Saturday, September 28, 2013

Insert Implausible Hunting Yarn Here

Allan Quartermain always made sure he knocked the ashes out of his pipe onto the rug. The nurses here were very firm about him not doing that, so he always made sure he did it to spite them. The old adventurer knew in his heart of hearts that he really should be a little more grateful. A lifetime as a poor elephant hunter and adventurer had left him with nothing more that some large scars and larger debts. Yet he'd served Britain well as a member of the league of Extraordinary Gentlemen and she'd rewarded him with a quiet and comfortable retirement… or at least Alex had.

Yes, Alexander Whitestone. His third, last and most successful apprentice. Twice before he'd sworn never to take another apprentice, first after Harry's death and then after what happened to poor Tom Sawyer. Yet he was glad he broken his vow his time. From simple adventurer and hunter, Alexander Whitestone had risen to become the most powerful man in the civilised world, victor of a hundred battles, head of the reformed League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and now, at barely twenty nine, newly elected Prime Minister of Great Britain and her empire. The boy turned out well after all.

Quartermain's reminiscing was interrupted by a crash from the bedroom next door. Even at his advanced age, the instincts honed over a lifetimes adventuring told him that this could mean nothing good. The front door was guarded by security, all visitors had to sign in and nurses and orderlies patrolled the corridors. Alex said the world was safe now, with no enemies left to fight, but perhaps he was wrong? Unconsciously, he reached for his elephant gun, but alas, it was long gone. The nurses here certainly didn't allow such things. A weapon, any weapon - ahah! He spotted something that would do and wrenched it free. Moving almost silently on his carpet slippers, the old man headed into the bedroom.

What he found there was not anything like what he'd expected. The door of his wardrobe had been flung open, scattering clothes across the floor. In the midst of the mess, a dazed young man sat, cursing at the strange instrument that he held in his hand. "Stupid… useless… bloody polthole generators" he grumbled, punching ineffectually at buttons. He looked up and saw Quartermain standing there.

"Where is this" he asked urgently, catching Quartermain off guard.

"Uh… the St Roche twilight rest home".

"Damm"! roared the stranger, throwing the strange instrument to the floor in frustration. Suddenly, his eyes alighted on the ornamental Zulu spear still clutched in Quartermain's hand and stood up slowly, his palms outstretched to show he was unarmed. Thinking it was high time he took control of this odd conversation, Quartermain spoke.

"I've answered your question boy, now you answer mine. Who are you and what the hell were you doing in my wardrobe"?

"That's really two questions but okay. You can call me Gareth and I didn't mean to end up there. I'm sorry to have trespassed. If you just show me the way out, I won't take up any more of your time".

Quartermain paid him a little more attention. He was a thin young man, no muscles to speak off. He didn't look like he'd survive a trek across the Serengeti or a struggle with marauding natives. His clothes helped to give him a non threatening appearance. His suit was made of soft grey wool and his scarlet waistcoat was clearly silk with a gold watch chain dangling from it. An expensive looking messenger bag with silver clasps was slung across one shoulder and his square glasses looked well made. If he'd passed him in the street he would have dismissed him as a dandy, a fop, but why had he appeared in his wardrobe?

Suddenly, the old hunter realised that he'd forgotten something important - when you are sizing someone up, they are often sizing you up in turn. The youths eyes had roamed the room, taking in the carved ivory on the desk, the leopard skin on the back of the chair and the witch doctors mask on the wall. He'd also seen the tough, weather beaten skin of the old adventurer and recognised the grizzled, bearded face.

"You… your Allan Quartermain" he said slowly.

"I might be".

"What are you doing here" Gareth muttered to himself, reaching into his bag and pulling out a battered book. As he thumbed though it, Quartermain thought he saw the words 'The League of Ex…' printed on the front, but the rest of the title was covered by Gareth's white gloved hand.

"You can't be here, hidden away in some rest home, not unless Whitestone's had more of an effect that I thought".

"I'm sorry, what was that about Alex"?

"Alexander Whitestone. You know him"?

"Reckon falling out of my wardrobes addled your brains boy, of course I know him, he's the Prime Minister. Perhaps you mean do I know him personally? I do, he was my apprentice". He broke of as Gareth let out a low growl.

"Prime Minister" he breathed. "Its gone farther than I thought".

