Tangled Webs

Crashing Down

Chapter Eleven - Endure the World

"... maybe left?"

Tango stopped, sighed, and turned to face her companion. "We're lost, aren't we?" she asked.

Steve shook his head firmly. "Definitely not. I know exactly where we are."

"Oh? Where?"

"... PPC Headquarters." Steve blinked. "Look, you know what HQ's like. It's a bit of a maze."

"Unless you hadn't noticed. Yes, we said that in my day, too." Tango thought for a moment. "Or, well, that Thorntree girl said it. She was a strange one... how is she, anyway? Do you know her?"

"Er, famous and retired," Steve provided. "I never met her. But the point is, we wouldn't be lost if you didn't keep noticing it." Absently, he wandered down the corridor, Tango following at a similar pace. "I mean, there's the map, but..."

Tango frowned. "Map?" she asked. "How can you map something as downright changeable as HQ?"

"The Flowers say it's all very simple when you see and move in six dimensions," Steve explained. "For the rest of us, they designed the Map and got Makes-Things to build it as a technological alternative. It's a bit glitchy, and the handheld versions aren't very common, but this is the PPC - when were things ever easy?"

"But, six dimensions..." Tango's mind was whirling. "We still can't move in them, even if the map points them out," she pointed out. "Without being able to do that, what good's a map to show you where you can't go?"

"Well, we can," Steve disagreed. "We just don't know it most of the time. I mean, height, width, depth and time, those four we experience in basically the same way as the Flowers."

"You don't have to talk down to me, Dimond," Tango said snippily. "I'm older than you, you know."

"Sorry," Steve said, not sounding it. "Can I go on?"

"All right."

"The other two... well, there's probability, which is no big deal, plotholes mess with it all the time, and the PPC's full of those. Actually, given that portals are basically stable plotholes, it's really held together by them. I'm not sure why the links don't glow like portals do normally, but..."

"That's not necessary," Tango informed him. "I disabled the function on my Remote Activator. I guess they added it so people could see where they were."

"Really? Huh. I didn't know that." Steve shook his head slightly. "Anyway, the sixth dimension they use is consciousness. That's the one which leads to 'unless you hadn't noticed' - when you're less conscious of where you're going, you can usually take a more direct route."

"But we still can't journey freely in that... dimension," Tango insisted. "Distracting yourself is pretty hit-and-miss. It's not accurate."

Steve shrugged. "Some people have tried using flasks of caffeine- and alcohol-based drinks," he said, "but sometimes the old ways really are the best." He stopped, turned, and knocked on the nearest door. After a moment it opened to reveal a man who appeared to be in his twenties, brown hair cropped close to his head. He looked at them suspiciously for a moment, and then something seemed to click.

"Steve," he said, relieved. "I didn't expect you'd come by this soon - it's dangerous out."

"Actually that's why I'm here, Mortic," Steve replied, beckoning Tango over to join him. Then he swallowed nervously, and asked, "Is she... in?"

Mortic nodded understandingly. "She's in, she's okay, and I know she'll want to see you." He peered curiously at Tango. "And who might this be?"

Tango opened her mouth to reply, but Steve shook his head slightly. "I'll explain later," he said. "For now... can I see her?"

Mortic nodded guiltily and stepped hastily to one side. Behind him, Steve could see a fair-haired figure curled up on a black beanbag. As he entered the Response Centre she looked up, and Steve had to bite back a gasp at seeing her so-familiar features. "Steve...?" she asked hesitantly, her voice only a touch deeper than it had been before.

Steve nodded, shaking all over. "It's me, Elanor," he said, and crossed the floor to kneel at her side. "I'm here."

"Steve," Elanor said again, and then launched herself at him, clinging tightly. "Oh Steve, I was so lost, so alone and lost without you."

Steve held his sister close, burying his face in her long hair and letting his tears fall freely. "I missed you too, El," he said. "Oh, so much..."

By the door, Tango glanced at Mortic. "You're sure they're brother and sister?" she asked in a low voice. "I mean, with the surnames, and then this..."

