PPC: Non-Mission Interlude
“Yes! I rolled a hurdygurdy! I win again!”
Clattering and shouts came from behind the door of Room #88. Drake leaned against the wall as Naomi knocked.
“Coming,” someone called from inside the room, then there was a louder clatter and a second voice yelled.
“Ow! What the-”
“Nooooo, I wanna come toooooo!” came a whine, in what sounded like a small child’s voice.
“All we are doing is answering the door, there is no need for this! Let go!” said the second voice in exasperated tones. The door opened, revealing Agents Foxglove and Stormsong. Skyfire and Laburnum were sitting on the floor inside, several hollyhock seeds scattered on the floor between them. Skyfire was picking the seeds up and putting them in a beaker. Laburnum was huddled under the pelt of the creature she had dubbed “Raketooth the Amazing Three-Armed Fox”, scratching the ears of Net and Marile, her Hellpuppy and Mini-Deepcoiler, whose heads were in her lap. Foxglove’s Hellpuppy Crow was sleeping on the couch.
“Hiii!” said Foxglove cheerfully. “We’re just playing hollyhockers, do you want to join us? We made cake too!”
“Sure.” Drake grinned, then looked at Stormsong. “You, uh, appear to have a small ferret attached to your head.”
“I was aware of that. I believe she hath something of a case of separation anxiety. Miss Molly Rath, get down this instant.” The ferret ignored the instruction and happily started to chew on his ears. “Ow! Get off!”
“Molly?” Naomi asked. “You named the kid Molly?”
“Yes,” called Skyfire, looking up from gathering the seeds.
“… yes, as in Weasley,” the entire group chorused at once.
“We felt she needed a positive female role model,” Skyfire explained. “I’m sorry about the bad pun.”
Molly let go of Stormsong, launched herself at Drake and hugged him. “Hi Mista Drake! You smell like dead things!”
There was one of those stunned silences that comes when a child says something shocking in company. Molly snuggled closer to Drake.
“Smells nice. Sorta like ‘ome,” she said. Everyone looked at each other.
What the HELL have they done to that kid? Naomi mouthed.
I do NOT smell like “dead things”! Drake mouthed back. Out loud, mainly to change the subject, he said “Why is she damp?”
“Well, I had to wash her!” Skyfire explained. “She stank like she’d bathed in a midden when we first brought her in. I tried putting her under the shower still in her dress, but it was in such a state it fell apart as soon as it got wet, so I had to give her my spare shirt.”
“Ah, that would explain the scratches on your face as well …”
“That is not the worst of her behaviour, I fear,” Stormsong said ruefully, pointing to the toothmarks on his ear. “Since we brought her into our home, she hath bitten me fifteen times, bitten Skyfire six times, scattered the contents of the bookshelf all over the room, shredded both couch cushions, and … the rest became a blur after the first hour. Honestly, ‘tis like having an infant version of Captain Deathcry before she developed quite as much imagination as she had in adulthood.”
“Oh, don’t exaggerate, dear. Molly’s a little unruly, I know, but you can’t blame her if she grew up with a mother as ineffectual as hers was …”
“Ha! Captain Deathcry was at least housebroken!”
“It’s not that bad. For one thing, Molly’s much cuter, and she isn’t strong enough to break my ar-gh.” Laburnum trailed off as Molly leapt at her, clung onto her arm, and hauled herself up. “I stand corrected! Get her off me!”
“Molly!” Stormsong pulled something from his jeans pocket. “I have here …” He held up the object, which proved to be a thin gold chain with a chunky and very tasteless pink gem dangling from it – standard Sue jewellery, of the sort the Rook Takes Pawnshop pays the agents to take away because it fills up so much of their storage space. “One shiny object! It shall be thine if thou wilt sit down, shut up and behave, dost thou understand?”
“Okay, Uncle Stormy,” said Molly, captivated by the shiny object as all small ferrets are. (Many low-ranking thieves among Mossflower’s vermin care nothing for the value of their loot, they just like shiny things.) She let go of Laburnum, took the pendant, and trundled off to sit down beside the bookshelf, where she picked up an extremely chewed-looking Addams Family comic and started to look at the pictures.
“Uncle Stormy?” Naomi spluttered in disbelief.
“What? I drew the line at ‘New Daddy’.” The weasel sat back down on the floor. “Whose turn was it?”
“Mine,” said Laburnum, picking up the cup full of hollyhock seeds and shaking them. She threw them on the floor, examined the pattern, and cursed. “Dammit, I got a widdershins. Void game, start again. Hey, guys, wanna join in?”
Drake and Naomi plopped down on the floor beside the other four agents.
“Aww, hey, who’s this little guy?” said Naomi, scratching the ears of the baby otter in Skyfire’s paws. “Didn’t see you there, little feller.”
“Oh yes, this is Molly’s new brother Moses … well, technically since Sawney’s her father and Tagg’s his father he’d be her adoptive nephew, but the whole business is confusing enough already. Moses Rhoan Taggson, to give him his full name,” Skyfire told her.
