving 'Sues wasn't worth mentioning, so she simply didn't.

"We should check," Kyaris rumbled, swinging one of her now-large number of heads towards her colleague. "I could knock it in if you like."

There's no need to aggravate Building Maintenance any further, the Sub Rosa said. Bulldog reported a small group of Cats being chased by a larger DMS contingent into the Cafeteria; the odds of the enemy winning the battle when we have Legal on our side are negligible. She straightened up, shaking off a few petals which had become dislodged during the fighting. Which means, ladies and gentlemen, that we've won. There is no longer a hostile presence inside HQ. She looked at the two non-Intelligence Agents standing nearby. If you contact your superiors, we can wrap this whole thing up.

Weed-23 immediately reached for her communicator, but Charlotte Hust hesitated. "I'm not certain," she said. "We know the Cats holed up in our offices - the DIA's, I mean. What if they left a rear-guard?"

A sensible concern, the Sub Rosa agreed. So... Captain?

Captain Dandy rounded the corner with a group of Weeds at his back. They're clear, don't worry, he said. Heavily damaged, but free of any Black Cat presence.

Charlotte smiled thinly. "Thank you, sir," she said, and pulled out her radio. Captain Dandy turned his flower towards her curiously.

Whatever has made you so hostile towards me, Agent Hust? he asked once she finished speaking. I would have thought fighting alongside each other would have had the opposite effect.

Charlotte flushed slightly, but replied through gritted teeth. "Whatever problem you may have with my Department is your own business, sir," she told him, "but don't expect us to-"

Problem? Captain Dandy repeated, sounding confused. I have no problem with the Department of Internal Affairs, you do fine work. I do have some private issues with your Head of Department, but-

Hardly private, the Sub Rosa interrupted in turn. Captain, whatever your intentions, you have certainly appeared to display prejudice against the DIA.

... perhaps so, the Dandelion conceded. In which case, I apologise, Agent Hust. My behaviour was quite uncalled for.

But expected, the Tiger Lily put in as she came into view around a corner. What are we talking about?

Nothing, Captain Dandy said tersely. Is the portal network still offline?

The Tiger Lily bristled. My people are working on it, she snapped.

Captain Dandy rustled his petals. Well, I- He stopped, twisting slightly towards Charlotte, and continued in a moderated tone. I'm sure they are doing the best job possible. Do they need any assistance?

I don't... The Tiger Lily angled her blossom towards him curiously. No, she began again, I understand most of the Technicians are still on duty. I, ah...

A portal wiped open in the middle of the small room, flickered uncertainly, shrunk to a point and finally stabilised long enough for Agent Irvine to stumble through. He looked around the assembled PPCers with a rather stunned look. "Well," he announced, "that was fun." Then he collapsed.

A second portal opened beside him and the rest of the much-reduced DIA came through one by one. Agent Duros Black spared Irvine a single glance, then nodded to the Tiger Lily. "All portal generators up and running, ma'am," he reported. "No notable irregularities in operation."

"Not any more, at least," Agent Hazelhead murmured. The Lily ignored him.

Then I think we're done here, she said to the room at large. Sub Rosa, Captain, my Department has some cleaning up to do, so I'll-

What about us?

Everyone turned to face the pair of Flowers who had accompanied Captain Dandy. The Nightshade shrugged her leaves. Did you bring us here to stand trial, or what?

Architeuthis turned her head slightly towards the Sub Rosa, but said nothing - at least not out loud. After a moment, the Rosa said, I think I may have a solution to offer. It would have to be brought before the Board of Flowers, but... Nightshade, you were the Mysterious Somebody's secretary, correct?

... that was a long time ago, the Nightshade affirmed cautiously. I feel I have made up for-

I quite agree, the Sub Rosa cut in. What I meant, however, was that you have proven administrative skills. In the course of this invasion, we have lost-

You can't! the Tiger Lily exclaimed. You can't place someone like her on the Board!

The Board of Department Heads needs an overhaul anyway, the Sub Rosa said calmly. The Floating Hyacinth runs the largest Department in the PPC - it at least should be on the Board. She turned to face the Nightshade again. Dear, if you were offered headship of the Department of Operations, would you accept?

The Nightshade froze. You... would offer... even after everything?

