Curious, Agent Blue peered in to the strange, glass pod, trying to make out what the shape was in the liquid. Beside him, his partner was holding a short sword warily, looking up and down the long, strange room, to make sure that nobody had seen them.
"Can you see what's in it yet?"
Blue squinted at the pearly goo as it slowly swirled in the deep, glass oval shape.
"No, the stuff is too thick. Unless it's just goo in there."
"I doubt it. There was definitely some kind of shadow in there, before. Try a different one."
Moving on to the next pod, the assassin pressed his face to the warm glass, making it mist up. The shimmering liquid, for a moment, revealed a dark shadow, before it was lost again to the swirl.
"It's... no, I thought I'd seen something, but it's gone again."
He turned around and leant against the mysterious object, and ran his hand through his bright blue hair in frustration.
"I wish we could just..."
Suddenly, there came a hiss from the pod, and the pearly liquid began to vanish down a pipe.
"What did you do?"
"How should I know!? I just leaned against the stupid thing! Hey, is that a person in there?"
Sure enough, as the thick, pearly substance drained away, a human form was left behind, limply resting on the bottom of the glass. As the form became clearer, Blue realised he was looking at a girl. She looked as though she was sixteen or seventeen, had perfect skin, a tiny waist, and long, thick hair. She still shone vaguely, like a pearl sitting in an oyster shell.
As the two, stunned agents stared, their mouths slack, a door opened from beyond the mass of pods, and a figure came hurrying down the row, clipboard in her hand. As she approached, Blue's partner, Tango, grabbed his wrist and dived down in to the shadow beneath the next pod along. There was no time to run anywhere; besides, running figures in such a still place would have been far too noticeable.
The newcomer, dressed in a long, white coat, pressed some buttons on a small, black device which looked disturbingly similar to the CAD in Tango's backpack, which lay, unfortunately, in the middle of the floor. Blue swore under his breath. They would be incredibly lucky not to get noticed, now.
However, somehow, the colourless woman in the white coat hadn't seemed to notice it, yet. Instead, there was a click from the glass pod, and the top half of it lifted up. The girl inside opened her eyes, blinked a couple of time, and then stood up gracefully, stepping over the side, dripping the pearly shimmer on to the floor around her feet. As she did so, Blue pulled himself forwards on his arms, leaving the safety of the shadow, and reached out for the backpack.
"Sue-15809 has been released early, reason unknown," said the woman suddenly, speaking in to a walkie-talkie, "We may be able to salvage it, though, as it appears to be normal." An inaudible reply came through, and she took the arm of the girl, who was staring blankly in to space, and began to walk away.
Blue froze as he managed to get hold of one of the straps, looking up at the retreating figures.
"Did she just say...?"
The woman, however, had heard the shocked whisper. Whipping around, her colourless eyes met with Blue's, and she gave an ear-piercing shriek.
Not needing to be told twice, Blue leapt to his feet and chased down the rows and rows of seemingly endless pods. Behind them, the colourless woman was howling; "PPC! PPC!"
Ahead of him, Tango stopped momentarily, and then jumped to one side, vanishing between two pods. As he drew near, Blue saw her crawling away down a small access tunnel. Checking over his shoulder to be sure the colourless woman couldn't see, he followed.
The tunnel was fairly short, and the agents re-emerged some five minutes later in a different part of the factory. Here, there were no pods, but rather offices. As Tango carefully replaced the panel over the tunnel, Blue peered through the nearest window.
In the small room on the other side, a woman in a pink dress sat talking to a man in the same style of white coat as the woman in the factory had been. Blue couldn't hear what they were saying, but just looking at the woman made him feel ill. She was a 'Sue, he could practically smell it. As Tango came over to stand next to him, he whispered, "I don't know what this place is, exactly, but HQ needs to know about it. Come on."
The pair walked quietly down the corridor, constantly looking around to ensure they hadn't been spotted. As they passed each window they ducked, but couldn't resist looking in. Some of the rooms were empty, some were occupied by white-coated humans, and some, the most disturbing, contained groups of girls similar to the one in the pod, clad in 'Sue clothes and standing, motionless, in ordered ranks.
