Thursday, March 27, 2014

Insert Ridiculously Complex Family Tree Here

"It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife."

"Either that, or a good shagging!" Alice interjected.

Louise turned to her friend. "Alice! You are ruining good literature!"


Robert was sat in the corner of the Wardrobe, which Louise had commandeered for the time being. He knew nothing about the fandom that Louise was talking excitedly about and was therefore rather confused. She had tried to convince the Society's leaders to allow her to take Robert as her required chaperone, but Michael had put his foot down, and given her the ultimatum. Either Alice went with them, or Robert stayed in the Library. Alice, Louise knew, had no liking for this style of fandom, and would thus be at best an irritant, and at worst a danger to the mission. Now the three of them were waiting in the wardrobe for the chaperone Louise would be taking.

"What's this I hear about shagging?" came an American-accented voice. Tom stuck his head around the door.

Louise smiled as Tom walked into the room. "Thanks for agreeing to this, Tom."

"No problem."

Louise smiled.

"Let's get you two idiots into costumes then!" Alice called, breaking the silence that had descended, and she, Louise and Tom all broke into laughter. Robert lingered at the back of the room. He had only been in the Wardrobe twice before, and had only used the Automatic Tailorisation Machine under Alice's control, and was therefore a little unsure as to its ability and function.

"Which fandom are you going into?" Robert asked curiously.

"Pride and Prejudice," Louise explained, her voice muffled through the cubicle door, as Alice pushed the button and the machine started to sew her dress around her. "You know, Ali, I'm going to need more than one dress, potentially."

"Then wait till that one is done, come out, strip and go back in." Alice's answer was very direct. Robert and Tom both thought they heard Louise sigh from within the whirring of the machine, but Alice, whether she heard it or not, took no notice.

Louise stepped out of the machine, and Alice cracked up. "Louise..." she laughed. "You look like you are in a nightie!"

"Alice, you know full well this is not a nightdress," Louise reproached her friend. The Regency era dress for women was a long, Empire-line dress in plain or fine print cotton. The waistline being under the bust was much more seen in their contemporary nightwear; Alice found it ridiculous, and therefore funny, but as Louise was a great fan of the era and its literature she found her housemate's mirth annoying.

Alice merely laughed. Robert smiled at the pair, and Tom peered around the screen.

"Is it my turn yet?" he asked.

Alice laughed some more, and gestured for Tom to get into the machine. By the time the Automatic Tailorisation Machine had finished with him, Tom looked every part the Regency gentleman, from the immaculately tailored suit, to the crisp white linen of his shirt.

"So," Louise turned to her friends. "Do we look like brother and sister?"

Robert simply nodded, and Alice snickered. Louise glared at her best friend.

"Yes..." Alice giggled. "You look enough like brother and sister to pull it off."

"Well..." Louise wandered, still in costume, into the depths of the wardrobe. "We need to find more outfits. We don't know how long we're going to be there."

Alice sighed, and the three remaining people followed Louise into the cavernous depths of the Wardrobe.

"Mir... Louise?" Robert asked as he caught up. "What is this fandom?"

Louise smiled, but it didn't quite reach her eyes. Robert was still having issues with her name. "Pride and Prejudice is a story from the early 1800s in my world, it is set in a pre-industrial world when life had a much slower pace." Louise was almost wistful.

"Basically..." Alice cut in, "'s a love story with lots of inter-related characters."

Louise nodded in agreement.

"And all the main characters end up related to each other in some way," Tom explained, trying on another navy tailcoat.

"And I thought my family was complex..." Louise snickered.


The plothole opened onto a dark dirt track at the edge of a small town. Tom and Louise stepped through, careful to keep their clothing out of the mud. Lights were coming from a large building in the middle of the main square, and the sound of horses was caught on the wind.

"Do you know what you're doing?" Tom asked.

"Not really. I'm guessing it's a Sue rather than a Stu, given the nature of the fandom, but other than that, I have no idea how this is going to play out."

The pair of them stuck their heads around the corner of the alleyway, and were almost knocked over by a coach, expertly pulled by four horses.

"Oh my..." Louise gasped. "That's... that's..."

"That's who, Louise?"

"That's the Bennett sisters... the main characters. The others will be not long behind."

"You're just being a fangirl, aren't you?"

"I am not!" Louise giggled quietly. "We need to get into that ball before the Sue irrevocably damages this fandom."

"How exactly are we getting in?"

"We are acting as upper-class snobs, aren't we? We just walk in." Louise gestured towards the well-lit building in the middle of the town.

"Okay, here goes." Tom wasn't entirely convinced this was going to work, but as Louise had so kindly pointed out to him back in the Library, this was her history, not his. She knew more about it than him.

The pair of them emerged from the alleyway, and headed for the glow of the assembly room. The men on the door didn't even bat an eyelid as the two of them as they walked up the stairs and into the building. They were now barely a few feet from the youngest of the Bennett sisters.

"You know, that was easy," Tom commented.

As Tom spoke, Lydia, the youngest Miss Bennett turned to stare at him.

"Lydia!" the eldest Bennett sister, Jane, turned to chastise the youngest. "Please forgive me sister, sir."

"Oh, it's nothing, miss." Tom smiled at Jane, who returned the gesture.

This caught the attention of a number of other people, but as the two parties entered the building, Lydia and her older sister, Kitty, spotted people and disappeared. Louise and Tom found themselves a quiet corner; the female agent was silently chastising herself.

"What's wrong?" Tom asked.

"I forgot that people wouldn't have heard an American accent before. We need to think of a cover story and quickly."

The Meryton Assembly rooms were spacious, and Tom and Louise were able to mingle without much problem. Louise smiled as she watched the youngest two Bennett sisters dancing their hearts out, although she was acutely aware of the middle daughter, Mary, always sitting at the edge of the room.

Tom wandered off, and returned not long later with a couple of glasses for him and Louise.

"Thanks Tom, but I don't really drink..."

"Neither do I. It was more out of courtesy that I grabbed them. I was basically handed them."

Louise shrugged. "Okay."

The dance in the middle of the room was in full swing. It was a jig, and there were people moving everywhere. Louise had lost the elder Bennett sisters in the chaos, but knew the fandom well enough to know what was about to happen. She got to her feet as the main doors opened. The jig came to an abrupt halt as the dancers noticed the new arrivals.

Standing in the open doorway, leading to the entrance hall, were two gentlemen and a lady. All of them were dressed finer than anyone else in the room. Louise peered at the new party, before quickly sitting back down.

"That's..." Louise half-mouthed to Tom, who was staring incredulously at her. "That's..."

Louise didn't need to answer, as a voice not far away spoke. "So which of our painted peacocks is Mr Bingley?"

Louise's head whipped round to see three young ladies in whispered conversation.

"He's on the right, and on the left is his sister."

"And the person with the quizzical brow?"

"That is his good friend, Mr Darcy."

"He looks miserable, the poor soul."

"Miserable he may be, but poor he mostly certainly is not."

"Tell me?"

"Ten thousand a year, and he owns half of Derbyshire."

"The miserable half?"

Louise suppressed a giggle as she realised the people speaking were the canon characters of Jane and Elizabeth Bennett and Charlotte Lucas. As the party of three reached the other side of the room, Louise turned to Tom.

"We have some Copyrighting to do."

"Good thing I grabbed a load of them, then."

Over the course of the evening, as the majority of the Bennett sisters swirled and bobbed around the dance-floor, Louise and Tom delicately placed Copyrights on the lot of them. They were even able to Copyright Mary, sitting at the edge of the room.

"You know," Louise commented to Tom as they walked away from her. "Poor Mary is so out of her time. If she had been born a couple of centuries earlier, she would have found her calling in the nearest nunnery."

"Anyone else?" Tom asked, holding up the last of his Copyrights.

"Mr Bingley and Mr Darcy," Louise answered without hesitation. "But how on earth are we going to get to see them?"

"There you are..." came a call from behind Tom.

"Uh-oh..." Louise murmured, for she knew that voice. "Here comes trouble."

The pair turned and there was Lydia Bennett, the youngest of the five daughters – now Copyrighted, but hyper as ever. She was shadowed by the second-eldest Bennett daughter, Elizabeth.

"Miss Bennett..." Tom greeted with a bow.

"My sister and I..."