“Well, I told them the old story – it’s about a baby being found in the bulrushes near a stream,” Laburnum said upon seeing Drake’s puzzled expression, “-and we all thought it was a great name for an orphan otter. Okay, his dad’s not dead, but it’s not like Tagg can raise him.”
“Yeah, makes sense. Why ‘Rhoan’?”
“Oh, ‘tis from a favoured song of mine,” Stormsong explained. “These two –” he scowled at Laburnum and Foxglove, “chose to veto its use as a first name.”
“We told you, Stormsong, what kind of message does that send to the kid? ‘Oh yeah, we love you so much we named you after a song in which everyone dies’?” Laburnum waved her hands vaguely.
The weasel rolled his eyes. “Be it my fault thou hast no appreciation of the classics?”
“Could be worse,” Foxglove said to Naomi. “They wouldn’t let me name the ferretkid ‘Squirrelly’. Squirrelly Rath, geddit?”
“Yes, but somehow I don’t think Mossflower’s beasties are big fans of Foamy the Squirrel.”
Strawberry cream cake and Bleepka were shared out, and the hollyhockers game began again, Naomi and Drake picking up the rules as they went along. The exorcists wound up tied for first place; as Naomi pointed out, a lute-player and a swordsbeast both had unfair advantages when it came to manual dexterity, and the game had been invented by weasels anyway. Besides, she was pretty sure Molly was swallowing one or two seeds whenever anyone looked away. Laburnum told Naomi she couldn’t talk, since it was Laburnum who came in dead last. All six were too exhausted from their recent ordeals to really argue.
“Oh, uh, we got presents for you guys,” Foxglove suddenly remembered, digging in a drawer and producing two shiny plastic objects on straps and handing them to the mustelids. “Now I know you’ve had difficulty getting used to technology, but these were made in the Real World, so they’re the kind which don’t explode, shriek loudly at awkward moments, accidentally play No-Drool videos which you didn’t download onto them, or secretly develop sapience. And we wrote your names on them so you don’t pick up each others’ by mistake.”
“Ah, that kind I believe I can cope with,” said Stormsong, examining the mp3 player in his paws. “I can in all likelihood manage the ones which do not explode. A music player, yes? Thank you both, ‘tis very kind.”
“Yeah. We put a few songs on there for you – as many as we could find that you might like. There’s a good few bits of folk music from my stash, one or two classical from Fox’s, I still had some Enya, that kind of thing. Sorry we didn’t have much, you’d hate what we usually listen to and we don’t have any CDs of ‘The Most Depressing Pseudo-Medieval Music Ever’.” Laburnum chuckled as Stormsong gave her one of those looks which clearly reads “Not Funny” in large flashing letters. “We didn’t have any clue what you’d like, Sky, so we just put a couple of bits of everything we could find and we’ll recommend some more stuff if you tell us which ones you like. Remind me to show you how to add more some time.”
“Aww, thanks!” said Skyfire, looping the strap around her neck.
“And we have some of these!” Foxglove said, producing a square packet.
“Oh, Foxglove, you haven’t started smoking?” Skyfire groaned. Both the mustelids had immediately had a deep disapproval of cigarettes upon learning what they were when they joined the PPC – a singer/healer and a swordsbeast who relies on fitness both tend to be very protective of their lung capacity.
“Nicotine-free tar-free Bleepettes. Still in the prototype stage, Leto tells me, but if they do turn out to burn your lungs out Doc Fitz can always rebuild ‘em.”
“Oh, in that case … share ‘em out.” The exorcists offered the use of their work lighters, and soon the group was sitting in a happy brain-soothing haze of smoke, rather like a weed party.
“Mmm. Smooth, mild, and refreshingly addictive, as Bart Simpson once said,” was Laburnum’s verdict. Foxglove sniggered and they high-fived.
“Hey, you know, black shirt, black sunglasses, musical instrument, Stormsong just needs the black beret now and the look’s complete …” Naomi commented. The weasel ignored her. Laburnum and Foxglove, the only ones who understood this joke, pictured this and mentally giggled.
“Looks like we owe you guys a present now,” said Laburnum apologetically to Drake and Naomi. “And everyone else who got involved. Ah well, you guys deserve it, you put up with us.”
“Ooh, can I have another set of combat sporks please?” Drake asked eagerly, showing off his own set. “I wanna start a collection!” He lovingly stroked the tines of one spork. “Wouldn’t it be cool to get mithril sporks?”
“No promises, but we’ll have a look round,” said Laburnum, then turned back to face the mustelids. “So, guys, where were we? What’s been happening to you? We brought you into HQ and then didn’t hear from you for … damn, it’s been a year! We thought you’d forgotten us!”
