“You first,” said Sarah, pushing Male!Go Go towards the door of the Lichen’s office. “I know I’m supposed to take the shot for us both, but I’d rather not let him see me straight away.”
“How is that a problem?” the replacement shot back. “You said that girl I helped out of that plot hole was my canon counterpart, right? She would’ve told you to stop whining and woman up, and that’s what I’m going to tell you right now.”
“I know, but the Flowers’ wrath is terrifying! And this is coming from someone who can punch down entire buildings with enough speed.”
The other was silent for a minute. “So why not just confront him directly? You should at least apologize for screwing up.”
“Of course I will, but—”
“No buts. You broke it, you buy it. Idiot.”
“I’m not an idiot! I’m just—”
Short-sighted, short-tempered, and short-witted, a voice that sounded like John Cleese echoed in both of their heads. Miss Squall, inside my office. Now. And you too, Mister or Miss Tomago.
Sarah and Male!Go Go both stared at each other, wearing identical expressions of terror. The Super gulped, slowly opened the door, and crept into the office. The replacement followed after her, closing the door behind him/her.
Hello to both of you, said the Lichen. I assume you received the message delivered to your RC, Miss Squall?
Then you should know why I had you brought here.
She gave him a pleading look for a moment, and then bowed her head. “It’s because I talked to Hiro, right?”
More specifically, you informed him of the nature of fanfiction, along with some implications of the nature of the PPC. And let’s not get into the fact that your impulsiveness led to a piece of our equipment getting destroyed —
“But I got it fixed up!”
By convincing the Sue of the fic to repair it. You are not supposed to interact with the Sue unless it is to execute her. I am very surprised that you overlooked that very basic rule.
“But she charged—” Male!Go Go began.
Regardless of whether charges were pressed or not, I was told that the fic in question was in first person , the Lichen cut in. This means that there would be a Sue-wraith, and your partner notwithstanding, interacting with such entities in any manner which would allow them to exist freely within the continuum they are infesting is strictly prohibited.
On top of that, giving Hiro enough information to piece together our purpose was a dangerous move, even if you fully intended to have his memory wiped via FicPsych after the fact. I understand that the circumstances were extenuating at the time, but you must know that you essentially brought them upon yourself. I’m afraid to say, Miss Squall, that you are growing… soft .
Sarah and Male!Go Go looked at each other, horrified. The Super gulped and turned back to the Lichen before asking, “S-so… W-what does that mean?”
Your idealism is blind at times, Miss Squall. We simply cannot allow Suvians to roam freely just because we see even the slightest hope of redemption in them, and I hoped you’d understand that sooner.
“We don’t! That’s why—”
The option of recruitment remains valid, but a Suvian, or an ex-Suvian, must not only have enough of a personality to be salvageable, but must also have a willingness to leave their continuum behind for the safety of them both . This is exactly why we ultimately had to go through with severing your ties with the canonical Parr family, as well as the relationship you and Mr. Carmine had with Pit and Palutena.
“You neuralyzed Pit?! ” Sarah cried. “But—”
We know Palutena’s knowledge is technically infinite, but Pit is aware of only so much, and on top of that, he is a main character . And what applies to him applies tenfold to Hiro, who lacks any ability to break the fourth wall whatsoever.
The next few seconds passed in silence. Then Male!Go Go spoke up.
“Does this mean we’re in trouble?”
That is not in my jurisdiction. You, as far as I am aware, are as willing to stand down for the sake of your home as anyone. As for Sarah, however…
The agent in question quailed at the Lichen’s telepathic equivalent of a death glare, and immediately started to sob. “I’m s-so sorry… I… I had no choice… H-he wouldn’t stop asking, and… and…”
It’s good that you acknowledge your mistake, but do not assume that I’ll be letting this go entirely. Even if you don’t encounter Suvians in every single mission you receive, there are still times when you can’t, and shouldn’t, hold back — plenty more in fact than when you should. I can only hope that you and your partners can cope with your missions becoming more… difficult from here on out. And if I ever hear of anything like this happening again with your involvement, you will be answering to the SO himself. His tone of ominous foreboding resonated in the agent’s head. Do I make myself clear, Miss Squall?
Sarah felt a shiver of terror tickling her spine, and nodded fervently. “Y-yes! It’ll n-never happen again! P-promise!”
You’d better make good on that promise, Miss Squall. For now, get out of my office, take Mister or Miss Tomago to FicPsych, and make sure they settle in — including all the paperwork for registration. Oh, and find a new name for them while you’re at it. They need to define themselves as their own character now that they’re here to stay.
Sarah nodded again, and slowly backed out of the office, not daring to look at anywhere that the Lichen didn’t cover until she was through the doorway. Male!Go Go gave the Lichen one last apologetic glance, and headed out to follow her.
“I’m sorry that you had to see that,” Sarah said when the replacement caught up with her.
“It’s not your fault, Sarah,” replied Male!Go Go. “Not entirely.”
“No, it was. If I hadn’t been so pissed off at everything, I wouldn’t have gotten into so much trouble!”
“What happened? Did you have a bad day before the mission happened?”
She looked at him gloomily. “Did I explain that?”
“You told me about what the PPC does, and who you are. You didn’t go into anything more specific, but I’m guessing you went on another mission before the one where you brought me here.”
She blinked. “Well, yeah. How did you know, though?”
“Just a guess.” Male!Go Go rubbed the back of his/her head. “Anyway, the Lichen said I need a new name…”
“I don’t have time for that, sorry. I just need to get you to FicPsych and get things done with you ASAP.”
“Okay, but I just need to know where to start. Any advice?”
“What do I know or care? Just pick something generic in Korean and use that!” She rubbed her temple. “Preferably something that’s good for both genders because for the record, I don’t know whether you’re a boy or a girl or…”
Sarah kept grumbling like this for the next ten minutes, and she didn’t even realize that they’d arrived at FicPsych until she all but walked into the space of wall next to the check-in counter.
“Can I help you?” asked Dr. Freedenberg.
“I’m just here to get somebody checked in,” Sarah replied, the glower still etched on her face. “First-time appointment, badfic refugee. Needs a new name and a weekend’s worth of rehab.”
“Hey!” Male!Go Go’s suddenly cross expression was entirely justified. “I wasn’t the one who made a mess of things, Hiroko was! And for the record, I have a new name already.”
Sarah whipped round to stare at him, for a moment forgetting to look annoyed. “You came up with one? All by yourself?”
“Yeah. Seung-Li Kim. It’s not the best choice, but—”
“It’s perfect,” Dr. Freedenberg replied with his typical warm smile, offering a clipboard with an appointment form. “Now, if you could just sign in with some of your preliminary information…”
Sarah decided that Seung-Li had things pretty much covered by this point, so it was pointless for her to stick around. Might as well bail out while she had the chance. Without giving the ex-replacement and the doctor a backward glance, she turned and made for the door leading back out into—
“ Sarah?! ”
Oh, no … was the last thought the Super had before a feathery blonde blur tackled her at top speed. Her natural resistance to inertia allowed her to remain standing, but her getaway plan was ruined in less than a second.
“Hey, V.R.! Where have you been? ” Sarah tried to sound friendly, though she wasn’t sure if her tone was convincing enough.
Violet — the angel, not the canonical Super — disengaged from her with a bright-eyed grin. “Training. I moved in with a Floaters team back around Valentine’s Day, and I’ve already been on a mission. You would not believe the shit some people come up with. I fought a demon. A literal demon!”