The Sub Rosa shrugged her twigs. You're an organiser, she said. Your long resistance showed that better than anything. Operations needs someone like you, especially after this crisis. The Wisteria thought exercise was more interesting than management, so all his Divisions operate by shouting as loud as they can for attention. She looked around. I notice no one berating me for speaking ill of the dead, she commented.

I've met the Janitorial staff, Captain Dandy murmured.

And I have to deal with Building Maintenance all the time, the Tiger Lily added. You'll get no arguments here.

Assuming I accept, the Nightshade said, what would happen to the Gladiolus?

Ah. The Sub Rosa looked at the two Flowers. Our former Head of Bad Slash. There we have a slightly different situation. Still, I think I foresee a new division headship opening up in the near future...

~

"Morgan!"

Traf Elosia bolted across the HQ cafeteria, not caring if she ran over Generic Surface or bodies. She reached her partner's side before anyone else had even moved. Kneeling down, she pressed her hands to the rush of blood from Morgan's chest. "You can't die! You can't!"

Morgan coughed weakly, and blood spattered her lips. "You're more... right than you know," she said. "You'd better... step back."

Traf shook her head sharply. "Not until we get you to Medical!" she protested. "Morgan-!"

"There's something I... never told you," Morgan managed. "About me."

"It can wait," Traf insisted. "Save your strength..."

"It really... can't." Morgan's voice dropped to the faintest whisper. "The Doctor... is not the last..."

Traf blinked, and then jumped backwards, falling against Jared Calinson's legs. "Hey!" the Assassin exclaimed. "You're just going to let her die?"

"She's not dying," Traf explained. "She can't. And do you know why?"

"... no?"

A grin appeared on the young woman's face. "Because she's not human. She's a Time Lord. She's regenerating."

~

In her more candid moments, Agent Morgan would admit that it's always disconcerting to wake up in a new body, even when, as she had, you'd been through the process a couple of times before. "Right," she said as the last few sparks of golden energy died away, "What've I got this time?"

Traf crawled over to her. "Two arms, two legs, one head," she supplied. Morgan rolled her eyes and sat up.

"How about details?" she asked. "Hair colour? Height? Eyes?" She paused a moment, looked worried, and added, "Have I got good teeth? Teeth are important."

"Blonde hair, brown eyes, perfect teeth," Traf said. "Can't tell about your height, but your clothes look a bit big." She looked her partner up and down. "Except around the chest. You're going to need a new wardrobe."

"Oh, great," Morgan groaned. "I love clothes shopping." She frowned. "Actually... I do love clothes shopping. Huh." She sighed. "Blonde again, you said?"

"It's a bit longer, but yes," Traf confirmed. "Problem?"

"I don't like being blonde," Morgan said with a grimace. "Well, maybe next time." She looked around. "So, did we win?"

Then a blinding light filled the room.

~

The Sunflower Official looked at the Sub Rosa, radiating amusement in the very angle of his petals. And after we have accepted your every wish, what then?

The Rose rustled her leaves. Business as usual. Don't blame me for thinking things through faster than you, SO.

And you, Nightshade, the SO said, ignoring her and turning to the other Flowers in the room. What do you think of all this?

I think it's more than I expected and far more than I deserve, the Nightshade replied bluntly. But I also think you can trust me now, after all I've done. Beside her, the Gladiolus cringed slightly.

The Sunflower regarded them both thoughtfully. Very well. With the approval of half the surviving members of the Board of Department Heads, consider yourself provisional head of the Department of Operations. I believe the Marquis de Sod assigned a young Rhododendron as the Wisteria's secretary; you should liase with it until you settle in. He tipped his blossom towards the Gladiolus. As for you... until a suitable opening can be found, I'd like you to act as Coordinator for the repair efforts in the aftermath of this crisis. Of course, you would report to the Head of Operations, so... Nightshade?

The Nightshade was about to reply when there was a groan from the floor by the wall. The four Flowers turned their blossoms to catch the light from that direction, and Selene Windflower opened her eyes. "Wonderful," she groaned. "I'm in Hell."

Not quite, Agent Windflower, the Sunflower Official said. The Sub Rosa flicked a petal at him and leant down.

How are you, dear? she asked. Selene winced.

"Awful. I think my arm's broken." She shifted slightly and then gasped loudly. "My hips - my hips!"

