Monday, January 20, 2014

One Year On

A year is a long time. Particularly in a stressful job like being an agent of the Anti-Cliché and Mary-Sue Elimination Society.

That's why so many of them are insane, or claim to be. It's just their way of dealing with it.

Some of those more sane than others however, need different defence mechanisms to the pressures of their jobs. And if there is one thing the job can guarantee, it's new and unique ways of becoming stressed...

Like for instance, being killed and remade as an almost completely indestructible clone of yourself...


"The meteors were Silver?"

"Yeah... They smashed the road up all around me..."

"Okay, right... and then you ran into..."

"Well, I was about to run into an Argos lorry when Asuka woke me up."

The aforementioned Luxray, sitting on the floor beside Dave, grimaced.

"Just as well I did then..." she said. Dave ruffled her mane affectionately. Valerie smiled, and looked back at the notes she had made as Dave described the nightmares he had experienced prior to his being replicated by the Mysterons.

"Right, a lot of these images are very specific, as if they correspond to ideas already in your head." She said, "Can you shed any light on that?"

Dave tensed slightly at this, and an observer wouldn't need Valerie's powers to see he had put up a wall around himself.


Phoenixia terminated the digital recall of the event she had pulled up from the Cameras. Everything after that was something of an anti-climax, as Dave, while willing to describe the events he could remember of his nightmares, had politely refused to express any feelings he had about their meaning.

Expressing feelings seemed to be a problem for Dave at the best of times. While he undoubtedly felt them, he had keeping quiet down to an art form. Phoenixia had begun to suspect that his tendency to make puns was a semi-concious attempt to avoid fading into the background completely.

As it happened, she wanted to tell him something she'd found out anyway, so maybe she could help out where Valerie had been blocked.

She located him in a part of the library the society seldom used and made her way there. He'd found the Holographic Planetarium that enabled the user to display 3-D star maps of any universe and interact with them as if they stood like a phantom, Light-Years tall, among the stars and planets.

She linked part of her digital conciousness with the display systems of the room in question, and immediately became slightly dizzy.

The star-field was scrolling left, right, up, down and several other unexpected directions, seemingly completely randomly. Since scrolling through the stars was generally triggered by the hand movements of the user, it seemed that Dave was trying to fend off a wasp inside the room, which although possible, wasn't all that likely.

She affected an entry, and found a very different explanation for this.

Dave was standing in the centre with his back to her, on the plate that allowed the user control of the environment, waving his arms like he was conducting an Orchestra.

A wave of one hand there, the cosmos would revolve in one direction around him. A downward sweep of the other hand, and the entire display scrolled downwards twenty light years, still rotating. In a sudden burst of energy, Dave gave the simulated cosmos a two-handed shove to his upper left, making pinpricks of light that represented stars shoot through him.

He was conducting this simulated universe with a passion he rarely displayed, and to Phoenixia's eyes, he was doing a pretty spectacular job of it as well.

Adding an overdose of cute to the proceedings was Asuka.

The Luxray had, by various means including her translation collar and straight-forward electric shocks to those who asked, consistently maintained that "I am a Lion, not a Kitten". In complete contradiction of this, she was running and jumping around, chasing stars as they passed her. Occasionally, the viewer would zoom in on a particular star-system, producing a planet her size, that she would jump on and wrestle with as it sped through the holographic cosmos.

At this point, Dave span in a clumsy pseudo-pirouette, and saw his audience. Letting out a strangled half syllable of shock that left the planetarium computer asking for clarification of his instruction, he fell over and landed on his behind, narrowly avoiding striking his head on the railing mounted on the left side of the control plate. The net effect of this was that the universe abruptly stopped what it was doing and began to drift slowly to the left and slightly towards Phoenixia.

Asuka too stopped in surprise, allowing the white dwarf star she was pawing at to scuttle out of reach. The Luxray somehow managed to blush through her fur, and shot the Ex-Hologram a baleful and chagrined glare that was diluted by a slow moving Nebula rolling over her, reducing her to a dark smut with two yellow eyes.

Phoenixia chuckled, and clapped her hands several times.

"Quite a performance." she said, swiftly adding, "Are you alright?" As Dave scrambled to his feet in an irritated fashion.

"Don't you knock?" he replied acidly, and colouring deeply.

"And miss the show?" Phoenixia returned, "No way! I'd never even thought of using this place like that." She paused. "I've gotta ask though. Why?"