"They're very close," Mortic murmured. "Ellie's mother was very busy, didn't have much time to spend on them, so she was pretty much raised by her brother and sister. Steve's the one who made sure she got brought to the PPC. Not sure what happened to the sister."

"Let's not get into that yet," Tango said. "Let them have their moment. There's time enough for the war later."

~

"... so then I checked the files, and you know that Tango woman who killed the Evermind? Immediately afterwards, she moved to DAVD! So I reckon they're working with the Black Cats on this, and when the time is right they're going to strike from within!" Agent Kayleigh beamed at her companion. "What do you think?"

"I think you need to stop for breath more often," Nyx Nightingale muttered. "Listen, I've known people in DAVD, okay? There was this girl, Penny... she was completely harmless. Other than being a PPC Agent, I mean. They're really not the sort of people you think they are. Destroy the Protectors of the Plot Continuum? It's the PPC that pays them."

"Not any more," Kayleigh pointed out. "We don't really get paid that often any more. But that's okay, the food and the bleepka are free, and do you hear running?"

Nyx blinked, and brushed her hair back behind her ear. "You're right," she said after a moment. "Maybe half a dozen people running as if something's... chasing them?" Her eyes narrowed.

"Maybe there's someone gone flamethrower-crazy round there," Kayleigh suggested. "Or a 'Sue's broken in, or ooh! Maybe DAVD are after them!"

"Or maybe they're fleeing from the army of Black Cats invading HQ," Nyx said grimly, and drew a short sword from its sheath. "Are you armed?"

"Well, I've got this," Kayleigh said dubiously, and Nyx turned to see her holding a massive mace two-handed. "Everyone says maces are good for self-defence, so I thought I ought to get one."

Nyx stared at her. "And... where did you pull it from, exactly?"

Kayleigh looked at the oversized weapon and shrugged. "Mace-space?" she suggested vaguely.

Nyx sighed. "Look... never mind. Just wait until the Agents are past, and then take out the Cats. We could do with some more allies," she added in a murmur.

"Right you are!" Kayleigh replied cheerfully, swinging the mace with enough vigour that she almost knocked her companion flying. The running footsteps approached the corner - Nyx supposed it was just a fact of HQ that they'd been audible for so long without actually arriving - and then five figures in black raced into view, already screeching to a halt. Nyx went to gesture them past, but then the silver sashes registered in her mind. With a gasp, she threw her sword at the quintet, not even bothering to watch as one man deflected it with contemptuous ease. She grabbed her boot dagger and lunged for the nearest Cat, not giving them time to recover from their shock.

"Kayleigh!" she shouted. "Get them!"

"But the Agents haven't gone past yet," the Slasher said logically, and then threw herself to the side as a crossbow bolt thudded into the wall. She stared up at the evil-looking sliver of metal for a moment, and then shrugged. "On the other hand..." She turned to face the approaching Black Cats, grinned a feral grin, and swung the heavy mace in a crushing blow.

~

The reunion was over, and Steve, Elanor, Mortic and Tango gathered around a small table against the wall of the Response Centre. "So," Mort asked, "is someone going to tell me what's going on now?"

"You already know most of it," Steve replied. "The DIS - the Black Cats, now - are back in HQ, and they're attempting to destroy us."

"They've blocked off the SO's office," Elanor informed him. "We think they've killed him, or maybe are still trying."

"They've killed the Wisteria in Operations," Steve said. "I saw it in DIA Central. But... we're the only ones in HQ who know what they're planning, because we're the only ones who have Tango." He nodded to the red-haired woman, who smiled slightly.

"I don't understand," Mort said. "How does she know what they're going to do? Is she some sort of defector or... something?"

Tango laughed softly. "Not at all," she said. "I'm one of you, actually. An Assassin. You might remember about eight years back, when the Evermind died?"

Mort blinked. "Wait, you're that Tango? You're the one who started the whole Reorganisation, you and that... Blue, wasn't it?"

"Blue, yes." Tango shook her head slightly. "I don't know what happened to him, he wasn't in the DIA's files... I suppose he died in the Cats' clutches." She grimaced.