... I was under the impression vampires could not feel pain, the SO said. The Sub Rosa turned her flower full towards him incredulously.

Is that why you've left this woman here rather than sending her down to Medical?

She's dead already, the Sunflower pointed out. Why would she need healing?

... Nightshade, the Sub Rosa said in a tone that conveyed 'through gritted teeth' despite the lack of teeth to grit, please use this yellow fool's desk to summon someone from the Medical Department up here immediately. She glanced across at Selene. In fact, make it Doctor Fitzgerald himself. Now!

~

Traf flinched as the brilliant white light enveloped her, but the expected burning agony didn't come. Holding up a hand, she found she could see right through her now-translucent skin. For extra measure, her clothes appeared to have turned white to match. A short distance away she could just discern Morgan's equally glowing form. "If this is heaven, it's not exactly what I was led to believe," she said to the air.

The reply wasn't like a human voice, coming through the ears. Nor was it like a Flower, intruding straight into her brain. Instead, it was as if every particle of her existence had suddenly acquired new meaning - meaning which happened to resolve into a coherent sentence. «I'm sorry,» it seemed to say. «I'm having some difficulty controlling... ah. There.»

The light began to fade, revealing the cafeteria again (although Traf noticed with a certain amount of exasperation that her clothes, and those of her fellow Agents, stayed white). The glow didn't just die, though - it coalesced around a single area, forming a blinding sphere, and then a human form. «That's better,» the non-voice said. «I'm sorry, Traf, if I alarmed you.»

"I don't know about her, but I'm still alarmed," Penny said, joining Traf, Morgan and Jared. "What are you, and whose side are you on?"

The figure began to drift towards them. «Oh, Penny,» it said, «I suppose I shouldn't expect you to recognise me. I must be quite a sight.» A pink tinge swept across the figure's glow, and the whole room seemed touched with laughter for an instant.

Penny raised an eyebrow. "No, I don't," she said, folding her arms. "I don't know any angels or gods or whatever you are. Except Offler, and you're not him."

The figure came to a stop in front of them. «I'm sorry,» it said again. «It's difficult to limit myself... perhaps if I threw in some colour?» The hue of the light changed, resolving into a translucent human with floating brown hair, pale skin, a black uniform and a pink belt around her waist.

Penny gaped. "But you... I thought..." She shook her head. "How long have you been a divinity, Vemi?"

Vemi laughed again. «Longer than ages,» she said. «Mortality was just a brief mistake. Melkor's lieutenant had a rather cute trick up his sleeve, it turns out.»

"Wait, wait," Jared cut in. "So Vemi Fincaran was an Ainu in disguise?"

«Basically,» Vemi agreed. Jared shook his head.

"Ridiculous. A Time Lord and a Maia - does no one stay dead around here?"

"Doesn't look like it," Morgan said cheerfully. "But I think the real question is, will a demi-god still work for the PPC?"

The glowing Vemi smiled faintly. «And you already know the answer, don't you, Morgan of Gallifrey? I don't know how even you stay on.»

"I'm beginning to wonder that myself," Morgan admitted. "Maybe I need a break."

"Vemi..." Penny began hesitantly. "Are you saying you're leaving?"

«I'm afraid so, dear heart,» Vemi replied with a touch of sadness. «I have family to return to.» The glow around her began to intensify again, and she looked down at her former partner. «Penny... take care of my mother. She knows you...»

"As if she were my own," Penny promised, blinking back tears. "It's been good, hasn't it?"

«I wouldn't have missed it for the world,» Vemi assured her, her figure vanishing in a halo of pure white light. The Agents stepped back, covering their eyes, but the expected grand exit never came. Instead, it was as if the whole world let out a hesitant cough, and F๋amint๋ Fioncarn๋ asked, «Er... do any of you have a Remote Activator on you?»

~

Tango stood in front of the open door and shivered. When she had been with the PPC, this had been the most feared place in HQ - the headquarters of the hated, and at long last now vanquished, DIS. After their first defeat it had become a memorial, a monument to all those who had died under their reign. So far, Upstairs were silent on the question of whether it would be updated to remember their latest victims. Either way, Tango was very uncomfortable about going inside.

Grasping Steve's hand, she stepped through the door.

