Friday, December 16, 2011

Insert Freak of Nature Here

Drops of waters splashed onto the tiled floor as two sodden teenage girls strode through the building. One sighed in relief as she finally collapsed onto a table in the laws of physics-defying Library, the other stood stiffly, her fingers flitting across the several open books carefully placed on the wooden surface. Her lips moved, mouthing numbers to herself, as she flicked to the correct pages. When she was satisfied, she tossed her body into an eagerly waiting seat. Her tired muscles protested loudly. She promptly ignored them. The first girl smiled cheerily at her companion, flashing pearly white teeth. The other scoffed and rolled her dark eyes in response. This girl was far too... happy. It was insufferable.

A nondescript polyphonic ring tone echoed through the unnaturally quiet Library. To most of the world's population it was just another ring tone; a boring, bog-standard ring tone that undoubtedly came with the phone. But to the black-eyed girl it was one of the most welcome sounds in the universe.

Her hand dove into her deep, coat pocket, her fingers encountering bits of broken string, old wrappers, scraps of paper, an empty biro, change in various currencies, half a packet of cough sweets, and finally her phone. She answered it without as much as an apologetic glance to her companion. She listened impassively to the caller, staying quiet until the final "Yes. Thanks. Bye."

Her eyes darted to the other girl who was playing with a strand of her red shoulder-length hair. "C'mon, we've got an assignment." She stood slowly, her bones aching, and walked away. The smaller girl rushed to catch up with a childish chorus of "Wait for me"s.


The tall blonde strode down the corridor, her attractive features angling into a scowl, tawny wings protruded from her back, making her look much like an avenging angel. Her brown eyes blazed with rage. Five followed her, their wings spread out behind them.

"Which room, honey?" she asked Angel.

"442," she replied in her sweet little-girl voice.

The door hinges gave in with a satisfying crunch as she threw all of her power into the single kick. The slab of wood smacked into the floor, and the six kids marched in. The room was cramped and tiny, barely more than a cupboard. Whitewashed walls glared sickly at them and pallid tiles were cold underfoot. A breathtakingly beautiful girl stared up at them with fearful rose eyes. Masses of shockingly white-blonde hair fell in perfect ringlets to her waist. Her elfin features were set in a mask of terror. From her narrow back, pure white wings streaked with hot pink jutted, their feathers silken and soft. Claws painted lime green extended from her fingers, as sharp and deadly as knives. Her ears were pointed and covered in black-spotted orange fur. She was kneeling on the painful floor, though if she was standing they'd have seen her black-and-white striped tail. Gills decorated her necks like several straight slashes.

Fang crouched beside her, carefully, like an adult approaching a child liable to suddenly attack. "What's your name?" he asked. His voice was melted chocolate. Her coral eyes met his inky pools. All traces of fear vanished in an instant. He cracked a rare smile.

"Rhea Persephone Zola Minerva Penelope Chrysteena Xanthe Dragonsmoke Clearbreeze," she whispered delicately.

"That's a beautiful name," Iggy told her. Her cheeks grew hot and she blushed demurely.

"You honour me." Her voice was like windchimes in the gentle evening breeze. It made her sound like she was singing; a truly heavenly sound to all who would be privileged to hear her speak.

Nudge, who had been puzzling herself over the beautiful girl's odd appearance, suddenly spoke up; "Like, oh em gee! What, like, exactly are you? 'Cos you've got a tail, wings and those squiggly lines in your throat, they're gills, right? And that's okay 'cos you, like, look really pretty and everything, but it's still really, like, weird." Readers' eyes began to bleed at Nudge's butchered speech patterns; however, they still counted their blessings as she hadn't been turned into a complete racial stereotype... yet.

Rhea gazed at the floor, embarrassed by the compliment. "I'm 4 percent leopard, 2 percent dolphin, 6 percent lemur, 8 percent avian and 85percent human." Basic math skills had been shot and were too terrified to rear their soothing, logical heads again.

Yells echoed through the empty halls, converging on the seven. "We've gotta go," Gazzy said, the author finally having noted his existence for something other than a complete placeholder.

"Indeed, it would be inadvisable to remain here any longer," Rhea agreed in mock-Spock.

"You are right as always, my darling Rhea," Iggy chipped in, motioning for everyone to stand. No one (apart from perhaps any unfortunate reader) pointed out that they'd know each other for two and a half minutes and was nowhere near long enough to commence using gratuitous phrases like "always". Everyone also failed to draw attention to the fact it had been Gazzy's idea in the first place.


Of course, only a few days later the Voice revealed that it was in fact Rhea's destiny to save the Earth from an insurmountable evil force, and Max was nothing but a pawn. Maximum Ride grudgingly handed over the reins of leadership when it became abundantly clear her flock were under her spell and wanted nothing more than to obey her every command, and Rhea's perfect, flawless leadership skills were agreed by all to be far better than Max's ever were. She was more loving, more caring, more quixotic and, above all, better than the obsolete Max Ride.

