Saturday, February 22, 2014

Insert Midsummer Madness Here

Robert opened his eyes and stared at the ceiling of his new room. He had spent a grand total of six days in there so far, and it still was a novelty to open his eyes in the morning and not see the barred roof of his cell. Some of the advice he had been given upon the completion of his parole hearing had done him good. His parole supervisor was not the ogre she had appeared on that day, and slowly she was warming to him, or so he hoped.

One benefit of having Alice as his parole officer, Robert thought as he stared at the ceiling, was that Mirani was nearly always around.

Rolling onto his side, he pondered what the time might be. He had not been given a clock in his room yet, and was used to waking with the sun. There were no windows in the Library, Robert had discovered, and therefore attaining a balanced sleep was providing a challenge.

His room was still as sparsely decorated as it had been on his first day of freedom from the basement. The walls were a terracotta orange with a dark-wood door in one corner. Furniture-wise, he had a bed to sleep in, a desk to work at, and a chest of drawers in which to hang his clothes. Not that he had many of those yet either.

Deciding that languishing in his room was no better than living in a cell, Robert rolled out of bed, dressed quickly in a pair of tan trousers and a white shirt, and opened the door.

There was no one in sight as he gazed into the Library. He looked up and down the corridor and finding no-one present slowly crept out of his room. The door closed behind him with a quiet click. The corridor was lined with bookcases, and a door opened off it directly opposite Robert's room. The brass plaque on the door declared it to be the Ornithological Section. A small picture of a bird was also engraved on the plaque, for ease of information. Robert's room was a little way along the corridor which led from a staircase. Robert had been taken up there on his first day of freedom by Alice.

Alice's room was alongside his, their doors almost touching. Robert faced the stained pine door with a little apprehension. Slowly he knocked, for fear of waking a potentially sleeping agent.

Inside the room there was a grunt. Robert pressed his ear to the door, and the sounds of Alice's gentle snoring reached his ear. So his parole supervisor was asleep. Maybe it was earlier than he thought. Mirani's room was just along the corridor, towards the stairs. Her door and Alice's were divided by a length of bookcase. Robert let his eyes wander over the texts that were contained there. Nothing too secretive was stored on the corridor shelves, he knew this. Robert's eyes took in a strange array of books, whose authors all began with the initial R. All appeared to be fictitious stories, ranging from a book entitled "Interview with a Vampire" to a large collection of very colourful books about a teenage wizard. Robert wondered for a second why anyone would wish to interview a vampire. From his experience, vampires were creatures to be hunted and destroyed, creatures to be feared, not interviewed and questioned.

His pacing up and down the bookcase brought him towards Mirani's door, and he was about to knock on her door when a voice called down the corridor at him.

"What are you doing out?" It was Michael, Chief Agent and one of Robert's least favourite people. Whilst it was nearly a week since Michael had made his threat to Robert during his parole, the possibility of being returned to the basement still hung over him.

"I…" Robert stuttered in response. "I was just…"

"I don't care what you were just doing," Michael sneered, approaching Robert and seizing hold of his arm. "You are out of your room, alone, without the presence of your parole supervisor or a leader. Where is she, anyway?"

"Asleep… sir." Robert murmured. Michael's grip on his arm was firm, and it was all he could do not to fight him.

"I told you what would happen if you broke the rules…"

"Michael!" Robert's saving grace appeared in the form of his friend, Mirani. "What are you doing?"

"Discipline, Louise…"

"Miran –" Robert corrected himself as Louise frantically shook her head at him. "Louise!" he continued.

"Michael, he has not broken any rules from what I can see…" Louise turned on the chief agent. "He is in the presence of a leader… or have you taken a demotion?"

"I found him in the corridor alone, which is against the conditions of his probation." Michael turned, releasing Robert's arm. The former Stu rubbed it gently.

Louise sighed. "Michael, he was probably just looking for Alice, who I'm guessing at this hour is still asleep."

"I warned him what would happen if he broke the conditions –"

"Warned, no Michael, you threatened. But if you want him out of the main part of the Library, he can come into my room."

Robert was edging closer to his own room as the two agents bickered.

"No, because you are neither his parole supervisor nor a leader."

"I'll just…" Robert murmured, "go back to my room…"

Michael swung around, expecting a fight, only to see Robert slink back into his room, a sad look on his face. He sighed.

"Michael…" Louise drew his attention back. "You cannot hate him forever."

"But he…"

"Yes I know he was part of the incident in the basement, and that Claire was a victim of it. With that logic, you may as well hate me too."

"Louise," Michael sighed, "we all know that you were not acting willingly."

"But I am just as much at fault, Michael. It was me who lied to my best friend, and went into Warhammer Fantasy alone. It was me who was dumb enough to get herself caught!"

"You must not think like that." Michael started to leave.

Louise sighed. "I think you need to reassess yourself, Michael. Robert is not a threat. He was never a threat."

"I'll be the judge of that…" Michael murmured as he turned the corner and vanished from sight.

Collecting herself together, Louise walked down the corridor and knocked on Robert's door.

"Come in." Robert sounded sad as Louise opened the door.

"Oh, Robert…" Louise's eyes fell on her friend, sitting on the end of his bed, a dejected look on his face. She rushed forward and wrapped her arms around him.

"You used to be there for me, now let me return the favour."

"Will he ever like me?" Robert asked.

"Michael?" Louise scoffed. "Ignore him. He's hot-headed and doesn't think before he opens his mouth. He'll come round eventually."

"I hope so."

"How's things with Alice?" Louise asked. She already knew the answer, but was trying to distract Robert from the topic of Michael.

Robert's face brightened a little. Whilst Louise suspected that he knew of her motives for asking the question, she was happy to see the change in her friend's expression.

"She seems to be warming to me," he smiled at Louise.

"She'll like you, Robert. I know she will. Ali…" Robert winced slightly at the use of a contracted name, "…Ali's got this hard outer skin, but underneath she's really just a big softy… On the subject of Alice, she still asleep?"

Robert nodded. "I didn't want to disturb her."