According to rumour, this was where the Black Cats had come back into HQ, and it certainly showed. The floor of the vast chamber had been covered in sculpted tombstones; now these had been swept aside, leaving only the great black Monolith which bore the names of the slain. As Tango looked, she realised that only one name could still be seen.

"Imbolc Telyan," Steve murmured. "Wasn't she...?"

"My friend," Tango replied softly. "We joined together, with... Blue." She shook her head. "I don't get it, Steve. All these years I knew all about the Black Cats - and now your sister kills my cousin to protect the worst of them? Blue, who was locked away, driven mad, and hounded into the wilderness by these people? Come on, Steve, tell me how that's fair."

"I can't," Steve whispered. "If it wasn't Ontic... but it is. She's my sister, Tang'." He sighed. "It's hardly the comedy we expect from the PPC, is it?"

"I gave up on that a long time ago," Tango told him. "I just... I don't know." She looked around the dark Tomb. "I guess I thought coming here would make some sense out of it all. But all it's doing it making my eyes water. Come on." She squeezed his hand and turned away.

"Wait!"

Steve span, sword already unsheathed, looking for the source of the reedy voice. Tango had frozen in place. "It... no," she said, stunned. "You're dead." Slowly, she turned to face the glowing haze that had formed at the foot of the Monolith. "Imbolc, you're dead!"

"These past seven years," Imbolc agreed, coalescing into her familiar form. "But not gone. Come on, Tango, you used to read just as many legends as I did."

"'From time to time the spirit of Guinevere is still seen walking the halls of the ruined convent,'" Tango quoted in a daze, "'waiting for Arthur or Lancelot - she knows not which.' But that's just-"

"A story?" Imbolc cut in. "That's what we thought." A ghost of a smile touched her face. "Boy, was I surprised," she added, deadpan.

"Ah, that's more like it," Steve murmured. Tango shot him a look, then turned back to Imbolc.

"Immy..." she said softly, shaking her head. "The woman who killed you..."

"Was my friend," Imbolc told her gently. "I know she was a Guard on assignment, but I do believe her friendship was... as genuine as it could be." She shook her head slowly. "Twp'atwt was evil, Tango. Nendil was evil. Ontic was just ill." She sighed softly. "And so was Blue. Steve, tell your sister she did the right thing."

Steve looked startled. "You know...?"

Imbolc looked amused. "You were talking about it, Steve," she said. "I may be dead, but I'm not deaf. Besides, I have... other sources of information."

Tango raised an eyebrow. "Lancelot too, huh?"

Imbolc laughed at Steve's bemused look. "You always were the sharpest of us, Tang'," she said. "But I think he'd rather be Arthur - I didn't live long enough to meet Lancelot."

Tango winced slightly. "You're so casual about it," she said. "But go on... where is he?"

"Right here," a new voice said, and Blue Photon's translucent form stepped out from behind the Monolith. "The three of us together again at last... it's good to see you, Tango."

"You too, Blue," Tango said, swallowing hard. "I wish it... well."

"Were under better circumstances?" Blue guessed. "These are better circumstances, cousin. I'm healthy, for the first time in eight years. Apart from the obvious," he added. He reached down and took Imbolc's hand. "Besides..." he murmured, and their smiles said more than words ever could.

"So people from your world become ghosts," Steve said, breaking the silence. "I'll have to remember that when-" He cut himself off suddenly. "I mean, if..."

Tango looked at him amusedly. "Yes, you will," she agreed. "And let's stick with when, Steve."

"If I weren't dead I think I'd die of embarrassment," Blue murmured to Imbolc. "Were we that awkward back in the day?"

"You were worse," Tango told him sharply. "Don't be a pain, Blue. These past seven years haven't been a social whirlwind for me, either."

"Then now's the time for a fresh start," Imbolc said. "But before you do, we need something from you."

Tango blinked. "From me?"

"From both of you," Imbolc corrected. "Tango... Narto - my little brother Narto - works here at the PPC. Your new boyfriend should be able to find him. Bring him here."


Chapter Twenty - Rise To Lead

Nyx and Dassie followed the Dandelion who had introduced herself as Weed-23. The corridors of HQ were just as tangled as usual, but the Weed took each turn with confidence. Nyx frowned and whispered to Dassie, "Does any of this look vaguely familiar?"

Dassie's lips were pressed into a fine line. "More than vaguely," he said. "This is the route I took up to the Mysterious Somebody's office."

