We've got a weird one.
The Tiger Lily looked up from her paperwork with a barely-suppressed sigh. What?
Captain Dandy leant against the doorframe. I said, we've got a weird one. A world, I mean. It's another greenworld, nothing special, except… well, like I say: weird.
I've very happy for you. The Tiger Lily returned to her work, hoping the Dandelion would go away. No such luck.
We need you to come and have a look.
You'll have to talk to the Sub Rosa about that, the Tiger Lily snapped. Honestly, it was like he was deliberately twisting her stem. She ought to-
I did, and now Captain Dandy was barely suppressing laughter. She told me to take you.
… fine. The Tiger Lily spent a few standard time partitions – more than she needed, really – tidying her things, then turned to the door. Lead the way.
The Tiger Lily would never admit it, but Captain Dandy had been right. There was something 'weird' about the world they entered through the newly-stabilised plothole. It wasn't in the air, or the soil, or the sunlight… it wasn't even like the touch of a strange mind. It was like…
I know what it's like, Captain Dandy said suddenly, and the Tiger Lily was annoyed to realise she had been broadcasting her thoughts. It's like the mnemonic traces we got off the Book.
It can't be, the Tiger Lily disagreed. Those traces are a, and here she couldn't keep a hint of a sneer slipping into her voice, 'Firstborn thing'.
I said like, not identical to, Captain Dandy pointed out mildly.
Well, you're wrong. It all slipped into place with an almost alarming neatness. I'll tell you exactly what it's like. It's like we're reading the words from a page – only the words are the world. Instead of atoms, the fundamental particle of this planet is the letter.
… well, when you're right, you're right, Captain Dandy conceded. But how-?
"… with twinkling eyes/O! What surprise!/A-dancing over the meadow…"
From between two trees, a thing appeared. It was as if two thick-stemmed Flowers had lifted a rock between them, hefting it so it obscured the upper halves of their stems. With one front supporting the rock, each had thrust the other out to the side; then they had pressed their blossoms together, creating a bewildering cascade of yellow petals with an irregular, blotched white centre.
Only the stems were blue. The rock was eye-wateringly pink (or maybe purple). The leaves were as white as the centre of the blossoms, and ragged at the ends. And one of the blotches on that centre was a gaping wound – one which moved in time to the mental voice which now assailed the Flowers.
"Oh! What pretty flowers! I never knew they grew so big."
The Tiger Lily turned her blossom to Captain Dandy. Is it talking about us?
A flurry of vibrations raced through the air and impacted the Flowers' leaves, a physical manifestation of the thing's cry: "Squeee! Talking Flowers! That's like the most awesome thing ever!"
Apparently so. Captain Dandy nodded his blossom to the thing. Greetings… thing, on behalf of The Organisation. I am-
"I'm not a Thing!" the thing exclaimed. "My name is Princess Dreamchild of the Hidden Kingdom of Moonsong!"
Very well… Ruler Delusion Sapling, the Tiger Lily attempted, doing her best to make sense of the only vaguely coherent thought patterns. Can you tell us about this world?
"You mean the forest?" the thing asked. "It's a wonderful place full of the prettiest flowers and animals in the world, only," and here it made a sound somewhat like the rasp of stone on stone, and a single drop of water which the Flowers somehow knew would be described as 'crystalline' tumbled down the white centre of its flower, "my cruel father won't let me out here!"
Wait, what? Captain Dandy shook his blossom side to side, trying to clear his mind of the strange mental sensation that had just intruded on it. But you are out here.
"I ran away!" the thing confided, cheerful once more. "My cruel father may be the lord of the Hidden City and rule it with an iron fist, but-"
I thought it was a Hidden Kingdom, the Tiger Lily pointed out, feeling the same mental fuzz wrapping her mind. And you were a… 'Princess'?
The thing narrowed two of its blotches at them – blotches which the Flowers could sense were actually 'twinkling violet orbs'. "But," it went on, "one of his servants is a kind and gentle soul who treats me with the honour I am due, and agreed to help me in exchange for a kiss. And now I am free!"
Well, I'm very… happy for you, the Tiger Lily said weakly. We must be-
"Ofcourse I need some way to convince my cruel father to let me leave the Secret City forever," the thing went on. "Did you know our people are the greatest flower-arrangers in the world?" The mental fuzz struck again, and this time Captain Dandy gasped.
