… rumours of the DIS causing trouble out there in the Word Worlds. Sub Rosa, can you assign a few more spies to general patrol, just to keep an eye on the situation?
The Sub Rosa began to nod her blossom, but caught herself. Wait – since we're all equal now, I'm allowed to object, correct?
Allowed, yes, the Sunflower Official agreed. But since our new Department of External Security is overwhelmed with the recent influx of Mary-Sues trying to enter HQ, I'm not sure who else you think could do it.
… granted, the Sub Rosa allowed. I'll sort it out as soon as the meeting's over.
Excellent. The SO turned to the Lichen. Now, I've been hearing word of Implausible Crossovers staff attempting to bribe my Assassins to request a transfer. That stops now. We didn't fight last year's war just to revert to the old mutual distrust. This Board is supposed to be our way of sorting out our differences, not the Mysterious Somebody's style of corruption.
But the Board doesn't do anything! the Lichen objected. If the Marquis would assign some of his recruits to my Department-
I wasn't aware you needed any, the Daisy in question pointed out. Have you filled out the paperwork?
This is the first I've heard of the existence of 'the paperwork', the Lichen ground out. Do you know how difficult it is to get answers out of your Secretaries? I talked to someone named Terri Ryan for four hours and came away with nothing!
Perhaps you didn't ask the right questions, the Marquis retorted. We're very particular – not like some-
Enough. The SO threw the mental equivalent of a pillow at the two Flowers. If you two don't stop I think I'm going to spontaneously combust with frustration. I'm feeling overheated already.
That's probably because you're on fire, the Tiger Lily said mildly.
Oh, very funny. The SO bent his petals towards her – and jumped as a wisp of smoke drifted out from behind him. Ow. What? Ow! Put me out!
The Wisteria, usually the quickest off the mark in this sort of situation, tapped a button on her communicator. Fire damper, SO's space, Room One, she said calmly. Half a second later, a rain of foam poured down from the ceiling. In the silence, as the SO looked down at his ruined pinstriped suit, an unfamiliar voice sounded:
Heh heh heh.
The Flowers turned almost as one to look in the direction of the voice: the massive sheet of glass which made up the back wall of the Committee Room, the infinite black space that could be seen through it, and the row of potted plants standing in front. Almost all of the dozen Plants – which included both 'real world' and fictional breeds, such as the snowthorn, elanor and (bonsai) mallorn recently brought in as a sort of memorial to the Evermind – were stationary, just inert vegetables. The exception was a silver-petalled flower – or rather Flower – which turned to face them.
A Slaver Sunflower, the Clover said wearily. Whose bright idea was that?
Who knows, these days? asked the Marquis de Sod in a tone which invited dismissal of the entire question.
I do, the SO said, edging sideways as the Slaver Sunflower flared its petals towards him - he knew all too well that the focussed light from those mirror surfaces could burn. It was you. It always is. If it weren't for your aggressive recruitment program, my suit would be intact today.
Really? the Marquis snapped. Because as I recall, it was you who insisted the portal to Origin be moved to the First Room. It was you who demanded said First Room as your office – and gave it over to the Mysterious Somebody. And it was you who said that we needed to reoccupy it and turn it into the Committee Room when the Board was formed.
All of which would be fine if you wouldn't bring in such dangerous plants to try and Awaken-
I'll let the Big Thorn know you're prejudiced against him, shall I?
Good grief, both of you, just stop. The Queen Anne's Lace moved forward and addressed the newly-awakened Slaver Sunflower. Hello; welcome to life. You're quite safe here – actually, we'd like to offer you a job.
A job? the Slaver Sunflower repeated. That sounds like work.
Well, I suppose so, the Lace admitted, but-
I think I'd rather stay here, the Slaver Sunflower cut her off. It's entertaining – a target-rich environment, I think you'd call it.
We are not targets, the Tiger Lily said firmly. If you attack us again, I will have you arrested and thrown back into the wild.
I'd like to see you try, the Slaver Sunflower said, flexing its petals ominously. Me against you? I know who I'd bet on.
Why did you even bring this thing in? the SO asked in a tightly-beamed thought to the Marquis. What possible use could you find for such a hazardous Plant? He listened to the answer, then let out a mental laugh.
What's funny? the Slaver Sunflower demanded. Are you mocking me?
Not at all, the SO assured it. I was just thinking – how would you like power? Real power, not this 'intimidate the Board' business.
… how much power? The Slaver Sunflower sounded cautiously curious. The SO shrugged his leaves, feigning disinterest.
Oh, practically unlimited, he said. We had in mind a key position for you – one without which the whole of HQ… no, the whole of the PPC would grind to a halt. But, if you'd prefer to get into a losing fight with the Department of Internal Affairs…
Let's not be too hasty, the Slaver Sunflower said. If – and I'm not saying I will – if I were to take this job… people would look up to me?
Only if you stand on an overturned pot, the Tiger Lily muttered, but the SO waved her into silence.
I can promise you, he said to the Slaver Sunflower, that you would have vast numbers of beings under your control. No, more than that – almost every agent in the PPC will pass through your doors. And they will fear you…
… you're not making this up?
Every word I have said is the truth, the Sunflower Official confirmed. Shall we take it that you accept?
… maybe for a little while, the Slaver Sunflower said grudgingly. The SO nodded his blossom.
Marvellous. Hornbeam knows the most about your new role – he flashed a quick thought to the huge Ironwood, filling him in – so I think it would be best if he conveys you down. Unless you've changed your mind…?
Oh, you can't take this back! The Slaver Sunflower yanked its roots out of its pot and scurried across the floor, trailing soil and mulch as it went. Come on, tree!
I will be directly to your rearward in due time, Hornbeam intoned, and with a nod to the other Flowers, he ducked out through the door behind the PPC's newest recruit.
It was only when the door clicked shut that the SO and the Marquis looked at each other and began laughing. How will you keep him down there? the Marquis asked between chuckles.
Well, he can hardly burn Hornbeam, can he? the SO asked. I figure once he's been in charge a few standard time partitions, he won't be able to extract himself from the Department.
That was masterful, the Marquis told him. I was genuinely impressed – you have the makings of a true manipulator.
Would you two mind filling the rest of us in on the big joke? the Tiger Lily asked pointedly. I can tell you're dying to share.
The SO and the Marquis shared a look. That position we've just given him – the one with unlimited real power? the Marquis asked.
With hundreds of moving bodies at his command, and agents in and out of his door all the time? the SO added.
We have been paying attention, the Clover pointed out. What is the job?
We've put him in charge of the Shrines, the Sunflower Official said, his mental voice rocking with laughter. He's now Head of the Department of Dead Author Electricity Generation.