Nyx glanced at their guide. "Deliberate, do you think?"

Just so you know, Weed-23 said without turning her flower, I can hear everything you're saying. And no, it isn't deliberate – this is simply the quickest route to the Committee Room.

"They set up shop in his old office?" Dassie murmured. "Bet that went down well."

No one was particularly aware of it, the Dandelion commented. Then she swung her blossom to face them and added in a different tone, I hope you aren't going to be tiresome about this.

"About... oh." Up ahead their corridor merged with another, along which a Tumbleweed had just led a red-haired woman and a brown-haired man in a DMS uniform. At Nyx's side, Dassie flinched back as the woman turned towards them. "Isn't that...?"

"Tango Dioxide," Dassie affirmed. "She tried to kill me earlier."

I should just stop hoping, Weed-23 said. Hello, Thirty-Seven.

Twenty-three, the other Weed acknowledged. Tango was glaring past him, and were it not for her companion's hand on her arm she looked likely to have launched herself at the other two already. Nyx stepped in front of Dassie protectively.

"Well, well," Tango called as they approached. "Nyx Nightingale. I never would have marked you down as a traitor, but Steve's told me what you did. I'm surprised they left the pair of you alive to stand trial."

"Oh, good," Nyx snapped, "you caught up on not-so-current events. Did you happen to hear about the bit where we killed the Bracket Fungus? Or how Dassie stopped your old friend from killing some girl? You remember Blue, don't you – he's the partner you abandoned when you ran off to DAVD."

Tango stared at her, her jaw working soundlessly, and then burst into tears. Steve wrapped his arms around her and glared at Nyx. "You don't know what she's been through-"

"She doesn't know what we've been through!"

"I think there's been a lot of going through on all sides," Dassie said quietly. "I know what we did to you, Tango. But Nyx and I have been on the run almost as long as you."

I think this has gone on long enough, a mental voice said, and the four humans looked up guiltily to see the Sunflower Official approaching. You do realise we can hear every word in the Committee Room, don't you?

There were several moments of uncomfortable silence, which Steve was the first to break. "Sir," he said, "why are we all here?"

I understand you are here because you wouldn't leave your friend's side, the SO stated. As for our three prodigals, I think that would be better discussed in the Committee Room. Come. He turned and headed back towards the door. Almost instinctively, the four humans followed. Nyx exchanged a wry look with Dassie.

"He's good at this leadership thing, isn't he?"

I have had a great deal of practice, the SO said, and pushed open the door to the Committee Room. Enter. Seats have been provided for you.

The Committee Room was mostly taken up by a large metal desk with computer access points set into it. Around this desk six Flowers stood in various sized pots, along with one uncomfortable-looking human. At the far end of the table, a large flat monitor displayed a view of an even larger tree. Four chairs had been positioned against the wall. As the new arrivals sat down, the SO moved to the head of the table.

Members of the Board of Flowers, the Sunflower began. The man at the table gave him a look and he shook a leaf. Of the Board of Department Heads, then. The crisis we have just weathered has forced many changes on us. We have seen the sad demise of the Wisteria, and the reorganisation of this very Board. We have also witnessed the return of certain former members of our organisation. Some sought to destroy us – some sought to aid us. The former are dead. These three are representatives of the latter.

There was a murmur around the table. One of the Flowers, a Clover, ruffled his petals and said, I recognise their faces from the Archives – these three were branded criminals during the Reorganisation.

"Then the Archives are out of date," the man at the table said quietly. Nyx gasped softly as she suddenly recognised him. Doctor Fitzgerald went on: "I treated the young gentleman there at the end of the Reorganisation; he was gravely wounded due to his efforts on the PPC's behalf. Our behalf, Clover."

They have proven their loyalties in this latest crisis, the Sub Rosa added. Mr. Hyrax and Ms. Nightingale killed the Bracket Fungus, and Ms. Dioxide slew his second-in-command. These are our people.

"You did?" Nyx and Tango hissed at each other simultaneously. The SO gave them a disapproving look, conveyed through expressive folding of his petals.

We have debated this matter to decomposition already, he said. We do not need to rehash old arguments. What we need now is a consensus. What is to be done with these allies of ours? He looked across at the humans. Tango, Dassie, Nyx, he said, what do you think? Do you wish to rejoin the PPC?

