Somewhere deep in the heart of PPC HQ is a bar. It isn’t Rudi’s (which would be called a dive by the clientele here), or the Bleepka Bar (most of the drinks offered there would hold no interest for this crowd), or the New Caledonia nightclub Aujourd’hui (dancing? Dancing has no appeal here). This is the Chlorophyll Club, the favoured drinking den for Flowers across the PPC.
Entering through the wide invisible door (at least, invisible to those with photonic vision), a visitor to CC encounters long lines of elegant tubs, filled with the richest soil, with root-imbibed drinks on tap. At this particular time, a blossom of tubs had been pulled together in a conversation circle, and the Flowers involved had already imbibed heavily.
I had a message from the Rose of Sharon some time-partitions ago, the Nightshade began, but was cut off by a flurry of confused petal-folds from the Hydrangea (who had a lot of petals to fold).
The who now? the Hydrangea asked. The Nightshade shook a leaf.
Head of the Audio/Visual Division of DoSAT, she reminded her colleague. She said-
A/V’s a division? the Thistle interrupted. I would have sworn they were a department.
Not for many years, the Coriander informed her. The Board downgraded them with the usual reasons – ‘too few staff members’, ‘insufficient workload’, ‘overlap with another department’.
The same thing happened to old Multiple Offenses, the Hydrangea recalled. You’ll want to watch your back, Thistle – they’ll be folding you into Medical or DoSAT next.
They never would! the Thistle exclaimed. Mary-Sue Experiments & Research is a specialist field – Fitzgerald’s hacks couldn’t make head or tail of it.
Maybe they’ll give your staff to the Echinacea, the Hydrangea went on. Medical Research is an up-and-coming field, unlike some departments I could mention.
Such as your own? the Antigravity Apple suggested mildly. The Hydrangea recoiled from it, stung.
You’re hardly a shining model of progress yourself, it retorted. When did you last have a busy day, AA? Was it 1995, perhaps?
Now, now, the Coriander cut in, fluttering her leaves to get their attention. We’re none of us big-name Department Heads – well, except the Nightshade – so let’s not get into fights over it.
I’m hardly a big influence, the Nightshade said, sounding faintly maudlin. Most of the time my staff pretty much ignore me. I think they resent me.
That’s underst- the Antigravity Apple began, but stopped at a jab from the Coriander. It bobbed out of range and settled back down.
Are we all doomed to be relegated, then? the Thistle asked into the silence. Just because our departments are small, or not all shiny and modern?
Not at all, the Coriander reassured her. Look at Archie, for instance.
Who, now? the Hydrangea asked. The Coriander’s leaves fluttered slightly.
Thornelius, I mean – the Big Thorn. His department was pretty much gone after the Cats invaded, but now he’s, what, the fourth-largest in Action?
I never would have expected it, not of DAVD, the Antigravity Apple mused. I would have bet on him ending up as a division of Floaters.
Times change and leave us behind, the Hydrangea said, trying for a solemn tone (and failing). Like the poor Rose of Sharon.
D’you think there’s other people out there who don’t know about changes? the Antigravity Apple asked, nodding itself slightly towards the Thistle. She folded her leaved grumpily at the sly jab, but the Coriander spoke before she could respond.
There probably are, at that, she said thoughtfully. Maybe somewhere in the depths of HQ there’s someone who doesn’t know about the Macroviruses.
Or who’s still waiting for the Black Cats to attack, the Hydrangea suggested. The Thistle joined in enthusiastically.
Or still thinks the Mysterious Somebody’s in charge-
Or can’t wait to get back to Origin! the Antigravity Apple finished triumphantly. I bet there are, and all. Maybe we should mount an expedition to find-
Attention, please. Your attention, please.
The voice came over the airwaves, louder than any Flower had the right to be. The Antigravity Apple spun in a circle, and the Thistle clapped her leaves to her blossom – a bad move when you have spikes.
Ow, she said. Who’s that?
It’s the Rhododendron, the Nightshade said, straightening up. He used to be my secretary, when I first started in Operations. The Marquis transferred him to be general secretary to the Board… hush, we have to listen.
I have been authorized to provide information on an incident that occurred one standard day ago, the Rhododendron said over the Flower-specific PA. As you may have heard, an agent from a Security department went rogue, and caused a certain amount of damage. It is my sad duty to inform you that a number of Flowers were killed before he was apprehended, specifically: Weed-Eleven. Weed-Sixteen. Weed-Forty. The Snowthorn. And the Clover. In addition, several members of the Department of External Security are critically injured, and two Yellow Roses received minor burns. The Board hopes all our thoughts will be with them, and that if any of you have deities, you will pray for their recovery.
There was a long, tense silence in the Chlorophyll Club, and it was the Nightshade who broke it. The Clover, she said, sounding stunned. Storm and wildfire, another Head of Finance is gone. Just like the Bindweed… and the Evermind. Her petals quivered with emotion, and the Hydrangea reached out to her.
They caught him, it said, the only comfort it could offer. No one else will die. And… I’m sorry for your loss.
The Nightshade shook herself slightly, then spread out her leaves and petals to take in as much air and light as possible. That was a long time ago, she said, sounding composed once more. And now I must be going. I’m sure I will be needed in my department before long. She extracted her roots from the pot and moved away, not heeding the farewells called after her – and didn’t break down until she was safely in her office.