"No, he got out," Steve said, surprised. "You didn't know?" Tango shook her head slowly. "He escaped during the Reorganisation, no one knows where he went."

"Thank you," Tango said, smiling at him. "I've worried about him for a long time." She shook herself slightly. "Anyway, right. The DIS were trying to get me, so I ran away from HQ. When they were kicked out - I guess that's your Reorganisation - I found them and watched them. They kidnapped Agents... they're very skilled at torture."

"That's how they know what's going on with the PPC these days, then," Elanor surmised. "But how did they get into HQ? I mean, they say we've got all these defences up, shield walls or something."

"They shut them down," Tango said with a shrug. "I got in the same way, to try and warn people about them. But I... maybe went about it in slightly the wrong way," she admitted. "I got myself arrested for threatening the PPC. Then they found out who I was, and it only got worse."

"Why?" Elanor asked. "What did you do?"

"Killed two people," Tango replied bluntly. "Or at least that's what I was accused of. One of them I did kill, he was a DIS spy. The other... died by accident." The woman closed her eyes. "She drank the poison he meant for me."

"But what I don't understand," Mortic said into the silence that followed, "is what you're doing here, or with Steve. I mean, he's not DIA, so..."

"Huh? Oh, they gave me a phone call." Tango looked at Mort and Elanor's blank faces. "I got to call someone I knew. But everyone's gone. Blue, Immy, Arien... so I had to work through the more distant contacts. I remembered one of my DIS monitors, how her brother walked in on our meeting this one time... he was the first one I got through to."

"That's how you got my name," Steve exclaimed. "I remember that time... didn't remember you until just now, though."

"Wait, wait, wait." Mortic waved his hands in a cutting gesture. "One of your DIS monitors? Like... the bad guys?" He turned to his partner. "El, you've got a sister in the DIS?"

Elanor blinked. "I... guess?" she ventured. "I don't know... I can't seem to remember anyone telling me what happened to her."

"Yes, Ontic was in the DIS," Steve confirmed. "She wasn't the-- okay, what's he doing?"

After freezing for a heartbeat, Mortic had jumped straight up in the air, so hard he hit the ceiling. Now he was clinging to the Generic Surface like a gecko, babbling incoherently. Elanor rose to her feet and looked up at him sternly. "Mortic Wentway, you're embarrassing yourself. Stop with the incantations and tell us what's going on."

The incoherent noise stopped, giving way to frantic, yet comprehensible, pleas. "Don't kill me don't kill me please don't kill me don't kill me don't let her kill me..."

Steve looked back and forth between his sister and Tango. "Does anyone know what he's on about?"

"Not the faintest," Elanor replied, while Tango merely shrugged. "Mort," the blonde went on, "No one's going to hurt you. Will you please just explain what's going on? And come down," she added.

Mortic's grip didn't loosen, but he stopped talking and shaking. After a few moments of silence, he said, "... not going to hurt me?"

"You're perfectly safe here," Elanor assured him. "Come down, my love, and tell us what this is all about."

Very cautiously, Mortic let go of the ceiling, first with his feet ("How did he even hold on through his shoes?" Steve wondered) and then his hands, landing in a crouch on the floor. Elanor reached down to stroke his short hair soothingly, and after a silent half minute he stood up and returned to his seat. Following a few deep breaths, he said, "Ontic - your sister - was a partner of mine, back before the Reorganisation..."

~

Penny gasped for breath. "I think... we lost them."

Vemi scowled. "Well that's no good," she said. "We're going to have to find them again somehow."

Penny looked over at her partner. "I still don't think it's fair how much energy you've got," she said. "Look, maybe we should head back up and ask the Sunflower where they've gone. I'm sure he could contact someone who knows."

Vemi grimaced. "Great. I lose my target, now I have to go and talk to that overgrown buttercup again. Could my day get any-- shh!"

"I was shh," Penny protested, but quietly. Around the next corner a pair of voices could be heard.

