(The PPC was created by Jay and Acacia, and belongs to the PPC community. Danny, Laura, Rachel, Gremlin, and Xericka belong to me. Cornelius and all other named characters were created by me but are available for use with permission. The following story contains adult language and violence.)
“Hello everyone. I’m Danny Richardson, and I’ll be in charge of your training for the next two months.”
Danny paused as he took a gaze around the room. It was an oddly out-of-place affair amidst the general oddities that one could find in PPC Headquarters, looking more like a somewhat rundown college classroom than anything else. There were rows of cheap folding desks, all arranged facing a whiteboard and a much larger desk (the one at which he himself was sitting) at one end of the room. The predominant color was beige, although grey was doing its best to assert its own authority. Vaguely inspirational posters featuring caricatures of various flowers or generic agents were plastered on the walls. They were all several years old by this point, if how faded and worn they were was any judge.
Six mostly black-clad men and women stared back at him. Even the most mentally unstable PPC agent would’ve been able to tell that they were fresh recruits. You could see it on their faces. They all wore roughly the same expression, a mixture of eagerness and lip-biting unease. Some were perhaps a bit more eager — the young woman in the front with a barely-restrained grin on her face, for example. Some were more uneasy — the halfling sitting at the back of the room drumming his fingers on the desk and occasionally twitching. But they all had that same look. More experienced agents typically wore tired smirks or an odd expression that Danny subconsciously referred to as ‘I am two seconds away from rolling my eyes right out of my head due to the sheer levels of stupidity of what I am seeing.’
Of course, one could also tell that these were new recruits by their wearing ‘Hi! My Name Is’ stickers instead of flash patches.
“Three months probably doesn’t sound like a lot of time to some of you,” Danny continued. “Certainly not enough time to prepare you for a career with the Protectors of the Plot Continuum. And, well… you’d be right. There’s no way I can teach you everything you need to know about who we are and what we do in that amount of time. It’s more than most agents get, sure — I basically got a patch slapped on my shoulder, a weapon shoved into my hands, and a push through the nearest portal — but most of what you need to know about being a PPC agent you’ll learn by actually doing.”
Danny paused again. There was definitely a bit more unease on the faces of the recruits now. The two sitting just behind the young woman in the front — a male salarian from the Mass Effect series and an older-looking woman with streaks of grey running through her short brown hair — were looking at each other with a bit of concern, no doubt wondering just how deep the metaphorical water was and if it was too late to call for a lifeguard.
“So why are we here then?” he went on to ask. “Well, because having at least a bit of knowledge beforehand is better than going in totally ignorant. To that end, we will be covering the basics of what it means to be an agent. The duties that are expected of you, the rules you need to follow, the technology you’ll be using, what charge lists are and how they work, and so on and so forth. You’ll be given crash courses in spelling, punctuation, and grammar. You’ll be given a rundown of the various PPC departments and divisions. You’ll even get some field work in near the end of the two months. PPC 101, as it were. That’ll be the first of three aspects that I intend to focus on during this course.”
The young woman in the front raised her hand. “Mr. Richardson, sir?” she asked.
“Yes, Miss…” Danny squinted at the somewhat manic scribble on her name tag. “Miss Dufresne?”
“What sort of field work are we going to get?”
“Well, whatever happens to be available in for us in two months. Did you have a specific request in mind?”
Dufresne rubbed the back of her neck as the enthusiastic half-grin on her face grew slightly nervous. “I’d been hoping we’d go on an assassination mission. Maybe in the, uh, Yu-Gi-Oh universe?”
Danny allowed himself a faint smile as he gave the recruit a cursory once-over. “Let me guess. You’re a graduate of the Yu-Gi-Oh OFU and you want to join the Department of Mary Sues. Is that close to the truth?”
She let out a quiet giggle. “Guess I was pretty obvious, huh?”
“You could say that.” Danny turned his attention back to the rest of the room. “Show of hands, please. Who else knows exactly which department they want to join?”
A tough-looking man with scars on his face and tattoos running down both arms — ‘Whisper,’ according to his name tag — raised his hand almost immediately. The other four recruits remained uncommitted.
“Thank you, you may lower your hands.” Danny looked at both Dufresne and Whisper in turn. “While I appreciate your enthusiasm, I’m going to ask you both to put whatever choice you have right now out of your mind.”
“But—” Dufresne exclaimed.