The three humans - Steve had pushed his chair backwards, allowing him to hold Tango's hand without getting in anyone's line of sight – exchanged glances, then Tango shrugged and stood up. "I'm sticking around whether you like it or not," she said bluntly. "The PPC took my from my home, and no one knows the way back." At this, Captain Dandy stirred slightly, but remained silent. "My cousin and my friend both died for this place," Tango went on. "Narto is the only link I have left to my past, and he works here." She glanced to the side and squeezed Steve's hand. "More than that, I've finally found someone I can talk to. I spent seven years on the run because of this place. I'm not leaving it now." She nodded firmly. "I'll rejoin, if you'll have me."

Nyx smiled faintly and rose to her feet. "I can hardly match Tango in eloquence," she told the Board, "so I won't try. I left because I wasn't safe in HQ. I came back because HQ would be safer with me. I'll stay, if I may, because the Multiverse will be safer that way." She sat down again and glanced at Dassie. He sighed softly and rose to his feet.

"I was in the DIS," he said quietly. "I didn't like it, but I was with them. I was also a pawn of the Mysterious Somebody. He stole my DNA and made an army out of me." He paused, looking around the room, his expression troubled. "For seven years I've had to run from my former compatriots. I've killed dozens of them – I've watched them kill hundred, thousands of innocents. The only reason I was out there is that the PPC didn't trust me." He shook his head. "I still support the Canon Protection Initiative, but I don't think I could stomach more killing." He looked at the Sub Rosa, who had begun to stir. "Not spying, either, ma'am," he said, with a hint of sadness.

"I have another suggestion," Doctor Fitzgerald said. "Work with me, Mr. Hyrax. I saw how you cared for Agent Salamander. We could use more Nurses of your calibre – we could use more Nurses of any calibre," he added candidly.

The Assassins recruit their own members, the Marquis de Sod said blandly. So do the Spies. You ask me to do all the work for you.

"Who are we supposed to enlist?" Fitzgerald asked. "All our patients are Agents already."

Perhaps we should put this to one side and hear Mr. Hyrax's reply, the Queen Anne's Lace spoke up. The Flowers looked along the table at Dassie, who shrugged.

"I'd work in Medical," he allowed. "I don't know that I'd be much good, but I'd do it."

Then perhaps we can consider the motion carried, the booming voice of Hornbeam said from the direction of the console, and move on to matters of greater importance. The repair work necessary on our Headquarters will be very time-consuming.

We haven't resolved everything, the Floating Hyacinth pointed out. Mses. Dioxide and Nightingale have said they wish to return to the PPC, but in which Departments? If they are undecided, perhaps they could join my own Department of Floaters. Our non-specialised approach would allow them to enter active duty without needing to- She stopped. Nyx and Tango were both shaking their heads.

"I'm an Assassin," Nyx said. "I won't be anything else."

"The DIS sent me to DAVD," Tango added. "This time, I'm staying where I want."

Very well, then, the SO said. Are we agreed, members of the Board? The Flowers all nodded various appendages, with Doctor Fitzgerald joining in. Then I am delighted to welcome you back to the PPC, Agent Dioxide, Agent Nightingale, Nurse Hyrax.

We'll be keeping an eye on you, though, the Tiger Lily said. If my Department were in better shape you would have observers assigned to you. As it is... we'll be watching.

"And so will we," Nyx said firmly. "I've broken one Security Department in my lifetime, Tiger Lily. Don't let your DIA be the second."

Enough veiled threats, I think, the SO said smoothly. Ladies and gentlemen, we have business to attend to. The next item on the agenda, since we have three new recruits in our midst, is the assigning of Response Centres. He looked at Tango and Steve. Perhaps Agent Dioxide would care to move into RC #4952...

~

"That's very distracting, you know."

Narto quickly lifted his hand away from the grey cover. "I didn't think you could hear," he said.

Salamander shook his head. "The music's not that loud. Besides, I could feel you drumming your fingers."

Narto sighed. "I'm sorry. I'm just nervous."

Sal smiled. "I don't blame you. If Kayleigh was injured that badly, I'd be pretty jumpy too."

"I've only been partnered with Selene for a couple of weeks," Narto said. "She still scares me quite a bit. But I don't want her to die, you know?"