"What do you mean" demanded Quartermain. "Everyone says that Alex is the best thing that ever happened to this country. The Martians on the run, the Vampire Lords of Romania defeated and the treaty of perpetual alliance with Germany to be signed today. Alex has worked wonders in so short a time".

Gareth gave him a piercing look. "I notice that 'everyone says Alex is the best thing that ever happened to this country'. You have doubts don't you. His meteoric rise was just a little too quick, a little too good to be true wasn't it".

Quartermain shifted uncomfortably, before grunting "perhaps."

"Just hear me out" pleaded Gareth. "You've noticed something's not quite right with Whitestone. Or rather, nothings wrong with him, he's too perfect. Well he's not supposed to be Prime Minister. He's not even supposed to be in this fandom…" catching Quartermain's blank look, he hurriedly corrected himself "…not even supposed to be in this world I mean".

The old character still looked sceptical. How to explain all this wondered Gareth. He was still very new at this himself, having just scraped though the written exam for the society. This previously unspoiled fandom was his first solo assignment, having been invaded by a rouge Mary-Sue from a demolished work.

It was fast becoming a turgid mess of unreadable, flowery prose praising Whitestone's more and more unrealistic feats of heroism. Yet he couldn't explain this to a cannon character, could he? Still, he'd been tracking Whitestone for a week and so far, he'd been outwitted at very turn. It might be time to recruit some help - either that or go back to the society in shame and defeat. After all, he didn't have to tell Quartermain the whole truth, part of it would do.

"Whitestone destroying this world, turning it into an empty, false utopia" he explained. "He's removed everyone who could possibly challenge him, sent you to rot in this out of the way rest home. He's not right and deep down, you know this, I see it in your eyes. I beg you help me, just in one small way. Tell me anything you know about how might be able to find Whitestone".

Quartermain thought for what seemed like an age. He ought to throw this impudent young pup out right now for insulting Alex….and go back to a life of tyrannical nurses and boring days. He shuddered at the thought. On the other hand, somehow the boy's mad ramblings made sense. Alex always had seemed a little too good to be true.

"It couldn't hurt to tell you where he'll be today, its common knowledge after all. He's sighing the treaty with the Kaiser in the crystal palace at noon".

"Noon" cried Gareth, hauling his watch out of his pocket and staring at it. "I can still make that if I hurry. Thanks for your help" and with that, he darted towards the door and vanished though it. Almost before he knew what he was doing, Quartermain broke into a run and followed him.

"Don't try and follow me" called Gareth as they raced down the stairs.

"Your not getting away that… easily" puffed the old adventurer. "I still don't trust you… won't let you hurt… Alex".

Visiting hours weren't over, so the front door lay open. Gareth passed through the door, but stood on the pavement, waiting for him to catch up.

"I won't hurt him, but I need to get close to him. He's destroying this world. If your going to come with me, you have to help me capture him".

"I think you misunderstand me boy. I'm not coming with you - you're coming with me"!


"I can't let you boys run off by yourselves, who knows what could happen. If this needs sorting out I'll be the one to do it. Either keep quiet and follow me, or I'll take you apart, even at my age".

Gareth argued, but to no avail. Five minutes later, they were in a cab bound for Crystal Palace. Quartermain smoked quietly, while Gareth fidgeted nervously, becoming more and more agitated. Soon, the traffic became heavier. When at last the Crystal Palace came into view, Gareth stuffed a handful of pound notes into the drivers hand and leapt out into the crowded streets, Quartermain following closely behind. It was a struggle, but they managed to shoulder their way though the crowd to a side door. In side, a set of rough wooden stairs led up to the top row of a set of stands that had been erected to allow spectators to watch the historic signing. The two of them paused in the back row, looking out over the sunlit glass hall.

On a raised dais in the centre of the hall stood a simple table and two chairs. One was already occupied by a short, regal man with a flowing moustache - the Kaiser of Germany. The other chair was empty, seemingly reserved for the man who was giving a speech from behind a single podium. The Kaiser had a certain noble bearing, but it paled into insignificance before this man's glory. He was tall and strong, with a smooth, imperial face framed by waves of jet black hair, which seemed to shine in the sunlight. One eye was bisected by a ruler straight duelling scar, but only served to improve his appearance. Before the stage, women swooned and men applauded. The most stylish, powerful wonderful man in the whole…

Up on the benches, Gareth saw these words materialise in the book he was holding. "Sickening isn't it" he muttered to himself. He turned to Quartermain. "Who are those men with him, the ones in front of the stage"?