“Ha, no fear of that, my dear! Both of you are … memorable, shall we say.” Stormsong chuckled softly. “Nay, for the first month we were occupied picking up enough human culture to survive here and being tested on our knowledge of Mossflower history – or rather canon, as we must now call it. Then there was an, uh, unfortunate incident in the Department of Sufficiently Advanced Technology. Something called a ‘TARDIS’ was involved, I believe …”
“Actually that was my fault,” said Skyfire, embarrassed. “Look, I’d only started learning to read English about a month before and I was still on two-syllable words, I don’t see how they expected me to understand a sign saying ‘non-canonical malfunction’.”
“Yeah, I can see the problem,” Foxglove commented sagely. “Can’t learn to read a whole language in a week, whatever Christopher Paolini may think.”
“True. I did get the bit which said ‘do not touch’, but I didn’t mean to touch the thing! I just stepped over the tape to look at the sign better and tripped!”
“And when we woke up, ‘twas eight months later,” Stormsong finished. “I think ‘twas around then I developed my mistrust of machinery. Ah well, it could have been worse, all we did was get transported forwards a while – Starwind, Twiggy and Nin happened to be in the blast radius as well, and apparently they …” he sucked air through his teeth as he tried to find a good way of describing the incident, and settled for “produced copies of their younger selves.”
“Oh my God, they what?!” Laburnum gasped in amused horror.
“Bluntly, they each split into two people,” Skyfire explained. “Doc Fitz says they’ll be able to merge them back together eventually, but in the meantime they took advantage of the situation by sending the younger selves off to the Fanfiction University, because that way the older ones get the knowledge when they merge back and they’re still free to do their work here. I think that’s cheating, but there you go. What was really frightening about that is that none of them seemed to treat the situation as particularly odd …”
“You ain’t in Kansas anymore, hon,” Naomi said. “We tend to take weirdness in our stride here, you go crazy if you don’t. Crazy in a non-useful way, I mean.”
“We gathered. So, tell us about yourselves.”
“Eh, my past’s not terribly interesting,” said Naomi, shrugging. “I’m from the Real World, I just joined up when I grew out of my Suethor stage and wanted to atone for my sins against canon. Same as about ninety percent of the people here. Drake’s backstory is pretty weird, though – go ahead, tell ‘em.”
“Well, I was created as a Cute Animal Friend,” Drake explained. “Something went wrong with the description and I turned into a humanoid – I think it was a Pronoun Problem with me and a human character or something. The agents who’d been assigned to kill my owner brought me in. I can still turn into a non-anthro fox if I like, but I have to program it into the Disguise Generator for it to work on missions, but you know about that.”
“Yes,” said Stormsong shortly. “A warning would have been nice.”
“Yeah, sorry, but I told you, I didn’t know it was going to do that.” Laburnum and Foxglove put two and two together and tried very hard not to giggle. “Naomi doesn’t like me going CAF because it gets glitter everywhere, and I don’t do it much because it reminds me too much of Sues, but I go foxy sometimes. It’s kinda comforting.” He idly picked a few cake crumbs out of his tailfur. “So, what about you guys?”
“Not much to tell, really,” Skyfire said, shrugging. “Both born in Mossflower goodfic, joined horde just like all the other kits, got promoted, were about to be murdered horribly, you know how it is. Apparently our friends here were in the story keeping an eye on the squirrel who was supposed to kill me, and when she turned out to be a valid character they got bored and decided to play at being heroes. Circumstances got a little messy, but I’m still glad they did. It’s not so bad here – nobody tries to kill us over stupid things, we don’t have to kill anyone else since we’re working in Bad Slash, and now we can actually stop disgusting things from happening to people. Except in the case of your shapeshifter,” she added, looking pointedly at Laburnum.
“Aw, Skyyy. We told you, pointless rapist bit-characters don’t count as ‘people’, they told you that during training, and technically what happened to them wasn’t rape. It was just seed dispersion.”
Naomi stared at the pelt, which still had smears of maple syrup on it in places, and muttered “I’m not even going to ask.”
“Well, yes, but it was still rather disgusting to watch,” Skyfire said to Laburnum, shrugging. “But anyway, there you go, it’s worth putting up with the strangeness here. And now we have a bonus; two beautiful children.” She rubbed the otterbaby’s ears. “Aren’t you? Yes you’re beautiful, and not in the Sue way! Yes you are! And yes, you are too,” she said to Molly, realising the ferret was scowling at her. “And remind me, we have to get you some weaponry lessons at some point.”
“Uh, I know Mossflower’s critters start on the warfare young, but isn’t she the furry equivalent of, like, six?” Naomi asked.
“I know, it’s been left terribly late. I only hope her mother at least tried to start teaching her,” said Skyfire, completely missing the point of Naomi’s objection. “We might want to wait until the baby can sit upright before we let him hold sharp objects, though.”
“Oh, Skyfire, ‘tis not right to shelter the infant so!”
“Oh, alright, but can we just give him something fairly small? At least until he’s got his first tooth?”
The human agents gave each other some extremely strange looks.
“Wow, Sparta’s got nothin’ on Mossverse vermin,” Naomi muttered.
