The briefing was drawing to a close. The agents were seated around the table, finishing their drinks as Tash went though the agenda.
"…our latest sweep of the Pokémon Fandom caught eight Sues, two more than last time. If they continue to appear in such numbers, we might have to step up the frequency of the sweeps."
The assembled agents nodded. Pokémon was a troubled fandom, with hundreds of badly written fanfics - a fertile breeding ground for the Sues. Regular sweeps there were a routine duty of the society.
"There's also been a budget request submitted for developing a hairdryer hovercraft prototype" continued Tash. She looked sternly around the table. "Who keeps submitting these, as if I need to ask?"
Along the table, Gareth squirmed guiltily in his seat. The blond agent was today dressed in a blue waistcoat with a silver pattern and was clutching a cup of earl grey tea. He looked up and nodded. "It was my request. The scale model works, using nothing more than a common household hairdryer to create lift and propulsion. If we could build one, we'll have a fast, cheap attack vehicle for quick raids into fandoms."
"Request denied" said Tash. "We don't have the budget right now." It was a slight lie. The society budget was stretched, but there was some spare cash. It wasn't going to be wasted on this project though. Since his last mission in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Gareth had occupied himself by attempting to invent new devices to aid the society. A combination of his basic lack of mechanical aptitude, combined with the overall madness of the ideas, meant that none of his inventions ever worked. The infamous 'Land Shark Gun' had been his most spectacular failure to date - some of the sharks were still living wild in the poetry section of the library.
"If I raise the money myself, would I be able to proceed with the project?" said Gareth, undeterred. Tash braced herself to dissuade him from yet another madcap scheme but Harriet spoke instead.
"You're not building this. That's final" said the society leader.
"But I can…"
"No" said Harriet, shifting in her seat, causing the cricket bat wedged under the table to slip slightly more into view. Gareth looked apprehensively at it and quickly dropped the matter. All junior agents feared Harriet and her cricket bat.
"As I happens, I actually have something useful for you to do" said Harriet. "You know the Time Machine by H.G Wells?"
"Yes, I was reading it only last week. Why?"
"Check it again. The book was proceeding as it should, but there's a problem with page twelve. The Time Machine is just about to leave on its trip to the future when the story changes. Now, it simply says that a mysterious man enters the room, steals the machine from the inventor and vanishes off though time."
"A Gary Sue of some kind?" asked Gareth.
"Likely to be, but we don't know what havoc he might wreak now that he possess the eponymous Time Machine. You know that era of fiction well - sort it out."
The meeting broke up after another couple of routine matters and Gareth retuned to his rooms, thinking to check up on what was happening in the Time Machine. He searched through the battered books on the shelf until he found the one he was looking for. Sure enough, it was not as he remembered it.
The Time Machine told the tale of an eccentric English inventor, who creates a machine that allows him to travel into the future and see what manner of men had inherited the earth. In the far distant future, the traveller encounters the peaceful, childlike Eloi and the monstrous, cannibalistic Morlocks. Eventually, he discovers that both races are future variations of humans, with the upper classes evolving into the weak, foolish Eloi and the working classes forced to labour below ground until the became the fearsome Morlocks. The Traveller was supposed to return to the present with a warning of the dark future that awaited mankind. Now, all of that was gone - the book ended on page twelve with the entrance of the mysterious attacker and the rest of the pages were blank.
Gareth put down the book and sighed. He was essentially going in blind, with no idea the direction the Gary Stu might have taken the story in. His last two missions hadn't exactly been great successes either. The first Gary Stu he fought, a man named Alexander Whitestone, has escaped and evaded the best efforts of the society to track him down. More recently, he'd helped to defeat a Mary Sue in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, but a rather unusual version of Captain Nemo had done most of the work. He needed to rethink his tactics if he was to succeed this time.
His eyes fell upon an object by the door. It was the sword of Chu-Zhen, the Mary Sue from 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. It was a beautiful Katana of polished steel, with a leather handgrip. He'd brought it back as a proof of her death and kept it as a trophy. He'd never carried a real sword of his own on a mission before, preferring to rely on capturing Sues with the prohibitor, but maybe it was time for a rethink. He remembered what Nemo had said "No more murder than an author with a delete key." With a slight feeling of trepidation, wondering if taking the too perfect weapon of a Mary Sue was the right thing to do, Gareth reached out and took the blade. Different from the fencing foil he was used to, but serviceable. Whatever awaited him in this fandom, he would be ready.
Previously, inaccurate use of the plothole generator had got him into trouble, so he carefully scanned the remaining text for a suitable point to jump into the story. Deciding on one, he picked up his bag and Chu-Zhen's sword, before opening up a plothole and vanishing from sight.