The last window in the corridor was larger than the others. "Come on," urged Tango, "let's just get outside and portal home already." Blue, ignoring her for once, peered in through the window.
At first, all he saw was an empty office. It was larger than the others, and decorated less Sueishly, but still far more extravagantly than the offices of the Flowers back in HQ. Then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw movement. Turning his head, he saw a Flower - an Orchid, he thought - fully six feet tall, moving across the office. As it passed the desk, his gaze fell on the sign resting there: ADMINISTRATOR.
Blue dropped down onto his knees on the floor, literally shaking. If this place was run by a Flower, that would make it part of the PPC. But why would the PPC run a factory churning out 'Sues? It was impossible.
Tango knelt next to him, concerned. She hadn't looked in the window, and seeing Blue's reaction, she didn't want to. "Come on," she hissed. This time, Blue did so. The pair crawled out through the doors and found themselves in a large stone courtyard, empty apart from a fountain and a few potted plants. With shaking hands, Blue pulled out the Remote Activator and opened a portal back to their response centre.
"You saw what?"
"I can't believe it either, Tango, but it's true. A Flower was in charge there."
"We have to tell the SO," said Tango, jumping to her feet. Before she could take more than a single step towards the door, Blue grabbed her arm.
"We can't. He's the Deputy for Action, remember? He probably knows about it, and agrees with it."
Tango nodded and sat down again, frowning. It was true. The Sunflower Official, as the Deputy in charge of all the so-called Action Departments, those whose agents actually went out into the Worlds and fixed stories, was second in rank only to the mysterious somebody who ran the entire PPC. As one of the three most powerful entities, he would almost have to know about something of this magnitude. Tango slumped in her chair as this realisation struck her. "What can we do?"
"I don't know, Tango," replied Blue. "I honestly don't know."
"Look, maybe we should just..."
Both agents leapt out of their skin, and Blue was half way to the door before he realised that it was just the console, informing them of the existence of a new ‘Sue story.
"Jumpy?" asked Tango, but she, too, was shaky.
"Just a bit. What is it?"
"Same old, same old. Just another 'Sue from everyone's favourite continuum."
"Okay," Blue mumbled, grabbing his weapon, "Let's go hunt some factory fodder."
He sat in the cafeteria, a few missions later, staring dumbly at his food, but not seeing it. His head still buzzed with confusion, and he jumped every time a flower walked past. The girl sitting next to him, frowning, set down her knife and fork. At last, he blinked and looked up.
"You finished quickly. You're usually a slow eater."
"Actually, we've been sitting here for half an hour; you've just sat there staring in to space. What's wrong?"
He shrugged, not sure if he wanted to mention it yet. True, of all the people he knew, Imbolc would be the first person he would tell, but still...
"You can tell me, can't you?" She linked her arm through his as he picked up a stone cold chip, and then set it down again, turning his head away. The agent huffed and folded her arms. "Fine, be like that!"
"Look, Imbolc, I just..." he trailed off miserably and shrugged, unable to find words. He picked up the chip again, and started picking away at it, miserably. Feeling her gaze burning through him, he shifted uneasily, and looked around. "Not here. Come on." Leaving his tray on the table, he took her hand and pulled her through the throng of hungry agents until they stood alone in a grey corridor, as far away from any Plants as he could get.
"First, you have to promise me not to tell another soul, not even the Plants. Especially not the Plants."
Imbolc leaned against a wall, pursing her lips together tightly. "I would trust the Evermind with any secret. In fact, I have."
"This is different. Look... a couple of days ago... Eru, I have no idea how to say this..." He wrung his hands hopelessly, and then stared up at the ceiling. Impatiently, Imbolc stamped her foot.
"I have to be back in Finance in five minutes, Blue. Just say it, will you! What did we say before? No secrets!"
"Fine!" he snapped, also suddenly losing his temper He grabbed hold of her arms, clenching them tightly, and making Imbolc squeak in shock. "The PPC is corrupt, okay? Tango and I found a factory creating Mary Sues, and just guess who was running it. An Orchid! If an Orchid is in charge, that means that it's linked with this place, because nowhere else has walking, talking flowers. Your precious Evermind is implicated in this just as much as the SO and the... whoever runs this place. The Mysterious Somebody. Do you get it now? Do you..."