Danny cut her off before she could go much further with her protest. “Just for the moment, recruit,” he said. “I want you all to go through the next two months with your minds as open as possible in regards to where you want to go. I’m not saying that you shouldn’t set your sights on joining the Department of Mary Sues or the Department of Floaters, but I would encourage you to at least consider other possibilities. It’s a big PPC out there. Who knows? Maybe you’ll find something in one of the lesser known departments that will really catch your eye.”
* * * * *
Rachel Calendar did her best to suppress a yawn as she emerged out of the bunkroom. Her feet were bare and her hair was splayed around her head like a greasy brown halo. “Morning, Corny,” she murmured.
“It is currently 21:03 New Caledonia time, Agent Calendar,” an electronic voice responded. “Not exactly what I would consider to be morning.”
“It’s morning for me.” Rachel had to wipe a few stray bits of sleep-grit out of her eyes before she could properly look around the room. There wasn’t anyone else around. Well, not physically anyway; Cornelius always had a bit of his program projected into the main response center in order to deal with mission reports and the occasional visitor. She had asked him how he specifically did it once, but had quickly become lost in the stream of technobabble that had unfolded. “Where is everyone?”
“Agents Hazel and Carruthers are attending to a mission. Agent Aulvenic is reporting on the results of our latest scans of the alternate history universes to the Strawflower. My avatar is in the Observatory.”
“Sweet. I’ll join you in a second, lemme just get some breakfast first.”
“I think you mean dinner. It’s technically the evening, after all.”
Rachel rolled her eyes as she stepped into the kitchenette and poured herself a mug of Bloffee. Cornelius did his best, but the AI still had only a tenuous grasp on the concept of fleshbag comedy. “What sort of mission are Hazel and Deegee on?” she asked.
There was a very brief pause as Cornelius skimmed through the relevant information. “Divergence-type AU, Metal Gear Solid continuum. Scenario presented as ‘What if Solid Snake failed to stop Big Boss at Outer Heaven in the original Metal Gear?’ Intelligence has indicated presence of out-of-character canons, multiple minis, poor spelling, untenable logic, and possibly at least one Marty Stu.”
“Yeesh. Sounds like a barrel full of laughs.” Rachel opened up one of the cabinets and pulled out a packet of toaster pastries. “All right, I’ll see you inside.”
“Please remember to clean up your crumbs this time. We don’t want another portal roach infestation.”
“I know, Corny, I know.” With her coffee in one hand and her pastries clutched between her teeth, Rachel padded over to a framed antique map hanging onto a nail jutting out of the wall. She reached out with her free hand and pushed on the nail, which slid into the wall with a surprisingly loud clicking sound.
A door-sized section of wall depressed inwards before sliding out of sight, revealing a much larger room beyond. It was a perfect circle, with a high domed ceiling and an elevated platform in the very center. Blinking computer monitors spilling over with streaming data lined the outside wall. The air was cool and slightly foggy. It was actually always like that. Rachel had hesitated to ask Cornelius why lest she be subjected to another overly technical lecture.
This was a semi-secret project run by the Department of Improbable AUs and the Historical Inaccuracies Division of the Department of Temporal Offenses (with the approval of the Board of Department Heads, of course) designed to examine and analyze the various alternate universes that sprung up around established continuums. The official name for it was the Alternate and Ahistorical Universe Monitoring Station, but everyone in the know just referred to it as the Observatory.
Rachel walked towards the central platform, where she could see the bright green form of Cornelius’s avatar standing like a general overlooking his troops. He was surrounded by multiple floating holographic monitors, which he would summon and dismiss with swipes of his hands. Occasionally he would nod, or frown slightly, or tilt his head to one side and move his lips silently as if trying to solve some fiendish math problem.
“How’s the multiverse running?” Rachel asked as she stepped up onto the platform with him. “Everything going good, I hope?”
“Cross-universal stability has seen an overall increase of point zero three nine percent,” Cornelius replied, his eyes still flicking back and forth between the various datastreams. “That is despite the recent upsurge in Word War II AU stories as recorded last week. Divergent timeline generation has remained relatively stable apart from a notable upswing in the Homestuck and Lord of the Rings continuums, which I doubt are related phenomena. It might be worth investigating however. In regards to the High School AU…” Cornelius trailed off as he finally noticed the vacant expression on Rachel’s face, her mug frozen about a few inches from her lips. He coughed. “Everything’s going good, Agent Calendar.”
That snapped Rachel out of her stupor. “Great!” she exclaimed before taking a sip of her Bloffee. “Glad to see we’re making a difference!”
* * * * *
“The second part of this training will be focused on improving your overall mental fortitude and self-control,” Danny went on to say. “PPC agents encounter a lot of disturbing things over the course of their careers, ranging from the obvious and visceral to the subtle and surreal. Most often these horrible incidents will involve characters or worlds they love in some regard.