"... don't know what 'general security breach error' means, she's never said it before. All I know is the cloister bell was going off and that means Bad News."

"Oh, is that what that infernal racket was? Look, okay, I agree that bad is, well, bad, but surely if it's all that serious the SO already knows. Unless it's a problem specifically with her, in which case he doesn't need to know."

"But what if he doesn't and does?" the first voice asked. "We don't know what it is, it could be a danger to the very fabric of HQ!"

There was a snort. "Oh, sure," the second voice scoffed. "Because threats like the DIS come along every-- ack!" A short, dark-haired woman came around the corner and collided with Vemi. "Watch where you're-- eep."

"What do you know about the DIS?" Vemi snarled, knife held to the woman's throat.

"What?" the stranger asked, eyes searching frantically. "What are you... Morgan, help!"

"I think you need to let my partner go right now," the first voice said. "I may not know Venusian Aikido, but I can shoot straight." Vemi glanced round, and blinked to see a tall blonde woman - Morgan - pointing a pistol at her head. Slowly, cautiously, the Assassin lowered her knife.

"All right. Agent Vemi, DMS."

"And Penny, same," Penny put in, subtly re-sheathing her own blade. "You two?"

"Morgan and Traf, DMS," Morgan supplied, lowering the gun. "Care to explain why you threatened my partner?"

Vemi frowned. "She was talking about the DIS. I thought you might be colluding with them. I still do."

Traf Elosia looked at her curiously. "The DIS were destroyed seven years," she pointed out. "That makes no sense."

"They're doing well for a destroyed people," Penny commented. "We've just chased them across half of HQ."

"... er, beg pardon?"

"The DIS are back," Vemi clarified irritably. "Don't know how, don't know how many, but they were going after the SO. We chased them off. Killed four of them, too," she added in a satisfied tone.

Traf stared at her, and then nodded thoughtfully. "I guess that was her security breach error," she commented to her partner. "Good thing we did go and check."

"Thank you," Morgan said, slightly snippily. "So what now? Do we all go back to living in fear of the black cat?"

"What's this security thing all--" Penny started to ask, but Morgan glared at her and she stopped.

"I think we should go and see the SO," Traf said into the tense silence. "He's our Department Head, and he's on the Board of Flowers. He'll be able to organise a counteroffensive."

"Actually we were just discussing that," Vemi agreed. "Apparently the boys in Legal really don't like me, so they're making sure nothing goes right today." She sighed. "All right, back to the SO's office it is. I really hope this is the last time."


Chapter Twelve - Glittering Ivory Tower

Agent Kyaris stuck one of her heads through the portal cautiously. "Looks clear," another reported back to the Sub Rosa, while the remaining three slid one by one into the blue doorway, giving her a complete field of vision in the clearing beyond. "I don't see any signs of the Weeds, though."

Is it the right place? the Rose Bush asked. You remember the marker I told you of.

"Yes, it's there," the undersized hydra confirmed. "At a guess, Dandy is too - but waiting for us to arrive before he comes out."

Then we should not disappoint, the Sub Rosa agreed. Architeuthis, tell Bulldog we're ready. The Agent nodded and spoke rapidly into a radio. Tiger Lily, are your people set?

Agent Black? the Lily inquired. Her elven second-in-command nodded.

"We're just waiting for your word, ma'am."

Then let's waste no more time. The Sub Rosa tapped a pair of keys on her console, expanding the portal to some three times its normal size. Moving past Agent Kyaris, she entered the doorway of blue light and was

~

elsewhere. Behind her, the portal flickered repeatedly as first Kyaris, then the DIA contingent, and finally her own Department of Intelligence stepped through. When they had all reached the clearing, Agent Architeuthis pressed a button on her Remote Activator and the portal vanished.

The records on my personal console have just been wiped, the Sub Rosa announced to the world at large. It is completely impossible for anyone to detect where our portal led.

Nothing is impossible, Captain Dandy replied, stepping out of the shadow of an ancient oak, but I accept that you've done all you can. We should be safe. Welcome to the Outside, Sub Rosa.