"Aww hell…" Louise jumped to her feet. "It's late enough that that girl should be up and about." Louise bolted for the door, tentatively followed by Robert. He didn't want to run into an angry Michael again.

Louise walked swiftly to her best friend's door, and knocked loudly. "Alice, are you up?"

A groan issued from the room, but Louise didn't wait. She barrelled straight into the agent's bedroom. It was tidier than usual, but there were still some books on the floor and clothes over the back of her chair. Louise's eye caught on the soothing purple glow coming from one of Alice's shelves; a small white candle-shaped creature with a violet flame blinked open tiny yellow eyes and cheeped at her. Louise shook her head, and walked forwards to where Alice was all but buried under her blue starry duvet.

"Ali… Ali…" Louise crooned her friend awake.

Alice groaned again, but her eyes blinked open.

"It's time to get up, dumpling!" Louise moved to perch on the edge of her friend's bed.

"I don't wanna go to school today." This was Alice's usual greeting, although she hadn't technically been to school for over five years. Louise smiled. She was used to this. Alice was not exactly a morning person. She looked over her shoulder to where Robert was lingering.

"Don't worry. This is perfectly normal." Louise took hold of her sleepy friend's hands. "Come on, hon. I'll do breakfast…"

It was an offer that Alice couldn't refuse.

"Cwumpets?" she asked.

Louise snickered, rolling her eyes at her friend's playfulness.

"If you want. Then I have something to show you."

Alice tugged against Louise's hold, pulling her onto her. Robert moved to step forward, but both girls were laughing. No harm was done.

"Come on, hon." Louise straightened herself, and pulled Alice into a sitting position. It was only then that the sleepy agent noticed Robert in the room, and her modesty took over. Alice seized hold of her duvet, and yanked it over her.

Louise spotted her friend's insecurity, and grabbed her dressing gown from the back of her door.

"Here you go, hon. Breakfast is calling…"

The offer of breakfast got Alice to her feet and out of her room. Robert trailed behind them. Despite having spent the majority of his waking hours since leaving the basement with the two women, he was still feeling a bit like a third wheel on a bicycle.

Breakfast was a strangely swift affair. Louise rushed ahead of the pair, and by the time Alice and Robert arrived in Rhia's kitchen, there was already buttered toast waiting for them.

"Where's my crumpets?" Alice whined, although it was debatable whether she was actually hurt or just playing with Louise.

"You can have them when we get back. I want to show you something first." Louise was very determined, forcing the toast into her friends' hands and leading them both from the room again.

"Where are you taking us, Mir… Louise?" Robert asked.

"It's something I've just found. I'm not sure whether anyone else in the Society knows about it, but I was really interested, and I wanted to show you both." Louise's words ran together in excitement.

"Whoa..." Alice munched her food as she spoke. "The last time I saw you this excited was when we met those ice-skaters."

"Wait till you see what I've found..." Louise goaded her friends as they trotted along behind her. But it wasn't long before the three of them were standing outside the large set of double doors.

"I know this place!" cried Alice, who had by now finished her toast.

Louise sagged.

"It's..." Alice turned to face her friend. "It is, isn't it?"

"It was supposed to be a surprise," Louise said dejectedly.

"Are we allowed inside?" Alice was almost as excited as Louise had been moments earlier.

Her friend merely gestured to the doors with a sigh.

Robert leaned towards her and asked, "What is this place?"

Louise didn't get a chance to answer as Alice threw open the doors and with a glance over her shoulder, slipped inside. Robert and Louise swiftly followed.

Robert blinked as his eyes took in the gridded appearance of the room within. The expanse of black with the bright yellow lines made his eyes ache from the strain of focusing on the varying perspectives. Alice and Louise stood in the room, the former looking mildly unimpressed with her friend's discovery.

"Well..." Louise asked her.

"Well, I think Adrian will not be happy that you have come into the training suite without permission."

"So have you..." Louise quipped.

"Can you do something about the black and yellow, Lou?" Alice asked, her eyes falling on Robert, who was shielding his vision.

"Sure..." Louise looked around herself for a moment, and spoke to the ether.

"Computer..." there was a small beep from nowhere. "Please create me a sandy beach."

There was a small familiar giggle, and all three of them suddenly found themselves neck deep in beach sand.

"Lou... what have you...?" Alice flailed beneath the sand to no effect.

Robert coughed the sand from his mouth. Given that his hands were already at eye level when the sand appeared, he began digging himself out.

"I didn't do anything..." Louise spluttered, her hands firmly held at her sides by the force of the sand.

"Computer..." Alice spoke to the ceiling, "can you wash away the sand, please?"

"ALICE!" Louise yelped as the sand vanished, only to be replaced by an ever-increasing amount of water. Louise, who couldn't swim, slowly started to sink. Alice, the more competent swimmer, seized her friend under the arm, and hauled her to the surface.

"Lie back..." Alice's voice was breathless from the exertion. "Robert..." the former Stu was bobbing gently at the side of the room, "get me one of those floats, will you? Lou can't swim well."

Robert obliged, and soon Louise was floating atop a silver buoyancy aid. Alice and Robert pulled themselves atop others, to save themselves the effect of treading water. It was only once Alice righted herself that she saw the shape in which the floats were designed.

"DAMN YOU @" she yelled to the ceiling. "LOUISE COULD HAVE DROWNED!"

@ whined in her high-pitched voice. "But this is fun... aren't you having fun?"

"We would be if you had just created the beach like we asked!" Alice was furious, but was careful not to push the AI too far. She had control of the holodeck, and therefore could, in theory, do anything to them.

"@," Louise gasped from the passing float, "please..." the agent was out of breath, and looking a little pale. "Please just create us a beach…"

@ whined again, but slowly the water subsided and the three very-damp people found themselves lying on fine white sand, with the sea lapping gently around their feet.

Their silver heart-shaped buoyancy aids had vanished.

"Thank you…" Louise murmured and @'s tinkle of laughter faded into nothingness.

Robert looked around him. "It looks so real…" Looking over to him, Alice wasn't sure whether his jaw could get any lower. She and Louise had both forgotten that Robert would not have known about the concept of a holodeck, and as such, the changing scenery around him would have seemed magical.

