Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Insert Undersea Adventures Here

It was a swelteringly hot day in the Library as Alice made her way up one of the cast iron spiral staircases towards the rooms that Gareth had recently been assigned. The Wargs veteran had joined the society several months ago, but hadn't spent much time at the Library. On his first solo mission, he'd battled a powerful Gary Stu known as Alexander Whitestone in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen Fandom and come off second. Whitestone escaped and Gareth had spent the best part of a year hunting him though various fandoms, but to no avail. Whitestone hadn't been seen or heard or for months now, leading to Harriet closing the file on Whitestone and bringing Gareth back to the society a few weeks ago. Since then he'd taken rooms on one of the upper floors and helped out around the library.

Alice reached his door and knocked. There was a pause, before the door swung open to reveal Gareth, dressed in his usual smart suit trousers and shirt, but minus the customary jacket and waistcoat due to the heat.


"Hey Alice" he replied, affectionately returning the glomp. "What's up?"

"Not much, everyone's trying to keep cool," she replied, following him into the room. It had been out of use for a long time but Gareth seemed to have made it his own. A large desk covered in papers filled one corner, with a chintz day bed occupying the other corner. The other two walls were lined with bookcases, holding Gareth's book collection. That wasn't what caught the eye though - every flat surface had some kind of ornament on it and every blank area of wall was occupied by a painting of some sort. A battered coffee table in the middle of the room currently held a mug of tea and a plate of biscuits.

"Kettles not long boiled, I can make you a cup if you like?"

"Thanks, but I can't stop long. Tash asked me to talk to you. She'd have come herself, but she's busy."

"Oh, what about?"

"How do you fancy another assignment"?

Gareth sat back on the day bed, took off his glasses and polished them for a moment before replying. "Sure, provided it's not as hot as the library today."

Alice smiled to herself. "If you want to get away from the heat, I think you'll be pleased…"

After Alice had left, Gareth wandered over to one of the bookcases and ran his hand along the worn spines. None of these books was a great library copy, he'd brought them all from home and knew each and every one of them like an old friend. Sure enough, he found what he was looking for, a battered copy of 2000 Leagues Under the Sea. He flicked it open at a random page and read a few lines. Everything was just as it should be, but he supposed he shouldn't have expected any different. There was a Sue within the Fandom, but she was being clever and avoiding the main plotlines. Instead, she'd burrowed her way into a minor fancfic telling the tale of Captain Nemo's exploration of the high artic named 2000 Leagues under the Ice and from there was causing disruption to the outer reaches of the fandom. It had to be stopped before the corruption reached the main plotlines.

He reached under the day bed and pulled out a leather messenger bag. Inside he kept all the things that might come in useful on assignments. Communicator, first aid kit, plothole generator, and perhaps most importantly, a prohibitor which would allow him to neutralise the Sue's powers. There, he ready. Calling up a plothole, he stepped through and landed in a polished metal corridor somewhere aboard the Nautilus.

It wasn't quite what he had expected. The polished walls were marred with fresh battle scars and the corridor was only dimly illuminated by red emergency lighting. As he looked around, struggling to get his bearings, he became aware of shouting and the noise of battle coming from somewhere else in the ship. That wasn't the main problem though. The main problem was the four grim faced men standing in front of him, guns trained directly at his heart. Cursing for himself for making such a stupid error, he raised his hands above his head. He definitely needed more practice with the plothole generator - if he survived this.

"Is he one of them?" asked the first man, who was probably their senior officer.

"Doesn't look like it," answered one of the others. "Shall we take him to the Captain?"

"Good idea," said the officer. "Right you, walk slowly in front of us and if you try anything clever, you die. Simple as that."

"Very simple," said Gareth, speaking as calmly as he could. Things were not as bad as they could have been after all. He was being taken to the Captain, which meant that he wasn't going to die yet. Still, he had an awful feeling that if this Captain was the Mary Sue he'd come to find, everything could turn really bad really quickly.

After binding his wrists together, they herded him though what seemed like miles of dimly lit corridors, until the four sailors and their prisoner arrived on the bridge of the Nautilus. It was an immense room, lit by a wonderful crystal chandelier. Some parts of it were being used as a makeshift infirmary, with wounded sailors lying on bedrolls in one corner. In another, parties of men were being issued with rifles from an open weapons locker. Yet all this paled into insignificance for Gareth when he saw the man who stood at the ships wheel before a vast window which looked out onto the frozen seabed. He was a tall man, black as midnight, with a curly beard glistening with scented oil and a piercing glare. He wore a curious mix of clothes, somewhere between European sailor and Indian prince. There could be no mistaking this man. It could only be Captain Nemo.