"Oh no, Lydia..." Elizabeth backed quickly away. "Don't count me."

"...were wondering," Lydia continued as though Lizzie had not spoken. "Where are you from?"


"There's no offense taken," Tom waved off Lizzie's rebuff. "I am recently returned from..." Tom struggled for the correct chronological term. The state where he lived didn't technically exist as an entity in 1813...

"From the Americas," Louise interjected.

"Yes..." Tom picked up the thread again. "I was involved in the recent war over there." It was vague enough to cover all the possibilities.

This seems to please Lydia, who disappeared off to dance again. Lizzie lingered in the shadows. Tom bowed to her, and Louise did her best attempt at a curtsey. Lizzie echoed it.

"I am so pleased to meet you, Miss Bennett." Louise stepped towards Lizzie. "My name is Louise Ashworth."

"I am pleased to make your acquaintance."

"May I introduce my brother..." for this was the cover story that they had devised, "... Thomas Ashworth of Chester."

Tom bowed to Elizabeth, as the latter curtseyed.

"Are you in the area long, Mr Ashworth?" Lizzie asked.

"Not long, I am sad to say." Tom was looking around the room, and suddenly he spotted the object of his search. He turned back to Lizzie, looping his arm around his 'sister', he said, "Pray... excuse me." Lizzie and Louise curtseyed and Tom bowed.

As Lizzie left, Tom pulled Louise into a corner of the room.

"What is it?" she demanded.

"Look over there, chatting to Mr Bingley?"

Louise looked around, and there, chatting to said canon character, was the most beautifully dressed lady in the room. It was a surprise that none of the other men in the room were clamouring for her attention. Dressed in the richest pink silk dress, her pale gold hair in immaculate curls that hung perfectly down her back, was a very non-canon character.

"That's her," Louise declared. "That's the Sue."

"Did you manage to Copyright him?" Tom asked.

"I didn't get the..." Louise watched as another character stood gawping at the Sue, "...chance. We need to Copyright Darcy, now!"


"Look..." Louise pointed at the protagonist who was standing staring at his friend in conversation with the Sue.


"Give me a Copyright!" Louise demanded, and Tom blinked at her brashness. He didn't question it, and handed her one of his remaining Copyrights, and Louise disappeared into the crowd.

Tom watched the canon characters of Bingley and Darcy, and after several minutes, he saw Louise appear not far behind Mr Darcy. The gentleman was standing at the edge of the room, his eyes fixed on his friend and his new acquaintance. She appeared to trip, and fell into Darcy. Tom smiled as he noticed that the Copyright was now firmly planted on the Derbyshire gentleman's back. Darcy blinked, and resumed his patrol around the room.

She reappeared at his side not long after.

"I wasn't able to get near Bingley," she whispered.

Tom exhaled in a giant gust.

"I'm sorry... the Sue's just too close."

"That's okay..." Tom murmured, as the younger two Bennett daughters skipped past, looking for partners. "We've got the main canon pairing, right?"

Louise nodded.

"Hopefully, that should be enough."

The evening continued for a little longer, but soon people started to make their farewells. Tom and Louise made their way towards the main door, only to find the Bennett family bidding farewell to the Lucas' in the doorway.

"Mama," Elizabeth Bennett drew her mother's attention as the Lucas' disappeared towards their carriage. "May I present some new acquaintances to you?"

Louise whipped her head around, realising that Elizabeth was referring to them.

"Tom, come on," she gestured her fellow agent towards the Bennett family.


"You need to be here!"

Louise and Tom soon stood before the matriarch of the Bennett household, Mrs Bennett.

"May I present Mr Ashworth of Chester?"

Tom bowed slightly at this.

"And his sister," it was all Louise could do to suppress a snigger. "Miss Louise Ashworth."

Louise curtseyed, and Mrs Bennett followed suit, although her eyes continued to dart about the room. Louise knew who she was looking for, and the agent suspected where the object of her search would be.

"Good night Mrs Bennett..." Louise curtseyed again, and she and Tom slipped unhindered from the ballroom.

Once they were in the street, Tom turned to Louise.

"Now what?"

"We find a room at the inn… if they have any spare."

Tom sighed. "I'm sure they will, Louise." He then offered her his arm. "Allonsy, my dear!"

Louise merely sighed in exasperation at her fellow agent, but they made her way into the darkness towards the lights of the nearby inn together.


Longbourn House was situated three miles from the outskirts of Meryton, and so it was a long walk for Louise to visit the Bennett sisters the following morning. Having made their acquaintance during the ball the previous evening, she was determined to visit them, and befriend the elder Bennett sisters. The events of the ball had left a sour taste in her mouth, and wanted to check in on Jane and Elizabeth. She had left Tom asleep at the inn.

The walk would not normally have bothered Louise, but with the long dress, and uncomfortable shoes, it was tiresome. She had left before the sun had fully risen, but by the time she had arrived at Longbourn the sun was comfortably above the horizon.

A servant greeted her at the main door, informing her that Mr and Mrs Bennett had not yet risen, but the eldest two daughters could be found in the drawing room.

"Would you be so kind as to take me to them, then?" Louise asked.

The servant led her into the house, and opened the door to the drawing room.

"Miss Louise Ashworth," and the servant slid back out of the room without another word.

"Louise!" Elizabeth greeted her warmly, getting to her feet. The two women had clearly been in each other's confidence, for the window seat was well padded, and Jane, the eldest Bennett daughter, still sat there.

Good morning Elizabeth," Louise greeted. "Good morning Jane."

As the agent's eyes fell on the elder sister, she drew in a small breath. Her eyes were red and blotchy. She had clearly been crying.

"Dear God, what is wrong?" Louise asked.

Elizabeth took Louise by the arm and led her away from the still distraught Jane. "Mr Bingley has gotten engaged."

"To whom?" Louise looked incredulous.

"Lady Aaliyah Nejem," Elizabeth explained, and the alarm bells started ringing in Louise's head. It was the Sue. She hadn't gone for Darcy after all. She had gone for the easier canon pairing; the one that already had doubt mingled within it. "Apparently, she is new to the neighbourhood."

"But this isn't supposed to happen…" Louise murmured to herself.

"What's not supposed to happen?" Elizabeth asked, turning to face her new friend.

Louise sighed. She guessed she was about to have to blow her cover to save the fandom.

"I have to be honest with you, Elizabeth…" Louise started, "and it's best that Jane hears this too."

The agent walked back over to where Jane still sat on the window seat. She sat down beside Jane, and Elizabeth drew a drawing room chair up to join them.

"My name is Louise, but I am not the sister of Thomas."

The Bennett sisters stared incredulously at her. It was clear that, to them, the thought of a young woman in the company of a man to whom she was not either related or married was unimaginable.

"I work for an organisation that hunts down people who enter stories, and change them to suit their desires. Aaliyah is one of these people. Your story shouldn't be like this. Bingley should be falling in love with you, Jane…"

The eldest Bennett sister buried her head in her hands.

"When Tom and I have captured her, and left, Mr Bingley will forget that he ever knew Lady Aaliyah, and things we will as they were supposed to be."

"Do you really believe that?" Jane looked up from her hands, her eyes red from the tears she had shed.

"Jane, for the first half of the ball yesterday, Bingley either danced with you, or stared at you. It is obvious he likes you. Aaliyah has just made him forget all that. But if you can help Tom and I catch her, then we can ensure that your lives continue as they were supposed to."

Elizabeth looked from Louise to her sister, and back again.

The silence of thought was broken by a knock on the door, and Hill, the Bennett's servant, entered, envelope in hand. As Mr and Mrs Bennett were still abed, Jane, as the eldest daughter, was in charge of the household.

Jane took the proffered envelope, and looked at the front. She sighed, handing the letter to her sister to read. It turned out that the letter was an invitation to a ball at Netherfield, home of Mr Bingley, to celebrate his engagement to Lady Aaliyah.

"This is perfect!" Louise exclaimed, and the two sisters looked round at her. "Don't you see…" the agent was gesturing wildly with her hands. "This will be the perfect opportunity for Tom and I to catch Lady Aaliyah, because she will be required to mingle with guests."

"What…" Elizabeth was confused, that much was obvious in her expression. "How…?"

Louise sighed. She hoped she was going to be able to convince the sisters into helping her catch the Sue.

"You know how there are characters in plays and books?"