Louise rolled onto her stomach, exposing her wet, sand-covered back. "It's all a hologram," she explained for Robert's benefit. "Made up of…" she looked at Alice for assistance.

"Photons." Alice had a wealth of knowledge at her finger tips.

"Feels real," Robert coughed. Being the natural gentleman, he had been the last to pull himself from the water onto the floats, and had apparently swallowed a number of mouthfuls of holographic water.

"It can do…" Louise sat up, her clothes drying quickly in the Mediterranean-esque sun. "But that's not what I brought you here for."

Alice rolled her eyes. Louise really was excited about whatever she had to tell them, else she would have taken her health into more account. The elder agent coughed a little from her unexpected swim.

"This place can create anything…"

"Within reason," Alice corrected.

"Okay, yes, anything within reason. You guys know how awful I still feel following the incident in the basement, and I wanted to do something for the Society to cheer them up."

"Something like what?" Alice was suspicious, and mention of the basement incident had made Robert close his eyes and blush a little in embarrassment.

"Computer, open Louise programme: Society One." Louise spoke to the ceiling, praying silently that (a) hadn't gotten into her programme.

The beach dissolved and was replaced with a gorgeous vaulted theatre. At present it was the mere bones of the theatre: the stage, auditorium and backstage area. There were no furnishings, no elegance.

"Well…" Alice wasn't sure how to phrase her words.

"I know it's not finished yet, and there are a lot of things that need doing. But can you envision us putting on a play?" The words sunk slowly into Alice's brain, and her friend watched the transformation of her face.

"That would be… so amazing!"

"But what play could we do?"

The girls were suddenly in their element. Discussing and planning what could happen.

Robert sat there, following the conversation as one might follow a game of tennis.

"You know you could put up curtains."

"But what colour?"

"A nice colour."

"I want a theme."

"What theme?"

"Um…"

"How about a Victorian theme?"

"Too dark."

"Um… excuse me?" Robert's voice was barely audible above the plotting of the two agents.

"Tropical island?"

"Alice, that is not the best theme for a theatre."

"Then what?"

"I don't know…"

Robert eventually resulted in tapping Louise on the shoulder to get her attention.

"Yes?"

"What is this for?" Robert asked.

"The theatre?" Louise queried.

"Yes… I know it's for entertainment, but who will be doing the entertaining?"

The two girls looked at each other.

"You know," Alice started again, "he has a point."

"Could we get the computer to create holograms?"

"Where's the fun in that?"

"We could…" Robert's voice was a little louder than earlier. Both girls looked at him.

"Well… when I was," he blushed as he looked at Louise. "When we were in the Witch-Hunters… we sometimes put on our own plays."

"It would have to be something with not too many actors…" Alice began.

Louise nodded, finishing her friend's sentence, "…so there are still agents available to be in the audience."

"And we would have to have people to move the sets around."

Louise jumped up, and sat herself on the edge of the stage area. She was wracking her brain for the right kind of play.

"I've got it!" she jumped back down from the stage. "It's funny, it's got a small number of actors – I think a total of twenty players."

"What play?" Alice demanded.

Louise walked over to her friend and whispered in her ear. Alice's face lit up.

"Can I play…"

"I don't know yet, Alice…" Louise cautioned, "it all depends on what other people say."

Alice was looking around the theatre. "You know, you could make this place tie in with the play?"

"That's a great idea, hon." Louise rushed forwards and hugged her best friend.

Robert was looking very confused.

"We'll explain all," Alice promised, "but this place should be a surprise for the others."

"I agree…" Louise pondered how they were going to hide something this big from the rest of the Society, let alone the Librarian and Phoenixia. "Computer, lock the doors to all but Alice, Robert and myself."

The computer beeped in acknowledgment, and there was a loud click from the direction of the main doors.

"Now… let's begin the transformation…"

OOO

"So..." Louise was sat on a bench outside the holodeck the day after her 'amazing discovery', "... who are we going to ask?"

"Well you know who I wanna play," Alice hinted.

"Yes, but you are one player, hon. Robert, you were pretty good when..." Louise blushed, remembering one particular evening play with the Witch-Hunters where Robert had been so convincing as a corpse that many actually believed him dead. "Do you want in?"

"I suppose I could give it a go," Robert smiled at his friend.

"Yay!" Alice gave a cry that caused the former Stu to cover his ears due to the pitch, then wince a little as the agent wrapped her arms around him and gave him a huge glomp. Louise merely chuckled. "So who're you gonna be?" Alice demanded.

"Ali, we can dish out characters later. We need to find all the players first."

"Yeah, I suppose..." Alice sighed.

"So..." Louise asked again. "Who are we going to..."

"Hi guys..." Tash called as she turned the corner and spotted the three of them on the bench.

"IT'S A TASHY!" Alice squealed, rushing headlong down the corridor and wrapping the Society leader in one of her bone-crushing embraces.

"ARGH!" Tash yelped. She could have easily flashstepped to safety, but years of bracing herself for an Alice onslaught had taught her that enduring the glomp was usually safer in the long run.

As the Society leader and her attacker approached the seated pair, Louise turned to Robert. "You know, you'll have to endure that too." She looked a little sheepish. "Sorry."

"So what are you three doing here?" Tash asked playfully as she and Alice arrived.

"We've been thinking about trying to cheer the Society up, Tash," Alice explained, taking her offered seat at Louise's side. "Do you want to take part in a play?"

The Assistant Librarian studied her friends' expressions with a sceptical look on her face.

"Please..." Alice mockingly pleaded.

"Oh, go on then," Tash grinned at her friends, and then smiled politely at Robert. "What play are you planning on putting on?"

"Ah..." Alice tapped the side of her nose conspiratorially. "That's a secret until we give you all the characters."

Tash laughed at Alice's playfulness, and sighed as she walked away.

"So... Ali, who are you thinking that Tash could be?" Louise queried as she watched the Society leader's blonde hair disappear around the corner. Alice tapped on the pad of paper on bench, indicating a name of a particular character.

"Well," Louise pondered. "If Tash is going to play her, you know who we have to have playing him, don't you..."