"Sir, we caught this one wandering alone. He surrendered to us."

Nemo walked over, his boots making hardly any sound on the metal deck. Although tall himself, Gareth had to crane his neck to meet his gaze. After a moment, Gareth looked away. Nemo could outstare a statue.

"He certainly doesn't't look like a Gary Stu to me," said Nemo.

Of all the things he'd expected, this wasn't it. Mouth hanging open in shock, Gareth raised his head again to meet the Captain's calm, intelligent gaze. "You know about Mary Sue's and Gary Stus?" he stuttered, reeling from the shock.

"Indeed. A powerful Mary Sue known as Chu-Zhen managed to sneak aboard the ship. By the time I saw her for what she was, she called others to her. We managed to contain them on the lower levels, but each one is a master swordsman and shot, better than all secondary characters and most leading ones. We have been making plans too…"

"Wait" said Gareth, his mind reeling. "You know you're a character? That this is fiction?"

"Indeed I do. Last time I checked, there were one thousand, seven hundred and eight almost identical Captain Nemo's, most of them convinced that they are the only one. This story had been read only seven times in the past forty years, so I've been able to develop what you might call a more… independent way of thinking. What I'm thinking now is that your from that Society I've been hearing tales of, am I right"?

"Yeah, your right" said Gareth. A bit of honesty caused him to add "I'm fairly new at all this though."

"Yet they send you on your own. You must be competent enough."

"Well…"said Gareth. He wished Nemo would blink more. Those calm, dark eyes felt like they were looking right though him. "I've been hunting one Gary Stu for almost a year now. I caught a couple of his minions and drove him away from the main plotlines, but he escaped. In a way, this is my second chance, an opportunity to do things properly."

"Fascinating. You contained the threat and saved the main plotlines, yet you doubt yourself."

"You never do that?" asked Gareth.

Nemo smiled, his dark eyes sparkling. "Perhaps I wasn't written that way."

Gareth smiled too. The Captain was strong, imposing, and just a little bit scary, but despite that, he found himself liking Nemo. "I came to find the Sue you mentioned. What did you say her name was?"

"Chu-Zhen. Half Chinese, Half American. Beautiful, deadly. Knows eight forms of martial arts and carries a deadly Japanese Katana."

"Sounds like a Sue alright. Thought you said she was Chinese, not Japanese."

"Whoever wrote her didn't know much about the Orient. Just threw together random pieces of eastern culture they'd read about to make a character." He sighed gently. "We have to deal with her. If she gains control of this vessel, she will be able to spread her influence to other Nautiluses in the fandom, eventually capturing the original. If that happens, 2000 Leagues Under the Sea as we know it may cease to exist."

He crossed the room towards a trestle table that had been set up close to the makeshift infirmary, Gareth following in his wake. "We must work out a plan to deal with her. Cup of tea while we think?"

"Everything stops for tea" said Gareth, taking the offered cup. He lifted it to his lips and drank. "This tea is heavenly! What blend is it?"

"It is made from a plant that grows in the undersea valleys of the Southern Ocean. When picked and dried, they make a tea more refreshing than any terrestrial plant. The Sea provides." He picked up his own cup and drank before speaking again. "I'm glad you spotted the difference. It would have been a shame to have had to kill you."

Gareth choked on his tea, looking up at Nemo in shock.

"Most Sues don't posses proper taste buds. Not written well enough. I use the tea to trap possible spies."

"Oh… you thought I was…"

"A precaution, nothing more. Come, we have work to do."

Whatever plans Nemo might have been making were interrupted as a klaxon sounded somewhere off in the distance. The Captain looked up. "Damm and Blast, they've broken though to the upper levels". He hurried over and held a rapid conversation with an officer.

"We shall try and intercept them on the grand staircase," he announced to his men. "I want volunteers." All of the able bodied men and quite a few of the walking wounded came forward. Nemo nodded to about half of them, leaving the others to guard the bridge and the wounded. With military precision, the sailors shouldered their rifles and marched though the door. Nemo made to follow them, but turned to Gareth as he did so.

"You will need arms if you are to go into battle with us. Can you shoot?"

"Not well."

"Handle a sword?"

"I fenced for the team at College."

