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Kaitlyn finished off her report and leant back in her Galactic Tyrant-brand Executive Pivoting Helium-Cushioned Mobile Throne of Glory. "There's nothing like a good job well done," she announced in (due to a mishap in her last mission) a voice like sun on the meadows. "Except for a bad job well done. Or a good job done mediocrely. Or- sorry, I'll stop."

The Response Centre was silent. Kaitlyn looked around at the empty room and sighed.

"You know," she told the room, her words like a river of honey, "I was all by myself down in Character Protective Services most of the time, what with Chelsea always off on her day job. But it was never quite as lonely as this."

She tapped at the keyboard, half-heartedly uploading the report to the network for any interested agents to read. Then she looked around the room again, as if hoping someone had appeared in the intervening seconds.

"... on the other hand," she said in her silk-smooth voice, "my partner's being interviewed or tortured or whatever by the DIA, so I guess that means I'm-" She stopped abruptly, a grin growing on her face. Hopping down from the office chair, she grabbed her jacket, purse, and current book, and hurried over to the door. Pushing it open, she put one foot out into the corridor, then turned back to look at the console.

"- off-duty," she finished her sentence, and slammed the door behind her before the Ironic Overpower could react.

~

There are many places in HQ a PPC agent can go when she finds herself at loose ends. The Cafeteria is usually a good place to meet friends, though the food quality tends to vary quite dramatically. The Miss Cam Courtyard is a quiet place to sit and read, though since Alice the horse and roman the mini-Capitoline Wolf had started staging races between their respective subjects it had become rather unpredictable. New Caledonia's Musée des Univers Perdus is good for a browse, provided one is interested in the fiction of lost civilisations - and if not, the nearby Club Aujourd'hui offers 24-hour music and a dance floor that has to be seen to be believed.

For the true connoisseur, however, there is only one option. Actually, that isn't true, but since the Pennacook club is ridiculously exclusive (rumour has it the founder refused to allow herself to become a member, since she didn't meet the standards), and the Chlorophyll Club is only open to Flowers - oh, but then there are the specialist joints like the Rusty Scabbard, or the generic hangouts such as the PPC Bleepka Bar. And given that the Lounge is in a permanent state of low-key partying for some festival or another… choosing somewhere to relax in HQ is not difficult, provided one can find the time.

But everyone has their own little corner which they keep coming back to, and ever since a certain incident with Chelsea (involving accidentally introducing Movieverse!Merry and Pippin to OFUM!Merry and Pippin, then giving the four of them a barrel of urple paint and letting them loose) had gotten Kaitlyn banned from the Bleepka Bar, her hangout of choice was Rudi's. The old-fashioned feel of Rudigore's pub suited her down to the ground, and some of the drinks behind the bar were simply gorgeous.

On this particular day, Rudi's was quiet; the blast craters from the latest PPC Cluedo match had been painted over, the Running Barfight (six months and counting!) had apparently grounded for the time being in the Rusty Scabbard, and the screens were only showing reruns of Nutmeg TV's RC #747 (the one where Parke gets sent to FicPsych). Kaitlyn ordered herself a mug of 1420 beer from the bar, leant back against the wooden panel, and looked around.

Most of the current occupants of the pub were regulars, inasmuch as anyone can be 'regular' with a PPC workload, but one table caught Kaitlyn's eye. There were three women sitting around it, and each was more intriguing than the last. Of course, it helped that the first one Kaitlyn noticed was a fairly ordinary-looking redhead, but even so, the faintly-glowing woman sitting next to her was fairly eye-catching. And then there was the third…

Try as she might, Kaitlyn couldn't tear her gaze away from the third woman. Her hair was long and flowing, and so dark it seemed almost to drink in the light. Her face was fair beyond belief - and alarmingly familiar-looking. "Tinúviel, Tinúviel," Kaitlyn murmured, her voice floating on the air. She couldn't think, off the top of her head, of any reason why her primary Lust Object would be in HQ - but she had better things to do than waste her time figuring it out. Taking a swig of her drink, she made her way through the maze of tables.

The woman who couldn't possibly actually be Lúthien noticed her approach, and turned to watch her. Kaitlyn swallowed the lump in her throat as she came to a stop by the table. "Uh, hi," she said, in a voice as delicate as the first snowflake of winter. "Mind if I sit here?"

"Go ahead," possibly!Lúthien said, and her voice was genuinely like honey to Kaitlyn's ears (only, she hastily thought to herself, in a nice way, not a sticky one). She smiled, and Kaitlyn's heart fluttered madly.

Calmly, she told herself, and thanked Vana that her thoughts weren't suffering from flowery description as well. She sat down, returned the smile, and held out her hand. "I'm Kaitlyn," she said, and her words were like rose blossoms in the air.

"Hypatia," the woman said, shaking her hand.

Kaitlyn stared. "Like… the librarian of Alexandria?" she asked, her voice both shaking and resonating like subtle music. Gorgeous and smart? I couldn't be that lucky!