It wasn't long before Alice, Louise and Robert were gathered outside one particular office in the Library. The brass plaque on the door declared it to be the 'Librarian's Office'.

"Are you sure about this?" Robert asked. Whilst he was eternally grateful for the Librarian's chance of parole, the former Stu's military mind couldn't help but think of Adrian in a similar way to how he would think of his commanding officer.

"Of course I'm sure." Alice was cheerful, bubbly, almost the complete antithesis of how Robert was feeling. The exuberant agent knocked on the door four times.

"Come in!" Adrian's voice was muffled. Outside the room, Louise and Robert wondered briefly what he was doing, and whether they should be disturbing him. Alice, however, had none of these thoughts. She threw the office door wide and strode in.

The Librarian's office was darker than usual. Heavy shadows hung in all corners, the large pieces of furniture outlined as even darker shapes. In the middle of the room, a shape moved.

"Sorry about this," Adrian's voice called from the darkness.

"Need a light?" Alice asked, her hand automatically drifting towards the switch on the wall.

##CLICK##

##CLICK##

"Oh!" Alice tried to suppress a snigger and failed.

"I didn't know light bulbs in the Library blew..." Louise commented.

"They don't usually," Adrian's voice was coming from the middle of the darkest patch of the room, just beyond where the light from the doorway was illuminating. "Well, at least they don't often. Not for a number of centuries. But for the past few days, I have been plagued by exploding light bulbs."

Robert's face was a picture of horror. The concept of these exploding light bulbs concerned him greatly.

"Here you go, Adrian." There was a gentle click, and a light appeared on Alice's head. "Where do you want me to point it?"

The torch light from Alice's goggles swung aimlessly for a few seconds, until the Librarian spoke again.

"Over here..." Adrian's voice directed Alice's beam to illuminate the ceiling fixture for the main light of the office. Adrian was standing on a wobbly stool, attempting to screw in a new light bulb.

"What the hell are you doing trying to fix this in the dark, boyo?" Alice asked, whilst keeping her beam steady as the Librarian removed the old light bulb, and replaced it with a fresh one.

"I wasn't in the dark initially." Adrian climbed precariously off the stool as Louise threw the switch and illuminated the room. "That light was working beforehand," he gestured across the room to the bedside lamp, which was pointed towards the main fitting and also now sported a burnt-out bulb. "Thanks Alice. This is beginning to get out of control."

"Well when you have time, Adrian," Louise asked, as Alice turned off her goggle-lamp, "we're planning on putting on a play in the holodeck, and were wondering whether you would like to be a player?"

"Depends what and who?"

Louise smiled cheerfully at the Librarian. She was enjoying baiting Adrian. "Can't tell you," she chirped, "spoilers!"

"You've been watching too much Doctor Who, Louise," Adrian commented, his face cracking into a similar grin.

"Well..." Alice prompted.

Adrian smiled at the manically grinning women, wondering briefly whether agreeing with them was the saner and safer course of action or not.

"Tash has already agreed," Louise chimed in.

"Oh, phooey." Adrian sighed. "I can't say no now."

"So you'll do it?" Alice crossed her fingers behind her back in hope.

"Yes, I will do it."

"Yay!" she cheered, and threw her arms around the Librarian's upper torso. He was getting used to this. Whenever Alice ran into him these days, she would throw her arms around him. As Tash had told him, his ribs were beginning to develop a semi-resistance to it. Adrian made a mental note never to tell this to Alice, for fear that she would squeeze even harder. After releasing him, she called "Thank you!" over her shoulder, and dragged the others from the room.

"You know you'll break someone's ribs one day with all that glomp, hon," Louise muttered as the three of them walked away from the Librarian's office.

"Aww lighten up, Lou," Alice patted her friend on the shoulder. "I know he likes it really."

All three of them laughed.

"Who else do you want to ask?" Robert queried.

"Well," Louise whipped a medium-sized brown book from her pocket. Robert wondered in awe at how she had squeezed the book in such a small pocket; Alice was commonly doing similar with her ubiquitous notebooks, and smiled. The book was old, covered in dark leather, and held together on the spine with good-old sellotape. As Louise began to flick through the pages, the others noticed that the edges of said pages were gold in colour.

"Louise..." Robert started.

"Ah... here we are." Louise had clearly found what she was looking for. "There are a total of twenty-one named parts in this play. We have a total of five players so far."

"So who else can we ask?" Robert may have spent the previous eight months in the Library, but his knowledge of the acting abilities of the agents was poor.

"Well, I know who we can go to next..." Alice turned to face them as they approached one of the kitchens. Louise and Robert stopped as Alice's face cracked into an impish smile. "Rhia...?" she called.

OOO

"Does anyone know what play they've talked us into performing?" Harriet asked.

All those gathered in the wardrobe shook their heads. Harriet looked around at the throng. Louise really had worked wonders. There were people collected there that she wouldn't have been in a play usually. Her gaze wandered over Cristoph, Willie and Dave, all looking mildly awkward in one corner. Harriet had to give it to Louise and the others, as she looked at Tash and Adrian on one side of the room, they had outdone themselves.

The door swung open and in strode the three conspirators. Alice had a pile of paperwork in her arms, and those who had been on the Rome mission with her, sighed in exasperation.

"Greetings, fellow actors!" Alice dropped the paperwork on the table with a giant BANG.

"Alice..." Harriet spoke from her space against one wall, "please tell us what the play is. Some of us are a little unnerved by all the secrecy."

Louise stepped forward. During times like this, when Alice's hyperactivity threatened to overwhelm everyone, she was often in her best friend's shadow; the quieter, more mature agent. People sometimes forgot that these two were the oldest mortal agents, they certainly didn't act it on occasions.

"Guys, I'm sorry for all the secrecy, but I wanted you all to hear at the same time. Alice, Robert and I have put together information packs on your respective characters. They contain a copy of the script, with your lines highlighted..."

"But what's the play?" Ben called from the back of the room.

"All in good time, Ben."

"The packs also contain an outline of the play itself, so you know the circumstances in which are you acting. So..." Louise looked down at the first pack in the pile. "We have a pack for Tash..."