Is everything all right? A door further down the corridor had opened, and the Bracket Fungus, Head of the Department of Internal Security, was staring at them. Blue choked.
"Yes, sir. Sorry, sir. Lovers tiff. Don't mind us, sir."
Right. Well, you can go and fight somewhere else. With that, the Bracket Fungus disappeared back behind his door, and slammed it shut. Blue looked at Imbolc, and realised she was crying.
"Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to upset you." He went to pull her in to a hug, but she pushed him away, pulling her sleeve over her eyes.
"I need to get back to Finance, or the... or my precious Evermind will start worrying." With that, she fled off down the corridor, sobbing, in completely the wrong direction. In frustration, Blue kicked the wall, and then kicked it a couple more times for good measure, before stalking off in what he hoped was the general direction of the SO's office, where Tango was currently receiving a lecture for a foolish mistake on the last mission.
Imbolc spent the rest of her shift - unlike their Action counterparts, the Infrastructure Departments actually had set working hours - worrying about what Blue had said. It was insane, the whole idea was insane, years of working as an assassin had finally driven her boyfriend mad, and yet...
Agent Imbolc? I think you should move that paper.
Imbolc looked up in surprise to see the Evermind, her Head of Department, standing next to her. Then she looked back at the table and saw that the list she had been compiling was wet with tears, tears she didn't remember crying. "Sorry," she mumbled, trying to wipe the water off with her sleeve.
Not like that, dear, you'll smudge it. The Evermind gently placed a tendril on Imbolc's arm. I think you should come to my office; you look like you need to talk.
Imbolc nodded and followed the Flower towards a small door in a nearby wall. Inside, the office was small, functional, and grey, as with most rooms in HQ. Imbolc sat down on the single chair - the Evermind was one of the few Flowers to get on well enough with her agents to have a chair in her office - and looked at the Evermind, who was settling behind the desk. "Yes, ma'am?"
Imbolc, something is worrying you. The Evermind leaned forward against the desk. If there's anything I can do to help, just name it.
Imbolc looked at the Flower and decided to trust her, despite Blue's warning. "It's... it's my boyfriend. Agent Blue."
What has he done? The Evermind jerked upright. If he's hurt you...
"No!" Imbolc exclaimed. "No, it's nothing like that. It's just... he discovered something. A factory, making Mary-Sues. And... he says it was run by a Flower."
The Evermind gripped the edge of the table in shock. What? That, that's absurd. The only Flowers are here, at the PPC. So that would mean... She stopped, and her leaves paled in shock. Is he sure of this?
"I don't know," admitted Imbolc. "We didn't have much time to talk, I had to get back here..."
I think I need to talk to Blue, said the Evermind. Imbolc began to nod, and then realised something.
"He won't talk to you. He's deathly afraid that all the Flowers are in on this, and what with you being Head of Finance and Deputy for Infrastructure..." She left the sentence hanging, hoping the plant would understand.
I see. The Evermind rose up to her full height. Well, then, I think I will have to do some research of my own. Agent Imbolc, you are a mess. Take the rest of the day off.
"Yes. Thank you, ma'am." Imbolc got up and left, calmer now, but still shaking slightly. The Evermind remained in her office, thinking.
Later, during the hours when most of the Finance Department were asleep, the Evermind walked into the Archive. Around her were list after list of financial transaction, showing the money coming into the PPC and being given out to weaponsmiths, technology companies, and to the Agents and Flowers as salaries. The Evermind had sometimes wondered where the money coming in came from, but had never moved herself to find out. I should have, she thought.
Taking a random box of files from the In shelves, she ran her eye down a list. Most the entries were small, agents bringing in things they had taken from dead 'Sues. There were a couple of larger ones from investments made in various Canon worlds, but two figures stood out as larger than the others by several orders of magnitude.