Only days later Rhea defeated Itex single-handedly, using her multitude of obscenely potent powers that never seemed to even drain her slightly. Her telekinesis could uproot hundred-year-old oaks; lightning bolts that could fry a man at forty paces (not that she tried, she'd never use her powers against an innocent bystander) shot out of her fingertips; her voice was so beautiful that when she sang, small animals rushed to aid her and do her bidding; it was generally agreed that her weather control was the most captivating thing on the face of the Earth; when her heart was heavy with sorrow, great torrents of rains fell from the heavens, as if the gods were crying with her.

As it turned out, Rhea was the daughter of a whitecoat and his lover, and had been thought of as dead. A sickeningly tearful reunion followed, much to the poor readers' chagrin. She hacked into the now-defunct Itex database, using awesome hacker skills that had never been previously mentioned, and found the Flock's parents. By a lucky one-in-a-million chance (the kind that seems to come up nine times out of ten) the Flock's parents wanted them to truly be happy, while still wanting their children to be with them, so naturally informed them that their place was with their flock but they would still always have a home with them. Though, of course, the fact that Angel and Gazzy's parents had sold them and Iggy's had only wanted him for the exclusive story his life had been (the sort that sells for big bucks) had never been mentioned.

It was no surprise when the media's scrutinising glare fell upon her gorgeous face, hailing her as a hero. She blushed diffidently, insisting she had help, never accepting the praise. The media lapped it up like cats with a saucer of milk (although the author suddenly questioned this rather strange simile for every cat she had ever owned preferring to drag dead dormice into the house and attacking any meat product left unattended, but said author digresses). The world was wrapped around her long, slender, beautiful finger, and everyone was totally unaware. Apart from...


Maximum Ride cursed her luck as she watched the latest press conference, her – no, Rhea's, she corrected bitterly – flock was sitting on their seats, not used to the attention and photography. Nudge was chattering to Total, who had previously been mysteriously absent from the story, her voice carrying softly, her words whispering of tales of hope and love and determination. Angel's face was screwed up slightly, a wrinkle on her youthful forehead. She was talking to someone in her head again. Max could imagine, just for a moment, it was her. She found a small pitiful pleasure in pretending she would hear that young innocent voice once more within the barriers of her own mind.

Eyes the colour of the midnight sky roamed across the room, their owner stoic and as silent as the grave. Her genetically enhanced heartbeat just the tiny bit faster. A sinking feeling, low in her gut, ached terribly as his eyes passed over her without even a twitch of recognition shimmying across that attractive face. Everything else was torture, but she could handle it. But there were no words for this; the one person she trusted and loved above all else looking at her as if she was nothing. Hate, malice or anger she could handle but this void of feeling was an agony she could not bear.

Her eyes quickly darted away, lest her fragile heart break entirely and cease to beat. They turned hard as they were captured by the enticing coral eyes of Rhea. She offered a smug grin; Max repaid it with a scowl. A pretty Asian woman posed a question, and Rhea broke the gaze to give her simpering answer. By the time her eyes had turned back to find Max, the girl was gone, leaving nothing but an empty space and some residual body heat.


Max Ride stormed through a nearby fire door into a damp alley, untouched by sunlight. The smell of urine hung in the air like awkward words spoken and unable to be unspoken. She threw herself onto the floor in driest part possible, murmuring about traitorous flocks and horribly perfect girls under her breath. She refused to cry, spilling tears over them would be weak and pathetic. She had to remain strong, no matter how much it hurt. She had to push everything deep down into the depths of her cracked heart, and keep them there forever. Rhea had said she was weak, pathetic, and useless; so she would show her. She lifted herself up off the floor, revelling in the tension crackling in the air around her, the tension between who Max Ride was and who she could be.

Without warning, a bang resonated through the murky alley. Her head snapped up, expecting to see Flyboys, Erasers or whatever was the new threat these days. She was automatically in a battle stance, her blood screaming for fight or flight. Instead the sight of two girls, not too much older than her fourteen years, leaning mock-casually against the graffiti-soaked wall greeted her eyes. She wasn't sure whether she preferred the Flyboys; at least you knew what they wanted, even if it was to capture them. She quickly examined the pair, taking in every detail, mapping their faces, committing them to memory.

The first was sort of pretty, with big green eyes and copper-coloured hair. Her skin was so pale she could have passed for vampire in poor light, Max regretted the comparison when she caught glance of the girl's smile; her canine teeth were unsettlingly prominent. The second girl could not have been more different; her height was astounding, Max would have put it at over six feet. The tan-coloured skin tone, high cheekbones and straight nose added up to a rich heritage of Native-American origins.