The Assistant Librarian stepped forward a little hesitantly to collect her package. It was a simple white card folder, with a large amount of paperwork inside.

It wasn't long before Adrian, Ben, Jared, Michael, Clare, Inara, Kyle, Harriet, Jess, Aster, Rhia, Valerie, Phoenixia, Tom, Gareth, Lily and little Emily had all collected their packages.

"If your script has a gold star in the corner of the front, you have a main character. If you don't have a gold star, feel free to swap around if you don't like your character."

"But this is..." Tom's voice came from the huddle of exchanging agents.

"Yes..."

"A Midsummer Night's Dream..." Tash called from the back of the room, where she and a number of other 'lead characters' were already conversing.

"Yep!" Louise cried from the front. "It's approaching Midsummer, and I wanted to do something to cheer us all up after... well, I thought we could all do with a pick-me-up."

Some of the agents around her looked a little shame-faced at Louise's reference to the basement incident, but most nodded in agreement. A good laugh was exactly what they needed at the present time.

"Um... Lou..." Tash wandered over to her several minutes later. "You've cast me as Titania..."

"Yeah..." Louise looked over her shoulder at the Assistant Librarian. She was trying to find where Alice and Robert had vanished to in the chaos.

"Who's Oberon?"

"Tash," Louise took her friend by the shoulder. "Do you really need to ask?"

The Society leader turned around, her eyes meeting those of the Librarian, who smiled. "Oh..." was all she was able to say.

Alice and Robert returned not long later, dragging a giant screen with them. No one asked where they had gotten it from.

"Now..." Alice jumped onto a nearby chair so that everyone could see her. There was going to be no problem with everyone hearing her. "We need to sort out everyone's costumes. I have a rough idea of what the costumes should be, so," she clapped her hands. "Shall we get started? Those in Greek costumes, that's Michael, Gareth, Robert, Ben, Jared, Phoenixia, Harriet and Jess. We'll do you guys first."

Alice collected everyone into their respective groups. The Greek costume was reasonably simple. Michael had gotten away with a modification to the toga he had worn to Rome, and Phoenixia, Harriet and Jess were soon glowing with pride over their beautiful Greek dresses.

"Um..." Dave raised one nervous hand, and looked as though Alice might bite it off if he spoke up about anything. "What do you want us three for?"

"What?" Alice looked up from arranging the costumes for the next set of victims. "Oh, you three can go. We don't need you until the rehearsals start."

Gratefully, Dave, Cristoph and Willie escaped. Rhia watched her boyfriend leave with a sigh.

"Now, where was I?" Alice asked herself. "Ah yes..." She looked down at the six agents gathered in front of her. "My players..."

There was a loud guffaw of laughter from Harriet and Jess in one corner.

"Guys!" Alice yelled. "If your costume is sorted, leave it on the rack, and you may go!"

The room rang to the sound of hangers being placed on a metal rail, and those who had been in Greek costume left. The next group were given simple Medieval-esque costumes. It wasn't long before the only people stood in the wardrobe were Tash, Adrian, Alice, Robert, Louise, Inara, Lily, Terrie and Emily.

"I think it'll be easier to do the five fairies now," Alice called, although she needn't have shouted. Louise, Inara, Terrie, Emily and Lily – who had been cast at Titania's attendants – gathered around the Automatic Tailorisation Machine. Louise and Alice had discussed the fairies costumes at great length, much to Robert's boredom. All five girls were going to be dressed in similar outfits, but each would have a distinguishing colour. Louise's would be red, Lily's dress was a beautiful pale blue, far removed from her usual green. Inara's costume was a dark blue hue. Terrie's costume was a trouser set of a mixture of brown and green tones, and little Emily wore a knee length dress, also in green.

"I am so glad Harriet is not here to see that dress," Tash commented to Adrian, as the five fairies changed back out of their costumes and hung them on the rail.

"Yes, I have had enough things breaking recently not for a Harriet tirade to do more damage."

Four of the fairies left, giggling about their costumes. "My wings were so beautiful," Emily said to Lily, Terrie and Inara as the four girls left.

"And now for you two," Alice turned on the Librarian and his Assistant, standing in the middle of the now empty room. "Who wants to go first?"

"Ladies first," Adrian said with a mock bow.

Tash chuckled, and stepped behind the screen. "I hope you are not going to put me in anything too ridiculous, Alice?" she called, throwing her various items of clothing initially over the top of the screen, and then with more force at Adrian, who merely smiled and picked up the objects of his lover's poor aim.

"Ready?" Alice asked as Tash walked gingerly into the Automatic Tailorisation Machine. In a few seconds, the machine has sewn a beautiful dress around the Society leader. As Tash stepped from behind the screen, Adrian gasped.

Tash was dressed in a beautiful vision of silk and taffeta. She stepped carefully around the screen, allowing her lover a complete view of her dress. It was a mixture of pink and cream, and atop her head was circlet of flowers.

"A vision of beauty…" Adrian commented.

"Oh, stop it!" Tash teased, blushing a little at the compliment.

"Your turn, Librarian!" Alice drew Adrian's attention from the sight of Tash in her beautiful dress. "Get behind the screen and strip."

As Adrian removed his trenchcoat and other items of clothing, he gazed at the Automatic Tailorisation Machine.

"You know," he said, sticking his head around the screen to look at those still in the wardrobe. "I've never actually seen this thing working before. I didn't even know it was broken." He looked back at the machine. "Are you sure it's safe?"

"I never took you for a coward, Adrian," Louise commented, sat on the edge of the table which until recently contained all the packs for the actors.

"Oh, get in there!" Tash walked around the screen, and pushed her boyfriend into the machine. Alice hit the button the moment he was inside.

"ARGH!" The Librarian yelped as the Automatic Tailorisation Machine began covering him in fabric. "Ouch, I am NOT a pincushion!"

Outside in the wardrobe, the assembled masses were giggling.

"It's not that bad, is it Adrian?" Alice asked loudly.

There was no response from within the machine, but before long a large amount of steam issued from it, and out stepped a silk-covered Librarian.

Robed in a dark green, Adrian certainly looked the part of a Fairy King. He, however, felt a complete prat.