PPC Bioengineering Inc., read the Evermind. She had never heard of it, but with PPC in the name, it was unlikely to be the factory Imbolc had mentioned. Of far more interest was the other entry, marked only with the code FGenMS01. What could that stand for? she wondered aloud. Replacing the box on the shelf, she took the sheet of paper to her office and logged her computer onto the Database. Typing in the code, she clicked 'Go', and waited.
In the headquarters of the Department of Internal Security, the police force of the PPC, Agent Nendil jumped as his console flashed up an alert. As he read it, a cruel grin appeared on his face. Turning in his seat, he called out "Sir! We've got someone accessing a Forbidden!"
The Bracket Fungus moved over. Show me, he said. Nendil clicked on the button and brought up the report from the Database.
"A search for the code 'FGenMS01' is being run from the office of the Evermind, Head of Finance," Nendil said. The Bracket Fungus rustled, disturbed. He remembered the Evermind, of course. As a Deputy, she was one of the Flowers that he was supposed to convert to their cause. However, every effort of his had been in vain. Perhaps, he mused, it is time to take a different route.
"Sir?" said Nendil. "Should I block the request?"
No, no, he said, let it go through. Then continue to monitor her activities. Leaving his subordinate to his work, the Bracket Fungus moved back to his own console and put in a call to the Nightshade.
The Nightshade pressed a button. Yes? she said, in a bored tone.
The Evermind is searching for information on the factory, came the reply from the Bracket Fungus. I'm recommending elimination.
And you want the Mysterious Somebody's permission first? The Nightshade rustled her petals. I'll ask.
Putting the Fungus on hold, the Nightshade opened another line to her boss' office. The Mysterious Somebody rarely left that office, and few had ever been inside. Only the Nightshade, as Secretary, had access to the office's communication system, and she wasn't sure she wanted it.
On the console's screen a blurred black silhouette appeared, and a distorted voice came from the speaker. "What is it?"
The Nightshade relayed the conversation with the Bracket Fungus to the entity who ran the entire PPC. When she finished there was a short crackle from the speaker, which could have been a heavily distorted laugh, or could have been a clatter of mandibles. Then the Mysterious Somebody spoke again.
"Eliminate her," said the disturbing voice, and the connection broke. Shaking slightly, the Nightshade reopened the line to the Bracket Fungus.
The Evermind stared at the screen in shock. 'FGenMS01', it stated, 'The Factory for Mary-Sue Generation. This factory was originally designed as a prototype, but ran so efficiently that no further models were required. The facility is run by the Orchid...' The page went on, but the Evermind was no longer paying attention. It's true, she said, stunned, it's all true.
Hardly thinking about it, she held down the intercom button and set it to address all corridors in HQ. Agents and Officials of the PPC, she said, this is the Evermind of the Department of Finance. I have discovered important information about our organisation, and am calling a general meeting in the cafeteria in three hours time. Please be there. She closed the line, and slumped back against the wall. I have to prepare, she said in a quiet tone, I have to be ready for this.
"I think not," said a quiet voice from her wall. As a black shadow stepped forward, the Evermind stiffened.
Did you want something? she asked, trying to keep her voice level. The figure didn't speak again. It reached her, pulled out a knife and pulled it across the Evermind's stem in a single movement. As the Flower gasped and clutched at the wound, the figure bowed mockingly.
"Goodnight, Evermind," it said, and walked out, pausing only to peer at Imbolc's desk. Behind it, the Evermind slumped down to the floor. Her last thought as her vision blackened was Why is this happening? What did I do? Then the world vanished from view.
Chapter Two - Lies
The cafeteria was so full that it was overflowing. Agents were clustered everywhere; sitting on the comfy, padded chairs, leaning against walls, stood in groups, and sitting on the tables. The din created by the natter of confused voices was almost deafening, and in the centre of the room, Agent Blue offered Imbolc a bunch of colourful flowers.
"Sorry about earlier, I didn't mean to yell," he apologised, blushing slightly. With an appreciative smile, Imbolc sniffed the flowers.
"They're lovely. Besides, it isn't your fault. I was pushing for an answer you didn't want to give." She wrapped his arms around her waist, and let him kiss her on the cheek, before biting her lip.