"Why not?" Dave half-snapped, regretting it before he'd even finished saying it, and adding. "It's therapeutic... Makes me feel..." He stopped and looked away, uncertain of how to continue.

"Powerful?" suggested Phoenixia, in a matter-of-fact tone. Dave made no response, provoking a suggestive grin from the Ex-Hologram.

"Well, if you ever want to find out how powerful you are..."

Asuka's eyes narrowed and her fur began to rise on her back, a "Protective mother" posture. Or it was her "Rivalry" ability kicking in, Phoenixia wasn't sure which.

"While I appreciate the spirit in which that offer was intended," Dave replied, colouring even more. "that's not the way I work."

Phoenixia shrugged. "Shame. Still, you know where to find me..."

Dave glanced at her, apparently surprised by her willingness to drop the subject.

"What was it you wanted?" Asuka put in, the vocal synthesiser giving her a feminine voice with a "Mid-Atlantic" accent. Her natural language was audible beneath this, still ringing with maternal tones.

"I was looking for Dave."

"Thank you for your call." Dave said, still looking away, "If you would care to leave your number, I'll try and get back to you sometime next millennium."

Phoenixia smiled slightly. "I thought we'd found out you weren't immortal?" Dave shrugged.

"Cell degeneration is mitigated by the Retro-Metabolic processes, but it still happens, or so say Valerie's tests. I'll probably outlive everyone but you and Adrian though..."

Phoenixia decided not to add Aster, and the rest of the library's immortals to that list, and instead chose to comment on the muttered addition to that statement he seemed to think she hadn't heard.

"What sort of stupid thing did you think he'd be doing specifically?"

Dave turned and looked at her, obviously hesitant to speak.

"Dave, there's not much you have to be afraid of right now, is there?" Phoenixia pressed.

"It's not him he's afraid of hurting!" Asuka hissed. Phoenixia nodded slowly in understanding and closed her eyes briefly.

"There, I've turned the Microphones on the cameras off. What happens now is seen and not heard." She smiled, disarmingly.

Dave frowned at her for ten full seconds before answering.

"I... Well... What do you want me to say?"

"That's sort of up to you, but if you want a prompt..." Phoenixia paused in a parody of thought. "...nightmares?"

Asuka, who had been crackling with static for the last few seconds, saw she was trying to help, and subsided into a watchful silence.

Dave sighed and muttered something about inevitabilities. "I thought I'd explained that on Cloudbase." he said aloud. "I saw the thing I joined the society to prevent happening before my eyes. I saw my friends become ravening bloodthirsty monsters. And I saw that I'd failed..."

"Oh? Failed at what?"

"Nix' don't you ever see a... nostalgic look in Tash's eyes? Or for that matter, any of the more senior society members."

Phoenixia thought for a bit. "I suppose... But about what specifically?"

"About the case of Cerebus Syndrome, or whatever that trope is, that the society has. You know what I mean. A longing for the days when all of this was just a bit of fun for them. Saving the known universe, AND getting to squeal fangirlishly over favourite characters."

"You think you missed out?"

"No I didn't miss out!" Dave returned. "Because those days can happen again! All we have to do is end this war, and take steps to make sure it doesn't happen again. That's what I was trying to do, that's where I failed."

Phoenixia frowned slightly. "Just to clear things up for me... What you refer to as the Battle of the Library, everyone else calls the War. So..."

"I call it that because we were already at war." Dave replied. With impeccable timing, a red giant star rolled over the holographic star-field beneath his feet, casting him in a deep red glow. "We've been at war the whole time, and Mesha was right about one thing. We declared it, albeit unwittingly."

"Go on..." Phoenixia didn't quite follow his logic.

Dave looked up at a cluster of stars, winking through a dark nebula to his upper right. "Why do people read and/or write fan, or indeed any type of fiction? They want to escape their lives, step outside themselves, and be who they've always wanted to be..." He frowned. "If you're a long, stringy child with more imagination than muscles and at the mercy of bullies, of course you'd jump at the chance to fight evil alongside your heroes, even if it's all in your head..."

He turned to look at Phoenixia. "You don't want your new self to be a punching bag, so you give them superpowers, the ability to throw planets around for instance... giant robots, legions of kick-ass creatures-"

"One of me isn't enough for you?" Asuka asked, playfully. Dave half-smiled.

"I should have expected that..." he said. Phoenixia laughed.