Elizabeth nodded.

"Aaliyah is a perfect character. She doesn't belong here, and it's up to Tom and I to get rid of her."

"Get rid of her?" Jane looked up, concerned.

"Oh, we won't hurt her at all." Louise wished she had picked up a Prohibitor from her room at the inn, but the dress left little space for pockets. It was all she could do to strap her Glock to her thigh.

"Then how?" Elizabeth asked.

"Trust that Tom and I are experienced in catching people like Lady Aaliyah." Louise didn't add that she had never actually caught a Sue on her own, in all her missions for the Society.

Elizabeth turned to Jane. The smartest Bennett sister clearly didn't believe much of what Louise was saying, but she gave her the benefit of the doubt because it was a chance to raise her sister's hopes. "I don't see how we have any option other than to trust her." The eldest Bennett sister nodded weakly.

Louise smiled. "I guess I'd better go find Tom."

"We will accompany you." Elizabeth and Jane both got to their feet, and the three ladies were soon in their overcoats and heading for Meryton. Louise had had the presence of mind to sort out a selection of outfits when she had been with Alice in the wardrobe. A quick trip into the Library the previous evening, following the ball, had allowed her to pick up her daytime dress, and a specially tailored evening dress that would allow her easy access to her gun.


Tom had been up for several hours by the time that Louise and the Bennetts arrived in Meryton. He had had the presence of mind to remain close to the town, in case Louise were to return. So it was outside the neighbouring shops that the ladies found him. Louise introduced Jane to Tom, explaining to the latter that the Bennett sisters knew who they really were, and were willing to help them catch the Sue.

"We have received an invitation to a ball at Netherfield, Louise," Tom explained.

"I know. It seems the entire population of eligible ladies and gentlemen in Meryton and the surrounding towns have been invited." Louise looked pointedly at the Bennett sisters.

"Are we going?" Tom asked.

"Of course we are going. It will be the perfect time to capture Aaliyah."

The Bennetts were looking from one agent to the other with confusion on their faces, but as Louise had explained that this action would bring Bingley back in love with Jane, both girls had eventually agreed, not seeing any other option.

"We need a plan!" Tom pointed out, "and somewhere to discuss said plan without attracting too much attention."

"There are plenty of fields around Meryton and Netherfield that provide quiet seclusion," Elizabeth chimed in.

"Or," Louise looked up at the grey clouds that were massing over Meryton, "we could always go back to the inn. Tom and I have rooms booked until we no longer need them."

"The inn sounds a perfect location," Tom agreed. It was clear that he didn't particularly want to be caught outside in the rain. Louise nodded; historically, it would have been unheard of for three unmarried woman to have unchaperoned time with a man.

The two agents, along with Jane and Elizabeth, were soon settled into the rooms in the inn. Louise had used the Society's budget to rent a pair of bedrooms and an adjoining drawing room. Tom hadn't asked how much she had blown on it. It couldn't be to the level that Harriet frequently blew the budget... could it?

"How will you know which lady is the correct lady?" Jane asked sensibly.

"I…" Louise stopped, and started again. "She was pretty distinctive last evening. I doubt she will be difficult to find."

"And when we do find her," Tom joined in, "we can take her in, and all will be back to normal."

It was clear that Jane and Elizabeth didn't completely get what the two agents were discussing. Phrases such as Prohibitors, and Copyrights were being used, and neither Miss Bennett knew anything about such things.

"With any luck," Louise spoke to all of them, "we will get this whole thing sorted by the end of the evening, and we'll," she looked at Tom, "we'll be back in our own beds in the Library tonight."

"Harriet will be happy about that. I don't want to know how much of the budget you have spent on booking this inn."

"Oh, screw Harriet," Louise said without thinking, and Elizabeth and Jane looked at her in shock. "Sorry…" she apologised, blushing slightly.

Louise ordered lunch from the inn downstairs, and the four of them ate while they planned. By the time they had finished, it had reached 3 o'clock in the afternoon, the clouds had cleared and the autumn sun was heading towards the horizon.

"I hope we will see you at the ball…" Louise bid farewell to the Bennett sisters as they left the inn. Jane and Elizabeth would walk back to Longbourn to dress for the ball, and then join their parents and younger sisters in the carriage to Netherfield.

"I hope so too," Elizabeth agreed. All three ladies curtseyed and Tom bowed, and the Bennett sisters disappeared into the gathering darkness.

"What do we do now?" Tom asked, as he watched the vanishing figures of Jane and Lizzie.

"We get ready, and order ourselves a carriage to Netherfield. It's all right walking to Longbourn, but Netherfield is a little too far, especially in my long dress." Louise headed downstairs, leaving Tom in the drawing room.

"Carriage booked," Louise announced as she returned several minutes later. "It's almost easier than booking a taxi."

"That's in essence what you have done, Lou," Tom smiled. "The carriage is the predecessor of the cab."

Louise laughed, almost to the point of stopping breathing, before Tom led her to the sofa.

"Breathe, Louise," he said between his own giggles, and slowly the agent got control back.

"What time are we supposed to be at Netherfield?" Louise asked, leaning back against the wooden back of the sofa.

"Six o'clock," Tom explained.

"Then I suggest we start getting ready. I need to get into my tailor-made dress. I don't want to be caught unarmed when we try and bring in the Sue. She looks all innocence, but we have no idea what level she is."

And with that, Louise and Tom went their separate ways into their respective bedrooms to dress and prepare themselves in their own ways for the challenge of capturing a Sue.


Netherfield House was everything that Louise had explained to Tom on their mission briefing back in the Library. The carriage dropped them off at the front of the building, where sweeping steps rose to an ornately fashioned main door. A pair of footmen stood holding them open.

Louise smiled at all the elegantly dressed ladies, and handsome men, who were surrounding her and Tom as they walked up the stairs and into Netherfield House.

There were even more people inside, and Louise fought back a wave of claustrophobia that threatened to engulf her. She grasped hold of Tom's arm reflexively.

"What's wrong?" he asked.

"Sorry," she whispered, "I'm claustrophobic, and there's a lot of people in here."

The new arrivals were herded into a line, where they were all greeted by Mr Bingley, his new fiancée and Miss Caroline Bingley, the younger sister of the gentleman.

"Mr Bingley," Tom greeted, bowing to the canon character. "Lady Nejem…" their eyes met, and the Sue looked panicked. "Miss Bingley." Tom bowed at each person as he spoke their names. Louise followed, her eyes too meeting those of the Sue.

As they walked into one of the halls of Netherfield House, small groups were already congregating. Louise was looking for the Bennetts, in particular the eldest two. Standing at one side of the room, Mr Darcy watched the crowd with his usual sombre expression. He, at least, Louise thought to herself, would be acting normally.

Once they were out of ear shot of the Bingleys, Louise turned to Tom.

"Did you see how she reacted when she saw us?" she asked.

"I know…" Tom nodded in agreement. "I'm a little concerned that she will create a scene when we eventually attempt to make our move."

"I agree."

The pair moved through the room, looking for Jane and Elizabeth, when a complete male stranger approached them.

"If you are not otherwise engaged," the stranger addressed Louise, and then looking up at Tom for clarification. "Could I be so bold as to claim the first dance?"

He was dressed in a long tailcoat of deep navy, with dark trousers and an off-white shirt.

"Um…" Louise blushed. She had no skill in dancing, only what watching Pride and Prejudice on TV had taught her, and that wasn't much. She looked up at Tom, who was clearly nervous, but also fighting back a smile. "I am not engaged, sir."

As the music started, the brown-haired man smiled, and led Louise onto the main floor. Other partners joined them, including Bingley and Aaliyah, as well as the younger two Bennett sisters.

Louise danced, led superbly by her anonymous dance-partner. His hands were smooth, and he had the air of one born into money.

Tom, however, didn't dance, but lingered at the edge of the room, concern on his face as he watched his fellow agent on the dancefloor.

"Excuse me," a voice drew Tom's attention from his fellow agent on the dance floor. Turning, he saw the eldest two Bennett daughters, both dressed beautifully in flowing gowns of white muslin.

"Miss Bennett!" Tom greeted with a bow.

"Any luck?" Elizabeth's eyes were drawn to figures gliding up and down the Netherfield dance floor.

"Louise is dancing, as you see. We have had no chance to approach the couple yet. Not since our arrival and greeting."