"That will have to do. Grab one of those cutlasses and come with me."

The main staircase looked like a war zone. Armed Sues were swarming up the staircase, waving cutlasses and boarding pikes. There were hundreds of them - obviously minor Sues from naval adventures were ten a penny. Gareth scanned the sea of minor characters, looking for Chu-Zhen, but there was no sign of her. She'd sent her minions to do her dirty work."

Nemo's sailors were holding their own, laying down rifle fire to stop the Sue's ascent. Some of them were breaking though by shear weight of numbers, causing some of the sailors to cease fire and lay into them with bayonets and cutlasses.

Gareth flailed at a Sue with his borrowed cutlass. He'd been a good fencer, but of course everyone was padded and no one was actually trying to kill you. He lunged forward at a Sue who had just reached the top step. Unfortunately, it didn't work out the way he'd planned and he missed entirely. No, not entirely. The waving blade caught another Sue in the press, sending him toppling back down the stairs. Hoping no one realised that it was an accident, Gareth ducked a blow and faced his opponent. The man was clearly a Gary Stu of some kind, with handsome features and wrinkle free clothes, but his movements were curiously rigid and the face blank. Such a poorly described character as this was no threat.

Even as the though flashed though his mind, another warning klaxon sounded somewhere else in the ship. Momentarily distracted, Gareth didn't notice his opponent locking blades with him and twisting, sending the borrowed cutlass flying though the air. Seconds later he slashed again, cutting across Gareth's chest. The agent toppled backwards, blood spraying from the wound. Darkness closed in upon him and his last memory was seeing Nemo stepping over him, jewelled scimitar in hand to take on his opponent.

In his dreams, the Nautilus whirled around him. Whitestone appeared, laughing at him, before melding into Nemo. He dreamed he was back in the Library, walking along the bookshelves with Tash. He dreamed he was in the infirmary on the Nautilus. He dreamed of being back in Winchester. He dreamed he was in the infirmary on the Nautilus. He dreamed of his first failed mission. He dreamed he was in the infirmary on the Nautilus… he'd dreamed this before. Consciousness rose within him and his vision focused. He was in the infirmary on the Nautilus, battered, bruised, with an aching head and a throbbing pain in his bandaged chest, but still he was alive. Looking up from the bedroll, he could see Nemo standing at the wheel of the Nautilus. No one was any paying attention to Gareth, so he swung himself upright. His vision swam, but his legs held.

"Your awake," said Nemo without turning around. "How do you feel?"

"Lousy," said Gareth. "We lost?"

"Yes and no. We won the battle on the staircase, but Chu-Zhen wasn't there. She snuck past us while we were distracted and sabotaged the ship."


"Yes… she will pay for what she did to my Nautilus. If we survive. She sabotaged the air recycling unit. We have less than an hour's air left."

"Can we surface?"

"Not under the ice. We're heading for a patch of thin ice marked on the charts. We might be able to punch though there."

"Here's hoping" said Gareth. His legs shook and he had to grab Nemo's arm for support.

"I must have lost a lot of blood."

"Not too much, the wound was shallow. It's the laudanum after effects you feeling."

"What laudanum?"

"An effective painkiller, but with some strange side effects. Did you dream?"

"A bit. Suppose paracetamol would be too much to hope for..."

The Laudanum had made Gareth feel woozy, but at least it reduced the pain in his chest to a dull ache. The wound hadn't been life threatening, but that didn't mean it didn't hurt! He sat on a chair on the corner of the Nautiluses bridge, watching the frozen seabed slide past beneath them. It was haunting and beautiful, a glimpse into a frozen world. All at once he was seized wit determination. If the Mary Sue's took over this Fandom, all the beauty and charm would be gone, replaced by a perfect, sterile world. He wouldn't let that happen.

"We're here," said Nemo at last. The air was getting thin now, making breathing difficult. It was now or never. "Hold onto something."

The Nautilus rose though the icy water with a rush, gaining speed as it ascended. Every face on the bridge was nervous except for Nemo, who maintained his calm demeanour. Forty fathoms from the surface now. Thirty. Twenty. Ten. Impact.

With a scream of tortured metal, the Nautilus slammed into the thin ice. The ship shook with the strain as it powered though. Cracking ice slammed into the hull, causing it to ring like a bell and all the crockery in the galley shot off the shelves and smashed, adding the sound of breaking plates to the din. Then suddenly the ice snapped and the submarine breached the surface, emerging into the frozen night of an artic winter.