“Aww, they both seem like really nice kids. Hey, can we bring them along on missions?” Drake asked.
“Wait, that was not discussed with me!” Naomi snapped.
Drake, oblivious, carried on. “If they need weapons practice we could teach them to attack Sues! And they can fit into smaller spaces than me, so we could use them for sneak attacks! Hey, Molly, think you could sneak up on a Sue’s drink and pee in it?” Molly nodded enthusiastically, Foxglove sniggered, and the others rolled their eyes.
“Drake!” Naomi said in warning tones, resting one hand on her backpack. He took the hint.
“Okay, okay, change of subject … So, I guess this means you guys are ready to tell everyone?” Drake said. The mustelids blinked.
“Tell everyone … what?” Skyfire asked.
“Well. You know. You can hardly keep it secret if you’re adopting kids.”
“Oh great seasons, how doth he know?” Stormsong groaned. “‘Tis all happening again … Laburnum, Foxglove, did I not demand secrecy of you both? I thought ‘twas a jest when you said you would tell-”
“Wait, Stormsong, we did agree to keep it quiet. Okay, I joked about announcing it, but even we wouldn’t really … Drake, exactly what the hell are you talking about?” Laburnum asked the fox.
“Well, her … and … him.” Drake gestured to Skyfire and Stormsong in turn. “What else could I be talking about? It’s okay. I know it’s odd, but I’m open-minded. I don’t think many of the humans can even tell the difference between weasels and stoats, and even if they can there’s some guy married to a dragon over in one of the other departments, so it’s not like anyone will care …”
There was a long, awkward silence. Then said silence was broken by howls of laughter.
Not even Skyfire could ever recall seeing Stormsong laugh before, but she couldn’t appreciate it because she was too busy having hysterics herself. He leaned over, clutching his sides, his eyes narrowed and watering, his mouth opened slightly, making a soft wheezing sound. For a brief moment the human agents panicked, thinking he was having a seizure of some sort. Skyfire, meanwhile, whooped and slapped the floor, and wiped away tears from her eyes. Foxglove and Laburnum giggled. Naomi and Drake stared, completely confused.
In the middle of their laughing fits, the musteline agents simultaneously decided that joining the Protectors had been worth the chaos and stress and misery of the past week and would be worth many many more, just for the privilege of seeing Drake’s expression.
“Oh dear me, no!” Skyfire managed to splutter. “No, we’re most definitely not in that sort of relationship. If we were, we wouldn’t have had to join the Protectors in the first place!” She shook her head and sighed, ceasing her laughter abruptly. “If we were, we wouldn’t be officially dead back home … ah well, no use dwelling on that, we’re here now and they’d probably just have found something else to get us for.”
“True, true,” Stormsong replied, stifling one last laugh. “But nay, Drake, she is … shall we say, ‘not my type’.”
“Ahh. Don’t go for girls outside your species?”
“Well, thou couldst say that …” Stormsong looked uncomfortable, turned back to Skyfire, and mouthed Should we tell them?
She mouthed back Well, why not? I doubt they’ll care. Stormsong shrugged. He knew that practically nobody cared here, and he did hate the idea of lying to people he hoped to be friends with, now that he was sure it was safe to tell the truth. Maybe it was a good idea to tell them. He sighed, and nodded.
“Can we trust you both?” he said, succeeding admirably in keeping his voice steady.
“Well, yeah, I guess,” said Naomi. “Why?”
“Well … let us say that Skyfire’s species is not the reason for … what we just discussed. At least not on mine end.”
Naomi looked briefly bemused. “Huh? What do you … Oh, you mean you’re, uh … well, you know?”
“Probably, it depends upon what thou meanest by ‘uh-well-you-know’.”
“Huh?” said Drake. “So what’s the problem? You’d make such a cute couple! C’mon, Sky, he seems like a really great guy, what isn’t there to like about him?”
“No, it’s not like that,” Skyfire tried to explain. “Well, I’m not interested in him that way, but even if I was it wouldn’t be returned.”
“Tis no fault of Skyfire’s, I assure thee, merely … a minor inconvenience of mine own. Not anything that can be counted as my fault, but …”
“You’re neutered?!” Drake asked Stormsong, looking horrified. “Oh, I’m sorry …”
“No! Nay, I can safely say that is not the case.” Stormsong was beginning to look progressively more uncomfortable as the conversation went on. Laburnum and Foxglove, on the other hand, were trying to conceal the fact that they were looking progressively more amused.
“See, what they’re trying to say,” Laburnum interrupted, “is that it’s nothing Sky’s done that counts her off his list, it’s just because she has one too many X chromosomes, if you get my meaning.”
“Oh. Oh, yeah, I thought that was what you meant but I wasn’t sure,” said Naomi, as her mental light fully dawned. “Sorry, but you could have made it clearer.”
“I am still unhappy with this topic, dost thou understand?”
“What’s a chromosome?” asked Drake.
Foxglove finally gave up and stood up.