"Anyway," Dave went on, "The point is, you do all this, you're ready to show the bullies what you can do, and when they taunt you again? In your imagination at least, they come to seriously regret it! Both selves, real and fictional are happy with this, although the latter has done all the work."

His face darkened again. "And then, a new set of bullies turn up!"

Dave injected his voice with a playground sneer at this point.

"Meeeeeeeeeery-Sue! Meeeeeeeeeery-Sue! Look at the Peeeeerfect Meeeeeeeery-Sue! Well what do you think you're going to do? You're going to lay them out as well! They're attacking your character, the ideal you, you yourself! You're not going to stand for that!"

"Hmmmmmmmm..." said Phoenixia, thinking over all this carefully. But Dave wasn't quite finished.

"Then you see several of the bullies banding together into a society of exterminators. Hypocrites! They accuse you being perfect when they're going around locking/beating up any character that doesn't meet their ideas of perfection? You'll hit them where it hurts the most, and then...!" he stopped, realising he was getting a bit carried away.

"I... think you get the point." he said, slightly embarrassed. "But I'm starting to think Mesha's author was of that mindset... if you get my meaning."

Phoenixia frowned. "Yes, I do get your meaning. In fact, that's one of the reasons I was looking for you initially..." She closed her eyes again and a holographic screen popped up between them, with a screen-shot of an email on it.

The email read:

Dear Sir/Madam. I am contacting you on behalf of the Anti-Cliché and Mary-Sue Elimination Society.

Approximately thirteen months ago, you alerted us to the presence of the Mary-Sue Mesha, who was absent without leave from an unspecified Doctor Who Fan-Fiction of your creation. The good news is that she has been defeated, expiring in battle due to circumstances beyond our control. The bad news however is that she caused us a great deal of trouble, seriously threatening the Canon of the fandom, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons, as well as the serious inconveniencing of a society agent.

Dave looked up at this point, and raised an eyebrow.

"I didn't want to complicate the explanation." Phoenixia replied, gesturing him to read on.

Also, certain matters surrounding her we are at a loss to explain, and we would appreciate any assistance you can give us in these matters.

Could you provide us with a plot summary of the fic in which she was born to Professor Yana (A.K.A The Master) and an original character of your devising? I ask because after she left your fic, she became a member of a group called the "Inventors Guild", and was as a result, hunted down by the forces of the Lieutenant Mary-Sue. These outside events seem to account for a larger amount of her Sueishly tragic back-story than is usually the case, and we wish to study this phenomenon in greater detail.

Also, she seemed to be obsessed with revenge upon the society for unclear reasons, and while I suspect she infers that we forced the creation of the central authority she fell foul of by reason of our existence, such theories are unfounded without adequate proof. If you can provide this proof, or indeed prove otherwise, we would be delighted to hear from you.

Yours faithfully.

One of Phoenixia's various email pseudonyms followed.

"Did you get a response?" Dave asked, as the message faded. Phoenixia smiled humourlessly.

"I sent it the day after you got back, and got no response. A few hours ago, I followed it up. Same address, same message, just with an addition that apologised if I had got the wrong address, but I know I didn't. I got a response almost immediately..."

Another, much shorter message appeared.

Dear customer, I am sorry to inform you that the account you are trying to contact does not exist in our database. Please ensure the address you wish to send the message to is typed correctly.

Systems Administrator.

"I did a little digging," Phoenixia went on, "and found that the account he sent us the email alerting us to Mesha from did exist. It was deleted from the server about an hour after my first email arrived."

"They don't want to be reminded." Dave said, "Or thought @ was trying to get to their computer." Phoenixia raised an eyebrow.

"Is that what you believe?"

"Not for a second..." Dave sighed, shaking his head.

"So, Mesha Yana was an anti-society weapon created by someone with a grudge..." Asuka put in, as if to confirm the idea.

"Its looking like that..." Dave agreed. "You see what I mean now? We're generating enough enemies in the fictional world without authors getting the wrong idea and turning on us as well."

"Fair point, consider it made." Phoenixia replied, "But I still don't fully understand why you felt you needed to be indestructible before you could talk about all this. If its the reason you joined the society in the first place, then I'd expect some serious revolutionary zeal on your part."

Dave hesitated. "Fear... Isn't always rational..."

Phoenixia was slightly surprised at the implication here. "You're afraid of the society? Is that related to why you didn't go to Stonehenge?"

"No!" Said Dave firmly. "I always meant to go there... I just... became otherwise engaged..."