"So do you have any idea what this is about?" he asked, after they had stood in silence for a few moments. He supposed that, as she was one of the Evermind's favourites, she would be able to tell him. She bit her lip, tensing up.
"Um... you know how you said not to tell anybody about the you-know-what?" she whispered. Blue felt a cold shiver running up and down his spine, and he dropped his arms to his sides.
"You told her?"
Sorrowfully, Imbolc nodded, and clutched at her flowers, focusing her gaze firmly on her feet, and trying not to start crying again. She had been told more than once that she cried far too easily. "I'm sorry, Blue, but I was so upset after you yelled at me, and she was being so very nice about it. She said she wanted to talk to you, but I said how you don't trust the flowers."
"I can't believe you told her!" Suddenly angry, Blue ran his hand through his brightly coloured hair, and looked around, to see if anybody was listening. He saw Tango, not too far away, with a group of friends, and felt compelled to walk away from Imbolc, but didn't. Instead, he carried on looking around, as Imbolc took hold of his hand and started apologising profusely, and noticed that all the exists had been blocked by grim looking members of the DIS. Then, he noticed that they were closing in on...
"Me?" he whispered, with a dull realisation, "I told you not to say anything!" he gasped, and then, pulling his hand free, he pushed through the crowds towards where Tango was standing. The DIS Agents quickened their pace, homing in on him like sharks for the kill.
"Tango!" he yelled, "Tango, get out!" The startled girl looked towards him, confused, but didn't move. Then she shrieked, and dived in to the crowds towards him. "No, run!" he called. It was too late.
Blue felt his arm grabbed by a strong hand, and he was tripped up, bumping in to other agents as he fell. Somebody kicked him in the stomach, and he heard general cries of annoyance and shock go up around him. In the distance, he heard Imbolc call his name out in distress. Rough hands pulled him up to his knees as he continued to struggle angrily, and through the throng of assassins, he saw Tango being submitted to similar treatment.
A dark haired elf with a malicious look on his face grabbed hold of him, pressed a dagger to his neck, saying loudly enough for the entire room to hear, "Agent Blue, we are arresting you and your partner for the murder of the Evermind. Please come quietly, and don't make a scene."
The room went silent, and, overcome with shock, Blue stopped struggling and stared up at the smug Elf in horror.
"What!?" he whispered in to the silence.
"I said, we are arresting you for the murder of the Evermind. You do not have to say anything. Murderer."
"I didn't do it!" he cried, and not far away, Tango also began protesting loudly, kicking and flailing at her oppressors. "I didn't! Imbolc, I didn't do it!" The world span as he was struck in the face by one of the DIS agents, and he tried to look around for his girlfriend. "Imbolc! I didn't! You have to believe me, I could never...!" But he was struck in the face a second time, a third, a fourth, and then the world went black.
Imbolc watched as the limp bodies of Blue and Tango were carried through the mass of stunned agents. She let out a sob, and then fled from the room to find somewhere to cry.
When Blue awoke, he was unable to move. He was sitting in an uncomfortable chair, his hands tied behind it, a rope around his chest and two more around his ankles, fastening him securely to it. Keeping his eyes closed he tensed his muscles, testing the stretch of the rope. There was virtually none.
His body ached with the bruises from his beating earlier, and he felt a crusty layer of dried blood on his forehead. He had no idea how long he had been unconscious, where he was, or-
He is awake. A Plant's voice echoed through his head, a familiar one that he couldn't quite recognise. A moment later, a blunt object struck the side of his head, shocking him into opening his eyes. "Gooooooooood morning!" said the girl standing in front of him, grinning wildly. "Having fun? I hope not." She clubbed him around the head again, hard enough to make him see spots.
Enough, Agent Ontic, said the voice again, and the Bracket Fungus appeared out of the shadows. We need him to remain conscious so we can interrogate him, after all.
Those words brought the memories flooding back. "Sir," he cried, "I'm glad to see someone in charge. This is all a horrible misunderstanding. I-"
I've changed my mind, said the Fungus. Hit him again, maybe he'll shut up. But, he added, as the DIS agent lifted her stick, not in the head. It's too dangerous.