It's rather big, isn't it? the Flower said, looking around. I can't imagine how you keep it all secure.

A great deal of dedication, Captain Dandy replied, and then added candidly, and a little bit of sufficiently advanced technology.

The Tiger Lily let out a very human-sounding snort. Oh, so modest! she exclaimed. You poor, hard-working Dandelion, deprived of the luxuries of HQ!

... Tiger Lily. The Captain looked at her. As I recall, we've not actually met in person before. I can't say it's a pleasure.

The feeling is mutual, I assure you, the Lily snapped. Dandy's petals rustled slightly.

I understand your Department has been practically destroyed, he said casually. Remind me, why is it you're even here, given that you have no resources any more?

ENOUGH! the Sub Rosa shouted. If you two don't stop squabbling like Yellow Roses I will have Agent Kyaris bite both your heads off, and will take control of your Departments myself!

"Oh, not again," Kyaris muttered. "You know how bad leaves are for my teeth." And she grinned with all five mouths, showing off an impressive array of fangs.

... so! Our base camp is just through this copse, Captain Dandy said in a slightly manic tone. We thought it best not to have the meeting point too close. Would you all like to follow me, please? Weed-One has been setting some tents up for your Agents.

You go on ahead, the Sub Rosa said. Kyaris, keep an eye on those two. Architeuthis, you have overall command while I'm gone, and Bulldog, you're still in charge of the fighting force. The three Spies nodded, and the Tiger Lily frowned.

Where are you going, then? she asked. The Sub Rosa pressed a few leaves together tiredly.

There's someone in HQ who will be critical to the outcome of this battle, she said. I'm going to go and see him, if I can find him.

If...? Captain Dandy looked puzzled. I thought you could find anyone, Sub Rosa. Even the Elm, if you chose to.

Even the Elm, the Sub Rosa agreed. But the DIO are not the most secretive Department in the PPC, you know. Not quite.

... oh. The Dandelion nodded carefully. I understand your meaning. Well... good luck.

~

All around me the cacophonous sound of war echoes from the grey walls. I watch in delight as my forces stride through the enemy, cutting them down like so much chaff. Lightsabers slice through limbs, Force Lightning crackles and burns, and the miserable foe fall on all sides. "See!" I exult to my troops. "See how even together they cannot stand against us!" To the left cower the so-called Black Cats, to the right the self-styled Protectors of the Plot Continuum, and in the centre I stride triumphant, to victory!

The Mysterious Somebody leant back in his chair and keyed up the Bindweed's report on his screen. The army had encountered some difficulty - apparently the Sunflower was organised enough that he'd ordered the entrances to HQ sealed, or else someone had done so without his permission - but were now, the Flower assured him, on the verge of breaking through. They'd met some resistance from the town nearest the door, but once their buildings had been reduced to rubble the locals ceased to be a problem. The survivors are being prepared for transportation to the Factory, the Bindweed had written. There are some interesting traits which may be useable in future Mary-Sue generations.

The Mysterious Somebody shook his head with a grimace. "Computer," he said aloud, "compose a message to the Chief Administrator. Text to read: Bindweed, we are engaged in more important business than mundane product enhancement. Direct the shipment to FGenMS08, let the Yarrow sort them out." He paused, thought for a moment. "Also, you are no longer required to accompany the army. I will be arriving to command them in person. Make preparations for your return to the Factory. End message, transcribe and send."

"AFFIRMATIVE," the computer said tonelessly. The MS sighed.

"And switch to mute mode. I don't need your voice ringing in my head when I have my victory over the Sunflower Official."

The word 'AFFIRMATIVE' appeared on his console' screen, but the Mysterious Somebody wasn't looking. Rather, he was turning to face his office door in response to a voice which had spoken.

Believe me, that's not going to be a problem.

"Ah, Nightshade," the Dark Jedi said, smiling easily. "I was wondering when you were going to get here."

He's always doing that 'everything is proceeding exactly as I have foreseen it' thing, a second voice said, and the Gladiolus shuffled into view. We've never been quite sure if he really does.