Part of the nightmare he had described to Valerie came back to Phoenixia. "You ran into an Argos Delivery Lorry?" She hazarded.

"No...well, I suppose I almost did..." Dave replied, "They have a habit of driving on the wrong side of the road on blind bends. That's why they're one of my three pet hates when I'm driving... The time stop made it easier to avoid an accident. Thing is..." he paused as a pulsar winged its merry way across the star field like a confused butterfly.

" wasn't even a particularly near miss," He continued, "but it set me thinking. "Now I'm in Real Life, anything happens to me here, I'll wind up actually dead... like that girl I just saw Tash immolate..." Combined with the fact that last winter was the coldest on record until this year... and that I hadn't driven for months... and... I'm fishing for excuses now, aren't I?" he finished uneasily.

"Just a bit." Asuka put in, just to remind people she was there.

"You got jittery?" Phoenixia suggested. "There's nothing wrong with that. Like you said, fear isn't always rational."

"It would have to happen just when I'm needed the most though!" Dave almost spat. "By the time I felt calm enough to go on, the Red Sky was fading, and there was a door in the middle of a field to take me back to the library." He paused. "Then, just to put the cherry on it, I go and put my foot in a ditch and nearly twist my ankle!"

"Fears vanishing at crucial moments is a Sueish trait, Dave. It proves you aren't one." Phoenixia replied, soothingly, crossing off Dave's limp from her list of things that needed explaining.

Dave actually glared at Phoenixia as she said this. "Why do you make it sound like they're a different species? They're human."

"Oh? Why do you say that?" She asked, curiously.

"Silver: Pride. Willowe: Madness. Mesha: Anger. Most of the rest of them: Arrogance. How much more human can you get?"

The ex-hologram considered this. "Bit cynical... but a fair point..." She noted that Dave was speaking more freely now, and tried to keep the momentum going while he was in a talkative mood. "So, now we've explained that, why are you so uncomfortable with Adrian and the Counter Guardians now?"

Dave sighed. "Well, in a nutshell, they're just... aloof little..." He faltered.

"Dave," Phoenixia said. "if they involved themselves with everything then it'd be like having a Sue around. How do you make a sword? You-"

"-stick it face-down in a burning forge and hit it with a hammer. Otherwise it's just another lump of ore to throw a someone." Dave finished, "I wrote that on my entrance exam, remember? I understand that. What I don't like is the implication that someone has the right to decide exactly which unpleasant events arbitrarily have to happen and which ones don't. No one does! And it's invariably those who think they do that cause the most trouble."

"Well... The Powers That Be-"

"And she dodges the question, as we knew she would..." Asuka interrupted, earning her a warning glare from Dave.

"Excuse me?" Phoenixia asked. Asuka looked up at her from where she was lying, and gave her a firm look.

"Powers That Be, is a generic catch-all term." she said, "It means Nothing!"

"Asuka... If you don't mind," Dave put in, "I'd like to fight my own battles, please?" The Luxray, having spoken her piece, fell silent again.

Phoenixia looked from Pokemon to human, surprised by this turn of events. Dave took this as a prompt.

"I'd have phrased it a little differently... but now it's been said... I agree with her. People who refer blandly to generic catch-all terms to justify their actions, I usually associate with those inhabiting a moral high ground of their own devising, regardless of those they see as objects of study below."

Phoenixia was now officially flabbergasted. A nasty little voice began to snigger in the back of her mind, which she tried hard to ignore.

"You'll have to give me an example..." She said at last, suppressing it with an effort. Dave thought for a second, opened his mouth to speak, then had a better idea and turned to the planetarium computer plate.

"I'll show you." he said, simply. Then he spoke to the computer.

"New Star chart. Fandom: Skies of Arcadia. Display planet: Arcadia. Scale: Planetary diameter, six feet. Go."

The room went black for an instant, then was replaced by a different combination of stars. A red focusing circle moved in on one, just in front of the control plate, then expanded to show the planet in question orbiting it.

Arcadia was a remarkable planet in several ways. First, and most obvious, of these things was the six moons that were stuck in geostationary orbits around it. Second, was that each moon was a different colour, and the terrain that their satellite view of the world afforded seemed to indicate there was more to this than mere aesthetics. The third thing, which the second drew Phoenixia's attention to nicely, was that the land masses of the planet were suspended in what for other planets of comparable size would be the mid-stratosphere.