"There isn't much time to talk," the redhead spoke first, looking around nervously, as if worried of being overheard. She was Irish; Max recognised the accent and couldn't be said to be terribly surprised.

"My name is Ossa," the Native-American offered a hand attached to a worryingly skinny wrist, Max took it. "She's Aimee. We work for the Anti-Cliché and Mary Sue Elimination Society." Her accent was British, shocking Max slightly. "We're here about Rhea."

Max, never one for revealing lots of secrets, said nothing. Ossa didn't seem perturbed by her silence, allowing it to unfold and smother the trio.

"She's a Mary Sue!" Aimee burst out after a moment of awkward silence. Black-hole eyes rolled once, and she made a disapproving clicking noise with her tongue.

"Rhea is a tool of evil, perfect in every way. She's taking over this world; she's already taken your place. It won't be much longer before she's completely in control and unstoppable. We need your help, Max. You are an anomaly; you, and you alone, are immune to her charms. We don't know why, but you appear to have a copyright embedded in your genes. I'd hazard a guess that it might be because of your rebellious streak or your constant bashing of Fang admirers, though it's most likely because you, Maximum Ride, are incorruptible. You are unique. So help us and stop Rhea before it's too late."

Max's fight-or-flight instincts that had been hardwired into her brain after living too long on the run kicked in. She spread out her powerful wings and took off into the sky. The duo watched her go, standing wordlessly for a few moments. Fat raindrops began to drip from ash-coloured clouds, like blood from a shallow wound.

"Why?" Aimee asked, her ever-present smile did not falter, but a wrinkle appeared between her brows. No other words were needed.

"The Domino Effect; I'm setting up the dominos, they can topple themselves." She pushed herself from the filthy wall, wincing slightly, and rubbed the bandages on her left wrist. Aimee hovered, projecting a concerned air. "It's nothing. I'm fine." She spun on her heel, trenchcoat flapping at her calves, and strode away. Aimee brushed her hair from her eyes, dithering an instant before following without question.


Dirt spewed into the air, and Max winced, picking herself out of the mini-crater she'd created. Blowing her hair from her eyes, she glanced at the horizon, checking she hadn't been followed. She wouldn't put it past the odd pair. There was something...unsettling about them. That smile and those empty eyes...they weren't natural.

Quickly, she found shelter under a large tree, just in time as the rain began to fall in lashing sheets. Fragile leaves, outstretched like hands, caught the droplets before they could complete their descent, keeping her dry save for the odd trickle of cold water down the back of her neck.

It wasn't particularly chilly, but still shivers snaked down the length of her spine. Perhaps it was out of fear, but fear for whom? The two oddities were disconcerting, but to all intents and purposes, they were benign to her. No, it must be fear for Rhea whatshername Clearbreeze. She was the malignant one, twisting the world around her little finger. Even Fang was under her spell.

And the horrible cow expected her to lie down and let her walk all over her. She had obviously underestimated Maximum Ride. Nobody walked over Maximum Ride! She would fight, and win back her Flock. So, she sat, in the dust and dirt, with the rain pouring around her, and plotted until the Sun waned, chased away by the darkness, and night ruled over the world.


Seated in an armchair that could have been her throne, Rhea beamed, though of course the person she was with could not see such a dazzling, brilliant, beautiful, amazing smile. If Rhea was queen, then Iggy was certainly the prince. Tendrils of moonlight reached out across his face, shining in his sightless blue eyes and stripping the tension and stress from his angular face.

It was a magic evening.

Music played with a soothing frequency. The speakers seeped ambient keyboards and light percussion, creating a seductive soundtrack to their moonlit picnic in the abandoned observatory. Iggy reached out and traced a feather light finger over the curve of her jaw.

"Rhea, you have stolen my heart," he whispered against her lips, their breath mingling. "I love you."

"And I love you with the passion of a thousand suns going into supernova in implausible synchronicity. We shall be together forever, my love," Rhea intoned, her voice the twinkling stars nestled in the midnight sky like diamonds against black velvet. Their lips met in a heated kiss that burnt their very souls.


Windows shattered. An almighty crescendo of tinkling glass crashed into the floor. Max Ride, bruised and bleeding, climbed to her feet, pausing only briefly to pull a shard of glass from her hand.

"We need to talk," she grinned to a startled (but oh-so pretty) Rhea and confused Iggy. The smile was borrowed from the Devil himself; fury, hate and damnation burnt in that smirk. It was dangerous, the grin of no sane man (or woman).

Rhea arose, sweeping her gorgeous waist-length tresses from her face. Her nod was one of resignation, a gesture so far beyond nobility, it was approaching royalty. "If you wish it so."