Of course he doesn't, the Nightshade replied, petals ruffling in irritation. It's all an act to intimidate you. Do you really imagine he'd still be here if he knew we were going to capture him?

"It could, of course, be that I know something you don't," the MS pointed out quietly. The Nightshade flapped a leaf in his direction.

Hark at that! Vague words with no substance - do you still believe he can see the future? Behind her, the third conspirator - the Orchid - snuck into view.

The Mysterious Somebody stood up behind his desk. "You wish for specifics?" he intoned. "Then you shall have them. Ere this day is out, I will be far from this place, marching in triumph through the corridors of the vaunted Headquarters of the PPC. And you... one of you will be dead for your presumption."

The Nightshade's petals folded inwards, giving her blossom a decidedly sinister cast. That is no prophecy, she said, but simply a hope and a dream. You, C'baoth, she almost spat the name, are going to stay right here. Of that, you can be most certain. Gladiolus, Orchid - secure him.

As the two Flowers moved forward, the Mysterious Somebody stepped back from his desk, raised his hands to shoulder level, and... smiled.

~

The Sub Rosa looked around herself, branches quivering. The cold, black corridor was making her distinctly nervous. It had taken her several hours to locate it, which had required portalling through numerous walls, shutting down her senses and running at full speed down a corridor, and at one point dropping through a hole in the floor. All the difficulty the Agents had, stuck in their three dimensions, she had encountered with this excursion. And she still wasn't sure she was in the right place.

I am the Sub Rosa, she announced, and unnervingly, her mental 'voice' actually echoed in the narrow hallway. I am a member of the Board of Department Heads. I have... a request.

"We don't do requests," a deep voice said. The Sub Rosa realised that she wasn't hearing it in the usual mental fashion, but through direct vibration on her petals. The speaker was completely blocking her thought-scanning. "You should not be here."

I am not the one you should be worried about, the Rose Bush said grimly. There are others-

"We know," said the voice. "Why are you here, Sub Rosa? We must only be contacted through the computer network."

The network is compromised, the Flower stated. If I used it, the Black Cats would find out - you yourselves would see to that.

"... perhaps," the voice admitted. "What is your business here?"

That is a matter for your Department Head, the Sub Rosa pointed out. The voice remained silent, and she sighed. I am here to inquire as to what actions you will take during the forthcoming war.

There was a longer pause, but the Sub Rosa stood her ground. Finally the voice sighed. "Stay very still," it said, and a white orb of light appeared near the ceiling, dropped onto the Sub Rosa's upper bank of leaves, and engulfed her. When it faded, she had vanished.

~

The Mysterious Somebody sat calmly behind his desk once more, seeming to ignore the fact that his hands were tied together - tightly - behind his back. So much for your escape, the Gladiolus sneered. And to think we were scared of you! Without your hands free you can't even use your lightning, and what are you? Nothing but a man.

"I could take over your mind if I wanted," the Dark Jedi said levelly. The Gladiolus shook her fronds.

You? We are Flowers, sir, not those puny humans you're used to. You cannot control us - ever.

And if you could, you would have, the Nightshade added. Gladiolus, I think we need to talk. Step outside with me a moment. Will you be all right alone, Orchid? she asked.

The quietest of the three Flowers nodded. I'm perfectly safe, she said. I'll see you soon.

When the door had hissed closed, the Mysterious Somebody looked at the Orchid. "You could come back and work for me, you know," he said softly. "You've no allegiance to the PPC, and I do have several openings. Come back, Orchid, and everything will be forgiven. I won't even hold this present indiscretion against you, Orchid. Won't you come home?"

The pale Flower trembled uncertainly, but shook her blossom. Your cause is evil, she said defiantly, I know that now. I will not join you - no one will. You have failed, C'baoth.

The Mysterious Somebody nodded calmly. "Pity," he said, "such a pity. Still, your decision is made, I can see, and that means there are two things you need to know."

The Orchid tilted her petals expectantly. What might they be?