Sarah heard hoofbeats coming towards her, and she turned to see a four-foot-tall, bespectacled unicorn, with a dark green coat and a curly brown mane and tail.
“Vi, none of us fought Marco and you know it,” said the unicorn. “Well, technically you and Miguel did, but you got thrown to the ground and Miguel had to throw a mini-Sue at him.”
“My version sounds cooler.” Violet shrugged.
Sarah blinked twice. “…Do I know you?”
“Probably not. Ami, this is one of my rescuers, Sarah Squall. Sarah, Ami Seeker.”
Sarah waved meekly, glancing towards the door.
“You must be Falchion’s sister,” Ami realized. “He told me a little about you on my first mission. Nice to finally meet you!” She held out a front hoof.
On any other occasion, Sarah would’ve immediately squeed and started cuddling Ami like a fanbrat. As it was, though, she facepalmed and sighed in dismay.
“Well, same to you, I guess,” she replied, shaking Ami’s hoof. “Look, I’ve had a long day, so I just wanna get back to my RC and get some sleep…”
“No no, stay!” said Violet. “I’ve been meaning to introduce you to Ami for a while now, and the last thing we need is for you to bail on us! Please?”
“Ugh, fine. But make it quick. I’ve gotta see to it that Seung-Li over there gets used to this place.”
They all looked at the former Go Go replacement, who waved at them.
“What continuum is he from?” asked Ami.
“They. Seung-Li’s a genderbent replacement, so I’m not too sure what gender they are at the moment. And to answer your question, Big Hero 6. ”
Ami’s eyebrows went up. “Don’t think I’ve heard of that one… sounds like some anime Chris would be into.”
“Both of you certainly look like anime characters,” Violet added. “Where are you from, anyway, Sarah?”
“Oh, me?” Sarah laughed and rubbed the back of her hair. “I’d rather not get into the details, but I was created when my authors came up with the idea of resurrecting some of the dead Supers discussed in my home verse ( The Incredibles , in case anyone’s wondering). Unfortunately, they decided it’d also be cool to get a bunch of dinosaurs involved.”
“ Jurassic Park , right?” Ami sighed sadly. “My sympathies.”
Sarah stared at her. “How did you know?!”
“Falchion mentioned that on our first mission, too,” she explained. “I’m glad my author, whoever she is, never did something like that.”
“He’s grown out of that phase, don’t worry,” Sarah cut in. “And anyway, he knows better than to add out-of-place stuff he thinks is cool and the like, so it’s not like a dino’s gonna walk in on us or something… heheh… uh…”
Sarah trailed off, the color draining from her face, as the three of them realized that a huge shadow was looming over them. Pausing only to glance at each other in stark terror, they slowly turned around… and came face-to-face with a Tyrannosaurus rex .
The booming roar blew the girls’ hair back and made the walls tremble. All three of them grabbed onto each other and screamed at the top of their lungs.
What they didn’t expect was for the T. rex ‘s scaly lips to suddenly curl up in a smirk before it let out a snort like a steam locomotive, and then collapsed to the floor, howling with laughter.
“Gotcha, didn’t I?” she said in a female voice. “Oh, I wish you could’ve seen the looks on your faces… Priceless!”
“What the fuck is your problem , lady?!” said Violet.
Ami, still holding on to Sarah, closed her eyes and began whispering to herself. “Long ago, there existed a kingdom where a golden power lay hidden. It was a prosperous land blessed with green forests, tall mountains, and peace. But one day, a man of great evil found the golden power and took it for himself. With its strength at his command, he spread darkness across the kingdom. But then, when all hope had died, and the hour of doom was at hand, a young boy clothed in green appeared as if from nowhere…”
Sarah stared at Ami in utter confusion. But before she could say anything, a yellow disc whizzed over their heads and struck the dinosaur on the jaw.
“OW!” she roared. “What’s the big idea?!”
“That wasn’t funny!” Seung-Li cried out, having joined the others at that moment. “You could’ve given one of those girls a reason to stick around longer than they could’ve!”
“Besides, people are working here,” Dr. Freedenberg called from the counter.
“Oh… Sorry ‘bout that!” The T. rex gave them an embarrassed look, held up one of her tiny two-fingered hands in a “just a second” gesture, and started fiddling around with a bracelet on her wrist. There was a flash of light, and in her place, there stood a young woman with short blonde hair, military pants, and a black military Kevlar vest under an unzipped green dinosaur hoodie.(1)
“How do I look?” she asked, grinning at the others, before picking up the maglev disc and handing it back to Seung-Li. “I believe you dropped this, by the way.”
“Hey, is that a D.O.R.K.S. on your arm?” asked Sarah, giving Seung-Li a silent gesture to stand down after they’d gotten the disc back.
“What does it look like to you? I have to be in this form to move about comfortably in the tunnels! It’s weird being a hairless mammal with these oversized arms—” The blonde waved her hands in the air “—but I guess I’ve gotta make do. I’m Suta, by the way!”
“…Interesting name,” said Ami. “Where’d you come from?”
“Oh? From what I was told, I’m from this obscure anime film called You’re Umasou or something. I guess that explains why I don’t know continua too well. So, who are you mammals, exactly? Or, uh, mammal/bird hybrid, in your case?” She nodded at the angel.
“I’m Violet, and my unicorn friend is Ami.”
“And I’m Not Amused at your little prank, thank you,” Sarah replied, shaking her head.
“Huh? Why?” asked Suta.
She leaned towards her and said, “Because the last time I ran into a T. rex who could transform into a person, she tried to kill me. Don’t you ever do that again!”
“Relax, ladies,” said a new voice, like that of an Asian man — but owned by a serpentine, black-scaled creature with whiskers and antlers, which had slithered up to join them. “She’s with me.”
Ami meeped and backed away from the new arrival.
“Oh, wow, a Chinese dragon!” Violet grinned.
“Hey, I thought you said you were going to wait outside until I was done with my appointment!” Suta said, looking visibly annoyed, before returning to Sarah. “And whomever you are, I’m so sorry. I didn’t know.”
“You’re fine, as long as you don’t go rampaging through HQ. And for future reference, I’m Sarah.”
“As for the matter of waiting for you, Suta,” said Tianlong, “I certainly would have, but I realized that I have a personal obligation to exchange urgent communications with someone myself. I am Tianlong, by the way. DIA.” The dragon offered a whisker for any one of them to shake.
Ami waved a hoof weakly. “I-I’m Ami, Floaters… please don’t eat me…”
“That would be the height of rudeness, I assure you,” said Tianlong primly. “Besides, in my homeland, Oriental dragons like me are symbols of good fortune. Unicorns, qilins, and other such magical ungulates are not included in our diet.”
“Nice to meet you as well,” said Sarah, cautiously grasping the feeler and shaking it. “But, uh, who are you talking with here at FicPsych?”
“That would be me.”
Everyone turned, their expressions suddenly tense, and Sarah’s stomach turned over. A white-furred lioness with eagle’s wings and an albino African woman’s face glowered at them all. She shook her head just slightly and murmured, “Children…”
“Hello, Mafdetiti,” said Tianlong, bowing his head towards her. “I was concerned that the nurses had already sent you back into field duty, but it seems I was mistaken.”
Rashida nodded to her former partner, before returning her glare to Sarah. “Nice of you to stop by.”
“Well, I wasn’t planning to stay!” Sarah replied, folding her arms and returning the glower. “I was just here to see someone off and then head back to do some paperwork!”