“He’s GAY, Drake!” she yelled, waving her arms for emphasis. “And I don’t mean in the jovial sense! Queer as a three-dollar bill, bent as a threp’ny bit, camper than a row of tents, a bigger fairy than Tinkerbell, and gayer than a treeful of monkeys on nitrous oxide! Fag, fruit, invert, mariposa, call it what you will! H-O-M-O-S-E-X-U-A-L! He is, in short, totally ginger! Do you get it or would you like us to explain with a sock puppet show?!”
Every other agent’s lower jaw promptly dropped. There was another long awkward silence as Drake processed the information, Stormsong and Skyfire both tried to decide whether it would be a bad idea to either hit Foxglove, scream at her, or burst out laughing again, and all of them (including Foxglove) tried desperately not to imagine what the threatened sock puppet show would look like.
Laburnum and Naomi started to applaud.
“Well done, Fox!” Laburnum said. “You’ve just helped me fulfil my long-standing favourite fantasy of not being the one who puts their foot in their mouth!”
“Nice one, but I’d stick to the Dead Parrot Sketch at parties,” Naomi quipped.
“OH! Oh, that!” Drake said, as the realisation hit him. “Oops, my mistake. Sorry, I’m not very familiar with human slang and I didn’t get what you meant until I spelled out ...” He looked faintly embarrassed. Had the other agents been in any condition to notice, he also looked very slightly hopeful. Some barely-recognised part of his hindbrain was hopping up and down, gleefully chanting “I have a chance! I have a chance!”
“Mama, wot’s all that mean?” asked Molly.
“Uhh, we’ll tell you later, dear. Go and play, let the grownups finish talking.”
Foxglove took a bow and sat down beside the stunned weasel, who gave her the most venomous glare they had ever seen him use.
“May I add to that list ‘thoroughly humiliated and in need of a strong drink’?” he hissed.
“Hey, you were trying to tell him! Not my fault you didn’t know it takes a more direct approach with Drake. But I think I can fix the drink part if it means you’ll start speaking to me again sooner. Ever tried absinthe? The drink, I mean, not that green dog Agent Trojanhorse has.” Foxglove got up and headed for the food replicator.
“Uh, St-” Drake began.
“And no, the fact that you’re the only other person involved in this conversation who’s in possession of a dick doesn’t mean he’s automatically going to leap on you!” snapped Foxglove.
“Crudely put but apt, as always,” Stormsong said, not noticing that Drake’s expression had promptly changed to one of slight disappointment. “I understand if thou dost find it strange, but ‘tis nothing of which to be afraid or ashamed, and let me assure thee ‘tis nothing like ‘tis portrayed in the tales we destroy-”
“Yeah, yeah, Naomi told me all that yesterday! I don’t see why anyone thinks I would care!” Well, maybe I do, but maybe I should wait for a better time to mention that … he thought. “I think it’s kind of weird, but if it works for you that’s cool with me. Can I get another piece of cake? I was just trying to ask if you could pass one over.”
The mustelids looked at each other, feeling that they’d just shoulder-charged a metaphorical door which had promptly vanished into nothingness just before they hit it.
“Well, saying it ‘worked’ would be stretching a point, since it hath tended to be the source of most of my problems in life, but I understand thy meaning … My thanks.”
“Well, that was rather disappointing,” Foxglove commented. “I’d better remember the Gay Weasel Sketch for some time when someone will react more interestingly.”
“To me, no reaction can be disappointing until it doth involve the words ‘die now’. Annoying, disturbing, or merely strange, aye, but not disappointing. And Foxglove, if thou dost attempt to repeat that routine within my hearing, I shall open a portal into Captain Deathcry’s tent and shove thee through it. Understand?” Foxglove nodded. She wasn’t bothered at all by the threat on her life, and she knew it would never be carried out, but she would obey the instruction for at least long enough for him to be able to find the situation funny (which would be a long time, but something that much fun was worth the wait). Stormsong passed another wedge of cake to Drake, and rolled the hollyhock seeds again.
Drake sat still for a round or two, apparently deep in thought. The other agents assumed this pertained to the game, until he suddenly turned to Naomi and asked, tail wagging and eyes alight, “So does this mean I can tell him he has a cute butt?”
Drake, having chosen his moment in accordance with the Laws of Comedy, promptly suffered the fallout of a five-way spit-take.
“I’ll take that as a no,” he muttered, dripping dejectedly, as Laburnum and Foxglove collapsed laughing again.
Skyfire did likewise, choking out apologies between every laugh. “I’m sorry! I’m – hahahahahahahaha – sorry! I know I shouldn’t laugh, but I hahahahahaha can’t hehehehelp it! You should see the looks on your faces right now, hahahahahaha!”
Molly looked up and said, seriously, “Y’know, Uncle Stormy, I fink Mista Drake finks yer a female.”
Stormsong leapt up, ran to the console, and had pulled up the Co-ordinates Search Engine and managed to type in “vengeance quest chapter thirt” before the others managed to drag him off it and haul him to Doctor Freedenberg, the unfortunate weasel struggling and loudly cursing the Laws of Irony every step of the way.
