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(Disclaimer: The PPC was originally created by Jay and Acacia. Laura, Danny and Rachel belong to me. Norion and Frag were created by Firebird776 and are used here with permission. Teyala was created by me, but is available for the PPC community to use. The Flowers belong to the PPC community. Beta’d by doctorlit. The following stories contain bad language.)

WHOSE GAME WAS EMPIRES

There were a surprising number of bars to be found in PPC headquarters – or perhaps not that surprising, considering the sanity-bending nature of the work that most agents found themselves embroiled in on a regular basis. After a long day of watching beloved fictional characters being put through wringers, sometimes agents had to go where everybody was trying to forget their own names.

These establishments came in all shapes and sizes, from comfortable hangouts with chintzy junk on the walls to nasty blood-stained dives to distilleries in the bathroom of someone’s response center. The typical agent was usually no more than a five-minute walk away from the nearest purveyor of synthetic alcohol.

The PPC Bleepka Bar was the vanilla-flavored standby for most agents. Rudigore’s was the venue of choice for those looking for a bit more rowdiness; if you went into Rudi’s and someone wasn’t singing an off-color song, chances were good that the world was coming to an end. The Rusty Scabbard was the place for agents from fantasy continuums looking for a taste of home with their Bleeprin-infused mead or ale. Le Coeur Se Rappelle was an upscale bistro and Bleepwinery, perfect for those agents seeking a little romance in their lives.

And then there was the Pennacook Club.

The Pennacook Club was the PPC’s only private bar. Prospective members had to be invited in by someone who was already on the inside. After a quick Q-and-A session with some of the older members, a little schmoozing, and a brief waiting period, maybe – MAYBE – you might be asked to join the club yourself. Maybe.

It was the kind of place with antique leather furniture that smelled of tobacco smoke from years past. It was the kind of place where people could drink out of brandy snifters and not have others look at them as if they were huge dorks. It was the kind of place where anyone trying to sing a Rudi’s-type anthem would be portalled directly into a New York City dumpster.

In short, it was the kind of place that Danny loved.

The blond assassin took his El Olvidadizo cigar out of his mouth and blew a triumphant smoke ring. He then aimed a smile at the asari sitting directly across from him. She was dressed to the nines in a black and gold cocktail dress, which unfortunately clashed with the Department of Operations flashpatch just above her right breast.

“You’re absolutely sure you want to do this, Teyala?” Danny asked.

Teyala smiled back at Danny before reaching down to the baize-covered table and picking up a single die. She rolled it around her indigo fingers a few times in a very confident manner. “You can smirk at me like that all you like, Daniel,” she replied. “You’re not spooking me out of this one. I’ve got a good feeling.”

“Heh. I remember the last time you said that,” rumbled the krogan sitting on Teyala’s left. His armor would have been almost completely black had it not been for the various scrapes and dents. The Department of Mary Sues cactus had been etched onto the armor extending over his shoulder hump. “I also remember the Ironic Overpower shoving those words back down your pretty blue throat a little while later. I expected you to actually start gagging.”

“What’s life without a little risk, Frag?” added the final individual sitting at the table. She was far and away the physically shortest participant, but she held herself as if she was the biggest and best thing in the room. Her skin was slate grey, a striking contrast to the candy-cane-colored horns curving up from her temples. She was wearing a black t-shirt with the DMS flash patch, a pair of grey tartan shorts, and a brimless leather cap. “I say go for it, Lala. If you make it, it’ll be beyond awesome.”

“And if she fails?” Frag asked.

“Well, then it’ll be hilarious.” The grey-skinned girl grinned. Her teeth were dull and human-like, an odd thing to see from an Alternian troll. “I’ll be entertained no matter which way this plays out!”

“Hmm. You got a point there.”

Teyala shot the two assassins a glare, albeit one without much actual malice in it. It was more the kind of look an older sister might give her two mouthy younger siblings. “It’s nice to see that you both have such confidence in me.”

“Hey, no need for sarcasm!” the troll replied. “We’ve got plenty of confidence in you! We’re just being open-minded to the chance you might fail.”

Danny acted as if he was completely obvious to the conversation snaking over the table as he tapped the ash off his cigar into a nearby brass bowl. He then took a sip of the Bleepka and tonic sitting near his elbow before returning his cigar to his mouth. “If that’s your final decision, then,” he said around the cigar. “Roll it.”

Teyala shook the die around in her hand for a few seconds before tossing it onto the table. It rolled across the green felt, bounced off of one of the raised wooden edges, and finally came to a halt near Frag’s seat.

The effect was almost instantaneous. Teyala’s expression, so full of confidence, collapsed like a bridge made out of toothpicks in a windstorm. Frag shook his head in a smug ‘I told you so’ fashion as the troll began to cackle. Danny’s faint smile, however, remained unaffected by this turn of events.

“Looks like a critical failure,” he remarked. He clicked his tongue sympathetically as he picked up the die and rolled it back towards Teyala. “Shame about that.”

“I’d believe you more if you weren’t using your ‘schadenfreude’ voice,” Teyala replied, a touch bitterly. “You could try to be a bit more subtle about it.”