“Too bad,” Rashida growled, glaring at her. “I was actually hoping to speak to you. Unfortunately, I don’t have any more direct line to my partners at the moment — which is more than a little inconvenient, because your brother is the closest connection I have to our author.”
“Our author? So, he wrote you as well?”
“A long time ago, yes.”
Violet undid and redid her ponytail. “What brings you to this neck of HQ?”
“Originally, she was here on mandatory leave of absence,” Tianlong explained. “The details are sketchy, but from what I gathered, her anger issues were in dire need of addressing…”
“Wasn’t she always this cranky, though?” Suta asked, pouting.
“I wish I could say no, alas. Discovering her history took quite a toll on her psyche.”
“And that’s all we’re going to say about that,” Rashida cut in. “I’ve decided to extend my off-duty period a little.”
“Why?” asked Seung-Li.
The Sphinx agent looked down towards her paws. “I know this is supposed to be confidential, but… I’ve had my first prophecy.”
Everyone stared at her. Sarah’s mouth fell open, and then she started speaking very fast. “Tell me more! Adam has to know this, maybe he can help! If his author wrote all of us, maybe he can provide some answers!”
“Why did you think I wanted to contact him?” Rashida glowered at her again. “At any rate, this does concern you as well to some extent, so it would be best for you to join us at my ward.”
“And if anyone is willing to keep a secret, they can come too,” the dragon added. “I feel it would be worth having a third or fourth opinion on this matter.”
“Sarah rescued me, so of course I’m coming,” said Violet.
Ami pawed at the floor. “Um… I’ll have to pass, thanks. I don’t wanna be late for my session with Nurse Robinson. I hope whatever ends up happening works out well for all of you.”
“Same with my nurse,” said Suta. “If anyone asks, I blame Snakey for this.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence, Ami,” said Rashida. “And Suta, my former partner was the one who bailed me and Agent Rayner out from that one fiasco last April. He deserves a lot more respect than you’re giving him at the moment.”
“Hang on, wouldn’t Sister January want to hear of this, too?” Sarah interjected.
“She’s not working with us anymore,” Tianlong replied. “I thought you already knew; she vacated HQ two weeks ago.”
“What? Why?” Sarah and Violet asked.
“We are not entirely sure at this time. All we know is that one day, she sent in her resignation notice, along with a note discussing the fact that she appears to be part of an original continuum, with nine other self-proclaimed Memory Keepers. After that, she simply walked out the nearest door, and has never returned since.”
“O…K, then,” said Violet. “Good luck to her, wherever she is. Does this have to do with the prophecy?”
“Whatever problems she may have, I think it would be best for us to leave her to deal with them herself. My only regret was that I was absent from her departure, since I would have certainly wished for her fortune in her endeavors.”
“And anyway, she was not present when the prophecy happened,” said Rashida. “You know what, I think it would be better for us to talk about this in my ward, rather than in the antechamber where everyone will overhear us.”
“So, what about the rest of us?” asked Seung-Li.
“Sorry, but you kinda need to get used to this place before getting involved with anything,” said Sarah. “And besides, this isn’t something you need to know. Just… Just go hang out in the waiting room, okay? And don’t try to bean people with spare parts while I’m gone.”
The others looked at the two of them in surprise.
“Don’t ask,” said Sarah. With that, she and Violet followed Rashida and Tianlong into FicPsych proper, leaving the rest of them to their fate.
The ward Rashida had stayed in was relatively plain, with a large couch and a chair, no doubt for regular nurse appointments, a tiger-sized cat bed, and the remains of half a dozen scratching posts all over the place. Claw marks had been gouged into the walls, and in the middle of the floor, a number of photographs, paper sheets covered in notes (some of them in Chinese), and even what looked like a tarot reading(2) were spread out in a loose circle. It reminded Sarah of the detective’s office in an old crime movie, if the detective had been a very large cat.
“Those claw marks were from sometime last month,” Rashida said upon noticing Violet staring at them. “The nurses resorted to offering sacrifices after I nearly landed one of them in Medical.”
“You actually mauled someone?! ” Sarah’s eyes were huge.
“It didn’t go that far, thankfully. But it did scare everyone so much that nowadays, nobody walks in on me when I’m in a bad mood, at least not without full body armor, a taser prod, and an air rifle stocked with at least a dozen tranquilizer darts.”
Violet cringed. “Yikes. Remind me never to piss you off.”
“Be grateful, then, that I’ve considerably mellowed out since the prophecy occurred,” Rashida replied. “Perhaps it’s a sign that my character is finally being sorted out.”
She stalked over to the collection of notes, and used her forepaw to pull out one of the note sheets. “Tianlong and I have been attempting to sort out the prophecy ever since it first occurred to me,” she said, nudging the paper over to the other girls. “I never thought anything like it could happen outside of my home continuum.”
“So it happened in your home verse?” asked Violet.
Rashida paused, staring at the wall. “No.”
“This is the first time this particular ability has manifested,” said Tianlong. “You would think she would develop a broader range of mental abilities since joining the PPC, but if she has any, she has adamantly refused to use them since the ‘Killer Mac Incident’.”
“‘Killer Mac Incident’?” Violet echoed. She went a little pale, and made a mental note not to tell Ami about this, ever . “Does that mean what I think it means?”
“Unfortunately, yes,” said Tianlong. “We are not allowed to say anything further, however, as I am sure that word of it spreading would be disrespectful to the people involved, including myself.”
Sarah abruptly changed the subject. “So, what do you mean by ‘psychic abilities’?”
“Back in our home continuum, Rashida represents the clan of Mind,” said Tianlong. “To explain, characters in our world are sorted into elemental clans, much like the factions in the Divergent book and film series. These include the classic elements such as Fire, Air, Earth, Water, Wood, and Metal, along with stranger ones like Hive, Cyber, Magic, and Dragon. A character can belong to up to two clans, and on the flipside, ordinary run-of-the-mill mortal humans do not have a clan at all unless they gain abilities through magical or otherwise extraordinary means. There are twenty-one clans in total, and each of them has a Champion — except for the Cosmic clan, which is reserved for eldritch beings such as deities.”
Violet nodded. “Like how Pit’s Palutena’s champion, right?”
“Technically, the Champions, with a capital ‘C’, are chosen by deific creatures known as the Sanctus Bestia , or Sacred Beasts. I will not go into the details, but the general idea is that they are fragments of the creator deity that have assumed their own identity; some, however, are spiritually weaker than others, and need a champion to manifest in a corporeal form. Others, like myself, are both Bestia and Champion, being able to assume a mortal guise for the sake of plot convenience.”
“Wait, you’re one of those Sancty Best thingies?!” Sarah cried. “Isn’t that way too overpowered for the PPC?”
“ Sanctus Bestia, Sarah. Of the Dragon clan, specifically. And whether or not I am too strong is dependent on your interpretation — I was told that you worked with a Kryptonian agent earlier today, am I correct?”
“Remind me what Kryptonian means?” asked Violet.
“Superman, basically,” said Sarah. “Though in this case, she’s closer to Super girl , who’s basically me except bulletproof and with laser vision.”
“It isn’t the abilities themselves that matter, but what the author does with them,” said Tianlong. “Agent Karinsdotter has as long a list of abilities as a typical Suvian, but they are not an instant-win condition. I’m told there are consequences to her using them, as there should be. The same can be said for dragons like myself, whose list of powers in mythology includes weather manipulation, shapeshifting, magical flight, spiritual affinity, and many more.”