"I'll spare you the whole fandom back story at this point." Dave said, "The crux of the matter is that several centuries before the events of the game, five of the six civilisations of Arcadia went to war, each creating a massive Cybernetic creature-weapon for the purpose. The sixth civilisation, those that lived under the silver moon, refused to get involved, even going so far as to erect a massive transcontinental forcefield around their homeland of Soltis to prevent attacks of any kind from landing."

"I'm with you so far..." Phoenixia said.

"Good. The elders of the silver civilisation, who were six men sustained far beyond a mortal lifespan by their technology, decided that "the world could not be saved". Thus they created their own weapon. It called down the rains of destruction from the moons..."

As Dave spoke, a chine rang out, and a bright white beam shot up from the massive hexagonal fortress-continent beneath the silver moon. Apparently, they were about to have this event demonstrated to them.

The beam shot space-wards, splitting into six as it did so, each splinter targeting a different moon. Once all six had struck, all six moons vibrated visibly, and began to shed massive chunks of moon rock down onto the surface of the planet below. Craters, some miles across to be visible at this distance, were blasted out of the continents. Some of the smaller islands under the blue moon, which happened to be on the night-side of the planet, were pulverised completely, the lights that denoted settlements upon them extinguished in a heartbeat.

Phoenixia felt nauseous. "You think Adrian... that any of them..."

"Without hesitation." Dave said, blankly watching the last of the silver meteors ripple harmlessly off the Dome of Light protecting Soltis, showing exactly where the idea of them in his dreams had come from.

"What have they done that gave you that idea?"

Asuka snorted. "Oh, not much really..."

Dave looked at Phoenixia, his incredulity showing in his face.

"Look at them!" he said. "It's obvious, screamingly obvious! The line of suspicious coincidences is easily two light-years long!"

"Such as...?" Phoenixia asked, bracing herself for a nuclear strength rant.

"The librarian of the depository of infinite knowledge lets a group of insane mortals use the aforementioned Library as a base of operations. That's a clear case of 'Inside the tent pissing out' if ever I saw it."

"Sounds to me like ill-informed hindsight." Phoenixia put in, deliberately trying to break his argument into manageable chucks. "Bit of a dangerous concept for a historian..." Dave bristled.

"If Adrian's little goodbye note is anything to go by, he clearly had the benefit of foresight, which for some reason he chose not to share with the rest of us." he shot back.

"If the society had stayed in the library that day, how many of you would have died?" Phoenixia asked. "You wouldn't let that happen either."

"Exactly." Dave replied. "Which is why I'd have been preparing the society carefully for what was to come, so when it did happen, we would have won before she got to earth."

"So... You think the society lost the battle of the library?"

"Oh, we won. In the same way the republic in Star Wars won the clone wars." Dave returned, frowning deeply. "Think about it. The society comes through almost completely unscathed, save for Tash, who is in utter despair for her loved one. The ideal moment to gain control from behind the scenes. And who should start to take more of an interest in the amoeba with table manners they have up to now ignored? Why, our old friends the Counter Guardians."

"Dave, Tash had just been given a job she barely knew how to do, and she was distressed." Phoenixia replied. "They weren't needed before then. Besides, if Kuroneko wasn't around, we wouldn't have known it was possible to bring Adrian back."

"Suspicious coincidence alert!" Asuka put in. Dave nodded.

"There just happens to be a loophole in the rules the Counter Guardians enforce that accommodates one of their own? And they happen to exercise it directly after they make it quite clear they think she isn't taking it seriously enough? I'm surprised anyone swallowed that."

"So you think anyone who comes back from the dead should be met with the same suspicion you think you're getting?" Phoenixia asked, beginning to understand the underlying problem Dave was having.

"In my case, there is a clear precedent." Dave replied, not really answering the question, and so far confirming Phoenixia's suspicions. "Adrian's seemed to be completely messing with his own rules, and he got a chance to prove his loyalty beyond doubt by rescuing Aster, hours after he got back? Come to that, I'm not fully convinced he died at all."

"Excuse me?"

"What proof do we have? One artefact that could have been yanked from around his neck in the heat of battle. One document that at the time it was written was describing a hypothetical situation. And the post of Librarian, where no one has made any secret of the fact that it can be passed on while the previous incumbent is still alive." Dave frowned even more deeply.

"In fact, the coincidence is so suspicious, I wouldn't be surprised if the whole thing was planned months in advance."