“I’ll keep that in mind for the future, my dear.”

The troll clapped her hands together in glee. “And now for the fallout!” she crowed. “Don’t spare us the gory details, Danny.”

Danny picked up a handful of dice and rolled them. After a few seconds of consulting the various books and papers lined up in front of him, the blond assassin looked back up at the three other agents. “Vanguard yanks the light post out of the ground with the power of her mind and swings it like a giant baseball bat,” he said. “Unfortunately, it’s just a tad too slow to hit Doctor Tomorrow, who teleports out of the way. Vanguard is unable to halt the momentum of the post to account for this, and so ends up hitting Snaplock instead.” Danny turned towards the troll. His smile widened, ever so slightly. “Roll for damage, Norion.”

Norion’s face froze. “What.”

There was a bellow of laughter from Frag. “You were right, Norion!” he said. “That was pretty hilarious! Ain’t that right, Lala?”

“Hmm. I suppose so,” Teyala replied. A bit of a smile returned to her face as she watched the little troll fume. “Don’t worry. I’m confident that you’ll roll well enough to avoid too much damage.”

“Very funny, Lala,” Norion muttered as he rolled several of his own dice. “You’re a real pail-licking comedian. Twelve.”

“Snaplock is knocked down the street and through a plate glass window into a display of colorful flowers. You are staggered, bruised, and injured.”

Norion stared at Danny for a moment. “That’s super, Danny,” she finally said. “That was a moment to treasure for the rest of my fucking life. I’m doing a pirouette off the fucking handle with joy over here. You know what I’m going to do with my newfound delight in the world, Danny?” She stood up, put both hands on the table, and leaned towards Danny with all the menace she could muster. It was a good effort, considering that Danny was several feet taller than she was. “I’m going to get a butter knife – possibly one from the bar, it’s more convenient – and sand it down so that it becomes even duller than it already was. Once it has become physically impossible to make said knife any less sharp, I will hunt you down and DISEMBOWEL YOU WITH IT!”

Nobody at the table seemed to mind this threat against Danny’s life. Frag pounded the table as he laughed again, a deep and rough sound. Teyala just rolled her eyes.

Danny nonchalantly took another sip from his drink. “Did I not mention that you also get two hero points for the inconvenience?” he remarked.

Norion considered this for a moment before sitting back down. “I’ll let you live,” she murmured as she picked up a nearby pencil and began scribbling notes down on her character sheet. “For now.”

“That’s very kind of you,” Danny replied. “Meanwhile, Doctor Tomorrow reappears in exactly the same spot from where he vanished and grins at your misfortune. Frag, you have next initiative. I should note that you’re still surrounded by cyborg zombies.”

“Not for long.” Frag grinned. “They’ve got me right where I want them.”

Cyborg zombies, you say? That does sound like a matter of some concern.

All four agents immediately jumped to their feet. Whenever you heard a voice like that in the PPC, even during your rare off-hours, it was always wise to smarten up at least a little bit. Danny hesitated only long enough to stub out his cigar.

A Flower with white and red petals emerged from out of the gloom. Keen-eyed gardeners and agents in the A/V Division of the Department of Sufficiently Advanced Technology would have identified it as the Rose of Sharon.

At ease, agents, she – the pitch and tone of the psychic voice made that very clear – said as she approached the table.

“Yes ma’am,” all four agents managed to say at once before they sat down. The Rose of Sharon appeared not to notice this impromptu chorus. Her attention was instead focused on the papers arranged across the table.

It appears you are all in a very tight spot, she said. How did that happen, I wonder?

“Ask Miss Confidence over here,” Norion said with a nod towards Teyala. Frag smacked the little troll in the shoulder. She gave him a quick headbutt in return.

Teyala gave them both another glare. The big sister was back, only now she was telling her dopey siblings to shut up because mom was coming. “A bit of bad luck mixed with a bit of bad planning, madam,” she said to the Flower.

I see. A piece of paper, held aloft by an unseen force, floated out from behind the Rose of Sharon. I suppose it once again falls to Lady Jade to rescue you all from the brink of destruction. I have some hero points left over from our previous session, Agent Richardson. Would three be sufficient for a suitably dramatic entrance and simultaneous attack?

Danny smiled again. The smugness had drained away, replaced with excited amusement. “I think that’ll be perfect, ma’am. Roll for your attack, if you please.”

WEAPON OF CHOICE

Laura paced from one end of her response center to the other with her hands clasped behind her back. Actually, ‘marched’ might be a better word, considering that she was wearing an olive green campaign hat and carrying a riding crop.

After a few times back and forth, she stopped in the middle of the room and turned on her heel 90 degrees. “Rookie!” she barked. “What’s the most important tool a PPC agent has at her, his, or its disposal?”

Rachel was standing at attention behind a medium-sized folding table. A small array of weapons – guns, knives, swords, and more technologically esoteric gear – had been laid out on said table. A few items too big for the table had been propped up against the side walls of the RC. The whole setup would not have looked too much out of place in a stereotypical fantasy outdoor market, provided one ignored the minigun and smattering of energy weapons.