“Are you feeling better now?” Skyfire asked gently as Stormsong sat up groggily, coming round from his second tranquilising in three days. (The first had been shortly after his consumption of Bleepsinthe at a never-before-recorded rate during the Trees incident.)
“Aye, fine. Sorry about that. Everything caught up with me at once, just a case of temporary insanity …”
“Temporary? Temporary? Oh, we’ve gotta do something about that!” Laburnum said in panicked tones. “Didn’t you read your contract? They demand permanent insanity here!”
“Young lady, thou art not helping.” The weasel sighed. “Worry not, I did not actually intend to give myself up – was I truly suicidal, there are far less elaborate or painful ways to do it. I merely wished to observe and be reminded how much worse the alternative to my current situation would be, which I must admit was a bad enough idea … though at least I would know how to cope with being dead. ‘Tis impossibly … what is the word? Oh yes … ‘weird’ living here.”
“And it took you how long to work that out?” Skyfire said in unusually cynical tones.
“Very funny. But some sort of warning would have made that far less unpleasant. Particularly since he declared the strangeness of the idea minutes beforepaw!”
“It is strange! What’s so bad about girls?” Drake asked, utterly confused. “Why would you completely refuse someone who liked you just because she was a girl? You’re missing out!”
“I’m really really sorry!” Naomi wailed to the weasel for the thousandth time. “I had no idea Drake was going to say anything like that, I thought he knew better! I didn’t even know he swung that way until yesterday, actually I was pretty sure he didn’t know you could!”
“You didn’t figure it out?” interrupted Foxglove, sounding surprised.
“Should I have done?”
“Well, you work in anime, and how much do you know about the furry fandom?”
“And Drake’s a fox, right? And he’s also a young, innocent-seeming, slightly childlike, and rather cute male character from an anime continuum?”
“‘Innocent’ is kind of an odd description for a guy with a weapon obsession, but … yes?”
“And you expected him to turn out as anything other than a complete uke?”
“Hey!” Drake snapped. He had no idea what the word meant, but it didn’t sound like something he wanted to be known as.
“Can he still be one if he also likes women?” Naomi asked sceptically.
“Oh, sure. It’s a state of mind as much as anything else,” Foxglove assured her.
“What are you calling me? What?” Drake asked, whiskers twitching.
Naomi was saved from having to explain as the intercom suddenly buzzed.
Agents Stormsong, Skyfire, Laburnum, Foxglove, Drake, Naomi, Nin Brandt and Luxury. Report to the Sunflower Official’s office immediately. Repeat, immediately.
The agents in question obeyed, Skyfire muttering “Why’s he calling us? It’s not even like we’re in his department …”
Drake and the children provided the distraction necessary to finding one’s destination in HQ; Molly by scampering back and forth, chattering continually and occasionally biting whoever was in reach, Moses by suddenly requiring to be fed and throwing up on Skyfire’s shirt immediately upon having finished the bottle, and Drake by continually begging Naomi to tell him what Foxglove had been calling him, which she refused to do within Molly’s hearing. Since one can only find the place one is looking for in HQ if one is not concentrating on finding it, this meant that they arrived quite quickly. They entered to find Nin and Luxury already there, Nin holding a halberd and looking supremely uncomfortable and Luxury bouncing around giggling obliviously as always, pausing occasionally to attempt invasion of Nin’s personal space and be fended off with the halberd. The Sunflower Official was looming over the desk as usual, fronds clasping several papers.
Good morning, it said telepathically.
“Good?” Laburnum said coldly. “Possibly if one has not spent the past week being forced to watch … well, did you see what they did to Pikkle Ffolger? Imagine seeing that happening to about seventy-five percent of the canon which defined half your childhood. Or seed-hood, I don’t know, what do sapient flowers have?”
“Or to your home,” Skyfire added, also in unusually icy tones. “Trust me, it’s worse when it’s the world you actually lived in.”
I’d advise you not to let your tongue run away with you this time, Laburnum, said the giant sunflower. I was going to deliver good news, but if you’re not polite …
“‘m sorry,” Laburnum muttered with bad grace.
“We really are sorry,” Skyfire said hurriedly. “We’re just a little stressed.”
That’s better. Now, contrary to popular and sometimes regrettably true rumour, the PPC does in fact try to preserve the sanity of its agents-
Kindly do not interrupt me, Agent Stormsong, or your own Head of Department will hear about it. Anyway, Agents Manx and Shadow have already received their reward for participation in cleansing that series from the fandom, mostly at the, shall we say, insistence of their friends Arya Dragon and X, and so it would be unfair to deny you the same treatment. Therefore, each of you will receive two weeks’ vacation in a fandom of your choice with full pay, vouchers for twenty pounds of Bleeproducts at the General Store, and a “bang-up party when they come back with cream buns and sugar and lots of sodding alcohol, you miserable excuse for a mold, insert five exclamation points here”. And I must notify Manx and Shadow of this, they already left for their own vacation as soon as they finished The Cluny Fic … the Sunflower riffled through the papers it was holding, found one, and read it through. The Official Fanfiction University of Redwall has heard of the sterling work you have performed, and a celebration is being held in your collective honour, starting at dawn on October the first, at which you will each be presented with the Urple Heart medal.