"Now I'm really not convinced..." Phoenixia muttered.

"I don't want to believe it either." Dave agreed, "But that's the most likely scenario from the evidence I've got..."

"Dave... Do you have a girlfriend?" Phoenixia asked, after a moment of thought. Dave blinked, slightly surprised by the non-sequitur.

"No, never have had." he replied, seemingly totally at ease with admitting that fact.

"Then you wouldn't understand why Adrian couldn't mess Tash around like that. Not really."

"He took death lightly enough to freely give it up to become a Counter Guardian." Dave returned. "And don't think I don't feel these things just because I don't express them..."

"Yeah, the author covered that earlier."

A great rumbling crash echoed through the library, closely followed by the expected cry of "ASTER!".

"Look," Dave replied, slightly irritated now, "Adrian only died because the rest of them hung him out to dry! They could have beaten Willowe in the Library before she set foot on earth, they chose not to. Adrian died because they decided his relationship with Tash compromised his duties, and they set up someone they thought they could control the society through in his place. Why else would Saito be so angry with Tash only gone for two days at a convention? He finally woke up to the fact that they couldn't!"

"Harriet is the society leader..." Phoenixia reminded him.

"I know, but Tash does most of the actual moving and doing. Control or influence her and you control the society." Dave reposted. "For example, Adrian appears as if he just popped out for a pint for the night and no one dares question it out of fear of her!"

"BEN!" shouted Adrian, having established Aster's innocence.

"Those questions were asked, just not in front of you..." Phoenixia said, but she had to admit Dave did have the beginnings of a point there...

"And that's another thing." he went on, "When Kuroneko drags him back from the rest he's supposedly earned a thousand times over, something I'm honestly shocked Valerie went along with by the way, apparently without the knowledge of the rest, none of them are surprised in the least, nor do they remonstrate with her for breaking the rules she's supposed to be enforcing!"

"That's a sweet thing to say," Phoenixia said, "But you're got their jurisdiction wrong aga-"

"And what about three of them blindly leading everyone to Stonehenge?" Dave continued, his voice rising, and ignoring her completely, "Salisbury Plain is a training ground for the British Army for crying out loud! All the weapons you could ever want! Or at the very least, deny to your enemies. Its an act of pure stupidity not to make use of that information, and if there is one thing those serene little spooks are not, it is stupid! Conclusion: the intention was for the greater part of the society to die in battle at Stonehenge."

"Now you're just raving..." Asuka murmured.

"TYLER!" Adrian was determined to get to the bottom of this one.

"You don't believe that."

Dave spluttered to a halt at Phoenixia's amused expression and tone of voice.

"If you really believed there was treachery that serious going on, you'd have told someone. End of matter."

Dave had no adequate response to this, save a small growl.

"Why would you spend so long in here that the controls become second nature to you, and you were able to watch something like the Rains of Destruction all the way through without being sick? You're trying desperately to convince yourself of this line of thinking."


Asuka looked at the ceiling. "Okay, he is really mad now..."

"Why do you want to believe they're traitors so badly?" Phoenixia asked directly.

"Its not a... Well they..." Dave spluttered, now off balance. "Look, if I were doing everything they have, then treachery would be my motive, and long-term self-interest would be my ultimate goal." he finally managed to get out.

"They're not you." Asuka put in, abruptly changing sides, as Phoenixia had been expecting she would for some time now. Dave glared at her for a moment, then his shoulders slumped, and he sighed heavily.


"Okay, why were you playing along if you didn't agree, Mousey?"

Asuka twitched. "Why do you still call me Mousey if you know I'm a lion and not a giant mouse now?" Phoenixia laughed.

"Dave, she was playing along so you'd get all of that out of your system before it poisoned you."

Asuka nodded. "Come on boss, I know you don't like making mistakes if you're the only one that could be laughed at for making them. Nix' is right, it poisons you, you won't die, but it'll hurt like nothing on earth for months."

"Fair point..."

"I didn't say anything I didn't believe myself just now," Asuka added with a frown in Phoenixia's direction, "And just for the record, there is a certain event involving cigarette smoke and the PCMSPS that I think Satin Pyjamas needs to explain in more detail..."


"Disqualified!" Phoenixia shouted back, "My name doesn't begin with F!"