Nemo turned to the crew with a sigh of relief. "Get the hatches open" he ordered. The crew jumped to comply, eager for fresh air after their ordeal. The hatches swung open and they all gulped down lungful of cool, refreshing air.

"How bad is the damage?" asked Gareth. He, Nemo, and a party of sailors were outside the ship, bundled up in thick coats from the Nautiluses' wardrobes. Nemo had insisted that they inspect the damage as soon as possible, to see if they could get underway. The mighty submarine lay at an angle, mostly above the water, with only her bottom still submerged.

"Repairable. We'll have to ice hole hop to get back to warm waters, but we can do it."

The cold was making Gareth's chest hurt beneath the bandages. "Lets head back to the ship and draw up a repair schedule. If you get me some more laudanum to keep my chest from screaming, I'll be able to help with the repairs."

"In a moment," said Nemo, turning his back and looking up into the crystal sky, filled with the dancing Aurora Borealis. "I sometimes forget how beautiful the land can be."

Gareth would have answered, but his head turned sharply as he heard the distant sound of gunfire. An after-effect of the laudanum? No, Nemo had heard it too, carrying across the still artic air. His normally calm face was worried. "The Nautilus," he groaned. "We must get back aboard Nautilus," And he set off, boots flying athletically across the snow, with the others hurrying to keep up.

The gunfire had died by the time they reached the hatch back into Nautilus. Two sailors lay dead, their blood red on the snow. That wasn't what caught Gareth's attention. An Asian woman with cherry red lips was standing calmly by the hatch, holding a shining silver sword. She wore skimpy clothes quite unsuited to the weather, but didn't seem to be suffering from the cold. It was Chu-Zhen last and she didn't look happy to see them. Standing in a semi circle behind her were three men and a woman, all of whom held weapons. With a start, Gareth saw that one of the men had a button missing from his shirt, while another wore a necklace of polished ivory. Their clothes were dirty and wrinkled and one of the men had forgotten to shave. Each one wore an identical ring of polished brass and steel on their right hand. They had detail…they were not mere generic Sues, but well imagined characters whose Sueish tendencies had taken over the other elements of their character.

"More of you" Chu said, in a girly, sing song voice. "I will have this vessel for my own"

"You will go nowhere except the Library basement" said Gareth, reaching for his borrowed sword. Too late he realised that it was gone, dropped in the battle for the staircase. This was going from bad to worse pretty quickly. Chu-Zhen looked at him and frowned, perhaps contemplating killing him there and then. Fortunately, Nemo stepped forward.

"You have boarded my ship, killed my men and forced us here. You will do no further damage" He lifted his own scimitar. "A contest of arms, between us. Right here, right now."

"You challenge is accepted," said Chu-Zhen, darting forward with her blade. Nemo twisted out the way and counter attacked. It wasn't quite Sueish speed, but it was the speed of a man who'd lived his whole life on the high seas. They darted back and forth across the frozen hull of the Nautilus, blades locked in a dance of death, Indian Sailor and Chinese Warrior. Gareth watched, hoping against hope that Chu-Zhen would come close enough for him to get a prohibitor on her, but she remained tantalisingly out of reach.

The end came suddenly. Chu-Zhen leapt into the air, flying towards Nemo, blade outstretched. He neatly side stepped the blow and caught her as she landed, tipping her onto her face. She lay there, stunned, before trying to rise. Nemo regarded her impassively for a second, before lashing out, running her though with the scimitar. She coughed blood, them slumped inelegantly to the floor. The watching four Sues gave a howl of rage, before opening up poltholes of their own and departing.

"You killed her" said Gareth, shocked.

"No more murder than an author with a delete key," said Nemo, cleaning his blade on her tunic.

"I suppose," said Gareth. "She's dead at least. The plotlines should repair themselves now, provided the others don't come back."

"I will watch for them" said Nemo.

Gareth smiled. "They asked me to save this Fandom, but I think it was quite capable of saving itself."

"You will not always be so lucky. Here, take this back to your library and tell them the Sue is no longer a threat". He passed Chu-Zhen's shining silver sword across to Gareth, who examined it closely. It was a pretty thing, perfect in every way. Yet Nemo's scimitar, with its battered shark skin hand grip and battle knocks had beaten it. For a moment, Gareth considered keeping her sword for himself, but decided against it. Like the Sues themselves, it was just too perfect to be of any real use.

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