"The New League, our successors. Better than we ever were. Wish we'd had even one of them when poor Sawyer met his end, things could have been different." He sighed sadly.

"New League… hmmm, bet they only turned up after Whitestone did. Are there none of the old League of Extraordinary Gentlemen left, the ones you led"?

"Most of us are gone now. Sawyers dead, I'm retired, Captain Nemo's exploring the artic circle somewhere. Still one or two around though. If you look closely, you'll see Dr Jekyll on the front bench down there". Gareth focused and caught sight of a neat little man in the front row, watching proceedings. He seemed to be one of the few not applauding fiercely, which looked like a good sign. Perhaps major characters were the last to succumb to the influence of Mary-Sues. "Could be useful" he murmured. "Okay, this is how we'll play it. You try and get to Jekyll, explain to him what's going on. I'm going to try and get to Whitestone - oh don't look at me like that, I'm not going to hurt him, I don't even have a weapon for God's sake".

The old adventurer fought his way towards Jekyll, while Gareth walked down the benches towards the stage. At first no one noticed, but as he drew closer, the speech died away.

"Alexander Whitestone, you are in violation of Library rules on introducing unlicensed Mary-Sues into a fandom. By order of the society, I demand that you…".

He ducked as Whitestone effortlessly picked up the heavy oak podium with one hand, roared "damm society agents" and flung it directly at his head.

Should have known that wouldn't work thought Gareth to himself as he claimed awkwardly up onto the stage. Soldiers in immaculate white uniforms were hurrying towards him, but they were being distracted - the vast, hulking form of Mr Hyde was ripping its way out of Jekyll's slight frame. Quartermain must have been able to reach him in time. Amidst the chaos, he could see Whitestone, not more that a few yards away.

He hadn't lied when he told Quartermain that he wasn't planning to kill Whitestone. Tash had asked him to bring the Sue back alive if at all possible. He just had to grab Whitestone and open up a polthole back to the library, then this would all be over. He was almost within touching distance of his quarry when something heavy slammed into him, almost knocking him over. What could it be? He strained to see, but whatever it was had vanished. Even as he shook himself, he felt an unseen fist punch him directly in the face, sending flecks of blood flying across the room. Worse still, his glasses had gone spinning across the floor, leaving him half blind.

Gareth struck out blindly, failed to hit anything at all and stumbled forwards. Before he had any chance to recover, he felt something invisible wrap around his neck. It felt like a wire or garrotte of some kind. He struggled ineffectually, but to no avail. As the breath was crushed out of him his final thought was 'my very first mission. Failed on my first mission'.

Then, release. Oxygen flooded back into his lungs as he fell forward, gulping vast lungfuls of air. Slowly, his vision returned to normal and he spotted Quartermain standing over him with a discarded rifle in one hand and a grim expression on his face. Smoke filled the air of the crystal palace and many of the panes of glass had been shattered by stray bullets.

"Are you just going to lie there all day," grumbled Quartermain, pulling him to his feet.

"I'm aright I think. Thanks."

"Don't mention it, got in worse scrapes out in Africa. I remembered one time… what the devil?!"

He broke off in surprise as the air at his feet shimmered and shed like snakeskin, revealing an unconscious man lying there, one side of his face bloodied and bruised where Quartermain had hit him with the rifle butt.

"One of the New League" muttered Gareth, giving the unconscious man a vicious kick. "Whitestone must have access to the League's invisibility formula. Talking of Whitestone, where is he?"

"Gone, he must have slipped out during the chaos. One thing though - once you use the invisibility formula, its permanent. How did this man manage to change back?"

"Hmmmmm… good point" said Gareth. To Quartermain's surprise, a smile spread over his face. "This man must be a Mary Sue too. Probably all the New League are. They can defy existing laws and do things that should be impossible. They seem perfect, but their taint destroys everything. That's why the Society I'm from exists. We hunt them down and keep them under control. Its not Whitestone, but I'll take this man back to the Society now. That should prove that I'm worthy to be out on my own".

"What of Whitestone?"

"Next time" answered Gareth. "I don't know where he'll be, but if he turns up here again, I could use a good hunter. That is, if your interested?"

"Could be worth thinking about," said Quartermain. "Looks like its not time for me to retire just yet after all."

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