"Do you think she suspects?" Jane queried.

"Yes," Tom answered abruptly. "They know when a member of our Society is stood before them, just as we know when we are faced with someone of her level."

Elizabeth nodded, although Tom could see in her face that she didn't quite understand what he was saying.

Tom and the Bennett sisters continued their conversation as the dance came to an end. The stranger led Louise to the side of the room.

"You are a surprisingly good dancer, Miss Louise," the stranger spoke to her. Tom, Jane and Elizabeth watched from the other side of the room.

"You are an excellent dancer yourself, sir." Louise watched her dance-partner. "May I have the pleasure of your name?" Louise was making small-talk, not wanting to offend the gentleman.

The stranger smiled. "My name is Mr Spencer Worthington of Cambridge." He gave a small bow. Louise curtseyed in return.

"It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance, sir."

"It's a very great pleasure to make yours…" he grinned at her, starting to make Louise feel a little uncomfortable. Mr Worthington took hold of Louise's hand, leading her to the corner of the room. Tom started towards them, something in his gut telling him that this was not normal. "I cannot tell you how beautiful you are," Worthington caught up both of Louise's hands, and held them to his chest.

Louise was stunned for a second, taken aback by this unusual declaration of love. "Um… thank you."

"I have never met anyone whose eyes sparkle the way yours do…"

Oh my God, Louise thought to herself, I think I'm going to be sick.

Worthington began to lead Louise into the darkness, and to start with the agent followed, getting caught up in the moment and the emotion. As the pair disappeared around the corner, Tom picked up his pace, the Bennett sisters following in his wake.

Around the corner, Worthington continued to profess his love for Louise, and the agent was getting more and more disturbed and distrustful by the second.

"Your hair…" Worthington reached forward to touch her hair, and Louise snapped, drawing her Glock from beneath her tailor-made dress.

"You lay one hand on me pal, and you'll regret it!" She pointed the gun in the man's direction, grateful that she hadn't listened to Alice's advice about not needing it. "Nothing happens in those kind of fandoms,"Alice had insisted.

Well, something has happened… Louise thought bitterly to herself.

"Aww, my love…" Worthington seemed untroubled by the weapon now pointed in his face. He reached up, placing his hands on her gun hand in an attempt to lower it. Louise whipped it around and pushed the muzzle into the man's nostril.

Worthington froze, finally seeing the danger he was in.

"Louise!" Tom called, and the agent turned around. Worthington took the opportunity to run headlong down the dark corridor, and out of sight.

"Bugger!" Louise cursed.

"What was that all about?" Tom asked.

"I don't know…" Louise gasped, pulling her dress back into place in an attempt to hide her gun.

A small beep drew the agents' attention to their communicator that was discreetly hidden in Tom's trouser pocket. Jane and Elizabeth looked confused.

"Can you please make sure that Mr Bingley and Aaliyah don't disappear from the ball?" Louise asked Elizabeth, who nodded.

The two agents disappeared into a dark corridor, and Tom activated his communicator.

"Tom here."

The voice on the other end was young Inara.

"The computers here have picked up a plothole leaving your fandom. Have you lost the Sue?"

"No…" Louise murmured… and then the lightbulb in her head illuminated. "Worthington… he must be a Stu."

"WHAT!" Inara's voice echoed in the corridor.

"Shhh…" Louise hissed into the communicator.

"Sorry…" Inara whispered. "So are you still going to try for the Sue?"

"Of course!" Louise was a little harsh with the poor duty agent.

"Well... good luck then."

The connection ended.

"Louise…" Tom turned to his fellow agent. "Are you okay?"

"I'm fine. Let's just get Aaliyah, and get out the hell of here."

No-one noticed the pair re-emerge from the corridor. Jane and Elizabeth were standing, chatting to each other at the edge of the room. In the centre, Bingley still danced with his fiancée.

"We need to get Bingley Copyrighted," Tom commented to the Bennett sisters as the two agents approached them.

"How? He spends more time with his fiancée than anyone else in the room," Jane asked; her voice was sad as she spoke the words.

"Let me try…" Louise gestured at Tom for a Copyright. "I've got an idea."

The one downside of the beautiful dress she was wearing was the lack of pockets in which to store useful things like Copyrights and Prohibitors. Tom had, in order to assist his friend, stuffed his pockets with all sorts of things. He handed Louise a Copyright.

Louise walked around the edge of the room, watching the 'happy couple' in the middle. She took a seat close to where the pair were dancing, and waited. Before long, Louise's patience paid off, and Bingley led his fiancée towards her. Aaliyah, convinced that she had eluded the Society, paid no attention to Louise on the chairs behind her future-husband.

"You dance wonderfully," Bingley was beaming at Aaliyah.

Slowly, Louise got quietly to her feet. What she was planning would take all her deception and skill, and more than a little bit of luck. When she was almost to her feet, she purposely let her feet slip from beneath her. This brought her clattering into Bingley.

"Oh, I am so sorry, sir…" Louise apologised profusely. Before Aaliyah could stop him, Bingley reached down to help the clumsy young lady to her feet. Louise was ready, and as their hands made contact, she slapped the Copyright on the back of his hand.

Bingley blinked as the Copyright began to take effect. He turned to Aaliyah, who was staring at Louise. The thought flashed through the agent's mind – 'if looks could kill' – but Bingley was now staring at his partner and soon-to-be ex-fiancée.

"You have tricked me..." he said loudly, causing many in the vicinity to turn and stare.

"My dear…" Aaliyah was clearly desperate.

"Speak not to me, woman!" Bingley was now furious. "Were you after my fortune?"


Louise slipped away from the scene, and back to Tom. Word was soon spreading around the room that the engagement between Mr Bingley and Lady Aaliyah had been called off, because Bingley had discovered that Aaliyah was unfaithful, and was only after his money.

Less than ten minutes later, Louise tapped Tom on the shoulder. "Look…" she pointed across the room, where Jane and Bingley were deep in conversation.

"So where's the Sue gone?" Tom asked.

"I don't know… and I'm a little bothered by that fact."

Louise and Tom began to make circles around the room, looking for the now ex-fiancée of Bingley. The sooner they got rid of her from the fandom, the better.

It was in front of the small group of musicians that Louise spotted Aaliyah again. She was sitting down at the edge of the room, trying not to be noticed by anyone, let alone the paroling agents from the Anti-Cliché and Mary-Sue Elimination Society.

"There you are…" Louise approached her, and the Sue took off out of the hall, with the female agent in hot pursuit. Louise chased Aaliyah into the grounds of Netherfield House. In the dark, it was getting impossible to see anything, let alone the quarry she was chasing.


Back in the main hall of Netherfield House, Tom was still circling.

"Mr Ashworth…" Elizabeth Bennett approached.

"Miss Bennett." Tom bowed, and Elizabeth curtseyed.

"Your friend has disappeared into Netherfield Grounds, following Lady Aaliyah."

"What!" Tom gasped. The last thing he wanted or needed at the moment was a missing agent.

"Yes… this way." Elizabeth beckoned, and Tom followed.

Tom soon outpaced Elizabeth in her muslin dress, leaving the canon character to rejoin the ball and headed out into the grounds in search of Louise and the missing Sue.


Out in the grounds, Louise had managed to get herself completely lost. She had walked straight into a brick wall at one point, and found herself in the middle of an apple orchard at another. She had no idea where Aaliyah had vanished off to, and was considered heading back towards the big house and telling Tom she had lost her. But something in Louise couldn't bring herself to do that.

A scream cut the air. A female scream.

Louise whipped out her gun, determined to defend herself if necessary, and headed in the direction of the scream.

Round the back of Netherfield House, Louise discovered Aaliyah, but she wasn't alone. A group of drunken members of the Netherfield House staff were backing the poor woman into a corner. It was evident from the expression on her face what was going through their minds.

"Hey…" Louise ran up to the back of the group. "Leave her alone!"

Whilst Aaliyah would never admit it, she was grateful to see Louise.

"Oh look men…" one of the drunks started towards her. Louise raised her weapon. It was like nothing these 19th Century men had ever seen, given that it wouldn't be invented for another 150 years or so.

