I have a message for you from the Sunflower Official.
HQ's only bipedal occupant straightened up and looked at the Queen Anne's Lace. "Is it depressing?" he asked.
I hope not. He says to tell you that the rate of portal appearance has stabilised.
Makes-Things put down his screwdriver and considered this. "So either the Cascade has stopped generating new strands…"
… or Captain Dandy has begun to make headway in controlling it. Yes.
"Good. It's been long enough." Makes-Things took off his glasses and rubbed his eyes. "Sorry. It's been a long day – or year, really."
Have you been that concerned over the Cascade? the Queen Anne's Lace inquired. I would have thought you had other things to occupy your time.
"Oh, it's not just that." The Technician picked up a Remote Activator and began to fiddle with it, randomizing the coordinates, opening a portal, and then flicking it closed again. "It's all these devices I've been inventing."
The Character and Canon Analysis Devices?
"Them, and the Disguise Generator, and the Anachronism Detector, and- well, all of it. No one ever uses it. I come up with all these ways to make their jobs easier, and they ignore me."
Well, there's a reason for that, the Lace observed. It's not about you – a lot of the Action Flowers don't like to go out into the Worlds at all. That was always the Weeds' job. Nowadays… well, if you'd seen the messages I had to carry, you'd understand. 'Merry Pseudo sighted on mountain. Taproot deployed. Mountain eliminated'. 'Plothole-generating slash detected in town. Planet destroyed from orbit. Slash terminated'. She sighed. Well, maybe I exaggerate a little – but it happens. The SO issues orders to prevent it, but it keeps on happening.
Makes-Things echoed her sigh, still staring into his generated portals. Curious, the Lace bent her petals towards the portal, focussing the light to allow her to see:
A flash as one portal closed and another opened.
A forest of giant redwoods, strange creatures leaping through the branches.
Flash – the open ocean, with a pod of dolphins leaping in front of the sunset.
Flash – a starfield, the closest sun blacked out by two colliding planets.
Flash – a parched field with a train track running through it.
Flash – two running figures.
Before Makes-Things could react, two women had charged through the portal. One of them, seeing herself headed for a collision, managed to twist in mid-air and vault over a workbench. The other wasn't so lucky, and crashed straight into Makes-Things. The Technician came down hard, but rolled away from the woman and ducked under a table.
"Merry Pseudos!" he squeaked. "Get them out of here!"
They might not be Pseudos, the Queen Anne's Lace pointed out. You weren't, after all.
"But these are girls!" Makes-Things exclaimed. "That makes it about ten times more- look, you have to be sure, right?"
The Lace flicked her mind over those of the two women, who were pulling themselves upright. Well, I suppose I ought to take them to the Reality Room…
"Yes! Good! Reality Room, or to see the SO, or out into space – I don't care, just get them out of my lab!"
They aren't Pseudos, sir, the Lace said, glancing up at the Sunflower Official. The Reality Room had no effect on them.
In some ways that's a pity, the SO mused, leaning on his desk. It would have been… simpler if the Room had dealt with them for us. As things are, we have to find something to do with them.
Makes-Things believes he can reconstruct the coordinates he pulled them from, the Queen Anne's Lace told him. Apparently it's something to do with randomisation not being truly random – I'm not entirely sure.
But do we want people all over the Multiverse knowing about us? the SO asked. You know how we scrounge technology and resources from all the worlds – can you imagine if people tried to do the same to us? So far as we know, we are the only organisation with access to portal technology – and I don't believe I'm comfortable with that changing.
What other option is there? the Lace asked. The Tiger Lily's interview confirmed they are not technicians like Makes-Things – they claim to be something called 'LARPers', which apparently signified wielders of primitive weapons – so we can't follow his example. And… well, if you'll forgive my saying so, sir, I don't believe imprisoning or executing them would be… right.
Of course it wouldn't, the SO assured her. He gestured, indicating his office, the rebuilt First Room – and by extension, all of HQ. We are here to protect the plot continuum, not lock it all away. Now, if Makes-Things had managed to invent a memory-eraser…
I don't think he's very motivated right now, the Lace informed him. The Action departments still don't make much use of his designs – they prefer the long-range approach.
I am trying to change that mindset. The Sunflower shook his blossom in aggravation. I wonder sometimes whether it would be easier to transfer the lot of them and start afresh… ah. Aha.