Violet’s eyes lit up. “Cool! So can you do all of those things?”
“That, Ms. Greenfield, is wholly dependent on my author’s discretion. For now, however, I feel most confident in the DIA, where I will cause the least amount of collateral damage should I have to put my power to use.”
“What does this have to do with Rosie, though?” asked Sarah. “The psychic powers, I mean?”
“There is a reason my former partner has such a ferocious disposition,” said Tianlong. “Mafdetiti, as her name suggests, is the Champion of our home continuum’s equivalent to Mafdet, the Egyptian goddess of justice and the presider of the judgement hall in the Duat. Being judgemental is part of her nature, and among the gifts our Mafdet has given her is that of precognition.”
“Oh, she’s an oracle,” said Violet.
Rashida, who had not spoken a word up to this point, scoffed and shook her head. “It’s times like these last few weeks when I wish the real Mafdet would vaporize me like Sekhmet did to that one Harry Potter Sue a few years back. Being judged poorly by her would be better than having to live with what I’ve witnessed since joining the rest of you.”
“Wow. I, uh… I’m so sorry,” said Violet, not sure if she should feel insulted. “So what’s this prophecy about?”
“I already gave you the note sheet I wrote it on,” said Rashida, pointing to the paper in question. “Perhaps you were too distracted by Tianlong’s paragraph-breath to notice?”
“I have done my best to break up my exposition into comprehensible fragments, thank you,” the dragon replied, snorting twin puffs of smoke.
Sarah picked up the paper and read it, her eyes widening once again:
With each passing day, destruction draws near.
With each passing night brings hatred and fear.
Though a warrior with eyes of rose will lead,
A shadow reborn will finish the deed.
Five shall depart to stand against three.
But four will return, the last set free.
The sky will be graced with a pillar of flame,
Before the crimson beast is brought to shame.
Sarah’s eyes were wide and her wan face slightly sweaty by the time she was done. “Well, shit. ”
“Language, Squall,” said Tianlong, glaring at her. “And we never said that this prophecy would be anything pleasant, did we?”
“Nope, you didn’t,” said Violet. “But what does it mean? You said something about destruction drawing near…”
“Prophecies don’t always mean what you think,” said Rashida. “There can be many double-meanings in even one or two oracular sentences. But this I do know: If any event transpires where a group of five people will have to fight a group of three, there will be arguments, resentment, mass panic, and maybe even… Duat forbid… casualties .”
Sarah sat down, the paper trembling slightly. “ Five shall depart to stand against three, ” she repeated. “What five, what three?”
“From my interpretation,” said Tianlong, “that line may in fact refer to five agents fighting three extremely powerful Suvians. It seems to be the only thing that could make sense.”
“Unless you’ve got three agents against five average Sues,” said Violet. “Four Sues die, one’s recruited, four people return, and boom, catastrophe averted.”
“ But four will return, the last set free, ” quoted Rashida. “That clearly refers to a group of five people, of which one does not survive.”
“And five shall depart,” said Tianlong. “As in, depart from Headquarters to carry out the quest.”
“So, it’s gotta be five agents, and one’s pretty much fucked,” said Sarah, ignoring another stern look from the dragon. “The question is, which one?”
Rashida was silent for a few moments, and then she looked away. “I don’t know. There was no mention of who would be the one to fall. The only two characters described in some way were the rose-eyed leader and the shadow reborn.”
“I’m guessing the leader would be you, Rashida,” said Violet. “You clearly have a lot more experience than the rest of us. But on the other hand, I’m not sure pointing a gun at me and Dark Pit is a sign of leadership.”
“I didn’t think you were salvageable,” Rashida growled, shaking her head. “Perhaps I was wrong, but that doesn’t change the fact that you made an ass of yourself back there.”
Violet pouted. “Blame the Impetus miserabilis , but not me .”
“Hey, uh, can we not talk about this?” asked Sarah, stepping between the two of them. “We’ve got more important matters to take care of!”
“Going back to the prophecy,” said Tianlong, “I cannot guarantee that Rashida will be among the group of five necessarily, let alone a leader. There are many other rose-eyed agents in the PPC, and any one of them may require assistance for a particularly difficult mission.”
“There is one thing we can be more certain of, however,” said Rashida, eyeing Violet suspiciously, “and that is the notion that one of the other team members, the shadow reborn, will most likely be an ex-Suvian. And furthermore, it is they who will ultimately put an end to whatever badfic the agents will be sent into.”
Violet’s wings trembled. “For what it’s worth, I don’t think I’d be a good fit for the shadow reborn saving the day. I got flattened by that hybrid Sue’s demon bodyguard, though that was kinda my own fault for being reckless.”
“I know that feeling,” said Sarah. “And then there’s Cupid…”
“…who always has a bottle in one hand and a lady’s cleavage in the other,” Rashida finished savagely.
Sarah sprang to her feet, rounding on Rashida. “What the actual fuck?! Cupid may be a drunken useless pile of glittery ashes, but I’ve personally taken measures to keep him from glomping anybody for weeks now! How dare you?!”
“He never took advantage of me back when I thought he was Pit, either!” Violet added. “And yes, I know about the Purim Party incident a few months ago, but for all we know he’s calmed down since then! Give an angel the benefit of the doubt!”
Rashida lowered her head and growled like a panther. “He never said anything about the No-Drool videos or Anti-Lustin, didn’t he? Even if he doesn’t nosedive into people’s cleavage now , I’m erring on the side of caution here. With badfic tendencies, it’s either you do or you don’t.”
“If this conversation tells us anything,” Tianlong said, rubbing his antlered forehead in exasperation, “I do not see any circumstances in which Carmine can pull off any heroic feats of the sort described by the prophecy without immensely endangering his colleagues or causing massive amounts of collateral damage. There was the one instance where he used Yveltal to wipe out a Suvian army, to be sure, but the only reason no canons or agents lost their lives was because everyone knew well to flee in time.”
“OK, lemme recap: We don’t know who the ‘shadow reborn’ is, but we’re pretty sure it’ll be a former Sue or Stu who’s got more control and smarts than Cupid,” said Violet. “That about right?”
“Yeah, like anybody else would be dumb enough to actively provoke a Legendary into slaughtering everybody,” Sarah hissed, causing a blob of Sar-Plasm to splatter against the floor — and one of the photos strewn upon it.
“Huh? What’s that thing in the photo?” asked Violet.
Sarah looked at the picture as well, and her blood instantly ran cold. The photo looked somewhat fuzzy — and the fresh Sar-Plasm on it didn’t help matters — but she could make out the shape of some kind of flying creature approaching at alarming speeds, its leathery wings resembling those of a pterodactyl and the blurred form of a whip-like tail thrashing behind it.
“We have been trying to determine the identity of the crimson beast of the prophecy,” said Tianlong. “It could be anything, but Rashida guessed that it was a Cute Animal Friend. I, however, had a different line of reasoning.”
“Does this have to do with whatever’s pictured here?” asked Sarah.
“Over the past few weeks, I have been in contact with several other characters who have been surreptitiously stationed throughout a number of continua,” Tianlong explained. “Reports have been coming in of some sort of aerial monstrosity appearing in several of them. I have reason to believe that it may be a candidate for the crimson beast, assuming it still belongs to a badfic of some kind. There have not been any reports of it attacking canons — not yet anyway — but we have been clandestinely observing it for several months now, and I cannot guarantee the safety of our own.”