She wasn't. Hypatia let out a little giggle, and Kaitlyn saw - too late - the vapid light in her eyes. "Well, I don't know. I was, like, a character replacement for Arwen before some nice agents wiped my memory. They said I couldn't keep calling myself Arwen, and I was like, 'Why not?', and they were like, 'Duh, because it's confusing'. But then some chick from FicPsych told me that 'Hypatia' means the same thing as 'Arwen', and I was all, 'Wow, that's a cool-sounding name'. Who's Alexandra?"

Kaitlyn's hopes crumbled around her. "Uh," she managed in her velvet tones, "never mind." She took another drink from her tankard and turned to the other two women. "Kaitlyn," she introduced herself, "DCPS - oh, and Floaters now, I guess."

"I'm Nita," said the redhead, "and this is the Spirit of Imagination."

"Call me Nancy," the Spirit of Imagination said with a shrug. "It's not my name, but it's shorter."

Kaitlyn tilted her head, squinting at the redhead. "Nita," she said, her words as gentle as a feather. "Like… from Young Wizards?" She glanced sideways at Hypatia. "Though I suppose that's an unreasonable assumption."

Nancy snorted and sipped her drink (some kind of cocktail which seemed to glow slightly, unless that was just carried over from her own aura). "It's exactly the same one I made," she said. "Would you believe she'd never even heard of the Lone Power? It made convincing her to fight against him really tricky, let me tell you."

"Since you never managed," Nita said, poking her in the ribs, "apparently it was too tricky even for the vaunted Spirit of Imagination."

"Time doesn't mean the same thing to me than to you mere mortals," Nancy said, putting on a haughty expression. "I'm just biding my time."

"Yeah, you're biding until I stop buying all the drinks," Nita chuckled. "Speaking of which, need a top-up?"

"That'd be lovely," Nancy said, handing Nita her glass. As the redhead made her way to the bar, Hypatia leant over and whispered in Kaitlyn's ear.

"I don't think they're actually arguing," she said. "They just like to play at it. I think it's cute." And she let out that little giggle again.

Kaitlyn gritted her teeth. "Right," she said, and even through her irritation her voice was like a morning mist. "Thanks." She took another gulp of her beer, then shrugged slightly and drained it.

Hypatia didn't take the hint. "Did you know," she whispered, "that they do over sixty different cocktails here? I'm working through the list; so far I've reached, like, twenty." She giggled yet again. "But not all today!"

Kaitlyn fought the urge to clonk the disappointingly annoying woman around the head with her tankard. It wasn't actually Hypatia's fault that Kaitlyn had made assumptions about her, and presumably she did have some redeeming qualities to her personality. Kaitlyn turned to face her, and made the effort to smile. "So," she said, her words like dew on the grass, "you're a new recruit, you said? Are Nita and, uh, Nancy training you?"

"Oh!" Hypatia exclaimed, and giggled yet again - it seemed to be her default state of being. "No, no. I don't think Nancy would be allowed to - I don't think she, like, really works here."

"Of course I do!" Nancy protested. "I perform an invaluable service in encouraging the imaginations of the PPC's agents."

"Well, it hasn't worked on me," Hypatia - naturally - giggled. "I haven't got an imagination. Though I think there's an Imaginary Friend somewhere on the cocktail menu..."

"You see?" Nancy replied. "I told you I was doing good work. Where would you be without me?"

"Drunk," said Nita, returning from the bar with a pair of glasses in her hands. "Well," she reconsidered, glancing around the table, "drunker. Here y'go."

Kaitlyn lifted her tankard, and then remembered it was empty. "I should get going," she said, in a voice like the wind rustling the leaves.

"Oh, no!" exclaimed Hypatia. "And we were getting on so well!"

"Uh, yeah," Kaitlyn said, "I guess we were."

Hypatia beamed at her. "And I've, like, fixed that thing you were doing with your voice!" she declared. "I think this calls for a drink to celebrate!"

Kaitlyn blinked. "It wore off?" she asked, and then grinned. "It did wear off!"

"No," Hypatia said firmly, "I fixed it through, like, being generally cool. Now do you want that drink or not?"

"Uh." Kaitlyn looked over at Nita - who had a suspiciously innocent expression on - and Nancy - who was covering what looked suspiciously like a laugh.

"Come oooooon," Hypatia pressed. "I'll even, like, buy it for you."

"..." Kaitlyn looked down at her tankard, then across at the bar, and then sighed. "Sure," she said. "One drink." How bad can it be?

Hypatia giggled and reached for the cocktail menu. "Right," she said decisively. "You totally have to try a Kaleidoscopic Archangel - it's to die for."

~

"... so the Marquis was like, What CAN you do, then?, and I was like, 'More like, what can't I do!'"

Kaitlyn giggled madly as Hypatia's story went on, and took a swig of her latest drink - yet another Shire Special, because how could she resist a cocktail with a mushroom sticking out of it? "So what did you, like-" She stopped, swallowed hard, and started over. "What did you say then?"

"I told him I'd dated, like, dozens of big warrior guys, which was totally true, even if I don't remember it." Hypatia put on her best pout. "And how unfair is that? I mean, like, what's the good of a social life if it all gets wiped aw- uh, hello? Can I help you?"