Primitive weapons, did you say? The Lace nodded her bloom, bewildered, and the SO's petals quivered in response. I think I have a plan. I just need to make a few calls…
The two women were sitting in the Reality Room, talking quietly, when the Queen Anne's Lace entered. Hello, Elisabeth, Anya, she said, waving a leaf in a close approximation of Makes-Things' habitual greeting. Have you been well cared-for?
"Like an exhibit in a zoo," one of them – Elisabeth, the one who had leapt the bench in Makes-Things' lab – muttered. "How much longer are you going to keep us locked up here?"
Actually, that's why I'm here, the Lace said. We have an… option for you.
"Oh, don't tell me," the other woman – Anya – remarked. "We go home, resume stocking shelves for the supermarket, and forget all about your weird magical wonderland."
Actually, I'm here to offer you a job.
Anya blinked, then looked at Elisabeth. "I must be delusional," she said. "I thought the giant telepathic flower just tried to hire me."
"It did," Elisabeth pointed out, and turned to the Lace. "What sort of job?"
"Is it something like fertilizer carrying?" Anya added. "Or- wait, is this a euphemism? Are we getting a 'job' as plant food?"
What? No, you- all right, short version: the thing you fell into HQ through is called a plothole, or a portal. That one was created by Makes-Things, but they also occur naturally. In some worlds – worlds which are based on the written word – there are anomalies which create large numbers of plotholes. We Flowers are the Protectors of the Plot Continuum, which means we track down and eliminate these anomalies.
"And that's what you want us for," Elisabeth concluded. "Anomaly elimination."
"Which is clearly a euphemism," Anya added. "What does it actually mean?"
Anything from assassination, to exorcism, to simply returning characters to their rightful worlds, the Lace explained. We have several Action departments, allowing our agents – some of us Flowers, and if you accept, yourselves – to specialise.
"Exorcism?" Anya asked. "Like… magic?"
I suppose so. I'm not really familiar with the details.
"That sounds awesome." Anya glanced at Elisabeth. "What about you? I know it's pretty glamorous waiting tables…"
"Cheap food or world-hopping magic powers," Elisabeth deadpanned. "Let me just think about that for a moment. Oh, wait, looks like I already made a decision."
The Sunflower Official will be delighted, the Queen Anne's Lace told them. He wasn't sure you would both accept – this way, twice as many anomalies can be repaired!
"Wait, wait." Anya held up a hand. "You're not planning on making us do this separately? I mean, it sounds dangerous."
Only marginally so, the Lace assured her. There's no real need for a team approach.
"There is for us," Elisabeth said firmly. "And since you asked us to work for you, I'd think twice about disagreeing."
The Lace fluttered her leaves. Well, I'm sure I don't-
There was a crackle, and then Makes-Things' voice bellowed from HQ's communication system. "There's another one! Another Merry Pseudo in my lab! Somebody come and take it away!" The speaker fell silent, and the two humans looked at each other.
"Merry Pseudo," Elisabeth repeated. "Why does he keep calling us that?"
Merry Pseudos were the first anomalies we detected, the Queen Anne's Lace told her. They're humans – usually female – who delight in flooding their worlds with plotholes and warping everything to suit themselves. That's the assassination I mentioned.
"Wow, 'anomaly' was very euphemistic," Anya observed. "So apart from Mary Sues-"
Merry Pseudos, the Lace corrected. Anya frowned.
"No – they're named after Ensign Mary Sue, right? From that Star Trek fanfic?"
I have absolutely no idea what you're talking about, the Lace admitted. We came up with the name ourselves – they are constantly cheerful, and their biology is altered to the point that they aren't real living things at all.
"Uh-huh." Anya looked dubious. "Well, apart from them, what do 'anomalies' actually consist of?"
For the most part, bad slash and implausible crossovers. The Queen Anne's Lace shrugged her leaves. Those are technical terms, of course. They mean-
"No, I got it," Anya interrupted, then grinned at Elisabeth's furrowed brow. "It's a fandom thing – I'll explain later."
"No, it's not that." Elisabeth looked at the Lace. "From what the two of you have said, our world and yours invented virtually the same name for the same phenomenon, entirely independently. You can see that doesn't make sense, right?" She looked between the Lace and Anya. "Right? I mean, how could something like that even happen?"
I don't know, the Queen Anne's Lace admitted. Plothole?