"Right you are, sir," said Ontic cheerily, and slammed her stick into Blue's ribcage. He felt a bone shatter. Then, as Ontic stepped back for another blow, the Bracket Fungus moved forward. Enough. You are dismissed, Agent Ontic. Go and pull the wings off some flies, or whatever you do in your spare time.
Ontic nodded, and wandered out the door, giving Blue a quick wave and a 'See you around!' before slamming it, leaving the agent alone with the Head of the DIS.
Agent Blue, said the Fungus, let me first of all tell you that this room is not being monitored. There are no records of what takes place here. He let that sink in. Second, let me say that I believe completely of your innocence in the matter of the Evermind's death. That's not what we want to talk to you about.
The Fungus moved closer to Blue, who tried to lean away. "What do you want from me?"
We know, began the Bracket Fungus, that you and your partner recently visited a certain facility. Don't bother denying it, he added, as Blue drew breath, Agent Tango has already admitted as much.
Now, as you may have suspected, that factory is run by the PPC. We gain a large portion of our funds from it, as the Evermind discovered. Unfortunately, certain members of our organisation would not agree with the Mysterious Somebody's methods. If they found out, they would shut off that source of funding. To put it simply, cutbacks would be made. Agent salaries would be seriously reduced. We don't want that. Do you?
"No, sir," said Blue, hoping that he would be released if he agreed. The Bracket Fungus made a motion that could have been an approving nod.
Good. Then I'm sure you'll agree to forget the whole issue and never speak of it again. Blue nodded silently, but the Plant had not finished. In the interests of security, we will also require you not to mention anything that occurred while you were in our custody. And, of course, you will sign a statement saying that all your injuries were self-incurred. The agent nodded again, but uncertainly. The Fungus moved closer.
Naturally, you will be moved to a different department, and not be allowed contact with any of your former colleagues. And you will provide a list of everyone you came into contact with between your exiting the factory and your arrest, so that we can investigate them.
"No," Blue said, thinking of Imbolc. "I won't do it."
No? The Fungus sounded surprised. You should know that your partner has already agreed to these conditions, and in fact has already been released into the care of her new partner, Agent Carreg, in the Disturbing Acts of Violence Department.
"No," Blue said again, "you're lying. Tango would never do that. And nor will I."
Ah, Agent Blue, said the Bracket Fungus regretfully, as the door opened and Ontic and the elf who had arrested him entered again, such a pity. Maybe a few sessions with Agents Ontic and Nendil will change your mind. The Plant left, closing the door behind it.
Imbolc was sitting in the cafeteria, not paying much attention to her food. It had been two days, as nearly as these things could be measured in HQ, since Blue and Tango had been arrested. She was worried, but also somewhat wary of worrying. What if it was true? What if Blue really had killed the Evermind?
"No," she muttered, glaring at the salad on the table before her, "I won't believe it." At that moment, in accordance with the Laws of Narrative Comedy, the PA system buzzed.
"This is the Department of Internal Security. Following arrests made earlier this week, Agent Blue of the Department of Mary-Sues has been charged with the murder of the Evermind, Head of the Department of Finance. His partner, Agent Tango, has been released without charge. To prevent any future incidents, we request that all agents inform the nearest DIS officer of any suspicious activity. We thank you for your cooperation in helping to keep the PPC a safe working environment."
The announcement finished with a crackle, but Imbolc was no longer listening. It was true. Blue had done it. And now she had lost both of them. Burying her head in her arms, she sobbed. As she did so, she felt somebody curl their arms around her shoulders comfortingly, making her jerk back up again in the hope that it was... but no. Instead of Bl... instead the person she'd hoped it was, a girl with the DIS insignia on her arm sat there, smiling softly. Imbolc quickly tried to brush away her tears, but they wouldn't stop flowing.
"There, there sweetie, don't cry. Here, use my hankie." The strange agent offered a delicate white handkerchief, on which was embroidered a bunch of blue flowers. Blue, just like... Imbolc let out a wail and cried even harder.
"I guess you miss Blue, huh?"
Nodding, with her tear-streaked face still hidden in her hankie, Imbolc let the other agent hug her warmly.