He emerged in a corridor inside the Time Traveller's house at Richmond. In the distance, he could hear the sounds of the dinner party where the story began. Ahead of him was the door to the workshop where the time machine had been built. All was quiet and safe, with no sign of Sues. Carefully, he pushed open the door to the workshop and looked inside.
It was a scene of utter devastation. The workshop had been torn to pieces, with tools and pieces of machinery everywhere, most smashed beyond repair. The Time Machine was nowhere to be seen, but the Time Traveller himself was visible, gagged and tied to a chair in the corner. Hurriedly, Gareth crossed the room to untie him. He looked into the bound protagonists eyes' and saw confusion and fear, perhaps with good reason. After all, this story had proceeded in exactly the same way for over a hundred years - tonight, it had changed beyond all recognition.
"Easy now" said Gareth, loosening the ropes. "You're safe now."
"No…I'm not" gasped the Traveller. "Neither are you."
With a sinking heart, Gareth turned around to see a man had entered the room and was standing in the doorway. To his surprise, he vaguely recognised him. In 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, Chu-Zhen had been backed up by four well described henchmen, once normal characters whose Sueish tendencies had taken over the other elements of their personality.
The man looked like he'd come from a Western or perhaps an American Civil War epic. Many Gary Stus were handsome and well groomed, but this one was not. He had a rugged, unshaven appearance and the tanned, weather beaten skin of a frontiersman. His clothes were denim and leather and he wore a stained brown Stetson hat. A perfect example of rugged manhood stood before them, pointing an old fashioned Winchester Rifle at them.
Gareth's hand flew to the sword at his side, but the Gary Stu noticed and gestured to the sword.
"Drop the sword. Now" he said, in a rough Southern drawl. Gareth had no choice, but to obey. The sword skittered across the floor and vanished under a workbench.
"Against the wall, Agent" said the Cowboy. Gareth obeyed - not much choice with a gun pointed at him. If the worst came to the worst, he could always jump out with the plothole generator, but that would mean abandoning the hunt. By the time he returned with reinforcements, the trail would have gone cold.
Fortunately, he could see another option. Behind the Gary Stu, the Time Traveller was struggling with his bonds. Gareth had loosened them just enough for him to get one hand free. If he could free himself, surely he could help? The thing to do was keep the Gary Stu distracted.
"So" Gareth began, in a light, conversational tone (or at least one he hoped wasn't showing too much fear) "your clearly not the brains of this operation. Whoever stole the machine has vanished with it. You're just an expendable pawn, left to intercept pursuit. So tell me, who really stole the Time Machine?"
"I have my orders. One of them is not to talk to agents. Gives them too much time to plan an escape."
"I'm not planning an escape. I'm just going to stand right here" said Gareth, as a heavy spanner crashed down onto the man's head. He swayed and crumpled to the floor, revealing the sacred looking Time Traveller, who was standing clutching the first tool he'd been able to grab.
"Was he a Morlock?" asked the Traveller, clearly confused. Gareth stared for a second, before realising. The man was used to fighting Morlocks in the future - he'd never fought another human being before and his limited character latitude couldn't cope with the changes to his book, so he was filtering it though to a reference he could grasp.
"Uh… yes, he was a Morlock" said Gareth.
"The Morlocks have stolen my machine."
"Did you see what the man, sorry, Morlock who took the machine looked like?"
"The Morlocks have stolen my machine and taken it into their underground lair."
"Right… lets do this another way. The Morlocks may have your machine, but you are in your workshop. Can you build the Machine again from the parts here?"
"Build the Time Machine? Yes, build the Machine."
The next few hours were difficult. The Traveller struggled to grasp what was really going on, something that Gareth really couldn't blame him for. The Nemo he'd met in 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea had been sentient, aware of his fictional existence. This man wasn't. He was used to everything proceeding as it should and now everything was happening differently. But it had its advantages. Every reading for over a hundred years, he'd constructed a working time machine. The inventor's hands flew over the salvaged parts, quickly building up the skeleton of a second machine. At first, Gareth tried to help, but this just lead to more confusion, so he wandered away to examine the body of the Gary Stu.
He wore the denim and leather clothes he must have been written in, with nothing that would have looked out of place on a ranch in 1870's Nebraska. Yet there was one odd thing - a delicate ring of silver and brass filigree, set with a single white pearl. Gareth remembered seeing the Mary Sue's in 20,000 Leagues wearing these rings too. An idea gripped Gareth's mind and he straightened up and turned to the still working Traveller. "I'm going to try something" he said. "Don't laugh."