“Different agents react to witnessing these events in different ways. Some handle it just fine. Some require a bit of brain bleach to get through the day. Some become more quick to rage, which they will ideally aim at the Sues and Slash-spirits instead of their partner or neighbors. Some seem to become sullen and jaded snarkers, which actually fits the PPC just fine.” Danny paused as a few of the recruits chuckled to themselves. “Some, however, become truly mentally unstable to the point of being dangerous to themselves or those around them. That is a state of affairs we want to avoid.”
Another hand went up in the air. It belonged to the final recruit, a young man in a Starfleet science uniform with the pips of a junior lieutenant on his collar. “Sir, aren’t there any facilities here that can help agents cope?” he asked.
“Yes, of course.” Danny replied. “It’s called Rudi’s and I’m pretty sure it never closes.”
There were a few more chuckles from most of the recruits, but the Starfleet officer’s expression grew a little more stern. “I’m being serious, sir.”
“My apologies, Recruit Meijer. Yes, there is the Department of Fictional Psychology, but the Flowers would prefer not having to send agents there unless it is absolutely necessary. Otherwise it would be overwhelmed to the point of uselessness. The point of this training is to help you learn how to cope with and manage mental strain before it goes that far.
“Good agents basically have a calloused brain. They might be horrified and disgusted at what they see in a mission, but after a bit of downtime they can bounce back like nobody’s business. It’s not something I can really teach, but I can definitely do my best to set you on the right path.”
* * * * *
Gremlin blinked as she stumbled back into her response center. “Is it over?” she asked, her voice ragged with exhaustion.
Xericka silently held up her hand and waited. It wasn’t until the portal finally snapped shut behind the two agents that she allowed her hand to drop back down to her waist. “I would now qualify it as being over,” she replied.
The two of them were sights to see, and not in the positive ‘man do they look great’ kind of way. They were covered with various kinds of dirt and detritus. Xericka’s hair had fallen out of its ponytail and was now matted and filthy. Gremlin’s clothes were torn and there were multiple poorly-bandaged scratches on her face. Both wore thousand-yard stares on their faces and looked barely able to stand up under their own power.
A faint whine escaped Gremlin’s throat as she reached up and clutched her hands to her temples. “My head hurts. My brain hurts. Everything I know is pain and suffering, thanks to that fic.”
“I would normally not agree with your reckless abuse of hyperbole in regards to ‘everything,’ but in this case I find it difficult to make a compelling argument that you are incorrect.” Xericka leaned against the nearest wall and sighed. “The universe feels lessened for having such a story exist within it. If there was ever an argument against the existence of free will, that was it.”
“I need a drink,” Gremlin muttered. “More than one. Multiple drinks. And a shower. Maybe more than one of those, too.”
She turned on the spot, intending to make her way towards the bathroom, but found her progress impeded by Xericka’s hand gripping onto her shoulder. “You can have your multiple showers only after I am finished with mine,” the Nobody said as she stepped in front of her partner.
“What?! Now wait just a minute here—”
Xericka cut her off with a quick wave of her hand. “Before you begin debating with me over who you believe should go first, I would present to you the very distinct possibility that such an argument would run so long as to necessitate our going into our next mission in our current conditions. Does facing a slashfic spirit unwashed and still burdened with the full details of what we just witnessed seem like a good idea to you?”
Gremlin’s mouth flapped soundlessly as she tried to come up with some sort of retort. After a few seconds, she shook her head and groaned. “Fine. You win. Go ahead.”
“Really?” Xericka arched one eyebrow in vague surprise. “I was actually expecting a little arguing from you.”
“Nah, you made a good point. Arguing would just be waste of time. Just make it quick, all right? And leave me some hot water.”
“Hmm. You do not usually cave to such requests so quickly. I suppose you must be quite worn out.” A faint mocking smile blinked across Xericka’s face. “I was expecting a lascivious suggestion that we save time by showering together at the very least.”
Gremlin stared at her partner for a moment before laughing. “Oh man. Didn’t even cross my mind. To tell you the truth, after that fic I’m not sure I can stand looking at myself naked, let alone someone else. Even if it’s you, Xer.”
“A mission has actually managed to rattle your libidinous nature? Wonders truly never cease.”
“Ah hah hah, so very funny. Although…” Gremlin’s tone grew a bit more suggestive as she smirked at Xericka. “If you’re still intent on getting me naked and wet later, I’d be more then happy to accommodate you.”