"You know, she's a pretty one too…" one of the braver drunks commented, but the majority of his mates had already turned and pegged it into the darkness. Realising he was now out-numbered, the remaining drunk swiftly followed his friends. Louise pursued the drunks a little way into the darkness, but their footsteps was soon disappearing into the night, although she could have sworn she heard one of them run headlong into the nearest tree, and knock himself out cold.

When Louise turned back round, she discovered that Tom had arrived, and was already walking towards the terrified Sue.

"Are you going to come quietly?" he asked.

Aaliyah nodded immediately, the fight and fire she had shown earlier had vanished with the drunks. As Tom approached, she held her hands up in surrender.

"Wow…" Louise murmured. "It's not often we get that." She didn't bother placing her weapon back in its concealed holster.

Tom clipped a Prohibitor around the Sue's wrist as she stood there meekly. Slipping one arm around hers to ensure she didn't try to make a run for it, Tom fished around in his pocket for the plothole generator. When he found it, he raised it to eye-level, and firmly pulled the trigger.

The swirling rainbow of the plothole illuminated the immediate vicinity of the two agents and their captured Sue, and without much hesitation they returned to the Library.


Back in the Library, the plothole opened in the Monitor Room as per normal. Inara was still on duty, and she turned to see who was returning, for there were a number of agents on missions at the time.

"Louise!" Inara greeted her with a smile. "You caught her…" she gave the Sue a quizzical look.

"Yeah… well, Tom technically caught her."

"Technically…?" she asked, returning her glance to the female agent.

"Louise was chasing off drunks at the time."

"Drunks… hey?"

"Let's just get Aaliyah into the basement," Louise hissed quietly, and Tom pulled the prohibited Sue towards the Monitor Room door.

When they were safely out of sight, Louise turned back to Inara.

"I need to add a Stu to the database."

"The one that got away?" Inara queried.

"Yeah…" Louise shuddered slightly.

"What's wrong?"

"He's…" Louise searched for the words. "He's in love with me."

Inara burst out laughing. When she had finally calmed down, the sour look on Louise's face helping a lot, she opened a new page on the database.

"Okay…" her fingers flew across the keyboard. "Name?"

"Spencer Worthington."



"Home fandom?"

"Pride and Prejudice, I think."

"Agents at risk?"

"Me, I guess."

Inara looked up from her keyboard. "Is he one of Merle's lot?"

"No… not one that I remember at least."

The younger agent sighed. "Well, that's him on the system. I'll get Phoenixia to scan the fandom to see if we can pick up his level."

"Thanks… although I doubt it's too high."

"Let's hope so…" Inara pondered. "The last thing we want is another Edward Casanova on our hands."

Louise shuddered at the prospect.


The basement office, door currently locked, was silent save for the soft whirring of the computer, and the occasional sob from the young woman on a chair in the corner.

Aaliyah had indeed come quietly, but now that the harsh truth had finally hit her, she was trembling and weeping. She, like all else, had heard the myriad of horror stories about this place, and now they were going to come true. She was afraid. All she had wanted was a marriage to a fine gentleman, and her perfect life had been shattered before it had even begun as easy as dropping a mirror onto flagstones.

Tom, still in his Regency suit, sat at the desk on the other side of the room, entering her information into the computer database. His chivalrous streak was nagging him, and he wanted to go and comfort her, but what on Earth would he say? 'Are you all right' would be utterly ridiculous to ask. Of course she wasn't all right.

He had made up his mind to get her settled now, instead of doing what most others did and just hurl them into a cell until they remembered their existence or were pestered to do their paperwork. He wanted to do better for her than that.

He finished saving the new entry, and turned to look at her. Her once-fine blue silk dress was torn and stained up to her knees, and her pale blonde hair was falling out of their elaborate braids. She shrank away from him as he stood, but watched him as he went to a tall cupboard and opened it to reveal a grid of pigeonholes, each with different colour tops folded up within; there were six holes of yellow, three of orange, two of green and one of an ominous blue which remained glowing from the dark. Tom drew out a garment from the orange collection, and held it up; it looked far too big for her frame, so he refolded it and took another from the next hole along. He laid it in a big machine and closed the lid for about thirty seconds.

Tom paused, thought, glanced at the scared woman briefly and returned to the cupboard, digging around in a drawer at the bottom. She picked up the orange T-shirt, its warmth plunging deep, but it was shapeless and unwomanly. The machine had printed her name and 'B8' small on the front, on both sleeves, and large and ugly on the back. He then returned, having found a long dark grey skirt that would suit her sensibilities more. Surprised by his thoughtfulness, she returned his gentle smile and slid behind a screen to change.

Tom turned to a whiteboard hung on the wall, drawn with grids representing the basement cells. After going through four pens to find one that worked, he wrote Aaliyah's name in the cell that would be hers. He tutted at the scrawls of untidy handwriting in the rest of the grids, the curse words surrounding a lot of them, and the silly doodles in corners. This board had been out of date more often than not and he wondered if the group putting themselves in charge of the basement welfare would replace this board with something more advanced.

And finally, Tom steered the young woman into the basement proper, feeling her stiffen as her fear returned at sight of the strong barred steel. She nearly gagged from the stench; he slipped his handkerchief into her hand and she held it over her nose until she could breathe again. He brought her to a cell in the central block, a small label above the lock matching the code on her T-shirt, and unlocking it with a key that looked like a large wired Yale key, gave her a gentle push on her back and relocked the door behind her. He smiled wryly and left her.

The moment the basement door closed, the curious voices began; but a second afterwards Aaliyah broke down and slumped into a corner of the floor, weeping into her knees.

But almost immediately, there were comforting hands on her back and arms from those in the cells around her, talking in reassuring tones.

"Aww, don't cry… it's going to be all right."

"Don't sit on the floor, it's cold. Go sit on your bed, go on."

Slowly she did, noticing how almost everyone had a smile for her – with the exception of a couple of grumpy Stus and the two in the far corners wearing blue.

"This is probably a piss-poor welcome to hell, but salutations anyway," said a girl with hair almost as blonde as hers. "Apparently we're neighbours. I'm Deliha."


"Where are you from?"

"Uhh… Hertfordshire?"

There was some laughter, and the questions began. The denizens down here seemed to be hardy folk from their imprisonment, given to pessimism and sadness but fiercely defensive and protective of (most of) their own.

"What fandom's that?"

"Who've you met? Who've you seen?"

"What the hell was that agent wearing?"

She had many questions of her own, and so she proceeded to introduce herself.


Louise had touched base with Alice and Robert upon her return. The pair were in one of the many reading rooms in the Library, both their noses deep in books. She hadn't lingered long, merely to inform them that she was back.

When she returned to the Monitor Room, the duty shift had clearly changed, and it was now Tash who sat where previously Inara had been sitting.

"Hey Tash…"

"Hey Lou… I hear you had some Stu problems…"

"Oh… my… God…" Louise sighed. "News really does travel fast in the Library."

"It does where Phoenixia is concerned," Tash smiled up at her.

"Tash…" There must have been something in the way Louise spoke the Society leader's name that caused concern.

"What…?" Tash asked.

"I need to go back into the Pride and Prejudice fandom." The words came out in a rush, as words always did when Louise was stressed or nervous.


"I want to go to the wedding."


"Yeah… the wedding between the four main characters."

It was only then that Tash looked at what Louise was wearing. She was dressed in a Regency style outfit, perfect for attending a wedding. Tash sighed.

"Okay…" she finally relented. "Just don't do anything that would screw it up."

"Tash, this is one of my most favourite fandoms. Why would I screw it up?"

"Touché. Are you sure you're not going back to look for Spencer?" Tash teased.

"NATASHA!" Louise shrieked, and half-heartedly attempted to throttle the Assistant Librarian.

Tash merely laughed. It was contagious, and Louise was soon laughing too. She removed her hands from around her friend's neck.

When the pair had calmed down, Louise turned to Tash.

"Tash, in all seriousness, I'm not scared of him. He's not a threat. He's a hopeless romantic, barely registering on the radar." Tash started to speak, but Louise kept going. "Okay, yes, he's a Stu. But he's hardly Edward Casanova now is he?"

"Well..." Tash knew her friend well enough to know that if Spencer had been that kind of a person, she would not have been speaking about him so light-heartedly.

"Is he?" Louise repeated.

"Well no..." Tash started.

"If I run into him, I'll do what I did before, and shove my Glock up his nose..."