"What about Tango? I'm sorry you can't speak to her any more, sweetie, but it's for the best. She was more than a little mad, too, and couldn't tell the truth. Turns out that Blue had been bullying her in to agreeing with him."
Abruptly, Imbolc stopped crying and looked up. "He would never have done that! He couldn't! We were best friends, ever since... since I don't know when!"
The agent smiled pityingly again, patting Imbolcs' hand. "I'm sure you were, once, but he's a raving psychopath. You're lucky we got to him when we did; he's been raving about wanting to kill both you and Tango, sweetie, just like he killed the poor Evermind. He was jealous of how close you two were." Imbolc shook her head slowly, not wanting to believe a word that she was being told, but somehow, since the death of the Evermind, it seemed to fit.
"You're lying," she whispered, as tears began to dribble down her cheeks again, but not wholly convinced. "Let me see him."
"Oh, no sweetie! He's so crazy that if we let you see him, he'd try and rip your throat out and then, the worst part, he'd laugh! Just like he laughed when he admitted to killing the Evermind. No, it's best that you don't see him. Maybe you'd best stay away from Tango, too. There's no way of telling how much he affected her mind. Oh, don't start crying again sweetie, tears ruin your beautiful face, and you deserve so much better than to have your heart broken by treacherous scum like, well, you know who I mean." The friendly DIS agent looked at her watch, and then stood up. "Keep the hankie, sweetie, you need it more than I do. If you run along to finance now, I think you'll be just in time to welcome your new boss. From what I hear, she's as lovely as the Evermind was - I'm sure you'll be getting along fine and dandy in no time at all."
Pulling Imbolc unsteadily to her feet, the agent smiled one final time, and pulled the girl in to a bear hug, giving her a little peck on the cheek.
"Remember sweetie, if you ever need a friend I'll be here for you." As she turned her back and began to walk away, with a little wave, Imbolc called after her; "What's your name?"
"Agent Ontic, sweetie. Ask for Agent Ontic."
In her office, the Nightshade stared at her reflection in the mirror, making occasionally adjustments to her petals, and admiring herself from various angles. The piles of paper work sat on her desk, virtually untouched, when the Bindweed left the Mysterious Somebody's office, clearly pleased with herself.
You got the post, I take it.
Of course I did. The Mysterious Somebody needs loyal servants around him. The next to go will be the SO, if nothing can be done with him. Maybe you'll get the post. I'll make sure to put in a good word for you.
Tearing her gaze away from the mirror, the Nightshade snorted indignantly. As if I would want the post. Just think; all that time lecturing a bunch of insane misfits who can't keep their weapons to themselves, and look simply awful. I'd rather trade places with the Orchid, thank you. At least there, they have some respect for authority.
There was silence in the room for a moment as the pair considered this point, and then the Bindweed shrugged, sauntering to the door.
Whatever you like. If you want the SO's post, though, I'm sure all you'd have to do is ask. We need a few more loyal friends in that area, anyway.
Thanks, but I'll still stay around up here. Will you be up here again for lunch, tomorrow? It's so much nicer with two.
No, not tomorrow. The MS has said that I have to ‘befriend' some of the agents. You know -- the ones who could cause trouble.
Ah, yes. Well, I'll see you again. Good luck.
The Bindweed nodded courteously and left, closing the door silently behind her. As soon as the Nightshade was sure she was alone, she picked up a sheet of paper, scrunched it up, and then threw it across the room as hard as she could. The little ball bounced off a picture in which she was with the Evermind and the Bindweed, clearly having fun. Oh for the good old days, before the factory and Bioengineering Inc. Had she not been so practically minded, the Nightshade would have wished herself back there in a second, without hesitation. However, that would have been impossible.
Instead, she turned her attentions back to the present, and what was to be done about the situation. Nothing public, obviously, and nothing major. Something hardly noticeable that would, nevertheless, prove to be an annoyance to the Mysterious Somebody. The greedy pig.
Picking up a folder entitled ‘Mysterious Industries,' the flower flipped through it until she found the number she was looking for, and then dialled it quickly.