Dave looked from ex-hologram to Pokemon, all these events piling on top of one another, until a synapse fired at random in his brain. He sat down on the floor, laughing like never before. A second later, Asuka and Phoenixia were convulsing with mirth themselves. The fact that Asuka's translation collar didn't know what to make of her laughter and cheerfully kept saying "Please Repeat" to draw attention to this fact, and occasionally squawking with feedback, meant that it was several minutes before the three of them sobered up.

"I think I just sprained something..." Dave wheezed at last, clutching his chest.

"Satin Pyjamas..." Phoenixia giggled, "Now there's an interesting image..." Asuka shrugged.

"This thing's auto-correct has its moments..." she agreed, gesturing at the collar.

They sat there for a moment longer, the glow of Arcadia's purple moon bathing them in cold light.

"It shouldn't hurt that much to laugh..." Dave said, "Maybe I don't do that enough..."

"No, I noticed that." Phoenixia said. "Making bad puns is one thing, but actual laughter seems to be thin on the ground in your case."

"True..." Dave replied, "I guess that's one of the reasons I'm a bit... well... jealous of... just about everyone in the society, if I'm honest."

"You're too serious for your own good." Asuka agreed.

"Which is why this war has to end ASAP." Dave returned. "Then everyone can lighten up, not just me."

Phoenixia sat up. "Okay, just to recap: You're afraid of the society, for reasons we haven't quite established yet. You've got unreasonably high expectations of yourself, in that you believe you have to single-handedly end the war. You're jealous of most everyone else in the society... And I'm assuming you're not jealous of me due to breast envy."

"Ha ha," Dave replied, sarcastically, going pink again, because he always did in that sort of situation. "You assume correctly!"

"What do you have to be jealous of? You know a lot of stuff about fandoms no-one else had even heard of, and major detail about others that we do. You saved Lily's life a while ago, you cut an Ak'Zahar in two when they got in, when we went to rescue Aster-"

"Duty, Luck, Guilt." Dave interrupted. "In reverse order." he added quickly. This didn't clarify things any more so he elaborated.

"I helped rescue Aster because duty demanded it, I was flailing wildly in a panic when that gargoyle got in the way of a swing, and..." he paused, guiltily, "I was probably the one that gave Lily that cold in the first place..." he mumbled.

Asuka rolled her eyes. "You don't know that..."

"So if you didn't have this sense of duty, you'd have left us to get on with rescuing Aster?" Phoenixia asked, beginning to get irritated at how obtuse he was being. "Maybe even left us to die in a problem you could have solved, the point of you joining the society?"

"Well... No... but-"

"Well there you are then! Now for heaven's sake, stop pretending to be stupid!" The Ex-hologram snapped, unexpectedly, making Dave and Asuka jump. "If there is one thing you are not, its stupid."

Dave bristled again, and Phoenixia privately felt she had hit the Jackpot.

"Its easy for you, isn't it!" he snapped back. "All you have to do is walk into a room and people notice you. I can't make friends, or get a girlfriend for that matter that easily, a fact that I'm reminded of with depressing regularity! And yet Tash is so close to her friends she calls them family! Have you any idea what I'd give for that? Thing is, I try too hard, and all I'll come across as is either a Geek or a Stu!"

He sent Arcadia flying with an extravagant hand gesture as he stood up and started pacing around the room. He thought better when his legs were moving.

"You think I'm not told, day in, day out what a great potential I've got? Who wants that? Whatever you do, people are always disappointed because you could have done so much more!"

Asuka shook her head, telling Phoenixia that this was far from true.

"I have to live with the knowledge that I've let them down. That there's something more I could have done. Something more that was expected of me... And I have to prove I can measure up all over ag..." Dave ground to a halt as a rocky moon he could fit in the palm of his hand drifted across in front of him. He found its parent planet nestling in the small of his back and moved it to one side.

"That's a relief, I thought my selfishness had acquired its own centre of gravity for a second there..." he said, smiling slightly. "You're still goading me, right?"

"You do make it easy for a girl." Phoenixia replied.

"I suppose I do..." Dave muttered.

"Look, you've had a lot to deal with in the last year, society and otherwise. That's stirred your emotions a bit, and Mesha and her patron took advantage of this to mess with you." Phoenixia summed up. "But you didn't make it easy for yourself by keeping it so quiet. If something bothers you, then say so. We don't bite, much..."

Dave looked like he disagreed, but said nothing.

"Second: don't be so diffident. You can do a lot more than you think, and it don't feel guilty if it isn't what everyone else wants."

"Now you sound like my mother..." Dave replied. Phoenixia laughed.

