"Uh. Yes, sir."
I shifted uncomfortably in my seat. "Sir."
The Lichen, of course, didn't move, but I had the distinct impression of a disapproving glare. What are we to do with you, Agent Narto?
I winced. I had a fairly good idea about that. After all, when an Untangler is meant to be separating Labyrinth from Lord of the Rings – a fairly easy task, except when the author says 'goblin' – and instead demolishes the actual Labyrinth by running straight through all the walls in pursuit of an insane Jareth clone, after which he sets fire to the castle and the Goblin City, a fire which spreads to Mirkwood, which is apparently surrounding the Labyrinth... well, the point is, when an Untangler – when any agent – makes that much mess, there's not much Upstairs can do except kick you out. Even with my excuse that Mirkwood shouldn't even have been there, even though it was the Lichen I was facing – he's fairly lenient, even if he sounds like John Cleese – there weren't really many other options. I was screwed.
Of course, I didn't say any of this. "I, uh, don't know, sir."
That was by way of being a rhetorical question, Agent Narto. I already know the answer. Although you are one of my best agents...
I cowered in the seat, willing my ears to grow some sort of soundproof covering so I didn't have to listen. For a wonder, it seemed to work for a moment – in view of subsequent events, the Laws of Narrative Comedy probably demanded – so I missed his next few words.
... sure you will do well in your new department, where your particular, ah, obsessions will likely be seen as a bonus.
I blinked. That wasn't quite what I'd been expecting. "Uh, what?" I asked intelligently.
The Lichen sighed. I said, you are to be transferred to the Department of Geographical Aberrations. You've heard of it? I shook my head, not trusting my voice. I wasn't going to be kicked out? The Lichen continued. It's also known as the Pyro Department. As I said, you should fit in very well.
"Um." I stared at the Lichen for a few moments. He stared back, or as close as a plant can. "Um," I said again, and managed to follow it up with "Thank you?"
There was a distinct impression of rolled eyes. Make no mistake, Narto, you were within inches of being kicked out of the PPC entirely. You're just fortunate the Bonsai Mallorn noticed your record. Speaking of which, you're supposed to be meeting him – and the senior agent in the department – in about five minutes. I suggest you run.
"Yes sir! Thank you, sir!" That was the last time I saw the Lichen, as I ran out of the door and down the grey corridors of HQ. I knew, as everyone around here does, that thinking about how late I was going to be would be the worst thing to do, so instead I focussed on what I'd had for breakfast. Unfortunately, there's only so long you can think about a single bowl of bran flakes, and my mind inevitably crept back to the time, and how bad it would look to show up late to join the department.
I ran straight into the girl, knocking her flying. I, of course, tumbled to the floor myself, and was lucky not to break an arm. As we sat up, I got my first look at her. She had shoulder-length strawberry-blonde hair, dark eyes behind fairly normal glasses, and fairly average features. She was wearing all black, as is normal among PPCers, and her flashpatch was a cactus, marking her as a member of the PPC's largest department, the Department of Mary-Sues. As she stood up, I saw that she was a bit taller than me, although that's not really saying much.
Of course, she was giving me the same sort of inspection, and I doubt what she saw interested her much more than it has anyone else. Messy red hair, blue eyes, short, flying pig flashpatch... it all assembles in people's minds as 'yet another Untangler', and they leave as soon as they can.
She was polite, though, even then. "Sorry," she said, even though I'd been the one running down the hall as though the Cleaners were after me. "I'm Louise."
She held out a hand, and I shook it. She had a firm grip, but then, she was an Assassin. It's not really a job that attracts the weaker types. "Uh, hi," I said, "Narto. And, um, I'm sorry for running into you."
She shook her head. "Think nothing of it," she said, "happens all the time. You're in a hurry to get somewhere, are you?"
I winced. "Yes, actually. I was trying to find the Department of Geographical Aberrations, but I don't have a CD player, so..." I shrugged helplessly.
She figured it out then, I'm fairly sure. Certainly she gave me a very odd look before saying, "Yeah, you want Response Centre seventy-two hundred. Actually, you're nearly there." She pointed at the door I'd nearly fallen against, and I saw that it was marked with the number 7219. I looked at Louise again.
"So it's just down here?"
She nodded. "Should be, yep."
I smiled, feeling slightly embarrassed. "Uh, thank you."
She nodded. "You're welcome. Now get a move on, you don't want to be late. See you around." With that, she walked off in the opposite direction. I noticed the smirk that accompanied her last words, but didn't realise what it meant. Not then.