“…It’s killed people?” Violet grimaced, offering a silent prayer for Tianlong’s associates.
“Not yet, fortunately, but there have been close calls. The photograph you are holding was taken by an associate patrolling in the Legend of Zelda continuum; the beast supposedly noticed him. He managed to capture the photograph just as it was giving chase. He was fortunate to have escaped with his life — the account of the attack he delivered to me described the beast as moving faster than an arrow fired from a bow, with eyes like gildver fire and scimitars for toes that could slice through plate iron like tissue paper.”
Sarah felt even more faint than she had upon reading the prophecy. If this thing really was the crimson beast they’d been talking about, she certainly felt sorry for whomever would be sent after it.
“Tianlong first told me about this… this creature when I suggested what I thought the crimson beast of the prophecy would be,” said Rashida. “We’ve agreed to disagree on the matter because for all we know, it could be anything. It may even be an actual Suvian from a continuum where most if not all of the characters are nonhuman.”
“L-like a Pokémon?” asked Sarah.
“Or some other sapient monster,” said Violet. “Remember the Hewdraw? If they make it, someone will write about it.”
“So what does this thing have to do with it?” asked Sarah, showing the others the photo.
Rashida looked down at her note collection, pawing at several other photos also showing similar shadows. “To be honest? We can’t tell. This is merely Tianlong’s suggestion, but the vagueness of the last line of the prophecy could result in both of us being completely wrong.”
“Regardless, we still need to keep an eye out for this unknown abomination,” the dragon added. “My reason for listing it as a candidate is that from my research, it appears to be a remnant of previous iterations of our homefic, back when it was still a mega-crossover. Perhaps it is a former self-insert of our author, coadapted by someone else and twisted into a more monstrous form. Or maybe it could be something even worse, created intentionally as a weapon against us.”
Violet shivered, her feathers ruffling again. “But most of the Suethors out there don’t know about us! We don’t directly attack them, either, so they don’t often get their panties in a twist about us killing their Sues.”
“A fair point,” said Rashida. “I doubt our author would want to wage war against the PPC for any reason — especially not after his own persona indirectly put him in his place.”
Sarah sighed in relief. “I guess that’s one less motivation to worry about. But that’s not saying much, either for the prophecy or whatever the hell this thing is.”
Violet wiped the Sar-Plasm off of the photo and dropped it back onto the pile. “OK, that’s enough bad news for today; I’m heading out,” said Violet. “I gotta check in with the support group leader, plus I don’t want to get any more involved in this fuster-cluck than I already am.”
“Yeah, I should probably leave myself,” said Sarah. “Seung-Li could be done with his appointment by now, and I still have to fill out some forms for him tonight.”
“Tianlong and I will remain here for the time being,” said Rashida, “though I may get back to field duty once I’ve got a better picture of what the prophecy means.”
“As for me, I still have Suta to train, but I will certainly keep tabs on both of these issues as well,” added Tianlong. “And anyway, we have much to talk about, the two of us. I have not seen my former partner for months, and I am desperate to know how she is doing.”
“Well, I haven’t landed anyone in Medical, that’s for sure,” the Sphinx said, smirking a little before adding, “And hopefully, I don’t think I’ll do anything like that anytime soon.”
Her expression was serious, however, when she turned to the girls. “I must warn you both, however, that this information is among us and us alone, along with your partners. And even then, only they should know, and nobody else. If word of this begins to spread and the Flowers get involved…”
“My lips are sealed,” said Violet, crossing her heart for good measure. “I’ll swear my partners to secrecy, too.”
“I probably won’t talk about this to mine, though,” said Sarah, rubbing the back of her head as she made to follow her. “They already have enough trouble to deal with as it is, what with Cupid getting drunk all the time and Lapis dealing with her missing hand. Anyway, bye, guys!”
“Wait, a missing hand?” asked Tianlong, giving Sarah pause and earning a confused look from Rashida. “So what Mafdetiti told me really was true?”
The last thing the Super said before exiting after Violet was, “To be honest with you, I think seeing her in person should speak for itself!”
Meanwhile, back in the waiting room…
Upon handing the registration form back to Dr. Freedenberg, Seung-Li was told to have a seat and wait for one of the nurses to pick them up; as such, they decided to sit away from the group and let the others keep talking amongst themselves. This place was already strange enough, and getting involved in the conversation would only make things even more confusing.
The Ironic Overpower, of course, decided that they wouldn’t be alone for very long.
The noise of two people sitting next to them got their attention. The ex-replacement looked over to see a bizarre-looking, multicolored man with a long nose and a single horn, trying to comfort a shivering girl with purple hair and pointed ears. The man didn’t appear to have legs, and the girl didn’t look much older than Sarah’s younger partner…
Seung-Li made to ask what was going on, but they were quickly interrupted.
“Do not move quickly.” The multicolored man’s voice occasionally skipped like a scratched CD. “And please do not be too loud. My friend is having an episode…”
“I understand,” said Seung-Li quietly. “Hiro used to have episodes like this, last I heard. So, who are you two?”
“My name is Zeke, and my insensible friend is Adéle Bowen. I am a Porygon-Z gijinka, she is a youkai of indeterminate species. We work in the Department of Sufficiently Advanced Technology, Testing and Application Division. She builds equipment, I test its durability.” A pause. “Usually with Hyper Beam.” He paused again, and added, “Meaning that I launch waves of destructive force that are powerful enough to sear a hole through a brick wall.”
The ex-replacement decided not to question that. As if a telepathic colony of sentient algae wasn’t strange enough…
“I’m Seung-Li Kim. My rescuer told me that I…was?… a male version of Go Go Tomago from this movie called Big Hero 6 .” They glanced at Adéle. “So, how come she’s here? I’m not sure if she’s old enough to invent things without adult supervision.”
Zeke tilted his head curiously. “She is twenty-three years of age. It is an effect of her home continuum.”
“Please, miss Yuuka… I didn’t mean to…” Adéle’s whimpering was absolutely pitiable. Her bright green eyes stared in horror at something that wasn’t there.
Seung-Li raised an eyebrow. “What happened to her?”
“She has post-traumatic stress disorder.” Something shifted a bit in Zeke’s bizarre eyes. “She was eaten alive in her home continuum.”
“Oh, dear… I’m guessing her world isn’t exactly the nicest place to live in.”
“Gensokyo is not friendly, no. And she was eaten multiple times. By the same creature.”
Seung-Li did a double take. “Wait, what?”
“Adéle cannot die permanently, but she cannot forget Kaz—” Zeke caught himself. “... I should not say her name. My friend has her episodes when faced with reminders of… her . She fears flowers… which I suspect is part of the reason she chose the department she did.”
Seung-Li shook their head sadly. “Geez… I’d tell her to woman up, but that’s way more traumatic than Hiro losing his big brother. I hope she’s gonna be okay.”
Zeke’s eyes shifted again, and while his expression didn’t change, Seung-Li somehow had the feeling that he was smiling at them. “She has improved greatly since her arrival. Thank you for your concern, Kim. If you ever find yourself in the Touhou universe… beware of sunflowers. Sunflowers mean her .” With that cryptic warning, he turned back to Adéle, whose shaking had subsided slightly.
There was another period of silence before Seung-Li spoke again. “What’s DoSAT like?”
“Hm? Well… it depends on where you work. Adéle and I have a lab to ourselves… and because of the strenuous tests performed therein, the walls have been constructed to be both highly durable and soundproof. I’ve heard people compare our lab to an average Mythbusters episode on occasion. Multiple occasions.”