"Very nice..." Tash commented, trying to suppress a giggle.

"Ok, hang it up on the rail then..." Alice interrupted the sentimental scene.

Adrian did as instructed, and soon the Librarian and Tash left the three conspirators alone.

"Well, I think that went quite well, don't you?" Alice asked as the door closed.

OOO

"Ill met by moonlight, proud Titania," Adrian spoke the lines to himself in his room. He was experienced in many things, but the words of Shakespeare still left him tongue-tied. The rehearsals were starting that afternoon, and he really wanted to make sure he had at least some lines learnt. There was no need for him to make more of a fool of himself than he already felt, but strangely he was looking forwards to the play. It sounded like a lot of fun.

Whilst Tash had told him countless times over the previous few days that his costume was wonderful, Adrian still felt like an idiot in long robes that looked more like a dress.

A knock on the door drew the Librarian's attention away from his script.

"Come in," he called, and Tash's head peered around the doorframe.

"You ready?" she asked, gazing on Adrian in his long green silken robes.

"Tash, I feel ridiculous."

"You look nice," she smiled at him. "You coming for rehearsals or not?"

"I'm coming," Adrian murmured under his breath as he got up and followed Tash from the room.

The holodeck was utterly transformed when Adrian and Tash arrived. They were the last of the actors to appear, and the others were gathered on the stage in their costumes. Rhia, Tom and the other players were dressed in browns and greys, a typical medieval-style costume. The fairies were huddled in a corner, gossiping and giggling, and Alice sat on the stage, her legs dangling over the edge. She was dressed from head to foot in green. A wreath of green leaves and yellow flowers encircled her head. She had her nose in a copy of her script.

Looking up, Alice spotted Tash and Adrian, both in costume.

"We're all here," she called, and the room fell silent.

Adrian and Tash looked around the holodeck. Alice, Louise and Robert had surpassed themselves with the decoration. It was everything one could want in a theatre, and more. Long velvet curtains hung at the side of the stage, each one a deep shade of red. The wood of the stage was a dark mahogany tone, and there was even space for the holographic orchestra, should they be needed. The chairs in the auditorium were covered with a plush deep red to match the curtains. As he approached the stage, Adrian looked up and smiled briefly. They had even remembered the safety curtain. That must have been Louise.

"Shall we read through the script before we start the acting?" Louise suggested, emerging from the huddle that was the fairy attendants. The group all sat down in a circle on the stage, the Greek and Fairy characters were provided with chairs to sit to, to save spoiling their intricate costumes. The players and Alice sat on the floor.

As the read-through progressed, the actors became less inhibited, and the words flowed more easily.

"'Ill met by moonlight, proud Titania,'" Adrian spoke to Tash.

"What!" Tash, as Titania, returned comment to her boyfriend. "Jealous Oberon. Fairies..." She turned to her five fairies. "Skip hence! I have forsworn his bed and company." She managed to get to the end of her line, but then broke into a guffaw of laughter.

Alice rolled her eyes as the rest of the group burst into fits of giggles, but soon she joined in and it was several minutes before they were able to resume the read-through.

Harriet and Jess, slipping a little too far into their characters, started arguing, and Louise had to gently remind them that they were only actors, and not to take it too seriously. Both girls grinned apologetically in response.

Alice eventually got to speak the final lines of the play. "Give me your hands, if we be friends…" she paused, the last half of the line slipping from her memory. She looked deep in thought trying to remember it.

"Someone put another twenty-pence in Puck?" came the quip from Tash, eliciting more giggles.

Alice scowled, then grinned, and finally finished off her line. "And Robin shall restore amends."

The whole room sighed. Midsummer Night's Dream was not Shakespeare's longest play, but it did have long speeches for some of the major cast. Adrian and Tash were now looking at each other with expressions that both questioned their own sanity for agreeing to this.

"I think that went quite well..." Alice said from her perch on the floor. She had enjoyed the role of Puck immensely, although her usual stage partner was a little nervous about all the hyperactivity.

"Alice?" Adrian asked. "Is Puck supposed to be that..." he searched for the correct word that wouldn't offend the young agent, "excitable?" he asked.

Alice merely shrugged, and commented that this Puck was her creation, and therefore the character would be excitable.

Louise looked swiftly between the pair and, sensing a potential problem, called to the group. "I suggest we disband this rehearsal for today. We can all go back, learn our lines, and meet back in a day or so."

The cast were more than happy to oblige Louise's suggestion, and slowly clambered to their feet.

"Please look after your costumes," Alice called off the stage as the trope headed for the door.

"Yes Alice," Tash called with a sigh as she and the majority of her train closed the door.

"You know," Louise turned to Alice. "He was right. You are a little hyper as Puck."

"Oh, shut it..."

OOO

It wasn't long before news of the play reached the ears of all members of the Society, even those, like Karissa and Chloe, who had no part in it began to talk about it. It was at this point, a week after the initial rehearsals, and about a fortnight before the actual performance, that Louise took it upon herself to produce flyers and posters for the play. She had taken photographs of some of the agents in their costume, and now these were safely saved onto a USB pen, to which Phoenixia had no access.

Louise had produced hundreds of leaflets about the play, all containing pictures of the lead characters, and they were now left in strategic places around the Library. She had locked herself in her room for an entire day, the weekend before the final rehearsal, and the agents involved in the play were beginning to worry as to what she was doing.

"Lou…" Alice knocked on her door on the Sunday morning. "Lou, are you in there?"

The door opened, and Louise's head appeared in the gap. Alice tried to see what her secretive friend had been up to, but Louise's body blocked the majority of the space.

"Yes, Alice?"

"Whatcha doing?" she asked.

"Ali, it's a secret. You'll all find out tomorrow." Louise gave her friend a smile that told her not to push the subject any further. So Alice didn't.