Anyway, I continued on down the hallway to RC #7200 and knocked on the door. At least the Bonsai Mallorn always has a door – I hear the Sunflower Official's has a habit of vanishing. Although I'm also told he tends to answer it, which the BM isn't too good at.
Yeah. I spent at least ten minutes outside that door before, finally, it opened and I stepped inside. There, sitting on the desk in a blue ceramic pot, was the Bonsai Mallorn. He was small, golden-leafed, silver-trunked, and, basically, a bonsai Mallorn. Go figure. In front of the desk, another agent was sitting. Tall, dark hair, grey eyes... your typical Noldo, basically, although I was fairly sure I recognised him from somewhere. Ah, said the Mallorn, Agent Narto?
"Yes, sir," I replied. Well, what else was I going to say? To be honest, I was getting flashbacks to leaving the Lichen's office. Oh, they sounded completely different – the BM actually sounds a lot like Galadriel, though I'm told he's male – but the wording and the tone of voice was similar.
Good. Now, I understand you are being transferred to our department after... hmm.
"Accidentally burning down the Labyrinth and Mirkwood. Yes, sir." I saw no reason to prolong the agony.
The elf at the desk snorted. "Another screwup. Great."
Now, now, Dafydd, said the Mallorn, it's not like you weren't as bad when you first joined.
"At least I only burnt things in <I>one</I> Canon," he replied, but looked at me. "Implausible Crossovers?" I nodded. "Great. You can deal with the horrible missions from now on. Does he have a partner?"
Don't mind him, the Mallorn said to me, he's just got back from taking on 'legolas', by Laura. He paused for a moment to let that sink in. I see from your expression that you've heard of it. Oh, and Dafydd, he turned his attention back to the elf, who seemed to be getting more and more irate, yes, he does have a new partner. You remember, she was in here about half an hour ago?
"Oh. Yeah." Dafydd shook his head. "Then what am I doing here? Can't she do the whole introductory speech? She only just heard it."
The Mallorn sighed. No, Dafydd. You have to do it. It's not that hard.
He sighed. "At least we've got the stuff in here, not like when Takua joined..." Turning to me, he launched into what was fairly obviously a pre-prepared speech. "Welcome to the Department of Geographical Aberrations. I am Agent Dafydd, and my partner Selene and I are the senior agents in this department. The basic mission of this department is to prevent the creation of new, Uncanonical locations, or to put a stop to severe geographical distortion. Our method is basically the same as that of the Department of Mary-Sues, and as your new partner was an Assassin, she should be able to help you out on that front. Got all that?"
I nodded. What else was I to do? He didn't seem to be in the mood to answer questions, and I guessed I could get my new partner to clarify anything that needed it. Little did I know...
"Now," continued Dafydd, picking up what looked like a CAD with a box bolted onto the side, "I assume you know how to use the standard equipment, so I'll cut straight to the differences. This is a DOGA-modified CAD. It does all sorts of things. In fact, we're not sure what, but Makes-Things designed it especially for us, so we know it's useful. Now, are there any questions?"
"Um." I had lots of questions, but didn't think asking an irritable Noldo was a good idea. Best to stick to the essentials. "Where's my response centre?"
Dafydd blinked, and for the first time since I'd walked into the room he seemed to be at a loss. The Mallorn stepped in. We've put you in RC # 7216, Agent Narto.
"Oh, lovely," muttered Dafydd, "midway between me and Takua."
At least he won't waste time visiting the neighbours, replied the Mallorn evenly. Dafydd glared at him.
"Just watch it, tree. I got you this job, remember."
And you can't do a thing about it, the Mallorn said mildly. There's enough recruits in the department that your leaving would have no major effect.
Dafydd stared at him. Myself, I just tried to get out of the way in case the elf exploded... but he didn't. He merely snarled, turned, and marched out of the room. I watched him go, wincing as the door slammed, and then turned back to the Bonsai Mallorn. "Um?"
I'm awfully sorry about him. You'll be able to find your own way to your new response centre, will you?
I nodded. "I think I passed it on the way here, sir."
Good. In that case, get going, Agent Narto. No doubt there is a mission waiting.
"Yes sir. Thank you, sir." With that, I left the office, albeit somewhat slower than Dafydd had. I wandered back down the corridor in the direction I had originally come until I found the door marked 7216. Taking a deep breath – I was about to meet my new partner for the first time! – I knocked. After a second, the door opened slowly...
"Ah, Narto. Hello again. You are my partner, then? Good, good, we won't have to spend time getting to know each other."
"... Louise." I slumped against the doorframe. Why does this sort of thing always happen to me?