The Go Go replacement grinned broadly, but before they could ask for more info, they heard a nurse calling their name. They stood up with an apologetic look on their face. “Hey, uh, I have to be at my appointment now… You can tell me more when I get back. Perhaps we can meet up at the DoSAT sometime?”
“I would be delighted.” Zeke raised a hand to shake. Was it Seung-Li’s imagination, or did the upper half of his labcoat’s sleeve look empty?
They decided not to think about that. Instead, they nodded and politely shook Zeke’s hand, before making to follow the nurse through the door to their new life.
Sarah felt strangely light-headed as she made her way back to the waiting room. Violet had parted ways with her a few minutes earlier to meet with the rest of her support group, saying that she hoped to see her again sometime — and possibly Cupid as well. That, however, was the last thing Sarah was thinking about at the moment.
What had Rashida meant by “five shall depart to stand against three”? The only thing that could fit this assertion was a mission involving at least three different agent teams, and that certainly spoke a lot about the awfulness that would no doubt face them all. But why was Tianlong so worried about his former partner after they’d had a falling out so long ago?
Could this mean that Rashida was moving back to the DIA? Sarah had mixed feelings about that. On the one hand, her brother needed a strong mentor, and his other partner needed someone to set him straight. But on the other hand, she’d worked with Rashida long enough to know that her anger was unhealthy for everyone it touched… including herself.
The Super agent was so steeped in her thoughts that she almost missed a low, guttural voice as she walked past an open door. To be fair, it started quite softly, but it was impossible to miss when it escalated into a roaring tirade a few moments later.
“You think I give a Rabite’s tooth about how I treat others? I am… was… a literal monster. I had no allies, no friends, I did not exist until the rift opened in Potos Village, and I lived only to attack the hero; all I know is anger and violence! And you are telling me to let go of my anger? How can I let go of my existence!? ”
After that, a gigantic blond man burst from the door. His eyes, hair, and cloak were all the same bright yellow, and his handsome face was marred by the furious scowl it bore. He paused a moment to look at Sarah.
“…I believe Carmine told me about you. You are Squall, yes?”
She blinked. “Huh? Uh… Y-yeah! I am. Though people usually call me Sarah.”
“My name is Chakkik. I am Stephanie Podd’s partner.” He shrugged his massive shoulders. “According to Stephanie, Lapis Lazuli said I could use ‘anger management therapy.’ Tell Lazuli that my anger is my existence.”
“Well, if you say so.” She glanced towards the room he’d emerged from. “So, uh, come here often?”
“Yes. For multiple reasons. Alcoholism, my temper, my diminishing sense of self, and my combative, confrontational tendencies.” As Chakkik shifted his cloak, a small shape became visible; a potted cactus flash patch. This, the two openly-worn but empty scabbards at his hip, and the flask right next to one lent credence to all but the sense-of-self comment.
“No surprise there,” she replied before letting out a nervous giggle. “So, you’re an RPG protagonist or something?”
“In your parlance, I am a boss monster. More accurately, the Mantis Ant from Secret of Mana . The cartridge I called home was corrupted, and my world was destroyed. I am all that remains. Before you ask why I am obviously not insectoid, I have found it more practical to remain in disguise at all times. And what might you be?”
“Oh? I’m a clone of a dead canon from The Incredibles movie. Long story, I’m afraid.” She decided to change the subject. “What brought you here, anyway? Aside from your partner’s recommendation, I mean?”
“Therapy. I had an… unfortunate encounter while on a mission with my partner and both of yours…” The blond man shook his head. “That, and all of the problems already stated. I am not a stable creature.”
“Wait, did I just hear that right? My partners went on a mission with you two while I was gone?”
Chakkik blinked. “Crossover between The Little Mermaid and Pirates of the Caribbean , multiple Suvians. At least some good came out of it, for my partner; she is currently in a relationship with Carmine. Perhaps she will cease reeling me in when she falls asleep…”
“I… I don’t know what to say about this. I mean, I’m happy for Cupid having a girlfriend and all, because at least he’ll stop chasing after anything with a bust and whatnot, but…”
“I. Do not. Care.” Chakkik cut her off. “Perhaps Carmine’s intoxication was partly to blame, although Stephanie herself was quite interested in him.”
“No, that’s not what I meant! It’s just… Look, I’m not surprised that he got wasted, okay? Happens every time. But speaking as the one who helped him cope with what he once was, I don’t think there’s anything we can do about that. Believe me, I’ve tried.”
“I believe the idiom I am searching for is ‘preaching to the choir.’ Or perhaps it would be such if you were speaking to Stephanie. Or Lapis.”
Sarah blinked. “You’re referring to Lapis by her first name. Why?”
“I owe her my life. Carmine as well. Have you ever had an angry deific Suvian pointed at you?”
“…I don’t think I want to know.”
“You do not.” The huge man pulled a flask from his belt and took a long draught from it. The moment he opened it, an overpowering alcoholic stench wafted toward Sarah.
Predictably, the Super covered her nose and scowled. “That bad, huh? Bleeport I can understand, but straight-up hard liquor? Isn’t that a bit much?”
Chakkik demonstrated his problem by spitting a green glob on the floor, that started bubbling and hissing on contact. “Imagine that, filling my entire digestive tract. Anything less than this is obliterated within my body.”
“Well, if it works for you…” She glanced towards the door leading back to the waiting room. At any rate, I think I’d better be going. I’ve got some stuff to sort out for a friend. Tell Stephanie I said hi, okay?”
The disguised Mantis Ant grunted irritably in response. “And you tell Lapis that she owes me a few hands of poker.”
Sarah’s wave of farewell did nothing to hide her discomfort. Leaving Chakkik behind, she headed off towards the main ward, wondering what Lapis would think if she found out she’d met her ‘poker friend’.
“Wow, that sounds like a lot of fun!” said Nurse Loquacious Immac. “How’d you do? Was it hard? I bet it would be hard with those hooves of yours.”
“No, not really. I actually didn’t play the guitar at all, even on the songs I’d never heard before,” said Ami. “Chris said since I was the best singer and the least tech-savvy out of all of us, I should have the vocal part.”
Nurse Immac looked confused. “All of who?”
“Chris, me, Miguel, and Violet,” Ami elaborated. “Sorry, I forgot you don’t know me as well as Nurse Robinson does.”
Immac nodded. “I don’t know more than about five or ten people here. I usually take care of the therapy cats. They all just loooove people, especially me! Do you wanna meet one? Right now, Ivan, Aura, Silas, Carl, Skinner, Belle, and Snowflake are ‘on duty’. We couldn’t decide whether to go with a history of psychology theme or a PPC theme for their names, so we went with both! Personally, I like the PPC theme better cause I know where all the names came from. Who on the Disc names their kid ‘Skinner,’ anyway?”
A bead of sweat rolled down the side of Ami’s head. Now I know how Princess Twilight feels dealing with Pinkie Pie . “Well, I have enough cats back in my RC, but since you ask…can you bring out Aura? I’m sure she’d be interested in meeting a pony,” she said.
“Got it!” Nurse Immac got up and practically bounced out the door in excitement.
Ami levitated a piece of paper and a pencil over to her, and began writing something down: “My mom’s name is Faithful Heart, and I picture her being the same shade of purple as my glasses. I remembered her when I gave Chris some Bleeprin and told him it would be OK, so I think she’s a medical pony. My dad’s name is…Truth Seeker. Does the fact that I remember something about my parents mean I’m growing as a character?”