A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM
 Dramatis Personae

THESEUS, Duke of Athens – Michael
HIPPOLYTA, Queen of the Amazons, betrothed to Theseus - Phoenixia
EGEUS, Father of Hermia – Robert
LYSANDER, in love with Hermia – Ben
DEMETRIUS, in love with Hermia – Jared
PHILOSTRATE, Master of the Revels to Theseus – Gareth
QUINCE, a carpenter – Claire
SNUG, a joiner – Rhia
BOTTOM, a weaver – Tom
FLUTE, a bellows-mender – Miriku
SNOUT, a tinker – Kyle
STARVLING, a tailor – Valerie
HERMIA, daughter of Egeus, in love with Lysander – Harriet
HELENA, in love with Demetrius – Jess
OBERON, King of the Fairies – Adrian
TITANIA, Queen of the Fairies – Tash
PUCK, or Robin Goodfellow, attendant to Oberon – Alice
FAIRIES, attendants to Titania – Louise, Lily, Emily, Terrie and Inara,
Other roles played by holographic actors.

That night, Louise packed up all the work she had been doing, and snuck into the Library. It was weird walking around the Library with no-one in sight. She had timed it so that the majority of agents should be asleep, regardless of whether they were American or British.

Quietly, Louise tiptoed around the Library, a wad of paperwork under her arm, and a roll of blue-tak in one pocket. She was putting up her posters for the play.

"Louise…" came a voice from behind her. The agent turned around, half way in the act of putting up a poster, and walking down the corridor was Adrian, piece of paper in hand.

Damn! Louise thought. She had forgotten that the Librarian was more nocturnal than the majority of agents.

"Um…" she blushed as Adrian approached. Her eyes fell on the paper. It was one of her posters.

"What is this?" the Librarian asked, although there was no harshness in his voice.

"Um…" Louise was speechless. Whilst she had forgiven Adrian a lot over the past few weeks, she couldn't help but be in a little awe of him. She, all of a sudden, felt very small.

"I have no problem with you advertising the play," he held up the poster in front of him. "But this?" The poster was an enlarged image of the Librarian, dressed in his costume grinning manically.

"Um…" Louise mumbled. "It's eye-catching."

Adrian sighed. Louise's enthusiasm for this play was catching, but sometimes he felt it should be restrained. "Yes, it is eye-catching, and also highly embarrassing."

"I promise I'll destroy all the posters after the play."

"Very well…" Adrian sighed again. The play was going to be over in a week or so, and then he could forget the terrible embarrassment that Alice and Louise were inflicting on the Society.

"Thank you…" Louise murmured, finishing attaching the poster to one of the Library pillars. She watched Adrian disappear around the corner, and whipped the poster from the pillar, and replaced it with a shiny new one. Soon Adrian's face stared out at her. Louise smiled, and headed off further into the Library.

Several hours later, when the British agents surfaced, the Library was festooned with technicolour posters, all showing the principle actors in their costumes. No-one knew how the images had been obtained, and only Adrian knew for certain who was responsible for a little late-night advertising.

OOO

"Right, now," Alice was stood on the stage. "This is the final rehearsal before the big night." As though the others gathered around her didn't already know this.

"Yes, Alice..." Michael commented from the middle of the gathered throng. "We know that the play is tomorrow."

"Yes..." called Emily, currently somewhere at the back of the group, "I spent most of the weekend doing the painting of the set with Jenny and Kiara."

"Aww, I didn't know they were here," Jess squealed. "I hope they're staying for the play."

"Oh yeah," Tash murmured. "They wouldn't miss me making an arse out of myself for the world."

"The rest of the Society is going to be watching," Adrian muttered. "And others who have gotten wind of it. Heaven help us all."

"OKAY THEN!" Alice called over the rabble. "Everyone into costumes!"

It didn't take long for the cast to disappear into the holographic dressing rooms, and reappear in their finery. The fairies were given a wide berth, their wings increasing their width to three times its original.

"WHOA!" Phoenixia cried, as Inara turned and almost side-swiped the ex-hologram. She was dressed in a Greek-looking outfit, and yet it was skimpy at the same time. Her costume was exactly suited for her character – Greek, and yet holding aspects of the character's Amazonian heritage.

"Shall we start the rehearsal then?" Alice asked, beginning to shepherd the actors into the wings of the stage.

The cast were good. Everyone knew their lines, and when their characters were supposed to do various things. Even Jess and Harriet had put a halt to their light-hearted bickering. Everything was going well until...

Adrian, as Oberon, crept onto the stage. He approached the sleeping figure of Titania, played by Tash.

"What thou seest when thou dost wake," Adrian leant over Tash with a prop petal in his hand. "Do it for thy true-love take." The Librarian squeezed the dropper, carefully concealed within the prop.

#TINK#

The entire stage was plunged into darkness.

"Oh bollocks!" Adrian cursed loudly, accidently squeezing the entire vial of water over Tash.

"EURGH!"

"Someone find a light."

"Accursed lightbulbs!"

"You know you're getting more and more British, Adrian," Harriet's voice laughed in the darkness.

Someone's footsteps approached on the blacked out stage, and suddenly a torch light blared into vision.

"I found this out the back," Dave commented.

"What's with the lightbulbs blowing all of a sudden?" Tash asked, sitting up from her log and dabbing her damp hair.

"I wish I knew," Adrian muttered darkly to himself. "Now it's even the holodeck lights."

"Light's fixed," called the holographic light tech.

Tash lay back down as Adrian disappeared for a refill of his prop. This time he managed to finish his scene without any interruptions.

"Well done everyone," Alice congratulated as the exhausted agents flopped around the holodeck. The rehearsal was over.

"This time tomorrow," Louise reassured, "it will all be over, and we can party."

"Party?" Phoenixia asked, sitting up from her horizontal position on the stage. "Where?"

"That's a surprise," Louise whispered. She hadn't even told Alice and Robert about her plans for the after-show party.

OOO

"Lou..." Alice called as she stuck her head into the ladies' bathroom. "Lou, are you in here?"

"Eurgh..." was all the response she got from one of the cubicles.

"Lou... we're up soon." Alice walked into the bathroom, and found her friend. Louise was kneeling in front of one of the toilet. She wasn't even in costume yet. "Lou..." Alice asked, more concern in her voice than before. "Lou, what's wrong?"

"It's either... something I ate..." Louise sat back onto her heels. "Or it's the worst stage fright I have ever had."