The limb made a graceful arc and smacked her firmly between the eyes before Max could even realise what was happening. To her credit, she barely flinched, setting a roundhouse kick in return. It caught Rhea in the ribs. A perfect kick. She'd be feeling that one in the morning, and for several mornings afterwards.

The Sue only grinned, unnerving her slightly. Pieces of glass trembled like leaves caught in a gale, lifting from their graves on the tiles and swirling around Max in a perverse hurricane of pain.

"It was so easy!" Rhea said, her beautiful voice booming over the noise of chiming glass. "They begged me to take over from you. You are so weak, and you always will be. I made this world better than you ever will. They love me! You're nobody!"

Fragments as sharps as knives danced dangerously closer. "You're nothing compared to me! You're just so... ordinary!" She spat the last word as if it were the worst insult in the entire history of the world. To a Sue, it probably was.

The first shard was a blossom of pain. The second was a knife to the gut, and the third was a grazing wound to the throat. She dodged, ducked and dove but the slivers of glass floated after her, piercing her. Rhea stood, so serenely she could have been a passing angel, in the centre of the chaos, her telekinesis orchestrating it all.

"You don't have to do this," Max told her, wiping a trickle of blood from her cheek. "You have a choice." She was breathing hard. Muscles screamed. Every step was punctuated with a hiss of pain. Crimson spilled. But still, she pushed herself onwards. For the Flock, she told herself, gritting her teeth against the agony.
The glass froze. The entire room was still, as if it Time herself had been held captive. A sick, sadistic smiled spread across those beautiful, feminine features.

"I choose this then," she whispered, her voice full of twisted pleasure. Max shrugged. The kick took Rhea by surprise. It landed on her no doubt already bruised ribs. The power behind it was astounding. Max was sure she'd heard something snap. A banshee-like howl sliced through the silence. Automatically, she clamped her hands over her ears, fortifying herself against Rhea's screams. White-hot pain lanced through her mind. Blood trickled from her ears.

Rhea's fingers contorted in an almost Peter Parker-like way. Sparks jumped across her fingertips. Max swallowed. Hard. A blue-tinged flash flew past her. Her mind was total anarchy, but her feet were very controlled, moving sideways to dodge the next lighting bolt of their own accord. Her breath came in short, sharp gasps.

A light bulb exploded. She couldn't run forever.

A crack split the brickwork. This was going to be the end.

Splinters flew from a broken table. She was backed into a corner.

A telescope shattered. There was no escape.

She turned to face the woman who would end her life. She met those coral eyes and smiled. She may not succeed, but that girl would eventually meet her match. Sparks danced in those hate-filled eyes. Lightning crackled on those fingertips. A single bolt chased through the air, aimed squarely at her heart. Her lids drooped shut. She waited for the pain and her death.

Neither came.

She risked peeking through half-lidded eyes. The sight that met her was a breath of fresh air. That girl from earlier – Ossa – stood bodily in front of her like a human shield.

"Rhea - er, lemme check!" She pulled a phone hybrid from her pocket and gazed at intently as if it contained the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything (it's 42, so it probably did). "Rhea Persephone Zola Minerva Penelope Chrysteena Xanthe Dragonsmoke Clearbreeze," she said in one breath, "you are under arrest for fandom manipulation. And for having a frankly ridiculous name! Seriously, what was your mother on?" Her face was a picture of disgust.

"Bit rich coming from you, Oh-Sah!" Aimee grinned, pronouncing each syllable of her name with extreme care (yes, both of them).

She scoffed. "I suggest you be quiet, unless you want me to tell your mother all about your Boyfriend of the Week. Charlie, isn't it?"

That bright smile waned slightly. "Ozzy!"

The Sue raised an eyebrow, clearly amused. The tiny movement caught the oddballs' eyes. The strange four looked at each other, unable to look away. Their gazes caught in the sticky-toffee gazes of the other, making a horrible mess that no one was going to volunteer to clean up later.

A smug smirk spread languidly across those porcelain features. Ossa resisted the urge to slap it off. "You are nothing."

"Blah blah blah." A reasonably deep voice intoned in a vaguely Scottish brogue. "Same Sue crap." Rhea's eyes fell to a rather ordinary-looking guy leaning against a pane of glass-less window.

"Jamie!" Ossa snarled, fire igniting in dark eyes. "Where the hell have you been?" Everyone paused, feeling ridiculously out of place. It was such a domestic scene, having no place in this battleground of epic proportions.

"The Gary-Stu Gutter was just showing me a few things," he said. To Max he sounded apologetic and sincere; to Ossa, however, he simply sounded gloating. She took several dangerous steps closer, all his instincts he'd developed from knowing the Native-American for so many years screamed at him to run. He stood his ground, and prayed to every deity that he didn't look as much like a whimpering puppy as he thought.