"She's a wise woman." she replied, "Third, go out and have some fun. What's the point of having access to most of the fictional universes in existence if you don't use it? As for the Counter Guardians... Well... I don't know everything myself, but..."

"Don't poke fun at Kor'assaro, Shrike." Asuka interrupted, "He may not be your type, or mine for that matter, but Corax and Jaghatai Kahn are both sons of the Emperor." Dave actually boggled at her.

"I didn't think Space Marine Battle Novels were your style..."

Asuka rolled her eyes. "You've been getting up at five Am to get to work lately, that wakes me up and I have to do something with myself. Fortunately I found an audio book room that doesn't require opposable thumbs to operate."

Phoenixia thought for a moment, then nodded. "Yeah, that works."

"I'm not fully convinced..." Dave muttered, although he didn't feel it was quite appropriate to point out that the Traitor Primarch, Horus was a son of the Emperor as well. "Still... benefit of the doubt I suppose... I guess the Counter Guardians remind me of the parts of my personality I don't like to acknowledge..." Phoenixia could tell how much that admission cost him.

"And you feel you have to prove you're not like that?" Phoenixia asked, going for the ultimate question.

"Not exactly." Dave took his shrunken axe out of his pocket and showed it to her. "Viking means, sea-raider." he said. "And there's more to them than that. I'm thought of as a clown, or someone that breaks stuff, there's more to me than that."

"Well, like I said, say so."

Dave put his weapon away again. "Perhaps all that isn't as obvious as I thought..." he said, then added "If I think something is obvious, I generally assume that everyone else does as well... and they're just ignoring it. One of the bad habits I joined to society to get rid of..."

"You'll get there eventually."

Dave looked up at Phoenixia with new respect. "Thanks. You should show this side of yourself more often."

Phoenixia grinned. "Oh I could show you more than my side..."

"No thank you." said Dave quickly, only slightly blushing this time.

Phoenixia made no attempt to hide her disappointment, but smiled none-the-less. "See? You're getting more confident by the minute." She turned to leave.

"Don't hide in here too long." she added over her shoulder as she closed the door.

Dave and Asuka were alone again.

"You're a sneaky little rat." Dave said to her. Asuka shrugged.

"What good Pokemon doesn't protect their trainer, even from themselves?"

"Fair point." Dave conceded. He took a last look at the stars in the Planetarium, before shutting it down and leaving, his Luxray at his side.


A few hours later, Phoenixia was doing some routine diagnostics on the Phoenix Zord when Asuka trotted into the cabin.

"How can I help you?" Phoenixia asked, then noticed the basket of cookies she was carrying.

"You already have." She replied, placing it on the floor. "Despite walking in on us uninvited..."

Phoenixia grinned. "Well, I had to, or he'd have just blocked me as well." She looked down at the cookies. "How many of Rhia's cats are you looking after next time they're here?"

"Don't know, don't mind particularly. I love kittens, maybe that's why I like acting like one now and again... in private." It seemed that Rhia's baking was also a bribe. Phoenixia got the message.

"Right. Dave's getting an early night then?"

Asuka nodded. "He doesn't need me watch-dogging him, he just wants the company." she said, "I'll humour him for a while until he gets his confidence back, then we'll see where we go from there."

Phoenixia knelt down on the floor and actually hugged her. "You're a loyal little thing." she said. "And I know he appreciates it. Just for the record, our little chat stays off the record until Dave says otherwise, or unless someone needs to know to stop an attack on the library."

"Thanks..." came the mildly embarrassed response as they separated. "I guess you've had similar problems with Adrian, huh?"

"Yeah... less so since Tash has been with him... Maybe you need to find Dave a girlfriend."

Asuka frowned. "I'm no puppeteer. Besides, I know him well enough to know that my making those moves for him would be counter-productive."

Phoenixia smiled. It was a pity they saw things through a different lens, as she felt they had a lot in common. "Thanks for these, by the way."

Asuka grinned. "With your lifestyle, you'll need the energy." she said, and ducked the half-eaten cookie thrown at her as she left the cabin, laughing.

Given that she was partly right, that was probably a waste of a cookie... Phoenixia thought to herself. I'd better have some of these before something serious happens to them...

She bit into one, savouring the taste of the cinnamon on top of it. This was another part of having an actual physical form she enjoyed, and for once the shadow at the back of her thoughts kept its distance...

No comments:

Post a Comment