“And there it is again. I should have known better than to press my luck.” With that, Xericka turned away and stepped into the bathroom. The door slid shut behind her, leaving Gremlin alone in the response center.
Said solitude only lasted for a second, however, as the bathroom door slid back open just wide enough for Xericka to poke her head through. “Oh, and please refrain from giving yourself a sponge bath in the sink,” she said. “Remember what happened last time? Try to learn a little patience.”
“I wasn’t gonna do that!” Gremlin loudly exclaimed as her partner ducked back inside the bathroom. Inside her head, however, she let out a few choice curse words. So much for Plan B.
* * * * *
Danny cleared his throat before speaking again. “That brings me to the final aspect of this training. In a moment, you all will be divided into pairs. These partnerships will last throughout the entire two months, during which time you will be living and working together just as full PPC agents do. You will ideally forge a bond of mutual understanding and trust between each other. At the end of the course, I want to be able to ask you ‘who has your back through thick and thin?’ and see you point towards your partner.”
He paused. “Or you’ll just drive each other mad. There’s honestly a bit of both worlds in regards to PPC partnerships.”
“But what if we don’t want a partner?” someone asked.
Danny looked up towards the source of the question. He was somewhat unsurprised to see Recruit Whisper lazily holding his hand in the air.
“Look, I don’t mean to piss on your methods or anything like that,” Whisper continued without waiting for Danny to respond. “I’m sure havin’ a partner’s fine for these other guys, but my best work’s been done alone. Having someone else along will just—”
“Slow you down,” Danny interrupted. “Yes, I know. I’ve heard that a lot. There’s always at least one recruit who wants to be the lone wolf, who sees him or herself as the badass who doesn’t need to play by the rules. That doesn’t really run here. You need to put that notion out of your head right now.”
Whisper opened his mouth to respond, but Danny waved him into silence. “I’ve read up on all of you. I know what you’ve done, where you’ve come from, the various accomplishments each of you have garnered. It’s all very impressive — and I’m not trying to belittle what you’ve done before now — but the PPC is unlike anything you’ve encountered before.
“Mary Sues and Marty Stus are not highwaymen, or supermutants, or high school bullies, or whatever sort of foe you might already be familiar with. These are creatures whose very presence in a story can warp the nature of an entire continuum. The most powerful of them can put their thoughts in your head and their words in your mouth. They can make you fall in love with them. As good as you are, as well-trained as you are, they can make themselves better in just about every way. In a one-on-one fight between an Agent and a Sue, the Sue will win almost every time. That’s why you need a partner. Two heads are always better than one. And if things go wrong, two agents stand a better chance then a loner.”
Danny grimaced as he pulled himself to his feet. The recruits watched in silence as he limped around the side of the desk, a black wooden cane with a brass handle clutched in his right hand.
“Trust me,” he said as his gaze swept across the room. “When you’re out in the field and you meet one of these things face to face, you’ll want someone you can count on at your back.”
* * * * *
Agent James Pittman stood in quiet exasperation for a moment before dropping his revolver and raising his hands in surrender. “Welp,” he said. “Shit.”
The Mary Sue — a born-and-raised badass, talented in all manner of weapons and martial arts, and absolutely beautiful despite living in the filthy post-apocalyptic world that was the Mojave Wasteland — looked at James with a slightly disbelieving look on her face before kicking his revolver away. “That’s it?” she asked in a petulant tone. She gestured with the plasma rifle she had trained on the agent’s chest. “Aren’t you going to beg for your life, plot protector?”
“No ma’am,” James replied.
The Sue stared at him blankly for a moment before discharging the plasma rifle into the ground at his feet. The sound of the shot echoed through the halls of the abandoned casino they were standing in. “Beg.”
“I’m not sure if you’re hard of hearing, ma’am, but I said no.”
That response earned him a blow to the ribs with the butt of the Sue’s rifle, driving him to the floor. “I said BEG, you little fuck!!”
James grunted as he pushed himself up onto one knee. “Ma’am,” he said, wheezing slightly. “I am a member of the PPC’s Department of Mary Sues. I am also a former XCOM operative and Texas Ranger. In short, I do not beg for my life. I make other people beg for theirs.”
The Sue hissed in frustration. She grabbed the agent by the collar of his duster with her free hand and yanked him onto his feet before backhanding him across the face.
James rubbed his cheek. There was a hint of smile underneath his thick mustache. “Ain’t no call for that, ma’am.”
“Shut up!” She cracked him across the face again. “I am the new leader of Caesar’s Legion and will not be spoken to in such a manner!”