"You going to be okay for the play?"

"I have to be, hon." Louise pulled herself gingerly to her feet. As she turned to face Alice, her friend got the first glimpse of her face. Louise was pale... very pale. "The show must go on, and all that jazz." She wobbled against the edge of the cubicle.

"Are you sure?" Alice asked again.

"Help me to the sink," Louise gestured towards the row of sinks on the far side of the bathroom. Her friend did as instructed, although it was clear that Alice thought Louise incapable, in her current state, of performing. Louise turned the tap on, and splashed the cold water across her face. Cupping her hand, she gulped down a couple of handfuls, and wiping her hands across her eyes, she turned to Alice.

"There..." she certainly sounded a little more alive than a minute earlier. "Much better."

"Well... we best get you into costume then," Alice supported her friend from the bathroom and into the dressing room area.

"There you are," Tash called from the middle of the room where she was stood with Adrian and the four fairies. She then saw the paleness of Louise's complexion. "You going to be okay for this, hon?"

"That's what I asked," Alice pointed out. "She says she's okay to go on."

"Let's get you into costume then." The other four fairies approached Louise, and led her into a corner where they had been storing their delicate costumes, away from the rabble of the rest of the cast.

Soon, she was dressed in the finest red silk.

"You know," Phoenixia commented as she walked in and spotted Louise in her costume, "that colour really suits you."

"Thanks." Louise smiled, and blushed a little as Robert stuck his head around the door.

"Act two is about to start."

Inara darted from the room, and after a couple of seconds of silence, Adrian turned to Oberon's 'faithful servant'. "Alice... that's you too."

"Oops," Alice shot through the door after Inara.

The rest of the cast followed her into the wings as the curtain rose on Act Two. Alice and Inara were already on the stage.

"How now, spirit! Wither wander you?" Alice, as Puck, asked.

"You know," Louise whispered to Tash in the wings, "she's actually quite good at this."

"We're on soon," Tash smiled. She was nervous, but it was coming through as excitement. Adrian placed a calming hand on her shoulder, and Tash tilted her head onto it.

The play progressed well. Cristoph, Dave and Willie all performed their roles to perfection, moving the staging around to create the impression of different areas of woodland, and placing the props in their agreed locations.

The only real hitch was the transformation of Bottom into a donkey. Tom had wandered behind a movable piece of set. Emily had been hiding behind the set with the foam donkey head to hand to Tom. But he had trouble getting the head on, and Emily was forced to help. This delayed the scene and Emily sat behind the set knowing the head was on wonky, but thankfully no-one in the audience appeared to notice.

Eventually the play was drawing to a close. Oberon and Titania exited the stage, taking their train with them. This left Alice, as Puck, alone on the stage. She delivered her final monologue, directing it out to the audience, where the character of Puck, acting as narrator, asked them to forgive the frivolity of the play, and if they were offended to imagine it all a dream.

"Give me your hands, if we be friends." Alice spoke the final lines as the holographic lights started to dim. "And Robin shall restore amends..." The final words issued from the darkness.

A giant round of applause sounded from the audience as the cast returned to the stage to take their bows.

OOO

"INCOMING!" Louise yelled as Alice launched herself through a group of agents towards Adrian. The Librarian turned from his conversation with Michael to see a blur of brown and blue, before...

"ARGH!" The air was pushed from his lungs as her arms wrapped around his torso and squeezed hard. It was a miracle that no ribs were broken, but then Adrian was tougher than he looked.

"Let the poor man breathe, Alice," Michael commented, trying hard to suppress his own giggles. Laughter broke out around them as Alice peeled her arms apart, allowing air to flood back into Adrian's bruised and battered body.

"I think Michael's right though Adrian," Harriet spoke up as Tash wrapped her lover in a gentle embrace. "You really did look great in green..."

"Oh shut up..." Adrian laughed, collecting a drink from the side of the bar. At the end of the play, and once the actors were out of their costumes, Louise had instructed the holodeck to change programme, and now the majority of the Society was crowded into the three-tier bar.

Two tiers below, Dave was sitting alone. He was watching the movement around him with interest. At the squeal of the Librarian from Alice's glomp, he had actually smiled.

"Hey Dave..." Louise broke his concentration. "You okay?"

"Yeah... I'm just..." he looked up at Adrian, now laughing with Tash and Michael. "I don't know. There's something niggling at the back of my mind, but I'm not sure yet, and I'm not prepared to point fingers until I am."

"Well, I think tonight went rather well..." Louise pulled over a seat to attempt to distract her friend from whatever gloomy thoughts were invading his mind at the present time.

"I agree," Dave said, with a quick glance at Alice and Robert, who were chatting to Rhia in one corner. "Even with the lightbulb issue that seems to be plaguing the Library, I would say it did."

"Thanks for agreeing to be a stage-hand with Cristoph." Louise patted her friend's arm warmly. "I knew the kind of sets we were dealing with, and the amount of movement they would require. It's more than a one man job."

"So I'm the back-up," Dave laughed.

Louise smiled. She was smiling at the fact that Dave appeared distracted for the present time, although she knew him well enough to know that, like her, for him fa├žades were common place.

"Nah... You and Willie were just as important... plus, can you imagine someone like Tyler or Aster doing that job?"

Dave laughed at the mental image of blue-haired Aster in a blackout suit.

"Her hair," Louise continued, "would stand out at the back of the theatre." Louise looked around at the gathered people in her cabaret bar. "You know what?"

"What?" Dave asked automatically.

"I'm thinking of keeping this place," Louise smiled to herself. "It would be a wonderful escape from the chaos of the Library, and we could put on entertainment, holographic or otherwise."

"Well, if you want to," was all that Dave could offer in encouragement.

"Yeah, I think I will... although it might need a bit of a refresh following this evening's festivities." She laughed, her laugh mixing with that of the others in the room, creating one great big ball of laughter.

And, Louise thought, as she watched her friends eating and drinking around her, I guess this whole affair, and I suppose the Society in general, is one great big laugh...

#SMASH#

The room went black as all the bulbs blew at once.

"Oh Bollocks!"

No comments:

Post a Comment