"You? You got to go out and have fun while I had to drag Aimee through the rainy wilderness? We had to go to the Twilight fandom, d'you have any idea how torturous that was? Going out Sue hunting in the constant pouring rain is not fun!"

Her face was only inches from his, her eyes were like knives. Everyone was watching the uncomfortable expression on Jamie's face with a twist of sadistic pleasure.

"Was it a nasty Sue?" he asked, trying to distract her.

"Of course it was! It was Rosalie Hale and the freaking Cullens! It was bloody false alarm!" Finally, he had the sense to step back, breaking the spell.

A slicing shard of glass whistled through the air, aimed squarely for Max's heart. She dodged, throwing herself to the floor, but the splinter only changed its trajectory.

A glint of silver blinded her. And the clatter of tinkling glass was a welcome sound. Hot-chocolate coloured eyes glanced up.

A katana blade finished a graceful arc, ending up angled firmly down. Fragments, too tiny and insignificant to do any damage, were sprayed across the floorboards like a bloodstain. Ossa's hand on the hilt wasn't a surprise, but the determination in her eyes was. She looked serene, totally at peace.

"That's the sword from Heroes," Aimee hissed at her friend, ignoring Max's gasping breaths from the ground, Rhea's burning eyes and the rain clouds gathering near the ceiling.

"I stole it and replaced it with a copy," she said matter-of-factly. "You were looking for your shoes, and I was bored. You didn't even notice I was gone. And if you tell anyone else it's the original, I'm personally going to subject you to Vogon Poetry until your ears bleed."

Jamie's eyes went wide with terror. Aimee just looked confused. "Vogon Poetry?" she whispered to herself. No one heard her though, for the crackle of lightning and the boom of thunder echoed through the room hauntingly.

Forks of lightning earthed themselves, drilling holes into the floor. Aimee jumped back on instinct. When things went "boom" around Jamie it was always good to get out of the way and fast (an alibi was second priority). Stumbling on unsteady feet, Max got up. A cacophony of thunder roared.

"There are extreme amounts of electrostatic charges in a confined space and I'm holding a metal stick that will pass for lightning conductor, aren't I?" Ozzy asked dispassionately. Her friends nodded. She searched her vocabulary for the right word for these circumstances. "Bugger."

Perfect choice.

Aimee was a pacifist and completely unhelpful in a combat situation, so she did the only thing she could think of – hold Max back and stop her from interfering. Ossa didn't like to be upstaged. Iggy appeared to have vanished into thin air, so Jamie helped Aimee with the struggling bird-girl.

Meanwhile, ceiling-clinging clouds swelled like a comfort-eater after her husband left her. They exploded. Hailstones were shrapnel, pelting the foursome in a seemingly never-ending tirade. Slicking the scene with near-fatal levels of moisture, rain joined in the battle, each drop a soldier for Rhea.

Speaking of the she-devil, Rhea stood untouched by the chaos, her hair hadn't so much as a tress out of place despite the precipitation and the hurricane-force winds that had felt left out so had elected to enlist. You would need a nuclear bomb, Jacques Cider and a Dalek to mess that hairstyle up.

The wind played with the hem of her dress, tasting it. It gusted up like a bad cartoon, revealing long, shapely legs. Jamie (though he would deny it later) caught a glance of that pale flesh. Meh, he thought, I've seen better. He then promptly turned his attentionto the tall Native American working herself into a fit of bitter rage.

Looking up beneath the messy, shapeless bangs plastered to her forehead, Ossa locked gazes with Rhea, who gave her a manic grin. Somehow seemed wooden and fake, much like Rhea herself. That wasn't right. Sues were perfect. But why did this one seem so hollow? It gave her the chills.

...or maybe that was the rain and wind and thunder. She wasn't sure. She quickly wondered if all her Society missions were going to end up soaking her to the skin. She hoped not, as much as she loved the rain – and she had been known to stand outside for hours when it was pouring it down – that would be just a little to monotonous, even for her.

Without warning, Ossa lashed out. She released the sword, revelling in the clang that drowned out the thunder for an instant, and dropped down, her fingers resting on the floor. Her leg swung round in a beautifully deadly arc behind her, sweeping Rhea's feet out from underneath her. She thought the move was a low reverse Roundhouse kick, but she wasn't sure; it had been years since she cared what her kicks were called.

Much to her dismay, Rhea did not topple like a tree. The Sue stumbled for several moments, regaining her balance with a twisted grin. Ossa threw a hook, only to find it blocked. A growl escaped her throat, low and angry.

She feinted left, before attempting a right jab to that smug, unbearable face. Rhea raised a perfectly sculpted eyebrow imperceptibly and cross-countered it, exploiting the opening in Ossa's position and counterpunching. The fist landed heavily on her ribs, knocking the air from her lungs. She gasped for oxygen, looking not unlike a fish in doing so. The adrenaline flooding her veins dulled the pain, taking the edge away. She would pay a fair few quid to be anyone but herself tomorrow morning.