Tash winced at the image, and then smiled at the expression on Louise's face. There was a determination set there that she hadn't seen in a long time. Opening the plothole, Tash turned to Louise again.

"Well, it's good to have you back to your old self."

Louise made eye contact with Tash, and for a second, the leader was unsure whether they really had the old Louise back or not. How much damage had the incidents in the basement really caused in her? And would she ever trust Adrian again? She watched Louise stepped carefully through the plothole and into the fandom; a thought playing at the side of her mind – you may be back Louise... but what on Earth did Merle want with your research?


Snow covered the ground outside the Longbourn church as the congregation waited to be allowed admittance to the church itself. Louise mingled at the back, trying to avoid the major canon characters, for whom this was all completely normal. She watched as a number of the characters she had so recently interacted with arrived.

Before long, the church was opened, and the guests began filing in. Louise picked a seat at the back of the church, away from the eyes of the main characters. She smiled at a job well done as she watched Sir William and Lady Lucas take their seats with their younger daughter Maria. Their eldest was recently married to the Bennett's cousin, Mr Collins. He too soon arrived, with his wife Charlotte. Some of the people who seated themselves around her she didn't recognise – they were minor aristocracy and acquaintances of Bingley, Darcy or the Bennetts. She did her best to make small talk, but people seemed to know another person, and she was swiftly left alone again.

There were a number of key absentees from this double wedding, although Louise, knowing the fandom, already knew where they were. Lydia, the youngest Bennett sister and her husband, George Wickham had not been invited, despite Mrs Bennett's protests and Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Mr Darcy's aunt had snubbed the wedding, and had refused to attend with her daughter Anne.

By the time that all the guests had arrived, Louise was perfectly content sitting on the end of a row, next to the main aisle of the church. Leaning around the edge, she saw Bingley and Darcy, both looking extremely handsome.

They were both dressed in navy jackets with the tails of Bingley's coat moving gently as he paced back and forwards with nerves. Darcy was the picture of calmness. Every so often, one of the pair would look back down the aisle, and Louise would whip her head back in to avoid being spotted.

Murmurs started from the back of the church, and Bingley and Darcy, at the front, turned to face the high altar. Louise looked behind her, and saw Mr Bennett and Mr Gardiner leading the two Bennett brides up the aisle. The logistical nightmare that would have occurred if Mr Bennett had attempted to give away both his daughters had clearly meant that an additional paternal figure was required to give away the second bride.

Mr Bennett led Jane, and Mr Gardiner – brother to Mrs Bennett – led Elizabeth.

Louise smiled contentedly to herself as she watched the two brides move slowly up the aisle. Both were dressed simply, in dresses of white. On their heads were bonnets of white, and attached to each was a fine veil. Both brides clutched a handful of wild seasonal flowers.

As the brides reached the top of the church, and joined their husbands-to-be, Louise slipped from her pew and out of the church door. No one stopped her leaving, so she left the church up opposed. Louise walked a short way away from the church, to avoid being spotted.

She found herself on a narrow path around the church, leading towards Longbourn house itself. The snow crunched under her feet, and the cold air around her ankles was beginning to chill her.

"Time to return to the Library, me thinks," Louise murmured to herself as she slipped the plothole generator from its place of concealment. Raising it to eye level, she pulled the trigger, the prospect of warmer air half-consciously dragging her back to the Library. With one last glance at Longbourn church, and a wistful smile on her face, Louise exited the Pride and Prejudice fandom for good.


A few hours later, Alice and Louise were taking a bath.

It was a strange arrangement, requiring a lot of trust and remaining private. Alice was one of the only people in the Library whose adjoining bathroom did not contain an actual tub (she had one of the best walk-in multi-pump showers instead). If she ever wanted an actual bath, she had to use Louise's, and Louise had to sit in with her.

The few people who learned of this arrangement were initially baffled, their minds often rocketing down a different route, but there was a perfectly reasonable explanation: Alice's epilepsy meant that she could never take a bath alone, in case she had a fit and drowned. Therefore, she trusted in her best friend to watch over her in case something went wrong.

Louise's silver and whitebathroom was currently very steamy, and scented with minerals and plants in a way that reminded one of the sea. Alice lay half-submerged in the bubbly blue water, her hair kept dry by a shower cap. Louise sat against the bath wall, using a folded pink towel as a cushion. Alice was behind the wall, and couldn't be seen; but even so, her current focus was on her DS.

"Oh damn it!" she cursed suddenly.

"…Mmm?" Alice was so relaxed she wasn't yet in the mood for speech.

"Bloody Boldore!"

"Oh those things…" Alice mumbled dreamily. "Ehh… my Castform can kick their arses…"

"Show off. Just because most of mine are in the box right now." Louise was doing what most people spent a high percentage of their time on Pokémon Black doing: level grinding.

"You know we just end in stalemate when we battle," said Alice. "Mostly 'cause we keep switching around…" There was the sound of water moving as she rolled over in the water.

"Careful, hon! Tidal wave!"

"Oh relax. Your bath's big enough for me to wallow all I want. Ahhh… wallow." And she did.

Louise laughed, closed her DS, and leant back against the wall. She heard Alice sigh in the warm water.

"Feel nice to relax after the stress of the past few weeks?"


"You know…" Louise began, haltingly. "I never did apologise to you, Allie…"

"Lou… don't. You did already. It wasn't you."

"I know, I can't remember it, but… I still feel awful." She slumped against the wall, breathing in the scented steam. "I thought you were avoiding me… I thought I'd scared you away."

"I got myself tied to the bed trying to defend you! If I had thought otherwise… "

There was a short but companionable silence.

"Did you forgive Adrian?"

"Did you?" The water moved again as Alice leant on her arms on the side of the bath. "I know you still go real quiet around him unless your mind's on something."

"Oh I did… but I can't help but feel a little anxious around him still."

"You and Robert both, by the looks of it…" sighed Alice. "I know he's trying, Lou. You reckon he'd have agreed to be Oberon otherwise?" She paused, reaching for the Lush soap bar. "Though I like to think he went along with it anyway just for the shits and giggles we all got out of it."

Louise smiled, but her face fell. "I don't know…"

"He's all right. A bit funny. I like how he takes all my glomps."

Louise didn't reply. Alice shook a hand, and poked her with a still slightly damp finger.

"ARGH! You got me wet!"

"Did not! My hand is dry! …Almost!"

That got her friend to giggle. There was a 'squidge', a 'plop!' and a "Bollocks!" as the bright pink soap slipped out of Alice's hand and fell through the bubbles. Alice muttered something about a floating pumice soap dish as she went fishing for it.

"Ya know…" Louise began eventually. "I'm kinda glad that I was able to get Aaliyah. Makes me feel…almost worth something."

There was a 'swoosh' sound as Alice moved in her bath. "That was awesome! Well done hon. Aww, I wish I could have come with you. Although I dunno if I would have liked wandering around in nightgowns."

"Tom looked really good in his tail-coat."

Alice chuckled.


"Ahh… nothing."

"I'm just glad you were successful."

"Mmm, me too. It was a bit of a shame that I needed Tom to come along too. You know I haven't had my first solo capture yet."

"Does it matter, Lou? Neither have I! At least you have her now. All I've pulled in that I can just about slap my name to is that brat McLaren."

"Oh well…"

Louise went back to her DS, watching the red battery light come on. "You a wrinkled prune yet?"

"Nuu. Still being a hippo. Thought I wouldn't get a chance for a bath today, but I got time."

Louise had a thought. "If I hadn't been back in time, would you have asked Robert to sit in with you?"

Alice giggled, slipping down the bath so the water came up to her neck. Louise smiled.

"I don't think so… it might have been… er… rude. Maybe Tash."

"Robert's a gentleman, Allie. I'm sure he'd understand."

"Yeah, but this is a… a delicate arrangement. I'd hate to embarrass him."

"Mmm, fair enough…" mused Louise. "On the subject of Robert, how's the supervision thing going?"

Alice sighed, relaxing in the hot, blue-tinted water. "It's okay. He's really nice. And he listens. I fear I might get bored though…"

"Bored?" echoed Louise. "Naaah. Why?"

"In case something comes up, an' I'd want to go or go and help… and I can't 'cause I have to look after Robert." There was a flat tone to her voice, as if her heart wasn't truly in what she was saying.