"These clothes stink of countryside" moaned Gareth as he finished dressing in the dead Stu's clothes. Gareth was smaller and slimmer than the cowboy, so the clothes didn't fit that well, but by tightening the belt to its last hole he managed to at least look like a passable Stu. There was no way the cowboy's brown boots with the spurs would fit Gareth's feet, so he kept his polished black brogues - hopefully they wouldn't be noticed under the overlong denim jeans. Finally, he slipped the odd ring onto his finger, placed the Winchester rifle back in its holster and put the Stetson hat on his head. This idea was so insane it couldn't possibly work, could it? "Too late to back out now I guess" he said to no one in particular, before stepping forward to examine the rebuilt time machine.
"I haven't got all the parts I need, but it will travel into the fourth dimension of time" said the Traveller.
"Good job" said Gareth, looking over the rough machine. At its heart was the small, clocklike device which the Traveller used to demonstrate the principle of time travel to his dinner party guests in the first chapter. It would serve its purpose - Gareth planned to chase the thief into the future, recover the original Time Machine and eliminate the Mary Sue threat. If he was lucky, the disguise would allow him to pass unnoticed and find whoever was behind all this.
The Traveller leant over, looking like he was going to climb up onto the machine's seat. Gareth gently, but firmly pushed him back. "It won't be the future you remember" he said softly. The man still looked confused, so Gareth merely sighed, pulled himself up onto the seat and pushed the lever that would take him into the far future. If he was successful, they'd be able to repair the plotlines and the inventor would never know that anything untoward had occurred at all.
The sun raced round and round the sky as Gareth accelerated into the future, the jury rigged time machine shaking under unknowable strains. The house changed rapidly, crumbling away into ruins. The destination was the far distant future, where all industry and progress had vanished underground with the savage Morlocks, leaving a lush, green surface inhabited by the week, vapid Eloi. Finally, the flickering time stream slowed and normal time resumed. The sun was redder than it had been and cooler, but it still shone brightly over the land… a land filled with vast buildings of glass and steel.
A great civilisation stretched forth over what had once been southern Britain, the towns and cities consumed by one vast metropolis. Ships with fiery red engines soared though the sky and the signs of a progressive and industrious people were everywhere. This was not the dark future that H.G Wells had written about.
The Time Machine could only travel in time, not space, so the thief couldn't have gone very far. Gareth stashed his time machine in an alleyway between two of the buildings, and made his way though the city. The inhabitants were small, childlike beings with soft blond hair and light coloured eyes. They were clearly Eloi, but no Eloi knew how to use technology or speak English. Yet here they were, speaking perfect English to each other, using small futuristic tools and clearly building a thriving civilisation. Gareth worried that he would be instantly spotted, but he was in luck. Striding though the crowds were several ordinary humans. They looked as if they had come from various different books, ranging from medieval noble to a futuristic warrior. All of them had one thing in common though - they wore a single white stoned ring on one hand. Gareth was becoming more confident that the ring was the sign, the symbol of loyalty to the Sue behind all this. And if his hunch was right…
Avoiding any contract with the various Sues, Gareth carried on towards the centre of the vast metropolis, passing several construction sites where chained Morlocks laboured to build even taller skyscrapers. The small, pathetic Eloi had somehow been able to overcome the monstrous Morlocks. They couldn't have done so without outside help. That help seemed to be located in the very tallest and grandest tower, a huge construction of glass and white marble, decorated with an ivory sunburst symbol. A tide of Eloi were sweeping though the grand entrance doors, so Gareth joined them, passing into the heart of the future civilisation. Once inside, Gareth looked up and gasped.
It was a vast hall, lit by the suns rays filtering in though the glass panelled roof. A crowd of Eloi stood before a flower strewn stage, cheering and cat calling. Upon the stage sat the original time machine, its brass frame polished to a bright sheen. Next to it stood a man Gareth recognised only too well. He was tall and strong, with a smooth, imperial face framed by waves of jet black hair, which seemed to shine in the sunlight. One eye was bisected by a ruler straight duelling scar, but it only served to improve his appearance. It was the Gary Sue who'd escaped from him in the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen fandom and evaded capture for the best part of a year. It was Alexander Whitestone.
"…your work has been exemplary" shouted Whitestone, haranguing the mass of Eloi. "With the Morlocks defeated once and for all, you will be able to live in peace and tranquillity for evermore. With you behind me, I will be able to travel and share that peace with others, across all the…" he stopped mid sentence and smiled to himself. "But I see we have a guest, even though he comes in disguise. Come Agent, judge the mighty art that I have wrought here."
The tide of Eloi parted to let Gareth though, till he stood before the stage. Whitestone looked down at him, smiling indulgently, as if Gareth was an old friend rather than a past nemesis.
"I hoped that it would be you" he said softly. "I recognised you the moment you walked in. Something about the way you stand."