The Sue's fingers tangled in her shirtfront, pulling the girl closer.

"After today, you and your precious Society will not be able to stop me." Her voice was smooth and melodic, yet harsh and hissing.

Above the roar of thunder, Ossa began to contemplate on the complex contradictions that were Mary Sues, only to be rudely jerked out of her reverie. A shiver ran down her spine, as perfectly manicured claws trailed down her throat; one hand still grabbing a fistful of shirt and the other closing around her neck.

Pain. The unbearable agony. An iron fist crushing her windpipe. Her eyes bulging. Tears dripping down her cheeks. Choking. Hands scrabbling. Pain, so much pain. Vision going fuzzy. Yelling voices fading into background. Suffocating. Body growing weaker, weaker, weaker. Lungs screaming. Life slipping away. Heart pounding. Flesh burning. Dying.

Jamie Coulthard was not the most intelligent bloke in the world, and would probably be the...third person to admit it (his ridiculously blunt best friend and his old English teacher took the first spots), but he was no idiot. He could work out that if Ossa didn't get any oxygen within the next minute or so she'd pass out. Her mom would kill him! Or worse – feed him to her older brother! That was a fate comparable to being covered in ham and sent into a lion enclosure.

Not that he'd ever had the perverse want to dress someone up in meat and sacrifice them to feed a bunch of hungry mammals. No, he most certainly wasn't thinking of the doodle in the back of his old biology book of a certain teacher hanging over a shark tank.

The Kensei sword was heavier than Jamie would have guessed, and not as easy to swing at Heroes suggested. (Damn television making this look so bloody easy.) Nonetheless, he managed to get the blade in a shaky arc, crashing it down.

Aside from Rhea's startled stuttering, the world seemed to have frozen for an instant. Jamie's eyes darted to his oxygen deprived partner-in-crime, before gazing at Aimee holding Max back. His breath was unusually loud in the almost-silence; everything else had...ebbed away, like a river changing course, leaving only a meander scar (Surakdamn his geography teacher! He hadn't taken geography in years, and he could remember bloody oxbow lakes but not where in the whole of the Alpha Quadrant he'd left his mobile! Un-bloody-believable! When he died, God was certainly getting a stern talking-to!).

Time resumed, punctuated by the ticking of his watch. Rhea's slender finger released their hold on Ossa's neck, and she toppled like a tower with broken supports. There was none of this sissy folding up either, no subtle bend in the knees or folding of the back; she went from upright to stretched-out on the floor with a delicious lack of grace or poise. Ah, it made a Mary-Sue hunter proud. With its creator unconscious, the storm whirled into nothingness, disappearing with a puff of wintry air.

With a fantastic spreading of wings that made Aimee silently decide that, as far as winged-humans went, Angel was definitely her favourite, Max Ride broke free of the Irishwoman's grasp. Pouncing on the Sue with frightening speed, the bird-girl literally kicked her when she was down.

However, Jamie didn't care about that; his gaze was focussed on a much more human girl. The poor, abused Society Agent coughed an oh-so delicate cough that Jamie was sure could rival a chain-smoker's hack. Ruptured blood vessels lined the length of her brown neck, blossoms of purple and blue rising to the surface. She spared him a watery, pained smile, and his heart started beating again. He hadn't even realised it'd stopped.

He was so getting fed to Ra, now. He hoped the Native American teenager would go easy on him.
Ossa managed to let rip a herd of curses in a hoarse, broken voice. The curses spanned an impressive eight languages, including English, German, Russian, and Vulcan. After a brief moment of struggling, Aimee wrenched Ossa to her feet. She was wheezing, gasping and obviously in a tremendous about of pain, aside from that she seemed fine. Well, as fine as she got.

Aimee wrinkled her nose, frowning to herself. "There are far too many adjectives in the above paragraphs," she murmured.

"Shh," Ossa said, a grimace of agony on her lips. "Don't mess with the Fourth Wall."

Jamie proffered the katana to his best friend, hoping that the worried expression currently staging a coup on his face wasn't that noticeable. Extending an unsteady hand, she took the hilt in her curled fist, the other hand caressing the blade. The rebellion was overtaken by the siege of a blush. Aimee stifled a giggle at the sight of it; somebody had a crush.

Luckily for Jamie's fire-engine face, Ossa slotted the sword into its sheath. He let out a sigh of relief; he did not need those thoughts clogging up his brain. They were just friends, nothing else. Just friends. Not even friends with benefits, no matter how much that thought entered his brain. Yes, simply friends. And, anyway, if he was angling for friends with benefits, Aimee would be so much more likely to say "yes" to the idea. Just friends; nothing more. But, then again, Aimee's face didn't light up whenever she made an obscure Star Trek reference no one was going to get, Aimee didn't yell out all the lines when they watched Lord of the Rings, nor did she have a borderline obsession with Chris Pine's eyes (though, to be honest, he could live without the last one). Yes, they were just friends.