"I'm sure someone could babysit," said Louise, laughing afterwards.

"Mmm, maybe. I wonder how his meeting's going?"

"Who's he meeting with?"

"Val, and I think Hati… it's about the basement stuff."

"That's another thing I'm ashamed of…"

Alice stopped drawing her hand through the water. "I didn't know that others weren't…" she sighed. "We didn't know, maybe we should have, but who of us have ever had experience of running a prison? Robert said the Sues are terrified of a fire down there, because there's no way of them to escape."

Louise shook her head. "How are we any better than them when we acted so badly? No wonder they all fight tooth-and-nail to not be caught."

"Lou… don't. This is what this meeting is for. They're going to fix that."

"I hope so," she said. "Robert was always fair. He'll have thought long and hard about what's needed."

"He made a list," agreed Alice. "He's been wondering what he's going to do here."

"It's good to see him around," smiled Louise, her mood lifting at last.

Alice was quiet for a moment, sinking so the water touched her chin. "I'd hope he'd want to stay… join us maybe…"

"He can't exactly go into fandoms on his own though, can he?"

"I don't like to either," Alice replied. "He has a reason for not going solo."

The pair remembered the last times that they were last alone on ill-fated missions. Louise could not shake the memories of the White Tower, and under her bathwater, Alice touched the long ragged scars on her right arm.

"It's safety in numbers. We can defend him. It'll give him greater purpose, more ability to help those he left behind in the basement…"

"Let's hope he agrees."

The water moved again, as Alice sat up, stretching her arms. "Thanks for this, Lou…"

Louise smiled, even though she knew the other couldn't see her expression. "You know me, hon… anything for my best friend."

"I wonder how many people are thinking this weird," said Alice. There was a low vibration in the room, enough to make the bathwater ripple. "Was that the Fourth Wall?"

"I couldn't care less what the others think," snapped Louise fiercely. "Fact remains. You can't have a bath alone. Those who know also know why."


"This mean you're done?"

"Mm-hmm. Unless there's anything else?"

"No… no. I'll be in my room waiting for you."

Louise stood up, scooping up her DS and heading for the door without turning around. Alice leant over the wall and retrieved a towel from the warmer on the wall.

"Thank you…"

"No problem."


Meanwhile, on the other side of the Library, Valerie had indeed 'borrowed' Robert from his parole supervisor and they were heading to Harriet. Robert could feel the notes he had in his pocket. He considered the overall attitude of the Society in this delicate issue of the basement; he had been allowed to witness that big apology through the one-way glass of the duty office, and while not everyone had wanted to do it, at least they did. One of his aims was to make the said duty easier for the agents. He was discussing a few ideas with the healer as they went.

They reached a large, heavy wooden door, with an etched brass plaque reading 'Harriet's Audience Room'.

"She doesn't do anything by halves, does she?" Robert murmured.

"She wouldn't be Harriet if she didn't," said Valerie, knocking and pushing open the door as she heard the reply.

Within lay a large room based around a square walnut table and chairs. There was a fireplace at one end but it wasn't lit. The carpet was deep scarlet shagpile, the seats plush velvet and the lights crystal chandeliers. The owner of the room – who had commandeered this space as her own to use, even though it wasn't strictly necessary – was sat in her large armchair and talking to Tash. She waved the pair in.

"Hello dearlings, we're not finished yet, just hang around or try out the fountain…" said Harriet lazily.

Fountain? thought Robert, watching Valerie need no more invitation and skip over to the brown muddy-looking fountain gurgling in one corner. It was stood on a table, surrounded by plates of fruit and nuts and cakes, and tended by Harriet's seemingly endless army of scantily-clad handsomes.

Valerie quite excitedly scooped up some of the deluge in a glass – and Robert realised what the fountain was. It was one reason he could be thankful that he had known Merle; she had introduced him to chocolate. He could see that Tash had at least three empty plates in front of her, and he joined Valerie in partaking of the rich creaminess.

But in the meantime, he listened to what the two leaders were talking of. His attention was drawn when he heard his brother's name.

"…Richard and Merle. Nixie's said it's wise to, going on their history. She's already writing a programme-kinda-thing to detect the moon phase."

"I don't know… their powers don't really call for it."

Harriet blew a raspberry in response. "And yet the danger does, Tash! Louise went after her alone; she was well and truly squished. Alice and Louise also got squished. We held our own in Rome, just, and you and Merle were pretty well matched, but we were nearly squished."

"But what about this other night level Phoenixia's proposing?"

"Would you want to go against a werewolf one-on-one? No, really? She was almost as fast as you, and it was a crescent moon in Rome…"

"Hmm, maybe then… what about Richard?"

"Richard isn't as dangerous as Merle is at night," Robert interjected. "Not by far."

The two women looked at him, considering his words. "He is dangerous though…"

Valerie watched Robert stiffen slightly. He was torn between helping them and defending his brother.

"What are you doing?" he asked, with difficulty.

"We're re-evaluating Merle and her lot; we've revised them upwards by one," said Harriet. "And now Merle has become 'speshul' enough to earn herself a second rating for night and full moon."

Robert nodded. "And this is for…?"

"Well –" Tash began, haltingly. "It's the Sue Ranking system. The levels are there to guide us in estimating who to send after them, how armed and in what quantity."

"Is this going to stop people from going after her alone?" He was clearly thinking of Louise.

"Probably not…" admitted Harriet, "…but it might give them a second thought."

"Take Merle and @," said Tash. "Until today, they were both the same level: six. With Merle, we've learned a solo or a pair can't take her on, she is extremely dangerous and is one of those who's always several steps ahead. With what you revealed she has now surpassed the danger level that six represents. But with @, she's the same level, but very different. We can't really fight her and she has the power to get into all but one of our computers. But quite frankly she has the mentality of a six-year-old most of the time and poses no real danger to us at all."

"Unless she's used by someone else," said Valerie.

"Unless that, yes, of course."

"Or if you blow up her diamond and obsidian castle."

"Yes, yes…"

"So we're in agreement? Good. All right you, scoot. I'll see you later for girls' night in." Tash scooped up an armful of papers – she swore there were only three sheets when she got in here – and left the room.

As she went out, Dave came in. "Sorry, am I late?"

"Late, late, pffft. You're here. Go get fountain," said Harriet, thinking for a beat then getting up and taking her own advice. The four sat at the table, most still carrying sticks full of goodies covered in melted chocolate.

"Mmmph," 'said' Harriet after several moments of contented chewing. She swallowed and continued. "Right, my ducklings, I call this impromptu meeting of the Basement Reform Committee to order!"

The other three stared at her at that announcement. "Okay…" said Valerie, "shouldn't we get the other Leaders involved in something like this?"

"Naaah, they're busy," said Harriet, waving her chocolate-smeared hand dismissively, before noticing the drips and licking them clean. "You have illustrious me, yourself, the newly-made PR dude and the guy I hope will agree to be our go-between."

Robert jumped as he realised she meant him for that last one. "Er…"

Harriet beamed at him. Dave picked up where the Society founder had left off.

"Basically, now that we know of the previous conditions, it's our job to make them better. I'm hoping that people are remembering that these guys need feeding."

"There's still a problem with that…" said Robert.

"What?" Harriet sounded outraged.

"They're now being overfed," said Dave smoothly, cutting off her angry tirade. "The duty agents are so scared of you, Harriet, that they've been feeding the Sues every single shift regardless of time. They can't eat all that food, so they've begun hoarding."

Valerie sighed. "Poor things… no wonder the basement's been smelling a little ripe lately…"

"I'm not surprised they're hoarding," said Robert. "I'd wager that they think this won't last, so they're trying to save whatever they can for leaner times that they think are coming."

There were several nods of understanding.

"What happened to this rota you were dreaming up, Harriet?" asked Dave.

"Aha!" She reached under the table and there was the rustle of paper as she pulled out a large A2 size pad, the top sheet covered with a large grid and written on in different colour inks – people's names, events, duties and times. However…

"Harriet, this rota… isn't really a rota…"

"All the days are different lengths! None of them are twenty-four hours!"

"I don't know…" Harriet grinned sheepishly. "I was trying to find something to fit both Yank and Brit!"

"Just pick a time zone! That'll give you a premade timetable we just have to fill in!"

"But American or British time?"