She neatly folded the paper and placed the pencil on the desk. I’ll hold on to this for when Nurse Robinson gets better.
“Mreow!” said a cat outside the door.
“Yes, I agree completely,” Nurse Immac’s voice added. She opened the door and entered holding a fluffy dark brown tortoiseshell cat. “Here’s Aura. She looks like she could hide in the leaves, doesn’t she?”
The pony nodded. “She’s beautiful. How old is she?”
Nurse Immac set Aura down on the floor and returned to her seat. The cat jumped up onto the nearest empty chair, and then the table.
“Typical cat. Aura’s about five. No one knows for sure in this place. Hey, what’s on that paper?” said Nurse Immac, already scratching Aura’s head.
Ami passed the paper over to her. “I remembered something about my family on my most recent mission. I wanted to save it for when Nurse Robinson gets better, but since you asked…”
There was a knock on the door at that moment. “Come in,” said Nurse Immac.
“Is anyone in there?” Suta’s voice came from behind the door. “I was told to meet up with you, but I’m guessing you’re kinda busy.”
“Give me three minutes,” Nurse Immac replied. She unfolded the paper and read it. “…Aw, that’s it? What happened to you that you forgot everything about your family? And what do you mean ‘growing as a character’?”
“Didn’t they tell you? I’m a semi-fic blip,” said Ami. “I didn’t remember anything about my family before that moment, so I think it means either my author’s planning to write a full story about me or, well, that.”
“But surely you remember your life before the PPC?” asked Nurse Immac.
Ami closed her eyes. “I think…I used to have blue streaks in my mane and tail,” she said. “My glasses were red, my fur was lighter…I had leg bracelets? Why would I have leg bracelets?”
“You really don’t know…” Nurse Immac said quietly. “That’s terrible!”
Aura walked over to Ami and meowed, blinking.
“I agree completely.” Ami created a magical hand to pat Aura with. “By the way, to answer one of your earlier questions, Miguel and I got the best score most of the time. Vi tried to sing along on most of them, though, it was really funny. You should’ve seen the look on her face when Chris skipped over ‘Eye of the Tiger’ for ‘The Middle’!”
“I’m sure it was priceless,” said Nurse Immac, who had no idea what Ami was talking about.
Suta slipped into the room, closing the door behind her. “Should I wait here or outside?”
“Uh…Here is fine,” said Nurse Immac.
“No, it’s not. What about doctor-patient confidentiality?” Ami asked.
“I’m not a doctor,” Nurse Immac replied, smiling at her. “Though I’m impressed that you brought that up.”
“What’s a doctor?” asked Suta. “I’ve been told that in places with talking animals, they’ve got healers. I’m not sure if the Maiasaura , or Wide-Bills, or whatever the heck you guys call Light and his herd—”
“Um… Maiasaura sounds right to me,” said Ami, who had no idea who Light was and wasn’t a particularly big dinosaur fan, either.
“Whatever. But I don’t know if healers were even a thing in the Cretaceous, let alone here. Hey, what’s that furry thing on the table?”
“Mraow!” said Aura.
“Excuse you, ‘that furry thing’ is a trained therapy cat,” Nurse Immac groused. “Her name is Aura. And we don’t fix people here, not really. We focus on how agents think and feel and try to keep them from going cuckoo.”
“You won’t have much luck with me, in that case,” Suta growled, folding her arms and leaning against the wall. “It sure as Egg Mountain is hard to think and feel stuff when you’ve got a walnut-sized brain. Or something along those lines, I’ve been told that mine is a little bigger…”
That’s what he said , Ami thought impishly. “That’s nice. The point is that it wouldn’t be fair to us or Nurse Immac for her to try and address both of our problems at the same time.”
“Oh? So I guess I should shut up and wait for you, right?”
Ami nodded. “And if you tell anybody who’s not my partners what we said here, there’s gonna be trouble. Probably from Legal.”
“Right. Shutting up now.”
Nurse Immac smiled at their guest and turned back to Ami. “Do you know any way to help you regain your memories? Any place to start looking?”
“You can’t regain what you never had,” said Ami. “Besides, if I found one, I’d tell Chris about it. He actually had a full life before I did, so he needs it more than me.”
Aura sat down, curled her tail around her, and closed her eyes.
“You’re so noble!” Nurse Immac smiled brightly. “I hope you never lose that aspect of yourself, Ami. That’s going to be important someday, I just know it!”
“But what if I find out who my family is and they don’t match who I thought they were? I’ll have to start all over again! I can’t go out and make a family for myself! That’s just wrong, and I’m not ready to get into a relationship with anypony yet!”
Nurse Immac reached over and placed a hand on Ami’s hoof. “Even if that happens, you’ll still have your partners,” she said. “They can be your family. Why worry about something that might not even happen? You’ll just waste your time and make yourself sad or scared. Use that big brain of yours to think of new ways you can help your partners or fudge recipes or theories about your favorite books, and deal with what happens when it happens.”
“…I guess you’re right,” said Ami. She levitated the paper back over to her and placed it in her tote bag. “Thanks. Make sure you tell Nurse Robinson about this discussion, OK? I have a feeling she needs to hear it.”
“Oh, come on, I’m not that flaky,” Nurse Immac laughed. “Thanks for talking to me and patting Aura! I hope I see you again!”
Ami got out of the chair and trotted to the door. “Remember, don’t tell,” she reminded Suta.
“I’ll do my best!” said Suta, before turning to Immac. “So, my turn now?”
“Come, sit down,” said the nurse, nodding and motioning to the seat across from her. “You said something about Egg Mountain? Is that like Cori Celesti?”
“…make sure the flux capacitor is yellow instead of red, make sure the neutron flow’s polarity is reversed when the extraordinary bolt spins, and the monitor snaps right into place. Are you getting all this?”
Seung-Li nodded after hearing every sentence Zeke was speaking, wishing they had a notepad. They had exited FicPsych at about the same time as Zeke and Adéle, and naturally they were quick to meet up and discuss the DoSAT a little more. It seemed as though the former replacement was destined to work with technology like his canon counterpart, but there was one small problem. The last time they’d tried to fix a console, it had ended… poorly.
“So, the red light is wired to the general mission intel receiver, the green light is coded to switch on if the crossover variable is set to ‘true’, and what light color represents a new message?”
“The red light is a new message. They all flash at once when a mission arrives.”
“Ah, so they’re all wired to the intel. Got it.”
The fully-recovered Adéle nodded furiously. “And usually the console goes BEEP when you get a mission. Some people change theirs.” She fidgeted and tinkered constantly with a little gadget she was holding; exactly what it did could not be determined at a glance.
“Oh? I was told that a console can change the BEEP by itself depending on the circumstances. Sarah’s console once roared like Godzilla, whomever that is, when she received a mission involving the franchise in question.”
“Weird. I heard of a lady in DMS-Video Games, hers made weird noises despite a lot to change it. And then there’s Va—”
Without warning, Adéle’s gizmo exploded. Zeke and Seung-Li backpedaled, but Adéle caught the full force of the blast. The little youkai was a charred wreck when the dust settled.
Zeke sighed. “This again…”
Seung-Li stared at Adéle’s remains, dumbfounded. “Remind me again… Does this happen all the time?”
“…That does it. I’m checking out right now.”