"Where's the Prohibitor?" Ossa ground out.

"My back pocket," Aimee said as if it was perfectly normal (though normal was not a word that could ever be applied to Aim in any circumstance).

Had it not been for her raw throat, Ossa would have been yelling and cursing and generally insulting her. What sort of idiot kept important Sue-fighting gadgets in their back pockets? Had said idiot not considered that her best friend might have been grievously injured, resulting in said idiot having no free hands to reach said gadget because said idiot was supporting her best friend? D- on planning ahead.

Letting out a growl that rapidly transformed into a hacking cough, Ossa plunged her hand into said back pocket, fumbling blinding for the Prohibitor. Meanwhile, the all-powerful Author resolved to stop using the word "said" so much, it was getting on Her nerves.

"You're a pain in the bum, Ai," she told her friend as soon as she'd ripped the bloody thing from those despicable jeans.

"Sticks and stones, love."


"No need for that!"

"Bite me!"

"Cover yourself in chocolate and I'll happily oblige."

Jamie turned his gaze from his bickering friends to the bird-girl who seemed to have gotten fed up with kicking Rhea's lifeless form.

"Are they always like this?" Max asked, making a gesture with her hand that he assumed was meant to mean the train wreck relationship of Ozzy and Aim. He gave her only a smile in return; it made her heart ache – it reminded her of Fang's stupid smile. She missed him. She missed all of them. The sooner this was over, the better; she just wanted to go home.


Soon enough, the spectacular battle was over. Finding themselves evenly matching in wit, neither of them had emerged the victor. Enough glorious oxygen had soared through her veins, so Ossa found herself able to stand without her Irishwoman's help.

Tilting her head, she observed the motionless Sue. Hm, this didn't seem quite right. No, this felt like a low-budget horror move – this was the part were someone mumbled something about it being quiet and the monster must have gone. Everybody knew what happened next – the monster randomly attacked the first person to peer round an inconspicuous corner. She didn't dare poke Rhea with her toes either –that was a horror cliché too, and as a member of the Society, Ossa felt she should discourage clichés in all shapes and forms.

She ignored the inklings telling her it was a trap. Her inklings could go screw themselves for all she cared she decided as she bent down to fasten the Prohibitor around her dainty wrist.

Of course, she should have listened, and Rhea sprung up like a zombie from one of the aforementioned cheesy horror movies. Sometimes Ossa wondered what it'd be like to be wrong for a change.
Jamie would have so whacked her with a pillow for that thought.

Rhea leapt like a cat to the other side of the room, well away from the Society Agents and Maximum. Flicking locks of her silken, beautiful, quixotic hair over her shoulder, she snarled at them. They couldn't be said to be particularly scared or even shocked. Aimee yawned – maybe it had been a bad idea to stay up late last night and watch Death Note. She blamed L and his strangely attractive panda eyes.

"I am going to be the god of a new world," she announced, her voice like silk. That sounded familiar. Where had Aimee heard that before? She lost that train of thought as Rhea's rose eyes flashed red, looking not unlike Light Yagami when he went all Kira on people's asses. "You are nothing but ants to me. And I will destroy you, even if it takes me an eternity. I'm going to change the world, one fandom at a time, and you will die. I will win, exactly as planned."

"Can we skip the speech, and just arrest you now? If you hand yourself over we promise not to let Drake sing 'Always Look on the Bright Side of Life' anywhere near you. And that's a good deal."

"Oh, Ossa. Stupid, little Ossa. I'm going to destroy you last; I am going to take everything you love away from you, until you are left with nothing but your worst memories. And by the time I'm through with you, you'll be begging for death. I am going to get revenge on you. Everything that happens from here on in is your fault. Never forget that, Ossa."

She vanished into a plothole, leaving them staring angrily at a blown-out window.

"I really don't think you two are going to be BBFs now," Jamie mumbled, breaking the tension with that peculiar knack of his.


Shafts of gentle moonlight spread across the floor, illuminating the broken room with its anaemic glow. The four of them wandered the lonely corridors of deep thought, each mulling over what could have been. The silence was stifling, but none had to the strength to break it.

The sun had retreating from the sky what seemed like a century ago, but they hadn't made a move to leave. The shell of a room was somehow comforting in its absoluteness; it is impossible to drive yourself insane with doubts of the reality of a situation, if the remains of the situation are staring you right in the face.

"I'm not going to remember any of this, am I?" Max asked, breaking the silence so suddenly the others felt their hearts jump against their ribs. Neither Jamie nor Aimee could meet her eyes, and Ossa had made no sign of having heard the bird girl.