"I'm sure she'll be fine," Sal said. "You remember what Doctor Fitzgerald said – since she's not exactly alive, repairing her is a lot easier."

"I just wish he'd done it himself rather than getting that Nurse to deal with it."

"For your information," a new voice said, "all members of the Medical Department are referred to as Nurses. I happen to be a fully-qualified surgeon."

"Hello, Nurse McKay," Sal said cheerfully. "How are you at extracting feet from mouths?"

Marian McKay gave him a tight – and completely wasted – smile. "Agent Telyan," she said, "you may wish to know that your partner is awake. In defiance of tradition, she is not asking for you, but is rather pronouncing curses on various persons, both living and dead. However, you may go in and see her anyway."

Narto looked uncertain. "Has she used her lightning on anyone yet?"

"Not anyone living." Nurse McKay gave that same, tight smile. "Several of our machines-which-go-ping! will never be the same again, however."

Narto searched for a response that wouldn't result in him being Selene's eventual lightning rod. He was saved from making a decision, however, by the sound of a woman singing.

"...bad slash-fic authors all tied up with strings, these are a few of my favourite things! When the Lace calls, when the- Salamander! Big smile!"

Narto and Nurse McKay stared at the brown-haired woman who had just skipped into the ward. Sal, however, grinned. "Hi, Kayleigh," he said. "It's good to, uh, hear you."

"Good to hear you too!" Kayleigh replied. "I've been looking all over for you. You'll never believe what happened! I met the cutest little fairy with the most adorable name, and she-"

"I can see I'm not needed her," Nurse McKay said dryly. "Agent Telyan, if you decide to visit your partner, please let me know first. I may need to clean up after you."

"Nurse McKay!" Salamander called as she turned to go. "Do you... that is to say, has Nurse Swanson mentioned anything about my operation?"

Nurse McKay stiffened, but didn't turn around. "There won't be any operation, Agent Salamander," she said quietly. "Not unless you accept at least some mechanical augmentation. The damage is simply too great."

"Don't be ridiculous," Narto said into the shocked silence. "You have access to all the technology of the Multiverse. Replacing a pair of eyes is simple. The medical tech of Star Trek alone-"

"Is pretty much useless in the case of eyes," Nurse McKay snapped. "If your friend wasn't so stubborn, he could have the best implants in all the worlds, but he simply refuses. You talk some sense into him." With that, she left the room.

Kayleigh frowned and said, "Frown. Why don't you want eyes, Sal? They wouldn't make you look too ugly."

Salamander shook his head. "It's not like that," he said. "Electronics... Kay, you know I tend to kill our console once a week. CADs hate me, the Remote Activator dumps us in Dorthonion every chance it gets... I do not want sensitive electronics on my face. I've read a few stories about that – they're not pretty."

"Maybe they could shield them," Narto suggested. "Or... I don't know, but they could find something."

"Sure they could," Sal said bitterly, "but probably at the cost of my optic nerves. No. If they can't grow me new eyes and implant them properly, I'll go on being blind. It's not too bad, once you get used to it."

"I'll help," Kayleigh suggested. "I can tell you what you would be looking at, where everything is – it'll be great." Sal gave a wan smile.

"Thanks, Kay," he replied. "That'd be great." He was about to say more, but there was a knock, and a red-haired woman walked into the ward. She ignored Salamander and Kayleigh and looked straight at Narto.

"Narto," she breathed. "It really is you. I didn't really believe it until now..."

Narto stared at her. "Tango Dioxide?" he asked. "You were my sister's friend... I wanted to talk to you earlier, but you left too fast."

Tango smiled. "I was a bit busy," she said, "but there's time now. Or... there will be." She glanced at the other two. "I'm going to need to steal Narto for a while," she told them. "There's someone he absolutely has to go and see."

~

Narto sat against the wall, looking up at the figures in front of him. "It's a lot to take in," he said.

"I know it is, Narto," Imbolc said gently. "I certainly had trouble with it."

"Me too," Blue said. Tango gave a wry smile.

"Me three," she said. Imbolc grinned at her shyly.

"You got over it, though. That's the sort of joke you would have made back home."

Tango nodded slightly. "It almost feels like none of it ever happened," she admitted. "Here we all are again – and even little Narto's here."

"Not so little any more," Blue pointed out, shaking his head. Narto looked at him.