When the two of them came to the front desk to check out, they found that someone was in front of them, talking with Dr. Freedenberg. Seung-Li recognized Sarah and tapped her on the shoulder.
“Oh, hey!” She turned to the group. “Just a sec, clearing things up with Dr. Freedenberg here.” She returned to him and asked, “So, have these forms filled and sent to you by tomorrow, right?”
“You can turn them in at the end of this week if you like,” the doctor replied. “I understand that you and your partners may be busy as always, and this is quite the workload, I’m sure.”
Zeke raised an eyebrow when he noticed that Sarah had a bundled stack of papers some two inches high in front of her. “And I thought Time Lords had paperwork problems.”
“Oh, it’s not as bad as it looks,” Sarah replied with a laugh, stepping aside to let Seung-Li fill in their check-out fom. “Most of these are just member policies, terms of service, equal-opportunity employment statements and stuff like that. There’s only like, somewhere around fifty or sixty forms for identification, disclosure, questionnaires and surveys, and so on.”
Zeke’s mouth, as usual, didn’t move, but his eyes seemed to show confusion.
A handy distraction appeared in the form of a smoking mess on the floor… or the lack thereof. The body on the floor spontaneously vanished, and a perfectly-healthy Adéle Bowen appeared out of thin air. “I’m back! What’d I miss?”
Seung-Li jumped a little. “Zeke, you weren’t kidding when you said your partner couldn’t die! Geez, this place is weird… ”
“Tell me about it,” said Sarah. “Who are you two, anyway?”
“My name is Zeke, and my friend is Adéle Bowen.”
Adéle waved cheerfully. Seung-Li couldn’t help but notice that a shiny burn had appeared on Adéle’s hand, while one had vanished from her cheek.
They decided not to question anything else, and returned to Sarah. “So, is filling out a stack of forms that high, uh, normal procedure?”
“Yeah, Adam and I had to fill out a stack like this back when I first became an agent. He and his partner were taken off-duty for a few weeks after the mission in which I was rescued, so we had more than enough time to finish them off.”
Adéle tilted her head, idly taking out the device she had been working with earlier and fiddling with it again. “Agents? Off-duty? That sounds like nonsense. And I’ve talked to fairies.”
“By off-duty, I meant that they were put on probation.”
“Oh. What for?”
Sarah gave her a deadpan look. “Some questions are better left un answered. Trust me.”
“Okay…” The purple-haired youkai radiated curiosity.
“Here you go,” said Seung-Li, handing Dr. Freedenberg their completed form. “And before I dash off, do you have instructions on how to fix a console?”
Dr. Freedenberg checked the form. “You’ve listed your intended employment position as an entry-level technician. I believe the DoSAT will have hard-copy instructions for console repair available to newbies, so you would do well to pick up a copy from that department.”
“I see. Thank you for your time.”
“Same to you. Enjoy the rest of your evening — and welcome to the PPC.”
“So, DoSAT, then?” asked Sarah. “And after that, my RC. These surveys won’t fill themselves, you know!”
“Sure,” replied Seung-Li. “Zeke, Adéle, thank you as well for talking with me. You’ve just given me a drive I never thought I needed.”
Adéle bowed, still tinkering with her gadget, and something in Zeke’s eyes indicated a smile again. “You are very welcome, Seung-Li. You are welcome in our laboratory… though be sure to bring ear protection.”
Sarah and Seung-Li bade their goodbyes to the others, and headed out the door leading back into the hallways of HQ.
Zeke started leading Adéle, who was still working with her volatile gizmo, back to their lab. “I must say, Seung-Li seemed to learn quickly. What do you think?”
The console of RC #333 was silent for once — no doubt because it still hadn’t been fixed. As such, the only sources of noise in the main room were coming from the TV, with occasional bouts of chatter from the agents and their guest currently inside.
Stephanie Podd sat curled up with Cupid… or rather, with all twelve of her limbs curled around him. They were watching The Little Mermaid with rapt attention. “No… Ariel! Don’t do it! SHE WANTS YOUR SOUL!… er, YOUR VOICE!”
Cupid hugged one of her tentacles. “She’s going to do it, isn’t she?!”
“She will,” said Lapis, paying more attention to the jacks game she and her Oshawott were playing than the movie. “I won’t spoil anything else, but I have to ask, Steph: How come you’re not more familiar with the original fable?”
“Because I thought it was more of a mermaid thing. I grew up with tales of Thor.”
“Yeah, she told me the same thing,” said Cupid. “The world of Monster Musume is a lot bigger than the main character’s home city, apparently. Wait, wha — NOOO, ARIEL! Now look what you’ve done!!”
“WHY? It’s why the mermaids framed Oct in my universe! Darn it, Disney!” Stephanie screwed her eyes shut. They’d gotten to the point where Ariel had just been turned into a human… at the bottom of the ocean.
“She’ll make it to the surface,” said Lapis, patting Triton’s head with her prosthetic right hand before going for another round. “She pretty much has to, or the movie will be over before the halfway point.”
“We know , Lapis,” Cupid replied with a chuckle.
There was a knock on the door, startling the blue-haired girl, but she relaxed upon hearing a familiar voice.
“Helloo-ooo? Anyone home?”
“Coming!” Lapis called, standing up and ordering Triton to stay before turning to Steph and Cupid. “You two sit tight and wait — I need to explain things to Sarah.”
“Oh. Okay, Lapis!” Stephanie kept hugging Cupid.
“Hey now, we can always pause the movie,” said Cupid, picking up the remote and doing so. “You can go with her, Steph! I’ll wait for you until you get back.”
Stephanie reluctantly unwrapped Cupid, and she and Lapis both made for the door. They opened it up to see two people: Sarah, of course, and a dark-haired Korean in a biker outfit carrying a large bundle of paper.
“Where were you?!” Sarah cried, grabbing Lapis’ shoulders. “I got back to my RC earlier today, but you weren’t there! I had to go on a mission without you!”
“Yeah, well, so did we,” Lapis replied, rubbing the back of her neck. An oversized sweatdrop landed on her collar with a wet splat. “You broke our console, anyway, so we pretty much had to get dragged into our little outing by another team.”
“Sorry about that,” said Sarah. “You can spare me the details, though — I met Stephanie’s partner while stopping over at FicPsych, and he gave me the gist of it. He says he owes you a few rounds of poker.”
“Oh! You must be Sarah! Hi!” The excitable kraken’s legs and tentacles wriggled, and Sarah shrieked.
“AAAAAH HE DIDN’T TELL ME YOU HAD TENTA — MMMMPH!!!” The Super was unable to speak when all twelve of Stephanie’s limbs wrapped around her.
“Uh, Steph? Can we not? ” Lapis sweatdropped again, further soaking her shirt. Seung-Li likewise began edging away with a similarly dismayed expression.
“Oh… sorry, Lapis.” She let go of Sarah, looking rather disappointed. “I was hoping I could get to know you better!”
“Thanks, but as much as I’d like to hang, I have to do some paperwork,” said Sarah, still shaking a little. “Sorry, gals! Maybe next time.”
“If it’s not too much of a problem with you, perhaps I can help,” said Lapis. “Though in return, I’d like for you to tell us what happened to you when you were gone, as well as help us with getting the console fixed before we get another mission.”
“You rang?” Seung-Li waved, a confident smile on their face.
Sarah thought about it for a moment, and then smiled as well. “You know what, why not? I’ve got a lot to explain to the rest of you, and anyway…” She glanced at Seung-Li. “There’s someone I’d like you to meet.”