"No," Aimee told her gently when no one else spoke. "When we leave, the fandom – your world – resets itself to the moment before Rhea arrived and changed everything, like a system restore on a computer. No one will ever know she's been here and no one will remember. It'll be like she never existed."

Max's eyes trailed over the broody Native American who'd immersed herself in her thoughts that were most definitely not about puppies and rainbows and free hugs for everyone. Her fingers idly toyed with shards of glass, the flesh on her fingers mercilessly pressing against sharps edges, but never quite drawing blood.
"If only you had that luxury," she whispered under her breath.

They lingered in that suffocating silence for a moment longer, all waiting for something, but completely unsure what. As if in unspoken agreement, they all - save for Ossa - moved towards the exit, clusters of crystal crunched and cracked underfoot. Ossa's head suddenly snapped upwards as the girl snapped out of her reverie.

"Before we leave, may I please have one of your feathers?" Her voice was haunted by the ghost of pain and the suggestion of anger.

Max stopped; she'd never been asked that before, and it certainly wasn't a good time to start. She gave her a look that communicated, in no uncertain terms, she thought Ossa was absolutely insane. Nonetheless, she complied with a little hiss of agony to sweeten the deal.

What? Me, a sadist? Never!

They said their goodbyes; Jamie's quick and simple, Ossa's hurried and uncomfortable, Aimee's long and languid. Surak, the Irishwoman could talk. And then they left, never to return.


Arriving back at the Library and collapsing into the nearest chair after a strenuous mission was a luxury Aimee was only beginning to appreciate. Although... a mug of hot chocolate, a warm bath and a half-dressed Kakashi would dramatically enhance the situation.

Sinking into soft chairs, the trio let out a collective sigh of relief, glad to be away from the nightmarish room. The massive stack of paperwork they'd just incurred could wait until later or, preferably, could wait until it grew arms out of sheer annoyance of just sitting there and completed itself. Well, in the Anti-Cliché and Mary Sue Elimination Society, stranger things had been known to happen.

The silence wrapped around them like a comfort blanket, like the night around the stars, like Hunny's arms around Usa-chan.

Of course, Aimee was the first to break it; "What d'you think she's doing to right now?"

"Sucking face with Fang," she said, fingers trailing over the bandages wrapped tightly around her wrist.
"That wasn't what I meant."

"I know. I just don't want to think about that... Sue. She almost killed me, Ai. Allow me some time to adjust."

That annoying silence was back, broken every second by the ticking of a watch.

"Thank you for saving my life, Jay."

"I'm making a habit out of it." He grinned, blinding her with the full force of a smile so bright you needed sunglasses to stare directly at it. "And you don't need to thank me for it. It's what friends do."

"James Coulthard!" Aimee scolded, playful humour in her eyes. "Starting a sentence with 'and'! Ms. Jackson would have a fit!"

The three groaned in remembrance of Jamie's English teacher. That woman made small children cry and kicked kittens for fun.

The tension leaked out the room and the three friends bantered, each hoping the moment lasted forever.

Unfortunately, time kept on slipping and the moment passed. Ossa climbed to her stiff feet, mumbling something about her OCPD and paperwork. With amazing speed for someone who'd just been in the Battle to end all battles and surely must be sporting some very painful injuries, she fled the scene. Jamie watched her go.

Aimee grinned at him, and raised an eyebrow so brilliantly it would have made Spock and Vetinari break down and cry with shame and jealousy had they seen it (and maybe they'd to comfort each other... the Author, a slash fangirl, allowed her imagination to drift. And thus a crackfic was born!)

"Oh, shut up!" He threw a pillow at that unbearably smug face.


Deep in a locked study, Ossa stretched her arms out over a massive stack of completed paperwork, the ink still wet. The evil paperwork had finally been beaten into submission, and she needed a drink. (Can we get a cheer for underage drinking? No, All-Powerful Author, we cannot; underage drinking is wrong and we cannot condone it.)

She sorted through the contents on the desk, looking for a bottle of tequila she knew was around here somewhere; she had a feeling it was located somewhere near the mountain of used-up pens. Why was it she could never find a working pen of the first try? Maybe it was a conspiracy. Or maybe the universe was against her. That'd be an interesting, though inconvenient, development to her chaotic life. Actually it might be a workable idea for a short story...

She scrubbed at her face with her hands, looking so much older than her mid-teens. Bags lined her eyes heavily; insomnia was not something she'd wish on her most hated enemy. Sighing, she reluctantly gave up the futile search for her favourite poison and headed to the hospital wing; those ribs weren't going to heal themselves.

...actually, they kinda were, but that wasn't the point.

Bandages trailing, wrist aching from the sheer amount of writing, Ossa walked away; she had a Sue to plot against. Rhea was going down.

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