“That’s part of the problem, ma’am. Just goes to show how little you know about—” James doubled over as the Sue hit him in the ribs again.
“You plot protectors just don’t get it,” the Sue growled as she backed up to the other side of the hallway. Her plasma rifle was once again pointed at the gasping agent. “I don’t need to know anything about this world when I can just shape it however I like! The Legion will follow me just because I tell them to! I don’t need canon!! I’m BETTER than canon!!!”
James grunted as he straightened back up. “Ain’t you forgetting about my partner?”
The Sue laughed. It was a wonderful and yet horrible sound, like windchimes in a summer breeze. Literally, like windchimes; there was a sharp metallic quality to it that echoed in the stale dusty air just a bit too long. “You mean the stupid fat bitch who forgot I was a master lockpicker when she handcuffed me? If that was any indication, I’ve got nothing to—”
She was cut off by a metallic arm suddenly bursting through the wall behind her. She managed only a brief, surprised squeal before it wrapped its fingers around her neck and yanked her backwards against the wall with a teeth-rattling thud. The second impact caused her to drop the rifle. The third impact made the Sue go cross-eyed. The forth impact knocked her out completely. The next three impacts… it was not quite clear what those were for. Fun, perhaps.
There was a muffled curse from the other side of the wall. The Sue was summarily dropped to the floor and the arm withdrawn back through to the other side.
James had barely moved throughout the entire event, ducking only to avoid the spray of rotten splinters from the broken wall. He leaned against the wall, nursing his ribs and gazing at the now comatose Sue with a small but satisfied smile on his face.
A door opened up a bit further down the hallway. Through it stepped a very smug Laura Dukes. “Told you that plan would work,” she said as she walked over to James while picking a bit of debris out of her artificial hand. It was a fiendish looking thing, painted rust-red and extending all the way up to her shoulder. “Rule number one: never doubt how fucking awesome I am.”
“I thought rule number one was not to touch the video game consoles while you were using them,” James replied.
Laura paused, then shrugged. “That was the old number one. This is the new number one.”
“Huh.” James grimaced as another bolt of pain coursed through his midsection. “Your timing was a little off. She did a real number on my ribs.”
“Oh, quit your whining. You’ve been through worse then a few body blows. Besides, I was watching the whole time.” She lowered her sunglasses just enough so that James could see her single off-color electronic eye. “I wasn’t about to let anything really bad happen to you.”
“That might be true, darlin’, but I still say that you should be the bait next time.”
“Can you punch through a wall? I don’t think so.”
“She wasn’t wrong about you forgetting about her lock-picking skills, you know.”
“Hey, fuck you! Agreeing with the Sue. What kind of bullshit is that?!” Laura poked her partner in the shoulder. “Hey, since I didn’t hear you remind me about it at the time, why don’t we call that a failure on both our parts?”
A floor-level groan interrupted their banter. Both agents looked down at the now bruised Sue, who was beginning to emerge from her brief bout of unconsciousness. “I guess we’ll finish our discussion later,” James remarked.
“Looking forward to it.” Laura reached down and grabbed the recumbent Sue’s face with her artificial hand. “Hey there! Remember me? The stupid fat bitch?”
The muffled screams coming from around Laura’s metal fingers seemed to indicate that yes, the Sue did indeed remember Laura.
“Glad to hear it!” Laura said cheerfully. “Now then. Where were we before you so rudely tried to escape and kill us both? James, do you remember?”
“You were about to read the charges, if’n I recall correctly,” James replied.
“Ah yes! Thank you, James.” Laura tightened her grip with an unpleasant crackling sound. The Sue’s screams grew a bit more frantic. “Now then. You are hereby charged with the following crimes against canon…”
* * * * *
Everyone stared at each other in silence for a little bit. Finally, Danny reached up and awkwardly rubbed the back of his head. “Well that got serious quickly,” he said. “Sorry about that. The PPC’s not as grim as I might make it seem. It has its bad days, to be sure, but those are far outnumbered by days where agents suddenly swap their genders around or play incredibly violent ‘sports’ in pitch dark rooms. If you’re willing to learn from me, you’ll have a lot more of those good — if slightly weird — days. Trust me.”
He leaned against his desk in order to take the weight off his bad leg. “Are there any further questions?”
The recruits remained silent. They still had that look about them, that uneasy/eager look. But Danny was pretty sure that they all looked a bit more eager now then they had when he had started speaking.
“Excellent!” he said, rapping his cane on the floor in emphasis. “Then let’s get started.”