Hello? It's the Nightshade, calling on behalf of the Mysterious Somebody. I want the status report sent as soon as possible, please...
Agent Tango slumped down into a chair as her partner, Carreg, closed the portal that led from their first mission. Dropping the Remote Activator onto the console, he seated himself on the edge of a nearby table and looked at her. "Well, that was horrific," he commented. Tango nodded tiredly.
"So," continued Carreg, "we didn't really have a chance to chat before the mission." That was an understatement, to Tango's mind. She had come straight here from the offices of the DIS, still nursing a bruised rib, and had hardly even stepped through the door before the console started up with its awful racket, stabbing through her skull and making her realise just how tired she was. But she didn't have a chance to rest - the mission came first, and in DAVD, that usually meant blood and screaming.
"So..." said Carreg, still trying to make conversation, "you're new to DAVD, are you?" Tango nodded.
"Yes, I used to be..." she trailed off, uncertain as to whether telling him about her past would constitute a violation of her agreement with the DIS. To her relief, he held up a hand.
"No need to tell me about it, lass. I've never bothered to keep track of all the other departments. I work for the Big Thorn, and that's all I need to know." Tango smiled, relieved not to have to try to think. Then, remembering again how tired she was, she slumped into the chair. Immediately, Carreg was at her side.
"Hey, now, lass, don't be falling asleep here. There's a bed in the other room, you can nap there." With that, he pulled her gently to her feet, led her into the side room and sat her on the edge of the bed. "There, now, isn't that better?"
"Yes," said Tango, curling up on the bed, "thank you." He smiled, gave her a little wave, and left the room, closing the door behind him. Tango fell asleep almost immediately.
Far away, Imbolc was just returning to the Department of Finance. Sitting down at her desk, she glanced over at the Evermind's office, expecting it to be empty, as it had been for the last couple of days. To her surprise, however, a light was on. It must be the cleaners, she thought, and looked down to the pile of paper in front of her. The first piece was a note to her. In a neat, flowing script were the words 'Please see me in the office. B.'
Puzzled, she walked over to the office, knocked, and heard a Flower's voice saying If you are Agent Imbolc, enter. If not, please get back to work. Imbolc entered, looked at the desk, and stared.
She had been expecting to see a plant standing or sitting behind the wooden desk. Instead, the entire desk appeared to have been wrapped in a thick green rope, from which large leaves protruded at intervals. In the centre of the desk, a strand of the rope - presumably the stem of the Plant - was raised, and a cup-shaped white flower was pointed in her direction. "Ah... sir?" she said, uncertainly.
It's ma'am, actually, replied the Plant, but no matter. Please, take a seat. One tendril of green snaked away from the desk and pulled a chair over to Imbolc. She sat down warily as the strand moved back to its position.
Now, then, Agent Imbolc. I am the Bindweed, and as you may have guessed, I am to be your new Head of Department. Imbolc nodded silently, uncertain she wanted another Flower replacing the Evermind.
Now, continued the Bindweed, I am given to understand that you were close to the Evermind. I'm sure her death struck you hard, as it did all of us. Imbolc nodded again, and the Flower made a sympathetic noise. It was a great shame. But, I'm afraid, life must continue. I wish that we all had time to spend mourning her loss, but the Department of Finance must keep running. You understand that, surely?
Imbolc nodded a third time, and the Plant rustled approvingly. Good, very good. So I can rely on you to continue working at your former high standard, can I?
"Yes, ma'am," said Imbolc. "May I leave now, ma'am?"
Oh, come now, Agent, replied the Flower, there is no need to be so cold with me. I know I cannot replace the Evermind, but surely we can still be friends?
"I have to get back to work," Imbolc said, standing up and running her sleeve across her eyes to wipe away the tears of grief. "Was there anything else?"
No, by all means, go, replied the Bindweed. When Imbolc had left, almost at a run, the Flower tutted to herself. I'll have to work on her, she said to the empty office. Then, turning her mind to other things, she glanced around at the walls of the office. And I simply must do something about the décor. Even as she spoke, some of her tendrils began to lengthen, preparing to spread out over the walls.