The agents instantly perked up. Drake’s tail started wagging like that of an excited puppy.
“Redwall Abbey feast?” Foxglove said faintly. “As in everyone being insanely happy, tons of great food, dancing and singing, no official age limit on booze?”
Indeed. And you are the guests of honour.
Foxglove, Skyfire, Luxury, and Drake whooped, threw their paws up, and started to dance around the room. Naomi, Nin, and Laburnum clapped and cheered. Stormsong grabbed his partner’s paws and they both started to whirl around in the wild hopskipping dance peculiar to family Mustelidae. Foxglove and Luxury attempted to copy them, and landed heavily on the floor to the accompaniment of swearing and crunching vertebrae, as human skeletal structure is not designed to do that. Everyone except Lux joined in with a rousing cry of “EULALIAAAAAAAA!” Lux was unfamiliar with the word, so she just yelled “Yay! Go us!”
“Eulaliaaaaaaaa! Excelsior, hallelujah, huzzah! Victory is ours!” Stormsong let go of Skyfire, swept up Molly and Moses, kissed Molly’s cheek and ruffled the baby’s headfur.
Lux pranced up to Skyfire, arms extended. “Victory hug?”
“Well, okay.” The stoat unwisely accepted the hug, which lasted mere milliseconds before she realised something wasn’t quite right. “Erm, Miz Luxury, why are your hands going inside my jeans- mmf!” She spat Lux’s tongue out and pulled away, flustered.
“What?” said Luxury, unfazed.
“Um, Luxury, I … I don’t mean to upset you, and it’s not that I’m not rather flattered, but I think you may have got my backstory confused with that of my partner,” Skyfire told her in an embarrassed undertone.
“… Ah. Please don’t take offence, but I think I’m going to go and stand over here now.” Skyfire scurried off to hide behind Nin. “‘Scuse me.”
“Yeah, Lux, I think you’d better be going now,” said Nin, pushing Lux out the door.
“Ooh, can I come back to your room and-” Lux started to say, eagerly.
“No,” Nin interrupted her.
“No. Out. Now. And you’re not coming with me on my vacation either, vacation is me time, and I mean me being alone with no random groping from the crazy lady time.” Nin propelled Lux away down the corridor.
Drake looked at Stormsong. “Can I have a victory hug?”
“I would prefer not.”
“Awwwww. Victory belly-scratch?” Drake lay back on the floor, paws up and eyes wide in his best “cute” manner. Laburnum and Foxglove both clasped their hands and tried to suppress the urge to squeal gleefully. Drake’s plan backfired somewhat, as Molly promptly jumped on him and started pinching and tickling his ribs. He yelped and rolled over, laughing too hard to stand up. Skyfire smiled, but quickly lost said smile when Molly got carried away and started using her teeth. Drake squeaked as tiny fangs punctured his tail-tip. Foxglove darted forward and scooped up the squirming ferret, as Stormsong reached down to help Drake up.
“I apologise, we need time to teach her-”
The weasel was interrupted as Drake grabbed the back of his head, pulled him down, and locked lips with him, or at least did the nearest that a creature with a vulpine jaw structure can get to doing so to a creature with a musteline jaw structure. Stormsong pulled away, spluttering. Drake’s breath was not the best-smelling he’d ever encountered, and when one has spent one’s life among vermin that really means something. He gaped at the fox, with an expression on his face best described as one of sheer “what the fuck was that?", not that he would have used that phrase himself (at least not in front of the children).
Drake giggled. “Just testing. Works for Lux.”
Drake was saved from being throttled by the fact that Stormsong was immediately occupied performing CPR on Laburnum. Apparently in PPC HQ it is possible to pass out from a suppressed squee. Naomi provided an alternative aversion-therapy method with her backpack, much to the annoyance of the SO and the amusement of Foxglove and Molly.
Once some measure of order had been reinstated, the SO had lectured the offenders, the children were under control and everyone was capable of standing upright – though admittedly Drake was somewhat dazed, weak at the knees and giggling again despite his bruises – the group thanked the Sunflower and started to head for the door, chattering about what to do with their respective vacation time.
“So, Rivendell, or Lothlorien?” Stormsong suggested – the best places he could think of to get some peace and quiet. “Or some part of Mossflower as far away from any vermin hordes as possible?”
“Mm, actually I was wondering if we could go and see the, um, ‘Real’ World. I’m curious, it sounds like an interesting place.”
“I wanna see the Real World too!” Drake yapped, bouncing around. “Ooh, do I get to turn into a human if we go there? I wanna try it!”