Valerie pulled a face. "There is no 'American Time'. We have four times – six if you count Alaska and Hawaii."

"Robert? You know what time zones are, right?" asked Dave.

"Uh, I think so. When we went west towards Waterdeep, the sunrise became later and later. Then earlier as we headed east to Blackspire."

"Yes – that's it. It's because planets are round, right –"

Harriet interrupted the science lesson. "And because we have, like, agents living on four or five different time zones, we don't correlate much – there's an hour where we all should be asleep, early morning British to late evening American…"

"Harriet…" said Valerie, exasperated.

"…and a time where we're having dinner to half the Yanks having lunch and the other half breakfast…"

"Hati, there's no American Time. We have Eastern, Central, Mountain and Pacific."

She thought for a moment before announcing her decision. "Therefore if the Americans can't make up their minds, I propose we put the basement on British Time!"

Valerie sighed. "Fine, fair enough."

The top sheet was torn off, screwed up and thrown over Harriet's shoulder, then she produced several different coloured Sharpies and the four proceeded to draw an even hourly timetable for a week. With such a set-up regular mealtimes could be scheduled, likewise with exercise permissions, lights-out and other events. Valerie ensured she had a time where she could go down and see to their health routinely. They talked for a time on the duty itself, Dave coming up with the idea of putting reserve agents on every shift too, meaning the almost-daily mad rushes to find a usually reluctant person to cover someone else's stint would hopefully be lessened. The actual list of who went where would be decided later, wrangled with the help of the computer and everyone's general availability.

"On this note, perhaps it would be an idea to put a clock or two down there?" asked Robert. "Trust me, we… they'll pick up the routine very quickly."

"Clocks, fine."

"Big wall ones! I know where to get some."

"What exactly did you lot do down there when we weren't looking?" asked Dave, filling in his own notes.

"Talking, mainly. Reading, playing paper games if we had the supplies. We invented our own games or extended them; we had impromptu tournaments of Battleships, using a twenty-six-by-twenty-six grid and thirty ships."

"The Christmas party?"

"Was well loved; thank you for that."

"I heard that someone filmed the play we put on and showed it to the Sues later on – and they all loved it. That and the few special 'Making-Of' videos – including one all about the exploding lightbulbs! And they loved that one even more!" smiled Valerie.

Dave and Harriet grinned conspiratorially.

Robert was becoming braver in his requests on behalf of those he left down there. "I was also hoping it could be made easier for rehabilitation? I'm thinking of Tabitha, and Reena and Kerrie; at present it's a life sentence, and it's demoralising. Hopeless, even. Throwing them into a parole hearing unprepared – well, that's why they were unsuccessful."

"If some of them are willing…"

"The Sues or the agents?"

"Both, but the latter we can sort out," said Harriet.

"I agree, we could offer help for those who want it… make the green T-shirts more of a certainty than a forlorn hope," said Valerie. "But what of those in blue T-shirts?"

Robert was quiet for a moment. "There is a reason they're that threat level," he said eventually. "Basically, I have the impression that the treatment is kind but firm; to the point that if there is another breakout, those in yellow T-shirts might rather stay in their cells than run."

"If they're not coerced, of course."

"Of course, but that's not their fault."

"Are any of them going to accept our help?" asked Harriet. "Or are they just going to continue to bitch?"

"They go by example. I'm not sure how they took Harriet's apology, but my getting out would have raised some hopes. Some will jump at the chance of help, and more success will mean more enthusiasm. I lost count of the times Tabitha cried herself to sleep."

There were some sad looks. Poor Tabitha the cat-girl was the current record-holder for the longest imprisonment, and her information had been badly recorded, not registering either her home fandom or the capturing agent. "Would you be willing to be our go-between? Go and talk to them, refine what we're planning on doing?"

Robert nodded. "Of course. When?"

"Soon, I think," said Harriet. "Your inside knowledge of the basement is invaluable, and they have you to thank for getting this ball rolling. If you're planning on joining us, I want to give you the title of Basement Welfare Officer; you'd be the major go-between and the first port of call for any problems in the basement that isn't an attack. Or even then. Whaddya say?"

"I – I mean I…"

Valerie smiled; she was hoping she would get an opportunity to ask. "We already know you have to stay here, because of Merle; but would you be willing to take the exam?"

"…yes, yes I would."

"You've got a few months yet before your probation's over, so it's time to nerd up on our archives. Then you'd be an agent, and you won't have to have Alice following you around anymore."

"I don't mind her around actually…"


Valerie let Robert return to his room by himself. She knew he was learning the way around still but trusted him not to get lost; but moreover, she was beginning to trust him. All the leaders were warming to him, and he had done nothing to betray that trust; even Michael, who had slowly come round as he realised he really wasn't a threat in spite of all his earlier misgivings.

It was a great sense of relief to Robert. He had been worried after his parole, but being included in the basement reform was something to do. And above all, his supervisor was becoming less a superior and more a friend.

Alice's bedroom door was open as he approached their stretch of corridor, but he heard it long before that; he had been around her long enough to recognise Nightwish when he heard it.

He knocked on her door, and she bounded forwards; she wore a fluffy navy dressing gown, her face was flushed and she smelled pleasantly of soap. She threw her arms around his shoulders and glomped him. He had a moment of horror – was she wearing anything under that dressing gown? – but as the fabric folded away, he could see the light cotton of her pyjamas beneath.

"Robert! You're alive!" she cheered, detaching.

"Hello Alice," he smiled, allowing himself to be led into her room. "How was your bath?"

"Oh, lovely. Just what I needed," she said, flopping back onto her bed and divesting herself of her dressing gown. "It was nice of Lou to supervise."

He nodded, dithering in the middle of Alice's floor. Her chair had clothes thrown over the back and he knew from experience that it was quite a struggle to get out of her giant beanbag.

She shuffled back and thumped her duvet. "Sit down! You're making the place look untidy."

He wondered how this place could get any more untidy…

"What was your meeting like? Not too boring I hope?"

"Alice…" Robert chuckled briefly.


"It was very good. We made some good progress today, and I hope it will actually bear fruit instead of slipping by the wayside…"

"I'm sure you can make it happen," said Alice. She may have felt guilty about the news of the conditions, but she still had misgivings stemming from the Incident that fought against that guilt. She had not yet shared this with Robert, worried that she would grind his hopeful outlook to a halt… but equally, she would not share it with Louise, as she did not want her best friend's shame to resurface.

"Also, Harriet practically extended an invitation to me to join the Society, provided I can pass the exam."

Alice smiled. "Would you?"

"Well… yes. Yes I would."

"Awesome! Oh, that's great!"

"I have to pass some test first!"

"I'm sure I can help you with swotting for that; mine and Lou's wasn't too bad, actually, but we didn't half listen to Tash waffle on at WARGS every Saturday…"

"Thank you, Alice. I don't know how I can repay all what you've done for me."

She thought for a moment, grinning. "Yannow, there is something you can do…" She leaned towards her bedside table, towards a soft violet glow coming from a small white candle; there were quite a few of these in Alice's room, and there was mild speculation as to what they were. Alice picked up the candle, which sat in both palms comfortably.

The candle opened yellow eyes and cheeped at Robert.

"Al – Alice, what is that?"

"It's… well, you know Combee?"

Robert made a face as he recalled the little wasp-like creature who had had too much sugar, having met her some weeks ago.

"She's a Pokémon, and this is another one…this is a Litwick. Some of them answer to 'Hitomoshi' instead but that's the Japanese name."

"Litwick?" The name could almost be called terrible. The candle creature looked at Robert and cheeped happily, almost saying its name.

"Yeah. They keep breeding in my room. Dunno how they got here but they're here. I've got five of them now. They're really nice, they're pretty, they don't eat much; I've been giving them half a kibble from the bag in the larder every couple of days and they seem to like that…"

"What… what do you want me to do with it?"

"I want you to have it."

He looked at her. "Alice, I can't just…"

"Go on, it's fine," she smiled. "Take it. It'll get you used to the Pokémon who live round here."

He lifted his hands, and the wax creature moved from one pair of palms to the other. It – he made a mental note to find out its gender – was vaguely warm, like a living thing, and didn't weigh much at all. The little yellow eyes closed, it yawned, and the violet-blue flame atop its head dimmed as it went to sleep.

"Thank you, Alice."