I know what it is! he sent to the Tiger Lily. It-
"I'm sure that if I brought them two giant flowers, my cruel father would be forced by public opinion to let me go!" The thing beamed, and the fuzz assailed the Flowers' minds even fiercer.
I'm afraid that won't be possible, the Tiger Lily said gently. We have to be going now-
"It's okay!" the thing exclaimed. "It's for my own good! It won't hurt a bit." And from behind itself it pulled a 'lung, sleek, razor-sharp katana' which was both disgusting and far too large to have been hidden behind it. The mental fuzz honed itself in an instant into a needle point and drove into the Flowers' minds.
Plotholes! Captain Dandy gasped. It's a rogue plothole generator! We need to flee-
But the thing moved faster than the Tiger Lily had thought possible, its blue stems whirling as it charged. The first swing of its meaty sword sliced the end from Captain Dandy's leaf, and the Flower fell back, his mind screaming.
No! the Tiger Lily cried, sweeping her own leaf out to bat at the thing. But their enemy was too solid – the leaf simply folded around it, and the lung-katana tore it off at the stem.
"Monsters!" the thing exclaimed. "Disguised as flowers – the Mountain Kingdom's only weakness! Though my people do not know it, I, as their queen, will save them from this threat!"
The successive spikes of new plotholes being formed by the thing's words stabbed into the Flowers' minds. The Tiger Lily collapsed, reduced to using her petals to try and drag herself towards the plothole out. Captain Dandy, already down, curled his stem around his blossom, hoping for protection or relief, the Tiger Lily didn't know.
"As indeed I always protect them," the thing went on. "Yes, even though they don't know of my existence, I, Princess Dreamflower, have been their sole defence against-"
"What?!" The thing whirled back to glare at Captain Dandy. "How very dare you! Don't you know who I am?!"
I know what you are, Captain Dandy ground out. You are a menace – a plothole generator which threatens to destroy the whole fabric of reality. The Tiger Lily could feel the force he put into his words, shaping them into a mental barrage which he flung at the thing's brain. With an effort, she put aside her own pain and joined the assault.
"No, that's wrong!" the thing declared. "I am the Warrior Princess Dreamflower of the City of Flowers, and I-"
SHUT UP! Captain Dandy shouted, and for a wonder, the thing actually cringed back. You are an abomination – a twisted mockery of reality – and you never. Stop. TALKING!
The thing dropped its sword and clutched at its head. "You- how- what are you?!"
We are the Organisation, the Tiger Lily declared, forcing herself upright. She poured all her anger, all her pain, all her will into her voice, firing it into the thing's mind with all the force she could muster. And you – are – NOTHING!
The thing let out a long, piercing scream, then collapsed, a huddled, motionless heap. The Tiger Lily slowly crossed to it, feeling Captain Dandy following, and stretched her thoughts out. There was nothing there.
We destroyed its mind, she realised. The shell still lives, but the thoughts behind it…
I'm not even sure about the shell, Captain Dandy said. The Tiger Lily bunched her petals, glowering at him.
Are you telling me my job? It still takes in air and passes it out, it still generates heat, its sap still flows – it is alive.
I don't believe it ever was, Captain Dandy said. See where it has damaged itself on the blade of its weapon.
The Tiger Lily sighed, but leant down to see. … that isn't sap.
No. Not our kind, nor the kind most of the creatures we encounter bear.
The Tiger Lily dipped a tendril in the sticky fluid and lifted it. As the sunlight moved over it, the liquid sparkled, as if small flakes of polished metal were contained within it. So it was not even a creature to begin with.
No. A Pseudo-creature. We might have surmised that from its irrepressible and inappropriate cheerfulness, Captain Dandy mused. No true living thing facing the unknown could be so consistently merry.
Well, at least we know how to defeat it, the Tiger Lily said, straightening up. If we encounter any more of these Merry Pseudos, we shall be ready. We have learnt that much.
Oh, I think we've learnt more than that, Captain Dandy told her. It was a plothole generator, remember? And we are in a world shaped by writing…
The Tiger Lily stared at him. That would never work, she said at last. You think we could write our own plotholes? And use them? Impossible.
I don't know about impossible, Captain Dandy said, but unlikely, yes. Which is to say, and he turned his blossom to look out over the written world they stood in, if it worked, it would be the mother of all plotholes…