“Easy solution,” said Laburnum. “Portal-hopping! See ‘em all!”
“Great idea!” Foxglove agreed, high-fiving her partner. “No way we’ll agree otherwise … we won’t come with you guys, I think you’ll want a break from us.”
“Yaaay!” Laburnum clasped her hands and squeaked in a most undignified manner which she would never have used in front of anyone other than Foxglove and the mustelids (or someone she was going to kill who would thus be incapable of telling anyone). “I wanna break into the Prefect’s Bathroom at Hogwarts and go round Hogsmeade and see the Floating Market in London Below and can we find out if Carnaval Diabolique counts as having a continuum because I wanna see it and then we gotta see Ankh-Morpork-”
Ah, Laburnum, Foxglove? There is another matter which must be addressed.
The assassins stiffened and turned around slowly.
According to this report, you used the Redneck Trees as an assassination method. No, don’t try to deny it, there is still maple syrup on that pelt you’re wearing. Now I’m sorry, but that quite definitely comes under the heading of Going Too Far Even For The PPC, and this case also counts as defamation of sapient plant life. I also note that this is the second time you’ve been sent to treatment for doing something like this – yes, I have records of your treatment after the incident last year, and yes, I know about the extenuating circumstances but they were still no reason to sink to their level, particularly since the creatures in question were not Sues. But that’s in the past, it’s been dealt with, it’s the Trees problem we need to handle right now. Report to Doctor Freedenberg for disciplinary action and anger management therapy immediately, and this time, Miss Laburnum, I expect you to actually show up there. Preferably on time and not while drunk this time either. Yes, that’s in the records too.
I’m sorry, but we can’t let you get away with things like that. That would be letting you develop immunity to punishment, which is a Sue power, and then we would have to take extreme measures to stop you developing into full-blown Sues and nobody wants that. Your vacation time will start after your treatment. Have fun.
Laburnum and Foxglove trailed guiltily out of the office. Skyfire crossed her forepaws and shook her head.
“Sorry, but I hope you’ll understand when I say that you really did have that coming.”
[ATTEMPT TO COVER UP BAD TIME DISTORTION WHO ME? Yeah, I’m fiddling to try to fit the thing into HQ Standard Time a bit. I need to keep better track. As for Twiggy, Nin, and Starwind, this is because their authors all have students in the OFUR during this year, so I figured a temporal paradox would be a good gag. Hope they don’t mind. Meanwhile, meet the M-kids. Like their names? I didn’t mention this in the fic, but Molly’s middle name is “Wednesday”, because she found some old Addams Family comic books left by the last residents of the call centre and she liked the name when the agents read them to her. On this side of the fourth wall, I chose it because I liked the “weird little girl” connection.
Decided to do a minor retcon – L&F were never actually shown handing out certain information about VQ to other agents, and I decided it would be way too cruel even for them to do so, so they rethought once they got home from the recruiting mission. Besides, spoilers for good stories are punishable by severe pain in HQ.
“Hollyhockers” = game from Garry Kilworth’s Welkin Weasels series. Apparently a mixture of poker, tiddlywinks and the I Ching. I don’t know when or where the agents learned it, but possibly the OFUR staff like it – furry kidlit characters stick together, you know – and L&F could have picked it up during their student days.
Since Drake is biologically the equivalent of a human in his early twenties, was actually “born” about a year ago, is not mentally disabled in any way but tends to think and act rather like the twelve-or-thirteen-year-old fan who accidentally spawned him because he’s had very little chance to develop further emotionally, has memories of growing up as a “normal” fox as well as a Cute Animal Friend and remembers having mated before even though he didn’t actually technically do it, and knows very little about human/humanoid behaviour that wasn’t picked up from fanfic (which gives a pretty distorted view), I really have no idea whether he should be counted as capable of consenting. Time distortion produces unfortunate and deeply weird situations. Maybe I’m thinking too much about this, I just don’t want to weird out anyone who thinks he’s too childlike if he ever gets, um, involved. Thoughts? Moot point right now though, the poor weasel finds him way too weird … We were actually already planning a storyline involving Drake being involved with someone else before we started the current situation, and we’re not sure where to take it. The other character (no way am I telling you who, spoilers bad) would probably handle Drake’s essential, er, Drakishness better, but then poor Stormy really deserves a relationship which does not end in someone’s death, and Drake is currently about the only option. And sadly I don’t think the weasel is the type to be willing to share. Hm. This is hard.
As for Sky’s experience, Lux is, well, Lux, and it’s not fair for Stormsong to be the only one who gets fangirled (though Sky will have her share of fanboys at the OFUR, but males tend to glomp less and drool quietly more).
The Purging Party takes place on October 1 2007 – again, my attempt to cover up my awful case of Webcomic Time. The OFUR year is ’07-08, and so the students will be at the party – the Redwallers can’t refuse an invitation to anyone. Being a Redwall Abbey feast, it will last at least twenty-four hours and probably take up a couple of chapters.]