The Mysterious Somebody smiled gently. "First, your friends were right. I can't control the minds of Flowers; you're just too different to my own kind. I can influence, to an extent - encourage emotions, say, or urge my underlings to greater productivity or effort - but actual control, forcing you to do something you don't want to, is beyond me."

The Orchid bunched her petals curiously. Why are you telling me this? she asked nervously. I already said, I'll never join you.

"Because of the second thing," the Dark Jedi said, looking directly at her with cold, hard eyes. "I don't need to." Lifting his hands from behind his back, he unleashed a storm of azure Force Lightning at the Flower. It coruscated across her body, scorching her with such incandescent energy that she died without even a scream. "Did you think me some conjurer or trickster?" C'baoth asked the blackened form disdainfully, rising to his feet. "No ropes can bind a Jedi Master, you fool! Computer," he barked, "lock down the Factory and activate portal, setting DN104." Nothing happened, and after a moment he sighed and sent a bolt of electricity through the console on his desk, ruining it. A second shock shorted out the lock on the door, and the Mysterious Somebody strode out into the Factory.

~

The Sub Rosa bowed her primary blossom to the Fern in front of her. Thank you for your cooperation, she said. I understand your difficulties...

We must enforce the Laws, the Fern replied. If we did not - if we, as you'd have us, openly aligned ourselves on your side... what would happen to the Multiverse? The Organisation was set up to keep the worlds free from rogue plotholes; for us to bias the Laws in such a way would destroy all that we have worked for. It gestured with one frond at the Legal Chao painted on the opposite wall. Order, disorder. We allow a certain degree of disorder - the antigravity apple, you see - but all for the purpose of maintaining overall order - the ferns, with our fractal patterns, are excellent representatives of such. It shook the frond in the Sub Rosa's direction. I am sorry the Legal Department is unable to do as much as you would like.

I do understand, Fern, the Rose Bush said. I am grateful that you're willing to do as much as you are.

The Fern shrugged slightly. The Black Cats are a dangerous group, it said, and those who are coming even more so. The Sub Rosa looked at it curiously, but it said, No, don't ask. But... if we are truly neutral, they are certain to win. We know what happens if they are in control - the DIS nearly killed Agent Aspen under the Mysterious Somebody's rule. So we will... bend the odds. Your forces, and those of the Sunflower Official, will have certain chances and opportunities given to you. Your opponents will not. If you take them, you will be victorious. If you miss them... then Legal will be looking for a new home. The Trans-Normal Accountancy Division tell me that your chances of victory are... slim. But you have a chance.

Once again I thank you, the Sub Rosa replied. We are in your debt.

So is everyone, everywhere, the Fern pointed out. We don't call in our debts. Now, Sub Rosa... in a purely unofficial capacity... I wish you the very best of luck. I've grown fond of this place. It paused for a moment, and then added, And don't come back here. Its frond depressed a button on the desk, and the Sub Rosa fell through a blue-fringed hole in space-time to find herself outside Captain Dandy's camp, watching a pair of Dandelions rush towards her.

~

The Mysterious Somebody strode through the war-camp outside the PPC's Door 1-Sch-2. "Bindweed!" he bellowed, walking into the tent nearest the cliff face in which the door was set. "What is this shambles, Bindweed?"

The Flower looked as startled as a loose collection of vines can. Shambles, sir? she asked. We are entirely on schedule, the door is ready to be opened, we were merely awaiting your arrival.

"While you were merely awaiting," the Mysterious Somebody snapped, "I was being imprisoned in my own Factory! Return there at once, Bindweed, and take a company of soldiers with you. The Gladiolus is our traitor - she is accompanied by the Nightshade, who you of course remember."

The Bindweed's primary flower folded in surprise. She's returned? I'd supposed... no matter. I will return and dispose of them immediately.

"They've likely departed by now," C'baoth informed her, "returned to their feeble friends in the PPC. But it's best to be sure." Waving one hand, he stood firm as a strong gust of wind lifted the tent away from them and carried it off into the mountains. Looking at the now-visible door to PPC HQ, he smiled. "Not long now," he murmured. "Not long now."

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