"Speaking of which – and we weren't – why didn't you tell me who you were earlier?"

Blue's ghost shrugged. "I was insane, you know," he pointed out. "I wasn't exactly thinking logically. I'd already run into Immy by that point, but I was still completely messed up."

"Is that why you did it?" Tango asked hesitantly. "Why you tried to kill Ontic?"

"Partly," Blue admitted. "Partly... partly I really did hate her. She killed Immy, along with any hope I had of a normal life. She was there when I was imprisoned." He shook his head. "But the way I did it was insane."

"And it turned out for the best," Imbolc put in. "It's better that you're here with me."

"It is," Blue agreed, "but I do wonder how we might have lived if things had gone differently. If we'd never heard of the Mary-Sue Factory..."

"The PPC would still be under their dominion," Imbolc said firmly. "Nothing is worth that."

There was a long, awkward moment of silence. Narto broke it by standing up and looking across at the Monolith in the centre of the Tomb. "'Imbolc Telyan'," he read. "There were other names, too. So why's it called the Tomb of the Unknown PPC Agent?"

"The ways of the Flowers are mysterious," Imbolc intoned, and then grinned. "I honestly haven't a clue, and I've been here for seven years."

"I've got a guess," Blue said. "This was DIS Central before they broke it. Agents... a lot of Agents died here. Palaver... lots of Agents." His mouth twisted. "The DIS killed them. No one knows how many they were. They're the Unknown PPC Agents, because this is the only tomb they'll ever have."

"So they put the names of the ones they did know up," Tango added quietly. "They didn't want to forget what happened. It could happen again."

"'At the going down of the sun'," Imbolc murmured, "'and in the morning...'"

"'We will remember them'," Narto finished. "And we will."

~

The flames of the funeral pyre flared higher under the cold starlight. Jasmine pulled her overcoat tight around her shoulders as she watched Durran Mkellin's mortal remains burn on the stack of logs. "He told me once what happened to his world," she said, not looking round. "How the forces of Chaos came upon it, and it... burned. I think he regretted not going down with it - all his people did." She rubbed her eyes, brushing away the tears before they had a chance to fall. "I think this is what he would have wanted."

"You've always been very perceptive," Constance Illian told her daughter. "I'm certain you saw into his heart and found the truth, just as you used to with your siblings."

Jasmine nodded slightly. "He wasn't like the rest," she said vaguely. "They were always full of so much hate for everything good and noble and light. But Kell... he knew his duty. He did what he could. But he never hated them. You."

"He sounds like a good man," Constance agreed. "The world... it might be a happier place if he had lived."

"I know I would be," Jasmine said, her voice finally cracking. "Oh, Kell, why did you have to leave me?"

Her mother stepped up behind her, placing a comforting hand on her shoulder. "I know what it's like," she said softly. "When your father died, I was heartbroken. I was able to bring him back, by the grace of the Valar, but for a time... yes, I understand your pain." She glanced down slightly, over Jasmine's shoulder. "And I didn't even have... that much to remember him by."

Jasmine nodded again, blinking back her tears. Behind them, Dafydd Illian frowned. "Wait, what?" He stepped forward to his wife's side, looking at his daughter. "I hadn't heard about this. What?"

Jasmine rolled her eyes. "Da-ad," she protested, "stop it. Mam and I've been going on about this all week."

"Now, dear," Constance said dryly, "you don't expect your father to pay attention to these things, do you? Despite the fact that he claims to be able to see this sort of thing." She glanced at Dafydd, who grimaced.

"I wasn't looking," the elf pointed out. "I mean, she's barely more than a child--!"

"I'm twenty-three, Dad," Jasmine protested. Dafydd sniffed.

"My point still stands. Barely more than a child, why would I think she... you...!"

Constance shook her head slowly. "Kids," she said in a slightly raised voice, directing her comment to their other four children, "take note: Calaquendi your father may be, but he's very unobservant for it. Probably old age."

Dafydd stuck his tongue out. "When six thousand years old you reach..." he half quoted.

Jasmine Illian laughed softly and looked back at the pyre. "Kell," she said quietly, "I'm glad I knew you... but it's good to be home."

~

i know there have been deaths i know there has been pain but the enemy has been defeated the organisation has been preserved

i do not think in the short term i plan for the longest term now they will prosper the future will be bright

goodbye i hope i see you again

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