Gareth remained calm on the outside, but inwardly he cursed that his disguise had been seen though so easily.
"Whitestone" he said simply. "Give it up now. A plot change of this magnitude will bring more society agents. Just walk away. I've failed to capture you for a year, failing again today won't make any difference. Walk now and I won't follow." Gareth was tired of Whitestone, tired of failing to capture the same Sue. He was finally on other duties, where he has a chance to do some good. He wasn't going to waste more time chasing his old enemy across fiction.
The expression on Whitestone's face was bright, hungry somehow. "I could walk away…but to what? I can't go back to my own book - I was cut from the story. Cut for being too good. I could have taken it if I was cut for being a bad, two dimensional character, but my author thought I was too good."
Gareth was stunned into silence for a moment. "So you know…" he began.
"That I'm a character? That this is fiction? Yes, I know."
"I'm sorry for what happened to you, but - look, your destroying this fandom."
"Destroying it! No, I'm saving it. I know you, better than you think. You love Britain, civilisation, culture… in these pages, we see it all crumble to dust. I've saved it, made it better. Now I travel back to the very beginning of all things and change the other books too."
"The beginning of all things… what, you mean the big bang or something?" said Gareth, now thoroughly confused.
Whitestone looked disappointed, like a promising student had failed to grasp a simple concept. "No no no, weren't you listening? With the Time Machine in my possession, I can travel back to the spark of inspiration, the original idea that started each book. Change that and I change the whole fandom for the better."
Gareth understood. "You'll remove all war, poverty, struggle, evil… from each book in turn. But… they'll be terrible! No one will read them."
"They will. All the characters will be wonderful. Who could resist them. You'll help me, won't you. You'll help me make the books better?"
Gareth stared at Whitestone, feeling sudden pity for him. He wasn't a bad person, just a poorly written character who didn't understand that his actions would destroy books, not save them. He had to be stopped - before he hurt himself if nothing else".
Gareth dropped into a sudden crouch, drawing the Winchester rifle from its holster. The crowd of Eloi surged forward, but Whitestone merely laughed.
"You won't shoot me, you don't have the bottle. You had a clear shot with that crossbow when we were in Dracula and you missed. That was when I knew you were like me. You don't want me dead - you secretly wish to join me, even if you can't admit it to yourself."
Gareth remembered that adventure well. He had meant to hit Whitestone then, but he was a terrible shot. Here was a second chance - He fired the gun.
The gun boomed, loud as a cannon in the vast, echoing room. A wisp of powder smoke wafted across the stage and the bullet ricocheted off into some far corner. Whitestone and the Eloi ducked involuntarily at the bang, but recovered quickly.
Even as Whitestone straightened up, Gareth launched himself forward from his crouch, a smile of his own flickering across his lips. He hadn't meant to hit Whitestone, just distract him for a moment. Something silver gleamed in his hand as he careered into Whitestone, knocking him to the ground. The Sue struggled, but Gareth's hand shot out and clamped the prohibitor around his leg. It sprang to life with a whine, neutralising Whitestone's Sueish powers.
"You won't be able to keep me" coughed Whitestone. "My Legions are in this very room. Eloi, attack!"
Gareth rose and faced the room. "Eloi, do whatever you will" he called. The childlike beings stared at them, faces showing no emotion but polite interest.
"What are you waiting for" yelled Whitestone from the floor. "Attack!"
The Eloi did not move. Some at the back were beginning to wander away. Gareth leaned down to face Whitestone. "They're returning to how they were originally written. They don't care about anything any more, they just wait for others to do things for them. It's how they lost their civilisation and became as they are".
Gareth straightened up. With the Eloi returning to how they were meant to be, the fandom would reset itself. Whitestone's civilisation would crumble into dust and the inventor would travel to the dismal future he was meant to find. They'd have to sweep it to clear it of any lingering Sues, but that was a job for another day. Right now, it was time to get Whitestone back to the Library out of harms way.
The meeting room was full of agents, all talking about the mission and congratulating Gareth on his capture. Whitestone had been a flapping lose end for a year and now he was contained at last.
"Well done on bagging him at last - You'll never forget the first one you took down by yourself," said Karissa.
"Yeah, good capture" said Louise, hugging Gareth.
"I knew you'd get him in the end" said Tash, smiling. "I knew you'd do well as an agent."
"Glad to be here" replied Gareth, smiling back at them all. "Before we do anything else, there's one vital thing I have to do right now!"
"Get a Cup of Tea?" suggested Dave.
"That's next," said Gareth, "but first I have to get out of these clothes!" He was still wearing the western disguise from the dead Gary Stu. "Honestly, if I don't get into some properly tailored clothes soon…"