The intern smiled and saluted. “A sturdy knife, boss!” she replied. “You can use a knife in just about every canon the PPC works, making one far more useful than a gun. Plus, you hide a knife way better than a sword or an axe.”

“Good answer, kid!” Laura replied. “You’re completely wrong, but at least you’re thinking. No, an agent’s most important tool is right up here.” She carefully tapped her own forehead with the end of the riding crop.

“Oh, you mean like for headbutting Sues?”

Laura eyed the young intern, who gave her a toothy smile. It was difficult to tell if that answer had been in jest or whether the girl actually was that ditzy. Neither answer would have really been that surprising.

Rachel was hard to get a proper read on. She would swing back and forth between being a competent agent-in-training one moment and a dopey squeeing fangirl the next. She was like a real life case of Doctor Jekyll and Ms. Hyde-Your-Angsty-Firebenders.

“I’m talking about your brain, nooblet!” Laura said. “Knowledge. Know-how. Expertise. Whatever you want to call it, a good agent has plenty of it. You? Don’t. It’s my job to change that.” She pointed the riding crop at a red-and-white axe lying near the middle of the table. “Identify the weapon and one continuum it which it’s canonically used.”

“No problem!” Rachel took the axe and gave it a cursory examination. “Okay, this is an axe from the—”

“What kind of axe, Lady No-Duh? Is it a battle axe, a felling axe, a tomahawk, or something completely different?” Laura brought the riding crop down on the table with a tremendous crack, causing both the weapons and Rachel to jump. The intern bobbled the axe for a moment, but managed to catch it before it left a mark in the floor. “BE SPECIFIC!”

“Uh, uh… it’s a fire axe! A chopping weapon that can be found in, uh… the Left 4 Dead universe as the most common melee weapon!”

“Faster!” Laura pointed again, this time to a random weapon on the table. “What’s this one?”

“A… a bolt-action rifle!” The intern’s brow furrowed in thought. “Mosin-Nagant, I think.”

“You think?” Laura rolled her eyes in an overly theatrical manner. “Did I hear that right? You think? What, are you just gonna guess whether a weapon fits a continuum when you become an agent? Oh, the Flowers are gonna go NUTS for that approach!”

Rachel frantically waved her hands. “I’m sure, I’m sure! It fires a 7.62 Russian round and can be found in the Metal Gear Solid series! The End uses one in Metal Gear Solid 3 that’s modified to fire tranquilizer rounds!”

Laura pointed again. “How about that?”

A bit of confidence began coming back into Rachel’s voice. “That’s a chainsword – a weapon specific to the Warhammer 40k universe and associated spin-off properties.”

“Name two canonical users of chainswords.”

“Commissar Ibram Gaunt and Commissar Ciaphas Cain.”

Laura gave a very small grunt of approval. “And what about that?”

“That…” Rachel hesitated before picking up the indicated device. “That’s a Wiimote, boss. Not a weapon.” She looked into Laura’s unsmiling face and gulped. “It’s from World One and I… I suppose you could throw it at people or something.”

Laura leaned forward so that her face was only a few inches from Rachel’s. The intern tried to take a step back, but was thwarted by one of the nondescript walls of the RC. “You could throw it at people,” the assassin said, her voice now cold and quiet. “Is that your final, end-all-be-all answer, rookie? Is that really what you’re going with?”

Rachel gulped. She looked down at the plastic controller for a moment, then back up at Laura. “Yeah,” she finally said. “I’m going with that.”

“Well… you’re completely right, actually. It is just a Wiimote.”

There was a brief stunned silence as Rachel found herself doing a mental double take. She tried to frame a suitable response, but all she could manage was a weak “Really?”

Laura took the Wiimote out of the now-bewildered intern’s hands and gave it a disappointed look. Her drill sergeant façade had vanished with the blink of an eye. “Yep. I wanted to get one of those Star Trek reboot folding swords built into it, but since I’m on DoSAT’s shit-list that isn’t gonna happen any time soon.” She tossed it back onto the table. “There’s an important lesson to be taken from this, kid.”

“Umm… always do your best to cultivate good relationships with the other departments?”

“What?” Laura appeared to snap out of her momentary funk as Rachel’s response filtered through her ears. “Good rela— hell no! The lesson here is that DoSAT is filled with a bunch of humorless engineers and mechano-geeks who really need to lighten up.”

Rachel mulled this over for a moment. “If you say so, boss.”

“Of course I say so.” Laura took off her campaign hat and tossed it onto her beanbag chair before eyeing the various weapons spread across the RC. “Hey,” she said as a grin spread over her face. “You wanna go to the combat range and try some of these bad boys out?”

Rachel’s face lit up with unrestrained glee. “Can I fire the rocket launcher?!” she chirped as she pointed at an ominous-looking tube leaned up next to the minigun.

Laura frowned. “But I’ve only got like eight rounds for that thing! I need those for missions!”

“Pleeeeeeeease?”

“Eh… oh, all right. But only one rocket! You miss with that, you’re SOL.”

“Yay!” There was an intern-shaped blur. Rachel, the rocket launcher, and several other weapons had practically vanished.

The assassin shook her head. “Rookies,” she said as she picked up an assault rifle.
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October 2016

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