"I doubt it," said a familiar voice in an exceptionally dry tone. "Hello, Kaitlyn."

Kaitlyn spun on her chair, got her legs tangled up with the table, and ended up flat on the floor. "Selene," she said, staring up at her partner. "You're looking, uh, you."

Selene ran her fingers through her hair, which seemed to be suffering from an excess of static electricity. The brass cogs of the Key on the side of her face seemed to be working faster than normal, their whirring a soft undertone to the conversation. "Yeah," she said. "I'm not… can I sit down?"

"Oh!" Kaitlyn scrambled upright and looked across the table. For the first time, she realised that Nita and Nancy had apparently left at some point. "Um, sure."

Selene didn't so much take a seat as collapse into one. Kaitlyn bit her lip and leant forward, studying her partner's face. "What happened?" she asked.

"The DIA have, quote, 'certain concerns'," Selene said with a shrug. "Which apparently included you getting controlled by Dracula, me releasing a pack of wolves in HQ, you accidentally getting neuralyzed, my, um, loss of control in The Parent Trap, and 'the unorthodox ending of your most recent mission', unquote." She waved a hand vaguely. "So they decided to bring me in for interrogation."

"Interro-?" Kaitlyn stared at her. "Did they… y'know, torture you?"

"I'm sure they wanted to," Selene muttered. "But no. They just asked me a few questions - and then a few more, and then a few hundred more after that. And then they…" She clenched her fist, and Kaitlyn saw a spark of red appear in her eyes. "They meddled with the Key," the vampire said. "They know it's the only thing keeping me sane, but they still thought it was a good idea to muck about with it. Because I'm sure being the Secretly Prejudiced Police absolutely qualifies you to mess with out-of-multiverse technology."

Kaitlyn reached out as if to touch Selene's hand, but thought better of it. "What did they do?" she asked. "To the Key, I mean."

"They shoved a microphone into it," Selene growled. "They want to 'continuously monitor' me - because apparently invasion of privacy is the in thing to do if you're a bunch of prejudiced pigs."

"I'm sure they're not prejudiced," Kaitlyn said, trying for reassuring. "They're just trying to make sure-"

"The DIA," Selene snapped, sparks flickering around her eyes, "have harassed me since they were first founded. They once interrogated me in the Cafeteria because they thought I'd attacked Makes-Things - because apparently they hadn't noticed that he spends half his life hiding under desks whenever agents come near him. They have never had a better reason than 'because you're a vampire' to keep stalking me, and I am absolutely - nugging - sick of it." She tapped a finger on the Key, and added, "And I hope you can hear me saying so."

"Um." Kaitlyn sucked on her lower lip, trying to think through the haze of alcohol. "That's… pretty bad?"

"Too right it is." Selene cracked her knuckles, glowered at them for a second, and then looked up at Kaitlyn. "Where'd your friend go?"

Blinking, Kaitlyn turned to where Hypatia had been sitting. The black-haired woman had left - and so, unsurprisingly, had her most recent cocktail. "I guess she had to get back to… wherever it is she works," Kaitlyn murmured, feeling oddly disappointed. "Maybe she's got a mission. If she even works in Action."

"I've known a few people like that," Selene said. "Refusing to tell you anything, yes? My first partner in DOGA didn't tell me he was an elf until we'd been partnered for a year or so - though, to be fair, I didn't let him know what I was, either…"

"No, she…" Kaitlyn shook her head, banishing the thought of Hypatia from her mind. "Want a drink?" she asked her partner.

"Would kill for one," Selene said, then sighed, reached up, and tapped the Key. "But not," she said in an exaggeratedly clear voice, "literally."


Disclaimer: The PPC belongs to Jay and Acacia. The Lord of the Rings is Tolkien's, and Young Wizards is Diane Duane's.

Huinesoron's Author's Note: Hypatia is a character replacement of Arwen recruited by Agents Huinesoron of DOGA and Sambar of Finance, in their mission Empire State of Mind. Hypatia of Alexandria was the last librarian of Alexandria, and was a very clever woman.

At this point, I'll be taking a winter break from PPC: Driftwood. Churning out a mission every week or two is quite tiring, and I've also just finished my Accidental NaNo; I think it's time to let the keyboard rest for a while. If you want to keep reading about the Protectors of the Plot Continuum, try Googling us - we have a wiki, and a Posting Board, and truly vast numbers of stories. I hope to see you there - and I hope to see you back here, when Kaitlyn and Selene return in the new year.

Agent Kaitlyn's Constructive Criticism

Of all the cocktails I drank, the Shire Special was undoubtedly the best. They've managed to capture the rich taste of a 1420 beer, mixed with the rural herbs which Samwise would use to cook his rabbits, and have thrown in a general helping of just-feels-like-the-Shire to round it off. And, of course, they give you a mushroom to dip in it, which can never be a bad thing.

The Kaleidoscopic Archangel, on the other hand, was… an experience. I appreciated the banded colours, and the streams of coloured bubbles after you mix it were adorable, but the addition of tiny amounts of divine beverages - the sort that tend to incinerate the incautious drinker - is just showy and unnecessary - not to mention quite painful on the tongue.